They left the Ze'brak system two days later with orders to proceed to Starbase 16. In those two days, Jim set a task for himself to find answers. The not-normal was clearer every day, obvious in the quiet that sometimes filled the space between Jim and Spock, the crackle of energy unspent that hadn't been there before, the silence from McCoy where there should have been bluster (though there was still plenty of bluster), and in Uhura's face when he met her in the turbolift, and in sickbay, and in Jim's quarters.
It was Jim's quarters that finally gave him a clue. And he had no one to blame but himself for having missed it.
He hadn't given his sleeping arrangements much thought, really, since he'd first been released from sickbay. Quarters meant privacy, and a lack of examinations, and the ability to sleep uninterrupted. Quarters meant having some control over who came and went, having a say in his own care, his choices. The Enterprise meant home, but his quarters meant safety.
It started with his stylus. He'd had it yesterday morning, and somewhere between mission logs, sickbay, the mess, one trip to the botanical labs, and a tour of engineering later, it had apparently gone missing. He searched up, down, and around, until he found himself mindlessly chasing after the same pattern again and again, running the same route with no appreciable results. It didn't make a lot of sense; there were plenty of stylus' available; he could just get another one. But this one was his, and although he didn't remember why, it had clearly meant something to him at one point. The thought of losing it was oddly unsettling.
He emptied out his top drawer, thinking it may have tipped in amongst his clothes by mistake. The mess piled high in short order, and he consoled himself that he had plenty of free time on his hands for useless cleaning later. If there was any bitterness to that thought, he was careful to ignore it. When his fingers caught on a wrapper, he hardly gave it a moment's thought, just pulled it out and tossed it aside. And the next one, and then the next two after that as well. Then he paused, mind rolling back over what he'd just seen, and turned to stare at the bed where they'd landed.
It was a field ration, standard issue, single-meal, still sealed and preserved. That in itself wasn't curious, because Jim always kept at least three of them handy, for emergencies, and also because he was more than a bit neurotic about it. Childhood trauma involving food shortages would do that to a person. He usually kept two in the drawer, and one somewhere out of sight. There was a hidden panel in his overnight bag for away missions, tucked in behind a clothing compartment. The last ration was usually there.
There were four sitting on his bed. And only two of them belonged to Jim, because the other two had dried citrus fruits, and Jim wasn't allergic (a small miracle), but he was severely intolerant.
Huh. Curiosity stung like a needle prick. He trailed a finger over the food, testing, wondering. It took a lot for him to change compulsive patterns. He'd gone by a rule of three rations, no more and no less, since he was sixteen years old. He'd had to put some pretty clear boundaries around it, because for a good long while during his youth it had threatened to become a severe obsession. He'd snuffed that out eventually with enough repression, a near alcohol-addiction which was later placed with a danger-addiction, and a smattering of petty crimes here and there. Hard to be obsessive about much when you were being periodically thrown in and out of lock-up for repeat offenses.
But apparently something had happened which had allowed him to self-justify, for the first time in ten years, changing the unchangeable.
He went searching. There was no letting that discovery go, of course.
He found two more rations in the hidden compartment. No citrus this time, so both could belong to Jim, but he didn't care for dried banana either, so he doubted it. He dug down through the rest of the pack, searching, and found an extra set of emergency supplies, doubled up. There wasn't room in the pack for additional clothes, so no clues there.
He checked the shirts hanging above, and found two sweaters not his own. One in black, one in grey, large size. They were a match for Jim in the shoulders, but not in the length of the arms; too long. They could have belonged to Jim; maybe they were an ill-chosen gift, but the fit was pretty far off. They really weren't Jim's style, either; he certainly wouldn't have bought them for himself. If they did belong to someone else, it probably wasn't a female someone, not unless she was pretty broad across the shoulders, and damn tall. He tried to think of any women he knew who might fit the bill, and came up empty. Maybe it was someone new to the ship? She still would have had to be well over six feet, or hail from a species with disproportionate arm length in comparison to torso. There were a few non-Humans onboard who could possibly fit the bill, but not many. And no one Jim knew well. Or hadn't known well.
A man's clothes, then. Probably. Jim hesitated, considering, and then tossed the rest of his drawers as well. He found two pairs of pants that weren't his, one uniform formal, one not. They were a man's cut. When he checked the last drawer down, he found a shaving kit with a razor that wouldn't have been his preference and a hygiene kit with a scent and two types of soap he didn't recognize or know the origin of. His bedside table produced a bottle of lubricant - three quarters empty. That was telling in itself; Jim didn't use lube. He would if the situation called for it, but it certainly wasn't his choice for masturbation. Messy. And when it came right down to it, he liked to take his time, keeping things on a slow build-up. Plenty of natural lube that way. He hadn't exactly felt motivated in the last two weeks. Anger, for Jim, was not a natural motivator to arousal. Quite the opposite, really.
He sat back on his bed, eyeing the small collection of items that seemed to have invaded his quarters, which had good odds of belonging to a male.
Which begged the question - if he was seeing someone (and it was looking more and more likely that he was), why hadn't they come forward in the last two weeks; why hadn't they approached him? They must be aware of his amnesia - whoever it was had to know Jim wouldn't be able to come to them. Unless that was why - was it a casual relationship? Had the mystery person backed off after learning Jim wouldn't likely be knocking on their door for a quick roll in the hay?
