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Without Words

“You can’t be serious!”

Several crewmembers in the corridor turned their heads toward the opening mess hall doors after the exclamation left their captain’s lips so loudly that it might have echoed.

The volume of the outburst caught even Jim off guard, despite it being produced by his own voice, and with his eyes widening a little bit, he tore his attention from Spock. Instantly, he became painfully aware that a few inquisitive gazes had been cast in his direction. His lips twitched and brows eased up, feeling the slightest sting of embarrassment as he cleared his throat.

The mortification was short-lived in the face of incredulity, however. With his eyes snapping back to Spock at his side, Jim leaned in a little as they began to walk down the congested strip of hallway and reiterated those words in hushed disbelief, “You can’t be serious, Spock!”

“I assure you, Captain.” Spock’s hands clasped behind his back and a pointed brow raised. “I am always serious.”

“You mean to tell me that your mother—someone who I know has an appreciation for classic Earth literature—didn’t make you read Walt Whitman when you were young?!” Jim’s expression suggested there could be no greater offense. He huffed and shook his head, raised his chin regally and turned his attention forward. “I just can’t believe that.”

With general quarters, the main mess hall, and a large observation area all centralized on this level, deck six was easily one of the busiest spaces on the ship. That made no difference to the commanding pair strolling side-by-side, though; they remained completely enveloped in their own conversation, despite moving through the crowded corridor. By the way that no one seemed to pay any attention to them, it had clearly been a thing that occurred frequently enough to not cause alarm.

As they approached the red lift doors, Spock looked to the side only to find Jim’s nose still in the air. His dark brows raised slightly. “While she was, indeed, fond of many classic Terran authors, it appears Whitman was not one she favored. I have never read this poem you referenced.”

“Blasphemy,” Jim uttered beneath his breath and waved his hand before the sensor to call the lift. “Spock, O Captain! My Captain! is a poem anyone serving on a starship, or any vessel for that matter, could relate to.”

“What is the message of the piece?”

“It’s about the respected commander of a ship dying during his voyage and the crew bringing his body back home.” Jim’s mouth pulled into a line and his hands moved to fold behind the small of his back; he knew it was coming…

Spock’s chin lifted and his face quickly gravitated in Jim’s direction. With his eyes revealing a multitude of questions and even the slightest tinge of carefully hidden Vulcan concern, his tone fell into a husky almost-whisper. “You appreciate poetry regarding the death of a captain?” He swallowed and his gaze fell to search the floor before it returned to Jim. “Is that not a bit…” A brow shot up. “…morbid?”

Jim brought a hand to his temple and his lashes fell momentarily as he chuckled to himself. “Not exactly. The entire poem is actually an extended metaphor that commemorated the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You see, when he died—”

The sound of a gentle chime and splitting red doors cut Jim off mid-sentence, along with the appearance of Lieutenant Uhura.

Deep in thought with her head bowed, Uhura began taking her leave from the platform and she looked up just before she bumped into Jim. Her hand raised to her chest and she leaned back on her heels slightly. “Oh, Captain!”

“Just don’t add my captain after that and we’ll be in good shape,” Jim quipped with a wide grin.

A smile that could light an entire sector bloomed across Uhura’s face and she placed her palm on his bicep with a laugh. “No, Sir.” Her gaze turned to Spock. “Good evening, Commander.”

Spock nodded. “Lieutenant.”

“Captain, I don’t want to hold you up here,” Uhura began, keeping her foot in the lift so it wouldn’t take off without its new passengers, “but I haven’t had the chance to thank you properly for approving my time off request.”

“No need,” Jim answered, his lips pulling outward to his cheeks a little further as he tilted his face back. “It’s a go, then?”

Uhura’s mouth pursed slightly and she winked. Her voice dropped to a deep purr. “Oh, it’s a go.” Her eyes flicked to Spock. “Good night, Commander. Captain.”

“Good night,” Jim bade after her, and then slipped onto the platform with a perplexed science officer in tow. The doors closed and Jim gripped the lever. “Deck five.” He looked up and over his shoulder to find Spock studying him. Matter-of-factly, Jim nodded and clarified without needing to hear the question. “She has a date, Mister Spock.”

Spock’s brows knitted downward and his mouth opened but he didn’t speak.

“She needs a day off before we reach the starbase to get everything planned and set up.”

“A date,” Spock finally echoed, as the chime and opening doors indicated they’d arrived on the deck with the senior crewmembers’ quarters.

“Yes, apparently a first one too, which is why it’s so important,” Jim said as they began making their way down the corridor. “She told me about it at the language club meeting a few days ago.”

Spock merely hummed once again as they arrived at his quarters. He allowed the scanner to read his retinas and then the entrance swished to the side.

“I wonder what your first was like,” Jim mused while following Spock in.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your first date.” The edges of Jim’s mouth were upturned in a mischievous smirk when Spock turned to face him.

He shook his head. “I have never had the experience.”

The playfulness across Jim’s features washed away immediately, his expression morphing into muted disbelief. “You’ve...never been on a date?” Jim cocked his head to the side and his lips parted for a moment before he tried again. “Oh, I didn’t mean a Terran-style date. The way you mingle on Vulcan counts too.”

“You do not understand, Jim,” Spock pressed. “I have never experienced this type of social interaction in any form. Privately eating dinner and engaging in chess matches with you is perhaps the closest I have ever come to it.” With that, he turned on his heels and moved toward the sleeping alcove. Spock ordered the computer to engage the privacy lock and then began removing his uniform in a stately manner. When he set aside his unzipped boots, he stood only in his black thermal layers.

While he was far from naked, it’d taken so long for Spock to achieve this level of comfort to act so casually in front of Jim; after spending decades observing extreme conservativeness, it was a miracle Spock had entered a relationship with Jim to begin with…even when all previous commitments were out of the picture.

Jim was more than aware of what it had taken to earn this trust and attain the privilege of knowing Spock in a way no other had before; he long ago made a silent vow to never do something that would violate that. He was cautious to never push Spock too far or demand more than what could be freely given.

With that in mind, careful footsteps carried Jim to the divider and he paused, letting his gaze wander. Spock was incredibly lean and limber—and deceptively so. From his appearance alone, someone who didn’t know better could never have predicted just how robust that seemingly thin body actually was.

After consideration, Jim deemed it safe to inquire further. “Did you not go on one because you didn’t want to?”

With his tunic in hand, Spock began folding it neatly and looked up to meet Jim’s eyes. Immediately, he diverted his attention to do the same for his trousers. “There was no need for such an exchange when I resided on Vulcan, due to…the prior arrangement.” Jim remained silent, his mind filling in the blank with an image of T’Pring even though there’d been no mention of her name.

Spock continued about his business, placing his garments on a side shelf and turning to the closet. The doors automatically opened and he procured a robe from within.

“As for the time after my departure to join Starfleet…” He pulled down on the back zipper and slipped the article off the hanger. “There simply was no opportunity.” With a graceful movement, Spock stepped into the center, pulled the flowing fabric over his heat-conserving undergarments, and then zipped it.

Finally, he turned to Jim again and abruptly changed the subject. “Do you still wish to meditate?”

Jim closed his mouth and slowly nodded; he’d become aware that his lack of audible response might have revealed the deeply pensive state he was in. “Yes.” Dark blond brows raised earnestly. “I’d like that very much.”

After his lashes fell for but a moment in acknowledgement, Spock pulled two rolled black mats out from the drawer beneath his bed, along with other supplies. Jim reached to take some of the items and together, they carried them to the open space of the work area. There was plenty of room here to set up and welcome in the calmness of the universe—an infinitely more desirable option than the claustrophobic sleeping alcove, for sure.

Spock lowered gracefully to his knees, quietly unrolling the mats and situating them so there was a small amount of space in between. Jim’s eyes drifted over his thin frame, considering more than just the superficial lines and curvatures which comprised Spock’s body; they were certainly very pleasing to look at, but there was so much more to this beautiful creature than his outer appearance. Sadly, that was as far as some were willing to look, however, and Spock suffered the consequences of being judged on what bigots thought they knew based on the shape of his ears.

Unaware that he was being watched, Spock’s slender hands pressed down against the black material, straightening the mats to lay horizontally on the floor, and then smoothed them out to create a leveled surface.

Jim would never understand how Spock managed to appear so immaculate in everything he did, even with the most trivial of activities. He knew his eyes had softened by falling half-lidded and that his lips had formed the gentlest of smiles, but Jim couldn’t help staring. His heartbeat increased and he felt a surge of overwhelming affection rush over him.

