In spite of his hurried actions, the sudden sensation of cool water against Jim’s freshly shaven face was exhilarating. Feeling refreshed—and not to mention clean—had been a very scarce luxury as of late, and he wanted to soak it up for all of the three seconds it was worth. Cupping the palms of his large hands together once more, he placed them beneath the faucet and filled up the small bowl-shape they formed. He proceeded to immediately lower his face into the tiny pool, his digits first pressing against his forehead and cheeks, and then rubbing up and down vigorously.
Once all of the water had escaped and Jim’s face began to lose the comforting chill, he righted himself from being bent over the sink with a groan. His tired eyes remained closed as he latched his hands backwards to the edge of the countertop, palms flat on the surface while his fingers curled underneath; he used this position to give a good roll to both of his shoulders, and then move his sore neck around.
It seemed odd that the only sound to be heard was the low hum of the Enterprise at warp—a huge contrast to the constant cacophony that had been assaulting him as of late. In the state he was in, some quiet would have done him an indescribable wealth of benefit.
Jim’s eyes opened to his reflection. The vacation would have to wait. Especially now.
Despite being overshadowed by his self-imposed need to rush, those few seconds had been the only peace he had seen in days; in fact, the last time Jim had gotten a good sleep was hours before the disastrous dinner with Gorkon and his crew. The aftermath of that event had brought the chancellor’s murder, the fixed trial in the Klingon court, the damnation to and escape from Rura Penthe, the trap set which Valeris took the bait for, and the many other little things that had straggled along.
Irritation. Misunderstandings. Starvation. Freezing on an asteroid. Fist fights... It all seemed so trivial suddenly, like a whirlwind of hassles that had been monumentally inconvenient at the time, but no longer mattered when compared to the bigger picture.
Despite so much happening in the blur of the last few days, Jim’s work still wasn’t finished. As he slapped some mint tonic on his cheeks that pricked at his nerves and made them tingle, his ship was soaring across an ocean of stars at maximum warp to Camp Khitomer.
It was of dire importance to arrive before the peace conference began; that was both a gamble and the only way to ensure the treaty between the Federation and Klingon Empire would be signed… that the lives of the Federation diplomats—including Sarek’s—would be spared. And yet, as the weight of galactic peace rested on Jim’s shoulders, the Enterprise was still far away from its destination while, somewhere out there, a modified Bird of Prey capable of firing while cloaked waited in the shadows.
There seemed to be a joke somewhere in the chaos of the situation, but Jim found himself in no laughing mood.
Now just over six hours before the commencement of the talks, it was painfully obvious how close their arrival would cut the window of opportunity to stopping the fires of destruction from burning down the bridges of peace. However, if James Kirk was anything, it was consistent; there was nothing at all in the universe would come between him and what mattered most—especially not when so much, and so many lives were at stake.
However, the impending situation actually wasn’t the first thing on his mind at that moment.
After all, there was nothing that could be done about the transit time except make it pass. In that respect, it presented him with the chance to at least lie down; and while Jim was positive he wouldn’t be capable of falling asleep with all of these thoughts running through his mind as danger loomed above the Enterprise like a black cloud, just being off his aching feet would help.
Distantly, the thought of not cramming his toes back into those boots was a pleasing one, as he made fast work of dabbing the moisture from his face with a dry towel. If that were a luxury he actually could indulge in, he’d take it in an instant.
Instead, Jim quickly slipped back into the fresh uniform he had laid out before showering, hit simultaneously with the irony of musing on just how wonderful it would feel to be naked as he was putting his clothes on. He yearned to be comfortably wrapped up in blankets with his head resting on a soft pillow, a half-Vulcan safely cuddled in his arms, and the scent of spice messing with his head.
No pleasant notion or well-deserved desire could stop him, though. Jim exited the bathroom and quickly strode out through his quarters towards the bed, and while his head should have been swimming in an exhausted daze, all he could think of was Spock.
Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Jim reached to the floor and grabbed his polished boots.
While the Klingons, the Federation, and having a traitor on his own ship all built up to an unthinkably volatile situation, those six hours he had would allow him to deal with a more personal crisis. And that was exactly what Jim intended to do as he quickly fixed the bell shape at the bottom of each trouser leg.
He placed his hands at his sides on the bed and pushed up, ignoring the disturbing chorus of popping joints while he rose to his feet. After running his hands forcefully down the red uniform jacket to smooth it out, Jim headed straight out into the corridor without ever looking back.
The door swished open without any request for entry, revealing a room that was barely lit. In the few moments it had taken to traverse from his quarters to these, Jim had calmed himself and slowed his actions—made his appearance gentler to disguise his concern. If he was to succeed in this mission, his demeanor was everything.
