Spice - Chapter 43

Title: Spice
Author: eimeo
Beta: miloowen
Universe/Series: TOS
Rating: NC-17
Relationship status: Pre-slash to slash
Chapter: 43/?
Warnings: Kink
Pairings: Kirk/Spock
Additional Pairings: Kirk/Lori
Summary: It’s a question of biology. Vulcan biology.


The problem with falling in love with a member of an insanely private species is that it just might take you the best part of a five year mission to work out that the feelings are requited. And then you might discover that he’s already decided that the two of you can never be together.

And what are you supposed to do if he won’t tell you why?

~*~




Chapter 43

Bones’ office ought to be a blue-shadowed desk tacked onto the edge of sickbay, with just enough surface area to accommodate a terminal, a couple of glasses and two sets of stockinged feet in comfort before they’re forced to compete for space with the PADDs and the vials and the hypos, and this arrangement has served both the CMO and his commanding officer more than adequately in the past. It’s the image Kirk has on his mind as he approaches the medical quarters on his fourth attempt, by dint of falling into step behind an orderly with a purposeful-looking walk, and so it’s somewhat disconcerting to walk into the clean white lines and sterile strip lighting of his ship’s refitted hospital and be reminded once again that this is not the Enterprise that has haunted his dreams. With a full complement of healthy crew, the biobeds are deserted this late into the evening, overhead lights shut down to thirty percent, and the only sound in the hush is the gentle hum of the machinery of life, idle in the quiet hours, singing softly to itself in the shadows. Kirk stands for a moment in the middle of the room, eyes determinedly turned away from the neuroimaging suite at its far end, and seeks out a likely-looking door. He knows Bones well enough to know that, even at this time of night, it’ll be the one that leads to the room with the light on.

The doctor glances up as the door slides open, eyes heavy but alert, and he nods briskly and reaches behind his desk for another glass.

“Took you long enough,” he says, sliding it across the table and lifting a bottle of Antarean brandy from its perch behind a stack of PADDs. It flashes blue in the half-light of an old-fashioned table lamp that Bones has dredged up out of who knows where, and Kirk wonders briefly if it was Chapel’s; if this office, like his own quarters, was designed to somebody else’s specifications. “Only so many times a man can type up a medical report on a crew this sensible before it starts to look like stalling.”

Liquor, the shade of melted sapphires, trickles into the tumbler in front of Kirk, and Bones nudges it forward, before topping up his own generous measure. He lifts his hand in a toast.

“To absent friends, Jim,” he says, because he’s always known Kirk far too well. Another man might have drunk to the Enterprise; Bones will drink to what had to be lost to bring her home again.

“Absent friends,” answers Kirk, and lifts his glass to the memory of a young man with his father’s eyes and a fire in his blood, and the long-lost love of his life. And to a woman with hair the color of sunshine and a golden smile that lit up every room she entered.

The doctor swallows economically and leans back in his chair, drink cradled against his chest. One hand reaches up to stroke his chin, and his fingers curl over empty skin, absently, as though they’re expecting to find themselves tangling through hair.

“I miss the beard,” he says wistfully, and Kirk grins into his glass.

“I think the beard,” he says, “was a biohazard.”

A roll of the eyes fails to convey affront. “This is what I get for re-enlisting.”

“I thought I had you drafted.”

“Well.” Bones grins, lifts his glass to his lips. “I was gonna let that one pass.”

Kirk privately doubts this, but he’s content to let his eyebrow telegraph his skepticism as he joins his friend in a healthy swallow of brandy. It tastes like times past, like a shared history that he’s closed up in a corner of his mind, and the spreading warmth it trails behind as it slides down his throat feels like the gentle wash of a temperate ocean wave.

“You know…” he says after a moment—carefully, quietly—“if you don’t want to stay, now that the crisis is over…. The terms of the reactivation clause are specific. You’re free to go.”

He’s not sure how Bones will take it, nor is he sure, in the final analysis, that he wants to know. There could be exasperation. There could be anger. There could be a healthy sense of violated boundaries, and all of these things and more, Kirk will have earned. There’s a fine line sometimes between mission critical and personal, and this one skated damned close to the latter; a little bit of righteous indignation is the least that Bones is owed.

