Length: ~ 12,000
Warnings: Character Death (In a way)
Summary: The only thing Jim's ever wanted is Spock. But Spock is the one thing he can't have -- until a strange visitor grants Jim one wish.
The Longest Christmas
He breathes deep, focusing on the air flowing in and out of his lungs. He must keep it steady, so that his aim is steady – ragged, and he'll start to slip up. And right now he can't afford to miss, even once.
Flexing on the balls of his feet, Jim watches his opponent intently – follows his eyes, trying to read the subtle shifts in movement. But instead of telegraphing his thoughts, the other man excels at hiding his tells. Then it begins, the surge forward, and Jim tenses, watching it come.
It's a softball, a test for his strengths, and he meets it head on. A deft twist of the paddle and the ball sails right back to Chekov's side of the table. There's cheering from the sideline, as Chekov readily rebounds and sends the ball in Jim's direction.
Jim grins, as he gets serious – this is the title match, the final round of the ship-wide tournament, and he intends to win. As he's tapping the ball to Chekov again, he puts a spin on it; it begins sailing in one direction, then suddenly switches and bounces off the left corner of the table. And Chekov has to scramble, but he misses it – and it bounces twice. Point to Jim.
Then all conscious thought stops and Jim is just in the moment – following the ball, and the man at the other end of the table. At this point, he's not even aware that there is anything beyond the table. No audience, no friends cheering for both of them. The only exception is Spock's presence in the back of Jim's mind; silent and patient as always.
They're tied. The game gets even more heated, the ball furiously flying from corner to corner and back again. Only a single point stands between him and victory, and Jim knows, from their battle so far, that the point could be his. But he doesn't need the win.
When he's reaching out with the paddle to tap the ball, he intentionally pulls his hand back just a fraction of an inch – and the ball sails past, hitting the floor somewhere behind him. The audience erupts around them, as Chekov squeals his joy and starts bouncing up and down.
Holding back his grin, and acting sufficiently put-out that he lost, Jim crosses his arms over his chest as he waits for Hikaru to put Chekov down. Once the diminutive Russian has his feet back on the ground, Jim pulls him in for a hug and a noogie. "Great job, Pavel," he grumbles, as he makes sure the whiz kid's curls are even messier than usual. "We'll have to have a rematch sometime."
"Of course, Keptin! Anytime," Chekov says, as he frees himself from Jim's hold. There's a huge grin on his face, as he's engulfed in the crowd.
Maneuvering through the pats on the back, and the words of consolation, Jim makes his way unerringly to Spock's side. The Vulcan glances at him with laughter and love in his eyes, and there's a flood of approval crashing at Jim through the bond. Without any prompting, and without looking down, he reaches forward with his hand and meets Spock's – and their fingertips briefly touch in a Vulcan kiss.
Jim grins, reading everything that is hidden in Spock's eyes. They're alone in a sea of people, and he is happy. Ever since that night, he has been irrevocably, undeniably happy, for the first time he can ever remember. And even though it's been three months since his mysterious visit from the "Q," Jim still thanks the being each night before he sleeps.
It's his birthday. Today, he turns twenty eight. He's used to it being an occasion for sadness, and awkward moments between family and acquaintances. A day of remembering, more than simply his birth – but his father's death. They're supposed to have a predictably boring shift, and then lock themselves in Jim's room so Spock can distract him until midnight hits.
That's how it's supposed to happen. How he had it all planned out, at least until Starfleet interfered and made them go down to the planet. It was supposed to be safe. It was supposed to be easy, just go down and check the beacon, then come back up.
He knew it wasn't going to be the moment they solidified, and a phaser beam shot past him. He'd screamed, and turned – just in time to see the bolt of energy cut through Spock, and watch the Vulcan crumple to the ground in a spreading stain of green. His heart in his throat, he'd done everything he could to get Spock back to the ship – as well as the rest of his crew.
And he'd succeeded. At least, he hoped he had.
"Jim, kid, I told you," Bones mumbles, as he squeezes Jim's shoulder in comfort. "There's nothing else I can do for him. It's all up to Spock now. But the hobgoblin's a strong one, he shouldn't have any problems; he's just got to finish his silly Vulcan mumbo-jumbo. " Then the doctor is gone, leaving the two of them alone as he continues the rest of his duties.
