None of them were quite sober when they left the café - a cramped, sparsely lit affair with a view of Yorktown’s central plaza, which according to Jim served the best Earth-Orion fusion in the sector. Spock had to admit the food was excellent, although, after months of preprocessed meals, just the taste of fresh vegetables had been enough to convince him. That, and of course the company. When Jim had ordered them all nightcaps ‘to drink to the good times’, even Spock had not found it in himself to decline.
He wondered now if that had been wise. It was their first evening away from the Enterprise , and both Jim and the doctor had a reputation for ‘partying hard’. Until yesterday, Spock had thought he’d be spending his time in Yorktown with Nyota, which tended to mean long walks, a few quieter bars, and dinner. The local nightlife, in contrast, had never seemed less appealing. Especially after the news about Ambassador Spock.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” They were riding the transport back to the habitat ring, Jim’s breath fogging the window as he spoke. “The size of the place… Still gets to me every time.”
Doctor McCoy, standing stiffly upright in the middle of the cabin, gave him a look that radiated scorn. “It’s a damn beach ball. In space. How can you look at it and not wonder what might happen if it popped?”
“Couldn’t say, Bones.” Jim shrugged. “The same way I can think the Enterprise is beautiful without worrying too much about breaking her? Just… live in the moment. You should try it sometime.” His face lit up with a private smile. “You’re the science officer, Spock. What do you think?”
Not too long in the past, that sentence would have started with ‘you’re Vulcan’ instead, but Spock felt little nostalgia for those days. Nor for a time where he’d have sided with either Jim or the doctor on what was, in essence, a matter of perspective. “There is merit in both viewpoints,” he said, earning him two near-simultaneous snorts. “I understand the desire to live in the moment… yet I, too, experience difficulties doing so. As Lieutenant Uhura has frequently pointed out.”
“She had to point it out once too often - is that what went wrong between you two?” The doctor’s tone was unironic. The food and alcohol must have mellowed him, because he actually leaned over to pat Spock’s arm. “Can’t say I’m well-placed to advise you on spontaneous living, but maybe Jim can help with that.”
The face Jim turned towards them looked atypically flustered; for once, Spock could not parse his expression at all. Had the doctor’s statement contained some hidden meaning? Before he could ask, the transport pod slowed, the computer calling out their stop.
Spock let the others exit first, then fell into step at Jim’s shoulder. To his surprise, they seemed to be heading back towards their lodgings rather than to some local bar. After the ease of the past few hours, an odd tension seemed to be taking hold, but Spock had no idea how to disperse it. He thought he glimpsed Jim’s hand brushing McCoy’s hip - quite an intimate gesture, even for him - and then the doctor nodding, as if something was just settled between them. When they reached their quarters, Jim cleared his throat.
“Spock.” Jim’s tone was light, but his posture betrayed his tension. He rocked gently on the balls of his feet. “Bones and me have this… thing, where we… get together sometimes, blow off some steam. Since you’re no longer seeing Uhura, I thought… maybe you’d like to join us too?”
For a moment, Spock couldn’t match the question, innocuous as it seemed, to the expectant glitter in Jim’s eyes. As for why he had mentioned Spock’s breakup with Nyota…
His confusion grew when he looked at McCoy, who was rolling his eyes at them from beside the door to Jim’s room. “Jim, boy, you’re getting rusty. Nothing wrong with being subtle, but I don’t think Spock has a clue what you just invited him for. You know what a threesome is, right, Spock?”
Oh. Spock took in Jim’s flushed expression, mentally contrasted it to the doctor’s impish grin. “You are referring to…”
McCoy huffed. “Now, don’t go and call it ‘intercourse’, Spock. Can’t have you spoiling all the fun.”
Jim saved him from having to respond to that by taking off his combadge to toss it to McCoy - who took the hint, if indeed it was one. Still smirking, the doctor overrode the thumbprint lock and went inside.
“You can call it what you want, Spock,” Jim said softly. “And it’s fine to say no. But I know nights can get lonely when you have to spend them alone.”
Was ‘lonely’ metaphorical? Most likely. Spock was was well aware that living on a starship made certain… urges… difficult to satisfy. But the look in Jim’s eyes was not so much desire as something else. In fact, it did look like loneliness, the real thing, and Spock found himself drawn in despite his apprehension. “I was not aware that you and the Doctor are… pursuing a relationship.”
“It’s not a relationship,” Jim said, almost too quickly. “This is - just casual.”
