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Take Refuge in What You Know

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"You sure this is the last of it, Jim? I don't think I hauled enough boxes of completely useless books up here."

"The books, Bones? Really? I figured you'd be bitching about the sofa instead."

McCoy collapsed onto said piece of furniture with a groan, head tipping back over the cushions. "I'm getting too old for this shit. I figured I was done moving folks around after I got married." He cracked one eye open to glare at Jim. "And the sofa was no picnic, but at least it serves a purpose. We got these newfangled inventions now. They're called PADDs. Maybe you've heard of 'em?"

Jim emerged from the kitchen with a pair of beer bottles, handing one off to his best friend before casting a protective glance towards one of his boxes. "They serve a purpose," he defended himself. "They're priceless antiques."

"You can buy 'em for five credits apiece off the public literary database and keep 'em in your PADD forever," McCoy drawled, taking a long swig from his bottle.

"You've got a stethoscope in your desk," Jim tried another tactic. "A stethoscope, Bones. Those things became obsolete how many centuries ago?"

"One or two, and it's still more modern than than just about anything in your book collection."

"Fair enough." Jim shrugged, setting his unopened beer on the floor and sagging into the sofa. "There's just something comforting about them. Fiction wrapped up in history. And I like the way they smell."

McCoy shrugged, taking another long swig before he spoke again. "Shouldn't complain so much, anyhow. Made the deal of the goddamn century with you."

Jim rolled his eyes. "I'm not gonna wither away and die just because I spent one New Year's Eve out of twenty two taking care of my niece."

"You do know you can't take her into a bar?"

"Aw, Bones, but she's so cute. I can't think of a bouncer in the whole city who'd kick her out of a good party."

McCoy snorted, shaking his head. "You know what? You go right ahead and take her to a bar. See how long it takes before she starts squalling about the noise and the smell and how much she wants to go home and play tea party with Uncle Jim."

"Yeah. We're not doing tea parties anymore."

"I warned you about the sugar."

"Yeah."

"And the caffeine."

"Yeah."

"And how much she likes to do hair."

"I get it, Bones."

"Probably our best family Christmas card to date, though. You look good in red. Thanks for that."

Jim groaned. "I hate you."

"Love you too, kid," McCoy grinned.

*******

He'd met McCoy in a bar last year. Jim had informed him that the least he could do after vomiting in Jim's lap was to be his first friend in San Francisco. He'd been half joking, but it had turned into the best friendship Jim had ever had. Jim was something of a lost soul, joining Starfleet mostly on a dare and for the challenge he had issued himself of finishing the four year program in only three. And McCoy was something of a lost soul himself, his marriage starting to fall apart just as their daughter Joanna turned three.

In their first year at the Academy they'd had their fair share of study sessions, bar fights (although that was mostly Jim), and an endless stream of marriage counselors that required heavy drinking binges afterward.

A year into the program, Jim got tired of living in the Starfleet dorms. "If we're gonna drink all my beer and pass out on my floor, we oughta do it someplace where I don't piss off my roommate," Jim had muttered after McCoy had met with his first lawyer about the potential divorce. "Sulu's getting tired of it and he takes fencing."

"Fencing?"

"Not the prissy swishy kind. The kind with katanas and a whole lot of ass kicking. I think he can kill a man with his pinkie."

"Ah."

And so Jim had decided to find his own place. It was small, sure, but there was enough room for him and the bed and the couch and the books, which was all he needed. It was near enough to the Academy that he could walk to his classes still, and for the first time in his life, he learned what it was like to have a bit of privacy.

Two days later the novelty wore off and he started prowling the building in search of decent company.

He found the landlord first, an older Andorian woman with garlic breath and far too many cats for his comfort level. There was a Scotsman on the first level rooming with what appeared to be a hobbit with scales, and Jim was fairly sure he could smell an illegal still emanating from their storage closet. He learned within a week that there was a newlywed couple living above him, and he found a kind of perverse glee in giving them thumbs-up signs whenever he spied them leaving for work in the morning. And finally there was an Orion woman, Gaila, who lived on his floor and whose fridge was always stocked with something pink and ninety-proof. She was lots of fun to have over for Monday night football, even if she did always manage to sneak off with one of his friends before he could make a pass at her.

Despite all his new acquaintances, he realized after two weeks of living there that he had no idea who his neighbor was. Jim himself was in an end unit, no neighbors to one side but a big bay window looking out into the San Francisco streets. But to the other was someone, or maybe even more than one someones, but for all the silence that came through he would have sworn it wasn't occupied.

He knew that wasn't the case. There was a small woven mat in front of the door that showed signs of wear. Occasionally he'd see a package there when he left for an evening class, and it was always gone by the time he came home. But he never heard the door open or close, never heard anyone coming or going. Asking the other boarders proved useless, because they came up with such a hodgepodge of gossip that it was impossible to distinguish fact from fiction.

"Ooh, the Romulan spy," said Scotty (of course his name was Scotty, Jim thought, because the accent and the faint smell of haggis and the bottles of Scotch all over the place weren't quite enough to turn him into a walking cliche). "Ye'll never catch hair nor hide o' him. Keenser thinks he's building a bomb in there."

"Such a sweet pair," the Andorian landlord said in between opening cans of cat food. "So quiet! So private! Been together for years, you know."

"Alcoholics Anonymous dropout," Gaila decided, downing her sixth pink abomination. "I think he's either wasted all the time or just plain passed out. If it ever starts smelling funny over there, better call the authorities. You know what dead bodies smell like, right?"

It became something of a hobby, trying to figure out the mystery of apartment 5-G, a little puzzle for Jim to tinker with in between classes and commiserating with his soon-to-be-divorced best friend.

*******

The deal had been that McCoy would help Jim move his things if Jim agreed to babysitting duty on New Year's Eve. McCoy was taking out his nagging cow of a wife out for one last misguided attempt at salvaging their marriage, and the sole thing that he and Jocelyn had in common anymore was their inherent distrust of babysitters and daycare services.

"No bars," McCoy reminded him sternly when he dropped off his daughter that evening.

"Seriously? You don't trust licensed childcare professionals with your kid, but you'll drop her off here with that kind of warning?"

"I know you're not a pedophile or a murderer."

"Licensed, Bones. They look up things like that on a person's record."

"What's a pedal-file?" Joanna asked, not looking anywhere near as innocent as a four year old ought to.

"Hey, I got a princess movie going on the holovid," Jim distracted her. "Better get in there before you miss the first musical number."

"Bye Daddy," Joanna replied instantly, pecking her father on the cheek and squirming to be put down. She tore into Jim's apartment without a backward glance.

McCoy handed over a small pink duffel bag. "Bedtime's at seven. She's allergic to peanuts. No-"

"No junk food, no soda, nothing even remotely resembling fun for her until she's eighteen," Jim recited dutifully. "And it's New Year's Eve! We're gonna stay up and watch the ball drop!"

McCoy glowered. "Just keep in mind, kid - I'm in charge of your medical exams."

Jim gave him his best charming grin. "Better get going. You've got your cow to attend to."

"Her name's Jocelyn."

"Terrible name for a cow. Should've gone for an Elsie."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Good night, Jim."

Jim waited until McCoy had just started his descent on the stairs before calling back into his apartment, "So what'll it be, Jojo? The Cowgirl or Firestone? I think it's ladies' night down at Firestone."

"Very funny!" came the shout from the stairs, and Jim grinned and barricaded himself in his apartment before McCoy changed his mind.

"What's Firestone?" asked Joanna from her perch on Jim's favorite chair.

"A place where absolutely no juice, chocolate milk, or ice cream is served," he answered solemnly, tossing her a pink stuffed rabbit from the duffel bag and setting it down on the coffee table.

"BOR-ing," she returned, snuggling her rabbit and staying quiet for the remainder of the film.

When it was over, Jim was startled out of his light doze by a sudden lapful of little girl. "I'm hungry," she informed him.

"All right, whatcha hungry for?"

She thought about it for a full ten seconds. "Cookies."

"Yeah, no. You need dinner food, not dessert food."

She made a face. "All we ever eat is rabbit food. Know what tofu is?"

He did, but he humored her. "Nope. What's tofu?"

"Poison."

He let out a short bark of a laugh. "I wouldn't put it past your mommy. How about pizza?"

Her eyes lit up. "I haven't had pizza in forever!"

He scruffed up her messy brown curls. "And I just happen to know a place down the street with an ice cream parlor attached. How's that sound?"

She squealed in delight, throwing her arms around his neck and squeezing so hard that he had to fight for his air supply. "You're the best Uncle Jim ever!"

"Yep, I know." He gave her a peck on the forehead. "Go get your coat on and grab Uncle Jim's keys off the table and we'll get going."

She bolted from the apartment about twenty seconds after he'd spoken, and he rushed to shrug into his leather jacket before chasing after her, shutting the door behind him. "You oughta be a pilot someday, Jojo," he chuckled. "You can take off faster than any shuttle I've ever seen."

"I don't wanna be a pilot," she informed him, jutting out her lower lip in an over-dramatic pout.

"No? What do you want to be?" It changed every time he asked her. So far she was going to be a presidential movie star who liked to raise horses and unicorns. On Mars.

"A ballerina. Mommy put me in lessons last month." She turned around to face him, putting on a show. "This is first position." And she put her little booted feet together at the heels. "This is second position." And she spread her legs comically wide, looking something like a squatting duck. "Third position." Boots squashed back together again. "And this is a grand jeté!" And she leaped into the air.

A heartbeat in time after she'd done it, Jim realized she was at the top of the stairs.

A heartbeat after that he was scrambling to catch her in time, but it was too late. She landed on the edge of the first step, toppling over with a cry and landing on the small clearing ten steps below.

"Jo!" he yelled, and by the time he got to her she was already red in the face and crying. "Joanna, baby, are you okay?"

She couldn't speak at first, fisting one hand in his jacket and sobbing into his shoulder, snot bubbling against the leather. Her other hand was gripped tightly around her boot, clutching at her ankle.

"Did you break it, sweetie?" he asked, sparing one hand to gingerly touch her foot. He'd barely grazed the thick cushioning of her boot before she started screaming again, and he hastily retracted his hand and went back to cradling her against his chest. "Shh, baby. Don't worry. Let's get back in the room so we can check you out, hmm?" He gathered her close, wincing at the small rivulets of snot developing on his favorite leather coat, and walked the dozen or so steps back to his door.

His locked door.

"Joanna? Did you grab Uncle Jim's keys like I asked?"

She shook her head miserably against his shoulder, spreading the little snot stains. "I forgot," she whimpered.

"That's okay, baby," he crooned, trying to keep her held with one hand while digging in his pocket with the other. "I'll just call up a locksmith and see if they... can..."

He didn't have his comm unit.

"Uh oh."

She sniffled mightily. "What?"

"I think it's in my other jacket."

She started crying again. "We're gonna die!"

"Oh for Pete's sake, Jo, we're not gonna die. We're just locked out. C'mon, I bet Miss Gaila can take us in and let us use her phone."

Except Gaila wasn't there when he knocked on her door. Neither were her neighbors. Or theirs.

"I think they're all out partying, Jojo."

She wiped her nose on her sleeve, which did nothing but smear the mess on her face. "What'll we do?" she asked in a quavery voice.

He eyed the door of apartment 5-G. Well, he'd tried every other door on this level. Might as well try the last one before he started trolling the whole building. "Here, maybe Uncle Jim's neighbor is home," he told her in what he hoped was a soothing manner. He kissed the top of her head as he knocked on the door, hoping, praying that he wouldn't have to carry a crying four year old through every floor of the building hoping for a kind Samaritan to take them in.

He honestly hadn't expected a response when he knocked, and sure enough, none came. He let out a dejected sigh. "Sorry, Jojo. I don't think Mister Scott is around, but maybe Mister Keenser-"

He'd already taken a few steps away from the door when he heard it unlatch. He whirled around, expecting a sharp Romulan agent, or a foul-smelling drunk, or-

... huh.

The door was only open a few inches, but he could see a set of dark eyes peeking out from thick-framed glasses, long fingers holding the door in place. "Yes?" came a quiet voice, almost inaudible in between Joanna's hiccuping little cries.

"Yeah, hi, sorry," said Jim, so relieved that he was slurring his words together in his haste. "I'm your neighbor, I just moved in a few weeks ago, and I'm babysitting my best friend's little girl, and she's hurt her foot, and I kinda locked myself out of my apartment, and all I really need is to use a comm unit or something, and I know this is a huge imposition and you've probably got a big New Year's party going on in there or something, but if you don't mind-"

The door opened a bit wider and Jim got a better idea of the man behind it. His hair was dark, glossy, and tousled haphazardly about his face. He had deep-set brown eyes behind those ridiculously thick-framed glasses, black like the rest of his clothing. He was maybe a half inch taller than Jim himself, starkly pale in the darkness of his apparel, and his face was a mask devoid of emotion.

"You require the use of a communication unit?" he said, still so quiet that it was difficult to hear him.

"Yeah, sorry, I just need someone to come unlock my apartment, I can make the call and be out of your hair in thirty seconds, I swear." Jim shut himself up before he could babble for another five minutes, putting on his very best lost puppy face.

The man's eyes darted to Joanna, whose lip began to tremble. She whimpered and burrowed her face into Jim, one hand still clutching her foot.

"Come," the man offered, cracking his door open just enough to be considered an invitation.

Jim breathed a sigh of relief and darted inside, Joanna still sniffling at his hip.

Chapter Text

"Jojo? You wanna sit down while I call up the locksmith?"

"Uh-uh." She shook her head fast enough to whip her hair into her eyes, then burrowed back into Jim's jacket.

"Okay, then." He looked over at his neighbor. "Thank you, by the way. You've saved me from having to cart her all over the building."

The man gave a slight incline of his head. "Why did you not simply take her down to the landlord's unit?"

"Oh, Tellu? She's off visiting friends. Didn't she tell you?" Despite the lack of emotion on the man's face, he seemed mildly surprised when he shook his head. "She's got her son in to take care of the cats. Said not to discuss building business with him because he's doesn't have two brain cells to rub together."

"I see," the man returned awkwardly.

"I'm Jim, by the way. Jim Kirk. I would've introduced myself earlier but for awhile I didn't think there was anyone even living over here." He extended one hand in greeting, using the other to keep Joanna glued to his hip.

The man eyed the offered hand uncomfortably, his own seemingly locked behind his back. "I am Spock," he finally replied. "The communication unit is in the kitchen." And he turned around and marched in that direction.

Jim shrugged it off and followed him, giving him another round of profuse thanks that seemed to embarrass him. It took only a moment to place the call and he breathed a sigh of relief when he closed the transmission. "Ten minutes, Jojo, and then we can get back in."

"My foot hurts," she whined into his shoulder.

"I know, baby girl, but once we're back in we can check you out and see if we need to take you-"

He felt her tense in his arms, preparing for another round of squalling.

"-home to Mommy and Daddy, and they can fix you up proper." He was not taking this child to the emergency room if he could help it, and most definitely not on New Year's Eve.

"She is not your daughter?" Spock was standing stiffly next to his door, still in that rigid pose with his hands behind his back.

"No, I'm just the honorary uncle. Her parents are out for the night. Along with the rest of this building." He tried for another charming grin. "I'm babysitting tonight. What's your excuse for being cooped up in here for one of the biggest parties of the year?"

Spock ignored his question entirely, looking as if he were gathering his energy before taking a step closer to him. "Would you prefer to remain here until the locksmith arrives?"

"Oh... yeah, wow, that would be great. She fell down the stairs and I'd like to check out her ankle." He nosed at her hair, trying to get her to un-burrow. "This is Joanna, by the way. You wanna show him that pretty face for a minute, sweetie?"

"No," she grumped, smearing her face in the mess on his jacket.

"Sorry," he directed at Spock. "She gets cranky when she's hurt. And when she doesn't get her own way. And on days that end in Y. She's her daddy's little girl through and through."

Needling her about her father generally got her to perk up a little bit, and sure enough she poked her head up and gave him a good solid glare. "Daddy isn't cranky," she informed him.

"Hang on. I need to capture this moment in time for when you're a teenager," he teased her, putting a hand to his head like he was taking a mental freeze-frame.

She scowled at him. "Uncle Jim," she whined.

"All right, all right." He grinned over at Spock, who still looked awkward and stiff standing there. "Anywhere you don't want us to sit? She's kind of disgusting right now, I don't wanna ruin anything."

"You may sit where you like. She will not disturb anything."

"Thanks." It was then that he discovered a serious lack of furniture in the room. There was a huge desk taking up the length of one wall, covered in several different kinds of computers, console stations, and various mechanical parts. There were several mats on the floor, layered over one another in a comfortable looking pile. And there was a short, low bench near the doorway, probably meant for guests to remove their shoes before they entered. The only chair in the room was in front of the desk.

With a shrug, he lowered himself and Joanna onto a set of mats on the floor, trying to rearrange her in such a way that he could unlace her boots. "Ugh, Jo, this was my favorite jacket."

"Sorry," she muttered, sounding anything but.

She made a sound of protest when he tried to turn her around in his lap, shaking her head and trying to burrow into his chest again. "Sweetie, I can't unlace your boots if you're gonna crawl all over me like this," he cajoled her. "Can you turn around a little?"

She shook her head, giving off what Jim had just started to recognize was an entirely fake whimper.

"Well, now you're just being over-dramatic again. How am I supposed to check out your foot, huh?"

"Do you require assistance?" Spock had inched his way over to where Jim and Joanna were sitting, hands still behind his back, back still straight as a board.

Jim let out a frustrated sigh, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "I can't get her boots off like this."

Spock went silent again, as if trying to settle some internal battle. He looked awkward and unsure of himself when he finally spoke. "Would she permit me to touch her?"

He looked down at the pile of fake tears and misery in his arms. "How about it, Jo? Do you mind if Mister Spock helps out?"

She shook her head, shifting a little bit so she could keep an eye on the other man. "S'okay," she murmured.

"Thank you," Jim directed at Spock, watching him crouch cautiously in front of them. "You've been our saving grace tonight."

He didn't respond, reaching out and gingerly untying the boot on her injured foot, long fingers making quick work of the lacings.

"How come your eyebrows are like that?" Joanna piped up when the silence got a little uncomfortable.

Jim restrained the urge to facepalm. "Joanna, honey, remember the conversation we had about asking nice questions when you meet strangers?"

"I am Vulcan," Spock answered as if Jim hadn't even spoken. "It is a characteristic of our species."

"You look evil," Joanna continued, apparently also choosing to ignore Jim. "Are you evil?"

For the first time since Spock had opened his door, one side of his mouth twitched as if he wanted to smile. "I do not believe so."

"Well you look kinda evil," Joanna replied dubiously, so distracted by the conversation that she didn't even notice when Spock removed one boot and got to work on the other. "Hey, if you're Vulcan, how come your ears aren't pointy?"

"Jo, seriously-"

But before Jim could protest too much, Spock raised a hand to his unruly hair and brushed it aside, revealing one elegant curved ear ending in a green-tinged point.

"Oooh," Joanna cooed, reaching out a hand before Jim grabbed it back. "I just wanted to touch it," she whined.

"I know you did, sweetie, but you didn't ask and it's rude to touch his ears if he hasn't said you're allowed."

"I do not believe it is broken," Spock interrupted them, long fingers pressing along the ankle of her injured foot. "There is little swelling. It may not even be sprained."

Joanna's eyes were still locked on the side of Spock's head, and Jim chuckled. "Yeah, I don't think she's in pain anymore. She's too interested in your ears."

"Can I touch them?" she asked, fingers twitching in Jim's fists. "Please?" she asked a moment later, belatedly remembering her manners.

"You don't have to humor her, really," Jim assured him.

Spock looked torn for a moment, as if assessing how badly such a request would invade his sense of personal space and privacy. Then he ducked his head forward, keeping his gaze locked on Joanna. "You may," he said quietly.

"Gently," Jim reminded her before she started mauling the poor man.

To her credit, she kept her movements slow and easy, brushing the dark hair aside and cupping a hand over his ear. Curiously she traced the point of it from the shell up and then back down again towards his earlobe. Spock remained frozen to the spot, unmoving except for the slow shallow rise and fall of his breathing. Jim found himself riveted to the sight, watching Joanna's little fingers travel along the man's ears, wondering at the little pang of jealousy it set off in his chest. They were awfully pretty ears...

She pulled her hand back after her moment of exploration, grinning up at him. "You're like an elf!" she informed him. "A great big one. With evil eyebrows."

Spock looked at Jim with questions in his eyes, clearly unsure of how to respond to that. "I think it's a compliment," Jim assured him.

"Ah. Thank you, Joanna," he replied solemnly, looking even more confused when she started giggling.

"She's four. Don't ask me what sets off the giggles in her," Jim said before Spock could say anything.

There was a loud knock out in the hallway, and Jim scrambled to collect Joanna's boots. "That'll be the locksmith," he said, rolling to a standing position and picking Joanna up again. "Thanks again for all your help, and for putting up with this one." He shifted her on his hip to make his point, grinning when she scowled at him again.

"It was no trouble," Spock returned quietly, seeing them out. "Good night."

*******

Later, when the locksmith had left (and had pointed out the computerized security system that Jim had yet to set up to his thumbprint, making him blush at his own stupidity and ability to procrastinate), he got Joanna settled on his sofa again, surrounded by her stuffed rabbit and an over-loved fashion doll. "We are ordering in pizza, little missy. No more ballet recitals in the hallway for you. We'll let the delivery guy break his ankles instead."

"It's not broken, Uncle Jim," she protested with a pout.

"All the same, I don't want your daddy chewing me out for getting you injured on an adventure like that. What kind of pizza do you want?"

"Sausage and onions and those green things."

"Olives?" he guessed.

"No, silly, those are black."

"They're green sometimes. What kind of green things are you talking about?"

"The spicy ones."

Jim shook his head. "Oh, bell peppers. That's one heck of a flavor palette you've got going there, Jojo. When I was your age I couldn't stand those things."

"Daddy says it's because I'm open minded."

Jim raised an eyebrow at that. "They offer brownies, too. Want some sprinkles on those?"

She curled her lip. "Ewwww! No sprinkles!"

"That's my open minded girl," he snickered, picking up his comm unit and preparing to send a transmission when a sudden thought occurred to him. "Stay right here, Jojo. No moving allowed. If I come back and see that you've moved off that sofa, I'm eating all the brownies all by myself." He ran out the door, leaving it open just in case, and knocked on the one labeled 5-G.

"Hey," he grinned when a now familiar pair of dark eyes and glasses gazed at him from the small crack when it opened. "We're ordering in pizza. Tell me what kind you like and come over for dinner, my treat."

There was a long pause, Spock looking at him as if he'd grown a second head. "There is no need to repay me for the assistance."

"I know, but I'd still like to feed you. Besides, what are you doing cooped up in there all alone on New Year's? Come on over and we'll watch that stupid New Year's special they plaster all over the networks."

"I..." The door opened another few inches and Spock poked his messy head out, looking over at Jim's apartment with distrust in his eyes. "I would prefer to remain here for the evening, but thank you for your-"

"At least tell me what kind of pizza you like," Jim interrupted him, not in the mood to take no for an answer. "We'll bring some over and then we'll leave you alone. I promise."

Spock didn't look as though he believed him, but he was wearing him down, Jim could tell. "I am a vegetarian," he said quietly, as if he regretted speaking already.

"Bell peppers okay with you? Onions?"

"That would be... acceptable," Spock allowed.

"Great! I'll bring it over once it's delivered, okay?" And without giving Spock a chance to respond, he turned around and marched back to his own apartment.

"Is Mister Spock coming over for dinner?" Joanna asked from her perch on the sofa.

He kissed the top of her head. "Good job not moving, sweetie. I guess I'll share my brownies with you after all." He flipped the comm unit open, looking up the number he needed. "And so far the answer is no. But I'm hoping you'll be my ace in the hole."

"Huh?"

"I'm hoping you'll be too cute to resist once the food gets here."

"Oh. I can do that!"

"Thought so."

Twenty minutes later, he was standing in front of Spock's door again, pizza in one hand and a six pack in the other. Joanna was standing next to him, a stack of paper plates and napkins balanced on her fingers like a miniature waitress.

"Where are your shoes?" he asked while they waited for Spock to answer her knock.

"In your room."

"And why are your socks two different colors?"

"Cuz pink's my favorite color and green's my other favorite."

Having no argument for that, Jim returned his attention to the door. For the third time that evening, brown eyes looked cautiously through a crack in the door.

"Come eat with us, Mister Spock!" Joanna piped up. "We've got brownies!"

Spock blinked down at her, clearly at a loss for words.

"We've got beer, too. And we've got the New Year's special going. The obnoxious girl group already sang their stupid song, so you won't have to suffer through that."

"C'mon, pleeeeeease?"

Spock looked from one of them to the other, visibly struggling for a response. "I do not drink alcohol," he finally managed to say.

Jim shrugged. "Fair enough. What do you drink?"

"Tea," Spock replied, then looked a little shocked at having responded so quickly.

"I've got water. You drink water?"

"Also there's brownies," Joanna repeated.

"I... yes. That is," Spock corrected himself when Joanna's eyes went wide with excitement. "I do drink water. But I prefer to remain here, although I appreciate the offer."

Joanna was deflating quickly, face crestfallen. "My place is clean," Jim offered as a last ditch effort. "Well, mostly. I'm not totally unpacked yet, but there's places to sit comfortably. You can bring a mat over if you'd rather sit on the floor. And Joanna promises not to touch your ears again." He looked down at her sternly. "Right?"

"Right," she muttered, though her disappointment was evident in her voice.

Spock looked pained, struggling again for a response. "I cannot leave," he said, voice almost a whisper. "I have... There are..."

Jim tried to help. "Is it all that computer stuff on your desk? Are you busy?"

He looked relieved, which Jim figured meant he was grateful for the easy excuse. "Yes. I am in the middle of an extremely complicated refit of a coworker's computer console. I cannot leave the project unattended."

"Oh, okay. We understand, don't we Jojo?" He winced at her miserable little nod, vowing to give her a double serving of brownies to make up for it. "We'll just dish out your slices and bring it over in a bit, okay? Sorry for bothering you." He motioned to Joanna. "Come on, sweetie, let's get Mister Spock's dinner together so he can get back to work."

Just as he'd prodded Joanna back to his own apartment, he heard Spock's voice again. "I..."

He turned around. "Yeah?"

He did that thing where he visibly steeled himself again, as if speaking took enormous amounts of energy out of him. "I would not be averse to company should you wish to dine here."

Jim gave him a sympathetic smile. "Seriously, Spock, it's not a big deal. We're interrupting your projects. You don't have to invite us over just to be nice."

"On the contrary, I believe I would find your company ... interesting."

He couldn't quite believe, after all the pushing he'd done, that Spock was making a genuine offer. "You're sure?" he asked, giving him one last opportunity to back out.

"I am sure."

Jim couldn't have wiped the grin off his face with a sandblaster.

Spock, it turned out, was the finicky type. He didn't eat meat, he didn't drink alcohol, and his face took on a look of borderline alarm when Joanna offered him a brownie. But he was good company, if a bit too quiet and reserved for Jim's taste. He preferred his friends on the loud and opinionated side, and while Spock certainly had his share of opinions and kept up his his half of the conversation well enough, at times he spoke so quietly that Jim could barely hear him. He seemed to be struggling with the concept of having people over, although he kept insisting that the two of them didn't need to pack up immediately after the meal.

To Jim's immense surprise, they remained in Spock's apartment for the rest of the evening. Joanna questioned him incessantly about being Vulcan, to the point where the green tinge Jim had seen in his ears earlier began staining his cheeks as well. Whenever he tried to interrupt her endless questioning, Spock waved him off. He seemed almost relieved to be able to talk about it, and Jim wondered if he had any friends of his own, anyone interested in his background or his day to day life.

Whenever Joanna got bored of interrogating him, the conversation segued quite naturally to Spock's projects. It turned out that he had been working with Starfleet and other governmental organizations as a computer technician, and at the first mention of Starfleet, the conversation took off.

Jim hadn't even realized how much time had passed until Joanna woke from her doze in the pile of cushions and checked the clock. "It's almost midnight, Uncle Jim," she informed him, crawling into his lap with a sleepy expression.

"You're right," he smiled down at her, trying to comb her hair back down to some semblance of neatness. "Wanna count down for us?"

She did, she and Jim both shouting, "Happy New Year!" when she got down to zero.

"Hey," she stage whispered, setting her hands on Jim's shoulders. "Daddy said there's a tra..." She trailed off for a moment, remembering the word. "Tra-di-tion about New Year's."

"Yeah?"

"He says you're supposed to kiss someone or else you'll have bad luck."

He grinned down at her. "Sounds good. Where's my kiss?"

She grinned back and leaned up just enough to give him a quick peck on the cheek. Then she surprised the heck out of him by clamoring out of his lap and crawling into Spock's instead. "You too," she insisted, and before Jim could stop her, she'd given Spock a peck on the cheek as well.

The faint green stain deepened a bit, which was ... kind of adorable, he had to admit.

"Now you guys."

That was less adorable.

Seeing Spock's look of utter panic, Jim jumped in quickly. "Aw, come on, Jo, I just met the guy."

"Me too!" she shot back. "And I kissed him!"

"I know, I know." Spock was still looking a bit green (and Jim couldn't quite repress the smile at how literally the expression translated with him). "But it's different for grown ups. You can't kiss someone you've just met." Well, you could, but that was a whole other ball game, and if he explained that before she turned thirty then McCoy would skin him alive.

"Hmph," she returned. "You're gonna have bad luck."

"Am not. I kissed you, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but you're still gonna have bad luck."

Spock continued to look deeply worried about the matter, as if he were going to be jumped at any time, so Jim offered a compromise. "Tell you what. Next year, if we still know Mister Spock? I'll kiss him for New Year's then. How's that?"

"You should still do it now," she grumbled, but softened under what Jim hoped was a stern glare. "But okay, fine. Next year," she wagged her finger in Jim's face.

"Yes ma'am. But for now we should probably pack you up and toss you in bed."

"Awww..."

"Nope, no whining. You got pizza, and brownies, and you got to stay up until midnight, and you got to meet a new Vulcan friend. That's plenty of adventure for one day, little missy."

"Hmph," she grumped at him again, then offered a winning smile to Spock. "G'night Mister Spock."

"Good night, Joanna," he replied, still a bit thrown from their earlier conversation.

"Nice to meet you, Spock," Jim said, gathering their things. "Make sure to come out of your hidey hole every now and again, huh? I'd like to make friendly with all my neighbors. Even the secretive Vulcan ones."

Spock could only nod, at a loss for words.

Jim took pity on him. "You," he said to Joanna, pointing to the door. "March."

"Yes sir, Captain sir." She saluted him and led him out.

Chapter Text

"Explain to me why my little girl thinks she has an elven friend," McCoy muttered as they made their way up the stairs of Jim's apartment building.

"It's what I got her for New Year's. No need to thank me."

"Very funny."

Jim gestured towards his neighbor's door as they passed it on the way to Gaila's. "Finally met the guy in 5-G. He's a Vulcan. He helped us out when Jo hurt her foot the other night."

"And she thinks he's an elf?"

"No, she knows he's a Vulcan. She just thinks elves are cooler. Apparently some incredibly nerdy individual has been reading her The Hobbit."

"It's not nerdy. It's classic literature."

"That I read for the first time when I was ten. You're turning her into a brainiac way too early, Bones. She's gonna get pantsed when you put her in kindergarten."

"Ugh, don't say the K word. Bad enough that she's already walking and talking. One night I'm gonna wake up and she's gonna be sixteen with a tattooed boyfriend and a motorcycle. And it will be all your fault."

"My fault?" Jim protested.

"You're the one who showed up for Thanksgiving on that godforsaken hoverbike of yours. Without a helmet."

"Well, here's Gaila," Jim said, changing the subject. "Try not to stare too much."

"Jim, I'm a doctor, not an adolescent."

"She's an Orion."

"She's a what?!"

"An Orion," came a voice full of sass in the doorway, grinning at the two of them. "No worries, I'm on hormone suppressants. I promise not to maul you." She gave McCoy an assessing gaze, lingering on the front of his jeans. "Much."

McCoy went red in the face and sputtered a little while Jim looked put-out. "How come you never give me the once-over like that?"

"Oh, honey. I did that while you were moving in. Gotta say, I like your backside more than the front, at least as far as your pants are concerned."

Jim wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Uh. Thanks?"

She giggled and pulled them in. "Come on. Scotty's already here and he brought the liquor."

"Just what I like to hear."

Football gatherings had slowly devolved from an actual party with actual football friends, to a weekly excuse to get drunk and gossip in between plays. Jim, Gaila, and Scotty made up the core of the group, with occasional friends brought along for the ride. After the New Year's Eve debacle that McCoy wouldn't discuss past a groan and a couple shots of bourbon, Jim figured he could use the time away from Jocelyn so he could relax for a little while.

They made idle conversation during the boring parts of the game, munching and making their way through Scotty's liquor supply. When halftime was announced, Gaila crawled over to where Jim was sitting on the floor and got right up in his face (and gave him a pretty decent view of her cleavage, as well). "So I hear you met our mystery neighbor."

Jim couldn't cover his surprise. "Who told you that?"

"You were telling your handsome doctor friend when you got here," she purred, casting a come-hither glance in McCoy's direction. He turned red again and pretended not to see her.

"You heard that?"

"Orion hearing is better than human."

Jim grumped. "Is there any alien species out there that doesn't hear better than humans?"

"There's a whole slew of 'em," Scotty piped up. "Keenser can't hear for shite, gotta practically screech in his ear t'be heard."

"And Orion eyesight is significantly less sharp at distances of five meters or more," McCoy added.

"So tell us about him," Gaila prodded him, ignoring the others.

Jim had to take a moment to remember how the conversation had initially started. "Oh, the neighbor. Not a Romulan spy and definitely not a drunk - he won't drink anything alcoholic."

Gaila raised an eyebrow. "Trying to get him drunk the first night you meet him? You move fast, and coming from me that's saying something."

Jim rolled his eyes. "I wasn't trying to get into his pants. Not every friendship I strike up is about sex."

"Pity," she grinned at him, licking her lips just because she knew it got him flustered, then settling down in front of him in an attempt to respect his human need for personal space.

"He's a Vulcan. Works on computers and things for Starfleet and other Federation offshoots. Really shy, though. Practically had to twist his arm to get him to eat dinner with Joanna and me. And if you've ever met Joanna, you'll know that's quite a feat. Most people are defenseless against her charms."

"Oooh. New girlfriend?" Gaila asked.

"My daughter," McCoy almost growled. "Who is four."

Gaila shrugged. "Not my fault if he wasn't more specific. And do that growling thing again."

"She's got her claws in you but good," Scotty teased, slugging McCoy in the shoulder.

"I'm married," McCoy returned, face going even redder.

"Doesn't stop most people," Gaila returned airily. "Anyway, I think Jimmy here's a little confused. We knew about the Vulcan living there, but he moved out months ago."

Jim blinked. "Uh. Okay, but I definitely spent New Year's Eve with a Vulcan. He said so himself."

"He have the wonky eyebrows? The elf ears?" Scotty asked.

"Oh, right, thanks Scotty. Because I didn't know what Vulcans looked like."

"Aw, shut yer gob, I was only trying t'help."

"There's really a Vulcan in there?" Gaila continued.

"Yeah. About my height, maybe a few years older than me, wears really thick glasses?"

"Wrong Vulcan," Scotty said dismissively.

"Yeah, the Vulcan who moved out was a lot taller than you. Kinda big and bulky and serious looking. He definitely didn't wear glasses." Gaila let out a sigh. "He was gorgeous..."

Jim shrugged. "The one there now isn't exactly an eyesore."

"I wonder how he managed to sneak in there without our noticing," Gaila went on as if Jim hadn't spoken. "I keep a close eye on the shenanigans in this hallway and I only ever noticed the one Vulcan moving out. Never saw the next one move in."

"Maybe you were otherwise occupied, lass," Scotty gave her a devilish smile. "Hard t'keep an eye on the peephole when you're flat on yer back."

McCoy looked prepared to jump in to defend her honor, but she waved off Scotty's barb with a shrug. "Yeah, but no one else in the hallway noticed any movers, either. I also keep a close eye on the gossip in this building."

"God help the other occupants," McCoy muttered into his beer.

"And how weird is that, that the first Vulcan moved out and another one moved right in behind him? There aren't too many Vulcans in San Francisco."

"Probably just a coincidence," Jim offered. "Or maybe they knew each other and the last one let Spock know the apartment was opening up."

"Spock, huh?" Gaila latched on to the new piece of information.

"Yeah."

"And he's cute, you say?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Gaila. He's painfully shy. Try not to scare him too much with your wiles, huh?"

"Oh come on. I've never bedded a Vulcan before. It's my golden opportunity!"

"How come you never slept with the last one, if he was so gorgeous?"

She pouted. "He said he had a mate. And he didn't seem open to a threesome."

Scotty smacked his forehead. "Tell me ye didn't offer a threesome to a Vulcan."

"Well, why not? You never know until you try."

"Halftime's over," McCoy announced, apparently sick of the gossip session. Apparently this wasn't as relaxing as Jim had hoped. Ah, well. He sat back and watched his favorite playoff team lose their chance at going to the Super Bowl.

*******

It occurred to Jim the next day that maybe dragging Spock out of his room for a bit to socialize would do him some good. But rather than knock on his door and barge in on him again, he decided to try something else. He dug through his desk until he came up with a small pad of paper and an envelope - practically obsolete in these days of comm units and data transmissions, but Jim couldn't help it. He was a sucker for the written word, for ink on paper, as his collection of antique books demonstrated. He wondered if Spock would appreciate it, considering what a computer geek he seemed to be.

That morning when he left for classes, he left a note wedged under Spock's door.

You like football? There's a weekly get-together at Gaila's. Want to join us?

-Jim

When he returned home late that afternoon, he stepped on that very same note. In handwriting that seemed too bold to really be Spock's was a response scrawled over the back.

I have no interest in organized sports.

It wasn't signed, but then, it didn't need to be. It also set off a flurry of note writing for the next several days. Jim dropped off a note in the morning and every afternoon, like clockwork, there was a response waiting just under his door.

How about unorganized sports? Bones and I like to play pool down at Firestone. I won't even make you drink anything.

I do not play pool.

I'll teach you.

I have no interest in learning.

You have to do some kind of physical activity. Why don't you suggest something?

I achieve the daily recommended amount of exercise through the practice of suus mahna.

That stopped Jim's note writing for a day while he researched suus mahna. When it turned out to be the equivalent of Vulcan karate, he couldn't quite repress the grin when he dropped off his next note.

Want to teach me?

Suus mahna is practiced only by Vulcans. Additionally, Vulcans are 5.637 times stronger than humans. You would be badly injured should you attempt it.

Jim stared at the note for a good half hour that night. He wasn't used to having his charms resisted in such a fashion, but Spock looked to be almost as stubborn as Jim was. Still, memories of Joanna interrogating him kept flitting through his mind along with the look of near relief on Spock's face. He was shy, yes, and deeply private. But even the most private of people needed someone to talk to, and it was clear Spock was lacking that in his life. Jim tried another tactic in his next note.

There's gotta be something you'd enjoy doing. You like museums? Libraries? Hell, I'll even go grocery shopping with you if you want.

I visited the majority of the museums in this city when I was a child. My groceries are delivered to my door once a week.

Damn, did this guy ever leave the building? Jim's notes began to devolve into a series of lists.

Walking? Jogging? Swimming?

As I have already informed you, I practice suus mahna for exercise. Additionally, Vulcan is a desert planet. We do not enjoy being wet.

Noodlerama? Family Hearth? Nature's Offerings? (These are all either exclusively vegetarian restaurants or offer a lot of vegetarian meals. See? I do my research.)

I prefer to eat at home.

Great! I'll cook for you sometime.

That one took a day before he got a response, and Jim felt a little thrill at the idea that he might have finally made a suggestion that Spock couldn't refuse. But then:

That will not be necessary.

Seriously? That's the best you can do? All right, how about checkers? Chess? Go? I'm a mean Battleship competitor.

There was another lull in note writing after that, and Jim figured he had finally worn Spock down to the point of non-response. He had almost resigned himself to leaving the poor man in peace when he stepped on an envelope three days later.

I do play chess.

He had a nagging sense that Spock had written it against his better judgment. The words were spaced out a little more than usual (and when exactly had Jim started analyzing Spock's handwriting?) and the tone seemed hesitant, although Jim couldn't really explain why. It didn't keep the grin off his face when he replied.

Great! When would be a good time to play?

I should perhaps clarify. I play three dimensional chess. I hold the rating of Galactic Master in the Interplanetary Chess Federation.

Jim grinned. This was almost too perfect.

Cool. I got Expert the last time I submitted for a rating. But that was a couple years ago.

Please do not fabricate your rating in an effort to entice me to play.

You don't believe me? And you didn't think to maybe research it? You're the computer genius - check my record on the database.

I see. My apologies.

You can make it up to me. When would be a good time to play?

Another lull in the note writing. And then, after a week of looking for envelopes under his door and feeling the little surge of disappointment when they weren't there, Jim arrived home to a note tacked right on his door.

I am free this evening.

Jim couldn't help it - he let out a loud whoop, pumping his fist in the air.

Gaila's head poked out of her door down the hallway. "You're not the father?" she teased him.

"Shut up," he returned, too pleased with himself to pretend to be offended.

"Well then what are you so excited about?"

"Mind your own business. You're worse than a gaggle of old ladies, you know that?"

She kind of melted into her door frame, somehow managing to look sensual despite her sweat pants and baggy tank top. "Aw, look how adorable and defensive you are! You must have a date."

"Hey, you know anywhere close by that sells loose bagged tea? Or even just the tea leaves?" Jim changed the subject.

"Maybe. Who's your date?"

"Where's the tea?"

"Dunno. Who's your date?"

"Where's the damn tea, Gaila?"

She giggled. "Down in New Chinatown, but the guy sells stuff from all over. The place is called Dragon's Breath." Her smile turned saucy. "Don't ask for the Orion blend unless you've got three days to kill and a hefty supply of birth control."

Jim's grin threatened to take over his whole face. "Gaila, I could kiss you."

"Maybe someday, if you're a very good boy." She waved him off. "Shoo. I expect a full report on this later."

Jim let her dismiss him, grabbing his wallet and taking off.

Chapter Text

Jim knocked on Spock's door a little over an hour later, hiding both hands behind his back while he waited. He smiled when the door opened its usual scant few inches, as if Jim would just barrel in otherwise. "Hey," he offered. "Black or white?"

The door opened another few inches, just enough for the familiar tousled head to come into view, one eyebrow arched over the frames of his glasses. "Are you giving me the choice, or are you asking me to guess what you have in your hands?"

Jim shrugged. "If you've got a preference, go for it. I figured a random choice would be a little more fair, but I'm just happy you've agreed to play."

Spock just stared at him in response, and Jim had the distinct feeling of being a specimen under glass. Ages seemed to go by before Spock finally broke the silence. "Your left hand."

Jim handed over the small white box he'd been holding in his left hand, looking inordinately pleased with himself. "That's the one the salesmen recommended when I said I was shopping for a Vulcan. It's not actually a Vulcan blend; it's got more of an English take to it than anything, a little bland but he said you'd like that." He handed over a dark red box he'd been holding in his right hand. "This one's apparently a traditional Vulcan breakfast blend."

Spock stared at him some more.

"You said you drink tea," Jim said, as if it explained everything.

More staring.

"Plus you get to be white. Between that and your higher ranking, you better damn well beat me. I haven't had a decent challenger in years."

Spock stopped staring long enough to open the door for Jim to come through, shutting it behind him and quickly resetting the security code. "Come," he said quietly, leading Jim towards the kitchen and staring at the boxes in his hands with a look of total confoundment.

There was a small table in the kitchen, perhaps as some sort of breakfast nook, but it had been set up with two chairs and a chess board between them. Jim took a seat on the black side of the board, watching Spock fuss with the tea boxes. "Hey, if you wanna get some water going to try those out, go for it. I'm in no rush to play," Jim offered, trying to put him at ease.

Spock looked from his boxes to the tea kettle, the green tinge coloring his cheeks again. "I confess I am at a loss to understand your actions."

That wasn't at all what Jim was expecting. "What's got you so flustered?"

"I do not understand your insistence upon wishing to socialize with me, nor do I understand why you felt it necessary to bring..." He trailed off, as if he couldn't think of a word to describe Jim's offering.

"Hey, whoa, hang on there," Jim replied, seeing a slight tremor in Spock's hands as he spoke. "Relax. I don't have ulterior motives. I don't expect anything in return. I just like you and thought you could use a friend."

Spock stared at his own trembling hands, unable to make eye contact. "I am Vulcan. Vulcans do not need friends." It sounded less like something Spock truly believed and more like something that had been hammered into him by someone else.

"Bullshit," Jim responded, keeping his voice light. "Everyone needs friends. And besides, the tea was just to butter you up and get a good game out of you. Do you know who the last person I played chess with was?"

Spock gripped the sink as if trying to get control over himself, looking over at Jim with a raised eyebrow. "Unless it was a registered competition with the Intergalactic Chess Federation, how could I possibly know such a thing?"

"Cadet McKenna," Jim continued, figuring that had been a rhetorical question on Spock's part. "He was my roommate's best friend. It was laughable, Spock. It was like trying to play chess with Joanna. If Joanna had some significant head trauma. And was blindfolded. And had her fingers taped together."

That earned him a slight - a very slight - twitch of the lips. "She may be a formidable opponent in the future," he offered shyly.

"I don't doubt it. Her daddy is a doctor and her mother's an attorney, so that child is gonna be the most terrifyingly intelligent little girl on the planet."

Spock seemed to be getting a hold of himself again, his stiff posture relaxing minutely as he reached for the kettle. "Are you related to either of her parents?"

"Nah, I'm the honorary uncle. Her dad threw up on me my first week at Starfleet. I told him he was legally obligated to be my friend from that day on. Seems to be the only thing I've ever said to him that he actually agreed with."

"He..." Spock was fast losing his uptight, almost panicked air as he took in what Jim had to say. "He threw up on you?"

"He'd just finished up his basic flight simulator test, the one they make us all take before they admit us to the program. He passed it - barely, he's terrified of space travel, which is kind of hilarious seeing as he enlisted in Starfleet of his own free will - but then he got to the bar, had a little too much bourbon, and threw up on the guy who happened to be sitting next to him. Which happened to be me."

Spock was fully engrossed in making his tea now, looking more relaxed than Jim had ever seen him. "And he subsequently asked you to help with the care of his child?"

"Nah, that came later. Turns out we actually get along really well, and he learned that I didn't have any family nearby so he kind of forcibly adopted me. Which meant meeting his wife - who is a cow, by the way, and never let him tell you otherwise - and his daughter. Joanna just took to me and started calling me Uncle Jim all on her own." Spock seemed to relax the more Jim spoke, so he let his mouth run away with him. "It's great, too. My brother's got his own kid, Peter, but they live out on Deneva so I've never actually seen him past holovids and image transmissions. So I finally get to be an uncle in person rather than being some faceless family out in the reaches of space. How about you, any kids in your family? You seemed to do really well with Jo."

Spock shook his head, getting out two mugs and placing tea bags in them. Jim was pleased that Spock had simply assumed Jim would want to join him. "No one from my generation has bonded yet, so there are no children in the family at present. The youngest is my cousin T'Varek, but she is approximately fifteen years of age."

"Approximately? I thought Vulcans were all about precision and decimal spaces."

"Earth and Vulcan follow different orbital patterns. A year on Earth does not contain the same number of days as a year on Vulcan, nor are the days of equal length. The approximation was an attempt to give you an accurate description of her age, if an imprecise one."

"Huh. So how do you celebrate your birthday if you're living on Earth? Did you pick a date or do you do all the math and celebrate it whenever it would have been on Vulcan?"

Spock seemed thrown by that, taking the kettle from the stove when it had boiled and pouring water into the mugs. "Vulcans do not celebrate their own dates of birth."

"Oh. I guess it kind of does seem like a silly human thing. Not very Vulcan now that I think about it. Thanks," he continued, accepting the mug with a smile.

Spock just nodded, already taking long sips of it despite it being just shy of scalding. "The flavor is... quite pleasing," he decided, wrapping his fingers around his cup as if seeping in the warmth.

Jim braved a tiny sip of his own, trying not to wince when it burned his lips and set fire to his tongue. It was a bit bland and bitter for his tastes, but he wasn't about to complain. "Good," he rasped, still reeling from the temperature. "Your move."

The corners of Spock's mouth twitched again, as if he wanted to laugh at Jim swallowing the near boiling tea, but he got himself under control.

Mostly; something in the eyes still wanted to laugh, Jim could tell.

*******

"You gonna make a move sometime this century, or do you wanna forfeit this one?" Jim sounded smug. He couldn't help it. He felt smug. He'd been floundering during the early part of the game, losing pieces right and left to a mind that was flawlessly logical and focused on removing as many of Jim's pieces from the board as it could. It was only when he realized just how mechanical Spock's gameplay was that he saw an opening for victory. He found that if he made a harebrained move at a crucial point in Spock's strategy, it fell apart as Spock struggled to understand why he'd done it.

So now they were each down to a handful of pawns, their kings, a rook apiece, one of Jim's bishops, and (to Jim's utter frustration and despite every strategy he'd thrown at the board), Spock's queen. But somehow Jim had cobbled together a handful of moves that had Spock staring at the board with a heavy furrow between his slanted eyebrows.

"I have no intention of forfeiting the game," Spock replied evenly, and Jim repressed a shiver. That voice got downright sinful when he wasn't so nervous and timid. "But I am at a loss to explain my current position."

"I can explain it. You're losing."

The furrow shifted a bit as one eyebrow lifted higher than the other. "Those are strong words from a man no longer in possession of his queen."

"Bah, who needs her?" It was a weak retort, to be sure, but considering Jim still had the upper hand for now, he didn't worry about it too much.

"I am finding her to be most helpful, personally," Spock returned, reaching for her before apparently thinking better of it.

"Want a hint?" Jim asked, not caring how smug he still sounded.

Spock just raised that eyebrow a touch higher.

"I don't have a damn clue what I'm doing. Honestly. Go ahead and move her wherever you want - I have no strategy past flying by the skin of my teeth."

"A curious human expression," Spock returned, though he didn't try to dismantle it the way he'd done with other turns of phrase Jim had uttered that night.

"Don't Vulcans have any weird phrases like that? Strange metaphors or something else that humans might find baffling?"

"Much of Vulcan culture is baffling to humans."

"Yeah, like the way you drink your tea. I think I burned off all my taste buds."

"I can, however, think of one phrase in Vulcan that may confuse you." Spock finally moved his queen to an upper level, putting his rook in jeopardy for the second moveset in a row.

"Yeah? What's that?" Jim asked, distracted by the ridiculously small number of moves now available to him. "And quit chasing after my rook. I need that guy."

"Pash; v'kree'zals."

Jim repressed another shiver. Spock had a great voice when he was speaking English. In Vulcan... "What's that mean?" he asked when he realized he'd been silent too long.

"The literal translation is, 'Your king is trapped. I have garnered a fair and honorable victory.' But in a more casual vernacular: checkmate."

"What? No way, you couldn't have-" Jim cut himself off as he gave the board a closer look. He only had two choices for his rook. Either one got Spock's queen on the same level as Jim's king. There was nothing any of the other pieces could do to stop it. "Damn, how'd you do that?" he grumbled, toppling his king over as a sign of defeat.

"With a great deal of difficulty. You have one of the most fascinating strategies I have ever encountered in any opponent. I did not think I would be able to win in the midst of your... interesting decisions."

"Well you're so damn technical about the whole thing!" Jim returned, and his tone was impressed rather than insulting. "I've never seen someone pick off all my pieces like that. I figured a few random moves here and there might throw you."

"And so they did."

Jim realized what an easy, comfortable mood had been created between the two of them the moment it broke. Spock's eyes suddenly went cold and anxious behind his glasses, and the open expression on his face morphed into the mask it had been the first time Jim met him.

He tried to guide them back to that easy, comfortable place. "So, when can we have a rematch? I'd love to try that again."

"I..." Spock was closing down on him, and fast. His cheeks turned that faint shade of sage green again, his gaze locked somewhere on the blank wall behind Jim's shoulder.

"Sorry," Jim murmured, feeling a little embarrassed himself. "I know I've been pushy with you and making you feel uncomfortable. Thanks for the game tonight - I had a really great time." He offered his most charming smile, giving Spock's shoulder a light, friendly squeeze as he stood from his seat and excused himself to return home.

He had his hand on the door to let himself out when an almost inaudible, "Jim," reached his ears.

He turned around, hand still on the door just in case. "Yeah?"

Spock was standing in that still, unnatural way again, breathing noticeably harder and doing that thing where he seemed to be gathering his energy for an immense battle. "I, too, enjoyed our game tonight," he finally said, every word sounding like a struggle.

"Well... good." He wasn't sure how to respond to that.

"I am... That is, if you are free..." He still had the mask in place, but the brown eyes gave off a look of complete helplessness. He was floundering, looking like he wanted nothing more than to flee somewhere and hide.

"Anytime you wanna play, just leave a note on my door. Or under it," Jim offered. "Or send me a comm, or hell, just come on over. I'm really not picky."

"I appreciate-" Spock started, then cut himself off with a frustrated look at the floor. He seemed to be gathering himself again. "Thank you," he finally said, sincerity painted across his expression.

Jim couldn't have stopped the smile spreading over his face for anything. "Thank you," he returned, showing himself out.

He couldn't quite figure out his own mental state when he returned to his apartment. He felt like he'd run a marathon, exhilarated and victorious. Added to that was the weird fluttering sensation in his stomach, and he felt like a thirteen year old girl with her first crush.

Wait... that was a weird comparison, wasn't it? Maybe just a puppy with a new toy. Or a teenager with a new car. Or, uh-

He was interrupted from his ridiculous mental musing by a quiet knock on the door. Jim stared at it for a moment, wondering if he'd heard correctly. Had Spock actually left his apartment to come see him? And so soon after their game? Why would he do that?

There was another knock that broke him from his reverie, and he stumbled over himself in an effort to answer it. Spock was such a damn shut-in, and if he didn't answer the door he doubted the guy would ever work up the courage to come see him ever again. He threw open the front door with an almost manic grin, mouth open and ready to ask what Spock was up to.

"Hey," came the miserable drawl of his best friend. His hair was matted to his head, his clothing so wet that he was creating a small puddle in the hallway, and it was only after taking in the sight of him that Jim realized he could hear thunder rumbling in the distance.

"Hey," Jim replied, shocked at his friends appearance.

"Can I, uh..." McCoy's voice cracked. "Can I crash here tonight?" And before Jim could even answer, McCoy's eyes went watery and he whispered, "It's over. She wants full custody."

Chapter Text

McCoy was sitting on the sofa in a fresh t-shirt and flannel pants borrowed from Jim's wardrobe, cradling his head in his hands as Jim rubbed his neck sympathetically. "What makes the old cow think she can have Jo full time?" Jim growled, hating the woman for what she was doing to his best friend.

"She's gonna use the Starfleet thing against me. Says space is no place for a child, there's no easy way to shuttle her back and forth between parents if I'm stationed on some other planet or, God forbid, on a starship." He drew in a shaky breath, massaging at his own temples. "She said this would be good for us, that a change of scenery might help us put our problems in perspective. Damn it, Jim, it was her idea to sign up for this shit when I told her I was getting sick of my practice back home. And now she's gonna throw it back in my face just so she can have Joanna all to herself."

"She's not gonna take Joanna away from you," Jim hissed. "This isn't the dark ages anymore. She can't steal her away just because she gave birth to her."

"The hell of it is, I think she can. She's an attorney, Jim. She knows what she's doing."

Jim had no idea how to respond to that. "She can't," he settled on helplessly. "We'll figure out a way to make sure she can't. Maybe you can leave Starfleet and set up a practice here in San Francisco. Or back in Georgia if she gets really evil and wants to move back."

"I signed a contract, Jim, same as you. It's just like any other branch of the military; once you promise your time, you can't really go back on it."

"There are loopholes, though, extenuating circumstances. Surely 'evil cow of a wife trying to steal cute little girl' qualifies for one or two of them."

McCoy let out another shaky sigh, shaking off Jim's hand as he leaned back into the cushions, eyes squeezed shut against what must have been one hell of a migraine. "Maybe," he muttered, and it wasn't really an acknowledgment of the possibility as much as it was a signal of defeat. "I need a painkiller and some sleep."

"Take the bed, I'll crash out here. No," Jim continued when McCoy opened his mouth to protest, "seriously, you take the bed. I've slept in worse places and you need to get a decent amount of rest so we can go on the warpath tomorrow."

That earned him a pair of raised eyebrows. "We?"

"You didn't think you'd be the only one looking up Starfleet loopholes, did you?"

McCoy didn't quite smile, but his expression looked slightly less miserable. "Thanks, kid."

"Aren't you glad you threw up on me?" Jim prodded, aiming for a real smile.

He still didn't get one, but the shadow of it was there. "Yeah," McCoy drawled, scruffing at his hair affectionately.

*******

A few days into his research on Starfleet protocols concerning families, divorcees, and custody arrangements, Jim's focus was interrupted by the sound of something sliding under his door. Still reading from his PADD, he knelt down and grabbed it as he finished reading yet another dry, boring Starfleet manual that had none of the information he needed. His concentration was broken completely by the sound of hasty footsteps out in the hallway and the sudden slamming of a door nearby.

He glanced at the piece of paper in his hand and smiled for the first time in days at the familiar scrawl.

Is a week sufficient time to prepare for a rematch? You may have white this time.

The handwriting was messier than usual, and Jim wondered how Spock had to forced himself to write it and put it under his door. Had it been a week already? The time was flying by between the work he was putting into his classes and the work he was putting into McCoy's impending divorce.

He needed a break, though, and badly. He could feel all the muscles from his neck down to his back cramping up from all the tension of the past few days, and when he rolled his head from side to side his spine cracked and popped in protest. He grabbed a pen and scribbled a quick response.

Sounds good. Is now a good time for you?

He left his apartment and crouched in front of Spock's, stuffing the note under the door and waiting patiently. About a minute later, the door cracked open the scant few inches it took for Spock to survey his surroundings, then a few more to let Jim inside. "I am unoccupied at present," Spock managed to greet him, sounding just a little more relaxed than he had during their previous encounters.

"You know, some people use comm units to get a hold of people. Or they knock on the door instead of passing notes back and forth like a pair of third graders," he teased lightly.

Spock's relaxed posture seized up the moment the words were out of his mouth, and Jim wanted to smack himself. "It was a joke, Spock. If letters are your thing, that's fine with me."

But Spock's spine remained unnaturally stiff as he sat on the black side of the board, looking uncomfortable and flustered again.

"Spock," he tried again, waiting for those anxious eyes to meet his before he spoke again. "I was just teasing you. It's what I do with friends. You oughta hear the kinds of things Bones and I snipe about." And when that didn't get a response either, he gave it one last shot. "I'm sorry. I put my foot in my mouth a lot."

Spock opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, then closed it. Opened it, then paused again. And finally, "I do not believe that particular appendage would fit into such a small cavity."

'Oh my God,' Jim thought. 'He's trying to joke back!' And it was the surprise of it more than the actual humor that made him bark out a laugh, sprawling gracelessly into the seat on the white side of the board. "I didn't think Vulcans had a sense of humor."

"We do not," Spock returned, deadpan. But his eyes were giving him away again.

"Bullshit," Jim shot back, moving one of his pawns forward.

The game went by with equal parts comfortable silence and easy conversation as they slowly picked off one another's pieces. Despite having the first move advantage, Jim realized after about an hour that he was losing again, and much worse than he had the last time they played. Still too keyed up over his workload for the previous week, he let his brain wander, moving pieces randomly here and there as he broached a new topic. "Hey, you wouldn't happen to know any really good lawyers, would you?"

Spock, whose mind was still focused almost entirely on the game, responded without so much as thinking about it. "Is this in reference to your upcoming paternity suit?"

Jim's brain kind of tripped over that for a moment. Then, "What?!"

That got Spock's attention, and he knocked over one of his bishops in a sudden flutter of movement, cheeks flushing green and posture going rigid. "I, that is, I heard the Orion woman..." He trailed off, looking miserable and panicky again.

Jim was caught between sputtering disbelief and wanting to reassure Spock, leaning back in his seat and laughing out the bulk of his embarrassment. "Oh my God, Spock, she was kidding. She does that." And when he gave that a second thought, he jokingly continued: "Were you eavesdropping on us?"

"I-" Spock was shaking now, hands gripping the table hard enough that Jim swore he was leaving indentations of his fingers there. "I could not help... Vulcan hearing..."

"Hey, whoa there." Jim got out of his chair and dragged it around the table and closer to Spock, needing some kind of physical contact with the man, both to keep him in his seat and assure him there was nothing to get so worked up over. "Calm down," he said, resting his hands on Spock's shoulders, a little surprised at the heat emanating from him. "I'm not mad. I'm not even irritated. It'll be funny in a minute when you can stop freaking out."

Spock seemed to seize up even more when Jim touched him, almost freezing in his chair. "I cannot... Jim..."

His breath was coming in uneven little pants, and Jim's stomach dropped. 'He sounds like he's having a heart attack!' He ran his hands down Spock's arms, trying to soothe him, pitching his voice much lower and quieter than before. "What do you need? How can I help?"

Spock shook his head, face pale, fingers still clutching the table helplessly, his trembling increasing as the seconds ticked by. After a moment he shoved himself away from the table and away from Jim, bolting for the bathroom and shutting the door behind him.

"Spock? Spock!" Jim shouted, tripping over the chair in his haste to follow, but the door was locked. "Spock, are you okay?" he yelled, and he could hear the faucet running and the faint sounds of retching.

He jiggled ineffectively at the doorknob one more time, then stepped back to give him his privacy. He glanced back at the chess table, eyes widening when he noticed Spock really had left indentations there. And then...

And then he looked, really looked at his surroundings for the first time ever, taking in the detail he always skipped over because he was so involved in the delicate little dance of his new friendship with Spock. And there were indentations everywhere. The imprint of a fist around the refrigerator door. Another one in the chair he'd just vacated. A couple more dotted along the kitchen counter. The more he looked, the more he found, scattered over the landscape the way most people scattered newspapers, or memory chips, or empty beer bottles.

'Vulcans are 5.637 times stronger than humans,' Spock had said. There was no way Jim could have made marks like that on all the furniture. He'd tried to punch a hole through a wall twice in his lifetime; the first time the wall had remained intact and he'd broken two of his knuckles, and the second time he'd just made the slightest of dents in the wall and scraped up his fingers. Spock could leave whole handprints just by virtue of going into a panic.

It should have scared him, but he couldn't find it in him to be afraid. Instead he felt a wave of pity roll over him, a kind of heartbreak on Spock's behalf. He had been playing chess in Spock's own personal hell and he hadn't realized it.

He was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of the bathroom door opening. Spock emerged, still trembling a little and with a sickly green cast over his skin. He'd lost the glasses back in the bathroom, and he was combing shaky fingers through his hair self-consciously, eyes darting around the kitchen until they finally landed on Jim.

"You remained." His voice was low, quiet. Defeated.

"Well, yeah. I didn't know what was wrong with you. I wanted to make sure you didn't need a doctor or something."

"I have no need of medical assistance." His voice was completely devoid of inflection, almost robotic. He was leaning against the wall next to the bathroom door as if he couldn't bring himself to move anywhere else. "You may return to your apartment if you wish. I do not require..." And he trailed off, like he didn't know how to finish the sentence or didn't have the energy to try. His gaze left Jim's and instead lingered on the table, the indentations, the chess pieces scattered everywhere. His expression took on a hopeless bent that gutted Jim, and he realized he couldn't stand to see it for another minute.

"Hey," he said quietly, approaching Spock with his hands held out in invitation. "Come here."

Spock stared at his hands and did not move.

"Please." He took another step forward, but didn't forcibly grab him. He wondered if that was what had set him off earlier, the sudden physical contact.

An age lingered between them and Jim wasn't certain if Spock would ever move again, much less take the invitation. He didn't know how long he stood there waiting, but suddenly there were tentative fingers resting over his palms. They were cold and clammy, something of a shock after feeling how warm he'd been earlier, but he didn't comment on it. He just took the trembling hands in his own and led him away from the kitchen and into the living room.

It was darker in there but Jim didn't bother to signal the computer to increase the lighting as he led Spock over to his pile of cushions and sat down, tugging on Spock to join him. "Okay, first things first," Jim murmured, keeping his voice quiet and calm, "apparently I don't understand how your sense of humor works just yet and I apologize for being an asshole about it. I wasn't accusing you of spying. I wasn't mad at you. I was just trying to get you to laugh. Second," he barreled on, because Spock looked like he wanted to argue, "no, I am not in the middle of a paternity suit. That was Gaila's terrible idea of a joke. She heard me whooping in the hallway because I'd seen the note you left saying you wanted to play. That's when she made the joke about me not being a father." A spark of confusion finally flitted through Spock's eyes, the first sign of emotion he'd shown since he'd left the bathroom. "It's a dumb human thing," Jim explained hastily. "Don't worry about it. And third..." he squeezed the hands in his, wincing when all it did was make Spock shudder. "Are you okay?"

"No," Spock whispered, retracting his hands and letting them fall in his lap instead.

"Can I do something for you?" No response. "I mean, would it help if you could get out of here for a bit-"

"No." His tone was a little more forceful, but his eyes remained glued on his lap.

"You sure? You've been cooped up here for awhile now. Maybe if you had some fresh air-"

"No," Spock cut him off again. "I cannot... I cannot leave."

"Why not? I don't understand."

Spock closed his eyes and just breathed for a few minutes, and Jim got that sense of gathering energy and preparing for battle. "If I leave," he finally said, his voice barely above a whisper, "it will happen again. Having one such episode during the course of a day is more than enough."

"Okay," Jim returned easily, wishing he could reach out and touch him again, but no longer sure if that was welcome. "Can I get you something else? Water? Tea? Are there any meds that can help you?"

"No."

He was fast running out of ideas, feeling helpless and increasingly uncomfortable. "Do you want me to leave?"

"No." He could barely hear it, and Spock wouldn't look at him, but the answer had been quick and decisive.

He couldn't help smiling. "Okay, then I won't." He held out a hand again, palm up. "Is it all right if I touch you? Or will that set you off again?"

"Why do you wish to touch me?"

Jim shrugged. "It's just what I do. I'm a touchy kind of person. Drove Bones crazy the first few weeks he knew me. Said I was a goddamn octopus, having to touch everyone all the time," he continued, trying to imitate McCoy's southern drawl and failing.

"Is it a common human desire? The need to indulge your tactile senses?"

"I dunno. For me it is. Why?"

"I have encountered a similar trait in another human of my acquaintance."

"Oh, Joanna? I think a lot of kids are like that. I'm kinda surprised she kissed you the first time she met you, though. She'll hug just about anyone but usually she reserves the kissing for all the little boys she chases at the park."

Spock looked like he wanted to argue that, then deflated again. "I do not mind being touched," he murmured instead.

"Glad to hear it," Jim returned, slinging an arm over his shoulder.

They spent another eternity in silence. Spock's rigidity slowly melted under Jim's arm, and after awhile he realized the man was even leaning against him a little bit. His breathing evened out, too, from short shallow puffs to a more normal rhythm, closing his eyes as if he were dozing.

Jim was starting to feel a little drowsy himself when Spock finally spoke again. "We did not finish our game."

"No, we didn't. Want me to bring it in here and we can give it another shot?" He didn't think Spock was up to seeing those indentations in the furniture just yet.

"That would be acceptable."

Jim smiled, squeezing his shoulders affectionately before leaving to retrieve the board.

Chapter Text

"Hey Bones?"

"Is this about your xenobiology quiz tomorrow?"

"Erm."

"Then I don't wanna hear about it."

It was approximately the twelfth time they'd had the exchange, and Jim now pouted for only a half second before diving back into his text. The Academy library was full of other cadets cramming. Students were scattered everywhere in varying levels of terror and alertness, and a pair of them were outright snoozing near the engineering section.

Jim was silent for three whole minutes before he tried again. "Hey Bones?"

"Answer's still no, kid."

"Oh come on, we've been here for hours. You can take a break for five minutes and humor me."

"I've spent the last year humoring you. I need one day of peace so I can pass this goddamn test."