Tentatively, Jim reaches out and brushes his fingertips against those long fingers, so still and absent of their usual grace. There's a giant knot of fear in his gut, despite Bones' words. Spock is supposed to be awake right now. But he'd entered a Vulcan healing trance, and from what Jim understands it is supposed to speed the process of healing that Bones and his medicine had begun. It just isn't working fast enough.
"Hey Spock," he croaks, twining his fingers in the Vulcan's and giving them a squeeze. At the same time, he sends a flood of love and encouragement through the bond to where he can still sense Spock – unreachable, and distracted. "I don't know if you can hear me, but…I feel kinda silly, just sitting here and waiting for you to wake up." His words trail off for a moment, as he glances around. The privacy screens have been lowered around them, and for all intents and purposes they are alone.
His eyes return to the unresponsive fingers held in his – Spock's face is too pale, and drawn, and he can't stand looking at it for too long. "I know I told you it was my birthday, but I don't think even you can quite understand what that word really means to me."
A self-deprecating chuckle, and he looks up at the ceiling. "As long as I can remember, they've just been an ordeal I've had to get through. Yet another reminder of why I wasn't good enough, of how much I owed the world because my dad sacrificed himself so I could live. I was supposed to feel special – but I never did."
Now he looks at Spock's face, straightens a few strands of hair with the hand not clinging to his lifeline. "I've never felt special, not really, not until you. I wanted to tell you that. And I wanted to thank you, too. You give me a reason for wanting to celebrate my birthday, even if I can't do that yet. Cause I know that, someday, I'll be able to – as long as you're with me."
He smiles as the head that's been so still on the pillow shifts toward him minutely – it's just a breath of movement, but it's undeniable. He is heartened by the sign that Spock is finally coming out of the healing trance on his own, Jim strokes along the Vulcan's cheekbone, and continues the flow of words.
When he takes in a deep breath he feels it scorch as it sears through his lungs. Somehow, their new planet is even hotter than their old. Not that the Vulcans are complaining, or would ever complain about anything. Sometimes, during his interactions with them, he's tempted to believe that they're not complaining because they're incapable of feeling the heat – that their hearts are so cold, and so frozen inside, that they can't possibly be thawed by something as tiny as ambient temperature.
Because no matter how hard he tries, the Vulcans seem to take great pleasure out of being difficult to work with. Even after being with Spock for so long, it's hard for Jim to adjust to the way they behave. His time with them makes him appreciate how Spock is, even more. And he realizes how much Spock must have adjusted his behavior after he'd been living with Humans for so long – and especially after being with Jim.
The only people on the planet that are not as frozen are the children. This is especially true of the group that Jim is visiting now – they are the orphans, the children who lost their parents in the Battle of the Narada four years ago. And in their eyes Jim can still see the loss that was evident when he'd witnessed Sarek and the other Elders first beamed aboard the Enterprise so long ago.
And he can understand. He knows, more than any other Human can, what it's like to be bonded to someone, how deep that connection truly goes. Just the thought of Spock's presence suddenly being ripped out of him, and his mind being echoingly empty, gives him shivers. But these children have to live with it, day in and day out. He's been told of the others – the ones that weren't strong enough to make it.
During the length of his stay, he's tried to spend as much time with them as possible. And time and time again, he finds himself drawn to a little girl in particular. T'lar also has that lost look in her eyes, but there's something more there, too – a fierceness, a calm assurance in herself that should be out of place in a six year old.
Maybe it's that sense of self, or perhaps it's the slant of her eyebrows, but Jim can't deny the fact that she reminds him far too much of his own Vulcan. Whatever it is, he also can't deny that somehow along the way, he fell in love with her. So as he shows her holos of the animals he grew up with on Earth, he plots. And plans.
Later that night, when the two of them are alone in their quarters, he puts out his first tentative feelers. Spock has to agree, or his idea is dead before it even had a chance to breathe.
"I want to adopt T'lar," he says out of the blue, while they are both poring over their reports. He's watching Spock, so he doesn't miss the upward sweep of an eyebrow as the Vulcan blinks slowly.
