Spock was stunned by Jim’s admission.
“You were on Tarsus IV?” He asked, barely more than a whisper.
“Yeah.” Said Jim, quietly. “That’s where my mom sent me after I kept getting into trouble to get her attention. My dad had a sister, and she and her husband lived there. They didn’t have any kids of their own, and they were happy to have me visit for a few months. For a while, everything was great. I had a chance to make a fresh start, and I didn’t have to make trouble to get anyone’s attention. But then it all went to hell.” Jim fell silent.
“I meant what I said before.” Said Spock, hesitantly. “I do not wish for a good grade enough to risk injuring you emotionally.”
“I know.” Replied Jim. “I think that’s why I’m willing to do it.” He hesitated.
“Could you record it or something? I don’t think I’ll want to repeat any of it.”
“Of course.” Said Spock, hastily getting his padd out and setting up the recording function. He already had several questions for Jim about the whole event.
“Just a couple things first.” Said Jim, a little more firmly. Spock nodded for him to go on. “Delete that recording when you’re done with it. I don’t want anyone else listening to it. And give me a different name or something when you write it. It’s confidential that I was there, and I don’t want anyone else to know.” Spock frowned a little.
“How will my instructor know that I have not simply forged an interview?” Even as he asked, he felt a little foolish. He had no knowledge of anyone ever accusing a Vulcan of cheating or forgery, and it made him sound like he actually did care too much about his grade. Jim, whether that thought crossed his mind or not, still answered his question.
“You can tell Pike about it. He knows I was there. Then, if your instructor gives you any crap about it, you can tell her to talk to him about it.”
“Very well.” Said Spock. He hesitated. “Shall we begin?”
It took some time, but Jim eventually managed to tell Spock the whole story. He covered everything, from the first signs of trouble, the failing crops and rationing, to the horror of the massacre and the aftermath. Spock realized with a start that Jim’s description of the executions identified him as one of the Tarsus Nine, nine people who had been among the four thousand selected for execution and then managed to escape during the chaos. They were also the only ones who could have identified Kodos, the governor who’d ordered the killing as a way of preserving the half of the colony that he considered ‘superior.’ As he listened, Spock couldn’t help but wonder just what fault Kodos could have found with Jim.
Jim also spoke of other people he’d met there. He talked about Hoshi Sato and her husband, and how she had begun teaching him some Klingon by the time the famine started. He mentioned other survivors who’d escaped the massacre. He spoke of a little boy who he’d kept with him the entire time he hid out waiting for Starfleet to arrive with help. And he spoke of the relief he felt when he learned that Kodos was dead, and the guilt he felt for surviving when his family had not.
When Jim finally stopped talking, he looked completely drained emotionally, just staring down at his hands in his lap. Spock just barely had the presence of mind to shut off the recorder before speaking.
“Are you alright?” He asked uncertainly. Jim looked up at him.
“Just give me a minute.” That was all he said before looking down again. Spock did as he asked and kept his mouth shut. Jim looked back up at him after a while and smiled, but it was a tired, sad smile. “I’ll be fine. I’ve just never really talked about it to anyone. Not the officers who came, or my family, or any of the doctors they sent me to after it was over. I just wanted to forget. But I couldn’t.” He fell silent again. Spock decided to speak up.
“Do you wish for me to leave?” He asked quietly. Jim shook his head.
“No, this is your room.”
“True, but I am more than willing to offer you some time to yourself if you require it.” He replied. Jim smiled again, and this time there was a little more sincerity to it.
“I know what you meant, and I’ll be okay.” He was silent for a few more moments. “Do you want to play chess or something? I’d just like to do something to take my mind off this.”
“Of course.” Replied Spock quickly, getting the set Jim had given him and setting the pieces up. They played a total of three games, and Jim relaxed steadily though them until the tension was practically gone from his form. They didn’t speak of the assignment, or Tarsus again, and when Jim went to sleep that night, he seemed to be feeling quite peaceful.