"I thought you finished medical school. Like, a few decades ago."

McCoy cuffed him affectionately. "I ain't that old, smart ass. And this is different. I finished human medical school. I came here to learn about the non-humans."

"Speaking of which, I have a question!" Jim continued brightly.

"You're not gonna shut up about this, are you?"

"Wasn't planning on it."

He got a grunt in response.

"Aren't you glad you threw up on me?"

"Today? Not so much."

"Aw, come on. This even has to do with xenobiological stuff, so you can test out all that brand new knowledge you're stuffing into that thick skull."

McCoy sighed and set down his data PADD. "If I let you ask me this question, and I answer it, will you shut the hell up until we leave?"

Jim considered that. "I'll try?"

That earned him an eyeroll. "Good enough. What do you want?"

"Do Vulcans have heart attacks?"

"What, your neighbor see you naked or something?"

"I'm serious, Bones."

McCoy lost the joking attitude and got down to business. "They do, yeah. Generally only the older ones do, though. And I mean the much older ones, well into their hundreds, hundred-tens, you get the idea"

"So the younger ones never have them?"

"It's pretty damn rare, anyway. Usually they've been dosed with something if it happens."

"What are the symptoms?"

McCoy glared at him. "Tell me this conversation is going to end in you saying, 'And then I called for a medic because I am not a total moron who watches a Vulcan go into convulsions without doing something about it.'"

"They go into convulsions?"

"Yes, they go into convulsions. And they overheat, get real sweaty, pupils dilate, that kinda thing. Now what happened to your little elven friend and why the hell are you asking me about this instead of getting him actual medical assistance?"

"He didn't have a heart attack," Jim assured him hastily, tapping his stylus on the table as a nervous habit. "He just kind of... I dunno, he freaked out. He couldn't talk, got real twitchy when I touched him, and I think he might have thrown up."

McCoy leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. "What else?"

"He was clammy when he came back out. Not sweaty, and definitely not overheated - he was cool to the touch. And shaking, he kept shivering for a long time after it happened. I'm not sure what else beyond that; he hid in the bathroom for five or ten minutes and he turned on the faucet so I couldn't hear what was going on in there."

"Sounds like a run of the mill panic attack to me."

Jim didn't like how dismissive that sounded. "Do Vulcans get panic attacks?"

That seemed to get his attention, tilting his head to the side. "You know... No, they don't. They're raised in an environment that involves a lot of mental and emotional controls. They keep their feelings squelched down as much as possible and they're supposed to meditate if they start feeling off-kilter."

"I think he tried, once he came out. He sat on the floor with his eyes closed and went quiet for a long time."

McCoy's eyebrows hit his hairline. "And he let you stay there for that?"

Jim shrugged. "I offered to leave, but he didn't want me to. So yeah, I stayed."

"Wow."

"What do you mean, wow? He just needed to get himself together."

"Do you have any idea how private Vulcans are? And I'm talking about on their home planet, surrounded by other Vulcans. They only meditate together if they're family, close friends, or bonded. You throw non-Vulcans into that mix and good luck getting them to reveal anything at all."

"So... it's kind of a big deal that he let a human watch him meditate?"

"Uh, yeah. It's a huge goddamn deal."

"Oh." There was that weird feeling in his stomach again, the exhilaration and the victory and the butterflies.

"He buy you dinner? Say he'd still respect you in the morning?"

Jim slugged him in the shoulder. "Very funny, Bones."

"Thanks. Now shut the hell up and study."

Jim did as he was told.

*******

The next two weeks passed by quickly. Jim found himself dividing his time between classwork, research, and quiet chess games with Spock. He hadn't experienced another panic attack while Jim was present, but he had started to look more worn down every time Jim paid him a visit. He was stubbornly silent about his state of health whenever Jim asked, so he tried his best not to worry too much and just enjoy the games, which Spock was winning with uncomfortable regularity.

Valentine's Day came and went as well, and it was the first one in years that Jim had spent alone. Well, not in the most technical sense of the word. He'd tried halfheartedly to go after Gaila only to be spurned in favor of an older Betazoid professor ("Sorry, Jimmy, but he's gorgeous, his refractory period is nonexistent, and I have two words for you: telepathic orgasms!" she'd chirped at him, squeezing his cheeks as if he were a small child and flouncing out the door). Instead he'd found himself completely trashed in his apartment with McCoy sprawled over the sofa, head buried in Jim's shoulder as he bemoaned his new status as a bitter divorcee.

The hangover the next day would have been hellacious if not for McCoy's tendency to bring his medical kit everywhere he went. Two doses of alcohol diffusers later, McCoy stumbled from his apartment and headed for what used to be his house, wanting to spend some time with Joanna before Jocelyn started up the custody hearings.

On a whim, Jim scribbled out a note and stuffed it under Spock's door.

What do Vulcans do on Valentine's Day? Is it like a great big social experiment where you get to watch the humans make idiots out of themselves for a day?

Back in his own apartment, Jim spent a few minutes clearing all the empty bottles out of his living room before settling down with a data PADD full of his combat strategy notes. Ten minutes into his reading, there was a shuffling sound at his door. Looking up from the sofa, he saw the familiar square of white paper on the floor there. He jumped up to read it.

I have found that humans are no more illogical on that particular holiday than on any other day. In short, to answer your question: yes.

It surprised a laugh out of him, that Spock was trying so hard to understand the human need for humor. He grabbed another sheet of paper and knelt in front of Spock's door, sliding another note underneath.

Good one. Are you free for chess?

He could hear the footsteps on the other side and the low beep of the security code being deactivated. He waved when the door opened its first few tentative inches, then walked right in when it opened further, the invitation clear in the action.

"I believe it is your turn to play the black," Spock informed him, his hair looking a bit wilder than usual, his skin a little paler.

"Which means you get to kick my ass just a little bit faster today," Jim grumped. "How are you feeling?"

"The board is in the kitchen," Spock dodged the question without a shred of subtlety, but the statement was enough of a surprise to distract Jim. Ever since Spock's panic attack, they had been playing chess out in the living room, setting up the board on the floor and sitting on the mats and cushions. It was the first time since that episode that Spock had led him to the kitchen instead.

He realized why the moment he stepped on the tile. The old table and chairs were gone, replaced by a new set in a similar style, but a much darker wood. One chair already had imprints on it, but they were otherwise unmarred. "New furniture?" Jim asked as lightly as he could manage.

"I did not like the color of the previous set," Spock replied, sitting on the white side of the board.

Apparently they were still not discussing the panic attack. Jim had tried over the last few weeks, but Spock was the first person he'd met who could out-stubborn him. It was like the moment he had left Spock's apartment after their game that night, it had never happened at all.

The game started out more quiet than it usually did, both of them playing in comfortable silence until they'd picked off almost half of each other's pieces. Spock seemed listless, distracted, letting Jim steal pieces when he should have been setting up a better defense. Finally Jim couldn't take the silence any longer. "So humans are just a big science experiment as far as Vulcans are concerned?"

Spock blinked at him as if he'd momentarily forgotten Jim knew how to talk. "There are many..." He trailed off, eyebrows furrowing as he took in the board. "I have not been paying attention," he decided, surveying the damage.

"You do seem distracted," Jim agreed.

He took a moment to decide on his move first, starting to chase after one of Jim's knights before he answered the question. "There are many Vulcans who do not understand human emotionalism. Because we are raised to employ logic over any situation, both familiar and unfamiliar, many of them do take a scientific approach to understanding human behavior. We do not, as a rule, consider you an experiment."

"Just specimens to observe, huh?" he teased, moving his knight out of danger.

"To some," Spock allowed, his rook going after Jim's knight again.

Rather than moving him out of danger, Jim used the opportunity to grab Spock's remaining bishop. "What about you? Do you adhere to the observational specimen train of thought?"

"I do not." Spock must have been distracted, because rather than using his rook to corner Jim's knight, he halfheartedly moved one of his pawns instead. "A key point in our education is the concept of IDIC: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. We are told to respect the many different forms of life scattered across the galaxy, no matter how different they may be from our own. Many Vulcans err on the scientific side of respect: they distance themselves from that which is different. They observe. They make note. But they do not interact."

"But you do," Jim supplied, getting his knight out of the way before Spock realized what he'd done.

One of his eyebrows crept over the frame of his glasses. "Obviously," he intoned, giving Jim a meaningful look.

He chuckled at the borderline disdain in Spock's expression. "Okay, so that was a stupid statement. I guess what I meant was, what makes you different from the scientific Vulcans? Which isn't to say you aren't scientific in your own way, because I've seen the way you go through computer parts and projects, but... how come you're more willing to interact with humans than other Vulcans are?"

Spock lapsed into his focused, thoughtful look, and Jim remained respectfully silent as he worked out his response. He moved his queen down to a lower level before he gave his answer. "I am considered much more emotional than other Vulcans."

It was an awfully short answer considering how long Spock had thought about it. Jim wondered how to tactfully phrase his next question, moving his queen down to the same level as Spock's. "Is there a reason why you're more emotional than other Vulcans?" What he really wanted to ask was whether it was related to Spock's propensity towards panic attacks, but that seemed to land squarely in the range of Things We Do Not Talk About.

Something strange happened to Spock's expression then, as if a sudden stab of pain had sliced through him. He recovered quickly - if Jim hadn't been watching him so closely he would never have noticed the slip-up in the first place - but his voice was different when he spoke again. It was the sound of raw edges and reopened wounds. "It is widely considered to be a defect in my upbringing."

Jim couldn't help his slack-jawed response to that, but he tried to recover. "What do you mean, a defect?"

His mind clearly not on the game, Spock moved another pawn almost at random. "Vulcans are taught to revere logic from an early age. Our emotions are... they can be much more volatile than those that humans experience. An emotional Vulcan is considered to be a failed Vulcan. As I cannot keep my emotions under control to the same degree that my peers do, I am considered..." He trailed off. He'd been shockingly calm through most of the speech, but his breath was coming in short pants again, his fingers tightening on his side of the table.

Jim recognized the signs, dragging his chair next to Spock's and resting a hand on his arm. "You're not a failure," he said vehemently. "You're different."

"Yes. I am." His breathing didn't seem to be getting any worse, but he couldn't keep his eyes on the table anymore, staring into his lap instead.

"Different doesn't mean defective. It just means different. Besides, didn't you say Vulcans were supposed to respect diversity? Where's the respect in making you feel like shit because of something you have no control over?"

Spock had no answer to that, closing his eyes and getting his breathing back under control. His grip relaxed on the table, and Jim was relieved to see that he hadn't panicked enough to put another mark in his new furniture.

Despite seemingly regaining his control, Spock remained silent and motionless for a few more minutes, neither leaning into Jim's touch nor actively moving away from it. He was gathering himself again, Jim realized, and he waited for him to speak first.

"You will have me checkmated in two more moves."

Jim shrugged. "Your mind isn't on the game tonight. We can start over again next time. It's not really a victory if you're not paying attention."

Spock shook his head. "Our games may have to be put on hold temporarily."

"What? Why?"

"My parents arrive in San Francisco tomorrow evening. They will stay for several weeks."

"Oh." Spock actually left the house for his parents? That was encouraging. But still... "So you won't be able to play for awhile?"

"I do not yet know." He met Jim's eyes, finally. "Would it... I will alert you when I am free." It wasn't technically a question, but the tone implied it was.

"That's fine," Jim assured him. "Just drop me a note whenever you can. I'll miss our games."

"I..." Spock was losing his ability to form complete sentences the first time he tried, another sure sign that he was well on his way to another episode. Jim found that he desperately wanted to stay when he started showing signs like that, but Spock always tried to show him out the door when it happened. "Your company is... pleasing."

He was floundering again, so Jim just gave him the most charming grin he could manage. "The feeling is mutual. Good night, Spock." And with another friendly squeeze to his arm, Jim excused himself and headed home.

Chapter Text

The next morning Jim left for the Academy early, hoping to catch breakfast with a few friends before classes began. He'd just finished locking up his apartment (with the security system rather than his keys; he'd learned his lesson after Joanna had gone home on New Year's Day, thank you very much) when he turned around and noticed a woman staring at his apartment.

"Uh, hi," he greeted, a little thrown. "Do you need some help?"

"I think I'm lost," she admitted. "Either that or my husband's assistant takes terrible notes. Or I just wasn't paying attention when he gave me the number."

"What are you looking for?"

"Well, I'm trying to find my son. I was told to look for apartment 5-J, but it looks like yours is the last unit on this floor, and you're 5-H. So unless there's another building in this complex and I missed it..."

"You didn't miss anything," he assured her. "This is the only building the landlady owns. Who are you looking for?"

She waved him off. "Oh, you probably don't know him."

"Ma'am, I know everyone on this floor. If your son lives here, I'm sure I can tell you where."

She gave him a look that was half amusement and half horror. "Young man, I'm not old enough for you to be calling me ma'am," she informed him. "My name is Amanda Grayson."

"Ms. Grayson," he acknowledged with a nod of his head. "I'm Jim Kirk. Who can I find for you?"

The look turned appraising and then almost challenging. "All right, Jim. I'll bite. I'm looking for Spock."

He couldn't help it: his jaw dropped. "You're Spock's mother?" The second the words were out of his mouth he was mortified. McCoy had always told him that he lacked any kind of verbal filter and the truth of it was biting him in the ass.

Fortunately she didn't seem offended, if her sudden mischievous smile was anything to go by. "He must not have told you very much about himself," she chuckled.

"He told me he was-" Jim stopped himself before he could finish the sentence, doubly mortified at his lack of tact. Again.

"He told you he was Vulcan," she supplied, and while she still didn't seem offended as far as Jim could tell, her expression lost its mirth. And it was in the shifting of her mood and the change in her eyes that Jim could see a little bit of Spock in her. "He is."

And really, when Jim thought about it, it was that simple. If Spock identified as Vulcan rather than human, well, that was his right. "Yeah. He is." He gestured to his neighbor. "He's in 5-G."

"Thank you," she murmured, moving past him to knock on the door.

Jim hauled ass out of there.

*******

He was supposed to be having breakfast with a huge group of people from his advanced xenolinguistics class, which included Sulu, that weird Russian kid Sulu was always hanging out with (Chanko? Cherpov? whatever his name was, presumably he was in the class to improve on his English rather than his knowledge of alien languages), and that gorgeous Swahili woman who sat in the front row and wouldn't give him the time of day. But the minute he arrived in the mess hall he could spot the pile of abject misery that was his best friend sitting all alone at a table on the sidelines. Despite the crowd of people waving for him to join them, he couldn't let McCoy just sit there like that.

"You're starting early," he said as he slid into the seat across from him, grabbing his flask and sniffing at it.

"No clinic duty today, so I can drink whenever I damn well want to," McCoy growled, snatching it back and taking another sip.

"What's got you so chipper this morning?"

"Preliminary divorce hearing coming up."

Suddenly Jim felt awful for giving him a hard time about the flask. He'd have been drinking too if he were in McCoy's situation. "Got a decent lawyer yet?"

He shrugged. "Starfleet set me up with someone from their legal team. Apparently I'm entitled to free representation if I'm in the service."

"Well... that's good, isn't it?"

McCoy rubbed a hand over his face. "Jim. I have a free lawyer, an attorney as my soon-to-be-ex-wife, a judge who's been known to work with her firm, and a contract signing away at least the next five years of my life to an entity known to ship folks out to the very asscrack of the galaxy just to see what the shit smells like out there."

"You've got a lawyer from that same entity, though," Jim pointed out. "He should know the rules and regulations better than anybody. If anyone can get you out of this-"

"Don't you get it, Jim? It doesn't fucking matter how good this guy is. I could have the second coming of Christ as my lawyer and it wouldn't matter. Jocelyn has the whole firm backing her up and they've found a judge who doesn't have quite enough ties to them for the whole thing to look fishy on their end, but who still has enough to make my life a living hell." He took another swig from the flask.

"You can't ask for another judge?"

McCoy shook his head. "I don't wanna run the risk of Joss running off and finding someone with even closer connections to her people and even better ways of hiding them. I'd rather just... get this over with."

Jim opened his mouth to say something, to offer a bit of hope or to try to suggest an alternative to the legal shit-storm McCoy had brewing, but he was silenced before he could even get a word out. "Can it, kid," McCoy snarled, and Jim tried not to get too offended since he knew the anger was largely directed at Jocelyn. "This is just how it's gonna be. I'm gonna do my damnedest to make sure I don't get screwed over, but I don't anticipate winning."

Jim let out a shaky breath. He couldn't believe this was really happening. McCoy deserved to be able to raise his daughter. "This isn't fair," he whispered, to himself more than anything.

"Need a favor, though," McCoy continued. He either hadn't heard Jim or was choosing to ignore him.

"Yeah?"

McCoy's expression tightened. "We're meeting at six o'clock next Thursday night. We..." He cleared his throat, fighting to keep it together. "Jo needs a sitter."

"You got it." He tried not think about how it could be his last opportunity to play Uncle Jim.

"Oh, and Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"If this doesn't work out, I'm just gonna drink myself to oblivion."

"Sure as hell hope not, Bones."

*******

He was sorely tempted to stop by a grocery store or a fueling station after class to pick up the biggest, cheapest, strongest bottle of alcohol available. Between McCoy's impending divorce, his neighbor's panic attacks, and a sudden burst of sadism from his professors as midterms approached, he could use an evening of good solid drinking. But he figured McCoy was probably drinking enough for the both of them at the moment, and with a longing glance at the smattering of bars on the street he let himself into his apartment building.

And nearly tripped over the second most miserable person he'd seen that day.

Amanda Grayson was leaning against the wall at the foot of the stairway, face buried in her hands. She didn't appear to be crying - her shoulders weren't shaking and he couldn't hear any sniffling - but she was quite clearly distressed.

Jim cleared his throat, feeling suddenly awkward. He hadn't dealt with this many miserable people in a day since he'd moved out of his mother and stepfather's house. "Ms. Grayson?"

Apparently he'd been wrong: she had been crying, because when she dropped her hands he could see the tear tracks on her cheeks. "Oh," she murmured in a watery voice, clearing her throat and wiping her face with her sleeve, trying to recover her dignity. "I'm sorry. Jim, right?"

"Yeah. Everything okay?" He realized with a sudden punch to the gut what Spock had told him earlier: that both of his parents were scheduled to visit. "Oh my God, did something happen to his dad?"

"What? No, nothing like that. I just..." She looked helplessly up the stairs, swallowing down what looked to be another round of tears. "I haven't seen him in a long time. Last time we were on Earth was a little over a year ago. And..." She shook her head, unable to continue.

"Oh." He still didn't understand, but he was glad that at least there hadn't been a death in the family. "Was he... different a year ago?"

She didn't speak for a moment, and he recognized the signs of gathering energy. The more he saw her, the more he saw signs of Spock in her and the familiarity tugged at him. "I almost didn't recognize him," she finally confessed. "He's a completely different person than he was a year ago."

"So... is that a recent thing?"

Brown eyes bore straight through him. "Is what recent?"

He waved vaguely up the stairs. "The staying in. The..." He wasn't sure what else to say. He didn't want to tattle on Spock to his mother. But at the same time, he wanted her to know what was going on with her son.

"Yes," she answered simply, and she teared up again. "I didn't know. I knew he had a rough go of it for awhile there, but I had no idea it was this bad."

There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but the more they spoke the more aware he became of their surroundings. Any of the tenants could come down those stairs at any moment or let themselves in the front door. Tellu lived on the first floor not far from the landing where they were speaking. And he wasn't sure he wanted to have this conversation out in the open. "Look," he said awkwardly, eyes darting towards Tellu's door, "I know how private Spock is, so I just want to warn you: this is a high traffic area."

"I know. I've already had an Orion woman catch me down here."

Oh, hell. "She wasn't wildly inappropriate, was she?" At Amanda's confused look, he elaborated. "I don't mean that she tried to jump you or anything, but she doesn't always have the best grasp on human social behavior. I'm just imagining her pointing and laughing at the leaking human."

That shocked a weak chuckle out of her, wiping her cheek on her sleeve again. "No, no, nothing like that. I'd describe it as more of a drive-by hugging."

"That's Gaila for you."

She sighed, rubbing at her temples. "There wouldn't happen to be a restroom down here, would there? I'd like to clean up a little before I report back to my husband."

"Nothing down here." He gestured towards the stairs. "If you're up to the trek, you're welcome to come use the one in mine. I promise I'm not a filthy disgusting bachelor with critters living in my sink."

A tremulous smile spread over her features. "I would appreciate that," she said quietly. "Thank you."

She was silent during the walk back up the stairs and just as quiet when she shut herself in Jim's bathroom. He assumed she would just wash her face, exchange a few pleasantries, and be on her way. He was not expecting her to emerge from the restroom and sit down on his sofa as if she owned the place. "Are you friends with him?" she asked without preamble.

He didn't insult her intelligence by stalling and asking who she meant. He settled into his battered armchair. "I like to think so." At her raised eyebrow (and oh, there was another sign of Spock in her), he continued. "He doesn't make it all that easy some days. But we manage."

She gave him a rueful little smile. "It's never been easy for him to relate to others. That's my fault, I think."

Another flashback hit him like a fist to the gut: Is there a reason why you're more emotional than other Vulcans? It is widely considered to be a defect in my upbringing. This, then, was that defect. Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to barge into Spock's apartment and throw his arms around the poor man. No wonder he was so conflicted. "I didn't give him much of a choice. He saved my ass on New Year's and even made friendly with a little girl I babysit. Ever since then I've been pestering him to socialize with me. Mostly all we do is play chess and talk, but it's something."

He got that uncomfortable feeling of being pinned by her eyes again. "You play chess?"

"Yes. Why is that so surprising to people? I didn't get into Starfleet based on my last name. I earned it, same as everyone."

"I didn't mean to imply..." She trailed off, giving him another spearing look. "You're George Kirk's son?"

"One of them," he hedged.

She seemed to understand that he didn't want to discuss it. "Which one of you suggested the chess games?"

"He did. Why?

Her face took on a secretive bent and she changed the subject. "Do you happen to know why he stays cooped up in there?"

Jim looked away from her uncomfortably. What could he say without intruding on Spock's privacy? "Vaguely. He gets kind of twitchy if you ask him to leave."

"Well yes, I figured out that much during my visit today," she retorted. "What I meant was, did he ever tell you what set him off in the first place?"

For some reason he'd been imagining that Spock had always been as Jim had known him: shy, awkward, and reclusive. But it didn't make sense in the grand scheme of things. If he was so full of anxiety that simply stepping outside his apartment constituted a huge gesture on his part, how had he gotten to Earth in the first place? Why had he not just stayed on Vulcan, with familiar people and places and rituals? And then Amanda's words from earlier sank in: He's a completely different person than he was a year ago.

"Something happened to him last year," he said when his mouth finally caught up with his brain.

She nodded, fiddling with the end of her headscarf, collecting her thoughts before she spoke again. "How much do you know about Vulcan culture?"

"What little I've learned in courses at the Academy, supplemented by whatever I pick up from Spock." She stared at him again, a silent prompting for him to continue. "It's a society built on logic and control. And they're very private - or Spock is, anyway. Uh, they're desert dwellers, pointy eared, got green blood..." He stopped, floundering for anything more than that.

"Well, you got the most important point, which is that it's a society based on logic and control." She launched into a lecture that would have put most of his professors to shame. "His father is the Vulcan ambassador to Earth, which is how he met me. Between Sarek's professional rank and the fact that he comes from one of the oldest and most well-respected families on his entire planet, we decided that Spock would be raised as a Vulcan with traditional Vulcan rituals and ceremonies despite the fact that he is half-human."

That was another question that was nagging at Jim: how had that happened? From what little he could remember from his biology courses, humans and Vulcans could not produce viable offspring together. But he wisely kept his mouth shut, since that wasn't the point Amanda was trying to make.

"Which means Spock was betrothed at the age of seven." Jim couldn't hide the shock at that piece of news. "Vulcans are touch-telepaths. In order to develop into healthy, functional adults, they must form mind-links with others so they can stabilize themselves. The first link they form is with their parents, of course, but at the age of seven they are traditionally paired with another child with whom they have a high degree of telepathic compatibility."

"So, wait..." All this information was cluttering Jim's brain almost too quickly to digest. "Spock has a fiancee?"

"It's difficult to put it into words, at least in our language. It holds a bit more weight than an engagement, but it isn't quite as serious as a true marriage. That comes later. But yes, he did have one."

Jim had an inkling of where this was going. "Something happened to her," he guessed.

"No," she returned, surprising him yet again. "He is of perfectly sound health. In fact, he was married last month."

It took another minute for Jim's brain to catch up. At first he had thought Amanda was insinuating that Spock was married last month, but he knew that to be false. After another beat or two, he finally got it. "Oh my God," he said, and it wasn't the shock of learning that Spock preferred men, but rather... "I bet that's the Vulcan Gaila propositioned."

Her shocked expression mirrored his. "What?"

He turned pink, rubbing his face and silently ruing the day that he made friendly with the resident Orion. "She said there used to be this big, bulky Vulcan living in Spock's apartment and she kind of threw herself at him, which is par for the course for her, and when he said he was bonded she offered... well..." God damn it, being friends with Gaila was humiliating sometimes.

Her shock dissolved into scandalized laughter. "An Orion propositioned my son's bondmate? And my son?"

"By proxy, yeah," he admitted. "I am so sorry you got a hug from her without a decent warning."

"I may have to track her down and give her another one. What I wouldn't give to see a Vulcan's reaction to that," she returned, her laughter dying down to an amused chuckle here and there. "Oh my."

He let the moment of amusement die down before he got the conversation back on track. "So what happened to them? I mean, Gaila said the reason the guy turned her down was that he had a bondmate. But he got married last month?"

She sobered. "Yes. Stonn recently married a childhood friend of his, T'Pring."

"So the shut-in thing is just Spock's reaction to losing his... fiance?" he guessed at the proper term, continuing when Amanda nodded. "Fiance. And then dealing with the fact that the guy is married now?"

"Not quite."

Jim leaned back in his chair, confused and frustrated. "I think you better start at the beginning. I'm lost."

"One more question before I start: has Spock told you at all of the Vulcan concept of IDIC?"

He let out a huff of disbelieving laughter. "Is there gonna be a quiz on this when we're done?"

Her intense expression shifted and she seemed embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Before I was an ambassador's wife I was a teacher. I still teach a few courses for Starfleet Academy if I'm going to be on Earth for an extended period of time. And I'm the only human who's ever been allowed to teach at the Vulcan Science Academy."

Jim gave a low whistle. "Impressive," he said sincerely. She nodded her thanks. "To answer your question, yeah, he did. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Means that Vulcans respect other forms of life in the galaxy."

"Respect, yes. But they resist emulation as much as possible. You have to understand, there are a grand total of six humans who have citizenship rights on Vulcan. I'm one of them. There are three others who have bonded with Vulcans. Another is a trader who has been bringing supplies to Vulcan for the last three decades. And the last is Admiral Nogura - and that one is strictly honorary, a show of good faith with the Federation. He's never actually set foot on the planet."

"Okay?"

"What I mean to say is: they respect humans. They appreciate our differences. And they absolutely do not want us influencing their own way of life. They value their logic and their control because their emotions are so strong, they can be dangerous. They nearly drove themselves to extinction in the pre-Surak days because they couldn't control their anger, their fury, their grief. They have to keep a tight leash on those feelings or else risk reverting back to their more savage ways. As a result, they feel that the human way of expressing emotion - of simply letting our feelings out, talking about them, venting frustrations - is a danger to the very foundations of Vulcan culture."

Jim couldn't help himself. "And yet one of their ambassadors from one of their best families married a human?"

Something happened to her then. He couldn't place it, but it was almost as if she shifted from a self-confident, middle-aged intellectual to a sweet, more vulnerable young woman. "I said they keep a tight leash on their emotions. That doesn't mean they don't have them."

And after months of translating Spockese into something he could understand, he heard what she wasn't saying: We fell in love. He smiled. "Go on."

"So with all that history and culture and tradition of self control in mind, we had Spock. And we raised him, for the most part, as any Vulcan parent would raise a child. We taught him to achieve, to question, to be curious. His father taught him the Vulcan disciplines. And despite all of that, half of his brain is very much rooted in human sensibilities. He feels. And all the Vulcan discipline in the world can't break him of that."

Jim shrugged. "Okay, so he's a little different than most."

It was clear that the next words were difficult for her to say. "According to Vulcans, it is not so much that he is different. He is tainted by human frailties and failings." She held up a hand to forestall Jim's inevitable argument. "We don't see it that way because we're human. We're aware of our flaws and we accept them, in ourselves as well as in each other. Those same flaws are unacceptable to Vulcans, because they're far more dangerous to Vulcans than they are to us."

He tried to simmer down and approach the discussion from a more reasonable standpoint. "Okay, but you said he was paired with someone who was telepathically compatible with him. Wouldn't someone who was compatible with him be able to accept his human side?"

"Stonn was unaffected by his human side, or what little of it he revealed when he was younger. In fact, they shared a common curiosity about human culture and behavior, which is what led them to Starfleet after they graduated from the VSA. They moved here with an idea of enlisting in the exploration program when they completed their training. But..." She gathered herself again. "I can only guess here, Jim. I don't know the whys and wherefores of their separation. All I could get out of either one of them was that Spock was showing more and more signs of being equal parts human and Vulcan, when up to that point he had done a remarkable job of seeming to be fully Vulcan. I believe it altered Stonn's perception of him, to the point that he could no longer relate to Spock as someone who was compatible with him. So they separated, maybe six or seven months ago. Stonn came home and eventually married T'Pring, who was a childhood friend of theirs."

It was so much to take in. Jim's mind was soaking up the information as fast as it could. He struggled for some kind of response. "Oh," was all he could manage.

"Yes," she agreed softly. "I knew he would take it hard; they broke their betrothal link before Stonn returned home, and that in itself can be enough to shake a Vulcan to his foundations. But I never imagined he would be affected to this extent." She let out a shaky sigh. "I have never, ever seen him less than immaculately groomed and cared for. I've never seen him be anything less than proud of who he is. I've never seen him... Jim, I have never seen sadness in my own child the way I see it now."

And it was breaking her heart. Jim leaned forward and put a hand over hers in her lap, trying to offer whatever small comfort he could. "I'm sorry," he said, and it felt woefully inadequate.

She nodded, accepting the gesture and composing herself once more. "I am glad, at least, that he has a friend. If he won't leave his apartment, at least he has someone to talk to from time to time."

"He does," Jim assured her. "And maybe I'll try to check on him a little more often. We only play maybe once or twice a week. We can do better than that."

A little of her sadness faded and some of her secretive expression returned. "Thank you," she murmured, squeezing his hands fondly and standing up. "I think I've monopolized more than enough of your time. And Sarek will wonder where I've been. He accuses me of doting on our son too much."

Jim smiled and stood to show her to the door. "You're a mom. That's your job." Particularly when Spock so desperately needed someone to show him love and affection.

"That's what I keep telling him." Before she pressed the button on the security device that would let her out, she turned to him and gave him a quick, friendly kiss on the cheek. "Thank you."

He couldn't help it; he blushed. "No problem," he murmured, stumbling over his words just a little.

She chuckled and breezed out the door.

Chapter Text

Despite what he'd said to Amanda, Jim made no effort to contact Spock just yet. He heard what he assumed to be Amanda knocking on Spock's door several more times that week and he figured he was having more than enough problems trying to keep it together in his mother's presence. Jim didn't want to upset whatever balance Spock was trying to achieve while his parents were visiting. So he spent his time throwing himself into his classwork, socializing with a few friends, being shot down again by Uhura (although it was starting to bother him less and less and he only did it for the challenge nowadays), and half-avoiding McCoy.

It was a shameful thing to do and he knew it. But McCoy was slowly losing hope as the days went by, and the more he lost the surlier he got, and Jim knew that if he spent too much time trying to be supportive that one or the other of them would eventually snap. So he kept his distance - kept his comm unit on him at all times, just in case McCoy got desperate for company and wanted to contact him - but kept his distance all the same.

He'd gotten so good at it that he'd nearly forgotten about babysitting duty. It was only when he heard an impatient rapping at his door one evening that he remembered and he shot out of his chair to greet them.

It was a shock to open the door and not see McCoy's face. Instead, Jocelyn was standing there looking stiff and vaguely disapproving, as per usual. Joanna was holding onto her hand with a death grip, her eyes cast uncharacteristically toward the floor. "Jim," Jocelyn greeted him, making an effort to be polite.

"Yeah." He couldn't be quite that mature about it. She was about to eviscerate his best friend.

"We should be finished in an hour or two."

"Right."

She clearly felt just as awkward as he did. 'Serves her right, the old cow,' Jim thought bitterly. But he reached out a hand and gave Joanna his best smile. "Come on, sweetie."

"No." She had never refused an invitation from him before. She shrank back, clutching even more tightly to her mother's hand.

"Joanna, baby," Jocelyn murmured, and it was the only time Jim ever heard sincerity in her tone. He hated her for what she was doing to McCoy, but the fact of the matter was that she was a good mother, and Joanna loved her just as much as she loved her father. "Daddy and I need to go to our meeting. We'll pick you up around bedtime." At that, Joanna seemed to wilt even further, shaking her head and burrowing her face in Jocelyn's leg. "Sweetheart, please. I'll tell you what. You can stay up until we come to get you. We'll move bedtime back just for tonight. Okay?"

"Wanna stay w'you," Joanna slurred, her face still plastered against the rough denim of her mother's jeans.

"She'll be back before you know it, Jojo," Jim tried his best to help, kneeling down to her level. "Until then we can watch cartoons and eat ice cream and do all those fun things we don't tell your mommy and daddy about when we hang out."

She looked unconvinced, but Jocelyn was making quick work of extracting her from her thigh. "See? Cartoons and ice cream and a late bedtime. And we'll be back very soon." She kissed the top of Joanna's head. "Be a good girl and go with Uncle Jim for now."

She looked utterly miserable as she finally walked towards him, throwing her arms around his neck and burrowing her face in his shoulder instead. Jocelyn mouthed, 'Thank you,' as she made her way towards the stairs and disappeared.

Jim picked up his bundle of sorrowful little girl and brought her inside, cradling her against his chest as he sat down in his battered old armchair. "You want some ice cream?" he tried to sweet talk her.

She shook her head against his shoulder, and he felt the beginnings of a wet spot developing on his t-shirt there.

"Want a princess holovid? Or one of those terrible old Westerns your daddy taught you to like?"

Another shake of the head.

He sighed, kissing her temple and struggling for something to do for the poor child. "What do you want, Jojo?"

There was an unintelligible mumble into his shoulder.

"Hmm?"

"I wanna go home," she whined.

"I know, baby. And you'll be back home really soon. But until then we gotta figure out a way to keep us too busy to cry."

She shook her head again, fingers bunching in the back of his shirt as she pressed her lips against his ear and whispered, her voice full of tears, "Mommy and Daddy don't love each other anymore."

Jim was not equipped to deal with this. Was he supposed to lie and say that they did? Tell her that her mother was ruining their lives? Change the subject entirely?

"That's why they're getting a divorce," she continued when Jim could think of nothing to say. "Mommy still loves me. Daddy still loves me. But not each other anymore."

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," he returned awkwardly.

"Aren't you supposed to love someone when you get married? And do it forever?"

Oh, hell. "That's the idea, anyway."

"Then how come they don't?"

God, what a question. He rubbed a hand over his eyes feeling the beginnings of a tension headache behind them. "Sometimes people just realize they aren't right for each other."

"But how do they know? Why can't they just fight about it and then go back to being married some more?"

"Because sometimes when you fight with someone, you just can't find a good solution to the problem. Sometimes someone is going to be unhappy no matter what."

"But we were happy before they wanted a divorce."

"Oh, baby." He rubbed her back soothingly. "Sometimes grown-ups are really good about hiding their problems." And his mind drifted for a moment from the breakup of Joanna's family to his next door neighbor. "They didn't want you to know they were unhappy because they were trying to fix it."

She was silent for a long time but for the intermittent sniffling, her arms and legs wrapped around him, clinging to him in every possible way she could. "I don't want Daddy to go away," she whispered.

He couldn't give her false hope. He couldn't. Because if he did and her heart got broken anyway, she would never forgive him. "Neither do I," he said instead.

She went quiet again, and Jim found himself humming at her tunelessly as he rubbed her back, smoothed down her messy hair, and tried to think of something more he could say to her. After awhile he realized it simply didn't matter: she was four, her whole world was changing, and there was nothing he could do to help. She fell asleep at some point, still latched onto Jim, and for awhile he just let the silence sweep over them. He had truly come to love this little girl almost as much as he loved her father.

His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar rustling at his door. Groaning under Joanna's weight, he pulled himself off the couch and bent down just far enough to pick it up. Joanna didn't so much as budge.

Are you free?

The wording was more succinct than usual and the writing was jagged, sloppy. Having Spock's parents in town was probably playing merry hell with his ability to cope and it was coming through in the note. And yet, he'd left an invitation under Jim's door. He let out a silent curse at Spock's timing. There was no possible way he could get involved in chess tonight, no matter how much courage it had taken for Spock to offer. He scribbled a quick response on the back.

Sorry, but I can't play tonight. Maybe tomorrow?

He let himself out of his apartment and trudged next door, grimacing at the idea of bending down again with Joanna weighing him down. She was growing at an astonishing rate lately and she felt at least ten pounds heavier than she had the last time he'd picked her up.

He'd only just gotten to Spock's door when, to his surprise, it opened before he'd even bent down to return the note. First the few customary inches, and then fully when Spock saw who was with him. "My apologies," he said, his voice strained. "I did not know you were otherwise occupied."

He looked like utter hell. The thick frames did nothing to hide the dark circles under his eyes. His hair had been a bit wild from the first time Jim had met him but it looked even more unkempt now, as if he hadn't brushed it in a few days. Even his clothes looked worn, adding to the anxious, exhausting image of the man.

And despite all that, he'd still issued an invitation. Jim was a little taken aback at how much that must have cost him and how desperately he must have been craving the socialization with someone who wasn't blood related to him. He felt a now-familiar pang in his gut, but there wasn't much victory in it tonight.

"You couldn't have known," he returned, stuffing the note into his pocket. "I haven't seen you in awhile."

Spock nodded, opening his mouth presumably to bid Jim good night before he paused, taking a closer look at Joanna. "She has been crying," he observed.

"Her life's kind of gone to hell in a hand basket. She's got good reason to cry."

Spock seemed torn and exhausted beyond measure. He looked inside his apartment as if trying to find the answer to some unasked question, then turned back to Jim. "Can anything be done?"

"Doubt it," Jim muttered, shifting and rebalancing his weight, trying to find a more comfortable way to hold her. "It's a mess."

Spock hesitated again, one hand twitching as though he had cut off some sort of gesture before it could fully manifest. Then he seemed to allow it, reaching out to tentatively touch Joanna's hair, her back, her wet and reddened face. Jim was transfixed; Spock had never voluntarily touched another person, at least not that Jim had seen. Any time there was contact between the two of them, it was because Jim had initiated it. He was entranced by the show of... well, of affection. He couldn't label it as anything else.

"Fear," Spock said quietly. "And some measure of guilt. Has she gotten into trouble?"

Vulcans are touch-telepaths, Amanda had said. It hadn't really sunk in until now. Jim worked his mouth uselessly before grasping for a response. "Misplaced guilt," he finally choked out. "Her parents are divorcing."

Without a word, Spock stepped aside in a silent invitation for Jim to enter, and had his brain not been so wrapped up in the demonstration of Spock's touch-telepathy, he would have realized how huge that was for him. Spock was all about his rituals, his routines, and usually he would have asked before letting Jim in.

The only place to sit was that strange pile of cushions on the floor, so Jim did his best to settle in with a minimum of cringing. "Bones and his wife have been having problems for awhile now," he started in before Spock could even ask. "It's why they moved out here in the first place - they thought a change in location and career choices might give them some perspective. But it's been a failing marriage for... I dunno, Bones said it started back when Jo was a toddler."

"Are they arranging to share the responsibility for their child?" Spock asked, sitting cross-legged in front of him.

"That's the problem. Jocelyn is trying to get full custody of her. Bones is fighting it as hard as he can, but Joss is an attorney. He's pretty sure he's going to lose."

Spock gave him a look that just barely managed not to be disdainful. "Why would their separate professions be an issue in a custody hearing, so long as both are gainfully employed and can care for the child financially?"

Jim gaped at him before he remembered that he was talking to a Vulcan. "The court system sucks here," he explained. "We make a lot of noise about how fair it is and how much better it is now than it was even a century or two ago, but there's still a lot of bullshit involved. Jocelyn is an attorney whose firm has some connections to the judge overseeing the case - not enough connections for it to look bad, but enough to put the case in her favor early on. And Bones signed on for five years of service when he joined the Academy's xenobiology program. So even if he did get custody, he could get shipped out after he's got his new medical degree."

"The Academy makes exceptions for cadets and officers with families," Spock pointed out. "He must know that, or he would not have signed up in the first place."

"He figured Starfleet would send all three of them out to a colony somewhere, yeah. But if they're not married anymore, he thinks they can use that as an excuse to stick him on a starship and to hell with his family."

"That is not how it works. I am certain of it," he returned.

Jim gave him an odd look. "How come you're suddenly such an expert on Earth's legal system and Starfleet regs?"

He didn't even blush, which was yet another shock. It was almost as though he was too exhausted for any response more taxing than easy conversation. "My father is the Vulcan ambassador to Earth. He has several legal assistants on staff for diplomatic procedures and other negotiations."

He shrugged. "My mom's got a friend who runs a diner back in Iowa. Doesn't make me an expert at flipping burgers."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "Were you ever employed by this friend?"

"Well, no but-"

"I worked in my father's office during the last semester of my education on Vulcan. As a result, I am aware of his colleagues' strengths and skill sets."

"Oh." He was thrown, not only by how surprisingly, well, normal their conversation was - no blushing, no stuttering, no sudden deathgrip on the furniture - but also by how easily Spock was conversing about himself. He rarely offered up any kind of personal information.

Before he could think of anything more intelligent to say, Joanna stirred and snuffled into his shirt. "Mmph?" she murmured.

"Feel any better?" he asked her.

"No." But she wasn't crying anymore and she wasn't whining. It was a simple statement of fact. And it was a little more heartbreaking for how emotionless it sounded. "Where are we?"

"Spock saw that I was babysitting you and he invited us in for a little while."

"Oh." She shifted a little in Jim's lap, wiping her nose on his sleeve and turning around to face the Vulcan. "Hi Mister Spock."

"Hello Joanna," he returned quietly.

"How come you look like that?"

Jim grimaced behind her. She still hadn't learned how to talk to strangers. Or not-quite-strangers, apparently. "Jojo, be nice. Mister Spock's just tired is all."

"I have had a taxing week," he agreed solemnly.

"You need some beauty sleep," she informed him just as solemnly, and Jim hid a smile in her hair.

"It is my understanding that beauty is a subjective trait passed down in one's genes, rather than a trait acquired from the proper amount of rest."

That was a little too complicated for her limited vocabulary, and she looked up at Jim for a translation.

"I think what he means is that elves don't need beauty sleep."

"That's true," she agreed easily enough. "I guess he's still pretty without it."

Now Spock was blushing. "I am not an elf," was all he managed to say in response.

Joanna opened her mouth to argue but was interrupted by the sound of knocking out in the hallway. "I bet that's your mom or dad," Jim informed her. "Ready to head home?"

He had expected her to spring out of his lap and tear for the door in an effort to get home faster, but she just nodded and wrapped her arms and legs around him again. "Uh huh."

"Come on then, little missy. Let's get you home. Say bye to Spock."

"Bye Mister Spock," she murmured sleepily against Jim's neck.

"Good night, Joanna," he returned.

"Good night, Spock," Jim added, and without thinking he leaned forward and kissed his forehead. "Get some sleep, will you? You know you've been running yourself too hard when a four year old notices."

He belatedly realized what he'd done when Spock's face turned an almost alarming shade of sage, and he wasn't nearly as graceful getting to his feet as he normally was. "G-good night, Jim," he stammered, and Jim wanted to kick himself. What had possessed him to do that?

He plastered on his best charming smile, the one that managed to get him out of most minor amounts of trouble, and showed himself out.

McCoy was out in the hallway with a hand raised to bang on his door again when he spotted them. "Hey, darlin'," he drawled, and Jim knew right away that the meeting had not concluded in his favor. That drawl only came out when he was too drunk or too emotional to control it. "You havin' a visit with your little elven friend?"

"Uh huh," she agreed, letting go of Jim's neck to reach for her father. McCoy gathered her close, clinging to her clothes and burying his nose in her hair, and Jim saw the tears he was fighting.

"Oh, Bones," he sighed and wrapped his arms around the both of them, savoring what he knew would probably be his last moment with the two of them.

"I'm screwed," McCoy whispered in his ear.

Chapter Text

Jim woke up way too late on Saturday morning, sunlight filtering bright and blazing through his windows. His chronometer told him it was just past midday, and yet Jim could have easily slept another hour or two. He felt groggy, achey, almost like he was on the brink of a hangover even though he hadn't had anything to drink the night before.

He threw an arm over his eyes and groaned, one leg falling out of bed and resting on the floor, the other sprawled over the mattress. His dreams had done nothing to ease his general feeling of malaise. They had been hazy, intangible, like a fine gray mist had enveloped them. He had a sense of helplessness and futility that was unwarranted. After all, he wasn't the one getting a divorce. Or losing custody of his daughter.

Or having panic attacks over one little kiss. Shit, that had been stupid. Jim was such a naturally affectionate person and until now, his friends and acquaintances had gotten used to it. But Spock... it had clearly thrown him off his game, unraveled his edges at a time when he needed, so much, to keep it together.

... it hadn't even been a real kiss, anyway.

Wondering where that petulant notion had come from, Jim decided to haul himself out of bed and attempt being a productive member of society. Or at least, an awake member of society. Maybe he'd just be lazy today. He needed the break.

He padded to his bathroom, taking care of his morning routines and staring at his shower, debating whether or not he wanted to be a grubby slob on top of being lazy. It switched from water to sonic based showers with the push of a button, and while the idea of simply skipping the whole thing was tempting, the idea of real, hot water pouring over him was more so.

He shucked his pajama pants and stepped into the shower, groaning again at the feel of steaming hot water pounding away at the knotted muscles in his neck and shoulders. He stood there for several minutes, eyes closed and savoring the way the tension began to melt out of him, leaving him boneless and relaxed.

Mostly. Other parts of his body seemed to be perking up at the attention, his cock half hard against his thigh. There was a pleasant kind of throb warming in his belly, and he slid a hand down his stomach and enjoyed the anticipation.

He let his mind drift, conjuring up any number of images to make the want a little stronger, a little sharper. He tried to imagine Uhura's calm, professional facade melting away. He tried to imagine peeling that skintight cadet uniform off of her shoulders, revealing...

No, that wasn't really doing it for him. Lately he only hit on her just to see if she'd crack a smile at him someday. It wasn't even the thrill of the chase anymore - just a way to amuse himself, challenge himself. His thoughts drifted again, trying to conjure up the idea of some gorgeous woman or another of his acquaintance. His brain supplied a vague, faceless everywoman stripping off her shirt and stepping out of a skirt to reveal nothing but bare, endless skin.

Green skin, his brain decided, and the faceless everywoman became Gaila with that coy little smirk and come-hither gaze of hers. That seemed to do the trick, his erection jutting forward. He took himself in hand, making a quiet sound of pleasure in the back of his throat. He'd been so wrapped up in work, in Bones, in the drama unfolding around him wherever he looked that he hadn't done this in over a week, hadn't slept with anyone in...

God, that was kind of embarrassing. It had just after the start of the semester, weeks before he'd moved to his new apartment. He must have been losing his touch.

He stroked himself languidly as he imagined Gaila poured over the bed in her apartment, the deep black of her sheets accentuating the alien hue of her skin. She was arched up against his chest, breasts pressed against him and legs spread wide to accommodate him. He imagined teasing her at first, rubbing his length against her heat, circling his thumb over the hypersensitive bundle of nerves at her center, listening to her beg and whimper. And then he was sheathing himself in her, tightening his fist and jerking himself in the same rhythm he'd use to fuck her. Green legs wrapped around his waist, green arms enveloped his waist, green fingernails raked down his back.

Her cheeks were flushed a soft sage as she gazed up at him. Dark eyes pierced through him, even though he knew hers to be blue. Her red hair disappeared in the blackness of her sheets, and suddenly it was a dark curly mess framing her face, his severely arched eyebrows, the point of one ear peeking through his hair as he rocked and undulated back against Jim.

Those ears just begged to be licked, and Jim stroked himself faster as he imagined tracing their shape with his tongue, of pressing kisses down a pale throat, teeth scraping over his collarbone as he thrust into him, one hand tangled in the dark mass curled around those delicious ears, one hand snug between them, stroking, pulling, twisting around the head, wanting to see him fall apart, needing to see that sharp, vulnerable gaze glued to him and only him, driving him over the edge and chasing after him with abandon, fingers pressed up against his skin everywhere, feeling what he was feeling, and they were both- They were both-

"Spock," Jim gasped as he came all over his hand.

He rode out the sensations for a few moments, pressing his heated forehead to the cooler shower tile, letting the mess rinse off his hand and down his thighs until it was pulled down the drain with the still-steaming water. He waited for his breath to regulate again, for his brain to kick back into gear.

Which it did, with startling clarity. Had he really...?

"Fuck," he muttered, to no one in particular.

*******

The thing was, Jim was a social creature by nature. He craved attention from other people, wanted feedback and friendliness and camaraderie. He detested being alone with his own thoughts for too long, and doubly so when they buzzed around his head like this.

It wasn't that he thought of himself as a lifelong heterosexual and was suddenly questioning his entire existence. He'd had his periods of experimentation, and had even had a three week long fuckfest with his first roommate at the Academy. But he and Gary had both only ever been in it for the sex, and after three weeks of doing just about everything two men could do to each other, they basically shook hands and started mutually chasing after other people.

It was more that he simply hadn't expected the sudden surge of feeling rushing through him. He could barely internalize the idea of Spock as a sexual creature in the first place, despite Amanda telling him that Spock and Stonn had lived together in that apartment for at least some significant period of time. They had to have been sleeping together; Spock's was a one bedroom apartment, the layout almost identical to his own. And yet the idea just didn't - couldn't - mesh with the Spock he knew. The poor man had meltdowns when he didn't understand Jim's sense of humor. He stuttered and fell all over himself after a simple kiss to the forehead. The more rational part of Jim's brain assumed that actually getting Spock into bed would drive him to a heart attack, or worse.

But the more rational part of his brain was fast being pummeled by the irrational part that said Spock was lonely, Spock was shy, Spock craved his attention. And then it quite gleefully followed the natural course of those thoughts and indulged in little fantasies of laying Spock out on dark sheets and exploring him. Preferably with his tongue.

He hadn't realized how much of this had crept up on him. If McCoy were here he'd probably be bitching about it being a logical reaction to being Spock's only friend; that those feelings of lust and ... well, whatever else, were coming from Jim's natural urge to love and protect anyone who came near him.

And if McCoy were here, he'd be snarling at Jim to keep it in his goddamn pants, he was certain of it. Jim's natural urge to love and protect others had certainly not left his best friend out of that equation, and he knew there had been at least two drunken occasions (very, very drunken occasions, as one of them had been his birthday and the other had been post-finals elation) on which he'd definitely tried to make a move on McCoy. And one where he'd kissed him. His jaw had hurt for three days after that one. McCoy had a hell of a right hook for being a doctor and getting all fussy about the state of his hands.

And finally, if McCoy were here, he would have someone to bounce all these incessant, buzzing thoughts off of, rather than just imagining what he would say if he were here. But he wasn't. He was in the middle of divorce proceedings and a custody case that could very well ruin his life. Jim wasn't about to comm him and talk about his new-found crush on his next door neighbor.

He tried the next best thing: banging on Gaila's door. She'd answered it in the skimpiest, laciest pink bra Jim had ever laid eyes on (which was a feat, as he'd laid his eyes on his fair share of bras, thank you) and some pink dental floss cleverly disguised as a thong. "Kinda busy, Jimmy," she grinned at him, her cheeks flushed darker than the rest of her skin and the sound of some other carbon-based life form - or possibly more than one, Jim wouldn't put it past her - shifting around on her couch.

"Yeah, never mind," he'd mumbled, and the door had been shut in his face before the words had fully left his mouth.

Then he'd gone down to the first level and banged on Scotty's door. Keenser had answered, his beady black eyes peering at him suspiciously. "You guys free for lunch and about ten rounds of drinks?" Jim had asked. "My treat."

Keenser peered back towards their apartment, wincing when there was a sudden crash and a loud burst of cursing coming from what appeared to be their storage closet.

"Sorry, Jim," Keenser mumbled. "Working on a project at the moment. Maybe tomorrow." Which meant they'd busted the still again. Which meant he probably wouldn't see either of them for a week.

He'd sighed and trudged back up to his own apartment. He'd exhausted most of his social resources. Basically all he had left was his old roommate, Sulu. But the last time he'd tried to comm the guy, there had been a flurry of breathless Russian cursing before the transmission was cut. And considering the age of the only Russian person Jim knew, he decided he just didn't want to know.

Which left: Spock.

Which was kind of an embarrassing prospect. He knew how his mouth tended to run away with him. He didn't want to sit down to a chess game only to hear himself confessing to his little shower fantasy. That would get him booted out the door in a heartbeat and he'd probably never be invited back; Jim counted it as a minor miracle that he'd been allowed to return after witnessing the one panic attack. But he couldn't just sit here and let his brain go into overdrive, either.

He gave a resolute sigh, trying to block out as much of his inappropriate thoughts as he possibly could, then grabbed a sheet of paper and headed next door.

No babysitting duty today. Are you free for a game?

Rather than waste time heading back to his own apartment, he camped out in front of Spock's door and waited. Sure enough, a few minutes later it opened and Spock stopped short, about to step out to return the note.

If he had looked like hell earlier in the week when Jim had brought Joanna over, he was death warmed over now. His glasses were missing again. He had a faint yellow undertone to his skin in sharp contrast to the deep olive bags under his eyes. He wasn't even clad in his usual black pants and shirt, but rather in a ratty pair of lounge pants and a t-shirt that was two sizes too big on him.

"Jim," he rasped, and his voice was broken and hoarse.

"Whoa. You got the plague?" It was flippant, but he belied the words by pressing a hand to Spock's forehead. "Holy shit. You're not just burning up; I think you might be on fire."

"Vulcans have a higher... higher body temperature than humans." He trailed off momentarily in the middle of the sentence and Jim couldn't tell if it was because he'd been distracted by the physical contact or if he was just too exhausted to keep his train of thought.

"It can't be this much higher," Jim insisted, trying to herd Spock back into his apartment, surprised when he didn't put up a fight. "Do I need to call a medic for you?"

"No." Despite his lack of a voice, the sudden spike of anxiety was apparent in the word. "I cannot-"

"Okay, fine, no medics," Jim cut him off, not wanting him to waste energy arguing and protesting and freaking himself out over having a stranger in his room. "What can I do?"

Spock looked helplessly around his apartment. His desk was in shambles, the remnants of several computer projects splayed everywhere and a stack of boxes piled up next to his chair. There was an empty bowl stationed in the middle of the rubble, and the fact that it had been abandoned there rather than meticulously cleaned and put away spoke volumes about how he was feeling. "There is nothing to do," he finally said, whispering rather than trying to speak. "It is a common Vulcan virus. It will have run its course in a day or two."

"Well if it's anything like common human viruses, you should be in bed. Or eating soup. Or something."

Spock motioned toward his desk. "My mother visited earlier this morning. She has already attended to my dietary needs for the day."

It took a minute to translate that. Then he broke into a fond, ridiculous grin. "Your mom came over and made you soup."

The yellow tinge to his skin started to stain sage. "Yes."

"I like your mom," Jim decided. "But hey, seeing as you've eaten, you should be in bed," he repeated.

"I have been resting for the majority of the day, aside from the short period of time my mother was present and my brief departure to return your note." He held it in his hand as if to prove himself.

Jim took it from him and tossed it in a nearby trash bin. "I believe you. Now march."

Spock eyed him, a bare spark of a fight apparent in his green bloodshot eyes. "I am perfectly capable of resting in here-"

"What, sitting down and meditating your way through it?"

He looked faintly embarrassed. "I would not call it meditating at the moment. I lack the proper focus."

"Well if you're not meditating then you might as well be sleeping."

The fight went out of Spock's eyes, and he leaned heavily against the wall as if he couldn't spare the strength to stand on his own anymore. "I do not have the energy to argue with you," he admitted.

"That's what I like to hear. Now, off to bed with you." Spock gave a long glance toward what Jim assumed to be his bedroom door, trying to rally himself to stand again. Jim didn't bother with propriety and politeness anymore; he stepped forward and grabbed one of Spock's arms, pulling it around his neck and wrapping an arm around Spock's waist. "Come on, I'll walk you there."

Spock stiffened for a bare moment against him, then sagged again. Jim was proud of himself for not buckling under the weight. For such a scrawny looking person, he felt like he weighed twice as much as Jim did. "Must be one hell of a soup recipe," he muttered under his breath, escorting him back towards the bedroom.

"I do not understand," Spock rasped, breaking from Jim in order to sit on the edge of his bed. There was a heavy indentation in the covers there, and Jim realized that he must have been lying on top of them.

He set to work pulling down the bedspread and sheets as much as he could so that Spock could actually get in. "You're awfully damn heavy for someone who looks so skinny," he explained, tact flying out the window as he helped him get comfortable.

"Vulcan... skeletal structure..." He interrupted himself with a yawn.

Jim's gut twisted in that familiar exhilarated pang. Spock looked... kind of cute doing that. And oh God, had he really just used the words 'Spock' and 'cute' in the same sentence? "You can give me the biology lesson some other time. What else can I get for you?"

Spock burrowed down in the covers, pulling them up to his neck and shifting restlessly. "Anatomy lesson," he corrected him, and Jim had to smile at that. "I would not be averse to an extra blanket. There seems... seems to be a draft."

Now Jim knew the man was sick, because it felt kind of like a sauna in there. A sauna on fire. In a volcano. But he grabbed an extra blanket handily perched on a chair nearby, unfolding it and tucking it around the large cocoon that was the sick and miserable Vulcan. "Anything else?"

Spock's eyes were already drooping closed. "No," he whispered into his pillow. "I thank... thank..."

"No problem," Jim assured him, pulling the chair closer to the bed and arranging a few things on it. "I'm putting your comm unit here. I've programmed a link to mine into it if you need anything. And there's a glass of water it looks like you left here and-"

He shut himself up when he realized Spock had already fallen asleep. And promptly blushed when he realized that he'd not only managed to worm his way into Spock's bedroom, but almost right into the bed itself; he was leaning against the side unconsciously. That strange, fluttery feeling was going off in his stomach again, the one that made him feel like he'd just won a marathon. He looked around guiltily, feeling like he'd committed a gross invasion of Spock's privacy even though Spock had only put up a minimal fight when he'd offered to help. Still, he should take off so he could get some uninterrupted rest.

Really, he should.

He looked so peaceful, though. Calm. Almost as if this were the real Spock lurking under all that insecurity and uncontrollable panic. Jim was entranced, feeling as if he were witnessing something private and intimate. He couldn't stop himself from reaching out and pulling the blankets closer around him, tempted to pet his ears or brush through his hair or offer whatever kind of comfort he could.

What the hell was happening to him? He shook his head as if that would rid it of all the confusion of this day, standing and getting ready to leave.

But Jim was only human, and an affectionate, needy human at that. He spared one last moment to press another kiss to Spock's forehead, knowing he was too deeply asleep to feel it and get flustered over it again. "G'night," he whispered, even though it was still late afternoon and Spock couldn't hear him.

He let himself out, taking the stairs down to the first level again. He pounded on Scotty's door, pleased to see him rather than Keenser when it opened.

"I need something to do, and I need liquor when I'm done," Jim greeted him. "I'm sick of my brain today."

Scotty just grinned that manic grin of his. "Then ye've come to the right place, lad."

Jim let out a sigh of relief and darted inside.

Chapter Text

Jim stared into his orange juice at the Academy mess hall, wishing he had something with a little more kick to pour into it. He needed something to numb his brain.

For almost the last week running, he'd dreamed of Spock. Spock laid out underneath him. Spock begging for him. Spock with his head thrown back and Jim's lips wrapped around-

He shook his head, trying to clear it. There had been one - and only one - night when he hadn't dreamed of Spock, and that had been the night he'd spent tinkering on the still with Scotty and Keenser and sampling their latest batch of moonshine. He'd been just drunk enough that his dreams that night were nothing but black vapor. But he'd woken up with a raging case of morning wood, and his brain couldn't help but think of severe eyebrows framing soft brown eyes as he came.

And it was just a little bit sick that his brain supplied those images to him, because they were in such stark contrast to the actual Spock. He'd checked up on him a few days after he'd been so miserably sick, and Spock had been a blushing, stuttering mess the whole time. Despite Jim's vehement protests that he was just helping out a friend, he'd had another panic attack in the middle of the discussion. To his credit, he hadn't holed himself up in the bathroom that time, but Jim almost would have preferred that to the sight of his friend curled up on a corner of the kitchen floor, shaking so hard that the jars on the kitchen counter rattled just a little.

He'd sat on the floor with him for almost an hour, arms wrapped around his shoulders in an attempt to brace him during the shaking, and then to center him when he closed his eyes and complained of feeling dizzy and nauseous. He'd let his mouth run away with him again, babbling about Iowa, about the stolen car incident, about all the trouble he and his brother had gotten into over the years. He didn't think Spock really heard any of it, but the sound of his voice must have been some manner of soothing, because after he'd described the fourth time he'd had to bail Sam out of jail, he had recovered enough to sit back at the kitchen table (riddled with imprints again, and each one squeezed painfully around Jim's heart) and finish their game.

And that, it seemed, was that. They were friends now - not even Spock would deny it anymore - but nothing more than friends. Meanwhile, in the privacy of his own room he indulged in fantasies that were almost embarrassing for the amount of emotion he poured into them. They were physical fantasies, yes, sometimes even obscenely so, but at no time could he imagine them together without that sense of affection, care, want.

"What the fuck are you and your little elven friend up to?" came a sudden snarl from across the table, and Jim just about jumped out of his skin.

"Bones! When did you get here?"

"About five seconds ago. Now answer the damn question."

He couldn't help the blush coloring his face. "I... n-nothing, Bones. What do you-"

"Knock it off with the innocent bullshit. I know you, Jim. What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing!" he protested with enough vigor that several surrounding students turned to see what the noise was. "Nothing," he repeated, more quietly that time, staring miserably into his orange juice.

"So what kind of 'nothing' did you get up to that resulted in Starfleet fucking around with my legal team?"

Something wasn't quite right with that sentence. Jim stared at him with a look of total incomprehension before his brain shifted into the correct gear. He wasn't meant to be defending his virtue. Or Spock's. McCoy meant something else. "What happened?"

McCoy gave him that, 'You are a complete idiot,' look for ten seconds straight before he spoke. "I dunno what you're playing at, but fine: Starfleet took away my lawyer."

"What?!" he squawked, trying to ignore that another bunch of heads had turned to survey the cause of the commotion. "They can't fucking do that to you! Starfleet regulations state that you're entitled to representation-"

"They replaced him with a Vulcan."

Jim just gaped at him, looking like a comical breed of fish.

"A goddamn Vulcan, Jim," McCoy repeated.

"Oh," he replied weakly, then sat back down when he realized he had stood up at some point during his squawking.

"What the fuck did you do?" McCoy repeated his earlier question.

"I, uh. I didn't do anything." That earned him a look that landed somewhere in between suspicion and a death glare. "I mean it."

"You did something," McCoy insisted. "You're the only person I know who's so needy and pushy and goddamn ridiculous that you got a Vulcan - a goddamn Vulcan, Jim - to go all mushy over you. So you must have done something. Starfleet doesn't just switch out lawyers for shits and giggles."

"I swear to you, Bones, I didn't do anything." And then, belatedly, "And he's not all mushy over me." As much as he would kill for that kind of attention from Spock.

"All right, maybe this will refresh your memory." McCoy grabbed a PADD out of his bag, tapping on it a few times before handing it to Jim. "Read," he ordered.

"T'Prov," Jim read it out loud. "Senior Counsel of Vulcan. Practicing law for 85 years - whoa, 85 years?"

"Keep reading," McCoy growled, apparently not up to putting up with Jim's penchant for distraction.

"It's kinda boring," Jim shrugged, scrolling through the screens and scanning for anything of interest. "Been practicing law forever, looks like she had a private practice for a couple decades before joining the Court of Vulcan Elders, currently works with the Ambassadorial Office of Vulcan-Human relations-" He stopped, seeing a familiar name on that same staff listing.

"And?" McCoy prompted him.

"And," Jim cleared his throat uncomfortably, "her boss is a Vulcan named Sarek."

"Sarek," McCoy repeated, glaring at him.

"Who, uh. Happens to be Spock's dad."

"Uh huh."

He couldn't quite believe what he was reading. When had this happened? And how? Spock had never so much as mentioned seeing his father, and Jim had had the distinct impression that he'd seen only his mother during his parents' visit to Earth. "I promise you, Bones, this is the first I'm hearing of any of this. I didn't ask him to do anything and he never offered. As far as I know, he hasn't even seen his dad in a long time."

"And yet I've got a Vulcan for a lawyer," McCoy countered, and he was still giving Jim the glare of death.

"Looks like," he said as lightly as he could, looking up when McCoy snorted at him. "What?"

"I've got a Vulcan for a lawyer," he repeated. "In a custody case."

"So?"

"So Vulcans aren't exactly known and loved for their warm and fuzzy nature," McCoy spat at him. "They're ruthlessly logical bastards without a shred of feeling for-"

"No, they're not," Jim interrupted. "They feel just as much as we do. They just try really hard to control it."

"Which ain't gonna help me win my daughter back!"

"Why the hell not? If this woman is any good at what she does - and her case file suggests that she is - she'll find any shred of evidence she can to assure the judge that it isn't logical to take a little girl away from her father. You wanted to see if there were loopholes in the contract you signed; a Vulcan's going to be better at snooping those out than any human ever could. Think about it, Bones, we spent hours pouring through the regs trying to find something that could help you and we couldn't do it."

"Maybe you hadn't noticed, but I'm a doctor, not a lawyer. The last attorney I had was fine."

"No he wasn't," Jim shot back. "You were scared shitless that he was going to lose the case for you. And that's another thing - you think a Vulcan's gonna balk from arguing her case to the best of her ability just because the judge has connections with Joss's practice? Fear is one of those emotions they control. She won't be intimidated the same way a human would."

"So she might piss off the judge even worse and lose the case even faster."

"Or she might be so logical about the whole thing that he won't have any choice but to rule in your favor." McCoy remained silent. "Come on, Bones. Last week you were convinced you were going to lose. Isn't this at least a little bit better?"

McCoy let out a huge sigh and the fight seemed to go out of him. "I don't know," he said quietly.

Jim slid out of his seat and shoved McCoy aside so he could sit next to him, throwing an arm over his shoulders. "I think your chances just improved by a longshot," he informed him. "I mean, you know how stubborn I am, and Spock can out-stubborn me on a good day. I think a Vulcan lawyer is going to be your saving grace."

McCoy made a vague noise of not-quite-agreement. "Couldn't be much worse than that last idiot they gave me," he admitted begrudgingly.

"That's the spirit."

"Hey, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"If she loses the case, that drinking to oblivion plan is still in effect."

"Figured as much, Bones."

*******

Jim stopped by his apartment just long enough to dump his bag on the floor and change into civilian clothes. Then he grabbed a sheet of paper and camped outside Spock's apartment again.

Are you free?

He deliberately did not specify if he was free for a game. He couldn't have concentrated on chess if his life depended on it.

There was a long pause behind the door, either because Spock hadn't heard him stuff the note under his door yet or because he was debating whether or not to let Jim in. That last panic attack he'd witnessed had been brutal, and Jim could understand why Spock was hesitant to see him again. Knowing what he knew now about Vulcan disciplines, Spock must have been feeling incredibly vulnerable and insecure about losing control of his emotions like that. Jim couldn't be sure if his presence was helpful or not during those episodes.

