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Please don't touch the Vulcans

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The "yes" is out of Jim's mouth before he can think about it. 

With so many Starfleet personnel away for the holidays, Jim's apartment building is still enough that Jim can hear Spock swallow from across the room. He allows his eyes to flutter closed momentarily at the sound, imagines the bob of Spock's adam's apple just above the neckline of his uniform. Spock doesn't move from where he stands near the door, so Jim works up the nerve to look at him. 

Spock's lips are parted as if he intended to reply, probably prepared to accept Jim's rejection and depart. He appears genuinely shocked that Jim has just answered in the affirmative, eyebrows furrowed and hands clasped low behind his back as he does when he's thinking. Jim sits on the edge of his couch, hands folded together and dropped between his knees. He stares at the carpet and wets his lips nervously. He really needs to clean the apartment before Bones starts harping on him again. He hopes that Spock doesn't notice the obvious boot prints leading from the door to the couch. The few times Spock has invited him for dinner, Jim grudgingly observed that Spock's place is as neat as the line of his bangs. 

Did he really just agree to help Spock with database entry for two weeks on New Vulcan over Christmas? He's pretty sure Spock calculated Jim's likelihood to accept an invitation as a zero percent possibility, but Jim derives a certain satisfaction from doing the opposite of what Spock expects. His heart is pounding with adrenaline, because what is he doing? His schedule is filled with mandatory evaluations and meetings with the admiralty about the refit and crew assignments, but he imagines a few days away from that: burying himself beneath a mound of blankets, steam rising from a mug of fresh-brewed coffee, maybe catching up on a book. And ample time alone with Spock, even if Jim is reluctant to admit what that means. 

"If you're serious," he casually adds, giving Spock a chance to retract his offer. He shoots him a full-wattage grin, the one he flashes at the cameras when his heroism is compared with his father's, a visual check. They lock eyes. Spock merely raises an eyebrow, immune.

"You are aware I do not kid."

His smile falters but he keeps in in place. He looks down at his bare legs and boxers and can't recall the last time he did laundry. He should have put on pants. He wonders why it matters; Spock has seen him look worse. 

"Yeah, I know," he says lamely and flicks a speck of imaginary dust from the couch. "So, New Vulcan, huh? What should I bring?"

"I would advise clothing in lightweight fabrics," Spock replies.

"Okay." Jim slaps his thighs and stands. "Just give me a few minutes to pack?"

"There is no hurry," Spock assures him. "The shuttle does not depart for another three hours."

Jim keeps the smile plastered on his lips until he shuts the bedroom door behind him and slumps against it, frowning. Maybe he should call Spock's bluff, walk back into the living room laughing, and tell him to have a good trip. Except Jim really has no one to visit over the holidays. He knows; he's asked everyone. Winona is stuck on the Tereshkova, and Sam hasn't been planetside in over a decade. Scotty and Uhura are going...somewhere. Chekov is staying with family in Russia, and Sulu is speaking at a botany convention. Bones looked apologetic leaving Jim in San Francisco by himself, but this will be the first Christmas he'll have with Jo since she was four. Jim knew Bones would end up inviting him along to Georgia out of a misplaced sense of guilt, so he'd slapped Bones on the shoulder and said, "Give Jo a hug for me." He kept the smile on his face until he could no longer hear Bones's footsteps in the hall. He probably should have sent a gift for Jo; he's crap at this "honorary uncle" thing. 

Jim hadn't even considered asking what Spock was doing for the holidays, because this isn't Spock's holiday. 

Besides, even if Spock wasn't planning on Jim's acceptance when he asked, and even if he did so only to placate McCoy (because Jim knows full well that Bones instructed the crew to be careful with him post-superblood, thinking he might crack up at any minute), Spock would never admit to that. It's got to be illogical to issue an invitation simply out of social obligation. But Spock wouldn't do that, anyway. He'd simply say "Farewell" and be on his way. No, for some reason, Spock actually wants him to come along to New Vulcan, and a part of Jim wants to go. Okay, he can deal with that. If Spock isn't backing down, neither is Jim Kirk.

He goes to his closet and pulls out his dress boots and street shoes. He knows he's got a duffel bag in here somewhere. What the heck should he pack? Spock said light fabrics. What does that mean, t-shirts? Is he allowed to have bare arms on New Vulcan? He's never seen a Vulcan with skin exposed below the neck. Maybe he can just borrow a set of robes from Spock when they get there. They're about the same size, and it's not like those robes are fitted. He grabs his toothbrush, toothpaste, a few pairs of boxers, a handful of his favorite t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, a pair of slacks, a dress shirt and a tie (you never know, Winona always told him, and a tie dresses up any outfit). Clothed in loose jeans which sit low on his waist and a worn black t-shirt, he slings the bag over his shoulder and slips on his sunglasses. 

"Okay," he says, nodding to the door and punching Spock in the shoulder as he passes him in the hallway. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

***

It dawns on Jim, just as Spock presses his thumb to a scanner on the humble front door and the light glows red, that the last time he and Sarek breathed the same air was when Spock was throttling him on the bridge. If Sarek is anything like Winona, he probably asked Spock what Jim did to make him so pissed off. And if Spock is anything like Jim, he probably spit out the story. That means Sarek's first impression of Jim was him accusing Spock of never loving his mother, just hours after her death. 

Great, he thinks and fidgets with his t-shirt, which reveals a sliver of skin at his waist because of the way he's got his arm arranged to lug the tote bag. He feels half naked and drops the bag at his feet, tugging the hem into place as Sarek appears in the small entry and extends the ta'al. 

"Captain Kirk." Sarek addresses him in a perfectly polite tone, but his face might as well be carved out of the same rock that makes up half the structures on this planet. Jim can't read it, and he swallows through the shiver which passes through him. 

"Ambassador Sarek, thanks for the invitation," he says brightly, attempting to mask his unease, and does a decent approximation of the greeting in return. Sarek inclines his head politely and looks at Spock, who lowers his eyes. Jim's eyes widen as he considers that maybe Spock hadn't asked Sarek's permission at all, that it's possible Sarek didn't even know that Jim was coming, that he could be standing in the middle of an aphonic father/son showdown. 

Awesome second impression, he congratulates himself, hyper-aware of the burning sensation in his too-rounded ears. 

But all Sarek says is "You must be thirsty," and shows them through to the common room where he has laid out water and a tray of biscuits. Jim settles next to Spock on the low couch without thinking about it, slinging an arm behind him. It's only when Sarek meets his eyes and lifts an eyebrow that Jim realizes his mistake and plants both arms at his sides. 

Right, he thinks. No touching on New Vulcan

This trip keeps getting better. 

***

When Sarek said that Jim would be bunking with Spock, Jim imagined a room with a couple pallets, maybe a bed and a portable mattress on the floor. He didn't expect a single sleeping alcove—granted, the mattress looks to be a decent size—in a modest two-bedroom cottage. 

"It would not be practical," Spock explains hurriedly, when he notes Jim's no-doubt pained expression, "for a larger house to be allocated to my father. He is unmarried, with no children at home. As it is, I am unsure why he was given a two-bedroom structure. I presume it is due to his status as an ambassador."

"I guess we'll manage," Jim says, shifting in his jeans. He saved his entire crew from a eugenics experiment gone wrong; he can sleep next to Spock for a few nights and control himself. After all, he managed on the shuttle when he woke to find Spock asleep on his shoulder. 

"If it will make you uncomfortable to share a bed," Spock says, "I will sleep in the common room."

"No!" Jim says a little too loudly. He lowers his voice and clears his throat, glancing to the door in case his tone caused Sarek to check on them. "But isn't this going to affect your telepathy or something?"

Spock quirks an eyebrow. "In what way?" he asks calmly.

"Well," Jim begins. He cups a hand around the back of his neck. "I have pretty vivid dreams. What if you roll into me and...tap into them?"

The left corner of Spock's mouth lifts minutely, the tease of a smile, and Jim stares at him expectantly. He squeezes the back of his own neck for support. 

"I will resist the temptation," Spock says in a sort-of purr Jim has never heard him use before. It's a little scary and hot as hell. Jim really, really has to get out of this room before he does something stupid, like push Spock on the bed and say, "Do you understand why I saved you now?"

He recalls the look in Spock's eyes the moment Jim thought he understood, when their fingers all but touched, when Jim tried to mouth, "Yes?" and Spock—gasped, like Jim's emotions had somehow transferred through the glass. Spock's lips formed the word in return, and Jim died in peace at the sight of their joined hands. He remembers the sensation of warmth in his mind before it all slipped away.

In the hospital, Spock approached the bed and smiled at him, even stroked Jim's palm as he was falling asleep, but they never talked about it. After his release from the hospital, Spock was still with Uhura, and their touches became accidental: fingertips grazing over a chess piece, arms brushing in a doorway. Three months later, when Jim met Scotty for drinks only to find Uhura with him instead of Keenser, he got his hopes up again, but nothing changed between them. It left him wondering if Spock had understood what Jim had tried to say at all. He wanted to ask, brainstormed the right conversation ad nauseum, but it turns out that soul-bearing confessions are a lot easier to blurt when he's dying. It didn't matter if what he felt was returned, because all that mattered was that Spock knew. But Jim is alive. They'll be serving together for the next five years, and he can't bring himself to say anything. 

Spock is staring at him, his expression curious. Jim scrubs the back of his hand over his forehead, presses a knuckle into the wrinkle he can see forming over his right eye, and tries to remember what they were talking about. 

"Resist me?" he says flippantly. "You'd be the first."

Spock's eyebrows lift higher.

"I have it on good authority that Lieutenant Uhura was unaffected."

"Yeah, yeah," Jim says. He slaps Spock's shoulder in a way that is totally manly and absolutely platonic, then yanks his hand back. This is going to be one tough habit to break. 

"Sorry," he says and shoves his hands into his back pockets. "Let's get something to eat."

***

On the transport to New Vulcan, Jim imagined multiple awkward scenarios involving Spock's dad: walking in on Sarek while he's trying to meditate; Sarek lecturing Jim that wearing boxers into the kitchen was offensive, even though the planet's a desert and Jim's likely to overheat; Sarek demanding to know what Jim's intentions are toward his son. 

"You're not exactly subtle," Bones told him just before he was released from the hospital. "Either tone it down or fess up."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Jim said. Bones rolled his eyes and signed the release form and hasn't mentioned it since. 

But it turns out that Sarek isn't home most of the first day on planet, and Spock lets Jim sleep in. He wakes up early, while it's still dark. Jim feels the bed bounce and the left side of the mattress come up to hug him as Spock rises and leaves the room. He opens his eyes to see Spock's bare legs silhouetted in the bathroom doorway, a strangely intimate portrait. Jim hears the sonic shower and fights the image of Spock naked in the next room, though it occurs to Jim that they're no closer than he was on the ship when they shared a bathroom. Of course, Spock never left the door cracked open on the ship like he's doing now, but he's at home, Jim reminds himself. The rules are different at home, even for Vulcans, apparently. Spock thinks Jim is sleeping, which he is. Mostly. 

