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“You’re actually abandoning me for Christmas?”

Although Jim was doing his best to stop a grin, he managed to inject some real hurt into his voice, and his best friend’s face scrunched up endearingly.

“Damnit, Jim.” Bones sounded unusually tired, and Jim almost felt bad for teasing. “Jocelyn’s letting me have Joanna for Christmas. What do you expect me to do?”

“You could always invite me along.”

“And throw some random guy into the first Christmas Joanna’s had with her father for seven years? Jim, I can’t –”

“Bones, relax.” Jim smiled as sweetly as he could and patted Bones on the arm, going for some mixture of condescending and affectionate. “I don’t mind spending Christmas alone. It’s always been a dream of mine.”

Bones’ scowl deepened at the flippant tone, and the grinding of his teeth was almost audible. “Look, if you really wanna come –”

“Well, you obviously don’t want me.”

Bones closed his eyes in exasperation, and Jim fought back another grin, wondering how long he could keep this up. He was about to make another joke when Bones opened his eyes again, and Jim was surprised to see a hint of true apology there.

“Look, I don’t know what made Jocelyn change her mind, but she did, and Jim, I can’t just –”

Something warm spread through Jim’s stomach at the tirade, and he cut Bones off by pulling him into a hug, pressing his face against the warmth of Bones’ neck. “Go spend Christmas with your little girl. After three years up here, it’s the least you both deserve.”

He smiled as Bones grumbled something into his hair, probably cursing Jim’s incessant need for physical contact. When Jim finally pulled back, Bones was trying to stop an embarrassed flush, but there was a look of gratitude in his eyes.

“Jim, look, I –”

“Just be sure to teach her how to make anatomically correct snow people, ka?”

The moment of tension broke as Jim dodged an irritated swat and danced out of sickbay, grinning at the curses that followed him. The idea of spending Christmas alone was already tearing a nasty hole in his heart, but Bones’ happiness was much more important than Jim’s need for companionship –

And Jocelyn’s receptivity to bribery would be useful knowledge for the next time Jim landed himself in sickbay.

- - -

The ship was empty only four hours after they docked, and Jim would have been insulted had he not understood his crew’s haste. Three weeks wasn’t nearly enough time to visit loved ones, and just because he didn’t have particularly epic plans, that didn’t mean that everyone else had to be miserable –

“Captain?”

After three years, Jim really should have been over the whole yelping and spinning thing. Although he managed to not trip over his own feet, Spock’s eyebrow was climbing into his hairline, somehow conveying that his assessment of Jim’s sanity had just been drastically decreased.

“Goddamnit, Spock. What have I told you about sneaking up on me?”

“Vulcans do not sneak, Captain.”

Jim couldn’t stop a grin as the silly word came from Spock’s mouth, his heart beating way too fast for such a simple conversation. “I think you do. You’re gonna have to walk louder, or get yourself a bell –“

“I see no logic in deliberately increasing the press of my feet against the floor. Furthermore, as wearing a device designed solely for the purpose of creating noise could prove hazardous to our away missions –”

“Spock, you’re wounding the very spirit of Christmas!”

When that eyebrow inched a little higher, Jim’s fingers twitched against his palms, desperate to press themselves against Spock’s pale skin. With heroic effort, he restrained his need to touch, reminding himself that he’d spent three years dealing with this, and that now was not the time to crack.

“I fail to see how my assessment of the impracticality of bells can in any way contradict the ‘spirit’ of a holiday constructed around blatant human consumerism –”

“Silver bells, Spock!” Jim stopped the depressing description with a wave of his arms, trying to convey the extent of what Christmas could really be. “You know, as in the song? Or how about sleigh bells? And bells on the Christmas tree? Is any of this –”

“Captain, please do not employ the human expression of –”

“— ringing a bell?”

Without the slightest change of expression, Spock somehow managed to look like he wanted to smash Jim over the head. It really shouldn’t have been endearing, but normal rules had never applied where Jim’s first officer was concerned, and Jim just beamed at him, pleased with his own cleverness.

Over their three years together, Jim had fallen more in love with Spock than he’d even realized he was capable of. Somewhere between their botched away missions and the nights spent watching over each other in sickbay, Spock had become a crucial part of Jim, and he could no longer imagine living without the Vulcan. It was rather pathetic how much Jim had grown to need him, but he’d long lost the ability to pull away.

Although Jim understood that this kind of love was only supposed to happen in fairy tales, he hadn’t been able stop himself. On the extensive list of Things that Captains Were Not Supposed to Do, falling for his first officer was pretty close to the top, and he knew that this could never end well –

But there were too many things that kept drawing Jim back.

It was the subtle magic of their late night chess games, and their moments of perfectly synchronized thinking. The way Spock’s far-too-human eyes lost their frigidity around Jim, and the quiet respect that underlined their every interaction. It was the times that Spock permitted Jim to rest his hand on Spock’s shoulder, and the way Spock tore Jim’s plans apart before building them back up, combining their talents to create something workable.

All of this came together into a power that Jim was helpless to fight. Spock completed him in ways that Jim hadn’t even realized needed completing, and trying to fall out of love would have been like trying to stop his own heart through sheer will power.

“Your unique sense of humour seems to have further deteriorated.”

“I’m just compensating for being miserable at Christmas.”

Although Jim said it with a grin, seeking a way to clear away his love-sick thoughts, he recognized his mistake as soon as the words were out. If there was one person who’d always been able to see through his bullshit –

“Why are you distressed?”

The well-masked concern in that cool voice was more than enough to get his palms sweating, and Jim cursed himself for being ridiculous, even as he fought the urge to run – something he did much too often, whenever Spock managed to inch a little further into Jim’s heart.

“I was joking.”

“You were not.”

“You can’t read my mind if you’re not touching me.”

“I can sense your emotions.”

“Are you kidding? You cling to those mental shields like a lifeline.”

“Much like your employment of humour?”

Although Jim found himself glaring at Spock, his brief moment of anger simply twisted itself into a tangle of lust, and he wondered just how far gone he really was.

“You need not tell me anything, if you do not wish to.”

There was no trace of expression in Spock’s voice, but Jim knew better than to believe that apparent calm, and he took a moment to breathe through the pleasure that twisted through his body at Spock’s concern. After three years of pathetic pining, Jim had long come to terms with his besotted idiocy, but he often wondered when exactly he’d lost his tomcat status, and been transformed into a love struck sixteen-year-old.

“Spock, I’d tell you just about anything – you know that.” As something brief flickered across Spock’s eyes, Jim marvelled at the intoxicating feeling of being in the sphere of people that Spock cared about. “There’s really nothing to tell. I’m heading North for Christmas – got myself a little cabin. Just taking a break from everything.”

“You are going alone?”

The question was said without inflection, and Jim wondered if Spock understood the concept of twisting the knife deeper. He fought the urge to snap something sarcastic, suddenly realising how much he really didn’t want to spend Christmas alone, in some frozen forest away from the people he loved, who all had plans of their own, plans with family, that didn’t involve him –

“Well, it’s not exactly like I have anyone to take with me – unless you’re volunteering, of course, but I doubt that the prospect of seven foot snowdrifts is all that appealing, let alone the minus forty degree weather –”

He nearly bit off his tongue when something flashed across Spock’s expression, the slightest hint of a frown trying to make itself known, as though something wasn’t computing for Spock’s perfect brain. Jim’s heart was suddenly trying to escape his chest, and he wondered how he could lose his breath over something as pathetic as his first officer’s pity.

“Captain, is that –” When Spock actually hesitated, Jim had to concentrate on locking his wobbly legs into place, his body not knowing how to process that uncharacteristic uncertainty. “Jim, I – as I have yet to formulate any plans for the duration of shore leave – I do not wish to overstep my boundaries, and you may of course decline, but if that is an invitation –”

As the surreal words settled around him, Jim’s body slammed into warp drive with shocking speed, sending heat across every inch of him. Spock was still watching him with those dark eyes, but Jim somehow managed to suck in enough oxygen to speak, his traitorous heart starting up its choking dance again, as though realising exactly how much it would have hurt to have his half-serious invitation rejected.

“No, Spock, of course – I mean – yes, of course you can come, I wasn’t joking. If you actually want to –”

“I see no logical reason to decline.” The less than enthusiastic response would have stung, had Jim not seen the tiniest hint of something in Spock’s eyes – something far from the impassivity he was still striving for, that made Jim’s shaking fingers curl into loose fists. “Is there anything – I have never been to Canada. What must I bring?”

Although his body still seemed to be trying to asphyxiate itself, Jim felt a massive grin spread across his face, and he didn’t even care that his thought patterns suddenly resembled those of a thirteen-year-old girl. They were actually going to Canada together, and that knowledge superseded Jim’s need for self-respect.

“Pack your warmest clothes, Mr. Spock.” He couldn’t keep the excitement from his voice, and his grin widened further when a quick moment of humour flashed across Spock’s eyes. “Where we’re going, you’re gonna need them.”

“Your affection for this particular holiday seems to have increased significantly, Captain.”

“Spock, please – we’re on vacation together, I think you can drop the title.”

“As you wish.”

There was still a trace of humour in those dark eyes, and Jim took a moment to remind himself that this wasn’t just a loneliness-induced dream. His smile softened slightly, and the butterflies in his stomach began beating their wings together, as though they approved of how things were progressing.

“Of course I’m happier. Christmas isn’t meant to be spent alone.”

Although Spock said nothing, his understanding nod was answer enough, and ten minutes later found them sorting through Spock’s wardrobe, searching for anything that could keep a Vulcan warm in Canada.

- - -

By the time they finally reached their cottage, Jim had almost forgotten how to breathe.

Although Iowa had always experienced its share of nasty winters, those snowfalls had absolute nothing on Canada’s winter wonderland, and when Jim tumbled out of their hovercar, he couldn’t stop himself from blinking in amazement.

When he had rented this cabin, Jim hadn’t expected to be staying anywhere particularly spectacular. He’d anticipated some of the standard Northern beauty, with countless trees and snow, and perhaps the occasional wild animal, with the cabin tucked away in some nice little forest somewhere –

But what he had gotten was something completely different, and Jim half-wondered if he had stumbled into a dream, the sight before him unlike anything he had ever seen.

They were standing beside a valley that seemed to stretch on forever.

Waves of snow crept towards the horizon, where they connected to an endless sky that somehow made gray look beautiful, as though someone had chosen the most gorgeous colours imaginable, and then seamlessly sewn earth and sky together. Thousands of trees were scattered across the landscape, staining the snow with a shocking trail of green, and the entire effect made Jim feel like he was staring at a painting.

Although he had seen a lot of beauty during the last three years, Jim had never truly realized what Earth had to offer.

“Beautiful.”

He murmured the word to himself, grateful that random chance had thrown them both here, and that he wasn’t experiencing this alone. Jim tore his eyes from the valley, curious to know how a desert-oriented Vulcan would process the view, and suddenly realised an important flaw in his shore leave plans –

For when Jim had invited Spock along with him for Christmas, he hadn’t considered the danger of how good Spock would look against the stunning landscape that was snowy northern Ontario.