But, no. Jim had casual sex about as often as the next Human male, but he'd never slept with a subordinate before, would certainly never sleep with a subordinate for a quickie, and on this ship everyone was his subordinate. It was a career risk in itself to sleep with crew; he couldn't imagine taking that leap with someone for some fun in the sheets and not much else.
And a man. How strange that it would be a man. Jim had had male lovers before, but never a casual one. And not since -
He sat thinking for a long moment, trying to decide if this was a road he wanted to walk down. If this mystery person hadn't come to him yet, did it really matter who they were, what the context was? Clearly they didn't care enough to reach out. Jim struggled to weigh the facts, but it was hard to keep his anger out of the equation, and in some ways maybe he had a right to the anger this time. Certainly more right than when he'd leapt down McCoy's throat about the amnesia. He pulled a hand roughly down his face, blowing out a breath. Oh, who was he kidding? He was going to live with the amnesia because he had to, but there was no way he could let this go without at least trying to figure it out.
A mystery was just a puzzle waiting for someone to come along and solve it. And this was the mystery of his life.
He'd turned into a one-man soap opera, Jim thought, laughing at himself. A soap opera in space, no less.
He tossed the drawers of his nightstand, and managed to produce a kit of sanitary cloths and a set of standard single-application anti-infection shots. Four used, and a look at the date told him the last use was three months ago. Either he'd stopped seeing this person since then, or they'd stopped using them. He checked the issue date for the lube. One month, and clearly that had been used more recently. Foregoing safe sex meant monogamy and longevity, and monogamy for Jim meant serious.
Okay. Evidence he'd been having a dalliance with someone, a male someone from the looks of it. Not just an affair, but a sustained one, so a crew member who'd been around at least - he checked the initial issue date for the shots - five months - at least five months on board, and he wouldn't have been willing to throw away his career on someone he'd just met, so someone who'd been on board for the year, probably longer. Someone he cared enough about that his compulsions were affected, hence the food and the emergency kits. That was the real kicker, right there. Jim had managed to avoid being diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive as a teen, but some things were sacrosanct. And food was one of those things.
That narrowed the possibilities down remarkably. To about one, really.
Jim reached for his computer. The door logs accounted for all the comings and goings over the last eleven months; although the timing was occasionally suspicious, there wasn't much out of the ordinary. No new names as he might have expected to see from an unknown lover. No strange activity. His comm logs were the same.
Jim went grimly back through his data bursts, back and back, and there it was, six, almost seven months ago, pre-dating the shots, he'd logged a change in relationship status and sent an encrypted file to HQ to inform them of breach for Regulation 1138. The fraternization regs. There was a name on the file; it wasn't a Human name.
They'd sent back with confirmation, deferral and ruling for no action as per no verifiable harm resulting from the relationship, and a copy to the ship's CMO for monitoring purposes to make sure it stayed that way. McCoy hadn't responded. No communication since.
It's nothing, Jim. Really. I mean it. Right. Jim was going to kill him. For real this time.
But he had someone else to confront first.
"How long have we been sleeping together?"
Jim kept it straightforward, blunt, and totally without tact. Just the way a Vulcan would have wanted it, surely.
Well, he probably hadn't wanted to be confronted with it in his labs, but whatever, he could be grateful Jim had privacy coded the door behind him.
Spock turned to face him, slowly, frozen in that awkward position that in a Human would probably have meant fight or flight. Who knew what it meant in Spock? The Vulcan's eyes cut behind him, scanning quickly to make sure they were alone. Jim let him, because it gave him a few seconds to memorize Spock's face. This was the face of a man he'd apparently been sleeping with; someone he'd somehow managed to wrangle a relationship with. It was incredible to think of. And somehow he'd forgotten about it. Of course he'd forgotten about it. Unbelievable.
"Your question is imprecise," Spock said, slowly placing a small scanner and a PADD down on the terminal in front of him. "You mean to ask how long we have been engaged in a sexual relationship."
"Yeah, I do. And I also wanna know," Jim added, not bothering to try and keep the anger out of his voice, "why the fuck you didn't mention that to me in the first place. Seriously, Spock, what the hell? You left me to figure it out on my own? Without a word to me about it, one way or the other? Why?"
"The answer to your first question may assist in providing the answer to your second question," Spock said, the tips of his elegant fingers resting on top of the terminal, poised and still.
"Don't play games with me, Spock," Jim snarled. "I'm too pissed off for games. I could kill you for this stunt."
"We first initiated sexual congress six months, twelve days, twenty-two hours, and forty-seven-point-three minutes ago."
"We've been sleeping together six months. And you couldn't be bothered to tell me that. For fuck's sake - remind me of why we're together, again?"
"I cannot do so," Spock said, "As all sexual contact between us was severed twenty-three days, eight hours, and thirty-nine-point-one minutes ago."
The floor dropped out from beneath Jim's feet. His anger evaporated into shock.
"I did not approach you to tell you of past events," Spock said evenly, and extremely precisely. "As they have no relevant implications for the current day, or for the future. At this time we have no relationship between us beyond that of colleagues and friends."
"Friends," Jim echoed, numb.
