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In the Shadows

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Jim Kirk adjusted his collar, pulling at the stiff red fabric and wishing Vulcan wasn’t so damned hot. His insides were more like jelly than organs and he could really use a drink and a cool shower. Instead, he sat outside the Vulcan High Council chambers awaiting word on his petition for Vulcan citizenship.

After an interminable wait, the creaking doors of the chamber finally opened and several severe-looking Vulcans emerged, their steps quick and efficient. A moment later Ambassador Sarek walked out and turned in his direction. His face revealed no answer and Jim held his breath.

“Cadet Kirk,” the stoic Vulcan said as he approached.

“Ambassador?”

“After much discussion, your petition for Vulcan citizenship has been denied.”

Jim gasped. “Denied? Really?” Jim raked a hand over his face. “Oh, man. That’s not good.” He blinked several times at the Ambassador as his mind raced. “What are my options? Can I appeal?”

“Negative. The Council’s decision is final.”

“But I helped you…I mean the Vulcans. I don’t understand.” Jim had known the chances were slim, but it had been his only hope.

“The High Council declared it illogical to protect a Terran at this time of greatest distrust with your people—”

“—But I helped them discover Marcus’s plans. Without me you wouldn’t even know,” Jim interrupted, desperation sharpening his words. He’d risked his life to hand-deliver Admiral Marcus’s secret plans to remove the Vulcans from the Federation so he could align with the Romulans.

“I agree with you, Jim, but my arguments did not sway the council. The matter of your petition is closed,” Sarek stated firmly.

“No, I know. I mean I know you tried.” Jim looked earnestly at Sarek and held out his hand, forgetting for a moment the Vulcan dislike of handshaking. When Sarek did not move, Jim rolled his hand into a ball and tucked it against his side once more. “I mean, thank you, sir. I knew it was a long shot. I guess…I just thought they’d be grateful or something. I don’t know…” Jim glanced around trying to think of a way to get off planet and somehow stay under Starfleet’s radar.

“Gratitude is a reasonable expectation, but not enough in this instance.”

“Right,” he answered, feeling a little stunned at both the Vulcans and his own naivete. He’d hoped much more than he should have.

He scratched his head. “Uh, okay, so what happens now? Are they going to honor the arrest warrant?”

“Given their decision to stay in the Federation, they must honor the warrant. Many Vulcans desire to see Starfleet and the Terran Federation executives held to task for their betrayal. It has been suggested that your trial on charges of treason will provide a public forum to disclose Admiral Marcus’s actions.”

“But that won’t happen!” Jim protested. “They’ll bury it. Bury me! Did you tell them that?” He turned away from Sarek and started to pace. “Marcus wants me dead. I’ll never make it to trial. He’ll have me killed. You know this, right?” Jim asked spinning back to face Sarek.

“It is statistically likely,” Sarek said, eyes narrowing slightly.

“What am I going to do?” Jim paced again, bits of an escape plan already falling into place. If he could get a ship, he could get off planet. Maybe he could join up with a mercenary group, find a way out of the Alpha quadrant and onto some backwater planet until it all died down. Or maybe he could get reconstructive surgery—

“Might I suggest a possible solution?” Sarek said, interrupting his mad train of thoughts.

“Yes! Anything. Do you have a ship I can use to get off planet? You must have connections somewhere.”

“I do have a personal shuttle craft, Jim, but I was considering a different, although possibly less desirable, solution.”

“No way, man. I am all ears,” Jim answered, focusing his attention on the Ambassador.

After a longer than expected pause, Sarek spoke, “You could agree to bond with my son.”

~*~

Three days later, Jim once more found himself waiting for Ambassador Sarek, albeit under vastly different circumstances. His soon-to-be-bondmate was due to arrive for what Jim could only call a ‘shotgun wedding’.

Instead of his cadet reds, Jim was sweating under two layers of Vulcan robes, surprisingly cooler than his now-useless uniform. His bondmate, a word that filled him with anxiety, was due to arrive for the ceremony shortly. Jim had not met Spock, but he had heard much about him from both Ambassador Sarek and his aide, T’Shava. The Vulcan woman had been less than forthright about Spock’s personality, but her arrogance as she described his “half-breed” status had done nothing but fortify Jim’s willingness to bond with the so-called “outcast” Vulcan. Being an outcast was something he understood.

