Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek.
Summary: The Enterprise is escorting Federation delegates to the planet Ktaris for a ceremony. While the rest of the crew is happy to be back aboard the Enterprise, Captain Kirk finds himself more frustrated than usual with his first officer.
Warnings: Into Darkness spoilers and adult content.

Author's Note: This story is post-Into Darkness and contains major spoilers. Can be considered slightly AU because it only took a few months for the Enterprise to be repaired and rechristened instead of a year.

ooOoo

Jim Kirk sat in the mess hall, pushing the slop of Bolian stew around his plate with his fork. Bright green and pungent, the stew had, along with turning his appetite, given Jim the sinking realization that he would most likely spend the next few days hungry. Across the table, Hikaru Sulu was regarding his own dish, a brown and yellow mess that looked about as appetizing as Jim's meal. He watched his helmsman spear a bean with his fork before scrutinizing it suspiciously. Nyota Uhura, sitting between Sulu and Pavel Chekov, sighed animatedly, picking up her fork in a display of confidence.

"You're all a bunch of cowards," she said. Clearly the bravest of the group, she scooped an ominous heap of stew up, only pausing for a moment to wince slightly as a glob of it slipped off her fork and splashed back onto her plate, and then the gooey mixture disappeared into her mouth.

"You are an adventurous woman, I'll give you that," said Leonard McCoy from Jim's side.

They all watched closely as Uhura chewed hastily, her face slightly scrunched. She swallowed thickly before smiling victoriously. "It's good," she lied.

"Oh, sure. It looks delicious," said Bones. He scowled at Jim, as if he were personally responsible for the temporary menu change.

The Enterprise, with a legion of Federation ambassadors and dignitaries, was en route to the planet Ktaris. The Ktarians were eager to join the Federation and had recently submitted a petition to the Council. Of course, the investigation and possible subsequent membership could take years, but the Ktarians were eager to impress the Federation, and were holding a ceremony in its honor. The current array of Tellarites, Andorians, and Vulcans, along with even more notable Federation members of other species on board, had inspired the ship's cooks to abandon all Earth recipes in favor of these strange, and sometimes downright disgusting, cuisines.

Jim spotted a group of three Vulcans near the buffet table, looking entirely unimpressed by the selection. Then again, they often looked unimpressed by everything. Jim scanned the room for his Vulcan first officer, before conceding he was, once again, nowhere to be found. Ever since their return to the Enterprise, Spock was dutifully present at every meeting and arrived on the bridge for his shift as punctual as always, but whenever they were all off duty, whether they were eating, playing chess, or watching old movies in the mess hall, Spock was notably absent. Each of Jim's attempts at casual conversation were met with polite indifference. It was difficult to correlate the cool, stoic Vulcan with the man who sat on the outside of the radiation chamber with tears streaming down his face and his hand parted from Jim's by only a panel of glass.

How do you choose not to feel?

Jim pushed the memory away, knowing it would only return later on that night, begging to be dwelled on, relentless as a Ferengi salesman. It kept him awake, making him feel anxious, frustrated, and just a little bit desperate. Worse, he wasn't even entirely sure why.

Jim found himself staring at Uhura, wondering, not for the first time, how she found herself compatible with someone so emotionally unavailable. Had Uhura ever witnessed a display of Spock's emotion like Jim had?

Uhura was watching Chekov chew thoughtfully. "Is not ze worst I've had," he offered, shrugging.

Jim cleared his throat. "So, where's Spock?"

Uhura raised her eyebrows and looked between the two officers before coming to the conclusion that Jim was addressing her. Her posture stiffened noticeably before saying, "I don't know, sir."

"I thought he'd want to entertain our Vulcan guests. Do Vulcans entertain?" Jim nearly winced at the bitterness he heard in his own voice.

Uhura set her fork down slowly, regarding Jim curiously. "Captain, Spock and I-"

"Captain Kirk," interrupted a Bolian delegate named Vaxx. He was standing at their table, rubbing his enormous stomach with both hands.

"Ambassador Vaxx, please join us. Did you enjoy dinner?" Vaxx sat beside him, his blue lips stretched in a smile, and Jim's crew resumed moving their food around their plates in an attempt to look like they were eating.

"Oh, yes," he replied. "It was delicious, Captain. It is a shame you could not try the meat, it was decayed to perfection."

Bones gagged beside him and Jim stomped on his foot in an effort to shut him up. "Yeah, us humans don't have the, uh-" Jim motioned to his mouth, lost for a word, "-unfortunately."

"I'm sure we are certainly missing out," offered Uhura, smiling cordially at Vaxx.

"Ah," said Vaxx, regarding Uhura. "I have not yet had the pleasure."

"Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, sir. Communications."

"I am Ambassador Poq'ta Vaxx of Bolarus IX. Communications, you say? Are you familiar with the Bolian language, Nyota?"

"Unte alle lann, Trunta Vaxx," she replied, which seemed to delight Vaxx immensely, his blue skin blushing purple.

Vaxx clasped his hands together. "Ah! Only a little, you say? Your pronunciation is superb. Well, the pleasure certainly is mine, Nyota Uhura."

Jim peeked at Bones to see him rolling his eyes just before noticing Spock across the hall, conversing with the Vulcan delegates he had spotted earlier. He excused himself from Vaxx before tossing his uneaten meal into the receptacle and making his way over to his first officer.

"Captain," said Spock respectfully. "This is Ambassador Skylok, his nephew, Sarok, and Sarok's wife, T'Peyta."

"Glad to have you," said Jim.

"Thank you, Captain," said T'Peyta. "If you would excuse me, it grows late and I would see myself to my quarters." She fleetingly pressed the tips of two of her fingers against those of her husband's before walking away.

"Captain," said Skylok, "I would be interested in speaking with your Chief Engineer."

