He finds Jim waiting for him the instant the shuttlecraft lands, looking haggard but happy and with a peculiar sheen to his eyes that suggests he had been or was about to cry. The captain takes a step towards him, and he mimics this. He feels again that strange sense of… affection for his captain as the man laughs delightedly, murmuring his name quietly and running a hand through his already disheveled hair. He offers a small, expressive--but, in this case, justifiably so--smile and cannot help but enjoy the warmth that enters his friend's eyes at the action.

They go to sickbay together, for Bones to ensure that he experienced no ill effects from being inside of the creature so long, and there Jim hovers in the background while he endures the doctor's grumbling ("—green-blooded idiot hobgoblin, switchin' the life support almost off—even Vulcans can't live without air, damn fool—") until he is pronounced healthy enough for light duty the next few days. He finds comfort in the feeling of Jim beside him, in perfect synchronization, as they leave sickbay. Once they reach the turbolift, he commands it to take them to the deck where both of their quarters are located. There is a strangely still moment after the lift begins its motion, Jim staring at him intensely, and he finds himself speaking before he truly realizes the thought is leaving his lips.

"The change in my thoughts of you is oddly fascinating to me," he says, voice steady. Jim looks at him a moment longer before stopping the lift. His mouth goes dry as he remembers the exchange he had once had with her—with Nyota, he can say it now, even though he is no longer facing death--at a similar time, and he marvels once again that the similarities in their mannerisms.

"How so?" asks the captain, and he takes a moment to gather his thoughts, to force them back on this safer course.

"To me, you were first a rather… impetuous cadet whose flagrant disregard for regulations was somewhat… alarming," he begins, looking his friend in the eye as he speaks. "Then you were my captain, someone I respected—the brief period in which the change took place is the most interesting component of this alteration."

"And now?" he prompts.

"When you were only my captain, I thought of you as Kirk," he says slowly. "Now you are simply Jim." This draws a pleased smile from his friend, and there is a moment of hesitation seen clearly in the way the other's muscles tense for a moment, and then Jim murmurs a barely audible "to hell with it," and wraps his arms around his friend.

"Jim, perhaps would should avoid having this emotional display in such a public area—" he begins to protest. He knows very well after his… previous experience with such displays in turbolifts that there are indeed cameras inside of them.

"I thought you were dead, Spock," he hears his friend say, the words muffled by the way Jim's mouth is pressed against his shoulder, but the emotion behind them clearly received. "I think we're entitled to an 'emotional display.'" He thinks of when he himself had embraced Jim, after the other had returned from the Constellation, and tentatively places his own arms around the captain's body.

During the embrace, he picks up on a staggering amount of love from Jim, as well as a myriad of other emotions--relief, happiness, anger at himself for putting Spock in that shuttlecraft in the first place... He examines and absorbs each sensation with no small amount of wonder. For both of them, the contact is entirely too brief, and he wonders as they release each other and begin the lift again when he began to welcome and enjoy physical contact with this man instead of merely tolerating it.

By silent, mutual agreement, they make their way to Jim's quarters, where he immediately sits down upon the bed. He is momentarily confused as to why he is so weary, and then remembers that this is one of the psychological effects of high-stress situations. He removes his boots and blue uniform tunic and places them neatly on the nearest chair, then lays down, eying Jim. The captain stands just inside the doorway enough to allow the sensors to refrain from opening the door and looks back at him.

"Jim," he says, and it is all that he needs to say. The man removes his own boots and gold shirt before laying down beside him. They do not sleep, though it is now night, both too wound-up to drift off. Instead, they simply watch each other in silence for a time, bodies touching but not quite pressed together. It comforts him.

He wonders what his older self's relationship was with the other James T. Kirk, and he is suddenly struck by the thought that his alternate knew exactly what was to happen between them. He tells Jim this after a moment, and the other seems to hesitate at these words, as if there were something he wants to say but does not know how to express it. As if he does not know if the words would be welcome.

"Yes, Jim?" he prompts, knowing that the use of his friend's first name will make him feel more at ease.

"Nothing," says the captain quickly, and he quickly smothers the feeling of disappointment this unwillingness to share his thoughts prompts. "I just…" His friend trails off, then takes a deep breath as though preparing himself for something. Jim turns onto his stomach and pushes himself up, then gazes down at him. He can hear his friend's heart beating erratically, the pace beginning to speed up, and then a moment later he realizes why as, for the second time, the other's lips meet his own.

Just as before, it is gentle, chaste and quite deliberate, and just as before, he wonders how to react to it. Quickly beginning an analysis of his feelings, he does not finish before Jim pulls away, saying hoarsely, "Damn, Spock, I'm sorry, I—" and he decides to take his older self's advice and "do what feels right."

Impulsively, he reaches out and brushes a hand through his friend's hair, marveling at how such a simple action causes Jim's breath to catch in his throat. He has done this many times before, but always when his friend was asleep, and seeing the subtle changes in the other's demeanor—the slight release of tension around the bright blue eyes, the minor up turn of his friend's lips—makes it suddenly an entirely different experience.

Lowering his hand, he takes Jim's in his and curls the fingers down, but leaves the fore and middle fingers outstretched, curling his own around them.

"This," he states quietly, "is how Vulcans kiss." Jim stares at him, looking almost alarmed, and then grins. He feels the other man's relief and happiness, and does not object this time when Kirk's moves to kiss him again. He feels mildly surprised yet oddly touched, however, when all the man does is press his lips to his forehead.

They fall asleep with their fingers entwined and as they are drifting off, he hears the other say, "You know, she never really liked me, but I think she'd be happy for you."

The thought pulls him suddenly from the contentment of being between wakefulness and sleep, and he feels his body tense slightly. Jim feels it also, and sits up rapidly, running a hand over his face.

"Damn it," the captain says. "I just can't say anything right."

But as much as the reminder of her… distresses him at certain times, he knows that Jim is right. "She would not have wanted me to remain in mourning forever," he quietly assures his friend—as well as himself. "I will always… feel her absence, but she would not begrudge me happiness."

"Happiness," whispers his friend, his expression entirely too serious, but then his lips curl into a small smile.

Then—because it feels right—he leans forward to kiss his friend. It is less innocent and more passionate now, their mouths opening to each other and parted lips moving fluidly, easily together, their tongues meeting in a teasing sort of dance, but they soon pull away.

"Do I make you happy?" asks Jim, though there is little insecurity in the question and more amazement.

"Yes," he answers unhesitatingly. "I am quite content."

"With me."

"With you," he echoes in agreement. "With her, and now with you. She… Nyota would be pleased to see me so." They kiss again, and he does not understand, but does not mind, the way each time seems as the first, so new and full of wonder—the same way it was when he kissed her.

The next day at dinner, in the officer's mess, they will sit with Bones and Scotty and Chekov and Sulu and tell them of the change in their relationship. They will quietly and gratefully accept the congratulations and smiles and approval of their companions, and they will toast to Nyota Uhura.

Four months and eighteen days from this moment, they will have their shoreleave on Earth, the leave coinciding with the first anniversary of her death. They will go to her grave together, laying flowers next to the tombstone, with him teaching his captain, his friend, his lover the Vulcan words of parting and loss, repeating them together.

In one year, they will visit the Vulcan colony and inform Sarek and his older self of their altered status, receiving gracious congratulations from Sarek and a knowing smile from his other self.

In three years, they will be back on Earth again for the end of their five-year mission, and they will ask that whatever posting they are given, it is the same for both of them.

But for now, they are content to simply be with each other, the knowledge of their love and the memory of an incredible woman between them, binding them closer together—happy.