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Traditions Worth Keeping

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***  ***

It was a bad idea, and he knew it. But he couldn’t sleep, and his rooms were too quiet, and part of him was hoping that maybe Spock would be there. His first instinct had been to tap on the first officer’s interior door, the one that connected Spock’s quarters to their shared bathroom. But the Vulcan’s overwarm quarters had been just as silent as his own, and dark, and empty. Spock wasn’t there.

So here Jim was, riding the empty lift down to Deck 7 -- to the Science Department Christmas party.

He would just stay for a minute, he rationalized. Besides, it was good to show an interest in the crew’s extracurriculars -– it showed he cared. He didn’t think he was in any danger of it, but he never wanted to be known as the detached, unapproachable Starfleet Captain who thought himself too good to mingle with his own crew.

As he neared the rec room entrance, the muffled sounds of laughter, clinking glasses, and cheesy holiday music became gradually louder. Suddenly, the doors parted to reveal a pair of tipsy ensigns in blue skants. They stopped in their tracks at the sight of him hovering in the hallway.

“Oh, Captain,” One of the young women said. He grasped to recall her name. One of the new recruits they’d taken on at Starbase 15, he was almost sure of it.

“Hello,” he said, offering a warm smile. “Ensign… Michaels, is it?”

Her hesitation gave way to a flush of pink in her cheeks, and she smiled back. “Yes, sir.”

“Ensign Galloway,” Kirk nodded toward the other ensign.

“Yes, sir,” she nodded, filling the awkward silence with a shift of her hips. “Are you… coming in, sir?”

Kirk smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t want to crash the party, but—“

The doors swished open again to reveal Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, draped from head to toe in a gorgeous red velvet robe, trimmed in white fur and little silver bells.

“Captain Kirk!” she exclaimed. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here –- you can help me with the rest of the champagne.”

The ensigns nodded in Kirk’s direction, and made a swift retreat. As he fell in line behind Uhura, he couldn’t help but hear their soft giggling as they passed down the hallway. He turned just in time to see Ensign Galloway wrapping her arms around Michaels, pulling her close for a kiss on the lips. A sprig of mistletoe clung to the ceiling panel above them. 

Ah, Jim thought. No wonder they looked like a pair of deer in the headlights being caught leaving together. Well good for them, he mused. It's Christmas. They deserve to be happy.

“Captain,” Uhura’s clear, melodic voice brought him back to the topic at hand. “If you wouldn’t mind carrying these?”

She pressed a large crate into his hands, marked: FRAGILE –- WARP CORE COMPONENTS. HANDLE WITH CARE.

“Uh,” Jim cocked an eyebrow, skeptical about the the validity of this label. “Uhura?”

She put up her hands in defense, and Jim noted that she had painted her nails the same deep red color as her festive robes, with one finger on each hand tipped in silver glitter for an extra sparkle. Uhura was nothing if not sparkle, he thought. It was so like her to plan a special outfit for the occasion.

“Now, Captain, I--“ she began. “If there are any questions, you’ll have to take it up with Scotty, I wasn’t responsible—“

“Lieutenant,” he interrupted. “I was only going to say that you look devastatingly lovely tonight.”

She paused, her eyelashes flashing in a demure smile. “Oh, well thank you, Captain. Sir.”

They returned to the rec room to uproarious cheers and raised glasses.

“Ah,” said Jim. “I understand there’s a need for some 'warp core components' in here…”

Everyone laughed, and Scotty appeared from behind the bar, eagerly cracking open the crate. He immediately began filling fluted glasses and passing them around.

Jim laughed, and took his first good look about the room. As he’d feared, Spock was nowhere to be seen. He sighed. Well, so much for his own Christmas cheer. Not that the probability of Spock kissing him under the mistletoe would have been in any way increased by the first officer's presence at the party, but a guy could dream. He'd at least hoped to see him here, maybe share a glass of champagne. The night may have even ended with a good-natured game of chess in Kirk's own quarters. 

How pathetic are you, Jim thought, if that's the most romantic evening you can imagine?

Well he could imagine a lot more, but that was half the problem, wasn't it? 

When he looked up again, Jim realized he was being watched. 

She was perched on the edge of one of the leisure sofas at the end of the room, dimly lit by a decorative, recessed fixture in the corner. As he watched her, she took a sip of her drink, never breaking eye contact.

She raised her free hand, giving a little wave. Well, now I’ve got to go over, haven’t I? Jim thought. He selected a glass of champagne for himself, and crossed the room.

“Hi there,” he said by way of introduction.

“Hi,” she said. Her voice was soft, but certain. “I’m surprised to see you here, Captain. I don’t imagine I’m the only one.”

He smiled agreeably, casting one more hopeful glance around the room.

“Won’t you sit down?” she asked, indicating the empty chair on the other side of her little alcove.

Seeing no reason to refuse, he took a seat.

“I don’t know that we’ve been properly introduced,” she said, intoning her words methodically, as if speaking normally might scare Kirk off. Awareness of the intention made it no less effective. He settled into his chair and took a calming sip of the champagne. 

“We haven’t,” he replied. “I think you might have me at a bit of a disadvantage.”

She smiled and looked down into her own glass before quirking an eyebrow. Jim’s breath caught in his throat. The expression was far too familiar.

“I’m Helen Noel,” she said. “Doctor Helen Noel.”

“Doctor?” Jim noted.

“Yes,” she said, crossing her legs and making her skirt ride up in such a way that made it clear the action was entirely intentional; calculated. “I’m a psychiatric advisor in medical.”

“And how long have you been with us, Doctor?”

“Oh, I signed on the same year you did, Captain.”

Jim winced. “Well then, I’m sorry. I’m surprised we haven’t met before.”

She laughed, gesturing apologetically with her free hand. “Oh, I’m afraid I don’t get out much. Most of my work is in the lab or in consultations with patients. Do you know I think the only time I’ve ever actually made it up to the bridge was during our sign-on tour.”

She laughed again, shaking her head. “I’d just be a name on a roster to you, Captain. No offense taken.”

He smiled thinly. “I see.”

She leaned forward and placed one hand on his knee. “But that’s a good quality in a Captain. The desire to put a name with each face. It shows you care.”

Jim shifted back in his seat, dislodging his knee from her grasp to cross one leg over the other. “Well,” he said, clearing his throat. This wasn’t what he’d come here for.

She blinked, and he instinctively made eye contact again. She did have the most beautiful brown eyes. Deep, dark, almost black. And again, familiar somehow. He found he couldn’t look away. And then it hit him. They were so like Spock’s eyes.