"You are fully aware of the Council's opinion of other species, and the likelihood they will allow an outsider to raise one of their young," Spock murmurs, his head tilted to the side as he looks back at Jim.
He nods, fiddling with his stylus as he speaks. "Yeah, I know. I also know that's changing, now that they're realizing they can't do everything by themselves anymore." Then he smiles. "I'm also banking on the fact that you can raise her with all their stodgy Vulcan customs intact, and I'm gonna use it as a bargaining tool."
"T'lar is at the top of her class," Spock says, thinking things through aloud for Jim's benefit. "I have spent some time with her, and she is particularly knowledgeable for her age, even for a Vulcan. She is also polite, and genuinely interested in what she is learning as opposed to simply trying to get the highest scores on the placement exams." Then he pauses, and a trickle of humor reaches Jim through the bond. "And I have noticed a particular similarity between her facial features and my own."
Blushing, Jim glances away to hide his embarrassment. A brush of fingertips against the back of his hand, as Spock brings Jim's attention back to him. "I am also privy to information that you are not, by virtue of my heritage. The full-blooded Vulcans are reluctant to accept the orphans into their families, even those that lost children of their own when our home world was destroyed. I believe the Council would be open to your suggestion, if you are convincing enough."
A rush of heat floods through Jim, as Spock's acceptance hits him. No questioning of whether Jim's ready for that kind of commitment, and Jim can't sense any reluctance in the Vulcan – at all. The only thing he reads through the bond is happiness, and an increasing excitement.
Jim ducks his head to hide the tears that threaten. He loves this man, more than anything.
He's thirty. It's supposed to be a huge milestone in his life, when his youth officially ends and he's rooted in adulthood. But considering all he accomplished before thirty, the milestone means less than it would to most people.
As he steps off the shuttle, into a rare sunny day in San Francisco, he's not thinking of his birthday. Nor is he thinking of family lost, and the debt he can never repay. That weight has been lifted off his shoulders, and his step is much lighter now that he's come to terms with himself.
What he's thinking of, as he glances to his right and smiles at Spock, is how good it is to be home. Their five-year mission is over, and the crew will be dispersed among Starfleet – some to new missions, some grounded to take up integral roles in administration. And some, like Spock, will be leaving Starfleet entirely to take up positions with private companies.
Spock catches his look, and the sense of happiness that is surely flowing to the Vulcan, and gives Jim one of his little eye-smiles in return. "I was going to ask if you were experiencing any trepidation over leaving Enterprise, but I have already received my answer."
A burbling of sadness breaks through his happiness, and Jim sighs. It is hard, true, to leave behind the ship he's loved for so many years – they've been on so many adventures together, and he knows her better than any other captain will ever be able to. But he's going to be an Admiral now, and he will have new responsibilities and new challenges to conquer.
Shifting their seven year old child, who is asleep in his arms, Jim reaches out and brushes a Vulcan kiss across the back of Spock's hand. Besides, a starship is no place to raise a child.
"No, Spock," he answers confidently, "there's no trepidation. I'll miss her, of course, but as long as I'm with you and T'lar – that's home."
"Again, Admiral," the principal says, as she opens the door, "we apologize for making you come down here and get her."
Jim nods, not breaking out of the professional persona he wears when interacting with the adults at T'lar's school. It's important that they see his serious side, and that he is focused on doing what is right for his child. He steps inside, and the principal closes the door behind him – he can hear her walking away as he observes the child on the bench.
Unlike a Human child, she does not fidget. She's perfectly still, watching him with large unblinking eyes and a serious clench to her jaw – for a twelve year old. There is a spot of green blood drying under her nose, and her hair is messed.
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself?" he asks, stepping forward as he crosses his arms over his chest. He's already heard the official version from the principal, but it didn't give a clear account of what happened to instigate the fight, and he's curious to find out what prompted his little girl to turn physical.
Her little chin juts out in an entirely mulish manner, and he almost ruins the atmosphere by laughing at the expression on her face. Sometimes, she reminds him far too much of Spock, even though Jim's been assured time and time again that there's no blood relation.