He lifted his chin to the darkness of the room before casually stepping inside. With his eyes adjusting from the brightness of the hall, Jim’s lips parted to issue the verbal command for raising the lights, but the sound of Spock’s voice stopped him in his tracks.
“I prefer it dark.”
“Dining on ashes?” Jim inquired, stepping forward into the space as his sight focused on Spock lying in bed. Dressed in a white meditation robe, he was perfectly flat on his back with his hands clasped and pointer fingers steepled parallel to his lips. He stared at the ceiling and made no further attempt to address Jim.
Slowly approaching, Jim stopped several steps from the bed as he took in Spock’s face. Just as he had expected, emotion was present on it in a way that would have been obscure to anyone else. Jim, however, had become a master at reading the subtlety of Vulcan body language over the many years spent living and working with one, and knew exactly what he was he seeing.
That look coupled by the assumed position and the fact that Spock’s side of the bond was closed off all pointed to signs of extreme distress. Jim could only empathize with such a reaction; he was certain he would feel the same way if someone he had sponsored and took pride in blossomed only to betray his trust the way Valeris had.
However, he refused to idly stand by while his other half suffered, searching for answers he would never find. The difference between them both was sadly ironic; Jim would find the logic in absolving himself while Spock would remain in a state of agitated meditation for days.
That was something Jim simply wouldn’t accept—not when Spock was as much of Valeris’ victim as Gorkon. But in order to bring him through it, Jim knew he needed to very carefully maneuver his way about the subject. Too much brunt truth would result in a complete shutdown, and too little wouldn’t be effective enough. Handling Vulcan emotions was nothing more than a game of chess.
Before Jim could move his piece, Spock’s steadily spoken words cut through the silence.
“You were right. It was arrogant presumption on my behalf to have volunteered for this mission.” There was a pause—long enough only for Spock’s jaw to tighten for a fleeting moment—but when he continued, his voice didn’t falter. “You could have been killed.”
“Well,” Jim huffed beneath his breath as he cocked his head to the side with the slightest lifting of his eyebrows. His spine relaxed then and the corners of his lips barely twitched. “The night is young.”
Upon hearing a deep and unamused hum in reply, Jim took the opportunity to casually wander to a shelf past the foot of the bed that displayed Spock’s Vulcan drinkware.
“Say what you will but your presumption was logical.” Reaching for an empty metal cup, he lifted it and brought it to his nose to catch the familiar scent of exotic cinnamon tea before turning it around within his palm to study its intricate design. “You, me, a well-decorated crew… Really, who could’ve predicted that things would unfold the way they did?”
After setting the cup back down with a soft tapping sound, Jim turned and raised both hands with open palms as he looked down at his own boots, falling one before the other in a relaxed, slow stride. “At the end of the day, you’re one for logic. And I, well—” He kept his tone light as he meandered the few steps back to the middle of the room and then gazed off to the far wall with a small nod. His hands lowered to clasp before him. “I’m one for passion and running headstrong into places where even angels would think twice.”
“We are what we are, Spock. Extremists on opposite sides of the spectrum with reality falling somewhere in between us. And yet, even knowing that…” Seriousness suddenly overtook Jim’s previous lighthearted conversation and the expression he wore. With an exhalation pushed through his nose, he quietly admitted, “I couldn’t see past David’s death.”
Not expecting such a quick reply, Jim’s face lifted in Spock’s direction the moment he heard him speak.
“Nor I Valeris’ achievements. She was to succeed where I failed.” Spock hadn’t broken his form or stare in the slightest since Jim’s arrival, and he perpetuated it even while speaking. “Her heritage was pure, her scientific caliber unmatched amongst her peers. I was prejudiced by her accomplishments as a Vulcan.”
Jim’s eyes fell to the floor once again and the digits holding to the back of his other hand tightened. He softly spoke, “And Gorkon had to die before I realized how prejudiced I was.”
Pensive silence hung between them before Spock suddenly turned his face. His dark eyes were searching for something—the comfort of Jim’s gaze—but all he saw was the figure of his bondmate standing still, lost in thought.
The fact that the two of them, now well on in their years and veterans of exploration, were quietly soul-searching to make sense of recent events wasn’t lost on Spock. As he thought about that fact, a realization presented itself to him then, and he slowly pushed himself up to sit at the edge of the bed.
“Has it ever occurred to you that we two—” As Spock began, Jim’s eyes met his. “—both you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?” Spock’s dark eyebrows furrowed at that moment. “Would that constitute… a joke?”
“Spock. Listen to me.” Jim’s voice was tender as he began approaching the bed. The gaze they shared broke when Spock dropped his eyes. It wasn’t long before Jim stopped right before him, knowing his boots were well in sight.