"I'm sure Scotty would be happy to show you around Engineering. I'll see if he's got the time tomorrow."

"Thank you, Captain." Then, turning to Spock, he said, "We will continue our discussion soon. I would not have expected, after deciding to join Starfleet over attending the Vulcan Science Academy, that you would have such an interest in undergoing Kolinahr."

"Acknowledging our endangered culture, it is only logical to consider it."

"What's Kolinahr?" asked Jim, curiosity getting the better of him.

Spock didn't meet his eyes when he answered. "It is a Vulcan ritual which purges any remaining vestigial emotions."

"It would be most beneficial for you," said Skylok, "considering your affliction."

"What affliction would that be?" asked Jim.

Skylok tilted his head, looking at Jim with interest. "His half-human heritage," said Skylok simply.

Jim looked between the three men incredulously. Spock was as rigid as a statue.

"With all due respect, Ambassador, I wouldn't call that an affliction," said Jim, bristling.

"It is in the journey to pure logic, Captain," said Sarok.

Jim turned to Spock, "Purge all emotion? You're joking, right?"

"The complexity of dishonesty as a form of humor eludes me, Captain," said Spock, finally looking at Jim. "Vulcans do not lie."

"Dammit, Spock," said Jim, frustration boiling under the surface. "You know what I meant."

"I have yet to make a final decision," Spock conceded. "It is merely a consideration. A consideration I do not wish to discuss at length at this time."

"Okay, okay," said Jim, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. He sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck awkwardly. "Ambassador, Sarok, you'll have to excuse me."

As Jim headed for the door, he heard Surak ask, "Is your captain often so incapable of controlling his emotions?"

Jim stormed down the corridor to his quarters. Purge any remaining emotions? Jim thought of the older Spock, the other Spock, who wore a pendant and had a head full of memories of some other Jim. He thought of the mind meld that left traces of… something. Shards and fragments like a dream upon waking. It was unspoken promises and a word that Jim was scared to know the translation of and always. It was sacrifices made years ago and days ago and tomorrow. He thought of this Spock, his Spock, outside the radiation chamber again. How do you choose not to feel? Hands pressed hard against the glass. I couldn't let you die. And Spock couldn't let him die either, Jim had come out of the darkness and had all of this happened before? The cost would have been my soul. But Jim had never said that.

Jim Kirk did not sleep easily that night.

ooOoo

The next morning found Jim on the bridge earlier than usual after escorting Skylok to Engineering. In an effort to distract himself from the thoughts that had kept him up most of the night, he focused his attention on the Enterprise. Her gentle hum, the bright lights reflecting off the lustrous white walls, the cool blue holograms on the helm's monitors. The bridge was as calm as a summer afternoon in Iowa. Officers were conversing quietly, their boots tapping on the polished floor as they exchanged PADDs. It was a stark contrast to the chaos of only a few months ago; the alarms sounding, the emergency lights flooding the room and bathing the walls red. Jim ran his fingers along the arm of the command chair. Coming back onto the ship had been like coming home. When he had stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge, he felt, possibly for the first time, that he truly deserved to be there. He thought of Pike and felt a twinge of sadness. I saw greatness in you.

The door to the turbolift slid open and Jim turned to see Spock and Bones stepping onto the bridge, Bones looking disgruntled.

"The Zaranites are a proud people," Spock was saying.

"It was a simple medical question!"

"What's going on?" asked Jim, standing up.

"A Zaranite ambassador visited sickbay for nausea," explained Spock. "Doctor McCoy offended him by asking if he was pregnant."

Jim bit back a smile, struggling to keep his face as stern as his first officer's was.

"How am I supposed to tell a Zaranite's sex just by looking at one? Have you seen them?"

"Bones," said Jim. "You're going to have to try to be more delicate."

"Dammit, man, I'm a doctor not a diplomat. I gave him something for the space-sickness, he should be thanking me."

Spock locked eyes with Jim before lifting an eyebrow in mute exasperation and walking towards his post.

"Jim, you're the last on my list due for a vaccination."

"Vaccination? I just had vaccinations," Jim said distractedly, watching Spock relieve the science officer on duty, while Bones scanned him with a tricorder.

"You've had your standard annuals, nothing for whatever virulent diseases could be lurking down there," said Bones, dramatically. Then, unexpectedly, he delivered a shot right to Jim's neck.

"Dammit, McCoy!" cursed Jim, tearing his eyes away from Spock to scowl at Bones and rub at the tender spot on his neck which had just been viciously targeted.

"Captain, we are approaching Ktaris," announced Sulu.

Looking at the viewscreen, Jim immediately understood why it was called the Emerald Planet. It was as green as Earth was blue. Its vast oceans were a radiant viridian contrasting the deep jade terrain beneath swirling white clouds. The bridge was quiet, each crew member quietly appreciating the splendor of Ktaris. Jim turned towards Spock and their eyes met.

"We're being hailed," said Uhura.

"On screen," responded Jim.

The planet's view was replaced by a Ktarian woman with a severe forehead and striking yellow eyes.

"This is Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise. On behalf of the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet, the delegates aboard my ship and I are here to attend the Ktarian-Federation Ceremony."

"Captain Kirk," she said, smiling pleasantly. "I am Ambassador Detana Vol. We have been eagerly awaiting your arrival. I am sending over docking coordinates and instructions now. I will greet you in the harbor. Welcome to Ktaris."

ooOoo

The ambassador personally showed Jim's party to the extravagant hotel where they would be staying for the next three nights. The hotel was in the center of the rich capital, which was simply called Kta, where flamboyantly dressed men and women visited shops, restaurants, and pubs, their excessive jewelry twinkling under the great lamps which shone over the crowded streets. In an effort to preserve their culture the Ktarians had left Kta, in all its glory, untouched through the centuries. The view of the cobbled roads and canals alongside hovercrafts and holographic media screens should have made for bizarre scenery, but instead it was oddly endearing. The hotel seemed to be the focal point of the city itself; the Taj Mahal of Kta. Great golden gates surrounded the white marble palace and its grounds. Calligraphy was intricately carved into the pillars and fountains among the elaborate gardens.