Spock went to talk to Captain Pike the next day about getting his support in the event that his instructor questioned him about his source, since he’d agreed not to reveal Jim’s name. Pike looked truly astounded when Spock explained the situation to him.
“I can’t believe he told you about Tarsus. I never heard him open up at all after the survivors were rescued. As far as I knew, he never gave any interviews or saw anyone about it.”
“I merely told him that I had no live source for my assignment and expressed some concern for my grade. He questioned whether I would be willing to put someone through an emotional ordeal for a good grade, and when I told him that I would not, he told me that he was a survivor of the incident and that I could interview him, provided I kept his identity secret. He also referred me to you in case my instructor did not believe that my unnamed interview was fabricated.” Pike nodded.
“Okay, if she says anything to you, let me know and I’ll set her straight.” He looked at Spock seriously. “Spock, I know I don’t need to tell you how much faith Jim is putting in you by opening up to you like that.”
“No,” replied Spock, “you do not.” He left to get to his classes for the day. He ended up typing the entire report over the next couple days in the Academy library. He didn’t want Jim to glance at the screen or hear him playing back the recording and become upset. Not that he’d played the recording yet. As a Vulcan, he had an impeccable memory, and so far he could recall Jim’s words perfectly. He made sure to leave Jim’s name out of it always, firmly establishing him as a witness who wished to remain anonymous. After he’d completed, double checked, and triple checked his work, Spock sent a copy to his instructor, along with a message explaining that Pike would back him up on his witness’s credibility.
He also took the time to find a secluded part of the outdoor recreation area and engage in some light meditation. Jim had taken a huge step in trusting him with this. His next actions could very easily spook him and send him running away. He’d learned from his mother that humans sometimes sought distance between themselves and those they were close with after expressing vulnerability, sometimes out of fear of judgment, and sometimes because they wished to regain composure and security.
Whatever Jim needed, Spock knew he was more than willing to give it to him.
The next few days continued as the last had. He and Jim used their free time to simply ‘hang out,’ playing chess or debating various Academy subjects. They continued to take their meals together. They did not mention Tarsus IV or the assignment again, and Spock found himself experiencing that same level of contentment that he’d felt. Before he knew it, it was only a day before Jim had to return to his family’s apartment. The baby’s room had taken a little more time than they’d expected, as Jim explained to him one night over chess.
“The paint they had to use took a lot longer to air out than they first thought; they actually had to clear out for a day because the fumes got to be too much. I’ll be able to go back after my next appointment.”
“Where will you sleep?” Asked Spock. “Did they not remove all the furniture, including the bed?” He found the thought of Jim, so heavily pregnant, left to sleep on a couch like an overnight guest to be unsettling. Jim shook his head.
“The bed’s still in there, it’s just pushed up against a wall, and the crib’s up against another. I’ll probably spend most of my time here after the birth in Starfleet Medical. They really want to make sure everything’s okay. While me and the baby are still there, they’ll take apart the bed and put it in storage or something, and then put the crib in the center of the room. I probably will have to get a hotel room after that.”
“You could always return here.” Offered Spock without thinking. Jim grinned at him.
“I don’t think they’ll be able to make an exception for me again, not after I’ve been here for nearly a week already. I won’t be pregnant anymore, so it just wouldn’t be the same.”
“Yes, of course.” Said Spock, feeling a little embarrassed for offering so eagerly. He wanted to ask if Jim had given anymore thought to what he’d mentioned before about reconsidering Starfleet. It didn’t seem like a good time to ask though, so he simply made his next move and continued the game. When Jim finally beat him, he looked exhausted. He winced a little and put a hand on the curve of his belly as he sat down on Spock’s bed.
“Is something wrong?” He asked.