Commotion at the rear entrance to the cavern drew Jim’s attention. Through it came the Vulcan priestess, and two male Vulcans carrying a heavy gong. The priestess was a woman of significant height and age with an ornate hairstyle swept up and pinned with two silver adornments. Her bronze-trimmed robes swirled around her feet as she strode towards the small dais at the front of the chamber.

“Mr. Kirk. Thy sa-kugalsu shall appear shortly. I will have thy thoughts…” The Vulcan extended her hand toward Jim’s face and he held his breath. Sarek had explained the necessity of a light meld to ascertain Jim’s willingness and compatibility with Spock.

Her fingers were cool as they pressed against his cheek and forehead, but other than a light pressure in his mind, he could not discern her presence.

She stepped back abruptly. “I declare thee willing and compatible. Spock will enter.” She glanced towards the back of the room and Jim heard the shuffling of feet growing near. He didn’t move a muscle, refusing to show any emotion at all in response. He did this because he must, he told himself, and shoved down all the trepidation he felt.

A moment later, he sensed a presence at his side and glanced over, briefly taking in the proud profile of he-who-would-be-his-husband. Huh, he thought with mild surprise, he’s pretty hot. He suppressed a grin and squeezed his hands together behind his back. What dread he felt seemed to retreat in the face of burgeoning excitement.

The priestess spoke. “What thou shalt undertake comes down from the time of the beginning, without change. This is the Vulcan heart. This is the Vulcan soul. This is our way. Kah-if-farr.”

The priestess stepped aside and Spock moved forward, taking the wide mallet hanging next to the gong. His robes were patterned with ornate designs embroidered with black on heavy rust-colored fabric. He pulled his arm back and struck the gong three times, sending vibrations through the open-air chamber and making Jim shiver. This was so not what he had ever expected to do in his life.

He watched carefully as Spock replaced the gong and paused, seeming to draw a breath before turning around. Jim’s gaze was drawn to his face and his breath stopped, body stiffening in shock. The left side of Spock’s face was deeply scarred, a craggy patchwork of greenish-white burn scars that spread from his jaw to his hairline, around a partially closed eyelid. Some horror had befallen this Vulcan, and for some unfathomable reason, scars remained despite easy to find medical tech that would take them away.

Spock’s dark eyes glared back at Jim as if daring him to react. Jim, with all of his strength, refused to do so, and held the Vulcan’s eyes until Spock finally spoke. “I choose thee, James Tiberius Kirk.” Jim watched the Vulcan speak, his mouth uneven as it moved, skin taut with the lacework of burn scars.

“I accept thee, S’chn T’Gai Spock,” Jim replied, stumbling over the difficult pronunciation despite his repeated practice.

Stiffly, Spock stepped off the dais and returned to Jim’s side. The priestess reached for both of them, splaying her fingers once more on their faces. After a moment, Jim felt the pressure of the meld, a different sensation than before but not unpleasant. It remained when the priestess stepped back and Jim surmised it was the presence of their marriage bond, the kah’ka that Sarek had described to him.

“By the blessing of Sarek, the kal’i’farr is complete. Dif-tor heh smusma,” the priestess said and offered the ta’al. Jim raised his hand to return it. Spock, he noticed, did the same and the priestess left them, with her attendants following closely behind.

Jim heaved a breath and turned to face his new husband, a smile ready on his face. As he turned, Spock also turned, giving Jim his back and speeding away. Jim gaped in surprise.

Behind him, he heard the familiar voice of Ambassador Sarek. “Jim. I apologize for my son’s behavior. Despite his willingness to complete the bonding, he rarely appears in public and cannot tolerate it. I will escort you to your new dwelling.” Sarek extended a robed arm and Jim walked ahead of him, too stunned to speak.

What in the world had he gotten himself into?

~*~

Jim followed Sarek down a narrow set of stairs and out into the open air. It was midday and Jim shielded his eyes against the sun. “Man, I don’t know how I am going to get used to this,” he said, panting slightly. He had been warned of the atmospheric differences between Earth and Vulcan, but had not experienced much discomfort until now.

“I have requested that your belongings be sent to my son’s home. I assume that you have enough tri-ox compound to last for several more days?” Sarek asked.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Jim answered, feeling slightly annoyed at Sarek. He knew the Vulcan had helped him out of a jam but he couldn’t help but feel like he’d also helped Sarek in a way he did not fully understand. As Jim was figuring out what to ask, Sarek seemed to anticipate him.

“I assume that you have many questions.”

“Yeah. You could say that. I thought I’d at least get to talk to him. I mean, I’m grateful for your help and I feel safe for the first time in weeks, but…” He gave Sarek a sidelong glance which Sarek met with a cool gaze.