"The boy was antagonizing me in a malicious manner," she begins, staring Jim in the eyes without remorse. "I requested that he apologize for the slights he directed at me – twice. When he did not offer any remorse for his words, I took appropriate action as instructed."
A wash of fear flashes through Jim at her words, and his eyes narrow as he requests some clarification. "What kind of insult did the boy give you?" If it was something about her being Vulcan, Jim is going to personally find this boy's parents and give them a taste of the same medicine his daughter gave their child.
At his question, she finally glances away. But only for a moment before her eyes return to his face. "He was making derogatory remarks regarding your relationship with Father."
For a moment all he sees is red, and he has to fight down the urge to hunt down the child's parents and throttle them with his own bare hands. To think that, in this century, prejudices like that could still exist – but he forces himself to breathe, to think clearly. And something else that she mentioned surfaces in his thoughts. "Who instructed you in the appropriate responses in circumstances like that?"
She blinks, once, before replying. "It was Father. He trained me in some basic hand-to-hand forms, and educated me that they were only to be used in defense of myself or the ones I care for. He also informed me that, if some type of verbal abuse of my person were attempted, it was acceptable to result to physical means if all verbal avenues for apology were rebuffed."
He can't help the smile that lifts one corner of his mouth, as she continues. "He also made clear that, due to the lack of control Humans have over their emotions, that sometimes they do not comprehend the fault of their actions in circumstances such as these. And that, in those cases, physical stimulus may be required."
It's undeniable now, he's grinning in front of her. It causes her small eyebrow to raise in question, but he doesn't think he could come up with a suitable response for her. He should have expected Spock to plan for this type of contingency, and make sure their twelve year old had the tools necessary to defend herself if required. And he knows that when Spock gets home from the research facility, Jim is going to thank him in the best way he knows how.
"Did I not behave appropriately, Father?" she asks, when he has left her hanging too long.
Reaching forward, he places a gentle Vulcan kiss on her cheek. "No, ashal-veh, you did it just right," he tells her. Then he pats her on the head – about as demonstrative as the Vulcan child will allow him to get in the semi-public room they are in. "Are you ready to go home, so Uncle Bones can patch you up?"
She nods, sliding off the bench and smoothing the front of her robe. The robe too, is Vulcan, and the five years that they've been on Earth Spock has made sure that she always has them to wear to her lessons. Jim still hasn't figured out where his bondmate is getting the supply, but he's glad that Spock is. It wouldn't feel right if T'lar were wearing anything else.
After forty, he's supposed to be having his mid-life crisis. Looking back at what little he's really done in his life, and try to recapture his youth. But, unlike most Human males his age, Jim doesn't have any regrets – none of the important ones, anyway. He's in a devoted, monogamous relationship, and even after all these years they're constantly discovering new and fascinating aspects of each other. His career is fulfilling in ways he couldn't possibly have imagined at twenty. And yes, he does miss being up in the Enterprise and carting around the galaxy with his friends, but he does get to visit the starships sometimes in his position as a respected Admiral, and it's enough for him.
And if he was up flying around the galaxy, he wouldn't be able to be here. In the stands beside Spock, watching their daughter graduate valedictorian of the top high school in the country. He would know that T'lar had been accepted into med school, and is following in the footsteps of her Uncle Bones, as she'd wanted to do since the first time she saw Bones stab one of her Fathers with a hypospray. But Jim wouldn't be here to witness the tears Bones tries to hide, as he watches the girl he had a huge hand in raising receive her diploma.
He would have missed Christine watching her husband with love in her eyes as she holds their young baby close. Jim recognizes that expression, knows that it's on his face whenever he's looking at Spock.
With a proprietary smile hovering on his lips, Jim turns back to look at his bondmate. The Vulcan is standing, stiff and formal, with his hands clasped behind his back. Even though most people won't see it, there's clearly pride and happiness in his stance, in the bright expression in his eyes. Jim brushes a Vulcan kiss against the back of Spock's wrist before he leans in, resting his head on Spock's strong shoulder.
Other men may look back and think about everything they'd lost out on in life – but he, he's exactly where he wants to be.
He's fifty. And it feels strange, staring at the shuttle he's going to be boarding in a few minutes. It's been a long time since he's been up in space, and now he's going to be spending a couple weeks on the Federation's flagship. But he can't deny that there is excitement humming through him, and that he tastes the thrill of adventure for the first time in ages.
