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Feelings Are Boring

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Star Trek Big Bang 2011
Art by Candy:
Mix by Devyn:

I’d make a joke about the hot mess being by Meg, but I think we’re probably past that by now. WAIT, NO, THE SEX PANTHER JOKE WAS ALINA'S FAULT AND SHE STILL OWES ME A DRINK. OR FIVE DOLLARS. OR MER FIVE DOLLARS SINCE MER GAVE ME BEER WHEN SHE WAS VISITING.


It starts the day Jim finds out Spock hates alarm clocks.

They've learned, through somewhat painful experience, that sharing a room on away missions is much less awful and embarrassing, not to mention easier on everybody's nerves, than separate quarters. Even if Jim does snore like a wildebeest, and Spock does roll himself in all of the covers like a giant salsa verde burrito, it's better than waking up to assassins (or not waking up to knock-out gas) alone.

Jim's comm makes one, tiny peep.

Spock reaches over and breaks the damn thing in half.

Jim's wide awake now, even without the singer’s trilling "ba-ba-ba-BABABA~ It's a beautiful day!" at him, cowering against the wall (Spock is very strict about Jim being in the defensible position, which, bullshit) and staring at Spock with huge, horrified eyes. The old man keeps hinting ominously about how Vulcans could go completely batshit under circumstances left unspecified, and Jim wonders if this is how it begins.

Spock pulls the covers over his shoulder and turns further into the pillow, with an air that, in a human, would be a satisfied snuggle.

"Spock?" ventures Jim.

No response but Spock burrowing further into the covers.

Jim decides he doesn't have any damn time for this, especially since now he has to call the Quartermaster on Spock's comm and ask for a new one for himself, and reprogram it. Again. Besides, his alarm had been set this early to allow for manly wandering around and scratching his balls, blearily drinking coffee, reading all the news that was (in Uhura's opinion) news, doing his morning stretches, and, in general, staging the appearance of a charming and intelligent young officer of Starfleet.

Spock, the asshole, could get up ten minutes before he had to be somewhere and look as composed as if he'd had an hour for breakfast and half an hour in the tub.

Jim thinks wistfully about pouring cold water on Spock, but he doesn't want to waste the dermal regenerator’s charge on healing his face after Spock punches him across the room. He's pretty sure they won't need the regenerators this mission, but considering they had to bring the special type that breaks down after the charge is exhausted, he doesn't care to take the chance. Jim sighs, untangles himself from the covers and crawls out the foot of the bed. The pile of covers doesn't even twitch.

Two hours later, Spock sits straight up. Jim stops his sit-ups for a second to watch the fun. Spock blinks once, twice, and then his eyes clear as Spock's brain finishes the boot sequence. "Captain," he says. Spock does not believe in saying good morning.

"Good morning," says Jim, because Jim is an asshole. He goes back to his sit-ups.

Spock blinks again, as the communicator slides down and lands on his lap."Why is your communicator on me? Why is it broken?"

"To remind me –" Jim takes a breath as he lifts himself up "– to tell you to explain to Higgins why you broke it this morning. They're –" another huff, as he reaches his sixth rep of 50 "– pretty upset right now."

"I have repeatedly asked you to not call them that," says Spock, ignoring the main issue. "Their name is –"

Jim stops long enough to clear his throat and give his best shot at Lt Higgins' name, which is something like a wet cough, or really rusty gears.

Spock winces.

"Higgins doesn't mind," says Jim, continuing his last rep. "They told – thirty-six, thirty-seven – Uhura to call them Higgins, and if Uhura can't do it, what of us mere mortals? “

Spock gets the look that means he agrees with Jim, but it causes him acute nausea to do so. Jim loves that look; it's like sunshine for his ego.

He gets up, though, and calls Higgins while Jim finishes his exercises and drinks a glucose thing that Bones makes him take with him whenever he goes beyond the reach of a hypospray. Jim's got no idea what's in it but Bones invented it himself. It tastes kind of like lemon jelly. It has vitamins and shit in it, and probably the essence of Bones' hatred of everything.

“Yes,” says Spock, as Jim picks up his uniform and heads towards the en-suite bathroom. “I understand, Lieutenant, but it is illogical to --”

Jim leaves him to it.

The inhabitants of Lyra V are felinoids that remind Jim vaguely of Vulcans - not that Vulcans really come across as cats any more, beyond their creepy habit of staring at people and their double eyelids - but in a way that reminds him Vulcans were once apex predators.

They're pretty attractive to Federation species, all long smooth lines and sleek fur. Their eyes are strange, though: compound, like black-spotted amber. Jim doesn't mind the eyes so much as he does their hands: two fingers, thumb, with claws designed to rip through prey-flesh like butter. Spock isn't weirded out by the hand thing at all, although Jim supposes that might just be because Vulcans gave up retractable claws so recently, some of them are still born with an extra muscle on their fingertips.

Basically what Jim is saying is that he really, really would like the Lyrans to continue to like them, because he has seen pictures of what happens when they don't. Their favored weapon is a sheath that fits over their clawed hand (and Lyran claws are terrifying enough), made of some unknown but brutally sturdy alloy. Apparently the warrior caste considers it the done thing to open up a vein and pour a pint or so of blood into the molten metal and cooling water.

Starfleet knows this because the Klingon empire once tried to annex Lyra V. The Lyrans sent part of the invading army back, tanned into leather and painted with a scene detailing the invaders' fate, and then sent some charming little leathery bags and their compliments to the Federation, requesting membership. As Pike says, they could waste time being shocked and appalled, or they could get themselves a badass new ally; Starfleet’s going for the new ally.

Sometimes Jim wonders what it must be like to serve in a Starfleet where the peacekeeping armada of science and exploration is more about peacekeeping and science and less about warfare and protection, but he’s pretty sure he’s never going to find out.

The Lyrans are good people; Jim likes them. They're very courteous and flatteringly interested in the Federation, and despite the fact they asked for Jim and Spock because of the whole, you know, crazy Romulan thing, they never touch on the subject at all. Jim appreciates this a whole hell of a lot. They seem to take a lot of pride in their hospitality, and Jim's not entirely without hope that this isn't going to end in tears or firefights. They're kind and hospitable and curious about Spock, but they're sympathetic enough to not try touching Spock after the first time he flinches imperceptibly back, even without Jim having to say something. They just touch Jim instead. Jim loves it: he loves how they stroke his hair and put their razor-clawed hands delicately on his back, his arm; wrap their soft tails confidingly against his legs as they speak. They smell delicious, especially when they rub their cheeks against his in greeting. Spock goes through a variety of faces, but ends up on resigned most of the time.

Even Spock doesn't seem to mind the children coming up to him, crowding around: he lets them lean up against him and even allows the bolder ones to climb on his lap. Jim's seen it with other Vulcans, too; they just like kids. It's probably something to do with their touch-telepathy. Even before Vulcan children became so desperately rare, they were doted on and petted by Vulcans, especially the older children, until they decided it was babyish.

The meetings are going pretty well - no Klingons (Klingons and Jim had apparently not been a good idea even in a timeline not featuring Jim growing up thinking his father had been killed by them), and no surprise Romulans. The Lyrans are maybe a little too deliberate for Jim's taste, but Spock says he is an impatient son of a bitch (not in so many words) and needs to chill his ass. He says this in one repressive not-quite frown as Jim shifts in his seat during negotiations, and Jim subsides. He wants to be really good at diplomacy and that shit, and he can mediate a fight like a boss, but there's only so much sitting still at one time Jim can really take.

Plus, for this first day of talks, they are wearing dress uniforms, and while the Lyrans are just wearing more jewels than Jim's ever seen on a single person, Jim and Spock are in heavy silk to the chin and wrist and in high polished boots besides. Spock is beside him and nobody else from the Enterprise is with them, so Jim can't even look at him or Bones or Uhura in their severely tailored dress uniforms. Jim hates wearing it almost as much as Bones does, but he loves looking at it. The uniform makes Bones' ass look like delicious candy. It makes Uhura look like a queen. It makes Spock look like a god.

It does Jim giant favors in the shoulder area, but the collar has tiny, viciously stabby bones in it so that if you try to slouch, you bleed for your laxness. Jim always slouches. One time he tried to talk Christopher Pike into getting them into something less sadistic. Once Pike had stopped laughing he told Jim, "Son, if they wanted you to be comfortable they would let you wear jeans."

That was inarguable and Jim gave up, but he doesn't think it's quite fair that he has to suffer through the collar (the boots are fine: Starfleet isn't so stupid as to make officers wear shoes they can't run in) and not even be able to look at Spock in his unless he wants to be embarrassingly obvious.

Pike showed him how to modify the boots, though; that had come in useful. It wasn't officially sanctioned, of course, but if you knew a dude who knew a dude, you could get boots that passed all civilian and most military scanners as being nothing but boots, and still have (Pike had demonstrated) something sharp, something poisonous, something to communicate with, and something blue. He'd told his mother about it, which had been a mistake, because Winona Kirk had snorted, called Pike an amateur, and after that Jim had boots he was kind of afraid to wear.

Jim refocuses as the Lyran in charge asks him a question.

“Warrior rituals?” he repeats. “Well, of course I can't speak for the members of the Federation, but in Earth's history we had quite a few. Since Unification, though, most of them are just … going to Academy, surviving emergency training; that sort of thing. Some of us have personal rituals, of course.”

The Lyran nods encouragingly.

“For instance,” says Jim, “my mother tattoos a star for every starship she fixes onto her arm.” Winona's not technically a warrior, but considering she invented and teaches a method of self-defense largely involving a spanner and a mean look, Jim thinks she counts.

Spock turns and stares at him with something like horror, and Jim says, “She does it herself, of course,” and the Lyrans with their giant collections of piercings and scarifications look pleased and impressed.

“While my own people,” says Spock, managing to give Jim a look like we are going talk about the woman who raised you (Jim gets that look at least once a week from both Pike and Bones, so he's not too worried about it), “have chosen a less … violent path, we as well cherish our rituals. At the age of seven we go forth to the wilderness and live on the breast of the land for a week.”

Jim swivels his head and stares back at him, with a look he hopes adequately conveys OH MY GOD, YOU MEAN SEVEN IN SOME OTHER TIMEKEEPING SYSTEM THAT IS A LOT LONGER, RIGHT, except he has an awful feeling Spock doesn't. Vulcan years are a little longer than Earth years, but between one thing and another, most planets with life on them tend to have solar years within Earth's range, give or take thirty or sixty days. It has to do with radiation, and tides, and if Jim cared he would be a Science monkey. “I thought you guys lived to be like three hundred years old,” he ventures.

“Indeed, Captain,” says Spock serenely.

Jim opens his mouth, closes it again, and then says, “So when McCoy bugs me about Mom, I'm bringing this into the fight, okay.”

Spock gives him a look like he's an idiot, but that's nothing new.

“How interesting your people are!” says the Lyran, with a wide-eared expression of enjoyment. “But tell me, how are you bonded together?”

There's a little pause, and then Jim replays that in his head, and thinks, nope, they just went there, and then Spock says, only slightly strangled, “I beg your pardon, but our translator is having difficulties with your phrasing.”

“Your warrior bonds, your … t'hy'la?” The Lyran thinks for a minute. “Shield mates. How is that bond formed? It is very important to us,” she explains earnestly.

Jim just bets it is. He looks over at Spock, who looks like he's about to explode. “We … Terrans, at least, don't really practice that sort of formal warrior bonding any more,” he says, tactfully. “And Vulcan hasn't been a warrior culture for thousands of years.” He thinks for a minute and says, “We don't have rituals for it. And we don't formally pair off. But it's important to us as well.”

The Lyran regards them doubtfully, and says, “Then how do you know?”

Jim opens his mouth, and in a voice that he doesn't recognize as his own, he says, “You always know.”

The room is silent for a moment, and Jim is aware of Spock staring at him. He looks at him from the corner of his eye and surprises a look on Spock's face that he never thought he'd see. It's not that he doesn't respect Jim (except when he completely doesn't), but this look is like he's surpassed everything Spock thought he might do.

“Yes,” says the Lyran thoughtfully. “That is truth you speak, Captain.”

An aide bends down and murmurs something into her ear, making it flick back in a way that looks ticklish. She faces them again with a giant, fang-toothed expression of delight on her face (Jim tries not to sink down a little, but his hindbrain is insisting that is not buddies: that is a predator) and says, “We will give it to you, then!”

“Beg pardon?” says Jim blankly.

“Our ritual,” says the Lyran.

Spock covers his face with both hands.

“Uh,” says Jim.

- Bones standing over him praying to any god that may be listening that they may send lightning down to smite him, just the once.
- Annual report and budget, which involves him, Spock, and Spock finally agreeing to share a single square of chocolate with Jim, which frankly turned out awesome, because Spock got so fucking high.
- A manhood ceremony involving Chekov and glitter, which was mutually agreed never happened, especially if Sulu is around to hear about it.
- A brotherhood ceremony where he may or may not have traded blood with Sulu, also never talked about, because, gross.
- An adoption where he became Pike's son, because it's not enough that everybody thinks he got his job by banging him, and the culture in question thought all boss/minion relationships were paternal. It was kind of sweet they worried Pike wasn't acknowledging his get, though.
- Three cleansing ceremonies, one with an enema.
- Four namings, one of which ended up with Jim being forced to write the words 'they named me Snuggy-Boo' on an actual report.
- Bones standing over him with a hypospray, saying “Now we're going to sing the 'I will not bang space harpies' song, Jim.”
- Marriages, to Bones, Spock (four times, because apparently 'first officer' means 'husband' in more cultures than he really wants to think about, and people are strict about living in sin), Uhura, Gaila (twice), Scotty and Keenser

Jim's got a low opinion of rituals, accordingly, but this one doesn't sound too bad. The priest person says you go into a room and breathe the sacredness of the gods in, which means nothing to JIm, but at least there’s no death matches that he can tell.

