Summary: Bones is grimly aware that Jim wouldn't survive two days without him. To prevent being posted on different ships, they get a marriage license. After T'Pring's death, how does Spock react to finding out his potential bond-mate is unavailable?

Disclaimer: I don't own Star Trek. I don't profit from writing this story.

Warnings: implied slash, Jim's language, Jim's contemplation of alien biology

A/N: Pointless bit of fluff, ST-style. Also, another cliché. I just wanted my own pon farr story. Tried to keep the characters in character, but I'm a bit afraid they came out TOS-flavoured. Still, all reviews are appreciated.

x

Assumptions

x

It had been nearly a week since an alert had been last sounded, and the atmosphere on the Enterprise was becoming more and more relaxed with every commenced shift. Yet, no matter how peer pressure and mass psychosis were screwing with an individual's healthy sense of wariness of the unknown universe, amongst the four hundred and twenty-nine Federation citizens aboard, there were those who never forgot their dear old pal Murphy.

For instance, Jim's Captain-senses were tingling.

Uhura and Chapel were conspiring right next to the turbolift. That was one friendship that didn't make an iota of sense to Jim, because, shouldn't they have been bitter rivals or something? Not that they weren't very nice to look at together, both tall and slim and close enough to one another to concernedly whisper into each other's ear, one blonde and pale and dressed in medical blues, the other dark and wearing the communications' red.

Jim paused and admired for a while. He didn't catch much of their conversation aside from his First Officer's name which, with these two women speaking, was a given. It was when Uhura scowled and gestured toward Bones' caves of intermittent suffering that he suddenly had a bad feeling.

He felt a mite silly as he snuck through the corridors of his own ship, but he had a valid reason for the heedfulness – namely his best friend. Bones was one of the very few things that could put the fear of death into Jim, if only mostly because he feared what Bones would manage to do to him in revenge for failing his routine ECG test. Some of Jim's instincts advocated tiptoeing around the Sickbay, no matter how out of character that would be for him.

As luck would have it, today the lack of self-advertisement allowed him to overhear a part of conversation that unveiled the next crisis creeping upon him.

"…I am a hybrid, Doctor, and as such sterile," Spock was imparting in a stoic voice. In fact, Jim was reasonably sure that this was the tightly wound, on-the-verge-of-strangling-the-crap-out-of-someone voice, as opposed to the I'm-a-Vulcan-hear-me-roar voice or even the I-feel-nothing-because-emotions-are-illogical voice, and all known distinguishable shades thereof.

Jim moved himself out of the way of a passing nurse, and decided that maybe he would be a little less conspicuous if he nonchalantly leant against the nearby wall and looked like he was waiting for Bones. That would have been a reasonably credible excuse for him loitering around the Sickbay, in fact. The personnel was used to him pestering the good Doctor whenever he had nothing (or no one) of importance to do.

"This is the reasoning," Spock said monotonously, "the Elders provided in explanation for their having ceased demands of my presence on the new colony. Liberated of such obligations, I was allowed to join the Enterprise."

"So what?" Bones growled in a sudden burst of sound and emotion.

Listening to these two people arguing perfectly illustrated for Jim what the two races found unintelligible and exasperating about one another. In fact, he himself found them both exasperating at times (even if he never had problems understanding either of them), but he forgave them because they were being such a great source of amusement for him.

At this moment, however, Jim wasn't feeling amused. He was reaching previously unwitnessed levels of annoyance with the de facto leadership of the spanking new Vulcan government – and so, apparently, was Bones, because the next thing out of his mouth was: "You can't make Vulcan babies, so you're useless?"

Jim mentally seconded the question. He was – often – feeling improperly proprietary about his First Officer – although, to be fair to himself, he was sort of known for going to allegedly ridiculous lengths for the sake of his crew. Still, there was not a single useless thing about Spock. Useless was like the antithesis of Spock. Seriously. Spock was one of the smartest bastards (in the absolute fondest of the meanings of the word) Jim had ever met. He was also the best – and only – Executive Officer Jim could imagine ever working well with. He was a polymath and a polyglot.

He was hilarious. Seriously – a killer sense of humour and wit fitting to his intelligence. He about murdered Jim sometimes with a single deadpan quip.