When he reenters the room and quietly dresses, Spock leaves the curtains drawn, and Jim falls back asleep for a few hours, only waking up when he's got to take a leak and can't hold it any more. He pads into the bathroom, yawning. His mouth tastes foul, but he remembers his toothbrush is buried in his bag. He can't remember where Spock put it. He'll just clean his mouth in the shower and find his toothbrush later, he thinks as he yawns again and spots his toothbrush in a glass on the bathroom counter.

He blinks until his eyes water and he can open them more than a sliver.

It's definitely his toothbrush. He recognizes the neon-yellow handle. It's impossible to miss, even with a hangover. There's no way that toothbrush belongs to Spock. The toothpaste lies on the counter beside the cup, on top of a folded washcloth

"Thoughtful," he mumbles through a half-formed smile and gratefully brushes his teeth. 

Fresh from the sonic shower, he sniffs the air, conscious of the aroma of coffee wafting under the door. He made sure to close it, but he cracks it open and peers into the bedroom. Spock is seated at a desk under the window, reading. He wears black robes and sips from a mug. His hair is neat but slightly tousled, probably from the sonic waves. Jim has never seen Spock look so...casual. It makes Jim's heart beat faster just to look at him. He grins involuntarily but forces it off his face and wraps a towel around his waist. 

"Morning," he calls evenly and crosses the room. He flops back on the bed, which he notes is made. Steam rises from a mug of coffee on the nightstand. "Double cream, triple sugar?" he asks, lifting his head.

"A single of each," Spock replies. "Would you care for a tri-ox compound?"

"Let me see how I feel today," Jim says, scratching his stomach and letting his hand linger on the edge of the towel. He distantly wonders what Spock's hands would feel like on his skin. Probably cool and smooth, methodical, like Jim was a science experiment. He shouldn't be thinking about this, he chastises himself, rolling onto his side to hide the evidence. He fakes a yawn and stretches all the way to his toes. 

"I would not advise any strenuous activity," Spock says. Though Jim isn't looking at him, he can tell that Spock has turned in his chair to face him. 

"Chief Science Officer's recommendation?" Jim asks, nosing a pillow.

"If you wish." 

"What time is it?"

"It is afternoon," Spock replies. 

"Not going to give me the exact minute and second?" Jim teases. "That's pretty imprecise, for you."

"The time would be irrelevant without a point of reference," Spock explains, "But if you insist, it is forty-four minutes past eleven." 

"You're right," Jims says, flinging an arm over his eyes. "That makes no sense. How many hours are in a day here, twenty?"

"Yes," Spock says, "though each hour is shorter than one of Vulcan's."

"You guys should just adopt the Standard system."

"Perhaps Terrans should adopt the Vulcan system," Spock suggests, and Jim laughs.

"Touche," he says and falls quiet. He listens to Spock breathing and closes his eyes, his own breaths becoming heavier. Even in the temperature-controlled house, the planet's heat is sleep inducing, and Jim finds himself just on this side of consciousness within a few minutes. 

"I should visit the ambassador while I'm on planet," Jim mutters into the covers. "Does he live far?"

"His dwelling is a short distance," Spock informs him in a clipped tone. "No more than five standard minutes."

"Do you have a problem with me seeing him?" Jim asks, wondering at the change in Spock's voice. He barely manages to lift his head. 

"No," Spock says. 

"Well, good," Jim says and stifles a yawn. Forcing himself to sit up, he gathers the towel at his waist, which has become loose and fallen away. He notes that Spock is averting his gaze and deflates a little. "I think I'll give him a call. What's on the menu for lunch?"

"It is mostly Vulcan," Spock says with a shade of apology, turning back to his reading, which makes Jim suppose he was only imagining the sharpness to Spock's voice just a few seconds ago. 

"Eh," Jim says. "I'll experiment."

***

 

"So when are we working on this database?" Jim asks, fumbling with the skewer he holds awkwardly in his right hand. He tries to spear something about the size of a cherry tomato but dark purple in color. It rolls to the other side of his plate. He sighs and wonders if Spock would really be that offended if he just ate with his fingers. After all, on Earth, no one makes fun of Spock for eating with chopsticks. Surely Jim's entitled to a little cultural sensitivity. He aims the skewer again and manages to pierce the skin before the whatever-it-is rolls to its escape. 

"I will begin work tomorrow," Spock says, elegantly lifting the same vegetable or whatever to his lips in a practiced manner. Jim screws up his face as he studies the configuration of Spock's hand and tries to copy it. 

"How do you even hold these things?" he asks, certain his pinkie can't bend like that. 

"Would you prefer a fork?" Spock offers.

"Yes!" Jim says immediately. Spock retrieves one from a drawer and sets it in front of Jim, who waits for Spock to move his hand before he reaches to pick it up. "Thanks," he says. "Didn't think you'd have these here."

"My father is accustomed to Terran utensils," Spock explains. 

Jim stills as the implication of what Spock just said sinks in. Jim has never told Spock how sorry he is about his mom. At first, it was because they weren't friends, but after a while it was just awkward. Had so much time passed that saying something was too little, too late? With Spock being Vulcan, sometimes Jim has a hard time figuring out what will set him off. But he looks melancholy, sitting across the table from Jim, in a kitchen on a planet his mother will never see. Something in Jim's throat feels tight, and he feels like he has to say something, but he can't figure out what. 

"Makes sense," is what he goes with, which is so far from what he should say that he could kick himself. Instead, he forces a brilliant smile and holds Spock's gaze for a few seconds before dropping his eyes back to his plate. "You said you're going to start work tomorrow. What about me?"

Spock sets down his skewer and folds his hands on the edge of the table. 

"Captain," he begins, but Jim cuts him off.

"Do we really have to go over this again?"

Inclining his head, Spock lets out a breath and starts again. "Jim," he says, and Jim gives a satisfied nod. "I was perhaps...unclear in my reason for inviting you to New Vulcan."

"You said you needed help with the database," Jim says. 

"Ah," Spock says. "If you recall, I said that the New Vulcan Science Academy required assistance, which I am going to provide. You inferred that accompanying me was contingent on helping the academy, but your assumption was incorrect."

"So you don't actually need my help," Jim deduces. 

"No," Spock says. Jim frowns and actually spears the stupid brown thing with the fork. It tastes like a combination of a grape and a cucumber, light and watery. He swallows it before he has chewed it thoroughly and feels the uncomfortable pressure of it slide down his throat.

"Why'd you invite me, then?" he asks a little snappishly. Spock dips his head further, though Jim can see the tips of his ears are flushed green.

"I presumed you would be alone," Spock says to his lap. "I knew that I would be alone much of the time on New Vulcan. Logically, it made sense that we spend this time together."

The anger Jim felt abates, and he stares at Spock with his mouth just hanging open. 

"You invited me to keep you company?" he asks incredulously. 

"We provide adequate company for one another, do we not?" Spock asks. 

More than adequate, Jim thinks, and he can feel his face slick into a grin. 

"I knew you liked me," his brain hears his mouth say, and he immediately wishes the words hadn't left his tongue. But Spock appears to relax, lifting his eyes, and he straightens his shoulders and resumes eating. Jim does the same, pausing between mouthfuls. "Seriously, I'm happy to help. Otherwise I'll probably get bored sitting around here."

"The records are written in Vulcan," Spock says.

"I speak Vulcan, you know," Jim tells him. "I was treasurer of the academy's xeno club, or did Uhura conveniently leave that one out?"

"I am aware of your proficiency with the language."

"Then why won't you let me help?"

Spock is doing that frustrating thing where he doesn't lie, but he purposefully dances around a question to avoid answering it directly. An awful thought occurs to Jim. 

"Is it because I'm human?" he asks, trying to keep the bitterness from his tone. Spock doesn't respond, merely places another skewer of food in his mouth and chews. Jim bites at the inside of his lip, tearing away little bits until the skin feels ragged.  "Do I embarrass you or something?" he asks. 

"No," Spock says.

"I do," Jim says, slumping in his chair. "You're ashamed that we're friends. You're cool about it back on Earth, but now that we're out here with your dad, and you're around your own people, you regret inviting me."

"Jim," Spock says, and his voice is possibly the quietest Jim has ever heard him speak outside the warp core. He leans forward; instinctually, Jim mirrors his movements. "While it is true that the concept of friendship is not valued among Vulcans as it is among humans, I am proud to have yours."

His statement causes a plume of something in Jim's chest that he simultaneously resents and cherishes. He grins despite the lump in his throat. "Then why can't I come with you?" he asks. 

Spock's eyes drop to his plate. He sets down his skewer and inhales audibly, his nostrils flaring as he does so. Jim dreads the words forming on Spock's tongue. 

"Take me with you tomorrow," he says before Spock can say no. 

Spock is quiet. His mouth forms a tight line, the way it always does when he's pondering something, and the crease between his eyebrows is pronounced. Jim wants to reach out and smooth it, but he keeps one hand wrapped around the fork and the other on the edge of his plate.

"Either take me with you..." He aims the tines at Spock. "...or I'll have to follow you."

"I could deliver a nerve pinch and render you incapable of doing so," Spock reminds him.

"You could," Jim says, "but I don't think you will. That causes one hell of a headache, by the way."

"It is pointless for me to continue expressing regret over a past event."

"Too bad the pinch didn't work on Harrison," Jim adds flippantly. The name causes a change in Spock's demeanor. He tenses, pulling up into his shoulders. 

"Indeed," he says.

"Think you could teach me how to do it?" Jim asks. Spock looks encouraged by Jim's words. The smile is faint, but it hovers at his lips. Jim licks his own and smiles back. 

***

 

The prospect of a five-minute walk sounded easy enough, but now that they're out in the New Vulcan heat, Jim regrets setting foot out of the front door. Though New Vulcan has a more oxygen-rich atmosphere than Vulcan did, the concentration is still lower than Earth's. One minute in, Jim is sweating. He's glad for the traditional Vulcan robes, which (despite appearances) are surprisingly breathable. The farther they walk, his legs grow heavier, like he's dragging them. He stops to suck in a breath of air, feeling dizzy. Spock is at his side.

"I brought a tri-ox compound with me," Spock says, stepping closer and reaching into his pocket. "If I deliver it to you now, you will feel better by the time we reach the ambassador's dwelling."

"That's okay," Jim says, wheezing. He rounds his back and bends over his knees, a hand on each thigh. "I've had enough hypos in the last year to last the rest of my life. I'm just...a little out of breath."