After several minutes, the door finally opened. Spock was looking worlds better than he had been: his skintone was back to normal, his shaggy hair looked as if it had at least been brushed recently, his glasses were clean and settled straight on his face, and his clothing was back to being immaculate. But his expression was closed off again, as if trying to make up for his loss of control the last time Jim had visited.

Jim stepped inside the room, smiling at Spock. "You look good."

The closed off expression faltered. "Pardon?"

He wanted to kick himself. "Better," he corrected. "You look better."

"I believe the virus has run its course," Spock acknowledged, still looking just a little thrown by Jim's first choice of words.

"Good to know." And just to distract him from his earlier blunder, he launched right into the question that had been eating at him for hours now. "Have you talked to your dad recently?"

His expression went carefully blank again, almost as if he were pretending not to know what Jim was talking about. "I have not."

He wasn't about to let Spock out-stubborn him on this one. "Okay, how about your mom?"

"She has visited several times, as you are aware."

So subtlety (or Jim's version of it, anyway) wasn't going to fly. "Is she the reason why Bones has a Vulcan attorney now?"

Now he looked straight-out uncomfortable, wandering aimlessly to the kitchen and fussing with his tea kettle. "She has no influence on the tasks and staffing of my father's office-"

"Spock."

Spock's hand was clenched around the handle of the tea kettle, one of the warning signs Jim had come to understand meant his anxiety was spiking. "She was ... quite shocked at my state of living when she visited the first time," he said quietly, directing his comments toward the stove rather than looking at Jim. "The following day she asked if I had any acquaintances whatsoever. I told her about the evening you and Joanna were locked out of your apartment."

Jim couldn't have wiped the fond smile off his face if he tried. If McCoy thought all Vulcans were devoid of emotions, he needed to be introduced to this man who considered Joanna a friend.

Spock made jerky movements to prepare two cups of tea, his anxiety still apparent although he was doing his best to talk through it. "Then, during the height of my fever I could not control my words as I generally do. I told her about the impending divorce of Joanna's parents and the resulting custody battle." His eyes were glued to the floor now. "I apologize for the breach of your friend's privacy."

"It's not a breach of privacy, Spock. Pretty much everyone who knows Bones knows he's getting a divorce. It's not any kind of secret."

"Nevertheless, it was not my information to share."

Jim took a guess at what was bothering him so much. "Did you think I came here because I was angry?"

Spock gave no answer to that. Which was an answer in and of itself.

Jim walked over to him and pressed a hand to his shoulder, trying to get him to meet his eyes. "I came here to thank you. The lawyer they gave him was okay, but he wouldn't have been able to stand up to the judge the way a more impartial one might have. And if anyone can find some kind of way that Bones can honor his contract and have access to his daughter? I think it would be a Vulcan. You tend towards a more logical, technical way of thinking than humans do - I see it in how you play chess. Personally, it gave me a little bit of hope for the first time since the divorce proceedings began."

Spock couldn't meet his eyes yet, looking at something just over Jim's shoulder. "Having T'Prov represent your friend is not a guarantee of victory. As with any attorney, she has an equal share of cases she has won versus cases she has not."

"I know. But she's got a much better shot at it than the last guy did." He squeezed Spock's shoulder gently, waiting until he met his eyes until he spoke again. "Thank you."

He flushed faintly, averting his eyes again and fussing with the tea bags. "My mother is the one who spoke to my father about the ordeal and who undoubtedly convinced him to let one of his assistants work on the case."

"Well, then I'll thank her too the next time I see her. But you're the one who got the ball rolling on this one, so you deserve just as much of the credit as she does."

Spock acknowledged that by changing the subject completely. "Do you have time for a game before you retire for the evening?"

Jim smiled, smothering the urge to just throw his arms around the man and give him a bear hug. He'd already had one nervous spike while Jim was here and he didn't want to be the cause of two panic attacks in a row. "Sure, Spock. I'd like that."

And if Jim caught himself staring at the other man just a little too much, if he found he had to restrain himself from shifting his foot until it brushed against Spock's, if he was so damned distracted by that slightly curved point of an ear peeking through his hair that he let Spock take three quarters of his pieces before he attempted any kind of actual strategy? Well, that was apparently just going to be the way of it from now on. He could live with that. He could.

...

He was doomed.

Chapter Text

Jim hated exam weeks at the Academy. It was his own fault, he had to admit - and if he hadn't admitted it, McCoy would certainly have done it for him since he made such a regular habit around this point in the semester of proclaiming how little sympathy he had for Jim's plight. He was trying to finish a four year program in only three years, which meant he should have had about half his credits completed by now. But even with intensive summer courses, he was still several credits behind his goal. Which meant the next semester and the entire year after that were going to be a special kind of hell for him. But it was during the exam periods that he really felt the strain of the challenge he'd given himself. It was stressful for any cadet, but for one with three extra courses piled onto his schedule, Jim could suddenly understand why depression spiked during this time.

It was kind of a shame, actually, because San Francisco was melting from its gray, foggy chill of winter (nothing like the snowy winters back home in Iowa, but a little miserable all the same) to a brighter, warmer hint of spring. The fog was omnipresent, but it faded early in the morning which let Jim take advantage of the opportunity to sit outside while he ate his lunch and attempted to cram as many facts into his brain as he could before his xenolinguistics exam.

Which was difficult, because his brain was going in a million different directions these days. Between McCoy's pending custody case and his own sudden obsession with his next door neighbor, it was all he could do to concentrate on his school work. His mind kept drifting to the plethora of fantasies he manufactured at night, the sensation of warm skin underneath his, brown eyes unfocused and-

"You've got the worst sense of timing, you know that?" came a chirpy voice from above him, and he looked up from his PADD to see Gaila flounce down next to him, pulling her skirt down just enough so that she wouldn't be arrested for public indecency.

"You are aware of the dress code, right? Regulation skirt length and all that?"

"You complaining?" she retorted, stealing an apple from his tray and leaning back against the tree trunk.

He chose to ignore the barb. "And what were you saying about my sense of timing?"

"When was the last time I saw you, Jimmy?" she asked as if she were speaking to a small child.

He screwed up his face in thought. "Uh... A week ago? Maybe two?" And then he remembered, rolling his eyes. "Oh, right. You were wearing some pink abomination that I don't think technically qualifies as underwear. Seeing as it didn't cover a damn thing."

"You didn't seem to mind," she returned airily. "Anyway, you totally killed the mood. I had to chase her down a week later just to tell her I was sorry for the interruption. And then it took another two days to get her back in my apartment. Lucky for you it only took about ten minutes after that to get her naked."

He groaned, tossing his PADD aside and rubbing at his eyes. "Gaila, I'm invoking a new rule for our friendship. No telling me about chicks you've slept with unless you've got some kind of visual proof."

"Oooh, there goes the visual proof right now," she purred, and he cracked an eye open just wide enough to see her shooting a coy smile and wave at another cadet.

His jaw dropped when he saw the woman turn and skitter off in the opposite direction. "Uhura?!" he hissed at her.

"Yep."

"You didn't."

"Totally did. Twice."

"How the hell did you manage that? I've been hitting on her for over a year now and she won't give me the time of day. Or her first name." Not that he was truly upset, but it was the principle of the thing, damn it.

"Easy. I'm irresistible," she grinned, taking a big bite out of her apple.

He rolled his eyes again, shoving at her shoulder. "How many hearts do you break in a week, huh?"

"Please. Everyone I hook up with is well aware that I'm only in it for a bit of fun. I'm not malicious about it."

He considered that for a moment, watching her munch away at his apple. "Are you ever in it for something more than the fun?"

"Yes," she looked vaguely uneasy. "Why do you ask?"

He hadn't been able to talk about this with anyone. He would much rather have discussed it with McCoy, but seeing as he had enough on his plate, Gaila would have to do. "How did you know when you'd developed feelings for them?"

Her expression shifted to one of mock sympathy, patting his arm gently. "Oh, sweetie, I'm flattered and all, but I just don't feel like that about you."

He gaped at her for a moment, sputtering for a response. "I- Not- I didn't mean you, you enormous egotist!"

"Oh, thank God. I thought I'd put you under my spell with my new lingerie."

Now she was just toying with him, and he shoved at her shoulder again with an aggravated expression. "Forget it. I don't know why I asked you in the first place."

"I do," she returned smugly, shoving back at him.

"Yeah? Enlighten me."

She put on a ridiculous kissy-faced expression. "Because you're in love."

She could be so irritating sometimes. "How would you know?"

"Because you asked." At his confused look, she elaborated. "Honey, if you have to ask me how someone knows when they've fallen head over heels? Chances are you already have and you're just looking to someone for confirmation of the fact."

"Huh," he returned noncommittally, picking up his PADD and pretending to study again.

"So who is she?" Gaila poked at him.

"There is no she," he growled, batting her hand away.

She shrugged, poking at him again. "All right, who is he?"

"None of your damn business."

"Aha, so there is someone."

"Yeah, I didn't really think this one through," he muttered, more to himself than anything. "How much would I have to pay you to make you go away right now?"

"Double however many credits you've got to your name. Come on, you can tell me. I wouldn't tell a soul."

"Gaila, you're the worst goddamn secret keeper I've ever met."

"Am not."

"You are. You're the go-to person for anyone who wants dirt on anyone. If you think I'm telling you anything, you must think I'm an idiot."

"Is it Sulu?" she continued undeterred. "Because I hate to break your heart over this, but he's sleeping with his new roommate."

She was only proving his point about being a gossipy shrew, but he couldn't help but be intrigued. "Ew, really? McKenna?"

"No, they reassigned him to a room closer to the med clinic since he's such a whiny hypochondriac. Chekov got put there instead."

Jim's eyes went wide. "The Russian kid? Isn't he, like, twelve? Because I'm pretty sure that's illegal."

"The more laws you break, the better the sex is." At Jim's glare she added, "He turned sixteen last month so he's past the age of consent."

"Thank God," he muttered.

"Is it your hot doctor friend?" she chirped.

"No, it isn't Bones. He's in the middle of a divorce, remember? Plus the one time I kissed him he damn near broke my jaw."

"Oooh, so he plays rough? Sounds like my kind of guy," she purred.

"Maybe you didn't hear me the first time, but he's getting a divorce. He's not exactly ready to hop in the sack with anyone right now."

"He's gonna need someone on the rebound, isn't he?"

He looked at his chronometer and breathed a sigh of relief. "I have to go, much as it kills me to have an excuse to run far, far away from this conversation. My exam starts in ten minutes."

"Tell Uhura how much I appreciate her talented tongue when you get there, hmm?" she teased him, licking a bit of apple juice from her bottom lip.

He groaned and took off before Gaila could say anything more than that.

*******

He trudged up the stairs to his apartment feeling like he could sleep for three days straight. In the space of a single afternoon, he'd finished his xenolinguistics exam, the advanced deep space flight simulation, the dreaded Dauntless (the first in a series of three simulations that concluded with the infamous Kobayashi Maru that he'd have to take sometime during his last year at the Academy), the hard-assed interview he'd had to have with an Admiral to assure his place on the command track, and on top of that he'd had to spend all the time in between avoiding Gaila and her incessant questioning. Through some miracle he'd managed to escape back to the building before she had, or else she'd still be hounding him. All he wanted to do was replicate something for dinner and crash for a few hours. Or days. He wasn't too picky at this point.

But there was a familiar square of white paper on his floor when he got in, and as much as his brain had been occupied with thoughts of Spock, he just didn't have it in him to be social tonight.

My mother informs me I have been lax in my contributions to our friendship. Would you care to join me for a game and a meal?

He was tempted. It was another big step forward for Spock; they hadn't eaten together since they met on New Year's Eve, and Jim had just assumed it had been one of those things that Spock was more comfortable doing alone. And he hated, God he hated to turn him down when he was trying so hard. But he also knew that there was a strong possibility of falling asleep face-first in his dinner if he went next door now.

I'm sorry, Spock, but I spent the whole day running the gauntlet of Academy exams and sims. Can I take a rain check? Maybe breakfast tomorrow instead?

He slipped the note under Spock's door and returned to his room, programming his crummy little domestic replicator for a sandwich before wandering off to his shower. Sixty seconds of sonic cleaning later, he trudged back to the kitchen in his underwear, wolfed down the sandwich as fast as he could, and prepared to go crash for the next twelve hours. As he made his way back to the bedroom, another square of paper by his front door caught his eye.

That will be acceptable. However, there is something I must attend to in the early morning. I will be free after 10:00.

The writing was jagged and sloppy again, which meant he'd made Spock all jittery with his rejection, gentle though it was. But it couldn't be helped and at least the invitation had been extended.

He made his way back to his bedroom and barely managed to slip between the sheets before he was out. He'd been too exhausted by the activities of the day to have the kind of vivid dreams he'd been having for the past few weeks. But there was still some sort of drowsy sense to be made from the vague whispers of thought and feeling that washed through him. He felt grounded, linked to a consciousness far different from his own. Heat enveloped him, but he embraced it rather than attempted to escape it. There was a strength pouring into him that he could not explain, that could not have originated from himself, but which was focused instead on supporting him. It was a kind of peace he hadn't been able to achieve at any point in his life, too wrapped up in the constancy of action, thought, exploration. He awoke feeling more refreshed than he had in many years. And also, somehow, terribly alone.

He checked the chronometer, pleased to note that it was well past the time that Spock had told him he would be available. He threw on a ratty pair of jeans and a t-shirt, grabbed a notepad, and camped out in front of Spock's door.

Is now a good time?

But for several long minutes, there was no response. There was no rustle that signified movement at the door, no soft vibrations that meant he was walking nearby. Nevertheless, he tried again.

Spock? You in there?

And a few minutes after that too received no response, he felt a little like an idiot for scribbling a second note. If he hadn't heard the first one, what had made him think he'd hear another one after that? As a last resort, he knocked quietly on the door. He didn't want to disturb him if he was still in the middle of his project, but he also didn't want to leave yet if he was back in his room and hadn't heard the papers.

He was just about to give up and return to his room when the door cracked open. It wasn't even Spock's customary few inches to gauge who was outside, but rather the merest sliver of space between the door and the wall. "Jim?" came a hoarse, broken whisper.

"Spock? You okay in there?"

The door opened in answer and Jim darted inside. Spock was standing with his forehead pressed to the door as it closed, visibly trembling and upset. "I..." He choked on the word, shaking his head and going silent again.

"Do you need to sit down for awhile? Get to the bathroom? The sink?" Jim had only been present for two of Spock's episodes, but he was starting to get the hang of his symptoms. If he was starting to have another panic attack, he was going to get sick to his stomach and collapse soon afterward.

"No," Spock rasped, expending just enough energy to turn around to face him, his back still leaning heavily against the door. "No, the worst of it... the worst has passed."

Jim couldn't help himself; he moved forward and pressed his hands to Spock's cheeks. His skin was cool and clammy to the touch, which was even more worrisome now that he'd had several lectures on Vulcan anatomy and knew Spock's body temperature was supposed to be significantly higher than his own. "God, Spock, if this is an improvement then it must have been a hellish one."

He closed his eyes in response, leaning almost imperceptibly forward until their foreheads touched. Jim forgot to breathe for a moment, taking in the long eyelashes, the creases between his eyebrows and at the corners of his eyes, the faint green undertone in his skin. He could feel Spock's shallow breath puffing over his lips, could almost hear the low vibration of his pulse as he tried to compose himself. He tried to remain calm, smoothing his thumbs over Spock's cheekbones, along his jaw, bracing him between the door and his own body until he came back from whatever trance he'd lapsed into.

"I apologize," came the whisper of breath against his face, and he only realized that he had closed his eyes to bask in the moment when Spock's words broke the spell. He looked up, noticed for the first time that Spock's glasses were missing again because there was nothing separating him from those soft, human brown eyes.

"What happened?" he asked quietly, knowing he should back off and give Spock his space, but unwilling to give up this moment of closeness.

Spock took a deep, shuddering breath, grabbing fistfuls of Jim's shirt near the bottom hem. "I... I have not spoken to my father in some time." He hesitated, eyes darting towards a blank comm screen set up on his desk, then locking to Jim's face again. "He was... affected by my state of affairs."

And because this was Spock's father they were talking about rather than his mother, Jim understood. Vulcans spent their entire existence controlling their emotions, betraying no reactions. Spock didn't need to tell him how his father had been affected - it was enough that Sarek's control had faltered at all.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Another shudder wracked Spock's body and he shifted until their foreheads touched again. "I am so tired of... So..." He closed his eyes again. "I am not myself."

Jim could no longer deny what he felt for this man. Not when his heart was so blatantly broken over his plight. He cradled his face in his hands, wanting so much to help him and without the first clue as to how he could do it. "No," he whispered. "I don't think you are. But I'd like to think you could be again."

It didn't quite make sense the way it came out, but Spock seemed to understand what he'd meant. He was warmer to the touch now and his shaking had mostly subsided, but he seemed equally unwilling to break from their closeness. "I hope so," he agreed.

Jim pulled back just enough to look at his face. "I have an idea."

Spock said nothing; he merely opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow.

"A game. And a meal. But not here." And before Spock could react beyond the sudden unbearable tension that seized him, he continued. "Come next door. It's got the same layout as your place. So if you start to lose control, the bathroom will be exactly where it needs to be. So will the kitchen. But it's not this room, it's not..." He hated to call it a prison, because Spock was comfortable here and he wouldn't like the comparison. "It's not where your father was affected. There are no handprints on the furniture." He offered him a winning, although tremulous, smile. "And I've got a few more windows than you do. I've got a view from my living room that looks out on the bay. It's why I chose that apartment over one on the first floor. It's better than anything they put on the holovid networks, I promise."

He looked uncertain. But he hadn't outright rejected the idea, which gave Jim hope. He kept going, hoping he wasn't pushing his luck. "Joanna loves that window. She once spent an entire morning camped out there with her pancakes and her stuffed rabbit."

He raised that one ambulatory eyebrow again. "Pancakes?" And yes, that was definitely a spark of interest in his eyes.

"Pancakes. I make chocolate chip ones for her, but I think we're grown up enough for blueberry, yeah? You weren't a big fan of chocolate last time I tried to feed you."

"I am not," he agreed, and the tension bled out of him slowly. "I..." He cleared his throat. "I will try."

"That's all I'm asking." And he hesitantly pulled away from him so he could move.

He looked unwilling at first, staring at Jim with an odd expression that he couldn't place, not even with months of translating his speech and body language into something he could understand. But Spock shook himself out of it, turning and opening the door.

And walking into the hallway.

And, after only a moment's hesitation, right into Jim's apartment.

Chapter Text

It instantly became apparent that having Spock in Jim's apartment was damned distracting.

It had been a rocky start. The moment the door had shut behind them Spock had frozen in place as if he'd been stunned. Then the trembling had started again, faint tremors that were barely noticeable but present nonetheless.

"Would you like a tour?" Jim offered, slinging an arm around his waist and casually supporting him.

It had been offered as a means of escape if the novelty of the situation was too much to handle. Spock bowed his head, closing his eyes for a few seconds as if grounding himself. "That... that would be agreeable," he murmured.

Jim rarely missed an opportunity to run his mouth. "This is the living room. That's my sofa. It's what we humans sit in when we can't keep our spines straight for hours on those Vulcan mats of yours."

Despite his uneasiness, Spock still managed a weak withering glare. "I am aware of what a sofa is, Jim."

"Just making sure," he grinned back. "That's my armchair, there's the holovid, that discolored spot on the rug is from when I learned how many donuts you can feed Joanna before she gets sick - the number is three, by the way, not that I recommend trying it. That's-"

He cut himself off when he looked at Spock's face. He no longer looked tense or uneasy. In fact, he seemed enthralled by one specific piece of furniture. "You collect books," he said quietly, almost reverently.

Jim's almost manic grin melted into a more sincere smile, tugging Spock towards his bookcase. "Yeah. Bones says they're just fancy antiquated kindling since you can download them to your PADD to save on space. But I like them better in this form."

Spock broke away from him, raising a hand and tracing over the spines of the books, tilting his head to read the titles. "Is there a reason you prefer these over the data versions?"

For some reason, Jim shivered. There was something mesmerizing about watching those long fingers exploring a collection that meant so much to him. "My dad had a huge library of them at home back in Iowa. Sam and I grew up with them all over the place. Mom preferred reading stuff on the data networks, but Dad always had a book on him." He shrugged, feeling a bit sheepish about the rest. "They smell like home to me."

Spock remained quiet. Usually Jim could handle silences between them, but now that he'd started running his mouth he couldn't seem to stop. "Some of these were his, actually," he continued, pointing them out. "All the Tolstoy novels. A few from Charles Dickens. Huxley, Orwell, Milton - man, I didn't put any order to this at all. Oh, and these," he tapped four of them shelved together, "are the reason why Joanna calls you an elf."

"Tolkien," Spock supplied easily.

He couldn't quite contain the surprise. "You've read them?"

"I have read a great deal of literature originating from Earth." At Jim's expression, he seemed almost to revert within himself again, as if he had committed some kind of transgression. "It was logical to familiarize myself with the written works of my mother's homeworld."

"I wasn't judging you," Jim assured him. "I was just surprised. I thought human literature would be too emotional and ridiculous for a Vulcan to find much interest in it."

Spock looked as if he were weighing his words, as if there were both a right way and a wrong way to respond and he was puzzling out which was which. "Most Vulcans do not care for human literature," he allowed, and his spine was rigid with tension again.

"You're not most Vulcans," Jim supplied.

Spock winced minutely at the phrasing. "No."

Jim sighed, leaning closer and kissing his cheek. "Go check out the view from the window," he changed the subject, seeing that it was getting too uncomfortable for him and not wanting him to bolt just yet. "I'll get the replicator going."

He was already in the kitchen pushing buttons and swearing at the out of date piece of machinery before Spock finally uprooted himself from his spot near the bookshelf and made his way to the top selling point of the apartment: a huge window overlooking Crissy Field Beach. Jim could spend hours sitting there, half reading a book and half checking out the locals on the beach. When he finally emerged with their breakfast, Spock looked just as enthralled with the view as Jim was. He sat cross-legged on the floor, back straight and posture perfect, the picture of Vulcan stillness and control. But the expression was all wrong for a Vulcan, eyes wide and soft as he took in the low gray haze over the water, the people scattered along the sand. He looked more relaxed than he had all day, almost serene.

Jim could stare at him for hours, the view even better than the one from the window. But he shook himself out of it, dropping to the floor to sit next to him, setting the plates in front of them. "Food synthesizer's acting up again, so they'll probably taste like stale bananas. Seems to be the flavor the machine defaults to when it starts dying on me."

Spock spared a glance toward the plates, then turned his attention back to the beach. "Our-" He stopped, started again. "My windows face the building behind this one."

Something twinged in his heart; some part of Spock still associated that apartment with a roommate, a partner. A lover, as strange as it felt to apply that term to a Vulcan. "Yeah," he said quietly. "The one in my bedroom's the same way. The kitchen, too. But if you're in an end unit on this side of the building, you get this instead."

He made no reply, continuing to ignore his plate in favor of staring almost unblinking out the window.

Jim shoved the plates aside, scooting closer to Spock and trying to gauge his expression. He still had trouble translating some of his body language even after months of their friendship cluing him in most of the time. He looked ... wistful, maybe.

He kept his voice low and nonthreatening the next time he spoke. "When was the last time you were out there?"

He had expected a flustered reaction, maybe even a few signs of another impending panic attack. It was almost as if he'd been pushed to the limits of his tolerance, too exhausted at this point to get worked up over the question. "Two years, seven months, and ten days ago."

Jim wanted to smile at the precision, but the length of time worried him. "That long?"

Spock shrugged almost imperceptibly. "Vulcans do not, as a rule, enjoy the water."

"Ah." He wanted to reach over, to touch him, to offer some kind of support when he asked his next question. "So... when was the last time you were out of this building?"

The heavy swallow was anything but imperceptible. A faint tremor skittered up the man's spine and he spent several minutes calming himself before he answered. "The last time I successfully left the building and returned without incident was eleven months and twenty six days ago. The last time I attempted it at all was eight months and thirteen days ago."

"Oh." Logically, he'd known Spock had been sequestered in his apartment for a significant period of time. "Where did you go? The last time you tried it and it worked or just the last time, period. Whichever."

Spock's hand balled into a fist on the floor and Jim finally gave in to the temptation of touching him, just resting a hand over his. All the breath whooshed out of Spock's body and there was another long period of silence while he collected himself. "B-both times," he stuttered, and Jim knew the conversation needed to end soon or he'd be facing his second episode of the day, "I was going to Starfleet Academy."

"Finishing your classes before graduation?" he guessed, stroking a thumb over his knuckles.

Spock surprised him by retracting his hand, the first time he'd actively rejected Jim's touch since the first time Jim had seen him go into a panic attack. "Withdrawing," he answered shortly.

"Oh," he said again. "I thought... I thought you had finished. You said you worked with their computer systems-"

"As a freelance specialist in computer technology, a field I excelled in at the Vulcan Science Academy."

"You ever think about going back?" The words were out of his mouth before he could think them through all the way, and he only just stopped himself from belatedly clapping a hand over his mouth. The man hadn't left his apartment in eight months and had nervous breakdowns over humor he didn't understand. Why he would want to torture himself by willingly enrolling himself again and subjecting himself to Starfleet's whims for however long he'd have to sign a contract for-

"Yes," Spock shocked the hell out of him by saying, although it was little more than a whisper in the room. Jim could hear the longing in it all the same.

He had nothing to say in response to that, scooting closer and slinging an arm over Spock's shoulders. Spock remained eerily still for a long time before he finally relaxed, however minutely, against Jim's side.

It was the small victories, Jim thought, that had him so enamored with this man.

*******

"Top five, Kirk? That's not bad at all."

Jim scowled, aiming it more at the results screen than at his former roommate. "I was aiming for first."

Sulu shrugged. "Don't be such a dick the next time you're in a sim and maybe you'll get there."

"I wasn't a dick."

"Asking a third year Engineering grunt if he can find his own ass with two hands and a flashlight isn't being a dick?"

"Not if the Engineering grunt is Finnegan. On a completely unrelated note, you know what I want for my graduation gift next year? A free pass to punch him in the face whenever I damn well please."

"I'll add it to your gift registry, Princess." Sulu grabbed him by the arm and steered him back out to the grounds. "Anyway, you've still got a year to do the rest of the command-track sims. Try coming in first on the Kobayashi Maru results."

"I intend to," Jim shot back, irritated with the glibness of Sulu's tone. He was here to be the best, not to just eke out a mediocre performance and congratulate himself on his own adequacy.

"As long as you don't fry the computer systems like you did with the Dauntless, should be a piece of cake."

Jim realized where Sulu was steering him just a moment too late. "Uh, Sulu, much as I'd love to stick around, I've got-"

"Jimmy!" Gaila chirped from her perch on top of one of the picnic tables set up in the courtyard. That bizarre Russian kid was sitting on the bench in front of her, and while from a distance it looked as if she were brushing through his curls, Jim knew better.

"Humans don't take well to being combed for parasites, Gaila," he informed her for what he knew to be the tenth or twelfth time since he'd met her.

"It's a common Orion social convention," she returned, also for the tenth or twelfth time. "Plus, look at him. He's adorable. I just want to pet him."

"Is okay," Chekov assured them.. "I like to be pet, right Hikaru?"

Sulu blushed - blushed, Jim boggled, unable to reconcile his perception of his badass, kill-you-in-your-sleep former roommate as... well, as a big romantic girl. "Yeah," Sulu muttered awkwardly, but he sat next to Chekov all the same.

"So did you tell him?" Gaila asked, seemingly from nowhere.

"Uh, depends on who we're talking about and what the question was. And I did fine on the Dauntless sim, thanks for asking."

She waved off the barb. "The guy you're in love with."

Jim's jaw dropped at the same time Sulu's did. "You're in love with a dude?" Sulu sputtered.

"Yeah, hi kettle. The pot would like to inform you that you've got no room to speak," Jim grumped, then turned his attention on Gaila. "And you suck."

"And you totally didn't deny being in love with this guy," Gaila returned airily.

"Is it the snarly doctor?" Chekov asked him, and if Jim had been trying to avoid Gaila for the past few weeks, he made a silent vow to double his efforts in the future. Clearly she'd brainwashed the Russian somehow, and Gaila was bad enough working solo.

"It is not the snarly doctor," Jim said. "Why does everyone seem to think I have a thing for him?"

"Because you get very drunk in bars and sing love songs together," Chekov returned brightly. "Also I saw you kiss once, but I think it did not work out the way you wanted."

"Oh yeah, that was the night you came back with a big black bruise on your face," Sulu added. Jim wondered when he'd become the resident butt-monkey around here. "Must've been a hell of a kiss."

"I hate all of you," Jim informed them.

"He doesn't have any of the right chemistry with that gorgeous doctor friend anyway," Gaila chirped as if Jim hadn't spoken at all. "That guy's a die hard heterosexual, I guarantee it."

"Is it Mitchell?" Sulu joined in the questioning. "Rumor has it you two used to fuck on every stable surface you could find. And a few unstable ones just for the challenge."

"Is not Mitchell," Chekov jumped in before Jim could defend himself. "He is seeing crazy woman on the medical track. A psychologist, I think. She sits in med clinic polishing crystals and talking about chalkers and trees."

"Chakras and chi," Gaila corrected him. "Her name's Dehner and she's supposed to be absolutely wild in the sack."

"Okay, this right here? This is why I never tell you anything. Because you are a black hole of gossip and rumors."

"Why have you not made a move?" Chekov continued, once again ignoring Jim's muttering. "Is much easier to have it off your chest."

Jim was torn between some deeply buried part of him that found it cute Sulu was blushing again, and general revulsion. The kid was sixteen. Sixteen! "He's a little gunshy. Kind of the anxious type. I don't want to fuck up the friendship by bringing-" He stopped himself when he realized what he was saying. "Why am I talking about this with you guys?"

"Because you love us and you've got no one else to whine at," said Gaila.

"My life gets more pathetic the more I think about it," Jim muttered.

"What else are friends good for?" Sulu grinned, clearly enjoying Jim's misery.

"Most people would buy me a drink and tell me to get over it."

"I have vodka in our room," Chekov offered.

'Of course he does,' Jim thought. "Tempting," he said out loud.

"Oh my God!" Gaila shrieked suddenly, after all of thirty seconds of uncharacteristic silence. "It's that Vulcan with the glasses, isn't it?!"

Jim was saved from answering - although he was fairly certain his gobsmacked expression gave him away - from the beeping of his comm unit. He'd never been so relieved to see McCoy's name under the transmission information. "Excuse me," he said, flipping it open. "Hey Bones."

"Jim?" The drawl was back in full force, and Jim's heart plummeted.

"Yeah?"

"The hearing is today. Can you-" McCoy cleared his throat, tried again. He sounded like he'd already been defeated. "Can you swing by? You know, for moral support?"

"I'll be right there," Jim promised, snapping the unit shut and already taking off in the opposite direction.

Chapter Text

McCoy was waiting for him in one of Starfleet's minor judiciary halls, the ones set aside specifically for lesser legal cases such as minor infractions of Starfleet regulations, petty theft, and truancy. They were also available for other legal disputes between cadets and their families, including divorce and custody hearings. Basically, anything that could be determined between lawyers and a judge with no need for a jury's opinion went to the minor judiciary halls.

McCoy was pacing in the lobby, one hand occasionally reaching for a flask that he didn't have on him at the moment. When he caught sight of Jim he lost all momentum, sagging into a bench against the wall and burying his head in his hands.

Jim sat next to him, slinging an arm over his shoulders. "How bad?" he asked quietly.

"No idea. We're in recess right now while the judge makes his decision."

"You've got some idea," Jim insisted. "You're going all Southern on me again. That drawl usually means shit's about to go down."

McCoy just shook his head, rubbing his face and looking blearily up at Jim. "No idea," he repeated. "T'Prov's been goin' off like a goddamn legal archive. It's like havin' a robot representin' your case."

"All right, but is she a good robot or a bad one?" At McCoy's indignant look, Jim plowed on. "You can usually tell the bad ones from the good ones because they try to kill you in your sleep. She tried to kill you yet?"

"You are the furthest fucking thing from funny," he snarled, but made no move to escape Jim's arm. If anything he was leaning closer, needing the contact. "She did manage to keep the proceedings private. Only folks allowed in that courtroom are the two of us, Joss and her attorney, and the judge. No jury, no witnesses, and none of her extended family sitting around glarin' daggers at the back of my head."

"Where's Jo?"

"Why d'you think I mentioned the extended family? Granny's babysitting her. They're in a hotel a few blocks away."

Jim felt a pang of unwarranted disappointment. "How come you didn't ask me? I would've been happy to help."

McCoy shoots him a humorless smile. "I didn't trust you not to hide her away from Joss if things didn't work out in my favor."

He can see the temptation of it, the desire to stash Joanna away in a corner until her father could grab her and make a run for it. However: "I thought you liked me babysitting because I wasn't a kidnapper or a creep."

"Not a kidnapper, at any rate."

"Ah." He tried to steer the conversation back on track. "Seriously, though, didn't you say T'Prov was better than that last idiot they assigned to you?"

McCoy shrugged, keeping the motion restrained enough so as not to shake off Jim's arm. "She's a lot better with the Starfleet regs, that's for sure. But she's useless whenever they start up any bullshit about what a shitty parent I've been."

Jim gaped openly at that. "Shitty how? I've seen you with her, Bones. She's everything."

"You're goddamn right she is," he growled back. "But Joss is havin' herself a good ol' time bringing up all the drinkin' I do with you and the late hours in the clinic and how much I'm missin' out-"

"And T'Prov isn't saying anything in response to that?"

Another shrug. "She points out that the clinic hours contribute to my xenobiology certification. Then she goes into a load of technobabble about my contract and the regs and future possibilities for my career, and Jim? I've had it up to here with overcomplicated Vulcan semantics. What the hell version of Standard English are they teaching on that dustheap of a planet?"

"The one that lets them talk about math and philosophy and science in just as much detail as their first language," Jim guessed. It made sense to him: from what he'd seen from Spock, Vulcans valued their intellect almost as much as they valued their emotional control. He couldn't imagine they'd agree to learn a language that would prevent them from furthering their studies or fully expressing their theories.

"I forgot I was talking to the president of the Vulcan Fan Club," McCoy muttered, rubbing at his face again.

"You should join up. We give out rubber ears at the introductory meetings. Then we learn archery and sing at the trees for awhile. Sometimes we go on epic quests to save the world from giant eyeballs."

McCoy didn't laugh the way he normally would, but some of the tension bled out of him and his expression had softened when he let his hands drop again. "I never was a fan of the elves in that series," he grumbled. "They're too arrogant and prissy."

"But they've got the best looking chicks on their team," Jim pointed out reasonably.

"Like hell. Eowyn was a gorgeous blonde princess who stabbed monsters in her spare time. That's a woman after my own heart."

"Can't argue with that."

They both looked up suddenly as the sound of a delicately cleared throat alerted them to the presence of McCoy's lawyer. She looked both unimaginably ancient and unimaginably powerful. She had to have been two or three times as old as anyone Jim had ever met, and yet he had no doubt that she was just as sharp now as she had been in her prime - and just as dangerous. "The judge has finished his deliberations and is prepared to deliver a verdict."

Jim was shocked at the complete lack of intonation in her voice. He was used to the speech patterns, but Spock always produced them in such a way that he seemed... approachable, maybe. Understandable. Relatable. It was difficult to believe that T'Prov and Spock were the same species.

"You want me to stick around?" he finally asked when he'd recovered from the surprise.

McCoy hesitated for a moment, almost as if he was trying to convince himself that he didn't need the support. He took a deep breath, nodded shortly. "Yeah," he drawled. "I'll be out in a bit."

"Good luck." Jim wrapped him up in a hug and almost got the air squeezed out of him in return.

"Thank you."

*******

It was well into nighttime when Jim jogged the entire way home from the judicial hall, desperately needing some way to bleed off all the energy and emotions that were coursing through him. He couldn't think, wouldn't think until he'd returned back home, and even when he got there he took off for another two, three, four more laps around the block, trying to exhaust the worst of the nervous energy inside him before he accidentally inflicted it on anyone else. He felt wound too tightly despite the fact that his lungs were burning and most of the muscles from his back down were twinging and aching from the sudden burst of activity with no warm-up or warning. The pain was a secondary thing as he took the stairs two at a time up to his floor, then past his floor and up to the roof so he could have a dose of chilly evening air in an effort to calm himself, then two stairs at a time back down to his floor again.

He burst into his apartment, flinging his bag and his cadet uniform every which way across the floor as he ran to his shower, not even letting the sonics finish their sixty second cycle before he was back out again, tearing through his closet for a clean t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants. He was sorely tempted to put on his sneakers and run several more laps around the block until his brain simply shut down. He was also sorely tempted to run down to the gas station and purchase that biggest, cheapest, strongest bottle of alcohol he was convinced they had somewhere in their inventory. He was tempted to bang on Scotty's door and demand to be put to good use, but his brain was at nowhere near the functioning level it needed to be in order to work on anything of Scotty's without breaking it or getting himself injured. And he was tempted to go to Gaila's for all of ten seconds before he realized what a bad idea that was.

He paced restlessly around his apartment, picking up his things and then just dumping them on the sofa, picking up a book and reading all of two words before that got dumped on top of his clothes. He wandered to the kitchen, fiddled with the food synthesizer, and wandered back out.

He needed another way to release everything bottled up inside of him. Running himself half to death hadn't done it, and nothing in his apartment was going to help either. Jim considered his options, decided there was only one place to be right now.

He didn't even bother with his notepad, tearing out of his room and banging on his neighbor's door, the minuscule portion of his brain still capable of rational thought hoping that they'd at least moved forward enough that he didn't have to stuff notes under the door every single time he wanted to come over.

The moment he heard the door crack open he was off and running at a hundred words per minute. "Hey, Spock, can I come in? I know I didn't leave a note and I know it's late but I really need to talk and there's no one else I can talk to about this and-"

Somewhere in the midst of Jim's babbling the door opened fully, and Jim almost knocked Spock over, he was so eager to get inside. "Oh, shit, sorry about that, I just can't sit still no matter what I do, I jogged around the block three or four or five times, I can't even remember now, and I've gone up and down the stairs twice and I can't seem to calm down no matter what I do, so I thought I'd come see you and how you were doing, you doing okay? You look a lot better than you have lately, lots calmer or something like that, maybe there's something to that Vulcan meditation thing you do-"

"Jim?" Spock interrupted him, raising an eyebrow. He hadn't moved away from the closed door yet, taking in Jim's motormouth with a worried expression. "Are you well?"

"I- No, I'm not, I think, uh..." Jim stopped himself from saying any more than that, giving into temptation at last. He surged forward, wrapping his arms around Spock's waist and giving him a bone-crushing hug.

He had half-expected to be shoved across the room. Spock still had to be approached with caution and given some kind of warning before intense physical contact. Usually Jim didn't go any further than a light peck on the cheek or touching his hand, and he certainly didn't go any further than a friendly arm over his shoulders. But he needed, desperately, to hold onto this man right now.

Spock remained tense for almost half a minute before he began to relax, arms tentatively looping over Jim's hips and hugging him back. There was still a sense of awkwardness coming from him and Jim could see that the line of his shoulders and spine were still rigid. Spock was fighting to keep his voice even when he spoke again. "Jim...?"

"Thank you," he breathed, burrowing his head in one of those unmoving shoulders, his breath leaving him in shaky little gasps in between the words.

"I... I do not understand," Spock stuttered, but he made no attempt to escape from the embrace. Jim could feel him slowly molding himself to Jim, leaning into the contact.

"He won, Spock." He finally moved his head from Spock's shoulder so he could look him in the eyes. "I tried so hard to be optimistic but Bones's foul moods are contagious and I think he had me half convinced he was going to lose. But he didn't. He won. He fucking won, Spock."

"Ah," he intoned after a moment's thought. "T'Prov successfully argued her case."

"There's no way in hell the Starfleet lawyer could've done it. I mean it. T'Prov managed to dig up some obscure rule about split families and Starfleet contracts. She's got it so Bones can either stay here and teach for the Academy when he's finished with his degree, or he'll only be allowed to serve on starships that travel a maximum of twenty light years from Earth, so if there's an emergency with Jo he can get back in a reasonable amount of time." He placed his hands on Spock's cheeks. "He fucking won, Spock," he repeated again. "He got his divorce and part time custody of his daughter, split in half with that old cow. And he never would have gotten it if not for you."

Spock's gaze dropped, a faint flush of embarrassment staining his cheeks. "Starfleet employs excellent attorneys and legal assistants. I am reasonably certain-"

"No," Jim insisted. "He would have lost with that other guy. This is all because... Spock, you didn't have to..." And he ran out of words. He could think of nothing more to say to really express his gratitude. So he expressed it the only other way he could think of.

He cradled Spock's face in his hands, angled his face downward, and kissed him.

And suddenly it was like all that nervous energy that had been winding him tighter and tighter until he felt fit to burst vanished. It was not at all how he tended to react to kissing another person; generally that nervous energy escalated higher and higher until he was strung so tight he felt liable to break. Instead he felt relaxed, mellow, calm in a way he had never before experienced. He cradled Spock's lips against his, close-mouthed and chaste.

There was another surge of tension in Spock, one he could feel the moment their lips touched. But when Jim gave no sign of stopping, of laughing it off as a joke, the tension bled out of him and he very nearly melted into the touch. Jim felt the moment when Spock allowed himself to enjoy it, muscles in his back and shoulders going lax, eyes fluttering closed behind his glasses, and nudging his face forward for more contact, more kissing, just... more.

And all Jim wanted to do was give him more, give him anything, give him the goddamn moon on a silver platter if it meant he got to keep doing this. He broke the kiss just long enough to drag in a breath, heat pooling low in his belly when Spock leaned forward for another one, barely letting him take in oxygen before their lips were slotted together again. It was still chaste, still tame by anyone's standards, but he started to get the flavor of Spock's skin in tiny, tantalizing hints. There was a faint metallic flavor wafting between them that he'd never tasted before, something musky and heavy underneath that, something that made him want, crave, need. His hands started traveling of their own volition, skimming along the lines of his jaw, the faint green in his cheeks. He cradled the pointed ears in his fingers, tracing along the shell and up to the tip, and the sound it choked out of Spock went straight to his cock. He swallowed up the broken noise with a soft moan of his own, burrowing his fingers in the wild mop of hair and pulling him closer.

Spock broke away that time to pull in a breath, and Jim spent the split second of separation sucking on his bottom lip, pulling it into his mouth and gorging himself on that metallic hint he'd tasted before. Spock groaned and surged forward again, hands fisting in Jim's shirt as he sealed their lips together, lapping at the seam of Jim's mouth until he had no choice but to submit to the exploration. A hot, wet tongue curled into his mouth, hesitantly traced along the ridges of his mouth and then tangled itself with Jim's. He moaned unreservedly, his senses spiraling into base urges like want and need and fuck, so good. His brain clouded over in a fog of lust, shuddering and whimpering against all that Vulcan strength and heat.

They broke away from each other to breathe again, Jim's hands rhythmically fisting and then brushing soothingly through Spock's hair, nuzzling his nose against a pointed ear, panting wetly into his shoulder. "Shit, Spock..." he wheezed. "I- kiss- c'mere," he stuttered, angling Spock's head down again.

Spock met him halfway, all the fight and uncertainty gone, replaced with a desperation that was fast leaving them both breathless. Open mouths sealed together again, lapping and suckling at each other's lips. Spock used his fisted hands in Jim's shirt to pull him even closer, and Jim let out a long, wanton moan when it aligned their hips together, his erection pressing up against an answering hardness. He couldn't help it; he rolled his hips forward to feel it again, loving that Spock was just as lost in the sensations as he was.

...and was abruptly shoved away with so much force that his back hit the wall. "Fuck-" he swore, grappling for some way to keep his balance, feeling off-centered and lost without that warm body holding him close. "Spock...?"

In any other situation, Jim would have been losing himself in the sight of the man. His glasses were askew on his nose, eyes darker than he'd ever seen them before with his pupils blown wide. His cheeks were flushed a deep green and the color traveled all the way up to the points of his ears. There was a noticeable bulge in the front of his black pants, his shirt damp and clinging to his thin frame.

But it was the shaking that kept it from being a scene straight out of Jim's fantasies. He was trembling - shuddering - from head to toe, and the look in his eyes wasn't glazed over in pleasure so much as it was utterly petrified. "Spock?" he tried again, finding his balance and taking a step forward. "Spock, you okay?"

"Get out," came the soft whisper. Spock remained motionless aside from the words falling from his mouth and his hands clenching and unclenching in fists at his side.

"Spock, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I just-"

"Get. Out." Jim was interrupted from his apology by a stabbing pain in his shoulder. Spock had grabbed him, turned him around, and tossed him out the door before he could even think. By the time he'd recovered from the momentum of being thrown outside, the door had already shut and locked behind him.

"Spock?" It was breathless, too quiet. He approached the door, knocking gently. "Spock, please, let me back in?"

Silence behind the door.

"Spock!" he shouted.

More silence. Which meant either Spock was going to refuse to let him in, or he'd run to the back of the apartment to ride out the panic attack he'd seen approaching in his body language.

"Fuck," he muttered, throwing a punch to Spock's door frame. When that, too, failed to elicit any kind of response, he turned and slowly made his way back to his own apartment, looking over his shoulder the whole way just in case Spock changed his mind.

He didn't.

Jim let himself back in to his own apartment with a heavy sigh, falling into bed and punching his pillows a few times before he lapsed into a fitful, nightmarish sleep.

Chapter Text

The next week was miserable for Jim. He'd spent the first day after the kissing incident camped out in front of Spock's door with a pad of sticky notes. Spock? he'd written on the first one, sliding it under the door. He'd heard footprints, knew the man was somewhere on the other side of the door. So he'd written another one: Let me in? Then he'd written several more:

We should talk.

Spock, please.

Spock?

I miss you.

And then he'd just written I miss you over and over until he'd gone through the entire pad of notes. He wrote I'm sorry on the last one, sliding it under Spock's door and accepting his defeat.

(Sort of. He left another I miss you note under the door every day.)

Few people remarked on his apparent misery. Chekov had grabbed him after their xenolinguistics class and assured him that McCoy had won his case, apparently worried that Jim of all people hadn't heard the news. Gaila had approached him once and opened her mouth to offer... well, Jim wasn't even sure what. He'd turned and stalked away from her as soon as he knew she was about to say something. His other friends gave him odd looks from time to time, but said nothing.

But McCoy... for being Jim's best friend, the man was total shit at figuring out how miserable Jim was.

The man who'd developed a reputation for being an unrepentant crab-ass had undergone a transformation ever since the verdict had been announced. He didn't scowl half as much. He became slightly less acerbic towards patients in the clinic - although slightly was the keyword since he still chewed out a first year engineering cadet for second degree burns she'd suffered when rewiring a shuttle console. He even developed an honest to God bounce in his step when classes and clinic duty were over for the day, because it meant he got to visit with Joanna for an hour or two before he headed back to his new room in the Academy dorms, the ones set aside for cadets with families.

Jim wanted to strangle him for being so goddamn chipper.

He had taken to sequestering himself from his friends during meals at the mess hall, finding a nice hidey-hole in a corner where he could glare at his toast and orange juice in peace. So he was less than pleased when someone slid into the seat across from him and flashed him a shit-eating grin. "Hey, Jim."

"Hey," he said, monotone.

"Turns out I've got Jo all next weekend. We're gonna set up her room in the dorm and then take her out for pizza. You wanna come help?"

Despite how much he wanted to strangle McCoy, it was still a tempting offer. He adored Joanna and wouldn't have minded spending some time with her now that her life was starting to settle down again. But it was hard to concentrate on spending the day with a bouncy, energetic four year old when his brain was so stuck on the mess he'd made with his next door neighbor. "Nah. Some other time, maybe."

"What's eatin' you, kid?" McCoy asked, stealing a slice of toast from Jim's tray and biting into it. "You've had a pinecone up your ass for the past week."

Jim mustered just enough energy to glare daggers at his best friend. "Oh, so the great Doctor McCoy finally diagnoses the symptoms of pinecone-up-ass disease. And here I thought I was beneath your notice."

"Excuse me for bein' all excited about not losing my daughter for the next ten, twenty years of her life," McCoy retorted. "Quit bein' a dick and answer the question."

Jim scowled at him but relented easily. "Fine. I, uh... I fucked up royally. But I'm not sure where I fucked up royally, because he was getting just as into it as I was and-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," McCoy cut in, eyebrows furrowed. "Don't you usually go to Gaila for all your sexual therapy needs?"

"Gaila's being a gossipy shrew about the whole thing."

"Why Jim, how dare you malign her character like that."

"Shut up. Or I'll tell her where you live and make sure she's covered in chocolate when she gets there."

McCoy rolled his eyes, but apparently he'd taken the threat seriously on some level because he waved at Jim to continue. "Go on."

"I just... I've been working so hard at keeping him calm, Bones. And then we were kissing, and then it was getting a little more serious than kissing, and I know he was just as into it as I was because I felt-"

"Less detail, Jim," McCoy growled.

"-okay, fine, so I know he was just as into it but I can't say why because a goddamn doctor gets squeamish about two men getting hard-ons for each other-"

"I said less detail, you idiot!"

Jim couldn't help it; it cheered him up immensely when he could make McCoy squirm. "But then he freaked out and tossed me out of the room. And I can't get him to talk to me again."

McCoy looked confused. "What the hell were you doing in the room, anyway? I thought he was fucking around with his jailbait roommate."

Jim blinked, thrown from his tirade for the moment. "What, Sulu?"

"Wasn't that who you meant?"

And Jim realized that he hadn't told McCoy anything - absolutely anything - that had been going on. It was his own fault for keeping it to himself during McCoy's divorce proceedings, but it still made a small corner of his heart twinge that his best friend didn't know what he was going through. "No," he said quietly, staring into his orange juice again. "I, uh. I meant my neighbor. Spock."

McCoy's mouth opened and shut noiselessly a few times before he managed to respond. "The Vulcan?" he said incredulously. "The Vulcan with the panic attacks?"

"Yeah, the one that thinks your kid is amazing and got you a Vulcan lawyer in the hopes that she'd help you keep custody of her," Jim retorted, a little defensive. Okay, a lot defensive.

But it apparently had the right effect. "He likes Jo?"

All the fight and tension went out of him then. He folded his arms on the table and let his head rest on top of them, feeling tired and defeated. "Yeah, he likes Jo. And I thought he liked me, too. He'd been doing so well - I even got him to come over to my place for a bit a few weeks ago - but somewhere in the kissing he just... shut down."

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, got him to come over? Why'd you have to talk him into it?"

"He doesn't leave his apartment. Ever."

"You didn't tell me that."

"Yeah, well, you were kind of busy hoping Joss wasn't gonna tear you a new one and take off with Joanna."

McCoy was already on his medical PADD, tapping away and chewing on his bottom lip. "Look, Jim, I'm sorry that I wasn't around for any of this. But I'd like to do some research on your little elven friend. I think it'll help with ... well, whatever made him toss you out on your ass."

"He's not a medical experiment, Bones." But he was too tired for it to sound terribly threatening.

"No, I know," McCoy assured him, sounding anything but convincing. "It's not like I'm gonna head over there and start poking at him with hypos and tricorders. Just doin' some research, Jim, that's all." He got up from his seat, patting Jim on the shoulder. "Cheer up, kid. It'll all work out."

"Whatever," he mumbled.

"And keep the pizza date in mind. Jo would love to see you."

He managed the slightest of smiles. "Yeah, okay. Bye, Bones."

*******

He felt slightly less miserable after his conversation with McCoy, although he couldn't help but feel as if his life were going in cycles, like one relationship of his started circling the drain just as another one perked up.

He trudged up the stairs to his floor of the apartment building, casting a longing gaze at his neighbor's door. He was tempted to stuff another note under the door, just to hammer home how much he missed Spock's company. But he'd done that this morning, and the morning before that, and all four or five days before that, and it was starting to get a little pathetic. He gave a long sigh as he opened his door, aiming for the sofa so he could crash for a little while-

And stepped on something.

He closed the door behind him, checking the floor for the familiar bold handwriting. But there was none. Instead there was a crisp white envelope on the floor, pristine and unmarked aside from the faint shoeprint Jim had left behind.

Curious, he worked it open, expecting to see the familiar bold handwriting inside. But again, there was none. Instead there was a small silicon data chip, the kind used to download books from the library networks or for storing personal information. There was no label on it, no indication of what it could be. But there was also no question as to where it came from; Spock was the only other person he knew who still used pen and paper to communicate. None of his other friends would have ever shoved an envelope under his door.

He grabbed a PADD from his messenger bag, sprawling on the sofa and sliding the chip into the proper slot, waiting for the information to load.

"Stardate 2254.225

We have completed our move one day ahead of schedule. Stonn has left to complete his registration at Starfleet Academy. I anticipate this will be a valuable learning experience for both of us, granting us a better understanding of human culture beyond what we have learned and extrapolated from observing my mother's behavior.

We have elected to live in this building for the time being as the tenants represent the city's diverse collection of both human and alien residents. Had we decided to live on Academy grounds, Stonn believes the staggering human population there could have an averse effect on our controls. Here we are granted greater privacy and less exposure to what we both consider cloying human thought and rampant emotionalism."

It was a vocal recording, and it took several sentences before Jim realized it was Spock dictating the events of the day. His voice sounded entirely different: steady, strong, confident. He'd only ever heard a hint of that when Spock was completely dominating him at chess, and even then he never heard it at quite this level. He certainly never heard it quite so aloof.

The transmission ended after Spock's minor diatribe on 'rampant human emotionalism.' He tapped the screen, curious what would happen next.

"Stardate 2254.236

We were wise to choose this building for our living arrangements. Stonn's hypothesis was correct: being surrounded by humans on the Academy grounds is a taxing experience. Aside from their inability to keep their emotions leashed, they possess a staggering lack of knowledge regarding Vulcan social customs. We have found the only way to prevent the obscene 'handshake' greeting is to keep our hands folded behind our backs at all times. Even this has not prevented the occasional molestation from a well-meaning but misinformed stranger.

Stonn tells me I should not be able to discern that these strangers are well-meaning. Already my controls have begun to falter. In the future I must dedicate myself to more intense meditation before departing for my classes in the morning."

Jim tapped the screen again. The next transmission was from several weeks later.

"Stardate 2254.317

After engaging in sexual congress this eve-"

Jim tapped the screen hastily, eyes gone wide and cheeks stained pink. He hadn't heard that correctly, had he? And if he had, surely Spock hadn't meant for him to hear it. Spock was one of the most intensely private people he'd ever met. It didn't matter that he'd been this close to throwing him on those strange Vulcan mats and getting involved in a little sexual congress of his own; Jim doubted Spock wanted him to know about his previous experiences with Stonn.

But when he looked at the PADD, a message had popped up: 'Transmission paused. Please complete transmission before continuing.'

He took a deep breath, debating for only an instant before making his decision. He was only human, and he did want to know... "If you say so," he muttered at the screen, tapping it again to let the transmission finish.

"Stardate 2254.317

After engaging in sexual congress this evening, Stonn vocalized what I have already anticipated to be true: that I am losing my control over my emotions.

This is not to say one should take no pleasure in one's mate. It is logical to do so, just as it is logical to feel pain when one is injured. What is not logical is to allow one's sense of desire to affect that pleasure. One does not express anguish or rage when one is in pain: one simply experiences pain or attempts to block it from consciousness. I must adapt a similar approach to pleasure.

I find this a much more difficult prospect than it was on Vulcan. I shall discuss this with Stonn to see if we might arrive at a solution to the problem together."

Jim couldn't wrap his mind around that. How could you possibly enjoy having sex with someone while trying to suppress any kind of feeling for them? He suddenly felt incredibly sorry for the Vulcan race as a whole. Even if you weren't head over heels in love with whoever you were fucking, there should have been some element of feeling there, even if it was just ... fondness? Affection? Enjoyment of each other's company? He didn't profess to love every single person he slept with, but he'd at least liked most of them and wanted them to enjoy themselves.

"Stardate 2254.338

Stonn explained his hypothesis today. He believes me to be a proximity telepath.

This is not unheard of in our race. However, it is extremely difficult to discern on Vulcan. Because all Vulcans are trained to leash their emotions and project nothing past a cool serenity of thought, it is rare that proximity telepaths are discovered. Stonn believes it is this, rather than my mixed heritage, that is causing my lack of control.

He has proposed a series of experiments to gauge whether his hypothesis is correct. To ensure the accuracy of these experiments, he has elected not to inform me of when an experiment is taking place.

I trust him."

And even though the words were perfectly even in their cadence, Jim heard the underlying meaning. Spock had been turned into a science project of sorts at the hands of his bondmate and it had made him uncomfortable. Jim understood that it was meant to help Spock in the longrun, but he couldn't help bristling at the implications. Maybe that was just how Vulcans operated, but he couldn't imagine treating someone he loved like that.

"Stardate 2254.349

The first experiment began yesterday without my knowledge. Stonn insisted we spend the night in intense sexual and telepathic intimacy. It is rare that we use the meld during intercourse, but it is enjoyable all the-

No. This is what Stonn means when he references my lack of control. The meld offers us a degree of understanding unavailable to psi-null races. It allows us to ensure our continued compatibility with one another. It is not meant to be an enjoyable experience, but an illuminating one.

I awoke this morning with a sense of rejuvenation resulting from the activities of the previous night. I was given several hours in one of the research laboratories at the Academy, so I left early to make full use of my allotted time. I had been assured private use of the laboratory. However, when I arrived there were five Ferengi classmates also making use of the facilities. After the customary greetings, we each sat at our private work stations and completed our tasks in silence.

When I arrived home, Stonn shocked me by asking, 'How do you feel?' I informed him that I felt nothing at present and wished to assemble my paper on subspace anomalies after having collected so much data during my time in the laboratory.

Stonn proceeded to inform me of his experiment: to see whether my positive mood continued to be influenced while I was among a race of beings who are not only unable to receive telepathic communications, but unable to project them as well. The Ferengi are known for being true psi-nulls; though we use the term for humans, we mean only that they are unable to discern our thoughts. Humans project theirs constantly and unknowingly.

Stonn's hypothesis that I am a proximity telepath seems to have been upheld during this experiment. I was neither influenced by the Ferengi, nor were they influenced by me. Fascinating."

And while Jim was still offended on Spock's behalf at turning him into a pet project, Spock seemed to have been nothing but curious about Stonn's experimentation. He tried his best to chalk it up to a human inability to understand Vulcan customs, tapping the screen for the next transmission. Once again, a large chunk of time seemed to have passed between recordings.

"Stardate 2255.023

My parents are visiting Earth for several weeks as part of a diplomatic effort to improve trade negotiations between the Andorians and Tellurites. My father will be kept too busy to attend to personal matters, but my mother feels no such obligations to the embassy. We dined alone yesterday evening due to Stonn's newly scheduled night course. I have missed her-

To miss her would indicate an emotional attachment on my part. I have...

We spoke at length of Stonn's hypothesis. She disagrees with his assumption. She believes what I am experiencing is not so much a lack of control as it is a sudden expression of my human side. She believes this to be a natural part of my genetic makeup and that I should embrace it as much as possible within the confines of Vulcan disciplines. I confess, I do not understand how such a thing may be accomplished. Vulcan discipline dictates that these new emotions and feelings be calmed or suppressed. I do not believe it is possible both to allow them free reign and to keep them under control. In what situation would freeing them be acceptable? In what circumstances must I keep them to myself?

No. It is better to keep them under control at all times."

And Jim began to understand, however distantly, the root of Spock's problems. He was always going to be torn in half between his Vulcan self and his human self. It was evident in how he described his mother, how he expressed that he'd missed her and in the same breath chastised himself for feeling anything for her at all.

"Stardate 2255.048

The fourth experiment regarding my proximity telepathy occurred today."

Jim nodded, his suspicions confirmed. The data chip didn't contain an exhaustive account of Spock's time on Earth. Rather, Spock had combed through his entries and shared only those relevant to his current situation.

"The fourth experiment regarding my proximity telepathy occurred today, though it was not one that Stonn planned. I hesitate to immortalize the events in a recorded transmission. However, Stonn believes that keeping track of the information will be helpful in finding new ways to restore my control."

Here the audio track paused so long that Jim was convinced it was a corrupted file. He was just about to tap the screen to proceed to the next transmission when he heard Spock speaking again, his voice quiet and faltering. He sounded more like the Spock Jim knew. He found he didn't like the change.

"As a student on the science track, I am not required to take any of the simulators necessary for command, tactical, and navigational track students. However, Captain Christopher Pike has displayed a great deal of interest in my talents and has encouraged me to attempt these simulators in order to assess my capability as a potential future captain. Today I was assigned to the Dauntless simulator with a mock crew of six other humans.

While the purpose of the simulator is to test the bridge crew's response to chaotic situations, we were unaware that the computer console had been rewired only hours before. The crossing of two wires under the navigational control panel caused an explosion 2.83 minutes into the simulator. Though the mock crew tried their best to remain calm, I found myself inundated with feelings of panic, helplessness, and fear. I should have been able to control the emotions battering at my sense of control; I was unaware at the time that I was also being inundated with the emotions of the simulator programmers, professors, and other staff overseeing the test.

Shame is an emotion and should not be expressed by anyone professing to be truly Vulcan. However, I am ashamed to admit that I succumbed to their feelings of panic. Despite knowing that medical staff were on hand and that we were not actually trapped on a burning starship bridge, my body sensed that we were in danger - more, that we were all about to die. It was an illogical, irrational thought. Knowing that made me no less certain that my life was in peril.

Stonn arrived at the medical clinic 1.94 hours later to escort me back to our building. He informed me that I had been observed vomiting before losing consciousness entirely. He listed my symptoms in a calm, logical manner, as one might describe mathematical mistakes to a young child. I had no sense of my controls as he spoke to me. Again, I felt ashamed.

Stonn is now convinced that my problems stem from my proximity telepathy, which appears to be so strong that sufficient human emotionalism is able to override many years of Vulcan training. His hypothesis has been proven correct. He does not appear to have uncovered a solution to this problem at present. This will require further research and experimentation to resolve the issue."

So that, Jim realized with a shudder, had been Spock's first panic attack. On Academy grounds, amidst a pile of other humans. With Stonn picking him up after the fact to lead him on his walk of shame back to their home. He couldn't imagine how hard that had hit Spock; for him to admit to feeling anything on these transmissions was significant all on its own, but to admit to feeling such a negative, human emotion as shame? Suddenly Jim couldn't blame him for not wanting to leave the house. Amanda had told him how harshly Vulcans judged any behavior regarded as human in their own people.

He almost didn't want to hear the rest of it. Once again he had the sense of intruding on something immensely private. But Spock had sorted through his logs specifically for the purpose of showing the important ones to Jim. He tapped the PADD, eyebrows shooting to his hairline when an entirely different voice took over the transmission.

"Stardate 2255.075

Spock, I am leaving this recording to explain my actions. As you are well aware, the bond between us has been altered since we came to Earth. It is now tainted and broken beyond all possibility of repair. Your inability to discover a functional solution to suppressing the thoughts and feelings of humans has prevented me from sharing a meld with you for the past 58.25 days - a practice vital to the continued physical and mental health of both individuals connected via a mating bond. Your deteriorating mental state has affected me despite my best efforts to block you from my mind. It is with some regret that I inform you that I must leave and return to Vulcan.

I neither expect nor desire you to follow me. During the course of our experiments on your telepathic abilities, I have observed not only your inability to control the emotions of others affecting you, but also the emotions produced within your own mind. I first came to notice this when your mother visited from 2255.017 to 2255.040. Your illogical attachment to her was apparent through the bond even when we had no physical contact with one another.

Additionally, you are incapable of controlling your baser human feelings when we are sexually intimate. I am uncomfortable sharing myself with a mate who insists upon bringing human feeling into a Vulcan bond. Vulcans enter into mating bonds because it is a mutually beneficial arrangement, providing for the physical, mental, and telepathic stability of both individuals. It is, of course, logical for bondmates to take pleasure in one another's company. It is not logical to twist that pleasure into blatant romanticism, which you have done on at least seven separate occasions.

I apologize most sincerely for what I must do, for I know it will cause pain to both of us. I will be seeing a Vulcan healer upon my arrival back home in order to dissolve the bond. I wish you nothing but the best for your future. Live long and prosper, Spock."

A tiny, minuscule portion of Jim's brain couldn't help but be the slightest bit amused that he'd just heard the Vulcan equivalent of a Dear John letter. And all the rest of him was curled up into a ball on his sofa, staring at his data PADD as if he had been on the receiving end of it rather than Spock.

He could understand in a distant, detached sort of way why Stonn had left. Amanda had explained the general Vulcan opinion of human emotionalism; her husband Sarek seemed to be a rare exception to that rule. For the most part, though, Vulcans valued their logic and their teachings above all else, and Stonn was no different. He could see that Stonn hadn't meant to be cruel; he was simply looking after his own interests after being exhausted by Spock's problems.

That didn't make him any less heartbroken over the situation.

There were so many thoughts buzzing around in his head that it was difficult to settle on one and run with it. Was this why Spock had thrown him out the other night? Because he was generating far too many human emotions in the Vulcan? Was he trying to purge himself of all feeling entirely? Had he had any assistance whatsoever in attempting to overcome his problem since Stonn had left?

Unable to focus on any of those questions, he tapped the PADD again. Spock's quiet, familiar voice greeted him, shakier than ever.

"Jim-" it began, and Jim was shocked that the transmission hadn't begun with the stardate. It must have been recorded earlier that morning or the night before.

"Jim -

I am unable to discuss my relationship with Stonn without... without lapsing into an episode. I apologize for being unable to share this with you in another, less impersonal way. However, it was important that you understand my reasoning for... for reacting the way I did.

It is my hope that we can remain friends. I believe you now understand why I am incapable of being anything more than that, with you or with anyone else.

Know that your friendship has meant more to me than I... Than I...

Thank you."

Spock's voice was nothing but a whisper by the time the transmission cut out. That didn't make it any less of a punch to the gut.

Jim sat there staring at the PADD for many long hours, until the sunlight filtered out of his room and left him in the dark of night. He neglected to eat his dinner. He refrained from leaving the apartment and banging on Spock's door until he was let in again. Finally he forced himself to expend enough energy to make his way back to his bedroom, flopping on top of the covers and pillows still fully dressed in his cadet uniform. He stared at the ceiling for hours, puzzling over how to respond to all the new information he'd been given. It needed a proper response. It needed a thoughtful, well-reasoned response.

He had no idea how to go about it.

Chapter Text

Jim slept fitfully that night and the next two nights following. He spent his entire weekend trying to think of some way to respond to the deluge of information he'd received, but there was just so much. Any time he started on anything, his brain got bogged down in the petty details, in the image of the first panic attack Spock had suffered, in wishing he could have met Stonn if only to punch him in the face (although he was well aware of Vulcan anatomy versus human anatomy and held no delusions about who would be the victor in an altercation - still, it was a pleasant fantasy all the same).

First he tried a letter, because he found something pleasing about responding to Spock in the same medium he'd used to begin their friendship - even though McCoy would probably give him shit about being the most romantic girl on the block if he ever caught wind of it. By Saturday afternoon his apartment was littered with rough drafts, each more banal and excruciating than the last. Just because he loved the written word didn't mean he was any good at creating it himself. He'd leave that to the literary masters, thank you very much.

Then he tried to copy Spock's method, sitting down with his PADD and an audio chip for several hours before that, too, was deemed a rousing failure. He let his mouth run away with him on a regular basis, but suddenly he just couldn't express himself to a black box of circuits. He thrived on attention, on socialization, and he could only talk for so long into the recorder before he grew frustrated or distracted. And Spock deserved better than that, especially when Jim considered how hard it must have been for him to comb through his personal logs and select the ones he wanted Jim to hear. He wondered how many panic attacks he'd brought upon himself during the selection process - but he didn't wonder long, because the idea made his heart twinge painfully.

God, all he wanted to do was just go over there and wrap his arms around the man, hold him so tight that he wouldn't be able to toss Jim out again. He was so much better at expressing himself through his actions. And he was completely out of his league here; he wanted Spock with a kind of terrifying desperation he'd never felt before. And Spock was... well, Spock wasn't himself. He'd gotten a little broken along the way. And Jim didn't have the first clue how to help, didn't know what he could possibly say about it.