He was also awfully decorative. All tall, dark and handsome. And green. Jim liked green. So sue him.

So what if his swimmers weren't up to the task? They were at least fairly nurturing, weren't they? He was half-human, after all. Mammal. Technically. Protein and fructosis, right? Vitamic C. It would actually be healthy…?

Spock heartbreakingly pragmatically admitted that: "Speaking purely of the biological function of reproduction, I am a dead end, Doctor McCoy."

Jim sort of wanted to slap Spock stupid and make him regard himself as the totally cool dude he was. A part of him also wanted to hug Spock half-to-death, but he firmly dismissed that as illogical.

"Yeah, sure," Bones snorted. "But, let me guess – that doesn't negate the biological imperative."

There was a while of silence. Jim latched onto the question and his mind went whirling through the implications.

Sure, he came off as a bit of a universal fluke, and mostly he liked it that way. Pretending to be an idiot seemed like an eternal source of fun, but underneath that veneer Jim actually strove to be on top of things, speaking knowledge-wise. So, when it became apparent that there was a kinda-sorta important stuff probably going to happen between him and a mostly Vulcan guy (he had to admit, Delta Vega left a big fucking impression), and later on Spock actually agreed to take on Enterprise-sitting duties, Jim went straight for the personal terminal in his quarters and read up on Vulcans.

Shocking, right?

There wasn't a whole lot publicly known about Vulcan biology, except the sort of thing anyone and their neighbour's elderly aunt knew from reading romance novels. Jim, however, was a Starfleet Captain, and some creative finagling got him a bit more information than 'green blood, pointy ears, finger-kissing.' Spock was, after all, far from the first Vulcan in Starfleet.

"Correct," Spock said after a while.

Jim could just imagine Bones' heavy, pissed-off, blue-gray stare (it raised the hair on his forearms just picturing it) as the man asked: "They sent you off to die?"

"It is theoretically possible for me to bond with a compatible human," Spock replied.

Jim couldn't even begin to guess how he had detected the self-mocking bitterness in that flat tone, but it didn't help soothe his goose-bumps in the slightest, and in addition it sent a shiver down his spine.

"And have you found a compatible human?" Bones demanded. "Have you?"

Jim was about to climb the wall he had been leaning against, yearning to hear the answer.

Bones wasn't much better, judging by his explosion of worry-disguised-as-ire: "Cripes, Spock! We're talking about your death here! It's a little final! Come on, who's compatible?"

It wasn't Uhura, obviously, Jim mused, a tad panicky. As far as he could tell, there had never even been a real 'thing' between Spock and Uhura, even though she was hot for him and unashamed to show it. They were, in Jim's concerned opinion, close colleagues and friends. Jim knew perfectly well that a few kisses, especially in an extreme situation, didn't mean there were actual feelings or, God-forbid, a relationship. In fact, by now, in a similar situation, he might have kissed Spock himself. It wasn't like it would be any hardship.

Still, if Uhura – smart, calm, with balls of steel, and stupidly gorgeous – wasn't compatible with Spock, then who the Hell could be? Jim didn't even recall any candidates. Not for a lack of trying from all sides, but Jim had never seen anyone manage to penetrate that invisible personal bubble Spock extended around his person (at least not without nigh on lethal consequences to them).

"Compatibility alone is insufficient, Doctor," Spock argued.

That once again made Jim want to slap him. He wasn't even sure why he gave up on eavesdropping; it was his feet that carried him to the door to Bones' office and his hands that gripped the doorframe on both sides and his mouth that asked: "Fear of rejection, Spock?"

From his chair behind his desk, Bones gave Jim a look that would have imparted upon him that this was deadly serious, had Jim not already been perfectly aware of that, thank you very much.

Spock, with hands firmly clasped behind his back, pivoted to face Jim. "With all due respect, Captain-"

"Don't tell me it's none of my business," Jim cut him off. "This is my ship, and you are my First Officer, Spock – not to mention that I flatter myself that we're friends. So, when I hear my CMO yelling his head off about you dying, you better believe I am sticking my nose into it."

Spock, predictably, clammed up. He pulled himself taller, raised his chin and levelled Jim a look that dared the poor cretin to open his mouth and once and forever prove how very intellectually inferior to Vulcans the humans truly were.

