Author's note: Once again, thank you to my beta putigress2012 from livejournal.

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek or any of its franchises.

"If you love something, set it free; if it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was."

Richard Bach

Jim does his level best to keep from grinning like a maniac as the Vulcan passengers they have been assigned to escort are beamed aboard, but it's hard because he knows that somewhere among them, they will be beaming up The Ambassador. As it turns out, when the outline of The Ambassador does appear (and isn't it odd that he can tell Spock apart from all other Vulcans?) Jim doesn't grin maniacally.

When Jim meets The Ambassador's eyes, he smiles - an honest to God, genuine smile.

"Hello Ambassador."

"Greetings, old friend." The combination of the affection behind those words and the warmth in Spock's eyes makes Jim's heart beat faster. He ignores it.

Gesturing towards the door, he lets his smile shift into a grin before continuing. "I'll be more than happy to show you to your quarters ambassador. I trust that won't be a problem…?"

"Of course not, Captain. It is most fortunate that there is nothing that requires your attention at this time as your company pleases me greatly." And yeah, Jim knows there's a reprimand in there but he's ignoring it in favour of relishing the latter part of Spock's comment. His company pleases him. That's a pretty big admittance by Vulcan standards. Jim squashes down the warm, fuzzy, fluttery things that are somersaulting in his stomach.

"Ah ha ha…" he laughs sheepishly. "Definitely 'most fortunate'." They turn to leave but before they can step out, somebody else is stepping in.

"Captain," Spock (the commander, not The Ambassador) says with a slight inclination of his head. He does not acknowledge The Ambassador. "I apologize for the interruption but there are matters that require your attention on the bridge."

"Oh." And if Jim's voice sounds a little disappointed, nobody in the room comments on it. "I suppose I shouldn't have expected my good fortune to last," he says with a sigh.

"I will still be aboard the Enterprise after your shift Jim," Spock (The Ambassador, not the commander) gently reminds him. Jim's answering smile lights up his eyes.

"Right. In that case, do you want to have dinner together?" His voice isn't hopeful, damn it.

"There is a high probability that the Ambassador is in need of rest given the trying circumstances and will be unavailable for dinner, Captain," Commander Spock informs him coldly.

Jim blinks. Oh shit. Had he just done something entirely insensitive? "I, uh, I should have- the Commander's right of course, I should have considered-"

"Dinner," The Ambassador interrupts, not unkindly, "would be most agreeable. Should I expect you at eighteen hundred hours?" Jim doesn't hold back his relief.

"That sounds great. I'll see you then. Commander Spock, please show the ambassador to his room."

"…As you wish Captain." Absentmindedly, Jim pats the commander on the shoulder before he walks away.

It's 16:00 and he's still technically on duty but they're basically on a milk run with this escort mission. This far into Federation space he's pretty sure the greatest risk to his life and ship is death by boredom. Well. That's not entirely true.

The unidentified things that are dancing in his gut with alarming intensity as the hours go by might just kill him first.

Throughout his shift he's been unusually restless. Jim knows this. But he can't help it. Just thinking about his fast approaching dinner with The Ambassador makes him feel funny.

"Are you unwell, Captain?" Probably, if he's fidgeting enough for anyone, including his Vulcan first officer, to notice. Jim pushes back a flush. Instead he settles for flashing a cocky grin.

"Of course, Commander. What makes you think otherwise?"

"You are shifting in the captain's chair with a 78% increase in frequency. You have gotten up from the captain's chair to pace four times more than usual. You are, I believe the phrase is, 'ant like'?"

Jim can't help it. Spock's attempt at a human colloquialism (and his subsequent misuse of it) makes him smile. "I believe 'antsy' is the word you are looking for, Commander. And it's not really anything worthy of a medical check up."

"I see." Jim nods and considers the matter closed. Another glance at the chronometer though, and his heart is back to racing. 16:12. Mentally he panics. He's not sure if he wants time to slow the fuck down or speed up damn it.

He's very sure that he's going to die of these funny feelings before he gets to dinner though. Huh. Maybe he does need medical attention.

"On second thought," he says aloud. "A trip to med bay may be just what the doctor ordered." When the bridge crew starts sending him worried glances, trying to see if their captain is sick, he flashes them another grin. "My internal Bones-o-meter says it's time to annoy the shit out of him." He heads to the turbolift, fully intending to tell Bones about these symptoms.

If he's honest, he knows exactly what those "funny feelings" signify. He just doesn't want to think about it. As the lift doors close he gives Spock a distracted, "Mr. Spock, you have the conn."