When Spock turned his face to the side and didn’t look back up, Jim slowly kneeled before him and rested his hands down on either side of Spock’s thighs upon the bed. Looking up and reading deeply into that Vulcan expression, Jim lifted one hand and pressed it to Spock’s cheek. Gently pulling his face back to his direction, he repeated even softer than before. “Listen to me.”
Spock offered no resistance at all to Jim’s touch. His eyes drifted back to their hazel counterparts, unashamed that they told the entire story of everything that was running through his mind.
“You haven’t outlived your usefulness,” Jim insisted, lifting the hand that was still on the mattress to cup the other cheek. “Not to Starfleet, or Vulcan. And especially not to me.”
Spock’s forehead gravitated towards Jim’s and they touched.
“I’m so sorry about Valeris,” Jim continued, closing his eyes and nuzzling against him.
“I should have seen it. I was responsible—”
“For no actions but your own.” Jim’s interjection came in a stronger voice as he leaned back slightly. His hands slipped down from Spock’s face and took hold of his arms through the robe. “You can’t be held accountable for anyone else’s bad decisions, especially when you’ve done all you could. Every human—”
“Jim.” It was Spock’s turn to stop him mid-sentence. He shook his head. “We both know that I am not human.”
“You wanna know something, Spock?” Jim asked as his digits unclasped from his arms and slipped down to take hold of Spock’s cold hands. His fingers curled into the palms as his thumbs caressed the outer knuckles. “Everybody’s human. We’re too old to play these games. We’re only human and there’s only so much burden we can carry.”
Lowering his face then, Jim pursed his lips over the back of the slender hands he held before he closed his eyes. With his head still bowed and mouth pressed against the smooth skin, he whispered, “Give yours to me.”
Spock watched in silent contemplation before his lips parted and his own digits folded inward, entwining with Jim’s tightly. He lowered his forehead, pressing hard, and then even harder, against their hands for several seconds. Then, without releasing his grasp, he carefully slipped forward until his knees touched the floor.
At that moment, Spock practically fell into Jim’s open arms that waited for him, and buried his face unto his neck. Like a treasure chest of diamonds, Jim caught him and held him close, lifting a hand to rest on the back of his head. He closed his eyes and began to gently comb through Spock’s black hair to reassure him that he wasn’t alone in grieving, that the blame wasn’t his to carry.
It wasn’t that either ever needed the reaffirmation, but as Jim and Spock knelt together wrapped in a tight embrace within the darkness of that room—as they faced what had passed and what was yet to become of them both as one—it was clear that what they had between them was more than just a simple relationship.
It was the bond which anchored them to the reality that Jim had spoken of before. And when Spock lowered the shields he erected earlier, he allowed Jim to cradle his essence—to take all of the pain he felt and soothe it until nothing hurt anymore.
Valeris, Gorkon, the fragile dream of peace… They all faded away until the only thing that mattered in the entire universe was the warmth and protection Spock found within Jim’s arms.
* * * * * * * * * * *
‘So this is it.’
Four little words carried the weight of an entire lifetime spent pursuing a dream written in the delicate glitter of stardust.
The silence was deafening as Jim’s eyes wandered slowly around the deserted bridge. With his hands clasped loosely at the small of his back, he stood beside the captain’s chair feeling very foreign in a place he had called home for many years… even when it wasn’t.
After the conclusion of the original five year mission and his promotion to Admiral, a part of him had never left the Enterprise—despite being chained to a desk in San Francisco and eventually signing the documents that would “drop the keys” to his ship in Decker’s hands. No matter how he denied it at the time, the facts were simple and blatantly clear: Even when Jim wasn’t in space, his heart was, and while he was physically on Earth, his mind was somewhere out there among the stars that told his life story.
He recalled when he had wandered about the bridge for what he thought would be the final time many years ago. It was the end of his first mission and round of captaincy. Their five years in space had been so successful that Starfleet had not only benchmarked it for future missions, but also made it extremely high profile—which, in turn, made Jim a hero in the eyes of Earth, much to his humble dismay.
A time that should have been filled with excitement and pride was anything but; instead, Jim found it rife with emotional turmoil that he was unable to handle. However, he smiled constantly—widely and brightly—because that was what was expected of him. He smiled, lips stretching from cheek-to-cheek, for Starfleet, for his crew, for everyone looking up to him, while he bled out right before their very eyes.
He was excellent at hiding it, though, and no one knew any better to look deeper than what could be seen on the surface. Not even Jim, or so he told himself. Except he did know, and that made everything so much worse.
For someone who was never willing to give up on his dreams or merely accept whatever life tossed in his direction, that one hundred eighty degree turn in attitude marked the beginning of a time when Jim no longer recognized the man he saw in the mirror.
