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Refuge

Chapter Text

Jim Kirk was 13 years old. It was summer, and a cool breeze fluttered the curtains in the family’s farmhouse kitchen. Outside, Jim heard the buzzing of a hummingbird’s wings, and he caught the green flash of its feathers out of the corner of his eye. Family meetings did not usually start out this solemn, nor this silent.

They all sat at the table and waited, the boys picking up cues from their parents that something heavy was on their minds. Sam shifted in his seat beside Jim, and Jim stared straight ahead.

“Are we in trouble?” he asked after the silence got to be too much. Sam whapped his shoulder.

Jim hardly noticed. He was going down a list of possible crimes in his head. Yes, he’d let out the chickens yesterday, but that had been an accident. And the broken fence the day before had been entirely Sam’s fault. Plus, both had already been subjected to stern talking-tos. They’d been keeping up on their summer reading, they’d helped around the house-- what could it be?

“No, no, darling,” Winona said gently. She was wearing that smile, tight-lipped and falsely comforting as if she didn’t know her sons could see right through it.

Beside her, George was all quiet concern, strong brow wrinkled, hair tousled from where he’d run his hands through it all day. Jim knew that was a bad sign.

“We just have a little news,” George said, leaning his elbows on the table.

“That’s not the face of someone with a ‘little’ news,” Sam said skeptically.

Winona shot a worried look at George, who cleared his throat before speaking. “I’m sure you’ve heard from your holos-- or you’ve heard your mother and I talking. Do you know the situation on Vulcan?”

Vulcan? Of course Jim knew. Every night before bed he read the Federation’s news feed, hoping to get a taste of space before he was allowed up there himself. The second news broke of the Romulan attack, Jim had been under his covers with his datapadd, reading every bit of information he could get his hands on, though he didn’t understand all of it.

He’d brought it to Sam a few days before, hoping for some sort of explanation, but Sam had just told him not to worry too much about it. Vulcan was far away, he’d said, and their war with the Romulans wouldn’t affect anyone here on Earth.

“Aren’t they under attack?” Sam asked before Jim had a chance to open his mouth.

Winona nodded. She was about to speak when Jim butt in.

“The Romulans just came out of nowhere,” he said to Sam, proud in spite of himself that, yes, he did know more than his older brother. At least about one thing. “And the Federation stepped in but they’ve got all these weapons we’ve never seen. And something that makes it so we can’t see their ships, or see them . They’ve basically roasted half the planet by now.”

Winona hefted a sigh. “That’s essentially it,” she said. “The Vulcans are in a lot of trouble and there’s only so much the Federation can do.”

“None of the fleet is really built for military engagement,” George said. “We’ve got some phaser power, but not nearly what the Romulans have. Vulcan’s overpowered, and a lot of people are evacuating.”

“What does that have to do with us?” Sam asked, and Jim’s eyes widened. What did it have to do with them? Were the Romulans coming to Earth? They wouldn’t. The word was that their grudge was with Vulcans, though no one knew entirely why. Still, the thought terrified him.

“Well,” George said,”Your mother and I, along with quite a few other Starfleet officers, have offered to take the Vulcan refugees in.”

“All of them?!” Jim asked without thinking, imagining the farm overrun with their strange, stoic allies.

Winona chuckled, albeit a little nervously. “Just the one. He’s about your age, Jim. His parents are very important, and they’re going to be off doing very important things, so we’re going to take care of him while they’re gone.”

Jim wanted to ask what it was that made them so important, but there were more pressing concerns.

“For how long?” Sam asked. His face was tight, and Jim didn’t know if it was because the implications of the war were sinking in, or if the implications of their new housemate were sinking in.

“However long it takes,” George replied, meeting Sam’s eyes. The two had one of those silent exchanges they’d been having more and more as Sam got older, as though George were attempting to instill in Sam some kind of steely, Starfleet resolve that the boy had never had.

Jim wanted to prove that he had it.

“Yeah, and whatever it takes. Even if I have to share a room.”

“You don’t have to share a room,” Winona said graciously, and Jim breathed a silent sigh of relief. If the Federation was going to make room for the Vulcans on their worlds, Jim could’ve made room for one in his bedroom, but he was secretly very glad that wasn’t the case.

“But we do need both of you to help clean out your old toy room today. Spock’s arriving tomorrow afternoon and we want everything to be ready for him.”

Spock, Jim thought as George, Winona and Sam discussed a game plan. The name wouldn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but he hoped, maybe, that they could be friends. He’d never met an actual Vulcan before. It could be fun.

 

----

 

A transport pulled up to the Kirk farm’s driveway at noon on the dot the next day. It bore only one passenger.

The driver waited just long enough for the child (and he was a child) to gather his bag and close the door, before they drove off. In the dust, a young Vulcan stood, looking for all the world to be entirely unfazed by his new home. He wore black robes that swished around his ankles, fastened with a symbol that Jim had seen before but could never remember the meaning of, like a circle intersected by a triangle. His hair lay in a flat bowl cut along his brow, shining in the midday sunlight as though it were made of metal.

The Kirks had been waiting on the porch for his arrival, and now ventured out into the sun to greet him. The first thing Jim noticed was that Spock did not return their welcoming smiles. Jim tried not to be offended. Vulcans were different, he reminded himself.

George was the first to extend a welcome. He held his hand in the traditional Vulcan salute, “You must be Spock,” he said kindly, “Welcome to Iowa. May I?” He reached out for Spock’s bag, and the Vulcan reluctantly hefted it from his shoulder and placed the strap in George’s shovel of a hand.

“Where are your parents?” Winona asked, glancing down the road as though another transport must be on its way. “I was hoping to meet them.”

“Their presence was required at an urgent meeting in San Francisco. I am quite capable of traveling on my own.”

Jim didn’t like his tone.

“Of course you are, dear,” Winona said, “I’m Winona. This is my husband, George,” she motioned to George, who nodded, “and our sons, George Jr. and Jim.”

Jim nodded like his father, assessing Spock. They’d said he was around Jim’s age, and he certainly looked to be (aside from a small advantage in height), but he spoke like an adult-- a stuffy one at that.

Spock held up that same Vulcan salute in greeting and, after a reminder shove from Winona’s hip, both boys returned it.

There was an awkward moment of silence.

“Why don’t we help Spock get settled,” Winona said brightly, moving behind Spock to usher them all into the house. “No sense standing around in this hot sun.”

Spock said nothing, though Jim caught what looked like an expression out of the corner of his eye. It was over far too fast to see for sure.

Winona, to fill silence as she often did, began to talk, “We set up a room just for you. You can decorate it however you’d like, even make a mess-- goodness knows my boys always do. We all eat dinner together, but feel free to use the replicator in the kitchen for breakfast and lunch, all right?”

They reached the room that had, until yesterday, housed the boys’ collective lifetimes of broken toys. The walls were still painted a garish yellow, but it was otherwise sparse. A bed, a desk, a rug and a window. That was it.

George set Spock’s bag on the bed. Jim couldn’t believe the kid had come without any other belongings. It hardly seemed big enough for more than one change of clothes.

“Where’s the rest of your stuff?” he asked, without thinking. It was too late by the time the rest of the family shot him a look.

“On Vulcan,” Spock responded, and Jim heard a dangerous bite to his voice.

Of course. Jim bit the inside of his mouth.

There was silence.

“Well,” Winona piped up, “Would you like a tour?”

Spock didn’t seem enthused, but at least it made him take his penetrating eyes off of Jim for a moment. “If that is what you want,” he said.

Jim wanted desperately to just leave the kid alone, now that he’d made a thorough ass of himself. Besides, it wasn’t as though Spock was being mister courteous either. Maybe they’d all be better served for just letting the Vulcan stay silently in his room for however long it took to beat the Romulans.

But one look from George made Jim acquiesce, and he followed his mother on the tour of the farm. They showed him down the hall to Jim and Sam’s rooms, to their parents’, to the bathroom, then back downstairs.

In the kitchen, George showed him how to work the replicator unit,  though Spock was apparently “familiar with the technology, yes.”

Then, they took him outside to the herb and vegetable garden and the chicken coop, which did seem to interest him at least a little. He looked out over the pastures, where four fat cows and a few horses were grazing.

George was going into one of his long talks about animal husbandry, which could last hours, so Jim didn’t feel so bad interrupting him.

“Have you ever been to Earth?” he asked, suddenly realizing that all this may be new to Spock.

“I have accompanied my parents to human colonies,” he replied, raising a rather condescending eyebrow at Jim, “but I have very little interest in Earth itself.” Though the tone was unreadable, the statement made Jim bristle. It felt like an insult. Looking at the kid, he had little doubt that it had been intended as one.

“Hey, I know it’s not fancy, but we happen to live here, you know.”

“Jim,” George warned. Sam shifted uncomfortably on his feet and Winona’s face fell.

“My apologies,” Spock said, and he actually bowed his head. “I believe I require solitude. If you will excuse me.” He turned to Winona and George, thanked them for the tour, then walked in even steps back to the house.

There were a few moments during which Jim attempted not to look at anyone, but Winona caught his eyes all the same. “He’s homesick, Jim,” she said, gentler than expected as she placed a hand on his shoulder. “Give him some time, okay?”

 

----

 

Jim did give him a few hours.

He spent the time wavering between stewing angrily and second-guessing himself, letting remorse sink in for how he’d acted. He spent some of the afternoon in Sam’s room, laying on the floor while Sam worked on college applications at his desk. He knew his brother wasn’t listening, but he had to complain to someone.

“But he should be grateful, you know? We didn’t have to take him in. And here is saying Earth is dumb--”

“He said he had no interest in Earth, not that Earth was dumb. And don’t use that word.” Sam corrected him lazily. “Besides, you say the same thing all the time. It’s all ‘I can’t wait to leave this rock and go to space,’ ‘I can’t wait to be a Starfleet officer like dad.’ You probably hate Earth more than Spock.”

“That’s a lie,” Jim said moodily, rolling onto his side and picking at the fibers of the rug. It wasn’t a lie. He loved the idea of space, of exploration, of leaving Iowa for good and seeing things no one had ever seen before. Maybe what offended him was that Spock didn’t have that same exploratory mindset.

“He should be excited to be able to explore something new at least,” he said, giving voice to the thought.

“If he were here on vacation maybe. You’re the one who’s been keeping up with the news. You know what he’s going through, right?”

“That’s not--” He paused, plucked another fiber from the rug. “That’s actually a pretty good point.” Sometimes he hated Sam for being smart and even-tempered at those times that Jim didn’t want (or know how) to be either.

“Just be nice to the guy and he’ll come around. Besides, you could use a friend while school’s out.”

“I’ve got you.”

“And I’ve got applications to fill out.” Sam flung a stylus at Jim’s head and Jim laughed.

“All right, fine. I’ll go hang out with the chickens. Ms. Cluckles likes me at least.”

He did end up making his way to the chicken coop, and managed to spend a good half hour with the chickens before getting bored. There were only so many times he could scatter seeds on the ground before watching them peck and scratch became tiresome.

Eventually, he wandered back inside to find something to read. He supposed, with a Vulcan staying with them, it wouldn’t hurt to learn more about their culture.

The problem was, even though they were part of the Federation, they were pretty tight-lipped about their lives. He’d tried researching them before for a school project, but their whole recorded history (at least everything public) seemed to start when they made first contact with humans, and human scholars hadn’t had much luck piecing together any specifics. The book he was reading mentioned the teachings of Surak, some philosopher or other that influenced their collective love affair with logic, but that was about it.

He entertained the idea for a little while of being the first human to accurately document Vulcan habits, rituals-- all of it. He had a subject of study in his own home after all. But after today he doubted Spock was going to agree to spill millennia worth of Vulcan secrets.

At some point, Winona walked in, finding him lying on the living room floor, a book on Federation planets open in front of him.

“Honey, there’s a couch right there,” she said. Jim rolled onto his back and looked up at her.

“I think better this way,” he said.

“And what are you thinking about?” She took a seat on the couch.

“Vulcans,” Jim replied, sitting up and crossing his legs. “They really aren’t like us at all are they?”

She laughed, something musical, “Oh goodness, no. Not even a little bit.”

“You’ve worked with Vulcans, right? What are they like? The grown up ones, I mean.”

Considering, Winona looked him. “Well I have met a few, but that doesn’t mean I know much. Vulcans in general are very calm, controlled, deeply spiritual, private--”

“Well I figured that much--”

And ,” she finished pointedly, “they are incredibly loyal. Every Vulcan in Starfleet would give their lives for the cause, and as a whole they care deeply for their planet.”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“I mean more…” she searched for the word, “More spiritually.Their traditions are more ancient than either of us could even imagine, and each member of their race is tied to the planet intrinsically.” Jim didn’t know that word, but he didn’t want to interrupt, and he figured he got the meaning well enough. “The assault on Vulcan is not just an attack on their home, it’s an attack on their collective soul. Everything that makes them who and what they are.”

Jim thought about this for a moment.

“Do you have any Vulcan friends?”

“Not really. The ones I’ve met have been willing to talk about themselves when they’re asked, but they don’t really seem interested.”

“Like Spock isn’t ‘interested’ in Earth?” Jim grumbled.

“Maybe it’s the same thing. You know when Spock settles in and gets comfortable I bet he’d be happy to answer your questions.”

“Happy?” Jim smirked. “Isn’t that a human emotion?”

She laughed and climbed to her feet, brushing off her jeans. “Fine, smartypants. ‘Willing’ or, I don’t know, ‘not adverse.’ Plus, his family has traveled all over Federation space. He probably knows a lot about starships.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think he’s gonna want to talk to me about all that.” He rolled back onto his stomach, a scowl settling in as he absently flipped a page in his book. She didn’t address the sudden moodiness.

“I’ll leave you to your research,” she said with a smile, leaving the room. Jim waited for her footsteps to fade before he stood, took the dictionary off the shelf, and looked up “intrinsically.”

 

----

 

When dinnertime came, George asked Jim to retrieve Spock from his room. The kid had been barricaded away all day, completely silent, and Jim was half hoping he’d get up there to find Spock had run away out the window. He tried to shove the duty onto his brother, but a stern look from George made him give that up fast.

He couldn’t explain why he just felt really uncomfortable around Spock, but he was starting to understand that his comfort wasn’t going to take priority over their new houseguest’s.

Dutifully, he leveled a few hard knocks on Spock’s door and called, “Dinnertime!” before retreating down the stairs.

Spock followed a few moments later, looking as pressed and put-together as he had earlier. For some reason, this irritated Jim, whose hair was disheveled and whose clothes were rumpled.

Sitting down at the table, Spock carefully watched the plates George set out in front of them-- stir fry. Each night, the Kirks cooked a genuine meal together, using vegetables they’d grown themselves. It was a family tradition that George and Winona seldom skipped. They’d spent enough time in space to relish the taste of real food. Usually, though, they would replicate or purchase some kind of meat entree. Tonight, it was absent.

“Dad, you forgot the beef,” Jim complained as he dragged his fork through the dish’s brown sauce. Sam hit him again and Spock kept his eyes on his plate.

“No I didn’t, Jim,” George said, spearing a sliver of red pepper. “Spock is a vegetarian.”

Jim’s stomach sank. Vegetarian? That would not stand. “But I’m not.”

He could swear he heard Spock sigh across the table, but a quick glance in his direction showed no signs of exasperation. The Vulcan just raised his fork to his mouth, ignoring them.

“You can still eat meat from the replicator,” George said, looking tired, “but when we eat as a family, we’re going to eat something the whole family can enjoy.”

Jim thinned his lips, eyes traveling to Spock, who was most decidedly not a member of their family.

“If you wish to eat animal products,” Spock said, setting down his fork, “you need not concern yourselves with my diet.”

“Nonsense,” Winona said, and she shot Jim a look. “This is just fine. In fact, it’s delicious, isn’t it Jim?”

Jim shoveled a bite of snap peas into his mouth and grumbled around it.

It took a couple days of routine for Spock’s presence in the home to become a little more normal. The next day, Jim completely forgot the Vulcan existed until he caught him eating a salad alone at the kitchen table. The day after, Jim tried his best to avoid Spock, maybe because he was embarrassed or maybe because he just didn’t know how to relate to the kid. He had friends in school, plenty of them, and he knew how to talk to people, but Spock wasn’t like other people.

Though he knew this was only temporary, he also knew that he needed to make an effort if the next few months were going to get easier. It would’ve helped if Spock were trying to make an effort, but Jim was used to extending a hand first. He just decided he’d approach the Vulcan the way he’d approach any human.

He made his move on day three, around late afternoon. Spock’s door was closed, as it usually was, but today Jim caught a whiff of something spicy and sweet wafting out of Spock’s room. Curious, he drifted toward the door, sniffing. It didn’t smell like food, or like much of anything that he was familiar with. If nothing else, it gave him something to talk to Spock about.

He knocked on the door, waited a moment without response, and knocked again.

The door cracked open, and one of Spock’s eyes met Jim’s. Jim stepped back, a little worried by the clear annoyance on the kid’s face. It was the most expressive he’d seen him yet.

“I-- uh,” Jim said elegantly, completely forgetting why he’d knocked on the door in the first place. Suddenly it seemed like a bad idea.

“I am attempting to meditate, if you will please make your business brief,” Spock snapped, and Jim remembered what he’d wanted, though maybe it wasn’t worth it.

“What’s that smell?”

Spock blinked at him, opening the door a tiny bit farther. “I apologize if it is bothering you. I can put them out.”

“Put what out?” Jim craned his neck, trying to look over the taller boy’s shoulders into the darkened room behind him.

“The candles.”

“Candles?”

“Wax pillars with a wick-- a thread inside the wax-- that are burned for certain ceremonies--”

“I know what a candle is,” Jim said with a roll of his eyes, “I mean what are they for?”

Spock closed his eyes briefly, just the slightest bit longer than a blink, as though trying to instill patience in himself. “I would appreciate if you would craft your questions with more specificity in the future.”

“Sure thing,” Jim said, smiling a little in spite of himself. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d answer questions in the future.”

“If you are suggesting I am being purposely evasive--”

“I was kidding,” Jim said, smile fading just a little. “Can I come in?”

“As I said, I am attempting to meditate.”

“You could show me.” Jim had no idea what meditating was, but this was better than nothing.

Spock narrowed his eyes slightly, but stepped aside, allowing Jim entry. The room was about as bare as it had been when they’d left Spock in here, but with the addition of a few plain white candles, burning at all four corners.

After closing the door behind Jim, Spock made his way to the center of the room and seated himself on the rug. He motioned for Jim to sit in front of him, which he did.

“Are you familiar with the process of meditation?” Spock asked.

“Nope.”

The answer seemed to annoy Spock, but he continued. “It is somewhat illogical to attempt to teach Vulcan meditation to a human, as your mind cannot be controlled the way my own can. However, as you are still quite young it is likely you can train yourself into the practice over time.”

Wow, this meditation thing sounded like work. “What do you do?” he asked instead of voicing his concerns. Once, he’d sat through a whole concert of synthesized and musically arranged animal sounds for a friend of his, who was obsessed with that style of music for whatever reason. He could probably sit through this too.

“You simply close your eyes, breathe evenly, and attempt to clear your mind,” Spock said, demonstrating. He sat with his back straight, legs crossed, and fingers folded elegantly in front of him. Jim watched.

“Why?” He asked after a moment. Spock opened his eyes.

“The practice is meant to categorize and therefore compartmentalize any and all emotion, to center one’s self in pure logic.”

Jim could feel his face starting to squish up, confused, and embarrassed that he was confused. “Um… so you stop yourself from feeling things?”

“Yes.”

“To help you focus?”

“Essentially, yes.”

Jim looked around the darkened room, at the flickering flames of candles, at Spock’s ramrod-straight posture. He cracked a smile. “Then you’re doing it all wrong.”

“Excuse me?” Spock looked genuinely affronted.

“This little room isn’t going to make you feel better, or help you clear your head. Come on, I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Jim stood and held out a hand that Spock did not take. However, the Vulcan did get to his feet. “I believe I would prefer to remain here.”

“Come on,” Jim wheedled. “Trust me!”

Though Spock had literally no reason to do so, he took in a small breath, straightened his robes with a quick tug, and nodded. “Very well. I suppose I should endeavor to understand my human hosts.”

“That’s the spirit!” Jim led him out the room and down the stairs, heading out the back door as they’d done when they gave Spock a tour. Outside, Jim jogged briskly over to the pasture fence, crawling between two posts and motioning for Spock to do the same.

Spock followed, robes snagging on the fencepost. He allowed Jim to help him untangle before they set off into the pasture at large.

“Are these animals not dangerous?” Spock asked as they passed within a few yards of some thoroughly apathetic cattle.

“Eh, only if you rile ‘em up. They probably don’t even know we’re here.” He led Spock farther into the field, wiping sweat from his brow as the sun beat on his head, though Spock didn’t seem to mind the heat at all.

When they’d finally gotten a fair way away from the house into some tall grass, Jim scanned the ground for droppings (none, thank goodness) and flopped to the ground. He waved a hand for Spock to join him.

The Vulcan did, albeit reluctantly, and sat beside where Jim laid.

“What are we doing out here?” Spock said with his brow furrowed. Jim looked up at him.

This is how you clear your head,” Jim said serenely, staring up at the sky, dotted and streaked with wisps of clouds. “ This is how you focus. Look at that sky.”

Spock, with some hesitation, laid down as well, watching the blue expanse above them. They could hear buzzing in the grass, the occasional flit of a fly, and on the ground Jim could even hear the hoofs of the horses that were wandering nearby.

“Nice, right?”

Spock considered it for a moment. “It is an inadequate place to meditate,” he finally said, “there is too much activity to adequately practice mindfulness of the self.” Jim sat up, shooting a glare at Spock. This was the most serene place Jim could even imagine, and even this wasn’t good enough for the Vulcan. Before he could say anything, though, Spock continued, “However I find that it is… soothing. And it is fascinating to watch the way your clouds move.”

Jim’s face softened. Okay, so not the best place to meditate, but not a total bust either. He laid back down. “Do Vulcan clouds not move like that?”

“Our planet is much drier than Earth,” Spock replied thoughtfully. “Clouds are not commonplace.”

“So you’ve never done that thing where you look for shapes?”

Spock turned his head, peering at Jim through the blades of grass that separated them.

“I am not positive that I understand to practice to which you are referring.”

“You could just say ‘no,’” Jim laughed.

Spock considered this. “No.” he finally said. “I have not done… ‘that thing.’”

Jim felt his face break into a wide grin, and he turned away, looking back at the sky. “Well then you’re lucky you’re here, ‘cause I have all summer to teach you.”

Though, as it turned out, they didn’t need all summer. In fact, Spock picked up on the concept startlingly quickly, though imagination was not one of his strongest suits.They spent an hour or so of the afternoon laying in the field, alternating between talking and pointing out shapes. Jim asked him about the climate of Vulcan, since that seemed like a pretty ‘logical’ conversation to have while staring at the clouds. And though Spock had said he had no interest in Earth, he did return a few questions to Jim.

On their way back to the farmhouse, Spock was saying something about how “cumulo-nimbus” should have been a satisfactory response to “what does that cloud look like to you?” and Jim was saying something about how it had looked much more like a turtle on a hoverboard. As he spoke, he saw his mother standing in the far-off doorway, and though he couldn’t see her expression from their distance, he had a feeling she was smiling.

Jim was, too.

Chapter Text

Spock endured many ‘firsts’ as the months went by, and endured each of them led along by his gleeful human counterpart. He played his first game of catch the day Sam refused to indulge in Jim’s energy, and proved to be pretty good at it. He ate his first blackberry when the bush in the garden finally bore fruit, and proceeded to eat the entire bucket the boys had picked. He pet his first chicken, gathered his first eggs, painted his first fence, and, it seemed, made his first friend, though he would likely never say as much.

Especially at the beginning. The two argued at least once a day. Spock would dismiss an interest of Jim’s or Jim would mock a habit of Spock’s and they would spend a few hours sitting in their rooms brooding. During those times, George would find the young Vulcan and chat with him about history or culture, always willing to answer Spock’s questions. Or, Winona would find Spock and bring him outside to work in the garden. He became fond of taking care of the chickens, and she always brought Spock along when it was time to feed them.

Sometimes, too, Sam would spend time with Spock. He’d get Spock talking about the latest scientific findings from the frontier (news that both of them kept up on), and they would chat for hours about the implications of the discoveries.

No matter who stepped in, eventually one or both the boys would apologize, then they’d get back to whatever new activity Jim had thought up (which included taking apart an old replicator unit in the garage, grooming the horses that Spock refused to ride or running into town to spend a few hours at the arcade).

As the months ticked by and Jim began looking forward to going back to school, the question was raised about what Spock was going to do. It became clear that he would not be returning to Vulcan. Romulans had apparently taken control of certain sections of the planet, installing their own military bases, starting a slow occupation. More and more Vulcans were evacuating, settling on Earth or Andoria or even-- if they were supremely unlucky-- Tellar Prime.

Eventually it was decided by the whole town of Riverside that the few Vulcan children in the area would attend school with humans. Spock didn’t say he hated the idea, not directly, but his mouth would disappear into a tight, thin line every time the subject was broached. He did say that he was looking forward to meeting the other Vulcan students, though. After spending a summer with Jim Kirk, he was probably desperate for a dose of logic.

Spock’s first day of school was a blur, for both he and Jim. Riverside Middle School wasn’t large, but it was nothing like the “learning pods” Spock described attending on Vulcan.

Though Spock assured Jim that he was fine, Jim could tell that the packed hallways were doing a number on him. Jim wouldn’t know for a long time about Vulcans’ telepathy, but he did know his friend did not like to be touched, so all day Jim had led him from class to class, running interference so no one got too close. He couldn’t stop the stares, though. There were so few Vulcan refugees in the school district, and most of the rural human population had never seen one before.

Eventually, the teachers figured out that even if they sent the Vulcan students out into the hallway a few minutes late, they’d be in time for their classes without having to deal with too many people. That helped.

Spock didn’t join any clubs or extra curriculars, except for the brand new Vulcan Student Union which was comprised of three students and was likely not very useful. Spock expressed a desire to blend in as much as possible, to minimize antagonism, and Jim did his best to help him lie low.

It didn’t help that Jim had a lot of friends, friends he really enjoyed seeing. After those first few weeks, he left Spock to his own devices more often, choosing to spend time between classes catching up with Marlena and Amir, among others.

Lunchtime did prove interesting, though. Most of the time, Spock would sit with the other Vulcans, eating in complete silence, but every once in awhile, Jim would wheedle him into hanging out with he and his friends. Spock would sit stoic while Yang shoved plastic straws up her nose or Jim made a mashed potato tower, and they’d talk about teachers or classes that they loved-- or hated. It occurred to Jim after a few of these days that everything he and his friends talked about was rooted in emotion. The fact that Spock stuck around and endured it, though he had no way to relate, was really heartening to Jim.

Equally endearing, it took Spock a long time to understand the nuances of human friendship. The first time Amir punched Jim on the arm, good-naturedly but with a little force, Spock had slammed his hands down on the table, shooting Amir a look that could melt ice. “You will cease your attack immediately,” he’d said, or something along those lines, and Jim had had to explain that sometimes kids just punched each other and it was all right. Spock had effectively been talked off the edge of violence, but all of Jim’s friends were a little uncomfortable around the Vulcan after that.

Then, winter rolled around, and Spock got to enjoy another first: His first snowfall. It was about as hilarious as it was depressing. Bundled in all his robes and two comforters, Spock had watched the Kirk brothers moodily from the window as they made a tall, thin snowman with exaggerated pointed ears and motioned to Spock to come outside.

He hadn’t, nor had he appreciated the brothers’ “attempt” at humor, but his demeanor softened a little when Sam brought him a cup of hot tea and the three sat and watched the snow fall together. “Fascinating” is the word he’d used to describe snowfall, which meant he was enjoying himself.

By the time winter faded and spring started to warm up, Spock was running out of “firsts” to experience and Jim was starting to get used to this strange second brother he’d collected. But the question continued to hang over the family’s head. How long was this going to last?

Whenever one of them would ask, covertly, making sure Spock was out of earshot, George would just respond “as long as it takes.”

 

----

 

Leaning against the wall, Jim took a moment to look around the courtyard. The after-school rush had ended, so there were only a few stragglers hanging back. On the grass, a couple sat, holding up flashcards to each other and occasionally blushing when their hands accidentally touched. A young man with a hooded sweatshirt sat on a bench, typing furiously on his datapadd. The school’s only Andorian exchange student walked by, a gym bag over her shoulders, followed by a group of kids in shorts whispering to each other.

Jim waited. He checked his watch.

Spock could get home on his own, he knew. They’d been going to and from school every weekday, barring winter break, for ten months now, and Spock had a perfect memory for directions (and everything else). But Jim never felt right going home without him.

Spock always waited for him after track practice, so this was the least he could do.

“Jim, thank you for waiting.”

He turned and flashed a smile at Spock, giving a little wave. “Hey,” he said, pushing off from the wall and gathering up his backpack. “Have fun at your super secret club?”

“As I have said, Jim, the Vulcan Student Union is hardly that.”

“What do you guys talk about anyway?” There were only three Vulcans at Riverside Middle School, and Jim doubted the other two were as chatty as Spock, considering having a conversation with him could sometimes feel like pulling teeth.

“We discuss our lessons, the difficulties of adapting to human culture, as well as…” he paused, as though unsure if he should continue. “As well as any issues that we have encountered with other members of the student body.”

They were making their way toward the bus stop at the end of the block, but Jim stopped mid-stride to glance at Spock. “Someone say something to you?”

Spock probably sensed the dual concern and anger in his friend’s voice and shook his head once. “No, Jim. Though we have all encountered a certain amount of jealousy in our classes, regarding our academic proficiency. Though we are required to participate in class, many students do not appreciate our input.”

Jim laughed as they continued on, though he was sure Spock found the situation less than amusing. “Well if your only problem is that you’re smarter than everyone else, that’s not so bad,” he said.

Spock raised an eyebrow, but otherwise didn’t comment.

On the bus ride home, Spock asked about his day, which was a human courtesy Jim had taught him pretty quickly when they’d started school. Jim happily rattled on about how he’d won another practice tournament in chess club (“Are you sure you don’t want to join? I bet you’d be great at it!” “No, Jim. If I am attempting to ‘lie low’ as you put it, that would be highly illogical.”), and talked about how he’d gotten his mom to finally agree to get a dog once Sam moved out. (“Can you believe he’s afraid of them? He wants to be a biologist. In space. How is he gonna study the unknown if he’s afraid of dogs?”)

The bus dropped them off just as the sun was starting its lazy descent into the horizon and the two made their way inside, Jim still chatting away.

He paused in the doorway to take off his shoes, so he didn’t notice Spock move into the middle of the room and stand stock still. “And so I was getting a little riled up, right? And I said to Johnny-- Spock?” Jim straightened up and looked at his friend’s back, then followed the line of his sight into the living room.

Winona, George and Sam were sitting on the couch and two people Jim didn’t know were seated on the loveseat across from them. They all looked up at the kids’ arrival. Jim dropped his backpack beside Spock’s.

The two unfamiliar adults stood, and the woman smiled brightly. The man, Jim realized, was a Vulcan, draped in the same kind of flowing black shirt that Spock wore.

“Spock,” the woman said, striding forward. She was lovely, a little older than Winona with hair pinned up and curled as elegantly as if she were attending some grand party. She gathered Spock up in her arms and gave him a solid hug, which made Jim blanche. He knew Spock didn’t like to be touched, so this was alarming to say the least. Should he tell her to back off?

“Mother,” Spock said in greeting, patting her shoulder gently as she pulled away. Spock looked over her shoulder to where the Vulcan stood stoic. “Father.”

Then it all clicked, and Jim felt his mouth fall open.

“These are your parents?” He asked, dumbfounded. It was probably a silly question.

The woman smiled at him and reached out a hand to shake Jim’s. “And you must be Jim,” she said, voice like honey. Jim shook her hand gingerly. “My name is Amanda. Yes, we are Spock’s parents. Come, we were just chatting.” She led them into the room at large and Sarek raised the salute to both of them.

“I am Ambassador Sarek,” he said, voice so stilted and devoid of inflection that Jim was sure it had to be automated. He thought Spock wasn’t expressive, but this man was on a whole new level. Jim was fascinated; he barely remembered to return the gesture.

“Nice to meet you,” he replied, not forgetting all of his manners.

A scrape of wood-on-wood reached his ears and he turned to look at his father, who had dragged in two chairs from the kitchen for the boys to use. They took them dutifully as George settled again by his wife.

“Sarek and Amanda were just telling us about their work,” Winona said helpfully. “They’ve been in San Francisco, working with Starfleet.”

Jim glanced at them, at Amanda’s bright smile and Sarek’s stony face, and all he could think to say was “Oh.”

Spock, thankfully, provided. “I admit I am somewhat at a loss,” he said, voice more even than Jim had ever heard it as though he were trying to be extra-Vulcan in the presence of his father. “May I ask why you have come to Iowa? I believed your business in San Francisco to be delicate. And timely.”

“Spock, darling,” Amanda said, “business is always important, but we haven’t seen you in almost a year. We thought we would come to visit while we had the chance, and thankfully the Kirks have been very welcoming on such short notice.”

“We see each other every week,” Spock corrected, referring to the video calls he was, in his words, “required to complete in order to keep my parents apprised of my situation.”

“It’s not the same!” she said with a laugh, and she nudged her husband playfully. “He gets more and more like you every day.”

Sarek raised an eyebrow at her (a familiar expression), though his face seemed to soften somewhat. He was certainly meeting Jim’s expectations about other Vulcans not being very chatty.

“They’re going to be staying with us tonight,” George said to the boys, “Spock, do you mind sharing a room with Jim tonight?”

“No, sir,” Spock replied. Jim wasn’t against it, but he wished his dad had asked his permission too.

“Good. Well, now that you’re home, we should start on dinner,” Winona said, “Amanda, do you cook? It’s my turn tonight and I would love the help.”

Amanda brightened, “I do! And after seeing what you have growing in that garden I can’t wait.”

The two stood and left the room, leaving the boys with their fathers.

“So, Ambassador,” George started, face a little more serious than Jim was used to. “What’s the latest news?”

“I believe you can access that information from the Federation’s news feed,” Sarek responded, the ice in his tone getting to Jim. “In addition, I have been informed that you are a high-ranking officer--”

“Retired--”

“And therefore have multiple contacts that can provide you with updates.”

George looked a little off-put. “I mean, I suppose, but it might be interesting to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

Sarek’s nostrils tightened and a single wrinkle appeared on the bridge of his nose. Jim hazarded a guess that that was as close as the Vulcan came to showing outright distaste.

“I am unfamiliar with that phrase, but from the context I assume you wish to hear my perspective?”

“That was the idea,” George mumbled. Jim smiled out of the corner of his mouth, exchanging a look with Spock.

Sarek steepled his fingers in the same fashion Spock did when meditating. “While Amanda and I have been successful in our attempts to gather allies in Starfleet, the Federation is hesitant to devote resources to what it believes to be a hopeless fight. They are providing transport and shelter to refugees, though they prefer not to provide any military strength. As you know, Vulcans are pacifists. We avoid war at all costs. To say we were unprepared for such a lengthy exchange is…”

He trailed off, but picked back up with a steely look in his eyes. “That is, essentially, the state of it.”

There was silence. George looked as though he was trying to come up with something to say and falling flat.

“Are you enjoying Earth?” Sam asked nervously, and immediately realized his mistake.

“Enjoyment is--”

“A human emotion,” Jim finished with a sly smile, “yeah, Spock says that a lot.”

Sarek turned his eyes on his son. “That is good to hear.”

Amanda walked back into the room, and it was as though each of them let out a breath of relief. “Winona was hoping you boys could help her out in the kitchen,” she said, laying a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “Sarek and I would love to spend some time with Spock, if that is all right.”

“Of course, ma’am,” Sam said as he stood. “Come on, Jim, let’s help mom.”

George also stood, but Jim hesitated for just a second. He was so curious about this family. Knowing Spock had a human mother added a whole new layer to everything, and meeting Spock’s father-- Well, Jim just wanted to be a fly on the wall, though he knew that would be out of bounds.

“Jim,” George said pointedly, and Jim stood. He glanced at Spock before he left, and he couldn’t help feeling a little worried. Spock looked so uncomfortable. He patted the back of Spock’s chair as he followed his brother and father into the next room.

Dinner was less awkward, at least, than the earlier conversation had been, mostly because Amanda was a talker. All night, Jim marveled that she was the one who raised his friend. She was so expressive, exuberant even, and she carried along the conversation as though it were second nature to her to play referee between Vulcans and humans, which Jim guessed it must have been.

By the end of the meal, he was sure that both of his parents had just fallen head over heels for her, though Sarek was a tougher nut to crack.Jim smiled into his salad, looking forward to sharing that one with Spock later. He’d been working on teaching the kid idioms, and attempting to learn some in Vulcan. However, the Vulcans weren’t really known for turning a phrase, and when they did it was in their own, unpronounceable language.

“Jim?”

Jim looked up, realizing he’d forgotten to pay attention. It had been Winona who’d spoken up. “Would you please help Spock set up a bed in your room while we clean up?”

Ditching dish duty? She didn’t have to tell him twice. “You got it,” he said eagerly, grabbing Spock’s shoulder without thinking, “coming?”

Spock didn’t mention the physical contact (though Sarek shot Jim a pointed look) and rose to his feet. “Very well.”

“Don’t forget to say goodnight before you go to bed,” Amanda said musically.

They headed out into the living room, up the stairs, and Jim smiled.

“I like her,” he said.

“She is a remarkable person,” Spock said without inflection. He was still doing his extra-Vulcan voice.

“Spock, you can drop the act. Your dad’s not looking,” Jim said with sudden concern. Was it just his family that did this to him? Or had something else set him off?

“It is not an act,” Spock said harshly as they made a pit stop at the linen closet for sheets and pillows. “I am Vulcan.”

“Half Vulcan, as it turns out,” Jim snapped back. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It is irrelevant. I follow Surakian teachings, exhibit Vulcan characteristics and posses Vulcan anatomy. I am Vulcan.”

Jim scowled. “Yeah, but you aren’t like… supremely Vulcan. Not like your dad.”

“I will not stand here and be insulted,” Spock snapped, grabbing the blankets from Jim’s arms and stalking into Jim’s room. Jim sighed, following him.

“I wasn’t insulting you,” he said. “I was ‘making an observation.’ I thought you’d like that.”

“And if I were to observe that you lacked your own father’s consideration, intelligence and diplomacy, would you ‘like’ that?”

Jim stiffened. “That was uncalled for.”

“I do not believe it was.” Spock set out the blankets, arranging them straight and flat as if proving a point. Jim walked over them to leave deliberate footprints. He reached his closet and shucked off his jeans and flannel in favor of a pair of sweatpants, making sure to toss a sock in Spock’s direction. The Vulcan batted it away with a careless hand.

Jim stewed for a minute, watching Spock press and flatten each wrinkle with a determined air that would have been anger if anger weren’t “a human emotion.” After turning that thought over in his mind, he let out a long-suffering sigh and knelt to help.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, smoothing out the side closest to him and tucking the quilt under the padding.

“As am I.” Spock replied, just as quietly.

“Of course you’re Vulcan. I mean, you’re the most logical person I know.”

“Thank you. And you have the ability to be both intelligent and diplomatic.”

“That’s right I do.”

They made short work of the sheets and set some pillows out, and, after Spock retreated to his room to change into his sleeping robe (which Jim had finally stopped making fun of), they went back downstairs to say their goodnights.

It was just as strange the second time, watching someone hug Spock, but Amanda pulled the boy in just as Jim’s mother did to him, such a human way of caring for someone so alien. It made Jim wonder if Spock resented her for the gesture, or if he soaked up those brief moments of humanity he was allowed.

Maybe he’d ask, but certainly not tonight.

When the boys finally settled into bed and shut off the lights, Jim was afire with curiosity, questions he was sure Spock wasn’t going to want to answer.

“Spock,” Jim said in a stage-whisper. “You awake?”

“Yes, Jim. There is no need to whisper.”

“Do you miss your parents?”

Spock was silent for a long moment, and Jim worried he’d offended him by asking. He was just about to mutter out another apology when Spock spoke.

“Yes.” His voice was quiet. If Jim hadn’t been listening intently, he may not have believed he’d heard it.

“Must be nice to see them, then, huh?”

“It is not.”

Jim hadn’t been expecting that. “Why not?”

Spock sat up and Jim did the same, shuffling to the edge of his bed so he could get a better look at Spock in the blue darkness.

“I prefer they not see me in this state. My… human characteristics-- the tendency to comment where none is needed, the tendency to, as your father says, back-talk -- are becoming more prominent, and the steady destruction of my home has made controlling my emotions incredibly difficult.”

“I can’t tell just by looking at you,” Jim said honestly, hoping to reassure Spock. “Really, if I didn’t know you I wouldn’t guess that you were upset.”

“Thank you,” Spock said, “But you are not Vulcan. My father can tell. He is, perhaps, in a much worse state than I, and yet he maintains his composure.”

