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Papers in the Roadside

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Jim spots him the moment he enters the bar.

At any other time, he probably wouldn’t have given the guy a second glance. Vulcans and bars seldom go together, but this is Chicago, and weirder things have happened. But business is slow in the early afternoon – Jim likes to pretend that the time of day has more to do with it than the bar’s location – and there’s time to stare.

The Vulcan is tall and dressed in jeans of all things, the pant legs wet up to his knees and his canvas shoes clearly soaked through. Jim blinks, watching as the Vulcan wrestles with a huge purple monster of an umbrella, trying to fit it into the holder. There’s something almost psychedelic about the image, a surreal tinge to the picture playing out in the gloom of a backstreet bar while a thunderstorm rages outside.

The Vulcan walks slowly toward the bar, unbuttoning his wet jacket to reveal a simple grey shirt underneath. His hair is also more wet than not, and Jim wonders if the guy knows that an umbrella has purposes other than collecting water.

He sits at the bar, not too close to Jim, and doesn’t look up, his attention focused on a small PADD he’s pulled out of his pocket, wiping the water – unbelievable – off the screen.

Jim mentally sighs. He hates it when people treat him as if he’s invisible, no more sentient than a beer tap. He wonders vaguely if he’d be shown more respect if people knew he was the owner.

“What can I get you?”

The visitor doesn’t wince, but somehow, the impression of being caught by surprise is unmistakable. He looks up.

Jim falls in love between one startled blink and another.

They stare at each other as time slows down, stretching like a rubber band. Outside, the storm seems to still for a moment; a couple of girls giggling in the corner over their coffees quiet minutely; Lorenzo the poet is still grumbling over the modern day Iliad he’s writing; but the sound evens out, becomes distorted, incomprehensible.

A heartbeat. Two. A metallic clang of the coffee roaster. The sharp smell of rain sucked in through an open window. Brown warmth glowing, deep, startled.

Jim takes a breath, careless, and the rubber band snaps, spinning time back into motion.

The Vulcan clears his throat, blinking. “I am unfamiliar with most beverages on the menu,” he says, glancing minutely at the list that flashes names in the middle of the counter.

His voice conjures up images of tangled bed sheets and late mornings, and Jim mentally shakes himself. This is ridiculous; he should get laid more often and talk to Lorenzo less. In fact, he should probably grow a spine and show him the door like every other sensible barkeep in town.

“I would not—” The Vulcan pauses, frowning slightly, as though puzzled by Jim’s continued silence. “That is, something heated would be most welcome.”

Jim grins widely. “I know just the thing. Won’t take a minute.”

That earns him a slight raise of an eyebrow, but Jim is too busy to give due appreciation to that fact. He spins around on his heel, hands reaching for a small pot and activating the heater. Jim likes the open flame and considers the time he lost kicking the city administration for permission to use it well spent.

His fingers catalogue the sensations absently, like marks on a well-known route; the chapped ceramic pot, warm from the flame; apple skin, smooth, slithering, smelling like the summer; a whiff on his fingertips, the red wine breathing; a runaway drop of honey, white, viscous. It would have been a ritual, except it really does take only a minute.

Jim is scanning the spices and doesn’t know he’s being watched until he breaks a cinnamon stick and hears a sharp intake of breath behind him. Jim smiles to himself.

He just knows he isn’t wrong with this.

The drink pulses with ruby energy when Jim pours it into a glass, arranging the contents artistically and dropping in a straw. He turns around, beaming for no reason at all, and sets the glass on the bar in front of his guest.

The Vulcan is staring at the drink inquisitively, without wariness or disdain. He glances up at Jim, whose heart stutters for a second. So much for getting a grip.

“You are aware that Vulcans are not affected by alcohol.”

“Yeah, I know.” Jim nods, still grinning. “But this is guaranteed to warm you up. Scout’s honor.”

The Vulcan lifts an eyebrow again, looking somewhat amused. He picks up the glass and leans down slightly, catching the straw between his lips. He takes a sip and rolls it on his tongue for a couple of moments before finally swallowing down. He looks at Jim curiously.

“Were you really a Boy Scout?”

Jim stammers. “I—”

“This is incredibly good, by the way. Very warming indeed. Thank you.”

“Oh. I, um...” Jim blushes and hates himself for it. “You’re welcome.”

The Vulcan is looking at him still as if waiting for something. Jim straightens up a bit, pulling himself together.

“I’m Jim, by the way. Jim Kirk, and I – own this place.”

He wants to slap himself so badly his hands itch. Where did that come from?

The Vulcan, however, seems unperturbed. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Kirk,” he replies, and then does something that completely throws Jim – he reaches out across the counter to shake Jim’s hand.

Dazed, Jim responds in kind, too shocked to register the strength of the hold or the warmth of the skin.

Vulcans never do that. Never. And yet—

“My name is Spock,” his guest continues. “And I do not own this place.”

Startled, Jim lets out a laugh. “No kidding. What do you do for a living, then, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Spock takes another sip, eyes still on Jim, intense with interest. It’s unsettling.

“I am a journalist with the Chicago Tribune,” he replies at last, his gaze lingering on Jim for a reaction.

“Oh,” Jim says, surprised. “Huh. You don’t seem like the reporter type.”

“That is because I am not a reporter.” Spock sets the glass on the bar and sits a little straighter on his stool. “I do not work with news. I write feature articles.”

Jim nods, reaching for another glass to polish automatically. “So, you’re the ‘fly on the wall’ kind of guy.”

Spock’s lips curve slightly. “Sometimes.”

“Aha. You’re, like, famous or something?”

The hint of a smile is more pronounced now, and Spock’s eyes are still focused on Jim’s with the same unnerving intensity. This time, they’re laughing.

“The answer to that question should be self-evident.”

“Hey, no.” Jim grins, throwing his hands up. “I’m just not the reading kind. You could have won a Pulitzer for all I know.”

Not true; Jim knows pretty much anyone who’s ever won that. But Jim isn’t taking Spock upstairs to show him how badly Jim needs to donate things to the local library, so.

“No.” Spock gives a slight shake of his head. “You need not worry that you have not recognized a celebrity, Mr. Kirk.”

“Jim, please.”

“Jim. I do not aim for awards when I write. I’m simply... interested. In people.”

“Really?” Jim stares at him, the glass he’s been polishing forgotten in his hand. “Sorry, not to come all racist on you, but… that’s kind of unusual, isn’t it? I mean, Vulcans generally keep to themselves.”

Something tightens in Spock’s expression; the smooth line of his jaw tenses, and his eyes still.

“Yes,” he says quietly, glancing down at his drink. “Vulcans generally do.”

Jim curses mentally; his foot-and-mouth disease seems to have no hope of ever being cured. He doesn’t know what it was he said, but it was clearly the wrong thing.

He opens his mouth, trying to figure out a way to apologize without making things more awkward, but Spock beats him to it.

“Jim, you are very kind, but I need to finish this right now.” He nods at his PADD.

“Oh, sure.” Jim backs away hastily, his heart sinking. “Just – let me know if you need anything else.”

“I will.”

Jim retreats to his corner, starting to polish a second round of glasses just to keep his nervous hands busy. Lorenzo the poet asks for another Irish coffee – ‘There’s supposed to be liquor in it, Jimmy, don’t forget’ – so Jim makes it, not bothering to substitute the real Irish Cream with its non-alcoholic equivalent. It’s too early in the day to start arguing with Lorenzo in butchered Greek.

From time to time, Jim looks over to where Spock is sitting, seemingly fully immersed in whatever’s on his PADD. He takes in Spock’s rather artificial slouch – as if he’d rather be sitting straight, but someone told him that it’s uncalled for in such a setting, so he has carefully constructed a more ‘relaxed’ pose. Spock’s hair is drying and curling slightly at the very ends, making him look wind-swept and a little rebellious.

Jim sighs. Spock probably is more than a little rebellious, given that Jim has never seen a Vulcan willingly wearing human clothes or working in such a decidedly less-than-dignified field. Jim’s success in his own profession is mostly based on his ability to read people, which makes his quip about Vulcans even less acceptable. He blames it on Spock’s eyes – so damn gripping – but it doesn’t make him feel better.

He satisfies himself with quietly preparing another mulled wine to replace the one Spock has finished.

“On the house,” Jim says, when Spock looks up at him, eyebrow raised.

“Thank you, but that is not neces—”

“I insist.” Jim grins as amiably as he can. “We’re a little out of the way and don’t get a lot of clients. Can’t have you forgetting us too quickly.”

Spock holds Jim’s gaze with the same frightening intensity, only this time his eyes seem more on the dark side of brown.

“No,” he says slowly, “I do not believe we are in danger of that happening any time soon.”

Jim flushes all over, swearing loudly inside his head, as Spock’s eyes drop from his face and roam all over him, as though capturing every part of Jim for further inspection.

“Yes. Well.” Jim clears his throat. “Enjoy.”

“I am.”

Spock is smirking slightly, starting on his fresh drink, and Jim is ready to do something incredibly stupid, like maybe ask him out because they have officially entered the flirting territory, when he hears the shrill sound of the comm.

“Sorry. That’s my landline, I have to take it.”

Spock nods, staring into his drink. Jim turns away reluctantly and opens the door that connects the bar with the storerooms and the little cramped space with no windows that serves as Jim’s office.

The moment Jim sees Sam’s ID he frowns. His brother only ever calls when he’s in trouble, which in Sam’s case usually spells money, and Jim only sent him a good amount two months ago. Not that he minds helping out, Sam’s the only blood family he has left, but Jim can’t help the incredible frustration he feels at his brother’s inability to take care of himself. There was no one to help Jim during his time of need and he managed all the same, and Sam is supposed to be the elder brother, and it’s all just so wrong somehow.

The bar hasn’t been on the plus side of balance for weeks now. Jim doesn’t know how much longer he can keep this up.

“There’s this girl,” Sam starts, and Jim doesn’t know how he manages to not howl in frustration.

Of course there’s a girl. If Jim is lucky, though, there’s no baby this time. He adores Peter to bits and Aurelan is a sweetheart, and Jim would happily give his last penny to that kid, but another child support deal would probably end his efforts at staying legal right here and now. One Kirk slipping on the wrong side of the law is certainly enough.

The conversation is cold and awkward and lasts forever, and by the time it’s over, Jim has completely forgotten about his unusual customer.

He remembers when he walks back into the bar and sees that Spock’s stool is empty. There is no ruffled Vulcan sitting at the bar, no wet traces on the floor, and no and-you-thought-you-had-it-tough purple umbrella in the holder. There’s an empty glass and a credit chip, but no note or card or anything.

Jim bites his lip hard, trying to hold on to his anger, but he’s just sad all of a sudden, and very tired. He takes the glass and the money, noting that Spock has left a twenty-credit bill for a five-credit check, and it makes Jim feel even worse.

Then he notices that Lorenzo the poet has left, and Jim knows better than to look and see if he’s paid for his drink as well.

It’s too much, really, and Jim laughs, because the only other available option is to burst into tears, and he’s not that far gone yet. He calls Gaila and tries to feel enthusiastic about another night spent over his flashy 3D castle of accounting books, trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

His life is wonderful like that.

 

 

--

Jim can’t remember if there had ever been a moment in his life when he felt optimistic about his future.

Maybe back when he was still a baby and the only things to look forward to were stealing sweets when nobody was looking and building a fort out of the bright constructor cubes scattered around his bedroom. Back before Sam ran away with a traveling band; before Winona lost all touch with reality; before Frank left them. After that, his life had always been a struggle for one thing or another.

Jim had never known his father, but, at times like this, he hopes desperately that there’s more of George in him than there is of Winona. Not because he didn’t love his mother – he just doesn’t believe that clinical depression would look any better on him than it had on her.

Gaila knocks at the open door of his office softly. “Sulu’s here.”

Jim blinks, realizing he’s been staring at the monitor for the better part of an hour and doing nothing except hoping that the figures would magically transform into something less gloomy. “Oh. Right. You okay with closing up?”

“Sure.” She lifts one shoulder, shrugging. “You’re off to the Shelter again?”

“Yeah.” Jim stretches, his body stiff and screeching like rusty hinges. “Shit.”

Gaila giggles. “Make sure the misguided youth don’t hear you do that. They’d start calling you grandpa.”

“Shut it,” Jim says benevolently, reaching for his jacket, the leather worn and warm under his fingers. He pauses, not tugging it on.

Gaila tilts her head, studying him. “What’s up?”

Jim closes his eyes, pressing his hand to the back of his neck and kneading the tired muscles. “We’ll be minus seven grand after closing this month.”

Gaila bites her lip. “It’s not too much, is it?”

Jim snorts. It’s been a while since they measured their revenue by the actual profits rather than by how little they still were going to owe everyone after the close of business.

“It’s not too much,” he agrees, “if we make up for it the next month. But we’ve been on the down streak for ages now, Gaila. I don’t think I believe in luck anymore.”

“It’s not all about luck, you know.”

Jim looks at her. “I’ve talked to Gary. He says that for two grand he can stick our flyers into every health and care pack they’re sending out to the gyms.”

“That’d be great!” Gaila beams. “But – we don’t have any flyers.”

“Hence the two grand. We need to raise it, and we need to raise it fast.”

She purses her lips. “You want to send me back to the streets, don’t you?”

Jim sighs. “I really don’t, Gaila.”

“But my lessons are popular, and women pay well.”

“Girly drinks are expensive,” Jim tells her apologetically.

Gaila nods. “It’s okay, Jim. I’ll do it.”

Jim hates the idea. When he first bought out the bar, they were desperate and came up with the idea of Gaila giving lessons of Orion body dance to attract more people. Very few gyms offered it, and certainly even fewer had Orion instructors. The idea was definitely alluring. As they couldn’t afford even the simplest ad, Gaila danced in the streets for several hours every night serving as a live commercial.

The trouble is, Jim knows how much Gaila hates every reminder of her past, and he is loath to ask this of her. She takes one for the team way too often.

“You don’t have to.”

“Hey.” Gaila lowers herself gracefully to sit on his lap, snaking her arms around his neck. “It’s not a problem. I’ll go to the corner in front of Sulu’s shop; he’ll look after me. If anyone tries anything, he’ll cut them with one of his scary katanas.”

Jim huffs out a laugh, mostly because Gaila’s hopelessly unrequited crush on Sulu has been a long-standing joke between them. “I’ll tell him. Do that tomorrow and the day after, and we’ll have the dance night on Saturday?”

“Sure.” Gaila kisses his forehead. “Don’t frown, handsome, you’ll get wrinkles.”

He slides his arms around her waist, and, for a moment, they simply hold each other.

“It’s going to be okay, Jim. You know we always come through.”

“Yeah.” He sighs. “Yeah.”

Finally, Gaila pushes him away gently and slides fluidly to her feet.

“Well, since the captain is too busy for his sinking ship, I need to go back to work.” She winks at him but turns in the doorway, expression serious. “Be careful, Jim. The one who got arrested the other day had a Cardassian blade on him.”

Jim gives her a cocky grin. “Don’t worry. I used to live on the street, too, you know. I can handle whatever they dish out.”

“I’m just saying.” Gaila’s hands land on her hips in a no-nonsense way. “I’d better not be taking you to the hospital again. McCoy hates me.”

“Don’t take it personally, he hates everybody. I suppose it’s a given in his line of work.”

“Hm.” Gaila purses her lips, not convinced. Suddenly, her face brightens. “Any word from your mystery man?”

“What mystery man?” Jim asks, but he’s blushing, and his hand slides into his pocket unconsciously, palming the PADD he’s taken to carry around with him.

Gaila rolls her eyes. “The one that transformed you into one of your thirteen-year-old charges. Seriously, Jim. Just man up and call him.”

“If he wanted me to call, he’d have left me his number.” Jim pouts.

Gaila throws her hands up. “I give up. I have no idea how your species still manages to procreate.” She narrows her eyes at him. “You do realize the Chicago Tribune has a landline?”

Jim opens his mouth to launch a heated and fully deserved tirade, but at that moment Sulu appears in the doorway, looking irate.

“Jim, what’s the fucking hold-up? You need time to make yourself pretty or something?”

“No,” Jim says quickly, moving around the table. “Let’s go. You” – he jabs a finger at Gaila as he brushes past her – “mind your own business. And the bar.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Anything else, boss?”

“Yes. Don’t seduce Lorenzo; we’ll never be rid of him.”

Gaila snorts. “Too late for that, isn’t it? We’ll never be rid of him, since he thinks you’re his number one fan.” She smirks. “You really like those literary types, don’t you, Jim? Poets, journalists—?”

“Oh God, shut up.” Jim rolls his eyes. “Why I put up with you I have no idea.”

“You guys are so married it’s disgusting,” Sulu says flatly and drags Jim out by the collar while Gaila splutters indignantly.

 

 

--

The walk from Bad Company to St. Andrew’s Shelter for Young Citizens in Need, commonly known as the Shelter, is a little too long for most people to walk, but Jim never takes his bike if he can help it. The night is gloriously soothing, the daylight warmth oozing out of the pavement and buildings, melting in the cool breeze creeping from the omnipresent lake.

Jim takes a deep breath, savoring the city. The scent of late-night bagels, slightly burnt, from a round-the-clock place across the street; the ever-present sound of traffic, mildly abated due to late hour; the vaguely orange glow of the streetlamps, old-fashioned and crooked in this part of town.

When had it become so familiar?

Iowan nights were always cold. Too close to the earth. Endless corn fields, dark and whispering, mulling over the centuries old gossip. Loneliness. The tired groans of the ancient wooden house. A knock in the night. Social worker. Must have spotted the light. No, Mom is fine; see, she replicated the veggies for me. I’m up late doing homework. You don’t have to wake her, do you? Can I get you a coffee? How’s your wife?

“Jim.” Sulu snaps his fingers in front of his face. “Are you even there?”

Jim flinches, jerking away instinctively, before giving his friend a sheepish grin. “Sorry,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. “Long day.”

“Tell me about it,” Sulu grumbles. “Ever since they kicked me off the Force, it’s like I live the same 24 hours over and over.”

Jim glances at him sideways.

He and Sulu had met literally in midair that summer four years ago when Jim tried to make some extra money by working as a space jump instructor in California. Sulu’s chute had malfunctioned and Jim had jumped after him without a second thought, hoping beyond hope they would both make it to the ground in one piece. It was two days after Sulu’s grandfather was killed when someone robbed his antique shop.

“You ever thought about going back?”

Sulu shrugs. “Sure. But not until I find the fuckers and cut them open.”

Jim purses his lips, nods. He gets it. Sulu’s superior in the Chicago PD didn’t.

“Besides, I have the shop now and our street kids,” Sulu adds. “It turns out to be a full time occupation.”

Jim nods again. A skinny street cat dashes away from under his feet as he trips over the curb edge.

Sulu nudges him. “What was Gaila on about earlier? Another penniless poet banging on your door?”

Jim snorts. “Hardly.” He sighs, shakes his head. Why not? “There was this guy the other day; a Vulcan.”

Sulu smirks. “Hot?”

“Gorgeous.”

“Of course.”

“It’s true, though. Way out of my league.”

“I hope you’re not fishing, ‘cause I’m not in the mood to deal with teenage angst.”

Jim looks at him pointedly.

Sulu rolls his eyes. “Any more than I absolutely have to, I mean. So what’s with this guy?”

Jim looks away. “He said he’s a journalist with the Tribune. We might have been getting somewhere, but then I got distracted, and he left. That’s it, honestly. Well, that, and he writes like no one else I know,” Jim adds, fingering his PADD again.

He took the time to download every article Spock has ever written a few days back. To say that Jim was impressed would be a huge understatement. The last time the written word gave him shivers like that happened when he had discovered Ravoux Garan at the tender age of fifteen.

Sulu frowns. “You met Spock?”

Jim stops abruptly. “You know him?”

Sulu shakes his head. “Of him. He’s somewhat of a legend in the Chicago PD. You know, like the Flying Dutchman. The only Vulcan on file with a police record.”

“What?” Jim’s jaw drops open. “Let me guess, he’s also the only Vulcan who doesn’t know how to parallel park?”

“Not exactly. Try interfering with a police investigation, some rather audacious breaking and entering, and threatening several members of the Force in terms that were ripped into quotes on the spot.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Nope. He served fifteen days in all; community service. The Park District guys had never been so happy. I mean, Vulcan efficiency is really something else – those benches had never been so clean.”

“Okay.” Jim grabs his arm. “You realize that you can’t just drop a bomb like that and not explain?

“Yes.” Sulu gave him a dangerous smile, detaching Jim’s hand clinically. “I also realize that you’re awfully distracted tonight, and you’re not leaving me to deal with the crazy kids alone. I’ll get you some info once we’re done with the Shelter, okay?”

“You’re a terrible person, Sulu. I thought you should know that.”

“Yes, and you’re an obsessed fanboy turning stalker.”

“I’m just a lit geek.”

“That’s what they all say.”

 

 

--

Sulu had been involved with the Shelter since his early days in the Force, and it was the only project he refused to leave behind. When he first suggested that Jim join him, Jim had laughed hysterically for half an hour and only stopped when he had started to hiccup.

‘For fuck’s sake, Sulu, I’m just a tramp who got lucky that one time and settled down. I dropped out of school at fourteen and never went back – how do you want me to convince them to do it?’

‘Jim, these kids need someone they can trust. They know me as an okay guy, but I’ll always be a former cop to them.’

‘Don’t you have, like, counselors?’

‘Sure we do. All smart and sympathetic to the gills, but they don’t speak these kids’ language, Jim. You do.’

When Jim finally agreed to go with him, it was mostly to make Sulu shut up and leave him alone. But Jim hadn’t expected to find what he did that first night at the Shelter. A discovery that turned his attitude one hundred eighty degrees.

Those kids were idiots.

They didn’t have the first clue about how to survive on their own, yet didn’t want to be processed by the system. Jim understood about the system, he really did – he’d beat it, after all. But he had never been that helpless.

He found himself talking – snapping, to be exact – before his brain caught up with what his mouth was doing. He’s been talking ever since. Sometimes he feels like he’s on an AA meeting. ‘Hi, I’m Jim Kirk, and this is my life story.’

It seems presumptuous, but sometimes he gets them to listen. The fact that he doesn’t report any of them and occasionally helps them find legal jobs helps.

Tonight, though, there are no new faces, much to Jim’s relief. Sulu gets roped into answering questions about the kid that got arrested the other day. Jim spots Kevin sitting quietly in the corner and grins at him.

“Hey, buddy. How’s it going?”

The boy barely looks at him, but that’s more than most people get from him, and Jim is long used to it, in any case.

“Whatcha doing?” He gets no answer and looks at Kevin’s PADD over his shoulder. “Hey, those look like music notes.”

Kevin rolls his eyes. “Duh.”

“So, you’re back to writing songs then?” Jim prods. “That’s great.”

Understatement of a century. Kevin Riley has seen more foster families in his life than he had birthdays, and his last guardians managed to forget him at a mall. He spent two days wandering and sleeping on benches before security tracked him down. His foster parents hadn’t even noticed his absence. It was a small wonder that he rarely made the effort of communicating with other people, Jim being one of the very few exceptions.

Jim doesn’t know what makes him special. The truth is, while he sympathizes with Kevin’s circumstances, he also can’t help but resent him a little, the irrational part of his brain insisting that he, Jim Kirk, wouldn’t have bowed to this kind of treatment or shut the world out. He would have clenched his fists and he would have fought. Hell, he kind of did.

But he isn’t sixteen anymore. He knows by now that most people aren’t like him, and in all honesty, it’s a relief.

You’re the extreme, Jim,’ Bones told him once, after patching him up yet again. ‘You’re the free radical. If everyone was like you, we’d never have made it into the twenty-third century; we’d have self-destructed even before they’d invented the goddamn gunpowder.’

So Jim grins and clasps Kevin’s shoulder. “Looks like you’re almost done with that one. Wanna drop by the bar sometime, try it out?”

Kevin’s head snaps up, eyes hopeful. “Can I really? Will Gaila be there?”

Jim chuckles. “Sure. She’d never miss one of your dates now, would she? Although I have to ask” – Jim peers at the corner of the screen – “who’s Catherine? Seeing as you dedicated a song to her and all?”

Kevin blushes a deep shade of Bordeaux and mutters something rude under his nose. Jim grins. Maybe the kid will be all right, after all.

Sulu picks him up in half an hour. By that point, Jim is almost asleep in an armchair, feigning participation in the conversation with Marlena, the counselor on duty, who’s been trying to reform Jim and his lifestyle since the moment they met. Most of the time, Jim manages to deflect her efforts by either flirting obnoxiously or being deliberately rude. It’s not his most attractive trait, but the woman gets on his nerves.

“Well?” Jim blurts out impatiently the moment he and Sulu are out the door.

Sulu groans. “You’re pathetic. Go home, Jim, I’ll drop you a message. I expect free drinks the next time I’m at yours.”

Jim lifts his eyebrows suggestively. “Depends on how good that message is.”

But Sulu delivers brilliantly. The fact that he made a copy (clearly illegal) of the police database before quitting his job speaks of paranoia to most people. Jim just smirks. Somewhere in an alternate reality, Sulu would have made a formidable security chief or undercover agent. In any universe, though, Jim is grateful to have him on his side.

Spock’s Chicago Tribune profile barely gives any information on him at all, only mentioning that he’s an Oxford graduate and a Chicago resident. Sulu’s file is much more extensive, and Jim digs in happily.

The first thing he finds out is that Spock is only half Vulcan. His mother was human, one Amanda Grayson, wife of the Vulcan ambassador to the Federation. Spock was born in Shi’Kahr, Vulcan, but Chicago is named as his permanent residence for the last eighteen years.

According to a note in the margins, Amanda Grayson had never divorced her husband, but she had also never gone off planet ever since she returned with her son to her family house years ago. Clearly, even Vulcans believed in going separate ways.

At sixteen, Spock was accepted to Oxford and got a full ride. He majored in anthropology and cross-cultural communications, with minors in social studies, history, and linguistics. Standing champion of the university chess club, too.

Jim grins. Spock was clearly bring-the-smart-back-in-smartass kind of guy. Jim had always had a soft spot for those.

It strikes him as odd, however, that Spock graduated almost six months later than his class. He follows Sulu’s loop-link (underlined in red) and discovers that Amanda Grayson died the day before Spock should have started his finals. That’s when Spock’s trouble with the law began.

The police file regarding Amanda Grayson’s death states that it was a simple traffic accident. Apparently, she was one of the unfortunate couple of hundred who still became victims of those every year on the planet. There didn’t seem to be anything suspicious about the record, in Jim’s view.

Evidently, Spock didn’t agree. From the looks of it, he wrecked havoc in Chicago PD for the subsequent three months until they had enough and arrested him.

Jim nods to himself. The guy obviously had his heart in the right place, and even if Jim will never see him again, he’s glad he knows that. It doesn’t quite restore his belief in the universe, but if there are Vulcans out there who act on their emotions, maybe people of Earth will see reason some day.

Quickly, Jim scans through the rest of the file, but it’s sparse and not nearly as interesting. Spock returned to the university, finished his degree, and then literally vanished. All his traces on Earth disappeared, and for the next five years one can only guess what he had been up to. His pieces appear sporadically in different papers across the Federation, but there is no data whatsoever on exactly where he had been at the time. It’s quite an achievement in itself, considering how extensive and thorough the Federation security grid is. More mystery until about four years ago, when Spock returns to Earth, apparently to stay.

Jim shuts down the file and stares at the screen longingly for a moment. He feels like he has just discovered a completely unknown and utterly compelling novel, but a lot of pages are missing and there’s no telling of how it ends.

Just then, the daily update with their earnings pops up on the screen, and Jim sighs. He doesn’t want to leave Chicago. Seven years is the longest he had stayed anywhere since Iowa, and he doesn’t want to go back on the road. He has Gaila now, and even if he didn’t, he’s tired. He has never complained, but some days he just wishes this seemingly eternal fight would give him a break.

It’s one of those nights when Jim wishes Gary would still slip him a pill of one thing or other every now and then, like he used to years back, just so Jim could sleep without dreams.

 

 

--

Three weeks later, Jim’s mood is considerably less gloomy.

Gaila’s lessons raised enough money to pay for the flyers and to end the month with a  positive balance. It wasn’t much, but it kept them alive, and Jim was too starved for any good news to look the gift horse in the mouth. Jim also managed to get good discounts from their usual suppliers, even though he nearly ended up with severe alcoholic poisoning after his negotiations with Scotty.

Gary’s promotion brought in enough new people to keep things looking optimistic, and Jim had even been forced to call all hands on deck several times this week because he and Gaila were simply overwhelmed. Pablo and Terry came willingly, and Christine cursed them profusely – it looked like she was picking up all the wrong things from McCoy – but Jim figured the tips more than made up for the inconvenience.

It’s Friday night. They seem to have two thirds of the bar full already, and it’s still relatively early. Pablo and Terry are waiting the tables expertly while Gaila holds down the fort at the bar.

Jim is just coming back from the storeroom with a fresh box of limes when the door opens again, and Spock walks in.

Jim freezes in place as his heart stupidly decides to make a somersault or a dozen. He knows he’s grinning like an idiot, but he can’t help it. He can’t believe Spock is back, having all but given up hope of ever seeing him again.

Box still in his hands, Jim takes an unconscious step forward when Spock steps aside from the doorway and turns to guide someone else in.

The ‘someone’ the most stunning woman Jim has ever seen in his life, and he’s counting Gaila. She’s tall and slim like a ballerina, miles of smooth dark skin and lean muscle. Her eyes are huge and almond-shaped, lips invitations and interdictions both, and her hair is the definition of luxury.

She’s drop dead gorgeous and she’s smiling at Spock, who leans closer to hear her words.

Jim turns around mechanically and finally manages to deposit the limes under the bar. Gaila shoots him a concerned look in between taking orders and flirting with customers. Jim shakes his head at her: I’m fine.

He pours someone a beer while watching surreptitiously as Spock and his beautiful companion settle at a table in the middle. The woman is taking in her surroundings curiously, while Spock turns toward the bar and finds Jim’s eyes within a second.

Jim curses under his breath, barely releasing the tap in time to not spill the beer.

It’s just so damn unfair, he thinks bitterly, but he’s walking toward the table already, a polite smile of welcome on his face. Once upon a time he’d made it a habit to personally greet new customers, and there’s no legitimate reason to back down now.

Spock hasn’t looked away from him once, and Jim tenses up more and more with every step he takes. The gorgeous girl is looking at Jim now, too, and her gaze is frankly appraising. Anything to make it better.

“Good evening,” Jim says cheerily, the image of professionalism, as he lays down the menus. “Welcome to Bad Company. Let me know when you’re ready to order.”

His words are followed by an awkward silence. Spock is staring at the menu like it’s going to spring to life and bite him, and his companion is staring at him, impatience clear in her expression. In a moment, Spock winces, and Jim has the strongest suspicion that he has just been kicked under the table. He looks up at Jim, cheeks mildly flushed.