Fortunately for everybody's sanity, this ritual has to start at dawn or some shit (just for once Jim would like to be bullied into a ritual that starts at like, eleven in the morning) so instead of immediately going into whatever ritual thing the Lyrans consider essential to being properly warrior-bonded, they get to eat a good meal and sleep eight hours. Jim tries to make it clear as delicately as possible that Spock is a fragile and beautiful organism with hair trigger reflexes and a dislike for any type of body paint, but the enthusiasm of the Lyrans is not dampened, even when Spock gives them a written list of things that make Jim's unique snow blossom immune system throw a hissy fit. He wrote it out by hand, without looking at the list on the padd. Jim is reluctantly impressed.

The party is good and the food is good, but when Jim and Spock get back to their room, he sinks down on the bed with a sigh of relief.

“Shall I call you, honored guests?” says their attendant, bowing.

“Yes,” says Jim, and at the same time Spock says,

“That will not be necessary, thank you.”

Jim looks over at him and then at the attendant and spreads out his hands. The attendant bows again and slides on out.

“You don't want a wake up call?” says Jim. “Better safe than sorry.”

“It's not an efficient use of their time,” says Spock, picking up his night clothes. “I am perfectly capable of ensuring we arise at the correct hour.”

“Well, I'll set the alarm,” says Jim dubiously. "Anyway," he adds, remembering, "what do you have against alarm clocks? You were pretty mean to mine this morning."

Spock stares straight ahead with a look on his face like maybe if he ignores the dog it will stop poking its nose on his leg.

"Spooooock," drawls Jim obnoxiously.

Spock lets out a huffy sigh. "Alarm clocks are a crutch."

Jim considers this for a minute, runs it through the Spock To Standard dictionary and then says, "Spock, even the old man uses an alarm clock." Jim found this out the last visit to the colony. Old Spock had a thing that let out trilling bells sounds, quite pretty, softly at first and then escalating gradually to earsplitting. Jim'd let it go until it reached earsplitting, but as far as he could tell Old Spock woke at the first silvery ting.

Spock turns and glares at him.

"He does!" protests Jim. "There's no shame in it, for God's sake."

"I shouldn't-" begins Spock, and then says, "A person with sufficient control of himself, sir, should not require such artificial aids."

"Right," says Jim slowly. "Okay, so don't take this personally or whatever, but therapy would be a good idea, buddy."

"Yes, thank you, Captain. I have been so informed."

Jim sighs but doesn't push it; Spock is the one person that Bones yearns to get into his sinister little psych office more than he does Jim, and Jim doesn’t want to send Spock only to have Bones unpack his psychological issues like someone’s grandmother’s china he got at an estate sale and isn’t sure he should keep.

“If you are quite finished, sir, may I remind you we have an early morning tomorrow,” says Spock, in the tone that means 'I am pretty sure you're not going to go any further with the argument but I am locking it down anyway.’

“Yeah,” sighs Jim, “Sure.”

They get ready for bed and Jim crawls resignedly into the part by the wall, which, still bullshit. Spock's a little twitchier than usual, which Jim realizes when he stands and stares at Jim until he's completely settled into a lima bean position facing the wall. Then he climbs in the bed, facing opposite-lima-bean from Jim, and says, “Lights quarter-moon.”

This time, at least, they remembered to bring separate blankets, so Jim's not freezing to death or considering harassment of a junior officer to ward off frost bite. The Lyrans like their buildings pretty cool – not cold by human standards, but you can definitely tell the people who live here have fur and are also the habit of sleeping in giant piles together.

"You realize," begins Jim, and he stops. Beside him Spock is a warm, dark presence, not familiar but comforting. He smells like marigolds. Jim can pick out the scent anywhere now, after maybe a few too many nights like this spent squashed into the wall by Spock’s impenetrable space bubble.

“Yes, Captain?” says Spock after a moment.

Jim's pretty tired, so it makes it easier for him to say, “They think we're doing it.”

“Doing what, sir?” says Spock, who pretty obviously knows what Jim is talking about but is choosing to play Stupid Vulcans with him instead. Jim'd be charmed but his fragile male ego is a little bruised after the events of the day.

“That we're banging,” he clarifies. “Knocking boots. Seeing each other.”

“I can't see you in this light, sir,” says Spock, which means he really wants the conversation to stop now, but Jim isn't that good of a person, and he probably never will be.

“Why do they think we're banging?” he says, and even to him his voice sounds a little petulant and confused. Jim tries to be honest with himself as much as he can, but there's only so much he can handle at a time. So he doesn't think about how what he really means is 'why aren't we', because he went down that road with McCoy and he's got a lifetime limit on friends who don't want to give him everything, thanks anyway.

He can feel Spock turn his head and stare at him for a minute, but instead of whatever else he might have said, Spock sighs, short and irritated, and says, “If you had read the briefing, Captain, you would have known that the Lyran warrior caste is based on shieldmates, similar to the old Terran ideals of Greece and --”

He keeps talking about it: how fighters come together and trust each other, until Jim falls asleep.

The test starts the next morning. Jim talked to Uhura up in the ship, and she doesn’t think there's anything weird about the wording or that they're missing some terrible, subtle clue that they're going to fail and be ripped to pieces by the giant wolves the Lyrans consider cute house pets.

Uhura's the best person they have at interpreting that sort of thing, and even if she wants Jim to die in a fire (and she does), she likes Spock a lot -- even if Spock had somehow managed to balls up dating her. (Don't ask Jim how. If he had been dating Uhura – well, now was not the time to figure out how the son of Amanda Grayson managed to be that terrible at women.)

So Jim's pretty confident that they're not going to be eaten by the dire wolves (who seem to spend most of their time sitting on people's feet and panting smiles up at them) and Spock is just looking around interested like he does all the time. The Lyran high-priest-person steps up and bows them to a room.

“So what --” begins Jim, because the junior priest said they were going to be put in a room to 'expand their bonds of friendship,’ but in actual fact he and Spock are in the middle of a room and Jim feels a little underwhelmed by this whole ritual thing. As he speaks, a little girl comes in with a brazier of coals and pricks her ears forward at them, like an interested cat would. She sets the brazier down and kneels to put a handful of dried leaves on it, and backs out.

Jim stands for a minute and waits.

The leaves smolder on the coals. They smell kind of sweet, but Jim was an amateur enthusiast about Things That Will Get You Fucking High back in the day, and this, for humans at least, is not it. It's a little soothing, maybe. Like mild incense, fresh and herbal.

Spock sneezes.

Spock never sneezes. It's a point of honor with him, like never complaining about the temperature on the bridge even when it's 'comfortably cool' for humans and 'icy death' for him, or pretending not to watch Jim eat meat, or not working less than two shifts at a time. Spock doesn't sneeze. Especially not like that, a surprised sort of hffchu! like something got into his nose and can't be dislodged again.

Jim turns slowly around to face him.

Spock sneezes again. “Jim,” he says, and Jim sees his eyes are blown wide, black with a rim of chocolate brown, just before Spock falls like a ton of bricks onto Jim.

“What the fuck!” says Jim, high pitched, and then the Lyran dude says,

“Do not be alarmed, sir, the smoke often causes this effect.”

Jim glares at him in a way he hopes conveys 'then why the fuck do you use it?' without actually causing another diplomatic incident.

“Peace, Captain,” says the high priest, not coming within range of the smoke, as Jim notices. “It is a good sign from the gods.”

Spock stirs, and Jim looks down.

Spock is aware that something is not usual, but somehow he does not care. Jim is here, and Spock is quite happy. He tries to express his happiness to Jim, but realizes that Jim is not very good at mind speech. That is a pity, because Spock's vocal chords are not working as they usually do, so Spock rubs his cheek against Jim's golden head and purrs at him to express his contentment.

Jim flinches back, and his scent-feeling spikes sour in alarm.

This does not please Spock. It pleases him even less when Jim commences hissing into the communicator again. It's clear that the communicator is somehow upsetting Jim, so Spock reaches over, takes the communicator and snaps it in half.

Jim gapes at him, and Spock rubs his scent glands against Jim's shoulder affectionately. Jim smells of stress and some sort of artificial cologne and soap, none of which are acceptable. He puts one heavy hand on Jim's chest and holds him in place as he begins to wash the scents off Jim.

There's a sound from a little distance away. Spock looks over. Someone he should recognize is giving him a rather disapproving look, and Jim is also looking at that person, with a pleading expression. Spock does not like it. He curls around Jim, blocking the other's view of him, and lifts his upper lip in a silent snarl. The person lifts his hands up in a gesture of peace, but Spock continues to stare at him, curling closer to Jim. He licks behind Jim's ear, deliberate, and Jim shivers. The scent of stress is suddenly overlaid, almost overwhelmed, by that of arousal.

"Spock," says Jim pleadingly. "Come on – get it together. This is a drug. This is –"

Spock still can't speak, doesn't want to speak and doesn’t understand the necessity for words when minds can touch in understanding. He nuzzles behind Jim's ear instead, one eye still on the Other outside. The Other takes a step back, and then another, making it clear that he respects Spock's territory. Spock doesn't stop watching until he disappears completely.

"Spock," says Jim again, and Spock ignores him in favor of washing the side of his neck where his pulse is throbbing. Spock doesn't understand why Jim is so agitated. He purrs, soothing, as he takes off Jim's unneeded and ridiculous clothing to scrub the smell of Jim's artificial grooming aids off his chest. When he washes Jim's armpits, Jim flinches, and Spock pauses long enough to check his reaction. Ticklish, he thinks, and then continues washing. Jim's natural smell is stronger under his arms, and Spock snuffles at it.

He wants to wash every inch of Jim's body, until Jim smells like himself and of Spock. He wants Jim to stop thinking, to stop smelling and feeling anxious. He rubs his head against Jim's chest, feeling his warmth and the beat of his heart.

He wants --

When Spock wakes up, there's a heavy weight on his chest. Opening his eyes is harder than it should be, but when he does, he's looking into the eyes of the Terran feline commonly known as Mr Sugar Pie. The animal weighs 9.12 kilograms, holds the ship's record for pests exterminated and also fights picked with other beings twice his size or larger. He lacks most of an ear and carries a hideous scar over his nose, and his claws grow in a crescent curve ending in a razor tip. It takes Biology three people in full armor to clip them.

For some reason he is extremely fond of Spock, a honor Spock is not entirely gratified by. There is no way to convince a cat not to leave you presents on your bed.

Mr Sugar Pie realizes Spock is awake and begins to purr, a sound like an engine powering for warp. It is ridiculously soothing; Spock's headache almost immediately decreases by a factor of five.

When Spock wakes next, he is mercifully headache-free, but less mercifully in full possession of his memories.

Spock spends a full minute thinking about finding a hole to crawl into. It would be a blatant display of emotionalism, and Dr McCoy would laugh himself into a seizure. Still, it seems infinitely preferable to facing the captain. Perhaps Mr Scott will agree to let Spock live in a small corner of Engineering for a while.

He sits up as the door slides open to admit Dr M'Benga. His eyes are kind, but very grave, as they always are. "Len thought you'd prefer to talk to me," he says.

"That was very courteous of him," Spock manages. More so than Spock expected, really. "Am I entirely free of –"

"You slept for twelve hours after your return," says M'Benga. Spock reviews his memory of the - events - and attempts not to flush miserably green.

"Forgive me, Doctor, but my memory appears to end after I –" say it Spock, says the part of his mind that sounds like his mother. Say it. Hiding from it won't make it any better – "Began to groom –"

"Yes," says M'Benga. "The captain informs us that you suddenly became more interested in sleep than in the - er - state of his person."

Spock does not groan, but it is a near thing.

"You didn't hurt him," says M'Benga. “He's fine.”

Spock cracks open one eye, which he had closed against the acute nausea flooding through him, and looks at him. He says, "I note you say nothing of my dignity or the working relationship between the captain and I, Doctor."

"I don't think you could have chosen a better person than the captain for this," says M'Benga thoughtfully.

Spock opens his mouth to defend the captain, and closes it again. Kirk's personal dignity is not tied to his actions or those of others; it is purely due to some inner balance. He could do or say the most absurd things, or suffer them to be done to him, and still retain it. Also, M'Benga is absolutely correct: Jim Kirk is the only person that would have received Spock's attentions without anything but concern for Spock's own dignity and welfare. The thought that he himself should object would hardly cross the captain’s mind at all.

"Will there be a report on the substance?" says Spock. "I will, of course, record a statement, although my memory –"

“It appears to be similar to, although quite a bit stronger than--" M'Benga hesitates visibly and says, "– Terran catnip."

There is a short and entirely terrible silence.

"I see," says Spock. He does see, even though he wishes he didn't.

"Not really," says M'Benga. He takes a deep breath, and, with the air of someone ripping off a bandage so the pain would quickly be over, says, "It raised certain hormone levels and they haven't come down yet. They're actually beginning to rise."