The inside was immaculate; high ceilings, luxurious emerald and gold carpets, sophisticated artwork spanning entire walls. The hotel staff wore shimmering magenta suits and rushed to take the bags and coats of the Federation delegates, offering them cocktails and inviting them to eat from platters of strange fruits as they led them to their individual rooms. Jim's party was on the seventh floor; Jim, Spock, Bones, Uhura, and Scotty were each given their own suite, complete with a personal balcony. Jim was certainly impressed, while firmly reminding himself that he was here as a delegate for the Federation, and not on shore leave.

After some much needed rest and a sonic shower, Jim had headed down to the hotel's bar. It was busy, but not too crowded. The central lighting was dim, but there were neon lights which danced over the walls. The atmosphere of the bar matched the upbeat music; everyone seemed to be in high spirits, dancing and laughing with one another. Jim spotted Bones, Scotty, and Uhura sitting in a booth towards the back of the room, a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey in the center of the table, and had went to join them.

He was now three drinks in and pleasantly buzzed. Scotty had only put down his technical journal to get into an argument with Bones about which Scotch was the best in the galaxy. Uhura had discretely taken his PADD and slid it into her bag, because honestly, who reads technical journals in a bar? Her covert mission was successful and Scotty seemed to forget about it.

Jim, proud of himself for waiting almost thirty minutes before asking, finally asked Uhura why Spock wasn't with them.

She set her drink down on the table, clearly aggravated. But after turning towards Jim, and searching his face for a long moment, the irritation left her features. She sighed and asked, "He didn't even tell you, did he?"

"Um, tell me what?"

"Captain, Commander Spock and I are no longer romantically involved," she said, simply.

Jim blinked at her a couple of times, his brain catching up. Short, formal, and to the point, Jim thought. They're more alike than not.

And separated, whispered another part of his mind, almost happily, which immediately made him feel guilty. While it was true that their displays of affection, however seldom, tended to make him feel uncomfortable, he never would have wanted them to break up. What would he possibly gain from that?

Jim shifted awkwardly, trying to convey an expression of sympathy. "Since when?"

"Three months ago."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Uhura. Are you, um, alright?" he asked carefully.

She studied Jim closely, probably deciding if she was willing to discuss her relationship with him. She shrugged, drained the rest of her drink, and reached for the bottle. "It was mutual. We had less common ground and, well, you know how he is. We weren't compatible anymore and we weren't making each other happy. Breaking up was…" she paused, smiling, "logical."

Jim laughed, sliding his glass across the table for Uhura to refill. "But you're still friends, right?"

"We're on good terms."

"What do you think of this Kolinahr business then?"

Uhura shrugged. "He's been considering that for a while. He first mentioned it around the same time you woke up from your coma. It was just something else for us to disagree on."

Before Jim had a chance to reply, he heard Bones say, "There you are, you green-blooded bastard. Finally come to socialize?"

Jim looked up to see Spock looming over the table. "I do not wish to impose."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Jim, sliding down in the booth to make room for Spock beside him and reaching for an empty glass. "Have a drink," he said, grabbing the whiskey. "Wait... Vulcans do drink, right?" asked Jim, gravely.

"Vulcans avoid the consumption of alcohol," Spock responded deadpan.

"Of course they do," said Bones, rolling his eyes.

"Although," continued Spock, "on special occasions it is not unheard of."

Jim grinned and filled his glass, wondering if Spock's ever gotten truly wasted, amused by the thought.

"Well then, Mr. Spock," said Scotty. "Perhaps you can help us settle a wee argument. What's the best scotch you've ever tasted?"

ooOoo

Jim wasn't sure how many drinks he'd had. He lost count after five, which was when Scotty and Uhura started dancing. He'd last seen Bones a little while ago, flirting with an Ardanan woman, but they had both disappeared. Jim and Spock had been discussing the Ktarian government, but an uncomfortable silence had fallen between them in the past few minutes.

Spock protested when Jim refilled both of their glasses. "Captain, I am not sure that is wise."

"What's the matter, Spock? Never been drunk?" Jim poured the whiskey, watching as some splashed out of the glass and onto the table. "And we're off duty. It's just Jim."

"It is against regulation to-"

"You've got to learn how to cut loose and have some fun once in a while." Jim lifted his glass towards Spock and grinned. "That's an order."

"I thought we were off duty," Spock said, and Jim thought he was almost smiling, but he could have been imagining it.

"Shut up and drink your whiskey," Jim laughed. He glanced across the room and noticed the young Vulcan couple who had made the trip with them. "Your friends are here."

Spock looked over just in time for the two of them to witness T'Peyta press her fingers against Sarok's in the same manner as the previous night. Jim asked, "What is that thing they keep doing with their hands?"

"It is a Vulcan gesture of affection… equivalent to that of a human kiss."

Jim felt a fluttering in his stomach. I want you to know why I couldn't let you die. His hand pressed against the door, needing something. And then Spock's hand was on the other side of the glass, he could almost feel it, warm against his fingertips. Parted from me and never parted…

"Never and always touching and touched," Jim mumbled.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I was not aware that you were familiar with Vulcan proverbs."

"Huh?" asked Jim, suddenly uncomfortable. He had no idea where that had come from. It had just been… in his head.

"'Parted from me and never parted. Never and always touching and touched.' That is a Vulcan dictum said between lovers."

"Right," said Jim, distracted. Vulcans kiss with their fingers? "I, uh, read it in a book."