Silently, Jim wondered how it was possible to fall in love with the same person over and over and over like this…how he could merely see Spock doing something so ordinary and begin to have the same feelings that perfectly emulated the first time they made themselves apparent.

Perhaps it was in the noble grace of Spock’s exterior. Intriguingly, Spock’s hands were a simplified representation of the kind of individual he was; they were large and thin, delicate and gentle, shaped lovelier than any sculpted piece of art could ever hope to imitate. Some were afraid of their differences, that they could be used malevolently against them by invading their minds with a mere touch…but those who took the time to acquaint themselves with these hands knew they were incapable of that.

Or, perhaps the reason Jim kept falling for Spock was because of his intelligence, his genuine kindness, his respect for all life, his thirst to learn more and more yet. Perhaps it was the inward dignity and finesse that matched his outer appearance, or the patchwork fabric of a soul that had been repeatedly broken and healed.

Perhaps the answer was in how his harsh Vulcan features (attractive as they were) had been so easily betrayed by the softness in Spock’s eyes when he looked at Jim—as they were looking at him now. The realization that the watcher was being watched jolted Jim out of his thoughts.

Caught off guard, he sucked one loud breath between his teeth in surprise, and immediately put himself in motion. He unzipped his boots, toed them off, and made his way to kneel on the mat before Spock’s. It was firm and always a bit uncomfortable in the beginning, but Jim had learned to adapt after having participated in this activity more times than he could count. He was sure Spock knew, however.

In the center of the empty area between their mats, he placed the meditation lamp and one small crimson candle to the left and right of it. Jim next laid the incense holders on the outside mirroring each other, and adjusted each object so that there was the same amount of space separating them from the others.

This line, Spock had told him, held cultural significance and represented metaphorical symbolism of ashes to ashes: that everyone and everything started as a tiny glimmer like lit incense, evolved from there to the dim second candle, and peaked at the brightest light represented by the center lamp. But the flames of life—whether they were emotion, strife, ancient drives, or something different—were only temporary, and would eventually reverse order to fade and become but dust once more.

Spock struck a match and lit the objects from right to left.

Once gentle flames danced upon the wicks and a scent akin to cinnamon filled the air, their eyes met. After a pause, Spock’s tongue poked out to lick his lips and he softly ordered, “Computer, reduce lighting to zero percent.”

As the overhead strips dimmed to darkness, the warmth from the lamp and candles illuminated the angular features of Spock’s face. Jim watched him motionlessly, resisting the urge welling within him to act on his emotional impulses.

Never been on a date…Never been touched by hands other than Jim’s…

Did Spock truly understand how much he was loved? Did he know how unique, how special he was?

Did he know that he was the one?

Someday, Jim hoped to find the words that would make Spock understand how deeply he was treasured, and how committed Jim was to spending the rest of their lives together. When he was younger, he’d always thought it would be easier, that it was just a matter of saying “I love you, will you marry me?” and everything would fall into place.

But three words and a short question alone could never accurately describe a universe of everything good—and that was what Spock had selflessly given Jim. How could he ever choose the proper thing to say that was emotional enough for the human need for expression but not overbearing for a Vulcan?

The words eluded Jim, but how he felt them. And if he could just explain all that he wanted through touch, he’d already known how to convey it perfectly.

The depth of Jim’s love could easily be shown by leaning over the lights and trailing his fingertips down Spock’s jaw until they pressed beneath his chin. He would promise a lifetime of support with the stroke of his thumb across a narrow cheek and then hold him close to offer his protection. Jim would gaze into Spock’s dark eyes to show his sincerity and finally pledge that there could be no other by bestowing a kiss—a promise—to his elegant lips.

And like that, in a single perfect moment on an endless plane of time, the rest of their lives could be sealed.

But alas, until the words revealed themselves…until Jim knew how to put spoken meaning to all of this, he decided that he would simply love Spock. He’d love him with everything he had, love him deeper than the deepest ocean and more fervently than the largest burning star. Jim would love him so much that it would make up for any time Spock had ever thought he wasn’t and never could be. He’d love him quietly as he did now by meditating with him and love him openly when the moment called for action.

Someday, however, Jim would know what to say. Until then, he would patiently wait.

“Please,” Spock whispered. “Sit.”

Both lowered to assume a cross-legged position with their spines straightened and shoulders pushed back. Their hands clasped before their ankles, digits filing together as the palms turned to the ceiling and pads of their thumbs pressed to the tips of their pointer fingers. Spock nodded once and closed his eyes.

“Structure,” he spoke quietly. “Function. Logic. Control.” These words were then repeated in Vulcan. “Kel-nen. Is-lof. Ozhika. Krie’nuv.” There was a pause. “Breathe.”

Jim inhaled deeply, held it for seven seconds, and then exhaled for eight. This pattern was repeated over and over, inviting calm to drift through the darkness of the room in waves and consume them both. In time, the noise within the mind quieted and all that remained was the familiar sound of the ship in transit…and a warmth inside Jim’s chest.

After some time, Spock announced the end and Jim’s eyes fluttered open. He blinked hard, stretched his neck, and finally allowed his spine to relax, feeling refreshed and renewed.

“Thank you,” Jim mumbled over an exhale.

“It is I who must thank you, Jim,” Spock replied.

With his eyes barely squinting in consternation, Jim quietly asked, “Why?”

“You are willing to take part in an activity that is solidified in the very foundation of Vulcan beliefs.”

Jim’s lips softened into a smile and he exhaled through his nose. “Don’t thank me, Spock. I love spending this time with you. Besides.” He leaned his head back. “Self-control is a good belief.” His eyes fell to the flickering flames between them for a moment before they returned to meet Spock’s. “Chess?”

After a simple nod, Spock raised the lights and blew out the candles and incense. Jim helped with rolling the mats up and returning the supplies to their rightful places. While he did this, an idea had begun to form as he thought back on their previous conversation.

She has a date, Mister Spock.

Chess is perhaps the closest I have ever come.

And in that moment, the decision was made. It would require a little time, some careful planning, and perhaps even a bit of scheming. But as Jim looked over at Spock, he decided it was all worth it.

“Meet me in my quarters whenever you’re ready, Mister Spock.”

“I shall join you soon.”

Jim took his leave to allow Spock to slip out of his meditation robe. He walked through their shared bathroom, emerged on his side and once there, looked around. So. This setting was what Spock’s closest idea to what a proper date was…

A quiet laugh fell from Jim’s lips and he shook his head. He was about to change that.

~*~

“I don’t get it,” McCoy finally snapped, after quietly watching the bustling excitement around him. “Who the hell would ever want to vacation in space, especially if that’s where they already live?!”

“People who love it,” Jim suggested, grinning as his fork dove back into the bowl of pasta. His brows raised and his lips pursed. With a shrug, he jovially added, “I would.”

“Cht, I know you would!” McCoy groaned and then placed his coffee cup down on the tray. His eyes shifted to Jim’s side. “And you would too for that matter.”

Spock’s spoon was halfway to his mouth, but the accusation caused him to lower it back to his soup. He lifted his chin. “Doctor, surely you are aware by this time that I require no vacation.”

McCoy’s chest puffed out as he took a deep breath and his eyes rolled to the ceiling. “Yes, yes, I know,” he droned. “Centuries ago, Surak came along with a sign reading ‘Absolutely No Fun’, which he proceeded to jam into the sand and ta-da! The great logical revolution began.”

“Your understanding of Vulcan history is profoundly inaccurate,” Spock remarked.

Jim shut his eyes and curled his lips in as he tried to swallow the cackle that desperately wanted out.

“It’s called a joke, Spock,” McCoy replied, reaching for his cup again. Once he picked it up, he thrust it in Spock’s direction. “And it would do you some good to acquaint yourself with a little humor now and then.”

“Ah…” Spock’s brows pulled in and he looked down to his meal for a moment of thought before returning his gaze to McCoy. “I am sorry, Doctor. Were you just attempting to be humorous?”

At the sight of McCoy’s eyes widening and his nostrils flaring in response to Spock’s sass, Jim snorted loudly and began to chuckle with his mouth closed. And when that became unbearable, he tossed his head back and a hearty laugh erupted from his chest.

“You stay out of this!” McCoy barked.

“Can’t!” Jim exclaimed, stabbing his fork into his bowl several times. “The two of you are so ridiculous!”

“Ridiculous?” Spock reiterated. “Surely not, Captain.”

And that was how the mood on the ship was, one day before shore leave.