“Don’t believe him, Spock!” the doctor called from inside. “Man just doesn't know when he’s in love.” There was a long moment in which Jim sputtered and blushed and then, finally, burst out laughing. A few seconds later, McCoy poked his head through the door. “I told you this wasn’t a good idea, Jim. Now we’ve scared him off for sure.”
“Bones,” Jim said, half-pleading. Then, “It’s all right, Spock. No hard feelings if you decline.”
His answer should have been obvious. Even apart from the fact he had little interest in sex, engaging in it with his commanding officer - even if Jim was also his friend, and even if this was ‘just casual’; a fact of which Spock remained unconvinced - could not be a wise choice under any circumstances. After his breakup with Nyota, that was even more true. But he was curious, and reluctant to part company. And there was something quite moving about… not just the hope in Jim’s eyes, but how hard he was working to conceal it. Turning that hope into disappointment would be almost cruel.
Spock took a breath. “Does… ‘joining you’… involve a commitment to participate?”
Jim looked as if he’d been braced for any answer except that. “It doesn’t… have to?” he said, making it sound like a question itself. He glanced back as if for McCoy’s support, but the doctor had just sauntered back inside. “Spock… Was that a yes?”
“It was,” Spock said, his courage wavering slightly. He supposed he should enter the room as well, but Jim was standing between him and the doorway, still with that same, mildly puzzled expression. The grin that replaced it started out hesitant, then spilled over like sunshine bursting through clouds.
Jim darted forward, squeezing Spock’s hand as if it was something precious. “I’m glad you’re staying,” he whispered. Stunned, Spock allowed himself to be led inside.
The room itself was standard issue: it held a bed, an armchair and a desk, all drab enough to neither please nor offend. The doctor looked up from removing his boots when they entered. “Spontaneous living after all, huh, Spock? How ‘bout that?”
Jim gestured at the bed and chair. “Go ahead and get comfortable, Spock. No rush, we’ve got all night.”
McCoy was on his feet, grasping a fistful of Jim’s jacket while his other arm snaked around Jim’s waist. “Speak for yourself, Jim. Some of us do need sleep at some point.”
“Some of us must be really damn horny,” Jim countered, earning him a slap to the thigh.
Spock was grateful for the presence of the armchair; sitting down, it was easier to order his thoughts. He supposed he should take off some of his clothes, but he was wearing civilian trousers and a shirt, none of which he would feel comfortable removing. In the end he settled for his socks and shoes. Keeping them on might be impractical, and he’d hardly feel naked without them.
As he blinked up to the sight of Jim stripping off his underwear, Spock realized he might be in over his head.
Jim kicked absently at his discarded clothing, then padded over towards Spock's chair. Of course this wasn’t the first time he’d seen Jim naked; still, it was different, even knowing that it shouldn’t have been. But Jim looked at ease with this in a way Spock never would be, toes curled into the carpet, hands loosely on hips.
It helped to think about those hands: the way they’d tighten on the edge of a chair, or hold on to a cup of coffee in the morning. Or touch Spock’s shoulder, expressing agreement with something he’d said. Spock took a breath, struck by the thought he might ask for those hands to do anything, and - here and now, at least - Jim would likely accept. The possibilities made him feel slightly dizzy. “Captain…”
“It’s Jim, Spock. And that’s Bones, right there.” Jim pointed at McCoy, sprawled on the edge of the mattress.
“That’s Leonard to you.” The doctor narrowed his eyes. “For God’s sake, Jim. The man’s new to this. At least give him some time to get used to the idea.” The look he shot Spock was almost conspiratorial, with a hint of real concern. “Get out of his hair and just… come to bed.”
Spock could think of plenty of words to describe the doctor - passionate, loyal, stubborn, acerbic - but until now, ‘tender’ had never been on that list. Watching him coax Jim onto the mattress, Spock had to admit he might have been in error. The way Jim relaxed into the embrace, allowing himself to be eased down onto his stomach… every gesture between them looked both effortless and familiar, and Spock felt a rare stab of envy at the sight.
“Dammit, you’re tense.” That was - Leonard, Spock reminded himself, the doctor's head dipping down to kiss the nape of Jim’s neck.
Jim snorted, the sound muffled against the pillows. “Bones, of all the cliché lines…”
“In a pig’s eye. You might have a point if you weren’t a walking cliché yourself.” The whole exchange - punctuated by little moans and matter-of-fact kisses - had the feel of a well-worn conversation, honed by frequent use. “And you are tense. I’ve been saying it for months, but I’d swear it got worse once we set foot on this goddamned station.”
