The first time Jim proposes, they're naked.
They're in his cabin, which is typical for a Monday. They replicated the usual steak and pasta, and Jim drank wine while he lost badly at chess. He sauntered around the table for a consolation kiss, which led to Spock's hands sliding under his shirt, which led to a naked, slow grind on the bed. They've done this so many times, Jim has finally lost count, but it's never lost on him how incredible Spock's body feels pressed against his.
It tumbles out between "Yeah, like that" and "God, Spock, your mouth," the same nonsense he always reels out when he's pre-orgasmic. He takes Spock's face between his hands and kisses him, and somehow, something about this kiss is different from the thousands and thousands of kisses that have come before.
"Marry me," he murmurs against Spock's lips without stopping to think about it.
The words hang between them, and Spock just looks at him, his lips parting. He holds Jim's face in return and touches their foreheads together, exhaling "Yes" before crawling down Jim's body and settling between his legs.
In the giddy, hazy afterglow, Jim cradles Spock's hand against his chest and strokes his palm, relishing the soft moans which escape as a result. Spock is radiating happiness at a level Jim has never felt from him before. That's when he remembers what he said, and what Spock said, and he blinks.
Holy shit, did they just get engaged?
They've never talked about marriage before. Hell, they've never talked about them before. It's manageable without labels and a lot easier to skirt Starfleet regulations, even though the senior officers and probably half of the ship—fine, the whole ship—know they're sleeping together.
Jim freezes, holding Spock's hand tightly, and stares up at the ceiling even though he can't see it. Spock rolls onto his side and kisses Jim's throat before burying himself under a mound of blankets. Through their palms, Jim receives wave after wave of affection as Spock drops into a light meditative state and finally to sleep. Jim continues to stare at the ceiling.
"Jim, you can't propose to a man while in flagrante," Bones admonishes over a glass of bourbon. "There are ways one has to go about this."
"I wasn't planning on proposing," Jim groans, rubbing his forehead. "It just...slipped out."
"That's not the sort of thing a man accidentally says," Bones tells him. "How did Spock take it?"
Jim covers his face.
"That bad, huh?" Bones asks, and Jim hears him refill both glasses.
"I swear to god, I've never seen him so happy," Jim mutters into his palm.
"Hold your horses." Bones sets down the glass and folds his hands before him, leaning them on the edge of his desk. "He's happy about it?"
"I'll go so far as to say he's ecstatic," Jim says, raking his hand into his hair. "He flat-out Vulcan kissed me on the bridge at the start of shift this morning."
"Hell, I thought you were trying to tell me that the two of you broke up," Bones says. "I even got out the good bourbon. If everything's fine at home, why the hell are you down here whining in my office?"
"Um," Jim says, and after a minute of staring, Bones's eyes widen knowingly.
"Ahh," he says with a sardonic smile. "You weren't planning to ask him at all."
Jim slumps in the chair. "Does that make me an asshole?" he asks.
"Depends," Bones says. "Do you wish you hadn't said it?"
"I don't know," Jim admits.
"Well, there's no way to take it back and come out smelling like roses, kid. I'd recommend you think about this long and hard before you make a decision either way."
Desperately in need of a second opinion, Jim confesses to Scotty the next morning in his pre-caffeinated state, which is a mistake because Scotty's got a big mouth. (More specifically, Scotty's got Keenser, and Roylans are notorious gossips.)
Consequently, alpha shift is a shit show. Chekov self-appoints himself the official wedding planner—apparently Russians are experts at these things—and asks if they've thought about a date. Sulu offers to cultivate and arrange the flowers. Nyota rolls her eyes and mutters, "What took you so long, seriously?" under her breath, then offers to help if Jim wants to write his vows in Vulcan.
Spock is the picture of professionalism, though Jim notices he looks back over his shoulder more than usual. Crew members from all over the ship seem to materialize on the bridge to offer congratulations to their captain and commander, and it's all too much. Jim is grateful when Bones interrupts and pages him to sickbay for a routine physical.
"Chill out! It's not like we're getting married today!" he says with a forced grin and hurries to the turbolift before he can see the bemused look that inevitably crosses Spock's face.
"Well, congratulations," Bones says with a scowl, welcoming him with folded arms. "The whole ship knows."
Jim perches on the edge of a biobed, scratching his face. "Believe me," he says. "I know."