He's so distracted by his denial that he nearly misses Spock's answering, "As you wish, Captain."

"…What in God's name are you doing here Jim?" Here, is Sickbay and really Bones has no right to be asking that question. He frequently visits Sickbay. Of course, mostly, it's not his choice.

"I think I'm sick Bones."

"…You must be to be admitting it. Please tell me this isn't connected to our latest mission and, more importantly, the green blooded guests we're transporting."

"Uh, okay. What would you like me to tell you instead?"

"Damn it Jim! Only you could manage to seduce a Vulcan and get some sort of weird Vulcan related STD-"

"Woah, woah, woah! I don't have an STD!"

"Damn it Jim! I can only treat for physical diseases. We'll have to get M'Benga to treat you for whatever mental mess you've gotten yourself involved in-"

"Hang on, what? There's nothing wrong with me mentally either!"

"Now that's debatable."

"You're so funny Bones. Was stand up comedian your back up plan?"

"Well I need something to fall back on when I go into hiding for strangling my commanding officer. So what is wrong with you kid? You know, other than the usual."

"Well, my heartbeat quickens so my pulse is faster than usual, my stomach feels queasy-"

"Like nauseous queasy?"

"No. It's uncomfortable but not exactly unpleasant. On occasion I begin to sweat but it isn't due to fever, and I seem to have trouble speaking articulately."

Bones looks worried. "Well Jim, those could be the symptoms of a thousand different diseases. Can you tell me anything else?"

"I only get them around one person."

"…You ass! I was honestly worried! If that's all-"

"Bones." It's the soft way Jim says his name that makes him stop talking and look, actually look, at his best friend. Not his captain. No. Right now, the man sitting on the biobed and staring at the ceiling is not his captain. He is just Jim, and he is a little confused and a whole lot lost. "I don't want to be in love."

"Damn it Jim…" Jim looks both far too young and far too old and how he manages that Bones has no idea. He doesn't like it. "It's not… it's not that bad. Monogamy has its perks. Someone to wake up to in the morning. No STD's. And it's a nice thought ain't it? That there's one person in this entire galaxy that can be considered yours."

Jim still doesn't meet his eyes. Bad sign. That or the ceiling got way more interesting. When Jim does speak, it's quietly. Bad sign. "And if they don't want to be mine…?" Well. Shit.

"Well… you know what they say about loving something and letting it go…" Bones says with a shrug, shifting his weight uncomfortably to his other foot. This kind of talk isn't exactly in his typical field. He's divorced for God's sake! Jim gives him a sidelong glance.

"Wow," he says with a chuckle. "You suck at these kinds of things Bones." And Bones lets out a sigh of relief because they're back in familiar territory.

"Damn it Jim! I'm a doctor not a relationship therapist- I can't help you with this."

"Tut tut. Then what can you help me with good doctor?"

"Brat, you wanna know what I can help you with? Fine. When you come in here with broken bones? I can fix that. Bleedin' from a knife wound from whatever primitive society you've managed to come in contact with? I can fix that. Allergic reaction to God knows what? I can fix that." Jim opens his mouth to tell him he gets it, geeze, he was just teasing- Bones soldiers on anyways.

"But when you drag your sorry ass in here because of a broken heart? As a doctor? I can't do a damn thing. As your best god damn friend? I can fix that." And suddenly Jim's having trouble swallowing because there's a lump in his throat that's sort of impeding the action.

"I didn't know there was a cure for that."

"There is. It's called three bottles of whiskey, two bottles of bourbon, and, sometimes, a bottle or two of rum. You drink until the bottles are empty or, and this is much more common, until you pass out, and I, out of understanding and love, will then let you sleep it off. In the morning I won't say a word of what happened because, as far as I'm concerned, it never happened, then I'll give you a hangover curing hypo, you'll sober up, and we'll continue on this crazy adventure through death and destruction simply to go where 'no man has gone before.' That, dear Captain, is what I can do."

Jim stares long and hard with an expression that says he wants to say something but he can't find the words needed to convey what he's trying to say. Fortunately he manages to string together a coherent sentence. "…I am so fucking glad it was you that sat beside me on that shuttle." It's not enough of course. Not nearly enough to say what he wants to. To say what he's trying to.

"Me too kid. Me too." Bones gets it anyways.

It's 17:52 and Jim's hovering just outside of The Ambassador's quarters unsure if he should press the chime or not. He doesn't want to appear eager but at the same time… he'd really like to see The Ambassador again.

The door sliding open makes the decision for him.