“My son has always been complicated, but trust me when I tell you that he is a Vulcan of the highest moral character and intellect. His brilliance shines more brightly than most, but his stubbornness impedes fulfillment of his destiny.”

“What happened to him?” Jim finally asked, needing to be direct.

“That is not my story to tell, Jim. In time, as Spock grows comfortable with you, I trust you will learn all you need to know.”

“Uh, okay. How long do you think that will that take?” Jim nodded to a passing Vulcan who looked askance at him.

“I have been notoriously poor at predicting my son’s behavior, but I encourage you to be yourself, Jim. What I have observed about you indicates to me that your presence in Spock’s life will be a benefit. Evidence indicates that he will be a devoted bondmate...after a time.” He glanced at Jim and turned a corner to travel down a cactus-lined path. “I advise patience and persistence.”

“Hmm. Okay, but are you sure he wants this?”

“Spock cannot be forced to do anything he does not desire to do. He is aware of your actions for Vulcan and of your strong character and commitment to justice. He has made a wise decision. His opportunities for bonding have been nonexistent since…his disfigurement.”

“Yeah, I’m sure his attitude was no help,” Jim said and then covered his mouth, eyes going wide at Sarek. “I’m sorry, that was inappropriate. My mouth gets the better of me.” He looked as Sarek who merely glanced at him with what Jim could swear was a smirk.

Sarek stopped in front of a stone gate. “It matters not. We have arrived. I thank you for your service to the Vulcan people, but I must take my leave. I depart for Terra in the morning. Please contact my assistant, T’Shava, should you require anything that Spock cannot provide.”

“Thanks, Ambassador. I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Jim said, ignoring a sinking feeling in his stomach. He really had no idea how things would be.

“You may call me sa’mekh or Sarek, whichever you prefer.”

“Ah, okay. Thank you, Sarek. Uh, sa’mekh.” Jim laughed. “This is going to take some getting used to.”

“Indeed,” the Vulcan answered and raised his hand in the ta’al. “I wish you long life.”

“You, too, Sarek. Thanks for everything.” The Vulcan nodded at Jim’s words and departed, leaving him standing alone at the gate staring at the winding path ahead of him.

Jim took a moment and a breath, and chuckled at his own fear. He’d faced Marcus and had won — how in the world could a grumpy new husband be worse than that?

~*~

Jim followed the stone path as it wrapped around and down ten or so steps to an arched entryway. He paused, raising up his hand, wondering if he should knock. After a second, he just shrugged, figuring it was his house now, too, and tried the heavy metal lever which clicked and offered him entrance.

He stepped inside and took a deep breath of the much cooler air. His lungs were taxed from the walk and he wiped sweat away from his brow. The pale stone walls of the entry vestibule gave way to a larger room with high ceilings and a bank of windows facing a mountain view. As Jim approached the windows, he saw the paved stone of a wide veranda and several dark wood chairs with cushions and two square tables. Numerous varieties of cacti were arranged gracefully amid the furniture. A large yellow blossom emerged from the thickest cactus, outshining the rest in its beauty.

Jim continued his exploration of the house, stepping through an archway and into a wide hall with several open doors. He walked softly down the hall, glancing first into what appeared to be a library and then continuing on to the next. He stopped short to see the close-cropped hair of a man he assumed to be Spock facing away from him sitting at a desk.

Jim cleared his throat. “Hi, Spock. I, uh, let myself in. I hope that’s okay.”

“Greetings, James,” Spock said, turning his head slightly. Jim saw the curve of his cheek and the delicate green curve of his ear. “You are most welcome. Currently, I am in remote discussion with a group of students and cannot attend to you. Your belongings are in the bedroom at the end of the hall. Refreshments are down the stairs in the kitchen. If it pleases you, I shall see you for dinner at eighteen-hundred hours.” Spock’s voice was clipped and Jim understood that it didn’t actually matter if it pleased him or not.

“Yeah, sure. I’m exhausted anyway. I’ll, uh, see you later.” Jim paused, feeling supremely awkward, then just shook his head and took a breath, recalling Sarek’s words, Patience and persistence. He could do that.

There was only one room at the end of the hall and he stepped inside, eyes scanning the dark wood and floor-to-ceiling windows with a different view from those in the great hall. Jim moved closer and looked down to see a sharp precipice below and a rocky valley spreading out and gradually building up into a peak opposite the house. The jagged rocks were a deep orange, struck through with sharp lines of brown and black. It was starkly beautiful and intimidating in a way that the Vulcan landscape often appeared. So bare and severe, yet breathtaking in its vast proportions.

