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and the stars are still there

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James Tiberius Kirk was a dog guy.

He liked how devoted they were. How large, fluffy, slobbery, and over-enthusiastic they could be. Kirk had owned two dogs in his life. His first was a golden lab mix named Marcie. Marcie’s hobbies included terrorizing the barn cats, being terrorized by the barn cats, and shitting on Winona’s favorite Andorian rug. Marcie was one of those shining childhood memories of a dog that never got tired of playing fetch, was always in need of belly rubs, and made it a personal mission to coat Jim’s face in a fine sheen of saliva whenever he came home from school. She was a better wrestler than Sam, who always complained Kirk fought dirty. She didn’t mind the dirt and dust of Iowa, but equally enjoyed the garden hose. And she had a keen sense of people that were cool, like Sam and Kirk’s friends. And she knew people who were not cool, like every man Winona dated. She also like to hump hover-bikes, which Kirk thought was just good taste.

Marcie lived a long dog life and died when Kirk was eleven after getting into a fight with a coyote.

When Kirk was twelve, his family moved to Tarsus IV. Well, Sam didn’t because he was in boarding school and really didn’t want to leave. And Winona didn’t because she worked as a science technician on the USS Grant all the goddamned time. So it was really only Kirk who went because he was ‘dysfunctional’. Apparently driving your step-father’s car off a cliff, building a plasma gun in the basement, and threatening dickish teachers with aforementioned plasma guns qualified as juvenile delinquency. Prescription: get him the hell away from the normal people.

So Kirk was sent to live with his Uncle David and his family on Tarsus IV. And, well, that ended like shit in the end. But he did have a dog for awhile there.

Grouper was one of those hideous mutts that was either the runt of the litter or just obscenely tiny. As well as obscenely stupid. He had a squashed face and matted fur that always looked mangy, no matter how many baths he had. Kirk couldn’t remember how many times he cried himself laughing from watching Grouper frighten himself with his own farts. Grouper was also petrified of belches, human farts, and dandelions.

Yet, the dumbass dog, was not afraid of screaming, phaser fire, or the general chaos of a half a colony being exterminated based on an insane man’s version of ‘eugenics’.

Grouper was three when he died, from starvation of course. But it still took Kirk fourteen hours to figure it out. Stupid dog looked the same dead as alive. At least he looked too ugly to eat, no matter how hungry Kirk was. He didn’t mind leaving the body there, on Tarsus IV. Ugly dog, ugly man, ugly planet.

Kirk was sixteen when he returned to Earth. Sam was graduated now and Winona returned for long enough that she seemed to think Kirk should graduate too. There was no time for playing with pets. There was school, and then school girls, and then being a consenting adult to deal with. Life was busy and generally life-threatening and there just never seemed to be enough time to find a playful animal friend to shoot the shit with.

So now, some years later, Kirk wished he could have a dog again.

No.”

“But come on. Think of it as therapy!”

“…no.”

Kirk frown, shuffling a little lower in the stark white bed sheets. “You’re killing me, Bones, you know that?”

McCoy paused in his task of analyzing Kirk’s brain waves or something and stuck him with his most unimpressed furrowed eyebrow glare. “You want to know what’s killing you? Incompatible hemoglobin, prolonged stress on the lymphatic and endocrine systems in your body, muscular atrophy, dust mites combined with other allergens, and, I don’t know, dying five weeks ago. Sorry, it seems I’m a little low on the list of Things That Are Killing James T. Kirk.” He then gave an impressive harrumph, stabbed Kirk with a few hypos, and generally went on his mother henning merry way.

But Kirk let it slide, maybe just this once. Though it was really out of consideration for McCoy, because the man did seem awfully on edge lately. And maybe it had to do with world-ending Nero, or the ending-world-as-you-know-it Khan, or the fact that Kirk had wormed his way into a warp core and found out, funnily enough, that intensive radiation really does kill. And he really hadn’t expected to wake up again. Except he did. But then there was the past three weeks of trying to stay awake for more than five minutes, contemplating solid food, barfing up blood and bits of intestines, getting unexpected aches and pains that generally turned out to be malignant tumors, and having unexpected seizures that literally turned certain patches of McCoy’s hair white. Which would be a lot more amusing to watch if Kirk wasn’t…you know…seizing.

But all those problems were the ancient history of, possibly, three days ago. Kirk was feeling better than ever. Was dying to do more than lie around and let himself get sponge-bathed, which would be a lot sexier if the nurses at Starfleet Medical were actually sexy, like the ones on the Enterprise. And if they actually used sponges and soapy water instead of portable sonics. They also seemed to be under the impression that Kirk was a ‘bad’ patient or something and needed to be treated with the same roughness McCoy generally employed. All because Kirk had attempted a few innocent escape attempts, one of which nearly sent him back to surgery. But they were innocent, truly! He just wanted some fresh air and the sweet sensation of being perpendicular to the floor. Now they always kept one wrist strapped to the bed so that if Kirk decided to run, at least he would only make it to the floor before barfing up another lung or seizing or probably both.

Goddamn, Kirk was bored.

And a dog just seemed like the perfect way to fix that. Even if he couldn’t run with it or take it on walks. He could pet it and sleep with it at night and Kirk did like soft, fluffy things. But McCoy was gone now. So Kirk turned to the other semi-permanent occupant in the room.

“Spock, you wanna get me a puppy?”

Spock, who had been reading something boring and science-y on his PADD, looked up to Kirk with the normal passive expression. “No.”

Kirk pouted. What’s the point on having a over-bearing first officer who seems strangely unwilling to leave his bedridden side if he couldn’t go and find a dog for him to play with? “Why are you agreeing with Bones? Doesn’t that, like, ruin the fun of being sworn rivals of my affections?”

Spock blinked, once, but didn’t change his expression. “A domestic canine would undoubtedly bring in outside allergens and other catalysts that will exacerbate your condition. As well as spiking your adrenaline levels and putting further strain on a body coping from extensive radiation damage.”

“You saying I’ll get hyper?”

Spock nodded. Then, seeming to think the conversation was over, turned back to his PADD. Kirk frowned, he wasn’t about to lost that easily.

When he noticed that Spock seemed to have an unnatural affinity for the chair beside his bed, Kirk had been a little weirded out. Especially since Spock never did anything like trying to entertain or talk to Kirk. If Kirk had something to say, then he would speak. If Kirk wanted to play a game of chess, then they would play. But otherwise the half-Vulcan would just…be there and read or possibly meditate with his eyes open. Spock was strangely content to just sit there and monitor that Kirk was still breathing today. But Kirk had gotten, mostly, over that. Now he just wanted to take advantage.

“You know there have been studies that show therapy dogs to significantly improve patient’s health in hospitals. Something like how petting something soft and warm will release good endorphins and make you feel better.”

Spock didn’t look up. “Have these experiments been tested on patients suffering from severe radiation and neural deterioration?”

Kirk was pretty sure Spock just found a new way to call him an idiot. “Well, they did test it with cancer patients. And hey, McCoy took out tumor number, what is it four? Just last week.” He pointed that the newly regenerated skin on his thigh. “I think I qualify.”

Spock paused and finally looked up. “It was the seventh.”

Kirk frowned. “Really? The seventh?”

“The first three were removed while you were in a coma immediately followed The Incident.”

Spock probably didn’t mean the capital letters, it just sounded that way when he spoke them. Because Spock seemed to have developed an allergic reaction to words like Khan, warp core, and ‘hey do you remember when we were both pressed against the glass and you totally cried’. Not that he would stop Kirk from saying them. He would just get all stiff and Vulcan-ish and not do anything until Kirk moved the conversation on. And Kirk generally did, because talking about dying was kind of depressing and he was pretty sure Spock wasn’t even breathing.

Spock looked ready to go back to reading and ignoring Kirk while simultaneously not at all ignoring Kirk. So Kirk jumped in. “But I like dogs. I want a dog.”

Spock’s gaze turned to Kirk’s brain wave chart fluctuating on the wall. Probably to assess whether or not Kirk was hallucinating. Which, to be fair, he had only done once. Well, he was sure it was only once.

“Don’t you like dogs?”

“Vulcans do not express favoritism in domestic animals.”

“Well, have you ever had a pet?”

“Yes.”

Kirk leaned forward, a little excited. “Really?” Then his hand currently strapped to the bed pulled him back, as well as the stabbing pain in his side. He hissed and was a little gratified to see Spock’s eyes, well not quite soften, but they weren’t so granite anymore.

“I owned a pet sehlat in my youth.”

Kirk tried to settle himself back comfortably on the pillows. The problem was, after lying in bed for five weeks, it was physically impossible to be comfortable in the bed. He didn’t miss how Spock tugged the pillow slightly, easing the pressure on his lower back. He grinned. “Okay, what’s a sehlat like?”

“Sehlats are similar to the Terran ursus arctos, with six inch fangs.”

“A bear?” Kirk frowned. Bears didn’t sound very dog-like. “Do they act like dogs?”

Spock paused, eyes momentarily drifting to the window, then back. “They are companionable animals, some even with traits of loyalty. But more often, they associated with having a volatile nature, sensitive behaviors, and must, therefore, have their needs be closely tended.”

“Sounds like a cat to me.”

“A cat, Captain?”

Kirk would rebuke him for the title except…well, except Kirk really didn’t feel like a captain at the moment and it was nice to be reminded once in awhile that he could be one. “I’ve never owned a cat, not a house cat anyway, and I hear they can be real bitches.”

