Jim trailed a line of kisses from Spock’s wrist, making his way up his arm only to stop short at the small but firm bicep.
“Woah,” he said, not without some measure of alarm. “What’s that?”
“What is what?” Spock intoned lazily, eyes closed and head resting against the pillow. He was always sleepy post-coitus.
“Spock, you have a tattoo?”
The Vulcan’s eyes flew open, and he instinctively dislodged his arm from Jim’s grasp, shifting into a sitting position.
Jim raised his hands defensively. “Woah, woah, easy Spock. I-- How have I not noticed that before?”
“It is not a tattoo.”
Jim sat back on his knees, trying to decide how to proceed. Spock was practically off the bed, sitting so close to the edge that Jim expected he would fall to the floor at the slightest push.
“Well,” Jim began, dragging out the vowel. “What is it?”
“It is... a mark.”
Thank you, Commander Obvious... Jim thought, unable to hide a smirk.
“I can see that, Spock,” he smiled. “I’m sorry for being curious...”
“Curiosity is not a fault,” Spock murmured.
“Okay,” Jim nodded, edging closer on the bed. “Then would you mind if I ask what it’s for? What it means? Why you have it?”
“I--” Spock hedged, obviously uncomfortable.
“Spock,” Jim said, patting the bed. “Come here, before you fall in the floor.”
Spock pressed his lips into a thin line, but grudgingly shifted closer. With Spock pressed up against him, Jim could feel that Vulcan heart thrumming rapidly against his side. Even more rapidly than usual.
Jim ran a featherlight touch up to brush a wayward strand of Spock’s hair, and trailed a gentle stroke over his lover’s cheek. Spock’s breath came quickly in reaction, shuddering in Jim’s ear.
“I didn’t mean to pry,” Jim said quietly. “I was just curious is all. May I see it closer?”
Spock nodded rapidly, tucking his face into Jim’s shoulder and extending his arm for closer inspection.
Eyes closed, Spock could feel the gentle press of human fingers over scar tissue -- the careful probing of alien hands eliciting a shiver down his spine. He shuddered too, if he was honest, at the memory, and dug deeper into Jim’s shoulder to further hide his face.
“It’s beautiful,” Jim whispered. “Is it-- It looks almost like writing. Vulcan calligraphy?”
“Yes,” Spock said, his warm breath tickling across Jim’s neck.
“Spock,” Jim said, cupping the Vulcan’s chin with one hand and coaxing it upwards so their eyes met. “Is it a painful memory?”
How does he do that? Spock wondered. It is as if he is capable of reading my very thoughts.
“Yes,” he said, glancing away.
Jim’s face fell, his eyebrows furrowing in concern. “I’m sorry,” he said, letting go of Spock’s chin.
Spock rested his head on Jim’s chest. His heart beat gradually slowed to its normal rate, and his breath came easier.
For a long time, neither of them spoke. Finally, after some minutes, Jim raised his other arm that had circled around Spock in a loose embrace, and stroked the Vulcan’s hair in a gentle caress.
“I’m sorry the memory is a painful one,” he said quietly. “But it is beautiful. Because it’s part of you.”
Spock shifted closer, nuzzling against Jim’s chest. “Thank you, ashayam.”
They fell asleep.
* * *
I like the idea of Spock needing to keep some of his secrets early in their relationship, and Jim not pressing past a certain point. Above all else, he respects Spock and his need for privacy. He wants to understand and know everything about him, but only on Spock’s terms. Jim would never violate that, and so he lets this one go.
Later, maybe years later, Spock finally tells him the story of his kahs-wan. Of how his father had cut into his young, tender flesh to make the mark proving that his son was truly Vulcan -- that he had endured the ordeal of the ritual proving him worthy.
He tells Jim everything. Of how his human self had cried inside; at the pain, at the necessity of this outdated ritual to show that he was worth something. That he deserved to exist. And at the fact that, in the end, it hadn’t mattered.
They would never accept him as one of their own.
And the entire time Spock is speaking, Jim just sits there, quietly fuming with anger.
Finally, when Spock is done, Jim wraps his arms around his t’hy’la, pulls him close, and presses a firm kiss on the Vulcan’s lips.
“You’re better than all of them,” he says. “And you’ll never have to prove yourself worthy again. You are worth... everything, Spock. You are invaluable. Precious. Beyond measure.”
And as Jim holds him close, pressing their bodies as closely together as physically possible, Spock knows that he made the right choice leaving Vulcan behind. This is his home now. This is where he belongs. And he will never be asked to prove his right to be here. He will simply be.