He glances around them. The housing is modest. Jim has seen holos and vids of what architecture looked like on Vulcan, though the city's circular layout is the same. Based on the materials alone, he'd never guess that this is the same culture. The smallest houses are mud structures. Many of them are only temporary, hastily constructed to house the colony residents and volunteers while their society is being built. Spock explained that eventually, much of this housing development will be demolished and its residents relocated to permanent dwellings. It will be years, if not decades, before work on the city is completed. 

The queasy feeling passes, so they keep walking. Spock offers Jim his arm, but Jim refuses. He's not about to embarrass Spock in public, so he maintains a polite distance. The ambassador's home is similar in appearance to Sarek's, made of stone and timber and mud. Jim knocks on the front door and stands back with a grin when he hears footsteps on the other side. The door creaks open, and Ambassador Spock reaches to clasp Jim's hand.

"Jim," he says. "I am pleased to see you are well, old friend."

"Jim is overheated," Spock informs him. 

"Come inside," the elder Spock says, still holding Jim's hand gently, and ushers them both through the front door. He leads them to a small common room with a fireplace and low bench seats. He deposits Jim on one, then goes to fetch water. With his elder self out of the room, Spock sits next to Jim and looks him over.

"Are you certain that I cannot—"

"No meds," Jim insists, scooting away an inch when Spock's sleeve brushes his wrist. He turns his head and beams at Spock. "I'm fine. Stop worrying."

"You are my captain," Spock insists. "It is my duty to ensure your health."

"I'm not here as your captain," Jim says fondly. "I'm on leave of an indeterminate length, if you recall, until they decide I'm psychologically fit to resume active duty."

"You will be given the ship," Spock says, "and you will resume command."

"That sure about me, huh?" 

The ambassador returns with a pitcher and glasses before Spock has a chance to answer. 

"How've you been?" Jim asks the elder Spock, who settles into his seat across from them. 

"I am well," Spock answers, pouring three glasses and motioning that they should each take one. Jim is careful not to touch hands with either Spock when he takes his glass. "And you?"

"Alive," Jim replies, draining half of the water in two gulps. His throat still feels like sandpaper, but it's better. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve. "How're your memoirs coming along?"

"Satisfactorily," Spock replies and drinks himself. He appears relaxed despite his upright posture, one hand on the arm of the chair, the other loosely curled around his glass. Beside Jim, the younger Spock sits more rigidly. They stare at each other in silence for a few minutes before Jim decides he'd better break the ice or die a slow death from Vulcan stoicism.

"So are you going to show me around?" he asks. The elder Spock nods and rises, and Jim does the same, still unsteady on his feet. He offers Jim his arm, and though Jim is surprised by the action, they are indoors. Sarek isn't here to see him. He's still dizzy, so he gratefully takes it. Jim looks back at Spock, who is still seated and stares at him with narrowed eyes. 

"You okay for a minute?" Jim asks with a slight frown.

"Why would you presume I would not be?" Spock asks crisply and looks away.

"Well, excuse me," Jim chides and lets the elder Spock lead him into the next room. 

It's a small den, from the looks of it, about ten feet square, with a table underneath a window and a bookcase along the wall. It holds only a few books, a handful of artifacts, and a small but detailed sketch on a scrap of paper. It's a minute before Jim recognizes his own face: older, slightly rounded, his hair wavy. He's in his fifties, maybe? He's wearing a dress uniform, with the front flap open, and he's smiling over his shoulder. Jim's mouth goes dry as he looks at it. He reaches out a hand but doesn't touch. The muscles in Spock's forearms tighten under Jim's grasp. Jim drops his head to his chest, inhales, and looks up at him.

"So," he says. "You and me, huh?"

Spock simply nods once in affirmation. He glances to the hallway which leads back to the common room and raises an eyebrow. Jim lets out a breath through his nose and huffs a laugh. 

"No," he answers quietly. "At least, not yet. I'm not...I'm not even sure he's interested."

"Give it time," Spock says. "If he is, you will know."

"How?" Jim whispers. "I mean, he's been a lot friendlier ever since I..."

"Died," Spock supplies helpfully.

"Yeah," Jim says, raking a hand through his hair. "He comes over for chess a lot, makes me get out for air. And then he invited me to come with him here. We're having to share a bed at his dad's."

"Indeed?" Spock says and appears thoughtful. 

"Is that good?" Jim asks and chews his lip. 

"It is encouraging," Spock says finally. "Sharing a bed with someone other than one's bondmate or intended is uncommon, though not unheard of."

"He did offer to take the couch," Jim says glumly.

"But he did not," Spock stresses and pats Jim's hand. Jim nods to the drawing. 

"How old were you when we got together?"

"I was forty," Spock replies. "I hope he does not wait as long as we did."

"Man," Jim says. "You two took your sweet time."

"Our friendship began quite differently," Spock says. "I was assigned as your science officer and later promoted. There was always the problem of rank."

"We have the same issue."

"My Jim was stringent regarding relationships," Spock says. "He would not have risked his career for one, at your age."

"Oh."

"And you were my first friend. It took many years for me to accept what I felt for you. My younger self possesses a great deal more experience with his emotions at this age than I."

"Do you think you'll ever find someone else?" Jim asks. 

"It is a possibility," Spock answers after a pause. "It will become necessary, at a point."

"Oh," Jim says, "because of your telepathy?"

"Among other reasons," Spock says, which isn't really an answer, but Jim accepts it. He allows Spock to show him the kitchen, the bedroom, the small garden off the back of the house. Two chairs sit side-by-side with a clear view of the sky over the garden wall.

"Spend a lot of time stargazing?" Jim asks.

"Yes," Spock says, and his eyes linger on the reddish-orange clouds.

As they turn to walk back to the common room where Spock waits, Jim wonders if anyone has ever sat in the second chair. 

***

"Do you find that you are adjusting to our atmosphere?" Sarek asks, holding out a dish of lirs, which reminds Jim a little of the barley salad his mom used to make around the holidays. He spoons a decent portion onto his plate and passes the bowl to Spock, who declines it. Jim sets it between them. 

"So far, so good," Jim replies. "I'm a little tired."

"It will pass in a day or two," Sarek tells him. "The human body is less adaptable to climate changes than a Vulcan's."

Jim keeps his face neutral and wonders if that was a dig at his humanity or just an observation. He takes the opportunity to drink from his glass. Holding the water in his mouth for a few seconds, he tries to think up a witty response, but Sarek continues. 

"My wife suffered similarly. The change in oxygen concentration did not bother me when I was younger, but as I age, I find myself affected by it."

Oh, Jim thinks. It wasn't an insult. Okay. 

"Do you travel a lot, Ambassador?" Jim asks, using the title because he's Jim Kirk, dammit, and he's going to make Sarek like him if it's the last thing he does. He takes up the fork Spock made sure to provide him and eats as politely as he can manage. 

"Since Vulcan's destruction, it has become essential for me to do so," Sarek answers. "It is critical to visit worlds on which we had established Vulcan colonies, to garner support for New Vulcan, to catalog what remains of our culture."

"Spock told me you've been able to locate a lot of artifacts," Jim says knowingly. "Any luck with the animals?"

"Many species were exhibited off-world, in zoological preserves," Sarek continues. "It is possible that we will be able to repopulate many species, though we must take care not to disturb those which already exist here."

"True," Jim says, stirring his soup. "Well, I hope you can bring back some of them."

"It is my hope as well," Sarek says. "And what are your plans, Captain? Do you intend to resume command of your ship?"

"As soon as they clear me for duty." Jim grins and nods to Spock. "This one actually turned down another offer, because he's set on being my XO."

"You are aware of the offer?" Spock says, the first he's spoken in minutes. Jim turns to face him. Spock looks at him owlishly.

"Nogura told me. When one of my senior officers is being courted by another captain," Jim says, "I like to know about it."

"I have no desire to be courted by another captain," Spock says with a fondness in his voice. His words make Jim's heart stutter, his breathing quicken for a moment. Does Spock even realize what just came out of his mouth? Could he be that lucky? Jim shakes off the blatant physical reaction to Spock's declaration and licks his lips, laughing. 

"Well, good," he says, aiming for light, "because you're mine." He goes to elbow Spock but keeps his arm tucked tightly against his side. He glances across to Sarek, who regards them, his eyes flicking back and forth between their faces. "Um, professionally speaking," Jim adds and digs back into his food.

"You are unmarried, Captain," Sarek observes after a minute. It sounds like an accusation. 

"Yeah," Jim says and feels his cheeks grow warm. "I'm only twenty-seven. There's plenty of time for that once the mission ends."

"Indeed," Sarek says and looks at his son. 

***

"You guys wake up way too early," Jim complains to himself when Spock is out of bed at 0500 New Vulcan time, already in the shower. The bathroom door is ajar once again, so Jim takes the opportunity to fling it open. He's got to piss, and it's Spock's fault for leaving the door unlocked if he wants total privacy. He's peed in front of Spock before on away missions, when they were in the woods somewhere and there wasn't anything like civilization. Spock always said it was a non-issue, so this is obviously not a big deal. 

"Hey," he yawns as he walks in. "If you don't want me to see you naked, stay in there."

"You have seen me without clothing," is Spock's reply. 

Jim stops walking and blinks as the words set in. It's true. After sparring, sometimes they both change in the locker room. Hell, they've even showered together, but lots of crewmembers do that. That's why the communal shower is there. It doesn't mean anything, even if Jim and Spock are the only two there, and even if Jim wishes it did mean something. Jim considers this, repeats what Spock just said. It's too early to analyze. Jim hasn't had coffee, and he couldn't tell the difference between Vulcan honesty and flirting right now if his career depended on it. 

"Okay," he concedes and takes care of business. 

It's when he's washing his hands under the sonic tap, moving them through the vibrating air, that he chances a look in the mirror. The shower door is partly transparent. Spock has one hand in his hair and the other at his side. Jim takes in the muscles in his back and shoulders, the curve of his ass, his thighs. He drops his eyes immediately but can't quell the blush that rises in his cheeks. He tries to hide it by yawning and reaching for his toothbrush. Seconds later, he hears the shower stop, hears the slide of the door opening. And then Spock is next to him at the sink, naked, clean smelling and flushed a little green. 

"I did not expect you to be awake at this hour," he says. 

He reaches for his own toothbrush, and their wrists touch. Jim's eyes shoot wide at the funny sensation the contact causes, like a split-second of intense warmth in his brain, and then it passes. Spock brushes his teeth while Jim tries not to look at him, even though he can see his dick clearly out of the corner of his eye: about the length of his but a little wider, green like the rest of him. He feels his own start to perk up and wills it down. Jim is careful not to touch Spock when he puts his toothbrush back. He pretends to stretch his back, pressing the heels of both hands into the counter and rolling his neck from shoulder to shoulder, arching until his spine cracks. When he looks up, Spock is staring at him with an expression he can't read.

"Is it okay if I borrow another set of your robes?" Jim asks. "I think I'll overheat if I wear pants today."