Standing beside a towering evergreen, its endless branches streaked with white, Spock’s dark eyes had slipped shut, as though taking a moment to simply appreciate the snow falling around him. The trust he showed by allowing that careful display stole the breath from Jim’s lungs, and he knew that he was staring, but he couldn’t have looked away for anything in the universe.

There were white specks clinging to Spock’s long eyelashes, along with a dusting of snow across the top of his head, colouring his hair with endearing splotches of white. His ears seemed oddly vulnerable in the freezing air, their tips painted white as snowflakes brushed against them, and the end of his nose was flushed green with cold

He looked like an ancient marble statue, or a sculpture carved from ice – pristine, untouchable, and almost too beautiful to be real.

“Jim?”

It took him a moment to even realise that Spock was speaking, and the single word twisted through his heart, curling into that place that lit on fire whenever Spock said his name. Although the dangers of this particular vacation were suddenly crystal clear, the pleasure that came from Spock’s presence seemed to overshadow everything else.

“It’s nothing, Spock. Just –” Jim paused, trying to gather his thoughts over the sound of his thumping heart. “Just thinking about how beautiful everything is.”

He hadn’t meant to use such blatant innuendo, but Spock’s expression never changed. “This country is rather fascinating, and I now understand the aesthetic appeal of winter. I never before appreciated it while studying at the Academy.”

“You’re not too cold?”

“This temperature is not yet intolerable.” Spock graced him with the slightest twitch of his lips. “Although I seem to have lost sensation in my hands, feet, nose and ears, I find that I do not particularly care.”

As Jim’s heart tried to wrap itself around that little half-smile, he found himself turning away, suddenly wondering what the hell he was doing. What with him sending Bones to spend shore leave with Joanna, and there being no chance of Jim wanting to go back to Iowa – for some reason, this cabin had been the first idea that’d popped into his head, and he’d gone with it.

What he still couldn’t figure out was why Spock had agreed to come with him. Even after three years together, trying to guess Spock’s thoughts was often like fighting a Klingon warship without the use of warp drive.

“You seem troubled. Is the cabin’s appearance not to your liking?”

Hearing the not-quite-concern there, Jim managed a smile and turned back to Spock, who was studying the beautiful building behind them. “No, god no – our cabin’s perfect. It looks like a gingerbread house. Or something from a Christmas card.”

“Indeed.”

There was no hint of hesitance there, but the eyebrow had crept up slightly, and Jim knew exactly what Spock was thinking. They’d discussed it during the trip from Iowa, and Jim’s inner child was leaping at the prospect of explaining Christmas to Spock, as though Jim himself was getting the chance to experience Christmas for the first time.

“I told you I’d introduce you to Christmas, remember? Trust me. This is one particular Earth concept you don’t want to miss out on.”

“You have pleasant recollections of this holiday?”

Spock’s eyes had shifted back to him, and the question was asked from innocent curiosity, but Jim found his throat tightening slightly. Christmas memories suddenly slipped across his mind – Jim and Sam curled up beside a decorated evergreen tree, while their mother and Frank slowly swayed together to Oh Holy Night, the house silent save for the ringing notes –

The one time of the year they had all seemed to call an uneasy truce.

Although animosity had still snapped beneath his every interaction with Frank, and although Winona had still gotten that lost look whenever she looked at Jim for too long – despite these tensions, the four of them had always managed to establish some kind of delicate balance, silently agreeing on a few days of relative peace.

It was the only pleasant aspect of his childhood that Jim could remember.

“Jim?”

Spock was watching him again, an open question in his eyes, and Jim found himself blushing slightly, embarrassed by how transparent he was being. “As nice enough memories as they could have been, Mr. Spock.” Spock raised an eyebrow, but he was too polite to push it, and Jim was grateful. “Shall we get our stuff inside? Wouldn’t want your ears to freeze off.”

“The statistical chance of my ears disconnecting from my body –”

“This is Canada, Spock. The cold here doesn’t play by your rules.”

“The substantial lack of logic in that assessment –”

“Logic doesn’t apply here, either. Things go a little crazy when you get this far north.”

Spock’s eyebrow was now making its exasperation known, and Jim couldn’t stop a sudden grin.

“Race you to the house!”

He was off running before Spock could even answer, and he wasn’t surprised when Spock didn’t join him, what with the inherent lack of dignity in tearing across the snow like a six-year-old. It was enough that Spock’s eyes were shining slightly when he got to the cabin, where Jim was leaning against the door, his arms crossed and a cocky grin on his face.

“I beat you.”

“Indeed. Your display of speed over this challenging terrain was quite impressive.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve had lots of practice running over ice and snow.”

Jim realised his mistake the second the words were out, and he silently cursed as Spock went absolutely rigid in front of him, the sparkle in his eyes morphing into a solid mask, his hands unconsciously shifting to their formal position behind his back. Even after three years together, it was still frightening how quickly Spock could turn himself off –

And Spock had never been able to deal with Jim’s flippant attitude towards Delta Vega. Jim had found this out the hard way during month six, when he’d made a joke about human-eating, slimy-tongued monsters, and Spock had barely talked to him for a week.

“Shit, Spock, sorry –”

“Captain, there is no need to apologise –”

“Don’t you dare ‘captain’ me!”

He’d raised his voice slightly in disbelief, and when Spock seemed to withdraw further into himself, Jim only noticed the minute movement because he’d become sickeningly good at reading every twitch of this Vulcan’s body. He took a calming breath and stepped forward, regret skipping along his skin as he rested his hands against Spock’s arms.

“Spock.”

Spock met his eyes, fearless as always, but their casual companionship had been replaced by tangible tension.

“I open my mouth and stick my foot in all the time. You know that. I don’t blame you for what happened. We’ve been over this.” Spock continued to simply look at him, and Jim dug his fingers a little deeper, not wanting the beginning of their trip to be spoiled by his careless sense of humour. “You were hurting, and you reacted to an obvious threat. Everything worked out in the end.”

“You choose to forget that I could have killed you.”

The words were spoken as softly as the snow falling around them, and Spock’s eyes had slid away, focusing on somewhere above Jim’s shoulder. With something in his chest tightening uncomfortably, Jim threw caution to the wind and slipped his arms around Spock, resting his face against the warmth of Spock’s neck, and hoping that Spock would miss Jim’s thundering heartbeat.

“Let it go, Spock. This isn’t the time or place to worry about it.”

In the three years they had known each other, Jim could count the times he’d hugged Spock on four fingers, and if he’d thought that Spock was tense before, it was nothing compared to the utter immobility of his body now. Jim concentrated on simply breathing, his stupid heart breaking a little bit more at being this close to Spock, but really gaining nothing.

“Jim –”

“I know, I know – Vulcans don’t do touching. Just humour me for a minute.”

His breath brushing gently across the top of Jim’s hair, Spock remained ominously silent, and the tension in his body ramped up another notch. Even three years after their encounter with Nero, Spock was still hurting over this, and Jim tightened his grip slightly, surprised by how much he needed Spock to stop blaming himself.

“You’ve saved my life more times than I care to admit, and I forgave you for Delta Vega a long time ago. How can I get that through to you?”

“Would you forgive yourself if our situation had been reversed?”

The soft words brought Jim up short, sending a pang of nausea through his stomach, and he let out an exasperated breath, wondering how Spock always managed to turn the tables on him. They both knew the answer to that particular question, and the futility of asking Spock to forgive himself was suddenly crystal clear.

With a disgruntled noise, Jim made to pull back, ready to give Spock some space –

– when a hesitant hand pressed against his side, and Jim stopped breathing so fast he almost hurt himself. It wasn’t even anything close to a returned hug – more just a press of Spock’s hand, resting there with impossible gentleness, as though Jim was made of glass – but it was more contact than Jim had ever gotten before, and every nerve in his body was screaming to life.

“I regret if I upset you. That was not my intent.”

Jim couldn’t process the words, his entire being focused on the gentle hand that rested against his side, the touch both comforting and terrifying. Steady breaths were brushing across the top of his head, and he felt almost light-headed from his sudden and desperate need to be closer.

“Jim?”

Spock suddenly sounded uncertain, and something in Jim’s brain seemed to click into gear. If he ever again wanted Spock to humour Jim’s human need for affection, he had to do something to salvage this situation, and fast.

Barely daring to breathe, his heart still twisting circles inside his chest, Jim tightened his grip a little more, exhaling softly in relief as Spock didn’t try to move away. They stood like that for several surreal seconds, the snow settling around them with impossible gentleness, before Spock attempted to pull back, and Jim immediately let him go, hoping that Spock hadn’t felt how hard he was shaking.

For a solid few moments, they couldn’t quite seem to look at each other, both of them studying the snow as if it held the answers to life’s great mysteries –

“As you have the cabin key, I shall begin unloading our vehicle.”

Spock was gone before Jim could formulate a response, and Jim blinked at his retreating back, his heart skipping wildly when he realised the extent of what had just happened.

For the first time in three years, Spock had touched Jim under circumstances that didn’t involve Jim bleeding out all over Spock’s tunic. He had allowed Jim to hug him, had touched him back with something dangerously close to affection –

And they were trapped together in this tiny cabin, just the two of them, for three weeks.

His unease replaced by the kind of nervous anticipation he hadn’t felt since he was sixteen, Jim took a deep breath and watched as Spock pulled a suitcase from their hovercar, his ears poking up endearingly into the snow falling around them. When ridiculous warmth spread through Jim’s chest, he muttered a curse and turned to stare into the valley, his mind trying to deal with the last two minutes.

If Spock had finally decided to humour some of Jim’s more human affections – and if this new decision involved something other than outright disdain for physical contact –

With a low groan, his face heating slightly despite the cool air, Jim realised that this was going to be a long three weeks.

- - -

Despite the uneasy confusion that kept dancing across his body, Jim was absolutely thrilled by the utter gorgeousness of their cottage, and he found himself practically vibrating with pleased excitement. The building was assembled from sleek wooden logs, and it somehow seemed much larger than its one story height, with a beautiful roof that pointed skywards in true gingerbread house fashion -

Jim wouldn't have been surprised to see gummy bears around the window ledges.

The beautiful brown wood was a welcome stain against the white snow, somehow managing to simultaneously blend in and stick out, as though the cottage had eventually just become part of the gorgeous scenery. The tiny brick chimney looked like something from a twentieth century photograph, and the porch was large enough for several people, with two snow covered chairs pressed against the wall.

Jim couldn't have asked for a better place to spend Christmas, and by the time they'd gotten a curl of smoke drifting from the chimney, he had decided that their cottage was one of the most beautiful things in the entire universe.

After everything was unpacked, Jim found himself standing outside, hands jammed into his pockets, the snow settling gently against his nose and ears. He’d already been standing there for a good five minutes, trying to figure out when he’d been transformed from a reckless daredevil into a domestic sap, but he was pretty sure it had something to do with his first officer, who had finally touched him back and left Jim feeling like his entire world had been turned upside down and inside out –

“Jim?”