The mess hall was alit with likened excitement so palpable that Jim was certain he felt it pricking at his skin. After months of hard work, the crew was finally about to enjoy a full Terran week of down time while the Enterprise underwent scheduled diagnostics and supply replenishment.

There was a twist, however. On this occasion, their leave would be spent on the largest space station ever conceived during their time. It was a galactic spectacle, touted to be the first city in deep space. While all standard ship maintenance services were offered by an on-base Starfleet roster, there were entire portions of the gargantuan station dedicated specifically to recreation. Shops, hotels, roads, and transportation systems were just a handful of things which had been constructed to create the feeling of visiting a planet-side city. It even had its own holographic sky which gradually shifted from day to night.

It was a refreshing change of pace; most starbases and outposts were sterile and generally uninteresting after the first visit. They were often designed to serve as labs and testbeds for scientific developments, or as large holding areas for cargo transportation. Deep Space M-7, however, had been built to accommodate all typical functionality of a base with the added bonus of attracting tourism. It’d become an astronomically successful project from the moment of its debut, with species all over the quadrant hyped up to visit.

The Enterprise was due to dock tomorrow, and tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

“So, when are you heading over, Jim?” McCoy asked, after the amusement died down. “Don’t tell me you’re staying on the ship again.”

“Not at all. This time, I’ll be disembarking the first day.” Jim pushed his fork around and picked up two cylinders of pasta with the prongs. “I have some important things to take care of and could use a change in environment.” He looked up to the ceiling and spoke to the ship beneath his breath. “Sorry. It’s not your fault.”

“Did you ever think of, oh, I don’t know, resting on shore leave?” McCoy prodded.

Jim laughed quietly. “No worries, Bones.” Casually, he looked to the side then. “Oh, Spock. Before I forget, I want you to keep your schedule clear starting the first night of leave. There’s a side project I’m working on that I’d like your help with.”

“A side project?” Spock inquired.

“Yeah, it’s nothing major, though I expect it to be time-consuming.” A pause. “If…that’s all right with you, of course.” Playing it cool, Jim took a bite of his penne.

Spock quietly studied Jim, until McCoy leaned in. “What the captain seems to be saying, Spock, is that he’d like you to take some time off the ship, whether you say you need it or not. And I, for one, agree with that suggestion…even if you’ll be working.” Folding his arms, his shoulder blades hit the back of his chair.

Jim fought the urge to smile. At Spock’s request, he’d never told McCoy of their personal relationship. It wasn’t out of mistrust, but the anxiety Spock would never confess to having. He had no idea how his father might react to his having romantic relations outside of being bonded, but one thing was clear; neither Spock nor Jim had any interest in finding out.

And yet, even though he was in the dark, McCoy still acted like an ally, like he knew anyway. But more than that, he was the best damn friend Jim had ever had. And when the day arrived and Jim could finally reveal their relationship, McCoy would be the first person he’d tell.

“Very well, Captain,” Spock agreed. “It might be prudent to share the details before our arrival tomorrow.”

“Later, Spock.” Jim grinned. “I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”

Silence descended upon the group for a few moments.

“Well,” McCoy spoke up suddenly. “You might be tight-lipped about what you intend to do on the station, Jim, but I can tell you about my plans. They involve several bottles of Saurian brandy.” Jim’s mouth was full when their eyes met again. “And I hereby solemnly swear that every single glass I pour will be dedicated to the both of you and the collective grief you cause me.”

~*~

Jim wrung his hands together as he waited for the lift.

The Enterprise had arrived at the station on time at 0800 sharp, and the disembarkation process completed a short while thereafter. Hours after the fact, only the assigned skeleton crew and maintenance personnel were aboard. There was also another—one Vulcan. And it was that same Vulcan who Jim was on his way to meet now.

Looking over his shoulder, Jim couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with how eerily still the corridors were. It wasn’t the first time he’d been on the ship when the majority of his team wasn’t, but this instance was particularly strange.

It was the start of Jim’s fourth year as captain of this vessel. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, so much had changed and been accomplished, both professionally and personally. Career-wise, he knew himself to be safe. After the outstanding performance demonstrated during this mission, Jim had full confidence that Starfleet would let him keep his command and the majority of his willing crew.

As for the personal side…Jim had a plan, but that plan could branch out in a multitude of ways and with everything depending on Spock, nothing was predictable. It felt a bit like an old casino game, but what he was potentially compromising were his own emotions.

Risk is our business,” Jim had once said, and soon after began to wonder if his penchant for taking chances with high stakes was an addiction of some kind. He couldn’t seem to break the habit.

The lift arrived and after stepping onto the platform, Jim issued the command for deck five. Pangs of excitement and even a tinge of nervousness heightened his growing anticipation, fueling the butterflies thumping around within his belly. That conversation he’d had with Spock just seven ship’s days ago before their meditation session had struck a match within Jim’s mind, and once that happened, nothing could’ve stopped him.

One idea led to another, which led to one more and another after that. And now, he was standing in the lift, rubbing his hands together yet again and wondering if he’d gone too overboard. Would he be pushing Spock too far? The whole scheme was more than a little devious, but Jim worried if he said too much before it all unfolded, Spock would go into one of his humility episodes and the purpose of the entire gesture would be lost.

There was an exceedingly delicate balance to be maintained, especially when Vulcan frugality and humbleness were challenged. After all, Spock wouldn’t willingly agree to engage in any activity meant solely to spoil him. Jim knew him well enough to know he’d think all of this planning would’ve be wasted effort and better spent on someone else.

…Except it wasn’t. There was no other anywhere who Jim would rather have done all that he had for. And with that in mind, he’d decided to keep Spock in the dark until one of two things happened: either Spock would figure it out himself that they were on that proverbial first date, or they would reach the last stop on a thoroughly planned evening together and all would be revealed then. Jim was interested to find out which would come first.

There was a Plan B, as well. If at any point Spock appeared to be uncomfortable, Jim was prepared to stop whatever they were in the middle of, confess what his true intentions were, and if being on a date wasn’t agreeable, they could cancel everything and just come back to the ship. He would be content knowing that he at least tried once, even if his whole idea didn’t make it to completion.

The chime shook Jim straight out of his thoughts and he stepped onto the level housing his quarters. He ambled down the hall until he stood in front of Spock’s door and raised his hand to signal his arrival; however, just before his palm went in range, he stopped.

Jim grabbed the bottom of his green wrap shirt and fussed over pulling it down, patting the fabric to ensure it was flat over his torso; he’d toyed with the idea of wearing non-regulation attire, but decided it might be too jarring. This was a surprise, after all, and showing up here all decked out in civilian clothing would’ve been a dead giveaway that something was amiss.

Jim lifted his hands, ran his fingers through his hair, shook his head out, and then finally activated the sensor. Within seconds, the door swished open and Spock stood before him.

“Captain.”

“Ah, Mister Spock!” Jim greeted with a smile. He paused, leaning back and letting his sight run down Spock’s blue tunic and dark trousers before returning to his face; it seemed everything was proceeding as he’d predicted. “Are you ready?”

“I cannot answer that question as you still have provided no further information,” Spock replied. “I am unaware of what type of assignment I should be prepared for.”

Jim’s eyes closed and as his grin widened, he huffed through his nose. When his lashes parted, his gaze wandered up the doorframe and then back down; casually, he crossed his arms and leaned against it. “I already told you all I can about this mission. It’s on a…” Jim stopped mid-sentence, pursed his lips, and then raised his brows. “…need to know basis. I’ll tell you what I can when the time is right. Acceptable?”

Spock’s eyes narrowed in consternation. “These are Starfleet orders?”

“More like captain’s prerogative. Let’s just say that too many details will affect the success of what we have to do.” With that, Jim inhaled quickly and pushed himself away from the frame. “Well, let’s get to it, Mister.”

He began heading back toward the lift to eliminate any window of opportunity Spock might have had for further inquiry. The corridor was quiet as he moved, until his ears picked up the sounds of hurried footsteps rapidly falling behind him.

“What equipment is needed?” Spock asked as soon as he arrived beside Jim and fell in rhythm with his pace.

“Nothing we need to carry with us. It’s all on the station already,” Jim replied, without directing his attention anywhere but forward. He waved a hand before the lift sensor and finally turned, the corners of his lips raising into another smile. Reaching to touch Spock’s arm, he took it gently and encouraged him. “Relax, all right?”

Spock remained quiet, clearly attempting to read Jim’s features, as the chime rang and the doors opened.