"Yes, Jim. You are my friend."
Jim opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again. He couldn't think of a single thing to say. What did someone say to that? What could Spock possibly mean by that? This was impossible; it actually, truly, felt impossible. For one hysterical moment he wondered if Spock might be playing a trick on him. How could it be that he'd apparently been sleeping with his Vulcan First Offer, only for the man to sever the relationship a week before a mission which wiped out his memory of the entire affair. The probabilities alone were - no. Maybe he should ask Spock to calculate the odds, he thought numbly. Surely they'd be astronomical.
"What happened?" he asked at last. "I don't - why would you." He stopped. "I don't know what to say," he realized.
"I have experienced a similar difficulty," Spock said diffidently, and Jim looked at him for the first time, really looked at him, to see the Vulcan with one hand tucked behind him, the other now spread over the top of the terminal, knuckles white behind the strength of his grip. His gaze was steady, and locked on the floor between them. Jim had never thought to see the man look so lost, but he had no other words to describe what he was seeing. Spock looked lost.
"I did not choose to withhold information from you based on a desire to keep you in ignorance, Jim," Spock said evenly. "I was simply unable to approach you in this manner. I apologize if my actions or inactions have caused you harm."
One part of Jim, the part which relied so keenly on Spock's loyalty and friendship, wanted to assuage him of this guilt, forgive him for his part in it, tell him that all was well. But all was not well, and Jim was angry, he was so angry beneath the sudden tidal force of shock and disorientation. He had no forgiveness in him to offer.
"How did it end?" Jim demanded, feeling hollowed out and abruptly tired. "Why did it end?"
The terminal frame bent sharply beneath an inhuman grip, and Spock stepped away, rigid and fast, too fast. Jim backed up, a long-forgotten fear pouring adrenaline into his veins. The tiredness disappeared. He remembered that strength, those hands. The way they'd wrapped around his throat. Spock looked mad enough to repeat the incident, lips drawn tight together, hands fisted at his sides. His face was a rictus of control.
"I cannot tell you," Spock said flatly, "as I do not know."
"But that makes no sense. If you don't - if you didn't - then why did you end it?" Jim asked.
"I did not," Spock said, and was gone before Jim could say another word.
Jim spent several interminable hours in a dazed spiral of confusion and distraction. He was still relieved of duty, and he'd never felt it more keenly than he did then; he was utterly adrift. He thought he'd known the disconnection that came from forgetting the last year, but to realize now that such a fundamental change had come to him, and he couldn't remember it - that was a blow he never could have anticipated, never could have prepared for. How did you prepare for something like that?
When the misery passed, the anger made a comeback. He could have taken that to Spock, but he couldn't imagine any scenario in which that ended well. So he took it to McCoy. Because what else were best friends for?
"Oh, Jim," McCoy said absently when Jim stormed into his office at 0930 hours. "I was going to comm you later this afternoon. You're due for a check-up; I want to see if there's been any baseline change from your last neural scans. Let's move to the diagnostic room."
"Yes, why don't we take this somewhere private," Jim said. Somewhere he could dispose of the body afterward. "Let's."
McCoy looked up, his keen sense for danger alerting him to the explosion boiling away in front of him.
"Oh, shit. You know. Dammit, the green-blooded hobgoblin told you, didn't he? Of all the things I thought he'd keep to himself, I thought for sure the reek of emotions would keep him quiet if nothing else - "
"Bones," Jim interrupted, raising one fist threateningly. "What. The fuck. Is going on?"
"Now look kid, don't get your panties in a twist at me, I was just an innocent bystander here." McCoy put both hands in the air in surrender and shuffled quickly into the nearest isolation room. Jim followed at his heels.
"Enough with the bullshit, alright?" he snarled. "Please just cut the crap and tell me what the hell's been happening between me and Spock the last eight months."
"Oh, God," McCoy groaned, pressing one hand dramatically over his eyes. He waved Jim away when he took a threatening step forward. "Do we have to? Can we please just not? That is the last thing on a very long list of last things that I never wanted to know or talk about. And that pretty much encompasses everything I've known about what was going on with the two of you for the last year. Really, Jim, I know nothing, I swear."
"You were copied on my HQ status update per Regulation 1138. You know something."
"I didn't ask, okay? What you do with Spock is your own business, and frankly, it wasn't business I wanted anything to do with. And the one time I tried to ask, you told me to back off. So, I backed off, okay? Was happy to. Really."
"You issued me the shots," Jim said flatly.
"Yeah, and I issue those shots to a lot of people. Just because I didn't want to know doesn't mean I was gonna leave you high and dry. Those were coded for Vulcan-Human enzymes. Who knows what that pointy-eared bastard has floating around in his blood? I gave Spock a set at the outset of the mission, what with Uhura and all, and believe me, that's another thing on the list of do-no-ask's that I try to abide by."
Jim froze. Uhura. Good God. How had he managed to forget about Uhura? Hell, the last thing he remembered before it all went blank eleven months back, Spock and she had still been together. How long had that been over with? Why hadn't that been the first thing he thought to ask Spock? Shit.
"How long have Uhura and Spock been - "
"Don't even go there, Jim," McCoy said, a hand raised in warning now. "I'm not discussing their relationship with you. Patient-client privilege still stands for something. I give out standard safety packs for every crew member who comes through an annual physical. You know that."
