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A Logical Match

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“… that wiped out 42% of the women in the northern regions, the practice of sa-kali'farr (roughly translated, male marriage) was successfully adopted to preserve Vulcan culture until the subsequent generation’s population maintained a gender balance that was sustainable and …”

“… current census data conclude that the 2:1 ratio of males to females on the colony of New Vulcan …”

“... estimate a genetic and cultural crisis within the next 5 generations.”

“... transport for all citizens of New Vulcan to the colony for Mnah (courting rituals) aboard Federation vessels …”

Jim Kirk’s eyes scanned over the PADD, and he felt a migraine coming on. He wondered how the ‘Fleet issued debriefing/history lesson was going to impact his next orders. Never mind that they were about to embark on a five-year exploratory mission. Emphasis on explore. The Enterprise was the bright and shining face that Starfleet preferred to show to the survivors on New Vulcan. If Jim bothered to look, he was sure the recent upswing and spikes in Vulcan enlistment into Starfleet could be correlated with the visits the Enterprise made to the colony. He didn’t have to be an admiral to figure out what the next message from command was going to be.

His next thought (although he was trying hard not to think it) was how this sa-kali'farr practice was going to affect his Vulcan commander. Spock was a private person, and Jim tried to respect that. He suspected Spock would do him the dubious favor of keeping this from him as long as possible.

Uhura, however, he should have counted on. Three minutes after reading the debriefing, his communications officer burst into the room, terrifying and stunning.

“Lieutenant, please enter,” Jim said ironically, watching the ominous storm was that was Uhura descend upon his desk.

“Did you read it?” she asked darkly. “Do you understand what this means?”

Kirk opened his mouth to reply, but she continued on her rant before he could voice an affirmative answer. “Every unbonded Vulcan male not on the colony, expected to pair up like Noah’s Ark, despite preference or past or career. The Federation is supporting every measure to accommodate this! Turning Starbases into singles bars for Vulcans! It goes against the Federation Charter, five different Vulcan tenets for self-actualization, and—“

Uhura’s eyes narrowed at Jim’s poorly disguised grin. Single bars for Vulcans? That sounded hilarious. “Permission to speak freely captain.”

“Retroactively granted, Lieutenant,” he said drolly, trying to ruffle Uhura, and failing.

“We can’t let Spock do this.”

“I am not in a position to interfere with Spock’s personal life, Lieutenant. And if memory serves me right, as of four months ago, neither are you.”

It was impossible to get under Uhura’s skin, even about this. The abrupt ending of Spock and Nyota’s personal relationship was a constant source of speculation among the crew. As it was, finding out a month ago that his Communication Officer and First Officer ended their romantic relationship and had decided to “keep private matters private” even from their captain, was either annoying or admirable. They were perfectly professional in every way, still socialized outside of work in a way that seemed no different when they were the Enterprise’s cutest couple. Jim, who couldn’t or wouldn’t hold a partner long enough to know their middle name, wasn’t sure how that feat was accomplished.

“Uhura, I can promise you, if Spock wants my help in this matter, he has it.”

Her face changed slightly, softening just a tiny bit. “Of course, captain.” And she turned around, leaving Jim to wonder if he somehow signed himself up for something.

-------

As if by the will of Uhura, at 1900 hours, as Jim was about contemplating heading out for an evening workout with Sulu, Spock appeared at his door.

“Captain, if I may speak with you?”

It sounded like a question, but most certainly wasn’t. Jim took a moment to look over his commanding officer before gesturing him inside his quarters. Spock somehow looked more rigid, more formal, and tense, if the word could be applied to Vulcans.

“Come in Mr. Spock. To what do I owe this surprise?” Jim said in a lazy tone that disguised the confusion he felt.

Despite the fact that they shared an adjoining bathroom, dined together several times a week, and had most shifts on the bridge together, Jim could not think of a single time that Spock had entered his quarters. Spock took three long steps into the room, eyes darting from the desk, to a shelf, and settled on a wall hanging that Jim’s brother’s wife sent him when he became captain. Bones referred to the wall hanging as “three dead cats floating in an asteroid belt,” but Jim found the work interesting, if a little violent.

“You have a Denobulan fertility blessing in your quarters,” Spock said, apropos of nothing, and then pursed his lips together, as if trying to stop other surprising words from jumping out. The Vulcan was not in the habit of sticking his foot in his mouth. There probably wasn’t a Vulcan word for that social blunder.

Jim smirked, turning to the wall hanging. “Is that what it is? I always thought it looked like a field of cows having a war.”

Spock merely stared at the Denobulan fertility blessing/bovine war as if it might have been the reason why he was in his captain’s quarters to begin with. Jim waited a few moments before he prodded, “Is there something you wanted to talk to me about, Mr. Spock?”

Spock turned, hands folded neatly at the small of his back, his posture even more rigid (if that was possible) than usual and fixed Jim with a steady look. "You are aware of the reinstatement of the ancient Vulcan practice of sa-kali'farr, and that I am expected to take part."

Again with the non-questions. "Yes, I read the debriefing.  I want you to know that I will help you in whatever way I can, Spock."

That seemed to be the right thing to say.  Spock's shoulders seemed to loosen just a little.

“James Tiberius Kirk, I search for a bondmate. I ask you to represent the Great House of Sarek as my pe'le'ut'la, my chaperone and mediator. Your acceptance would honor my house.”

As far as formal speeches go, Vulcans were blessedly brief. Before Spock could launch into a history lesson or list the logical merits of being a pe’le-whatsit, Jim gestured to a chair. “Would you have a seat, and explain exactly what it is you are asking for, in more detail?”

Spock took a seat at the efficient glass table for two that served as Jim’s dining table when he took the rare dinner in his quarters. Jim walked to the replicator and came back with two cups of the tea he noticed Spock preferred.

Spock raised an eyebrow as Jim took a long sip from his cup.  “It’s too late for coffee, too weird for alcohol,” he said defensively.

“Captain,” Spock started, and then quickly amended, “Jim, with the reinstatement of sa-kali'farr, I find myself in a most unanticipated position. I find it logical to find someone aboard the Enterprise to stand as a mediator, to assist in the rituals of finding an appropriate bondmate.”

“I am honored you thought of me,” Jim said.

“You are my friend,” Spock said simply. Jim beamed, gratified to hear it from him when there was no imminent danger, for once. “As bonding between two adult males is unusual in Vulcan culture, and necessitates a level of familiarity usually unnecessary during a traditional bond. The pe'le'ut'la attends the initial rituals, and stands to testify that those rituals were upheld. Utmost care and adherence to the rituals protect all that are involved.“

“You mean there are no gay Vulcans?” For that matter, did Spock like men? In Jim’s experience, every race had a diverse expression of sexuality. He was known to sample that diversity from time to time.

“A bondmate of the same gender would be illogical in most circumstances. Vulcans choose bondmates for their children when they are eight Standard years old, in order to provide emotional stability and create a family unit when they are sexually mature.”

Of course Vulcans would see sexual orientation as illogical.  “Did you have an arranged marriage?”

Spock shifted his gaze away from Jim, the only outward sign of his discomfort. “The daughter of a well-connected family was selected as my bondmate.  T’Pring and I were found incompatible shortly after the bonding.  My parents declined to set up another match after the incident. I have been fam’telsu, unbonded, since then.”

“Oh.” That sounded awful. Jim was struck by the odd thought that Spock and Bones may have more in common than they ever thought. He pictured them commiserating over drinks about their ex wives, and then shook off that thought before it got more ridiculous. “So I need to watch these rituals, make sure no suitor gets inappropriate with your person and that all participants stay within the well maintained and documented circle of Vulcan etiquette, thus ensuring the honor of your house is intact?”

It was a credit to Spock’s ongoing exposure to Terran culture that he simply nodded. “I do not anticipate that this will take up much of your time. My father, as my house patriarch, will be taking care of any requests. There are many cultural reasons why I would be considered a poor choice for a bondmate under sa-kali'farr.”

“What? Why?” That rankled. Never mind that Jim found this whole Vulcan practice ridiculous from his Human perspective, certainly after all that had happened with the Narada and Spock’s impressive service record, Spock would be considered quite a catch by Vulcan standards.

“My Human ancestry has been a source of contention among most Vulcans,” Spock admitted. Jim could infer what happened with T’Pring. “My career with Starfleet may be another obstacle. Most of my potential bondmates had established careers off Vulcan and have no plans to resettle on the colony. It will be difficult to initiate contact with them while they visit the colony."

"Lucky for you, we are not headed to deep space for another year," Jim said, trying to lighten the mood. "And the flagship of Starfleet has been rechristened the Vulcan Love Boat."
"Captain?"

Explanation of Twentieth century pop culture references, a gap in Spock’s ongoing Terran cultural exposure would have to wait for later. "We have our orders do dock at Epsilon 3 and pick up supplies for our new mission to the Vulcan colony.  Convenient, isn't it?"

"Quite convenient," Spock agreed.

“Spock, I have to ask, do you really want to go through with this? You don’t owe them anything.” And they owe you everything. Jim left that unsaid, as he suspected Spock’s heroic actions didn’t go far with the logical-yet-xenophobic race.

“I admit that I have no interest in securing a bondmate at this time,” Spock said reluctantly. “However, to ignore the opportunity to find a bondmate through sa-kali'farr would be illogical. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the Terran saying goes. I can assure you that my duties aboard the ship take priority, and I will endeavor to limit the interruptions of your time."

"Relax, Spock, it's not every day I get front row seats to ancient Vulcan rituals and customs,” Jim said, and then drained his tea cup. “Now, go make your formal declaration of eligible bachelor status, and I will see if I can replicate a robe in the appropriate shade of burgundy for the occasion."

Spock's only outward sign of surprise of Jim's knowledge was that all-expressive eyebrow.

"Really, you didn't think I'd read up on this? Fascinating stuff, Vulcan rituals.” Perhaps a certain Communications Officer had sent a historical document to his PADD, probably anticipating Spock’s request.

"You honor me by your acceptance," Spock said, rising from his seat and raising his hand in a Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper."

"The honor is mine, Spock, son of Sarek.” Not the precise Vulcan phraseology for accepting a formal request, but it conveyed a sense of gravity. Jim attempted to return the gesture, and with a little effort, it was passable. "Peace and long life."

---------

Two days later, the Enterprise was docked at Epsilon 3 for repairs and to pick up cargo for the colony on New Vulcan. Two thirds of the crew took advantage of shore leave, but Jim elected to catch up on paperwork, taking advantage of the deserted rec room with the cushy sofas.

It was with a little surprise that he found a message from Ambassador Sarek, Spock’s father.

Captain James T. Kirk,

The arrival of the Enterprise is anticipated to arrive in four Standard days. Your presence as pe'le'ut'la and the fam’telsu Spock are requested for three Mnah rituals. Spocks says your acceptance is a great honor to our house. I trust you will find the attached resource a useful to the ancient Vulcan rituals. 
Live Long and Prosper. Ambassador Sarek

Although it was phrased in that same efficient manner as Spock’s request, Jim heard loud and clear that Sarek was less than pleased that Jim was going to be stumbling beside Spock in a Vulcan marriage ritual. Vulcans, but Sarek was an ambassador. He knew how to get his point across effectively and politely. Jim didn’t want to admit it, but that bothered him. He didn’t agree with the edict, but he was Spock’s friend, and he would do anything to make his friend happy, or the Vulcan equivalent of happiness. While Jim was pondering that particular mystery, Spock entered deserted rec room, ready to go over the repair report.

“Spock,” Jim said, waving his PADD in the air. “You’ve got suitors banging on your door already.”

“If any fam'telsu was aggressive in his—”

“It’s an expression, Spock. It sounds like he has a full day planned for us when we arrive at New Vulcan, three potential bondmates lined up. Your father was kind enough to send me homework before we arrive. I think he’s worried sick that I will disgrace your great house and topple the pillars of Vulcan tradition,” Jim said with an ironic smirk.

“I doubt my father’s health has changed much since his own message to me today. I, too, received the sa-kali'farr protocols.” Jim felt a little better about that. How many Vulcans received education about this long-dead ritual? Spock moved his attention to his own PADD, and continued in a careful voice, “I have a history of ignoring traditional Vulcan social mores. Perhaps it was an attempt to aid you in keeping me in line?”

Jim stared slack-jawed at Spock, who glanced up, his eyes crinkling a little in the corners, and back down to his PADD.

“Commander, did you just use a Human idiom?” Jim said, slightly awed.

Spock raised an eyebrow, eyes not moving from his PADD. “My apologies, Captain. It will not happen again.”

Jim closed his mouth, amused and surprised at the hidden depths of his half-Vulcan friend. Spock, the rebel. Jim knew a thing or two about that.

He had a sudden flashback to his first and only prom the year he managed to stay in high school until spring. Jim didn’t want to go and didn’t like or know his classmates, but his Mom insisted it was a rite of passage that he couldn’t miss. Jim couldn’t remember his date’s name; he thought it was a blonde girl in his math class. What he did remember was that on the outside, he was cool, full of teenage swagger and confidence.  Deep down, he ached, watching the classmates he never got to know, partnered up, dancing, and laughing. He didn’t know what he was doing with these happy strangers. So he dragged his date out of the dance thirty minutes later for a roll in the hay, left her there to get drunk alone, and found a way to get suspended (for the fifth time) a week later.

Jim would be damned before he’d let Spock experience that.

Chapter Text

Jim made it his mission to become the most honorable and well-versed mediator of ancient Vulcan male marriage rituals that ever lived, in less than four days.  He wasn’t the youngest Starfleet captain in the known multiverse for nothing, and protocol and etiquette was just another type of game or code to master.  He brushed up on his Vulcan (including High Vulcan).  He read both Uhura’s historical documents and the sa-kali’farr protocols from Sarek twice.  Despite Jim’s wholehearted attempt to fast track his way to Vulcan etiquette master, Spock didn’t seem very eager to jump in and help.  In fact, Spock seemed content function as if nothing of interest was just days away.

“So,” Jim started, after a lull in conversation over dinner in the mess hall.  “Where will we have your first three Mnah?”

“A neutral location within the newly established Vulcan Cultural Academy,” Spock said, after swallowing his bite of whatever it was he replicated.

“Do you know who will be there?"

Spock held another fork full of— what was that? Purple vegetarian meatloaf? — in mid air.  “It is considered inappropriate for fam’telsu to have knowledge before a first meeting.”  Spock popped the stuff in his mouth and chewed methodically.

