Jim was the Treasurer of the Xenolinguistics Club at the Academy, and, if not for his talent and
love of command and strategy, would probably have become a communications officer. It had always been his back-up. He was technically qualified to serve up to the level of internal research ships - like the Kelvin - just in case his plans for ship-domination hadn't gone the way he'd expected.
Okay, they hadn't gone the way he'd expected anyway, but that was besides the point.
The point was that Jim spoke several alien languages anywhere between 'butchering' and 'as much fluency as human vocal chords will allow.' And learning any alien language above 'cringing' level involved knowing something about the alien culture in question.
Take Klingons. If you didn't know shit about Klingons, then you'd probably find it kind of weird that their word for 'fluffy' was strikingly similar to a string of terms for fear, cowardice and death. And Tellarites: sixty-eight words that all translated to 'debate' in Federation Standard.
At the Academy, Jim hadn't really paid much attention to Vulcan. It had been one of those age-old reasons: all Vulcans speak some level of Standard, so there's little to no point in teaching Vulcan to the cadets. Any Vulcans actually serving with Starfleet would have to speak fluent Standard anyway, as would any diplomats they would have to deal with. Jim's Vulcan was picked up from a Beginners I class in the first year.
On the other hand, Vulcan culture was drummed into their skulls from day one. It just didn't do to upset your most powerful ally with cultural bumbling, and so the cadets were vigorously educated in what to do and what not to do. (Mostly 'go with the flow', 'don't ask questions', 'don't touch' and 'whatever you do, don't get between bondmates').
Jim hadn't been told why not to touch - but McCoy had. His xenobiology classes covered that quite happily. And it was McCoy who told Jim about Vulcan hands, when Jim had asked (with all genuine concern, in order not to step over cultural boundaries with his then-new First Officer) exactly what he should avoid in touching.
(Because: a) Jim touched everyone at some point, and he would invariably forget that touching Vulcans was a Bad Idea, capital letters and all; b) he might well have to touch him in emergency situations anyway; and c) their relationship was stormy enough as it was without Jim stomping all over Spock's cultural beliefs in hob-nailed boots.)
At the time, the explanation on Vulcan hands had just made Jim snort with laughter (how unsexy, hand-kissing) and he'd mostly forgotten about it.
A year and a half later, he had to admit it was not one of the greatest things McCoy had ever told him.
Mostly because a year and a half later (and God knows how or why) his mind had woken up to just how awesome Spock really was, and his eyes had woken up to how damn attractive he was.
And with McCoy's information on Vulcan touching, Jim was always conscious of where his hands were. And concentrating on keeping them there - i.e. away from Spock. Far away. Where they couldn't possibly give in to temptation and kiss him, Vulcan-style, all over.
Jim should really not have thought he could resist temptation - because it came back to bite him in the ass. Repeatedly.
The first time, he hadn't planned it. Truly, he hadn't. They'd been in the middle of a fucking battle, for God's sake! Of course he hadn't planned it.
Just...when the bridge power was cut off for those eleven seconds, and even the emergency lights hadn't come up, and the place was so dark Jim wouldn't have noticed had he closed his eyes...he knew where Spock was.
In eleven seconds, and without really thinking about it through the panic and the chaos and the oh-God-is-this-it? he had reached across the gap - just far enough to lean, and caught Spock's sleeve. He felt the Vulcan turn, but didn't stop, running his hand down that sleeve to find the bare hand and rub the pads of his fingers over Spock's, the way McCoy had told him about just over eighteen months previously.
Spock had stiffened as if he'd been struck. Jim had pressed a little harder, then jerked free when his brain caught up with his adrenline-fuelled idiocy.
When the eleven seconds were up, and bridge power came back online, Jim was dealing with the crisis and Spock advising Engineering, a bemused expression hiding underneath his Vulcan features.
But Jim had made sure to be over ten feet from him when the lights went up.
Jim hadn't been caught, and that was the headiest part of the aftermath. He had Vulcan-kissed Spock, and the other man didn't even know about it.
Jim was sure he didn't know. For one, Spock didn't know that Jim knew about Vulcan kissing. Okay, so he'd probably know it wasn't Uhura (Jim was assuming she'd kissed him like that) but he didn't have any reason to think it was Jim. And, let's face it, nobody would guess that Jim was carrying this torch, never mind the guy he'd been hiding it from.
And Spock was Spock. Best case scenario: he'd confront Jim about it and let him down easy. Worst case scenario: he'd knock him through a bulkhead, then transfer off the ship. Either way, Jim would know about it. And as Spock hadn't confronted him, he obviously didn't know it had been Jim.
Which was just asking for Jim to do it again.
If he could get away with it once, then he could surely do it again, right?
As it happened: right.
The second time was also in the dark, but several months later. Darkness typically didn't happen on ships - the halls were permanently lit, even during the gamma shift, and none of the departments went into darkness (except possibly engineering when they were enthusiastically rewiring everything, but even then, the glow from the warp core served as decent-enough light). So it was some time before Jim was presented with the opportunity again.
