All in all, the blank time wasn't as bad as he expected. Maybe his mind shoved the gaps into the same category as the bulbweed delirium, so he hardly noticed them. But regardless, his head was uncluttered, and it was fantastic to have confidence in his own thoughts again. Meditation came easier, and he ended his morning session in the embassy suite with a light heart and a positive outlook. Suddenly, he could be sure of his feelings.

Now he just had to be sure of Spock's.

He met with M'Benga and thanked the doctor for accommodating him. He returned the favor by cooperating with all the tests needed for a brief medical report. M'Benga was desperately curious about what Jim had been up to with T'Pau, but polite enough not to push for answers, unlike some other medical professionals Jim could mention.

He boarded the maglev after treating the doctor to brunch, and it hit the end of the line by afternoon. Spock met him at the station in the sandskimmer. Something about Spock driving a nifty, shiny hovercraft made Jim feel like swooning. He had never swooned before, but it always looked like fun.

"Was your trip beneficial?" Spock asked as Jim climbed into the passenger seat.

"Yeah," he said, and put on the sunglasses Spock handed him. "It was great." His grin must have been a little much, because Spock gave him a strange look. "Really, it was."

"I have merely never heard you refer to a medical examination in positive terms before."

"Well, it's good news. I'm on track to hit my old weight by the end of the month," Jim said. "Soon the witch will stuff me in the oven."

Spock's brow furrowed, and he glanced at Jim.

"Hansel and Gretel? No?" Spock shook his head. "You're missing out."

"On what, precisely?"

"Gluttony. Child abuse. Cannibalism." Jim shrugged. "You know, a children's story."

He laughed as the appalled look he was going for claimed Spock's face.

By the time they got back to the villa, Jim was downright giddy. But he was nervous with his revelation, so nervous that he kept knocking things over all afternoon, running into large objects like walls, and generally making a fool out of himself. He knew Spock was getting suspicious, because he kept looking at Jim like he was a strange new species, which only made the whole issue worse. Every time Jim turned around, those dark eyes were watching him, and every time it was like being shocked.

He went on a run after first sunset. He lost himself for awhile in the pounding of his heart and his feet on the dusty ground, mentally reciting Vulcan mantras to the steady, comforting rhythm. But the second he returned to the villa and stopped moving, he was even more strung out than before. Only after a nice, long shower could he recover anything resembling a captain's attitude.

The real dilemma came that night. He wanted to sleep in Spock's room again, wanted to do a lot more than sleep, but knew he couldn't with all of his confirmed desires attached to an unproven target. A good night's rest and a bit of careful reconnaissance seemed more appropriate.

He silently coached himself in the mirror the next morning, between shaving and taming an unruly cowlick. Act normal. Pay attention. Make a move. That last part floated in the half-assed ether of undeveloped ideas, but he'd worry about it later.

Around second sunrise, Spock recruited him in putting together a traditional dinner. Every ingredient was grown locally, and prepared a specific way that made Jim wonder if the ancient Vulcans were all obsessive-compulsives. Cut the skinny fruit lengthwise, not sideways. Never mind that sideways is easier. Remove every single pinpoint seed from a pod thing with hundreds of them. What's that, they're the exact same color as the pod? Oh, and never use the same knife for two ingredients. That would be crazy.

"You know, I'm not convinced I'm doing this right." Jim tasted the simmering broth for the umpteenth time.

"Did you follow the recipe?"

"All quadrillion steps. Are you sure you're not forgetting something?"

Spock glanced at him from where he was occupied cutting the last batch of ingredients at the table. "Do you have cause for concern?"

Jim shrugged. "Seems bland considering all the stuff we've thrown in." He dipped the spoon into the pot again, cupped his hand beneath it, and leaned over the table. Testing the waters. Spock looked surprised, but much to Jim's delight, he played along and tasted the offering. The way his mouth closed over the spoon was more than a little mesmerizing, and Jim had to remind himself not to stare.

A moment of silent consideration passed. "Ah, I neglected to explain," Spock said. "The flavors have not yet matured. They are only released by prolonged heat. This is why plomeek takes most of the day to prepare correctly."

"Oh. So I'm just being hasty, then."

"Affirmative." Spock paused his work just long enough to quirk an eyebrow at him, and a warm knot of pressure trembled deep in Jim's chest. Spock's stare lingered enough that Jim had to ask.

"Something wrong?" He paused with a glass of water halfway to his mouth.

"Your appearance has improved significantly."

It was a good thing Jim hadn't taken a sip yet, because otherwise he'd be hacking up his lungs all over their hard work. "Amazing, what a couple kilos can do," he said. Possibly stammered.

"Indeed." Spock had already shifted his attention back to his work. "And do you feel said improvement is paralleled by a similar psychological one?"

"Are you kidding me?" Jim was tempted to throw one of the pink raisin-looking things at Spock to prove a point. "You need to ask?"

Maybe it was trick of the light, but Jim could have sworn he saw the corner of Spock's mouth turn up minutely. "I suppose I could infer."

They went their separate ways while the soup cooked throughout the afternoon, Spock finishing up his supplemental on the bulbweed, and Jim breezing through a virtual pile of paperwork that would have confounded him last week. He had to revise a message to Bones about five times, thanks to all the exclamation points and reckless abuse of the word 'awesome.'