Jim glowered, switching tactics.  “There can only be so many unbonded male Vulcans, surely you might know a few?” Jim wheedled, trying a smile that sometimes worked when pumping diplomatic aides for information.  “Maybe someone from your past you’d like to see again, see if sparks fly?”

Spock continued chewing, his gaze unreadable.  Jim knew this game with Spock, and would happily play it through dessert.  The old Vulcan stare-down.  Almost as good as competitive eyebrow lifting, Spock would gaze blankly until Jim would fold and babble about some other topic.  But not this time, Jim had a duty and he would see it through.

Spock swallowed (finally) and Jim started again, “Is there anyone you expect to see?”

Spock cut another symmetrical bite of Purple Vegetarian Meatloaf and caught Jim’s annoyed look.  He finally glanced away, ending the Vulcan stare-down (point to Jim!) and admitted, “There is a colleague of my father’s that is among the fam’telsu.”

Jim perked up at that, leaning forward and face eager.  Finally, Spock had boy gossip.  “Another ambassador?”

Spock nodded.  “My father holds Sunrit in high regard, as he mentored my father when he first took his position as Ambassador.”

“His mentor?” Jim asked, visibly horrified.  “But that would make him—”

“I would remind you that Vulcan life expectancy is over 180 years old,” Spock interjected in a bland but firm tone that usually meant I am trying to be patient with your Human worldviews.  “Age gaps between bondmates are to be expected in this situation.  My father would see the logical benefits for my career if I was bonded with Sunrit.”

Jim snapped his mouth shut for a moment, before voicing his next question.  “What do you think of Sunrit?”

“Preconceived expectations of unfamiliar persons do not aid one in logical decisions, which is why fam’teslu are not privy to personal details before the Mnah ritual,” Spock said authoritatively, and shoved his previously abandoned bite of Purple Vegetarian Meatloaf and began his methodical chewing again.

The discussion was officially closed.

------

Jim spent his last three days ambushing Spock with whenever he got the chance.

“I read that your family name must be displayed somewhere," Jim started, while reviewing Scotty's latest engineering proposal.  "I can't believe this never came up.  What is your family name?”

“You could not pronounce it,” Spock said, and without missing a beat, went on.  “The warp core may have to move two full meters to accommodate this next upgrade.  I would recommend...”

----

"I don't think I've ever seen tea served the traditional Vulcan way.  Do you think I could stop by and practice with you?” Jim asked casually, as they made their way to the bridge.  Uhura was a few steps behind the pair, trying not to look interested in their conversation.

“I believe there are instructions and vids in the database, available for those interested in the subject,” Spock said, and then added in a softer tone, “I am at a sensitive point in my research that I wish to conclude before we arrive at New Vulcan.”

“Right,” Jim said brightly, plastering on a smile.  They walked onto the bridge, Jim took his seat, but not before Uhura caught his eye and gave him a sympathetic smile.  She probably knew what the hell was going on better than he did.

----

“I read that the color of my sash on the ceremony robes are dictated by the color associated with the token of your house,” Jim said casually in the turbo lift.  Spock didn’t reply.  “What color is that?”

“Beige.” Spock said, walked out of the lift without waiting for another question.  Jim made a face.  Of course.  Beige.

----

Jim popped his head into the science lab.  Spock was holding a scanner over a dish of rock dust.  He didn't look up, so Jim took that as all the welcome he could expect.

“Do you have your gifts ready?  I mean the gifts for the other fam’telsu.  I was going to request a shuttle if they were here and needed to be carefully transported, or I could ask Chekov to see what kind of—”

“That is unnecessary, Captain, my gifts need no special accommodations.”

“What about wrapping?  There are at least fifteen different protocols related to wrapping, and I was thinking that—”

“I am not wrapping my gift,” Spock said firmly.  “I would appreciate a lack of interruptions at this stage of my work.”

Jim could take a message.  Turning on his heel, he continued down the corridor to find a friend who appreciated all his hard work.

----

“Bones!” Jim exclaimed, clapping his CMO on the back in the hallway outside the medical bay.  “Just the man I was looking for.  Have a moment?”

Bones looked suspicious, but ushered Jim into his office and closed the door, and locked it, for good measure.  “Jim,” he started warily, “what brings you willingly into my lair?”

“What?” JIm pouted, then broke out into a grin, “can’t I miss you?”

“I miss you too, sweetheart,” he said dryly.  “But a rendezvous during work?  Not your typical M.O.”

“Prepare to be amazed, Bones, I am here for a legitimate medical reason."  At that, Bones looked alarmed.  Jim thought back on the last time he willingly asked for medical attention and winced.  They promised never to speak of it, and Bones made Jim swear to never participate in any local customs that involved sticking an object smaller than his elbow into his ear or any other hole.  "I just need a list of Vulcan foods I’m allergic to.”

Bones’s eyebrows shot up.  “Jim Kirk, trying not to accidentally die,” he said amazed, reaching for a PADD to bring up the terraquad of data he gathered on Jim's allergies.  “Thought I’d never see the day.  I heard a rumor that you were enlisted to help the hobgoblin get hitched on New Vulcan."

Jim smiled sheepishly.   "Trying to, anyway.  I have had all this reading homework, and Mnah has all these tradition foods that are served, and with my luck I would ruin Spock's first date with an allergic reaction."

"Spock has a date?" Bone asked, not bothering to hide his surprise.  "Vulcans date?"

"Three actually," Jim said a little defensively.  He still stood by the fact that Spock was a good catch by any cultural standards.  "And they aren't really dates, it's this ritual that goes on for an hour, where they have to engage in five topics of conversation about Vulcan philosophy and personal habits, it's all very scripted and formal, some Vulcan concept of 'sharing of the self.'  Then after that, they exchange a gift that is representative of themselves,” Jim said enthusiastically. “That's it!  One hour to give their best impression, and then they go their separate ways forever if it doesn't work."

"Sounds like a logical date to me," Bones grumbled.

"No," Jim insisted, "this is so much more honorable and poetic.  You'd think Vulcans would come up with a logical formula to find a bondmate, but this is almost romantic."

"Spock agreed to all that?" Bones said, disbelief evident.

"Well that's the thing," Jim said, and then lowered his voice.  "I think Spock is getting cold feet.  I've been studying like crazy, trying to make sure this goes well, but he's not putting in any effort to prepare.  This is going to be a disaster, and I can’t let him just flounder around like that."

Bones leaned back in his seat, stroking his chin and examining his friend, like he was trying to figure out just the right place to hypo him.  "Jim, you need to talk to Nyota.”

----

Less than 24 hours until they reached New Vulcan, Uhura got Jim’s message and found him hiding the conference room.

“Captain, you asked to see me?”

“Yes, and right now, it’s Jim, if you don’t mind,” he said, gesturing to one of the chairs.  Uhura sat down and looked at him with that damn sympathetic smile.  Sometimes, it was like she was his big sister.  He might have enjoyed having a big sister who was as scary and smart as Uhura.

“Jim,” she said carefully, “is this about Spock?”

Jim ran a hand through his hair, and sighed.  “Why is your ex-boyfriend trying to avoid my help?  I am doing everything I can to make this Mnah successful, but he isn’t putting in the effort.  Where is the logic in attempting this without being prepared?”

“You think he isn’t?”

“Spock is always prepared for away missions, for meetings, he has plan B, C, D, and E already outlined and referenced, ready to go.  But this is different, isn’t it?” He waited for Uhura to nod.  “Right!  This is a potential bondmate, he has to put his best foot forward, and wrap his damn gifts, and be the Vulcan version of charming and— and—” Jim floundered, lost.

"'Woo' is the word you are searching for. We are talking about wooing Vulcans," Nyota’s smile disappeared.  “I can tell you from personal experience, you won’t do it with charm or gift wrap.”

“How did you do it?” Jim asked, a question he had wanted to ask since he witnessed that first lip lock on the transporter pad before they went after Nero.

Nyota narrowed her eyes.  “This stays here?”  Jim nodded immediately.  “Spock was never my instructor, officially, you know.  I pissed off a linguistics professor at the Academy, and he was asked to step in and oversee my studies the last two weeks of term.”

“Nooooo,” Jim whispered in complete disbelief.  “That was you?  You were cadet that sent Ooligah through the roof over that aural acuity assignment, weren’t you?”

Uhura glared, not denying it.  “I was not the only one who—”

“She was on a murderous rampage for days!  I heard a cadet was sent to the infirmary for a week.” Oh, this was too good, and too bad he couldn’t tell anyone.  Uhura was responsible for what was still known at the Academy as “pulling a Ooligah.”

“No one stayed overnight at the infirmary,” Uhura said stiffly. “Anyway, after that, I felt that the Academy was punishing Spock for what I did.  I spent the last two weeks of term trying to impress him, show him that I was worth his time.  And the day after I sat the exam, I asked him out to dinner.”

Jim’s eyes were round, completely captivated.  “And?”

“He declined,” Nyota smiled ironically.  “He said something about an experiment at a sensitive stage.”  Jim snorted.  Yes, that sounded like a familiar deflection.  “What I learned, after a very long month of constant rejection, was that the only way to woo a Vulcan is to appeal to their analytical nature.  Allow him the time to study all the data, and only then will you get the results you want.  You have to be patient.”

“But Spock only has an hour during the Mnah,” Jim said.  “And it sounds like Spock doesn’t believe in love at first sight.”

“Mnah is just a first impression, a sample.  All the subsequent mediating and meetings are where Vulcans will do their wooing, trust me,” she patted his hand encouragingly, and made to get up.  “If Spock really believed that strongly in first impressions, he wouldn’t have come back to serve with you after the Kobayashi Maru debacle, would he?”

Jim barked a laugh, and pointed a finger at Uhura’s retreating back.  “That was one of my finer moments, and Spock knows it.”

“Yeah, he does.”

Chapter Text

The day they arrived at New Vulcan, Spock had arrived at the transporter room before Jim walked in.  He was in the middle of a conversation with Chekov, who volunteered to operate the transporter for their trip to the surface.  Chekov was listening intently about the air density and mineral makeup of New Vulcan, like Spock’s words were manna from heaven.  The young Ensign glanced up from his conversation and stared at his Captain with thinly veiled shock.  Jim was already dressed in (just the right shade) burgundy robes over his uniform, complete with House-of-Sarek-beige sash.

Jim called out a jaunty hello to his Navigator as Spock and he took their places on the transporter pad.  “I know, Chekov.  I make this look good,” he said cheekily and he gave a spin.  Chekov turned a little pink, and rushed to his operation station.  

“Captain,” Spock acknowledged in greeting.  He was dressed in long grey robes and open toed shoes.   Jim took a quick glance at Spock’s two bags, hoping that one carried gifts for the Mnah.  Either that, or Jim was woefully underprepared with his half-empty knapsack.  They would beam down to the Vulcan Culture Academy, and spend three days as Sarek’s guests in his newly established household.

“Ready, Mr. Spock?” Jim asked cheerfully, searching for any sign of cold feet in his First Officer’s passive face.

“Yes, Captain,” Spock said.  “We are ready when you are, Ensign Chekov.”

“Aye, Commander,” Chekov chirped, a whir of motions at his station.  He paused, blushed a deeper pink, and at the last moment called out, “best wishes Keptin, Commander.”

When Jim got his bearings in the bright natural light of the two suns on New Vulcan, they were standing outside a short and unassuming structure that seemed to hang over the side of a red cliff.  Jim often wished he had been able to remember more of Vulcan besides a vivid memory of red boulders coming up to meet him as he was free falling out of the sky.  He was one of the few people alive to remember Vulcan just before its destruction, and the only description he had for the lost planet was “red.”  By that description, New Vulcan was a perfect fit. Red and brown shrubbery dotted the rocky terrain.  Single story buildings off in the distance were clustered around courtyards of what looked to be communal gardens and water harvesters.

Hot.  That was another word that Jim now remembered about Vulcan.  “Dry heat” did not cover the overbearing temperature of New Vulcan.  Jim immediately wished he hadn’t worn his uniform under the robe.  He lifted a hand to shield his eyes, and saw Spock walking towards the building, leaving Jim to hoist his knapsack over his shoulder and follow.

Spock approached a heavy-looking door with a large gong next to it.  Spock struck the gong, and the door swung open to reveal two Vulcan women.  They both raised their hands in the traditional ta’al and Jim and Spock silently reciprocated.

“Please enter and entrust with us your burdens, Captain Kirk and fam’telsu Spock,” the younger said in Standard.  She had to be no more than twenty, dark hair cut in a severe style that most Vulcans seemed to prefer.  The other woman was older, although Jim couldn’t guess at her age.  Her hair was done in elaborate braids that coiled like serpents atop her head.  They were both dressed in robes of purple and silver, with large pieces of jewelry.

“We are honored by your hospitality,” Spock said, handing the youngest one of his bags, stepping aside so that Jim could hand her his.

“Your honored father is waiting in the room that is used for catching air and sunshine,” the elder said in Vulcan, or at least that’s what Jim thought she said.  She walked down a narrow hallway, leaving Spock and Jim to trail after her.  She opened another door for them to pass through, and closed it behind them, leaving Spock and Jim alone with Ambassador Sarek.

Sarek stood at the far side of the room, which was quite breezy and bright, wearing robes that matched Jim’s.  Jim felt almost proud that he already got one part right, and they hadn’t even started.

“Spock,” he greeted solemnly, hand up in the salute.  “I am pleased by your presence.”

Spock looked vaguely embarrassed by this demonstrative phrase.  “Father,” he said and returned the ta’al.  “Captain, I believe you have met my father, Ambassador Sarek.”

Sarek turned to Jim, and nodded formally.  “Captain Kirk.  I have heard that you have made great use of the educational material I provided you.”

Jim shot a look to Spock, who refused to meet his gaze.  “Yes, Ambassador Sarek, I have.” And because he hadn’t quite gotten over the snubbing he received over the last four days, he added “I hope to be able to actually put it into practice, if your son will let me.”

Sarek’s eyes widened a little in alarm at that, but what conclusion he drew from Jim’s jibe at Spock’s expense, Jim never found out.  Another gong sounded, which Jim knew was Sarek’s signal to leave the room and meet the other family and demonstrate their honorable intentions.  The traditional was rooted in a time where there was a legitimate need to prevent Vulcan houses from eradicating their enemies in a bloody ambush during a mating ritual.