Not that he and Spock will be cavorting through alien worlds with dangerous creatures trying to devour them whole, as even Jim will admit that he's a bit old for those kinds of adventures. But his desk job was beginning to feel like just that, and he's been itching for something new to engage himself in. Spock had picked up on his restlessness through the bond, and it was Spock that suggested them as the new Ambassadors of Earth stationed on Vulcan.
Jim, as expected, had approved of the idea, and had almost cheered when they'd gotten notification of their new positions. What he had not expected was that the flagship would be sent to bring them to their new post, that after so many years the two of them were still held in such high esteem in Starfleet. It threatens to bring tears to his eyes, but he resolutely holds them back. He doesn't want to damage his reputation as a hard-hitting old man.
"Ambassadors," Captain Velazquez, of the U.S.S. Solace, greets them. "You honor us with your presence on our ship." Jim returns the captain's crisp salute, noticing from the corner of his eye that Spock gives the Vulcan salute in its place.
He holds back a smile as he replies with, "Thank you, Captain. If you'll just give us a moment, and we'll join you on board the shuttle…?"
The captain nods, and then disappears inside, leaving Jim and Spock free to say goodbye. Hanging back, Jim allows Spock and T'lar to exchange their private farewells before he gets his turn. It only takes a few moments, as the two Vulcans whisper live long and prosper to one another, and then Jim's free to grasp his daughter by the shoulders.
He's not allowed to hug her, and he accepted that when he adopted her a long time ago. But he smiles at her, easily reading the signs of love that are evident in her eyes. It's strange, to leave her behind while they return to her homeworld. But she's all grown up now, and she has a life here on Earth that Jim knows makes her happy.
"I love you, Lara-bee," he tells her, pulling her close so he can plant a kiss on her forehead. She may be a woman grown, but he's an old man and he's allowed a little bit of leeway. A flash of what could almost be called fond disgruntlement before her eyes clear, and then she's blinking up at him once again.
And then, in the same tone that she used when speaking to Spock just moments earlier, she says "live long and prosper," and in the words, he can clearly hear the I love you that she hides inside.
Their time is their own now. Since they retired three years back, when Jim hit sixty five, they were traveling leisurely around Earth, enjoying being on their own schedules and only answering to each other. But at the beginning of the year they received a phone call from Bones – and the doctor pretended to be okay, but it was obvious to both of them that he was lonely and aching after Christine's death.
That's when Jim and Spock had unanimously elected to settle permanently in Georgia, close to both Bones and their daughter. They bought a rambling farmhouse in the countryside, one that sometimes gives Jim echoes of the house he grew up in.
"Spock!" Jim calls from his position over the stove. He knows that, no matter where the Vulcan is in the house, he'll hear him. "Can you bring me some carrots from the garden?"
A wordless thrum of assent travels to him through the bond, and Jim brings his attention back to the meal he's preparing. Guests are coming for dinner, and he wants everything to be perfect. Bones will be over as he is most nights – but, as a special treat, T'lar and her husband are coming over. With the new baby. Spock is no longer the only Vulcan-Human hybrid in existence – there are several children, now, including T'lar's.
Jim grins as he hums to himself, eschewing the modern appliances to chop the vegetables by hand. Lately Jim's been feeling disconnected from the world, and is content to let technology and everything else pass him by. He's had his excitement, and now it's time for younger souls than his to have the adventures.
"Reminiscing again, are you?" Spock asks as he sets the freshly pulled carrots next to the cutting board.
Jim smiles, and shrugs. "Always do when I'm cooking. I guess I'm just getting old."
A Vulcan smile lights Spock's eyes, as he plants a gentle kiss against Jim's wrinkled cheek. "T'hy'la, you will never grow old."
He snorts, a habit he's picked up from spending too much time with Bones. "Ha! These 'laugh lines' tell a different story!" Jim returns the kiss on the cheek, before poking Spock in the side with the potato peeler. "But I'm used to my creaky body, same as I'm used to yours. Now why don't you chop those carrots so I can have dinner finished before the kids get here?"
