The shopkeeper stared at him with three beady eyes, sizing him up, no doubt, to determine how many credits he could get out of him. After a moment, his slimy lips locked in a disappointed frown, as if he found Jim wanting.
Jim just stared right back. For a beat. Then he brought out the big guns; he smirked.
Intimidation tactics? On him? Puh-lease. He'd seen much scarier things than one grey-colored profit-monger of indeterminate species. A lot of much scarier things. That and he had a rather potent weapon on his side… classic Kirk determination.
A force to be reckoned with, certainly.
Though the truth was he probably would pay an inordinate amount because he really, really wanted the artifact. But what Bubba the tightwad here didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
"You realize," the shopkeeper announced, his Standard broken and slurred, "that the value of this item has significantly increased due to recent events."
Jim let his smile fade, then clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth and shook his head in exaggerated disapproval. "Really? You know, I do believe that that is the most insensitive thing I've ever heard. Profiting off a planet's demise. Frankly I'm more than a little appalled! I may have to include this in my log, you understand. I mean, the Federation needs to be aware that a black market for Vulcan artifacts may exist, given the inflated prices…"
The shopkeeper blinked, then began to fidget, the frown on his winkled face deepening, and Jim knew that he had him.
"For you I can give a special price."
Jim allowed himself to exhale, relieved and also hopeful.
He could mark Spock off his gift list. Wouldn't his first officer be surprised? Particularly considering that the two of them hadn't been working together that long, and were still so tentative in their off duty moves towards friendship, and also… wary, of each other.
'Wary' was certainly one word for it. Actually, he halfway suspected that he annoyed the crap out of his first.
And that bothered him, a lot. Bothered him because it shouldn't bother him. He was Captain for cryin' out loud, Spock's boss. What should it matter if Spock thought him annoying as long as Spock was professional while on duty? And the Vulcan was, sickenly so.
But… he wanted Spock to like him.
Maybe because Spock's good opinion was so hard to win. Maybe because Jim held a healthy respect for Spock. Maybe because Spock had this presence that was just so… attention grabbing.
Hence the intimidation of dubiously innocent shopkeepers in the greater pursuit of a merry Christmas and the acquisition of Jim's own version of an awesome olive branch.
Admittedly, he didn't even know if Spock celebrated Christmas.
This trend of caring what other people thought of him had started with Pike, damn the man. Which is why he was currently combing through shops to find the older man a sweater. And some of that Andorian toffee that Jim knew the Admiral loved.
This business of caring was certainly getting to be expensive, but worth it.
Having never really had a father, Jim was certain Freud would have a field day with how quickly Pike had become one to him. And how much that influence had shaped the course of his life.
How do you come up with a gift meaningful enough for someone who had done that for you? Toffee seemed a tad understated in that regard, but his heart was in it.
If not for Pike…
There Jim had been, this solitary man, a rogue elephant without a decent male role model to pat him on the back, slap a condom in his hand, and impart the ever so wise wisdom of 'don't get anyone pregnant, always pay your taxes and don't spit into the wind' when Pike had swept in, auditioned for the part, and then took it without bothering to ask Jim's opinion on his hireability.
Then he'd dared Jim to join Starfleet.
Wiley old bastard. Man after Jim's own heart. So yeah, Pike had started this baffling trend of Jim finding people in his life who were just so extraordinary that he couldn't help but care.
'Trend' because it just keep happening, one right after the other….
Once upon a time there was this guy named Jim who walked into a shuttle and sat down. It was at this point that the dulcet tones of the most sarcastic and paranoid individual Jim would ever have the pleasure of knowing reached his ears for the first time. He turned. Their eyes met across the room. The man walked slowly, purposefully towards the seat next to Jim, and then turned to him to say… "I think I might throw up on you."
With those words, the long-empty role of best friend had also been filled.
Bones, ah, Bones, whose blunt honesty and ability to raise sarcasm to an art form had charmed Jim speechless like no other before him.
So, this Christmas, Bones was getting cigars, special ordered from Earth. Jim already had them tucked away in a secret hiding place, having picked them up at the last Starbase the Enterprise had visited. And also a bottle of Southern Comfort, because gifting each other with alcohol, or, as Bones called it, 'peace of mind in a bottle' was how they bonded.