"Yeah, alright," Jim said impatiently. "Discounting what you might know as CMO, when did they break it off? What does the ship's gossip say?"
"How the hell should I know? I'm a doctor, not a high school cheerleader."
"I really don't know," McCoy admitted finally, glaring. "Ship probably missed when it actually happened, anyway, because the first I learned of it was when your 1138 hit my internal comm line. Thanks for that, by the way. Not a word of warning, and then bam. And you wonder why I don't know more."
"Shit," Jim said, scrubbing both hands through his hair. "Fuck. Shit."
"Please tell me I came to you with a bottle of whisky and a sob story in the last month. I have no idea what the fuck is happening, what already happened, and why, and if you can't tell me, I have no idea where I'm gonna turn next. I have literally turned my quarters inside out trying to find one single scrap of information about what I did. Nothing. And Spock's been the opposite of helpful. It's been crazy. This is crazy." He sank down on the nearest bio-bed, grim and dismal.
"Wait a second," McCoy said. "You talked to Spock about this? As in - actually talked to him, a real conversation, not just throwing him against the nearest bulkhead and going at it?"
Jim jerked his head up, staring. "The nearest - what? Are you shitting me, what the f - "
"Okay, maybe I lied a little about the not-knowing part," McCoy shrugged. "I asked a lot in the beginning. But you told me to butt out, and after walking in on you for the second time in a row, I figured you had a handle on it and you'd tell me if you needed my clearly unwanted advice."
"A bulkhead," Jim repeatedly blankly. "Where - "
"Don't worry, I had the room totally sanitized. At least it was in sickbay, so it was probably sterile - wouldn't want you catching something from one of the common room areas, you know."
"You think that was bad, you should have seen - "
"I hate you so much," Jim told him. And this was so much worse than he could have imagined. It was one thing to have a quiet, private affair with one of your subordinates. It was another to have an openly sexual affair with a crew member where anyone could walk in on them. Apparently Jim had been out of his mind, and had compromised himself on more than one level. He'd compromised Spock. And he didn't remember a damn thing about it.
This was intolerable.
"Why didn't you report me?" he asked numbly. "That's a clear violation for the spirit of the no-harm clause on the regs. Sex in public like that - holy shit, what was I thinking?"
"You were probably thinking about the fact that Spock had nearly died two hours before that," McCoy told him gently, and Jim looked up. All drama aside, McCoy was his friend, and had clearly been in on a very big, very serious piece of the last eleven months of Jim's life. He looked quietly sympathetic. "And the observation windows in the isolation room - huh, ironically, it was this isolation room, imagine that - anyway, the windows had been shaded out. And you locked the door under your command passcodes. I wouldn't have come in at all, except I was a little irate and may have overridden your code out of spite. Believe me, I never tried that again without knocking first."
"Oh, God," Jim repeated.
"Jim," McCoy said, coming to sit next to him on the biobed. He patted his friend on the shoulder, and Jim leaned into him, numb. "It's not as bad as you're thinking. You were actually pretty discreet. As far as I know, there've been no rumors, not a word about you on board. When you consider how outrageous it would be for the Captain and First Officer to be caught in-flagranté, that's actually pretty damn impressive. To be honest, I think Uhura had a hand in it. No way to know for sure, but that woman runs lines of communication on this ship I'm not even sure should exist in the real world. And she is damn scary when she wants to be."
"So Uhura knew, too," Jim said.
McCoy shrugged philosophically. "Probably. They're still friends, from what I can see. I can't picture Spock not telling her; can you imagine how she'd react if she found out from someone else?"
"Yeah, right," Jim said with a shudder.
They sat quietly for a while, Jim miserably absorbed in rewinding back through everything he knew about himself, trying to come up with any scenario where all of this made sense. Nothing came to mind.
"So, no sob story then, I take it?" he asked at last. McCoy made a questioning noise, and Jim nudged him with an elbow, sighing. "Damn. I figured if anyone would know, you would. Spock didn't have a clue. And obviously I'm in the dark."
"Know about what? The two of you? Didn't we already - "
"More like, not the two of us. I've gone back over all my comms and records, and I can't find any mention anywhere for why I broke it off. But Spock says it was me, not him, so - "
"Wait a minute," McCoy said sharply. "You broke it off? Are you kidding me? What - why would you do that? What the hell for?"
"See, that's a great question," Jim said. "I have no idea. And if only I weren't suffering from this thing called amnesia, maybe I could tell you, but I can't. And it's driving me fucking crazy."
Okay. Round two.
"So," Jim declared, watching Spock come to rigid attention, hands cradling his PADD protectively. He noticed the terminal hadn't been fixed yet - the damage was cosmetic, probably, but pretty distinctive. He should really stop ambushing Spock in the science labs, but they came with a lock, and no way was Jim taking this anywhere near either of their private quarters. Not yet, anyway.
"When did you and Uhura stop seeing each other?"
He'd meant to start off with a slow pitch first, warm things up before he got into the really gritty side of things. Preferably before all the shouting began; he was planning to do quite a lot of that. But honestly, he just really wanted to know. He had to know.
He had to be sure he hadn't become that guy; the kind who slept with someone who was already promised to somebody else.