By the following Monday, his apartment was a mess of crumpled papers and wiped data chips. Returning to it after classes that day was not the relaxing, decompressing experience it usually was, especially after he managed to trip on one of his recording PADDs when he changed out of his cadet uniform and into his tattered jeans. Halfway through pulling on an equally ratty shirt, there was a knock on his door.

He tripped over himself again in the process of rushing to answer it, heart pounding in his chest. Maybe he wouldn't have to deliberate over his response anymore. Maybe Spock had simply come over to talk - and what a huge step that was, all things considered. Maybe he could drag him in, kiss him stupid again, maybe they wouldn't need words after all-

He couldn't help it when his face fell upon seeing his visitor. "Oh. Hi, Gaila."

"Oh, sweetie, is this that heartwarming feeling you humans are always going on about? Are these the warm fuzzies that have been missing from my life?"

Jim scrubbed a hand over his eyes, trying to act like a decent human being again. He'd gotten his hopes up way too high. "Sorry," he muttered, feeling like a jerk. "I was expecting someone else."

"Obviously," she purred, her gaze darting not at all subtly towards Jim's neighbor. "I just wanted to let you know that Chekov gave me the biggest bottle of vodka produced in all of Russia, and that I picked up a case of cranberry juice on my way home. Wanna come help me polish it all off?"

"Gaila, didn't we explain about manly drinks and girly drinks? If you're trying to get me drunk, you're supposed to pick up a twelve pack. Of beer, not anything pink and fruity."

She rolled her eyes. "Tsk, fine. I'll put less juice in yours and a whole lot more vodka."

Drinking, no matter how girly the drink, seemed like a much better idea than trolling around his disaster of an apartment for the evening. "Deal," he decided, setting the security lock on his door and following her down the hall to her room.

"Funny that you agreed to those conditions, seeing as that'll make your drink even more pastel and pink than mine," Gaila pointed out.

"If there's no other males around as witnesses, I don't think I get any demerits on my Testosterone Club Card," Jim muttered, perching himself on a stool in her kitchen and watching her work. "And holy hell, Gaila, what'd you do to make Chekov give you a bottle that big?"

She shrugged, tipping the ludicrously enormous bottle into a cocktail shaker. "Said he'd only fucked around with a couple of his friends before he got with Sulu and he wanted some tips on how to give better h-"

"Yeah, okay," he waved off the rest of her explanation. It still felt wrong to think of the kid as a sexual creature.

"What, were you a virgin at his age? All chaste and pure?"

"Look, I don't make the rules of hypocrisy. I just adhere to them. Plus I didn't look twelve at his age."

"Trust me, honey, neither does he."

"I'm not going to ask why you know that."

"That's probably in your best interests," she sassed, pouring their drinks into two regular drinking glasses and handing him one. "Seeing as there's no one here to hand out demerits, your drink's gonna be just as pink as mine," she informed him.

"No martini glass? No lime wedge? You're the worst bartender ever."

"No, I'm the best bartender ever," she corrected, perching on the stool next to Jim's. "Your gorgeous doctor friend told me that they double as cheap therapists on this planet. So I'm about to give you all the free sex tips and love advice you could possibly want."

He shook his head, taking a hefty swig of his drink. "Gotta tell you Gaila, I'm here less for the company and more for the free booze."

"Ah, there are those warm fuzzies again," she muttered, punching him in the shoulder. "So it's the Vulcan, huh?"

He managed to swallow his second sip rather than choke on it, debating whether or not he should deny it. And then he realized how tired he was of keeping the matter to himself, staring at his glass and nodding. "Yeah."

"And it's not the gorgeous, well-built Vulcan I made a pass at, right? He's some twiggy thing with glasses and bad hair?"

"It isn't bad hair," Jim defended, his brain drifting to the memory of its silky softness between his fingers. "But, uh, yeah," he continued after pausing too long. "That's the one."

"Pity. What happened to the cute one?"

"You're just a hub of compliments today, aren't you?" he grumbled, offended that she was dismissing Spock so easily. "You probably talked to Stonn. He's the ex-boyfriend. Well, ex-fiance is probably a better way of putting it."

Gaila's eyes went wide. "I propositioned a bonded Vulcan?"

"Looks like."

"Damn. I'm awesome," Gaila decided, finishing off her drink before Jim was even half finished with his. She popped up from the stool to mix up another one. "I thought Vulcans mated for life," she chirped over the sound of the shaker. "What happened?"

Jim attempted to balance an explanation with sufficient protection of Spock's privacy. "Spock's... He's different from other Vulcans and it started to mess with him when they got to Earth. His telepathy got a little out of hand and Stonn couldn't handle it. So he left."

"Must have gotten pretty wildly out of hand if it made a Vulcan bondmate run screaming in the opposite direction," Gaila said, pouring some of her new mix into Jim's glass before dumping the rest in her own. "I'm serious when I say they mate for life. The telepathy thing is a huge part of it - it's physically painful when one is broken."

Jim raised an eyebrow at her. "Since when are you such an expert on Vulcan culture?"

"Since I got rejected by the most gorgeous Vulcan I've ever seen. I do my research, Jimmy, especially when I smell a challenge on the horizon. I kinda tripped over all this stuff when I was looking up Vulcan seduction techniques." She let out a mock sigh. "I guess he'll always be the one who got away."

"That phrase doesn't mean what you think it means," he chuckled.

"No? I made him an offer. He refused. Now he's gone. How exactly have I misinterpreted 'the one who got away?'"

"Humans take it to mean someone they really cared about who they let slip through their fingers. Like a first love you break up with and then they get married to someone else. That's an example of the one who got away. Not so much some guy who didn't want to sleep with you."

"Ah. See? Why'd I bother going to my human anthropology class today? I could've just made you a Cosmo instead. Which is probably the best thing human culture ever invented aside from the vibrators." She took another long gulp of her drink. "Speaking of which, how come you're in here with me drinking pink things and not over there screwing him into the floor?"

"Okay, wow," he gave a breathless laugh. "So one moment you're getting all sympathetic over the painful dissolution of his mating bond, and the next you're asking why I'm not over there fucking him?"

"Fine, fine, maybe he's a little too delicate for fucking just yet. So why are you here chatting with me and not over there chatting with him and getting him all seduced for a future fucking?"

"I, uh..." He stared at his glass again. "I screwed it up a little bit."

Gaila scooted her stool forward until she was pressed up against Jim's side, resting her head on his shoulder and cooing at him. "Oh, sweetie. What'd you do?"

He sighed, leaning his head against hers, grateful for the contact. "I went over there to thank him for something he did for Bones. And I ended up kissing him."

"Explain to me where the screw up happened. Is he a terrible kisser? Does he have bad breath?"

"No and no. It was a great kiss. I just... I freaked him out, to the point where he threw me out of the room. And he sent me a long-winded explanation about why he can't have relationships with people anymore."

"Why not? Is he still bonded to the gorgeous Vulcan?"

"No. Stonn got married awhile back, so he must have broken that bond in order to start a new one, right?"

She snapped her fingers. "Damn it, married already. Oh well, maybe we'll get another gorgeous Vulcan in Starfleet someday."

Jim huffed out a weak laugh. "Remind me why I thought talking to you was a good idea."

"Because I'm cute, I gave you free booze, and I'm about to give you the best advice you've ever heard." Gaila stood up from her perch on the stool, placing her hands on Jim's shoulders and giving him the best serious look she could muster. "He's not bonded. That means he's fair game, no matter what he's actually said. Did he kiss back?" Jim nodded, but before he could speak she plowed on. "He kissed back, which means he's interested - no matter what he's actually said. He gave you a big long explanation about why he can't get involved with people anymore, which means he wants to but he's scared shitless - no matter what he's actually said."

He shook his head. "Maybe it works that way with humans, but he's a Vulcan, Gaila. Maybe he really isn't interested."

"Honey, you haven't heard a word I've said. You kissed a Vulcan. And he kissed back. That's pretty damn close to a miracle, as far as I understand it." That seemed to remind her of something because her gaze sharpened. "Speaking of which, he ever touch your hands?"

He shrugged. "He doesn't seem to mind when I grab his. Why?"

Her grin turned positively evil. "Oh, Jimmy. Just trust me on this: if he's letting you mess around with his hands, he's definitely interested. You've been making out with him for ages without even knowing it."

Jim looked at her dumbly. "I'm pretty sure it was just the one time."

"Vulcans kiss with their hands, Jimmy. They put up two fingers like this," and she held them up to demonstrate, waiting for Jim to mimic the gesture before she continued, "and they rub them together, like so. That's a Vulcan kiss. Anything more involved than that - holding his hand, giving him a hand massage, anything like that - is basically Vulcan foreplay." Her grin deepened when Jim blushed. "Yeah, you've been making out with him, all right. Look at you."

He took another swig of his drink, trying to collect himself. "So what do you suggest I do? Just go over there and throw myself at him? He deserves a response to everything he told me, Gaila. I don't want him to think I'm ignoring it in favor of jumping him."

"So talk to him. You've got the biggest motormouth I've ever seen on a human when you put your mind to it. Go talk at him and don't stop talking until he gives in."

"And what do I say?"

She shrugged. "Whatever comes to mind. It seems to have worked out well enough on him, otherwise he wouldn't be friends with you in the first place. Hopefully that big sexy brain of yours will come up with something charming enough that he'll swoon all over you. Then you can pull out the Vulcan kissing techniques to seal the deal." She put her hands up in the air as if she'd just performed a touchdown. "See? Aren't I awesome?"

He stood up from his stool and finished the rest of his drink in one gulp, grimacing at the sweetness of it. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her in for a hug. "Yeah, you're awesome," he told her. "Thanks."

"No problem. Now get out of here before I get my pheromones all over you or else your Vulcan will think we've been fucking. Doesn't matter how many suppressants I'm on - a Vulcan could still smell them."

"Good plan," Jim agreed, kissing her on the cheek and showing himself out.

"And if this works out, I could use another bottle of Jack," she shouted at him from her kitchen.

"Yes ma'am."

*******

He'd gone to his room for a sonic shower and a change of clothes after Gaila's pheromone comment. He'd thought about a real water shower, about giving the letter writing one last chance, even about running away back to Iowa, but ultimately he'd forced himself out of his apartment and stationed himself outside Spock's. Wishing that he'd had the foresight to make himself one more drink just for another dose of liquid courage, he knocked on the door.

He heard the footsteps on the other side, but there was a long pause before he heard the door crack open. He wondered if maybe Spock could use the liquid courage more than he could. "Jim."

"Hey. Can I... Can I come in? I'd like to talk to you." Spock remained motionless behind the door, his eyes shaky and uncertain behind his glasses. "Please."

For a heartbeat in time, Jim was convinced Spock would shake his head and close the door in his face. But after a small eternity he finally relented, stepping back and opening the door to allow Jim inside. Before Spock could say anything, Jim dug the crumpled white envelope out of his back pocket and handed it to him. "I thought you might want this back," he explained. "I didn't make any copies of it - you can check the history on it to make sure. And no one heard it but me."

Spock took the envelope from him, smoothing out the curled corners and setting it on his desk. "I trust you," he said quietly.

Those three simple words had Jim's stomach fluttering. This was the part where he was supposed to just open his mouth and let something brilliant spill forth. But his mouth was dry, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. "Can we, uh, sit down?" he stuttered.

Again, Spock looked like he wanted to refuse. But he made his way over to his collection of mats, sitting cross-legged on one of them and motioning for Jim to join him. He couldn't quite get comfortable for some reason even though he'd managed it before. He was strung too tight, too involved in what he wanted to say and how it refused to leave his mouth. Spock seemed strung just as tightly, his shoulders set and his back perfectly straight.

"I'm sorry about Stonn," Jim finally spat out, then cringed. He hadn't wanted to start the conversation by talking about what equated to the dissolution of Spock's marriage. Or not-quite-marriage. He still wasn't too clear on the specifics.

Spock tilted his head almost imperceptibly towards Jim. "It is in the past," he acknowledged.

"No, I don't think it is." And apparently Jim's brain was up and running now, spitting out whatever it pleased without bothering with any kind of filter. "You loved him. And maybe you don't anymore now that he was a complete ass about your problem and took off on you, but there's still an awful lot of his influence left over. It's not... Spock, it's not a crime to love someone. I mean, maybe it is to some Vulcans, but I don't think it is to all of them. And it shouldn't be to you. You're half human."

"And half Vulcan," Spock cut in, and the words sounded rehearsed, as if he'd already had this discussion with someone. Or maybe just with himself. "I entered into a Vulcan mating bond and then failed to live up to my culture's expectations."

"Your telepathy went all out of whack and it wasn't your fault," Jim pointed out. "You shouldn't feel like you have to punish yourself for it. You shouldn't feel like you aren't allowed to have feelings just because they scared off Stonn. It's not like Vulcans don't have them, right? You just suppress them a lot. You should be able to express them in some situations, and if you can't do it with someone you've bonded with, then who the hell can you express them with?"

Spock stared at him for several minutes, looking as if he had a dozen different responses to that and couldn't decide on which one to start with. "Vulcans do not approach emotion the same way that humans do."

"Still doesn't mean you don't have them."

One eyebrow raised over the frames of his glasses. "I am curious what leads you to be so certain of your position."

"Your mother told me."

Spock's eyes went wide. "You contacted my mother?"

"What? Oh, no. No, that's not what I meant at all." Jim scrubbed his hands over his face, conscious that he was starting to tread on thin ice. "When she came to see you awhile back, I found her down in the lobby. She needed a place to wash her face and make herself presentable again, so I invited her to come use mine. She stayed for awhile after and we talked."

"And she told you of Vulcan emotional control?"

"Among other things, yeah. She's a wonderful woman, your mother. It's easy to see how much she loves you, how... I dunno, how human she is about her own emotions. I can't imagine her ever marrying someone who didn't feel as deeply about her as she did about them. So your dad had to have fallen in love with her, even if he doesn't show it when he's around other Vulcans. So it's not out of the question for Vulcans to feel that way, if your dad's a big important ambassador and it's considered acceptable that he does."

Spock stared at him again, unable to come up with a response.

"So the way I see it," Jim plowed on, hoping this was the part of the conversation where his brain ran away with him and came up with something brilliant that would convince Spock. Otherwise he had some choice words for Gaila and her supposedly fantastic advice, "it's okay to feel for someone, even if you're Vulcan. It's okay to want to be with someone. The only thing that seems to be wrong with you is that the emotions took over your controls and broke them. You need some help rebuilding them. Maybe you need some help figuring out how to work your telepathy so you're not so influenced by everyone around you. But at the heart of things, it's not wrong to want someone."

More staring, and Jim's courage left him in a rush. "Unless I'm... Shit, Spock, I'm making a whole lot of assumptions here, aren't I? I mean, you kissed me back so I thought that meant you were interested, but maybe not. Vulcans don't even kiss like that, do they? Gaila showed me the finger thing and it's not like you offered to kiss me the fingering way and, um, shit. I can go now if you want. I didn't mean to come over and just throw myself at you or argue my case that we should jump in the sack or anything. I just, I think you're brilliant, like the smartest person I've ever met and my best friend is a doctor, for crying out loud, and I think you've got so much depth to you that you're terrified of showing to other people because it's not the Vulcan thing to do or whatever, but I want to see it. I come over here all the time because I keep getting glimpses of it and I'm a greedy bastard who just wants more. I'm kind of hopelessly in love with you and I have been for months but that doesn't mean I get to swagger in here and expect you to-"

"Jim." There were fingers pressed over his lips in a gentle admonition to stop speaking. So he did, staring up at Spock with questions in his eyes. "You talk a great deal, even for a human."

"Yeah," he whispered against Spock's fingers.

Spock shivered and retracted them. "You spoke with my mother," he said quietly. "And she spoke of her relationship with my father."

Jim mentally backtracked through all the word vomit he'd produced that evening, trying to remember the point Spock had fixated on. "Uh, yeah."

He was silent for a long time again, but Jim let him be silent rather than jumping into another long-winded diatribe. Spock's expression was softer than he usually saw it, his mouth relaxed as if he wanted to smile. "You are in love with me," he repeated, and yeah, there was definitely a hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth.

"You have no idea," Jim muttered.

"I believe I do," Spock returned, his voice even quieter now. His gaze was glued to Jim's face, his eyes darting to his lips and then to his eyes as if debating something.

Jim didn't let him debate any further. He curled a hand around Spock's neck and tugged him forward gently, pressing a short, sweet kiss to his lips. He pulled back just enough to look at his face again. "Yeah?"

Spock's eyes fluttered open and for a moment his head leaned forward as if seeking another kiss. He stopped himself, shaking his head and staring at his lap. "I am not myself," he said, apparently as some sort of mantra because Jim had heard it before. "I do not know if I am capable of..." he trailed off helplessly.

"Well, if you're not yourself then maybe you can start getting back on track. I'm already a hopeless case, Spock. And if someday you turn into that confident, capable Vulcan from your first couple of recordings? I'll be even more hopeless than I am now. I heard bits and pieces of who you used to be. I'd love to see that again, if you can manage it. If not," he shrugged. "Like I said, I'm already hopeless where you're concerned."

Spock's hand made a fist in one of the cushions, his arm shaking with unbridled tension. But he leaned forward again, pressing his forehead to Jim's. "As am I," he whispered.

"Then maybe we can try being hopeless together," Jim murmured, hope rising fast and fierce in his chest. He cradled Spock's face in his hands, pressing against the heat rising from him, smoothing over his jaw.

"I can think of several logical reasons why we should not. But I do not wish to voice them."

"Good." He leaned forward for another kiss, hoping he'd learned enough Spockese to have translated the conversation properly. "Then we're okay?"

Spock responded to the kiss, but the trembling was spreading through his whole body and he broke from it with another shiver. "I..." He swallowed, tried again. "It is happening again."

Jim nodded. "Can I stay?" God, he wanted to.

Spock shuddered at the question, squeezing his eyes shut and pressing his forehead to Jim's again. "If you wish."

It was yet another door that Spock was leaving open just for him. He smiled, reveled in the kind of trust Spock was showing him, then stood up from their nest of mats, offering him a hand. "Come on, then. Let me help."

He'd never been so elated to feel another's hand in his.

Chapter Text

Jim was an honest man, if nothing else. Sometimes painfully so. So he had to admit that somewhere in the dark, unenlightened recesses of his brain, part of him thought this would be easier once he got his confession off his chest. There was a tiny part of him that apparently still subsisted on fairy tales and true love and all that little-girl rot, and he wasn't quite sure where that came from seeing as his mother was the only woman in the house growing up and she was decidedly not the fairy tale type. Still, he found himself flashing back to stories of the Frog Prince, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty - to miraculous transformations of self just because true love walked through the door and made it all better.

That small, fairy-tale obsessed portion of his brain was shocked to discover that real life did not work that way. At all.

He was seated on the floor of Spock's bathroom, back against the shower stall, arms and legs curled around the shivering mess of a Vulcan as he worked his way through his panic attack. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that first thing he'd be doing after his confession would be rubbing Spock's back as he emptied the meager contents of his stomach into the toilet. He'd been so caught up in the fantasy of it that the reality of it was a shock.

Spock's hands clutched to the rough denim edge of Jim's jeans, his eyes squeezed shut, mouth open and breathing heavily. But at the same time, he had molded his back against Jim's front seamlessly, pressing back against him in a silent plea for contact and comfort. Jim was more than willing to give it, kissing the back of his head and curling around him as much as possible, smoothing his hands over Spock's arms in an effort to ease the shivering.

It was ten or fifteen minutes before Jim noticed any improvement, the constant trembling having died down to a sudden shiver every few minutes. The nervous tension drained out of him slowly, leaving Spock in an exhausted heap in his arms, eyes still squeezed shut. Jim kept his voice low and soothing when he guessed it was safe to speak. "What triggered that one? Was it the talk, or...?"

"Partially," Spock wheezed.

"I'm not that scary, am I?" Jim murmured, trying for a dose of humor.

"The idea of attempting to..." Spock trailed off for a moment as if getting another bout of panic under control. "Of attempting to enter into a relationship..."

"Ah." It made sense. Stonn had left in large part due to Spock's episodes and how they forced him to unleash his emotions. "Maybe it'll be easier for you this time around. It's not like I'm going into it unaware of... of this. I already know."

"Yes." It had nowhere near the confidence of their conversation only twenty, thirty minutes ago.

Jim kissed the top of his head again, one hand sifting through his hair. "What's it like?" He thought back to the audio transmissions Spock had picked out for him. "Do you still feel like you're about to die?"

"Sometimes, if the tension I have accumulated is severe enough."

"Did you feel like that just now?"

There was a pause before he answered, and Spock relaxed against him just a little bit more when he spoke. "No. I was... anxious, certainly. But I did not experience the terror I have felt during the worst of these episodes."

"Good."

More silence blanketed them. Jim wondered if Spock had actually fallen asleep after awhile, between the quiet stillness of the room and the way Jim was rhythmically combing through his wild hair. He gave a twitch of surprise when Spock spoke again. "It is as if reality itself is no longer real. It is... difficult to explain in logical terms. Sometimes I feel as if this room does not truly exist, as if I do not truly exist." Another pause, and then, "As if you do not truly exist."

Small wonder that Spock hadn't wanted him around when Jim had first seen him go into an attack. They were bad enough without having to wonder whether the person on the other side of the bathroom door was really there or not. "It goes away after awhile though, right?"

"I... I am not entirely convinced that you are still present," Spock admitted. "Though I am more willing to accept my surroundings as real than I was several minutes ago."

He was still a bit woozy if he was using general terms like 'several' rather than precise ones. "I'm here," Jim assured him, unsure of what else he could say.

"Yes." Spock's grip on his jeans loosened as he relaxed until he was just resting a hand over Jim's knee, the contact warming through the fabric.

Jim thought back to all the fantasies he'd had of this moment, of warm beds or slick shower tiles or hell, of rugburn on his hands and knees. He imagined Spock's face open and flushed in pleasure, lax in the aftermath, intense and passionate.

Then he took in the reality: Spock's eyes still closed as he gathered his composure, body curled in against itself, tension still coloring his features. He sighed, pressed a kiss against his temple. "What can I do?"

"Stay," Spock whispered.

He had to smile at that. Despite scaring the hell out of him, despite pushing at his comfort zone to the point where he had another panic attack, Spock was still leaving doors open for him. More, he was asking Jim to come through them, to join him. It was such a far cry from their first faltering attempts at friendship.

"Yeah," he whispered back, tightening his hold on him. "I can do that."

*******

"Jojo, how many scoops did I say you could have?"

Trying her best to look innocent (and failing miserably), Joanna held up one finger.

"And how many did you sucker Uncle Jim into giving you?"

"We're sharing, Bones," Jim insisted, setting down the sundae he'd made and watching Joanna dig into it. "Besides, she couldn't decide between chocolate and strawberry."

"If she throws up on my carpet later tonight, I'm calling you to come clean it," McCoy grumped.

"Fair enough. Got plenty of practice after the donut incident."

"Hmph," was McCoy's only response to that.

Jim had spent his week alternating between throwing himself into classwork, tearing back to his apartment, and throwing himself at the Vulcan next door. Well, not so much throwing himself. Mostly either stealing kisses in between chess moves or coercing him to come back to Jim's room for a meal in front of Jim's beach view window. He had realized after two days that anything more intense than kissing - anything that even suggested activities more intense than kissing - sparked an immediate panic attack. Which... yeah, he hadn't been expecting that.

As much as he hated to admit it to himself, it had been a relief when McCoy had reminded him about the pizza and ice cream social with his daughter. He'd worked off a load of pent-up energy lugging boxes of toys and clothes up to McCoy's new family dorm, and sharing a meal with people who didn't seize up at the lightest brush of contact was refreshing.

Jim hated himself a little bit for thinking so. He loved Spock. Knew he loved Spock. And also knew that it wasn't working out at all the way he had hoped.

"How's your little elven friend doing?" McCoy asked, surprising Jim out of his brooding.

"Okay, I guess." He leaned against the sofa, head tilting back and resting against the cushions. "He, um..." He was hesitant to discuss it with Joanna in the room.

McCoy took the hint. "Jojo? Why don't you take your ice cream back to your room for a bit? We'll clean up out here."

"Okay!" she chirped, gathering her bowl and her stuffed bunny and taking off.

"You better bring that bowl back with Uncle Jim's half!" McCoy shouted at her, but she was down the hall for most of the lecture and her door had shut by the end of it. "Seriously, Jim, if she throws up..."

"I know, Bones."

McCoy scruffed at his hair affectionately, heading to the kitchen and returning with a pair of beer bottles. "So, your elven friend?"

"Spock," Jim supplied, twisting the cap off his drink and taking a long sip. "Apparently the ex-boyfriend - or ex-fiance or however it works with Vulcans - took off because Spock couldn't control his emotions anymore. He had this theory about proximity telepathy and how being around humans messed with it to a point where Spock couldn't keep himself together anymore. So he started having panic attacks and feeling things when he shouldn't have - according to Vulcans, anyway - so he got dumped. Which makes him completely terrified of any kind of relationship beyond kissing and playing chess."

McCoy looked surprised. "He told you all that?"

"The stuff about Stonn, yeah, he told me. The rest I figured out through trial and error." He snorted humorlessly. "There's something really ego-boosting about kissing a guy's neck and watching him tear for the bathroom to dry heave for a little while." A nagging part of Jim felt guilty for bitching about it; he'd known going into it that Spock was skittish and it certainly wasn't his fault that intimate contact drove him into a panic. But he'd never expected it to be quite this severe.

McCoy got up again, rummaging through his medical bag until he came up with a data PADD, tapping on it a few times before handing it to Jim. "Read that before you start crying into your beer."

"Shut up," was the best retort Jim could come up with. He glanced at the PADD.

'Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder categorized by intense fear of any location outside the patient's "safety zone," fear of novel situations, and/or fear of social situations.'

Jim looked up at McCoy. "Hang on. You and I discussed this ages ago. I thought he just had a bad case of panic attacks."

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "He ever leave his room?"

"He'll walk into mine sometimes. On good days."

"All right, he ever leave the building? Make new friends? Change his routine when he's bored?"

Jim had no defense for that. He shook his head.

McCoy reached over and tapped the PADD again, leaning over him to read it with him. "Go over that list and tell me which ones apply to Spock."

The new screen was titled, 'Symptoms of Agoraphobia.' Jim scrolled through it and announced the ones that sounded familiar. "Social avoidance. Requires assistance to leave 'safety zone.'" The rest of the symptoms dealt exclusively with panic attacks. "Dizziness. Trembling. What the hell is dyspnea? Sounds like an STD."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "STDs aren't a symptom of agoraphobia, you idiot. Means it's hard for him to breathe."

"Huh. Okay, that one too. Uh... nausea. What's derealization?"

"Just what it sounds like: patient thinks the world isn't real."

Jim considered that. "Kind of. He told me the other day that it seems like it might not be real. He knows it is, but it doesn't feel like it. Or something. It's hard to explain. And I don't know about any of the rest of these. He's the one with the panic attacks and he doesn't like talking about it when he's not actually having one."

McCoy nodded. "Fair enough. In humans, patients get diagnosed with agoraphobia if they have anxiety related to leaving their home - or their room, or their block, whatever they designate as their safety zone. If Spock were human, I'd have my diagnosis already."

Jim furrowed his eyebrows, handing him the PADD. "But a ton of this applies to him - I'd say at least half those symptoms, and those are just the ones I'm aware of. I have no way of knowing about some of these because, like I said, he won't discuss it unless he's in the middle of an episode. He won't leave the building. He freaks out if I mention medics or neighbors or anyone he's not familiar with. How come you can't diagnose him? Seems pretty damn clear to me."

"Well thank God I've got you here to tell me, Jim. Just think of all those years I wasted in medical school when I could've just handed you a PADD and let you run your mouth instead."

Jim scowled at him. "Fine. What seems to be your prognosis then, Doctor McCoy?"

"My prognosis is: he's a goddamn Vulcan. A Vulcan with any kind of phobia is unheard of. There's literally no medical precedent. And any kind of emotional imbalance in a Vulcan gets further complicated by their telepathy. You said this guy's a proximity telepath?"

"Dunno. His ex-whatever seemed to think so."

"Why'd he think so?"

Jim shifted uncomfortably. "Bones, he's really ridiculously private about these things. I dunno if he'd want me repeating his life's story to a guy he's never even met."

McCoy rolled his eyes again. "I'm a doctor, Jim. I've signed more confidentiality agreements over the course of my life than I have credit exchanges for groceries. He may not technically be my patient, but you bet your ass I'm gonna treat him like one regardless. That includes respecting his privacy and only sharing it in a medical setting."

That surprised Jim out of his squirming for a moment. "How come you're so interested in him, huh? It's not like you can drag him into the Academy clinic to add him to your medical profile. You can't barge into his apartment and start poking at him like a clinical trial. What are you getting out of this?"

McCoy stared at him with that non-verbalized 'you idiot' look. "Jim, he didn't even know who I was and he managed to snag me a lawyer who made sure my life didn't go to shit after the divorce. You know as well as I do that if I'd kept the Starfleet lawyer, I wouldn't have anywhere near this kind of access to Jo and I'd still be stuck in a contract that threw me out to the God-knows-where reaches of space. Instead I've got her part time and the promise of a teaching and practicing career right on Academy grounds. The least I can do is try to make his life a little less miserable, even if I can only do it from a distance."

Jim had no response to that. All he could do was scoot over on the sofa until he was closer to McCoy and hug all the air out of him. "Thank you."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm not doing it for you, y'know," he drawled, but hugged him back all the same. "'Sides, I started working with this other doctor, M'Benga I think his name is. He spent a year on Vulcan learning about their physiology and how that telepathy stuff affects their brains. Maybe the two of us can put our heads together and fix your little elven friend."

Hope that Jim had been firmly pushing aside suddenly welled up again. "It can be fixed?"

McCoy shrugged. "Sometimes. There are lots of coping techniques for humans that can get them out of their rut and back into the real world. Lots of agoraphobics recover, even though it's difficult and even if it's not a complete recovery. But if it's possible in humans, I dunno why it wouldn't be in a Vulcan."

"Half Vulcan," Jim felt compelled to add. "His mother's human."

Another eye roll. "Fantastic. So we'll have to dick around with his genetic makeup, too."

"Aw, c'mon. You haven't had a decent challenge in that clinic since you've been there. It's all broken bones and third degree wiring burns. Being bored never bodes well for your bedside manner."

"Blow me."

"Well if you're that hard up..."

That got an honest-to-God laugh out of McCoy, shoving Jim aside. "I dunno why I like you, kid. Now tell me more about this proximity telepathy thing. And do it fast so we can go steal the ice cream back out of Joanna's room."

Jim felt the tension draining out of him as he described Spock's background, McCoy jotting down notes in his PADD the whole time. He knew better than to hope for an overnight cure. He knew there might not be any cure at all, given how unique Spock's condition and genetic makeup were. But he found himself eager to latch on to anything - anything - that might get the Vulcan a piece of himself back.

Chapter Text

Rather than rushing home after class that evening, Jim elected to stay behind and hole himself up in one of the Academy's research libraries. It had been two, fast closing in on three weeks since he and Spock had gotten their feelings out in the open. And in those two or three weeks, the most Jim had been able to get away with was kissing, hair petting, and the opportunity to stick around and act as moral support whenever Spock had one of his episodes. He'd spent more time in Spock's bathroom than he ever could have imagined, either kneeling next to him by the toilet and rubbing his back or seated on the floor with Spock curled up against him. And it wasn't that he minded any of that; from what little McCoy had told him about Vulcan emotional control and privacy, he knew exactly what it meant that Spock let him see those bursts of emotional instability. He understood the gravity of the situation. He did.

He had also never indulged in so much self-loving since he was thirteen years old and first discovering the sport.

His fantasies were a little more grounded in reality now, which Jim took as some kind of warped step forward. He no longer imagined the seductive, passionate Vulcan, naked and beckoning. Well, not often, anyway. Mostly he just imagined getting him under the cover of bedsheets where possibly he'd be more comfortable getting intimate, and God, wasn't he turning into a sad sack of crap with his pathetic domestic fantasies? But he couldn't help himself. He wanted Spock, wanted him to experience some small taste of happiness and comfort, wanted to lose himself in pale skin and long limbs, but he couldn't get close enough to attempt it.

So there he was, sequestered in the Academy research library trying to pull every article, essay, book, and news feed on Vulcan culture that he possibly could, hoping that somewhere he'd find some magical clue to getting into Spock's pants.

Or at least his shirt.

Hell, he'd take a single undone button at this point.

(Yep, he was a sad sack of crap, all right.)

He'd ignored the comings and goings of other cadets around him, so wrapped up in trying to find something useful that he couldn't spare any energy for people-watching. But he gradually became aware of an imposing presence standing next to his table. He finished the paragraph he was on before looking up.

He couldn't help the utterly wicked grin that threatened to take over his face for a half second before he tamed it into something friendlier. Don't think of her having sex with Gaila. Don't think of her having sex with Gaila. Don't think of her- oh fuck it, too late. "Hey Uhura."

She glared at him as if she could read his mind. "Kirk," she muttered. "What are you doing here?"

"Reading. I do that from time to time, contrary to popular opinion. What are you doing here?"

"I was hunting for my research materials. Turns out half of them were being monopolized by a Kirk, James T. according to the library checkout system." She raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't have pegged you for a Vulcan enthusiast."

"It's a recent interest," he lied smoothly. It was less a recent interest and more of an all-consuming obsession at this point. But there was no need to advertise his sad sack of crap status to anyone other than himself. And McCoy, who had taken to calling him Princess Jamie and asking him if he'd gotten past first base yet. Sometimes he really hated Bones. "I wouldn't have pegged you as having any interest past the language."

She shrugged, sliding into the seat across from him. "It's for my xenoanthropology course. Vulcans and Romulans share a common ancestor. I'm trying to trace the roots of their language and oral traditions to common themes."

That sparked his curiosity. There wasn't much information available on Romulans - only slightly less than on Vulcans - but he knew them to be a much more violent race than Vulcans. "Find anything interesting?"

She gave him a suspicious look. "Such as?"

He shrugged, trying for nonchalance. "Vulcan courtship rituals? They anything like the Romulan ones?"

Her suspicious look grew even sharper and Jim resisted the urge to squirm. He wondered if she'd ever killed a man just by looking at him. "Are you trying to seduce some Vulcan woman you've tripped over somewhere?"

"No!" Jim defended, feeling vindicated that he hadn't lied. Technically.

Uhura didn't look convinced, but she grabbed one of the data PADDs strewn over the table and started pulling up articles. "We don't know much about the Romulans and we've got limited access to Vulcan culture. Unfortunately there's not much available on courtship and bonding rituals. You'll find plenty about child rearing or philosophies of logic-"

"Seriously, if I read one more article about why Surak is the bestest best Vulcan ever..." Jim grumbled.

"-but not much on reproduction, bonding, or anything related," she finished, ignoring him. "But I did find some interesting parallels when I was looking up family units. Here," she shoved it at him.

It was in Romulan, though, which Jim had never heard spoken out loud except by humans with lousy accents and had certainly never seen written in the native characters. "Um," he responded.

"Oh, right," she pulled it back, and Jim had the impression that it wasn't so much that she wanted to help him out so much as it was that she finally had someone interested enough to listen to her. "This word here, deyhhan - that's husband. Ailhun - that's wife. And when you find it in Romulan text they're always connected by the phrase anna - bonding or joining. That's a Vulcan phrase, too: bonding. They call it tel-tor."

Jim's eyes were starting to glaze over. "Uh huh," he murmured, trying to sound interested.

Apparently it didn't matter: she was just happy to have someone to lecture at. "But here's the interesting bit: both cultures reference another kind of bond separate from marriage. The Romulans call it rhadheis-gekha or dypshj-gekha; I think the former is feminine and the latter is masculine, but I'm not sure yet. They're connected in literature through the phrase sa'khaloaii, which means unity, brotherhood, or sisterhood. And the Vulcans have that, too." She stopped speaking for a moment to grab one of the books from Jim's pile, leafing through it until she found what appeared to be a stylized cave drawing of Vulcans in same-sex pairs: two females with elaborate hairstyles and two males with bladed weapons. "They're referenced vaguely in the translated epics that the Vulcans have allowed humans to see, but we still don't know the proper terms for them."

Jim pointed to the jagged Vulcan script underneath the paired women and another phrase under the paired men. "It's written right here."

"That's High Vulcan. Humans aren't permitted to learn that language. But just think: hundreds of years ago when humans were still all up in arms over same-sex relations, both Romulans and Vulcans - two races that have been extremely volatile either in the past or the present - accepted these pairings as a normal function of society. You will never find any literature from either culture decrying those pairings as abnormal." She let out a breathy sigh, the xenolinguistic professor in her giving way to the passionate linguaphile. "It's beautiful."

Jim was distracted from her cooing by another photo in the book. It was series of two stylized hands, each of the four fingers split by a wide V between the middle and ring fingers. In one drawing the hands touched only at the fingertips. In another, the fingers of one were caressing the palms of the other. In another, the positions of the hands were reversed. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to the series.

"The ozh'esta," she murmured, reverence in her voice. "Vulcan hand gestures shared only between mates."

"Oh, that's the thing Gaila was talking about," Jim said without thinking.

Suddenly Uhura was stabbing him with her eyes again. "Gaila knows about the ozh'esta?" And yes, that was a blush traveling up those sharp cheekbones.

He shrugged to cover the squirm. "She told me it was like Vulcan foreplay."

Uhura rolled her eyes. "Gaila would think that."

"What, is she wrong?"

She debated before answering, which meant that Gaila had at least been on the right track. "Yes and no. Like I said, we don't know a whole lot about Vulcan courtship and bonding. With this kind of intensity of touch, it very well could be part of a mating ritual; I've certainly never seen Vulcans touch like this in public. But if they only touch with the first two fingers-" and here she pointed to another drawing in the series depicting just that, "-that's considered an acceptable way for two Vulcans to show affection in public."

Jim thought back to the audio transmissions Spock had shared, his eyebrows knitting in confusion. "Hang on, I thought the big Vulcan thing was that they didn't share emotions like that."

She debated again. "Maybe affection was the wrong term to use. A way to show others that a pair is bonded, maybe. A method of sharing a light mental touch in public without engaging in a full mind meld, which is a lot more taxing and requires more privacy."

"Vulcans can sense each other's mental thoughts just through their fingers?"

"They're touch-telepaths," Uhura informed him as if he were a particularly stupid kind of child. "Any kind of skin-to-skin contact gives them access to each other's thoughts."

Epiphanies, Jim fast discovered, were similar to concussions. His brain went into overdrive so quickly that he was grateful he'd been sitting down, or else the sudden dizziness probably would have sent him tripping all over the place. "Uhura, you're a genius." And he leaned forward to steal a friendly kiss from her before grabbing his bag and taking off. "Enjoy your research!" he called over his shoulder, earning him dirty looks from other cadets attempting to study and an utterly dumbfounded look from Uhura.

*******

During the entire walk back to his apartment, Jim's brain buzzed with a sudden deluge of understanding. He could kiss Spock without incident. He could put an arm around him or comb through his hair without incident. All of that was innocent by just about anyone's standards. But if he tried anything more serious than that, Spock seized up on him and more often than not went into a panic attack. And he got it, or at least had a fair guess as to why that kept happening.

Spock could sense everything Jim was feeling whenever they touched skin-to-skin. Jim knew what kind of contact was safe and took simple enjoyment from indulging in that kind of contact. But he also knew exactly what road his brain was going down if he tried anything else. Between Spock's self-consciousness and Jim's libido going into overdrive for the past several weeks, it was no wonder he'd been breaking down right and left. He was getting inundated with Jim's desires, Jim's anticipation, and Spock had no way of internalizing it or attempting to control it when paired with his own anxieties.

Jim felt like a complete idiot. He'd seen Spock with Joanna, watched as he sensed the guilt and unhappiness from her when her parents were in the midst of their divorce proceedings. And somehow he'd simply erased that memory from his mind, or at least erased the implications of it.

He tore up to his apartment two stairs at a time, tossing his uniform at his bed and hopping into a real water shower, standing under the scalding water and letting the steam relax him, rejuvenate him. He began to put together a different plan of action, some way of getting through to Spock and enjoying his company without putting so much pressure on him.

And if he had himself a good, shuddery orgasm at the possible advantages of touch-telepathy during sex... well, best to get that out of his system now rather than dwelling on it at an inopportune moment.

He dressed himself in cool, loose-fitting clothing, padding barefoot over to Spock's apartment and knocking quietly. Spock must have had some kind of sixth sense developing over the past few weeks, because he opened the door completely rather than peering out through a crack as he had done before. "Jim," he greeted, and it warmed him to see how pleased Spock was to see him.

Rather than entering, Jim stood in the doorway. "Have you eaten?"

If he was surprised by the question, he didn't show it. "I have. I was boiling water for tea before I retired for the evening." He hesitated, still a little unsure of himself even now. "If you would care to join me...?"

Jim shook his head. "No no, you go ahead and finish up. When your tea's done, come on over, yeah? I want to show you something."

Sometimes it still took a bit of coercion to get Spock to come to Jim's apartment. Jim usually used food as bribery, but on occasion Spock would come over of his own free will. It must have been a good day, because rather than look panicked Spock just nodded and headed back towards his kitchen.

Jim refrained from doing a victory dance in the hallway where anyone could see him, loping back to his apartment and leaving the door open in invitation, camping out in front of his beach view window. Ever since he'd figured out just how enamored Spock was with the view, he'd rearranged it to be more comfortable for the two of them. He had a soft, plush rug on the floor there, and he ran to his bedroom for a few pillows to keep them comfortable. He'd sprawled there with his back supported against a bookshelf, taking deep breaths to calm himself before Spock arrived. This was going to fail spectacularly if he didn't keep his own emotions in check, and especially if he let them run wild before Spock had even arrived.

Some minutes later Spock came through his door, shutting it behind him and taking in Jim's position. "I have already seen the beach at night," he murmured, one eyebrow arching up over his glasses.

"Yeah, I know. But the view changes every night, so you might see something new. Besides, that isn't what I wanted to show you." He spread his legs, patting a spot on the rug in front of him. "Come sit."

Spock looked hesitant again, glancing over his shoulder at the door as if contemplating escape. But he apparently talked himself out of it, walking over to Jim and sitting cross-legged in front of him.

Jim smiled, leaning forward to press a swift kiss to his mouth. "Much as I enjoy the view of a Vulcan at night, this wasn't quite what I was going for." He gestured toward the window. "Turn around. Look out there."

He raised that one questioning eyebrow again but did as he was asked, turning smoothly until he back faced Jim. "Is this adequate?" he asked with a hint of... sarcasm? really? in his voice.

"Almost," Jim returned. "Scoot back a bit so I can touch you."

That set off a telltale line of rigidity in Spock's spine, all the muscles in his back tensing before he moved. He didn't quite lean into Jim the way he did after a panic attack, too keyed up to get comfortable just yet.

"Better," Jim murmured at him anyway, setting his hands over Spock's shoulders and kissing the back of his head. "What were you working on today?" he asked, using small talk to distract Spock from the physical contact, blocked though it was through the fabric of his shirt. His muscles were knotted and tense under Jim's hands, and he settled into a slow, easy massage.

Spock slowly began to melt under the touch. "The Academy has requested that I check several of their simulators for weaknesses in the programming. There have been some concerns of cadets using viruses to alter the coding in order to manufacture a victory they have not truly earned."

"They're cheating," Jim translated, smiling when Spock began inching backward bit by bit until he was leaning bodily against him. He hid the smile in Spock's hair, hands rubbing at his shoulders and traveling down his arms, marveling at the tension bleeding out of him.

"Mm," Spock gave a vague affirmative. "It is a practice they have seen increasing most significantly in the navigational simulators. Several admirals are concerned that the practice may spread to the tactical, engineering, and command simulators as well."

"But not if you can find the weaknesses in the code and fix them," Jim supplied. "You're kind of brilliant like that." He had both hands on Spock's left arm now, unbuttoning the cuff and rolling it up to expose his forearm, hooking his chin over Spock's shoulder to get a better view of the process.

Spock didn't seem to notice Jim fussing with his clothing. Or if he did, he was too relaxed to care. His gaze was directed towards the window but it was unfocused and lethargic. "I have found little evidence thus far of flaws in the programming. However, I anticipate the project will take at least 12.57 more hours before I am certain of the program's integrity."

"Mm," Jim returned, rolling up the sleeve of his right arm and then going back to massaging his shoulders. He had to take a moment to calm himself again, just a little too thrilled with himself for having managed that much without causing a scene.

"Might I inquire as to how you spent your evening?" Spock asked him, and Jim quickly smothered the little well of pride on Spock's behalf. Usually he was uncomfortable if forced to engage in idle chit-chat, but he appeared too relaxed to overthink it.

Which was perfect as far as Jim's plans were concerned. He smoothed his hands down Spock's arms again, stopping before he reached his bare skin. "I was researching something in the Academy library. A friend of mine dropped by and helped me out, actually. Gave me lots of new information to think about."

"What was the subject?" Spock asked, totally melted against Jim's chest now.

Jim stopped touching Spock and extended his hands outward. One hand managed to copy the Vulcan hand gesture he'd learned about quite easily. His left seemed determined to keep his ring finger plastered against his middle, and it took some fiddling before he had it worked out. "She called this the... the ozh'esta," he tripped over the unfamiliar word, hoping he wasn't butchering the pronunciation too badly.

"Ozh'esta," Spock repeated, giving him a better feel for the word and how to say it properly. He copied the gesture, his fingers separating naturally into wide Vs.

"She told me it was a Vulcan way to express affection. Kind of like a Vulcan kiss," he murmured, blending what he had learned from both Uhura and Gaila and hoping he was getting it right. He turned his palms over, touching his fingertips gently against Spock's.

Spock shivered against him, but his body seemed to sink even further into relaxation than it had before. Jim decided that was a good shiver, then, and not a warning sign of an episode. "It is a fair description," he said, his diction losing some of its preciseness.

Jim swallowed and forced himself to concentrate only on Spock's pleasure, on his serene state of mind. He traced his hands along Spock's, his own gradually losing their V shape as he dragged his fingertips over Spock's palm. "And we discussed touch-telepathy a little bit, too. Talked about how you can read one another's thoughts even through a touch as light as this."

Spock's breath developed a shallow, panting quality to it. He was less relaxed now, shoulders tensing against his chest. "Jim..." he whispered, his voice strained.

"Shh," Jim soothed him, pressing a kiss to his temple. "Don't overthink this. Don't think at all. Just try to feel what I'm feeling." He left his hands alone then, tracing his fingers over the pale skin of Spock's forearm, trying to project all the serenity he could through the touch, all the affection and muted desire.

"Jim..." His voice was still strained, still breathy, but Jim could feel the conscious effort he was making to relax back into the touch.

"I wasn't thinking before," he continued, tracing over veins in his wrist, sensing the vibration of a pulse there. "I didn't understand that I was overwhelming you with my own thoughts, my own feelings. I want you to know that you shouldn't feel like you're under so much pressure all the time." He pressed another kiss just behind Spock's ear, testing the waters, leashing his own wild desire. "I don't expect anything from you. I'm not working off a timetable here. I just want you. As you are."

Spock's eyes squeezed shut behind his glasses, but rather than start sinking into a panic he was tilting his head back in tiny increments until it rested against Jim's shoulder, a sign of submission that had Jim's cock twitching in renewed interest against Spock's lower back. He broke contact with Spock's skin long enough to get his libido under control, curling his hands around Spock's upper arms when he was a little more relaxed. "I can't stop myself from wanting you," Jim admitted, kissing under Spock's earlobe. "It's just a natural thing for me. But that's because I'm human. That's just how we operate. I don't expect the same from you, and you shouldn't either."

Spock's eyebrows knit together - Jim could feel it in the play of muscles along the side of his face. But he remained relaxed and pliant against Jim's chest, his voice low and throaty when he finally spoke. "Then what do you want from me?"

"I want you to relax," Jim murmured, dragging his fingers along Spock's palm again and then weaving their fingers together, squeezing gently before tracing along the indentations between his knuckles. "I want you to enjoy being touched without feeling pressured to do anything in return. Mostly I just want you to be happy when you're around me, not panicked because you think I have all these expectations or goals in mind."

"But you do," Spock pointed out, shifting just enough so that his backside pressed against the growing hardness between Jim's legs.

Jim pressed a smile against Spock's shoulder, pleased beyond words that Spock had initiated a touch like that and still hadn't worked himself into a nervous frenzy. "I have goals, sure," he allowed. "Like I said, I'm only human. I have human desires. And they all revolve around you." And he tried to let just a small hint of those desires come through in his touch, pressing his palms against Spock's forearms and clumsily trying to project vague images of a bed, of messy sheets, of tangled limbs. He pulled his hands back again when Spock gasped and arched against him. He couldn't tell if that was a good reaction or a bad one, so he returned to massaging his still-clothed upper arms. "But I'm also a lot more patient than people tend to give me credit for. And maybe you've heard, but I'm kind of a hopeless idiot where you're concerned. So I'm willing to wait for whatever you want to give me."

"Jim..." Spock repeated, his voice taking on that breathy, panting quality again. He shook his head, unable to continue.

Jim sighed, knowing he'd pushed his luck too far. "Feeling sick to your stomach?" he asked, kissing the top of his head.

"No, I..." Spock swallowed, tried again. "Jim..."

Confused, Jim turned his head to get a better view of his face. Spock's eyes were still screwed shut behind his glasses, his jaw set as if he were fighting down a bout of nausea. But he didn't ever lie about feeling sick, so that wasn't it. The set of his shoulders was tense, but only slightly. His hands were lax and open under Jim's ministrations. He tilted his head forward, trying to see what the problem could be...

And saw another telltale bulge tenting Spock's black pants. "Oh," he breathed, shocked to his core. The only other time Jim had realized Spock was getting hard was the time he'd been tossed bodily from Spock's apartment. "You... You okay?" he asked, feeling stupid for asking the question but needing to ask it all the same.

Spock was motionless against him for a long moment, collecting himself in order to answer. "Yes," he finally whispered.

Tentatively, Jim set his hands over Spock's knees, just letting them rest there. "Do you want...?"

Another pause as Spock considered that. Then shook his head, pressing his hands over Jim's. "No. Not... Not now."

But that left a door wide open for Jim to try again someday in the future. "Okay," he returned easily, shifting his hands under Spock's until they were palm to palm, lacing their fingers together. "How are you feeling?" he breathed against Spock's ear.

There was another long silence as Spock gathered himself again. Jim let him, closing his eyes and nuzzling into the wild black hair, inhaling the scent of him and trying to memorize it.

"I feel... fine," Spock finally managed.

Jim smiled against his skin. "Fine's good," he murmured. "Fine's perfect, in fact."

Chapter Text

The next time Jim saw him, Spock wasn't anywhere near as relaxed as he'd been during their talk in front of Jim's window. He seemed distracted, right on the edges of an episode no matter how Jim tried to calm him down. He shied away from physical contact. He wouldn't meet Jim's eyes. He flubbed their chess game to the point where Jim finally called an end to it out of pity; he still hadn't managed to earn a meaningful victory over Spock yet and he wasn't going to take advantage of his harried state to earn a half-assed one now.

Spock's hands were trembling as he moved to pour tea for the two of them when finally Jim couldn't stand it anymore. "Hey," he said, looping his arms around him from behind and resting his chin on Spock's shoulder. "You need to go sit for awhile? Get the shakes out of your system?"

Spock shook his head, his gaze fixed on his mugs. "No," he said shortly.

It killed Jim to make the next offer. "Want me to take off for the night? Maybe try again tomorrow?"

It was a little insulting how quickly Spock responded to that. "Perhaps that would be best."

Jim sighed, wishing for the relaxed, pliant Spock from before. He hadn't been expecting this sudden rush of nerves after their talk; the hope had been that he could move forward with him once Spock knew he didn't want to pressure him. "All right," he muttered, kissing his cheek before letting him go. "Get some rest, yeah?"

"Indeed."

Spock seemed glued to his kitchen counter, either trying to fight down a full fledged attack or... Jim wasn't sure what the alternative could be. He mustered all the dignity he could and showed himself out.

He was trying to be patient. God, was he ever trying, and it was killing him slowly. He'd been with people who played hard to get before. He knew that game, knew how to play along, knew the rules and how to break them. But he'd been with Spock for close to a month now and the most he'd gotten out of it was a little kissing and hand-holding. And shit, he could get that out of Gaila if he plied her with enough alcohol.

He stripped off his shirt and jeans roughly, tossing them on the floor and collapsing into bed, hoping for a few hours of unconsciousness and a fresh start to the day tomorrow. But he was too keyed up for sleep, too caught up in Spock's sudden attitude shift. He had tried so hard to figure out a way to make him comfortable. And it had worked at the time - Spock had been a melted mass of limbs that night. It was as if a switch had been thrown after he'd left Jim's apartment and suddenly he was faced with the antisocial Spock he'd met at the beginning of the year.

He was tired of waiting, tired of being patient, tired of keeping his hands to himself when all he wanted to do was pin Spock to the floor and see what kind of noises Jim could wrench out of him. He was so goddamn uptight and reclusive and Jim ached to know what could make him fall apart.

He had a hand pushed into his boxers before he had really internalized the desire to do so, rubbing a thumb over his slit and smearing the pre-come over the head as he imagined what it might take to get Spock to relax, to open up, to trust him, damn it. His mind drifted to their talk in front of Jim's window, to how it might have felt to work Spock's pants over his hips and down his legs. He curled a fist around himself, imagining how it might feel to wrap his fingers around Spock instead, to press his face up against that pointed ear and pant his desires as he stroked and caressed the hot flesh. He wanted to see those eyes go soft and wanting, wanted Spock to spread his legs and leave himself open to whatever Jim wanted to do with him. He wanted Spock's whispered fantasies, his imagined whimpers, his little moans of pleasure. He wanted his own name falling from Spock's tongue, wanted long legs wrapped around his waist, wanted heat and pressure and oh god, he wanted... wanted...

He came, spilling over his fingers and the fabric of his boxers, body going rigid and then easing back down into the sheets. His body felt the tingle of release, but his mind felt as tortured and keyed up as ever. He was so tired of the delicate dance around Spock's nerves, so tired of taking a step forward with him only to jump three steps back when it altered Spock's routine or messed with his mood. He just wanted...

He just wanted Spock to want him in return, to embrace that without working himself into a panic. He sighed, shucked his soiled boxers and tossed them to the floor, settling in for a restless night.

*******

"Hey, kid. Take a seat on the biobed over there. We need to talk."

Jim eyed the biobed suspiciously, then turned his gaze on his best friend. "Hang on. You promised when you asked me to come here that it wasn't because I was falling behind on my hypos. I sit up there and I just know you're gonna jab me with something or other."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Jim, just shut up and take a seat. I ain't gonna jab you with anything unless you really start to piss me off."

He stalled for a moment. "We need to talk, we need to talk..." he repeated for a few minutes, then pretended to have an epiphany. "Oh my God, are you breaking up with me?"

McCoy punched his shoulder. "Sit on the bed before I strap you to it myself."

"Kinky," Jim couldn't help teasing, then sat before McCoy could make good on any of his threats. "So what am I here for, if not to get jabbed?"

McCoy pulled up a stool and started tapping away at his PADD. "Turns out we had a stroke of luck concerning your little elven friend."

"Okay, seriously? You're really going to keep calling him that? It was cute when Jo did it but now you're just going overboard."

McCoy shrugged. "Fine. We had a stroke of luck concerning the hobgoblin."

"Yeah, that was not exactly the point I was making."

"Turns out Starfleet still had his medical records on file," McCoy said, ignoring Jim. "So we had full access to his genetic code without having to dick around with figuring out how much of his biology was Vulcan as opposed to human."

"He's a hybrid. Wouldn't it be a pretty even 50/50 balance?"

"Not necessarily. Some traits are dominant over others. In humans that manifests as brown eyes over blue, curly hair over straight, that kind of thing. It's a whole 'nother ball game with two different species, and especially two species that can't reproduce together without assistance."

Now Jim's curiosity was piqued. "I'd been wondering about that. I was pretty sure Vulcans and humans couldn't produce children together."

"They can't, not naturally. Spock's basically the first successful test tube baby produced between the two species. And his genes are all over the damn place, let me tell you. Blood pressure's significantly higher than most Vulcans, but half dead compared to human levels. He's green blooded and his heart's in the right place as far as Vulcan anatomy is concerned, but he had to have his appendix removed at age nine."

"So?"

"That's a human organ, Jim. Vulcans don't have them. Nor do they have tonsils, which were removed when Spock was thirteen. His bone structure is mostly Vulcan - it'd take a hell of a lot more force for him to fracture something than it would for a human - and he's capable of linking his mind to someone else's. He still had Stonn listed in his file as a fully linked bondmate. Which means his telepathy should be working fine."

"But it isn't," Jim concluded.

"Nope, it isn't. You said his ex had a theory about proximity telepathy messing with him?"

"Yeah. His mom thought it was just his human side trying to express itself, though. And since he's never seen a medic or anyone about it, there's no way of knowing which one of them was right."

"Wrong," McCoy grinned, handing over his PADD. "I admit, there's not much in this data cluster because there aren't many Vulcans who have allowed themselves to be looked over by human doctors. But it's enough."

Jim struggled to interpret the medical jargon. "I, uh... What is this? Something about a Vulcan feeling... something through a wall?"

"A female Vulcan - T'Pranna," McCoy explained, pointing to the name, "was a professor stationed at the starbase on Hestia IV. The structures there are built to withstand all the tectonic activity, so most of the time when the plates there shift no one inside is really aware of it. But there was a group of archaeologists stationed not far from her wing of the building who got caught in the middle of one of those shifts - and she could sense the fear from inside her office. Couldn't sense the earthquake - no one in the building had any clue there was tectonic activity happening yet - but she sensed the fear in the humans caught in it outside. Through a wall."

Jim couldn't quite understand where this was going. "Okay, and?"

McCoy took the PADD back. "There's at least three or four other similar instances from Vulcans on other outposts, especially ones with a significant population of humans around. It looks like most Vulcans are proximity telepaths to some degree. The difference is, most Vulcans never come in contact with more than a handful of humans unless they go off-world. And not many of them do that. If they're surrounded by other Vulcans the proximity telepathy goes unnoticed - you can't sense the emotions of the people surrounding you if they're always repressing them."

Jim's brain was mired in questions and confusion. "So what's this got to do with Spock?"

"It means that both his bondmate and his mother were correct. Spock is a proximity telepath. But because of his human genetics, he's a lot more susceptible to the thoughts and feelings of others than full-blooded Vulcans are. And because he's half human, it's more difficult for him to engage in the mental disciplines he needs to keep himself under control. Which led to his panic attacks when surrounded by panicking humans, which led to an avoidance of places that caused those panic attacks, which led to the agoraphobia."

Jim could have kissed him. "So you figured it out!" he grinned. "That's great, Bones! So how do we cure him?"

McCoy's face fell. "It's not that easy, Jim. The technology available for physical wounds and illnesses is fantastic, but the brain is still full of mysteries and even more so when you throw in hybrid biology. I mean, I can't just cure you of a sour mood, can I?"

"Depends on what's in your liquor cabinet at the time." But the joke fell flat, the small rush of hope in his chest suffocating him as it dissipated.

McCoy let the joke fly without comment, tapping a stylus on his pad nervously. "In humans I would suggest having a therapist come by to help and some heavy-duty anti-depressants. But in a Vulcan?" He flailed a hand in the air expressively. "I talked to M'Benga about it. He was shocked that regular meditation hadn't helped - he is meditating, isn't he?"

"I, uh... I have no idea," Jim admitted. "Whenever I go over there he's usually puttering around with his computers or his meals. Now, he does sit and kind of... I dunno, center himself maybe? Whenever he has a panic attack he shuts down for a little while. I figured he was trying to pull himself back together."

"Yeah, humans use that phrase figuratively, but it's a cornerstone of Vulcan health and sanity. He should be spending at least an hour of every day in meditation, and M'Benga thinks he could use closer to two or three if he's having problems keeping his controls in place."

Jim couldn't help it - he felt a little cheated. "So you're saying that after all your research and all your digging into his medical files, the best solution you can come up with is that he needs to meditate?"

McCoy flailed again. "Hell if I know, Jim! I can try to formulate some anti-anxiety meds, but that'd be a whole lot of trial and error and someone would have to talk him into taking the pills, or the hypos, or whatever it is we'd have to do for him. He won't leave the building to join a self-help group. He won't let medics in his room. He'll let you in, his mother, and my kid, apparently. What am I supposed to do with that?"

"Help me, damn it!" Jim's temper flared, the frustrations of the past few months boiling over at an unrelated target. "I've tried everything I know to do, I've done the research, I've tried Vulcan cultural shit, and it's not working! What am I supposed to do?"

"You-" McCoy began to snarl back, then caught himself. He took a few deep breaths, nostrils flaring. "I can't believe I'm about to ask this," he muttered to himself, then looked back at him. "You like this guy? Love him?"

He tried to get his temper under control so he could answer honestly. "I love him. He's impossible and I don't know what I'm doing and I'm starting to think I'll never get through to him so why should I-"

McCoy clapped a hand over his mouth to shut him up. "You love this guy?" he asked again.

Jim worked his jaw a few times, pushing McCoy's hand away to answer. "Yeah."

"He worth the effort?"

He took a deep breath, centering himself. He did have a thing for challenges, and this was probably the most difficult one he had ever faced. And considering the rewards at stake... "Yeah. He's worth it."

"Then just keep doing what you're doing. Spend time with him. Keep him relaxed. Push him outside his boundaries when you think he can handle it, and try to be supportive when he can't." Another shrug. "I can't do much more for him without seeing him in person or asking him to subject himself to some medicinal experiments. It kills me to admit this, but you can probably do more for him than I can right now."

Jim pretended to copy the words onto his hand, shoving his palm under McCoy's nose. "Would you care to sign that?"

McCoy responded to that by stabbing him with a hypo.

"Hey! You said no hypos!"

"Only if you didn't piss me off. 'Sides, you were overdue for your anti-allergen booster."

Jim's retort was cut off by the beeping of his communication unit. "Jerk," he grumped weakly, flipping it open. "Kirk here."

"Jimmy?" It was Gaila, sounding far less enthusiastic and chipper than she usually did.

"What's up, Gaila?"

"You heading back to the building any time soon?"

"Maybe," he hedged, apprehension gathering in his gut. "Why?"

"Uh. You should. Come home, I mean. Right now."

"Why?" Jim repeated, the apprehension increasing exponentially.

"It's that nerdy looking Vulcan of yours." And that was so Gaila, to toss in a barb like that in the midst of her worry. "He's been stuffing letters under your door for the past hour or so. And he looks really upset."

He felt the contents of his stomach plummet. "Shit," he swore softly. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Hurry," she urged him, cutting the transmission.

Chapter Text

The hallway was empty when Jim made it up to his floor, which surprised him a bit. He'd expected to either see Spock stuffing letters under his door or Gaila trying to look inconspicuous while she spied on him. The entire floor was quiet as he dealt with the security code and stepped inside.

Sure enough, there was a pile of letters in the entryway. Most of them had numbers on them, but one envelope was pristine - as if Spock had only expected to write one letter at first and the rest had come in stages afterward. Stomach still flip-flopping with apprehension, he pulled out the letter with its jagged, uneven script.

Jim -

Shortly after arriving on Earth, I inserted a program into my medical records to alert me whenever they were accessed. As I have not seen any medical staff in thirteen months, thirty-eight weeks, and four days, I would like to know why they were accessed several times over the last week.

Jim stared at the letter, finding it strangely anticlimactic. He might have been a little irritated at McCoy digging around in his medical records - the irritation was evident in the roughness of the script - but it hardly warranted Gaila's worried transmission. He sat on the floor of his entryway, sifting through the envelopes until he found one with a number two scrawled on it.

Not only have my past medical records been accessed, but I see now that my genetic code has been accessed as well. This is a serious invasion of my privacy.

It was abrupt, clipped, especially given Spock's predilection for rambling and using polysyllabic vocabulary to express himself. Apprehension began to build in his gut again, and he hesitantly grabbed for envelope number three.

I left Vulcan to ensure I would no longer be a scientific anomaly or medical experiment. I have spent the entirety of my life being subjected to intense scrutiny and analysis. I do not wish to repeat the experience.

The handwriting on that one was less jagged and rough and more... Jim wasn't sure how to explain it. It was almost slurred, like the speech of an inebriated individual. He swallowed a lump in his throat, reaching for the fourth envelope.

I desire neither your experimentation nor your pity. It would be best if we were to resume our previous relationship.

Dread made him feel sick to his stomach as he read that last line again. What the hell did Spock mean by their previous relationship? His hand shaking, he reached for the last envelope in the pile.

I do not wish to see you.

The script was all over the place on that note, some of the letters almost incomprehensible they were so badly scrawled. The words fairly screamed of Spock's sense of betrayal and Jim felt his heart clench painfully in his chest.

Ignoring the message from that last note, he scrambled up from his spot on the floor and tore over to Spock's apartment, knocking on the door. When that failed to get a response (not that Jim had been expecting one), he decided now was the time to play dirty pool. He started tampering with Spock's security device, trying every bypass and workaround he knew to try to bust through the code. He was so engrossed in it, so determined to succeed, that he didn't hear the door crack open.

"Jim."

He jumped back guiltily from the device. "Spock! Spock, I-"

"You did not read all of the letters." It was quiet, but the accusation was clear.

"Spock, please let me in," he not-so-subtly dodged the statement. "Please. I want to explain."

Another few inches of Spock's face came into view as he opened the door further. There were dark olive bags under his eyes again, glasses missing, face drawn and pale. Jim wanted to kick himself; Spock had trouble expressing himself under the best of conditions. How much anxiety had he mired himself in writing all those notes?

"Please," Jim begged again before Spock could say anything. "I need to explain. And I can't do it in writing, not when it's this important."

"I do not wish to see you," Spock whispered, as if it took too much out of him to speak at a normal volume.

Jim's heart did not break when he heard the words out loud. He didn't feel a small piece of himself curl up and whimper. He did not swallow a lump in his throat. He summoned the courage to respond. "Please just let me talk about this. Please. If you're not satisfied with what I have to say, you can throw me out again. Hell, I'll throw myself out. Please, Spock," he hissed, knowing how desperate it sounded and not caring in the slightest.

He had never been so relieved to see a door opening. He rushed in before Spock changed his mind, already babbling before it had fully closed behind him. "I swear this isn't a science experiment thing at all. I just, we were talking about you and how you react to things and how miserable it must be to live this way, and-"

Spock shocked the hell out of him by interrupting him. "I do not want your pity." And while his voice was still whisper-quiet, Jim could hear the icy chill of temper behind the words. He sounded dangerous, almost feral.

He shivered involuntarily. "This isn't about pity."

"You accessed my medical records anonymously to assess whether I was mentally sound. You also accessed my genetic code, a gross violation of privacy under any circumstances but doubly so considering you have no medical background, no connection to my family, and no permission from myself to access that information."

"I didn't need to access your records to see if you were mentally sound, considering the answer to that is pretty damn clear as is," Jim shot back, then instantly regretted it.

The icy chill was permeating Spock's eyes now, his entire body gone rigid as if preventing himself from attacking Jim. "You-"

Jim cut him off. "Spock, no, that came out all wrong. I'm not saying you're a lunatic. What I'm saying is that this is no way to live. You can't possibly be happy with your situation and I've heard you say on several occasions that you're not yourself. I just wanted to-"

"To help," Spock interrupted again. "I have often found that to be a quaint human excuse for violating the privacy of others in the name of science."

Jim was losing track of the point Spock was making. "What?"

"I will not be your experiment, nor will I be your charity case. I am not myself - to deny it would be illogical - but I am not so foregone that I will subject myself to your clumsy human endeavor to better yourself by reaching out to a less fortunate individual. You will cease your manipulation of my emotions and you will cease interacting with me."

"No," Jim shot back defiantly, and if ever he needed to earn a victory over Spock, now was the time. "No, it doesn't work that way. I'm not here because I think I'm earning brownie points by being your friend. I'm not here because I enjoy poking and prodding you just to see how you react. And I'm sure as hell not here to fuck around with your feelings just because I know you can't control them right now. We just wanted-"

"What gives you the right to share my personal situation with another individual?" Spock interrupted him again, his whole body shaking now. Jim couldn't tell whether that was from his flared temper or the anxiety of the fight.