When she takes his weight and blood pressure, Christine comments that she used to work in jewelry before becoming a nurse, and she'd be happy to give Jim advice on things like color and total carat weight and clarity, if he has any questions. He thanks her numbly and wishes he were alone in his cabin.
Bones jabs him in the neck with a hypospray, and Jim rubs at the sore spot.
"As your best man," Bones says when Christine is out of ear reach, "it's my duty to tell you her taste runs a little on the expensive side, and I'm having trouble imagining Spock in diamonds."
"Who said you were my best man?" Jim shoots back, which earns him a frown.
"Well, excuse me," Bones says and takes a blood sample with more enthusiasm than the task calls for.
Admiral Pike's got a smirk the size of the Star Empire on his face when he calls to confirm the rumor.
"Always wanted to walk someone down the aisle," he muses.
"No aisles," Jim declares. "Anyway, aren't you going to lecture me that marrying my first officer is against Starfleet regulations or something?"
"Let me deal with Starfleet," Pike says. "I know a thing or two about marrying your first officer."
Jim sighs without moving his shoulders. "Thanks," he says, his voice tight.
"Number One offered to arrange transport for your family to the Vulcan colony," Pike continues, "if you're planning a traditional bonding ceremony. Personally, I think a destination wedding is more your speed. Maybe a beach, mild weather. What about Risa?"
"We've been engaged for less than forty-eight hours," Jim says flatly. Pike tilts his head and lightly shrugs.
"It never hurts to plan ahead."
"I hope you're planning to have it in Riverside," Winona says, brushing the hair out of her face. She's got grease on her cheek, a wrench in her hand, and a freaking big smile. "I've got plenty of leave saved up. We could all stay at the house beforehand, catch up. I'd like to get to know Spock's father."
"Yeah, that'd be awesome," he drawls. "Sarek can have my old room, Aurie and Sam can stay in his, and we'll just crash on the couch. Should we book the Shipyard for the reception while we're at it?"
"James Tiberius," his mother scolds.
"Sorry," he mutters.
"It might seem morbid," she continues, "but Sam didn't want my wedding ring when he married Aurie. I thought you might want it."
"I am not giving Spock your ring."
"I was going to suggest you have the stone re-set," she says.
"Oh." He shifts in his seat, feeling suddenly awkward. He didn't realize she doesn't wear it.
"I wish I could give you your father's, but...think about it and let me know. I've got to run."
"Father," Spock says evenly when Sarek's face appears on the viewscreen.
"My son," Sarek says in greeting. "Captain Kirk."
"Jim has asked me to marry him," Spock says plainly, and Jim's face heats up as his stomach twists. "I have accepted."
"I am pleased to hear it," Sarek tells him.
"You offer no objection," Spock says with a hint of surprise.
"You are aware of the reason for my choosing your mother."
"I am," Spock confirms.
"I hope the same for you," Sarek says. "I believe it would be her wish, as well."
The ambassador is practically glowing when they call to tell him the news, though Jim suspects he somehow knew.
"I offer my congratulations," he says, his lips curved in a faint smile, the kind Jim recognizes because it's the smile Spock gives only to him.
"Thanks," Jim says.
"We hope you will be present for the ceremony," Spock adds.
"I would be honored to witness it. Will you come to New Vulcan?"
"We don't know yet," Jim answers quickly. "We're still planning."
"Ah," says the ambassador.
"Your own bonding," Spock inquires, "was it on Vulcan?"
"You were married? When?" Jim asks, wondering how that hasn't come up in their weekly conversations. The ambassador looks to Spock and quirks an eyebrow.
"Does he not know?" he says.
"I presumed he had worked through the details," Spock says dryly.
"I did marry," the ambassador says. "And yes, our bonding took place on Vulcan."
"I feel like I'm missing something," Jim says, looking between the Spocks, who both give him the same curious expression.
"I'm the last one to find out? What the hell am I, Rigelian scum?" Sam asks, bouncing Peter on his knee. "Daddy didn't say 'hell.' Say hi to Uncle Jim."
"Hi," Peter whispers but won't look toward the monitor.
"Hey, buddy," Jim says and smiles. "Did you get that starship I sent you?"
"It has removable parts," Sam says in a tone that indicates Jim is an idiot. "We can't give it to him for a couple years."
"What do you think he's going to do, eat it?"
Sam rolls his eyes. "Probably. He's two."
"Whatever," Jim says. "Anyway, I didn't have your number. Mom had to give it to me."