It was at the wedding reception. Jim had performed his very first marriage, and couldn't have been more nervous if it had been his own wedding. Thankfully, Lieutenant Relles was Anarian - although human, Anaria was one of the very first human colonies in space, and so they had their very own culture, much like different nationalities from Earth. Anarian wedding ceremonies were short - but the party was long.
And apparently, Anarian weddings also served to pressure other unsure couples, or shy lovers, into confessing their feelings for the other, or into proposals of their own. (Jim privately thought that was the point of Earth weddings too, but at least Anarian weddings had the balls to be official about it.)
One of the methods, it seemed, was to turn out the lights. The logic being that everybody was braver doing naughty things in the dark.
Jim had laughed at Relles' explanation, and given her pleased permission to do. He'd made a note of Spock's location, while trying hard to look as if he wasn't doing just that - and when the lights went out, he was prepared.
Just like before, those fingers jolted and he felt his First Officer snap straight as if he'd been shot.
And just like before, Jim was halfway across the room when the lights came back up a short while later.
What hadn't been the same, though, was that Spock had turned his fingers up into Jim's touch - and it made the contact all the more worth it.
In Vulcan-style, he'd kissed back.
The third time hadn't been such a pleasant one. On the other hand, it had been a human kiss.
They were two years into the mission and, in Jim's case, two years into reading everything he could find on Vulcan physiology. Although the doctor obviously knew enough about it, Jim figured that McCoy wasn't always going to be around when something went wrong. So it might be beneficial if Jim knew what was going on.
Thank God he'd hacked Starfleet Medical's file, because no unclassified Vulcan texts had held that information.
Namely: after three or four lungfuls of air tainted (even minorly) with nitrous oxide, Vulcans pass out. Without any warning whatsoever and, frankly, like they've been shot dead.
It had scared the ever-living shit out of Jim when that happened.
They'd been negotiating for mining rights on Feros IV, a small world with a lucrative trade in gold mining. The issue was that the dilithium Starfleet was after was near the gold that Feros IV were simply not going to give up. The chief diplomat had decided to prove the issue to the party by showing them one of the mines.
Thirty paces into the mine, and completely in the dark, Spock had crumpled soundlessly to the floor in a dead faint, and Ensign Nicholson had tripped over him. Jim had had his phaser out in a second, but when Ensign Nicholson had started giggling like an idiot, he twigged.
"Everyone, get out," he'd ordered, beginning to feel very vaguely amused himself. "We're no use laughing like kids. Back around the table; Ambassador L'Ali, we'll take a look later when we're better prepared."
He'd crouched down beside Spock's prone body, feeling for a pulse as he'd flipped open his communicator. The heartbeat was steady, strong and stupidly fast, and he'd ordered a beam up.
In the dark, with nobody able to see him, he'd pressed a dry human kiss to still lips, moments before the transporter took him away.
The fourth time was much better. Incredibly enjoyable, in fact - though Jim nearly got caught, that time.
He let himself get carried away, in essence.
It was a Christmas party, some three days before the actual Earth date of Christmas, liberally doused in alcohol (that Jim was turning an incredibly poorly-faked blind eye to), junk food (that McCoy was likewise ignoring) and mistletoe (which nobody was ignoring, except perhaps Spock and that Epian from communications).
Jim blamed it on the alcohol, and the atmosphere, and the feeling that everything was going right in his life for once.
He honestly hadn't meant to, that time. Every other time - well, except maybe the first - had been somewhat premeditated. Jim had planned those, at least for a minute or two.
The fourth time...nope. No such intention. Just alcohol and good feeling and luck.
Because someone had been paying attention to Lieutenant Relles and Lieutenant Jefferson's wedding, and had clearly decided to perform the same trick. Just as Jim had returning to Spock from the buffet table, to finish their earlier conversation.
He hadn't thought about it. Just beelined the rest of the way, in the dark, and reached up to catch that brilliant head between his hands and kiss him, the human way, as hard and as passionately as Jim knew how. Spock's mouth parted beneath his easily, and though there hadn't been a response for a heartbeat or two (of Jim's) eventually he had kissed back, those pointed ears cool beneath Jim's fingers.
He had barely remembered to pull himself away and disappear before the lights came back on.
When they did, he blinked owlishly from his post near the buffet table, and raised his eyebrows at the suddenly-ruffled looking Vulcan.
"Someone take advantage with you?" he quipped, and grinned.
Spock's expression was unreadable - and yet, once again, Jim heard no more of it.
The fifth...the fifth was the worst.
Jim barely remembered the circumstances. Phaser fire - lots of it - and explosions and running - God, nobody told him how much damn running this job involved! He might have thought twice about it then!
But the bit that erased his memories of it wasn't the mission itself, or any injury to him, or even that it had been particularly unexpected. He was sure it was one of those high-priority type missions anyway.
No, it was that he'd nearly lost Spock.
Three years, two months into their five-year mission, and Jim was, quite frankly, head over heels for him. He lived for their chess games, for that eyebrow to be raised in his direction, for that dry humour and the smooth baritone and any attention he could get from the Vulcan. Pathetic, but true. He was hopeless, by now.