“Jim,” Spock says, and Jesus, his voice is even deeper than Jim remembers. “You may not remember me, but I – I stopped by several weeks ago. I am—”

“Spock,” Jim supplies, grinning. “You write feature articles for the Chicago Tribune. You liked my mulled wine.”

Spock blinks. “Yes.” His eyes narrow. “Do you remember every customer?”

“Nah.” Jim’s grin widens. “Only those with monstrous purple umbrellas that they don’t know how to use.”

The woman laughs at that, and Jim mentally kicks himself. Flirting with a taken man in front of his girlfriend is way too stupid even for him.

“I see,” Spock says, throwing a dark look at his companion. “Nyota, this is Jim Kirk.” Spock’s lips curve slightly. “He ‘owns this place.’ Jim, this is Nyota Uhura, my editor.”

“Your editor?” Jim blurts out before he can stop himself. “You mean she’s not – oh, I’m sorry!” He grabs Uhura’s hand hurriedly and they shake. “It’s a – pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” she replies, smiling broadly, like a puma after a successful hunt. Jim has a horrible feeling that she can read his mind. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“You have?” Jim blinks.

“Oh, yes. You seem to have very, uh, talented hands.” She smirks.

“Please ignore her,” Spock interjects, sending her a glare, before looking back at Jim. “Your menu seems to have a – ‘surprise’ option?”

“Yeah.” Jim grins. “If you trust your bartender, he or she will mix a drink of their own choice for you.” He winks at Uhura. “We’re never wrong.”

“Is that so?” she drawls lazily. “All right; I’ll risk it. What about you, Spock? Your taste is so... unpredictable.”

Spock’s eyes are still on Jim, expression intense. “I trust Jim,” he says.

Jim clears his throat. “Right, then. Um. Guess you won’t be needing those.” He picks the menus off the table. “If you don’t like your drinks, they’re on the house.”

Uhura nods approvingly. “Nice.”

Spock merely continues to stare. Jim smiles at him, hoping it’s still impersonal, and finally makes himself walk away.

“Oh my God, are you drunk?” Gaila hisses at him when he’s level with her. “Your eyes are kinda crazy.”

Jim grabs her arm and pulls her aside. “This is Spock,” he whispers, ignoring the way Gaila’s lips form a perfect O at the news. “I need to make ‘surprise’ drinks for him and his probably-not girlfriend.”

“Okay, just calm down. Jesus.” She squeezes his shoulder. “You’re a professional, Jimmy. You can read anyone. Don’t panic and you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah.” He breathes. “I gotta—”

“Go.” She nods. “Good luck.”

Jim’s hands absolutely don’t shake when he puts together the ingredients, because Gaila is right, he is a professional. No matter how badly he’s crushing on his customer.

Which would be pretty badly, yes.

He thinks about Nyota Uhura, editor and goddess. Confident, assertive, and – a little wary. She’s probably one of those people who don’t really eat so much as feed on the food’s aroma. She did order a drink, though, which means her iron discipline allows for little indulgencies. Something too sweet will be rejected, but something tender with a bit of an intrigue will probably hit the bull’s eye.

Jim snatches a champagne glass and dips it in sugar. He pours a shot of Andorian plum wine, the thick sapphire liquid coiling at the bottom, and then tops it with some extra brut champagne he keeps for those who actually do have some measure of sense when ordering champagne. A slice of plum on top finishes the composition.

Done with Uhura, Jim thinks of Spock and wants to groan. Despite his exercises in stalking, Jim still knows next to nothing about the man. He glances back to where Spock and Uhura are sitting, allowing himself to watch for a moment.

Spock seems calm and collected as they converse quietly, tilting his head to his side slightly when Uhura says something he finds curious. He picked a seat so that he would be the one facing the door, and his eyes sweep over the entrance from time to time, as if checking that no trouble comes in. He’s wearing a dark blue jacket over blue jeans tonight and a beige button down shirt, open at the collar.

All cold with a touch of warmth, Jim thinks. He suddenly wants nothing more than to keep Spock permanently warm.

He picks a self-assured, old-fashioned glass and pours equal measures of Grand Marnier and Bailey’s, sprinkling the mix with dark chocolate.

Before he has the time to question his choices, Jim grabs a tray and heads for Spock’s table, trying to convince himself that this isn’t some kind of test.

“One Kir Andorian for the lady.” Jim smiles and sets the glass in front of Uhura. “And one Caress for the gentleman.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow at the name, and Jim blushes. He forgot he’d have to actually say that. Uhura giggles and throws him an amused look. Jim smirks at her and winks, because he’s pretty certain that she had him figured in two seconds flat anyway.

“Damn, this is good,” Uhura says, after taking a sip. “It’s like – I’m not sure, but it’s like...” She trails off and shakes her head, acknowledging defeat gracefully. “Good job.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Jim gives her a mock bow, pleased at being proved right yet again. He has nothing to do now but to look at Spock, who is nursing his drink cautiously.

“It is – intriguing,” Spock says no sooner than Jim is ready to burst.

“Intriguing,” Jim repeats, not really knowing what to make of that.

Uhura laughs. “That’ll be Spock for ‘I can’t quite find the words to tell you how awesome this is.’ Anyway, if you don’t want it, I’ll drink it. I love Caresses, though I haven’t had one in years.”

Spock pulls his glass closer to himself. “You have your own drink.”

Uhura beams at Jim. “He likes it all right.”

“I would not be averse to another ‘surprise’ for the next round, though,” Spock says. “The taste is very pleasurable, but I do not believe it truly reflects my character.”

Jim shakes his head, but he’s grinning. “You’re one spoiled brat, you know that?” Spock blinks at him. Uhura snickers. “I’ll see what I can do. Enjoy your drinks.”

He makes himself walk away, already working on the game plan in his head, because Spock is not walking out of here tonight without being positively smitten with something. Not on Jim’s watch.

Three hours – and a considerable amount of fancy cocktails – later, Jim suddenly realizes that he’s only working for Spock and Uhura now, because the bar it nearly empty. Jim feels tired, but it’s a pleasant weight. Evenings like this are keeping them in business.

Uhura is looking a little tipsy when Jim takes his latest creations to their table.

“That’ll be the last round,” she says. “I have no idea how I’m going to show my face in the office tomorrow as it is.”

“With the usual amount of glamour and aplomb, one would assume,” Spock suggests dryly.

Uhura’s eyes narrow, and Jim thinks that Spock has a lot of nerve teasing her like that. He feels a little jealous because of this, and because she can translate Spock to English, and because Jim doesn’t have any more reasons to stand here now that he’s delivered their drinks.

It’s the exact moment when Gaila appears at his side and sets a tall glass of Long Island on the table.

“What’s this?” Jim frowns.

“Your drink, silly, so that you can finally sit down and chat with your friends like a normal person.” She makes a face at him, before beaming brightly at Spock and Uhura. “Hi, I’m Gaila. This misunderstanding here is my boss.”

Spock rises to his feet to greet her, and Jim stares. Whoever raised Spock did one hell of a job.

“I like your earrings,” Gaila tells Uhura almost shyly.

“Really?” Uhura smiles. “I bought them on a whim; they were just asking for it, you know?” Gaila nods happily. “But they’re too heavy for me. I told myself I should at least wear them once before – hey, they’ll look great on you!”

“Oh, I couldn’t—” Gaila sputters.

“Tough, let’s find a mirror and see how that works, huh?” Uhura is on her feet already. “Come on, you’ll look great, you’ll see.”

Jim watches as the two of them head off, presumably toward a bathroom, and shakes his head with a disbelieving grin.

“They’ll come back as BFFs, mark my words,” he tells Spock, dropping into a chair.

“Indeed. I have never understood the female capacity to bond spontaneously over—”

“Earrings,” Jim supplies, chuckling. “How’s your Andorian Summer?”

“Acceptable.” Spock stares at Jim’s ice tea. “May I try that?”

Jim laughs, his head lolling back slightly. He can’t remember the last time he had felt so good.

“You’re so, so spoiled,” he says, but swaps their glasses all the same. “At least you write well.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “You read my work? Which piece?”

“Um…” Jim blinks, a traitorous blush creeping onto his cheeks. “All of them?” he admits sheepishly. “I, uh, I sort of had some time, and you, you know. You write really well.”

Spock is staring at him now, and Jim is in so much trouble.

“I like to read,” he says hastily, which is of course the way to make it better.

Spock’s eyebrow crawls higher. “I believe you said you were not the ‘reading kind’?”

“Well, yes, but—”

“I suspected you might have been insincere.”

“You did?”

“Your eyes do not hide your intelligence well, Jim.”

“Oh.” Jim has no idea what to say to that, so he does what he always does when he panics – pulls on a saucy smirk and goes for something obnoxious. “Well, sorry I can’t say the same about you. I mean, the rest of you looks smart enough, but your eyes pretty much just spell ‘bedroom’ – you know what I mean?”

Jim braves a glance at Spock, and regrets it instantly. Spock seems taken aback for a moment, but then he simply looks amused.

“Your deflection technique,” he says, “leaves much to be desired.”

Before Jim can come up with anything to counter that, Spock goes on. “You, apparently, cannot take a compliment. Would it help if I told you that I am not in the habit of paying them? I merely stated a fact.”

“Oh really?” Jim smirks. “Well, guess what, genius, so did I.”

Spock’s answer, whatever it might have been, never comes, because two things happen at the same moment.

Uhura and Gaila emerge from the bathroom, giggling and chattering away like a pair of pre-teen girls, while the entrance door opens, letting in a pair of tall, bulky men in grey uniform.

Gaila’s laughter dies out abruptly, like a put out candle, and she freezes in place, a look of uncontrolled fear on her face. The men move in determinedly, barely sparing a glance around.

Jim is on his feet before he knows it, blocking the way. “Can I help you?”

The visitors focus on him instead.

“You Kirk?” The taller man flashes a badge in Jim’s face. “This is a drugs bust.”

Furious as he is, Jim manages to steel himself. “I’d like to see a warrant.”

“Believe me, son, you wouldn’t,” the officer tells him condescendingly, watching as his colleague flashes a scanner around. “We’re just checking out a rumor. As long as everyone on your staff has a legal ID and a working permit, no one needs to worry their pretty heads about us. Provided your facility is clean and no one has anything in their pockets they shouldn’t have.”

Seething, Jim nods at Pablo and Gaila, while reaching for his own papers. Gaila sends him a look that screams fear, but Jim just jerks his chin and presses his lips together tightly. He knows they both know where this is headed, but they don’t have any other choice but to play along.

His suspicions are confirmed when the policemen barely look at his and Pablo’s papers, but spend a great deal of time staring at Gaila’s.

“You’ll have to come with us, Miss,” the younger of the officers tells her with a smirk.

Gaila bites her lip and steps unconsciously closer to Jim. He squares his shoulders.

“On what grounds?” Jim demands angrily. “Her papers are fine, I hired her.”

“We need to run a more in-depth check.”

“What for? If you want to detain her, you’ll have to charge her with something, and I don’t see how you can, seeing as she hasn’t done anything illegal.”

“We’re not detaining her, Mr. Kirk. This is a routine check, and your employee is a random subject.”

“Random, my ass!” Jim spits. “You have no reason to suspect her of anything, and yet here you are. Did Finney put you up to this? Because this wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Mr. Kirk, you are derailing the police. As I have explained, this is merely a random—”

“—case of racial discrimination exercised by the authorities.”

Jim and both cops turn in unison to stare at Spock, who is on his feet now, too.

The tall officer confronts Spock bluntly. “Who the hell are you?”

Instead of deigning him with a verbal response, Spock pulls out a business card and hands it over, making sure not to come close to touching the man.

“You’re a journalist?” They stare at him in disbelief.

“Indeed, and I would be very interested to know your motivation for picking this young woman as your ‘random’ target,” Spock says and looks at the officers expectantly, a notepad and a stylus at the ready. “I will need to know if your actions are products of your own xenophobic tendencies and unchecked bigotry issues, or if the federal police endorses racial profiling now. Would you care to state your names?”

“Listen, mister—”

“Oh, go ahead,” Uhura encourages, flanking Spock and looking belligerent. “As a Tribune editor, I can assure you that you gentlemen are one call away from making the morning edition’s front page.”

They gape at her, mouths hanging open comically, as she pulls out her comm.

“Are you ready for your fifteen minutes in the spotlight?” Uhura smirks nastily. “More importantly, does your mother know you’re doing this?”

The younger officer looks incensed at this and starts forward, but his partner catches him by the elbow. He glares at Uhura; glares at Spock, who lifts an eyebrow in return; glares at Jim, and doesn’t even look at Gaila.

“We won’t need to run this check after all,” he grits out, shoving her ID into Jim’s hands none too gently. “Our mistake.” He gives his colleague a scathing glance. “All clear, let’s go.”

“Fuckers,” Jim spits, watching the door close behind them.

To his left, Gaila gasps and claps her hand over her mouth desperately, shaking all over. Jim and Uhura rush to her side.

“Hey, hey, baby, it’s okay, it’s fine,” Jim murmurs reassuringly, running a hand awkwardly down Gaila’s back. “They’re gone, they won’t bother you again, I won’t let them. Oh, come on, don’t cry. They’re not worth it.”

“I know,” she stammers, her lips trembling, and tears streaming down her face. She’s shaking like a leaf. “I know, Jim-my, I just can’t help it.”

Jim can’t stand this expression of terrified helplessness on her face. He wants to smash something. He takes a deep breath, trying to stay calm for Gaila’s sake.

“Why don’t you sit down for a few minutes and I’ll make you some herbal tea, huh? What do you say?” She nods at him gratefully. “That’s my girl.”

“Come on, sugar, sit down,” Uhura soothes, her arm snaking around Gaila’s waist as she half-hugs, half-tugs her to a chair.

Jim watches for a moment, before snapping out of it. Unclenching his fists with an effort, he retreats to the bar to make tea.

Spock follows him, sliding into one of the barstools. He doesn’t say anything, but Jim knows he deserves an explanation.

“Thanks for what you did,” Jim says quietly, without lifting his eyes from his work. “Her ID can pass a routine scan, but if they ran a real check, they’d know it’s a fake.”

There is a short pause, and then Spock says, “I assumed as much.”

“You did?” Jim looks up at him. “Damn. Not much skips past you, does it?”

“No, Jim. Not much.”

Again, Spock doesn’t ask further questions, and Jim can’t help but like that about the guy, even if he’s also, for some reason, frustrated with it.

“Her owner brought her here when she was thirteen,” Jim says, pouring boiling water into a tall ceramic cup. “Slavery is forbidden in the Federation, but that bastard had ‘adopted’ her, which pretty much gave him an excuse to do whatever the hell he wanted.”

“Prostitution?” Spock asks softly.

Jim nods tightly. “She wasn’t like the others, though. Never learned proper ‘obedience.’ So that fucker beat her and starved her, not to mention...”

He glances over to where Gaila is sitting, her head lying on Uhura’s shoulder. Uhura’s arms are around her, and they seem to be talking quietly.

“Anyway, she ran away. Don’t know how; she doesn’t talk about it. They searched for her everywhere, because he was some hotshot and Starfleet wanted his dilithium or something.” Jim adds a shot of brandy into the cup and covers it to brew. “She was living on the streets when I met her. Scared to death of anyone in uniform. I was sort of a rover back then, and we just stuck together, I guess.”

“You procured a fake identification for her.”

“Yeah. We needed to get by somehow. I mean, she’s smart as hell, but she didn’t know anything. Had to find a school, had to stay somewhere.” Jim shrugs. “It was easier to tell people she was my foster sister when she had some kind of ID.”

Spock nods pensively. Jim smiles at him. “Bet you didn’t think I was such a shady character when you decided to drop by again, did you?”

It’s the closest he can come up with instead of saying, ‘I’ll never see you again, will I?’

Spock stares at him, and Jim suddenly feels naked under his gaze.

“Who is Finney?” Spock asks.

Jim blinks at the abrupt switch. “He owns the Peel Off.” At Spock’s confused look, Jim grimaces and explains, “It’s a strip bar at the corner of East Huron and North Michigan. Finney’s been pissed at us ever since Gaila turned him down when he tried to hire her. He knows she’s pretty much what’s keeping us alive and he doesn’t like competition. It’s not the first time he’s played dirty.”

Spock frowns slightly. “Why do you consider Gaila to be the only attraction to your establishment?”

Jim shrugs. “She’s what makes us different.”

Spock’s eyes lock with his. “And you are the one who makes it possible. You underestimate yourself.”

“I’m not, I...” Jim trails off. He looks away, and clears his throat. “I need to bring Gaila her tea.”

He picks up the cup and walks over to where Gaila is sitting, without sparing a glance at Spock.

She seems better – smiling timidly at him, though still shaken by the encounter. Jim gets a grateful nod for the tea, and watches as Gaila cradles the cup in her hands, inhaling deeply.

“Just the way I like it,” she mutters.

Jim grins at her. “You mean you doubted me? I’m wounded, madam.”

She takes a sip and sighs. “Thanks, Jimmy.”

Jim throws an arm around her shoulders and tugs her close. “Anytime, sweetheart. Anytime.”

Uhura takes this as her cue to go, nodding at Jim as she rises. Jim can hear her say something to Spock quietly, but he doesn’t look up as they leave.

 

 

--

Despite Spock’s generally cool reaction, Jim doesn’t actually expect him to show up again any time soon. He knows Spock’s type – a good boy with a bit of a romantic streak to him, whose sense of adventure is exercised in small measures and some tightly controlled conditions, and whose list of emergency contacts is a mile long.

Jim doesn’t have anything against those kinds of guys, per se; he just knows that they’re off limits. He can’t even just have sex with them, because lately, ‘just sex’ hasn’t cut it for him. Gary teases him for being a big girl, and Bones warns him not to ask for a cure for blue balls, but Jim doesn’t really care.

He doesn’t feel like indulging the curious good kids, for whom the very association with him is an adventure in itself. He tried at the beginning, intrigued by the fact that they would consider him. But their inevitable pity – good kids – was suffocating, and Jim felt so very low being subjected to it that he made a point of never going past business-related flirting with them. When he was in dire need of a one-night stand, he learned to look elsewhere – Gary’s wild parties came in all too handy for that.

When he receives a message from Spock the day after the bust fiasco, Jim freezes in shock for a moment. Spock has used his private comm line, too, and Jim has no idea how he got the frequency. He tells himself that it’s stupid to be happy about the fact that he and Spock apparently share stalker tendencies.

The message itself is short and laconic. Spock is asking for a recent holo of Gaila. He offers no explanation about why he needs it, only adding a cryptic warning that Jim shouldn’t alert Gaila to this ‘in case it does not work.’

Jim frowns. He hates being in the dark, and Gaila is family. But he hasn’t forgotten how readily Spock jumped to her defense, and Uhura has called Gaila twice already this morning.

Jim knows he can trust them; his life, by now, has sharpened his instincts when it comes to people. He doesn’t know Spock all that well; he’d only seen him twice, his weird crush aside, but he knows – can feel it unmistakably, deep down in his gut – that Spock can be trusted.

Besides, Gaila has spent the night in Jim’s bed, curled in a ball under two blankets, shivering and waking every half hour from yet another nightmare. Jim knows it will pass, but he also knows that they can’t keep this up for much longer. He’s reached the point when he’s willing to risk trusting someone outside the small circle he calls family.

He sends the holo and doesn’t tell Gaila a thing.

It turns out to be a good decision, because Spock falls silent after that. There are no more messages or calls from him that day, nor the next day. By day three, Jim has decided to give it up and stop waiting, because obviously whatever Spock had in mind didn’t work. Jim feels like an ass, because he’s disappointed on two accounts – that there is no progress with Gaila’s situation and that he doesn’t get to talk to Spock again.

Apparently, though, Jim is living through a freak phase of his life when his pessimism is just begging to be disproved.

Spock shows up late on Wednesday when Jim is about to call the last round. He steps through the doorway and nods at Jim. There’s something different about him that Jim can’t immediately lay his finger on – but then he gets it.

Spock looks tired. He’s paler than usual, and there are dark circles under his eyes – not drastic, but noticeable. Jim can’t help a frown.

Spock goes straight to where Gaila’s sitting on a barstool, finalizing the day’s bills. She looks up at him, a confused smile tugging at her lips, when Spock silently hands her a small box.

Gaila shoots a worried glance at Jim before opening it, and then her eyes go round and her mouth opens in shock.

“Gaila, what is it?” Jim demands, losing what little patience he had. “What’s in there?”

“My new ID,” she whispers in awe. She looks up at him, and her eyes are huge. “I’m a… Vulcan citizen, now.”

“What?” Jim blurts out, turning to Spock, who is studying the polished surface of the bar rather than looking at either of them.

“Yes,” he says quietly. “Normally, the procedure of acquiring a citizenship would have taken longer, but, due to the mitigating circumstances, the Council... did, eventually, come to see my point. It was possible to expedite the—”

“But—” Jim still can’t wrap his mind around it. “Vulcan citizenship is the toughest one to get. She’d need a sponsor, and a supervisor, and—”

Spock lifts his eyes at Jim for a moment, a subtle blush spreading on his cheeks.

“Oh my God.”

Spock looks away hastily, but it has been enough time for Gaila to come out of her stupor and connect the dots. Jim knows this, because in a split second he’s laughing his ass off, watching as Gaila tries to hug Spock to death while Spock stands rigid with shock and sends Jim panicked glances over Gaila’s bushy red hair.

Jim kind of wants to hug Spock, too, because Vulcan citizenship is awesome. Theoretically, all Federation planets are equal in rights, but no one messes with the Vulcans. No one. The citizenships that they extend are so far and few in between that Spock had to have pulled some serious strings to arrange this, and – as Jim realizes now – in record time.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Gaila is kissing Spock’s cheeks without any noticeable intent to stop. Spock looks positively flustered by now, and, despite the fact that the sight is hilarious, Jim tugs Gaila back gently.

“Gaila, let him breathe, you’re going to strangle him.”

“I am – more resilient – than I look,” Spock manages, and Jim has to give him points for guts, because Spock doesn’t sway once Gaila finally releases him.

“Thank you,” she chirps again.

“You are welcome, but it was nothing,” Spock says.

“No, man, it wasn’t,” Jim interjects, clapping Spock on the shoulder and allowing his hand to linger. “I owe you one.”

“No,” Spock says with his usual confidence. “You do not – either of you. I did it because I could and because it was the right thing to do.”

Judging by the look on Gaila’s face, she’s about to inflict another round of her very tactile argument method on poor, unsuspecting Spock, and Jim decides to show some mercy. Gaila is right, they both owe Spock big, but Jim will deal with it himself.

He shakes his head. If this is how Spock makes friends, Jim would love to see him making enemies.

“Let’s celebrate!” Jim grins. “Let me just close those last tabs, and then we’ll have the place to ourselves.”

“Oh—” Gaila stops short. “I can’t stay.” She looks from Spock to Jim apologetically. “I didn’t know, and Nyota – she invited me for a sleepover.”

“I am aware,” Spock says. “She hasn’t joined me here now for this reason. I believe she is preparing a celebration of her own.”

“Really.” Jim smirks. “Should I be worried? Do I have to send a cab to pick you up in the morning?”

“As an editor, Nyota commandeers one of the Tribune’s vehicles,” Spock tells him. “I am certain that it is covered.”

“Okay then.” Jim laughs and winks at Gaila. “Enjoy your party.”

“Thanks, Jimmy!” Beaming, Gaila grabs his face and kisses him soundly on the lips. She whirls on Spock then, who looks mortified, making Jim laugh again, but Gaila only gives him another hug, mouthing ‘Thank you,’ before strolling off, the new ID card clutched tightly in her hand.

“Well,” Jim drawls, grinning. “How about you? Feel like sticking around for a bit?”

Spock looks uncertain, and Jim nudges his shoulder lightly with his own. “Come on. There’s a pizza place three blocks from here that is simply to die for. Let me at least buy you dinner for your trouble. You look like shit.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow, affronted. “Very well.”

Jim beams. “Awesome.”

He leaves the wrapping up to Pablo and herds Spock outside, silencing the shrill voice of panic wrecking through his mind that demands to know what the fuck Jim thinks he’s doing. Common sense has never been Jim’s strong suit, and anyway, maybe this time it’ll be different.

Maybe this time.

 

 

--

Jenny’s pizza has always been to die for, but tonight it’s even better, cruelly delicious on Jim’s tongue. The slices are hot and sinfully greasy, soaked with thick tomato sauce, browned crust walls barely able to keep the toppings inside. Everything tastes better; the lights seem brighter; Jenny’s laughter louder when she pets Jim’s hair; and the air infinitesimally sweeter.

Spock keeps throwing amused glances at Jim but doesn’t comment, just looking quietly pleased with himself. Jim grins at him, safe in the knowledge that Spock attributes his good mood to gratitude.

Ironically, their conversation is surprisingly normal for two people trying to get to know one another. They discuss favorite cuisines and the origins of various dishes. Jim admits to loving Italian, while Spock declares it too garish. He says he prefers French, which makes Jim immediately call him a snob and point out that French cuisine is all about meat and wine. Somehow, from there, it strays toward the odd philosophies behind Earth-style vegetarianism and inexplicably ends with Jim quoting old Andorian chronicles while trying to make a point that Vulcans didn’t, in fact, invent ‘rational consumption.’

Spock keeps throwing progressively weirder looks at Jim throughout the meal, but it’s not until later, when they’re walking slowly through the even, predictable grid of the night streets and sacrificing brighter lights for less commotion, that Spock finally gives voice to his question.

“Jim, where did you study?”

Jim blinks, his hands still spread widely from where he’s been explaining why Napoleon should have used elephants like Hannibal did and why it would have been totally awesome, though animal rights defenders might disagree.

“Um.” Jim pauses, caught off guard. He rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I didn’t, really. I mean, there was high school, obviously. But I, um...” He swallows, glancing away. “I never actually finished it. Dropped out way too early.”

For a moment, Spock doesn’t say anything, just peers at him through the tangerine tinted street lamplight. Jim shoves his hands in his pockets, his shoulders drooping.

“Look,” he says grudgingly. “I really don’t want to talk about it. I know I’m probably one of the least educated people you know—”

“And yet you’re better versed in Tellarite politics than some of our senators,” Spock says softly.

“I just hear things, like everyone else. It’s not like I’m—”

“You believe that Guernica is highly overrated.”

“Hey, I never said I was an art expert.”

“Jim. Most people in this day and age wouldn’t know what Guernica is.”

“Oh.” Jim shifts from one foot to the other. “I, um. I just read a lot, I guess.”

A small smile creeps up on Spock’s face. “You truly are a remarkable individual.”

Heat rises in Jim’s face, and he knows he’s blushing. But the compliment isn’t deserved, he knows it isn’t, and suddenly Jim is angry at Spock for not being able to see it.

“I’m nothing special,” he mutters gruffly, resuming their walk at a brisker pace.

“Jim, I didn’t mean to offend you. I was merely impressed—”

“With what?” Jim stops abruptly, whirling toward Spock. “You think I’m smart because I read a lot of stuff and remember most of it? It’s all smoke and mirrors, Spock; a clever guy like you should be able to see through that. If I really were that smart, if I really were ‘remarkable,’ do you think I’d be struggling to keep my laughingstock of a business afloat? Do you think I’d be up all night – night after night – asking myself where the hell I’m going to get the money to pay the damn bills? To pay the people who work for me, because no one else will hire them and who’d be back on the street if I let them go?”

“Jim—”

“Do you think I’d be forced to let some stranger help Gaila if I were anything more than a total failure?” Jim closes his eyes and draws in a deep, shaky breath, trying to calm the sharp, edgy feeling that has been growing in his chest ever since Spock came to the bar tonight. “It should have been me to help her,” Jim says resolutely, in the end. “She’s my responsibility, and I should have been able to keep her safe. But I couldn’t.” He glances up at Spock. “You did.”

Spock holds his eyes calmly, but his expression is more closed off now, guarded. Finally, he clears his throat.

“I apologize if I overstepped my boundaries,” he says quietly.

“Spock.” Jim sighs. “Look, I—”

“It is true” – Spock talks over him – “that I am a stranger and that I acted out of sympathy to what you told me about Gaila. I’m not such a poor judge of character to believe that you would welcome pity.”

Jim gives a weak shrug and says nothing. Well, duh.

“Pity wasn’t my motivation,” Spock insists. “I enjoy a life of privilege, yes, but Jim – that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t be in your position if the circumstances were different. I only don’t know if I’d be able to bear it with as much poise as you do.” He pauses. “Or if I would be strong enough to accept assistance as graciously as you do.”

“Gracious,” Jim repeats and snorts, despite himself, the fight draining out of him. “Yeah, that’s me. The gracious one. Ever heard that beggars can’t be choosers?”

“Indeed,” Spock says smoothly, and they fall in step again, resuming their walk.

The air is damp and fragrant, chilly, oozing from the nearest water collector. Jim glances sideways at Spock, who’s wearing a long, thick scarf, of all things, that somehow manages to defeat the persistent wind and stay put. The spell doesn’t spread up to his hair, though, and Jim smothers a grin. If Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince ever grew up, he’d probably look just like Spock right now, gazing melancholically into the face of the sleeping Lake Michigan.

“I was ten when I first came to live on Earth with my mother.” Spock’s expression is pensive, a little distant. “She had an elderly father to care for, a large, aging house that was literally falling to pieces, and a son to raise – one, I might add, with such specific dietary requirements that simply keeping him fed cost a small fortune.”

Jim nods, peering at the suddenly tense line of Spock’s shoulders.

“She was a school teacher, Jim. That particular expression was one of the first human idioms that I’ve learned.”

“What about your father?”

Spock stiffens even more, and Jim half-expects to be told to back off, but Spock merely says, “He offered to support me, but my mother had reasons to decline.”

Jim doesn’t push. He almost regrets having asked in the first place – they don’t really know each other so well to be trading such personal things. But at the same time, Jim feels selfishly grateful for the reminder that Spock hasn’t always been the rising star of modern journalism without a care in the world.

Human nature, Jim thinks, is really ugly sometimes.

By unspoken agreement, they drift back to safer topics. Jim brushes his shoulder against Spock’s companionably from time to time and grins when Spock gently nudges him back. Jim is starting to feel the stirrings of latent self-consciousness, feeling as though he has revealed too much too soon. But from the somewhat shy looks Spock gives him when he thinks Jim isn’t looking, he might not be the only one, and that’s incredibly reassuring to know.

Besides, it’s not a date, Jim reminds himself firmly. If he doesn’t screw up again, he might yet come out of this with a new friend.

Spock, as it turns out, doesn’t have a car, and Jim walks him to the corner of North McClurg Court and East Grand Avenue, where a multilevel cab is sizzling bewitchingly in yellow and white.

“So,” Jim drawls as Spock flags down a vehicle. “Will I be seeing you again, or have I managed to scare you off good?”

