“I don’t understand why we couldn’t have done this in San Francisco,” Jim said, kicking open the front door. “We’re only on planet for two weeks.”
He shrugged off his coat and held out a hand for Spock’s, hanging them both in the hall closet. Spock closed the front door. Jim sighed at the sight of a familiar jacket, well-worn and grease-stained, already hanging beside a decidedly Vulcan traveling robe.
“I guess they’re here,” he muttered, closing the closet door and hooking his thumbs in his belt loops.
“It appears so,” Spock agreed.
“Ready?” Jim asked, motioning to the living room.
“No,” Spock said, “but unless you wish to return on the 14:30 shuttle, we do not have a choice.”
“We could go to the Shipyard,” Jim whispered, curving a hand over Spock’s waist. “Grab a couple bloody marys, wait for the next transport.”
“Perhaps later,” Spock said, leaning close to his ear. “Do you intend to keep my father waiting?”
“Yes,” Jim replied. “There’s time. I don’t think they heard us come in.”
But Jim’s hopes were dashed by a woman’s excited cry of, “Jim?” and the unmistakable sound of approaching footsteps.
“I’m sorry in advance,” Jim said quickly as Winona Kirk rounded the corner.
He hadn’t seen her since the hospital. He’d woken up enough to find her hand in his, hear her hushed voice as she discussed his condition with Bones. She’d been gone by the time he was released, on the Tereshkova, which was slated to be out for two years. She looked older, especially around her eyes, light wrinkles etched like a roadmap when she smiled. Her hair, usually wrangled in a messy ponytail, fell around her shoulders. It was streaked with more gray than he remembered, but her arms felt the same around him.
“Hey, Mom,” he said.
“You’re late.” She kissed his cheek.
“We missed the earlier shuttle.”
“Mmm,” she said and nodded to Spock. “I’m assuming this is him.”
“Yeah,” Jim said, pulling back from her and raking a hand through his hair. He grinned nervously and watched Spock straighten. “I think you sort of met when I was out of it, but Mom, this is Spock. Spock, this is my mom.”
“Commander,” Spock said, raising the ta’al.
“Commander,” she said in reply, “but since you’re sleeping with my son, I think we can drop the titles. Please call me Winona.”
“Winona,” Spock repeated and blinked several times. Jim suppressed the urge to hide his face in his palm.
“Your father’s in the living room,” Winona said.
“Thank you,” Spock said and inclined his head. Winona motioned further into the house. Jim held his breath as he followed her, tensing when Sarek came into view. He was seated in an armchair and stood when he saw them.
“Captain,” he said. “Spock.”
“Ambassador,” Jim said. “Nice to see you again.”
“Sarek’s been telling me about the plans for the colony,” Winona said, sitting on the couch. Jim took the hint and sat next to her, so Spock could sit adjacent to his dad. Winona reached for a glass of something on the coffee table, and the room fell into an uncomfortable silence. Jim heard himself swallow and sat back. Beneath his legs, the leather creaked rudely. Jim coughed and wished they’d made a quick stopover at the Ship for emergency shots. How the hell did Spock expect him to get through the next three days?
“Was your trip from California okay?” he asked Sarek in his very best captain’s voice.
“It was,” Sarek replied.
“He was going to catch a cab out of Iowa City this morning, but I got in early and picked him up at the station.”
“Most kind,” Sarek said.
“Gave us more time to talk before you kids got here,” she said, patting Jim on the shoulder. She left her hand there and squeezed gently. Jim had a flashback to being twelve years old. “It’s not every day your son brings home a husband.”
“Bondmate, mom,” Jim whispered.
“Well, whatever you’re calling it, I’ve been looking forward to getting to know my son-in-law. Can I get anybody something from the kitchen?”
“Tequila?” Jim asked hopefully.
“One glass of water,” Winona said. “And Spock?”
“I am fine,” Spock replied, folding his hands on his lap.
“I want you to be better than fine,” she said, rising.
“There should still be a box of Vulcan spice in the cabinet next to the fridge,” Jim said.
“I’ll brew a pot,” she said. “Back in a minute.”
With his mom out of the room, Jim felt oddly more relaxed. He placed a hand on Spock’s lower back and turned his attention to Sarek.
“Sorry to drag you to the middle of the continent,” he said. “We were going to have you both to the apartment, but my mom insisted.”