To nearly lose him...
It was night. He remembers it being night, because while the planet had a moon, it wasn't nearly so large as Earth's, so the moonlight was minimal. Running through rocky outcrops was damn-near impossible in half-light, never mind nearly-no-light. And if there was one thing that Vulcans and Humans shared, it was a not-particularly-impressive night vision.
The natives had no such issues with the dark.
He'd heard the gasp and was wheeling around before Spock could even fall, grabbing him and hauling them onwards, hissing the command to keep going. He could feel the warmth wetness that spoke of blood, all over his hands where they grappled for purchase on Spock's shirt, and his mind had been in a panic long before he ducked them into the shelter of - essentially - a hole in the ground.
The moment the natives ran past overheard, and the two of them realised that - for now - they were safe again, Spock passed out in Jim's arms.
Technically, the fifth kiss was much more than one kiss. Jim had waited there for rescue for hours - four and a half, he was later informed by Sulu - cradling the limp body of his First Officer against his chest, trying to stop bleeding from a wound he couldn't see and get a response from a man far beyond his reach.
In the final hour - and he wouldn't admit it - Jim had cried, raining tiny human kisses over Spock's face, hugging him close and feeling each breath getting progressively shallower, and the gradual slowing of that usually insanely fast heartbeat.
The fifth kiss was a myriad of them, given to an unconscious and dying man, and Jim hated being able to remember them at all.
The first time that Jim kissed Spock in the light, it was the unnatural light of Sickbay, only six hours after the horrendous mission that had seen the fifth kiss in the dark. Once again, Spock had been unconscious and unresponsive, but at least this time, he wasn't going to die.
"It was close," McCoy had said, "but I've got him now. He'll be alright in a day or two. Lucky bastard."
Jim would later blame his exhaustion for it, but he'd simply leaned over and kissed Spock on the forehead, right in front of McCoy - a soft, lingering kiss to still-stained skin.
McCoy hadn't said a word.
Spock had a rude habit of shattering Jim's illusions. He ruthlessly and systematically destroyed Jim's little self-delusions, and would always watch with the closest expression a Vulcan face could get to 'smug' while Jim flailed uselessly in the aftermath.
And he usually did it without warning.
"Nice to get a boring little science mission, huh?" Jim had said, on the green, clear, safe planet of Yexus II - a little world hovering on the edge of Federation space, spinning aimlessly. Cute, peaceful, and utterly boring. Perfect for a post-dangerous-mission wind-down.
"Indeed," Spock said, engrossed in whatever his tricorder was telling him. "Incidentally, Captain, is there any particular reason you do not seem inclined to kiss me in natural light?"
Jim had actually done a double take.
And then his jaw had dropped.
Then he picked it up again, laughed nervously, and tried to ask what Spock was talking about.
"You have kissed me approximately five times in the dark, and once in artificial light aboard the Enterprise. I cannot, however, recall a time when you have kissed me in natural light."
Jim went magenta, spluttered, and spat, "How in the hell would you know that?"
Spock's eyebrow quirked.
"I am a touch telepath, Jim. Even in unconsciousness - barring brain damage - a Vulcan knows that he has been touched, and where. In the presence of humans, touches to the lips can only bring me to one conclusion."
"Well...well...how do you know it was me?" Jim demanded.
He was already cursing himself. How was that even possible? He'd been so wrapped up in getting caught, he'd forgotten the most basic things about kissing and Vulcans. Kissing involved touching. Touching Vulcans involved telepathy. So kissing Vulcans involved telepathy!
Sometimes, even Jim Kirk had to admit that he was a stupid son of a bitch.
"For one, you have admitted to it," Spock pointed out, and Jim flushed purple. "For another, I was fully conscious and aware at the time of three of those kisses. And finally, the only other person liable to kiss me at all would be Nyota - on two of those occasions, she was not present to perform any kissing whatsoever, and she denies having done so on the final occasion."
Oh yeah, Jimmy, and even if he wasn't telepathic, he could have logically deduced his way towards the right conclusion anyway.
"I repeat my question, Captain: is there a reason you have not, to date, kissed me in natural light?"
Jim heard himself make a strange sort of gurgling noise. His heart was in his ears, his tongue had been swallowed, and the world - whatever it was called, again - was going a funny colour. Kind of pinkish-grey.
Then Spock's hand - cool and way larger than Jim recalled - slipped around the back of his neck, and they were kissing.
Everything snapped back into place. Kissing. Yeah, Jim knew what this was.
Spock was kissing him.
More accurately, they were kissing each other, but...soft. Very soft - not chaste, not when he could touch Spock's teeth like this - but soft. There was no hurry to it - Spock was nipping almost delicately at his lower lip, those long fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of Jim's neck, but not restraining him...
After a moment, Jim unwound enough to wrap his arms around Spock's neck and pull them closer together, until he could get under Spock's skin if he wanted.
He felt a vague flower of amusement unfold in his brain, and knew somehow that it was Spock's emotion, not his.
Eh, to hell with it.
They could figure out exactly what the hell they were doing later.