“May I at least know how long this…” A dark brow raised. “…mission will require? Will we return to the ship this evening?”

Jim held his hand toward the lift and followed Spock inside, making up some nonsensical answer in reply. “If we finish the first part on time and you want to come back here tonight before starting the second phase, then yes.” He slipped to the side, took hold of a gray lever, and raised his chin. “But you did clear your schedule, didn’t you?” Their eyes met and the doors shut.

“As you requested,” Spock confirmed. “However, Captain, I must insist. Further details would be prudent so that I may maximize my efficiency—”

Jim’s hand slid off the lever, and he stepped forward while Spock continued his futile attempt for more information. Fingertips pressed tenderly against Vulcan lips then, stopping them from moving.

“Shh,” Jim breathed and then his brows pulled in. “Hey,” he said sincerely. “You trust me, yes?”

Spock’s hand crept up and latched to Jim’s wrist. He carefully pulled it back just enough so he was free to speak and then cocked his head. “Obviously, Jim,” he replied above a whisper. “However, I—”

“Then let me be the captain.” Jim felt his features soften to match his voice. His other hand raised and covered the top of Spock’s own, still holding to his opposite wrist. “And just follow my lead. All right?”

Pressing his lips together and letting his gaze wander to the floor for a beat, Spock’s eyes found Jim’s again. He swallowed and merely nodded once.

Satisfied, Jim offered a soft kiss to Spock’s fingers and then pulled away. He grabbed the nearest lever, but before he commanded the lift to move, he added, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to get some dinner first before we start. I completely lost track of time today and haven’t had a chance to eat much at all.”

Spock’s chin fell in agreement. “As you wish. I shall accompany you.”

“Good! Let’s get moving, then! Computer.” Jim gave a tug on the handle. “Deck six.”

And with that, Operation: First Date had officially launched.

~*~

There were some things that simply needed to be seen to be believed, and some places that could never receive due justice through pictures or even spoken word. Soaring through a colorful nebula, the glittering silver ice canyons of Ruenzael III, the triple sunset of Yariiz Prime, Deep Space M-7…

A massive sphere constructed of tritanium and ultra-thick transparent aluminum served as the heart of the first city in space. One-third of the core’s top hemisphere was exposed through a massive dome-shaped window, offering a view of the inner nighttime cityscape; during station’s day, however, the sight would become limited from holographic projectors firing off along the transparent aluminum to simulate sunlight, a sky, and even clouds. The lower shrouded section of the sphere was slightly bulkier, housing operations and the main engineering levels, along with retractable plating that could envelop the see-through section with reinforced armor should the need for defense ever arise.

Surrounding the main core was an inner habitat ring that served as an extension to the city with more buildings and attractions. Beyond that was an outer ring for station staff general quarters, cargo bays, secondary power reserves, and miscellaneous storage spaces. At last, six circular docking stations extended from the larger ring at regular intervals, each allowing up to four Constellation-class starships to dock. It was at these locations where repairs, refueling, and supply transfers would be performed.

Every section was interconnected by corridors equipped with state of the art warp vacuum train technology—a gratuitous name for a transit method that was nowhere close to even lightspeed, but it was incredibly fast. And while that was impressive, perhaps the most intriguing way to travel about was the incorporation of site-to-site transportation. The station operated all transports on an encrypted fluctuating frequency band to ensure no unchecked visitors or items could randomly appear or disappear without notice.

Deep Space M-7 was something straight out of a science fiction novel Jim swore he’d read as a child; it was a stellar feat of engineering and cooperation, planned and built by the collaboration of a multitude of Federation species. It had taken decades and countless phases to complete, and now stood as the ultimate sign of cross-culture friendship and teamwork.

And what a melting pot it was.

The vacuum train silently passed through one of the dark conduits leading to the inner core; it was the smoothest form of transportation Jim had ever experienced—no bumps, shaking, jolts, or swaying—which amounted to something significant since he was currently on his feet.

Both sides of the car were lined in long rows of bench seating with baggage shelves mounted above them. The middle remained clear for passengers who wished or needed to stand, and considering that they’d caught the train only moments before it left the platform, Jim had reason. They’d been lucky to even find one free seat to occupy and he’d wasted no time in urging Spock to be the one sitting, figuring they’d both be more comfortable that way.

With a hand clasping the baggage shelf, Jim leaned forward slightly so that his kneecaps gently touched Spock’s, and then let his eyes drift across the glossy interior. Soft, glowing strips of blue and purple reflected off the silver walls and floor to compensate for the lack of light, and illuminated the diverse array of passengers sharing the space.

There were familiar species and some Jim had never even seen before. Some stood, while others relaxed; at one end, a parent sat nursing several children with vine-like appendages. There was a low hum of chatter as quiet conversations blended into background noise—along with a rowdy Nausicaan who loudly crunched on some kind of snack four seats over.

With so much to look at, Jim turned his face the other way and then lowered his eyes to find Spock studying him. Immediately, Spock’s gaze fell to his hands and he clasped them over his lap. Jim’s lips twitched at the corners.

He lifted his other hand to also take hold of the rail, and leaned in a little further while picking up the back of his right foot. After nudging Spock’s knee with his own, their eyes met again and Jim smiled quietly. Despite how public this place was, it felt like such an intimate gesture—something only the two of them would understand.

There was more to that, too. Slightly leaning over where Spock sat with their legs touching had Jim feeling more protective than he usually could be outside of the privacy of either of their quarters; it was a nice change.

In fact, as Spock looked back down at the latticing of his digits, Jim decided he could absolutely get used to this.

A calm ding sounded out and the lights slowly began to raise as the train approached the core. An audio message in Standard played for those who were hearing enabled and possessed universal translation technology. There was also a visible message shown on a scrolling screen above the door and a mild series of shakes for those who could neither see nor hear.

Attention, passengers. Thank you for choosing The Warp Transport. We will soon make a brief stop at Core Platform One. Please collect all of your belongings and be careful upon exiting.

Seconds after, the dark windows erupted with scenery of the inner core: of buildings and self-driven vehicles moving about, of people everywhere and signs lit against the overhead backdrop bubble of stars. Jim exhaled, ducking his head and leaning forward a little more to take in the view.

The car came to a stop, triggering many passengers to shuffle about. The one who had been sitting beside Spock took their leave and Jim slipped to claim that rightful place. Spock’s torso was twisted in his seat so that he could drink in the view, and Jim gave him some time to absorb it. “So, what do you think? No brochure could ever describe this.”

Spock’s face turned and their eyes met. “It is remarkable.”

“Yeah,” Jim agreed, pulling his eyes away from Spock before he stared for too long. “It is.” Pushing his shoulders up, he stretched his spine and then relaxed. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I came here earlier.”

Spock hummed.

“What?” Jim asked with a small laugh.

“It is a special training mission, is it not?”

Silence hung between them both as Jim took a few moments to process what Spock was alluding to. His lips opened and he chortled. “So inquisitive! You just won’t let it go, will you?”

Spock’s brows lifted, and if he’d intended to say anything further, he was interrupted by the train coming to another stop.

“This is us,” Jim said as he got to his feet.

Together, they disembarked and began a scenic walk through the bustling streets.

~*~

“Tokyo.”

“I have never visited.”

“When we get back to Earth, I have to take you there,” Jim said, lazily entwining his fingers together over the white linen tablecloth. “If you think this place is interesting, you need to visit Tokyo at least once.”

Nostalgia struck from a trip he’d taken with his parents and brother when he was young, and Jim cast his gaze off the high balcony they sat upon. At ten stories up, it offered the perfect vantage point for a panoramic view of streets lined with jagged buildings thrumming with life, light, and sound.

“More wine?”

Jim’s attention pulled away from the captivating scenery to find their Deltan waiter had returned. After turning to Spock and quietly asking with his eyes, he acknowledged the man again and shook his head. “No, but thank you.”

“My pleasure,” the waiter replied. “Your meal will be out shortly.”

“Thanks,” Jim offered once more and then peered down at his hands, proceeding to study them while his mind wandered elsewhere. He was beginning to feel slightly strange about this evening he’d planned; Spock and he had always been honest with each other and even though his intentions were in the right place, Jim still felt the tiniest twang of guilt.

The sound of Spock speaking his title pulled Jim back to the present. Across the table was his Vulcan companion, who he could read like a book—and his current expression conveyed no discomfort. In fact, Spock appeared now as he always did when they spent time together on the ship, and that was a sign of positivity. Jim grinned. “We may still be on duty, but we can drop the formalities, Spock.”

