Actions

Work Header

When Light Shines

Chapter Text

Spock freezes at the door, blinking once slowly as he takes in the scene.

The Athos people believe in communal bathing, and while he is not body shy, neither does he wish to comingle with such a tactile species when he is naked and unable to politely keep unwanted touches to a minimum. He has calculated the time with the highest probability of minimizing the presence of other inhabitants, and thus he is surprised to find the Captain utilizing the bathing facilities.

Captain Kirk is under one of the numerous showerheads lining the wall, and as Spock had surmised, there are only three other occupants in the large chamber, all of whom are engaged in their ablutionary rituals. Unlike Kirk, they have taken adjacent stalls and are washing each other.

Spock watches as the Captain stands quietly under the spray, and he finds it oddly difficult to look away. He has never seen the other man be so . . . still. Even when the Captain is on the Bridge, he is in constant motion, jiggling his leg or tapping his fingers or bantering with the crew to pass the time. There is always the sense of contained energy, waiting to explode forth at the least provocation, and he fills and overflows the position of Captain of the Enterprise, flagship of Starfleet’s armada.

Here, he is somehow both less and more, not just a symbol of his authority, even as it is obvious who he is against the backdrop of the Athosians’ chartreuse skin and pale blue hair, yet eluding the classification of being a mere man, graced with a bearing and dignity that Spock would never have attributed to him before this.

The Captain displays neither discomfort nor concern with his state of nakedness, apparently lost in whatever he sees behind his closed eyes. Without the typical brash arrogance adorning his face, he looks young, although not innocent, somber, but not sad. He looks . . . different in a way that Spock is at a loss to explain.

He has never seen this side of the Captain. He had not realized it existed.

Spock is pulled from his reverie as the Captain moves and opens his eyes, passing over Spock’s robed form before darting back to his face. They stare at each other for three point two seconds before the Captain’s eyes close and he turns his back to Spock.

Deciding to forgo bathing for the time being, Spock returns to his room, feeling strangely bereft.

The door to the bedroom he was directed to earlier that evening slides shut with a quiet sigh. The small room is sparsely decorated with a functional table and chair against one wall, and a narrow cot against the other. A large, glassless window, open to the hot Athosian air, looks out over gardens below.

Once inside his room Spock hesitates, undecided whether to meditate or sleep. After a few seconds, he opts to do neither, the image of his captain bathing still at the forefront of his consciousness. What he requires is a period of reflection to analyze his atypical reaction, and kneels on the floor in preparation.

Spock believes he knows the captain better than most on the ship. He acknowledged on their very first meeting, that Kirk is aesthetically appealing, a fine specimen of the Human race, in peak physical fitness, with well-proportioned facial features and bright blue eyes—a package he knows, from experience, are attractive to many of the races with which the Enterprise comes into contact. He, himself, he conceded early on in their acquaintance, is not immune, though he brushed off the notion as irrelevant.

Kirk’s degree of intelligence is almost unmatched among Terrans, a child prodigy whose incredible intellect kept him alienated from his peers, a troubled misfit who grew up to become a rebellious genius with anger management issues and no real family ties to anchor him. Spock read Cadet Kirk’s personnel file immediately prior to the Kobayashi Maru inquiry. Even then, he grudgingly recognized some of the attributes of the young Kirk in himself, though he discounted it as a mildly-interesting coincidence and thought no more of it.

In the months since, he has seen that brain power turn disastrous missions into victories time and again through a combination of stealth, tactics and illogical intuitive leaps that would likely see him rewrite the entire StarFleet Captain’s manual by the end of their five year mission. In short, his command thus far has been nothing less than admirable. Neither has Kirk confined this ability to their missions—his prowess is just as devastatingly effective on the chess board on the few occasions they played together—at Kirk’s instigation—in the rec room. He would never admit it to anyone, but Spock recognized early on that he could have a lot to learn from this contradictory man, though he’s never taken the steps to do it.

In a moment of epiphany, he realizes that on different levels he admires Kirk, but for months has been in denial about it. Now, a shift has taken place within, as though he has been staring at a piece of art and suddenly notices that what looked to be a set of abstract patterns has coalesced to form a recognizable image.

Added to this new self-knowledge is the fact that until now, all of his understanding of Kirk is a matter for the record: data that can be gleaned from personnel files and mission reports. However, this evening, he perceived something of his captain that goes beyond his physical and intellectual characteristics, something less tangible, an indefinable presence that he seemed to exude. It is as though in shedding his clothing, he discarded his public persona, the James T. Kirk he shows to the world. Gone was the nervous energy, to be replaced by a serenity and a centeredness he never would have believed his captain capable of had he not seen it for himself.

This shift in his awareness, he is beginning to understand, is not only in his perception of this evidently complex Human. For the first time in their 9.4 month acquaintance, he feels drawn to him; not as a colleague, nor a friend. When he adds the mental agility and the physical attributes to the quiet, centered energy he experienced earlier, he can draw but one conclusion. Jim Kirk would make an ideal mate.

Fascinating.

Having knowledge and acting on it are two entirely different matters, however.

While his relationship with the captain has not been contentious for the most part, neither would Spock say it is without its challenges. Respect has grown between them, and although Spock does not always understand why Kirk chooses the methods he does, nor always agree with the outcome—he is never deterred from pointing out, quite strongly when the occasion demands, fallacies in Captain’s Kirk logic—he would never argue that the captain’s motivation is at fault.

Spock is aware his questioning frustrates his captain, although it is a Human shortcoming to take offense at such times, perceiving insult where none is intended. Nonetheless, it is Spock’s duty as first officer to offer his suggestions, solicited or not, correct or not. He freely admits there have been many instances when the captain’s course of action was the appropriate choice. Conversely, the opposite is true as well. Spock’s intervention has saved situations when the captain’s rashness would have led them astray. Professionally, they are learning to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

The same cannot be said of their lives off-duty.

Although Spock has attempted to keep his personal affairs separate from his responsibilities, he acknowledges that he has not been wholly successful. Immediately after the destruction of the Narada, the captain made several attempts to befriend him, which Spock could neither fully appreciate nor reciprocate at the time. It was due, in part, to his brief liaison with Lieutenant Uhura, his focus on her and her initial antipathy for their captain. Their relationship offered a measure of comfort that he is grateful for to this day, however, five point five seven months after leaving Earth, they both acknowledged they are not romantically suited to one another and have since reverted back to their former friendship.

Now, nine point four months since the commencement of the five year mission, Spock finds he . . . regrets the opportunity lost. The captain, although courteous in his rough fashion, has not made another attempt to reach out to him in two point one months, and Spock finds himself at a loss as to how to rectify the situation now, especially with this new perception to motivate him.

While enjoyment is an emotion that Spock would studiously deny experiencing, he would certainly derive a degree of satisfaction in getting to know the captain better since it would go some way to sating his new-found curiosity regarding this enigmatic Human. The question is how to go about doing so. Certainly with the Holidays season almost upon them, there will be an increase in the number of social events on board at which he may encounter and engage with the captain while off-duty without it appearing contrived. In addition, they are scheduled shoreleave at Starbase 82 on Christmas Day. However, he also knows he will be one among many vying for Kirk’s attention, especially McCoy, who guards their friendship jealously.

Spock concludes that this mission presents the ideal opportunity to make amends, since the Enterprise has departed on a routine supply run to several Federation outposts in the sector. When not in meetings or other diplomatic functions, there will be ample free time in which to engage his captain without the usual interruptions and burden of duty that come with commanding a starship.

A light tap at his door brings Spock out of his ruminations and, rising gracefully from the floor, it is with a degree of inquisitiveness that he walks across the chamber, wondering who would pay him a visit at this late hour. Touching a plate on the wall, the door glides open to reveal his captain wearing an odd expression on his face. He is, thankfully, now fully clothed, although Spock is unable to prevent his eidetic memory reminding him what the athletic body beneath his captain’s uniform looks like. He bats the inappropriate thought away and assuming his usual air of quiet professionalism, focuses his attention on his commanding officer and the reason for his visit.

“Captain, how may I be of assistance?”

“I didn’t interrupt anything did I? I was worried you might have already hit the sack.” Kirk runs his fingers through his hair, a gesture Spock has come to associate in his captain with a degree of nervousness, the earlier serenity clearly no longer in evidence. Spock stands to one side, allowing him entry.

“Even if the Athosians had furnished me with a burlap bag, I am uncertain why you might believe I would wish to strike it.” This game between him and his commanding officer almost invariably elicits a smile, as it does now. The comment, Spock notes, also has the desired effect, lessening Kirk’s apparent tension to a small degree. He notices Kirk doesn’t attempt to explain the odd phrase, as many of his other colleagues do—particularly McCoy, often to his captain’s amusement.

“I couldn’t sleep,” the captain begins.

This information isn’t surprising to Spock as, despite the late hour at this location on the planet, it is still early evening, ship’s time, and since they arrived only a few hours earlier, Kirk has not had sufficiently long enough to synchronize his circadian rhythm to the local time. “So I’ve been reading the cultural brief.”

At this, he exhibits an expression that Spock recognizes, one the doctor has referred to in the past as ‘sheepish’. Spock is aware that his captain’s preferred learning style is less theory and more action-oriented. To accommodate this, he began early on in their working relationship to arrange meetings prior to each mission, at which he provided his commander with a condensed version of the brief for him to peruse and answer questions as they arose from his reading. He finds it an efficient strategy as, this way, Kirk doesn’t get overwhelmed by the minutia of unnecessary detail. He quickly came to realize that it is not that Kirk cannot retain such detail—he is more than capable of doing so given he has an almost photographic memory—it is merely that his captain’s attention span wanes considerably when he is not motivated.

“The day after tomorrow is ‘Bahari’ which, as far as I can figure, is like their weekend.”

“I am aware,” Spock concurs. It is more than that—a day specifically put aside for family, friends and leisure.

“So that means no meetings with the Athosian diplomatic team. I had thought about doing some Christmas shopping—I’m a bit behind with it. But their online malls have a good choice of stuff I can look at some time before we leave. So I was wondering if you’ve got any ideas of things we’ll be able to do with our free time.”

Kirk is aware that Spock would have made a thorough study of the Athosians, which would include typical leisure-time activities. However, while he knew the day off was imminent, he had given no thought as to how he might spend the time. As his captain has noticed, with the Enterprise away, they are planet bound for the duration of the talks. Typically, on the rare occasions when the opportunity has arisen to spend a day uninterrupted by duty considerations, he has passed the time in deep meditation.

He considers Kirk’s question and realizes there is a degree of ambiguity in it, since it is unclear whether his captain simply wishes for a list of potential options, or whether he is suggesting they spend the day together. It is possible he means the latter, as this is the first time they have been alone on a mission, and Kirk has no other for company in his free time. This, Spock realizes, could play to his advantage.

“I am not averse to spending the time with you, Captain, perhaps touring the city and investigating their cultural institutions.”

Kirk lifting his eyebrows and widening his eyes is indicative of surprise, and suggests to Spock that his captain was simply requesting options.

“Uh . . .” A smile spreads across Kirk’s face and, leaning forward, he slaps Spock’s upper arm in what the Vulcan has come to recognize as a gesture of camaraderie. “Cool. It’s a date.”

Spock does not understand how four simple words can create such a marked increase in his heart rate, but it is nonetheless true. The physiological effect is easily rectified, but he is taken aback by its occurrence and all that it implies. Outwardly, he merely raises an eyebrow at the unorthodox suggestion, which elicits a grin in response. The captains eyes, he acknowledges, are most appealing when he smiles.

“Catch you later, Spock.” With that, he abruptly turns and leaves.

Pushing his internal reaction aside for future meditation, Spock sits at the small table in his room that doubles as a desk and dining table. It appears the probability that Kirk may procure him a Christmas gift for the upcoming Terran festival has just risen to seventy nine point four percent, so he will need to have one to hand in order to reciprocate. He will peruse the online selection later. For now, he will search through his PADD for suitable activities for his captain. While he knows Kirk has a preference for spontaneity, he does not want to be unprepared.

Spock considers the Athosians a prime example to support the theory that many worlds throughout the known galaxy were deliberately seeded with humanoid lifeforms by an ancient space-faring civilization, including those of all the founding members of the United Federation of Planets. Besides their unique coloring the Athosians, he notes, are exceedingly similar to the Humans of Earth. Their Ambassador to the Federation, Eilly Tressat, has promised to furnish his science department with DNA samples so that further analysis of their roots can be determined.

Spock has noticed that a number of aspects of their culture are reminiscent of that of Earth’s ancient early Roman hegemony. Their political structure is close to that of the era of the republic, with senior politicians selected from the ruling noble class. They praise literature and the arts, while simultaneously revering shows of strength and athletic prowess. They are also polytheistic, with temples dedicated to their various gods prevalent in all the planet’s urban conurbations. Athos, Spock was interested to discover, is the name given to the ruler of their gods, the god of sun who they believe presides over all their lives. Athos in the standard language of their people literally means light.

It is one of the temples that attracts Spock’s eye. It is dedicated to the god Argene, patron of science, and houses one of the largest museums in the Athosian’s premier city where they are currently located, as well as one of the planet’s most distinguished academies.

Argene, apparently, espouses that soundness of mind must be matched by soundness of body, and anyone who wishes to apply for study must first surmount several physical trials to reach the temple at the summit of the mountain. The trek is available to all comers, however, and Spock cannot help but feel that the captain would find this more appealing than the flower gardens, or the local outdoor statuary. Perhaps not as much as the pleasure district, but Spock judiciously decides to keep that knowledge to himself. The point of the day is to spend time with the captain and get to know one another, and not to encourage Kirk to fraternize with the local people.

Decision made, Spock returns to the communal bathing facilities—now entirely empty—before resting for the remainder of the night.

+

Before the first day is over, Spock is finding the structure of the Athosian workday highly inefficient. Negotiations headed by Prime Minister Egbir Woyul proceed slowly, not because the Athosians are reluctant—although there have been some sticking points that will need to be addressed—but because of the requisite socializing and pausing for frequent small meals and entertainment that is a cornerstone of their interactions. The captain is in his element, smiling engagingly as he mingles and charms their hosts, and when they break for the evening repast, he is quickly surrounded by a host of young Athosians, all touching him, all eager to be the focus of his attention.

The sight makes Spock stumble over his own words as he converses with the Athosian Minister of Transportation, not because the scene itself is unusual or unexpected, but because of the novel response it evokes in him. For the first time ever he is experiencing an irrational internal turmoil that he believes may be jealousy. How curious.

It is not as if he has made any kind of formal declaration to the captain of his intentions. How can he when he has just decided to become better acquainted on a personal level with him? Which is a far cry from asking him to bond—a commitment that nothing in his captain’s behavior leads him to believe he would accept from anyone, least of all himself given that they could barely be described as having any degree of friendship. And there is no reason to disapprove of the captain’s actions, when interacting with the Athosians is a necessity, and Kirk’s playful but unspecific flirting is facilitating the negotiations. Thus, the disconcertion at seeing green-yellow-hued fingers on the captain’s arm is illogical.

Illogical and unwarranted.

Yet Spock cannot deny that he experiences a certain measure of relief when the Prime Minister Woyul extracts the captain to adjourn to the dining room. Puzzling.

He must meditate upon this.

The room is grand with a long table that Spock estimates seats at least sixty. Down the center alternates large, ornate candelabra made of a fiery red metal, and floral displays that reflect the colors of the Athosian planetary flag of blue, orange and brown. Hanging overhead are clear crystal chandeliers, giving off rainbows of refracted light that shimmer about the walls.

“Light be praised! It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Spock turns to find a young woman smiling at him, trailing him into the room. She is younger than most of the of those attending the meal, her pale pink diaphanous gown wrapped in folds about her, setting off the color of her skin and her long blue hair flowing to her shoulders.

He’s unsure exactly to what she is referring, but nevertheless concurs. “Indeed, my lady.” He glances towards his captain who is listening to the Prime Minister, his face serious, nodding in apparent agreement. There is too much ambient noise for Spock to hear what is being said.

“I am called Kahero,” she informs him, forcing him to turn his attention back to her. “You are Spock.”

“I am,” he says with a small bow.

Kahero links her arm into his and it is all Spock can do not to pull away, fearing it would appear rude. He has no idea who she is, but if she is attending the meal, she’s likely to be a high-ranking official or politician. “Come,” she says. “I will show you to your seat—we’re sitting together.”

Despite his uniform insulating him from her touch, Spock can sense desire in her and automatically tenses, walking stiffly at her side.

“Excuse me, my lady.”

Spock is so focused on reinforcing his telepathic shielding, he fails to see Kirk approach.

Kahero turns to the captain, but maintains her hold on the first officer’s arm.

“We probably failed to include it in our cultural brief,” Kirk begins, “but Vulcans prefer not to be touched by anyone other than those closest to them.” He says the words with his most charming smile.

His captain’s intervention is not only welcome, but creates a stir within him that he is unable to identify.

“Is that so, Captain?” Kahero says and tightens her hold on Spock’s arm. “Well, I am hoping to become closer. Commander Spock is an attractive man.”

Vulcan etiquette prohibits a person discussing someone in front of them as though they are not present, since it is illogical to do so. However, he has noticed this is not so among the Terran and, presumably, the Athosian cultures.

Kirk looks directly at Spock and smiles warmly. “I agree.” The two words intensify the stirring within. “I’m sorry to break the news to you, my lady,” Kirk says, regarding Kahero for a moment before turning his attention back to the Vulcan, the smile still in place as he holds his first officer’s gaze, “but Commander Spock is too polite to tell you he is already taken.”

Spock suppresses any outward manifestation of surprise at the words, realizing he has never told Kirk that he and Uhura ended their relationship three point seven months earlier. It is with relief that Kahero releases his arm, but not before he senses a stab of disappointment from her.

“It’s a pity. But I have to say, you two make a most handsome couple.”

“I—” Kirk begins, but Spock interrupts.

“Thank you, my lady. You are most gracious.”

Kahero, it later transpires, is Prime Minister Woyul’s daughter, home for a short time from the academy where she is studying Athosian philosophy. Although the captain’s appearance was successful in diverting her from her amorous pursuit, she decides to satisfy her curiosity about the aliens in another way, questioning Spock throughout the meal about Kirk and their relationship, regardless of how many times he changes the topic of conversation. How did they meet? How long have they been together? Are all Federation ships manned by mated couples?

She assumes that they are permanently bonded, and Spock does not have the opportunity to correct her before she offers another round of questions. Why didn’t Kirk and Spock tell her father they were joined? Don’t they want to be together instead of occupying separate rooms? Are they fighting?