"You may use anything of mine that you wish," Spock says and places his hand on the counter, just inches from where Jim's rests. Spock doesn't move closer, so Jim doesn't move closer. They stand motionless, as if in stasis. Their eyes meet in the mirror, and Jim's ears begin to buzz like he's underwater. 

"I'm gonna make some coffee," Jim blurts, walking backwards toward the door. "You want anything?"

"I will come with you," Spock says, slipping his arms into a robe and taking a moment before he closes it around himself and ties the belt. 

***

Spock's playful attitude, if Jim can call it playful, is gone by the time they arrive at the New Vulcan Science Academy. Even though he does a good job of concealing it, Jim can tell Spock is anxious from the way he rolls the edge of his sleeve between two fingers as they approach the door. 

He expects the academy to be a patchwork building, like many of the residences and the commercial structures that make up the center of town. It's located outside the city limits, a fifteen-minute walk from Sarek's house, close to the shuttle dock station. He pants most of the way but refuses the hypo Spock carries with him. (He's had enough of Bones's frequent injections and mother-hen behavior since getting out of the hospital.) When they enter the academy's front door, Jim is struck with the knowledge that this is what Vulcan must have looked like. The building isn't temporary by any definition. It is beautifully constructed, the hallway before them tall and open, though the architecture itself is not ornate. The ceiling comes to a point, as do the windows. Everything is made up of straight, clean lines, and Spock looks appropriate standing beneath the vaulted ceiling. He pushes a button to signal their arrival and waits.

A Vulcan man shows them to a room down a long corridor, which is brightly lit, with the same tall ceilings. Ten pairs of eyes regard them as they enter. Jim can't get over how quiet everything is, how loud his boots sound, how the robes swish around his legs as he walks. It's weird to be dressed in robes. He's only got a pair of boxers underneath, so it's kind of like wearing a dress, oddly freeing. They sit side-by-side at twin computer stations, and Jim switches on the PADD Spock hands him, scanning over the first document.

"We are compiling data from a variety of resources," Spock says quietly, "and a variety of different cultures. While it is possible for the computer to simply import data from other sources, such imports must be supervised. There is always a limit with computers."

"So you're not on board with computer-controlled starship development?" Jim whispers. 

"Full control is not logical," Spock says. "A computer is a machine, while a captain..." He furrows his brow and motions to the PADD. "Some information will be factually incorrect. Some will contain misspellings. Some might be outdated and not necessary to include. Some might be duplicate information. It is our job to determine if this is the case, to make notations in the entry so it can be checked."

"Isn't this...intern-level stuff?"

"It is," Spock agrees, "but the academy lacks the staff for this amount of work."

Jim pushes a hand into his hair and imagines what he'd be doing if he were back on Earth, pictures himself stretched out on the couch with a beer and a large cheese pizza. Spock holds out a data disk.

"Since you expressed an interest in Vulcan animals," Spock says quietly, "I thought you would prefer to begin with this," he says. He lays it in Jim's hand, their skin connecting briefly. Jim memorizes the constellation Spock's fingertips form in his palm.  

"What is it?" he manages. 

"It is a list of all Vulcan mammals, as compiled by one of the Vulcan elders," Spock explains, leaning to speak close to Jim's ear. "You will import the data, have the computer scan for duplicate entries, and merge with existing information and images where appropriate. If anything appears to be incomplete, ask the computer to leave an annotation. If you are uncertain, it is better to make a note than not."

"Okay," Jim says. Spock sits back and pauses, looking down.

"I appreciate your willingness to assist," he says. "Though I am satisfied to be with you on the Enterprise, Vulcan was my home."

Everything goes a little hazy. Jim swallows, focuses on the fringe of Spock's eyelashes splayed across his cheeks. He wants to reach out and take Spock's arm, clasp his shoulder, throw an arm around him—hell, kiss him—but he can't, not here. Not on this planet, not where they are right now, with so many people watching them. Spock was nervous enough about coming here today; the last thing Jim wants to do is humiliate him. He's going to be the perfect human guest while he's on New Vulcan. He sits straighter in his chair and nods.

"Absolutely," he says, deciding that a small smile is okay. He's surprised when Spock smiles back, just barely. 

They work for four standard hours. Jim keeps his comm on the desk in front of him and glances at it occasionally. He hasn't had a message from Bones since he arrived, but he figures that means he's having a good time with Jo. Maybe Jim can get her something from New Vulcan. He finds his mind wandering more and more, until he comes to the entry about the Le-Matya and watches a vid of it killing prey. He tells the computer to pause the vid—his Vulcan accent is getting better with each syllable—and sits back in the chair, stifling a yawn. He needs to stand up. The back of his legs are numb. Inhaling deeply, he picks up his comm and goes to touch Spock on the arm like he would if they were on Earth, but thinks better of it.

"I need some air," he whispers. Spock looks at him, presses his lips together, and nods. Jim starts. "Do you want to come with me?" he asks. Turning his head back to the screen, Spock speaks once to switch it off and rises.

"You know," Jim says when they're out in the hallway, "I've never heard you speak Vulcan before today."

"Your accent is quite good," Spock says. Jim bites his lip at the compliment. 

"I'm starving," he says. "What about you?"

"There are replicators," Spock says, motioning toward an adjoining corridor.

"Or we could check out one of the restaurants I saw on our walk over," Jim says, raising both eyebrows. "My treat."

"We are not required to be here for any specific length of time," Spock says, considering.

"It's a date," Jim says and motions to the door. 

***

 

In the end, they choose a street vendor near the academy serving cabbage soup, some type of grilled vegetable wrap, and which claims to make a Terran-style cheeseburger. Jim is suspicious and sticks to vegetables, which Spock concludes to be native and safe for consumption. Jim supposes it would be absurd to eat something hot in all this heat anyway, and a veggie wrap won't sit too heavily in his stomach. They eat in a nearby square, on a stone bench under a sail of fabric which casts a triangle of shade over them. Jim can feel the sweat drip down his back. Spock actually looks warm for the first time since they met. He has a healthy green flush in his cheeks, and his eyes are bright. For once, he isn't wearing a thermal layer. Even his fingers, which are usually so pale and white, have color in them, a greenish hue to each fingernail abutting the white moon. Jim wonders how uncomfortable Spock is on board the ship, what adjustments they could make to the environmental controls before the next mission leaves. It has to be possible to allow for individual temperature control at a work station. 

He casts his eyes across the square, sees a mix of Vulcans and humans ambling about. He spots an Andorian and what might be an Orion or a sunburnt Vulcan. The soil, the sky, they're all varying shades of red, but it's peaceful. He could get used to this planet. A part of him wants to. 

"It's kind of pretty here," Jim comments, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Spock murmurs something. Jim leans closer and asks him to repeat it, but he's careful not to allow their arms to touch.

"It is not Vulcan," Spock says again after a minute, loud enough this time that Jim can hear him, quiet enough that Jim understands what it cost him to admit that. He wants to say so many things right now, like I'm so fucking sorry and I wish we could have saved it, but they die on his tongue. 

"No," he says as a hot breeze stirs the sand at their feet. He looks at Spock's arm, imagines squeezing it, and closes his eyes. "I guess not."

***

Jim is glad he opted for a light lunch, because it's so warm in the room when they get back to the NVSA, he immediately feels his eyelids start to droop. They work an additional two hours, Spock speaking quietly in Vulcan beside him. It's hard to concentrate; Jim finds he'd rather translate everything coming out of Spock's mouth than look at another picture of a lanka-gar. He's sorting through statistics on attacks on Vulcans when all around them, the other Vulcans rise and leave the room. Spock says another few words, shuts off his computer, and stands as well. 

"Vulcans possess an innate sense of time," Spock explains, smoothing his robes. Jim powers his computer off and follows Spock out of the room. They walk quietly down the hallway and into the sunlight. Though the suns are lower in the sky, it's still hotter than Jim finds comfortable. He can't walk at full speed, but he keeps up with Spock, who seems to be walking significantly slower than he typically does. 

"That wasn't so bad, right?" Jim says, watching the dirt swirl in dusty clouds at his feet. 

"It was not," Spock agrees. 

"Aren't you glad I came with you?"

"I am."

"You love me," Jim says and holds his wrist to keep from swatting Spock's arm. "Admit it."

"I will admit nothing," Spock says, but he smiles again, which makes Jim's heart soar. Just a little.

"Are you going to tell me why it was such a big deal for me to come with you?" Jim prods. "I spoke Vulcan for you, and I bought you lunch. I mean, you kind of owe me."

It is several seconds before Spock answers in a quiet voice. 

"I did not wish you to accompany me," Spock says carefully, "because I do not wish for your opinion of me to be lessened."

"What are you talking about?" Jim asks, surprised.

"I have never been respected among my peers." Spock turns his head to look in the other direction. A vein in his temple is throbbing. 

"Because you joined Starfleet?" Jim guesses.

"Because I am half human."

Jim takes a deep breath and nods. "You were afraid they'd say something to you, and that I'd overhear it," he says. 

Spock indicates that this is true with a bob of his head. Jim folds his arms over his chest and stares sideways at Spock. Maybe he's afraid that Jim will pity him. Maybe he doesn't want anyone to know how rough his childhood had been. It's probably not very Vulcan, to admit you were scarred by childhood bullies. Jim makes a mental note never to say a word.

"You think I give a damn what some xenophobic asshole says about you?" he asks and wishes he could sling an arm around Spock's shoulder. Spock glances to him and is quiet for a long time as they continue to walk in tandem. When he does answer, his voice is a murmur. 

"I am aware that you do not."

***

The next six days pass similarly: Spock gets out of bed at an ungodly hour, showers with the door open, and Jim shuffles in to brush his teeth and (mostly) avoid gaping at Spock naked. They eat breakfast, sometimes with Sarek, and head for the NVSA on foot. Jim is subdued and tries to keep his smiles in check, and never once in front of Sarek does Jim dare touch Spock.

Actually, apart from when they're sleeping, when it's kind of unavoidable, Jim continues to refrain from all physical contact, even when they're alone. It feels weird. It's not like he'd say he touches Spock a lot, but now that he isn't supposed to touch him at all, he finds he wants to do it all the time. His fingers practically itch from the distance between them, so when he wakes in the night to find Spock's foot touching his or Spock's back meeting Jim's back, he luxuriates in it a little. But at breakfast when Spock says something funny, Jim doesn't nudge him, and he doesn't lean against Spock on the couch like he would if they were at his apartment. He doesn't elbow him in the ribs or karate-chop his chest to emphasize a point, and it feels sort of...lonely. 