“Very well.” Spock’s brow raised. “Jim.” He paused. “I must confess that when you said you wished to dine, I had not expected such an…”

Jim tilted his head back and cocked it. “An…?”

Spock blew out an exhale while surveying their surroundings once more and concluded, “…expensive location.”

“Ah,” Jim replied. His eyes dropped to plates and silverware reflecting the warm accent lighting from inside, and then wandered up again when he shrugged. “Well, even if we’re on a mission, this is shore leave, after all. Right? A little indulgence on a rare occasion never hurt anyone.”

Spock peered down at the fancy woven basket of garlic breadsticks placed in the center of their small table. Two candles had been lit and beside them rested a vase of Rigelian roses and a bottle of red wine—Pinot Noir. While Spock hadn’t ever been one to consume alcohol for pleasure, he enjoyed the taste of this particular type Jim had introduced him to in the past.

“Besides,” Jim continued, surmising Spock had just figured it all out and was about to offer a heavy dose of logic about why it wasn’t worth the effort. He reached for a breadstick and finished his thought before he bit into it. “I was pretty sure you enjoyed Italian food.”

Concealed by the long tablecloth, his foot slipped across the floor and tapped the top of Spock’s before it rested upon it.

“It is agreeable with my palate,” Spock replied, “as your recommendations typically are.”

As he chewed, Jim raised his brows and then swallowed. “Well,” he huffed with a grin, bringing his napkin up to dab at his mouth. “Looks like I know you real well, Spock. In fact…” He squinted a touch and cleared his throat. “I suppose I—”

Ceramic shattered and pieces of a large plate subsequently slid across the hardwood floor. Interrupted mid-sentence by the crash, both Jim’s and Spock’s eyes snapped immediately to the source of the clamor inside the restaurant. One waiter was already in motion to assist the other who had dropped the dish and they began working quickly to clean the mess.

Jim’s words had been taking him down an unplanned path and in fact, he hadn’t even known where he was going with them; the distraction served as a convenient escape, and he gladly used the opportunity to let his gaze wander across the fancy restaurant.

The open doorways leading to the outer sitting area they occupied were framed with white curtains, which had been tied back with large fancy bows. Sconces lit the golden walls trimmed with umber molding and bestowed a romantic sheen upon dark shelves and ornate oil paintings of the old Italian countryside. The floor seemed to be made of warm chocolate brown porcelain, smooth and shiny and perfectly polished.

“You were saying?” Spock prompted.

“I mean,” Jim began, letting his gaze linger a bit more before tossing his head to the side. “I guess it is a little lavish…especially with how they cook some menu items the old fashioned way.” He turned his face back to Spock and found dark eyes studying him once again. A mischievous smile spread across Jim’s lips and he reached for his wine glass. “Anyway, I had a feeling you’d say something about it being too expensive for your tastes, but that’s all right. I just hope you enjoy it.”

Spock remained silent and then reached for his own wine. As he sipped, he peered out at the view and gave Jim the perfect opportunity to admire him—and did he. How lucky Jim knew he was, to have found someone so inwardly and outwardly beautiful. His eyes trailed down the angular lines of Spock’s face, thinking about how much he yearned for it to be the first thing he’d see every morning and the last every night. His appreciation was cut short, however, when the waiter arrived with a circular tray filled with heavy white dishes.

“Penne arrabbiata,” he announced as Jim held his palm out in Spock’s direction so he would be served first. “And also, penne arrabbiata,” the waiter said, placing Jim’s plate down. “Is there anything else I can have brought to you?”

“Anything?” Jim asked Spock, and when he received a shake of the head, he politely declined.

“Enjoy your meal!”

“I wonder if this was a good idea after all,” Jim mused as he leaned forward, hovering above the heaping bowl of pasta and surveying it. When he looked up and found Spock watching with the same hint of bewilderment worn whenever his curiosity was piqued, Jim laughed and clarified, “This might taste so amazing that our synthesizer on the ship won’t be able to compare.”

“Ah.” Spock lifted his own fork, collected some of the pasta with its prongs, and then suggested, “I believe the only logical method to determine if you have irrevocably ruined all future Italian dinners on the Enterprise is to sample this meal.”

Jim chuckled. “To ruined dinners back home.”

They ate their first bite simultaneously.

~*~

“All right, I can admit it,” Jim relented as they traversed along a crowded sidewalk. Live Terrellian jazz wafted through the open doors and shutter windows of a nearby bar and spilled out into the streets, somehow adding even further character to an atmosphere already rich with it.

The outskirts were just as impressive as the downtown region; they were animated by flashy neon signs, tiny golden bulbs on strings wrapped about trees, and super-chic ethereal urban lighting. The streetlights were straight onyx poles with pentagon-shaped transparent chambers mounted at the top; they each held a substance that emitted a lavender glow, appearing and behaving exactly like a dilithium crystal. Singularly, each offered an extra layer of beauty to the scenery but combined, they all bathed the modern architecture in a soft, airy haze.

Beneath that purple aura, Jim leaned into Spock to gently bump his arm. “Once again, you were right.” His eyes wandered up and over his shoulder, only to find Spock’s profile largely unchanged—minus a lifted brow, the sassy thing he was.

Letting his lashes fall, Jim lifted his hands before his chest with his fingers spread out. He tilted his face to the side and conceded, “Frugality wins again.”

“You appear to believe I derive some sort of pleasure from that conclusion,” Spock replied.

“You don’t?” Jim playfully inquired. As they approached a corner, their footsteps slowed to a halt with the crowd they’d been traveling among. Battery-powered hovercars and drones floated over the road comprised of absorbent panels arranged in a honeycomb pattern. The panels recycled energy collected from photons and heat to generate their own lighting for traffic lines.

While they waited for the pedestrian signal to change, Jim prodded, “You don’t feel even the slightest bit of satisfaction that our very expensive dinner turned out subpar to our own synthesizer back home?”

At last, Spock turned to look at him. “I assure you, I do not.” Once he found the apparent softness of Jim’s expression, he recognized he was being teased. His defensiveness dissipated and he raised his chin in the same stately manner he always possessed.

“To be honest, Spock...” Jim’s voice dropped in volume and became sincere as he glanced downward for a beat. “I am. I’m glad it wasn’t as good.”

Dark eyes studied him and when the stare became too intimate in too public a place, they wandered over their surroundings. “Jim, I assume you are aware that we are walking in the opposite direction of the station.”

“Watch it,” Jim said, immediately reverting to his on-the-bridge tone. “I may be the captain but that doesn’t mean my navigation skills are rusty.”

There was a xylophone-like sound then and the panels coloring the crosswalk red switched to green. Arrows flashed on them and a pleasant song commenced for audible indication that it was safe to proceed.

“Of course. I meant no offense,” Spock replied as they began approaching the opposite side. The route split into three directions there; they could follow the sidewalk left or right, or continue down a straight path cutting directly through a large park.

“I know.” Jim’s mouth pulled into a grin. “I figured since we were halfway between the one we got off at and the next anyway, it might be nice to scope out a different view.”

Spock hummed and then seemed intrigued by Jim’s decision to head straight instead of turning.

“Shortcut,” Jim offered with a wink.

They continued in companionable silence through a diverse range of foliage and flora transplanted from planets littered across the Federation—traveled down a winding walkway surrounded by every color the human eye could see and then some, from flowers and trees, bushes and shrubs. There was a sweet scent in the air and a rush of excitement that made Jim’s heart beat a little quicker; they were so close to his next part of the plan, and he couldn’t help but wonder if Spock would actually agree to it.

Jim hoped he would. Ever since he’d seen this particular place in the station’s attractions directory, his heart had been set on taking Spock there. However, it would be a major deviation when they were supposedly on duty—if Spock even believed that still, or at all—and their stopover would undoubtedly be questioned. Time would tell shortly if his plan was to be a success.

Even so, Jim began to consider that sitting on one of the secluded benches they passed would probably be more readily accepted without question, but also far less romantic. Once again, the risk would be worth the reward, and he’d never been one to take the easy route. Therefore, Jim decided a capricious question might stop him from the sudden influx of second-guessing. “Did I pull you away from anything important tonight?”

“I had planned to recategorize the inventories of all science labs on decks nine and sixteen,” Spock began, but never had the opportunity to finish.

Again?!”

“Yes,” he replied matter-of-factly, turning to Jim. “It is the nature of communal spaces to lose order, and therefore, efficiency.”