"Spock, he's-" Jim cut himself off when he realized Spock was missing an important part of the puzzle. "Spock... I didn't share your situation with some random stranger. I talked about it with Bones. With Leonard McCoy," he corrected himself, figuring his given name would jog Spock's memory better than the nickname.

Understanding dawned in Spock's eyes. "Joanna's father." His voice held no inflection, no signal of forgiveness.

"Yes. He wanted to repay you for helping him with his case. I'd been telling him about you - not because I'm airing your dirty laundry to everyone I meet, just because you're important to me and I wanted to talk about you - and he needed to check your files to make sure he could diagnose you as accurately as possible."

Spock was silent for a moment, his posture still tense and trembling intermittently. "Why were those records accessed anonymously? Why did you feel it was necessary to conceal your identity?"

"He didn't want you listed as an official patient of his just in case Starfleet asked about his caseload - they can do that because he's still working on his xeno certification. He knows how you feel about medics and strangers and he didn't want you feeling like a lab rat. So he accessed it all anonymously figuring you'd never even know about it."

The fight was draining out of Spock, his shoulders sagging. The eyes still held a hint of distrust, however. "And what was his diagnosis?" he asked tightly.

Jim wanted to move forward, to loop an arm around him and give him some kind of support, comfort, whatever he needed. It was killing him to keep his distance. "He thinks most Vulcans have a touch of proximity telepathy, they just don't hang around enough humans to realize it. Which doesn't mean Stonn would have had the exact same reaction you did, because the proximity thing works differently in every Vulcan, but I bet he would have reacted to all that panic with some kind of slip of control. Bones thinks the reason you had a meltdown was because of your human half; you have to fight a lot harder for the kind of control that comes easily to other Vulcans."

Spock's eyes went wide. Apparently McCoy was on the right track. "My inability to maintain an emotional balance was considered a failing in my character..." he trailed off, losing his train of thought for a moment.

"It's not," Jim said. "God, Spock, I promise you that it's not."

Spock was losing the battle to keep himself under control. Jim could see it in the tremors in his hands, the tightness of his mouth. "Did the doctor...?" He couldn't finish the question, another warning sign that things were spiraling out of control.

Jim decided to risk the wrath of the angry Vulcan, stepping closer and reaching out, setting his hand at Spock's waist. "He wants you to meditate more often. He thinks you should devote at least two or three hours to it every day, try to get your focus back. He wants you to have a support system, someone who'll push you outside your boundaries when you need it."

He was unraveling, but he still managed another icy stare at Jim. "And you are here to offer your services?"

"Oh for fuck's sake," he muttered, giving up on being slow and easy, stepping right into Spock's personal space. "You're not my project, you idiot. You think I'd fight this hard if I wasn't invested? If I didn't- If you-" Jim stopped sputtering, tried to speak again. "You idiot," he said again, unrepentantly fond this time, then leaned forward and kissed him.

Spock didn't respond to the kiss, mouth rigid and unmoving under Jim's. But his body shuddered and leaned heavily to one side, dangerously close to toppling over. "Jim," he whispered, fingers clutching at his shoulders to keep him upright.

"I'm sorry," he whispered back, both arms around his waist now, trying not to buckle under Spock's substantial weight. "I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about this. I should have. I was being stupid - I thought maybe Bones could figure out what was wrong with you and come up with some kind of miracle drug I could bring back to you. And you'd be cured, and you'd be happier, and..." He shook his head. "I wasn't expecting a lot of this. And I'm really badly equipped to deal with it. I keep looking for the fairy tale ending and it doesn't exist. Sometimes I'm thrilled I can be here for you and sometimes I want to scream and shove you out the front door and tell you to get over it. But mostly... mostly all I want is you. I want to talk to you, touch you, be with you. And I want you to want those things too. I'm tired of seeing you break down half the time when we're together. And I... I'm selfish, Spock. Leaving you alone would probably be a lot healthier for you - God knows how many panic attacks I've caused for you. But I don't want to." He took a deep breath, trying to stop his own babbling and get to the point. "So basically, I can give you one last chance to get rid of me. I meant what I said when I got here. If my explanation isn't good enough, just say the word and I'll force myself to leave. Or you can throw me out, if it makes you feel better. But I can't do it voluntarily. I won't. I meant it when I said I was in love with you and I've got a history of sticking to people like glue when I get emotionally invested like that. So... yeah," he finished lamely, cringing because even his attempt to get to the point had been long-winded.

"You-" Spock whispered, then finally lost the battle with himself. His knees buckled, his weight collapsing onto Jim in a rush. Jim couldn't balance the two of them in time, and they both fell hard against the carpeted floor, Jim's knees twinging in protest at the added weight of the fall. Spock was clutching to his shoulders so tightly that he could feel bruises forming, Spock's face pressed so tightly against his own that he could feel the faint burn of stubble against stubble. They wound up in an inelegant pile on the floor together, Jim curled around Spock as much as he could manage, Spock shuddering in his arms.

Since he was already in full-blown panic mode, Jim availed himself of the opportunity to unload everything Spock might have objected to. "In the interests of total disclosure," he murmured, rubbing Spock's back and petting through his hair, cringing at his hoarse breathing and the sick heaving of his body, "you should know there's another medic working with Bones. His name is M'Benga; he studied on Vulcan for a year before he came back. But he doesn't know your name and he doesn't know you're half human since that would give away your identity just as quickly as your name would. And I talked to a classmate about Vulcan courting rituals; she thinks you're some Vulcan girl I picked up just for the challenge. And Gaila convinced me to come here and tell you what a lovestruck idiot I turned into because of you. She doesn't know the full extent of this; she just knows you're shy." He took a deep breath. "And I think that's everything I've ever said about you to other people. I swear, I understand you value your privacy. I'm not gossiping about you. I just tend to talk about you with people who are important to me."

Spock didn't respond for a long time past gasping for air and digging bruises into Jim's arms. He shuddered violently, his eyes squeezed shut and his mouth open and dragging in air as if he were suffocating. Jim wondered if he was going to be thrown up on, surprised that he hadn't yet considering that was a hallmark of Spock's episodes.

"There is... nothing... left," Spock wheezed. Jim's brain balked at receiving the answer to an unasked question before he realized that somewhere along the line, he'd slipped a hand under Spock's shirt and was stroking the skin of his back directly rather than with the barrier of fabric between them.

Since Spock didn't seem to be complaining, he left it there, marveling at the waves of heat his skin gave off. "How many attacks have you had today?" he murmured, kissing his temple.

"How..." Spock swallowed, shuddered, tried again. "How many letters did I write?"

"Five."

"Then this is my sixth attack today. The vomiting became impossible... I believe after the third."

Jim's own stomach lurched when he heard that, feeling an ache deep in his chest at Spock's predicament. "I'm sorry," he said again, trying to project his sincerity through the hand pressed between Spock's shoulder blades. "I'm so sorry. I put you through so many of these..."

Spock made a vague gesture of negation with one hand before fisting it in Jim's uniform again; he realized he hadn't even spared a moment to change out of his cadet reds. "That which is worth having is worth suffering for," he whispered.

The ache in Jim's chest deepened. "Vulcan proverb?" he asked quietly.

"Certainly not." There was a hint of rebuke in his voice and Jim couldn't help smiling at it. He was coming back to himself. "The line originates from a novel by Iolanda Tristane, a human author my mother greatly respected."

Jim sighed, closing his eyes and letting his forehead drop against the crown of Spock's head. "I love you," he said quietly. "I pull a lot of stupid stunts and I have a bad habit of working on instinct rather than thinking my plans all the way through. But I do it because I love you and I don't know what to do about it."

"That particular sentiment is mutual," Spock returned. His voice was hoarse and breathy, his body entwined with Jim's in a messy, lethargic pile.

Jim sighed into Spock's hair. "You should get some rest. I can't even imagine how exhausted you must be after... well, after everything today."

He felt the nod against his shoulder, sensed the herculean effort it took for Spock to lift up his head. "Yes," he breathed in agreement. He made no move to get up, though, looking at Jim as if trying to work up the courage to ask for assistance.

Jim didn't give him the opportunity. "Come on," he murmured, untangling the two of them and getting to his feet, helping Spock to stand with him. "Bed?" he offered.

"Yes," he said again. They moved arm in arm toward the back of the apartment. Spock expended just enough energy to help Jim pull the sheets down on his bed, sitting heavily on the mattress and looking... dazed, perhaps. Maybe even a little lost.

"I'm sorry," Jim whispered again, standing in front of him and kissing the top of his head.

Spock nodded, accepting the apology, his head moving forward until it was pressed against Jim's chest. "Jim," he began to speak, then shook his head faintly.

Jim wondered how it was possible to love this man so much when he broke his heart on such a regular basis. "Yeah?" he returned, sifting his fingers through his wild hair.

He saw the muscles in his jaw clench, unclench, work as if meaning to say something. He let out a shaky sigh, hands bunching in the fabric of Jim's uniform again. He whispered something incomprehensible against his chest.

"I couldn't hear you," Jim murmured. "Say it again?"

"Stay." It was only marginally louder than the previous time he'd said it, but it was just audible enough for Jim to catch it. And maybe that was why he was so hopeless where Spock was concerned: for every time he broke his heart, he more than made up for it in his desperate attempts to get closer to him, to ask for comfort when it clearly killed him to do so. Despite Jim's impatience, Spock was doing his damnedest to reach out to him, and Jim had no choice but to reach back.

"Of course." He wrapped his arms around Spock's exhausted, trembling body. "Of course I will."

And if it was awkward trying to get his shoes off without breaking contact with him, that was okay. And if it was awkward getting into Spock's bed fully clothed in his uniform, that was okay, too. And if it was awkward figuring out where all their limbs needed to go, how they needed to arrange themselves to prevent elbowing one another in the side or knocking their knees together, that was just fine. It all worked out in the end when Jim had all that Vulcan strength and heat curled against his chest, face mere inches from Jim's own, close enough to feel the breath coming out of him.

He might very well die of heatstroke in the night between his uniform, the temperature of the room, and the feeling of Spock's body heat enveloping him. But it was well worth the risk, Jim decided, when Spock slowly drifted to sleep next to him, when his shallow breathing began puffing warm and even against Jim's face, when the hand that had been gripping his uniform relaxed and simply rested over his hip in a sweet, almost possessive gesture.

Yeah, Jim decided as he was falling asleep himself. Spock was definitely worth all of that.

Chapter Text

Jim was something of a light sleeper. He felt this was probably for the best; if he was ever going to get out in space, ever going to command his own ship someday, he needed to be able to react instantly whenever an emergency arose. Plus, he had grown up with an older brother. A sadistic older brother. The light sleeping developed as a defense mechanism. So when the warm, solid weight against him began to shift uncomfortably, then stiffen up, then start to tremble, Jim was grateful for having developed that particular defense mechanism. He blinked his eyes open blearily, staring at the back of a dark, extremely messy head of hair. "Mmph?" he murmured, not yet awake enough for actual words.

Spock said nothing, wouldn't even turn around to face him. He appeared to be glued to the spot, his neck and shoulders clenched, his spine rigid, everything about him screaming of unbearable tension.

Jim was still too out of it to try to ask whether Spock was okay or to offer up any soothing words. Instead he flung an arm out over his waist and tried to tug him closer, eyebrows knitting when Spock remained motionless and unmoving on his side of the bed. Jim gave a halfhearted shrug, using the arm as leverage to pull himself forward, molding himself to the Vulcan instead. "Mmmorning," he mumbled into Spock's neck.

"Y-yes," Spock whispered, tripping over the word.

Jim may have been out of it, but even half-asleep he could recognize the warning signs. "None'o'that," he slurred together, slipping a hand under Spock's shirt to press against his bare skin, pressing his nose to the nape of his neck and inhaling the scent of him.

"If... if ordering the symptoms to c-cease manifesting actually caused them to... to do so..."

He kissed the back of his head. "Worth a shot, y'know?"

Spock said nothing, still shaking in Jim's arms. One trembling hand moved to rest on top of Jim's at his waist.

Jim smiled at that small offering of contact, even when Spock was starting to go through one of his episodes. "Got a reason for panicking this time?" he asked, trying to somehow scoot closer to him.

More silence, and Jim thought Spock would refuse to answer. His eyes had already drifted shut again when he finally said something. "I have not shared a bed in..." He trailed off, his brain too overloaded to do the math properly. "Awhile," he finished, uncharacteristically vague.

Jim couldn't help the pang of jealousy. "You thought I was Stonn?"

The shaking was interrupted by a quick huff in Spock's breathing, and with anyone else it would have been considered a laugh. "No. Stonn was not so... demonstrative."

He tried to translate that. "So he didn't plaster himself all over you when you were sleeping?"

"No."

"Oh." He kept his hand on Spock's waist, trying to disengage himself otherwise, giving Spock some space. "Sorry, I didn't mean to smother you or overwhelm you or-"

He shut himself up when he realized Spock was moving with him, keeping his back firmly pressed against Jim's chest. "You are not..." He shook his head, tried again. The shaking was starting to subside a little. "It was overwhelming when I first woke. I am finding it... It is..." He froze in Jim's arms for a moment, then rolled himself over in small degrees. When they were face to face, he raised a hand hesitantly, looking as if he expected to be batted away at any second, finally resting his fingers at Jim's jaw, trailing up over his cheek, stopping just before they hit his temple. "Jim," he said quietly, like it explained everything.

"Yeah," he smiled back. He sifted his fingers into the tangled mass of black hair, cradling the back of his head as he leaned in for a kiss, heedless of the stale taste of morning breath between them.

Spock seemed to melt into it, his body easing from the light trembling until he was completely relaxed against Jim's chest. Spock surprised him when he tongued at Jim's upper lip, licking at the seam of his mouth until Jim recovered enough to open for him. Spock made a delicious rumbling sound at that, almost a purr. Jim drank it in, suckled it right out of his mouth, pressing his body up against Spock's at every point of contact he could.

That broke whatever spell Spock had been weaving. His hips jerked away from the sudden contact, mouth pulling away from Jim's, eyes wide and a bit hazy. "Jim-"

"Sorry, sorry," he chanted, trying to force down his frustration, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "Got ahead of myself, just wanted to-"

"Jim, according to the chronometer it is 0912 hours."

Jim's lust-addled brain tried to keep up with the conversation. "Huh?" he asked with as much eloquence as he could muster before he'd been properly caffeinated.

"It is Thursday. Your computer course is at 0945."

He broke out into a wide grin. "You memorized my course schedule?"

Spock just gave him an even look. It was almost the neutral, aloof expression he'd worn when Jim first met him, but he could see little hints of... smugness? fondness? There was something warming the depths of those deep brown eyes. He found it was a look that forced him to steal another kiss.

"You're kicking me out so I'll go to class?"

"Yes."

He tried for his best hurt puppy look. "I always go to class. I can skip it just this once."

"You will miss information that may be vital in the future," Spock admonished him, sounding eerily like the computer technician teaching the course. But then he turned a faint sage green color, unable to meet his eyes. "And your Orion friend will wonder about your absence."

He laughed. "You haven't even met her and you know she's a shameless gossip."

Spock looked slightly offended. "She showed an inordinate amount of interest in the notes I was leaving under your door last night. I noticed her door was open when I brought over one of the letters."

Jim's laughter died down to an amused chuckle. "Yeah, she does that. She thinks she's subtle. No one's told her otherwise because it's better to know when she's watching you rather than give her an opportunity to improve on her stealth."

"Jim, it is now 0913 hours," Spock informed him, trying to get the conversation back on track.

"I could be late," Jim offered, pressing a kiss to the point of his ear. He was pushing his luck and he knew it.

Spock's breath hitched and he gave a full-body shiver, fisting a hand in Jim's uniform. "You cannot..." He tried again. "I am expecting a transmission at 0915."

Jim sighed and broke away, sitting up and smoothing down his wrinkled uniform. "Business matter?" he asked, knowing how Spock valued his professionalism.

He shook his head, still curled into the sheets. "My mother. She and my father will be departing for Vulcan in 5.12 days. She wished to speak to me before their return."

"Wow, they were here for quite awhile." He got out of bed, searching for his shoes and slipping them on before bending over Spock for one last kiss. "Can I come back here tonight?"

Spock kissed him back, hand cradling his jaw for a moment before letting go. "That would be acceptable."

"Glad to hear it," Jim grinned, showing himself out.

*******

Gaila had pounced on him the second he'd left the building. She'd been sitting on a bench outside just waiting to ambush him. "There's something terribly wrong with you," she informed him, handing him a recyclable paper mug and attaching herself to his left side as they walked to the Academy.

"Morning, Gaila," he grumbled, his mood softening considerably when he took a swig from the cup. "Oh my God, you brought me coffee. You're my hero."

"Maybe you didn't hear me, but there's something terribly wrong with you," she repeated, her serious expression betrayed by the mischievous glint in her eyes.

He rolled his eyes but he was much more willing to play along since she'd buttered him up with coffee. "Okay, I'll bite. What's terribly wrong with me?"

"You walked into the Vulcan's apartment wearing this yesterday." She tugged on his sleeve to indicate his uniform. "And you're wearing it again today. And it's all rumpled and your hair is a disaster."

"You do know how to make a guy feel good," he muttered.

"But you don't smell like sex," she finished, glaring at him. "So what's wrong with you?"

"What do you mean, what's wrong with me?"

"Couldn't get it up?" she continued her interrogation, heedless of the looks she was getting from people they passed by on the street.

Jim turned bright red. "No," he growled. Then, realizing how that sounded, "No, that was not the problem."

"Do Vulcans have sex differently than humans? Is it all mental?"

Jim wondered if hitting her would be wrong under these circumstances. "Hell if I know."

"Are you a virgin?"

"What?! No!"

"I'm just making sure," she defended herself. "Is he a virgin?"

"Not that I asked, but I don't think he is. Also, how is this any of your business?"

"Jimmy, you spent the night with a Vulcan and all you've got to show for it is a rumpled uniform and some wicked bed-head. This is a tragedy that I cannot even begin to describe to you."

"Gaila, this would only be a tragedy if it were some epic Orion saga. In the human world, folks don't always jump into bed with each other at the first opportunity."

"Honey, the first opportunity came and went weeks ago. You've been flirting with this guy ever since you asked me where you could buy tea for him. That's like... four months of blue balls. That isn't good for your health, Jimmy, mental or physical."

He sighed, grateful that their building was coming into view. "It's not exactly how I planned to spend these four months, but it's fine. We'll get there eventually."

"Oh no. I'm not letting this go on for another twenty four hours, much less longer than that."

"Gaila, I expressly forbid you to get involved in my sex life."

"Who died and made you admiral?" she retorted. "You need to get laid. Actually, no, you don't need to get laid that badly, but I bet the Vulcan does. Might improve his disposition."

"You do know Scotty was joking when he told you the tale of his magical healing cock, right? You are aware that's not actually a secret human superpower or something, right?"

"Doesn't hurt to try," she chirped merrily, flouncing into class.

Jim screwed up his nose and rubbed at his temple. It was going to be a long, long day.

*******

He was wrong. It wasn't a long day at all. It was interminable. He was firmly convinced the day had no beginning and no end, and his conviction only became stronger when Gaila roped Chekov into the problem.

"He is shy?" Chekov asked in between bites of replicated meatloaf.

"I am not discussing this with a teenager," Jim insisted, glaring at Gaila and then at his semi-congealed spaghetti. The Academy food replicators were notoriously awful.

"He's legal," Gaila waved off his protest. "And yes, Pavel, the Vulcan's really shy. Maybe we could liquor him up?"

"He doesn't drink," Jim droned, folding his arms on the picnic table and burrowing his head in them.

"How about vodka?" Chekov offered.

"Maybe you didn't hear me, but I said he didn't drink."

"Vodka does not count. Is Russian drinking water. Cures shyness and also the flu virus."

"And I'm not getting him drunk and taking advantage of him," Jim continued.

"Getting who drunk?" Sulu asked, having sneaked up on them while Jim still had his head burrowed in the table.

"Jimmy's Vulcan boyfriend," Gaila explained. "How about a holovid to get him in the mood? I bet I could find one in my collection that he would-"

"No," Jim cut her off.

"You have a Vulcan boyfriend?" Sulu asked, sitting next to Chekov.

"And he won't put out!" Gaila cut in before Jim could say anything. "So we gotta figure out how to seduce a Vulcan."

"Quantum physics problems and astronavigational theory?" Sulu grinned.

"Hilarious," Jim deadpanned.

"Perhaps if you recite pi to a thousand digits?" Chekov asked, joining in the joke.

"I've got a vibrating studded collar I bought from a Cardassian sex fair," Gaila offered.

"Hey, you could try to dissect Surakian theory for an argument about why sex with humans is logical," Sulu continued.

"Do Vulcans even have sex?" Chekov wondered.

"Of course they do. How do you think baby Vulcans are made?" Sulu returned.

"I have never seen a baby Vulcan. Perhaps they do not exist."

"Maybe they divide like amoebas do," Sulu mused.

"No, they have sex," Gaila informed them. "If they reproduced in some totally logical, non-emotional way they'd put it in our databanks. But they've kept their reproductive behavior totally secret, which means it must be shameful and dirty and delicious." She virtually purred the last word.

"You are the three least helpful people I've ever met," Jim muttered. "I don't need help seducing the Vulcan."

"Clearly you do, since you haven't managed it yet."

"Now look-" Jim was cut off by the sound of his communication unit beeping. "Oh thank God," he grumbled, flipping it open. "Kirk here."

"Hello, Jim."

Jim's eyes went wide and he fumbled his communication unit, almost dropping it in the grass. "Oh, um, Miss Grayson-"

"Amanda," she corrected him. "Is now a bad time?"

Chekov and Sulu were peering at him curiously. Gaila looked downright evil. "Um, actually-"

"Who's that?" Gaila piped up.

"Mind your own business," Jim growled at her. "Sorry, Miss Gr- er, Amanda," he tripped over her name. "It's not a bad time, really. I'm just having lunch with some friends. Hang on." He glared at the three of them. "Stay here. Especially you," he jabbed a finger at Gaila.

He loped over to a nearby tree, sitting with his back against the trunk and turning down the volume on the unit, pitching his voice a bit lower to attempt some semblance of privacy during the conversation. "Sorry about that."

"It's not a problem. Was that your Orion friend? The one who propositioned my son?"

"That's her."

"I really must meet her someday." Her voice changed then, the amusement gone. "I understand you and Spock are..." She trailed off, apparently unsure of how to describe them.

"Yeah," Jim saved her from trying to think of the right word. "We are."

"How is that going?"

He hesitated, wondering what he could tell her without violating Spock's privacy. "Um, how did he say it was going? I know he was going to talk to you this morning."

"He was elusive, just like you're being. Is it a disaster? You can tell me, Jim. I'm not going to call him and rake him over the coals for being difficult. A relationship with him would be tough no matter what. I can't imagine how much harder it is when he's..." She trailed off again.

"It's not a disaster," Jim told her honestly. "It isn't easy and I'm not about to lie and pretend that it is. I've been convinced on two or three different occasions that he'd give up on it, but he hasn't. It's... It's difficult and I don't know what the hell I'm doing. But I think it'll be worth it, in the end."

"Good." And it wasn't judgmental, wasn't aimed at keeping Jim in line, but genuinely pleased to hear that he wanted to make it work. "Anyway, I wanted to let you know about an... opportunity, I suppose you could call it."

He perked up. "Yeah?"

"Vulcan will be visible from Earth tonight. For the next four or five nights after this, as well. If you... that is, if he would be open to leaving his apartment, I'm sure he'd love to see it."

His smile turned pained. With all the emotional upheavals Spock had been through in the past few weeks, he doubted he would be able to convince Spock to go anywhere other than his own apartment, much less leaving the building entirely. "I'll give it a try," he promised anyway, remembering what McCoy had told him about pushing his boundaries when he needed it.

"Thank you," she returned, relief coloring her voice. "I'll let you get back your meal." She paused, and Jim had a sudden image of her weighing her words the same way Spock did. "I'm happy to know he has you for a friend."

He couldn't help it; he blushed again. "Yeah, well, I'm glad he puts up with me."

She chuckled. "Goodbye, Jim."

"Bye." He snapped his communicator shut.

"Was that his mother?" Gaila asked, and Jim almost jumped a foot in the air.

"I thought I told you to stay over there!"

"You did. I decided not to listen to you." She was kneeling right next to him. Jim mentally kicked himself for having lost track of his surroundings so much that he hadn't noticed her there. "Anyway, I have a plan for tonight."

"Gaila, he's not going to leave the building. I can pretty much guarantee you that. Doesn't matter how technologically advanced the observatory is."

"It is pretty sexy and science-y," she admitted, waving towards the building where the observatory was located. "But I've got an idea that doesn't involve leaving the building."

"The view out my window is good, but it's not that good," Jim told her, guessing at her next plan. "There's only a small chunk of the sky visible. There's no guarantee I'd be able to see Vulcan from there."

"Yep, I know," she grinned at him smugly.

Jim warred between the desire to stalk away from her on principle and his natural curiosity about her idea. She'd been absolutely correct the last time she'd given him advice about Spock. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to hear her out again. "All right, I'm game. What is it?"

She punched him in the shoulder. "Dunno if I should tell you. You still owe me a bottle of Jack from our last therapy session."

He rolled his eyes. "I'll buy one for you on the way home. I'll buy you two if your brilliant plan works out."

She grinned, kissing him on the cheek. "I'll hold you to that, you know. Now, about tonight..."

Chapter Text

Jim was glad McCoy wasn't around to see any of this, because he was getting mighty damn tired of the Princess Jamie comments. Something about Spock turned him into a nervous thirteen year old girl, and thank God McCoy wasn't around to witness it manifesting tonight. He'd be offering to paint Jim's nails, and Jim would be forced to punch him, and McCoy would probably retaliate with a hypospray, and it would probably make Jim's hands swell up and his eyeballs bleed, and oh my God, why was he thinking about this now?

"Are you going to throw up?" Gaila sassed him from her perch on Jim's sofa.

He made a face at her. "No."

"Because you look like you're going to throw up. That's not some human pre-sex thing, is it? Because if all the humans I've screwed around with have been throwing up before we-"

"No, I am not going to throw up, and there's no need to cast aspersions on the entire human race just because you think I look sick."

"Tch, humans are so touchy," she muttered, missing the point on purpose like she always did. "Are those your ass-hugging jeans? Turn around," she ordered, and he didn't think to disobey her. "Those are not your ass-hugging jeans. Go find the ones you were wearing when you moved in. Those looked great."

"They have holes and paint on them. That's not sexy."

"Depends where the holes are," she grinned at him. "Now go put them on. Your shirt's fine, leave that alone."

"Remind me how exactly you managed to weasel your way in here? Because I don't recall inviting you in and I sure as shit don't remember needing fashion tips from someone who wears pink dental floss to seduce women."

"Must've been memorable, seeing as that's the second time you've bitched about it. Now go change."

He debated arguing with her again, but the fact of the matter was she'd been incredibly helpful last time he had wanted to move things forward with Spock. It wouldn't hurt to listen to her again. Even so... "Am I gonna smell like your pheromones when I go over there? Because it's pointless to change if I'm gonna have to shower after you leave."

"I took a double dose of my inhibitors after lunch. He shouldn't be able to smell anything questionable on you. Unless I rub myself all over you before you head over there."

"I'll pass, thanks." He emerged from his bedroom in the 'right' pair of jeans, feeling even more like a thirteen year old girl than ever. "Does this meet inspection?"

She eyed him critically. "They're not as tight on you as I remembered."

"Gaila, I am not going to go through every pair of pants in my closet until you find one you like. Pick these or pick the other pair and then get out."

"Maybe you ought to take a shower after all. Sounds like you could use a good wank to get all the bitchiness out of your system. Being an irritant is not a turn-on, Jimmy. Unless you've got a Klingon on the side I don't know about." She glared at him suspiciously. "Is there a Klingon on the side?"

"Oh no. You've found me out. Aperokei and I are in love and you can't stop us," he deadpanned.

She threw one of the couch pillows at him. "You're adding to your bar tab every time you mock me, I'll have you know."

All of the fight went out of Jim suddenly and he sagged into his armchair. "Trust me, Gaila. If this works I will buy your drinks for the next month."

Her eyes lit up. "Really?"

"Your Cosmopolitans," he backtracked quickly. "When we're out at the Academy bars. Looks like it's time for you to go."

She snickered at him, hopping up from her seat and kissing him on the cheek. "Good luck, Jimmy."

"Thanks," he returned, watching her flounce out the door.

He waited until he heard the click of her own apartment door closing, not wanting to be watched when he finally knocked on Spock's door. He smiled when Spock's face came into view. "Hey."

"Jim," Spock returned, gesturing towards the kitchen. "We have not had an opportunity to play for 4.8 days. I believe it is your turn to play white."

Jim stopped him with a gentle hand on his wrist before he could take off towards the board. "I'll keep that in mind," he smiled in what he hoped was a winning fashion. "But I have another idea."

To his credit, Spock merely raised an eyebrow at him rather than seizing up automatically. Usually when Jim changed their routine, Spock would get anxious and stuttery on him. He must have had a good day if he was being so open to suggestion. Jim gave him a good long look and what he saw confirmed his hypothesis. The bags under Spock's eyes were gone. His glasses were clean and perched straight on his nose. His posture was perfect, but not rigid. It even looked as though he'd brushed his mass of dark hair; it still curled around his ears and along the nape of his neck, but it no longer made him look so wild. It was just long and silky, begging to be pet.

"Are you going to elucidate on this idea of yours?" Spock interrupted Jim's thoughts, eyebrow arching ever-higher over his glasses.

"Right, yeah," he shook his head to stop distracting himself. "There's something I'd like for you to see. But it would involve leaving your room."

That killed the relaxed vibe Spock had been giving off. His shoulders tensed. The expression on his face morphed from easy and open to the neutral mask Jim hated. "I see," Spock said, his voice strained.

Jim moved forward, sifting his fingers into Spock's hair soothingly. "Relax," he pleaded, kissing him softly. "It doesn't involve leaving the building, I promise. And you won't have to interact with anyone but me."

He didn't lean into the contact and didn't really return the kiss either. His gaze turned piercing. "How are you able to make that guarantee?"

"Because I've worked it out so you don't have to set one foot outside. And..." He hadn't wanted to admit discussing this with anyone else, but he also didn't want to lie to him. "And I've got a friend who helped me make sure that you wouldn't run into anybody during the trip."

"That does not answer my question," Spock informed him, still stiff and unforgiving under Jim's hands.

He sighed and gave up on being vague. "Gaila's a computer genius, kind of like you but with fewer ethical boundaries about it. There aren't a whole lot of people traveling around the building at this time of night anyway, but she sent out a message about the security system being worked on tonight and everyone needing to keep an eye on their safety mechanisms for the next few hours."

Spock just stared at him. "The message from Tellu was fabricated?"

"In that Tellu didn't actually send it and there's really no problem at all with the security system? Yeah, it's fabricated."

"To what purpose?"

Jim attempted another winning smile. "To make sure everyone stays in their rooms and doesn't bother us when we leave your apartment."

The tension kept him rigid and nervous, his gaze darting nervously from Jim to his own front door and back again. "I do not know... I have not..."

"Spock." He shifted his hands until they were cradling Spock's face, forcing him to meet his eyes. "I know this is hard for you. I know how much you hate leaving your safe space. But the only other place I've ever asked you to go is my apartment, and you've been safe there, haven't you? I mean, you've had an episode or two in there, but you're still okay. There's no one there to judge you or make you feel worse about the situation. Right?"

Spock stared at him for a few seconds before nodding slightly, his hands resting over Jim's on his face.

"So all I'm asking is that you trust me. No one is going to see us leaving. No one is going to meet us on the way and expect you to smile or greet them or make small talk. It's just going to be you and me. And when we get to where we're going, I promise that it's going to be a safe place, too. No one else around. Just us."

Spock's breathing had hitched and stuttered throughout Jim's explanation, and he made a valiant effort to get it back under control. "We..." He cleared his throat and tried again. "We will not see anyone."

Jim heard the question under the statement. "We won't see anyone," he affirmed. "And if we get halfway there and you decide that it really is too much for you, we'll come back. And if we get all the way there and it's too much for you, we'll come back. All you have to do is tell me that it's too overwhelming, and I'll bring you back here and boil up some tea and let you kick my ass at chess." He pressed another kiss to his mouth, smiling when Spock made a weak attempt to kiss back. "See? Whatever you decide, you're going to be okay."

Spock closed his eyes and fisted his hands in Jim's shirt for a moment, fighting for his equilibrium. Jim stayed quiet, not wanting to inundate him with more reasoning about why he should go, why he should trust him. He brushed his hands through Spock's hair, giving into the temptation to just pet him for awhile, loving the way it curled around his fingers as he carded through it.

"All right," Spock whispered, eyes still shut and leaning into Jim's hands.

Jim broke into a wide grin. "Excellent," he murmured, kissing his forehead. "Just tell me when you're ready."

Spock stood there for another minute or two to gather up his courage, apparently relying on bravado alone to get him to wherever Jim planned to take him. "Ready." He was still shivering a bit when he nodded, allowing himself to be led out of his apartment and toward the stairs. "You said we would not leave the building," Spock pointed out, but followed Jim anyway.

"We won't," Jim assured him, one hand still on his wrist and leading him up.

Spock's gaze kept darting up past Jim on the stairs and then behind himself, apparently still paranoid that they would be caught by strangers. "You also stated we would not see anyone else."

"I did."

Now Spock was eying the doors of the other rooms as if someone would jump out at them at any moment. "Does that include your own friends and acquaintances?"

"Trust me, I wouldn't just spring my friends on you. That would be mean at best and downright cruel at worst if Gaila was involved. I promise I'll give you fair warning if I want you to meet any of them." He shot him a comforting smile over his shoulder. "Like I said, it's just you and me. I promise."

Spock nodded, still looking nervous and suspicious as they made their way to the top floor and then up the maintenance staircase beyond that. Jim led him up to a door at the top of the stairs and typed in the security code that would open it. "Still okay?" he murmured to Spock.

Spock gave one last anxious look over his shoulder, then turned to face Jim again. "Yes."

Jim opened the door and, for approximately three heartbeats in time, regretted it. When he'd come home after his classes he had left Gaila to her own devices long enough to hack into the building network and send out the fabricated security system notice. Apparently she'd also had enough time to come up here and add her own 'special touch' to the area, because where he'd been expecting the bare rooftop and endless sky, Gaila had left behind a pile of blankets and a couple of pillows. And knowing Spock's penchant for panic attacks if Jim tried anything physical...

But after those three heartbeats in time, he saw the logic of the situation. The blankets were ragged old things of a neutral color and fabric - nothing girly or seductive about them at all. The pillows were the same. And if they were going to be up here for any significant length of time, they would appreciate the creature comforts. Maybe Gaila knew what she was doing after all.

"Jim?" Spock asked, looking at him for an explanation. He had gone rigid next to him, his eyes closed off behind his glasses.

"Relax. This isn't some lame seduction attempt, really," he insisted, tugging gently on Spock's wrist to lead him over to the pile. "I have a very good reason for bringing you up here and it has nothing to do with pushing your physical boundaries."

Spock looked torn for a moment, giving a faint twitch when he looked at the cozy set-up, then looking up at the sky. The latter seemed to center him; his eyes went wide as he took in the surprisingly clear view of the stars, no clouds or fog obscuring their beauty for once. He said nothing as he followed Jim and settled next to him in the blankets, his gaze never breaking from the view as he folded his legs under him.

"Pretty amazing, huh?" Jim was looking not so much at the sky as he was Spock's open, awed expression, the stars reflecting in the lenses of his glasses.

"I do not remember the last time I saw..." Spock trailed off, removing his glasses and peering at one specific point in the sky. "That is-"

Jim smiled, looping an arm around his waist and following his gaze. There was a bright, faintly pink-hued star hanging near the Cygnus constellation. "40 Eridani A," he supplied. "Vulcan. I'm surprised you didn't know it could be seen from Earth right now."

"I have not kept track of interstellar maps ever since I became bound to my apartment." Jim was amazed at the lack of stuttering or self-consciousness as Spock uttered the words. Usually any allusion to his problem had him hesitating or unable to finish his sentences. "How did you know?"

He felt sheepish when he admitted, "Your mother told me."

Spock surprised him again by breaking into a fond smile. "I should have known," he said quietly, reaching out and setting a hand on Jim's leg, resting there possessively.

Jim leaned closer, pressing himself against Spock's side until he could feel his unnatural heat seeping into him. "How's that?"

"She had a high degree of interest in our relationship when she contacted me this morning."

"Ah."

It was like watching a whole new side of Spock, Jim realized. He wasn't getting anxious over the change of surroundings; if anything he was more relaxed than Jim had ever seen him, his eyes fixed on the stars and his body language open and receptive. His face was totally at ease, no worry lines aging his eyes or sharpening the lines of his mouth. Jim flashed back to the night he had herded him to bed when he was sick and watched him sleep for a few minutes, how he felt as if he had been seeing the real Spock underneath all his neuroses. It was as if that Spock had appeared again, totally at ease with himself. And by God, it was amazing to see. He'd fallen in love with shy, reclusive, easily ruffled Spock. And seeing the serene, open Spock awestruck at the sky's expanse... God, it was doing things to him.

"You're so different out here," he whispered, the words leaving his mouth before he could think to filter them.

And shockingly, Spock took no offense to the words, didn't even seize up for the barest instant. Instead he fixed that awestruck gaze on Jim. "How so?"

Jim shifted a bit until he was kneeling in front of him, fingers carding into his hair. "You're relaxed, totally and completely. I've never seen anything like it."

The curious look melted into something more affectionate. Spock took one of his hands in his own and began playing with the fingers. "I am... at ease here," he chose his words carefully rather than tripping over them as he usually did in an unfamiliar situation. "I have a rather illogical attachment to the stars."

He chuckled, turning his hand over and watching Spock trace unknown symbols into his palm. "It's not illogical. Some of us are just born with an affinity for it. That's how the Academy suckers us into the service."

He wasn't thinking when he said it, and the moment it was out he fully expected Spock to freeze up on him. They couldn't talk about the Academy - he had learned that the hard way. But Spock surprised him yet again. "Indeed," he murmured, giving Vulcan one last, probing look before focusing his attention solely on Jim.

And Jim, for all his fantasies of bringing shy, nervous Spock up here to look at the stars, for all his imaginings of being some kind of rock for him in his time of need, found himself literally squirming under the heat of Spock's gaze. He had seen his intensity before, seen it in how he threw himself into his work or meticulously took apart Jim's chess strategy. But he'd never had it focused directly on him, and it turned him from a charming, confident, supportive boyfriend into a blushing, babbling thirteen year old girl. Again. "Seriously, you should see yourself right now," his mouth started to run away with him. "I mean, you're all quiet and focused and relaxed, like seriously relaxed; I've never seen you-"

Spock shut him up with a kiss. Which was shocking enough on its own, since Jim tended to initiate most of the physical contact between them. But it wasn't just one of the shy, hasty kisses Spock stole when he was feeling bold and then immediately withdrew as if he'd done something wrong. Spock literally wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him into it, mouths slotted together for only a heartbeat before he broke the contact to breathe against Jim's lips. "You talk too much," he whispered, the words gusting over his face like smoke, warm and lazy.

"Y-yeah," Jim stuttered, completely taken aback by seeing this side of Spock. "But once in awhile it works out for me." And he proved his point by closing the infinitesimal space between them and slotting their mouths together again, swallowing up that delicious purring noise he'd heard Spock make on rare occasions.

Rather than trying to deepen it or open his mouth to let Jim take control of it, Spock broke from him again to pepper tender, fleeting kisses along the side of his face, pressed against his ear, lingering at his temple. Jim flailed, his confidence completely gone in the wake of a suddenly fearless, unapologetically affectionate Spock. All he could do was grab fistfuls of Spock's shirt and arch up against him, letting his head fall back and groaning softly when Spock took it as an invitation to drag his tongue over Jim's Adam's apple.

"S-spock," he tripped over the name, not realizing that he was being pushed back until his head hit one of the pillows. "Spock, do you-"

"Yes," Spock cut him off, apparently not needing to hear the question. His fingers made quick work of the buttons on Jim's shirt, pressing more of those searingly sweet kisses along his collarbone and down his chest. It was not an effort to discover Jim's sensitive spots, he realized through the haze that had taken over his brain; Spock had avoided Jim's nipples, hadn't exerted any more pressure on his skin past the dragging of his lips. He wasn't marking him, was barely touching his hot, sandpapery tongue to Jim's flesh. Instead it was as if he were exploring him, inhaling the scent of him, cataloging him for future reference. His hypothesis was confirmed when Spock nosed against his belly, fit his hands around Jim's hips and inhaled as if he'd been composed of pure oxygen.

Jim couldn't help the full-body shudder that coursed through him, reaching out and threading his fingers into Spock's wild, curly hair. "Spock," he tried again, not sure what he wanted to say past trying to make some kind of contribution to... well, whatever they were doing. He had never expected that pushing Spock's boundaries would have resulted in this, would never have dreamed that having him out under the stars could transform him so completely.

"Shh," Spock shushed him, and Jim gave up any hope of interrupting him. He let out another heartfelt groan when he felt Spock's hands at the fastenings of his jeans, heard the low growl of the zipper being undone, felt the cool night air ghosting over his bare skin as Spock tugged at his jeans and underwear enough to expose his cock.

He realized dimly through his haze that the air was all he could feel, all he had felt for the past several seconds. He also realized that he'd closed his eyes to concentrate on the sensations, forcing them open and staring down at Spock, momentarily terrified that being face to face with the evidence of Jim's arousal had thrown him from his temporary state of confidence and ease.

But there was no tension in Spock's expression when Jim looked down at him. His hands were relaxed around his hips, cradling the jut of his hipbones. And he looked... it was some mad combination of lust, affection, and scientific curiosity that had Jim breaking out in a goofy smile. "Spock?"

"Fascinating," Spock murmured, and that was the last thing Jim had expected, huffing out a breathless laugh. The breathless laugh turned into a faint choking sound when Spock closed a hand over him, stroking him from root to tip. "The skin here is almost as cool to the touch as the rest of your body."

"Oh," Jim's voice hitched, unable to stop his hips from jutting forward. "The diff... difference in body temperature."

"Indeed." And how he could sound so fucking scholarly about it while still pinning Jim with that hungry expression was dumbfounding. "You produce little natural lubrication," he continued his lecture, then tilted his head to the side and dragged his thumb over the slit, making a low rumbling noise when a small bead of precome appeared there. "Ah," he said, as if to himself, thumbing over the slit again and spreading the small bit of moisture around.

Jim, for his part, was dying a slow, wonderful death. It shouldn't have been such a turn on to feel like some sort of human specimen under Spock's hands, but apparently his cock had decided otherwise. "I, guh, yeah," he stuttered.

And then, with that lusty, curious expression still spread over his face, Spock leaned down and dragged his tongue over him from root to tip, suckling lightly at the head as if gauging the flavor there. Jim let out a sharp cry that should have been humiliating - he should not have been falling apart like some inexperienced whelp getting his first handjob. But hell if he could convince the rest of his body of that. A huge part of it was mental, he knew - the very idea of Spock exploring him like this when he was usually so reserved, so self-conscious, was exhilarating. Added to that was the visual of Spock's tongue dragging over his skin, Spock's eyes drinking him in as if he were some sort of grand puzzle he wanted to dismantle.

And before Jim could put too much more thought into that soft, adoring look on his face, Spock wrapped one hand around the base of his cock, fit his lips around the shaft, and sucked him down.

His hips bucked forward, automatically seeking more heat, more suction, more friction, just more, damn it, but Spock had left one hand cradling his hip and was pinning him down effortlessly. He wanted to thrust forward, couldn't control the urge no matter how much he tried, but it didn't matter: Spock was holding him down one-handed. And that easy demonstration of strength was almost as arousing as the maddeningly light suction around his cock, the exploring tongue licking over the thick vein along the underside.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, Spock," Jim chanted, one hand fisting in his hair just to anchor himself to reality, the other reaching down and lacing his fingers with Spock's on his hip. Spock moaned around him as their fingers linked, the vibrations setting fire to his spine. He clenched Spock's hand in his reflexively, blunt nails digging into his skin, and Gaila must have been right about the sensitivity of Vulcan hands because Spock reacted to that with a guttural groan, eyes squeezed shut in ecstasy.

"More," Jim whined, digging his nails into Spock's hand purposely now, hips jutting upward before Spock slammed them back down again. "More, harder, please Spock, I'm so close, so fucking close..." And he was, between the visual of the tentative blowjob and the suckling, vibrating, scorching sensations of it, he was right on the edge. He had wanted Spock for so long, had wanted to see him open and uninhibited and focusing all that raw energy on Jim and Jim alone, and the fact that he finally had all of those things was fraying at his sense of control.

Spock took pity on him, hollowing his cheeks and increasing the sucking pressure, tongue fluttering over the shaft with its rough, alien texture, and Jim finally let himself go. He dropped his head back against the blankets, giving a low, guttural cry as his back arched and his hips bucked, coming in long spurts down Spock's throat as he swallowed him down.

He lay there for several minutes trying to catch his breath, chest heaving, eyes gazing blearily up at the stars as they blurred together and slowly came back into focus. "Shit, Spock," he wheezed, smiling down at where he'd pillowed his head against Jim's thigh. He brushed his fingers through the sweaty mass of dark hair, squeezing Spock's hand in his, opening his mouth to say something more-

When Spock moaned and squeezed right back, his hand tense and shaky in Jim's. A wicked grin spread over Jim's face, tugging lightly at the back of Spock's neck. "Up," he encouraged him, pulling at him until he was lying next to him again, the sweltering heat of him plastered against Jim's chest and thighs, a telltale bulge digging into his hip. He leaned forward to lick the taste of himself from Spock's mouth, indulging in a long, searing kiss. He could spend hours doing this, he realized, just learning the contours of Spock's mouth, trying to chase down that elusive flavor of his until he had it fully analyzed. But Spock needed more than that, if the slow rolling of his hips against Jim's was any indication.

He let go of Spock's fingers long enough to work at his pants, opening them just enough to slide a hand down the front of them. He couldn't actually see the anatomical differences between them this way - Spock was still fully clothed aside from having his pants undone - but he could feel what Spock was referring to when he'd made reference to the dry texture of Jim's skin. Male Vulcan anatomy was decidedly wetter, the lubrication and the heat working to make Jim feel as if he were being scorched as he wrapped a hand around what felt like a shaft similar to his own and started a steady stroking rhythm. Spock made a low keening sound in the back of his throat which abruptly changed to a whine when Jim laced the fingers of his free hand with Spock's, digging his nails into the back of his hand again.

"Jim..." Spock gasped, his expression wide and vulnerable as he pressed his forehead to Jim's. His eyes held no trace of the deep brown warmth he so loved, blown dark and unending as he lost himself in the sensations.

"God, you're amazing," Jim breathed, bringing Spock's hand to his mouth and pressing a kiss to the palm. "I didn't know you still had this in you, this fucking incredible, confident, gorgeous you so close to the surface." Spock gasped and screwed his eyes shut, hips jerking and stuttering as Jim continued stroking him, firming up his grip and increasing the tempo. "Look at me, Spock," he crooned at him, kissing his eyelids, between his arched eyebrows, the bridge of his nose. "Look at me, beautiful. Let me see you. Let me see you fall apart. I want you to, Spock. I'm right here." He was babbling again, unable to stop himself despite the temptation to simply lock lips with him and swallow down the breathless, involuntary noises he was making. "I'm right here, Spock. You're safe with me. I want to see you, Spock, please just let me, let me, let me," he repeated endlessly, the words becoming more and more breathless as he drove him closer and closer to the end, willing him to open his eyes as the rhythm of his hips became stilted, jarring. And just as Spock's mouth dropped open in a nearly soundless cry, just as Jim felt the hot spurts over his hand, Spock's eyes blew wide open, locked to Jim's own.

It was, without question, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

He worked him through the last of his tremors, removing his hand when Spock gave a violent shudder as if he were too sensitive to be touched anymore. Jim wiped his hand on the blanket, silently promising to wash them before he returned them to their proper owner, then threw his arm over Spock's waist and pulled him closer. Spock was panting, shivering, pulling in air as if his lungs had just lost a half of their air capacity. He couldn't tell if that was an attempt to recover from his orgasm or the warning signs of an attack, nuzzling his face closer to Spock's and pressing sweet, fleeting kisses to his lips. "Hey," he whispered, quiet and intimate. "You okay?"

Spock didn't speak for a long time, one hand still clutching to Jim's own, the other fisted in his unbuttoned shirt. He finally shook his head from side to side, a nearly inaudible, "No," leaving his lips. And before Jim could ask why, could offer support or a solution or ask any questions, he continued. "But I believe... I believe I will be."

Jim's heart soared. "Yeah," he murmured, pulling him closer. "I think you will."

Chapter Text

Jim wondered, his brain still functioning despite the throbbing pain in his jaw, if it had all been just a dream. The rooftop incident had been over a week ago. It had unfortunately occurred just before the semester came to a close, one small moment of bliss before Jim's life went to hell as he struggled to get his finals completed. He'd returned to the apartment building late every night as he tried to schedule everything, to study, to stay at the top of his game despite the significant portion of his brain dedicating itself to replaying the rooftop incident over and over in increasingly obscene detail. Most of the time he was too exhausted to even think of seeing Spock, crashing on his sofa rather than his bed some nights because he couldn't spare enough energy to walk the few extra steps to his bedroom.

He had tried, twice, to at least invite Spock over even if only to watch Jim pass out shortly afterward. The first time he had knocked on his door and been greeted by a now-familiar haggard face, the bags under his eyes returning full force, his glasses skewed. "I cannot," he had whispered, not making eye contact. "I am involved in an intricate coding problem. Perhaps some other time?" He had permitted a light kiss after that (which Jim considered a small victory since he'd been out in the hall where anyone could see them when it happened), and then closed the door hastily.

The second time Jim had resorted to note-writing again:

Hey. I miss you.

The response was on his entryway floor the next morning, the bold script familiar. The words, however, were not. Jim hesitated to call them words at all: instead there was a line of pictograms not unlike the ones Uhura had shown him in her research documents. No translation was offered and Jim was too busy to ask for one. He had tacked it on the wall next to his door as a reminder of the enigmatic Vulcan he'd fallen in love with, smiling at the mysterious symbols each morning before he ran out the door to complete another day of exams and simulators.

And so now, despite the physical evidence of the note by his door and the memory of Spock's mouth on him burned into his brain, some small part of him couldn't help but wonder if he'd dreamed the whole thing. He'd had almost no physical contact with Spock since it happened; in fact, he'd had almost no contact with him at all. It was mostly his own fault, he knew, and he planned to rectify it as soon as he finished his last simulator this afternoon-

"Why the hell are you bleeding in my med clinic?"

Jim attempted a smile, but it was short-lived since it reopened the split in his lip and had him bleeding afresh again. "Hey, Bones. There's a split in my lip," he informed him.

It earned him a smack to the back of his head. "I'm not an idiot, Jim, I can see that. Why is there a split in your lip?"

"See, we wouldn't have these conversations if you'd buckle down like a real live doctor and ask the right questions."

McCoy glared at him. "We also wouldn't have this conversation if I just sedated you for the next twenty four hours."

"You can't! My last sim is in three hours and I gotta make sure I got all the procedures right because I swear to God, Bones, if I fuck this one up then there's no way in hell that I'll ever-"

"If you don't quit runnin' your mouth, you're gonna run that split straight through your jaw." McCoy rummaged through his bag for a dermal regenerator. "How'd it happen?"

"Cupcake punched me in the face."

And yes, Jim was offended that McCoy outright laughed at him. "I bet that made his week."

"S'not funny, Bones."

"Of course it is. And how'd you get punched in the face, anyhow? You're in an advanced combat course. The whole point of those is to not get punched in the face if you can help it."

Jim hated himself for blushing. "We were sparring for our final, I gave him a right hook, he blocked it and dug his nails into my hand, and, um," he stopped there, not wanting to delve into details.

McCoy raised an eyebrow, dermal regenerator in hand. Just waiting for Jim to finish, the bastard.

"I got distracted." No recognition or understanding in McCoy's eyes. "Because Spock has a thing for hands." Still no understanding. "I mean a big thing. A big, nail-scraping-means-coming-in-his-pants thing."

McCoy smacked him again. "Augh, God, I didn't need to know that."

"Well then you shouldn't have stared at me like you didn't know what I was talking about."

"Next time just tell me I don't wanna know." McCoy finally gave in, running the regenerator over Jim's lip. "Anyway, I'm kinda surprised you didn't haul ass in here after you two were done for some migraine hypos."

Jim stared at him, his confusion distracting him from the tingle of his healing lip. "Why would I do that? I'm not allergic to Vulcans as far as I know."

"Not because you're allergic, you idiot. Because..." McCoy trailed off, staring right back at him. "No headaches?" he asked, switching gears from fondly exasperated best friend to demanding doctor.

"No. Am I supposed to get those after sex?"

"No migraines? Eye strain? Difficulty concentrating?" Shit, he was digging for a tricorder. Jim just knew he was going to get stabbed with something again.

"It's finals week, Bones. All of us are feeling strained and miserable and unfocused. I'm no worse than any other cadet this time of year."

McCoy fiddled with the settings of his tricorder and scanned along Jim's temples and over his skull, scowling at the readings he was getting. "He didn't meld with you?"

Jim blinked in surprise. "Uh, no. It's not like we pledged our eternal undying love and decided to get married right after the fact, so why would he-"

"He's a goddamn Vulcan, Jim," McCoy growled. "They don't do casual sex. We don't know a hell of a lot about their sex practices, but we do know that they require a link, even a light one, with their partner in order to stay mentally and telepathically sound."

"Oh."

The scowl intensified. "Are you telling me that you fucked around with a Vulcan - a half human, agoraphobic, panic-attack prone Vulcan - and you didn't establish any kind of mental link with him?"

Jim didn't like where this conversation was going. Spock's sudden reclusiveness and haggard appearance began to make more sense. "No. He didn't say anything about one and he seemed perfectly content when we were done, so I didn't think there was anything wrong."

McCoy rubbed a hand over his face, grumbling something under his breath before turning his attention to Jim again. "Jim, you need to go get your sim done - and get it done now if you can, reschedule it so you don't have to wait so long - and then you need to go home and let him play around in your head. I don't care if you have to break his damn door down and glue his hands to your face; he needs to establish a link with you or he's going to spiral down the drain even more than he's already been doing."

Jim felt sick to his stomach. "I- I didn't know, Bones. I swear, I had no idea, or I would have-"

"Yeah, I know. And believe me, whenever I finally meet this guy we're going to exchange words about it. He's gotta stop fucking himself over just because he's afraid of rocking the boat or gettin' all emotional. It ain't doin' him any favors and it sure as shit ain't doin' much for you, either." The drawl was emerging again, which warmed Jim's heart in a twisted kind of way. It meant McCoy cared for Spock's well-being despite never having seen him in person.

Jim pulled him into a one-armed hug, grinning at the man's flailing and awkwardness before he returned it. "You're a good friend, Bones. When you're not throwing up on me, anyway."

McCoy rolled his eyes, shoving a med kit into his hands. "There are hyposprays in there for anything from a mild headache to a major migraine. They're labeled accordingly. Take whichever one you need to once he's done poking around in your brain - humans don't tend to react all that well to psychic activity since we're largely psi-null." He shoves him off the biobed. "Now get out and get home as soon as you can."

"Yes, sir."

*******

Jim managed to grab an earlier time slot for his simulator, rushing through it and tearing home. He only made one stop along the way: the fueling station, where he picked up not one but two bottles of Jack Daniel's and then left them in front of Gaila's door. He stepped inside his own apartment just long enough for a sonic shower and a change of clothes, and then he was camped in front of Spock's door. He knocked a little too hard, the knot of nervousness in his gut compounded by the anticipation of seeing him again.

The door opened, but Jim was surprised when it only opened a crack, Spock peering out at him the same way he had done before they became closer. "Jim." He looked even more worn down than he had a few days ago when Jim had stopped by to see him, glasses missing again, eyes bloodshot, skin pale.

It was such a stark contrast to the confident, affectionate Spock he'd seen on the rooftop that night that Jim's heart squeezed painfully in his chest. "Hey," he said softly. "Can I come in?"

Spock's face seemed torn in two different directions; he almost cringed, then belatedly tried to prevent himself from doing so. "Yes," he answered, not meeting his eyes as he stepped aside to let Jim through.

He waited until the door had been closed and locked behind him before he reached out and pressed a hand to Spock's cheek, trying to get him to meet his eyes. "I've been neglecting you," he murmured, trying to project the sincerity of his apology right into Spock's skin. "I'm sorry. It was the last week of the semester and you know how huge my course load is."

"Yes," Spock repeated. He leaned into the contact like he was starved for it but still couldn't meet Jim's eyes.

Jim gave him what his body was so obviously screaming for, wrapping his other arm around Spock's waist and pulling him in close, nuzzling his cheek against Spock's, silently willing him not to shut down on him, not to panic. "I learned something about Vulcans this afternoon," he breathed against one of his ears, keeping his voice low and soothing.

Spock was clinging to him like he never had before, not even in the depths of his worst episodes. He was soaking up the physical contact like a sponge, eyes closed as he molded himself to Jim's body. "What?" he whispered.

He cringed at the shortness of Spock's speech. Usually that was a prelude to a panic attack. So he was either getting ready to descend into one, or... "Your telepathy - I didn't realize how vital it was to your health. I guess because it's not like you go around trying to read everyone's mind, I kind of forgot about it in some respects." He shifted a bit, pressed their foreheads together and watched Spock's face closely, taking in the screwed-shut eyes and severe furrow between his arched eyebrows. "How come you didn't meld with me?"

Spock let loose a minuscule gasp, sounding as if it had been bodily ripped from his chest before he stopped it. He swallowed hard, the lines at his eyes deepening as he fought for control. "I did not... I am..." He tried again. "I am half human. I did not th-think it would be necessary. It was not, at the time."

Jim wrapped both arms around his waist then, just for the simple pleasure of holding him as well as offering bracing support if his knees went out. "Why wouldn't you think it was necessary? Didn't you...?" He stopped himself, tried to think of how to ask diplomatically. "...with Stonn?" he finished, letting the unasked portion of the question hang in the air.

"Yes," Spock whispered, and the word sounded painful.

Not for the first time since he'd learned about Spock's background with Stonn, Jim found himself wishing bodily harm upon the man who'd once been Spock's bondmate. He tried to calm himself, center himself. "Well it's obviously pretty necessary now," he pointed out quietly, kissing his temple.

"I am a-able to function without it," Spock stuttered over the words, making them far less convincing.

"Maybe," Jim allowed, since he really had no idea about Spock's abilities or needs as far as telepathy went. "But I'd like to give it a try." He smiled up at him, willing him to open his eyes. "I'd like to share my thoughts with you. And I'm curious to experience yours."

Spock finally cracked his eyes open, the vulnerability there gutting Jim before he got it back under control. "Very well." Spock was back to clipped, anxious responses, and he also seemed too exhausted to argue the matter. That probably didn't bode well for what Jim had just agreed to, but he was hoping that forming a link between the two of them would help with Spock's mental stability.

Spock pulled away from him stiffly, though he reached for Jim's hand and laced their fingers together as he led them toward his bedroom. "Are you aware of the effects of a Vulcan mind link?"

"Effects? Uh, Bones mentioned that humans tend to get headaches when they come into mental contact with telepaths. Something about having humans having no psychic abilities or whatever."

Spock shook his head minutely, sitting at the foot of his bed and gesturing for Jim to join him. "No, I meant..." His speech was still awkward, stilted. "There are different types of links that may exist between two individuals, and different levels for each type of link."

Jim tried his best to translate that. "So... not every Vulcan mind link is like your other one?" He didn't want to say Stonn's name out loud right now, not when he was in Spock's bedroom, on his bed, preparing to be as intimate with Spock's mind as he had been earlier with his body.

"Correct. I will form a less invasive link in your mind than I had with my former bondmate. I will not be able to read your thoughts at a distance, nor will you be able to read mine. We will require physical contact in order to meld."

Jim had no objections to that. "Okay," he returned easily. "How do we do this?"

Spock raised a shaking hand to his face, pressing his fingers along his jaw, his cheekbone, his temple. "My..." he cut himself off with a low choking noise.

Jim settled one hand on top of Spock's on his face, bracing it there. He curled the other into Spock's hair, cradling the back of his skull, trying to will him to relax. "Hey," he murmured softly. "It's okay. I'm not afraid of this. You can be as emotional as you need to be and it isn't going to send me running."

Spock was shuddering all over, swallowing hard as he tried to keep himself together. "The l-last time I engaged in a meld..."

Jim leaned in and pressed a quick, chaste kiss to his lips. "I know. But I'm human, remember? I can handle whatever feelings you want to throw at me."

The look of total desperation in Spock's eyes stabbed at him, as if he wished to believe him but couldn't bring himself to do so. He pressed his fingers more firmly against Jim's face, still trembling faintly. "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts."

For a moment, there was no change. Then there was a startling blankness to his thoughts, as if his mind were some sort of computer that had just been switched on. Time stretched endlessly as the blankness remained, and Jim had just enough presence of mind to wonder what the big deal was when-

Suddenly his brain felt shattered from the force of Spock driving into it, his own thought processes obliterated in the searing pain of guilt, anxiety, and self-loathing that he knew on some level was not originating from him. He felt as if he were choking, drowning under the deluge of pain want desire frustration control shame want rejection hope love no no no...

Bits and pieces of memory started to surface along the river of chaos in his mind. Suddenly Stonn was there, Stonn was pulling away from him, Stonn's mind was closed to him, unwilling to join, repulsed by what it had sensed in the link. His sense of helplessness grew exponentially until it threatened to consume him, his pain and his desire and his fear spiraling in on him with no relief to be found from his mate on the other side of the link. He was utterly alone with his emotions, unable to control them, unable to find an anchor he could hold to in order to even try. He was trapped within his own mind, his mind prisoner within his own body, his body prisoner within a cage of its own, familiar walls that never changed, that never allowed him to leave, his bed full of memories and pleasure and pain and broken and a kind of mental agony he could barely comprehend it was so overwhelming, so much more than he could possibly bear-

Jim slowly realized that these were not his feelings no matter how deeply they were affecting him. He felt trapped, cornered, caged and unable to escape. He was dimly aware of the shaking of his own body, of a wetness on his cheeks. He concentrated on those physical sensations, drawing on them to center him until he could push back at the maelstrom of uncertainty and misery pouring into him.

Spock. Spock, I'm here. Spock-

And his feeble attempts at recentering him created another tidal wave of telepathic communication that he could not control, could barely even comprehend as it took in Jim's response and formed a wall around it.

Jim friend brother lover! Freedom in the stars, exhilaration under the sky. Want, desire, affection, need- no! Wrong! Rejection, fear, alone. Caged, bound to an impersonal hell. Home, hearth, center, welcome, bondmate, bed. Bed, pleasure, joining, rejecting, distance, dissolution, pain. Pain of the mind, pain of the body, pain of the deepest part of self where bondmate is no more. Gone and yet not gone, a voluntary severance, and the mind bleeds, bleeds, bleeds into the nothingness on the other side. Alone and yet not alone, traces of bondmate everywhere, in this room, in this bed, in the walls, in the air, and yet one cannot leave because out there is the cause, out there are the emotions that batter against the controls, out there are the reasons why in here is a cage and out there is a wasteland, no safety to be found anywhere-

Jim knew that his body was shuddering violently, knew he was choking, sobbing. He once again tried to draw on those physicalities. Without the first clue as to what he was doing, he gathered up the memories of the night on the rooftop, of how totally at ease Spock had been, of the endless vista of stars stretched out above them. He remembered the softness in Spock's eyes, the sensation of his hands and mouth over Jim's skin. He tried to gather all the pent-up desire, all the affection, all the heartbreaking love he felt for this man and clumsily pushed it at him as hard as he could.

Several things happened at once. He felt as if some sort of explosion had gone off in the base of his skull, and the agony of it distracted him from the sudden blankness of thought. The sudden blankness of thought distracted him from the way Spock wrenched his hand away from Jim's face. And the sudden lack of physical contact alerted him to the fact that Spock had vomited all over the sheets.

It took several minutes before Jim could act, letting out a long, wet, shuddering sigh as he pulled himself back together. He tugged Spock up from his perch on the bed, leading him over to the wall and helping him to sit on the floor there. Swiping the last of the wetness from his eyes, he stripped the bed as quickly and efficiently as he could, shoving them down the nearby laundry chute before the smell could permeate the room. He stood in front of the chute for several minutes, trying to piece himself back together, to come to terms with the pounding of his head, to comprehend all that he had just seen, heard, felt.

He made his way back to Spock on the floor, sitting next to him and pulling him so his head was in Jim's lap. "We're leaving," he informed him quietly.

Spock shuddered, pressing his face against Jim's thigh, his fingers digging bruises into his legs where he was clinging to them.

"We're leaving," he repeated undeterred. "Both of us. You tell me when you're ready and we'll go. I want to tell you a few things, but I won't do it here."

"Why?" Spock rasped, the pain still evident in his voice.

"Because this isn't your safe haven. It's just the lesser of all evils as far as your brain is concerned. And I don't want to talk to you in a place where you're still miserable. So you tell me when you can manage to walk, and we'll go."

"To the roof?" Spock asked, and the feeble hope in his voice stabbed at Jim.

"Maybe some other time, when we can orchestrate it so no one will bother us when we get there." He leaned down, pressing a kiss to one of his ears. "We're going next door. We're going to my place. We're going to head back to my bedroom, to my bed, and I'm going to show you what I see, what I feel when I think of you. And you're going to hear it in a place where your demons aren't there to distract you." He paused, rubbing at his forehead. "And I'm gonna shoot myself up with half the meds Bones sent me home with."

Spock was silent for a long time, so long that Jim wondered if he'd either succumbed to exhaustion and fallen asleep or simply shut down his mental processes as a defense mechanism. But after an age had passed, he heard a whisper in the air.

"I... I am ready."

Chapter Text

Spock was too exhausted to panic by the time Jim led him out of his apartment. He barely reacted at all as Jim pulled him from his room and back into Jim's own. His blank expression remained as Jim guided him to the bedroom, pushing him to sit at the foot of the bed while Jim dug around for the hypo kit McCoy had given him.

"You have been speaking with the doctor," Spock observed, his voice low and monotone.

"Yeah. He's the one who clued me in about the melding thing." There were four different hyposprays to choose from. Jim grabbed the second strongest one and shot it into his neck, wincing at the mild sting. "He wants to meet you sometime, by the way. To thank you for the lawyer. And to growl at you about not taking proper care of yourself. Try not to get too offended about that when it happens - it's just what he does."

Spock said nothing, watching Jim blankly as he moved around his bedroom, stowing the hypo kit in a dresser drawer before sitting next to him.

"Hey," he said softly, taking Spock's clammy hands in his own. "Talk to me."

"What do you wish me to say?"

Jim hoped that his earlier meld-slash-panic-attack had exhausted him enough that he could talk about his issues without getting all worked up again. "How bad were things with Stonn, at the end?" What he wanted to ask was, 'How much of a complete asshole was your ex?' but the diplomatic approach often worked better on Spock.

Spock stared at their hands resting in Jim's lap. "We did not engage in a meld for the last several weeks we were living together. He was... Jim, you cannot understand how vital it is for a Vulcan to control his or her emotions. Being unable to do so not only constitutes a failure of character, but a reversion back to the pre-Surak days when we were a violent, bloodthirsty people. At the end he viewed me as a barbarian and culturally he was correct to do so."

Jim's hands squeezed around Spock's at the matter-of-fact condemnation of his problem. "He didn't take your human characteristics into account at all?"

"I did not have any when we were bonded on Vulcan. It was therefore illogical that I would suddenly exhibit human behaviors when stationed on Earth."

Jim's face twisted into a sad kind of smile at that, leaning forward to press a kiss against his temple. "See, I think that's where both of you were wrong," he told him, nuzzling into the side of his face. "I think somewhere buried under all that Vulcan conditioning to keep yourself calm and logical and under control, you feel love the same way a human does. You get attached. You care what the other person thinks. You want to be your best for them. And you're miserable when you can't live up to those perceived expectations."