“It was no trouble,” Sarek told him.
“How long are you on planet?”
“Through the end of the month,” Sarek replied. “I return with the next colony transport.”
“I talk to the older Spock pretty often,” Jim said. “He said the NVSA construction is finished.”
“Yes,” Sarek said. “Much of New ShiKahr is complete, and volunteers have left to assist with construction in neighboring cities.”
“I’m excited to see the progress.”
“You will be most welcome,” Sarek said, and Jim felt pretty pleased with himself. He rubbed a circle into Spock’s back and grinned.
“I have a feeling we’ll be one of the ships chosen for a supply run,” Jim said. “I’ll have Spock contact you as soon as I find out.”
“Since when is the replicator programmed for plomeek?” Winona called from the kitchen.
“Since I reprogrammed it,” Jim called back. Spock dipped his head in the manner he had of laughing.
“You always were good with computers,” Winona said, coming into the room with a tray. She placed it on the coffee table.
“Indeed,” Spock said under his breath. Jim elbowed him affectionately as Winona resumed her seat beside him.
“Here you are Sarek, Spock,” Winona said, handing each of them a mug. They thanked her quietly. Jim grudgingly accepted the glass of water she held out to him.
“I don’t suppose this is vodka,” he said.
She squeezed his shoulder until it hurt; he winced, and she looked to Spock.
“You two have never said how long you’ve been together,” Winona said. “I was surprised to hear you’re married already.”
“We have been bonded since March 31, 2258,” Spock said, lifting his chin. Winona looked between the two of them. Sarek raised an eyebrow.
“That’s almost three years ago,” Winona deadpanned.
“It was an accident,” Jim added quickly.
“An accident?” she repeated.
“A good accident.”
“How did you accidentally...?” She wagged a finger between them.
“Um,” Jim said, rubbing the back of his neck and taking a long sip of water.
“We engaged in a consensual mind meld after having consumed alcohol,” Spock replied evenly. “My control was not optimal.”
“I guess not,” Winona muttered.
“It was a while before we figured it out,” Jim said.
“Oh?” Sarek asked.
“For a while, I thought I was just really happy.”
“I, too, blamed the side effects on my human emotions.”
“Got pretty obvious the day I heard your voice in my head, though,” Jim said to Spock and bit his lip. “Scared the crap out of me, actually.”
“Yet you chose not to sever it?” Sarek asked.
“No logic in severing a good thing,” Jim said. “Besides, as a command team, it’s been awesome.”
“I don’t imagine Starfleet was thrilled,” Winona commented.
“Due to some loophole in Starfleet regs about telepathic species, they can’t assign us to different ships,” Jim said. “Plus, there’ve been two times where we were separated, but I could tell he was alive. And it’s great on planets where we can’t use tech. Nogura was skeptical, but even he admits it works in our case.”
“And what’s their opinion about children on board the ship?” she asked.
Jim coughed into his glass.
On the transport ride to Iowa, Jim had resigned himself to a weekend of celibacy, so it caught him by surprise when Spock slammed him against the wall and kissed him as soon as they were upstairs.
“Being in a house with your dad and my mom turns you on?” Jim asked incredulously.
“Apparently,” Spock said, but Jim stopped complaining when his pants hit the floor and Spock’s fingers were gripping his ass.
“Please tell me you remembered to pack lube,” Jim whispered as he worked Spock’s fly. “I think we used up my hidden stash last time.”
“I calculated the amount we would need for a vacation lasting forty-five Terran hours and packed accordingly.”
“I love logic,” Jim declared.
He was almost there, his breathing hard, Spock’s face buried in his neck, when there was a knock on the bedroom door.
“Bad timing,” he yelled as he thrust into Spock’s fist.
“Dinner’s ready,” Winona called through the door. Jim suppressed a moan when Spock bit his shoulder.
“Be down in a few,” he managed.
“Oh—sorry,” she called back. “You boys take your time. I’ll keep the stove on low.”
“Oh, god,” Jim said as Spock hoisted Jim’s legs around his waist. “She heard that.”
“We are both adults,” Spock whispered as he worked a finger inside, “in a monogamous relationship. There is nothing shameful in our behavior.”
“My mom was on the other side of the door,” Jim groaned and clenched around Spock’s finger, “and your dad is downstairs.”
“My father is not unfamiliar with the act,” Spock said in an amused tone.
