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Chapter Seven

2371-2372 - Prime Universe

Two weeks.

That was how long they'd had on Earth together, before Spock had to return to Romulus.

Two weeks of a second honeymoon of sorts, two weeks of walking through San Francisco and camping in Yosemite and making love and waking up in each other's arms.

It was not enough.

"I cannot abandon my efforts on Romulus," Spock reminded him, just before he left. "That they not only accept my presence there, but allowed me to come here and return, is a very good sign."

"No one else can do it?"

"Perhaps," Spock allowed. "However, no one else has stepped forward, particularly no one with my history with the Empire. They are just beginning to trust me, Jim. An absence too far extended will damage that trust."

Jim sighed. "I understand. I don't like it, but I understand."

"I will speak to the Praetor," Spock assured him. "I will ask the Senate to let you travel there as freely as I do. I am not choosing between you and my work, Jim. I promise you that."

Jim nodded, though he was inwardly dubious. He'd only rarely met Romulans in his own time, and didn't have the negative history with them he had with Klingons, but he didn't particularly want to live on Romulus either.

He would, though. Hell, he'd live on Qo'noS with the Klingons if Spock decided Qo'noS was where he should stay.

"I will send you messages as frequently as I am able," Spock said, taking his hand. "Live transmissions will be highly unlikely, considering the distance between Romulus and Earth and that neither side is willing to let civilians have easy access to communications between the Federation and the Empire, but I will still send you messages."

Jim nodded again, holding onto Spock's hand. "I'll look forward to hearing from you," he replied, dredging up a smile.

God. Watching his parents constantly saying goodbye when he was a child had made him determined to never be the one left behind. His mother had always loved him and his brother, but he could see she was missing part of herself with his father gone.

Now he stood in exactly her position. He didn't even have children and a job on Earth to occupy himself. What would he do with Spock gone?

Spock seemed to catch the thought. "Do you have plans for yourself during my absence?" he asked.

"I'll come up with something," Jim replied. His dredged-up smile from earlier now felt more like a grimace.

Spock surveyed him dubiously, but he let it go. Jim made no protests as Spock picked up his luggage to head to the spaceport. This business with the Romulans was important to Spock, and Jim didn't want to ruin it.

Jim managed to keep his misgivings to himself as he kissed Spock goodbye at the spaceport and watched him walk away, but the truthfully, he had no idea what to do with himself.

He had just...never thought about life after Starfleet. Honestly, through most of his career, he'd frankly assumed he'd never live long enough to retire. As they'd gotten closer to the decommissioning of the Enterprise-A, people had kept asking him what he planned to do afterwards. His flippant answer had usually been that he would only have time enough to figure out what to do after it happened.

Well, now here he was, and he still had to figure out something to do. He couldn't live the rest of his life just lazing around without going crazy, and he couldn't base it around Spock; Spock's absence right now made that obvious.

He rubbed his forehead. Well, that's useful, he thought. I've decided I need to decide something. Good job, me.

But he didn't have to decide right now. Starfleet of this time had asked him to come in for a debriefing, and he'd put the meeting off while Spock was there, but now seemed as good a time as any to get that done. Who knew, maybe they would even have a consulting position of some kind open.

Or he could teach. He hadn't taught in decades, but he hadn't been too bad at teaching a couple tactics and command courses when he was younger. Surely tactics and command hadn't changed too much over the decades.

So he set up an appointment with the admiralty, and went back to live with Scotty for awhile. Staying in Spock's apartment was one thing when Spock lived there with him, but he couldn't stay there alone. Not when he knew the place had originally been obtained for Spock and Saavik together.

He'd have to get a place of his own, too. Spock had all his old stuff, but had put everything in storage. He'd have to get the lot out and set up his apartment all over again.

But in the meantime, he'd stay with Scotty. Scotty beamed when Jim asked to stay with him again, and something inside him relaxed to have around one of the last links he had to his old life.


The admiralty did not know what to do with him.