“No, he’s just kicking really hard.” Replied Jim. “I think he wants this to over just as much as I do.” Something about that sentence seemed to almost ring false, but Spock said nothing. Jim looked at him thoughtfully. “You’ve never felt him kick. Would you like to?” Spock was surprised. He hadn’t been sure about how well Jim handled having people constantly wanting to touch his belly. He’d been very tolerant of the Axanar, but Spock could tell that because of the fact that it might cause an incident if he became angry with them, and also because he knew they were just curious. Still, Jim was offering…
“I believe I will.” Moving to the edge of the bed, Spock slowly lowered one hand to Jim’s swollen belly. For a moment, he felt nothing. Then, he felt a rather strong fluttering sensation against his hand. He looked into Jim’s eyes, unable to completely mask the awe he was feeling. Jim looked right back with an affectionate smile on his face, and to Spock, time almost seemed to freeze.
Not for the first time in his life, Spock wanted nothing more than to pretend. To pretend that Jim was his mate, that they always lived together like this, and that these were their child’s motions he was feeling beneath his hand. For a moment, he almost gave in, but stopped himself. It would not be fair to Jim, or to his nephew and his family, who’d been so kind to him, if he did that. Instead, he removed his hand.
“I suppose it is understandable why some people refer to childbirth as a miracle.” He offered quietly. “It is rather incredible to feel a child move before he has even taken his first independent breath.” Jim nodded.
“Yeah, it is.” Seeing an almost troubled look on Jim’s face, Spock was compelled to ask.
“Is everything alright?” Jim looked surprised.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” That wasn’t a yes.
“You say you are ready for your pregnancy to be over, yet you seem troubled by it.” He replied. Jim looked down at his belly for a long moment, and Spock wondered if he intended to answer at all. Then he spoke.
“You remember the last time we were at the park, and that lady thought we were together and congratulated me on having a baby?” At Spock’s nod, he continued. “That happens all the time since I started showing. People see me and tell me how wonderful it is that I’m having a baby. They ask me when I’m due, if it’s my first, or if it’s a boy or a girl. I always have to tell them that it’s not actually my baby. They still smile at me and everything, and tell me that it’s a great thing that I’m doing, but every time it happens, I have to face the truth; I’m pregnant, but I’m not actually having a baby. They are.” Spock knew Jim was referring to his brother and sister-in-law.
“Does this trouble you?” Asked Spock, not quite understanding. Jim shrugged.
“I guess it kind of does. I mean, he’s the first thing I feel and think about when I wake up in the morning. I didn’t have so much of a problem with it at first, but now that I can really feel him alive in there, it’s just hard thinking about how I’m going to give birth to him and not keep him. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for people who actually do this with their own kids.” He shrugged again. “I know, in my head, that he’s my nephew, and it’s not like I’m never going to see him again or anything, but it still bothers me, especially when I hear them talking about going off-world someday to a colony or something. I know eventually I’m going to have to deal with it, but part of me just wishes sometimes that I could pretend I’m not going to be giving him away when he’s born. And then I feel bad for thinking that way because I agreed to all of this, and he’s not really mine to keep or give away, and Sam and Aury want this so badly and don’t deserve that kind of thinking from me.” Jim’s confession of wishing to pretend almost tore at Spock’s heart.
“I too, have wished to pretend.” He admitted quietly, though he couldn’t tell Jim just what he’d been wanting to pretend moments ago. “There have been times in my life when I wanted nothing more than to have what my classmates did, to be a full-blooded Vulcan who’s logic was never questioned. I would then feel ashamed for those thoughts, because of how much I know my mother loves me and cares for me, even when I am ashamed of the fact that I am half human and do my best to act as though I am not. That was my main reason for coming to Earth; to try to embrace my human half, at least somewhat. I do not believe it is in my nature to be as emotional as humans are, but I do not wish to act as pure Vulcans and deny that I have emotions at all. Here, I am not made to feel ashamed for enjoying my lifestylke, or the company of a friend.” Jim’s eyes widened a bit. He smiled softly.
“Thanks.” He whispered. Spock just nodded in reply. They didn’t speak any more of it, and Spock could tell that Jim was still somewhat troubled, but his concerns were mostly at rest for now.
Friday came, and Spock could think of little more than the fact that Jim was leaving his room the next day. Jim would be packing his things tonight and going back to live with his family. Spock knew he shouldn’t feel jealous; they were his family, and should be given a higher priority.
