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Aurora

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Aurora is the Roman goddess of dawn

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EARTH

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“Come on, Spock, it’s gonna be awesome!” Jim nudges him toward the house impatiently. “Kelly’s parents are out of town; she and Gill have the house all to themselves. Sweet, huh? Mom would never leave us alone like this.”

There’s definite wistfulness in Jim’s tone, but Spock mentally shudders. Winona’s adamant response every time Jim asks her to surrender their house to a bunch of 14-year-olds might be a huge disappointment to her blood-son, but Spock is actually relieved. Not that he’s foolish enough to tell Jim that.

“Maybe I shouldn’t go, Jim,” Spock repeats yet again, eyeing the house apprehensively. The sound of music and exuberant voices is incredibly loud even at a distance, and Spock is preemptively out of breath thinking about what might greet him inside.

“Spock, don’t start.”

“But I wasn’t even invited.”

“It’s a school party! No one gets invited – people just turn up. Come on, don’t be like that. You’re with me, remember?”

Indeed, it’s hard to forget when Jim’s hand is clenched around Spock’s wrist in an iron grip, tugging him forward. Stomping on his own misgivings, Spock surrenders to the inevitable.

It’s mostly his own fault anyway. When Jim mentioned another party and asked if Spock wasn’t even the tiniest bit curios about them, Spock made the mistake of saying yes. He was immediately roped into going, and all his protests about not being part of Jim’s circle were swept out of the way like they were nothing. Jim didn’t really understand about circles because he was welcome everywhere. Spock tried to find an ally in Winona, but she just looked at him critically and sided with Jim for once, saying that it might do Spock some good to get out of the house. Spock grumbled, but finally conceded.

A decision he is regretting more and more the closer they get to the source of all the commotion, the silhouettes of their classmates hanging out on the porch inducing Spock with a dim sense of unease. He protests most fervently when Jim teases him for developing human intuition, but he can’t deny the growing trepidation he feels.

“Hi, Kells!” Jim waves cheerfully at the girl standing by the steps, sipping dark liquid from a tall glass. “Looks like full house, huh?”

She turns to look at him, and her face lights up. “Jimmy! I was afraid you forgot!”

Jim laughs. “How could I have forgotten, beautiful?”

Kelly beams at him and stands on her toes to kiss his cheek when she catches sight of Spock. She pulls away from Jim with a frown. “What’s he doing here?”

Without looking, Jim reaches back to grab Spock’s hand again. “Spock decided to finally join the land of the living. Isn’t it great?”

“Fantastic,” Kelly drawls in a tone that suggests anything but. “Jim, can I talk to you for a second?”

She pulls him aside, and, because Jim’s hand is still holding Spock’s, Spock gets dragged along with them, despite his attempts to free himself.

Kelly narrows an irritated glance at him. “Look, could you maybe give us some privacy? Thanks.”

Spock jerks his hand back more forcefully this time, even as Jim scowls, and walks away, trying to put some distance between them. The girl starts speaking hurriedly, obviously forgetting about Vulcan hearing.

“Look, Jim, you can’t seriously bring him here. I mean, look at him. He’s like my grandpa when he wasn’t my grandpa, you know what I mean? He wears winter clothes, for God’s sake, and he smells funny, and his hair is godawful, and that nose can’t appear on any of the holos. I hired Doug Stanton for tonight; he’s gonna write in his column how this is the hottest party in town. I can’t let him ruin it!”

Spock has actually stumbled somewhere in the middle of that speech, knowing that his face is burning and trying very hard to control his breathing. He is indeed wearing thick pants and a woolen turtleneck when everyone else is sporting jeans and shorts, but he’s not shy, he’s just cold. Iowan spring is far too freezing for his growing body that is torn between human and Vulcan responses. Two very different genomes are waging war inside him, fighting for dominance, and Spock understands how it could have an unfortunate effect on his appearance.

Until tonight, though, he’s never understood exactly how unfortunate it is. He’s Vulcan, at least in half, and he knows that his mother was one of the smartest, brightest human minds ever to exist, so Spock understands that true beauty has nothing to do with the physical. Strangely, the thought doesn’t make him feel any better right now.

“Wow,” Jim says icily. “I didn’t realize you were such a stupid bitch, Kelly.”

Jim doesn’t bother lowering his voice. Unlike Kelly, he hasn’t forgotten the range of Spock’s hearing, having been familiar with it since they were both six years old.

“Jim!” Kelly sputters. “That was uncalled for!”

Spock can see how it can come as a surprise. Jim is usually all flirting charm and undisguised flattery where girls are concerned.

“Was it now,” Jim drawls sarcastically. “Whatever. Go back to your stupid party, Kelly. And don’t worry, we’re leaving. Wouldn’t want to spoil your holo shoot.”

“But Jim!” She grasps his arm, halting him, her face registering open alarm. “You have to stay!”

“What am I, your star or something?” Jim sneers. “Sorry. If Spock’s not welcome, neither am I.”

“Wait!” Kelly bites her lip, smudging her glowing lipstick. Her eyes dart between Jim and Spock, as she searches frantically for a way out. “Look, we can maybe disguise him or something – or! Or maybe if he stays upstairs—”

“Goodnight, Kelly.” Jim walks past her, a thunderous expression on his face as he grabs Spock by the shoulder and tugs him on.

“Jim, wait,” Spock says quietly, planting his feet solidly into the ground. “You don’t have to leave.”

Jim scowls. “Sure I do.”

“No.” Spock leans closer, aware of Kelly and her friends watching them. He lowers his voice even more. “What about Pauline? You were supposed to meet her inside, weren’t you?”

Jim blinks, he obviously has forgotten, but Spock didn’t. Jim has been talking about the girl for two weeks non-stop, and while this is hardly his first crush, Spock had yet to see him quite so invested.

“She is here,” Spock tells him. “I saw her through the window.”

Which is true. Spock saw Pauline in the middle of the living room. She wore the shortest skirt Spock has seen to date and a glimmering tank top that seemed two sizes too small. Spock has seen the way Jim reacts to Pauline at school and he is certain that Jim would not want to miss this.

But Jim shakes his head. “I’ll hook up with her some other time.”

He starts walking again, but Spock holds him back.

“Jim,” he says meeting his eyes. “You don’t have to leave on my account. I will have no difficulty finding a means of transportation—”

Jim rolls his eyes impatiently. “Spock, this isn’t about fucking transportation, okay?”

Spock holds his gaze determinedly. “I will not take offense, Jim. I did not wish to go in the first place.”

“Yeah, you did,” Jim says bitterly. “But those idiots...” He kicks a stray stone with his foot angrily.