The officers covering his debriefing were Vice Admirals Rossa and Blackwell and Rear Admiral Coburn. Not that those names meant anything to him; he had no idea who they were. At one time he'd known every single admiral personally; now the only one he could say he knew was Saavik, and she had left Earth to oversee her sector.

They stared at him for the first few minutes of his interview, and he looked impassively back at them. Finally, one -- Rossa, he thought -- said, "Forgive us, Captain. It's not every day that history comes to life for us. Thank you for coming."

"Of course," he replied. "And I assure you, this is just as strange for me as it is for you."

"I'm sure," Rossa agreed, smiling sympathetically. "You've likely heard this many times since you came to this century, but could you please tell us your story?"

Jim suppressed a sigh, because he certainly had heard that request many times already. But he launched into the story, with no hint of weariness at the question. He had, at least, grown very practiced with the story, and barely had to think about his words anymore.

"Remarkable," Blackwell said when he finished. She drummed her fingers against her desk. "We never would have guessed you'd been drawn into the Nexus from the Enterprise-B."

He'd heard that many times by now, but he was starting to wonder why no one had guessed. Yes, they thought he'd been sucked into vacuum, but they hadn't been very far beyond Earth's solar system, and vacuum didn't destroy bodies on its own. Had no one even tried to look for him? Any starship's systems could have found organic material out in space.

The thought depressed him, and he tried not to dwell too deeply on the implications.

"What are your plans now?" Coburn asked.

Everyone wanted to know his plans -- including Jim. "I haven't made any yet," he responded politely. "I haven't been here very long, after all. I only had some vague ideas about teaching. I've taught tactics and command before, though it's been awhile."

Rossa and Blackwell exchanged looks. "Captain," Blackwell said, "perhaps you might want to wait on teaching. The galaxy has changed quite a bit in the years you've been...away."

Rossa noddd. "Tactics acceptable in your era are...less so, now. We're more an era of diplomats than frontiersmen."

Or, in other words, no thanks. "In that case, I'm glad I lived and served when I did," he said. "Diplomacy was never my forte."

Rossa smiled at him. "I haven't heard you were so bad," she replied. "Don't give up on teaching entirely, Captain. It just might be a better idea for you to be more familiar with this time before you try."

"Yes, that's probably best," Jim agreed. He'd been trying to catch himself up, but so much happened in eighty years. The overall tone of a time period hadn't even been something he'd thought about, but now it was yet another thing to take into account.

So much had happened. So much he had missed. Would he ever be able to catch up?

"I suppose being out of date means there's nothing else Starfleet might have for me? Consultation work of some sort, maybe?"

But Rossa shook her head before he even finished his sentence. "We would like to be able to offer you work of that sort, Captain," she said. "Unfortunately, the same excuse does indeed apply. We need people who are up to date, not eighty years behind."

Jim wasn't surprised, but he was disappointed. He'd been hoping Starfleet would have something to offer him. He'd given more than forty years of his life to the service, and now they had nothing to give back?

Well, they did have something. Before the interview closed, Coburn offered in Starfleet's name to get him an apartment, since he'd gone missing on Starfleet's time and the least they could do was offer him a place to live.

Very gracious of them, Jim thought as he left. Why, you'd never guess they were one of the most powerful organizations in the Federation. All they could do for an old hero was find him an apartment.

He would take them up on it, at least. Beyond a place to live, though, he had no ideas.

He'd given his life to Starfleet, and not even in an occupation he could adapt to civilian life. Oh, he could get a merchant ship, he supposed, and go freelance. It would keep him in the sky, keep him seeing new places.

Or rather, already established places. Merchants didn't go exploring -- they had to go where people lived. Merchants didn't command crews of hundreds; particularly fortunate ones with unusually large operations had maybe a couple dozen. Merchants' lives could be hazardous, given the prevalence of piracy, but they remained ill-equipped to help themselves. Merchants were the protected, not the protectors.

Jim wasn't sure he had it in him to be a merchant.

He had another consideration before he could decide anything -- Spock. Spock, who spent most of his time on Romulus, but perhaps would need to be doing some other traveling as a Federation Ambassador.