“Gross,” Jim said. “Either fuck me or put me down, but stop talking about parents.”
“As you wish,” Spock said and lowered Jim to the floor.
“Hey!” Jim protested.
“Turn around,” Spock ordered in a low voice. Jim grinned wickedly and obeyed.
Which made it weirder when they got downstairs, because Winona looked at them pointedly, and Jim just knew that Sarek knew. He probably didn’t know that his son had held a hand over Jim’s mouth, that Jim had licked his palm as he came, that Spock had scraped his nails so hard down Jim’s spine that Jim could still feel a throbbing in his skin. He’d showered, and his hair was still wet. He wore clean jeans and a t-shirt, and Spock didn’t have a hair out of place. But that didn’t make it easier to sit down at the table and pretend that he and Spock hadn’t been fucking against a wall ten minutes earlier.
“Saffir?” Winona offered and held out a basket.
“Where’d you get saffir around here?” Jim asked and reached for one.
“You’re not the only one in this family good with replicators,” she replied easily.
Jim had to admit, even compared to the saffir he’d eaten on the colony, this wasn’t bad. Spock complimented the flavor, and Sarek ate three loaves. Jim happily ate a salad topped with steak (medium rare) and crumbled gorgonzola. Spock and Sarek both ate a suspicious beige something-or-other. Winona sipped from a glass of wine.
“So what do you two have planned for tonight?” she asked.
“I was gonna ask if we can borrow the aircar,” Jim said, wiping his mouth on a napkin. “Thought we might hit up the Ship, say hi to Lew. I messaged him earlier, and he’s working tonight.”
“Oh,” she said, smiling, but Jim knew that smile. It was the one she used when she was planning to get her way via guilt trip. Jim knew, because he often employed the same smile with a certain first officer. Oh, no. He wasn’t falling for this.
“We won’t be long,” he said. “Besides, don’t you go to bed around nine?”
“In case you haven’t noticed,” she said and took a long sip, tapping her pinky against the glass, “I’m on leave right now.”
“You are welcome to join us,” Spock offered. Jim kicked him under the table. Spock placed a hand on his thigh and squeezed.
How often do you see your mother? he asked.
Jim rolled his eyes.
“It’s rude to speak telepathically in front of other people,” Winona reminded them.
“Sorry,” Jim muttered and screwed a fist into his eye. “Mom, of course you’re welcome to join us. You too, ambassador, though I don’t know if it’s your kind of place.”
“Why don’t you let Sarek decide that for himself,” Winona suggested and sat back in her chair, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ll start the dishes, and then we can head out.”
“Jim and I will take care of the dishes,” Spock told her.
Jim kicked him mentally.
“Fascinating,” Sarek declared after he had taken a third sip of his bloody mary and set it back on the center of his coaster. It was flashing an ad for a new Andorian-style lager. The bar was dead; they were the only four seated at the counter. Jim slung an arm behind Spock’s empty chair and sighed.
“They’re not bad,” Winona said, nodding toward his glass, “but I’ve always been a fan of straight liquor.”
She held up a finger to order another glass of whiskey.
“You gonna let your mom outdrink you?” Lew asked Jim, wiping down the counter with a white towel that he tossed next to the sink. He took out the Jack Daniels and poured a measure over ice, sliding it across the counter to Winona. She nodded her thanks and turned back to Sarek.
“My mom can outdrink my chief engineer,” Jim said. “And I’m the designated. I’ll stick with water.”
“We still have taxis,” Lew reminded him, but he refilled Jim’s water glass. He covertly nodded to Spock, who was returning from the bathroom. Jim grinned at his casual Terran getup (jeans, one of Jim’s old t-shirts, and a red jacket) and turned back to the bar. “Glad to see everything worked out.”
“Yeah,” Jim said, scratching at his hairline. He felt his cheeks grow warm as Spock slid in beside him.
“How long’s it been now?”
“Couple years,” Jim said. Spock leaned back into Jim’s hand, and Jim began a slow, even stroke along his shoulder blade.
“No shit,” Lew said with a grin. “And to think it all started here at my bar. I didn’t even get an invite to the wedding.”
“No one got an invite,” Jim said, widening both eyes. “We...eloped.”
“Smart,” Lew said. “My wife about lost her mind planning the wedding.”
“Wait, you’re married?” Jim asked, leaning forward on his elbow. “Since when?”
