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one equal temper of heroic hearts

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eighteen.

 

>> Your place or mine?

 

>> I will be in my quarters after shift. You may join me at your leisure.

 

>> Okay. See you then.

 

***

 

“Jim, I must apologize to you,” Spock says, sitting on his sofa and patting the space next to him. Jim sits in the chair across from him instead. “I am aware that the ambiguity of our earlier interaction has caused you distress.”

 

“It’s fine,” Jim says, trying to sound calm. “It’s not just that. I had a tough conversation with Bones too. And a tough conversation with Pav last night. It’s not all you.”

 

“And yet I have added to your burden. It was not my intent.”

 

“Yeah, I just -- can we get to the point? I’m sorry, I just, my anxiety is kind of going wild right now and I need to know what’s got you so worked up that I could tell. Right now I’m just leaping to wild conclusions. You know what I told you the other night. Some part of me is just waiting for the other shoe, so. If this is you dropping it, let’s do it.”

 

“Before I begin,” Spock says, “I believe a touching of our minds would be beneficial. Are you amenable?”

 

Jim’s first instinct is fuck no, he doesn’t want Spock anywhere near the dumpster fire that is his current state of being, but he remembers what Spock had said, on a’Nukar a’Ani, about how in Vulcan relationships they have this kind of intimacy that humans don’t, and how desperately he’d wanted that, in that moment. Baby steps, he tells himself, and takes a long, deep breath before nodding.

 

“Yeah, okay,” he says, and lifts his chin, and Spock’s hand closes the space between them quickly, ruthlessly, finding the meld points on his face and closing his eyes.

 

“My mind to your mind,” Spock says quietly, and then visibly jolts and winces as he comes into contact with the ravaging storm of anxiety currently inhabiting Jim’s brain. “Ah, Jim, no, I am not --”

 

He almost breaks the connection, Jim can feel it, can feel the blazing sun of Spock’s mind drawing so far back that it’s like a rope about to snap, but then he draws back inward and pulls Jim close. It takes Jim a minute to realize he’d done that with his body as well as his mind. He’s been pulled from his seat, pulled against Spock’s chest, and Spock is trembling, holding him there. Slowly, he withdraws enough to settle himself at Spock’s side, careful not to disturb the connection between them.

 

Spock’s mind washes against his, like waves on a beach, trying to pull him down, to soothe him. He’s even shushing, and Jim feels his cheeks pink with humiliation; what is he, some kind of child, some fragile thing that Spock needs to coddle him so?

 

You are mine to coddle, are you not? Spock’s mind asks him, and Jim presses his face into Spock’s shoulder and nods, almost crying with the relief of the warmth and love he feels in Spock’s mind, radiating towards him.

 

He can tell that everything he feels of Spock’s mind is being controlled -- there are flickers, in the background, too quick to sense anything more than their presence, but what is at the foreground is reassurance, comfort, lovelovelove, gentle apology, and -- some small hesitation that feels like, I should tell him.

 

Spock’s hand slides from Jim’s meld points into his hair, the contact of their minds shifting from a connection to a soft buzzing, like the difference between swimming and getting your toes wet. Jim inhales again and nods and realizes he hasn’t said a word. Hasn’t needed to.

 

“Thanks,” he says, and is embarrassed to find that his voice is hoarse. Spock shakes his head, and Jim still can’t bear it any longer: “Tell me.”

 

“For some time, I have been aware that I will need to engage you in a conversation about not only our cultural differences, but our physiological differences,” Spock says. “This is a difficult topic for me, as my physiology is unique and my people are extremely private about our sexuality. I have been uncertain what I must or should share, and what might, by virtue of my human heritage, be unnecessary to divulge.”

 

“Okay,” Jim says. “I mean, you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t --”

 

“Please, allow me to explain. And, if you can bear it, wait to ask questions until I have finished speaking. This is, as I have said, very difficult for me.” Jim nods, and bites the inside of his lip, because he already has a dozen questions bursting in his chest, but no matter how much he might want to climb on top of him and say it doesn’t matter and forget all about this, he can tell this is important to Spock.