Whatever occupation he settled on would have to let him stay near Spock. He hadn't been willing to let them spend most of their time apart when he was younger, and he definitely would not tolerate that now, when he had so little in his life besides Spock. So any work he found pretty much had to be something he could do anywhere. Staying with Spock was more important than staying in the sky.

Just as well Starfleet had declined his tentative teaching proposition. He didn't want to be tied to Earth anyway.

But the question remained -- just what could he do? His entire life had been Starfleet -- was he even suited to anything else?


Scotty had helped him move into his new apartment, but he hadn't unpacked yet. He'd gotten his old furniture delivered, but tables and chairs and boxes still spread out around the apartment. At least this one had more floor space.

The place felt even emptier without Spock, especially as he woke in the morning, in the bed he'd shared with Spock for all the years of their marriage when they stayed in San Francisco, automatically reaching out for someone who wasn't there. He'd woken with a start when his arm had unexpectedly encountered nothing. It had not been the best start to his day.

Scotty had to spend the rest of the day in class and at work, so Jim spent his time arranging what furniture he could move by himself. He decided to just leave the things he couldn't move. He wasn't sure he wanted to arrange everything completely without Spock's input, anyway, since he at least hoped Spock would be spending some of his time there with Jim.

Sometime in the afternoon, he checked his brand-new inbox. He hoped to find a message from Spock, but unexpectedly found a message from Deanna Troi instead. He smiled as he watched it -- she only talked about life on the Enterprise, some quirky missions they'd been on recently, but she had reached out. He hadn't quite been expecting her, or anyone, to do that.

But the pleasant buzz induced by Troi's message had faded by the time he went to bed, sliding alone into the cold sheets. He fell asleep quickly, and he dreamed of the Nexus. When he woke up, he raised a hand to rub his eyes and found his face wet.

He angrily set about making his coffee that morning, almost spilling it when he set the mug down too hard against the table with his breakfast.

Why was he still thinking about the Nexus? Still dreaming about it? He had left the Nexus, and good riddance. No matter what his life had been like there, he needed to live in the real world. He had to think of how he intended to live in the real world. He had no time for Nexus dreams.

Especially because his life no longer consisted of that kind of peace and joy.


Over the next few weeks, he did receive messages from Spock, talking about his efforts on Romulus to get them to accept him, and to get them to accept Jim. He also got more messages from Troi, and some from Picard, Riker, and Guinan.

He immersed himself in stories about the travels of the Enterprise, though he did go back several times to rewatch Spock's message, just to see his face and hear his voice. He didn't particularly like the content -- Spock had seemed tired, and he struggled with the Romulan Senate, which remained reluctant to work with the Federation at all.

As he'd predicted, the senators had been offended he and Saavik had separated in order for him to have Jim back. Never mind that they didn't even consider Saavik a citizen, and would treat her as they would anyone else from the Federation if they came across her -- she was still half-Romulan, and Jim was entirely human.

The situation confirmed Jim's distaste for politics. He just hoped they would come around soon. Spock needed someone at his side, someone who could watch his back. He should not be working there alone.

He continued to try to catch up to the time period -- he thought he'd made it through the main technological advancements by this time, and the most successful medical achievements, which included the elimination of the headache. He had the history of Earth and Vulcan, plus the history of the treaty with the Klingon Empire and the significant events with the Klingons.

And of course, he updated himself on the Romulans. They had been very insular in his time -- he'd only encountered them a few times. They had a more active presence in the galaxy now, though continued to be still arrogant and insular, from what he could tell. He certainly wished Spock luck with them -- he would need it.

But he still had so much history to read up on, an almost overwhelming amount. Jim only managed to keep reading by picking one topic at a time and not thinking about how very much there still was for him to learn.

He sent messages back to Spock and the people on the Enterprise, who were at least beginning to be his friends. He didn't have much to tell them and so kept his letters short, but they didn't seem to mind. Spock sent his messages faithfully, and Jim glowed inwardly every time he received one, even before he opened it. The Enterprise crew continued to send him stories of their adventures, and he devoured them, always wanting more.