Jim made a ridiculous noise as he spun around, unable to believe that this had happened again, and frantically hoping that Spock was clinging to his mental shields with his normal stoic desperation. “God, even a chipmunk should make noise on this stuff!”

Jim’s heart was already beating too fast, and when Spock raised a snow-covered eyebrow, the endearing sight almost derailed what was left of Jim’s ability to think. “As I have not yet acquired the ability to move silently across snow, perhaps your thoughts – to use a human expression – were simply miles away?”

Cursing Spock’s perceptiveness and his own pathetic emotional state, Jim struggled to find a response, but Spock had already moved to stand beside him, and was gazing at the building in front of them. With the gentle snow falling around them, settling against his dark hair and pale skin, Spock once again resembled an ice sculpture, and Jim felt his heart skip a few too many beats.

The silence between them was just shy of awkward, as though Spock didn’t know how to address his earlier moment of affection, but Jim couldn’t think of anything to say, and he fought the urge to squirm with discomfort. He hadn’t been this lost for words since the first time Spock had taken phaser fire meant for his captain, and Jim had been left gaping in horror as two unseeing eyes stared blankly up at him from the ground.

Finding it suddenly hard to look at Spock, Jim clamped down on the memory and turned back to the cabin, trying to focus on the beautiful building. With the sun beginning to set, light was spilling from the windows, staining the snow gold – and that gorgeous stream of smoke continued to twist into the darkening sky, filling the air with an intoxicating scent –

“I appreciate the invitation to accompany you here.” Spock’s gaze was still focused on the house, and Jim tried to not be distracted by the snow clinging to Spock’s eyelashes, his mind struggling to deal with the conversation they were about to have. “You have chosen a magnificent location.”

Jim’s stomach clenched slightly, and the question was out before he could stop himself. “Why did you come with me?” When Spock didn’t immediately respond, Jim pushed a little harder, still feeling the weight of Spock’s hand against his side. “You could have stayed at the Academy with Pike, instead of trudging all the way up here with me – and I know that your father’s on Earth right now. You two have patched things up over the last few years –”

“I did not wish to spend these weeks with my father.” There was not a trace of emotion in Spock’s voice, and with his expression obscured by the fading light, Jim couldn’t even guess at what he might be thinking. “I prefer to be here.”

The simple statement left Jim’s heart beating a little faster than normal, but he was saved the trouble of finding words when Spock turned to him.

“And you? Earth is your home, and you have acquaintances here. Surely you had places –”

“Earth isn’t my home, Spock.” Jim was somewhat surprised to hear the resignation in his own voice, but he didn’t try to temper it, knowing that Spock would simply see right through him. He’d long ago given up on trying to lie to someone who could read his thoughts even without a telepathic link. “It’s just somewhere I lived.”

“Indeed.”

As the soft word settled around them, Jim could have kicked himself, suddenly reminded that Spock didn’t even have a planet to go home to.

“Look, I know that I sound like an ungrateful bastard, but my childhood wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses, alright?” When Spock remained disconcertingly silent, Jim fought down a twinge of nervousness, suddenly realizing exactly what he was saying, and who he was saying it to. “It’s just that – I’ve always thought that your home is made up of memories and people, not geography. That home is with the people you love, wherever they may be.”

“And your home is on the Enterprise.”

As that impassive voice curled across his skin with disconcerting accuracy, Jim wondered whether Spock could read everyone this effortlessly, or if Jim was just a special case. Either way, the notion of standing in the snow and discussing love with this particular Vulcan was way too much for Jim to handle, and the blush on his cheeks made him grateful for the darkness.

“Don’t tell Bones. This kind of sappy stuff kills him.”

“I shall endeavour to keep this secret from the Doctor.”

Grateful that Spock was humouring the less-than-subtle subject change, Jim couldn’t stop a smile, even if it was tentative. “Shall we head inside? Don’t want your nose to –”

“If my extremities begin to detach themselves, I shall be sure to inform you.”

Glad that their moment at the door hadn’t completely frightened away Spock’s sense of humour, Jim stifled a sigh and followed Spock into the cabin, pulling the door tight behind them to keep out the cold.

- - -

Sometime around the end of year two, Jim had realised that loving Spock was like having a constant ache in his stomach – a knot that kept twisting tighter whenever Spock looked at him, leaving Jim in a constant battle for coherency. He found himself imprisoned by an unrequited longing that hurt in the best possible way – pain that burned just enough to feel pleasant, so that while Jim hated himself for falling in the first place, he never wanted to relinquish this feeling.

Jim wasn’t sure if that made him a masochist or just a romantic fool, but he knew that he was too far gone to care. After three years of this nonsense, he had stopped questioning how he’d managed to fall in love with someone unattainable, and had just accepted that it had happened –

Unfortunately, that acceptance hadn’t made things any easier to deal with, and unrequited love was still the most heart-wrenching situation Jim had ever experienced.

That particular thought was twisting through Jim’s head about ten minutes after entering the house. If he’d thought that things had been awkward outside, it was nothing compared to the tension now, and Jim was almost ready to tear his hair out.

Spock was standing by a window with his hands clutched serenely behind his back, and Jim would have killed to know what he was thinking. His mind still replaying their scene at the door, he stopped a groan and began puttering around the inside of the cottage, pretending to inspect things, and wondering what had ever made him think this trip was a good idea.

The vacation itself? Definitely a good idea. The decision to sequester himself away with the unrequited love of his life, and then force him into a human hug, which had somehow resulted in a very un-Vulcan display of affection, followed by a decidedly un-Vulcan silent freak out?

Maybe not the smartest plan.

Until this very moment, Jim hadn’t realized how tricky it was to be around Spock without the constraints of professionalism and regulations. Even his customary humour defence seemed to have been snatched away, getting lost somewhere between Spock’s moment of affection, and Jim’s realization of how tiny their shared cabin really was.

He forced the thought from his mind as he studied the room, trying to use the building’s quaintness to clear his mind. There were two bedrooms, a bathroom, and some kind of kitchen-living room hybrid, which featured a sitting area and food replicator –

And they even had the old-fashioned fireplace and rug combination. Shoving down his unease with heroic effort, Jim managed smile, silently congratulating himself on a job well done.

“Jim?”

Just as that soft voice broke their silence, Jim was suddenly slammed with an image of Spock's lean body stretched out across that gorgeous fur, golden firelight dancing across every pale inch of him, his long fingers curling into the rug beneath them, as Jim slowly licked lower, worshipping every bit of skin he could reach -

"Jim, are you – alright?"

Jim yanked himself back into reality with jarring speed, his clothes suddenly much too sensitive for his body, still imagining those long fingers curling into the rug. He managed to nod slightly, trying to concentrate on the real Spock in front of him, and failing to fight down a blush.

"Your skin is flushed. Are you –"

"I'm fine, Spock.” If Spock noticed that Jim had responded a little too quickly, he had the grace to not show it, but Jim still couldn’t quite manage a smile. “Just tired.”

Spock nodded slowly, as though he actually believed Jim’s answer, and silence settled around them again, leaving them staring at anything but each other. It was painfully awkward, as though they’d somehow managed to just forget three years of friendship, but Jim’s brain still wasn’t providing him with the words he needed. What was he supposed to say? If he flat out asked Spock what was wrong, an Aldeberan Shellmouth would seem talkative in comparison.

And the part that was killing Jim was the uncertainty of the whole situation. If this was anybody but Spock, Jim would have translated this tension as poorly repressed sexual need, and tried to get things going from there –

But this was Spock. And while he knew that Spock could be a sensual being – his relationship with Uhura had demonstrated that, and Jim would never forget that kiss on the transporter pad – he couldn’t remember any time Spock had ever expressed anything that could be construed as interest in him, and the idea of Spock carrying a torch for Jim for three years was downright laughable.

So was Spock just embarrassed about earlier, and unsure of how to deal with it? Or was he upset about something else, and furious with himself for even being upset?

“Jim, I owe you an explanation.”

As though reading Jim’s mind, Spock had finally broken their silence, but there was hesitation in his voice, and he was somehow managing to look lost by only using his eyebrows.

“Spock?”

“I do not know the protocol for a situation such as this.”

Trying desperately to figure out what the hell Spock was talking about, Jim settled for blinking stupidly, wondering if he was hearing wrong. “Protocol? Spock, there’s no protocol for a Christmas vacation.”

Jim was about to say something more, when he noticed the tiniest hint of green on Spock’s cheeks, and stopped talking so quickly it was a miracle he didn’t swallow his own tongue.

“As humans would say, I seem to be rather out of my element, and I wish to explain my hesitance.” He paused for a second longer, and Jim didn’t even try to keep the bewilderment from his face. “I have never experienced such… domestic circumstances with anyone but my mother. I do not know how to act.”

Needing to get Spock away from that particular thought as quickly as possible, Jim found himself taking a step closer before pausing, unsure whether another touch would be welcome so soon after their stilted hug. Spock simply looked at him, his unease indicated only by the slight flush to his skin, and Jim cursed that Vulcan mask. How was he supposed to figure out what was going on if Spock gave him absolutely nothing to work with?

“Spock, this cabin is yours for the next few weeks, as much as it’s mine. The whole place is at your disposal.”

When Spock simply nodded again, as though hearing the words but not quite believing them, Jim placed a hand against Spock’s elbow, hoping that he wasn’t going to make the situation worse. He managed a small smile, and then fought the urge to squirm when Spock’s eyes never left his face.

“I need you to do something for me.”

Spock raised an eyebrow, as if reminding Jim that Spock already did a slew of crazy things for him.

“I need you to remember that it’s only me here. That, regardless of where we are – on our ship, on earth, in this cabin, or stranded on some distant planet – it’s still me.” Jim bit down his nervousness and tightened his grip a bit more, wondering how far Spock would let him push. “I didn’t invite you hear for you to freak out over which chair to sit on, or where to hang your jacket.”

“That is not my dilemma.”

“Then what is?”

Try as he might, Jim couldn’t quite keep the exasperation from his voice, and Spock’s lips thinned just slightly, as his eyes flicked away. He seemed to be lost for words again, and Jim could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen Spock speechless.

“Spock, I’m your best friend. Talk to me.”

Whatever uncertainty Jim had about their current situation, he didn’t try to hide his inarguable statement under a mountain of other words, knowing that he was closer to Spock than anyone else in the universe. Spock trusted Jim in a way he trust few others, and Jim would cut off his own hand before he ever abused that trust.

“That is part of the problem. And – I cannot speak as freely as you can.”

“I’m not asking you to.” Jim tightened his grip a little more, finally feeling like they were getting somewhere, even if that first sentence made little sense. “Just give me something to work with, alright?”

Spock’s eyes finally came back to his, and there was a well-veiled emotion there that Jim had no hope of reading. He smiled as encouragingly as he could, but Spock seemed to tense up minutely, as though finally coming to a decision, and not liking it at all.

“I apologise for my earlier actions. I seem to have been – affected by the beauty of this location, and by the novelty of not being constrained by our customary duties. It made me – careless.”