Good god, did I gravitate to this woman subconsciously, because she looks like him? Boy, Jimbo, you’ve really got it bad.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” she said. “I didn’t mean—“

“Just psycho-analyzing me, then?” he chuckled, trying to clear the air. It seemed to work, because she leaned back in her chair and and laughed into her drink.

“Well, that is my job, sir,” she said.

“I get enough of that from Doctor McCoy, thank you.”

She laughed at that. The awkward moment passed, and Kirk was thankful for it. The truth was, he welcomed the opportunity for conversation. Now that he was here, under the sparkling lights and sipping the bubbling champagne, he wanted to stay for a while. The alternative was going back to his quarters, alone, only to lie awake in bed for several more hours on the thin hope that at some point sleep would come. But even with sleep came dreams of Spock, and he dreaded the feeling of waking up only to realize it was all a cruel lie.

So they talked. They talked for what must have been hours, ordering round after round of drinks – eventually moving from champagne to the heavier stuff – egg nog with bourbon, some kind of wassail that Scotty brought over and insisted they try. He happily returned every few minutes to top off both their cups until Jim finally put a hand over top of his, patently refusing any more.

“Mister Scott, are you planning a mutiny?” Jim laughed. “I drink anymore of this stuff, and I’ll be passed out on the deck come morning.”

Scotty laughed as he moved on to the next table. “Aye, I think he’s on to me, lads!”

And still Kirk and Noel talked. They talked about their careers, hobbies, what brought them to Starfleet, family.

“I’m actually Jewish, you know,” she confessed. “This whole Christmas business is a little strange to me.”

He smiled. “Well, I guess you can consider it an opportunity to study alien cultures.”

She laughed, and refilled his drink.

“My dad’s Jewish,” Jim said.

“No, really?” she exclaimed. “I never knew that.”

“Well,” Jim hedged. “His grandmother was, so by the time it got down to us, our holiday traditions had become a bit of a mishmash. The Kirks were Scottish –- so they always did a mix of yule and solstice and Christian Christmas. But the Abrahams, my grandmother’s family –- they were Orthodox Jews.”

She chuckled, “So what did you do, put out a menorah with the milk and cookies?”

“We did exactly that,” he laughed, and took another sip of his drink.

Eventually the party got so loud that Kirk and Noel could barely hear one another speaking over the cacophony. When someone fired up the karaoke machine, he stopped mid-sentence to give her a pointed look.

She leaned in and cupped her hands on either side of her mouth. “How about we get out of here?”

He laughed, setting down his drink. “Where to?” he not-quite-shouted.

“Observation deck?”

* * *

The vaulted ceilings and sprawling open spaces of the observation deck only further accentuated the quiet -– a stark contrast to the raucous party they’d just left behind. They appeared to be the only two people here. Jim liked it best on nights like this, when the hall was empty and the tall windows stood like a vast gateway leading into open space. 

Noel, who had ventured further into the room than Kirk had, suddenly let out a gasp. “Oh!”

Jim jumped immediately into action, half stumbling over his own feet in the process.

“What, what is it?” He bolted after her, looking back and forth to see what it was that had so startled her.

She threw her head back, laughing.

“Nothing, Captain. Relax. I was just—well, look at the nebula.”

She pointed at a spot on the window, and now that Jim stopped to look, he saw it: Coming into view just off the main port bow, still at an angle and creeping at so slow a speed as to not even appear to be moving – a colorful smudge of red, pink, and orange.

“Oh,” he said dumbly. “Well it’s a good thing it wasn't a rabid Santaurian slug. I nearly tripped over myself coming to your rescue.”

She laughed again. “Well,” she said, now producing a small bottle of blue liquid he had not previously noticed she’d been carrying with her.

“Care to trip a little more?” In her other hand, she displayed two small shot glasses.

He huffed out a laugh, pressing his forehead against the transparent aluminum. “Don’t you think we’ve had enough for one night? Where did you even get that?”

“I swiped it on our way out. Oh, come on, Captain. It’s Christmas,” she feigned a little pout.

He smirked at her, cocking an eyebrow. “I thought you were Jewish.”

Their combined laughter echoed off the walls of the sprawling room.

“You know,” she said, “I don’t know quite what I expected from you, but this wasn’t it.”

He crossed his arms and leaned his forehead against the clear wall, straining against the blankness of space to judge the distance of the nebula. It was impossible of course.

If Spock were here, he’d have already launched into an impromptu lecture about redshift being the cause for this nebula’s particular color scheme, and how, though it might appear close enough to touch, it was actually several thousand light years away. Unreachable.

Like some people I know, Jim thought with an inward sigh.

“Captain?”

He turned to find Noel offering him one of the shot glasses, filled with blue liquid.

“Romulan Ale?” he quirked an eyebrow. “This stuff’s illegal, you know.”

He took the glass from her long, thin fingers.

Jesus, he thought. She’s even got his hands. Kirk, you are truly pitiful. If you had set out to dream up a female version of him, you couldn’t have come closer.

“Captain, are you all right?”

He held his glass aloft.

“Cheers,” he said, and downed it in one sip.

She tossed hers back too, but when their eyes met again, the brilliant laughter that had been in her eyes was now gone.

“Jim,” she said. “What is it?”

He shook his head, rubbed his hands together, and gave his most devastating smile. “Nothing, I’m fine. I think the liquor must be finally catching up with me; I feel a little tired.”

He gave a conciliatory laugh, but this time she just looked at him.

“Who was it?” she asked, speaking now in a quiet, level voice.

“What?”

“When you showed up at the party tonight, you were looking for someone.”

He shrugged his shoulders, casting his hands wide. “No, I just dropped by.”

Now she did laugh, but it was a short, harsh sound. “You. Captain Kirk. Workaholic extraordinaire? You just -'dropped by' for a party?”

He pursed his lips, unsure what to say.

“Look, Captain. I might not have met you before tonight, but people talk on starships. And it is a well-known fact that you do not frequent parties.”

He shrugged. “Well, I— Look, if you must know, I just couldn’t sleep.”

She poured a new glass of the blue liquor for each of them. “And why not? Do you have trouble sleeping often?”

He scoffed, turning to pace up and down the wall. “Look, Doctor –- I appreciate your concern, but I—“

“Please, call me Helen. Jim. I’m not above admitting that I've been putting the moves on you all night. And you’re clearly not interested. Which is fine. I know all about your rules.”

He squinted at her. “My rules?”

“Yes, yes. You don’t fraternize with the crew. It’s a noble goal, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. I mean, the youngest Starfleet captain in history, one of the most decorated—“ She paused. “…and certainly one of the most handsome.”

