...I'm ba-ack!

A million and one heartfelt apologies to anyone who thought that I had abandoned this story. This was never the case, I promise. As much as I would love to blame it on real life getting in the way, the truth is that I actually spent countless hours working on this chappie, most of which seemed to involve staring at a blank computer monitor. By now I believe I've learned my lesson about making grandiose promises of speedy updates, so instead let me just offer you my solemn Spockaholic word that no matter how long it takes, I WILL see this story through to the end.

That said, it's freakin' GREAT to be back! ^_^

There's not a whole lot of warnings for this chapter, unless you believe that one should warn for mild crack and slightly OOC situations. I'm sorry to say that this will be another Spockless chapter as well. As much as I wanted to include him, I had to keep him out so I could move the plot forward a bit more. But that doesn't mean that I won't make good on my promise from my previous A/N to make it up in awkward sexual tension. It's-a-coming! Cheers!

The Venus Ball was in full swing.

By the time the waiter had returned to clear the dishes away from the table, the crowd in the dining lounge had quadrupled. The dance floor had erupted into a flurry of flailing limbs as hotel staff and guest alike danced in a mishmash of Terran dance styles. Jim was amused to note that the Romance Concierges had abandoned their drab white diapers in favor of sparkly golds that twinkled under the light of the chandeliers. Evening formal wear, no doubt. Driven to a giddy frenzy by the jazz band, they danced with the guests and each other indiscriminately. Moulted wing feathers littered the dance floor.

Nursing a second Bolian beer, Jim kept an eye on the revelries, waiting for Droovin to make an appearance. Despite the lobby receptionist's claim that he would be in attendance at the ball, Jim had yet to see a glimpse of his curly head through the assortment of diapers and wings. He wondered if it was just as well. Two and a half hours had been more than enough time for Spock to complete his meditation. The longer he stayed away, the greater the risk of looking as if he were avoiding the Vulcan.

Not that he was avoiding the Vulcan, because that would be ridiculous. What reason did he have to stay away from Spock? The man had kissed and propositioned him while under some kind of some personality-altering influence. Compared to some of the other things that Spock had tried to do to him while under a personality-altering influence, this was hardly a blip on the Spockian Catastrophe Radar. If anything, he should be grateful that he had made it out of their encounter with no cuts or bruises to show for it.

And surely the gratitude would come after he had finished his beer and followed it up with three or four more.

Sighing, he reached into the candy dish on the table and pulled out a conversation heart. A morose smile twisted his lips as he recalled using the tiny confections to tease that adorable green blush from Spock's cheeks. Hard to believe that had only been hours ago. After everything that had happened between them, he couldn't imagine ever being able to ruffle Spock like that again.

He turned the candy heart over in his palm and examined the inscription.

True love.

He winced. There was the rub. The only rub he was likely to get that evening.

He popped the candy into his mouth and crunched it between his molars. It tasted like sweetened dirt.

Glancing up, he gave the crowd another cursory once-over. As expected, he saw no sign of Droovin, but a familiar flash of copper braids caught his eye. He recognized the body artist, Shindylle, dancing with a stout Tellarite man, her lips frozen into a polite grimace of a smile. A sense of renewed hope stirred within him. Who needed Droovin when he could speak to the woman responsible for painting the J'seya yi sleya? If anyone could shed some light on the strange events of the day (and without the additional perverted commentary) it was she.

Resisting the temptation to stride onto the dance floor and accost her that instant, Jim forced himself to remain at the table and let her finish her dance. A faint smile played on his lips as he watched her hobbling with the Tellarite man. From the looks of it, she was attempting to teach her partner a basic box step, and, if her frequent grimaces were any indication, she was receiving a crash course in Tellarite physiology, namely cloven feet. He hoped for her sake that her go go boots were reinforced.

The jazz band blustered out the final notes of their song and exited the stage to a perfunctory staccato of applause. Shindylle patted the Tellarite man on the shoulder in farewell and they parted ways. She limped towards a beverage table near the edge of the dance floor and sank into one of the vacant chairs. Jim gave her a moment to rotate her ankles and massage her toes through the sparkly gold fabric of her boots before making his approach.

