Let's go on dreaming
for we know we are…
so close, so close
and still so far...
-So Close, Jon McLaughlin
USS Enterprise, Stardate 2261.202
It is 0200, and Jim yawns over his fifth cup of coffee in three hours. It's got a bitter aftertaste that he's never been able to program away to his satisfaction, but it still contains copious amounts of caffeine (an override of which he's rather fond and Bones need not be aware), and caffeine is necessary when a starship captain hasn't slept in over two days. He rubs the back of his neck and swallows.
In the reddish dark of the cabin, he silently regards Spock, who shows no sign of dreaming. He rests on his back, hands folded across his stomach, buried beneath two thick blankets he insisted Jim pull over him. Jim lies next to him on top of the covers, studying him intently and without reservation. Dotted along Spock's neck and chin are the first signs of stubble. The line of his black hair is slightly ruffled across his forehead. His chest rises and falls easily with each breath, and Jim can hear each slow exhale. The expression on his face almost approaches peaceful.
Jim has never lingered in Spock's quarters long enough to memorize its contents and configuration. They're always in conversation or focused on a game of chess. For now, he has nowhere to be. He trails his hand over the bite mark on his neck and shivers, even in the room's heat, at the memory of Spock's mouth on him. The stale, hot air holds lingering traces of incense. It is the same musky scent that follows Spock onto the bridge and sometimes seeps through to Jim's cabin through their shared bath. He wonders if this is what Vulcan smelled like, of sweet burned wood that is somehow comforting even though it speaks of destruction. He feels a gnawing sadness when he realizes that the artifacts displayed throughout the room and a few sticks of incense are all that remain for Spock of his lost home world.
It's ironic, Jim thinks, that Spock's rebellion against his people preserved more of their culture than had he accepted admission to the science academy and chosen to remain on Vulcan. To never view Earth again, walk along the bay in San Francisco or travel to the rural stretches of Iowa and lose himself on a back road—these thoughts give Jim perspective. He can always go home when the mission is over.
It's been almost three years since the loss of Vulcan. Whenever they talk, which is pretty much once a week, Ambassador Spock insists the new colony and the efforts to preserve Vulcan's heritage are both progressing satisfactorily. Jim used to wonder if Spock, his Spock, wouldn't rather be among his own people. But he remained with Jim aboard the Enterprise, and Jim has always been grateful. He supposes Spock will join his people on the new colony now. He'll be an asset, even without his sight. What will the remainder of the mission be like without him? The thought of head hunting for a new first officer, of looking to the science station and seeing someone else in Spock's place, sets his head reeling. He forces it aside.
Spock's eyelashes are a soft fringe against his fingertips. He slides his hand to cup Spock's face, smoothing his thumb across his cheekbone. He feels guilty for staying, but Spock hadn't actually told him to leave. Jim wonders if Spock ever allowed Uhura to watch him while he slept, if his mother watched over him as a child. Vulcans are touch telepaths—can he sense Jim's thoughts, even now? The hand falls away to his side; with the other, he fumbles for his mug. The coffee has gone cold, and it takes a minute to steady his breathing.
His eyes wander to the chess board, reset since their last game, two chairs waiting expectantly. He stands and goes to stand beside it. The tiny pieces stare back at him. He fights the urge to knock the whole setup onto the floor, squeezing his eyes closed and bowing his head, breathing hard. Slowly, he clenches and unclenches his fists, the pain spreading across his strained knuckles welcome. He stretches out on the bed beside Spock again, placing a hand against his side where Spock's heart beats.
"You're not going anywhere," he whispers.
Six months earlier
New York City, 1930
"Look," Jim snaps, shoving his hip into the door and taking a pin from his belt to fiddle with the lock when it doesn't budge. It is rusty and rough against his hands, parts of the handle flaking away, and Jim swears under his breath. "I'm sorry I said anything about your ears. Can we drop it?"
"You told those men it was a form of surgery," Spock counters.
"I said all the kids are doing it. That's better than saying you got mangled in some primitive machinery."
Spock stares daggers at him but doesn't respond. Shoving his shoulder against the door this time, Jim grunts and it finally yields. He falls into a dark, musty basement and pulls himself upright, rubbing his shoulder as the smell of mildew and aged paper fills his nose. Its cobweb-ridden reaches are damp and, from what he can see in the stream of light from the still-open door, crowded with broken furniture and stacked boxes. An old-fashioned furnace stands in the corner—well, old-fashioned to Jim. Considering it's around 1930 where they've ended up, the thing's probably cutting edge. A car passes slowly, and he whips his head around, ducking from view.
"Close the door," he hisses at Spock, motioning for him to follow. "We'll stay here just until we're sure those cops aren't still following us. Get changed."
Spock regards him with stoic defiance, obvious only in the tightening of his jaw.
"These clothes are stolen."
Rolling his eyes, Jim peels off his uniform top and takes the red and black flannel shirt from the pile they borrowed from an obliging alley railing.
"A technicality," Jim says. "We're here to stop the world from ending. The Prime Directive says we can't interfere with a culture's development, and I know how you feel about the Prime Directive."
"And since Bones fucked things up so badly we had to come back here to fix things, we can't do that walking around in regulation uniforms. The ship's nonexistent right now, so we can't exactly replicate era-appropriate costumes. I think we're owed a couple shirts."
"We have traveled to a date prior to Dr. McCoy's arrival, thus the incident we have come to prevent has not yet happened. While we are indeed in the early twentieth century, because it is our intention to prevent this incident from occurring, I hypothesize that the Enterprise does, in fact, exist at this moment in the twenty third century."
"Hell," Jim says, "if you can hail them and get them to transport you better clothes, be my guest."
"Negative, but it might be possible to sync my tricorder with the ship's computers."
"Are you suggesting we build a computer?"
"I'm brilliant with computers, and we both know it," Jim says.
"You are indeed skilled in your knowledge of computer programming," Spock replies, "subroutines in particular."
"You're never going to let me live that down, are you."
"I, however," Spock continues, "possess superior knowledge of computer assembly and circuitry. If we can procure the necessary materials, it is possible that I could construct a basic computer that would allow us to access the one aboard the Enterprise. It should allow me to research anomalies in human history and predict when and where the incident we must prevent will occur."
Jim considers this, chewing his lip.
"Okay. I'll find a way to get what you need. Now strip down, or at least put on a damned hat, unless you want me making up more rumors about how you got those ears to the next person who asks."
"Would you settle for Christmas elf?"
"I do not believe insults are your prerogative as my commanding officer."
"You're probably right, but, hey," Jim says with a shrug, "Starfleet doesn't even exist yet, so for now we're just two friends, okay? Bones and I insult each other as part of our camaraderie."