“Give it a rest, Bones.”
“Oh, so something is wrong?” Leonard’s hands dug at Jim’s shoulder blades. At some point, they both seemed to have forgotten about Spock’s presence; or perhaps they merely wanted him to think they had.
“What’s wrong is that you - won’t - stop - talking.” Jim tried to wriggle out of the doctor's grip, ending up on elbows and knees instead.
“I’ll stop talking once I’ve got you where I want to. Which is just about now, lucky for you.” There was the sound of a hand slapping Jim’s - ass, Spock thought; the word in this context was ass - and then a whisper, “Dammit, I want you, Jim.”
Jim chuckled in delight. “Why, Bones. I think you do.” He pointed his chin to the nightstand. “D’you want me to get -”
“Already taken care of.” Leonard reached for something tucked away on the bottom shelf.
“Taking control, Bones?” Jim laughed again.
“Always am.” Leonard leaned back on his heels. “I just let you believe it’s you who’s setting the rules. It usually works, too.” A quick twist and squeeze, and Spock was breathing in an unfamiliar scent, spicy but subtle. Leonard rubbed his hands together, then looked at Spock as if for permission - or perhaps inviting him to reconsider. When Spock merely nodded, he went on, unperturbed. “Relax, Jim. I know what I’m doing here.”
“Yeah, Bones. That’s… good.” Jim breathed out sharply, his stomach muscles contracting. Spock was struck by a sudden compulsion to touch him, smooth out the tension if he could, but fear of interrupting won out on his desire. Certainly Jim did not require assistance; at least not the kind Spock was compelled to offer, and the doctor seemed to have the other kind well in hand. But the desire remained, even when he wrapped his hands around the armrests and attempted to chase the thought from his head.
The decision to close his eyes was pure impulse, which he expected to regret almost instantly. But he could tell that progress was being made even without watching: Jim’s moans of encouragement were quickly turning ragged, and the doctor’s breathing was frantic and deep. Spock shuddered, caught between feeling too much and too little: the assault on his senses was near overwhelming, but at the same time he longed to move closer, be part of the others’ pleasure somehow.
“Jim -” Leonard’s voice broke his focus, desperate and rough with need. “I won’t last. I’m - gonna -”
“It’s fine, Bones,” Jim muttered; spent, broken, triumphant. “Let it go. Just… come for me.”
Spock could almost imagine Jim’s expression, the doctor’s body going limp with relief right before the breath exploded out of him. Afterwards, there was the shifting of bodies against each other, the sticky press and release of skin separating from skin.
Jim spoke while Spock was still trying to quiet his own heartbeat. “You okay, Spock? What’s wrong?”
Spock opened his eyes. “I am… fine.” For a moment, he himself was not quite convinced, but it also did not feel like a lie. Certainly, the sight of Jim looking all flushed and disheveled did much to distract him from his private troubles. “What makes you believe I would not be?”
“Well…” Jim worked himself into a sitting position. Behind him, Leonard was pretending to be busy rearranging the sheets around himself. “You had your eyes closed, for one. When you said you’d like to be here…” Jim licked a bead of moisture from his lip. “You weren’t saying it just because you thought I expected it, did you? I mean, it’s really not my business how you choose to enjoy this, but if it turns out you’re not enjoying it at all…”
Spock unclenched his hands with an effort. “It is… difficult to explain.”
“Okay,” Jim said slowly. “Could you try anyway? I can’t help unless I know what’s going on. Are you…” He ran a hand through his hair. “Was it me? Did I pressure you into this, even though you didn’t -”
“Hold your horses, Jim. That’s an awful lot of questions at once.” Leonard’s hand was on Jim’s shoulder, his tone gentle. “Have you imagined that the man might… y’know, prefer to keep some things private? Just because your concept of personal space is all screwy doesn’t mean it’s the same for the rest of us.”
“It’s quite all right… Leonard.” Spock took care to use the doctor’s first name. He could not help but compose a mental image of the scene: Jim and Leonard, both naked, and himself, still fully clothed aside from his bare feet. Put that way, it sounded like a travesty; yet neither of his friends had found fault with the arrangement, so at least he owed them frankness now. “I assure you, Jim, there was no pressure. I am here because I wish to be. Nonetheless, my… reluctance to be an active participant is sincere. It is not prudishness, and you need not fear that ‘it was you’. It is merely that…” He still struggled to say it. “The mechanics of sex hold little appeal to me.”