A couple hours before sunset, the timer went off, and they reconvened in the kitchen. Jim synthesized some bread and a salad while Spock ladled out the soup, which had turned from a watery gold color to deep orange-red.

That soup was fucking delicious.

"This is delicious," Jim said, shoveling spoonfuls into his mouth. Mild, then spicy, then savory in succession, a cornucopia of mouth-watering flavors. "I mean, seriously delicious. Criminally delicious."

"I am gratified that you feel the need to repeatedly express your appreciation," Spock said.

"Well, I didn't believe it would turn out this good."

He caught Spock up on the crew's shenanigans between bites, and sometimes during, when he forgot his manners. They talked about the technicalities of a semi-intelligent species applying to Starfleet Academy's security program, and the finer points of hull damage repair, and whether or not Sulu should be allowed to grow bonsai tree ferns in his room.

That was when Spock dropped the million credit question. "Are you prepared to resume command?"

Jim spent a few seconds deciding if his own laid-back attitude was because he was ignoring that issue, or because it didn't bother him anymore. He'd been so caught up in fixing himself that the captain's chair had been far from his mind the past couple days. "I'd be lying if I acted like I knew the answer to that," he said, studying a knothole in the table. "I think so. I'm excited to go back, if that helps."

Spock took a sip of water and set his glass down gently. "For what it is worth," he said, "I believe your response indicates a presence of mind that was lacking when we first arrived here."

Jim smiled, but it faded as he remembered how bad he had been, and what drove him to that point. Some of it, anyway. "We have to communicate better this time," he said, poking at the remnants of his salad. "You know I'm doing well, right?"

"I do."

"So you can't shield me." He scooted a piece of carrot around in circles. "I know it's kind of an instinct, but you can't do it. And I promise I'll be honest with both of us about when I really do need help."

"A logical arrangement," Spock said.

That should have settled it, but a related concern emerged in Jim's mind now, a chain of insecurities. "I mean, you took care of me on Sigma Nox," he continued. "And you took care of me again on the Enterprise. And now, coming here, it's the same thing. If we can't fix that when we get back, I'll start resenting you again, and–"

"Jim," Spock cut him off. He set his utensils down and folded his hands on the table, visibly lost in thought for a moment. "I believe you are under a mistaken impression."

"How so?"

"You took care of me on Sigma Nox as well," he said, and lifted a hand, preempting Jim's semi-sarcastic protest. "I am not merely referring to the mantis. The reason I have found a greater measure of peace now is because of your… ultimately stabilizing influence."

"Stabilizing?" Jim gaped at Spock, jabbed a thumb at himself. "Have you met me?"

"I have had that privilege, yes," Spock said. The lines of his eyebrows relaxed, and his entire face followed suit.

In that moment, Jim felt the scales shift, and he knew he had to go for it. Knew he couldn't hold back, because Spock felt something for him, and it sure as hell wasn't platonic. There was no way he was imagining the subtle flirtation, the furtive looks. But if all this was true, why wasn't Spock acting on it?

He's waiting, Jim decided. He's come a long way, but he still can't make the first move.

They washed dishes in a team effort, Jim scrubbing and rinsing and Spock manning the towel. Jim imagined the line he needed to say over and over again, until the words were just harmless sounds. "Mind if I stay with you tonight?" He passed Spock the soup pot.

"Do you anticipate nightmares?"

"No. No, I'm fine." A bowl slipped through Jim's soapy fingers and almost had a catastrophic encounter with the edge of the sink. "I just thought it'd be nice to have some company." He almost cringed; that line was supposed to be one justification in a long mental list, from which he'd pick the best option.

But Spock didn't seem to care how lame of an excuse it was. "Very well," he said lightly, without pausing at his task.

Jim put an extra big tally in the 'keep calm and carry on' column. The last time he stayed in Spock's room had been damn embarrassing for both of them. If Spock had no reservations whatsoever, either he had the memory of a goldfish, or the idea of a sexed-up Jim sharing his bed didn't bother him. Survey said green light.

Jim lounged on top of the covers and read some Robinson Crusoe while Spock was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. The sunlight faded enough that Jim lit an oil lamp on the nightstand. The New Vulcan moon was oversized and always full, bright enough to read by, but it was still low on the horizon, overpowered by the sunset.

Then Spock reappeared in his gray standard-issue sleepwear, and they traded places. Jim put on and took off his nightshirt twice before deciding to leave it off as a failsafe. Spock didn't comment when he emerged from the bathroom. One more signal in favor of action, and now they were down to the wire.

There was less than a week of leave left. Now or never.

Spock shut off the oil lamp, and they climbed beneath the covers. Neither of them said goodnight, or any variation thereof, and Jim was fairly sure he knew what that meant. He'd been to enough 'sleepovers' to know when sleep was the last thing on anyone's mind.

He was also tired, but that was probably for the best. Being tired made him more daring, more honest. Or maybe just more stupid. He could hardly breathe, knowing what he was about to try. It had been awhile, after all. At least three years if he took gender into account. Never if he counted species.

Regret nothing and dread nothing, he reminded himself.