"I do not understand why two people who argue as much as you argue with Dr. McCoy label yourselves friends."
"You and I argue."
"Fellow officers may have dissenting opinions," Spock points out. "I prefer our interpersonal relationship remain amicable."
"Whatever you say," Jim laughs, shaking his head. "How long until we find him?"
"I believe we will have a week before Dr. McCoy arrives."
"How do we even know he's going to end up here and not Germany?"
"We do not. Hence my interest in contacting the ship's computer to attempt to gather information that might help us locate him."
Nodding slowly, Jim yanks his pants down, hopping out of them on one leg, while Spock turns his back (in modesty, Jim presumes) and moves closer to the furnace. The clothes are soft, worn cotton and a welcome change from Starfleet's no-wrinkle standard issue. Jim briefly considers keeping them once they return to the Enterprise. He rolls up his uniform and tucks it under his arm.
"Check the street," he orders Spock when he emerges from the shadows in a knit cap and jeans, and looks surprisingly human save his facial expression, which is as unreadable as ever. Something in his face tells Jim that Spock is deeply uncomfortable wearing someone else's clothes. "With any luck," he tells him in what he hopes is both a reassuring yet commanding tone, "we'll get this all straightened out in a day or so, and you can go back to those black robes you're so fond of."
An eyebrow does rise this time. "Captain?"
The all-too-familiar sound of footsteps reaches Jim's ears too late for him to form a strategy other than "Smile and look pretty," so he stands casually, arms at his side, hands ready to curl into fists if necessary, and is startled when a woman's voice calls out, "Who's there?"
The voice is strong and clear, not timid or fearful, and the footsteps grow nearer on the staircase. A slim woman stands a few feet above him, staring at him intently with a neutral to the side of serious expression—she looks almost Vulcan, and Jim almost laughs, feeling strangely and instantly comfortable in her presence—awaiting his response. Her clothing is old fashioned, a long skirt and blouse, and her dark hair is tied neatly behind her head, but her face is young, with delicate features and large, inquiring eyes.
"Sorry for intruding, ma'am...it's cold, and we didn't have anywhere else to go."
He bats his blue eyes at her, a technique he's found handy with women in the past (regardless of species, though Earth women and Orions are most susceptible) and he's not surprised when she descends the last four steps and stands in front of him, unafraid, and raises her chain almost defiantly.
"A lie is a very poor way to say hello."
"I really am sorry."
"Ah, but you see," she says, crossing her arms, "it's not cold."
"Maybe I misspoke," Jim says, grinning. "It'll get cold, and we don't have a lot of connections in town."
"And we're avoiding a couple of police officers," he continues in a stage whisper, hoping that even back in 1930, Earth women swoon over bad boys.
"Oh, really." Her voice is steady. "And what do the police want with you?"
"These clothes are stolen," Spock offers, and Jim is amused by his confessional tone.
"Stolen?" she repeats but is strangely cool.
"We don't have any cr— money. We don't have any money," Jim admits, looking down at her and laying the charm on thick. "And like I said, it's going to get cold, and my friend here's from a warmer climate."
"Indeed," Spock agrees, and Jim is glad he insisted on the hat because Spock looks cold. Just looking at him makes Jim shiver. Though he is standing straight, with his arms loose at his sides—an attempt, Jim assumes, to look casually human—his shoulders are pinched forward slightly, and there is a tightness to his face.
"Go stand by the furnace," he orders. Spock looks surprised but complies.
"What are your names?"
"Jim Kirk," he says, extending a hand. Her shake is firm.
There is no point inventing a name that he will inevitably forget later.
"Foreign," Spock supplies.
"I can see that," she murmurs, casting a glance at him and returning her focus to Jim. "Though I venture to say you're not from around here either."
"You're good," Jim says through a widening smile, leaning closer. Spock clears his throat. The woman takes a step back.
"I'm Edith Keeler," she says. "If it's money you need, I can do with some help around here: doing dishes, sweeping, general cleaning."
"At what rate of payment?" Spock asks, moving to stand next to Jim. Heat radiates off of him now that he's been next to the fire.
"I can pay you fifteen cents an hour, for ten hours a day," Edith says.
"Is that a lot?" Jim asks.
"It is certainly more than anyone is paying you currently," she replies with a sweep of her eyes.
"Okay," Jim agrees.
"You can start by cleaning up down here," she says, and ascends the stairs just like that.
"Uh...where are we, exactly?" he calls after her.
"You're at the 21st Street Mission," echoes her reply.
"And I guess you...run it?"
"That I do, Mr. Kirk." The footsteps retreat. Jim bites the inside of his cheek.
"Huh," he says and stares after her. "She's different."
"She did not respond to your licentious behavior," Spock observes. He tugs at the hat covering his ears.
"It's called flirting," Jim retorts, batting Spock's hands away and straightening the hat for him. "And there's a first time for everything."
"I have it on good authority that Lieutenant Uhura also found your flirting ineffective," Spock says, taking Jim by the wrists and stilling him.
"Mr. Spock, are you engaging in gossip?" Jim asks mockingly.
"I merely wish to point out that perhaps if you would try your hand at diplomacy, you would achieve better results than by relying on the human limbic system."
"What, I don't turn you on?" Jim asks with a grin, freeing his arms.
"You are an aesthetically pleasing human," Spock replies without pause, "but you forget I am Vulcan and therefore able to control biological urges if you were, in fact, to have such an effect on me."
Jim punches him in the shoulder. "I'm surprised you even knew what I meant."
"I am not as naive as you assume," Spock says with a frown. Jim raises both eyebrows.
"Yeah? So you and Uhura used to...?"
"I believe I have told you before that I have no comment on the matter."
"Fine, no details," Jim says, rolling his eyes. "We better get cleaning. How the hell Bones managed to hypo himself..."
"The ship lurched when we passed through a time ripple."
Jim scowls at him at he opens a musty box.
"You ever hear of a rhetorical question?" he asks. He coughs as he pokes through the contents. "If I have a fatal allergic reaction to the mold down here, I'm bequeathing you the chess set."
The mess is a little run down in appearance, but it's functional. There's a line of men waiting for a helping of food, and the rest are seated at long tables with mismatched chairs.
"If you're going to bitch about the food," Jim mutters, pointing a fork in Spock's direction, "just eat bread. I'm pretty sure there's no meat in the bread."
Spock straightens in his chair and does, possibly, the worst impression of someone down on his luck.
"I did not bitch," he intones, and the word coming from his mouth causes Jim to snicker. "I merely inquired which of the dishes is vegetarian."