Spock took a quick scan of the room - no one around - before looking at Jim again. Jim returned the stare, impassive.
"This question appears to violate the privacy of a party not directly involved in our relations," Spock said. "I am reluctant to disclose the information without speaking to Lieutenant Uhura first."
"Considering it has relevance to our relations, make an exception. I don't need details; just the broad strokes. Ballpark it for me."
Spock opened his mouth, and before the words had even formed, Jim knew he was going to reach for a prevarication, a quiet in-joke about this Human colloquialism ("Ballpark, Captain? There are no ballparks aboard the Enterprise - "), and it made something inside him hurt, because he'd always loved that part of his relationship with Spock, the unacknowledged truth that they were both aware Spock could translate Human slang as well as he could formalities, and Jim wanted to hear it again, ached to hear it again, but he just couldn't stand for it right now.
"Don't," he said.
Spock closed his mouth, reoriented his thoughts, and tipped his head in a nod. No more distractions.
"I have not been involved in a romantic relationship with Nyota for approximately nine months," Spock said simply.
Jim sagged forward, relief arrowing through him. Well, at least he could say that no matter how much he'd fucked it all up before, he hadn't stepped over that line. Not that particular line.
"And as it bears on this conversation, I should disclose that it was she who initially encouraged me to approach you about a change in our association. Do not concern yourself with her wellbeing in this regard."
Jim sagged further, and turned it into a small segue, seating himself in one of the chairs.
"You're serious?" he asked, half incredulity, half amazement, but it was Spock; of course he was serious.
"I," Jim stumbled over his words. "Wow. Did I know that before?"
"You did not."
"Wow," Jim repeated. "I want to ask how that came about. Can I ask that?"
Spock considered this for a moment, coming around the terminal to seat himself across from Jim. They shared a surprisingly companionable silence as the seconds ticked by.
"I am uncertain how much to disclose," Spock said finally. "And yet I have no wish to consult Nyota as to her thoughts in this matter."
"I totally understand that, believe me," Jim commiserated. "If you can't start there, just - how did her influence have bearing on our relationship? Why did she suggest it?"
Spock considered this in further quiet. "Logically, it is most efficient to begin with Nyota's perspective. I will proceed on the assumption that she would have anticipated the need for this discussion. Prior to recent events, Nyota and I had maintained a monogamous relationship for two years, three months, and sixteen days, with intentions to pair-bond. We chose to continue in this fashion logically and efficiently. Eighty-one days prior to terminating the relationship, she requested that we initiate sexual congress for purposes of testing sexual compatibility and enhancing our commitment. I agreed."
Jim nodded along, listening, listening, and then his thoughts came to a screeching halt, because -
"Hold up," he said, and then had to sit in meditative silence while thoughts tried to make themselves into words in his brain. "Are you telling me that in the two years, three months, and whatever days before that, you'd never had sex? Together? Ever?"
"Correct," Spock said.
And Jim supposed there was really nothing to say to that, except: "Why?"
"It was not necessary to the maintenance of the relationship."
"I don't know how to tell you this, Spock," he said, except of course he did, he was saying it right now, "but most Humans do consider sexual compatibility to be a necessary part of any romantic relationship."
"That is not exclusively true," Spock corrected him, and Jim winced. Okay, yeah, that had been insensitive. Shit, what if Spock was asexual? No, clearly not, he reminded himself, they'd been going at it like rabbits and having wild homosexual 'relations' for going on six months now. He knew himself well enough to say there was no universe in which he'd allow himself to engage in sex with someone who didn't want it, and that included someone whose sexual preferences ran counter to Jim's.
Did that mean Uhura was asexual, instead? But no, she was the one who asked to step it up to the next level. Dammit, this conversation was giving Jim a headache.
"Okay, you're right, sorry. Diplomacy; not my strongest suit, as we all know. Not every Human requires or desires sex from their romantic partner. But I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that if Uhura wanted to test the waters, she expected it of you."
Jim waited, but nothing further was forthcoming. "And...?" he prodded.
"The attempts were unsuccessful," Spock shared flatly.
Jim considered commenting on that, but it really seemed to speak for itself. He considered again the lube and supplies he'd found in his quarters, considered that this was evidence for use, but not copious use. Maybe they hadn't had sex as often as Jim had been envisioning. Maybe he was making all of this up in his head.
Maybe he should just ask.
"You and I have had sex," Jim tried, testing.
"Yes," Spock agreed.
"On a scale of unsuccessful versus successful - keeping in mind that I'm not asking you to violate Uhura's privacy here - how did you and I do?"
Spock's face was granite and stone. A Human might have blushed. Not Spock.
"They were satisfactory," Spock said finally, and Jim couldn't help but laugh.
"'Satisfactory'. Oh, wow. Just how I always wanted to be rated by my partners. Satisfactory, Spock, really?"
"We have had sexual contact a total of ninety-seven-point-five times in the course of our venture into sexual relations."
Jim blinked, gaping a little bit. His brain automatically went backwards through the math. Six months - that made for sex every second day. More often, maybe. And that between off-ship missions, injuries, work, and both of their busy off-duty calendars. That was -
"Impressive," Jim managed, clearing his throat. He crossed his legs, feeling decidedly less comfortable than he had a moment ago.