Jim blinked at him, then finally dropped his hand, deciding to give Spock a little space, and pretending that the flash of gratitude in those dark eyes didn’t hurt. “You – god, Spock, you don’t need to apologize. I’m the one who always pushes –”

“Jim, please attempt to understand.” Spock was still looking lost, but doing his best to not show it, and Jim wanted to hug him so badly it hurt. “I have never ‘taken a vacation’, or spent shore leave doing something unproductive. You are my friend, and I wish to enjoy these three weeks, but I do not know if –”

Spock bit off his words and glanced away again, as though truly unable to keep talking, and something suddenly seemed to click in Jim’s mind.

“You don’t know how.”

When Spock’s dark eyes snapped back to his, the shock there was well concealed, but Jim could suddenly read Spock with surprising ease, and he didn’t know how he hadn’t figured this out earlier. It was glaringly obvious, and it made Jim want to smack himself over the head for being obtuse.

Spock wanted to enjoy these weeks. He wanted to let himself go a bit. He didn’t know how to do it alone, and he was all but asking for permission to have fun.

It would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad.

As it was, Jim found himself fighting back a stupid prickling behind his eyes, knowing how much it took for Spock to make himself vulnerable like this. That he had just admitted to wanting something illogical spoke volumes about his trust in Jim, and Jim found himself falling in love all over again, his heart beating almost hard enough to hurt.

“Goddamn,” he breathed softly, and when Spock seemed to close himself off a bit tighter, obviously realising just how much he was letting on, Jim found himself shaking his head, and grabbing Spock’s arm again, ignoring the tension beneath his hand. “No, don’t freak out. Just – come sit down with me for a second.”

Jim tugged softly, and Spock followed without a word. After a brief glance around the room, Jim decided to go with the most comfortable location available, and sat himself cross-legged on the rug, hoping that the warmth from the fire would put Spock at ease. Looking even more hesitant, Spock slowly followed suit, his long legs folded elegantly, and his back ruler straight.

“Spock.”

Spock just looked at him, and Jim found his lips curling into a true smile, even if it was hesitant. Their legs were only inches apart, and the firelight against Spock’s face was just as beautiful as Jim had imagined, sending his stomach into a painful flurry of butterfly wings.

“I want you to do something for me. Something you don’t let yourself do too often.”

Spock seemed to tense up even tighter, which was not the reaction Jim was going for, so he shook his head, still wanting to reach out and take Spock’s hands.

“Look, there’s nobody here but me, and I want you to remember that. Only me. I’ve seen you at your best, and your worst –”

As the words made Spock look away, both of them going back to that day on the bridge, Jim again fought the desperate urge to hug him, and instead settled for resting his hand as lightly as he could against Spock’s leg, completely unable to stop himself.

“—and if you can let yourself relax around anyone in this entire universe, it’s me. The goal of taking a vacation is to have fun, and while you shouldn’t feel that you need permission for that, if you think that it will help, well – here it is.”

Jim shrugged as casually as he could, pretending that the situation wasn’t carving little gouges into his heart, and then held his breath as Spock stared into the fireplace, the material of his pants soft against Jim’s tingling fingers. The golden hue on Spock’s face made him look like some kind of ancient painting, and Jim suddenly wondered if anyone had ever told Spock that he was beautiful.

He almost bit his lip bloody trying to keep the thought inside.

“Jim, you are one of the most intuitive humans I have ever met.”

Spock was still studying the fire, but he seemed to have relaxed slightly, and Jim tried to make himself remove his hand away from Spock’s leg. When that didn’t quite seem to work, he simply shrugged again, trying to pretend that the compliment hadn’t done ridiculous things to his pulse.

“I think you’ve got me beat on that one, Spock. I’m pretty sure you can read my mind without even dropping your shields.”

And there it was, what Jim had been aiming for – that tiny half-twitch of Spock’s lips, which would have been a relieved grin on anybody else. Jim finally managed to pull his hand away, which was a good thing, because when Spock finally met his eyes, there was some not-quite-muted affection there, and it only made Spock even more beautiful –

At this rate, Jim was going to have to buy a little pink diary, and start drawing pointy-eared hearts on every page.

“So we’re okay then? We can dispense with this horrible awkwardness, and just have some fun?” Jim found himself grinning suddenly, the situation much easier to deal with now that he understood what was going on, and Spock’s sardonic eyebrow raise only amused him further. “Why don’t you get your stuff unpacked and take advantage of that gorgeous bathtub I saw earlier? I’ll get some dinner going.”

“I do not wish for you to assemble the meal alone –”

“Did you really just say ‘assemble the meal’?”

Wondering how Spock’s speech patterns could still surprise him, Jim found himself biting back laughter, and Spock looked at him in a way that silently questioned Jim’s intelligence.

“I fail to understand your amusement. As for the formation of our supper –”

“The formation of our supper? Oh my god, Spock. I think I can manage a replicator.”

“You have already done enough –”

“Come on, please.” Jim aimed for the easiest grin he had, wanting Spock to clear out for awhile so Jim could make the kitchen look like Christmas. “You just agreed to three weeks of unbroken fun. The least I can do is to make you some food in return.”

When Spock managed to look unimpressed without moving his face, it made Jim want to press his fingers against Spock’s lips, knowing there was a smile hidden there. Before Spock could say anything, Jim had climbed to his feet and was scampering over to the replicator, knowing that if he didn’t move he was going to offer to help Spock to his feet, which would have just made things awkward again.

“Come on, go get settled in. You can cook tomorrow night.”

For a moment longer, Spock looked like he wanted to argue, before he nodded and rose to his feet, moving with much more grace than Jim had. He paused for a second, and then headed towards his bedroom –

“Oh, and Spock? Close your eyes the next time you come into the kitchen, okay?”

Spock’s eyebrow was going to get tired at this rate, and the thought just made Jim grin even more.

“I fail to see –”

“Just trust me. I’ll help you get wherever you’re aiming for.”

When Spock made a sound that wasn’t quite a sigh, barely even attempting to hide his exasperation, Jim suddenly marvelled at how far they’d come since the beginning of their mission. He could still remember the first day they had met, when Spock had seemed to be carved from ice, save for the well-masked hatred that kept flashing behind his eyes –

“Although I fail to understand the purpose in closing my eyes, I shall nevertheless humour you. You seem to be the only person for whom I indulge such foolish whimsicalness.”

And with that earth-shattering statement, Spock turned and left the room, leaving Jim to stare at the closed door, his chest suddenly much too tight, and his heart doing its damndest to crawl up into his throat.

- - -

Within fifteen minutes of being left alone, Jim had managed to get some tinsel hung from the ceiling, a string of white lights scattered along the walls, and figures of Santa Clause and his reindeer scattered across any flat surface he could find.

He would have been able to decorate even faster, too – if his head wasn’t still spinning from Spock’s parting comment. He didn’t understand how, after three years serving together, Spock could still come up with a two-liner that somehow stabbed Jim straight through his illogical human heart. Did Spock have any idea what he could do to Jim with just a few words?

Dragging a chair over to the fireplace, Jim climbed up to reach as high as he could, wanting to hang some tinsel from the wooden beams that crossed the ceiling. As he stretched, he tried to clear his mind, reminding himself that Spock had never, ever shown interest in Jim, and that Jim had to stop this right now, before he did something supremely stupid and fucked up the best thing in his life –

“Jim?”

For once, Jim managed to not yelp and spin around – his self-preservations had kicked in even before his name was finished leaving Spock’s lips, and he simply wobbled for a second, before turning to climb down.

“Yeah, Spock, I –”

And then Jim froze, still balancing on the chair, all the air squeezed from his lungs.

Spock was standing in the doorway, his hands fluttering a little at his sides, as though needing something to hold on to. He had shed his clothes for a snug black robe, the sides stitched with some kind of gorgeous embroidery, and there was a slight furrow between his eyes, as though he didn’t particular enjoy standing there with his eyes closed.

“Jim, you insisted that I indulge you in this, and if you wish me to arrive at the washroom without harming either myself or the room –”

“Sure, Spock, sorry – I’m coming, one sec.”

Somehow managing to get off the chair without breaking his ankles, Jim crossed the room, grateful beyond belief that Spock’s eyes were still closed. He looked almost vulnerable as he stood there, his eyes closed and his hands hanging loosely beside him, and it made Jim want to hold onto him forever –

Jim knew that, had Spock’s eyes been open, he would have seen way more than Jim could afford to let him see.

Trying desperately to shield his thoughts as he curled his hand around Spock’s arm – and god, that soft material was perfectly exquisite – Jim tugged slightly, moving them towards the bathroom. Spock followed his lead without hesitation, and the thrill that shot through Jim at the simple trust left him struggling to keep his hands steady.

“There’s, uh, towels in there already – we don’t have sonics, sorry, but the water should work perfectly, even though nobody’s been here for awhile – and if you need extra soap, I put some in the drawer under the sink –”

“Jim, you are rambling. I am sure that I shall find anything I need.”

You could need me.

As the aching, ridiculous, involuntary thought was crossing his mind, three things happened in quick succession.

Spock suddenly caught his foot against the leg of the kitchen table, pitching him forward, the tiniest noise of surprise colouring the air around them – Jim’s hand shot forward with lightening speed, tightening around Spock’s wrist, while the other slid around his waist, holding him upright –

And Jim felt his fingers dig into the warm skin of Spock’s palm, even as that damning thought finished circulating through his head, and Spock’s eyes suddenly snapped opened.

Time crashed to a screeching halt as they simply stared at each other, their silence louder than torpedo fire. Even the air around them seemed to have stilled, and when Jim struggled to breathe, his lungs rasped out their scratchy protest, the sudden ache in his chest seeming to tighten further.

“Jim, there has been no harm done. You may release me now.”

Jim struggled to focus, still not inhaling enough air to think. Spock’s eyes were dark, his lips slightly parted, and Jim still had his arm around him, was still holding him much too close –

“I assure you, I am quite capable of walking unassisted.” Without another word, Spock pulled away and stood upright, his eyes sliding around the kitchen as Jim concentrated on not having a panic attack. “You have done remarkably well with these decorations. Once I have completed my shower, would you appreciate assistance with the remaining ornaments?”

Jim could only nod, not yet trusting his tongue. Had Spock’s shock simply been from almost falling on his face? Had he actually missed what Jim was thinking?

“Sorry, I – I almost dropped you.”

“Please do not trouble yourself. I would have sustained no damage.”

His heart beating painfully against his ribs, Jim watched as Spock’s fingers curled around a toy that Jim had placed on the countertop, holding it with careful gentleness.

“This is Santa?”

He was studying it intently, as though trying to find a scientific explanation for its existence, and the sight did absolutely nothing to calm Jim down. Spock was standing there in a casual robe, holding a toy from Jim’s childhood, and they were so far out of familiar territory it almost hurt – why had Jim ever thought that he would be able to deal with this?

“Yup.” Slamming down on the thought, Jim somehow managed to make his mouth work. “Jolly old fellow who brings presents.”

“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake?” Spock spoke without a single change of expression, and Jim heard himself make some kind of strangled noise, his brain failing to process the words. “That is the correct song, I believe?”