His one small bag sat on an ornately carved wooden stool near one of the windows. He opened it and pulled out a hypo, jamming it against his neck and pressing the lever. After a few seconds, he felt his breath ease and his tiredness begin to fade. “Whew. That’s much better.”

He laid the hypo on a dresser against the far wall and opened a drawer expecting it to be empty. He blinked and closed the drawer sharply. He moved to the other end of the nine-drawer piece and opened a different one, relieved to find it bare. He unpacked his few belongings and shoved them inside. He tucked his bag in another empty drawer below it. Curious, he opened all of the other drawers, finding them half-full of clothing and it slowly became clear to him that he was in the wrong room.

Jim stepped back and swallowed hard, leaving the room and moving back down the hall. He pushed open the next door, expecting it to be his room, but it was a large washroom with a deep stone tub, sink and toilet. He tried the next door and found it to be a closet. He swallowed again, unable to believe that Spock expected him to share his room. Did he? Had Jim misunderstood Spock’s instructions?

Confused and wary, Jim moved around the main floor, passing Spock’s office once more, this time seeing the door closed. He continued past the next room, the small library (that definitely did not have a bed). The great hall with its ornate sofas and chairs also had no bed. The entryway had a small closet as well, but no more rooms.

Jim looked around. “Ah, the kitchen,” he said to himself, remembering Spock’s words. He glanced around the great room to see stairs opposite the bank of windows and he sped down them, expecting to see another hallway and his room below. He found instead a sizable dining area connected to an open-plan kitchen with a stone hearth in one corner. Smaller windows lined the dining room and kitchen, showing the same mountainous view as the great room but from an offset angle. Jim explored the downstairs but found only a pantry and a small lavatory.

With nowhere left to explore, Jim got a glass of water and sat on a stool next to the center island. He traced the edge of his glass and stared out the window. His mind tumbled with the previous few weeks, filled with fear, excitement, worry, and one hope after another dashed. He had been expelled from the Academy, reviled in the press, and separated from the few belongings he had managed to accumulate during his time in San Francisco. He’d had nothing special, but his displacement was starting to wear on him and the idea of living in this house, on this planet, with a man who seemed to hate him…well, it didn’t exactly fill him with eagerness about his future.

After a few minutes of thinking, Jim huffed. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Kirk,” he scolded. “You’re not dead.”

Jim shook himself, drank the rest of the water and filled it again. He poked around the cupboards and found some crackers to snack on. Some pale pink fruit was in a bowl and he gave it a sniff. His fruit allergies were unpredictable, so he thought it better to wait until he had a hypo on hand. He ate more crackers, drank the rest of the water, and decided that what he really needed was a nap. He hadn’t slept well since the High Council rejected his initial petition, and his tired crankiness now wasn’t going to help him win favor with his new husband.

Quietly, Jim ascended the stairs and made his way back to the bedroom he was apparently going to share with Spock. He stripped off his robes and hung them in the closet, finding a bare section which had obviously been reserved for him. For all of his worry, it did seem like Spock was prepared for him…whatever that would mean.

Jim pulled back the heavy gray coverlet and sheets and slid into the bed clad only in his boxer briefs. The crisp sheets enveloped him, and within a few minutes, he was sound asleep.

~*~

Jim’s dreams were filled with the heavy weight of breaking atmosphere, fiery battles among the stars, and a wizened Vulcan face smiling softly at him. He awoke with a start as someone squeezed his shoulder.

He blinked his eyes to see Spock against the backdrop of the waning afternoon sun in the windows. His face was in shadow and Jim could not make out his expression.

“It appears you were quite tired. Dinner will commence in fifteen minutes. I have been apprised of your allergies and hope our meal will be satisfactory.” Spock stepped back and away before Jim could respond, leaving the swish of his robes in his wake.

With a deep breath, Jim rubbed his face. He flung off the blankets and padded toward the washroom. He hadn’t noticed a shower, but he desperately hoped for something to help him feel clean. After a short search, he found a small sonic shower tucked behind a wall. He crowed happily, glad to know he would soon smell a lot less terrible.

At the end of his shower, he threw some water on his face, just to feel refreshed, and rinsed his mouth. As he searched for a towel, he found a shelf in the closet laid bare for him and he felt a smile creep across his face. He remembered the other thing Sarek had told him, that Spock would be a devoted bondmate, a trait that Jim hoped he was beginning to see.