“I see.” Jim was frowning, not in disapproval, but as people did when willing themselves to understand. “So, uh, is this a Vulcan thing? Or a… you thing?”
“The latter, I’ve been told.”
“But, you and Uhura. I’m sure you two…” Jim made a helpless gesture.
“We… engaged in intercourse on occasion. Though rarely in the traditional way.”
“She didn't mind, then? Or was that why you and her…”
“The reason for our separation is quite unrelated.” To be able to state that with certainty was almost cathartic in its own way. He had never been with anyone other than Nyota, and their first time had been well before his Pon Farr. Back then, he had attributed his lack of desire to mere timing, then later to some flaw of genetics; in due course, he had come to see that it was neither. “Nyota is aware of this - difference - between us. As far as I know, she both accepted it and understood.”
“Well, that’s… great,” Jim offered awkwardly, then lapsed into silence. To Spock's surprise, it was the doctor who pressed on.
“Okay, Spock. Let me see if I got this. You have no interest in having sex -” Spock flinched at hearing the words spoken so plainly, “- which is fine, by the way, and it’s really none of my concern. Or it wouldn’t be, except that you came in here with us, and you just told Jim that wasn’t a mistake. So…” Leonard shrugged, looking out of his depth for the first time. “What are you getting out of this, Spock? No, I’ll put it differently. What can we do to help us all feel a little more confident you are getting something out of this?”
“That’s a good question, Spock,” Jim added softly. “And I’d really like to know the answer too.”
Spock stared at his bare feet, pale against the carpet. Were they asking him to compromise, look for some middle ground where he would be only slightly uncomfortable? He shivered, knowing he would not manage that either. “Jim, I… cannot have sex with you. Technically… I am capable, but I assure you it would not bring either of us pleasure.”
"I understand that,” Jim said earnestly. “But that’s not what we’re asking. What we’re asking is: what do you like?”
“‘Like’?” Spock repeated. “Do you mean…”
“What do you enjoy , Spock?” Leonard made a face at him. “What makes you feel all warm and tingly inside? There must be something, or you wouldn’t be here now.”
The question, for all its simplicity, caught Spock off guard. But there was no teasing in Jim’s or the doctor’s faces, only genuine curiosity. “There can be… pleasure, for me, in experiencing the pleasure of others. Either through observation or touch.” That description was painfully imprecise, but it was the best he could manage for now.
“Ah.” Jim’s eyes had acquired that familiar twinkle which meant he was close to working something out. “Did you say… touch, Spock?”
“Vulcans are touch telepaths. Sometimes, when I was with Nyota, we would share minds while she… pleasured herself.” He stopped, becoming aware of Leonard’s carefully blank expression.
“You did ask, Bones,” Jim muttered, lips twitching as he patted the doctor’s thigh. “Let’s just… not tell Uhura about this conversation, right?” He sobered. “Spock. Earlier, when Bones was… when you were listening to us… you looked upset. Was what we were doing upsetting to you?”
“Merely… overwhelming. Hence why I chose only to listen, not watch. But I confess that for a moment… ” Spock’s hands clenched involuntarily, “… I wished that I could have been… closer, perhaps.”
Jim’s eyes widened, his throat working. Self-consciousness made Spock lower his eyes, only to be distracted by the rustle of sheets. By the time he looked up, Jim had got to his feet and covered the two or so paces towards him, then, to Spock’s astonishment, dropped to his knees.
“Closer. Like this?” Jim took his hand, only to proceed to - Spock groped for the proper term - nuzzle it, lips nipping at Spock’s palm and the inside of his wrist.
For an instant, Spock could not tell if the desire that swept through him belonged to himself or Jim, or both. Startled, he jerked his hand from Jim’s grasp. “I apologize. I was not shielding -”
“Forget it, Spock. You’ve got my permission to feel anything that's going on inside my head. Or anywhere below it, for that matter.” Jim grinned and reached for Spock’s wrist again. “If I cross the line, stop me,” he whispered, then pulled down Spock’s head, kissing him full on the lips.
Logically, shielding his mind should have come as naturally as breathing - but it seemed logic was failing him where Jim was concerned. Jim’s thoughts swept past his defenses like a whirlwind, as eager as the mouth pressed against his own, and Jim’s mind-voice rippled with low, fond laughter. Damn… you’ve got no idea how long I’ve been wanting to kiss you, Spock.
Jim did not break the kiss so much as ease away from it, sucking Spock’s lower lip before he let go. “Still all right?” he murmured against Spock’s cheek.