“He’s also a grown-up,” Jim said with a smirk, “they’re supposed to be better at handling things.”

“Children are held to a very high standard on Vulcan.”

“I guess so . You know, if you’re not good enough for your dad’s ‘standards,’ then I might give him a piece of my mind.” He smiled, if only because he knew confronting Sarek would be both hilarious and idiotic.

“Please do not.”

“You know I won’t, but I want to.”

Spock said nothing, and Jim tried another tactic.

“You’re doing your best, right?”

“Clearly.”

“Well mom always says if you’re doing your best, then that’s all you can do. And, okay so dad says you should always try to make your best better, but don’t worry about that part right now.”

“Worry is--”

“A human emotion,” Jim rolled his eyes, though without venom. “I know.”

“Thank you, Jim,” Spock said.

Smiling, Jim settled back into his covers, hearing the rustle as Spock did the same. “So how did your parents meet, anyway? No offense to your dad, but I am really having trouble imagining it.”

“My mother was an Earth teacher. My father is Ambassador to Earth. They met and later married.”

“Wow, can you maybe dumb that down for me?” Jim teased. “There were so many twists and turns I had trouble keeping up.”

He had the feeling Spock was narrowing his eyes in Jim’s general direction, but it was too dark to tell.

“I did answer your question.”

“I know,” Jim whined, “but you didn’t answer -answer it.”

“What do you wish to know exactly?”

“Are they…” he felt weird saying it, and the words sounded awkward on his lips. “Are they in love?”

“Love is a human--”

“I get it,” Jim interrupted, and he stared at the ceiling. “Nevermind.”

After a few minutes, during which Jim was sure Spock must have dozed off, Spock simply said “Good night, Jim.”

Jim let out a little huff. “‘Night, Spock,” he responded, rolling over and, eventually, blinking himself into sleep.

 

----

 

The weekend walked a thin line between uncomfortable and surprisingly fun. The Kirks planned a day for all of them to go to a nice lunch and walk around Riverside, shopping, meeting locals and checking out the town’s history museum, which Amanda expressed an interest in (though Jim was half-sure she was just being polite.)

So that’s what they did. There was a sweet little restaurant on the edge of town that the family as a whole thoroughly enjoyed, and they had a pleasant enough meal there. Amanda asked Sam all about where he wanted to go to school and what he wanted to do with his life, and Sam was happy enough to talk about it. When Jim piped up that biology was nice and all, but he was going to join Starfleet like his parents, Amanda indulged him, assuring him that he would make an excellent admiral someday.

Jim glowed. Sarek, however, seemed very reticent with the idea of Starfleet. Perhaps it was because the organization had had little luck in defending his homeworld, but he tensed up every time it was mentioned, whether it was George recounting an old story from his captaining days or Jim looking forward to his own.

Spock barely said a word the whole day, until they made it to the museum.

He had actually visited it often since coming to live in Riverside, and Jim had been delighted to show him around the first few times. Now, though, the Vulcan knew the museum better than even Jim did, and he practically dragged his parents along, pointing out the ancient pioneer tools, the first public library computer, the ticketbooth of the first rapid-transport terminal.

He treated every object as a component in a larger study, as though trying to make academic sense of his stay in this town. Sarek, if Jim was any judge of Vulcan “expression,” seemed at war between feeling proud and horrified. His son was learning a lot, but it was about a subject that must have been entirely useless-- some insignificant Earth town.

All-in-all, though, it was a successful day, and once again Spock allowed Jim to give voice to his curiosity, though he didn’t answer every question. Mostly, Jim wanted to know about Sarek, about other Vulcan adults, about the culture that raised them to be so harsh.

And though he was not about to make the same mistake twice, he was dying to know why Spock wasn’t like his father at all. He’d seen such careful humor growing in his friend over the last year, such delicate joy and serene wonderment, all “human” emotions that Sarek would probably never allow. But Spock could feel them, and did, and Jim liked that about him. He just didn’t know if it was Spock’s half-human heritage, or just the boy himself.

 

----

 

The next day, Spock’s parents took him on a day-trip to spend some time alone as a family before they had to leave that evening. Like when he’d left Spock alone in the room to talk with them, Jim felt a sense of unease when he watched the car pull away. He knew Spock was going to be fine. His parents were capable and (at least in Amanda’s case) kind. But he was used to looking out for the kid, and it was strange, not being able to.

He asked Sam later that day over a game of catch if that was what it was like to have a younger brother. If he’d ever felt protective over Jim.

“Oh sure,” Sam said, tossing the ball softly. “Not that you need my protection.”

Jim considered that. “So why bother trying to protect me if I don’t need it?”

“Well,” Sam caught Jim’s throw and paused, running a hand through his hair in a way that reminded Jim of their father. “That’s family, isn’t it? Trusting someone to be capable-- you know,  handle things on their own, but being ready to step in if they need you.”

That did make sense, he decided. He’d often felt that way about Sam, too. Especially when all the worry about finals and senior projects had weighed down his brother’s shoulders. He’d let Sam work through it on his own, obviously, but he was always ready for a game of chess or a horseback ride if Sam started to look too stressed out.

“Spock doesn’t need me, though,” Jim said after a time. He caught Sam’s toss apathetically, wondering briefly why that thought made him sad.

“But if he does, you’ll be there, right?” Sam didn’t seem to notice Jim’s sudden change of tone, or if he did he powered past it.

“Well, yeah.”

“Then there you go. You remember when Marlena told you she’d ‘never in a billion-gajillion years be your girlfriend’? You cried for hours.”

“I was eleven!” Jim shot back, tossing the ball a little too hard, though he was laughing.

Sam caught it easily, a smile wide on his face.

“I’m just saying, that’s one of the only times in years you’ve really needed my help, but I was still right there to replicate you some hot cocoa.”

“I remember.”

“And then you were fine, right?”

“Yeah.”

“There you have it, then,” Sam slipped off his glove and approached Jim, slapping a hand on his shoulder, “That’s my brotherly advice to you. Just be ready with the cocoa and Spock will be fine. And I hope he’s looking after you too. When I go off to school, it’ll just be the two of you.” Hand on Jim’s shoulder, he began to lead them back toward the house.

“Until Spock goes back to Vulcan,” Jim said, trying to sound neutral about the whole thing. He no longer knew if that was the best- or worst-case scenario.

Sam’s smile slipped, just for a moment. “Yeah, until then at least.”

Chapter Text

Gentle fingers threaded through Jim’s hair as he rested his eyes. Marlena was reading something on her datapadd with one hand as she absentmindedly stroked and scratched Jim’s head with the other. He sighed something content and unbidden, still not really believing his luck. For his fifteenth birthday a month ago, Marlena had finally asked him on a date.

It had happened after years of Jim asking, giving up, asking again and finally giving up for good and working on being her friend. Though he’d thought his crush on her had been hopeless, and that had caused him a little grief, he was glad now that they had waited. They were comfortable. She was his first girlfriend, and he liked that they were learning how to do this together.

“Shouldn’t you be studying?” she asked with a touch of amusement in her voice. “You know that’s the only reason your parents let you come over on a school night.”

“I’m studying by osmosis,” he said, cuddling a little closer as if to emphasize his point.

“Of course,” she laughed, pushing his hair back softly. “Because that’s how science works.”

“I should know,” he teased. “I’m a prodigy.”

“That’s what they say .” the skepticism in her voice made him chuckle. Though, in truth, no one had been as surprised as Jim when he’d been accepted into college-level science classes with Spock for next semester.

Oh, that reminded him.

“Shit,” he said, sitting up suddenly, “Spock messaged me earlier. I forgot to look at it.” At the time his communicator had buzzed, he’d been a little caught up in Marlena’s lips, so he didn’t exactly blame himself for not wanting any distraction.

Marlena rolled her eyes and pulled her knees up to her chest now that Jim wasn’t occupying her lap. “You can just ignore it, you know.” She sounded tired all of a sudden. “He can live without you.”

But Jim hadn’t heard her. He opened Spock’s message and immediately regretted not doing so earlier.

“I may require your assistance if you could please return presently,” the message read.

Coming from Spock, it may as well have said “help” in all capital letters with a big exclamation point at the end.

“Shit,” he said again, scrambling to his feet. “Shit, I need to get home.”

Marelna’s expression was exasperated, if not surprised. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” he said, handing her his communicator as he looked around for his school bag. “But look what he said.”

She let out a heavy sigh when she read it. “It’s probably nothing,” she said. Jim found his things and took the communicator when she offered it back to him. “He might just need help with his homework or something.”

“This is Spock,” Jim reminded her, and she thinned her lips but didn’t protest.

“Fine, see you tomorrow?”

“Absolutely,” Jim said with a strained smile, leaning down for a brief kiss. “Sorry,” he tacked on when he pulled away.

“It’s fine. I get it. Spock was your boyfriend first.”

He gave the obligatory “hardy har har,” as he always did when people made that joke, but didn’t bother sticking around to refute it again. He waved his goodbyes and left to beg her parents for an early ride home.

The sun was just starting to set when Marlena’s dad dropped him off at his house. He waved a quick goodbye and ran inside, casting around only to find George and Winona talking soberly and quietly in the living room. He approached them immediately, not even bothering to remove his shoes.

“What happened? Where’s Spock?” In a way, they were the same question.

“Well,” George started, but he looked to Winona as though unsure of what to say.

“You should talk to him,” She said. “He’s in his room.”

Jim didn’t waste a second, practically jogging up the stairs. When he reached Spock’s door, he knocked only out of courtesy, announced his presence, then barged in.

He expected to see Spock sitting on the floor meditating, but his friend wasn’t even in the room. The window was open.

Worried out of his wits for all of ten seconds, Jim was struck with sudden inspiration and clambered out the window himself, dropping onto the lawn with little grace and making his way toward the pastures.

It was after he’d climbed over the fence and started trekking past the cows that he noticed the shine of Spock’s hair in the sunset. He was sitting in the tall grass where they used to go cloud-watching. As Jim approached, he saw his friend’s face lit up by the glow of a datapadd.

Spock shut it off when he heard Jim coming, sitting straighter and meeting his eyes.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see your message,” Jim said, a little breathless from the rush he’d been in.

“It is of no importance. You were no doubt occupied.”

Jim would’ve gotten on him about that tone if it had been any other situation, but it wasn’t. So he flopped down in the grass next to Spock and glanced at the darkened datapadd in his hands.

“News?”

“Unfortunately.”

“What happened?”

Spock didn’t say anything, but handed the padd to Jim, who clicked the button to turn it on. The screen Spock had been looking at was still up. Under a headline that read “The face of our enemy” was a fuzzy, soundless video of a Vulcan. The backdrop was the red landscape of the planet, though smoke was rising in the distance. A warzone, Jim assumed.

As Jim watched, the Vulcan was joined by a group of others, but Jim was struck by the fact that each of them had weapons. He didn’t doubt some Vulcans had taken up arms to defend their planet, but these weren’t like any phasers Jim was familiar with. Their dress, too, was odd. Brightly colored and surprisingly uniform, Jim took note of the deep blue and magenta wraps around their shoulders that were uncharacteristic colors for Vulcans.

The video went on, and the Vulcans moved forward, beginning to fire their phasers. Bright red beams of light cut through the thick air. Whoever was holding the camera panned it across to the direction they were firing, and Jim was horrified to see they were shooting kill beams directly into a crowd of people.

He swallowed hard, and the camera zoomed in on the leader of the aggressors, someone with a hard, angled face, sharp pointed ears. The video ended and froze there.

“What is this?” He was shaking. He’d never seen such violence in his life.

“Romulans,” Spock replied, taking the padd from Jim and shutting it off again. He set it beside himself on the ground.

“I didn’t see any Romulans.”

“Yes you did. They… resemble Vulcans in every way. Except in their actions.”

Jim’s mouth fell open. “ Those were Romulans? But I thought…”

“Their physical appearance, and the nature of their conflict with Vulcan has come to light. We were once the same people, many millennia ago. Vulcan pursued logic, the mastery of emotion. Romulus did not. They embraced the savage nature we spent generations learning to repress. Now, it seems they hold a ‘grudge, as you would say.’ Their leader sent a message to the Federation. You may read it, if you like. It is in the body of the article.”

Later, sure, Jim would read it, but not now. Right now he just needed to process this whole mess. He took a deep breath and looked at the stars, imagining the war that was waging up there and feeling sick to his stomach.

“There is more,” Spock said, and Jim could hear it in his voice, something wavering. “They have taken the planet. They launched a full invasion mere hours ago, after the leader revealed his face.”

Jim felt his heart stop, his stomach clench and his breath falter. He steadied himself with a hand on the ground, imagining the dirt of another world being tread under the boots of its invaders.

“And Starfleet?”

“They are trying. The most recent update from the front reports three ships have been destroyed. It is doubtful they will continue the engagement.”

Jim leveled his eyes at Spock, seeing the clench of his teeth against whatever emotion was trying to break through. His heart was breaking for his friend, for all those innocent people.

“What happens now?”

“It is illogical to make plans when one does not know the outcome of the current situation. We will wait.”

“Have you talked to your parents?”

“They are, as you might imagine, quite busy.”

Jim nodded. Of course, they would be. There was a stretch of thick silence, and Jim didn’t know what to say. It looked as though Spock was having trouble coming up with anything too.

“I attempted to meditate,” Spock said after a time, looking upwards. His voice trembled. “When I was unsuccessful, I remembered you advised me to clear my head outside. It is still inadequate for meditation. However being near the animals, in the grass, has helped me think. To be so surrounded by the life of one world while another world’s life is…”

He took in a deep breath, and Jim watched in horror as a tear slid its way down Spock’s cheek. His friend’s hands, where they rested on the ground, clenched and dug divots in the dirt.

“I apologize for my emotionalism,” Spock said, breaths static. “I must--”

Jim didn’t even think. He got to his knees and pulled Spock immediately into a hug, wrapping his arms around his friend’s chest and burying his face in his hair and holding him so tight he was sure it would hurt, but he didn’t care. Nothing could stop him in that moment except Spock himself.

But the Vulcan didn’t protest. He tucked his face into the crook of Jim’s neck, arms awkwardly finding purchase on Jim’s shoulder blades as he breathed shakily. He wasn’t crying. Jim didn’t feel any tears but the one that had fallen, but he felt -- Jim didn’t know how to describe it. He was just hit like a truck with this horrible feeling of being alone, scared, heartbroken and furious, rage beating against his heart like a fist, and none of these emotions were his . Jim felt them as a part of Spock, sure as he felt Spock’s smooth hair against his cheek or felt Spock’s fingers curling into his shirt.

The feeling was shocking enough that he wanted to pull away, but if these were Spock’s emotions he was feeling, then he simply couldn’t.

They lingered there for almost a full minute, Jim loosening his arms just a little bit, but not letting go until Spock was ready, because he was determined to be there for him as long as it took. After some time, Spock’s breath steadied once again, and the emotions that were so overpoweringly strong began to abate, as though Spock was pulling each of them back into himself.

When the Vulcan did finally tear himself away, Jim no longer felt a single emotion radiating from his friend. He was half-sure he had imagined it until Spock began speaking.

“I apologize for any impressions you may have felt, and for violating your privacy,” Spock said when he caught Jim’s eyes. His cheeks were flushed green and his jaw was set. “My mental walls are usually sufficient, but I was unable to stop myself from projecting.”

Jim was incredibly confused. “Mental walls? What does that mean?”

“Vulcans are touch telepaths, though we attempt to maintain control over projections and impressions at all times. It was a violation for me to force my emotions on you, or to read your own, but I found I was drawn to them in my current state.”

Jim returned to his place in the grass beside Spock, trying to piece together what had just happened. “You’re saying when I hugged you, all those feelings were your actual feelings? And you felt mine, too?” Jim didn’t know how he felt about that, but it was certainly-- to borrow one of Spock’s words-- fascinating.

Spock nodded, looking almost worried.

“What did you feel from me?”

“Many things,” Spock said, looking down, “Anger and sadness, much like my own, but--” Spock stopped, breathed sharply out his nose, and continued. “Pardon me. I am not myself.” He closed his eyes for a second, and Jim waited, concerned. Spock never stuttered, never paused this much or betrayed any indecisiveness. Now it looked as though he was trying to decide if he should keep going. “I would like to thank you for your support,” he said after a moment. “Your affection for me, and your strength, is comforting.”

Jim reddened slightly. “You’re my best friend,” he said after a second, unsure if that was the right or the wrong thing to say, though it was true.

“And you are mine,” Spock said, voice so quiet it was almost carried away on the twilight’s breeze. Jim felt a deep warmth, and a sadness he couldn’t place, rise up at the admission.

Spock straightened his tunic with a quick tug and attempted once more to set his face in its usual mask, though his eyebrows were drawn together making a line that Jim knew he wouldn’t be able to smooth out.

They sat in silence for a long time after that. Jim thought about everything Spock had felt, the pure force of it all, and marveled that anyone could feel that deeply and show so little. It showed remarkable strength, but it also made Jim realize, suddenly and sadly, why Spock felt so alone.

 

----

 

Spock insisted that he go to school the next day, though George and Winona practically begged him not to. If Jim had been given that option out, he would’ve gladly spent all day riding horses or lazing around the house, but Spock was either too studious for that, or he figured throwing himself into school would help distract him.

Jim bet it was the latter. They walked to the bus stop in silence and rode the whole way to school in silence, but Jim was hyper-aware of all the people surrounding them. With each new passenger the bus picked up, Jim had to meet the eyes of someone trying to land a stare on Spock. After all these years, he’d forgotten what it was like for people to look at his friend like he was an alien.

He thought he guessed the nature of their curious looks, and he didn’t like it one bit. Spock, clearly, noticed as well, but said nothing.

The day began uneventfully. None of the teachers mentioned the situation on Vulcan, which was both a blessing and a little offensive. It was the talk of the school as far as students were concerned, though.

Jim would walk the halls to and from class and hear whispers about the “evil” Vulcans, like the Romulans were some alternate universe version of the pacifist race. He heard people speculating that the Vulcans would probably join forces with Romulus now that they knew they were related, or they would at least surrender, and it took everything Jim had to not stop each of these people and harshly correct them.

He didn’t particularly like the idea of punching anyone, in general, but he got very close on multiple occasions.

He barely saw Spock, since their classes together weren’t until afternoon, but he did catch up to Marlena just before lunch.

“I am so sorry,” she said the second she saw him, reaching out to grab his hand.

“It’s okay, you didn’t know. I didn’t either.”

“Is he all right?”

Jim shrugged, giving her a smile he didn’t feel as he leaned against the wall beside her.  The press of students surged past them toward the lunch room, and he thought of Spock in the crowd, fielding stares on his own, hearing all the same bullshit Jim was hearing and forcing himself not to act.

“Would you be?” he finally answered.

“No,” she said with a sigh, and released his hand. “You should probably stick by him today. I’ve heard some people talking.”

“Me too.”

“Do you want to invite him to eat lunch with us?”

His smile grew more genuine now. He knew Marlena and her friends didn’t like Spock much, but this was surprisingly kind of them. “Yeah, I’ll do that. I’ll go find him.”

They shared a quick kiss, and Jim made his way toward the lunch room. It was likely Spock would be eating with the other Vulcans today, and he would probably prefer to stay there, but Jim thought he might appreciate the invitation all the same.

When he spotted the Vulcans’ usual table, his stomach sank. The three sat, clad in dark colors and looking stoic, as usual, but there were four upperclassmen standing off to the side, clearly trying to make waves with the group.

Jim hurried over, hands tightening into fists. As he approached, he caught the tail end of what was clearly meant to incite a reaction.

“--this whole time, just waiting for your chance, weren’t you? Well the act’s over. We know what you are now.”

“Yeah, said another, walking forward and putting his hands flat on the table to get at eye level with the Vulcans. “And the whole Federation knows. It’s just a matter of time before they send you packing back to your precious empire.”

Jim noticed each of the Vulcan students pointedly not reacting, though Spock’s expression was less controlled than those of his counterparts.

Jim busted through the foursome, grabbing the one at the table by the shoulder and wheeling him around. “Hey, back off,” he said, though when the kid drew to his full height he felt a little more intimidated. Intimidation wasn’t about to stop him. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Jim,” Spock said, standing and placing a hand on Jim’s shoulder. It was incredibly out-of-character for him, and that was enough to give Jim pause. “Willful ignorance is the only variety that cannot be cured by logic. They may think what they will.”

Jim gave him a look. “You don’t mean that. Listen to them!” He turned around again, shaking Spock’s hand off. “The Vulcans just lost their planet ,” Jim said to the older students, voice rising. Others, seated at nearby tables, hushed and began to stare. “You can’t accuse them of being the same people who took it from them!”

One of the upperclassmen, who had been quiet ‘til now, took a purposeful stride up to Jim, raising his chin and looking down at him. Jim didn’t give him the satisfaction of backing down. “We’re better than this,” he said, “aren’t we? Humans fought three world wars before we learned to stop hating people, and--”

The guy curled his fingers into a fist, and Jim felt himself retreating slightly, though he continued, a little angrier now, “and if your pea brain had ever picked up a history book in your life --” A fist connected with his nose and he fell backward into the table, steadying himself with one hand as he covered a gush of blood with the other. In the span of time it took him to sink to the floor, both of the other Vulcans had stood. In the next moment, Spock had lunged at the one who’d hit Jim and fastened his hand where neck met shoulder. The guy dropped to the floor, out cold.

Jim was behind Spock, but he imagined the look he was sending the others was brutal. “Leave,” Spock said, voice hard. “And collect your friend.” The three remaining only seemed to listen to half of Spock’s demands and ran off toward the door to the courtyard.

The entire lunchroom had gone quiet, and Jim vaguely heard an adult’s voice shouting, but he was focused on the clench of Spock’s fingers, on the almost imperceptible tremors in his body. One of the other Vulcans (T’Peha, he remembered), was saying something clipped and cold in their native language, but Spock was ignoring her.

When the teacher reached them, she was furious. “What happened here?” Jim watched her kneel to examine the unconscious student, as though making sure he was still alive. Spock turned his attention back to Jim.

Immediately, Jim was struck by the rage in his friend’s expression. If Spock was even trying to repress it, he was doing a terrible job. He knelt at Jim’s side, grabbing Jim by the sides of his face and turning him to get a closer look at the damage. Once again, at the touch of their skin, Jim felt Spock’s emotions slipping through. Anger, yes, but also frantic concern, fear and guilt, waves of guilt.

“It’s not your fault,” Jim tried to say, though he was sputtering around blood and Spock’s hands on the side of his face made it difficult to talk.

“Do not speak. You may harm yourself further.” As he said it, the teacher (apparently having found out the other kid was at least alive) approached them.

“You,” she said to Jim, “get to the nurse’s office. You,” she turned her eyes on Spock. “Make sure he gets there all right then go straight to the principal.” She pulled a communicator from her pocket and turned away from them, likely calling for reinforcements.

Spock released Jim’s face and without any preamble leaned in to sling Jim’s arm over his shoulder. He hefted him easily to his feet.

Jim pinched his nose as they walked, trying to insist that he could do it without Spock’s help, but the Vulcan would hear nothing of it and kept an iron grip on Jim’s arm. They passed students sitting beside abandoned lunches and following Jim and Spock with their eyes. They found more of the same when they made their way into the hall. Marlena was unfortunately among them.

“Jim, what the hell happened?” She asked the second she spotted him. Though he tried to slow, Spock kept his pace swift and she hastily moved to keep up.

“Jus’ some jerks,” he said, sniffling through the steady drip of blood coming out of his nose. “‘M good.”

“You are not ‘good,’” Spock said.

“Obviously,” Marlena agreed, and Jim was glad at least that finally the two had come to some sense of commonality. He kind of wished he didn’t have to get punched for it though.

“You sh’d see th’ other guy,” he tried for a small laugh, but that didn’t go over well with either of the people accompanying him. Spock stiffened and quickened his pace and Marlena glared openly at him.

“What happened?” Jim took a moment too long to answer, so she looked to Spock. “What happened, Spock?”

Jim felt Spock breathe and smiled a bit in spite of himself (he may have been getting light-headed from the blood). The whole ‘no touching’ policy had really gone out the window if he could feel Spock breathing. He noticed with a start that he could also feel the Vulcan’s heartbeat. He knew Vulcan hearts were in their sides, but it was strange to feel it pressed against him. Now that he was aware of it, he noticed how fast it was beating. Was that normal?

“He acted illogically and attempted to change the mind of someone whose mind would not be changed. This person was also much older and larger than Jim.”

“Of course, that sounds like him,” Marlena said. “Just get to the nurse, Jim. We’ll talk later.” She slowed to a stop and Jim waved over his shoulder, trying to keep up with Spock’s pace.

“You mad at me?” he asked as they soldiered on in silence. The nurse’s office was in view, and he wanted to know before they got there and parted ways.

“No, Jim. Anger is--”

“Don’ gimme that human emot’n shit,” Jim said. After what had just happened, they both knew Spock had infinite capacity to feel anger.

“Very well. I am not angry with you.”

That was all Jim needed to hear.

They reached the nurse’s office and Spock briefly explained the situation before leaving without another word to Jim.

It wasn’t very often there was a fistfight at Riverside High, so the nurse was understandably concerned, but it just took a dermal regenerator and an hour of lying down for Jim to recover. Though he was sure his parents were going to kill him when he got home.

 

----

 

“Suspended?!” George didn’t shout the word (he seldom shouted), but boy did he know how to deliver three syllables in an equally terrifying way. “How did you-- both of you-- get suspended?”

Jim recoiled slightly, but Spock stood steadfast beside him. Winona glanced between them, looking stricken.

“The situation was my fault,” Spock said immediately, and cut Jim off with a look when it looked as though he was about to protest. “A group of students attempted to harass myself and my Vulcan classmates. Jim defended us, though they would not be swayed, and one student violently attacked him. I performed a Vulcan neck pinch, a tactic in our martial arts meant to sedate an opponent. It seems as though we have all been cited for instigating the altercation.”

“You were being harassed?” Winona said, concern for Spock seemingly overtaking any other feeling. “Oh, I knew you shouldn’t have gone to school today.”

George also looked worried, and some of the fire had fled his eyes. “I’ll call the school first thing in the morning. They should know what happened.”

“They do,” Jim said moodily, “they just aren’t going to do anything about it. Since no one heard what the guys were saying except the other Vulcans-- and no one’s listening to the other Vulcans-- they can’t, ugh, what was the word they used, Spock?”

“Verify. They cannot verify the cause of the incident.”

“Yeah,” Jim finished lamely. “That.”

“Then I am definitely calling the school tomorrow,” George said. Winona scoffed.

“Calling? Heck, I’m going to give them a visit in person and demand they investigate. If this was based on you being Vulcan, that’s discrimination. That’s illegal.”

Jim would normally not advocate for his mom going to school to have a talk with his principal, but in this case he thought it was actually pretty cool of her.

“Thanks,” he said to both of them, and that was it.

They suddenly seemed to realize how tired the boys looked. Even Spock, who normally would never let on to such a thing, had a slump in his shoulders that should’ve worried anyone.

“Go upstairs and get some rest,” George said after a time. “We’ll let you know when dinner’s ready.”

They both said their thanks and trudged up the stairs, pausing at Spock’s door.

“I require meditation,” Spock said, and he seemed to hesitate. “Would you… be interested in accompanying me?”

Jim smiled slightly. He’d tried meditation a few times over the years, and it didn’t work too well for him, but he thought the idea of laying on the floor in the dark with some sweet-smelling candles sounded kind of nice, so he agreed.

He helped Spock place the candles around the room, lit them, then joined his friend on the floor. Spock didn't say a word when, instead of taking up the Vulcan-approved cross-legged position, Jim just stretched out on the rug and closed his eyes.

They sat (or lay) in silence for a good ten minutes, and Jim had just begun to doze off a little when Spock spoke up. “Thank you, Jim,” he said simply.

Jim cracked his eyes and looked up at him. Spock’s face was vaguely illuminated by the far-off flames, and the fire lent a warm glow to the shine of his hair, to the angles of his cheekbones and the gentle steeple of his hands. Jim thought suddenly and sincerely that he looked beautiful.

He choked on the emotion, skipping over it like a broken record, then circling right back around to it. Beautiful? Where had that come from? Jim tried looking again, tried telling himself that ‘beautiful’ was a ridiculous way to describe his friend, but the word just popped right back up every time he tried to shove it away. Something like dread-- or panic-- started to spread like ice through his veins, and he realized he’d been quiet for too long.

Obviously, he was so tired his brain just wasn’t working right. The thought stopped the sinking of his stomach and he cleared his throat. “No problem,” he said. The words were flat, and he caught a flicker of something wondering in Spock’s expression.

“Sorry,” he said, “I’m just tired. Long day.”

Which was true, he told himself. Clearly, he was just tired. Spock seemed to accept that, and they passed the rest of the evening without a word. Spock’s eyes remained closed, but Jim found himself glancing at his friend every few minutes, always seeing the same thing, even when he tried not to-- Quiet, controlled contemplation, strength in so many different forms, a true, rare compassion, intelligence and subtle humor and easy companionship.

Beautiful.

Chapter Text

Things changed, as things tended to do given enough time or a proper catalyst-- and their lives had both.

Every morning, Jim would check the Federation’s news feed, watch the holos where reporters tried explaining the situation on Vulcan in a thousand different ways. The only good news to come from them was that there had been no further threat from the Romulans so far. Their military had suffered relatively impressive losses, given the lack of power and preparation on the part of the Federation, so they seemed to be regrouping, reveling in the spoils of their victory, or whatever.

The rest of the news was just a running death toll of the lives lost on Vulcan. Every single morning-- for a while. Until people stopped reporting about it at all.

The planet was lost. A few months after the occupation, everyone seemed to have just accepted that. Starfleet had started building a proper military to eventually drive the Romulans back, but that could take decades. As far as the Federation was concerned, Vulcan was done for, and the borders of Federation space had shrunk.

In the meantime, there was word that some people were organizing to establish Vulcan colonies on Earth and throughout Federation space, but that wasn’t going to salve the wound. Jim knew Spock was feeling it, though they seldom spoke about Vulcan anymore. It may have been illogical to avoid the topic, but he figured they were both happier for it.

To make matters that much worse, at least a little closer to home, the other Vulcan students had kicked Spock out of their student union, claiming his “emotional” outburst had been a disgrace. Spock never told Jim exactly what they’d said to him, but even without touching his friend he could feel the heartache coming off of him in waves. All Jim knew was that they had insulted Spock’s mother, claimed his half-human heritage was a detriment, and suggested that his relationships with humans were too close.

As Spock’s best friend, Jim took personal offense to that last bit, but he had half a mind to take a page out of that bully’s book and clock the other Vulcans anyway. He might have, if Spock hadn’t assured him that, yes, all Vulcans knew that neck-pinch trick.

Jim had taken to inviting Spock to sit with him and his friends at lunch every day now, and most of the time Spock actually took him up on it. Jim never once saw Spock shoot glances at the other two Vulcans, sitting solitary at their table. Never once saw a single sign that he missed them, but he guessed at it anyway, and he knew he was right.

Spock needed a certain dose of logic in his life, and he wasn’t going to get it by solely hanging around Jim and his increasingly emotional, hormonal teenage human companions.

 

--

 

“Jim, we have discussed this,” Spock said one evening as they were walking to the bus. Jim had just finished track practice, so even though he was only wearing shorts and a T-shirt, the chill air wasn’t getting to him. He walked along without a care in the world. Spock, bundled up in three of Sam’s old flannel shirts, was probably allowing the cold to affect his mood if that glare was anything to go by.

“I think it would be good for you,” Jim replied stubbornly. He’d said as much before, but surprisingly the repetition tactic worked on Spock, if only because the Vulcan got so annoyed after a while he just gave in.

“I believed the plan when I first attended school was to ‘lie low.’”

“It was back then. But, let’s face it, you got suspended for leveling a guy, and half the school is still looking at you like you’re about to spontaneously combust.”

Spock shot Jim a very open glare,and Jim held up his hands in defense. “I’m just saying, Chess Club is quiet, logical, controlled-- all those things you like.”

Spock considered it as they sat at the bus stop. He cradled his bag in his lap and stared down the road, thinking.

“You are not worried I will ruin your winning streak?”

Jim smiled, if only because he saw the hints of a smile in his friend’s own eyes. “I’m counting on it.” When Spock looked at him, he winked. “I could teach you in a day, I bet, and you’d give me a run for my money. Plus, bonus, it’ll distract people from all the rumors. Give you a new… I don’t know. Identity?”

“Chess Club will give me a new identity?” Spock raised his eyebrow and Jim laughed.

“Well, it’s a start, right? And it means you get an extra hour out of the week to hang out with me.”

Spock breathed in through his nose, leveling his eyes at Jim. “Very well. Though I reserve the right to resign if I wish.”

Jim pumped his fist in the air. Almost three years, he’d been trying to wheedle Spock to play the game with him. Finally.

“Then we’ll start learning tonight. I’ll break out Mom’s old board. She’s the one who taught me, you know. I bet she has some tips. Maybe, oh! Maybe we can play a mini-tournament tonight, what do you say?”

“Have you considered the possibility that chess may not appeal to me?”

“Not for a second,” Jim said with a grin, and he was delighted to see the corners of Spock’s lips turn upwards.

That’s when he felt it again--  that frequent, recognizable, giddy little hitch in his chest, something that tended to happen to him whenever Spock half-smiled like that or looked particularly pensive or said something especially funny/insightful/interesting/ridiculous or sometimes when he was just being Spock .

Jim was pretty sure he knew what the feeling was, and he ignored it as he’d become accustomed to doing. Tonight was for chess. Something he could do with Spock that could be plenty distracting.

Though maybe it had been too distracting. The night he taught Spock how to play chess (though Spock ended up schooling him by the end of the lesson) had been the first night that Jim received the Call.

He knew immediately, the second he saw her name on his comm, that he had royally screwed up. Marlena asked him why he hadn’t shown up, why he’d bothered making plans at all if he was just going to forget them.That night’s excuse had at least been acceptable. A quick apology for forgetting, a promise to reschedule... but that was just the first time, and apologies didn’t cut it forever.

The next time, he had been working on an advanced engineering project, and it just slipped his mind that they’d had a date planned. When she’d asked if this was the big group project with Spock he’d been excited about, he didn’t understand why his ‘yes’ had irritated her so much.

Then it was a practice night for Spock’s first regional tournament. Then it was his turn to cook family dinner (vegan stir fry, which he’d been practicing). Then they’d heard that a refugee transport had been destroyed near Vulcan and Jim had to be home with Spock to make sure he was okay.

Then, slowly, he kind of stopped committing to things, because his priorities were becoming incredibly clear. To Marlena, maybe, more than himself.

 

---

 

“You know this is the worst time for you to be off-planet,” Jim groaned, cradling his mug of hot cocoa and shooting the screen a look that could be called pouting if Jim weren’t a month away from sixteen years old and far too dignified to pout.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Sam laughed, “Remind me to schedule my work study around your next unexpected breakup.”

Jim leveled a glare at him. “It’s not funny. I need you here. I had to replicate my own cocoa.”

“You poor thing.”

“Sam--”

“No, I know, I’m sorry, Jim,” Sam said sincerely, giving Jim an encouraging smile. “But I don’t really get why you’re so upset. I mean, you broke up with her , right?”

“It was mutual,” Jim grumbled, staring into his cup and watching the marshmallows melt.

“Isn’t that good?”

“Yeah, I mean, we’re still friends, so I guess that’s all right.”

“Then what’s got you so down?”

Jim didn’t look at the screen for a moment, choosing instead to move his gaze from mug to window. The snowfall was nice to watch, but it wasn’t helping him think of an explanation for his brother. For a second, he thought of just putting it all out there, but even he didn’t know what he was feeling yet so he decided to just keep a lid on it.

“I don’t know. I see her every day at school and every time I just...”

“Regret it?”
“No,” Jim said, finally meeting his brother’s eyes again, “not really. I think I just feel guilty.”

There was a pause, and Sam seemed to be trying to think of something to say. “Why did you break up anyway?” He finally asked, “I don’t mean to dig the hole any deeper or anything, but, you know. I thought things were going well.”

Sam did have a point. When things were going well, they went really well. Marlena was smart, fun to be around, painfully attractive, a great kisser. She shared Jim’s interests and goofed around with him, but she was also level-headed. He really admired that.

But for all the fun that Jim had with her, and for all the great parts of their relationship, over the last few months there had been an undercurrent of something like discomfort, though that wasn’t quite the right way to put it. The worst part was that Jim knew exactly when that feeling had manifested.

Jim shrugged after a moment. “It’s just-- you know when something feels good, but doesn’t feel… right ?”

Sam looked at him. “Not really, no.”

“Lot of help you are,” Jim sighed, leaning back in his chair.

“Is something else going on? Something at school?” Sam was so great, light years away and he was asking about petty school troubles.

“No, school’s awesome,” he said, smiling in spite of himself. “I’ve got the second best grade in all my science courses.”

“Let me guess. First is…”

They both said “Spock” at the same time, and laughed.

“But he doesn’t count,” Jim said, waving it away, “he throws off the curve.”

Sam snorted. “Okay, so it’s not school, what is it? Mom and Dad okay?”

“Oh yeah, good as they’ll ever be. Mom just built an extension for the chicken coop.”

“Again? How many chickens do you guys have now?”

“Um… shit, fifteen? Since mom’s got Spock to help her out, she says we can just keep collecting ‘em.”

“He loves those chickens, doesn’t he?”

“Love is a ‘human emotion,’ Sam,” Jim joked, and Sam laughed.

“And Dad?” Sam asked. “How’s he doing?”

“Oh, good enough. I think he’s just frazzled. All his old Starfleet buddies keep calling him, updating him on what the fleet’s working on, asking his advice. You know. The Romulans’ve got everyone in knots. Spock’s mom’s been calling Mom every week just to ‘chat’ and, I mean, we all know what they talk about. I think they’re keeping the worst of it from us.”

“I’m sure they are. You’re…Okay don’t hate me for this, but you’re kids, you don’t need to be worrying about things you can’t control.”

“Well I do, I’m going to be training into Starfleet one of these days, and I’d better know what’s going on. You know they’re militarizing the fleet? I could be a part of that. Really do something up there.”

“In two years, sure, but not now . Now you just need to focus on your classes and your broken heart and drink your hot chocolate.”

Jim smirked. “Thanks for reminding me about that broken heart thing.”

“Here to help.”

There was a pause. Jim knew that was actually sincere, but there wasn’t much the guy could do for him right now, and Jim was taking up a lot of his time. “I should probably let you get back to… whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Conducting pressure and temperature tests on Denebian algae?”

“Right. That.”

“I know it doesn’t sound that exciting, but believe it or not, the algae is showing surprising reactions when exposed to--”

“Good night, Sam.”

Sam laughed, waving. “Fine fine, next time. Night, Jim.”

Jim cut off their connection and spun his chair around, staring absently at the ceiling. He hated winter nights. Always got so bored. Summer at least he could work outside on the farm, ride horses… but winter was bleak. His parents had gone back on that promise to get him a puppy despite years of wheedling (even though Sam only came to visit about a month out of the year) and until he learned to drive in March he was pretty much at their whim-- and the whim of the weather-- if he wanted to do anything.

So really all he had to do was bug Spock, which he didn’t necessarily want to do right now. Spock was part of the problem.

He set his cocoa down on the desk and laid on the floor, rubbing his eyes with the balls of his hands. His mind drifted back to Marlena, to the way she’d looked hurt, but also not surprised when Jim had suggested they break it off. “We make much better friends, don’t we?” she’d said, and Jim had had to agree.

It was a much nicer explanation than the reason he’d started the conversation in the first place.

Though he couldn’t say for certainty that he had a “crush,” (god, it felt like middle school all over again) he couldn’t deny that Spock was one of the most important people in his life, and it wasn’t fair to Marlena to pretend that wasn’t the case. And ever since he’d realized that Spock had the potential to be possibly attractive in some way, that thought had been humming in the back of his mind.

The whole thing was illogical, his thoughts supplied, and he almost laughed at the irony of it.

He wasn’t exactly worried about having a crush on another guy. His very clear and present attraction to Marlena was proof that he probably leaned a little pansexual, which wasn’t a big deal. Guia was pansexual, Amir was bi, Yang was a lesbian-- no one cared. What did worry him was that Spock was his friend. His best friend, probably. And a best friend with enough emotional turmoil to not need the added bonus of Jim Kirk’s unrequited feelings being thrust upon him.

Sam had reminded Jim years ago, back when he’d had his worst crush on Marlena, that these affections and infatuations came and went, and he’d held onto that like a mantra. The affection had come, and now it would go. Eventually.

It was just taking its sweet, sweet time.

In the meantime, his whole goal was just to keep it from Spock. Which was certainly easier to do when he wasn’t staring at him over a chessboard or sitting with him while they studied or, well, doing anything together. Even still, the last thing he wanted was for Spock to be lonely. He’d felt that loneliness, knew how awful it was, but sometimes he just had to avoid the guy for his own sanity’s sake.