Maybe ten minutes passed while Jim mustered his nerve, but Spock was still awake. He was on his side, facing away from Jim, but after two plus months of sleeping next to him, Jim could pinpoint the exact second the man fell asleep. So after a round of determined mental pep-talking by moonlight, he rolled over and wrapped his arm around Spock's waist. Neutral territory, considering it had happened at least once before.

Spock moved, settling back against him, and Jim frantically thought about dissected Denebian slime devils to not get very obviously ahead of himself. Only when he calmed down did he shift his hand to the top of Spock's arm, rubbing his thumb in short, circling strokes. Draw it further along, past the elbow, past the wrist.

If Vulcans kissed with their hands, this seemed like a good place to start.

Heart pressing on his throat, Jim traced Spock's long fingers, the delicate webbing between them, the back of his hand, cool and smooth except for the callous left by an old burn. He started teasing circles around each joint, and Spock's breath hitched. Jim froze, and Spock slowly turned his wrist up, exposing his palm. His neck slanted back, looming ever closer to Jim's lips. If that wasn't an invitation, Jim would eat his ship.

Don't think, he pleaded silently as he skimmed the lines of Spock's palm. He leaned in, and his mouth brushed the nape of Spock's neck. Please don't think your way out of this. He pressed his knuckles into the center of Spock's hand on a whim, kneading gently. Spock made a small, inscrutable sound in the back of his throat that could have been Jim's name.

Jim paused, doubting his hearing. "Should I… do you want me to stop?"

"No." Spock's voice was quiet, a draft in a closed room that you weren't quite sure you felt. He turned onto his other side and faced Jim, who retreated to give him room. His expression was in shadow, but Jim was almost positive he was being studied. Jim lay there, completely still, irrationally worried that the slightest movement would startle Spock. They were close enough their hands touched. Far enough that nothing else did.

Jim meant to wait and see if Spock kept going, but the words poured out of him in a torrent. "What do you want? Anything, I'll do it, I–"

Spock slipped a hand behind his head and pulled him into a kiss.

It was tentative, almost chaste, but Jim plunged straight from one to ten on the arousal scale anyway. He clutched the fabric of Spock's nightshirt in his fists, convincing himself this was real. Spock's hand curled through his hair and kneaded his scalp.

They broke apart too soon, and before Jim could surge forward like a clumsy teenager, cool fingers pressed against his lips. They trapped him there in a slow burn, held back while Spock traced his chin, the outline of his face, his eyebrows. "I was beginning to doubt my perception of your interest," he murmured, and his voice went straight to Jim's groin.

"Do me a favor and never doubt yourself again." Jim swallowed thickly and did his best to mimic Spock. His patience paid off. When he got to Spock's lips, Spock shut his eyes and closed his mouth around the tip of Jim's index finger. The tension snapped in an instant.

Suddenly Spock was all over him, mouth pressing insistently against his, one arm slung around his waist. Jim would have laughed in sheer elation if he weren't preoccupied. Spock was a good kisser. Jim had kissed his fair share of people, and Spock was a damn good kisser. His lips grasped and released Jim's with just the right variation in pressure, and he was sparing with the tongue, and sometimes he did this sucking thing would have made Jim's knees weak if he were standing.

Jim pushed himself against Spock's leg and felt a similar hardness near his hip. He slipped a hand under Spock's shirt, following his waist, and a ludicrously fast heartbeat quivered beneath his palm. Spock's hand slid up his back, and Jim could easily imagine coming in his pants from some making out and well-placed friction.

That wasn't acceptable.

He tossed the blankets, sat up, and dragged Spock with him, grabbing the edge of his linen nightshirt. Spock tried to help and got tangled in the process, arms caught behind him. Jim kissed Spock hard and pushed him back against the pillows anyway. Spock resisted, still trying to free himself from the shirt, but he went motionless when Jim ran both hands down his chest. The hair there was softer than it looked.

Jim touched a nipple, tried stroking and pinching while he helped Spock wriggle out of his clothing vice. He stopped mid-kiss and peered at it when nothing seemed to happen. "You don't have a lot of feeling here, do you?" he said.

"Not particularly," Spock said, apologetic.

Jim shrugged and leaned back. He took a moment to appreciate the sight of Spock, chest heaving, body half-shadowed, the lean planes of his muscles standing out in sharp contrast. His lips were wet and tempting, his eyes pitch black. Then Jim tucked his fingers beneath the waistband of Spock's pants and slid them down. He maneuvered to the edge of the bed and tore them off completely. But when he went for the visibly tented briefs, Spock tensed.

Sheer panic clutched his throat. This must be it, Jim thought. He's coming to his senses, and I'm about to get either walloped or logicked into oblivion. "Are you sure about this?" he said, hands gripping the bedspread.

Hesitation long enough to make him sweat. "Only if the divestment is mutual," Spock said, dropping his eyes. Watching Spock go from the world's most confident kisser to the world's shyest Vulcan made all kinds of wonderfully perverse things start skipping through Jim's head.

"Not a problem." He leapt out of bed and shucked his pants and briefs as fast as he could, choosing to jump into the cold pool instead of wade in one nervous step at a time. He dove back into bed and leaned over Spock, trying to kiss him again, but firm hands on his shoulders held him back.

Spock looked him up and down, eyes lingering on his erection. Then he pushed himself more firmly against the headboard, tugged Jim closer by the waist, and wrapped a careful hand around him.

