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Jim Kirk took his fair share of xenolinguistics classes during his time at the Academy (one or two of which he even took for reasons other than wanting to harass Uhura). He can tell the Klingons to fuck off in their own language. He can stutter his way through a Cardassian greeting ceremony. But two languages that have always baffled him are Romulan and Vulcan. They're full of glottal stops and garbled slurring and he can never pick out more than a syllable or two of anything remotely understandable.

He's so hopeless at it that Spock has expressly forbidden him from attempting to pronounce Spock's full name, which Kirk feels is unfair. It's not his fault Sarek graced him with something like fourteen syllables in his name (or so it seems to Kirk), only a third of which can be pronounced by limited human capability for speech sounds.

Despite Kirk's utter failure to pronounce or even understand Vulcan, the language still speaks to him in ways he can't describe. Spock was raised speaking both Vulcan and Standard in equal parts, and he seems to have no trouble sticking to Standard when he's with the crew. But his brain is wired to think in both languages simultaneously, something Kirk learns the first time Spock agrees to mindmeld with him.

It isn't at all like melding with his older counterpart, which seems strange since they're the same person. But with the older Spock, everything came through in clear images and distinct speech. It's easy to understand, easy to succumb to the grief and heartbreak when it's presented so simply. But the younger Spock, his Spock, is different. He's still young enough that his brain processes deeper concepts in Vulcan - the older Spock has apparently been around speakers of Standard for so long that his brain follows suit.

Even though he doesn't understand it, he loves the not-sound of Vulcan flowing through him during a mindmeld. Sometimes, when Spock is particularly moved by something, he's graced with High Vulcan instead; Kirk's able to distinguish between the two because High Vulcan has a deep, resonating quality over his mind, almost a low vibration of sound he can't actually hear. It feels ancient, powerful, like thousands of years of history skimming over him and drawing him in.

They don't do it every time they have sex - far from it, in fact. Spock doesn't feel the need to practice it as often as other Vulcans do, and Kirk being Kirk is just as happy taking his time and melding with him as he is to shove him over the console and fuck him stupid. As a result, it takes awhile before one of those Vulcan phrases starts appearing more often than the others.

They're a mess of tangled limbs on the floor of Spock's quarters. Kirk has long since figured out that Spock's got some sort of thing for doing it in front of the huge window there, stars stretched out endlessly in front of them. They're sticky and sweaty and Spock has that look on his face like he's only just stopping himself from hopping in the shower. But he refrains, fingers brushing along the meld points and into Kirk's hair, his eyes closed contentedly.

Kirk tosses an arm over him haphazardly, his brain slowly recuperating from the dual sensations of being blown to pieces while Spock's mind sluices through him. There's something there, some echo of a word he's been hearing the past several times they've indulged like this, and he gives himself enough time to ensure it won't come out in a sated slur. "Twila?"

Those dark eyes crack open just the slightest bit, but the eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. "Hmm?"

"Something you were thinking earlier." He traces over Spock's ribs distractedly. "Someone you know?"

There's a twitch at the corner of Spock's mouth that means he's amused at something. "I know of no one by that name."

Kirk tries for a scowl, but it's probably a failure. "Then what's it mean?"

Again with the mouth twitching. "There is no such phrase in Vulcan, either."

He pinches his backside. "It means something."

Spock retaliates with a light smack on his ass. "I assure you, the phrase is meaningless to me."

Kirk grumbles and settles back into him. "Then I've just heard it wrong. What was it?"

The twitch gives way to an actual smile that's less amused than Kirk would have thought and a lot ... well, softer. "I will offer a compromise," he murmurs, fingers going back to petting through his hair. "If you can ascertain the phrase and learn to pronounce it correctly, I will explain it in detail."

Kirk can't help rolling his eyes. "You're not a professor anymore, you know. And I never took any of your classes."

"Which perhaps explains your atrocious pronunciation."

Kirk lands a solid smack on Spock's shoulder, which results in Spock giving him a low growl and pinning him back down to the floor, which results in yet another shift on the bridge when the two of them have maybe had an hour's worth of actual sleep.

*******

He finds Uhura in the Mess Hall the next day, sequestered at a small table across from Bones. The two of them have forged some sort of unholy friendship, one Kirk is convinced is based solely on bitching about him and painting each other's nails (and no, he is never going to let Bones live that down, he doesn't care what kind of dare it was).