“Year and a half.” Lew grinned and held up a hand. Jim nodded approvingly at the silver band on his ring finger. “Can’t believe you’re not on any of the social sites.”
“I’m military,” Jim said. “Besides, what would I talk about? My shoes?”
“It would not be wise for a man in your position,” Spock agreed. He slid his empty glass back to Lew. “I will take another,” he said.
Even Spock was kicking back. Jim sighed over another sip of water. He glanced to his mother, who was talking excitedly and gesturing with her hands. She put one on Sarek’s shoulder. Sarek’s face appeared slightly more green than usual, though it was possible that was due to the low lighting. Sarek’s mouth twitched at the corners, and Winona threw her head back laughing. Could a full-blooded Vulcan even get drunk? Jim remembered something Spock said about a high metabolic rate and supposed Sarek was just having a good time.
Jim insisted on paying the tab, and even with the discount Lew had given him, it was still hefty.
“How much did my mom drink?” he asked Spock, who shrugged.
“I did not keep count,” he said.
Winona stood up and pulled on her jacket, then held out a hand for Sarek.
“Mom—” Jim started, but he snapped his mouth closed when Sarek accepted it, curving his fingers around the side of her palm. Jim’s eyebrows shot up.
“I think my mom got your dad wasted,” he whispered.
“Perhaps it is a family tradition,” Spock replied.
Jim woke before Spock the following morning, which was strange in and of itself, and stranger that he was also showered and downstairs before Spock got out of bed.
“Morning,” he yawned on his way to the replicator.
“Sleep okay?” Winona asked from the kitchen table, looking up from a PADD. She held a mug of coffee in her hand and leaned against the armrest, legs crossed.
“Fine,” Jim replied and punched the buttons for coffee with double cream and double sugar. He turned back over his shoulder and grinned. “You?”
“I might be your mother, but I know how to have a good time. You think your ship’s the only one with an illegal still?”
“Please don’t tell me things like that.”
“Oh, kiddo,” she said affectionately. “If only Chris were here. The stories he could tell you...”
Jim smiled sadly and shook his head as he took the mug of coffee and fell in across from her. “Still can’t believe it,” he said.
“Me either. I’m glad you got to know him.”
“You and Sarek seem to be getting along pretty well,” Jim commented, bringing the mug to his lips. He took the first indulgent sip and closed his eyes.
“He’s nice,” she said. “I’ve always liked Vulcans, but it’s interesting to meet one who spent so many years with a human partner. He’s not as closed off as they can be. Anyway, he seems to like you.”
“Better now than at our first meeting.”
“Oh?” she asked and pushed back the sleeves of her robe. She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Well, you remember how Spock marooned me?”
“I’ve heard you tell it a few times.”
“When I got back on board, we had a...disagreement. About whether he should relinquish command. It didn’t go well.”
“I see,” she said.
“Anyway, Sarek walked in for the end of it. I was pretty concerned about what he thought of me for a long time.”
“He’s said nothing but positive things since he’s been here.”
“Really?” Jim asked. He yawned and took another sip.
“Regardless of species, at the end of the day, all we want is for our kids to be happy. Even Vulcans. If you and Spock have kids of your own someday, you’ll understand.”
“Too early in the morning to talk about kids, mom.”
“You’ve been married for over two years,” Winona pointed out. “Now I’m not old, but I’d like to have a few more grandchildren while I’m able to chase them around.”
“Tell Sam and Aurie to pop out another one,” Jim said. “Spock and I are raising a starship.”
“Your father and I planned to stay in space and raise you,” she reminded him.
“All I’m saying is, don’t give up the idea if it’s something you want. You can make it work.”
“Let me hit thirty first?” he asked.
She laughed and shook her head, then brightened as she looked past Jim.
“Your son’s still sleeping,” she said.
“Then he requires the rest,” Sarek said.
“Can I get you tea?”
“Do not trouble yourself.”
“It’s no trouble,” she said and stood up. “I have the kettle ready, was just waiting for you to get up.”
“Thank you,” Sarek said and sat down next to Jim. Though he was showered and in clean robes, he had an air of exhaustion about him. Jim bit back a smile.
“Feel alright?” he asked.
“I am thirsty,” Sarek confessed.
“Yeah, vodka will do that to you. Thanks for coming out with us last night.”