Up until that point, Spock has been as truthful as he can in all of his answers, but her line of query is proving difficult. To reveal that he has misled her could have deleterious consequences on the negotiations, but so too could the impression that there is dissension in his and the captain’s relationship. As ambassadors of the Federation, they must offer a united and stable front to entice the Athosians to join, and hints of marital strife will counteract that.

“My relationship with Jim is mutually satisfactory.” The feel of the captain’s given name is odd on his tongue. Odd, but not displeasing. “However, given the nature of our duties during our time here, we did not wish to—”

Kahero has a habit of interrupting Spock’s sentences in a manner he would find irksome were he prone to Human emotions. “Nonsense! My father would never have knowingly separated the two of you had he known. He is very old-fashioned in his beliefs and will be pleased to learn that you two are a couple. On Athos, a man with as much responsibility as your captain would already be wed and have offspring if possible. My father invited those Athosians from families of sufficient standing who are of marriageable age to come in the hopes of enticing your captain to choose one.”

Spock instinctively looks towards Kirk, and sure enough, there are a number of young and attractive Athosians—both male and female—seated in his vicinity. He turns back to Kahero, but she is already out of her seat and heading towards the end of the table where Kirk and the Prime Minister are eating.

This does not bode well, although he has no one to blame but himself, and his uncharacteristic moment of impulsiveness.

+

The captain adjusted to the news that he is bonded to Spock with admirable poise, and over dinner, he and Prime Minister Woyul spent five point seven minutes apologizing to each other for the misunderstanding. Spock could only wonder at what was going through his captain’s mind at that juncture.

Now they are standing in Kirk’s accommodations, Spock notices that his captain does not look at him, and his shoulders are stiff as they watch servants move Spock’s few possessions to the captain’s room which, as befitting his rank, is grander both in size and furnishings.

The room boasts a small double bed, two small couches and a desk all of which are made from the same ornately carved green-colored wood. On the desk stands the portable sub-space comms. console they brought with them so that the captain can keep in touch with his ship while she is away from the Athosian star system.

When they are finally alone, Spock clasps his hands behind his back and says, “Captain, I wish to apologize for the situation I have—”

Kirk waves his hand. “Nothing to apologize for, Spock. Hell, I didn’t know who she was either.” He blows out a long stream of air and then smiles crookedly. “Besides, this is loads better than that time we got stuck on Epsilon Tauri II for three days. Food, bed, showers, and tomorrow we get to explore the city without worrying something is going to attack us. We’re going to turn soft if this goes on too long. Speaking of showers, I think I’m going to go down and get rid of the day’s grime. Got to take advantage of real water showers while I can, right?”

Spock nods his head, not saying anything else as Kirk gathers what he needs before leaving the room. He understands that he is not invited.

Spock wishes to meditate but is doubtful, after all that has transpired that evening, that he could achieve the state of equilibrium required prior to Kirk’s return. Instead, he sits on one of the couches to reflect.

Despite his captain’s reassuring words and outward appearance, Spock is uncertain what the Human truly thought of his deception that resulted not only in embarrassed apologies having to be made on both his and their hosts’ part, but their being forced to share quarters, with the resultant loss of privacy. The bed, he estimates, is less than 1.5 meters wide—scarcely a double—and, with the additional seating too small to provide an alternative, he has already decided the captain shall keep the bed for himself, since his own Vulcan constitution allows him to function on far less rest than Humans ordinarily require.

Anyone who knows Spock would never describe him as impulsive. He believes in considering all his options, carefully weighing up all pros and cons, before alighting on a final decision. He is also known for being scrupulously honest in all his dealings and has never failed to object to deceptions StarFleet has ordered them to perpetrate in order to fulfill a mission. There is no doubt in his mind, therefore, that his actions would be seen as entirely out of character by Kirk, even though he has so far said nothing on the matter. And that, Spock acknowledges, is out of character for his captain.

But to the matter in point, Spock is entirely baffled by his own behavior. His dishonesty is in no way logical, he concedes. He knows that Kirk was about to disabuse Kahero of her misunderstanding when he interrupted, cutting his captain’s words short in order to perpetrate the deception. It would have been equally as simple to give a further explanation as to why touching a Vulcan in such a forward manner is a cultural taboo among his people, and he is certain she would have desisted. She is young, and somewhat immature by Vulcan standards, but he detected no malice in her.

Spock thinks back to a point earlier when he noticed how many women flocked to his captain and how seeing such a thing affected him in a somewhat negative manner. Used to suppressing all emotion, jealousy is one with which he is entirely unfamiliar. Not even when he was with Nyota, who drew the amorous advances of many men—his captain included—though he had long suspected that was more what Humans referred to as a ‘running joke’, than in all seriousness—did he experience this degree of possessiveness. Yet, given his realization the day before over his attraction to his captain, together with the events that evening and the physiological and psychological triggers that manifested within him, there is no doubt in his mind that that is what he briefly experienced.

He is certain Kirk is not the kind of man to feel flattered by actions motivated by such an emotion. From what he knows of his captain, he values his freedom and independence and has frequently berated his first officer for being over-protective in some of their more challenging and dangerous missions. He needs to be careful, he concludes, and to ensure that any such emotions are ruthlessly suppressed. This is not easy for Vulcans as they are naturally possessive of their mates, even though Spock knows he has no right to be since not only is his captain entirely unaware of the direction Spock’s thoughts have been taking with regards a relationship, but he has no evidence to suggest that Kirk would be interested, were he to be informed.

Spock reflects on another part of the conversation with Kahero, when she admitted the Athosian people were hoping the captain would choose a mate from among their own. Although Kirk was not privy to that discussion, it is likely the Prime Minister himself has informed the captain of their wish and, knowing his captain, he would have likely given a non-committal reply—neither an agreement nor an outright rebuff.

This is not the first mission that such a proposal has been made. When visiting 21 Ursa Majoris V, the planetary president offered the captain a choice of women at the conclusion of the mineral rights negotiations as a sign of goodwill. When it had become clear that the chosen would be his to take with him, Kirk has graciously turned down the gift, citing a non-existent StarFleet regulation. The real one, which states the acceptance of gifts of sentient lifeforms is completely forbidden would not have been politic to flag, since StarFleet were clearly willing to turn a blind eye to certain of the slavery practices common on the planet in exchange for the right to mine pergium.

Given that the probability of Kirk taking up the offer of marriage to an Athosian is less than zero point three percent, and his refusal would have a thirty six point four percent probability of potentially causing offence, especially if he had misread the situation and taken one of those women to his chamber for what he would no doubt believe to be a merely casual sexual encounter, then this deception has likely caused a certain saving of face, if not averted a diplomatic incident. His captain, who is both highly intuitive and a gifted strategic thinker, in all probability came to such a conclusion almost immediately. This train of thought goes a long way to explaining his captain’s quiet acceptance of the situation.

Before he could ruminate further, the door slides open to reveal Kirk, pink and flushed from a hot shower, wearing nothing but a short robe. Spock ruthlessly clamps down on the unexpected beginnings of arousal.

“Captain—”

“Jim,” he interrupts. “If we’re going to share a bed tonight,” he says with the characteristic smirk he shows whenever he finds a situation amusing, “you could at least call me by my first name.”

Spock nods in acquiescence. “Jim, as you are aware—”

His captain holds his hand up to forestall him and Spock stops in mid-sentence. “Don’t give me the ‘Vulcans need less rest than Humans’ lecture. We’re going to share that bed and I don’t want any of your logical arguments why we shouldn’t. There’s plenty enough room for two and it won’t be the first time we’ve shared close quarters.”

That is true, although the one other time was because they were sharing a jail cell in which the low ambient night-time temperature had caused them both to accept the logic of sharing body warmth until a rescue could be successfully mounted.

Spock eyes the bed dubiously, while noting a seventeen percent increase in his heart-rate, together with elevated respiration. He knows better than to debate the matter with Kirk, who can be most stubborn once his mind is set. He is in no doubt his captain has given it thorough consideration while carrying out his ablutions and has likely thought of a number of convincing counter-arguments to any protests he may make.

“Very well . . . Jim.” The use of his given name elicits a smile and Spock’s heart-rate increases a further two percent. “I will return shortly.”

Spock takes his toiletry bag and sleep clothes to change into and exits the room wondering, as he makes his way to the communal bathing facilities, how much sleep he will in all likelihood get when lying in such close proximity to the man who, now he has acknowledged it, he is finding increasingly desirable.

When he returns to the room, the lights are dim, and Kirk is lying in the bed. It is difficult to ascertain if he is sleeping due to the simple fact that a line of pillows down the center of the bed blocks Spock’s view. The only reason he knows his captain is in the bed at all is that he can see one bare foot resting on top of the blanket.

Kirk’s arm and head appear over the topmost pillow, and he smiles somewhat sheepishly. “I know this is going to make the bed even smaller, but I didn’t want you to stay up all night worrying I would roll over and accidentally touch you or something.”

“Indeed,” he blinks. Kirk’s concern is commendable, however, ultimately unnecessary. Spock is not at all averse to the captain touching him. Rather, he would welcome such intimacy.

“And I know you get cold, so you can have the blanket.”

“Captain—”

“I haven’t been using it anyway. Really, Spock, it’s much hotter here than on the ship. I’m fine.”

It is true that the city is warm—his research suggests the climate is not dissimilar to Earth’s arid desert regions although with less of a fluctuation in temperature between night and day, and the Athosians eschew indoor climate control in lieu of structures open to the elements. The heat has been a pleasant contrast from the overly cool conditions on board the Enterprise . Nonetheless, the captain’s insistence in looking after Spock’s welfare—

“Besides, I thought we agreed you were going to call me ‘Jim.’”

“Jim.” Spock receives another smile at the use of the captain’s name, and once again, his heart rate alters in response. It is strange how such a small allowance brings Kirk pleasure. Stranger still, that it pleases Spock as well. “I do not wish to burden—”

“It’s not a burden. Trust me, being married to you is one hundred times better than being married to one of the Athosians the Prime Minister kept parading in front of me.”

The statement confirms Spock’s suspicion that the captain was aware of the minister’s intentions and is apparently relieved that, henceforth, it will no longer be a cause of contention. The nine point eight percent increase in his heart rate has less to do with the knowledge that he has alleviated an obstruction in the negotiations, however, than with the captain’s choice of words. It is highly illogical given they were said in jest and Kirk attaches no significance to them.

“Anyway, it’s really late, and I want to be rested so I can take full advantage of my first day off in forever, so I’m hitting the sack. Yeah, yeah, I know there aren’t actually any burlap bags around here,” he grins. “G’night, Spock.”

“Sleep well. Jim.”

Spock unpacks his belongings, arranging them side-by-side with the captain’s. He allows the process to take longer than absolutely necessary in order to give Kirk time to fall asleep. The captain does not require an excessive amount of sleep, averaging approximately five point three hours per night, according to McCoy. For him to state that he wishes to be well-rested for tomorrow, while perhaps truthful, is misleading as it is only the equivalent to twenty three forty seven. Considering they have not yet discussed plans for the next day, Spock is doubtful that the captain desires to leave their room before oh-six hundred.

He calls to mind the tension Kirk displayed when the servants moved Spock’s possessions to his quarters. It vanished by the time he returned from the bathing facilities and, at the time, Spock dismissed it as the captain adjusting to the new situation they found themselves in. He reconsiders that now, however.

Perhaps the captain was not only looking after Spock’s comfort with the placement of the pillows.

He deliberates on the value of meditating before sleeping, since he has yet to spend any time that day undertaking the discipline that is necessary to his control and well-being. He decides to wait. If Kirk is actually uncomfortable with sharing a bed with him, then he does not want to increase that uneasiness by having him wake up in proximity to him. Better to remain awake until after the captain has fallen asleep and to depart the bed before there is a possibility the captain will rouse.

He bides his time until he is certain Kirk is sleeping before joining him on the bed. He would prefer to sleep on his back, but the lack of space makes that impossible, so he rests on his side instead, facing outward.

“So . . .” Spock’s eyebrows raise. After fifty two minutes of near silence marked only by rhythmic breathing, the captain’s voice is as alert as ever. “This is weird.” He feels a pillow twitch as Kirk chuckles. “Is Uhura going to demand satisfaction for the slight to your honor when we get back home?”

“I assume you are alluding to the custom of two participants engaging in ritualistic combat, whereby the victor claims rectitude by benefit of physically overpowering the loser. Although, in Human history, women were typically not allowed to fight, thus, they would have a male family member or lover act as their champion. I am, of course, perfectly capable of defending my own honor. I also do not believe you need be concerned about Nyota seeking recompense on my behalf since she is no longer my lover.”

“What?”

Spock is aware Kirk heard him perfectly the first time, the exclamation a Human means of expressing surprise. So rather than repeat the revelation, he keeps his eyes closed and feels the bed shift, knowing without looking that Kirk is leaning over the line of pillows, staring at him.

“When did you two break up?”

“By ‘break up,’ are you referring—”

“Stopped dating, no longer perform the horizontal tango, went your separate ways, don’t see each other in a sexual context anymore, whatever, Spock, you know what I’m talking about!”

“Lieutenant Uhura and I have not been romantically involved for three point seven months.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” The captain sounds incredulous.

There are many ways he can phrase his reply. “I was not aware that you were interested in the status of my romantic availability.”

“I—what? Well, I mean, you’re-you’re my friend, you know? And I-I wouldn’t—I just worry about you. I wouldn’t want you to—”

Spock interrupts his increasingly ill at ease captain. “Your concern is appreciated,” he says gravely, finally turning to look up at Kirk’s flushed face. “However, Lieutenant Uhura and I parted amicably, and her absence has not caused me any distress.”

“Oh. Uh, well, that’s good. For you. I guess. Um . . .”

Spock considers saying something that would make his interest in Kirk clear, but he concludes one surprise is enough at the moment if the captain’s expression is any indication.

“Goodnight, Jim.”

The captain hums distractedly, settling back down on his portion of the bed, and the silence on the other side of the pillow is thoughtful.

Spock is perplexed by his captain’s reaction, the nuances of Human behavior, as is so often the case, being beyond his comprehension. He had been quick to reassure his commanding officer that the break-up in no way affected either his or the communication officer’s ability to carry out their duties. Indeed, the mere fact that Kirk had been unaware of the end of their romantic union bore testament to that fact.

He considers Kirk’s indignation and wonders if his captain, who he is aware from stories Nyota shared with him, might want to attempt, once more, to engage her romantically, but he quickly dismisses the notion when he recalls his captain’s words, you’re my friend . . . I just worry about you. The concern seems to be genuine and when he reassured Kirk that the break-up has in no way been deleterious to either party, he appeared mollified. That’s good. For you.

It appears that Kirk’s wish for them to share a friendship, a camaraderie that goes beyond their working relationship, is authentic. Spock feels a quite logical sense of relief that his aloofness early on in the mission has not driven Kirk away. Indeed all it has apparently served to do is to cause his captain to cease seeking him out in their free time for non-work activities, or demonstrating any outward manifestation of the amity Kirk clearly feels for him.

He has been aware for some time that together, the Enterprise command team is more than the sum of its parts, their synergy bringing about results or resolutions in what oftentimes appear to be irresolvable situations. They are, to use ancient earth symbolism, like yin and yang, order and chaos. It takes Vulcan logic and restraint to discipline Human aggression and rashness; yet it is his captain’s impulsiveness and unpredictability, coupled with his brilliant leaps of intuition, that have frequently been the factors to overcome insurmountable odds.

Their minds, he is certain, are highly attuned. This is not just from his own observations and powers of deduction. His counterpart himself alluded to a friendship in his own universe with his captain that he implied, to paraphrase his words, had defined them both. What he described, without actually stating the term, was the ancient Vulcan concept of T’hy’la—to be one with another in mind, body and katra. Such a degree of compatibility and closeness is impossible for a Vulcan without a strong mental connection, if not a full bond. At the time, Spock was highly skeptical, especially since he was comfortable in his union with Nyota, while the majority of his early dealings with Kirk were aggressively confrontational. He thought the cadet belligerent and disrespectful and only agreed to accompany the Enterprise on its five-year mission for the unique scientific and research opportunities it would afford him. Or so he had told himself.

Spock was all too familiar with the Human propensity for self-delusion. It pained him, therefore, to admit to such weakness in himself. The kernel of an idea his counterpart had sown lay apparently dormant for many months. T’hy’la is a concept compelling to any Vulcan, but to him perhaps more so having lived a life in which, for the most part, he has been largely rejected by the people of both his native races. Entirely undetected, a part of his unconscious has been insidiously nurturing the notion, only for it to spring forth now into his awareness, fully-formed and inviting and irresistible. This explains his sudden and deep attraction to his captain that appeared to spring out of nowhere.

Spock gains greatest satisfaction from dealing with objective criteria, tangible data, or theories he can prove with mathematical calculation. He is at a loss, however, when it comes to one James T. Kirk. It is not enough to know that in another universe they were everything to one another, since historical circumstances in this timeline are different, their lives having taken a sufficiently disparate course, molding them in such a manner that they are far from being the same men as their counterparts. Because of this, in this universe, he has come to realize that Kirk is a truly unknown quantity, an enigma Spock is unsure he will ever fathom.

His challenge is this: how can he discern what it truly is that Kirk is seeking from him; simple friendship, or more?

After forty six minutes, he has failed to quiet his mind sufficiently to fall asleep—far longer than is usual for him. He considers getting up and meditating since his lack of opportunity to do so has no doubt contributed to his appalling inability to discipline his mind to a state of proper stillness. However, he is concerned he may wake Kirk and so remains in place. Some time later, having undertaken a simple breathing and relaxation bio-feedback exercise, he finally finds repose.

Spock wakes during the night—two point three hours have passed since he fell asleep, his time-sense tells him. At first, before he has properly shaken off the last vestiges of sleep, he believes a low-level ‘noise’ is the reason for his awakening. It takes him almost a minute to realize what the origin is: Kirk has wrapped himself around the pillows between them, hugging them tightly to his body, with one of his arms out-flung, his finger-tips lightly making contact with Spock’s back. What he ‘hears’ is not an external noise at all, but rather his captain’s unconscious thoughts while in a dream state.

Were there room, he would move away, but he is already on the edge of the bed. Instead, he strengthens the telepathic buffer he maintains as a matter of course during his waking hours and the buzzing of thoughts becomes no more than a background hum that he is able to ignore. He is awake for thirteen minutes when Kirk moves, rolling over away from him, taking the pillow with him. With a sense of relief, Spock once more falls asleep.