His cheeks flushed and he looked away, shoving his hands into his pockets. Where was she going with this?

“But you were clearly looking for someone when you showed up at that party, and I’ve rarely seen a man look more disappointed in not finding what he was looking for.”

She paused for a moment to take a sip of her ale. “So, I want to know who it is.”

“W-what?” he sputtered. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I’m a therapist. And an expert in humanoid behavior. And… I’m nosy.”

Well, he had to laugh at that one. He reached for his own shot glass and took another swig of the ale. “No.”

“I thought you might say that,” she said. “Okay, I’ll make a deal with you.”

Without further preamble, she went to a random spot on the carpet, slipped out of her boots, and sat cross-legged on the floor.

“What kind of deal?” he asked, not without some trepidation.

“Well,” she replied, pouring out yet another glass of liquor. “If I can guess who it is, you tell me all about it –- we’ll have an impromptu session right here.”

“Session?” he frowned.

“Yes, a therapy session. You’ll tell me all about it, and I’ll advise you on how to proceed. As a professional,” she paused. “And as a woman.”

He chuckled, shifting his feet. “I—I don’t think—“

“If I can’t guess then you walk away and we forget the whole thing, Jim. What have you got to lose?”

He hesitated. She had a point. She had just about zero chance of actually guessing correctly, and per usual, Jim couldn’t bring himself to turn away from a challenge.

But somewhere in the back of his intoxicated mind, alarm bells were going off. She was a psychiatrist. Surely she knew he couldn’t refuse what was effectively a dare. Maybe she was using that to her advantage. Maybe if he’d been just a little less drunk, and a little less sleepy, he would have predicted this. But he was pretty drunk, and he was very sleepy. So he shrugged out of his boots and sat down across from her.

“Fine. But—“ he held up one finger as a warning, “Two rules. One: You get three guesses. I’m not going to sit here while you go through the entire ship’s roster line by line.”

She laughed, nodding in agreement. “Fine.”

“And two: You never speak of this, to anyone.”

She scoffed, flinging a hand in his direction. “Captain, please. I’m a professional. Patient/doctor confidentiality is in effect at all times.”

“All right," he said, crossing his arms with a smirk. "Do your worst.”

She sat up straight, took the last swig of her drink, and set the empty shot glass down in front of her.

“You’re in love with Commander Spock.”

A chill went down his spine. The smug grin fell from his face into a frozen pallor. It must have been a solid thirty seconds before he said anything. Some part of his hind brain took control and almost convinced him that if he could just not move, just sit there still enough, for long enough, maybe the smug looking woman in front of him would disappear in a puff of smoke, and he would awaken to realize this had all been an elaborate dream.

Because this couldn’t actually be happening.

Doctor Helen Noel, a crewman he had never actually met before this evening, could not have just said those six horrifyingly accurate words. Out loud. To his face.

This. Was. Not. Happening.

“Captain?” She cocked her head, clearly looking for some kind of response.

He managed to make some sort of crackling sound in the back of his throat.

“I’m sorry, Captain –- what was that?” She shook her head, causing her messy brown ponytail to swish back and forth. In that moment, he hated that smug little swishing ponytail more than anything.

“I—“ he began. “I don’t—“ he paused to squint, rubbing his eyes with both fists. When he spoke again it came as a series of gruff utterances. “How, in the world, did you… How— how could you possibly know that?”

She sat up tall again, squaring her shoulders. “Well,” she said, “I didn’t. Not for certain.” She shrugged quickly, tossing her hair. “But I guess you just confirmed it.”

Kirk dropped his fists and looked up at her with fire in his eyes. He’d never hated a crewman, never wished ill on any one of them, but suddenly his mind was tumbling through possibilities of all the terrible things that might happen to this vicious, vindictive woman who had just manipulated his deepest, darkest secret right out of him.

He must have looked truly frightening, because she rose to her feet in a quick movement, and put up her hands in defense.

“Relax, Captain. Patient/doctor confidentiality, remember?” She went to the windowsill where the little bottle of Romulan Ale still sat, now half empty. “Would you like another drink?”

He huffed, rubbing a hand over his face and trying to get control of himself.

Shit, he thought. I must be really drunk.

“No," he grunted, feeling more than a little nauseous. "I don’t think so.”

“Well,” she said, wandering back to their patch of carpet with a fresh drink in hand. “Why don’t you tell me about it? That was the deal, after all.”

He spoke into the half-clasped hand covering his face. “Tell you about what?”

“Mister Spock. What do you like about him? And why you’re not dating yet.” She paused a beat, “Oh, are you dating?”

His hands dropped away and he looked up at her with that same, barely controlled rage as before. “No, we are not dating! And what business is it of yours if we were?"

She shrugged, apparently deciding that his anger was of no danger to her, and poured a new shot glass full of ale, setting it on the carpet before him.

“It isn’t my business. But it’s clearly taking a toll on you, so why not talk about it? It is the healthy way to handle it, Jim. It’s logical.”

He looked up at her with a grimace. “Don’t you dare.”

Her eyes went wide, the hand holding her next drink pausing midway to her lips. The liquid trembled in the glass for a moment before she thought better, setting it down on the floor between them.

She rested her hands in her lap. “Captain, there seems to have been some kind of misunderstanding.”

“I’ll say,” he grunted, shifting as if he meant to stand and leave.

“Jim, wait,” she said. “I don’t—Please sit down. I want to help you. I don’t mean any harm.”

“You’re a psychiatrist, Doctor,” he said, rising to his feet. “You ought to know that intention only counts for so much.”

“Captain. Have you spoken to anyone else about this? Anyone?”

He whirled on her, eyes blazing. “What do you think?”

He managed not to shout, but it was a close thing to it. He needed to get out of here. He was drunk, tired, irritable, and this conversation wasn’t going anywhere 'healthy,' despite Doctor Noel’s opinion on the matter.

She looked up at him with sadness in her eyes. Maybe even pity, he thought, gritting his teeth. The last thing he needed.

“Jim. Human beings can’t just file their emotions away and ignore them.” She paused, chuckling to herself. “In my experience, even Vulcans have trouble with that, and it’s kind of their M.O.”

“Don’t talk to me about Vulcans,” he grunted. “What do you know?”

“I studied Vulcan psychology in Shi’kahr for three years before joining Starfleet.”

He frowned, turning to face her again. “What?”

She shrugged, picking up her drink again. “I worked in the same department with Geoffrey,” she shook her head quickly. “I’m sorry, Doctor M’Benga. I sort of followed him here, I guess. We signed on together when we heard the Enterprise had a Vulcan first officer. Seemed there might be a need for our expertise.”