Spock does not need to ask the doctor what hormones he is referring to. "I must meditate," he says, his voice very even. "How long?"

“Not very,” says M’Benga baldly. “It could be days.”

Spock does not insult the doctor by asking if he is sure. "I was given to understand that I could expect this to happen, if ever, a little more than a decade from now."

M'Benga shrugs. "That might have been the natural course, but between the destruction of Vulcan, and now the effects of this compound..."

Spock nods. Vulcans had been a very warlike race for a very long time, and consequently have evolved to deal with population crises very, very efficiently. For the next few decades the drive, triggered by the sensation of the lost familial bonds, would be unrelenting, and twins and multiple births very common. Spock finds himself a little irrationally resentful: the drive, in his own case, will produce no viable offspring and perhaps much suffering for himself and whomever he fixated upon. And it could be any one on the ship – will be someone from the ship. He has lived among them, breathed the same air, for so long now that he will undoubtedly seek out one of them. There is no time, even if he goes to New Vulcan, to reset his inner sense of home. He straightens his back and says, "I am most obliged to you, doctor."

He’ll have to tell the captain -- tell Jim -- soon, and the thought makes something in his belly ache unbearably. What will Jim think? What will he do?

TO: Jim (unofficial)
FROM: Pike (unofficial)

Hey, Snuggy-boo!

Looking over your report with the Lyrans, I have some questions. DID you really get hotboxed with Spock and WAS it really catnip?

TO: Pike Pretends Not To Check This At Work
FROM: Jim Kirk, Life Ruiner

Hey, Pops!

Yes I did and yes it was. Well, it didn't make me high because it was catnip but yes, it was a hotbox and yes Spock got high.

TO: Jim (unofficial)
FROM: Pike (unofficial)

So is there going to be therapy reports coming across my desk any time soon? A father likes to know these things.

TO: Pike Pretends Not To Check This At Work
FROM: Jim Kirk, Life Ruiner

Bones didn't put me in therapy. Dunno about Spock. Doesn't he call home every week? You can ask him yourself.

TO: Jim (unofficial)
FROM: Pike (unofficial)

Speaking of you being a terrible son, your mother says hello. She's sitting on deck reading the report about how you got named Snuggy-Boo. She says you need to tell her these things yourself.

TO: Pike Pretends Not To Check This At Work
FROM: Jim Kirk, Life Ruiner

Oh my god what do I have to do to be disowned.

TO: Jim (unofficial)
FROM: Pike (unofficial)

You should be so lucky. Heads up, though. Your mother says you never call, you never write, and she didn't give up her girlish figure so that you don't even send her things to blackmail the Admiralty with.

It's going to be about a week before the Lyrans meet up with Federation diplomats on the Enterprise, a reprieve that Jim, for one, welcomes.

He’s got stuff to do and Spock’s been acting kind of weird since they got back, not weird weird but weird enough that Jim should probably ask him about it. He hates doing it because Spock can look really offended and sad all at once without moving a single muscle of his face, and he does it when Jim is so crass as to imply that perhaps he is not without flaw or weakness. Well, whatever, Jim’s got flaws enough for the both of them.

Jim's sitting in his ready room, nominally working on his paperwork (it multiplies in the night like tribbles: Jim sometimes thinks if he hides well enough he'll catch the tiny paperwork demons dragging more onto his desk. Or else he'll find Spock uploading a virus onto Jim's padd, which, pretty much the same thing) but he’s really staring blankly at nothing and playing the next five moves of the chess game he's playing with the old man over subspace in his head. He has to keep on his toes with the old man, even more than he does with Spock. The old one is a lot meaner and has the advantage of fifty years playing with a Jim Kirk, besides.

Anyway he's pretending that the message light on his padd isn't blinking reproachfully at him. At the same time, he’s picturing as clearly as he can the next five moves from the current position of the board when Spock stalks in, almost crushing his padd from the way he's holding it.

Jim blinks a couple of times, comes back from his mental landscape of chess moves, and says, "Spock! Hey, buddy, if you were playing chess with me and I put my knight on-" He stops, because its suddenly clear that Spock isn't paying attention to him at all. "Spock?"

Spock takes a deep breath and says, "Captain. Captain."

"Spock?" Jim's not sure what the hell is going on, but he tilts his head up and looks up at Spock. Kind of an awful view of his nose hairs, Jim thinks, but he’s not getting up to talk to Spock. He just got himself comfortably slouched into his chair, and if he starts having good posture around Spock, it might encourage him to nag Jim about it even more.

Spock focuses on Jim. For about half a second he looks confused, as if he’s lost his train of thought between walking in the room and beginning to yell at Jim, but then he says, “About this report, sir.”

“Which report?” says Jim. “I see reports in my sleep now. Sometimes they do pole dances. I've dealt with so many in the past week even Pike is worried. Bones just commed me and said if I didn't put down my slate and eat real food, he was going to intubate me.” He thinks for a minute and adds, “If he's allowed to. I don't think he's allowed to unless I'm medically unable to eat real food.”

“Captain,” says Spock, between his teeth.

Jim holds up his hands. “I'm listening,” he says.

“This report about the lab share between Medical and Sciences,” says Spock. “Written by M'Benga and McCoy.”

Jim remembers that report; McCoy was pushing for more lab monkeys for Medical, arguing that a significant minority of the ones nominally attached to Science were doing nothing but passing each other STDs when they were going through space instead of like, exploring strange new planets or whatever. “Well, I know you're not buddies with McCoy,” he says, “but he does have a pretty strong argument for --”

“Captain,” says Spock, and then Jim has a kind of waking nightmare where Spock puts down the slate, leans in so close Jim can smell the laundry soap and also the dressing on the salad Spock had for lunch, and then closes one of his long-fingered beautiful hands around Jim's skull. For a wild second Jim thinks Spock's going to crush it, but then Spock's lowering his head and his lips are on Jim's, and Jim thinks, ,Oh.

Jim frankly has no idea what the fuck is going on, but he's got plenty of practice, if he does say so himself, at reacting when hot aliens lick at his mouth, and it all involves seizing the day and also a handful of the nearest analogue to ass.

Spock tastes like green tea, which is weird because Spock is violently anti-caffeine, but Jim's just rolling with it.

Jim has a moment where he's on autopilot and so he's sucking on Spock's tongue and wondering vaguely why Spock feels the need to clutch at his hand like that. Spock’s twining their fingers, breathing hard and broken against Jim's mouth as he squeezes Jim's hand before sliding the hand curled around Jim's skull to his face, kind of awkwardly, Spock's mouth moving to bite at Jim's shoulder over the fabric of his uniform instead.

Jim remembers the hand thing.

Jim jerks back a little, before Spock's hand lands, splayed, on his temple. “Whoa,” he gasps, and moans, low in his throat, as Spock crowds him against the desk. “No, seriously, Spock --”

“Jim,” says Spock, and Jim shudders, deep; he wants to hear that again. It's wrong, though, an overlay of his own thoughts and the copy the old man had given him. Also he has no idea what the fuck is going on with Spock right now, so he pushes at his chest, gently at first, and then hard, and then –

“Commander, stop this right now!” he says, in the voice that means he is going to be obeyed. It's a good voice. He copied it from Pike, and sometimes now he hears it coming out of his mouth and wonders who that person is speaking.

Spock staggers back, his eyes wide and dilated; there's about a millimeter of brown iris framing the wide pupil. He takes a breath, and then another one, and says, “I beg your pardon, Captain, I will report myself --”

“Stop!” says Jim, over Spock. “That's enough,” he says, a little lower. “No brig time, I can't afford to have you not doing paperwork with me right now, Spock.” He looks at Spock, the distressed set of his eyebrows, and says, “Why don't you take ten minutes?”

“Captain,” says Spock, inclines his head, and flees.

Jim stares after him.

This … calls for some research.

Spock, as it happens, is reading a Terran novel that his own captain had been particularly fond of when the comm beeps. The computer's tenor (contralto came standard, but Spock has preferred a male voice on his own computer for many years) says, "Incoming communication from: Kirk, Captain James T, USS NC-1701 Enterprise. Accept?"

"Accept," says Spock, laying his book aside. He has no idea why Jim is contacting him, but is pleased anyway; the younger Jim is simultaneously charming and completely unnerving, and it's nice to have a challenge at chess again.

The screen snaps on and Spock's eyebrow flies up. Jim's hair is completely disheveled and there's a bite mark on his neck. He looks pretty crazed, too, but that's normal for this Jim. Something to do with the universe, Spock supposes: since Jim's not killing people and drinking their blood for power, Spock is willing to turn a blind eye.

Jim squints at the book on Spock's table and says, "Is that Watership Down? That is the most depressing book I've ever read."

"You were very fond of it, despite it being 'depressing'," says Spock.

“No, really. It's about fascist rabbits. Why would I like something like that?” says Jim.

"Jim," says Spock. "What made you call?"

Jim takes a deep breath, looks around, squeezes his eyes violently shut and then says, "I think you're going crazy. Not you, other you. My you."

Spock actually understands what Jim was trying to say, so he focuses on what he thinks Jim is trying to say. There are times when he is deeply thankful for the 120 years of picking apart what Jim actually means. "Vulcans rarely go 'crazy,’ Jim. Perhaps you could specify?"

"Well, okay," says Jim."So we were doing paperwork in the ready room, and I started talking to him about something, and all of a sudden he got up, locked the door, and jumped me."

"'Jumped' you," repeats Spock.

"It’s a slang term?" says Jim. "It means --"

"I believe I can speculate on the correct meaning, Jim," says Spock. "I take it he is the cause of the bruise on your neck?"

Jim's hand flies guiltily to his neck. "Is it bad?" he demands.

"Does it hurt?" says Spock, who after decades with Jim Kirk has learned to pare down his questions to the essentials at hand.

"No," says Jim. “Well. Now that I'm thinking about it, a little, but –“

"Then I would not worry about it." Spock considers this for a second, and adds, "Perhaps a little makeup until it fades, or Dr McCoy –"

"Oh hell no," says Jim flatly.

Spock isn't surprised. The younger version of the doctor is even fonder of his rattles and potions than Spock's doctor, and lacks even more rationality. If McCoy found out that his younger self was putting love bites on Jim's neck, Spock ... can logically extrapolate his reaction. "Exactly what were you discussing?"

Jim says, "Fucking crew rosters! We were arguing about how Bones wants like, fifteen of Spock's people to come be Med's lab bitches –"

Spock reflects on the apparent need for human young to have strong parental figures, and how this Jim had clearly lacked any at all. He's almost sure his own Jim would have summarized this one as being 'raised by wolves in the woods.’

"– and then he just jumps me, which I still cannot believe was an appropriate response to me saying that I understood he wanted to keep his staff all to himself, but if we ended up with another round of green spots through the entire ship, we were going to regret not having enough lab monkeys attached to Med." Jim considers this for a minute, and adds, "I didn't think that was a really arousing subject, but maybe Vulcans have a thing about it? Do Vulcans have a thing about green spots? Because I would have liked to have known beforehand."

"No, Jim," says Spock patiently. "Now let us diagnose the situation."

"What is there to diagnose?" says Jim. "We were in the middle of doing paperwork and he jumped me! I just want to know why!"

Spock said, "Did you ascertain that he was aware of his actions? He was not under the influence of any drug or mind control? I believe there was a hostile alien that once attempted to take over the minds of the –"

Jim stares at him as if he believes Spock is perhaps not quite in his right mind. "Okay," he says slowly, "I don't know about your captain, but when six feet of hot alien says to me, 'Captain, our relationship requires a closer understanding,’ pulls me up and starts sucking on my tongue, I prefer not to ask stupid questions."

Spock says, "Jim."

Jim holds up his hands defensively and says, "We already did the evil mind-switch aliens thing! I can tell if it's Spock or a fake, okay?"

Spock stares at him. "You can?"

"Because I'm so good at reading people, and especially the members of my crew," added Jim.

"Jim, please get your psi-testing redone," says Spock.

Jim looks extremely shifty.

"Or at least let McCoy know you lied about it," sighs Spock. "Someone needs to know this sort of thing."

"Yes, Mommy," mutters Jim. "Can we go back to the part where my first officer decided it was sexy times o'clock, please?"

"I was unaware of any time standard using such a designation," says Spock. Jim stares at him the way that Jim had always done when he knew that Spock was 'jerking his chain' but lacked the time, energy or patience to argue with him about it. Spock misses his own Jim sharply, again; this young one is as brilliant and beautiful but somehow just not the same. He hesitates. "I find myself reluctant to speak to you of matters that my other self --"

"Oh come on," says Jim, "Spock'd rather watch me suffer, and you'd rather watch Junior twitch, so you're going to tell me anyway."

It's a little unnerving how well Jim understands him. "I believe it has to do with the breaking of mental bonds that occurred with the destruction of Vulcan."

Jim just stares at him, as if he's waiting for Spock to follow this statement up with some sort of joke or pleasantry, or perhaps, knowing this Jim, some sort of sexual innuendo. Spock says distinctly, "We are touch telepaths, Jim, who have lost the greater majority of our bonds. Our instinct is to forge new connections as quickly and as strongly as possible."

He stops for a minute and adds delicately, "It is easiest to read and respond to thoughts when one touches an area saturated by nerve endings."

"So that's why he was sticking his tongue down my throat?" says Jim, unimpressed.

"There are many nerve endings in the lips and mouth," Spock says.