But in the end, the doctor only sighs and twirls his glass, crystal sparkling in the refracted light of a distant bio-readout.

“Figure I may as well stick around, now that I’m here,” he says. “See if I can’t make the place look more like a sickbay, less like a damned warp core. That room out there’s got more circuitry than the central cortex; what am I treating, a Human being or a duotronic relay?”

Kirk purses his lips around a smile that masks a heady rush of relief. More times than he can count, they have sat in these chairs—or chairs a lot like them—and Bones has waxed lyrical grievances about the inadequacy of Starfleet’s medical provision aboard her flagship; half of the machines whispering soft beeps into the silence of the empty room outside were created to the doctor’s specifications. Bones isn’t dissatisfied with sickbay—quite the contrary—but the fact that he’s pretending that he is is one more link between a calcified past and an uncertain present. It occurs to Kirk to wonder if the complaint isn’t one of Dr. McCoy’s patented captain-pacifying mind tricks, designed to remind him that, whatever else may have changed, they’re home again.

For now, at least. Something about the air of serenity, of order restored, ruffles the edge of Kirk’s calm, warns against complacency. Perhaps it’s fatigue; perhaps it’s the brandy; perhaps it’s the two forging an unholy alliance inside a mind that’s already working three warning lights past overload. And perhaps it’s just the renewed sense of how much more he stands to lose, now that he’s here again, than if he’d never stepped back aboard his ship.

Quietly, he says, “There’s no guarantee they’ll give her back to me, Bones.”

But his friend shakes his head, buries it in another gulp of brandy. “Think Nogura’s gonna say no to you now, Jim?” he says. “Not this time.”

It’s no more than Kirk has been considering himself for the past twelve hours, but it sounded better in the silence of his own head. “Your confidence,” he says, “exceeds mine, I think.”

A soft nod from Bones; eyes that read him like he’s made of crystal. “That’s because you’re scared to death of what happens if I’m wrong.”

“Perhaps.” Kirk raises his drink to his lips, sips. The liquor scalds the back of his throat. “For better or worse, this ship is a part of who I am. These past few years have been… well. You know. Things just feel… clearer on the Enterprise.”

“Uh-huh.” The doctor’s stare is unreadable. “Because of the ship.”

“You saw what happened when they took her away from me, Bones. I’m… not sure I can do that again.”

“Damn it, Jim!” Glass strikes the polished surface of the desk with enough force to send a clipped wave of blue liquid cascading over the lip. Kirk looks up, startled, but the anger that he’s expecting to find on his friend's face is absent, and in its place is a kind of weary exhaustion. “Are you being deliberately obtuse? Or are you just too damned stubborn to see what’s smacking you in your face?”

Kirk feels his eyebrow reach for his hairline. Sickbay drinking sessions with Bones have traditionally been informal affairs, but he wonders if this is an appropriate moment to remind his CMO about the niceties of the chain of command. “Excuse me?” he says, though he finds that his voice lacks the requisite chill.

Bones shakes his head, downs his drink in a single gulp, and there’s a fire behind his eyes that Kirk recognizes very well. It’s just that it’s been many years since he’s seen it. “Jim," says the doctor slowly, as though he's as though he's summoning divine patience with every word, “it's not the Enterprise that you can’t live without.”

So. Here it is. Kirk tries to keep his stare level, but he manages fewer than five seconds of that steely, blue-eyed scrutiny before it becomes uncomfortable. Well. He came here for answers, after all.

“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” he says, because it’s important to be certain. The world feels as if it were dissolving into smoke around him, and it is vital that he walk out of here with something solid to hold onto. If he is going to do this, he needs to be sure.

“What is it, Jim?” says Bones now, as though he hasn't heard him. “You’re not going to tell me you don’t get it, because that ain’t going to wash, not this time. You and I both stood not twelve feet from where we are now, and what happened in my sickbay don’t leave a whole lot of room for doubt. So what is it? I know it’s not because he’s a man, or a Vulcan, or a fellow officer. Not once in all the years I’ve known you has any of that mattered a good goddamn to you. So how about you tell me what it is, and then I'll tell you why it's bullshit, and then maybe both of us can get our first good night's sleep in three damn years.”