Jim didn’t know what to say. He quietly returned to their patch of carpet and sat down cross-legged. He poked at his drink, but made no move to raise it.

“Look, Jim,” she continued. “I don’t know what you’re thinking of my motives here, but honestly… I don’t mean any harm.”

“You look like him,” he interjected. “Do you know that?”

She frowned. “I look like Mister Spock?” She cocked an eyebrow in amusement, and again Jim found the expression only enhanced the resemblance. He glanced away.

She giggled, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “I guess I can see what you mean. Dark hair, brown eyes. Though I hope I’m decidedly more feminine.”

He finally reached for his drink and sighed into it. “Yes, decidedly. Your hands too,” he muttered almost without realizing it.

She smiled, “What about my hands?”

Jim put the drink down. Clearly, he’d had enough. More than enough. “Uh, nothing.”

Her smile warmed, and she leaned forward conspiratorially. “No, tell me. Tell me about Spock’s hands.”

Jim stuttered, shifting away to stretch out his legs. “I don’t think…”

“Oh, come on, Captain. It’s just us girls here. Tell me.”

He looked away, biting his lip. This was insane. He was not having this conversation with some strange woman he’d never even met.

But maybe that makes it easier… You don’t know her. You won’t have to see her every day. In fact, considering that in six months of service you’re only just meeting her now… it’s unlikely you’ll ever have to see her again. So why not talk to her? Tell her everything.

He picked up his drink and threw it back in one go.

“Spock’s hands,” he said, looking at the floor.

She nodded. “Yes?”

“They’re delicate but also strong. Long fingers. Thin. Precise. Everything about him is so damn precise. He never makes a move without perfect calculation. And you see it most in the way his hands move. I watch them every day, roaming over buttons, typing in information with perfectly accurate keystrokes. Every tap, the same weight behind it, the same motion, timing. Perfect.”

He paused to look up at her. She was sitting with her chin in one hand, elbow perched on her knee. Just watching him. She nodded once, “Go on.”

He looked away, staring hard at the floor again.

“I guess at some point I started wondering what it would be like… if those hands… if they…” he swallowed, and reached for his glass only to find it empty again.

Without a word, she poured another drink.

“If they were touching you, instead of buttons?” she muttered.

He nodded furiously, and tossed back his drink.

“Is it love? Or is it purely a sexual thing?” she asked.

He nearly choked on his drink. “What?” he coughed, “No!”

She smiled warmly. “Okay, I had to ask. Well, what exactly attracted you to him? Besides the hands?”

He shook his head, sighing. “I don’t know, honestly. I just—He’s so different from anyone I’ve ever met.”

“How so?” She shrugged. “What sets him apart? What made you notice him, in this way? Romantically, if you want to call it that.”

Jim wasn’t sure he did. But he didn’t want to say that. It would only invite more questions. Although, he thought, the more I talk, the easier it seems to be. Maybe she’s on to something… maybe I do need to talk about this.

Still, he hesitated to speak, running a thoughtful finger over his lips.

She took the bait. “Do you want to call it that? Romantic?”           

Damn. She’s good. “I don’t… I don’t know.”  

She shook it off lightheartedly. “Well, don’t worry about that right now. What, beyond the physical, made you notice him?”

“He played an incredible game of chess.”

She chuckled. “Good, all right. And?”

“The first week of the mission. We bumped into each other in the mess hall and I suggested we play a game of chess. He beat me the first time. I beat him the next three in a row.”

He looked up to find her smiling, but she didn’t interrupt.

“He-- he didn’t seem to mind. When I won a game. Not at first. But then, by game five when I was still beating him, he just sort of...” Jim chuckled at the memory. “He stopped and stared at me for a minute. ‘What is your strategy?’ he said. ‘How is it that you continue to win?’”

Noel chuckled at his Spock impression.

“’Why shouldn’t I win?’ I said. ‘What’s the matter? Not used to anyone besting you?’ And he just went back to assessing the board, like he had this renewed determination to win this one. But he didn’t,” he laughed. “We played three more games before he finally caught on to my strategy.”

“Which was?” Noel asked.

Jim put up his hands with a shrug. “I had no clear strategy! I was using simple chaos. Moving a piece here, another there, without really thinking much about it. He couldn’t predict my moves because there wasn’t any logic behind them. When he finally figured it out, he managed to win a game. But by then it was late into the night. We were both pretty sleep deprived the next morning. Well, at least I was.”

 Jim smiled at the memory of the look on Spock’s face when he’d realized how the Captain was duping him. He had looked at Jim with a newfound respect after that. And they’d kept playing chess, at least once a week, ever since. Sometimes Spock won. But, just as often, he didn’t.

“And so you were attracted to him after that? Almost immediately?” Noel asked.

“Well, no,” Jim shrugged. “I mean; I don’t think I had any idea it was… this… not right away. It was more like a… mutual respect I guess. He wasn’t used to losing. But he didn’t seem to mind losing to me. And I didn’t mind when he won either. It made it interesting. It was a challenge for both sides… and… in a lot of ways a very psychological one. I think we both benefitted from that, right from the beginning.”

“And now?” she encouraged him to go on.

“Now…” he hedged. “I don’t know. We’ve certainly gotten to know each other better. It’s almost like…” he hesitated, casting about for the right words. “I don’t know, we do nearly everything together. He’s become my best friend. But it’s also like there’s the unspoken thing between us – we both just know, but we don’t ever say it out loud.”

Or maybe that’s just you, Jim. Maybe it’s wishful thinking.

"And I can't sleep. And when I do sleep..." He blushed, looking away. "I dream about him."

“Hm,” she nodded. “Well, maybe, for better or worse –- maybe it’s time to have a conversation. With him.”

“I don’t know,” he shook his head.

“Look,” she said, “I don’t claim to be an expert or anything but like I said, I do have some experience in Vulcan psychology. And of course not every Vulcan is the same, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on Spock psychology, if you will.”

She smiled as she reached for the bottle cap, finally putting the cork on the last of the ale in the bottom of the bottle.

“But,” she continued. “I’ll say this. Feelings felt but unspoken are never healthy for either party. Especially among friends.”

“Not to mention co-workers…” he muttered.

“Exactly!” She pointed a not quite accusatory finger at him. “At the end of the day, you two have to be able to work together. And from what I’ve seen, you make a great team.” She paused, reflecting. "That's how I picked up on it, you know."

He looked up. "What?"

The science teams are always replaying tricorder data from away missions in the labs. They like to go over the recordings after every away mission; analyze, categorize everything. 

"Uh huh," Kirk nodded.