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Really?" If he was going to play it like that, Jim was perfectly willing to go – metaphorically – over his head. "Bones, report. And before you get on your high horse, let me remind you that the safety of the Enterprise trumps doctor-patient confidentiality, and it's a proven fact that without Spock this ship wouldn't have survived this long. So?"

"I hate to admit it, but the kid has a point," Bones told his reticent patient.

"Will you stop trying to martyr yourself, Spock?" Jim inquired, stepping closer to his First Officer. He should have known intimidation wouldn't work in this case – even the kind of emotional intimidation that usually worked on Spock. Unfortunately, Jim realised too late that in employing this tactic, he had actually done exactly what Spock wanted him to do in the first place: he had freed the exit.

"I will not disrupt a content marriage, Captain," Spock stated categorically and took his leave.

Jim opened his mouth to argue, but Spock needed all of two seconds to disappear.

Damn strategic genius.

Jim was left feeling positively Neanderthal in comparison, and brimming with the kind of restless energy and determination that he always felt when faced with a situation that tried to enforce helplessness on him. He didn't do helplessness.

"That's a hint," he mused out loud. "Bones, how many married couples do we have on board? From those, how many people work closely enough with Spock that he would notice 'a compatibility'?"

Bones sighed and sank deeper into his chair. He leant back and pinned Jim with a glare. "I'll have a look, but I don't exactly know what constitutes 'close enough.' I'm not an expert on Vulcan mental touchy-feelers."

It was good to know that they were on the same page there. They both understood Spock's problem as far as human comprehension enabled them, they both deemed the obvious outcome unacceptable, and they both were prepared to break the laws of nature if necessary to keep Spock ticking.

"But you have a hunch," Jim observed, blinking.

He didn't know why he was surprised. For all his vituperation bordering on xenophobia, Leonard McCoy generally appeared as a totally unassuming guy, rather than the medical prodigy he was, but Jim knew better. After all, he was still alive. That was a miracle in and off itself – and largely due to Bones.

Bones scoffed and wiped his palms on his regulation trousers. When he looked at Jim again, there was something grave in his expression – the sort of grave that preceded his trademark 'he's dead' proclamation.

Jim gritted his teeth.

"Yes, I do," the man admitted, "and if you let yourself think about it, you would have one, too."

Jim didn't like missing things. It often led to people – his people – getting hurt, and therefore he went to great lengths to ensure it happened as little as possible. Usually, he had Spock to point out whatever he managed to miss.

But if Spock was unavailable, there was still Jim's left hand.

"Bones?"

"Who on this thrice-damned tin can has the best track of cooperation with your green-blooded hobgoblin?" Bones asked, with a frightful scowl not quite hidden from Jim's sight as he rummaged in a drawer, looking for the PADD that was peeking out from under a pile of wrappers of illicitly obtained chocolate bonbons.

Jim thought about it. It sounded like a trick question, but at the same time it sounded rhetorical. There wasn't a whole lot of people Spock interacted with regularly – mostly the Bridge crew and some of the scientists in the labs.

And occasionally the medical staff.

All in all, Spock had exemplary results in whatever activity he pursued, but he usually had those results because of his brilliance, not because of any kind of superior teamwork. Aside from, obviously, being a half of the best damn command partnership in the Starfleet.

Ah shit.

"…me?" Jim decidedly not-squeaked.

Bones, who had in the meantime managed to find the lost PADD, snorted again. "Ding, ding, ding. Give the boy a prize."

"You think Spock… oh. Oh." Jim inadvertently thought back to Delta Vega. 'I have always been and always shall be your friend' his ass. Of course the old man would have made himself right at home in Jim's head. It wasn't like it had been unfamiliar territory to him.

Since they were 'compatible' and all.

And why was this a problem? Sure, it was bound to be awkward for Spock to ask Jim to… to what again? This wasn't just about hopping into bed together, Jim got that much. That would have been no problem whatsoever – Jim's track record spoke for itself.

But, no, Spock needed someone to meld with during the fun times. Jim scrunched up his nose. He had a wealth of experience with 'close encounters' with various aliens, but none of them had been telepaths. As a rule, telepathic species didn't do one-night stands – Jim couldn't begin to imagine what kind of psychical and emotional feedback they might have been getting from casual hook-ups, so it didn't seem odd to him at all.