"You could have looked it up," Sam says. "It's not like we're off-directory."
"I really don't want to fight right now," Jim says, pinching the bridge of his nose. "How's Aurie?"
"She's good," Sam says. "Listen, I know this is inappropriate—actually, Aurie said she'd blast me if I even asked, so keep this between us—but there's no way you'd consider holding the ceremony on Altair IV, is there? I don't have a lot of vacation time this year with the new job."
"I'll think about it," Jim lies and watches Peter twist his fingers into Sam's sleeve.
Two months pass, but there's no indication that his crew or family is going to back down. Chekov has them scheduled to arrive on New Vulcan in exactly ninety-one standard days for a fully traditional Vulcan bonding ceremony, followed by an on-board reception in the observation deck, and a five-day honeymoon at the Caverns of the Hundred Gardens on Arzor. While on New Vulcan, Jim, Spock, and Winona will stay with Sarek, whose new residence is apparently large enough to house the entire wedding party. The idea of having sex with Spock in his dad's house is overwhelming, especially when he imagines Winona elbowing Sarek and winking at him when Spock and Jim make excuses to go to bed.
This whole wedding thing has gotten blown way out of proportion. He wishes they'd just eloped to Vega5 like normal people so they could get back to their lives already. Chekov has at least six questions for him every day, ridiculous details he can't believe anyone gives two shits about, like what color tablecloths they should use underneath the real tablecloths.
"It is a two-tone effect, keptin. It will be most becoming."
He's heard rumors of an invitation, but he has yet to see one. People have started to send gifts, which he stuffs unopened in the back of his cramped closet and doesn't mention to Spock. Chekov takes him on a tour of the observation deck, pointing out his recommended table arrangements. He mentions something about a sweetheart table; a buffet of Vulcan-Andorian fusion cuisine, which is apparently the Next Big Thing; and appropriate favors for guests, especially dignitaries.
"Where are you getting the credits for this?" Jim asks, throwing his hands up.
"Does the Commander dance?" Chekov replies.
"I hope not," Jim says.
"If you would like, I will also submit the request for joint quarters," Chekov tells him. "Do you intend to hyphenate?" Jim opens his mouth, closes it, and exits the deck in a fog.
If he hears the word "wedding" one more time this week, he's going to land himself in the brig for violent behavior. He storms to his cabin, crossing his fingers that Spock is up to his ears in science somewhere and won't be back for a few hours. He can't think of a time when he hasn't been able to talk about something with Spock, but he doesn't know how to explain what's upsetting him.
Ever since they got accidentally engaged, Spock moves about him in a state of quiet satisfaction. He's never once complained about Chekov's constant hounding, or the collection of Vulcan artifacts which have arrived addressed to them and occupy half of his usable floor space. He's subtly more affectionate, especially when it's just the two of them. He's developed a new habit of standing behind Jim, of lightly touching his lips to the back of Jim's neck, just at his hairline. It makes Jim shiver and gasp lightly, because it's usually followed by Spock's hands dipping into his pants.
Jim has an hour to himself before Spock enters, comes to stand behind him, and kisses the back of his neck. As expected, he undresses Jim and steers him toward the bed. The sex is cathartic, and afterwards, Jim feels better. They hold hands across the mattress, and Spock smiles at him before closing his eyes. But they don't talk about being engaged or about bonding or about the wedding that everyone else is planning for them.
When they visit Zeta Solarii Prime to work out a duranium trade agreement, the locals inquire as to their relationship, because their telepathy allows them to sense the emotions between Jim and Spock as bright lights or...something. Jim skimmed the mission parameters over coffee. Okay, before coffee. Remembering details is the job of his first officer with the eidetic memory, not for sleep-deprived starship captains with occasional insomnia.
"We are to be bonded," Spock informs the small crowd, who huddle and press in around them, and Jim frowns.
"Glorious," says their guide, Za, a lithe, golden-skinned creature who walks them toward a tall structure reminiscent of a cathedral on Earth. The interior is bright and sparse. With the followers in observation, Za places a hand on Spock's wrist and one on Jim's, and with a third slides a bracelet onto each. "It will help you to shield, while you are among us," Za explains.
Jim stares at the black metal band on his wrist and recalls being handcuffed in front of the Shipyard.
"Thanks," he says.
Spock merely nods at Za, but the twitch at the corner of his mouth indicates he is pleased. At first, Jim assumes he's glad that his private thoughts will remain private, and they follow the crowd into the center of town. He observes Spock touching the bracelet throughout the day, running his fingers along the edge.