"Well, there were always these sound recordings of you and Spock -- and naturally the rest of the away team too, but I couldn't help but notice... Well, after a certain point, I couldn't help but notice that more often than not... it usually wound up just the two of you on those voice recordings. Everyone else would wander off to do their own exploration, but it was always you two."

"There's nothing unusual about that," Kirk said, maybe a little too defensively. "Captain and First Officer teaming up on a mission."

She chuckled. "No, no, nothing unusual per se. But, I don't know... I would listen to these conversations -- they'd play them over and over. And gradually I started to notice things, maybe only things a psychologist would notice. Little pauses, hitches of breath. Banter. The way you talk to each other... Like you're perfectly in sync. And you, like you're talking to your closest confidant. Like you're talking to a lover."

Kirk looked at the floor. Damn. She was good.

"You should talk to him. If you let this go on any longer, it's only going to become more painful."

He sighed, putting his face in his hands. “I know. But... They’re already calling us the best command team in the fleet. Like I want to jeopardize that over…” he trailed off.

“Over what, exactly?” she said quietly. “Look, Jim. I know you want to put your work first. But don’t discount the importance of what you’re feeling either. That’s also important. You just need to figure out what that is.”

She leaned forward and placed a comforting hand on his knee. This time he didn’t recoil. “Maybe talking with him about it will make that more clear. Just be frank with him. Up front. Honest. I think that’s the best way to proceed.”

He finally raised his head with a timid smile. “According to Vulcan psychology, or Spock psychology?”

She smiled. “Call it a mix of both.”

“Thanks, Doctor. You’re right. I’ll talk to him.”

***  ***

He'd meant it. He had 100% fully intended to have the conversation with Spock. Even after he'd awoken the next day, stone cold sober. Even after he'd realized the woman had played him like a flute. Right down to the flirtation; it had all been a clever ruse to get him talking. He had to give it to her -- it had worked. So he began his day with a spring in his step, committed to the idea of finally sitting Spock down for that all important talk.

But things had come up. As things often do.

In the week following Christmas, they had taken on a group of diplomats from Tellar Prime who had turned out to be particularly high-maintenance. Then there was the regular medical supply run to Starbase 17 that had turned out to be far from regular, and as more and more time passed, it became easier and easier to just not address the issue.

Before Jim knew it, his conversation with Helen Noel, his guardian angel of that long ago Christmas party, was a distant memory.

Until that fateful day on Tantalus. He walked into the transporter room to meet his psychology expert, and there she was. Doctor Helen Noel.

* * *

“Don’t you remember, Captain?" she'd said. "The Science Department Christmas party. You dropped by, and…” She glanced toward Spock with a knowing smile.

“Yes; yes, I remember!” Kirk sputtered.

Spock was standing right there, for gods' sake! The moment had passed and thankfully the good Doctor was true to her word. She didn’t say anything incriminating; didn't mention it again. Jim had thought the rest of the day would go more or less smoothly after that. How wrong he'd been.

* * *

For years… I’ve loved you.

He floated in and out of consciousness, fighting the influence of the Tantalus device. But of course, it was far too powerful.

For years…

He thought she'd appeared in his quarters once, looking down at him where he lay on the bed, covered in sweat. He thought there was pity in her eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Jim. I never meant for this to happen. Remember, Jim... You have to remember. You love Spock, not me!"

He faded back into a fitful sleep.

For years...

* * * 

He'd awakened, days later, feeling lightheaded and groggy. Despite his being in otherwise perfect health, McCoy had confined him to quarters.

“You need to get your head back on straight,” he’d said. “And you can’t do that from the bridge. Just rest up, take some time. Give it a few days.”

He couldn’t get the image of Helen Noel out of his mind. Those alluring brown eyes, the shock of dark hair. Those long, delicate fingers…

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a memory surfaced. That long-ago Christmas party. The conversation they had shared. All his stilted confessions about Spock. Gradually, he began to remember what had drawn him to her in the first place.

She reminded you of him.

But that had been months past, and all his well-intentioned courage had slowly faded over time. After all, he’d convinced himself, what if he was just imagining that unspoken something between him and Spock? What if it was all in his head?

Just like it had been on Tantalus. A lie, a seed planted in his mind. A misunderstanding, allowed to grow and work its way into his psyche until he was so sure it was real –- only to discover it was all a dream.

A swishing sound came from the main room. From where he lay on the bed, he had a clear view of the door leading into the corridor, and it had not opened. That meant it had to be the suite door. And only one person would be entering his quarters from that way.   

“Spock?” he called out, uncertain.

A dark capped head appeared in the doorway to his sleeping alcove.

“Captain.”

The deep timbre of his friend’s voice was always a welcome sound, and Jim smiled almost on instinct. “How’s the ship, Spock? Everyone all right?”

Spock entered the room somewhat warily. Though they had taken to entering one another’s quarters uninvited, it was a rare occasion for the Vulcan to be here, in his very bedchamber.

“The crew and ship are well. I have nothing to report,” Spock said, clasping his hands behind his back in a now familiar gesture. Jim reflected for a moment on just how much about the man had gradually become familiar over the last year. When Jim had been appointed captain, they were all but strangers.

And now? he thought. What are we now?

“Captain?” Spock was looking down at him with concern in his eyes. “Are you quite all right?”

Those eyes. Jim could get lost in those eyes. For a man who prided himself on controlling emotion, filing away his thoughts under lock and key, Spock’s eyes always gave away more than he meant to. At least, to Jim. He liked to think he was capable of reading more in those dark depths than the average viewer. He’d had plenty of practice over the last year, in any case.

“Jim?” Spock was still awaiting an answer.

“Oh!” Jim blinked, rubbed a hand over his face, and stretched his arms overhead. “Yes, I’m fine… sorry. Guess I’m just tired.”

Spock frowned, glanced about for a chair, didn’t see one, and finally perched on the edge of Jim’s bed.

“Captain, with respect, you have been sleeping for some time. Are you certain you are not unwell?”

Jim let out a sigh. “No,” he admitted.

This frank reply was met with a raised eyebrow. “You are not well?” Spock asked.

Jim shook his head. “No, no... I mean, it’s nothing you need to call Bones over.”

He sighed again. He couldn’t go on like this. Noel had been right all those months ago, and he’d done nothing about it. And here he was, just as miserable as before. Maybe it was the residual side effects of the Tantalus torture, but now that they were here, just the two of them –- Spock sitting on his bed for gods’ sake – he felt more heartsick and longing than ever.

“Spock,” he began. “I feel like my brains have been scrambled.”

Spock’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “An alarming image, Captain.”

“Well, it’s an alarming feeling. I just… I don’t know. You’re Vulcan. You do that… mind meld thing, right?” he looked up at Spock questioningly.