Jim grinned, imagining Sarek walking outside with a baseball bat or a shotgun, explaining very firmly to all fam'telsu that this was his only son, and that they were to treat him like a gentleman or face the consequences. Jim thought about sharing this thought that with Spock, but didn't think he'd appreciate the cultural association.

--------

Jim learned three things about Vulcan culture in his first hour that were never mentioned in any of the texts he read.  Firstly, Vulcans never eat with their hands, ever.  He wasn’t sure why, yet, but he would make it his mission to find out.  Second, not all Vulcans looks alike.  He felt a little foolish for assuming they all came from the same mold as Spock and Sarek and the other Vulcans rescued from the Katric Ark.  After all, there were genetic variations among all humanoid species; Vulcans were no different.  Thirdly, well, thirdly...

-------

A middle-aged Vulcan entered the room, apparently the house representative of Spock’s first suitor.  “Fam’telsu Smrvnigrtnk Cheruek requests to initiate the Mnah with fam’telsu S’chn T’gai Spock.”

Jim replied with the traditional response of honored acceptance, and followed the stranger out of the room. He wondered if all Vulcan family names were seemingly unpronounceable to the Human tongue.

Jim, followed by Spock, walked into the neutral meeting place that would serve as the ritual space for Mnah.  It was a simple room with stools seated around a long rectangular table.  A decent breeze came through the large unadorned windows, giving Jim some relief from the oppressive heat.  A traditional Vulcan tea service was set out, with various fruits and bread, waiting to be served.  Two more Vulcans entered single file, the one in pe’le’ut’la burgundy robes stepped aside to reveal Cheruek.

Cheruek was probably in his late forties, with blonde hair that curled around his ears gently, making him look oddly youthful.  He was a tad stout and short by Vulcan standards, with a round face and long lashes that framed dark Vulcan eyes.  He wore forest green robes with intricate designs woven into the fabric with a bright red sash, complete with silliest looking green pointed hat Jim had ever seen.

He looked like a Christmas elf.

Jim tried to cut that thought at its knees as soon as he thought it.  This was a solemn occasion.  Abort all elf thoughts.  Think about something logical and Vulcan-y.  Stop thinking about the North Pole.

A silent ta’al exchanged, and their party took their seats at the table.  Spock and Cheruek reached for the appropriate platters to serve their guests before conversation began.

Cheruek presented Jim with a platter of fruits, tongs poised to serve him.  “Not the green or the blue fruits,” Spock murmured.  Kirk shot an annoyed glanced up to the knowing face of his First Officer.  He did consult Bones, anticipating this situation, thank you very much.

“My captain has many allergies,” Spock explained, breaking the silence and making Jim wince.  He hoped that the first words spoken to a potential bondmate were not an omen.  Jim’s weak constitution was the common denominator of a great many diplomatic mishaps, and probably unlucky to even mention during mating rituals.

“My First Officer is very diligent about my health,” Jim countered, trying to turn the conversation Spock’s positive qualities.

Cheruek merely nodded, serving some red fruit that looked like a banana onto Jim’s plate.  Spock reciprocated with the tea for all seated.  A heavy silence descended once again.  Jim glanced at Spock, who shot Jim an apologetic eyebrow raise.

Once all were served, Cheruek leaned back and folded his hands over his stomach, looking steadily at Spock.  “All know Spock son of Sarek, conqueror of Nero,” he said in a plummy voice.  “I suspect I am at a disadvantage here.”

Spock looked vaguely discomfited at the recognition.  It was neither praise nor criticism, but was undeniably true, in a way.  He looked down, and then up again with a calculating look, starting carefully,  “Is an individual’s character truly known through result of action or honorable intent?”

Twenty-three minutes of questions about logic and life were posed and answered with clipped, logical Vulcan responses.  Philosophical postulates and theories of Vulcan philosophy were asked and answered quickly, and then the pair moved onto personal questions.  It was like conversational tennis, back and forth.  Cheruek was a tailor from a northern province on Vulcan; Spock was a Starfleet officer from Shi’kar.  Cheruek spent the last thirty years on Rigel V.  Spock spent some time on Earth, currently resided on the Enterprise.  Cheruek liked woodworking (Jim thought very hard about logical Vulcan thoughts), gardening, and Kal-toh.  Spock enjoyed martial arts, chess, and music.  They both shared an interest in poetry.  Things seemed to be going smoothly, Jim thought.  This just might work out.

Jim, for his part, was sitting quietly, listening attentively without any expression on his face.  He absently took the red banana between in fingers and nibbled.  It was surprisingly juicy, like watermelon.  Red juice trailed down his fingers and the side of his hand, and he reached for his napkin and tried to lick some of the juice before it went down his sleeve.

Cheruek and his mediator were staring at him with rapt attention.  Cheruek’s eyes were wide, his face turning a mottled green, his mediator’s mouth half open in horror.  Jim would have laughed if he had not caught Spock’s look of undisguised anger.  He had seen that look once before, and it ended in Jim getting his ass kicked all over the bridge.  This time it was aimed at the other Vulcans.

“Look away,” Spock hissed.  Cheruek and his companion startled, and shifted their gaze away from the Human.  Jim quickly wiped his hands and looked at Spock, who was glaring at Jim as if he just peed on the table.  “What?” he mouthed.

Spock turned away without acknowledgement, and said in an even, calm tone to the others, “My ongoing position with Starfleet necessitates accustoming one’s self to Human conduct.”

“Indeed,” Cheruek said, peering curiously back at Jim, his face still faintly green.  Jim folded his hands in his lap, resolved not to move for the duration of the meeting.  He didn’t know what he did, but he wasn’t going to get choked by Spock for it.

“Resigning your commission with Starfleet would appear to be the logical choice, after the destruction of our world,” Cheruek said, breaking the awkward pause.  “I hear we have need of our youth to assist in restoration here.”

“I had considered it,” Spock acknowledged.  “However, after taking my family’s counsel, I was shown that I could best serve New Vulcan by remaining in Starfleet.”

“I believe the raising of children,” Cheruek said imperiously, “is a logical and honorable duty for every Vulcan at this time.  I was one of fourteen children.  I have two surviving brothers who have relocated here on the colony with new bondmates and have started new families.  I, too, seek a bondmate that can provide a suitable environment for the rearing of offspring.”

“My intention is to remain on the Enterprise for the duration of my commission.  It is not a suitable environment for raising children,” Spock said stiffly.

“Indeed not,” Cheruek said, dabbing the corners of his lips with his napkin.  “Do you intend to settle on New Vulcan when you retire your commission?”

“If my bondmate also desired it, yes,” Spock said.  “I, too, wish pass on our Vulcan heritage to a new generation.”

“And your Human genetics?” Cheruek questioned suspiciously.

The only outward sign of Spock’s annoyance was the infinitesimal rise in his left eyebrow.  Jim wondered if Cheruek could pick up on that.  “Clarify.”

“Would you expect your offspring to be of your genetics, or would you consent to having a fully Vulcan surrogate?  And adhere to Vulcan tradition, despite your Human heritage?”

“My hybrid status does not preclude me from fathering healthy children,” Spock said quietly.  “I would raise my children in the Vulcan tradition, but when the colony is so dependent on Federation assistance, multicultural education and exposure is only logical.”

“Being so immersed in Human culture, you are uncomfortable of your Vulcan heritage,” Cheruek said.  Spock started to protest, but Cheruek held a hand to stop him.  “You bring a Human to the Mnah, it is a logical deduction.”

“I brought my superior officer who has demonstrated exceptional courage to save our people,” Spock said, his shoulders straightening in his chair.  “Captain Kirk’s efforts to disable the Narada’s drill resulted in the evacuation of thousands of Vulcans.  Captain Kirk was the most logical choice to honor my Vulcan heritage.”

“With no disrespect to Captain Kirk, he is not Vulcan.  Furthermore, I find that your otherworldly ideas would pose a great risk to the restoration of our people,” Cheruek said, placing his teacup firmly on the table.  He looked meaningfully at his pe’le’ut’la, who nodded.

“I believe it would be wise to end this Mnah,” the mediator intoned.

Jim glanced at Spock, who nodded once.  “Yes, that would be best,” Jim agreed.

Cheruek and his companion raised, gave a salute, and whisked out of the room, leaving Spock and Jim alone.  Jim looked at their retreating backs, scowling.

“What a dick.”  Spock didn't reply.

----

By the time Spock and Jim left the room, the front of the hall was deserted.  “My father would have left to prepare for our arrival at his house,” Spock informed him quietly.  Their bags were waiting on a table near a stone statue.  Spock grabbed both the bags, and without looking for the women that greeted them earlier, opened the door and stalked out into the heat.

Jim knew better than to talk about what a disaster the meeting was before Spock had a chance to let off some steam by meditating or hitting the gym.  They were alike in this, but Jim had a burning question that had to be answered before they saw Sarek.

“So what horrible breach of etiquette did I commit back there?” Jim asked, trying to keep up with Spock’s long strides.

“Vulcans do not eat with their hands.  It would be appropriate to refrain from doing so during your stay at the colony,” Spock explained, his voice hinting at something dark.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you during meals in the mess,” Jim said, concerned that he had been doing the Vulcan equivalent of chewing with his mouth open.

“As I said, I have become accustomed to it, but others would view it as a gross breach of conduct,” Spock informed him.

Jim was starting to loose ground on Spock, despite not carrying any bags.  “Hey,” he called out.  “Would you slow down a little?  It’s hotter than Hades in these robes.”

Spock slowed, allowing Jim to catch up.  “Proper Vulcan robes are made of remarkably breathable fabric.”

“‘Fleet issued uniforms are not,” Jim griped, slightly winded.  “I should have gone naked underneath.”

“That would be traditional,” Spock agreed.

Oh.  Jim raked his eyes up and down Spock, feeling even warmer.  Oh.

“So,” Jim said, happy to change the topic before he embarrassed himself, “I didn’t know some Vulcans were blonde.”

“It is a common genetic mutation from Vulcans who lived near the northern most province, near the magnetic pole,” Spock said, continuing at a slower pace.

Jim masked a laugh with a cough.  “Cheruek’s people are from the Vulcan North Pole?”

“Yes, it is amusing.” Spock said lightly, slanting a glance at Jim’s shocked look.  “The similarities between Terran winter solstice lore and Cheruek crossed my mind, as well.”

Jim laughed at that, more relieved than anything that the worst first date he had ever been on was over, and it wasn't even his.

“Spock,” Jim said solemnly, touching his arm, “I’m really glad you aren’t going to marry a Christmas elf.”

Spock merely exhaled deeply, which Jim delighted in as a sign of affectionate exasperation.  Spock was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

Spock led Jim down the walking path from the Cultural Academy to a residential area of single story houses.  The houses were a temporary measure, Spock explained.  Vulcans, like most telepathic beings, tended to plan their homes with wide spaces between neighbors, to provide respite from surrounding minds.  The establishment of the new colony necessitated clustered dwellings that would convert into offices, schools, and workshops.  Many families had large plots of land designated to them for development, waiting for when colonists were in the next stage of development.

“My father’s new bondmate has background in agricultural science,” Spock said.  “She has ambitious plans to install an irrigation system to grow hybrid plants that the colony scientists have modified from Vulcan flora.”

“Your father remarried?” Jim asked, as they came upon the last courtyard along the path.

Spock nodded.  “Five months ago.  We have not met, but have exchanged a few communications.”  Spock paused, as if searching for the right words.  “She has been a healing influence on my father.  For that, I am content.”

They entered the courtyard, a large octagon with three dwellings occupying six of its sides.  It was both beautiful and industrious, with a water harvester and many fruit-bearing plants.  Jim inhaled a delicate scent that reminded him of mint and citrus.

Sarek was standing outside one of the dwellings, already changed into everyday dark grey robes, his hands behind his back.  Spock immediately straightened and Jim tried to plaster on his best poker face.  If Sarek wanted to know what happened this afternoon, he wasn’t going to hear it from Jim.

“Father,” Spock said, “We have completed the Mnah early.”

“Yes, my son,” Sarek said flatly, and after a beat, gestured to the open door of the house.  “If you would come in, you may rest before the evening meal.”

They crossed the threshold into a sparsely furnished open room.  A long dining table occupied one part of the room, the other side had low benches around a brazier.  Tucked in a corner was a low table, a few statues, and a lamp used for meditation.  The back of the room had a narrow doorway to what looked like an outdoor kitchen, where a tall, graceful woman in plum robes was standing at a counter.

She turned when the three entered the house, and walked inside to greet them.  She appeared to be roughly Sarek's age, with short dark hair streaked with gray.  “Spock,” she said warmly, raising her hand in a ta’al.  “Be welcome in your family home.”

“T’Fonn,” Spock acknowledged.  “I am honored by your hospitality.  May I present Captain James Kirk, my pe’le’ut’la during the sa-kali’farr.”

“Captain Kirk,” T’Fonn stepped forward, extending her hand.  “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Jim stared at the offered hand as if he’d never seen anything like it.  Did she really want to be touched?  He glanced up at the Vulcan woman, bewildered, but his manners eventually kicked in, and took her hand to shake it.  “Yes,” Kirk said, bewildered.  “Pleasure to meet you as well, Mrs. T’Fonn.”

“My apologies for startling you, Captain,” T’Fonn said knowingly.  “I lived on Earth for thirty-two years, and found that most Humans feel comforted by familiar social exchanges.  I lack the touch telepathic ability common in my people, I assure you no invasion of your privacy was committed.”

Jim raised his hands, grinning.  “No harm, no foul.”

T’Fonn gestured to a hallway near the dining table.  “If you would follow me, I will show you to your rooms.”

The narrow hallway had even narrower doors that led to a library/study, T’Fonn’s laboratory, and then to the guest quarters.  Two narrow doors side by side revealed two similarly narrow rooms, just large enough to accommodate low beds and a table.  Spock handed Jim his knapsack, and went into the first room.  Jim entered his room, setting his bag on the bed.

“Vulcan homes have small sleeping quarters, compared to Human dwellings,” T’Fonn said from the doorway.  “This would seem logical, as we do not need as much time to rest.  Is this room acceptable for Human use?”

“Yes, Mrs. T’Fonn, this is perfect.  Very cozy,” Jim assured her.