Jim removes the bracelet as soon as Za leaves them at the beam-up point and rubs his wrist. When they're back onboard the Enterprise, and Spock comes by for chess after dinner, Jim notices that Spock is still wearing his.
"Remind me why I have to buy him a ring again?" Jim asks, kicking the underside of Bones's desk. Bones glares at him, so Jim does it again.
"It's a symbol of your fidelity," Carol says.
"It means you're a grownup," Bones adds.
"Well, I don't see any rings on your hands," Jim shoots back.
"Don't deflect," Carol tells him, but she places a hand on Bones's arm. "What are you planning to give him, as a wedding gift?"
"My body?" Jim offers. Carol rolls her eyes.
"You're an infant," Bones mutters. "It's a wonder Spock puts up with you."
"It is aesthetically pleasing," Spock declares, staring at the titanium band on his ring finger. His arm is outstretched, and he regards his hand like it's a science experiment, with a pursed mouth. "However, I find it makes me uncomfortable."
"Right?" Jim says automatically, twisting his off and setting it back on the counter. "The whole idea of it is just so..."
"The pressure is unpleasant, and the metal might affect my telepathy," Spock clarifies, handing his back as well. "Thank you, but we will not be purchasing anything today," he tells the shopkeeper, who inclines her head.
Spock doesn't speak to him as they exit the shop, though he agrees to lunch with a nod when Jim suggests they eat before heading back to the ship.
"I didn't mean..." Jim begins over a bowl of noodles. "Maybe we're just not ring people. That's all."
"I believe," Spock says quietly, "that I comprehend your full meaning."
He doesn't come by for chess that evening, and in the morning, Jim sees him having breakfast with Uhura, who shoots him a narrow look.
"I'm sorry," Jim says when Spock is in his bed again two days later. He cards his fingers through Spock's hair and kisses him. "I'm just on edge lately."
"Do you wish to discuss it?" Spock offers, curving a hand over Jim's hip.
"I wish to get naked," Jim says, and they don't talk after that.
The time he asks and means it, they're behind a crumbling wall on Elnath III, and the sound of phaser fire will be the last thing they ever hear. The planet's upper atmosphere is chaotic and stormy, which is interfering with transport ability, and Jim can't get a comm signal. There's a gash above his right eye which has finally stopped bleeding, and his skin is taut where the smeared blood has dried. Spock manages to reach a hand to Jim's arm before he slumps against him, and Jim feels his eyes well up at the sight of green blood seeping into the dirt.
"Spock, stay with me. Stay with me, okay?" Jim slaps Spock's face, but his dark eyes barely open.
"Focus on my face," he says as another section of wall explodes and falls to his right. Spock nods faintly, but his eyes don't track. They roll back in his head and fall closed again.
They're going to die. They're going to die on this piece-of-shit planet because of a race intent on destroying itself. They're going to die, Spock next to him. Jim will never see his mother again. Spock will never get to visit the colony. They'll never visit Sam on Altair IV or go hiking with Number One in the Rockies. Jim will never rub aloe on Spock's back when he's got a sunburn or get him drunk on chocolate. He will never sit next to Spock and watch the famous sunrise on Omicrom Ceti III. They'll never have the epic wedding Chekov's been planning. Pike won't walk Jim down the aisle, and Winona won't take holos, and Spock won't kiss Jim in front of everyone they know, because they're going to die right here.
He suddenly realizes how stupid he's been about this whole wedding thing. It was never about tablecloths or fusion cuisine or rings or what planet is hosting the ceremony. It was supposed to be about them, and it was going to be about them, and now—
It hits him at full warp, what they're about to lose. He clutches at Spock's hands, squeezing them, pulling them to his chest and leaning his face close.
"We're getting out of here," he says, "cause Scotty's gonna work one of his miracles. And when we do, I never want to spend another day without you."
Spock's hands are cold, and his face is cold, and his lips are barely moving.
"I want to spend my life with you, do you understand?"
There's no indication Spock can hear him. Jim kisses his unresponsive mouth.
"You can't die," he moans, kissing him again. "We're getting married in less than two months. You promised to marry me, remember? Don't you still want to?"
The ashen pallor of Spock's skin sends a frisson of fear through him. He can't tell if Spock is breathing. Jim shakes his shoulders, slaps his face again.