+

Chapter Text

Perhaps it is because of a lack of adequate meditation that he requires more sleep than is normal for him. Perhaps it is due to his strengthened shield that he fails to detect Kirk has again moved position during the night. Perhaps it is because he has come to accept he wants more from Kirk than mere friendship, that he does not awaken in a timely manner at the change in circumstances. When his mind finally pushes forward from slumber to a state of alertness, he discovers that in his sleep, he has moved towards the center of the bed and Kirk has discarded the pillow he was hugging, in favor of him. They are now lying in a manner Nyota once described as ‘spooning’, with Kirk’s arm lying across his waist, his hand at rest against his stomach. It is a comfortable position that Spock finds himself loathe to change. Through their bodily contact, it is a further thirteen minutes before Spock detects Kirk beginning to awaken, and several seconds more before the body that was languidly draped about him suddenly becomes tense.

“Good morning, Jim.”

Kirk releases him but not before he receives the barest impression of thought as the Human’s hand brushes against his own—contentment, surprise, horror, panic. It is likely the latter emotion that causes Kirk to recoil back, rolling and falling off his edge of the bed.

“Jim?” Spock sits upright, peering over the bed, ready to offer his assistance if necessary.

“Fuck, I have no idea how the hell that happened!” Kirk’s head appears, his hair charmingly tousled, as he maneuvers himself up from the ground, looking agitated. “It was an acci—”

“There is no need for alarm, Jim. I was not discomforted.”

“You weren’t?” His expression is skeptical as he climbs onto his side of the bed and hugs his knees. “You hate it when people touch you! All those illogical emotions and crap.”

This is an opportunity to elucidate his position toward the captain, although Spock is still reluctant to reveal the degree to which his attitude has changed. He will use the time spent with Kirk today to gauge the potential success or failure of any further admission. “I do find inadvertent contact with strangers to be distasteful, however, you do not qualify as such, and neither were you purposefully intruding. It was an accident brought about by our circumstances. Furthermore, there was minimal skin-to-skin contact and, given I strengthened my telepathic shielding and your thoughts were fragmented by sleep, I received only the faintest impressions from you.”

“Spock, I was holding you! Fucking wrapped around you like a teddy bear! That doesn’t bother you?”

“As I said, allowances must be made for our situation.” He does not feel embarrassment. That would be illogical when he knew upon first viewing the bed that it was insufficient for two grown men.

“Hold on a minute, wait.” Kirk shakes his head, one hand raised, palm outward. “You only got the faintest impressions from me? What do you mean? Just how long were you awake?”

The door chime rings, and Spock rises to meet their visitor. He would not say that he is pleased necessarily by the intrusion, but he does admit to a certain reluctance to answer Kirk’s question.

“Greetings, Prime Minister.” Spock is somewhat taken aback at their visitor who, until now, has only met with them in the formal rooms designated for the negotiations. The Athosian appears nervous, fidgeting and not meeting his eyes.

“Good morning, Commander Spock. May I come in?”

Spock turns to Kirk who nods his head in assent. “Indeed, sir.” Spock steps back to allow the Prime Minister to enter and the door slides shut behind him. He wonders at his arrival and what it portends for the Federation and the two of them.

Kirk has arisen and comes to stand next to Spock in a show of both professional and personal solidarity. “Good morning, Prime Minister. You’re up early for Bahari.”

Prime Minister Woyul glances at their bed, which is looking wrecked, and at their state of undress. “Yes, well, I hope I have not interrupted anything?” He appears to be showing every indication of guilt, and Spock listens for any sounds of feet approaching in the hallway. He was not permitted to bring his phaser to the planet, however, he believes he will be able to incapacitate the—

“Not at all, we’ve only just woken up,” Kirk responds apparently amicably, though Spock can detect a degree of alert tension in his stance.

“I hope you will not find this too demanding or inconvenient,” Woyul continues, “however, the sudden revelation yesterday that you are bonded has left me in a difficult position. Many nobles from Athosian’s highest houses were hopeful that the captain would choose one of their sons or daughters to marry as it fulfils an ancient prophesy of the gods. It is said a white-skinned, yellow-haired warrior will one day marry a high-born Athosian and bring much good fortune to their clan. As you can imagine, the news that their offspring will not be invited back for further consideration has caused a great deal of confusion and anger and is seen as an ill omen. Doubtless for you it is a small matter, but negotiations will go much more smoothly if they can see for themselves that you are unavailable, Captain, and cannot therefore be the alien warrior of legend.”

The Prime Minister, Spock realizes, is being circumspect. Without the nobles’ support, he will be forced to withdraw from their talks.

“I see.” Kirk smiles, but it holds no humor. “How can we help?”

“I propose that we hold a small ceremony tonight to celebrate your bonding. It is one all Athosians go through after they have exchanged marriage vows in a civil ceremony, in which the couple affirms the solidity of their union by inviting the gods to give their blessings. Once my people see the proof of your commitment, not only to each other but to honoring our customs, I believe they will be more at ease. Is this agreeable?”

“What exactly does the ceremony involve, Prime Minister?”

Spock approves of the question. Not so long ago, he knows Kirk would have said ‘yes’ without finding more information in his bid to please and make a positive impression. Over the months since the beginning of the mission, they’ve found themselves in uncomfortable situations sufficiently frequently for Kirk to have become far more cautious when faced with unknown alien cultures.

“Forgive me, Captain, but it is our custom not to speak of the ceremony. All bonded pairs go to it in ignorance—though I may tell you this much: part of the ceremony involves enlightenment. Ambassador Tressat, as you are aware, has made a study of the traditions and history of the founding Federation member planets and assures me that there is nothing you will be asked to do that you will find unacceptable by the standards of your cultures.”

Up to now, Spock has been largely impressed in his dealings with Tressat, who spent the last three seasons away from Athos, visiting Federation members with his team in order to learn about them first-hand. While his knowledge and input has been key to the success of the negotiations so far, his knowledge, Spock acknowledges, is clearly not infallible, given their belief that Kirk would be willing to choose a lifemate from among the natives of this planet.

Kirk turns to look at him, his eyebrows raised in query. If this mission’s success is contingent upon them taking part, and Spock estimates a ninety three point two percent probability that there would be nothing life-threatening in the proceedings—given it appears to be some kind of rite of passage for all Athosian bonded couples—then logically they should acquiesce to the Prime Minister’s request. He tilts his head slightly in affirmation and Kirk nods once. This non-verbal communication is something they have been honing for some months and proves very useful when dealing with alien species who can’t comprehend the nuances of Terran body-language.

“Okay, Prime Minister. What time do you need us to be ready?”

The expression on Woyul’s face is one Spock has come to identify, since their arrival, as one of approval. “Light be praised! You will be collected at six cycles and one half. Please ensure you have eaten sufficiently. Normally this ceremony takes place in the village temples with family as witnesses, but since you are esteemed guests, it will be carried out in the foremost temple dedicated to Shuah, before an invited audience. As for your attire . . .” The Prime Minister looks at them both dubiously

“Oh these aren’t clothes—these are our pajamas . . .”

At the look on the Athosian’s face, Kirk adds, “sleep wear.” Spock is wearing the plain black silk night attire he prefers, which is loose and high-buttoned, and believes it unlikely that this high-ranking planetary official would be uncomfortable finding him in them.

The Prime Minister’s eyes widen. “You sleep in clothing?”

“Uh . . . not all the time. But . . .” Kirk throws Spock a ‘help me’ look, and the Vulcan obliges.

“My home planet, sir, was considerably warmer than either Athos or Terra. Therefore I choose to wear pajamas in order to keep my core body temperatures within Vulcan-normal parameters. Since I am clothed when we sleep, Jim chooses to join me in this.”

“And this motif,” the Prime Minister asks, pointing at the pattern on Kirk’s pajamas. “What are they?”

Spock watches with both interest and amusement as an unusual phenomenon takes place, beginning at Kirk’s ears and spreading across his cheeks and down his neck, until he has turned a light pink. His captain coughs as if to clear his throat. “They’re sheep,” Kirk mumbles. When the Prime Minister looks at him blankly, he adds, “It’s an Earth talisman that has an association with sleep.”

“Ah, indeed? Attendants will be sent to provide you with the correct attire.”

“Talisman?” Spock asks as soon as the Prime Minister has departed.

“Shut up, Spock,” Kirk replies, and grabbing his toiletry bag, leaves the room.

+

Following a brief discussion they have with Ambassador Tressat when he accompanies two attendants in preparation for the up-coming ceremony, Spock wonders if they have been remiss for accepting the Prime Minister’s assurance that the ambassador ‘has made a study of the traditions and history of the founding Federation member planets.’ Although he visited a number of Federation planets in an effort to make an educated decision regarding Athos’ proposed membership, it is becoming increasingly clear that the information he had access to concerning the customs and traditions of the founding planets was somewhat limited in its scope and, since he didn’t visit the Vulcan colony, does not take into account Vulcan privacy issues and sensibilities.

The first part of the bonding ceremony is to symbolically wash away what came before. You will fully immerse yourselves in the sanctified water, cleansing yourselves of your pasts, of whatever burdens or wrongs you have carried with you, of the joys and accomplishments you have known without each other. When you emerge, the gods will recognize that you are no longer alone, but newly born with another, and side by side you will walk into the world with their blessing.

“We can still say no,” Kirk reiterates for the sixth time in less than thirty minutes, the first time being when they were told to disrobe completely and don white loincloths.

“That would be unwise, Jim.” Spock would prefer to address him more formally when they are not in the privacy of their own quarters, especially when that formality would provide much needed mental distance, but Kirk has reminded him that this is their wedding—as he insists on calling it—and it would be inappropriate to call him “captain” at such a time.

“This is making you uncomfortable. I can actually see the expression on your face, which means it’s making you damn uncomfortable, and if it’s bothering you that much, then we can find another way to do this, negotiations be damned!” Kirk reaches out to him as if to take hold of his arms but then drops his hands with a frustrated sigh, no doubt thinking better of touching him.

Spock is grateful for his restraint. While Kirk is the cause of his distress, it is not for the reason the Human supposes. Kirk’s assumption that the intimacy more than likely expected of them will be abhorrent to him—since the Human is unaware of his attraction—could not be further from the truth. Indeed, it is that very matter that lies at the heart of his current disquiet. It is, in fact, the combination of his newfound realization, Kirk’s state of near-nakedness and his proximity of less than twenty five centimeters away, and having unfettered access to his mind through skin-to-skin contact that serve to make the situation Spock currently finds himself in even more difficult to bear. He is uncertain he will be able to adequately control his body’s reaction to so much stimuli.

Their marriage here will not be legally recognized once they are on board the Enterprise, since it will pre-date Athos’ entry into the Federation. Spock had the entire day to broach the topic of his change in feelings for Kirk, but he chose not to speak of it. Instead, he has decided to court Kirk slowly over time in the Human manner, as he did with Nyota. In his mind, he likens his captain to a wild animal that he will gently tame by revealing more of himself to Kirk. He wishes to deepen their friendship in the hope that his captain will not only eventually return his regard, but will actively wish to pursue a more permanent union.

It is ironic, since the ceremony would appear to be the ideal opportunity for him to give voice to his attraction, but his concern is that it might place Kirk in an untenable position, forcing the issue too soon when they both may be compromised. Therefore, whatever may or may not take place this evening, they will return to their typical roles as captain and first officer. Spock realizes the necessity of this and accepts it.

What he is experiencing difficulty with, is the notion that he will get what he wants, he will have Kirk as his mate for the next several days until their time on Athos is complete, and then he will have to relinquish him with the full knowledge that his courtship has only a twenty seven point four percent chance of being successful, given his captain’s reputation to date. That for a short period, he will experience the inherent joy of marriage and have it end without Kirk having any idea what Spock has gained and lost.

Spock mentally shakes himself. He cannot foresee the future, and speculation is both unproductive and illogical. Kaaidth—what is, is. With that thought, he turns back to the matter at hand.

“Captain, I do not believe Starfleet will—”

“Spock . . .”

The manner in which Kirk says his name makes him tense even more.

Jim, let me reassure you that while the attire we are required to don is not what I would have freely chosen, neither am I entirely discomfited by it.” This is not a lie –the source of his concern is merely seeing so much of Kirk’s body while unable to mask any potential physiological effect it may have on him, should his normal degree of control fail. As Kirk’s face shows open skepticism to his pronouncement, he adds, “Embarrassment is a Human emotion with which I am unfamiliar. However, if you find the requirements of this ceremony unacceptable, then I am certain we could devise a plausible reason—”

“Me, embarrassed?” Kirk cuts in, a look of open incredulity on his face. “You’re kidding me, right? Look, I know how reserved you are and this—” he waves his arm between the two of them. “This . . . I can’t imagine it can be easy for you.” Kirk sits down on the bed, and having moved further away from Spock where he was able to maintain strict eye contact, he finds it more difficult to prevent his gaze wandering over the desirable body. Vulcan control notwithstanding, this is a true test of his willpower. How much more will it be tested before the evening is done? he wonders

“Neither will I suffer any ill effects from it.” Spock is unsure why he is arguing so adamantly in favor of going ahead when he knows he will be so conflicted by it. It is the first he is aware that he may have a slight masochistic tendency.

“But beyond this immersion thing, we don’t know what else they’re going to ask of us,” Kirk points out. “Better not to start this than call a halt halfway through.”

His captain’s argument is logical. However the damage it will do to the negotiation process was made clear by the Prime Minister. Under no circumstances would Spock allow a potential failure of the treaty to occur due to his own conservative Vulcan sensibilities, and most especially not because of his own inner desire. It was, after all, his own fault they were facing this situation; although, he acknowledged, their discovery of the Prime Minister’s plans to wed his captain to a native would have, perhaps, created an even greater diplomatic issue.

“While Ambassador Tressat has been shown to have a less than perfect grasp of our respective cultures, neither have we yet been asked to do anything that is either life-threatening or abhorrent. It is doubtful his understanding of what is deemed acceptable by us is likely to be beyond tolerable parameters for either or both of us.”

“Let the records show Spock of Vulcan has declared this ceremony to be safe.”

“Captain?” Spock asks, puzzled by the non-sequitur. While he understands far more than he sometimes allows his colleagues to believe, there are times where cultural references do confound him.

“Ignore me, Spock,” Kirk waves his arm in dismissal. “I’m just being facetious.” He takes two steps towards the wall, turns and takes a deep breath “Look, if you’re okay with it, then I’ll go along with it . . . whatever ‘it’ is.”

Spock nods then turns to gaze out the window over the gardens below, illuminated by a combination of artificial lighting and one of Athos’ moons hanging, halfway to full, low in the night sky. The planet, while not as hot, is as arid as Vulcan was. Low-level succulents and shrubs are laid out in an intricate pattern, like a large expanse of carpet. They are similar to those that were native to his home planet and in Earth’s deserts, with roots that he knew spread deep underground to where the soil is less parched. Because of its scarcity, water is carefully conserved—hence the tradition of communal bathing facilities—and is a matter not lost on Spock when they were informed of the ritual cleansing. Indeed, an important part of their negotiations revolves around providing Athos with advanced sonic technology that will revolutionize their water sustainability efforts.

They have another six point four minutes, Spock estimates, before attendants arrive to take them to the ceremonial temple dedicated to the Goddess Shuah. She is, he discovered after only minimal research, the Athosian goddess of love and marriage, and wife of their primary god, Athos.

“I enjoyed today,” Kirk says after a few minutes of silence. He has stood up and is pacing about the room restlessly. Kirk is, Spock decides, like a caged lamatya, in constant motion, as though he has an excess of energy that he must burn off, but with nowhere to go. He is surprised, given their exertions that day.

“I too found it stimulating,” Spock agrees, turning back to the room. Kirk is standing in the middle of the floor, his hands on his hips, resting just above the loin-cloth, and Spock feels his breath catch at the sight. “The temple in honor of the god Argene was interesting,” he plows on quickly, “however it was the scientific artifacts at the museum I found most fascinating.”

Kirk grins and Spock knows why. Kirk has teased him on numerous occasions for his use of that word, telling him once that he believed it to be the closest his first officer is willing to show that he is excited. The perceptive Human is not wrong though Spock, naturally, denied the claim most vociferously. He realizes it is a game they play—him refusing to acknowledge that he experiences the effects of emotions and Kirk showing in differing ways—usually with a look of open disbelief—that he doesn’t for a moment accept Spock’s refutations.

“The fun bit for me was the trials we had to complete to make it to the summit.”

Spock guessed Kirk would find the trek appealing, but even he didn’t count on how competitive his captain would be when he discovered that the ascent is timed. The necessity to undergo physical trials at various points, both of them agreed, was no more difficult than the fitness obstacle courses they were both exposed to at the Academy. Kirk found it a relatively easy challenge, due to his peak physical fitness, although it had taken him a half hour to fully recover when they finally reached their destination. Spock estimates he himself could have completed the challenge in two thirds of the time, but held himself back to allow his captain to keep up.

The Athosian who met them upon their arrival at the summit informed them, with considerable surprise and admiration, that they were the third fastest team to have ever completed the ascent. The two teams that were barely faster, they were informed, had spent months preparing for the challenge. With an inward sigh, Spock acknowledges that, without doubt, Kirk will want to undertake the trial again, and voices the thought to his captain.

Kirk grins and waggles his eyebrows, which Spock has learned means he is referring to some shared understanding. “You know me and tests.”

They have not spoken of the Kobayashi Maru since the beginning of the mission. Now, Spock decides, is not an ideal time to do so. “Indeed I believe we will have sufficient time on the next Bahari,” Spock suggests, knowing the next day off from negotiations falls in five days’ time. The Enterprise is due to return the day after that.

“What do you think—”

Kirk is interrupted when the chime at their door sounds, and glances at Spock. If he didn’t know his captain better, he could believe he is exhibiting signs of nervousness. Kirk touches the plate and the door slides back to reveal two Athosian men dressed in loose pale yellow robes. With a quick glance at Spock, Kirk exits through the door.

+

They are led down long corridors until they reach a pair of doors twice their height which open automatically as they approach. The chamber they enter is round—at least fifty meters in diameter, Spock estimates, with a high domed ceiling towering above them that is covered in intricate artwork depicting, he suspects, the epic legends of the goddess Shuah, whose huge stone statue sits still and serene against the opposite wall. All around the walls are smaller statues of other lesser gods and goddesses who, Spock thinks more than likely feature in their legends.

Sitting on small stools and cushions against one wall, close to the door, are the Prime Minster, his advisors—most of whom Spock recognizes—and various others, who he suspects are some of the noblemen Woyul had spoken of. The only thing of note is that all of them are male. Their audience turn their attention to them as they solemnly enter behind the priests.