He flops into the seat next to Bones with little grace and even less care regarding what he might be interrupting. He grabs an apple off of Bones's tray and asks, "What's a Twila?"

"She's that crazy broad who started stalking you during your second year. Short brown hair, gray eyes, hell of a left hook," Bones supplies, glaring at him. "I wasn't gonna eat that, by the way."

By the time he says it, Kirk's already taken a giant bite out of it. He leans in and gives Bones a sloppy kiss on the cheek simply because he knows it annoys him. "Thanks, Bones." He has the decency to finish chewing and even swallow before he continues, mostly because he doesn't want Uhura kicking him. "Anyway, it isn't a person. It's a thing."

Uhura raises an eyebrow at him, and it's unnerving that she still does that even though she broke up with Spock ages ago. It's contagious, apparently. "Is this some sort of quiz?"

"Might be. I'm not pronouncing it right, whatever it is, and Spock won't explain it until I can say it."

Bones, who is making far too much of a fuss over wiping his cheek with a napkin, rolls his eyes. But Uhura plants her elbows on the table and leans forward, interest flickering over her features. "Say it again."

He tries to reproduce the sounds, and he knows it sounds abysmal. "Too-why-luh?"

Uhura manages to both grimace and melt simultaneously. "Your pronunciation-"

"Sucks, I know," he interrupts her.

"T'hy'la," she murmurs flawlessly, and it sets off an instant spark of recognition from somewhere deep in his chest.

"Yes! That's it!"

Something about the look on Uhura's face has Bones doing that obnoxious mock-gagging thing he always does when Kirk mentions anything even vaguely related to Spock. "Oh for the love of God," he mutters, picking up his tray. "I'm going to go eat with Scotty. Don't bother to join us until the slumber party is over."

Uhura tosses her spoon at him as he leaves, and Kirk kind of wants to give her some sort of professional commendation for it. Can he give out awards for irritating his CMO? He's pretty sure he can, since he's the Captain and all. "I ever tell you about the time I caught him with red toenails?"

"At least seven or eight times," she mutters, giving him a long-suffering look. "It was a dare, Jim."

"Which doesn't matter, because he had red toenails."

There's a grin threatening under her glare and she tries to get back to the original subject. "Do you want to know how to say it or not?"

"Yes ma'am," he replies instantly, straightening in his chair a bit. "What's it mean?"

"I can't tell you that. Spock should be the one explaining. But I'll help you with your pronunciation."

He gives her his absolute best charming grin. "Thanks, Uhura." Just for this, he will refrain from calling her Nyota just to annoy her for at least a month.

*******

Kirk was kind of expecting a day or two of repeating the phrase over and over until he could reproduce it well enough to get Spock to explain it.

He really should have known better.

He's worked with Uhura for almost two years now, and he should know by now that she doesn't believe in the cramming style of learning. No, she believes in context and history and the evolution of language. She won't even say the phrase herself the first two or three times they meet to work on it; instead she launches into unending lectures about Vulcan glottal stops and how the tone a word is delivered in can affect the precise definition and on and on until Kirk can feel his eyes glazing over. By the time they've had a half dozen lessons or so, he's sure he can regurgitate all of Vulcan linguistic history all the way back to the first repressed sniffle of the first pointy-eared baby.

Also, the way she keeps giving Spock those secretive little looks on the bridge? Like she knows a secret he's keeping and it's killing her not to be able to spill it herself? Not conducive to the learning process.

But eventually she stops cringing every time Kirk says the word. The grimace starts melting away, too. And after weeks of working on it, he's got it to a point where she finally gives him the nod of approval. "I think that's as close as you're going to get, considering the limitations of human pronunciation," she tells him one day, sequestered in her quarters so Spock won't walk in on the lesson.

Kirk scowls at that. "Weeks of working on this shit and it might still be wrong?"

Uhura shrugs. "Vulcans are humanoid but they're built differently than we are. There's more strength in the tongue, greater dexterity of the lips, that kind of thing."

Kirk's mind is not following the correct path of this lecture at all, and he shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

"Quit thinking about sex."

"Look, you can't talk to me about strength of the tongue and dexterity of the lips without my brain naturally going there."

She rolls her eyes, but she doesn't have the murderous look on her face that she used to when their conversations degenerated like this. "Anyway, I don't think I can train you to pronounce it any better than that." She squeezes his shoulder affectionately. "Good luck."