Bones was a special breed. He hadn't given a shit about Jim's history, or who Jim's heroically dead father had been. In fact, at the rate Bone's called him a 'sly bastard', it was doubtful Bones believed he'd had any parents at all. Which, to be fair, wasn't that far off the mark. So no, a family tree hadn't mattered shit to Bones. Neither had troubled pasts, or freakishly high assessment scores, things that deterred a lesser individual. No, Bones only cared about three things: competency, Jim's health (and the health of every sentient being ever born anywhere: 'Jim, you eat that grease vat commonly known as a hamburger and I'm going to slap your hand. Ever heard of coronary disease, man? I'm sending an article to your PADD. Read it'), and the proper way to take a whiskey sour.
There was a ritual to it, you see.
And Jim would hem and haw and pretend that Bones's mother-henning was annoying beyond the telling of it, but the truth was that Jim wondered if Bones had any clue just how often Jim felt the urge to grasp him in a manly hug and exclaim 'I love you, man' for these little displays of grudging affection.
It wasn't that having Bones in his life had improved his overall health (which it had, and he highly recommended to everyone everywhere to get a doctor as a sidekick). But also that it was rather nice to care about someone. It was also nice to be cared about in turn. The whole 'caring' thing was pretty awesome, all truth be told.
But while Jim could easily explain how easily Pike and Bones had infiltrated his defenses, each filling a niche that had been so vacant and desolate before, what he couldn't explain was Spock.
Spock had entered his life like this big, oppressive juggernaut: sizing him up, challenging him, infuriating him like no one's business. It was maddening just how fast and how effectively Spock got under his skin. The Unflappable Jim Kirk? Not if there was a Vulcan/human hybrid around. Jim had been flapped, man, he had been flapped hard.
Spock was like Pike and Bones rolled into one: daring Jim to do better, and a total wiseass on top of it.
It was so strange, how one person, one irritatingly stubborn, maddeningly intelligent, and highly attractive person, could just… be so fucking impossible for Jim to ignore.
Why did Spock have that kind of power? How did he get it? Jim had spent his whole life unaffected and here this guy comes along, all stuck-up, repressed and wiggling eyebrows like it was a whole other language and Jim's stuck mesmerized by the entire picture.
Spock had a weird power over him, one that he couldn't quite explain. But yes, he cared.
Four steps to the right, swivel, four steps to the left. Twist, clench fists, repeat. The anxious captain dance – Jim heard it was all the rage in the Beta Quadrant.
Okay, so it was just possible he was a tiny bit nervous, waiting for Spock to show.
But the way Jim saw it, any slight nervousness he might be feeling was not only easily explained, but entirely justifiable.
Spock could either be moved by his gesture, preferably, or claim Jim was ten kinds of idiot in that ever-so-diplomatic-yet-patently-displeased Vulcan way of his, extremely not preferable.
And when his bell chimed and Spock walked through, his doors, posture straight, hair groomed, looking every bit as impossible to ignore as he ever had been, Jim could only nod a greeting and hold his breath while he waited for Spock to notice the long, thin weapon lying innocently on the table in Jim's quarters.
Jim had done his research, had been all about researching Vulcan lately: Vulcan history, Vulcan culture, Vulcan pretty-much-anything-he-could-get-his-hands-on.
The lirpa had been a traditional melee weapon on Vulcan. Having stared at it rather incessantly since he bought it, Jim couldn't help but wonder what a fight with one looked like, though he imagined it to be a finely choreographed show of sleek skill and artistic precision. Vulcans, even the modern day 'adherence to the sanctity of life' variety, could combine the lethal and the graceful like few Jim had seen. The lirpa was a prime example of this, a long staff with a metal blade in the shape of a fan on one end, and a metal bludgeon on the other.
As he'd learned from his research, lirpas were, of course, seldom used in this modern, technological age of phasers, but still served a ritualistic purpose, alluded to but never defined in everything he had read. Spock seemed to be like the traditionalist, history buff, 'read up on the way of his ancestors', type of guy, in fact they had that in common, so Jim had figured he'd kind of dig it.
But more importantly, Jim had hoped Spock would see it as the gift was intended; a little bit of Vulcan, in tangible form, given back.