When it comes to the cleansing, Spock had no preconceptions of what it would involve beyond what Tressat told them. Given that water is a precious commodity, he perhaps should not have been surprised that it takes place, not in a bath, but rather a deep, narrow tub. They are show a small set of stairs and are instructed to climb them and then stand face to face, with their hands clasped, on a small round dais within the vessel.

Once in position, they are slowly lowered into the warm water and the only way for them to both fit is to press against each other. Spock is certain his captain has no idea that the touching of hands is such an intimate gesture to Vulcans, and it is taking all his own mental powers to prevent his body reacting to the stimulation.

Tressat informed them that the ceremony calls for them to be submerged twice, the first for six seconds in recognition of goddess Shuah’s six commandments of love, and the second for twenty seconds, for the twenty primary gods of Athos.

The water is cool to Spock’s skin, but not uncomfortable, and after the first immersion, they are left underwater with only their heads remaining above the water line, as a priest in the same yellow robes worn by their attendants undertakes a long and involved chant.

Spock can feel the cool body pressed against him from shoulder to knees in the narrow tub, their fingers intertwined. As the strange notes of the Athosian religious chant surround them, he notices that the stillness he observed in his captain while bathing just two nights previously, has returned.

He has nothing to do, nowhere to look, but at Kirk, whose face is so close to his, he can feel his breaths cooling the wet skin of his face. His captain’s long, dark eyelashes are clumped together with water droplets, and more slide down his face in small rivulets, dripping from his hair. He is close enough to see faint freckles dotted about his nose and cheeks, faded from lack of natural sunlight, to see each individual hair of his thick eyebrows, the deep blue hue of his eyes.

The spell is broken when Kirk shifts slightly, the movement drawing his attention elsewhere. His captain, he realizes with fascination, is becoming erect.

If the flush that spreads across Kirk’s face is any indication, he recognizes Spock must be aware of his condition. He smiles sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders, but his supposed nonchalance is betrayed by the way he attempts to shift his pelvis backward, impossible within the confines of the tub. Surely Kirk knows he is no shrinking virgin and, as a scientist, he is well-versed in Human anatomy and physiology. In order to put Kirk at ease, he attempts to convey a sense of amusement by raising one eyebrow in a sardonic gesture. At the same time, Kirk’s body jerks as he hits the wall of the tub, stumbling forward and pressing more firmly into Spock, eyes wide, his hands clutching Spock’s all the more tightly in his surprise.

To feel Kirk’s arousal is not an unpleasant sensation. Too pleasant, rather. He focuses on his own body, ruthlessly refusing to allow it the response it craves. He is aware his control is, at best, tenuous.

Although he is not used to being surrounded by water, the eddy created by Kirk’s movement swirls around them in a sensation akin to the light caress of skin against skin. Then there is the line of Kirk’s body, cool, but still warmer than the water itself, the way his hands are gripped in a manner any respectable Vulcan would consider indecent and, contrasted against everything else that has occurred so far, the weight of Kirk’s erection—hot in comparison to the rest of his body—firm against Spock’s hip.

He can control. He must control.

Focusing on the pleasure center of his brain that controls the reproductive system, he discovers, with a dawning horror, that it is failing to respond to his mental commands. Instead he turns his attention to the veins and arteries in the region of his phallus, attempting to constrict them so that they do not engorge his penis with blood. In this, too, he is unsuccessful. He is utterly unable to prevent his corresponding reaction.

Kirk stills and stares at him in astonishment as they both feel him become erect, his penis rising slowly within his loincloth. It is intensely arousing to have Kirk’s eyes on him as this occurs, and somewhat mortifying, his claim to Kirk about his lack of embarrassment notwithstanding. It is both a loss of physical restraint and a telling sign of his interest. Kirk’s response can be explained away as a result of being virtually unclothed while in close proximity with another, almost naked, body; Humans have little restraint when it comes to their physiological responses. Spock, however, is supposed to be the paragon of control.

He closes his eyes. This is not how he wishes to express his interest in the captain. He has selected a plan that he believes offers the highest probability of success and this is not it.

In addition to his failing physiological control, it has proven supremely difficult to maintain the integrity of his telepathic shields throughout the ritual thus far, due to the excessive amount of skin on skin contact, particularly in the region of his hands which are, psionically, the most sensitive part of his body. He also acknowledges his own desire to experience Kirk’s thoughts, which is scandalously inappropriate, but true nonetheless. Until now, he has refrained from temptation and been on guard to avoid any stray mental contact, but arousal causes his shields to further weaken, and he cannot deny that in this moment of appalling revelation, he wishes to know how Kirk feels about it.

Surprise is first and foremost. Surprise and something that seems like—

Kirk squeezes his hands and Spock’s eyes snap open, pulled back from examining his emotions in a rush of unexpected pleasure. But Kirk is simply warning him—they are not allowed to speak—and Spock has time to take a breath just as they go under, this time for twenty seconds.

Spock can see Kirk looking at him, easily visible in the bright, clear water. His eyes crinkle as he smiles, and his hair floats gently as the water adjusts about them to their entrance. The dais continues to drop down and they hang suspended, their filled lungs providing a semi-buoyancy as their legs bump each other, then their chests. They each push against the other’s palms slightly in an attempt to steady themselves, but with limited success as they bump into the walls of the tub. There is an obvious solution, but Spock is hesitant to employ it, even though so many physical boundaries have already been breached. Kirk, too, must—but then Kirk lightly disengages his right hand from Spock’s left, and wraps his arm around Spock’s shoulder, pulling him close. And in the quiet as they wait for the dais to once again rise and lift them out, Spock is conscious of the beat of Kirk’s heart.

Spock’s senses are wide-open and fully experiencing this moment of unanticipated pleasure. It is as if all barriers that previously existed between them have tumbled down and he finds it both liberating and arousing. As they float together, small shifts in their position create a degree of friction between their groins, now pressed tightly together by Kirk’s actions. It seems forever, and no time at all when they feel the dais begin its steady ascent and a moment later, their heads emerge as they simultaneously let go the breath they were holding and take in several gulps of air.

As they continue their ascent from the water, Kirk gently unwinds his arm from about his shoulder as the priest continues his chant, both of them pulling away, though they hold eye contact. Spock keenly feels the distance as though it were a yawning gulf, his body yearning for the closeness, the intimacy of touch. A clump of hair is the source of constant dripping onto Kirk’s face and in a bold move, Spock lifts his hand and with his fingers, pushes it off his forehead, eliciting a smile, the obvious warmth of it causing Spock’s heart to thrum even faster in his side.

Although the ambient temperature of the room was comfortable when they entered, Spock finds the air against his wet skin cools him to an uncomfortable degree, which has a side-benefit of considerably diminishing his arousal. He is thankful when the priest ends his chant and two yellow-robed men climb the stairs and wrap them in a soft fabric. As the attendants dry them off, Spock once more becomes aware of their audience.

While some dampness persists, particularly in the region of the loin-cloth, the priest beckons them to follow him, leading them to what looks like a pair of altars, side by side, covered in cushions. Kirk’s expression is one of mild alarm and without needing to touch him to read his mind, Spock knows his captain is wondering if they are to be some kind of sacrifice. Ambassador Tressat approaches them and speaks quietly, reverently.

“Now you will be decorated with symbols of the appropriate gods and goddesses who will bless your union. The dye used for this will wear off your skin in a matter of days.”

“Captain Kirk has a number of allergies. Can you tell me the source of the dye you use?” While he would prefer his body not to be the canvas for some Athosian artist, his greater concern is for Kirk who may have an adverse reaction. While Doctor McCoy insisted on beaming down a large medical kit before the ship departed for its supply run, Spock cannot not be certain it holds everything needed were Kirk found to be allergic.

“It is a plant extract—entirely natural and harmless.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Spock,” Kirk says, in a tone he has used before with him when he thinks Spock is being over-protective. “I don’t want to make a fuss.”

Spock is about to protest but a glare from his captain causes him to rethink. It is true that all his captain’s allergies appeared to be to synthesized substances and he is unaware of any food allergies. Spock nods, reluctantly and, following the priest’s instruction, climbs up and lies on his back, Kirk doing the same on the adjacent altar.

Men in yellow robes surround them, so that his sight of Kirk is blocked off as they began their task. Evidently, this art is to cover their whole body, as they focus on both his limbs and torso. The tools they use, not dissimilar to an ancient Terran writing implements, leak hot ink in different colors with great precision from nib-like tips. Despite being somewhat hirsute on his arms and legs, they work diligently around all the hair follicles, gently pulling it this way and that in order to gain access to his skin. Halfway through the process they are both instructed to turn over.

It is two point three hours before the artisans declare themselves satisfied and, as they stand back, a murmur of approval goes around the room. Spock cannot believe it to be a coincidence when he notices Kirk’s colors are shades of yellow and gold, while his are shades of blue. He is aware that the Athosians use color and patterns to denote rank and clans and believes they have used this model as the basis for the color-choices, not necessarily understanding the significance of color in StarFleet uniforms.

The symbols covering them both—and he is thankfully their necks and faces are not touched—are unclear to him, and he wonders as to their significance. He makes a mental note to use his tricorder, at an appropriate time, to make a record for later study.

Ambassador Tressat approaches them again. “Now is the final part of the ceremony. The combining.”

“Combining?” Kirk asks. Spock is not prone to speculation when sufficient evidence is unavailable, but his thoughts immediately jump to what, in this marriage ceremony, can only be its logical conclusion, given that term.

Tressat indicates a large area of cushions located in the lap of the enormous goddess statue. “You will combine while Shuah holds you. This is our prime temple to the goddess of love and marriage—it is a great honor for your ceremony to be held here.”

Although Spock is looking at the Ambassador with his blandest expression, his horror occurring only within, he sees Kirk glance nervously at him from the corner of his eye.

“We deeply appreciate the honor, Ambassador,” Kirk says, his voice slightly hoarse from tension. He clears his throat. “Uh . . . does the . . . audience get to stay and watch?” Kirk asks after a moment.

“Indeed, we are witnesses to your marriage. Because you are both male, so is the audience comprised solely of men.” He pauses a moment, a look of uncertainty on his face, and then adds, “You find this unacceptable?”

“Perhaps you are unaware, Ambassador,” Spock cuts in smoothly, “that in the Vulcan and many Terran cultures, the act of . . . combining . . . is something carried out in private.”

“Was I mistaken when I discovered the term ‘orgy’?” Tressat enquires, looking perturbed.

Spock is momentarily surprised by his answer, leaving Kirk to jump in. “You’re not mistaken,” his captain explains, “but they aren’t the norm on Earth. Not many Humans are comfortable with sharing that degree of intimacy.”

“I see.”

Spock took the moment the focus was back on Kirk to run through some possible suggestions he believes the Athosians would accept, and narrows it down to one. “Would it be possible,” he asks into the tense silence, “to modify your ceremony so that our customs may be accommodated.”

“Spock?” For the first time since the beginning of the mission, Spock ignores his captain.

“What did you have in mind?” Tressat asks, almost eagerly. Clearly he wants the ceremony to be completed—perhaps their superstitions are such that they would be concerned their goddess would consider it some kind of an affront and unleash her ire upon them in some negative manner.

“If we were to conduct our combining in private, perhaps behind a screen, what would you require as proof that it has taken place to yours, and the Goddess Shuah’s, satisfaction?” As Spock asks the question, he refuses to allow himself to dwell on the fact that whatever happens, there is now a ninety eight point four percent probability that he is about to have some form of sexual congress with his captain. Even as a peripheral thought, he feels his body attempt arousal, but this time is able to exert the necessary degree of control to prevent it. That his control has apparently returned is a source of relief for him.

Tressat turns to Kirk. “Captain?”

Kirk shrugs in an attempt to convey a degree of nonchalance. A casual observer might be fooled, but Spock knows Kirk well, having observed him in many types of encounters, and so isn’t fooled—Kirk is clearly tense. “That would be fine by me.”

Tressat nods. “Excuse me, I must confer with the priest and the Prime Minister.”

Left alone while the three men stand in a huddle near the assembled group, Kirk turns to him and for the first time, he notices his captain’s face is flushed.

“What are you thinking?” Kirk whispers.

“It appears inevitable that in order to appease both the Athosians and their gods, we will have to partake in some form of sexual activity.” The words cause Kirk’s flush to deepen. “While I regret that you will be forced to participate, I am prepared to do my duty if necessary—”

“Duty?” Kirk asks, a note of anger in his voice that leaves Spock puzzled.

It is imperative, after such a favorable reaction from Kirk when they were bathed earlier, that he understand both Spock’s motivations and willingness.

“You are aware from my lack of control earlier, that such would not be an onerous activity, Captain,” Spock explains in a hushed tone, “and I believe the notion is reciprocated.” Kirk glances down, as though shy, which Spock finds unexpectedly attractive. “This is not the manner in which I would have chosen for us to commence some form of physical intimacy.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Kirk agrees, running fingers through his now dry hair, lying in haphazard clumps about his head. “How come you don’t look like you have a hair out of place,” he adds, pointing at Spock’s head.

Spock recognizes the deflection—he’s seen Kirk do it many times when he doesn’t wish to discuss a subject. “Compared to Humans,” he answers, going along with it, “the cylindrical filaments of protein found on Vulcans are—”

He stops when Kirk holds up his hand with a smile. “Spare me the biology lecture, commander.”

Spock allows his amusement to show which causes Kirk’s smile to widen into a grin. “Generally, small shakes of my head is enough for it to fall into place.”

“Neat. It takes me at least ten minutes every morning to tame mine. Think of the time I could save if—”

He stops as Tressat approaches them.

“After discussing your suggestion, Commander, the priest will be satisfied at witnessing the mingling of your emissions. His presence will be required for your combining, however he has agreed to turn his back to you for the duration. A screen will be placed between you and the the witnesses, who will remain on the other side of the temple until your combining is complete. Is this agreeable to you?”

Kirk glances at Spock who gives him a small nod of ascent. “Yes it is. Thank you, Ambassador, for being so accommodating.”

“Light be praised!” Tressat exclaims. “Then let us commence.”

+

Chapter Text

Spock finds himself uncharacteristically ambivalent about what is to come. One part of him—that part that would like to take Kirk as a mate—is experiencing a heightened sense of anticipation, while another part of him fervently wishes their first time together had come about as a result of a mutual attraction and a willingness to take things further. He has no idea how, if at all, this may affect their future working relationship.

The priest approaches them carrying an ornate silver goblet and bowing his head, offers it to them.

“You are required to drink Shuah’s nectar—sharing the same cup in a symbolic act of union.”

Kirk eyes the cup warily. “Excuse me for asking, but what exactly is Shuah’s nectar?”

“It is a libation distilled from the same root as the wine you have drunk at the banquets, though more potent. You each take a sip in turn until the chalice is empty.”

Spock takes the goblet and swallows some of the liquid. It is strong and tart, burning his throat a little as he swallows. Potent indeed—it is fortunate he is not prey to the effects of alcohol. Kirk, however, is and when he takes a sip, his eyes widen and coughs as soon as he swallows.

“Potent is about right!” he says hoarsely, eying the drink with alarm.

He passes the cup back to Spock who takes as large a mouthful as possible so that his captain will have less to drink. Kirk is clearly prepared when it’s his turn again and takes a healthy mouthful without succumbing to a coughing fit. They continue until the goblet is drained, Spock estimating he has drunk at least two thirds of the beverage. He is, nevertheless, concerned at the amount Kirk drank and, not knowing the percentage of ethanol in the drink, is unable to calculate Kirk’s blood alcohol concentration. He hands the goblet back to the priest who bows and backs away.

“I estimate,” Spock says in a hushed tone, “that the alcohol content to be forty seven percent higher than the wine we have been given thus far, Captain.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, it’s Jim? If we’re going to do this, for God’s sake don’t call me Captain in the middle of it . . . Or sir.”

As they converse, several yellow-robed men have been tying some type of twine between two of the many statues that line the walls, and then begin to cover them with large pieces of fabric until the area around the statue is completely cordoned off from the witnesses. Others move around lighting tall tapers located all around the goddess statue and, as they do so, the temple lights begin to dim so that the candles become the main source of illumination, their flickering light like myriad fireflies surrounding them. The priest beckons them forward and it is with a sense of both dread and excitement that Spock follows the almost naked body of his captain . . . of Jim, appreciating the flex and ripples of muscle as he walks, highlighted by the colorful patterns and symbols that cover his skin. The overall effect, he decides, is most pleasing.

After indicating their place in the lap of the goddess, the priest moves several meters away to sit cross-legged facing the screen, while the two men step up onto their temporary bed.

“I guess we should do this . . . logically,” Jim says quietly as he begins to untie his loincloth.

Spock frowns at Jim’s slightly uncoordinated actions, but chooses not to draw attention to it. “That would not be my preference . . . Jim.”

“Oh?” Jim asks, brows raised. “How do you want to do this?”

Spock answers by boldly leaning forward and kissing Jim. He knows it is a risk, but he believes there is a ninety four point seven percent certainty that Jim will respond favorably, since he is, at heart, a sexual being.

There is a moment of inaction on Jim’s part before he responds, and he places his hands on Spock’s cheeks for a brief instant before sliding them down Spock’s neck and shoulders and then down his arms until they are clasping hands once more.

After seventeen seconds he feels Jim pull back slightly. “I can do that,” he whispers with a smile, and Spock can feel his amusement, light and sweet. Jim does not give him a chance to respond before he leans forward once again, and the kiss is more certain this time as Jim’s lips part, wet and welcoming.

Spock hums his approval, and disengages their hands in order to continue where Jim left off, pulling his loincloth free. He hesitates briefly, but Jim has always admired the bold and Spock elicits a gasp as he encloses the Human’s penis, already gratifyingly full, in his hand. Jim drags them both down until they are lying on the cushions, his surprise and delight bright in his mind.

He does not quite understand Jim’s thoughts of unfair and cheater and woah since they imply Spock has done something Jim does not approve of which is obviously not the case, but it becomes more clear when Jim whispers, his mouth against Spock’s ear, sending an uncontrollable shiver down Spock’s back, “You’re so fucking hot. I didn’t realize just how—”

Jim does not finish his sentence, but Spock can hear the fuck and the too much and the if he keeps doing that, I’m going to come and he reluctantly releases him.

“Vulcan core temperature is—”

“I know, I know,” Jim laughs quietly, and Spock has never had a bed partner who expresses so much joy during the act of sex. It is . . . entrancing. “But you have to admit, I’ve never been in this exact position before, and it’s one thing to know you’re hotter than I am, but it’s a little different to feel it. I didn’t notice so much in the water, so yeah, just give a guy a second to adjust.”