He was still studying the Santa Clause toy, his face at its most impassive, and the question coupled with his bland expression were suddenly too much –

Jim couldn’t have stopped his laughter for anything in the universe, and Spock flushed as he quickly set the toy back on the counter, as though the concept of Santa Clause had suddenly become insulting.

“If my attempts to analyse these human traditions are nothing other than amusing –”

“Spock, wait.” He managed to bite back his mirth at the embarrassment in Spock’s voice, but he couldn’t quite wipe the grin from his face. “I’m sorry, but you have no idea how awesome that was. Can we sing carols later?”

Spock just looked at him, perfectly schooled to impassivity again.

“Please?”

He tried for his customary beaming grin, but it must not have worked, because Spock simply arched an eyebrow.

“You will cease to laugh at –”

“I promise.”

Spock looked at him for a moment longer, before he nodded and turned to enter the washroom, and Jim just couldn’t stop himself –

“Unless we sing ‘rocking around the Christmas tree’. Cause, honestly – ‘Later we’ll have some pumpkin pie, and do some carolling’? There’s no chance of me not laughing at you saying that.”

Jim had tried to school his face into something other than a ridiculous grin, but Spock didn’t even bother to turn around. “Jim, the next time you attempt to speak Vulcan, you may rest assured that I shall be judging you most extensively.”

Jim was still laughing long after the bathroom door closed.

- - -

The next two days passed in some kind of pleasant blur.

Despite the turbulent events of their first day, dinner that night had been a rather uneventful affair, and things had gone smoothly since. Jim had spent the second day teaching Spock about Christmas traditions – although he’d been careful to leave out the concept of mistletoe, knowing that he didn’t have enough willpower to not offer a demonstration – and Spock had responded by commenting on the illogic manner of said traditions.

It had been a good system.

Day three saw them traipsing through the forest in search of a tree. Spock had determinedly insisted on coming, despite Jim’s warnings about hypothermia and frostbite, and Jim had spent the entire time wanting to wrap his arm around Spock’s shivering body. By the time they found a tree that Spock deemed adequate – Jim had tried to explain that no tree was geometrically perfect, but Spock had somehow found them the straightest tree in the whole damn forest – Spock had actually been shifting in place, as though trying to keep blood flowing to his toes, and Jim had been cursing himself for letting Spock come with him.

Not that he would have been able to stop him, of course. Even when they were enacting their roles of captain and first officer, Spock still managed to get around many of the instructions that he didn’t agree with, and Jim had never quite figured out how.

Christmas Eve day dawned with a cloudless sky, turning their world into a never-ending dichotomy of white and blue, and Jim spent a good ten minutes just standing on their front porch, silently staring across the valley. Christmas in Iowa had absolutely nothing on Canada, and as their three days together had worn on, Jim had become a little frightened by how much he wanted this.

Jim wanted to come here every year, and never have to worry about whether he was overstepping the boundaries between them. He wanted to spend hours curled up with Spock on the couch, staring into the fireplace, and squabbling over the merits of eggnog. He wanted to teach Spock exactly what mistletoe was, and then hang it from every possible surface, so he’d have an excuse to never keep his hands to himself –

In the reality that Jim was actually living, he couldn’t even touch Spock without thinking it through first.

Jim didn’t move as he heard the door behind him swing open, and Spock came to stand beside him, their shoulders almost touching. That hotter-than-human warmth was somehow sneaking through the air that separated them, and Jim tore his eyes from the valley to look at him, wondering why his sappy heart was being more ridiculous than normal today.

Sometimes, Jim could read every emotion in those dark eyes as clearly as if Spock had been yelling. On other days, every inch of Spock somehow managed to resemble a statue, and even Jim could get no indication of what was going on between those beautifully pointed ears.

Now, as though reading Jim’s mind, Spock met his gaze with perfect impassiveness. Every inch of him suddenly aching to break that calm, Jim forced out a small smile and turned back to the view, his body feeling like it had been shot with cordrazine.

What he would give for there to never be that mask between them.

“You are troubled.”

Jim didn’t know whether to laugh or yell, wondering how he could possibly be this transparent. He turned back to Spock, who was looking at him at though he could see right through him.

“You know, it’s rather unfair that you always know what I’m thinking, when I have such a difficult time reading you.”

“Do you still?”

That one was easier to read – surprise. Spock’s eyebrow had climbed up, and the barrier behind his eyes had lightened slightly. Staring at him, Jim couldn’t figure out why his irate confession had been so shocking.

“You’re surprised?”

“You are remarkably adept at discerning my thoughts.”

Jim could think of absolutely no response to that, and Spock stared at him for a second longer, before returning his gaze to the valley. After a long moment, Jim found himself shaking his head, wondering how Spock did this to him every time.

“Come on, Spock. I’ve got some more Christmas traditions to teach you.”

Spock raised an eyebrow.

“Throw on your warmest clothes, and come join me.” The plan was surprisingly calming, and Jim could feel a smile creep across his lips, suddenly picturing Spock’s reaction to this particular tradition. “Oh, and get two carrots, four kiwis and two green beans from the replicator, ka?”

After two days of illogical human traditions, Spock knew better than to argue.

Twenty minutes later, and even after searching for a handful of sticks, Spock still didn’t protest when Jim told him to roll a massive snowball, and to stack two smaller ones on top. As they worked in easy silence, the vegetables lay in the snow beside them, a bright splash of colour against all the whiteness.

“Is this sufficient?”

Jim stopped what he was doing to gape at the three impeccably rounded snowballs that sat atop each other, their rough edges somehow completely smoothed away. Spock didn’t say anything else, but there was a slight shine to his eyes that suggested a badly contained façade of innocence, and Jim let out a breath of exasperation, realizing how messy his snowman looked in comparison.

“Out of curiosity, has anyone ever told you that you’re a perfectionist?”

“With the obvious example of yourself, I believe that similar sentiments have been expressed by Admiral Pike, Lieutenant Uhura, Cadet O’Riley, Doctor McCoy, Admiral –”

“Yeah, so you’re brilliant, and everyone knows it.” Jim hid a smile as he finished balancing his third snowball in place, and then turned back to Spock, whose eyes were still amused. “Turn around. I just need a couple of minutes.”

“Is hiding one’s eyes also part of Christmas tradition?”

“Yes.” Jim couldn’t stop a grin, knowing that Spock wouldn’t believe him. “Don’t peek.”

With a sound that wasn’t quite a sigh, Spock turned to face the valley, and Jim scrambled to finish the snowpeople, grabbing four sticks to use as arms. He shoved the two green beans into his jacket pocket for his later plan, and then put all the other vegetables to use, using the kiwis and carrots as eyes and mouths.

“Alright, you can look now.”

When Spock turned around, there was already a slight twitch to his lips, as though he knew what he was going to see. Jim stared at him in astonishment, a curl of doubt sneaking through his stomach, trying to figure out why Spock wasn’t commenting on how illogical this whole concept was –

“You already knew!”

The half-smile didn’t get any bigger, but Spock’s nod somehow conveyed amusement, and Jim found himself fighting back a grin, even as he berated himself for being an idiot.

“I can’t believe you! Here I was, saving the best for last –”

“I did some research into human winter customs.”

“And you’ve been leading me on this entire time?”

“Negative. This is simply one custom that I had previous knowledge of.”

Jim made a non-committal noise, not quite believing him, but unwilling to argue when Spock’s eyes were so warm.

“Turn around again.”

Spock said nothing as he did so, and Jim yanked the long beans out of his pocket, now more than ever wanting to catch Spock off guard with the snowpeople idea. He slapped the beans into their eyebrow positions above the eyes of Spock’s snow person, and then scooped some snow from the ground, crafting on two perfectly pointy ears.

“Ka, done.”

Whatever Jim had been expecting, Spock’s pained reaction was not it.

He turned around and froze, that smile gone quicker than it had come, his eyes darting to the pointed ears and green bean eyebrows. There was something close to panic in his tightly closed off expression, and he stared at the snow Vulcan as though it was some kind of monster.

“Jesus, Spock, what’s wrong?”

As Spock continued to just stare at the snow Vulcan, Jim felt his head spin in circles, as he tried to figure out what he’d done.

“Shit, is this offensive, or something? Damnit, you know me, I don’t know nearly enough about other cultures –”

“Please attempt to relax, Jim.” Spock still wasn’t looking at him, and he took a step closer to Jim’s creation, as though the snow Vulcan was the most important thing in the entire universe. “I am not offended.”

“Then –”

“I do not know if I wish to speak of it.”

Jim clammed up so fast he nearly bit off his lips, hearing the pained finality there. He desperately struggled for something intelligent to say, but his higher thought processes seemed to have escaped him, and he could only boggle at Spock, feeling ridiculously guilty without even knowing why.

“Sorry, I’ll just –”

“Jim, wait – please do not leave.” Spock had finally taken his gaze off the snow Vulcan, and Jim’s ability to speak left him completely at the pain in those dark eyes. “My sincere apologies. I owe you an explanation.”

“You don’t have to –”

“I wish to.”

Jim quickly shut up, not wanting to do any more damage, and Spock turned to stare at the snow Vulcan again.

“When I was young, we never celebrated Christmas, and my mother seldom spoke of it. I understand now that it caused her pain to be away from home for such an important occasion, and that she simply could not discuss the subject, nor attempt to celebrate it.”

Jim concentrating on hiding a wince, suddenly realizing why Spock was so shaken. If this story involved his mother, then it was no wonder that he had reacted so strongly.

“Although I did not then realize why she was upset, I found myself wishing to do something to help her. As speaking to my father about this matter was impossible, I began devising my own way to make her smile. I was still too young to be frightened by her happiness.”

Even three years after Amanda’s death, Spock still spoke of her as though she had died only yesterday, and it made Jim want to hold him close forever. He knew that Spock’s pain would never morph into fond memories and bittersweet nostalgia – that for him, her death would always be laced with regret and bitter loathing, along with his crippling self-blame over not getting to her fast enough.

“When I was six, I finally decided to do something to ease her discontent. There was very little information on human Christmas traditions in the databanks that I had access to, but I learned enough, and crafted a tiny snow person from rocks and white paint.”

Jim realised he was holding his breath, but the pain in Spock’s voice seemed to have finally eased slightly, as though he was remembering a perfect moment in his life. That tiniest hint of a smile was back, though Jim could see the wistful nature of it in Spock’s eyes.

“I had rarely seen my mother display tears of happiness, and even though her reaction caused my father to reprimand me severely, it is something that I never regretted. The snowman sat for a almost week on our mantle, from the Terran equivalent of Christmas day to the thirtieth of December, before my mother decided –”

The tiny smile had left again, and Spock suddenly seemed to forget that Jim was even there. He walked over to the snow Vulcan, and then simply stared at it some more, as Jim tried desperately to figure out what was going on.

“A week after presenting my gift to my mother, I discovered that she had elected to attach two little ears, with the claim that it now represented me – a little bit of human, and a little bit of Vulcan.” Spock’s expression didn’t become any more pained, but Jim could see the way his glove-covered fingers were suddenly curling against his legs, as though itching to hit something. “She – she insisted that it was more beautiful that way.”