“Jim—”

“No, Spock.” Jim’s jaw clenches, forming a stubborn line, signaling that he won’t be moved. He grips Spock’s shoulders and shakes him slightly. “You’re awesome, okay? I’d much rather spend the evening with you than with those imbeciles.” He glares at the house. “And I’m not setting foot into another one of those stupid parties till they beg you to come on their knees!”

Spock blinks. Despite everything, his lips twitch with amusement at the ferocity of Jim’s declaration.

“That might be a long time, Jim,” he says carefully, as if talking to someone slow.

Jim senses his mood at once and snorts. “Their loss.” He presses his forehead hard against Spock’s for a moment. “You’re my brother, and I won’t let anyone give you shit, okay? And for the record, your hair is awesome.”

He pulls back and ruffles it, grinning. Spock ducks out of reach, fighting back a smile; the familiarity of their usual antics is soothing.

They walk back toward the road, Spock trying to maintain his distance and Jim closing it again, brushing their shoulders or elbows or plain simply bumping into Spock. Spock knows it for what it is – Jim’s clumsy attempt to show comfort and solidarity – and doesn’t put a stop to it like he usually would.

Jim is mounting his bike, when a group of his friends arrive – Brian, John, and Parker, and some other boys one year Jim’s senior, all of whom nevertheless consider him cool enough to be associated with. They all yell some kind of greeting at him, and Jim merely nods. When someone shouts that they have beer, Jim yells back, “Good for you!” and waves them off.

“Jim,” Spock starts again hesitantly, not taking the helmet Jim is pushing at him. “Maybe you—”

Jim swivels around and glares at him, hard enough for Spock to swallow further protests.

Spock notices they aren’t going toward the farm halfway into it, but Jim ignores his shouted questions. By the time Jim pulls over at the mall, though, the answer becomes self evident.

“I thought we were going home?” Spock asks, sliding off the bike and securing the helmet.

“Nah.” Jim grins. “We’re supposed to spend the night out, so we’re damn well spending it out. Come on, didn’t you want to see Legends of Creation?”

“I did, but Jim, didn’t you want to invite Pauline? I could go another time by myself—”

Jim actually growls and backs Spock up against the bike, hands trapping Spock’s hips on either side, blue eyes close and blazing.

You – won’t have – to do anything – by yourself – while I’m breathing,” Jim grits out vehemently. “Got it?”

Spock blinks and nods carefully, transfixed by Jim’s burning stare. The tension between them is palpable, making it hard to draw a breath.

It occurs to Spock suddenly that Jim is taking the whole situation much closer to heart than Spock himself. Certainly, Kelly’s remarks and her refusal to let him in hurt him, but the sting didn’t make him ring with fury the way Jim is now. Spock doesn’t understand this, wants to explain to Jim that while he didn’t enjoy it, it doesn’t actually bother him so much, that he has other interests and pursuits and is quite happy with the way things are. Something tells him though that now is a bad time to attempt this conversation.

Jim is too close, and, used as Spock is to his proximity, there’s something different about it now. His heart racing, Spock can feel something shift at the back of his mind, almost like a physical sensation, and he’s suddenly afraid to breathe out, or swallow, or even blink. Always a multitasker, a part of his mind is trying even now to calculate the exact amount of time he can spend without oxygen, but the result doesn’t make sense, seems impossible...

Abruptly, Jim steps back, eyes averted, lips pressed into a stubborn line. He’s flushed, probably with anger, and Spock knows that his own face is burning, too. They don’t say a word to each other as they make their way into the theater.

Halfway through the movie, though, they become sufficiently distracted by what’s happening in the holochamber before them to begin their usual exchange of comments and jokes. Spock’s snide remarks would make Jim laugh, they always do, and Spock tries just a little harder this time, lays a little heavier on the sarcasm, because he feels that Jim needs it. They both need to feel like themselves again.

Jim’s mood has improved spectacularly after the movie, and he drags Spock into the shooting range, laughing and challenging him for best score. Standing back-to-back in their pod, they methodically eliminate gold and blue spots floating in the chamber around them and get so involved in one-upping one another that miss when they set a new record. The proprietor presents them with complimentary chips to the nearest ice cream parlor, and Jim laughs when Spock’s politeness earns them an extra helping of everything from the ice cream lady.

“I’d ask how we are even related,” Jim manages, his eyes dancing, “but then I’d remember we actually aren’t.”

Spock gives him an indulgent smile. “I console myself with that notion every day, Jim.”

Jim smirks and leans over to steal a bite from Spock’s cone. Spock lifts an eyebrow. “Very mature.”

Jim grins. “You bet.”

By the time they get home, they are both tired, but buzzing with contentment. Well, Jim is buzzing; Spock is sort of humming. They say goodnight at the top of the stairs, as always, and Spock turns to go, but Jim suddenly grabs at him, pulling him into the most ferocious hug Spock has ever received.

“Jim, I cannot breathe,” he complains after a moment.

“Sorry,” Jim says, clenching his arms a little tighter before letting go. “Just, um... Goodnight.” He stomps away, leaving Spock standing alone in the corridor.

A note pinned above Spock’s bed reminds him that ‘Meditation is not optional.’ Spock smiles and obediently goes for his mat. Breathing, centering his mind, Spock skims through the events of the day, sorting his emotions as a Vulcan healer taught him so many years ago. For a moment, he even lets himself remember the early lessons in mental disciplines, the ones he received back on Vulcan, when his parents were still alive. He wonders, as he almost never does, what it would have been like to grow up on Vulcan, the planet he barely remembers by now, having consciously distanced himself from the past that seems vague and uncertain.

It’s rare that Spock allows himself to dwell on such things. Earth has been his reality for too long, and Jim and Winona, even Sam, are his family, and he is grateful for them every day of his life. But sometimes, like tonight, something would happen to remind him that he is not truly part of this world. He doesn’t belong here, like Jim does, and maybe, deep down inside, Jim can feel it, too.

Spock goes to bed with a strange sense of longing mixed with satisfaction, and although the nature of it isn’t clear at all, he feels like he understands.

 

--

Spock is usually the first one out of bed in the morning, but the next day, Jim and Winona are already up when he walks into the kitchen.

“Good morning?” Spock says, glancing from one to the other.

Jim grins at him, but looks away almost instantly, blushing slightly.

“Good morning, honey.” Winona walks up to him and pulls him close, planting an affectionate kiss on his forehead. She has to bend his head down to do that.

This is definitely not routine. While his adoptive family touches him way more often than Spock imagines Vulcan parents would, the Kirks are not that tactile, especially not toward him, and certainly not out of the blue.

Spock puts two and two together and frowns at Jim.