"Wait," he said, scrolling back to Spock's words. "'Point-five times? Half a time? What - how can you have sex a half a time? How does that even work?"
Spock raised an eyebrow, and said nothing.
Jim crossed his legs again.
"Okay," Jim said finally, coming back to the heart of the matter. "So this all started how?"
"Nyota and I agreed that our compatibility was too low to pursue a pair-bond relationship in which the eventual goal was finalizing our intentions with marriage, or a marriage-like relationship. In the course of finalizing our discussion, she suggested I may have a preference for a partner of alternative gender, species, or race. Specifically gender. She recommended that I speak to someone of a similar preference, to determine baseline factors." Spock paused, and a quiet knife of anxiety speared through Jim. He had an unfortunate sense of where this was going now.
"And you came to me," Jim filled in. Because of course Spock had.
"I did. I had many questions."
"I've had two off-ship liaisons since taking over command of the Enterprise, that I remember, and that you know of, both of them with women, and I can't imagine a scenario in which I would have discussed my experience with men with you. At least not prior to your break-up with Uhura. So how did you know?"
"Nyota recalled an incident in which a derogatory comment was made about a relationship you were engaged in at the Academy," Spock noted. "A man named Finnegan was involved."
"Good God, no," he said, appalled. No. Never in a million years. No. "I never slept with Finnegan. I'd rather have slept with a Gorn. I'm not even kidding."
"Nyota implied something quite similar. He did, however, make reference to your relationship with Lieutenant Gary Mitchell, with whom you were well known to be involved at that time. You did not deny the implication."
Gary. Jim closed his eyes, easily reading what came next. Of course it would be Gary. Who knew how many parsecs apart, years later, and on entirely different ships, and the man still managed to screw over Jim's life. But when Jim made mistakes, he went big. And Gary had been a mistake from day one.
"Not exactly a shining moment for me," he said, raw and feeling vaguely hollowed out.
"So you later explained," Spock said simply.
Jim tried to picture it, Spock approaching him, purposeful and bristling with curiosity, ever the scientist, probably determined to drag every last answer out of Jim he could, most of the answers sexual in nature, all of them dangerous, none of them without their cost. It was easy to see, and more importantly, he liked the thought of it enough even now that he had no doubts about how he would have received Spock before. Just the thought of Spock laying out his trust for Jim to pick up and spin back to him with carefully structured information, a guide for the untouchable Vulcan, to have been asked something so very personal, skirting the edges of his own sexuality in turn, the potential of being Spock's first (first male? first everything? either way, impossibly thrilling), the possibility of it slipping through his fingers to someone else if he didn't act -
Jim knew himself, and could admit to his own faults, if only in the safety of his head. And one thing he had never lacked was initiative. And a well-primed, built-in self-destruct button.
"So you came to me for answers and like an idiot, I gave them to you. And then at some point along the line, probably a couple weeks or months after you started asking, I asked if you wanted a demonstration instead of a lecture. And you said yes." Jim stated, measurably, staring at the wall over Spock's shoulder. He felt tired, impossibly sad at chasing his own tail and realizing in the end that he had probably been chasing it all along the way. He'd practically set himself up to fail. No surprise that he had, then.
One Vulcan eyebrow went up sharply. "You remember?"
"No," Jim said. "But I'm self-aware enough to recognize when a situation is likely to trip my triggers, and this would have done it hard. Therapy is good for nothing if not self-reflection. I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess this was probably a chance I wasn't willing to let go. We're friends, after all. Friends look out for each other." And Jim had always been greedy, when it came to the things he wanted.
"I would not know," Spock said simply. "We have never spoken in this manner before. Your offer of sexual gratification and exploration was made without emotional context. Indeed, it was the equanimity and logic of the offer, removed from emotional entanglements, which initially appealed to me."
"I see," Jim said, quietly. "And the rest, as they say, is history." He gently tucked away the vicious stab of pain that Spock's words sent darting through him. Of course Spock wouldn't have wanted to deal with sentiment; not only was he a Vulcan and a scientist, but he'd recently ended a long-term relationship with a fantastic woman, and on top of that, had seemingly little or no other experience to draw from. He admired Spock's bluntness; it was actually one of his favorite things about the man. No beating around the bush. He couldn't choose to hate it now that it was working against him.
But, good Christ, that hurt. He took a few deeps breaths in and out, holding the last one quietly.
The important thing to remember was that in the end, he was no better or worse off than he'd been eleven months ago. Even if, in the intervening time, he'd managed to snag some part of Spock, it had clearly been a part that was never actually his. No harm, no foul, and all that.
Maybe there were some things worth forgetting. This could definitely be one of them.
"May I ask a question, Jim?"
Jim came back to himself and opened his eyes, calm and implacable. It was probably time he took a page out of Spock's book on this one. The Vulcan's had the right of it sometimes when it came to the sticky mess often made by emotions.
"Ask away, Spock. Not like I haven't been tromping all over your decorum asking all my questions, anyway."