Spock actually smiles at him, the same teasing glint in his eye as when he commented on Jim’s cocktail recipes.

“You flatter yourself. I am not intimidated by well-read bar owners.”

Jim huffs out a laugh, dipping his head and glancing up at Spock through his lashes. “Well. Maybe by the next time you pay us a visit, I’ll finally get your favorite drink right.”

“I’m looking forward to that.” Spock’s lips quirk. “Good night, Jim.”

“Night.”

Jim grins stupidly all the way back to his apartment, through the shower, and for quite some time after he falls asleep.

 

 

--

Jim stumbles down into the bar later than usual the next morning and finds Bones already perched up on a stool, glaring into his coffee. They’re still closed, of course, but friends have privileges, and today is the day of the week when Bones stops by after his godawful 24-hour shift at the hospital that usually leaves him wrecked and so tired that he can’t even sleep.

Jim beams at him, and Bones scowls.

“Aren’t you perky today,” he grumbles as Jim pours him more coffee. “Who is she?”

“Who’s who?”

“You only ever look this chirpy when you got some, so spill, Jim. Who’s the unlucky lady?”

Jim grins at him. “You know, deep down inside, you really love me, Bones.”

“Yes, it’s a very deep-rooted emotion,” Bones drawls acidly. “So deep down you’d need an excavator.” He swallows a gulp of still steaming liquid, chokes, and swears.

Jim laughs, though not unkindly, and pats his back. McCoy swats his hand away in annoyance.

“You aren’t gonna tell me, are you? Wow, Jim Kirk learning not to kiss and tell. That’ll be a first.”

Jim sighs, shaking his head. “There’s nothing to tell, Bones. There’s no lady, and I certainly didn’t get any last night.” He frowns defiantly at McCoy’s disbelieving stare. “What? I can’t be in a good mood every once in a while?”

“Not in my experience.” Bones takes a more measured sip of his drink, eyes still on Jim. “Something did happen, though. You’re glowing.”

Jim grins, not really able to hold back, and tells him about Gaila. Which consequently leads to telling Bones about Spock, but Jim tries to omit the most discreditable details – like a particularly steamy fantasy he indulged in while showering this morning, or the fact that he’s always had a thing for brown eyes.

“So let me get this straight,” Bones says, frowning. “Some random guy shows up on your doorstep offering to solve your problem and wants nothing in return? That’s it?”

“In a nutshell.” Jim crosses his arms over his chest. “What? Good things do happen.”

“Since when?”

“That’s a very cynical view of the world, Bones, you know that?”

“A realistic one. Does he have the hots for Gaila? ‘Cause I can buy it, if it was just him trying to win her over.”

“He’s not—” Jim frowns. He hasn’t thought about that. Spock did jump to Gaila’s defense within ten minutes of meeting her. And while procuring a Vulcan citizenship might be a hell of a long way to go to impress a girl, Gaila is no ordinary girl. It’s possible that Spock simply doesn’t know what overkill is.

“I don’t know.” Jim shrugs. “Maybe.”

Bones pins him down with a piercing look and suddenly smirks. “Oh my God – well, I don’t believe it. You have the hots for him.”

“Bones!” Jim blushes, glaring at his friend. “Do you have to poke and prod even off-duty? I don’t know what this is, okay? I don’t need you and your twelve kinds of torture when I don’t even know if he’s available, never mind interested. Can’t you act like a human being with a heart for once? Pretend if you have to, you’re a doctor, for fuck’s sake!”

“Whoa, Jim, cool down, will you?” McCoy raises his hands, watching Jim warily. “I’ll back off; stop yelling.”

“Sorry.” Jim runs a hand over his face. “I’m sorry, Bones, I just—”

“Jumped the gun?” McCoy nods. “Just a bit, kid.”

“Sorry,” Jim says again. “I didn’t get much sleep.”

McCoy lifts up a finger. “We are not discussing your fantasy life.”

Jim snorts. “Your loss; could’ve learned a few things.” He stirs his coffee pensively, watching the dark liquid swirl in fancy circles. Jim bites his lip. “I just – I really like him. You know?”

McCoy sighs and shakes his head, giving Jim a tired, but sympathetic smile and proceeds to tell him all about a couple of idiots submitted to his emergency room last night with gunshot wounds, of all things.

Jim listens as he checks if the automatic cleaners missed anything. This is why he and Bones are friends. Bones can be an enormous pain in the ass, but this, right here, is why Jim loves the man.

A little absently, Jim wonders why it has never occurred to him to fall for Bones. Sure, he drinks a lot, like most ER doctors, and he’s suffered through a nasty divorce, after which he’s had tremendous trust issues, and of course he’s cynical and sarcastic and completely anti-social most of the time, which should really be read as rude – but he’s a good man. Bones would whine incessantly about his job, but when he’d be offered a position somewhere warm and cozy – which happens regularly, because Bones is just that good – he’d inevitably turn them down in favor of staying at the least comfortable, most underprivileged city clinic on the continent, with its everyday insanity and indifference and self-destructive vibes.

Jim pours Bones more coffee and grins at him for no reason at all and asks about his daughter, who Bones so rarely gets to see. Bones swears that Jo is a menace and will be a space pirate when she grows up, but he loves her, and so does Jim. (Besides, Jim kind of understands about the space pirates.)

Spock doesn’t show up that day or the next, and Jim tells himself that he isn’t disappointed. Gaila dances around the bar, positively radiant, and Jim pushes down the residual twinges of resentment that he wasn’t the one to make her this happy. It’s stupid and petty, but he knows he’ll always be a little jealous of Spock and of how easy some things are for him.

Three days after their celebratory non-date, Jim looks up from the beer tap at some point after the rush hour begins to wane to see Nyota Uhura gliding smoothly toward the bar. She hugs a beaming Gaila and grins at Jim.

“Two shots of Jack Daniels, please.”

He smirks, lifting his eyebrows. “Tough day?”

“You could say that. And you can stop looking over my shoulder, he’s not coming.”

“At all?” Jim blurts out before he can stop himself.

She smirks, watching him. “He said maybe later. He’s stuck at court.”

Jim blinks. “Why?”

“Haven’t you read his last piece?”

“The one about city council staff being forced into an early retirement?”

Uhura nods, knocking back a shot with a kind of casual flourish that makes Jim admire her just a little more. “The city administration is threatening to sue the paper.” She grimaces, drinks down the second shot. “Again.”

Jim pours her two more shots, and she pats his hand approvingly. “Smart boy.”

“Shouldn’t you be with him?” Jim asks, feeling strangely irritated at her blasé attitude. “I mean, I get that this was his article, but surely you have to share some responsibility? As his editor?”

Uhura narrows her eyes at him dangerously, but then just barely smirks, tilting her head back slightly and surveying Jim with barely concealed amusement. “You’ve never seen Spock talk back at a room full of lawyers, have you?”

Jim shakes his head.

“Well,” Uhura drawls, toying with an empty shot glass, “let’s just say that if they weren’t closed hearings, I’d be selling tickets. Spock can be quite ruthless when he wants to be.”

Jim tries to imagine it, and feels suddenly hot all over. He catches Uhura staring at him with knowing eyes and clears his throat, trying to look innocent. She laughs.

“Are the two of you—?” Jim has to ask.

“No. Not interested.” Some of Jim’s disbelief must show on his face, because Uhura shakes her head and admits, “Okay, once, a long time ago, but we never went back to that.” She bites her lip thoughtfully. “Spock wants something stable, something permanent.” She shrugs. “He’s a Vulcan, after all. Not that he’s averse to having fun,” she adds quickly. “Just – I wanted to be with him for the long haul, and I couldn’t do it as his lover.”

Jim studies her carefully through narrowed eyes. In a way, Nyota Uhura is as much of a mystery as Spock is.

“How did you get so smart?” he blurts out before his brain catches up. “I mean, no offense, but...”

She doesn’t look offended as she considers him with a mixture of condescension and sympathy. Her smirk is a bit evil, but also strangely vulnerable.

“Just because I grew up with two loving parents, went to a good school, and landed a dream job straight after doesn’t mean I’m an idiot, Jim.” Uhura glances over at where Gaila is flirting outrageously with a customer. “I might not have had her life, but I do get things.”

From the obvious, almost tender softening of Gaila’s expression when she looks back at Uhura, Jim thinks that yes, she probably does. Maybe even better than he does.

Spock does show up, much to Jim’s delight, by the end of the day, looking grumpy and irritated – for a Vulcan, at any rate. He tries six of Jim’s cocktails while complaining about the hearing, replaying some of the (completely illogical) arguments thrown at him. His voice is even and perfectly calm, but there’s a slight edge of bitchiness to it that Jim can’t help but find adorable.

“You’re so fucked,” Gaila whispers to him at some point. Jim sighs.

She doesn’t know the half of it.

 

 

--

It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, when Sulu comes in with a ruffled, curly-haired kid in tow and pushes him toward Jim, saying, “You said you could use another pair of hands around here. This is Chekov. He’s good with numbers and makes a mean White Russian.” The kid glares at him, and Sulu smirks. “No pun intended.”

Gaila’s maternal instincts immediately kick in, and she pulls Chekov away by the hand, fetching a towel and all but cooing at him.

Jim lifts his eyebrows and looks at Sulu.

Sulu shrugs. “He’s a good kid.”

“He looks twelve.”

“He’s eighteen.”

“He looks like something the cat dragged in. Where’d you find him?”

Sulu sighs. “At the harbor. He offered me a blowjob in exchange for a meal.”

Jim glances back at the kid who’s smiling shyly now, flushed under Gaila’s ministrations. He doesn’t look broken or distrustful, and his clothes are fine, if dirty. He couldn’t have been on the streets for long.

Jim shakes his head. “You know I won’t kick him out, but—”

“He just needs a job,” Sulu says. “Somewhere where people won’t ask questions. He’ll be staying with me.” He lifts up a finger. “Before you say anything, I’m not a child molester.”

Jim smirks. “I wasn’t going to say anything.” Not even that you, my friend, look completely smitten.

The bar is doing better now, and Jim can afford an extra paycheck on his balance. So he smiles at the kid, shakes his hand, and lets Gaila fawn over him some more. Sulu soon joins the ongoing performance, and Jim laughs at him until Spock comes in and steals his attention.

Spock has adopted a habit of stopping by the bar a couple of times a week, chatting with Jim and Gaila. He’s there often enough to be introduced to Sulu and at some point to McCoy, but Jim still doesn’t know what this is. Spock is friendly with him, and clearly interested, but it’s hard to say exactly what lies at the nature of his interest. Jim flirts with him and Spock doesn’t seem to mind. He responds to it, in fact, but, seeing as Jim flirts with everyone, it might only serve to prove that Spock isn’t a prude.

Jim’s crush hasn’t exactly gone anywhere, but he doesn’t know what to make of Spock. Uhura’s words weigh heavily on Jim’s mind, mostly because she’s a smart woman and because she might be right. When it comes to stable partnerships, Jim is certainly nobody’s dream.

It’s not that he’s insecure or self-deprecating – he just knows precisely who he is. He knows that, while Spock worked two jobs to help his mother while studying for his degree, Jim has been busy conquering the continent, fighting and yeah, fucking his way through it, not being exceptionally picky in either case. He’d done his fair share of being a good son, too, but that was a long time ago. His mother has been dead for twelve years, and it’s been about as long since someone had looked at him and come up with the word ‘decent.’

Spock acts like he’s interested, at the very least interested in something, if not the same thing as Jim is. Spock also doesn’t know him.

Jim sighs, stirs his coffee, and wonders silently for how long his lucky streak is going to last.

 

 

--

It all comes to a head when Jim storms into the Shelter one night, livid. Sulu tried to talk him out of it, but Jim was too angry for reason. He must make quite a picture, because the common room, huge as it is, falls silent the moment he bursts through the doors. Jim looks around and sees mostly new faces, but he doesn’t care.

“Two of you broke into a pharmacy on East Superior today. You know the one.”

He gets nothing but blank stares, but it’s not like he has expected a confession.

“I don’t care which of you punks have done it – you or your friends outside – but let me tell you something. The guy who owns that shop is eighty-seven years old and he had a heart attack and nearly fucking died – all for a couple of douchebags to get their hands on the single bottle of KYD. I hope you used it to have a good time; I hope you shared it with friends, because if I ever find out who you are, you’re not gonna feel good for a very, very long time, I promise you that.”

Jim looks around the silent room, noting every averted gaze, every bitten lip, every flinch. He’s scaring them. Good.

Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Marlena emerging from the staff room. He glares at her preemptively, but she just gives him a tiny nod, tacit permission to continue.

“The man you dickwads nearly killed is my friend. For those of you who don’t know, my name’s Jim Kirk, and if you need my street credit, ask around. Do that before you decide that you can’t be assed up to get a job and would rather steal from or hit someone who can’t hit back.”

“Oh yeah, and who died and made you the resident saint, huh?”

Jim looks up to see a beefy guy of around sixteen, leaning against a wall in a would-be casual pose.

“Who are you?” Jim asks.

“Name’s Finnegan. And your little pet Kevin told me all about his sugar daddy.”

Jim ignores the bait and looks around for Kevin, but the boy isn’t there. Thank God for small mercies.

“Did you know that this guy’s street credit mostly comes from whores?”

Several people laugh nervously, and Jim doesn’t even bother glaring, measuring up Finnegan instead. He seems exactly the kind of schoolyard bullies Jim always hated, but he’s not a little kid anymore.

“So why don’t you shove your righteous anger up your ass, Papa, and leave us the hell alone?” Finnegan mocks. “Not all of us have a shitload of money and an Orion slave girl in their bed. Some of us have to do stuff that ain’t so pretty to survive.”

“Spare me the sob story,” Jim huffs. “Everyone in this room has one, and you know what? I don’t give a flying fuck. I didn’t pull myself out of the gutter to maybe try and do something with my life just so I could stand here and take crap from the likes of you.”

“So you’ve got a sob story too, then?” Finnegan taunts. “Do tell. Did your daddy cut off your allowance when he found out you stuck your dick where it didn’t belong?”

“Finnegan!” Marlena snaps. “Watch your mouth.”

“No, it’s all right,” Jim says suddenly, because sure, Finnegan’s trying to seem cool and in control, but Jim has been that guy for too long not to recognize it for what it really is. Fear. Desperation. It’s like looking into a distorted mirror, and Jim hates the reflection, but he can’t disown it.

“You want to know my sob story?” Jim asks calmly. “Fine, I’ll tell you my sob story. My dad couldn’t have cut my allowance, you stupid fuck, because he died the day I was born. You’ve heard of George Kirk, maybe? Of the USS Kelvin? That’s who my dad was.”

The room falls abruptly silent and everyone, even Finnegan, is staring at Jim with an expression of mild shock. Jim smothers a smirk. Kirk isn’t an uncommon name, so few people make the connection.

“When he died a hero, my mom sort of lost it. Clinical depression – ever heard of that? It’s treatable, right, only she didn’t want to be treated. She was smart, knew how to fool the shrinks. Quit her jobs to look after her kids, found a boyfriend. Only he didn’t stick around when she turned out to be too much work. And my brother fucked off with a rocking band, cliché or no, the first chance he got. So it was just the two of us, me and my mom, and the house falling to pieces around us.

“I was seven when Sam left, and if she was trying before then, she stopped after that. She didn’t get out of bed if I didn’t make her; didn’t eat if I didn’t bring her food. We had no money to pay for anything, because Starfleet pension for early quitters? Is a real fucking joke. They built a shipyard and named it after my father, but they couldn’t be assed up to take care of his widow.

“And you know the funny thing? Nobody cared. The social workers that stopped by every once in a while? I learned to trick them before I knew the fucking alphabet. Didn’t want to go to foster care, see; never could wrap my mind around why I should be placed somewhere when I could take care of me and my mom just fine.

“Only, she died when I was fourteen. Just didn’t wake up one morning.”

Jim takes a deep breath and a moment to steel himself. He can feel the weight of their gazes on his face, and he still doesn’t want pity.

“We were bankrupt. Everything was sold. Everything I ever called mine was gone. They wanted to send me off to an orphanage, but I talked to shrink after shrink until they allowed a court hearing and the judge emancipated me. All I had was my bike and a couple of books, and I took off. Just drove wherever. Took on stray jobs, never stayed too long. I don’t know why I didn’t end up dead in a ditch. It sure wasn’t for lack of trying.”

“What happened?” a girl curled up on the windowsill asks, her eyes wide.

Jim smirks wryly. “My pussy of an elder brother tracked me down. Turned out he knocked up a girl he shouldn’t have and her parents kicked her out. He needed money. Then I met Gaila – and if you call her a slave girl again, Finnegan, I’ll punch you in the face – and she needed me, needed someone. I made a good friend by accident, Bones McCoy, he works at the city clinic here. We trailed after him to Chicago, and well, here we are. I won’t tell you how I came to own my bar, but it sure as hell wasn’t through stealing.

“So yeah, Finnegan. How’s that for a sob story?”

The boy doesn’t answer, and Jim suddenly feels spent; his anger has dissipated somewhere in all the memories.

“You can do with your lives what you want,” Jim says, peering over the room at large. “But think twice before you hurt a friend of mine again. I’ve been around the block more than a few times. Whatever excuse you have, I’ve heard it all before, so you can shove it. If you want my help, if you want a job, you know where to find me. And if you don’t start acting like human beings with brains attached, I’ll find you.”

With that, Jim turns around to march out of the room—

And comes face to face with Spock, whose expression tells Jim immediately that he’s been standing there the entire time.

 

 

--

“What are you doing here?” Jim asks through gritted teeth the moment they step out into the boulevard.

“I stopped by the bar.” Spock’s voice is calm. Quiet. “Sulu told me where to find you. He said you were... upset.”

Jim swears under his breath. “He had no right to send you in like that. And you – you should have told me you were there. Had fun listening to me choking my guts out?”

“Jim.”

Spock’s fingers wrap around Jim’s wrist, cool. It’s late, and the alleyway is dark and deserted. Jim bites his lip and doesn’t realize he’s shivering until a gust of wind sends a tendril of cold air under his collar and down his spine.

“Don’t say you’re sorry.”

Spock hums. “I am sorry that this has happened to you. I’m not, however, complaining about the man it made you.” He pauses and Jim can hear the smile in his voice when he says, “I find I quite like him.”

Jim snorts. It’s involuntary, simply bursting out of him like a bubble of schadenfreude. He chuckles, his throat dry and painful, and then finally laughs, lifting up his eyes to meet Spock’s at last. Spock is indeed smiling in a quiet, understanding way. His expression is soft, but not pitying. Jim is momentarily overwhelmed with the knowledge – the certainty that it shouldn’t be possible, but it is.

Spock gets it. Jim can feel it through the firm, reassuring touch of his fingers, can see it in the steady darkness of Spock’s eyes, and it’s elating. Wondrous.

For a moment, Jim wonders how Spock would react if Jim leaned in just now and kissed him. Something probably shows on his face, because Spock lets go of his wrist suddenly with a muffled gasp, and Jim blushes. He’s always been too fucking transparent.

“I feel like a drink,” Spock says suddenly, and it’s the phrasing that gets Jim again.

He chuckles. “Me too, but I don’t feel like making one.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “There is a 24-hour establishment at the Green Inn.”

Jim grins. “Lead the way.”

 

 

--

They talk more about it after that, and for the first time in Jim’s life, it’s almost easy. He’s spent so much time worrying about Spock’s reaction to the unsavory revelations about Jim’s past that, now that Spock knows and shows no inclination to run away screaming, Jim feels like he can’t shut up.

He talks about Sam and Aurelan and Winona and about how Jim never learned what to do with his life except to take care of those who did, even if their choices were – are – shit. And Jim can’t help it, he really can’t, if he takes his time to describe one awful episode or another if it makes Spock take hold of his wrist again, or place a hand on his shoulder, or even – on one notable occasion – to press his fingers to Jim’s temple soothingly, sending a shot of acceptance and warmth throughout Jim’s body.

Gaila calls him pathetic, and Bones seems to be a bit jealous, but Jim doesn’t care. His past can’t hurt him anymore; he’s made peace with it, and he’s not one to play the sympathy card forever. It’s just that, despite appearances, Spock isn’t very generous with emotions, and Jim can’t help but coax a little more out of him while he can.

Jim doesn’t know if he owes it to Spock’s regular presence in his bar, but a few more Vulcans suddenly start showing up. They come in at odd times of the day, usually in pairs, and sit quietly at the far tables, ordering dry white wine. If they weren’t Vulcans, Jim would think they’re undercover agents – green and therefore obvious. He shares the thought with Gaila, who laughs and actually walks over to them to try and find out.

Jim watches her for a few moments, enjoying the almost openly startled expressions of their stoic customers, but it’s happy hour, and Jim’s hands are full.

“So what’d they say?” he asks Gaila later, polishing the glasses while she balances the cash register.

“Hm?”

“The Vulcans? The secret agents?”

“Oh! Oh, well, actually—” She bites her lip and frowns. “They said they were from the Citizenship Commission or something. Monitoring my ‘assimilation.’ Asked me some funny questions.”

Jim steels. “What about?”

She squints at him. “About you mostly. How long I’ve known you, if I know about anything illegal that you might be involved in—”

Jim’s eyebrows fly up. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, and also if you’re using me as your personal fuck toy.”

What?”

“Well, he didn’t phrase it exactly like that.” Gaila shrugs and grimaces. “He said something along the lines of ‘pressing me for sexual favors.’ At which point I’m sorry to say I lost us a paying customer by throwing his drink in his face. I don’t think they’ll be coming back.”

“Yeah, well, good riddance.” Jim picks up his dish towel again. “Seriously, what a jerk. You should have told me, I’d have kicked his ass.”

Gaila giggles. “Jimmy, you couldn’t take a Vulcan.”

“Could, too.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’ll have you know that I can hold my own.” He puffs out his chest and Gaila snickers. “Anyway, Spock could take him. You wait till I tell him.”

By the time Jim sees Spock next, the story mostly turns into an anecdote, but Spock isn’t amused. He freezes at the news, his features growing still and pale as he listens. He calls Gaila over in a sharp tone Jim has never heard him use and makes her repeat the conversation word for word. She does, looking bewildered, and now Jim is alarmed, too.

“Spock, what’s wrong? Did we screw up her citizenship or something? They were just a pair of jerks, we didn’t know—”

“Jim,” Spock interrupts him firmly. “There is no ‘Citizenship Commission.’”

“But—” Jim blinks. “Then who the hell were those guys?”

Spock purses his lips and doesn’t answer. He demands in a no-nonsense tone that Jim calls him immediately if any other Vulcans step through the door, and he clearly knows something, but when Jim tries to insist, Spock flat-out refuses to tell him.

“Well, that’s just peachy.” Jim glares at him. “We didn’t ask for your help in the first place, and if you dragged us into something fishy, you could at least have the decency to tell us.”

“Jim!” Gaila hisses, horrified.

Spock’s face is blank. He looks over at Jim, then at Gaila and back. “You’re right,” he tells Jim coolly. “It was my involvement that brought on this... trouble. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

He walks out, ignoring Jim’s continuous swearing and Gaila’s pleas.

 

 

--

Jim doesn’t see Spock for three weeks after that until finally he arrives, dragged in by Uhura and looking mildly sheepish and stubborn at the same time. Jim, who has missed him terribly but will rather cut his arm off than admit it, greets him with a scowl and arms crossed over his chest.

Uhura rolls her eyes. Spock steps forward and states, in a tone that is anything but repentant, “It has been brought to my attention that I was in the wrong having walked out on you.”

Jim waits for anything more to come. When it doesn’t, he lifts his eyebrows. “You want a medal or something?”

“I wish to – that is, I—”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Uhura pushes Spock forward none too gently. “Kiss and make up already, will you? He’s been miserable these past three weeks.” She pins Jim down with an unimpressed look. “And from what I’ve been told, so have you.”

Jim glances sideways at a grinning Gaila and hisses, “Traitor.”

He’s so busy feeling betrayed that he almost misses the incredible phenomenon of Spock blushing. When he does notice, he does a double take, which makes Spock blush harder.

“Oh my God,” Jim mutters, a gleeful grin spreading irresistibly on his lips. “Spock, you know you only need to ask, right?”

Uhura is trying to disguise her laughter as a fit of coughing. Gaila has no such reservations and laughs out loud, while Spock glares at them.

“Let it be known,” he says with enough aplomb to fuel a couple of royal dynasties to the fiftieth generation, “that, at this moment, I sincerely regret knowing any of you.”

“Aw, come on,” Jim coos, patting him on the shoulder. “You know you love us. You get jealous when we talk to other Vulcans.”

There’s a subtle shift in Spock’s expression; his eyes are suddenly sober. “There have been no more... visitors?”

Jim shakes his head, watching him closely. “None.”

Spock visibly relaxes. “Good. That is good.”

Jim draws in a breath, then locks gazes with Spock – and lets it go.

“Come on,” he says. “I just got a whole new line of Andorian ice teas. It’s a special delivery and I need a tester.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow, smiles softly, and follows suit.

 

 

--

Pavel Chekov is a godsend.

Initially, Jim had his doubts, because the boy was barely legal in more senses than one and a runaway to boot, but he didn’t look like a junkie, so Jim went with it. It proved to be one of the most solid decisions Jim’s made in a long time, because Chekov’s puppy dog eyes can guilt anyone into spending twice as much as they intended.

People flirt with him, enthralled by his accent or his curls or God knows what, really, and that used to be a major concern for Jim. But Chekov seems to like it, and if things start to escalate, he masterfully hints at his close ties with the Russian mob, which usually works like a charm.

Besides, Chekov turns out to be a closet math genius, and when he timidly tells Jim he could maybe optimize the bar’s accounts, Jim wants to buy him a life-size cake, possibly with a stripper inside. Chekov blushes scarlet, because Jim apparently has no brain-to-mouth filter, and Gaila smacks Jim upside the head before leading Chekov off to show him Jim’s computer.

There are also two new girls on the staff, Janice and Tonya. Jim feels mildly intimidated by them, because Tonya tried to give him a back rub once and Jim can’t sit straight for a week afterwards, and Janice has this way of looking at him like she knows that he didn’t wash his hands before eating back in the fifth grade and when she finally gets some proof, Jim will be in so much trouble.

Gaila laughs at him shamelessly and unkindly, and Jim informs her for the thousandth time that she is a bad person. But he also has more time on his hands now, and can’t deny that it’s kind of nice.

For one thing, it allows him to haunt a flea market on a Saturday afternoon and drag Spock along with him.

Jim loves flea markets. There’s just something about their eclectic, inconsistently-tidy nature that appeals to him on a base level. He likes being assaulted by colors and shapes, and he likes to touch things that have history. Most of the bar’s interior is decorated with stuff Jim picked up at similar places at one time or other. Luckily, though, Jim seems to have a better vision of what would fit there than he does when it comes to his bedroom.

He turns around to look at Spock’s reaction and laughs out loud at the expression on Spock’s face.

Spock has way more expressions than he likes to admit, and right now, he’s startled into showing Jim a plethora. There’s the look of a kid in a candy shop, mixed with a neat freak’s terror at the lack of hygiene in his surroundings, topped with wariness of too much chaotic traffic around him, and spiked with the curiosity of an explorer.

Jim grins and tugs at Spock’s sleeve. “Come on.”

Very soon, Jim is happily surfing through a box of old paperbacks while Spock examines a stand with vintage earrings, trying to select a present for Nyota. Jim grins to himself, because Spock obviously has no idea that he’s supposed to bargain for goods, and looks bewildered when the vendor takes offense in him willing to pay sticker price.

Jim buys a whole set of Patrick O’Brian’s novels and a copper kettle that looks positively ancient. Spock, in addition to the earrings, buys an ancient tape recorder that seems to fascinate him to no end. Jim laughs at him, but Spock is unflappable, giving him nothing but a stoic eyebrow in reply.

The next stop is a teashop that Spock seems to like. The first time Spock mentioned it, Jim felt inexplicably jealous, even though he always suspected that his bar isn’t Spock’s typical scene. Spock seemed to have seen right through him at the time, because he smirked and said that Jim should allow himself to be occasionally reminded that there is life outside Bad Company, and permitting someone else to serve him a drink on a day off is not the end of the world.

Jim still grumbles unhappily about the place, but trails after Spock all the same, flashing insolent grins at the waitresses in retaliation.

Jim orders some elaborate concoction that includes coffee, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, raspberry jam, and waffles, called Midday Delight. Spock squints at it and says that it should have been called Diabetic Coma. Jim sticks his tongue out at him and winks at their server.

Spock, of course, is having some weirdly scented tea. He’s also reading Jim passages from the article he’s working on, sometimes asking for his opinion. Jim really has no idea why Spock would be after an advice from someone who dropped out of high school, and it’s really hard to think when Spock’s gaze is fixed on him with that unnerving intensity, so Jim mostly blurts out the first thing that comes to his mind.

It’s disturbing to hear that Spock finds his opinions ‘refreshing.’

“Kill the last line,” Jim says, stretching in his seat.

“Why? I believe it is suitably laconic and illuminates the readers as to the story’s conclusion.”

“Exactly. You’re telling everyone what happens to this guy at the end, after he’s made this decision. Just – wouldn’t it be better if you left that open? Let people believe what they want?”

“This would constitute to a more dramatic resolution,” Spock notes dryly. “I am not aiming for additional theatricality.”

“Yes, you are, you big fraud,” Jim says, scooping the last of his dessert and grinning. “I’ve read your stuff, remember? You definitely have a thing for cliffhangers.”

“Unintentional, I assure you.”

“Wow, you even sound convincing.”

“Jim—”

“No, really, Spock. Think about it. Your article isn’t about whether or not this guy was successful. It’s about him being able to make this decision, that difficult choice. All that matters is that in the end, he made it. Whatever the consequences were, that’s all that really counts.”

Spock purses his lips, staring at his PADD, thinking.

“I believe I shall keep the line,” he decides finally, and Jim grins.

“Whatever, man. It’s a great line.”

Spock looks at him. Jim shrugs. “Why do you even ask me, anyway? I mean, you write like Ravoux Garan – only you know, better.”

Spock taps his PADD off and peers at Jim curiously. “Am I to understand you are a fan?”

“Of Ravoux Garan?” Jim asks hopefully, because Spock really doesn’t need to know that Jim has this disturbing habit of rereading Spock’s articles when he’s feeling low. “Absolutely. He’s...”

Spock waits patiently as Jim tries to dress his feelings into words.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on the move, you know,” Jim finally says. “Mostly read stuff by accident. You know, when someone forgot a book, or there was a free-for-all library, or I was lucky enough to run across a vendor. I read tons of really weird stuff – garbage, mostly. Then I stumbled over one of Garan’s books, and it was – shit, Spock, it was like discovering language. I had no idea you could do these things with words. It’s like they’re in my head, only they’re beautiful, you know? And I could – I could sort of – relate to those people, his characters, even though I was just another smudge of dirt at their feet.”