“I do not understand how a domestic feline is related to a female canine.”

Kirk paused. “What?” Sometimes Spock just lost him.

“Am I misunderstand the usage of the term ‘bitch’, sir?”

Kirk managed a straight face for three seconds. Then he was laughing his ass off and coughing and choking and Spock was calling in a nurse who called in McCoy because Kirk was coughing up blood again. But it was so worth it to hear Spock say, with that endearing Vulcan curiosity of all things: ‘Bitch, sir?’

Chapter Text

“You know I haven’t forgotten about the dog thing.”

Spock, who was currently moving his queen to D4 and totally wiping the floor with Kirk, paused in his progress in his third victory. “Captain?”

Kirk watched the queen making her cruel progress in demolishing any defense he had. Not that it was a great defense. Kirk had just finished his first day of physical therapy, which consisted of standing up and taking a piss by himself for the first time in two months and bio-shocks that were supposed to stimulate his wasted muscle mass, and he was in more than a little pain from it all. It was unnerving, to find comfort in this bed that would probably haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life.

“A dog. I still want a dog.”

Spock finished his move. “I see.”

Kirk hastily moved his king. He had nowhere to go, but he was too sore to sleep, so might as well keep Spock’s attention. “You know what my dog used to do? She used to sleep on my bed. And sometimes I’d wake up to this warm weight on my legs.” He rubbed his right leg, still feeling the painful electric stimulation. “I could use her, right now. Like a living heating pad.”

Spock hesitated, which was weird in the first place, then reached out and put both his hands on Kirk’s covered calf muscle. Even through his hospital gown and bed sheets, Spock’s hands were hot. Like really hot, like that felt really good hot. Kirk gave a pleased moan and let his head loll on the pillow. Spock applied gentle pressure, but it was the crazy high Vulcan temperature that felt really good.

After a moment, Spock looked up to Kirk’s loopy smile. “Is this acceptable?”

Kirk gave a lazy nod. “Yes, you make an excellent substitute for a dog. I appreciate it.”

Spock paused, and looking down at Kirk’s legs, gently moved his hands in not quite a massage, but a gentle kneading motion. And it felt good. Kirk closed his eyes before he realized Spock was going to speak again.

“Upon further research, I’ve discovered that you are not allergic to feline fur or saliva.”

Kirk blinked his eyes open. “Wha?”

Spock moved his hands towards his other leg, giving it the same pleasant treatment. “And as felines exhibit a much calmer demeanor, they are likely to not aggravate your system. They are also typically smaller than most domestic canines and thus easier to contain and handle.” He paused. “I also believe you will find that their fur is adequately flocculent in nature.”

Kirk found himself grinning. “You like cats, Spock?”

“I have, on occasion, found their nature to be satisfactory.”

“Have you ever owned one?”

“No. But my experience at the Starfleet Academy has shown that San Francisco has an epidemic of stray felines. I’ve encountered several on my pathways around the city.”

Kirk felt like he would never stop smiling. Something about imagining Spock walking to class, finding a stray cat in his path, then bending down to pet it in the name of ‘research’ or some other Vulcan bullshit. Sinking a little further into the hospital bed sheets and deciding his losing game really isn’t worth finishing, Kirk closed his eyes. Ready to drift off to the feeling of Spock’s warm, strong hands on his aching legs.

“Alright, I’m flexible. Bring me a cat then.”

“I was not implying that I would bring you an animal, Captain. I was merely attempting to dissuade you on the notion that I would be an acceptable substitute dog.”

Kirk must have been half-dreaming because there is no way that Spock was trying to convince him that: “You want me to compare you to a cat?”

A pause and Spock stilled his hands. Kirk drifted slightly, but was pulled back by his soothing voice. “That was not entirely the focus of my argument.”

Kirk smiled and decided not to say how that technically meant it was part of the argument.

Chapter Text

Kirk had been on his best behavior. He had only complained to McCoy’s face, held back his snark on the nurses by at least 20%, and managed not only to stay alive for the next week, but actually improve. So much so that McCoy came to him that morning, looking like he was about to rip out his own toe-nails, and said Kirk was free to go.

Well, more like ‘allowed to be manhandled to a Starfleet living complex, then coddled via McCoy, probably more bed restraints (the non-sexy kind), and a force fed diet and therapy on the pretense that Kirk wasn’t in a hospital anymore’.

Freedom.

Kirk was getting pretty good at the standing and walking thing. He even managed to go into the bathroom and put on real clothes for the first time in forever. He did break out into a sweat from the exertion, but it was worth it. Kirk smoothed his hair in the mirror, frowning at his complexion. His hair was no longer luminous, but lank and dark. His eyes were more sunken, cheeks hollowed and lips thinned, making him look older. And he had probably lost at least fifty pounds. He had enough muscle to move under his own power, thanks to electro stimulants, but lying in a bed for two months did not a model make.

Kirk used a belt on his pants that used to be snug, which now flopped on his narrow hips. His shirt was baggy and bulky, no longer having his pecs or abs to fill him out. Even his shoulders had grown thin and sharp.

And while insecurity wasn’t a foreign feeling to Kirk, he had never felt so…ugly in his life. Even when he was just some stupid child delinquent, he had always known he was at least pretty. Any time he had ever felt insignificant, depressed, or upset, he always knew he could hide it under a charming smile and flirtatious quirk in his lips. Now he was…threadbare, ragged, and probably a little sickening to look at.

Kirk stepped out of the bathroom and wasn’t surprised to see Spock had shown up while he readied himself for the outside world. What surprised him was the hover chair Spock had brought with him.

“No,” Kirk immediately objected. “This is my first chance since dying to go outside, I want to walk.”

Spock had that patient look on. The one that was both inexplicable passive and I’m totally over you and your illogic-ness. “You do not have the endurance to make the trip to the Starfleet dormitories. You will ride in the chair and I will escort you, Captain.”

Kirk folded his arms, which would have made him look more intimidating if he actually had a chest to puff out. “I will walk, Spock. I’ll make it a direct order if I need to.”

Spock, whose hands had been resting on the handles of the hover chair, settled into parade rest, raising an eyebrow. “As the Enterprise is temporarily decommissioned for extensive repairs, most of the crew has been given extended shore leave, and you, Captain, are on mandatory medical leave until signed off by at least three top Starfleet medics, including Doctor McCoy, you have not the power or authority to give direct orders.” He paused. “Even to yourself.”

Kirk rubbed his face. “You just really want to see me cave and be shunted around in some old fart hover craft.”

“I am here on the insistence of Doctor McCoy to see you unstrained and uninjured to the quarters assigned to you. And certain admiralty, such as Admiral Pike, would find offense with calling this useful and valuable equipment as ‘old fart hover craft’.”

Kirk flinched away from the mention of Pike. Though that had been awhile ago, and so much had happened since. It really didn’t hurt…as much. Spock probably noticed his slip in tact, because Kirk was surprised to hear the man give in a little.

“Perhaps, if you can cooperate without further straining yourself, you may be permitted to walk the grounds on the Starfleet dormitory complex after we have arrived.”

Kirk looked up to Spock who had not-granite eyes again. He gave a small smile, though he wasn’t sure how reassuring it looked on his gaunt face. “Okay, you win, Mister Spock. I’ll ride in the chair.”

Spock gave a quick nod. And though he never touched Kirk as he lowered himself into the chair, he did stand quite close.

“You know, you really got to stop this whole agreeing with Bones thing. It’s weirding me out.”

Spock let Kirk activate the chair’s control and opened the door to let him out of the room. “When you are in acceptable health and back in command of the Enterprise, Captain, the Doctor and I will attempt to rekindle our antagonistic relationship if you believe it would maintain the power balance on board.”

Kirk snorted, slowly getting used to the controls on the chair. Shame, its top speed was only 4 km/h. He wondered how long it would take for him to modify mechanics to get some real speed on this thing. Spock walked beside him easily and Kirk was glad the half-Vulcan forgone walking behind him or in front of him, as the narrow hallway would suggest. It felt familiar, having Spock at his shoulder, even if his shoulder was only reaching Spock’s hip.

When they exited the doors of the front lobby, Kirk took in several lungfulls of sweet, un-recycled, un-sanitized air. In was late afternoon, but the sun was still high overhead. Kirk stopped the chair, not caring that he was probably blocking the entrance, and leaned back to feel the warmth on his face. Around three in the afternoon, the sun would come into his hospital room and Kirk always hated the stifling heat it brought for a couple hours every day. But out in the open, out in the real world, it felt absolutely perfect.

After a moment he frowned, and looked to Spock. “I’ve probably gotten really pale too, haven’t I?”

Spock gave him a brief assessment. “Captain, your appearance reflects three months of recovering in a hospital room.”

Kirk sank a little in his chair, finding his fingers touching the edges of his hair, just a little too long now. “Great.”

Spock took a step forward, facing Kirk. “You misunderstand, sir. Physical appearance is of little consequence when put in relationship to your astounding recovery from fatal events.” His eyes flickered over Kirk, but his assessment wasn’t so clinical now, he thought. “I doubt another man of your situation would look as…extraordinary.”