Now if only he could have a conversation with the Vulcan—then he’d be getting somewhere.

Jim returned to the room with the towel draped around his waist. He opened his drawer and pulled out a pair of loose-fitting dark pants and a plain gray t-shirt. It wasn’t as nice as his marriage robes, of course, but he expected he would not be wearing those again. As he pulled on his clothes, he made a mental note to ask Spock about going into town to buy more clothes and a few other things he’d need.

Jim checked his appearance once more in the washroom mirror and made his way downstairs, pausing to glance into Spock’s office, seeing neatly stacked books and papers arranged on his desk. It had a warmer feel than the rest of the house and Jim realized that this room had a somewhat feminine touch, if he could call it that. Delicately styled furniture and more natural fabrics than the heavily dyed curtains and thick wooden headboard and dresser in the bedroom. The desk, in particular, reminded him of the intricately carved stool near the windows overlooking the rocky valley. Jim took it all in, cataloging things to talk to Spock about if conversation (when conversation) went dry.

With his heart hammering in his chest, Jim started down the steps, arranging his face into a pleasant smile. Halfway down, he could smell something delicious.

“What is that?” He asked, hopping off the last step. “That smells amazing.”

Spock had his back turned facing the stove. “It is called pre tarmeeli, a vegetable dish with spices. One that my mother described as similar to Terran curry. You are familiar?” Spock’s tone was pleasant and Jim felt hope spark in his chest.

“Yeah, sure. I love curries.” Jim paused, watching Spock’s back as he stirred the contents of a pot. “So, your mother was human?” he asked.

“Yes,” Spock said. “Would you like a beverage? I can offer water, tea, and a mildly sweet drink flavored with birkeen.”

“Uh, I’ll stick to water right now. I need to rehydrate myself. I’m not used to the climate yet.”

“The adjustment could take some time,” Spock said, still turned away from Jim.

“So, I’ll just get that water. Can you hand me a glass?” Jim moved around the center island and approached Spock who took down a glass and handed it to Jim. He was really very good at hiding his face, and Jim just went with it, hoping to build on the pleasantness of the few sentences they had exchanged.

Jim filled the water from a pitcher on the counter and took a drink. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked around, noticing the table set for two, one at either end of the eight-person table. At the center of the table, an ornate tray of small cacti, some flowering, and many of varied shape and style. “You have a lot of cactus plants…more than I’ve seen anywhere.”

“Indeed. In addition to her work in linguistics, my mother was a gifted horticulturist. Many of the plants you will see once belonged to her or are offspring from her collection. I am sure you noticed the vegetation at my father’s house.”

“No, actually. I stayed in a small dormitory near the High Council. It seemed easier to go back and forth and close enough that I didn’t need a guide. Is your father’s house like to this one?”

“No. It is quite large, with many rooms used for both living and entertaining guests. His position as an ambassador required many parties and meetings, and at one time, he employed a staff of three to tend to the house, guests, and grounds.”

“Wow. Cool. He seems like a great guy. I mean, really skilled at his job. Must have been cool to grow up with all those different races and aliens around.”

“In many aspects, I suppose one could consider it ‘cool’.” Spock said, and turned finally to face Jim, his hands carrying a wide tray with an array of foods. He resolutely avoided eye contact with Jim, simply moving towards him and showing the unmarred side of his face as he passed. Jim watched with a sidelong gaze, questions filling his mind until he resolutely pushed them away. His curiosity would get him into trouble if he wasn’t careful.

Spock placed the tray on the table and motioned Jim to sit. They faced each other and Spock’s face fell into shadow, another clever ploy to avoid view. Jim frowned, feeling already frustrated by Spock’s assumptions that he’d judge him or even care. Really, he just made himself more fascinating by hiding. But then again, it probably wasn’t for Jim to say. He really had no idea what he’d have done in a similar situation.

“Please help yourself, James.” Spock said, reaching for a spoon. Jim did the same and filled his plate with the delicious looking food.

“Jim. Call me Jim. Only my superiors and my teachers called me James.” He smiled at Spock, but the Vulcan avoided his gaze.

“As you wish,” he responded, spooning food onto his plate and breaking off bread.

“I have provided you with Terran utensils. My father had a variety of eating instruments in his house and offered them for your use.”

“Thank you, Spock. That was very thoughtful. I am fine with chopsticks. But thank you.” Jim picked up his fork and pulled some of the spicy vegetables into his mouth.

