Life can be unbelievably cruel to those who don’t deserve it. In fact, the less one does deserve it, the harder they’re smacked. You think about it as you make your way down to Sick Bay and you feel your hands curling into fists.
You think that your First Officer has had a rough year. His fiancée rejecting him, his father barely speaking to him, his captain accusing him of betraying him. Granted, you were not yourself when you yelled all those ugly things in his face, but you know you hurt him all the same. He’s used to it. Bigotry, envy, prejudice, personal vengeance. You think that you’re getting tired of watching people throwing their own complexes at him. You’re asking yourself how much more of this either of you can endure.
You think of the ambassador again and you can’t help cursing. You hate that bitch. You’d twisted her neck gladly if not for the diplomatic immunity. It wasn’t enough that she didn’t miss one chance to humiliate Spock in every way imaginable. She really didn’t need to try and poison him, too, just to remove him from the negotiating table and gain an upper hand.
You remember him falling suddenly to the deck at your feet, life fading rapidly from his eyes, the ‘ceremonial’ drink spilling all over his boots—and yours because you were standing close to him. Much closer than you should have. Your insides, all of them, fell down right beside him. You’re still unsure if you managed to pick them all up. You think there might be something missing, if the hollow pits in your gut are any indication.
You enter the ward and stop in the doorway, looking at him. He’s stretched on the biobed, still wearing his uniform, seemingly peaceful. You note how pale he is, and you have to remind yourself that he is going to be fine. Bones said so, and you trust Bones implicitly when it comes to health issues. You do call him doctor. You remember your terror when Bones looked up at you and for a moment you thought he was going to tell you, ‘He’s dead, Jim.’ You shoo the memory away vehemently. Bones said the toxin was out of his system. He is simply weakened and he needs rest.
You stare at him from the doorway and you know suddenly he’s not asleep. He feels your presence, even though his eyes are closed. He opens them, and you smile, and you know you’re not fooling him. He looks at you silently, and you come closer. Gingerly, you sit down on the bed, and you note that he doesn’t move to make room for you. You don’t know if he wants you to leave or if he’s too weak to move.
“I’m sorry,” he says and he’s not looking at you anymore. His hands are clasped protectively over his stomach. It hurts to see him defending himself from you, too. “It appears I overestimated my negotiating skills. I regret that I failed you again.”
Gods. You close your eyes for fear they’ll burn a hole in his head. How he always manages to find a way to blame himself for everything that has gone wrong eludes you. Every time you only get more furious with him for it.
You open your eyes to find him watching you.
“An error in judgment such as this is inexcusable.”
You’re silent. You’re seriously afraid you’re going to yell at him again if you open your mouth.
“I am aware that you trusted me to reach an acceptable agreement with them,” he says when you don’t stop him. He drops his eyes from yours guiltily. “I am a constant disappointment to you.”
You’re torn between wanting to hit him for thinking such a stupid thing and to laugh at the sheer ridicule of what he’s saying.
“They signed the treaty,” you say instead. You’re surprised at how calm and natural you sound.
You watch Spock looking up at you in surprise, one eyebrow creeping up. A manifestation of returning normalcy. You grin at him.
“I took over for you, and Rikan replaced Artana.”
“You...?” He trails off, looking alarmed, and it amuses you. You both know you make a lousy diplomat.
“I used your notes,” you explain. “But it really didn’t matter by then. Rikan said he wanted to sign the treaty from the beginning.”
“But my being a half-blood offended them,” Spock concludes calmly. You know precisely what this calm costs him. “Hence the stalling.”
You think quickly of anything to say, but you are aware that you can hardly tell him anything he doesn’t already know. You could tell him that their attitude is illogical. That no normal person could share it. That there is no such thing as bad blood. You know that he knows all this already. He’s not five years old, after all. But at a time like this, it doesn’t make him feel any better. It doesn’t make you feel any better, either.
I am a constant disappointment to you, he said. You heard what he didn’t say, too. I’m never going to be good enough.
Screw talking, you decide. You normally let him grapple with stuff like that on his own. He’s good at it, too, but you’re tired of seeing him disappointed. You’re tired of seeing him hurt. You know you’re probably the only one who sees it, but it doesn’t make you happier. It makes you want to punch something. If you wait a little longer, he’ll freeze you out like he always does when he’s vulnerable. You can feel he’s getting ready to shove you away.
Normally, you would allow him. Everyone has the right to fight their demons. But you nearly lost him this time, and you think that it’s one time too many. It was close, damn close this time. You take in his wan, defeated form, and you know that the next time you see him, he’ll be as invincible as ever, carrying yet another scar under his armor silently. Feeling a little bit more broken on the inside. Hiding it a little better than before, even from you.