"Spock? Don't you die on me. Don't you dare die on me! Can you hear me, you stubborn fucking Vulcan? Say you'll still marry me, dammit!"
There's a jerk in his limbs, a weak intake of breath, and Spock mouths something which might be "yes" before he slips into unconsciousness. Jim hugs Spock's limp body against his chest, rests his face against the blood-soaked hair, and waits for his own eyes to close.
He's so tired. There's another blast and muffled shouting, but it suddenly sounds very far away. Spock is here with him. Jim kisses the top of his head, and he thinks of a wedding on New Vulcan, of their palms touching as they stand on the hot sand. He hears the lonely sound of wind across a desert, and what might be the faint chirp of a communicator.
Jim wakes up in sickbay, but the beds to either side of him are empty.
He's inundated by a sense of grief, blackness that overtakes his mind, and he tries to roll onto his side, curl into himself. He hears the sound escape him, a deep sob from somewhere in his chest, and he bites his lip until he tastes blood. He cries, his shoulders shaking, tightness on either side of his throat because he tries so hard not to cry out loud. He clenches his teeth and his chest heaves, but eventually, he can't hold it in any longer.
The tears are hot that spill down his face and sting the abrasions which are still healing, but he's glad for the pain. His ribs are broken and aching; every breath hurts; every cry is excruciating, but it's preferable to the pain in his heart.
The touch on the back of his neck is light, and he just...knows. He gasps, grabbing blindly at the air, and then Spock is against him, holding him, rocking him slowly on the biobed.
"I thought…" Jim cries against his neck. "I thought you were dead."
"I could not be," Spock whispers into his ear. "I promised I would join my life with yours, and Vulcans do not lie."
Jim laughs despite the pain and kisses him until he can't breathe.
After that, Jim stops protesting when Chekov asks his daily round of questions. He asks Uhura to help him phrase something appropriate to say in front of Spock's Vulcan relatives. Pike manages to track down Spock's Aunt Doris, who lives north of San Francisco, and arranges for her to make the trip. He's surprised by how much crew morale is up. Everyone seems to have caught wedding fever, even Bones, who suggests a stag party on Argelius. Jim pulls the gifts from the back of his closet, and he and Spock open them over a bottle of wine when his PADD chimes with a new message.
"This is too much," Jim confesses, staring at a request asking him to approve a shipment of Saurian brandy. He lies back on the floor and holds the PADD to his chest. "This thing is in a couple weeks, and I just...I can't do this."
"You no longer wish to bond with me?" Spock asks haltingly, and it's like the air got sucked from the room.
"Spock, no," Jim says quickly, laying down the PADD. He crawls around the pile of gifts to where Spock is sitting with his legs neatly folded, and kisses him. "All I mean is, this is our day. It should be about us. I don't want...all of this."
"Why have you not said so before?"
"I don't know," Jim says, settling onto Spock's lap. "You seemed so happy about it."
"I only agreed to this wedding because I believed it was what you desired."
"Are you serious?" Jim bites back a laugh. "I've been going crazy over this the last few months."
"Had it been solely my decision," Spock says, tracing Jim's lower lip, "I would have preferred a private ceremony."
"Solely us," Spock says. "No others are required to form a bond."
"No shit," Jim says. "Let's just do that."
"The plans are in place," Spock tells him. "I believe the crew would be disappointed, were we to discard their work."
"Wouldn't be great for morale," Jim reluctantly agrees.
"But perhaps," Spock says, "we might suggest modifications?"
Winona arrives by long-range transport two days before the wedding, along with Admiral Pike and Number One. They have Spock's aunt with them, a slight human woman who wraps her arms around Spock as soon as Jim's given them permission to come on board.
"Mandy would be proud of you," Jim hears her whisper.
She pulls Jim into a hug and says, "Thank you for making him so happy."
They all eat in the ship's formal dining room, and Winona doesn't embarrass Jim too much with childhood tales. Doris recounts the time Amanda and Spock came to visit her in California, and Spock spent an hour studying the configuration of a spider web. When they drink a toast to long life, Pike's eyes linger on Jim's for a moment, and he tilts his glass in a silent cheers.
The following day, to honor Vulcan tradition, Spock beams down to the surface as soon as the ship enters orbit around New Vulcan. "We meet tomorrow, at the appointed place," he says and holds up two fingers to Jim's before stepping onto the transporter platform.