“This is really good. Where did you learn to cook?” Jim asked.

“Living alone has forced me to learn many things,” Spock answered in a tight voice, causing Jim to wonder what else he had been ‘forced’ to learn. Jim’s chest grew tight and he stared at Spock, trying to see his expression in the dim light.

“You don’t have to hide, you know,” Jim said, and immediately regretted it. Spock stiffened, his chopsticks freezing halfway to his mouth. He watched as the Vulcan slowly lowered his hand and dropped the utensils onto his plate.

“Shit, I’m sorry. My mouth. I just say things sometimes. I’ve got a terrible filter. I didn’t mean to offend you or make you uncomfortable, I’m just…” Jim’s face flushed hot. “Look, I’ll just say this and get it out there because I don’t do subtle very well. I don’t care about the scars. I mean, I saw them, I know they’re there, but I’m not repulsed or weirded out or whatever you think I am. I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life not getting to see my husband.”

Spock shoved his chair back and stood. “If you will excuse me. I have matters to attend to. Please finish your meal and I will clean up after you are done.” He folded his napkin carefully and laid it on the table. Jim watched Spock move away, refusing to look at him. He was not sure what to do, how to fix it, why he was such a complete asshole sometimes.

“Spock, please don’t go. I swear, I am not this much of a jerk. Really. I mean sometimes, but I don’t mean anything by it. God, I am so stupid.” Jim bit his lip, willing his mouth to just stop talking.

Spock did pause, glancing briefly at Jim, face blank. “I accept your apology, but I am afraid I have lost my appetite. I shall find you later.” By the time Jim’s mouth moved to speak, Spock had disappeared up the steps.

Jim exhaled loudly and rubbed hard at his face. Slouching down in his seat, he poked violently at his food. Way to go, Jimbo.

~*~

Jim forced down a couple more bites of food and started trying to clean up. He had no idea what habits Spock had or if he’d put things away correctly, but he did the best he could. He nursed a sour attitude with lots of self-flagellation and some brief questioning about the wisdom of having his tongue removed.

Jim’s movements were slow as he loaded plates and bowls into the sonic dishwasher. His feelings, he realized, were about much more than just Spock. Sure, he’d screwed up, but what really struck him was the hollow feeling in his chest after he’d left. He’d heard amazing things about Vulcan bonding, and maybe a small part of him had hoped, really hoped despite his better (questionable) judgment that the bond with Spock might be amazing. Really, if he were being honest with himself, it was that promise that made the decision for him. Sure, he wanted to stay alive, but he trusted himself and his abilities well enough to know that he’d have found a way out of Alpha quadrant and would have stayed alive on his wits and charm. He always had.

The bond though, the potential of it, had seduced him. So much so that it had made him naive enough to believe that maybe Spock felt the same. From everything Jim had heard, Spock had been isolated for a long time, and maybe, just maybe, he was lonely, too.

Fuck. He was a moron. Why would a Vulcan want to get hitched to an impulsive, loudmouthed, insensitive traitor?

Fuck.

Finished with cleaning, Jim pounded his fists lightly on the counter, uncertain how to proceed. With a quick glance around the kitchen, flicked off the lights and started up the stairs towards the great room. As he emerged, he saw the last tendrils of the Vulcan sun setting over the mountains. Pale orange seeped into violet, spreading across the sky in a vibrant panorama of dramatic color. He paused, taking in the view and sensed hope expanding once more in his chest. He had to let go of his expectations, try to move slowly. This was a different species, for fuck’s sake and he was barging in like he owned the place. Well, he could do it differently…right?

As the sun finally disappeared behind the mountains, Jim took a breath and headed towards Spock’s office.

He found the room dark except for a small lamp illuminating a botanical print in the corner. Jim checked the other rooms and the bedroom but did not find Spock anywhere. Figures, he mused, I’d probably leave, too.

With a sigh, Jim stared out the bedroom windows as the stars emerged to replace the sun. He’d try again in the morning, figure out some way to connect to Spock. His shoulders sagged as he stripped off his clothes and slipped once more between the cool sheets. He had no idea where Spock was or if he’d be sleeping here, too, but he didn’t know what else to do.

~*~

Sometime deep into the night, Jim sensed a warm body pressed against him. His mind cleared slowly as he became aware of the soft, warm breath on his neck. With surprise, Jim registered his husband sleeping next to him, his chest hot against his back, arm draped casually around his waist. He blinked his eyes several times just to make sure he was not dreaming.