Spock glanced at the floor, seemingly uncomfortable with the comparison.

Jim sat up. “I don’t mean that it’s the same thing at all, I just mean… well, I don’t know. Imagine if… I’m not saying it could, but what if something like that ever went wrong? Messed with your head somehow. I don’t know. That’s what this feels like. Like somebody went poking around in my brain, only they didn’t know what they were doing. They broke something.”

Spock was quiet for a moment. Then replied, “I believe I understand your meaning. And in fact,” he paused, interlocking his fingers and resting clasped hands on one knee. “A similar thing can happen. In young, untrained Vulcans, such mistakes are not unheard of. They can be quite damaging.”

Jim perked up at that. “Oh? Well, what do you do? I mean, how would you fix something like that?”

Spock’s expression softened, and Jim could have sworn he shifted imperceptibly closer on the bed. “In severe cases, a trained healer would be called upon to correct the injury. In less severe ones, a family member could just as easily perform a healing meld. Or, more often than not, healing takes place through the simple passage of time.”

Jim looked down, picking at the coverlet. “I was afraid you were going to say that.”

“Captain, if I may,” Spock hedged, “You did seem quite invested in the idea of… your feelings regarding Doctor Noel.”

Jim’s face burned with shame, and he tugged at the coverlet a little more.

“Perhaps,” Spock continued, “Possibly there is more truth to these thoughts than you imagine. You did seem rather drawn to her, particularly when—“

“No,” Jim gritted his teeth, glaring at the blanket. “I don’t love her.”

“I do not understand your reticence regarding this matter; it does not seem like you. Jim, I myself witnessed the rather intense manner in which you kissed her—“

“Spock, drop it!”

The room fell silent, the hum of the engines reverberating through the walls the only sound for a long moment. When Jim finally looked up to meet Spock’s gaze, it was as if Spock had been slapped. The Vulcan was regarding him with wide eyes, clearly shocked by Jim’s harsh outburst.

“I’m sorry, Spock. I didn’t mean—“

“No, Captain,” Spock spoke in a clipped tone, rising quickly to his feet. “You are quite correct. The matter is your personal business; I had no right to intrude. You have my apology.”

He moved to leave. “Rest well, Captain. I wish you a quick recovery.”

He was almost to the door.

“Spock, wait.”

He paused; turned to look back. Still guarded. That moment of softness had passed. But maybe Jim could get it back. If he tried. If he proceeded like a reasonable person from here on out and not like a loose cannon lashing out in anger. He sighed inwardly. It had been a long day, but that was no reason to yell at Spock.

“You don’t owe me any apology. I…” Jim sighed. “I owe you one.”

Spock frowned in response, but remained where he was, halfway between the bed and the door.

“Please,” Jim patted the spot where Spock had been sitting. “Will you come back for a minute? I—“ his shoulders sagged and he looked at the floor again. “I need to tell you something, I think.”

Spock raised one curious eyebrow. “You do not sound certain.”

Jim huffed, “I’m not certain of much. But… I’m pretty sure this is a conversation that needs to happen. If you’re willing to listen.”

When he looked up again that softness had returned to Spock’s eyes, and the Vulcan had stepped closer to the bed again. Success.

Spock sat down. “What is it that you wish to discuss?”

Jim went back to picking at the coverlet. “Look, I… I know I can’t be in love with Helen Noel. For certain.”

Spock frowned. “How can you be sure of this?”

“Because…” he sighed. “Because I already know I love someone else. And I’ve never been the type to love more than one person at a time.”

Spock seemed to consider this for a moment, but said nothing.

“Spock, I…”

“Captain—“ He was shocked by the touch of Spock’s hand coming to rest on his own. “This is not necessary.”

Jim looked up in surprise only to find Spock regarding him with a mixture of compassion and sadness.

“Wha—“ Jim said rather inelegantly. “I don’t understand…”

Spock glanced away, and that beautiful hand withdrew from Jim’s own only to rest on Spock’s lap again as if the two had never touched.

“I am sorry, Captain. I have been aware for some time now that you harbor a certain… affection for me. I regret that it cannot be.”

Jim didn’t know what to say. He had accounted for any response, any possible reaction—but he simply couldn’t have predicted this. Spock already knew… only he’d never said anything…

Because he didn’t want to hurt you, idiot. He doesn’t feel the same way.

“I had thought, perhaps—“ Spock said, filling the silence that had come over them, “Perhaps if you did have a genuine affection for Doctor Noel—“

“No,” Jim said in a small, almost dejected voice. "That was just the Tantulus Device... messing with my head.”

Spock tilted his head to one side as if to indicate doubt, “She did seem to recall that the two of you had enjoyed a pleasant evening at the Christmas gathering last year—“

“Spock—“ it was all Jim could do to keep tears from pricking in the corners of his eyes now. This was going all wrong… “The only reason why I even went to that stupid party in the first place was to look for you, Spock. I was hoping you’d be there. Because already I was head over heels for you, and I couldn’t stop thinking about you and…”

Jim choked on something between laughter and a sob. He gave up trying to speak, and put his face in his hands.

Damn it, you can’t let him see you like this—what a pathetic sap he must think you are…

Firm, warm arms encircled Jim’s shoulders, and gentle hands pulled him into an intimate embrace.

“Jim…” He didn’t think Spock’s voice had ever sounded so tender and loving. That only made it hurt more.

“You are my Captain, and my dear friend. I could never wish to cause you pain. But I am afraid what you ask of me, it is quite impossible.”

Jim focused on just breathing, and shamelessly buried his face in Spock’s chest. This wasn’t happening; couldn’t be happening. Maybe he would wake up later, find it was all a dream, and never speak of it.

“It is not impossible because you are in any way undesirable or because I do not possess a great amount of affection for you. It is simply—“ He trailed off, as if unable to find the right words.

“Why, Spock?” Jim dared to raise his head, and the pain in Spock’s eyes really did make him want to cry. “Why is it impossible?”

Spock sighed, glancing away. “Because I am promised to another. One day, I am to marry her. This cannot be undone.”

Jim felt like someone had just punched him in the stomach.

“You,” he said. “You’re engaged?”

Spock nodded, looking pointedly anywhere but into Jim’s eyes. He began to disengage from the hug, and rose to stand beside the bed.

“Captain?”

Jim nodded; numb. “Yeah, Spock. I know you’re busy. You can go now.”

“Captain.”

Warily, Jim looked up to meet the Vulcan’s eyes.

Those beautiful eyes. They’ll never be yours. Give it up, Jim.