"I trust they give you hazard pay for giving dance lessons to Tellarites?" he said in greeting.

Shindylle glanced up and threw him a pained smile.

"No such luck, Mr. Kirkspock," she said. She straightened in her chair and threw a curious look at the empty space at Jim's right side.

"Where's Mr. Spockkirk?" she asked.

"He's not as fond of the night life as I am," Jim said. "He's relaxing in our room."

"Aww, that's a shame," Shindylle purred, pulling her lips into a mock pout. "You two would've looked so dashing on the dance floor."

Jim shrugged and made no effort to refute her. No sense arguing against the truth.

He walked over to the beverage table, picked up two crystalline goblets and and them with the deep magenta liquid cascading from the punch fountain. When he returned to Shindylle and held out a drink to her, the grateful smile that began on her face disappeared.

"Something wrong?" Jim asked.

In response, Shindylle grasped his arm with both hands and pushed his sleeve back. A sharp pucker formed on her brow as she studied his bare forearm.

"You removed the J'seya yi sleya," she said. Jim's renewed sense of optimism disintegrated under the acid in her voice.

He cursed inwardly. In his eagerness to get some answers about the J'seya yi sleya, he had completely overlooked the possibility that its absence would offend the artist who had painstakingly applied it to his body. The indignation on her face did not bode well. So much for having an easier alternative to conversing with Droovin.

"It couldn't be helped," he said simply. The answer did not seem to mollify her. She released his arm and stared straight ahead, refusing to look at him.

"Were you displeased with it?" she demanded.


"Was Mr. Spockkirk displeased with it?"


Which was the understatement of the twenty-third century, if the standing ovation he'd received from Spock's anatomy was anything to go by, Jim thought with a twinge of perverse amusement.

"Well, I certainly hope you had good reason for washing it off," Shindylle said. "I'd hate to think that I wasted a good two hours of my time and talent."

Jim regarded the petulant cast to her lips, sensing that he was on the brink of losing his best chance of getting the information that Norman alluded to. Hating himself for what he was going to do next, he slid into the chair beside her and gave her a lazy smile.

"Oh, it wasn't a waste, believe me," he insisted. He glanced around, as if to make sure no one was listening in, and leaned in closer to her.

"To tell you the truth..." He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial purr. "Spock was so...enthusiastic in his admiration of your artwork that I uh, found myself in dire need of a shower shortly after we returned to our bedroom." He ducked his head and added, "You must forgive me if I don't go into further detail."

He held her gaze until a flood of comprehension washed the wounded indignation from her face. He wasn't sure if he liked the smile that replaced it.

"Say no more, Mr. Kirkspock; I completely understand," Shindylle said. Her eyes took on a distant, glassy look. Jim cleared his throat, handed her a drink, and tried not to think about the mental images that were doubtlessly scrolling through her brain.

They sipped their beverages in silence, Jim watching Shindylle out of the corner of his eye as she bounced a leg in time to the recorded classical music that had replaced the live band. When he felt certain that enough time had lapsed to dissipate their previous tension, he rose to his feet and returned their empty goblets to the punch table. When he returned to Shindylle, he offered her a disarming smile.

"Spock may be a lost cause this evening, but I see no reason why I should be deprived of a waltz or two," he said. He bowed and extended his hand. "May I have the pleasure?"

"As long as you promise not to squash my toes," Shindylle said, accepting the proffered hand. Jim helped her to her feet and tucked her arm into the crook of his elbow.

They made their way to the dance floor, where Jim led Shindylle in a waltz. To his delight, Shindylle proved to be an accomplished dancer, matching the rise and fall of his his steps with practiced ease. Couples around them gave them appreciative smiles as they glided around the dance floor in unison. As much as he would've preferred having Spock in his arms, the enjoyment of dancing with a graceful woman was not lost on him. It was almost enough to tempt him to abandon his inquest. He fought through the fog of complacency, knowing that this could be his one chance at learning the truth behind Spock's behavior.

He waited until they had danced through the first half of The Blue Danube before bringing the subject up.