"Oh God…" Jim couldn't take it. His legs gave out, and he slumped until he sat. His ass landed right on top of the bulge in Spock's briefs, and he pushed his hips against it and into the cautious touch.

It didn't take long for Spock's strokes to grow smoother, more confident. He never took his eyes off Jim's face, except those moments when Jim drove down hard, and they fluttered shut. He's curious, Jim thought, head hazy. He wants me, and he's observingme, and he's trying to figure out exactly what makes me lose it.

They had barely started and Jim was right on the edge, thrusting mindlessly into Spock's fist. "Hold on, hold on, stop," he panted, squirming out of reach. "Not yet. Want to see you."

He acted fast, hoping Spock wouldn't have time to get anxious again. He tugged the briefs down to Spock's thighs, baring a dark, spiraled erection, like two thin cocks coiled together. The shafts fused together at the tip, and sparse black hair curled around the base. No balls either. It was hard to tell in the dim light, but Jim had a sneaking suspicion it was green. The whole ensemble looked like something you'd see in an eccentric art show, with a label insisting it had a non-phallic interpretation.

"Wow," he said.

"You do not find it… off-putting?"

Jim glanced up and wondered how long Spock had been fretting over this. "'Course not." He touched it tentatively, dragging a finger along the underside. Spock gasped and arched into the touch. "More like fascinating." He waggled his eyebrows while he hauled the briefs around Spock's ankles.

"Similar to humans, linear movement provides the most pleasurable friction," Spock offered hoarsely. But when Jim grasped him, he flinched. "Gentle linear movement."

"Sorry, sorry," Jim stammered. "Too much?"

"Somewhat, yes."

Jim forced himself to take his time, pay closer attention. Spock's skin was so delicate here, smooth and translucent, almost membranous. Flushed, although there weren't any visible veins, and slick with a thin layer of natural lubricant. Jim was surprised that such a strong guy could be packing such a fragile instrument. No wonder a dry hand hadn't worked out.

Jim floundered for a second, wondering if Spock kept lotion or oil in his nightstand, but then he had a better idea.

He shifted back between Spock's feet and pushed his hands from the tops of Spock's ankles up to his knees. He felt the uneven skin of the mantis scar halfway along one shin, and the desperate edge to his desire subsided. He stopped for a moment to place a line of kisses over the rough skin, massaging Spock's thighs as he guided them apart. Spock was trembling by the time Jim pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the top of his knee.

Then Jim sprawled out on his stomach, his cock pressing into the bed, enough stimulation to keep him hard without pushing him over. He scooted into position, murmured for Spock to lie back a little more

God, it really had been awhile. Jim had another short moment of panic during which he had literally no idea what to do with the eager appendage in front of him. It was twisty, for fuck's sake. Only recalling the sage advice of a drunken Gaila saved him: 'open mouth, insert dick.'

He licked Spock from base to tip and followed that advice.

He quickly found two spots that got him the best reactions. A place right under the top spiral, about where most humans had one, and what seemed like an even more sensitive ring around the base, where the two distinct halves blended together. As much as he wanted to, Jim couldn't take Spock down that far – he didn't trust his gag reflex after so long – but he looped his hand around the base and thumbed over the area, timing it with flicks of his tongue.

Spock gasped the first time Jim tried that, his hips jerking up. Jim had to push down on his waist to get him to stop and had a quick battle of wills with his throat. He was more sparing in his newfound technique after that.

Practice made perfect. Once he had the mechanics down, he started getting into it. The grooved texture sliding over his tongue, warm and firm and heavy. The velvet smoothness, the clean, slightly bitter taste. He glanced up every now and then and watched Spock's stomach hollow and flatten, his ribs rise and fall, his head tip back against the pillows. Sometimes their eyes met, but never for long, because Spock always looked away like he couldn't handle being watched. Jim loved every second, loved knowing he could do this.

Fingers touched his hair, lighter than a breeze. They skimmed over the shell of his ear, like Spock was just as captivated with the round shape as Jim was with his points. Jim stopped for a second, grabbing Spock's hand and guiding it back to his head with a wry grin. "Not gonna break me," he said. He had a weakness for scalp massages, especially as encouragement when he went down on someone. Spock got the idea pretty quickly, and that was when Jim let go. His arms ached from holding himself at the right angle, but his hips rocked against the bed, and he could go for hours if Spock kept making those half-stifled sounds.

Then Spock tugged gently but urgently on his hair, and he glanced up from his task.

"Jim…" Dark eyes broadcasted a silent plea, reeling him in. He let go of Spock's erection with one last good suck, just to watch his eyes roll back in his head, and crawled along the bed until they were face to face. He straddled Spock's lap again and kissed him, pushing their cocks together. Spock lifted his hips to meet him, and Jim repositioned them a little so their legs were staggered, and he could rest some of his weight on his side.

"Wet enough for you?" he gasped.

Spock nodded.

Jim framed Spock with his arms and kissed the place between those dark, upswept eyebrows. Their foreheads fell together, and Jim started to move, rocking them through exquisite waves of pressure. Spock grabbed his waist and took charge of the rhythm, pulling Jim forward and pushing him back. They swayed for awhile, rubbing together, mingling tender sounds and slow kisses.

