The war was over, and Kirk was nowhere to be found.
The personnel tracking system was offline, as were most of the nonessential programs and a few of the essential ones (dannae worry, the strange new engineer kept assuring him, if this works the way I think it should, we'll all be fine!). The forward viewing screen was cracked, but the secondary bridge was being used to house refugees; the expanse of space in front of them was distorted and strange.
Vulcan was no longer there to take its place among the planets and stars. Perhaps the sky would never seem familiar again.
He gave Chekhov command of the bridge, took one last look around to assure himself that the personnel remaining were capable of staying awake and functioning until he returned, and went to hunt down their errant captain.
He wasn't in the captain's quarters. Spock realized, as he took in the sight of Pike's belongings still unpacked in their bags and boxes, that Kirk had not been assigned a room.
Engineer Scott had not seen him recently, and seemed vaguely perturbed that Spock was inquiring. "Isn't strangling the man once enough for you?"Spock helped to put out an electrical fire and then continued his search.
He passed by the secondary bridge and the cargo bay that they were outfitting to house the Vulcan refugees. His father would be there. If Kirk was there, then Spock would find him when he decided to return to the main areas of the ship.
Eventually he found Kirk in Sickbay.
"If none of this had happened," he heard Kirk mumble, his voice as unsteady as his precarious attempts to remain sitting upright on the bed, "then my dad—he would've seen me graduate. And I'd've still been captain, but not…not like this. I would've earned it." McCoy put a hand on Kirk's shoulder and continued to scan him. "I killed the fucker that got my dad."
Kirk turned towards him. The bruising on his face was extensive, and it had gotten worse since Spock had last seen him. His neck was black and blue and one of his eyes had almost swollen shut. "Hey, Spock. You need me for something?"
"I trust you are…" Unhurt? Functioning? He did not know what he had been hoping to confirm with his visual assessment of Kirk's situation, but seeing him in this bruised and battered state made his intentions seem irrelevant and futile. "Mr. Scott is getting the ship underway, and has made significant progress in boosting our communication signals. Lieutenant Uhura is working with him to transmit an account of our experiences to the main fleet." Kirk nodded and sat forward; McCoy's hand on his shoulder kept him from rising. "There are no immediate concerns that demand your attention, Captain."
"I'm still the captain?" Kirk's voice was rough. Spock had not gotten the opportunity to hear the man speak on very many occasions, but he—he knew that he was the reason that Kirk sounded so pained. He was responsible for a great many of Kirk's injuries. His hand curled in an unconscious curve, remembering the way Kirk's neck had tensed and twisted in his grip.
"Yes, sir. You are still the captain. Until you decree otherwise."
"I'm taking him off active duty." McCoy held up a hypospray to cut off Kirk's protest. "You've cracked about half your ribs Jim, and I'm not entirely convinced that the repeated strangling hasn't done you any permanent brain damage."
"You've been saying that for years."
"Maybe if you hadn't been dropped on your head so many times as an infant, your brain scans would be easier to read."
Kirk was listing against McCoy's side. A habitual weight sharing that neither of them seemed to notice, an arrangement that predated this trip and these injuries. A longstanding friendship. Not for the first time Spock felt like an outsider, an observer; he felt apart.
"Spock—we really did it, didn't we?"
"Yes," he confirmed. They had saved Earth. They had defeated Nero. They had lost Vulcan. Spock had lost his mother; they had killed the Romulan who had killed Kirk's father. "It all…it all happened."
Perhaps in the alternate universe, in the time stream not altered by Nero's fury-fueled revenge, Kirk wouldn't be wearing Spock's bruises and both of them would have full sets of proud parents. Perhaps in this time stream Spock or Kirk or both of them would decide to take retaliation for Nero's actions and find their way across space and time to make Nero suffer more, suffer again, suffer knowing that his pain came at their hands.
"Please keep me appraised of his status, Dr. McCoy."
The viewscreen was still cracked and Chekhov's status reports were even more accented and unintelligible than usual and Uhura's calm presence behind him was less of a comfort than it used to be.
The entire universe had been irrevocably changed.
Sickbay was quiet; the only occupied bed was Kirk's. Spock had not been down since their ceremonial tour of the facilities before the launch of their current five year voyage, when they had been shadowed by news outlets and floating holocams. The space seemed smaller and more utilitarian without the added flashes of lights and curious bodies.
McCoy was sitting at Kirk's bedside. "I hope this doesn't become a habit for him."
It was only their second mission, and Kirk had already taken an energy pulse intended for Sulu. Spock had beamed in during the resulting fight. The smell of burning flesh had hung heavy in the air. Kirk's hair was burnt at the edges, his eyebrows were singed, his skin had been tight and red and fragile.
"I fear it will be, if the captain's overdeveloped sense of responsibility continues to grow apace with his new authority."