"Would it kill you to eat meat, seriously?" he asks through a full mouth. Spock glares at him sideways.
"It would not, but I would prefer not to consume it. My body is not accustomed to it. I would likely take ill."
"I'm so slipping steak into your plomeek soup sometime," Jim says with a shake of his head. "I'll puree it first. You'll never know; that stuff's so dark, it'll blend right in."
"When have you had occasion to eat plomeek soup?" Spock asks, angling closer to Jim.
"It's purple, right?"
"It is curious you would have encountered it in Iowa," Spock continues. "I was led to believe you lived there until you joined Starfleet."
"Yeah. Well," Jim says, stabbing a potato wedge, "there was a glorious stint on Tarsus IV, and I definitely didn't eat any soup there."
"Forgive me," Spock says quickly, lowering his voice. He leans closer and touches Jim's shoulder. "I did not mean to evoke these memories. The events of—"
"It was probably on the Enterprise," Jim muses.
"Captain?" Spock blinks.
"Where I had the soup. It was probably on the ship after we evacuated...you know."
"It has only just been added to the replicators," Spock argues. "I have been working on the modifications myself."
"It's not half bad."
The look on Spock's face is unreadable, and he opens his mouth to say something further. Edith crosses a low stage along the longest wall of the dining room, stands before an upright piano and begins to speak.
"Jim—" Spock starts, but Jim waves a hand to silence him. He leans back and slings an arm behind Spock's chair.
"Shh, I want to hear this," he says, his eyes lingering on the stage. "We can talk about food sabotage any time."
"One day, soon," Edith proclaims in a practiced voice that tells Jim she gives this same speech often, "man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom, energies that can hurdle us across the universe, in spaceships..."
"I like her," Jim declares to Spock when she's finished, grinning. "Think we can bring her back with us?"
"You could find a suitable partner aboard the Enterprise," Spock says, "if you were amenable to the idea." Jim shrugs.
"I'm just saying she's pretty hot."
"That does not surprise me," Spock says dryly, turning his face away.
"Isn't surprise an emotion?"
"It is a state of astonishment. I am not astonished that you find a Terran woman attractive. You have made similar declarations thirty-seven times since our mission began."
"That I have witnessed. I did not include non-humans."
"I knew that number sounded low."
"You have an exaggerated opinion of yourself."
"And you have pointy ears," Jim says, clapping him on the back. He returns both elbows to the table. "Eat your bread."
The one-room apartment ("a flop," Edith called it) is drab. But it's clean and cheap, which is more to the point. There's a single bed, along with the basic essentials for living: a few chairs, a worn but decent sofa, a low table, a nightstand, and a lamp. The walls are covered in blue wallpaper, and the curtains are sheer, which lets in light from the building across the street.
"Cozy," Jim comments as they enter, setting the bundle of uniforms and spare clothes on the bed. He pushes on the mattress and then flings himself across it. "You want to figure out sleeping arrangements now or play chicken and see who falls asleep first? Loser gets the couch."
"As I require less sleep than you, I will inevitably beat you at your game, leaving you with the couch by default. However, because you sleep for a longer period of time, it is only logical you take the bed."
"Sure?" Jim asks.
"Why do you question my statements?"
"Human," Jim yawns, pointing at his chest. "Just making sure you're serious."
"Vulcan," Spock retorts, taking the second pillow from the bed and setting it on the couch. "I am always serious."
"I know for a fact you have a sense of humor, and that you're capable of lying, but I appreciate you giving me the bed. I'm beat." He shrugs off his shirt and pants and crawls under the covers. They're cold against his skin, and he winces, waiting for his body heat to seep into them and take the goosebumps away. "Hey," he says with sudden realization. "Are you gonna be warm enough over there? Are there any spare blankets?"
"I will be fine," Spock says, switching off the light. The room is cast into dim blueness from the streetlights. "I am used to atmospheres cooler than I prefer. If I become uncomfortable, I will meditate."
"Take the blanket from the bed then. I'll be okay with just the sheet." Closing his eyes, he feels the first tug of sleep and yawns again, rolling onto his side and shoving an arm beneath the pillow, stuffing it into the crook of his neck. An idea forms in his brain and he opens his mouth before he has a chance to think it through. "Or just crawl in with me. We'll both fit. This bed's twice as big as the one in my cabin, and then we can share the blanket."
"That is...logical. Thank you."
A boot hits the floor dully, then another. Jim cracks an eye when he feels the bed dip beside him and watches Spock slide beneath the covers fully clothed. Chuckling to himself, he wonders what Bones would say if he could see the two of them right now, and it's the last thought he has before sleep takes over.
Vulcans make excellent bed partners, Jim decides. Not only is he warm and rested, but Spock managed to stay on his side of the bed the entire night and didn't steal the covers. Being a cover hog himself, Jim appreciates the lack of this quality in others. It's been a long time since Jim has woken up next to someone, and he's surprised to find he actually likes the sensation of another body resting beside his.
His fingers are curled around something soft. It's the knit cap, he realizes. It must have come off of Spock's head sometime during the night, because Spock has his back to Jim and is either sleeping or doing a good job of faking it. Jim makes a mental note that Spock lies about sleep habits as well as, well, lying, and rolls onto his back. He stretches his legs while he tries to convince himself to get out of bed and stumble down the hallway to the bathroom.
The chores Edith assigns him for the day are easy enough. He sweeps the floor in the mess, scrubs down the kitchen counters. He helps her carry a stack of boxes from the basement to the first floor so she can sort through items people have donated over the last year.
"You would be surprised by some people's generosity," she tells him, "even with the country in such dire financial straits."
By the time the day is through, his back is sore, and he's relieved when he steps through the door into the tiny apartment.
"Honey, I'm home," he calls, and he's met with a lifted eyebrow.
"I will never understand the human tendency to state the obvious," Spock says, looking up from his handwritten notes.
"Well, I'll never understand why I accepted your candidacy for my first officer," Jim says, shrugging out of his jacket. "How far did you get?"
"I am planning the design presently," Spock says. "I will require platinum."
"I'm more of a titanium guy myself," Jim says, pulling a chair up beside him. "Course, I'm not big into jewelry, but I'd wear a ring if it meant that much to you."
Spock's glare could melt things. "I was not speaking of personal adornments," he says evenly.
"I know what you meant. You're not getting platinum, or gold, or silver either. We have..." Jim shoves a hand in his pocket and pulls out a few coins, rakes through them on his palm. "...a dollar fifty."
"That is not sufficient."
"No shit. If you have a better idea of how we can make money, enlighten me."
"Surely you have skills that are in demand," Spock says, "even in this primitive culture."