“Hey, she tortured me!” Jim throws his hands in the air.

“Lies,” Winona says dryly, pouring herself more coffee. “He woke me up to tell me.”

Spock goes to retrieve his breakfast, ignoring both of them. He settles at the counter, busying himself with pouring jam over his multigrain toast.

Jim makes a show of chasing a piece of bacon around his plate. Winona tries to appear engrossed in the morning paper. The silence is becoming oppressive.

Spock sighs, looking up. “You do not need to concern yourselves,” he tells them. “I am fine.”

“They’re all assholes anyway,” Jim blurts out readily. “If Kelly wasn’t a girl, I would have kicked her ass.”

“Now, Jimmy, that’s just sexist,” Winona notes.

Spock surveys Jim’s face for a moment and decides that Jim deserves it. “Indeed,” he says. “And besides, the last time you attempted to do any such thing, your ‘ass’ was ‘handed’ to you. If I recall correctly, in quite a spectacular fashion.”

Jim’s jaw drops as he stares at Spock, shocked at this betrayal. Winona, predictably, drops her paper.

“Did you get into another fight at school, James?” she asks, her eyes narrowed.

“Thanks a lot, Spock,” Jim grumbles, glaring at him.

Spock is unrepentant. “I could say the same to you.”

He picks up his plate and walks out of the kitchen to finish his toast out on the terrace, tuning out the argument he has witnessed numerous times before.

The day promises to be beautiful, and Spock takes a deep breath, the moist air long familiar to his lungs if not exactly comfortable. Spock looks at the endless lines of grassland stretching on toward the far horizon, shimmering slightly in the morning breeze, and tries to imagine another terrain in its place, dry and reddish, emanating delicious heat and hard as desert wind. He can still remember the way it felt to step out there early in the morning, walking between night-frozen rocks and glimmering dunes.

A door flips open and closed behind him.

“You okay?” Jim asks. “Ready to go?”

Spock turns to look at him. All of a sudden, Jim seems older somehow. More serious. He’s standing there, holding Spock’s backpack as well as his own, and waiting for something – something more than just Spock’s reply.

For the first time since they met, Spock cannot read him, neither his human nor his Vulcan senses coming to his aid. Standing in direct sunlight, Spock is suddenly cold, because the young man in front of him is closer to him than anyone in the universe and yet, at the same time, a complete stranger, someone Spock can’t begin to comprehend.

Jim shakes his head suddenly and smiles. “You’re thinking too loud,” he mumbles, nudging Spock’s shoulder with his own. “Come on. We’re gonna be late.”

The spell is broken. Spock takes his bag from Jim and follows him down the steps.

“By the way,” Jim says cheerfully. “After what you just did? No way you’re driving.”

Spock’s lips twitch, but he doesn’t argue, giving in for once without a fight.

 

--

A thick lump of dough slides through Spock’s fingers and lands on the working table, sending a small cloud of flour up in his face. Spock crinkles his nose, but with both hands occupied, he can’t scratch it. He casts a wary glance at the stove to check if the oil is ‘emitting a thin veil of smoke,’ and decides that maybe he could up the temperature.

Done with the dough, he washes his hands and opens the fridge to fetch olives and spinach, when he hears the front door open.

“Whoever’s home, I’m home!” comes Winona’s voice. She sounds vaguely tense, and Spock goes to investigate.

“Hey, honey.” Winona gives him a quick smile, trying to keep her armful of PADDs and cases from falling. “Could you give me a hand?”

Spock swiftly extracts as much as he can from her hold and transfers it safely to the living room sofa.

“Thanks.” Winona drops her load next to his and sighs deeply. “Whew. I should have made two trips.”

“You never do.”

She chuckles. “You’re right, I don’t.”

She presses her cheek against his for a moment, and Spock closes his eyes briefly, receiving a momentary imprint of her mood. Winona’s tired, happy to be home, irritated at one of her colleagues, and impatient to get back to work. It’s a tangled, fleeting impression, and Spock accepts it calmly before pulling away.

Ten years ago, when he had first set foot on Earth at a tender age of six, his telepathy hardly felt as comfortable. He can still remember the absolute horror of waking up in the middle of the night, his parents’ telepathic death scream raking through his mind over and over again, forcing him to relive the terrible moment. Every time someone touched him or even stood too close, his shields buckled; he had constant headaches, intense enough to make him throw up and almost wish to kill himself, because the pain was unbearable.

Winona had found a healer. Vulcans don’t express emotions freely, but Healer Tokan was almost openly horrified at the state he discovered Spock in. It took two weeks of constant melding and induced trances to rectify the damage, and then the lessons started. Biweekly, then weekly, then once a month – up until Spock adapted enough to be certain of his continuous mental wellbeing.

Spock looks at the woman standing in front of him in a wrinkled jumpsuit, with her hair refusing to stay in any kind of order, laugh lines hiding at the corners of her eyes, and feels a sudden upsurge of pure tenderness.

“Are you hungry, mother?”

Winona smiles at him, her eyes lighting up the way they always do when Spock calls her that. He doesn’t know how he can not.

Spock recalls his own frantic fear that he was too much trouble to anyone, much less people who didn’t know him and had no reason to want him. Scared, hurt, he expected to be tossed out at any moment, and the thought filled him with absolute dread. But feeling himself an imposition was worse.

Winona loves telling the story of how Spock came to her and told her he would leave as soon as he got a little better.

‘You were standing there’ – she laughs – ‘all of six, pale as a sheet, and proud as hell, trembling and asking me if I could recommend a ‘place to stay for minors with your level of income.’ You even had your bag packed, and you were doing your stubborn face. I had to explain to you that I would go to jail if you leave, and I think you checked with the database first, before you desisted.’

She didn’t fall in love with him at once. Jim’s reaction was instantaneous; he was all over Spock from the instant he saw him, bringing him wet towels for his headaches and sitting by his bed, telling stories to distract him. The towels were dripping water all over the sheets, and a constant flood of words made Spock feel nauseated, but the sentiment was there.

From the moment Jim had first set eyes on him, Spock was his, accepted and included. Something that surprised Winona, as Jim didn’t get on so well with his elder brother. Seeing him push his own dessert plate toward Spock was quite a revelation.

It took Winona much longer. It was clear from the way she looked at Spock that she had no idea what to do with him. She had not even heard from Amanda Grayson in years, didn’t know she had a son, didn’t know Amanda died, up until a vehicle from the Vulcan embassy pulled up in her driveway and left a deeply troubled little boy on her doorstep.

Winona was a natural problem solver, and she treated Spock at first as just another task list. To see that he’s fed, watered, took his vitamins and immunity boosters, meditated, has clean clothes, and emits no signs of distress.