Kirk found himself reaching out. He was glad Spock didn’t move or flinch, but just stood there as Kirk’s fingers latched onto the seam of his grey dress uniform. He tugged it slightly and found himself smiling brighter than he had since waking and realizing he wasn’t dead. And when he looked up to Spock and his not-granite eyes that were of a devotion and loyalty Kirk never thought he could inspire out of anyone, nonetheless someone like…someone like Spock, really, Kirk decided that he really wasn’t the man he used to be. But that was okay.

Because Spock was there.

Chapter Text

Though being in the small Starfleet apartment was vastly better than the hospital. It still included almost hourly check-ups from McCoy who seemed even more tightly wound having Kirk being a scant five minutes from his post at the hospital. With his food intake closely prepared and scheduled and his every bowel movement constantly examined, it was barely different. But it did have perks.

For one, Kirk had more visitors.

It seemed that most of the crew Kirk had gotten to know hadn’t visited him in the hospital more out of respect to give him space to recover instead of a reflection of their feelings towards him. Not that it really bothered Kirk. Not much, anyway.

But it was nice to see Sulu, who had gotten tanned from his visit to Okinawa. Chekov, who had been taking supplemental classes at the Academy. Yeoman Rand who had never really spoken much with him before, but always knew exactly how he liked his coffee. Lt. Erri and Lt. Tan who worked the Beta shift and always chatted with Kirk before going on duty. There were also a few nurses from sickbay that giggled about Bone’s antics, while the man had been taking scans of Kirk. Which had been awesome. And then there was Uhura and Scotty, who showed up to visit together.

After they had been spending a great portion of their shore leave…together.

“Wait, you’ve both been in Scotland for the past month?”

Uhura nodded eagerly. “Inverness, beautiful town. I was interested in studying some Gallic and Commander Scott was gracious enough to give me a full tour of some of his old haunts.”

Scotty puffed up his chest, like he had been some crusading knight on behalf of Uhura. But Kirk’s brain was stuck.

“Wait? You’ve been gone with Scotty this entire time. I thought you would be with-” Spock.

But of course Uhura hadn’t been with Spock, because Spock had been with Kirk. Practically every day since he woke up. He shut his mouth abruptly and remembered how Spock had stopped in that morning to prepare ‘a nutritionally balanced meal sanctioned by Doctor McCoy and based on supplementing more iron and carbohydrates into your diet.’ Which had basically been Texas Toast, seasoned with these weird Vulcan spices that made it taste slightly of chai tea, with a modest portion of ham and eggs. Which Spock had prepared with a certain sense of disgust, but made them all the same.

Then he had left almost exactly one hour before Uhura and Scotty arrived. And Kirk simultaneously felt that he missed something really important, and that he knew exactly what was going on. So when he reopened his mouth he didn’t ask about the potential relationship between Uhura and Scotty or the potential non-relationship between her and Spock. He asked how the Enterprise repairs were coming along and found himself deeply enraptured as Scotty went into a huge rant about the innumerable repairs, improvements, and setbacks. Most of which he handled directly himself.

After it was all over. Scotty left first to pull the hover car around to the front of the building and Uhura lingered to say goodbye to Kirk.

She pinned him with a long look first and suddenly Kirk felt like he should run or deny everything. And he had very little idea what ‘everything’ even was. But instead, her eyes softened and became wet. Then she was wrapping her arms around him and he realized that she was shaking from the effort of not holding him too tightly. Kirk might have the strength of a toddler, but he gripped her back as hard as he could. She only shook more.

“It was terrifying, Kirk. God, you have no idea how fucking terrifying…”

“Which part? The dying thing? Or the ship almost impacting San Francisco at Warp 2?”

She coughed out a laugh, or maybe a cry. Then she leaned back, showing the tear stains on her cheeks. “The part where you broke Spock. You. Not me, not Vulcan, not even his own mother, but you Kirk, you broke him.”

Kirk was unsure what to think. “He saved me.”

“He would have killed Khan. Out there on the streets, with his bare hands. He would have ripped that maniac to shreds and not even care that it went against everything he was raised to believe. And I couldn’t stop him, I don’t think his own father could have stopped him.”

Kirk frowned. “But Khan survived.” Though sleeping in a cryotube was barely survival. More like purgatory. “What stopped Spock?”

Uhura hiccupped a watery smile. “You did.”

Chapter Text

Kirk was determined not to endure those electro stimulants anymore. He didn’t care if he had to walk five minutes every day and find himself winded like an obese asthmatic with a heart condition. He was going to walk those five minutes, feel like he was dying for half an hour, then five more. It hurt worse, bone deep, over stressed muscle worse. But at least he was going somewhere.

And maybe he didn’t tell McCoy about the five pound weights hidden his dresser that he utilized when he woke up and did his morning calisthenics. But in two weeks, Kirk had gained back 15lbs and he felt amazing. He was nowhere near the Adonis perfection he once was. But his hair had brightened and thickened, and he started actually wearing his old clothing, instead of swimming in it.

His eyes were still sunken, however. And that was slowly becoming a worrying problem. Not that having spontaneously set in eyes was terrible. Kirk could actually survive if he was less than perfection. But it was the reason his eyes were sunken.

Kirk couldn’t sleep.

At first, it didn’t bother him too much since while in the hospital he spent most of his time (92.3%, as Spock would synthesize) sleeping. But now that he was back, eating real food, walking around like a real person, he couldn’t sleep a wink. He would get tired, sure, exhausted even. But he would lie there, on the bed and stare at the ceiling until he felt too antsy and got up to do another small workout.

And if he ever did manage to close his eyes. He saw…

Warp core, sputtering like a blown fuse…the climb, a mountain of metal and bolts and tubes and everything burned with fire…fire in his blood, the air was poison…gasping, crawling, he looked up…I want you to know…I want you to know…I want you to know…my friend…my…there is darkness here, in this small space between breathing and not breathing…dying feels like death…just one more moment…one more…I wish I could touch him…touch him and know that it is okay…okay to die…I cannot touch him…and it is not.

Kirk sat on the couch, looking at the holovids projected on the far wall. There wasn’t any sound. Kirk had turned it off earlier. Couldn’t hear it over the screaming in his head anyway. He could barely see the flickering images, his eyes glazed, tired. He wanted to sleep, but the visions behind his eyes weren’t visions at all. They were dying. And they were memories.

And Kirk had been making light of his death for nearly four months now. He had talked about it, joked about. Hell, McCoy had run some psychoanalysis scans on him, just to make sure he was coping. But maybe he hadn’t been coping; maybe he had just been putting it off until he got a moment to himself. Until he had hours to be totally alone. No nurse just down the hall. Just himself and his mind trying to shatter itself to pieces.

It worried him. More than just the going insane from insomnia part. He was worried that he wouldn’t get over this. That when he was put through the standard psi-evaluations to see if he was fit for service he would fail. Maybe Starfleet wouldn’t fire him completely, that would look bad for the public image. But they could ground him. How can you be a starship captain if your own engine gave you nightmares?

If your own ship drives you insane?

A bell. Someone at the door.

Spock walked in, not even waiting for Kirk to answer. Both Spock and Bones had overrides to any lock Kirk could place on the door. Just in case he would die again.

God, Spock. I died.” His voice was broken, breaking.

Spoke was dressed in casual Vulcan robes. As casual as Vulcan robes got anyway. He looked better in them than his grey formal uniform. He looked less…alien, somehow. He knelt on the floor beside the couch, smoothing the robes away from his knees. “Yes, you did.”

Kirk leaned forward burying his face in his hands. “The Enterprise killed me, Spock. The Enterprise…I love her. I miss her. She killed me.” He peeked one eye, looking at Spock. His head was bowed, dark bangs seemed lower on his forehead. It was mid afternoon, but the room was so dark.

“You saved the ship and the crew.”

“What would’ve happened…what would’ve happened if you hadn’t brought back Khan?”

Spock looked up and his eyes seem darker now. “Then you would be dead, Jim.”

“And where would you be, Spock?”

He didn’t answer, but his eyes lifted and he was looking at Kirk. Looking into Kirk. And though he knew Vulcan’s were strictly touch telepaths, Kirk felt like he could read his mind, his soul. He wanted to reach out and touch Spock. The way the alternate Spock had. Be in each other’s minds and not so alone. And maybe Uhura was right, maybe Spock was broken too. But Kirk knew he had taken broken pieces of life before and made something out of them. Something worth living.

Spock inhales softly through his nose. “I have researched your claims of animal therapy. It is an interesting thesis that the mere act of ‘petting’ the fur of a relaxed and submissive animal can induce higher levels of endorphins in the patients. Though the correlation between a full recovery and a ‘good mentality’ is ambiguous at best.”

Allergic to emotions that run just a little too sharp. Maybe they both were. Maybe that was for the best.

Kirk couldn’t manage a smile. “And what are your conclusions from your studies, Mister Spock?”

Spock blinked. “Bringing an animal into your complex would only incite Doctor McCoy’s not entirely irrational concern over your welfare. But I have the hypothesis that an animal is not entirely necessary to complete the experiment.” He hesitated, a strange reaction from Spock. “And I believe my own hair is of the proper pliant nature that it may substitute efficiently.”

That got Kirk to smile, if only a small one. “And here you are, being all submissive and relaxed. I do believe you’re on to something, Mr. Spock.” He lay down sideways on the couch, curling his legs up on the cushions. Spock’s head was directly before him now and the Vulcan seemed like a statue in the small living room.