McCoy let go of Kirk's hand and ran his hands through his hair. It stood up on end, a haphazard frame to his tired face. "He always did care more than was good for him."
Spock, who had never been accused of feeling too much of anything, before he met Kirk, knew exactly to what McCoy was referring. "The crew idolizes him. They will do their best to protect him."
"We all will. I just…I don't know if that's enough."
They held a silent vigil next to Kirk's bed as the night passed, the only prayer the hum of the machine regenerating Kirk's nerve endings and repairing the worst of the subdural damage.
"We'll keep him safe," McCoy said, as the next shift of medical personnel arrived in the morning.
Kirk looked so young. Spock didn't understand how the addition of Kirk's awareness and personality could transform him into such an irresistible, undeniable force. Asleep, he seemed fragile. Vulnerable. Human.
"I will endeavor to keep him safe to the best of my abilities, Doctor."
Spock returned to the bridge and McCoy stayed by Jim's side during his off hours, sending Spock periodic updates.
Apparently, chocolate was an aphrodisiac to Vulcans, and the mug of dark cocoa that Spock had imbibed was significantly lowering his inhibitions and inciting his libido.
Kirk tasted delicious.
"Oh, lord—Bones, can't you stick him with something?"
"Like your cock," Spock murmured, biting deeper into the flesh of Kirk's neck. He was not averse to the prospect of McCoy joining their activities. He liked the doctor, liked his prickly demeanor, appreciated his professional competence and wanted to taste his mouth and strip the clothes from his body.
"Stop," Kirk said crankily, endeavoring to remove Spock from his personal space. Spock twisted against him and they ended up on the ground; he could see a forest of feet surrounding them; could smell McCoy nearby, under the unpleasant stench of bleach and medical supplies.
He ground his erection against Kirk's thigh and felt a corresponding response in Kirk's anatomy. Kirk's cock felt perfect in his hand. The heat of it was barely diluted by the layers of uniform between Spock's palm and Kirk's erection. He squeezed his hand and ground his body down harder, feeling unaccountably proud of the whimper that Kirk let out.
Kirk's neck tasted like salt and skin and sweat, the tang of sodium only serving to highlight the intoxicating hormones that were distinctly Kirk. He dug his teeth in and murmured his approval when Kirk arched in his grip.
"McCoy—Bones, are you gonna—can you—"
He rolled them over again. Kirk seemed to enjoy being on top; Spock's grip on his hips was enough to keep him grinding steadily in the rhythm that most suited Spock's attempts to work them both to completion. Kirk's lips were swollen and Spock didn't know how he had neglected them so long.
He smelled McCoy moving closer to them and kissed Kirk fiercely, darting away from his mouth to nip at McCoy's fingers when the doctor reached out for him. He moaned at the rough texture of McCoy's callused skin under his tongue.
The hypospray did not come as a complete surprise, but he was disappointed that the effects of its contents diluted his arousal before he could make Kirk orgasm.
He let Kirk go with an unhappy groan, scowling up at McCoy.
"Let's—let's cancel the hot chocolate for Christmas," Kirk gasped, rolling onto his back and lying next to Spock while he caught his breath.
Spock, with the clarity that was coming back to him second by second, reached out for Kirk's hand and entwined it with his own.
"Happy holidays," McCoy muttered.
Kirk's fingers squeezed his tightly for a long moment.
He could still taste the bittersweet flavors on his tongue; he could still taste Kirk. He closed his eyes and let the last of the sensation linger.
The next time that the ship was attacked, the enemies had their schematics, and they concentrated their assaults on several key locations. The shields on the bridge and the hanger bays held up; the defenses on the warp drives weakened, but held steady. The shields protecting the sickbay however, had—had failed.
The first thing Spock heard when he got off the turbolift was screaming. Human voices raised in pain and terror, the wail of an Orion woman, and then obliterating all of those voices came the searing sound of metal twisting apart. The damage was still being done.
He joined the teams from engineering that were repairing the hull breaches and containing the fires; his superior strength and quick reflexes helped to avert further disasters. Eventually he realized Kirk was at his side, hydrospanner and fire extinguisher in his hands. They worked in tandem, taking turns responding to requests from the bridge for commands and passcodes, putting out fires and welding metal supports back into place.
When the worst of the danger was contained and the only major repairs left to be done were on the complex organic systems of the injured crew members, Spock realized that he had not seen McCoy.
"Bones," Kirk whispered, his voice full of the tense undertones that Spock had learned to recognize as fear.
McCoy was hurt. The midsection of his blue uniform was stained a dark purple. There was blood coating his hand, and it dripped down onto the tricorder he was holding.
"Bones, for fuck's safe—stop working for one goddamn second!"
Kirk pulled the tricorder from his hands and Spock caught the man when he fell. He didn't know what to do with him. There were no empty beds, half of sickbay was just…gone. The other doctors and nurses who were still upright were tending to the critically injured. McCoy, until their interference, had been operating under his own power. There was no one to help McCoy but them.