As he thought about it now, he decided that that was kind of a shitty thing to do, and it made him feel a little lonely himself.

He hefted a breath, pushed himself to his feet and grabbed his cocoa, figuring if he was going to bug the guy he might as well bring him something for the trouble.

With a quick stop downstairs to heat up his drink and replicate a cup of tea for Spock, Jim made his way back upstairs, knocking on Spock’s door with his foot.

“Hey, can I come in?”

He didn’t smell the candles, though that didn’t mean Spock wasn’t meditating. He’d stopped using them as frequently, saying that, logically, the ingredients to make them would be more scarce now that Vulcan was occupied. Remembering that now, Jim felt his mood drop further.

“You may,” Spock replied.

“Can you open the door? I brought a present.”

Spock compiled a moment later, looking at first skeptically at the tea in Jim’s hand, then gratefully. Jim didn’t know if he was getting better at reading Spock’s expressions or if Spock was getting worse at repressing them, but in either case he was glad for the loosening of Spock’s shoulders and the softening of his eyes.

He took the tea from Jim’s hand, and Jim made sure their fingers didn’t brush. “I figured you were probably getting bored in here,” Jim said, clearly projecting. He sat on the edge of the bed while Spock took his (assumedly) previous place by his computer console at the desk.

“Bored may not be the proper word,” he said, and some of that tightness came back into his countenance. “But the company is appreciated.”

Before Jim could ask what the proper word was, Spock seemed to change the subject in a very deliberate manner.

“What are you drinking?” He nodded to the mug in Jim’s hand.

“Oh,” Jim said, looking down into his cocoa, “I guess you probably haven’t come across it, huh? I really only drink it when I’m sad. Wanna try?”

He held out the mug and Spock left his own on the desk, Joining Jim on the edge of the bed and taking the cocoa. He sipped at it gingerly, but his eyes widened when the taste hit his tongue. Jim grinned. Spock took another sip, more a gulp, really, and licked the drops from his lips.

“If you like it, you can have that one,” Jim laughed when Spock tried to hand it back to him. “It’s my third cup.”

It was telling that Spock didn’t even try to protest. “What is troubling you?” He asked instead of remarking on the drink. Jim guessed Spock didn’t want to risk expressing that he liked it.

Jim briefly entertained the idea of telling him the whole truth, but it was too ridiculous a thought to let linger. “Just, you know, the whole Marlena thing.”

“You are referring to the severing of your romantic relationship.”

“Obviously.”

“Three days have passed, Jim.” His tone was practically impatient.

“I can tell time, Spock. These things just take a little longer for humans, all right? I can’t just put my feelings in a box like you can.” They had already had this discussion, immediately after the break-up. Jim wasn’t looking forward to having it again. “I talked to Sam about it. I’ll be fine.”

Spock took another gulp of the chocolate. “He is no doubt the right person with whom to address this issue.” he said.

“Well, yeah,” Jim shrugged and laid back on the bed, knees hanging off the edge. Spock shifted to keep him in sight. “But it’s not something someone can just fix . I’ve just gotta be sad and I’ll get it out of my system.”

“If ending the relationship has caused you emotional distress, would it not be logical to…” Spock paused, just long enough for Jim to laugh.

“What, get back together? No way. Even if I wanted to, she’s probably had more than enough of me.”

“That is unlikely,” Spock responded, and chased it with another long drink. Jim sat up on his elbows, giving Spock a hard look that the Vulcan did not return.

“Unlikely?” When Spock didn’t respond, he barked out a laugh. “I know human relationships are weird to you, but I wasn’t exactly a good boyfriend.”

Spock raised an eyebrow. “And what constitutes a ‘good boyfriend’?”

Jim thought about it for a second. “I don’t know, showing up for our dates would be a start.”

Spock nodded. “Yes, I see why that would be important.”

Jim sat back up and took the opportunity to change the subject himself.

“But enough about my shit. I really wouldn’t mind not thinking about it for a minute. What about you? Something ’s going on. Don’t think I can’t see straight through that cool Vulcan exterior.”

“It is of no importance,” Spock replied. He seemed to be attempting to pace himself on the chocolate front, forcing the nearly drained mug onto his lap and leveling a look at Jim. “I would tell you if it were.”

Jim only half believed that

“If I get you another one of those,” Jim nodded to the mug in Spock’s hands, “will you tell me?” He was teasing, in all honesty, so it shocked him when Spock glanced at the cup and back to Jim, giving a minute nod.

“I would very much like another, yes.”

Oh, so he could admit to liking something. That was nice. Normally it was “I would not be adverse to another.”

Jim laughed, “Wow, all right, I think we’ve found your new favorite drink. You have to promise you’ll tell me when I get back though.”

“If it is important to you, Jim.”

Smiling and shaking his head, Jim hopped back downstairs for another cup of cocoa. He was glad his parents were reading silently in the living room and didn’t even notice that he was now coming down for his fourth serving. They’d been worried enough when he’d replicated mug number three.

When he returned, the empty mug was sitting on Spock’s end table, and Spock looked up with wide pupils and flushed cheeks. Jim felt himself falter.

“Ah,” he paused, cleared his throat, and resumed his seat beside his friend. He held out the mug without looking Spock in the eyes. “Here. Now spill.”

“That would be illogical,” Spock said, taking the drink, “as purposely spilling this beverage would be counter--” Spock paused, and Jim couldn’t help watching the Vulcan’s face as he actually searched for words in his head. “Counter productive.” He finished with a small upturning of his lips.

Jim’s eyes blew open. “Was that a joke?”

“An attempt at one,” Spock said, looking down at his cup.

A smile bloomed wide and unbidden on Jim’s face. “No, that was… that was actually really funny.”

“You are not laughing.”

“I’m a little surprised,” Jim said, laughing now at the clear disappointment in Spock’s voice rather than the joke itself. “ Three years and I’ve never heard you make a joke.”

Spock shrugged, legitimately shrugged, and Jim felt his face fall just a little. First the hot cocoa, then the joke, now a completely unconscious human expression? Something really was wrong.

“Okay,” Jim said, trying to turn his smile into something encouraging. “Now for real, what’s up?”

Spock took a long draught of his cocoa before letting out a hefty sigh and staring at the ceiling. Jim watched almost in awe. A sigh?

“I received a note from my father,” Spock finally said, which at least explained his melancholy mood. Hearing from Sarek was seldom a good thing. “He wishes me to consider the possibility of moving to San Francisco. There is a prominent group of Vulcans there, create… creating a community. There will be a school.”

He paused, and Jim felt something cold and hard sink into his gut. Spock leaving had seemed so inevitable in the beginning, but after the occupation of Vulcan he had just kind of assumed that of course Spock would stay with them until he was eighteen and they joined Starfleet together. Obviously. Though he hadn’t actually talked to Spock about any of that.

Maybe an oversight on his part.

“Do you… want to go?” Jim asked. He tried not to put too much feeling into it. If Spock thought joining a Vulcan community would be good for him, then of course he’d support it, but the idea of it royally sucked.

He’d watched Spock change over the years, subtly, but he knew it had happened. In those bare moments when Spock didn’t know Jim was around, his lips would twitch in a smile at the sight of the chickens; or he’d stand in the sun soaking up an inadequate heat, nothing like his own planet’s, and the sad set of his shoulders would betray him. Sometimes Jim would catch him sitting comfortably on the couch, not straight-backed, but slouched over his datapadd the way real teenagers read. He imagined, suddenly, all that ease and comfort being taken from his friend-- the permission to feel that he’d received in this human home. It hurt .

Spock took a long time to answer, which worried Jim plenty. “I do not know,” He finally replied, lips thinning. “After what happened at school, I think it would be good for me to remember…” he paused and breathed in deep, shook his head, and took another long gulp of his drink. He didn’t continue.

“Remember what?”

“Hmm?” Spock raised his eyebrows at Jim, and Jim couldn’t help it. His heart hitched again. That unguarded little “hmm” had been so endearing, if entirely unprecedented.

“You said it might be good for you to remember…” Jim prompted.

“Oh, yes, forgive me. My mind was…” Spock made a gesture with his hand-- weaving it through the air as though imitating ‘wandering.’ “I should remember I am Vulcan,” Spock said with some finality. “It is easy to forget, when I am with you and your family. I have grown accustomed to certain freedoms. I should not have allowed myself to… to do so.”

Jim felt a little offended at the thought. “Why not? You’re half human. Why should that half matter less than your Vulcan half?”

Spock seemed to consider that, pursing his lips. “It has always been so. My father judges me for my human failings, as do other Vulcans. In a Vulcan community, I could regain the control that I… have lost.”

“Do you really want that?” Jim hated himself for sounding so sad. But Spock had been happy here-- as happy as he could be.

“I have not had ad-- adec--” he stopped himself, second-guessed the word choice, and continued. “ sufficient time to think about it.”

Spock was acting very strange. Jim kept a careful eye on him while they talked, wondering if Spock was at that emotional stage he’d been in after the occupation of Vulcan. Was he about to cry? Or was he just… off?

“I guess you did just find out, huh?” Jim tried to draw himself back. Spock wasn’t breaking down into tears, nor was he making any decisions just yet. “Well then I’m glad I came to bug you. Looks like you needed that more than me.” He gestured to the now empty second cup of cocoa, which was hanging lax in Spock’s fingers.

“You are sad.” Spock said suddenly, as if he had just remembered. “You should not be.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “Why not? I can be sad if I want to be sad. So can you. It’s all right.”

“It is...illogical.”

“Emotions are always illogical.”

“In this case,” Spock said, pointedly, “I am quite confused by your sadness, more so than is usual.”

“Oh?” Jim was actually curious now, Spock seldom admitted to being confused. Hell, Spock just knew too much to be confused. And Jim had thought by now that Spock was used to Jim’s radical human emotions. “Why’s that?”

“Firstly,” Spock furrowed his eyebrows, as if he hadn’t exactly meant to say “firstly” which would make sense considering Jim had never once heard him use that word in his life. Confusion aside, Spock pedaled forward. “ Firstly . You agreed mutually to end the relationship.”

“Well, yeah.”

“And you harbor no ill will toward each other.”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“And you will be... happier with the redefined terms of your relationship.”

“I guess, yeah. Eventually.”

“And you deserve much more than Marlena is able to offer you.”

This was said in the same tone as the rest, simple statements of fact. Reasons Jim shouldn’t be upset. But it didn’t make a lick of sense. “I-- what?”

Spock had seemed to realize what he said the moment Jim did, and his eyes widened in a very genuine, open expression of fear. “Forgive me. That statement was-- I did not consider my words.”

“That’s not like you,” Jim said, still reeling a little, but also nursing this bubble of joy that had popped out of nowhere. Spock didn’t think Marlena deserved him. Spock thought Jim was too good for Marlena. He had actually said so. Aloud.

“It is… not . Like me.” Spock looked down into his empty mug. “I find my thought processes are… not functioning the way they… What is in this beverage?”

Jim raised an eyebrow. “There’s no booze, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s just hot chocolate.”

Spock’s face flushed a brighter green, if that was even possible, and he closed his eyes. “I believe I need to lie down.” Setting his mug beside the other empty on the end table, Spock flopped backwards on the bed, setting his hands on his chest.

His stomach sank. “What? Shit, Spock, did I poison you?” He grabbed Spock’s shoulders and shook him slightly, as though that would actually help.

Spock winced and grabbed Jim’s arm with one hand to still him. “ Please cease shaking me. Chocolate has in-- inebriating effects. To Vulcans.”

Jim pulled away. “Wait, so you’re drunk? Is that why you’re all…” He gestured at Spock’s general condition. “You know.”

“Thank you for pointing it out, Jim.” Spock said with a huff.

“I’ve never been drunk before. What’s it like?” Jim scooched a little closer, watching Spock’s pained expression carefully.

“Unpleasant.” Spock replied. He was speaking very slowly. “I am having trouble thinking clearly. Things are blurry.”

“Things?” Jim couldn’t help a little smile. “That’s a little vague.”

“I apologize if I am not being specific enough for you.” Spock sounded downright petulant.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t tease you, but this is actually really great.”

“I fail to see why you think so.”

“It’s the first time you’ve just kind of… let go. You know?”

“I am not inclined to repeat the experience.”

“But all that stuff about your dad and the Vulcan community… would you have told me if you weren’t trashed?”

“It is difficult to say as I am still ‘trashed.’”

Jim snorted and Spock cracked his eyes open just long enough to shoot Jim a death glare.

“Sorry. Why didn’t you tell me about the chocolate thing?”

“Due to my unique phs…” He sighed again, and Jim tried not to find Spock’s inability to use his vocabulary endearing.

“Physiology?” Jim supplied.

“Yes. That. I did not know I would have the sensitivity.”

“Oh.” Jim tapped his fingers on his knee. “Listen, Spock, I know you’re drunk and I’m really sorry, but can you maybe elaborate on that thing you just said? You know, before you flopped over.”

“What did I say?”

“About me deserving better than--”

“I believe I require solitude.” This was not said in the same sleepy-drunk voice Spock had fallen into. That had almost been a snap.

Jim hesitated. Obviously leaving him alone would be the nice thing to do, especially after being the one to accidentally drug him, but his curiosity was killing him.

“I could keep you company. We can be solitary together.”

“That isn’t how it works Jim.” Good lord, a contraction. It wasn’t unheard of, but it was at least irregular.

“Fine, fine. Here, I’ll be right back.”

“Jim,” Spock sounded more tired than anything else. “I believe you misunderstand the con--constant of solitude.”

“You mean concept? No, I get it. I’m just going to get you a few things.” Jim retrieved Spock’s tea from the desk and brought it to Spock’s side table, then took one of the empty mugs into the bathroom. He rinsed it out and filled it with cold water, then brought it back to Spock who looked downright pathetic with his legs hanging off the side of the bed and one arm draped over his eyes.

“Sorry,” Jim said again as he placed the water on Spock’s end table. “I promise I didn’t mean to get you drunk.”

“You didn’t know” Spock said gently. “It is all right.”

“Thanks. Can I get you food? I think food is supposed to help.”

“No, Jim. Food sounds abhorr-- ab--” Spock huffed impatiently. “Bad,” he settled on, finally, and Jim smiled guiltily at him.

“Okay. I guess I’ll leave you be.”

“Thank you, Jim.”

“If you’re sure.”

“Very sure, Jim.”

Jim ducked his head as he left the room breathing in a little sigh. Maybe going to visit Spock had been a mistake after all. He never would’ve let the guy have chocolate if he’d known, but it was also kind of great to see him with all his walls down. Maybe Spock would be willing to try it again sometime, and Jim could sneak into his parents’ liquor cabinet and they could just have a night of it.

The thought made him feel better.

The good news was that the whole thing had almost entirely gotten his mind off Marlena. Spock tended to do that. But what was proving far more difficult was getting his mind off Spock.

As Jim wandered back to his room, he went over what Spock had said again and again. A little light had lit in him, something like hope, because Spock thought highly of him, thought he deserved better, thought it was unlikely that someone could tire of him.

Jim rubbed his head, closed his door behind himself, and decided to bury himself in the news, homework, something. He couldn’t think about it, because even that little light of hope couldn’t stand against the rest of it. Spock might be leaving. Soon, in fact, and even if he did like Jim the way Jim might have potentially liked him, maybe it wouldn’t even matter.

Sam would tell him that when you’re a teenager nothing matters as much as you think it does, but that was exactly why he hadn’t come to his brother with this. He needed to feel this out, and to feel all of it along the way. Even the parts that sucked.

Maybe that Surak guy had a point about life being better without emotion, but Jim was never the kind of person to do anything the easy way.

Chapter Text

Sometimes it was enough that Jim wanted to do something. Sometimes that was all it took to convince Spock to go along, no matter how illogical or annoying or even boring it may have been.

So it had been when they were kids and played their first game of catch-- or chess for that matter. So it had been when Jim first dragged Spock to the arcade or the museum, or when he’d made Spock milk the cows with him, or begged Spock to go over starship blueprints with him to tell him what they actually looked like in real life.

And so it was, years after all these firsts, when Jim convinced Spock to learn how to drive with him. Amid protests of “I will never utilize this skill” and “public transportation is both environmentally sound and less expensive,” somehow all it took was for Jim to ask, really truly sincerely, and Spock surrendered. Of course Jim had brought up the argument that he had been reading contemporary Vulcan philosophical discourse, simply because Spock had asked him to. Spock didn’t have to know that he found it interesting.

There were of course, still instances when there was no convincing Spock to do something he didn’t really want to do. Driving had ended up being fun and educational, plus “adequate practice for the future should I find myself in need of a vehicle,” but the same could not be said of the party.

“Come on, you don’t even have to drink,” Jim had cajoled. They were out by the chicken coop. Spock scattered seeds and Jim sat on the low garden wall nearby while the two watched the birds, Spock with a fond half-smile on his face. Times like these Jim was sure Spock liked chickens more than people. “All you have to do is show up, hang out and maybe play a few games. I don’t really know exactly what we’re going to do. Never been to a party like this before.”

“Is that why you wish for me to accompany you? You are nervous?”

Jim scoffed and Spock came to join him, settling himself to Jim’s right, where he always seemed to be anymore. That was the real reason Jim wanted him to come. “‘Course I’m not nervous. I just have more fun when you’re around.”

“I doubt that.”

Jim laughed, shooting Spock a wide grin. “I’m here feeding the chickens with you instead of playing video games, aren’t I?”

Spock’s eyes smiled and the two shared a brief look, one of those looks that fanned the fire of hope in Jim’s belly, however illogical it may have been.

“That may be true; however not one aspect of this gathering appeals to me.”

Jim sighed, rolled his eyes and looked up at the clouds. Summer was almost over, and he could almost feel that chill in the late afternoon air. Was he so bad for wanting one last hurrah before going back to school?

“Fine,” he said, “I’ll let it go. But I’m still going. Marlena’s parents are out of town, so it’s gonna be a little wild.”

“Precisely the reason I will be staying in,” Spock said with finality. “And you may wish to consider doing the same. In case you have forgotten, tomorrow--”

“Oh shit,” Jim said, “Sam!” After almost a year away, Sam was finally coming to visit. Just for a few weeks, but Jim had been looking forward to it all summer. Now the dates had snuck up on him. “Yeah I don’t really want to be a mess if tomorrow’s Sam-day.”

“Then you will not attend the party?”

“Well, no,” Jim laughed patting Spock on the back. “I’m just going to go home a little earlier and drink a little less than I was planning, that’s all. Sam’ll be fine if I’m a little tired when he gets here.”

Spock seemed to resign himself to the idea of Jim going, and he looked consideringly at his friend. “If you require transportation,” he said, “I would rather drive than risk you becoming inebriated and attempting to drive yourself.”

“You know I wouldn’t do that,” Jim said, just a little surprised. Spock should know him better.

“You cannot know the effect alcohol will have on your mental faculties.” Spock insisted. “It is only logical.”

Jim let himself smile. “I don’t think alcohol is going to turn me into a different person, but, hey, you win. I still wish you’d come, but I’ll settle for a lift.”

Spock nodded and stood, waiting for Jim to join him before they headed back inside. “I trust you will enjoy yourself, whether I am present or not.”

Jim shrugged. “Oh, I guess so. Probably . Thanks Spock.” He delivered a soft, companionable punch to Spock’s arm, and Spock gave him an indulgent look. Jim had been taking liberties recently, touching Spock like that, but somehow he didn’t think Spock minded.

 

--

 

Six hours later, Jim had kind of forgotten why he was supposed to leave early, and he had certainly forgotten why he wasn’t supposed to drink too much.

From the moment Spock dropped him off to the end of the night, Jim had a beer in his hand. He’d never been drunk before, and he’d wondered if it would be as “unpleasant” as Spock had said it was, but the buzz snuck up on him so slowly that by the time he was drunk , it hit him like a truck.

It was in the middle of a game of “king’s cup,” the rules of which were a complete mystery to Jim. He thought he lost a round, though, because Amir told him to take the shot in the middle of the circle of cards. It was the moment that vodka hit his tongue that he realized he was absolutely trashed.

Ducking out of the rest of the game, Jim found a place in the living room that wasn’t taken up, and seated himself in the armchair. The loud music blaring throughout the house wasn’t exactly making his rattled senses feel any better, but the forty or so people dancing and drinking and laughing around him were having such a great time he couldn’t help smiling at them, even the ones he didn’t know.

Marlena found him there, smiling to himself and humming along to a song he half-knew. She looked lovely tonight, Jim thought as she made her way over to him. Her long dark hair was done up in a bun and she had some kind of pink gloss on her lips, the kind Jim remembered having some kind of taste to it-- cherry? It didn’t matter. It made her lips shimmer. Jim reached out as she walked up and she took his hand.

“Hey Jim,” she said, sitting on the arm of the chair. “You doing okay?”

“I think I’m drunk,” he said very slowly, and she just laughed.

“I know you’re drunk. Having a good time though?”

“This is the best… the best party I’ve ever been to.”

“Do you want to dance?”

“Noooo.” He dragged the syllable out, shaking his head. “I might throw up.”

“Oh, Jim,” she said pityingly. “Want to lie down somewhere? I can get you a blanket.”

He shrugged. “Naw, I shuld call Spock.”

Marlena raised an eyebrow. “Jim, hon, did anyone warn you about calling people when you’re drunk?”

“No?”

“Not the best idea.”

“But he’s my ride.”

Her mouth formed a little ‘o’ and she let Jim dig his communicator out of his pocket. When finding Spock’s name on the screen became a little too hard, she gently took the comm out of his hands and patted him on the head.

“Let me,” she said, and shot Spock a message. Jim watched her fingers as she typed, feeling both incredibly focused and incredibly distracted. When she handed it back to him, he barely remembered to put it back in his pocket.

“Why don’t we go sit outside and wait for him?” She said, standing and reaching down to help Jim up.

Outside sounded great. He was boiling hot, and everything felt so heavy around him, he figured some night air would do him good. “What time is it?” he asked suddenly.

Marlena steadied him with a hand as he stood and guided him toward the door. “I don’t know? About one in the morning?”

“Morning air, then,” he said mostly to himself.

“What was that?”

“Oh, it’s just… it’s not night air. It’s morning air.”

She just smiled, “Sure it is, Jim.”

They made their way to the house’s wide front steps, and Jim flopped inelegantly down. Marlena settled beside him and indulged him when he gently took her hand and started playing with her rings. “Thanks,” he said softly. “This was fun.”

“I’m glad you came,” she said, and she looked so warm with the yellow light from the windows glinting off her hair. Jim rested his head on her shoulder, partly because the world was spinning and partly because he just wanted to.

“Why’d we break up, anyway?” Jim asked. The question had occurred to him after his third beer, and now seemed like a good time to ask. She was so nice to him, and she was so pretty and she was sitting out here in the cold even though it was her party going on inside. How great was that? But she stiffened beside him the moment he spoke.

She didn’t pull away, though. In fact, she took the hand that had been playing with her rings and began stroking his knuckles, tracing the lines. It was incredibly soothing. He hummed a little bit and let his eyelids sink.

“Because you’re in love with Spock,” she said softly, voice almost lost in the music coming from the house.

“Very funny,” he said on reflex. He was used to people making that joke, but it had gotten decidedly less funny as time went by.

“No, I’m serious,” Marlena said, a little stronger this time. “You can’t not know. You’ve been in love with him since we were fourteen and… I don’t know. I think I deserve better than to be someone’s second choice.”

Suddenly, Jim wished he weren’t drunk. This sounded like the kind of conversation he needed to be totally present for. He did his best to concentrate on the words, replaying them a few times in his head. “You’re not second,” he said lamely, nuzzling into her shoulder as if that would emphasize his point.

“Jim, to you everyone is second.” She sighed and there was a long, heavy pause. Jim focused on the sound of the music, trying not to think about the implications of that statement when Marlena spoke back up. “Have you ever told him?”

Jim felt a little sick. He screwed his eyes shut tighter against the sudden nausea. What use would it be saying that there was nothing to tell? Even drunk he knew that was a lie. “No,” he said instead, and he was suddenly very sad and very tired.

“Maybe you should.”

They sat like that in silence for another few minutes before the glare of headlights came up the driveway.They illuminated the whole porch, far too bright for Jim’s comfort at the moment. “Izzat him?” he asked, though it wasn’t necessary. Jim knew it was his family’s truck (so few people in town drove “wheelies” anymore), so he tried to rouse himself as best he could.

Marlena was already shuffling Jim off her shoulder, letting go of his hand. “Yeah, your knight in shining armor has arrived,” she said with a smile, and now Jim knew she was teasing him. Jim glared at her as he used the railing to get to his feet, but it was without malice.

“Thanks, Marlena,” he said, meaning it.

“Good night, Jim.”

She turned away and went back into the house while Jim wandered down the stairs to the driveway.

When he opened the passenger door, he smiled brightly at Spock. He was so glad to see him. He was always so glad to see him. Just the familiar, deep dark of his eyes, the steady presence at his side, that feeling like Jim was home . Why hadn’t Spock come to the party? It would have been even better, Jim thought, if he had been there.

He clambered into the seat, remembered his seatbelt and patted Spock on the shoulder. “Thanks for coming to get me,” he said, trying his best not to slur his words.

Spock’s mouth was set in a hard line, and he didn’t respond to Jim at first, except to put the car into reverse and pull out of the driveway.

“You are welcome,” he said after a moment. He sounded less than enthusiastic. Jim knew Vulcans didn’t sleep as much as humans, but Spock probably regretted agreeing to give Jim a ride. He hoped Spock wasn’t mad.

“I wish you woulda been there,” Jim said, lolling his head to the side so he could keep Spock in sight without actually having to use any of his muscles,

“You clearly did not require my presence.”

Jim lifted his head a little bit, brow furrowing. Spock was mad.

“You’re the one who didn wanna come,” he reminded him. He couldn’t believe now Spock wanted to make a fuss. He’d been invited. And Jim could do things without him.

But if he was being honest with himself, he didn’t want to. He wanted to do everything with Spock. And maybe this was Spock’s way of saying he wanted to do everything with Jim, too. The thought softened his frustration a little bit.

“I do not regret my decision,” Spock said stiffly, and Jim thinned his lips.

“Then why are you mad?”

“Anger is--”

“Don’t give me that,” Jim waved his hand in the air in front of his face, but even watching that movement made his stomach turn. The car wasn’t helping.

Spock didn’t “give him that” though Jim felt there was still something the guy wanted to say.

“What’s wrong?” Jim asked. He kept Spock in his vision. The streetlights that lit their way home glowed bright, pale blue, casting a hue to Spock’s skin that was cool and enchanting. He practically looked ethereal, and Jim didn’t even think to stop himself from staring.

“It is of no importance,” Spock replied, finally glancing in Jim’s direction and catching his eyes. He looked back toward the road immediately.

“Are you mad I went without you?”

“No, Jim. You can make your own decisions.”

“So what is it? Is it…” Jim paused, some bright light of understanding igniting in his brain. Maybe, well, it was ridiculous, but possible. Anything seemed possible in that moment. “Are you… jealous ? That I was with Marlena?”

“Jim.” Spock said his name like a warning. Jim thinned his lips, still staring at Spock as though his impassable expression might yield some clue. But there was nothing there. Jim couldn’t bear to hope that he’d hit the nail on the head, but he hoped anyway. And, for once, he heeded Spock’s tone and didn’t pry. He wanted to believe that Spock was jealous. If he pried, he may find out that was not the case.

They drove quietly the rest of the way home, which wasn’t very far. When Spock pulled in, he made his way to Jim’s side of the car to help him out.

“Awfully chival--” Jim paused, pursing his lips. “Chi. Val. Rous. of you,” he said, making a point to pronounce each syllable, however slowly he had to do it.

Jim grabbed Spock’s shoulder as he lowered himself from the car, stumbled a little bit and regained his balance. Spock was steady. Jim liked that about him.

They walked up to the house, Spock speaking gently as they went. “I have taken the liberty,” Spock said, “of putting a glass of water by your bedside. In addition, there should be headache medicine for the morning. I understand the morning may be difficult.”

Jim smiled, “Thanks,” he said sincerely as they went inside. The house was dead dark, silent as it had ever been, and Jim felt the need to whisper. “You’re really great, Spock,” he said softly. They started up the stairs and Spock huffed out a little breath.

“Thank you, Jim,” he said, and there was something in his voice, Jim was sure of it, that was both happy and sad, something Jim couldn’t for the life of him figure out.

Spock walked Jim all the way to Jim’s room, moving immediately to the dresser. “Do  not lay down just yet. I will find you some comfortable clothes.”

Though as Spock spoke, Jim had already shed his shirt. When Jim discarded his pants, it was the thunk of the communicator in his pocket hitting the floor that drew Spock’s attention.

“‘S too hot for pajamas,” Jim complained, deciding the boxers he was wearing were plenty of clothing. Spock pointedly closed the dresser drawer he’d been fishing in. The room was dark, illuminated only by the moonlight outside, but Jim could see a flush to Spock’s cheeks. Suddenly, he was aware he wasn’t wearing very much. He found he wasn’t embarrassed, mostly because of the look in Spock’s eyes-- something he definitely was in no shape to decipher.

Jim moved toward Spock a little, hoping to get a better look at his expression. He was sure he imagined it when he watched Spock’s eyes flick down Jim’s body, then pointedly raise themselves back up.

“You should no doubt get some rest,” Spock said, voice deliberate. “Given your current state, you will require up to 9.5 hours of sleep to achieve full sobriety.”

Jim didn’t care about that right now. Yeah, he was tired, but that sort of distracted focus had returned, settled entirely on his friend now. He was focused, outwardly, on the play of moonlight on the piths of Spock’s cheeks, on the elegant shadows that left half his face in darkness, but his mind wandered to the glass of water on the bedside table, to the fact that it was past one in the morning and Spock had stayed up to drive his drunk friend home. He was so kind, so genuinely good, and he had to care about Jim to do these things for him.

Jim realized he was standing right in front of Spock now, practically trapping him against the dresser and he stopped moving and he should have stepped back, but...

Spock was so close . Jim felt himself gripped with this sudden belief that if he just asked , then maybe they could be closer. Because sometimes all it took was for Jim to ask, really truly sincerely.

Right now, he didn’t know how to ask, not with his voice. So he moved forward, lower lip between his teeth as he brought a hand ‘round to the nape of Spock’s neck. He heard Spock’s sharp intake of breath at the touch of their skin, felt tendrils of surprise, Spock’s surprise, seeping into him.

In less than a blink, he’d surged forward, pulling Spock down to meet his lips, breath caught in his chest and threatening to stop entirely because he’d wanted to do this for so long, and finally those warm lips were against his own, softer than he’d imagined, gentle even in the face of Jim’s intensity. And Spock, who was so treasured, so loyal and strong and loved, brought his hands to grip Jim’s arms. Jim’s brain was fuzzy but he was sure in that moment that he’d never been so sober in his life and that this feeling was joy rippling through him, making his knees weak and--

Spock pulled him away, sharp and swift as if he were pulling out a splinter. Jim tried chasing the feeling of those lips, leaning forward until Spock had him at arm’s length, and it wasn’t until Jim looked into Spock’s eyes that he felt genuinely afraid.

Teeth clenched behind his lips, Spock’s nose curled in that look of distaste, his eyes narrowing under sweeping brows. Spock’s fingers dug into Jim’s biceps and he closed his eyes and looked away, as though he couldn’t even bear to look Jim.

Near panicking, Jim tried sensing Spock’s feelings through their contact, brought a hand up to one of Spock’s wrists just in case, but this was nothing like the last time their skin had touched. He guessed that Spock’s walls were up-- probably topped with barbed wire. There wasn’t a single emotion coming off him.

“Spock,” Jim said, fear flinging his heart against his ribcage as he tried to step forward, halted by the hard hold of Spock’s hands.

“You--” Spock faltered, and Jim wanted to stop him from saying whatever he was about to say, though his mind wasn’t working fast enough to come up with any explanation for what he’d just done. Except that he’d wanted so badly to do it and some completely irrational part of his mind had told him that Spock might want it too.

Spock released Jim then, shaking off Jim’s hand and breathing through his nose as he drew himself up to his full height. Jim felt himself reaching out, terrible idea though it was, but Spock turned on his heel, shoulders drawn up as though resisting the urge to wheel around and punch him. “You require rest. You are inebriated.”

“I-- wait, Spock,” but Spock had taken long strides to the door and shut it behind himself before Jim could get another word out.

Jim stood there in the middle of his bedroom for a little too long, feeling unsteady. Everything was spinning, too fast, too confusing, too blurry, and somehow, at some point, he did wander over to his bed, but he didn’t remember falling asleep. His last memory was watching Spock walk away.

 

--

 

Jim’s hangover lasted well into the morning. When he first woke up, it was still dark. His mouth felt like a desert and he drained the cup of water by his bed. The next time, there was light peeking in through the curtains in his room, and it was far too bright for his pounding head to handle.

He dry-swallowed the little red pills Spock had left for him, and fell right back asleep.

Finally, when he woke up the third time, he felt rather than knew it was late in the morning, if not full-on afternoon. He couldn’t quite bring himself to roll over to look at his alarm clock, so he stayed curled in a ball with his eyes screwed shut while the night’s events caught up to him.

He wasn’t sure if the feeling in his gut was nausea or guilt. It may well have been both.

Deciding that, yes, it was nausea, took a good long while, but he managed to get to his feet and stumble-jog down the hall to the bathroom. He retched the second he closed the door, emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet. Unfortunately, that included the headache pills. He was going to need more to get through the day, and something very very mild to eat.

The house was blissfully quiet after Jim washed out his mouth and got the courage to leave the bathroom. With a pitstop in his room for a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, he decided he could use some kind of sustenance. Nothing but toast and orange juice sounded good, but that was probably the best thing for him anyway.

He noticed as he made his way downstairs that Spock’s door was cracked, but he didn’t check to see if his friend was in there. He couldn’t stand the thought of facing him right now, facing anyone, really, but especially not Spock. He could hardly believe he’d done something so careless . He needed time to figure out what to say, how to make up for making a total ass out of himself.

But avoiding Spock didn’t look to be on the morning’s agenda. When he wandered into the kitchen, Spock was sitting at the table, reading a book with an untouched bowl of oatmeal beside him. Jim stopped in his tracks the second Spock looked up.

“Mornin’” Jim mumbled, mouth inexplicably drier than it had been moments before. He tore his eyes from his friend and made his way to the replicator, punching in the code for orange juice. He debated, once it had poured, taking it back up to his room and living in the safety of those four walls forever, but Spock’s eyes were on him and he owed the guy something . “Where’re mom n’ dad?”

He turned, and Spock regarded him with careful, precise control. “Shopping for tonight’s meal. You are unwell,” he observed. Jim grimaced.

“Yeah. I don’t know how I feel about that whole drinking thing.”

Spock closed his book, sat up straighter, and leveled Jim a look. “I do not understand the appeal,” he admitted. Jim joined him at the table, sitting across from him but not meeting his eyes.

“Listen,” he began, and he practically felt Spock tense up. Jim at least managed to look him in the eye. “I’m sorry.”

Spock was doing a rather impressive Sarek impression, face stony and unreadable as it had ever been. That was never a good sign. “There is no need to apologize,” he said cooly. “I understand one’s actions when one is inebriated--”

“No,” Jim said, a sharp pain in his head causing him to close his eyes and bring a hand to his temple. “No, I should apologize. It was a dumb mistake and I shouldn’t have--”

Spock stood abruptly, the scraping sound of his chair ringing loud in Jim’s ears. He winced, but risked a glance at his friend.

“There is no need to discuss the matter further,” Spock said.

Not buying that, Jim narrowed his eyes at Spock. “I kissed you. Drunk. You can’t just pretend it didn’t happen.”

“As you said, it was a mistake .” Each word was clipped, harsh as Jim had ever heard him speak. “I am willing to overlook the infraction, but I request that you do not mention it again.”

Jim’s stomach sank, and where he’d felt the beginnings of frustration, now he just felt… drained. This was his answer. That big question that had been rolling around in his head. Could Spock maybe, conceivably, possibly feel the way Jim did? Could they maybe have something more together than this strange limbo between brother and friend?

But love, like everything else, was a human emotion, and maybe in spite of everything Jim knew about Spock, he just wasn’t capable. Or-- a possibility that hurt far worse-- maybe he just wasn’t capable of feeling it for Jim .

“Right,” Jim said, hand clenching around his glass. He looked away. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Spock snatch his book off the table.

“I recommend you eat and bathe,” Spock said as he made his way to the back door. “Your brother will be arriving in precisely three hours.”

Jim had forgotten, but of all the things he was worrying about, Sam was low on the list. “Right,” he said again.

Spock left without another word, and Jim wondered if he’d been waiting in the kitchen all morning just to tell him off.

He put his head in his hands. There was a lot of damage control to do, though he didn’t know how he could manage it if Spock wouldn’t even let him apologize. Maybe that was for the best, though, maybe they both just needed to pretend it had never happened. Jim just wished-- of all his fuzzy and fleeting memories of the night before-- he wished he couldn’t remember the exact feeling of Spock’s lips against his own.

 

--

 

Sam’s homecoming that evening was a happy affair. George made souffle, one of the fancier dishes in his repertoire, and Sam had brought back some interesting-looking desserts from a space station that saw the influx of many different races. Sam had no idea which planet they’d come from, but he said they weren’t poisonous as far as he could tell.

They’d all missed Sam, Sam with his kind, soft heart and his love of his family and the way he asked each of them how things were going as though he genuinely wanted to know. Even Spock opened up a little bit the second Sam sat at the dinner table, seemingly forgetting about Jim for a time. Jim wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but if it made Spock happy it could only be good. They didn’t meet eyes the entire meal, or speak directly to each other, but Jim was grateful everyone was so wrapped up in Sam’s stories of the frontier they didn’t even notice.

It wasn’t until after dinner that Sam shot Jim a couple suspicious glances. Spock had stayed downstairs long enough to help clear the table and confirm that it was not his night to do the dishes before retreating upstairs once again. While Winona and George were there chatting away, Sam didn’t ask the question he looked like he was gearing up to ask, for which Jim was thankful.

“So what are you most excited to do while you’re home, sweetie?” Winona asked as she dried the dishes Jim was washing. George and Sam sat at the table, George sharing proud glances with his son now and again. “Tomorrow we can go to the Fireside Grill-- you love that place-- and maybe spend some time in town? I should get you some new clothes. Celebrate that internship.”

Sam smiled gratefully at her. “That sounds great, but more than anything I wouldn’t mind going on a horseback ride. I tell ya, I’ve really missed solid ground.”

“I remember that feeling,” George said with a grin, “You get up there too long you forget what it feels like to have the Earth holding you up.”

“Exactly. Whaddya say, Jim? Wanna take the horses out tonight?”

“It’s already dark,” Jim said, trying not to express the moodiness he felt. He really didn’t want to do anything.

“So? We used to go night-riding all the time!”

Jim couldn’t really contradict him on that one.

“You boys should go,” Winona said sweetly. “Jim, you haven’t been riding in a week and don’t you pretend otherwise.”

Jim sighed. She did have a point, and it sounded nice to spend time with his brother. He had so many questions about space, about the aliens Sam had met, the places he was going to go-- it wouldn’t hurt to do it on horseback, and it might help get his mind off everything else. “Alright, let’s do it.”

Sam hopped up from the table. “Great. I’ll get the horses tacked up. Come grab me when you’re done!”

Jim and his mother finished the dishes in short order, and he went to join Sam out in the pasture. There was a little tack shed out there, and Jim approached in the moonlight as Sam tossed a saddle on the back of one of their patient horses, Buttercup. It looked like Mayberry was already saddled.

Jim helped Sam with the finishing touches,and they chatted idly about how old the horses were getting, how much Sam missed farm life, spending time out in the field. Jim didn’t exactly understand that. If he was doing what Sam had been doing, he’d never want to come home.

They mounted and set off, a gentle trot into the darkness. Jim let the chill air whip his hair around and felt himself smiling. When everything else went to shit, riding was always its own kind of meditation. Being on a horse sometimes felt like flying.

The pastures went on for a while, but they slowed to a stop as they reached the fence. From here, the stars were myriad, bright and inviting. For a long time they just sat and stared upwards. Jim forgot all the questions he’d meant to ask Sam.

But Sam hadn’t. “So, what’s going on?” he asked after a while, keeping his eyes on the sky. Jim did the same, biting the inside of his cheek against the sudden rush of guilt, worry, heartache.

“What do you mean?” He knew playing coy wouldn’t exactly work on his brother, but it was worth a shot. Anything to not talk about it.

“I dunno,” Sam replied, also dancing a little around the subject, “did you and Spock have a fight?”

Jim took a deep breath, “Yeah,” he said. It was easier, he figured, to acknowledge it under the stars like this. The sky reminded him that his problems were small, insignificant in the bigger picture. It made him feel a little better.

“What happened? He seemed-- well, I mean it just didn’t seem like your usual kind of fight, like when you were kids.”

Jim began running his fingers through Buttercup’s wiry mane, and she snorted, shifting on her hooves. “Will you promise,” Jim said after a moment, “not to tell anyone? And I mean that. Not mom, not dad, not your friends--”

“My friends don’t even know you--”

No one .”