‘I didn’t know much about raising children,’ she told him, when they were celebrating his fifteenth birthday. ‘Despite having two of my own. And you were in pain, and so damn tiny, and a Vulcan! I didn’t know squat about Vulcans. I was scared to death I’d break you if I breathe wrong or something.’

It took almost a year and a half before the two of them stopped being wary around each other. But it wasn’t until a teacher made a somewhat careless comment about Spock that made Winona get in his face and growl: ‘That’s my kid you’re talking about, so show some respect or shut the fuck up!’ that the shoe had finally dropped. She had to buy a huge pizza to wipe the smug smirk off Jim’s face because ‘Mom said the f-word in public.’ Standing there, watching the boys eat, watching a slow, shy smile tugging at Spock’s lips at Jim’s antics, Winona felt it finally sinking in.

Spock was hers now, and anyone who’d want to take him away would regret it every bit as much as if he dared to touch Jim.

Bringing Spock’s thoughts back to the present, Winona says, “No, sweetheart, I’m fine.” Then, no doubt spotting the relief on his face, she narrows his eyes. “You cooking something?”

Before Spock can stop her, she darts into the kitchen. “Hot damn.”

“I’ll clean everything later, I promise,” Spock says quickly.

“No kidding.” She turns to look at him, eyes wide from the surrounding chaos. “What the hell happened here? Did something explode?”

Spock blushes, glancing away. “The recipe I found proved to be more… complicated than I assumed.”

“Well.” Winona chuckles. “It smells good in here, I can tell you that much.” She coaxes a cup of coffee from the replicator, eyeing the pot boiling on the stove warily. “Let me know when you’re done, okay? Whatever it is, I want a bite.”

“I’ve always intended to share, mother,” Spock assures her.

“Cool. I’ll be upstairs working.” She picks her cup, but pauses in the doorway. “Jim out again?”

“I didn’t see him after school, but it would appear that way.”

“With that Rina girl? Or Jenny?”

Spock shrugs carefully. “I don’t know.”

In point of fact, he’s pretty sure that Jim is out with Brian, but that’s not a conversation Spock would want to have with Winona in Jim’s stead.

Except, Winona narrows her eyes at him suspiciously. “It’s Brian, isn’t it? Jim finally had the balls to ask him out?”

Spock blinks and stares. Winona snorts. “Spock, relax. I’m not gonna flip, and I’m not gonna grill you. Jim might get what he deserves later... But hey, at least I won’t have to worry about him getting anyone pregnant.” She notices the expression on Spock’s face and laughs out loud. “I’m sorry, honey, am I shocking you?”

“No,” Spock sighs. “That’s the problem.”

Giggling, she plants a soft kiss on his cheek and sweeps out of the kitchen. Spock smiles and shakes his head before returning to his cooking.

The truth is, most days he sees more of Jim at school than he does at home. After Spock’s ill-fated attempt to socialize with his classmates the way Jim does two years ago, Spock realized with progressing certainty that he and Jim would no longer be able to do everything together as they had when they were kids.

Spock is quite happy to be left alone with his books, PADDs and computers. Science fascinates him, and he’s always working on numerous projects, some shared, most alone, but all captivating. He reads when he doesn’t feel like working, and recently has added rather awkward attempts at cooking to his list of hobbies. Both Winona and Jim are hopeless in the kitchen, but both of them like non-replicated food, and Spock isn’t half-bad, if inexperienced. Still not a fan of crowds, Spock is most comfortable within the small circle of people he knows, and doesn’t strive to make it any larger.

Jim, on the other hand, can’t live without people. Winona once called him a party animal, and the description seemed incredibly apt. Not even so much about parties, but Jim needs people around him to feel vibrant and alive. He’s ‘extra-social,’ constantly needing to be at the center of attention, waking up every morning with a smile, ready to meet new people and win them over. Staying at home for more than half a day usually makes him climb the walls.

The status-quo is familiar now, but it took some major effort to convince Jim that it was all right in the first place. Spock had spent hours at a time, explaining to Jim that he was neither intimidated by his classmates, nor scared of them, and that Kelly’s words served only to prove his own point that to each his own. It took even longer to make Jim accept that Spock wouldn’t be offended by Jim going out and enjoying himself, while Spock stayed behind. Still, Spock was persistent, and, gradually, Jim stopped looking infinitely guilty every time he went out.

Their lifestyles drifting apart, they lost none of the closeness they’ve always shared. Whenever he isn’t going out, Jim would camp in Spock’s room, listening to Spock talking about his projects (Jim has the mind of a scientist, if not the patience), poking at things, and generally being as much of a geek as Spock is.

Or he would wake Spock up at two in the morning, crashing on his bed in his clothes that still smell of wherever he’d been. Spock would grumble, then insist Jim took off his boots, and then Jim would be telling him all about the party, sharing his victories and pranks. Having no wish to join Jim’s world of glamour, Spock is still insatiably curious about it, and listens avidly. He’s usually in turns amused by the faux pas Jim makes, and awed by Jim’s daring, and generally just proud of him.

They still don’t have any secrets from each other, and so when Spock wakes up once to discover Jim taking a shower at five in the morning, he only has to take one look at Jim’s blushing, glowing face to know exactly how far his date the night before had progressed. For a moment, Spock is at a loss of how to react, because, while Jim is beaming like he won the World Cup, the word ‘congratulations’ seems insensitive at best, considering the subject.

Jim solves his problem for him, grabbing Spock’s arms and squeezing them, dancing where he stands and babbling almost incoherently, ‘She was wonderful, wonderful, didn’t know it’d be that easy!

Spock smiles and lets Jim shake him exuberantly, till he’s got some of his excitement out of his system. But when Spock returns to his room, and Jim’s happiness is no longer blinding him to his own reactions, he feels a strange pang of some as of yet unknown emotion. It’s sharp and biting and Spock tries to hush it down without looking at it. He’s suddenly afraid of what he might find.

A doorbell pulls him out of his musings, and Spock quirks an eyebrow, wondering who it could possibly be.

“Spock!” Winona calls from upstairs. “Honey, would you get that?”

Spock dusts his hands with a napkin and, sparing one last glance at the stove, walks out of the kitchen. He opens the door without thinking and blinks.

There’s a teenage boy, probably Spock’s age, standing on the porch. He’s tall and athletic, linen-blond hair shining in the blazing sunlight, green eyes darting around with curiosity. He smiles as Spock opens the door.

“Hi.”

Spock opens his mouth to return the greeting, probably followed by a polite ‘Can I help you?’ What comes out instead is, “I’m sorry, Jim isn’t home.”