Spock nods, but it's obvious by the look in his eyes that he's not fooled one bit by Jim's bravado. But he takes the carrots, and changes the subject, and they talk companionably about the rabbit in the garden as they prepare the food together.
And neither of them bring up the fact that while Jim is old, and gray, Spock looks hardly a day over forty. It is inevitable, and both of them accepted this truth ages ago.
It hurts, and Jim knows. He presses his hand to his chest, trying in vain to massage out some of the pain. He grimaces as his breaths come more shallow.
"Jim…" Spock murmurs, stroking his forehead. There's desperation in his voice, obvious even without Jim's knowledge of Vulcans. Jim can feel his frantic need to help reverberating through the bond, but also knows how hopeless it is. There's nothing else that modern medicine can do for him, even though Bones tried his damnedest before the accident cut his search short.
His heart is failing. Which is why he's been stuck in this bed for weeks, and he's tired. So tired. He's ready. His goodbyes were said days ago, everyone he cared about stopped by to reminisce about old times and offer love and support. And one unexpected visitor, who left him feeling hollow instead of giving relief.
Warm fingers brushing against his forehead, and he closes his eyes. He's so…tired. The fingers on his skin tremble, and Spock sighs as his voice begins again. "What is troubling you, t'hy'la? It is logical that this illness has taken its toll on you, but you have been especially withdrawn these last 2.53 days. I have been constant at your side, and it is noticeable that something has changed."
Jim pulls ineffectually on the hem of his sheet. He hadn't wanted to burden Spock with what he'd learned, but he could never lie to his love. With a grunt, he whispers, "I know death is coming for me. I've been getting weaker every day, but with you by my side I've never had need to fear death. And if death was all that was waiting for me, I would go gladly – but I know that isn't what's coming."
Turning away, he shifts in the bed. He hadn't told, hadn't wanted to worry Spock any more than he already was. "A couple days ago, when you were downstairs making dinner, someone stopped by to see me. It was the Q – and it told me that, when I die here, I will go back to the universe I came from. I'll be back with the Spock that doesn't love me, like I love you here." He swallows against the pain. "I can't bear the thought of living beside you, and not being yours.
"I begged the Q, t'hy'la!" and tears escape, trickling down his cheeks as a warm hand caresses his hair. "I begged it to let me die permanently, so that living here, with you, will be the sweetest ending to the most beautiful dream I've ever had. But the Q wouldn't let me – he said that this life with you was my gift, but that I had countless lives to affect in my own reality, and many more lives to save. Knowing that, I can't just turn my back on them. Still, I'm afraid."
Silence as Spock considers, his eyes clouding. Eventually his eyes clear, and look into Jim's own – with love, and tenderness shining in their depths. "As the years have passed together, I have found that there are many things I am not given to understand, while others have become completely clear to me. One truth I have always recognized in our relationship is that you give me courage, love, and freedom. From what you have told me of the other Spock in the other universe, you gave him purpose, humanity, and an unyielding friendship."
Those long fingers reach out, and brush the tears off Jim's cheeks as his eyes close. "I believe in every universe where I am, you will be the center of my existence, and because of this I will always love you. Know that, when you look at the other Spock – a part of him is a part of me, and that part of him keeps him bound to you."
"Thank you," Jim murmurs after a moment, as a new set of tears make trails down his cheeks. "Thank you, for that – and for everything that you are, and have been to me."
He opens his eyes one last time, looking up at Spock as he brushes a Vulcan kiss against his lips. "I love you. But…I'm tired now. I think I'm going to go to sleep."
Leaning forward, Spock presses a gentle Human kiss against Jim's lips. "Sleep, t'hy'la. I have always loved you, and I always will."
Jim sighs as he closes his eyes. So…tired. But even with his eyes closed, he can see light. It shimmers beneath his eyelids, pulsing around him until…he sees nothing.
A gasping breath, as every nerve in his body tingles. Jim wheezes as he tries to fill his lungs, searching wildly around himself. He's confused, and disoriented and he clutches at the railing in front of him.
Glancing down, he notices that the hands gripping the rail are unwrinkled – untouched by time, unlike the hands he had looked at for so many years. He looks around, but he is alone on the observation deck; no sign of the Q that did this to him. It appears as if what it told him was the truth, that he's back to that Christmas Eve and the loneliness that will be his.