His shields are down now, a small concession to his weakened state. He doesn’t like anyone seeing him like this, not even you, but he is tired. Not of physical discomfort so much, as he’s tired of fighting. Of trying to prove that he is good enough. You’re overwhelmed by the utter injustice of it, and it pushes you over the edge.
You’re surprised at how easy it is to give in.
It’s easy to cover his hands with yours. It’s easy to give him a mild affectionate smile in response to his confused gaze. Easier even, to squeeze those hands and then to lift one unresisting palm to your lips. To smile again in apology for the unrestrained surge of tenderness. To locate the mercifully long lifeline and trace it with your thumb. To listen to him drawing deeper breath, fighting to keep the moment casual. To smile again in secret knowledge that there is simply no way the attempt would succeed. To finally bring your lips in direct contact with the softer skin of his palm, pressing ever so slightly, gently, carefully.
“Jim…?” he says, puzzled and wary.
You smile again, right against his upturned hand, which is still limp in your own, allowing you to proceed.
“Shh,” you say, as your lips are tracing a line to his wrist, keeping it feather light, reassuring.
He’s not reassured, you notice. His pulse is accelerating, and you wish to think that it is desire, but you know that it may just as easily be alarm. He is not sure you know what you’re doing. He isn’t sure you mean it.
You decide to give him the relief of clarification and move to sit closer to him on the bed, leaning over him. You smile again—at his confusion, at his obvious readiness to jump out of his skin, at his fear of misreading you, at his panic as he thinks of the embarrassment it would bring, at his tightly guarded hope that he hasn’t, after all, misread you.
It is the hope that crushes the last of your self-control. You never dreamed he would want any of this from you. You’re afraid to believe in what you’re seeing, but you want to. Dear God, do you want to believe. You can’t breathe properly. The sight of him like this is simply too much.
“Shh,” you say again, as much to yourself as to him.
You let go of his hands and place yours on either side of his face on the pillow. He is looking into your eyes now, desperately searching them for answers, and he looks so vulnerable, so completely at your mercy, that for a fleeting second you feel like a jerk for doing this to him.
“It’s all right,” you murmur, as your fingers lightly surf his hair. “It’s all right,” you mean more than say, but you know he hears you.
You wish you could kiss away this uncertainty, every bit of it. You wish you could hold him, and make love to him, and give him everything you have while you’re at it, so that he’d forget to breathe, never mind to think. So that he’d never again believe himself unwanted.
You marvel still how anyone as intelligent as him can believe in anything as ridiculous as this. You know he’s been oblivious, but you’ve always kept track of those being after him. You realize you’re not a very nice person, but you actually considered transferring more than a couple of people just so that they wouldn’t get any ideas. You’ve always been possessive of him.
He lets out a soft sound, and you lean closer to catch it. Your lips are hovering right over his and you think you can taste his wonder, and yes, his doubt, forever, always doubt. You read the same doubt in his eyes, and you know what he’s asking you.
Is pity making you do this? Are you feeling sorry for him?
Your anger startles him and he stiffens, and his hands that have migrated to your shoulders without your conscious recollection tense and prepare to push you away. You can’t allow that. You hold him down and you kiss him.
You intended to be gentle, but you can’t. You’re angry with him for thinking so low of himself, for thinking so low of you. Your kiss is brutal, and fierce, and probably bruising, but you don’t care right this moment. You’re holding him down in earnest now, as you methodically rape his mouth, punishing him for his infuriating, illogical, inconceivable self-doubt. Several frenzied seconds pass before you finally notice that he’s kissing you back.
Your invasion is met with tentative cooperation, which is becoming more enthusiastic by the minute. You spend an insane moment thinking about occupation forces and collaborators, but then his grip on your shoulders tightens, and you forget everything but the incredible taste of him, which is threatening to do you in. You groan and he swallows it. His hands are in your hair, and you wish you could die right this moment because you don’t believe you’d ever feel this way again, and the pain of it is almost unbearable.
You have no idea how or when your hands slipped under his shirt. You think that you can’t be held responsible for their actions for you most certainly don’t control them. Not that you particularly want to, but it occurs to you that the setting is inappropriate. He takes care of it for you by pulling you down to lie on top of him, and you go voluntarily. You break the kiss and bury your face in the pillow next to him and you let him hold you. His arms are liquid steel spilled around your back and waist, and you change your mind about your earlier wish. You find that this moment is even better.
He holds you, and you’re both still. Breathing. You’re trembling. He holds you tighter, like he’d never let go, and starts drawing soothing circles between your shoulder blades. You wonder a bit hysterically, how come it is you now who needs reassurance. You wonder how much he could read through the touch and why you were never disturbed by it. You ask yourself what could possibly come out of your stunt.