His wakefulness must have alerted the Vulcan’s sensitive telepathy and Jim sensed Spock’s body stiffen. A moment later, Spock rolled away, leaving Jim feeling cold and weirdly bereft. Jim’s mind spun, wondering what had just happened… had Spock intentionally touched him or was it accidental. Sleep snuggling? Was that a thing? What did it mean?

Jim felt very much out of his element here. Quick thinking worked well in combat exercises and in a class full of naive Starfleet cadets, but this…this intimacy. Jim was pretty dumb when it came to slowing down and figuring out the right thing to do. He went through life trusting his gut and for the most part, it had saved him. Now, though, he felt small and uncertain, rejection looming large in his mind. He didn’t know Spock at all. He was obviously fragile and Jim was like a wrecking ball. Damn it to hell anyway.

Jim lay frozen, lost in his thoughts when Spock slid off the bed and went to stand in front of the window. Vulcan had no moon, but his silhouette was outlined in starlight from the clear Vulcan sky. Jim sat up against the pillows and watched him, his straight, unmoving posture speaking volumes.

After a few moments, Spock spoke quietly, obviously aware that Jim was awake. “I traveled to Terra six years ago with my mother and father. We visited several cities around the world, but it was the moon that most captivated me. Since that time, I have often wished to see a Vulcan moon.”

Jim paused, planning his words carefully. “It’s a popular subject on Earth. Songs, poems, movies…it’s always pretty romanticized. I think I probably take it for granted, wanting for so long to travel away from Earth and explore uncharted galaxies. I always assumed that other moons were much more interesting, ya know?”

“There is a saying, is there not, in Standard, about greener grass?” Spock asked.

“Yeah. We say, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’. Meaning that we always think what we don’t have is better than what we already have.”

“Yes. That is it. Sometimes, I wonder if it is true. If sometimes, the grass is greener on the other side.”

“I suppose sometimes it is. Sometimes things suck so bad where you are that anything has to be better,” Jim said, thinking of the farmhouse in Iowa and Frank’s endless abuse. It’s all been better than that.

“Yes. I find that to be true, as well.” Spock said slowly, his voice pensive.

Jim didn’t answer, pleased at the gentle nature of the conversation. It seemed that Spock had accepted his apology, and if he could just stay quiet, maybe it could last.

“Were you speaking the truth this evening?” Spock asked a few moments later, his voice barely audible, the silhouette of his body seeming to turn towards Jim. “About my appearance?”

Jim paused, afraid to say the wrong thing again about this most sensitive of topics. “Yes,” he said carefully. “I meant it. I—” Jim stopped himself from saying more.

Spock didn’t answer, but turned back to the window. Jim, feeling emboldened, flipped away the covers and padded to stand next to Spock.

“You’re a touch telepath, right?” He asked.

“Yes, as all Vulcans are.” He glanced at Jim, the whites of his eyes visible in the dim light.

“Then know how I feel,” Jim said, and slid his hand into Spock’s, gripping it tightly. “Read my thoughts, Spock.”

Jim held his breath for an eternal moment until Spock pressed his fingers against his hand. He thought as loudly as he could, calling up his hopes, his sadness about Spock and his life, the curious circumstances that kept him disfigured when new skin could be easily regenerated.

He heard Spock inhale before he spoke. “I sense your honesty...and curiosity. But also fear, Jim. A fear I myself share. As half-human, my mother encouraged me to understand my feelings even if I could not show them among my fellow Vulcans. I must acknowledge my deep fear that this bonding would trap us both. That my father was somehow wrong…that you—”

“No. It doesn’t have to be that way. I wanted it, Spock. For more than the Vulcan citizenship. The bonds of your people are legendary…profound even. We have nothing so certain or sure among humans.” Jim turned and faced Spock, making out the faint marks on his skin. He wanted to touch him, feel the scars, let Spock know it didn’t matter, but he kept his free hand tightly at his side.

Spock eased his fingers out of Jim’s. “My mother spoke of the difficulty of being bonded to a Vulcan. Not unkindly, but her human nature, full of laughter and tears, was out of place on this world. I sensed at times that she was unhappy…” Spock let his head drop and Jim felt the ache in his chest once more.

“I’m not her, Spock. You’re not your dad. Maybe it can be different…” Jim didn’t know what else to say.

“We shall see,” Spock said with a quick inhale.

After an awkward moment, Jim spoke. “I’m going to go back to bed. I hope…well, let’s see how tomorrow goes. One day at a time, okay?”

“Indeed,” Spock said, but not unkindly.