“I appreciate that you included me.”
“Anytime,” Jim heard himself say, and he found that he meant it.
“It has been many years since I visited such an establishment,” Sarek continued. “When I first met my wife, she was fond of such social interactions.”
“I guess you didn’t have a lot of bars on Vulcan,” Jim said.
“No,” Sarek agreed with a slight incline of his head. “But I lived on Earth at the time.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Winona said.
“I am aware you also lost your husband,” Sarek offered. “I grieve with thee.”
“Thank you,” Winona said, “but it was years ago. I’ve moved on. Grief can be...crippling, if you let it.”
“Quite.” He inclined his head. Winona pressed her lips into a line; Jim watched her forehead crease. She exhaled quietly, then brightened.
“Well, we’ve got a full day to spend with the boys,” she said. “I thought we might go to the shipyard museum, get lunch in town, pick up something for dinner.”
“You’re on shore leave, and you actually want to step foot on Starfleet property?” Jim asked.
“With two commanders and a captain in our group, we’ll get the royal treatment,” she said.
“You just want to see what kind of equipment you can get your hands on next,” Jim teased her.
“Can you blame me? The Tereshkova’s a good ship, but she’s got nothing on yours. I don’t suppose your chief engineer is heading into retirement?”
“Not any time soon,” Jim said. “Besides, I think we’d drive each other nuts, working on the same ship.”
“You’re probably right,” she mused, “but at least I’d get to see my grandchildren.”
“Are you and Spock planning to have children?” Sarek asked.
“Uh. We haven’t really talked about it,” Jim mumbled.
“You could adopt,” Winona suggested, “though I’d love to see a baby with your cheekbones.”
“And pointed ears,” she continued.
Jim rubbed his eyes. “Please stop.”
“The trait is dominant,” Sarek said helpfully.
“Which trait?” Spock asked as he walked into the kitchen. He touched a hand to the back of Jim’s neck as he sat down. Jim frowned despite the warmth that passed into him.
“Your ears,” he said. Winona smiled cheerfully at Spock as he took his seat.
“Your father and I are wondering when the two of you are planning to have kids,” she informed him.
“It is not something we have discussed,” Spock answered. His voice was even, but Jim could sense his mild discomfort.
“And it’s not something we’re going to discuss right now!” Jim exclaimed with false cheer and drained the last of his coffee. Great. He stood and shuffled to the replicator for a refill. Spock was at his side in seconds.
“Are you upset by the topic?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t feel like getting drilled about kids first thing in the morning,” Jim said. His tone was clipped. He roughly tapped the buttons to order a new coffee: double sugar, double cream. “That’s our business.”
“That is true. However,” Spock whispered, his lips brushing Jim’s ear, “I wish you to know that I am not opposed to the idea.”
“Wait, seriously?” Jim asked quietly, turning to face him.
“I believe we would make adequate parents.”
“We’d be more than adequate,” Jim said, “but we’re not exactly in the best position to raise a kid.”
“On the contrary,” Spock said. “Consider the learning opportunities available to a child raised on a starship.”
The replicator beeped once.
“I guess,” Jim muttered and greedily took the new cup of coffee in hand. “It’s not like we’d be at a shortage for babysitters, either. Bones is a grouch, but he secretly loves kids.”
“I’ll be on the lookout for a birth announcement,” Winona said, coming up behind them. Jim groaned into his mug.
“I can’t believe you wanted to read every plaque,” Jim said to Winona as they left the museum. “It’s not like that was your first time there.”
“It was your husband who was doing the reading,” Winona said. “I was humoring him.”
There was no point in correcting her. She’d call Spock what she wanted, and whatever, he liked the word.
“So what do you think?” he asked, glancing to see that Sarek and Spock were a good distance in front of them. His eyes flickered back to Winona, almost hesitantly. She exhaled audibly.
“He’s nice,” she said, falling into step with him. “Smart, accomplished, cute.”
“What? He is, though I wouldn’t have exactly pegged him for your type.”
“Is it the eyebrows?”
“You never dated anyone...serious. He’s grounded. He’s mature. And he might not be the most emotional person I’ve ever met, but it’s obvious he loves the hell out of you. Literally, if last night was any indication.”
Jim blushed and ducked his head. “He’s, um, passionate.”
“I feel like I’m meeting a different version of you this weekend. I like how you are with him.”