Thin light patterns the surface of Kirk’s brandy, glistening tremors testament to a slight tremble in his hand. He opens his mouth to explain that it’s more complicated than this, that if it were as simple as just knowing--if it were nothing more than uncertainty that had built the bridge between them--then he and Spock might have left Vulcan two very different men and the years between then and now could have forged a very different life for them. But he closes it again before he’s drawn breath to speak, because Bones, he suspects, knows at least some of this as well as he knows his own history. The rest of it, he's probably guessed.

So instead, he huffs a quiet laugh, eyes canted into his glass, and the bitterness in it surprises him; he didn't know it was going to be there.

He says, quietly, "Not all of it will be bullshit, Bones."

"No." A lengthy sigh, and Kirk doesn't have to look up to know that his friend is sagging into his chair like a discarded marionette. He wonders when they all got so damned old. "No, I guess we both know that." A beat. And then, more gently: "But he came back, Jim. The bullshit lost."

So tell me what to do. Years of command have taught Kirk to silence any whisper of uncertainty, and he cannot remember the last time he spoke these words while in full possession of his faculties, but they sting the back of his throat now, clamoring for release. Tell me what to do, he thinks fiercely, and buries it with brandy before it can escape.

"Nothing is certain," he says gruffly, but he can't meet Bones' eyes.

"Nope," says his friend, "it's not."

"I could still lose the Enterprise.”

"Maybe. But you won't."

"Damn it, Bones. I took off with the flagship. I could lose my command."

That prompts a sputter of derisory laughter. "The hero of the hour? I don't think so, Jim. And that ain't what you're scared of losing either."

"They're valid concerns," says Kirk. "They can't just be dismissed…."

"Jim," says his friend, and there's a weary exasperation behind that single syllable that speaks of a depth of knowledge more profound than Kirk is necessarily happy to concede. “I’m just an old country doctor, and, let me tell you, these days that emphasis is firmly on the old. I don't have the time or the patience or the goddamn energy for another eight years of this. I just don't. Whatever the hell is going on, you need to fix it. You need to go out there and fix it, because I'm damned sure he ain't gonna do it and seems to me neither one of you can afford to let this go. You ain't never been a man to back down from a challenge because it was too hard, or too complicated, or you didn't like the odds. Who knows; maybe that's what you see in that goddamned green-blooded hobgoblin, but let me tell you something for free: you don't do this, and there's no coming back from it again. You know that. And you better believe he knows it too, if he wasn't too damned stubborn to admit it. Now, here"--and a finger of cerulean brandy splashes unceremoniously into the glass at Kirk's hand--"I got a prescription for skittish commanders in need of a dose of Dutch courage, though I can't say as I ever thought I'd have to use it. So I'm gonna need you to drink up and get going. I'm a doctor, not an agony aunt, and I'm shutting up shop for the night."

A flick of the doctor's wrist, and Kirk's tumbler slides the three inches across the desk, connecting with his palm with a jolt that scatters droplets the color of a summer sky onto the  plastic surface. He feels his fingers close around the cut-crystal face, feels them raise it to his mouth without conscious instruction, feels warm liquor bathing his mouth, his lips, as he downs it in a single gulp. His head feels light, airless, as though it's encased in vacuum, and he's aware of Bones' evaluative stare as he knocks back his own drink, eyebrows raised in a gesture that's part question, part challenge. Yes, there is a comfort in being known so well--a comfort that Kirk has come close to forgetting--but there's also freedom there. He should have known there would be.

He came looking for answers, and he's leaving with more questions. He has never felt less certain of anything in his life. But this, at least, is the sort of uncertainty he knows how to handle.

~*~


It's not that Spock is not expecting the buzz at his door; not really. He's had an idea that it might come, although, had he permitted himself to consider the details of a hypothetical visit that meets the criteria of at least three of his projected patterns for the course of the evening, he might very well have predicted the request for entry into his quarters would arrive at a much earlier hour, and certainly well before the chronometer had begun its slow ascent towards alpha shift. So it's not that he's not expecting it--it's simply that there is expecting and then there is expecting, and, if he might previously have quirked a sardonic eyebrow at the idea that the semantics of a word could be so fundamentally altered by rendering it in cursive, he is now prepared to acknowledge his error of linguistic imagination. Expecting is not the same as expecting; if it were, he would not have startled so badly at the sound that he loses his balance on his meditation mat and strikes his elbow painfully against the side of the bed as he struggles to right himself.