"In context, I can hypothesize how you may have discovered you were engaged in a sexual relationship during the period of time you cannot recall. Possibly Dr. McCoy may have even informed you of this, as he would have issued you the anti-infection shots you required, in the same manner he did myself. But how did you surmise that the liaison was with me? Upon review, none of the items still in your quarters could have been definitively identified as mine. I had taken care to restrict my interactions with you, and I do not believe I have acted in any way inappropriately with regards to our friendship in the past twenty-one days. I conclude that definite evidence was available to you that I was not privy to. I wish to know what it was."
So, clearly Spock wasn't aware he'd submitted his status to HQ under Regulation 1138. Jim filed this away. At least it appeared he'd managed to keep a few important details to himself in the last eleven months, hadn't managed to cock the entire thing up by blowing it totally out of proportion to anyone but himself. It was a good reminder that he'd need to amend his HQ status, anyway. Clearly he was no longer in danger of violating the fraternization regs at this time. He'd certainly removed that little problem.
"There were one or two things, but in the end they didn't matter," Jim admitted, shrugging. "I knew it had to be you."
"How did you come to this conclusion?"
"It couldn't have been anyone else," he said simply.
Spock digested this in silence.
"I do not understand," he said finally.
"I know you don't. I think that was probably the point."
And life went on. Jim tamped down on his brooding, and made real efforts to get out of his quarters. He'd said once before to McCoy, without quite realizing the irony of it, that it wasn't possible to miss what he couldn't remember; clearly that was a load of bullshit. And that was never more clear for Jim than it was in the days following his conversation with Spock.
But it didn't matter. There was no going back, so he had to go forward. And there was a lot to be going forward with.
They arrived ahead of schedule at Starbase 16 for restocking, repairs, and leave - Scotty finally got to run his beloved engines through their maintenance cycle - and while they were grounded, Jim marched himself down to the battery of tests and psychological evals awaiting him. He wanted command of his ship back. It was time to convince the brass that an eleven month gap in memory did not an invalid make. He wasn't brain-injured, he'd just had a remarkably forgettable year. Quite literally.
"Well, I see you're pulling out all the stops," McCoy commented, eyeing him, and Jim tugged at the neck of his dress uniform, uncomfortably aware he was maybe overdoing it. Just a little. "That collar could strangle the breath out of an ox. We better hurry this up before you fade away in a dead faint. I'll have to bring my smelling salts, just in case."
"You're hilarious, Bones, really."
"Relax, kid. If HQ wanted you gone, you'd already know about it. They've had better excuses than this to take the Enterprise away from you, and they haven't yet."
"They did once," Jim said.
"Yeah, for like a day. Clearly someone's looking out for you. If they try and make waves, just remind them what happened to the last Admiral that got in your way. Khan wasn't exactly gentle with him."
"Somehow I don't think bringing that up will help my cause."
"Just tell them it's proof you still remember all the important stuff."
In spite of his teasing, McCoy was a true friend, and cajoled Jim endlessly out of his brooding mostly by bullying him relentlessly until it was clearly just easier to give in. Jim tried not to think about how dearly he missed Spock during the whole sorry affair, because his absence was like an open wound that couldn't be bandaged over and healed by the power of the good doctor's sarcasm, no matter how many times McCoy tried. In another universe, it might have been the three of them weathering this together, the cool touch of logic smoothing over all the rough edges so Jim could stop acting calm, and actually be calm. But that wasn't this universe.
"Kirk, you must understand Starfleet's position," Commander Monroe said, all friendliness and false camaraderie. "You've managed to lose almost an entire year of your command aboard the Enterprise. It's commendable that you've clearly dedicated yourself to relearning past events since your injury, but no amount of mission logs can replace actual experience."
"Commander, my injury was sustained in the line of duty, and my CMO has submitted a medical report clearing me to return to my command position. I think I've made it clear during this evaluation that nothing was lost that affects my ability to command the Enterprise. I might have one year less than everybody else in this five-year mission, but when Starfleet first gave me command of the Enterprise, I was no better or worse off than I am today. I was Captain two years ago, and one year ago, and one month ago. Nothing's changed."
"Your psych evaluations show a notable difference in the man you are today compared to the man you were a month ago. In spite of your rather poetic declaration, Kirk, Starfleet is of the opinion that those lost memories do actually matter."
"I didn't say they didn't matter, Commander," Jim said calmly. "I said they didn't change anything. And all due respect, sir, but the right to command my ship wasn't on the line a month ago."
Monroe considered this in silence, beady eyes evaluating him with grudging approval. Jim forced himself to stay at attention.
"Well, I suppose no Captain worth their salt wouldn't have a thing or two to say about losing a ship under these circumstances," Monroe mused aloud. He reached for a PADD on his desk and skimmed through one of the documents loaded on it. "And as it turns out, HQ agrees with you."
"Sir?" Jim questioned, hardly daring to hope.
"You'll be conditionally restored to your command, pending another month of medical observation. If, at the end of the month, your CMO confirms the effects of your injury are still self-contained, your status will be amended and you'll be considered free and clear. Starfleet put the Enterprise in your hands when you were just a wet-behind-the-ears-cadet," Monroe said with a sardonic little grin. "I suppose they could hardly object to giving her back to you even after you've had a few brain cells shaken loose."
"I - really? I mean, thank you, sir," Jim said, elated.
"Don't thank me. Thank that First Officer of yours. Headquarters was willing to be convinced, but the personal assessments he prepared from your bridge crew were the final touch. Clearly you've earned the loyalty of the men and women under your command, Kirk. Don't take it for granted."
