Fandom: Star Trek XI
Rating: PG-13 for language
Summary: Destiny changes. Jim isn't sure if he likes this version of it.
Notes: This was written as a quick pinch hit for whochick in trek_exchange's third round. X-posted all over the place; sorry if you're seeing it for the second (or third) time.
Once upon a time, sailors would step off their ships and their knees would buckle. They would sway like drunken men, unbalanced and unsteady, their feet strangers to a ground that didn't roll beneath them. In a way, they learned to walk on water, and ever after, the unmoving earth was strange to them.
The white carpet is thick and immaculately clean. The bed is neatly folded back, sheets crisp and pristine. The art on the walls is tasteful and forgettable, blobs of green and blue on the fashionably honey-colored walls. There is a bathroom with a water/sonic option. There is a window that shows daylight followed by darkness in predictable patterns. His legs aren't buckling, but he feels like a sailor parted from his ship; he knows he isn't moving, but the knowledge doesn't make sense. He can't walk here.
The collar of his navy t-shirt itches uncomfortably at his neck. After all of these years, he's more or less forgotten what it feels like to toss on whatever's cleanest and to hell with what it looks like. For the last ten years, all of his clothes have been duplicates of the same thing, one set for every day, one for special occasions. He never thought he'd be the kind of guy that relished a uniform, but his civvies feel ungainly, crooked. They don't fit him anymore.
He's not the kid that used to mop bar floors with his face, either, which may have something to do with it.
Around him, the air is still, undisturbed save the quiet purr of the air conditioner. The hotel has an air conditioner, not atmo controls. There are no comms on the walls, no flashing lights, no machinery more complicated than the in-suite coffee pot. There are no orders to be given except the kind that fall under the category of personal whims. He can turn off the lights right this minute and go to sleep for an uninterrupted ten hours, if he wants. He could go outside, rent a vehicle of choice, and speed off; no one would notice.
He is alone.
He stands in the middle of the hotel room until the sun sets, staring at the wall while the light fades.
On the third day, his PADD vibrates, sending itself hurtling off of the room's entirely superfluous desk and onto the floor. He lets it lie there for an hour. He must be getting old; he's been lying in bed for most of the day. Occasionally he thumbs through the paper-and-ink book Bones gave him for his last birthday, but mostly, he just lies there. Nobody is coming for him. Nobody needs him.
Eventually, he has to pee, so he rescues the PADD from the floor and takes it back to bed with him.
Private Transmission. Unregistered Sender. Accept?
He taps the message open. This is the only comm device he has without Starfleet's stamp on it, so he knows it's not official. Probably a mistake.
You're a bastard and I hate you. You're lucky I've learned to put up with your bullshit and pretend like I know what the hell is going on, because otherwise, I would have spewed champagne over Gregson Levitt, which is no more than what he deserves, but that's beside the point. When, exactly, were you going to let me know about this? If you think that having me find out at the most boring official function I've been to all year (and I'm including that feast on T'rengei, which should tell you something) is somehow going to save me yelling at you, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. I'm typing this from the bathroom, but I will be comming you soon. If you don't pick up, I will hunt you down myself.
P.S. - Jim. Honey. What's this about? Please, please, please tell me. I'm worried sick. I've talked to Spock and you didn't tell him, either. If you're trying to scare us, you're doing a great job. The Eyebrow is at a sixty degree angle. Call me as soon as you get this.
He sets the PADD aside and leaves the hotel.
There's a second message waiting for him when he gets back, an audio file the hotel saves to a chip and sends to his room. There's the sound of scuffling, some Russian cursing, and a distinct, "Ow!" before the message gets started in earnest.
"Keptin," Chekov's voice says. He can practically see the baby-faced glare. Chekov's not seventeen anymore, but that glare hasn't changed from day one. "We have just received a distressing message, and we would like you to return our call at your soonest opportunity."
"I think Scotty's pulling a prank, but Pavel won't listen to me," Sulu's voice chimes in, all shades of affectionate exasperation. "He's freaking out, Jim. I can't distract him. I've even tried some of your moves, but no dice. He...ow!"
"What we are doing is not important. Keptin, we need to speak with you. If this message is true, we need to discuss."
"Petersburg is a fucking ice cube, Jim," Sulu says imploringly. "Call back so I can get Pavel back in bed before I freeze to death."