He started looking up their past missions, because sometimes they would reference something he had no idea about -- reading about Q had been an interesting experience; the Q quite reminded him of Trelane and other "omnipotent" beings he had met. Picard had had command of the Enterprise for seven years at this point, and the ship had continued its reputation of encountering some of the strangest things in the galaxy. Its mission files were very interesting reading.

God, he missed his own Enterprise. He missed exploring the galaxy with his friends at his back and at his side. Reading the messages from the Enterprise crew gave rise to a curious feeling of combined pain and nostalgia, but the nostalgia outweighed the pain just enough for him to eagerly keep reading. That, or his masochistic streak was rising again.

But he kept reading about the Enterprise's adventures. It was, quite depressingly, the highlight of his day.


"--the Senate continues to be stubborn, but I am sure soon they will see the logic of my proposal. You never were anything more than an honored opponent, and that more than a century ago. There are still some Romulans alive who remember our encounters with them, and even they can find nothing bad to say about you but that you are human and Federation. Only tradition keeps them from giving way, I think.

"But Jim, you say little about your life now. I know it is not as exciting as it once was, but you handled life on Earth well during your tenure as an admiral.

"And you have told me little of how your search for a new career path goes. Jim, you know you are not suited for an idle life. You need to occupy yourself. You need to have a purpose. Have you considered --"

Jim switched off the message again. As happy as it made him to hear from Spock, could he do anything but nag about Jim's plans?

And he'd dreamed of the Nexus again last night. Of Antonia, and sleeping in her arms, her body soft with a woman's curves, and human-warm. He'd woken up curled around his pillow, which was damp.

Sometimes he went for walks around San Francisco to clear his head. The bright orange colors of fall began to replace the verdant green of summer. The fog cleared up more often, but the air remained cold, even under a completely sunny sky. He'd walk through Golden Gate Park, looking at that landmark, unchanging bridge, and for a few moments could believe he was back in his own time, and he only had to go back home to see Spock and call Bones.

But he tried to think about Bones even less than he thought about the Nexus. McCoy's absence was an ache he wasn't sure would ever heal. God, he missed his brother.


War threatened the Federation, and Jim was stuck on Earth.

He couldn't even get very much information about it. He knew a power called the Dominion opposed them, and much of what conflict existed took place in the Gamma quadrant, far from Earth. But the news reports were frustratingly bare of depth, and he no longer had access to the detailed Starfleet reports, still classified now.

The Federation prepared for war on an intergalactic scale. The closest Jim had ever come to real war had been the Federation's conflicts with the Klingons, but the one time they had seriously approached all-out war, the Organians had put a stop to it.

Jim had asked Picard if he could say more about what was going on, but Picard's only response had been to state the Enterprise's non-involvement. His demurral had to be true. The Enterprise's mission reports were still filed and accessible to civilians, so he knew they traveled nowhere near Deep Space Nine and the Gamma quadrant. He wondered if it was also an evasion, if Picard received more information but wasn't willing to share it, but Jim knew he had to let that go. It was a captain's prerogative, and in many cases duty, to keep that kind of information to himself.

But Jim was still stuck on Earth, and he hated it. Not that he particularly wanted to be immersed in war, but to just be shunted to the side while war went on around him -- he couldn't help but buzz with resentment. He wanted to be doing something, but wasn't allowed.

And everyone he spoke to just kept harping on about him getting a job. So many more important things went on in the galaxy than what Jim was doing with himself, but it seemed like Spock and Troi could talk about nothing else, and even Picard, Riker, and Guinan had mentioned it more than once.

He kept on reading the mission reports for the exploratory ships in an effort to channel some of his energy. It wasn't the news of the conflict with the Dominion, which he still wanted, but Jim had always been more of an explorer than a soldier anyway. If reading about meeting new species and new planets was the closest he could get to experiencing them himself, well, he'd take what he could get.


"Don't worry about me so much, Spock. I promise I'm not doing as badly as it sounds. Yes, I still haven't chosen a new job, but how much downtime have I had in my life? I'm actually finding it sort of relaxing not to have responsibilities right now.