“Yes.” Spock’s lips curve slightly. “Your use of language, for one, fits that description perfectly.”

Jim throws a napkin at him. “Shut up.”

“Are you aware that Ravoux Garan will be presenting his new novel here in Chicago next week?”

“Really?” Jim perks up. “That’s fantastic. I thought it wouldn’t be out for another month.”

“It will not,” Spock confirms. “It is a pre-publication presentation for columnists and critics. I believe abstracts of the novel will be read—”

“Dammit,” Jim groans. “Did you have to tell me that?”

“I will attend.”

“What?” Jim blinks. “I didn’t know you did lit crit.”

“I do not. I do, however, have an invitation.” Spock pauses. “It’s a plus one.”

Jim doesn’t dare to breathe, because if he hears what he thinks he hears...

“Would you like to come with me, Jim?”

Jim lets out the breath he’s been holding, and wow, is his head actually spinning?

“Are you kidding me?”

Spock looks mildly chastised. “I did not know it would be of interest to you, or I would have asked you sooner.”

“Oh God, Spock, shut up, please, please.”

Spock hesitates. “I – am confused, Jim.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m damn near stupefied, and it’s all your fault.”

“Do you wish to—”

“Yes! Yes, dammit, I’m dying to go with you, so stop asking or I might actually believe this is happening.”

“This is highly illogical.”

“Tell me about it. Don’t you want to take someone else? Uhura, maybe?”

“Jim.” Spock begins to sound exasperated. “I believe my stated intentions are a good indication of what I want. If you do not wish to accompany me, simply say so.”

Jim stares at him, then grins slowly. “Spock, you’ve just invited me to a once in a lifetime chance to meet the guy who pulled me out of the gutter and has been my hero ever since, and you think that I’ll pass on this? Good luck shaking me off. In fact, can we go already?”

Spock’s smile seems almost relieved, and Jim is certain he’s seeing things.

“The presentation will take place next Friday,” Spock says. “And Jim – it is a black tie event.”

Jim blinks. “I will get to wear other clothes, too, right?”

Spock smirks, and doesn’t reply.

 

 

--

As it turns out, ‘black tie’ means Jim will have to wear a tuxedo.

When Gaila enlightens him on the subject, Jim almost chickens out of going all together, because he doesn’t think he’s ever actually worn a suit, never mind a tux. He’s certainly never owned one and has never come close to a place where people were required to wear them.

If Spock were there, Jim would have probably apologized and bailed, but Spock is off planet for the whole week, working on some project on Tellar Prime. He sends Jim a short text message on Thursday confirming their plans and asking if Jim could pick him up on Friday.

Jim realizes he’s doomed, and sends Gaila to pick a suit for him. He has no idea how to even buy something like that, anyway.

“I was thinking about your eyes, sweetie,” she tells him as she hands him a rather bulky package. “Take it out now, let it hang.”

Jim carries the thing upstairs as if it’s prone to exploding. When he does pull it out, he freezes for a moment, staring. He gets what Gaila meant immediately, but it doesn’t make him any less nervous.

The tux isn’t traditional black or even green (which really isn’t the new black, but some people still try). No, Jim’s tux is navy blue, the darkest possible hue, and it’s so damn fancy that Jim is almost afraid to touch it. The dress shirt he finds in the box is so blindingly white that it’s almost painful to look at. Jim also finds a bowtie and a pair of shoes inside, and swears.

This must be what hell feels like.

Jim tries to concentrate on the fun part. He’ll get to hear passages from the new novel by his favorite author, after all. Maybe he’ll even manage to steal a copy.

But no matter how hard he tries to convince himself that Spock has invited him in the spirit of that BFF thing they have going on, it still feels disturbingly like a date, and Jim cannot imagine a worse setting. He knows the cutlery, thanks to his profession, but apart from that, there are so many ways he could screw things up that it’s absolutely terrifying.

Jim barely sleeps that night and has to drink nearly his weight in coffee the next morning, but then there’s an unexpected problem with the plumbing in the men’s room and Jim all but forgets about the party trying to fix it. There are irritated customers to placate and drinks to prepare, and Jim dives into the familiar whirlwind so readily that when Gaila tells him that it’s six o’clock, it comes as a shock.

Jim rushes upstairs and contemplates drowning in his shower.

He dresses with numb hands, and allows Gaila to style his hair. He’s almost afraid to look in the mirror.

“Well,” Gaila says thoughtfully. “If he doesn’t jump you after this, he’s probably dead.”

Jim swallows and tries to come to terms with the fact that the striking stranger with his eyes is really him. He feels awkward and uncomfortable and afraid to move.

Gaila looks at his face, sighs, and slaps him hard on the ass. “Don’t sweat it, princess. Remember who you are.”

“Thanks, Gaila,” Jim says dryly.

Because this is Jim’s life, Spock lives in a freaking mansion – a beautiful three-floor house with an honest to God front garden, small but still there – at the very end of the North State Parkway. Spock must have an amazing view of the lake from his upper balcony, and Jim doesn’t want to think how much money Spock is actually making to be able to maintain the building in such perfect state.

Feeling very much like a certain Bernard Shaw character, Jim takes a long route to Spock’s house that involves driving around in circles, but still manages to arrive half an hour early. Jim thinks briefly about sitting in the car the extra time, but eventually decides against it. He simply can’t stay immobile for another minute.

When he presses the chime, however, there’s no immediate answer.

Jim buzzes again, and then takes a couple of steps to the side, trying so see through the narrow windows if there’s anyone inside. It’s not like Spock to be late, but—

The door finally opens, and Jim sighs in relief and then he laughs.

It hasn’t occurred to him that he might actually wake Spock, but in a moment he remembers that Spock’s shuttle only landed about four hours ago, and Spock was probably trying to catch up on some sleep. Jim seems to remember him mentioning something about an early deadline and a tight schedule on Tellar. Knowing Spock, the chances are great that he had simply worked non-stop from the moment he left Earth on Sunday. Jim has already witnessed the way Spock loses all awareness of his surroundings, never mind physical needs, when he’s deeply into investigating or working things out. No wonder he decided to hit the sack the first chance he got.

Spock is wearing a grey t-shirt and sweatpants that hang incredibly low on his hips, teasingly exposing a line of skin. His hair is in much more disarray than usual, and his eyes look soft, unfocused. The drowsy expression makes the lines of Spock’s face turn gentler, smoothing the angles. He looks warm and boneless and Jim wants to snuggle him, kiss the relaxed, sleepy line of his mouth, and count his lashes.

Which, oh dear God, not helping.

“Jim.” Spock blinks, and then blinks again, and then he stares. “You are... early.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Jim grins sheepishly.

“No.” Jim has never seen Spock quite so dazed. It’s cute. “I apologize.” Spock runs a hand over his face, in an endearingly human gesture. “I appear to have slept through my alarm. This is most inappropriate.”

He looks annoyed with himself, and Jim shrugs. “Oh, come on, no harm done. I’ll just wait till you shower or something.”

“Of course.” Spock nods, stepping back. “Please come in.”

Jim steps over the threshold, taking in his surroundings curiously. The house is obviously old, but it carries the traces of more or less recent renovation. Jim figures that Spock was aiming to preserve as much of the original interior as possible, because the living room looks a little antiquated, if impeccably neat, and not exactly like something Spock himself might have chosen.

Jim is enthralled by the wooden panels, though. The year he had spent working as a carpenter in Florida has always been one of his dearest memories, because, as it turned out, Jim liked working with wood. He turns around to ask Spock about the original decorator only to find Spock standing by the door, looking, for all intents and purposes, still sleepy as hell, with an odd, glassy expression in his eyes.

Jim’s heart immediately sinks.

“Spock? Is something wrong?”

Spock actually winces at the sound of Jim’s voice. “No,” he says hastily. “No, I was merely...” He swallows. “You look very handsome, Jim. That color suits you.”

“Really?”

Spock nods.

Jim can’t help a relieved smile. “Oh, thank God. I feel like an impostor in this monkey suit.” He tugs at his collar ineffectually. Then, because he’s Jim Kirk, he smirks. “Do you want to take a picture, or go get dressed?”

Spock nods again, ungluing himself from the door at last. “I will be with you shortly. Please make yourself at home.”

Grinning, Jim watches him climb the stairs and shakes his head before taking a real look around.

The living room looks neat, but somehow undisturbed. By the looks of it, Spock might enjoy watching the news while stretched on the sofa, but hasn’t had the time in awhile.

Taking Spock’s invitation to heart, Jim wanders into the dining room to find it carrying even less traces of being used sometime during this life of any of the house owners. It’s impeccably clean – Spock must have a squad of really advanced cleaning drones – but the delicate flowery design of the wallpaper and elaborate lacings of the tablecloth reminds Jim of a century old installation in a museum rather than an actual living space. Across the hall is another door, leading presumably to a study, but, although Jim is curious, he decides not to push it.

It suddenly strikes him that the house is enormously big for one person. There must be at least four bedrooms upstairs, and God only knows what the floor beyond that is for. Jim tries to imagine how it must feel to spend one’s days in these pristine rooms – gorgeous, but empty.

He’d have gotten a dog, he thinks. But then, Spock is frequently off-planet, so a dog probably isn’t an option.

Sighing, Jim drifts into the kitchen, and here, finally he finds a place that looks like someone might have actually used it during this century.

It’s big and bright, lots of crème and cocoa with a drop of terracotta every now and then. From the elaborate kitchenware, Jim concludes that Spock must cook, though, by the looks of it, not very often. At least he actually owns a stove and a fridge, unlike most people, in addition to a replicator.

Jim opens the fridge out of curiosity and grins to himself. Barely half-stocked, mostly with vegetables. A pack of lettuce looks like its better days are way behind it, and Jim drops it to the recycler, thinking that Spock’s mother must have despaired of him a lot.

He opens another chamber and stares for a moment in surprise at the battery of cans he finds there. A smirk stretches across Jim’s lips and he chuckles, picking one before closing the fridge.

Blueberry juice.

So that’s the elusive favorite drink Jim hasn’t been able to find yet. Judging by the number of cans, and the fact that they seem to come all the way from Finland, Spock is not only a fan but also a snob, and Jim’s got him good now.

He sets the can on the counter, shuffling cocktail recipes in his head in his quest for revenge, when a voice comes out of nowhere.

“I see you found the refreshments.”

Jim spins on his heel, startled because he hasn’t heard the sound of footsteps, and freezes, catching the sight of the man in the doorway.

Spock is stunning.

In his black, tailored tux, he seems to have come straight from a million credit Hennessey commercial, but with his would-be carelessly disheveled hair and a tantalizing glow spreading across his freshly shaven cheeks, he also looks like a star of a triple-X porno, and the insane mixture is doing horrible things to Jim’s blood pressure.

It’s not like he hasn’t known that Spock is hot. Spock is fucking smoking on any given day, and Jim knows that, down to his bones. But his friend’s sexuality has never before been such a tangible, aggressive presence in the room, seizing all attention and demanding acknowledgement.

The worst of it is that Spock apparently has no idea about what’s going on. He frowns slightly in obvious concern. The noble ivory of his shirt brings out his eyes like an ice cube dropped into a glass of an extra old whiskey, and the smooth black band that he’s wearing instead of a bowtie makes him look exquisite and one of a kind and for some reason makes Jim think about fallen priests, and that is just so wrong

“Jim?”

“Yeah,” Jim says, sounding dazed to his own ears. He shakes his head forcefully and grins. “Yeah. Sorry, you startled me. You, um – you clean up nicely.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “I confess I have never understood that particular expression.” He reaches for a glass. “Would you like some juice?”

“What? Oh, um, no. No, thanks. Actually, you shouldn’t, either—”

But Spock is already raising the glass to his lips and taking a long swig. “Why not?” he asks, confused.

Because now you look like there’s dark purple gloss covering your lips and this is seriously more than I can take.

“Blueberry leaves stains on skin,” Jim explains lamely, trying to tear his eyes away from Spock’s lips. “You, uh, you might want to—”

“Oh.” Spock picks up a napkin and, after a barely detectable moment of hesitation, offers it to Jim. “Would you mind? I cannot see myself.”

Use a fucking mirror! God, I can’t do this…

“Sure, uh – c’mere.”

Trustingly, Spock steps closer to Jim, leaning against the counter and tilting his head to catch the light. Jim takes his chin gently with one hand to hold him still, and presses the napkin carefully to Spock’s bottom lip, progressing in slow, measured motions. Spock’s lips part to give him better access, and Jim holds his breath. He deserves some kind of medal for this.

Blueberry being its usual bitchy self, Jim has to rub the cloth a little harder against the tender skin. He can’t hear Spock’s breath, but he can feel it from the point of contact all the way down to his toes. It’s excruciating, and as Jim leans back to observe his handiwork, he suppresses a groan. He’s taken most of the juice off, but now Spock’s lips look puffed and obscenely bright, firm lines smudged around the edges, and Jim can think of nothing but sucking on them until he can do considerably more damage.

“All set,” he manages, and makes himself step away.

“Thank you.” Spock straightens up and inclines his head politely, lifting his fingers instinctively to touch his lips. Jim looks away. “If you’re ready to go, then?”

“God, yes. Let’s hit the road.”

The cool air outside is a welcome change and Jim takes a deep breath, reveling in the richness of oxygen. Spock shoots him a concerned look but doesn’t comment, and Jim grins in gratitude and relief.

Once in the car, he asks Spock about his trip, and the conversation helps easing the suffocating tension a little bit as Jim adjusts to this new reality of Spock, who doesn’t even try to contain what he is. It does take some getting used to, but if Jim keeps his eyes on the road as he’s supposed to, he can almost get by.

 

 

--

The reception hall of the Galaxy Hotel is glowing with light and alive with soft music and beautiful people. For a few moments, Jim feels a little dazzled by the glimmer and shine, his stomach drifting up uncertainly as if someone has turned off the gravity. He glances at Spock again and is struck by how perfectly at ease his friend seems. Spock looks like he belongs here, as an integrated part of the world of rich and famous, and it makes Jim wonder, once again, what he is even doing here.

Spock walks through the crowd without paying much attention to those smiling at him. Jim doesn’t know what to make of it, so when he catches a glimpse of a particularly enthusiastic group waving at Spock and calling his name, he tugs at Spock’s sleeve.

“Aren’t you going to say hi to your friends?”

Spock follows Jim’s gaze and inclines his head stiffly in response to the greetings, but says merely, “Perhaps later.” He signals a nearby server. “Champagne?”

Jim exhales. “Yes please.”

He downs his glass in one go, which might not be the brightest of ideas, but Jim needs something to carry him through this. Spock watches him with a bemused expression. When Jim merely grins wryly and reaches for Spock’s untouched glass, Spock gives it up without a word.

“Man, I am so going to embarrass you,” Jim mutters, sipping this glass of champagne at a more reasonable pace.

“Of course not,” Spock says disinterestedly, his eyes passively sweeping over the room.

“How do you even do this?” Jim blurts out, trying to return what looks like the fourth toothy smile of a tall dark-haired lady in a jaw-dropping red dress. “Being on display like this, it’s...” He trails off, unable to articulate his thoughts.

“I have a certain amount of experience,” Spock replies, frowning for some reason. Jim isn’t sure if Spock steps in front of him by accident or design. “Official Vulcan functions are considerably more formal and – invasive, for lack of a better term. I was forced to participate in them since I was six.”

Jim tries to imagine being scrutinized by two hundred of stiff-looking Vulcans who probably disapprove of breathing too loudly, never mind having fun, and has to admit that Spock has a point.

Spock!” They both hear a loud shriek and Spock freezes. “You naughty, naughty boy, you – gotcha now!”

Jim turns to see a petite vividly blond woman heading for them at what looks like warp speed. She isn’t wearing a dress so much as an excuse for one, and anywhere else in the world she would have been arrested for public indecency. She seems vaguely familiar, but Jim doesn’t have the time to dwell on it, as the determined lady all but jumps at Spock, hands clenching behind his neck. Spock turns rigid as a statue, but the woman doesn’t seem perturbed.

“Long time no see, huh?” she purrs in Spock’s ear, but she’s staring at Jim. “Introduce me to your arm candy? Pretty, pretty please?”

She wiggles her hips suggestively, and Spock manages to stiffen another notch. Jim can see his fists curling and uncurling. If he brought on that reaction, he’d be nervous as hell, but the lady is obviously unaware that there are people on this planet who might find her unwanted.

“Aw, Spocky, he’s so gorgeous,” she coos, and then decides to finally talk to Jim. “You’re gorgeous. Any time you wanna do me, I’m wet and ready for you, baby, you got that?” She reaches with one hand to pat his cheek, and Jim only barely manages not to jerk back. “Spocky here has my number, though he’s such a dull boy, he never calls.” She pouts in disapproval, before beaming at Jim. “See ya later, hot stuff!”

She stalks away finally, swaying on her ridiculously high pumps.

Jim looks at Spock and sees a barely perceptible shiver running down his body. Jim grips Spock’s elbow without thinking. “You okay?”

“Indeed.” Spock nods, composing himself with a visible effort. “I am sorry about this, Jim.”

“Not your fault.” Jim shrugs, and peers over Spock’s shoulder. “Was that really Reese Carlton?”

“Yes,” Spock replies tightly. “And I assure you, I do not have her number.”

“Shame,” Jim says, grinning.

Spock stiffens and glances sharply at him. “If you wish, I could—”

“What? No! Sorry, Spock, it was just a joke. I guess this setting really freaks me out.”

Spock relaxes a little. “You do not need to worry, Jim. We’re here for the reading. And I will not leave your side.”

That brings Jim up short, because he might not be as worldly as Spock obviously is, but he doesn’t need anybody’s charity – least of all Spock’s.

“I don’t need you to babysit me. If you want to go chat with your friends, I’ll be fine.” Jim looks around for the nearest target, who happens to be a bright-eyed Deltan male in a malachite green tux, and leers at him. The Deltan looks surprised for a moment, then smiles encouragingly in return.

Spock observes the exchange calmly, straightens up, and steps back. “Very well,” he says. “If that is what you wish.”

He turns around and dives into the crowd faster than Jim can call after him.

“Well, that went well,” Jim mutters in frustration.

It’s this damn party, he thinks glumly. It’s spurred him into full defense mode, and he never had any illusions that his ‘fight or fight’ instincts are anything but ugly. Most people, after all, at least consider including the ‘flight’ option.

The Deltan is closing in on him now, and Jim groans mentally, looking for an escape route. Fortunately for him, the lights begin to dim at this moment, and an announcer asks everyone to take their places.

Jim looks around for Spock as he moves toward the back row of the seats, but the Vulcan is nowhere to be found. Jim curses under his breath and drops down to a chair, fuming and completely ignoring all the provocative smiles sent his way.

 

 

--

Ravoux Garan is a force of nature.

Jim has seen the holos of the man before, but he’s still somewhat surprised by how short he is. Bushy brown hair, mischievous eyes, a wrinkled tux that looks like Garan stole it from his older brother – Jim grins. He definitely likes the guy for a reason. It just beats him how so much energy and charisma could be secluded into such a compact form.

Garan talks about his upcoming novel and reads passages from several chapters. Jim is enthralled and dying to buy the damn thing, but he can’t fully concentrate on the reading. He keeps glancing along the rows of seats, trying to find Spock, but it’s pretty dark, and the audience is no small crowd. Jim shifts in his seat restlessly, torn between enjoying his once-in-a-lifetime moment and desperately missing Spock at his side.

The moment the lights are back on, Jim leaps to his feet, but even amidst all the applause, the thoughts of getting an autograph are the furthest thing from his mind.

The reception restarts with a fresh load of champagne and more delicious snacks, but Jim wanders over the crowded hall looking for one person only. He doesn’t care anymore about being scrutinized or about the ache in his spine from holding himself too stiffly.

“Norbert does come off as codependent and helpless, doesn’t he? Did you write him like that for a better contrast with Shelby?”

Jim looks around to see Garan standing in the middle of a small circle. Jim narrows his eyes at the man who asked the question and dislikes him immediately.

“Codependent – perhaps, to a degree,” Garan muses calmly, where Jim would have punched the arrogant bastard. “Helpless – hardly. He is on call for everyone he knows. It is merely his own issues that he is unwilling to settle, and that, my dear fellow, is a choice.”

The guy frowns. “That doesn’t sound at all like neo-utilitarianism at all.”

“That’s because it mostly applies to jerks,” Jim interjects before he can stop himself. “Norbert is practical. Doesn’t mean he’s selfish.”

Blood rushes to his cheeks as everyone turns to stare at him. Jim tilts his chin up defiantly. Norbert might be more messed up than any other fictional character Jim has ever known, but that doesn’t mean he’s worth dismissing.

“Quite right,” Garan says with a soft chuckle. “But if he’s so practical, why can’t he sort himself out?”

Jim shrugs. “I think he likes being messed up. It’s a convenient position to gain sympathy and not actually have to do anything about his life. Helping everyone else is just a bonus so that he can look noble in his own eyes and make people believe that he’s trying.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Oh yes, it does,” Garan says cheerfully. “In fact, it’s the most sense anyone has ever made of Norbert in my recollection – possibly myself included.” He winks at his audience. “Excuse me, gentlemen. I want to have a drink with my new friend.”

He walks toward a now very flustered Jim with his hand outstretched. Jim takes it automatically, ignoring the stink eye the rest of the group is giving him.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Garan says, shaking Jim’s hand enthusiastically.

“Jim Kirk,” Jim responds, still trying to figure out what’s happening.

“I have a feeling you’re not a lit critic.”

“Hell no.” Jim snorts. “I’m here with a friend. I, um, I own a small bar downtown.”

“You actually sell alcohol?” Garan beams at him. “I like you more by the second.”

Jim grins. “I’m a big fan, Mr. Garan.”

“Oh, please, call me Roux. All my friends do, Jim – may I call you Jim? Excellent. So you like Norbert, eh?”

Which is how Jim finds himself talking animatedly to his favorite writer about the merits of characterization and its correlation with real life long enough for people to start sending them questioning looks. Garan seems completely unfazed by having his attention monopolized like that. He gesticulates wildly as he explains to Jim his reasoning at one point or other, like Jim has given him a royal treat.

“Spock!” Garan yells suddenly, startling Jim into jumping. “You made it, you son of a bitch!”

“How could I have missed your presentation, Roux?” Spock says politely. His eyes are smiling as he looks at Garan.

“Missed plenty of them in the past,” Garan points out, and then, much to Jim’s surprise, goes for a generous bear-hug, which Spock endures stoically and even returns, to a degree. “Saw you in the audience; you looked like you were chewing on a lemon. Was I that bad or what?”

“Certainly not. You forget that I am not immune to professional jealousy. The passage about the storm was simply astounding.”

Garan chuckles. “Believe it or not, I wrote it with you in mind. The ‘virgin bolt of anger’ and all that.”

“Indeed.” Spock’s lips curve into a small smile. “I am flattered.” He looks over Garan’s shoulder. “I see you have met Jim.”

Jim locks gazes with him, begging mutely for forgiveness, as Garan spins around and claps him on the shoulder hard. “That’s the friend you’ve come here with? You’re just full of awesome, aren’t you?”

Before Jim can say anything, Garan rushes on. “Well, if you’re his friend, then tell him to stop being an idiot and publish the damn book. He’ll tell you he’s not finished, but it’s bullshit. He’s been sitting on it for two years now.”

Jim looks at Spock in surprise. “You’ve written a book?”

Spock opens his mouth, looking anything but comfortable, but Garan beats him to a punch. “What do you mean he’s written a book? He’s written a damn bestseller! I mean, sure, others tried to tell the truth about what happened on Belta, but none of them had actually been there, never mind been in the midst of it.” He grips Spock’s shoulder. “Here we have an actual honest-to-God first-hand account from a member of the Peace Corps, written in a language that would make Joyce eat his hat, and he wouldn’t – I mean, forget Joyce! This book will redefine our knowledge of literature – and he won’t have it published!”

Jim gapes at Spock, unable to believe what he is hearing. Spock, a member of the Peace Corps, stuck in the middle of the Belta disaster? Survived Belta, period? Jim can barely come to terms with all this, and Spock looks...

Spock looks more upset and troubled than Jim has ever seen him. Instinctively, Jim wants to reach out to him, but they’re still in public, and with highly enthusiastic company.

“That – seems like a… travesty,” Jim hears himself saying haltingly, and this time it’s Spock’s eyes that are pleading. “I’m sure we can – talk about it.”

“Great idea!” Garan exclaims, slapping both their shoulders. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must dash. There’s Gina Weston, and is she spots me, I’m a dead man. I’ll be sure to swing by for a drink, Jim!”

Garan hurries away, leaving a loaded silence in his wake.

Jim eyes Spock carefully before stepping closer to him.

“I’m sorry about before,” he says softly. “I was being an ass.”

Spock sighs. “No, I apologize. I overreacted.”

Jim shakes his head, but doesn’t argue. Spock looks distressed, and Jim wants nothing more than to wipe that look off his face for good, but he’ll settle for as quickly as possible.

“Do you think we could maybe leave now?”

Spock looks at him gratefully. “You wouldn’t mind?”

Jim gives him a reassuring smile. “My dream came true, thanks to you.” He squeezes Spock’s arm for a moment. “Come on; let’s go home.”

They almost reach the parking lot when someone steps in their way, and Spock stops short.

It’s a Vulcan, dressed in formal Vulcan robes and looking better in them than anyone Jim has ever seen. He’s quite young, Spock’s age perhaps, and undeniably attractive. Not exactly Spock, of course, but someone Jim might have hit on, if the circumstances were different.

“Roven,” Spock exhales more than says, and the Vulcan bows gracefully.

“Spock. It has been a long time since our last meeting. You appear to be well.” Roven has a deep, pleasantly rough voice, Jim notes grudgingly, even as he stares at the guy with distrust.

“You as well,” Spock replies, and Jim has to fight down a sharp pang of jealousy, because Spock’s tone is gentler now than when he spoke to Nyota. “It is gratifying.”

Roven’s gaze drifts toward Jim in clear inquiry, and Spock jumps to make an introduction, as if only just remembering someone else is there.

“This is Jim Kirk, a friend. Jim, this is Roven of Vulcan—”

“His friend and lover,” Roven finishes for him.

Spock looks mildly scandalized, but mostly exasperated. “Roven...”

“To what do you take objection?” Roven asks innocently. “I am merely utilizing terms that are most clear to humans in order not to cause any confusion. I learned that from you.”

“Yet you are intentionally leaving Jim with a wrong impression regarding the current status of our relationship.”

Roven’s eyebrows arch gracefully. “Do you no longer consider me a friend, Spock?”

Spock shakes his head, but he is smiling softly. He glances at Jim apologetically. “Could you give us a moment?”

“Sure.” Jim nods. “Or I can just go if you want to catch up or something. I don’t mind.”

Spock’s hand closes around Jim’s wrist faster than Jim gets all the words out. “It will only take a moment,” Spock says, and there’s a definite pleading note to his voice. “Jim, I—”

“Okay.” Jim knows he shouldn’t, but he can’t really help it. He twists his wrist within Spock’s grip and catches his hand, twining their fingers. He makes certain Roven sees that. “I’ll wait by the car.”

The way Spock is looking at him – surprised, happy, and very, very grateful – almost makes the whole thing worth it.

Jim doesn’t even try to pretend he’s not watching. He’s too tired for that; the whole evening with its emotional rollercoaster has been too turbulent to leave any room for pretence.

Jim doesn’t like the way Roven steps into Spock’s personal space. Roven is talking and Spock is listening, staring at him without blinking, eyebrows knitting together tighter and tighter. Jim can’t hear the words, but he doesn’t like the way Spock’s face suddenly registers open alarm, and he glances at Jim with frightening urgency. He asks a question then, sharp, insistent, and Roven places a hand on Spock’s shoulder, as if bracing him before he answers.

Jim feels suddenly compelled to break the offending extremity. The fact that Spock simply lets Roven touch him doesn’t help matters.

Spock is staring at his feet now, his shoulders slumping. He says something so quietly that Roven leans closer to hear. He then takes Spock’s hand in both his own, making Spock glance up at him, and presses it presumably to his heart. His expression at that moment is so un-Vulcanly earnest that Jim feels the ground sway beneath his feet.

Jim finally turns away, because he really doesn’t want to know if they kiss.

He hears the sound of footsteps in a moment, and then Spock is standing at his side, silent. Jim turns to face him head-on to hear the verdict.

“Jim,” Spock says. “You have been a bartender for a long time, correct?”

“Yeah.” Jim frowns, unsure where this is headed.

“Do you know of any substances that affect Vulcans and could be obtained within this city?”

Jim looks at Spock. And looks. And looks. An ice-cold drop of sweat slides down his spine as it all sinks in.

“Yeah,” Jim breathes. “Yeah, no worries, man. I got you.”

Spock nods wearily and somewhat desperately, and all but falls into the passenger seat.

 

 

--

They make a short stop at a spot that Jim is loath to show Spock, but fortunately Spock expresses no desire to leave the car. After that, it’s just a straight and quiet drive to Spock’s house, which somehow seems even more dark and haunted now.

They crash in the living room. Both Jim and Spock get rid of their ties. Jim loses his jacket, too, opens the collar of his shirt with relief, and rolls up his sleeves.

Spock has yet to say anything, as he watches Jim open the first bottle. The odor is strong enough to knock out anyone inhaling too deeply, and the taste will be worse. Jim cringes at the bottle. There’s no way he’ll be able to drink this, and he doubts, somehow, that it’ll be much to Spock’s taste.

“Hold on a second,” he mumbles and dashes to the kitchen. He comes back with two old-fashioned glasses, several large cans of blueberry juice, and a shaker he discovers in one of the cupboards.

Spock leans back on the couch, unclasping his jacket, eyes following Jim’s hands diligently.

Two parts juice, one part terp’a. Jim shakes two liquids together violently, hoping it’ll be enough. He hands Spock his glass, brushing their fingers on purpose, but Spock seems distant and fails to notice.

Spock drinks half his glass in one go while Jim stares.

“Thank you, Jim,” Spock says, his voice raspy with the burn of alcohol. “I believe this will have the desired effect.”

“No kidding,” Jim mutters, choking on his first sip. “Just take it easy, okay?”

Spock nods. They sit in silence for a while, drinking.

“Tonight did not go the way I intended to,” Spock speaks at last.

Jim looks at him. “You didn’t want to go at all, did you? Because of Roux?”

“Indeed,” Spock says. “He is a good friend, and my mentor, if you please, when it comes to writing. But he is always very insistent about the book. I made the mistake of showing him the draft, and now he will not let it go.” He pauses. “I am not – ready – to publish it.”

Jim refills his glass and waits patiently. Spock is clearly working something out, and Jim is willing to give him time, even if he’s dying of curiosity.