"I am not taking up prostitution, if that's what you're implying."
The exhale might as well be a sigh, by Vulcan standards. "I was not."
"Bones would kill me if I came back to the twenty third century with a primitive disease he doesn't have a hypo for."
"You are intelligent," Spock says, and Jim's pretty sure he's exasperated. "I have confidence that you will find a way to provide me with the funds I need."
"You know, you're stronger than I am," Jim says. "If you want to help me move boxes, we can get the stuff you need a lot faster."
It takes three days of bickering in the shelter's basement, but they earn enough to buy the basic parts. It's boring working alone after that, Jim finds, now that Spock spends his days in the apartment. Spock makes him laugh, whether it's intentional or not. He finishes beating out the threadbare carpets and is glad when Edith tells him it's time to go wash up for supper, because his left shoulder is cramped. He's disappointed when Spock asks him to bring him back something to eat, because he doesn't want to stop working.
"You're going to strain your eyes," Jim tells him. Spock merely looks at him, then looks back at the wires and spare parts in front of him. "Whatever," Jim mutters and eats by himself. He brings back a chunk of bread with him and shoves it in Spock's face.
"I promise there's no meat in this. Eat," he says, so Spock does as Jim settles in next to him.
The project doesn't look anything like modern computers Jim is used to. It is a row of ten radio tubes wired together, affixed to a six-foot board. The tricorder is perched on a nightstand Spock has dragged away from the wall and is using as a console.
Jim quickly realizes his hacking skills will not be needed. He spends eighteen minutes "helping" to assemble the relic by fiddling with spare pieces of wire that Spock has discarded, staring at the fragile radio tubes suspiciously, and kicking the underside of the table. Spock finally has enough, puts a hand on his leg to still him, and says, "Captain."
"Your behavior is distracting. Please find something else to occupy your time. Surely there must be books here."
Spock removes his hand and resumes working. Jim watches his hands as Spock carefully arranges the wires and weighs his options: stay here and watch Spock fondle radio tubes some more, or seek out a particular beautiful woman and chat her up about her reading habits.
"You're sure I can't help?" he asks.
Spock gives him a long look which Jim interprets as I question my sanity for having chosen to be this man's first officer. Jim grins at him and heads into the hallway. He knocks on Edith's door.
"Hey," he says when she answers, leaning against the doorjamb.
"Mr. Kirk," she says, opening it only a few inches. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Just wondering if you have any books, actually," he says. "I'm bored and thought I might read something."
She stares at him for a few seconds, then narrows her eyes.
"Just a moment," she says. He whistles something off tune as the rustle of her skirt retreats. When she reappears in the doorway, she holds a book out to him. It's black with a thin leather cover and gold lettering.
"The Bible?" he says, glancing at the spine.
"Goodnight, Mr. Kirk," she says with a smirk and closes the door.
He returns to the room and lies on the bed on his stomach, opening to the book of Genesis. Something about that name makes him freeze. He imagines ice and fire, the feel of his face buried against someone's neck, the sensation of his molecules breaking apart. He lets the cover fall closed and suppresses a shiver.
"I'm going to turn in," he announces, and he doesn't wait for Spock to acknowledge him, turning to face the opposite wall.
When Spock climbs into bed later, Jim wakes just enough to perceive Spock turn toward him and align his hand so their fingers almost touch. Something in the motion seems familiar. Contented, he smiles, exhaling softly, and drifts.
"You're either a very good friend or a very foolish one, to work while he attends his hobby."
Edith looks down at him as he tinkers with the piano strings. He can feel something wedged underneath, which would explain why it doesn't sound right above a middle C.
"It's important," Jim says.
"Obviously," Edith replies. "You indulge him."
"He's saved my life a couple of times. I figure I owe him."
"You have a very odd way of speaking."
Jim laughs. "It's not so odd where I'm from."
"Where is that, exactly?"
"Iowa," he says, straining to fit his hand between two pieces of wood. His fingers brush something cool.
"Iowa?" she repeats.
"Does that surprise you?"
"You seem like you are from farther away. How did you come to be in New York?"
"I got sucked through a time portal," Jim tells her. Edith ducks her head, but Jim catches a smile.
"You're making fun of my ideas," she says. "I suppose you think I'm silly."
"Not at all."
"Well, you wouldn't be the first," she says. "This city might claim to be progressive, it it still looks down its nose at women with forward-thinking ideas. My family has never understood my interest in science or humanity."
"Do they live close?"
"Yes, but I don't see them often. When I rejected a marriage proposal, I think they wrote me off as a lost cause."
Jim shrugs. "Marriage isn't for everyone."
"It's difficult to be a woman today without a husband, but I get by. I enjoy my work. I enjoy helping people. It's fulfilling in a way I don't think marriage can be, because this—all of this—isn't about me, not really. It's about a greater good. If I give the best years of my life working toward a more peaceful world, I'll consider those years well spent."
Smoothing her hands over the half apron covering her skirt, the intensity that has built on her face eases, and she peers into the open piano.
"I've almost—" Jim says, straining like it will cause his arm to grow that extra inch, but it doesn't. He sighs and pulls his hand out. "We need Spock for this. He's got longer arms than I do."
"He's best where he is," Edith says. "I'm glad to have the opportunity to talk with you, get to know you. Have you tried any of the tools—perhaps pliers?"
Taking the pliers in hand, he works a small bottle from the piano strings and holds it up before her.
"Whiskey," he proclaims. "I have a friend who'd love to take this off your hands. Different friend," he assures her, holding up both hands.
"I believe I know who that belongs to," she declares, pinching the bottle between two fingers and depositing it in the trash can, "and he is far better off without illegal substances."
"Illegal?" Jim gawks.
"Why, of course. Don't tell me you're unfamiliar familiar with Prohibition."
"I...have heard of it."
"Mmm," she says, as though she doesn't believe him. "Well, thank you for your help, Mr. Kirk."
"Jim. What's next?"
"Clean the windows out front, and then you can help me peel potatoes in the kitchen. The soup needs to simmer for a few hours, so while it's cooking, you can sweep the floors. All right?"
"I don't have a lot of experience cleaning windows, but I'll do my best."
"I believe you will," she says, smoothing her apron. "What did you do before you came here? I've heard your friend refer to you as Captain. Were you in the Navy?"
"We serve together on a ship," he says.
"You speak in the present. Have you gone AWOL?"
"No, just...on leave. We're actually trying to get back to the ship. It's just become more complicated than we thought. We're waiting on a friend of ours to join us before we head back."
Edith nods and crosses the room to open a supply closet, and she takes out a bucket and large sponge.