The holovid had stopped, at some point. And Kirk reached out to run his fingers through that cropped, black hair. It was soft, silkier, and very fine. Spock did not move as Kirk pushed those bangs away from the forehead, only to find them lay back perfectly. He explored the hair line, the pointed side burns, and the sharper, short hairs at the base of the neck.

It was mesmerizing and Kirk probably would have thought a lot more about the fact he was currently petting his first officer, if he hadn’t felt so entirely sleep-deprived. After a moment, he reached out and tugged Spock’s head closer, pressing one of those pointed ears to the edge of the couch.

Spock looked up at him. His eyes were so far beyond not-granite. They were liquid, chocolate, and yet, totally unreadable. Kirk cupped one cheek, feeling the dry, warm skin. He traced the jaw to the other ear, memorizing its alien lines. Then he sunk his hand through the hair at the back of Spock’s head and pulled him closer. He could feel Spock’s chin at his elbow as Kirk pressed his face to the black hair, inhaling deeply. He gave a shaky exhale and realized his eyes were wet, tears not quite spilling. He rubbed them into the top of Spock’s head.

And let them fall.

Chapter Text

It was unsurprising to Kirk, in the following days, that he now woke to the sight of Spock setting out fresh clothing. And fell asleep to the strange sensation of Spock pulling the bed sheets over his exhausted body. Kirk didn’t touch Spock again though, nor did Spock ever suggest it. And that was okay, because Kirk was sleeping through the night. And maybe he still felt alone in his head. But he didn’t feel as alone as before.

With Spock always at his side and Kirk pretty unwilling to leave his, it was only logical that he followed his first officer everywhere he went. It seemed that Spock, during the extended shore leave, was giving supplemental lectures at the Academy, assisting in various experiments at the Academy Science Institute, and generally going to a lot of meetings with the Admiralty that Kirk had been incapable of handling before.

But now that he was better, even if better meant he still needed to stop and rest every three hours, Kirk found himself immensely enjoying shadowing Spock. And even if he was on mandatory medical leave, he was still a captain and so was allowed to be briefed on everything that had been passed over his head and onto Spock.

The Enterprise, as Scotty had relayed, was being given an extensive refitting and would be complete within the year. It had also been chosen as the vessel to carry out the super exciting five year mission of space exploration that had been gossip fodder before Khan appeared and fucked shit up. What was unclear was who was going to be on the crew.

Many had died. Many had resigned or requested relocation. The Engineering department roster was nearly complete, as Scotty had been officially signed off as Chief Engineer and so made quick work of laying claim to all who would work under him. Uhura had been promoted to Head of Communications, so that department was well under way. Sulu and Chekov had both been offered and accepted their positions of Alpha helmsmen.

The entire Medical department was in shambles though. Bones, apparently, had been very loud and very vocal that he would not accept any position on any ship unless Kirk was in, as one report claimed, ‘spitting distance’. Many of the nurses and doctors had also perished in the crisis, or had been quickly promoted to other vessels as they displayed exemplary skills in the face of such demanding conditions. And without Bones taking on the CMO position, no one had been organized enough to see to it.

The Science department was under similar stress. While Spock readily made himself available to oversee that all labs and equipment and personal were up to the status quo, he had been very unwilling, in such a Vulcan like manner, to give a straight answer if he was even going to on the ship. He had been offered his position as Science Officer, but also First Officer, and even Captain, by some admiralty. As far as Kirk heard or witnessed, Spock would neatly side-step the offer, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

It was a pointed note that Kirk was not offered to be Captain. It was an assumption, of course, but he knew unless there was a formal ceremony and some very concrete documents, anything could change. Kirk was under medical leave, had been for almost five months now, and he was still recovering. This five year mission was to set out almost exactly one year since the attacks on both Starfleet Archive and Starfleet Headquarters. As a sign of a promising future, probably.

And, as Kirk observed through meetings where he was practically ignored, it was a future he could not be a part of.

Chapter Text

Spock, one day, said Kirk was given permission to tour the progress of the Enterprise.

“The Enterprise’s refit is at 76.8%. Doctor McCoy and I have been given leave to make a personal inspection of the progress.” Spock paused. “We both agreed under the same parameters.”

“Parameters?”

“That the Captain would be accompanying us.”

Kirk, who admittedly had already been smiling pretty wide, became ecstatic. “Really? Spock!” He reached out, gripping Spock’s shoulders tightly.

“Captain,” the Vulcan strained. “Not in front of the Doctor.”

Kirk snorted, just as he heard Bones grumbling somewhere behind him. He was currently have his bi-weekly physical when Spock just waltzed in and gave him an early birthday present. Kirk dropped his arms and turned to Bones, who was attempting to scan his temples. “Can I really, Bones? Can I go?”

Bones frowned at the eager tone. “Jim, you do realize that going into space requires a body at peak physical status. You’re barely scrapping the bottom of the barrel in terms of ‘health wellness’. Do you know how many g-forces are putting pressure on your body when those shuttle crafts take off? How easy it is for every incision I’ve made in the past five months to rip? Your heart, your right lung, your spleen to rupture? Do you want to feel your blood congeal in your veins?”

Kirk only smiled. “Oh come on Bones, I was only barely dead five months ago. And besides, aren’t the transporters running?”

Bones only seemed to grow paler from that thought. “You telling me that you want to go and scatter your atoms across this godforsaken stretch of space and have them be put back together again by some newly reinstated technology and a half-wit at the console! I spent two weeks trying to get some megalomaniac’s blood to re-grow all your cells. And you want to radiate them again!”

Kirk looked to Spock, who had just stood passively by for the entire exchange. “So when are we leaving?”

Bones grumbled and jabbed a couple painful hypos into Kirk’s neck. Though he was getting rather used to them, having been submitted to at least five a day since wake five months ago. Spock inclined his head slightly. “As soon as your physical has been completed.” He gave a brief side-long glance to Bones. “Chief Engineer Scott has informed me that transporter has been fully functional for fifteen days.”

Kirk smiled even wider and practically felt his body buzzing from excitement. Sure, he had been freaking out about being ‘emotionally compromised’ by the Enterprise just a week ago. But Spock and sleep had been doing him good. And, really, it was his nature to butt heads with things that were stronger than him, that terrified him. Maybe, in some small part of his brain, he wanted to know, once and for all, if he could handle being Captain again. And if he couldn’t, well, at least he would be out of that delusion.

The physical ended and he was escorted by Bones and Spock outside the hospital to a designated transportation area. Spock was communicating with the ship, readying them for beam-up. Bones kept shooting dirty looks at Kirk and held himself stiffly. Kirk looked down at the concrete beneath his worn shoes. He was wearing an old pair, comfortable, but not exactly nice in any way. He was wearing jeans again, still needing a belt, a shirt, and a sweater. It was late summer, but Kirk had found that having every cell in your body fatally radiated and grown back via superman blood transfusion meant you were generally cold all the time.

He felt the tingle on the edges of his skin, like static electricity. He remembered the first time he was ever transported, how instinctively terrifying it was to know you were about to be scattered into billions of pieces and put back together again thousands of miles away. Now, he felt he had done it all his life. Automatically, his body relaxed, not fighting the pull, the strange sensation of his brain separating and his vision turning into white blackness. It was like holding his breath, for two seconds, and exhaling to find you had closed your eyes, though you don’t remember even blinking.

Then there were the white lights, glass beneath his feet, and red-shirted Scotsman stepping around the console to greet him.

“Captain! Good ta’ have ya on the ship again!”

And Kirk smiled and knew what it was like to see the porch-lights of an Iowa farmhouse after a long road trip. The sight of cheap beer after a rough bar fight. The sensation of sinking into standard issue bed sheets that, even if you’ve never slept in them before, felt like the greatest accomplishment one could ever have. The sight of a dog, barking at the front door, greeting you like it’s been years since your last meeting. No matter how short or long, it was meaningful and good.

It was home.

Chapter Text

After five months of practically no intellectual stimulation, aside from casual conversations with Spock, getting a full and complete rundown on the Enterprise’s development in just a couple hours was a little overwhelming. Kirk was immediately pulled away from the transporter pad by Scotty and practically thrown under the console as the man explain, accent thickening in excitement, how he had been tinkering with it to be more effective, less likely to fail, and generally shiney-er.

Then began the grand tour. The Enterprise had been quite efficiently gutted. Even with repairs at 76.8% completion, the ship looked like it was only half built. Most of the bulkheads had been stripped away, revealing the wires and plumbing. Engineers were running around every corner, carrying heavy equipment or programming the comm boxes hanging off the walls. All the doors were set to open, the automatic closing mechanism currently under repair. All of the massive damage was repaired, making the Enterprise space worthy, but it seemed like there was so far left to go.

Kirk thought she looked beautiful though. So open and exposed, like a naked woman just taking a nap on the couch. Not sexy, not exactly, but intimate and beautiful in the imperfections that happen when one is not covered completely. It was like Kirk could walk through the hallways and see the Enterprise’s veins and neural pathways. See where she labored and where she healed. He felt, when she was fitted and covered with shining new bulkheads and transparent aluminum, Kirk would still remember her like this and know her pulse.

Bones was quickly whisked away towards Sickbay, despite the man’s swearing. Kirk eagerly sent him off, he knew how much work the med team needed from him, even if only for a couple of hours. Kirk was first brought to the bridge, which was only accessible via emergency turbo lifts. The main lifts were still in the troubleshooting stage. The bridge was, naturally, gutted. All the chairs and railings and had stripped away, so the panels under each station was more easily accessible. The captain’s chair, however, remained. Kirk stepped down to it, as an engineer flitted around the arm rests, tweaking the software.