“Good.” This time Jim did pull back, getting to his feet with Spock’s hand in his. “C’mere, then,” he said, and tugged him towards the bed.
Spock ended up against the headboard with his legs pulled up, attempting not to be distracted by Leonard smirking at him from the other end. With a grunt, Jim settled in between them.
“No rules, Spock. I won't tell you what to do, and I’ll try to do whatever you ask… within reason. Think you can work with that?”
Spock allowed himself the beginning of a smile. “Within reason - I believe I can.”
Jim nodded, then grinned at Leonard. “Bones? I think you owe me one.”
“You been keeping count? I’m a doctor, not an actuary!” But Leonard was already shifting position, making room for Jim to stretch out. “Fine. Lie back and relax, then, Captain. Let a professional do the work this time.”
Jim rolled onto his back, smiling up at the ceiling. “Why, Bones. I thought you did the work earlier, too.”
“What can I say, I’m very diligent. I don’t s’pose it might earn me a raise sometime?”
“That would be highly irregular,” Spock said, with exaggerated dignity. “Starfleet article 131b clearly states that officers are never to accept compensation for services of a sexual nature, even if -”
“Whoa, Spock... What?” Jim stared at him - which, since his face was almost level with Spock’s knees, required him to crane his neck rather awkwardly. Gathering his courage, Spock used the moment to reach out and scoop Jim’s head into his lap.
Jim’s eyes widened. “You were pulling my leg, you cheeky…”
“… green-blooded bastard!” Leonard finished for him. “Dammit, Jim, you stealing my lines now, too? Of course he was kidding. Or are you so lovestruck you forgot your First Officer has a sense of humor these days?”
“Couldn’t say, Bones.” Jim sounded faintly breathless. Spock had lowered his hands to either side of Jim’s forehead, and, as he brought up two fingers to seek the connection, Jim sighed and turned his face into the touch.
"Sentimental fools, the both of you,” Leonard grumbled affably, then bent over and took Jim into his mouth.
Jim’s eyes widened, one hand coming up to clutch at Spock’s wrist. He groaned, then chuckled brokenly. “Bones, a warning would have been… oh. ”
"I concur,” Spock gasped. The physical sensation was vaguely familiar, and not quite as unpleasant as he recalled, yet his first instinct was to recoil from it. But this was not his own body, it was Jim’s - Jim, who thrived on touch and physicality and risk and, yes, lust, but never merely that. There was joy here, too - at being alive, at experiencing this, at not spending tonight alone but surrounded by those he…
Spock blinked, afraid for a moment he had got it wrong. But no, there it was: the sleek golden thread of affection that, until now, Spock had never known ran quite so deep - not just for Leonard, but for him as well.
You… love me? Spock asked, stunned. Then, cautiously, Did you not say this was ‘casual’, Jim?
Yes, Jim thought back at him, … and yes. His mental voice sparkled with humor, even as he struggled to focus on something other than Leonard’s attentions, and the little tremors they sent running through him even now. You saved me, Spock. He sounded slightly ragged. You and Bones and the others. I was lost, before, and I - I don’t know where I’d be without you. How could I not love you for that?
For a moment, Spock tried to come up with an answer, his mind supplying several at once: I merely did my duty; surely you would also have found a purpose without us; if anyone saved you, it was Captain Pike. All of them true, and all missing the point. If Jim was saying I love you and you helped me be better, there could be only one answer to that.
Spock took a breath, gaze fixed on the erratic rise and fall of Jim’s chest. He would not last much longer; Leonard would be proud. The past three years have been… a challenge, but I have not regretted them. Not for an instant. And… not now.
He could see Jim become aware when he opened himself - could read it in the lines of his face as he stiffened, then relaxed and simply embraced it, with the reckless abandon Spock knew so well. Jim’s breath was coming in frantic little gulps, his hand clutching at Spock’s as the last of his control came apart. But his heart was soaring, and this time Spock did not recoil as the first of the spasms started, Jim’s mouth falling open in a wordless sigh.
Spock shuddered as his own back arched, the resonance too strong now to stop it; for a moment, when Jim cried out, he was aware he had echoed the sound. Then, just as the intensity was becoming too much, the wave ebbed and his mind was his own again.
Jim let his head sag back, giving Spock a shattered grin. Leonard was sitting up, pink-cheeked and panting and looking smug as if he had just won a prize, and in that instant, there was nothing in the universe which did not feel right.
There was something to be said for living in the moment. Spock thought he might grow used to it yet.