Though, perhaps, Jim reflected as he watched Spock stare at the weapon, entirely speechless and expressionless, tying a bright red bow around it had been a bit much. Bones always did say he should try for being less flamboyant in his gestures; yeah, possibly he should try that, though it does sound less fun.
And as Spock's silence continued past 'wow, I'm so surprised I'm speechless' and meandered closer to 'let's see if I can recall the 'how to let your Captain down diplomatically in twelve easy steps' chapter in the First Officer's handbook... ah yes, step one: dragging out silence to the point it's awkward', Jim figured that yes, Vulcans hate Christmas, it's confirmed; and yes, okay, so maybe buying Spock a gift despite not knowing the previous point had been a bad idea; and hell yes, some captainly backtracking, diplomacy and possible reconnaissance were now desperately needed.
"I know you don't celebrate Christmas, Spock, but I saw this-" more like searched for it specifically "-and thought you would like it." (I had to get it for you. I was going for symbolic here, okay?). "I'm not expecting you to join in the festivities or anything-" though I wouldn't mind it… actually, yes, I was hoping this would promote some Christmas cheer in your inordinately overly stringent self, I own it, "- but well, I've recently developed a bit of appreciation for Christmas." (It's amazing what discovering there are actually people in the universe I like can do for holiday cheer.) "I chose to celebrate by honoring the important people in my life with gifts-" hey, I got Pike a sweater and Bones some cigars - they're phallic and I do so love to mess with him, he's under the impression that he's straight, but yeah, closet case there if there ever was one - so don't feel all singled out here, even if I maybe, secretly want you to feel singled out because you're special, "-so merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, I hear Kwanzaa is quite lovely this time of year, a very happy unbirthday to you."
And if Jim was a bit out of breath by the end of that speech, that was also justifiable. Spock still wasn't saying anything and Jim was nervous as hell.
'Smooth there, Kirk. Don't you feel suave right now. Way to go.'
And then Spock turned his gaze on Jim. And his eyes were big, and dark, and wholly consuming: focused, intent, capable of scaling tall buildings in a single bound, and Jim felt himself gulp, another faux show of nonchalance dying upon his lips.
"Okay, so this all went over like a lead balloon. Note to self, we'll skip the gift giving next year. Got it," he stated, once he'd managed to find his tongue.
At this Spock visibly jolted, as if pulled out of a trance.
Good. Jim was glad he wasn't the only one seemingly hypnotized whenever they were in a room together.
"Jim," Spock breathed, the word a whisper. "Thank you. You cannot fully understand just what you have done…"
And Jim watched as Spock reached out a gentle hand and brushed it over the lirpa with infinite care, as if he feared that the weapon would crumble beneath his fingertips if he applied too much pressure.
He couldn't decide which event had him feeling more giddy: the fact that Spock had liked his gift after all, or the fact that Spock had called him by his given name without being provoked or prodded to do so beforehand.
Shopkeepers, Jim decided, must all operate from the same handbook. No matter how distant from Earth the market or what species the keepers themselves hailed from, they universally loved to fuck with you.
Or at least that was the conclusion Jim came to when he found himself in the same situation he had been in the previous year while Christmas shopping for Spock.
And once again some smart-alec tried to play the role of extortionist.
"This dah-retuka-tches is nice, yes?" the Xepolite asked, when he saw where Jim's eyes had focused almost the minute he had entered the shop. "Vulcan hand crafted. Of course, since hand made products hailing from the late Vulcan have become a bit of a commodity on the market, you'll understand that a chess set as nice as this one is going to cost you."
Inwardly, Jim squelched a sigh, predicting this, before bracing himself to deliver his spiel...
"Really? How You know I do believe that that is the most insensitive thing I've ever heard. Profiting off a planet's demise. Frankly I'm more than a little appalled! I may have to include this in my log, you understand. I mean, the Federation needs to be aware that a black market for Vulcan artifacts may exist given the inflated prices…"
By the bored and distinctly unmoved expression on the Xepolite's face, Jim could tell he would have to alter his tactics this year. Bummer. He wasn't as comfortable doing ad-lib.
"Yes, such a tragedy. Moving speech you've got going there. I assure you I'm thoroughly distraught… on the inside. Be that as it may, the going rate for a handcrafted item such as this is what it is, there is little the Federation can do about it, so my price stands."
And then the jerk smiled, because he knew he had him.