"Okay, I'll buy that," says Jim. "But we've got like, three other Vulcans on this ship, and none of them are going around offering surprise makeouts."

Spock clears his throat and says, "The other three Vulcans on board the Enterprise were so fortunate as to have their bondmates survive. Unbonded males, especially ones who have been unexpectedly widowed, often ... are very starved for mental contact."

Jim nods wisely, and Spock hopes for a minute that his questions are all answered and Spock will not be faced with –

"Well," says Jim brightly, "It's been awesome talking to you as usual, old man, but I have a first officer to find and kill the fuck out of."

Spock stares at him. This … is not what he was expecting. "I beg your pardon, Jim?"

"You said 'unexpectedly widowed' and 'destruction of Vulcan' in the same sentence," points out Jim, smiling cheerfully.

"Yes," says Spock, feeling an almost nostalgic sense of impeding, illogical doom. "He - we were bonded at the age of seven to a Vulcan girl. Vulcan bondings are –"

Jim shrieks, "He was making out with Uhura in the transporter room while he was married? FUCK YES, I'm going to go beat his green ass!"

"Technically," says Spock, "he was already widowed. Also, technically, he was not married yet. Vulcan bondings are somewhere between an engagement and a marriage, similar to the ancient Jewish practice of betrothal –"

"Okay, that's even skankier," says Jim, revolted. "Oh my God, if Uhura finds out, she's going to have his balls, pan-fried, at a romantic candlelight dinner. Seriously? That was like five minutes after his wife fucking died!"

"It was a moment of great emotional compromise," argues Spock, but only half-heartedly. "I see my younger self violated some sexual code of ethics?"

Jim flails his hands around like words were fighting one another to get out and he could not figure which to release first. "Okay, despite what Bones says about my standards, and I never dry humped the statues in the quad, either --"

Spock remembers McCoy begging Jim to leave him a little, a tiny, a small, a microscopic illusion about him, and feels a deep empathy.

"-- I do have some things that are important to me, and not dicking around behind someone's back is one of them!"

Spock lets his eyebrow rise.

"I mean," says Jim, almost without a breath. "It's one thing when someone's like, ‘Honey, this is Jim! We're going to go fuck now, okay?’ and their spouse or significant other or whatever is like, ‘Hi, Jim! It's a pleasure to meet you! You have fun!’ and another thing when two weeks after the hookup with someone you thought was unattached, you find out you're cast as Slutty McHomewrecker in their family drama."

"Jim," sighs Spock again. "I would be obliged -- and would have been obliged -- if you would not insist on using logic only on the most illogical subjects you are able to find."

Jim stares at him. "What's the fun in that?" He doesn't allow himself to be distracted. "And if Spock did that to Uhura I am going to take his balls, twist them off –"

"Jim!" bellows Spock, a trick he had learned from Dr McCoy. Jim looks at him, a little sullen, but cut off from his rant. "T'Pring and I ... in my universe we were not very close, even by Vulcan standards. I believe the term is she felt as if she was a sister to me."

"What, she beat you up constantly and told humiliating stories to all your girlfriends?" says Jim, as accurately as usual.

"No," says Spock, controlling his exasperation with an effort, "she fell in love with one of our childhood friends, got with child by him, and left me at the altar."

Jim blinks. "Holy shit, old man."

"And while I have no idea of what T'Pring's life was here, I do not think my younger self would have encouraged Lt Uhura at all if he had been committed to sharing his life with T'Pring."

"So why didn't you two just break up?" says Jim.

Spock says, "That is something you will have to discuss with my younger self," in a tone that is meant to leave no room for arguing. Jim seems to recognize that the subject is closed. It should be closed, Spock hopes: this version of himself is years, almost a decade away from a time when Jim is going to know about Vulcan needs and exactly how deep Spock's feelings run for him, whether he wants to or not.

Spock's never sure in his own mind if he wants to encourage this, encourage the feelings his younger self may have for the captain, or if he should -- it’s not important. If it is meant to happen, it will, no matter what, and Spock won’t have the guilt of fighting against fate on him.

Jim's about eighty-five percent sure that the old man isn't fucking with him for the sheer fun of doing so, but the other fifteen percent kind of worries him. He decides to go check with M'Benga, even at the risk of ruining what little zen M'Benga is clinging to after being assigned to a ship that even Jim has to admit is full of crazy people. Uhura calls it 'Starfleet's little insane asylum' when she's really exasperated.

(Why Starfleet agreed to let Jim have the ship even after realizing he was a crazy person, and then further allowed him to fill it with people as crazy or crazier than he was remains one of the mysteries of the ship. Jim suspects it was partly 'epic fit thrown by Pike and possibly the old dude,’ partly 'shit, we have to do something with the crazy Kirk bastard and nobody wants him on their ship,’ and mostly a combination of 'who is fucking stupid enough to go off exploring and policing the outer segments of the sector when basically all the Federation is on Red Alert about Romulans and Klingons and other crazy motherfuckers' and 'you know what would sound really good on the evening news feed?')

Medbay is pretty quiet, which means that there is only one Engineering monkey sitting sullenly on a bio-bed and wincing like a big baby as one of the nurses wraps his arm and tells him what an idiot he is, and a Science monkey on another bio-bed looking vaguely betrayed by the limits of her own body while Bones methodically chews her out for believing she could program for eighteen hours straight without rest, food, or, apparently, movement.

There's a medical ensign standing over another one, both bent over an old-fashioned sphygmomanometer wrapped around one's upper arm as the other squeezes the tube to inflate it and squints carefully at the gauge while she listens to something in the corner of her partner's elbow. Bones is dead set on everybody in his med bay knowing how to work with the lowest level of technology available. As far as Jim can tell, partly this is because this was the way Bones was trained by his father – and partly because after the day a med bay full of delicate, expensive equipment pretty much curled up and died in the face of crazy Romulans, Bones' natural paranoia had taken on a terrifying life of its own. Also there had been an away mission or five where the only thing between Jim and bleeding out had been Spock's pants used as a tourniquet and some really crazy eyes from Bones, so Jim's not arguing about it.

One of the ship's-dogs is in the corner of the bay, in one of the beds set aside for them. It lifts its head at Jim and gives him a look like what am I even doing here why am I surrounded by crazy-two-leggers so Jim goes over and rubs it's head apologetically. The readings of the bed are all normal, so it must have been dumped – probably not literally – there for a checkup and just decided to stay there in case something hilarious happened. The corner of the dog's flank seems oddly shaped, and after a minute Jim realized that there's a ship's-cat curled up next to it. Maybe they're on duty.

Jim scritches the cat's chin and turns around to find Bones eying him dubiously, even as the Science monkey flees for her life. "You need something, Jim, or are you just here to get in our way?"

"Well, I was hoping to ask M'Benga about something," says Jim. He scoops up the cat as Bones leads him to the back office. The cat, half-asleep, just purrs as Jim shifts it to his shoulder.

"Oh, this should ought to be good," says Bones. "What'd the hobgoblin do this time?"

"It could not be about Spock," argues Jim. "Maybe I have an embarrassing personal problem that I don't want to share with my best friend."

Bones just looks at him. Granted, that is a stupid thing to say, considering that McCoy has seen him through enough embarrassing personal problems to stock a pharmacy.

"It was just kind of weird," says Jim, as Bones thumps twice on the wall beside M'Benga's open door.

M'Benga brightens at the sight of the cat. He reaches out and Jim passes the cat over. "T'Sena," M'Benga scolds her. "Thank you, Captain. What can I help you gentlemen with?"

Jim pulls up a chair, turns it around and straddles it. Bones leans his hip against the desk and crosses his arms over his chest. "I have a weird question about Vulcans," he says.

M'Benga's eyebrow goes up in a way that really reminds Jim that the dude spent like, five years interning at a Vulcan medical place. "I'll attempt an answer, then."

"So like, Spock and I were doing paperwork – he is totally anti-donating-his-techs-to-Med, by the way – and all of a sudden he gets up and makes out with me for like, fully ten minutes, and then I asked a Vulcan elder about it, and he says it's something to do with like, losing his bondmate? And trying to establish new mental links? And I'm not saying the Vulcan elder would totally lie to me, but I've known them to think shit is hilarious before."

Bones covers his face with his hands. "Jim, how many times have we had the talk about 'Leonard does not want to know in detail what goes on with Jim's dick unless Jim has caught something horrible from it'?" He paused. "Oh my god," he says, vaguely nauseated-looking. "Did Spock give you that –"

"A lot and maybe," admits Jim, and then, "But seriously, what if there's something wrong with Spock? I don't want him jumping me because he's got some sort of mental problem."

M'Benga stares at him before looking at Bones and saying, "So how often do you want to crack open his skull and see how his brain works?"

"Less than I did," says Bones. "You get used to it."

"Hello?" says Jim, as M'Benga nods as if he was willing to humor Bones, if not believe him. "Can we get back to the part where we decide if my first officer needs therapy or sexual harassment training?"

"Jim, I say this in love," says Bones, "but the last time someone thought you were interested and you weren't, you broke their nose."

"Which I was –" begins Jim, and Bones says,

"It was a Klingon at a peace conference, Jim. Pike had to lie and tell them you were betrothed to a terrifying warrior princess of your own kind or you would have been the first human bride in Klingon history."

Jim says, "Look, if some dude is grabbing the goodies without even saying hi first, I reserve the right to punch him in the face." Bones' eyebrow goes up in a Spockish way. Jim scowls at him. "How was I supposed to know that was how Klingon warriors accept proposals?"

M'Benga says, "I remember hearing about that. Did he really make Christine pretend to be his fiancée for the rest of the conference?"

"The scalps were a nice touch, I thought," says Bones.

"And I'm still not a hundred percent sure those were replicated," says Jim.

M'Benga scratches T'Sena's ear, making the cat stretch and purr, and says, "I don't know a lot about Vulcan telepathy," – which is sort of a lie because M'Benga is one of the leading non-Vulcan experts on Vulcan touch-telepathy, but Vulcans are notoriously secretive bastards, so he probably didn't, compared to a Vulcan expert – "But it seems they evolved it as a social mechanism. So it's very possible that Spock is having problems with the lack of bonds now, and is attempting to create more instinctively."

"Huh," says Jim, and then, "But I thought they hated being touched."

"Outside of their kin and social groups," says M'Benga. "If you ever see a bonded couple, you'll see they spend most of their time engaging in physical contact. Little things. Their hands will touch and things like that"

Jim nods thoughtfully and says, "So why –"

M'Benga looks at nothing for a minute, and then says, his voice slow, "I think it's lonely in their heads right now. Like a house with everybody gone. So now he – they want to fill it up with life again."

Jim thinks, Well, if he's looking to fill his head with noise, I'm the logical choice – but he doesn't say it out loud. Bones has stringent and rather violent ideas about negative self talk, and will probably remind Jim about them via throwing one of M'Benga's priceless chunks of Vulcan crystal at his head. From the squinty look he’s giving Jim, he knows exactly what Jim’s thinking and was just waiting for him to open his fool mouth.

Jim lets out an explosive sigh. "Fucking Nero," he says.

"I'll drink to that," says Bones. He stares at Jim, hard, and says, “Now, Jim, if you don't feel safe --”

“Oh my God,” says Jim prayerfully. He remembers this lecture from the Academy and he never wanted to hear it again the first time. This is something like the twenty-eighth, because Bones is a jackass.

“I'm serious, Jim. He's a lot stronger than you are, and I don't want you --”

“Please, let me die,” says Jim to the cat, because M'Benga is shaking silently with laughter.

“-- what if he decides you're some sort of delicious prey animal to devour like a --”

“Do not finish that, Bones, I swear to God --”

“ – deranged sex panther,” finishes Bones triumphantly.

Jim feels a really weird sense of deja vu as he shrieks, “Did you listen to what’s coming out of your mouth?” He looks at M'Benga, who has slid to the floor and is crying with laughter, tears streaming down his cheeks as the cat peers down at him from the desk like she thinks she can understand humans if only she studies a little longer.

“I just want what's best for you,” Bones promises him, which would be a lot more believable if Bones himself wasn't visibly biting his cheek to keep from laughing at Jim.

“Yeah,” says Jim. “Sure. You remember that when I break into your quarters at three am, asshole.”

“Oh, he will,” chortles M'Benga. He sobers for a moment and says, “Captain, I can’t break confidentiality, but -- Spock’s been going through a lot, especially lately. Be gentle with him.”

Jim says, “When am I not?”

Jim leaves the med bay not completely reassured about Spock's latest foray in 'making the captain wonder if he's really going off his gourd' -- but M'Benga probably wouldn't think it was funny to lie to him about something like that. Bones, on the other hand, would, but Jim and Bones have a special relationship based mostly on constant mockery, fighting like two cats in a sack and Bones' apparently boundless need to have something to fuss over. Jim tolerates the fussing mostly because he’s pretty sure that otherwise, Bones would adopt a cat. And not that Jim is anti-cat or anything, but Jim would have had to find out how to bribe a Vulcan to ignore it in the dorm, and Vulcans are pretty much unbribable, at least when it came to doing their papers for them and/or sexual favors. And Jim had spent most of his Academy career in a state of permanent scraping around for money.

Actually, the RA might have ignored a cat. He was pretty hot for Bones, which Bones never found out about because Jim, contrary to popular belief, was not that much of an asshole, and Vulcans were pretty subtle about things like that. But Jim could tell. (How Jim could tell was a matter between him and a hacked system holding some boring records.)