The boy blinks. “Who’s Jim?”

Spock stares. Given the visitor’s appearance, it hasn’t occurred to Spock that he might be anyone else but one of Jim’s friends and/or admirers.

“Are you from the shipyard?” he asks uncertainly. Perhaps Winona has forgotten something, and they sent a messenger after her?

“No,” the boy says, his grin returning.

“Then...” Spock frowns, then looks along the empty road. “Are you lost? You had to take the left at the intersection, if you are headed for town.”

The boy actually laughs. “Okay, let’s do it this way. My name is Jason, and I’m here to see Spock. Which is an unusual name, and I thought that Ms. Taub just said that to get rid of me, but it looks like I was wrong, huh?” His eyes dart quickly to Spock’s ears. “If you’re Spock, that is?”

“Yes,” Spock confirms, confused. Ms. Taub is his sciences teacher, but that in itself doesn’t explain anything. “But I don’t understand why—”

“I just got transferred here,” Jason explains. “I know, really bad time to switch schools, but it wasn’t my doing. Anyway, my sciences grade is kind of sensitive, since I’m trying to qualify for the Pendaga scholarship.”

Spock is impressed, despite himself. The scholarship is granted to the precious few every year and allows them entrance into any Federation university without additional examination and free of charge.

“Where did you go to school before?”

“Mars.” Jason grimaces lightly. “So you see how it can be a problem.”

Spock nods. “They use different programs—”

“Exactly. I asked Ms. Taub if there was any way I can catch up faster, and she said you could help.”

“I see.” Spock intones, uncharacteristically slow on the uptake. Suddenly it occurs to him that he’s keeping a guest in the doorway. “Please, come in.” He steps aside hurriedly. “I apologize. I am unaccustomed to having visitors of my own.”

Jason gives him a frank once-over and smirks, once he meets Spock’s eyes again. “I find that hard to believe.”

Spock blinks. Is he being flirted with? The concept is so alien that he—

“Also, you have something on your chin. And on your cheek. I think it’s flour?”

Spock blushes, running a hand over his face hastily. Jason chuckles. Spock refuses to meet his eyes, gesturing in the direction of the living room. “Please, make yourself comfortable. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” Halfway into the kitchen, he remembers. “Would you like anything to drink?”

“No, thanks, I’m good,” Jason says. His eyes are laughing.

Spock didn’t know it was possible to feel that much embarrassment at once. His face burning, he mutters another excuse, and dives into the sanctuary of the kitchen.

He takes a few measured breaths to restore his equilibrium. Automatically, he reaches to switch the stove off. The terraletta is ready, but he’s suddenly oblivious to the delicious smell or even to the fact that it looks exactly like it’s supposed to.

Jason has been sent here by a teacher. How is he to take Spock seriously, after Spock has made such a fool of himself? It’s like he’s six again, not sixteen, and everybody’s laughing at everything he does, because he’s an alien in their cozy little world and doesn’t have a clue. The only consolation is that it probably can’t get much worse.

When Spock returns to the living room, Jason grins, but doesn’t make any comments, as if taking pity on him. Spock frowns, but doesn’t allow the thought to linger. Instead, he pulls out a PADD, immediately proceeds to question Jason on the material he’s covered.

Gradually, Spock relaxes. Jason seems to be quite knowledgeable, and Spock likes the questions he asks. Much like Jim, Jason is incapable not to make some kind of joke every few minutes, but it’s not annoying, and, in fact, Spock is pleasantly surprised by how smart the humor is. Half an hour into their discussion, they discover their mutual fascination with cultural anthropology, among other things, and Spock finds himself talking freely, and enjoying the conversation.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to—” Jason starts, peering at Spock curiously, half-turning toward him on the sofa so that their knees brush. “I’m really sorry, but are you wearing cologne?”

“Cologne?” Spock blinks.

“Or maybe it’s your shampoo... Oh my God, I’m sorry, this is awkward.” Jason shrugs, looking mildly embarrassed. “I’m honestly not normally this creepy. Just – you know how you can have a tune in your head and can’t place it and it’s killing you?”

“Not really,” Spock intones pensively. “I have eidetic memory.”

Jason lets out a laugh. “Of course. Well, anyway, I don’t, so...” He chances an apologetic glance up at Spock. “It’s that scent. I can’t identify it, but it’s so nice, like cinnamon, only different – and I can’t – it’s driving me nuts, man.”

Spock feels color rising in his cheeks again, but forces himself to remain seated.

“I am not wearing cologne,” he says quietly.

“Oh.” Jason nods. “Right, I’m just... Ignore me, I’m an idiot.”

Spock’s lips quirk. “Hardly.” He pauses. “Does it bother you?”

“No!” Jason looks up at him, startled. “It’s completely the other way around! I was just—”

“Spock?”

Both boys turn to find Winona standing in the doorway. She smiles, as Jason jumps to his feet.

“I was going to say that the kitchen still doesn’t look spotless, but I can see you’ve been deterred.”

Something in her smile is distinctly disturbing, Spock decides. He delays investigation, though, in favor of introductions.

Spock isn’t the tiniest bit surprised when Winona makes Jason stay for dinner, even though Spock feels mostly mortified by the idea. He isn’t the world’s greatest expert on making friends, but he’s pretty certain that letting your mother intimidate potential candidates isn’t the best course of action. Not that he’s exactly dying to have a friend. He has Jim, and when he doesn’t, it’s not exactly a Greek tragedy.

Despite Spock’s misgivings, though, Jason seems completely at ease, chatting with Winona about his life on Mars and his father’s work.

Spock mostly sticks to listening, feeling small somehow and missing Jim. He would have been completely in his element, Spock thinks wistfully, barely nodding when Winona compliments his cooking.

Jason just stares at him. “You made this?”

Spock mentally sighs and wishes they did open that spring wine Winona mentioned.

 

--

Despite their somewhat awkward first meeting, Jason proves to be less easily scared off than Spock had assumed. They meet after classes a couple of times a week, studying together, mostly at the library and sometimes at either of their homes. It’s an easy relationship of collaboration that Spock understands, and, away from flour smudges and mothers of any kind, he feels more like himself, confident in his knowledge and competence. Jason is an intelligent and pleasant study partner, and Spock slowly comes to incorporate him into his social star system, adjust the balance within it, and continue as if there were no disturbance.

Except for the part where he doesn’t tell Jim.

If anyone could back Spock up into a corner and ask him why he has neglected to introduce the two, or even mention Jason in Jim’s presence, he most likely wouldn’t have an answer. But since no one was asking any such thing, it’s easy enough for Spock to continue to believe that there is, in fact, no reason or even intent. It’s merely that Jim is never home, and Spock hasn’t had the chance, that’s all.