Sam did look at Jim now, “Okay. I promise.”

“And will you promise not to judge me?”

“Okay… I promise not to judge you.”

“And will you promise--”

“God, Jim. What the hell happened?”

Jim tightened his grip around the reins in his hands, closing his eyes and trying to remember to breathe. “I kissed him,” he said, so quiet he wasn’t even sure Sam could hear.

But Sam definitely heard. “You… oh, Jim. You kissed him? Spock ?”

Jim shot him a glare. “You promised you wouldn’t judge me.”

Sam sucked some air through his teeth, “I’m not, really I’m not. But… what happened? Did he…” Sam paused as though a little uncomfortable with the topic at hand. Jim couldn’t really blame him. Spock was like a brother to them both. “Did he, I dunno, kiss you back?”

“I was drunk,” Jim said, which was answer enough. Sam put his head in his hand and Mayberry stamped her hoof beneath him.

“Jim--”

“I know.”

“I mean… Jim --”

“Believe me. I know. I really fucked up.”

Sam didn’t seem to want to agree with him, but Jim could practically feel his disapproval. This is why he hadn’t told Sam how he felt. He was always so supportive, and Jim could never handle the idea that he might not support him in this.

“Jim, I know you care about Spock and all, but… you know. He’s Vulcan.”

“I know.”

“So what did you expect? Can you even imagine him being someone’s boyfriend ?”

Jim’s heart clenched. It was so pathetic. The answer to Sam’s question was yes, and for a while Jim had maybe imagined Spock being his boyfriend. His fist tightened around the reins and he pulled Buttercup off to the side, urging her to walk. Sam followed, trotting to his side.

“I’m sorry, Jim. I didn’t mean to-- It’s just Spock.”

“I know.”

“What are you going to do?”

“He won’t let me apologize,” Jim said lowly, the scene from this morning rushing back into his mind. “He doesn’t even want me to bring it up. I don’t know how to make it better. I swear I don’t need to--” Jim stopped himself and shook his head. “Nevermind.”

“What is it?”

Jim met Sam’s eyes. “I don’t even need him to like me like that. I swear I don’t. I just need him . You know... around . Here.” Jim tightened his lips and looked away, entirely unwilling to let himself cry. He hadn’t even ever cried over Marlena. He could get through this without breaking down too.

Sam reached over to him, having to lean a little far over the horses, and he clapped him on the shoulder. Just once, the way Jim’s dad would do it. “I bet he just needs some time,” Sam said, trying for an encouraging smile. Jim didn’t buy it. “Just give it a few days and it’ll blow over. Everyone’s done stupid things drunk.”

“Did you ever kiss your best friend?” Jim asked accusingly, and Sam ducked his head.

“Well, no, I don’t really drink. Ever.”

With a sigh, Jim turned his horse back to the house. Sam followed. “Then I don’t see why you think you can tell me it’s going to be okay.”

Beside him, Sam sighed, hands limp in the saddle. “I guess I just don’t really know what else to say.”

Jim’s breath faltered. “Me either,” he admitted, and they rode the rest of the way home without a word.

Chapter Text

The week following the kiss was a struggle, no matter how Jim tried to make things better. Spock simply wouldn’t talk to him. He spoke to him, sure. “Please pass the salt,” “I am attempting to meditate,” “No I do not wish to accompany you to the museum,” and things of that nature, but he didn’t talk to him.

Jim tried, he really did. He tried bringing it up again after Spock had had a day to calm down. That conversation ended in much the same way as the first, so he tried not bringing it up, pretending everything was okay and nothing had happened. He thought that’s what Spock wanted, but the matter stood that everything wasn’t okay, and Jim was terrified that it wouldn’t be for a long time.

Luckily, Sam kept him out of the house a lot. He went with him into town, played chess with him (though he wasn’t as much a challenge as Spock was), and did end up telling Jim all about space, just like Jim had wanted. Sometimes it was enough to distract him. Other times-- often-- he could only enjoy himself for a moment before the guilt crept back into his head. He came up with a thousand different ways to apologize, to make up for it, to broach the subject, but he dismissed each of them. He had to admit to himself that he didn’t know what to do.

His parents noticed, but they hadn’t been able to get a word out of either of them about what happened. They’d been dealing with Jim and Spock bickering since the boys were thirteen years old. At first, they treated this latest argument like that, but after a few days it became obvious that something was drastically different. Family dinners became a little more quiet.

Since Spock wasn’t speaking to him, Jim found out a lot of things second-hand. Things Spock would have talked to him about, maybe even asked for his advice about-- if it had been any other time.

Jim had to learn from his mother that Sarek and Amanda were coming for a visit.

“I’m surprised he didn’t tell you,” Winona said, yanking out another weed from the dark soil where she was kneeling next to Jim. The weeds were particularly invasive this year, and Jim had decided to help her out. It was something he could do to distract himself, he’d thought, though obviously that wasn’t working.

“He’s not telling me much lately,” Jim said, some of his mood creeping into the words. He took out his frustration on a small sprout, digging the trowel in deep to get at its roots.

Winona paused just long enough to give Jim a worried look, but she knew better than to ask. She’d already tried that too many times to think it would work now.

“Well, then you should probably know they’re not just coming for a social visit.” She said this with the airy nonchalance of someone who knew her words would not be received well. She was trying to soften the blow, but Jim was so numb at this point he hardly cared why they were visiting. He might not even leave his room the whole time they were there.

“So why are they coming?” Jim asked, if only because that was the question he was expected to ask.

Winona sat back on her heels, resting her dirt-stained, gloved hands in her lap. Jim glanced up. Her face was shaded by a sun hat that lay crooked over her brow, and she looked concerned. “Well, they’re going to take Spock with them to San Francisco, to tour the… the school there. See if he likes it. Amanda says Sarek wants Spock to live in a Vulcan community.”

“Of course he does,” Jim said, attempting to be matter-of-fact about it, though he tore his eyes away from his mom so she wouldn’t see his expression. “He’s always hated that Spock lived with us.”

“No, darling, that’s not it.” Her tone was gentle. “They’ve been very grateful that Spock’s been taken care of. They know we love him like our own.” Jim heard her voice crack a little bit, and she shook her head, setting back to her task. “But now that things are changing, now that it’s more… permanent… well, they need to think in the long term. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone wants what’s best for their family.”

Jim swallowed a hard lump in his throat. He couldn’t let himself think about this right now. He couldn’t let himself worry that this was happening now. That Spock was being given an easy out now, of all times.

Maybe he was quiet for too long. “Honey, it’s going to be okay. If Spock leaves, I mean. You can write to him, call him, whatever you want. And you’ll be in San Francisco yourself in just a couple years.”

“Yeah,” he said, resuming his work on the weeds. He was having trouble looking at her. They were quiet for a little while, and Winona seemed to let the matter drop.

“If he wants to stay, can he stay?” he finally asked, hating himself for how pathetic that sounded.

She smiled at him, “Of course he can, Jim. Your dad and I want to hold onto our boys as long as we can. Spock included. You’re all just growing up too fast.” She said this with a little laugh, though it sounded sad.

Jim had to agree with her on that one.

 

--

 

Spock’s parents arrived the next day. As she had done the last couple visits, Amanda swooped Jim into a bone-crushing hug immediately after doing the same to her son, then moved on to Sam. Though she started in immediately about how big they were getting and how excited she was to see them, Jim knew she could tell something was off. Amanda was perceptive, but it had been so long since she’d seen her son, or the Kirks, that she seemed interested in making the visit a happy one.

Tonight, they all pitched in to cook. Sarek even diced up the tomatoes for marinara sauce while the “kids” worked on the salad. Last month, Jim and Spock had made a blackberry vinaigrette from their garden, and though Spock could likely have just drank the whole jug of it, they still had just enough left for a big family dinner. Under any other circumstances, it would have been a lovely evening.

Winona and Amanda, who had become incredibly close over the last couple years, talked forever about their boys, about how proud they were and how much they’d grown. Amanda would sometimes shoot Spock a sad, apologetic look when Winona told a story about him, as though she knew she had missed so much over the years.

Maybe it would be best, Jim would think in those moments, for Spock to live with his parents. Now that Vulcan was lost, the two were still busy, but not nearly to the same extent, and few tasks called them off-planet. Besides, Spock could easily take care of himself now. He was just two years from graduation. What kind of selfish person would Jim be if he resented Spock for spending those two years with his real family?

But as they sat down to dinner as they’d done every night for more than three years (with the addition of two house guests) Jim looked across the table at his friend and decided he belonged as much with them as he did with Sarek and Amanda.

If this was where he wanted to be, at least.

The conversation remained light all evening, and Jim was grateful that no one mentioned San Francisco. Until they were all stuffed with spaghetti and ready to turn in, at least. They’d chatted for a good hour after everyone had finished eating, and it was already quite late.

“Big day tomorrow,” Winona said with a tight smile at Spock, “checking out San Fran? It’s a great city; I bet you’ll really enjoy it.”

“The facilities there are adequate,” Sarek confirmed. He’d been much more talkative tonight than usual. Funny that now he’d finally started to get comfortable with the family. “Much has been accomplished in little time. The Vulcan Community Center is well-equipped.”

Spock didn’t look enthused, but he didn’t look much of anything these days. “I am interested to see the progress that has been made,” was all he said.

“Then we’d better get some sleep,” Amanda chimed in. “We’ll want to leave nice and early so we can spend the whole day exploring.”

“Jim, will you help Spock set up a bed in your room?” George asked, routine as usual. Jim paled a little bit, but nodded. He glanced at Spock to gauge his friend’s reaction, but there was nothing. Not even resignation.

The two left the room as everyone else began clearing the table and Jim looked at Spock sideways. Spock was always closed-off when his parents came to visit, but Jim knew that this wasn’t a result of that. It was the same cold shoulder he’d been dealing with for days now, and it killed him that he was going to face it all night.

“Good to see your folks,” Jim tried, giving Spock a little smile, though he didn’t really feel it. “It’ll be good for you to spend a couple days with them.”

“Indeed,” Spock said, and Jim looked at his feet as they ascended the stairs. As always, he pulled some blankets from the linen closet, and Spock grabbed a pillow. They headed silently into Jim’s room.

Jim knew Spock preferred to make his bed, so he sat on the edge of his own while Spock worked. He watched his friend’s hands smooth out the folds and remembered the first night they’d done this. They’d argued that night too, Jim remembered. How had they moved so quickly past that one?

“Are you ever going to stop being mad at me?”

Spock paused for the briefest of moments, then continued without looking up at Jim.

“I am not mad at you,” Spock replied, and Jim scoffed.

“Because anger is a human emotion, right?”

“No. You know I am capable. I am simply not angry with you.”

“Then why won’t you talk to me? Or look at me? Or anything?”

Spock did look at Jim then, as if to prove that he could. “I am speaking to you now.”

“But not like… before,” Jim said sadly.

“No, Jim. Not like before.”

And that was all the explanation Jim was going to get, he realized. That was it. And suddenly, he was the angry one. Suddenly he felt his jaw tighten and his fists clench and he stood so he could move out of Spock’s sight, cool off, do anything but look at the guy. He went to his dresser and changed into some comfortable clothes, deciding then and there that if Spock wasn’t going to make the effort to talk it out, then Jim had done all he could. All he was willing and able to do.

Three years of friendship, gone, thanks to one mistake. It wasn’t fair, but that didn’t mean that Jim wasn’t going to blame himself for it.

They went back down to say goodnight to everyone, both of them quiet and reserved, but Sam followed them when they went back upstairs. Before he turned into his own room, he grabbed Jim’s shoulder, letting Spock walk on and turning his brother around.

“Jim, do you want to sleep in my room tonight?” he whispered. “I can’t imagine it’s comfortable in there right now.” He nodded toward Jim’s room where Spock could be seen unbuckling his outer shirt. Jim looked at his shoes, then back up at Sam.

“No, it’s… I’m fine. It’ll be okay. Thanks, though.”

Sam gave him a small smile, patted his shoulder, and ducked into his room. Jim followed Spock’s footsteps, crawling into bed without ceremony. Spock did the same.

“Lights,” Jim said, and the room went dark. It was the last word either of them said that night.

Jim heard Spock leave the next morning. True to Amanda’s word, it was early, but Spock already had a bag packed by the door and he didn’t make much noise as he awoke, dressed, and left the room. Jim had his back to him the whole time, but knew Spock’s movements so well by now it felt as though  he were looking at him. Part of him wanted to ask Spock not to go, but maybe a couple days in the big city would remind Spock about all the great things waiting for him in Iowa.

Spock might come home with a desire to reconcile, He might apologize, explain to Jim that he was just unsure how to respond to Jim’s unpredictable human emotions, and then Jim could explain to Spock that he didn’t really know how to either. Maybe they could laugh about it and put it behind them and Spock could decide to stay.

The hope that thought instilled in him was enough to ease his heart a little.

 

--

 

The next two days were a bit of a blur. Jim wavered between sadness, fury and cautious optimism, depending on the memory that cropped up. Part of him hated Spock for being so closed-off, for refusing Jim’s apologies, for shoving things aside. Another part of him cared so much about the guy that all he wanted to do was message him and tell him to come home. But he knew even in his darkest moments that it was a bad idea.

He spent a lot of time with Sam, looking at pictures his brother had taken on observation decks and on the surfaces of strange and untamed planets. Though Jim was interested, he couldn’t keep his attention on any one thing for very long.

When his friends called to hang out, he politely declined; when his parents asked him to go into town with them, he politely declined. Winona seemed convinced that Jim was just worried about Spock leaving, so every time they talked she tried to remind him how easy it was to keep in touch, and how nice it would be to visit the big city.

It didn’t really help much, especially because Spock hadn’t sent him a single message since he’d been gone. Easy to keep in touch, sure. But he just needed time, Jim kept telling himself.

He just needed time.

On the third day, when a transport pulled up to the house, Jim looked out the window with almost puppy-like eagerness. He’d been sitting in the living room reading when he’d heard the hum of the car. In a second he got to his feet to take a look.

Well, it was Spock. And he was alone. He stepped out of the car, closed the door, and it drove off. That could only be a good sign. Jim figured that if Spock wanted to stay in San Fran, he’d just stay. Maybe this was the start of a new chapter. They could get off on a better foot.

When the front door opened and Spock came in, Jim couldn’t help smiling at him. He shuffled over to the door while Spock removed his shoes. “Hey, Spock,” Jim said, trying to sound neutral. “Welcome back.”

Spock didn’t look up. “Thank you.”

Jim’s blood chilled. Two days away, and nothing had changed? Really?

“Did you… have a good time?” He had promised himself that he wasn’t going to try anymore, not until Spock did, but he couldn’t help it. Giving up now just wasn’t an option, and this was the easiest way for him to ask if Spock had decided to come home and stay home.

“The experience was enlightening.” Spock, having finished with his shoes, passed right by Jim and made his way toward the stairs. Jim followed him.

“Enlightening. That’s… good. What did you do?”

“There are many Vulcans currently settling in San Francisco. I was able to spend the majority of my visit in their company. My father was correct that the work they have done is impressive.”

Jim cleared his throat, which was suddenly very tight. “Right, yeah, I bet it is.”

“If there is something you wish to ask, I request that you ask it.” Spock said, sounding almost tired as he made his way into his bedroom. Again, Jim followed, though he stayed in the doorway, unwilling to fully intrude.

It took him a moment, watching Spock’s back as the Vulcan knelt and reached under his bed.

“Are you going to move, then?” he finally asked, though his question had its answer the moment Spock stood, holding a duffel bag in his hands. He turned to regard Jim, whose face had fallen.

Jim felt it happening, felt his mouth opening fruitlessly for something to say, felt his shoulders sinking.

“I will be leaving this evening, yes.”

“Oh.”

“You are upset.”

Jim watched Spock stand, open the bag on his bed, and move about the room as though this whole thing didn’t have a single effect on him. “Of course I’m upset,” he said, and he wasn’t sure if it was sadness or anger that made his voice waver. “Aren’t you? You’ve lived here three years, Spock. Now you’re just… just leaving? What are you going to tell my parents? Sam? What were you going to tell me ?”

Spock paused at his closet and turned around, giving Jim a careful look. “I informed your parents in a note that I would arrive today to collect my things. They are aware, and I will of course thank them. They have been hospitable beyond what was asked of them. I also must thank you and your brother. Both of you have shown me great kindness.”

Jim shook his head, taking in a steadying breath. “‘Great kindness?’ Holy shit, Spock, you’re my best friend .”

For the first time in days, Spock’s face betrayed the slightest bit of emotion. The harsh tilt of his eyebrows softened, and for a moment Jim was sure that was his in, but then Spock straightened his shirt with a tug and fastened his face back into place. He turned back to his closet and began unloading his few possessions into the bag on his bed. “I am not capable of sustaining human friendship,” he said finally. “Nor do I wish to. It is imperative that I devote myself to my studies so I may assist in the rebuilding of my race.”

Jim’s clenched his fists. “Spock, this is your home--”

“It is your home.”

This is your home ,” Jim repeated, each word practically spat at Spock’s feet, “and we’re your family . Saying we’re a distraction? Saying we make you weak? That--”

“I did not say--”
“Yeah, you did, Spock. That’s exactly what you said. Since the second you got here, all we’ve done is care about you. How can you just walk away like that doesn’t matter? Like you won’t be hurting anyone?”

“You do not need me. I am, at best, a burden to your parents,” Spock said, voice climbing in volume as he set the stubs of his meditation candles into the bag. “It is better that I leave now than continue to play into your fantasy that I am a member of this family. I do not belong here. I belong with my people. As I am finally able to rejoin them, it is only logical--”

Jim slammed his hand on the doorframe, startling even himself, but it stopped Spock mid-sentence and certainly drew his attention.

“What’s logical about running away? All because of some stupid argument--”

“My decision has nothing to do with you.”

“What else would it be about?!”
“Perhaps the occupation of my planet. The isolation of living in a rural human community. The growing disconnect between myself and my culture. There are many reasons to leave. Very few to stay.”

Jim just stared at him, feeling heated, furious, terrified, like a cornered animal lashing out. Spock turned away from him, dug some socks out of a drawer and began placing them into the bag. He was aware of Jim’s eyes on him, but he was doing an admirable job ignoring it.

“I request that you leave,” Spock said finally, and Jim stiffened, feet remaining firmly planted in the doorway. Looking up, Spock practically glared at him. “Your stubbornness does you no credit. You are no longer a child and I see no point in your acting like one.”

Jim shook his head. “I’m not leaving until you talk to me.You’re the one who’s being childish. I don’t just run away from my problems.”

Spock strode toward him, a fire in his eyes that Jim hadn’t seen since the incident with that bully so long ago, but he stood his ground. Spock put a hand on the door, as though threatening to slam it in Jim’s face.

“Perhaps you should,” Spock said, and he began to push the door closed. Jim reached out on instinct, slammed his hand over Spock’s to stop him, and felt a wave of rage wash over him from the contact. Spock’s walls were down this time, painfully so, and Jim could feel every tic of frustration, every burn of anger, and an overwhelming desire to be alone. More than that, he felt each of these emotions directed at him, shooting into him like bullets. He immediately pulled his hand away, too shocked to say anything or do anything but take a swift step back.

Spock slammed the door the moment Jim was clear of it.

He wanted to yell something, get the last word in, but the feeling of Spock’s anger had dampened his own. What he’d felt coming off his friend… it had been one step below hatred, unrestrained and undeniable.

Even Jim couldn’t pretend there was any hope of fixing that.

 

--

 

Winona cried when she hugged Spock goodbye, asking his permission before she wrapped her arms around him. “You be safe, have a good time, and come to visit anytime you want to. There’s always a place for you here,” she said, wiping away a tear with a shaky hand after she pulled away.

“Thank you, Winona. You have been very kind.”

George, doing his best to restrain his own tears, took his turn to wrap Spock in a tight hug. “What she said,” he mumbled. “We’ll miss you around here.” Spock looked a little strained, as though maintaining his mental boundaries was doing a number on him, but he was holding it together better than the rest of the family.

When Sam went in for a hug, he patted Spock on the back a few times. “Keep in touch, kid,” he said smiling. “You’re gonna do great out there.” He held Spock out at arm’s length, clapped his shoulder and released him. Spock straightened himself, face betraying nothing.

“Thank you.” He replied, then took a step back to address the rest of them, “I am grateful for your hospitality, and your friendship.” Spock replied.

He turned his eyes to Jim-- Jim, who was last in the line of goodbyes, standing in the orange light of the setting sun in the dirt of his driveway, heart threatening to burst from his chest it was beating so fast. He wanted to reach out and wrap Spock in his arms too, would’ve given anything to bust into tears like his mom, or to have the courage to smile like Sam, but he didn’t.

When Spock looked to him, Jim just lifted the Vulcan salute, and Spock returned it. “Good luck, Spock” Jim managed to say around the lump in his throat, and Spock’s jaw tightened.

“Live long and prosper, Jim,” he replied.

The Vulcan hefted his bag onto his shoulder and made his way to the idling car that had been waiting for him. When he got in and settled his bag on the seat beside him, he glanced once more at the family. They were all waving, Winona with a hand tight around her husband’s arm, Sam with an arm around Jim’s shoulders. Spock met Jim’s eyes for a moment, then slammed the door shut. Jim felt the sound like a punch in the gut. He winced, and his brother’s arm around him tightened.

 

--

 

“Hey Spock, just thought I’d let you know I beat Johnny in the pre-regionals tournament. Revenge is sweet, right?”

[Your message has not been sent. Delete anyway?]

[Deleted]

“Hey, Spock, Check out this picture of Miss Merry-Feathers. I think she misses you. She keeps terrorizing the other birds.”

[Your message has not been sent. Delete anyway?]

[Deleted]

“Hey, Spock, I hope San Fran is treating you all right. Nothing new here. Tell your folks I say hi.”

[Your message has not been sent. Delete anyway?]

[Deleted]

“Hey, Spock, remember that time you got drunk on hot chocolate? I tried switching to tea. Don’t know what you ever saw in this stuff. It’s horrible.”

[Your message has not been sent. Delete anyway?]

[Deleted]

“Hey, Spock, how are you doing? I’m good here. Just putting in my Starfleet application. Always kind of thought we’d be doing that together. Live and learn, right?

[Your message has not been sent. Delete anyway?]

[Deleted]

“Hey, Spock. It’s weird not having you around. Sometimes I forget you’re gone. Pathetic, right? Just wanted to tell you I’m sorry for everything. Keep thinking if I say it just one more time you’ll actually accept it. I can’t believe you called *me* stubborn, you ass. Anyway, I miss you.”

[Your message has not been sent. Delete anyway?]

[Deleted]

Chapter Text

Two years later

The most crowded place Jim had ever been was Riverside High on homecoming night, but San Francisco was in a different league entirely. The whole experience was fascinating, though. The second he stepped off the transporter pad outside Starfleet Academy, his eyes were drawn in a thousand different directions.

Signs scrolled along the sidewalk in every language he’d heard of, and many he hadn’t. People in colorful outfits crossed the street between two levels and six lanes of hovering traffic. Two levels. Six lanes. The sound of humming energy and disjointed conversations was cacophonous, deafening in comparison to the quiet of home. Jim was thrilled.

Grin firmly in place, he made sure he had a good grip on his duffel bag and set out toward the glimmering silver and glass towers that made up his new home, his new school, his new life. Sure, he might not be a Starfleet admiral just yet, but he was well on his way to feeling like dreams really did come true.

A nice older woman at the front desk directed him to a computer terminal where he could look up his room assignment. From there, she’d said, the computers would be personalized to show him his class schedule, homework assignments, academic requirements, and contact information for all purposes and campus facilities.

“Fancy,” he’d said, and she’d smiled at him.

“Not from around here, I’m guessing?”

Maybe it was his bright-eyed wonder or the fact that he was wearing a flannel shirt in Southern California, but he had a feeling that hadn’t been a very hard guess.

“Iowa, actually,” he said. “But considering some cadets are coming from the other side of the quadrant, I’ve got it pretty good.”

She smiled, wished him well, and sent him on his way, and he was glad as he walked off that not everything was being handled by computers. Not that he had anything against technology; he loved it. But there was nothing like a genuine human smile to make someone feel welcome.

Without too much trouble, he called up his room assignment on the terminal, checked the map and started the task of navigating the academy’s labyrinthine hallways. He passed what looked like a mess hall, the location of which he punched into his communicator for future reference, and found his eyes wandering to all the people passing by him.

Plenty of humans, he noticed, with a few Bolians, Andorians, Orions, you name it. Plus a fair number of Vulcans. They were easy to spot, even the ones in standard Starfleet uniforms, as they wafted more than walked down the crowded hallways.

He didn’t linger too long on any of the Vulcans’ faces, though part of him wondered what the odds were of accidentally running into his old friend in a city the size of San Francisco, let alone within the academy itself. If Spock were there, he could’ve told him off the top of his head what the odds were, but Jim didn’t really need to know. In fact, he preferred not to.

Pushing it from his mind, he eventually found his room, three floors up. Though he shared a building with the mess hall and the gym, it was about as far away as possible from the side of campus where his classes would be. Freshman luck, he supposed.

When he punched in the code he’d been given and walked in, a friendly computer voice greeted “Hello, Cadet James Tiberius Kirk,” and he jumped. This would take some getting used to.

“James Tiberius Kirk, huh? Well, at least you’re human.” a voice said from the other side of the room. It bore a distinct southern drawl.

Jim glanced over, seeing a man lying on one of the beds, wearing cadet reds and looking thoroughly bored with whatever he was reading on his datapadd.

“Oh, hi,” Jim greeted, tossing his bag on the other bed and approaching the man. “You can call me Jim.” He held out his hand.

His roommate was a fair bit older than him, he noticed with some surprise. At the very least five or six years. He stood, took Jim’s hand and shook it once. “McCoy, Leonard McCoy,” he said, followed almost immediately by “What are you, twelve?”

Jim laughed, “Eighteen,” he said, “What are you? Sixty?”

“Very funny, kid,” McCoy said, though he smiled slightly. “What track are you on?” he asked, and Jim wasn’t sure if he was interested or just being polite.Though the question mostly like an interrogation.

“Command,” Jim said with a proud tilt to his chin, flashing his teeth in what he considered to be a captainy smile.

McCoy scoffed, “Angels and ministers of grace, defend us,” he said, and sank back down onto his bed, “but kids like you are the future, or so they keep saying.”

Jim set about the task of unpacking, not taking the slightest bit of offense to McCoy’s manner. It had been a while since he’d been razzed, since Marlena left on her off-planet internship, really, so it was refreshing. “What about you?” he asked, “What track are you on?

“Medical. I was a nurse before I joined, but you’ll be calling me Doctor McCoy here soon.” McCoy responded gruffly.

“That’s exciting-- A good old-fashioned sawbones.” Jim chuckled at himself, “Almost graduated?” He figured, based on the man’s age, he must be.

“Oh, I wish,” McCoy said, “but they wouldn’t stick me in the kids’ corner if I were. No, I’m first-year, same as you.”

Jim opened up his closet (which actually swished open instead of creaking on century-old hinges; what a world) and began hanging up his civilian clothes alongside the cadet uniforms that were already waiting for him. “Where are you from?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Georgia,” the man replied, and Jim wasn’t exactly surprised. “Born and raised. How about you, kid?”

“Iowa. Riverside. Well, near Riverside.”

McCoy let out a low whistle. “Never heard of Riverside. Leads me to guess you were deeper in the countryside than me.”

“Probably,” Jim laughed. “I grew up on a farm.”

Jim saw McCoy smiling at him out of the corner of his eye. “Good. Means you’ve got some sense of the Earth at least. Some folks are so eager to warp right to the other side of the galaxy, but I say it ain’t natural, shooting people into the sky.”

“You do realize you’re in Starfleet, right? Pretty much guaranteed to go to space.”

“Well, we all make bad decisions.”

“Hopefully this won’t be one of them,” Jim said with an optimistic grin.

McCoy gave him a skeptical look. “Sure, kid.”

 

--

Though the first week of training was busier than Jim imagined, he never once questioned that this was where he wanted to be. He figured this was the price he paid for a life of exploration and purpose, which wasn’t too bad a deal when he thought about it.

Unfortunately he didn’t have much time to think about it. Every day, he had to run from one end of the campus to the other, sometimes with only five minutes to spare, while consistently trying to get his brain to change tack.

First hour, he’d be taking rapid-fire notes on Applied Warp Theory from a professor who never once paused to breathe. Next hour, he’d struggle through Xenolinguistics 101 with a professor who must have assumed she was teaching Xenolinguistics for Advanced Speakers of Klingon. If it weren’t for the helpful cadet who sat next to him (Uhura, he finally learned after a week), he would’ve drowned in it immediately. From there it was a brief break for lunch, then on to physical and weapons training, which tired him out just in time for History of Starfleet and its Directives. He’d end each day with Biology, which at least meant that if he needed help he could call Sam right after class when it was still fresh in his head.

His dad had warned him that the command track was the hardest. “You have to be prepared for anything,” George had said, “so you have to know everything.”

Jim didn’t know if his brain had enough room for everything, but he was certainly trying. His roommate was a surprisingly good help. About as academically driven as Jim was, he always had a pot of coffee brewing (the “real stuff”) and though none of their classes were together, they formed a kind of informal study group of two, taking meals together and hitting their individual books.

Exhausted though he was, Jim called home that first week in high spirits.

“Jim!” Winona shouted, and he shot Bones (as he’d taken to calling him) an apologetic look. Jim was at his computer terminal, only a few feet away, but Bones was so absorbed in his reading he didn’t even notice.

“Hi mom,” Jim said with a smile, trying to lead by example by keeping his voice at normal volume. “How’s it going?”

“I don’t know why you’re asking me. You’re the one in Starfleet! George!” She called to the other room, “It’s Jim!”

She looked back to him. “How was your first week?”

He decided he wasn’t going to admit to being tired. If he was to be in charge of a ship someday, he had to learn to suck it up. “It’s great! Classes are interesting. I think I’ll do great in Warp Theory, but Xenolinguistics is a challenge and a half.”

She gave him an encouraging smile before George came into the picture, pulling up a chair beside his wife. Jim waved at him, “hi, dad.”

George’s eyes went immediately to Jim’s cadet uniform with the insignia polished bright. He smiled warmly. Jim had worked his whole life to get that look of pride on his dad’s face, and it made him glow.

“Look at you, Jim. You make admiral yet?”

“Working on it, dad,” he laughed.

“I bet you’re doing great,” George responded, “I always knew I’d see you in that uniform someday.”

“Just wait ‘til I’m wearing command gold,” Jim said wistfully. “I don’t think red is my color.”

“Have you made any friends?” Winona asked, and Jim shot a glance to Bones, who was sitting at his own computer terminal and looking like he was trying not to eavesdrop.

“Well, my roommate’s alright in a pinch,” he said with a smile, “Bones, come say hi to my parents.”

“Don’t call me Bones, kid,” Bones grumbled. But he seemed more than willing to stand and get himself in view of the screen. “Leonard McCoy,” he said, voice almost lilting as he flashed Jim’s parents a smile. “Nice to make your acquaintance.” Jim rolled his eyes. If the guy’d been wearing a hat he would have tipped it.

“Don’t let him fool you, he’s not nearly this polite to me,” Jim said, though everyone ignored him.

The Kirks waved, “Nice to meet you too,” Winona said, “Is Jim staying out of trouble?”

“I’m lookin’ out for him ma’am, don’t you worry,” Bones said, winking, and Jim raised an eyebrow. Apparently he could be polite to the right people.

Winona’s face split into a wide grin. “Well aren’t you just precious. I like him, Jim!”

Bones gave Winona a winning smile. “Clearly you’re a woman of impeccable taste.”

She giggled, and Jim put his head in his hand. “Alright, that’s enough,” Jim said. “You know my dad’s right there.”

George laughed, clearly not perturbed. “Well he’s not wrong, Jim.”

Jim shot his dad a withering look.

“So why does he call you Bones? Doesn’t sound much like Leonard.” Winona asked, settling her head on her hand and looking for all the world like a flirty teenager.

“Beat’s me, but if you got any ideas how to make him stop, I’d appreciate it ma’am.” Bones replied, a little more grumpy. That was more the Bones that Jim knew.

“He’s training to be a surgeon,” Jim explained, drawing his parents’ attention again.

“Oh, a sawbones,” George said in understanding, and Jim gave Bones a look.

“See, I’m not the only one who still says that.”

Bones sighed, “Looks like the nickname’s there to stick.”

Jim smiled out the side of his mouth, “It’s better than ‘kid,’” he said, and his parents laughed.

“Alright alright, I’ve hung around long enough,” Bones said with a slight nod and a smile.He began to duck out of the screen. “I should leave you to it. Good to meet you, Sir.” he said to George, “And you, ma’am, your son never did tell me his mom was a right beauty.” Augh, h’ed dug in one last little flirt before Jim could stop him.

Winona cooed as Bones said “G’night” and headed back to his computer. Jim turned back to the screen.

“Never mind,” Jim said, “I no longer have any friends here. Bones is dead to me.”

From a few feet to his left, Bones let out a snort.

“Well then you can just send him here to us.” Winona laughed. Jim did not look enthused. “And you’ll just have to make some new friends. I’m sure you’ll have a chance to meet plenty of people,” she said that last bit more seriously. “That’s the best thing about Starfleet. It brings in all kinds. Especially nowadays.” She was referring, of course, to the influx of Vulcan recruits, anxious to assist in Starfleet’s cause to drive back the Romulans.

“Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever get a break from studying, so maybe I’ll be fine without friends,” Jim joked, though he sort of believed it.

“That will even out,” George said, and Winona nodded.

“It sure will. You’ve just gotta get used to the pace is all.”

“Hopefully that happens sooner rather than later,” Jim said, running a hand through his hair. At least I’ve got the weekend.”

“Any plans?”

“Oh, I might just explore the city,” Jim said. He’d always wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge up close, and he had a shameful interest in checking out the Vulcan Community Center. Over the years it had become a real hub of scientific learning.

“You’ll have such a great time,” Winona said. “Just promise me you’ll stay safe.”

“‘Course I will,” Jim said, “Now tell me about you guys. How’s the farm?”

They chatted for a little longer. The updates from home were few. They’d gone to the state fair, picked up a new cow, hired a neighbor kid to help them with the livestock and the garden now that all (“both,” Jim mentally corrected) their children were gone.

All-in-all, though, not much happened in Riverside after one week, so there wasn’t more to say. That was all right. Jim had a lot to do when his parents signed off.

“Nice folks,” Bones spoke up from his computer, and Jim smiled.

“Especially if you butter them up, you flirt.”

Bones chuckled, “It’s my natural southern charm.”

“Which only extends to women apparently.”

Bones let out a bark of a laugh. “You try tellin’ that to my ex-wife. I don’t think charming’s the word she’d use.”

Jim started, a little surprised. “You were married?”

Shrugging, Bones set his datapadd to the side. “For a time. Got a daughter, too.”

“You what ?” Apparently in the process of getting to know his new friend, he’d missed a few key questions.

Bones got to his feet and dragged a chair over to Jim’s desk, pulling a picture from his pocket. He handed it to Jim as he sat down. It was an old-fashioned kind of photo, printed rather than digital, which made it seem somehow more precious. The child pictured couldn’t have been more than two years old, with chubby cheeks and a floof of brown hair settled on her head like a cottonball.

“Joanna,” Bones said, a sad little smile blooming as he watched Jim examine the photo. “She’s with her momma right now, probably for a good long while.” Jim handed the photo back and Bones took a glance at it before putting it back in his pocket. “So if you ever wonder why I drink, that’s it right there.”

“I’m sorry, Bones. Do you get to see her?”

Bones just shrugged, “No, but that’s how her mom wants it. I’m working on getting more visitation rights but, you know, once I’m up there,” he shot a distasteful look in the general direction of outer space, “it isn’t gonna matter much.”

“She’s really cute,” Jim said, not really knowing what else he could say. Bones seemed to appreciate that, though.

“Isn’t she? Smart as a whip, too. Just you wait. She’ll be running the Federation by the time she’s my age.” Jim smiled, glad at least the thought of his daughter could still make Bones happy.

Though he hated himself for it, his mind drifted back to how it was after Spock left. Jim’s parents had been so sad, especially when their attempts to reach out weren’t met with much. Each time they sent a care package along, Spock had responded with a very polite thank-you, but nothing more. He wondered if they’d ever felt like Bones did-- disconnected. The thought broke his heart a little.

“Alright, enough reminiscing,” Bones said, and for a second Jim thought Bones was talking to him. The man stood and dragged his chair back to his computer terminal. “Want to grab a bite? I got some test results to look over and I’m sure you’re just dyin’ to get to your History paper.”

Jim gave him a wry smile. “Dying? That’s probably a good word for it. This semester already feels like dying.”

“Don’t I know it,” Bones laughed, slapping Jim on the shoulder.

 

--

 

When the weekend did finally roll around, Jim tried convincing Bones to go sight-seeing, but the second he mentioned the VCC, Bones lost interest in the idea. Besides, Bones had said, he was just starting his big project of the semester. From now on, all his Saturdays would be spent in the lab.

Jim didn’t envy him, but he figured that was a good enough excuse to pass up playing tourist. Since Jim had finished all of his homework in record time, he left the academy without a worry in his mind the next day.

Well, there were a few worries. For one, the crowds. Jim had managed to figure out the train schedule to the extent that he could make it from Starfleet to the bridge and from the bridge to the VCC, but he hadn’t counted on being packed into the narrow tube for a good ten minutes, arms squished to his sides, other people’s elbows sticking into his back and ribs, while he was shot across the landscape. He figured he could handle this, though, if he was planning on handling shooting across the galaxy at warp speed.

Sometimes his future career put things in perspective for him.

When he did arrive at the Golden Gate Bridge, he disembarked with a few other tourists. They were easy enough to identify, because all of them had the same bright looks of awe on their faces when they stared upwards. He decided to see if he could stroll all the way down it without wasting too much time, breathing in the sea air and letting the wind whip his hair. Though how much of it was wind and how much of it was the cars speeding past, he couldn’t really say.

The heights didn’t get him, not like some of the tourists who remained as far from the edge as they could. No, Jim kept glancing down into the ocean below and imagining the years when it was teeming with sealife. There were still fish, sure, but Jim would’ve given anything to see the shadow of a whale pass underfoot.

It took him about an hour to walk the bridge’s length and make his way back to the transport terminal, and though the sun was roasting him, he felt incredibly content.

Part of him was loathe to meddle with that contentment by making the next stop on his itinerary. He did want to see the VCC. It was state-of-the-art, a brand new building in the heart of downtown, and it contained all the labs, equipment and gadgets anyone could hope for, plus an understandably quiet atmosphere, but there was always a chance, his brain kept saying, that he’d see Spock there.

It was this war that had been raging inside him for two years now, the desire to see Spock constantly fighting against the knowledge that Spock would be different, and probably still furious. But even so, Jim had always been the one person who could get at Spock, the real Spock underneath all the Vulcan control, and somewhere in there he still believed that he could.

He reminded himself that the possibility of seeing Spock wasn’t very high. the Vulcan population of San Francisco had boomed, so he’d likely run into a few hundred Vulcans before he ran into his old friend. Then, if he did -- well, he’d cross that bridge too.

He spent another uncomfortable stretch of time on the train, though fewer tourists were heading to his new destination at least. He almost missed his stop, as the VCC wasn’t announced over the intercom like more prominent destinations were, but he managed to slip out right before the doors closed behind him, ascending a few stairs to where the Community Center loomed large in front of him.

It was logically simple in design, tall and circular like a tower, with wide windows that reflected the late afternoon sunshine. Though it was impressive to look at, it was dwarfed by neighboring buildings. He supposed it wouldn’t be logical to make a community center into a skyscraper. The sign wasn’t flashy, merely a black plaque with gold lettering in English and Vulcan. Not that the dual language was necessary; every Vulcan knew English, but Jim figured it was one of those rare sentimental touches that Vulcans as a whole would pretend wasn’t sentimental.

He smiled, and made his way inside. As expected, it was sparse in decoration. The only thing of note in the main room was a large, circular central desk. Above it, screens scrolled with various announcements-- “Learning pod three deactivated until further notice,” read one, “Please direct all inquiries to the front desk,” read another. Well, he did have an inquiry, so he made his way to the desk where a young Vulcan sat stock still and staring forward.

Jim couldn’t get a read on the guy, but he assumed by his cold stare that he was a little suspicious of Jim’s presence. He didn’t know if it would’ve been better or worse if he’d come in his cadet uniform. As it was, wearing plaid and old jeans may not have been the best choice either.

“Hello,” Jim greeted and, out of habit, followed it with “How are you doing today?”

The Vulcan stared him down as though Jim were asking him some trick question. “I am here,” he responded, and Jim forced himself not to grin a little harder at that. “May I assist you?” The implication of that statement was ‘are you lost?’ but Jim just powered through.