His voice roughened slightly as he stopped speaking, and Jim had never experienced a louder silence in his entire life. He wished desperately for something to break it, but the wind had stopped blowing, and there was no sound of crackling tree branches – even the snow was refusing to fall.

“She was right, you know.”

Jim hadn’t meant to say anything at all, but his mouth seemed to be working without his permission, and there was something like a plea in Spock’s eyes, as though he needed some kind of reassurance.

“Not one in a billion people would be brave enough to do what your mother did. You’re the first true connection between two radically different species, and if that’s not beautiful, then –” Jim stopped, seeing something else flash through Spock’s eyes, and then found himself shrugging helplessly, not even sure where he was going with this.

Instead of responding, Spock simply looked at him for a moment longer, before he reached out to fiddle with one of the beans, angling its position beside the kiwi eye, so that the face appeared just a little less stern. Before Jim could ask what he was doing, Spock had turned back to him, some of the tension finally gone from his body.

“I regret that you never met her. You and my mother would have gotten along most amicably.”

“I wish I’d met her, too.”

As the soft words slipped from his lips, Jim suddenly realized that snowflakes were falling around them, and he and Spock turned their eyes skyward at the same time. The slightest breeze picked up for a moment, swirling the snow around them, and when Jim looked back at Spock, the Vulcan was still watching the sky.

“Wanna head in? I’ll make you some hot chocolate.”

Jim had spoken as lightly as he could, not wanting to break the fragile peace that seemed to have descended upon them, but Spock didn’t move, his face still angled towards the falling snow.

“Is there not a human tradition of catching snowflakes with one’s tongue?”

Despite the undeniably tantalising image, the warmth that shot through Jim’s body had absolutely nothing to do with lust, and everything to do with love – which was more disconcerting than anything else. Without saying a word, Jim titled his head up and stuck his tongue out, and then slowly closed his eyes, giving Spock the privacy to do the same.

He didn’t know how long he stood there, catching snow on his tongue, and fighting the urge to open his eyes and wrap his arms around Spock. He stayed still until Spock came to stand beside him, and when he opened his eyes again, Spock’s mask was almost back in place, save for the warmth in his eyes.

“Hot chocolate?”

Although Spock said nothing, he nodded slightly, and it was enough.

- - -

Two hours and three cups of hot chocolate later, Spock seemed to have recovered from their moment outside, and was back to his stoically irritating self.

“Jim, you elected to ask for my assistance, and, as such, I am assisting you. If you tilt the tree exactly 45.7 degrees to the left, and then 3.2 degrees forward –”

“Spock, if you don’t stop, I swear to god –”

“ – it shall be almost perfectly straight.”

“Since when are you content with almost?”

“Since you are the one assembling the tree.” Jim glared at him from behind a tree branch, and Spock simply shrugged by raising an eyebrow. “If you desire perfection, tilting it 45.789 degrees would suffice, but as I doubt that you can evaluate distance with that level of accuracy –”

“Oh my god. Spock. Just grab some decorations already.”

There was an amused silence as Spock peered into their box of decorations, and Jim continued trying to push the tree into place, letting it lean slightly against the wall, and hoping that Spock wouldn’t call him on his cheating, still unable to believe that he was decorating a Christmas tree with his beautiful first officer –

“Jim, there appears to be some kind of Terran mould growing in this box.”

“Huh?” Trying to exit the tree without losing his eyes in the process, brushing branches away from his face and spitting out pine needles, Jim barely processed the words. “Well of course it’s Terran, we’re on Earth – wait, mould?”

He yanked himself out the tree with a concerned start, and then failed to stop a flush when Spock’s eyes flicked across his scratched face and messy hair. He raised a hand self-consciously, before dropping it and putting on his best scowl, trying to ignore the humour in Spock’s eyes.

“Stop laughing. I don’t see you getting up close and personal with the tree.”

“And your current condition explains my reasoning. Would you care to examine this growth?”

His eyebrows suddenly climbing into his hair, Jim found himself staring incredulously, wondering if Spock had even heard the words coming from his own mouth. When Spock looked up from the box, raising a questioning eyebrow of his own, Jim could only shake his head.

“I think you need to research some more Earth customs, Spock. That sounded like we were playing doctor in a very, very bad porno.”

Not waiting for Spock’s response, Jim peered into the box, and almost gagged. “Oh, god, if that’s an old string of popcorn –”

He yanked his head back, trying to keep his stomach, and then paused at the slight green tint to his friend’s cheeks. Spock casually looked away, but Jim couldn’t stop a smirk, somehow managing to crack a joke even as his heart doubled its pace.

“Why Mr. Spock, if the thought of playing doctor –”

“Perhaps the matter is best discussed with Doctor McCoy.”

It was said with his customary straight face and cool voice, as though Spock had absolutely no idea what he was implying, and Jim found himself grinning.

“He’s going to die when I tell him you said that.”

“That would certainly lower the general stress levels across the ship.”

“Hey, that’s my best friend you’re talking about!”

“Then why are you not spending Christmas with him?”

Spock sounded suddenly serious, as though he still couldn’t quite believe that Jim had invited him along. Not wanting to phrase this in a way that made Spock sound second-best, Jim took a moment to peer into the box again, before meeting Spock’s eyes.

“Well, I have two best friends.” Jim waited a moment to watch that sink in, and then allowed his smirk to widen, suddenly reminded of just how awesome he really was. “Also, I may have bribed his ex into letting Bones have Joanna for the holidays.”

“And is Doctor McCoy aware of this?”

“I’m saving it for the next time he gets hypo-friendly.”

That half-smile was back again, and Jim fought to keep his hands to himself, his body suddenly aching for more contact. His desire for Spock had become a constant burn, but every few hours, it would flare up into something that threatened to engulf him, often with little provocation.

“That was very kind of you.”

Jim slammed a lid on his thoughts, once again glad that Spock consciously worked to keep his mind blocked off.

“I know – most expensive Christmas present I’ve ever gotten. Now help me clean out this box. We have a tree to decorate.”

- - -

By the time nightfall settled around them, Jim felt like he had tumbled into a Christmas story.

Snow was brushing softly against the windows, and the temperature outside had dropped to some new ridiculous low, making the warmth of their cabin even more enticing. They had covered the entire main room with decorations, the beautiful fire was roaring, and their almost-perfectly-straight tree was covered top to bottom in ornaments, including two new strings of popcorn they had made earlier.

There were also two presents underneath the tree, and instead of being depressed by the lonely image, Jim had spent several hours struggling to keep a straight face, his heart filled with happiness at the fact that Spock had actually gotten him a gift.

With the exception of their earlier mishap with the snow Vulcan, Spock had been relaxing in incremental stages since their arrival three days ago, and Jim had watched the process with fascination, noting that every new Christmas experience seemed to give Spock permission to let go just a little bit more. He wasn’t anywhere close to downing eggnog and crooning out carols, but there was a constant warmth in his eyes, and his expression was slightly more relaxed than normal.

And the best part of the whole thing was that he was dressed more casually than Jim had ever seen him, which meant that Jim was itching to rip the rest of his clothes off, his libido screaming at him that Spock needed to wear black more often. The combination of black pyjama pants, with a snug black sweater, and soft black slippers for his feet –

Jim’s entire body filled with heat, his fingers twitching slightly. When Spock’s eyes closed for a second, the light of the fireplace painting his skin gold, Jim nearly slammed his head against the wall in frustration.

“Alright, Mr. Spock. So, it’s Christmas Eve –”

Curled up on the couch, his legs actually tucked underneath him, Spock tore his eyes from the fire to raise an amused eyebrow.

“– and we’re gonna do this right. Music, a few drinks – maybe even a midnight snowball fight.”

“Although I have failed to research this concept, the very term implies –”

“Think of it as a way to kick my ass.”

“Very well.”

Smiling at the easy capitulation – even if it had been at his expense – Jim meandered towards the tiny computer that sat on their countertop, and threw on his favourite Christmas playlist. As Bing Crosby’s voice filled the cabin, Jim skipped over to the replicator, and switched it to beverages.

“Want anything?”

“Alcohol does not affect Vulcans as it does humans.” Spock didn’t even take his eyes from the fire, as though the bright flames were soothing. “But some more hot chocolate would suffice.”

“You really like that stuff, don’t you?”

“It is adequate.”

Shaking his head, Jim got the machine to spit him out a glass of cognac, before punching in what Spock wanted –

And then, out of nowhere, a random memory hit him. He suddenly recalled being in his first year at the Academy, sitting in the library and reading a book on other Federation species, briefly skimming over the pages on Vulcans, wondering what was factual knowledge, and what was simply human hearsay –

“Spock, you are a sly devil.”

He whispered the words to himself, too soft for even Spock to hear, and then tried to pretend that his voice didn’t sound suspiciously strained. He shot a quick glance at Spock, and then changed his entry on the replicator, his stroke of genius sending a surge of butterflies through his middle.

Glasses in hand, he sat down beside Spock on the sofa, careful to leave some space between them as he pulled his legs up, tucking them underneath him. As soon as he got comfortable, Spock took his eyes from the fireplace, and then half-frowned at the glass in Jim’s hand.

“Jim, as I stated, alcohol does not –”

“It’s chocolate liqueur.”

Spock blinked at him for a second longer, before his skin suddenly went greener than their Christmas tree, and Jim had to use every muscle in his body to stop himself from squirming, trying to pretend that every inch of him didn’t feel like it had suddenly caught fire.

“I can’t believe you! All those mugs of hot chocolate –”

“It has a pleasing taste.”

“A pleasing taste? Spock, you started drinking without me!”

Spock was still blushing, but doing his best to hide it, and Jim felt every nerve come to life, realizing that he was curled up on a couch with this beautiful Vulcan, who had to be at least a little tipsy.

“Hot chocolate does not truly have an effect on me. The milk to chocolate ratio is such that –”

Jim snorted ungracefully and handed him the glass of liqueur, and Spock stared at it, obviously undecided.

“Jim, I do not know if –”

“Spock, please – it’s Christmas Eve.” Jim tried for his most convincing smile, and the music seemed to agree with him, crooning out something soft and slow. Spock suddenly looked absolutely beautiful, all in black with the firelight dancing across him, and Jim was grateful that his hands were occupied with holding the glasses. “This may be the only Christmas we spend together. If you’re ever gonna try to enjoy yourself, now’s the time to do it.”

The mirth left Spock’s eyes with shocking speed, leaving Jim blinking in confusion.

“What did I say?”

Spock shook his head, and carefully took the glass from Jim’s hand. “Do not trouble yourself. It is I who –”

“For someone who’s spent his life hiding his feelings, you really are a crappy liar.”

He hadn’t meant to sound so exasperated, but Spock tensed minutely, and Jim suddenly felt like they were back at day one of this trip, with Spock freaking out about wanting to enjoy the trip.

“Look, you can tell me anything. You know that.”

When Spock simply nodded, as though acknowledging this as truth but decided to refrain from putting it into practice, Jim decided to give him some space, and he leaned back against the couch, sighing softly as heat and comfort spread through every inch of him. The fire continued to crackle, and although Jim felt his entire body ache to move closer to Spock, he curled his hands tightly around his glass and stayed still.