It all began with Spock’s sudden departure for Gol. The destruction of their relationship had left Jim shell shocked and paralyzed in a way he was utterly unprepared to handle.
For the first time in his tenure as Captain, he made a decision out of utter panic. And while he shook hands with Admiral Nogura at his promotion ceremony, he drowned the feeling that standing on that stage was the biggest mistake he’d ever made.
Prior to Spock, Jim was no stranger to breakups. He’d walked away as many times as he’d been left without retaining any baggage, and after being through plenty of failed romances in his time, he had comfortably accepted that he wasn’t the type to settle down. He was perfectly satisfied with the no strings attached policy of casual dating, and upon assuming command of the Enterprise, Jim decided to devote his life entirely to his iron lady. The truth was that she offered him more than anyone else ever had, and he found himself fulfilled by it.
But somehow, without even realizing it was happening, Spock and he had entwined themselves in a way that Jim had never experienced before. For the first time in his life, he received something from another person that filled chasms within his soul that he didn’t even know existed.
Spock was suddenly everywhere—in his thoughts, in his dreams, in his arms, in his bed. He had a place in his present and future. And Jim had become addicted to his company, to the taste of his lips and the sound of his voice. He wanted to protect him from all of the injustices he faced from being someone who never believed he belonged. But more than anything, Jim wanted to surround him with love and acceptance, and shelter all that Spock was so that neither of them would ever be alone again.
And so he did. Jim carefully cradled Spock’s very essence in his arms for five years without meaning to fall so deeply in love with him. However, at the exact moment Jim realized just how much he adored him and laid his intentions out into the clear, everything was violently ripped away from his nurturing grasp.
As Spock’s transport journeyed towards Gol, it took the stars with it. The universe surrounding Jim emptied into a dark void, just as he did inside, and he found himself clawing to take hold of anything that would keep his head above water.
His fallback could have been the Enterprise, but at that very same moment, even she was being taken away. Instead of acknowledging and dealing with all of the loss, Jim would have jumped at any opportunity to make the pain he denied feeling out of bitterness go away. …Even if it meant accepting a promotion that would ground him for the rest of his life in San Francisco.
Deep down, Jim knew it was wrong. He knew his life was meant to be lived in space, working for the greater good of humanity. He knew he should’ve gone after Spock to at least put a proper end to their relationship for closure. But as his life came undone at the seams within hours and he lost all that meant everything to him—his ship, his crew, Spock—Jim was dangerously indifferent for the first time ever, and simply walked away.
Abandoning the Enterprise in that manner meant leaving the most important parts of himself there. However, without a ship to command, a crew to lead, and someone to adore the way he had adored Spock, those pieces of him were meaningless anyway. Utterly stripped of his identity and trading the life he was destined to lead for monotony behind a desk rendered him lost, depressed, and worst of all, purposeless.
Now, decades later as he stood upon the bridge of a newer Enterprise and mirrored the time when he was a much younger man in a similar situation, Jim wouldn’t make the same mistake—not when it was truly goodbye.
“So…” Jim repeated, out loud to the emptiness surrounding him, and extended one hand to the back of his chair. Letting his gaze wander to his left to take in the row of the dark consoles about the perimeter, his brows raised while he inhaled deeply through his nose. The moment hung there, frozen in time until he expelled that breath he’d taken. Softly, he finished his thought, “…this is really it.”
Jim’s digits slipped from the light gray fabric, pads of his fingertips dragging across the material at the top of the chair before they slipped off. Both hands clasped behind him once more and squeezed as he began to amble in the direction he’d just been staring in.
Somehow, it had seemed less painful to start from the left side as Jim began his final walk around the bridge; however, each abandoned chair and powered down station did little to alleviate the dread he felt from this inevitable separation.
His slow stride brought him to Communications. Jim could just hear Uhura now, fulfilling the role of first and last points of contact between them and whatever laid outside these walls of tritanium. With that consideration, her darkened console was the most metaphoric of all to the ending of their mission, and Jim stopped for a moment to recall her strong yet pleasing voice that had graced his ears countless times.
“Priority one message from Starfleet Command, Captain.”
Jim’s face contorted in what was half wince and half smile as he recalled Uhura once rapidly flipping through a Vishuka dictionary on a PADD when the universal translator was damaged; it was her passion and talent for linguistics that had allowed the Enterprise to handle the planet-side crisis with the diplomacy Starfleet expected. Without her, the mission would’ve been a disaster and the civil war they were sent to put a stop to could have still been raging this very day.