"I haven't seen anyone else wearing a J'seya yi sleya," he began in what he hoped was an offhand manner. "Are they fairly common here?"

"Not really." Shindylle said. "Most of our guests are Jarillians who want to experience human culture without the hassle of space travel, and the J'seya yi sleya would hardly be considered an exotic treat. Most humanoids tend to ask for more iconic body art like flowers and animal patterns."

"Do you make a habit of singling people out to be painted?" Jim asked.

"Only when the inspiration strikes."

"May I ask why you were inspired to paint me?"

Shindylle hesitated, pursing her lips in thought.

"I'm an artist," she said finally "When I see beauty, I'm compelled to paint it. And to me, there's nothing more beautiful than the love-bond between lifemates."

Jim frowned. Love-bonds and lifemates. Always it came down to the same two concepts, even when talking about something as simple as body art. Maybe Norman had been right. Maybe the J'seya yi sleya really wasn't the issue he needed to pursue.

"Forgive me if I sound skeptical, but why were you so quick to assume that Spock and I are lifemates? For all you knew, we could have been two friends who were here with other partners, or even two strangers who just happened to strike up a conversation."

Shindylle looked at him for a long time before replying.

"When two people are as attuned as you and Mr. Spockkirk are, it's obvious from the get-go," she said.

"Obvious to everyone?" Jim gave her a pointed look. "Or obvious to a Jarillian?"

Shindylle stiffened in his arms.

"What do you mean?" she asked in a low voice.

"Spock and I have served aboard the same ship for four and a half years," Jim told her. "In all that time, never once has anyone suggested that we're more than friends—colleagues. It may interest you to know that the only exceptions have all been citizens of Jaris."

"Well, what can you expect? You are at a couples resort, after all." Shindylle said.

"Only because we were sent here by a Jarillian woman," Jim pointed out.

He relayed the story of Spock's and his meeting with the Head of the Jarillian Medical Research Initiative, which had resulted in their arrival at Cupid's Cove.

"Just what are you getting at, Mr. Kirkspock?" Shindylle asked. A wary expression clouded her face.

"Allow me to speak plainly," Jim began. "Whatever I may have led you to believe about the nature of my relationship with Spock, the truth is that we are not romantically involved. But that hasn't stopped any Jarillian I've talked to from believing otherwise...even before our arrival at the Cove. "

He twirled her in a circle to give her time to process that bit of information. By the time she completed her revolution, her face had reverted back to the shocked indignation she had worn when she had realized that his bodypaint was missing. No doubt she had figured out that he had been putting her on about why he had washed it off. He pressed on before she could address it.

"Considering that Spock's and my relationship has only ever been platonic, the only way your claim that we're lifemates can be true is if you know something about us that we don't. And the only way you could know something about us that we don't..." He sucked in a deep breath and went for the kill. " if you have some sort of ability a racial ability that enables you to discern it."

Shindylle stopped dancing so abruptly that Jim had to sidestep to avoid tripping over her feet.

"That's a large assumption," she said, not quite looking at him. She pulled a thin braid out from behind her ear and tugged on it idly.

"Is it?" Jim countered. He narrowed his eyes. "Out of all the couples on the beach today hundreds of people you chose to approach us. Why?"

"Like I said, I was inspired."

"By our love-bond?" Jim said dubiously. "A love-bond that we ourselves were never aware of?"

The only answer he received was a tightening of the jaw and more braid tugging.

Desperate, Jim reached towards her and clasped her shoulders.

"Try and help me understand. You come from a people who claim to hold the love-bond in highest esteem. And yet, without knowing anything about us, you believed that such a bond exists between Spock and myself—enough to warrant a J'seya yi sleya. Which would you rather have me believe: that you did so for a reason, or that you're willing to peddle a sacred ritual as a tourist attraction?"

Shindylle shook her head and regarded him with a sympathetic expression.

"I don't expect you to understand, Mr. Kirkspock," she said.

Jim gave her an icy smile.

"Enlighten me," he said.

Shindylle shook her head.

"That's not my job," she said. "If you're so worried about whether you and Mr. Spockkirk have a love-bond or not, stop wasting your time with me and go talk to him about it."