Spock takes a long swig of the cocktail and sighs. “I believe I never told you about my family, Jim.”

It’s something of a non sequitur, admittedly, but Spock isn’t one for illogical leaps, so Jim doesn’t comment. He has a feeling that everything will add up in the end.

“My mother was Amanda Grayson of Earth, and my father is Sarek of Vulcan.” Spock pauses. “T’Pau of Vulcan is my grandmother.”

Jim all but drops his glass. “The T’Pau?”

“Indeed. She has been the cornerstone of the Vulcan society for approximately two hundred years now. Her level of involvement is unprecedented.”

“I’ll say,” Jim mutters under his breath, swallowing.

“Thirty years ago,” Spock continues, “T’Pau decided that Vulcan needed a visible token of commitment to the principles of IDIC and of the deepening bonds of friendship and camaraderie with humankind. She ordered her son to select a wife among the humans to achieve that goal. Her logic was sound.”

Spock leans deeper into the couch, freeing the first button of his shirt and inadvertently revealing more smooth, even skin. Jim leans forward in a not-so-unconscious desire to bend over and lick up the delicate curve of Spock’s throat, even as he listens to Spock’s words with growing trepidation.

“At the time, Sarek had already served as an ambassador to Earth for several years and was acquainted with a young woman called Amanda Grayson. He decided that she would make a logical choice for his wife.

“My mother did not know of his reasons.” Spock pauses to take another sip. “She fell in love with Sarek, and believed that he reciprocated her feelings, albeit silently.”

“So he – fooled her?” Jim asks cautiously.

“I do not believe so.” Spock frowns. “Vulcans rarely harbor intent to lie. I infer that he was quite intrigued by her, and so left her with the wrong impression. His actions spoke of affection and caring. My mother believed that he simply could not admit to his feelings, and she was willing to accept that.

“He married her, and they came to Vulcan. There, a Vulcan ceremony was held – the bonding. A mental bond was established that, in due time and with proper training, granted my mother access to Sarek’s mind and heart. Finally, she was able to see the truth.”

At this point, Jim can’t stop himself from reaching and squeezing Spock’s arm. Spock nods, without looking at him.

“But the realization did not arrive for the first three years, during which time the efforts of the best specialists in genetic engineering, both Vulcan and human, resulted in a successful pregnancy, and eventually – me.

“I was approximately two years old when my mother could not deny the truth any longer. Sarek cared for her and respected her because it was logical to care for and respect one’s spouse. He did not love her. And while he abstractly approved of the idea of having a child, his son… scared him.”

Spock’s voice turns sad, even as he fights to keep it even, and Jim moves closer to him on the couch without being aware.

“I was not like other Vulcan children. I was – unruly. Uncontrollable. I questioned my parents’ words. I wished to play instead of study. I was unpredictable. I was” – Spock bites his lip – “too human.”

Jim shakes his head. “I didn’t realize Vulcans could be so racist.”

“You misunderstand.” Spock purses his lips. “Or perhaps you are correct, but that was not the issue with me. Sarek had worked with humans for a long time. He was very familiar with their lack of logic or rationality. He did not, however, have much experience with human children. And it was – difficult – for him to accept that a being consisting of eighty percent of his own genome would use shiira jam to paint a sehlat on the living room wall.”

Jim has to smile at the image, but Spock shakes his head.

“Vulcan children don’t do that. Or perhaps they do. Perhaps Sarek was simply never meant to be a parent.”

Jim slides back along the couch to prepare another portion of the cocktail. “You don’t blame him?”

Spock tilts his head to the side thoughtfully. “No. Not for that. As a child, I craved my father’s love and approval, as any child would. As an adult, I can understand.”

Jim refills his glass and watches Spock drinking the thick, viscous liquid down like water. Spock’s eyes glow brighter, a dangerous light giving away what his even voice and flowing words don’t.

“Upon discovering Sarek’s true reasons for marrying her, my mother was understandably upset, but she decided to remain on Vulcan for the sake of her child. Sarek and T’Pau claimed that there was no other place for me to be trained to control my telepathy, as I was, physically, almost completely Vulcan. My mother stayed. But her relationship with Sarek grew more distant and cold. Essentially, they had no common subjects except for me, and I was not Sarek’s favorite topic.

“My mother opposed some of the more archaic Vulcan traditions. I was not bonded to another at the age of seven, though I do not know what it cost her to defend my right to choose. But she could not prevent me from taking the kahs-wan.”

“That’s when Vulcans send their kids without food, water, or weapons to the mountains full of wild animal life?” Jim asks. “I have to tell you, Spock – I never could see much logic in that.”

“Neither did my mother. And you are correct regarding the test. The difference for me, however, was that I was supposed to demonstrate the triumph of IDIC as a superior philosophy, and thus had to survive in the Forge for a month rather than ten days.”

Jim stares at him, aghast. “You’re kidding. They threw you out there for a month? What kind of parent—”

Spock sighs and looks away. “My mother was powerless to prevent the ordeal; she had to be locked up for the duration.”

Jim watches Spock’s fists clench and shudders.

“She appealed to Sarek in every way she could, but he preferred to bow to T’Pau’s will in the end. The Forge...” Spock’s eyes turn misty. He takes another sip before continuing, his hands firm but his cheeks inflamed. “The Forge has received its name for a reason. I was injured, but I survived. My pet sehlat died, however, trying to protect me.”

Jim throws his head back, taking a generous helping of his homemade cocktail. The vile concoction scalds his throat, but he welcomes the burn. He has no idea how Spock manages to remain so articulate right now. If Jim drank at the rate Spock has been, he would have passed out awhile ago.

“My mother realized that she had had enough. She divorced Sarek by human laws and announced that she was returning to Earth, whether he was willing to break the bond or not. As I passed my test, I was legally of age by Vulcan standards. I was free to choose my way of living, and I chose to go with her.”

“Must have been quite a decision,” Jim mutters softly.

“That,” Spock says significantly, “is an understatement. T’Pau discovered that I was not the symbol of unity between the two species that she had been grooming me to be. And my mother was called many words I would not care to repeat.

“We settled on Earth, and not a month went by without someone from Vulcan coming over and trying to convince both or either of us to return. The visits gradually became rare, but we always felt like we were under observation. Yet, despite everything, we were happy.”

Spock swirls the drink in his glass thoughtfully. “Several years later, my mother acquired a – companion. Stephen was a teacher, like her, and he was a good man. He never… understood me, but he treated me well, and, most importantly, he loved my mother unconditionally. He moved in when I left for Oxford.”

Spock stills, obviously readying himself for something, and Jim has a sinking, gut feeling that he doesn’t want to hear what comes next.

“They were going home from a theatre late one night. The car was moving at high speed when they were pushed off the road. Stephen died instantly. My mother was taken to a hospital and died there without regaining consciousness.”

“Spock...” Jim’s mouth turns dry.

“They never found the second car,” Spock says, and the amount of venom in his tone makes Jim flinch. For the first time, he realizes that Spock is actually beyond drunk. “There were no witnesses; no surveillance data; no traceable evidence. The investigation was closed after one month. I spent five more trying to uncover something – anything. I did not succeed. But T’Pau’s emissary was on my doorstep the day after the crash – almost as if he had been waiting for it to happen.”

Jim feels the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. “Spock,” he pushes out hoarsely, “you don’t really think your grandmother ordered—”

“My mother insulted Sarek and his family when she left,” Spock says evenly. “When she demanded formally for the bond to be broken so that she could marry another man, she insulted all of Vulcan.”

Jim says nothing, trying to assimilate the impossible truth.

“I searched everything, Jim,” Spock says in a smaller, almost plaintive tone. “Road accidents leave traces. Road accidents are – accidents. There is always something. No ordinary criminal, let alone another frightened driver, is capable of wiping everything clean to such an extent. I did not wish to believe it. But my logic leads me to no other conclusion.”

They sit quietly for a while. Spock’s eyes wander all over the room aimlessly. Jim is staring into space. Finally, he makes himself move and reloads the shaker. They both definitely need more.

“What about Roven?” Jim asks at last.

He really doesn’t like the happy sigh Spock emits at the name, but, almost instantly, Spock frowns. “He said that T’Pau is gathering current information about me.” He bites his lip. “I made a mistake – though it’s one I can’t bring myself to regret.”

“Gaila,” Jim deduces.

Spock nods. “For many years, I have been ‘flying under the radar,’ if you please. My whereabouts and occupation were known, of course, but I gave no signs of being overly invested in those. However, to obtain the citizenship for Gaila, I had to contact the High Council – and now they know of her existence. Of your existence.”

Jim opens his mouth to say something reassuring, but Spock shakes his head. “This is not good, Jim. If T’Pau is as determined as she once was to have me return to Vulcan permanently, those close to me might be in danger.”

Instinctively, Jim reaches to rub Spock’s shoulder gently. “Hey, there’s no need to get paranoid yet. It’s going to be fine.”

“That is what Roven said,” Spock admits with a sigh.

Jim retracts his hand. “What is he to you – really?”

Spock relaxes slightly. “A friend. Before my mother’s decision that I was not to be bonded as a child, Roven was intended to become my betrothed. We became friends, in spite of that. He was my playmate and my study partner. We enjoyed each other’s company, even though neither he nor I approved of the idea of an arranged marriage.

“He came to Earth on T’Pau’s orders after my mother’s death. I returned to Oxford to finish my degree because I could not comprehend the reality of what had happened, and I did not wish to think of it further.” He closes his eyes. “Colloquially put, it was driving me insane.

“Roven admitted to his agenda, even knowing that it would anger me. But he, too, was in a difficult position. T’Pau holds too much power over his family. He could not disobey her.”

“How noble of him to tell you, then,” Jim grumbles.

Spock doesn’t seem to notice his tone. “Indeed. He was ready to return home. However, seeing the state I was in, he applied for a position at the Vulcan consulate and stayed with me. We—” Spock clears his throat, blushing. “We became… intimate.”

Spock turns toward Jim, all wide eyes and earnest expression. “Jim, you have to understand, I was all alone. He was there and he was – he cared about me. I never realized that he had been attracted to me ever since we were children.”

“Well.” Jim scoffs. “If everything was so lovely, why aren’t you two living happily ever after now?”

Spock looks at his empty glass pointedly, but Jim ignores him. Spock sighs.

“Roven did – does care about me, but his life is on Vulcan. His work, his projects, his family – everything. If I agreed to bond with him—”

“He asked you?” Jim blurts.

Spock stares at him, focusing his attention on Jim for the first time since the conversation has started. “That surprises you. You do not believe that anyone would want to—”

“God, Spock, no!” Jim slides toward him and grabs his shoulders, shaking him. Spock observes him with mild curiosity, without trying to dislodge him. “That’s not what I – it wasn’t surprise, I just—” He forces his hands to still. In for a penny… “I was startled, okay? Afraid that you might have said yes.”

“Afraid,” Spock repeats with drunken thoughtfulness. “You were afraid, Jim?” A slow smile stretches Spock’s lips, and Jim groans.

“I hate you so much right now.”

“No, you do not,” Spock says slowly and pushes Jim back, reaching for the shaker. “I believe you are jealous.”

Jim falls against the back of the couch, shielding his eyes with his hand. “God, go on, Spock. Tell me how you really feel, why don’t you.”

“I was jealous, too,” Spock says, missing the sarcasm completely, focused on pouring the terp’a into the shaker. “Tonight. When I left you, I – Jim, why does it not taste the same?”

Jim opens one eye to see Spock drinking from the shaker and laughs helplessly. “Because you were supposed to add juice to it, genius.”

Spock blinks. “I was?”

“Okay, buddy, that’s it.” Jim pushes himself upright, fighting to find his balance. “Up.”

Spock looks at him in offended confusion. “But I did not tell you about—”

“Tell me tomorrow.”

“But—”

“You’re drunk off your ass, Spock. I don’t want you to keep telling me things while you’re like that.”

Spock honest-to-God pouts. “You don’t want to know—”

Jim slaps his hand over Spock’s mouth, startling him into silence. “I do want to know, you idiot. I want to know how you ended up on Belta, and what that guy Roven told you to have you this freaked, but I don’t” – he presses his hand harder – “want you to hate me in the morning. So we’re going upstairs now, and you will sleep it off. Okay?”

Cautiously, he releases Spock, who’s been staring at him the whole time without blinking.

“You are very attractive when you are in charge, Jim,” Spock tells him conversationally.

“Oh my God,” Jim mutters; he’s not nearly drunk enough not to respond to that, and it is so not what Spock needs right now. He grabs Spock’s arm and pulls forcefully. “Move, for fuck’s sake, before I do something stupid.”

Spock seems uncharacteristically compliant for once, allowing Jim to steer him up the stairs and into his bedroom.

“I wished to distance myself from everything,” Spock mumbles as Jim makes him sit on the bed while working on his shoes. “Earth, Vulcan. Everything. I did not know what to do with myself and I wished to get away.”

Jim sighs. “So you joined the Peace Corps?”

“Seemed logical at the time.”

“I bet.” Jim guides Spock to lie down and rolls him onto his side. “Tough luck you ended up on Belta.”

“Several years later, yes. That colony is... Jim, you could not imagine the way these people were living. I have seen things that do not compute with anything remotely civilized or normal. The conditions were hideous, and that was before the Klingons imposed the blockade. After that, there was chaos.”

Jim knows he should leave, but he can’t. And Spock keeps on talking.

“Can you imagine a world where young enthusiasts from the Peace Corps would be the most competent source of administrative governing? And then there was the occupation. Two months only, but they were the longest two months of my life, Jim.”

Spock shudders, and Jim sighs, giving up. He kicks his own shoes off and slides into bed next to him, using his hand as a reassuring weight on Spock’s shoulder.

“Sleep now, Spock, please.” He shifts closer to whisper. “You’re safe now. It’s over. Sleep.”

Spock falls onto his back and looks at Jim, eyes wide and deceivingly sober.

“You are the best friend I have ever had, Jim.”

Jim snorts softly and leans in to kiss his forehead. “No, sweetheart; I’m just a very good bartender.”

Spock grunts in what sounds like approval, and, mercifully, closes his eyes.

 

 

--

Cursing is never a good way to start a Saturday morning, but Jim can’t help himself, standing in the huge hangar shivering in the near-breeze as he waits for his shipment of Betazoid spring wine to arrive. He arranged for this delivery two months ago, but now that it’s finally happening, Jim finds himself wishing to be in a number of different places rather than here. He’s cold and hungry and didn’t get nearly enough sleep, and, though his hangover has been chemically defused, he still feels kind of queasy.

When the comm message woke Jim, Spock was still out like a light, his breathing deep and barely audible, a frown creasing his features even as he slept. Jim left a loaded hypo and a glass of water waiting for him and snuck out of the house, telling himself that his unwillingness to face Spock just then had nothing to do with cowardice.

“Here you go, Mr. Kirk.” The customs officer pushes a trolley toward Jim. “You need to sign here.”

Jim frowns, making no move to accept the PADD. “Why are there two of them? I ordered three, and the shipping declaration states three.”

The officer stares into his PADD with an air of a skeptic seeking to receive revelation. “Looks like the other one was detained at Lunaport.”

“Why?”

“Says here containment breach.”

Jim presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose. He so doesn’t need this today.

“Okay, you know what, I wasn’t born yesterday,” he says, irritation pitching his tone higher. “I paid pretty cash for that wine, and if your grease monkeys at Luna want a taste, they can come to my bar and damn well pay for it, too.”

“Mr. Kirk—”

“Oh, don’t bother. I’m just notifying you that I’m filing a complaint with the FTCA.”

The officer looks at him for what seems like the first time, but it seems like an automatic gesture. He shrugs. “Suit yourself. You’re within your rights.”

“Damn straight,” Jim mutters, taking the PADD and scribbling furiously.

It’s no good. He wants to yell at the guy just to make himself feel a little better, but manages to hold back. There’s no point, and he’ll only feel like a jackass in the end. A couple of years ago, Jim would probably be throwing punches left and right by now, because complaints are for pussies and he has to defend what’s his. He doesn’t own this much to let someone just take it.

Jim still doesn’t trust the system, but his twice-monthly lunches with Gary seem to have finally corrupted him into thinking like a businessman, not a wild child.

He files the complaint competently, including a small but useful clause Gary told him about, and gives the PADD back to the customs officer who’s now staring at him with an air of resigned disgust.

Jim flashes him a grin. “It’s been a pleasure.”

His dramatic exit is somewhat ruined by the heavy trolley that refuses to move faster than a very slow turtle. He feels exhausted by the time he reaches the bar, and it’s hard to reconcile with the fact that it’s still before midday.

Jim walks in to the image of Chekov and Sulu hunched over a Go board. Chekov is winning, by the looks of it, mostly because Sulu is too busy staring at him. Shaking his head, Jim thinks that Chekov is probably the only person Jim knows who isn’t the tiniest bit unnerved by Sulu turning on his creepy act full force.

“Jim!” Chekov jumps to his feet, a blinding grin lighting up his face. “You need help with those?”

“Thanks,” Jim pants, stashing the box he’s carrying behind the bar, his back loudly protesting the abuse. “There are about a dozen more in the car, so you’d better wait for Pablo to show up—”

“Hikaru will help,” Chekov assures him brightly. “We got it, Jim.”

Sulu nods as he walks past Jim. “You look like you slept in a dumpster, Kirk.”

“Good morning to you, too.” Jim glances around as the soft sound of the drums slides through his muddy perception filter and sees Gaila on her usual dance spot. She’s wearing tights and a tank top and is actually stretching, and Jim frowns slightly in confusion as he walks toward her.

“Hi?”

“Oh, Jimmy, you’re back.” Gaila tunes the music down and slides onto her feet fluidly.

“Yeah. I thought we were done with dance nights?”

“Oh. Um, yes. About that.” Gaila looks down at her feet for a moment. “Do you think we could maybe keep them? Like, make every Saturday a show night? And also, I’d like to start teaching a class in the mornings. A couple of times a week, maybe?”

Jim stares at her. “You want to be giving dance lessons? But I thought you hated it.”

Gaila bites her lip. “Not the dance thing. I always loved it, I just... Look, I’m my own woman now, right? I shouldn’t be ashamed of admitting that I like things that made me uncomfortable in the past.”

She says it proudly, with conviction of a straight-A student, and Jim can’t help a grin.

“Have you been watching Dr. Ruth Revisited again?”

She elbows him in the ribs expertly. “No, I just – well, it’s something Nyota said, and I—”

“Nyota Uhura?”

“Yes. Jim, it’s just – she’s right. I love my body, and I love the dance, and honestly, your Earth women are hopeless – they know nothing about how their bodies work, and it’s so sad, Jimmy. They won’t even use their own heritage, and I mean, some of that yoga is downright amazing. Every girl should be able to make her body sing; this ignorance is scary. I like teaching them, showing them, like I showed Nyota, and—”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it,” Jim begs hastily. It’s too early in the day for him to be contemplating the image of Gaila showing Nyota Uhura how her body works. “You can teach whatever classes you want, Gaila, as long as it makes you happy.”

She beams at him. “Thanks, Jimmy! You’re the best.” She stands on tiptoes and kisses his cheek. “You better stock up on morning drinks; bending and stretching girls is serious exertion.”

“I better hire a bouncer,” Jim says dryly. “Or I’ll have a riot on my hands.”

Gaila smirks. “That, too. Hey, good for business, right?”

He shakes his head, smiling. “Good for you, sweetheart.” She sticks her tongue out at him and winks. “Just leave a note when you’ll run off with a tantric yoga instructor or something, okay?”

“Don’t worry.” She giggles. “You’ll always be my wun true wuv.”

“You insolent little—”

“Speaking of which, Spock called.”

Instantly, Jim’s gut begins to churn. “Really?” he grits out, blushing. “He called the bar?”

“Yep.”

“Why didn’t he just call me?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Jimmy. Maybe because you ran away while he was sleeping like you couldn’t stay in the same room with him?”

Jim’s mouth falls open. “Spock said that?”

Gaila huffs indignantly. “No; he just wanted to know if you were okay. The brilliant deduction was all my doing.”

“I didn’t run,” Jim clarifies. “It wasn’t like that, anyway, we didn’t—”

“Have sex? Yeah, no kidding, I would have smelled that.”

“Okay, you know what? Enough with the smelling thing. I take, like, three showers a day; what’s this even about?”

“It’s a figure of speech, Jimmy. You really think I wouldn’t know when you had sex?” Gaila chuckles. “Sweetie, I’ve seen you on a morning after. In fact, I watched you stumble through almost every morning after you’ve had in the last – what, ten years? I’m not as blind as most humans are, so believe me when I tell you that I know when you get some action. Most times, I could even tell how many times and in which positions and—”

“Okay, enough, point made!” Jim interrupts hastily, his face burning. “Get yourself some tact, Gaila.”

“From whom?” she retorts acidly. “Maybe if Spock sticks around, I finally get a decent role model.” Noticing his expression, though, she switches into a concerned mode instantly. “What happened? Did you fight?”

“No.” Jim sighs. “We got pretty smashed, and he – told me stuff. About himself, his family.”

She narrows her eyes. “Why are you upset about it? I thought you wanted him to open up.”

“Well, yes. It’s just – he sort of – oh, fuck it.” Jim grimaces. “He trusts me, Gaila. Understand? Trusts me – me, of all people. He looks at me like he sees someone else there. Like I’m not me, not really me. Like I’m someone better. I don’t—” He clears his throat. “I don’t know how to be that person he thinks he sees.”

Gaila watches him quietly for a moment. Jim refuses to meet her eyes. Finally being able to put his turmoil into words doesn’t make it the tiniest bit better. So much for sharing and caring.

“You’re in love with him.” Gaila says it softly, out of the blue.

“What?” Jim’s head snaps up. “No. Gaila, no. I mean, sure, it’s a bad crush, probably the worst ever, but...”

He trails off when she doesn’t contradict him. Eventually, he sighs. “How do you know? It’s not the sex thing, you can’t ‘smell’ it or whatever.”

“I can, actually,” she tells him with a fleeting smile. “But I don’t have to. Jim, do you want to sleep with him?”

Jim stares. “Duh. Have you seen him?”

Have you slept with him? Or at least tried to?”

Jim stares some more, and doesn’t reply.

“That’s how I know,” Gaila says, brushing a hand over his shoulder.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Jim mumbles grudgingly.

It does, though, and he knows it. Judging by the sympathetic look on Gaila’s face, she knows it, too.

 

 

--

Jim doesn’t go back to see Spock that day and doesn’t work up the nerve to call him. He tries to, several times, but always snaps his comm closed before it can make the connection.

Spock is tired or busy, Jim tells himself. If he wasn’t, he would have showed up or called. He never needed an express invitation before.

He’s relieved, at first, when a day goes by and Spock doesn’t contact him. Relieved when it’s two days, but by the end of the third, Jim is slightly irritated – even hurt.

Okay, so maybe he is freaking out a little bit, but it’s not like he doesn’t have a good reason. Spock’s the smart one, isn’t he? He should have figured it out and helped Jim through it; should have been there for Jim at his time of need, not gone hiding in his basement like he’s afraid for his virtue. Hasn’t Jim proved to him that he’s trustworthy?

Spock is just being stubborn and ridiculous and even cruel, which is really uncalled for. It’s not Jim’s fault he fell for Spock, after all; it’s not like Jim chose this.

The tiny voice of reason that tries to remind Jim that Spock might have no idea about what’s going on in Jim’s head is surprisingly easy to ignore.

After all, didn’t Gaila see through his bullshit at once? Spock has like a gazillion degrees in everything; he really shouldn’t be pulling the dumb act. The only reason for him to do so is that he really doesn’t want Jim like that, which is fine and totally cool – his right and everything – but he should have just said so. It’s not like Jim would have thrown a temper tantrum. He knows how to deal with rejection, more so than most people.

Jim wakes up on day four actually angry with Spock and resigned to put all this nonsense behind him. Clearly, Spock considers himself to be too good for Jim, and for once they’re in agreement. Jim would do well to remember that.

Except… he glares at the guy who sits on Spock’s favorite barstool until the guy stalks away. It’s an indulgence, of course, but Jim is willing to cut himself a little slack. He’s dealing with it, even if they are baby steps.

“Jim, wake up.” Gaila shakes him awake unceremoniously barely an hour after Jim fell into his bed.

“S’up?” Jim pushes out around his still sleeping tongue.

“It’s Chekov,” Gaila says urgently. “I think he’s sick.”

Jim sits up on his bed abruptly, sleep evaporating rapidly from his system. “Sick how?”

“I don’t know; he stayed to help me close the tabs, but then he just collapsed and he’s not coming around.”

Jim throws the covers off and grabs his jeans. “Did you call McCoy?”

“Yes, he’s on his way. Jim, what do you think—”

“I don’t know,” Jim interrupts, dashing out of the room with Gaila on his heels.

He busts into the bar in time to hear the mad pounding at the front door.

“Open this damn thing before I wake the neighbors!” Bones’s voice comes through muffled but impressively annoyed.

Jim keys the door open. “Stop yelling, Bones. Jesus.”

McCoy barely looks at him. “Where is he?”

“Here, Leonard,” Gaila calls from where she’s sitting on her parquet dance floor, cradling Chekov’s head in her lap. “He feels like he’s burning up.”

Kneeling beside Chekov’s prone form, McCoy quickly pulls out his scanner, muttering darkly and scowling hard enough to make the devil shudder.

“What’s wrong with him?” Gaila asks anxiously.

“Velotian fever; from the looks of it, it’s progressed pretty fast, too.” McCoy snaps the scanner shut and leans in to pull up Chekov’s eyelid. “Jim, we need to get him to the hospital right now.”

Jim runs for the door. “I’ll get the car.”

 

 

--

Waiting has never been one of Jim’s strong suits. He paces the hospital hall restlessly in stark contrast to Gaila, who’s leaning against the wall, immobile and silent.

“Jim, stop it, you’ll wear yourself out,” she says for the fifth time.

“He didn’t look sick.” Jim frowns. “Did he? Is it just me – I mean, was he sick and I didn’t even notice?”

“You couldn’t have,” Christine replies, walking over toward them with two cups of coffee in her hands. Jim barely recognizes her in white scrubs and no makeup. “This virus could lie dormant for days, even months, until something triggers it, and then things start happening really fast. It’s a good thing you got him here so quickly.”

“Yeah.” Jim sighs, cradling the paper cup in his hands. “I just feel like I should have done something. Looked after him better, you know?”

Christine fixes her pale blue eyes on him with such quiet, utterly non-judging acceptance that Jim is forcibly reminded once more why she makes as good a barmaid as she is a nurse.

“Do you know how to contact his family?” she asks softly. “He only lists you and Sulu as his emergency contacts.”

Jim shakes his head. “Even if I did, I don’t think he’d want me to. They pretty much kicked him out when he refused to tamper with their tax declarations or something.”

Christine sighs. “He’s a good kid.”

“Yeah.” The too-strong hospital coffee burns down Jim’s throat. He takes another huge gulp anyway. “He is.”

Bones finally comes to find them three hours later, looking like one of the undead. “He’s going to be fine, Jim,” he says, words slurring slightly. Even through the haze of relief, Jim can see that Bones looks exhausted. “We pumped him up with antiviral meds, and Velotian fever makes for some nasty stuff, so he’s going to be sick as a dog for a few days, but he’s going to be fine. Shouldn’t develop any complications.”

“Bones.” Jim grabs his hand in both his own. “Oh, thank God. Bones, man, I owe you one.”

“Stop it, Jim.” McCoy shakes him off irritably. “I’m a doctor, for God’s sake; what are you thanking me for?”

“Just being awesome, I guess.” Jim tries to pull him into a hug, but Bones shoves him off.

“Gaila, take him home and make him get some sleep, for all our sakes,” Bones grumbles darkly. “He’s drunk on insomnia.”

“Look who’s talking,” Jim retorts. Bones glares, and Jim throws his hands up in the air. “Fine, fine, we’re leaving. When can we come to visit?”

“Not before tomorrow evening, probably.” McCoy frowns. “And Jim? It won’t be pretty.”

“We understand, Leonard,” Gaila says, tugging at Jim’s sleeve and smiling at McCoy. “Thank you for everything.”

“Yeah, yeah, get out of here,” Bones mutters, but some color creeps back into his cheeks, and he doesn’t tell Gaila off. “I’ll be seeing you lot around, I guess.”

Jim flashes him a grin. “Count on it.”

Bones rolls his eyes.

Chekov looks way too young and scared shitless when Jim comes to check on him for the first time. He’s also pathetically grateful for seeing a familiar face and desperately fighting his clinginess that stems from his utter terror of medical procedures as well as the general vulnerability of a sick person. Jim tells Gaila to take as much time of as she wants to stay with the poor kid, and he himself stops by every other night, because of course this thing would happen when Sulu is off planet pursuing a lead.

With all the excitement, thoughts of Spock should have been driven firmly out of Jim’s mind, but, of course, he isn’t so lucky. He still glares at anyone who takes Spock’s spot at the bar, but with each passing day, there’s less anger and more guilt in Jim’s reaction. He’s beginning to think that he really screwed up this time.

Which is why when he comes down to the bar one morning to find Gaila talking to Spock quietly, Jim is so happy to see him that it literally takes his breath away.

“Hey,” he says, stepping closer, a helpless grin on his face.

Spock turns to look at him, and wow – Jim has never seen him so closed off and unapproachable.

“Good morning, Jim,” Spock says coolly. “I trust you are well?”

“Fine,” Jim breathes, feeling his grin falter as his stomach turns slowly to lead. “What about you? Haven’t seen you here in a while.”

“My condition has been acceptable,” Spock replies. He looks at Jim for a moment longer as if daring him to say something else, but Jim is suddenly too intimidated to rise to the challenge. Spock turns back to Gaila. “I appreciate your assistance,” he says softly. “I will not keep you any longer.”

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Jim blurts out. “But you’ve only just come here. Don’t you want a – a drink or something?”

Spock lifts an eyebrow at him. “No, Jim – please do not concern yourself. I only stopped by to deliver this book to Gaila. Nyota informed me of Pavel’s misfortune, and since he expressed an interest to this author in the past, I inferred that he might benefit from having it while he is indisposed.”

It only takes Jim a second to get to the meaning behind Spock’s polite words.

Don’t bother; I didn’t come here for you.

“So, um. You – you don’t want to hang out anymore?” It sounds childish and clingy to his own ears, but Jim can’t help it. He’s probably a masochist, but he needs to hear it from Spock.

Spock’s eyebrow climbs higher up. “I was under the impression that it was you who did not wish to trouble yourself with my company.”

“What?” Jim stares. “Where’d you get that from? I never—”

“Jim.” Spock speaks over him, which is uncharacteristic enough. But then his expression softens, and somehow, that’s so much worse. “There is no need for this. I do not blame you. You are not the first person to realize that any association with me is more complicated than it is worth. You have enough burdens on your shoulders; I never meant to add to them. I understand.”