"Are you well, Jim?"

"I'm fine," he lied. He looked up to see the concern in his first officer's face and wished he didn't. Spock wasn't even supposed to have feelings, but here he was once again, letting Jim see his emotions like they were some sort of whispered secret. Did he even realize what he was doing? Spock was either the universe's worst Vulcan or he got some sort of twisted satisfaction from making Jim's head spin.

"I think the whiskey caught up to me. Maybe we should go to bed." Jim heard the implication in his own statement and was immediately horrified. "To sleep!" he amended quickly. "In our beds. Or just me. In my bed. Alone." His face was hot with embarrassment and he was seriously contemplating pulling out his phaser and stunning himself. "I'm kind of drunk," he admitted before draining the rest of his glass in a single gulp.

The walk back to their floor was quiet. Jim had muttered 'goodnight' to Spock before escaping into his room. He was lightheaded and knew it was more than just a result of the alcohol. He staggered into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror.

Spock, you almost make me believe in miracles.

Okay, Jim was positive he had never said that. But he remembered it perfectly, hearing his own voice like a recording in his mind. He turned on the sink and splashed cool water on his face. A dictum said between lovers. Jim grabbed a towel, buried his face in the warm cotton, and groaned. The equivalent of a human kiss.

A human kiss. Now that conjured up some new, original images. Back pressed hard against the wall, fingers lacing together, lips sliding over his, agonizingly slow and deliberate in contrast to the hard grasp on his hip and oh god, there would definitely be bruises there the next day…

"No," said Jim firmly… to his empty bathroom.

He stripped down to his briefs and climbed into bed, convinced he was half-insane. It only took a few minutes for him to drift off to sleep. In his dreams, he was looking through the door of the radiation chamber again, only this time he was on the other side of the glass, helplessly watching Spock die. I have been and always shall be your friend.

ooOoo

"What do you mean 'side effects of a Vulcan mind meld'? You didn't actually let that pointy-eared bastard into your head, did you?"

After a troublesome sleep, and even more troubling thoughts (that were certainly not going to be mentioned), Jim vowed to talk to Bones about the problem. They were in Jim's hotel room, where he sat on a stool in the dining area while being scanned with a tricorder.

"It wasn't Spock," said Jim. "Well, okay, it actually was Spock. But not our Spock."

Bones stared at Jim incredulously.

"Spock from the future," explained Jim. "It was when Spock, our Spock that is, marooned me on Delta Vega, where the other Spock mind melded with me to explain everything about Nero. But I think he might have transferred some other stuff. Personal stuff. Well, about me. The other me. And him. Is that even possible?"

Bones was practically gaping at him. He narrowed his eyes and asked, "What kind of personal stuff?"

"Nothing weird." Jim rubbed the back of his neck. Actually, it's so far beyond weird. "Just bits of conversation. Déjà vu."

"I'm sorry Jim, but I have no idea what sort of things can happen from a mind meld, let alone with someone from the future. You're going to have to ask a Vulcan."

"I was afraid you'd say that."

"If you want my professional advice, don't let anyone into your brain."

"You're telling me."

ooOoo

Later that morning, Jim was in his room in front of the desktop monitor. He'd contacted New Vulcan to request conference with Ambassador Spock and had now been staring at a 'Hold' screen for fifteen minutes.

Just as he was beginning to grow impatient, the image of Spock blinked onto the monitor screen.

"Jim Kirk," he greeted. Aside from the obvious age difference, there were other things that were different from this Spock and the younger Spock. While the older Spock was more expressive, he was also calmer and spoke with distinctive confidence.

The young Spock, who Jim often thought of as his Spock, seemed more reserved, but his icy exterior often cracked, exposing a vulnerability that his older counterpart did not seem to possess. If you knew where to look, his Spock was rough around the edges, which Jim couldn't help but find fascinating.

"Ambassador Spock," said Jim. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"I always have time for an old friend. Are you well?"

"Yeah, everyone's fine. We're on Ktaris as delegates for a ceremony tomorrow."

"Ktaris is a remarkable planet."

"Yeah, it's nice," said Jim. "Listen, I wanted to ask you about something. Do you remember when you did the, uh, mind meld on Delta Vega?"

"Of course," answered Spock.

"Well, there's this other stuff that I know now. It's like déjà vu or something. I'll just think of words or parts of a conversation that I never had, and I don't have any context for them, it's like they're just… there, floating around inside my head. And sometimes I have these dreams…"

Spock looked troubled and it was a long moment before he finally spoke. "Jim, I am sorry. Perhaps it was unwise for me to have performed a mind meld while under emotional distress. It seems that I was unable to prevent any of my nostalgia from transferring to your mind. I must ask why did not contact me right away. It has been nearly a year since I joined with your consciousness on Delta Vega."

"Actually, it just started a few months ago. After I… well, died."

Spock nodded gravely. "You must have Dr. McCoy administer two doses of Lexorin a day. It will alleviate the malaise as well as the flashbacks. Your symptoms should clear in a few days. Have you spoken to my younger counterpart about this?"

"I'd rather not. Besides, now there's no reason to."

"Jim, is there anything else you wish to ask me?"

Yes.

Were you the one who died in your universe instead of me? What does T'hy'la mean? Why is your soul my responsibility? Does the other Spock talk to you about me? Does he know that we are friends where you come from? Why did you say 'I have been and always shall be yours'? Does 'A Tale of Two Cities' mean something to us? I think I once told you that you almost make me believe in miracles, and he does… the other Spock. I wanted to tell him why I couldn't let him die, but the radiation was filling my lungs and I couldn't speak. He said it was because he was my friend and I put my hand on the glass but I think I knew. Even then I think I knew that Vulcans kiss with their fingers and I was never so afraid but he was there and I was fading. But then I woke up. He saved me. I'm alive and we are back on the Enterprise and he made me believe in miracles but now everything is so hard and I never know what to say.