There was one person on the ship that Jim is sure can help him.

Uhura stares at him. "Are you actually going around collecting opinions on –"

"Well," says Jim, straight-faced. "I've already asked the wise old hermit, the grumpy old bear –"

"I dare you to say that to McCoy's face," says Uhura. "Double dog dare you."

"– and the knowledgeable doctor, so I thought I'd round it off by asking the beautiful fairy," finishes Jim. "You are so on. What do I get if I do it?"

"Week's worth of dessert rations if you say it when he's just in the room," decides Uhura. "Two weeks if he's in striking range."

"I'll give him a big hug for a month's worth," says Jim. "Like, 'how's my grumpy old bear!' and shit."

"Month of Sunday pastry rations," bargains Uhura.

"Deal," says Jim, and sticks out his pinkie finger. They shake solemnly, and Jim says, "Seriously –"

"Kirk, I am not some type of Vulcan expert," says Uhura, exasperated. "I don't magically know everything he's thinking!"

"But you guys banged and everything, right?" argues Jim.

"Oh my God," says Uhura, "We do not all 'get to know' people by fucking them, James Kirk!"

"But you can tell so much by the way –" begins Jim, and Uhura squints at him and says, "You realize that 'getting to know' someone via sexual contact is a common strategy of touch-telepaths and empaths, right?"

"I had no idea," lies Jim. "That's pretty interesting."

"Also, when you lie, your pupils dilate," says Uhura.

"I am never playing poker with you," says Jim, reconsiders, and says, "Unless it's strip poker and I'm playing to lose."

"Only in your wildest dreams, Kirk," says Uhura.

"Should I ask Pike?" says Jim, with every appearance of seriousness.

"Only if I get to listen in and save a copy of it, sir," says Uhura. She studies Kirk for a minute, and wonders if she'll ever look at him without an overlay of 'drunken charming barfly.’ Probably not, but now at least it's kind of cute and nostalgic instead of making her want to punch him repeatedly in the face. She realizes suddenly that there's lines on his face that weren't there before they began the mission: He looks so much older, like he grew up all at once.

They all did, of course, but Jim Kirk seemed to have expanded painfully into his own possibilities at a rate that none of the rest of them have matched.

“You'll be okay,” she tells him.

“I hope so,” says Kirk.

Later that day, Spock and Nyota are having lunch together, which they do at least twice a week, because Spock thinks Nyota feels sorry for him and Spock is essentially a creature of habit, no matter what.

Spock picks out the asparagus from his salad for Nyota. He only likes it the way his mother had prepared it; steamed with garlic oil and pepper. His appetite is getting worse anyway. He has just passed over the little pile of asparagus to Nyota when the captain appears, goes to where Dr McCoy is putting his tray in the washing slot, and throws his arms around him. "How's my grumpy old bear doing?" he says, loud enough to be heard clearly through the entire dining area.

McCoy, predictably, lets out a strangled sound of animal rage and gives chase, even as the captain dashes for safety.

Nyota bites into a piece of asparagus.

"Nyota," says Spock. "Someday, even Kirk will learn not to accept your dares."

"Oh, I think that's a good while off, don't you?" says Nyota. She chews another piece of asparagus with the dainty satisfaction of a predator enjoying her well-earned kill. "Speaking of Kirk."

Spock pokes at a piece of onion in his salad. "Yes?"

Nyota just stares at him, and not for the first time, Spock is sorry that they had not, as humans put it, 'worked out.’ The phrase pleases him, as if humans all regarded interpersonal relationships as algebraic equations to be proven. "He told me something pretty interesting."

"Did he?" says Spock.

"Okay, remember the second time Kirk got turned into a cat –" Spock does indeed remember every time the captain had been transformed into a being not like himself, sometimes, as his mother had remarked, 'in the middle of the night, waking up in a cold sweat' "– and how he spent his time?"

"He seemed to take a valued opportunity to relax," says Spock carefully. "Dr McCoy was much pleased."

Nyota says, "One couldn't help but notice that he spent most of his time belly up on your lap."

"One might also reflect I spent most of the time, while he was unable to command, in the captain's chair, and the captain is illogically attached to that location," said Spock. He does not need to add that if a Klingon had been sitting in that chair, the captain would have sat on her lap.

"One might also notice," says Nyota triumphantly, "that you spent most of your time rubbing his stomach."

If Spock had been human he would flush, or get angry, or defensive. "One might suggest that you as well spent a great deal of time stroking the captain's throat."

Nyota says, "One also notes that while one here is fond of stroking cats because of their soft fur and pleasing noises, that one also here is a touch telepath."

She doesn't expand on this. She is not required to do so. If they had been alone in the mess, he possibly would have put his head gently on the table and sighed. "One finds the thought patterns of the Terran domestic feline soothing," he tries.

Nyota reaches over, pats his shoulder sympathetically and takes his breadstick. "Baby," she says, "if Gaila could hear you --"

"Pony up," says the captain, dropping down beside Nyota and holding out his hand. Spock does not start and neither does Nyota. "Man, he nearly caught me that time. What were you two gossiping about? What is that dialect?"

"Cats," says Nyota, digging out her replicator chip and handing it over to him. "You realize he's just going to make you live on lettuce, low fat cottage cheese and melon for the next month anyway."

"I might get almond butter," argues the captain, handing the chip back to her after doing something with his own. "M'Benga's cat is going to have kittens, speaking of. She's very excited."

Spock says, "Captain, your continuing insistence that you have merely human-normal levels of psi-ability is very illogical."

"I don't know what you're talking about," lies the captain. He stole a piece of asparagus from the pile and added, "You. Discussion. It's happening tonight."

Spock is suddenly no longer hungry. "Yes, Captain."

Fortunately for Spock, and less fortunately for Jim's sanity, the extra special talk Jim has planned for him is shuffled to the side in the face of a message from Starfleet, which is that Commander Kirk of the Engineering Corps is coming on board to be part of the discussions with the Lyrans, and God help their souls.

Jim puts his head down and maybe screams a little; he's allowed. He's known Bones for what, almost ten years, and he's so far managed to avoid introducing him to his mother. Winona, of course, knows all about Bones. Winona knows everything about everything that happens to her children, because she is just that way. Winona asked him two months in if he was going to register for china when he and Bones tied the knot. Winona spent two hours dissecting the best ways to piss off a Vulcan and comparing his own terrible job at doing so with her greatest hits. Jim is going to die.

Then he gets up and tells Spock and Bones, because it's not like he can put off having the discussion.

“I've never met your mother,” says Bones.

“That's because she eats brains,” says Jim, avoiding Spock's stare. Spock probably hadn't thought that Winona was dead, but Jim's still feeling a little of that old 'my mother is dead and you haven't talked to yours for a year and a half, you asshole’ vibe from him.

Also, Spock's dad is coming because the Lyrans are extremely curious about Vulcans – more so after Spock's little reaction to their sacred catnip – and want to meet some, but Jim isn't worried about Sarek. He would behave like a civilized being. Plus, he and Spock don't have a relationship based on causing each other pain and suffering, and had bonded some after their mutual reason for existence had been murdered along with their planet, so at least they can stay in the same room without open war happening.

Jim's mother, though – he sighs and goes to tell Scotty so someone will be excited, at least. Scotty loves Jim's mom. Scotty wants to hang on her every word and follow her around like a worshipful puppy and let her put her hands all over his engines, which not even Jim is allowed to do.

Winona Kirk looks like her son, or her son looks like her – whichever it is, Leonard's spent years hearing about how much Jim was a nearly exact clone of his father, but when Winona Kirk appears on the transporter pad, Leonard thinks, ‘That is Jim with another X chromosome.’

As soon as she's free of the transporter beam, she starts barking questions at Jim, like, 'have you been eating?' 'when was the last time you slept?' 'what species have you fucked lately and did you use protection?'

"Mother," tries Jim. "Mom!"

"– and have you been keeping up on your contraception, because fuck only knows you get fertile from both sides of the –"

"MA!" roars Jim, scarlet-faced.

Winona stops and looks at her son. Spock's eyebrows pretty much go to hide in his hair.

"I ate before I came here, I slept five hours last night, I haven't fucked anything in five months but when I last did, I bagged like a grocery clerk. Also I got tested last week and re-upped the hypo."

Winona squints at him. "What, not even these two?"

Jim makes a raw, animal sound in his throat that ends with another shriek of "MA!"

She looks abashed and tried, "And have you been dressing in warm clothes?"

"Ma," says Jim, fondness and exasperation in his voice, "Where the hell did you find that list of questions."

“There was a site,” says Winona.

Jim sighs explosively, scrubs his hand through his hair, and says, "Mother, this is Commander Spock and Lt Commander Leonard McCoy. Gentleman, this is Commander Winona Kirk, my mother and also a crazy person."

"I like her," decides Leonard aloud.

“You would,” says Jim.

So because Jim is kind of amazing, and also a really paranoid son of bitch, he and Scotty catch the stow-away before he – she – it actually stows away. That's the easy part.

They were kind of expecting it anyway, because the last time Jim had talked to the old man, Spock the Elder had made a sort of poorly suppressed twitch that meant 'oh god, it's lining up again' and also 'oh god, someone I like is going to die', and finally 'oh god I can't actually tell you anything, baby Jim!' Jim's smart, he can read these things in the old man's eyebrows or whatever.

The hard part is keeping his mother away from the interrogation room, because his mother is a horrible person who has totally inappropriate ideas about questioning people: they start with 'needles' and 'fingernail beds' and go on from there. Jim loves her sincerely but she's kind of broken and maybe from an alternate universe where things like this are okay, and someone's got to be the grownup.

It kind of ends up a moot point anyway, because the stowaway hisses, “Death to the Federation!” and somehow, Jim can't figure out how, manages to commit suicide even though Bones is standing right there. Bones is pissed off enough to strap them onto a biobed and shock them back to life, so that's no help. Jim sighs and calls M'Benga and Chapel to do an autopsy. Ten to one it's a Romulan again, or one of the nastier Orion clans. Possibly it's a joint effort, which makes it blissfully above Jim's paygrade. Jim hooks one finger into Bones' collar and removes him from the examining room while Bones talks about how he just needs five minutes with a hypo.

“No,” says Jim, “No zombies, that's an order.”

“It wouldn't be zombies,” argues Bones. “It's been less than ten minutes. We have Vulcans. Why can't we --”

“Because I said so, and amazingly, I am your actual boss,” says Jim.

He's not, actually; due to chain-of-command shit Jim can't actually order Bones around that much, or even fire him without going through a long, horribly drawn out process where they both get psych evals and have terrible discussions about their feelings for each other. It's got to be that way, and Jim accepts that someone should have the ability to take the captain down if it needs to happen, but it's kind of irritating that he can't exercise any control over Bones that Bones hasn't explicitly allowed him

Most of the time Bones is kind and pretends, but Jim feels like if this is what having an actual involved parent is like, he's glad he missed most of it.

He turns to Spock and says, “Well, Mr Spock, are you ready to greet your father?”

“No,” says Spock, with surprising baldness.

They go to the transporter room anyway; Spock's standing so straight Jim's a little afraid he's going to tip over to the side, and Winona's kind of lurking behind them at the transporter controls with Scotty. She's not technically allowed to run the transporter, which Jim thanks God for in his heart. Winona doesn't like Sarek.

(“Grayson was much too good for him,” says Winona. She scowls and says, “At least Sarek admitted it. Eventually.”

Jim wonders uneasily what the hell his mother did to the ambassador from Vulcan and why he kind of thinks Sarek probably deserved it, and his mother claps her hands together, beams at him, and says, “Did the nice cultural liaison tell you that your father is considered a holy martyr on that planet now?”

“What,” says Jim hollowly.

“'To give up what is dearest for what is more dear, that is the path of virtue',” quotes Winona. “I think they're going to build him a shrine and teach life lessons.”

Jim and Winona contemplate this for a minute.

“Why is this our life,” says Jim finally.

“Because it sucks,” says Winona. “They're good people, though.”

“Yes, because your opinion counts for so much in Federation council,” says Jim.

“You're learning,” says Winona serenely.)

When Sarek appears on the transporter pad, Spock is standing one step behind and to the right of Jim. He always stands there. Jim's gotten so used to it that he looks behind himself uneasily when Spock isn't there, as if he's missing something. As if he's naked without Spock's solid presence beside him. It means that Jim doesn't see the expression on Spock's face when Sarek sees him, but he does see Sarek's face. It starts all Vulcan and correct, changes for a split second into something like absolute blind panic, and then smooths back into placid indifference. If Jim hadn't been watching, he wouldn't have seen it. He doesn't think his fly is open, and no matter how his mother feels about Sarek, she's unlikely to be flashing him her boobs where it would actually affect his career. When he looks back, Spock is expressionless, except for two spots of green burning high in his cheeks.

He looks a little feverish, actually, but Jim's not dumb enough to say anything in front of Sarek. “Ambassador,” he says, raising his hand in a ta'al.

“Captain,” says Sarek, returning the greeting and incidentally taking his eyes off his son. “Commander Spock,” he adds.

“Ambassador,” says Spock, and okay, Jim doesn't have a great relationship with his mother or whatever and Pike may have heard to use the phrase 'creepy and weird, Win' about it, but it's really bizarre to see how Sarek and Spock interact. If it hadn't been for that single second, Jim would have thought they were complete strangers to each other.