It takes a moment for Spock’s words to sink in, but when they do, Jim wants the floor to part and swallow him. He has never felt more of an asshole in his entire life.

“Spock, no! That’s not it at all!” Jim steps closer instinctively, words spilling from his lips faster than he can think them through. “I just – it’s not like that! That first day after, it was just crazy, and then something else came up, and I had a hard time dealing with it, and then Chekov happened, and I kind of lost track of days, but that’s it, I swear!”

He sucks in a breath hurriedly. “You’re not more complicated than you’re worth. I mean, you are complicated, but in a good way, all the good ways! I’m so sorry you thought – I mean, what else could you, obviously, but that’s not what I – God, man, I’m so sorry I was such an asshole!”

“Jim,” Spock tries to interrupt. “Calm yourself; I do not—”

“Please stay! Please? Let me make it up to you. We’ll go out for dinner or something, and I won’t criticize your writing, and I’ll get rid of that gargoyle statuette that you hate, and I’ll—”

Jim.” Spock raises his voice slightly, which finally has the desired effect. “I appreciate the offer, but I cannot stay.”

Jim swallows. “…Oh. Okay.”

“I have an appointment at the editorial office,” Spock explains. “It is likely to last several hours.”

Jim nods numbly. Spock looks at him almost timidly.

“But I could – come back after it’s over,” he suggests tentatively. “If that is convenient to you—”

“Yes!” Jim exclaims over him, relief making him high. “Of course it’s convenient! Any time you like, Spock, just stop by, I’ll – I’ll be here.”

Spock holds his eyes for a long moment, but whatever it is he sees seems to convince him of Jim’s sincerity. He inclines his head in a reserved nod. “Very well, then. I will see you later, Jim. Gaila.”

“Bye, Spock.” Gaila waves at him.

Spock glances at Jim once more before walking out.

“Don’t say it,” Jim mutters the moment the door closes behind Spock.

“Fat chance,” Gaila snaps. “You are a class-A moron, Jim.”

“I know,” he groans. “I screwed up. I didn’t realize he’d take it that way.”

“How else was he supposed to take it? I mean, he spills his guts to you – which, according to Ny, he doesn’t do all that often, if ever – and you disappear the next day and don’t return his calls!”

“I know, Gaila, okay? Please, can we not talk about this? I feel terrible; do you want it in writing?”

Her eyes flash menacingly, and she hisses like an angry cat before spinning on her heel and storming off. Jim presses his hand over his eyes and contemplates introducing his head to the nearest flat surface. Repeatedly. It’s the most attractive idea he’s had in days.

Four hours later, Spock calls to say that the meeting is going to last longer than expected, and then Spock has another appointment he can’t cancel. Jim knows he deserves this, so he tries not to show his disappointment.

But when Spock asks cautiously if maybe Jim would like to come by his place for dinner instead, Jim is incapable of containing his emotions, and Spock is lucky there’s a screen between them.

 

 

--

Spock’s door has obviously been taught to recognize Jim, which adds another couple of miles to his guilt trip. Tugging at his collar nervously, Jim walks in.

He finds Spock in the kitchen, bewitching a wok. Spock holds a spatula in his hand like a wand, directing the clouds of steam rising from the heated surface like an orchestra conductor guiding his ensemble. The sleeves of his shirt are rolled up, and his hair looks like he showered and forgot to comb it, mutinous strands falling into his eyes.

He looks back at Jim over his shoulder, and Jim can’t help a grin that is probably absolutely ridiculous.

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “Something you find amusing?”

“Yes,” Jim admits unrepentantly. He sets the bottle he brought on the counter. “You need a hand?”

“No,” Spock says, shuffling the contents of the wok expertly. “It is almost ready.”

Jim shrugs. “I’m not that much of a cook anyway.”

“Neither am I,” Spock admits, balancing out the temperature. “I had basic training, as all Vulcan children do, but I never really cooked until I came to Earth, and even then, it was a desperate measure.”

“How so?”

“Replicator food seems like a travesty when one lives planetside,” Spock says. His lips stretch into a fond smile. “And my mother was a terrible cook.”

Jim is surprised into a chuckle.

They eat in the kitchen and not in the dreadful dining room, for which Jim is very grateful. The conversation flows easily as Spock tells Jim about his godawful – Spock uses another word, but the sentiment is there – meeting at the office, for which he still isn’t sure why his presence was required. They talk about Chekov, then drift to the recent political conundrum, and end up with Jim trying to explain to Spock the merits of spaceball.

It feels so familiar and effortless that Jim is privately wondering how he could possibly have thought that anything would change between him and Spock if Jim’s true feelings were revealed. It seems impossible to believe that Spock would judge Jim or hate him when confronted with the image of Spock sitting across from him on a tall stool, peering at Jim above his steepled fingers, seeming relaxed and open and warm and so clearly enjoying himself.

They take the rest of the wine to the front porch, sitting on the steps and watching the slow fall of night.

Maybe it’s the different setting or just the natural evolution of things, but they lapse into silences more often. Spock seems pensive and a little wistful, and Jim can’t help wanting to be closer to him, to chase away whatever troubles ail him. Jim presses his shoulder against Spock’s, happy when Spock doesn’t move away.

“Hey,” Jim says softly. “You okay? You seem like a million miles away.”

Spock shifts slightly, as if pulling himself out of some kind of darker realm. He stares into his nearly empty glass. Jim has always found spring wine a bit too sweet for his taste, but Spock seems to like it.

“I was thinking about you, Jim.”

Jim feels his heart stutter. “Oh, really?”

“Yes,” Spock says simply. “Most people in your circumstances would have given up. Complaining that life is unfair, they would have lost themselves to one kind of destructive addiction or another. I have seen it happen in less dire situations than yours. Yet, you never gave up. More than that, you have made a life helping others in ways that most people can’t even come close to.”

Jim shifts uncomfortably. “Spock, I’m going to stop you right there, okay? You don’t really know me – I mean, really know me. I’m not some kind of hero just because I refused to lie down and think of England or whatever. I might not be a bad guy, but I’m definitely not something special.”

Spock sets his glass aside and looks at Jim calmly. “I did not say you were a hero, Jim. But through my profession, I met hundreds of people on dozens of worlds. And I have never met one like you.”

Jim closes his eyes, an unknown heat rising within him like a choking wave. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am very serious, Jim. I only wish – I only wish I had some of your bravery to make something worthy of my life.”

Jim’s eyes snap wide open. “What are you talking about?”

Spock purses his lips, glancing at the shimmering ball of Venus hovering above the building across the street.

“I hide behind my words, Jim. Instead of doing something, instead of acting, I—”

“You tell people the truth. That’s not nothing, Spock; it’s a big deal.”

“It is not enough. On Belta—”

Jim draws a breath in sharply.

“It was a tragedy, but at least I was useful. The life I live now is one of self-indulgence.”

“Stop it,” Jim demands sharply, his fingers digging into Spock’s shoulder. “Stop it right now.”

Spock stares at him warily, but Jim is too far-gone to halt midway.

“You are talented, smart, and caring, and you don’t have a selfish bone in your body,” Jim says fiercely. “Your writing isn’t some kind of smokescreen – it affects people! Remember, you wrote about the guy who couldn’t make one decision – how many of us have been there? All those pieces about projects, aspirations, dreams – failed or successful, doesn’t matter – they help us carry on, Spock. They help us not give up!”

Jim springs to his feet, unable to remain still. He whirls on Spock almost accusingly.

“Do you want to know what’s wrong with this goddamn world? We’re all alone, Spock. Each and every one of us is alone, rattling in our nutshells, and thinking we can hide from the truth behind the noise. You – you’re the one who cracks us, who makes us come out, and you are the one brave enough to look at it the way it is, without the comfort of illusions. And then you take our hands and lead us into it, and it’s scary as fuck, but you show us that we can do it – and we do! So don’t you ever, ever call yourself useless!”

Spock’s mouth is open with shock he doesn’t bother to control as he stares at Jim in undiluted astonishment. Jim glares back, daring him to protest.

“Jim,” Spock utters breathlessly, sliding up to his feet. “Jim, I don’t—”

Jim growls in anger and frustration, and his body reacts faster than his brain can come down from the frenzied high.

He pushes Spock back against the wooden column of the porch, and kisses him.

It’s angry and desperate and Spock is unresponsive under him, but Jim doesn’t care just then. He kisses Spock vehemently, reading him the riot act by means of his tongue and teeth, seizing his probably only chance to set things right. He presses on until he runs out of air, and then some more after that, and then he pants, breathless, against Spock’s neck, his indignation melting rapidly under the onslaught of dread.

Spock moves, finally, sliding his hands up to cup Jim’s face and leaning back slightly to look into his eyes.

Slowly, torturously, keeping eye contact determinedly, he leans forward and brushes his lips over Jim’s once, twice, an exploratory, questioning touch, eyes open wide and watching.

Jim trembles, shivers all over, chasing Spock’s touch instinctively, unable to stop.

Spock closes his eyes then and goes in for a real kiss, gentle yet undeniably passionate, a kiss Jim can’t help but respond to. He slides his arms around Spock, pulling him close, holding on to him frantically, because his head is spinning and he feels like he’s falling, waiting for the inevitable punchline of a hit, and he doesn’t want it to come.

Spock’s fingers dive into Jim’s hair, sifting through it almost reverently, as his other hand caresses Jim’s neck, a feather-light touch that threatens to undo him. Jim moans dully when Spock nips at his bottom lip, tightening his hold on Spock reflexively, because Jim wants him, all of him, wants to come closer than humanly possible, wants to show him every bit of how he makes Jim feel.

They separate reluctantly, unable to fully pull away, stealing short kisses pressed to the corner of a mouth, the curve of a chin, the line of a jaw. Finally, they still, breathing each other in, hands and arms holding on tight and not straying to wander, as if they are both afraid of losing connection.

“I, um... I know you’re tired,” Jim lets out breathlessly in the end. “But would you mind terribly if I stay? I’ll be a perfect gentleman, promise. I just – I just want to stay with you tonight. Please.”

Spock sighs softly and pulls away just enough to be able to see Jim’s face.

“Jim, I could not let you go even if you asked me to,” he says, a somewhat incredulous, shaky smile tugging at his lips.

“Thank God,” Jim breathes, leaning in for another kiss. “Oh, thank God.”

 

They leave the glasses forgotten at the foot of the stairs.

 

 

--

Jim wakes up when the night is still on the rise and goes instantly into full alert mode, his heart pounding with a rush of adrenaline, before he remembers why he’s in an unfamiliar place. He turns his head then, almost warily, and there is Spock lying on the bed beside him, his breathing deep and untroubled. Jim looks at him, trying to slow his racing pulse down.

Spock is a study in contrasts. He’s lying on his back, head tilted slightly to one side, and he’s probably hot because he pushed the covers all the way down to his hips. He’s not wearing a t-shirt, and Jim’s eyes feast at the planes and angles of Spock’s chest and shoulders, at the disturbingly elegant lines of his stomach that seems to be arching in not out, at the smoothly carved peak of a hipbone visible on his right side. His hair is covering half his face, drawing attention to his lips, sculpted to perfection, and to the stubborn, uncompromising line of his jaw stopping the long rise of his neck before it lifts his head any higher.

Moonlight falling from the tall window makes Spock’s pale skin look pearly, reflecting the light but keeping part of it, like a greedy mirror. Stretched out like that, Spock looks vulnerable, almost fragile, but the persistent whisper of muscles beneath his skin and the swift suppleness of his sleeping body project the aura of tightly coiled power around him, threatening and thrilling.

He isn’t moving, but he isn’t really still, either. Watching him is like watching a piece of music that has somehow attained a corporeal form. It’s the closest definition Jim can come up with, and he’s never been one for poetry, but this just feels like the truth.

Jim moves closer. He promised to be a gentleman, but this is too much to ask. His thoughts aren’t even all that sordid; he doesn’t know what they are, except that he has never felt so enchanted by anyone in his life, and never even thought it was possible.

He could look at Spock for hours like this, but there’s nothing sacred about it, because he also wants to touch. To besmirch everything that is clean and perfect about this body; to make it break its ideal lines; to ruin its quiet with the dirtiest sounds Earth has ever heard; to make it plead with every cell and every pore; to torture it so sweetly it would fall apart screaming for more, and then reassemble it back together, inch by inch, with his hands and lips and teeth, and mark it as his.

Jim leans over, bracing himself on his arms, bending low and watching as the muscles of Spock’s stomach contract under his breath. Jim lets his mouth hover over the exposed skin, anticipation threatening to destroy him, before finally pressing his lips just above Spock’s navel and moving up, all feather-light kisses and gentle nips.

Spock shivers under him, letting out a small sigh, his head lolling on the pillow. Jim grins and nuzzles the hair on Spock’s chest, memorizing the smell, as he gently pins Spock to the bed with his weight.

Spock shifts underneath him more distinctly now, and okay, yeah, there’s been enough teasing. He closes his lips over one small, defiant nipple and sucks gently, worrying the bud with his teeth.

Spock flinches, tensing instantly, and then his arms slide around Jim, fingers carding through Jim’s hair, and he comes to full wakefulness instantly with a soft sigh of Jim’s name on his lips.

Jim moves to cover him fully now, hips to shoulders, nibbling at the exposed column of Spock’s throat, reveling in the way Spock’s hands glide down his back, scratching lightly, smart fingers mapping the knobs of his spine. Jim grinds down slowly, experimentally, and yeah, Spock’s awake all right, the layers of fabric between them doing nothing to conceal it.

Jim thrusts down more forcefully now, laving the shell of Spock’s ear with his tongue and mouthing at his jaw, hands roaming with would-be accidental precision. Spock bucks up and moans softly, clearly torn between squirming away and giving Jim better access. Jim grins, pressing their groins together neatly and stilling.

“You like that, don’t you?” he whispers breathlessly, nibbling at Spock’s bottom lip, ignoring the little sighs of frustration coming from the man beneath him. “Like me holding you down, like me lying on top of you, like me making you—”

Spock is fast, scarily fast, sealing Jim’s lips with his own as his thighs lock around Jim’s hips and Spock rolls them over, swift and efficient, pressing Jim down and kissing him, so, so dirty and devastating and sucking the living breath out of Jim while his tongue draws complicated patterns on the roof of Jim’s mouth. A wave of heat carries Jim higher and higher, and he’s thrusting against Spock instinctively, greedy hands attacking everything within reach.

“I like to be held down,” Spock admits without a hint of embarrassment, sucking what would be an impressive bruise into Jim’s neck. “By someone who knows what to do with me when they do.”

It’s so clearly a challenge that Jim laughs, surprised and delighted, before flipping them back over again and straddling Spock’s hips. Spock lifts an unimpressed eyebrow and Jim grins wolfishly above him, reaching for the hem of his t-shirt and tugging it off slowly.

He can feel Spock’s eyes on him, setting every inch of his skin on fire, and Jim nearly chokes when Spock’s gaze crawls up to his neck. Intent on giving a show, Jim drops his head back, dragging the t-shirt over the column of his throat slowly, and is rewarded by a low moan from Spock, who cants his hips up uncontrollably, just once – but it’s enough.

“Like what you see?” Jim teases, more than a little breathless.

Spock breathes an unashamed “Yes” as he half-rises on the bed to grab Jim, eyes blown wide into a smoldering black.

Jim pushes Spock back down, smirking, but it takes all his willpower to go on with the act. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself, then lifts himself to his knees and pushes down his boxer-briefs, exposing himself fully. He keeps his gaze on Spock and is close to hyperventilating when a ragged, desperate gasp is torn from Spock’s lips, and his eyes come alight with such powerful longing that Jim shudders, knowing that he would be swept over the moment he cuts Spock loose.

Jim pushes his underwear off and bends low, nuzzling at Spock’s groin. Spock keeps very still as Jim palms him carefully through his pajama pants, mapping the territory, but when Jim licks him, sucking lightly right through the thin silk, Spock swears loudly in a language Jim doesn’t recognize.

Jim grins, giving him more of the same, before finally sliding his hands under the waistband, his fingers greedy on the deliciously firm curves of Spock’s ass that Jim sincerely hopes Spock would let him devour at some point. He pulls Spock’s pants down and off with more-than-willing cooperation and stills for a moment, taking all of Spock in.

Most people, save for professional models, are more than a little squeamish when completely naked. There is always some inherent ridicule to this state, and more than a little vulnerability.

Spock is neither squeamish nor vulnerable as he lies there, allowing Jim to look his fill. His breathing is out of rhythm, but otherwise, he’s quiet. Not proud, even though he clearly should be, but confident having all of his defensive layers stripped. ‘This is what I am,’ he seems to be saying, and Jim can’t help releasing a low, guttural groan.

He looks and looks at the miles of smooth pale skin and muscles, at Spock’s lips, flushed so dark they seem black; at his cock, lying full and heavy against his stomach; at the trembling flutter of pulse at the side of his neck; at the graceful arc of his sternum.

It hurts Jim, physically hurts him to look, and for a frightening moment, it feels like there’s no air to breathe, none at all to sustain his straining lungs. His heart is breaking, and Jim has never thought it could happen literally.

“Jim,” Spock murmurs, and sits up.

Jim lets him. Torn between the most carnal of desires and almost reverent awe, he’s motionless and helpless; he can’t look anymore, and he can’t look away.

“Jim,” Spock whispers, sliding his hands over Jim’s tense shoulders and pulling him closer. “Jim.”

Spock kisses him, slow, deep, and gentle, passion tamed as he holds Jim tighter, chest to chest as his fingers drift through Jim’s hair and down his spine, soothing and curious. Spock’s kiss is steadfast and languid, gaining in intensity, breaking whatever spell Jim’s been under with uncompromising determination.

‘Beautiful,’ Jim hears whispered under his skull. ‘So beautiful. Mine.’

Jim breaks then, lunges at Spock then, knocking him back onto the bed, kissing and stroking every bit of him, licking and nibbling and scratching, having no agenda, no plan, except for getting everything, every inch, every sound, every instinctive, aborted motion.

When he finally takes Spock into his mouth, it’s glorious. Spock’s hips are glued to the bed, but his upper body arches up, eloquent in its response, and Jim has to bite down the head-spinning sense of triumph.

Spock tastes like bitter almonds, and Jim treats himself to it, sucking lightly on the head and tonguing the slit. Spock’s breaths start to come in short, uncontrolled puffs of air as his hands curl into the sheets, white-knuckled and brutal, and Jim tortures him some more for it before taking in as much of him as he can.

He wraps his hand around the base of Spock’s cock, squeezing and pulling experimentally, as he hollows his cheeks and lets his tongue be as dirty as it knows how. It thrills Jim like burning when he feels the muscles of Spock’s inner thighs tremble with tension, sees Spock’s stomach flutter, his head thrashing wildly on the pillow, his mouth torn in a permanent growl as he bites his lower lip mercilessly.

Jim has never enjoyed doing this that much in his life, and it takes him a while to register Spock’s urgent warnings of, “Jim, Jim, Jim.”

He can feel it, too, and regretfully releases Spock with a wet sound that nearly makes him come there and then. Jim glances up to meet a desperate, borderline insane look.

“What do you want, Spock?” he pushes out hoarsely, licking his lips. “Anything you want.”

Spock stares at him a moment longer, and then slowly, holding his body tightly as if a brisk motion will break it, rolls onto his stomach, spreading his legs, and glances at Jim over his shoulder.

“Okay.” Jim swallows, his heart beating madly all over the place and his hands shaking. “Okay.”

He lowers himself on top of Spock carefully, both trembling with anticipation and need. Jim bites the curve of Spock’s neck lightly, and then rubs his face against the hollow between Spock’s shoulder blades, licking off the bitter, thin sheen of sweat.

Spock is ringing with tension under him, and Jim looks around, a question ready on his lips when he spots a jar of massage oil on the nightstand. It looks like it hasn’t been touched in months, and Jim feels heartbroken because Spock should never be alone, ever, and selfishly elated at the same time, because ‘not alone’ should mean with Jim, only with Jim.

He kisses down Spock’s spine as his hands busily part Spock’s cheeks and he slides one slick thumb in, followed shortly by his other. Spock lets out a choked “Jim,” and Jim licks at his neck, soothing and begging wordlessly to hold on for a little longer. Spock moans almost mournfully, and there’s only so much of this Jim can take.

The moment he pushes in, Spock tenses, and Jim doesn’t know how he knows not to stop, but he does. It becomes imperative not to, and he presses on and on, a deliciously tight wet slide, so much better for him having to work for it, fighting Spock for every inch.

Jim doesn’t know, will never guess, how he manages to not explode while riding the edge so closely, so dangerously. Seconds filled with liquid heat stretch into eternity as he moves and Spock moves with him, perfect fit, perfect rhythm, every bit an effort too hard, teeth clenched, sweat in their eyes, hands finding each other and gripping, thoughts twining and fading, both dancing on the string pulled tight across the abyss, too scared to fall, delaying the inevitable...

Jim lets go of Spock’s hand and grips his hips hard, holding him in place, pounding into him as if Spock is something non-sentient, something not requiring consideration or mercy. Spock’s only response is to curve the small of his back in a mute plea for more – and Jim loses it, thrusting through his orgasm wildly, unable to control his own body, unable to stop.

The only thing he can do, instinctively more than not, is snake a hand under Spock. Jim barely strokes him once before Spock is jerking and pulsing in his hand, spasming around Jim’s cock when it’s on the verge of too much. Jim parts with his breath, a pitiful and angry sound that cannot possibly belong to him, and falls down as his arms and knees give, crushing Spock’s moan with his weight.

It’s a while before either of them moves.

Surprisingly, it’s Jim who takes the initiative, pulling out and off. He runs a soothing hand down Spock’s spine when Spock murmurs something – incomprehensible, but clearly disapproving. Jim pushes gently until Spock rolls onto his back, away from the mess they’ve created. Jim fishes for his discarded shirt and wipes them both, hardly really clean but at least a little better. He settles on Spock’s other side, wedging his shoulder under Spock’s and draping an arm around him.

Spock mumbles something Jim doesn’t even try to parse, but it has Jim’s name in there somewhere, and Jim grins, silly and dopey, presses his face to the crook of Spock’s neck, and falls asleep.

 

 

--

Jim wakes up still tangled in the sheets, the room around him wrapped in sunlight. He blinks, already knowing he’s alone, but, for some reason, the thought isn’t alarming. He stretches languidly, his muscles pleasantly heavy and humming with the night’s echoes. Jim grins to himself and trots into the bathroom.

Spock’s facilities are impressive. The bathtub seems to be able to easily accommodate three people; the shower stall is equipped with all kinds of sprays and could be programmed for a few dozens of what Jim is pretty sure would be most invigorating experiences. He smirks, but opts for sacrificing pleasure for efficiency for the moment.

Spock is in the kitchen when Jim walks in, making what looks like an omelet. The smell is delicious. Grinning, Jim steps closer and wraps his arms around Spock from behind, kissing his neck and eyeing the bright orange eggshells.

“Iollian eggs,” he mumbles, pressing closer and reveling in the fact that he can, that he is allowed. “Why, Spock, I do believe that you intend to spoil me.”

Spock pushes the frying pan aside and turns within Jim’s arms, capturing his lips easily in a gentle kiss. “You are in dire need of being spoiled. It pleases me to have the honor.”

Jim grins against Spock’s lips, and there’s no urgency in the long kiss they share – just lots of simple, uncomplicated enjoyment and warmth.

“The food is getting cold,” Jim mumbles, a little breathless.

Spock lifts an eyebrow, and Jim laughs, and steals another kiss quickly before they pull apart.

On some level, he was afraid that it would get awkward. Sometimes, watching couples, Jim would feel mildly nauseated, even as Gaila would make strange cooing sounds and tell Jim that they’re adorable. Jim isn’t sure he can handle it if that’s what Spock wants.

But their breakfast is as normal an affair as one can imagine. They sit across from each other, eating and talking about one of Spock’s colleagues and the last video game Sulu and Chekov have been drawn into. Jim jokes, Spock feigns ignorance, and it’s comfortable and easy like the dozens of meals they’d shared before.

The only difference is, their legs are entangled under the table, and Jim can’t stop grinning if it kills him. He’s just so fucking happy he could burst. He grins wider because, oh God, what a way to go.

“Do we have to go?” he whines petulantly, once they’ve dealt with the dishes. “I was hoping we’d go back upstairs, and you would maybe return the favor from last night—”

Spock presses him against the counter and nibbles lightly at the curve of his neck. “Do not tempt me. There is nothing I desire more, but I have an interview scheduled in two hours.”

“Two hours!”

“And you have a bar to run.”

Jim sighs, hands lost under Spock’s shirt. “That’s true.”

“Come back tonight.” Spock kisses along his jawline. “We can do whatever you wish.”

Jim groans softly. “I’ll be beat tonight. It’ll be a full house.”

“Then come back, and I will take care of you.”

Jim pulls him closer. “Promise?”

He can feel Spock’s smile, and it’s almost better than seeing it.

“Yes, Jim. I promise.”

It takes them another ten minutes to finally get going, and another thirty to leave the house.

 

 

--

Jim walks into the bar in the middle of Gaila’s morning class and is thus saved from enduring her jibes. But when she catches sight of him and gives him a saucy wink, he can’t help but split into a grin – silly and immature, maybe, but Jim can’t do anything about it. It’s like he’s buzzed without drinking, everything seeming brighter and higher and more this morning.

He’s grateful that the day is busy with restocking and some additional staff training before the evening itself arrives. It’s good that Jim literally doesn’t have a minute to spare, because otherwise he’d be calling Spock and panting down the comm line like a fifteen year old. He’s been in love before, but he can’t remember being this giddy or cross-wired about Ruth or Carol. Spock might as well have put some kind of spell on him.

The night is busy, just as Jim has predicted, and, after a certain point, it starts to take its toll on him. It doesn’t help that he’s spent the last two weeks worrying himself sick, and the mad burst of endorphins in his system isn’t enough to counteract that much stress and fatigue. A brawl that two idiots start when Gaila flips them for trying to grab her ass doesn’t help matters.

Jim hates this kind of shit. He’s been in enough bar fights in his life to know that he doesn’t want any of this anywhere near his establishment. The guys are drunk, though, and they manage to alienate another couple of assholes before Jim even gets there, so fists are flying nice and heavy when Jim reaches them.

He doesn’t have to do much. While Gaila and Janice rush for the buckets of ice specifically preserved for this purpose, a tall, bulky man Jim has never seen before steps inside the fighting circle and effectively knocks everyone out in twelve seconds flat.

Blinking, Jim takes in the man’s appearance. He looks massive and sturdy – an obvious fan of foods that aren’t good for him – but that doesn’t stop him from having some impressive muscles. His hair is cut short, military-style; his jacket resembles a uniform; and his shoulders are squared, as if he’s constantly ready to stand at parade-rest. His eyes look haunted, though, as if he isn’t quite sure what he’s doing here.

Jim steps forward, extending his hand. “I’m Jim Kirk and this is my bar. Would you like a job here?”

The guy clearly seems lost even as he shakes Jim’s hand – more like tries to break it by accident. Then he catches sight of Gaila hovering at Jim’s elbow and blushes like a schoolgirl. Jim glances at Gaila, who’s smiling invitingly and with far more enthusiasm than when Bones tried to make an overture all these years ago.

Jim suppresses a sigh. He’ll have to look this guy up in depth later to find out exactly why he was kicked out of Starfleet; hopefully it wasn’t sexual harassment. From the way the guy blinks bashfully as Gaila leads him away to fill in the paperwork, though, it seems unlikely.

It’s past two in the morning when Jim stumbles into Spock’s house. He wouldn’t be offended if Spock was asleep. In fact, Jim might have preferred it that way, because all he wants now is to crawl into bed beside Spock, wrap himself around him, and go to sleep.

Of course, Spock not only is awake, but he has other ideas.

He takes Jim’s hand and leads him to the bathroom, undressing them both along the way, dropping clothes everywhere. Jim grins sleepily. So much for being a neat freak.

He forgets all about clothes, though, when Spock guides him into deliciously warm bathtub, filled to the brim with multicolored foam. Jim wants to protest that he’s not a girl, but he’s never had a bath like this and is hopelessly distracted by how good it feels. The heady scents are making him pleasantly dizzy, and when Spock settles down behind him, pulling him close, Jim thinks that this is what heaven must feel like.

Jim leans against Spock, relaxed and floating, letting Spock run the washcloth gently all over his body. Spock is thorough and methodical but also torturously slow, and Jim would think that it’s revenge for last night, but he’s so completely and utterly content that he simply can’t be bothered.

He tells Spock about his day and about the fight while Spock’s hands touch him everywhere, slippery smooth and tantalizing. Spock is hard under him, Jim can feel, but he seems to be okay with not doing anything about it, even though Jim can’t help but wriggle teasingly against him. Spock reaches around and strokes Jim, easily coaxing him into a full erection.

Jim turns then, suddenly serious, and straddles Spock’s hips, leaning in and kissing him, deep and hungry and seemingly forever.

Spock’s fingers ghost over Jim’s entrance, slick with something that doesn’t dissolve immediately in the water, and Jim emits a low, happy grunt of approval. He’s so relaxed he hardly needs any of it, but he wants it, because Spock’s fingers are smart, and maybe even seeing, and Jim clenches greedily around them, wanting more.

Spock helps Jim lift up just enough to guide himself in, and Jim moans into his mouth, sliding down inch by inch. It feels wonderful, as if Spock is cutting the strings of tension one by one and immediately replacing the emptiness with the sense of warmth and fullness and dark, churning desire.

It’s glazy and tender and devilishly slow-paced. Jim lets Spock do all the work, content to hold on and kiss him through it, rolling his hips from time to time and swallowing Spock’s quiet moans. Jim doesn’t remember ever feeling so blissed out. Spock moves inside him steadily, gliding over that sweet spot every time, and Jim pants into his mouth, licking the insides of his cheeks, and Spock drops his head further back, letting Jim deepen the angle.

Spock’s hot hand wrapping around him is a surprise that makes Jim jolt, and he can feel Spock’s smug amusement curling around him as Spock begins to jerk him off in time with his thrusts, making Jim crazy with overstimulation. He retaliates by grabbing Spock’s jaw, holding him where Jim wants him, and tongue-fucking his mouth in the dirtiest way possible.

They both come not a moment later, Spock gasping and Jim silently. They kiss through the afterglow, as if the idea of separation doesn’t belong in the same realm.

Spock pulls them out before the water begins to cool and wraps Jim in a gigantic bath towel. Jim tries to protest being manhandled like this, but he can barely stand, never mind keep his eyes open, so real resistance seems to be out of the question.

Spock guides him toward the bed and makes him lie down on his stomach, straddling his thighs and reaching for the massage oil. A new one, Jim notes sleepily – a multi-layered scent with hints of cinnamon.

“Spock.” It comes out mumbled, but Jim tries anyway. “Not that I don’t appreciate the thought, but I can’t stay awake for a moment longer.”