"I'm still catching up, but the crew on the Enterprise have been a big help. Captain Picard and Commander Riker know what's going on with Starfleet very well, and they keep telling me stories about the things they encounter. Other galactic news is a bit spare, though. Is there anything you get in your position as an ambassador that you can tell me? I guess I'm not used to being so out of the loop.

"I -- I miss you. Do you have any idea how long until you persuade the Romulans to let me join you? Or do you think you might be able to manage another visit?

"Well. I love you, Spock. Please message me back soon."


He woke that night once again with tears running down his face and the feel of the cool Idaho breeze in his mind.

The Nexus.

He was tired of the damn Nexus. He was tired of dreaming about it. He was tired of thinking about it. He was tired of missing it.

His life...had just been so easy there, and it was so much harder here. He didn't even have Spock. The bond in his mind stretched unbroken but dimmed from all the distance between them, so much that Jim could barely feel Spock existing at the other end at all.

He buried his face in his pillow, trying to make his body go back to sleep.

But sleep wouldn't come. He just ended up dwelling on the Nexus.

He did not particularly miss the details of the life he'd lived there. He could go back to Idaho anytime, though probably his uncle's cabin belonged to someone else by now. But if he missed that kind of life, he could rent a cabin in nearly any American mountain range and still be able to chop wood and cook his own breakfast and go horseback riding.

He did miss Antonia, though. Or rather, less her in particular than that she was there. She was constant. Anytime he'd wanted, he could see her, feel her, love her and be loved by her.

He didn't really want Antonia, he knew. When they first met he'd had no real interest in her, because he'd had Spock.

But now he only sort of had Spock. The bond was complete, but Spock was on Romulus, had been on Romulus for months now, and Jim still couldn't join him.

He felt like a mass of conflictions. He missed the Nexus, and he hated the Nexus. He wanted to be back in the Nexus, and he wanted to never think of the Nexus again.

Moving on would be a lot easier, he thought, if life now weren't so damn hard. His life before the Nexus hadn't been easy, but he hadn't felt like he struggled with everything.

Even sleep. He turned over to stare up at his darkened ceiling. He kept waking up earlier in the morning and being unable to go back to sleep.

As hard as his life currently was, it would be a lot easier if he didn't spend so much time alone with his thoughts.


"I believe I am making progress, Jim. Some of the senators are now willing to accept the idea of you coming here. They have had to amend the Treaty of Algernon to help the Federation deal with Dominion incursions in the Gamma quadrant, and some now claim that after the treaty, letting one human onto their planet is nothing.

"Dr. McCoy would no doubt accuse me of being a 'broken record', but Jim, I continue to worry about your situation there. Mr. Scott and Captain Picard do likewise. You have been looking thinner and your eyes have shadows -- you must take care to get enough food and sleep. I understand you desire news of the wider galaxy, but the details of your own life should be no less important to you -- they are not less important to me. You have numerous aptitudes, Jim. Why not study one further? You do not have to begin a new career immediately, but please, do not dwell entirely on what you are missing.

"I am with you, even when I am not physically there. Do not forget that. My thoughts are with you, Jim, and so is my love."

Jim had been all set to be annoyed at Picard, Scotty, and Spock discussing him behind his back, but the irritation faded at the closing.

"Mine are with you," he said, to Spock's frozen image on the screen. He reached out to touch it, even though he only touched a computer.

He wanted to be annoyed at all of Spock's comments on what he needed to do to fix his life, like it was that easy. He couldn't manage it, though. Annoyance was just too much effort at the moment.

He shoved his chair away from the desk and stood up. He'd go for another walk. That might clear his head.

He'd begun walking a lot, in the time since Spock left. He couldn't stay cooped up in his apartment all day, and even if he didn't have anywhere in particular to go, he still needed to get out and go somewhere.

Winter in San Francisco was cold. Jim noticed he felt the cold more as he got older. Living on Vulcan might even be nice at this point. He'd have to talk to Spock about going to Vulcan -- maybe not living there permanently, since Spock still did have his work on Romulus, but spending more time there. He and Spock had visited several times in the course of their marriage, but they hadn't been there in years -- not counting Jim's years in the Nexus. Going back would be nice, and seeing what had changed. And what hadn't changed, since Vulcan was so focused on tradition.