Jim rearranged his thoughts into a single question.

Were we lovers?

But he only said, "There's nothing else that I can think of. You've been a lot of help. I'll get Bones to give me some Lexorin right away. Thank you, Spock."

Spock gave Jim the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper."

ooOoo

Spock found Jim in the early afternoon to go over the day's itinerary. The Ktarian ambassadors had planned, for their more noble delegates, a grand tour of Kta, which included a performance at the theatre, sailing in the Golden River, and finally, at sunset, a visit to their famed beach. Jim and Spock were the only members of their crew invited, along with various other Federation ambassadors and diplomats. It was perfect weather for their plans, comfortably warm with a gentle breeze. Leaving the hotel, Jim asked Spock to stay close to him, to which he had replied, "Of course, Captain."

The performance at the domed theatre was impressive. The orchestra alone must have had over a hundred musicians. Performers wore detailed costumes, dancing on stilts and swinging from aerial apparatuses, while in the center stage, a man and woman seemed to be caught in some sort of torrid love affair. Jim had tried to pay attention, but was lost about twenty minutes in. He spent the duration of the performance thinking of all the things he had never bothered to ask Spock; why he joined Starfleet, if he had any siblings, what kind of books he read, and if he liked old movies… all the while hyperaware of sitting beside him. Spock had been as still as a statue, expressionlessly watching the performance, while Jim was all nervous energy; shifting in his seat and strumming his fingers against the armrest.

The Golden River was true to its name, the water itself was a sparkling green, but the sand beneath was a rich gold. Several boats, with a two person capacity, were tethered together with ropes; a tiny armada of sailboats. What they lacked in size, they made up for in luxury. There were two adjacent cushioned benches with fine fabrics and embroidered pillows. Each boat was adorned with red silk curtains that were thin enough to see through, rose tinting the world. There were platters of fruit (which were, surprisingly, delicious) and chilled wine to have while they were guided gently through the water.

Drifting down the river, Spock was attempting to explain the performance they had just seen.

"It is the most notable romance of their people, centuries old. It is comparable to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The incorporation of music and interpretive dance was fascinating."

"And confusing," said Jim. "This is weird, Spock. I feel more like a king than a starship captain. I don't know why we were invited to all of this, we were just the transport."

"You are a respected captain of Starfleet," said Spock. At the face Jim made, he added, "Although, I too, share your discomfort in being… pampered."

Jim snorted and said, "I guess we could use a little down time."

Jim had decided that he wanted to talk to Spock about the other Spock. Mostly, he wanted to know how much Spock knew of their future counterparts. He decided the only way to approach the topic would have to be to casually bring it up. So, feigning nonchalance, he said, "I talked to Ambassador Spock today."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Has something happened on New Vulcan?"

"No, everything's fine. I was just wondering if we had done this. You know, where he comes from." Okay, so that was a lie. But he wasn't a Vulcan and he really didn't have any other excuse to talk to him. Also, he didn't want to mention the mind meld.

"Do you speak with him often?" asked Spock.

"No," said Jim. "Do you?"

"Occasionally, in regards to New Vulcan. Did he provide the information you requested?"

"Well, I was just curious. It wasn't important, really. But no, he didn't tell me."

Spock nodded. "He has told me that my destiny is my own and has expressed concern about giving me any information that would alter my decisions, although, he has advised on several occasions."

"Yeah? What kind of advice?"

"Regarding Starfleet and, more recently, Khan."

"Right," said Jim. "So are you going to ask his advice on Kolinahr?"

"Captain-"

"I think you should."

Spock narrowed his eyes. "I do not think that now is the appropriate time to discuss this."

"You're not going to talk to me about this at all, are you?" Jim asked angrily.

"I do not understand why my personal decision to undergo Kolinahr elicits such an emotional response from you, Captain."

Jim's heart fluttered and he stared down into his wine glass. The boat was coming to a stop alongside a pier. "I just thought we were friends," he said quietly.

Spock seemed taken back. "We are…" he said carefully. "I still do not understand why-"

"Is it because of what happened with you and Uhura? Because I'm sure if you talked to her-"

"My former relationship with Lieutenant Uhura does not have an impact on my decision."

"Oh," said Jim, rubbing at the back of his neck awkwardly. "Well, by the way, I am sorry about that."

Spock looked confused. "Condolences are not necessary, Captain."

"It's just something people say, Spock."

"Captain, Commander," called a Ktarian hostess from the pier. She was waving them towards her, where the rest of the delegates had begun to regroup.

Spock glanced at Jim before climbing off the sailboat. Jim followed, noting the low sun, anxious for the day to come to an end.

ooOoo

Just as planned, they arrived at the beach just before sunset. Jim, slightly buzzed, convinced Spock to go exploring past the rocks, away from where the group was settling in under an enormous tent in the sand.

Insects like fireflies, glowing neon pink, danced through the saltwater air. Spock and Jim sat on a rocky cliff which overlooked the emerald ocean, listening as the waves crashed against the golden beach. Jim, as always, began to feel more at ease once the stars came out. He watched the water glistening under the pale light of three moons, wondering what Spock was thinking about.

Jim couldn't get Kolinahr out of his mind. He knew he should probably let it go for now, but he was worried about waiting. What if Spock went and did it before he could convince him otherwise? Was it just a procedure? Or was there a long process?

Unable to resist, he pressed on. "Maybe if you just told me why you want to do it-"

"You would not understand."

"Then make me understand."

"I suggest we go back to the others," said Spock. "The fireworks will be starting shortly and our absence will be noted."