“I was just interested in seeing the facilities here. I understand they’re impressive,” he said. If there was one way to get in a Vulcan’s good graces, flattery was it.

A single eyebrow quirked. “I do not understand your objective,” he said.

It really took other Vulcans to remind Jim how open Spock had been.

“Uh, can I walk around?”

There was a pause. “You may. Do not talk or vocalize loudly. Do not touch anyone. Do not ask questions of anyone but myself. If you become lost, consult the directory, which is placed at every 25 feet along the wall. Do not enter a closed room. If you are asked to leave, do so immediately.”

“House rules?”

The Vulcan didn’t seem to want to dignify that with a response.

“All right,” Jim said, holding up his hands in deference. “I’ll keep all that in mind.”

“Please stand still while we scan you for security purposes,” the Vulcan said. He pressed a button before Jim could confirm anything and he felt the telltale humming of a scanner being swept over him. It must have been housed in the desk, he realized. Smart. There’d been enough violence against Vulcans following the Romulan occupation, he didn’t blame them for being a little cautious. As far as he knew, this community center itself hadn’t been targeted, but enough anti-Vulcan sentiment had cropped up to make anyone nervous.

The scanner stopped with a sound like a zip, and the Vulcan nodded. “Proceed.”

“Thanks,” Jim said, waving. “Have a good day.”

He made his way around the desk and glanced around. There was only one hallway, so Jim went through it, taking his time to take in the decor of the place.

Small, simple beige couches, the same color as the walls, were set beside most doors. The carpet, lacking in pattern, was a dark, deep brown, and didn’t look to have a speck of dirt on it.

Occasionally, as he made his way down the hallway, he caught sight of a geometrically perfect tapestry or mural, always small, always brightly colored in contrast to its drab surroundings. Each of these little touches drove home the realization that this little building was meant to house the culture of an entire planet that was no longer able to do so.

That was an incredibly sobering thought.

He passed some Vulcans as he wandered, but the place wasn’t exactly bustling. Few bothered to give him a passing glance. They each wore those dark robe-like clothes Spock and Sarek had always sported, and many of them even had the same haircut, which never failed to throw Jim for a loop.

Attempting to keep to himself as much as possible, Jim only ever paused to look into open rooms. In one, a selection of stringed instruments was propped up on stands, arranged in a perfect semi-circle. In another, he noticed the floor was covered in mats, much like the ones in Starfleet’s martial arts training rooms.

Past these, the hallway split into two semi circles, and Jim figured the building must be laid out entirely in semi-circles. It was a little more aesthetic than logical, but he didn’t fault the Vulcans for it. Instead, he just turned right and kept moving.

In this wing, more people were mingling. He passed by a room where a tall, elegantly dressed Vulcan woman seemed to be giving a lecture. Outside that room, two Vulcans (a couple, maybe) sat on one of the short beige couches. There were a few more groups conversing quietly as he passed, but because people-watching wasn’t exactly the point of the tour, it took him a moment to figure out who was speaking when he heard his name.

“James Kirk?”

He had just passed a stoic group of three, and he realized when he turned to them that they’d shifted their focus entirely on Jim.

He probably should have recognized Sarek immediately, but for whatever reason he hadn’t even considered that the man would be here. Silly, really. He should’ve known better.

“Ambassador? Oh, I-- wow, hi there!” He tried not to wince visibly at his fumbling, but wasn’t sure how successful he was. The two Vulcans flanking Sarek tilted their chins, then turned to the ambassador.

Sarek nodded at them, which looked to be a dismissal. “I will join you in short order.”

They both nodded and slipped off, betraying nothing, though Jim felt as though he’d just snatched Sarek out of some important discussion.

He stood awkwardly as Sarek approached him, and remembered to lift the salute just in time. “It’s good to see you, Ambassador,” he said, though he wasn’t sure that was accurate. He’d never exactly been comfortable around the guy, and after how things had ended with his son, well Jim was just amazed Sarek even wanted to speak with him.

“May I inquire as to the nature of your visit? I believed you were still in Iowa.”

Jim shrugged, “I’m in Starfleet now,” he said, preparing for the Starfleet-induced look of distaste that showed up in the curl of Sarek’s nose. He did his best to push past it. “I’d heard the resources here were a sight to see, so… well, I decided to see it.”

Jim so rarely had trouble talking to people. Of course he only stumbled this much when it was important.

“You have come to… tour the center? That is not common.”

“Really? I’d expect everyone would be clamoring to check it out. I heard you had a miniaturized antimatter converter in the basement.” He always tried, in Sarek’s presence, to be a little less animated than his usual self, but there were some things he couldn’t help getting a little excited over.

Sarek raised an eyebrow that brought up a few old memories. “Indeed. If you are interested, I may show it to you.”

It took a lot of self control to not allow his jaw to drop to the floor like it wanted to.

“I-- I don’t want to keep you.”

“It is of no importance. Come.”

And that was that. Jim found himself walking alongside the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth through the halls of an unfamiliar and entirely alien building, while Sarek guided him, a human kid, patiently through all the features of the VCC.

He took Jim to the workshops where a few folks were slicing at huge slabs of sheet metal with lasers, and to the library where a single Vulcan woman was painstakingly straightening every scroll and bound book on the room’s many shelves. Sarek explained that many who had left the planet before the Romulan occupation had brought relics of home with them. The writings, for instance, as well as a few statuettes and tapestries that decorated the Vulcan equivalent of an art gallery further down the hall.

All the while, Jim asked every question that occurred to him, more interested in keeping Sarek talking than worrying about sounding unintelligent. This was the most time he’d ever spent alone with the man, and it was actually a little heartening. After everything, he had expected to be treated with hostility.

All told, the tour lasted longer than Jim expected (and did include a stop to see the antimatter converter, which didn’t look like much but was an impressive feat of engineering all the same).

Afterwards, Sarek walked him back to the front door, where Jim stood awkwardly before him, scratching his head. “Thank you, Ambassador,” he said, which drew the attention of the young Vulcan at the desk. Jim could read the kid’s expression now. It was decidedly one of scandalized surprise.

“It was not an inconvenience,” Sarek responded, and it looked as though he was about to say something in farewell, but Jim couldn’t help himself from jumping in there first.

“Um-- before I head out-- how is everyone?”

Sarek seemed to assess him for a moment. “You are referring to the emotional well-being of my wife and son.”

“Yes, sir,” Jim said. There was something in Sarek’s tone that suggested the question was illogical.

“Amanda is well. She now coordinates the restoration of damaged cultural relics. Though she is not of Vulcan blood, she manages a wing of this center, and is respected. Spock is also well.”

Jim waited for just a second, hoping Sarek would elaborate on that one. When it didn’t look like he’d do so without prompting, Jim figured it might be best to give up the ghost. The last thing he wanted was for word to get back to Spock that Jim had been inquiring after him.

“Good. That’s… that’s good. I guess I’ll be going then.”

“Indeed. Live long and prosper, James Kirk.”

Jim saluted him. “Peace and long life, Ambassador." He was more than a little proud when Sarek looked surprised at the response. He wanted to tell him that he hadn’t spent four years teaching Spock about human life just to turn around and learn nothing about Vulcans, but he figured that might be pushing it. Sarek turned away, and Jim watched him leave for a moment, then turned toward the door.

When he realized the young man at the front was still staring, Jim just gave a shrug, “Old family friend,” he said with a nod in the Ambassador’s direction, as though Sarek’s indulgence weren’t a complete surprise to him too.

The Vulcan’s lips tightened, but he said nothing.

Jim’s heart felt light on the way out, but he couldn’t help wondering if he should’ve pressed Sarek for more information. It was frustrating to keep coming back to the thought of Spock, but it seemed the universe was conspiring to make him think about his erstwhile friend.

He decided he’d try to ignore the nagging thoughts for now. He’d taken holos at the Golden Gate Bridge that he wanted to send to his family, and to Marlena, and he wanted desperately to talk to Sam about meeting up with Sarek. Sam had always been open-minded about the guy, so he’d probably get a kick out of Sarek playing tour guide.

And that’s where his thoughts went while he got back on the train, leaving the memory of Spock behind, for a time.

 

--

.

It was less than a week after Jim’s visit to the VCC that Bones was the one to broach the subject of Vulcans, barging into their room with a barked and purposeful, “Jim.”

Jim had just gotten back from class and was trying to catch a few minutes of rest, though he sat up when Bones came storming in like a raincloud.

“What, what did I do? I promise I put all my socks in the laundry chute today.”

“This isn’t about your goddamn socks,” Bones said, immediately taking a seat on the edge of his own bed to look Jim square in the eye. “Listen, you’ve had experiences with Vulcans, right?”

Jim was a little startled by the question, but he nodded, “I mean, one Vulcan, two if you’re being generous, but sure.” He had once told Bones very briefly about Spock, a while back when they’d been discussing the impact of the Vulcan-Romulan war. He’d just said he’d had a refugee stay with them, befriended him, nothing more than that, and he hadn’t even mentioned Sarek. Apparently, that counted as experience.

“Then tell me, do they all walk around with a stick up their ass and act like the world revolves around their opinion?”

Jim almost laughed, “I take it you know one who does.”

“He works in the lab,” Bones complained, flopping onto his bed and glaring at Jim like it was his fault. “I’m down there all the time-- all the time . It’s where every Med class is. I know my way around a goddamned tricorder, and he has the gall to walk up like he owns the place and tell me I’m using it wrong? It’s not even his experiment. What does he know?”

Jim found his friend’s ire a little funny, but he wasn’t about to show him that. “I dunno, Bones, did you do something to piss him off?”

“Vulcans can’t get pissed off.”

Jim’s eyes widened and he gave his friend a meaningful look. “Ohhhh yes they can.”

“Well then maybe I did. But that’s no excuse for being a goddamned--”

“Bones, don’t say anything racist.”

Bones glared, in effect telling Jim he was absolutely about to say something racist.

“Well I can’t tell you if they’re all like that,” Jim went on, “but if this one is anything like mine, next time he gets pissy tell him to ‘go meditate.’ He’ll love that.” Jim smiled a little bit at the memory. That had been a surefire way to make Spock speechless.

“No offense, Jim, but I don’t need your help antagonizing the goblin. I can do that plenty fine on my own.”

“Well then I dunno what to tell you,” Jim said with a shrug. “Ask me how to piss a Vulcan off, I got you. Ask me how to mend fences? Not so much.”

Bones rolled his eyes. “Well then thank God you’re going for captain rather than ship’s counselor.”

Jim laughed, “Alright, alright, tell me exactly what happened, and I’ll see what I can do.”

 

--

 

The complaints about the Vulcan’s seemingly innocuous behavior were frequent enough for Jim to wonder if Bones had a fixation. Whoever this guy was had a knack for getting under his skin, and it was really funny to watch. Pre-Vulcan, Bones had been prone to complaining about his ex-wife, which was actually a sad subject, so this new outlet for his anger was appreciated.

Somehow, Bones always turned whatever issue he’d been having with the Vulcan into a problem that Jim could fix, and a problem he was obligated to fix.

He would always ask if a certain mannerism was typical, then ask how to respond in such a way that was either productive or incendiary, depending on his mood. Among these mannerisms: the recurring phrase “I am attempting to…” which usually insinuated “and you are preventing me from doing so.” That got Bones’ goat. There was also the Vulcan’s tendency to deny simple observations, though Jim assured Bones that if he had “observed” that anyone was being arrogant, willfully contrary or sadistic (the words he’d used to his classmate’s face), then they’d probably deny it too, Vulcan or not.

The one that really got to Bones was the “goddamned condescending eyebrow raise” as he put it, which did bring back a lot of memories. Jim had personally never learned how to disarm Spock’s eyebrows, but they did stop feeling quite so condescending after a while. He just told Bones to wait that one out.

Luckily, most of the Vulcan troubles Bones came to Jim with were mannerisms that Spock had displayed at one point or another, so he was glad he could offer his perspective sometimes.

“Okay,” Jim said one night, rubbing his head, “When he tells you something you already know, instead of saying ‘I know,’ which sounds really defensive, say something like ‘that’s true, but I what really want to know is…’ or something like that. My Vulcan was always so excited talking about science, sometimes he’d jump the gun and forget to, you know, listen . It’s not a bad thing-- It’s kind of endearing.”

Bones leveled him a hard look. “Endearing?”

Jim shrugged. “It’s nice when people get excited about things.”

“Vulcans don’t get excited, Jim.”

Jim waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, they’ll say that, but one time my Vulcan stayed up all night , no joke, because he read an article about an insect that he thought sounded ‘fascinating’ and realized they were pretty common in Iowa. He was out bug-hunting for hours. You just gotta forget all that Vulcan propaganda about not having emotions and treat them like people. That’s all they are.”

“Not this one. He’s a menace.”

“I’m sure he’s not that bad.”

“You haven’t met him.”

Well, Bones had him on that one.

“How about you come with me to the VCC this weekend,” Jim said, “I bet you’d learn a lot about them. Might help you get a grip on how to deal with this guy.” Besides, Jim had wanted to go back since his surprisingly successful first visit.

Bones looked thoroughly unenthused about the idea. “I feel like you’re pulling some underhanded trick to get me to be more culturally sensitive.”

Jim put a mocking hand over his heart. “I don’t need to do that, Bones. You’re already the most culturally sensitive person I know.”

Bones leaned forward, leveling a finger at him. “You shut the fuck up, Jim. I know what I am. So what is it? What’s the ploy?”

Jim shrugged. “No ploy. I just think it might do you good to get a Vulcan perspective from someone other than me. Like, you know, a Vulcan.”

Bones paused, sighed, “Gimme ‘til the end of the semester,” he said as he got to his feet and grabbed a book from his desk, presumably to get a start on his own homework. “Once I’m done working in the lab with that monster.”

Jim leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "You know the whole point of me suggesting it was so you could maybe learn a little more about ‘that monster.’”

“I’ll settle for learning how to ignore him,” Bones grumbled.

Jim laughed. “Good luck on that one. It’s been almost a month and he’s still driving you crazy.”

“Good lord, is that all it’s been? I have to suffer through three more months of this?”

“You’ll live.”

“I’m the doctor, I’ll tell you if I’ll live or not.”

Jim decided to let the fact that Bones wasn’t quite a doctor yet slip by, instead focusing on the rest. There were three whole months left in the semester, and he was already running out of Vulcan advice. Maybe, Jim thought, if he did reconnect with Spock someday, that would be  a good excuse to talk.

Chapter Text

Jim had taken to spending his weekends on campus, though he would sometimes float into the city for a concert or a bite to eat. Being a homebody in this case wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Starfleet Academy had amazing resources, flight simulators, open labs, an impressive library of physical and digital books from every planet in the Federation, plus a greenhouse that became one of Jim’s favorite places to go.

The young man who normally monitored the greenhouse, a Cadet Sulu, always welcomed Jim in with a smile, usually happy to show Jim around the newest additions or the plants in bloom. Sometimes, though, he let Jim just wander, which was what Jim really wanted.

Though the greenhouse was nothing like the farm (there was no wheat, it was closed-in, and he hardly recognized any of the plants) it did remind him of being surrounded by nature. He was beginning to understand why Sam had missed home when he left. Jim missed parts of it too, though he couldn’t deny it was nice to get out of the same town he’d lived in all his life.

Aside from visiting those few campus hotspots and occasionally socializing with folks in his classes, he remained pretty focused on his studies. He’d started hanging out with Cadet Uhura, who guided him through Xenolinguistics while he helped her with Basic Warp Mechanics, which thankfully he’d tested out of taking.

It was a pretty great set-up, and he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Uhura. She was an antidote for Bones’ misanthropy: optimistic, excitable, and thankfully a better teacher than the professor who was supposed to be teaching their class.

There would be times, while he watched Uhura’s bright earrings sway as she spoke or watched her brush a bit of flyaway hair back into her bun, that he’d consider asking her out. She’d laugh at him trying to pronounce Klingon or she’d read him example sentences in alien languages as elegantly as if she were a native speaker, and he’d think he could like her a lot. But it was probably because he liked her that he never made a move.

His policy for a couple years now had been not to date people he truly connected to. The possibility of losing that connection was way too high, so he’d much rather keep people he liked around for friendship’s sake. Uhura wasn’t likely to be a date, but she was the best study-buddy he could’ve asked for, and he was glad of that.

Though he was beginning to make a few more friends, Sulu and Uhura among them, he was closest to Bones. Every Saturday, they’d go somewhere off-campus for lunch, and it was one of the rare times they’d just chat instead of setting their minds to studying. Bones always spent Saturday in the labs, so Jim was always happy to give him the break.

One particular Saturday, a bit more than halfway into the semester, Jim was on his way to his room to meet up with Bones when he got a message. “Running a little late, swing by the lab?”

Thinking nothing of it, Jim altered course. He was interested to see what Bones had been up to. It was all Greek to him, practically everything involved in the medical sciences, but he knew Bones had a new project going that he was pretty excited about. Maybe Jim could convince Bones to explain it in plain speech while he was visiting.

He got to the sciences building and made his way to the turbolift, punching in the floor for the labs. He’d never been down there himself-- his science courses didn’t necessitate lab work yet-- but he’d made a point of figuring out where everything was during his first week, part of being prepared.

It took him quite a bit longer to find the correct lab, though. There were at least twenty different rooms on this floor alone, each equipped for biological and botanical study. The floor below, if Jim remembered correctly, was weapons development and testing, the floor below that, less specialized engineering. Someday, maybe he’d explore the rest of them, but today he had a mission.

He did end up finding his friend (thank goodness all the rooms had glass walls), haunched over a rather horrifyingly large microscope. Jim punched the command for the door, which flew open, and made his way inside. It was a lot quieter than he’d expected. Maybe it was just prolonged exposure to his friend, but he thought all cadets in the medical branch might be a little shouty.

“Hi there, Bones,” he said as he approached, giving a little wave. Bones didn’t look up from his microscope, though.

“Jim, good, give me a few minutes, all right? This virus looks to be mutating, but I have to keep an eye on it to be sure.”

“Sure,” Jim said, leaning against the counter. A few cadets passed, shooting him suspicious looks. He just smiled at each of them, feeling uncomfortable.

“It’s a little… hostile down here, isn’t it?” he asked. “I’m guessing you don’t get a lot of visitors.”

Bones scoffed, eyes still plastered to the microscope. “Don’t you judge, Jim. You’d be dodgy too if you were locked in a basement for four years of your professional development,” he barked.

Jim made a mental note that, when he got into a position of power, he’d petition to limit lab time for Medical cadets; this couldn’t be too healthy (ironically). He pushed himself off the counter beside Bones to examine a nearby rolling cart, piled high with vials containing various brightly colored liquids. He had just reached out to one when Bones said from behind him, “And don’t touch anything, alright? Some of this stuff is highly corrosive. And unstable.”

“You must feel right at home, then.” Jim joked over his shoulder. “You’re probably the most unstable and corrosive thing here.”

“Very funny.”

Still, Jim drew away, tucking his hands behind his back and rocking on the balls of his feet. He caught the eyes of a pretty blonde cadet and smiled at her. She at least returned the smile before turning back to her work.

That made him feel a bit better about people-watching. He wandered around the closest counter, looking into petri dishes and flasks as he passed, and watching silent cadets flutter around with datapadds held tight to their chests. Some of them, like Bones, were bent over equipment, speaking softly to others nearby or taking frantic notes as they looked at whatever it was they were looking at.

One of these cadets was a little set off from the others, though, which caught Jim’s attention. He was at the back of this particular lab, haunched over a readout screen, bent in almost a perfect right angle. What drew Jim’s eye more than the man’s posture, though, was a halo of light, glinting off his head of perfectly smooth black hair. He smiled a little to himself. That halo was familiar, though he’d seen it so much more often in the Iowa sunshine than the bright, white lights of a science lab. Still it reminded him however briefly of Spock-- of that night in the candlelight when Jim first realized how beautiful he was.

He shook his head a little and continued wandering. He’d be in a sorry state indeed if every Vulcan with a bowl cut reminded him of that beautiful idiot, but he did risk a look back. The cadet stood, grabbed the hem of his uniform, and tugged it straight.

Jim paused, too skeptical to even laugh at himself for considering the possibility… No. It couldn’t be. The Vulcan turned, and their eyes locked for all of a few seconds before Jim remembered to breathe again.

Holy shit.

It was that beautiful idiot.

“Spock?” he said, a little too loudly for the quiet lab. Someone turned and shushed him, but he hardly even heard. Blood was rushing through his ears and Spock was just standing there, eyes wide, brows raised, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.

He’d gotten taller, Jim noticed, a smile blooming on his face at the realization. But while Spock had once been thin as a beanstalk, his chest and shoulders had filled out, as had the line of his jaw. He looked all grown up, Jim thought, and his heart skipped a little.

He hadn’t felt that in a very long time.

Jim made his way toward him, forgetting about Bones for a second, forgetting even that they were in public and already drawing a few stares. He could have hugged the guy, but he stopped short, and clapped Spock on the shoulder, trying and failing to gauge his old friend’s reaction. “Holy shit, Spock,” he said in wonder, “Hi.”

“Jim,” Spock said. His voice betrayed his surprise. “I did not expect--” He cleared his throat awkwardly, “Hello.”

You didn’t expect? Look at you!” Jim laughed, tapping the insignia on Spock’s chest. “You joined Starfleet! And medical branch?”

“General sciences,” Spock corrected, still looking a little gobsmacked, “though my current area of study is biology.”

Jim grinned. If he’d had to tailor make a starfleet position for Spock, it would absolutely be science officer. Still, though, he was surprised . “I thought your dad would be grooming you for ambassadorship by now.”

“He made the attempt,” Spock said, and Jim saw the hint of a smile in his eyes, an expression that was once so familiar and now felt as rare and precious as the first time Jim had ever seen it. Now it made sense why Sarek hadn’t explained what Spock was up to these days, he likely wasn’t too happy about his son joining the fleet.

Just as Jim was about to reply, he heard something shatter behind him. Spock looked over his shoulder and Jim turned to follow his gaze. Bones was standing there with an empty hand that, Jim assumed, had moments ago held something breakable.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Bones said, striding forward, weaving between consoles and tables with practiced fury. “ This is your Vulcan? This guy?” He gestured with a firm, straight hand.

Spock raised an eyebrow at Jim, “‘Your’ Vulcan?” he asked.

Jim didn’t hear him, but his eyes widened at Bones. “This is your Vulcan? Spock’s not a… a ‘menace!’”

The smile left Spock’s eyes, and he seemed suddenly uncomfortable. “‘His’ Vulcan? Jim, I am not a gravy boat.”

Bones rolled his eyes so violently Jim thought they’d roll right out of his head. “Don’t tell me. He got that one from your mother.”

Jim stood between them, his two friends, and couldn’t help laughing. “How did you guess?”

Spock looked a little embarrassed, but Jim couldn’t bring himself to feel bad.

“Where else would he have picked it up? I should’ve figured it out before. No Vulcan’s as familiar as this one is with human phrases.”

Considering Jim had once taken it upon himself to make sure Spock was idiom-literate, he couldn’t help a little flutter of pride.

“Such figures of speech are understandably helpful when communicating with those who do not understand basic verbiage,” Spock said stonily to Bones.

There was a pause, and Jim heard Bones take a deep breath. “I’ll kill him, Jim. I’m gonna kill him.”

Jim put a hand on Bones’ chest to hold him back, not that he was actually worried he’d follow through. He glanced at Spock, who looked inordinately pleased with himself.

“Don’t kill him Bones. He’s my friend.” Jim didn’t know if he was still allowed to use that word for Spock, but it fell out all the same.

“And how are the two of you are acquainted?” Spock asked, straightening up slightly

“He’s my roommate,” Jim said, removing his hand now that he was sure Bones wasn’t going to rush the guy. “Small world, right?”

Spock nodded slightly. “I now understand where he conceived of the idea to offer me chocolate in exchange for ‘leaving him the hell alone.’”

Jim scratched the back of his head, giving Spock an apologetic grin. “Ah, yeah, you know if I’d known it was you I probably wouldn’t have suggested it.”

“‘Probably,’” Spock quoted and Jim grinned at him. The way Spock was looking at him, for just a second it felt comfortable, warm, like old times.

Bones looked between them and groaned. “Come on, Jim. Don’t give the hobgoblin the satisfaction of thinking he’s special. Are we eating or what?”

“Wait, did your virus mutate?”

“No. And thanks to you two I dropped the catalyst.”

“I fail to see how that was our doing,” Spock said, and Jim could hardly believe it but it looked as though he was trying to rile Bones up.

“You’re lucky all I did was drop a dish. I coulda dropped dead from a heart attack just now.”

Jim glanced back at Spock, heart full of this… he couldn’t explain it. It just felt like something had fallen into place, and he was loathe to leave it behind. He should have hated the guy. Maybe part of him still did, but this was Spock, standing right here. God, Jim had missed him.

“We’re going to lunch,” he said to Spock, nodding to indicate his irate friend beside him. “Care to join?”

Bones looked affronted. “Care to what ?”

Spock shot a look at Bones, then settled his eyes on Jim. There was something heavy in them, which caused Jim’s smile to falter just a little.

“Unfortunately,” Spock began, “My work here is quite time-sensitive. The offer is, however, appreciated.”

Jim shrugged, though his heart sank along with his expression. “Yeah, no, that’s fine. We’ll just head out then. Maybe some other time?”

Jim almost kicked himself. Two years and some change, and he still just wanted Spock around. He thought he would’ve gotten over it by now.

“Perhaps,” Spock said, which didn’t sound promising. “If you will excuse me, I must see to the readings.”

“Oh,” Jim said, putting up his hands, “yeah, sure, no problem. Shall we, Bones?”

“God, please,” Bones replied, turning around and stalking away without any further preamble.

Jim gave Spock a final smile. “It was… It was really good to see you, Spock,” he said, hoping Spock knew how much he’d meant it.

“Live long and prosper, Jim.”

Jim tensed. Now, that felt familiar too. “Ah, yeah, you too.”

He turned around and followed Bones, picking up his pace. He didn’t look back.

 

--

 

“I’m never going to forgive you for this, Jim.”

Jim rested his head on one hand, pushing his pasta around his plate lamely. He was floating in some emotional limbo between ecstatic and depressed and he couldn’t really figure out which one to settle on. Bones had been ranting for the last half hour, from the walk to the transport terminal to the restaurant itself, and now even halfway through the meal.

Bones bit into a hunk of garlic bread, chewing aggressively at Jim. “All this time I was wondering why out of all the Vulcans, the one I had to deal with was the most petulant, stubborn, up-his-own-ass--”

“I get it Bones.”

“--always knowing how to push my buttons and of course it’s because he grew up with you .”

Jim managed a small smile. “You’re absolutely right. I molded him, trained him to be the perfect annoyance, knowing someday … someday the two of you would meet. It was all a conspiracy.”

Bones pointed his fork at him. “Don’t get smart with me, kid. And what was with the two of you acting like you were thick as thieves? I thought he was supposed to hate you. You said things didn’t end well.”

Jim raised an eyebrow, which made Bones’ eye twitch. It was only now he was starting to realize how many mannerisms he’d picked up from Spock over the years, because it was only now they were starting to annoy his friend. “You mean he wasn’t acting like he hated me? It’s not like he was all ‘good to see you, Jim! How’s the family? Sorry for not speaking to you for two years!’” Jim sighed and stabbed at a piece of chicken he wasn’t planning on eating.

Bones huffed, “I thought you were the one who was supposed to know everything about Vulcans. You think he’d say any of that? I’ll tell you one thing: he treated you a damn sight nicer than he treats me.”

Jim shrugged and set his fork down, leaning back in his chair. He wasn’t all that hungry. Around them, the restaurant bustled with a lunchtime rush, and he set himself to looking around.

“Maybe you’re right,” he finally said, “but I wouldn’t blame him if he still thought I was an ass. I still kind of think he’s an ass.” Jim didn’t elaborate on that. Spock was an ass, but he was an ass that Jim had really missed looking at.

“Good. Don’t go getting all chummy with him again,” Bones said, “it’s bad enough dealing with him in the lab. If I gotta start eating lunch with the guy, I’m quitting.”

“Pretty sure you’ve got nothing to worry about. I think you scared him off.”

“If only,” Bones muttered.

They sat in silence for a few minutes while Bones shoveled in the last of his lunch, and Jim let his mind wander. It wasn’t until he heard the purposeful clatter of Bones tossing his silverware onto his plate that Jim looked back to him.

“Alright, what’s going on?” Bones asked.

“What?”

“You’re acting like you’re in Jane Austen. Buck up, kid.”

“I’m not,” Jim said, a little offended. “It’s just weird seeing him again.”

“You never did say what happened.” Bones delivered this with his usual air of gruff apathy, but Jim looked hard at him, recognizing that this was Bones’ way of asking if he was okay, if he wanted to talk about it.

That was enough to ease a little of Jim’s heartache.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s just… we were best friends --”

Bones drew back, “ How ?” The disbelief in his tone would’ve been funny any other time. Jim looked at him pointedly, and Bones waved it away, “Sorry, sorry, I’m just tryin’ to wrap my mind around it is all. You were saying?”

“It doesn’t really matter,” Jim said, deciding as much even as the statement left his lips. “We’re different people now, and that’s fine. But, I dunno, maybe I’ll give it another shot sometime. How often do you think I can visit you at the lab before it gets weird?”

“Once,” Bones said decidedly. “And don’t think I’m gonna be flattered that you want to visit me now.”

Jim laughed. “Well maybe I have a sudden interest in… What are you working on again?”

“I’m supposed to propose a potential cure for what you could call the ‘common cold’ of Bzzit Khaht.”

“Sure! Sounds fascinating.”

“Don’t you use that word around me, Jim.”

“Fascinating,” he said again, this time affecting the tone of Spock’s voice.

Bones just glared.

“Just for that, you’re buying.”

It was Jim’s turn anyway, so he indulged his friend. It was really only fair. After all, according to Bones, Jim had groomed Spock specifically to be a thorn in his side.

Jim was actually quite proud that Spock had learned how to do that all on his own. Part of him was still a little human.

 

--

 

“You’ll never believe who I ran into,” Jim said the second his mom popped up on screen. He’d gone straight back to his room after lunch, deciding his heart probably couldn’t handle seeing Spock twice in one day. But that didn’t mean he didn’t want to talk about him.

She just smiled brightly at him. “Let me guess. Spock.”

Jim’s face fell. “What? How did you…”

“He just sent me a message,” she said, and Jim’s heart almost broke at how happy she sounded. After all this time trying and failing to keep in touch, this must’ve been so exciting for her.

“What did he say?” Jim asked, trying not to sound too eager. If Spock had taken the time and energy to write something to Winona, it could either be a good sign or a bad one.

“Oh, you know Spock,” she said with a little wiggle of her head. She imitated his voice, “‘I spoke with Jim today. He looks well. I trust the farm is in working order.’ That sort of thing.”

Jim supposed he should have expected as much. It’s not like Spock would tell her how much he missed them all and how sorry he was for acting the way he had. One could dream, though.

“I’m glad he got in touch,” Jim said, some of his mother’s excitement rubbing off on him, “I think I’m going to try to reconnect. Catch up, you know?”

“Honey, that’s a great idea. You two were always so close.”

He hated how she sounded when she said that. He’d never told her what had happened between them, but he knew it hurt her to think of them falling apart. He was grateful, though, that she had never blamed him for Spock leaving. “Yeah, we were. I don’t think he’d want to be friends again, but it’s worth a try.”

Winona’s eyes were bright.

“It’s always worth a try, Jim. I bet he’d be more open to the idea than you’d think. Plus, you’re in Starfleet together now, just like you always wanted. It’s kind of neat how life works out that way, don’t you think?”

Jim considered that. In a lot of ways, yeah, this was what he had wanted. If he could get Spock talking to him again, it might be like nothing ever happened. His conscience could use that. Though he had no basis for it, he believed Spock’s could too.

“Yeah,” he finally said, “I suppose it is.”

Winona gave him a warm smile. “I can’t wait to tell your father. He always said Spock would do well in Starfleet, but that Sarek… bless his heart, he just had a very clear idea what his son’s life would look like.”

Jim nodded. It had always bothered him too, but if Spock’s little smile had been any indication, he’d been a bit of a rebel when Sarek pushed him. “I’m glad Spock’s doing his own thing. I really want to know how he convinced his dad to let him enlist, though. He must’ve performed some dazzling feat of logic.”

Winona giggled, “Gosh, can you imagine that showdown? Spock versus Sarek in a battle of wits. It must have lasted days.”

“Weeks, probably,” Jim said with a laugh. “Poor Amanda.”

“Ah, Amanda. When you talk to Spock, you ask him from me how his mother is doing. It’s been a long time.”

“Will do,” Jim said. “You know, if I talk to Spock.”

Winona looked at him from under her eyebrows. “Jim, don’t you get cold feet. Now that I know you two are in the same place, I’m going to be asking for consistent updates.”

“One more reason to reconnect, then,” Jim said with a smile, “don’t want to incur your wrath.”

“Certainly not. Jimmy, honey I should get going. I just heard the truck pull up and your dad’s got a lot of stuff to bring in. Did I tell you we’re remodeling the kitchen?”

“You didn’t, but that’s great! I’ll let you go. Love you, mom.”

“You too, honey.”

“Tell dad I say hi!”

“And you tell Spock I say hi. Oh! And Leonard. Don’t forget Leonard.”

“‘Course, Mom.”

They closed the channel and he leaned back in his chair, sighing. He should’ve known his mom would be about as interested in Spock’s well being as Jim was. He supposed he could use that as an excuse next time.

 

Though, ‘next time’ provided its own excuse. It was later that week that his parents sent along a little care package for him, stuffed with various and sundry reminders of life on the farm. There were three separate jars of jam with a note that said “We’ve been canning like crazy!” plus some homemade pumpkin spice cookies, a horrible orange and grey flannel shirt that Jim had purposely left behind, and a bag of homemade mints with a tag that said “For Leonard-- mint is supposed to help with nausea and focus, good for when you get space-sick. -- G+W”

When Jim handed the present off to Bones, the man held the bag of mints to his chest and gave Jim a look. “You don’t deserve your parents,” was all he’d said, before retreating to his side of the room to start in on his present.

Jim had looked back into the box, laughing, when he realized that one of the jam jars had a label reading “blackberry” in his dad’s messy scrawl. It struck him then that if Bones got a gift, it was only fair if his first best friend got one too.

“You can’t be serious,” Bones said a few minutes later on the way to the lab. Jim walked along without a care in the world, cradling the jar of blackberry jam like a baby.

“Why not? Spock will love it. Did I ever tell you how much he loved blackberries? He’d never say it, but there was one year he got to the bush before we even realized they’d ripened and he ate every single one. It was amazing.”

Bones rolled his eyes. “Jim, I know you’re worried about getting back into his good graces, but can you think of something a little less country-barn-dance?”

Jim ignored him. “You said he’d be in first thing tomorrow, right?”

“Oh, I don’t know Jim. Probably? He’s here before and after the rest of us.”

“Then I’ll just put it on his work station. He probably won’t even know it’s from me.”

“Who else would leave him a jar of homemade blackberry jam?”

Jim thought on this for a moment. “I dunno. Suitors? Friends? His grandma? Don’t ask me.”

“Pretty sure Spock doesn’t have any of those things.”

“Well then it’s a good thing someone ’s bringing him jam. Goodness, Bones, you’re so insensitive.”

Bones grumbled, but otherwise didn’t comment.

The labs were darkened, as it was a little past eight. The track lighting along the ceiling lit their way, but the glass rooms were absolutely haunting with nothing but the hallway light to illuminate them. Jim stuck pretty close to Bones as they walked. Though as they got about midway down the long hall, it became obvious that at least one of the labs was still in use.

“Oh, goddamnit Jim. You didn’t tell me he’d be here.”

Jim hushed Bones, glancing through a few panes of glass at Spock, who was alone in one brightly lit room, taking notes as he watched a graph shift on a large screen. He held back a little bit, glad Spock hadn’t yet noticed them.

“You didn’t tell me he’d be here. You’re the one who’d know!”

“Why don’t you just come back later? I’m sure he’ll leave eventually.”

“I can’t get in without your pass, not after hours. I don’t know how you forgot that’s the only reason you agreed to come.”

Bones let out a sigh. “Then just give it to him now. Who cares if he’s here?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready to talk to him yet.”

“The other day I practically had to pry you away from him with a crowbar. C’mon, Jim. You’re killing me.”

Jim huffed out a breath of resignation, watching Spock move around the lab. He must have finished taking his notes, as he’d abandoned his datapadd and moved onto the console where Jim had found him that Saturday. Jim glanced at Bones.

“Will you hang back? Just for a minute? I don’t want him to feel like he’s being ambushed.”

“Jim, he’s a Vulcan, not a baby deer.”

“Bones.”

“Fine, I’ll wait here. Just hurry, would ya? I spend enough time in this goddamn place.”

Jim nodded, resolute, and made his way to the bright room, tucking the jar behind his back. Spock had his back to him, but turned when he heard the swish of the door. His eyes widened in that same look of barely perceptible shock he’d worn last time he’d seen him.

“Jim?”

“Hey, Spock,” he said, approaching. There was nothing for it now, he just had to dive right in. “I’m surprised you’re still here.”

“You no doubt remember that Vulcans require less sleep than humans. I am merely making the most of my wakefulness. May I… may I ask why you are here?”

Spock was backed up against the console as though he were trapped, clearly perturbed by Jim’s presence and acutely aware that Jim was hiding something. Jim supposed he didn’t blame him. He’d be a little weirded out too if Spock had just come to accost him in an empty room.

Jim tried for a reassuring smile, sidling up to the console beside Spock. He leaned against it, mirroring Spock’s position, though a little more comfortably. “I figured I’d help you with your biology project. Here,” he set the jam on the console between them, nodding at it. “A new sample for you to test. And--” Jim reached into his pocket, digging out the spoon he’d brought to go with it, “--well, you’ll need the proper lab equipment. It’s pretty high-tech. Nabbed it from the mess hall.”

Spock’s posture relaxed, and he gently took the spoon from Jim’s hand, then took the jar off the counter. As he read the label, Jim watched his expression without worry that he’d be caught doing so. It was incredible that a silly jar of jam was enough to completely dismantle Spock’s guard. His eyes were soft, his shoulders lax, his lips quirked. He looked so serene, all the discomfort of a few moments ago completely shed. Jim’s smile widened.

“Mom sent me a care package today,” he explained, “I figured you’d probably appreciate the jam more than me.”

Spock looked strangely out-of-place with a jar in one hand and a small silver spoon in the other. It almost seemed like he wasn’t sure what to do with himself. Jim was proud of himself; it took a lot to shake Spock’s foundations.

“Thank you, Jim,” he said after a moment, still staring at the jar. “This was not necessary.”

Jim mock-scoffed, “Not necessary? Clearly you don’t remember how good that jam is.”

Spock set the jam and spoon beside him on the counter and brought his eyes back to Jim. Jim felt himself getting a little nervous under the steady scrutiny. “How are your parents?” Spock asked, and Jim was a little surprised by the question.

“You don’t know?” he joked, “Mom said you messaged her.”

“Briefly. I believed she would like to know that we met. I… was not sure you would tell her.”

That took Jim a little off-guard. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Spock seemed surprised by Jim’s answer, though it only showed in the barest raising of his brows. Jim was glad after all this time he was still able to read Spock’s slight expressions-- when the Vulcan let his guard down a little, that is.

“I believed you may have harbored ill will toward me.”

“Well, yeah, maybe for a while,” Jim said, figuring there wasn’t any use pretending he hadn’t. “Are you still mad at me?”

Spock shifted slightly to better look at Jim, eyes earnest. “Jim, I was not mad at you.”

Jim gave himself a moment to digest that, wishing there were a mature way to call someone a liar liar pants on fire.

“You forget you have touch telepathy. I know you were mad at me before you left.”

Looking uncomfortable, Spock shifted his eyes to some spot at Jim’s feet. “In that moment, yes, but you understand. There were mitigating circumstances.”

“Listen,” Jim said, risking a hand on Spock’s shoulder. Spock twitched at the touch, eyes snapping up to look at Jim. “We were best friends for what, almost four years? Logically it seems a little ridiculous to throw all that away based on a few bad days. Right?” It surprised him when the words left his lips that he actually meant it.

Jim actually felt the muscles in Spock’s shoulder ease. “That is a logical point.”

They stayed like that for a moment, maybe a little too long, because Jim was thinking about how dark Spock’s eyes were, and how they’d always felt like looking into a sky full of stars, deep and exciting as the infinite possibilities of the universe, even now. Even after everything. He had to force himself to pull his hand away.

“I, uh, I should probably get going,” Jim said, pushing off from the counter. He turned to look at Spock, who remained where he was. “I hope you like the jam. That’s the last for the season, so don’t eat the whole jar at once, all right?”

“I shall endeavor to pace myself,” Spock said, and Jim smiled.

“Right. Good. I’ll see you later, then.” he started moving back to where Bones was probably waiting less than patiently in the hallway, but Spock’s voice gave him a moment’s pause.

“Jim.”