"Uh… hi?" he says sheepishly.

"Greetings Jim," The Ambassador replies warmly.

"I'm, um, a little early. I hope you don't mind?"

"Of course not. As I said previously, your company pleases me."

"I remember." And he does. He fights down the blush threatening to spread across his cheeks as he does. "We'll be eating in the mess hall. Walk with me?"

"Always, Captain."

Graciously, the mess hall is not overly busy. They seem to have come at a lull between rushes- most have either already eaten or are planning on coming later. Jim thinks he spies Uhura here with Spock but it's just a glimpse before The Ambassador is at his side asking if he has a preferential seating space. Jim shakes his head and tells The Ambassador to pick a table while he picks up their meals from the replicator. He returns with a bowl of plomeek soup in one hand and a bowl of cream of mushroom soup in the other.

"I don't know how you like that stuff," he says while making a face. "It's rather… bland."

"A Vulcan palate is much more sensitive than a human's, Captain," The Ambassador replies automatically, then blinks. "You have tried plomeek soup before?"

Jim fights back another blush. "Once. For the sake of inquiring minds." Or, well, an inquiring mind.

"I see," The Ambassador replies. "Is there a particular reason in your dinner selection?"

Jim looks down at his cream of mushroom soup. Faint memories of warm hands brushing away tears and pressing soft kisses to bandaged knees flash in his mind's eye. He shrugs and they flutter away. "If it was logical for a Vulcan to have a comfort food, I'm fairly sure yours would be plomeek soup. On Earth, for most people, theirs would be chicken noodle soup. Mine is cream of mushroom."

"Fascinating," The Ambassador murmurs.

The rest of dinner passes without incident. Mostly. Jim has a moment of panic near the end when he moves to take The Ambassadors empty dish and accidently brushes his hand. Somewhere behind him he thinks he might have heard a thunderous crash but he's too caught up trying to simultaneously ignore the tingling crawling up his arm and apologize at the same time.

"I'm so sorry! I know the whole touching is a taboo thing and I honestly didn't mean to so please don't hate me, it was an accident-"

"As 'hate' is an emotion," The Ambassador interrupts in perfect monotone, "I assure you that I will not 'hate' you. For Vulcans, as I'm sure you know Captain, emotions are alien."

And yet Jim can see the affection dancing in The Ambassador's eyes.

"Oh but Ambassador,"-and maybe Jim's flirting, maybe he's not- "I have it from a very creditable source that you do feel." The Ambassador's facial expression does not change but Jim knows that he is smiling.

"Indeed? Well, as I am only half Vulcan that statement is still accurate." The Ambassador's eyes become solemn but a small part of Jim notes how the warmth in them does not lessen at all. "Jim. I have told you once that I have been and always shall be your friend. That fact will remain even during your times of error." That's good right? So why does Jim's chest hurt?

Evidently some of that must slip into Jim's smile because it comes out shakier than he intends. The Ambassador, it seems, misinterprets this hesitance as lingering anxiety over Jim's earlier mistake. "I understand that the touch earlier was not intentional, Jm. No offense was taken."

"Yeah but it must have been unpleasant. There's a reason Vulcan's don't like touching right?"

The Ambassador raises his eyebrow. "On the contrary, it was not unpleasant at all. I have never found your touch to be adverse, Captain." And the mysterious ache in Jim's chest is forgotten in favour of the sudden light headedness he experiences. It only takes a moment for him to squash it down ruthlessly, but it only takes that moment for him to feel like he's flying.

"I'm honoured Ambassador," he says with a blinding grin. "Since that's the case, would you care to join me for a game of chess?"

"Certainly Captain," The Ambassador replies. And with that, Jim leads the way out without a single glance back.

"I've been meaning to ask," Jim says as he moves his queen up a level, "how does she look to you? The Enterprise and her crew?"

The Ambassador's face is as passive as ever but Jim can't help but tilt his head curiously because he can read The Ambassador's surprise in the slight downturn of his mouth and hairline shift in his eyebrows. "I find that the similarities are startling familiar," he begins slowly as he carefully shifts a knight into a more defensive position, "and yet…" he trails off as Jim moves a rook down a level and takes a bishop.

"Hm?" Jim asks, fiddling with the captured piece. "And yet…?"

"And yet," The Ambassador replies watching the bishop in Jim's hands intently, "I find the differences to be glaring."

Jim pauses in his fiddling and does a bang up job of disregarding the sudden tightness in his chest. "…I see."