Spock's behavior shifts as the days pass. The changes are subtle, and if it were anyone else, Jim would think he's imagining things, but this is Spock. On the third day, he notes that Spock walks a few inches closer to him than the day before. When Jim pronounces a particularly difficult Vulcan word with the proper inflection, Spock catches Jim's eyes with something like pride in his, and Jim smiles. He begins to document these moments in his head to help stay awake, and he quickly notices that Spock looks at him at least once every five minutes. When he hands something to Jim, his hand lingers just millimeters above Jim's skin, just long enough that Jim feels tingly all over, as though he's being warmed from the inside. 

On the eighth morning, Jim wakes to the feeling of a body pressed along his back and something firm twitching against his ass. For a minute, he forgets where he is, then hears Spock's quiet breathing. 

Spock is obviously really happy in the morning, and Jim lets himself pretend, just for a moment, that it's absolutely fine to stay with Spock wrapped around him like this. He yawns, stretches his arms, and settles closer. Spock shifts, pressing his face into the back of Jim's neck. There's the scratch and drag of his stubble across Jim's shoulder blade. His breath is warm when he exhales; Jim suppresses a shudder. He's thought about this so many times, ever since he woke up in the hospital to find Spock standing vigil at his bedside. He imagined that when he'd been asleep, Spock had come to him, sat by his side, even leaned his forehead against Jim's once or twice. He imagined Spock crawling onto the bed with him, holding him as he slept. The image made him feel less isolated in the weeks of recovery he faced after waking from the coma. Spock rarely touched him, never held him, but he's holding Jim now. 

Jim allows himself to curl his fingers around Spock's arm, which is draped over his side, and he falls back asleep.

***

He's disappointed to wake up and find Spock isn't in bed any longer. The sun is up, and there is a mug of coffee on the bedside table. It's room temperature. Jim yawns through a sonic shower, takes the coffee with him into the kitchen. He intentionally takes the long way to the replicator, rather than passing behind Spock's chair. After reheating his coffee, he settles across from Spock at the table.

"Morning," he says, feeling oddly shy. 

"Hello," Spock says warmly, looking up for just a beat, then drops his eyes back to his PADD. 

"Did you sleep okay?"

"I rested adequately."

"Looks hot out," Jim says, tracing his finger around the rim. The action causes a light scraping noise in a single tone, which Jim repeats until it's clear from a raised eyebrow that Spock can hear it. He stills his hand. 

"It is one hundred fifteen degrees Fahrenheit," Spock replies. 

It's obvious that Spock isn't in conversation mode, though his mood seems pleasant enough. Jim drums his fingers on the table and tries to remember what day it is back on Earth. He finally pulls out his comm and reads December 23. 

"Crap," he says. "Christmas is in two days."

"Did you forget?"

"Kind of," Jim says, scratching his chin. He needs to shave. "We're not exactly at the North Pole."

Spock makes a noncommittal noise in response. Jim watches his eyes dart across the screen. How can anyone read that fast and remember two words of it? It's a little mesmerizing to observe. For every three sweeps of his eye across the screen, Spock blinks once, and Jim is oddly content to sit here and watch him. He rests his face in his hand, lifts the mug to his lips and drinks now that it's cooler. 

"So, did your mom celebrate Christmas?" Jim asks, feeling the coffee slide down his throat.

"She did."

"Did she decorate?"

"Minimally," Spock says. Jim tries to imagine what that means: a sprig of replicated holly? A star positioned on one of the taller garden plants?

"We always did a holo tree," Jim recalls, leaning back in his chair, wishing Spock would look at him again. "Mom had a thing about killing real ones. And she hung stockings for me and Sam, but my favorite part was the breakfast. She'd make a feast: bacon, eggs, potatoes, cinnamon rolls. Do you eat cinnamon?"

"Not with regularity."

"Hmm," Jim says and chews the inside of his lip. An idea strikes him. "I know you don't celebrate, but maybe...maybe I could cook for you guys?"

Spock lifts his head at that and quirks an eyebrow. 

"Please clarify."

"You know," Jim says, waving a hand in the air, "make breakfast for you, your dad, and the other you."

Without changing his expression, Spock somehow manages to glower at the mention of the ambassador. One day, Jim is going to figure out what Spock has against the older version of himself, but for now he ignores it.

"For Christmas," Jim adds, "and to thank your dad for letting me stay here."

"He would welcome it," Spock says finally, returning his eyes to the table. "I will accompany you to the market."

"No, no," Jim says hastily. "I want to surprise you."

When Spock nods in agreement, it's tight. They move awkwardly around each other the rest of the day, and Jim is left wondering if he read too much into what happened that morning. He calls the elder Spock to arrange to meet him in the market tomorrow morning, and informs Spock he won't be going with him to the NVSA. 

"You'll probably get more done without me there," he says. "Besides, how bored would you be on a shopping trip?"

When Jim wakes in the middle of the night, Spock is turned away from him, and their skin isn't touching.

***

"Why did you not ask my younger self to accompany you?" Spock inquires as they peruse the outdoor market stalls. It is multi-cultural, largely Vulcan, but there is an influx of wares from across the Federation. The setup is simple, box stalls with hand-written signs waving in the hot breeze. Some are covered in canvas to ward off the sunlight. Jim squints behind his sunglasses and tries to read the chicken scratch pinned to a crate of what might be fruit. 

"I wanted this to be a surprise," Jim says. "Plus, he's working. And I think we needed a day away from each other."

He recalls the open bathroom door that morning, but how he waited for Spock to finish before he went in. Spock walked past him with his head bent, and they were quiet at breakfast. Jim spent the morning chatting with Sarek about hydroponic greenhouse technology and counts himself up a point.

"Oh?" Spock inquires. Jim sighs and adjusts his sunglasses.

"You really want to hear about this?" he asks.

"If you wish to tell me," Spock says. "What develops between you and my younger self is your business."

"Says the man who beamed me back onto a ship moving at warp, so your younger self and I could get over our shit."

"You cannot blame an old Vulcan for wishing happiness for himself," the ambassador says with a soft expression. 

At his words, Jim grins. "I don't," he says, then sobers as they move to the next crate. "What are these?"

"Soltar," Spock says. "Similar to a plum. It makes excellent preserves."

Jim nods to the shopkeeper and says they'll take two dozen. He hands over his credit chip, and they continue to browse. 

"I can't tell if I'm misreading his signals or not," Jim tells him, "or if they're even signals. What if he's just comfortable with me? I don't want to take advantage of that. And I do outrank him. He has to be the one to make the first move. Ethically, I can't."

Spock walks with his hands in front of him, clasped lightly together. A smile plays on his lips but doesn't form.

"What are you laughing about?" Jim asks.

"You are remarkably self aware," Spock says after a few seconds. "It was the opposite in my timeline. I came to understand the feelings I had developed for my Jim after a time, but he was career minded. He often remarked that he had no intention of settling down."

"What happened?"

"I should not tell you," Spock says, half to himself. 

"But you will anyway, right?" Jim says and nudges him on instinct. He straightens and turns away, but Spock doesn't seem offended. "Come on," Jim prompts. "What will it hurt?"

"I did not see him for three years," Spock says finally. 

"What?" Jim says. He stops walking. "Why?"

"The reason does not matter," Spock tells him. "Eventually, we both realized it was possible to have what we desired."

"Good," Jim says, sidling up to a crate of carved stone figurines. He picks up one that looks familiar, examining the tiny fangs, the bear-like head. "Check it out," he says, holding it out to Spock. 

"That is the sehlat," Spock says.

"I've been staring at pictures of them all week," Jim says. "Maybe I should get one for Jo."

"Dr. McCoy's daughter?"

"Yeah," Jim says. "I didn't get her anything for Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, what should I get you?"

"Gift giving is not typically practiced among Vulcans," Spock says apologetically. 

"Good thing I'm human," Jim reminds him. "Just tell me."

"I do not require anything."

"Well, what about the other you?" Spock opens his mouth to reply, but Jim cuts him off. "And don't tell me he doesn't require anything. What would he like?"

"You know him well," Spock says.

"You know him best."

Spock looks at him for a moment, his eyes softening. "I had a pet sehlat, as a child."

Jim looks to the figurine in his hand and closes his fingers around it. 

***

 

"How was work today?" Jim asks when he gets home with an armful of groceries and places them on the counter, separating them by dish. He comes to the sehlat figurine and feels his face heat up at the idea of presenting it to Spock. He shoves it into the pocket of his robes. 

"Productive," Spock answers from where he sits at the table. He looks up, meets Jim's eyes, and the awkwardness between them that had been so obvious that morning seems to be gone. 

"That's good," Jim says.

"Were you able to locate the ingredients you require?"

"Sort of," Jim says. "I couldn't find anything close to bacon, but I'd be the only one eating it anyway. The other you talked me into attempting a couple Vulcan dishes. I thought I might put my own spin on them. Are you going to work tomorrow?"

"No," Spock says. "I will remain here with you."

"Cool," Jim says and puts the perishable items into the fridge. "I'm going to start cooking tonight. You've got me making some type of jam, which apparently takes a couple hours to cook down."

"I was unaware that you had such an interest in cooking."

"Well, there's not a lot of opportunity for it on the ship," Jim says through a grin. "Mom was off planet a lot, so it was just me and a replicator. Got pretty sick of the taste after a while and got pretty good at making a few things. Mom used to cook a lot, when we were little."

"It is a practical skill," Spock agrees. 

"Thought about going into it professionally at one point, before I met Pike. Bartending was a good living sometimes, but I didn't want that as a career."

"What stopped you?" Spock asks, rising from the table and coming to stand across the counter from Jim. The counter comes to his waist, and he folds his hands in front of him. 

"Credits," Jim says with a shrug. "I didn't have enough for the schooling. In retrospect, I didn't have the patience for the industry at that age. And it tends to bring back some not-great memories."

"Of what?" Spock asks, tilting his head.

"Do you honestly want to know, or are you just being nice?" Jim asks, training his eyes on the counter.

"I would not ask merely to be polite."

Jim sighs, folds the canvas bag and lays it on the counter. He motions to the couch. They sit down, and he's quiet for a minute, considering. Spock doesn't push him, merely sits silently and waits for Jim to speak. It's funny how still the house is, without any clocks or noise from outside. 

"So Bones probably told you, if you didn't read it in my records," Jim starts, picking at a loose thread on his robes. Spock's robes. The idea that he's wrapped in fabric which has wrapped Spock's body makes him shiver. He pushes the thought aside, keeps his head ducked to his chest. "When I was thirteen, I lived off-planet. Begged to go, actually. Anything to get away from my stepdad."

"He was abusive?" Spock asks, turning so his body faces Jim's. 

"Nah," Jim says, shaking his head. "He's not a bad guy. We just didn't get along. It was me, mom, and Sam for a lot of years, and then Frank came into the picture. I didn't like the change. Plus, I was a shit at that age. So when I heard about the colony, I begged them. We had family there."

"I have read that you were on Tarsus IV."