The rush of panic that assaults him as he finds his feet would have been extremely unsettling even had he not stood in front of the High Elders of Gol four days ago and prepared to receive the symbol of ultimate logic. For a man who'd planned to leave emotional deficiency behind forever, he thinks, there seems to be an alarming preponderance remaining in the shadows of his conscious thought. But that's another reflection for another time: right now, he has more than enough to cope with in the fact that there is somebody standing outside the doors to his quarters seeking admittance, and he's really not prepared to deal with what that might mean. He thought he was, but Spock has thought many things these past few weeks and months and years, and almost all of them have turned out to be wrong.

He considers asking the knocker to identify themselves, but thinks better of it. That sounds inescapably defensive, and the moment's preparation it will buy him will certainly not be sufficient to reinstate his shattered controls. So instead, he folds his arms in front of him, and calls, as evenly as he can, "Enter."

The door slides open with a barely perceptible breath of air, revealing the diffident figure of the ship's commander, still dressed in his duty uniform, haloed by the half-light from the night-darkened corridor outside. Really, there was only ever one person likely to be knocking at Spock's door at 0104 hours, but the confirmation of his suspicions spikes a disquieting rush of emotional discord that several hours of attempted meditation completely fails to ameliorate.

Yes, he loves James Kirk. He is in love with James Kirk. And faced with the sight of the admiral in Spock's doorway, light ghosting through his dark hair, hands folded smartly at his back, face unreadable in the shadows, Spock has no idea how he has ever managed to convince himself otherwise. Or, for that matter, why he even tried.        

Kirk fails to step inside, fails to meet Spock's eye. He says, "Oh--were you meditating? I'm sorry; I didn't mean to disturb you. I know it's been a long day…"

"You have not," says Spock, before he realises that Kirk has not finished speaking, and their words collide, tangle, and stutter to a halt.

There is a moment of silence. Kirk's eyes slide to the right, skimming over the stripped beige walls of Spock's quarters, skittering over the bed in something like alarm, before reluctantly fixing on a point some three centimeters below Spock's eyes. "Are you sure?" he says. "I can come back later if it's not convenient."

It is the small hours of the morning. Spock is aware that Human standards of privacy are considerably more relaxed than the Vulcan protocols with which he was raised, but he sincerely doubts that there are any circumstances in which a post-midnight social call might be classified as convenient.

"I assure you, Admiral," he says, with whatever equanimity he can muster. "Your arrival causes no interruption in my affairs. I am presently unoccupied."

The ghost of a smile plays at the corners of Kirk's mouth. "Indolence, Spock?" he says, with a twitch of an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound very Vulcan."

He's right, of course. Too late, Spock realizes that he's backed himself into a discursive corner, because there's nowhere to go from here besides confessing to the fact that he has passed the ninety-two minutes since his decision was made in a completely abortive attempt to seek the inner peace that he requires to speak of it with the man standing in front of him, and he finds, illogically, that in a choice between a humiliating truth and a humiliating concession, he prefers to accept the slight against his heritage. This is… troubling. It probably doesn't bode well for the rest of the conversation.

So, at something of a tactical loss, he permits himself an impassive nod and settles for an imperious, "Indeed." It is far from satisfactory, but he's not operating at capacity right now. Allowances must be made.

Another period of silence worries at the edges of comfort, stretching into a foot-shuffling awkwardness, and belatedly, Spock notes that the door remains open, and the admiral remains in the corridor beyond. As ship's commander, Kirk requires nothing so formal as an invitation to enter a crewman's quarters, and that blanket admission has in any case already been granted, but still he hovers on the threshold, and Spock realizes abruptly that he's waiting to be asked to step inside. He is uncertain as to how to accomplish this without acknowledging the peculiarity of the situation: verbalizing the offer is both redundant--since it has already been made--and further serves to call attention to the fact that a secondary confirmation is required. But, more than this, it telegraphs the disquiet that lingers between four meters of air, and he's aware that it's there because of Spock's own actions. Worse, he's aware that he may be about to aggravate it.