Though Sarek was gone too, and Amanda. Amanda he had expected, since there was no natural way she could have lived to this time. But Sarek, like Bones, he had only just missed.

His relationship with Sarek had been a strange thing. There had always been a mutual respect between them, though Jim took many years to get over the way Spock's father had rejected him for so long over his choice of career. Even then he had only put resentment aside. And Sarek had never been precisely pleased at Spock's choice of bondmate, though he had welcomed Jim into his clan without expressing any reservations.

After Khan, Genesis, and the fal-tor-pan their relationship started to deepen into something more like family. Sarek saw how utterly devoted Jim was to his son, and Jim saw how much emotion Spock's father truly felt for him. Neither had exactly found those concepts a revelation, but the events of Spock's death and resurrection had still drawn them closer.

Captain Picard, interestingly, had been the one he'd discussed Sarek with the most. Picard had once melded with Sarek, just a few years before his death, to help give him needed mental stability, and Picard had felt particularly close to Sarek ever since.

Discussing his old father-in-law with a friend of his in this century was comforting, almost. Almost, he thought -- because it still reminded him that Sarek was gone now, and Jim could never see or speak to him again.

That was true for far too many people. It was one thing to accept the possibility, or the event, of a friend dying in the line of duty. He'd had to deal with that before, and had always been able to prepare himself, as much as it would hurt. But to just wake up one day and have nearly his whole world just...wiped away?

It was impossible to prepare for that. And it was nearly as impossible to deal with. How had Scotty managed? He'd even lost Nyota too, and Jim at least still had Spock.

He would have to talk to Scotty about that sometime. In the meantime, though, he'd try to go to bed. Spock had been right -- he wasn't sleeping very well. Maybe things would look better in the morning.


He dreamed that night of Spock, and if this time tears dampened his pillow, they came because he did not dream of the Nexus.

In his dream, he lay asleep in his bed, alone as he'd been for months, but still tucked neatly onto his side, his back to the center of the bed. But then the floor creaked with the weight of footsteps, and the mattress dipped. The covers lifted, and he felt the rush of air against his bare back, waking him up.

Then someone slid in behind him, someone whose touch, whose scent, he recognized. He turned over to nuzzle into Spock's neck as his bondmate wrapped his arms around him, and he fell back asleep just like that, with his nose mashed against Spock's skin and Spock's hands rubbing up and down his back.

Only when he woke in the morning did he realize he hadn't dreamed Spock. His husband was there.

Spock was there!

And Spock, too, had already awoken, his eyes on Jim as if he were afraid Jim would disappear if he blinked. Suddenly Jim could see the weight of their long, more recent separation on Spock, and a wave of guilt hit him.

He had been so focused on himself, on how much he needed Spock, that he'd forgotten how long Spock had already been without him, and how much Spock himself would hate the necessity of the newer separation. He kissed the underside of Spock's jaw in apology, and watched Spock's adam's apple bob as he swallowed.

"Good morning," Spock said, his voice deliciously raspy with sleep. Jim shivered.

"Mmm, it is," he replied, squirming closer. Spock was still warm from the covers and Jim's own body heat. "You didn't tell me you were coming back."

"I wished to surprise you," Spock murmured. One of his hands began trailing up and down Jim's arm, while the other remained on his back.

"Well, consider me surprised." He tilted his head up so he could kiss along Spock's cheek and jaw. "How long can you stay?"

"Another two weeks. And I believe I am getting closer to persuading the Senate to let you accompany me. I had several senators agree to act as my advocate in this matter when I left."

"That's wonderful, Spock." He squeezed him tightly in thanks, then chuckled. "You know, I never thought I'd be looking forward to living on Romulus."