His lips brush your ear as he speaks to you, and you think you’re pathetic because you melt into a helpless pool of goo when you hear his words. You think you’re lucky not to be standing. He stops speaking and kisses your temple lightly, and you’re overwhelmed by protectiveness. Your hands slide beneath him, around him, and you’re lifting him up and crushing him up against you, knowing that you probably shouldn’t and being unable to stop. You think you will kill the next person who looks at him the wrong way.
He pulls away and looks at you with mild reproach. He wishes you to remember that he can take care of himself. You lift your chin up defiantly. You do it better. There are few things you do better than he, and taking care of him is one of them. You kiss him again to prove your point. He is amused by your argument, but allows you to present it. You know at that moment that he would allow you anything. You realize you’ve always known it somehow. He grumbles incoherently into your mouth, and you read him perfectly. He’s reminding you that whatever you do to him won’t make him agree with you.
Well, tough, you think, catching his lower lip between your teeth. He’d have to get out of your sight before he’s on his own again, and you absolutely aren’t going to let that happen.
He leans into you, and you smile into the kiss, thinking he is surrendering. You realize you’re mistaken when you lie flat on your back, with him holding your wrists securely, just as his weight holds you in place. You have no idea how it happened, you never saw it coming. He withdraws from the kiss and looks into your eyes. He lifts an eyebrow. You don’t need to take in the emphasized symbolism of your respective positions to know what he is suggesting. If you want his independence, you’ll have to give up yours.
You find the price shockingly high, and you think that he is one covetous Vulcan. But you already know you’ll agree. He presses his lips to your collarbone, and you need no further incentive. He releases your hands, and you dig into his hair, while he brands his way down your chest. You never realized how low the cut on your wrap-about tunic was. You never expected him to be the one to enlighten you.
You would like to think that it was you who remembered your surroundings first, but you know that it had to be him. You’re concerned for his dignity. He’s concerned for your image. You’re pretty sure he came to his senses first. You pout at yourself and wonder what it is you lack more—power over him or self-control. Still, you’re proud of yourself for sitting up and bringing your clothes back in order all on your own. He’s lying on the biobed like a model patient again long before you’re finished. You look at his lips. He looks at your hair. You both sigh simultaneously in shared skepticism.
You hear the sound of footsteps coming from the corridor. You stand up and put your hand on the bed near his, not quite touching but close, because that is what you always do. You smile at him pleasantly.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Mr. Spock,” you’re saying, just as Bones enters the room.
“I appreciate the sentiment, Captain,” your First Officer says coolly.
“Don’t you have a ship to run?” McCoy grunts, looking at you accusingly, once he concluded studying the readings. You can hear his displeasure with you. Bones is very protective of his patients. “He needs rest,” he tells you pointedly.
“When are you releasing him?” you address McCoy, but your eyes are on Spock still.
“In six or seven hours,” McCoy replies.
Spock’s eyes are telling you loud and clear that he got the message. You smile at him and you know you don’t quite control your expression. His lifted eyebrow tells you as much. You think that he has some nerve teasing you like that. His Vulcan training gives him an edge over you. You feel that it isn’t fair and you promise him silently that he’ll pay for it later. He lifts the second eyebrow, and he’s looking so smug that you want to hit him again.
Neither of you realizes that McCoy has been talking to you. You share a startled glance trying to recall what he said or even whom he was talking to. The Doctor rolls his eyes. He points a finger right at you.
“Jim. Get out of here. Now.”
You raise your hands with a placating air and walk towards the door. You know Spock is enjoying this, for once not even arguing the necessity of staying in Sick Bay. You can feel his eyes on you, daring you to look back. You know you can never hope to best him in outward control. You realize that from now on your life is going to be a living hell.
You know you’re going to love every minute.
“The Captain seems unusually agitated,” you hear Spock say to McCoy. “Perhaps you should check on him.”
You groan mentally and hastily retreat. You promise yourself that when those six or seven hours are up, Spock is going to die slowly and painfully, and probably several times. Your whole body tenses, apparently having its own ideas of the best ways to kill him, and you realize that you’re about to enter the longest six or seven hours of your life. You make a mental note to set it down to Spock’s account as well.
This isn’t your shift, but you head for the Bridge anyway. You know being there will restore you. The looks your crew is giving you make you realize that your smile is silly rather than professional. You can’t help it. After a half-hearted attempt, you stop trying and simply let go. They have seen worse from you anyway.
You can still feel Spock smiling in your mind. You feel your brain short-circuit at the thought that you are the reason. You sigh contentedly as you enter the Bridge.
For the first time in your adult life, you’re happy.