"Hikaru, you are not dying. Get off the floor." Chekov's voice is muffled, as if he turned from the comm whilst talking to Sulu. It gets louder as he says, "Keptin. I do not like this prank. Please call."
He toys with the idea for a second, but he doesn't have it in him to pretend to be cheerful. He turns off the audio feed and goes to bed with his clothes on.
There are five messages in the morning. Three are from Uhura, each one more frantic than the last. Two are from Scotty: one simply says, "I don't remember this many sheep." The second says, "You've got to be shitting me, Captain." He showers and orders the simplest breakfast the hotel offers. By the time he's in a cleaner t-shirt and jeans, his PADD is shuddering across the desk again. He picks it up without enthusiasm and clicks open the message without reading who it's from.
Dammit, you were supposed to be in San Fransisco! it reads. Sulu and Chekov shuttled over from Petersburg yesterday. Scotty's coming in today. Uhura can't decide if she wants to cry or plan your death. I'm coming after you. Where the hell are you?
He should have expected Bones would get involved. For a moment, he considers finishing the job he started when he was twelve. He doesn't know where he can find an antique car around here, or a quarry, for that matter, but he's resourceful. He'd make do. The thought only lasts a second. He's not that kid anymore even less than he is the bar-haunting delinquent or the fresh-faced Federation hero.
Nobody knows his name here. He can't decide if that's a blessing or a curse.
He goes out, turns west, and starts walking. He leaves the PADD behind.
Spock is sitting cross-legged in the center of his bed when he gets back, looking strange and out of place in jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt. He recognizes the shirt as something Uhura bought him during their first shore leave, because Vulcan casual wasn't proper party attire. He can't place the jeans and assumes they must be new. Spock looks up at him as if locating a runaway and breaking into his room were as normal as breathing.
"Security is appallingly lax," Spock comments.
He doesn't answer. It wouldn't matter if security were lax or not; between them, he and Spock have hacked just about every security system the universe can come up with, and a few from universes not their own.
"Why are you here?" he asks instead.
"You did not reply to your messages." Spock doesn't offer to tell how he tracked his captain down, and Jim doesn't ask. It's not the first time. Spock rises from the bed, somehow managing not to leave more than a minuscule dip in the blankets where he'd been. He stands in parade rest, every inch the stolid first officer Jim knows from ten years of assignments. They've traveled together, lived together, worked together, fought together, escaped together. For ten years, Jim has led and Spock has followed. He's waiting for orders now, in his jeans and t-shirt, in the impersonal comfort of a hotel room, even though...
Jim feels his breath hitch. "Get out."
Spock cocks an eyebrow at him. They have almost a language between them now, conveyed by minute changes of stance and expression. People have written articles about them, called them a seamless command team. They've been called extraordinary, together, which is an irony he can't quite find it in himself to forgive.
"Please," he tries, correctly interpreting the slope of Spock's eyebrow to mean I refuse to allow you to do stupid things.
"Your resignation was not well received. At present, I believe Nyota is the chairperson of an impromptu committee with designs to kidnap you. Dr. McCoy has repeatedly offered to inflict violence upon you."
Jim sighs in defeat and walks over to the window. "That's why I came here. Nobody was supposed to find me."
"I could accuse you of self-pity," Spock says mildly. "However, I believe your actions are motivated by something else, as well."
"Oh, self-pity is a good one," Jim says bitterly. "Trust me, there's a lot of that happening."
Spock stands beside him. The view from this window is nondescript, the sunset just a smudge of hazy light behind the concrete skyline. It's striking how alien they are, these Earthly commonplaces.
"I refused you." Spock is stating the obvious, which is never a good sign.
"I know." He remembers it pretty clearly. There have been exactly three times he's tried to initiate a real relationship with somebody, and it's never worked. The first was just out of high school. Carol had thanked him for the effort, but told him he was still a dick. He still had never met their son. The second was with Bones, who'd laughed and bought him a drink. It wasn't until later...much later...that he'd realized that Bones was just as afraid of the whole love business as he was. Friendship was different, new to them both, and less fraught with ghosts. He doesn't know if he regrets that or not.
Spock, though. Spock was supposed to be destiny. In another lifetime, a different universe, they had been more than married. Jim had been captain and Spock had been his first officer, and they'd loved each other with a ferocity that words couldn't quite capture. Jim had been sideswept by its force just once, in an ice cave on Delta Vega. It had lapsed into his brain in the wake of a whirlwind explanation, trailed by shock and recognition and acknowledgment that he wasn't the right one; that overwhelming, all-encompassing love wasn't meant for him, it was meant for someone he only resembled.