Kirk didn’t sit in it, not yet. Not until he knew that nothing could take him away from it. Instead, he ran his hand across the smooth, black fabric. He remembered how, sitting there, he didn’t just feel powerful, he felt worthy. Like when people looked at him, they didn’t see a farm boy, a delinquent, they saw the captain. It was impersonal, but respectful. And while Kirk was still learning the fine art of respecting authority, he couldn’t deny the pleasure that came from being the respected authority.

He looked out to the main viewing window. Someone was programming main screen, as it would flicker to life, then off again. But he could still see space from here. The edge of the space station the Enterprise was currently attached to. The long arm of workers in environmental suits, polishing the hull. Then beyond them…space. Stars, planets, galaxies. Most humans felt small when they entered space. Felt insignificant in the face of so much more in the universe, and so much less.

Kirk felt…not exactly big, but important. Like being out there, in darkness and silence, was where he belonged. Out there he was important and needed and necessary and it felt like destiny to captain a starship. To find new planets and new civilizations. To make mistakes and save lives. To feel alone, yet so completely surrounded.

“Captain?” It was Spock, standing beside him. As if he had always been there, and always will.

Kirk turned slightly, smile tugging at his lips. “Let’s go to Engineering, okay?”

His eyes were dark, assessing. “It is not necessary that you oversee the repairs to Engineering.”

Kirk inhaled deeply, looking up at Scotty. The man was standing where the railing should be and giving Kirk a much more emotional reaction. He remembered that Scotty had been there too. When Kirk had first crawled out of the core and into the decontamination room, Scotty had been there. Standing on the other side of the glass, swearing and screaming, and all but punching the access pad next to the door. It wouldn’t open and Kirk really hadn’t expected it to.

Dunna worry! I’ll get Spock! We’ll get ya outta there, Captain! Dunna move!

And Kirk had laid there, for a minute, trying to catch his breath. The warp core, when functioning, was deafening. He figured he would crawl towards the glass door, where the switch to close the main hatch to the core was. Then he would die, in blissful silence.

Spock nodded and they went to the Enterprise’s engines.

It was loud in engineering. About half of the equipment was being tested and red shirts seemed to be climbing the walls. Kirk smiled, whether in total disarray or fully functioning, engineering always looked like this. People climbed out of jeffry tubes, climbed from under the consoles, climbed out from beneath the floor! But Kirk didn’t linger to hear the report on the repairs, that wasn’t why he was here.

He was here for the warp core.

Scotty trotted beside him. “The Enterprise is currently feeding power from the star base. Core is cold now. Next week they’ll be warming her up for some trials.”

Kirk nodded and walked towards the glass door that led to the decontamination compartment. He remembered hearing how Uhura had been here as well. Arriving late, she didn’t see Kirk’s last moments. But she saw this door and Spock kneeling before it.

It was so small, tucked away and forgotten looking. Kirk knelt before it. Looking up at the blazoned words. Authorized Personnel Only. No Captains allowed, may cause damage to First Officers. Kirk touched the glass. Was it cold when Spock had done this? Or was it warm, scalding as Kirk’s body had felt?

A shadow over him and Kirk looked up to Spock. He stood stiffly, hands clenched behind his back. “Do you wish to enter?”

“I’m sorry.”

An eyebrow raised, expression of forced lightness. “Specify.”

Kirk looked back inside, to the decontamination chamber. “I thought to myself; if I could only touch him, then it would be okay, if I could only touch him. But, I think now, that it wouldn’t have made a difference…”

He was suddenly hauled to his feet and Spock was punching in the access code. The door opened and he pulled Kirk inside. Even with the core not running, they had to wait for the door to close before the main inner chamber would open.

It was dark, only the emergency lights on. There was no one there, the repairs already completed. And it was cold.

The dilithium crystal was untarnished, waiting in the container. It seemed to shine in the low light, waiting to power the largest, grandest of star ships. There was extra reinforcement, more stabilizers. The scaffolding was up again. When Kirk had made the climb, it had been broken down. He had to crawl up the tubing and wires and everything that made the Enterprise’s heart beat. He had sunk into her atriums and ventricles and it had killed him. He had brought her back to life and she had cradled him, for just a few minutes.

Yes, it was his destiny to live among the stars. And it was his destiny to die in this ship. Meld with her, sink with her.

Kirk sat against the walls, still looking up. He tugged Spock’s arm, bringing the Vulcan down with him.

“She’s…she’s beautiful,” he gasped. He took Spock by the wrist, pushing his palm against Kirk’s chest. “I already feel her pulse. And she’s not even awake yet.”

Kirk looked to Spock and realized something was wrong. Spock’s stoic facade was breaking at the edges. His eyes were raw, open. They bled.

“Spock?” he asked softly, worried.

Spock quickly looked away and Kirk realized his hand was shaking in his grip. He let go, but Spock’s hand still took a moment to return to its owner. Spock inhaled deeply and he seemed to center himself. “I confess a…weakness. I ask that we leave.”

Kirk, for agonizing over coming back to this spot, after all the trauma, was surprised that it was his first officer that was having a problem. “Spock, it’s an engine. Both you and I have to be able to handle this. I know you know that.”

Spock looked back to him, eyes more determined. He raised one hand. “Then…please, let me. I need to…I will explain afterward. But I need you.”

Kirk swallowed thickly. He had a very good idea what Spock wanted. But after the hasty mind meld on Delta Vega, he wasn’t about to just jump into another one. That had been hard. So much emotion, not half of it his own, and voices and images that didn’t belong and…it had been totally alien and weird. He didn’t mean to flinch away when Spock’s hand approached his cheek, he just…did. Spock sensed this and withdrew.

“Perhaps, I will explain first.” He settled more against the bulkhead of the inner warp core. Kirk shuffled his legs. He had a feeling this would take awhile. “After the destruction of Vulcan, the death of my mother, and the events propagated by Admiral Marcus and Khan, I’ve found faults in my mental shields.”

“Faults?” Kirk frowned. “Is it serious?” He leaned forward. “Are you in danger?”

Spock put a hand on his shoulder, comforting. It lingered before leaving. “I am not in danger, Jim. As a telepathic species, my mind receives constant input from any sentient being. Using mental shields, I can filter the psychic waves and receive those only beneficial to my well being.”

“But aren’t you only a touch telepath?”

A pause. “It is complicated to explain to someone who is psi-null. But you can infer it is the difference between knowing someone is in the same room as you and actually looking at them. I do not sense thoughts or emotions, as an empath would. But I can feel presence…katra, or spirit.” He bowed his head, looking to his hands resting against his thighs. Kirk had the sudden urge to reach out and grasp them. But he didn’t, not until he understood. “On Vulcan, we keep our telepathy open to each other. With great emotional and mental control, there is little risk in being unshielded. When I was accepted into Starfleet, I created mental shields against the emotional turmoil of being around so many non-Vulcans. When Nero destroyed Vulcan, I was aboard the Enterprise and completely shielded, by habit.”

Another long pause and Kirk felt like he understood. He shifted, leaning on his side and looking at Spock. He waited until Spock turned to him, and he could see his eyes. “You didn’t feel it when Vulcan died,” he whispered. “You really didn’t feel anything.”

The words felt too loud, though they were whispered. “Yes. When my people, my race, my mother perished, I was closed. I did not know their pain; I did not know their death. Ever since I have found it difficult to maintain a shield, though the psychic waves can be overwhelming.” He paused. “I have also been unwilling to construct one.”

Kirk suddenly remembered his words during the Narada incident. You feel nothing! It must not even compute for you! They had been harsh, unfair, he knew that. He had apologized to that effect when Spock accepted the position as First Officer. They had mutually agreed that they had been necessary, in the grand scheme of things. Spock had been unwilling to linger on the fight on the bridge and Kirk was too willing to let it go too.

But never had he thought they were true words. And it made it so much worse.

Spock’s attack hadn’t been one in defense, and had been one in grief.

And it made more sense. After his father stopped him, that Spock had backed down. Kirk had been ready with more verbal knives, ready to drive the poor Vulcan to insanity. But Spock had backed away, almost too easily. He had backed away even though he had to have known it would only bring Kirk to power. But Spock had done it because he wasn’t just emotionally compromised. He was broken.

Kirk reached out and suddenly took one of those hands. He held it tightly near Spock’s lap. He didn’t say anything, but tried to force through alien telepathy not that he was sorry, Spock already knew that, but that he understood.

Spock shuddered at the touch and leaned forward slightly. But he quickly recovered and took his hand away. Kirk let go.

He continued speaking. “But living aboard the Enterprise without a mental shield would be considerably difficult. So I developed the solution by using a focus. Lt. Uhura, for instance, was my focus for some months. Being in an intimate relationship with her, and her presence on the bridge during our shared shift were considerable advantages. But I found, in some situations, she wasn’t entirely stable enough. So, when this would occur, I found myself automatically shifting to another who was stable. When Lt. Uhura was made aware, it caused some tension in our relationship. She could not understand why I could not always depend on her and it was difficult to explain the process. She also took some offense at the individual who would take her place.”

“Who was the other focus?”

Spock’s eye met his, then flickered away. “You, Captain.”