Jim huffed and shook his head. “I’m starting to think that reorganizing an already-organized space is a hobby of yours, Spock…” He chuckled. “Are you feeling bored on my ship? Need even more to do?”

Spock closed his eyes for but a moment. “Ninety-nine point nine-seven-five percent efficiency was promised, Captain, and I intend to continue delivering it.”

“All right, all right!” Jim played along. “When we get back—” He trailed off and suddenly stopped mid-step, touching Spock’s arm. The overarching flowered branches shrouding the path they’d been taking faded out ahead, leaving a large circular plot of open land clear for an elegant building. It was shaped by tall and jagged frames with a large middle section surrounded by smaller ones three quarters its size. Made completely of glass, dim lilac light glowed from within.

Spock blinked. He turned his attention to the structure and then back to Jim when the hand slipped off him.

“I can’t believe it’s…here…” Jim said, rubbing the back of his head and inwardly questioning his acting skill. He’d been told more times than he could remember that his pokerface was second to none—had successfully bluffed and exaggerated in the face of danger, and even came up with complete nonsense like Fizzbin on a total whim—and yet here he was, feeling as though his intentions now were ridiculously obvious. There was no way Spock could possibly not suspect that something was up by this point…

“What purpose does this structure serve?” Spock asked.

“It’s an arboretum,” Jim replied. “An advertisement mentioned it was in the middle of a park, but I didn’t think it was this one…”

“An arboretum?” Spock echoed.

“Look, I’m really sorry to do this, but…” Jim’s lashes fluttered and his brows eased up. He almost laughed aloud at himself. “Would you mind?”

“You wish to go inside?” Spock peered at the building again before turning back to Jim. “Need I remind you there is one aboard the Enterprise—quite diverse and large?”

“After that dinner, I know what you’re thinking,” Jim said. “But this time, I can promise you we don’t have anything like it on the ship.”

“I am certain that Lieutenant Sulu would take incredible offense if he heard you say so, Jim.”

“It’s not just the plants. This place is really special because…well, why don’t I just show you?” When he received the expected look of doubt, Jim simply smiled. “It shouldn’t be too long. Let’s take a look around and then be on our way. Last distraction, I promise.”

They stared at each other for several seconds, each studying the other. Just when Jim was beginning to think he’d pushed this much too far, Spock nodded once. “Very well.”

As they began approaching the grand entrance framed by bushels of red flowers in hanging pots, Jim’s eyes were drawn to the blue tunic at his side. He, a known-lover of horticulture, was about to be treated to an impressive display of colorful plant-life from across the quadrant and yet…all Jim could do at the moment was admire Spock.

The implication of that hadn’t escaped him, and his mouth pulled into a tender smile.

~*~

The arboretum was constructed of separated spaces connected by short tunnels forming a round perimeter, each with its own theme. There were tropical rooms, desert rooms, rooms filled with many colors or just one…Jim had particularly enjoyed the silver garden with its twisted-trunk olive tree, bed of cacti, white aloe, and sterling flowers. He’d known Spock enjoyed that space as well for more than just the view. The atmosphere there mirrored arid conditions which felt very similar to a desert world they were both well acquainted with after the Pon Farr incident, though it had been lacking in red.

They’d strolled through each of the areas making small talk as they always had, but every time a corridor which led to the center chamber appeared, Jim silently avoided it. It was by far the biggest of all the spaces and hidden from the outer ones by tinted glass; he’d decided to try leaving the best for last.

“So?” Jim asked, as their circumference stroll came closer to its end with every lazy footstep in the final room. He tilted his head back and looked out through the uneven, pointed glass ceiling. That along with the station’s transparent aluminum dome distorted the view of the stars, almost as if they’d been planet-side somewhere. “What did you think of it?”

“It is, indeed, much larger than the arboretum on the Enterprise,” Spock agreed. “And also more diverse than I had anticipated.” With his hands clasped behind his back, he paused to take a closer look at a Risian sunflower. “Perhaps this location should be concealed from Lieutenant Sulu, after all.”

Jim blinked, fluttering his lashes once more, and licked his lips. “Why?”

Spock lifted his chin and gazed back to Jim. “If he has the opportunity to explore this space, I would fully expect to receive a strongly-worded request about dedicating the entirety of deck eighteen to botany.”

Jim exhaled through his nose with a soft laugh. “You know, you may be right about that...”

“Need I remind you that the Lieutenant has already attempted to convert at least two essential cargo bays,” Spock said and let his eyes wander over this last room one more time as they moved to its exit. “I imagine he would be quite envious.”

“I wouldn’t debate that assumption for even a moment.” Just before they approached the hallway leading to the main entrance, Jim stopped. “Hey, Spock. Out of curiosity, haven’t you noticed there were corridors leading to the center of this place?”

“Indeed. I believed them to be off-limits to general visitors. Is this not the case?”

“They’re not,” Jim affirmed. “Any chance you’d be interested in seeing what’s there before we go?”

Spock’s lips parted as if he might say something, but no sound escaped him.

“No?” Jim asked, stepping to the side and moving out of the way for other approaching tourists to easily pass by. He assumed a casual stance and cocked his head. “Has coming here been bothersome for you? I’m sorry if it was.”

Spock’s shoulders pushed back. “I am incapable of being bothered, Jim.” He paused. “And I have appreciated this time with you.”

Jim tilted his face toward the opening leading to the inner section. A smirk pulled at his cheeks. “All right. Let’s go, then. We just might be surprised by what we see.”

The corridor walls leading inward were lined with black fabric, the only light supplied by strips of soft green along the ceiling and floor.

“I will admit that I am often perplexed by the illogic of human nature,” Spock mused, his hands once again folded behind him. “However—”

“Hey, now. Watch who you’re calling illogical,” Jim said. “You’re half-human, you know...”

“Only where biology is concerned.” As they approached the central entrance, Spock continued, “However, I absolutely cannot understand what you find so appealing about surprise. It would be much more efficient to know what one is walking into than not.”

“Maybe you’ll find out some time.” Jim’s shoulders raised. “Who knows, maybe it’ll even be today.”

“Utilizing emotion as a guide mystifies me to no end. While cunning and enthusiasm—yours, particularly, Jim—are admirable at times, I—” The doors slid open and Spock stopped in place, leaving his thought hanging.

“…never have your words stolen by a view?” Jim quietly finished for him.

More tall trees, bushes, and winding paths…this space would have rivaled any other they’d just passed through in beauty, but the soft blotches of light floating through the air made it seem like they’d opened a storybook that came to life before their eyes. Soft as feathers, dainty glowing wings fluttered and flecked the nightscape amid phosphorescent flowers and muted accent lighting from above. The glass ceiling and walls gleamed and nothing here even seemed like it could be real.

A silver butterfly left a nearby flower, dropping a trail of sparkling blue pollen in its wake. It lit the pale navy atmosphere with a delicate metallic aura as it flitted over and landed on Spock’s shoulder.

“It’s a conservatory for lunar butterflies and moths,” Jim said, cupping his hands and lifting them in time for a green butterfly to settle between them. “Pretty, aren’t they?” When he didn’t receive a reply, he looked up to find Spock’s lips slightly parted and eyes barely widened. A rush of warmth flooded through Jim then; if he’d successfully stopped Spock mid-sentence and had him looking like that—as minor of a change it might’ve appeared to anyone else—he knew he’d done damn well.

The butterfly Jim held took its leave of him then and glided off toward the center of the room. Taking that as an invitation to do the same, Jim touched Spock’s arm to gently draw his attention. “Come on.”

With luck on Jim’s side, there were only several other visitors present—few enough to feel as though this space belonged to only the two of them. And in some way it would, preserved forever in their memories.

Their footsteps fell softly as wings of green, gold, blue, and silver drifted around them, leaving small trails of glitter-like dust collected from the vibrant flora. The residents here weren’t shy to their guests—they approached without hesitation and some even landed to hitch a ride as Jim and Spock wordlessly made their way around the garden.

Soon, water trickling down a low wall of rocks and collecting into a shallow pool joined the chorus of chirping insects, and Jim gestured them to a nearby bench. Together, they sat in silence with their arms touching, enveloped by the richness of nocturnal sight and sound.

Jim slouched just enough to be comfortable, one knee tapping against Spock’s while his other foot was extended. In his peripheral vision, he could see Spock sitting in his usual stiff and proper way, but his hands had docked on his thighs and he was staring pensively into the water. Jim momentarily considered inquiring about what was running through that brilliant Vulcan mind, but opted to maintain the silence between them.