Jim turned back to him, watching Spock as he straightened up and clasped his hands behind his back. “Yeah?”

“If you are available tomorrow, perhaps we could take lunch together. You did not tell me how your parents were doing.”

Smile growing, Jim felt his chest swell. And here he thought he ’d be using his mom as an excuse to talk to Spock. “Sure. I get a break around noon. Should I just swing by here?”

“That would be adequate.”

Adequate, Jim remembered, was as close as Spock got to ‘great.’ “Alright, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Spock nodded. “Good night, Jim.”

That, Jim thought with a small smile, was much less final than ‘live long and prosper.’

“Night, Spock.”

This time, Jim did manage to beat a successful escape, willing his heart to slow down. He was a little ashamed that Spock could still do this to him, make him forget in a second all the anger, guilt and sadness he’d spent two years trying to beat down. But there was something about the smile in his eyes that just made Jim feel like… well, when he was this far away from Iowa, even that small taste of home was intoxicating.

Bones had waited for him in the hallway, his arms crossed with a look on his face that screamed disapproval.

“What’s up, Bones?” Jim asked, trying to sound nonchalant. “You look like you just caught me with my hand in the cookie jar.”

Bones just shook his head, turning back toward the turbolift. Jim followed. “No,” he said with a huff, “but I did have to watch you make googly eyes at the hobgoblin for a good five minutes.”

“It wasn’t nearly five minutes,” Jim protested, then the rest of Bones’ sentence caught up to him. “Wait, ‘googly eyes?!’”

They got into the lift and Bones just leveled his eyes at him. “You got a better word for it, kid?”

Jim crossed his own arms, a little put-out, but didn’t really have a good response.

“Alright,” Bones said, sounding legitimately impatient. “You gonna tell me what happened between the two of you? ‘Cause I’ve fallen out with a few friends myself but I’ll be damned if we ever looked at each other like that .”

Jim shrugged, though the way he was decidedly not meeting his friend’s eyes betrayed him. “It’s not important.”

“We’re at the science labs at eight at night on a Wednesday, so you could deliver homemade jam to a Vulcan. There’s a story there and I think I deserve to hear it.”

Jim couldn’t really deny him that. And maybe it would help to talk it out.

So he did. They walked slowly back to their dorm, Jim attempting to condense the events of three of his most formative years into a ten-minute stroll. It took a lot for him to admit that he may have at one point been in love with the Vulcan who’d made it his life’s mission to annoy the hell out of Bones, but Jim was grateful that his friend had decided to reserve judgement, at least for now.

He listened patiently, even as they made it back to their room, Jim still talking, and settled down on their individual beds. Jim was playing with the frayed cuff of the ridiculous shirt his parents had sent when he finally got to the end, to the point where Spock got in the car and rode away.

He looked up at Bones, who was doing a pretty good Vulcan impression, face unreadable.

“And that’s the last time I saw him. Until Saturday, at least.”

Bones gave him a minute, in case there was anything more to say, then leaned his elbows on his knees, eyes locked on Jim’s.

“Let me get this straight. You… god help me, Jim… you fall in love with Spock . Get drunk, kiss him, and then he just leaves and never speaks to you again.”

“Well, it took a few days, but that’s essentially it.”

“And you never actually talked about it.”

Jim didn’t really see where that particular line of logic was going, but he shrugged, nodded.

“And now, just help me out here ‘cause I’m trying to understand, what exactly are you hoping to get out of him?”

“Excuse me?” Jim rather resented the insinuation that he was trying to ‘get something’ out of Spock. It's not like he was intentionally manipulating the guy.

“What I mean ,” Bones elaborated tiredly, “ is what do you want? You want him to be your best friend again? You want him to wise up and tell you what a jerk he was? It looks to me like you're digging the same hole you spent the last couple years filling in.”

Jim took himself off the defensive,  trying to see where his friend was coming from. “I don't really know what I want,” he finally said. “Isn't it enough that I just miss the guy?” Bones looked skeptical, but Jim pushed forward. “Listen, a lot has changed. I’m not a sixteen-year-old idiot anymore--"

“No, you’re an eighteen-year-old idiot.”

Jim elected to ignore that comment. “I’m saying that even if it turns out I feel the same way about Spock as I did back then, which I doubt it will, I’m not planning on making the same mistake.”

“And what mistake is that?”

“Telling him,” Jim said with emphasis.

“You think you can just live in pained silence the rest of your life?”

“That’s if I still feel the same way about him, Bones. And, yeah, I think I could. Vulcans do it all the time.”

Bones scoffed, but gave Jim a small smile. Jim had been hoping for that reaction.

“You’re making this a lot more serious than it needs to be,” Jim said, standing and moving toward his closet. It was getting late, and he had plenty to think about without any more of this soul-searching. “I’m just going to have lunch with him. We’ll catch up. That’s probably all it’s going to be.”

Jim felt Bones’ disapproval from the other side of the room, but ignored it. “Alright,” Bones finally said, and Jim heard him stand himself. “But do me a favor and think about it? I promised your mom I’d look out for you.”

Jim cast an appreciative glance over his shoulder, which his friend didn’t see. “Thanks, Bones.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t anything formal, Jim had to remind himself as he made his way from class to the science labs. Even so, nerves made him speed his pace, glancing at the time every few seconds. Being late certainly didn’t help.

When he’d gotten out of class about ten minutes later than expected, part of him had considered calling the whole thing off, postponing lunch, maybe indefinitely. The closer he got to the lab, the more Bones’ advice rang in his ears. Maybe he was getting himself into the same old mess. Maybe he’d find his feelings for Spock hadn’t changed, and he’d be left with that nameless wanting for something he couldn’t have.

But he also knew that he’d always been happiest with Spock at his side, even when he was a bit of a mess of unrequited (or denied) feelings. If he had a chance to get his friend back, he’d be out of his mind not to take it.

When he opened the door to the lab, he caught sight of Bones first thing, talking animatedly to that blonde cadet Jim had smiled at on his first visit. Rather than interrupt and risk running even later, Jim just shot him a smile and a wave, which grabbed his friend’s attention.

Bones didn’t break away from his conversation, but did give Jim an almost pitying look.

Jim ignored the sentiment with a flippant little smile and cast around for Spock, who was expectedly working away in his usual corner, He swallowed his nerves and went in headfirst, as he did best.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said by way of announcing himself, drawing Spock’s attention from the readout screen. “Class went a little long.”

Spock didn’t betray any joy at Jim’s arrival, but Jim had to remind himself who this was. He’d grown too accustomed to humans.

“Jim,” Spock greeted with a nod. “You have excellent timing. I’ve just now finished.”

“Great,” Jim said, beaming. He beckoned, “then let’s get going. I only have an hour until I have to get to Phys.” Even with that hour, he knew he’d be running a little late, but this was important enough he could handle scrambling a little bit afterwards.

Spock followed and they left the labs, drawing stares from more than just Bones. Jim nudged Spock with his shoulder as the door closed behind them. “You get that a lot?” he asked, nodding subtly to the people who’d been staring.

With an ambivalent half-shrug, Spock tucked his hands behind his back. “Vulcans are not known for socializing. Their curiosity is understandable.”

“I dunno, I guess I’m just a little defensive. I fielded enough of those looks back in high school.”

Spock seemed tense when they got into the turbolift. Maybe Jim was wrong for bringing up high school right away, but considering the point of this was to catch up and that was where they left off, it seemed-- to borrow a term-- logical.

“Indeed, you likely know better than most that we are still widely mistrusted.”

“I can’t believe people are still buying into that nonsense. Visiting the VCC really put it in perspective-- having to hide a security scanner in a community center? That shouldn’t be necessary.” Spock glanced sideways at Jim, who caught his eye before the turbolift doors swished open, and they stepped out into the building at large. “What?” he asked at Spock’s expression.

“You visited the Vulcan Community Center?”

Jim had kind of assumed that Sarek would have mentioned his visit to Spock. “Oh, yeah, didn’t your dad tell you? It was around the beginning of the semester. I’d been wanting to check it out for years.”

“I was unaware my father had seen you. He neglected to mention the encounter.” There was something in the tone that spoke to a story, but Jim wasn’t sure now was the time to delve into it.

“He gave me a tour, actually. I had no idea what to do with myself,” Jim laughed. “The nicest he’d ever been to me before that was when he told me I wasn’t ‘the worst conceivable influence’ on you.” Spock’s lips twitched at that, and Jim grinned. That was exactly the expression he’d hoped for. “But apparently I was enough of an influence to drive you to Starfleet. I’m still floored you enlisted.”

“It was a surprise to my parents as well. My mother is pleased, but as you know my father does not have the highest opinion of Starfleet.”

“Oh, I remember. I think that’s the one thing that stopped him and dad from getting along.”

“Perhaps not the only thing,” Spock replied, and Jim laughed.

“That’s a good point,” he said. “Dad’s not the most logical person on Earth. You remember when he tickled mom while she was doing the dishes and your dad thought he was attacking her?”

Spock’s eyes were bright at the memory, “If I recall, I had a similar reaction when I first saw a friend of yours punch you, however playful the intention may have been.”

Jim had completely forgotten about that, “Oh, man, yeah,” he said, putting a hand to the side of his face. “I thought you were going to kill him.”

“Vulcans are pacifists,” Spock reminded him lightly, “though the thought may have crossed my mind at the time.”

“It’s good you learned about humans by hanging around a bunch of teenagers. You saw humanity at its worst, right out of the gate. That’ll test anyone’s nerves.”

“It was occasionally trying, though educational. As your... friend, Cadet McCoy, pointed out,” Jim noted how Spock said the word ‘friend,’ stiffly, “I am now quite familiar with human expressions and mannerisms. My experiences in Iowa did prepare me for a career in a predominantly human organization.”

They had reached the mess hall by now, and stood in line for the replicators, Jim assessing Spock’s expressions as they waited.

“So why did you enlist? I mean, I guess when you moved here to live with Vulcans I thought you’d probably just… I don’t know, stick with them.”

Spock organized his thoughts for a moment, and Jim remembered what it was like to watch those wheels turn. “My father resents Starfleet for its focus on defeating Romulans rather than assisting Vulcans,” Spock said, “I do not think the two goals are mutually exclusive. With the training I receive here, I can be an asset to our race, far more than if I had followed my father’s plans for me.”

Jim appreciated that answer, mostly because he hadn’t expected Spock to be this open with him. It was surreal, he realized as they punched in the codes for their food and found a seat at a corner table, that this was even happening.

“So, two years,” Jim said as they seated themselves, noticing Spock’s eyes tighten. “I don’t even really know where to start. I’ve always thought about, you know, all those little things I’d want to tell you, and now I can’t remember any of ‘em.”

“I confess, I do not know what to say either. Perhaps you can begin by telling me how you have been?” Spock punctuated it with a small bite of his salad, though his eyes remained on Jim. The phrase felt strange coming out of Spock, and Jim knew without needing a lick of evidence that Spock hadn’t asked someone how they’d been or how their day was in years. The effort Spock put into that one question was so much more than Jim ever expected.

“Oh, I’ve been alright,” he said, taking a sip of the coffee he’d replicated. “Starfleet’s a lot harder than I expected, and busier, and louder, and more crowded, but it’s also way more interesting than Iowa.”

“Indeed? I thought you were quite connected to your home.” There was that whole ‘your home’ thing again, but Jim ignored it. It wasn’t fair to Spock to get upset by such an innocuous statement.

“Oh, I am. You don’t just lose your connection to a place when you leave it. But, you know, I’ve been ready for the next big adventure since I was thirteen.”

“I recall,” Spock said, something unreadable passing behind his eyes while Jim took a bite of his sandwich. “You have been talking about joining Starfleet as long as I’ve known you.”

“And here I am,” Jim said around a mouthful, pairing it with a chubby-cheeked smile. He held out his hand to indicate the mess hall. Taking in Spock’s nearly amused look, he swallowed. “And here you are! I always hoped we’d join up together.” He didn’t mean for those words to come off the way they did. It wasn’t his goal to make Spock feel guilty, but he also didn’t want to pretend nothing had changed.

“I am pleased that circumstances have brought us here,” Spock said, and Jim’s brain stalled on the word. Pleased. That was about as close as he was going to get to ‘I’m glad to see you,’ and it felt like a little match had just been lit in his chest, something warm-- if fleeting.

“I’m going to be honest,” Jim said, wondering even as he said it if being honest was the best idea right now, “I’m a little surprised, you know? Like, last night, when you said you were worried I-- what was it? ‘Bore ill will’ toward you? I guess it’s been the same on my end. I just kind of assumed you’d never want anything to do with me if I ever saw you again.”

Spock’s back straightened and he looked down at his plate for a moment, as if it was easier to memorize the arrangement of lettuce leaves than to look Jim in the eye. “On the contrary,” he said, “I thought of you often.”

Jim could swear his heart stopped for a second, but he forced himself past it. Suddenly nervous, he took another sip of his coffee. He didn’t know exactly how that statement made him feel. Part of him was furious, screaming internally ‘well then why didn’t you say anything?’ but the other part of him remembered every deleted message he ever attempted to send and realized that maybe they’d both just spent the last two years being idiots.

“Oh,” he finally said, after what was probably far too long. Spock looked back up at him.

“I apologize. I did not mean to cause you discomfort.”

“No, no,” Jim said, wishing he’d prepared a little bit better for… well, whatever was happening. “I’m-- I mean, I’m glad. I guess. It’s not like I just stopped thinking about you either. It was weird after you left.”

Spock took an uncomfortable bite of his salad, which made Jim smile in spite of himself. Avoiding a response by shoving food in one’s mouth was a signature tactic of Jim’s, and he was proud Spock had beaten him to it this time. Jim wanted to talk about it-- everything . He really did, but he was so happy to see Spock he just wanted to put the hard discussion off, just a little longer.

“But we don’t have to talk about that right now,” he decided, and it was amazing to see the worry positively drain from the lines at the side of Spock’s mouth. “You want the farm update? You missed a lot. We got a new cow.”

“Indeed? I would think your father would have insisted on several. He always maintained that he would someday run a dairy farm.”

Jim had actually forgotten about that pipe dream. “Oh, yeah, no he gave up on that a while back. Dad’s always got these schemes, but I think the only one he’s ever followed through on is selling the chicken eggs, which-- hey, it turned into a pretty lucrative business all-in-all.”

The mention of the chickens caused a little tic of interest in Spock’s eyebrow and Jim grinned knowingly at him. “You miss those birds, don’t you?”

“Sentimentality is illogical,” Spock responded. Jim didn’t buy it.

“Miss Merry-Feathers is still around, you know. She was always your favorite.”

“I did not have an emotional preference for any particular hen.”

“Oh? Even the one that would crawl into your lap and fall asleep cooing while you pet her feathers?”

“Hens are known to lay higher-quality eggs when they feel safe and happy,” Spock responded without missing a beat.

“And Spocks are known to make up excuses for being attached to things,” Jim teased, though he decided he’d let the Vulcan pretend he hadn’t been a doting chicken-dad at one point in his life.

“She is an admirable bird,” Spock finally admitted, and Jim had the decency not to look too triumphant.

“Well she must be. Started running the roost after you left.”

“Are you implying that I ‘ran the roost’ before her?”

Jim tried not to smile and failed miserably. “Yeah, you should’ve seen the power vacuum. Every chicken wanted to be the new alpha.”

“Then it is fortunate Miss Merry-Feathers took control.”

“Tell that to the other chickens,” Jim laughed. Spock’s lips twitched.

“How many are there now?”

“Oh, man, twenty-something? Mom and dad had to hire some kid to help out. Even they can’t handle twenty chickens, five cows and two horses on top of everything else.”

“Indeed, few humans have as much energy as your mother, yet even she is restricted by the number of hours in a day. She is happy?”

“Oh, sure. I think they’re both suffering from a bit of empty nest syndrome, though.”

“I am not familiar with that expression,” Spock replied, sounding surprised. It wouldn’t do for there to be gaps in his knowledge, of course.

“Oh, it’s what happens to parents when the kids leave. They start remodeling, picking up hobbies, going on long vacations.”

“You called it ‘suffering,’ but It does not sound unpleasant.”

“Yeah,” Jim laughed, “the only vacations we ever took were to other flat, boring small towns, minus that one trip to Yosemite when I was a kid. They’re thinking of taking a second honeymoon off-planet.”

“It is good to hear they are prospering.”

“Much as they ever will,” Jim said with a smile. “Sam’s doing great too. He met a girl, Aurelan. Mom and I have a betting pool going on when he’s going to pop the question.”

“And what question might that be?”

Jim laughed, “You know, marriage?”

“Ah,” Spock said, “That is good to hear.”

“Yeah, but it sure makes it hard to see him,” Jim said, “He comes home about once a year like he used to, but not for nearly as long.”

“That must be quite difficult.”

Jim waved it away, “It’s all right. He’s happy and that’s what matters.”

Spock seemed content with Jim’s answer. “And your friends?”

Surprised that Spock was asking after them, Jim smiled. “They’re good. Yang went to school to be a teacher, so she’s happy. Amir’s sticking around Riverside for a year or so to help his moms, since they just bought all that land they want to cultivate, so he actually saw me off at the transport station. He’s the last of ‘em left in town.”

“Marlena is no longer in Riverside?” Spock asked the question gently, as if worried he was bringing up a sore subject. That was a laugh; Spock knew it had been years since she and Jim broke up.

“Oh, no, Marlena’s been in space for, like, months . She’s got an job on this medical cargo vessel, cataloging… something? I don’t really remember.”

“You are not in contact?”

“Well, sometimes, but sending subspace messages is a bit of a pain. She said she might join Starfleet when she gets Earthside again, so that might be nice.”

Spock’s shoulders seemed to ease slightly, though Jim couldn’t fathom the reason.

It was then that he felt his stomach rumbling and glanced down at his sandwich, which was only missing a bite. “But, hey, I’ve been yammering on forever. Tell me what you’ve been up to.” The request was self-serving in a few different ways. Partly it gave him a chance to eat, and partly he finally got to fill in the last two years of Spock’s life. He had always wondered what he was missing.

Spock set down his fork and settled his hands in his lap, considering. “I finished school at the Vulcan Community Center,” he said, starting from exactly where they’d left off in true Spock fashion, “and completed the program within one year, rather than the two I had expected. As such, I found myself at a crossroads. My mother, who is actively involved in the center, suggested I assist her in restoring Vulcan artifacts and cataloguing the museum. However, it was a waste of my talents in the areas of astronomy and physics.”

Bless his heart, Spock had never been the most humble of people, Jim appreciated that about him. He interjected little “mmhmm”s as Spock spoke, but otherwise let him continue while he ate.

“My father, on the other hand, decided I would do well as a diplomat.” The way Spock said ‘decided’ was practically venomous by his standards. “He was eager to see me leave behind the poor manners and emotionalism he believed I had acquired living with humans.”

Jim coughed on a piece of tomato, pounding his chest. He took a sip of his coffee and set hard eyes on Spock. “Excuse me?”

“Indeed.” Jim didn’t know what Spock was ‘indeed’ing. Maybe just his general sense of outrage. “However, in my state at the time, I tended to agree with him.”

Jim wanted desperately to interject, to ask what Spock’s ‘state’ had been. Because for the last two years Jim had been in a heck of a state himself, mind wandering to Spock at least once a day, unable to do any of the things he had done before without the guilt and anger flooding back, missing his friend like crazy and hating himself for it. But he’d told Spock they didn’t have to talk about that today, and he let his curiosity burn a little longer.

“After completing multiple courses in diplomacy through the center, I was struck with the futility of the practice. Father has been gathering allies for so long, I do not believe he knows what to ask for when they do join our cause. In practice, he felt I was too aggressive in my requests.”

Spock paused here, and Jim waited for just a moment. “And?”

“And perhaps he was correct, but aggression is not always negative. When our homeworld is under attack, I believe aggression is an appropriate response.”

Jim absolutely agreed with that, but he was surprised Spock did. “I thought Vulcans were pacifists,” he said with no judgement but some curiosity.

“Aggression does not always equate to violence.”

Jim took a thoughtful sip of his coffee. “I guess that’s a good point. So you have this big philosophical disagreement with your dad and, what, sign up for the fleet?”

“Essentially.”

“Your dad must be pissed.”

“Jim,” Spock said with an almost playful tilt of his head, “anger is a human emotion.” It looked like Spock was… messing with him. Because he knew Jim knew better. It was the kind of moment only they could share, an inside joke Jim didn’t even know they had.

The warmth in Jim’s chest spread, and he tried his best to stamp it down.

“I’m glad you didn’t let him push you around,” he said, hoping Spock didn’t notice Jim glowing.

“It was a difficult decision to make,” Spock said, “but an important one.”

“So how are your parents? You know Mom and Amanda fell out of touch after a while.”

“They are well. Mother finds her work meaningful and fulfilling. Father is… logical.”

Jim snorted, earning a bit of a look from Spock. He’d never thought in a million years he’d hear Spock use the word ‘logical’ like an insult. “And since when is ‘logical’ a bad thing?”

“We have had disagreements,” Spock explained, “about the meaning of the term. My father’s idea of logic is, in my opinion, narrow-minded, but he would say that I am no more logical than a human. It is a debate philosophers far greater than us have engaged in for millennia.”

“So, what, you’re not logical enough? You?”

“According to my father, yes.” Jim was amazed that Spock could sound both bitter and sad with barely any inflection. “When I first moved to San Francisco, I attempted to adhere to his ideals. I believed, as he did, that it was what was best for me. It took me far too long to realize that was not the case. It has caused a… rift.”

“Wow, I’m sorry.”

“It is of no importance,” Spock said, though Jim didn’t buy it. “In time, he will accept my views, though he has made no effort to understand them.”

Jim thought back to the day he’d run into Sarek at the center, how patient the man had been with him. “Maybe he’s trying,” he said hopefully, “he was alright with me.”

“Though he would never say as much, he is fond of your family. More than most humans, at any rate.” Spock said.

“I find that incredibly hard to believe,” Jim deadpanned.

“It may be, in part, my mother’s influence,” Spock admitted with a smile in his eyes, “she speaks very highly of your parents, and of you.”

Jim couldn’t help feeling rather proud at that. Amanda was someone whose opinion he valued greatly.

They shared a quiet pause, and Jim marveled that Spock had just unloaded all that onto him, seemingly without reservations. How, after everything, could Spock still trust him this much? How could he still be this comfortable with him? And how could Jim forget even for a second that they’d spent the last couple of years in icy silence?

“I’m going to hazard a guess,” Jim said after a moment, “that this is the most you’ve talked in one solid go since you got to the Academy.”

Spock’s eyes crinkled slightly at their corners, “I once delivered a lecture on Vulcan methods of testing comet trails.”

Jim gave him a look, “That doesn’t count.”

“Then yes, this is the most I have spoken.”

Jim smiled. “You know, we can do this more often if you want,” he said, taking a risk but gauging its worth. “Even you can’t go around bottling things up all the time.”

“I am Vulcan, Jim,” Spock said, the implication being that he was used to going around bottling things up all the time.

“Never said you weren’t,” Jim said, “but it might be good for you. Consider it… interactive meditation.”

“That is not how meditation works.”

“I know how meditation works,” Jim said defensively. “I used to meditate with you all the time.”

Spock half-smiled, glancing down to where Jim’s hands rested on the table, “You used to fall asleep on my floor as I meditated,” he corrected.

“Potato, potahto.”

“Nevertheless,” Spock said, either remembering that particular turn of phrase or deciding not to question it, “perhaps you have a point.”

Jim’s grin spread wide over his face, and Spock met his eyes. “So that’s a yes.”

“I am quite busy.”

“So am I.” Jim had gone into this lunch thinking he wouldn’t push it, but something in Spock’s manner told him that he was only objecting because he felt he should. He thought (maybe erroneously, maybe not) that Spock might have missed him. It was a little salve for the years he’d spent missing Spock.

“Are you not worried Cadet McCoy would object to our spending time together?”

“Oh, he’ll definitely object,” Jim laughed, “but he’s not my mother. Besides, don’t lie, you get a kick out of riling him up.”

Spock’s nearly smiled, “I confess, the cadet’s complete lack of logic and control, in addition to the rampant emotionalism he displays at the slightest provocation, is an interesting study in the human condition.”

“And it makes you look twice as logical by comparison, right?” Jim was teasing, but Spock actually gave it a moment’s thought.

“That may also be a factor.”

Jim wanted so desperately to tell Bones, but it wouldn’t be fair to blow Spock’s cover like that. “Then pissing Bones off in this case isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I’d say you’d be missing an opportunity to get under his skin if we didn’t see each other every once in awhile.”

It looked like he may have won. Spock leaned back slightly in his chair, giving Jim that same look he did when Jim beat him at chess-- a blend of respect, exasperation and, if he were lucky, fondness. “Then it seems I am out of logical arguments,” Spock said, but Jim was sure he could come up with more if he really wanted to.

He grinned widely. “Then it’s settled.”

With only a few more minutes to talk, Jim began to gather up his tray as Spock did the same. They changed topics to what they’d be doing with the rest of their day, Jim complaining about physical training being right after lunch, Spock explaining that he had very little supervision in the lab, but maintained a strict schedule all the same. It was silly small talk, nothing life-changing, which made it all the better. There was still unfinished business, Jim knew, still ghosts in the attic that needed to be cleared, but damn if he didn’t want to pretend they didn’t exist for just a little while longer.

 

--

 

Jim forced himself to wait a few days after that lunch. He knew Spock hadn’t been lying when he’d said he was busy, and Jim hadn’t either, so it wasn’t until the weekend that he felt he had the time and energy. Saturday evening, he challenged Spock to a game of chess in the rec room, which turned into two, then three before Jim lost count. It had always been like that when they played. Both would doggedly try to even the score at first, then forget the score and play just for the challenge of it. Well, Jim would forget the score. Spock likely just decided it didn’t matter.

He got back to his room that evening to a disappointed look from Bones, but no more sagely advice. Bones had flat-out told Jim that he could do whatever it was he wanted, so long as he knew his friend was worried.

While Jim appreciated it, his own worry began to abate to the point that he wondered what Bones had been on about in the first place.

It started slowly, tentatively, once a week in the beginning. Each time Jim reached out, he was sure Spock wouldn’t reach back, but then he did. Over and over again. They still hadn’t discussed what had happened between them, but Jim got sick with guilt every time he thought about it, and he couldn’t bring himself to break the delicate balance they’d finally re-established.

Because after all this time, Spock’s friendship was still so important to him. The soft, subtle humor, the rationality, the history they shared. Spock knew him, better than anyone, and he never once judged him.

One afternoon, Jim invited Spock to take advantage of the flight simulators with him. What started out as a serious training exercise ended up feeling a great deal more like when they used to go to the arcade as children. That had opened the door for so much reminiscing, they’d finally just sat in the cockpit of the flight simulator with the setting on easy, cruising around “space” while they talked.

Someday following, Spock asked seemingly without much thought if Jim still remembered any of the Vulcan self-defense moves Spock had taught him after the incident with the bully. It was Jim’s bravado and lack of forethought that suggested they test him out in the gym.

If he’d ever doubted that he was still attracted to his friend, those ridiculous, red, fleet-regulation tights and a glimpse of legitimate chest hair under Spock’s T-shirt were enough to drive the futility of it home. At least Spock kept his mental walls up the whole time they were sparring.

Jim didn’t know what kind of upheaval there would be if Spock felt Jim’s interest, but he had a feeling it might end with him walking out the door again, so it was a blessing nothing happened. Nothing except Jim getting his ass beaten to the point of hilarity, at least. He ended up on his back laughing so many times that even Spock looked like he was about to let a chuckle out.

The good news was that the attraction was a beast Jim could easily tame. He had done it a thousand times, pushing aside those fleeting feelings for ones that would last longer. In this case, when weighing Spock’s friendship, it was easy to see what was most important. They had fallen back into this pattern that was so comfortable, and so familiar. Though Jim had never exactly felt lonely at Starfleet, he had to admit he hadn’t felt like home until Spock came back into his life.

On occasion, he could even convince Bones to spend time with them. It got to the point after a few weeks that Spock would join them for lunch every Saturday. Bones grumbled about it, but never outright refused. Eventually, both of them seemed to almost enjoy their habitual back-and-forth, and it was sure as hell the best entertainment Jim ever got.

Even so, Jim did have trouble splitting his time among his friends, and did his best to consolidate when he could. He invited Spock to a couple study sessions with Uhura, and tried not to get jealous when they started speaking Vulcan to each other.

Sometimes, too, he’d bring Spock to the greenhouse to spend time with Sulu, though apparently Spock had been going there on his own rather frequently.

Sulu had seemed surprised when Spock participated in actual conversation, as he had apparently tried more than once to engage the guy. Jim was glad for that. He felt like he helped open Spock up, which was important to him. Everyone should see the good in him that Jim had seen all these years.

And there was so much good. Enough to make Jim want desperately to forget all the bad. Most of the time, he was successful.

One evening, only a week until the end of the semester, they had dinner with Bones and (after Bones huffily excused himself) followed it with a walk around the campus courtyard, talking about their classes. Jim had started by complaining about his Applied Warp Theory professor, which had gotten Spock talking about his similar experiences with warp drive engineers at the VCC, which had gotten Jim laughing about how all of their brains must go at warp speed because no one could seem to catch up. Then, even Spock did his equivalent of laughing, giving Jim those soft smiles.

They felt the first smattering of raindrops, and Spock looked up toward the sky, already dark with storm clouds. “We should return to our rooms,” Spock said, and Jim looked at him in mock outrage.

“What? It’s barely even seven! How about we just head back to your room and play some chess? I’d suggest mine, but Bones only just got rid of us.” Because they shared a mutual love of causing Bones a little anguish, Jim shot his friend a knowing smile. Spock returned it, in his own way.

“That sounds pleasant,” Spock said, and Jim was ecstatic. There was little reason to be; it was a night like any other, but he wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye yet.

Though they attempted to hurry, it wasn’t long before the sky was dumping on them. Jim laughed as they held their hands over their heads, not even the benefit of a book or a bag as a makeshift umbrella. Luckily, Spock’s dorm building wasn’t too far, so they managed to slip inside before the lightning started striking full force in the sky above them.

Jim hadn’t yet gotten used to these California flash-storms. He shot a glance at Spock, who was dripping like he’d just gone swimming in his full uniform. His expression was decidedly less amused than Jim’s.

“You look like a wet cat,” Jim laughed, slapping Spock on the arm as he wiped water from his eyes with his sleeve. Spock visibly shivered.

“Though I have no experience in the matter, I believe I feel like a wet cat,” he said, which just made Jim laugh harder.

They squelched their way to the turbolift, Jim trying to resist the urge to wring out his uniform on the sleek floors. It was only when they got in and punched the code for Spock’s floor that his giggling finally subsided and he shot a look at his friend beside him.

Spock had been watching Jim already, his eyes gentle and warm, far warmer than the chill he was surely feeling. Jim’s heart pounded at the look. Though he told himself it was just the adrenaline coming off their mad dash to get inside, it was getting harder and harder to believe his own excuses.

“Your roommate is sure in for a surprise when we show up drenched,” he said, uncomfortable with the silence.

Spock raised an eyebrow. “I do not have a roommate.”

“What? How did you swing that?” Much as Jim loved Bones, he felt a pang of envy. How nice would it be to have his own space again?

“Due to my father’s title, Starfleet assigned me priority housing. It is illogical, as I spend little time here.” They reached their floor and stepped out, Jim following in the wet splat of Spock’s footsteps. “I do not have many of the ‘comforts of home’ you may have in your own room,” Spock said, “but I do have a chess set. And towels.”

“That’s all I need,” Jim laughed, though part of him wished he could enjoy the way Spock’s wet uniform clung to his shoulders for just a little longer.

Spock’s room was about the same size as Jim’s, but there was a small couch where a second bed would be, and only one computer console which made it quite a bit roomier. There were few decorations-- a wooden sculpture of some bear-like animal, a simple rug, a corner full of candles-- but it was very Spock all-the-same. It even smelled like him, that spicy-sweet scent of the meditation candles that he must have found a way to restock in the last two years. Jim loved that smell.

As Jim looked around, Spock went to the cabinet by his closet and retrieved two towels, handing one to Jim as he began to dry his own hair. Jim set to work on patting himself down, but kept one eye on his friend. Spock looked so inelegant, so awkward in his drenched clothes, so uncomfortable with the cold. The best part, though, was when Spock removed the towel from his head to reveal his hair sticking up in all directions like a sea urchin.

Jim’s heart sang at the sight, and he couldn’t help a chuckle.

“May I ask what you find amusing?” Spock asked, starting run the towel along his neck and shoulders. Jim just grinned, instinctively moving toward Spock and reaching out a hand to flatten his hair.

He pressed the wayward locks back into place, touch gentle, trying to smooth it all down. “I have never seen your hair messed up,” he marveled as he worked, not noticing right away that Spock had gone still. “It’s kind of amazing.”

Spock didn’t say anything, but he made some kind of noise, like a clearing of his throat, though not quite as overt. It gave Jim pause and he realized what he’d been doing.

He pulled his hand away. “I should probably let you get the rest, huh?” he asked, and Spock gave him a tight look.

“That would be ideal, yes,” he said, and Jim felt a flush hit his cheeks.

He kicked himself internally for stepping out of bounds. Even at their closest he had never touched Spock like that. But in those little moments he just forgot everything-- the reality versus the fantasy.

He’d told Bones when this all started that he didn’t think he’d feel the same way about Spock that he used to. The realization had been coming on slowly, but inevitably, that he’d never stop feeling this way about Spock. It made times like this just a little harder.

“You should probably change,” Jim said as he squeezed the hem of his uniform into the towel, “I’ll be fine, but you must be freezing.” He remembered the first time Spock had slipped in the snow in Iowa. Even the slight snowmelt that clung to his clothes had caused the Vulcan near-convulsive shivers.

“We will both change,” Spock said as though there wasn’t any room for argument. “I will not be the reason you succumb to illness.”

“I’m not going to get sick from a little rain. Besides, my roommate’s a doctor-- almost. He’ll take care of me if I do.”

Spock opened the door to his closet while Jim mentally measured how terrible he was going to look in Spock’s clothes. Spock was taller, so everything would probably be a couple inches too long, but Jim was thicker so it would also all pucker at the buttons and... maybe he should’ve gone back to his room after all.

A flash of lightning out the window reminded him he was going to be staying here for a while.

“The thought of McCoy treating you is not a comforting one.” Spock said firmly, and he pulled out a pair of his uniform slacks and a button-down shirt that Jim was sure he recognized.

“Hey, is that Sam’s old flannel?”

Spock nodded, handing it to Jim. “Indeed. It was gifted to me, so it would have been rude to have left it behind. It is quite warm.” Jim laid it on the bed so as not to get it wet while he unhooked and unzipped the overshirt of his uniform. Spock made that throat-clearing noise again, and Jim glanced up at him.

Oh, of course. It wasn’t like they hadn’t changed in front of each other before, but that had been years and a lot of awkward events ago. Jim just flashed a smile to pretend he wasn’t upset that he’d upset Spock.

“Yeah, right, I’ll be right back,” he said, not needing Spock to tell him.

He sequestered himself in the bathroom, trading his slacks for the dry ones Spock had handed to him (which fit, albeit a little snug, if he rolled the cuffs and didn’t button the waist). He shrugged into the shirt, which warmed his damp skin.

When he was fully clothed, he left the bathroom, just as Spock fastened a buckle on one of those long black shirts he always used to wear. Jim tossed the towel and soaked uniform into the laundry chute.

“Thanks for the clothes,” he said as he made his way to the couch and settled in.

“You are welcome,” Spock said, and Jim could tell that Spock was uncomfortable now. Maybe it was the combination of Jim touching him without permission before attempting to violate his privacy by undressing in front of him. Jim got that, but at the same time he wished Spock could just stop caring so much.

Though of course he knew it was probably hard to trust Jim anymore, after the kiss. Spock probably still thought Jim had untoward intentions. While that was was half true, Jim also had no plans to act on those intentions.

Spck moved over to his desk and bent to open one of the drawers, pulling a box from its depths. It looked practically brand new, which made Jim wonder if Spock had played chess at all since leaving Iowa, or if he’d just bought the set to have.

“Looks like you haven’t played much,” he gave voice to his thoughts, nodding to the box.

“Indeed. It was a gift from my mother. An illogical gesture as I lacked an opponent, but thoughtful all the same.”

Jim took the initiative and grabbed the end table from the side of Spock’s bed, pulling it between the bed and the couch between them. Spock set himself on the edge of the bed and began to construct the tiers of the set, Jim watching his carefully controlled hands as they remembered the placement of each peg, each strut and each piece.

“That was sweet of her. Does she know how to play?”

“No, though she has expressed an interest.”

This was an opportunity Jim had been waiting for, an opening to needle Spock a little bit. Spock was clearly still a little uncomfortable, so now might not be the best time to ask what he’d been wanting to ask for the last few weeks, but he could at least test the waters.

“Maybe you can teach her over winter break. You’ll be spending time with your family, right?”

“My mother has requested my help at the center, though much of my time will be spent here,” Spock said, setting out the last of the pawns. “There is always more work to be done.”

“Ah,” Jim said, trying not to sound disappointed.

Silence fell, and Jim waited for Spock to ask if he had any plans. That had been part of the script in his head. When it didn’t look like that was happening, human courtesies being what they were, Jim decided to barrel on ahead.

“I’ll be heading back home, myself,” he said, making the first move on the board. Spock always gave him white, and he learned not to argue with it anymore. “You know, visit mom and dad.”

“I am pleased to hear it. No doubt they miss you.” Jim wasn’t sure what he heard in Spock’s tone as Spock carefully set out his first pawn.

“It should be good. Sam’s even visiting for a week, maybe with Aurelan if she can get the time off. It’s going to be a pretty full farm, especially with Bones there.”

“McCoy is going with you?”

“Yeah, mom insisted. I’m pretty sure my parents like him more than me at this point.” He laughed, but one look at Spock between the levels of the chess board sobered him. The Vulcan looked particularly closed-off. “Hey, you okay?”

“I was under the impression McCoy’s project would keep him at the academy.”

“He’ll be done with that in a week. You know, some of us take breaks,” he teased.
“It merely seems strange that he would prefer to spend time with a family he has never met than devote himself to more useful endeavors.”

What was with Spock all of a sudden? Jim gave him a suspicious look, though Spock was contemplating the board and didn’t seem to see. “He just hasn’t met them in person yet, that’s all,” he said, wondering where this was going.

“It is particularly magnanimous of your parents to invite a relative stranger to a family gathering.”

Ah, and then it all made sense.

Jim narrowed his eyes at him. “Are you jealous of Bones?”

Spock shifted slightly. “I simply do not understand why your parents extended the invitation to him--”

“Instead of inviting you, right?” Jim said, tone harsher than he’d meant it to be. Spock’s eyes widened. “You’re the one who left, Spock.”

And there it was. Jim wasn’t even mad at himself for letting it out, for ruining what should’ve been a perfectly pleasant conversation. He was mad at Spock, because what right did he have to lay any claim over the people he’d abandoned?

Spock’s brow tightened. “You mean to suggest I was without reason.”

Jim felt that hard stone of guilt sink back into his stomach, and he stared at Spock for a second, both ashamed and surprised that Spock would bring it up. This was the closest they’d gotten to talking about it. “I never said that.” He rubbed his head and made his next move-- a less aggressive one than he’d planned-- forcing the fire in him to subside. “You know,” he said after a moment, “I was going to ask you to come along if you wanted.” Things had been going so well, sometimes he forgot there was still all this stewing underneath, but in spite of that (or maybe because of it) he still wanted Spock to be there.

“You… were?”

“Yeah. The family wants to see you, and I don’t want to leave you alone for a whole month while we go off to Iowa and have all the fun. Besides, I thought you might miss snow,” he joked, trying to pull his mood out of the ditch he’d dug for it.

“You have no reason to want me there,” Spock said, and Jim glanced up from the board. Spock hadn’t yet moved. “You will no doubt enjoy yourself more with McCoy.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “I enjoy myself with you too, you know. I could be playing chess with a computer right now if I wanted to.”

“I apologize. I am behaving unreasonably,” Spock said, and he sounded so sad. His eyebrows had drawn together, and he moved his rook. They were both pulling their punches, Jim noticed.

He sighed and thought to himself with a little bitterness that he didn’t have to accept the apology. Spock had never accepted his . But he also couldn’t stand staying mad. “It’s okay, Spock. I’m being an ass.”

There was another pause. Each of them moved a couple times, and Jim thought that might be the end of it.

“I would like to accompany you to Iowa,” Spock said suddenly.

Jim almost dropped the knight he’d picked up. “What?”

“I would like to come. If you and your parents would still have me.”

“What about your work? And the VCC?”

“It is nothing that cannot wait.”

“But you’d have to spend almost a month with Bones .”

“In addition to your family and yourself. I can ‘get along’ with McCoy under those circumstances.”

Jim took a moment to marvel at this development, heart swelling. He wanted to come. Even after that .

“You miss Iowa, don’t you?”