At the very back of his mind, Spock acknowledges – even though he doesn’t exactly understand why – that the situation has a great potential to explode in his face. But that’s the part of his mind that he tries not to explore too closely. Most of the time, he manages to successfully lull himself into a sense of security that he has no reason to consider false.

It’s a rare occurrence one Saturday afternoon that both Jim and Winona are home. Spock walks into the kitchen to have a glass of water for the road, trying not to cringe too much at the weird things Jim’s doing to an apple, torturing it with a knife before sending it to meet its fate in his mouth.

“Hey, you’re all dressed up,” Jim remarks, grinning around a bite of fruit.

“Yes,” Spock replies a little stiffly. “I’m going out.”

“With Jason?” Winona asks, not looking up from her PADD.

“Yes.” Spock pauses. “I might be back late.”

“Okay, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it.” Jim swallows a large piece with an effort and stares at Spock. “Who the hell is Jason?”

Spock opens his mouth, but Winona beats him to it.

“Oh, just a nice boy Spock has been dating.” She glances at him above her PADD, smile every bit as sweet as it is treacherous.

“WHAT?” Jim gapes, the remains of the apple crashing into the kitchen counter with a thud.

“We are not dating!” Spock protests, heat rising in his face.

“Oh, I’m sorry, honey,” Winona says mildly. “It’s hard to tell, you know, with the way he stares at you, and all those little touches he thinks nobody sees. And, well, now you’re going out, so—”

The hell?” Jim jumps to his feet.

“Mother, he is my study partner.” Spock can feel himself turning green. “And this is not a date. We’re going to a museum.”

Winona raises her eyebrows. “He invited you, didn’t he?”

“Yes. No! He just – told me that there would be a new exhibition and that he was planning to go, and if I wished to accompany him—”

Winona snorts. “Yeah, that’s really different.”

“It’s not like that! It’s a museum – anyone could go to a museum. We are just two visitors who come at the same time and happen to know each other.”

“Then I can come, too, right?” Jim interjects suddenly.

Spock forces himself to look at him. Jim’s expression is thunderous and extremely stubborn.

“You have no interest in archeology.”

“I just acquired one. What’s the matter, Spock? If it’s not a date, then anyone can come with, right? I want to go.”

Spock can hear Winona laugh, but he can’t afford a distraction. “Jim, I thought you had plans?”

“Yes, Jim,” Winona drawls, highly amused. “Weren’t you going out with Carol again?”

Jim glares at her, but Spock stills. “So you are dating Carol? You said—”

Jim’s head snaps back in Spock’s direction, but he suddenly can’t meet Spock’s eyes. “I... Yes.”

“I see.”

“Oh, dear God.” Winona stares at the ceiling in exasperation. “It’s such a shame I can’t rhyme for shit. I would have made Shakespeare fucking green with envy.”

Both boys speak at the same time:

“Mom/Mother, language.”

“Sorry.” She grins. “Your own fault, really.” She slides down from the stool and walks toward the replicator for more coffee. “Spock, sweetheart, if you don’t want to be late for your non-date, go now, before Jim has a seizure.”

“Mom!”

“And Jim, darling, sometimes it’s good to pay attention, you know what I’m saying?” She sweeps the cup off the replicator pad and waltzes out of the kitchen. “Don’t break anything and don’t yell too loud, ‘kay?”

The ensuing silence is anything but pleasant.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jim asks quietly.

Spock stares at the counter top unseeingly. “I’m not dating Jason, Jim. Mother had it wrong.” He bites the inside of his cheek. “There was nothing to tell.”

Jim nods, pursing his lips. “Fine. If that’s how you want it to be.”

He walks out and marches up the stairs, two steps at a time. Spock doesn’t follow.

 

--

Jason buys the tickets and quickly changes the subject when Spock tries to pay his share. He walks Spock through the exposition like a tour guide, his familiarity with the exhibited objects clearly showing that he either had researched the subject thoroughly or had been here before. He talks Spock into sharing a meal afterwards and pays for it, waving off Spock’s protests with a vague notion that ‘You can do it next time.’

It’s not hard to do the virtual math after that, Winona’s words still fresh and clear in Spock’s ears, so Spock isn’t surprised when Jason offers to drive him back home.

Or when his hand slides lightly over Spock’s as they say goodbye.

 

--

Spock wakes up late the next day, feeling mildly disoriented. The world that once used to be so clear and balanced has turned into a mad carousel overnight, breaking familiar patterns and leaving glaring chaos in its wake. Things don’t make sense anymore, and Spock is Vulcan enough to freak out about it.

Jim isn’t home, and Spock feels dimly relieved. He finds Winona in the garden, cutting down branches of the lilac bush in an attempt to create some elaborate shape.

She grins at him. “Late night?”

Spock looks at her blankly, too stunted to react to teasing.

Winona lowers her pruner. “So. I guess it was a date after all, huh?”

Spock sighs. “I truly hadn’t known. How did you—?”

“Well” – she shrugs – “he was kind of obvious from the start. There were signs.”

“I did not see them.”

She huffs out a laugh. “You’re generally bad with the signs, Spock. You just go on ignoring them when they’re staring you in the face.”

“What do you mean?”

She smiles mysteriously, shaking her head. Spock purses his lips, glancing away.

“So,” Winona says, resuming her cutting. “Now that you know, are you going to see him again?”

Spock wishes he could answer that at least. “I haven’t decided.” He pauses. “Jason is intelligent and attractive. But I don’t – feel any different when I’m with him. I don’t know, if I... I don’t know.”

Winona peers at him for a moment, then sets her basket and pruner on the ground and loops an arm through Spock’s. “Come here.”

Spock lets her pull him over into the shadow of the big oak and settles down beside her on the grass.

“Spock,” Winona starts, looking unusually serious. “Jason is a very bright kid. Not because he knows about physics, but because he was smart enough to see you for who you are. I know that you aren’t as outgoing as Jim is and that you think that what happened at that party is the norm for you. But the thing is” – she reaches to gently squeeze his forearms – “there’s something I see right now and you don’t. In a few years, you’re gonna have to be carrying a stick. A big, thick, possibly barbed stick. You’re gonna need it, because people will be lining up for a moment of your time.”

Spock jerks involuntarily within her grasp, and Winona chuckles, but doesn’t let go.

“I know you think I’m crazy, but I guarantee you, you’ll remember this conversation many times.” She sighs. “My point is, don’t go out with Jason, if you’re only doing it, because you think you won’t get another chance. If you like him, if you really enjoy spending time with him, go for it. You’re sixteen, for God’s sake. That’s what being a teenager is for. But if you don’t like him that way and only consider him because he likes you, or because everyone else is doing it, then, trust me, it’s a shitty reason to date someone. There’ll be no fun in it for either of you.”