"How do you do it, Shindylle?" Jim demanded, "Are you a telepath? An empath?"

Someone tapped Jim on the shoulder.

"Good evening, Mr. Kirkspock," a familiar, breezy voice greeted.

Jim turned around. Resplendent in a sparkly gold diaper, Droovin dipped his torso in a slight bow and offered him an ingratiating smile.

"You must forgive me, but when I saw you dancing with the loveliest woman in the room..." Droovin shifted his eyes to Shindylle and held her gaze until her cheeks pinkened under the attention. "...I couldn't help but want to be a part of it."

For a moment, the two Jarillians stood there, gazes locked, and Jim had the distinct impression that he was caught in the crossfire of that unique brand of almost-telepathy that only occurs between friends whose primary form of communication consists of pointed glances and knowing smiles. But before he could begin to decipher it, Droovin continued.

"Would you permit me the impudence of cutting in?"

"Actually " Jim began.

"We were just finishing up," Shindylle interrupted. She pivoted towards Jim, all smiles once again.

"Thank you for the dance, Mr. Kirkspock," she said. "You're a terrific dancer—a credit to your race—but I believe I've monopolized enough of your time for one evening. If you'll excuse me..."

She turned towards Droovin expectantly, but rather than approach her, the man-cherub sauntered towards Jim and wound his arms around his neck. Jim opened his mouth to protest, but snapped it shut when he looked over Droovin's shoulder and saw Shindylle beaming triumphantly at him.

She pivoted on her heels and began walking away.

"Have fun!" she called over her shoulder.

Although Droovin had proven himself a capable watercraft pilot and volleyball player throughout the day, it soon became apparent that dancing with guests must not be part of his usual duty roster. Unlike the fleet-footed Shindylle, who had flitted and twirled around the floor as if she had learned to dance before she could walk, Droovin seemed perfectly content with simply holding Jim's shoulders and shuffling from side to side like an adolescent at his first junior prom. Not that it bothered Jim. Years of experience attending diplomatic functions had long since cultivated within him an easy acceptance of dance partners, regardless of gender, species or ability. What he did find a lot more difficult to tolerate, however, was the constant litany of diaper crinkles that accompanied each step, sounding strangely like distant ocean waves. Combined with the soft strains of Chopin playing over the sound system, it was like listening to relaxation music from hell.

"Do you have to dance so closely?" he grumbled.

"So sorry sir," Droovin said, sounding anything but contrite. "It's just that you smell fantastic. I'm afraid I have a bit of a weakness for the scent of strawberry body soap. You must've had one delicious shower." He buried the tip of his nose into the crook of Jim's neck and snuffled in a deep breath."Nummy nummy num."

Jim tightened his hold on Droovin's shoulders.

"I'll thank you to keep your nose to yourself," he growled.

"Oh, relax!" Droovin said. "For a man on vacation, you're much too uptight." He shook his head and gave him a pitying glance. "I don't know how Mr. Spockkirk puts up with you," he added.

Jim chose to ignore that statement.

"Speaking of Mr. Spockkirk..."

Jim turned a hard stare at him, ready to go to battle at the first hint of an off-color statement.

Just give me one reason...

"...I noticed that he isn't with you this evening. Is he alright?"

Something inside of Jim softened at the concern in Droovin's voice. Whatever his personal feelings for the Jarillian, he had to admit that Droovin had never been anything but sincere in his support of Spock's and his supposed relationship. Maybe it was time cut him a break. The man was only trying to do his job, after all. He relaxed his grip on Droovin's shoulders.

"He's fine," he said. "Everything's fine."

Droovin beamed at him.

"I knew it would be. He loves you, you know."

Jim winced.

"So you've mentioned," he said wearily.

Droovin gave him a steady glance.

"Do you believe it yet?" he asked.

Jim paused. As much as he was loath to confide in the man-cherub about anything Spock-related, he was running out of people who could potentially give him the information he needed. Unless he was willing to turn a simple shore leave into an all-out inquisition—something he doubted Spock would appreciate, given the subject in question—he'd better take help where he could get it.