Indeed, it was Uhura’s voice that had carried them through both triumphs and tribulations. Whether it was her uplifting singing or the dedication to her work, the Enterprise would never have been the same without her.
“Patch it in, Uhura,” Jim quietly spoke before beginning to wander forward again.
Passing by Environmental Control and Propulsion Systems, he took in every detail—memorizing each one so that it would forever be preserved inside his memories, along with the crewmembers who served at these stations. These posts were always filled in rotation, presenting the opportunity for many different people to work directly with the senior staff. Even so, Jim could list their names one-by-one and rattle off some facts about each.
Then it was Engineering, the station Scotty never wanted to be at—at least not on the bridge. If given the choice, he would have never left the actual levels where the “real things” were happening. From up here, he couldn’t watch his beloved warp core hypnotically surging with power, or take solace in the quiet hum of all the different working pieces moving together in harmony.
When viewed in that light, Jim couldn’t blame him for preferring it that way, and in fact, he was actually quite thankful that Scotty’s tendency was to remain where all of the core technical action took place. Though he had explicit trust in all of his crewmembers, Jim had the greatest confidence in his Chief Engineering Officer to help them out of a tight spot when it came to the Enterprise’s inner workings.
After all, if anyone knew and loved this ship as much as Jim, it was Scotty. He had dedicated almost the entirety of his career to keeping things in order with repairs and upgrades, and damn near defying laws of physics when the going got rough.
Scotty was a miracle worker—an engineering god in the eyes of star-struck cadets—but when he climbed into his bed at ships night, all it amounted to was passion. Nothing was more capable of comforting him than the sounds of the Enterprise at warp, nor lull him so quickly into sleep.
Scotty’s dedication became so intense during the last few years that the crew had taken to teasing him about signing the papers which would officially marry him to the ship. Sometimes, Jim thought he might actually consider it.
…That certainly would’ve made for an interesting arm wrestling contest between them in the rec room.
Jim turned in a half-circle as he left Engineering, opting to take the two stairs down to the helm instead of walking across the blank main viewscreen, which looked much more appealing when it was littered with stars.
Reaching out with his right hand, he ran it along the center console that Sulu and Chekov once shared—before the promotion, at least. Sulu had risen in rank and was given command of the Excelsior three years earlier.
In some ways, Jim was envious that another mission awaited that crew and not his own. Despite being the youngest captain ever in the fleet and receiving so many beginnings to claim his place among the stars, he still longed for just one more shot at it, and would give nearly anything to spend another few good years deep in exploration of uncharted territories. Unfortunately, Starfleet and some senior members of his crew had other plans that ran along the lines of either promotion or retirement—neither of which involved Jim.
While his own team was destined to break apart, Sulu’s was only strengthening. Jim recognized the pride in those dark eyes during their last conversation after the Camp Khitomer crisis had been avoided, and as their ships parted ways, he wished only the best for the Excelsior and her crew.
Chekov was on his own path to captaincy. His next move was likely a transfer to Sulu’s ship to serve out the rest of his time until his own promotion. As Jim’s fingers dragged across the front of his station, his lips twitched up at the corners at the recollection of what an asset to the team Chekov had been.
Right from the start when he came aboard the original Enterprise as an ensign, he was full of life and motivation—ready and willing to do anything that would teach him more. That drive resulted in Chekov coming to know the star maps like the back of his hand and showing extreme proficiency at both the navigation and tactical stations.
His talent to effectively bluff was demonstrated flawlessly during the stunt they had pulled to distract Sybok several years ago. Always quick with a random fact or bit of humor to throw into a conversation, Jim was convinced Chekov had what it took to make an excellent captain. When the time came, he would give his highest recommendation in a heartbeat.
Ascending the two stairs nearest to him, Jim was on the opposite side of the viewscreen and continued on his way about the perimeter, his slow pace taking him by Auxiliary Systems and Mission Ops. There were so many memories included within this circle, so many relationships that had been forged and thrived in the very steps he walked.
And that’s when his eyes set on the place that had the most significant personal importance: the science station. Jim approached it, reaching out for the back of the chair and taking hold of it tightly. Seeing this space empty was more painful than any other. It was wrong for Spock to not be sitting here, wrong to not hear his cool tone announcing various readings—wrong because Jim had already lost him twice and had to deal with seeing the emptiness of this station for much too long.
After Spock took off for Gol, Jim had reached for the same vacant chair in the exact manner he did following Spock’s death. Visibly shuddering as he realized he was doing it once more, he let go before beginning to think too deeply into things that would trigger memories he would prefer to never recall.
With his final mission complete, Jim returned to the captain’s chair and sat down one last time. He grabbed the ends with his hands and shook it, memorizing the feeling as if he’d never been in it before. He leaned back, ran his digits over the side panel buttons, dug his shoulder blades into the material… and then, simply leaned forward. The points of his elbows hit his knees and he closed his eyes as his face met his open and waiting palms.