“I always thought too much of me rubbed off on you,” she said, her voice softer. “You’re a smart ass, but you have a lot of your dad in you too. I’m proud of you.”
“Are we really having one of these moments?” he asked, casting her a sidelong grin.
“I think we’re owed one every twenty-eight years or so,” she said as they approached the car. Sarek already stood at the driver’s side door.
“Ready?” she asked and touched her hand to the handle. The car opened; Spock held the door wide so Jim could climb in.
“Show off,” Jim muttered but put a hand on Spock’s thigh when he slid in beside him.
They drove into Iowa City for lunch, to a burger joint Winona said Sarek absolutely had to try.
“They have vegetarian options,” she informed Jim through the rear-view mirror. “We live in Iowa, not the Dark Ages.”
Which is why Jim was enjoying an inch-thick sirloin burger with grilled onions and mushrooms and oozing cheese, while Spock crunched a garden vegetable wrap.
“Is it logical to avoid trying new things?” Winona prompted, holding a plate of sliders out to Sarek.
“It’s no use, mom. I tried that with Spock for years—” Jim started to say, but he was rendered mute when Sarek took one from the plate with a fork, set it on his own, and cut off a bite-sized piece. He chewed and nodded. Winona looked victorious. Beside Jim, Spock drank from his water glass in silent consternation, and Jim was keenly aware of his simultaneous confusion, horror, and amusement. An idea hit him.
“I don’t suppose you want to try—”
“I do not,” Spock cut him off.
After a movie and popcorn, Jim was half asleep on Spock’s shoulder. He kissed Winona goodnight, waved to Sarek, and allowed Spock to herd him upstairs.
“I’m getting old,” he complained as he collapsed face-first onto the mattress. Spock began the task of removing Jim’s clothes, pulled back the covers, and rolled Jim beneath them. “I never used to go to sleep before one in the morning.”
“Perhaps it would be better to say that you are maturing,” Spock suggested as he bent to remove his shoes.
Jim sniffed and looked at the ceiling, traced the faint outline where he had once hung glow-in-the-dark stars. He’d taken them down when he got home from Tarsus IV, but some of the adhesive remained. It was outlined by dust.
“I will get old one day, though,” he said.
“So will I,” Spock said and sat down next to him. He traced the shape of Jim’s lips. “We have many years still.”
Jim closed his eyes and felt the brush of Spock’s fingertips move over his cheek, push into his hair, and stroke down to his neck. He thought of his mother, losing his father so young. He thought of the look he’d seen on Sarek’s face in the transporter room, when Spock’s hand grasped nothing but air. One day, they would be separated. One of them would die. It would likely be Jim; even infused with Harrison’s blood, he wasn’t guaranteed a longer life. Bones said there was a chance. They’d know more next week after the umpteenth checkup, but Jim knew just as well the opposite might be true. He pictured Spock not much older than he was now, sitting alone in a wide, cold bed.
“Do not think about that,” Spock said gently. “Lie on your stomach, and I will rub your back.”
“Okay,” Jim said and flopped into a new position, tucking his arms underneath the pillow. Spock began to knead his lower back. His hands felt colder than usual, and Jim bristled. “You’re freezing. We should’ve used the hot tub while we were here.”
“Perhaps in the morning,” Spock suggested and rubbed harder. “I maintain we should have one installed on the ship.”
“I’ll put in a request.”
Jim fell quiet, and Spock’s touch gradually softened into featherlight trails along his spine, broad sweeps and curves.
“That feels nice,” he murmured. He discerned a hint of embarrassment. “What?” he asked.
“I did not realize you were still awake.”
“I was being...sentimental.”
“By tracing patterns on me?” Jim asked.
“It is Golic Vulcan,” Spock confessed, sounding apologetic, but he continued to trace the same pattern over and over.
“What’s it say?”
“You speak the language.”
“Do it slower,” Jim instructed and yawned into his arm. “I’m not great with calligraphy.”
Spock’s hand stilled, then drew the first character. It was a simple letter. From its origin in the center of Jim’s back, Spock’s finger swept down and right and upwards in a curve, almost an oval though it didn’t quite close, then curled around itself and underneath.
“T,” Jim said.
“Correct,” Spock said and began the second letter. It was more complex: two overlapping ovals, the first higher and smaller, the same teasing sweep that brought his finger to Jim’s tailbone.