“And when you say ‘this exact position before,’ are you referring to—”

“You’re teasing me!” Jim’s disbelief is almost comical, and Spock feels another pulse of amusement. It is an altogether pleasing sensation. “You’re such a smartass!”

“I confess, I have never understood that particular profanity—”

“Ha! I don’t think there’s anything you don’t understand, Spock.”

He lifts his eyebrows at the unexpected compliment, but before he can reply or even reciprocate, Jim is once again kissing him, his hands industrious at Spock’s loincloth.

Spock is content to be diverted, and allows his hands to roam over Jim’s body as they kiss, investigating the slight difference in texture between Jim’s skin and the lines where the dye covers him. He concentrates so keenly on his task, enjoying the way Jim shivers and leans into his touch as he skims over his shoulders, ribs, nipples, the echoes of pleasure, that he is completely taken by surprise when Jim finally grips his erection in his cool hand.

He shudders as Jim begins to pump him slowly. He will have to apologize. Jim was correct in his statement that knowledge of something is not the same as experiencing it firsthand. It is infinitely dissimilar from his encounters with Nyota, which is illogical as hers and Jim’s temperatures are close enough that the difference is statistically negligible.

It may perhaps be attributable to the disparity in size. Jim is much larger than Nyota, the surface area of his hand that much greater. Perhaps it can also be credited to the simple fact that Jim is male, and the strength and firmness of his grasp reflect that, together with the fact he is used to manipulating his own penis for pleasure. Then, too, it may be that Spock’s attitude regarding both people is so singular, that it affects his outlook. Once he had begun their courtship, Nyota became the aggressor in their relationship, always wanting to push their boundaries; while in this case, Spock had every intention of gently pursuing Jim unobtrusively when the time was favorable. Furthermore, Spock never considered Nyota a candidate for a lifetime commitment, having begun their courtship while still betrothed to T’Pring, a matter he had, at the very beginning, made the lieutenant aware of. In contrast, now that he is free to find a bondmate of his choosing, he does with Jim. There is also the possibility—

“You’re thinking way too hard for a guy that has a hand around his dick.” Jim smiles irrepressibly, but there is a hint of challenge to his thoughts now, and he applies pressure in a manner that has Spock’s hips jerking.

Perhaps it is simply that Spock has never had a sexual partner who looks at him the way Jim does, his thoughts carrying a heat and promise that Spock is all too willing to explore.

Their kisses become rougher, more intent, and soon it is Spock who must regretfully move Jim’s hand away in order to refrain from an abrupt end.

Jim understands, and he presses his forehead to Spock’s, their quick breaths joining. “What do you think they mean by ‘combining?’”

“The term implies a certain level of specificity.”

Jim chuckles, nipping at his neck quickly before backing away. “Yeah, but then they said ‘mingling of emissions,’ which gives a lot more leeway. Do you think we can get away with mutual handjobs? Blowjobs, maybe? Frotting? Does it have to be penetration?”

Spock blinks once slowly. “Are you averse to penetration, Jim?”

“What? No! I mean, it’s nice.” Jim’s cheeks are slightly flushed, and his eyes dart to the side once before returning to look at Spock once again. It appears that Spock has managed to fluster him, although that was unintentional. “Very nice. Both giving . . . and receiving. But this is all . . . you know . . . and I don’t want to force you to do anything you’ll regret later on, so . . .”

He tamps down the slight rush of unreasonable relief he feels. There is no feeling of rejection in Jim’s thoughts, merely caution and concern intermingled with desire. While he appreciates the consideration, Spock does not wish for Jim to be unwarrantedly troubled on his behalf.

“I believe that it would be most prudent for us to engage in the activity that will give the Athosians no doubt as to our sincerity.”

“Really? You think? But—”

“Affirmative. I have already stated that this is not the manner in which I would have chosen for us to explore a mutually beneficial physical encounter. However, now that the situation is at hand, my personal preference would be to engage in copulation with you.”

Jim stares then starts to quietly laugh, his shoulders shaking as he rests his head in the curve of Spock’s neck.

“My apologies, but I do not understand the source of your amusement,” Spock says a trifle stiffly, although it is difficult to feel any annoyance when Jim’s thoughts are so bright and fond, only you would say something like that and why am I surprised and even the occasional hot damn.

“It’s just—” Jim takes a hitching breath, his smile wide and playful, “It’s just, your dirty talk turns me on so much!” And he laughs even more, pulling Spock close so he can feel the surge of desire, both mental and physical.

“Jim—”

“I’m sorry,” he gasps, eyes tearing with mirth. “Give me—give me a second.”

Jim is clearly inebriated, which is less than ideal. There is one way to curtail his hilarity, however, and Spock does not hesitate to use it. Jim’s laughter stops abruptly when Spock pushes him gently back and sucks on the tip of his penis.

“Wha—ohhhhh.” Jim’s response is enjoyably brief, his pleasure flaring red in Spock’s mind. He pulls Spock up, however, before he can do much more than taste him. “If you’re serious about copulation,” he chuckles breathlessly, “then there’s no way you can do that first. Hey, don’t look at me like that! It’s been a while for me, and you are . . .” his thoughts turn affectionate (Spock and I want this to last a bit longer and look at you) with a faint tinge of surprise and wistfulness (I wish . . .), “Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting this, alright?”

Before Spock can pursue that line of thought, Jim is already moving on. “So how should we do this? As in . . . who goes on top? Do you have a preference?”

Knowing Jim’s penchant for recklessness, Spock is caught off guard by his careful approach to the proceedings, but he detects Jim’s desire that Spock be as comfortable as he can be considering the circumstances, and he is warmed by the concern. “When you say ‘on top,’ are you referring to which of us should perform the act of penetration versus being the recipient?”

Jim’s shoulders start to shake, and his eyes crinkle becomingly. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean,” he gasps.

“Then, as the Athosians are particularly cognizant of rank, I believe it is only logical that you should be the one to penetrate me in order to maintain appearances.”

“Oh, you sweet talker, you,” Jim says, shoulders shaking even harder as his thoughts once again turn to amused indulgence, but he calms more quickly than before, and his mind begins to fill with images of the two of them, flickering from one scene to the next. “Alright,” he says at last, his voice husky. “I think I can manage that.”

Lying in the lap of the statue and buoyed up by colorful cushions, Jim rolls them over so he’s on top as they continue to share kisses, their bodies undulating together in a primal rhythm. Spock finds himself fighting for control as his mind is battered by Jim’s lascivious thoughts. So fucking sexy and your cock’s gorgeous and can’t believe I’m going to fuck you at which thought he senses Jim’s mind going into meltdown.

He experiences a degree of gratification that his constant rebuffs at the tentative friendship Jim had offered since the start of the mission, didn’t put him off. That while he may have withdrawn in recent months, he clearly never gave up entirely.

He is aware of Jim reputation—has seen his captain on occasion pursue a partner with single-minded purpose. All his encounters have been fleeting, with no sign of regret when they parted ways. Yet, he senses with a degree of surprise that what Jim wants from him isn’t transient, that this is something he considered, even fantasized about, for some time.

He turns the full focus of his thoughts to their coupling. His body is awash with a barrage of sensation as their bodies press together from head to toe, their cocks trapped between them. Jim’s tongue is conducting a thorough exploration of his mouth and with all his senses on fire, he finds his vocal chords engaged in producing small noises that inadvertently escape his lips.

Those noises and you are so fucking hot and want you to lose control.

The degree of friction provided isn’t nearly enough for Spock to find completion, even though he is writhing and arching his back, trying to stimulate himself to a greater degree. His hands trail down Jim’s back, feeling the muscles bunching and relaxing as his hips piston back and forth, resting at the narrow hips, moving round to cup his buttocks, using his strength to press Jim harder against him. He opens his legs and wraps them around Jim’s hips, finding the position more satisfying.

“Fuck, yes!” Jim whispers his approval as his tongue slides along Spock’s jaw and up the shell of his ear, a warm huff of breath caressing the tip before it’s sucked into his mouth.

Spock gasps at the sensation and Jim pushes himself up onto his elbows, an amused expression on his face. “I’ve often wondered if they’re sensitive.” His smile is affectionate.

“They are,” Spock confirms. “I therefore ask that you—”

Jim’s hand, which insinuated itself between them during their brief exchange, has unerringly located a pebbled nipple which he catches between forefinger and thumb and squeezes. Spock shudders and Jim grins.

With light manipulation, the dual sensations send electric bolts of desire direct to his cock. He seems unable to prevent his pelvis rising, pressing into Jim at the erotic contact, and gives in to another unseemly gasp that sounds more like a moan.

“Looks like it’s not just your ears that are sensitive,” Jim whispers as he slides down and takes the nipple between his lips, gently worrying it with his teeth.

Up to this point, a part of Spock’s brain has been automatically cataloguing and analyzing all the inputs: noticing a pleasant stimulation here, a tantalizing touch there, noting the part of his sensory system involved and how it affects him, observing the release of various hormones and pheromones and subsequent increase in respiration and heart-rate, the percentage of his skin covered by Jim’s body . . . But his brain is fast becoming short-circuited, his higher mental processes apparently deciding to shut down.

He has never had this happen with a sexual partner before. It’s as though in previous sexual encounters, he was holding something of himself back, never entirely letting go and being one with his partner. With Jim, he finds himself unable to remain objective and able to process all inputs and outputs—which is unprecedented for him. The world is narrowing down to his six senses and the combined harmonious sensations they produce, like a symphony, that he experiences moment to moment.

Jim is broadcasting his lust loud and clear, and as if that isn’t enough for Spock to contend with, he begins to vocalize some of his carnal thoughts in Spock’s ear.

“Do you know how often I’ve fantasized about licking your ears?” he asks and proceeds to do it again, causing Spock to buck beneath him. “When you’ve been bent over the scanner and your pants are tight across your ass . . . fuck . . . ”

Spock would be flattered except he is certain that Jim’s libidinous thoughts have likely turned to most—if not all—of the bridge crew at one time or another. Jim is a highly sexual being.

“. . . and now,” Jim continues his dialogue unabated, “the noises you’re making are going straight to my cock—god Spock I wanna fuck you ‘til you scream!”

“Yes!” Spock pants into Jim’s mouth, the words arousing him beyond belief.

Boldly, Spock moves the hand gripping a buttock, extending a finger to slide down the dark cleft to Jim’s most private place. As his finger circles the puckered skin, Jim’s body stills above him and Spock opens his eyes, unaware he’s closed them, seeing Jim’s face flushed and damp with sweat, eyes dark with arousal. It is truly a beautiful sight.

“Fuck,” he pants, pressing himself back against the probing finger.

In that one action, Spock knows what he wishes to do. A blur of motion and Jim is lying face down on the cushions, Spock kneeling between his thighs. Pulling the cheeks apart, he runs his tongue down the crack to tease at the tight muscle. The scent of Jim’s musk is strong all around his groin region and Spock inhales it as though it’s the very air he needs to live.

“Jesus, Spock,” Jim groans and lifts his pelvis, pressing back as he feels the Human’s desire flood him through their bodily contact, spurring him on.

Spock laps across and around, tonguing the tight muscle, feeling it spasm in response as Jim’s gasps turn into a quiet mewling. The whole area becomes wet with his saliva as his tongue glides over and around and he begins to gently stab at the puck until he feels it quiver and open to him like a flower in the morning light. Continuing to lick around, he presses a finger into the opening, feeling it engulfed in hot, soft flesh as he searches for the small nub that . . .

Jim bucks up wildly sending him a burst of lust through his psionic contact, setting it afire like an incandescent radiance. “Fuck, Spock! I . . .”

Trembling with the onslaught of Jim’s desire, he continues to lick as his finger strokes the nub again. It’s as though he was administering an electric shock, the way Jim’s body seems to spasm.

“Stop!” the Human gasps and he immediately complies, turning his attention to massaging the firm buttocks, feeling the light crinkle of hair that covers them beneath his roving hands.

Jim slumps onto the cushions and half rolls over, his face pink and covered in a sheen of sweat as he tightly grips the base of his shaft. “Sorry but if you’d done that one more time, I’d’ve come.”

Kneeling beside him, Spock eyes his engorged penis, the head now dark red and shining with pre-ejaculate. He wants to reach out and touch it, feel the soft satin skin over the iron-hard core but holds back, knowing Jim needs to regain some measure of control. Instead, he lies down beside Jim and clasps his hand, tracing circles with his index and middle fingers around the Human’s damp palm.

When his breathing has calmed down somewhat, Jim sits up and looks around him. “They must have lube—where is it?”

Lying on his back, his own cock lies hard and long and green against the pale skin of his taught abdomen, leaking pearl-like drops of precum that make the crown glisten in the candlelight.

“Hah! Found it,” Jim announces triumphantly with a feral smile. The Athosians left a number of supplies in one of the statue’s upturned hands where it rests against its thigh, as if in quiet meditation.

Jim turns back to him, tube in hand, and stills. “Fuck, Spock. You look . . .” He trails off and shakes his head.

Spock is aware that his hair is awry and doubtless his face is less than its usual impassivity.

“Debauched?” he suggests, the word inspired by the sight of Jim, his lips full and red, his skin glistening with sweat, his cock standing upright from a thatch of dark hair, expectant and ready.

Jim laughs as he crawls back over the cushions and climbs onto Spock, straddling his hips. “Yeah, and wanton and . . .” He takes Spock into his fist and spreads the moisture gathered at the slit around the head, eliciting a gasp at the onslaught of intense sensation.

Need to taste . . .

It is the only warning Spock gets before Jim’s mouth descends on him and the intensity increases to one of sheer ecstasy, the sensations radiating out from his cock as though his blood were being set on fire. Unable to stop himself, his hips jerk helplessly.

Yes. So fucking hot. Want to see you fall apart, Spock.

It’s as if the prolonged intimate contact has opened up a temporary link, so that instead of getting impressions and occasionally brief moments of Jim’s thoughts, he is now receiving a one-sided conversation in full sentences.

“Jim, I need . . .” He has no idea where his words come from, seemingly bubbling up and out without conscious volition.

Jim pulls off him and kneels to one side. So in tune are they, that Spock just spreads his legs and feels Jim’s fingers caress him behind his balls. In response, he pulls his knees up to his chest, exposing himself shamelessly.

Dear god. You’re fucking amazing. I’m not going to last more than a few seconds.

“What do you need, Spock?” Jim whispers as his slick fingers circle his entrance enticingly, the touch, electrifying. While he knows there are numerous nerve bundles in the entire region, he was, until now, unaware of the degree of sensitivity around his anus. It is no wonder that Jim reacted so strongly. He finds himself both intrigued and inflamed.

Say it, Spock. Jim leans down and kisses him hard, their teeth clashing, tongues dueling. Say it, Spock. Tell me what you need.

“Vulcan muscle control,” Spock says between gritted teeth. “Preparation is unnecessary.”

Jim breaks the kiss and moves to kneel between his legs, taking the long cock in his oily hand, his own cock in his other, pumping them rhythmically.

Want you, so bad. God, wish you’d talk dirty to me.

“I . . .” He knows what he wants to say, what Jim wants to hear, but he’s never uttered such words aloud.

“Yes?” The word that falls from Jim’s lips, urging him on, is no more than a rasp.

Spock closes his eyes, focusing on the sensations produced by Jim’s firm fist gripping him. “I need you to . . . fuck me.”

“Shit!” Jim gasps, once again grabbing the base of his own cock hard, his eyes screwed tightly shut.

Pleasenodon’twannacomeyetnononotyet.

It takes almost a minute—Spock is unable to be more precise than that—before Jim relaxes, apparently having temporarily staved off his climax.

Intense blue eyes gaze down at him in wonder. “Man, you’re something else, Spock. I never would have thought . . .” he shakes his head, apparently unable to express himself further.

As Jim shuffles forward on his knees, Spock lifts his hips by pulling his knees back closer to his head. Almost in a daze, he watches as Jim lines himself up, feels the blunt tip press against the tight ring of muscle and, bearing down, feels him slide in. Never having experienced it before, the sensation is indescribable. It is more than just the fullness, the heated rod sending a thrill up his spine, it is the sense of being possessed and desired and cherished which causes a yearning ache to tighten in his chest.

Fuck so tight. You’re fucking amazing. Can’t believe we’re doing this. Want this so much.

Jim adjusts his position to lean over Spock and capture his lips, the kiss sloppy and wet as Jim pants into his mouth. He pulls away, straightening his arms either side of Spock’s shoulders and begins to piston deep within him, rocking into him rhythmically as Spock surges up instinctively to meet his every thrust. Panting gasps and moans are almost drowned out by the sound of flesh on flesh. It is only when Jim sucks on two of his fingers he realizes he’d put them into his mouth. When he takes hold of his own cock and begins to milk it in time to Jim’s thrusts, it’s as if a circuit has been completed between the three points of sensation and Spock knows he cannot last long, his degree of control now tenuous at best.

“Fuck . . . Spock . . .” Jim whispers, his eyes wide, pupils blown, as he watches Spock pump himself fast and frantically. “So hot . . . tight . . . your cock . . . can’t believe you’re jerking yourself off . . . do you know . . . how fucking hot . . . that is?”

Jim’s lust is filling him, growing and merging with his own, his inner monologue ceases as all focus is on sensation as he pounds and pants and sweats.

“Last night, in the bathroom . . .” Spock whispers, staring up into Jim’s face, mouth open, skin pink and damp from exertion. “I touched myself . . . masturbated to thoughts . . . of you . . .”

At the confession, Jim growls as his lust spikes like a volcano erupting. With a long moan, his hips stutter, then slam in once more and freeze in shuddering release as Spock feels his insides bathed in the Human’s seed, and waves of elation and relief pour off Jim through their touch. The psionic feedback is the final push that sends Spock soaring over the edge in orgasmic bliss, as ropes of come explode across the muscular planes of his chest in five toe-curling pulses of ecstasy.

The soft cough behind the partition is unexpected, and Spock feels Jim start with surprise. He releases the Human reluctantly, berating himself for momentarily forgetting the reason behind their present situation.

“I guess that’s our cue.” Jim smiles wryly and pulls away, courteously handing Spock his loincloth before wrapping his own around his hips haphazardly, his movements still uncoordinated. “Be right back.” With one hand keeping the cloth closed, he stumbles over to the partition and slips behind it. The priest, Spock observes, has already departed.

Spock wishes to follow, but he is hampered by the necessity of cleaning the aftermath of their encounter from his body, and he avails himself of one of the small towels folded discretely at the statue’s base. He attempts to listen to the exchange between Jim and the others; however, the words are muffled by the partition and by the echoing effect of the temple. By the time he has finished donning the loincloth, Jim has returned.