Automatically, his consciousness dives deep – searching desperate and keening for the bond that has been a part of him for as long as he can remember. But when he reaches the secret sanctuary inside himself, instead of the warm love and acceptance he always had for support, there is…pain. It is an echoing emptiness, a yawning chasm that threatens to overwhelm him in its power.
He collapses against the railing, pressing his forehead against the cool metal as he lets the tears fall. Even though he's back where he was when the Q visited him, he has been indelibly altered. Somehow, unbelievably, it seems as if a bond did exist – and has been broken.
It takes time, but eventually the tears run out, and the throbbing ache inside him recedes to something somewhat bearable. He feels hollow, and he's alone in his head for the first time in over seventy years. And what makes it even worse is the knowledge that, somewhere, his Spock is feeling exactly the same thing.
Dejected and strung out, he drags himself back to the sanctuary of his quarters. He's tired and aching and so alone, and Jim doesn't even bother removing his clothes before he falls face forward onto his bed. Toeing his boots off, he clutches his pillow to him with a whimper. And he tries to drift off, but no matter what he does he ends up just staring up at the ceiling and prodding that throbbing chasm deep inside.
He's wide awake when the door chime goes off, shaking him out of his revelry. With a grunt, he tells the computer to open the door – and he doesn't have to look up to recognize his visitor. The soft tread across the carpet is the only clue he needs.
And he's unsurprised when the footsteps stop at the edge of the public area of his cabin. His Spock would never have hesitated. But this one…is not his.
"Hey Spock," he calls, forcing cheerfulness while he's shifting so his upper body is supported on his elbows, and he can watch the Vulcan. "What's up?"
Spock's eyebrow rises, and then lowers. "My intention was to ascertain whether or not you would agree to a chess game."
Despite himself, a smile hovers around the edges of Jim's lips. No matter what incarnation he's witness to, no one has a way with words quite like Spock. "Sure. But isn't it kind of late for you?"
"I do not require as much sleep as Humans do," Spock replies to the question, not meeting Jim's eyes. "I have several hours available before I will have to retire." Jim smiles openly at the avoidance, touched. He knows that this Spock normally would not offer his company, even if he's not sleeping – these hours are typically spent working in the labs. But he doesn't bring attention to the loophole in Spock's logic, instead just nodding.
They slip into the pattern of the game as they always do, move and countermove as their pieces shift on the board. It's quiet, both of them thinking – though Jim can't help but notice that every once in a while Spock lifts his head to stare with questions in his eyes. It's obvious that the Vulcan is worried about him in some way, most likely regarding his reticence at the party earlier in the evening, but hesitant to say anything.
And it makes Jim want to sigh. In part because it makes him wish for his Spock, who would just come right out and ask Jim what was bothering him. And also, because it means his Spock was right – this Spock…cares. He wouldn't be here, in the middle of the night playing chess, otherwise.
Blinking, Jim stares across the table, at long fingers that are the same-yet-different than the ones he's touched for years, and a stab of pain slices through his chest. He wants to tell his Spock that he was right, and just one more time…that he loves him.
And it hurts, but differently than he ached before. Tentatively, not knowing how it will be received, Jim reaches forward and rests his hand on the low table between them. His two first fingers are pressed together in a gesture that's unmistakable, but they're presented in such a way that the Vulcan can ignore them if he so chooses.
Jim swallows, as Spock's eyes travel down. He watches as a flash of surprise lights the Vulcan's eyes. His right hand stills against the fabric of his tunic, as Spock leans forward hesitantly and brushes the lightest of Vulcan kisses – the equivalent of a kiss on the cheek – against Jim's waiting fingers.
The silence continues as no questions are asked of him, for which Jim is grateful. Spock moves a pawn on the board, his eyes on the chess pieces, as Jim whispers his thanks to the Q – wherever it is – for answering his Christmas wish.
He now has a lifetime of memories to hold dear, to keep as a bulwark against the loneliness that would have threatened. And he can be content with this Spock as they are – and shall always be — friends.
KirkSpock illust. by *Lenap on deviantART