*******

Now he's paranoid. He shouldn't be, because he has Uhura's approval and surely that should be good enough for Spock since Uhura was his top student. But ever since she admitted that her approval only goes as far as human capability can manage, he's been paranoid. He's taken enough xenolinguistics classes to know that a slight mispronunciation by a well-meaning human can have hilarious or even disastrous consequences, and he doesn't want to accidentally insult Spock's mother or something equally horrible.

He needs a Vulcan to assure him he's got it right. Obviously he can't go to Spock. He kind of cringes at asking Sarek, because after Uhura's reaction to the word he's at least got some kind of inkling what the word might mean, and asking Sarek would kind of be like asking his mother for sex advice. He shudders at the thought.

Fortunately, the Enterprise is sent to New Vulcan to drop off supplies to the colony and to take a brief shore leave before they're off to the edges of the known universe again. He takes his leave from the rest of the crew and finds Spock's older counterpart sitting in what he recognizes as a meditative stance in a small rocky clearing. He clearly isn't meditating, though, his gaze fixed upwards on the Enterprise.

"I keep meaning to ask," Kirk says by way of greeting, plopping down next to him in a casual sprawl, "does she look the same to you?"

"There is a sense of the familiar to her, even if the likeness is not exact," Spock replies, and Kirk grins at the warmth in his voice. His Spock only sounds like that in private. He looks forward to the day when he sounds like that all the time.

"If I'm not interrupting anything, I was wondering if you could help me with something."

Spock raises an eyebrow at that. "What might require my assistance and not that of my younger counterpart?"

"It's a phrase. A Vulcan phrase. He won't say what it means until I can say it right. Uhura's been helping me but she said there are limitations because I'm human." He cringes. "I just don't want it coming out an insult or something stupid."

He's not sure what he expected to see on Spock's face. Interest, maybe, or curiosity. Instead he looks soft and distant, maybe even a little sad. "T'hy'la," he murmurs, and there goes that spark of recognition in his chest again.

"Yeah," Kirk rumbles, something about the word making him go quiet and content. "How'd you know?"

"There are many aspects of this reality that diverge from the reality I am familiar with," he murmurs. "However, some things remain constant. That phrase is one of them."

He rolls the word around in his mouth for a moment, keeping Uhura's diction lessons in mind along with the way this older Spock said it. "T'hy'la," he says, looking at Spock to see how badly he's mangled it.

His mouth is relaxed at the corners in that way that would have meant a smile on anyone else. "T'hy'la," he repeats approvingly.

Kirk grins and jumps to his feet again, brushing the dust off his uniform. "Thank you for the help."

Spock watches him carefully, and Kirk could swear he has almost a cheeky look to him. "I would advise a measure of privacy when you ask him to explain."

He laughs outright at that. "What, I can't make him talk about it in front of Sarek?"

Spock just shakes his head. "Go," he says, waving him off.

*******

There's no opportunity for privacy for the rest of the day. Spock is off with his father, Uhura drags Kirk into some sort of Vulcan lyre concert, and the rest of the day is shot by various errands and situations that crop up in the colony.

He finally gets an opportunity once they've all retired to the guest quarters, emerging from the tub feeling like he's been boiled rather than bathed. There's something deeply wrong with Vulcan physiology if it produces desert dwellers who think hot tubs are a good idea.

Spock is standing in front of a small window that looks out into the as-yet untamed rocky desert, red cliffs almost invisible against the inky black sky. He's removed his uniform and he looks rather like a statue, an immobile display of pale skin and long legs. Kirk takes a moment to enjoy the sight before he walks over to him, wrapping his arms around his waist and hooking his chin over Spock's shoulder. He presses up against him to get as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, grinning when he feels some of that immobility go slack against him.

"There was no moon on Vulcan," Spock says quietly, hands resting on top of Kirk's.

He drags his attention away from Spock to gaze outside. Sure enough, there's a small sliver of white in the sky, giving off just enough light to distinguish where the cliffs end and the sky begins. He turns his face so he can nuzzle against one of those pointy ears, pressing a kiss to the skin there. "You like the change?"

"I cannot say. It is simply a change." He tilts his head to the side and lets out a long sigh, fingers tracing vague patterns over Kirk's arms. "It is not the home I am used to."

"Mm." He takes his time mapping out the shape of Spock's ear with his tongue, scraping his teeth gently over the point and watching him try to repress a shiver. He doesn't quite manage, twitching just a little bit at the attention. "I've been working on something for you," he murmurs, since he can't think of anything useful to say about the change of scenery. The Enterprise is home to him, and the view from her windows is always changing. He has no constant to cling to except his ship and his crew.