"Then you do not mind?" Spock's hand had migrated up from his back to his hair, now stroking it. Jim tried very hard to keep his mind on the conversation and not just melt in bliss. "I know I did not ask you--"

"Hey, it's all right." Jim scooted himself up on the bed so they could lie face-to-face and he could look into Spock's quietly earnest eyes. "I know how important this is to you. I don't think I'd like to spend all my time on Romulus, but I can handle even most of my time, I guess. I just don't want to stay separated from you."

"I appreciate it," Spock told him, still stroking his hair. "And I believe we will be able to take time away. My work is important, but not more important than taking care of you."

Jim ducked his head, touched and embarrassed and even slightly annoyed. He didn't need to be taken care of, but... "You smooth talker," he said. He reached up to capture Spock's palm and bring it to his lips, placing a soft kiss in the center and enjoying Spock's gasp. "That kind of talk will get you anywhere you want."

"Oh?" Spock twisted his hand around to trace Jim's lips. "I believe I have a few ideas."

Jim grinned, and sucked the fingers on his lips into his mouth. He laved them with his tongue before letting them go. "Well, Mr. Spock, as always, I am interested in hearing your ideas."

"Yes, Captain," Spock murmured, which was the last coherent thing he said out loud for some time.

Spock had gotten in late, so after they'd both caught their breath, Jim decided to let him rest longer while he made breakfast. He wasn't a big cook, and the replicator took care of most of the cooking anyway, but he enjoyed making breakfast, and at least it was hard to ruin.

He'd been hoping to bring Spock breakfast in bed -- though Spock tended to think eating meals anywhere but at a table was illogical, sometimes he was willing to indulge Jim. However, he found Spock already up and on the computer, looking at what looked like information from UC Berkeley. Centuries old, and still one of the leading research institutions on Earth.

"Research?" he asked, coming over to kiss Spock on the forehead and set the tray down on the desk. Spock may be a diplomat now, but nothing would ever stop him being a scientist as well.

Spock told the computer to close what he looked at and turned to face Jim. "Of a sort," he replied. He raised an eyebrow at the food. "I believe that would be more stable on the table."

Jim pouted. "But not as fun," he said, as he'd said so many times before. But Spock's eyes gleamed with amusement, so he considered his purpose fulfilled, and moved the tray out of the bedroom and to the kitchen table.

They spent the day at home, idly chatting and reading and watching holovids. Jim kept himself tucked beneath Spock's arm most of the time, content to feel Spock's heart thrumming against his side as they simply existed together. Spock did leave him on the couch to spend more time on the computer at one point, and Jim pouted until he returned, but that was about the lowest point of Jim's day.

At least, it was until after dinner.

"Jim, we must discuss your plans for the future," Spock said after they finished cleaning up their meal.

Jim's mood, which had been hovering at a high point all day, plummeted. "What's to discuss?" he muttered, dropping onto the couch and tilting his head back. He closed his eyes. "I'll find something to do, Spock."

Spock sat down near him on the couch and reached out to take his hand. "Jim, it has been seven months since you returned from the Nexus, and you still have made no progress in finding something to employ yourself. You constantly avoid even discussing it. I do not understand what holds you back."

"Nothing's holding me back," Jim replied. "I'm just enjoying having some time off, is all."

Jim opened his eyes again and looked at Spock to find his bondmate surveying him evenly, not fooled. "You are not," Spock said. "I do not know how successful you are at fooling yourself, but you do not fool me. You are unhappy, Jim. You may try not to think about it, but you are."

Anger flared. "Maybe I'd be happier if I hadn't had you only two weeks in all those seven months!" he retorted. "We haven't been separated so long since Gol. You know I never do well when you leave me!"

Well, shit. True as that was, he hadn't exactly meant to say it.

The corners of Spock's mouth turned down. "I realize you dislike our separation, and I share those feelings, Jim. But I also know that is not all. You have made no effort to acclimatize yourself to your current circumstances."

"I have!" Jim protested, stung. "Do you even realize how many things have happened in nearly eighty years? How many new planets have entered the Federation, how many new species have been encountered, how many technological advances there have been--"

"And you do not need to familiarize yourself with all of them. Jim, you are using catching yourself up as an excuse to avoid your new life. You cannot continue like this."