It’d been odd to discover that simply existing in someone’s presence could be so satisfying—that just being at Spock’s side and having Spock at his own was enough. Of course, the shared conversations over chess and private exchanges after the lights dimmed were enjoyable, but at times, the quiet between them spoke louder than either of their voices could. It was then when Jim could clearly hear the things his own heart whispered. Now, its desires resounded in his ears, beating to a rhythm set by Spock’s own, and in this moment, Jim had never felt closer to another person anywhere.

“Jim.”

Spock had spoken his name in a whisper and Jim turned to him, slowly straightening his spine. He found those dark eyes still focused on the pool reflecting all the luminescence around them; perhaps he hadn’t even expected to be heard.

“There is no mission, is there?” Spock finally asked after some time, and then lifted his face so they could see each other.

The ends of Jim’s lips upturned tenderly. It was time to reveal the truth. His eyes dropped to Spock’s lap, his lashes falling half-closed while he shook his head. “No,” Jim breathed and then reached out, allowing his left hand to hover above Spock’s. No protest was given so he touched, pressing his warm palm to it, and then curled his fingertips inward. “No, there isn’t.”

Swallowing, Spock gazed down thoughtfully at Jim’s hand covering the back of his own. “Then…why?”

Jim closed his eyes and tilted his head forward. When he lifted his chin again, he wore his kindest smile. “You said you were never on a date. Well…” He quickly looked around them to emphasize the location. “Here we are.”

Spock’s chest deflated with an exhale and he shook his head. “Jim, this was—”

“Unnecessary?”

The response came in a single slight bow.

“Oh, I don’t agree with that at all, Spock,” Jim replied and paused, his tongue slipping out to wet his lips. “Sometimes…” He hummed and let his eyes wander off to the water. How could he possibly say this without sounding too dramatic and yet not losing the meaning behind his words?

Life was a conundrum. Jim had never struggled with expression. Since the earliest days he could remember, his best friends had been books, and his long-standing hobby was writing short stories. He could deliver moving speeches to the crew, inspire warring races to consider peace, let his silver tongue do its magic when he needed information…

But with Spock, his finesse with language vanished completely. They’d each conveyed their regard for the other through action and to suddenly articulate it with speech was incredibly foreign. It just felt wrong. Jim recalled their recent meditation session, remembered what it had taken to not reach over those flickering lights…

“Sometimes, words can’t express everything,” he continued, realizing he couldn’t escape unscathed from this situation. He’d have to find a way out. Nodding several times, he continued to stare at the water. “And in that case…When that happens, when words fail you…”

The feeling of Spock’s hand turning over beneath his own drew Jim’s attention and he watched as long Vulcan fingers slipped between his human ones. They flexed inward, holding tightly.

And then their eyes met. Luminous wings drifted through the air over singing crickets, and compared to the pounding in Jim’s chest, reality appeared to slow.

“You,” Jim whispered. He shook his head and swallowed. “You know what I’m saying, don’t you?”

Spock merely glanced down to their hands, as if he were silently asking the same question.

Twenty-seven years ago, Jim had navigated his way through an expansive field of wheat by the stars. The golden stalks had bowed and rustled from a gentle breeze as he pushed forward, letting the lights guide him home. And they had. And that’s when he’d learned to trust them. And somewhere out there, concealed in those uncountable points pinpricking the dark sky, was a Vulcan boy using a similar map.

Their souls had been bound by the red ribbon of fate and when the voice of the stars had beckoned them, both answered that call. Each embarked on a separate journey that was destined to one day intersect, and that day had come when Jim first materialized on the Enterprise transporter pad to find Spock waiting for him.

They’d been fated to meet, and every choice, every decision, every second that passed had led to this very moment as Jim pressed his fingertips beneath Spock’s chin and carefully leaned in. Spock’s mouth barely opened as the space between them closed at a painfully slow pace.

 

 

This gorgeous art is by the amazing robotalittlebit

Do you know how much you’re loved?

Jim’s hand lifted, trailing along Spock’s jaw with his thumb caressing across a verdant cheek as he cupped the side of his head.

How unique, how special?

He stared with intensity into eyes which regarded him with the same fervor, and nothing else in the entire universe mattered more than this point in time. Jim was close enough to breathe Spock’s breath, close enough to surrender himself completely.

Do you know that you’re the one?

This kiss filled with promises was unstoppable—had been prewritten so long ago in celestial ink that the closer their lips became, the wider the gates of eternity opened. There was no going back and it was perfect and all Jim had ever dreamed of.

…And then a blue butterfly landed in Spock’s hair. It flitted its wings and tickled his ear, and they both pulled back slightly. Jim blinked as Spock minutely moved his face to that side. Their eyes found each other again and they stared in a mixture of disbelief and awkwardness. Silent questions were asked, until a laugh erupted from deep within Jim’s chest and Spock’s mouth barely twitched upward at the corners.

It was perfect—as unpredictable and mercurial as life itself. If this moment was the metaphor for the life they’d share together, Jim would have it no other way.

So, he unraveled their clasped hands, gently brushed the butterfly away, and cupped Spock’s other cheek. Chuckling, Jim let his lashes fall to conceal the glassiness in his eyes. He leaned in and pressed his forehead against Spock’s.

And after he took a deep breath, Jim finally, finally, pressed their lips together and offered everything he was.

You’re the only one for me.

~*~

Jim had packed a bag with both of their belongings for the week, without even knowing if Spock would agree to stay with him for the entirety of last evening.

Holographic sunlight spilled into the room from large unshrouded windows, bleeding a golden line across fine furniture and over clothing scattered about the soft carpeted floor, until it reached the bed. It crept over the fluffy white blankets, whispered across a tan human arm, and then kissed Jim’s face.

His eyes squeezed together and he drew a deep breath through his nose before his lashes slowly parted. Jim blinked, and then a smile spread across his features when warmth flooded through him. He nuzzled the soft black hair that had served dutifully as his pillow.

“Good morning,” Spock’s voice quietly said from above.

Jim lifted his head off of Spock’s chest as he felt a hand stroke up his back and he leaned up to bump their noses together. Their lips touched once and then again, and Jim’s muscles had finally had enough of him lying on his left side.

With a blissful groan, he flopped on his back and stretched out, pushing his chest far out and then relaxing back against the comfortable mattress. Against the plushy pillow, Jim’s head moved to the side and he looked at Spock.

“Sleep well?” he asked lazily, his voice husky from disuse.

Spock’s lips pulled in and he barely shook his head. “No…” he replied, leaving his answer hanging.

Jim’s brows lifted amusedly. “Well, neither did I, then.” He stretched again, this time wrestling his arm beneath Spock and hauling him close. “For your information, Mister, most first dates don’t exactly end this way.”

“I should hope not, Jim.”

“You know, since we’re on the subject…” Jim moved his neck around against the pillow with his eyes closed. “A long time ago on Earth, people often used diamonds.”

“Diamonds?”

“Yep!” Jim said on the cusp of a yawn. “Men bought expensive rings so they could toss around their egos. And women…” He lifted his hand in the air. “They wore these…big rocks on their fingers to show off.”

“An engagement ring,” Spock supplied after a moment of thought.

“I mean, I can understand the appeal,” Jim said. “It wasn’t always about a social display for everyone. Some people loved wearing it because it helped them always feel connected to the one they loved.” He nosed Spock’s hair and lowered his voice. “You gave me something so much more than that.”

“It is in its infancy,” Spock reminded him. “You must learn proper shielding techniques.”

“So I don’t send you questionable images when you’re bending over the scanner on the bridge?” Jim laughed.

“That was not what I had intended to say, but yes, Jim.” He felt a dark brow raise. “For that reason, too.”

Jim’s hand covered the Vulcan one resting upon his chest and he stroked their fingers together. “Why can’t I feel it now, though?”

“I am shielding.”

Stopped his caress of their digits, Jim lifted his head. With Spock’s against his shoulder, he couldn’t see his face, but he tried anyway. “Why?”

Getting the hint from Jim’s movements, Spock pushed himself up so they could look at each other. “I do not wish to burden you with any transference from my thoughts. Until you learn to shut them out, I will maintain a barrier.”

“Hey,” Jim said, also shifting so that he was on his side and supported by his arm. “First of all, you’re never a burden and I never want you shut out. Maybe I can see the need for control like that when we’re on duty while I’m learning, but now, Spock?”

Spock’s eyes landed on Jim’s chest for a moment and then trailed upward again. A warmth kindled within Jim’s mind, and then gentle waves of affection began to wash over him. He exhaled, placed a hand in Spock’s hair, and drew him close to let his lips press to his forehead.