So, presumably, Spock would be looking for a 'real' relationship. Also, if the vaguely hinted stuff about mental bonds between Vulcans was true, he would want it to be permanent.

At this point, Jim wasn't even surprised that Spock decided to die rather than ask for help. He was only bewildered by the reason he provided for not asking. "And he knows about-"

"It's in the files, kid," Bones cut him off, in between repeatedly stabbing the PADD with his finger.

Jim needed to sit down. Still, he didn't want to sit down in the Sickbay, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to remain in Bones' immediate presence. He needed to think about this. He might have told Spock not to martyr himself, but he was thinking about doing the same thing, and Bones might just decide to play the voice of reason.

Jim wasn't ready to defend himself against his friend's argumentation.

"How much time does he have?" he asked, shuffling toward the doorway.

"Up to a month, according to M'Benga. Fuck if I know," Bones grumbled, perusing the personal statuses of the crewmembers, even though both he and Jim knew that the effort was redundant.

Jim nodded and took his leave. There was time enough to sit down and think and figure out what the consequences were going to be if he went down that road.

Bones didn't say a word, which, coming from him, was a blanket endorsement of anything Jim might do, and a tacit promise to patch him up afterwards if needed.

x

Spock being put on medical leave meant in practice that he was absent from the Bridge and the landing party. According to the gossip vine, he spent up to twelve hours a day in the labs, alternately driving Enterprise scientists to distraction and breaking their hearts.

Seventeen days after Jim had started thinking about what he already knew he was going to do (to be honest, the decision about whether he was going to do it had taken him about ten seconds, and now he was just formulating and discarding excuses and generally procrastinating), Bones commed him.

Jim had been unsubtly listening to Chekov teaching Sulu to curse in Russian and watching the faces Uhura made whenever the boy wonder suggested something especially vulgar, when his communicator beeped.

Bones had usually enough of Jim during their off hours, so he would only call during a shift if something happened.

Jim's good mood was gone in an instant.

"Is someone dead?" he asked.

"On the way there," Bones muttered. "Now's the highest time to decide what you're gonna do, kid."

Jim was on his feet, ignoring the concerned looks of the crew, only gesturing at Sulu to inform him that he had the conn. He stepped into the turbolift, manually input the deck, and waited for the door to close. "What's happened?"

"An incident in one of the greenhouses. Ensign Lars says the hobgoblin had some kind of a fit. Smashed up a doohickey and ran off."

"Anyone hurt?" Jim inquired with a detached interest. He honestly didn't think Spock would have harmed anybody, beginnings of blood fever or no.

"According to Lars, he might have fucked up his hand. Any other time I'd tell you to bring him straight to Sickbay, but…" Bones fell silent.

Jim stepped out of the lift and paused. The deck was deserted. It would yet be a good hour before the yeomen would be getting here.

"Kid," Bones spoke anxiously. "Are you sure about this?"

Jim honestly didn't know the answer. He had been sure that Spock's life took precedence over his heap of hang-ups, up to and including commitment-phobia. Hey, he'd done commitment just fine with Bones.

Wasn't the same thing, yeah, he was aware. Still.

But was he sure this would end well?

About as sure as he had been boarding the Narada. He was betting his life that the outcome would be better than the alternative, but that was light years away from being genuinely convinced that it would work as he imagined.

"Cross your fingers, Bones," Jim ordered, and cut the line before either of them had the chance to say something schmoozy.

Spock's quarters were locked. He didn't respond to his communicator or to the buzzer. The Captain's override didn't work.

Jim, mentally rolling his eyes, ripped out the control panel, pulled out a tangle of wires and found the correct two to short-circuit the opening mechanism. The door obediently slid to the side.

Jim hastily stepped past it; it immediately closed after he released the wires. He had half-expected to walk into a sauna, but the air was almost unpleasantly cold even for him. Apparently, Spock was trying very hard to cool off.

The sound of running water explained why Spock wasn't immediately aware of Jim's intrusion into his cabin. Jim took a seat, crossed his legs and settled to wait.