“H?” Jim guessed.
The next was shaped like a six, struck through with barbells. Jim frowned and tried to remember the character chart from his language book.
“Pay attention,” Spock said and drew the letter again.
The next was quick, a plus sign with rounded tips.
“That’s I,” Jim declared.
“Correct. This one is the most difficult.”
Jim screwed up his face in concentration. The letter began as a circle, but it also curved underneath like the first two had done, then arched right and left again like a turn in the road. The entire thing was bisected by a vertical line.
“I have no idea,” Jim yawned, “but it feels awesome.”
“Since you are tired, I will tell you. That was an L. The final character is one you have already identified,” he said and traced another A.
“Oh,” Jim breathed when he connected the letters in his mind. He mouthed the word silently, and maybe it was a little ridiculous that his eyes welled up, but at least his face was hidden.
“Go to sleep,” Spock said fondly, ghosting a kiss over Jim’s hand. He pulled the blankets up and over his shoulders and switched off the lamp.
Jim woke during the night with a dry mouth and extracted himself from the bed carefully, so that he wouldn’t rouse Spock. He held his breath while he opened the door, like that would actually keep the hinges from squeaking, and quietly descended the staircase.
He drank a glass of water with a hip against the counter to stay upright, exhaling and wiping his mouth. He was surprised to hear voices: a deep, sonorous sound he didn’t recognize, and his mother’s almost cackle. He tiptoed into the living room and sidled up to the glass door to the back yard, finding it cracked open. He peeked out and glimpsed his mother and Sarek in the hot tub. Sarek’s face was spring green, and he was smiling. Winona’s back was to Jim, her hair in a loose knot. She shook her head, and he heard her laugh again. He had to laugh himself, duck his head and padded back upstairs.
He climbed back into bed; Spock turned toward him and enfolded Jim in his arms, sighing.
“Where did you go?” he asked.
“Water,” Jim replied against his shoulder. Spock was warm and smelled like sleep. “Um, our parents are in the hot tub.”
“I believe their intentions toward one another to be amorous.”
“That’s weird, right? Isn’t that weird?”
“Is it any stranger than you and I?”
“I don’t know, it’s just...my mom and your dad? If they got married, we’d be stepbrothers.”
“Even if that were to happen, it would have no bearing on our relationship.”
“Do you think it’s something about the house?” Jim whispered. “I mean, first there was us. Now them.”
“Jim,” Spock said and pressed a kiss to his temple. “Please cease talking.”
“There was definitely drinking out here last night,” Jim declared, pointing to the empty wine bottle beside the hot tub and two glasses. He and Spock were in the back yard, which was covered by a weather dome; Sarek and Winona were having tea in the kitchen.
“I do not understand why you hold your mother to different standards than you hold yourself,” Spock replied.
“Shh,” Jim said and lay his head on Spock’s chest. The hammock swayed gently. “I can’t believe we’re leaving already. We just got here.”
“We could stay longer. You are the one who insisted on the short duration. We are not due back in San Francisco for another eight days.”
Jim lifted his head and looked at Spock, biting the inside of his cheek.
“That would give us time to use the hot tub ourselves,” he mused.
“It’s not a bad idea.”
“The rest would be beneficial.”
“Bones would probably say it’s good for my health.”
“Undoubtedly,” Spock agreed. “If you like, I will contact him after breakfast for his medical opinion.”
“Maybe,” Jim said. He lay his head back down and stroked Spock’s hand, tracing the raised veins. When he dipped his fingers between Spock’s, massaging the webs, Spock sucked in a breath.
“That never gets old,” Jim said and smiled into his shirt. He did it again, until Spock moaned, just a little.
Winona tapped on the sliding door and slid it open a few inches. “Unless you two have figured out how to procreate and you’re actively making me a grandchild, come in for breakfast.” She winked and walked back into the kitchen.
“Still want to stay?” Jim asked brightly, sitting up. He knitted his fingers through the hammock’s weave to keep from falling backwards and got to his feet.
“Yes,” Spock said, smoothing his robes. “We could use the time to do as your mother instructed.”
“Hate to break it to you, but no matter how many times we have sex, no kid’s coming out of this body.”
“No,” Spock said and slid a finger to Jim’s chin, angling it up. He kissed him and hovered at Jim’s mouth. “But that does not mean we cannot practice.”