"Yeah," Jim says, his fingers stilling. "I used to try and get food together for the other kids. That was...it was the only truly good thing I ever did, until I joined Starfleet."

"You were a child," Spock says. 

"Not after that." 

Spock doesn't say anything in reply, but Jim feels him move closer. 

"Will you show me?" he asks, and his voice is quiet, like he's hesitant. It's a moment before he meets Jim's eyes. Jim doesn't ask for clarification. He nods slowly, feels Spock's fingers skim over his face. Spock swallows audibly; Jim hears his shaky inhale through his mouth. But his touch is light, soothing, and Jim leans into it. 

It doesn't feel like his meld with the ambassador, but he's aware of a second consciousness in his mind, as if someone is peering through a mental window. He watches Spock, whose eyes fall closed. They are so close, closer than Jim can remember Spock ever having sat with him, and he can see the olive-green tint beneath Spock's eyes. There is pressure, almost like an embrace, somewhere deep in his brain, and a warmth fills the cold point where his memories of Tarsus crouch. He inhales unsteadily, and then Spock's hand comes away. Jim can't look up at him. He swats at his eyes, which begin to sting. 

"Jim," Spock says, and he touches Jim's wrist. "Their deaths were not your fault."

"I know that now." 

Jim tries to smile, looks him in the eye. Spock's expression is somber, and Jim can sense something through their skin. He concentrates on the feeling, barely discernable whispers in his mind. He is aware of Spock's concern, his grief. For some reason, he grabs Spock's hand, even though he knows he shouldn't. He holds it between his until his own stop shaking. 

"Thanks," he says finally. He leans forward and kisses Spock softly, then stands up and goes back to the counter, searching in the drawers for something he can use to peel the soltar. Spock follows him wordlessly, hovering at his shoulder until Jim smiles at him. 

"I swear I'm fine," he says. "Go back to your reading."

It's only later, when he's standing over the saucepan, watching the fruit gently simmer and the juices reduce, that he touches his own lips and recalls the feel of Spock's pressed to them.

***

Jim maintains an interest in his plate throughout dinner, purposefully not looking at Spock, who is not looking at him. Instead, he focuses on the texture of the food (soft yet grainy), the temperature of the tea (who the hell decided it was logical to drink hot beverages in the desert?). He definitely doesn't think about kissing Spock, or about how it felt when their minds were connected. Emotional transference...that's what the ambassador called it. Maybe he could blame the kissing on that. 

"Spock tells me you speak Vulcan, Captain," Sarek mentions. 

"Huh?" Jim asks, caught off guard. He wipes his mouth on a napkin and drops it back on his lap.  "Oh, yeah, I took a lot of language courses at the academy."

"In my experience, humans find the accent challenging."

"I'm getting better," Jim says. "Spock says mine's pretty good."

"It was many years before my wife's accent was passable," Sarek continues, looking Jim in the eye, "and that was with daily practice." 

Sarek resumes eating, and Spock seems quietly content. Jim scoops up the nearest thing on his plate and shoves it into his mouth, aware that his cheeks are burning from Sarek's words. He swallows without chewing and forces a smile. 

To Jim's relief, Sarek excuses himself for meditation immediately after dinner, leaving Jim and Spock alone in the common room. It's been a couple hours since they talked, but Spock hasn't brought up what happened. He leaves Jim alone in the kitchen to cook, so Jim spends the evening sterilizing the jars he'll use for the preserves and preparing dough for the next morning. He hums Christmas carols under his breath, the same ones Winona used to have them all sing together as she rolled out the dough for cinnamon rolls. There's enough jam that he's going to send a jar home with the ambassador tomorrow. When he leans over the counter to grab a spoon, he feels the figurine in his pocket push against his hipbone.

If Spock had been upset when Jim kissed him, he would have said something. He would have pushed Jim away. He didn't, therefore...Jim is tired and shouldn't think about this right now. He's overthinking it, as Bones would tell him. He's got half a mind to call Georgia, even has a hand on his comm when he realizes what a dick move it would be to take Bones away from Jo on Christmas Eve. 

It's dark outside, so Jim imagines the snowfall in Iowa: the way it blankets the faded grass, forming rounded sculptures in a quiet, still landscape. He can almost discern the crunch of it underneath his boots, the satisfying crackle of a log fire, the smell of cinnamon wafting under his door. Sam spoiled the myth of Santa Claus for Jim when he was six, but Jim still set out cookies every year and sat up with his mom eating them long after Sam went to bed, singing Christmas carols. When his mom sang, it was off key, but he fondly recalls the sound of her voice and sings quietly. 

"...won't you guide my sleigh tonight…"

"My mother was fond of that song." 

He startles, looking toward the door. Jim didn't hear Spock approach, but he's standing a few feet away, watching. 

"Mine too," Jim says after a pause, stirring the soltar and setting the spoon aside. He covers the pot and reduces the heat. 

"Of all the songs she sang," Spock continues, "it was my favorite."

Jim stares at him. "You know it's about a reindeer with a glowing nose that pulls a magical flying sled through fog," he deadpans. 

"Rudolph was useful," Spock explains, coming toward him. "His usefulness was eventually recognized and valued by his peers, despite his differences. Therefore, I found it pleasing."

Jim is speechless for a minute, imagining a young Spock feeling a kinship with a fictional reindeer, because they were both outsiders. He moves to the sink and washes his hands, turning around to survey his work. 

"Well," he says, shifting the conversation in a safe direction, "I have some kind of jam and two varieties of rolls for morning. The tuber root is sliced and draining. I'll fry that up first thing. Closest I could find to potatoes without replicating something. There's also lirs, which I'm thinking of cooking up sort-of like grits, in honor of Bones."

"My father will be appreciative," Spock says. 

"I don't think your dad likes me," Jim confesses. He rubs the back of his neck. Spock gives him a funny expression. 

"I am certain my father's opinion of you is positive," Spock assures him. Jim considers citing a few examples—the dinner conversation, for one thing—but he decides against it. 

"It's Christmas Eve," Jim continues, changing the subject. "There's nothing else I can do tonight, but I was going to make some hot chocolate and try to get into the spirit. Do you want a cup?"

"You are aware of the effect chocolate has on me," Spock tells him, but it's not accusatory.

"I was planning to spike mine," Jim says, taking down two mugs. "So, we'll be on a level playing ground."

"Where did you procure chocolate?" Spock asks, his eyebrows rising. 

"They've got it in the market," Jim says. "Not every species gets drunk off of it, you know. Besides, there's nothing wrong with kicking back once in a while."

"I did not refuse," Spock says. 

"Good," Jim says and replicates a pitcher of steaming milk.

They settle on the floor of the common room, in front of the fireplace. Spock sips his hot chocolate slowly, occasionally dipping his nose into the mug to inhale. The fire casts elongated shadows around the otherwise dark room. They've never sat quite like this, just the two of them having a quiet evening. Spock always leaves his quarters once their chess match is complete, though on Earth, he has begun to linger. Jim pictures them back on the ship: a tipped king, drinks in hand, and Spock in no hurry to leave. 

"How is it?" Jim asks, motioning to Spock's mug. He adds more liquor to his and tastes it. Better. Shrugging, he adds another shot, then takes a swig right from the bottle. His mom would approve. 

"I am experiencing a curious sensation in my fingers." Spock holds his arm at length and flexes his hand, curling his fingers into a fist, then flexing again.

"Are you okay?" Jim says quickly, screwing on the cap and setting the bottle on the floor next to his mug. 

"It is an expected effect of the chocolate," Spock says, "but curious. My telepathy seems to be heightened."

"You can't read my thoughts from across the room, can you?"

"With enough concentration," Spock says. When Jim's eyes widen, he continues. "However, I would not do such a thing. It requires great energy, and it would be a violation of your privacy." 

At the word "violation," Jim frowns, wondering if that's what Spock thought happened earlier when Jim kissed him. But Jim recalls waking up in the circle of Spock's arms, the warmth of Spock in his mind whenever they accidentally touch, how Spock stands naked next to him in the bathroom every morning. He can't be imagining this. 

Sighing, Jim sits with his back against the couch, putting several feet between himself and the fireplace. He drinks often, cutting the chocolate with liquor every few sips. Spock finishes his hot chocolate and lies stretched out next to the fire; the mug is next to him, abandoned. There's a flush high in his cheeks, and his eyes are closed. He looks satisfied, but the fire is making Jim sweat. He wipes his forehead. He's not sure how much time has passed, but he's beginning to feel warm in his extremities, and his tongue has loosened. 

"I'm sorry if I freaked you out by kissing you earlier," he hears himself say. He takes his mug back up again and drinks the last sip, leaving flecks of chocolate behind on the white porcelain. Spock looks at him seriously.

"You did not," he replies. 

"It was a heavy conversation. Bones says I use sex to deflect when I don't want to deal with my emotions."

"Indeed?" Spock says, raising an eyebrow.

"Not with him," Jim clarifies. Spock sits up, somehow graceful despite his motions being exaggerated. Crawling the short distance between them, he shifts so he kneels next to Jim. 

"I am glad," Spock tells him. He reaches a hand to Jim's chest, places it over his heart, and strokes his thumb across Jim's sternum. The last doubts Jim had about Spock's intentions vanish, and Jim takes a shaky breath. 

"So, I haven't been imagining everything we've been doing the past few days," he murmurs. 

"If I believed you to be suffering from such hallucinations, I would have advised you to seek medical attention." Although Spock's face remains calm, Jim can detect humor in the casual way the words come out of his mouth. With his other hand, he squeezes Jim's leg. Even through the fabric of his robes, Jim can sense desire. 

"You really want to do this?" Jim asks, swallowing. 

"Yes."

Spock's blunt answer makes his dick twitch, but Jim frowns and exhales, runs his tongue along the sharp points of his teeth as he thinks. "You know it's basically against regulations."

"I do," Spock says.

"You're not going to quote them at me?"

"The regulations exist to prevent emotional compromise in a command team," Spock explains. He pauses, his brow furrowing, and slides his hand to curve around Jim's shoulder. "I am already compromised, where you are concerned."

"If I really compromise you," Jim says slowly, bringing a hand up to cover Spock's, "you have to resign."

"But I will not," Spock tells him. "I do not trust anyone else to keep you safe."

"Are we on a hidden vid show or something?" Jim asks, looking around theatrically. "Cause that's probably the sappiest thing a Vulcan has ever said."

"It is possible," Spock says, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I find I do not care."

"I think you're drunk," Jim points out.

"Yes," Spock says again, and this time he does smile and lean his face closer. "Slightly."

"You're the logical one here," Jim says. "Why didn't you just say something?"

"I have said many things. I believed that you understood me."

"Well, I mean there was that thing you did every morning, getting out of the shower and parading your perfect ass around the bedroom."

"I am pleased you noticed."

"Yeah..." Jim pushes a hand back through his hair and laughs. "That was pretty hard to miss."