The game continues on in silence only to end a few minutes later when The Ambassador moves his queen back to the main level. "It appears that we have reached a stalemate, Jim."

Jim doesn't have to look at the board to know that he's been trapped- he knows that he has nowhere left to go. So instead, he looks The Ambassador straight in the eyes. "Yeah," he says licking his lips. "It appears so."

Jim's request for a rematch is met with a gentle refusal and a comment on the late hour. The walk back to The Ambassador's room is filled with a companionable silence. Briefly, Jim wonders what kind of picture they make, The Ambassador and he. He knows that in his command gold shirt and air of authority he looks the part of The Captain. He knows that The Ambassador, dressed in Vulcan diplomatic robes and walking serenely with his hands behind his back, looks the part of The Ambassador.

Yet, when they walk down the corridors of the Enterprise with their strides in sync he cannot help but think that in this moment, they look the part of Captain and Commander.

But surely he's the only one seeing that.

"Ambassador…" Jim says once they've reached The Ambassador's quarters, successfully causing him to pause. "I… thanks."

The Ambassador raises his eyebrow. "You're gratitude is unnecessary. I too, found tonight to be most agreeable."

Jim shakes his head because The Ambassador doesn't get it. "It's not just about tonight. I meant thanks… for everything. For this," and Jim pauses to gesture towards the empty hall. "I never would have gained captaincy if it weren't for you- for your unfailing support."

The Ambassador inclines his head. "Again, I find your gratitude to be unnecessary. You would have found yourself as captain of the Enterprise, with or without my support. If, however, you find yourself in need of it, then I will always be glad to give it. You have earned it, my friend. I bid you a good night, Captain."

And it's lucky that The Ambassador chose that moment to turn around and enter his room because this fortunate timing means that he will not see the stricken look on Jim's face.

"Yeah. Good night," he echoes hollowly. It's also lucky that the doors choose this moment to close shut. Then Jim can't say the, 'but I didn't earn it,' that's on the tip of his tongue.

The chime at his door is unexpected. That it's Spock (the commander, not The Ambassador) who's standing outside his door at 1:04 in the morning is even more so.

"Commander! Is everything all right?" The 'why are you here' he wants to ask remains unsaid. The commander doesn't reply immediately. Instead, he steps into the centre of the room and looks over Jim's appearance carefully before settling on his eyes. If Jim didn't know any better, he'd think the commander just checked him out.

"Captain, I wish to speak with you regarding your relationship with my older self." For a moment, Jim freezes.

"What relationship?" The words come out more bitter than he intends. Spock, in turn, looks uncomfortable. Good. Let the fucker suffer.

"It would not be logical to consider the ambassador as a romantic partner." Jim wonders if Spock knows how deep those words cut. If the way the commander refuses to look him in the eye is any indicator, Jim would guess that, yeah, he knows. And yeah, the idea that the commander is riling him up on purpose sort of makes his blood boil.

"Illogical how?" he challenges.

"There are numerous reasons-"

"Like what Spock?"

"He is no longer a member of Starfleet-"

"But he was, once. Hell, he's been in Starfleet longer than the two of us combined! Besides, isn't that a good thing? Now it's not fraternization!"

"He is needed on New Vulcan-"

"He's an ambassador. His job means he's off planet more often than not."

"He will most likely be unable to satisfy your physical needs-"

"God Spock! Do you really think I'm so much of an asshole that I honestly think sex is the only thing that makes a relationship?"

"He will be unable to love you-"

"How do you know?"

"As we are the same person-"

"No," Jim interrupts quietly, looking Spock right in the eye. "No you are not. You are not The Ambassador, Spock. You will never be The Ambassador, Spock." If Jim had been less upset, he might have seen how the commander looked as if he'd just been slapped. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

"…He is not yours," Spock says at last, in a final attempt to get Jim to see reason. It works. Jim's eyes drop from Spock's and lock onto the floor.

"That's enough, Commander. I will hear no more on the subject. You're dismissed." Jim turns around and looks resolutely at the wall.

"Captain-" Spock tries, taking a step forward.

"Dismissed, Commander!" The commander's face is unreadable. Finally, he gives a slight inclination of his head that Jim does not see.

"…As you wish, Captain."

Jim waits for the door to shut completely before sinking to the floor.

("You know what they say about loving something and letting it go…")

For Jim, it's never been a question of being able to let go-

("…He is not yours,")

Jim's hand comes up to his face to cover his eyes. "I know that. I know that."

-It's been a question of having.

(He isn't crying. He's not.)

You can't let go of something that was never yours to begin with.