He wasn't very good at waiting. Patience had never been his forte, and his jitters precluded him from trying to read to kill the time. Fortunately, it was less than ten minutes later when Spock stepped out of the bathroom, still wet from the shower, wearing Starfleet-issued pyjamas and a rough bandage on his left hand.

He caught sight of Jim and startled. Badly.

For a long while, Jim didn't know what to say. Usually, at moments like this, he resorted to levity, but right now that was liable to get him kicked out of Spock's quarters, Vulcan-style. He despised small talk (and so did Spock, although he never would admit to it – hatred was illogical and all that jazz), and saying something trite like 'hello' would make him want to nerve-pinch himself to put him out of both their misery.

Spock in the meantime reasserted what passed for control in a Vulcan in the early stages of blood fever. He was obviously tightly wound – tense enough to strum, should Jim feel particularly suicidal. He settled on the edge of his bed, wound both his hands in the blanket and clutched at it. His jaw was clenched, too.

"You know, Spock," Jim started, positively horrified at how nervous and inadequate he felt, "Bones and I, we're friends. Good friends. The best of friends." He let his mouth run on autopilot, because otherwise none of this shit would ever come out. "I mean, we've been risking our lives and carriers for each other without even stopping to think about it, because that kind of thing comes natural to us."

"Captain, I-"

"No – shut it for a moment," Jim demanded. If he stopped now, restarting would take too fucking much effort. "We can make this very complicated, or we can make this simple."

Spock turned away from him, silently snarling at his pillow.

Jim figured that the only thing that kept him from being bodily removed was the fact that Spock didn't trust himself to touch anyone, much less Jim, in his present state.

"As I said," Jim's mouth prattled on, "I would have been dead thousand times over without Bones. I wouldn't survive a week without him – you know it, you've been watching it happen since before Nero. The idea of being assigned onto a ship without him… it's been unthinkable by the time we've finished our first year at the Academy. It would have been a death sentence for me, and… Do you get where I'm going with this?"

"You were describing the depth of your devotion to Doctor McCoy," Spock replied. His tone wasn't nearly as flat as Jim expected it would be – more like grieving.

"And you haven't been listening," Jim protested. It sort of pissed him off that Spock wouldn't look at him, but at the same time he got why, and then it made him want to… not cry, he wasn't a crying type, but punch someone in the face. Himself, maybe. Or Nero. Or whoever was responsible for putting that pain into his First Officer's voice.

"I assure you, Captain-"

"Don't bullshit me, Spock." Jim rubbed his temples. "You've decided on the outcome, and now you want the universe to conform to your view of it, and whatever I tell you that negates this view just goes to show that I'm just a stupid human and know nothing!"

A low growl came out of somewhere deep inside Spock's chest. "Captain, I do not apprehend a justification for your sudden and unwarranted harassment!" The fists clenched in his blanket shook with the strain of keeping them there.

Jim had to admire the amount of restraint, but restraint had never saved the world. More positive results were gained from provoking an emotionally compromised Spock into beating the crap out of a stubborn Kirk with a plan. Jim decided to go with what had worked before.

"Sure you don't," he scoffed. "It's not like I came here to tell you something intensely personal, which might just be a little difficult for me, and you didn't even do me the courtesy of listening. Shit, if it weren't your life on the line, I'd just turn on my heel and walk out of this freezer."

Spock's widened dark eyes pinned Jim to the chair.

Breathing became a lot harder.

"My life is forfeit-"

"Bullshit," Jim snapped.

"Captain-"

"Bullshit."

"Jim-"

"Bullshit, Spock." If it had been hard to defy the imploring look, it was damn near impossible to refuse the pleading and the use of the first name. Jim braced himself and prevailed. "You just insist on making it complicated. Or do you actually want to die? Because that's a whole other can of worms." That hadn't occurred to Jim before. He didn't believe it. Even though it sounded plausible on paper: inferiority complex, survivor's guilt, post traumatic stress, depression – all of that could have been Spock. But it wasn't. Jim knew him better than that.

And yet a part of him worried.

"Do you?"

Spock pulled his bare feet up onto the edge of the mattress and pressed his cheek to his knee. Curled up, he looked a little younger – not quite like a kid, but with a certain fragile quality. Jim wanted to place himself between this guy and the rest of the world to protect him.