“I appreciate your willingness to discuss this, and I do hope you rest well.”

Jim looked away. Spock’s kindness was making this worse than if he’d scorned him. He couldn’t take it.

“Yeah, Spock. Thanks.”

***  ***

The trip to Vulcan had not gone as planned. But when had any away mission ever gone as planned?

Jim had endured countless whispers of, “Can you believe it?” “He’s got a wife?” “Never told anyone; never even mentioned her!” “He’s strange, isn’t he? Even for a Vulcan.”

After hours of pacing the halls, trying to get the image of Spock’s glazed over stare out of his head; the mindless passivity in those usually passionate eyes as he'd hovered over Jim, slowly choking the life out of him… He finally gave up and headed for the observation deck. Maybe he’d find something there, beyond the confines of his ship, worth focusing on. Something, anything else to think about.

The worst part of it was, he couldn’t even enjoy the petty vindictiveness of hating the woman, T’Pring. Once he’d seen her, face to face, and recognized the reality of the situation she was in, he couldn’t hate her. He felt sorry for her. After all, wasn’t she in exactly the same predicament? Wanting Stonn but unable to have him? All because of some stupid old tradition.

Sometimes Vulcans can be downright illogical.

“Penny for your thoughts?”               

He started, turning from the window to find a familiar face approaching from the garden, a swishing topknot of dark hair following in her wake.

“Doctor Noel,” he said, a smile gradually spreading across his face. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I had a feeling I might find you here,” she said. “How’s he doing?”

Jim turned his gaze back to the window, to the empty blackness beyond. His original mission, to find something worth looking at out there, had failed. But, he thought, sometimes you needed nothing. A blank page. It felt like a new beginning.

“I think he’s okay,” he said.

She came to stand next to him, leaning against the cool transparent aluminum. “And how about you?”

“Me?” he turned to look at her, catching a glimpse of their reflections in the window.

She chuckled. “Don’t act so innocent, like part of you isn’t pleased with today’s events.”

Jim quirked an eyebrow. “How much do you know? McCoy said…”

“Don’t worry, Jim,” she countered. “The crew’s largely ignorant about what happened. Mister Spock was ill and had to go home for treatment. He’s better now. That’s about the long and short of what the general populace knows. Oh, and he apparently has a wife no one knew about. The consensus seems to be that it was all a little weird, but as any average day on the Enterprise goes, we’ve had weirder. My guess is it’ll all be forgotten before too long.”

Jim hesitated to divulge any new information. “But, you clearly know more.”

She shrugged. “They don’t talk about it, ever. But I know all about the pon farr, Captain.”

Jim thought for a moment. “M’Benga. He must have told you.”

“That poor man has talked more feverish Vulcans down from the edge than he’d care to mention… But, no. He didn’t have to tell me. When McCoy listed Spock’s symptoms, I didn’t have to be a genius to guess. I spent enough time working in a med lab on Vulcan to put two and two together.” She winced at the thought. “I heard it didn’t work out with the woman. I’m just glad he’s okay.”

“Me too,” Jim huffed, pushing off the wall. “In fact I think I’m going to go check on him. He was sleeping when I left, but that was a few hours ago.”

He turned, heading for the lift.

“Jim,” she called out, “Did you two ever… have that talk?”

He paused long enough to turn, flashing a smile. “It’s an ongoing conversation. I’ll see you around, Helen.”

* * *

He didn’t knock. The en suite door leading into Spock’s quarters was unlocked as had become their custom. He let himself in quietly and stopped long enough to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkened room –- the only light coming from a traditional Vulcan statue in the corner, emanating an eerie multi-colored glow.

He’d never tell Spock to his face, but Jim hated that thing. It was garish and overwrought, just like the unnecessarily complicated ritual he had been a part of earlier this afternoon. Jim guessed that was just the Vulcan way, hide anything important under too many layers of decoration so it can’t hurt you.

Maybe that wasn’t fair. But he wasn’t feeling particularly magnanimous toward traditional Vulcan values at the moment.

“Jim?” A soft murmur came from the other room, and Jim could hear the rustling of blankets being cast aside.

He approached the bedroom, pausing in the doorway.

Spock was standing next to the bed, wrapped in a layer of blankets. His hair was in disarray, and he teetered on uneasy legs, as if he might topple over at any moment.

“Spock!” Jim rushed from the doorway to steady Spock with a firm grip on one shoulder. “Are you all right?”

“I…” He blinked several times, rubbing one balled fist over sleepy eyes. Jim resisted the urge to recognize it for what it was, adorable.

“I have slept for many hours.”

Jim laughed, relieved. If he was well enough to have his time sense back, he must not be too bad off. “Did you need something, Spock? Why did you get up?”

“Ah, yes,” he said, wavering a little before easing backward to sit on the bed. “I wanted some water.”

 Jim brought the water from the kitchen and sat next to the bed while Spock gulped it down. It was gone so quickly, he immediately went back for a second cup and watched in awe as the Vulcan greedily put that one away as well.

“My god, Spock. You were thirsty. You feeling okay?”

Spock was breathing heavily, and simply nodded, setting the empty glass on the bedside table.

“Much better, thank you.”

The blankets had fallen down around him, pooling on the mattress. And it was then that Jim realized: Spock was completely naked.

“Spock?” he said incredulously. “Where are your clothes?”

The Vulcan appeared to come to his senses, looking down at the wad of blankets covering only his most private areas. “Ah, I… the fever lingered… I was very warm when I—”

Jim chuckled, taking the glass and moving toward the doorway again. “It’s fine, Spock. You relax. Can I get you some more water? In case you get thirsty again?”

He thought he heard a weak, “Yes, please,” and the sound of Spock rolling back over into bed as he exited the room.

Jim found a copy of Great Expectations in the main room, and sat reading by Spock’s bedside for the next few hours. Just as Pip was introducing himself to Miss Havisham, Jim glanced up to find Spock quietly watching him, his head resting serenely on the pillow.

“Spock…” He lowered the book, setting it on the bedside table. “You’re awake.”

“Yes,” he said simply.

“Are you feeling any better?”

Spock seemed to contemplate this for a moment. “I believe… I am myself again. The fever is gone.”

Jim sighed in relief. “That’s good to hear. Bones said it might hang around for a while; take your body some time to work through it completely.”

“Yes,” Spock rolled onto his back. “I had feared that perhaps…” He closed his eyes, pulling the covers higher over his bare chest.

“I know,” Jim said. “I guess you don’t have to worry about that, just now?”

“Sexual congress is not required at this time, no.”

Jim nearly choked, covering his mouth as he doubled over laughing. “Spock!” he coughed.