Jim’s fingertips dragged on his skin as he rubbed up and down several times before settling his forehead into the support of his hands. He remained that way as he allowed himself to be immersed in his memories until the doors of the lift suddenly slid open and jolted him into the present. Like clockwork, he instantly lifted his face at the sound and pushed himself to his feet, an air of professionalism about him.
When their eyes met, both men stood in place like statues.
“Dining on ashes?” Spock finally inquired with one raised eyebrow to break the silence, and then stepped through the doorway. Like Jim, he was still fully dressed in uniform, as if reporting for duty.
Jim only hummed in reply at his own question being used against him when the tables had turned, and then diverted his attention to nowhere in particular.
Spock approached his side, standing so close that the shoulders of their red jackets nearly touched. Leaning in with his hands neatly folded behind his back, his voice was quieter now as he spoke, “I surmised you would still be here.”
Avoiding eye contact, Jim shrugged lightly and replied, “As usual, you’re right.”
“Our belongings are already en route to the surface via shuttlecraft. Starfleet Command is awaiting the confirmation to transport us.”
Jim’s gaze hesitantly fell to the floor before Spock slowly continued, “—However, I have informed them there may be a delay as some last minute items are wrapped up.”
“Thanks, Spock,” Jim uttered softly and took a few steps toward the helm. Clasping his hands before him, he rubbed them together and then looked around, declaring, “Well, I guess that’s that.”
“Are you certain?”
Still sliding his hands against each other almost nervously, Jim’s gaze drifted up to acknowledge the inquiry but made no move to answer, barring the slight arching of his eyebrows.
“Jim,” Spock softly said, closing the space between them again. A pair of slender Vulcan hands reached out and cupped human ones to stop them from fidgeting. He held them tightly. “You have done well.”
A small smile pulled at the ends of Jim’s lips as he looked up at Spock, and then casually regarded the thin digits cupping his own. “I had the best crew,” he replied, cocking his head minutely with a pause before shaking it. “That much I can say.”
Their eyes met again when Jim lifted his head, the tiny smile he wore still present across his features. It was a façade, however, and Spock knew it—knew that this strong and unaffected expression Jim showed was simply a veneer. His body language ensured it, along the distance in his eyes and the temporary closure of his side of the bond.
Before Spock could say what he wanted to, Jim’s lips relaxed into a line and his sight wandered off to the side again, gazing at the dark viewscreen.
“Tell me one thing, Spock,” he quietly said, eyelashes falling with the delicacy of butterfly wings as he blinked several times. “Tell me we made a difference, that what we did for all these years really mattered.”
“The Enterprise has long been viewed as the definitive icon of Starfleet. I can assure you it is not just because some find it aesthetically appealing.” Spock’s hands slipped off of Jim’s then and he stepped in front him. Pacing slowly before the helm, he regarded the dark stations on the far side of the perimeter before stopping in place. “It is what has transpired on this ship that has given it such great significance.”
Turning to face Jim again, Spock matter-of-factly added, “And that, alone, can be attributed to one man who is capable of leading and inspiring.”
Jim’s face contorted at that, clearly uncomfortable with all of the praise landing on his shoulders. His eyes shifted to the side, his voice low as he muttered, “Oh please. Without a crew, a captain is nothing.”
“And without a proficient captain, neither is a crew. You are fully aware that just one miscalculated decision could have destroyed hundreds of lives or compromised any mission. But you, Jim,” Spock continued, reapproaching him until they were face-to-face once more. “—have a penchant for leadership and that is clearly what carried this vessel to greatness. Yes, quite a difference has been made and you must be willing to take some ownership of it.”
Jim exhaled though his nose and offered another smile, but it was genuine this time. “Guess that’s why you found me here, wandering around aimlessly?”
“A captain belongs on the bridge.” Spock lifted a hand and brushed his digits through his bondmate’s gray hair, pushing some of it behind one ear. “And knowing Starfleet’s need for those with the talent to command as you possess, I would not be so quick to assume that this is your final time standing on one.”
Jim hummed with a nod of his head. “Maybe. But even if that doesn’t happen, things are different this time around.” He reached out to touch Spock’s shoulder, running his hand all the way down to his fingers until he left go. “You’re with me.”
“I always will be.”
The corners of Jim’s lips twitched again at that remark, and he turned from Spock then. With a large inhale, he gazed around the bridge, taking it all in, and then pushed the breath from his lungs. Unlike the conclusion of his first five year mission, he was ready now to take his leave with all of himself intact—to accept his teaching position at the academy and support Spock on his ambassadorial missions... to live in their condominium in San Francisco and return to a mostly Earth-bound routine. But most importantly, to now make a difference somewhere else with no regrets.