 

“Traditionally, Vulcans undergo a koon'ul at the age of seven -- what you would call a betrothal,” Spock says. “In my experience, humans find this bizarre, even barbaric. However, in my culture, it is seen as a natural part of the life cycle. As a part of this process, the children establish a link, a kind of nonfamilial bond, which is imperative for our social development and mental stability. I was no exception. A partner was chosen for me by the matriarch of my father’s house.”

 

He eyes Jim, and inclines his head as if in acknowledgement of the question Jim hasn't asked. “She is dead,” he says. “She died on Vulcan. She was indifferent to me, at best, and I did not consider myself beholden to her. Except --” He grimaces.

 

Jim gives him a moment, and then prompts, “Except…”

 

“I apologize,” Spock says. “This is -- are there truly no cultural norms in human society that are not spoken of with outworlders? My mother told me there were not, but at times I find that difficult to accept.”

 

“No,” Jim says softly. “Not really. There are things in our history that we’re ashamed of, but -- no.”

 

Spock sighs. “I thought as much. But it makes this all the more difficult to explain. In many ways, in most ways, my people's logic and our emotional controls are of great benefit to us. You are familiar, I think, with the teachings of Surak?"

 

"Yeah. I know about… before the Reformation."

 

"There is one facet of our biology that we have never been able to overcome. It is called the pon farr; the Time of Mating. This, above all else, is why we have retained our ritual partnership practices. Because when we enter the pon farr, as we do each seven years, we lose our controls and our minds, and we are driven by a compulsion to mate. With some exceptions among the kohlinaru, a Vulcan who enters pon farr has no choice in the matter. Those who are unable to mate are driven to madness and death within a matter of days."

 

Whatever Jim had been expecting, that wasn’t it. The noise in his mind dies down, and he is reaching out into the sudden quiet, grasping to understand the implications.

 

Spock is looking over his head, his eyes distant. "It was in this that T'Pring - she who was to be my wife - was beholden to me, and I to her, until the moment of her death." And then he looks at Jim sharply, his gaze turned flinty. “I can sense your confusion, your uncertainty,” he says, “but I cannot determine its source. What may I clarify?”

 

Jim breathes. “I know you said this is hard for you,” he said, “and I respect that, and I can tell you’re trying to explain something really important to me… but so far what I’ve heard is that you were engaged, and she died, but you need to have sex every seven years or you’ll die? I don’t… I mean, I’m missing some details here. Does it have to be potentially procreative sex? Is this a thing where you need to have -- like, you need to be married to a Vulcan woman, or --”

 

“No. Any form of penetrative copulation of sufficient duration will alleviate the blood fever.”

 

“Oh. So… are you just, like, making sure I’m okay with that? I know we haven’t… you’re not having it right now, are you?”

 

“No.”

 

“So it's just - what do you need me to say?”

 

“I do not need you to say anything,” Spock looks frustrated, and his fingers tighten in Jim’s hair; Jim steels himself not to react. “I wish for you to understand that, should our partnership continue, at some point in time this will occur, and we must before that time establish an understanding of your… expectations. My counterpart has made me aware that my human heritage does not spare me this humiliation.”

 

Spock closes his eyes and inhales deeply. “I apologize, Jim. To speak of this is to reject decades of social conditioning. The Time is something that all Vulcans understand, and no offworlders can. I find it very trying to attempt to put into words that which I must tell you.

 

“This experience is… distasteful, perhaps even dangerous. The loss of control can make the coupling unpleasant -- particularly, I should imagine, for a partner who was not enculturated with such an expectation. I was neglectful to not make you aware of this before we entered into a sexual partnership. I do not wish for you to feel obligated --”

 

“Fuck, Spock, I don’t feel obligated to have sex with you. I understand why you’d want to tell me this, especially if -- am I understanding you right that this hasn’t happened to you yet? You don’t know when it’s going to happen?”