"You can fetch clean water from the utility room, just through there. Make sure the water is hot, mind you. Ordinarily I'd have you use soap, but we're a little shy of funds this week."
From paying me, Jim thinks and frowns.
"Don't worry," she says quickly, as though she can read his thoughts. "I'm glad to have the help. Come and find me when you're done."
It's not a cold day, but there's enough of a breeze to make Jim wish he'd stolen a second jacket. He gave his to Spock. He soaks the sponge in water for a minute, then begins to wash away months of grime on the mission's small front windows. Occasionally, Edith walks past and smiles at him. He can't help but smile back, feeling giddy when she looks his way. Twice he goes inside to refill the bucket with clean water. It's easy work, but he finds it oddly satisfying to do something purely physical. As strange as it is taking orders, he finds he almost likes that too. It gives his brain a chance to shut off from the pressures of command.
Only six years ago, he was bumming around every bar within fifty square miles of Riverside, working as a bartender to pay his bills. If he hadn't shamelessly flirted with Uhura, hadn't provoked Cupcake, hadn't willingly got the shit kicked out of him, he'd never have caught the eye of Captain Pike and would be a sad, nearly thirty-something drowning his dad's legacy in cheap beer and cheap sex.
He thinks of Edith again, of her confidence, the way she holds herself. She'd never be caught dead in a place like the Shipyard. He envisions her walking toward him, sees himself from behind. Edith crosses the street against a flash of headlights, and—
"Edith Keeler must die."
It's Spock's voice. He jumps, looking around him frantically, but there's nobody near him. Across the street, people amble along the sidewalk. He glances up, but the windows are closed. His comm doesn't have a signal, so Spock couldn't have called him.
Shuddering, he throws the contents of the bucket into the street, wrings out the sponge, and hurries inside. He finds Edith in the kitchen beside a mound of potato skins, the metal peeler in her right hand moving over each tuber with alarming speed. When he sees her, he lets out a breath.
"Jim, what perfect timing. My hands are getting tired. Take over for me," and she sets down the peeler and bends to take a large soup pot from under the counter.
"Sure," he says and grabs a fat potato from the bag.
Jim has never peeled a potato in his life, though sometimes Winona would cook "the old-fashioned way" and he'd watch her get out knives and cutting boards and saucepans and preheat the oven. She'd spend hours preparing something that would've tasted about the same coming out of a replicator, but she said there was something important about cooking with love.
"Can't you press the buttons with love?" he asked when he was eight. Sam smacked him upside the head.
He never helped her cook but he'd linger in the kitchen doorway or curl up with a book just outside the door so the smells could build and float out to him. Those were the moments he liked best with his mom, watching her do something she truly enjoyed, not putting on a brave face for anyone.
Edith laughs at the way Jim peels potatoes, holding one tightly in his left hand and slowly guiding the rusty metal tool over its surface, trying to remove the skin in a single ribbon.
"Well, you certainly didn't work in the ship's galley!" she exclaims. "You'll get faster. Don't feel it's beneath you."
"I think men ought to know about cooking as well as women."
"Do you?" she says, and she sounds genuinely surprised.
"On my ship," Jim begins, "women assume the same responsibilities men do. My communications officer is a hell of a woman and serves on the bridge with me."
"Yeah, you'd like her." He finishes a potato and inwardly groans at the overflowing sack still at his feet.
"And how did you enjoy your reading last night?" she asks.
"Didn't get very far," Jim admits. "I was so tired, I drifted off. I promise I'll get further tonight."
Edith blushes slightly and doesn't look up from chopping. "I should apologize," she says. "I gave you the Bible because I found your advances...fast and wanted to send a message. I hadn't considered you might have a genuine interest in reading."
"I love it. I don't get a lot of time to read on the ship, and actual books can be hard to come by, where I'm from."
"What is your favorite?"
"I like Shakespeare, King Lear especially."
"But it is so tragic!"
"Well..." Jim thinks for a moment, and a ragged, terrible landscape stretches before him beneath a brilliant sky. "Sometimes tragedy can be beautiful."
"You have a funny way of looking at the world," she muses, but it sounds like a compliment.
"The weirdest thing happened today," Jim says the instant he's through the door. "I was outside washing windows, and I heard your voice in my head, really clearly. It freaked me out."
Spock is hunched over the computer, but his hands are still. He stares at the tricorder screen.
"My voice?" Spock repeats.
"Yeah," Jim said. "You said Edith...you said she was going to die." At this, Spock flinches, but Jim continues. "I heard it so clearly that I honestly looked around to see if you were there. That's crazy, right? What do you think it means?"
"Jim..." Spock begins, bringing his hands to his lap and bowing his head.
"What's wrong?" Jim asks. "Is it working?"
"I am attempting to verify my findings," Spock says.
"So you got through to the ship?"
"I'm guessing you didn't bother to stop for lunch," Jim says, coming to stand behind him. He grips Spock's shoulders and squeezes. "When's the last time you stood up?"
"I—" Spock begins.
"Yeah, that's what I thought. C'mere." He extends a hand, which Spock ignores.
"Fine, sit there and let your legs rot off." Jim leans against the wall. "Are you coming with me to dinner?"
"Jim," Spock says, turning toward him, "I do not know how it happened, but what you heard is correct."
"What are you—" Jim starts, but he can't force out any more words once he glimpses the expression on Spock's face. It's full of regret. No. It's not possible. "Bullshit," he says.
"My findings reveal that in order to restore the future as we know it," Spock says thickly, "Edith Keeler must—"
"Bullshit," Jim repeats and storms out.
He can't get Spock's voice out of his head at dinner and pushes potato bits around his bowl numbly. Edith approaches the table and suggests they go for a walk after they wash the dishes. The sun has gone down. There is a chill in the air, and Edith's hand is warm in his.
"I like you," she says. "I like you despite your inability to peel vegetables in a reasonable time frame." Jim squeezes her hand. "I will be very sorry when you leave to return to your ship. I am enjoying our time together."
"You don't think I am too forward?"
"No," he says.
When was the last time he'd walked with a woman like this? There isn't an instance he can pinpoint, and he gapes when it dawns on him that this is a first. He grips her hand a little tighter. Her eyes light up as she smiles at him, and he can't remember that either, a time when someone looked at him like he was worthy of seeing, not because he's the youngest Captain in Starfleet history, not because he's George Kirk's son, not because he's considered a hero of the Federation, but because he is a man worth seeing.
Spock's words float back to him. He smiles at her, but he can't hold her gaze and drops it.
"Is something bothering you?" she asks.
"No," he says automatically.
"Whatever it is, please let me help."