Rocking around the Christmas tree, at the Christmas party hop…

The song had switched to something sillier, and Jim couldn’t stop a smile, despite the need that was still coursing through him. He had experienced a lot of set-ups for seduction, but with the fire and the chill air outside, this one came pretty close to being perfect, and it made him fight even harder to keep his hands to himself.

Mistletoe hung where you can see, every couple tries to stop…

“Jim, what is mistletoe?”

All thoughts of control vacated with shocking speed, leaving Jim with nothing but his libido, which was suddenly screaming at the top of its lungs.

“Um.”

“My research has indicated that it is a Terran plant, but I do not know its purpose.”

Spock’s face had become almost suspiciously impassive, and Jim struggled to find his vocal chords, deciding to take the easiest way out.

“You’re changing the subject. What did I say to upset you?”

“Jim, I believe that –” Spock actually paused, and then set his glass on the floor beside them, before carefully meeting Jim’s eyes again. “The two subjects may not be completely unrelated.”

“Spock?”

“I do not wish for this to be our only Christmas here.”

There was an aching want in that voice, and Jim wondered how many time he’d had his breath stolen in the last three days.

“When you observed that we may never have the chance to do this again –”

“It’s true.” Jim managed to find his voice, even though he hated himself for what he was saying. “We have two more years for this mission, but after that –”

“Jim, I have no particular fondness for this notion.”

“I hate it, too.”

As they stared at each other, with nothing of what he was thinking reflected in Spock’s eyes, Jim again realized how much he would have given for a direct line into Spock’s thoughts. His heart was hurting something awful, and his hands were aching to touch, his need driven even higher by the sudden realization of how little time they had left together.

“You have yet to explain the concept of mistletoe.”

Spock’s voice seemed to have dropped just slightly, and Jim tried to keep the unease from his face, realising that he was seeing a stage that Spock only reached when he was frightened of something – the way he shut off everything in his face, which was somehow even more terrifying than if his fear had there for everyone to see.

“It’s for – it’s a tradition for couples. People hang it up, and couples stop to kiss under it.”

“You have not hung anyway.”

His voice was still lower than normal, but Spock wasn’t even looking at him anymore, and Jim suddenly felt a little dizzy, his mind reeling from the impossible implications of Spock’s observation.

“Why – why would I?”

He managed to choke out the words, although his lungs and heart seemed to have somehow fused together, stopping either of them from functioning properly. Spock remained completely still, and Jim repeatedly told himself to breathe, his mind almost caving in on the insinuations of what Spock was saying.

“Spock, are you saying –”

And then Jim bit off his words and closed his eyes, trying to shift away, needing a moment to compose himself.

This was his best friend. His first officer. One of the few people that Jim wouldn’t be able to live without. The one person who was always there for him, saving his ass, keeping the ship running, and giving Jim someone to come to for help.

The fear that accompanied the thought of losing Spock was almost as strong as his love for him. He couldn’t risk it, he couldn’t read too much into this – Spock didn’t understand human traditions, he couldn’t know what he was saying, Jim had to be reading intent where there was none –

When a gentle touch brushed against his knee, Jim didn’t even recognize the noise that he made, every inch of him screaming with need and confusion. It would have been an almost casual touch for anyone else, but for Spock, this was akin to him sliding his hand between Jim’s thighs –

“Spock?”

His voice was a croak as he finally managed to open his eyes, only to find that Spock was still staring into the fire. Jim looked down at his knee, just to make sure that he wasn’t dreaming, and then slid his hand over the warmth of Spock’s, keeping his thoughts as tightly contained as possible, wondering why the room seemed devoid of oxygen.

“What’s – wrong? Why are you –”

Jim stopped talking again as he felt their fingers lace together, warm skin pressed against his own. The world had suddenly narrowed to just the two of them, and Jim’s mind was screaming at him to run as fast as he could, was screaming that this was crazy, that he had to be unconscious or delusional or dreaming –

“As you have said on several occasions, you are my closest friend. I do not wish to lose that when these five years are over.”

“You won’t.”

His voice was still nothing more than a croak, and when Spock’s grip tightened on his, Jim felt his heart break into a thousand tiny pieces, not wanting Spock to hurt like this. He tightened his grip in return, and fought the urge to brush his lips across that soft skin, wanting to softly press Spock’s hand against his face –

“Forgive me, Jim.”

Spock pulled his hand away, and stood up with shocking speed.

“I have said too much, and have upset you again. That was not my intent.”

Before Spock could leave, Jim had sprung to his feet, and grabbed hold of those warm hands. Spock visibly tensed, his eyes suddenly unguarded as they met Jim’s, and Jim desperately tried to make sense of the situation, because what he was getting from this couldn’t possibly be correct.

“Spock, you’re my closest friend, too. You know this. So talk to me –”

“I have never been particularly skilled at articulating my thoughts, Jim.”

Jim’s entire body seemed to twist apart as Spock slowly looked down at their clasped hands, then slowly raised them and dragged his lips against the back of Jim’s fingers, successfully turning Jim’s world completely upside down.

“Spock.”

He sounded strangled, his entire existence crumbling around him, but Spock didn’t let go, his eyes still closed as he held Jim’s hand against his lips.

“Tell me you do not want this, and I shall leave.”

The words were formed against Jim’s skin, Spock’s soft breath brushing across the back of his hand, and Jim found himself weak-kneed, every inch of him failing to process what was happening.

“You may consider this an invasion, but I have not always been able to maintain my shields around you. Whenever you have touched me, even for a moment, the sensations that I had received –”

Spock stopped, as though terrified to keep going, and Jim suddenly felt like he could have flown to the moon with only the force of his own happiness. The world was spinning slightly, but the relief that coursed through his veins was nothing short of euphoric, and Jim was almost dizzy with the knowledge of what was happening.

“How long have you known?”

His voice nothing more than a whisper, and Spock seemed to become even tenser, his eyes still closed, and Jim’s hand still pressed against his warm lips.

“Since we arrived here.”

“You didn’t say anything?”

“You did not volunteer the information, either.”

“I didn’t have a direct channel into your brain!”

Spock flinched, and lowered their hands, finally opening his eyes. The mixture of fear and need there was the most heart-wrenching thing Jim had ever seen.

“I apologize if –”

Not even wanting Spock to complete the sentence, Jim yanked his hand free and slipped his arms around Spock, holding on as tightly as he could, silently swearing to never let go again. Spock went absolutely rigid for a second, before all the tension seemed to bleed out of him, and he slid his arms around Jim in return, suddenly becoming the only thing keeping Jim on his feet.

“I am gratified that you did not react with anger. The invasion of your feelings –”

“Spock, don’t even.” Somehow Jim finally managed to find words, despite the euphoria dancing through his veins, and the disbelief that kept making him light-headed. “You’re the most courageous person I know. I would have never told you.”

“I, too, did not wish to lose you.”

Jim suddenly realised that he was shaking, and struggled to get himself under control, but when Spock pressed a gentle kiss into his hair, all thoughts of control fled. Jim wondered how it was even possible to feel such an astounding mixture of love and relief, mixed with enough desire to power a starship.

“Jim, do you –”

Jim cut him off by pressing a gentle kiss to Spock’s warm neck, and Spock’s breath hitched, his arms tightening around Jim.

“You tell me how this goes, Spock.”

“I –”

“I’m happy to curl up with you all night and just hold on.”

Another kiss to Spock’s neck, and the novelty of it had Jim’s knees weakening all over again, even as Spock’s grip around him tightened even more.

“I’m also happy to make love to you in front of this fire.”

Spock couldn’t quite manage to stop an almost strangled sound.

“Whatever you want. I’ve waited three years, but you were the one who actually had the guts to do something, and I’m willing to wait –”

Spock slowly slid a hand against Jim’s side, pressing it there as gently as he had three days ago, and Jim fought back a stupid prickling of tears, the reality of what was happening just starting to sink in. He tightened his grip to a point that had to hurt, breathing softly against Spock’s neck, still unable to believe that this was real.

“I have little experience in these matters, Jim. I want –”

When Spock seemed to lose his words, Jim finally pulled back, absolutely floored by the need in that expression. There was still some fear, but Jim could see his own relief reflected back, and he smiled softly as he raised a hand to trace the outline of Spock’s mouth, pulse racing even harder when Spock’s eyes closed.

“You’ve given me what I want most in this world, Spock. If you’d like to wait a bit longer before –”

Spock shook his head, eyes still closed, and the action suddenly made him look incredibly vulnerable. His heart fluttering in a way it never had, Jim slid a hand to cup his cheek, before leaning in slightly, and pressing their lips together, as gently as he possibly could.

It was as though three years of pained longing suddenly crashed down around him, freeing Jim from the lonely prison that he hadn’t even realised he was living in.

Although Jim had never believed in the concept of time standing still, by the time Spock’s lips hesitantly moved against his, Jim had forgotten anything beyond the feel of them pressed together. He kept the kiss gentle, nothing more than a press of lips, until Spock suddenly made the tiniest sound and tried to move closer –

And then Jim was completely gone, three years of love and need suddenly pouring out of him.

He kissed Spock until both of them were panting, until Jim could barely tell up from down, until Spock had finally gotten the courage to respond, teeth and lips and tongues establishing a rhythm that left Jim way too wobbly to stand. The fire crackled beside them, and Spock’s hands were clutching at the back of shirt, the fabric bunched between his fingers.

“You’re amazing.”

Jim somehow managed to murmur the words against Spock’s lips, and Spock exhaled raggedly in return, breaking away long enough to breathe. Jim slowly slid down his body, taking a moment to just look up at him, before tugging on the waist of Spock’s pyjamas.

“Can these go?”

Spock simply stared at him, as though not knowing how to answer, and Jim suddenly flashed back to the first time he’d ever gone to bed with someone. If he, young tomcat Kirk had felt nerves, then for someone as reserved as and private as Spock –

Rising to his feet again, Jim was careful to hold Spock’s gaze as he stepped back, sliding his shirt over his head, and tossing it casually across the couch. Spock’s eyes darkened even further, as though he simply couldn’t stop himself from reacting, and Jim felt the butterflies in his stomach make themselves known as he slid his pants down, leaving him in nothing but his black briefs.

“Alright?”

Although Jim had never really felt vulnerable with is clothes off, something about the way Spock was looking at him made him feel naked in a way he’d never felt before. When Spock nodded, eyes flicking up and down the length of his body, Jim barely stopped a groan at the appreciative perusal.

“Your turn.”

He barely recognized that raspy voice for his own, but he stopped caring when Spock’s hands slid to the bottom of his shirt. Spock paused for a second more, before slowly pulling it over his head, his hesitance making the display into more of a tease than Spock could ever know.

“God, you’re beautiful.”

Spock looked away, even as that green blush spread from his cheeks to his ears, and Jim stepped closer, trailing his fingers across Spock’s bare chest. He curled them gently in the air he found there, his fingers tingling at finally being allowed to touch, and when Spock’s eyes slid shut again, as though actually looking at Jim was too much to handle, Jim wondered what on earth he had done to deserve this.