Without commotion, Jim eased back into the bed and lay staring at Spock’s shape in the window. After a few minutes, Spock climbed back into the bed and faced the wall. Neither slept for a long time.

~*~

Five Years Earlier

Amanda sat at her writing desk, tapping slowly on a PADD as she scanned her notes from the most recent transplants. The corner of her PADD flashed, indicating a message awaiting her. She resolutely ignored it and finished the entries, cross-referencing them with the corresponding cacti in her database. This month’s drier winds would challenge the flowering cycle of at least three species that had shown some promise.

Laying the device on the desk, she pushed back and glanced out the window at the setting sun. The room was cool despite the shimmering red light spilling across the pale stones of her office. She took a breath and smoothed her hair — Sarek would arrive soon with Spock for dinner. She frowned, feeling a heaviness in her breast. She’d been avoiding Sarek for several weeks, but it was Spock who had finally insisted on seeing her.

With slow movements, Amanda worked in the kitchen to finish preparations for Spock’s favorite meal. Her fingers felt numb and disconnected from her body as she worked. Her entire existence felt separate from the reality of her life, as if she were watching herself from afar.

An hour later, with the table set for three, Amanda donned a pale blue robe which highlighted the deep auburn of her hair. She’d lost weight, she thought, as she twisted her hair into a high Vulcan knot in the mirror. Her cheekbones, more pronounced with her weight loss, highlighted her wide blue eyes. She’d been called beautiful in her youth, but here on Vulcan, she was simply seen as an oddity — a being to be stared at in the market or ignored as inferior to other women. During the early days of her marriage to Sarek, she welcomed that attention, subverting it by laughing loudly with a wide open smile or sticking out her tongue — anything to make the reserved Vulcans show an inkling of emotion. It had kept her amused among a people who thought nothing of her.

The chime of the door pulled Amanda out of her thoughts and she let her family into the great room.

“Mother,” Spock said. “I wish you greetings.” He moved stiffly out of the way as Sarek entered.

“My wife,” Sarek said formally. “Greetings. I trust you are well?”

“Come in. I have our meal prepared. It is quite dry today, is it not?” she asked, unwilling to answer questions about her welfare.

“Indeed,” Spock answered and Amanda ignored the way his perceptive eyes lingered on her face. “You have lost weight, mother. Are you well?”

Amanda faked a kind smile. “The dry season seems to steal my appetite, Spock. I am sure it is the heat.”

“Yes, mother. May I inquire as to your new plantings?” Her son asked, glancing towards the terrace.

“They are struggling. The dry season has come early this year. I expected a bloom before the winds began.”

“The nim-tel-aki is indeed thirty-one days earlier than last year. I trust the native species are adapting well?” Spock said.

“Yes, they are doing quite beautifully, as are the hybrids. The small Coryphantha vivipara have struggled for the last year and I expect they will not make it.”

“Have you considered moving them to front of the house, to enjoy the captured shade of the rock face?”

“I moved two of them, yes, but they did not respond well. I shall leave the rest on the terrace and add additional nutrients at the roots.”

“As you see fit, mother. You are the expert.” Spock stated without inflection.

“Yes. How are you, Spock? Have you completed your seasonal exams?”

Sarek interrupted Spock’s response. “Wife, if you will excuse me. I have received a call from the embassy. I will take it in the office.”

Amanda simply nodded and watched her husband walk away, imagining she felt the pull of their long-blocked bond. It should not have been possible to sense him, so Amanda chalked it up to her imagination.

“Spock?” Amanda asked, prompting her son to speak.

“Yes. My exams have been completed and I am preparing for the next term to begin in six days.”

“How are you finding the other students?” she asked, directing Spock towards the double doors that led outside. Her son had always had difficulty making friends.

“I am concerned with my studies, mother. Not the whims of the other students.”

“I understand, Spock, but…I worry. Oh, you know us humans. Always finding something to concern ourselves with.” She gave a dry chuckle.

“Indeed, mother. You need not worry. My grades are impeccable and I have received commendations in two subjects.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, Spock,” she said, pride nudging her listlessness aside for the moment. She loved her son so much.

“It serves my purposes well, mother. I intend to graduate one term early and shall go south to the Dva-kel caves to study the propagation of the underground gishvara plants. You are familiar with them?”

“Of course. They are quite remarkable.” The pair passed through the doors and out into the dry sun. Amanda watched without comment as Spock inspected her plants, smiling faintly at his inquisitive nature and capturing the sight of him to keep in her memory.