Jim snorted, glared at the guy, because the seedy little prick deserved it, then weighed his options.
The Enterprise would only be docked another hour. Jim had specifically chosen to stop at this planet for restocking purposes because he knew he would find the dah-retuka-tches here-Starfleet's listing of vendors on sanctioned docking ports was a wonderful thing. Though it had taken him months of pouring through the listing to find a vendor with a dah-retuka-tches to sell.
It was the perfect gift. Spock was one of his closest friends and chess was their thing. Some people bonded over stamp collecting; he and Spock bonded over attempting to outthink each other on the board. That was how they rolled.
Jim loved it. It kept them both on their toes. They had come so far this past year, from tentative acquaintances, to becoming as close as brothers.
And there wasn't anything that he wouldn't do for Spock. Hell, Jim still got a warm feeling in his gut whenever he thought of how happy the lirpa had made Spock the previous Christmas.
So with that in mind, Jim resigned himself to living on replicated food the next few months.
"All right, I'll take it," he said, at last.
He tried to ignore the smug expression on the Xepolite's face at his concession, he didn't think Spock, or Bones, would appreciate him starting a diplomatic incident so close to Christmas, no matter how justifiable.
Bones eyed him dubiously from his perch on the corner of the table in Jim's quarters, and Jim couldn't fault him for it; it was not every day that Jim Kirk turned down shore-leave.
Work hard, play hard had always been his motto. And he stuck to it… for the most part.
"So let me get this straight. You are not going to be attending shore-leave this round, even though you've yet to miss a shore-leave in the one and a half years we've been traveling on this tin can of yours, because you can't afford a hotel. And the reason you can't afford a hotel is that you emptied your account buying a chess set."
There was no question in Bone's voice, it was all stated as fact. And Jim braced himself for the lecture he knew was inevitable. If he and Spock had a way that they rolled, this was how he and Bones rolled. There was nothing Bones loved more than a good monologue, particularly when Jim was in audience.
"Yes." He shrugged, in for a penny, in for a pound. "And don't besmirch my baby. She has nothing to do with this."
Bones let out a gust of air and rubbed his closed eyes with the fingertips of one hand, as if in pain. Just for a second, Jim thought his attempt to deflect might have worked. But then he remembered, as the familiar stubborn expression appeared on his friend's face, that while that tactic might work on a lesser man it never worked on Bones.
"Does Spock know how much that little trinket of his cost?" the doctor asked.
"No!" Jim cried, completely horrified. "Don't you dare tell him. You should have seen his face when he saw that board, Bones. I know you accuse Spock of acting like a computer, but his whole face lit up! It was… actually really becoming on him."
Jim chose to ignore Bones's dubious snort at that as he continued, "I don't want him to feel bad. The whole point of buying it was to give him a piece of his history back, and through that, some happiness. Even you, Ebenezer, can't begrudge Spock a little happiness this time of year."
Bones gave him a look, though not the one he'd been expecting. He could have predicted Bones being exasperated, or even annoyed; instead Bones looked as if he were searching for something.
Suddenly, Bones's face took on a calculating expression. Jim didn't know what Bones could have possibly been looking for, but by the calculating look in Bones's eyes, he'd found it.
"No, Jim, I don't begrudge Spock his happiness. Lord knows the uptight son-of-a-bitch could use it. Did Spock get you a gift in return?"
"Of course," Jim answered, rushing to defend Spock's honor. "The complete set of the works of Patrick O'Brian in paper back. I don't know how he found them. I've been looking forever. He knows how I like to collect paper and print books. I like the smell. Far more, intimate, I guess than the electronic version. I was planning to use the shore-leave time to read, instead of participating in the usual drunken revelry."
"Uh huh," Bones replied, his facial expression more shrewd than ever. "A little drunken revelry is good for the soul. I would imagine that your gift probably cost Spock a pretty penny, as well. Paper books are hardly easy to find in this day and age."
Jim squirmed, feeling his face heat at the thought. He'd admit that he hadn't really thought of what his gift had cost Spock, and he was more than a little embarrassed that he hadn't. He'd been too excited about receiving it, he supposed, to dwell on that.
Now that he did think on it, he realized that Bones had a point. Those books must have cost Spock a fortune. The thought made him feel a little sick to his stomach.