 

“Correct. Although I am now aware that my counterpart did not undergo his first cycle until his lifetime equivalent of seven years from now, I cannot be certain that the same will be true for me.”

 

“Okay. I mean, that’s not ideal, but it’s fine. We’ll deal.” The buzzing in Jim’s mind has taken on an overtone Jim can’t quite name, and Jim pushes at it a moment before continuing. “Spock, I'm sorry, I still don't think I understand. You seem really freaked out about this, and I’m just hearing that we have to have rough sex every seven years, which is --”

 

He stops speaking as Spock’s consciousness, nestled alongside his, flares and prickles and howls at his words. It takes Spock a moment to rein in whatever is happening to him, and once he has, he responds roughly. “No, Jim,” he says. “What I am saying is that once every seven years I will go mad. I will have very little warning. In the height of the experience, I may not recognize friends or family as such, I may act in desperate and strange ways. Vulcan minds, without controls, are… wild. If I have a partner, at that time… my need to mate will supersede all else: consent, boundaries, everything. And you… I could hurt you, Jim. And I would not be able to stop, not if you commanded me, if you begged me. And this would go on for days. And if you stop me, I will die. Do not make light of this, Jim. In this we can have no misunderstanding. Not only for your sake, but for mine."

 

"Okay," Jim whispers, and his voice sounds fragile even to his own ears. "Okay. I understand now. I'm sorry, I --" He reaches for Spock's face, and flinches when Spock withdraws just far enough to exceed his reach. "I'm sorry. Thank you for helping me understand. I know it must be horrifying, to know this will happen and not be able to do anything. I can't say it's okay, because it's not -- not for you -- I can see that. But I…” He’s fumbling to put the right words to what he wants to say, needing to get this right. “It's not a problem for me -- if, I mean, when you get there, when we, if you want me to -- I think we could do it. I could, I mean.” He hesitates, and then finishes his thought in a small voice: “I want to. It hurts to think of you going through that without me."

 

Spock remains out of reach, his dark eyes flickering over Jim's face, the way Jim's body leans forwards. "Thank you," he says.

 

Jim clears his throat. “Does anyone else know about this?”

 

"Nyota is… aware of pon farr. We never spoke of it, but I once ensured she had access to a Vulkhansu text on the matter."

 

“Does Starfleet Medical know?”

 

“I cannot imagine that it has been kept entirely from Starfleet Medical, but I have not… I will ensure that Doctor McCoy is aware.”

 

Jim’s trying to imagine Spock having this conversation with Bones and utterly, utterly failing. He casts about for an alternative. “It might be easier just to do like you did with Nyota? Get him documentation on it.”

 

“I believe it would be reasonable for me to assume he will have questions.”

 

“Then maybe your counterpart would be willing to talk about it with him? If he's actually been through it, he can probably answer things you can’t, even. Yeah?”

 

“Ah,” Spock says. “I… was not aware, although perhaps I should not be surprised, that Doctor McCoy had not shared with you the details of his first and last full conversation with the Ambassador.”

 

“Huh? No, how would he even -”

 

“Whatever else I may say about the doctor, he is not unresourceful.”

 

“So what? Does it freak him out, the whole alternate universe thing?”

 

"That may be an understatement. He… became…" Spock exhales. "I was not privy to the entire conversation, but it is my understanding that the doctor demanded that my counterpart share details of how your counterpart…” He swallows. Clears his throat. Jim shakes his head, uncomprehending. “How he died, Jim."

 

"Oh, fuck."

 

"My counterpart did not comply, but it was a most unsettling thing to witness. I would not recommend encouraging any further contact between them."

 

“Okay, yeah, that’s -- that’s not --”

 

“I will share some readings on the matter with the doctor and offer to answer follow-up questions as appropriate. Would that suffice?”

 

“Yeah,” Jim says, relieved, “that sounds like a good idea. That’ll give him some time to… I guess, absorb things. Will you send them to me, too?”