"Might this have something to do with Lieutenant Uhura?"

Kirk rolls his eyes. "Yeah, not so much for subtlety sometimes, is she?" He tugs at Spock's earlobe with his teeth, licking over the light marks he's leaving there, waiting until Spock's head leans all the way to the side before he presses his lips against the shell of his ear. "T'hy'la," he murmurs, hoping like hell he's gotten it right.

There's a long shiver passing through Spock's body that he doesn't even try to repress, his eyes going half-lidded and his mouth upturned in a quiet smile. "T'hy'la," he repeats, and then he's shifting in Kirk's arms and turning around. "Your pronunciation is impressive," he rumbles, tracing the shape of Kirk's mouth with his thumb.

Kirk can't help but open his mouth to suck on his finger for a moment, loving the sudden press of Spock's hips against his own. "I had a couple of experts helping me with it." He rests his hands over Spock's backside, keeping him in place. "You gonna tell me what it means now?"

His eyes seem darker, heavier somehow when he presses his forehead to Kirk's, one hand in his hair and his thumb stroking over his temple, over one of the points he uses when he initiates a mindmeld. "There are many definitions," he says, voice gone low and husky. Kirk loves that voice, because it means his controls are slipping away.

He can't resist leaning forward for a kiss, sinking his teeth into Spock's lower lip and biting down just enough to get his attention, tugging on it before letting him go. "All that work I did getting the word right and that's all you're going to give me? That there's a bunch of definitions? That's cheating."

"And you are impatient. I was simply stating that there were several interpretations of the word. I gave no indication that I would not provide you with them." He moves then, and Kirk moves with him until the back of Kirk's knees hit the mattress and he goes down with a rather ungraceful thud. It's a lot harder than the one in his quarters and he makes a face as he moves back a bit, giving Spock room to straddle his lap. "The first definition," he murmurs against Kirk's lips, "is friend."

Kirk kisses him again, sweeter than the first, licking the coppery taste from the corners of his mouth. "Hmm. So I could call Bones t'hy'la?"

Spock seems to consider this, taking Kirk's hand in his and casually sucking on two of his fingers while he thinks, Kirk's eyes going wide when he realizes what Spock is doing. "You could, perhaps, call the doctor your t'hy'la," he allows, guiding Kirk's saliva-slick fingers back. "But you could not say the same to Ensign Chekov."

Kirk teases him for awhile, tracing his fingers along the pucker of skin there and watching him twitch. "Why not? He's a friend, too."

"Because there is a secondary definition underlying that of friend." He's pressed up closer now, asking for more contact without actually saying so. "It is a lifelong companion. Some use it to denote a blood-related sibling, or a person to whom they feel so close that the relationship could be described as familial despite not sharing any genetic similarity."

Kirk nods and sucks a bruising kiss into the side of his neck, pressing the tip of a finger into him at the same time. Something about the formal Vulcan lecture seems blisteringly hot when he's flushing green and trying to keep his composure all the way through it. "So Bones could be a brotherly kind of t'hy'la, but Chekov is just a friend." It seems ... well, logical. But there's something missing. "There must be something else to it, or you wouldn't have gone all secretive about it."

"Mmm." He can't tell if that's agreement or just a mumble of pleasure, Spock shifting restlessly in his lap in an attempt to push more of Kirk's fingers into him. He's still pressing a thumb to Kirk's temple, his other hand digging low-grade bruises into his shoulder. "There is one more meaning to the phrase," he allows, and there's just a hint of a whine in his voice that has Kirk taking pity on him, sliding a finger into him smoothly and grinning at the stutter in his breathing. "It would perhaps preclude the possibility of using the phrase with the doctor."

"You're jealous," he grins, rubbing against the delicate tissue and purposely avoiding his prostate, trying to work his other finger in with the first. "Tell me why you don't want me using that word with Bones."

"The last definition has a double meaning to it. We do not generally use the phrase unless it is after kal'i'farr." Kirk doesn't have a clue what the word means, but the sound of Vulcan coming out of his mouth has him jerking his hips upward, rubbing his painfully hard cock against Spock's stomach as he scissors his fingers into him. There's a tingle in his skin where Spock's thumb is pressed to his temple. It's not a true mind-meld, not yet, but he gets the vague sensation of a bond, a union, while Spock mutters the words against his lips. "The legal binding of a couple under Vulcan law and tradition."