He is smiling widely, eyes squinted down with mirth, but when Spock arches one eyebrow in question, Jim shakes his head, saying only, “You ready to go?”

“I am.”

“Then let’s boogie.”

Spock does not have the opportunity to question him on the colloquialism, which he believes has its roots in early twentieth century dancing. The acolytes return, bustling around the statue and their impromptu bed. Spock notices their audience has already departed as two attendants lead them out of the temple and back along the labyrinthine corridors. He finds himself following Jim silently to their room, content to wait until they have a measure of privacy to converse.

As soon as the door closes, Jim bursts into laughter, staggering over to a chair. “Oh man, that was awesome.”

Spock is somewhat at a loss, but he divines Jim is not referring to—nor laughing at—the sex between the two of them. “I do not comprehend the source of your amusement. I believe you are inebriated.”

“It’s just,” Jim snorts, covering his face as he giggles, “we could’ve—ha ha—gotten jobs in the porn industry—fuck, I can’t breathe—if the whole Starfleet thing hadn’t worked out.”

Both of Spock’s eyebrows rise. Jim is a distracting spectacle, virtually nude with his loincloth pooled around his groin, body covered in blue and gold ink. It does not matter that he achieved orgasm twelve point four minutes ago. He wishes to touch Jim again. “Please explain.”

“Everyone in there was totally turned on! Tressat couldn’t wait to get out of there!” Jim snickers, covering his eyes in order to calm down. “Fuck, that was priceless.” He sighed.

“And you find this humorous?”

“Hell, yeah! I mean, Tressat was going on about our union being blessed by Shuah, and the whole time, his robe was sticking out farther than it should’ve been, and he kept inching towards the door.” The memory makes him begin chuckling once again, although it is quieter now and over shortly.

“I see.” He does not fully comprehend why Jim is quite so amused. It is understandable that the listeners would be affected by the sounds of intercourse, although Spock would have preferred that the circumstances be different. Jim, however, appears to be unperturbed, smiling like he had successfully performed some kind of prank on the Athosians, which is to some extent true. “Jim—”

“Fuck, I need a shower.” Jim rises from the chair, stumbling slightly as he gathers his toiletries. Spock frowns. It is late, almost midnight, and they have had an arduous day with the ascent up the mountain, and then their . . . wedding. Jim is obviously under the influence of the alcohol they imbibed, as well as tired and, although Spock is inclined to discuss what transpired in the temple, he realizes he will have to wait until the morning.

For the past two nights, Jim has showered alone. Not tonight. “I will join you.”

They make their way down to the bathing room, Jim silent now, his steps slow. Spock modulates his stride in order to keep them abreast of each other, puzzled by the sudden exhaustion. He has observed Jim in a similar state in the past, but only after a day of grueling physical labor or when he was weak from sickness or blood loss. For him to be—

He catches Jim as he crumbles to the ground, and Spock feels a rush of what can only be fright as Jim’s head lolls listlessly against his arm, eyes closed and breathing fast and shallow.

Without a thought, Spock picks him up as though he weighs nothing and, cradling him to his chest, and hastily retraces their steps back to their chamber. His mind is racing, considering what may be the cause. It is statistically likely that either the ink used for their body art or the drink they were given prior to the Ceremony of Combining is the cause of this reaction. He favors the drink being the culprit, since it was consumed more recently.

In their room, he gently places Jim on the bed, on his side before quickly retrieving the medical tricorder from the large medikit he was entrusted with. Spock frowns at the readout: heart rate, breathing and temperature all elevated. Before he administers any remedy, he pulls out a hypodermic instrument and, taking a blood sample, waits the requisite thirty seconds while an analysis is carried out.

Readings show that there are several other unknown compounds in his system. He administers a detox for the alcohol Jim consumed and medication to bring his temperature back down. Once done, he contacts an alarmed Prime Minister Woyul, explaining the situation and requesting samples of both the drink and the inks used on their tattoos.

“I don’t feel too good,” Jim says, his voice woozy as his eyes flutter open. His face is pale, a sheen of sweat emphasizing the pallor.

Spock breathes a sigh of relief. “Your body has had a negative reaction to one or more substances,” he explains as he again scans his captain with a tricorder.

He watches as Jim closes his eyes, this time with less concern, knowing he is still conscious.

“I feel sick,” Jim announces.

Spock is loath to move him so glances around, his eyes alighting on a waste bin beside the ornate desk. Retrieving it, he places it beside the bed and pulls out the hypospray. Carefully he selects the appropriate drug for nausea, sets the dose and gently applies the instrument to Jim’s neck.

“I have given you an anti-emetic, however there is a receptacle beside the bed if the medication fails to take effect in time.”

Jim cracks opens one eye. “You should be a doctor, Spock. Your bedside manner’s a damn sight better than Bones’. I didn’t even feel that hypospray.”

Spock raises an eyebrow at this revelation and presses his fingers against the palm of Jim’s hand. “Do you feel that, Jim?”

“Feel what?”

Spock pinches the back of his hand, but elicits no reaction. He tries pinching his neck, back, leg, all to no avail.

“It would appear that something is blocking certain sensory inputs. I am at a loss—”

The chime to their room sounds and Spock quickly moves to open it. The Prime Minister enters looking from Jim to Spock and back to Jim again. “How serious is his condition?” the Athosian asks, a worried frown creasing his face.

“Unknown, sir. Do you have—?”

“Attend,” the Prime Minister interrupts, turning back to the corridor. “I have brought our best healer, as well as the items you requested. With that, he abruptly leaves.

The healer, dressed in a pale blue robe, and carrying a bag, steps in. “I am Eltai. The Prime Minister is doubtful that anything to do with the holy combining ceremony is the cause of this illness. He has asked me to determine—”

“Healer Eltai,” Spock cuts in. “If you are here only to attempt to remove culpability on the part of the Athosian Government, then I suggest you leave.”

Eltai looks momentarily surprised, but when Jim begins to dry heave, the healer immediately crosses over to him and sitting beside him, gently rubs his back. When the heaving stops, he pulls out a cloth from his bag and presses it to Jim’s forehead.

“Thanks,” Jim mutters. “Feel like shit.”

“You require—” Eltai begins.

“No. He is speaking a Terran vernacular that translates to his feeling unwell,” Spock explains. “I have administered an anti-emetic. If you will provide me with the samples so that I may make an analysis.”

Eltai hands over several vials and when Jim begins to shiver, the healer pulls the bedding up over him and then reaches into bag.

“I request that you refrain from administering further medication.”

Eltai nods. “As you wish.”

It was to be a long night. Illogical, but true. Spock sits at the portable subspace communication console they brought with them so that he can converse with McCoy. While it is gone midnight where they are on Athos, the time on the Enterprise is several hours behind. As a result, the call goes through while the doctor is eating dinner in the ship’s main mess.

While Spock waits for the doctor to get to a comm. unit, he begins to carry out analyses on the various inks and the alcoholic beverage they were served. As soon as McCoy arrives on screen, Spock transmits his analysis data so far and describes the symptoms.

“My apology for interrupting your meal, doctor.”

McCoy waves his hand. “I was glad to get out of there—it was the ship’s official Christmas dinner. Everyone wearing goddamn party hats and tinsel, and eating synthesized turkey.” He frowns. “So what’s wrong with Jim?”

Spock carefully describes the first part of the ceremony to the doctor: the immersion, the body paint and the drink. He omits both the final part and the reason for it and, fortunately, the doctor is too preoccupied with the problems Jim is having to ask.

“I’d say it’s something in whatever they gave you to drink, but you say you had it before without any problem?”

“This is an alternative version, doctor. I understand the Athosians add a synthesized component during the distilling process to increase its potency.”

“Yeah, well that’s almost certainly gonna be your culprit,” McCoy says, staring hard at him. “I’m willing to bet it’ll turn out to be a similar compound to trizildone. A couple of years back I gave Jim the drug to treat an infection and it made him completely numb.” The doctor lets out a sharp breath of annoyance. “Goddamnit, Spock, I can’t even leave him for a few days—you’re supposed to be looking out for him. Isn’t that somewhere in your job description?”

The harsh words hit Spock like a sharp slap, compounding his own feeling of guilt, illogical though he knows it to be. He takes a deep breath, unwilling to rise to the bait when there’s an audience. “Lieutenant Commander,” Spock says in quiet rebuke. “I suggest we work together to find a remedy.”

Never using his formal title, it has the desired effect on the doctor as he looks down, contrite. It’s as close to an apology as Spock is likely to get. When he looks up, Spock can see the lines of worry on his face. “M’Benga’s working on the data you sent.” Spock sees him lean forward and press a button on the comm. “Geoff?”

The screen splits in two and the face of McCoy’s second, located in what Spock recognizes as the path lab, comes on screen, a piece of forgotten tinsel around his neck. “Should have something for you in about five minutes, Len. How’s the captain doing now, Mr. Spock?”

“Excuse me.” Spock stands and walks over to where Jim is lying on the bed, the Athosian healer kneeling beside him, quietly chanting. His captain is pale and sweating, his eyes glazed as Spock aims the tricorder at him. “He is in a stable condition, doctor.” The words are superfluous, as the tricorder read-out is automatically relayed to McCoy and M’Benga.

It is rare for Spock to find himself out of his depth. While his familiarity with Human anatomy and physiology is advanced for a non-medic, he possesses insufficient knowledge to effectively treat Jim beyond the basics. He is also all-too aware of an additional source of his unease: an emotional component due to his attachment to Jim. He knows it is illogical to worry, but he does so, nonetheless.

After McCoy sends details of the remedy through, a compound of which can be made up from the contents of the emergency kit they brought with them. The medication finally takes effect, but not before Jim’s body voluntarily purges itself several times of the toxins. In his semi-delirious state, it is Spock to whom Jim turns for assistance, not the Athosian healer, which is willingly given. At dawn, Jim falls into a deep sleep.

When it is clear that Jim is no longer in danger Eltai stands to leave. At the door, he bows to Spock. “Light be praised, your captain will live.”

Spock nods. While he may not praise any deities, nor indeed a form of electromagnetic radiation visible to the naked eye, he finds himself nevertheless profoundly grateful that Jim is making a satisfactory recovery.

+

“I feel like I’ve been run over by a steam roller,” Jim announces, flopping onto his back.

Spock doesn’t understand the reference as he stands from where he was kneeling in meditation. He’s been only partially successful in his attempt to center himself with so much preying on his mind. Grabbing the medical tricorder, he scans the length of Jim’s body, now clothed in his pajamas.

“What does it tell you?” Jim asks with a half-smile, half-grimace.

“Nominally, you are well—you have mild hypokalemia and dehydration; other than your digestive system, all others are functioning within standard parameters. Dr. McCoy advises you must drink water to rehydrate. In addition, he prescribes bismuth subsalicylate, immune boosters, and electrolytes to replace those depleted by the acute diarrhea you experienced.”

“I’m sorry . . . Ugh. speaking of which, I need the bathroom,” he adds, clutching his stomach.

Before Spock can stop him, he rolls off the bed and promptly falls to the floor as his legs give out.

“Jim,” Spock says, pulling him up. “You are still very weak. Allow me to assist you.”

Jim pulls a face as they make their way slowly towards the facilities. “Oh god, it’s all coming back to me—you helped me last night, too, didn’t you? I hate my body.”

Once seated, Spock withdraws to give Jim privacy.

+

The recommencement of negotiations has been delayed until Jim’s condition has stabilized. He’s treated to a lecture from McCoy on not ingesting anything before checking it out. Spock watches on silently as the two of them bicker—he notices it’s slightly sharper than their usual manner.

After McCoy signs off, Jim spins his chair around and Spock can see from his glowering expression that he is annoyed. “I need a shower.”

“I too,” Spock concurs. Although he divested himself of the loincloth the previous night, he can still smell the evidence of their sex on himself.

“I want to go alone,” his captain announces, his tone sounding distinctly petulant.

“Jim, you are weak and—”

“Quit mother-henning me, Commander,” he glares.. “I’m fine. I think I’m old enough to manage a shower on my own.” Standing unsteadily, he grabs his clothes and toiletry bag and leaves.

“As you wish,” Spock says quietly to the empty room. While the hypospray he gave Jim earlier has helped the captain regain some of his strength, it is mostly sheer stubbornness which propelled him from the room.

While Jim is gone, he stands at the window, hands clasped behind his rigid back, gazing at the ornate gardens below. The captain is clearly embarrassed by his allergic reaction and by Spock witnessing it. While he is aware it is illogical, Spock understands it is a very prevalent Human emotion. He determines his best course of action is not to bring up the subject again, and to revert to his formal, professional self until they return to the Enterprise. Once there, he intends to broach the subject of the intimacy they shared.

Jim returns fully dressed and apparently ready for the day. “Spock, I’m s—”

“I can assure you there is no need for an apology, Captain. What has transpired is best forgotten.” With that he leaves to find the showers filled with Athosians. Strengthening his shields, he strips off his robe, takes a deep breath and joins them.

On his return, they have a short pre-meeting briefing over lunch—Spock eats a cereal bar while Jim confines himself to drinking a local juice he’s had before and knows is safe. The captain outlines what he wants achieved that day and what his tactics will be to move negotiations forward and, unusually, he doesn’t request Spock’s input.

It’s as if the intimacy of the bonding ceremony the previous evening and the affectionate coupling never happened. Jim doesn’t mention it and neither does Spock. What’s more, Jim is closed off and remote, and although Spock lowers his shields, he can read nothing from his captain. He begins to wonder if the forced ceremony has done irreparable damage to their personal and working relationship.

Spock finds himself speculating that the Prime Minister is feeling guilty at the captain’s illness, since by the end of that day, the Athosians seem far more open to negotiating on matters they had previously been stuck on. Discussions move quickly forward, much to Jim’s evident satisfaction, and if they are able to keep up this pace, Spock estimates that the talks will be concluded, and a pact signed, by the time the Enterprise returns the day after tomorrow.

While in public, Jim is all smiles, looking relaxed and confident. The moment they return to their quarters, he changes. Both apparently requiring space, Spock chooses to spend their final two nights on Athos attempting meditation in the warm air of the gardens outside. It is testament to the degree of Jim’s withdrawal that he doesn’t protest this arrangement.

+

Spock stands up and, if he were Human, he would sigh in exasperation. Despite having been back on the ship and surrounded by the familiarity of his quarters for five days, he is still unable to meditate beyond the second level. Jim . . . no, the captain—he no longer has the right to use his first name—has been distant towards him since his illness, much as he was in their earliest days of the mission.

With the Holidays almost upon them, while they were planet-side the public areas of the Enterprise were decorated in the traditional manner, and the crew is filled with what Nyota describes as ‘festive cheer.’ Morale is clearly high and there is a sense of anticipation about the ship. The only person other than himself who is unaffected is McCoy who, if anything, appears even more testy than usual; notably his sickbay is one of the few departments bereft of seasonal decorations. Kirk, in contrast to his medic friend, seems genuinely content, professing on the bridge two days earlier to be looking forward to the Holiday-themed choral event Uhura and Chekov have organized for the following evening, to coincide with the solstice on Earth.

In Kirk’s dealings with him, the spark of a connection he was unaware of until it was gone, is absent from their interactions. While he was entirely comfortable with such distance before, he now finds it . . . distressing, the admission of such an emotion evidence of the degree to which the situation is affecting him.

He finds himself likening it to one of the parables of the Christian Bible—in making love with Kirk, he has tasted of the apple and, from it, he has gained new knowledge that he cannot put behind him.

He is not so misguided that one act of intercourse would cause him to set his heart on no other. It is simply his certainty, after sharing such intimacy with his captain, that no-one else could be as perfect a mate. In that act Kirk had, for the first time, laid himself open, and he had glimpsed his tai’ji—his balance in all things. It is what, he now believes, his other-self alluded to.

I could not also deprive you of the revelation of all you can accomplish together . . . of a friendship that will define you both in ways you cannot yet realize.

The word ‘friendship’ in modern Vulcan does not exist as a concept. The Ambassador had therefore substituted an ancient Vulcan word, an offshoot of the noun t’hy’la, for a close approximation. Spock is now certain he misconstrued the old man’s meaning; he wasn’t simply alluding to a friendship, but to a brotherhood in the ancient warrior tradition.

Kirk has turned his back on him as though what they shared was so meaningless it is easily completely dismissed, just as he has all the other sexual partners Spock has witnessed him having over the course of their mission to date.

This leaves him in an untenable position. With his newfound knowledge, and Kirk’s distance, he cannot remain first officer of the Enterprise under such conditions. He has reluctantly come to the conclusion that he has no choice but to resign his commission and do what he had originally intended: return and help rebuild the new Vulcan home-world.

The form is already filled out, yet he has been reluctant to send it to his commanding officer, illogically hoping that the ice between them might thaw. He no longer believes that will happen, he realizes, as he thinks back to a briefing earlier that day. Prior to their arrival at Starbase 82 in four days for the Holidays—on Christmas Day—they have spent two days carrying out some routine star mapping. One planet they discovered—Gamma Cassius VII—shows signs of once having an atmosphere and at the time, the captain asked him to look into the reason why it no longer does. Having conducted preliminary scans, Spock could find no obvious single cause, given there were several equally compelling possibilities. At the briefing he described the various scenarios, but when pressed by the captain, stated he was unwilling to speculate which was the most likely.

Kirk turned cold eyes on him. “What’s wrong with you, Spock? Haven’t you figured it out yet? We’re out here in the unknown—that’s the whole point of our mission. It’s not always going to be black and white. What good are you as my first officer and science officer, if you’re only willing to give me data when it’s based on firm evidence? I need better answers from you than that.”

Even Spock could see the rest of the senior team looked taken aback at the harsh criticism. It was McCoy who spoke out in Spock’s defense—an irony not missed on the captain, who refused to back down. Nyota held him back at the end of the briefing and told him the captain was being a jerk; that he should ignore Kirk until he got over himself. Her words were meant as an offering of support, but they didn’t help; he merely nodded and left. He could feel her concerned eyes on his back as he retreated down the corridor, heading to his office in the science department where he would conduct further analysis on the Gamma Cassius VII data.

Spock sits at his desk and brings his resignation form up on his screen, running his eyes over it one last time to ensure it is correctly completed. Pressing ‘send’ is not easy. But he does do it. In four days he will alight at Starbase 82, turning his back on Starfleet, on the Enterprise and her crew, and make his way to New Vulcan from there.

Spock has heard the Terran expression ‘a heavy heart’ used on occasion, and while he understood the meaning to have an emotional component, he still found the notion to be illogical. He now believes he fully understands its meaning.