Kirk felt his heart stutter. He wasn’t quite sure how or why Spock needed a mental focus, but it pleased him nonetheless. All this time, while Kirk had bullshitted his way to be Captain, constantly relying on Spock to guide him through the steps he had skipped when he had been hastily promoted, Spock had been relying on him. At least some of the time. Kirk forced his heart to still, though with less effectiveness than a certain Vulcan could probably manage. “Me? How could I be stable enough? I waver all the time!”

“It is not a matter of you cognitive decisions being direct and concise. It is the matter of your katra. Your unwavering belief in your morals, those around you, and yourself. Even a wavered decision could not waver your entire spirit. It is a rarity to find such a steadfast katra, and barely matched by Lt. Uhura.” He breathed in deeply. “When you…succumbed in the warp core, I was open to your psychic waves. It is why I gave an emotional response, when I had not done so previously. Lt. Uhura attempted to stabilize me, but I was…compromised. It was not until Khan was successfully captured and McCoy gave the word that the serum he devised was taking effect that I could begin to focus myself.”

“Wait…are you saying you felt me die?”

Spock was very still for a moment. “It was not the same as Admiral Pike, with whom I had a direct connection via a mind meld, and so could read his emotions and thoughts. But I could feel your spirit weaken, fade.” He almost seemed to frown. “It is difficult to describe, but it was…distressing.” He quickly moved on and Kirk let him. “Lt. Uhura, once again, attempted to help, but my own katra was shattered from the trauma. I could only stabilize myself with your weakened katra and no one else I explained the matter to McCoy, who allowed me to be in the presence of your bedside during your two week coma. Only when you woke and it was apparent that I was more stable, did he insist I only come during visiting hours. I’ve allowed you to be physical close and to…touch me, because it is a direct telepathic connection to my psychic well-being. It is reassuring to feel you, clearly and decisively. I was intending to inform you of this, but I was unwilling, for it might have caused you undue stress. I was awaiting your full recovery to apprise you completely.”

“So, wait. You’re mentally fucked and you use me as a crutch to make you feel better?”

Spock stiffened. “If you find this to be repugnant, I will attempt to cease as soon as possible. It may take some weeks, but-”

Kirk leaned forward taking both those hands. They weren’t clammy like his were. “No, bad wording. I don’t mind. I really don’t. In fact, I kind of like it.”

“Like it?” Spock stared at him like he was insane.

Kirk shrugged. “It’s flattering, that you depend on me.” He looked down at their joined hands and slowly raised those slim fingers to his cheek. “So you need me now, right? Cause it hurts you and much as it does me to be here. So…crutch me. I can handle it.”

Spock looked ready to argument his grammar, but his fingers were already stroking his cheeks, finding the meld points like they were notches on Kirk’s skin. Then Kirk couldn’t see because Spock rolled on top of him, sitting on his lap, pressing his face into Kirk’s neck. His breath was scorching, a dry desert heat. His free fingers were in Kirk’s hair, then to his forehead and cheeks. Kirk closed his eyes to the strangely familiar sensation of a meld.

But it really wasn’t a meld. A meld, like he had experienced with the elder Spock, was two minds combining, becoming one mind. This was…as if their mind’s were touching. Holding each other as their bodies did now. Surrounding, but never surrounded.

Spock’s mind was crying, probably in ways he could not show in his body. His mind wept for losses innumerable. More than Kirk, but Vulcan and Amanda, his mother. Spock held a fathomless grief and he was tired of holding it. Please, please. I’m so tired.

So Kirk grasped him back, in body and mind, and he knew Uhura had been wrong. He hadn’t broken Spock. But he did need Kirk to break him.

So, together, they held the pieces.

Parted from me and never parted.

Never and always touching and

touched.

Chapter Text

It was unsurprising that the nightmare returned after seeing the Enterprise. Kirk knew, from the experience at Tarsus IV, that trauma had a habit of lying low, even for years at a time, then just suddenly appearing. A constant monster to be face. A constant memory to remember.

Kirk opened his eyes to the dark room and the sound of him panting loud in the silence of early morning. He looked to his side, the chronometer read 0345. He had kicked off the sheets in the night and his bare chest shivered in a fine sheen of sweat. He groped around, trying to find the blankets and saw his hands were shaking. He rubbed his forehead, trying to take in deep, even breaths. But his chest felt tight and forcing it made it feel like he was going to barf.

The door to the room opened and Spock walked in, holding a warm cup.

Kirk blinked. “Whazzit?” he slurred.

Spock put the mug on the bed stand. Then leaned over and retrieved the covers from the floor. “Chamomile.”

Kirk reached out, touching the mug. It was warm, but not hot. He hadn’t the strength to sit up, so he just flopped his hand back to the sheet. “Spock,” he drawled, voice slurred. “What are you doing here?”

Spock gathered the fallen blanket into his arms. Cleanly, he flung it over Kirk’s body, and then neatly tucked in the corners. In two movements, it looked like it had been professionally pressed and not totally flung to the floor in a nightmare’s hysteric fit. “I am fixing your bed covers. Previously, I had been meditating in the living room.”

Kirk shifted under the blanket, rumpling it again. He pulled his arms out and ran a hand through his hair. It was really too early to be talking to Spock. “Don’t you sleep? Don’t you go home?”

Spock stood back, at parade rest. It was ridiculous. “Vulcans require an average of 3.4 hours of sleep and can remain fully functional for up to two weeks without the act of sleep.”

Kirk looked at him blankly. It was really too early to be talking to Spock. He remained silent and Spock almost seemed to…fidget. It was hard to tell because he really didn’t move at all, but it just felt like it.

“Meditation is a customary replacement for sleep,” he elaborated, unnecessarily.

Kirk sighed and reached for the mug again. He really didn’t know if it was actually Spock’s drink or if Spock had brought it for him. But he didn’t care, his throat felt hoarse and he was still cold. Immediately, Spock reached out and took the mug, holding it forward.

“Allow me, Captain.”

Kirk nodded and let the Vulcan press the mug against his lips. The warm, flowery tea poured in slowly, carefully. Kirk rested his hand against the back of Spock’s, it was warm and dry. It was only when Spock pulled the mug away after a few gulps that Kirk realized that Spock had let him touch. Without the lucidity of being fully awake, Kirk couldn’t hold back asking about it. “So you are here, all the time, because you depend on me?”

Spock held the mug at his chest, eyes impossible to read in the low light. Kirk rolled over and reached out. His hand found Spock’s pant leg, a soft material, and tugged him closer to stand next to the bedside again.

“You sleep in my living room and wake when I have a nightmare because you are…stabilizing yourself?”

Spock reached down and detached Kirk’s hand from his clothing. Kirk gripped those fingers tightly and, this time, Spock didn’t let him go. “Is that disturbing to you?”

Kirk just tugged him closer, until Spock was half bent over, knees half on the mattress. “No. Hell, I feel like I’m falling apart half the time. Having someone…having you say you use me to stabilize yourself…Well, it makes me feel like I’m doing something right, yeah?”

He wasn’t really sure what he was doing, but it felt right. So Kirk tugged Spock even more, shuffling across the bed to give some space. Spock knelt on all fours on the mattress, one hand still trapped in Kirk’s. “Captain-?”

“Jim. I’m pulling you into my bed and my name is Jim, okay?”

“Jim.”

Kirk smiled pushing down the sheets and awkwardly trying to pull them around Spock’s crouched figure. “This works better if you lie down.”

“Why do you want me to lie down?”

Kirk snorted, releasing Spock’s hand and sitting up to physically push on Spock’s lower back until the Vulcan got the message. Spock lay down, though he looked rather stiff. Kirk, feeling a little triumphant, pulled the blankets up more securely. “Perfect.”

“Jim, I do not require rest.”

Kirk flopped down, burrowing slightly under the covers next to Spock. They weren’t touching, not anymore, but Kirk felt himself grinning like an idiot. “Then lie there and stabilize yourself, whatever.” He closed his eyes, deliberately.

There was silence for several minutes. Then a soft exhale, then the bed shifted and Spock’s body actually relaxed. Kirk probably would have smiled, but he was exhausted. Instead, he just absorbed the warm bubble blooming in his chest.

Sometimes Kirk would wake to find himself burrowed in Spock’s arms.

Sometimes he would wake half on top of the Vulcan, head resting on his chest, leg thrown carelessly across his thigh.

Sometimes he would wake on the other side of the bed, tired of sweating through his sheets.

Sometimes Kirk would wake with Spock holding him from behind, the stronger grip almost painful. He would gasp, but Spock would only loosen the grip enough to have a hand travel to the meld-points on Kirk’s face. Then Kirk would close his eyes and know that even Vulcans had nightmares.

Chapter Text

Kirk knew he should probably ask some follow-up questions, considering the only other person Spock said he stabilized himself on was his girlfriend. Or exactly how much Spock was willing to touch Kirk. It wasn’t like he went around and asked Kirk for hugs or anything. Well, maybe that meld in the warp core had been a mental hug. And sometimes, usually the middle of the night when they were both too tired to think clearly, they would meld again. And Spock had let Kirk touch his hands on a pretty frequent basis.

But, still

While, Kirk didn’t know much about Vulcan sensitivities and general prudishness, he was pretty sure their hands were special or something. He did pass his xenoculture class. Granted it had been sort of a blow-off class in the Academy because most of the time they just watched clips from various alien holovids and Kirk had really only learned that Orions made fantastic soap operas. But there had been a Vulcan documentary vid in there. Very dry, very logical, and not very informative, cause Vulcans like to be mysterious and tight-lipped and all that shit. Though it did have a young Vulcan couple who seemed eager, in a very Vulcan way, to touch hands with each other on a constant basis.