Jim would always miss this ship and this crew… this bridge, this chair, everything. However, yet another fresh start had presented itself to him and he would take it, following it wherever it would lead him. As long as Spock was at his side, he would be more than all right.
And with that, he was finally ready to say goodbye.
“Well,” Jim announced, straightening his back and squaring his shoulders. “Time to go.”
He began making his move to face the nearest lift door, when Spock’s hand reached out and grabbed his bicep, turning him back in his direction.
“Permission to make one final request before the conclusion of this mission, Sir.”
Putting forth no effort to pull his arm from Spock’s grasp, Jim’s eyes drifted up to their dark counterparts.
“May this first officer finally have the privilege of kissing his captain on the bridge?”
Jim’s lashes parted a little wider. It was a suggestion he had made multiple times before in humorous context when they were lying in bed and wrapped up together. Despite the fact they were bonded, they both retained the expected level of professionalism during shift hours for not only the sanity of themselves and everyone around them, but to ensure the success of their missions.
However, now, as the bridge was deserted and the ship completely powered down save for the lighting and life support systems, Jim’s face completely softened at the request. His arm slipped backwards through the grip that held it until his hand tightly caught Spock’s.
Stepping up and slipping his fingers between the more slender ones, Jim gently craned his neck up as his eyes fell half-lidded and the space separating their mouths slowly closed. Right before it became none, Jim stopped only to whisper, “Permission finally granted, Mister Spock.”
And then their lips touched.
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Dead center on the bridge and standing before the captain’s chair, they kissed with entwined fingers and the emotion of decades spent together on a ship named Enterprise. They kissed for the memories of success, of loss, of desperation, of victory… for their future together and everything that it held.
They finally kissed, here on this bridge where their story began, to bid a farewell that could be no sweeter or more fitting; for as much as they both loved this ship and the service and space, they loved each other more.
Slowly breaking away from Spock’s lips, Jim tilted his face forward and their foreheads touched. With his eyes remaining closed, he nuzzled against Spock and squeezed his hand before his lashes parted. “Let’s go home.”
Spock offered a single nod as he slipped an arm around Jim’s back. Jim did the same, and together, they headed toward the lift on the left side.
The doors swished open but before they stepped in, both turned and took one last gaze about this place which held the story of their lives. Jim and Spock looked at each other then, and with their arms still around each other’s backs, walked into the lift.
The doors closed behind them, marking the end of a chapter that told the tale of a human who both rescued and was rescued by a half-Vulcan on a ship named Enterprise. And though the chapter concluded, the book was far from over. That, Jim was certain of as he leaned his head onto Spock’s chest during their short descent to the transporter.
It was going to be okay.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Nimble, boney thumbs worked against Jim’s skin in tiny circles, massaging just beneath the nape of his neck and moving down his spine, little by little. Groaning into the softness of the blankets, Jim arched his back when he felt Spock’s hands press deeply into a particularly stiff point until there was a small cracking sound when the pressure gave way. At that moment, Jim went boneless against the bed once more with a satisfied sigh and Spock continued on his southward journey.
“Did I ever tell you that… ngh… you’re the best—” Jim exhaled quickly as another stiff point was prodded and rubbed into softness. “—at this?”
Spock’s reply was gruff from the exertion he was putting into the massage, but there was a hint of playfulness in his tone. “On occasion.”
“Oh. Is that right,” Jim exhaled airily, reveling in the feeling of those skilled hands loosening up all of his tight muscles. “Have I ever told you… ah… I love you, then?”
Spock’s hands left the very bottom of the spine and he shifted himself upward, straddling the small of Jim’s back as he next took his broad shoulders within his palms. Closing his eyes, he leaned forward and put his lips against one rounded ear. “Perhaps.” He immediately squeezed hard.
“Good,” Jim pushed out roughly through clenched teeth as he winced. “Just… checking.”
“Relax, Jim,” Spock breathed, continuing to knead his shoulders forcefully several more times before moving back down his spine.
“Mmngh.” It was the sound of defeat, and Jim had no qualms about it. He nestled his cheek into his pillow and closed his eyes, enjoying the expertise of Spock’s digits and palms working over him.
Spock, the masseuse. The thought of it had made Jim laugh at first, imagining him standing there with a hot towel and bottle of oil with that ever-stoic expression. However, once those sensitive Vulcan hands performed magic on him for the very first time many years ago, he was more grateful than ever that he was bonded to a touch telepath—especially after long and relentless days like the one he had just had.