But it wasn't enough, so Jim reached down to take them both in a loose grip. He gathered his precome into his palm and slicked them as best he could. The bumps and dips of Spock's erection felt incredible against him. He nuzzled into Spock's neck, sucking and kissing his way to an ear.

"This okay?"

"Affirmative," Spock murmured. He tightened his grasp on the back of Jim's head.

"Talk to me."

"I… I cannot."

Jim smiled against the soft skin of Spock's neck. "I'll take that as a compliment."

Neither of them was going to last much longer, if their ragged pace was any clue. Jim drowned in Spock. Hot breath against his skin, spicy scent surrounding him, body lifting them both in powerful swells. He was moaning now, quick and reluctant-sounding, and Jim returned a helpless echo back to him.

Suddenly Spock seized against him, fingers digging into his back, and that was all it took. Jim shuddered and stumbled his way over the peak.

It wasn't earth-shattering, it wasn't mind-blowing; it felt more like collapsing into bed after a long, productive day, or drinking cold water at the end of a marathon. Complete relief followed by ridiculous contentment. Jim was a blank slate, wiped clean by a wash of pleasure. His head hadn't been this peaceful in months, maybe years.

Spock, on the other hand, looked like a man who had been literally thunderstruck. He was still trembling long after Jim recovered, fingers tight on Jim's hips, quiet, desperate sounds escaping him with every weak thrust. The force of his orgasm had shifted them both of them away from the headboard and halfway across the bed. Not many people could make delirious look sexy, but Spock pulled it off well.

Jim wondered if it was it always this intense for Vulcans. If that was the way it worked, no wonder they were so private about it. Talk about the exact opposite of logic. He bent over and took Spock's chin in his hand, tilting his head up for a kiss. Spock latched onto him, his whole body shifting to accommodate Jim. He levered himself up on an elbow and clung to Jim's back, gasping into his mouth.

Jim squeezed gently until Spock stopped moving, then let him go and threaded their fingers. Their kisses tapered, and Spock went completely limp beneath Jim with one last exhale. They lay together in silence.

Jim dismounted from his seat partly atop Spock's pelvis. He flopped to the side hard enough that the bed shook, too tired to make his muscles work right. He bumped Spock's shoulder with a clumsy kiss before forcing himself up and stumbling in the bathroom's general direction.

He brought a wet washcloth back with him, and paused in the doorway, intrigued by how soft and small Spock's dick looked. At first he thought Vulcans must be serious growers, but then he realized there was a slit at the base, and most of it retracted inside. Spock moaned and flinched away when Jim tried to investigate.


"Very much so," came the hoarse response.

Jim let him be with a private grin of delight and filed that factoid away for later.

Aside from his own release streaked on Spock's stomach, there wasn't anything else to clean up. He wondered idly if Vulcans could control that as he retrieved the bunched covers and settled back down.

"Are you okay?" He threw an arm over Spock.


"Did it feel good?"


"Can you say anything other than 'yes'?" Jim teased.

"I apologize. I am merely attempting to assimilate vast quantities of data," Spock said, absurdly serious. "Interpretation is proving difficult."

Jim grinned. "I'll leave you to it, then." He touched Spock's cheek to tilt his head for a kiss, which Spock returned distractedly. He seemed happy enough on his back, so Jim rolled onto his side. Sleeping half-draped across someone was a nice idea, but it never worked for him in practice.

Gentle ecstasy suffused him, unwinding every muscle and boosting his exhaustion. It wasn't the blank indifference of the bulbweed void, but the exact opposite; caring so much he overflowed.

He fell asleep on a cool and welcoming sea.

First dawn, Spock's badly-placed window, and open curtains conspired against Jim, slapping light into his face way too early. He woke up, groggy and irritated, to an empty bed.

He peeked into the hall, and the smell of food confirmed Spock didn't head for the hills after all. That freed Jim up to whistle a bunch of Irish drinking songs in the shower with a clear conscience. He threw on sweatpants and his lucky Academy t-shirt, and made his way down the hall, toweling his hair.

Spock sat at the kitchen table with a plate of untouched food, reading a PADD. He didn't look up as Jim shuffled into the room, so Jim assumed he was too engrossed at the moment and scavenged breakfast for himself. He settled on some leftovers and the synthesizer's mediocre excuse for coffee, and sat across from Spock.

"Command will reassign us," Spock said, as Jim took the first swig.

Jim froze with a mouthful of coffee, swallowed deliberately, and set his mug down on the table. He didn't expect Spock to be all smiles because of last night – that would be downright horrifying – but he certainly didn't expect this either. "What do you mean?"

"Full disclosure of intimate relationships between crewmembers is required under Starfleet protocol. As I am only half-human, we have already violated protocol by not seeking authorization in advance," Spock said, with perfect nonchalance, still not looking up from his PADD. "Additionally, personal entanglements within the command structure of a ship have been discouraged for many decades to avoid conflicts of interest."

Jim's first thought was that Spock must have been up for hours dwelling on this. His second was to wonder what that conversation would have sounded like. Pardon me, Admirals, but I plan on jumping my first officer in the near future. Thought you should know.

"And exactly how often are those policies enforced?" He speared some egg and skated it around on his plate. "How many ranking officers do you know who've dated crewmen? Hell, with us there isn't half the power disparity I've seen between married couples on other ships."