Spock paused, looking contemplative, and took a breath. If Jim didn’t know any better he’d think the man was steadying himself. “You don’t just lose your connection to a place when you leave it,” he said, quoting Jim’s own words down to the contraction.

Jim was recalled of the night Spock had admitted to missing his parents. The only other time in his life he’d owned up to ‘sentimentality.’ It cooled his temper. “Then I guess I’d better let mom know to set another place at the table.”

“I appreciate that, Jim.”

“You promise you aren’t just going because you’re jealous of Bones.”

“I promise.” Of course, Spock didn’t deny that he was jealous of Bones.

“Mom and dad are going to lose their minds when I tell them.”

“Did they know you would be extending the invitation?”

Jim shook his head, arranging himself in a more comfortable sitting position, “Nah. I didn’t want them to get their hopes up, or harass you about it if you decided not to come.” He paused. “I am glad you’re going to be there.”

“I suspect McCoy will not share your sentiment.”

Jim smiled a little at that. “Oh, probably not, but I’ll butter him up. We’re leaving Sunday. Will that be all right?”

“Indeed. I will make the necessary arrangements. Thank you for inviting me.”

“You’re a bit overdue for a homecoming.”

“Yes,” Spock said, “I believe I am.”

 

--

Jim returned to his room later that night when the storm had finally subsided. Spock had beaten him in their game, but Jim still felt like he’d won something. Now he just had to break the news to his other best friend.

When he arrived, Bones was in the adjacent bathroom, brushing his teeth. Jim was glad, if only because he could avoid a snarky retort by accosting him with his mouth full.

“Hey, Bones. Guess what.”

“Hmm?” Bones replied and turned to him, eyes taking in the rolled up slacks and old flannel shirt Jim was wearing. His eyes widened in horror. “Don’t tell me,” he said around the brush in his mouth, then spit into the sink. “I mean that. I don’t want to hear it.”

“What? I-- how did you know?”

Bones squared up with him, setting his toothbrush on the counter and wiping the corner of his mouth with his hand. “You come back after a long romantic stroll with that green-blooded monstrosity, wearing clothes you sure as hell didn’t leave in? God help me, Jim. I’m happy for you, but I don’t want to know.”

It took a minute for Jim’s brain to catch up to Bones’ assumptions. When it clicked, he held up his hands in defense.

“No, no no, no. No that is not-- You’re about as far from the mark as you can get. We got caught in the rain, that’s all.” Not that he objected to the idea, far from it, but it wouldn’t do for Bones to think something had happened that really only happened in Jim’s wildest dreams.

Bones seemed to relax slightly, breathing out a sigh. “I’m not sure if that’s a relief or not,” he admitted. “I was about ready for you two to stop dancing around each other.”

That was news to Jim. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, forget it. What d’you need?”

Jim thought back to what he’d said, then had to put his brain train back on its tracks. What the hell had he been about to say?

Then it hit him and he remembered why he’d been smiling when he walked in.  “Oh, that’s right. How do you feel about sitting in a car with Spock for five or six hours?”

Bones froze, looking more scandalized even than when he’d assumed Jim and Spock had just had sex.

“You didn’t.”

“It’s just going to be a few weeks and a couple long car rides--”

“You didn’t. Jim, tell me I am not going to be spending my whole winter break with that pointy-eared--”

“Racism, Bones.”

“Goddamnit, Jim. The two of you are going to be the death of me. It’s too late to pretend I’ve come down with some incurable disease, isn’t it?”

“Way too late.”

Bones sighed. “Fine, but your dad still better have that fine selection of scotch you mentioned.”

“Bottles of it.”

Bones stuck the toothbrush back in his mouth and turned away from Jim. “The things I do for you, kid,” he mumbled around it, and Jim shut the door.

Chapter Text

1.

Spock was fourteen years old. He stood in a dusty driveway as four strangers approached him, each wearing human smiles but for the youngest who looked suspicious of his presence. Spock didn’t blame him. Even he didn’t know why he was here.

Consciously, of course he knew. He was aware of the war that raged on his home planet, was aware of the arrangements that had been made for his care, but why he couldn’t stay with his parents when he had done all but beg…

The father took his bag. The mother smiled tensely. The children raised their hands in the symbol of his people and he was angry, frightened, exhausted from the journey, but he couldn’t show it, could never show it. When they offered a tour, he had to accept. When they showed him kindness, he had to be gracious.

They asked him some questions, and he responded the best he could. Even when he responded incorrectly. He had no interest in Earth, but telling the youngest child, Jim, as much was a mistake. He excused himself, but couldn’t bring himself to meditate. Would his hosts object to the smell of his candles? Would they mock him for clinging to his homeworld’s spirituality?

But to Spock’s surprise they tried the best they could. They altered their diets to fit his. Jim helped him meditate, though he was unsuccessful. George Jr. talked to him about his interests, Winona-- about his family, George Sr.-- about the farm. And because they tried, he did too. He tried to understand the emotions that governed their every action, tried not to judge them for what his father would call their human failings.

Jim in particular was fascinating to him, though Spock treated the boy with caution at first, partially because he had been the most hostile toward Spock upon his arrival. But Jim’s frequent attempts to connect to Spock showed so much effort, so much care and desire to understand, that Spock could only reject him for so long. What Jim saw in him, he never knew, but they began to form what he supposed must be friendship, though he had nothing to compare it to.

One day, Jim caught Spock standing in the sunlight, attempting to soak up as much heat as he could, and he simply stood beside him. He didn’t ask why Spock was there with his arms outstretched (though Spock had lowered them when he realized he’d been discovered). Instead he simply gave Spock one of those frequent smiles that reached all the way to the the corners of those bright, hazel eyes and suggested activities they could do outside.

Spock had never wanted to play catch, as the practice seemed a waste of time, but he found it could be interesting, and moving around in the heat of the summer day made him feel as though he were on Vulcan on a cool evening. Not warm enough to be typical, but warm enough to be comfortable. He did not know before that moment that there was any way to be comfortable on Earth.

When he started school, he realized how out-of-place he truly was, though he had begun to feel less alone at the farm. There were so many people-- too many, each of them projecting their emotions as though they were shouting them through those narrow halls. It took a long time to adjust, and the other students did not make it easy on him.

Spock came to understand that the family that had taken him in was good, that even Jim who was illogical and exuberant was a remarkable representative of his race and his age, that human children could be cruel and suspicious and scared, just as he could be.

The other Vulcans were meant to help. They were meant to find companionship and logic in each other that they could not find elsewhere. But T’Peha and Selen knew who he was, judged him for his birth, and while they were logical, they were not companions.

Jim had become a companion, a development that Spock had not expected. No human had yet found how to break down his barriers like Jim. No human had yet found a way to enrage him the way Jim was able, or to ease his fears the way Jim could, or to instill in him that sense of contentment he needed. He hoped, sometimes, that he was that person for Jim, too, though the boy had many friends, and Spock could hardly be the most important of them.

 

 

2.

Spock was fifteen years old, and grateful beyond logic that Jim had skipped a grade. If he had been forced to navigate the halls of this high school alone, he would have felt worse, even, than he did now. Less in-control, less centered. For all Jim could throw off his balance, he had a remarkable talent for helping him regain it.

In the evenings, they would take apart appliances in the garage. They would sit in the field and look at the clouds. They would brush the horses. They would feed the chickens. Spock became comfortable with a presence at his side. He often let Jim choose their activities or lead the conversation, but over time he grew bolder. Jim seemed to like it when Spock shared his thoughts without being prompted.

He still followed the teachings of Surak as though his life depended on them, but he grew accustomed to the emotionalism of his human hosts, and his tendency to judge them for it had faded. Occasionally, he even allowed himself to feel without judgement, to glow under George’s praise when he won first place at the science fair (which had hardly been a challenge) or to look at the stars and miss his home, however illogical it was.

When his parents visited, he tried to maintain more control, but they knew he had been lax in his practice. His mother would give him small smiles of understanding, because of all people she knew how difficult it could be to follow pure logic. His father would judge him, sometimes harshly, because even the slightest tic of Spock’s expression was enough to tell his father all he needed to know-- that the humans were weakening his hold on his emotions. Even the positive ones. Even the ones Spock secretly wanted to feel.

Like affection. Attachment. Jim mentioned joining Starfleet, and asked if Spock would join with him. Though the question was careless, tossed around as a ‘maybe,’ a ‘possibly,’ a ‘someday,’ he truly considered it. Spock didn’t know what the future held, and told his friend as much, but a part of him was enamored with the idea. To be part of an organization that would protect people like his, to learn from the greatest Federation scientists, to eventually become a great scientist in his own right-- and to do it all at Jim’s side.

There was so much good to be done, Jim had said, and Spock was proud that his human was the one that would do it.

But Jim was not his human, not solely, and he knew that. Nor were the Kirks his family. For all he cared for them, he knew. A painting that Sam (as Spock had finally become comfortable calling him) had made as a child hung in the kitchen. Holos of the boys as toddlers decorated the living room. Bikes, too small for any of them, lay on their sides in the shed, a reminder of when the Kirk boys had learned how to ride them. Some nights, Sam and Jim would ride horses together or the family would laugh over a memory one of them recalled, and Spock would feel separated from them intrinsically, on a level that went beyond the differences of their races.

The Kirks were not his family. Though in his weakest moments he wished they were.

 

 

3.

Spock was sixteen years old, and he had to remind himself frequently that he did not have the capacity for jealousy, that jealousy was an emotion like any other that could be contained, then dismantled. When Jim began a romantic relationship with Marlena, who was in all respects a great match, Spock could not rationalize his anger, nor his fear that he might lose the one solid connection he had formed.

But he felt it, and he felt ashamed of it because he was supposed to be above such petty feelings. He would watch Jim in quiet moments-- golden against the golden backdrop of Iowa wheat, dark golden hair, bright golden eyes, sharing smiles with Spock at the slightest provocation-- and know that no one deserved him. But Spock did his best to suppress those thoughts. Despite the way he shined, Jim should not have been more precious than any other human.

Then the news came of the Romulan occupation and suddenly there was no hope of suppressing his emotions, and the anger he’d felt before had been nothing in comparison to this.

He was in the living room with Winona and George, who sat on the couch, both leaning their elbows on their knees. In the armchair across from them, back straight, face betraying nothing, all Spock wanted to do was cry out-- whether in anguish or rage he didn’t know. The datapadd they’d handed to him lay in his lap with the frozen face of a Romulan staring up at him. He told George and Winona that he required solitude, though he knew what he actually needed.

He made his way to his room as quickly as he could without looking hurried and shut the door behind him, a breath heaving from his chest as he plastered himself against the door and put his face in his hand. He did not allow himself to cry, but it took a moment to compose himself enough to pull the communicator from his pocket and type a trembling message to his friend. It was unlikely Jim would receive it. He was with Marlena.

Feeling more alone than he had in many years, Spock set out his candles, hands unsteady, thinking meditation was the only way to shed this feeling. It felt like the boots of those Romulan soldiers were stepping on his soul, and even as he sank to the rug and steepled his hands and closed his eyes, he knew these were not the kinds of emotions that could be placed in a box and categorized. This was visceral, like an open wound, and it required a different kind of triage.

He thought of Jim, then. Jim, who felt each feeling he had with such intensity Spock wondered that he didn’t explode with it. It was the thought of that friend, or maybe instinct, that drove him out his window, hopping from roof to ground as silently as he could. He brought the datapadd with him, so when he finally settled out in the pasture, he could stare at the faces of the people who had taken his home from him, the people who looked just like him, the warning of what the Vulcans almost became.

This was precisely why he needed control, even now when he felt as though he couldn’t bear it. He now saw what happened when logic failed.

He had almost forgotten that he had messaged Jim until he heard footsteps in the grass, quite a while later. Spock was more controlled now, had spent the last hour listening to the sounds of the cows shuffling around him, the crickets in the scrub brush. But the second he saw Jim, he felt such a wave of relief that it almost shattered the tentative peace he’d found.

Jim apologized. Spock could hardly care where he’d been or why. What mattered was that he was here now.

Spock attempted to explain what was happening, but the more he spoke the more he just regurgitated what he’d read. He couldn’t allow himself to think about the words because then he would feel them, but he still felt them. It hurt.

Clearly frightened, Jim didn’t seem to know what to say. Spock hated to see someone so steady so shaken. Maybe Jim felt the same about him.

When he fell silent, he hoped Jim would fill that silence, but he didn’t. Spock, who couldn’t bear the sound of the evening breeze for another moment began to speak himself. He explained why he’d chosen the field over the solitude of his room, but somehow it all came crashing back to the simple fact that his home was no longer there waiting for him. He would never return. This feeling of separation, of isolation, would never ease. He cried for the first time in more years than even he knew.

Jim did not hesitate when he wrapped Spock in his arms, holding him so tightly Spock felt the air leave his lungs, and in that moment all he could do was bury himself in that simple acceptance. If he had let a tear fall in front of anyone else, they would shame him for it, but not Jim. Not Jim.

He wrapped his arms around his friend and gave in, walls falling to the point he didn’t care that he was projecting, didn’t care that he picked up every pinprick of sadness and worry coming off of Jim. He needed that, drank in Jim’s emotions like water, soaked up the strength and understanding and affection that was so powerful he almost drowned in it.

Jim cared for him, who he was under everything, and Spock needed him to.

If this was what emotions could do-- provide comfort where there should have been no comfort, provide strength where there was weakness-- Spock wanted them. He wanted to feel. At that moment feeling was the only thing that saved him.

He apologized, rebuilt his walls out of reflex, but all he wanted to do was sink back into Jim’s affection. Then, Jim called Spock his best friend, and Spock believed him. More than that, he felt the same way. Though he’d been trying all this time to push it aside or diminish its importance, Jim was his best friend, the only person who could calm the storms inside him, and Spock cared for him. He wanted to care for him because that was what Jim deserved. Love, an emotion that Spock hadn’t known he was capable of, and now wanted desperately to give.

 

 

4.

Spock was seventeen years old, and he did not judge his friend. Jim was a young man in his own right, and he was allowed to do what he wanted to do. Even when he wanted to attend a party of all things. Why anyone would choose to become inebriated was a mystery to Spock, as his own brush with the feeling had been horrifying. At the time, he’d started to say things that could shatter the relationship that was so important to him. It was a blessing he’d caught himself in time.

Jim had an infinite capacity for acceptance, but even he couldn’t be expected to accept Spock’s love, especially not when Spock was still sorting the feelings, cataloguing them, trying to understand them. He’d come to understand that love meant many things. Friendship, which he had felt for Jim for years now; brotherhood, which he knew was deeper than friendship, perhaps longer-lasting, perhaps stronger; and romantic love, which encapsulated in itself a simple desire to be close.

Spock wanted very much to be close to Jim, as close as he could be in whatever way he could. That, of course, bred a whole new feeling-- attraction, which was a monster Spock had no idea how to contain.

Spock knew his love for Jim extended in all of these directions, boundlessly, but even though he’d come to understand and accept certain emotions to the point of expressing them, he hadn’t yet reached that point with love. It was tied directly into another emotion he barely understood. Fear.

He offered to drive Jim to the party, because he couldn’t bear the thought of Jim hurting himself, and he knew actions like this were a safe way to express himself. He couldn’t say any of this to Jim, but he could care for him the way any friend would. Though Spock had no desire to go, he did want Jim to have a good time.

It was illogical, then, that when Spock witnessed Jim doing just that, he felt himself shut down. He never forgot the scene he’d captured in the car’s headlights-- Jim resting his head on Marlena’s shoulder, stroking her fingers in a touch that was intimate by human standards, let alone by Vulcan. Spock’s old jealousy rose up in that moment, and though he tried to pretend he didn’t feel it, it was in fact all he could think about. Jim did not mention when he got into the car that he and  Marlena had rekindled their romance, but Spock didn’t need to hear it. He didn’t want to hear it.

It was not his place to be jealous. Friends were supportive, and he was Jim’s friend-- though he had trouble supporting Jim in this.

Jim babbled drunkenly along the drive home, then the whole way up the stairs while Spock attempted to support his weight without letting his own emotional walls down. He ached with wanting, and Jim was oblivious. He had to remain that way.

Then, the bedroom, and Spock was so anxious to leave Jim’s presence while simultaneously desperate to stay, and when he turned around to see Jim standing there practically bare in the white glow of moonlight, he couldn’t bring himself to move.

Then, Jim approached. Spock attempted to contain his panic, attempted to force himself to move away, but something in Jim’s stare stilled him.

He placed a hand on Spock’s neck and, in the same motion, pulled him into a kiss as gentle as if Jim knew how fragile his friend could be. It ruined him. Spock threw up his walls immediately, fear swelling to encompass all thoughts of love and lust that had been swimming in his mind. He knew what a human kiss was, and part of him felt a rising, billowing joy at the moment-- all his desires encapsulated in a single touch.

But he smelled the beer on Jim’s breath, felt the flush of his skin, remembered Jim’s fingers intertwined with Marlena’s. The very second after their lips met, Spock grabbed him in preparation to pull away.

It was human weakness that caused him to let the moment linger, for just a little longer than he should have.

He could have thrown Jim off of him, and he wanted to, because he knew Jim didn’t feel the way he thought he did, knew Jim didn’t want him , but he tried to be gentle when he pulled him away, tried to be gentle when he told him to rest.

Spock spent that whole night running over the events of the evening in his mind. Though he was sure Jim had just been drunk, had just misplaced his feelings for Marlena onto the nearest warm body, a voice kept telling him against all logic that maybe Jim’s true feelings were coming out. So it had been for Spock, after all. The second he became inebriated, the doors to his thoughts had flown open. If there was even the slightest chance Jim cared for him the way that Spock did...

He waited for Jim the next morning at the kitchen table, nerves tensing his shoulders and knotting his stomach. Jim would be sober when he awoke, and Spock had prepared a series of direct questions to eliminate all doubt, to ensure he understood.

If Jim had kissed him because he was drunk, then Spock would deliver one of the speeches he’d been practicing in his head-- the one where he lectured Jim about his carelessness and pretended not to be affected. If Jim had kissed him because he cared for him, well, Spock’s speech for that scenario was much shorter. I care for you too, and though it goes against everything I have been taught I want to be with you. Then, hopefully, Jim would say he wanted to be with him too.

But the word “mistake” was one of the first to leave Jim’s lips, and Spock felt his stomach clench to the point he nearly doubled over with the pain. He knew he’d had a speech prepared, but he couldn’t even look at Jim, not now.

He was so ashamed. The fact that he had dared to hope, dared, even, to care in the first place, dared to place his trust and affection in someone whose whims shifted with the winds--

Spock fled, heart pounding with anger at himself more than anger at Jim. He should have known better. He’d been taught all his life to know better. The moment he got outside and left Jim alone in that kitchen, he scolded himself for ever letting his guard down, ever thinking he’d found safety here, with Jim.

He forgot every quiet moment of happiness he’d ever allowed himself to feel, every sweet swell of pride, and only remembered the barest press of Jim’s lips against his own, the feeling of his hot skin beneath Spock’s hands, the smell of alcohol and the croak in Jim’s voice when he said “sorry,” when he said “mistake.”

Spock had not been training himself to handle emotions like this, not for years, and so it hit him harder than he was able to admit to himself.

He couldn’t look at Jim for days.

It was a relief when his parents came to collect him, a relief when he’d visited the city. Farther away from Jim, from the farm, it was easier to forget what his time with humans had done to him. When he toured the community center, he was struck by the size of the learning pods. So small, each made to fit just one person. Maybe solitude was what he’d needed all along.

His father advocated for the move. It was what Spock had wanted since the beginning-- his own family, his own home, nothing secondhand from Jim Kirk-- and now he needed it. He needed to leave that little farm that had become so precious to him, with all the people he had come to love. He needed to leave them because he had come to love them.

He owed the Kirks a real goodbye, so he did come back to collect his things. It would all have been so much easier if Jim hadn’t tried so hard. He always tried so hard. He was a torrent of hope, optimism, careful kindness and an adventurous spirit that Spock didn’t just love-- he admired . And Jim was also stubborn, unwilling to let go, full of loyalty taken too far because Spock could never explain to him why he had to leave, not truly.

And yes, part of him was furious with Jim, because Spock wanted so much, felt so much, and Jim had done this to him. Jim had made him believe, even for a short time, that his human failings could be assets, that his emotions could connect him to others. Now he would have to spend years undoing the damage. Vulcans had been choosing not to feel for millennia. Spock could do the same.

When he watched the farm recede in the transport’s mirror, he felt relief, and a sadness that bore so deep into him he could hardly bear it. At least, with the Vulcans, he could find some peace.

 

 

5.

A machine could not function with a missing part. Logically, machines were designed for efficiency, each cog, gear, tube and circuit engineered to work in tandem. The same logic applied to people-- even himself. He was missing Jim.

Spock was eighteen, and though he had learned to control his emotions, he could never stop himself from feeling them. His life in San Francisco was adequate. He devoted himself to his studies as he said he would, and so completed his required learning program in half the time it was intended to take. He was an integral member of the Vulcan Community Center. He was training to become an ambassador to his race.

And he hated every moment of it. More than three years of his life had been spent in shaky serenity. Though he’d been lonely, he’d had people to turn to. More than that, he’d had permission to turn to them. Should he slip now, he would be ridiculed. Ostracized.

The memory was hardly useful, but he often recalled the two Vulcans with whom he’d gone to school in Iowa. When they had disavowed him, he at least had Jim and Jim’s human friends. He had joined chess club. He had played games and allowed himself rare smiles.

Here, he had his father and his mother. Amanda, at least, asked him how he was feeling, checked in every once in awhile to see if he wanted to talk. But she also knew better than to push him. She knew as well as Spock did that if she pushed him, he would break.

He thought, by devoting himself to logic, he would be able to move past his emotions, but logic continued to fail him. Over time, he even began to question what the word truly meant.

The abandonment of emotion seemed more like stubbornness, blind adherence to a tradition that didn’t make sense for everyone. How could his people believe in infinite diversity in infinite combinations and not allow for it in their own culture?

Perhaps there was a way to follow logic without following the logic of his father. He had to believe there was. Because every day that passed without Jim Kirk in his life was the key to a realization that happened far too slowly and a year too late.

Loving Jim had been the most logical thing Spock had ever done. Because Jim was the bright light to the darkness that had grown in him over so many years, the one person who questioned without judgement and loved without reservation. Nothing-- not Surak nor science-- made more sense to Spock than this simple feeling.

Though it was too late to mend the ties he had severed by his own will and by force, it was not too late to live his life on the terms he desired, to live the life he may have once lived with Jim at his side. Spock would never again allow himself to feel the depth and breadth of emotion he’d come to know at the farm, but he would allow himself this.

Perhaps in Starfleet he could do some good, as Jim had always wanted to do. Perhaps there he could gain the knowledge and the resources to assist the Vulcans in the only way he knew how-- reclaiming their home. At night he would dream of the hot desert wind blowing through the spired buildings of ShiKahr, the rough stone of the city’s temple under his hand, the roars of pet sehlats from neighboring homes. Even after all these years he longed for those small sensations. If he could be a part of bringing them back to his people, he would.

 

 

6.

Spock was nineteen, and he was a poor example of a Vulcan, though he still maintained his dignity, his Surakian beliefs and his spirituality.

It wasn’t so with the humans he worked amongst. Signing up for the sciences track at Starfleet Academy was akin to agreeing to four years of independent study, which suited Spock well, but ‘independent’ did not mean ‘alone.’

He shared a lab with other cadets, some of them quiet and studious, some of them loud and abrasive, but unlike them he did not contribute to others’ projects unless directly asked, and even then he would choose carefully. He kept to himself for the most part and did his best to do justice to his position.

There were more Vulcans in Starfleet now than ever before, but he knew better than to spend much time around them. Word had spread quickly that the son of the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth had spurned his father and, therefore, his Vulcan heritage. Word had spread that S'chn T'gai Spock was hardly more Vulcan than his human mother. Word had spread that he was no longer welcome in Vulcan circles.

Not to say they would ever refuse him his heritage. He still contributed to the VCC, still met with his mother and father for an occasional meal, but he did not have Vulcan companions. Even those in Starfleet (illogical by their race’s standards) were wary of Spock’s views. To humans, Spock was like any other Vulcan, unemotional and unattached, but Vulcans as a whole believed he was far too willing to feel.

It hardly mattered to him. Spock knew who he was, a sense of self that allowed him a rare feeling of security. He had finally found an application for his talents, a profession that could carry him to positions of influence. Though he was a machine with a missing piece, he managed to function. It would become easier with time, he always told himself, even as time passed to no effect

Thoughts of Jim interrupted his work daily, and he wondered sometimes if Jim had decided to join Starfleet as he’d always planned, or if he was off somewhere else in his life. He wondered if Jim had maintained his relationship with Marlena or if the two had parted ways once again. He wondered if Jim was happy, fulfilled. He wondered, even, if Jim sometimes thought about him, and whether he ever thought of him fondly.

One afternoon, similar to every afternoon that had passed since the beginning of the semester, Spock stood studying the results of one of his recent experiments, satisfied with his progress, contemplating the next step, when he turned to fetch his datapadd from the counter behind him.

He felt eyes on him and lifted his own, meeting the steady gaze of a cadet like any other, except… he wasn’t like anyone else, was in fact singular in all of existence. Spock knew this young man the second their eyes met.

If he were less in control of his emotions, he would think it was a delusion brought about by desire-- a mirage in a desert, beckoning him, offering him some kind of refuge from the pain he tried so hard to dispel.

But then his mirage smiled, something shining and unrelenting, the same smile Spock remembered that reached the corners of those bright, hazel eyes, a smile borne of affection and friendship that had already transcended so much. Then, his mirage spoke, and Spock felt two years of defenses crumble.

“Spock?”

Chapter Text

They arrived at the farm, harried but alive, the same day they left San Francisco. It had been one short train ride and one very long drive in a rented car, but they managed it. When Jim finally said “Ah, there it is,” he thought Bones might actually duck and roll before the car even stopped, he was so anxious to get out of it.

Part of it was, likely, being trapped in a metal tube with Spock for five hours. Though Jim’s reckless driving and Bones’ penchant for motion sickness may have been a factor.

Nevertheless, when they shrugged themselves out of the car, Bones was the happiest of all of them to make his way up those steps.

It was cold out, though the ground only sported a light dusting of snow. Their breath came out in foggy plumes, and Jim saw Spock shiver out of the corner of his eye. Spock had likely forgotten that winter in Iowa was vastly different from winter in San Francisco.

They were greeted by George and Winona, who flung open the door to the warm glow of old fashioned electric lights and what smelled like a fire going in the living room. They couldn’t seem to decide who to hug first, but settled on Jim, both of them swooping in and hefting him off the ground with their combined weight. Then, Bones, who was standing awkwardly in front of the people he’d only ever chatted briefly with onscreen. That didn’t seem to phase the Kirks, who hugged him just as tight and for just as long.

Then it was Spock, who stood off to the side as though wondering if he was even supposed to be here.

Jim watched with a pain in his chest as Winona practically whispered “May I?” before Spock nodded, and she wrapped him in her arms. Jim watched her bury her face in Spock’s shoulder, watched her fingers pull at Spock’s shirt, and watched as she pulled away with tears wetting her cheeks.

George followed suit, giving Spock a few hard slaps on the back and saying just loud enough for Jim to hear “Welcome home, Spock.”

Spock wore the beginnings of a soft smile, but Jim saw sadness in his eyes. Maybe he’d missed the Kirks as much as they missed him.

Jim’s parents shuffled the three inside, Winona saying something about how dinner was going to be so good tonight, and about how they’d been working in their new greenhouse all season so they could have fresh herbs for the risotto and how they’d cooked more than they figured they needed, but leftovers were never a bad thing and Jim was just so happy to be back.

Yes, he had been ready for the next big adventure since he was thirteen, but there was nothing like coming home.

They made their way into the living room where Sam and a beautiful brunette that Jim recognized from holos as Aurelan were standing, both wearing large smiles. Sam rushed forward to Jim right away, attempting to lift him, though Jim had bulked up a little since they’d last seen each other. Jim was a little distracted hugging Aurelan next as they exchanged “I’ve heard so much about you”s, so he didn’t see Spock and Sam’s reunion, but Sam’s loud “Look who the cat dragged in,” was so sweet and so warm it caused joy to rise up like a hot air balloon inside him.

Introductions were made haphazardly, and Jim was pretty sure he introduced Bones to Sam twice, but then he also thought maybe he’d forgotten to introduce Spock to Aurelan so it kind of became a mess, but everyone got the point all the same. They went immediately into the kitchen were an intoxicating smell was emanating.

The table at the Kirk farm had never been so full. They even dragged the armchair from the living room into the kitchen so they could add one more seat. Of course, this was granted to Winona as the queen of the household, though Jim didn’t think anyone would fight her for it.

Throughout dinner they all tried to catch up with each other. Jim found himself talking loudly across the table at Aurelan a few times, trying to learn about her hobbies and ask about how she was enjoying space travel. Bones and Sam were seated next to each other, and they’d gotten into some long-winded discussion about the virus that Bones had been working on the whole semester. At Jim’s side, Spock talked softly with George and Winona, who were hanging on his words like they couldn’t bear to miss one. Whenever Jim glanced in their direction, he was thrilled.

When Aurelan grabbed Winona’s attention and the two began to talk, Jim spotted an opportunity and placed a hand on Spock’s shoulder, pulling Spock in closer so Jim could speak to him quietly.

“You doing okay? It’s a lot of people.”

“Thank you for your concern, Jim. I am quite alright, provided the hugging portion of the evening is quite finished.”

Jim released him and gave him a winning smile. “I don’t know about that, but you’re safe for now.”

So the evening went for a few hours, chatting over empty plates, sipping on wine or water. When they decided to move into the living room, Bones stepped up to help with dishes, which prompted Spock to volunteer as well (at least Jim was pretty sure it had prompted Spock), but when that was done they all lounged in satiated comfort.

Sam, Aurelan, George and Winona all shared the long couch while Spock and Bones took the chairs. Jim had volunteered to sit on the floor between them, leaning against the side of Spock’s chair to give some support to his back-- aching from the day’s travels and an overfull belly.

As they chatted, Jim saw Spock eyeing the holos that had been set up since he’d been here. There were two that featured Spock-- one of him at the science fair where he obviously won first place, and one of he and Jim outside in the pasture. Jim hoped Spock wasn’t weirded out by the fact that the Kirks still had them, still played them on occasion. It must have been strange to realize that the family had kept loving him, even after he left.

Bones was particularly fond of the holos himself, pointing to the one of Spock at the science fair and grinning madly. “God help me, Spock, you actually did have a childhood. And here I thought you were made in a lab.”

“Well, technically--”

Jim knew this story, and figured it probably wasn’t the best post-dinner conversation. He cut Spock off, “He didn’t just have a childhood. He had a great childhood thanks to yours truly.”

“My sympathies,” Bones said to Spock, earning a chuckle from everyone.

“C’mon, Bones,” Jim wheedled, “I was a great kid. Wasn’t I, Spock?”

Spock was spared the burden of answering by Bones, who teased right back. “For your family’s sake, I hope you were a better kid than you are a roommate.”

“That reminds me,” Winona piped up, “Two of you boys are going to have to share a room for a week. I figure you’ll probably want to draw straws.”

Jim laughed at the idea of fate conspiring to make Bones and Spock share a space. He had a feeling one or both of them would leave the next day if that were the case.

“Sorry,” Sam said with a little wave. He was sitting on the couch beside George and Winona with his arm around Aurelan. “That’s our fault.”

“It is of no importance. I will sleep on Jim’s floor,” Spock said, which threw Jim for a bit of a loop.

“Really?” he asked, not meaning to sound as surprised as he did. Sam shot Jim a look as if to ask if he was alright with it. Jim certainly didn’t have a problem, but he didn’t think Spock would be on board.

“It is logical. McCoy shares a room with you throughout the semester,” Spock said to Jim, “I believe having his own space may help his mood.”

“That’s the first thing you’ve ever said that I’ve agreed with,” Bones said. Jim grinned at his friend. He did deserve the reprieve from Jim’s mess.

“Then it’s settled,” George said. “Though, I guess I can’t tell you boys when it’s bedtime anymore.” He flashed a fond smile at the two of them, which Jim returned. He couldn’t imagine how George and Winona felt right now, seeing Jim and Spock sitting so close together, sharing conversations again. It made Jim a little self-conscious, if only because he’d been the one to fracture the family in the first place.

“Well I can,” Jim replied, sitting up a little straighter, though his back creaked with the effort. They’d been stuck in that car most of the day, and now with a hefty bit of socializing and good food on top of it, the thought of sleep was incredibly appealing. “I just have to remind myself we’ve got three weeks. We don’t have to pack everything in tonight.”

“You’re going to bed?” Sam asked. “We haven’t even had a chance to catch up, you and me.”

“Horseback ride tomorrow?”

“Deal.”

“Hey now,” Bones said, “You know I’m not going to visit an honest to god farm without taking a spin myself.”

Jim smiled, “I could ride horses all day, Bones. We’ll have a ride too. If Waffles were still around you could come with us.”

“Oh my god, Waffles,” Sam laughed, and Aurelan looked at him.

“Waffles? Sam, honey, please tell me that wasn’t the name of a horse,”

“His childhood pony,” Winona smiled. “You always let a boy name his own pony.”

“Don’t let the name fool you,” Jim assured Aurelan, “he was vicious.”

“I’m sure he was,” She laughed, voice lilting and lovely. “Who would’ve thought I’d find myself a real life cowboy. Momma will be so proud.” She gave Sam a teasing look, and Jim decided he liked her a lot.

“Alright, alright, for real this time,” he said, “I’m gonna hit the hay.” He stood and stretched, shooting a look behind him at his friends, “Spock? Bones?”

Spock also stood, “I will join you.”

“Not me,” Bones said, sinking a little farther into his chair. “Mr. Kirk here’s promised me a vintage Lagavulin.” He tilted his head at George as though making sure the offer still stood. George gave him a knowing nod, and Jim rolled his eyes. He hadn’t quite gotten what the fuss was about scotch yet. To him, he figured he might as well just stand next to a campfire with his mouth open and it’d taste the same.

“Alright, well, then let’s get the goodnights over with,” Jim said happily, holding out his arms. Sam was the first to give him a hug, then Aurelan, then his parents. Spock, hugged-out from earlier, simply nodded, already making his way toward the stairs.

They said their goodnights and went up to the linen closet as they had so many nights in their youth. Like always, Jim grabbed the blankets and Spock grabbed a pillow. All the while Jim tried not to think about the last time they’d done this.

“I’m glad you had a good time,” Jim said to Spock as they made their way to his room. Spock nodded, a light in his eyes that Jim was incredibly pleased to see.

“Indeed. I am surprised your family was so welcoming.”

“You have to stop that,” Jim said gently, “being surprised, I mean. It’s obvious they’re just bananas over you, right?”

Spock gave Jim a considering look, “While I have always taken issue with that phrase based on its objective ridiculousness, I appreciate that you think so.”

Jim helped Spock lay the sheets on the floor before heading to his closet as Spock set to smoothing out his bed. He didn’t realize until he’d already shed his shirt and jeans that Spock wasn’t into the whole changing in front of each other thing anymore. It caused him a flash of embarrassment, but it was too late now. Without glancing behind him to see if Spock had even noticed, he slipped on some shorts and an old T-shirt. When he did turn, it looked as though Spock hadn’t looked up from his task at all, though he did seem rather intent on lining up the corners of his blankets.

Spock made short work of the bed, and Jim went to close the door, just as Sam and Aurelan came upstairs. He was glad they weren’t the only ones going to bed early. He waved, and both of them returned it. Sam followed Aurelan into his bedroom holding her hand.

Jim turned around, and Spock was behind him with an armful of clothes. “If I may, Jim,” he nodded, hinting he’d like to pass, probably to change in the restroom.

“Oh, of course,” he said, moving aside. He watched Spock for a moment before turning away. This was so surreal, similar to a routine they’d perfected over so many years, and yet decidedly different. He wasn’t sure if it was a good feeling or a bad one, sharing the night with Spock again.

When Spock came back a few minutes later, Jim was already in bed, making sure his alarm wouldn’t go off at five like it did on most Mondays. “You excited to sleep in?” He asked, maybe forgetting who he was talking to for a second.

“It is unlikely that I will. I estimate I’ll be awake by 2:30 in the morning.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “That can’t be healthy,” he said. “You’re on vacation. Enjoy it.”

“Sleep and enjoyment do not go hand-in-hand,” Spock said with an indulgent look at his friend. He settled onto his palate.

“So what are you going to do for three hours before anyone else gets moving?”

“I believe I will visit the chickens.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t head to the coop first thing.”

“That would have been quite rude to your parents.”

“Trust me, Spock, they would’ve expected it.”

Jim commanded the lights off and crawled under his covers, a smile on his lips.

“Good night, Jim,” Spock said.

“Good night, Spock.” He rolled so his back was to his friend, starting to feel very young in this room.

Flopping from his left side to his right and finally settling on his back, Jim had some trouble getting comfortable. Despite how tired he was he just couldn’t quite manage to sleep. His brain was going a thousand miles an hour, first stressing over his Xenolinguistics assignment before remembering he’d completed both the assignment and the course itself, obviously.

Then, mind needing a new subject for its worry, Jim wondered what Bones and his family were talking about downstairs. What if they were badmouthing him, tossing around the blame they’d withheld for so long now that Spock was back in their lives? But that was a ridiculous thought.

Then the reason they might blame him floated back into his memory, and he almost groaned. Once he started going down that rabbit hole of thoughts, he’d almost certainly be up all night. He huffed out his nose and rolled so he was facing Spock in the darkness. He could just make out the slope of Spock’s nose in the glow from the window, the outline of his lips and, Jim thought, the shine of eyes.

“Spock,” Jim whispered loudly. “You awake?”

“Yes, Jim. There is no need to whisper.”

“What do you think they’re talking about downstairs?”

By his silence, Jim assumed Spock was rolling his eyes, or at least making that face of ‘really, Jim?’ but he indulged him all the same.

“Likely scotch. Potentially McCoy’s studies. It is also possible they are talking about you in unflattering ways and discussing your faults.”

Jim glared, though he knew Spock couldn’t see in the darkness. “Thanks.”

“My apologies, Jim. It was an attempt at humor. That is what you are worried about.” He didn’t even turn that into a question. Was Jim so transparent?

Jim rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “Maybe.”

“There is no need to be nervous. Were they talking about your faults, the conversation would be very short.”

Jim’s brief annoyance fled him immediately, and he felt himself sinking into the bed, fingers curling on the comforter. “Another attempt at humor, Spock?” Jim asked, feeling his face flush in spite of himself.

“Good night, Jim,” Spock said again, pointedly this time, and Jim sighed.

“Alright, alright, I’ll stop bugging you. Good night, Spock.”

He didn’t sleep for a while yet, mind still supplying plenty of anxieties, but he reminded himself that he could sleep in all day tomorrow if he wanted to, and that was enough thought to bring him a little peace.

 

--

 

The first week of winter break passed smoothly. Jim and Sam did go on their horseback ride, and Sam blessedly only asked a few questions about Spock. He’d known they reconnected, of course, but he was so worried about his brother’s emotional state it was somewhere between sweet and annoying.

“I just want to make sure this isn’t going to end the same way it did last time,” he’d said, breath fogging the morning air as the horses nuzzled around in the snow at their hooves.

“Trust me, that’s all I want too,” Jim had said, and that had been the end of it.

As far as outings went, the family did visit their favorite restaurant once or twice, trying to fit in as much fun as they could while Aurelan was visiting. She had never seen Iowa, so a few of them went on a nice long daytrip to check out the state’s “landmarks,” which were mostly just old archeological sites and pioneer buildings, but she seemed to enjoy herself all the same.

One day, Jim took Spock back to the museum for nostalgia’s sake. He’d invited Bones, but Bones was mostly interested in staying on the farm, sitting by the fireplace and reading. “Never underestimate how good some time in the countryside is for your health, Jim,” he’d said vehemently, “I’m gonna soak up every last minute of it.”

That was all right by Jim, it was fun navigating the museum with Spock. Nothing in it had changed, not for decades, so Spock still remembered all his favorite exhibits. It was amazing, seeing that old light in Spock’s eyes, and it began to happen more frequently as the days passed.

Whenever George recalled a story that Spock had been present for, or when Jim brought up a memory that Spock had likely filed away, Jim could swear he saw that old Spock coming back, the easy expressions, the gentle companionship. He hadn’t even been conscious of how much Spock had changed over the last few years until he saw this transformation in progress.

But, of course, there was that undercurrent of sadness in him too. In both of them. They were reminded of how much they had missed, and of what had driven Spock away in the first place. Jim couldn’t be sure that’s what Spock was feeling, but-- strange as it sounded-- he sensed it in him. If Jim were off the mark, he figured he felt it enough for the both of them anyway.

Sometimes, when they were having a particularly nice conversation or sitting in comfortable silence with his parents in the living room, Jim would think about all those once-dormant desires, to even just sit the way Sam and Aurelan sat leaning against each other as if that sense of comfort and support were innate in them. It hurt, but he’d signed up for “pained silence” when it came to Spock and that’s as much as he allowed himself.