Spock nods pensively, contemplating her words. Her expression is so intense that Spock can’t withstand the temptation. “That was almost deep, mother.”

She laughs and punches his arm. “Screw you.”

“Language,” Spock says mildly. After a while, he adds, “Jim is angry with me.”

“Yeah.” Winona shrugs. “He’ll get over it.” She rolls up onto her feet, brushing off her knees. “I’m not taking sides on that one – I want to smack you both silly too much.” Thoughtfully, she adds, “And then I’d go to jail.”

Spock shakes his head, smiling, and leaves her to the mercy of the overgrown lilac bush.

 

--

A week passes, and the virtual dust has settled down a little bit. Jason is away on a trip with his father, and Spock welcomes the time-out. He keeps analyzing his feelings, not really being able to reach any kind of conclusion. But when Jason comes back on Friday and asks if Spock would like to go see a movie, Spock, unexpectedly for himself, says yes. It has less date-like quality than the first occasion, and Spock feels his concerns dissipate.

He comes home late, and the house is dark. There was some kind of emergency at the shipyards, and Winona has commed earlier to say that she’d spend the night there. Spock doesn’t want to speculate where Jim is. Jim has been icily polite with him all week, only talking to Spock when absolutely necessary and leaving the school car completely in Spock’s possession. With Jim getting home incredibly late every night, Spock only saw him at breakfast and in the few classes they shared.

Not bothering to turn the lights downstairs, Spock goes straight up. He takes a long shower, trying to extinguish the residual tension from the evening. His own room is wrapped in darkness when Spock walks into it and changes for bed. He turns to close the door and freezes, coming face to face with—

“Jim!” Spock’s heart jump-starts in surprise, and he takes a deep breath, trying to calm it. “You – how long have you been standing here? I didn’t see you.”

Jim stretches languidly in the doorway, a lean black silhouette, carved in darkness.

“It’s amazing how love makes us blind,” he drawls sarcastically. “Or is it lust? How was the movie anyway?”

“It was... good,” Spock says slowly, stepping back as Jim steps forward.

“Second date, huh?” Jim mocks, advancing still. “He kissed you yet?”

“Jim,” Spock admonishes, as they take another step in eerie sync.

“What?” Jim’s tone is full of scorn. “That’s what dates are all about, Spock. Sex. Or did you think Jason was different?”

“I—” Spock’s back hits the wall, and he stops. “He – it is not like that.”

Jim laughs out loud; it’s an evil sound. “Oh, isn’t it? I spoke with Professor Taub. She didn’t send him to you. He’d been here for two weeks before he ‘just’ transferred. Watching you till he found an excuse to get near you.”

Spock’s eyes widen, and he wants to ask what on Earth makes Jim think he’s entitled to check up on Spock’s friends. What he says instead is, “Is that so bad?”

Jim is standing at point blank range now, feet planted on either side of Spock’s trapping him, breath ghosting over Spock’s face when Jim speaks. “Bad? It depends, I guess. Do you know what happens when someone wants you that much? Think you’re ready?”

“I don’t... Jim, step back.”

“Why?”

“Please, I—”

He won’t step back,” Jim parries, leaning closer. “Won’t respect your precious space.” His voice is low now. Dangerous. “He seems like the type to do his homework, so he’ll probably do this.” Jim takes Spock’s hand, palm to palm, gliding his index and middle fingers over Spock’s with intent.

Spock gasps, startled by the sensation. It shoots like a shock wave from the tips of his fingers through his arm straight to his chest, sinking lower in quivering aftershocks.

“Jim,” Spock whimpers.

He can see Jim’s smirk in the darkness, as Jim presses his fingers tighter against his, rubbing them together knowingly, expertly, circling, scratching, sending wave after wave through Spock’s body, astounding, knee-buckling pleasure the likes of which Spock has never known before. He tries to take a normal breath, but he can’t, losing control rapidly, as Jim moves closer, his thighs over Spock’s hips, until—

“Stop,” Spock breathes.

“Aw, but you wouldn’t want him to stop,” Jim murmurs, almost tenderly. “Not after he’d do this.”

Before Spock can form another protest, Jim lifts his hand and takes two of his fingers into his mouth.

Spock jolts, his back arching off the wall, his head falling back as his groin collides with Jim’s roughly, both of them undeniably hard. Spock feels like his whole skin is on fire, and he writhes desperately, unconsciously, not knowing if he wants it to cease or continue.

“God,” Jim mutters and grazes the tips of Spock’s fingers with his teeth.

Spock makes a sound between a wail and a whine, and jerks his hand back and away, overwhelmed and panicking. He moves as if to escape, but Jim presses him hard against the wall, burying his face in the crook of Spock’s neck, kissing and nipping up along his throat. Spock’s body shakes and bucks against him brokenly, thoughtlessly, like a trapped butterfly, no consciousness, all shock and instinct.

“So responsive,” Jim whispers breathlessly, arms bracing both of them, as he rolls his hips, rutting against Spock’s. “Always thought you’d be, but—”

Spock lets out a whimper at a particularly hard thrust, and Jim’s hands are suddenly soft, cradling his face gently.

“Shh,” Jim breathes out and kisses him.

Spock scrapes enough presence of mind to try and resist, but he can’t, not when his body has betrayed him already. He yields to the warm pressure, breathing out a moan that Jim swallows, deepening the kiss, and Spock has never known it could feel so good. He can’t feel his body, he’s falling or floating, and the only thing that anchors him is the intoxicating sensation of Jim’s lips on his, of Jim’s tongue, teasing, caressing, coaxing Spock to respond, until he does. Jim makes a desperate, muffled sound then, pressing even closer, and the kiss becomes frantic, as both of them lose control completely and just cling to each other, as if trying to get under each other’s skin.

Jim starts to pull away, and Spock follows him blindly, but there’s a hand on his shoulder, pushing him back. He hits the wall, eyes flying open, disoriented and shaken, heart beating madly in his throat, his cock aching.

“Jim?” Spock breathes, trying to find some measure of sense in the world of overwhelming insanity.

“And that,” Jim pants, stepping back, “is how good girls get pregnant. And guys like you get screwed.”

If a bucket of ice water was poured over Spock’s head at this moment, it would not have had the same effect as Jim’s words.

“What?” Spock blurts out weakly. “You did this to – you—” He swallows with difficulty, trying to work the words past his constricting throat. “Get out.”