"You know," Jim says, "one day, about a hundred years from now, a guy's gonna write a book that uses 'let me help' instead of 'I love you.'" His face heats up as the words leave his mouth, and he's glad for the cool night air.
"Mr. Kirk," Edith responds playfully, "I believe you're trying to convince me that you're from the future."
"Is it working?" he asks with a winning smile. Laughing, she opens the front door to the apartment building.
"Thank you for the walk," she says. "Come up the stairs with me for a moment. I have something for you."
He waits outside her room, noting the way Spock peers out into the hallway. He waves him off and rocks forward on the balls of his feet. He wonders what the inside of her apartment looks like, if he'll ever get to see it, if she's really going to—
She joins him in the hallway and presses a hardcover book into his hands.
"Here," she says. "I want you to have it."
The book lacks its dust jacket, but on the spine is printed A Tale of Two Cities. It's a minute before Jim can speak.
"Thank you," he murmurs.
"Do you know it?" she asks.
"Yes," he says, touching the cover. He stands in headquarters and sees an older version of himself in a red uniform, doing the same. He blinks and everything is again as it should be.
"Are you well?" Edith asks, laying a hand on his arm.
"Fine," he says, shaking it off. "Just tired."
"Well," she says softly, "good night."
USS Enterprise, Stardate 2261.202
Jim wakes with a stiff neck and the stale taste of coffee in his mouth. He's sweating, and his arm is draped over something warm. Blinking to clear the sleep from his eyes, it takes a few seconds for him to recognize the red wall hangings and exotic artifacts. Spock's heart beats against his wrist. Jim shifts closer, pressing his face to Spock's shoulder.
What if Spock is right, and his blindness can't be reversed? Starfleet would never approve him remaining on board as a consultant. His disability could prove a liability. There are rumors of a device in development at Central Hospital on Altair IV, a visor that may one day enable sight, but it is years if not decades from practical use. The destruction of the Vulcan Science Academy will have slowed progress further. Maybe Starfleet will grant the Enterprise permission to shuttle Spock to New Vulcan, but more likely they will order him delivered to the nearest space station. Why use the flagship to deliver a single passenger? Spock would side with Starfleet; it would be illogical to devote the resources of the Enterprise to a task that could easily be accomplished by a long-range passenger shuttle. Starfleet could order this within the day, as soon as Bones's report on Spock's condition and his prognosis of "no cure" reaches them.
This could be their only night together. Jim's mind is numb.
He rubs the back of his neck and sits up. There's got to be a solution. He knows who to ask. The Ambassador made it clear that he won't give up any more information about his own timeline, not even after Harrison, but Jim has to find a way to convince him. If Spock leaves the ship, all of this— the epic friendship the Ambassador always talks about, everything that has been building between them for two and a half years—will end.
Fingers curling into a fist, he inhales deeply against the hot air and plants both feet on the floor.
His own cabin feels frigid when the bathroom door whooshes shut behind him, and he's instantly more awake. He falls in at his computer console and dials New Vulcan.
USS Enterprise , Stardate 2261.34
Bones sets the bottle of whiskey on his desk and gets out two glasses.
"Drink," he says. "It's the only thing that helps at a time like this, kid."
They're sitting in Bones's office. Jim's still in the uniform he had on when they beamed back to the ship. Bones pours them both a glass, but Jim snatches the bottle and drinks straight from it. Bones shoots him a dirty look, but Jim merely grins despite everything and steals another mouthful.
Good old-fashioned beer has always been more his style, but the bottle is square and fits easily in his hand. The sour oak taste is like swallowing smoke from a campfire. It makes him pucker, but he won't spit it out. He holds it in his mouth before he convinces his throat to swallow. It leaches into his gums and numbs them. He hopes the same numbing effect will continue down his esophagus and into his veins, or at least get him so stumbling drunk that he can't think for a few hours.
Bones mutters to himself something Jim can't make out. He leans casually back in his chair and sips his own drink, tapping his pinkie on the side, indicating that real gentlemen employ what's known as a glass. Jim gives him the finger.
He's surprised Bones doesn't have a hypo for this. It's the twenty third century, after all. It just takes a minute to heal broken bones. No one has figured out how to heal a broken heart, or at least...tune it out for a while?
Well, besides the Vulcans. Jim considers asking Spock about that again. He can picture the lifted eyebrow, the slight yet obviously disdainful head shake, but it morphs into Spock's head shaking just slightly, of his hand raised to the glass, of his eyes bright with tears. Where is Spock, anyway? He hasn't seen him since they beamed back on board. Jim drinks again, and this time, it's easier to swallow.
He leans back, chair teetering precariously on two legs, the whiskey burning his throat in the best way, drinks again, and scrubs a sleeve over his eyes like it will tear away some of the emotions clawing at the inside of his brain.
Edith is dead.
Edith is dead.
Jim can feel her death like a phaser blast to his chest. He idly wonders what will happen to the homeless men at the shelter now that she isn't there to care about them.
If it hadn't been for Spock, Edith would still be alive. Jim would've found a way to bring her back to the Enterprise, take her away from Earth and away from her time, away from the peace movement that she wouldn't be able to start —- or maybe he could have stayed with her on Earth, helped out with the movement, lived with her until the Germans perfected their weapon and everything just...ended.
Jim wanted to rush out into the street, whatever Spock had said. He wanted to push Edith out of the way of that damned truck, but all the while he knew that Spock was right.
Bones was there to hug him when it happened, but Spock remained at a distance.
Jim swallows another mouthful quickly, letting the burn sear away the cry in his throat. He can still hear the squeal of the brakes and Edith's scream. The white headlights still flash blindingly. There is a hot sensation just above his heart; he pounds his chest with a fist and squeezes his eyes closed.
He's a third through the bottle and it's only been a half hour. His stomach is empty, but he refuses food when Bones offers.
"I'm heading back to my cabin. Hit me with a sleep aid, would you?" Jim asks. "I don't want to think for a couple days."
"Lucky for you that I've put you on medical leave for the next 48 hours. No sneaking off to the bridge or you'll find your ass strapped down in Sickbay."
"What you're feeling won't wear off for a while, but you'll feel better in a couple days," Bones says. "Spock is more than capable of running the ship."
Bones stands up and goes into the next room while Jim takes two, three more sips and starts to rock forward and backward on the chair until he leans too far and it falls backwards, spilling him and a lot of the whiskey on the cold floor. He feels the liquid seep into his black regulation pants. Great. Now it'll look like he's pissed himself as he staggers back to his quarters.
Hypo in hand, Bones re-enters the room, curses at the sight of a whiskey-soaked Jim sprawled on the floor, grabs his hand, hauls him to his feet, and marches him out into the corridor.