"How many of said couples are in the same department? How many consist of a captain and a first officer?" Spock retorted. "The Enterpriseis higher profile than any other vessel in Starfleet. We are on the front lines of diplomacy and life-threatening missions on a regular basis."

"Which is exactly why they can't split us up," Jim said. "We're the dream team that defeated Nero. There would be an uproar."


He was serious about this, Jim realized. Cold dread settled into his stomach, and the most important meal of the day didn't seem important anymore. He didn't come all this way and fight so hard to have Spock reel him in and change his mind.

"Are you telling me you don't want this to happen?" he said, and the words felt like poison in his mouth.

"No," Spock said quickly. He met Jim's eyes, and the affection in his face was the only thing that kept Jim's head above water. "I do want this. I think it is unwise, but that does not change the feeling."

"Then are you saying we shouldn't disclose?" Jim crossed his arms.

"I said nothing of the sort. However, I will point out that the exact definition of an intimate relationship remains ambiguous in both regulations and legal decisions," Spock said.

Jim frowned and studied Spock's neutral expression. "Contrary to popular belief, I don't like tiptoeing around," he said. "It's not like I want the whole ship to know, but…"

Spock stared at him for a moment. "You do realize, of course, that the permission of the ship's Chief Medical Officer is required as part of the disclosure process for an interspecies relationship."

Filling out some forms and sending them thousands of light years away to Command was simple. They saw those people a few times a year, always at professional functions. Sitting down with Bones and explaining exactly what he'd like to do with his first officer, then seeing the doctor every day after was different. He could already imagine the horror-struck face in his mind's eye. Jim knew Bones would stick by him no matter what, but he had to think on that for awhile.

He rubbed his forehead and sighed, resigning himself to Spock's logic. "So what, we keep it quiet until we figure something out?"

"I believe that may be our best option at this juncture, taking into account a variety of factors," Spock said, staring into his cup.

That was when Jim realized it wasn't a protocol thing, not completely. It was personal comfort thing. Spock had only started exploring his emotions again in the past few months, and acting on them last night was a huge deal for him. He was probably reeling right now, petrified at the idea of anyone but them knowing what had happened. Of outside poking and prodding. He didn't need that kind of attention during such a delicate time. Neither of them did.

"All right," Jim announced. "We'll do it your way. If anyone catches us, I guess we can claim it just started." He still didn't like it. There was a reason disclosure existed. Part of the process involved both parties talking about how their relationship might affect their performance, and God knew they probably needed that. But if Spock wasn't willing, he wasn't willing.

"Thank you," Spock said. The simple phrase spoke volumes.

Jim decided some stronger reassurance was in order. He stood, came around the table, and opened his arms. Spock hesitated, but rose and stepped into Jim's embrace. They stayed like that for awhile, and the awkward stiffness of Spock's form eased until Jim didn't feel like he was holding a statue anymore. He breathed in, Spock's hair tickling his nose. Something about their closeness evoked a memory within him, fogged over and distant.

"I heard you," Jim said. "When we fell in the mantis nest, and everything was going wrong, and the bulbweed had me… I think I heard you say my name." He ran his hands up and down Spock's arms. "Did that happen, or was it just in my head?"

"It happened," Spock murmured.

"I remember."

The last five days of leave, they made a new routine. It was nice.

God, it was nice. They spent their mornings experimenting, tangled up in bed, and once on the floor. Spock was self-conscious, and Jim overly cautious, but they made it work. During the day they meditated, read together, exercised, and debated the meaning of life over some of the most delicious meals Jim had ever tasted. Spock made a heroic effort of teaching him Vulcan, without much success. They started somemashya seeds going in the garden. When the first sun fell and the desert cooled off, they explored the New Vulcan countryside in the twilight, cataloguing unidentified species. By the time night rolled around, Jim was usually too exhausted to do anything but pass out in Spock's bed.

Sometimes Spock would wake him up in the middle of the night, reserved and quintessentially Vulcan, and Jim would guide them both to an unhurried, gentle climax. Soon Jim started waking up all on his own, hard in anticipation of Spock's lips against his. A bottle of lube took up permanent residence on the nightstand. Spock needed quite a bit not to chafe, and the sheets had to be washed every day, thanks to spills and general hastiness.

But Jim was getting restless. They both were. The stargazing was incredible out in the desert, and watching the Milky Way rise every night through the bedroom window made Jim feel like the universe was passing them by. Sometimes he woke up to find Spock outside on the front patio, staring at the stars.

That was how it played out the last night of their extended leave. Jim waddled up behind Spock, wrapped in a blanket to stave off the cool desert night. He tucked his arms around Spock's waist, and a quiet thrill zinged through him when Spock leaned into his chest. "Something on your mind?"

"I wish to find out what happened on Sigma Nox," Spock said, addressing both Jim and the mist of stars. "Precisely what happened to the Noxian civilization."

Noxian, Jim thought. Not cattlebug. It did them more justice. "I know." He huffed a sleepy sigh against Spock's neck. "I do too."

"I am uncertain regarding how to go about an investigation. It is not Federation business. It is possible we will never be sent to that region of space again."

"Are you sure?" Jim rested his chin on Spock's shoulder. "I'd be surprised if Command isn't curious about a dangerous, intelligent species on the edge of known space."

"The Talosians. The Gorn. The Elasians. The Tholians."