T’Fonn tilted her head to the side, studying Jim.  “Cozy,” she said, slowly.  “Sometimes Vulcans cannot recognize how precisely Humans use language.  When you are ready, we have prepared the evening meal for you.  Let me know if there is anything you require.”  T’Fonn disappeared back down the hallway.

Jim shut the door and stripped.  He sighed, glad to be out of the sauna that was his clothes.  A dry breeze carrying the lime and citrus smell from the courtyard was simply heaven.

There was a knock on the door, and Jim grabbed his robe and slipped it back on again.  Assured he was decent, he open the door to find Spock holding a simple grey robe over his arm.  “You may find this more appropriate for dinner,” Spock said, holding out the garment.

“Thanks, Spock,” Jim said gratefully, taking the robe.  Spock did not move from the door.

“Jim, I would appreciate it if you would relate this afternoon’s meeting to my father,” Spock said.

Jim’s eyes widened.  Sarek didn’t like Jim.  Sarek disproved of Jim’s involvement in sa-kali’farr, and practically told him so in so many diplomatic words.  Jim was not going to tell Sarek about his horrible table manners and Cheruek’s plan to repopulate Vulcan with little elfin racists.  “Why can’t you tell him?” he asked, trying not to whine.

Spock shifted slightly on his feet.  “I have observed on many occasions that you possess an unmatched ability to retell the story in a positive light, in order to gain favor with the listener.”

Unmatched ability to— Jim narrowed his eyes.  “You want me to lie to Sarek.”

“I am requesting that you assist me in providing… assurance to my father.  If I found Cheruek incompatible in every manner— which I do— it is only logical that the meeting ended.  My father will accept that.”  Spock's eyebrows knitted together.

“Then just tell him that,” Jim hissed, glancing down the hallway.

Spock just stared at him.  Dammit, Jim did not have the energy for a round of Vulcan stare-down right now.  He sighed.  Point to Spock.

---------

T’Fonn and Sarek were already seated at the table when Spock and Jim reentered the living area.  T’Fonn gestured for Jim to take the seat next to her, across from Sarek.  Fantastic.

“You will find all the food served is suitable for your digestion,” T’Fonn said pleasantly, handing Jim a dish of what looked like mashed potatoes.

“I appreciate that, Mrs. T’Fonn,” Jim said, watching Spock ladle bright orange rubber bands over his mashed potatoes, and replicating Spock’s actions when bowl with the rubber bands were passed to him.  

“Doctor McCoy’s list was extensive,” T’Fonn continued, this time passing Jim a dish of roasted nuts.  “However, we have cultivated a wide variety of hybrid plants since we've settled here."

“Spock says you are a farmer?” Jim asked, trying to determine how one picked up a grape-shaped nut without using his hands.

“I was a researcher with the Saharan State University’s desert agricultural program,” T’Fonn said.  “I specialized in genetic mutations and hybrid development of orchards.  I am told you were raised in an agricultural environment.”

Jim tried scooping the nuts with the utensil that looked like a spoon, watching them roll in every direction on his plate.  “Uh, yes, in Iowa, ma’am.  There was a lot of corn,” he supplied lamely.

“Ah, yes.  Corn,” she said, sagely.  “Fascinating grain, once used to power Terran transports, correct?”

“Er, yes.”  Spock made eye contact with Jim, and picked up the utensil that looked tiny chopsticks.  Jim copied, having much better luck picking up the nuts.  Sarek was watching the entire exchange impassively, eating his own food with ruthless Vulcan efficiency.  He set down his own chopsticks and turned to Spock.

“May I enquire what you found so distasteful in Cheruek that you ended Mnah half incomplete?  Or did he find fault in you?”

Spock froze, glancing at Jim.  “It was a mutual dissatisfaction,” Spock hedged.

Sarek did not appear to find Spock’s answer satisfying.

“I think what Spock is trying to say, is that it was a meeting of two good men who had different and incompatible world views,” Jim said, shooting Spock a supportive grin.  “Spock is an explorer, a scientist, a student of the universe, and Cheruek, well he... he...” Jim trailed off, trying to describe the xenophobic prick in a positive way.  “Cheruek is done learning.”

“Indeed?” Sarek intoned, leveling a hard look at Jim.  Dammit again, another Vulcan stare-off.

“It was agreed by both parties that continuing Mnah was illogical,” Jim said, hunkering down in his seat, refusing to back down.

“In that case, I would expect you to find tomorrow morning’s fam’telsu much more compatible,” Sarek said, eyes unwavering.  “Any student of the universe would benefit from a master.”

“Indeed,” Jim said, trying not to blink.  What the hell did he mean by that?

------

“You owe me,” Jim griped, ambling alongside Spock as they walked around the courtyard.  “That was one of the more brutal family dinners I have ever attended, and I’ve been to Easter dinner with Chekov’s family.”  Thirty-nine cousins and every single one could drink him under the table, even the ones still in grammar school.

“I apologize, Jim,” Spock said, stopping to fiddle with a tall tree with pink leaves.

“Nah,” Jim picked a pink leaf off the tree a twirling it in his fingers.  “I get it.  Your dad just wants you to find a logical match, and you don’t want to disappoint him.”

“I suspect I have already disappointed him by remaining in Starfleet, and your presence may only remind him of that,” Spock admitted, continuing their walk to the water harvester.

Well, that went a little ways to explain things.  "If you father didn't convince you to stay in Starfleet, then who did?"

Spock pressed his lips together, looking off into the distance as if contemplating a difficult math equation.  “I do not think there is a Vulcan or Standard word for his relationship to me.  He occasionally takes it upon himself to impart his wisdom when and if he sees fit.”

“Yeah,” huffed Jim, fondly thinking of elder Spock, “I have one of those people too.  Hard to explain them.”  Like end-of-the-universe-if-I-told-you, hard.

“Indeed.”

Chapter Text

Jim was sound asleep in the guest room when a knock at the door woke him.  Disoriented, he reached for the lantern next to his bed, turning it on.  It was almost dawn, judging by the weak light outside the window.

“Jim?” a low, husky voice queried from the door.  “May I enter?”

“Spock?  What is it?” he asked groggily, eyes adjusting to the light.  Spock was shirtless, wearing black, soft looking sleep pants that hung off his hips.  Jim sat up, watching him entered the tiny room, gracefully kneeling next to his at this bed so they were eye level.  Spock leaned forward, placing steady hands on the edge of Jim’s mattress, sitting close enough that Jim could see Spock’s pulse, trace the thin green veins beneath pale skin with his fingers.  Spock smelled like warm honey and red earth, and it made Jim's heart race.

“I am afraid I have not been very forthcoming about Vulcan etiquette,” Spock murmured in the half-dark, “I wish rectify that error.”

“Now?” Jim asked, wondering what couldn’t wait until it was morning for normal people.  

Spock simply held out his hand.  “It would be easier to demonstrate.”  Puzzled, Jim placed his own hand into the offered one.

Without breaking eye contact, Spock lifted Jim’s hand to his mouth, and slowly ran his tongue from palm up to the tips of his middle and pointer finger, and back down again.

Jim felt sparks dance behind his eyes, his breath and most of the blood in his head leaving him in a rush.  Fire burned from his fingers to the pit of his stomach.  If this is what the tender motion felt like to a Human, then—

“Jim,” Spock growled, a hungry expression on his face.

“Yes,” Jim whispered, gasping for breath.  Whatever he did that led to this—

“Jim,” he murmured again, nuzzling his nose into Jim’s palm, nipping delicately at the skin near his wrist.

“Spock?”  Dear God, how did he not notice how sensual hands were?  What must it feel like to-

“Captain.”

Jim woke with a start, bolting upright, only to find a fastidiously and fully dressed Spock leaning over his bed.  Startled, he turned and fell off the other side of the bed onto the floor.

“Ow.  Wha- Spock?  Morning?” Jim said incoherently, lying on his side, tangled up in a sheet.  He stared at the ceiling, trying to piece apart jarring images of dream-Spock, half-naked and making love to his fingers, and real-Spock, fully dressed and staring at him with a bemused expression.

“I apologize for entering your quarters,” Spock said in a clipped voice.  “However, it is Vulcan custom for guests to prepare the morning meal, and I wanted to give you sufficient time to awake before our hosts broke their fast.”

“Oh, right,” Jim said, still feeling dizzy and disoriented.  “Give me a minute, I’ll be right out to give you a hand.”  Jim blushed, memories of teeth and tongue and fingers still playing in his mind.  “I mean, I’ll help you in the kitchen.”

“Unnecessary,” Spock said, “As I require little sleep, I have already prepared our meals.  I hope you have had sufficient time to rest?”

“What?  Oh, yes.”  Jim rubbed a hand over face, trying to will away spreading heat from his face and neck.  He wasn’t sure he had enough blood to supply all the things his body suddenly needed.  His brain certainly wasn’t getting enough.  He looked up from the floor, finally met Spock’s eyes, to find them intently trained on him.

“Do you need medical attention?”

“No, Spock,” Jim ground out.  “Just a weird dream.  I’ll be out in a minute.”

Spock exited, leaving Jim alone with his jumbled thoughts.

----

Jim entered the outdoor kitchen to find Spock pouring a sauce on what looked to be a fruit salad.

“Looks delicious,” Jim said.  “I didn’t know you could cook.”

“I do not enjoy it,” Spock admitted, tossing the fruit and sauce together, “but my mother found it a logical use of her time to teach me to how to make a few simple dishes.”

“My grandad taught me to make great scrambled eggs,” Jim shared.  “Omelets and frittatas too.  Actually, eggs are the only thing I can cook.  Here, let me help you with that,” and Jim brought the bowl of fruit to the table, finding T’Fonn and Sarek about to sit down.

Breakfast was a mostly silent affair.  Jim spent it deep in thought, training his eyes on anything but his First Officer.  Jim reasoned that he was being ridiculously hard on himself.  Every Human had sex dreams. They didn't have to mean anything.  Except that it did, and Jim wasn’t sure what.

-----

“Spock,” Sarek said, rising from his chair.  “I would suggest I show Captain Kirk more of our colony, and escort him to the Vulcan Culture Academy.  You may take this time to prepare and meditate for the Mnah.”

Spock glanced at Jim, worry evident in his brow.  “If the Captain is agreeable?”

Jim met Sarek’s firm gaze.  It seemed they had unfinished business to discuss.  “Of course,” he said, standing.  “Lead the way, Ambassador.”

Jim would later reflect on the walk as proof that Sarek was, if nothing else, excellent at his job.  During the walk toward the cultural center of the colony, Sarek pointed out areas of interest, described engineering projects in progress, and inquired politely about life aboard the Enterprise.  He was exceptionally courteous, a faultless tour guide.  Jim was then lulled into a false sense of security when they entered a greenhouse of plants that T'Fonn and her team were cultivating.

"Captain," Sarek said calmly, turning to face Jim directly.  Jim instinctively squared his shoulders, ready to meet Sarek head on.  "Let there be no deceit or misdirection between us.  Any bondmate that holds Spock's heritage, talents, or goals in low regard is a poor match, I do not dispute that."

“Read between the lines last night, did you?” Jim said sardonically.

“You will leave New Vulcan soon,” Sarek continued sternly, ignoring Jim’s verbal barb.  “He has only two more Mnah, here at the colony.  The Enterprise will be headed into deep space within the year, and the odds are against Spock finding a suitable fam’telsu while aboard the Enterprise.  It is imperative that Spock find a bondmate before the mission begins.”

“Why?” Jim shot back.  “So you can be satisfied that Spock is properly settled down and leave Starfleet to settle here?”

Sarek eyebrows drew together in concern.  “For Vulcans, bondmates eventually fulfill a vital biological role.  Unfulfilled, the side effects result in death.”

A sick feeling twisted in Jim’s stomach.  Visions of hands pressed against glass echoed in Jim’s mind.  Unacceptable.

“He wouldn’t put himself in danger like that,” Jim insisted.  “So, what would you do if today, and every day after, doesn’t pan out?  Pay someone to marry Spock for convenience?  I’m surprised you didn’t suggest that from the beginning.”

“Illogical,” Sarek replied.  “The bonding between two males requires a harmony of minds.”

Jim stared off, beyond Sarek, trying to calculate how many unbonded male Vulcans they could realistically hope to stumble upon between missions this year.  Five?  Ten at the most?  Didn’t matter, Jim reminded himself.  He didn’t believe in no-win situations.

“You spoke of my satisfaction,” Sarek continued.  “I would have you understand that there is no greater satisfaction than seeing one’s child happy.”

Jim continued to stare off into the distance.  “I thought Vulcans didn’t feel happy.”

"Vulcan emotions run very deeply, below our logical training," Sarek explained. "I have grown to appreciate Humanity for its emotional strength, a quality most Vulcans have not developed.  My son has inherited this quality from his mother, and he is better for it.”

“We need to find a Vulcan who can appreciate that,” Jim said.  “We have options and time, Ambassador.  I’m not going to give up on Spock.”

“As you say,” Sarek nodded, gesturing him to return outside.  

------

“Fam’telsu Meghlsh Plutok requests to initiate the Mnah with fam’telsu S’chn T’gai Spock.”

When the sun was fully up, Spock and Jim were back at the Vulcan Cultural Academy sitting at the same table, this time with fam’telsu Meglsh Plutok and his pe’le’ut’la.  Master Meghlsh Plutok.  He was a very tall man, well over two meters, dressed in coarsely woven robes.  He had a craggy face set into a permanent stoic mask, and eyes never seemed to focus on anything or anyone, as if he was looking at something no one else could see.

Spock appeared to be intrigued by the Vulcan Master.  As the “sharing of self” commenced, Spock immediately delved into philosophical questions, listening intently to Plutok’s answers with all the relish he would normally reserve for new specimens in his lab.

Plutok, apparently, was a Vulcan Master of Kohlinar, the practice of purging all emotions, which was a Very Big Vulcan Deal.  Plutok was on sabbatical, studying with the monks on Betazed, when Vulcan was attacked.  He elected to remain there, and was only returning to find a bondmate.  Plutok was fluent in twenty-three languages, a skilled musician, and had an interest in astrometrics, Vulcan history, and geology.  He was polite, well spoken, and had excellent table manners.  Judging by Spock's demeanor, Plutok was a god among Vulcans.

Jim watched their exchanges with rapt attention, seeing his commanding officer in a new light.  Did Spock crave this type of intellectual conversation?  The crew of the Enterprise might seem devastatingly dull compared to a Plutok.  Spock probably only put up with Jim and the rest of the crew because he had to.  Conversations in the mess hall were probably the Vulcan equivalent of chatting with a toddler, Jim thought glumly.