Kirk kind of thought it was like a kiss. Which made sense to the few Vulcans he observed around the Academy, always with their hands behind their backs, or clasped in front of them, or hidden up sleeves. Otherwise, brushing a hand accidentally on a stranger would be kind of like walking around and licking anyone who passed you by.

But, as the days passed, and Kirk was really trying to figure out exactly what sort of relationship him and Spock had, describing hand touching as a kiss just didn’t seem to be right. Because if Vulcan hands really were that sensitive and intimate, wouldn’t anytime Spock touched some of the lab equipment, curled his hand around some strange alien plant, or picked up his fork would suddenly become very awkward?

So Kirk decided to ask. “Do Vulcan’s make out with their hands or does it mean something else?”

Spock, who had been bent over a lab station in the Starfleet Academy’s science building, straightened himself. “Specify ‘make out’.”

Kirk hopped down from the stool. He probably wouldn’t be asking, but he had been staring at Spock’s ass for almost an hour now with not another sound in the room besides for the low hum of the other equipment. While it was a pretty nice as, as far as males went (Kirk couldn’t deny that all female species tended to have the roundest, squishiest, and generally sexiest asses.) it wasn’t very fun when it was covered by Starfleet regulation trousers and didn’t do much besides occasionally bend or straighten.

Kirk stood beside Spock, leaning against the table where Spock was poking at some weird aphid from Elysaan under a microscope. Spock usually had more interest in physics and chemistry, but apparently expanded his scientific research when confronted by months of total and complete boredom. Or Kirk assumed it was boredom, traveling on a spaceship had to be more interesting than giving lectures at the Academy and babysitting sick Starfleet officers.

“Making out is kissing, Frenching, snogging, tonguing, playing tonsil hockey, take your pick. Do Vulcan’s do it with their hands?”

Spock’s eyes went a bit distant. Which would either mean he was deeply embarrassed about discussing this, or was trying to convince himself that he didn’t have to discuss this. “Vulcans can use their hands in intimate gestures.” He brought one hand from behind his back, extending two fingers. “When met in kind, this gesture is acceptable between telsu, or married Vulcans. It is not totally analogous to a Terran ‘kiss’. It is used commonly in public settings to show that the two Vulcans belong to, or are intended for, each other.” Swiftly, he returned the hand to clasp behind his back. “However the gesture can be improvised to contain more of a sexual meaning.”

Kirk tilted his head, still looking at Spock’s hands resting on the small of his back. “So, what? You rub your fingers together with another person and it’s sort of like making out?”

Spock nodded stiffly. “Ambiguous terminology, but in essence, yes.”

Kirk automatically reached out to touch Spock’s hands. Spock stepped away. Kirk looked up. “What?”

“You are intending to incite a sexual gesture from me.”

Kirk rolled his eyes. “You just told me a weird alien make out method. Of course I wanna try it. Besides, we’ve touched hands before, how is it different?”

“I have only allowed you to touch me out of companionship.”

“Sounds the same to me.”

Spock almost seemed to ‘huff’. Kirk was almost distracted by it, but Spock continued talking. “It is the difference between kissing a lover and kissing a close family member.”

Kirk retracted his hand and Spock visibly relaxed. That was interesting. “So, I’ve been giving you pecks on the cheek?”

“Again, ambiguous terminology-”

“So, yes.” Kirk folded his arms, staring down Spock.

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. “This upsets you.” It wasn’t a question and Spock was correct in the assessment. But there was a certain air of uncertainty in the statement. Why.

Why did it upset Kirk? Giving Spock familial gestures of affection might make their interactions seem less…special. But then again, how many people gave Spock familial gestures of affection? And with six billions of Vulcan’s gone, how many could? But maybe that was the point. The point was that Spock, as he said, had a weakness. He needed some sort of contact to compensate for the weakness and, since there were six billion less candidates out there, maybe Kirk would do.

“It makes me feel used.” He didn’t mean to say it, but he couldn’t regret the words. They were true. Kissing someone was a two way road. You give pleasure, you gain pleasure. Or that’s how good kissing was. When you gave your Aunt Mildred a peck on the cheek at Christmas, you were doing it to please her. Because there was no child out there who wanted to kiss the Aunt that had hairy lip moles and would get drunk and called your mother a harlot for never settling down with any of her numerous boyfriends.

Spock’s eyes widened fractionally. “You feel that you do not benefit from our current affiliation?”

“Well, no. I didn’t mean that…” Kirk ran a hand through his hair. “I mean, that would just be ungrateful. You’ve been at my bedside for what, almost six months now? You’ve been feeding me and waking me from nightmares and practically dressing me in the morning. Hell, we’ve snuggled together!”

Spock swiftly looked away. “I have never helped clothed your person.”

“Well, you do hover a lot!” Kirk said with a little more force than he meant. He winced, pinching his nose. “No. No, I mean…God, you’re so distracting!”

Spock blinked, obviously surprised. “What do I distract you from?”

Kirk shrugged. “Nothing. I’ve been laying about for six months. What is there to distract me? I have no obligations, no reports to write, no ship to run. The only thing I have to worry about is eating and exercising. Which I don’t really have to worry about since you will make sure it gets done anyway.”

He looked up. If there was one thing he felt was true about his reputation, is that he was direct. If Kirk was going to hit on a woman, he was lay on her some serious bedroom eyes. If Kirk was going to get into a bar fight, he would be throwing punches. If Kirk thought the admiralty was a pile of bullshit, he wasn’t going to hide it from his face.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about you Spock. Like all the time. When you feed me, I wonder if you have eaten yet. When you put me to bed, I wonder when the last time you slept was. When I touch your hand, I’m wondering what you feel from it. Cause all I know are your crazy melds when you are breaking down. Are you breaking down now? Do you break down all the time? Do you feel happy? Do I make you feel happy? Or am I just a friendly crutch? Something to help you until you can find a more logical solution.” Kirk deflated, looked away.

Spock didn’t speak and it didn’t take long for Kirk to fill the silence. His voice was soft and meek and he hated sounding like he was so fucking terrified all the time.

“I also kind of feel like that maybe I wouldn’t be thinking this at all if we were still on the Enterprise. That being captain would distract me so much that I wouldn’t have the time to think about you. That we would spend years, side by side, but never really touching. Never really caring. Never really knowing. And I can’t…can’t decided if that is a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing.” His eyes were blurring, but Kirk refused to cry. There was no reason to cry. But he felt like he was shredding his skin in front of Spock, exposing his insides like he was the Enterprise being remodeled. He was some broken down ship that needed months, maybe years of repair, and he knew that he needed to be exposed to fix the internal problems. But it didn’t mean he liked it. “Goddammit Spock, I think I’m falling in love with you and a part of me feels like it’s a fluke!”

A mistake, an illusion, a misconception. Kirk feels like it’s wrong, but then he’s never felt anything so right before

There is an unbearable silence. And Kirk wonders, though Spock said his spirit never wavered, if it was wavering now. Because Kirk felt like his spirit was fucking shivering and trembling and seizing like shit.

“It is difficult for me to comprehend what you have just said.” Kirk looked up and Spock’s eyes seemed darker, liquid. His cheeks, so normally alabaster, had the slightest tinge of green. His jaw was tight, lips pressed into a thin line. “But, I believe I understand, in essence.” Kirk could see him swallow. “And perhaps you would take some comfort to know that, as a Vulcan, I have full control over my physiology. I cannot find sexual pleasure in any gesture unless I consciously chose to. When you have touched me…when I have touched you, I refrained from the release of adrenaline and certain hormones, thinking it would discourage your touch. If I had known it would encourage a positive reaction, I would have allowed my body to react accordingly.”

Silence.

The ‘stunned-as-fuck’ kind of silence.

“Wait…wait, are you saying that you would have gotten horny if I touched you…if you thought it would make me happy?”

“Ambiguous terminology-”

“Just say yes, for god’s sake. But I have to clarify…” Kirk stepped forward, putting out his hand with two fingers extended, just as Spock had done. “Would it make you happy? Or are you happy enough just to have me nearby to stabilize you or whatever?”

Spock’s eyes were drawn to the extended fingers. He did not reach out to complete the touch. “I would be content to have you however I could, Jim.” He looked up and Kirk knew he could only see the emotion in his eyes because Spock was letting him see the emotion, but that somehow made it even better. “But to have you, in all manner, in all expression, would satisfy me completely.”

Kirk smiled in that ‘I’m so completely fucked but I don’t care way’. Because it was a good kind of fuck. The best kind, even. Spock’s hand raised and matched his own, pressing their two forefingers together. And maybe Spock wasn’t smiling or his eyes were doing that not-granite thing again. But Kirk thought he looked happier than he had in months, maybe happier than Kirk had ever known him to be.

Their fingers touched and it kind of felt like touching fingers with anyone, for Kirk. But Spock seemed to like it, really like it. His face flushed further. His pupils dilated and his eyes were just fucking mesmerized as he slowly moved his fingers around Kirk’s. His touch was gentle, but firm. Like a first kiss with anyone, he was exploring, tasting. He let his fingers slide down Kirk’s to his knuckle. He rubbed the bony peak of each knuckle with tender care, before twisting his wrist to touch the pad of Kirk’s palm.