Spock closed his eyes and leaned into the contact, the first few signs that he was starting to relax. "Interesting," he murmured, which Jim had come to learn meant that he neither agreed nor disagreed with what Jim was saying and was only contributing to the conversation to adhere to human social conventions.

He pushed his luck. "How come he didn't stay and try to work on this with you? I mean, you were bonded. I thought that was pretty damn important to Vulcans."

"It is." Spock's fingers gripped Jim's tightly. "I believe he no longer found comfort or compatibility within our bond. It was less painful for him to have it severed than it was to either reach out to an unbalanced mind or to completely block contact with it." He pulled back as if he wished to make eye contact but wound up staring at Jim's mattress instead. "When one half of a bonded pair suffers, the other shares in that suffering due to the link between them. When Stonn's experiments failed to produce any change in my mental state, he decided it could not be solved through traditional Vulcan exercises or control techniques."

And it wouldn't have occurred to either of them to try human techniques. "I guess I just don't understand how he could walk away after vowing to spend his life with you."

Spock's expression trembled, threatened to break. "Neither do I," he whispered, closing his eyes again.

Jim realized that in the absence of any logical answer to that particular dilemma, Spock had foisted the blame for his broken bond entirely upon himself. It had only compounded the anxiety issues that had blossomed due to his new-found proximity to humans, and what could have been an easily fixed control issue in the early stages had devolved into a panic-stricken, reclusive Vulcan who had only grown more imbalanced over time. All Spock had wanted was a support system, someone to anchor him in his time of need, and that anchor had deserted him in an act of self-preservation.

"Spock," he sighed, letting go of his hands so he could pull Spock into a hug, wrapping himself around the man as if it would protect him from all the hurt he had gone through in the last year or two. "He's an idiot, okay? Sometimes there isn't any other explanation."

Spock allowed himself to be held, his hands still resting in Jim's lap, not reciprocating the touch. "I do not understand," he admitted, face pressed against Jim's shoulder. "I am mentally and emotionally unstable. I cannot leave the building but I cannot stand remaining inside. I am alien to you both biologically and culturally." It took him several minutes before he gathered the courage to ask his question. "Why would you remain when others have not?"

It felt like a turning point, like something heavy and important were weighing down the question. Jim didn't answer right away. He wouldn't let his mouth run away with him during such a pivotal moment. He pressed his nose to the wild mass of hair, inhaling the strange scent of him and gathering his thoughts.

"Because I'm not as alien to you as you seem to think," he murmured into his temple. "Part of you originates from my planet, my people. You've spent your whole life giving your Vulcan half everything it needs to thrive and your human half has been neglected. Maybe the reason I'm so drawn to you isn't that you're so different from me, but because we're also a lot alike."

"In what way are we anything alike?" Spock asked, his tone disbelieving.

"Do you love me?" Jim asked, the question leaving his mouth before he had time to think about it, to filter it. That sense of importance was still weighing on him, and he wanted to kick himself for allowing one of his more impulsive thoughts to voice itself. "You don't have to answer that," he assured him belatedly.

Spock pulled away from him and succeeded in meeting his eyes this time, his expression open, vulnerable, naked. "Yes," he said, and while his voice wavered a little, his gaze never did.

It didn't matter how deep or serious the conversation had been up until that point; Jim broke into a face-splitting grin. It wasn't as if he hadn't known Spock had feelings for him, it wasn't as if they hadn't danced their way around discussing those feelings, but it was an entirely different matter to have them acknowledged so openly. "Well, there's one thing we have in common," he smiled, leaning in to kiss him.

Spock didn't share his joyful expression, his face guarded. "Love is not always enough to ensure a lasting connection between two people."

"You're right." Jim found himself thinking of McCoy and Jocelyn, of the conversation he'd had with Joanna the last time he'd watched her. "But sometimes it's enough to keep two people together when everything else would break them. Besides, we're alike in other ways, too."

"How so?"

He cradled Spock's face in his hands, keeping him from breaking eye contact when Jim spoke. "I saw you that night on the rooftop. I saw you. You've got the same love of the sky that I do, that same desire to visit each and every star just to see what's living there. You were so different that night, Spock. It was like the real you came out from under all that panic and guilt and other stuff that takes over your brain. And you were... God, Spock, you were gorgeous."

Jim knew Spock could feel the sincerity of his words through their skin, could sense it from where Jim's palms were pressed against Spock's cheeks. He saw the moment that he processed the words, the emotions, saw too the moment he allowed himself to believe them.

"Come here," Jim whispered, tugging at him gently to move up on the bed, pushing him down into the unmade sheets and smiling down at him. "Don't go anywhere." He got up and took a moment to lift the blinds on all his bedroom windows, letting in the late afternoon sun, watching as it spilled over Spock's prone form. "I'm going to tell you everything I see in you, everything I feel when I'm around you. But we're going to do it with the outside world streaming in a little bit." He cracked his windows open, letting a cool breeze flow into the room. "Because you're a lot more at ease with yourself when you're out there."

"Yes," Spock agreed, his gaze fixed on the windows for a few moments, taking in the unobstructed view of the clouds, of the slowly dying sunshine. Then he looked at Jim, never breaking eye contact with him as he walked back towards the bed. Spock reached a hand across the mattress, beckoning him to join him.

"Not yet." He pulled his old t-shirt over his head and tossed it in a corner, unbuttoned his jeans and hobbled out of those as well. He left his underwear on for the time being and looked up at Spock.

Spock's face was a devastating combination of uncertainty and lust, the tips of his ears flushing sage green and his eyes darting from Jim's face, to his chest, to his groin, and then guiltily back up to his face again.

"You can look," Jim assured him, crawling up to sit on the bed next to Spock and taking the offered hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing the knuckles. "You can look all you want. But I'd like... I'd like to see you, too."

The uncertainty won over the lust in Spock's expression then, his gaze darting nervously to Jim's face. "Jim..."

"Spock, I've seen you have a panic attack. I've seen you throw up after a meld. And I've seen you when you come. If I've seen all that and haven't taken off, what awful thing do you think is going to happen if I see you naked?" He chuckled. "And how ridiculous is it that I've seen you come and yet I have no idea what most of your body looks like?"

Spock considered that, his face still carrying traces of anxiety. But Jim noticed that the anxiety wasn't laced with the fearful fight-or-flight look he had seen so many times over the past few months. It felt like a huge step forward, and Jim was already smiling by the time Spock sat up and began unbuttoning his shirt with trembling fingers.

Jim wanted to reach out and bat his hands away but he restrained himself. It was another huge step forward that Spock was undressing in Jim's presence at all, and Jim hated to take over when Spock was willing to do it himself. Instead he kept his eyes glued to the newly bared inches of skin at Spock's neck, below his collarbone, the fabric parting all the way down to his waistband before Spock shrugged it off.

"Oh," Jim breathed, and he couldn't stop himself from touching anymore. He traced his fingers up the newly bared arm, across his collarbone, brushing through the hair covering his chest. He pressed his hand there more firmly, trying to feel his heart beating under the skin, frowning when he could feel nothing past the searing heat of him.

Spock seemed to understand what he'd been looking for. He took Jim's hand in his own, kissing the palm and then looking self-conscious about the display of affection before he pressed it against the low thrumming in his right side.

"Okay," he murmured, moving closer to him until his lips almost brushed against Spock's as he spoke. "There's one of the best things I see in you: your capacity for love and emotion. It kills me that you always look so guilty after any display of affection, like you've screwed up and you're waiting for me to call you on it." He closed the gap between them, not so much kissing him as mouthing at Spock's lower lip, getting the faintest taste of him. "I know you want your controls back. And I want that to happen for you. But I hope no matter how far you go in reclaiming that, this part of you remains, even if only in private."

Spock's eyes grew wider and wider as Jim let his mouth run away with him. Clearly no one had ever spoken to him this way and he had no idea how to handle it past moving closer for more contact, keeping his gaze glued on Jim. "It is not against Vulcan social mores to take pleasure in one's partner or mate."

"Glad to hear it." Jim pushed on him gently until he was on his back again, drinking in the sight of him before pressing a soft kiss to his throat, shivering at the low rumbling sound it produced. "There's another thing I can't get enough of: your voice. I didn't notice it for the longest time at first - you were always so damn quiet. But when you finally started speaking up... God, Spock, you could recite the dictionary and it would still be sexy."

Spock swallowed hard, squirming under all the praise. "Jim," he whispered hoarsely, fingers digging into Jim's hipbones where he'd grabbed onto him like an anchor in a storm. "Jim, this is... It is too much."

"Too damn bad," Jim returned, kissing down his chest. "You've been shut up in that room with nothing but Stonn's bullshit and your own demons for company. Bones said you needed your boundaries pushed at times, so you're going to lay there and let me push for awhile. I've had just about enough of you thinking you're somehow less of a person or a Vulcan or whatever." He emphasized his point by dragging his teeth over an olive green nipple.

Spock jerked in surprise, fisting his other hand in Jim's hair and hissing at him quietly. "Jim," he said again, with more of a warning in his voice than a plea.

"Too rough?" Before Spock could answer, Jim had already kissed it soothingly, hoping that would get a better response.

"Yes. No, I..." Spock squirmed. "More," he finally choked out, then squeezed his eyes shut as if he were ashamed of his request.

"Oh no," Jim muttered, stopping his oral exploration of Spock's chest. He swung a leg over him, straddling him and pressing more kisses along his jaw, his cheekbone, then into the worried creases at the corners of his eyes. "Open up. Look at me."

Spock started trembling again, his hands digging bruises into Jim's hip and scalp. "I..." He shook his head, fighting some sort of internal battle before opening his eyes, some of the anxiety in his expression making the slow slide into fear.

Jim was having none of that, kissing his forehead, the bridge of his nose, his upper lip. "You don't ever, ever feel bad about asking for something. Not ever. I'm a fish out of water here, Spock. I have no idea what makes a Vulcan feel good and even less of an idea of how to make you feel good without freaking you out. So if there's something you want me to do, you tell me."

Spock worked his mouth a few times, the fear slowly melting from his eyes. His fingers relaxed at the nape of Jim's neck so he was cradling him rather than bruising him when he pulled him down for another kiss. It started out tentative, began to build in intensity when Spock's lips opened under his and he licked at the seam of Jim's mouth. Just as Jim was opening to him to get a better taste of him, Spock broke the contact to look up at him. "So long as you will agree to those same terms," he murmured.

"Uh..." What had he been saying? He always felt dazed after Spock initiated a kiss. His underwear was starting to feel far too confining, his erection pressing against the bulge in Spock's trousers. "Yeah," he finally managed, his brain tripping over itself in an effort to catch up. "Although I'm not feeling all that picky right now. All I want is more of you."

"Yes," Spock agreed, not quite meeting his gaze as his hands drifted down Jim's back and cupped his backside, stilling there as if he didn't dare move any more than that.

But Jim shuddered as if Spock had groped at him obscenely - hell, for Spock it practically was obscene groping. "Can I-" he began to say, his voice going rough in the middle. He cleared it, nuzzling against the soft skin under Spock's ear when he tried again. "Can I take these off?" he asked, fingering the fastenings of Spock's pants.

Spock shifted restlessly underneath him. "You... You are aware of the anatomical differences between humans and Vulcans?"

Jim felt a blush burn up his cheeks. "I, uh. Actually, no. All I've got to work on here is what I could feel when we were up on the roof." He pressed a kiss to his bare shoulder. "But it seems to me we have pretty similar equipment, at least as far as I could tell from blindly touching you."

Silence lapsed between them, Spock doing that thing where he looked as if he were gathering strength for a battle he had no hope of winning. After an eternity of quiet, he took one of Jim's hands in his and led it to his waistband. "You may find it... surprising," he warned.

"Maybe," Jim agreed, pressing a trail of kisses down Spock's neck and chest until he was at eye-level with his groin. He licked at each new bit of skin he revealed as he unbuttoned the soft black trousers, nuzzling against the trail of fine hairs leading down, down...

"Christ, Spock," he whispered. "Do all Vulcans go commando or is it just you?"

"I do not..." Spock stuttered and trailed off as Jim pulled the pants down his hips and off his legs, leaving him laid utterly bare underneath him. "I do not... understand the phrase."

"No underwear," Jim explained breathlessly. He couldn't help his mesmerized stare. It was... well, decidedly greener than he had expected, but it got less weird the more he looked at it. It was also incredibly slick, fluid leaking from the slit as well as lubricating the rest of the shaft, though he couldn't quite puzzle out where the lubrication had come from. There was a fold of skin surrounding the base, flushed a deep olive color, and Jim couldn't figure that out, either. He also seemed to be lacking testicles and Jim wondered if they were internal.

"They are," Spock rasped, answering the unasked question. Jim realized he'd been digging his fingers into Spock's thighs as he tried to figure out his genitalia, and he blushed even deeper at being caught.

But as long as Spock was willing to volunteer information... "Are they in here?" he asked quietly, tracing a finger along the fold of skin at the base.

Spock shuddered, his hips jutting forward before he fought them back down to the bed. "No," he rasped. "But the sheath there is... sensitive."

"Obviously." He dipped his head to lick at it, groaning at the mildly bitter taste. "Where are they, then?"

Spock couldn't speak for a moment, his mouth opening and closing uselessly before he regained the power of speech. "The location is sim-similar to your own," he stuttered, his voice pitched lower than Jim had ever heard it before.

Jim wrapped one hand around Spock's shaft, Spock's hips jutting helplessly forward at the sensation. His other hand trailed under it, tracing the smooth skin along the base, then further back, further back, pressing against his perenium-

And almost being thrown off the bed from the force of Spock's bucking, laughing breathlessly as he pinned him back down to the blankets. "Also sensitive, I take it," he grinned, licking into the crease of Spock's thigh.

"Jim," Spock pleaded, the barest hint of a whine coloring his voice. "Jim, I... I want..." He was either unable or unwilling to verbalize the rest, spreading his legs and reaching down to tug at Jim's shoulders and neck.

"Me too," Jim whispered, scraping his teeth over Spock's ribs and along his side as he shifted back up to face him. "Fuck, Spock, me too." He was pulled into another drowning kiss, open mouthed and somewhat graceless but wet and perfect all the same. "Do you-" Jim began to say, distracted momentarily by an urgent need to suck on the point of his ear. "Can I?" he finally managed to ask, hoping Spock would understand.

Spock shuddered underneath him. "Yes," he whispered, slipping his fingers into the waistband of Jim's underwear and peeling them off his body.

Jim shifted enough to let him, reaching into a dresser drawer to retrieve a small bottle of lubricant. He had just popped the cap when there was slick, sudden pressure surrounding his cock. He gasped, fumbling the bottle and dropping it on the pillow, thrusting into the tight fist of Spock's hand where he had wrapped it around both of their cocks. "Holy shit, Spock, you gotta warn me before you do something like that."

"Lubrication is un-necessary," Spock's breath hitched halfway through the word, tilting his face upward to whisper the rest into Jim's ear. "Vulcans have superior muscle control. I am sufficiently relaxed."

Most of Jim was screaming at him to listen, to take what Spock was offering. But he shook his head, peppering kisses over Spock's face. "Vulcans also appear to be self-lubricating," he pointed out, then moaned when Spock's hand stroked over both their shafts. "I don't- Humans-" He was fast losing track of the conversation. "Don't wanna hurt you," he finally managed to get out.

"You will not." And the quiet confidence in Spock's voice was another shocking turn-on after having seen him so utterly distraught earlier.

"No. Not ever," Jim whispered, and maybe he was making the meaning of those words a little too deep, but he didn't care. He set about proving himself by kissing over his throat, under his jaw, pressing his lips against a pointed ear as he shifted himself out of Spock's grasp. He was slick where Spock had stroked their cocks together, and he resisted the urge to thrust forward through sheer force of will. "Okay?" he asked, the head of his cock nudging up against his entrance.

There was still a faint trace of anxiety in Spock's eyes, but he shifted until he had one leg hooked over Jim's hip, spreading the other open in blatant invitation. "Yes."

Jim pushed forward, intending to take his time to ensure Spock was comfortable with penetration after over a year of celibacy. But Spock had apparently given him a massive understatement, because not only was he relaxed enough to allow entry, he dug his fingers into Jim's ass and pulled him in. In a rush of slick heat, Jim was buried balls-deep in him, smothering a cry in Spock's shoulder and hoping he wouldn't come instantly and humiliate himself.

As he collected the shreds of his self-control, he became aware of a low rumbling noise coming from somewhere. He looked down at Spock, took in the closed eyes, the parted lips, the quiet vibrations of sound echoing from...

"Are you purring?"

Spock's eyes cracked open, somehow managing to look both lustful and indignant. "I am not."

"You are," Jim insisted, grinning down at him. "Like a goddamn cat. Do all Vulcans do that or is it j-nngh," he moaned, his question forgotten because Spock had used some of that superior muscle control to squeeze around his shaft. Jim thrust forward instinctively, dropping his forehead to rest against Spock's and trying to steady himself again. "That wasn't fair."

"Jim," Spock didn't quite whine at him, cupping his jaw in those long, elegant fingers and pressing their mouths together.

Jim swallowed down the rest of the purr, tongue delving into Spock's mouth to chase the feel and flavor of it as he began to rock his hips in a deep, steady rhythm. He let himself go for long minutes, drowning in the rhythm of their bodies together, the desperate, suckling quality of their kisses, the way Spock's body opened to his and embraced it, the rumbling emanating from his chest.

He was fast approaching his climax, pulling back from the kiss to make sure Spock was there, too. The moment their lips parted, he had his answer. "You're... not..." he gasped between thrusts.

Spock looked just as lost as Jim felt. "I..." He shook his head, looking up at Jim helplessly.

He was hard, at least; Jim could feel the slick length of him pressed between their bodies. He was simply nowhere near as close as Jim was. "What do you need?" he breathed over his lips, slowing his thrusts to get an answer out of him.

Spock closed his eyes momentarily, and Jim hated that it was such a battle for him to ask for what he wanted. But seconds later there was a hand grabbing for one of his, fingers still slick from Spock's natural lubrication. Spock laced their fingers together and squeezed gently, explaining himself through actions rather than words. Jim gave a hesitant squeeze back.

And watched in shock as Spock arched under him, only adding to the feline characteristics he'd displayed that night. "Holy shit," Jim whispered, belatedly remembering what both Gaila and Uhura had told him about the importance of hands to a Vulcan. He rocked his hips against Spock's, squeezing his hand at the same time, groaning at the look of ecstasy slowly taking over Spock's face. "Fuck, yes," he muttered against his shoulder. "Can you come like this? Want you to come, Spock, wanna feel you fall apart, wanna see you put yourself back together just like this..." His mouth was running away with him as it always did when an orgasm was looming.

"Jim," Spock gasped, and it seemed to be a mantra, one of the only words he could choke out as they moved against each other. His free hand flailed in the air for a moment, almost reaching for him before Spock consciously jerked it back into the pillows, gazing up at Jim with a plea for understanding in his eyes.

It took Jim a moment to get it, eyes lighting up when realization dawned. "Yes," he whispered, pressing his forehead to Spock's again. "Do it. Please. I want you to. Want you to see how you make me feel, how much I... How much..."

And before he could find the words to verbalize what he meant, there were scorching fingertips pressed to his jaw, his cheek, his temple. Spock was saying something but he couldn't comprehend it, and he wondered if Spock had lapsed into his native language-

His wondering was interrupted by a sudden maelstrom of love lust desire want Jim yes Jim please close want Jim Jim Jim and the words danced and melded with his own yes Spock please love you want you mine please let go let go let me see you...

It was difficult to really see Spock as his head fell back, as his back arched further, as his legs squeezed around Jim's hips while he groaned and shuddered, the thick ropes of come spilling so hotly between them that Jim could have sworn he was being scalded. He could only distantly grasp the physical sensations, his mind warping higher and higher into a psychic plane humans were unable to access. He knew he was coming with him, could feel his orgasm thundering through him as he thrust into Spock and stilled there, but the physical sensations were secondary to the warm thrumming of thoughts sifting between them. His body shuddered and collapsed onto Spock, his mind full of warmth, affection, belonging, safety as it began to drift away from him. He tried to hold onto it, tried desperately to remain within that serene, welcoming embrace.

He found himself slipping into a sleepy stupor, enveloped by the presence of Spock, friend, brother, lover.... He had just enough presence of mind to hear the echo of a word he did not recognize before he was lost to the pull of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Jim found himself drifting back to consciousness hours later. A brief squint at his chronometer over a pale shoulder in his line of sight informed him that he'd slept in a little more than he usually liked to, half the day lost at this point. He let out a halfhearted grumble, hunkering back down in the blankets and blinking the sleep-blurriness from his eyes.

Spock was stretched out next to him, his hair spilling curly and wild over one of Jim's pillows, his ribcage expanding and contracting in time with his breathing, their legs tangled together under the sheets. Jim couldn't help but turn soppy and ridiculous, shifting closer until his chest was plastered against the warmth of Spock's back, his hands wandering over the sinewy strength in his arms, the low vibration of a heartbeat under his ribs, the thick curly hair covering his chest. With Spock still asleep, Jim could explore and pet to his heart's content, not having to explain his human need for contact or illogical emotionalism or whatever it was that sometimes had Spock tensing up and needing words for what Jim was up to.

Spock felt boneless under Jim's wandering hands, relaxed and pliant and straight out of every fantasy Jim had manufactured before he had realized what a firm grasp the panic attacks had on Spock's psyche. For the first time ever one of those fantasies was laid out before him, and he couldn't really help the way his cock started twitching to attention against Spock's lower back.

There was a slow, deep intake of breath, and Jim realized that Spock wasn't actually asleep. He raised himself up on one elbow, looking down at his face and trying to gauge how awake he was. He looked completely at ease, no lines of tension visible around his mouth, his eyes hooded and nearly closed. But he wasn't asleep - Jim could just tell, somehow. Something else was going on under the surface. Jim swept his fingers along Spock's arm, over his shoulder, along the cords of his neck, around the point of his ear, until they were settled over his temple. And despite being psi-null, despite having only ever engaged in two melds with this man, he could almost sense the brain activity under his skin, could feel Spock's distant pleasure at being touched.

"You awake?" he whispered, pressing himself up closer against him, watching his face curiously.

There was a long moment of silence, and despite the lack of sound or movement in the room, Jim had a sense of Spock gathering himself. His eyes cracked openly slowly, blinking at the chronometer before he turned his head to look at Jim. "I am now."

Jim was relieved that he didn't seem to be panicking the way he had the first time they'd spent the night together. He smiled down at him, kissing his forehead. "What were you doing just now? I know you weren't sleeping."

One of those arched eyebrows crept toward his hairline, his body turning slowly until he was stretched out on his back. "How did you know?"

He shrugged, tracing the angle of both eyebrows, unable to keep himself from touching him. "I just knew. I could feel it in you."

"Hm." Jim couldn't tell if that was a response to what he'd said or a sound of contentment. "I was attempting to meditate."

"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. Bones said you needed to start doing that more often. I wouldn't have bothered you if-"

Spock pressed his fingers against Jim's mouth, silencing him. "I welcome the interruption," he said, soft brown eyes sweeping over him warmly.

Jim felt apt to melt under that gaze. "You look so relaxed," he murmured, kissing the fingers pressed against his mouth and then taking Spock's hand in his. "I was worried I'd wake up to you having another panic attack."

Spock shook his head. "The meld we shared has served to... to help with the instability of my emotions. I can feel you here," he gestured with their linked hands, then shifted back against him to emphasize the way their skin was pressed together. "I find I cannot be ashamed of my lack of control when you are so obviously pleased with the events of last night."

Jim was caught somewhere between a wolfish grin and faint humiliation. "Yeah. About that. I promise I don't usually pass out afterward."

Spock almost smiled at him, and Jim could see the lightest traces of smugness in the expression. "I understand humans react to the meld in a variety of ways."

Jim laughed at how self-satisfied Spock looked under the layer of calm he was attempting to hide under, shaking his head and leaning down for a kiss. "Maybe I have to build up an immunity to it. I guess we'll have to run a bunch more experiments to see."

"Perhaps," Spock allowed, apparently more interested in the kiss than the conversation if the way his whole body turning toward him was anything to go by.

And God, it was anything but a hardship to settle down next to him, one hand still laced with Spock's, the other delving into his thick black hair, and push forward for another kiss, and another, and another. Spock's free arm rested over his hip, palm pressed against his lower back, urging him forward until they were pressed flesh-to-flesh against one another, the curve of Jim's steadily growing erection brushing against Spock's slick one, their hips beginning to rock together in tandem.

"Mmm," Jim murmured against him, licking some of the staleness from the roof of his mouth until he started getting those metallic hints of flavor from him instead. "Are you... Do you...?" he tried to speak, pressing against him with a little more urgency, loving how their lazy, late-morning thrusting was leaving a trail of slickness between their bellies, the jut of Spock's erection growing longer and harder against him.

Please cease speaking, came a rumbling growl somewhere in the back of his brain, and he shuddered at the raw sensuality firing through his synapses.

Oh fuck, was all he could think in response, his brain skipping over any number of erotic telepathic fantasies it had conjured over the past few weeks.

If you wish, Spock's mind-voice returned, and he lifted a leg over Jim's hip and drew him forward, opening himself to him in blatant invitation.

The rhythm that had been building between them stuttered at the display of... not submission, Jim decided, because it wasn't really about that so much as it was the naked show of trust Spock was giving him. Can't, he projected back clumsily, sealing his mouth to Spock's and surrendering himself to the wet, heated exploration of his mouth, distantly glad that the link allowed them to both communicate and kiss at the same time. Too close already.

Spock didn't so much project any words about that as he did a smug sense of superiority regarding Vulcan control, raking blunt nails lightly down Jim's spine.

Jim bucked forward, his moan lost in Spock's mouth as he thrust against him. Shut up. I'll get some control later. After... After...

Another projection thundered through him, the sight of Jim's orgasm as seen through Spock's eyes, the fascination with Jim's freedom of expression, the intense desire to share in that freedom, that feeling. The sheer force of Spock's desire for him coupled with Jim's own bled through the shallow mindlink until they were threading together, launching higher and higher until it became difficult to distinguish which one of them was which, they were so closely connected.

Spock, Jim whined, and he couldn't tell if he was doing it verbally or through the meld that had spontaneously linked them together in the midst of their groping, kissing, thrusting.

Yes, was the throaty response, the pleasure melting down their spines, igniting something deep inside of them. Please. I wish to feel you. Your freedom is mine, and then there was that strange word Jim didn't understand. But it was so full of meaning, so ripe with a sense of security, devotion, longing, that he found he didn't need a translation. The sense of it boiling through him was enough, and with another few thrusts against Spock's slick, searing skin, he separated their mouths just enough to gasp as he came, coating their bellies with another layer of slickness on top of what Spock had already smeared between them.

His brain seemed to fire into overdrive as a deep, primal sense of completion reverberated within the link, the slickness between them fast turning into a wet, slippery mess as Jim's orgasm triggered Spock's own. The low rumble of a purr echoed deep in Spock's chest as he groaned, his eyes blown wide and dark in the late morning sunshine streaming through the window.

"Oh," Jim breathed, his gaze fixed on Spock's open, euphoric expression. He would never get enough of that look, he knew. "Oh my God." He let go of Spock's hand in order to cradle his face in his fingers, pressing sweet, fleeting little kisses to his lips, the corners of his eyes, the faint green flush staining his cheeks. "You are so gorgeous like this."

Spock was coming down from his haze, his body gone slack and still but his eyes locked on Jim's. He looked almost lost for an instant, then seemed to see something soothing in Jim's face, because the anxiety melted away into a soft, openly adoring expression that squeezed around Jim's heart. "Jim," he breathed reverently, tilting his head forward to press a kiss against his temple, right against one of the spots he used to meld with him.

Jim could only shiver at the sensation, shifting until they were pressed skin-to-skin again, heedless of the swiftly cooling mess solidifying between them. "We'll shower in a bit. Sonics, not water," he whispered, burrowing his head into the juncture of Spock's neck and shoulder, not wanting to leave this little cocoon of bliss. "Just want you awhile longer."

Spock looped his arms around him and pulled him closer. "That is... agreeable."

Jim couldn't help a fond snort, kissing under his ear. "Glad to hear it."

*******

"Oh, hell," McCoy muttered when Jim arrived on his doorstep several days later.

"What?" Jim asked with all the innocence he could muster. Which was not a great deal, all things considered.

"You could not look any more debauched if you'd showed up here half naked with an empty bottle of Jack in one hand. You're lucky Jo's with her mother or I'd think twice about inviting you over." But he stepped aside to let him in all the same.

"I'll have you know I took a nice long shower before I got here in hopes of washing all that debauchery away."

"It doesn't count if you're not showering alone," McCoy said, loping off to the kitchen and returning with a pair of beer bottles.

"Vulcans don't like getting wet." Jim grabbed his bottle and unscrewed the cap, shooting McCoy a shit-eating grin. "With water, anyway."

McCoy cuffed him. "I didn't invite you here to discuss your sex life. That's what you have the Orion for."

"Aw, but she doesn't snarl about it quite like you do."

McCoy took a deep breath as if centering himself. "Jim, I'm gonna ask you one question, and you are not going to answer it with the long, sordid details of your sex life, y'hear me?"

"Yes sir." Again with the attempt at an innocent look.

"Did you meld with him?"

"Oh my God, Bones, do you have any idea how hot sex is with a touch tele-OW!" he yelped, rubbing at his shoulder where McCoy had punched him.

"You broke the rules, you suffer the consequences," McCoy informed him, settling into the sofa and taking a long swig of his beer. "Now, can we talk about the hobgoblin without you going all disgusting on me, or do I have to hurt you some more?"

"Can't promise anything, but I'll try." Truth be told, he just liked pressing McCoy's buttons whenever he could, but he had the distinct impression McCoy had invited him here for a reason. He attempted to behave.

That earned him a typical eye roll, but McCoy got down to business anyway. "Is he more stable now?"

It was tempting to launch into another laundry list of 'Ways Normal Spock Makes Jim's Toes Curl.' But Jim found that he wanted to keep a lot of it to himself, wanted to squirrel away the moments he shared with confident, sensual, open Spock since that version of him was such a rare commodity. "Yeah," he replied instead, thumbs peeling away the label of his bottle. "He was well into freakout mode the first time I mentioned it to him and the first time we tried it he had another attack. But it got better after that." And damn it all, he was blushing. "A lot better."

"D'aww, Princess Jamie finally got to run all the bases."

Jim kicked him, scowling.

McCoy just chuckled. "And your brain hasn't melted out your ears at all the telepathic shit?"

"Nearly did the first time. It gets better the more you do it." And he couldn't help the leer when he thought of the double meaning of his words.

McCoy chose to ignore him. "He meditating like M'Benga said he should?"

"I have no idea. I've only seen him try it once, and we kinda got... y'know. Distracted."

Another eye roll, but McCoy soldiered on. "Think he's balanced enough to leave the apartment?"

Jim had to think about that, shaking his head slowly after he considered it. "No. He'll leave his apartment - frankly I think it's better for his mental health when he isn't in there - but the only other place he'll go to willingly is mine. I got him up to the roof once but only after making sure no one else would be up there at the same time. Since that's not a guarantee anymore, he hasn't worked up the nerve to go up there again."

McCoy nodded and Jim could tell he was itching to write all this down in a case file if he'd been able to do it and protect Spock's privacy at the same time. "You think he really wants to leave? I know a few agoraphobics make noise about how they're trapped, but ultimately they're more comfortable like that."

Jim shook his head again. "No, he hates it in there. Feels trapped, I think, by all the history that went down at his place. He wants to leave. Hell, you should have seen him the one time he was up on the roof. He had this... this reverent look in his eyes when he was out in the open. He can't get enough of the stars and he's always looking out that window I've got with the great beach view. He wants out, definitely."

"Well, that's promising." McCoy finished off his beer and began toying with the bottle. "Okay, if he won't leave his apartment, you think he'd agree to meet me?"

"I..." It was difficult to tell. Spock was slowly becoming more and more confident around Jim, expressing affection with him more easily than he had previously and succumbing to far fewer panic attacks than ever before. But he wasn't cured by any means. "I don't know. He's not a fan of medics, or maybe it's just having strangers in his apartment. We might be able to do it if he were in my place at the time."

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "Would it work better if we buttered him up with Joanna first?"

Jim couldn't help chuckling at him. "Using your own daughter as a bargaining chip, Bones? You're a terrible dad."

"No, I just make the best use of the resources at hand, and I know he likes her."

"What's got you so eager to meet Spock that you're willing to use Joanna to sweeten the deal?"

McCoy set his beer bottle down on the table, reaching under it and pulling out his medical kit. "M'Benga sent me a bunch of research on mental instabilities in Vulcans."

"I thought you said Spock was the first unstable Vulcan you'd heard of."

"The first one with an anxiety disorder, sure," McCoy allowed, grabbing a tricorder from his bag. "But it turns out there's plenty of precedent for telepathic issues in Vulcans, mostly in bonded pairs where one of the two dies suddenly. Bonded Vulcans are tied to each other through some kind of mental link. The link severs when one of them dies, and apparently it's pretty damn painful."

Jim thought of Stonn, of how he couldn't handle the way Spock spiraled out of control. he thought of Stonn's return to his home planet, the bond he'd had severed by the healers there. He thought of the first meld he'd shared with Spock, the sensation of bleeding out on the inside from the effects of the broken bond, the desire to reach out to an anchor that didn't exist anymore. He shivered, curling himself further into the sofa. "Yeah. It is," he agreed hoarsely.

"And they've developed chemical compounds to deal with the stress it causes the surviving bondmate," McCoy continued, either not hearing the emotional undertone of Jim's voice or politely pretending it wasn't there. Jim was grateful, whatever the reason was. "I guess in the past there have been cases of bondmates so traumatized by the experience that their bodies go into cardiac arrest. There's plenty of cases of surviving bondmates dying shortly after the first one does. When humans first learned of the phenomenon they called it Broken Heart Syndrome, and while the Vulcans sneered at the sappy romanticism it's actually a pretty decent description. If you don't stabilize the surviving Vulcan, either through meditation or melding with surviving family or the compounds they developed over the years, he or she can die within hours of the first bondmate's death."

Jim shivered again, setting his bottle aside. He found he'd lost his appetite for drinking. If Spock had been just a little more unstable than he already was... "So you think the compounds could help Spock?"

"Maybe. We'd have to screw around with the formula first. It's meant for full-blooded Vulcans in the initial stages of a broken mindlink. Spock's part human and his problem is nowhere near as severe."

Jim hesitated, hating that he was intruding on Spock's privacy again but needing to give McCoy the right information. "He was bonded previously, you know."

"No shit. I told you we saw that in his file."

Despite the snarling, Jim breathed a sigh of relief. He hated giving out the details of Spock's previous relationship. "Okay. So you know that part of his problem stemmed from that."

McCoy shrugged. "Partially, sure. But the catalyst was the humans freaking out in the simulator, right? Which led to not wanting to be at the Academy, which led to not wanting to leave his house. It's a simplified version of events, I know, but it's still about right, yeah?"

"Yeah, I guess." Still, McCoy's lecture had him spooked. "You sure the problem isn't the broken bond instead?"

"Kid, if that had been the main problem he would have never been able to meld with you. Vulcans are pretty fucking monogamous, mostly because of the telepathy thing. They can't support a whole truckload of bonds - generally they restrict those to bonds with their parents, siblings, and a mate. With Spock's brain chemistry as screwy as it is, he would never have been able to make even a shallow link with you if he was still suffering from his broken bond with... Storm? Stomp?"

"Stonn," Jim supplied.

"Damned Vulcan naming conventions," McCoy grumbled. "Anyway, I'd like to see if I could get some medication going for him based off those compounds. Might help him center himself a little more than his socialization with you. Not that that's not working out, because clearly it is. But if he wants to leave his apartment again, this might get him on the right track sooner than he would without meds. But I gotta have his permission because it'll involve a lot of trial and error with the dosing."

Jim nodded. "You want me to talk about this with him? Or should I just try to talk him into a meeting without all the medical stuff thrown in?"

"Just get him comfortable with seeing me. I can handle the medical shit seeing as I went to medical school and you didn't."

"Yeah, yeah," Jim waved him off, a slight smile on his face. "You were on the right track with Joanna, though. He's a big fan. We'd definitely have an easier time of introducing the two of you if she were involved somehow. Hell, I'd have probably never made friends with the guy if not for her being lethally irresistible." He pinned McCoy with one of his better innocent impressions. "Dunno whose side of the family that came from, by the way, seeing as Joss is a cow and you're, well-"

McCoy cuffed him again, but his scowl was more affectionate than anything. "Why am I friends with you?"

"Because you threw up on me. And because my Vulcan sidekick got you part time custody of that lethally irresistible brat of yours."

Rather than respond to the barb about Joanna, McCoy broke into a legitimate smile. "Fair enough, kid. Fair enough."

Chapter Text

Jim glanced down at Joanna climbing the stairs next to him, happily munching away at an ice cream cone. "Tell me again why you're wearing the tutu."

She rolled her eyes at him, a look so reminiscent of her father that Jim had to repress a laugh. "Because I have ballet tomorrow."

"Uh huh." He led her up the last flight of stairs, tapping the code into his security system and letting them into his apartment. "And why do you have to wear the tutu now if ballet isn't until tomorrow?"

"I gotta practice, don't I?" she returned, her tone indicating that he was a colossal idiot for not thinking of that.

"Sure," he agreed quickly, smiling at the note he had known would be on his floor. He picked it up, still questioning Joanna. "But I didn't think you could practice ballet in... are those your snow boots or your rain boots?"

Another of those long-suffering little faces. "Uncle Jim, it's not gonna snow in May. These are rain boots."

"Oh, see, I was confused because your snow boots are pink with purple hearts, whereas your rain boots are also pink with purple hearts."

She scowled at him. "Yeah, but these hearts have glitter. So they're the rain boots."

"Of course." This new, old-enough-to-dress-myself stage of Joanna's was going to earn him a smack at some point, Jim was convinced of it. But he also couldn't help questioning a little girl in a striped tank top, ballet tutu, floral leggings, and rain boots. "Well as long as you're not going to practice your dancing on the stairs, I guess what you wear is your own business."

"Hmph," was all she said in return, finishing off her ice cream cone.

Jim's attention shifted to the note in his hand for a moment, smiling at the bold elegance of the script. It had been days since he'd received anything in the jagged, shaky writing that indicated either an episode in the works or one that had passed shortly before he'd sent Jim a note. Are you free this evening?

Jim folded the paper in half and scrawled a quick response, grinning down at Joanna. "Hey, would you like to see Mister Spock again?"

She mulled that over. "Does he like tea parties?"

"He likes tea," Jim attempted to dodge the question.

"Okay!" she agreed, her voice gleeful enough for Jim to understand she didn't care about the distinction.

He tried explaining it as opened his door and let her into the hallway. "That means he doesn't like ribbons in his hair or making conversation with your stuffed bunny."

"He doesn't know he doesn't like that stuff. He hasn't tried," Joanna pointed out reasonably.

Jim decided to stop arguing the matter, handing her the note and leaning against his door frame. "Go shove that under his door. Then wait a few seconds before you knock."

"Why?"

"Because I said so."

She squinted at the words on the paper. "What's it say?"

"It says 'Special delivery.' Which means you," he clarified before she could ask. "He doesn't know I'm watching you for a little bit today so you're going to be a surprise for him."

She beamed at that, flouncing next door and doing as she was told. She clumsily stuffed the note under the seam of his door and waited a full five seconds before banging on it.

It opened fully without the cursory, suspicious inch first. Spock looked clean, immaculate - a far cry from his disheveled, wild self when his anxiety took over. His gaze was fixed straight ahead for an instant, a brief look of surprise crossing his features before he looked down. He didn't smile, but Jim could see the fondness softening his expression. "Hello, Joanna."

"Hi Mister Spock. Wanna come over for a tea party? Uncle Jim said it was okay." And she pointed at him as if to clear up any confusion regarding who she was referring to.

He gave an amused kind of shrug when Spock looked at him. "I said it was okay to invite you over for tea. Not so much the party bit."

"I didn't even bring Bunny Pants with me today," Joanna pouted from where she was planted in front of Spock's apartment. "And I don't have any ribbons, either."

Now Spock just looked baffled. "Bunny... Pants?"

Jim couldn't quite suppress his laughter. "Her stuffed rabbit. Suffers through quite a few tea parties, I think. And I told her she wasn't allowed to put ribbons in your hair. She will try if you let her."

"That was our Christmas card last year! I put lots of ribbons and stuff in Uncle Jim's hair and we took a picture. We didn't know you yet, Mister Spock, or you would have gotten one."

"Indeed?" was apparently all Spock could think to say.

Jim shook his head. "Joanna? Mister Spock can't accept the invitation if you keep talking his ears off."

She clapped both hands over her mouth and looked up at Spock with huge, pleading eyes.

"I am honored by your invitation," Spock told her, eminently formal even as he was fighting down the urge to smile at her - Jim could see it in the corners of his mouth.

"Eeee!" came the excited squeal from behind Joanna's hands, and she tore back into Jim's apartment.

"I guess she figured that was a yes." Jim took a moment to steal a kiss while Joanna wasn't looking. "She missed you. And I thought you might like to spend some time with her now that she's not in the midst of the divorce stuff."

Spock nodded, cheeks going green at being kissed in front of an audience, even if that audience hadn't been paying attention at the time. "She is much improved since I last saw her."

Jim couldn't help it. "So are you."

Before Spock could respond to that, Joanna piped up from the kitchen. "Uncle Jim? You gonna come make tea or what?"

"Man, you're bossy today," he called back, making his way to the kitchen with Spock following behind him. "Why don't you keep Mister Spock busy and I'll deal with the drinks?"

"Okay." She turned her full attention on Spock. "When it snows, can you stand on top of it without leaving footprints?"

Jim didn't fully cover his snicker under a cough as he fished out a few mismatched mugs and some tea bags.

Spock didn't look at all offended, settling himself in one of the kitchen chairs so he was closer to her level when he replied. "Vulcans have a heavier bone and muscle structure than humans do. I am, in fact, more likely to leave footprints in snow than you are."

"Oh." She crawled up on Spock's chair, her booted feet balancing on the rung and her hands on his knees for support. "Do you sing at trees?"

"Jojo? Did you ask before you invaded Mister Spock's personal space?" Jim piped up.

"I'm not invading! I'm balancing," she informed him.

Spock waved off Jim's protest. "Her dismissal of personal space is not bothersome," he assured him, then answered her question before she could ask him to translate. "There are very few trees on Vulcan. However, there are several folk songs dedicated to the deserts and the mountains. My mother was always fond of the Lullaby of Mount Seleya."

"My daddy likes the Alabama Lullaby."

"Sweet Home Alabama isn't a lullaby," Jim told her, setting a mug of hot chocolate in front of her. "And there's your tea."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "That is not-"

"It's tea," Jim interrupted him, giving him a stern look. "Tea for picky four year olds, anyway." He set another mug in front of Spock. "We're drinking the grownup kind."

Joanna wrinkled her nose at it. "That stuff smells like daddy's doctor bag."

"Which is why you get special tea and not regular tea," Jim told her, kissing the top of her head before sitting in the other chair.

"Hmph." She took a sip from her mug and then continued her interrogation of Spock. "You wanna know what my daddy calls you?"

Jim sensed danger. "Jojo-"

"He calls you a gobhoblin. Hobgoblin. Somethin' like that. They have green blood. Do you have green blood, too?"

Spock's eyebrows were up to his hairline now. Jim tried to do some damage control. "That's just how Bones operates. If he's thought up some kind of disparaging nickname for you, that means he likes you. He calls me an idiot all the time. It's a sign of affection coming from him."

"He calls me a brat!" Joanna added cheerfully. "And ibnosh... obnosh... ignoshis," she tripped over the word.

"Obnoxious," Spock corrected her.

"Yep, that one. Do you have green blood?" she asked again, trying to keep the easily distracted adults on topic.

Spock took a long sip from his mug, either trying to compose himself or trying not to freak out over all the questions and comments throwing him for a loop. "I do."

"Weird. Does blood come in other colors, too?"

"Klingon blood is a bright fuchsia color."

"What's fuchsia?"

"Somewhere between purple and pink," Jim told her when the question seemed to fluster Spock. "It's probably a little more on the pink side where Klingons are concerned. And Andorians have blue blood."

"Like all the rich nasties Daddy used to doctor on back home?"

"Er, no. That's a different kind of blue blood than-" Jim was saved from his explanation by a knock on the door.

"Daddy!" Joanna squealed, dropping her mug back on the table and making a beeline for the door.

Spock looked distinctly uncomfortable, his gaze darting from his own mug of tea, to the living room, then back again. He had been fairly composed during Joanna's rapid-fire questioning, but now he was taking on that familiar, anxious look. "I-"

Jim scooted his chair closer, wrapping his hands around Spock's on his mug, trying to project whatever level of calm he could. "That'll be Bones coming to pick her up," he said, perhaps unnecessarily considering Joanna's squealing. "You don't have to leave the kitchen if you don't want to. I can head out there and deal with him alone. But he would like to meet you, if you're okay with that."

Spock wouldn't look at him, his eyes fixed but unfocused on their hands wrapped around his mug of tea. He was silent for a long time, seeming to concentrate on something Jim couldn't perceive. "He is not here for a medical visit?" he finally asked.

Jim couldn't lie to him. "He's here to pick up his daughter. And he'd like to thank you for your help. But he's a doctor - he'll probably go a little medical on you even if he's not here for that purpose. He still wants to help you."

Spock swallowed, his fingers trembling faintly under Jim's.

"He's not here to poke or prod at you, if that was what you were asking," Jim continued. "He'll probably ask a few questions, maybe make a few suggestions, and then he'll take Joanna home. It's not a big involved medical visit, I promise. And if he starts turning it into one, I'll kick him out." He risked leaning forward to kiss his cheek, relieved when he didn't twitch away from the physical contact. "He's human," he reminded him. "He's not going to storm in and judge you based on the Vulcan point of view. He's approaching this from a human standpoint, which is that you should be able to handle your emotions without losing it all the time."

It took an age, but Spock inclined his head in the briefest of nods. "Very well."

Jim wanted to surge forward and kiss him again, marveling at the kind of courage it took for him to meet with a stranger, and a stranger with a medical background at that. But he didn't want to throw him any more off balance than he already was. Instead he stood and offered a hand to him. "I'll be there with you. And you're welcome to leave at any time if you need to freak out in the bathroom or something. No one here will mind, I promise."

Spock nodded again, fitting his hand into Jim's and allowing himself to be pulled from the chair. Surprisingly, he didn't let go of Jim even when they entered the living room, keeping a firm grip on him as if Jim were holding him together through the touch of their fingers. "Hey Bones," Jim said, going for casual and certain he was failing.

"You fed her ice cream," was the accusing response, Joanna balanced on his hip looking anything but innocent.

"What makes you think so?" Jim hedged.

"She has chocolate breath."

"That's from tea, Daddy," Joanna informed him, smacking her lips together. "The ice cream was strawberry."

"Joanna, you are the second worst secret keeper I've ever met." He tried to change the subject before McCoy went on a rant about his daughter's sugar intake. "This is Spock, by the way. Spock, this is Leonard McCoy."

Spock made no move to pull his hand away to shake McCoy's, and it took a moment before Jim remembered the recordings and how horrified the Vulcans were at the vulgar human social practice. "Jim speaks of you a great deal," Spock said, his gaze not quite meeting McCoy's.

"You're the one who sent me the Vulcan lawyer," McCoy returned, ignoring Spock's attempt at small talk. "I owe you one, big time."

Spock shook his head. "You are in no way indebted to myself. My father-"

"Has better things to do than ship off one of his attorneys to help out an old country doctor he's never met," McCoy interrupted. "I owe you one and that's final."

Jim felt a hint of anxiety creeping up his spine. He didn't mind challenging Spock during the course of a conversation, but Spock was used to him. He didn't want McCoy bullying him just to get a point across. He opened his mouth to change the subject when Spock beat him to it.

"Saying a matter is final does not automatically make it so," Spock informed him, one of his eyebrows going up to his hairline again. "You are not obligated to offer any kind of repayment."

"Bullshit."

"Daddy!" Joanna admonished him, looking scandalized.

"As if you haven't heard worse comin' out of your mother's mouth," he muttered, setting her back on the floor. "Do me a favor. Head back to Jim's room and make sure you know those ballet positions by heart. All eight of 'em. I'll call you when we're ready to go."

"There's five," she corrected, but took off toward the back of the apartment anyway.

"Teaching her some interesting vocabulary for a preschooler," Jim couldn't help needling him.

"Shut up. Joss is worse and you know it." He grabbed a small medical data PADD from his bag and shifted the conversation toward Spock. "Here's what M'Benga and I have been researching on our off-duty hours. Based on your symptoms, M'Benga thinks you should be meditating a hell of a lot more, but I hear Jim told you that already."

Spock blinked, looking thrown by the sudden abandonment of their argument. "Affirmative."

"Affirmative," McCoy grumbled to himself before continuing. "So if that doesn't work fast enough for you, there's another option. You know what mentisinil is?"

Spock squeezed Jim's hand, the first outward sign he'd shown of anxiety. "It is a compound used on Vulcans who have lost their mates due to sudden or traumatic death."

"But only used on the ones who lose control of their telepathy or their emotions as a result. Helps 'em reel themselves back in, right?"

The hand in Jim's squeezed tighter and Jim could feel the fingers shaking in his own. "I am unsure of the specifics, as medicine was not one of the focal points of my studies, but it is my understanding that ek'tevakh-ta'bek temporarily nullifies brain activity until such time as the individual has his or her mental controls and shields back in place."

McCoy tapped the PADD a few times, apparently making sure that he and Spock were talking about the same drug. "Right," he said once he had confirmed it. "We're thinking we could start playing with it, see if it helps you out. Not at full strength, obviously, since you're only half Vulcan and it's not the bond that's made your controls go all screwy. We were thinking of diluting it with some mild human tranquilizers. With your metabolism the tranquilizers won't affect you too much and they'll soften the effects of the mentisinil." He turned off the PADD, focusing on Spock instead. "The thing is, we have no way of knowing exact numbers unless we experiment with it a little. Now, I know you're not a fan of medics. But if you're up to it, I'd like to try tinkering with some dosages to see if they help. If not we'll ditch the whole idea, but I think it's worth a try."

"I..." Spock trailed off, his stoic expression gone and replaced with the dreaded fight-or-flight response wavering in his eyes. "I do not..." He looked at Jim for help, his hand squeezing Jim's hard enough to leave bruises.

"We don't have to discuss this now," Jim assured him. "It's just something to think about. We can figure it out later, if you want. Or not at all."

"You do not..." Spock tried again, directing it at McCoy this time. But he couldn't get the words out, the trembling spreading up his arm and into his shoulders. The bones in Jim's hand creaked in protest at the pressure being exerted against them.

"Bathroom's free," Jim whispered in his ear, giving him the exit he so desperately needed. "I'll get Bones and Joanna out of here and I'll be there in a few minutes."

Spock didn't look at either one of them as he pulled his hand away from Jim's and almost ran for the bathroom, shutting and locking the door behind him.

"Hell, Jim, I didn't mean to freak him out," McCoy began to apologize.

Jim waved him off. "Don't worry about it. You're a stranger to him, a medical professional on top of that, and you mentioned wanting to experiment on him. I know you didn't mean it that way," he added quickly, since McCoy had opened his mouth to argue the point. "But the word leaves a bad taste in his mouth ever since Stonn pulled his experimental bullshit on him. I'll talk to him later and see if he's open to it. If not..." He shrugged. "Well, you tried."

McCoy nodded. "I'll grab Joanna and get out of here." He scowled. "I hate that I egged him into a panic attack."

Jim threw an arm around his shoulders as a show of support. "If it makes you feel any better, you've still got several dozen to go before you're any kind of competition for the number of attacks I've caused."

"Goodie," he muttered. Then he raised his voice. "Jojo? Get on out here. We're goin' home."

She flounced back out from Jim's bedroom. "I'm all practiced out," she informed him, holding up her arms to be picked up. "Where's Mister Spock?"

"Mister Spock's not feeling too good," Jim told her, ruffling her messy hair once McCoy had her balanced on his hip again. "You'll have to visit him again sometime when he's better."

"Okay." She kissed Jim's cheek, then pushed on his face until she had kissed both of them. "Give one of those to Mister Spock," she ordered, wagging her finger at him as McCoy carried her out the door.

"Yes ma'am," Jim returned, giving her a Starfleet salute as she and McCoy made their way down the stairs.

Chapter Text

Jim set the security locks on his apartment before heading to the bathroom, knocking on the door quietly. "Hey Spock? They're gone now. And I can't get in there unless you unlock the door." Which was a little unusual on its own; Spock never locked him out of rooms anymore.

He could hear muffled shuffling on the tile floor and the low beep of the security system disengaging. Spock was leaning heavily against the wall when the door opened, his glasses gone, his skin pale and sallow. "Joanna," he explained hoarsely.

"Oh, right. Hadn't even thought of that." The last thing Joanna needed to see was Spock in the midst of an episode, and the last thing Spock needed was Joanna as an audience. "You need to stay in here for a bit? Or can you come out?"

Spock looked past Jim's shoulder for a moment before shaking his head. "I..." He gave up on speaking, heaving his body from where it was supported by the wall and sitting in front of the toilet again, his limbs limp and exhausted.

Jim let out a long, shaky breath, moving to sit beside him. He sifted one hand into his hair, massaging his scalp and the nape of his neck while he spoke. "Sorry about Bones. He turns into an information dump when he goes into doctor mode. And he's not exactly known for his bedside manner."

"Indeed." It was choked out more than anything, but he was leaning his head back into Jim's hand, soaking up the comfort. "I did not expect such... insistence."

"Sorry," he said again, wishing he had something more substantial to say. "Now you know where Jo gets it from. I was surprised you didn't get more flustered over all her questions."

Spock opened his mouth to say something, then shut it as his face paled. He swallowed down the urge to be sick again, closing his eyes and leaning bodily against Jim. "She is... She is nothing like the children I g-grew up with," he explained, stuttering on some of the words. "It is... comforting, in a way, to speak with her."

Jim had that now long-familiar sense of wanting to physically harm anyone who had ever inflicted pain on Spock. "Were you bullied a lot as a kid?"

"Vulcans do not bully one another," Spock returned, too quickly for it to be the whole truth. "However, they were... wary of a Vulcan with human qualities. I was, for the most part, ignored rather than abused."

"For the most part?" Jim repeated, having latched on to what he considered the important part of that sentence. "Was there anyone on Vulcan who didn't treat you like crap?"

"I was not without friends." The trembling eased slowly as he spoke, leaning his head and body further and further against Jim's until Jim was almost cradling him against his side.

Jim waited for further explanation, but it seemed none was forthcoming. He kissed Spock's temple, nuzzling into his hair. "Feeling better now? Can we go somewhere else? My ass is sore from sitting on the tile."

Spock didn't crack a smile, but the corners of his mouth twitched faintly as if he wished to and just couldn't expend the energy. "I believe the worst of the nausea has passed."

"Good. You wanna go to bed? Rest for a little while? I know it's early, but..."

"No." He opened his eyes, staring at the latch on the bathroom door. "I do not feel the necessity for sleep. Perhaps... the window?"

Jim couldn't help the fond grin taking over his face, kissing his cheek before disentangling them. Spock loved the view from that window, and the fact that he took such comfort in the outside world was a constant source of pleasant surprise for Jim. "Sure, let's go."

Sitting on the carpeted floor wasn't a whole lot better than sitting on the tile, but they had a few cushions left from when they'd last sat there so it wasn't quite as bad. And Jim certainly wasn't going to complain when he had Spock seated between his legs, the heat of his back warming Jim's chest, their fingers tangled together in Vulcan kisses and a simple human desire for touch. "What did you think of Bones's idea?" he asked quietly, not wanting to break the moment with another panic attack but knowing that it needed to be discussed at some point.

Predictably Spock tensed a little, but he didn't disengage from him or try to change the subject. "He believes himself indebted to me. I did not offer him assistance in order to further my own self-interests, nor did I expect to be repaid. I simply wished to ensure that Joanna had access to her father."

"I know you didn't do it in the hopes you'd get something out of it," Jim assured him, tracing his fingers over Spock's knuckles and watching him shiver at the sensation. "And he knows that, too. But Bones is a doctor. Even if you hadn't helped him out, it just doesn't sit well with him to see someone suffering when he can help. I know he came off as a gruff jerk, but his heart's in the right place."

"I should hope so, considering he is a medical professional."

Jim laughed at the unexpected joke, muffling it in the back of Spock's head. "And they say Vulcans don't have a sense of humor. Anyway, Bones is Bones. And he's my best friend. Even if you hadn't offered to help him, or if you'd offered and he'd lost the case, he'd still be wanting to help you out. I'm not going to lie and say it has nothing to do with Bones winning the custody case, but it's certainly not the only reason he wants to help."

Spock mulled that over for a moment. "I am not suffering from the effects of a broken bond," he said after a long pause. "If I were, I would not have been able to meld with you."

"He knows that. It's why he wouldn't be using the drug at full strength. It helps balance out Vulcans who've lost control of their emotions, right? That's pretty much what's going on with you, even if it's not as traumatic as the death of a bondmate."

Spock was silent again for a long time. Jim let his mind wander, assuming Spock was either planning out his response in that meticulous way of his, or that he'd simply lapsed into meditative silence. Either way, it was better to stay quiet.

"It is... difficult to explain this to a human," Spock finally said, his voice low and quiet as if he were divulging a secret. "You cannot be fully aware of the social stigma involved in losing control of one's emotions, even in an understandable situation such as the sudden loss of a bondmate. Family and friends of the individual in question will be supportive. Others, however, may question the individual's training or adherence to the principals of Surak. We are grateful for the development of ek'tevakh-ta'bek - mentisinil, as the doctor called it. It has saved many lives. However, relying upon it rather than the familial mindlinks..." Spock sighed. "I am already an aberration due to my genetic code and the presence of a human in my immediate family. Additionally, I have already bonded and then broken that bond at an extremely young age - even before my..." Here he trailed off as if he were revealing too much. "To further distance myself from the Vulcan standard by requiring medication to function is... distasteful." But the way he said the word spoke of a deeper disgust than that.

Jim pulled in a shaky breath, once again getting the feeling that he was in way over his head. "It's not going to go in your medical file. Bones is still working on this off the record. No one else will ever have to know."

Spock shook his head. "Any Vulcan I meld with will have access to the information. My father will know, should he choose to use our mindlink to communicate. The clan matriarch will know if she ever requests a meld during..." He trailed off again, and Jim had the distinct impression he was missing out on something huge. "Regardless, it will not be unknown to certain members of my family. At some point in the future, they will be able to uncover the information in my mind."

Not sure if he was about to make the situation better or worse, Jim kissed the tips of Spock's ears to soften whatever blow he might inadvertently make when he responded. "So I guess... I guess the question is, is it better if they know that you had to medicate yourself to get past this? Or is it better if you try to do it on your own, but it takes a lot longer?"

"I do not know," was the defeated answer, Spock sagging against him as if the discussion had sapped his energy. He went silent again, his fingers sliding along Jim's own in an unconscious display of affection. Jim pressed his nose into the wild black of his hair, letting him think for awhile.

"Jim?"

"Hmm?"

"I would like to meditate on this. May I..." He stopped, started up again. "Is it acceptable if I remain here?"

Jim smiled against the back of his head. "I should've said this awhile ago, but you have an open invitation to be here whenever you want, for as long as you want. No restrictions. Even if I'm off somewhere else, you're welcome here. I'll give you the security code for the door."

Spock seemed to relax even further against him, squeezing his fingers gently. "Then, if you are not otherwise occupied... will you remain here?"

It took Jim a moment to translate that. "While you meditate, you mean?"

"Yes. I find... I find it is significantly easier to achieve a meditative trance when you are nearby, an ease magnified by your increased proximity."

Somehow it was easier to translate that one. "You meditate better when I'm around? Even when I'm touching you?"

"I believe I said that."

He suppressed the laugh bubbling up in his throat. "I'm surprised all my unorganized human thinking doesn't distract you from what you're trying to do."

Spock's hand unfolded from Jim's, shifting until their hands were pressed with their palms and fingers flat against one another. There was a sudden projection of warmth, affection, security, unity flowing through him. "I have found your particular type of mental activity quite gratifying, if different from my own."

He couldn't suppress the laugh then. "So you're saying you love me for my mind?"

Spock said nothing in response, though the affection thrumming through Jim's veins had a distinctly amused flavor to it before Spock closed his eyes and cut the link, dropping into his meditative trance within moments.

"That's one way to avoid a discussion, I guess," Jim muttered, nuzzling back into his hair and waiting for Spock to return.

*******

"Well, where is he, then?" came a voice from behind Jim's left shoulder.

Jim was too busy screening through the class selections at the library console to turn around, but he knew that accent anywhere. "If you're talking about Keenser, I haven't seen him since my last sim during finals. I assumed he'd either gone back to his home planet or that you'd eaten him during one of your 'too lazy to go grocery shopping' stints."

"Went back to his home planet for the summer, wherever that may be. For the longest time I thought he was a miniature Gorn or somesuch."

That got him to turn around. "He's your roommate and you don't even know what species he is?"

"He's a private kind of fellow, a'right?" Scotty defended himself, seating himself in the chair next to Jim. "And where's your alien sidekick, eh? Thought you two were joined at the hip."

"Bones is a gruff old bastard but I don't think he qualifies as an entirely different species," Jim muttered, trying to concentrate on his console again.

"I meant the Romulan. Er, Vulcan. The pointy eared thing livin' with ye."

And there was no way he was going to get anything done after that comment. "He's not living with me," Jim protested, although he wasn't sure if he was defending Spock's honor or his own. "And why would you think I'd bring him here?"

"S'what Gaila seemed to think, at any rate. That you were cleaning him up and shippin' him back to the Academy."

"Scotty, I haven't talked to Gaila since..." Well, he couldn't really describe that particular situation in polite company.

"Since she got you laid on the rooftop. Aye, I know."

So much for polite company. "She did not get me laid on the... Look, that isn't the point," Jim interrupted himself. "The point is, that was two or three weeks ago. How would she know what I'm up to if I haven't seen her?"

"You seem to have forgotten her penchant for spying on everyone in the building. She's seen you draggin' him out of his apartment and stuffin' him into yours. And we saw your doctor friend visit t'other day. She figured you were both gettin' him ready for the outside world again."

It wasn't exactly untrue, to be fair. It was just that their timeline was off. Still: "You better be careful, man. She's turning you into one of her gossipy harpies. She already reeled in the Russian kid."

"And he was lousy as a spy, so I recruited the Scotsman, too," came the sassy voice from behind him, causing him to jump in his seat and whirl around.

"When the hell did you get here? Did you just beam in or what?"

"And you thought I sucked at stealth," Gaila cooed at him, kissing his cheek obnoxiously before seating herself in Scotty's lap. "Get anything out of him, darling?"

"He didn't deny getting laid on the roof, so I guess you earned your bottles o' Jack after all. Other than that, nil." He wrapped his arms around her waist, giving Jim a shit-eating grin.

"Gaila. Tell me you are not exchanging sexual favors for gossip on the tenants in the building," Jim muttered, rubbing at his temples.

"Since when are you my moral guardian? Besides, I'm only helping him improve on his technique for when he goes after Uhura."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Uhura?" he repeated.

"She's gorgeous, speaks Scottish and Galwegian Gaelic - and that's a dead fuckin' language, Jim, so you know how impressive that is - and she's completely brill on top o' that. I dare you to find something wrong with her."

"She wouldn't flirt back when Jim schmoozed at her," Gaila explained. "You're getting an entirely Kirk-free lady, plus I happen to know she has a very talented tongue. And hands. And-"

"Do I need to be here for this conversation? Can I just go now?" Jim piped up.

"Not until you tell us what's going on with that nerdy Vulcan of yours."

"He wears glasses. He's got pointed ears. Yes, you did in fact get me laid on the roof. Now can I go?"

"Is he coming back to the Academy?"

Jim tried to do that delicate little dance where he gave his friends information without violating Spock's privacy. "Maybe someday. Certainly not for the summer semester, if that's what you're getting at."

"Why not?" Gaila shot back, undeterred. And as much as Jim enjoyed her friendship, her tenacity was beginning to get on his nerves.

"It's complicated."

"He can't have that many more credits to go, aye?" Scotty put in. "Didn't ye say he used to be a student here?"

Jim glared at Gaila. "No. I did not."

She shrugged. "So I did some research. It's not like it's against the law."

"It is if you're breaking into confidential records."

"Admissions and class lists aren't confidential. And it's not like there's an army of Vulcans going here. He wasn't hard to find. Looks like he only had about a semester's worth of credits to finish up before he was eligible for graduation. He's way behind on his sims since he was on the command track, but that'd be easy enough to make up."

Jim tried to calm his indignation on Spock's behalf. Gaila was right; she hadn't looked up anything that couldn't be easily accessed by any layperson curious about Starfleet's class offerings or student body. And she was genuinely trying to help in her own overbearing, snoopy way. "I'll talk to him about it," he promised without giving a specific timeline. "I know he'd like to come back eventually."

"Better do it soon," Scotty said. "You're only a semester or three away from finishin' yourself, aye?"

"Two, if I really cram in my classes and take a few more this summer." Which was why he'd been at this console in the first place, before Scotty and Gaila distracted him.

"So if you don't drag him back to the Academy with you, you'll have to leave him behind when you graduate and get drafted onto a ship," Gaila pointed out.

Jim's heart dropped somewhere in the vicinity of his gut. He hadn't even considered that. "Oh," he muttered. "Right."

Gaila's expression softened, and she reached over to scratch at his scalp as if he were some kind of pet. She'd explained in the past that this was an Orion thing, a cultural offering of sympathy and support. It didn't feel anywhere near as condescending as it usually did. "Oh, sweetie," she murmured. "You're a hopeless case already, aren't you?"

Jim snorted, which wasn't quite an admission.

"Don't you worry. Anything you need help with, you tell us."

He looked up at her in surprise. "What makes you so eager to help him out? You haven't even met him."

"Starfleet regulations state that you always help a fellow officer in need," Scotty pointed out, some of his command training coming through in the suddenly serious tone of his voice.

"And you're our friend, Jimmy," Gaila added. "We like you, so we also like helping you out."

He couldn't stop the smile spreading over his face despite the new worries nagging at him. It was rare when Gaila projected any kind of sincerity. "Thanks."

"Also, if I do you a bunch of favors maybe that gorgeous doctor friend of yours will agree to some post-divorce rebound sex."

He rolled his eyes. "I'll pass that on to him."

"Plus you give me booze when I get you laid."

That got him laughing, finally.

Chapter Text

Jim trudged home, having accomplished exactly none of what he'd planned to do at the Academy. His brain was wrapped up in his new problem, the one where he'd have to leave Spock behind unless they could figure out how to get him integrated back into society. As much as it killed him to admit it, staying behind with him just wasn't an option. He wanted to be in Starfleet, wanted to be out in the black dealing with new planets, new civilizations, new problems that needed new solutions. And he knew also that Spock wanted those things - must have, or he never would have left his home world. So now he had a new goal: getting Spock enrolled at the Academy again.

Just as soon as he stopped freaking out over meeting strangers and going outside. For the first time ever, Jim was grateful that he still had at least two or three semesters' worth of credits before graduation. He still had time.

He almost tripped over a package left outside his door, swearing as he picked it up and let himself in. He ripped through the brown paper wrapping, tossing it on the floor and squinting at the text on the small box. It was all medical jargon, which meant McCoy had left it there. Which meant somewhere there should have been an explanation.

On a hunch, Jim walked to the comm unit installed in his kitchen and pressed a button to play any messages that had been left on it. Sure enough, McCoy's southern drawl echoed through the room. "Hey, kid. Left a package by your door. Give it to Spock next time you see him. It's not the experimental stuff, just something he needs according to his medical records. Tell him it's on the house, no pressure."

More confused than before, Jim tried to work out the writing on the box. But it was covered in chemical compound names Jim wasn't familiar with and the only text he understood was the bit saying that the recommended dosage and side effects were on the info chip inside the box. Not wanting to tamper with it before handing it over, he set it aside long enough to change out of his uniform and into something more comfortable before he ambled next door.