“It's a pleasure to have you on the ship, as always, sir,” says Jim. Except for the first time when your wife died and your planet imploded and you barely stopped your son from killing me in the face, he adds silently, that time was balls.

He jumps a little when Sarek says, calmly, “Almost every time, Captain.”

“Yes,” he says, and then. “Commander Spock, would you be so kind as to escort your fa- the Ambassador to his quarters, if you please?” Manners, he has them.

“Yes, sir,” says Spock.

Jim watches them go with a vague feeling of unease, but the Lyran ambassador is about to be transported, and he knows he's going to be faced with enthusiastic, awkward questions about how he took down the impostor, so he doesn't have time to worry about it.

The walk to Spock's quarters is accomplished in the sort of tense silence Spock remembers best from when he was very young, and very stupid, and had gotten into another fight over his human heritage at school. Sarek had never actually said anything then – later, Spock wondered if it was because he as well was banking down tight hot rage and the need for violent action against the people who mocked Spock, mocked Amanda.

It wasn't until he'd lived among humans, until he'd loved another one besides his mother, that he really understood that rage was not purely a human emotion. It almost made it worse.

Sarek waits until they reach Spock's quarters (Sarek knows where his own quarters are; he gets the same ones every time he visits the Enterprise) and go in to the outer area. He clears his throat and says, “My son.”

Spock says, “Father.”

“How long now?” says Sarek. “It would have been better if --”

“I know, Father,” interrupts Spock. “It will be soon, I think. The Lyran compound hastened the cycle considerably.”

“Have you found someone to honor you?” says Sarek.

Spock is silent.

Sarek stares at him for another long quiet moment. “Spock,” he says, and there's something raw in his voice. “Don't let me lose another son.”

“I will not, Father,” says Spock. Easier said than done, he knows, but – maybe a miracle will happen. Maybe just because he doubts Jim Kirk is going to make the same choice twice – why should he, when his life has been twisted from what his other self knew? When Spock has hurt him so much already? – maybe he'll be wrong.

Maybe this won't be as awful as every voice of tradition and Vulcan knowledge says it will be, but Spock doubts it. This is going to be a horrible way to die.

Sarek sighs and says, “I will retire to my quarters, then. Rest, child.” He hesitates. “The captain --”

Spock stiffens.

“He seems like a good man,” says Sarek.

“Yes,” says Spock. “He is. If you will excuse me, Father.”

The reception for the diplomats is held in one of the large rooms by the observation deck. The quality of light as the ship speeds at warp seem vaguely unreal; distant. Possibly that is the fever Spock can’t control any more. He’s desperately afraid he will attack someone. If he just gets through this one event, he can tell the captain he’s sick and needs to have leave to go to Vulcan. They won’t find anyone for him there, but he won’t attack -- anyone -- onboard the ship, either, and to Spock’s fevered mind that is the only important thing.

Jim’s dress uniform shimmers like electrum in the light. Spock can’t drag his eyes from it, even as he bows to the Lyran ambassador and greets JIm’s mother.

There are black spots in front of his eyes, shading to green. His ears are ringing. His head is pounding, like someone's hitting the giant drums of the wedding grounds directly on his skull. Was that how they began? As a reminder of this? He tries to take a step forward, and staggers. He says, in a voice that seems lost even to himself, “Jim,” and his knees buckle.

The captain leaps forward as Spock slumps down. Sarek's heart stutters to a halt – a real halt, the beat uneven and painful like the moment when the connection with Amanda shattered – but in the next second there's a hard human shoulder under his own and a hard human voice, saying, “Breathe, damn you!” He smells engine oil and dilithium. There's a flash of bright gold hair and he realizes that it's Winona Kirk. She's thinking You're no use to him dead, you son of a bitch –

Sarek takes a breath. And another breath.

He keeps breathing, through the pain in his chest, as Winona lowers him to the ground. He keeps breathing when Dr M'Benga's face wavers in front of him, lips in a tight line of concentration. He keeps breathing.

The pain fades a little but that's not good, because he can feel the connection with Spock wavering, fraying, and he grabs hold of it as hard as he can. He's lost two wives and gave up a son to his own pride, and this last connection is all he has left.

Spock's really heavy.

He's pale. Even the spots of green on his cheeks have faded. He's also burning hot, even more than he is normally – not that Jim usually touches him.

He looks up to see his mother lowering Sarek to the ground – of course he's been affected by Spock's seizure, he thinks, family bond, Spock is really sick and there is nothing Jim can do.

Jim,” says Bones, in the tone that means he's said it about three times already and is about to smack the shit out of Jim if he doesn't start paying attention right the fuck now. “Jim, you've got to let him go. Come on. I've got a stretcher. He'll be fine, just --”

It hurts to let go of Spock, even into the kind hands of Bones and Chapel. He looks up from his crouch to see the Lyran ambassador and his entourage staring silently. He stands up, trying to look confident. “All right, Bones,” he says. “Ambassador, I apologize for this --”

“No,” says the ambassador with what passes for a sympathetic look. “Is he all right?”

Jim swallows. “Not now,” he says, because he wants to be polite and not frighten them but he can't help but be honest. “But I hope he will be.”

“Is it --” the Lyran ambassador hesitates. “Did we – when you visited or when we came here, did we --”

Jim doesn't know what to tell them. If he says the wrong thing all the work he's put in – all of them have put in – to bring the Lyrans into the Federation will be compromised, and yet if they did, what if they did?

“No,” rasps Sarek, from where M'Benga is trying to put an oxygen mask on him, which is another level of scary because Vulcans really don't need that much of it to begin with. “No, it was nothing – it is of our people. Do not --” M'Benga's lips tighten more and then he stabs a hypo into Sarek's neck.

“It's nothing you did,” Jim says quickly. “The Ambassador – Sarek is Spock's father.”

The Lyran ambassador's shoulders slump in relieved tension. Jim knows Lyrans are big on blood-honor and feuds, so having Spock's father say that he didn't hold them responsible must have been a real relief. “Nevertheless,” the ambassador says, “If there is anything --”

“Jim,” Bones says. “You'd better come with us.”

Jim sits in Bones’ office for at least an hour, while M’Benga and Bones and the rest of the staff work on Spock and Sarek. He has a hard time thinking. His thoughts are chasing each other in a grinding, horrible circle. He wants Spock to be better. He wants to know what’s wrong with him.

When Bones comes in, his face is drawn and Jim can tell he’s actually worried, not just angry that someone has dared become ill without his permission. “Well?” he says.

“It’s bad, Jim,” says Bones soberly. “Do you remember when you asked us? About Vulcan bonds?”

Jim nods.

“Well,” sighs Bones. “Biology is an awful thing, Jim.”

Jim comes out of Bones' office to see Sarek sitting patiently on a bio-bed while Chapel runs scans on him. One of the med dogs sits beside her, watching the screen with as much attention as Chapel did. It flicks a glance at him as he passes, but returns its attention to Sarek immediately. Jim knows the dog will follow Sarek until it's satisfied that he is recovered or Sarek has left the ship. Jim himself has a bean bag set aside in his ready room for the med dogs. Sometimes he finds one hanging out there before an away mission, as if it had heard he was leaving and meant to be there when he limped back.

"Captain Kirk," says Sarek.

"Ambassador," says Jim, bowing slightly.

"You behaved admirably when Spock collapsed," says Sarek. Jim blinks at him.

"Thank you, sir," he says, wary.

"You were very calm, for a human," said Sarek.

Jim winces. He just can't handle this right now. "I knew he was in good hands, sir," he said.

Chapel finished her scan, and said, "If you would rest here for an hour, sir."

"I understand," said Sarek, managing a graceful half-bow from his position atop the bed. Jim shifted, ready to take his leave, and Sarek said, "Captain, if you would give me a moment of your time."

It isn't a question. Jim comes to parade rest as Chapel picks up her equipment, says, "Captain," and clicks her tongue at the dog. The dog's ears swivel, the only indication that it hears her commands. It flicks a look at Jim, and gets up and sits next to him, leaning its solid warmth against his leg. Jim thinks he must be pretty badly off, if a med dog thinks he looks or feels worse than the patient its assigned to.

"You know why Spock collapsed," says Sarek.

Jim shifts. "McCoy told me a little. I --"

"He is the only thing I have left of his mother," says Sarek, evenly. His face is calm, almost placid. "We spent five years working toward his birth. From that time I do not believe that either his mother or I made a single decision without deliberating over how it would affect him. I cannot ask you to consider your decision in light of my attachment to my son, Captain. I do ask you consider it carefully."

Jim swallows hard. "I –"

"He is very stubborn," says Sarek. "A fault common in both our species, I fear." He is quiet for a moment. "I also was a stubborn young man. The cycle after I met his mother, I attempted to live through it with the aid of a healer."

"It didn't work out so well?" says Jim.

"When his mother found out what I was attempting to do, she slapped me on the face," says Sarek.

Jim winces in sympathy, although considering what he had heard of Dr Amanda Grayson, Sarek was pretty lucky she hadn't kneed him in the balls while she was at it.

“Captain,” says Sarek. “I trust you.”

Jim swallows really hard. “Yes, sir,” he says.

So now they just have to find Spock a person to marry, at least temporarily, and while ordinarily Spock would have a really good chance of pulling anybody he wants (in Jim’s opinion), there's this thing where, apparently, they have to be mentally compatible. Because, get this, Vulcans will still die even if they have someone to bang through this hormonal death march, if they can't make a deep mystical connection with their partner at least long enough for their brains to hook whatever neurotransmitter with whichever one it needs to be connected to.

On the bright side, Vulcans are not so attached to their rituals and mysticism that they haven't spent generations researching the shit out of this thing. Dying of hormone-induced fever is not efficient, or logical, apparently, so they've gotten so they can tell a good match just by brain scans. Jim's not sure why they can't just cure the hormonal thing to begin with, but M'Benga started talking about telepathy and the loneliness of their own heads and Jim blocked him out in a hurry. It was that or cry.

But of course Spock is a special snowflake and can't make this easy on them, even when he's locked away in his own quarters with instructions to try and jerk off a little of his tension. Jim's an adult so he's trying not to think about that. The conversation he's having with Uhura is enough nightmare fuel for years, thanks anyway.

"Legally," explains Uhura, "Spock is Gaila’s sister."

"Legally everybody is Gaila’s sister," argues Jim, because this is a fact. Even Bones is, and while Jim is tremendously fond of Bones, the thought of him as a sister to someone is somewhere between horrible and hilarious. "Legally I’m Gaila’s sister, and we’ve totally fucked."

Uhura consults her padd instead of throwing it at him, which is very nice of her. "According to this you are the sort of sister who can be fucked." A vaguely horrified expression crosses her face. "And the same category as me."

"Oh dear God," says Jim, and wrenches his mind away from the complexities of Orion family bonds and legalities with an effort. "But Spock can’t?"

"No, and if she did fuck him it’d be against some legal code about force and superior officers so she’d have to be higher ranked than he is. And then it would be force against a Vulcan with pheromones, so no."

"Yeah," says Jim. "What about Bones? M’Benga? Chapel? I know Chapel would tap that, she tried it during the New Year’s party."

"McCoy gave me this haunted and horrified look, M’Benga has a wife already -- three of them, and two husbands -- and Chapel says that despite the unrivaled attractions of the thought of five days of uninhibited love with a Vulcan, she doesn’t care to be married to one."

Jim doesn't ask about Uhura herself. If she could, he knows that she would. "So who does that leave us with?"

Uhura consults her padd again. "Chekov –"

"Vetoed," says Jim instantly. There'd be permission slips and mandatory counseling. Also, Sulu would slice all the bitches.

"Christopher Pike, or you."

There's a long silence.

"Pike's on the other side of the galaxy," says Jim finally.

Uhura says, "Yes, Captain."

"It would be easier and less expensive to import hookers from Risa to tap each other out for a week than it would be to bring him here," says Jim, leaning back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling.

"It would be easier and less expensive to burn Warp 10 to get to New Vulcan in time than it would be to fill out the forms for Risan hookers, sir," says Uhura, who is a killjoy. "And with all due respect, Spock hates hookers."

"I know," says Jim gloomily. "Even purple ones! Who dislikes purple hookers?"

Uhura sighs and Jim sighs and finally Jim puts his chair back down and says, "Are you okay with it?"

"I'm not the one who apparently has to fuck the Vulcan for five days straight, sir," says Uhura tartly.

"Yeah but –" Jim waves his hands around and says finally, "I know you guys were close and then I know stuff happened and shit and it sucked hairy spacer ones, and it sucks less now finally, and seriously –"

"Your emotional literacy continually astonishes me," says Uhura, exactly like Spock. "Stop being noble, it's making you look stupid."

"Well," says Jim defensively. "I just think it was a dick move of a Sarek’s to put his son’s ex in charge of arranging his however temporary marriage, is all."

"I wonder about his father sometimes," says Uhura, which is a lot nicer than what Jim is thinking of him, but then shakes herself and adds, "I'm sure Sarek felt that I would have Spock's best interests at heart."

"I can't believe you said that with a straight face," says Jim, and then, "Are you sure we can't get Pike here in time? I'm sure Spock would infinitely prefer –"

"Jim," says Uhura, a little weary. "Just. Stop flipping your shit."

"I'm almost like a hooker," he says half to himself, and gets up.