A quiver runs over Jim’s frame in the darkness, rippling his self-righteous stance. “Spock,” he says in a low, mildly terrified voice. “Oh God. Look, I’m—”

“Don’t touch me,” Spock hisses, recoiling from Jim’s outstretched hand. “You’ve made your point, Jim. Now, get out.”

“Spock—”

Get out.”

And when Jim still doesn’t move, seemingly frozen in place, Spock growls in frustration and hurt, grabs him by the shoulders and tosses him out of the room, not bothering to hold his strength in check, not caring for the first time ever if he hurts Jim.

He slams the door in Jim’s face and locks it, leaning heavily against it on the other side.

 

--

Spock doesn’t even try to sleep. He knows that meditation would be an ideal cure at this point, but he can’t bring himself to it. Reliving his utter humiliation again so soon seems unbearable. But the emotion is omnipresent, and Spock can’t fight it, wishing he could just forget if only for a moment. Finally, exhausted and unable to escape into unconsciousness, he pulls out his PADD and attacks a stack of math problems, forcing his concentration away from the remains of his dignity.

Around four in the morning, he gets dressed and crawls downstairs. Leaving a note for Winona that he intends to work late in the school labs, Spock makes his way outside, only daring to take a deep breath once he left the house behind the turn of the road.

He walks. Ten point four miles through the silent pre-dawn fields; the cool air is a relief for once, soothing Spock’s nerves, clearing his mind. Spock asks himself again and again how he could possibly have been so naïve to let such a thing happen to him. He, who guards his privacy so hard, he, who accepts and admires Jim and Winona’s easy attitude, but has always known that it’s not for him – how could he, of all people, let that happen?

Jim, Spock thinks bitterly. Because it was Jim. Because Spock trusts him more than anyone, more than himself perhaps. He has no defense against Jim because he never needed one. Jim has always been protective of him, just as he was last night.

Spock should never have forgotten that. Never should have thought for a moment that it was something – anything else.

It’s all so clear now. He admires Jim’s social skills and is proud of him? Please. Spock can no longer pretend to be so naïve. If that was all there is, last night never would have happened. Winona is right, Spock thinks. He is incredibly bad at seeing what’s staring him in the face.

And now, Jim knows it, too; knows that Spock would abandon all pretence of pride and dignity in the blink of an eye, should Jim’s whim demand it. Jim truly only wanted to warn him of the dangers that Spock’s somewhat secluded existence had concealed from him. Jim probably had no idea how badly Spock is—

in love with him.

Spock stumbles, letting the thought unfold for the first time.

He’s in love with Jim, and that – that is unfortunate. He doesn’t know any other person who’s further from Jim’s type than Spock is.

There’s nothing to be done to reverse the damage, Spock muses philosophically, climbing up the hill without breaking a sweat. Certainly nothing to make him stop feeling what he has been feeling for so long – he can’t tell now when it started. He doesn’t need prolonged meditation sessions to tell him that.

Kaidith, Spock’s father used to say. What is, is. Spock didn’t understand it back then, but he seems to be on the way to it now. Who knew that, in the end, Vulcan philosophy would be his salvation – a guide that he so desperately needs right now? The thought is strangely soothing, if not without its irony.

Spock gets through the day engrossed in his project work and rereading extracts from Surak’s teachings. It used to be his favorite book till the age of twelve, and Spock feels both nostalgic and slightly guilty as his eyes follow the familiar lines, greeting him back like a neglected but forgiving friend.

Winona comms him about lunch time to check up on him, and Spock answers her questions quickly to end the conversation faster. Jason comms, too, but Spock ignores his call. He has no idea what to say to Jason at this point, and decides that it could wait another day.

It’s dark outside when Spock finally turns off the power and leaves the lab building, smiling faintly as he reflects on the correlations between Surak and, surprisingly, Sun Tzu, with maybe a twist of Omar Khayyam in the mix.

Spock steps out without looking and almost trips over Jim sitting on the ground with his back against the wall. He jumps to his feet at the sight of Spock.

“Hey.”

Spock is suddenly immensely, unbelievably tired. “What are you doing here?”

“What does it look like? Waiting for you.” Jim nods at the car parked by the road. He looks nervous, shifting from foot to foot.

“I am capable of getting home on my own. You needn’t trouble yourself.”

“Spock, please,” Jim says, closing his eyes for a moment, before reaching to squeeze Spock’s arm. “I’m sorry.”

Spock stills, the familiarity of the touch reminding him of his own blindness. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he says.

Jim nods, like he has expected this, but his eyes are strangely pleading. “I just – I need you to know that I didn’t do it to make a point.”

“Then why did you do it, Jim?” Spock asks quietly.

“I can’t,” Jim starts, then bites his lip, glancing away. “I don’t know, I just – I didn’t think. I just thought how he’d do it, and I couldn’t – what if he messed it up? I wanted your first kiss to be perfect.”

Spock’s eyebrow climbs up of its own volition. “Your unbelievable level of presumption over my personal matters aside, did you honestly consider yourself the only person capable of ensuring that?”

Jim’s gaze snaps back to him. “Why? Does Jason do it better?”

Spock stares, then presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose.

“Oh God, I’m sorry,” Jim groans, stepping back. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me! It’s like there’s this other person inside of me suddenly, and I can’t control half the shit he’s saying or doing.”

Spock doesn’t feel like laughing it off, so he doesn’t comment.

“Tell me you’re not mad at me,” Jim asks, trying to catch Spock’s eye. “Tell me we can forget what an incredible dick I was to you and move on? Spock? I’d do anything.”

Spock looks at him, really looks at him, taking in the dark circles under Jim’s eyes, bloodshot and painfully dry. It occurs to him that he wasn’t the only one to have spent last night sleepless. Jim looks wrecked.

“I’m not mad at you,” Spock says finally, holding eye contact long enough to be convincing, then starts to walk toward the car.

They drive in silence. Spock spends the ride staring out the window, content to let Jim handle the controls. Neither of them shows any haste in leaving the vehicle once the short drive is over, all the things unsaid weighing heavily on them both.

“You still going to Vulcan for the summer?” Jim breaks the pregnant silence at last.

Spock peers at him in the soft light of the control panel. “You know I have little choice in the matter. My circumstances haven’t changed.”

“Yeah, I know.” Jim nods. “I just... Maybe it’s a good thing that we’d spend two months away from each other.”

Spock flinches, because it hurts. “Do you believe in that?” he asks quietly, too tired and too sad to care that it shows.

Jim bites his lip again, looking away. “Yeah,” he says after a while. “Yeah, I do.”

He pushes the door determinedly, throwing himself out of the car and all but running toward the house.

Spock watches him go, but it’s a long time until he follows.