"No kids and no medics today, I promise," he grinned when Spock opened the door to let him in.

"I have recovered sufficiently from my last exposure to them," Spock returned, sounding a little imperious and a lot amused. He looked good today, his clothing immaculate, his hair brushed, and his glasses set straight on his face. He was looking more and more put together as the weeks went by. Jim hoped that was an outer sign of his self-confidence increasing.

"Good, because even though I didn't bring a medic with me, he sent me something to give you."

Spock did the same thing Jim had done, scanning the outside of the box for information before he opened it. But rather than look baffled, recognition sparked in his eyes. "Did he give you a reason for sending this to me?"

Jim shook his head. "No. All he said was I was supposed to give it to you. And that it didn't have anything to do with the mentisinil and it wasn't a bribe. No pressure," he repeated what McCoy had said in his comm message.

Spock went silent for some time, staring at the box and then staring at Jim, looking as though he had eight things to say and couldn't settle on which needed to be said first. "Come with me," he murmured after a long pause, gesturing toward his bedroom.

Jim had tried, ever since that first meld, to keep most of their interactions confined in his own apartment. Now that he knew what kind of cage Spock kept himself in, he preferred the relative freedom of his own place. But Spock had rearranged things in his bedroom since the last time Jim had been in there, as if doing so eased the sense of entrapment he felt. The bed was on the opposite side of the room, the headboard no longer blocking one of the windows on the other wall. Both windows were open now, with no curtains or blinds obstructing the view. Instead of the dark, secluded cavern it had been a few weeks ago, it felt more open, more relaxed. Sunlight bathed the room in a warm, golden glow.

Jim let out a breath he hadn't been aware of holding. "Nice," he said offhandedly, but he didn't miss the way Spock's mouth relaxed at the corners as if he'd been prepared for another kind of reaction. Jim wondered if he would always expect to be judged for any hint of sentimentality. He hoped not.

Spock removed his glasses, folding them and setting them on the nightstand before crawling into his bed with the usual elegance that Jim found both arousing and downright irritating; no one should be able to move with that kind of easy grace. He stretched out over the top of the covers, his head flat on the mattress rather than resting on the pillows. "Join me," he offered, although it sounded more like a question than an invitation.

Intrigued, Jim sat next to him, resting his hand over Spock's right side so he could feel the low vibration of his heartbeat. "What is it?" he asked, gesturing to the box.

Spock said nothing as he opened it, drawing out a small bottle. Understanding dawned as Spock unscrewed the lid, revealing an eyedropper. "McCoy has been accessing my medical records again," Spock said, tilting his head back and letting three drops fall into each eye, squeezing them shut when he was done.

Jim took the bottle from him and screwed the cap back on, stashing it on his nightstand next to his glasses. "Allergies?" he guessed, since eyedrops were an almost archaic way of dealing with most maladies anymore. Generally the only reason they were ever used was to flush allergens and other irritants from the eye: anything else could usually be handled through hyposprays.

"No," Spock answered. His eyes remained closed, his hand pressed to Jim's at his side. "When I was approximately ten years of age, it was discovered that my hybrid genetics had resulted in a macular degenerative disorder that had never before been diagnosed on Vulcan. It can be held at bay indefinitely with proper medication."

Jim was getting used to hearing what Spock wasn't saying. "You haven't been out to pick up your medication in awhile," he guessed. "You can't have it delivered? I mean, that's how you get everything else you need."

"I have relied upon the delivery of the generic prescription eyeglasses because most medics insist upon seeing me to ensure the dosage remains accurate. It seems McCoy has no such qualms."

Jim felt the way the sly grin took over his own face. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," he said, shifting his hand so his fingers interlaced with Spock's, exerting just enough pressure on them to count as a brief Vulcan kiss. "He's trying to tell you something in his completely unsubtle kind of way."

Spock raised an eyebrow, even though his eyes were still closed. "Indeed?"

"Mhm. It's his way of proving himself. That he knows his remedies and dosages, that he knows the value of an educated guess. He can't know exactly how much of this stuff you need, so he gave it his best shot. Is it working?"

Spock worked his jaw as if he didn't want to confirm it. "Perhaps."

"Perhaps?" He extracted his fingers from Spock's to trace along his jawline. "How come you haven't opened your eyes?"

"I am waiting for the stinging sensation to pass."

Jim loomed over him, checking his face for any sign of pain. There was none. Still, considering McCoy had taken a guess at the dosage needed, he worried a little. "How bad does it hurt?"

"How badly," Spock corrected automatically, and some of Jim's worry eased. He couldn't be in that much pain if he was picking apart Jim's grammar. "The intensity is greater than I remembered. I am unsure if this is due to a fault in my memory or an alteration made due to the extended period of time since the last time I took the medication."

Jim noticed that Spock didn't voice any fault with McCoy's handiwork. He kept smoothing his hand over Spock's jaw, over his cheek, tracing the point of his ear. "You okay?"

Spock nodded, leaning into Jim's hand. His eyes cracked open, blinking several times in succession to clear the excess fluid from them. Tear tracks escaped from the corners of his eyes, but Jim knew that to be a side effect of the eye drops rather than a reaction to the pain. It didn't stop him from wiping them away, kissing the moisture from his temples.

"Jim," Spock murmured, pressing a hand to his chest and pushing gently, forcing Jim to part from him.

"You sure you're okay?" he asked again, since Spock didn't generally break contact with him unless he was starting to have an attack. Spock nodded again, blinking a few more times before sitting up, angling himself until they were sitting face to face on the bed. His gaze swept over Jim's face, over his shoulders, surveying his clothing before returning to his face again. The intensity in his eyes made Jim want to squirm, but he remained still under the scrutiny. "Spock?" he prompted.

A hand came up to explore him, not in the soothing, cradling way Jim had touched Spock, but starting at his forehead and tracing down the bridge of his nose, his lips, his jaw, until he'd mapped out his entire profile. Then he settled his fingers at Jim's temple, gazing into his eyes until Jim got the sense that Spock was looking into him rather than at him. "You," Spock began to say, then shook his head and started again. "I will have to use the medication for two more days in order for it to fully restore my vision. But you are... clearer to me than you have been previously."

There was more to that sentence than he could hear on the surface. Jim could almost feel the secondary meanings thrumming through his veins, their origins stemming from Spock's fingers on his skin. Curiosity swept through him, coupled with the low burn of arousal just beginning to thread its way through him - or rather, through Spock, who was projecting it into Jim. He leaned against the headboard in a graceless sprawl, leaving himself open to whatever Spock wanted to do with him.

It started with a kiss. It was brief, fleeting, not enough, but Spock often began that way. He leaned in just enough to press their mouths together, breaking from Jim before he could even kiss back. Spock stared at him for a moment, dark eyes sweeping over his face as if gauging his reaction. Apparently satisfied, he moved forward for another one. And another.

They got deeper every time their lips met, the sensations melting further and further under Jim's skin until he lost all sense of time. He focused instead on reacquainting himself with that faintly sweet metallic flavor of Spock's mouth, licking it from his lips and suckling it from his tongue until Spock started making a soft, panting, desperate kind of noise. Distantly Jim realized that somewhere along the line he'd been divested of his shirt, his bare back pressed almost painfully against the headboard as Spock loomed over him and continued the slow, drowning kisses.

Jim fought for some semblance of conscious thought, dragging his fingers over Spock's arms only to realize that he was touching bare skin rather than the fabric of his shirt. He broke from their kissing, voice hoarse and groggy when he spoke. "When the hell did you get naked?"

"You were otherwise occupied," Spock said, the imperious quality of his voice somewhat diminished by the panting.

"You didn't distract me with a mindmeld?" asked Jim, tilting his head to scrape his teeth over Spock's neck.

"No. However, if that is what you want..." Spock reached out, setting his fingers at Jim's jaw, his cheekbone, his-

He didn't care that Spock was just being playful. He grabbed his wrist, pulling Spock's palm to his mouth and placing a heated kiss there. "No. I don't... I don't want to miss this. Any of this." Another kiss pressed to his wrist. "Don't want to miss one second of you."

He must have been projecting some of his worry and desperation from his conversation with Scotty and Gaila, because Spock's playful mood disappeared. He extracted his hand from Jim's, dragging his fingers over his chest and stomach before working at the fastenings of his jeans. For the first time, Jim was learning to appreciate Vulcan strength as Spock tugged them off of his hips along with his underwear and tossed them to the floor.

There was nothing separating them anymore, and Spock took full advantage of that by straddling his lap. The new position had them pressed flush against one another. Jim could feel the coarseness of Spock's chest hair against his own nipples; he could drown in the heat radiating off Spock's skin and seeping into his own. He slid one hand into the wild black hair, pulling him into another heated, possessive kiss, the other cupping his backside and urging him to roll his hips forward.

They groaned into each other's mouths as their cocks slid together, the sensations heightened by the natural slickness of Spock's length against his own. Jim found himself desperate for more - more closeness, more heat, more of that faint metallic taste from his mouth, just more. He had never been good at letting go of the things he loved, and even though the possibility was at least another year off - if indeed the possibility existed at all - he found himself clinging to Spock like a lifeline. It didn't matter that they'd only recently entered into a sexual relationship, didn't matter that he'd met Spock just a few months ago. He was ingrained in Jim now, already a part of him even after such a relatively short span of time.

He tried to silently impart that into Spock without the use of the meld, needing to tell him in his own rough human way how much Jim wanted him, how much he needed him in his life. So he clutched, he grabbed, he dug his nails into the soft flesh of his shoulders. He claimed his lips with a kind of ruthless adoration. He thrust his hips upward as much as he was able with Spock's denser frame sprawled on top of him, shuddering at the heat and slickness pooling between them.

Spock gave in to all of it with a shivering, panting acquiescence, submitting despite his position on top of Jim and his superior strength. And damn if that wasn't an entirely new kind of eroticism, the way Spock allowed himself to unravel when he could have just as easily pinned Jim to the bed and had his way with him. Instead those soft brown eyes melted into black as they pierced into him, one arm draped over his shoulder and his other hand slipping between them and wrapping around their cocks, spreading Spock's natural slickness over both of them and lending a rhythm to their thrusting.

Jim could have easily come just like that, grabbing hold of every inch of Spock's skin he could get his hands on, watching those lust-darkened eyes glaze over, losing himself in the natural rhythm of their bodies. But he wanted more, wanted to possess him, claim him, brand himself into Spock's flesh.

"Spock," Jim panted into his mouth. "Spock, please..."

Even without the meld, Spock understood. Spreading his slickness over Jim's cock, he indulged in several more heated strokes before raising himself on his knees and lining him up against his opening. "Y-yes," he whispered, the hitch in his breath lighting a fire down Jim's spine. And whatever control Spock was still attempting to exert over his features died a quick death as he lowered himself onto Jim's cock, Spock's expression opening to him just as the rest of his body was doing, his whole being stretched around Jim and embracing him. Jim set his teeth against the cords of Spock's neck, muffling a groan into the bite mark he was leaving there. He pulled his legs up so Spock's back could rest against his thighs, fingers clenched so tightly in the black hair that anyone else would have whimpered in pain.

Spock whimpered, all right, or at the very least made a faint, desperate little sound. But he wasn't trying to shake Jim's hands off of him or even squirm in an attempt to make him loosen his grip. If anything, he was leaning into the grasping fingers, pressing against Jim's palms, silently asking to be held, grabbed, possessed. And despite his eager submission to such rough handling, he himself was cradling Jim's face in his hands like it was something precious to him. He pressed their foreheads together, closing his eyes and using his knees to leverage himself upward, riding Jim at a leisurely pace.

Pinned as he was under Spock's superior strength and weight, Jim couldn't thrust upward the way he wanted, didn't have the ability to fuck him with the kind of force his body was screaming for. He found it didn't matter. His body wanted abandon, wanted release, but the rest of him wanted this moment to stretch into eternity. He craved the closeness, the sensation of Spock's dry skin pressed up against his own sweat-slick body, the maddening pace of his hips rolling forward, the feel of scorching fingertips cradling his skull and caressing his jawline.

Jim's breath hitched into loud gasps and borderline sobs. He let his head drop, pressing his face against Spock's neck and inhaling him with every ragged breath he took. He wanted all of him, wanted to dig his fingers into his flesh until he had his fist curled firmly around Spock's heart. He could not possibly get any closer to Spock than he already was, and yet still he attempted to mold them together, to thrust deeper into him, to own him so thoroughly that there would never be any possibility of separation. He didn't realize he was speaking until the brink of orgasm began to creep up on him, and in a sudden moment of clarity he heard himself whisper against Spock's shoulder, "Mine, you're mine, please say you're mine, don't ever leave, don't ever, don't ever..."

Soft, moist lips traced the curve of his blunt human ear, left a trail of kisses until they were nestled right against the shell. And then a voice as hot and ageless as the desert answered him: "I am yours."

And as he he came, Jim saw the stars Spock loved so much.

*******

They were lying curled together on top of Spock's bed, neither of them having the forethought to turn down the covers before they made love and both of them lacking the energy to attempt it in the afterglow. Jim was surprised Spock had remained so relaxed and lethargic; he knew Spock considered his home to be something of a cage, and his bedroom especially so. Rearranging things must have helped him to dispel some of the nastier memories of the place.

"Jim?" Spock murmured, pulling him from his wandering thoughts.

"Hmm?" He was too relaxed to be more coherent than that. He nuzzled his face against Spock's cheek, pressing a chaste kiss there as he tangled their limbs together.

Spock paused before he spoke, running his hands up and down Jim's back in a soothing motion that would have put him to sleep if he hadn't sensed a kind of significance to Spock's query. "May I ask why you are so concerned with my investment in our relationship?"

Jim blinked up at him, trying to kick his brain back into gear after having it burn out quite pleasantly a few minutes before. "Huh?" was the brilliant, eloquent response it came up with.

"What possessed you to speak about the possibility of my leaving you? I have no such plans."

Jim was glad he was burrowed against Spock's face in such a way that the blush wasn't quite so apparent. "Just a conversation I had with Scotty and Gaila. It's not important right now."

Spock pulled back so they could see each other. "I am not convinced that the depth of your anxiety was caused by one simple discussion with your friends."

Jim squirmed, not sure he wanted to have this particular conversation at the moment. "I'm just needy, Spock. It's really not an issue-"

"Jim." Spock cut him off with gentle reprimand in his voice, one hand splaying over Jim's face. It wasn't quite the same position he used in a meld, but it was close. "I do not have to engage your mind to be able to sense the emotions you project."

Jim remembered the transmissions Spock had given him, remembered the catalyst for Spock's first episode. If he could sense the panic coming from his fellow cadets during a simulation malfunction, he could just as easily sense Jim's mindless desperation. And despite knowing Spock could read him like that, he made one last attempt at evasion anyway. "Seriously, Spock. I just have a longstanding thing about being clingy and stupid. It's not-"

"Jim," Spock repeated, tilting his head up so they were eye to eye. "You have seen me at my worst. You have seen my shame, my anxiety. You have seen things no Vulcan would ever willingly share with another, and you have... you have embraced what I am despite those shortcomings. Why do you shy away from sharing your own difficulties with me?"

It was impossible not to be honest with him. "You have enough on your plate right now. It can wait until you're feeling better - because you're right, it's not just the one talk I had with my friends. It's more than that, and it's kind of... it's really fucking heavy and it's not something I like talking about."

Spock moved his fingers over Jim's face in that quiet, exploratory way of his. He traced his cheekbone, the bridge of his nose, the shape of his eyebrow. He dragged his fingers along the side of his face, curling around the nape of his neck, moving so their lips were almost touching when he murmured, "I would share with thee."

Something in his inflection echoed deep in Jim's heart, touched something fierce and ancient within him. It was similar to the kind of reaction he had whenever Spock said something in Vulcan - almost as if it were a more literal translation for his first language than he generally used.

And despite being moved to his soul, despite the new feeling of warmth and security curling around him, it still took a long time before Jim could bring himself to speak. "You ever... You ever heard about Tarsus IV?"

Chapter Text

They had relocated for this particular conversation, redressed as well. It wasn't something Jim spoke of often, and he had found that after his first few faltering sentences, he simply couldn't go any further when he was naked and tangled with someone else, curled up in someone else's bed. Jim had a thing about bedrooms, about things you did and did not bring into them. And this was something he never wanted in any bedroom, not ever, and certainly not a bedroom where Spock had previously felt so trapped.

Better to get it out of his system in the kitchen, eyes fixed on one of the indentations of Spock's fingers on the counter. Spock had brewed tea for the both of them, but Jim was using his mug mostly as a means of keeping his hands warm, or at least occupied, or at least to keep them from shaking too badly.

"Tell me what you know about it first," Jim said. "It'll give me a better idea of where to start, I think."

Spock sat down next to him at the small table in his kitchen where they usually set up the chessboard. He, too, had his hands wrapped around his mug. "Most of what I know was culled from lectures at the Academy. Tarsus IV was a Federation colony. Ten years ago, a fungus destroyed much of the food supply and in the ensuing chaos, a man by the name of Kodos led a rebellion and declared himself governor. He attempted to resolve the food shortage by killing half of the planet's inhabitants according to his own theories of eugenics. Federation aid arrived as he completed his first wave of killings. It was later discovered that he was constructing a plan for a second wave since the decreased population was still too large to be supported by the meager food supply."

It sounded just as detached as it had when Jim had heard his own professors discuss the incident. It infuriated him when it came from the Starfleet brass or their teaching staff, but he couldn't find it in him to be angry when Spock was repeating it. He didn't begrudge any of his peers for their academic approach to Tarsus IV - they hadn't been there and they couldn't understand the severity of the problems there when Starfleet presented it like some kind of physics equation that had been miscalculated.

"Essentially correct," he said, because it was true. "But it's... You can't be all scientific and impartial about it when you've been there."

Spock nodded, his foot moving to rest against Jim's under the table, offering comfort in whatever small way he could. "Why were you on Tarsus IV?"

"Dad got stationed there after he got done with his starship days. Mostly he stayed at his dirtside posting, but once Sam and I were older he or Mom would ship out to colonies for a few weeks or months at a time, just to get a taste of space again. Sam didn't have any interest in joining them when they were gone, but I started bugging them about it after Mom came back from a visit to the Martian colonies. When Dad got the orders for Tarsus IV, he offered to take Sam and me with him. It should have been a field trip; it had been established for a few years when he got the orders, it had been self sufficient for most of those few years, and it wasn't stationed anywhere near any of the neutral zones much less the war zones. Should have been a damn cake walk."

He was letting his mouth run away with him on minor details, and he stopped to take a sip from his mug just to get himself back on track. Spock, as if also sensing the way the discussion was derailing, stepped in with a question. "Did your mother and brother accompany you?"

"No. Like I said, Sam was never that big on visiting other planets and Mom and Dad made sure their orders were spaced out such that one of them was always home with us. So Dad got his orders, he offered to take me with him, and I jumped at the chance to see a colony outside the Sol system. And it was great for the first few weeks - great to the point of being boring. And then one day there was a report of a plague sweeping through one of the agricultural centers. And the next day there were half a dozen reports. And by the time the week was up, the food supply had been cut in half." Jim stopped there, losing his momentum again.

Spock didn't say anything that time. Instead he unwrapped one of his hands from his mug, resting it on the table with the palm facing up. It was another silent gesture of comfort, of offered support.

Jim ignored it for the moment. He was sure if he reached out for that hand, he would never manage to finish what he wanted to say. He took a deep breath and tried to get the rest out in a rush. "Dad was part of the resistance movement, which I'm sure you know already because Starfleet issued him all kinds of posthumous bullshit medals and awards for being such a fucking hero or whatever. But it wasn't really heroics; we were just trying to survive. Dad and a couple of colony staff members got together and hid a few families underground so Kodos couldn't separate them and kill off the less useful people. They took turns defending our homebase, going out and stealing food, trying to sneak others in, that kind of thing. The day the Federation finally showed up, everything went to hell. Kodos's lackeys started killing off as many colonists as they could just to reduce the number of eyewitnesses. It was nothing but a firefight the whole time they were trying to evacuate us. And when... When we were..."

He couldn't do this. He had thought he might be able to discuss this at last, but he just couldn't. His tongue stuck in his throat, the rage and the helplessness choking him.

"George Kirk's actions that day were the subject of the last lecture regarding Tarsus IV," Spock said quietly. When Jim's only reaction was a low huff of breath, he continued. "As one of the leaders of the resistance, he aided the Federation troops in their evacuation efforts. He was killed by one of Kodos's people for his actions."

"Sniper," Jim choked out. "Never did see if it was a phaser weapon or something more primitive. I was already loaded into one of the rescue shuttles when it happened. I saw..." He cleared his throat and tried again. "I saw it from one of the viewports. Tried to take off right then and there, fought tooth and fucking nail to go to him but..." He felt the way his breath was shuddering out of him, the stinging in his eyes. He stopped for a moment to get himself under control again. "They wouldn't let me off the shuttlecraft. Dad got shot on the loading bay and they wouldn't let me anywhere near him until they dragged him all the way in and took off. He died alone down there, Spock."

Spock was visibly struggling for something to say, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Jim wondered if the heavy discussion would be enough to send him spiraling into another attack. He was already well into mentally cursing himself for bringing it up when Spock wasn't capable of handling it when Spock broke the silence between them. "He did not die alone," he said quietly. "He knew his son to be alive and safe in the midst of a chaotic situation."

"But I wasn't there with him." But Jim understood the point Spock was making, finally allowing himself to take the hand Spock had been offering. "I wasn't there when it happened and I couldn't do a damn thing about it - couldn't even see his body until hours after he died. And Mom... Mom turned into a different person after that. Part of her died that day, right along with him. She remarried a few years later, but it made the entire family miserable when she did. That's when Sam started getting in so much trouble; you remember me telling you about all the times I had to bail him out?" At Spock's nod, he continued.

"I just... I can't do it again, Spock. I can't stand to see people I care about being taken away from me. It's why I don't generally do the whole relationship thing. I get way too attached to people way too quickly." His mouth began to run away with him. "And I know I unleashed all my issues on you. I pushed you and prodded you and made a complete ass of myself until you agreed to be friends, and now I keep pushing at you to get better when I know it isn't that simple. But Spock, I could graduate from Starfleet next summer if I really applied myself. I've only got about two semesters' worth of credits left if I throw myself into it, and only three if I slack a little bit. And it's not enough. It's not enough time with you."

Spock looked uncomfortable, but he wasn't shaking or trying to escape from the conversation. If anything, his hand gripped Jim's in his own even more tightly than before. "Jim..."

Jim was too far-gone to let Spock say anything significant yet, still barreling on. "Sometime in the next year or two, I'm going to graduate. And they're going to put me on a ship and send me out for my first rookie space mission. And when that happens, I want you there with me. Not just as someone I care about, but as an officer in your own right. I know it's in you somewhere. I know it is. And I also know that I don't want to leave earth without having you by my side."

And having finally said all that he needed to say, Jim slumped back in his chair and stared despondently at his mug. He had laid everything out for Spock, given him all the background he needed on Jim's ridiculously clingy behavior. He could either choose to break things off now if he wanted, or...

Or...

Spock cocked his head minutely, his gaze fixed on their clasped hands on the table. "Has it not occurred to you that I might desire those things as well? I did not develop my current habits and living situation for convenience's sake. I do not relish what I have become. I want..." He stopped, as if he had just prevented himself from speaking some sort of blasphemy. He took a moment to think before he spoke again. "I have no desire to remain here. My skills are being wasted on small computer problems and inconsistencies in Starfleet's programming code. I am capable of more than this."

"Yeah. You are." Jim wasn't sure where this was going, and he was too emotionally exhausted to figure it out.

Spock nodded, as if Jim had answered some unspoken question of his. "I will speak to Doctor McCoy about the mentisinil."

Jim snorted humorlessly, shaking his head. "I didn't pour my heart out trying to guilt you into medical trials. I just... You wondered why I got all worked up about the possibility of you leaving me. Now you know why. That's it."

"If the medication would assist me in overcoming some of my difficulties, there is no logical reason to avoid it," Spock pointed out reasonably. "I have already defied Vulcan culture more than once by virtue of coming to Earth, enlisting in Starfleet, and breaking my childhood betrothal bond. Should my family discover my need for medication in order to overcome my anxiety, it will be no less humiliating than developing the problem in the first place." Then his expression softened, his eyes taking on a vulnerable human quality. "Jim... you are not alone in thinking about the future and what it may hold for us."

Jim's brain produced a number of images at once. The first was McCoy ragging on him about being such a needy, overemotional idiot in relationships, culminating in the 'Princess Jamie' comment and a lot of shoulder-punching. The second was a bizarre image of Spock being just as needy and ridiculous as Jim himself was, and just as clingy. But lastly was an image of the two of them in their gray graduate uniforms, then in their blue and gold duty uniforms, slowly working their way up the ranks, exploring space, and doing it all together.

God, he wanted it so bad he was aching for it.

"Do what's best for you, Spock," he managed to say over the roaring want pouring through him. "Don't let me and my issues pressure you into something you're not comfortable doing. But... But if you decide to go for it?" He squeezed Spock's hand in his own. "I'm here for you."

Spock gave him an odd look. "I know," he said, as if it were an inevitability, a constant in a perpetually changing universe.

In all fairness, it was.

*******

"You know I could get my license revoked for this, right? This should've been done in a med clinic with a full lab workup and a ton of paperwork that makes me blameless should this all go to shit."

"Nice to see you too, Bones," Jim said, stepping aside to let him into the apartment. "And no, they couldn't revoke your license for this because you don't even have the xeno certification yet."

"He's half human. I could still get the human one revoked."

"Half revoked."

"You are not very damn funny."

"Yeah, you've been telling me that for the last two years now." He gestured toward the sofa where Spock had been sitting and listening to the entire exchange, one eyebrow raised high enough to disappear under his mop of hair. "There's your med clinic. It's sterile, or at the very least it's clean."

"I doubt that," McCoy grumbled, but he lowered himself to sit on the coffee table so he could face Spock, setting his kit down on the floor. "How'd the eyedrops work out?" he asked him by way of greeting. "You're not wearing your glasses."

Jim wanted to cringe at McCoy's abrupt bedside manner, especially since it had contributed to Spock's panic attack the last time the two of them had interacted. But Spock was reclaiming his self-confidence bit by bit as the days passed, and Jim couldn't have been more surprised to hear him say, with just the faintest hint of playful condescension, "I had assumed you would be able to determine the success of your medication based upon the fact that I no longer need the glasses."

"Excuse me for making sure I didn't blind you," McCoy retorted.

"Bones," Jim warned, stepping in before McCoy got too abrasive for Spock to handle, especially considering what he was here to do. He took a seat on the sofa next to him as a show of moral support should Spock need it.

McCoy gave no indication that he'd heard Jim, but his tone gentled slightly when he spoke again. "You know anything about the side effects of this stuff?" he asked, pulling a hypo from his kit.

"Certainly. As it is a drug designed to affect the neurological processes of Vulcans, it nullifies any telepathic abilities until such time as it has left the bloodstream."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "That's not a side effect. That's what it's supposed to do. I meant the other shit that goes along with that."

Spock stiffened next to Jim, the first sign that McCoy's brusque manner was starting to bother him. Jim moved closer to him, setting a hand over his lower back and rubbing soothing circles there. "I am unaware of any other effects," Spock said, his tone clipped.

"Paranoia," McCoy began to list, ticking off each symptom on his fingers. "Feelings of depression or isolation. Migraines. Some Vulcans react to it with some gastrointestinal issues, but I've diluted it enough that it shouldn't be an issue. The other stuff might, though."

"What's the point of medicating his panic attacks if it makes him feel even more miserable than before?" Jim asked. "That makes no sense."

"Meds for human depression and anxiety work the same way. A lot of them make you feel like shit when you first go on them, but that's just the body's way of getting used to the drugs. They start working a few days or weeks after the initial doses." He grabbed another hypo kit from his bag, this one unopened. "But just in case, I had these made up to match the dosage of the mentisinil. They're medicinal diffusers - they bind to certain chemicals in the blood and help to clean it out of your system. It's a way to purge the meds instantly if they aren't working out. Same thing we use on you when you have an allergic reaction to something in the clinic," he nodded to Jim.

Jim made a face. "That's the stuff that makes me vomit for twelve hours straight."

"Yeah. It ain't pleasant, but it gets the job done - I know for a fact this stuff has saved your life on at least three or four occasions. If the drugs are screwing with you too badly," and here McCoy was directing his remarks at Spock again, "and the side effects aren't worth it to you, take one of these. By the way, I'm starting you off on the weakest doses of mentisinil; we'll work our way up to stronger ones if we need to. For now I want to see how you react to these."

Spock looked at the medical supplies, then back up at McCoy. Jim could sense the sudden tension coiling in him, the barest hint of anxiety in his eyes. "Will you be returning to assess my progress?"

McCoy shrugged. "Not if that freaks you out. You can send me a comm instead with your observations. Or I can just have Jim keep me updated. Of course I'd rather have you making regular appointments to see me at the clinic, but this'll do for now."

Spock was still tense, but Jim heard the relief in his voice once he knew McCoy wasn't going to be keeping close tabs on him. "I will endeavor to keep you informed," he promised solemnly.

"See that you do. And let me know if your vision goes blurry again. It's been a long damn time since you had the macular degeneration dealt with and I'm not convinced that just one round of meds is going to cut it." He raised an eyebrow at Spock, and Jim found himself choking down a laugh at the unconscious mimicry happening between them. "Any questions?"

"Are you obligated to remain here for the first dose of medication?" Jim choked some more at the dismissal coloring Spock's question.

Rather than be offended, McCoy smothered down a grin and shook his head. "Yeah, yeah, I'll leave you alone now," he muttered. "But take your meds when I'm gone. And then eat something. And-"

"And don't run with scissors and look both ways before crossing the street and transporter rays are liable to cause cancer, sterility, and diarrhea," Jim cut in, having heard all of McCoy's lectures often enough by now to recite them word for word.

"I've got medical journals to back this up, you know," McCoy retorted, standing and making his way toward the door.

Jim waited until they were out in the hallway, his apartment door shut behind him, before he said anything. "Thanks, Bones," he said sincerely, pulling his best friend forward for a hug. "You don't know what this means to me."

McCoy rolled his eyes in that over-exaggerated way that meant he was embarrassed. "I didn't do it for you, you egotist," he grumbled, hugging him back anyway. "He helped me; I'm helping him. And I'm a doctor, damn it. This is just what I do."

"I know. And I'm thanking you for it."

McCoy deflected the gratitude again. "Well, I'm off. Jocelyn's dropping off Joanna tomorrow so I gotta get my bachelor pad clean again."

His living quarters were always immaculate, but Jim let him off the hook. "See you, Bones."

He made his way back inside where Spock was looking at the hypo kit with an expression of apprehension. Jim settled next to him again, looping an arm around his waist and waiting for him to voice whatever was on his mind. "The panic attacks have offered no positive effects on my life," he said quietly. "And yet I find myself resisting the change."

"You got used to your routines," Jim said. "And God knows I've been pushing enough change at you to last a lifetime. But this is all good change, right?" He smiled when Spock nodded, one hand reaching out to twine with his. "Besides, you don't have to take these right now. They won't expire for another six months."

"It would be illogical to procrastinate if the medication would assist me," Spock murmured. "If it does not, I would rather know now so the doses may be changed or an alternate solution may be found."

Jim nodded. "Want me to do the honors?"

In answer, Spock released his hand and pulled one of the hypos from the kit, offering it to him. Jim took it and pressed it against his neck. "To our future," he murmured, releasing the drug into Spock's bloodstream with a soft hiss.

Chapter Text

The first few days of the mentisinil were trying. There was really no other way to describe them. They weren't traumatic - Spock didn't suffer any relapses into panic attacks the way Jim had been expecting - but the drug affected him in ways Jim hadn't anticipated.

Jim had never devoted much thought to Spock's telepathy. It was simply a skill he possessed, something that allowed him to see into the truth of a person without wading through the layers of deception that so many humans erected around themselves. Once the mentisinil became a regular addition to his body chemistry, however, Jim realized just how important it was to him.

They were spending their nights almost evenly between Jim's apartment and Spock's, since the rearranging of his bedroom had apparently eased some of Spock's tension. Spock had been waking earlier and earlier than usual as he got used to the new chemical compound in his bloodstream, but Jim drew the line at the night he woke alone in Spock's bed, the chronometer on the bedside table reading 0348 hours.

He at least had the decency to pull his pajama bottoms back on before he began searching for him. The bathroom was his first stop, since it was Spock's default in the event of a panic attack, but it was empty. So was the kitchen. Puzzlingly, the living room seemed empty as well until Jim caught sight of a lone, nude figure sitting with his back against the wall. He seemed to be staring at his own front door, but as Jim approached him he realized it wasn't so much staring as it was zoning out completely. He looked almost as if he were attempting to meditate, but since he had never done so nude and certainly never done so in front of his apartment door, Jim ruled out the possibility.

Spock made no indication that he was aware of Jim's presence, so Jim took his time lowering himself next to him, not wanting to spook him just in case he'd been mistaken about whether he was meditating. "Spock?"

He didn't startle at the sound; he barely moved at all past a dazed blink at his door. "I apologize if I woke you," he murmured. His voice was monotone, almost as if he were operating on autopilot.

"I have a feeling you've been out here awhile. I only woke up a few minutes ago. I think I subconsciously missed the body heat you give off."

"Mm." And that wasn't like Spock, that vague contribution to the conversation.

Jim sifted a hand into the unruly black hair, petting him rather than combing through it since it was sleep-tangled. "What brought you out here of all places?"

"My original intent was to enter your apartment and sit by the window there. However, I did not wish to worry you should you wake to find me missing."

The now-familiar tugging sensation around Jim's heart gave a faint twinge. A feeling somewhere between sadness and sympathy pulled at him. He couldn't put into words how it made him feel that Spock felt safe in Jim's apartment. But he was so... so off tonight. "You want to head over there now?"

"No."

Unable to do much with such a clipped answer, Jim tried a different tactic. "What brought you out here in the first place? Is the mentisinil giving you insomnia or something?"

"Vulcans require-"

"Spock," Jim stopped him before he could launch into a lecture. "Give me a little credit here. I know you don't sleep as much as I do. But I also know we didn't fall asleep until a little after one, and it's almost four now. You need more than that, at least."

That seemed to throw a wrench into whatever Spock had originally planned to say. He went silent again for a long time, so long that Jim was about to give up and try herding him back to bed. But then: "Vulcans require rest in order for them to organize whatever information was gleaned during the day. Once that is done, the remainder of our rest period is devoted to blanking the mind as fully as possible. It is a level seldom achieved during meditation and it is this that rejuvenates us rather than the lack of physical activity."

Well, it was a slightly different lecture than the one he usually got, but it was a lecture all the same. "So the drug isn't letting you zone out the way you should?"

"It is..." The blankness of his expression melted to one of confusion, perhaps even a touch fearful if Jim was reading him correctly. "I am dreaming, Jim."

"So?" was the first thing that escaped Jim's mouth, another of his unfiltered outbursts. He tried to explain himself. "I know you said Vulcans organize information during their rest periods, but maybe your brain is trying to do it in a more human way? That's all dreaming really is, no matter what all the neo-hippies say about dream interpretation."

Spock shook his head. "The dreams have little to do with the minutia of my day. They are... I cannot adequately describe the bizarre situations I experience. I once read about the effects of psychotropic drugs on humans. I cannot help but think my dreams are similar to those hallucinations."

"Maybe they are," Jim mused, another possibility having occurred to him. "Maybe you're picking up whatever I'm dreaming about. I know my dreams can get pretty weird and they're not usually related to anything in the real world."

Spock's confused, fearful expression took a swerve into more miserable territory. "I know for a fact that they do not originate from you."

"How can you know that for sure?"

Spock looked as if he wanted to reach for him, his fingers curled into the position he used when he initiated a meld between them. But his hand fell uselessly to the floor between them, his gaze still fixed on the door. "My ability to sense you in a telepathic sense has waned since I began using the medication. It has become increasingly difficult to pick up thoughts or feelings during skin-to-skin contact. It has become utterly impossible to do so through clothing."

Eyebrows knitted, Jim reached out with his free hand and pressed it over Spock's right side, directly over his heart. He tried to project his warmth, his affection over all the worry pooling in his stomach. "You can't feel that?"

He hesitated a moment before answering, folding his hand over Jim's at his waist. "Faintly. I cannot discern specific thoughts of yours. I know you are concerned. I know too that you are trying to project something other than that concern, but I cannot determine what it is."

Jim wasn't surprised that his worry was overriding whatever else he was trying to impart. Instead he leaned forward and kissed his shoulder. "Just that I'm here for you," he explained. "And that I think you should try to get some more rest. You can't be helping yourself by cutting off your sleep just because you're dreaming. They don't mean anything, you know."

"Logically, yes, I know that. However, logic seems to have little bearing on my thoughts when they are given free reign during my rest periods." But some of his wordy Vulcan cadence had returned to his speech, which Jim figured was a good sign.

"Well no one has to know how illogical they are other than you," Jim pointed out, standing and offering his hands to him. "You're not sleeping with a telepath, you know."

For the first time in days, a tiny spark of amusement lit up Spock's eyes for a moment. "I am very much aware of that."

Jim smiled when Spock took his hands and allowed himself to be led back to bed.

*******

The next few days were equally trying as Spock finished up the first week of his medication. McCoy had stopped by just long enough to drop off the following week's round of hypos before leaving them to their own devices again. While the visit had not adversely affected Spock - in fact, the two of them seemed to be happily engaged in some kind of snark battle that Jim found himself refereeing - he continued to be thrown by the way his telepathy was being smothered.

Jim was grateful that he'd decided not to take any summer courses that required him to be on Academy grounds. Taking two classes on the Academy networking system meant he was there whenever Spock needed reassurance or some other form of human contact. Spock had taken Jim's offer of his apartment's availability seriously, and Jim often found that when he dragged himself away from his computer console after a networking lecture, Spock had at some point let himself in and settled in front of his favorite window.

It became their routine. Jim would spend his morning chipping away at his coursework and Spock usually let himself in by lunchtime. Their afternoons were spent in study and meditation, and the evenings... Jim quickly discovered that the suppression of his telepathy made Spock desperate for touch, for reassurance that he wasn't alone. It was some of the most physically intense sex he had ever had, and despite the way they exhausted themselves Spock continued to look haunted and unsure.

The expression never left his face unless he was meditating, and it was present to such a startling extent that Jim regularly stopped in the middle of things - studying for his courses, boiling water for tea, even making the bed in the morning - just to pull him into fierce, possessive kisses, trying to let him know through physical contact just how much he was wanted. It didn't work for long, but it wasn't exactly a hardship to keep up the affectionate barrage.

It was during one of those drive-by kisses that Spock made a quiet, distressed kind of sound when Jim ran his fingers into his hair. "Something wrong?" Jim asked against his lips.

"It is too long."

Spock was certainly not a proponent of non-sequiturs, and the strange answer had Jim pulling away to get a better look at his face, wondering if the drugs were starting to affect him more than he was letting on. "Huh?"

That earned him an exasperated sigh, either because he wasn't following Spock's thought process or because Spock hated when he resorted to inarticulate grunting to ask a question. "My hair has grown too long for a Vulcan not taking part in the kolinahr ritual."

"What's the kolinahr ritual?"

"It is a ritual designed to purge one's emotions completely, rather than exerting control over them at all times."

"Oh." Jim still felt as if he were missing a large chunk of the conversation. "What's that got to do with having long hair?"

"The ritual takes place in total seclusion, aside from the kolinahr masters present to gauge the individual's progress. As a result, some basic tenants of Vulcan hygiene must be ignored for long periods of time."

"What, like bathing?"

"Yes, as well as the care and maintenance of one's hair."

Jim couldn't help wrinkling his nose. "Gross."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "You are approaching the issue from a human point of view. Vulcans do not sweat and it is therefore unnecessary for us to bathe more often than once every few months. Additionally, Vulcans do not enjoy being wet-"

"Yeah, I picked up that much from the way you cringe every time I switch the shower from sonics to water," Jim interrupted him, having heard some of these lectures often enough not to feel guilty for doing so. "And how come you're always taking sonic showers if you don't sweat? You take them about half as often as I do."

"I am currently engaged in sexual relations with a human who, unlike a Vulcan, does sweat."

Jim gave him a salacious grin. "Are you accusing me of getting you dirty?"

"Indeed I am."

Since Spock made no attempt to continue the bantering game, Jim tried to put the damper on his libido. "So you're saying that you're kind of gross for a Vulcan because your hair is long?"

"It is a sign of a lack of attention given to one's personal hygiene," Spock allowed.

McCoy's advice about pushing Spock's boundaries came back to him. Spock had been able to interact with the doctor on several occasions without falling apart. He wondered if now was a good time to test his new-found limits now that he was on the mentisinil. "So... want to go somewhere and get a haircut? There's a barbershop down the street next to the fueling station. It'd be a quick walk there and back."

Spock tensed in his arms, his fingers digging into Jim's shoulders at the implications of leaving the building and interacting with strangers.

"I'll go with you," Jim offered, hands brushing through Spock's hair and then moving to rub soothingly at his lower back. "You won't have to talk to anyone on the way there if you're talking to me. And I can keep the barber entertained too if you don't want to talk to him, either. There won't be too much pressure involved in being social if you don't want there to be; all you have to do is tell the guy how to cut your hair."

Spock was silent for a long time, shivering faintly. That lone symptom which had once been the harbinger of a panic attack hadn't progressed to an actual episode in over a week. The mentisinil may have been wreaking havoc with Spock's telepathy, but Jim had to admit that it was effective at least as far as Spock's anxiety was concerned. "I would be more comfortable if my appearance were more presentable," he finally murmured.

"You're presentable now as far as the humans are concerned," Jim assured him. "Plenty of humans - and other aliens, too, now that I think about it - have long hair. There aren't enough Vulcans around for it to be all that strange that you're kind of shaggy."

"Nevertheless, I would prefer..." Spock let out a sigh as if he didn't have the energy to argue about it. He tried again, changing the subject: "I will try."

Jim couldn't help himself; he pushed just a little bit further. "Want to go now? So you don't have time to think about it and over-analyze it and work yourself into a frenzy over it?"

"That seems logical." He didn't seem to be at all enthusiastic about the prospect, though, his tone flat and listless.

"Hey," Jim said quietly, cupping Spock's face in the palm of one hand. "Same deal as the night we were up on the roof: if you feel uncomfortable at any point, just tell me and we'll come back. We can always come back," he promised, kissing him softly. "I will never take you somewhere without an escape route."

Spock's eyes darted toward the apartment door for a moment before returning to Jim. "I know." And the quiet conviction in his voice compelled Jim to kiss him again.

"Good," he said when they parted. "Get your shoes on and let's go."

Later, when he reflected on it, he realized that it had been a shoddy plan from the start. He knew he tended to rely overmuch on his gut instinct in new situations. He was not the calm, composed, logical type; he had Spock for that. Still, it wasn't as if he had figured out the minor details of the situation. His basic goals were to get Spock out of the apartment, get him out of the building entirely, and get him to walk to a new place. He should have known a wrench was going to be tossed in there somewhere.

They made it to the apartment door. Despite Spock's hesitation and nervous expression, they made it outside the apartment. In fact, they made it all the way to the stairs when the wrench appeared.

"Hey Jimmy! Is that your Vulcan boyfriend?"

Swearing under his breath, Jim turned in such a way that he blocked most of Spock from view. "Don't you have class right now?" he shot back.

Gaila did that weirdly sensuous melting thing she always did against her door frame, the thing that made her look like a sex goddess even when she was slobbing around in her tank top and sweats. "I'm taking the same summer courses you are. More, in fact, but those are all on the network, too. And you haven't answered my question."

"We're kind of busy, Gaila. You can play neighborhood spy some other time."

But despite Jim's attempt to disengage from the situation, Spock had shifted so he could see Gaila over Jim's shoulder, his expression more curious than anxious. "She was the one watching when I delivered the notes regarding my medical file."

"That's me," Gaila chirped, looking proud of herself. "That's why Jimmy here came home soon after you were done with the sixth or seventh one."

"I only delivered four notes to his apartment," Spock protested.

"Whatever. The point I was making is that I only use my powers for good." At Jim's doubtful look, she backtracked. "Most of the time."

"Bye Gaila," Jim said pointedly, trying to end the conversation before it could get Spock too worked up over having to interact with a stranger.

"Aw, you're not even going to tell me where you're taking him? I can tell you where the good vegetarian places are in town."

"Ignore her," Jim hissed under his breath, taking the first few steps down the landing in the hopes that Spock would follow him.

Spock, however, had given into his curiosity for the time being. "We are going to the barbershop."

"For you, I hope. You're the shaggiest Vulcan I've ever seen."

Before Jim could snap at her to be nice, Spock simply raised an eyebrow and uttered a deadpan, "Indeed."

"You sure you trust those idiots down there? I mean, they can do a military buzzcut easily enough, but Vulcans have a traditional style, don't they? Unless you want to end up with a head like his," and here she gestured at Jim dismissively, "I wouldn't give them the business, if I were you."

"What alternative might you suggest?" Spock asked, and Jim quickly forgot his inner defensiveness over his haircut in favor of downright astonishment that Spock was keeping up a conversation with a stranger.

She gave them a wicked grin. "I cut hair."

"Oh no you don't," Jim cut in, jogging back up the stairs to stand next to Spock. "You'll get all distracted from interrogating him and he'll wind up with half a set of pointed ears."

"Will not. I don't distract that easily. I cut Chekov's hair for him. You've seen for yourself that he's still got all his curls even though we spend the whole time gossiping. And I cut my hair, and Christine Chapel's, and I've even buffed down Keenser's... well, whatever those weird ridges are on his head. I'm like a certified Academy beautician, minus the actual certification." She wagged her finger in Jim's general direction. "See? All that Orion grooming stuff came in handy on Earth."

Spock actually looked tempted, which was a further shock to Jim's senses. And then, quite abruptly, it seemed as if Spock realized what he had been doing. His face lost all curiosity in favor of bewilderment and... Jim hesitated to categorize it as fear, but it was certainly dancing on the edges of it. "I..." He trailed off, his gaze darting from Gaila to the door of Jim's apartment and back again.

"We'll get back to you on that," Jim offered when Spock didn't try to speak again, moving his hand to the small of Spock's back and leading him back to the apartment. He shot Gaila his best pleading look, hoping she would understand not to be nosy, or a smart-ass, or some devastating combination of the two.

Orions were notorious for their ability to read body language, and while Gaila generally chose to ignore those readings in favor of being her obnoxious self, she seemed to sense that now was not the time. She shot them both another grin, shrugging her assent. "You boys ever decide he needs a real Vulcan haircut, come and see me. Although I have to say, I kind of dig the curls, even if they are shaggy."

"That's a compliment, I promise," Jim told Spock, entering his security code and watching him make a beeline for the window.

Chapter Text

Despite Spock's sudden need to be back in his apartment, he didn't have a panic attack. And he didn't have one when McCoy dropped by unexpectedly a few days later to check on Spock's progress. He didn't even have one when Gaila came by two days after that with a pair of scissors and a decidedly wicked gleam in her eye (not that Jim would have blamed him on that account, because she was scary on a regular basis and downright terrifying with a sharp object in her hand; thank God she'd been convinced to go away when Scotty had sent her a comm telling her the still was working again). In fact, ever since he'd gone on the drugs, Spock hadn't had a single episode. The closest he'd gotten were a few instances of shaking and one bout of mild nausea.

Jim felt it was a good sign, although Spock didn't seem to agree whenever he brought it up. He continued to have a hard time with the suppression of his telepathy, and Jim couldn't help him as far as that was concerned. He had no understanding of what it must be like not to sense another's thoughts, because that was the default for him.

The nights they spent together continued to get rougher, more aggressive, almost violent in their intensity. Fucking became akin to sparring, Spock clawing angry purple marks into his arms and bruising his hips as he rode him to a borderline painful climax, his face contorted and desperate as he gasped and spilled over Jim's chest. Or Spock would pin his aching body down to the bed and suck until his cock was so oversensitive and raw that just the sensation of Spock's lips as he let it fall from his mouth made him whimper.

Jim was starting to feel the drain of Spock's anxiety in a way he never had before. He discovered there was a tiny, quiet, guilt-ridden part of him that longed for the days of the panic attacks and bathroom hideouts. Spock had been more himself during those episodes than he was now. That version of Spock had his demons, certainly, but he also had his moments of quiet sweetness that Jim craved now that they were missing.

Still, whenever McCoy sent him a comm, Jim continued to describe it merely as a trying experience. Spock was different, yes, but at least the panic attacks had improved. He had left the apartment on three separate occasions of his own free will: once when he almost left the building to get a haircut, and twice to accept deliveries rather than waiting for the messenger to leave them on his doorstep. He had interacted with McCoy without further incident and had even met Gaila twice without freaking out too badly. All in all, the mentisinil was technically a success.

'Technically' lost all sense of meaning one night when Jim once again woke up to an empty bed.

He pulled on his pajama pants and began the sweep of Spock's apartment. The bathroom was empty. The kitchen was empty. And, surprisingly, the living room was empty as well.

Quietly, he left Spock's apartment and padded over to his own. Spock wasn't in front of the window. Nor had he crashed on the sofa or in the armchair. The kitchen was untouched, as was the bathroom. Jim's bed was still neatly made up.

His sleepy sense of confusion took a sharp turn into fear. Spock never left his safety zone - not ever, for any reason. He had been convinced to take small steps outside of it when Jim was around, but that was all. Jim's stomach made uneasy turns as he considered the implications, his mind racing as he tried to puzzle out where he might have gone.

He left his apartment, locking the door behind him and standing there helplessly for a moment. He had no idea of what to do next. Did he leave the building to see if Spock had gone somewhere? Did he try to contact someone - maybe wake up McCoy to see if he had any ideas? Should he file a missing person report?

He had started the trek down the stairs when a flash of inspiration hit him. Acting on his gut instinct, he turned around and began taking the steps two at a time, up to his floor and then beyond until he'd made it to the door that led to the roof.

Shaky waves of relief coursed through him as he took in the lone figure sitting there, his gaze fixed on his own bent knees. Jim took a few shuddering breaths before walking over to him. "Jesus, Spock, at least leave some kind of note next time you go wandering off like that."

Spock said nothing. He didn't even move.

"Spock?" Jim tried again, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

Spock moved then, if only to twitch his arm out of the way.

The worry was fast returning, along with the mild sting of rejection. "Spock, what's going on?"

After a long moment of consideration, Spock finally spoke up. "I came up here to see the stars. Now that I am here, I find I have no interest in them."

It wasn't at all what Jim had expected him to say, not after having to track him down and certainly not after Spock shied away from physical contact with him. Considering he'd spent almost the last two weeks clawing him half to death in an attempt to get closer to him, his rejection of Jim's touch was boggling. Floundering, Jim tried to respond. "Kind of hard to see them when you're staring at your knees. And it's too foggy to see most of them anyway."

"You do not understand," Spock said, and whereas at any other time Jim would have heard the irritation creeping into his voice, he was unusually monotone. "I have no interest in them."

Jim tried to keep up, invoking his inner Spock-to-English translator. "So... what are you interested in?"

"Nothing." And the monotone was giving way to something faintly frustrating.

Jim sighed, unsure of what he was supposed to do with that. "Come inside, Spock. There's no reason to be out here if you're not-"

"I am not interested in the stars," Spock continued as if Jim hadn't spoken at all. "I have delved into many fields of study during the course of my education, but astrophysics and astronomy have always been my best subjects due to my fascination with them. I can pinpoint and name any astral body visible in the sky at any given time. I can calculate when each of Sol's other planets can be seen from Earth down to six decimal places, if necessary. Jim," and here he stopped sounding like one of the bland, boring Academy professors and much more like a miserable human being, "I have no interest in doing so."

Jim began to understand what he was getting at. "Spock-"

"My disinterest in my usual line of work and in the studies I once immersed myself has been compounded by my lack of... My inability to..." The frustration crept into his voice again, but it felt weak and bland compared to the point he was trying to get across. It was almost as if he were an incredibly poor actor attempting to sound unhappy but coming off as bored and aloof instead. "I awoke earlier due to a nightmare, the likes of which should have sent me into an anxiety attack. At the very least, I should have been forced to engage my mind in a series of meditative exercises to determine the illogical quality of the dream and to excise any negative feelings arising from it. Instead I... I could only lie there. I knew on an intellectual level that I should have been affected by the dream. I also knew that I was not. I could not descend into a meditative trance. I could not even summon the energy to leave the bed for twenty... perhaps thirty..." He shook his head. "I cannot even properly calculate the passage of time."

Jim felt a lump in his throat, a manifestation of the emotion Spock couldn't express at the moment. He couldn't help himself; he reached out again, wrapping his arms around Spock and pulling him into a hug, not caring that he remained stiff and wooden against his chest. "What did you dream about?" he asked, since he didn't have the first clue how to respond to any of the rest of it.

Spock's voice dropped to a whisper, and Jim once again noted the lack of sincere inflection in his tone. "That your mind would remain closed to mine indefinitely. That I have sacrificed, perhaps permanently, an essential part of who I am in the pursuit of balancing my emotions. That my inability to recover that part will at some point convince you that I am not worth having after all."

"God, Spock," he whispered, swallowing down the insane urge to cry into the man's shoulder. "Nothing could convince me of that. Nothing, I promise you."

Hesitantly, Spock raised a hand and let it rest on Jim's arm, but he shook his head once the contact was made. "I cannot function like this. I understand what the doctor was attempting to do and I appreciate the effort he has made to assist me. But I cannot... I do not wish to spend another day locked within my own mind. I have spent too long trapped within myself as it is. I..." He trailed off, looking unsure of himself, almost as if he didn't dare speak what was on his mind. But he gripped Jim's arm a little more firmly and forced himself to continue. "I have missed you these past few weeks."

Jim tightened his arms around him, burrowing his nose into the wild black hair. "I'm right here, Spock. I've been right here the whole time."

"I know. But you have been absent elsewhere." And he took one of Jim's hands in his, setting it into an approximation of the appropriate gesture and setting the fingers against his own temple, brown eyes wide and beseeching him to understand.

Jim shuddered in a way that had nothing to do with the cool breeze wafting over them. He let his fingers rest there, leaning in to kiss his other temple. "Let's go back," he murmured. "We'll skip the rest of the medication. It'll take awhile to work its way out of your system, but-"

"The supply of medical diffusers is available to us as well," Spock pointed out.

"They'll make you sick as a dog," Jim warned. "Trust me, I've had to use them a few times when I turned out to be allergic to whatever Bones was dosing me with."

"I would rather be ill temporarily and be rid of the drug than be forced to wait however long it will take for it to leave my body naturally."

Something about that sentence hit Jim full-force in the gut. He'd been hearing the words, slowly trying to understand how bad this had been for Spock. But Spock hated being sick; he had said on multiple occasions that the nausea and vomiting were two of the absolute worst symptoms of his panic attacks. If he was willing to deal with them just to be rid of the mentisinil...

He pressed another kiss to his temple, lingering and sweet, before breaking away from him. "Let's go back," he said again, scrambling to his feet and watching as Spock did the same. "Let's do this now. The sooner we get the diffusers in you, the sooner you can start feeling sane again."

He took a few steps toward the access door, stopping when he realized Spock wasn't following. Instead he remained rooted to the spot, standing now rather than sitting.

"What's wrong?" Jim asked.

"It had not occurred to me that the anxiety attacks would be preferable to..." He shook his head, tried again. "Stonn was convinced that the solution to my problem would depend upon my ability to block the thoughts and feelings of others from my mind. It is... interesting to have proven his hypothesis incorrect."

Jim's inner Spock translator equated it to saying, 'Turns out that asshole ex of mine was completely fucking wrong, and I'm glad.' Not bothering to hide the smile, he offered a hand to him and tugged him back towards the door. "Come on," was all he said.

*******

Jim had been with Spock through many of his worst panic attacks. He had been there the day Spock had gone through several of them after leaving him all those notes about his medical record. He had been there the day Spock had talked to his father and realized how shaken he was at Spock's condition. He had been there through minor quakes and intense nausea, been there to reassure him when Spock's mind began to deconstruct his sense of reality.

Despite having seen all that, Jim had to admit that the diffusers were worse.

He'd had an inkling that would be the case having experienced them himself during a variety of allergic reactions to other medications. Seconds after pushing the hypospray against Spock's neck, they were in the bathroom. Spock's body was curled over the toilet, the muscles in his back and shoulders seizing and trembling every time a new wave of sickness hit him. With the panic attacks Spock would be sick once, maybe twice during a really rough one, and then it would be over. With the diffusers it was a constant barrage, and Jim could do little more than rub his back and wipe his mouth with a wet cloth towards the end of each wave.

Hours later, as dawn was just starting to filter the slightest glimmer of light through Jim's apartment, it became apparent that Spock was no longer bringing up anything significant. The two of them made their way to Jim's bed, Jim supporting much of Spock's body weight since he was too weak to manage a great deal of it. During the time it took for the faint glimmer in his apartment to morph into full-blown sunlight streaming in through the windows, Jim curled his body around Spock's and simply braced him through the dry heaves. In a way, it was lucky that Spock was half Vulcan; the symptoms were passing much faster than they did when Jim took the diffusers, and he didn't eat enough during the day for him to be as violently ill as a human would have been.

Finally, when morning was making progress toward midday, Spock began dozing lightly. He jarred awake at the slightest provocation, as Jim learned the first time he left the bed to relieve himself, but it seemed that the nausea was over. Still wound up over their conversation on the roof, Jim simply lay there for awhile watching him. He couldn't help but worry whether they had made the right decision. He had missed the old Spock, certainly, but he could deal with that for a bit while Spock got his head back together. Still, he felt that a large part of why the old Spock had disappeared was because of how upset he had been over the loss of his telepathy. It wasn't as if they engaged in full mind-melds every day - far from it, in fact - but apparently the lack of it had been significant enough to have affected him. Jim couldn't begin to wrap his mind around it; he couldn't decide whether it would be like a human losing a limb, or being unable to feel the 'right' emotions at the right time, or being strung out on drugs or high-powered prescription meds. He didn't, couldn't, know.

His musings finally lulled him into a kind of half-sleep. He stirred at every little noise in the room, including a brief bout of snoring from Spock, the sound of Gaila's door opening and closing down the hall, and the sound of a light summer rain pattering against the windowpane. He must have dozed for several hours like that, not quite resting and not quite conscious.

Until he was rudely awakened by unbelievably strong Vulcan fingers digging into his shoulder, his arm, bruising into his flesh where Spock had already been marking him for weeks with his desperate need for closeness. "Shit, Spock, wha-" he managed to sputter, hands groping blindly for him.

"Aitlu nash-veh, bolau nash-veh, t'lema, qual se tu?"** Spock was babbling in what Jim could only guess was Vulcan since he tended to revert to it when his mind was unbalanced. The phrases began to repeat, his babbling becoming more insistent when Jim couldn't figure out how to respond.

"Shh, Spock, shh," he tried soothing him, resting his hands over the ones clenched into his shoulders, trying to relax their grip. "Try to go back to sleep."

"Qual se tu?" Spock asked again, his eyes wide and wild and not quite focused on Jim's face.

He was going to have to enroll in Vulcan language courses, Jim decided, because he hated that he couldn't supply him with an answer that would calm him down. "You're safe, Spock," he murmured. "You're in my apartment. You're just dealing with the last effects of the diffusers or the mentisinil or both, I'm really not sure. But you're fine, I promise. I'm right here."

"T'lema, qual se tu?" Spock repeated, and Jim felt a shaky wave of uncertainty and fear spiking through him.

And then realized it wasn't originating from himself.

No wonder Spock was going ballistic; his telepathy was slowly bleeding back into him and going haywire in the process. He moved a hand from where he'd been trying to relax Spock's bruising grip on him, resting his fingers against Spock's temple. "It's me; it's Jim," he whispered, leaning forward to kiss him softly (and then making a face at the taste of him, because he wasn't exactly minty fresh at the moment). "It's okay. You're safe."

"T'lema," Spock muttered. "T'hy'la."

"Okay," Jim agreed, for lack of a better response. "Sounds good. Just go back to sleep. I can't help you unless you can remember how to speak English again."

Spock's gaze bore into him for the longest time, searching his face. "Jim," he whispered, and there was a question underneath the name.

"Yes." He began rubbing slow circles against Spock's temple, trying to project all the warmth and affection he could amidst his growing confusion. "Get some sleep. We've been up since... shit, I don't even know. All night, practically."

"Jim," Spock said again, this time with a sense of security and reverence. He closed his eyes, his body slowly relaxing against the relentless massage. Jim winced as Spock's fingers uncurled from his arms, wondering what color the bruises would be when he could gather up enough energy to get out of bed and check them. But he was utterly exhausted, eyes drooping even as he watched Spock drift off.

For awhile he tried to phonetically commit Spock's babbling to memory, although he was well aware it was a lost cause. He was going to mangle it horribly whenever he was able to ask about it, maybe even to a point where it lost all meaning. But he tried anyway, going over the phrases in his mind, repeating them, repeating them...

Repeating...

Unconsciousness enveloped him as Jim finally collapsed into sleep.

Chapter Text

Consciousness returned to Jim at a sluggish pace. Different sensations awoke at different times. First came the heat, the warm cocoon of sheets tangled around his waist and the faint sensation of sunlight on his back, making the skin there just a fraction of a degree warmer than the rest of him. Then came a more tactile sense of threadbare sheets under his torso and an equally worn old blanket tossed over him.

His hearing came back online next, although there was little to listen to. The soft summer rain he'd heard as he fell asleep had apparently passed through because he couldn't hear it pinging against the window anymore. He heard his own regulated breathing as he exhaled against the pillow, and as he caught on to the pattern of it he could discern another breathing pattern completely off-tempo from his own, slower and deeper.

He opened his eyes blearily, rubbing the sleep-gunk out of them so he could better focus on the face full of angles in front of him. Spock looked better than he had in weeks; the skin under his eyes was a little shadowy, but his features were relaxed and his eyes were clear and focused. He must have woken up before Jim because his hair looked as if it had been cleaned and combed and Jim could smell the faint minty scent of recently brushed teeth.

"Morning," he tried to say, although it came out a bit slurred.

"According to the chronometer, it is 1507 hours," Spock corrected him.

"Oh." Well, they had been up practically all night dealing with the effects of the diffusers, so he didn't feel too terrible for sleeping in that much. "How long have you been up?"

"One point zero three hours."

Jim smiled at that. "You must be feeling better. Your internal clock's working again."

"Indeed."

"You look better, too." He interrupted himself to stretch and yawn mightily, trying not to wince at the ache in his arms. "Are you? I mean, you look great and you sound fine but that doesn't necessarily mean you are."

Spock must have caught the wince, because his expression turned stormy as he reached out to trace the arrangement of bruises, keeping his touch light on Jim's skin. "The effects of the mentisinil have dissipated completely. It is no longer impossible to sort through my thoughts, and I have already been able to achieve a meditative trance for forty two minutes this afternoon."

It was one of Spock's evasive non-answers and Jim wasn't about to put up with it after two weeks of general misery. He took Spock's hand and brought it to his mouth, laying a kiss in his palm. "But how are you feeling?" he persisted.

He almost balked at the question; Jim could see it in the way his eyes changed for a brief instant, in how he almost closed himself off to the prying. But Jim could also see the way he stopped himself from retreating behind that wall of masked indifference. "I feel... like myself again," he said carefully, looking at Jim as if to gauge whether he'd given the right answer.

Jim smiled again, letting Spock feel it against the palm he still had pressed to his mouth. "Good," he murmured against the flesh there. "I missed you."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him.

"Hey, I'm just repeating what you said to me last night," Jim defended himself, letting their hands rest on the pillow between them so he could trace his fingers along Spock's. "You've been different these past few weeks."

Spock's gaze darted to the bruises on Jim's arm, on a few fading bite-marks peppered over his chest, and Jim felt a little surge of guilt flowing into him from where their fingers were touching. "Indeed," was all he said.

"Stop that," Jim ordered. "It's not like I haven't left marks on you from time to time."

He was flushing that unattractive shade of sage green when he responded. "Those marks were pleasant ones."

"I wasn't exactly complaining about these at the time, if you recall."

Spock shook his head, leaning up on one elbow to get a better look at him. "I have a much greater potential to inflict harm on you than you have on me. These go deep into the muscle," and here he had retracted his hand from Jim's in order to brush over the mottled purple bruises on his arm again. "They are more painful than pleasurable."

"They'll be gone in a week and it won't matter," Jim said.

"It matters now."

He was just going to keep beating himself up over it, and the last thing Jim wanted was for the self-reproach to lead into an anxiety attack. So he shrugged, curling a hand around Spock's neck and pulling him down for a kiss, his body alternately melting into the sweetness of it and lighting up in sharp interest. "What can I do to get you to forget about them?" he murmured, pitching his voice low and sensual just to see Spock shiver.

Which he did, his worried gaze turned piercing and intense. He surprised Jim by pushing at his shoulder gently, rolling him fully onto his back and then moving to hover on top of him. He wasn't actually touching him anywhere, his hands buried in the mattress next to his arms, his knees somewhere next to Jim's thighs, his face just inches over Jim's own. "Let me," he said simply, but the tone of it went straight to Jim's cock.

"Whatever you want," he returned, closing the space between them to steal another kiss.

He'd gotten accustomed to Spock's fierce, devouring kisses while the mentisinil ravaged his telepathic abilities, had become used to the clashing of teeth and the soreness of lips as they attacked each other. But the kiss was similar in some ways to the first one they'd shared, almost exploratory in nature as Spock lapped at the corners of his mouth and nearly purred in contentment when Jim opened to him.

Jim lost himself in it for awhile, his fingers buried in Spock's hair and curling protectively over his ears. He dedicated himself to licking Spock's unique coppery flavor from his mouth, so distracted by the task that he didn't notice the way Spock was pulling the sheets down; he only took notice when long fingers hooked into the waistband of his pants and stripped him of them effortlessly.

He chuckled against Spock's mouth, breaking away just enough to give himself room to say something. But Spock stopped him before he could utter a word, laying his fingers over Jim's mouth. "Do not speak," he said, and it wasn't quite voiced as a request.

And for as much as Jim didn't tend to follow orders unless he had good reason to, he relaxed back into the bed and nodded. Spock wanted him to be quiet. That was reason enough for him.

Spock began by nuzzling against his ears, his nose tracing the rounded edge of them before allowing his tongue to do the same. Jim hoped that the order not to speak didn't include more incomprehensible sounds, because he was letting loose with soft sighs and murmurs of encouragement without thinking to stop himself. Spock didn't seem to mind, if the little surges of muted affection seeping into him wherever Spock touched him were any indication. Those surges infused him with a low hum of contentment, and Jim marveled at Spock's ability to both arouse and relax him in equal parts. It was a strange duality of sensation brought upon him by a man whose dual nature had attracted Jim to him in the first place. By the time Spock was licking at the pulse point at his neck, Jim was fully hard. With anyone else he would have been squirming in an attempt for friction, but he was content to simply lie there as Spock explored him.

Until Spock got to the bruising on one shoulder. Suddenly the affectionate little touches and surges of feeling spiking through him took on a distinctively guilty flavor, and every kiss Spock bestowed on each bruise felt more like an apology than anything else. "Spock-" Jim began to say.

"Shh," Spock murmured into his skin.

"But-"

"Let me." Now it was definitely a command, no hint of a question or a plea there at all. As much as Jim didn't want him to feel guilty about how rough they had gotten with each other, he began to realize that Spock needed to do this. It was perhaps some attempt to reclaim himself after losing his control over the telepathy.

So he didn't speak. But he began to communicate with him through the palms of his hands, running them over the long lines of his back and projecting what he couldn't say through touch instead: I love you, all of you, and the marks are just proof that I'm yours.

Spock must have understood him, because the apologetic reverence morphed to something more possessive. Spock sucked at the deepest of the bruises, and Jim couldn't tell if he was trying to draw the ache right out of the muscle or layer a new kind of sensation over it; either way it was lending to that bizarre lethargic-arousal mode Spock was so good at causing.

Jim lost all sense of time as Spock continued his slow exploration of Jim's body. Spock lapped at the hollow of his throat, traced his collarbones with long fingers, pressed deep, suckling kisses to each of his nipples. His tongue followed the faint lines of a few light scratches down his torso that had been left there when Spock had ridden him to a desperate, clawing climax. Jim shivered at the memory of how he'd received them, arched his back at the way Spock was retracing his path over Jim's body.