A turbolift ride later, they stand outside Jim's door, and Bones punches in Jim's access code and shoves Jim inside. Only Jim doesn't stay inside, he juts his head back out into the corridor when he spots Spock walking past.
"Hey," he calls, forcing his eyes open as he crushes his shoulder into the wall to stay upright. Spock turns and regards him, his eyes widening slightly.
"Jim," Bones barks from inside his room. "Get your ass in bed."
"Captain," Spock repeats, stepping nearer. He's freshly showered and smells like soap. His uniform is neat, every hair in place. He doesn't look like a man who watched a woman die in the street just a few hours before. "Jim. Are you well?"
"Do I look okay to you?" he asks, intending it to be biting, but it comes out weak.
Spock uncharacteristically shifts his weight from one foot to the other but keeps his eyes on Jim.
"You should find comfort in the fact that with this loss of a single life, millions of others were allowed to live, including you and I," he says. "Surely that must give you some peace."
"Not really," Jim admits. He scrubs a hand over his face.
"Is Dr. McCoy planning to stay with you?"
"No, he just wanted to make sure I got here okay."
"Do you desire company?"
Jim can't talk but finds himself nodding. He feels a sting in his eyes and looks away. Spock places a hand on his forearm.
"I must rearrange my plans with Nyota. I will meet you in your cabin in twenty minutes."
"You don't have to cancel on her for me."
"I believe," Spock says quietly, "it is what you would do for me."
Squeezing Jim's arm, he disappears down the corridor. Jim wipes at his eyes and goes inside his cabin, feeling less manic than he had a minute before. He sits on the edge of his bed and lets Bones remove his boots. When he picks up the hypo, Jim shakes his head.
"Can you just leave it?" he asks. "In case I need it? I'm feeling a little better. I think I might replicate something."
"Hmm," Bones says, crossing his arms. "Well, you're certainly familiar with how these things are administered."
"If you need me—"
"I will," Jim says, lying back on the covers. The room swims around him. "Get the lights on your way out, will you?"
"Sure," Bones says. "Try to get some sleep."
He leaves, and Jim stares up at the ceiling, though he can't make it out. He should shower, or at least get out of his whiskey-soaked pants, but he finds he can't move. It's so quiet in the room. He's always liked that before, lying in his bed, listening to the sound of the engines, to the footsteps in the corridor. Tonight, the quiet makes him sick. The room lurches, and he stumbles from his bed and into the bath.
He's bent over the toilet, his arms wrapped around the base, when he feels a cool hand press against the back of his neck.
Spock kneels next to him and holds out a wet washcloth. Jim wipes his mouth and rocks back on his heels unsteadily. Spock catches him, lowering him into a sitting position. Jim slumps against his side. His throat hurts, and there's a horrible taste in his mouth. Spock presses the button to begin the cleaning cycle, and the air begins to clear.
"Will you be sick again?" Spock asks.
"Not sure," Jim says, letting his head fall back against the cabinet. "Was Uhura pissed?"
"She is concerned for your well being," Spock answers close to his ear.
"I feel like shit," Jim admits.
"My mother used to say that all things pass, with time."
"I bet your mom was awesome," Jim slurs, closing his eyes. "You must miss her."
"What was she like?"
Spock is a long time before replying. "She was very much like you."
"Yeah?" Jim drops his head onto Spock's shoulder. "How?"
"She too was brave," he says, "and could be quite outspoken."
"You think she would've liked me?"
"I am certain of it."
Jim laughs and heaves in a breath. His eyes go awash with tears. His shoulders shake, and someone in the room is sobbing. The sound is alien. Spock places a hand on his arm until he comes back to himself.
"I'm not going to be good company tonight," Jim says, covering his face.
"I would not be anywhere else."
Jim wakes to the sound of Spock breathing, and for a minute he thinks it's all been a dream. They're still in New York, and Edith is just down the hallway. The blue glow of the chronometer reads 0437. It's too early to go and see her, but at least she's—
His heart sinks. They're on the ship. He can feel the hum of the engines, and it's enough for his eyes to sting again. He shakes and presses his face into the pillow. A heavy arm wraps around his stomach and pulls him back against a solid chest.
"Sleep," Spock whispers. Jim's eyes open, and he's aware that he's shirtless, that Spock's fingers brush his bare stomach. His presence is curiously...soothing.
"I can't stop thinking about her," Jim whispers.
"That is to be expected." There is a long silence before Spock speaks again. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Will you...will you just talk to me, until I fall asleep again?"
"What do you wish me to say?"
"Just...tell me anything. Tell me what Vulcan was like. Was it beautiful?"
"Yes," Spock says, "though you would have found it unbearably hot."
"The Ambassador said I used to get injections when I'd visit," Jim says, easing back against him. "To help me breathe."
Spock tenses. "I did not realize you speak with him regularly."
"Every week, if we're in range," Jim says. "What was the sky like?"
"It varied, as Earth's sky varies, but it was predominantly reddish orange. At night, it became black as Earth's sky does."
Jim can see it, the dusty orange landscape. He is somewhere very high, looking down on a gathering of people beside a greenish craft. Someone is looking back up at him. He tries to look closer, but it fades. He must still be drunk.
"Could you see the stars from where you lived?" he asks.
"You can't always see them on Earth, in the big cities. I was lucky, growing up on a farm. It was really dark at night, totally dark. Sometimes I'd sneak out my window, go lie on the roof, just look up at them."
"We had a balcony," Spock murmurs, and his words are a warm breath across Jim's neck. "I would often go there."
"Are you glad you joined Starfleet?"
"Me too," Jim says, wrapping a hand around Spock's arm. His eyelids grow heavy. "I wish I could have seen your planet."
"I would have been proud to show you."
As Jim falls into the place between awake and sleep, he swears he is standing on Vulcan and can feel the heat of its suns.
The smell of coffee rouses Jim. He sleepily rolls to the place where Spock should be, but the sheet is cold. He stretches, arching his back, and finds Spock fully dressed, seated beside his bed.
"Good morning," Spock says.
"Hey." Jim rubs his eyes and sits up. "What time is it?"
"It is 0715. I am to report to the bridge in fifteen minutes," Spock says.
"You made me coffee?"
"I used your preset," Spock answers.
Jim yawns and stretches his arms up over his head. His thoughts are surprisingly clear, not fuzzy like they usually are after a night of heavy drinking, but he's only been awake for a minute. "Can you see if Bones left me a hypo for a hangover?" he asks. "I don't want a migraine setting in."