Spock...his Spock...had been cutting and clear. They were not bound to their counterparts' lives. Whatever they were in another timeline had no effect on their own reality. Jim had tried to explain, but his words came out in a crippled jumble, something about watching Spock's hands and needing Spock to yell at him with his eyebrows. It was the most embarrassing attempt at seduction he'd ever had the misfortune to execute.
Spock turns to face him. "What will you do?"
Jim knots his fingers together behind his back. "I don't know." In his head is an insubstantial idea about just walking until he collapses and lying still until... Fuck blazes of glory. He's had glory. It didn't amount to much.
Spock is still staring at him. He shifts uncomfortably. "Can you..not?"
By now, Spock knows what he means, even in broken Standard idiom. But he doesn't stop. Instead, he lifts a hand, fingers elegantly curled.
What the hell. He doesn't have any dignity left. He turns his face and submits in silence.
Spock's fingers settle gently on his skin, bringing back images of cold caves and sparks of hope. There is no barrage of information and emotion now; just the slow slide of Spock's fingertips over his cheeks, his forehead, his nose. He struggles not to jerk back. The contact doesn't hurt, but it does remind him, and that pain isn't exactly physical, but that doesn't make it less real. Spock drops his hand at long last, and he lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding.
"Say something," he grinds from between his teeth.
"I knew you were self-confident. I did not realize you were vain."
He barks out a humorless laugh. "You think that's why I'm doing it? Because of this?"
Spock reaches out once more to touch the scars modern medicine can't fix and his eyes soften. "Partially, perhaps."
Jim ducks his head, turns his face away. He'll never regret it; he'd saved Spock by stepping into that chamber. Bones had performed the impossible, saving him from rampant radiation poisoning. It's a miracle he'd lived at all. To worry about the scarring in the face of that seems petty. But Jim has lived his life depending on his good looks and charm, and now it seems he's lost both. No one will ever look at him twice again, unless it's in disgust, and he's been practicing his charm on Spock for years without effect. It's a hard blow to take. When the Admiralty decided that they needed their golden boy giving orders on the ground instead of in the air...well. What else did he have to live for?
"I'll never pose for another photoshoot. Call it a silver lining."
Spock continues to trace his pitted skin. "I find the fact you did not question orders to be most unsettling, especially when the orders are of such gravity."
"They're dismantling the Enterprise. Ten years is a long time, and the overhaul is for some other Academy hotshot. I've served my purpose."
"You can hardly be considered old."
Easy for a Vulcan to say. He feels old, older than his numerical age. He feels tired.
"What do you want from me, Spock?"
Spock stills, his hand dropping. "I want you to return to San Fransisco with me."
It's Spock's turn to angle his body away, to attempt nonchalance. "I refused you because of a faulty conclusion," he says carefully. Deliberately. "I am well aware of our alternate selves and their relationship. I am also aware of the emotional transference you received during my counterpart's mind meld with you on Delta Vega. Until recently, I assumed that your interest in me was a result of a misplaced belief in destiny. I remain unconvinced that this is not entirely the case."
Jim sits on the edge of the bed, suddenly too tired to stand. Spock continues without turning from his place at the window. "But perhaps I reached my conclusions too hastily."
"Are you fucking kidding?" Jim spits. "You were too hasty? After all this time, all the things we've been through, you were too fucking hasty. Let me tell you something, Spock: what I said that night wasn't a line. I don't fuck up lines. I've been giving lines my whole damn life, and I'm good at them. I didn't want to fuck you, I wanted to love you. I don't give a shit about destiny. Old you may have made me think about it, yeah, but that's not why I fell in love with you. Otherwise, I'd have been all over you the second you and Uhura broke up. But I didn't. Destiny. Fuck destiny. It was you, you idiotic bastard, with your fucking math and your fucking curiosity and your fucking nobility. But don't worry about it. We all make snap decisions, right? You don't have to feel guilty now just because I look like my face has been through a meat grinder. I'm not your captain anymore, Spock, you don't have to follow me around. Forget it ever happened. Go home."
"I refused you because I misunderstood your position," Spock says softly. "Not because I did not love you."