Jim feels like he had to think it over. Not carefully considering it would be some sort of form of disregard to Spock and their relationship, whatever that was. If he makes the decision purely impulsively, trusting only to human instinct, it would wound Spock more than being left to face whatever is before him alone. He's got to think for Spock, which is awful and wrong, and he wants nothing more to have this be a bad dream. If Jim has to do the logical thinking, everybody's fucked.

Jim goes to Rec 5 and shoots some pool. After a while he lays out trick shots and calculates the trajectories in his head. He moves around the table, making rapid shots as the balls click against each other, forming new constellations on the green felt.

He looks up after a particularly tricky shot and finds his mother watching him, two beers in her hands. "George always shot pool when he was worried," she says. She sets one of the beers down on the edge of the table. "He did it for hours after he found out I was pregnant. Both times. I don't know what the hell he was so worried about."

"Probably that he might die on active duty and leave you with two kids," suggests Jim. "Which, hey!"

"Don't be an asshole," says Winona mildly. She picks up a spare cue and chalks it up. They play in silence for a while, the clacking of the balls and the muted conversations of the others in the room filling the quiet between them.

"Shitty beer," observes Winona finally. "I'll get George-clone to send you some."

"Kitchen's working on it," says Jim. "One of the cooks got an exception because brewing's a religious rite where she comes from."

"Lucky you," said Winona.

"Spock really likes –" Jim chokes on his own words. He stares blankly at the bottle. He can see Spock, as clearly as if Spock's standing there in his usual parade-rest, saying quite seriously, 'I believe we ought to allow the exception, Captain; brewing is an important religious ritual on Ninkasi, and –' with his own laughing voice replying, 'You're just as tired of replicated beer as the rest of us, aren't you?', and Spock lifting an eyebrow the barest millimeter, as if denying such a thing was not even worth his consideration.

"Jim," says his mother. He looks up. Winona's a pretty shitty parent, all things considered, but he had never doubted her love for him. He can see it in her eyes now as she looks at him. She reaches out to smooth the collar of his uniform, and then strokes back the fringe of his hair. Her hands frame his face gently. "George didn't ram a starship into that motherfucker so we could live scared."

Jim chokes out a shocked laugh. "Ma, do you ever actually listen to yourself talk?"

"Pay attention," says Winona in her Chief Engineering Bitch voice, absurdly at odds with the gentle grip of her hands on his face. "I know you can work it out."

Jim drops his forehead against hers and takes a deep breath of her scent, engine room and plain soap and home. "Live as hard as I can, huh?"

"No fear," says Winona softly.

"No regrets," he agrees.

Spock’s cabin, when Jim slips in about an hour later, is dimly lit in reds and smoky greys. It smells like incense and something a little like marigolds; Spock’s scent magnified by the close area. Jim wills himself not to sneeze as he slips further into the room, past an incense pot. He stops thinking about that when he sees Spock. He's curled up in the bunk in a ball of mute misery. It’s not quite what Jim was expecting.

The last time a crew member had gone into rut, there had been territorial displays of a rather gruesome kind and someone from Engineering had been trapped behind a table while the affected party ripped off his shirt and swung his head around like he was at a mosh pit. Jim had to go in there and rescue Scotty's minion, too -- and the dude from Communications that had antlers that his Uncle Steve would have paid good money to hang on a wall. (They dropped off after rut, which was frankly a relief to everybody, including Sawsbuck.) It had not been the most enchanting experience of Jim's captaincy.

Spock snarls weakly when Jim comes nearer: a warning noise with nothing but pain behind it. Jim meant to be gentle, to be reasonable, but the sight of Spock trying to ward him off with a faint growl and the faintest hint of lifted lip and teeth, makes him suddenly angry. How dare Spock chose to crawl away and die?

Jim reaches out, pushes Spock flat on his back. The snarl becomes stronger, but Jim's mad at him and he doesn't care, and he's pretty sure there's something Spock is putting out in his sweat or breath that makes him care even less. He straddles Spock's hips and grinds down. He leans his face almost close enough for Spock to bite him and hisses, "You don't get to give up."

Spock actually growls, a real growl, and tries to lunge up, but wait, he's been curling up in a little ball and waiting to die for three days, so he can't fight Jim as Jim pulls his own shirt off and keeps grinding his hips against Spock's. It's like being drunk and high all at once, the dirtiest dance with the hottest person in the entire club. Spock grabs Jim's hips. He'll have bruises for days and they're just getting started.

Spock tastes delicious, and Jim keeps kissing him and biting him and licking him like he can eat him all up, like if he crawls close enough he'll be inside him forever. Spock bites him back, and for a second Jim wonders if all Vulcans are like this in their mating frenzy or if it's just special to Spock. He doesn't care. Spock's hips are thrusting up against his like he can't help it.

Spock rolls them so Jim's back is on the bed and Jim stares up at Spock's eyes, black as pitch in the dim lighting. He can see the tiniest sliver of brown around the pupil. For a second Spock focuses and sees Jim. He looks absolutely terrified, and Jim wants to know what he's so frightened of, but in the next instant it's clear that Spock's higher brain functions have all been taken offline.

Spock makes a shattering, vulnerable sound. Jim surges up against him, rage transformed into sudden possessive tenderness. Jim wrapped his arms around Spock, huddled over him, arms wrapped around the precious curve of his skull. "Shh, shh," he crooned, low in his throat. "There. It's all right. It's all right."

Spock holds him with bruising force, as if he can merge their minds and bodies by sheer force of need alone.

"I got you, I got you," mumbles Jim, pressing frantic kisses to his hair, the sweet nape of his neck, the curve of his jaw and eyelids. He’s only vaguely aware of the seams of his clothing giving way under Spock's hands, and of a sense of relief as skin meets skin. Spock presses against him, impossibly closer, and Jim opens up for him.

When Jim comes back to himself, it takes him a minute to realize that the irritating sensation he’s feeling is his shoulder being washed with a rough Vulcan tongue. It’s as annoying as he remembered it; like being rubbed with wet sandpaper. Somehow it still feels kind of amazing except for when Spock runs his tongue over one of the many bite marks Jim is sporting. Jim flinches a little as Spock passes over a deep bruise. Spock stops at once, pushing his head apologetically against Jim's chest and making a low noise deep in his throat. Jim lifts his hand to sink his fingers into Spock's hair. He has no idea how long it had been since he had last had a clear thought.

"Hey," he says. He clears his throat and tries again. "Hey, you."

Starfleet has many, many stupid rules about many, many situations that may crop up in the course of human events, or at least in a five year mission in deep space. Some of them Jim is willing to take on faith; some of them he takes around on a PADD like a child clutching a favorite storybook and reads to Bones and Sulu and sometimes Uhura or Spock, if they're especially terrible. “But who would go to a planet that engages in ritual orgies without taking the hypo first?” he demands, wide eyed.

“Nobody raised by Winona Kirk, apparently,” sighs Bones, who is very fond of Jim's mother but is really not sure about her methods of child-rearing, and by that Jim means, thinks it's only by God's grace and favor either of her children achieved adulthood. It wasn't that Winona didn't mean to be a good mother. It was just that she thought staging drills about what to do if the house was on fire and ninjas were coming for you was a necessary part of their education.

Also, your allowance was whatever you won off her in poker, and Winona was a really mean poker player. Jim and Sam had learned quickly and very well. It was like the old story about the Greeks who taught their kids how to shoot by hoisting their food up on a rope.

Winona had done that, too.

None of regulations really seem to cover what happens when a captain is forced to fuck his first officer in lieu of first officer dying a hideous, hormone-driven death, although there's a rumor about Pike that Jim doesn't quite believe. For one thing, if Number One was subject to uncontrollable fits of sexual desire, she would have her uterus surgically removed and probably ritually burnt; for another, Dr Boyce was like an older, meaner Bones and would have considered it a personal insult if it happened to anybody under his care.

Since he's pretty sure Number One still has her uterus and is saving it for a special occasion (even Jim reels at the thought of Pike and Number One breeding), and Phil Boyce is stumping around Earth Base, meaner and more self-satisfied than ever, Jim's discounting that rumor.

It's really awkward, even by Jim's standards.

He wakes up the morning after the morning after, and he's in his own bed with Bones looming ominously over him and Spock looming over Bones, like he's not quite sure he wants to interfere but can't quite help himself either.

Jim actually, physically can't move, he hurts so much, and Bones sees this and gives Spock the stinkiest eye of all the stink eyes Jim has ever seen him dish out. Spock looks pretty guilty without the glare from Bones, but Jim spends a moment trying to figure out how he knows Spock's feeling so guilty. After a minute he feels something like a door closing stealthily in his head, and he realizes that the whole mind link thing was not a poetic metaphor.

Well, that's just fucking fabulous.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” he croaks.

“Captain,” says Spock, and Jim tries to hide the little flinch of disappointment before Spock sees it and feels worse.

“Jimmy,” croons Bones. “Jim. James. Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy. James Tiberius Kirk.”

“That's my name,” says Jim, and he tries to close his eyes, but his eyelids hurt when he tries to move them. He is one giant muscle ache, topped off with a migraine like a failure cherry on top.

James Tiberius Kirk,” says Bones, and Jim wonders again how Bones can sound more like his mother than his actual mother, who in all fairness just sounds like a crazy person no matter what she says or does.

He turns his head enough to look at Spock and then at Bones. “I'm not sorry,” he says clearly.

“I'm glad,” says Bones, insincerely. “That's real nice, Captain. It makes me feel so much better, and I'm sure in my heart it makes everybody else feel real happy, too.”

Spock, Jim notices, just tightens his mouth like he does when he is trying to be stoic and says, “I am grateful that you are doing so well, Captain.”

“Do you have to call me captain?” says Jim, and his voice is more plaintive than he really is happy about.

“Yes,” says Spock. “I do.” He makes a small bow to Jim and says, “I am on duty, sir. If you will forgive my departure.”

“Yeah,” says Jim, not that he seems to have much choice in the matter. “You go ahead.”

Spock looks at Bones, makes one of his half-bows and marches out. His back is so rigid that Jim is half afraid that if he brushes up against something, he'll shatter into pieces. He makes an aborted movement toward Spock, but puts his hand down before Spock or Bones notice.

Bones watches him go, too, and then he turns to Jim. His smile is terrifying. Jim wants to cower, but it's going to hurt to move that much, and so he just says, “All's well that ends well?” It's more of a question, and Bones treats it as such.

“Not really,” says Bones. “You're so covered with bruises you look like a leopard, your ass is going to be sore for a week at least, and that's with the regenerator, and also your first officer is going to need therapy. I'm going to need therapy. You're going to need therapy. I think the only person on this ship who is not going to need therapy is your mother, and she's going around complaining that she can't give away a virgin bride, like she's always dreamed of doing.”

“Sam eloped,” explained Jim. “Plus Aurie was already pregnant, so Mom couldn't make him wear white.”

“Jim, I say this in love, but your family is the hottest mess I have ever seen.”

“It is not,” says Jim. “I went to your family for Christmas. Your great-grandmother drank more gin in a day than my mother does in a week.”

“Christmas is special,” argues Bones feebly, because Jim’s totally right. “Anyway, what do you do when you have a family Christmas?”

“Drink beer and stare at Sam’s kids,” says Jim promptly. “Sometimes we pretend to listen to Aurie and have Kirk time together, but then we mostly go and shoot pool at bars.”

“Jesus mothering Christ,” says Bones prayerfully.

“Sam’s kids are great though,” says Jim. “It must be thanks to Aurie or something, but they’re totally awesome, and they do things like. Build models and I don’t know what else. Peter’s four and he’s just learning to read.”

Bones stares at him.

“We’re really proud of him for waiting this long!” says Jim.

“You know what,” says Bones wearily. “I was going to have a serious discussion with you about how you just landed yourself ear deep in shit, but now I’m going to go sit facing a corner and wonder why you’re proud of your nephew waiting until he was four to learn to read.”

Jim has like ten minutes of peace after Bones flees -- just enough time to poke at the closed door in his head carefully and consider freaking out, and decide he doesn’t have the time. Jim’s pretty sure he’s never going to have the time, really, not until maybe sixty years from now when they finally ban his ass off starships.

This fragile emotional moment, of course, is when his mother barges in, throws a shirt at his head (it says CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE and has a picture of a Vulcan on it. God, his mother) and says, “Put that on. I need you to authorize this subspace call before your comm officer punches me.”

“What,” says Jim, and sees a blinking red light on the screen. Winona slaps the screen on and Uhura’s face appears.

“Subspace call to George Kirk,” she says, squinting evilly at Jim’s mother, not that he blames her. “Shall I authorize, sir?”
Jim honestly wants to say no, but his mother’s foot is within striking range of his nearest and dearest.
Anyway, he might as well get this over with sooner than later.

“Ma,” he says tiredly, “aren't you supposed to be invested in our survival?

Uhura’s eyebrow shoots up, but she just says, “I’ll put him through then,” and the screen snaps to the call holding one.

“As long as Aurie survives to raise the kids, I’m fine,” says Winona, who is a bitch, and then Sam’s face comes on the screen. Sam glowers at them. Jim can glare all right, but Sam just lays on the NOT ANGRY, DISAPPOINTED look and both he and their mother kind of cringe away. Winona says her mother used to give that look to her all the time, so Jim reckons it’s about the only thing Sam didn’t inherit from their dad.
What Jim wants to do is flip his mother and brother off and go hide in his ready room or something, but he sees a small, blond head scaling Sam’s leg. Also, Spock would inevitably find out and give him a look like ‘hey remember when my entire planet imploded and took all my relatives with it?’