Jim tugged his hand free of Spock's and crossed his arms over your chest. "You don't know what you're talking about," he said flatly. "You haven't even been here."

Jim could see the pain flare in Spock's eyes, and refused to feel guilty about it. Spock was the one refusing to let things go. They could have had a nice evening, their first together in months, if Spock hadn't insisted on bringing this up now.

"I have not been here," Spock agreed slowly, "but I have listened to every one of your messages, and watched as your image changed, as you grew thinner and obviously functioned on too little sleep. Jim, you have not been so thin and tired since I returned from Gol. I know what you look like when you are unhappy, what happens to your body. I cannot let your unhappiness persist when I might do something to stop it."

He wanted to tell Spock to stay with him, and not go back to Romulus. Even in his anger, though, he wasn't sure he could do that to Spock. His work had always been important to him, and Jim didn't want to denigrate that.

But he was still angry, and tired. "I just need to get used to being here, Spock," he said, closing his eyes again. "It hasn't been that long. Dealing with this stuff -- it's just been sort of overwhelming. I just need to get it straight in my mind."

Spock nodded. "I agree," he replied, but his next words dashed Jim's rising sense of victory. "But not as you have been. Mr. Scott has told me you have been spending less and less time with him. You were isolated before, and isolating yourself further will not help. And you need something to do with yourself, Jim. It worries me to see you keeping yourself idle."

"I'm just taking some time--" he denied again, but he knew his protests sounded weaker and weaker.

Was he truly avoiding the issue? How could he have and not realized it?

"I have been looking into doctorate programs at UC Berkeley," Spock continued after a moment, when Jim said nothing further. "I have spoken with admissions staff. They would be pleased to have you apply, Jim, with your credentials and your history."

Okay, Spock expressing his worries he could deal with, but this-- "It's my life, Spock!" he nearly shouted. "Unhappy or not, it's my life! I don't need anyone to arrange it for me!"

"I am not arranging it," Spock said, reaching for him. Jim twisted away, standing up and moving around the couch. "I merely inquired--"

"You keep doing this!" Jim interrupted, truly angry now. "It's just like what you did with Gorkon and the Klingons! I don't need you volunteering me to do things!"

"When you are not doing them on your own--"

"That's still my decision!" he insisted. He paced behind the couch. "It's still my life."

"But I share it," Spock said. His eyes were torturously plaintive, and Jim tore his gaze away. "I share your unhappiness with your life now, as I shared your aching pain about the Klingons then. Do not deny me my place in your life, Jim."

Jim paused. "I'm not," he whispered. He cleared his throat. "But Spock, no matter how much I love you, that still doesn't give you the right to make decisions for me. Especially not without discussing them with me first."

"I tried," Spock stated. "You were not willing to begin this conversation. You kept evading me."

Jim shook his head. "Have you thought maybe I'm just not ready, and I'll get to it in my own time?"

"You were in pain," Spock said in a low voice. "You are in pain. I could not ignore it."

Jim sighed. That helped, but the anger didn't go away. "I don't want you to ignore it," he replied, "but it still doesn't give you the right to take over my life and try to fix it."

Suddenly feeling exhausted, he walked to the bedroom door and stopped there, turning back to look at Spock. His bondmate looked at him from the couch; he could feel Jim's anger, and hadn't moved to go to him. Wise move, Jim thought, not in the mood to be soothed.

"I'm tired," he said finally. "I'm going to bed. Just...stop doing this. You know how I feel about it, and you keep doing it anyway."

He closed the door behind him before he could hear Spock's reply, if he replied. He took a shower and prepared for bed, feeling tired even though the hour was relatively early.

But despite his weariness, he found himself lying awake as the minutes ticked away. Just like last night, he lay with his back to the center of the bed and the door. Part of him kept waiting for that door to open and Spock to slide into bed behind him, their argument, if not forgotten, at least put aside for the night.

But though Jim lay awake long into the night, the door did not open and his bondmate did not come. Despite the warmth of the covers, the bed remained cold with only one person in it.


Chapter Nine
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