+

Chapter Text

Spock respects the captain’s ability to quickly discern and weigh the options available to him in any given circumstance, knows Kirk prides himself on it, even though it has resulted in tenuous situations for the crew due to lack of key information at times. Thus, he is surprised when twenty four hours go by without any response to his request.

He has not seen the captain all day due to conflicting schedules, and there are, of course, myriad reasons why he might decide to delay accepting Spock’s resignation. It is possible he has to first inform StarFleet, and being so far from Earth, subspace messages take hours to reach their destination, and hours more to be answered. It might be that the captain is waiting until their arrival at Starbase 82 where Spock can disembark with the minimum of awkwardness and fuss.

But for the captain to not even approach him in order to discuss his resignation?

It is not that he expected Ji—Kirk to demand to know his reasons for leaving Starfleet. The cause is self-evident. And while his intention was not to seek a confrontation, Spock cannot deny that based on the captain’s historical reactions, he had surmised Kirk would at the very minimum concede to speak with him. Perhaps even attempt to change his mind.

Spock had no intention of doing so, and has already determined which arguments would be the most persuasive to convince the captain of his determination to leave the Enterprise.

Apparently, however, that will be unnecessary.

He leaves his quarters and heads to the main mess, since he promised Uhura he would attend the choral concert. The room has a raised dais against the far wall on which are three rows of chairs for the choir, and festive decorations abound, including a large tree on temporary loan from the botany department that’s bedecked in fairy lights. Over a hundred members of the crew are already present and mingling, the noise of their chatter louder than is usual in the mess. With no difficulty at all, Spock zeroes in on Kirk, standing at the front next to McCoy, talking to several junior crewmen. Spock takes a seat at the back.

The concert is of a surprisingly high standard, with traditional carols and Hanukkah songs interspersed with songs of winter from other Federation planets. Spock has heard Nyota sing before, has even accompanied her on occasion on his lyre. But many present haven’t, so he’s unsurprised when after singing a solo rendition of ‘Oh Holy Night’, she is given a standing ovation.

Although he finds the evening more gratifying than he expected, a part of him acknowledges that in three point three days he will be leaving this ship, all these people . . . Jim, behind, the thought of which causes an unexpected physical discomfort when he swallows. When everyone stands at the end of the concert to applaud he leaves, choosing not to remain for the inevitable encores.

+

They are less than a day away from Starbase 82 when his cabin door chimes. Spock notes that his heart rate increases by four point eight percent. Aside from his deplorable lack of control, the physiological reaction is illogical considering how steadfastly Kirk has been avoiding him, so there is no reason to assume it is him at the door. More than likely, it is a crew member that needs his expertise, or perhaps it is even Nyota, coming to ascertain that he is well. She has been attentive since his return to the Enterprise, no doubt picking up the strain between him and the captain, but particularly so since his reprimand from Kirk in the briefing.

He takes a deep breath, calms his heartbeat to a more regular rhythm and says, “Enter.”

After having convinced himself that the probability of the person at the door being the captain is too small to be taken seriously, he is surprised to see Kirk, especially considering how much his face betrays his reluctance to be there.

He remains in the doorway. “Spock, if you have a minute?”

“Of course, Captain.”

“I’d like to speak to you in my quarters.” With that, he turns and walks down the corridor to his cabin next door.

It has been sixty six point two hours since Spock submitted his resignation. His intention was to approach Kirk immediately prior to Alpha shift the following morning if he had not heard back from him by that time. The captain has responded in the time Spock allotted him. There is no reason for any . . . frustration.

As he walks through the door, it is with some surprise that he notes the captain has adorned his quarters with a number of seasonal decorations. On his desk sits a miniature spruce tree covered in tiny lights and small ornaments and an array of greeting cards; in addition, the shelf above his bed is decked in a green garland with red and gold baubles and more lights, and above it on the wall hangs a matching wreath below which is the word ‘Hohoho’ in large, bright red letters.

Kirk walks past his desk and gestures to the seating area, where Spock chooses an armchair for himself, ensuring that his posture and facial expression are correct.

“How may I be of service, Captain?”

“I needed to talk to you about your request to leave Starfleet.”

It is not a question, so he does not feel the need reply. The tightening of Kirk’s lips indicates that he disagrees with this choice, but then the captain has been displeased with the majority of Spock’s actions and decisions as of late.

“Starfleet contacted me earlier today after receiving both our reports. They actually approve of our—the bonding ritual. First cultural landmark, blah, blah, blah. They specifically ordered the two of us to be present during the welcoming ceremony for the Athosians as a symbol of—” He sighs, runs his hand through his hair and looks around the room. “You know, all the bullshit politicking. The ceremony doesn’t take place for another six months though. At the earliest. I was going to send a message to Pike to let him know you wanted to leave, but I already know what he’s going to say: Fix it.”

He exhales deeply, rubs his face with his hands and leans forward, looking at Spock with weary and dull eyes, the resentful air and restless energy that has surrounded him since their return dissipating. It is only then Spock becomes cognizant of the deep lines in his face, the pallor of his skin.

“I know it’s my fault. I’ve been—there’s no excuse for the way I’ve acted towards you recently. I haven’t handled the situation well, and I can only imagine how . . . uncomfortable I’ve made you.”

The captain tenses at his own words, glances away, apparently unwilling to maintain eye contact as he no doubt considers a way to tactfully inform Spock that he regrets their liaison, however, he hopes that it will not interfere in their professional lives. He believes the next customary line would then be that Kirk hopes they may maintain their friendship.

Spock is conscious of a growing pain in his palms, and he looks down, blinks in surprise to see his hands are clenched into fists.

“You and I—we make a good team, Spock. I couldn’t have gotten this far—we couldn’t have—damn it, I—I don’t want you to leave.” He makes an aborted hand motion, as if he wanted to reach out to Spock, and then crosses his arms over his chest, keeps them tight to his body as he begins to speak once again. “I know it can’t be easy for you. All these . . . illogical Human emotions getting in the way. You must think I’m . . .” The captain shakes his head. Exhales. “Don’t go, Spock. Stay.”

“Captain.” His voice is deeper than normal, hoarse, and his emotions—and in this, Kirk is correct: so many illogical emotions interfering with coherent thought—are close to the surface and no longer under his complete control. He feels raw and exposed, the pain in his chest from being denied by his t’hy’la is the worst it has ever been. He cannot make sense of everything being said, too intent on the last words from the captain’s mouth—words that he has longed for, although never in this context.

“We can work past this.” His captain leans forward even further, his expression determined although his eyes reflect the same doubt that Spock harbors. He looks away from Kirk for the first time since they sat down.

Fix it.

Spock understands duty. Expectations. He has used them as lodestones all his life, despite the occasional acts of defiance. He can appreciate what the captain is attempting to do, placing responsibility and obligations before his personal preferences. In other circumstances, he would even commend him for it.

Not today.

“Your dedication to the Federation—”

“That’s not—this isn’t about the Athos treaty, damn it, Spock!” He grips the armrests of his chair with enough force that his knuckles stand out in stark relief. “I don’t want you to leave! I don’t! I’ve been staring at that damn form for the past two days, almost approved it more times than I care to remember, but I couldn’t—I couldn’t . . .” He rubs the back of his neck, takes a deep breath. “You’re needed here, Spock. The Enterprise needs you. And I—I would—”

Spock interrupts, does not want to hear how Kirk will finish his sentence. Perhaps it is cowardly of him, but he feels acutely unsettled, vulnerable in a manner in which he is unaccustomed. “There are other individuals who can fulfill my role as both first officer and science officer.”

The captain jumps up. “Don’t even—” His lips compress thinly. “That’s not what I meant, damn it. I’ve already admitted this is my fault. I knew better. I shouldn’t have—I knew better.” He flings himself back into the chair and leans forward, holding Spock’s gaze. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I let things go too far, and that I—I’m sorry for the way I acted when you told me what happened is best forgotten. I shouldn’t have let my—you didn’t deserve any of that. You can’t help the way I—it’s not your fault that you don’t feel the—”

“Captain. Jim,” he says hesitantly, blinks and then stares, clasping his hands together to keep them from reaching out. He realizes that he is leaning towards Kirk as he scrutinizes his face, his voice, because his words are not those of a man who does not care. They are from a man who cares too much.

He has forgotten what a consummate actor the captain is, how he hides in plain sight, emphasizing one emotion to conceal another and misdirecting observers with humor and arrogance. But he is revealed now, stress lines bracketing his mouth, fatigue in the droop of his shoulders. Spock looks, and recognizes the misery in Kirk’s eyes because he has become all too familiar with that feeling ever since they returned to the ship.

Hope flares irrationally in his chest, but he needs to be certain. “The reason I submitted my resignation,” Jim looks away from him, “is due to the fact that—”

“I know why, Spock! You can’t work with a captain who has these fucking ridiculous feelings for you! But I—” Jim swallows, turns his eyes to the side, “if you just give me some time, I’m sure I can—”

“You are mistaken.” The up-swell of emotion is disorienting, relief and triumph and joy. They are almost too strong for him to sufficiently contain. “It was not the presence of romantic interest that led to my decision, but what I believed to be the absence of it.”

Jim’s confusion is evident. “What?” he asks after a silence that extends for three point five seconds.

It is Spock’s desire to rise and approach the captain, to touch him as he has been denied for too many days and reassure himself of the reality of the situation, but he resists. There are too many points that must be clarified if they are to avoid further misunderstandings.

“On Athos, I . . .” Spock pauses, deliberating on how to explain his actions on the planet. He feels distinctly . . . nervous, an emotion with which he is unfamiliar, and is now proving difficult to contain as the importance of the outcome of his conversation with Jim is paramount. The fact that Jim is beginning to exhibit signs of impatience only exacerbates the feeling. “I came to more fully appreciate the exceptional qualities you possess, something I had been cognizant of before, of course, although never to that degree. That is not to say that I did not value them as they warranted prior to the mission, however, on Athos, I realized how well-suited we are—”

“Spock. You’re babbling.”

He opens his mouth to refute that charge . . . and then closes it, folds his hands in his lap and tries to achieve some degree of equilibrium.

“So what you’re telling me is that you suddenly developed the hots for me while we were on Athos.”

Spock eyes Jim warily and judges from his clipped voice and darkening expression that now is not the time to mention his use of colloquialisms. He nods slowly instead.

“Well, fuck you, too.”

His fingers tighten around each other, and he experiences difficulty making them loosen. “I do not understand—”

“You wanted me for what? Ten days, Spock? Fourteen? Fourteen days and when things don’t go the way you want them to, you decide to resign from the Enterprise?”

“That is not—”

“Try months. Months of wanting someone you don’t think you’re ever going to have.”

Spock cannot think of anything to say to that statement and stares at Jim in amazement.

“You didn’t even want to be friends with me.” The anger is stark on Jim’s face. The hurt is less so but still visible nonetheless.

“Jim . . .”

“Why didn’t you say something? We’ve been on the ship for almost a week! Why didn’t you come talk to me instead of—”

“You were antagonistic and unreceptive—”

“Because I thought you didn’t want me!” Jim says, thumping his hand against his chest. “That you’d—” He exhales and speaks his next words quietly. “That you’d lost interest after getting me out of your system.”

In all of Spock’s ruminations since their return, he never once considered this possibility. “What would lead you to form such a conclusion?” he asks, stifling the urge once again to rise from his seat and approach Jim. He refrained previously for precisely this reason, to comprehend how the two of them could have reached this juncture when they both apparently desire the other. He knows their discussion is a necessity. Nevertheless, it is more challenging to curb the impulse at this moment than it was before, especially knowing that he is somehow to blame for Jim’s distress and his own misfortune, however unintentionally.

“What would—fuck, Spock! You knew how much I wanted you! Maybe I didn’t say it out loud, and maybe I don’t know all there is to know about Vulcan touch telepathy, but you could hear my thoughts! At the temple, you did things that I wanted you to do—exactly the way I wanted you to do them—and that couldn’t be just a coincidence! And you knew that I’d—”

Jim does not complete his sentence, but there is no need for him to.

“But you never said anything back to me, Spock. And then that stupid reaction to the wine set in, and it was humiliating enough to have you see me like that, to know how up close up and personal you were to—fuck, to just all of it—but having to deal with your disgust—”

“I did not feel disgusted.” He finds himself leaning forward, his hands on the chair arms as if in preparation to stand. “I was concerned for your well-being and made every effort to make you more comfortable—”

“Every time I opened my eyes, you refused to look at me! Couldn’t bear the sight of all that Human frailty and sickness. You didn’t touch me unless you absolutely had to! Then you told me to . . . what were your words? ‘Forget what transpired,’ and spent the last two nights we were there out in the damn garden! And part of me can’t even blame you for it, because I know what an absolute mess I was, but after finally getting to be with you . . . after how . . . connected I felt to you, I—”

“There was an Athosian healer present in the room with us,” Spock says, and perhaps it is not an excuse in the face of the pain he has unwittingly caused Jim, but at the very least, it is an explanation. “My feelings for you—I had only recently recognized the change in my perception towards you, and within forty eight hours of that shift, we were mated and bonded in the eyes of the Athosians. I do not regret—let me be more clear. In truth, I welcomed both occurrences, Jim. And I should have—I would have admitted as much to you, but our circumstances changed in such a way as to make that impossible. You were in distress, I believed because I had witnessed your illness. When I said to forget what had transpired, I was referring to that, not to the ceremony and our love-making. Furthermore, I was unable to meditate properly for approximately forty five point two hours. I could not look at or touch you with the decorum necessary for an audience.”

It is as though all the air leaves Jim, visibly slumping as he shakes his head. “Shit.” Pinching the bridge of his nose, Spock recognizes the action as one of Jim’s at times of stress.

A pair of blue eyes gazes at him, holding his attention. “You’d think two certified geniuses would be able to avoid acting like a pair of idiots.”

“Jim?” Spock has been called many things, but never an idiot.

“I mean,” Jim leans forward and takes one of Spock’s hands, “we’ve both managed to convince ourselves that what we want isn’t what the other wants. We fail at communication.”

Spock looks down at where their hands are joined, automatically shielding himself against Jim’s emotional output, not wishing to be distracted or influenced by them. “I have always been somewhat perturbed by the emotions Humans exhibit—I frequently find them nonsensical and illogical. Since the bonding on Athos, my ability to control my own emotional state has diminished. Not since . . . Nero . . . have I been so compromised. I have found myself plagued with emotions I am unable to interpret with any degree of accuracy, since I am unaccustomed to experiencing them. I—”

Spock stops when he sees the stricken look on Jim’s face as he lets go of his hand.

“Has it really been that awful for you, Spock?”

“I do not understand—please explain.” He’s already missing the small amount of physical contact they had.

“You’re comparing your feelings for me with your grief at losing your world, your mom . . .”

Spock speaks many languages and dialects, understands the nuances the various cultures imbue in them. But the language of emotion, of describing them, understanding them, interpreting them, appear to be beyond his ability. Never has he had such a confusing conversation where talking at cross-purposes appears to be the default mode.

“I do not speak of the specific emotions involved,” he tries to clarify, “but rather the fact of their existence and their profound effect on me.”

Jim nods but remains silent; his face is open, interested. Spock recognizes further clarification is necessary.

“At an early age, I was taught to control emotion—not merely to suppress them, but to not feel them. I was largely successful, though there have been occasions when my control has been less than perfect.”

The rueful expression on Jim’s face tells him they are both remembering that day on the bridge when he returned from Delta Vega.

“Those occasions have been characterized by my experiencing not merely one emotion, but an inundation of them, with such force, that they affect me profoundly, preventing rational thought and guiding my actions. They . . . weaken me.”

“Welcome to the world of Humans, Spock.” The tone indicates sympathy, not ridicule.

“I mean no insult when I say it is not a world I wish to inhabit,” he replies firmly. For him, it is a confusing and illogical world, one that threatens him and his very being. It is not Vulcan and that is one thing, above all others, he strives to be, regardless of his Human heritage. It has frequently been pointed out to him that he is half Human, but the term is a fallacy. Physiologically he is eighty eight point three percent Vulcan, and he was raised to be Vulcan. The emotions he has felt have not been Human ones, but rather those of a Vulcan, which are so much stronger and deeper. It is not that Vulcans are incapable of feeling, should they choose to do so, but rather that they are capable of feeling too much. The intensity of Vulcan emotion, particularly those that are negative, once threatened to destroy their very civilization.

A look passes across Jim’s face, one that Spock has seen often while on duty, when his captain has been piecing together a puzzle and he suddenly gains an understanding.

“Is what you feel for me that strong? I thought you didn’t feel anything for me until we got to Athos.”

Spock is reluctant to admit the epiphany he experienced while on the mission, but in the interests of transparency, he forces himself to share it.

“Have you ever wondered how Vulcans choose a mate?”

Jim grins. “Uh . . . logically?”

“Indeed. It is based on compatibility, the most crucial to a telepathic species such as mine being that of the mind. This is because Vulcan marriage involves a telepathic bond—a permanent and irrevocable linking of two consciousnesses. However, that is not to deny other factors such as typology—what Humans refer to as personality—and an aesthetic appeal.

“It was while we were on Athos that I came to understand that you would make an ideal mate, that you possess all the necessary components that I would require. You are correct in your belief that until then, I had not taken the time to know you better. You are have a tendency to disguise yourself, hiding who you truly are, and I was aware of that to some degree. But like so many others, I fell prey to that deception and did not seek to discover otherwise.”

“Not many people do,” Jim agrees. “Just the ones who . . . care.”

“It explains why McCoy—someone who I believe you would say ‘does not suffer fools gladly’—is your loyal friend.” Someone, Spock came to learn after the battle of Vulcan, who was willing to risk his commission—his career—for Jim.

“Yeah, it took him a few months, but he eventually figured me out.”

“Nyota has not.”

“No.”

Jim appears almost sad at that, which surprises Spock since Jim himself—his behavior—is the reason for it. Jim is a far more complex person than he has given him credit for being and he hopes, in time, to learn more about this fascinating man.

“You’re wondering why I do that,” Jim says as a statement.

“I confess to being . . . curious.”

“You know me and win-win,” Jim smiles. “When people underestimate you and you screw up, all you’ve done is meet their expectations. And when you do succeed, you surprise them. Either way, you don’t disappoint.”

A simplistic notion, no doubt born from complex life experiences. He would probe further, but now is not the time. Now, he wishes to share his revelation with Jim.

“I had reason to question the validity of my understanding of you—who you are—when I saw you naked in the shower, not just physically, but also without the cloak of your public persona. It was then that I realized my error, that I recognized my—”

“—soulmate,” Jim finishes for him when Spock hesitates as he searches for an appropriate word.

“Indeed,” he agrees. “It was at that moment that my war with my emotions began, leaving me overwhelmed, fatigued and unable to adequately meditate.”