“Shh; relax, Jim.” Spock bends down and presses a gentle kiss behind his ear. “I don’t need you awake. Close your eyes and sleep.”

“Mmm… ‘kay.”

He almost doesn’t want to. Spock’s hands on his shoulders and neck feel wonderful – strong, purposeful, relentless. Spock rubs and presses and kneads like an expert – probably is an expert, Jim thinks deliriously. The residual tension melts inside Jim bit by bit almost palpably, like honey in the heart of a roasting apple.

He drifts to sleep with the steady, secure feeling of Spock’s hands on his skin.

 

 

--

Jim wakes up half an hour shy of dawn and finds Spock asleep a whole foot away from him. This travesty should be corrected.

Jim grins impishly, noticing that Spock is half-hard, and Jim can so remedy this. Jim has been told before that he gives spectacular head, but he’d never really enjoyed it all that much until now. It’s not about the taste or the girth – it’s just that this is Spock. Jim wants to lick him from his ears to his toes, and he hopes Spock doesn’t feel disgusted with the idea because Jim doesn’t think he can help it.

Spock wakes up remarkably quickly and tries to regain some control, but Jim has the advantage of a surprise attack on his side, and it’s hardly a struggle at all to make Spock come down Jim’s throat so quickly it’s probably embarrassing. Jim loves it, every second. Spock is so guilelessly defenseless right then that it makes Jim’s heart ache a little even as the rest of him tenses up, the instinctive urge to take and own making him dizzy with blunt desire.

Spock is delectably boneless and heavy-limbed and barely grunts when Jim rearranges him on his side and spoons behind him, waiting, knowing it wouldn’t take Spock’s body nearly as long as it would have taken Jim’s to calm down from the oversensitive high. All too soon Spock reaches for him clumsily, pushing back and prompting Jim to action, and Jim slides into him as naturally as if they’ve been doing it for years. He rocks sluggishly into Spock’s sleepy heat, both of them too drowsy to get really worked up, and Jim lets go fairly quickly, lazy sweet pleasure and more languid warmth chasing him back into unconsciousness.

Jim wakes up next time when the morning is fully in its rights to find Spock standing in the doorway with a coffee mug in his hand. The smell is so tempting that Jim’s mouth waters, but Spock refuses to give him the cup until Jim showers. Jim doesn’t have to be extra persuasive to convince Spock to take his second shower for one morning, and the coffee is breeding icicles by the time they come out, but neither of them cares.

Jim’s days turn a little crazy after that.

It seems like his bar has never demanded as much attention as it does now, with Gaila working to get her teaching license confirmed, Jim drawing up new contracts with their suppliers, getting everything ready for the annual health and safety inspection, training his newly hired bouncers so that they wouldn’t accidentally kill the drunken patrons, teaching Janice and Tonya to tell when someone has had enough, and working on the new ad strategy with Gary because it looks like they can finally afford one.

Sulu drags Chekov off to the Shelter much more often than he drags Jim these days, but Jim still tries to keep tabs on Kevin and a few others. Every time Marlena calls to whine about the new arrivals, Jim knows he’ll be making an appearance, because they might not actually need his help – maybe they never have – but he can’t just let go.

Jim spends every free moment with Spock. Or he would, if he had any, so more and more it just comes to cuddling under the sheets when they’re both too tired to move and admittedly awesome morning sex that they can never savor in full because one of them always has to run.

It’s fantastic; the feel of Spock’s body next to him, moving with him, breathing with him – Jim can’t get enough of it, and he has never been so aroused by a simple kiss the way he constantly is with Spock.

But it’s not enough.

Jim misses their talks, the sound of Spock’s voice teasing him, dissecting Spock’s articles with him, and arguing about history and books. He misses their nights out and flea market raids. Spock comes to the bar several times a week as usual, but Jim is too busy for them to chat. Plus, he becomes distracted when Spock is there, and everyone around them gets pissed.

Still, Jim is happy. This madness is temporary, he knows, but in the meantime, he gets to curl against Spock every night before falling asleep, and that’s so much more than he ever dared to hope for.

He loves Spock so much it scares him sometimes, this single-minded focus on one person. He knows he should step away a little, clear his head, but he can’t. It’s too late for that. It was too late the moment Spock chose his bar as a shelter from the pouring rain and turned Jim’s world upside down.

“Jim, you need to take a break.”

Jim glances over at Bones, who is on his second cup of coffee and looking chirpier for it.

Jim chuckles. “Are you crazy, Bones? Business is booming. I can’t take a break now.”

Bones frowns. “Yeah, but between the bar and your crazy street kids and Spock, Jim, you’re stretched a bit thin.” He eyes Jim critically. “You’ve lost about four pounds in three weeks, and I know for a fact that Spock feeds you.”

“Really?” Jim’s eyebrows arch. “And how would you know that?”

“All Vulcans cook. Besides,” Bones jerks his chin in the direction of Jim’s untouched plate, “you’ve never been such a snob about food until you started fucking him.”

Jim frowns. “Could you be any more crude?”

Bones cocks his head up, eyes narrowing. “Sorry, princess, did I hurt your feelings? Did he give you a ring when I wasn’t looking?”

“No.” Jim scowls and looks away. “Look, could you just stay out of this? Spock is not a casual fuck for me. He’s not casual.”

Bones peers at him for a long moment before pursing his lips. “No; evidently, he’s not.” He shakes his head. “What are you doing, Jim? Setting yourself up for a disaster like this—”

“Why?” Jim interrupts. “Why would you say that? Is it so impossible to imagine that someone might want to stay with me?”

“No. It’s impossible to imagine that a Vulcan would go as crazy about someone as you have over him.” Bones straightens up, working out his irritation. “I like Spock, Jim. He’s a nice enough guy. But you have fallen way too deep for him, and that thing that you two are doing? It’s not how Vulcan courtships go at all, and they’re only the most hardwired race in the galaxy, so forgive me for doubting that he’s into this as much as you are.”

It stings like a bitch. Jim grits his teeth. “You don’t know him.”

“And you do? Tell me, Jim, do you know that Spock is having regular lunches with some dude at the Vulcan consulate? Pretty as fuck and apparently not as stick-up-his-ass as the rest of them.”

Jim’s heart clenches into itself as his mouth falls open. “Roven?”

“Oh, so you do know him. Well then, maybe if you’re lucky he’s into threesomes.”

“How do you—”

“Chris has meetings with a Vulcan healer running data by him for her paper. She sees them there every other day.”

Jim’s mouth turns dry, and his throat constricts painfully.

It can’t be true. Spock would have told him. Except – he and Spock haven’t been talking much about anything lately, have they? Spock seems understanding and accepting of Jim’s situation. Really, he’s offered to help Jim repeatedly, and Jim has shot him down every time. Spock never so much as looked at Jim reproachfully for not paying him enough attention, but if this is what things have come to...

Jim will find the time.

“Jim,” Bones presses softly. “Look, I’m sorry; that was below the belt. I’m just worried about you, okay? I know what it’s like to be so fixated on someone and then discover that his or her world doesn’t actually revolve around you. I’ve been there. I don’t want him to break your heart.”

Jim takes a deep breath. “What do I do?” he asks quietly.

Bones looks at him strictly. “You’ve hired enough help; start delegating things, dammit. I hate to break it to you, Jim, but you’re something of a control freak. The universe won’t shut down if you let someone else do something. You need a second in command, someone who can take over your administrative workload. If Gaila doesn’t want the job, give it to Chekov. He’s all over your accounts, anyway.”

“I’m not sure he can negotiate with suppliers1.”

“Oh really? Because Scotty was here yesterday, and Chekov drank him under the table in two hours neat and then walked out of here solid as you please. I’d say that’s a yes.”

“Huh.” Jim ponders this. “But – I like manning the bar?”

“So?” Bones shrugs. “Take a shift every other day like everyone else does. This bar doesn’t have to be your life, Jim. Remember how you wanted to sign up for that carpenter workshop? Do it. Do something for yourself – just for yourself, you know? You’re allowed. And for starters, take a day off – you’re beginning to look transparent. No wonder your boyfriend’s looking elsewhere.”

Jim glares at him.

Bones throws his hands up. “Okay, okay, sorry, inappropriate.” He raises his empty coffee mug. “Make me another one to go and I’ll be out of your hair.”

Jim is restless all through the afternoon, unable to sort his thoughts out. He doesn’t know if he’s feeling guilty or angry or jealous or scared or an insane mix of everything. This is another side effect of him being with Spock – Jim isn’t accustomed to feeling this many emotions, nor to this extent.

In the end, he comes to a decision and pulls Gaila aside, asking if she could manage without him tomorrow. She beams at him and throws her arms around his neck.

“Jimmy, I’ve been waiting for you to ask me for ages. We’ll be okay without you tomorrow. Really, though, why don’t you just go now? Seems like a quiet evening.”

“No, really, I—”

“I’ll call if anything happens.”

He looks at her dubiously, and she grins. “Cross my heart, Jimmy. Go.”

He gives in, sighing, and plants a quick kiss on her nose, making her giggle. Grabbing his jacket and car keys, he’s out the door faster than Gaila’s laugh fades.

The idea that he should have called Spock before coming over doesn’t once cross his mind until he enters the house and hears voices and laughter streaming from the kitchen. Jim tenses when he recognizes Roven’s deep tone and has to steady himself, taking several deep breaths before walking in.

Roven is sitting at the counter, looking ridiculous perched up on the tall chair without breaking his perfect posture. Across from him is Nyota Uhura, and it’s her laughter Jim has just heard – she’s still grinning. Spock’s back is to the door, his attention focused on the stove.

The scene gives Jim a momentary pause, and it’s Nyota who notices his presence first.

“Jim!” She smiles at him, open and sincere. “It’s so good to see you. Spock told us you’d be working late.”

“I took the evening off,” Jim replies, trying to arrange his expression into something resembling friendliness.

“Is it not customary to call if your circumstances change?” Roven asks, giving Jim a less than impressed once-over.

“Yeah, I guess I should have. Sorry I interrupted, Spock.”

“You have not interrupted anything,” Spock says, and Jim can sense nothing but surprised joy radiating from him. “It’s not possible, Jim.”

And before Jim can come up with a response, Spock is in his space and kissing him, short and sweet, a warm smile of welcome lighting up his eyes.

“Come.” Spock tugs Jim toward the stove by the hand and presents him with a spatula. “You can stir the bachra’tah while I prepare spenghalii.”

“Er, Spock, I don’t really know how to do this,” Jim mutters, flushed and disturbingly happy.

“Then let me show you.” Spock wraps his hand around Jim’s holding the spatula and demonstrates the motion. “Don’t press down too hard.”

“I’ll try,” Jim promises distantly, unable to stop staring at Spock, who gazes right back until Uhura clears her throat behind them.

Spock blushes, and Jim grins, stirring the weird-looking dish with such vigor that it’s a miracle he doesn’t turn the frying pan over.

The conversation flows with surprising ease. Uhura shares colorful tales about the inner workings of the Tribune’s editorial office while Jim asks questions and laughs, and Spock occasionally drops in a sarcastic remark that makes Jim laugh even harder. They work side by side, stealing little touches and glances whenever they can get away with it, and Jim thinks that it’s probably pretty gross, and he’s always hated when other people did it, but now that it’s him and Spock, he can’t help himself. It’s like he literally can’t keep his hands off.

He almost forgets that Roven is even there, until the Vulcan announces that he won’t be staying for dinner after all. Spock and Uhura both try to talk him out of leaving, and Jim is so happy with Spock’s hand on the small of his back that he feels generous enough to add his voice to theirs. Much to his relief, though, Roven seems confident in his decision and bids them goodbye.

“Okay, you two.” Uhura sighs dramatically, but her eyes are laughing. “Try to remember that I’m still here before getting all hot and bothered, okay?”

“Are you sure?” Jim smirks. “We could let you watch.”

Jim,” Spock admonishes.

“Too soon?” Jim asks innocently, and kisses Spock’s cheek when Spock glares.

All in all, it’s a most pleasant evening. When Nyota leaves after dinner, Jim and Spock land on the couch in the living room, playing the video game that Jim nicked from Chekov – Jim is good and Spock is abysmal, but that might be due to Jim licking at his ear when he takes aim. Jim demands a prize for winning, and Spock accuses him of cheating, and they end up despoiling the couch pretty thoroughly. Jim laughs through most of it, and Spock drinks it down from his lips.

When Jim tells him that he has tomorrow off, Spock instantly starts to plan their day. He looks like a kid opening a stack of presents on Christmas, and Jim is smiling at him through the sharp pang of guilt at the thought that he’d reduced them to nightly encounters between the sheets.

Gratitude pours out of Spock in waves, and Jim has never seen him so indecisive as when he tries to choose between the things they could do. It’s so painfully clear that he wants everything and is certain that another opportunity won’t arise for weeks.

Jim crawls into his lap then, wraps his arms and legs around Spock, and kisses him, deep and insistent, until Spock doesn’t try to talk anymore.

“We’ll figure it out,” Jim whispers. “I promise we will.”

Spock nods, trusting and serious, and they don’t talk for a while after that.

 

 

--

Autumn sweeps over the city in a blitz of sharp winds and golden leaves before Jim knows it. He wakes up one morning to discover that Spock has hogged all the covers, which shouldn’t be endearing in the slightest, but Spock’s sleeping personality is so unlike his waking one that Jim only laughs helplessly, wrestling his way into the fortress of blankets Spock has constructed. Spock moves, without waking up, to pull Jim closer, strong arms wrapping around him securely, and this will never get old – the way Spock’s body welcomes Jim’s touch without Spock’s conscious mind knowing it. Jim grins, pressing a soft kiss to Spock’s collarbone. Hello, September.

Spock’s schedule becomes even more busy. He’d worked obsessively during the summer, but this is a whole new level of crazy. He sleeps at odd hours, often skips meals, and sometimes Jim thinks that, if he weren’t there, Spock would have forgotten what reality looks like altogether.

Jim’s own workload seems to have grown as well, despite the fact that he has taken McCoy’s advice to heart and begun delegating tasks to Chekov and Gaila. (Jim is the only one shocked when it doesn’t lead to the end of the world, much less the bar.) But they’re seeing more customers than they have in a while, if ever, and Jim’s cocktail-making master classes are surprisingly popular. (Jim is the only one surprised.) He’s seriously considering switching to energy drinks, but, between Spock’s and Gaila’s identical scowls, that has no chance of happening.

Their free hours overlap very occasionally, which keeps them perpetually hungry for one another. Despite that, they slowly learn to coexist in the same living space, even though no one makes any declarations.

Spock learns to put up with Jim’s things scattered all over the house like a swarm of mischievous, over-excited puppies. He never picks up after Jim, but vindictively doesn’t help him locate his missing clothes, either. Jim solves the problem by borrowing Spock’s clothes, and Spock seems to have no defense against this, as his eyes turn a very attractive shade of molten treacle whenever he spots Jim wearing something of his. It’s a weakness and Jim uses it shamelessly, with no pangs of guilt whatsoever.

Jim learns not to interrupt Spock’s meditation if he knows what’s good for him. The incense Spock uses makes Jim’s nose itch, and the sometimes-absurd amount of time Spock spends just sitting there staring at his navel is a challenge to every atom in Jim’s always-restless body, but he gives Spock his time. It’s out of self-preservation more than anything else, because no amounts of flattery, food bribery, or even sex are enough to cure Spock’s bitchiness whenever he’s deprived of his zen for too long. Dating a telepath comes with the need to occasionally take control of his rampaging emotions. Spock never complains, but he never keeps his shields fully up around Jim, either, and it has to be taxing.

Spock, Jim discovers, isn’t above an occasional flare of jealousy when he watches Jim flirt with the customers, and Jim hasn’t quite figured out what to do about it. Particularly since he can more than relate, given that Spock, with his enigmatic fallen angel slash reluctant hero demeanor, is a freaking magnet for bleeding hearts and grabby hands. They trust each other, which helps, but it’s still somewhat uncomfortable.

Sleep deprivation becomes a constant state of being for both of them, because they can’t keep their hands off each other. Most mornings, Jim feels high as a kite, pumped with endorphins and caffeine, sore and energized all at the same time, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Spock is a chemical addiction somehow coded into Jim’s DNA, and he starts experiencing withdrawal symptoms if he and Spock are separated for more than twenty-four hours.

Which is why, when Spock announces that his new assignment will take him off planet for three months, Jim thinks, at first, that he misheard. Then, it feels like the world has stopped turning and millions of years of motion sickness have caught up with him at once.

Spock seems to be somewhat shaken, too, because he explains things very carefully and stares at Jim warily the whole time, as if expecting him to explode or try to keep Spock from doing so.

Apparently, for the first time ever, Starfleet has decided to allow a civilian observer to make a documentary on one of their missions, and Spock has been selected for the honor. Jim asks why, and it’s a reasonable question. He can understand Starfleet’s PR troubles, but it doesn’t explain why Spock, of all people, who has to go.

“The mission is on the USS Enterprise,” Spock explains patiently. “Captain Pike agreed to this on the sole condition that I would be the one to go.”

“Why?” Jim blinks.

“He has a very – special – relation with the press,” Spock says with a fleeting smile. “And I believe he trusts me. He and I share some… history.”

“Oh.”

Spock gives him a knowing look. “Before Christopher became captain of the Enterprise, he was captain of the Yorktown.”

“The ship that broke through the Belta blockade,” Jim realizes, and it’s embarrassing how relieved he feels that it’s not the other kind of history.

Spock nods. “He called me last night. Jim, he is also being pressured. And ever since he announced his condition, the Tribune has been under siege from the presidential press office, councilmen, and officials. You would not believe the number of calls we are receiving.” He pauses. “I have to do this.”

Jim frowns. “I don’t like it. It could be dangerous.”

Spock actually smiles and pulls him close. “There is no cause for concern, Jim. It is the best ship in the Fleet.”

“So was the Kelvin,” Jim says grudgingly. They’ve never really discussed it, but he knows that Spock knows.

Spock’s arms tighten around him. “Not every mission ends in disaster.” Jim doesn’t answer, and Spock kisses him, hard and persistent, relentless until Jim finally responds, desperate and sad. Spock can no doubt taste it.

“Tell me not to go and I won’t,” he whispers.

Jim sighs. “Don’t do this to me.”

Spock cups his face and makes Jim look at him. “Tell me not to go, and I will stay, Jim.”

“And lose your job over it?”

“Possibly. But it is inconsequential.”

“The hell it is. Do you want to go, Spock?”

“I do not wish to leave you.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

Spock stares at him for a moment, then sighs and steps back, hands falling to his sides. Jim watches him with a growing sense of trepidation.

“I am a journalist, Jim,” Spock says quietly at last. “A storyteller. I go where the story leads me. And this – this story is worth telling.”

Jim purses his lips; nods. “Okay. Just – you be careful, you hear me? I will never forgive you get so much as a scratch on that hide of yours.”

Spock glances at him, a small fond smile creasing his lips. “Excessive drama is unjustified,” he chides softly.

But he’s extra pliant against Jim’s roughness that night, yielding instantly at every demand, raising no objections to Jim marking him where people could see. Afterwards, Jim doesn’t release him, instead lying awake for hours cradling Spock in his arms and kissing him hungrily whenever he feels like it. Spock is physically unable to join Jim’s vigil because he hasn’t had any sleep for three nights in a row, but he doesn’t complain about being woken to find Jim fondling him or taking him again; Spock’s arms lock around Jim firmly and don’t let go as he slips in and out of consciousness.

They wake up in the morning still pressed tightly against each other, and Jim vows silently to himself that he will never lose this, not to anything.

Spock has to cancel an interview that morning because he’s hopelessly late, but he doesn’t say a word.

 

 

--

Jim might have liked Captain Pike, had he met him anywhere else but at Spock’s place and under any other circumstances.

“So,” Pike drawls as Jim steps into Spock’s kitchen. “This is the reason you’ve been turning down my dinner invitations, Spock?” His eyes sweep over Jim in a seemingly unimpressed once-over.

“Partly,” Spock acknowledges, surveying the contents of the fridge. “Jim, this is Captain Christopher Pike. Christopher—” Spock pins him down with a look that is both amused and exasperated. “Behave.”

Pike chuckles, shaking Jim’s hand. “Not a chance. So, what is it you do, exactly, Mr. Kirk?”

Jim shoots a panicked glance at Spock, because this feels like meeting the parents, only worse. “Is he for real?”

“Yes, Spock,” Pike calls merrily, “I was just about to ask the same thing about Mr. July here.”

Spock shuts the fridge door and steps closer to them, balancing a few avocados and a pack of shrimp in his hands (he started buying meat products when he started cooking regularly for Jim). He looks from one to the other uncertainly.

“Why are you being like this?” he asks cautiously, confusion painted clear on his face. Jim might have laughed if he hadn’t been so damn flustered.

Pike smirks, reaching out to casually push a couple of mutinous strands away from Spock’s forehead. Spock turns helpfully to make this task easier, nodding gratefully. Jim seethes.

“I’m sorry, Spock, really,” Pike says, without a hint of remorse in his tone. “It’s just not every day you meet a Pirelli Calendar model in the flesh.”

Jim blushes scarlet, looking pleadingly at Spock. “It was only once, and I really needed the money. I was sixteen, dammit!” He glares at Pike. “How did you know about that shoot, anyway?”

Pike grins at him smugly. “I didn’t.”

“You—” Jim sputters, then buries his face in his hands. “Oh God.”

“Jim.”

“Yeah?”

“Look at me.” Spock’s tone is endlessly patient. Jim chances a glance at him between his splayed fingers. “I would very much like to see that holo,” he says quietly. “You said you had no records prior to arriving to Chicago. I am curious about what you looked like at sixteen.”

Jim swallows around a cotton-rough lump in his throat, watching a defiant blush spreading across Spock’s cheeks. His eyes are locked on Jim’s unwaveringly, and it’s like a tangible kick in the gut.

“I’ll... see if I can dig it up,” Jim pushes out at last.

Pike whistles softly, glancing from one to the other. He clears his throat. “Spock, you need a hand with those?”

“No.” Spock shakes his head calmly, depositing the food on the working table. “But if you wish for the meal to be assembled faster, I suggest you and Jim entertain each other. There is a chess set in the living room. Perhaps you could make use of it?”

Jim isn’t thrilled with the idea, but decides that he can stay civil, at least, despite Pike’s obviously less than glowing opinion of him. He gestures toward the entrance, glancing at Pike with as much politesse as he can muster. “After you?”

Pike shoots him an assessing look, but nods and walks out. Jim takes a deep breath and follows him.

Ten minutes later, staring at Pike’s stunned face after Jim has declared his first checkmate, he realizes that Spock is a fucking strategic genius. Starship captains are supposed to be good at this shit, and ten minutes to a defeat is downright ridiculous. The expression of pure astonishment Pike is wearing is proof enough, and priceless.

The second win takes Jim a little longer, but the margin is small. Pike seems less surprised and more pensive. By the time Jim wins his third game, the captain looks disturbingly enthusiastic when asking about Jim’s aptitude scores and education. In his entire life, Jim has never enjoyed telling someone that he had dropped out of high school and never went back more than he has now.

Pike stares at him, obviously unable to wrap his mind around it, but, much to Jim’s relief, he doesn’t try to persuade Jim that he’s wasting his life. Instead he says, “I’m sorry about before, son.”

“You mean when you were being an asshole and tried to make me look bad in front of Spock?” Jim is less pissed than he’d been, but it’s still there.

“It wasn’t about you.” Pike sighs. “Well, it was, but more about Spock than you.”

“Forgive me if I find that hard to believe, Captain Pike.”

“Look.” Pike leans forward, a physical expression of being earnest. Vaguely, Jim wonders if it’s natural or well-practiced. In any case, it’s working. “I met Spock when he was – in a dark place, let’s say.”

“I know about Belta,” Jim says impatiently, because the man is so damn assuming, it’s insulting.

Pike blinks, then nods slowly. “Yes; it figures that you would. You know what he went through, then. Afterwards, he was kind of... wild. For a while. His choice of partners was” – Pike cringes – “not even much of his choice, so much as… he didn’t give a shit. He just – went along with whoever turned up, and you wouldn’t want to know the places I had to drag him from. Or the people.”

Jim doesn’t say anything, but internally, he shudders. He suspected Spock had flipped out – who wouldn’t? But if it was that bad...

“Guess I’ve been over-protective of him ever since.” Pike spreads his hands palms out, and it’s clear from his resolute expression that he doesn’t regret it; only that Jim has been caught in a backlash.

“Thank you,” Jim says, surprising himself.

Pike peers at him curiously. “For—?”

“Pulling him through it.” Jim bites his lip, but the words spill anyway. “I can’t imagine my life without him.”

It’s the first time he has admitted it out loud, and instead of making him feel like a sap, it makes him feel scared out of his mind because of the inherent truth to it. That is simply insane.

Pike is watching him with an expression that is both intrigued and sympathetic. “For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen him so happy as when he talks about you,” he says softly. “Must be fate.”

A voice comes from the doorway before Jim can respond. “The meal is ready.”

Jim jumps in his seat a little. “How long have you been standing there?”

Spock treats him to an unimpressed eyebrow. “Why? Have you been talking about something unseemly?”

“We were talking about fate,” Pike says easily, winking at Jim. “Spock, what do you think are my chances of convincing Jim to enlist in Starfleet?”

“Enlist—” Jim snorts. “Me in one of your monkey suits? Forget it.”

“I would estimate that the chances are no greater than they were with me,” Spock replies, his lips twitching.

“Yeah.” Pike gives a theatrical sigh, moving after Spock toward the kitchen. “A damn waste.”

 

 

--

Neither of them sleeps the night before Spock leaves. It’s as if they’re both afraid to blink and find the other gone. They spend most of the time lying quietly in the dark, kissing and talking about small things.

Jim makes sure to leave before it’s time for Spock to be beamed up. He tells Spock it’s because he hates long goodbyes, but the truth is, he doesn’t think he’d be able to let Spock go if he waited any longer.

 

 

--

Life without Spock is less epically tragic and more trivially unbearable than Jim imagined. He knew they weren’t going to be able to communicate unless some dire emergency demanded it, and Jim learns to welcome every new day of silence as a gift.

The trouble is, he’s never been good at idly waiting.

Nothing is satisfying or challenging enough anymore. His workload hasn’t diminished in the slightest, but, weirdly enough, Jim doesn’t feel the same vibes of energy while tending the bar, joking around with customers, or inventing ways to beat competition. He goes to the Shelter more often than he had in the last two months, but he zones off during the meetings a lot. It’s not that he doesn’t feel the sympathy for the cause anymore, but it feels like it can’t quite capture the entirety of his attention the way it used to. He spends most of the days strangely restless, fighting for concentration.

Jim has enough self-awareness to know what this means. Part of him – a huge part of him – is missing Spock to an insane degree. The other part of him is jealous. He doesn’t want to be doing what Spock is doing, but he wants to be doing something else. He wants to be out there.

The bar that has been his refuge, his fortress in the hostile world, suddenly feels confining, oppressing. The people who needed him so desperately seem to be doing well on their own now. They still want him, but Jim knows that they no longer really need him. Not even Gaila. It’s good and sad, both, and Jim doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

He scrolls through several university brochures when he thinks nobody’s looking and hides them under the counter the moment Gaila looks his way. He does sign up for the carpenter workshop Bones had suggested to tire his body, if nothing else. He sleeps less and less.

Six weeks into it, Gaila runs her hand over his newly busted biceps admiringly and promises to shrink his t-shirts in the wash in order to attract more clientele.

Jim laughs, glancing at the overcrowded room. “Do you think we could handle more clientele?” Something occurs to him, and he frowns. “Come to think of it, when did we become so mainstream? This is, what, a week’s worth of full house?”

Gaila shrugs. “I’m not complaining.”

“Neither am I. But don’t you think it’s sort of – weird that we’re so popular all of a sudden?”

She purses her lips. “Don’t look the gift horse in the mouth, Jimmy.”

“Right.” Jim looks around, still bewildered. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You’re off to Spock’s?”

“Yep. Call me if you need anything.”

Gaila nods and doesn’t reply, smiling at another customer instead. By unspoken rule, they don’t discuss Jim’s weekly forays into Spock’s house. Jim is content to leave it that way.

Spock would probably think it’s illogical, but his house is the only place where Jim can truly relax these days. There’s something about being surrounded by Spock’s things that anchors Jim against the strain of his absence and his own restless thoughts. He doesn’t indulge himself very often, too, but some days – he needs it.

Tonight, he lands on the couch in Spock’s living room with a copy of Tales from Moominvalley he’d rescued from the bottom drawer of Spock’s desk. The book is old and worn, obviously well loved. There are somewhat clumsy attempts to copy the images of Moomins in the margins, and Jim grins, imagining Spock as a child, desecrating the pages as he exercises his fascination with little white trolls and their adventures.

Jim falls asleep with the book splayed across his chest.

 

 

--

A couple of weeks later, he’s walking home from a similar excursion, diving into a backstreet for a shortcut, when suddenly a dark, bulky silhouette materializes in his way. Jim freezes, staring at the stranger.

It’s a tall Vulcan, probably middle-aged by Vulcan standards. He’s wearing dark brown robes with expressive golden embroidery, and he’s filling the narrow street, projecting power and intimidation. Immediately, Jim recalls every suspicion Spock has shared with him about his family. Is it Jim’s turn now? Is he in danger?

“My apologies; I did not mean to startle you,” the stranger says in a low, grave monotone. “James Kirk, I presume?”

Jim doesn’t relax his fighting stance one bit. “Who are you? Why are you lurking behind my bar?”

“I am Ambassador Sarek. I am—”

“Spock’s father,” Jim finishes. It doesn’t make him any more relaxed, really, but his instincts tell him there’s no danger – at least, not to his life.

He glances over at Sarek, this time with a specific purpose, and thinks vaguely that Spock must have inherited his good looks from his mother. In fact, with the exception of a similar height, the father and son seem to have nothing at all in common in either appearance or manner.

“What can I do for you, Ambassador?” Jim asks, meaning something else entirely, as he crosses his arms over his chest. “Spock isn’t here.”

“I am aware of that. I came to speak with you. It has been my intention for a while now, but you are a hard man to find. I doubt you would have taken my call.”

Jim probably wouldn’t have, so he offers no comment. He feels awkward, being rude to a person he has never met before and who has done nothing to him, but when he thinks about how Spock only refers to this man by name, Jim wants to punch him.

“What do you want?” he asks impatiently. “How do you even know who I am?”

Sarek’s face remains unmovable, like a stone mask. “Spock might have abandoned Vulcan,” he says evenly, “but Vulcan has never abandoned him. You do not have a proper appreciation of how important his family is.”

Jim purses his lips. “Let me guess, then. You’re here to tell me I don’t deserve to walk the same ground as Spock, seeing as he’s royalty and I’m a nobody with a couple of credits to his name. Were you planning to threaten or bribe me?”