Jim makes a sound that's halfway between a laugh and a groan. "Why are you doing this? It's over, Spock. The Enterprise is gone, I'm not the captain, we're not together in any sense of the word. Retrospect sucks. Let's move on."
"Do you love me?" Spock looks at him for that one, and the look in his eyes lets Jim know that lying won't help. He sighs, defeated.
"Yeah. I know I shouldn't."
"I love you as well. Is that clear enough?"
"Love, present tense?" Jim shakes his head. "I don't think so."
"Because of your disfigurement?" Spock never pulls punches, and doesn't make an exception now. Jim shrugs. "Your conclusion is incorrect in every possible way."
Spock kneels gracefully in front of the bed and touches Jim's scarred face with both hands. "Your scars are your own," he says. "What has happened to you has nothing to do with destiny. I was meant to step into that chamber, and you did it for me. You changed our destinies because you love me. I am able to accept that, now."
Everything's gone. What Spock is saying, offering, is impossible, because he's lost everything.
"No," Spock disagrees firmly, reading the thoughts through his skin. "I am still here."
And he leans forward to brush Jim's lips with his.
Uhura flings herself on Jim's neck, crying and scolding him in turns. Scotty, Chekov, Sulu, and Bones are standing in a half-circle at a lightboard, drawing diagrams and checking on maps. Spock apparently wasn't kidding about the whole kidnapping plot.
"You do that again, I'll kill you," Bones growls, and yanks him into a rough hug. Chekov is next, sighing a sentence in Russian as he squeezes Jim's torso. Sulu rolls his eyes behind him.
"He gets worse every time we visit Russia," he confides, and Chekov releases Jim to make a face at Sulu.
"Told you Spock'd find him!" Scotty crows triumphantly. Spock inclines his head in acknowledgment, and five pairs of eyes flicker down to where Jim's first two fingers are curled around Spock's.
"Shut up," he says, and the group breaks into loud, excited chatter. Bones lets out an ear-piercing whistle to call them to silence.
"Jim," he says in the voice he reserves for announcing shipwide pandemics. "We all heard about the resignation. What the hell are you going to do now?"
Jim takes a deep breath. "I'm not sure. I know I'm not going to teach. Beyond that, I really don't know."
"I have also tendered my resignation to Starfleet," Spock says calmly. "I will be staying with Jim in whatever endeavor he chooses."
"About time," Uhura says beneath her breath. Chekov buries his face in Sulu's chest, which does little to disguise the fact that he's crying. Jim flushes; Chekov only gets emotional after a solid eighteen hours of sleeplessness. He'd really worried them.
"Good," Bones says, jerking his head in approval. "In that case, I've got two options for you. One of them is Georgia. There's a little town there that needs a doctor and a mechanic. Spock can keep flowerbeds or build alternate energy sources or something."
Jim shakes his head, grinning in spite of himself. He didn't leave Iowa to return to a different version of it thirteen years later. Bones sighs.
"I didn't think so. I guess we're in, then."
Scotty whoops loudly. "I'll call Damien right now!"
"Let him know what we're doing first!" Uhura chides laughingly, grabbing him by the shirt. She turns to Jim.
"We've found a ship. She's small, carrier class, but with enough room for us. Starfleet vets shouldn't have any trouble chartering as independent researchers."
Spock's fingers tighten around his, and Jim looks at his friends individually, uncomprehending. "What?"
"We'd fly. With you," Sulu says gently. "None of us want to split up. We could...Starfleet offered me a captaincy, you know...but it wouldn't be the same. I mean, this will be different, but at least this way, we'd..."
"We'd be together," Chekov sniffles. "We are family, now. We don't just go away."
Jim rocks a bit beneath the weight of their affection, as palpable in the room as a living, breathing thing. Spock looks at him, communicating without the cumbersomeness of words. There's loyalty there, and trust, and a love unexpected, untasted, new. It's not destiny, but it's all his.
"We're going to be space pirates," he says slowly.
"Independent researchers," Bones corrects. Sulu grins.
"I'm with the captain. Space pirates."
Scotty wants an eyepatch and a parrot. Uhura demands Sulu give fencing lessons to all of them. Bones says they're all lunatics. Chekov agrees, but says geniuses are always crazy. Spock stays quiet at his side.
"This isn't the way it's supposed to turn out," he says, too softly to be heard over the din of his crew's plans for piracy. Spock favors him with a quirk at the corner of his lips.
"How can you be sure?"