"I'm open to persuasion," he said cautiously.

He braced himself for a fit of giddy histrionics, but to his surprise, the Romance Concierge only regarded him solemnly for several seconds before nodding his head.

"I suppose that's a start," Droovin said. "So tell me, Mr. Kirkspock; how would you like me to persuade you?"

"You can start by giving me some information," Jim told him. "I've heard it suggested that there is a reason why Jarillian people believe that Spock and I are lifemates—a reason that has less to do with us, and more to do with the Jarillian race. I want to know what that reason is."

"Is that what you were talking to Shindylle about?" Droovin asked. He shook his head and giggled. "No wonder she gave me the signal!"

"Signal? What signal?"

"Oh it's nothing, just a bit of body language," Droovin said airily. "Sometimes our line of work requires us to deal with difficult people. Shindylle and I have worked out a system to let each other know when one of us needs rescuing."

"You're deflecting the issue. Are you going to tell me or not?"

For the first time that day, Jim heard Droovin sigh.

"You must understand that it isn't easy to talk about these sorts of things with offworlders," Droovin said. "You've put me in a difficult position, sir."

"Difficult how?" Jim pressed. "Is it a taboo subject?"

"It depends on who you ask. Some Jarillians feel very strongly against sharing too much of themselves with those who might not understand."

"Some Jarillians," Jim repeated. He gave Droovin a measured glance. "But not all?"

"No, not all," Droovin said. "Some Jarillians believe that their...unique perspective on the universe puts them in a position to help others." He pressed closer to Jim and spoke in a hushed voice. "Some Jarillians believe that much can be gained when people help each other."

"And are you in a particularly helpful mood today, Mr. Droovin?" Jim asked.

"I could be...provided that my generosity is reciprocated."

Jim narrowed his eyes.


"You've heard that my father, Gorvin, was once a Romance Concierge himself, correct?" Droovin began.

Jim thought back to his visit with Norman and Joanie on the beach.

"He attended Norman and Joanie Stone during their honeymoon," he said.

"And every vacation afterward, for the next twelve years," Droovin added. "Eventually he worked his way up to the position of hotel manager...which is wonderful for him, but puts me at a disadvantage. As the son of the boss, I'm expected to work twice as hard as my co-workers to be considered for a promotion, so as to avoid the appearance of favoritism. That's where you come in."

"Alright, you have my attention," Jim said. He lowered his voice and added, "But bear in mind that my mind tends to wander when conversations take an unethical turn."

He meant it as a warning, but rather than have the intended effect, it only served to widen the man-cherub's customary grin.

"Now really, Mr. Kirkspock! I would never ask you to do anything unseemly. You simply must get your mind out of the gutter."

Jim resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

"Just tell me what you want," he said flatly.

"At the end of the month, our Head Romance Concierge is transferring to one of our sister resorts, which means that the position of Grand Cupid will need to be filled," Droovin said. "On Jaris, it's customary for satisfied customers to leave letters of commendation for public service and hospitality workers who provide exceptional service. These letters are taken into consideration when deciding which employees are eligible for a promotion. If I want to be considered a candidate to move up to Grand Cupid, I must earn at least twenty letters of commendation—twice as many as my colleagues. "

"This letter of that what you're asking from me?" Jim asked.

A hopeful light sparked in the Jarillian's eyes. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.

"Not quite," Droovin said, a note of regret in his voice. "As wonderful as that would be, I couldn't accept it in good conscience if I didn't feel like I earned it properly." He shook his head. "What I want is to give you the opportunity to decide for yourself if I am worthy of one."

"And how do you suggest I do that?"

"Simply by letting me do my job. Relax, enjoy the pleasure of Mr. Spockkirk's company, and allow me to plan your itinerary for the remainder of your visit. In exchange, I will give you the information you seek on the final night of your stay here. If, at the end of your visit, you feel that I have succeeded in my duties as your personal Romance Concierge, you may write me a letter of commendation. But that is strictly up to you; I will tell you what you wish to know, regardless of your decision."