"I won't," Jim said, stunned. Spock had arranged that? How? When?
"Do me a favor; in the future maybe try and avoid getting shot," Monroe said, waving a negligent hand at him. "Dismissed."
"Thank you, sir," he repeated, and left before he could embarrass himself further.
Command was his again. The Enterprise was his again. His crew had gone to bat for him. Spock had gone to bat for him.
For the first time since this entire debacle had begun, Jim felt almost whole again.
He celebrated by getting passably drunk, and ended up dancing the night away with Uhura, Sulu, two unknowns whose names he later learned, three of the starbase personnel, one civilian trader, and Bones. He vaguely recalled trying to convince Scotty a dance was called for, but apparently his chief engineer was a one-woman man, and her name was Enterprise.
The aftermath was not nearly so much fun as the moment had been.
"Kill me," he implored McCoy piteously the next morning.
"And miss all your bitching and whining? It's tempting. But no. I'd rather you suffer."
"I knew you were a sadist," Jim accused him.
"Well, today's a good day."
"Please tell me I didn't try and drag you under the mistletoe with me," Jim begged, a bleary recollection of that very event unfolding in his mind. Wow, it had been a long time since he'd gotten so sloshed. But everyone had to let off a bit of steam sometimes, and Jim was pretty sure he was entitled. Just this once. "Please tell me I'm remembering that wrong."
"You're remembering it wrong," McCoy said obligingly.
"It was Spock," the good doctor continued heartlessly.
"Fuck, no. Oh, fuck no."
"Yeah. Luckily he stood his ground. I can't imagine how awkward that would have been. Sickbay-bulkhead-version-2.0. But don't worry, it's not like you singled him out. I think you tried to drag everyone there under the mistletoe. I think I might actually be the only exception." He paused and seemed to consider this insult, frowning intensely. "Huh. I'm a little hurt."
"Jesus," Jim said, now actually a little alarmed. "Tell me I didn't. What the hell?"
"Okay, I'm lying," McCoy admitted. "Even under the influence of alcohol poisoning, you were remarkably professional. No one got pulled under the mistletoe, because there was no mistletoe. Jesus, you're so easy sometimes, Jim."
"You're such an asshole," Jim said, genuinely irritated.
"There's a joke about a pot and a kettle in there. One thing, though, in all seriousness. You have really got to tone it down with the whole Spock thing. Whether you've ended it or not, discretion is still called for, you know? And you couldn't take your eyes off him last night."
"Are you being serious right now?" Jim asked, wary. "Was Spock actually there? Why would Spock even be on the station? He hates taking leave. Last time we had leave he spent the entire three days holed up in astrometrics, compiling star charts for data processing. I think he actually enjoyed himself. It was a little disturbing."
"No, he didn't."
"He didn't enjoy himself?"
"He didn't hole up in the lab last shoreleave. He went down on rotation and spent three nights off-ship doing I-don't-want-to-know-what with you on Rigel. And the two of you were thick as thieves for the two leaves before that, too."
Jim stared at him, squinting, and tried to parse out whether he was still lying or not. "Really?"
"Really. A couple months back, the two of you joined a small science expedition hiking a dormant volcano in their mountainous region. God knows why, but you did; I thought you were crazy, but apparently a good time was had by all."
Jim frowned. This did not exactly fit with the picture Spock had painted, of their relationship based solely in sex and sexual exploration. Not that one couldn't have sex on shore leave, but - and science expeditions usually weren't Jim's favorite pass-time on leave. Not something he would have chosen for himself, anyway. He hesitated. This would have made more sense if he was seeing someone for something other than sex. But he and Spock had always been friends; maybe this had just been a companionable outing. And yet there was a difference between friends who enjoyed one another's company, and friends for whom he'd give up a shore leave to go gallivanting through mountain ranges. Not really his idea of rest and relaxation. And with a group of other scientists, no less.
"Oh, can we please not do this again?" McCoy asked plaintively.
"What? Do what again?"
"You have that look on your face. That 'what-the-hell' look. And seriously, I don't want to know. If you're about to have an epiphany, go have it somewhere else. I'm busy."
Jim stood up, still thinking, made it halfway to the door and stopped. "Bones. I know you said you don't know anything, but - did you ever wonder about Spock and me? How it happened?"
"No," McCoy said simply. "I didn't need to know anything about it except that you seemed to be happy. Color me shocked that you managed to somehow screw yourself over on that one, but even I can admit you had a good thing going. But watch yourself, or the rest of the crew will know it shortly, too. Eyes in front, Jim."
"Right," he muttered distractedly, and left. Halfway between his quarters and the bridge, he stopped. He wasn't due for shift today - they were down to a skeleton crew while they were on 'base - but a large part of Jim ached desperately for the familiar, long-absent comfort of the captain's chair, the heart of his command, where he hoped he might finally find some peace, and begin to feel whole again. But there was another ache still circling inside Jim, and today at least, it sat more heavily on his shoulders than his beloved ship. The Enterprise had waited almost a month for her captain; she could wait just one more day.
Jim tapped the nearest terminal and asked the computer for Spock's location. He, like Jim, was back aboard ship. And it was time for answers.