Jim leans forward. “But you’re not the first Vulcan to meet someone who’s that compatible—what do they do? How do they cope?”

“I cannot speak for others. It is not, as you may imagine, a topic discussed among Vulcans.”

Jim sits back, letting out a sharp breath, shaking his head. “You people are so fucking repressed, I . . .” He stops mid-sentence, his mouth forming a thin line as he runs his fingers distractedly through his hair.

“I’m no good at talking about my emotions,” Jim admits. “I’ve never been a one for analyzing them—or even trying to understand them, half the time. Just tell me, Spock. What does all this mean for us?”

“If you are agreeable, I wish to continue our . . . relationship with a view to a potential bonding when . . . if my Vulcan physiology requires it.” He has no intention of discussing Pon Farr with Jim—not now, though he recognizes its necessity to be shared at some indeterminate point in the future, but only should the need arise. It is not that it is too personal for him to discuss, though the thought brings a surprising degree of discomfiture, but rather that it is a Vulcan matter, not shared with outworlders.

“But what about all the emotions? I thought you were having trouble handling them.”

It is a valid question and one for which he doesn’t know the answer—not in absolute terms. “You are correct. Jim, you must understand that I cannot be with you as a Human. In every important aspect, I am Vulcan.”

Jim grins. “I shouldn’t expect you to roam the halls weeping.”

Spock recognizes the words he once threw at McCoy. It doesn’t surprise him to know he shared it with Jim; no doubt, in retrospect, he found the notion amusing.

“Indeed. I am unable to be emotionally demonstrative in the Human way.” It is the reason, in the end, that he and Uhura went their separate ways. He was unable to provide her with what she needed.

“And I wouldn’t want that,” Jim says emphatically. “I don’t want to change who you are. That’s not who I . . .” He pauses, as if gathering his thoughts. “Fuck,” he says and leaning forward, places his elbows on his knees and clasps his head.

Spock can see some degree of distress and leans towards the Human. “Jim?”

He is met by a rueful expression as Jim looks up. “Well, looks like tonight is about revelations for both of us.”

Spock wishes to understand, and remains silent, understanding that sometimes Humans need space and silence to think.

Jim reaches out and once again takes his hand. Spock does his best to ignore the sudden stimulus, to focus on Jim’s words. “What I was about to say—though I didn’t realize it until I opened my mouth—is that I don’t want to change the person I fell in love with.”

Spock looks at him, stunned, noting distantly an increase in cardio-pulmonary activity that he is certain wasn’t associated with the physical contact. While he cannot profess to know Jim well, he doesn’t strike him as being the kind of man given to such declarations, since it could potentially leave him vulnerable to being hurt at the hands of someone less scrupulous than he.

“I am unable to name the emotions I have experienced since our time on Athos, but I believe, collectedly, they amount to what you refer to as ‘love’.”

“Yeah, love isn’t one thing, one emotion. It’s all the little things . . .” Jim turns Spock’s hand over so that it is palm up, and places his own lightly over it.

At the contact, Spock has to once again strengthen his shields, unwilling to allow Jim’s emotions to wash over him while they still have more to discuss.

“But whatever you feel,” Jim continues, “you’re feeling too much—you can’t handle it.”

Spock thinks of his father and wonders whether he went through something similar when he first realized his love for his mother. The notion is so incongruous with the mental image he has of a man who is so controlled, centered, so . . . Vulcan, that had he been Human, he might have laughed.

“I have heard the term ‘rollercoaster’ to describe strong emotions in Humans, without fully understanding the analogy until now. It is not the strength of my regard for you which has left me troubled, but rather the conflicting emotions I subsequently experienced at your initial withdrawal and then apparent rejection.”

“Yes, well . . .” Jim begins, staring at where their hands are resting against each other. “I don’t often get sick, and I’m not at my best when I do. But worse than that, it was fucking embarrassing. When you’ve been with someone a long time, when you’ve had long-term intimacy with them, you don’t mind them seeing you at less than your best. But when it’s all new . . . Spock, you had to carry me to the fucking bathroom, and wait while I sat there . . .” his face screws up at the memory. “Hell, I’d be embarrassed if Bones saw me like that and he’s a doctor!”

“You are being illogical, Jim.”

“No-one said emotions are logical,” Jim counters.

“Indeed. And if it had been me—would you think less of me?”

“No, of course n . . .” Jim halts his words and shakes his head.

“You appear to have been laboring under the erroneous assumption that witnessing you in such a condition, I would judge you and find you wanting, or that I might be disgusted by it. Neither is true. Your body was merely efficiently purging itself of toxins that would otherwise do you harm. I fail to comprehend why you are embarrassed by that, yet not by certain sexual behaviors which require the sharing of even greater intimacy with your partner.”

“Because that’s different.”

“I am a scientist, Jim. Certain attributes are required of all living organisms. You have displayed none with which I am unfamiliar.”

“Weren’t we talking about you and your feelings?” Jim asks, the small smile telling him that his assertion has been accepted but that it’s not a subject he wishes to dwell on.

“Indeed. I have found that a number of the unwanted emotions I was experiencing have been eliminated by this discussion and I believe that I may now have sufficient peace of mind to gain the depth of meditation required to control the remainder. “

Jim’s smile widens. “So does that mean we’re good?”

Now is not the time to tease Jim and pretend not to know what he means. “We are good, Jim.”

“Best Christmas present ever!” Jim grins and with no further encouragement he has straddled Spock’s lap. A pair of cool hands cup his face and for a moment, his eyes are caught and held by a deep blue gaze until it drops to his mouth. A moment later, Jim leans in and as he presses their mouths together, his eyes close. When the soft lips come alive against his own, he too closes down all visual stimuli as he concentrates on the wet tongue sliding against his own.

It is almost disturbing how much he desires Jim. His hands are on Jim’s back and in his hair, although Spock has no memory of moving them, his mouth hungry and open under Jim’s.

Jim represents a loss of control and confusion, as evidenced by all that has occurred on and since Athos; he is a contradiction to everything Spock has been raised to believe. But Spock cannot regret being with him. Indeed, he revels in Jim’s presence, in his weight on Spock’s legs and the tingling press of his thoughts against Spock’s shields.

It is a test of his discipline to see how long he can maintain the shielding, although he does not believe he will endure the need to succumb for very long, each caress of Jim’s skin maddening as his thoughts whisper, cajole, demand entrance.

He drops the barriers between them—always so weak whenever Jim is near—seven point three seconds later with a grateful sigh and welcomes the ordered chaos of Jim’s mind into his own.

Spock.”

The sound of his name, muffled against his mouth, allows him to surface from the daze he is in—and he realizes with shock that his fingers are brushing over the meld points on Jim’s face, that he has pulled Jim against him as if he means to crush him against his body.

He releases Jim immediately, horrified by his behavior. There is no justification for his actions, not his lack of meditation, not the emotional turmoil of the past week, nor even his intense relief to know Jim reciprocates his affection. To meld without consent—

“So you really do want me.”

He does not know how to respond to Jim’s statement, to the satisfaction in his words, to the peace that emanates off of him as he places his hands very deliberately on Spock’s cheeks.

“Jim, I—”

It must be an effect of the lighting, but Jim’s eyes appear brighter than Spock has ever viewed them before. They blaze with desire and triumph, and Jim’s thoughts are as clear as if he had spoken them aloud. You never acted like you really did before.

“I . . . am unable to be emotionally demonstrative in the Human way.” He repeats his words from before, his shoulders stiffening minutely.

"Hey! Don’t look like that. It's not—I already told you I don't expect you to change! I don't want you to change! But I just . . . I don't have telepathy like you do, Spock. I only know what you say and do, and up until now—"

"Prior to this conversation, my words and actions have resulted in you doubting me."

"That’s not—"

"I would have abandoned my commission in Starfleet because I believed you wanted nothing more to do with me." He cannot deny himself the pleasure of touching Jim, skin-to-skin, seeking reassurance and finding it in the mixture of surprise and happiness, guilt and lust that he encounters. "I cannot act in the way you have likely come to expect from your previous sexual partners," he says, hands tightening and drawing Jim closer to him, as if to ward off the memories of those nameless others, "but I would not willingly create a situation that would once again lead to your physical and mental withdrawal from me. Do not doubt that I desire you, Jim, or that the feelings I harbor for you are insincere. There will never be anyone in my life that will surpass your—"

"Has anyone ever told you," Jim begins, the warmth of his smile eclipsed by the sheer welcome in his thoughts, "that you talk too much?"

"No," he says truthfully, or attempts to say, however, Jim is sufficiently distracting that he soon becomes focused on other matters.

"I want you to fuck me," Jim whispers, his tongue cool and wet and indecent against the shell of Spock's ear.

Spock rises out of the chair with alacrity, Jim laughing and wrapping his arms and legs around Spock's torso as his delighted amusement gambols through Spock's mind.

He believes the fault squarely rests with Jim that it momentarily escapes his recollection that a detour to their shared bathroom to collect lubrication is necessary, and the enticing wriggle of Jim’s body as he merrily brings this to Spock’s attention does not aid matters. Nonetheless, they arrive at Jim’s bed without further mishap forty three point one seconds later, and Spock is barely able to stifle a shiver when he lowers the two of them down onto the mattress.

He is unprepared, therefore, when Jim flips them over and towers above him, the thought and the resulting action occurring almost simultaneously.

“Jim—”

“Shhh. Let me do this.”

There is nothing in him that wishes to refuse that request.

“Lights to thirty percent,” Jim says as Spock watches Jim looking down at him lying on his bed. The room transforms so that the glow of the fairy lights become the brightest points of illumination in the room, giving it an ethereal quality.

Jim moves back until he is straddling Spock’s thighs, and his eyes remain on Spock’s face as he pushes Spock’s shirt up high on his chest, the coolness of his hand making Spock’s muscles twitch involuntarily as it grazes his stomach, as Jim caresses his nipples until a moan escapes unbidden.

“You are,” Jim murmurs, his thoughts brilliant and clear and so filled with emotion that Spock cannot doubt him, “absolutely incredible.”

He does not allow Spock the opportunity to reciprocate the sentiment as he slides backward, his mouth traversing the same path his hand laid down, his fingers tugging at Spock’s pants until they are mid-thigh and he is laid bare. The desire in Jim’s mind is almost as intoxicating as the touches themselves, each brush of his skin transmitting another flash of lust until Spock begins to question the feasibility of remaining still.

He determines it is an impossible task when Jim grips his erection firmly, and Spock gasps, his hips jerking as Jim begins to stroke him, his other hand exploring the surrounding territory.

Just like that, fuck, just like that.

He reaches for Jim then, is cognizant of what Jim intends to do and decides he must intervene. It is not that Spock has forgotten their previous sexual encounter but that he has not allowed himself to dwell on the experience. Thus, he is unprepared for the enthusiasm and sheer hunger that Jim broadcasts, more so now than even the first time. He is doubtful that he will be able to bear further attention from Jim with the fortitude necessary to keep from ejaculating before he is mentally willing.

He does not take into consideration, however, Jim’s determination.

Not yet. I want to—not yet.

Jim ignores the hands that would pull him higher, releasing Spock’s penis and pushing his hips down. He lowers his head, and before Spock can give voice to a refusal, Jim surrounds the tip of his erection with his mouth.

Spock moans then, threads his fingers into Jim’s hair and barely refrains from thrusting upward. The saliva in Jim’s mouth acts as a conductor of his lower body temperature, shockingly cool against Spock’s flushed skin so that the first contact almost burns before he grows accustomed to it. He does not recall this being the case the previous occasion Jim performed oral sex on him, and he wonders—

He’s thinking too hard again. Spock hears the indignant but amused thought just as Jim seeks to rectify the situation by enveloping the full length of Spock’s erection. He succeeds.

“Jim,” Spock gasps, his hips rising off the bed as his fingers spasm in an effort not to tighten. He was correct in his earlier hypothesis. He estimates he has another fifty four seconds before he will not be able to comply with Jim’s request if he continues in this same vein.

He feels and hears Jim’s moan concurrently, sees an image of himself grabbing Jim’s head and thrusting urgently into his mouth, and he does not know if it is his desire or Jim’s. It is a battle to keep from orgasming as the suction around him increases, and Spock adjusts his estimation of his endurance as Jim’s skillful fingers slip between his legs and brush against his entrance again and again until Spock finds himself wondering with something like hope if Jim has altered his earlier appeal.

He opens his eyes and looks down his body, shudders at the intensity of Jim’s eyes as their gazes meet, at the sight of Jim’s lips, pink and swollen around him.

Fucking gorgeous. I can’t wait to have this in me.

Spock cries out as the suction increases yet again, and he decides it is no longer a choice but a necessity that he take action. He leverages his greater strength to pull Jim alongside and under him, grateful when Jim is content to be maneuvered about. He is, in actuality, pleased by the circumstances and Jim’s pride that he has brought Spock to this point pulsing in his mind, his pride and his awe.

“Jim.” His voice sounds hoarse to his own ears, tinged with desperation, and he struggles for control, even as his hand endeavors to locate the container of lubrication. “I must—”

“Do it,” Jim commands, wraps his hand around Spock’s neck to bring him down for a kiss, even as he slips the tube into Spock’s fumbling fingers. “Fuck, I want you so much,” he whispers and captures Spock’s answering groan with his lips.

The taste of Jim’s mouth and the press of his mind are befuddling, intoxicating, and they make Spock clumsy as he hastily divests Jim of his pants and underwear, too impatient to remove the rest of their clothing. By the time he has one finger inside of Jim, he is shivering with tension, each brush of his erection against Jim’s thigh stimulus enough to make his teeth compress together.

He is conflicted by two opposite but equally compelling urges. The first is his desire to prepare Jim with all due speed in order to hasten penetration and subsequently climax. Jim’s thoughts and words goad him in this path, the smell of his musk, together with his own body’s demands. The second is the need to linger so that he may absorb the clench of Jim’s body around him, the sheen of perspiration on Jim’s brow, the stuttering moan that he releases each time Spock touches him just so.

Jim solves his dilemma for him in his own unique way.

“So help me, Spock, if you don’t fuck me right the fuck now . . .” Jim does not verbalize the remainder of his threat, but Spock’s eyebrows rise at the images he receives. He believes that last position is physically improbable, but he recognizes that Jim is gearing up to try it even so.

It is with something almost like relief that he concedes and allows himself to do what they both wish. Kicking off his own pants and briefs and shrugging out of his tunic, he is better prepared for the difference in their body temperatures, and his is not the only moan as he places his hands either side of Jim’s shoulders and sinks into his cool and yielding body.

At the sensation of Jim surrounding his cock, feeling his legs wrap around his heaving back, as he gazes into the bright blue eyes looking up at him adoringly, Spock’s brain stutters to a halt, unable to objectively catalogue it all. For now, he is at the mercy of his instincts, his hips pulling back and pistoning forward in a primal dance.

Jim runs his hands up Spock’s arms, over his rippling biceps, the touch distracting as whispers of thoughts cascade through his mind until they coalesce.

So beautiful. So powerful. Mine.

The fleeting feelings give him a thrill: to be wanted, to be cherished in such a possessive way. This is a man who prides himself in his ability to stand alone against the universe, who would rather die than show his vulnerabilities.

Spock presses forward again and again, Jim’s blissful sighs a counterpoint to his thrusts. Grabbing Spock’s head, he urges him down into a kiss, their tongues sliding wetly against each other, mirroring their bodies, panting into each other’s mouths. Spock shifts his weight to his left arm so he can take Jim’s cock in hand.

“God, yes!” Jim whispers against his lips, his back arching off the bed. “Fuck!”

It’s thick and cool and wet with pre-cum as he wraps his fingers around its length, pumping in rhythm to his own thrusts. They are both breathing too hard to kiss, their foreheads touching as they push against one another, Jim’s sweat cooling his own fevered brow.

All at once he senses Jim’s urgency, all thoughts evaporating, becoming a low-level white noise ahead of the inevitable tidal wave. “Oh . . .” Jim gasps. “I’m . . . going to come.”

As Jim utters the words, he throws his head back to expose the long arch of his pale neck, the dim, colored lights reflected in the sleek sheen of sweat that covers him. Spock pounds harder, each thrust eliciting a grunt, the force moving Jim further up the bed. Jim grabs his shoulders, fingers tightening into his muscles, as if to hold on. He feels Jim’s grip around his cock tighten, a rhythmic clenching even as the beginnings of his own climax uncurls low in his sacrum.

“Spock!” Jim gasps as he explodes in orgasm, cum spattering both their stomachs and chests. Jim’s climax pulls him over the edge as he grits his teeth and pushes one last time. With a thundering in his ears, the world shatters about him as he buries his seed deep inside his love, his T’hy’la.

+

They lie on their sides, bathed in the soft lights of the Christmas tree. As Spock gazes at Jim, he realizes that the stillness, the serenity he first witnessed in the communal showers on Athos has returned. Jim looks peaceful . . . and happy; he is smiling. Seeing Jim devoid of his public mask, so laid open, so bare, seems somehow more intimate than making love with him—illogical but true.

He came so close to losing Jim, not having the courage to speak out, to share his true feelings. He would have returned to New Vulcan, leaving his T’hy’la behind. Knowing what he does now, his departure would have broken Jim’s heart, just as his own would surely have shattered.

Jim reaches out and unerringly places his hand over where Spock’s heart is still thrumming in the aftermath. He rests his own hand over Jim’s, sliding his fingers between until they are interlocked. The touch is like an anchor, holding him to Jim, ensuring he’ll never again get lost. One day, they will properly bond and their katras will be anchored to one another for eternity.

“Penny?” Jim whispers.

Spock doesn’t pretend to not understand—it was a phrase his mother used often as he was growing up. It is difficult for him to speak of it, but he wishes Jim to know. “Your courage . . . to speak of your feelings when I could not. I am . . . very glad of it.”

Jim smiles. “Glad, Spock? You? Really?”

As he so often does, Jim skillfully deflects the conversation when it strays into an area he’s not comfortable with —it appears Jim finds talking about emotions just as disquieting as Spock does. He raises an eyebrow in response. “I am merely using terminology familiar to you in order to convey an idea.”

Jim laughs, leans forward and kisses him. The kiss is chaste, without heat, yet imbued with love.

When Jim pulls back, he is still smiling. “It’s gone midnight, Spock. Happy Christmas.”

“May I remind you, Captain, that being ‘happy’ is an emotion and as a Vulcan—”

Jim doesn’t let him finish the sentence, pouncing on him and kissing him breathless. While Spock might not be willing to admit it out loud he is, in fact, very happy indeed.

 

[FIN]