They haven't done that yet, and likely never will. Same-sex unions aren't unheard of on Vulcan, and obviously neither are interspecies bonds. But they spend the bulk of their time in the far reaches of space, and Spock will probably experience every pon farr lightyears away from his home. In the scheme of things, though, it doesn't matter - Kirk knows this is where he belongs by now, and if Spock is teaching him the meaning of Vulcan phrases, clearly he feels the same way. He lets his fingers slip out of Spock, wrapping them around the base of his own cock and lining himself up. "Tell me," he murmurs, pressing up against him teasingly.

Spock is having no more of the teasing, pushing back and sheathing him in one smooth stroke, a low, rumbling sound of pleasure escaping his throat. His hands move from Kirk's hair and shoulder to his temples on both sides, fingers in place for the mindmeld. He doesn't ask permission anymore, simply takes what he believes to be his, his thoughts mingling with Kirk's in a flash of light neither of them can actually see.

No matter how many times they do this when they're having sex, it never gets any less strange. Kirk can feel his cock surrounded by the tight heat of Spock's body, and he can feel the jab of it up against his prostate as if he were the one being fucked. He feels both the mattress and his own skin under his thighs. He can feel the sluggish beat of his own heart in tandem with the near buzzing of Spock's, the unsteady thump in his chest and the vibrations in his right side. He feels everything, the tactile senses bleeding together with the duality of thoughts flashing through his mind. It's like drowning in another person, and it's both highly unsettling and the biggest turn-on he's ever experienced.

"T'hy'la," he hears thundering over his skull, and it feels like Spock's High Vulcan voice, ancient and powerful and emanating from his core. Their bodies become distant entities from their thoughts. He knows he's still thrusting up against Spock as much as he can, knows Spock is still riding him, has a distant notion of lips pressed against his own. "Lover," the voice continues, and the thundering continues even though it's switched from Vulcan to Standard.

And then, almost hesitating over his mind, there's one last word. Less thundering now. Softer. Sweeter. Almost reverent. "Soulmate."

And while the word is more subdued, the images it conjures are not. Kirk's bare foot pressed against Spock's calf during a chess game. Spock's back against the shower tiles with Kirk's lips wrapped around his cock. Back to back, covering each other in a fight. Fingers twining together in secret on the telepad. Kirk jerking and writhing helplessly as he comes over Spock's stomach and chest. Sickbay, a constant comforting presence guarding, waiting, worrying. Among friends, Kirk's arm thrown over Spock casually, unthinkingly. Their bed, messy and sweaty and too hot for comfort, a tangle of limbs and skin and soppy sated smiles.

The images, the emotions stretch out endlessly in front of him, some of them real, some of them fantasies, some of them musing on their future together. It's a million little touches, stolen kisses, shared beds with a sense of stability and comfort and loyalty underneath them, a million times they'll come together and the way they're coming now, almost embarrassingly quickly without taking the mindmeld into consideration. There's movement, the sensation of falling forward and back all at once, the sensation of sweat cooling on his back and soaking into the ridiculously hard mattress at the same time, of both covering another body and being covered, of gasping and shivering and remembering how to breathe properly.

And then half of that, half of himself, is gone, and Kirk gasps at the sudden loss, fingers clutching at Spock's hips as if the rest of him will disappear along with his presence in his mind. "Shh, t'hy'la," comes the whisper in his ear, and something in him settles when he hears the word out loud.

"That... Spock..." He gives up on trying to speak for now, burrowing his face into the glossy black hair, letting his eyes drift shut.

"I should not have kept contact with your mind for such an extended period of time." Kirk should be a little offended at how Spock can manage to put together sentences like that, but he's used to it by now.

"No," he mumbles vaguely. "S'fine." More than fine, but his brain is still fuzzy at the edges and he feels as if he's missing a sizable chunk of it.

Spock raises up on an elbow to see him more clearly, one eyebrow quirking upwards. "Do you perhaps see why you may not wish to use the term with the doctor?"

He can't help laughing at that, even though he's still breathless and dizzy. "All that just to make sure I don't go flirting with Bones in Vulcan? You are jealous."

"Perhaps so," Spock allows. They're sprawled horizontally over the mattress, blankets tucked in neatly under them and legs falling off the side of the bed. But neither of them seems motivated to move much, and Kirk falls asleep to the sensation of that Vulcan heartbeat vibrating against his skin.