Jim remains on board and attends a by-invitation-only stag party Bones throws for him in the mess. Keenser is in charge of the door. Scotty brings a batch of his latest concoction, and Bones opens a case of cigars. Uhura beats everyone at poker—she can read body language like no one's business—and Winona initiates a whiskey shooting contest which Jim loses. Badly.
"Do you think he's got a chance?" Jim slurs, nudging Bones in the side as Scotty stares down Number One, who raises a shot glass to her lips.
"Not in hell," Pike says.
"Thank god for anti-nausea meds," Bones drawls and puffs on his cigar.
"Hold still," Bones says, fussing with Jim's collar. "You'd think they could put sturdier buttons on a dress uniform."
"It's fine," Jim repeats, but Bones tugs at it again.
"Are the Vulcans pissed about the venue change?" he asks.
"Nah," Jim says. "Where's the logic in that?"
Frowning, Bones makes a final adjustment and steps back, surveying his work.
"That'll have to do," he declares.
"Thanks," Jim says and reaches into his jacket. He pulls out a small package. "This is for you," he says and passes it to Bones. He unwraps it, holding the silver flask aloft and chuckling.
"I got one for myself too," Jim tells him, pulling out his own and taking a swig. "Filled them with your favorite."
"Didn't you get enough to drink last night? I don't need you throwing up on me at the altar."
"Dammit, Bones," Jim chides. "Today, you're my best man, not a doctor."
Bones shakes his head as he unscrews the flask, giving Jim's back a firm slap as he drinks.
"Well, come on, kid," he says. "Let's get you hitched."
The Enterprise's observation deck is beautiful, adorned with eight months of Sulu's botanical experiments in colorful, replicated pots. The pots form a makeshift aisle. Pike insisted on one, and Jim lost, but he's satisfied with the compromise. Pike is in the front row between Winona, who is snapping holos for Sam, and Number One. Sarek sits with Doris, his hands politely folded on his lap, but he looks pretty happy, by Vulcan standards. The senior crew members stand at attention in dress uniform, except for Bones and Uhura, who flank the minister and Vulcan priestess. Guests crowd in every available space; the room is packed beyond what code allows, but even Spock doesn't point that out. He holds Jim's hand, and shoulder to shoulder, they walk the aisle.
Jim stumbles through the Vulcan rite, and Spock's vows are logical instead of heartfelt, but it feels like them. They agreed no rings. Instead, Spock gives Jim a hardcover book, and Jim presents him with a Vulcan lute the ambassador helped him select. When they kiss at the end, it's in the human and the Vulcan way.
Vulcan-Andorian cuisine isn't bad, Jim decides. The food is simple, and the guests seem satisfied despite the lack of cake. Out of deference to the Vulcans present, processed sugar has been kept to a minimum. There's ample booze, though, and Jim is happy to partake.
There's cheering and dancing, and so many people come up to hug him that Jim loses all sense of time. The ambassador is in high spirits, but there is a wildness in his eyes that Jim can't place. He clasps Jim's hand, and Jim startles at the familiar action, staring at his wrinkled skin. The memories hit him, and then he understands everything Spock never told him.
"I didn't know," he says. "This must have been so hard for you."
"Bittersweet, perhaps," the ambassador says, "but not difficult. I am gratified that you and my younger self have found one another so soon."
"I promise I'll take care of him."
"I know you will."
Chekov escorts them to the honeymoon suite, aka their new shared quarters. The room is decked out with red sheets, a big bottle of champagne, and several bars of chocolate. Scotty has imposed a 72-hour lockout on their communicators. Admiral Pike will remain on board and handle any emergencies that arise, and Jim can feel his mother praying they'll adopt a Vulcan baby or two. In turn, he prays she'll leave Sarek alone, maybe spend some quality time with Scotty talking about the Enterprise's dilithium chamber.
He and Spock strip off their dress uniforms, shower, and end up playing chess until well past midnight. They collapse on each other in bed, but they don't do anything more than kiss.
"I cherish thee," Spock whispers as they drift to sleep, and that's when Jim realizes something else he's never said.
The first time he says it, they're lying on the floor after two days of just them. Jim is tipsy and licks chocolate from Spock's mouth. Spock's arms come up around him and hold him close. Jim shifts so he can press an ear to Spock's side, hear his heart beating a steady rhythm, and it tumbles out.
"I love you."
He feels Spock's answering smile in the bright, warm place in the back of his mind.