“Your companion is quite loud with his thoughts,” Plutok said to Spock suddenly.  “I must inquire, pe’le’ut’la Kirk, are all humans thus?”

Jim’s eyes widened.  Was Plutok able to hear his inner dialogue?  Was Spock always listening, and too polite to mention it?  Oh God, was everyone listening this morn-

“Do not misunderstand,” Plutok said, waving a hand faintly at Jim.  “I forget that psi null beings do not have a practical frame of reference.  I have become quite sensitive to emotional projections after studying with Betazoids.  I am receiving only a vague sense of your emotional state.  I am blocking it efficiently, but it is much like closing a door to muffle loud music in another room.”

“I’m sorry,” Jim said awkwardly.  “Can I turn it off?”

“Apologies are illogical,” Plutok said flatly.  “Your emotions are not distressing to me.  Vulcan meditation practices could help you to silence these projections.”  Plutok turned back to Spock.  “Fam’telsu Spock, I inquire about your immediate plans of residence.”

“I intend to remain on the Enterprise for the entirety of my commission,” Spock said.  “We are expected to head into five year deep space mission in .82 years.  I regret that there would be little to no chance of physical meetings during that time.”

“That would be a compatible with my aspirations,” Plutok said.  “I would find your absence a logical time ideal to begin a study with the monastery on Sibixia 8.  I intend to study their practices of psychic healing, as we are left with so few healers on the colony.”

Spock nodded, visibly impressed.  “An honorable endeavor.”

“Next month I will be visiting their medical facility to prepare my body for initiation into the monastery.”

“I am unfamiliar with the practice,” Spock admitted.

“Castration,” Plutok said bluntly.  “All forms of Sibixian healing requires the removal of the genital organs and the partial extraction of the left anterior cingulate cortex.   Without the capacity for arousal, they are able to achieve superior results.”

Jim was proud that he did not physically react, but was sure that every Vulcan in a two mile radius felt his psychic projection of horror, Betazoid training or no.

“I see,” Spock said gently.  “I infer you have no plans to have children?”

“I would be willing to donate genetic material before my procedure.  However, I will be sequestered within the monastery for the duration of my twelve-year commitment.  I am told that raising offspring alone is difficult.”

“Indeed,” Spock murmured his teacup, deep in thought.  Jim silently agreed, thinking upon his own childhood, Winona raising two boys and maintaining her career in Starfleet.  A dense silence descended upon the table, and Plutok seemed to take no notice, staring vaguely at a spot on the wall.

“You are also thinking loudly, fam’telsu Spock,” Plutok said, breaking the lull in conversation, his eyes suddenly clear and looking directly at Spock. “I would urge you to share your feelings.”

Spock inhaled sharply and sat up, a defensive look on his face, as if offended that Plutok would even mention these supposed “feelings”, but did not deny it.  “I doubt our lifestyles would be compatible.”

Plutok nodded slowly, returning to focus in the air above Spock.  “I, too, have drawn a similar conclusion.  In my studies with other species, I have observed that denying emotional needs of any being can lead to harm.  Ethically, I cannot condone entering into a bond with one such as yourself.”  He paused.  “With no disrespect, intended.  On the contrary, I am most intrigued by your mental discipline.”

Plutok and his pe’le’ut’la stood.  “Live long and prosper, Spock,” he said solemnly, and walked out the door.

It was Spock who broke the silence first.  “I believe I understand why Sibixian healing practices are not widely known.”

Jim chucked, relieved that the tension in the room was broken.  “Yeah, I don’t think Bones would be signing up for that anytime soon.”

“Perhaps,” Spock said, quirking an eyebrow at Jim, “Dr. McCoy could be convinced of the benefits.”

Jim laughed loudly at that.  Spock was still going to be okay.

Chapter Text

It was mid-morning when Spock and Jim left the Vulcan Cultural Academy.  Jim was enjoying the remarkably breathable fabric of his robes, now that he could elect to wear them traditionally.

“So, Spock, we have some time to kill until lunch,” Jim pointed out brightly.  “Any place to go for Vulcan fun around here?”

Spock looked down a main path thoughtfully.  “I believe there is a newly established library near the city center.”  Jim readily agreed, and the pair walked together side by side.

Library was probably a poor Standard word for the tall and sprawling stone structure.  Instead of books, sculptures and relics recovered or returned from other planets were displayed behind force fields designed to maintain the perfect archival temperature.  Visitors were given special keys to lower the force fields and take the artifacts out to study for themselves.  Jim found the section devoted to space exploration and made a beeline toward it, Spock following in his wake.

"You know, this is like an Earth museum," Jim said, gazing at the original images taken during First Contact on Earth, Zephram Cochrane standing next to three solemn Vulcans.  "Except you can't just take exhibits out of their cases."

"Most illogical," Spock said.

Spock and Jim wandered companionably, walking around clusters of scholars writing or debating quietly.  A group of school children, about five years old, were silently typing on PADDs held in their chubby fingers, heads bowed over a tapestry they were studying.  Jim stopped to watch them, intrigued by the sight.

"Do you want kids?" Jim asked quietly, gesturing to the group of young students.

Spock was silent a moment, contemplating.  "Yes, if circumstances allowed for it.  However, life aboard a starship is not particularly conducive for proper child development."

"Wouldn't be the first time a kid was raised on one,” Jim pointed out.  “Plenty of well adjusted 'Fleet brats were raised on ships with their parents."

"But you were not."

Jim grimaced.  "No.  My mother wouldn't have been able to handle the stress of having us aboard, after Dad.  She kept us dirt side our entire lives, thinking it was safer.  Do as I say, not as I do, you know?"

"No," Spock said, puzzled by the logic of the statement.  "Was she displeased when you joined Starfleet?"

"Yeah, but not surprised,” Jim said, resuming their walk.  “She knew it was in my blood, probably the reason I kept getting into so much trouble on Earth.  I’ve only felt at home on a starship.  What about you, where do you see yourself settling down?”

Spock stopped to admire a statue, Sehlat Eating Vulcan Warrior.  “My residence aboard the Enterprise is more than adequate for my current needs.  If I find a suitable bondmate, I must factor their aspirations into my future plans, to make a logical decision.”

If, Jim thought, wasn’t an option.  Jim’s brows furrowed, wondering why Spock didn’t mention that not finding a bondmate through sa-kali'farr was a possibly life-or-death situation.  He was a Starfleet captain, for crying out loud.  He and Spock did life and death things together, it's just what they do.  It made up a third of their joint activities at this point, aside from paperwork and chess.  And Jim owed Spock, because there was a time five months ago, coinciding with the capture of a certain terrorist, where Jim was zombified/resurrected (off the record, of course), and Spock will never speak of it.  Not that Jim had tried starting that conversation.  Radiation did strange things to the memory and emotional centers of brain.  He told himself he was content knowing that he was dead, and through miracle of science and tribbles, he was not dead now.

“Only one more Mnah,” Jim said, steering them back to the issue at hand.  “We might not be back in this system for another two months.”

Spock nodded, his face holding bland interest for the glass sculptures.  “I am aware.”

“And single male Vulcans are scarce in the Beta quadrant,” Jim pointed out.

“They are scarce in every quadrant,” he stated matter-of-factly.  “However, I reside on a starship with hundreds of personnel from dozens of species that share similar vocational goals and personal values as I. It is more probable that I will find a non-Vulcan bondmate while aboard the Enterprise than here on the colony,” he said thoughtfully.

“I think your father feels differently,” Jim replied, Sarek’s concerns from this morning still ringing in his ears.

Spock cut a sidelong glance at Jim. “My father does not have all the requisite knowledge of my personal life to make such a determination. Please, do not concern yourself if the afternoon’s Mnah is not successful.”

Jim wondered what personal life Spock could be referring to, but he just nodded, willing to drop the topic.  They started to make their way into another section about Vulcan natural history, when he spotted a familiar face obliviously making its way toward them.

Oh shit.

With a strength and reflex that could only be fueled by an adrenaline rush of fear for the annihilation of existence, Jim grabbed Spock’s arm and drug him into another section of the library, out of sight from Ambassador Spock.

“What did you see?” his Spock questioned, alarmed.  He glanced around warily, tugging his arm out of Jim’s grasp.

“Spock,” Jim said in a hushed but commanding voice.  A part of his brain took over, leaving him all Captain.  “This isn’t going to make sense, but you have to trust me.”

Spock didn’t even blink, merely took a defensive stance, waiting on Jim’s next instructions.  Jim wasn’t sure how a paradox would occur, but he had to keep his Spock from recognizing his alternative counterpart.

“Okay,” Jim said, darting his eyes around the mostly empty aisle.  “Close your eyes.  I mean it.  Do not open them for any reason.  No matter what you hear.  You open them, we all die.  Do you understand?”

Spock closed his eyes without question.  Jim looked around, the coast was clear.  “Spock, I’m going to take your arm and lead you to the back wall.  It’s about seven meters behind you.  Then we will find an way to get out of here, and run back to your father’s house like there is no tomorrow.”

“Understood.  There will be an auxiliary south facing exit sixteen meters to your left,” Spock murmured, eyes closed and body tense.

Jim nodded, and then remembered that Spock still had his eyes closed.  “Right.  I’m taking your arm now.”  He gently placed the barest of pressure under Spock’s arm and led him swiftly down the corridor of artifacts.  When they made it to the wall, Jim and Spock reoriented and started making their way to the door.  Fifteen meters... fourteen meters... ten meters...

“Jim?” a gravely voice rang out, just to his left.

Dammit.  “I don’t know a Jim, sir,” he called out politely.  He heard footsteps across the tile floor follow them.  “I'm very busy, must leave now.”

His Spock twitched at the voice, but did not slow down.  They were almost there; an exit was only a meter away.  Jim opened on the door; the bright light of outside flooded his vision.  Jim exhaled, relieved that all they needed to do now was outrun a 150-year-old Vulcan, and it was another life and death mission averted.  He stepped into the light, ready to run as fast as he could while dragging Spock every step of the way.

Instead of a break for freedom, Jim went face first into a force field, bounced off it, landing on his back.  His Spock was standing centimeters from the field, his face instinctively turned toward where Jim groaned, but his eyes were still closed.

“Captain?” his Spock called, crouching low, fingers stretching out, searching for Jim.

“I’m okay, Spock,” Jim groaned from the floor.

“Jim?” the gravely voice asked again.  “May I inquire as to what you are doing?”

Jim looked directly above him to see familiar eyes peering down at him for the second time today.  Jim would have taken a moment to reflect on the universe’s unique sense of humor, had he not been terrified that the Spocks were going to negate all existence.

Jim leapt to his feet, standing in front of his Spock, who had straightened up to his full height, eyes still closed.  Jim turned, warily glaring at Elder Spock, motioning for him to go away.  Elder Spock merely crinkled his eyes.

“Spock,” Ambassador Spock said, his voice laced with humor.  “I assume you have not informed your Jim of us?”

"I admit, I have been remiss in informing the Captain of our meetings," Spock said, eyes still closed and ready to run at his Captain's orders.

“What?” Jim startled, looking between the two Vulcans.  Ambassador Spock was smirking, which made Jim even more alarmed.  Didn’t anyone care he was trying to save the universe?

“I believe you can open your eyes,” Ambassador Spock said.

“No!” Jim yelped, and instinctively tried to cover Spock’s eyes.

That was the wrong thing to do.  Spock immediately gasped at the contact, his eyes shot open, and he jerked backwards, into the force field.  The force field’s pushback sent him rebounding into Jim, landing them both on the floor.

“Ow.” Jim's voice was muffled beneath a very deceptively heavy Vulcan.  Spock moved his weight off Jim, but was still leaning over him, face to face, panting faintly, clearly distressed.

“Captain,” Spock rasped, his breath warm on Jim's face, “if you are worried about me acknowledging my counterpart from an alternate universe, I would inform you that we have already met.”

“Oh,” Jim said, looking over to an identical pair of eyes peering over Spock’s head, down at Jim.  “Well, okay then.”

Spock rolled off Jim, standing gracefully and tugging on his robe sleeves as if they had not just been doing whatever it was that just happened.  "Ambassador Spock," Spock said stiffly.  "I was not anticipating your presence on the colony."

"I had business to attend to here, before my next diplomatic mission," Ambassador Spock replied vaguely.

"Well, Spocks," Jim said, annoyed and embarrassed, “perhaps if we all communicated a little more clearly, we might have had a reunion."

Ambassador Spock held out his hand to Jim to stand up, and unthinking, Jim took it.  Gentle warmth flowed up and down Jim’s arm.  He flinched, and tried to let go of the elder Vulcan’s hand, but Ambassador Spock held his hand firmly, searching Jim’s face for something.  “What are you doing here, old friend?” He asked quietly, concerned.

Jim’s mind was a little too preoccupied by the odd warmth in his hand to answer right away.

“I am participating in sa-kali’farr, and Jim is serving as my pe’le’ut’la,” Spock said, narrowing his eyes at the elder.  The Ambassador dropped Jim’s hand, humor back in his face.

“Of course,” he said, stepping back an appropriate distance.  “My apologies for startling you, Jim.”  He looked like he was about to say more, but one of the librarians was walking briskly down an aisle towards the trio, a stern look on her face.

After explaining that no, they were not trying to sneak their library keys outside the building, and yes, they now noticed the force field preventing their escape, the elder invited the pair to lunch.

-------

Jim glanced at this First Officer across a small dining table, and decided that while two Spocks in the same room did not cause a paradox that would rip apart a universe, it did cause a thick blanket of tension to descend and smother Jim.  He thought about calling Spocks out on it, but he doubted he'd get a straight answer from the elder.  And Spock the Younger just stared ahead, lost in his own thoughts.

Elder Spock was lodging in a guest residence while he concluded business with the diplomatic counsel on the colony before embarking on a mission.  The three were sitting at a small wooden table eating what Jim knew to be eating the Spocks’ favorite meal, Plomeek soup.  Jim was trying to keep things light by relating stories of recent missions on planets, which the elder seemed to enjoy greatly, voicing his admiration of the crew of the Enterprise where appropriate.  Spock the Younger just stared.

Jim tried asking about what the Ambassador had been up to since they parted on Delta Vega, since Jim had wrongly assumed that he would try to vanish, try not to muck about in timeline.