But before he can make any potentially inflammatory maneuvers, he needs to resolve their current dilemma. In the absence of a workable alternative, Spock takes a step backwards, opening an implied passage into his cabin. It is not much, and for many years it would have been unnecessary, but there is something profoundly gratifying about the ease with which his friend interprets the gesture. The briefest of hesitations, nothing more, and then Kirk's eyes drop to the floor and he moves forward: one clipped, wooden step, then another, and a third, until he's closed a little of the space between them; until the door slides closed behind him, sealing them inside with the silence of words unspoken, thoughts unheard.

Until he's standing inside Spock's quarters, alone together for the first time in nearly three years.

Kirk's eyes are pointed resolutely downwards, and there is a moment in which it looks as though they will stay that way: a long, precarious moment in which Spock cannot find words to break the hush. He keeps his own gaze level, even, his hands clasped in front of him to hold them steady, and feels a little of his tremulous confidence ebb. Inasmuch as he's certain of anything, he has been building his intentions around the assumption that Kirk has understood what was offered in the hand that reached for his two days ago in sickbay; that, no matter what bitterness may remain to be discharged, Kirk's reciprocal grip signalled at the very least a willingness to open up a path towards resolution. But now, faced with this prolonged failure to speak, Spock is forced to speculate as to the accuracy of his hypothesis. He wonders if he should comment on the lateness of the hour, voice some words of concern at the admiral's failure to achieve the period of rest that he clearly requires. He wonders if he ought to make an offer of liquid refreshment, or ask after his friend's health, the status of the ship, the duration of their shakedown; anything to break the silence that hovers like a third presence in the room. He wonders how he has spent hours thinking of nothing but this conversation, and yet still manages to find himself completely unprepared.

And then Kirk lifts his gaze from the floor--slowly, like a man waking from a long sleep--and lets it drift over Spock's chin, his nose, his cheeks, before it settles on his eyes. And Spock knows. He knows.

His hypothesis was not inaccurate. Everything he thought he'd offered is reflected in that look. Everything he's tried to bury, everything he's feared, everything he's run from, and everything on which his future now depends--it's all there. His hypothesis is sound.

"Tell me I'm wrong," says Kirk quietly. "Tell me I'm wrong, and I'll walk away and that will be an end to this; we'll never speak of it again. If I'm wrong… this ends now. But I need to hear it from you."

Spock feels his hands tighten their clasp at his stomach, fingers pressed so tightly together that the tips are chill with restricted circulation. The admiral is a brave man, a man who has never lacked for courage, but there is a strain to his voice that speaks of what these words have cost him to voice. It’s an escape route for a man who wants to run, and he knows this, and yet he has offered it anyway. All Spock has to do is claim ignorance of his meaning, and a door will close behind Kirk's eyes and his answer will be given without so much as acknowledging what is offered, and they will find… something. Some way to coexist, to be a part of one another's lives in a manner that admits of no possibility of fracture, of pain, of loss or grief, and it will be satisfactory because Kirk will make it so, because he is a brave man, a man who has never lacked for courage, and he will always do what has to be done. And they will cling to it together like drowning men, as though it is the blood in their bodies and the air that they breathe, as though nothing has ever been so beautiful. And it will be this way for the rest of their lives, and it will never be enough.

It will never be enough.

He needs to do this. The courage in Kirk's words, Spock needs to find inside himself; he has never considered himself a coward. And so he holds his friend's stare, and he keeps his voice steady, and he says, simply, quietly, "No, Jim. You are not wrong."

Kirk's eyes close. He exhales, soft against the hush. He says, "Thank you."

Stillness. Silence and motionless air. If Kirk were to animate now, to cross the room with the wide, rapid stride that he employs in those moments when the need for action appropriates his motor cortex and his body becomes just another tool in the arsenal of command; if he were to reach for his friend with hands that Spock has tried and failed to deny too many times before, he is certain that he would be lost. There’s only so much self-control a man can muster, even an acolyte of Gol, and he's been sailing at close to capacity for more than a day now; he's running on fumes and promises. But Jim has been bruised once too often in the past, in situations bearing a marked similarity to this, and he's waiting for Spock's next move before he decides on his.