"Bones, you don't think that Spock spent that much money on me because of the lirpa last year. Like he had to even the score or something?"
If the lirpa had made Spock uncomfortable because of it's value, the chess set had probably sent the poor guy into full-fledged anxiety.
Bones laughed, a harsh chuckle filling Jim's quarters and startling Jim out of his nausea. "No Jim, I don't think that Spock felt obligated, no more obligated than you did spending the last three months of your salary on a fucking chess set. What I think is that both you and Spock are idiots. Genius idiots, but idiots nonetheless."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
But Bones was already heading to the door, whistling along the way, which translated in Bonesese to 'I have imparted my wisdom, and now I'm not giving you the chance to refute it'.
"Maybe the two of you will figure it out by next year. Hopefully before you go bankrupt there, Jimbo."
Jim figured that Bones had broken into that this year's awesome gift from him, a bottle of Jack, and had gotten a little snookered before coming to Jim's quarters to confront him about his participation in shore-leave, or rather, his lack thereof.
Few people knew this, but Jim kind of had a thesaurus in his head. He enjoyed language and he enjoyed reading. When one enjoyed those two things, it was kind of hard to prevent the expansion of one's vocabulary. Uhura thought she had a monopoly on that, and she was certainly better at it than anyone Jim had ever met, save Spock, but yeah, he wasn't too shabby at it himself, public opinion be damned.
Back during their academy days, when Jim had been flirting with their fair communications officer relentlessly, she had only thought that he had been attracted to her looks, but really, what he'd most been attracted to was her mouth, and not in a kinky way, well, not only. He certainly wouldn't have minded the kinky side of mouth usage, all truth be told. So he was a healthy, active male, he wasn't going to apologize for having kinky mouth thoughts. Christ, if every male, well, the ones who weren't Vulcan and thus repressed as all hell, was expected to do such a thing, 99.9 % of all conversations would consist of apologies.
So yes, Jim liked to play around with language.
And sometimes he would play word games in his head. Like, for example, listing other phrases and terms with similar meaning to 'habit': like 'routine', 'pattern', 'tendency', and, when a much stronger word was necessary, with a much stronger meaning, 'addiction'.
Which, yeah, pretty much summed up his recent pattern of behavior and also explained why he was, once again, off to procure a priceless Vulcan object, even with Bones's words from the previous Christmas still ringing in his ears.
Maybe, just maybe, he was about to go overboard once again, but he hardly cared. Cognitive dissonance and all that.
And if he had implied, without really confirming, that they could forgo the exchange of gifts this year, leading Spock to believe that he didn't have to get Jim anything, well, Jim was just sneaky like that. He didn't want Spock to feel obligated to gift him back for the small pieces of Vulcan he had managed to find, he simply wanted Spock to have a little bit of his culture back, that was all, no further motivation required.
And since Spock was one of his favorite people in the entire universe, it all made sense in Jim's head. He felt closer to Spock than he had to anyone before, and that, he felt, marked celebrating.
Presenting Spock with Vulcan artifacts made Spock happy, which would cause the dopamine in Jim's brain to release, probably some serotonin, too, and thus Jim would also be happy on a chemical level. So his addiction to buying Spock stuff and seeing him happy could be scientifically explained. Totally. This thing between Spock and him was a simple matter of chemistry. One might say it was natural, even. His brain automatically produced dopamine and serotonin, he certainly didn't ask it to do these things, thus hey, nature.
Yes, money and material objects couldn't a planet buy, but they certainly helped.
It wasn't so bad being the captain-shaped equivalent of Pavlov's dogs, Jim didn't care what the critics (i.e. Bones) said.
The starbase they were docked at for repairs had a shop containing exotic pets. Within this shop was a a pair of breeding birds… birds that would feel right at home in the ridiculously hot temperature Spock preferred for his quarters, because the creatures, called lara, were a desert bird, once native of Vulcan.
When Jim had seen that the starbase carried such items, he knew that Spock had to have them. Spock would be able to breed them aboard the Enterprise and feel like he was contributing to the species regrowth and the legacy of Vulcan. Jim only wished he could find a pear tree to go with them, so he could present them to Spock as two laras in a pear tree, for irony. Which Spock would get because Spock was awesome like that, feeling as at home with Earth literary references as he was with Vulcan ones. It was just one of the many things that Jim adored about him.