Not that he wasn't already doing that every now and then.

"…no," Spock eventually admitted. "I would prefer to live."

Jim released a breath he hadn't realised he was holding. "Then stop making it harder on both of us. Do you know now what I've been trying to tell you?"

"Doctor McCoy and yourself have wed to prevent being separated during your posting," Spock summarised. He seemed a little less tense now, far from relaxed, but not devoting his entire considerable mental power to not jumping Jim (one way or another) anymore.

"Exactly," Jim agreed.

The corners of Spock's lips twitched. "And the point of your explanation, which you have failed to reach, is that I have misinterpreted the nature of your relationship as romantic, due to the fact that you have misused the institution of marriage for pragmatic purposes."

He must have been feeling better, if he was up to teasing. That reassured Jim, even though he was grimly aware that this was only a temporary respite, and the emotional upheaval would only get worse until it drove Spock insane and killed him – which it wouldn't, because Jim was going to prevent it.

"I will confirm this if you confirm Bones' assumption on the identity of the 'compatible human' you've found," Jim suggested.

Spock's eyes softened, and he sighed. "As you would say, Captain, it is a deal."

Jim smiled. Stubborn. Still, it made him happy to see some of Spock's personality and quirky geek humour leaking out through the crack in his emotionless armour of innate Vulcanness.

"Wasn't all pragmatic," Jim said, because he and Bones did care for each other as much as they could care for another human being. "But, yeah, Bones and I have never been lovers." Never really wanted to, and Jim didn't fuck up friendships by using his friends as stress-relievers. Anymore.

He had thought he wouldn't fuck up his command structure by using his subordinates, either, but this thing with Spock was so different that he didn't have the words to describe it. As Bones had said, it was Spock's life on the line, and death was final. In fact, if Jim had had a reason to think about it, he had learnt to rely on Spock to the point that he found the guy nearly as indispensable as Bones… Well, they could take the opportunity to get a marriage license, too, whenever their mission would take them to a Federation planet or a space station where that sort of thing was legal, or they could just do this.

Which they were going to, because no Spock was unacceptable.

Which meant… there would be a bond. The real deal. Not a paper with a certain amount of legal power, but a real, true, till-death-do-them-part bond.

Jim shivered. It was scary.

Still, he reminded himself, looking into Spock's appraising eyes, this was his First Officer, his friend, the one man who had saved his life often enough that Bones learnt to tolerate him. This was Spock.

Spock was safe.

"I cannot ask this of you," Spock murmurred.

Jim refrained from rolling his eyes. He extended his hand, palm up, and expectantly looked at Spock.

After a while of indecision Spock consented, unwound one of his hands from the blanket and took Jim's fingers into his, not quite clasping, but very, very lightly holding on.

"We've been through the wringer together," Jim reminded him. "We've done worse. I won't lie to you – this isn't something I would have done otherwise. But at the same time it isn't some huge sacrifice." He frowned. "Okay, maybe it is, but if the tables were turned, you'd do the same for me, so that's okay. Right?" He sounded like he was lobotomised even to himself, but this wasn't exactly a familiar territory. He was proposing here, for fuck's sake.

Sure, he'd done that before. He had been half-dead and a little high on all the shit Bones had hypoed into his bloodstream, and Bones had been standing there, another hypo in hand just in case, studying Jim's chart, bedraggled, tired and crashing from the excitement of having Jim almost die on him again. The guy grumbled something like: '…my poor heart. If this goes on, I'm gonna follow you into the grave.'

And Jim's scrambled brains had replied: 'You'd gotta be posted on the same ship for that, and the chances are, like, one in a hundred.'

To which Bones said: 'Can't let an infant like you leave the planet unsupervised. I'll figure something out.'

And Jim opened his pie hole and let out the classic statement: 'You could always marry me.'

In the morning, when he was a little more sober and a lot more clear-headed, Jim had laughed it off, of course, as the kind of craziness that dogged his steps, but Bones gave him that grave look he usually sported right before he reported that someone was dead. A week later he presented a sheaf of actual paper to Jim and showed him where to sign.

Basically, proposing wasn't something that Jim knew how to do. Or how to do right.