Jim wasn't going to give in that easily. He reached out and placed his hand over Spock's, startling him. The contact was overwhelming. Dark eyes searched Jim's face intently, but Spock did not pull away. Something was blooming in Jim's chest, making his heart pump feverishly.

"Why don't you want to feel?" Jim asked quietly. He was determined not the break eye contact; not to let this end, whatever it was.

Spock looked down at their hands, then, slowly, carefully, turned his hand over beneath Jim's until their palms were touching. He whispered, "Because it hurts."

Spock's hand was sliding against Jim's, his fingers brushing against his in a way that could only be deliberate. He remembered watching the birth of a star; falling atoms aligning in organized chaos in the dark until they ignited, bursting into life.

"Spock…" It should have alarmed him that such a simple touch could be the single, most achingly erotic thing he'd ever experienced. Jim was startled at the faint green color he saw rising in Spock's face, then realized he was blushing. Jim shivered at the delicate brush against the tips of his fingers. He was hard, his body humming with hot, writhing need, and please, more, now… Jim needed so much more contact; he was a star on the brink of explosion, ready to burn and outshine the Ktarian moons. Leaning towards Spock, he was desperate and open and ready. Yes, touch me, yours…

Then it was over. Someone was calling out their names and they weren't touching anymore. Spock was standing up and calling back to the Andorian who had interrupted them as Jim struggled to his feet. He was dizzy and hard and aching, but Spock seemed perfectly composed.

"The firework display is starting, Captain."

Jim's mouth was dry. Had he imagined the whole thing? "Right."

Jim was following Spock back over the rocks when he heard a loud crack overhead. A blazing shower of vibrant blues and reds painted the sky, and then, just as quickly as they appeared, the embers burned out.

ooOoo

It was the day of the ceremony and Jim was exhausted, having only had a few hours of sleep. He had been calm throughout the return journey from their excursion the previous night, only beginning to panic when he and Spock were alone in the lift at the hotel. The silence had made his ears ring. An awkward goodnight and Jim had sulked into his room, feeling embarrassed and rejected. He spent most of the night turning in his bed, adjusting his pillows, and going over what had happened on the beach.

Now, sitting at the long banquet table in the hall of the Ktarian Embassy, Jim's thoughts were still obsessively locked on it. He had merely touched Spock's hand and it had elicited a ridiculous response… maybe there was something in the atmosphere here. A Vulcan gesture of affection. If he wasn't surrounded by his crew, and sitting directly next to the source of his frustration, Jim would have groaned and banged his head against the table.

Spock looked calm and stoic. His uniform was impeccable, nothing out of place. He wanted to fist his hands into the front of Spock's shirt, push down against the table… just their knees occasionally brushing against each other was almost enough to drive him insane.

The flashbacks had subsided almost completely, the non-memories from the mind mild, leaving in its wake something that made his heart beat faster and his head hurt. He was noticing things, little things; Spock licking his lower lip after taking a sip of water, the way his shirt would ride up when he reached across the table, revealing a strip of pale skin on his lower back… The back of his mind helpfully supplied a few words for this, and often. Attraction. Infatuation. Gay. Hell, gay he could deal with, although he wasn't sure that was even accurate. Bi maybe? Whatever it was, it was new and different and just a little bit scary, so he tried not to think about it as much. The real problem laid elsewhere. Spock was his first officer. It was inappropriate to say the least. But then he thought of their other-universe counterparts, and the question he never asked the older Spock. He scowled down at his drink. Fucking Vulcans.

"Captain, are you well?" asked Spock quietly.

"I'm fine," he snapped. When he saw his crew members' startled expressions, he winced. "Actually, I think I need some fresh air."

"Do you want some company?" asked Uhura. She was looking at him curiously.

"No, no. I'll only be a minute." As Jim was walking toward the exit to the immense balcony, he looked back to see Spock watching him, his cool expression unrevealing.

Once out on the balcony, he stood at the edge, leaning on the railing and looking out over the gardens. The sunset was bathing everything in a warm, golden light. Jim closed his eyes, wanting to be back on the beach with Spock, feeling careful fingers caressing his own…

Jim heard someone approaching. He opened his eyes once they stopped beside him, even though he knew who it would be.

"Do you require medical attention, Captain?"

"No, Spock." He turned at looked at him, the concern on his face making Jim feel absurdly guilty. He forced a smile and said, "I'm fine."

Spock looked uncomfortable. "I received a message from Captain Sato this morning. I was offered the position of first officer aboard the USS Excalibur."

Jim turned to face Spock, suddenly filled with anxiety. Why would Sato be offering him a job?

"I did not wish to trouble you while we are on an away mission," continued Spock. "But I did not feel comfortable keeping it from you."

He's resigning.

"You are my captain, and you are my friend. But I am… unsatisfied."

"No. You can't." Jim gripped the railing with one hand. "We need you. I need you."

"Captain…"

"You accepted already." It wasn't a question.

"I wanted to discuss it with you first."

"Are we discussing this or are you giving me your resignation?"

"I am open to discussion."

"I can fix it… Tell me what you need. I can be a better captain. Tell me what to do, please." I'll do anything. He could hear the desperation in his own voice. It embarrassed him but it couldn't be helped, Spock was leaving the Enterprise.

Before Spock could answer, they noticed the Vulcan ambassador, Skylok, approaching. "Spock," he said. "May I speak with you?"

It took all of Jim's effort not to groan out loud. Instead, he nodded politely and excused himself.

His head was swimming as he walked through the ceremony hall and out another exit. He needed to get away. He needed to think. What would make Spock want to resign? He considered Uhura, but it was unlikely. Maybe Spock suspected how Jim felt about him. Maybe the older Spock knew somehow, and told his Spock… A few uninvited tears started to fall from his eyes and he wiped them away angrily.

"Jim!"