“I find myself in the enviable position to restart what I had left behind.  A precious second chance not granted in every timeline, I’m sure,” the Ambassador replied, a knowing look directed at his counterpart.  And Spock the Younger just stared.

Jim was running out of table-appropriate stories of away missions, and felt like he was drowning in the tension in the room.  He was about to kick his First Officer under the table, or fake an allergic reaction, just to wake Spock out of his Vulcan temper tantrum.  Because that’s exactly what it was, Jim decided.  What about, he wasn’t sure, but Spock had to snap out of it before their last Mnah this afternoon.

Just as Jim was about land a well-placed kick at Spock’s shin, his comm hailed him.

Both Spocks went still, eyes trained on the Captain.

“Captain,” Uhura’s voice came over the comm.  “We have a problem with the shipment to the colony.  Apparently we have transported a container of Romulan contraband.”

Damn.  Jim ran his hand through his hair.  Only two people qualified for that mess, and one of them had a date in a few hours.  He looked up at his friend and First Officer, who nodded sharply.

“Understood.  Give me a minute, and I’ll be ready to beam directly to the Enterprise.  Kirk out.”  Jim sighed, closing his comm.  “Spock, I’ll clear this up, and beam back down before your Mnah.”

“Of course, Jim,” his First Officer said, making to stand.  “I will meet you at the Vulcan Cultural Academy.”

Jim turned back to the ambassador.  “You will be here tomorrow?  I’ll stop by before I leave?”  

Elder Spock nodded, his expression fond.  “I would enjoy that, old friend.”

“Well, never a dull moment on the Enterprise,” Jim said ironically, ready to beam up.

“Indeed,” both Spocks intoned.  Spock in stereo, Jim decided, was not an improvement.

Chapter Text

When Jim beamed back aboard the Enterprise, he found Sulu waiting for him in the transporter room.  Sulu stared at Jim’s formal Vulcan robes, but quickly recovered.

“We are sorry to interrupt your business on the colony, Captain,” Sulu apologized.  “Starfleet insisted that the matter could not wait.”

“No, best to take care of this now.  Spock can just carry on without me for a couple hours,” Jim assured Sulu, who looked like he wanted to apologize more.  Jim held up a hand to still him, “I appreciate it, but the sooner I take care of this, the sooner I can get back.”

Sulu lead him to the cargo bay where a container of the purported Romulan contraband awaited his inspection and report.  “So what have we got in here, Mr. Sulu?” Jim asked, rubbing his hands together in relish.  It was probably too much to hope for cloaking technology, but perhaps not too much to hope for Romulan ale.

“We aren’t exactly sure, sir,” Sulu said.  “The security team was picking up odd readings, and found a container of cheap Romulan plasma injector parts hidden inside Rigelian casing.  But it’s the fabric stored with it that caught our attention.  That’s where the readings came from.  Science department says that the fibers and dye are consistent with those made on Romulus.  They still have more tests to run.”

Jim’s face fell.  More tests equaled more time, which he didn’t have a whole lot of before he needed to beam back down to the surface.  “Where was the shipment supposed to be delivered?”

Sulu passed a PADD over to Jim.  Jim glanced over the shipping manifest for a few moments, and then suddenly smiled grimly, handing the PADD back to his helmsman.  “Mr. Sulu, I’ll be in my ready room.  I have to contact a diplomatic acquaintance on the colony.”

Christmas had come early.

------

“Spock, the little elf has it coming to him, trust me,” Jim insisted to the communication screen.  He had changed back into his yellow Command uniform, as his crew couldn’t quite hide their shock or interest in his Vulcan garb.

“I believe you, Jim,” Ambassador Spock said solemnly, not commenting on Jim’s choice of words.  “However, it is a matter for Federation and colony law enforcement, at this point.”

“Even if the fabric was Romulan?  Wouldn’t you be interested why a shipment of weird Romulan fabric was being smuggled into New Vulcan, to the only tailor on the colony that has connections on Rigel?” Jim asked.  The ambassador's face was blank, but didn’t fool Jim.  “C’mon Spock, I’ve noticed what way the wind is blowing in this sector.  I’ve read what’s said between the lines in those ‘Fleet debriefings, they aren’t all boring.  You are the one talking to the Romulans in peace talks.”

Ambassador Spock merely raised an eyebrow.  Jim decided to take that as confirmation.

“All I’m asking is for you to see if someone could... rough him up a little.  Scare him, let him know that we know that he knows that we know,” Jim pleaded.

The elder paused, letting that phraseology sink in before he replied.  “I don’t think that tactic would be effective on a Vulcan.  However, I have a contact within the law counsel that may be able to expedite this matter.”  Jim beamed at the elder.  “I infer that you have met this Mr. Cheruek during your role at pe’le’ut’la for my counterpart’s Mnah?”

“Unfortunately,” Jim said, rolling his eyes.  “Not that I thought finding Spock’s Mr. Right was going to be easy, but this guy was from the very bottom on the barrel.”

“I see,” the elder said, clearly humored.  Jim liked this Spock, with his clearly projected sense of humor and understanding of Terran idioms.  He wondered if it was something that was gained with age, or exposure to a Jim Kirk.  He suspected both.  “I hope you and my counterpart find this afternoon’s Mnah more successful.”

“Anything would be better than the first two,” Jim admitted  “Spock suspects that it’s going to be an ambassador friend of Sarek’s.”

“Sunrit?” Spock said, both eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Yeah, do you know him?”

“We have not had opportunity to meet in this universe, but I remember a Sunrit when I was a boy,” Spock mused.  “He was an excellent diplomat, respected by all who knew him.  I would seek him out for counsel on many subjects, including when I was struggling with my decision to enter Starfleet.  He was both logical and eloquent.”

Which was Vulcan for: I had a great big childhood crush.

“I was not aware that Sunrit was participating in sa-kali’farr,” elder Spock continued.  “However, I see the logic in the match.”

Jim made a noise of ambivalence.  “I still think he’d be too old for Spock.  And with our string of luck, this universe’s Sunrit is an intergalactic playboy, with fifteen wives scattered around the quadrant.”

“I believe there is a Terran proverb that may be applicable here," Spock said knowingly.  "Third time’s a charm.”

----

Jim headed down to the lab, where three eager scientists were bouncing in their seats, waiting to show their Captain what they had found on the smuggled Romulan fabric.  He had to get the science team’s report, finish his own report, and beam back down to the surface in time for Spock’s last Mnah in thirty minutes.  He assured Spock he’d do it in twenty.

“So, we analyzed the coating on the fibers with the a helic—”

Jim held up a hand, halting the euphoric sonnet of scientific discovery.  “Mr. Reynolds, I am continuously dazzled by the excellent work done by the science department, I believe I only need the punch line this time.”

“Yes, Captain,” Reynolds said, flushing.  “The fabric is made out of latinum.”

Latinum was the de facto currency of most planets.  One of the precious few substances unable to be replicated, a liquid at that, was turned into cloth?  “How is that possible?”

“Well, we analyzed the coating on the fibers with a—” Reynolds began again, and then halted at Jim’s look.  “Perhaps if we demonstrate?” he asked meekly.  Jim nodded.

Reynolds took a strip of the fabric and placed it in a beaker of orange fluid.  He mumbled something science-y about the contents of the beaker, and held it out for the Captain to see.  It began to fizzle, and a dark silver substance began to collect at the bottom.

“Someone figured out how to bond latinum completely to another chemical, making it into a powder, essentially locking it.  With a little work, we were able to find the chemical key, releasing the latinum it its liquid form,” Reynolds explained, practically trembling in excitement.

“That is remarkable,” Jim said, impressed.  “How much latinum is in those bolts of fabric?

“At least a bar each,” Reynolds replied, setting down the beaker on the table next to Jim.  “I have my report ready here, Captain.”

The last thing Jim remembered is a faint hissing sound from the beaker next to him, and then a burst of scorching heat and sound.

----

Jim opened his eyes to see Bones looking down at him, hypo in hand.

“Drop it,” Jim said hoarsely.  “Whatever is in that, I don’t deserve it.  It wasn’t my fault.”

“Famous words,” Bones said drolly, lowering the hypo slowly.  “Miss me down there?”  Uhura was standing behind him, rolling her eyes.

“What’s the damage?” Jim said, wiggling his fingers and toes, relieved to find them all there.

“Only second degree burns down one side, no organ damage, but your stomach is going to be sore for a day or so,” Bones reported, pulling Jim’s shirt up to show him the newly regenerated skin on his stomach and side.  “It was the compound in the beaker that made me keep you sedated.  You have a sensitivity to latinum.”

“Anyone else hurt?” Jim asked, trying to sit up and wincing.  Bones took Jim’s momentary lapse in vigilance to hypo him in the neck.

“No, just you,” Bones said merrily, and then gestured to the door.  “You have half the science department here to grovel, when you are ready.”

Three very pathetic looking scientists were waiting outside, looking like they were awaiting their execution.  Jim knew it wasn’t their Captain they needed to fear.  Spock was going to flay them alive for ruining his departmental accident-free day winning streak.  Scotty was going to be unbearable when his department took the lead.

“They’ve been waiting for over an hour,” Uhura said.  “I say you make them wait an hour more.”

Jim jumped at that.  “An hour?  What time is it?” he demanded, looking for a chronometer.  It was almost 1700.  Spock’s Mnah was long over.  He groaned.

“I comm’ed Spock as soon as I knew you were in surgery,” Uhura said.  “Spock was able to arrange for another pe’le’ut’la.”

“Oh,” Jim said, tamping down on the sense that he had let Spock down.  He tried again to sit up, this time successfully.  “That’s good.  Well, let them in, Bones. I’ll try to keep their groveling to a minimum, and I’ll get out of your hair.”

Uhura looked like she was going to say something, but stepped back to a corner of the room when the three visitors walked in.

Jim was treated to anxious and sorrowful science officers trying apologize by explaining the unforeseen atomic reaction between latinum and whatever it was in that beaker.  He allowed them six minutes of uninterrupted science babble before he cut them off, forgave them, and warned them to avoid Spock for at least a week if they valued not being on Gamma shift for the duration of their commission, because he wasn’t going intervene if that happened.  

“We are really sorry,” Reynolds reiterated. “To have this happen, of all days...if there is any way we can make it up to you and Commander Spock-”

Jim waved his hand dismissively.  “Relax, Ensign.  The Commander is fine down there, probably could have done the whole thing without me.”

The science team collectively froze at that, confused.  Jim took their puzzled silence as an opportunity to dismiss them, leaving him alone with Bones and Uhura again.

“Captain,” Uhura started tentatively.  “I received a transmission from the colony, from Lady T’Fonn.”

“Yeah?” Jim said, jumping off the table, looking around for his comm.  “I need to beam back as soon as possible.  Who knows what Spock is—”

“Jim,” she repeated, and he turned around.  Uhura looked upset.

“The Mnah was successful,” she softly.  “Spock is to be bonded to fam’telsu Sunrit.”

Jim felt a knot pull tight in his chest.  “Already?”  Uhura nodded.  “He- but they just met.”

“Lady T’Fonn called it a harmony of minds,” she explained gently, putting a hand on his arm.  "They decided it was illogical to delay the bonding ceremony."  She was speaking so very quietly, as if consoling a heartbroken child, which didn’t make sense until the emotional shock wore off.

It was a lot like waking in the Starfleet med facility after he died.  Everything was fuzzy, nothing connected in his mind or body, sensations and knowledge jumbled, he couldn’t move or talk or even think.  Then everything suddenly snapped into place, he jerked awake, and there was Spock, waiting in his hospital room, looking down at Jim like he was the ship that finally arrived to take him home.

This time, there was Spock.  And Jim was too late.

Chapter Text

Jim landed in a seat, stared at his shoes, and felt a glass pushed into his hand.  Bones was plying him with whiskey.  The special stuff, by the looks of it.  Apparently realizing you were in love with your best friend was an occasion that merited it.

“You okay, son?” Bones asked, pulling a chair back over to Jim.  Uhura was still hovering over him.  Of course they knew before Jim could figure it out himself.

“What am I going to do, Bones?” Jim whispered, staring at his glass.

“You’ve got to tell him, Jim,” the doctor said, compassion and gentleness in his voice for his oldest friend.  “You have both been dancing around this thing for months, and now you have one more moment left.  You have to let Spock know now.  It’s your best chance.”  Bones took a deep breath, steeling himself, “And if he still goes through with the wedding, you have to let him go, let him find another commission.  That’s the kindest thing to do.”

Let Spock leave the Enterprise, leave Jim?  The thought terrified him and he wouldn’t consider it.  At this point in his career, it would be like chopping off his right arm.  Personally it would be like removing half his soul.  Why didn’t he realize, why did he always have to wait until it was too late?

“Jim,” Uhura said gently.  “Spock requested that you stand as witness to the bonding this evening.  Do you want to accept, or I can—”

“No,” Jim said, shoving his untouched glass back at Bones.  He stood, straightened his uniform shirt and squared his shoulders.  “I’ll beam down alone.”  Bones stood up, about say something.  “No, Bones.  I better do this without witnesses.  And if- if Spock decides- if he wants to stay on the Enterprise, he can.  No one in this room is going to convince him otherwise.”

“Dammit Jim, you can’t just—”

“Spock could die if he doesn’t bond,” Jim said suddenly.  Bones stopped at that, bewildered.  Uhura’s hand clenched around his arm in sympathy.  “So, what do I say, Bones?  What kind of alternative do I have to offer?  It’s kinder that he have a long life here.  He’s meant to be here.”

“Let him make his choice, you owe him that,” Uhura whispered.  Jim sighed and nodded.

----

Jim changed into his dress uniform, as he couldn’t bear looking at the burgundy pe’le’ut’la robes.  While stalking to the transporter room, he felt a surge of adrenaline and whatever Kirk mojo powered him into battle.  He could do this; he was going to get Spock back in some part.  It might mean breaking his heart on the bridge every damn day, but Spock was worth it.  When he stepped on the transporter pad, Chekov gave him a knowing thumbs up, bolstering his confidence even more.  Even his oblivious crewmen could tell Jim had this.  It was going to be great, like that scene in the vids where the man runs down the aisle screaming “I object!” at just the right part.  Except Jim didn’t think they had that line in a bonding ceremony.  Jim hadn’t gotten quite that far in his ancient Vulcan etiquette studies.