McCoy's blood was pumping out under the firm pressure of Spock's fingers; wet and warm and slick. He felt a disorienting synesthesia; underneath the panic and smoke and pain, he could taste the blood. The sensitive pads of his fingers were awash in the sensation.
"They don't need us on the bridge," Kirk said. "Sulu has things under control. We'll do the most good here."
Spock was applying pressure to McCoy's wounds and reeling from the pain that his touch-sensitive empathy was absorbing. He couldn't let go; he couldn't stand firm under the barrage of emotion. Kirk's fingers moved to cover his and Spock stood firm, supported by the bulwark of Kirk's strength.
Spock followed Kirk's directions, carrying McCoy to the makeshift infirmary on deck six. He reluctantly let go of McCoy and helped Kirk interpret the tricorder's readings.
McCoy occasionally swam back to consciousness and spent most of energy calling them both insulting names. Kirk responded by smoothing back the hair on McCoy's forehead. When Kirk was too occupied to provide the comforting gesture, Spock took it upon himself to provide it.
When McCoy was finally stabilized—a thick white bandage wrapped around his stomach and a portable dermal regenerator attached precariously to the side of his makeshift cot—Spock slid down onto the floor to sit in a cross-legged position by McCoy's side.
"He'll be okay," Kirk said. Spock nodded and leaned his head against the cot. Eventually Kirk sat down next to him. "Is it ever going to get easier?"
Spock didn't know. He just hoped it wouldn't get any harder.
"Bones?" Kirk poked his head into McCoy's office. Spock stood behind him, his hands clasped behind his back, ‘keeping a lookout.'
"I'm working, damnit!"
Kirk pushed the door further open and waved Spock inside. "Chapel already told us that you've been working for twelve straight hours. You can either let us distract you, or she's going to tranquilize you. And then have her wicked way with you."
"I do not believe she mentioned that," Spock interjected.
Kirk rolled his eyes. "Subtext, Spock."
McCoy set his PADD down rather too firmly on his desk and swiveled around in his chair to glare at them. "And what exactly have I done to earn a visit from my two senior officers?"
"We're bored," Kirk said. Spock was actually far from bored—he had a backlog of scientific journal articles that he'd flagged for reading when he had free time—but Kirk's proposed diversion had taken precedence. "And we want to have sex with you."
McCoy's eyes protruded unnaturally far out of their sockets. "I'm sorry—what now?"
"Intercourse," Spock explained. "Kirk thinks it would be beneficial for all of us if we attempted to initiate a romantic and sexual relationship, and I agree."
"Are you on crack? Or—Jim, did you feed him chocolate again? If this is a joke, I'll write you both up for sexual harassment, and then kick your ass. Asses. Your collective ass."
"As pleasant as that might be for all of us," Spock responded, having some idea of what sexual activities all three of them might find enjoyable, "I can assure you that our intentions are honorable, and that my mental state is unaltered."
"C'mon, Bones. Tell me you haven't thought about it. Tell me you're not interested, and we'll leave and go make out without you." Spock stared at Kirk's lips. He remembered what they tasted like, how easily the sweet flesh had given way underneath his teeth.
"This isn't happening," McCoy muttered, rubbing his eyes. There were dark circles underneath them. Chapel hadn't been exaggerating, McCoy was overworking himself.
Kirk stepped towards him and took one of McCoy's hands in his own. "This has been a long time coming, Bones."
When they kissed, Spock felt that perhaps he had miscalculated. Perhaps this relationship was not meant to be a threesided endeavor; perhaps the preexisting connection between Kirk and McCoy—the banter and mutual history and shared experiences—was a primary bond. Spock did not think he was capable of taking a secondary position.
Kirk and McCoy—they looked aesthetically pleasing together. Their similarities were undeniable, their differences only serving to highlight the beauty of their coming together. When Kirk pulled away, his lips wet with McCoy's saliva, Spock could not convince himself to leave.
When Jim gestured for him to come forward, he obeyed his captain's command. Jim sat down on the desk and pulled Spock into the V of his spread thighs, his back to Jim's chest. McCoy stood before him and smiled at him. It was an expression that Spock was unfamiliar with, an expression he did not have time to appropriately analyze because McCoy—Leonard—Bones—
Spock was being kissed, deeply and thoroughly, McCoy's hands tilting his head and his tongue slipping between Spock's lips. Kirk's hands came to rest on his hips, and for the second time Spock was almost overwhelmed by the influx emotion surging into him. McCoy's sharp and aggressive mind clashed against Spock's hard-won serenity, Kirk's quick and brilliant mind slipped between Spock's rigid mental walls.
McCoy was tugging at Spock's bottom lip and Kirk was kissing his neck. Spock drank in their affection and care and arousal and fed it back to them, broadcasting his desire and relief and a new and unfamiliar sense of safety.