“Still good?”

Before Spock could answer, Jim casually leaned forward to lick a stripe across Spock’s chest, and the hiss he got in response was the sexiest thing he’d ever heard.

“You’re so much more responsive than I’d imagined.”

Spock’s eyes had opened again, and he wasn’t even making an effort to hide the need there. Jim felt his lips curl into a shaky smile, and the flush on Spock’s cheeks deepened further.

“You have no idea how often I’ve thought about this.” He slid his hands down Spock’s chest, and paused to brush them along the edges of his hips, barely hidden by black fabric. Spock was still watching him, and Jim was unsurprised to feel his own hands shaking.

“May I?”

When Spock nodded, it was as though years of stress seemed to bleed from Jim’s body, and he slid to his knees again, dragging his hands along Spock’s body the whole way down. He took a moment to mould his lips against the front of Spock’s pants, curling them around the hardness there, and Spock’s hands clenched in his hair, as though desperate for something to hold on to.

“I can’t even articulate how much I want you.”

“The – the need is mutual.”

They were the first words Spock had managed in about five minutes, and Jim glanced up at him, his skin suddenly burning at the look on Spock’s face, at the blatant desire there –

“God, you should see yourself.”

That beautiful blush got even deeper, and Jim found himself struggling to hold Spock’s eyes, which had focused on him with an intensity that made Jim squirm. Reminding himself to breathe, he slowly dragged his fingers along the top of Spock’s pyjama pants, before gently pulling them down, and helping Spock to step out of them. Before Spock could get nervous, Jim had pressed another kiss to the front of his briefs and stood up again, taking hold of Spock’s hands.

“Here, or the bedroom?”

“Here.”

The single word left Jim’s legs even more wobbly, and he pressed their mouths together for a moment, his breath quickening as Spock made an almost pained noise, moulding their bodies even closer together.

“Can we lie down?”

Spock pulled back and nodded, and Jim slowly brought them to the ground, pressing Spock back against the fur, before pausing to enjoy the view. It was his earlier fantasy come alive, and he carefully straddled Spock’s body, deliberately missing the place Spock needed to be touched most, until Spock began to shift impatiently, the flush on his skin even darker.

“Jim, you –”

And then he stopped, fingers reaching out to press against Jim’s hips as though trying to communicate without words, and Jim decided to have mercy.

Still reeling from being allowed to touch, Jim slowly slid down Spock’s body, pulling off his underwear as he went, leaving Spock naked and beautiful on the rug before him. His heart suddenly tightened in a way that almost drowned out his libido, and he leaned down to press a reverent kiss against Spock’s hip, not missing the way Spock’s entire body tightened in response.

“Jim –”

“I can’t tell you what this means to me. Just let me take care of you for a bit.”

When Spock closed his eyes in acquiescence, Jim bit down on his own need and began exploring.

He trailed soft kisses along the soft skin of Spock’s legs, before licking along the edges of his thighs, and then nibbling across the tight tension of his stomach. He bit down gently against a hip bone, then flicked his tongue across the head of Spock’s cock, revelling in the gasp even as he moved away again, scraping his teeth along the inside of Spock’s thighs, and tightening his grip against Spock’s hips.

“Feels good?”

When Spock’s only response was to murmur Jim’s name, his eyes closed tight and his fingers clutching the rug beneath them, Jim had never heard anything more beautiful.

“Do you have any idea what your voice does to me? I could listen to you talk for hours.”

There was no response, but Jim didn’t need one, and he carefully slid his hands along the insides of Spock’s thighs, pushing his legs even wider apart, and feeling Spock’s instinctive tension at being made even more vulnerable.

“Jim –”

“Trust me.”

When Spock managed to relax slightly, Jim bit back and groan and spread those beautiful legs as far as they could go, painting a trail of kisses and bites all over Spock’s inner thighs, and refusing to stop until Spock was panting above him. His body aching at finally being allowed to touch, Jim slowly trailed his tongue along the length of Spock’s cock, touching with just the tip of his tongue, knowing it was more of a tease than anything –

“Jim, please.”

The soft words twisted through him, and he finally wrapped his mouth around Spock, his own cock jumping at the choked breath he got in return, and the way Spock’s hips moved upwards of their own accord. Jim pressed them back down, and then tried everything he could to drive Spock crazy, shoving his own need into the back of his mind.

He was finally living out a fantasy, and it didn’t last nearly long enough.

By the time Spock came, his face twisted into an expression of pure pleasure, his fingers had tangled tightly into Jim’s hair, and his voice was nothing more than a series of raspy exhales. He was shaking underneath Jim’s hands, and Jim found himself almost dizzy with want, as he slid back up Spock’s body and pressed their mouths together, thrilled when Spock snuck his arms around him and kissed him back.

“Worth waiting for?”

Spock still hadn’t managed to regain control of his voice, but he tightened his grip and slid a hand beneath their bodies, fingers curling underneath the top of Jim’s underwear. Jim found himself suddenly unable to breathe again, and Spock pressed a kiss against his neck as he slid a hand underneath, curling it around Jim’s cock.

Jim barely even recognized the sound that came from his own throat.

“Take these off.”

Some of Spock’s customary assertiveness was finally surfacing, the words murmured against Jim’s lips, and Jim quickly struggled to comply, things made more difficult by his shaking hands. He sat up and somehow squirmed free of the restrictive material, tossing them to the side –

And then found their positions reversed, his back pressed against the soft fur, with a beautiful Vulcan stretched out on top of him.

“You move like a cat.”

Spock’s face was relaxed in a way that Jim had never seen before, and his lips curled slightly at the words. Before Jim could say anything else, Spock was kissing his way down Jim’s body, obviously wanting to complete the same exploration that Jim had just accomplished –

“Spock.”

His voice was already cracking, his heart trying to beat out of his ribs, and Spock raised an eyebrow at him.

“Please don’t tease. I’m already – I need you to –”

Spock said nothing, but his-half smile was almost wicked as he curled his mouth around Jim, and Jim let out a noise that he didn’t even know he was capable of, every inch of him focused on that amazing feeling. Spock’s mouth was hotter than summer pavement, and the sudden sensation had Jim scrambling for breath, his ability to think completely destroyed.

With a croak of Spock’s name, Jim’s hips left the rug before he could stop himself, until he found himself pressed back against the soft material, that Vulcan strength rendering him immobile, leaving him at the mercy of whatever Spock wanted to –

And then Spock began to explore, using his tongue and lips in as many different ways as he could think of, and it was enough to keep Jim dance on the edge, but not enough to push him over. After several minutes of Spock’s exploration, Jim’s body was springboard tense, and he somehow managed to find his voice, realising that he was begging, and not even able to care enough to stop himself.

With a decidedly smug look that fried whatever was left of Jim’s brain, Spock tightened the pressure of his mouth even as he dug his fingers into Jim’s bare hips –

And a wave of pure sensation screamed through Jim’s body, two arousals twisting together into one, as the need and love from Spock’s body jumped through those fingertips, crashing into his own frantic desire with all the subtly of a derailing freight train – and as their two desires mixed together, Jim was suddenly thrown towards a level of need that somehow encompassed every aspect of who he was, that left him completely unable to breathe –

Jim came so hard the world actually went fuzzy, tinting his entire existence with white.

When he finally managed to get himself together, he was wrapped in strong arms, a warm body pressed against his back, and Spock’s nose buried in his hair. He could barely tell where he ended, and where Spock began – it was as though Spock was afraid to let him go, and was trying to mould their bodies together.

Jim wanted to say something intelligent, but all he seemed to manage was a croak, and he snuggled even closer to Spock, feeling that broad chest vibrate with not-so-well-contained amusement.

“I assume that was intended as a compliment.”

Jim cleared his scratchy throat, and wondered how much noise he’d made while he was busy being launched into another galaxy. “If people knew that you could make people come with your mind, you’d have a line-up down the Enterprise corridor. That was –”

“I want nobody else.”

The sudden love that spread through Jim left him shaking, and he could feel a hint of the same sentiments from Spock, slipping through every inch of their touching skin. He was still boneless from his orgasm, but even more than that, he was still reeling from his inability to believe that this was real.

Suddenly realising that three years of painful pining were over, Jim found himself grinning like an idiot, and he knew that Spock felt his sudden contentment, because his grip tightened to the point of almost crushing off Jim’s air.

“I don’t want anybody else either, Spock.”

“Good.”

There was almost a purr of possessiveness in that tone, and Jim’s exhausted body gave a feeble twitch. He managed to stop a groan, and settled for pressing a series of kisses against Spock’s bare arm, his entire being still aching at finally being this close to Spock.

“Go to sleep, Jim.”

There was lazy contentment in that warm voice, and Jim decided to take the advice, pressing his face against Spock’s arm and closing his eyes. As he finally drifted off, with Spock pressing gentle kisses against his hair, Jim realized that he’d never felt more content in his entire life.

- - -

At some point in the night, when the fire had begun to burn down, they shifted to Spock’s room, and curled up together in an exhausted pile of content limbs. When Jim woke the next morning, he realized he was alone, and he gingerly got to his feet, a pleased grin crossing his face.

He left the bedroom, the smile fading as he saw no sign of Spock. Fighting down a surge of what could have been panic, Jim wrapped a coat around himself and pulled open the front door –

Spock was standing beside their snow people, frowning at them, as though something wasn’t quite right with them. Jim boggled at him for a moment, before his eyes went to the snowpeople, and the sight made him fall in love all over again.

Standing beside the snow Vulcan, Jim’s snow person had been given a new personality, the Starfleet symbol standing out clearly against the white snow, somehow concocted from what seemed to be a collection of peas. Spock had tilted the stick arms of each snow person, so that they were brushing together –

Jim and Spock. In snowpeople version. Holding hands.

Not even caring that he was still barefoot, Jim was across the yard in an embarrassingly short amount of time, his hand slipping into Spock’s, who was blushing most extensively.

“They seemed more fitting this way.”

There was something fragile in Spock’s voice, and Jim didn’t trust himself to speak. He simply squeezed Spock’s hand, and then moved closer, his heart at peace for the first time in years.

“Jim, are you not cold?”

Ignoring the question, Jim carefully stood on his frozen tiptoes, curled his hands around Spock’s ears, and gently tugged him close for a kiss. The world did that weird spinning thing again, and when Jim finally pulled back, there was a small smile on Spock’s face, and obvious contentment in his eyes.

“Perhaps next time, we can assemble the entire command staff.”

Losing his words at the thought of doing this again, Jim closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Spock. Snow was falling around them again, and as Spock carefully lifted him off the ground, cradling him as though he weighed nothing, Jim knew he would have given anything to make this moment last forever.

“We have many years yet, Jim.”

“You’re going to be less careful about reading my thoughts now, aren’t you?”

Spock said nothing else, but when he pressed their lips together, both of them could feel the hints of love and affection that twisted between them, warming them from the inside out –

Jim closed his eyes again, and simply basked in the feeling of finally being complete.

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