No, not now. Jim stopped walking but refused to turn around and let Bones see him cry. He took a few deep breaths, willing his heart to stop racing.

"You aren't actually leaving me alone in there to deal with those damn-" Bones broke off when Jim turned to face him. "What happened?"

"It's nothing," said Jim, embarrassed and angry.

"Bullshit."

Jim sighed, relenting. "Spock's resigning."

"Resigning?" He was loud enough to make two passing Ktarians slow and glare at them. Jim grabbed his sleeve and dragged him into an alcove.

"He said he was offered a position on the Excalibur, which means he was looking for a transfer." Jim sighed and rubbed at his temples where a headache was blooming. "He said he didn't accept yet, but he wanted me to know about it first, as if that would make it any better. He says he's unsatisfied."

Bones furrowed his brow. "Unsatisfied with what, exactly?"

Jim shrugged. "Me, probably. He didn't have a chance to elaborate before that Vulcan ambassador was interrupting us. The same one who's trying to convince him to do some Vulcan ritual that will get rid of his emotions."

"What emotions?"

Jim scowled. "He has emotions. He just controls them… usually."

"Except around you, you mean."

Jim was startled. "What do you mean?"

Bones gave him a withering look, and then sighed. "Would you be this upset if it was Uhura resigning? Or me, even?"

"Of course," said Jim, suddenly uncomfortable with the direction this conversation was headed.

"Look- God knows what goes on between those pointy ears, let alone… elsewhere. But I know you well enough."

"Know me well enough to know what exactly?"

Bones seemed to be struggling to find the right words. "I see the way you look at him-"

"No. I am not having this conversation."

"And what conversation is that, exactly?"

Jim looked down at his shoes and mumbled, "The 'I Might Be in Love with My First Officer, Who Happens to Be a Vulcan, and Also Happens to Be a Man' conversation?"

Bones smirked, triumphant. It made Jim want to punch him. "Well," said Bones, "so long as we are talking about not-talking-about-it..."

"Bones," warned Jim.

"…how do you think he feels about you?"

"Well he's leaving," said Jim. "What do you think?"

"I think you should probably talk to him," suggested Bones.

"I think we should get back to the ceremony hall."

Jim could tell that Bones wasn't satisfied. Add him to the list, Jim thought bitterly.

"Alright… should I be worried about you?"

"No," said Jim, trying to sound convincing. "Let's go."

ooOoo

The rest of the night had been uneventful, with Spock mostly avoiding Jim. The next morning the crew all had breakfast together before getting ready to leave the hotel. Jim was grateful to be leaving; he wanted to be back aboard his ship, on the bridge with his crew, sleeping in his own quarters, and working out whatever the hell was going on with his first officer. The hotel staff took care of their luggage, along with that of the delegates who were being escorted home on the Enterprise. When Jim said farewell to Ambassador Detana Vol, she gave him a gift (the music of the performance they had seen at the theatre in Kta), and she thanked him with tears in her eyes. "An emotional people, these Ktarians," Spock had said when they left her. Jim had only glared at him.

Scotty had seemed even more anxious to get back to the Enterprise than Jim was. Bones was less so, probably because he was anticipating the five-year mission into deep space that they'd be starting once they took their company home. Jim was only worried if Spock would be going to deep space with them, or if Jim would be receiving his resignation and leaving him in San Francisco, only to transfer to another ship. What would the Enterprise be without Spock? More importantly, what would Jim be without him?

Once aboard the Enterprise, Jim made sure the delegates were settling in, spoke with his crew, and took his time on the bridge. When he finally retired to his quarters, it was nearly 08:00 hours. He had just sat down on his sofa and was going through his messages when the door buzzed. When he opened it, he wasn't surprised to see Spock.

Jim invited him inside, and Spock asked, "Am I disturbing you, Captain?"

"No, Spock. And it's Jim. I'm off duty."

Spock handed him a PADD, which Jim carried to the sitting room to read. He gestured to the couch for Spock to sit.

"It is the completed mission report."

"That was quick," said Jim, sitting down. He skimmed through the first few sentences. "Is there anything else you want to give me?"

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Captain?"

"Jim. I'm off duty. And your resignation."

"I was unaware that you were anticipating my resignation. Is it what you want?"

"Dammit, Spock!" Jim stood up and tossed the PADD onto the chair where he had just been sitting. "You know it's not what I want!"

Spock stood up, looking uncomfortable. "It was not my intention to upset you… I am-"

"Unsatisfied," finished Jim.

Spock stepped closer, looking almost regretful. "I want… more."

"More than Commander? More than a five-year deep space mission? Or more from your captain?"

"More from you," said Spock.

Jim was expecting it, but it still felt like a punch to the gut. "Then I hope Captain Sato serves you better," Jim said bitterly.

"You misunderstand," said Spock, moving closer still.

"I think I understand enough," said Jim, quietly.

He wanted to yell and scream, but it felt wrong when Spock was so close to him, close enough that Jim could see specks of gold in Spock's dark, dark, eyes. And then he was closer still, the distance between them was eclipsing into nothing. His body was moving towards Spock by its own accord, his mind not quite understanding what was happening, only able to vaguely remember what it was like to watch that star formation when he was a cadet. Jim's eyes fell closed and he had a moment to register the warm breath that ghosted over his lips, and the hands coming to rest upon his waist. He was on the edge of forever; he was stardust freefalling through the vast nothingness. Then he felt the soft brush of lips against his own and the gravitational collapse, and he was burning so, so brightly.

Spock is kissing me.

He knew there were lifetimes of longing behind this kiss. A swipe of Spock's tongue along his lower lip sent a shiver down his back and he noticed how hard he had become.

Spock is kissing me in my quarters.