 

The buzzing mind against his goes still for a moment -- cold -- and Jim backpedals frantically. “Oh, or you -- if you’d rather I don’t, I can --”

 

“Jim." Spock withdraws his mind, leaving Jim's feeling echoing empty and dark. "It is an entirely reasonable request. I had simply not anticipated… Yes. I will send you the literature, and I will make myself available for any questions you may have.”

 

“Spock,” Jim whispers, and touches his cheek. “This isn’t going to scare me off, okay?”

 

Spock’s eyes meet his for a moment, and then he withdraws again, this time standing from the sofa and moving away. “I appreciate the sentiment,” he says, “but your consent presently is not informed, and therefore meaningless.”

 

“Then send it to me right away,” Jim says. “The sooner you can hear me say that and believe it, the better, okay?”

 

He doesn't say, I've literally died for you, because there's no way to make it sound like a reassurance, or like anything other than an accusation, but some part of him wants to anyway.

 

“Very well,” Spock says, and Jim sees the pallor in his cheeks as he crosses to his computer console. Within two minutes, Jim has received a message with nine attachments -- two texts and seven excerpts from scientific journals, totaling 870 pages. He swallows.

 

“Okay,” he says, “I'll get started.”

 

***

 

Jim doesn't sleep that night. The texts are dense, some translated to Standard using the Universal Translator and others clearly translated by Vulcans, with conceptual gaps. Jim annotates on his PADD, saves the files with comments.

 

He's finished the fifth one at 0510 and decides he can't go further, so he heads down to the mess, hoping to see Spock there -- or really, hoping for Spock to see him there, to know that he's taking this seriously but that he's not breaking down about it.

 

Instead, he finds Nyota alone, lights still at night settings, humming over a cup of tea and a padd of her own. She looks up at him and smiles. "Sleepless night, Captain?" she asks, and he realizes he's been running his hands through his hair in frustration for hours. He looks… well, like he just spent the night in a very different way.

 

Something must show on his face before he has time to show it, because her mug clinks hard on the table and her grin is wiped away. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean -- is everything all right?"

 

He pulls up the article he'd just finished and hands it to her wordlessly. She reads the title and makes a strange strangled sound, eyes flickering to him.

 

“Okay,” she says. "This is… not a conversation for the mess. Want to come back to mine?”

 

Any other time he would object -- humorously, but for serious reasons; professionalism; the rumor mill; favoritism. Now he just nods, his throat too tight for words, and follows her into the hallway and into the turbolift and up to her quarters, which are at the end of a long hall. He realizes he doesn’t know what department heads’ quarters are like. They have an extra office-like area and slightly wider beds but are otherwise pretty standard. Nyota’s quarters smell faintly floral and are humid; he realizes her hair is damp; she’s just used the shower. Her bed is tightly made. She guides him to one of her two armchairs and throws herself into the other.

 

“So, to be honest, I’m pretty impressed that he shared it with you this early. We’d been dating for almost a year before he --” She shakes her head and snorts. “Hacked my personal PADD and left the file in my staging area, actually. I didn’t really dignify that with a response, but I did my own research afterwards.”

 

“He made it sound like there wasn’t anything out there about it that a layperson could find,” Jim says, and then hastily at her flat look, “but you’re not a layperson, of course.”

 

“I won’t pretend it was easy,” she conceded. “I actually -- I had some help.” She stills. “I guess this means… I have something for you. For him.”

 

“What?”

 

She flushes down to her collarbone. “I’m going to tell you a story,” she says.

 

***

 

The day she finds the Vulkhansu text in her staging area, Nyota is -- at first -- perplexed. On the surface, its title -- That Which Describes the Rituals of Mating -- seems innocent enough, perhaps even charming. Nyota knows that Spock has been reading pre-Reformation poetry, and she hypothesizes that perhaps he wants to share some with her but is too embarrassed to bring it up in person.