It was easier after the happy couple left, though Jim was sad to see them go. At least he got his bedroom back. Bones started sleeping in Sam’s and Spock returned to his own. Spock seemed pleased (though he wouldn’t admit to it) that the walls were still that bright, awful yellow. Maybe he’d grown accustomed to the color, if not fond of it. Or maybe it was just another sign that the Kirks hadn’t erased his presence in their home.

Not that he needed the sign. It had been an ever-present pain of Jim’s over the last two years that reminders of Spock were everywhere. In the holos, certainly, but also in the replicator unit he’d helped repair, the spice rack he’d organized meticulously (which had miraculously stayed that way), the automated egg cleaner he’d built for that science fair, which had become an absolute necessity in their house… These things had been everyday woes for Jim, but now he saw them of reminders of the life that Spock missed. It made his friend seem that much more human.

 

--

 

“You aren’t much for pictures, are you, Spock?” Bones remarked one afternoon.

It was just the three of them in the living room, as George and Winona had run out for groceries. Jim sat curled on the couch with a book on Federation regulations (boring reading, but good study material) open on his lap, which he was only half paying attention to. Bones wandered the living room, examining the holos that flickered on the mantlepiece, the end tables, the walls. The whole room was covered in them. 2D, static pictures hung around the rest of the house, but the living room was like a shrine to the family, captured memories that they could replay.

And Bones did, playing each of them at least once, smiling sweetly at the one where they put Jim on his first pony, or the one with George ruffling Sam’s hair when the boy was just five or six. Spock had wandered into the room moments ago after visiting the chickens.

“If you mean to say I do not photograph well, you are correct,” Spock said. “‘Say cheese’ is not as effective on myself as it is on humans.”

Bones shot him a wry smile and Jim grinned to himself, unable to help listening in. Bones pressed play on the holo of Spock and Jim out in the pasture, which sat above the fireplace. It was taken the first year Spock stayed with them. “Say hi,” Winona’s voice echoed.

“Hello,” Spock’s voice intoned, much higher than it was now, Jim realized, though at the time he remembered thinking Spock was growing up way faster than he was.

“Mom, what are you doing with that thing?” That was Jim. A little bean of a kid.

“Just saying hi to my boys,” she said, “What are you up to?”

“Feeding the cows. Spock’s still afraid of them.”

“Fear is a human emotion, Jim. I simply exercise caution around all unfamiliar creatures,” Spock’s voice reminded him, and Bones chuckled.

“You could learn a lesson from him on that one, Jim,” Winona’s voice laughed.

The holo ended, and Jim smiled to himself. That had been a great day. One of those carefree summers. Spock had managed to hold out a tentative hand of hay to one of the cows, but he didn’t repeat the experience for a good long while.

“‘Human emotion,’” Bones scoffed, and Jim didn’t have to look up to see the expression Spock was wearing, as though he were ready for Bones to say anything and already had a retort planned. “What does that even mean?”

“It means that humans allow their emotions to govern their every action, as you are aware-- being a prime example.”

Jim peeked sideways at them, not wanting them to realize he was listening in, but always happy to get the chance to observe their little tiffs.

“Oh, but you can’t deny you feel some things,” Bones continued, crossing his arms over his chest casually, “You seemed pretty happy there.” He nodded toward the holo, “but I suppose that was just a fluke.”

“Happiness is a human emotion,” Spock confirmed, “But serenity is something we Vulcans are quite capable of feeling. In fact, we strive for it. I experienced many moments of serenity here.”

Bones smiled as though  he’d just won the battle, glancing around the room at all the little flickering memories. “Hard to believe you’d give all that up just ‘cause Jim’s an affectionate drunk.”

Because this was said in the same, light tone, it took Jim’s brain a moment to catch up, to realize what exactly had just fallen out of his friend’s mouth. When it did… Oh, Jim felt his stomach sink to his feet in the space of a second. He held his breath, fingers gripping the edge of his book. The raw silence rang louder in his ears than if Bones had just shouted, and it stretched between the three of them like a shroud. Slowly, Jim swiveled his head to look at his friends.

Spock was standing straight, shoulders taught as a rubber band, hands clenched at his sides. He turned from Bones and met Jim’s eyes.

Jim remembered that look, had been terrified to bring up the past for fear of reliving it, and now that he was met with the fire of fury in Spock’s expression he froze.

“You told him.” Spock said, managing to sound betrayed while betraying almost nothing. Jim opened his mouth to respond, to defend himself, to diffuse the situation, but nothing came out. When it became apparent he didn’t have an answer that would satisfy, Spock’s eyes narrowed and his fists tightened. “Excuse me,” he snapped, striding past Jim and out of the room. Jim winced when he heard the back door open, then slam shut.

He felt the moment ripple around them, trying to understand everything that had just happened, trying to figure out how he could possibly fix it when he turned to Bones, anger burning through him like acid, but Bones didn’t look phased at all. Somehow it made Jim even more furious.

“Bones, what the hell?” he shouted, tossing his book to the side as he stood. He stalked over to his friend. “Why would you say that? What were you thinking ?”

“Someone had to,” Bones said. He had no right to sound so matter-of-fact about it. “If left to your own devices, the two of you--”

“Would have been just fine. Now you’ve gone and ruined it. Who gave you the right--”

“I’m your friend, Jim.” Maybe it was because Bones was still so calm that Jim felt himself stirring into a frenzy.

“Yeah? Well what good’ve you done? How is this supposed to help ?”

Bones put a hand on Jim’s shoulder, taking the teeth from Jim’s rage for a second.

“I’ve had more than one relationship fall to pieces ‘cause I was too stubborn to talk things out. You’ve got a chance to fix it, kid. And you’d better get a jump on it. He’s out there stewing right now.”

“And whose fault is that?” Jim snapped, unwilling to believe that Bones had just dropped this bomb for his own good.

“Jim, just go talk to him.” Bones walked calmly away from Jim, settling himself in one of the armchairs. “And bring him a coat, will you? With his physiology he’ll freeze to death out there.”

Jim leveled a hard glare at his friend, trying to instill in that expression that this was not over, that there would be words later, that Bones had just betrayed his trust. But Bones just met his eyes as if they’d been talking about their classes or the weather.

Without another word, Jim spun on his heel, stalking to the entryway to grab a couple coats. He shrugged into one of them, stamped into his boots, and left in the direction Spock had gone.

In his head, he was preparing one hell of a lecture for Bones, but that had to wait. First, damage control. When he got outside, he saw Spock standing in the pasture with his back to the house, a thin dark line against the white Iowa winter. There wasn’t much snow on the ground, but each blade of grass bore its own sheen of frost.

Jim’s heart sank, watching Spock stand out there with a chill wind whipping the folds of his shirt, wondering what kind of terrible things were running through his head. Aching physically with the feeling, Jim swallowed a hard lump in his throat, steeled himself, and scaled the fence.

It was likely Spock heard Jim’s footsteps crunching toward him, but he said nothing, just stood still as a statue but for the way he shivered in the cold. When Jim drew up beside him, Spock kept his eyes forward, jaw clenched, lips tight.

Wordlessly, Jim handed Spock the coat, a big puffy black thing with stuffing coming out of a seam. It was inelegant, but judging by the fact that Spock snatched it and slipped it on immediately, Jim assumed it was appreciated.

He was just now realizing that, while he’d been preparing that speech for Bones, he probably should have considered what he’d say to Spock. But Spock beat him to the punch.

“You should not have shared something so private with him,” he said, voice as cold as the freezing air around them. Jim stuffed his hands in his pockets, staring straight ahead at the white rolling fields.

“I had to talk to someone about it,” he said in his own defense, still trying to come off that spike of anger. “And I couldn’t bring it up to you again. Clearly.”

“I fail to see why,” Spock said stiffly, and Jim shot him a glare.

“Oh come on, Spock,” he all but groaned. “Of course I wasn’t going to say anything. Last time I saw you before Starfleet, you hated me. You didn’t speak to me for years . Do you know how guilty I’ve felt? How awful it’s been to watch mom play those holos and I know I’m the reason her adopted son never talks to her? So, sorry for keeping my mouth shut. I was so happy to see you-- I didn’t exactly want to remind you that I was the reason you high-tailed it out of here.”

Spock gave an exasperated huff, and Jim fumed. “Jim, I’ve told you, you were not the reason--”

Jim grabbed Spock’s shoulder and wheeled him around, forcing him to meet his eyes, though the smooth soles of Spock’s shoes slipped slightly on the frost. “Then why?” he barked, finally asking the question he’d been stewing over for years. “Why did you leave? It’s okay if you were mad at me. It’s okay if that’s the reason, but you just have to tell me, alright? I think you owe me that much.”

Jim saw it in Spock’s eyes, that he knew he owed it to him, but he looked down at his feet instead of standing up to Jim’s anger. Jim held his breath, ready. Ready for Spock to admit, finally, that he’d left this place hating Jim.

“I cannot tell you,” Spock said, and Jim bit his tongue on his first reaction. “It is the only thing I cannot tell you.” Spock was using Jim’s friendship against him, some heartfelt appeal. I’ve shared so much of myself with you , he seemed to be saying, please don’t make me share this.

But Jim needed this. His conscience needed this. And if it ruined everything then at least it was happening now instead of later. He loved Spock, but maybe Bones was right. Maybe this had to get out if they could ever move forward. “Spock,” Jim said, fury fleeing his tone, which now came across as a plea. “Why did you leave?”

Spock was silent for a moment, then he raised his eyes once again to take in Jim’s expression, as though searching for proof that it was safe, that he could say his piece without judgement.

He should have known by now that that was always the case with Jim.

“I was ashamed,” he finally said, and all the angry momentum Jim had build up left him in those three words. “I had lost control over my emotions, and I believed severing myself from you, from this place, was the only way to regain that control. I was… in error.”

“‘Error?’ You’re not a machine, Spock.” He heard the sound of the family’s truck coming down the road just as he spoke. His parents had returned, and he positioned himself so his back was to the house, hoping no one noticed them arguing out the kitchen window. “You had a right to be angry , ” he continued, rubbing his temples and keeping his focus on his friend.

Spock shook his head and took a breath that spoke to something deeper. “I did not lose control over my anger. Rather, it was the source of my anger. That night, I became aware of the extent to which I felt...” Spock paused, and Jim bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from interrupting. Spock probably noticed Jim’s anticipation, and restarted, “I had lost control over the affection I bore for you,” he finally said, as though he had to forcibly dig those words from the place inside where he’d buried them. “Affection, which was not returned. The hope I allowed myself, which was unfounded. I was ashamed, Jim, that I had allowed myself to care for you to the point that... ” Spock stopped, set his jaw and bit back whatever else he was about to say.

Jim’s thoughts caught on Spock’s words like splinters, trying to listen past “affection,” tried to keep up after “hope,” but what he was hearing was too unbelievable to be real. He had to be misunderstanding… something .

“You made a mistake, Jim,” Spock said finally, when it became apparent Jim didn’t know what to say. “I do not fault you for that. The fault lies within myself. Because I wanted -- I allowed myself to want. And you...”

Then, to Jim’s complete shock, Spock reached out a tentative hand, brushing ice-cold fingertips along Jim’s knuckles. It was that one touch, the barest grazing of their skin, that undid him. He felt a tidal wave, a supernova, shame and regret and sadness all tied to something so strong he had to pull away, overcome by it.

“Spock--”

Spock drew back, hands tight to his sides. He tore his eyes from Jim as though in pain, “I apologize,” he managed to say, voice strained, “You no doubt understand why I could not--” Spock stopped, breathed a sharp breath through his nose, and turned away. “I must leave.” He took his first steps toward the house before Jim could gather the brain power to say a word, but as Jim watched him pass by, he knew he couldn’t let him walk away again.

“Spock, wait,” Jim said, lunging toward Spock and reaching out, just a little too late. His fingers gripped at Spock’s coat as he felt, to his horror, his feet sliding against the frosted grass. Heart flying to his throat, he reached out instinctively, and felt Spock’s hands fasten around his arms, even as Spock slid himself.

Trying to gain his balance and center his gravity, Jim held onto Spock like a lifeline, knowing they were both the only thing stopping the other from falling onto the frozen ground. Jim’s legs were making an admirable attempt at the splits, while Spock was trying to steady himself on one bent knee. When it looked like they had regained some kind of balance, Jim shot his eyes up at Spock’s, heart pounding.

It was only then he realized how hard Spock was gripping him, and how close they were. The fog from their breath mingled, and Jim felt a smile of relief blooming, turning into a chuckle which pulled itself from his belly and became a laugh. He straightened up as Spock did the same, then dipped his head against Spock’s chest, hands holding tight to Spock’s shoulders as Spock’s own grip loosened, seemingly surprised.

“Jim, are you alright?” The worry in Spock’s tone was sweet, but it just made Jim laugh harder. This was ridiculous. It had all been so ridiculous.

“Didn’t you miss Iowa?” Jim asked through his giggling. He glanced up to Spock to gauge his reaction, but it seemed Spock hadn’t felt the relief that Jim had. He looked thoroughly unamused.

“Jim,” he practically scolded, releasing Jim’s arms like he’d been burned by the touch, “please, this is hardly the time. I… I require solitude.”

As Spock attempted to turn away, Jim’s hold on his shoulders tightened.

“We can be solitary together,” he said, smile still in place, reprising their old back-and-forth, willing Spock to understand that ‘together’ was all Jim wanted,

Spock didn’t respond, just shot Jim an angry look and tried breaking from his hold with more force than before. Jim held fast, still grinning in spite of Spock’s attitude. He’d understand. He had to.

“Spock, stop. Listen.”

Jim ran a hand down Spock’s arm, slipping his fingers into the spaces between Spock’s. The moment their skin touched, Spock stilled and his frustration left the lines of his eyes. Jim didn’t know how telepathy worked, but he willed everything he had into the contact, trying to project his own love, his own affection, his shame for not realizing sooner and his delight-- his pure, giddy exhilaration at knowing now.

And Spock was listening, pulling down those mental walls, inch by inch. He settled his eyes on the clasp of their hands with wonder, confusion, even fear-- Jim felt it all flowing into him. He didn’t want Spock to be scared and confused anymore. He just wanted him to know .

Now that Spock was still, Jim stood against him, raising his other hand to Spock’s face. With his thumb, he traced the peak of Spock’s cheek. His smile was undying.

“Listen,” he said again, gently, pulling himself closer. He licked his lower lip, meeting Spock’s eyes before he closed his own. And then without hurry or fear or hesitation, Jim pressed his lips to Spock’s.

The moment they made contact, Spock surged forward, tilting his head and bringing his free hand to the back of Jim’s neck, where his fingers threaded through Jim’s hair. Their grip on each others’ hands tightened, and Jim let himself fall flush against Spock’s body, whether by the force of Spock’s hand or by the gravity between them he couldn’t tell.

He remembered how Spock’s lips had felt years ago-- warm, gentle, soft, like coming home, but now they responded to him, moulding to his own with every press, every hitch of breath torn from both their lungs. It was Spock who first licked at the seam of Jim’s mouth, first asked for that little bit more, and Jim opened to him like the floodgates of their thoughts were open and he felt love like he’d never experienced it pouring into him. Spock had likely never kissed someone before, and Jim felt himself guiding Spock’s mouth with that gentle hand on his jaw. His tongue was rough, its movement unpracticed, but he made up for it in pure enthusiasm that stole the breath from Jim’s lungs.

When they came up for air, they chased the meeting of their lips with small kisses, just another touch, just another taste before Spock seemed to force himself to stop and pressed their foreheads together. Jim nudged their noses, suggesting wordlessly that they could keep going if they wanted, but Spock’s breaths were unsteady and Jim could feel his heart pounding. It may have been too much, all at once. It had almost been too much for Jim , but part of him was still desperate for more. Spock lowered the hand that had curled itself into Jim’s hair, bringing it to the small of Jim’s back and pulling him in tight. He was trembling.

Jim began to trace the point of Spock’s ear with a gentle hand, smiling, gripped by a sense of serene wonderment that he was allowed a moment like this. “All this time,” he marveled, heart clenching. “How on Earth could you think I didn’t love you too?”

“Jim,” Spock croaked, barely even audible. He brought their clasped hands between their bodies, warming them, thumb stroking Jim’s. Joy blossomed in Jim’s chest, and he didn’t know which of them it was coming from. He didn’t care. “If I had known...” Spock said, the regret of years weighing on him.

“Me too,” Jim responded, lowering his hand to the back of Spock’s neck, holding him in place, so afraid he’d pull away.

But he didn’t. And he wasn’t going to. The realization of it was astounding. It felt like the first time Jim had looked into the sky and felt the pull of the stars, so much potential, so much he didn’t know and so much he wanted to explore. Jim huffed out a small laugh, practically a sob, though he was happy well beyond tears. “I can’t believe it took us this long. We’re two of the smartest guys I know.”

“Evidently not,” Spock said, pulling away, yes, but just to meet Jim’s eyes with a genuine smile touching the corners of his lips. A shiver traveled down Spock’s arms, and Jim stepped back to pull both of Spock’s hands to his chest, rubbing them. He wouldn’t know until a while later why that caused a green flush to flare across Spock’s cheeks.

“What are we doing out here in the cold?” he asked, forcing a casual tone.

“Having an argument, I believe,” Spock replied, threading their fingers together to stop Jim’s ministrations.

“Wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Jim joked, thinking about all these months he could’ve been kissing Spock just like this if he’d just said something. But there was no sense dwelling on the past when he could be making up for lost time.

So he did, leaning forward to share a chaste kiss, no longer wondering if the gesture would be returned. Spock’s lips were cold, despite Jim’s valiant attempts to warm them, and he decided that this was an activity far better suited for the warmth beside the fireplace.

“We should get you inside,” he half whispered.

“That would be wise.”

Jim let go of his hands, making up for the loss of contact by putting an arm around Spock’s waist under the poof of the coat. They turned to make their way toward the house.

He let the smile shine bright on his face, no longer guarding a single thing. Spock wasn’t either. The drape of his arm over Jim’s shoulder was a warm confirmation that they could be this close now. Finally. He leaned into Spock’s shoulder as they kept careful balance on the icy grass.

“What are we going to tell everyone?” Jim asked as they approached the fence. He was loathe to leave the circle of Spock’s affection, but they couldn’t exactly crawl over the fence holding onto each other.

“I had hoped you would have an idea,” Spock admitted, stepping gently over the barrier and holding out his hand to help Jim. He took it gladly.

“To be fair, Spock, I wasn’t really anticipating this when I followed you out here. Haven’t had much time to come up with… I dunno, a plan .”

“Perhaps we should discuss it tonight,” Spock suggested, releasing Jim’s hand when Jim settled safely on the other side of the fence. Jim didn’t want him to let go, but he had a point.

“Yeah, maybe just… keep it under wraps for now? That sounds good.” It didn’t sound great . Jim wanted to tell everyone he knew immediately, but it would probably be safer to talk it over. To figure out what they were before anyone else found out. And what were they? Sam had said once that he couldn’t imagine Spock being anyone’s boyfriend, but, well, it looked like Spock could be Jim’s . He allowed himself a flare of pride at the realization.

They got to the back door, and Spock stilled for a moment. His voice was near a whisper. “Wait, Jim, before we go inside…” he reached toward Jim, two fingers extended, looking almost shy. At first Jim was confused, but then he remembered Spock’s parents exchanging this touch. He only hesitated a moment before pressing his fingertips to Spock’s.

“What does this mean?” he asked, even as a gentle hum of affection made its way up his arm. Whatever it was, it was pleasant.

Spock moved closer, keeping their fingers together, and he pressed his lips to Jim’s forehead. “A Vulcan kiss,” he replied against Jim’s skin, “perhaps a subtle alternative to human methods of expressing affection. Until we are ready to tell anyone.”

Jim grinned widely. “You want to secretly make out with me under the dinner table tonight, don’t you?” he asked in pure delight, pulling away just to read it in Spock’s expression. He did look like he’d been caught red-handed.

“It may have occurred to me.”

“Not that I ever doubted you, Spock, but you are a genius,” he laughed. “Now let’s get in. I want to practice that without worrying your fingers are gonna fall off from frostbite.”

Spock looked appreciative as Jim held the back door open, but he stopped stock still the second he crossed the threshold. An impressive flush overtook his cheeks-- even greener than when they’d kissed. Jim stepped inside and followed the line of Spock’s gaze to the kitchen at large.

Winona and George were leaning against the kitchen sink, their backs to the window that overlooked the pasture. They glanced over when the boys came in, unconvincing looks of surprise on their faces. Bones sat at the table, and he didn’t even bother looking coy.

“Oh there you are,” Winona said a little too brightly. We just now got home. Just a minute ago, didn’t we George?”

“Yup,” George said, “just walked in the door. Didn’t even know you two were outside.”

Jim narrowed his eyes at them, and he suddenly understood why Spock was blushing.

“You were watching?!” He asked incredulously, kicking the door closed behind him. “That was a private conversation.”

“In the middle of an empty field right outside a window,” Bones tacked on, and Jim leveled a finger at him.

“Don’t sass me, Bones. You’re not off the hook yet.”

Winona breathed a sigh and she gave the two of them an apologetic look.

“Well we walked in and Leonard was at the window and we may have gotten a little… over curious. If it makes you feel any better, we looked away when you started kissing,” she entreated, pushing herself off the counter as George ran a nervous hand through his hair and laughed. Jim felt a blush rise on his own cheeks now.

“Mom,” he groaned, “that does not make me feel better.”

“Sorry, boys,” George said, moving to stand beside Winona. “When Leonard said you were arguing, we were a little worried, that’s all.”

Another reason to chastise Bones later. What had he been doing looking out the window? Telling Jim’s parents ? Jim shot him a glare that was answered with a grin.

“Not that there was any reason to worry, apparently,” Winona tacked on with an impish smile. Jim didn’t think he had the capacity to be more embarrassed than he was in this moment.

At least, not until Spock stepped in. He drew himself to his full height, tucked his hands behind his back and took a purposeful stride toward Jim’s parents. Jim reached out to stop him, but it was too late. Somehow he knew what Spock was about to say.

“I apologize that I did not consult you before pursuing a romantic relationship with your son, as I understand that is how human courtship works.” Had Spock been reading the romantics or something? It’s not like he was asking for Jim’s hand . “I trust you will take my assurance that this development was entirely unexpected.”

“Spock--” George started, holding out his hand to soothe Spock’s worries, but Spock barreled on ahead.

“I promise you that I have only the purest of intentions toward your son.” Jim put his face in his hands. Winona covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. Jim at least had to hand it to them, they were taking it better than he thought they would, both of them looking terribly pleased. Bones, Jim noticed through the gap in his fingers, just looked pleased with himself. “And I will endeavor to treat him with the respect that he deserves. Furthermore--”

“We know, honey,” Winona said, shaking her head. She made her way over to Spock and scooped him into a hug. An endearing puff of air flooff ed out of Spock’s jacket when she tightened her arms around his middle. “We know.” That effectively silenced Spock, who stiffened and glanced over his shoulder at Jim as if asking what he should do.

When Winona released him and took a small step back, George put an arm around her shoulders. “Alright, Winn, the boys probably have a lot to talk about. We should give them some privacy.”

Now that was the best idea Jim had heard all day. He stepped up to Spock and grabbed him lightly by the elbow. “No, no, you guys stay here, we’ll go upstairs. Just… no listening at the door, okay? Not that it matters-- I guess you already know everything.”

Bones barked a laugh, and Spock shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

Winona put a hand to her chest, gasping in mock-offense. “You weren’t going to tell us?”

I would’ve told you, ma’am,” Bones said from the table, and Winona leveled her eyes at Jim.

“See, Jim. Leonard would’ve told us.”

“Stop trying to be the favorite, Leonard,” Jim said, though it was without malice.

“Stop making it so easy, Jim,” Bones quipped back without missing a beat. Jim smirked, but he didn’t want to get into it with Bones, not now.

“Alright, alright, you guys have had your fun. Spock?” He turned to Spock then, nodding at the doorway to the living room.

A smile touched Spock’s lips. “Indeed. If you will please excuse us.”

“Of course, you go talk things over. We’ll be down here talking about something else.”

“Yup,” George said, “Something else entirely.”

Though Jim didn’t believe that in the least, he hardly cared. He didn’t wait a second before heading out of the room, pulling Spock along. They shed their shoes and coats at the front door, then mounted the steps. Jim gave Spock an apologetic look.

“Sorry,” he said quietly so no one in the kitchen could hear. It was suspiciously silent in there, as though they were waiting for the boys to get out of earshot too.

“There is no need to apologize. At least we no longer need to worry about what to tell your parents.”

Jim grinned, nudging Spock with his shoulder as they reached the landing. “Isn’t worry a human emotion?” He teased softly.

“One of many I’ve experienced today,” Spock replied.

They made their way into Jim’s bedroom and closed the door, Jim breathed a sigh of relief that they could speak freely now, as he watched Spock settle on the edge of the bed. There was so much to say, he felt, and he had no idea where to begin.

So he started by sitting down and resting his head on Spock’s shoulder. His eyes fell closed and he breathed in that spicy scent that was so uniquely Spock, which clung to the flowing black fabric of his shirt as though woven into it.

Spock took his hand, pressed their fingers together as he had earlier, then stroked down to Jim’s palm. The touch almost buzzed, and Jim felt a shiver run up his arm. He let out a happy little ‘mm’ and shifted closer to Spock, who thankfully continued running his fingers along Jim’s.

“How long?” Jim asked after a while, voice soaked in warm contentment, curling his fingers to brush Spock’s knuckles.

“Many years,” Spock replied, and he rested his lips against the crown of Jim’s head. “I do not know precisely when it began.”

“Yeah? There wasn’t just one moment where you just decided, ‘hey, I like that one’?”

Spock huffed, and Jim was inordinately proud that he’d pulled a laugh from the man beside him. “There were many such moments,” Spock said, “beginning as early as my first summer here.”

That was a surprise. Jim lifted his head from Spock’s shoulder, “Wait, really?”

Spock stopped the gentle movement of his hands, instead bringing one up to the curve of Jim’s cheek. “I found you fascinating. You smiled so frequently at so little provocation. You, in fact, expressed every emotion with little provocation.”

“Isn’t that what you hate about humans?” Jim laughed.

“It is what makes you human,” Spock responded, so seriously, so sincerely that the smile actually fell from Jim’s face.

“That felt like a compliment,” he said in wonder.

“It was.”

Jim floundered in silence for a moment, so dumbfounded by that simple statement, and he didn’t even have a chance to regain his thought processes. He may have mumbled out an “I” or an “Um” before Spock leaned forward and kissed him without even a moment’s warning. His lips were warm again now that they’d shed the clinging cold of the outdoors. Jim laid a hand on Spock’s chest, fingers curling into the fabric of his shirt. There was no fire in the kiss, but Jim’s blood ran hot all the same. When they pulled apart, he ducked his head. He’d never blushed this easily in his life.

“You gotta stop kissing me like that,” he said a little strained, “we’re supposed to be talking, remember?”

“I believe we have time to do both,” Spock said, sounding more self-satisfied than sorry. Jim smiled.

“Come on,” he said with a gentle shove to Spock’s chest, “there’s gotta be something you want to know.”

Spock acquiesced, taking Jim’s hand again. Jim liked this-- that Spock could just touch him without reservations. Each time he did, Jim felt such a sense of peace emanating from him. It felt fantastic knowing he was the cause.

“I am curious how long you have felt the way you do for me,” Spock admitted.

“A long time,” he said with emphasis, laughing. “I mean, I don’t think I knew it until I’d already been in love with you for a while, but everyone else did-- well, Marlena did.”

Spock straightened at the mention of Marlena. “She… did?”

Jim shrugged, “Yeah, I mean, that’s half the reason we broke up. She actually told me the night I kissed you that I should tell you how I felt. I was a little pissed at her for a while,” he chuckled at the memory. “You know, at the time I thought her advice was the reason I made such an ass of myself.”

“If you had told me how you felt,” Spock said, “I would have accepted it immediately.”

Jim gripped Spock’s hand a little tighter. “I know,” he said, “I mean, now I know. But from my perspective I thought I had told you. Just… I guess it was in a different language. It didn’t exactly translate well.”

“Yet you told me it was a mistake.” Spock said-- still hurting, Jim could tell.

“It was ,” he said. “I shouldn’t have kissed you without talking to you about it first, and I shouldn’t have done it drunk. And, you know, I thought you were so mad at me that’s what you wanted to hear.”

Spock’s lips thinned, “It was not.”

“Well, obviously,” Jim said, but he had the wherewithal to at least deliver the words without any punch to them. There was a pause and he nudged their knees together. “Now I know why you just got steadily more pissed off the more I tried to apologize.” There was a pause. He wasn’t sure which of them felt the most guilty about it. “I’m sorry I didn’t explain myself,” Jim said.

“And I am sorry I did not give you the opportunity to, after the fact. I am as much to blame.”

Jim gave him a sideways smile, “Well, we both could’ve handled it better, huh?”

“Indeed.”

“But we were kids.”

“That is true.”

“And naive.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“And maybe it’s better that things worked out this way.”

Spock wasn’t so quick to agree with that one. He raised an eyebrow at Jim. “May I ask why you say so?”

Jim looked at their intertwined fingers. “I’ve grown up a lot,” he said. “At least, okay, well I think I have. And you have too. I don’t know what it is, but you’re more... sure of yourself? Than you used to be? I think if we’d gotten together back then we would’ve had a harder time figuring out who we were-- you know, seperately.”

Spock’s whole demeanor softened, and he followed Jim’s gaze to where their hands laid on the place where their knees touched, the physical manifestation of the connection they shared. “That is a logical observation.”

Jim glowed under the praise. “It is, isn’t it? Makes me feel a little better about the last two years.”

Spock met his eyes, “I will always regret leaving you,” he said sincerely, “but we have much to look forward to now.”

Jim gave him a playful little nudge, “Anything in particular you have in mind?”

Catching his meaning, either due to touch telepathy or just an intrinsic understanding of how Jim Kirk thought, Spock pulled Jim back in for another kiss, bringing a hand to the back of his head. It was over too soon for Jim’s liking, but Spock’s small smile when they parted reassured him. “Perhaps we have talked enough for now,” Spock said.

For once, Jim couldn’t agree more.

Chapter Text

It was too hot for Jim out here. The air was far too thick and far too dry. He felt... heavy, though he suspected that had more to do with the reason for their visit than the harsh atmosphere of Vulcan.

A few meters away, the monument stood, gleaming black and monolithic in the heat of the evening. On its face were inscribed so many names that their metallic sheen caught the midday sun and seemed, almost, to glow. There were thousands of them. Names of Starfleet members, Vulcan citizens and even the names of Romulan soldiers. The cost of peace had been very high.

The commemoration ceremony had all but broken up by now. T’Pau, one of their elders and, Jim supposed, one of his relatives by marriage now, had delivered a poignant speech, but Jim was thankful the Vulcans had asked that Starfleet not make a presentation. Their presence was enough, brightly colored dress uniforms against the black backdrop of a sea of Vulcans, a reminder of the partnership that had ultimately saved this planet, though-- some said-- twenty years too late.

People passed on their way to the nearby temple for the post-ceremony gathering, some of them his own officers, nodding and occasionally stating his title in greeting.

“Captain.”

“Captain.”

“Captain.”

What once he wanted more than anything in the galaxy now felt hollow. A lot of people had died for him to be named the youngest captain in Starfleet history, though he had already done much to honor the title, and he felt each of their losses as keenly as Spock felt the losses of his people.

His first officer, his best friend, his husband, stood closer to the memorial than Jim was, eyes scanning each name. Though they were quite a ways away from each other, Jim could feel his pain. He wanted to go to him, but Spock had requested he be left alone.

That didn’t mean Jim was going to leave him entirely alone. He turned his back so Spock didn’t feel his eyes on him and lifted his gaze from the sad procession of people to look up at the spires of the temple. It was rough-hewn stone, just as Spock had described it to him, almost more a part of the desert than a part of ShiKhar. As with everything on this planet, he marveled at its architecture, its perfect mathematical symmetry, its alien beauty. Even scarred as it was, some high stones still scorched with old phaser fire, it was gorgeous. In fact, its scars made it more so, if only because Jim knew how much it had suffered-- and it still stood.

Just like they all did.

Jim was lost in thought, and perhaps a little sun drunk, so he didn’t notice right away when Spock drew up to him.

“Jim,” his voice intoned gently, and Jim jumped.

“Oh, I-- Spock, I’m sorry. I was… thinking.”

“Of course.” Spock seemed similarly distracted.

“Do you want to go inside?”

“You may if you would like. I would prefer to remain outside. There is a garden adjacent to the temple. I may meditate.”

“I’ll come with you,” Jim decided immediately. It was something they’d always argued over, when Spock said he wanted to be alone versus when he meant it, but Jim just couldn’t leave Spock to his own devices right now.

Twenty years ago when he’d held his best friend in that field in Iowa, he had seen Spock at his most emotional. Now, after all that time living together, loving each other, serving beside each other, he knew when Spock needed him.

“I believe I require solitude.”

Jim just raised an eyebrow at him. “You know what I’m going to say,”

Spock half-sighed, giving his illogical human partner an indulgent look. “As well as I know that there is no stopping you.”

Jim smiled at him and put a hand on the crook of his shoulder. “Come on, Spock. Show me this garden.”

Though Spock had not stepped foot on his home planet in a very long time, he knew his way intrinsically through the labyrinthine setup of ShiKhar. The temple’s gardens (basically a giant hedge maze) were no exception.

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Jim asked, though he knew the answer.

“I remember this place well,” Spock said, as they made their way through the tall shrubs. Each plant was hued in crisp reds, much like the sand that blew about them-- as unsettling as they were beautiful. “I would come here often, when the other children shook my emotional control. I have always found it to be soothing.”

They came upon a single bench, set beside a large, geometric bronze sculpture that probably had some logical meaning (if Jim could only read the Vulcan inscription on the plaque). They sat down, and Jim soaked himself into the shade, feeling more exhausted than a simple garden stroll really warranted.

They were silent for a time, and perhaps Spock did slip into a kind of meditation. Jim spent the minutes looking around, still amazed that the Romulans-- for all their time occupying this planet-- didn’t destroy nearly as much as was believed. In fact, they’d spent most of their occupation studying the culture. Some small touches of Vulcan life, like this garden, were still intact and what had been destroyed was largely in the process of restoration. The Vulcans were rebuilding. Jim hadn’t seen it directly in the aftermath (the Enterprise had been called this way and that after the Romulans finally vacated) but he knew progress was moving quickly. Rebuilding the race? Healing the emotional scars? That would take more time.

“I did not think I would be able to visit this place again,” Spock mused suddenly. “I have grown so accustomed to Earth, and to travel, I believed my home was long behind me.”

Jim put a hand on Spock’s knee and rested his head on his shoulder. He was burning up with both the temperature of the air and Spock’s natural warmth, but he figured he could handle the proximity to send some comfort through their bond.

“Though you joined Starfleet to help reclaim it,” Jim reminded him.

“At what cost?” The question surprised Jim, and he raised his eyes. Spock met them, something steady and sad in their depths. All Jim wanted in the world was for that sadness to ease. “So many have lost their lives,” Spock said, taking Jim’s hand and stroking his fingertips gently. “Many on our own crew. If we had not negotiated peace--” he paused and shifted to face Jim, looking deadly serious. That look scared him a little. “Jim, you must know. I do not regret a single decision I have made, but I often wonder. If I had followed my father’s plans for me, become a diplomat, could this peace have been reached sooner? It is arrogant, and illogical, but...”

Jim took Spock’s hand in his, knowing how inappropriate the action was considered on Vulcan, but feeling comfortable enough in their solitude to do it. “Spock, you have done more for Vulcan than anyone I know. Including your father. You are the one who stole that cloaking device so we could study it, replicate it--”

“With your assistance, if you recall--”

You found out how to modulate our shields to resist their weapons--”

“After the loss of twenty-five of our own crew--”

“But before all four-hundred of us were killed. Spock,” Jim brought a hand to his cheek, “Fifteen, no, ten years ago even, no one thought peace with the Romulans was even possible. We leveled the playing field. We evened the odds. We didn’t give up. Now here we are.”

Spock leaned almost imperceptibly into Jim’s hand, the corner of his lips brushing Jim’s palm. Jim felt his chest tighten at the feeling. There had been many times over the last few years that both of them could easily have been killed, or nearly were. But when Jim said ‘here we are’ he meant as a culture and as a couple. They’d made it through the worst of everything, and here they were .

They sat like that for a few moments. “Besides,” Jim said, thumb ghosting across Spock’s cheek before he let his hand fall once again to his knee. “In a way, you are a diplomat. When you think about it. We’ve spent a good chunk of our lives working on aggressive negotiation. And, I guess, for the rest of our lives…” Jim paused, thoughtful. “Well, the rest of our lives maybe we can afford to be a little less aggressive.”

“That would be a welcome change.”

“And well-deserved.”

They were quiet for a moment, and somewhere in the distance Jim heard the wind sighing against the sound of solemn chimes.

“Starfleet has instructed us to stay,” he said, suddenly and softly. He had been planning to save the news for an official briefing with all his officers, but it seemed right to tell Spock first, now. Spock needed to know that there was still good to be done, that there would be some meaning to all this-- the years Spock spent unable to return to his home and the years he spent fighting for it.

Spock’s eyes widened slightly. “Stay? On Vulcan?”

“Well, near Vulcan.” Jim shrugged. “With the war over, it’s appropriate for the fleet’s flagship to help the Federation rebuild. It’s a year-long assignment, patrolling the area, assisting in reconstruction. The admiralty didn’t say as much, but I think they want everyone to catch their breath. Especially the Enterprise , after everything.”

Spock leveled a hard look at Jim, and for a moment he thought his husband might be angry, but he felt only concern through the touch of their hands. “You are… happy with this arrangement? Jim, my t’hy’la, you are not content standing still.”

Jim gave him a soft smile. Spock really did know him better than anyone in the galaxy. “In this case, I think I can make an exception. We’ve got eternity to explore, and we will. They’re talking about a five-year mission past the frontier. But for now, what greater good can we do than here?”

Spock leaned forward and placed a surprising kiss to Jim’s lips, gentle and warm. When he pulled back, he was smiling in his own way. “You have a talent for surprising me, Captain,” he said, and Jim was delighted to feel an undercurrent of playfulness in his tone. Their hearts were still heavy, and they would be for a long time, but they had a kind of sanctuary in each other.

“I find that hard to believe,” Jim said with a smirk, “you can literally read my mind, Spock.”

Spock’s fingers ghosted across his knuckles, “And yet…” Spock stopped, and Jim heard in his voice that his throat was tight, choking on an emotion that still scared him with its intensity sometimes. Jim knew how that felt, and he didn’t ask him to continue. Spock caught his eyes, grateful for the understanding.

“Are you alright?” Jim couldn’t help his concern.

Spock paused thoughtfully. “I… I wish to thank you,” he said, “all these years and your commitment has never wavered. This has not been the life of exploration that you once desired, but you have never questioned your commitment to Starfleet, to Vulcan, nor…” Spock looked down to the gentle touch of their hands, “nor your committment to me. In spite of great hardship. No doubt loving a human would have been an easier road.”

Jim felt something hard and heavy grip his chest. Even after the myriad times they’d melded, even through the intimate connection of their minds, Spock still didn’t understand. Maybe someday it would sink in.

He rested a hand on the curve of Spock’s neck and met his eyes so Spock could see the conviction in them. “Loving you is the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

Spock leaned forward and pressed their heads together, walls low, affection flowing like a river into Jim’s mind.

“And here I believed you might respond that you enjoy the challenge,” Spock said.

Jim laughed, accidentally breaking the contact of their skin when he ducked his head. “Okay, well that is also true,” he said. He was glad to see that the tension had mostly faded from the lines at Spock’s eyes.

“Come, ashayam,” Spock said softly after a moment. “We should attend the gathering. My mother and father are anxious to see you.” He stood, and held out a hand for Jim, who took it gladly.

“Both of them?” he laughed as he stood. When they started on the path back to the temple’s entrance, Jim bumped their shoulders together. “Amanda I buy, but your dad--”

“Has enormous respect for you,” Spock finished, a small smile on his lips.

“Maybe,” Jim chuckled, a little embarrassed. Part of him still doubted that. “But that doesn’t exactly translate to liking me.”

“Yet I believe both of my parents have come to understand that you are a suitable mate for their son.”

“So romantic,” Jim teased.

“And true,” Spock responded.

They were silent for a time, winding their way back to the temple. The sun had nearly come to set, though the heat remained. Jim was fairly sure the tri-ox compound Bones had given him was already wearing off, so it would be nice to get inside.

When they did emerge from the hedges, it was to the sight of the great monument, a reminder of all they’d lost and, in a way, a reminder of all that remained. Vulcan social conventions be damned, Jim took Spock’s hand at the sight and leaned against his steady shoulder, grateful beyond imagining that of all things, they at least still had this.