Jim beamed down to the residential courtyard and approached Sarek’s home.  T’Fonn was waiting to greet him, dressed in beautifully embellished robes of beige, the color of the House of Sarek.  She looked like the perfect mother of the groom.  

“Captain Kirk,” she said warmly.  “We welcome you to our home, and to stand witness to a bonding of the House of Sarek.”  She led him into the large open room of the house, where seven other Vulcan were standing, speaking solemnly.  All turned when Jim walked in the room.  None of them were Spock.

“This is Captain James Kirk, of the Enterprise, the witness to fam’telsu Spock’s bonding,” she said.  “Captain, I would like to introduce you to Ambassador Hwilhgr Sunrit, Spock’s sa-kugalsu.”  The knot in just below Jim’s heart tightened.  Spock’s fiancée.

A tall man stepped forward, raising his hand in a ta’al.  “Captain, I am most honored to meet you.”

Jim returned the gesture, and took in Ambassador Sunrit, childhood crush and diplomatic superstar.  He was older, but like most Vulcans, Jim couldn’t quite place his age.  He had dark hair with a few grey hairs interspersed, making him look distinguished.  His skin was smooth and dark, with wide eyes.  His tall frame was covered in crisp formal blue robes, and he held himself with a dignity and grace that seemed to roll off him in waves.  Jim could almost see what Spock saw in him.

“Ambassador,” Jim replied around the lump in his throat.  “I have heard good things about you.”

Sunrit nodded graciously, and gestured to the courtyard that Jim came from.  “Might we speak outside?  We have some time before we walk to the place of bonding.”

“I was hoping to find Spock,” Jim said uneasily.  

“My sa-kugalsu and his representatives are at the house of my grandmother,” Sunrit said.  “We will meet at the place of bonding, if you wish to speak there before the ceremony, it can be arranged.”

Jim nodded, and found himself following Sunrit into the courtyard.  Sunrit stopped short of a flower tree, standing in profile to Jim, thoughtful.  “You are very dear to my intended bondmate,” Sunrit said.  “He has shown me his mind during the Mnah, and that was very evident.”

The knot in his chest tightened painfully.  Was this a diplomatic trick Jim hadn’t heard of?  Confessing hidden Vulcan feelings until Jim felt compelled to issue a full confession of his own, so Sunrit could feel justified in Vulcan pinching him unconscious before the ceremony and disrupt Jim’s plans?  It just might work.

“We are friends,” Jim said, betraying nothing.  “I will always be his friend.”

Sunrit nodded, “A deep bond, I think.  One I cannot help but admire from my experience in the meld.  I was concerned that it would impede our ability to achieve a harmony of minds.”

Jim swallowed thickly, almost afraid to ask.  “Would it?”

Sunrit turned to him, slightly surprised.  “No, it would not.  Spock’s mind has shown me that his fondness for you could not be encouraged in such a way, assuring our bonding would be successful.”

The knot in Jim’s chest snapped, and he felt as if he was sent out an airlock.  He tried to shield himself in denial, to reassure himself that this was a just a jealous suitor trying to warn off another man.  Tried and failed, because if he was really listening when his First Officer told him, countless times.

Vulcans do not lie.

-----

Jim joined the small wedding procession to “the place of bonding.”  They walked in single file, leaving Jim to attempt nursing his emotional wounds and steel himself for the upcoming ceremony.  Jim’s heart was sure to be ripped to shreds, anyway, leaving him bleeding on the floor next to the happy couple.

Jim tried to shore up his Kirk mojo.  This wasn’t a no-win scenario.  Spock would be bonded to someone he could harmony with, whatever that meant.  Spock would live.  Jim was spared the unnecessary baring of painful emotions to his First Officer, because he had it on no uncertain terms from an excellent authority that Spock’s fondness didn’t extend that way.  Spock would continue his position aboard the Enterprise, and Jim’s own fondness would be folded up in a tiny drawer in his heart that would only come out to comfort him on cold, lonely nights with Bones listening with a bottle of his best.

Jim could endure that.  He could endure anything if it meant Spock would still be looking over his shoulder when Jim faced the universe.  Spock could have his perfect diplomat, but he would have Jim too.

Jim was pulled out of his dark thoughts when one of their party, a pretty Vulcan his own age, slowed down her pace so that she could walk next to Jim.

“Captain Kirk,” she said formally, matching him stride for stride.  “I wanted to apprise you of the contraband situation.”

“What?” Jim said, lost in his thoughts.

“I am Officer T’Pring, of the law counsel.  I have worked with Ambassador Spock on many projects, he asked me to look into the Romulan contraband you found aboard the Enterprise.”

Jim nodded, still baffled how a wedding procession turned into debriefing.  Only Vulcans.

“We are now aware of a galactic smuggling ring involving one Smrvnigrtnk Cheruek.  Cheruek is now in custody, and my associates will hold the cargo until the Federation law force arrives.  Your science team is to be commended for discovering how the payments of latinum were being transported.  Most ingenious.”

Jim nodded.  So it was done.  “I’m sure they will appreciate hearing that.  Thank you for resolving it so efficiently.”

T’Pring preened a little at the praise.  “I am honored to be of assistance to you, Captain.  As one of the few refugees, I find that I owe my life to your actions on Vulcan.  Ambassador Spock speaks very highly of you and the you in his universe.”

Jim puzzled, wondering if elder Spock’s existence was an open secret, or if T’Pring was a confidant of Ambassador Spock’s.  Or why she was even here in the first place.  “How do you know the groom?”  At T’Pring’s puzzled look, Jim clarified.  “Spock.”  His Spock.

“Ah, yes.  I’m not sure if there is a Standard word for it.  I was his former bondmate.”

Jim quirked an eyebrow at that, and remembered the story that Spock had recounted to him back on the Enterprise.  How logical was it to invite the ex to the wedding?  Probably about as logical as standing as best man at the wedding of the Vulcan you were hopelessly in love with.  If this were a Terran wedding, T’Pring and he would be the pair in the back of the bar at the reception, swapping angry stories and sharing their woe over Antarean brandy.  Jim doubted they’d have that opportunity on the colony.  Pity.

They arrived at the Vulcan Cultural Center once again, greeted by the same elderly woman with the ornately sculptured hair that Jim met at Spock’s first Mnah.  She directed the party to a side courtyard of tall stones and sculptures, but gestured for Jim to stand off to the side.

“Captain Kirk,” she said in heavily accented Standard.  “Follow me.”

Puzzled, Jim followed her into the room used for the Mnah.  She gestured for him to enter, and closed the door behind him, leaving him alone.  Jim wasn’t sure why he was separated from the party.  Perhaps the rest of the wedding party had secret Vulcan things to do.  Jim wished again he had studied this part.

In the corner of the room, Jim saw a bag he recognized.  It was Spock's second bag, the one containing his gifts for the fam'telsu.  Jim never knew what it was that Spock shared.  Curious, he approached the bag, not hearing the door open behind him.

“Jim?” a voice called from the far side of the room behind him.  Jim’s heart leapt in his throat and he froze in place.  Yes, he had asked to speak to the groom before the wedding, didn’t he?  Masochist, he chided himself.

Jim turned around, because he realized that’s what he did.  What he’d always do.  Volcanoes, madmen, cloud jellyfish, those radish-looking cannibals on Lanae III, everything, Jim would always turn around for Spock.  Life and death stuff, that’s what they do.  Together.  Always together, and maybe if he could always have that, it would all be okay.

Jim wanted to tell Spock this, wanted paint this simple feeling for Spock, assure the man what little crumbs of fondness he could give, Jim would gladly take.  Jim would make it be enough.  But those words were lodged in his throat, never to come out.  Instead, Jim took one look at Spock and said:

“Why are you wearing the wrong robes?”

Chapter Text

“Why are you wearing the wrong robes?”

“These are the appropriate shade of burgundy,” his First Officer replied, a note of puzzlement in his voice, looking down what looked like pe’le’ut’la robes.  Jim wished yet again he had read more about Vulcan weddings.

“But Sunrit is wearing blue,” Jim pointed out.  Great, he was debating Spock’s wardrobe color choices minutes before his wedding.  Didn’t he have something he wanted to tell him-- he couldn’t remember.

Spock nodded slowly.  “My counterpart is wearing beige, as is traditional,” he said, stepping forward, dark eyes searching Jim.

Ambassador Spock is wearing beige.  Ambassador Spock is at a bonding of one of the House of Sarek to fam’telsu Sunrit.  Ambassador Spock-

“You aren’t bonding with Sunrit,” Jim said, breathless.

“No,” Spock said, his face dawning understanding.  “That would be illogical.”

“But T’Fonn said that you—”

“The Vulcan and Standard lexicon do not lend itself to one clear expression of who Ambassador Spock is,” Spock explained.  “After discussion with my counterpart, I concluded that any further Mnah would be unsuccessful, and he volunteered in my place.  As the outcome was successful for the Ambassadors, I cannot find fault the unorthodox decision.”

Jim felt himself become lighter, the knowledge spinning in his head.  He wasn’t too late.

Spock took another step forward, close enough to touch.  “Jim, I need—”

“Pe’le’ut’la Spock, we are ready to commence,” the elderly matron called from the door.

Spock sighed, his shoulders sagged and his head bowed.  Without turning around, he nodded once and the matron left.  Spock and looked back up at Jim, his eyes pleading.  “We must speak, later.”

Jim nodded, anxious to hear what Spock had to say.  “After the ceremony?”

Spock nodded again, and turned on his heel, leaving Jim to follow.

-----

As soon as they joined the rest of their small group gathered in the courtyard, the brief ceremony immediately began with little fanfare.  Ambassador Spock, resplendent in the evening sun in his beige robes, caught Jim’s eye and gave him a brief smile.  Jim was grateful he didn’t need to speak or do anything, just stand solemnly next to both the Spocks.  Words were said by the elderly matron, and then Elder Spock and Sunrit knelt before her.  She placed one hand on each face, muttering in Vulcan, and then it was over.  The entire party moved back inside the cultural center for light refreshments before Jim realized that it was truly done.

Jim found himself standing alone, in a corner away from the group.  Ambassador Spock made his way, extending a glass of refreshment to Jim.  It wasn’t alcoholic, but tasted like weak hot chocolate.  It calmed him, and Jim idly wondered if the other Jim enjoyed this beverage.

“Thanks for talking Spock out of the Mnah,” Jim said to elder Spock, belated kicking himself.  He really had to work on his opening lines.   “I mean, congratulations.”

Elder Spock quirked his lips in that impression of a smile.  “Thank you, old friend.  I am appreciative that you could stand beside me as witness,” he said sincerely.  “I infer that you have resolved your... situation?”

“Yes, thanks.  T’Pring told me Cheruek is in custody for smuggling contraband.”

“I am gratified to hear that.  However,” the elder said pointedly, “that was not the issue that I was referring to.”  He glanced over to his younger counterpart, engaged in conversation with Sunrit and an elderly woman.  His Spock was making the occasional furtive glance over to the elder and his Captain.  Jim gave the Commander a weak smile, feeling his face heat.

“No, not exactly,” Jim admitted.  “Not yet.  How did you know?”

Elder Spock gave a little exhale, what Jim interpreted as amusement.  “It has been my privilege to have known you in two universes, Jim.  While you are undoubtedly your own person, I still believe that your best destiny has not changed.  But that is your choice, and his.”

Jim’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline in surprise.  “Did you and your Jim-” Jim broke off, apologetic.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

He looked at the young captain with affection.  “When I took my Jim Kirk as a bondmate, our bond was forged from years of friendship and trust.  It came slowly, tempered with time and understanding,” the elder shared.  “But we were not you.  I suspect if you and your Spock decide to bond, it will be as you both have always done things in this universe: in your own time, with a brilliant intensity.”

Jim nodded thoughtfully, then looked back over to where Ambassador Sunrit stood with his Spock.  “He’s a good man?”

Elder Spock followed Jim’s gaze and nodded thoughtfully.  “Yes, he is.  A most unexpected turn of events.”  

“Good,” Jim said, putting a supportive hand on his friend’s arm.  “I’m glad.”

----

The suns had set when they made it back to Sarek’s house.  T’Fonn, Sarek, Spock and Jim walked together in relative silence.  Jim had run out of adrenaline and was left with nerves, making him jumpy.  He couldn’t look at Spock, but had noticed from the corner of his eye that he carried the bag of gifts for the Mnah.  Sarek and T’Fonn bid Spock and Jim a good night, leaving them alone in the large living area.

Spock and Jim stood looking at each other from across the dining table for a long moment.  Spock broke the gaze first, casting his gaze about the room.  “If I may have a few have a few minutes, we could change out of our formal clothes, and then perhaps...” Spock trailed off, not finishing his sentence.

Still wrapped up in nerves, Jim just nodded, watching Spock walk back to the guest quarters, carrying the mysterious bag with him.  That piqued Jim’s curiosity enough to make him follow Spock down the hallway, stopping short of the other’s bedroom door.  Spock had left the bag on his bed, and his hands were raised to undress.

“What’s in the bag?”

Spock jerked his hands away from the top closures of his robes, the only sign that Jim had surprised the Vulcan.  He slowly turned around, his face a look of confusion.

“Captain?”

Jim narrowed his eyes.  “It’s Jim, it’s been Jim since we’ve arrived here.  And what’s in the bag?  I’ve been dying to know what gift you were going to present at the Mnah.”

Spock looked down at the bag, as if it had just appeared.  “Well?” Jim prompted.

“A chess set,” Spock finally said.  Jim might have questioned the thought behind that one, if he was not already thinking of the chess set that Spock had given him during his recovery at the Starfleet med facility.  The chess set that Jim had in a place of honor in his ready room, which he and Spock had many conversations and arguments over.  Jim almost allowed himself to feel jealous of the unnamed men who might have had a part of that with Spock.

“It is of no matter,” Spock continued, looking at Jim meaningfully.  “I find myself disinclined to find a mate through sa-kali’farr.”

“What about me?” Jim blurted, and then panicked.  He didn’t mean to say that, but apparently he’d lost the ability to be subtle.  Spock might appreciate that.

“Do you wish to bond with me,” Spock asked carefully, “to spare me from the possibility of my untimely death?”