 

At first, she’s only a little bit irritated about the invasion of her privacy. Because she keeps her PADD bio-locked, so Spock must have either surreptitiously had her fingerprint it in her sleep -- or, more likely, used his legendary computer skills to hack into it. And they’ve been seeing each other for a year; they do share a certain intimacy, but -- it does feel invasive. She can look at the navigation history and confirm that he had viewed nothing, opened nothing, but -- it makes her a bit uneasy, the subtle, almost certainly unintended message it sends. You have no privacy from me. I can do this at any time.

 

At first.

 

She waits until she’s alone to actually crack the text open and read it, and within a few lines something is starting to tremble within her. This isn’t Vulcan love poetry, or anything remotely like it. It’s… a scientific journal. About a Vulcan mating ritual. In Vulkhansu, and yes, she’s fluent in Vulkhansu, of course she is, that isn’t the point, the point is what in the stars is this? What does he think he’s doing? How is it that he justifies telling me something this important -- like this?

 

She reads. Cries for a while. Goes for a run and then reads it again. Does her damndest to find another primary source on the matter and fails. She seriously considers going to the med center and asking them for more information, but she and Spock have kept their relationship private to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, and in any case, she’s not sure the med center would be able to disclose to her.

 

So she and Gaila hack the secondary database of the library in ShiKahr, Spock’s hometown, and use the metadata from that search to find out that a rare-books collector in Chicago has some other texts that will probably reference it. She spends more credits than she wants to think about, buys them all and has them shipped in Gaila’s name. It takes almost three weeks for them to arrive, weeks during which she serenely pretends nothing has happened, steadfastly refusing to let Spock get away with starting an important adult conversation that way.

 

When the books do arrive, they’re all but useless, telling her very little that Spock’s original article hadn’t. And Spock still hasn’t said anything, and Nyota finds that she’s disappointed, but not angry, and decides to let it go until he brings it up.

 

In April, Spock ships out for a three-month tour on the Enterprise. Two weeks into that three-month tour, she gets a message from Amanda Grayson.

 

She’s spoken to Amanda twice before, both times in the context of her role as Spock’s teaching assistant. The first time, she’d just taken a message when Spock had been away. The second time, Amanda had asked about Nyota’s current line of work. She’s studying Rihan, the most formal of the Romulan dialects, and is considering a thesis on what its differences from traditional Vulkhansu suggest about Romulans’ caste systems. Amanda admits that Spock had told her about it. She had been a history teacher, before moving to Vulcan, and one of her areas of study had been speculating about what early changes the Romulans would have undergone after their split from ancient Vulcans.

 

But she’s never addressed her as Nyota before, and now, “Hello, Nyota,” Amanda says, standing several feet from the video so that much of her body is visible, her hands clasped before her. “I’m going to be on Earth for a couple of weeks in May, and it occurred to me that just because Spock is off-planet doesn’t mean I couldn’t take advantage of the visit to meet you in person.” She makes a wry face, and Nyota almost startles, seeing Spock in her features suddenly. “I know the end of semester can be a busy time, and I assume you’ve had to take over his class on top of your other studies, so please don’t feel obligated to say yes -- but if you’re available, I’d love to take you out to dinner while I’m in town. Let me know. Take care.”

 

Nyota ends up meeting Amanda at the landing pad, and when Amanda opens her arms, any lingering doubt about whether she knows about Nyota and Spock’s relationship dissolves. Nyota accepts her embrace. She thinks of what she knows of Vulcan, wonders how long it has been since Amanda hugged someone, and tries to make it a particularly good hug.

 

Nyota chooses the restaurant -- a small Thai shop near the dormitories -- and after they order, Amanda leans across the table and grasps at her hand.

 

“I know I’m his mother,” she says, “but I’m also the only human to have married into the Houses of Vulcan, and I will tell you anything you want to know.”

 

Pon farr,” Nyota says.

 

“Excuse me,” Amanda calls to the waitress. “Can we get those to go, please?”