Sarek blinks. “Your imagination is – quite rampant, Mr. Kirk. However, in the interests of expediency, I might as well inform you that, unlike humans, Vulcans lack the flare for dramatics. I will neither threaten you nor bribe you. You are as blatantly emotional as every other member of your species. Other than that, I do not have any particular objection against you as an individual.”

Jim blinks. “Really.”

“Indeed. You are correct, however, assuming that I find your association with my son extremely unwise.” Sarek pauses. “Spock is – infatuated – with you. Similar to how I used to be infatuated with his mother.”

Jim stills. “How do you know that?”

Sarek produces a folded paper out of his robes and thrusts it into Jim’s hands. “I can read.”

Blinking, Jim stares at the copy of the Tribune dated almost a month ago. It’s folded with the lifestyle page up, and it has a holo of Jim on top. He’s staring into the camera, laugh lines shooting from his eyes that are highlighted in blue while the rest of the image is black and white, unbelievably stylish, and Jim looks – Jim looks gorgeous, and very real. The holo is so captivating that it takes Jim another blink to catch the name of the article beside it: Staying Out of the Sun, and below the title, in small letters, the familiar by Spock.

Jim feels dizzy all of a sudden and close to hyperventilating. He stopped checking the Tribune issues after Spock left, assuming that there would be no pieces from him while he was gone. Did Spock really write a feature on him? Jim’s mind is reeling as the mixture of bafflement, gratitude, affection, and astonishment sweeps over him.

“You were unaware of this,” Sarek notes.

Jim flinches, having completely forgotten Sarek’s presence. He tears his eyes away from the paper forcefully, his hands shaking slightly. No one has ever done anything remotely like this for him, and this is – it’s... oh, Spock.

“My son’s style is usually less emotional,” Sarek remarks. “But he is my son, and I recognize the signs in him that I once carried myself. He is not trying to deceive you. He believes that what he feels for you is love, but it is not.”

“How do you know?” Jim asks quietly, face burning.

“Vulcans cannot experience that emotion as humans do, Mr. Kirk. For us, it is a mere chemical imbalance stemming from prolonged exposure to your species. It will pass. When it does, you will be little more to him than an acquaintance in whom he had once been interested. You will grow to resent him, as my wife grew to resent me. That is torture no Vulcan should experience.”

“Spock is different,” Jim blurts out, voice shaking with fury. “He’s not like you.”

“Indeed, he is not like me,” Sarek agrees. “He will not be able to forgive himself. He will not be able to adequately deal with the situation the way I did.”

“You mean, he wouldn’t be able to kill me like you killed your wife?”

Sarek freezes. “I did not kill my wife,” he articulates slowly. “Her death was a tragic accident.”

Jim snorts. “Yeah? Why do I find that hard to believe?”

“My son’s misconceptions are clouding your judgment.” Sarek pauses. “Misconceptions I have planted into his mind.”

Jim blinks and goes very, very still. “What?”

“Amanda died in a traffic accident. A young driver had obtained his license illegally. He lost control of his vehicle and pushed them off the road.”

“Why didn’t the police find him or his car?”

“Because we removed them from the scene, Mr. Kirk. Amanda had never lost her status as my spouse. She was – under observation – by Vulcan security. The agents following her witnessed the accident and contacted me immediately. I beamed to the site before the police arrived. I changed that boy’s memory, and all physical evidence was removed.”

“Why?”

“My wife was dying; it was a matter of time. There was no need for her death, however tragic, not to serve as an instrument of returning my son home.”

What?

For the first time during the conversation, Sarek looks away. “My son is blinded by his emotions. He has always been thus. I reasoned that an emotional response from him would help me achieve my goal. Believing that we orchestrated his mother’s death as punishment for her actions would make him fear a similar fate. Essentially, his fear would make him abandon his rebellion, return to Vulcan, and submit to our guidance.”

Jim stares at Sarek in disbelief, unable to decide if the man in front of him is dangerously delusional or more cold-blooded than a machine.

“You thought you would scare Spock into submission?” Jim repeats incredulously, unable to believe that anyone could be that stupid. “Do you even know your son?”

Sarek shoots him what could only be a glare. “I am not responsible for Spock’s profound lack of logic. It was reasonable to expect that fear would arise when faced with such a threat.”

“Oh yeah? So what did you do when he got angry instead? ‘Cause that’s perfectly logical from where I’m standing.”

Sarek closes his eyes. “Human emotionalism is impossible to predict. I made a mistake by trying.”

“And when your little scheme didn’t work, you just let Spock carry on with his life thinking his grandma and daddy decided to off his mom! Do you know what it did to him? Do you know where it sent him?”

“Mr. Kirk—”

“And what about that boy whose memories you rigged, huh? That’s a capital offense! Illegal!

“His incarceration would not have resurrected my wife. And on Vulcan, a mind probe is an adequate response for an offense such as his.” Sarek stiffens even more, if that’s possible. “Furthermore, I am not required to justify my actions to you, Mr. Kirk.”

“Then why are you telling me all this? Because if you still think you can convince me to break it off with Spock, you’re more deluded than you seem – which would be one hell of a feat, by the way. Let me pass, Ambassador. And don’t ever come close to me again.”

“You would risk ruining Spock’s future to appease your selfish physical attraction?”

“I think you of all people should shut up about risking Spock’s future!”

“My mistakes do not condone yours. Human sympathies are fleeting. You care for my son now. How long will those emotions last?”

“You don’t care about him at all!” Jim spits. “It beats me how you are even related!”

“My son is more like me than you realize. Cease your association before you both regret it.”

Jim steps closer to him all of a sudden, crowding Sarek’s personal space and not caring that the Vulcan is three times stronger, not caring about any threat to himself at all. It must show on his face, transforming it into something that makes the ambassador flinch – and step back.

“Go to hell.”

Jim doesn’t hear a single sound behind him as he walks steadily toward the backdoor of his bar.

He’s still seething as he steps inside, the familiar surroundings a welcome, soothing wave washing over him. He can’t believe the depth of Sarek’s arrogance, can’t comprehend how Spock’s mother could have fallen in love with him. It almost feels like a scene from Beauty and the Beast, minus the magical transformation. Jim’s heart bleeds for Spock, because God, having such a douchebag for a parent...

“Jim.” Gaila runs toward him, grabbing his hand.

“You wouldn’t believe who I just met,” he blurts out, mind still reeling. “If I didn’t want to punch him so hard, it’d be probably spectacular, the way he logics the insane—”

“Jim, you need to listen to me,” Gaila cuts him off, sounding urgent. She looks pale, and her lips are trembling.

“What is it?” Jim asks, concerned, forgetting about Sarek instantly. “Gaila, what?”

She doesn’t answer, just shakes her head, blinking away the tears, and tugs him toward the vidscreen. Jim shoots a bewildered glance at Chekov and Tonya, but they both stare back, wide-eyed and looking scared out of their minds.

“Would somebody please spill? I can’t—”

“Listen.” Gaila pushes him in front of the vid.

“…expected but treacherous provocation resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. The Klingon ambassador has been expelled from the Federation as a response to this brutal act. The fate of the Federation ambassador to the Klingon Empire Karen Antan remains unknown. Starfleet Command has declared alert level one immediately after the reports of the incident at Pireem III have been received. Starfleet is not releasing any information concerning fleet deployment, but we can confirm that USS Antares, USS Enterprise, and USS Columbia were among the ships that responded to the attack on the colony. Pireem III is de jure an independent planet; however, for the last decade, it has been a point of dispute…”

Jim sways on his feet, breathless, the paper with Spock’s article clutched in a death grip in his hand.

 

 

--

He’s sitting on the ground beside the bar’s backdoor, a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a ruffled paper in another, when Roven finds him. It’s freezing out here, misting every few minutes as heavy lead clouds frown down from above. Jim takes a swig of his half-empty bottle before looking up.

“Anything?”

It’s been three days. Three days and no news, except for reports of escalating hostilities. Starfleet is clamped up like a shellfish, and civilian authorities haven’t got a clue. There are no family members, and Spock isn’t even a member of Starfleet. If Jim were a hermit living in the Andorian Highlands without any contact with anything remotely resembling civilization, he would be as informed as he is right now.

“No.”

After a short deliberation – and much to Jim’s surprise – Roven folds his robes awkwardly around himself and slides down to sit next to Jim – who doesn’t comment, but silently offers him the bottle.

“Thank you, no,” Roven says. For the past three days, he has been trying to get any kind of update via diplomatic channels. It obviously hasn’t worked that well.

Roven leans over so that their shoulders press against each other and tugs at the paper in Jim’s hand. Jim’s fingers clench automatically, before he makes himself release it.

“This image flatters you. You are not nearly as aesthetically pleasing in person.”

Jim snorts softly. “Tough love, buddy.”

They sit in silence for a while, Jim taking an occasional sip of whiskey. His fingers are tender from the biting wind and the burn of his own stubble scraping at the sensitive skin every time he brings the bottle up to his mouth. He doesn’t want to know what he looks like in the clothes he hasn’t changed for three days. At least the cold and alcohol cancel out the smell.

“When was that taken?” Roven asks eventually.

Jim lets his head rest against the stone wall. “Mid-August. Gaila’s birthday.” He closes his eyes for a moment that feels almost criminally good. He lets out a breathy laugh. “Spock doesn’t even own a holocam. He has this penchant for stealing my things.”

Roven makes a strange chortling noise that makes Jim actually look at him. He stares.

“Are you, like... stoned?”

Roven turns his head toward him. “Is that an euphemism for being under an influence?”

“Uh—”

“Yes.”

“Like—”

Yes.”

“… Oh.”

“Indeed.”

“Um…”

“I find our conversation to be remarkably intelligent.”

Jim shifts to face him. “You’re a smartass, you know that? I can see why Spock likes you.”

Roven holds his gaze. “He has never been in love with me, though.”

Jim bites his lip. “What makes you all think…” He trails off when Roven just stares at him. “Right.” Jim cringes. “That damn article. I hate this thing; I fucking hate it!” He makes to snatch it, but Roven jerks it out of his reach. “How could he do this to me?” Jim demands. “Write something like that, and then go try to get himself killed? What kind of person does that? I hate him!”

“You are being irrational.”

“Yeah, well, I’m human. I’m allowed.”

Roven shifts beside him. “Hope is illogical, but – I hope he is all right.” Jim looks at him; Roven holds his eyes calmly. “Do not act surprised. I need a reason to live as well.”

Jim blinks, mouth turning suddenly dry, as whiskey and blood rush through his veins in what feels like equal measures. “You still love him,” Jim whispers.

Roven makes that noise again when he’s sort of snorting. “I have loved him since we were both four years of age. Do you honestly believe I will stop now?”

Jim’s heart makes a stuttering trot across his chest. “Why are you telling me this?”

Roven looks at Jim pointedly. “I cannot tell him. Not even when he comes back.”

A dozen of half-formed responses rush through Jim’s mind, all variations of ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I’m sure you’ll find someone,’ but they all sound so stupid and meaningless that it’s hardly an effort to bite them down. Roven looks so stoic in his acceptance of his deal in life that it almost makes Jim feel like a jerk for the fact that Spock has apparently chosen him, and he’s a fucking nobody compared to Roven, and he barely knows Spock at all, and this is so damn unfair, but Jim can’t regret it, can’t give Spock up for anything, to anyone, no matter how much more deserving – he just can’t.

On impulse, his chest bursting with something too big for it to contain, Jim bends over, grabs the back of Roven’s neck, pulling him in, and kisses him hard on the mouth, trying to convey gratitude or regret or desperation or the insane mixture of all and more. Roven allows it for a few seconds, moving as if to respond, and then pushing Jim off instead. They stare at each other, both breathing heavily.

Jim pulls himself to his feet first. “Come inside,” he says, stretching out a hand. “I’ll call you a cab or something. It’s freezing out here.”

Roven takes a moment to compose himself and then lets Jim haul him upright. Jim tugs him toward the backdoor, but Roven halts him.

“You will not—”

“—tell him,” Jim finishes. “No.” Though if yet another Vulcan seeks him out to spill secrets, he might scream. “Come on. Spock won’t forgive me if I lose you to hypothermia or whatever it is you’ve taken.”

Unsurprisingly, Bones is less than impressed with both of them, but, by nothing short of a miracle, he doesn’t chew them out. Jim leaves Roven in his friend’s less-than-tender care and drags himself upstairs and into the shower. He’s taking his shift tonight if he has to tie Gaila to a chair.

That doesn’t turn out to be a problem, because, when Jim passes the store room, he hears sounds that are very difficult to mistake for anything else, and when he walks into the bar, he sees that Cupcake, as Gaila nicknamed their new bouncer, is missing from his spot by the door. Jim mentally shrugs, because while it’s not the sort of thing he usually approves of, they’re all stressed out and stretched thin, and Gaila cares about Spock, too.

Bones and Roven are still talking quietly, hauled up in a booth with a brewing teapot between them, and Jim lifts his eyebrows, certain he’s seeing things. He thinks about Uhura, who is still asleep in the guest room upstairs, then glances at Chekov, who is meticulously polishing the bar, eyes red-rimmed and a tight expression on his baby face.

For a moment, Jim wonders how this has become his life. Then he thinks that, if Spock dies on that fucking mission, Jim’s life is going to crumble to pieces like a house of cards, and it was never, never supposed to happen that way.

 

 

--

They have a white Christmas. It’s not all that unusual for Chicago, but it’s still nice, in a soothing sort of way (though they could really do with less cutting wind). Still, it’s not too bad, and one morning, when Jim walks in on Gaila and the other girls hanging Christmas decorations, he finds himself thinking, Huh. It’s that time again.

Jim’s mood is still somewhat gloomy, though, and the only reason he doesn’t shoot the carolers is that the news of the ceasefire with the Klingons broke a week ago. Starfleet goes as far as to lift subspace silence and release the casualties list. Spock is on it, but with minor injuries only, and his status flashes in welcoming healthy green. Jim scowls still, because Spock is on the list and Jim fucking hates the Klingons and what the hell does low-rate synaptic failure mean? Bones reads the notes, calls Jim an idiot, tells him he has no business reading medical charts anyway, but then mercifully explains, and okay, it sounds like no biggie, and any halfway competent medic should be able to take care of that.

Still, it’s not like everything is at once fine and dandy. Communications are still sketchy, but Jim manages to send Pike a message for Spock, where he only has enough space to tell that Sarek has paid him a visit. A response he receives three days later also comes from Pike, who informs Jim that Spock has taken a diplomatic shuttle from Khitomer to Vulcan and, according to Pike, has given no explanation for the urgency, referring to the matter as private and family-related. Jim can tell by the tone of the message that Pike is pissed at Spock, but Jim can’t worry about that now.

He doesn’t know what to make of Spock’s sudden compliance with T’Pau’s wishes. He can’t even ask Roven, because Roven left for Vulcan as soon as the ceasefire was made. Not that Jim would trust Roven implicitly – that’d just be silly. He might be a good guy, but the laws applied in love and war have yet to be denounced.

So Jim broods and fumes and can’t really help it, even though just a couple of weeks ago, he’d have been the happiest man on Earth simply knowing Spock was okay.

 

 

--

The carolers are annoying. Jim has never paid them much attention before – in fact, he faintly remembers being fascinated by them as a child, back when his mother was still in the occasionally-leaving-the-house stage, and took him and Sam to the town church on Christmas Eve. Jim couldn’t have been more than four, and he still remembers the sound of little bells and neatly attuned voices, the warmth of Winona’s hand in his, and the shock of the snowball Sam launched in his face on the way home.

The point is, Jim usually likes Christmas, but this year, everything about it rubs him the wrong way. He knows it’s stupid, but can’t help himself. He steals McCoy’s green Santa hat – also known as the Grinch hat – and wears it through the Christmas week, trying not to scowl too much at all the mistletoe and silly giggling couples.

Christmas Eve is quiet and warm. McCoy brings ham; Scotty turns up with a roasted turkey (cooked with the devil’s help, no doubt, seeing as one is tempted to sell his or her soul for yet another slice). Chekov and Sulu come in together, trying not to call anyone’s attention to the fact that they’re holding hands. Gaila beams happily, sitting beside Cupcake (who looks vaguely dazed), while Gaila glows with pride. It makes Jim groan mentally, thinking that he should have warned the poor guy, but warnings have always been moot where Gaila is concerned, so Jim decides to just steer clear of that one.

Jim opens some of his prized wine collection, because who better to share it with than family, and they’re splitting the third bottle when the door opens to admit a slightly embarrassed Uhura with a mildly freaked teenage girl in tow. She introduces the girl as her sister, and Jim makes room for them with as welcoming a smile as he can muster and submits his Grinch hat to Aina, because she looks the part. That earns him an insolent grin from the girl and a grateful kiss on the cheek from Nyota.

It’s a sweet, warm, happy night, and if Jim’s gut is churning because someone is missing from that tight little circle of chosen family, he’s too old to let it get to him. He glances at the front door every few minutes, but, mercifully, no one brings that up.

 

 

--

With the celebrations over, they go back to business. Jim doesn’t really need Gary’s enlightenment to know that Spock’s article has made them nationally famous. Gary still sulks because Jim has never told him about Spock, but Jim feels no pangs on the matter; he’s content to never have the two of them meet. The bottom line is, though, that they are bound to have much more customers for the New Year’s parties, which means Jim really needs to get his staff in gear if they want to live up to their glowing image.

It snows more than ever, which is why the early morning of the New Year’s Eve finds Jim outside, trying to appeal to the conscience of the snow-cleaning drones that apparently have decided that now is a perfect time for a little technological coup d’etat. He sits on his haunches, knee-deep in snow that keeps falling like there’s no tomorrow. He curses under his breath every few seconds because the bare skin of his fingers clings to the metallic parts of the rebellious drone, and Jim should probably take this inside but he’s almost done, dammit, if only the stupid machine would take a hint and cooperate.

He catches a blurry motion out of the corner of his eye and lifts his head up automatically to glance over at the driveway.

Jim’s heart instantly clenches into itself and proceeds with a boxing match against Jim’s chest, pounding his ribcage with painful viciousness.

Spock is standing at the end of the driveway, wearing a jacket that would probably serve him well somewhere on the French Riviera but here and now looks inadequate and pathetic, and Jim has no idea how Spock isn’t dead yet.

The almost assembled drone falls from his hands with a mildly offended clang as Jim pushes up to his feet dazedly, head spinning wildly like he’s drunk. He can see Spock walking toward him, but he can’t move, as if his feet are suddenly frost-glued to the pavement – and Jim doesn’t know, maybe they are.

Spock is almost on him – one step, another step, and then Spock’s hands grip Jim’s shoulders.

“Spock,” Jim utters in a strange, plaintive tone that surprises the hell out of him, and it freaks him out that his lips are trembling.

“Jim,” Spock breathes out quietly, eyes roaming all over Jim’s face, tearing at his features hungrily like starved dogs, and the moment their gazes meet, the spell is broken.

Jim lunges at Spock blindly, crushing him to his chest, possibly hard enough to crack bones, but Jim doesn’t care, losing himself in Spock’s scent, familiar and new and cold – so cold, Spock must be freezing. But he holds on to Jim right back, pressing hard against him as if willing Jim to merge with him, and it’s painful as hell and also incredible.

Jim presses his lips to the cold-smooth skin of Spock’s neck, kissing his way up frantically as his hand loses itself in Spock’s hair, the other pushing between his shoulder blades and probably making it hard for Spock to breathe. Spock tilts his head just enough for their lips to crash together, and Jim is gone gone gone, existing only within the desperate, soul-crushing kiss.

Suddenly, though, it’s over, because Jim shoves Spock away hard and glares at him. “You pointy-eared bastard.”

Spock’s expression is so openly confused that Jim almost melts – almost.

“Jim?”

“What the fuck were you thinking, running back to Vulcan like that? I had to learn from Pike of all people that I might never see you again – what the fuck was that all about, Spock?”

Spock runs a hand over his face, looking tired and very human. Jim refuses to be moved. He isn’t.

“I had to see T’Pau,” Spock explains wearily. “After your message about Sarek, I thought – I believed that what happened to my mother was happening again. I couldn’t stand to lose you to another ‘traffic accident,’ Jim.”

Jim watches him with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. “You do know it really was a traffic accident?” he asks softly.

Spock nods. “I know that now.”

“So what’d T’Pau say?”

Spock glances along the frozen street for a moment. “Sarek confessed his actions to her prior to when he did so to you, and T’Pau wanted to set things straight between us. She had no knowledge of Sarek’s ‘initiative’ and regrets the outcome.”

“She told you that? You believe her?”

“Yes.” Spock pauses. “Jim, we melded.” He glances at Jim warily. “It’s a—”

Jim waves him off. “I know what it is.” It’s hard to keep the hurt out of his voice.

Spock watches him, eyes wide and guilty. “Jim, I was hoping that we could... that maybe…”

And Jim knows suddenly that it hasn’t been any easier on Spock than it’s been on him. The doubts, the fears, the half-truths – the trust that is so hard to part with. He knows and he feels strangely warmed by it.

“It’s okay,” Jim says. “In your own time.”

Spock nods gratefully, a shy smile curving the corner of his mouth. “T’Pau,” he says, “she – she didn’t even order Sarek to marry my mother. She merely expressed her opinion that such a union would be beneficial.”

“And Sarek jumped the gun like a good little soldier.” Jim sighs. “Spock, I’m so sorry.”

“No,” Spock says quietly. “Don’t be. I made peace with it a long time ago, and Sarek’s misfortunes are his own.” Spock glances down at his feet and suddenly smiles. “T’Pau said she did not care who I bond with or how I live my life. As long as I exist, I represent the concept of IDIC by default, and she” – the corner of Spock’s mouth jerks in a broken grin – “she said that, in view of Sarek’s actions, she would only allow anyone of his bloodline to serve at the High Council when hell froze over.”

Startled, Jim laughs out loud. “T’Pau really said that?”

“Verbatim.”

“Spock, I never thought I’d be saying this, but your grandma is kind of awesome.”

Spock smirks. “I am inclined to agree. I regret that it has taken me so long to talk to her.”

Jim finally relents and takes Spock’s hands into his own. “So what happens now?”

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “I can see two options in our nearest future. You can invite me inside or I will freeze to death in your front yard.”

Involuntarily, Jim snorts. “Come on then, you big baby,” he says, pulling Spock after him by the hand. “I’ll even warm some of that boring blueberry juice for you.”

Spock uses his hold to tug Jim back toward him. He leans in, lips hovering teasingly just above Jim’s. “I heard the bartender here makes a perfect mulled wine.”

Jim can’t help but laugh into the kiss, but Spock doesn’t seem to mind.

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

One year later

 

 

“Jim.”

“He’s dead.”

“Jim, I know you’re awake.”

“Didntyouhearm’?”

“Jim, your exam starts in one hour. Get up or I will drag you out of bed.”

Jim swallows back a grin, but stubbornly doesn’t stir. The mental link is still so new and tender, barely two months old, and Jim can’t resist the temptation of making Spock use it as often as possible.

He’s not disappointed when a sharp mental jab shakes him not a moment later. Jim sits up in bed abruptly, throwing away the pillow he used to fend off the persistent sunlight, and glares at Spock through narrowed eyes.

“I hate you and everything you stand for.”

Spock lifts an amused eyebrow and hands him a cup of coffee. “And they say that romance is dead.”

“Shut up,” Jim mumbles in between greedy gulps. “You’re a tyrant, you know that?”

“Your coursework load is of your own doing. I am not responsible for your decision to achieve a degree in two years.”

“Had to best you in something, didn’t I? It was either that or push-ups and that might have killed me.”

“Jim—”

“I’m up, I’m up. Jesus.” He sets the mug aside and slides out of bed, wrapping his arms around Spock and shivering in the morning chill of the room. “Shower with me?”

Spock leans in slightly when Jim nibbles at his earlobe, but, before it can become really exciting, he pushes Jim away. “This is how you were late the last time.”

Jim sighs, but doesn’t argue. “Spoilsport.”

The shower does wonders to wake him up. Jim thinks sometimes that he’s a little bit more in love with Spock’s shower than he is with Spock himself. Unfortunately the impressive bathroom doesn’t come without the added bonus of its owner, so Jim will just have to be stoic and take the bad along with the good.

“You’re in a good mood,” Spock notes when Jim stomps down into the kitchen, grinning.

“I am.” Jim grabs a croissant from the pile of fresh pastry (Spock’s routine of going for morning runs comes with some awesome advantages) and kisses Spock’s head. “I’m going to ace this exam and shove it up Professor Daly’s stubborn wrinkly ass.”

Spock winces and puts down a piece of mango he was chewing on. “That was a mental image I could have done without.”

Jim grins, unrepentant. “Wish me luck.”

“I don’t believe in luck,” Spock says automatically.

“It wouldn’t kill you, you know, to just say it for once.”

Spock lays down the paper he’s been reading and looks up. “Jim, I am aware that you are in full possession of the knowledge necessary to pass this test. I quizzed you last night and—”

Jim chokes. “That’s one word for it.”

“—luck is irrelevant.” Spock pauses, sighs, and actually rolls his eyes. “But if you insist, very well. Good luck.”

Jim laughs. “See? It didn’t even hurt.”

“Jim?”

“Hm?” Jim looks up from tying his shoes.

“You remember the presentation tonight?” Spock hesitates. “I know I said you didn’t have to come, but I wish – that is, if you are not too tired after the test—”

“Spock.” Jim straightens up, looking at him fondly. “I’ll be there.” He walks over, cups Spock’s face, and kisses him. “You finally letting go of that book – I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Spock kisses him back eagerly, his hands sliding into Jim’s hair, lips warm and morning-gentle. Jim can sense Spock’s anxiety about the upcoming event, which isn’t surprising, considering what a big step it is for him. Silently, Jim vows that he’ll be there even if he has to fail his exam for that.

“You’ll do no such thing,” Spock murmurs. “And I am not anxious. I am—”

“Shut up.” Jim kisses his nose. “Everyone’s going to love it, you’re going to be even more disgustingly famous, and I won’t let anyone else be your arm candy.”

“Jim,” Spock admonishes. “You’re not ‘arm candy.’ You’re—”

“—going to be late.” Jim grins. “I’ll see you tonight, Spock.”

He picks up his backpack and rushes out the door.

 

 

--

Spock wanted to hold the presentation at Bad Company, but Jim had vetoed the idea at once after he’d glanced at the confirmed guest list. Spock only blinked when Jim had showed it to him.

‘I didn’t realize so many people would wish to come,’ he’d said, to which Jim had only rolled his eyes.

Jim isn’t particularly fond of the Galaxy Hotel presentation center, but he’s also never been overly sentimental about venues. He’s more concerned with being beyond-suitably late than with any bad memories. It took more time than he’d anticipated to sort through Gaila’s paperwork for her new dance studio, but they met the deadline for application in the end, even though it was a very close call.

As a result, Jim arrives when the official part is already over and the guests are mingling, talking excitedly and drinking champagne, and Spock is surrounded by all kinds of people asking him politely phrased but undoubtedly invasive questions.

“Nice suit.”

Jim turns around to come face to face with Uhura smirking at him.

“Well, looky, looky,” Jim drawls, face splitting into a grin. “Aren’t you gorgeous?”

She laughs and smacks his arm before leaning up to kiss his cheek. She is indeed a vision in exquisite red silk, drawing glances from all over the hall and being completely unfazed by them.

“Is Gaila here?”

Jim shakes his head. “Someone had to be at the bar tonight. Sulu and Chekov still aren’t back from Risa.”

Uhura sighs. “I want to be on Risa.”

Jim smirks. “From what I heard, you’ll be able to afford to live there soon enough.”

Her eyes widen. “You heard about the job offer? Does Spock—”

“No.” Jim shakes his head. “Gaila told me. Intergalactic News issues director, huh? Fancy title.”

“I haven’t told Spock yet,” Uhura says, biting her lip. “I don’t know how to tell him.”

Jim glances to where Spock is scowling into a camera. “I don’t think he’s going to have fame envy.”

“It’s not about that.” Uhura makes a face. “It’s just that – we worked together for so long. I feel like I’m deserting him.”

He takes her hand and squeezes gently. “Hey, it’s okay. People move on. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”

She nods. “I know; still. It feels like something’s ending.”

Jim looks away for a moment. “Something is.”

He thinks about Gaila’s new independence; about Chekov and Sulu’s new venture (private investigators, who would have thought?); about how Christine finishes her medical degree next month and will undoubtedly tell both Jim and McCoy exactly what she thought of them as her bosses. He thinks of Bones himself, finally caving and accepting a mouth-watering research post on Alpha Centauri so that he could take his daughter shopping every other weekend and stop his own descent into rampant alcoholism. He thinks about little Kevin Riley finally being placed with a family who adored him and didn’t consist of nutjobs (Jim met them, he knows).

Sometimes, Jim feels like he and Spock are the only people standing still in a world that expands at breathtaking speed, spinning out and away, while they stay behind, watching. From the way Spock looks at him sometimes, Jim knows he’s not the only one feeling restless.

Uhura tugs at his hand, smiling in understanding, and Jim can’t help but smile back.

At some point during the party, Jim slips out into the wide balcony. He loosens his tie, leans against the railing, and stares down at the city below. He likes Chicago. The city had been completely destroyed during the Genetics Wars; rebuilt and then devastated by Bell’s Riots; and rebuilt again, different every time, yet somehow preserving its character. There is something about that that appeals to Jim, and he thinks, suddenly, that he’ll regret leaving it. The thought is unexpected and frightening.

Warm arms wrap around him from behind, and Jim grins, leaning back into Spock’s solid warmth.

“Sorry I was late.”

Spock nuzzles his neck and hums. “Gaila called. It’s okay, Jim. I did fine without you.”

“Roux said you looked like a lost puppy.”

Spock huffs. “Roux looks like a clown during most of his own presentations. He is hardly one to judge.”

Jim chuckles. “He also said they signed you up for another book?”

Spock sighs and presses his forehead against Jim’s shoulder for a moment. “Yes. They want an account of the latest Klingon crisis from a civilian perspective.”

“You going to do it?”

Spock nods against him. “Yes. I’ve been contemplating it for some time.”

“It’ll take you, what, about a year maybe?”

“Probably. Perhaps I could time it to you finishing your degree so that you wouldn’t be late the next time.”

Jim turns around in Spock’s arms and looks into his eyes. “Sorry.”

Spock rests his forehead against Jim’s and doesn’t say anything.

“So, what do you think is for us next?” Jim prods quietly after a while. “You and me? This time next year?”

Spock pulls away slightly, and glances upward, his gaze turning wistful and a small smile creeping onto his lips.

“I was thinking the stars,” he says quietly.

Jim’s heart swells in his chest, and he loves Spock at that moment more than ever before.

“Me too,” he says, breathless and happy as he leans in for a kiss.

And loud, in his head: Me too.

 

THE END