Jim wondered how Spock knew he discovered biological tidbit out, but shook his head.  “No, I want you to consider me, because I can’t function without you.  I told you, I’ve never felt at home anywhere but the Enterprise, but I realized I’ve never been on the Enterprise without you,” Jim insisted, stepping into the small room, an arms length away from Spock.  “It’s always been you.  And I want you to consider me.”  Jim gave Spock a wry grin.  “I’ve read a few books about this thing called a Mnah, maybe we could give it a try?  See what happens?”

Spock’s eyes were wide and his body was still, paralyzed by the suggestion.  He blinked, as if released from a spell and murmured, “Illogical.”

Jim didn’t have but half a moment to consider what he meant, before Spock continued.

“You were born in space,” Spock said softly, taking a half step toward Jim, “but you raised in rural Iowa, a town you hated but never left, until Admiral Pike convinced you to join Starfleet.  You are the youngest captain in Starfleet history, and you are immeasurably loyal to your crew.  You play chess, read Shakespeare and cheat at poker.  You are fluent in Vulcan, but will never let me know, thinking that you will hear me say something I would not say directly to you.  That is illogical, for I admire you wholly.  You are courageous and honorable and kind.

“I do not need to request Mnah, because I know all these things.  I know this better than I know my own history.  I have shared more of myself with you than any being, and yet you manage to find more.  What gift could I possible give?” Spock whispered, reaching out towards Jim’s face, almost touching.  Spock looked as if resisting the gravity of Jim’s skin was painful.  Jim reached for the hand in mid-air and brought it to his face, Spock’s fingers stroking his cheekbone and stubble, sending sparks across his skin and behind Jim’s eyes.

Jim made a hoarse sound, like a cry or a protest.  He was locked in place, could not be expected to move from Spock’s fingers.  He needed more, needed to give more.  You are enough, you are more than enough, he yelled in his head.  He reached for Spock’s hand and moved his fingers, emulating a touch he had experienced once before.

Spock seemed to understand, adjusting, and whispering “My mind to your mind…”

Jim suddenly felt as if he was in two places at once, his own body and his mind separate.  Calm, a presence seemed to whisper over him, and Jim felt his perception narrow to the mental awareness of his own mind and the awareness of Spock’s mind, just out of focus.

I would give you a gift, now, if you would accept it, Spock thought, his mental voice washing over Jim like cool water.

Jim tried projecting his agreement, which seemed to work, because his mental focus changed to include Spock and suddenly—

He was staring down at the blonde Cadet munching on an apple, confused, displeased, but undeniably intrigued.

He stalking down a corridor, ashamed and confused how a stranger could elicit such a strong emotional response.  He had to finally admit he was heartbroken for his planet, for his mother—

This was Spock, Jim realized with a shock.  Spock's memories, colored by deep and strong emotions.  My gift, the mental voice rippled across his consciousness, feeling Jim’s surprise and wonder.

Jim, telling him he would miss him.  He freezes, pinned by blue eyes, fails to find the words, fails his Captain, wants to tell him that he will more than simply miss him, he could not—

Jim- hands on glass- the light in his eyes fading, so much pain—

Jim- dead, behind glass- cryogenically frozen, the desperation and small flicker of hope, and so far away—

He was staring at his friend, eyes bright over a chessboard, grinning back at him, claiming his first victory.  He’s gloriously alive and nothing separating them but the hospital sheets and the weight of—

Moment after moment, some longer than others.  Just as Jim could focus on one, another showed in his place, leaving Jim disoriented and unable to puzzle the scenes together.

Standing on the bridge, looking over the shoulder of his captain, an illogical habit he had developed.  The seat swung around and blue eyes find him, freezing him in his spot.

Watching Jim talk to Dr. Marcus, her hand casually brushed against his, and a sharp unidentifiable feeling pierces him.  He cannot name it but is afraid to suspect—

Eyes closed shut, obedient but afraid that he cannot defend Jim to the best of his ability in the library.  Warm hands against his face, fingers touching his psi points bring flood of feelings, of overwhelming emotion that would have brought him to his knees, had he not bounced against the force field and landed on top of the other man.  The echoes of the feeling resonate inside Spock’s mental walls, melting into nothing but leaving an almost tangible mark on his consciousness.

The last memory faded, leaving Jim feeling as if he was floating alongside Spock, points of their minds still connected, feather light, as tentatively waiting for Jim to process the gift.  Jim knew that feeling Spock felt in the library.  He felt it right now, even through the barely-there points of contact with Spock’s mind.  Yes, Spock’s mind agreed with a sigh of contentment.

Harmony.

Chapter Text

Jim felt Spock’s mind withdraw, followed the absence of the fingers from his face, and finally Jim was back in his body.  Spock was staring at him, panting lightly.

“You felt that?” Jim asked.

“We feel this, our minds together, yes,” Spock whispered, still out of breath.  “I believe I always shall.”

Jim nodded; his own fingers stole up to Spock’s face, gently touching along psi points, hoping he was able to project his own feelings.  Me too, always, you.  Spock leaned into the touch, his eyes half closed, savoring.  He reached for Jim’s hands and held them in his own.

“James Tiberius Kirk,” Spock said solemnly, “I ask you to bond with me, to live as my sa-telsu, my bondmate.  Your acceptance would honor my house.”

Jim blinked, the words echoing a request made just days ago.  How had things changed so quickly?

“I understand that most Humans typically engage in a longer courtship before a formal commitment,” Spock said, gripping Jim’s hands more firmly, the only outward sign of his nerves.  “I would, of course, be amenable to this, I merely wished to be clear in my desire to-”

“Spock, shut up,” Jim said, stepping closer, nose to nose.  “Yes.  Let’s do it.  Now.”

Spock’s lips quirked in an almost-smile. Jim delighted in being the first to see it on the younger's face.  “I do not think Lady T’Pau would be available until tomorrow morning.”

“Fine, we’ll do it then,” Jim said, finally putting a name to the matron of the Vulcan Cultural Center.  “Just a small ceremony, elopement Vulcan-style.  We’ll just make it official with command, and we don’t even have to let the crew know until we’re ready.”

“Are you certain?” Spock asked, eyes searching for a trace of uncertainty.

“It’s the only logical choice,” Jim said, and leaned into kiss him.  Spock’s lips were soft and warm, and returned Jim’s kisses eagerly.

Strong hands reached around him, bringing him closer to a delicious heat.  Unfortunately, Jim couldn’t control a flinch of pain when Spock grazed his side, and the kisses ended.  “You are injured,” Spock said blankly, all heat gone from his expression.  Damn.

“No, not badly,” Jim assured him.  

“How did the injury—” Spock started, but Jim decided to whip off his shirt, stalling the inevitable discovery that it was Spock’s team of over enthusiastic nerds that were responsible this time.  It worked, and Spock dropped the subject, staring at the newly revealed expanse of Human skin.   Jim wondered how often he could use that trick for other work-related situations.

Spock’s brow puckered, and gentle fingers touched the edge of where newly regenerated skin ended, making Jim flinch again.  “That tickles.”

“You need to recover from your surgery,” Spock said solemnly.

“Nope,” Jim said, raising his hands to Spock’s face to bring him in for another kiss, trying to think of thoughts of vim and vigor.  “I’m cleared for duty.”  Or whatever else you might be up for.

Spock pulled away, looking thoughtful.  “Perhaps we should wait.”

“Are you saving yourself for marriage?” Jim asked saucily, hands moving along Spock's arms.  “Because if you are, we need to wake T’Pau up now.”  Spock merely huffed in that not-laugh that Jim relished.

“No,” Spock said pointedly.  “However, I find myself wishing for a more appropriate venue for such activities.”

Spock was looking entirely too calm and collected.  A quick kiss to the Vulcan’s temple revealed that appearances were deceiving.  Jim filed that dirty trick away, and let his roving hands explore more.

“What, you never had a fantasy of getting hot and heavy at your parent’s house?  The allure of the danger of being caught doesn’t excite you?” Jim teased, fingers tracing Spock’s neck, down to the front closure of his robe.

“No,” Spock admitted, but did not object to Jim’s hands.

“What about in the captain’s quarters?  Any fantasies there?” he countered, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.  Spock’s eyes darkened, but he didn’t respond.

“I have observed that imagined scenarios of a sexual nature are a natural part of Human sexuality,” Spock replied, grabbing Jim’s hand and holding it in a firm grasp, raising his hand to his lips and nipping the tip of his forefinger, then laving it with his tongue.

“You-” Jim spluttered, his brain finally making the connection.  “How did you—”

Spock had the decency to look vaguely embarrassed for a moment, but it was quickly covered.  “I was trying to wake you.  As it has been mentioned before, you think rather loudly.”

“You peeked!” Jim accused, too aroused and amused to be upset.  “That’s cheating.”

Spock quirked an eyebrow and released his hand.  “Illogical.”

“And that’s lying!”

Spock silenced Jim with a kiss, and Jim wondered how often that could be applied to work-related situations as well.

----

That morning (after sleeping in and neglecting their houseguest duties) a bemused Sarek, an unsurprised T’Fonn, and a delighted Ambassador Spock as witness, accompanied by his bondmate Sunrit followed Spock and Jim back to the Vulcan Cultural Center.

Minutes after they entered the building, they were kneeling in front of T’Pau.  Jim yet again felt his focus change, and could sense two minds, but somehow could recognize one as being innately Spock-ish.  T’Pau’s mind seemed to gently guide and coax a part of Spock and a part of Jim to connect.  Jim delighted again at Spock’s touch, as their respective minds seemed to magnetically attach immediately and strengthen.  Spock’s wonder and joy was projected clearly, and Jim tried to return a feeling of happiness.

When the bond was released, the feelings Spock was sending did not fade.  

They made their way back inside for the customary refreshments yet again.  T’Fonn and Sunrit immediately engaged in a discussion about agricultural practices, leaving Sarek, the Spocks, and Jim alone.  Spock was simultaneously feeling happy and wary.  Somehow he knew that feeling was towards Sarek, but Jim couldn’t figure out how he knew that.  He looked over to Spock, trying to project comfort, a little emotionally overwhelmed by all the feelings echoing in his head.

“Imagine closing a door,” Spock murmured, “it should help.”

Jim did, and immediately felt a little more alone in his head.  He opened it again, and it was like opening the door to summer heat and sun of Spock’s mind.  Once more he closed it, feeling his equilibrium return.  “This could be fun,” Jim whispered.  Later.

“We must return to the Enterprise,” Spock said abruptly to the other two, ignoring Jim’s teasing.  Sarek nodded, looking at Jim thoughtfully, and then at his young son.

“I am most pleased that you have found a bondmate that is wholly suited to you.  I admit I was distressed at my own failure as a parent,” Sarek said regretfully.  “The danger I may have put you in, by not attempting to reconcile you to T’Pring when you were young-- it would have been unforgivable.”

Spock merely nodded uncomfortably at Sarek’s overwhelming display of Vulcan emotion, but Jim picked up on a vague other reason for Spock’s discomfort.  Whatever danger Spock was in was surely over now.

“I believe it was for the best,” Ambassador Spock said suddenly, breaking the awkward silence, eyes twinkling.  “I believe if you had tried to reconcile them, T’Pring may have tried to kill him.”  Shocked, Sarek could only nod thoughtfully.

----

Spock and Jim beamed back to the Enterprise, spent a few hours doing things in the Captain’s quarters that Spock didn’t categorize as fantasies.  Jim really wasn’t going to argue the point, just enjoyed the benefits of Spock’s thoughts and feelings projecting in surround sound through the bond.  Vulcan married sex was amazing, another thing never mentioned in his reading.  Perhaps if they ever got some downtime, Jim could write his own guide to Vulcan culture and etiquette, filled with the stuff that one really needed to know.  There would be an entire chapter dedicated to Vulcan erogenous zones and how best to exploit them in public.  As soon as the thought came to mind, a harsh negative burst of NO filtered to Jim's brain, making Jim grin unrepentantly.  Perhaps in the second edition, then.

When they finally made their way back to the bridge, they were barraged by smiles and knowing looks.  Jim tried to tell himself that it was just his suspicious mind, but he still felt as if he was branded with “Property of Spock” and it was being broadcasted to the galaxy on all frequencies.  Keeping this bond to themselves was not going to be easy.

Halfway through the shift, Jim was feeling pretty proud of his professionalism.  Maybe Spock would consider some type of reward for successfully navigating a shift on the bridge without any teasing, touching, or innuendo.  Maybe some place they hadn’t christened Jim may have noticed featured in Spock’s not-fantasies.  A congratulatory no-breaking-Starfleet-regulations-on-public-displays-of-affection joint shower perhaps?

“Congratulations, Captain,” Scotty said, clapping Jim on the shoulder, on his way to speak to Chekov.

Jim startled, wondering if he had said any of this out loud or if Scotty had studied psychic projection with monks on Betazed.  “Excuse me?”

“On your marriage, sir,” Scotty clarified.  The entire crew froze in unison.

“On… my…” Jim was baffled.  How did Scotty know—?

Scotty shot an accusing look up at Science Officer Reynolds, who was trying his best to avoid the station where Spock was currently occupied.  Reynolds panicked, pointing to Sulu, who turned glare at a blushing Chekov.  “Ensign?” Jim queried, bewildered.

Chekov could not keep his eyes from darting behind Jim’s shoulder towards Uhura.  Jim spun around in to see Uhura glaring daggers at the navigator.  Uhura finally looked at him impassively, lips pursed and gaze even, a titanium-clad wall of secrecy.  No, Jim wasn’t going to get anything out of her.  Just what were they all playing at?

“Captain,” Spock spoke up, breaking the accusing glares and pointing fingers.  “I may have made mention of our plans on the colony to Lieutenant Uhura.  She may have misinterpreted.”

Jim didn’t believe that for a second, and he wanted a full recounting of aforementioned conversation.  Uhura, misinterpret a conversation in a way that led half the crew to believe that Jim and Spock were throwing a wedding reception at some point?  A thought dawned, and suddenly everything clicked once again.  And once again, there was Spock.  Sneaky, conniving, illogical, cheating- Jim sent all this through the bond.

Spock merely inclined his head slightly, not the least bit apologetic for whatever it was Jim was almost sure he did.  Jim turning his chair back to the view screen, not the least bit upset.  He now had ways of discovering the truth.

“Captain, we have a distress signal from the starship Windermere,” Uhura said, waking Jim out of his after-shift plans for Spock.  “An unknown vessel has opened fire on the ship, the captain is requesting assistance.”

“Open a channel,” Jim said, game face on, Spock behind him, and the whole universe ahead.