"Then why were you unclear as to my intentions?"

"I don't know," Jim says, and as he speaks, he can feel his pulse picking up, his face growing hotter. "Cause we're at your dad's house, not on the ship. Because I've been flirting with you for months, and you haven't done anything about it. And because I'm your captain, and you're the last person I'd imagine would break regulations."

"Such regulations also exist to prevent coercion by the officer of superior rank," Spock explains. "I am Vulcan and therefore incapable of being coerced."

"But there's still the emotional compromise," Jim says. 

"It is presumed," Spock continues, "that such an attachment would prevent one of us from making decisions in the best interest of the ship, but I believe we have both proven this is not the case."

"You'd be willing to leave me for dead, if the situation called for it?"

"I would," Spock says, "though I would grieve for you."

"Okay," Jim agrees. "And I would leave you, if I had to, if it means saving the crew."

"You did not leave me in the volcano," Spock reminds him, squeezing his shoulder.

"That was different," Jim says, dropping his voice to a murmur. He traces the veins on the back of Spock's hand. "The only life on the line was yours."

"You must not do such a thing again." 

"But I would," Jim whispers as Spock's lips press cool and moist to his neck. "For any of my crew."

"Hence the necessity that I remain your first officer," Spock says against his skin. 

"So you can be there to tell me I'm being illogical?" Jim asks, angling his head back when Spock mouths the hollow of his throat.

"Indeed."

Laughing, Jim shakes his head gently and grips Spock's hair, thick and smooth between his fingers. "We need to make it a rule that you've got to eat chocolate at least once a month," he says as Spock sits back to look at him. "And you have to let Bones see you like this one day."

"I will agree to no such thing."

"C'mon," Jim says and reaches his other hand to Spock's neck. He slips his thumb just beneath the neckline and brushes his collarbone. "I kind of like you like this."

"I am aware," Spock says, tilting his neck to the side to allow Jim better access.

"Have you been reading my thoughts all week?" he asks. Spock's skin is soft and musky under Jim's mouth. 

"Any transference which occurred was unintentional," Spock says.

"So you've read them," Jim deduces.

"Yes." 

Between the liquor and the chocolate, they end up horizontal in front of the fire. 

"Do you think we're moving too fast?" Jim asks against Spock's lips. 

"What is the logic in waiting?" Spock asks. "We both desire this." 

"Works for me," Jim says. He's happily planted between Spock's legs, their chests pressed together, and he smiles into his mouth. Why haven't they ever made out before? Spock is doing something incredible with his teeth when another thought occurs to Jim. 

"I don't mean to be a buzzkill," he whispers, pulling back an inch, "but what about your dad?"

"It is unlikely he will disturb us," Spock says and takes the opportunity to suck behind Jim's ear. 

"How unlikely?" Jim pants, grinding his hips down. He pictures Sarek walking in to discover that Jim has not only gotten his son drunk, but he's currently debauching him on the floor. 

"I find I am unable to estimate probability in my current state."

Chest heaving, Jim pushes up with both arms, so he is in a plank position above Spock. "Maybe we should postpone things," he says breathily. "Just until morning."

"Perhaps," Spock murmurs, sliding his hand further up Jim's shirt, "you should cease talking."

***

It takes a minute, when he first opens his eyes, for Jim to remember that the night before actually happened. The shower is running. He stretches his arms up over his head and yawns widely, shoving the covers aside. The bathroom door is open, and although he's not sure how Spock will react now that he doesn't have chocolate in his system, Jim takes a chance and slides the shower door aside. Spock watches him enter and moves aside a step. Jim closes the door behind him, leaving his fingers wrapped around the handle. 

Spock takes a cloth and begins methodically washing Jim's arms and chest. It's kind of weird at first, but he finds himself leaning into it. At some point, Spock presses him against the shower wall, which is smooth and cool. The sonic waves move over his skin and hair as Spock's lips move over his throat. They're still kissing when the cleaning cycle shuts off, stay semi-locked together as they transition back into the bedroom to get dressed.

"I've got to start the tuber root," Jim says into Spock's mouth. "And I bet your dad is awake."

"Do you require assistance?" Spock asks.

"If you want to help," Jim says. He thinks Spock is talking about cooking, but a part of him hopes it's a sexual reference. He's a little disappointed when Spock kisses him one last time—he's good at it, and Jim dimly wonders how much of that he owes to Uhura and how much is natural talent—and breaks apart from him. Spock opens his wardrobe and takes out the set of robes Jim wore the day before, lifting an eyebrow in offer.

"Sure," Jim says. "They're pretty comfortable, actually."

"Logic does not preclude luxury or comfort," Spock says, obviously amused. He hands the robes to Jim and takes out a set for himself. "Had you seen my father's house on Vulcan, I believe you would have been impressed."

"Big?" Jim guesses.

"Stately," Spock answers after a beat. He fastens his robes and stares at Jim, who reluctantly tugs his on. 

"Coffee," Jim yawns and heads out the door in front of him. "I need coffee."

***

Spock helps with the rest of the breakfast prep, standing vigil next to the tuber root as it fries to a golden brown. Jim is focused on the food, watching the kreyla bake until just rounded and covering them with a towel to keep them warm. He sips coffee and casts smiles in Spock's direction while he stirs the lirs, tasting it and adjusting the seasoning until it's slightly salty, a little rich. He transfers the food to the table and is just setting out skewers and glasses when the ambassador arrives. A chime sounds, and Jim greets him at the door. He automatically takes Jim's arm, wishing him a Merry Christmas, so Jim pats his hand affectionately and leads the way into the kitchen. 

"Mr. Spock," the ambassador greets his younger self as they settle into their appointed seats. 

"Mr. Spock," comes the stiff reply. Jim sits between them at the rounded table in the hopes that it will ease the tension, and takes up his fork. 

Despite Jim's attempts to direct conversation, Spock and Sarek are largely quiet throughout breakfast, though Sarek thanks Jim for his cooking and praises the kreyla, which he declares is as good as Amanda's. Jim cheers inwardly at the compliment. The elder Spock appears in high spirits, glancing fondly at Jim throughout the meal and occasionally touching his arm. Sarek doesn't react to it, and Jim figures the elder Spock is old enough to know what he's doing, so he rolls with it when Spock wraps fingers around his bicep. 

"You prepared an excellent meal, Jim," Spock says to Jim warmly, "but I expected no less."

"It is excellent," the younger Spock agrees. He touches Jim's leg underneath the table; Jim swallows nervously and casts a glance at Sarek, who appears oblivious. He's grateful when Spock's hand comes away.

"You'd better like it; you picked everything out," Jim chides, turning back to the ambassador with a grin. "How do I stack up to myself?"

"Quite well," he says. "It would appear your cooking prowess is a universal constant." 

"Oh, I made an extra jar of the jam for you to take home," Jim tells him. To his right, he hears the younger Spock clear his throat. When Jim looks at him, he deliberately avoids Jim's eyes, instead fingering the neatly stitched edge of his sleeve.

When they move into the common room to sit by the fire, the ambassador again takes Jim's arm and is only too happy to share a couch. Though Jim wants to sit by his Spock, he settles in beside the ambassador to be polite. Spock and Sarek both sit on individual chairs. The elder Spock is enumerating his mother's holiday traditions for his younger self when a thought comes into Jim's head.

"Did we put up a holo tree?" he asks quietly, envisioning himself and Spock in a small cabin somewhere, curled together on a couch beneath a few blankets. 

"You insisted on it," the elder Spock tells him, smiling faintly. Jim grins at him in return. He becomes aware of Spock's eyes boring into him, but when he glances up, Spock is looking at the fire. 

"Was it on the ship?" Jim continues, turning back to the ambassador. 

"At our apartment," Spock says, "in San Francisco."

"Water view?"

"Naturally," Spock says, taking Jim's hand and pressing it. He lowers his voice and says conspiratorially, "and an excellent view of the stars."

Jim chuckles and figures what the hell. It's Christmas. He squeezes Spock's hand in return. Across from them, the younger Spock abruptly stands and leaves the room. Jim hears the garden door open and shut forcefully. He stares after him dumbly in the silent wake that follows. After a minute, when Spock doesn't come back, Jim prepares to stand up. He curls his hands over the edge of the bench to push off of it, but the ambassador stills him. 

"I will go," he says and quietly follows after his younger self. Jim presses his lips together, now that it's just him and Sarek, and sits back. He wonders if Sarek is aware of what happened in this room just a few hours ago, if he can read it on Jim's face, if Spock told him. He thinks about thanking Sarek again for his hospitality, but he ends up chewing the inside of his cheek, tapping his toes against the inside of his boots.

"He is jealous," Sarek says when the garden door closes a second time. Jim fights to keep his eyes from widening. 

"Excuse me?" he asks. 

"He forgets I was married to a human for many years," Sarek continues. "I have learned to recognize the emotion."

Jim has no idea what to say, so he just continues to stare at Sarek, who appears so calm that he might as well be discussing the weather. 

"He cares for you a great deal." Sarek takes up a mug of tea. His face is blank, the curiosity masterfully concealed, but Jim can detect it in his voice. 

"I...care about him a lot too," he says carefully.

"I am glad," Sarek says, leaning back an inch, the Vulcan equivalent of lounging, Jim supposes. "I do not wish loneliness for him."

"He's got a lot of friends on the ship," Jim offers. "He's highly respected."

"I am not speaking of mere friendship, Captain."

"Oh?" Jim asks casually, despite the way his heart rate increases. Is this the part where he tells Jim that Spock would be better off with someone Vulcan? Jim recalls the feel of Spock's hands on his back, the electric pulse of mental energy wherever their skin touched. Is Sarek reading Jim's thoughts? He swallows and tries to think about something else: the ship, the golden color of corn husks in late summer. He scratches the side of his face to cover the blush he can feel appropriating his cheeks. 

Outside the window, he observes the two Spocks conversing. His Spock is looking down at the dusty garden, while the ambassador watches him calmly a few feet away. Their lips move, but Jim can't hear anything or make out any words. The ambassador motions toward the window where Jim sits, and Spock nods once. 

"I have not had an opportunity to speak with you privately. While we have this time, I hope I can speak plainly to you," Sarek continues, and Jim whips his head back to look at him. "I wish a bondmate for my son."

"A bondmate?" Jim repeats, gaping. 

"Yes," Sarek says. 

Jim swallows, but he can't keep his heart from thudding loudly. He breaks into a cold sweat but doesn't dare wipe his forehead, and are they really having this conversation

"Why are you telling me?" he asks. 

"You are an honorable man, Captain Kirk," Sarek says. "I believe you would treat my son well."

Jim's eyes shoot wide. "I..." he begins, but the moment is broken when the garden door opens, and Jim straightens his back, pulls the fabric of the robes smooth across his knees. 