It had been months since they walked off the bridge of the Enterprise with their arms around each other, and yet, it only felt like yesterday. From the instant Jim’s boots touched the earthen transport platform, life had been a whirlwind of chaotic events with both Starfleet and the academy.
Much to his surprise, there were some evenings, like this one, when he was late coming home for dinner. Jim hadn’t anticipated that; in fact, he had worried that he’d be the one waiting around for Spock every night—but for the most part, it was the exact opposite case.
Academy life certainly didn’t replace traipsing about the stars, and when Jim looked up at the night sky distorted by Earth’s atmosphere, he couldn’t help but feel a little homesick. However, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it was when he was grounded the first time with admiralty looming over him. That in itself was an understatement as the two situations were utterly incomparable.
Jim found interacting with cadets more interesting than he’d first assumed he would, along with preparing for the seminars he spoke at and visiting different vessels in spacedock during day trips. When all was said and done and it was time to come home, Jim had little to complain about after hours spent keeping himself busy and his mind stimulated.
Similarly, he had thrown himself into his work when he was promoted all those years ago, and stayed late nearly every night drowning himself in his tasks; however, nothing he had done at that time seemed to remove the gnawing misery of no longer being in space.
Of course, things were different now. His job wasn’t a desperate attempt at escaping reality, and somewhat similar to captaincy, cadets looked to him for guidance and leadership. Above all of that, he’d left his ship with a clear head. Still, Jim felt there was more to it than just those reasons.
What had really helped the most with the transition was Spock’s presence. He’d been an endless wealth of support, and his arms a haven of solace. Spock took it upon himself to ensure Jim was eating enough and even sent him messages during the day—fussing over him in a manner he never had before. Naturally, Spock had looked out for Jim in the past in the same way Jim had done for him, but he seemed more inclined to reach for his presence when they were separated during working hours.
It all pointed to the comforting signs that Jim wasn’t in this alone. Spock, too, had spent the majority of his life amongst those glittering diamonds in the sky, and most of that time at Jim’s side. Now he was adjusting in his own way, and relying on Jim as much as Jim relied on him.
Just as it was when they commanded the Enterprise, they worked together and leaned on each other. Simply having the other there was fulfilling enough to mend any wound, any homesick feelings, any stress encountered throughout the day.
Home was a soft place to land with a warm fireplace, a beautiful view, a comfortable bed, and someone always present—even if he wasn’t physically there.
With that thought, Jim inhaled deeply, feeling at utter peace with the universe as the massage concluded with the rubbing of his ankles and feet. His task finally finished, Spock reached up and grabbed the end of Jim’s t-shirt that had moved around and exposed skin due to his ministrations. He pulled on it to smooth the material, and then crawled forward on the bed to lie down.
Lashes parting, Jim’s eyes opened to meet Spock’s and he smiled. He unfolded one arm from beneath his pillow and took hold of a lean bicep, letting his hand run down to the wrist and back up.
“Mister Spock, your talents are endless,” Jim remarked before turning on his side and inching closer to him.
As Jim cuddled him and nudged his forehead into Spock’s chin, Spock brought a hand up to Jim’s hair and stroked through the waves of gray. “I am pleased you find them beneficial. You appear much less stiff.”
Jim’s eyes opened then and there was a half-hearted pause before he tossed a leg over Spock’s. With his pelvis up against his thigh, he thrust his hard on twice against it before amicably inquiring, “Are you sure about that?”
“You are incorrigible, James Kirk,” Spock declared softly as he cupped the back of Jim’s head, his thumb grazing back and forth just behind his ear.
Jim’s digits uncurled from Spock’s arm until his palm was flat against it, and he slid it up to his shoulder. His fingertips slipped over the ridge of the collarbone and then raised between their lips, stopping there momentarily before traveling up Spock’s narrow jawline and finally cupping his cheek.
“And yet you love me anyway.”
One dark eyebrow shot up at that. Spock paused, looking deeply into Jim’s eyes before he softly whispered, “Perhaps.”
Brows furrowing, Jim’s shoulders lifted just a touch to display his perplexity. “There’s that word again. I’ve been meaning to ask why you’ve been saying that. It’s not exactly—”
He was abruptly cut off by Spock’s lips pushing against his own, and it didn’t take much of that to coax Jim into closing his eyes and slipping his tongue forward to meet its counterpart. As both appendages battled each other, Jim’s other hand slipped up between Spock’s face and the pillow, taking the other cheek and gently holding it as if treasure laid between his palms—and it did. For as the situation built up and the room grew hotter and hotter, there was a single thought that was spoken over their bond once, but it echoed over and over.
‘I love you.’
And that, in its simplicity, was all that both Jim and Spock ever needed for as long as the stars shined.