Spock's hands remained busy as he lapped and nuzzled along Jim's belly. Long fingers dragged along his sides, his touch firm enough to keep Jim from squirming. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back in the pillows as Spock mapped out his thighs, his shins, cupping the arches of his feet temporarily before moving upwards again. His thumb circled the knobby joint of his ankle. The pads of his fingers worked their way up his calves. Before Jim could even think to protest there was firm, demanding pressure on his inner thighs, and he spread his legs wide to accommodate him.

"Jim," Spock breathed over his face, and he had a sudden image of desert winds blowing into him.

"Mmm?" He wasn't sure if he was allowed to speak yet, cracking his eyes open and peering up at him through the pleasant haze that had enveloped him. Spock looked... different, and yet not so different at all. The softness was still present in his dark eyes, but the expression was fierce, would have been almost frightening if Jim hadn't had such absolute trust in him.

"I want..." But it seemed he couldn't express the desire out loud, raising one hand to Jim's temple instead and raising an eyebrow at him in query.

"Yes," he answered since Spock so clearly needed permission.

His mind went into that strangely blank mode momentarily before a series of images flooded into him. They were difficult to put into words; the images were intensely erotic, almost obscene given how private Vulcans were about their sexuality. At the same time, he couldn't quite categorize them as purely pornographic; there was something raw and ancient about them, speaking of thousands of years of tradition wrapped up in the writhing male bodies he saw in his mind's eye.

An explanation washed over him: I would have thee, taluhk. Open for me. Be my sheath.

Jim felt the shuddering response of his body almost as a distant entity. There was only one answer he could give: Yes. I'm yours.

The mental connection faded to the more mundane sound of a drawer being closed, of a cap being opened. Jim shook his head in an attempt to clear it, peering down to see Spock warming a liberal amount of lube in his hands. He tossed the bottle aside, settling back between Jim's spread legs and trailing his newly slick fingers along the creases of his thighs, then the vein on the underside of his cock, then along the tightening skin of his testicles, and then...

Jim couldn't help the surprised gasp when the fingers finally found their mark. He resisted the urge to squirm away or close his legs; it had been a long time since he'd bottomed for anyone. Spock was seemingly full of endless patience, though, smearing the lube around the skin there without penetrating him yet. He lowered his head and blew another hot breath over the slickness on Jim's thighs and groin. Jim couldn't quite reconcile the fact that the high, whimpering noise he heard had come out of his own mouth.

Spock's mouth attached itself to the bruises dotted over his hips, further evidence of how aggressive they'd been over the past few weeks. And it wasn't that Jim didn't like a little bit of rough handling every now and then, because he most certainly did. But oh, God, the reverence and the tenderness in the suckling kisses Spock was bestowing on him had their own spine-melting kind of charm. His hips began rocking against the dual forms of contact, thrusting up into Spock's mouth and then back against his fingers. He tried as much as possible to keep from making that embarrassing whimpering noise again, but after long minutes of torture he had to speak: "Please, Spock..."

And apparently Spock had been waiting for permission again, because the moment the words were out of Jim's mouth there was a tentative finger spreading lube more steadily around his entrance before slowly, so slowly that he almost keened for it, working its way into him. Jim tried to focus on relaxing, on continuing to breathe, on willing away the slight edge of discomfort as Spock gently pushed his finger into him until it was buried up to the knuckle.

"Jim?" Spock whispered against his stomach, kissing his navel and watching him intently.

"M'okay," he breathed, reaching down and curling his fingers into Spock's hair, more just for the sake of touching him than to anchor him in place. "Keep going."

Spock tilted his face to press a kiss in his palm before returning to his task, dragging his tongue over Jim's abdomen while crooking his finger into him. Jim twitched at the feeling, spreading his legs wider in an attempt to acclimate to it. Spock took that as an invitation to start working in a second finger, stretching and stroking into him, whispering something low and encouraging against his upper thigh when Jim hissed at the intrusion.

Jim didn't even realize that he'd begun to go soft until he felt the strange roughness of Spock's tongue dragging along his cock, his mouth pressing trails of searing heat along the length of him. His brain locked onto the alien heat and texture moving over him, then opening around him and sucking him in. The only thing that kept him thrusting forward enough to choke him was the sensation of fingers stroking into the very core of him, the angle of Spock's fingers coming closer and closer to hitting that one, perfect-

Jim made another embarrassing keening noise as Spock hit his prostate, hips jerking back in a wordless plea for more. He could feel Spock smiling around him, tongue teasing at his head to distract him from the intrusion of one more finger. He didn't even feel the burn of them any longer, couldn't feel anything but the scorching heat of Spock's mouth on his cock and the steady thrusting of his fingers, working him open, stretching him wide, purposely avoiding his prostate now in favor of building a rhythm between them.

"Spock," Jim gasped, both hands in his hair now and tugging at him in an effort to get him to stop. "Spock, please, too much. Too much- Don't- Spock," he whined, no longer caring how he sounded. "I'm ready, I've been ready, just please do it, want you in me, want..."

He was babbling, but apparently it was working. Spock pulled his fingers out of him with a slick, obscene little noise, letting Jim's cock fall from his mouth. He pressed another series of scorching kisses back up his chest, his neck, ending with his lips right against Jim's ear. The meaning of the word was lost due to being in Vulcan, and before Jim could focus enough to ask for a translation there was something hot and blunt pressing up against his hole. Spock teased him just a little, rubbing the head of his cock against the slickness there until Jim was mindless with want.

And then there were hands encircling his hips, hitching him upward and into Spock's lap, using his superior strength to literally pull Jim onto his cock rather than thrusting into him. Jim made a strangled noise of relief as Spock finally breached him, legs splayed wide and then locking around Spock's waist in an attempt to pull him deeper. There was no pain, no burning sensation, just a sense of fullness and completeness as Spock buried himself to the hilt inside him.

Be my sheath, echoed the phrase in his mind again, and he realized that Spock had pressed the fingers of one hand to his temple again. The images returned with a startling clarity they had lacked the first time Spock had shared them, brief mental flashes of Vulcan males wrapped around and inside and over each other, the sword and the sheath, the penetrating and the penetrated. Jim moaned his pleasure into Spock, unsure of whether he'd done it verbally or through the link and not particularly caring which it was. He shifted restlessly on Spock's thighs, trying to gain enough leverage to start their rhythm again, scrabbling for a better hold on him.

Spock ceased his teasing then, rocking his hips in a deep, steady rhythm and using his hold on Jim's hips to pull him into every thrust. Jim was totally gone, mindless with pleasure as Spock fucked him into the mattress, angling to hit his prostate on every stroke. It was too good, too perfect, too much. He could feel the orgasm building low in his belly already, threatening to engulf him. Spock, he gasped into the link, trying to divide his focus between staving off the inevitable and trying to tell Spock what he was doing. Spock, I can't... I can't...

Then do not, was the rumbling answer pouring over his synapses. Be one with me. Take me. Take me. Take...

And Jim - who had never been able to come from penetration alone, who had always needed a hand on his cock or teeth scraping over his nipples or at the very least, a tongue tangling with his own - found himself utterly unable to resist that plea. With another two, three, four thrusts he was launched over the edge of the abyss, and Spock's mind entangled so intimately with his own was drawn into the darkness with him. One of them, he wasn't sure who, gave a loud, guttural cry of completion, muscles locking up as Jim spurted over Spock's stomach and chest, cock untouched. Through the link he felt the moment Spock stiffened and released inside of him.

They melted back into the bed as they recovered, Jim's legs still wrapped haphazardly around Spock as he moved to lay down next to him. He pulled at him until Spock's head was nestled against Jim's shoulder, his hands tangled with Jim's own and pressed over his slowly recovering heart, his cock softening and easing out of him.

"Wow," Jim whispered into Spock's hair.

Spock's only response was to burrow his head further into Jim's shoulder, almost as if he were embarrassed.

"You better start putting bruises in me more often if that's the treatment I get afterward," Jim continued, not caring in the least if he was embarrassing Spock if it meant impressing upon him how much he'd enjoyed himself.

"I will do no such thing," was the muttering response.

"Spock." Jim pulled away just enough to look down at his face, trying to make eye contact with him. "Spock, I'm not exactly opposed to a little bit of scratching or bruising or biting. I know you're a lot stronger than me, but I'm not some delicate little flower who's going to break at the slightest provocation. I like a little bit of rough treatment now and then."

Spock finally shifted enough to look up at him, and Jim was caught by that fiercely protective expression that had returned to his face. "I refuse to do so when I am not in my right mind."

"...Oh." He had kind of forgotten that part in the midst of things. "Right. Well, how's your mind now?"

The fierceness eased, the corners of Spock's mouth relaxing into what passed for a smile with him. "Clearer than it has been in a long time."

Jim smiled right back at him, leaning in for a slow, lazy kiss. "Glad to hear it."

Chapter Text

McCoy had this one particular expression that Jim couldn't help but grin at. It was an expression that managed to convey all his worst personality flaws at once: his sense of intellectual superiority, his sense of moral superiority, and a dash of, 'Of all the idiots I have met, you appear to be their king.' Added to that was the scowl he was obviously trying to battle into polite submission, plus what Jim liked to think of as the Angry Southern Eyebrows because the depth of the furrow there was almost always accompanied by the pissed off Georgia drawl. And Jim, whom McCoy had often informed was not quite right in the head, couldn't help but feel like a gleefully delinquent little boy whenever he saw it.

What made the scene even better, as far as Jim was concerned, was the dichotomy of McCoy sitting across from Spock. Where McCoy was in his grumpy old man mode sprawled in Jim's easy chair, Spock was sitting almost serenely on the sofa across from him. His hands were folded in his lap, his back was perfectly straight, and his face was set in a stoic Vulcan mask of indifference.

"You wanna run that by me again?" McCoy said, and yep, there was the Angry Southern Drawl in its infancy.

"I appreciate your efforts in attempting to assist me, but I will no longer be taking the mentisinil. Please do not trouble yourself with creating any more doses of the drug."

McCoy leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. He was trying, Jim knew, to be a concerned, open-minded medical professional when all he really wanted to do was rail on them for doing something stupid. "You didn't give it much of a chance, Spock. It's been, what, two weeks? I know the side effects can be off-putting, but I could lower the dosage in the hypos. I thought I had it pretty well diluted, but with your physiology being what it is I might have miscalculated. Let me give it another try."

Spock shook his head. "That will not be necessary."

Jim moved to explain before McCoy got too snarly about it. "It locks up his telepathy pretty badly, Bones. It sucks having to watch him deal with it."

"That was the idea," McCoy pointed out. "We got his telepathy muted so he wouldn't be so affected by the emotions of others around him." He turned his attention back to Spock. "Did it work? Did you ever try leaving the apartment when you were on it?"

Spock gave the slightest nod of his head. "I spoke with the Orion woman who lives on our floor."

"And you didn't have an attack?"

Spock hesitated. "It was not... Gaila was not the source of my anxiety," he said carefully. "Rather, the source was the novelty of interacting with another individual without feeling the need to escape the situation."

"He freaked out over talking to someone without panicking," Jim attempted to explain further. "He was doing great with Gaila for awhile, and then it was like a switch got thrown somewhere along the way. And it wasn't even a full panic attack when it happened; he just escaped the conversation and sat down in front of the window for awhile until he calmed down. No throwing up, no shaking, nothing. He just needed to not interact with her after a certain point."

"That's the mentisinil working," McCoy said. "That's why he didn't go into a full episode; the drug blocks the most intense of his emotions from taking over. So it works."

"I was not debating whether or not the drug was effective," Spock said. "I simply do not wish to take it anymore. The side effects are not worth the benefits gained."

"Screwy telepathy isn't a side effect - it's the whole damn point of the mentisinil," McCoy growled. "Unless there were others you're not telling me about."

"I did experience mild paranoia while taking the drug, but I believe it to be related to my lack of telepathic ability rather than the mentisinil itself. When you take away a Vulcan's ability to link with other individuals - whether they do so in an intimate, familial bond or a much lighter one between friends - you take away a vital communication tool. The mentisinil is used for surviving bondmates after one of them has died because those emotions can be so overwhelming as to necessitate blocking the survivor's telepathic ability. I have discovered over the course of this... experiment," and the distaste the word left in Spock's mouth was obvious despite his otherwise detached tone of voice, "that blocking those abilities in any other non life-threatening situation is not to be desired."

"Why not?" McCoy had lost some of his defensive posture and the question was more genuinely curious than accusatory.

"Nullifying our ability to mentally link with others would be analogous to rendering a human temporarily deaf. Even with the promise of having that ability restored, a human would find it most disconcerting to attempt interacting with others when he cannot hear what they are saying."

"But it's only temporary," McCoy argued.

Spock tilted his head to the side; Jim could almost see the gears shifting. "Doctor, would you be able to function as a medical professional if you were unable to hear what your patients' symptoms were? Would you be able to produce a diagnosis if you were prevented from analyzing those symptoms and comparing them with past cases? Would you be an effective doctor if you were unable to determine whether a patient were lying about their symptoms or situation based on your ability to read body language and verbal cues?"

"Hell no."

Spock stumbled a little over his explanation at that point; it was clear he had something more to say but was having trouble expressing it. Jim moved from where he'd been leaning against the wall, standing behind the sofa and letting his hands rest on Spock's shoulders, offering wordless support.

He felt the tension in the muscles under Spock's shirt, felt when they eased just slightly under his hands. After a moment's pause, Spock continued. "I have been unable to meditate because the ability to do so was lost to me. And I could not..." He stopped himself, started again. "Your medical texts refer to the Vulcan 'sixth sense' as if it were an arcane concept better relegated to religious or cultural texts. That sixth sense is a medical fact, Doctor. We are able to commune with a greater consciousness because of our ability to link minds. Meditation is a process used to categorize information, analyze data, and clear the mind. However, it is also a process used to link us, however briefly, with that greater consciousness. Being blocked from that consciousness is..." He stopped again, shaking his head. "I cannot describe the experience. Suffice to say that a vital part of myself was taken away and it is impossible to function as a Vulcan without it."

"He was miserable, Bones," Jim stepped in. He couldn't describe what Spock had gone through, but he could sure as hell describe how it had affected him. "He kept sneaking out of bed and staring at nothing. And I do mean nothing - he'd be all zoned out staring at a wall or something. He wasn't meditating, because he keeps his eyes closed and looks more relaxed when he does that. He said he felt like he was trapped. That can't have been doing his anxiety any favors, right?"

"No, it can't," McCoy admitted, his shoulders slumping a bit in defeat. "All right, so this wasn't a great idea. I'm sorry if it screwed with your head too badly."

"It was not a complete loss," Spock said. "The drug did prevent me from experiencing a full anxiety attack. By observing the way my brain interpreted data that would normally have induced an episode, I believe I will be able to use similar methods to prevent myself from having them in the future."

One of McCoy's angry eyebrows rose in interest. "You can get your brain to follow the same patterns the mentisinil does?"

"Yes."

"Without actually having the drug in your system?"

"I believe I said that."

"That's... Spock, that's extraordinary," McCoy said, for once not rising to the bait. "Hang on. If you can do that, why'd you keep taking the hypos? I mean, if you can make your brain do... whatever it was doing on the mentisnil without actually having to take it, why bother taking it at all after the first dose?"

Spock shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, his shoulders tensing under Jim's hands again. "I wished to engage fully in the drug trial without... cheating, perhaps, would be the term you might use. I felt the drug should be allowed to exert its influence over me without my interfering with it. Additionally," and here his shifting took on a more nervous quality; Jim could see the fine trembling just beginning in Spock's hands, "I would not desire to inflict that sense of mental isolation upon myself. I allowed the mentisinil to do so for the sake of the experiment."

"Ah." Jim saw McCoy's glance dart to Jim's hands for a bare moment before dusting off his knees and rising from the chair. "Then I guess I'll leave you be for now. Anything I can send your way in order to deal with the after-effects? Anti-nausea hypos? More eyedrops?"

"I am no longer feeling any ill effects from the use of the diffusers. And I have not needed my glasses in three point one eight weeks."

"And your internal clock's working again. And if we'd had this conversation 'three point one eight' weeks ago," McCoy grinned, trying to reproduce Spock's precise diction, "you'd have freaked out back when you were describing how the mentisinil screwed with your head. You just had a whole conversation with someone you aren't linked to without panicking."

Spock raised an eyebrow, his entire body stilling at the realization. "Indeed," he said distantly.

Jim chuckled and kissed the top of Spock's head, letting him sit there and consider the implications while he showed McCoy out. "I appreciate you trying to help," he said as they walked through the door. "I think it worked, just not in the way you were thinking."

McCoy shrugged. "Whatever keeps him from having the panic attacks, I guess. And I've got new information to bring M'Benga about Vulcan neural pathways and abilities, so it wasn't a total loss. By the way, you coming to Joanna's thing?"

Jim blinked at the sudden change of topic. "What thing?"

"Her birthday's next month. She still hasn't told us what she wants to do, but rest assured that it includes a dozen screaming little girls high on sugar."

"I think I'm going to have a headache that day. Or an allergic reaction to the sun."

McCoy slugged him in the shoulder affectionately. "Just think about it, will you? She'd love having Uncle Jim around and I'd love to have a buffer zone between me and the ex-wife."

"Oh, right. Okay, I'll see if I can make it. Keep me updated in case I'm getting roped into a pool party or something, yeah?"

"Yeah. See you, Jim."

Jim waved him off, heading back into the apartment. The light fluttering of paper caught his eye and he turned to see the note Spock had left him weeks ago with the strange symbols scrawled on it. He unpinned it from the wall, moving to sit next to Spock on the sofa. "That went better than we expected. I was sure Bones was going to go into his snarly doctor mode. Must have been a compelling argument you made."

Spock nodded, still looking a bit dumbfounded at McCoy's revelation. "I had not realized how comfortable I was with the conversation until the doctor pointed it out. Much of my ease in communicating with you stems from the link we share. The same cannot be said for him."

Jim shrugged. "You've only been digging around in my head for about a month, you know. We talked plenty before that."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "Was it easy to do so before we engaged in the meld?"

He thought back to when he'd first met him, to the suspicious stares through cracks in the doorway, the panic attacks on the bathroom floor, the indentations Spock made in the furniture when the conversation was starting to get to him. "No, I guess it wasn't," he allowed, slinging an arm over the sofa and subsequently Spock's shoulders, not-so-subtly trying to pull him in closer. "But it was worth it. Besides, I like a good challenge."

"Mm," Spock murmured non-committally, his expression relaxing as he leaned into the contact.

"Speaking of challenges, it turns out there's an advanced xenolinguistic course available at the Academy that has an introduction to the Vulcan and Romulan languages. I'm signing up for it next semester."

"Indeed?" Which seemed to be the word of the day with Spock.

"Yeah. Turns out I've got this Vulcan roommate who tends to lapse into his native language when he's not thinking straight. I'd kind of like to know what he's saying."

The raised eyebrow traveled even further toward Spock's hairline. "I can think of no occasion outside the meld that I have spoken Vulcan to you, and the meld should lend enough contextual clues for you to be able to understand what I have said."

"It does," Jim agreed. He could tell by the sensations and emotions rolling through him what a Vulcan word meant when they were linked by way of the meld, even if he couldn't translate it precisely. "But you started babbling in Vulcan when you were on the diffusers and you sounded pretty panicked at the time. It was hard trying to get you to settle down without being able to give you the answers you wanted."

"What did I ask?"

"Kwall say too?" Jim tried, and knew by Spock's vaguely pained expression that he had butchered it.

"Qual se tu," Spock corrected him. "It means, 'Is that you?'"

"Makes sense. You called me a bunch of things that sounded nothing like my name. Maybe you thought you were with someone else."

"Do you remember what the names were?"

"You didn't call me Stonn or anything," Jim assured him. "They both started with a T. And there was an L sound in there somewhere and some glottal stops." He chuckled. "Which is probably not at all helpful, but I was kind of exhausted when you said it so I don't really remember that well."

If Spock raised his eyebrow any higher, it was going to fly clear off his face.

"And then there's this," Jim continued, handing Spock the paper he had unpinned from his doorway. "If I take the class, maybe I could figure out what it says."

Spock's expression flickered in a way that Jim couldn't figure out, wavering somewhere between recognition and nervousness. "When did I write this?"

"Oh, geez. Weeks ago. Maybe when I was finishing up the semester?" He racked his brains for a better timetable. "Oh, it was right after... right after we were up on the roof. And you were acting kind of strange because you wanted to meld with me but I was too busy to see you for awhile."

Spock smoothed his thumb over the pictogram on the paper, tracing the spirals and lines with the same reverence he used when he touched Jim's body. "You told me once that you believed I experience love in the human sense rather than the Vulcan sense."

A little thrown by the apparent change in subject, Jim shrugged. "I might have. I don't have much of an idea of the Vulcan concept of love. All I know is how I feel it myself. And what I've felt coming from you when you meld with me."

"What have you felt in the meld?"

Jim resisted the urge to squirm. It was as if the tables had been turned on the dynamics of their relationship; usually he was the one asking difficult questions and Spock was the one struggling to answer them. "It's very... I don't know, raw? Raw, maybe, coming from you. Like you've been stripped down to a level you wouldn't be comfortable showing someone else. And there's..." He felt ridiculous continuing his explanation but forced himself to continue. "Sometimes there's a sense of... violence to it. Sort of. Not like you want to rip me to shreds, but more like... you'd rip something else to shreds if it interfered with us."

Spock gave him that barest softening at the edges of his mouth that equated to a smile on anyone else. "Ineloquently put but essentially correct." He flattened the paper on his leg as he spoke. "Vulcans have a long and bloody history, as you already know. We were once a people immersed in territorial and political wars without end. The bonds between warriors became just as important as those established between mated pairs. Biologically we have always been driven to reproduce, but during that time in our history it was equally important to develop bonds with someone who swore to protect and defend you, no matter the circumstances."

Jim tried to follow along. "All right. What does that have to do with the paper?"

Spock traced over the symbol as he continued the explanation. "There are many different phrases we have used to describe those bonds. Some indicate a detached, professional relationship. Some indicate lifelong friendship and brotherhood. And there is one that indicates a relationship even more intimate than that."

Jim suddenly saw where this was going, resting his fingers lightly on Spock's wrist as he continued to trace the pictogram. "That's what this is?"

Spock paused before he answered the question in his own vague, sidestepping kind of way. "It is what I hope to have when I bond again." Jim shivered at the finality in that sentence, at Spock's confidence when he said 'when' rather than 'if.' "But Jim... it is not like the human experience of love. It is fierce. It can be violent. It can be terrifying to a human who is not prepared to accept all facets of this particular type of bond. But it is also the rarest, most treasured of bonds between Vulcans, and as such it is to be embraced when found."

Jim shifted closer to him, tracing over the faint green veins on his wrist and forearm. "Can you tell me what it says?"

Spock shivered under the light touch, his hands shaking again for an entirely different reason. "I would prefer to wait until my next bonding is imminent. It is not something I would be able to achieve in my current state."

"Why not? Do you think I wouldn't be willing or something, because-"

Spock cut him off with a kiss, prolonged and sweet and just a little bit possessive. "I will not bond until I am myself again. When that day comes, I will name it for you if you are as willing at that point as you are now."

Jim smiled against his lips, moving his fingers to trace over Spock's knuckles in a way that made him stifle a moan. "Oh, I'm pretty sure I'll be just as willing then as I am now," he murmured, pressing another heated kiss just under his jawline.

"Indeed," Spock rasped as his head tilted back, only now he was saying it because he was too distracted to say anything else.

And then there was no reason to say anything at all for quite some time.

Chapter Text

Jim knew by now that there was no such thing as an instant fix or a fairy tale ending. He hadn't gone through seven months of hell with Spock and retained all his idealism. It was probably for the best; Spock was grounding him, making him think in more practical terms, and that could only bode well for what he hoped was a career on the Starfleet command track. Despite that, watching Spock after the mentisinil experiment was something of a shock.

He meditated for at least an hour everyday; real meditation, too, and not that strange zoning-out and staring into space thing he'd done in the weeks before. Jim often returned home from an afternoon out with friends to see Spock seated against a wall, eyes closed and looking perfectly calm and serene.

It was doing wonders for his sense of confidence and independence. He threw himself back into his work with a dedication and concentration Jim knew hadn't been there before. He would argue the merits of Starfleet regulations and Federation politics for hours, and when Jim disagreed with him he would defend his position calmly and logically; if Jim had attempted those same discussions with him only weeks before, the disagreement would have had Spock stuttering and shaking and very possibly camped out in the bathroom.

It wasn't perfect by any means, wasn't a miraculous fix to all of Spock's problems. He had met most of the delivery people who brought him his necessities, but he still hadn't had the courage to leave the building entirely. They had made several more trips up to the roof to stargaze, but when they had passed other tenants on the stairs Spock made no attempt to converse with them. Spock had met several of Jim's friends (Sulu and Chekov had dropped by to pick him up for a night of pool, and Scotty had banged on their door to invite them over for "real football, not that pansy-assed version with the helmets") but Spock politely rejected any attempts they made to get him to socialize. Jim was thrilled that he managed to greet them at all, considering they were something of a motley crew and would have terrorized Spock into panic attacks previously.

He hadn't had a full-on attack ever since before he'd tried the medication. He'd had minor setbacks, times when he needed to escape back to the apartment or sit somewhere and get the shivers out of his system, but nothing approaching his previous episodes. Still, every once in awhile Jim just got a sense of unease about him, a feeling of imprisonment and sadness that he knew wasn't coming from himself. With Spock's telepathy returned and functioning properly, however, it became much easier to draw him out of those moods; all Jim had to do was touch him, rest his fingers against the nape of his neck or his hand over his wrist, and the sudden presence of another person in Spock's mind would draw him away from the darker places in his psyche.

He was in one of those darker places again when Jim came home from an afternoon spent birthday shopping with McCoy ("I'm a doctor, Jim. Not a party planner. Why the hell do little girls need pink all over everything? The cups, the spoons, the goddamn birthday cake..."). Spock was meditating, or at least trying to, but Jim could tell by the expression on his face that it wasn't doing him any favors.

Well, there was an easy fix for that. Jim kicked off his shoes and padded over to him, kneeling on the floor in front of him to see if he could distract Spock from his anxiety through his presence there alone. "Spock?"

He didn't move a muscle, which meant he was deep in his trance somewhere. But it wasn't anywhere good for him so Jim didn't hesitate to bring him out of it. He crawled forward, straddling Spock's thighs and almost sitting on his lap, curling his fingers into the wild black hair and massaging his scalp. "C'mon, Spock. Come back now."

It happened in stages rather than all at once, which McCoy had assured him was better for Spock's mental health. First his breathing, which was slow and shallow when he meditated, reverted to its normal rate. Then his posture seemed to relax. He opened his eyes but they saw straight through Jim for a few seconds while he got his faculties back in order. Finally the pinched expression melted from his face as he took in the sight of Jim sprawled over him, leaning his head ever so slightly into the massage. "Hey," Jim greeted him.

"Tonk'peh," Spock answered, and his voice had that rough edge it always did when he came out of a meditative trance or a meld.

"I'm guessing that's the Vulcan equivalent of, 'Hey.'"

"You are correct."

"See? I'm learning already." He leaned in for a kiss. "What were you thinking about?"

Spock kissed him back, raising a hand to trail fingers along the side of Jim's face, tracing his cheekbone and the shape of his jawline before resting over his heart. He stayed silent for a moment, gathering himself the way he often did when Jim asked difficult questions. "My condition has improved significantly since I was able to analyze the effects of the mentisinil and reproduce those needed to keep my anxiety in check." And even though he stopped there, Jim knew there was more to it than that.

"You haven't had a panic attack in weeks," he agreed, trying to subtly prod Spock to continue. "And you've talked to a whole bunch of new people in the last month or two."

Spock gave a vague kind of nod, his gaze fixed somewhere in the vicinity of Jim's clavicle. "And yet I do not feel that my quality of life has improved at the same rate."

Which did not make Jim's heart twist a little in his chest, not at all. "You're not stuck in the bathroom vomiting after anything that throws your routine," he pointed out. "You leave your apartment. You've met most of my friends. That wouldn't have been possible back when I first met you."

Spock was gathering himself again, and from the way his shoulders tensed Jim found himself wondering if they were going to work him into a panic attack. "I have expanded my territory, but I am nearly as trapped within it as I ever was. I have expanded my circle of acquaintances but cannot bring myself to trust in my ability to remain calm were I to engage in more strenuous social activity." And in any other situation, Jim would have been laughing at the description of socializing as 'strenuous.' It was anything but funny coming from Spock. "And I am..." Spock trailed off helplessly there, looking at Jim as if he might provide an answer.

He tried, even though he felt about as lost as Spock looked. "You're Spock," he said quietly, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "You're suffering the after-effects of an asshole ex-boyfriend or ex-husband or whatever he was. You're brilliant, you're logical, and even if your emotions are still a little out of whack, you've got them under better control than you have in awhile."

"The closest approximation in your language would be 'ex-fiance' as Stonn and I had not progressed to the final stage of the bonding process when we parted ways."

Jim raised an eyebrow, trying to mimic the way Spock did it. "Way to not focus on the point I was making. At all."

Spock ducked his head slightly, a silent admission of Jim's statement. "I am... weary of this process," he finally said, finishing his aborted sentence. "It is exhausting to engage in meditation only to be caught in the same negative thought patterns that developed when Stonn broke our bond. I have a tenuous grasp on my controls, but they are not yet fully back in place."

Jim sat back a little bit in order to better see Spock's face, giving him his best, 'I don't believe in no-win situations' grin. "But they will be. Sooner than you think, I bet."

"What evidence leads you to be so certain of your conclusion?"

"Because you're going to need your controls back in place in order to rejoin the Academy. Which you're going to need to do within the next year if you wanna get on a starship with me." He pressed his forehead to Spock's, his grin morphing into a more sincere smile. "Don't you wanna get on a starship with me?"

Spock let out a sigh, but it was more fond exasperation than malcontent. "There is a great deal to be done before I enroll at the Academy again."

"Like get your credits back in order. They might make you redo some of them since classes become obsolete so quickly there."

"I must also meet other regulations, such as those relating to my appearance."

Ah, so they were back to that again. Jim ceased his scalp massage, combing his fingers through Spock's hair instead. "Much as I love this, you're going to keep harping about it until you get it cut. You wanna expand your territory today? Improve your quality of life a little bit?"

Spock schooled his expression into complete neutrality, which Jim was beginning to learn was a new sign of anxiety creeping up on him. He glanced at the door over Jim's shoulder, then returned his attention to him. "I do not think I would be able to leave the building at present."

"You don't have to." Jim gave him one more lingering kiss, fisting his hands in Spock's wild mass of hair before pulling back. "Do you trust me?"

Spock must have read his intent through their link, because his mouth twitched in a suppressed smile when they parted. "Yes."

Jim grinned. "Great. Stay here and I'll make sure she's home."

*******

There was a time in Jim's life when he would have paid good money to see an Orion woman all over a Vulcan; the disparity between Orion sensuality and Vulcan repression would have appealed to him. But the Orion in question was Gaila, who had even less respect for personal space than most other Orions Jim had met. And the Vulcan in question... Suffice to say that if Spock managed to get through that afternoon without having a meltdown, Jim was fairly certain he would be able to handle any other social situation he found himself in for the rest of his life.

"Gaila, seriously. Quit... petting him," Jim grumbled, because he was worried about Spock's touch-telepathy and what he was picking up from her. And not at all because he was jealous.

"But he's so pettable!" Gaila protested, smoothing down Spock's hair - which was entirely unnecessary because she'd been doing it almost from the moment Spock had settled himself on one of her kitchen barstools. "Jimmy here just doesn't understand," she told Spock with a mock-conspiratorial tone in her voice.

Spock was holding up surprisingly well under her enthusiastic assault. "To what do you refer?"

"You're the only Vulcan he's seen, so he doesn't get how adorably scruffy you are. How long have you been growing this out?"

"The last time my hair was cut was one year, four months, and two days ago."

"No wonder you look like such a hippie." Not that she was making any effort to get rid of it at the moment, curling the tips around her fingers and giggling at the way they stuck out in every direction.

"Quit petting him," Jim grumbled again, squashing the urge to reach out and comb it all back into some semblance of order. "He's here for a haircut, not the full Orion grooming experience."

"You brought me a Vulcan and you expect me to keep my hands to myself? It's like you don't know me at all." And she continued to curl little pieces of Spock's hair around his ears. "It's a shame we have to cut it. Can't you tell Starfleet it's some Vulcan ritual thing?"

Spock raised an eyebrow at her. "It is traditional to grow one's hair when taking part in the kolinahr ritual. As I have no intention of doing so, I wish to meet regulations."

"Damn. The shaggy hippie Vulcan look is kind of hot." She started digging into a bag she had left on the counter, pulling out scissors, clippers, and other assorted grooming tools. "I guess this means you'll be at the Academy next semester, right?"

Spock tensed; Jim saw the way his perfect posture went just a little more rigid and brittle. But he answered for himself rather than looking to Jim for help. "It is my intention to enroll within the next year."

Gaila started working a comb through Spock's hair, forcing it to lie flat over his ears and face. "Well I'll keep holding out hope that you'll be there next semester. It'd be nice to see another non-human there; there's only about two dozen of us there right now and only three or four of them ever talk to me."

And with that single, off-handed remark, Jim found himself grateful that they'd decided to go to Gaila for this rather than a professional. Spock's tense posture melted a bit, his gaze sharpening as he followed her movements around his head. Appealing to his innate curiosity was becoming one of the best ways to ease his anxiety. "Why is your social circle so limited in regards to non-humans?"

Gaila shrugged, reaching for the scissors. "Couple of reasons. The first is that I've slept with a little over half of those non-humans and they got awkward and silly about it. The second is that I'm Orion, and in the hierarchy of alien races that comes pretty damn close to being on the bottom. I'd probably only be bested by a Klingon in that respect. And the third is..." She quirked a smile at him but it was more self-deprecating than cocky. "I've chosen to assimilate. I picked up the slang, the habits, the hobbies, and it's well-known that I prefer to have sex with humans over just about any other species. That makes me a traitor, in their eyes. They don't like me as an Orion, but they're pissy about me trying too hard to be human."

Spock sat absolutely still on his barstool, trying to keep track of her with his eyes. "It was my understanding that Starfleet's mission is to incorporate all species in their program and to encourage peace and cooperation between them."

"Well, sure. But that's the idealistic version of things. You're not going to like every new species or planet you trip over, right? They can't all be Utopian societies full of bunnies and sunshine and sex. Some of them are going to suck and some of them are going to try to kill us when we first stick our noses in their business. That's why we do the self-defense training and the diplomatic bullshit. Well," she corrected herself, gesturing at Jim by waving her scissors in the air, "he gets to go through the diplomatic bullshit. Me, I get to sit at my console and laugh at him."

She was displaying her usual defense mechanism of cracking jokes and making references to her sex life, but Jim noticed that Spock's expression remained stoic and serious. "Do you not find it difficult to interact with humans?"

Gaila stopped in the middle of snipping off one of Spock's curls, looking at him strangely. "You're sleeping with a human. You should know from experience that they're not that hard to get along with."

Spock began to look flustered again so Jim tried to help, perching on one of the barstools to watch Gaila work. "I think he means in groups larger than one and with humans you're not necessarily sleeping with. Day to day interaction, that kind of thing."

She shrugged again, smoothing Spock's hair and snipping a careful line into it. "They react to things a lot differently than I do. They get all up in arms about their privacy and personal space and some of them are a lot more easygoing than others and I never know which is which until I've already offended somebody. But on the whole, I'd much rather deal with humans than non-humans. Doesn't matter how weird they think I am - they'll still talk to me like I'm their equal rather than some cast-off slave girl, which is how the other non-humans tend to treat me."

Spock thought that over for a moment before responding. "You spoke of assimilation. Do you not wish to retain some part of your own culture?"

Gaila was snipping away Spock's hair at regular intervals now, and Jim was surprised to note that as the curls drifted to the floor, his hair began to lie flat over his head. "I've retained plenty. Jimmy here can attest to that; he's seen me grooming Chekov and now he's having me groom you. I still talk to Neela - she's the other Orion enrolled at the Academy - so I don't lose my first language. And I dance-" and here she had the audacity to wink at him before flattening out his bangs to trim them, "-but only for private performances."

Spock went silent again after she answered the question. Jim realized after a long moment that he simply didn't know what to say in response. He could talk with Jim for hours, but only because he had known Jim long enough to be comfortable enough to do so. This was only the third time he'd spoken with Gaila, and his curiosity seemed to be warring with his uncertain grasp of human social constructs.

Before Jim could continue the conversation, ask her a new question, or otherwise change the subject, Gaila surprised him by setting down her scissors and putting her hands on Spock's shoulders, looking him straight in the eyes. "We're always going to be the odd men out here, Spock," she informed him. "We're aliens on Earth: that makes us the resident weirdos. But think of it this way: we're really no weirder than the other humans who enlisted. We're all there for the same reason: to head out further into space and see what's out there. That makes the humans just as unbalanced as we are, doesn't it? So," she barreled on, not waiting for him to answer the rhetorical question, "if you enroll next semester, we can be the Alien Brigade together. If the humans start freaking you out, you can always come chat with me. I'll even promise not to hit on you even half as much as I'd like to. And when all my flirting starts freaking you out, you've always got Jimmy to run off to instead."

Jim tried to pick his jaw up off the floor; she had addressed the most pressing of Spock's insecurities without having been informed of them prior to the conversation, and had done so in such a way that she came off as both sympathetic and a bit cheeky. He knew Orions were supposed to be good at reading body language and other physical cues, but Gaila tended to ignore that in favor of being a pain in the ass. It was shocking to see her in a more empathetic light.

Spock must have been just as floored, although he didn't show it past the wariness in his eyes. "You believe that I have avoided the Academy due to my perceived resistance to human company?"

"I think you've avoided the Academy because you're shy - and there's no use denying it because Jimmy told me that himself. And I think you avoided it because the humans sometimes have a tendency to treat us like science projects. It's enough to throw anyone, even a Vulcan. Enroll anyway. They get used to us quickly enough."

"Gaila," Jim said, the warning clear in his voice. "We didn't come here for a lecture on Starfleet admissions and gawking humans."

"I know. That comes free with the haircut. Speaking of which..." She brushed the hair from Spock's shoulders, moving so she was no longer blocking Jim's view of him. "There. That's the Starfleet regulation style for Vulcans, based on the styles favored by the Vulcan elders. I like to call it the logical bowl cut."

And while it wasn't at all a flattering description, Jim couldn't help staring. The little curls that had furled around Spock's ears and covered the nape of his neck were gone. So were the frizz and the wildness he was so used to. In fact, there was no sign of it ever having deviated from the severe straightness covering the cap of his head, the hairs getting shorter and more bristly down the back of his neck. The longer hair had covered Spock's ears, but the new style framed them beautifully, highlighting the elegant points that were currently flushed a faint green.

He looked almost nothing like the Spock he had met on New Year's Eve. The glasses were gone, his wild hair tamed. The sharp angles of his eyebrows and ears ensured that no one would ever mistake him for a human. Some of the shell-shocked look had left his face as he internalized what Gaila had said, and while he still looked self-conscious and just a little bit vulnerable, he wasn't shaking or twitching or acting as if he needed escape. Once again, Jim got the feeling that he was seeing another layer of the real Spock, one that had been hiding under layers of uncertainty and fear.

He reached out to brush his fingers through his hair, marveling at the way it shifted back into place as if he had never touched it. "You, uh," he stuttered, wanting Spock to know how gorgeous he was without embarrassing him in front of Gaila. "You look good."

"Shut up, you can do better than that," Gaila grumped, punching his shoulder lightly. "He's a total fox."

"I do not see the logic in comparing me to such a creature," Spock murmured. His anxiety had spiked again; the corners of his mouth were tight and uneasy, and his eyes kept darting toward Gaila's front door when he thought she wasn't looking.

"It's a human expression," Gaila informed him. "Means you're fuckable. I don't think I want to know how that meaning came out of a comparison with a furry dog-looking thing, though."

"And on that note, we're leaving before Gaila breaks into a lecture about bestiality or starts propositioning you," Jim declared, hopping off his stool before reaching out to grab her around the waist, kissing her cheek. "Thank you, by the way. You did an awesome job on him."

"I did, didn't I? You can thank me by telling your foxy doctor friend what a humanitarian I am and how skimpy my underwear is."

"Yeah, I'll just casually drop that into the conversation the next time I talk to him."

"I fail to see how such a topic could be broached in the course of your dialogue with the doctor," Spock said.

"It can't. She's just been trying to seduce Bones for months. Also, she's shameless."

"Yep," she agreed, brushing off Spock's shoulders again as he stood and then leaning in to give him a peck on the cheek. "Think about what I said, okay? I'd love to see another non-human on campus, especially one as gorgeous as you."

The green flush of Spock's ears began to stain his cheeks as well, and he stuttered a little bit when he responded. "I- I shall meditate on the matter presently."

"Right now sounds good," Jim agreed, leading him out the door and watching him not-quite-sprint for Jim's apartment. He wondered how long it would take for Spock to recover from this particular interaction, shaking his head and following him home.

Chapter Text

The Gaila incident was as close as Spock had gotten to a panic attack in weeks. He returned to Jim's apartment and nearly collapsed in front of his favorite window, visibly shaking as he tried to arrange himself into his usual meditation pose.

Jim approached him carefully. He had learned weeks ago that his previous notion of Spock's meditating had been affected by his instability: that the closed eyes and focused face were signs of Spock struggling for calm. Now that he was exerting more and more control over himself, his meditation habits had changed. Sometimes he welcomed Jim's presence; sometimes he recoiled from it. Sometimes Jim could work quietly around the apartment without disturbing him, and sometimes he needed absolute silence. He was never sure which version of meditation Spock was engaging in until he tried to touch him or join him.

Spock surprised him a little by reaching out a hand in invitation, apparently needing the company this time. Jim toed off his shoes by the door and took Spock's hand, settling in next to him. "I'm impressed," he said quietly, stroking his fingers over Spock's trembling ones. "Gaila's enough to drive the sanest of men into fits."

"Her personality can be... somewhat overwhelming," Spock allowed, his shakes easing as Jim kept up the gentle hand massage. "However, I found her chosen topic quite fascinating."

Which was probably the only reason why he'd been able to keep himself together; Spock's innate curiosity was saving him from his episodes more often than any other coping technique. "The part about aliens interacting with each other, or the part about wanting you back at the Academy?"

"Both." His hand slowly relaxed in Jim's grip, his body language easing to more of a comfortable sprawl (well, as much as a Vulcan could sprawl, anyway) than a meditative stance. "The first time I enrolled at the Academy, I was there with Stonn. We had several of our prerequisite courses together. We lived in the same apartment. We took meals together whenever possible. We did not socialize outside that extremely limited sphere. I was therefore unaware of how the other non-humans interacted with each other."

"You didn't make any new friends on Earth?" Jim couldn't fathom that. He understood that they were Vulcan and that Spock had been much more rigid in his controls during that time, but he still couldn't imagine going to a new planet and then refusing to interact with its people.

"We were not opposed to the idea at first. However, once it became apparent that I was being influenced by human emotionalism, we came to the mutual decision that it was best to keep our social circle restricted as much as possible to the two of us." As he spoke he began leaning more and more against Jim until they were curled together in front of the window, fingers tangled together in Jim's lap.

Jim took the opportunity, as long as Spock was looking so relaxed, to raise a question he'd been pondering for weeks. "You mentioned something in one of the audio logs you sent me. It was some kind of question about the human expression of emotion versus Vulcan control and how you were going to be able to... I dunno, balance, the two?"

Spock just raised an eyebrow, apparently sensing that Jim hadn't yet asked the question he really wanted to.

Jim couldn't help smiling at the familiar gesture, bringing Spock's hand to his lips to kiss it fondly before he continued. "You restricted your interactions with humans when you got here. Your Vulcan mate took off because he couldn't handle what can happen to you if you get too overwhelmed by human emotions. So... what do you think about that now? Are you going to be able to make friends without all this happening again? Can you stay with a human and still keep yourself together?" He worked to keep his tone light and inquisitive. He knew the question could sound needy and insecure, especially after admitting to being on Tarsus IV and how it had affected him. He wasn't questioning the relationship, wasn't questioning Spock's devotion to him. He was questioning the path Spock had chosen and whether or not it would be good for him in the long-run.

Spock seemed to understand that, because rather than waste time reassuring Jim of his dedication to the bond developing between them, he went silent for a few minutes to consider his answer. "My mother suggested finding some way to allow myself to experience emotions while simultaneously tempering them with Vulcan disciplines. At the time I could not fathom how this could be possible. However, I think I see her logic in a new light now that I have spent more time in the company of humans - and with one human in particular and at great length." He looked out the window, suddenly shy of looking Jim in the eyes. "She is bonded for life to a Vulcan. She, like you, has no innate telepathic ability of her own. She is also an extremely emotional creature, also similar to yourself. I do not believe she would have entered into such a bond were she not totally convinced of my father's regard for her. His affection for her," he corrected himself, and his tone suggested that the correction was difficult to make, laden as it was with the rampant emotionalism Vulcans tried so hard to avoid or suppress. "She has seen firsthand through her link with my father the ability to balance that kind of emotion with the control necessary to keep a Vulcan functioning normally.

He stopped there, either waiting for a response from Jim or unable to think of anything further to say. Jim tried to work his way through all the Spock-speak, translating it to something he found more understandable. "So you think your dad manages that kind of balance because he's linked to your mom?"

"I do not. My father, as a full-blooded Vulcan, would find such a balance easy to maintain whether he were bonded to a human or not."

Jim felt himself floundering, his inner Spock translator failing him. "I'm not sure what you're getting at."

Spock's expression changed to one Jim recognized all too well; it was the one that indicated he was gathering himself for a difficult endeavor. "My father has never had to wage war upon himself in order to achieve emotional balance. As a full Vulcan, such control has always been second-nature to him. It has always been more difficult for me; ever since I was a child, the masters and elders involved in both my educational and spiritual growth remarked on my inability to leash my emotions to the same degree as my peers. It was my mother, with her knowledge of the workings of the human brain as well as the Vulcan brain, who understood my dilemma when I did not understand it myself. I believe I finally understand what she was trying to tell me when my controls first began to falter."

Jim was trying his best to work his way through the long-winded explanation, but his inner translator continued to fail him. "What was she trying to tell you?"

Spock let go of his hand and turned to face him fully, trailing his fingers along Jim's neck, across the line of his jaw, settling against his temple. "She told me to embrace my human side as much as possible within the confines of Vulcan disciplines. She wished for me to find an outlet for those feelings." He put just the slightest amount of pressure into the touch, opening a faint link between them. "You, Jim, function as an outlet for those feelings. I am able to express myself - my fear, my joy, my sorrow, and my..." He took a deep breath, gathering himself again. ""My love. I can share all of this with you without fear of judgment. With an outlet for my human side, I am better able to balance it with my Vulcan side."

Jim's heart was stuck somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. He swallowed, feeling his own emotions surging within him while simultaneously experiencing the faintest touch of Spock's. He felt the deep, abiding sincerity in his tone, and it left him speechless at first. "Then... then you think you can do this. That you can stay with me."

"No." And before Jim's confusion could make a sharp turn to disappointment, Spock leaned forward to press an all-too-human kiss against Jim's mouth. "For the first time in a very, very long time, I know I can."

Hope bloomed in Jim's chest, and he could not tell which of them was its source. He also didn't care; that it was present at all was enough.

*******

"Jim. It is most difficult to concentrate on my work when you are doing that."

"I can't help it." Jim was standing behind Spock's desk chair, running his fingers through the thick, silky mass of hair. "It's so different from when it was long. Gaila cut all the curl out of it."

"Vulcan hair does not curl," Spock informed him imperiously.

"Maybe not, but half-Vulcan hair does a fair job of curling around those pointy ears," Jim shot back, tweaking one of them playfully to make his point.

"You are confusing the curl with an unfortunate lack of grooming during the worst of my anxiety."

"Yeah, no, I'm not. I saw it after you combed it and it totally curled." Jim knew he was winning the argument by the way Spock's ears were flushing a faint sage green color. "Anyway, I still kind of miss the curls, but this? This is way too much fun to leave alone."

"As you have demonstrated most eagerly over the past seven point three nine days."

"I haven't heard you complaining about all the attention you've been getting."

"I did not claim that it was not enjoyable. I am simply stating that it is distracting when I am attempting to finish this."

"What are you up to, anyway?" Jim asked, distracted from the discussion by a familiar looking display on the computer console.

Spock's ears turned just a shade greener and his shoulders tensed. "I am attempting to ascertain the number of credits I must complete in order to finish my training at the Academy."

Jim tried very, very hard not to jump up and down in excitement, especially given the palpable tension of Spock's body. He moved his hands from Spock's hair to the back of his neck, rubbing there soothingly. "How many do you have left?"

"I had twelve credits left to complete when I dis-enrolled. I have accrued an additional nine unfinished credits during my absence due to the obsolescence of some of the computer courses as well as the stellar cartography courses."

"Yeah, because a bunch of new planets have been discovered since you left," Jim agreed, keeping his tone calm. "Still, that's only about two semesters' worth of classes. One if you rush it."

"I will also be required to finish three different simulations."

Ah, so that was what had Spock so concerned. Jim scanned the screen, digging his thumbs into the nape of Spock's neck and feeling him start to melt at the attention. "The astro-navigational one is easy. It's just trying to make your way through a meteor shower or around a planet with an abnormal gravitational field. You'd ace it easily. The landing party sim is pretty easy, too; basically they just make sure we're not going to do something stupid like poke at local flora and fauna without scanning it first. The Dauntless is a little tougher, but I managed it okay. Besides, I took it as a command track student and it's supposed to be way harder for us than anyone on the science or engineering tracks."

There was silence between them for a few moments while Jim continued the slow massage. "I had my first episode during the astro-navigational simulation," Spock said quietly.

Jim kissed the top of his head. "When was the last time you had an attack?"

"Four point zero five weeks ago, when the doctor first attempted to persuade me to try mentisinil."

"See? I'm thinking that might have been your last one. Maybe ever. You know how your brain works during the attacks now and you know how to block it from the sensory overload. You should do just fine."

Spock nodded distantly, his eyes starting to drift closed. "I have not yet submitted the paperwork for my re-enrollment. I am simply researching the possibilities."

"I know. No pressure," Jim murmured into his hair. "I can stagger my credits a little bit if I have to. Can't spread them out over any more than three semesters, but that still gives us plenty of time."

"Indeed." Spock raised a hand to switch off the console, apparently finished thinking about the Academy for now. He tilted his head back to get a better view of Jim's face, one eyebrow raised over the other. "It was my impression that you would be unavailable today."

Jim gave him a strange look. "Since when do I make myself unavailable where you're concerned?"

"Today is the ninth, is it not?"

He glanced over his shoulder at the chronometer. "Sure is. Why?"

"July ninth is Joanna's birthday."

He couldn't help the fond smile spreading over his face. Spock had a soft spot a mile wide for the little girl. "I know. But Bones never got back to me about her birthday party past dragging me out to buy pink plastic cups and forks and hats and God knows what else; I kind of tuned out once we had to throw pink frosting in the basket."

"Perhaps you should contact him to ensure that your presence is not required. I would not want Joanna to be disappointed if she expected you to be there."

Jim chuckled, leaning in to kiss his cheek. "You are so lost where she's concerned. You're going to be Uncle Spock before you know it if you keep coddling her. I know because I speak from experience."

"I do not, as you say, 'coddle' the child. I simply enjoy her presence. She is curious and inquisitive, both of which are qualities to be praised on Vulcan."

"Doesn't hurt that she's also cute as all get-out."

"That is another human phrase that makes little sense. Likening her aesthetic qualities to-"

Jim was saved from another 'those darn illogical humans' lecture by the beeping of his comm unit. "I bet that's Bones now," he interrupted Spock, loping off to the kitchen to check.

"You better show me a little gratitude when you get here," McCoy greeted him over the viewscreen, mouth set in what looked to be a permanent scowl.

"Nice to see you too, Bones. What am I supposed to be grateful for?"

"All the other kids have cleared out. I didn't comm you and make you show up for the pinata, the clown, the crying caused by the clown, or the part where we had to hose them off after they decided the best use for all that ungodly pink frosting was to smear it all over each others' faces."

"Did you seriously hose them off? Like, literally?"

"Hell no, Jim; what kind of father do you think I am? We got out the wipes and scrubbed them all clean. It's just that the hose would've been easier."

"I bet."

"Anyway, the party's all cleared out by now and Joss took off to have a drink with her friends, not that I blame her. I've got Jo for the weekend and she's still all hyped up on sugar so we're at the park just outside Academy grounds." He paused there, checking over his shoulder presumably to make sure Joanna was out of hearing range. He faced Jim on the viewscreen again. "Is Spock there?"

Jim gestured toward the living room. "He's out there working on the computer. I'm pretty sure he can hear the entire conversation."

"You are correct," came a quiet murmur from the desk.

"She'd love to see you."

"Sure, Bones, I'll go get shoes on and-"

"No. I mean both of you. Of course she'd like to see you, Jim, but it would make her whole day if you could get Spock down here, too."

He glanced into the living room where Spock had once again tensed up in his computer chair. "We'll talk about it. However it works out, either one or both of us will be there in a few minutes."

"Sounds good." And the viewscreen fizzled out as McCoy disconnected from his end.

Jim approached the desk again, pulling up a chair and sitting next to Spock, watching him stare at the blank console screen. "You don't have to, you know," he offered, reaching out and resting a hand over Spock's. "Joanna certainly doesn't expect you there. Hell, neither does Bones. It's just a suggestion."

Spock nodded, his gaze still fixed on the console, shoulders still tense. Jim wondered if he was settling his brain into the same patterns it followed on the mentisinil, using its effects to keep himself from locking up in a panic attack. He was silent for a long time before he finally moved, his fingers twitching faintly under Jim's. "Her friends are no longer with her," he said, although Jim could hear the question in the statement.

"Nope. They all went home. Joss left, too. It's just Bones and Joanna right now. And it's getting pretty late; I doubt there's any other kids at the park right now." He trailed his fingers over Spock's hand. "You don't have to go," he repeated.

"I..." Spock shook himself from his trance, although the tension remained in his shoulders and back. He turned in his chair, facing Jim with an unreadable expression on his face. "I would... I would like to try," he finally managed to say. "I will return here if the attempt is too taxing."

Jim's heart began racing, excited and anxious on Spock's behalf. He rose from his chair, offering his hands to Spock. "Come on, then," he said quietly. "Let's go."

Spock rose as well, eying his console one last time before turning towards Jim. He took the offered hands, allowing himself to be drawn toward the door. He let go of them just long enough to don a light jacket while Jim put on his shoes.

He remained calm as they closed the door behind them. He remained calm as they made their way down the stairs. He remained calm as Jim opened the door and led the way out.

Spock stared at him through the building's open front door. He took in the doorframe, the front steps, the large willow tree planted next to them. He took in Jim's face, Jim's body, Jim's hand holding onto his as he waited for Spock to decide what to do next.

He took in the open sky, the fading purples and pinks of the recent sunset against the clouds. He took in the warm summer breeze rustling through the willow leaves. He took in a world he hadn't seen in over a year. Visibly gathering his courage, he squeezed Jim's hand in his own.

And took his first step outside the building.

Jim's smile lit up the evening sky.

Chapter Text

Jim woke up sweltering, as he always did these days. It no longer mattered what season it was or what the weather was like outside; his bedroom was consistently programmed at eighty-something degrees and his bed always had a pile of blankets covering it. It didn't help matters that half the bed was occupied by a long, solid mass of body heat, making all the space between the sheets three times as hot as it needed to be.

He wouldn't have traded any of it for the world.

In winter, at least, he'd found the situation to be far more bearable. He cracked an eye open to take in the light frost along the windowpane, the thick clouds gathering in the sky. He knew better than to expect snow: it was San Francisco, not Riverside. But it was chilly enough that waking up buried under the blankets and the heat was cozy and pleasant.

Even more pleasant was the expanse of skin in front of him. Jim tightened his arm over Spock's waist, pulling him closer so he could burrow his nose into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. He closed his eyes, savoring the moment.

By the time summer was over, Spock had practically moved in with him. As soon as the fall semester at the Academy had finished he had done so officially, giving up his own apartment in favor of cohabitating with Jim. (Spock was less than impressed with their new neighbor: some loudmouthed Irish kid who kept singing the same two lines of, "I'll Take You Home, Kathleen," whenever his friends dragged him up the stairs after a night of carousing.) For the first time since his father had died, Jim felt a sense of home. It wasn't so much the location, but there was something about seeing Spock's possessions mixing with his own, something about having Spock living in the same space, that settled him.

It was difficult to keep hold of that feeling, though. Spock had mustered all the courage he possessed to enroll at the Academy for the fall semester. He claimed he was starting slow: only nine credits and one simulator. He had flown through the credits and even managed to finish three more on the network, but the simulator had been the most trying experience by far. He had come close to another panic attack; Jim had seen it in his face as he watched from the gallery. Luckily, the simulator had gone smoothly and Spock had been cleared for the remaining two he needed in order to graduate. Spock had come home and crashed for twenty four hours, shaking and shuddering and camping out in front of the window while he tried to get himself under control again.

"It is difficult to rest when your mind is so energetically engaged."

Jim un-burrowed from Spock's neck, looking up at his face instead. Spock's eyes were closed, but the corners of his mouth were doing that strange twitching thing that meant he was trying not to smile. "Sorry," Jim said, not feeling the least bit apologetic.

With his eyes still closed, Spock reach out a hand to touch his face, fingers drawing slow circles around his temple. "Why are you thinking of the Academy during our time off?"

"It wasn't so much the Academy as its effect on you. I was actually being kind of selfish about it; I almost miss being the only one going there. Now that we're both enrolled we don't have anywhere near the free time we used to."

"True. However, we are guaranteed to be stationed together after we graduate and receive our first starship assignment."

Jim raised an eyebrow at that, a poor imitation of when Spock did it. "Guaranteed? I mean, I talked to Pike and he said it shouldn't be a problem, but he didn't say anything about it being guaranteed."

"I asked McCoy to update my medical file. You are now listed as my linked bondmate. As per Federation regulations, Vulcan bondmates must be assigned to the same ship, colony, or outpost together."

Touched as he was, Jim still had questions. "But we're not fully linked, are we? You said there was a ceremony, and unless you drugged me all the way through it I don't remember having one."

"We are not linked to the extent that Stonn and I were," Spock said, opening his eyes at last. "However, that is due to the fact that you are human; you lack the ability to link with me to the same extent that I can link with you. When we are fully bonded, that link will be far less one-sided than it is now. However, the link is strong enough to qualify you as my bondmate. Any Vulcan healer who explored my mind would be able to sense it."

Jim grinned. "So we didn't bond without my knowing about it?"

The soft look in Spock's eyes changed to something more predatory, one of his hands curling around Jim's hip and squeezing possessively. "When the time comes that we must be bonded, Jim, you will most certainly be aware of it, not to mention an active contributor to the process."

Jim chuckled at that, shifting forward and pushing on Spock's shoulder until he was stretched out on his back with Jim sprawled over him. "You're awfully damn vague about this bonding thing whenever it comes up," he murmured in between suckling a new bruise into Spock's neck, taking advantage of their short break to give Spock all the hickeys he wouldn't allow when they were enrolled in classes. "You ever going to tell me about it? So I can prepare? Wouldn't want to look like an idiot in front of the in-laws."

Spock's face flushed sage, but it wasn't entirely due to arousal. "My parents will not be present for the ceremony. Nor would you wish them there."

"This gets more intriguing with every new hint you drop," Jim said, trailing a hand down Spock's chest and over the dark trail of hair on his stomach. He cupped it over Spock's groin, hiding his smug smile in Spock's shoulder. "Must be good if it's making your sheath relax. You're starting to get hard."

That had been one hell of a surprise the first time he'd figured out what that strange fold of skin was around Spock's penis, and it had been a near thing keeping Spock calm as he explored it one morning, watching in total fascination as the head of his cock slowly peeked out from the folds, extending fully as Jim sucked on Spock's fingers. It explained where Spock's natural lubrication came from as well, and he spent a moment spreading it all over him, smearing it between Spock's thighs just for the fun of making a mess of him. Now that he looked so elegant and proper and put-together all the time, Jim relished wrecking him up a bit whenever he could.

"It is not the anticipation of the bonding causing me to react this way," Spock informed him, still managing to sound articulate and precise despite the breathy quality of his voice.

"No?" He moved his hand further back, spreading more of the slickness over Spock's hole. He soon discovered that it wasn't necessary; he was still loose and pliant from the night before, the ring of muscle twitching feebly as Jim circled a finger around it.

Spock spread his legs, shifting his hips upward in silent invitation. "You, Jim," he whispered, some of his precision slipping as his voice got breathier. "It is the anticipation of you."

Jim couldn't figure out how such relatively clean, well-enunciated language could be so goddamn hot. He himself was known to let out a string of breathless expletives when he let his mouth run away with him during sex, but the Vulcan equivalent of dirty-talk was somehow even better than the human kind. He let it wash over him, making him even harder as he lined himself up against Spock and thrust in. There was no resistance at all, Jim's hips pushing forward until they were flush against one another. He let himself relax fully on top of Spock, pressing them chest to chest and stomach to stomach, loving the way it felt when Spock's hot, slick cock extended fully against his abdomen. Spock let out a long, contented sigh, either at the sensation of being filled or the sensation of extending fully. "Fucking gorgeous," Jim whispered into his neck, licking over the faint green bruise there.

"Yes," Spock agreed vaguely, wrapping his arms around Jim's waist and cupping his backside with his long fingers. They settled into an easy, unhurried rhythm, not so much thrusting against each other as rocking slowly, nosing and licking and kissing whatever skin they could reach. Spock didn't initiate a meld; he was starting to do so less and less, more focused on enjoying the physical sensations of his own body rather than connecting them with Jim's and sending them spiraling to orgasm almost instantaneously. Even without the meld, Jim could sense hazy tendrils of Spock's pleasure threading through him, nowhere near as intense as they were during a full meld but enough to skitter down his spine and make him thrust forward with a little more urgency and force than before.

It remained a slow, thorough morning fucking despite that. Jim didn't even realize how close he was getting until Spock suddenly broke their kiss, panting hot and wet against Jim's mouth as he arched his back and came, spurting long and messy between their bellies. The scorching slickness between them triggered Jim's own response, his hips shuddering forward as he found his own release.

They relaxed slowly into a boneless, overheated pile of limbs, Jim's sweat-soaked body adding to the mess of come and lubrication between them. Spock didn't seem to mind, keeping his arms locked firmly around Jim's waist and nosing into his hair, letting out another rumbling sigh of contentment as he came back down.

"Mmm," Jim murmured, closing his eyes and burrowing into Spock's neck once again. "Morning."

"According to the chronometer, it is approaching afternoon."

"You suck at pillow talk. Have I told you that?"

"Exactly eight times, including now."

Jim couldn't help the fond smile breaking out over his face. If he'd said that to Spock at the beginning of their relationship he would have sent him spiraling into an episode. Now it was just a normal part of their easy banter with each other. "Just making sure."

"I am in need of a shower," Spock informed him, even though he made no attempt to leave the bed or even shift away from Jim.

"I like you filthy."

"I am well aware of that. However, your friends-"

"Our friends," Jim corrected him. Spock had improved in many ways, but he still believed that Vulcans had little use for friends and that their social circle liked Jim exclusively and simply humored Spock.

"Very well. Our friends will be arriving in nine point seven two hours to celebrate the upcoming new year. I wish to be presentable when they arrive."

"Compelling argument," Jim agreed, separating from him slowly and offering him a hand. "We can save on water by showering together."

Spock made a face of mild distaste. "I would prefer-"

"Fine, whatever, we can save on sonics by showering together. Stuff your logic and come be naked in the shower with me."

The mild distaste changed to mock-exasperation, Spock barely refraining from rolling his eyes as he followed Jim to the bathroom.

*******

Jim tried very, very hard not to broadcast his smug grin all over the place every time he looked at Spock.

"It is a traditional Vulcan garment," Spock had told him when he put it on.

Which Jim was convinced was total bullshit. Granted, it shared certain characteristics with other Vulcan clothing he had seen. But it usually wasn't so high-necked that the fabric nearly cradled the jaw. No, he was pretty sure Spock was just trying to cover up his hickeys when they had company over. So Jim tried his best to keep his smugness to himself.

It wasn't much of a party compared to his previous New Year's Eve bashes. He had previously liked to spend the holiday in a bar getting totally smashed and finding someone in the crowd whom he wouldn't object to kissing (which was actually how he'd wound up kissing McCoy one year and getting his jaw bruised for his efforts). This year, however, it was just a few of his closest friends gathered around the holoscreen and waiting for the network's countdown to begin. Alcohol was flowing, but at nowhere near the rate he'd consumed it in previous years. Gaila had even managed to push something into Spock's hand. She'd told Jim it was some sort of secret Vulcan concoction made of spirits that were difficult to procure, but it looked suspiciously like chocolate milk.

She was currently draped over McCoy's lap, flirting and giggling and whispering in his ear every now and again. The mock-irritated scowl had melted away with each glass of bourbon he'd been served, and McCoy looked more than happy to be her human easy chair for the evening. Scotty was there, too, babbling away about what Jim assumed was engineering parlance; it was difficult to tell because the sounds coming out of his mouth didn't seem to be words. It must have been some manner of real language, though, because Uhura had leaned in closer to him and was communicating with him just fine.

"Countdown!" Gaila shouted to get everyone's attention, waving toward the holoscreen.

Jim broke off his conversation with McCoy to make his way over to Spock, standing next to him with a grin. "How's your super secret Vulcan thing?" he asked, gesturing to the half-empty glass.

"It is... adequate," Spock returned after a moment's pause. So whatever it was, it at least did the job of getting Vulcans just as fuzzy as the inebriated humans.

"Three... Two... One... Happy New Year!" his guests crowed with varying levels of understandability; Scotty seemed to have done the countdown in what Jim was starting to suspect was Gaelic, and he chuckled as Uhura whispered something in his ear and kissed him. Over on the sofa, Gaila had burrowed her hands in McCoy's hair and was enthusiastically setting about the task of sucking his tongue clear out of his skull.

Next to him, Spock had put his glass aside and reached for Jim's hand, shyly offering two fingers to him in the traditional Vulcan gesture of a kiss. Jim smiled and extended the same two fingers, pleased beyond words that Spock felt comfortable enough for such a display of public affection.

"Aw, c'mon, the two of ye c'n do bet'r than tha'!" Scotty protested, killing the moment quite effectively.

"They're kissing!" Uhura defended them, and Jim felt a surge of gratitude towards her. "They're just doing it the Vulcan way. That totally counts."

"Does not," Gaila pouted, although she seemed less invested in the debate than she was in licking McCoy's ear.

Surprisingly he batted her off, digging in his pocket for his communication unit. "That reminds me. I promised someone back home that I'd make sure you made good on a promise."

Jim furrowed his eyebrows. "I haven't promised her anything."

"Bullshit. Jo's been harping on this for days. 'Tell Uncle Jim he has to kiss Mister Spock this year or he'll have bad luck forever,'" he imitated in an obnoxious falsetto. He raised the communication unit, engaging the screen-capture feature. "Now pucker up."

"Bones-" Jim began, not wanting to make Spock uncomfortable in front of so many people.

Spock cut him off with a gentle touch to his wrist. "I do not object to the matter," he said quietly, his cheeks faintly green. Jim couldn't tell if it was the drink or the idea that was making him blush.

"You don't have to," Jim assured him. "We already kissed so we're in the clear."

Spock's expression turned just the slightest bit shy, although Jim was probably the only one in the room who could read him well enough to see it. "I do not wish to disappoint Joanna."

Jim heard the faint desire in the words, the wish to do this for his own sake as much as for Joanna's. He smiled, wrapping his fingers around Spock's neck, rubbing his thumb over the bruise he knew was under the collar. "All right, then," he agreed, shifting closer to him. "Happy New Year, Spock."

"Happy New Year, Jim." And Spock leaned in and pressed their lips together in a human kiss.