This is as it should be. The other way can only possibly lead to disaster. Spock knows this, but, illogically--alarmingly--this does not make it any less frustrating.

Well. He knows what must be done; if it requires a little effort on his part, he supposes that he's earned as much. And so he fixes his stare on Kirk's shuttered face, strips it of the impatience that's worrying its way past his controls, and, carefully, evenly, he says, "However…"

Kirk's eyes snap open. His lips purse, and something shifts, like the faint scent of ozone on the breeze as lightning gathers overhead. "However?" he says, and his voice is measured, orderly--an admiral's voice--but there's an edge to it that speaks of dangerous ground ahead.

"Jim," says Spock, and the use of his friend's given name earns him a quirk of the eyebrow but a glare that concedes nothing. "Please understand. I have given this matter a great deal of thought…"

"You're leaving." A harsh laugh, and, were Spock's shields not so tightly locked down in preparation for this exchange, its bitterness might have made him recoil. "Of course you are."

"No," says Spock, but Kirk is already shaking his head.

"I can't believe I'm actually surprised," he says. "You're leaving."

"Admiral," says Spock, but it's the wrong approach; he can see it in the anger that flares behind Kirk's eyes. He tries again: "Jim. I assure you, it is not my intention to leave."

"No?" An eyebrow arches and Kirk pivots on his heel, pacing three steps towards the door before he spins back to face the room again. "No, of course not," he says, with dangerous calm. "If you were intending to leave, the first I’d know of it would be when a letter showed up on my desk three days later.”

Spock knows he does not flinch. The only reaction to the venom in those words comes from Kirk himself: the fire drains from his eyes, the tightness to his jaw releases, and he looks shattered by the violence in his own voice.

"Spock," he says quickly, hoarsely, "I'm sorry. That was unwarranted."

But Spock has had time enough these past few days to consider the method of his departure from Starfleet. "It was not," he says, because whatever else he has told himself on those nights when sleep eluded him, however he has insisted in the privacy of his head that the appropriate words were spoken in that apartment above the Bay, that he did not simply slip into darkness without explanation or a backwards glance, he knows that Kirk did not hear what he was told. Spock has known this for three years.

For a moment, it looks as though Kirk will argue. His brow furrows, and he sucks in a sharp breath, head bowed as if to bury his guilt in belligerence. But he releases it slowly before it can become the opening shots of another verbal enfilade; perhaps there is something to be said, after all, for exhaustion. It grays his face when he looks up, meets Spock's eyes, and nods once, brusquely.

"Then tell me," he says, and, though the commander's voice is back, the edge is gone from it now. There is only resignation, and this is, illogically, more difficult to countenance. "What is your 'however,' Mr. Spock?"

The blood flow to Spock's fingertips has ceased entirely. He can barely feel the skin around his nails.

He says, "I would prefer that there remain no misunderstandings between us."

"So would I," says Kirk. "Please. Say what you have to say."

Further delay is unfeasible, and likely to become counterproductive: Jim is not a man to tolerate vacillation. Spock squares his shoulders, lengthens his spine, and fixes his eyes on his commander's forehead. It is not ideal, but it will have to suffice.

"I must request a temporary leave of absence," he says. "Effective immediately."

A lengthy pause, just long enough to become uncomfortable. And then there's a huff of breathless laughter. "So you are leaving," says Kirk.

Spock finds that he cannot drop his gaze. "No."

"Spock." The smile that stripes the admiral's face is well-constructed, but it has nothing to do with amusement. "It's unlike you to prevaricate. You're leaving."

"I require no more than seven days," says Spock. "After which I will return."

"Seven days? You'll forgive my skepticism, Mr. Spock…"

"Yes," says Spock, evenly, because he will certainly forgive Jim's skepticism on a matter for which he has an abundance of reasons to be skeptical, and, in fact, he would have been startled to find it absent. But it appears that Kirk was expecting an argument, because that unornamented candor seems to be enough to derail the train of righteous indignation careening through his quarters, at least momentarily.

"Yes?" says Kirk, and for the first time since Spock threw his conversational curveball, uncertainty frosts the edge of his tone.

"Yes," says Spock. "Your skepticism is both justified and expected. Nevertheless, I will return."