"Okay, okay, I get it." Jim snickered, but the humor left him quickly. So the Federation did have a track record of leaving stones unturned when it came to certain diplomatic issues. If a species clearly didn't want them there, what was the point in provoking them? "They saved us," Jim said, answering his own unspoken question. "They don't know it, but they did. And so many of them are…"

Spock nodded once.

"We'll figure something out. We always do." They watched the moon set over the hills, fractured by an ic'tan tree's spindly branches. Jim tightened his grip around Spock and made sure his mouth touched Spock's ear. "Come back to bed?"

Talking about Sigma Nox must have put Spock in a more assertive mood than usual, because five minutes later, he had Jim flat on his back. Few things rivaled the sight of Spock between Jim's thighs, intent on making him writhe.

He was getting good at this. Jim should have known better than to think Spock would be anything other than an eager student on all matters sexual. He probably memorized the exact amount of pressure and suction Jim used on him, but he wasn't afraid to improvise either, and Jim loved being the subject of his rigorous testing. He was a little clueless about balls, though – Jim suspected he thought they were hilarious, in his own Vulcan way, and couldn't take them seriously. Then again, most humans couldn't take them seriously either.

Jim stopped him well before the point of no return. He was always torn between finishing like this and kissing some more, and this time kissing won out. Spock paused the action to fully extend his erection from its protective sheath and coat himself with lube. He layered himself on top of Jim, and Jim savored the press of that hot, coiled cock against his stomach. He hitched his legs around Spock's waist, pulling them closer together.

"Want to try something different?" he murmured.


Jim nipped an earlobe, and Spock groaned into his shoulder. "You inside me."

Spock stopped moving. His voice was soft in Jim's ear, muffled by the pillow. "I… I have never… that is, with another male…."

"That was pretty obvious the first time." Jim snickered. "Come on, you'll like it. I promise."

"And you would enjoy said act as well." Spock's tone didn't make it a question, but he sounded doubtful nonetheless. He drew back and looked down at Jim, wearing his one of his endearing 'humans are incomprehensible' faces.

"Would I be offering if it didn't feel good?" Jim swatted a skinny Vulcan asscheek and reached for the lube. The stuff from earlier was spread all over them, a recurring problem that Jim thought adding something new to their repertoire could help alleviate. He slicked Spock carefully and tried to line them up, but Spock wouldn't budge.

"Do you require preparation?"

"Nah, I messed around earlier today," Jim said. "When you were out hiking," he added, and Spock's brow furrowed. He was probably trying to work out what 'messed around' meant, but Jim was hard, and he didn't feel like spending the next half hour describing the full spectrum of human masturbation techniques. "Trust me, all right? I know what I'm doing."

Even so, it was uncomfortable at first, skirting the edge of pain. Jim focused on Spock's expert kisses, a distraction from the ache, and urged Spock deeper with his heels. He was well-acquainted with himself in this regard, and he knew how to relax, but the stretch and fullness was a lot more than a couple fingers. 'Messing around' wasn't a substitute for doing this on a regular basis, and he hadn't done this on a regular basis for years. He was half mast and sweating by the time Spock bottomed out.

"Are you all right?" Spock said, voice strained.

"Hold still a minute," Jim panted. "It's been awhile."

"Should I–"

"No. No, I'm fine." He clenched around Spock experimentally, and Spock's sharp inhale made him grin. Spock was very sensitive to pressure, and Jim recognized dimly this must be torturous for him. His hips were shaking, and he trembled with the stress of holding back. Jim kissed his neck a few times and sucked a bruise onto his shoulder. "You can move," he said.

Spock did, an agonized moan escaping him, and Jim's prostate threw a magnificent fit. Maybe it was the alien texture, or the sensation of being filled, or the fact that Spock was fucking him and making more noise than the past four days combined. Either way, Jim was absolutely gone. He cried out, and his back bowed, and his hips lifted without any conscious effort.

He couldn't figure out if it felt good or strange. It was too much something, and Jim wanted more. He shoved a hand between them, tugging at his cock, which seemed interested regardless. But they were crushed together, and he had no range of motion. He gave up and grabbed the headboard for leverage as Spock drove into him.

Spock bent his head and kissed Jim, quick and sloppy. Then he shifted his weight to one elbow, freeing up his hand for a Vulcan kiss. He stopped moving to do it, a shared cruelty, judging from his strangled groan.

"Come on, come on, don't stop, please don't stop…" Jim barely recognized his own voice. He grabbed Spock's hand where it traced his cheek, weaving their fingers together and kissing the heel of his palm. Spock gasped something in Vulcan. His head dropped beside Jim's, his hips snapping forward. The side of Jim's face prickled, and raw feeling arced between them, and that was it.

He came in a burst of synesthesia. He literally saw stars, winking impossible colors, and then it was just him and Spock floating through space. It kept going on and on, and the pleasure ebbed and flowed, building on itself until the whole thing collapsed in a spectacular explosion of light.

When he made it back to his body, the smell of nonexistent incense fading, he couldn't quite feel his arms and legs. Sensation returned starting with a line across his waist where Spock's arm was cast over him. At some point they must have disconnected. Jim had zero idea when. His stomach was sticky with dried lube, and his ass was sore, but his entire body quaked with aftershocks.