 

Half an hour later, they’re stepping into Spock’s apartment. He had given Nyota his access codes so that she could visit, water his houseplants and take advantage of a peaceful place to study. It’s not an ideal venue for this conversation, but it’s better than a restaurant or the dormitories.

 

They talk until long past midnight, by which time they’ve finished a bottle of wine together and Nyota has told Amanda far more than she ever intended to share. Amanda has been nothing but gentle, empathetic, reassuring. She ends the night with a promise.

 

“I’m going to send you something,” she says. “Not now, but sometime before I head back to Vulcan. I’m going to record a message for you to share with Spock. I could try to bring it up with him, but I know him -- he’d shut it down.

 

“You have to understand -- the idea of losing control is so anathema to a Vulcan that it seems to me they experience a kind of dysphoria or dissociation when speaking of pon farr. Spock is worried about you, and worried about himself, and you can tell him that you accept it and that things will be fine all you want, but he will never be able to fully believe you. But maybe he can believe me, as a human woman, bonded to a Vulcan man, who has been through pon farr four times.”

 

Nyota gets the message a week later, encrypts it heavily, and waits for Spock to bring up pon farr again.

 

***

 

“Are you saying he never did?” Jim asks, trying not to sound too incredulous. Nyota shakes her head sadly.

 

“No, and I just couldn’t let him think that passive-aggressive note-passing was an acceptable communication tool in an adult relationship. I couldn’t acknowledge that I knew anything about it without legitimizing his way of sharing it. So I just… waited. I thought, surely eventually he’ll initiate a real conversation about it. And he didn’t.” She smiles at his stricken look. “Don’t. I’m just happy that he’s brought it up with you, and impressed that he’s done it so soon -- although I have to admit I’m disappointed that he’s gone the route of documentation again.”

 

“Oh,” Jim says, “actually, he didn’t. We talked about it last night. I was the one who suggested he send me some documentation.”

 

Nyota seems surprised, but after an awkward moment she speaks and Jim can hear this time, beyond doubt, that she is genuinely pleased. “Good,” she says. “That’s good, that’s great, Jim! It definitely shows how much he trusts you. And that he sees you together for the long term.”

 

Jim’s throat goes dry, but he nods. “Yeah. We’re… I feel like we’re getting pretty serious.”

 

“Still taking it slow?” She’s teasing, a bit. He flushes.

 

“I know, I know,” he says. “You’re saying to yourself, is this the Jim Kirk I know and love? Jim Kirk, genius playboy? Jim Kirk, academy slutbag?”

 

“Don’t sell yourself short,” she says. “Intergalactic Slutbag, surely.”

 

He laughs. “But yeah. Um. I mean. We’re still. Working on stuff?” He winces inwardly at how awkward that sounds but tries to play it off as casual, combing a hand through his hair and offering a shrug.

 

“So, do you want it?” she asks, and he flounders for a moment, trying to figure out if she's asking what it sounds like she's asking, before she continues, oblivious. “I think Amanda would have wanted you to have it. Or if you’d rather I could send it directly to him. Either way, I think he should see it, it’s just a matter of whether you want to be in charge of the timing."

 

"Fuck," Jim says, “you mean you still have that message?”

 

“I wasn’t about to delete a vid from his mom,” she says, looking horrified. “I just -- hadn’t figured out how I was going to give it to him. I thought about doing it when we broke up, but that was right before he was going to Iowa with you, and it just -- it would have been really awkward; it didn’t seem like the right time. I thought about asking you, but it would have been hard to explain it without telling you about pon farr, so…“

 

Jim swallows and tries to identify what he’s feeling. Nyota’s looking at him, her eyes crinkled and happy-sad. “I think you should give it to him,” she says.

 

“What does it say?”

 

“I’ve never watched it. She didn’t say I shouldn’t, but it seemed wrong. It’s for him. She just gave it to me because then I could give it to him when I thought it best.” She sighs. “She was an incredible woman,” she says. “I wish I’d known her better. I always thought I’d have time later.”