Beneath the covers, they silently lay entwined for a long while, each basking in their newly-formed betrothal bond. It felt so natural, so comfortable—even more comfortable than the big, luxurious bed neither had the intention of leaving any time soon.

“I wonder what Bones is going to say,” Jim suddenly said.

“The doctor’s response to this news is unpredictable. I do not know what to expect.”

“Spock,” Jim began, taking a moment to consider if what he was about to ask was pushing too far. They’d agreed to keep their engagement a secret until the mission ended, and he didn’t want to make it seem like he was intent on telling the whole crew. “…when we get back to the ship, can I tell him? He wouldn’t say a word to anyone.”

“On Earth, it is customary to inform one’s closest friends of their intent to marry, is it not?” Spock asked.

Jim smiled. “It is.” He wrapped his arms tightly around Spock’s chest and heaved him on top of himself with a grunt. “But shore leave is far from over, Mister,” he said louder, pushing their noses together once more. “And I intend to take you on another date.”

“Will it require leaving this bed?”

“Hm...” Jim laughed and kissed him. “Consider it a surprise.”

~*~

The Enterprise corridors seemed a little cheerier than usual. Before the abolishment of capitalism on Earth, returning to work after a vacation was a dreadful experience—but when one was coming back to a life they were passionate about, the feeling was very different.

Smiling faces met Jim as he strolled down the hall and when he turned the corner, he found Uhura and Chapel walking side-by-side. Chapel held a PADD in her hands and was in the midst of going on about something to do with Tellarite biology when they both looked up.

“Oh, hello, Captain,” she bade.

“Nurse,” Jim nodded. “Lieutenant.” He placed his hands on his hips and exhaled a satisfied breath before dropping them again. “I trust your leave went well?”

“It was wonderful, Sir,” Uhura replied, covertly letting her left eye fall in a small wink. “And yours?”

Jim’s lips pulled out to his cheeks. “You know,” he started. “It was possibly the best vacation I’ve ever taken.”

“Oh?” Chapel asked. “May I ask why?”

“Let’s just say…” Jim began slowly with a squint. “…it had something to do with butterflies.”

Uhura chuckled. “So you saw the arboretum! But Captain, I should warn you…” Her voice dropped to a whisper and her eyes widened a little. “So did Lieutenant Sulu.”

With his mouth open for a moment, Jim simply nodded and said, “Remind me…to reschedule any shift I have with him for the next month.”

With a giggle, Uhura and Chapel glanced at each other.

“Well, I should be on my way. Our good doctor is expecting me.”

“Yes, I believe so, Captain,” Chapel replied. “He should still be in his office.”

“Thanks! I’ll see you two later.” Jim and Uhura exchanged one last knowing glance before he set off toward sickbay.

The doors slid apart and he strolled over to the side office. McCoy was sitting at his desk, perusing something on a PADD when he looked up. “Well, as I live and breathe!”

“Hey, Bones,” Jim said, marching right up to the selection of alcohol. “How was your leave?”

“Now wait just a damn minute!” McCoy exclaimed, holding his arm out from where he sat and stopping Jim in place. “I made good on my promise, Jim.” His head dropped in a firm nod. “Every glass was in your honor. And let’s just say…there was a lot of honoring going on.”

“You’re telling me you don’t want a glass of brandy?” Jim asked.

“Have you ever spent shore leave with Scotty, Jim?”

Jim’s lips lowered at the corners and he shrugged, shaking his head.

“If you value your liver function, don’t.”

“I don’t know, Bones,” Jim breathed, turning back to the ledge and taking out two glasses. “I think you’re going to want one of these after what I tell you. But you need to promise me that you’ll keep it between us for now.”

“I’m a doctor, not a gossip,” McCoy retorted and then his tone became serious. “Why? What’s goin’ on?”

Two ice cubes were dropped in each glass, followed by the spilling of amber liquor. “Ah, well.” Jim looked over his shoulder and commanded, “Computer, engage privacy lock. …I’m not exactly sure how to say this properly, Bones, but…”

“My God, Jim!” McCoy exclaimed as Jim placed the glasses on the desk. His hand shot out to grab one and he swallowed it in a large gulp, setting it down after with a loud clang. With his elbows on the surface, McCoy put his head in his hands and groaned, “If you say what I think you’re about to…”

Jim slowly lowered to the chair on the other side. “What…exactly…do you think I’m about to say?”

McCoy’s face snapped back and he slammed his palm down. “No,” he insisted and pointed in Jim’s direction. “You cannot make me sign up for another mission!” Jim’s brows shot up in surprise. “What, you think I don’t see you goin’ around and lobbying for your next five years? I got eyes, you know!”

The worry across Jim’s face had frozen until he huffed and his lips twitched. “Bones…” His eyes flicked back and forth. “That…wasn’t what I was going to say.”

McCoy’s voice dropped. “Oh. It’s not about keeping me in this damn void?”

Jim shook his head.

The tension evaporated from McCoy immediately and he lifted his hand. “Well, sorry about that. Go on, then.”

“I’m getting married.”

“Give me that.”

“Give you wh—” Jim’s question was interrupted by McCoy reaching across the desk, taking the second glass of brandy, and downing it. A loud sigh left his lips and with closed eyes, he dropped his head back against his chair.

“I’m—” Jim began.

“Congratulations,” McCoy drawled in an anticlimactic manner, turning his face to the side. His lashes fluttered opened. “It’s about damn time.”

Jim’s brows pulled together and he shook his head again.

“Gotta admit though, Jim. With the way things go around here sometimes, I didn’t know if I’d ever live to hear you say that.”

“Wait,” Jim said. “Don’t you even care to who?”

McCoy raised his hands, the empty glass still in one. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and moved his face to the side. “Who else?! Let me tell you something, Jim.” He leaned in. “It’s been four years of seeing how you look at that green-blooded computer, and four years seeing the way he looks back at you. I was startin’ to worry you’d never get it together.”

Jim sat perfectly still, petrified to the core. “It’s that obvious?” he finally muttered beneath his breath.

“No…” McCoy tried his hand at comfort. …And promptly failed. “Not unless you’re someone with eyes or ears or, God forbid, telepathy.” He stood and took both glasses back to his shelf. Pouring fresh shots, he set one in front of Jim and placed a hand on his shoulder. “In all honesty, I’m happy for you. And whenever you’re ready to publicly announce it, I know your whole crew will be too.”

Clink! Their glasses touched and this time, Jim was the one tossing his head back.

~*~

Jim wandered down the corridor, meeting the same smiles as earlier, but now he wondered how much each person he met suspected. Ensign Arte? Lieutenant Okafor? Lieutenant Riley? It’d been a little polarizing to hear McCoy claim he’d seen heart eyes when Jim looked in Spock’s general direction, and though he didn’t blush, his cheeks felt red hot.

The door to his quarters swished open, and Jim looked around. Home sweet home.

He went to the travel bag he’d set on the bed earlier, processing everything as he unpacked. Jim supposed this information wouldn’t affect much at all in the grand scheme of things. If Spock and he began to act differently, it might fire off a red alert that something had changed, and then invite even further speculation…

But if the crew already was suspecting—for who even knew how long—it seemed that it hadn’t had any effect on loyalty or their favorable opinion of Jim and Spock as a command team. Along with how Sarek would take the news, preserving ship morale and trust was their largest concern.

Jim deposited their used clothing into the laundry chute and then reached in for the last item. As he fumbled with it, he had to admit that a lot of pressure would dissolve if everyone really did support their relationship; he wasn’t ready to find out just yet, though.

Time would tell when it was ready, as it always had.

Arriving at his desk, Jim placed the small circular disc he’d been holding down and swiped his pointer finger across the sensor. Soft light shot out from the middle and projected the moving holoimage of a luminescent blue butterfly flitting about.

He smiled softly, and looked up when the entrance swished open.

Spock lowered his face as he stepped into the room and once the door shut behind him, he slowly approached. Silently, he reached for Jim and drew him close, bringing a hand up and stroking through blond hair.

“Chess?” Jim asked.

“Yes,” Spock replied.

Jim’s fingertips touched Spock’s cheek and gently pressed upon it, coaxing them closer and closer until their lips met and he said how much he loved him.

And though Jim told him without words, Spock understood.

“No,” Spock suddenly said and Jim’s eyes opened. A dark brow raised. “You shall not.”

A smile bloomed across Jim’s face. He’d apparently told Spock that he’d win every chess match tonight, too.