"That wasdifferent," he said, when he had enough air.

Spock stiffened against him. "I apologize for entering your mind without permission."

"That's what happened?"

Silence, which meant two things. Yes, and I don't want to admit it.

Jim laughed and patted Spock on the shoulder. Or rather, tried, missed, and almost hit Spock's face instead. "Tell you what, I'll forgive you if you do that again sometime."

Spock answered with a noncommittal grunt, and Jim took that as a challenge for the future.

The whole non-ejaculating thing Spock did was nice, he thought, as he wiped his release off them both with a tissue. Less cleanup, faster transition to cuddling. Blowjobs were a little weird without it, but whenever he made a mental note to ask, he ended up not caring in the afterglow.

This was one hell of an afterglow, too. Enough for some serious basking. Jim proceeded to do that for a few minutes, but without a filter, the first coherent thought that popped into his head escaped his mouth.

"Sometimes I think there must be something wrong with us."

"Every sentient being is anomalous in some way," Spock said after a moment, his tone lightly philosophical. "Could you be more specific?"

Jim really wanted to kiss him for that, but there was a good chance he wouldn't be able to stop until they went another round. He settled for stroking fingers instead. "Most people would kill to have this," he said. "A nice place and someone to share it with. They'd never want to leave."

"Correct me if I am mistaken, but are you suggesting that 'most people' in our position would resign from Starfleet?"

"I guess so. Choose the civilian life, you know?"

"In my observation, 'most people' do not possess the ambition and talent required to achieve a command position on the Federation's flagship," Spock said.

"That doesn't preclude us being crazy."

"It does not," Spock admitted. "However, if either one of us were not crazy under your definition of the term, I suspect we would not be compatible. It is precisely our shared experience of an uncommon and irresistible need for exploration that allowed us to meet in the first place."

With that little gem, Jim decided he had no choice but to toss sleep out the window. He rolled on top of Spock and kissed him fiercely

"Enough crazy talk," he said.

They checked their shuttlecraft out of the embassy docking bay early in the afternoon, when the first sun was at its zenith. The heat was a watery filter spread over the streets and skyscrapers of Halek, and everyone around them swam through it, their robes fluttering like fins in a stale breeze. Jim had a bounce in his step anyway, and he didn't care how many Vulcans he offended with his existence.

This wasn't paradise, he reminded himself, as the city shrank outside his window. If anything, temperature and character-wise, New Vulcan was much closer to hell. He didn't feel welcome anywhere except the villa. Even so, he couldn't help but associate the pleasantness of the past week with the stark planet. He was probably more attached to it now than Spock.

He tore his eyes away from the window and fired up the interstellar network for the first time in a long time, scanning the feeds. "Looks like Fitzpatrick's still bitching for an inquiry," he grunted.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "He is a persistent individual." Jim substituted persistent for aggravating, based on the way Spock tapped a button harder than necessary. He went back to his survey of the rumor mill while the sky turned black around them.

The tabloids had died down. So had all the rehashes of the Sigma Nox incident based on the barebones story from Command, and Jim's junk inbox had about a million requests for an interview. But one item was a bit more colorful. It talked about the crew: how they coped with the loss of the Galapagos, their missions with Scotty in command, and how they felt about the whole experience. Jim read this one instead of skimming it, intrigued and touched by the comments of his coworkers.

"Check out this quote from Sulu. 'I've never seen a more masterful piece of stunt piloting in all my life.'" Jim laughed and felt embarrassed, like he was accepting an award he didn't deserve. "I owe him a new katana for that one."

Spock leaned over his arm to peer at the article. "Doctor McCoy refers to you as 'Captain Hotshot.'"

"I know, the old bastard," Jim said. Bones had deflected a few questions, telling the reporter Jim was getting healthy again and talking about the purely physical toll of the bulbweed. Jim decided that this merited a crushing bear hug at the next available opportunity, smack in the middle of the mess and lasting way too long.

The New Vulcan space port appeared in the darkness ahead, dozens of ships hovering around it, moving in and out of holding bays and docking braces. It looked like a city reflected on the water, two halves mirroring one another, spiky with towers and sensors. They began rounding the port, and Jim scooted to the edge of his seat.

Bit by bit, she slipped out from behind her metal screen, coy and perfect. Her battle scars were gone, her hull almost as spotless as the day he had met her. Jim could just barely make out the edges of new hull plating, pale against the older sections. She gleamed in the light of New Vulcan's suns, streaks of gold chasing over her curves and contrasting the brilliant blue deflector dish. They glided around the port nacelle, staring in silent reverence.

Jim probably looked insane, he was grinning so broadly.

He rested his hand on Spock's shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze. "Spectacular view, don't you think?"

Spock glanced over, gazed at him for a long moment. His eyes smiled slowly, and Jim's heart tripped over itself. "Indeed." Then he turned back to the instrument panels, fingers skimming gracefully across the controls. "The Enterpriseis ready for docking, Captain."

"Standard approach, Commander." Jim settled back in the pilot's chair and watched Spock key in the program. The hangar doors parted, and now more than ever before, it felt like his silver lady was opening her arms to them, welcoming them home.

A/N: Thank you to everyone who stuck with me until the end! I can only hope you enjoyed reading this monster fic as much as I enjoyed writing it. :)