"My attachment to you, Jim," Spock spoke, ripping Jim out of his reminiscence and reminding him where the warmth he felt through his fingers was coming from, "is unquantifiable and far past the borders of irrationality. It is a sentiment that drives me to act in your best interest, even when in direct opposition to logic, duty or self-preservation. I…" He paused and took a deep breath, which Jim strongly suspected was because his voice had almost broken. "I cannot accept such a sacrifice from you."

"Okay, that's not fair." Jim mock-pouted. This was scary shit, but worth it. Worth it more than he had realised prior to this moment, apparently. "You can't tell me you won't marry me because you love me. Nuh-uh. Nope. That's against the rules. Or if it's not, it should be."

"Jim…"

"Hey, we're finally on the same page here. I need you and you need me." Even if the needs came in two very different formats, but they were two very different people, so that made sense. "It would be illogical to refuse me."

Spock stared at their joined hands with something uncomfortably resembling wonderment. Too late Jim remembered that this man was a touch telepath, and therefore able to at least skim his surface thoughts through the contact, but since it seemed to work for him in this instance, he didn't mind.

He felt a little sad – a little cheated, perhaps – that he would never feel finger-kissing as so exciting, so illicit, but compared to the sheer magnitude of all the other things happening to them, this was trivial. Even if finger-play didn't get him nearly as hot and bothered as it obviously did to Spock when he wasn't actively shielding, it was still fun.

"Dahshal s'nash-veh heh worla dahshal," Spock whispered unintelligibly, "worla eh kwon-sum estuhn heh vesht estuhl."

"In Standard?" Jim inquired.

"Parted from me and never parted," Spock translated, although it didn't make much more sense, "never and always, touching and touched."

"That's a yes, right?"

Spock's eyes laughed at him. "Indeed."

x

Jim – with the help of the ship's computer – found his best friend camped out on the darkened observation deck, half a corridor from the Captain's and the First Officer's adjacent quarters. The man was sprawled on the floor, his shoulder-blades against the wall, not staring at the stars (not yet over his aviophobia despite the overexposure) and hiding half a bottle of brandy in the crook of his elbow.

"Hey," Jim said.

With Bones he could be trite. The guy could read him like an open book.

Bones had been a friend for years. During the Academy, he had been a roommate. He would recognise Jim's got-lucky face, and since this was decidedly not it (even though, euphemisms aside, Jim did feel like he had gotten pretty lucky), he raised his eyebrows in a mute question.

Jim grinned. Spock wasn't yet critical. There was time to do things with a semblance of rationality: to have Bones put Jim on medical leave, too; to temporarily give command to Scotty; to personally reassure the crew that nothing horrible was happening and they were going to lose neither their Captain nor his First Officer. Also, Jim was allowed to return to Spock's quarters, provided with a pass code, and promised a spectacular bonding.

Basically, it had gone well and he wasn't going to go into details.

Since he knew Bones just as well as the man knew Jim, he didn't doubt that Bones appreciated his reserve.

The stars twinkled merrily, and Jim fondly observed them. This felt an awful lot like home.

Bones shook his head and returned his gaze to the empty tumbler on his knee. "Christ, kid… you never do things easy."

Jim folded himself into a sitting position against the wall next to his friend. "I dunno, Bones. It sort of seems like the easiest thing I've ever done."

The Doctor shook his head again and forlornly gazed into the depths of the glass.

Jim smiled. "You're the awesomest. I swear, Bones, and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You're the coolest of the cool." He leant to the side and rested his cheek on the man's shoulder.

Bones pretended to try and dislodge him, but in the end he accepted the position. It was one of the few ways Jim knew how to express gratefulness and affection, and after all those years Bones had learnt to interpret it. There were very few who bothered to extend the effort to understand Jim and his perpetual emotional constipation.

Who else in the Alpha quadrant would have been stunted enough to not recognise love until it – metaphorically – bit them on the ass?

Jim grinned and nudged Bones' ribs. "Just so you know – I'm not divorcing you. I like being the second Mrs McCoy. You, Spock and I are gonna be the hottest command threesome in the history of Starfleet."

Bones groaned and let his head fall back, thunking against the wall. "You did that on purpose! Did you have to put that image in my head? Damnit, Jim!"