Jim forces a smile and says, “Lift the Pete-ster up so I can say hi, Sam. How’s David doing?”

Peter and David don’t really believe in Jim, not the way they do in Aurie’s family or even Winona. They just see him sometimes on a screen, and on their birthdays and New Year they get boxes labeled ‘from Jim,’ and the rest of the time he’s a dim mythological figure somewhere out in space.

It’s going to be an awkward conversation when David finds out Aurie didn’t actually give birth to him and Sam didn’t donate his genetic material, but Jim knows he’s no fit parent, and this is better than Carol adopting him out god knew where.

Sam lifts Peter up to see the screen. Peter puts two fingers in his mouth and stares at Jim suspiciously. Jim has no idea what to say to him, but he says, “Hi, Peter,” and waves awkwardly.

“David’s fine,” says Sam, smiling a poisonous smile. “Petey, now that you’ve said hello to Uncle Jimmy, why don’t you get Mommy and let her know Uncle Jimmy and Grandma are on screen?”

“Kay,” says Petey. “Uncle Jimmy, I have a dinosaur tractor,” he says, but climbs laboriously off Sam and trudges out before Jim can reply.

"Bye, Overlord," adds Peter, from the door, and Sam stops glaring poisonously at Jim long enough to howl "MOTHER."

"I love kids," says Winona.

"For God's sake, Mother!" shrieks Sam.

"Sooo much," she says.

Sam drags his hand through his hair and promises, "We will have words later, Mother." He turns and gives Jim a look.

Jim tries for a charming smile and says, "How are you, Sam?"

Sam swells like a pufferfish and explodes. "What the fuck!" he howls. "What the actual fuck have you gotten yourself into this time, James Tiberius! I swear to God, I will come to your ship and kick your fucking ass to the middle of next week!" He clutches his hair in a way disturbingly like Pike, and says, "Do I need to get there to kick someone's balls in? Oh my God, did he coerce you? Were you forced? Did he stalk you down like some terrifying sex panther? Was it like the –"

"Okay," says Jim loudly. "Aurie and I are going to have a talk about the type of movies she lets you watch, because oh my fucking God, George Samuel." Also, Jim doesn't know where this 'sex panther' thing started, but he's starting to wonder about his life choices more than usual.

"How do you know what type of movie I watch?" says Sam reasonably. "Do you really think she has anything to do with –" He falters before Jim and Winona's combined stare, but rallies enough to say, "I worry about you."

Jim waves this aside because if he thinks about all the worry he's caused his family he will never have time to think of anything else, ever again. Also he just wants this conversation to be over, like right the fuck now. "Are we just going to stand here and play Jim's Poor Life Choices again?" he says. "Because I've got a ship to run."

Sam sighs, "That would first require you to call what happened to you a choice, lameass," and then softer, "I just want to know you're okay, Jimmy." He looks like the pictures Jim's seen of their father, all big hands and tender eyes.

Jim thinks for a minute, and then he says, "I think I will be."

"Okay," says Sam. "Okay."

Aurie, Sam's wife, is so little like their mother that Jim thinks that maybe Sam went down a checklist to find the direct opposite of her, like if he did he could finally, finally have a normal life instead of one where their mother was kind of a drunkard and has no idea about what happens in normal human society; their father died, bursting with light like a nova; and his brother is even more broken than his parents, as if he was shattered at birth with their father's death and their mother's grief.

Aurie is a calm, capable, maternal sort of person, not exactly plump but nicely squashy to hug. When she hugs a person, they feel hugged all over. It's very comforting, but a little suffocating, too. She likes scrapbooks (real scrapbooks, not like the ones Winona makes of their bail tickets and psych evals), and even made some for Jim after he got his captaincy.

Jim wouldn't quite trust her, but she was insane enough to marry a Kirk, even one relatively normal as Sam, and so there must be a terrible person lurking somewhere in the good natured loving kindness of her soul. Jim loves her, but he's not sure he's ever going to really understand her.

Spock and Aurie would probably get along great, even if Spock Vulcan-divorces Jim. Maybe if they meet before Spock manages that, he can introduce them and convince Spock that there's at least one good person in the family, and it would be cruel to leave her alone with the rest of the Kirks.

Jim really wants to stay Vulcan-married to Spock. The fact that somehow he managed it once in a time and place far, far away doesn't encourage him much; Spock's definitely smart enough to realize he shouldn't make the same mistake twice, and Jim's broken, not like the other Kirk Spock had known and loved.

"Jim," says Aurie, breaking his thoughts. She looks at him for a long moment, and then says, "Don't think, honey. Just do it."

Jim dredges up a smile for her."Okay."

She stares at him for a moment like she knows he's just humoring her, but doesn't call him out on it. Instead, she says, "David starts preschool next week."

"God, already?" says Jim. "He's a giant now."

Sarek eyes Jim for a long, horrible minute, while Jim squirms internally and wonders if he's going to confirm all those rumors about Vulcans being able to kill people with their minds. He's sixty-eight percent nearly sure they have to be touching someone to do it, but Sarek is really mean and really protective of his son, so he'd be invested in trying really hard.

“Captain,” says Sarek, in a tone almost exactly like his son, which is really scary and wrong; also if he keeps talking like Spock what good memories of the last three days Jim has will be permanently overlaid with a scarifying mental image of Spock's dad and mom.

“Ambassador,” says Jim.

“I trust you are well?” says Sarek, and there's the barest flare of a nostril that suggests that Sarek doesn't want to think about what Jim just did with his son any more than Jim does.

“Smashing,” says Jim. “Tiptop. Great. Amazing.”

Sarek inclines his head and says, because Vulcans hate Jim and everything good and pure, “You will of course have been examined by this point.”

For a minute Jim wonders if crying would do any good. “Yes, I … I'm sorry, Ambassador, but why are you...?”

“You did a great favor for my son,” says Sarek, and for a minute Jim's looking at about ten thousand years of blood-honor and tradition, not just Sarek, Ambassador of Vulcan. “It would be less than kind to repay you with injury.”

“Oh,” says Jim, and wonders what the hell he's supposed to say. “I'm fine, thank you. Clean bill of health and everything.”

“I am gratified,” says Sarek. He turns away and Jim thinks he's had the last of this particular hellish conversation, when Sarek pauses and says, “Of course you will make your own decision, Captain, but Spock is not without resources or education.”

Jim replays that in his head. Sarek is not pointing out what a catch his son is, because that would mean --
“I for one believe our clan would be considerably strengthened by a spouse of Spock's selection,” adds Sarek, obviously to be an asshole, and glides out.

Jim sits down hard.

Then he breaks out the emergency emergency whiskey, because what the actual fuck is with his life?

The Enterprise has dropped out of warp and floats, lazy, on impulse drive, waiting for her rendezvous with the Lovelace. Jim's in the smaller observation deck, watching as the stars slow and form into fixed points of light. Most people don't like the sensation of dropping in and out of warp. Even Sulu fights against a flinch when the ship drops out of warp: It's not right, the hindbrain insists; something is wrong.

Jim likes it.

He supposes a romantic would say it was because he was born at warp, among the stars, but he always feels a thrill when the ship transitions from state to state. He doesn't feel upset or disoriented by it at all. He leans his head against the glass and transparent aluminum and looks out.

Here, away from the fixed point of a planet, the stars don't form real constellations; patterns form and dissipate, but any suggestion of order is from your mind only, and disappears as the ship moves. They're a few hundred light years from the navigation point; a supernova that burst when Vulcans were just learning language beyond minds touching together, and Earth only beginning to shake off her cloak of ice and silence.
Jim's never heard the music of the stars outside of a simulation in a classroom, but he imagines that this supernova would sound a deep, basso-profoundo note like the drums in Vulcan ritual, a noise less heard than felt in the bones of the skull. He thinks that someday, long after all of this has passed away into the silence of space from where it came, it will fade into a high sweet note: the birth of a new star from these remains.

Considering that, he thinks, his own problems don't seem so bad – and yet, he thinks, a little puff of amusement escaping him, the universe is just as infinitely small as it is large; isn't that what Starfleet spends good time and money trying to hammer into their heads? No matter how small, no matter how huge, it's important.

He stays for a minute more before some shift of air makes him aware that he's not alone any longer; maybe it's the scent, or maybe he's always just known.

"May I help you, Mr Spock?" he says.

"Captain," says Spock, coming closer. In the cool light of the stars his face is even more alien. Jim looks away before he reaches out to smooth the faint worried line of his brow.

It's kind of amazing, to know someone that well. If Spock doesn't want this – if Jim himself can't handle this sort of intimacy –

He swallows and says, "You have my attention, Mr Spock."

"I wished to confirm your wellbeing, sir," says Spock. His vice is slow and a little quiet, as if he's frightened of scaring Jim away.

"Great," says Jim. "I'm awesome. Stellar, in fact. One might even venture groovy."

"Captain –" says Spock.

Jim huffs out a breath and says, "Don't you think we're a little beyond that now, Commander?"

"You as well," says Spock tartly. His eyes focus on Jim's chest. For a minute Jim thinks he's checking out his chest, and then he looks down. He's wearing the CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE shirt again, because he's off duty and nobody's around to see him. Laundry has been the least of his priorities lately. He'd been wearing a sweater anyway, but the observation deck is pretty warm, because of the Vulcan guests.

"Uh," he says, and then, "Mom gave it to me, I swear to God, Spock." Just like that, the awkward is gone, burned away by the force of Spock's disapproving eyebrow.

"You said Dr McCoy bought you the one suggesting you were free with your favors," says Spock. "Do you have nothing to wear that you bought yourself?"

"Which one?" says Jim, because Bones is a passive-aggressive motherfucker and doesn't approve of Jim's decisions.

"The one with the tentacled being on it," clarifies Spock. "That is holding a plate of animal flesh and crustaceans."

"Okay, that one he really did get me," says Jim. "When he was drunk and in Georgia." Jim's actually been to the place where Bones got it, too; it's a dive that serves barbecue beef and shrimp, and is populated by beings that makes the Shipside Bar regulars in Riverside look refined. The print shows a leering alien assuring the viewer that EARTH BOYS ARE EASY and suggesting they COME ON DOWN TO BUBBA BOB'S HOUSE OF TASTY, Y'ALL.

"I am continually astonished by you," says Spock, his voice raw with something Jim can't read.

“Oh, well, I'd hate to bore you,” says Jim, his voice a little sharper than he really meant to make it. It's been a really long day and an even longer week, and all he wants to do is – is to go lie down with Spock beside him, he realizes with a sharp pang of longing. He wants to crawl into bed and have Spock stare at him until he shuffles closer to the wall. He wants Spock to roll up in all the blankets until Jim's forced to sleep closer to him or freeze; he wants to get an elbow In the diaphragm for snoring; he wants to get up in the morning and do the bathroom dance, ducking around each other as they shave and brush their teeth; he wants to do it all over again and again.

For a moment he reels with it, with the feeling that this is the only thing he will ever want, before sanity returns and it's just a gnawing desire instead of a black hole sucking him in. He swallows hard and says, “Do you want to talk about this here?” Here would be a great place to talk. Neutral, but close enough to sick bay and Bones' quarters that he could get to them and hide like a wounded animal afterward, and close enough even to Uhura's quarters and the science labs that Spock could hide away too. Much better than Jim's quarters, or God forbid, Spock's. Jim doesn't know if he could stand to be in Spock's quarters ever again. Even the slight scent of incense Spock has on his clothing seems like it will make him go crazy. Maybe it's just residual hormones talking but he feels like the only thing he wants to do right now is crawl inside Spock's skin and never come out.

Jesus Christ, no wonder Vulcans hate this shit.

He rubs his face with his hand, says, “All right, let's just – “ he breaks off because Spock's staring at his shirt again, eyebrows drawn. “What?”

Spock looks away but Jim feels like he can see a tiny bit of light seeping out from the closed door in his mind. He's got to find a better metaphor for that, he thinks irreverently, and then concentrates. “You … don't like my shirt,” he says slowly.

Spock jerks guiltily – Jim can tell he's jerked guiltily! – and says, “I have no opinion --”

“You don't like it because it makes you think of the ones Bones gave me,” says Jim, with more confidence. “And that it's a really insensitive Vulcan joke but I think you've met my mother, so we'll give that a pass for now, but I'll yell at her for you.”
“I do not,” begins Spock.

“No, I think I get to talk some now,” says Jim, and he can feel Spock desperately trying to close the mental door again, but Jim's always been good at barging in where he's not wanted. He's got his mental foot in Spock's mental door now, and he's going to keep it there until Spock saws it off. He can tell that Spock is scared to do it. He can tell –

“You asshole,” says Jim, “why didn't you tell me this in the first place?”

Spock looks up again. “How was I to tell you?” he says, and his voice is desperately, finally honest. “I – Jim – I am not my other self. I do not --”

“If it makes you feel better,” interrupts Jim, “I have no idea what the hell I'm doing either.”

Spock stares at him like this actually the craziest fucking thing Jim has ever said, which – Jim has said so many crazy things, he tries not to think about it. Now, though, he takes a deep breath, holds out his hand and says,
“We could try to figure it out. Together.”

After a long moment, Spock takes his hand. “We could, at that,” he says, and Jim pulls him down for – he hopes, he believes – the first of many kisses.