One of Spock's hands had abandoned his hip and he was threading his fingers through Jim's hair, deepening the kiss, their tongues sliding against each other. Jim was being walked backwards until his back pressed against a wall, and then Spock was pressed against him, pulling their hips together, the friction making Jim groan.

Spock's mouth moved from Jim's and down to his neck, trailing kisses, and when Jim felt the gentle graze of teeth at the place where his neck meets his shoulder, he started grinding back against Spock, gripping his shoulders all the tighter. Hands were under his shirt, some fingers digging into his hipbone, others sliding up the bare skin of his back. Jim was pressing back against Spock desperately. "I want you."

Then Spock was looking at him, so intently. His pupils were blown and he was flushing a pale green. "I want you too," he said.

Jim was open and needing and desperate, and when Spock's hand moved to the front of Jim's pants, gripping the hardness he felt there, Jim was only able to manage one word. "Bed."

They stumbled into the bedroom, leaving a trail of shoes, shirts, and belts in their wake. When the backs of his legs hit the mattress, Spock pushed him down, not ungently, and Jim pulled Spock on top of him, running his hands over the smooth skin of his back. He wanted this to last, but he'd been waiting too long. Lips were on his neck, then his chest, and his briefs were being pulled off. He whimpered when Spock's hand finally gripped him and Jim was soon pushing back into his hand, arching and gasping and nothing should feel this good.

Jim kissed Spock messily while wrapping his hand around him, making Spock groan and bite Jim's lip. There was 'fuck yes' and 'don't stop' and 'waited so long', blunt nails scraping against bare skin, teeth and lips and shuddering gasps, and when Jim's release came without warning, he cried out. A moment later, Jim felt Spock's teeth on his shoulder and wet warmth spilling between them as he came too.

They were breathing heavily. Spock had moved to lie beside him and pulled Jim close, until his head was resting on Spock's chest and one arm was draped over his waist. Jim listened to Spock's breathing slow and become steady as he drifted to sleep.

ooOoo

Jim's alarm buzzed at 07:00 hours, which he promptly dismissed before rolling over, burying his face into pillows, and cocooning himself in warm blankets. It only took a moment before the memories of the previous night crept into his mind. His eyes snapped open and he bolted upright, but he was alone in bed. He wrapped a sheet around him and went to inspect the rest of his quarters, but found it empty. He stood in the sitting area chewing his lip nervously for a few minutes before remembering that Spock had a scheduled conference with the rest of the sciences division, leaving him feeling embarrassed for worrying that he'd done something wrong.

In the bathroom Jim let the sheet drop to the floor in front of the full-length mirror over the door, and nearly gasped at his reflection. There were bruises on his hipbones from Spock's fingertips, and red marks strewed across his chest from Spock's mouth. He touched an angry red bite mark on his shoulder, remembering the feel of Spock's teeth there, and he felt his cock twitch with interest. When he stepped into the sonic shower, he set the water to cold.

Once he was showered and dressed in his uniform, he left his quarters to head for the bridge. He was nervous, with a fluttering in his stomach that worsened with each step. He stepped into the turbolift, greeting the ensign who was inside. When the lift stopped one floor down and opened, it was Spock standing on the other side of the sliding door.

He looked to Jim, then to the ensign standing beside him. "Good morning, Captain. Ensign."

"Good morning, Commander," replied the ensign, curtly.

"Morning, Spock," said Jim. He hoped that he seemed casual. He hoped he'd be able to focus once on the bridge. Mostly, he hoped Spock didn't regret what had happened.

Spock stood on the other side of the ensign, hands folded behind his back and eyes straight ahead. Jim shifted his weight between his feet, picking at a loose thread on the hem of his shirt.

The turbolift stopped, and the ensign nodded to Jim before stepping off. The door slid closed, leaving Jim alone with Spock.

"I finished the Ktarian diplomacy draft as you requested," said Spock.

When did you have time for that? He was only a few feet away, but it felt like a great distance. Jim wanted to pull him close, to put his mouth on him again…

"That's, um, good. Thanks." Maybe Spock did regret what had happened. Now he would surely leave the Enterprise…

"I also spoke with Ambassador Skylok this morning. He extended an invitation to his brother's temple on New Vulcan, where I would be able to undergo Kolinahr."

"So that's what you've decided?" asked Jim, looking down at his shoes instead of at Spock, his throat tight.

Then Jim felt a hand on his wrist and he looked up to see Spock standing in front of him. Spock reached over to the wall and stopped the lift, and they came to a stop just before reaching the bridge. Spock cupped Jim's face with one hand, looking intently into Jim's eyes. "I will not undergo Kolinahr."

Relief washed over him, and with a newfound courage, Jim stepped closer and pressed his lips to Spock's, letting one of his hands go to the back of Spock's head, threading his fingers in the soft, short, strands.

Spock's lips parted beneath his, hesitant for only a moment before he deepened the kiss and his hands went to Jim's hips. Jim felt a familiar stirring in his groin and he wished they were off duty so he could drag him back to his quarters, but then Spock was pulling away.

He stayed close though, his hand finding Jim's and lacing their fingers together. "I did not want to wake you this morning."

"I almost forgot you had a conference," Jim admitted.

"If I did not have an appointment, I would not have left."

Jim found Spock's lips again and kissed him softly, remembering how it felt to fall asleep curled up against him and hoping tonight would be the same. Spock stepped back and Jim saw the hint of a smile on his lips; just barely, but just enough, and Jim smiled back, feeling a pleasant warmth spreading through him. Spock looked to the control and then expectantly back at Jim, who nodded, and then they were moving again.

Jim didn't need to worry about Starfleet regulation. He didn't need to worry about where this was going, or where it went for their other-universe counterparts. When Chekov announced their arrival, and they stepped out onto the bridge together, he knew they were exactly where they belonged.

-Fin-

Author's Note: If you liked this story, look out for the sequel coming soon.