Sarek stands as his sons re-enter the room. The ambassador takes the seat beside Sarek this time, turning to him and speaking quietly. It's clear the ambassador is distracting him, and Jim is grateful. Spock pauses in front of Jim, who slides over an inch before looking up at him, then back down at the empty couch beside him. He pats it; Spock sits and inclines his head.

"I wish to apologize," he says. 

"For what?" Jim asks and grins when Spock looks at him and quirks an eyebrow. 

"I misunderstood your actions toward my elder self," he says. 

"What actions?" Jim asks, scowling. 

"You touch him freely," Spock accuses. "You touched him six times this morning."

"I guess so," Jim admits, rubbing the back of his neck. "I mean, he doesn't mind, so I didn't think it was a big deal." 

"You and I were seated the same distance apart, and yet you did not touch me, though I initiated it." Spock pauses and shakes his head. "I thought perhaps you desired him, that our intimacy did not please you."

"What?" Jim asks. "I didn't think you'd want me to touch you while we were here, because you're Vulcan, and because of your dad and everything. I was trying to be respectful. It's been hard, believe me, especially this morning."

There is a change in Spock's face, a look of understanding. "You do not need to refrain any longer," he says and lightly touches the back of Jim's second and third fingers, stroking briefly. He rests his hand beside Jim's, nods, and indicates that Jim should do the same to him. Jim happily notes the shiver that passes through Spock's body when he does, so he repeats it. 

"You know your dad can see us, right?" he whispers. 

"I am aware," Spock says with a smirk. 

"You could've just said something. You didn't have to get all jealous of...yourself."

"I am not jealous," Spock insists, but he curls his fingers around Jim's and doesn't let go.

***

Spock stays by his side until the ambassador leaves at mid-day. Jim decides to screw propriety and hugs him goodbye. Sarek has meetings in town, leaving them alone at the house. Spock kisses him into the bedroom, deeply and sweetly. They're sprawled on the bed, Spock's fingers tangled in Jim's hair, when something pokes Jim in the hip. Wincing, he reaches a hand between them and pulls out the carving, turns it over in his palm.

"What is it?" Spock asks.

"This is kinda dumb," Jim says, blushing, "but I got you this from the marketplace."

He rolls off of Spock and holds it out. Spock pushes up on an elbow and takes the stone sehlat from Jim's hand, looking at it fondly. 

"What was yours called?" Jim asks.

"I-Chaya," Spock says, quietly studying the carving from all sides. "You remind me of him," he says.

"A giant pain in the ass?"

"Yes," Spock agrees. 

"Cute, though."

"You are," Spock says, "quite stunning."

"It's my eyes." Jim flops beside him. 

"Perhaps," Spock muses. "I was referring to the fact that I-Chaya also saved my life."

"Hope you didn't write a report about it," Jim teases. Spock's mouth hints at a smile, but it never forms.

"No," he says. "I was seven years old, eager to prove myself. I went into the desert alone in advance of my kahs-wan—are you familiar with it?"

"Sure," Jim says. "The coming-of-age rite?"

Spock nods. "I-Chaya followed me. He would not go home, even after I ordered him to return." His grip on the figure tightens. "He fought off a Le-matya to protect me and died because of it." Spock lifts his eyes, which are surprisingly vulnerable. "He was a loyal companion."

"I'm sorry he died," Jim says, reaching a hand to Spock's face. It's slightly rough with stubble. "Did you stay with him?"

"Yes."

"It meant a lot to me," Jim says, "that you were there in Engineering. I just wish I could have seen you smash Harrison's face in."

"I was compromised," Spock admits, "at the time."

"Hmm," Jim hums. "You said I have that effect on you."

"I was unaware of your feelings for me, until that point. I was surprised to learn them."

"So you did understand me?" Jim asks, sliding his fingers into Spock's hair. "I felt like you were able to read me, even through the glass. I didn't make that up?"

"I had never felt such affection," Spock says, taking Jim's other hand and holding the figurine between their palms.

"When you said 'friend,' I didn't think you knew what I meant."

"The concept is different for a Vulcan," Spock says. "It encompasses much more than mere amity."

"If you've known how I felt all this time, how come we never..." Jim pauses and heaves a sigh. 

"You made no effort to advance our relationship once you were released from the hospital. I assumed this was out of respect for Lieutenant Uhura," Spock says. "When she ended our association, I was uncertain if you still harbored those same feelings. Three months had passed."

"Why didn't you just touch me again and find out?"

"It was better to believe you did feel them," Spock murmurs, "than to know you did not."

"Isn't that lying to yourself?" Jim asks gently.

"I suppose."

Jim smiles and traces the point of Spock's ear. "You know your dad's trying to hook us up?" he asks. 

"He is concerned that I am unbonded," Spock says through a frown, "but I did not realize he had spoken with you."

"Just for a minute. He said I'd treat you well." Jim squeezes Spock's hand. The carving's edges dig into his skin like a promise. 

"He thinks highly of you."

"I honestly thought he hated me until this morning. How come he's so insistent?" Jim asks. "Is it the telepathy thing?"

"Somewhat," Spock answers. 

"You guys are pretty tight-lipped about this. The ambassador wouldn't tell me anything either." Jim is consumed by jealousy, and it takes a moment before he realizes the emotion isn't coming from him but from Spock. "Your shields slipped," he teases. He kisses Spock's hand. 

"Do you mind?" Spock asks shyly and twines their fingers tighter. The jealousy dims and floats into hopefulness. 

"I'm an emotive guy," Jim declares. "What do you think?"

"I think my father is correct." 

What comes through next feels like sunlight in Jim's brain, a warm point unfurling into delicate tendrils, which wind their way through his consciousness. He gasps at the sensation. 

"If we do this bond thing one day," Jim says breathily, "will it feel like this all the time?"

"If you wish it." 

Jim smiles, content, and closes his eyes. "I'm glad you like the sehlat," he says after a while. 

"I did not get you a gift," Spock says. Jim feels the apology through their skin. 

"That's okay," he says. "I wasn't expecting anything." 

"I find the practice of gift-giving illogical, and yet I find myself wishing I had something to give you." 

"You invited me here," Jim says with a shrug. "That's enough. Of course, if you really want to give me something, I'm a big fan of orgasms." 

"I surmised last night," Spock says. "They are pleasurable." 

"What's your opinion on blowjobs?" 

Spock purses his lips. "Neutral," he says after a pause.

"Neutral?" Jim scoffs. "You've never had one from me." 

"Affirmative," Spock says. "Are you endeavoring to change my opinion?" 

"Oh, I'd like to endeavor, believe me."

Spock lies back, placing his hands on his chest, and watches Jim, who straddles his hips and pushes his robes aside. 

"You've been teasing me with this every morning," he scolds.

"Did you consider that it is you who has been teasing me?" Spock asks. "You are correct about your dreams."

"I knew you couldn't resist me," Jim says and bends down to lick him.

Spock gasps in a breath. Encouraged, Jim begins a playful exploration with his tongue, encircling him with his lips, and pulling off with a wet smack. Spock makes a whining sound and strains against Jim's hands, which rub circles into his inner thighs. Jim does it again, swirling his tongue lavishly and taking Spock deeper.

It's been a while since he's done this; his jaw is sore by the time Spock is bucking up into his mouth. Jim swallows and shrugs off his robes, then crawls up Spock's body to lie on his chest. His lips are numb, his mouth tingling. 

"So, what'd you think?" he asks, smiling. "Good, huh?" 

"Effective," Spock replies, still trying to catch his breath. He wraps his arms around Jim's back. "Most...effective."

***

Spending Christmas day in bed with Spock makes it the best Christmas on record, even if Spock does stop kissing him to make him call his mother and Sam. He grudgingly retrieves his comm and accesses a message from Bones, a holo of him and Jo in front of an old-fashioned tree hung with silver and gold ornaments. Uhura actually calls him, and Jim is just enough of a shit to put her on video. 

"Hey," he says, holding his comm up so his face and neck are visible. 

"Are you naked?" she asks with a lifted eyebrow.

"Not entirely," he says.

"Jim is wearing shorts," Spock assures her, and Jim smirks. 

"Hi, Spock," she says dryly. Jim angles the camera so Spock is on screen too, and he watches Uhura's eyes widen just a hint. 

"Hello, Nyota," Spock says. "I trust you had a pleasant holiday." 

"Not as nice as yours, from the looks of it," she says. They chat for a few minutes and make plans to meet up once Jim and Spock are back on Earth.

"We'll double date," she suggests. "Scotty's not going to believe me. And you're paying, Kirk, to make up for what I just saw."

"Deal," he says and ends the call, then snaps a quick holo of the two of them before Spock has time to protest. He sends it to Bones with the caption "Greetings from New Vulcan, wish you were here." He'll catch hell for that later, but it's worth the laugh. 

They get up eventually, when Spock whispers that he's just heard the front door open, which means Sarek is home. Spock cleans his hands and dresses while Jim sneaks into the shower. He washes the smell of sex off of him, and tugs on his jeans and a gray t-shirt. He lazily pads into the common room barefoot. Spock and Sarek are speaking to one another quietly, though Sarek looks up as Jim enters. 

"Captain," he says, motioning for Jim to sit with them. Jim falls into place next to Spock on the couch. Spock deliberately touches his wrist, and Jim bites his lip to contain the grin. Spock and his father continue speaking, but Jim keeps glancing to his hand, to Spock's fingers which ghost over his knuckles, to the corner of Spock's mouth as he forms words Jim isn't even listening to. His stomach growls, and he remembers that they never bothered to get out of bed to eat.  

"I can heat up the leftovers from breakfast if you guys are hungry," Jim offers when the conversation lulls. 

"In a while," Sarek says. He looks between them, then drops his eyes to where their fingers meet. "When may I expect your bonding ceremony to take place?" he asks. 

Jim coughs and goes to pull his hand away, but Spock holds tightly to it while turning faintly green along his cheekbones and ears. 

"Father," Spock says, "we agreed to discuss this at a later time."

"Yeah," Jim begins. "I mean, we haven't talked about anything...permanent. I know you said it's necessary for health reasons, and believe me I'm taking that into consideration, but that's kind of a big decision, and—"

Jim stops talking when Sarek's mouth twitches. 

"What?" he asks, glancing to Spock, who still looks shell shocked and vaguely nauseated.

"It is humor," Sarek says, "what my wife termed 'teasing.' I have never seen Spock so tactile. I found it...amusing." 

Jim stares at him for a few seconds before he bursts out laughing. Beside him, Spock's mouth has dropped open. Jim laughs until his stomach hurts and his eyes begin to water. Across from them, Sarek looks smugly satisfied with himself. Pressing the heel of his palm into each eye, Jim settles back in his chair and shakes his head. Spock's hand is still wrapped tightly around his. 

Yeah. He can get used to this.