One thing that Spock was trying hard to find hope in was the fact that Jim hadn’t mentioned going back to Iowa when he spoke of the possibility of not seeing his nephew much. He’d spoken of Sam and Aurelan moving away, but not of his own relocation. Perhaps that was an automatic thought for him, and he was simply thinking of their leaving the planet. After all, being in two different states was much less trouble than being on two different worlds. Still, it was somewhat comforting to think that Jim wasn’t as eager to get back to Riverside as he’d initially seemed.
Trying to keep that in mind, Spock returned to his quarters to walk with Jim to lunch, as they’d done every day since he’d arrived. What he found caught him off guard. Jim was usually working on some computer problem at this hour, or just waiting for him to arrive. Instead, he found Jim on the bed, facing the wall.
“Jim?” He asked, concerned by the unexpected sight. Jim slowly turned to face him. His eyes were slightly bloodshot. Spock quickly moved closer to the bed. “What has happened?” Jim sat up slowly.
“I got a message from my mom today.” That was all he said. Spock tried to prompt more from him.
“Why has that upset you?” Jim shrugged.
“It really shouldn’t. I guess it’s the hormones again. She sent Sam and Aury a message to pass along to me. She congratulated them about the baby and then told me she was so proud that I was finally acting like a part of the family.” Jim’s fists suddenly clenched, his face dark with anger. “How can she say that? If anything ever stopped me from acting like part of the family, it was her, always off in space and acting like I didn’t exist! She was the one who wouldn’t take the time to deal with me when I needed her help! How do you act like you’re part of the family when your own mother doesn’t treat you like you are? When your own flesh and blood runs away and leaves you behind because she can’t cope?” His eyes welled up with fresh tears. Without thinking, Spock put his hands on Jim’s shoulders.
“I cannot imagine how you are feeling.” He admitted. “My mother has always been vocal of her affection for me, and my father, though distant, has always shown some concern for my well-being. I can only say that I think your mother is a fool for not seeing what a gift she lost any right to cherish.” Jim looked up at him with teary eyes that also seemed to shine with wonder at Spock’s words. That look in his eyes, Spock just couldn’t help himself. “Jim…” he whispered. He leaned forward and, very gently, placed his lips against Jim’s. Jim didn’t move, and Spock pressed another, firmer kiss against his mouth. Jim suddenly seemed to spring to life, moving his arms up to wrap around Spock’s neck return the kiss.
It was somewhat awkward, since Jim’s belly prevented them from moving too close to one another, but Spock’s heart was soaring. He was amazed by how right this felt. For Vulcans, touching fingers was the traditional ‘kissing’ gesture, but this felt just as natural and good. His lips parted automatically as Jim’s tongue brushed them, and the kiss deepened.
Then, Jim suddenly pushed him back. He looked shocked.
“What…” he couldn’t seem to speak. “Why did you do that?” Spock found several thoughts racing through his mind at once. He could point out the fact that Jim had kissed him back, or even tell him the truth; that he had been working toward a moment like this since the moment he learned that Jim was available as a mate. Instead all he could say was,
“I do not know.” He backed away from the bed and toward the door. “I will go if you wish.” Jim nodded slowly.
“Yeah, I think you should.” Spock simply turned and left. For the first time in his life, he hated himself for not being able to properly express any emotion. He could have begged Jim for another chance, explained himself and made his intentions clear. Instead he’d left, knowing that Jim would probably be gone when he returned.
He spent hours wondering around campus with no destination in mind. Anything that would keep him from returning to find Jim gone or worse, preparing to leave. If he saw that, he might just embarrass himself further by begging Jim to stay.
Eventually, he had to return to his quarters. When he arrived, he saw that he had been right. Jim had packed his things and left. Spock sat on the bed, which Jim had apparently made before he left. He stared around the room, now lacking Jim’s presence. He saw the small chess board Jim had given him, set up for their next game, which might now never be played. He then laid back and stared blankly at the ceiling as he tried to process the sudden despair and sorrow he felt.