 

“Can you tell me more about her?”

 

“I think you should ask Spock,” she says.

 

“You don’t think it’ll make him too sad?”

 

“I think it’s nice to be sad sometimes, in the service of remembering someone you loved. When my bibi died, no one wanted to talk about it, no one would mention her or her death to me except in a hushed tone of voice. No one wanted to laugh at the silly things she did while she was dying. And I didn’t want to burden others by bringing up what everyone was so clearly telling me was a sad, taboo topic. I would have loved for someone else to open up a conversation for me. To tell me that it was okay to talk about her, that they had room for my sadness and my love and all my conflicted emotions.”

 

“Have I told you lately how fucking smart you are?” Jim asks, slightly breathless in the wake of the stunning rationality and empathy of her explanation.

 

She grins. “I never mind hearing it,” she says. “You haven’t said yes, but I’m going to go ahead and send you the holomessage. It just feels like the right thing.”

 

“Yeah, okay,” Jim says.

 

“Is there anything else you want to talk about? She answered a lot of my questions, so it’s the least I can do to pass it on, although some of what I asked wouldn’t be… applicable.” She’s blushing. “Or you can just bounce ideas off of me. Whatever you like.”

 

“Spock made it sound really dangerous. Violent,” Jim says. “And this --” he hefts his PADD, “has a bunch of instances of bondmates getting injured or killed, but it’s all -- it definitely seems more like exceptions to the rule.”

 

“It’s extremely rare for a bondmate to be seriously injured,” Nyota agrees. “Bruising and muscle strains are very common, but there’s something like a point-zero-eight-percent incidence of life-altering injuries. But I think to Spock, loss of control seems inevitably tied to violence. We don’t talk about this, but the last time he lost control, he nearly killed a superhuman with his bare hands. The time before that, he strangled you and ejected you from the ship. And to someone like him… point-zero-eight percent might seem like an unacceptably high risk.”

 

“Do you know how often someone isn’t able to take a bondmate, and dies?”

 

She shakes her head. “I suspect the incidence will have changed a lot in the last year,” she says.

 

“This is a weird one,” Jim says, “but… the literature all refers to the bondmate -- specifically the bondmate, rather than, I don’t know, the partner or something more generic. Do you know, do you have to be bonded for it to work?”

 

“You don’t,” she says, “but at least in Vulcan society as it was, it was seriously frowned upon to go through pon farr without a life-bond except under extreme circumstances.”

 

“Like?”

 

“Well, if the partner couldn’t get there in time,” Nyota says. “Amanda told me that Spock wouldn’t talk to me about that, but she really encouraged me to think about how I would react, what I would be okay with, if it happened while one of us was in deep space. You should probably do the same.” She’s not meeting his eyes, and Jim realizes why all of a sudden: She’s wondering if I’d want it to be her. Or if I’d want it not to be. He can’t deal with that right now, so he interrupts that train of thought as politely as he can.

 

“And after a couple days of frequent sex, it just goes away?”

 

“Three to five days of nearly-constant sex, but yes. It tapers in intensity towards the end and they start to become -- at least, Amanda said that Sarek would get -- kind of sweet, toward the end. Like, he would be possessive and relentlessly sexual for days, but then in the last few hours he became sensual. She said sometimes he was almost sappy.”

 

“I can’t really picture Sarek sappy.”

 

“Spock, though,” Nyota says, almost reproachfully.

 

“Spock is already a lot more demonstrative than I expected.”

 

She snorts. “He’s got a mouth on him, hasn’t he?” The corners of her lips twitch, and Jim feels some sense of normalcy slip back into the room.

 

“He keeps saying he lacks the terminology, though,” Jim says, and Nyota goes bright red then. “What? What did I --?”