Silence. A thousand unspoken thoughts dance across Kirk's face. He turns, paces a few steps, turns again and paces back.

"Seven days?" he says at last.

"At most," says Spock. "Fewer, if I depart the ship at Sigma Cilicia IV."

"And I suppose," says Kirk, "that you'll expect to find your First Officer's post waiting for you on your return?"

It is difficult to be certain, but Spock thinks he hears a warmth creeping into the admiral's voice now, a dark humor that cannot end well for Spock's pride, but promises better things for their discussion. Carefully, he says, "Acting First Officer."

"Of course, Mr. Spock," says Kirk, and that is, without question, the first flickerings of a smile at the corner of his lips. Spock releases a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "I think I could see my way clear to ratifying the position," adds Kirk. "So long as Admiral Nogura sees fit to ratify mine."

The ends of Spock's fingers have begun to turn an alarming shade of brown. He releases his grip, feels the prickle of affronted flesh as the blood rushes back in. "In that case," he says, "may I assume that my request is granted?"

The slightest of hesitations--a fraction of a second, nothing more, but enough to make his point--and then Kirk nods. "You may," he says, though his voice is gruff and he does not look at Spock. "Have the forms sent to my terminal and I'll sign them off. But make no mistake, Commander. Seven days only--and then you will be marked AWOL. Are we clear?"

We. Not you. The words are an admiral's; the sentiment is not.

"I believe so," says Spock.

Another sharp nod. "Seven days, Mr. Spock," says Kirk. "And then we'll talk again."  And, without further comment, without the barrage of questions or demands or affront for which Spock has been preparing, he turns on his heel and strides from Spock's quarters. He does not look back.

In silence, and assailed by the beginnings of the sort of headache that's almost certainly setting off all kinds of alarms on the remote neural monitors in sickbay, Spock lowers himself to his meditation mat among the fragments of his shattered controls. The conversation, he thinks, could not possibly have proceeded better or arrived at a more favorable outcome; the difficulties that he expected have presented themselves, but they have resolved with considerably greater ease than he had predicted, and he has achieved his objective with the minimum of unpleasant emotional discharge.

Still. He thinks he might feel less unsettled if the admiral had taken the time to offer a word of farewell as he was leaving. It is an oversight, perhaps; an artifact of an evident emotional compromise that is not unanticipated, but Spock cannot shake the creeping sense of unease that this one omission speaks more fully for the conversation's success or otherwise than any of the other small victories achieved therein. He thinks he might feel less unsettled if he thought that, in the end, his friend believed him when he said he would be coming back.

Enough. It is done. It is done, and Spock needs to sleep. He’s still not certain that he is equal to what needs to happen next, and it is going to take all of his strength to bring it about.

~*~

AN: PLEASE DON'T KILL ME! There is method to this, I swear there is. And Chapter 44 will be up tomorrow, too, so you really shouldn't kill me before that.

Chapter 42

Chapter 44
No, I won't kill you. How would you write more chapters of this perfect fic if I did ;)

I'm nervous about Spock leaving again, but I trust him when he says he'll be back. I don't think he's going to run away now that he's faced up to his feelings for Jim, after all he's been there and done that and it didn't work out too well. I wonder where Spock is going though and why (Amanda? Hmm).

I loved the Jim/Bones conversation. It's great how Bones just really cuts through all Kirk's crap to get at the nub of the issue. Kirk really can't hide from Bones can he?

I can't wait for the next chapter, even though you've promised we don't have to wait long for it. All the way through this magnificent fic I've been eagerly awaiting the next chapters and checking regularly to see if you've updated, but a part of me never wants this fic to end, so I'll be a little sad when it does.

Thanks for another fantastic chapter and I'll check back here tomorrow then :)

Phew. No death from LJ direction then!

I was nervous about this one, I have to admit. I've known from the beginning where this section was going to go, but it seemed less like, I don't know, gratuitous teasing-out back when it was just a distant intention in the far off future.

Yeah, the Jim/Bones conversation was a joy to write. I have the feeling the good doctor has been storing that up for a looooooong time :-)

Thanks as ever, and see you tomorrow!
I have been following this fic for what feels like a year now, and every update is a wonderful read. :)