"You want me to give you control over Spock's and my vacation?" Jim said incredulously. He stared at the Jarillian, not knowing whether to shudder or laugh at the thought. If there was a worse tradeoff for the information he wanted, he certainly wasn't imaginative enough to picture it.

Droovin, however, was looking at him as if he had made the most reasonable of requests.

"I'm not asking for anything more than what is customary at Cupid's Cove," he said. "You want to woo Mr. Spockkirk, right? Let me help you. It is my job, and I daresay I'm rather good at it."

This time Jim knew he wanted to laugh. Woo Spock? Thank God the Vulcan wasn't around to hear this. Otherwise, he would have to spend the rest of vacation scraping his right eyebrow off the ceiling. He wanted to tell Droovin as much, but seeing the earnestness on his face, he couldn't bring himself to do it. Better to let him down gently.

"It's a generous offer, but you needn't go through so much trouble on my account," he said, his voice oozing with sincerity. "Why not just answer my questions tonight and spare yourself the extra legwork? I'd be happy to write you a letter of commendation in return;I'd even do it this evening, if you wanted. If you're worried about earning it fairly, I can assure you that you would be. I may not always agree with your, ah, unique style of hospitality, but I can recognize a dedicated employee when I see one." He turned his most charming smile on the Jarillian and waited for him to capitulate.

"My deepest apologies, Mr. Kirkspock, but I must decline."

Jim dropped his smile.

"Mind telling me why?"

"It's for your own benefit. If you can't even believe me when I tell you that Mr. Spockkirk loves you, how can I expect you to handle it when I tell you how I came by that knowledge?"

"Why don't you just tell me and find out?"

Droovin chuckled as if he were a small child who had just asked for three servings of ice cream before bedtime.

"All in good time, sir. And that's precisely what I'm trying to buy you—time for you to think things over and decide whether you truly you believe you're ready to receive the answers to your questions. You are seeking knowledge that could permanently alter your relationship with Mr. Spockkirk. What better way for you to decide if you're ready for that change than to spend the next two nights being treated as if it has already occurred?"

Jim stared at the Jarillian man, wanting to say something anything to refute him, but to his own surprise, he could not pry his tongue from the roof of his mouth. He could no more ignore the logic in Droovin's words than a trained musician could listen to an orchestral piece without recognizing the time signature.

Which begged the question: what did he intend to do about it?

If he were a sensible man, he would refuse Droovin's offer, march straight back to the honeymoon suite, and attempt to spend the remainder of his vacation with Spock in peace. If he were a sensible man, he would honor Spock's Vulcan principles and commit to maintaining the status quo of their relationship. He would take no risks, push no boundaries and refuse to sacrifice personal comfort on the alter of knowledge.

If he were a sensible man.

"Alright, fair enough. We'll do it your way. And I hope for both our sakes that I don't come to regret this," he said.

"Never fear, Mr. Kirkspock," Droovin said, "I will put together a Romance Package that will have Mr. Spockkirk eating out of the palm of your hand. Kinky, yes?" he added with a wink.

Jim sighed. He was regretting it already.

He started to tell Droovin as much, but stopped when he noticed that the man-cherub was looking past him. His internal klaxon began wailed to life when he saw the familiar, licentious grin spreading across his face.

"Do you trust me, Mr. Kirkspock?" Droovin asked.

"Not particularly."

Droovin slid a hand down the length of Jim's arm and clasped his hand. He rested his other hand Jim's hip.

"Then I suggest you start. Now."

Before Jim could protest, the man-cherub stepped toward him, sealing away any respectable distance between them, and began swaying from side to side.

"What do you think you're—"

"Trust me," Droovin whispered into his ear.

"Like hell I will!"

Jim wrenched himself out of the man-cherub's grasp and took a step backward. He collided into a solid torso. Warm hands caught him by the biceps, steadying him.

His heart lurched as a rich voice rumbled into his ear:

"Is everything alright, Captain?"

Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in this story, whether by actively giving feedback or silently lurking. If there is one thing that keeps me smiling, even when the writing gets writer's blocky, it's knowing that there are other people out there who understand the awesomeness that is K/S. You guys rule!