Kirk opened up his hand and realized it was sweatier than Spock’s. The Vulcan’s fingers were dry, warm. Kirk felt clammy. But Spock made no indications of displeasure as his breath quickened, feeling the webbing between Kirk’s fingers.

Okay, it was a little hot to see Spock getting hot. But Kirk didn’t have super sensitive psi-fingers like some aliens. And he, and most Terrans, liked lip-locking. So he craned his neck forward, almost bumping noses with Spock, until he got his attention. He tilted his head, an unasked question. It was hard to tell, so close, but he was pretty sure the corner of Spock’s mouth twitched in a shadow of a smile.

Then Spock closed the small distance, pressing his lips to Kirk. And maybe the telepathy thing was rubbing off, because Kirk was pretty sure that when he heard ‘you would satisfy me completely’, he actually read in Spock’s mind:

love

Chapter Text

It was almost a year before the Enterprise was completely refitted.

In the final months, knowing the end was near, Kirk had worked overtime to get back into regulation shape. To pass each evaluation, including about ten different psychic evals. And to catch up on every single thing that had happened in Starfleet in the past year. When he was called into Admiral Komack’s office and officially given back his commission as captain of the USS Enterprise, he could have bent over kissed that man square on the ass. But he didn’t, because he really didn’t want Komack to know that he just about made Kirk’s fucking life, even just by being the messenger.

In the month before the official launch of the infamous five year mission, there was absolute madness.

The Enterprise might be entirely refit, but there was still the issue of making sure every personnel station was refit. With Kirk officially Captain, Bones and Spock were quick to take up their original positions as well. Along with signing off on every change and update from the past ten months, there was also a constant influx of reports from Sciences and Medical as they attempted to catch up. Then there was also the big memorial service for all those who lost their lives in the Khan incident that Kirk was not only expected to attend, but also give some great grand speech.

Kirk liked attention, always did. But that was different than when he was expected to stand before a crowd of thousands, being taped for an audience of billions, and be inspiring about events that really sort of sucked more than the rest of Kirk’s life had sucked. The only thing that helped, standing at the ostentatious podium, was looking down and seeing Spock. Seeing everyone from the Enterprise, really. Sitting there, looking at him like they looked at him when he was on the bridge. We are ready, Captain, to obey your commands. And unwavering respect and loyalty like that could really boost a guy’s spirits.

But he was glad it was all over. He was glad to be able to pack his suitcase and take a shuttle to the Enterprise. There were too many people boarding at once to have everyone beam up. So Kirk shared the shuttle with Bones, who had drunk himself into a stupor, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t in space and wasn’t going to be in space for the next five years. There was also Scotty, who couldn’t take his eyes away from the Enterprise. Gushing about how ‘pretty our fine lady is!’ Though Kirk couldn’t blame him. The Enterprise’s ass did look pretty incredible from this view.

When Kirk got off the shuttle, he was immediately slammed by a whole gaggle of yeomen with last minute reports. The only way he escaped was by literally flinging the irritable drunk Bones at them and making a run for it. The yeomen would never be the same and later the incident was dubbed ‘Never Engage the Drunk Doctor.’

Kirk took immense satisfaction in being able to carry his luggage all the way to his personal quarters. It didn’t feel that long ago that he needed muscle stimulants just to stand upright. He practically threw his suitcase onto his bed in victory, before he realize that his bed was…bigger. He stared down at it, frowning. His quarters were unchanged. A small study/office with a desk, com, desk, bookshelves, replicator, couch. Separated by half a partition, was his dresser, another bookshelf, and bed. Now that bed seemed to be taking up more space. Kirk reached down, touching it, making sure it was real.

He heard the doors open behind him and he turned to find that the person had not entered through the main door, but the bathroom. Spock had only left for the Enterprise a few hours before Kirk, but it felt like days since they last talked. Besides, Spock was in all Science blues and just looked so fucking first officer that Kirk couldn’t help but sling his arms around his neck and give him his biggest, goofiest grin.

“Did you get me a bigger bed?” he greeted.

Spock inclined his head, hands still behind his back at parade rest. “Yes. I deducted you would prefer we share sleeping quarters as we have been the past 78 days. I took the liberty of replacing your bed with one that was more efficient to the task.” He looked at Kirk seriously. “Is this amendable?”

Kirk tilted his head. “Yeah, of course. Why are you so nervous?”

Spock’s lip thinned. “I’ve also added another addition. I find myself…unsure if you will be pleased.”

Kirk looked around. “Where is it?”

“My quarters, at the moment.” He took one step back, activating the bathroom door behind him. “Shall we proceed?”

Kirk grinned, releasing Spock and taking one hand instead. “Sure.”

Spock only nodded, jaw and neck stiff. His hand was limp in Kirk's. He stepped through the bathroom and the other door was activated by their presence. Spock’s rooms looked practically the same, minus a super giant bed. His bed had more pillows on his now, making it look more like a couch. But what really got Kirk’s attention wasn’t the furniture. It was a pair of bright green eyes, silky black fur, and whiskers connected to a tiny, pink nose.

“You got a kitten!” Kirk immediately flung himself to the floor, coming eye to eye with the small kitten, who backed up warily to the sudden captain. He reached out, making cooing noises. The kitten sniffed his fingers, briefly, before turning and walking past him. Kirk twisted to see the kitten walk right up to Spock and rub herself eagerly on his boots, purring loudly. Kirk snorted, unable to hold back his wide smile. “You got a kitten, Spock, and she loves you!” He giggled, leaning on his hands.

Spock knelt before him, picking up the kitten that meowed appreciably, before placing her in Kirk’s lap. “I assume her presence is not unwelcome?”

Kirk giggled, watching as the kitten sniffed his shirt curiously. He reached up and she nudged his hand until he stroked her small ears. “Definitely not unwelcome.” He looked up. “Is she really allowed?”

“Small animal companions are sanctioned by Starfleet for all officers, as long as they are no danger to the crew and well cared for. The doors to the shared bathroom will open to her presence, but she will not activate the doors leading to the hall. And, if she should escape, she has a tracking chip embedded into the back of her neck.” Spock paused, and Kirk saw that uncertainty again. “She may not be a dog. But as a cat, she is smaller and more manageable. She also does not require the constant attention that a dog might. She is of temperate and affectionate nature. As First Officer and Science Officer of this vessel, there will be, naturally, times when I will not be present at your side. Should you need companionship, she would be an adequate substitution.”

Kirk set the kitten aside, leaning forward to kiss Spock gently. “Not adequate, but appreciated. Thank you.” He ran a hand across his cheek, feeling his warmth spike as a slow blush formed. Then Spock’s hand entangled with his and Kirk initiated a much deeper kiss than before. They lingered there, for awhile, lazily kissing on the floor of Spock’s quarters.

Until the kitten decided that it was boring to watch her new owners make-out and started to head butt Kirk’s thigh, mewling loudly. Kirk broke off the kiss, chuckling. Spock look slightly put-out and that only made Kirk smile wider. He picked up the kitten again and held her to his cheek as she purred loudly.

“So what’s her name?”

Spock reached out, trailing his fingers lightly over her tail. “You may name her.”

Kirk frowned. “I don’t know any good cat names.” He stared at her, feeling a little cross-eyed. “How about Bobby?”

Spock didn’t say anything and Kirk was pretty sure the Vulcan was inwardly cringing.

“Alright, you name her, Mr. Cat-lover.”

Spock ignored the jest, finding the spot on the kitten’s back to scratch that made her purr even louder, extending her tiny claws in pleasure. “I find the name I-Chaya to be appropriate.”

“Ee-chi-ah,” Kirk tried. “Sounds pretty.” He held up the kitten to eye-level. “Do you like it I-Chaya?”

She flicked a paw at him, disgruntled that Kirk had moved her away from Spock’s scratches.

Chapter Text

Later, Kirk was lying in bed, dozing, as he watched Spock mediating on the floor of his quarters. I-Chaya was curled up against the small of Kirk’s back, grooming herself. Kirk was already on the verge of sleep, but he kept his eyes on Spock. He waited until Spock exhaled slowly and let his eyes sweep open. Kirk reached out sleepily, touching the small hairs growing at the base of his neck.

I’m scared
I must go to the sea
the lonely sea and sky

Tomorrow, Kirk would be taking the bridge and the Enterprise would launch into space, to new worlds, new civilizations. They would probably find danger. Probably meet people who wanted to kill them and destroy the ship. They would meet friendly aliens, god-like aliens, sexy aliens. Kirk might die or Spock might die or half the ship might die. Or maybe they would all live. Not-knowing never bothered Kirk. He realized a long time ago that life tended to be a shit-hole that everyone was slowly sliding down, grasping at the edges, trying to claw your way to a few more years of living. 

all I ask
how do you chose not to feel?
is a tall ship
and a star
I do not know
to steer her by

But it was moments like this, with a warm kitten pressed against his back and a Vulcan crawling into bed before him, fingers soothing his temple like the most tender of goodnight kisses, that Kirk felt his thoughts fragment, scatter in his consciousness.

I want you to know
call of the running tide
wild call and clear
why I couldn’t let you die
white clouds flying
crying
why I went back for you
I must go

It didn’t matter if they would lose everything some day, because, right now, they have each other…

quiet sleep
sweet dream
because you are
my friend

… and the stars are still there.