Spock was going to have the best Christmas ever, Jim would see to it personally. Never let it be said that Jim Kirk didn't go all out for those he cared about.
It was a bit of a surprise, however, to find Spock waiting for him in the transporter room when said holiday shopping was about to commence. And stranger still to have Spock put a restraining hand on his shoulder, then beckon Jim back to his quarters and decidedly away from the lara waiting to be purchased.
Jim had a sneaking suspicion that he was about to be confronted about his gift giving policies.
Damn, so he had been caught. What was Spock going to do, get mad at Jim for sneaking away to buy him a Christmas present? It would be ridiculous to be mad at someone for thinking of you, ri-dic-u-lous.
Jim was gearing himself up to tell Spock exactly that when they entered Spock's quarters, which, strangely, were set at a more moderate temperature than usual.
Spock turned to Jim and eyed him with that look - that look he had had the first time Jim had presented him with a gift. Like he was studying Jim down to the molecule, determined to figure him out, determined to know him piece by piece, cell by cell, wild leap of logic by wild leap of logic.
And while Jim was busy being studied, nervous, and experiencing that same rush of excitement and fear that he had the first time they had done this, Spock said something shocking…
"I love you."
Jim felt his heart race faster than what should be considered healthy, its rhythm rushing erratically towards his ears. He'd always been one to find scary situations exciting, this was true, but if running an expensive, classic car off a cliff was an adrenaline rush, this situation here made that seem like a cup of decaf after five expresso shots.
He was entirely out of his element. Never, in his adult life, had anyone expressed that sentiment towards him so directly. He got the general feeling that Pike loved him, and Bones, and his mother, of course, in her haunted way, but they didn't go around saying it, knocking a guy completely off-kilter.
But Spock, like Jim, was fearless. It was yet another thing they shared. The two of them? They weren't scared of Klingons, or the occasional psychotic Romulan from the future, or the threat of pain and torture, or even death. No, when it came down to it, S'chn T'gai Spock and James Tiberius Kirk were cut from the same cloth. Their Achilles heal was the same: admitting to deep, abiding emotional attachment (as well as the deep, abiding emotional attachment itself).
Spock's declaration had to be the most stunning act of bravery that Jim had ever seen. He was in awe.
It was then, when confronted with it so directly, that Jim realized it was the same thing he had also been trying to say with each and every gift he had purchased and what Bones had been trying to tell him the previous year.
And one act of bravery deserved another.
"I love you, too," he replied, and if his voice came out surprised, shocked, stunned, and any number of other words that failed to enter his mind just then, he hoped Spock would forgive him for it. The sentiment was true, nonetheless, but all these epiphanies in one day were throwing him for a bit of a loop.
Spock's eyes danced, his demeanor, though it might have seemed as stoic as ever to anyone who wasn't Jim, seemed lighter, and just when Jim was certain that the answering grin on his own face couldn't get any more dopey-just when his heart rate had started to slow back down-Spock decided to throw another curve ball.
" Then there is no gift you can give me, no treasure of higher worth, nothing in existence more meaningful, symbolic, nor reminiscent of Vulcan, than that which you have already given me."
And because Jim couldn't help it, and because he was just discovering that he had this secret sap fetish, particularly the Vulcan version of sap, he asked…
"Oh yeah, and what's that?"
"You, t'hy'la. You are the greatest treasure I possess, and the bond we share, a bond rich in the history of Vulcan, expressed in our ancient poetry and again in historical texts, more special than any material object ever crafted. I do not need more than I have, for I have already been gifted more than I could have wished for. I have you, and that is all that I require."
Spock's ability to wax poetic, and still sound so logical while doing it, rendered Jim speechless.
...For a couple minutes at least. But hey, for him that was a record, he'd be the first to admit it.
"Guess it's a good thing I don't come with a return receipt, then," he exhaled shakily, feeling light-headed and emotional and so in love it was glorious. He inched closer to Spock, came to stand directly in front of him. Their faces were so close their breaths mingled and he could smell Spock, feel the heat that radiated off his body. Jim sighed and just breathed it all in.
"For that I am immensely grateful," Spock returned, and then he breached those last few millimeters between them to steal Jim's lips in a kiss.