"I have already administered it," Spock informs him. "I hope you do not view it as a violation of your privacy."
"No, I appreciate it," Jim says, propping the pillows behind his back and reaching for the coffee. He blows on it and takes a sip. "I know you said this is my preset," he says, "but I swear it tastes better when you make it."
Spock gives him an almost-smile. "Dr. McCoy asked me to remind you that you are not to be seen on the bridge today," he says. "However, I am aware of what the mind is capable of, as an artifact of grief. Should it become necessary for you to observe your crew, I shall not alert the doctor to your presence."
"You'd lie to Bones for me?" Jim asks.
"I would not lie; I would merely omit a detail," Spock clarifies, straightening. "Will you join me for lunch?"
"Sure," Jim says. "Comm me when you're ready?"
Nodding once, Spock rises and places a hand on Jim's shoulder.
"I grieve with thee," he says. Jim squeezes his wrist.
"Thanks," he says, staring at his lap. "I'll see you in a couple hours."
Spock turns at the bathroom door, holds Jim's gaze for a beat, and exits. Jim finishes the coffee and rolls onto his side, bunching the pillow under his neck.
"Computer, bring up vid queue," he orders. He scrolls through the selection but can't find anything he wants to watch. His music library is either too peppy or too maudlin. This isn't something The Bard can heal, and god, Spock is right about what grief does to you. Every time Jim closes his eyes, he sees her. When he opens them, he hears her. He'll go for a run. That will clear his head. He'll just run until he can't run any more. That's how he got stuff out of his system as a kid. He knew every back alley on Tarsus and the best route from the farm into Riverside. He gets out of bed, but even with Bones's hangover remedy in his system, the room spins.
"Okay," he mutters. "No running."
He opts for a water shower instead, letting it stream over his face and into his mouth, tilting his head so it fills his ear and dulls everything momentarily. With a towel around his waist, he goes to his desk and takes out his glasses. Bones said he's off duty, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't check his communications. There's undoubtedly paperwork which has to be filed regarding the mission. He's the captain; it's his responsibility to submit a report, but as soon as his monitor lights up, a wave of nausea hits him. He buries his face in his hand and switches it off.
Spock said he'd be welcome on the bridge, but he just...can't. He doesn't want to see the pity on his crew's faces, risk anyone touching him. No, he'll just wait here until Spock messages him for lunch. They'll sit in the corner of the mess, and Spock will keep people away from him. He can deal until then. He's almost twenty-eight years old. He can do this.
But Edith's face is everywhere, her voice, her scream. Rearranging his drawers unearths a sock, similar in shade to the shirt he wore in 1930, and he clutches it to his chest before burying it in the back of the drawer. He tries reading, but it makes him think of the book she gave him that Spock wouldn't let him bring back, and for some reason, the words on the page blur. He finds himself pulling on his yellow tunic, running a hand through his hair, and checking the corridor as he sneaks up to the bridge.
Spock is the first person who sees him when he enters, and he nods at him slightly and motions to the chair. Jim shakes his head, but Spock somehow makes it known that Jim should stand next to him, so he does. He feels better there, just to the right of Spock's legs, close enough that he can hear Spock breathing. No one says a word to him, but twice Spock rises to oversee sensor readings, and both times he lightly touches Jim's arm as he passes. Once, when his eyes sting, Jim grabs the chair. He holds it tightly until he's able to regain his breath. Spock says his name quietly, and Jim indicates that he's okay. His legs are numb from standing by the time Spock turns the conn over to Sulu and gently takes his elbow, guiding him to the turbolift.
"C Deck," Spock orders, and it begins to move.
"I'm sorry," Jim says, leaning against the wall.
"Do not be."
"I didn't embarrass myself, showing up like that?"
"No one could observe your face," Spock assures him. "To the crew, you are merely a dedicated captain."
"I guess. God, are my eyes all red? I'm gonna look like an idiot in the mess."
"We are not going to the mess," Spock says. "We are having lunch in my quarters."
"You don't have to do that."
"I am aware."
"What about Uhura?" Jim asks. "Don't you always eat with her? Girlfriends get pissed about this type of stuff."
Spock frowns. "Lieutenant Uhura and I have not been romantically involved since the beginning of this mission," he says.
"What?" Jim says, incredulous. The downward motion slows. "Spock, it's been a year and a half since we left. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I do not know," Spock answers as the lift stops and the doors open. Jim follows him mutely, and once they're inside Spock's overly warm cabin, he sits in front of the chess set.
"Black or white?" he offers.
"You take white," Spock says, sounding a little surprised. "I will order our food."
"No salad," Jim pleads as he sets up the pieces. "For once, please ignore that stupid list Bones gave you."
"Double cheeseburger," Spock recites, "lettuce, no tomato, no onion, ketchup, sliced pickle, plain bun."
"You remembered that?" Jim asks. "That shore leave was, what, eight months ago?"
Spock gives him a quirked eyebrow. "Do you doubt my cognitive abilities?"
"Not at all. I love you so much right now, you have no idea." Spock straightens slightly, and Jim grins. "Any way you can throw in a beer?"
"My replicator is not programmed for synthohol."
"Shame," Jim says and makes the opening move.
Halfway through the burger, and feeling a little better, Jim licks his fingers and wipes them on a napkin.
"Can I ask you something?" he says.
"Of course," Spock replies and moves his queen to safety. "Whether I choose to answer you, however, is a different matter."
"Why'd you break things off with Uhura? You guys are so close. If you hadn't told me, I'd assume you were still together."
"We remain good friends," Spock says, folding his hands in front of him. "However, Nyota found my reaction to your death...confusing."
"She is unable to reconcile what she witnessed in the aftermath of your death against what she witnessed during the Nibiru incident." Spock lowers his eyes. "I admit, I did not anticipate the emotions I would experience when I watched you die."
"The Ambassador's words to me after the incident with Nero filled me with shame," Spock continues, though he does not look up. "I admit resistance to your efforts to befriend me during our first mission. Yet, when you were in the core, knowing I could not reach you made me accept that I do wish for your friendship."
"I'm glad you were the one with me," Jim says. "I knew...I knew if you got to Engineering first, you'd be the one to make the climb. I had this image of you reaching into the core, and I just couldn't..." He swallows thickly. "I don't think I could have watched you die."
"Given the choice, you are correct," Spock says. "I would have given my life, as you did."
Jim hums and returns his eyes to the chessboard, calculating that he'll have Spock in checkmate in another four moves, if Spock plays the way he usually does.
"If you don't step up your game," Jim warns him, "I'm going to own you."
"I find," Spock says after a pause, a smile hovering at the corner of his lips, "that I do not mind."