 

“That’s probably my fault,” she says, her voice unusually high-pitched. “I, um. Well. At first he used… words that didn’t really do it for me. He would be saying absolutely filthy things but the language was just very clinical. And you know, we’re linguistics geeks, so we talked a lot about some of the nuances of it, and I talked to him about how humans can be very turned off by certain words, and it differs from person to person. And I guess I… let’s just say, I trained him with a fairly specific use case.” She shakes her head slightly. “He was very biddable. But yeah, I probably made him unnecessarily self-conscious about it.”

 

Biddable, Jim thinks. “When you say you trained him,” he prompts, trying very hard to ignore the tingling in his groin.

 

“Well, we just -- when we were alone, going about our day, he would sometimes just say a word, and I’d say yes or no. And then sometimes I’d --” She bites back a smile, or maybe a laugh. “Tell me if this is too much. Remember I lived with Gaila, I don’t know if I’ve ever managed to reset my filters appropriately for human standards.”

 

“Remember I slept with Gaila,” Jim says.

 

“I never asked how much talking that involved,” she says delicately, and before he’s thought twice about it he’s gripping her hand, humor gone.

 

“A lot,” he tells her quietly. “We were -- I know I fucked it up in the end, I know she deserved better, but I considered her one of my best friends.”

 

“It was mutual,” Nyota says. “She had a lot of partners, but she talked about you differently. It used to irritate me to no end. She talked about you like… like people talk about their primary partners.” She probably sees the glimmer in his eyes and takes pity, because she takes in a breath and continues a bit quickly: “Anyway, I was saying, about the language thing, I also tried to give him words back. Tell him what words I’d like him to say. He didn’t understand, but he doesn’t have any of our human compunctions about dirty talk. The language you use won’t have any impact on his arousal, but he knows the language he uses can have an impact on yours.”

 

“Gotcha,” Jim says, and decides not to make her self-conscious by confessing to her that the experience she seems to think of as universal isn’t one he relates to much. Spock could read him the dictionary or speak to him in Klingon and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to his arousal.

 

“One more thing that -- honestly, I’m probably overstepping, but it’s a cultural assumption that I made that I really, really wish I hadn’t. The easiest way to explain it is that Vulcans have no concept of vanilla, or, for that matter, of kink. Everything is just sex, infinite diversity in infinite combinations, you know?”

 

“So does that mean that everything is kinky to him? Or that nothing is?”

 

She laughs. “Yes?” she says. “Just know that -- probably especially when it comes to sex between men, he probably has no idea what’s expected and what’s taboo -- which is to say, at least in my experience, he had no concept of what kinds of things were likely to require negotiation. So -- well. I mean. I know you know this.” She smiles at him shyly. “You know, the Academy wasn’t the most sex-positive environment, but in the circles Gaila and I walked in, you did have a reputation, but it wasn’t actually for being Jim Kirk, Intergalactic Slutbag.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“It was for never accepting anything short of enthusiastic consent,” she says, and shakes her head a little bit. “I don’t know why you kept up the playboy persona.”

 

“I object to the notion that enthusiastic consent is at odds with being a playboy,” Jim says as lightly as he can manage.

 

“Fair,” she says, and he can tell she knows he meant it. “So, keep it up, I guess. I was just going to say, err on the side of explicit, specific conversations. Use as little slang as possible. And give him terminology, because he will do his research.”

 

“Good to know,” he says, and then, “Thank you so much for this. I wasn’t going to bring it up with you. I have to let this kind of conversation be on your terms, because yes, we’re friends, but I’m still your superior officer and it never won’t be at least a little bit weird.”

 

“Absolutely,” she says.

 

“But I’m really, really glad that we had this conversation,” he says.

 

“So am I.” She looks at him sidelong. “And about what I said earlier, about opening space for Spock to talk about his mom. If you ever want to talk about Gaila -- this is me opening space for that.” She presses a hand to his for a moment, gives it a quick squeeze, and then says, “But not right now, because we’re both on duty in twenty-five minutes, and you look like hell.”

 

“Thanks, Nyota,” he says, the name rolling off his tongue before he can think twice about it, and something about the way she says, “You’re welcome, Jim,” tells him his instincts guided him right.