His fit of the giggles was met with a raised eyebrow. “Are you disappointed?”

Well, that did it. He got out of the chair, clutching his side with the giggles, and started for the living room. “How about I get you some breakfast? You must be hungry.”

Though he hadn’t slept a wink, it was morning and time to prepare for Alpha shift. He made breakfast for both of them and they ate quietly together in Spock’s dining alcove, as if it were a perfectly normal morning just like any other, and like Spock had not just casually alluded to their having sex as a joke, not as a joke; Jim didn’t know or—he realized suddenly, he didn’t particularly care. It was enough that Spock was himself again and feeling better and sitting here eating breakfast with him.

Jim paused with a piece of buttered toast halfway to his mouth just to look at Spock.

While Jim had been punching buttons on the food synthesizer Spock had showered, put on a fresh uniform and combed his hair back to normal. He had done all of this with Jim in the room, again, as if it were completely normal.

Incredible. Jim thought. Something has changed. Something unspoken. But maybe this time it would be better not to leave it unspoken…

“Spock,” he said, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

Spock looked up from his plate of mango and some kind of Vulcan porridge whose name Jim could never pronounce. It looked like oatmeal. “As am I, Captain.”

“But…” Jim returned his piece of toast to the plate, smearing a patch of honey around with the corner. “I am… a little disappointed.”

He put on his most devastatingly flirtatious smirk, and gave Spock the most convincing set of bedroom eyes he could muster.

“Ah, Captain…” There was a definite tinge of green in those cheeks, as Spock grasped for an appropriate response.

Jim laughed, taking a big bite of toast. “I’m kidding, Spock. I’m glad you’re okay. But…”

Okay, time to get serious.

“Just so we’re clear…” he looked up to find Spock watching him intently. “That talk we had last year? That’s still… relevant… for me.”

He could hear Spock’s intake of breath from across the table.

“Is it?” Spock said in a small voice.

Jim closed his eyes in a smile, and nodded. “Definitely, yes.”

Spock wiped his fingers on a napkin, rubbed his hands together, rearranged the silverware. Finally, he took another deep breath.

“I see. I…”

He finally met Jim’s eyes, and there was so much vulnerability there that Jim wanted to vault across the table and embrace him right then.

“I had thought that perhaps…” Spock paused, and Jim watched in awe as his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “I thought perhaps you would no longer want such an arrangement with me. After… after the conversation we had.”

My god, Jim thought. Look at him. He’s terrified.

He couldn’t take another second of it.

He got up and went around the table, placing one steadying hand on Spock’s shoulder.

“Spock,” he said, dropping to one knee so he could look Spock in the eye, “Why would you think that?”

“I rejected you. You were so frank with me, and revealed all your thoughts, confiding in me, and I put you aside for the sake of following with tradition. I was cruel. It must have caused you pain.”

All while he spoke, Spock clasped his hands in his lap, pressing so hard on his own fingers that several of the digits turned white. Jim took his wrist in a gentle grasp, sliding his hand into Spock’s.

“Spock,” Jim said, raising Spock’s hand to press his lips against it, knowing full well the effect it would have. “You were honest with me. You did what you had to do. I understood that.”

Spock’s breath hitched in the back of his throat, and he turned his head gradually to take in the sight of Jim pressing gentle kisses across the back of his hand.

“And in any case,” Jim said between kisses. “You were never cruel. I was hurting, and you knew that. And you were kind. If anything it reminded me why I loved you in the first place. Because you’re an amazing person. A kind person. A good person, Spock—always trying to do the right thing.”

He turned Spock’s hand over, pressing soft pliant lips against a dimly green-blushed palm.

“You are a good person, Spock. And you deserve to be loved.”

Spock gasped for breath, biting his lower lip to keep from making any more embarrassing sounds.

Jim sighed, releasing hot breath onto the palm.

And there was that embarrassing sound Spock had been trying to avoid.

“What was that?” Jim said teasingly. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

“Jim—“ Spock managed to say, trembling with the effort. “We are due to be on the bridge in approximately 7.32 minutes.”

Jim scoffed, laughing into the now pliant hand. “Yeah, you’re better all right. But what if I do this…”

He puckered his lips, kissing the end of Spock’s index finger, and lightly flicked his tongue across the fingertip.

“Ah!” Spock reacted instinctively, jerking his hand away in surprise. 

Jim giggled. “All right, all right. Too much, sorry.”

Spock grabbed the human by both shoulders, and pulled him close, taking his mouth in a kiss. Laughter burbled between them as Jim chuckled into his very mouth, unable to contain his amusement and joy.

“Oh, you liked that, huh?” he said, pulling away just enough to look into Spock’s eyes. Those beautiful eyes he loved so much. They were alive now, full of shock and amazement, and… yes… maybe even happiness.

“Jim,” he said. “Yes, I… We must go to the bridge. We will be late.”

“Well, I wouldn’t worry,” Jim said. “I hear the captain is a pretty understanding guy.”

“Jim.”

“Okay, okay. You’re no fun.”

They made it to the bridge with a few seconds to spare.

Well, that was all right. They had plenty of time to figure out the rest later. In the meantime, Jim wondered just how many shots of Romulan Ale it would take to get Doctor Noel to give him some pointers on Vulcan hand stimulation. Just for future reference.

***  ***

“Oh, Captain!” Uhura called from behind the bar. “I’m so glad you’re here. You and Commander Spock can help me with the rest of the champagne!”

They carried the crate marked: WARNING -- CONTAINS HUNGRY TRIBBLES between them, setting it on the bar for Scotty to pry open with the crowbar.

When the lid came off, everyone cheered.

“Captain, I do not understand the purpose of this false label. It would appear that everyone at the party is aware of the true contents. You are aware of it. So who is it we are trying to deceive?”

Jim laughed, choosing a glass of the bubbly stuff for each of them. “Spock, at this point I think it’s just tradition.”

The Vulcan pressed two fingers discreetly against Jim’s palm under the bar, and leaned close to his ear. “I was of the understanding that you were not fond of tradition, Ashayam.”

Jim smirked, taking a sip of his champagne. “Some traditions are worth keeping, Spock.”

Their fingers entwined beneath the table, and Jim ran his thumb down the center of Spock’s palm, making the Vulcan shiver in response.

“For example,” Jim announced, tugging Spock behind him as he made his way to a dimly lit corner. “See that, Spock?”

Spock followed Jim’s gaze, looking up to the little bundle of mistletoe tied to the rafters. “Yes, Jim. What is it?”

“It’s tradition,” Jim said, and pulled Spock close for a kiss.

Somewhere in the crowd, Helen Noel was smiling.