Jim leaned close to the mirror, inspecting his ears. He didn’t want to touch them yet—not even with the medicinal cream Bones had given him. He was glad the bio-prosthetic tips had been removed, but the shells of his ears were starting to sting. They were bright red and raw.
And his eyebrows, for the love of God! How long would it take for the edges to grow back? He didn’t look like a Romulan anymore; now he just looked like a weirdo. Spock would say they were aesthetically unpleasing and make him feel like an awkward school kid again. There had to be something Bones could give him for his brows as well. Just because it was “best to let them grow in naturally” didn’t mean there was nothing he could do.
Huh. Jim had never thought of himself as vain. Charming, handsome and rakish, yeah, but vain? You learn something new about yourself every day.
Oh well. At least he was a hero again. He’d have to remember that while trying not to blush when Spock saw his eyebrows.
He should apply the cream. The local anesthetic Bones had administered was wearing off, and his ears were really starting to hurt. He picked up the tube just as the door chime sounded.
He set it back down by the sink.
“Who is it?” he asked.
Jim hesitated, hovering a little nervously in the doorway of the bathroom, then caught himself. Suck it up, fancy boy, and face your First Officer, red ears and all.
“Come,” he said.
Spock entered, his hands clasped behind his back, and stopped short when he saw Jim standing so close to the bathroom. Jim could almost hear him wondering if it was a bad time, then thinking that if Jim had been occupied he would not have told Spock to enter, therefore asking if it was a bad time was illogical.
Jim grinned. He couldn’t believe how close this last mission had been. They had almost lost Spock.
“Captain,” Spock said.
“Spock,” Jim said.
Jim folded his arms and leaned his shoulder against the wall, still grinning. Immaculate, quiet, deceptively slender Spock. Merciless memories came flooding back of the moments when Jim had been sure the mission would fail. Sure that Spock would be killed. It could have happened at any moment--Jim was busy running around the Romulan ship trying to steal the damn cloaking device and convince the crew he was one of them, pointy ears and all, while Spock was shut up for hours alone with the Romulan commander. The queen bee herself. Jim had had no way of knowing whether she had stung.
But here was Spock, body and mind, whole and sound and standing in Jim’s quarters. How was it possible for him to be so awkward and elegant at the same time? And damn, but seeing him brought the warmest, tightest feeling to Jim’s chest. And to top it all off, the Vulcan seemed to have lost his tongue. Too adorable.
Time to interrupt that train of thought with a very logical question. “Something you wanted?” Jim prompted.
Spock blinked and remembered. “I wished to ascertain that the procedure with Dr. McCoy went as planned.”
Jim chuckled. “What, did you think he’d slip and take off one of my real ears?”
“In any operation, there is always margin for error.”
Jim tossed a few likely replies to that around in his head--they’d just pulled off a pretty tough operation without too much error--but settled for, “You’re right,” because Spock always was.
Now Spock’s question had been answered, there was no logical reason for him to stay. Jim had better think of something.
“Come in, Spock. Have a seat. I was just about to have coffee. Can I offer you tea?”
“That would be agreeable.”
“You know, we make a great team out there.”
“We do,” Spock said.
“I’m still having a hard time believing we actually pulled that one off. Infiltrating a Romulan high commander’s ship and stealing the coveted cloaking device? That’s just insane. By all rights we should have been filleted alive.”
“I do not understand the human propensity to disbelieve things that have very obviously happened. Unlikely it may have been; impossible, no.”
“Whatever, Spock. I prefer to keep a little wonder in my life. Here’s your tea.”
“Especially, it seems, when that wonder serves to inflate your own ego. Thank you.”
Jim burned his tongue on his coffee. “My ego deserves a little stroking after what it just went through! A human can only face down death so many times before he starts to get a little cocky.”
Spock sat at what Jim had come to think of as their chess table, though he used it for all sorts of other things and there was currently no chess set on it. He sat down opposite Spock, and suddenly felt calmer. He took a deep, soothing breath.
Yeah, this was their chess table.
Spock brought the cup of Vulcan spice tea to his lips, the steam wafting up in front of his deep brown eyes, watching Jim.
“See?” Jim said, leaning forward on his elbows, framing one of his ears with a cupped palm. “Back to my usual Human self.”
“Not quite,” Spock said, and set down his cup.
Jim frowned in question, and Spock extended one finger, tracing it delicately over the arc of Jim’s brow. Jim held his breath as Spock touched him.
Spock touched him.
Jim slipped casual touches to the Vulcan constantly, and while Spock was becoming more comfortable with it—more comfortable with him—Jim could still count on one hand the times Spock had done the touching. Each gentle brush of fingertips or soft hand laid on his arm was burned into Jim’s memory. Now Spock traced Jim’s left brow. It was not casual. It was deliberate, and it was gentle, and it left a tingling, heavy sensation where his finger had stroked.
“Yeah,” Jim said, breathy. “Bones said they’ll grow back soon.”
“Does the impending span of time before they are regrown bother you?”
“Not really,” Jim lied.
“And your ears?”
“None to speak of,” Jim lied again.
Spock seemed satisfied. “I was deeply concerned for your safety during my time with the commander.”
Jesus, Spock had a knack for pulling the rug out from under him.
“Why, Mr. Spock,” he recovered. “Where is your faith in your commanding officer?”
“It is not lack of faith, sir.” Spock’s eyes smiled at him.
Jim smiled back. “Oh? What then?”
Spock’s eyes actually twinkled for a moment as he considered his answer. “The certainty of your safety gives me peace of mind.”
Jim caught his breath. For a Vulcan to admit that anything brought him piece of mind other than meditation and logic was a big deal.
Jim’s smile refused to be suppressed, so he let it show. He just hoped he wasn’t blushing.
“Likewise, Commander.” Damn, he felt like a kid on a first date. He actually had the impulse to reach across the table and hold Spock’s hand. But that was a little much. A little fast.
Instead he leaned across the table, as though about to impart a secret to Spock. Spock looked confused, then amused, and leaned slightly forward to play along.
“You know,” Jim said, “not that I doubted our success, but I was pretty worried about you, too, mister. How long were you in there with Charvanek? She could have killed you with a snap of her fingers if she had suspected you were trying to trick her.”
“She did suspect I was trying to trick her.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet she did. And I’ll bet I know why she didn’t snap her fingers, too.” That had also been on Jim’s mind. He’d had to put images of the two of them twined together, naked and undulating, out of his mind more than once. Hell, if it’d been his job to keep a beautiful woman busy, that’s how he would have done it. It was hypocritical of him to begrudge Spock the same methods. Yet the idea bothered him. More than a little. It was almost as bad as the idea of Spock’s body, broken and bloody, that kept coming to his mind.
Okay, not quite that bad. But pretty bad.
“She knew you were a snake all along, and she still let herself be charmed,” he said. Not that he could blame her. Jim pitied any being Spock might decide to charm.
“I am not a serpent, Captain.”
“No,” Jim said. “You are pretty beguiling, though.”
Jim couldn’t believe he just said that. But he couldn’t regret it, either: it was having such a lovely effect on the Vulcan across the table.
Spock flushed deep olive, averting his gaze to his tea, and if a Vulcan with an A7 computer rating who could actually beat the odds of surviving the Romulan cloaking device mission (12.45 percent), and who also happened to bench something like 1,000 pounds (it was true, and Jim felt damned uncomfortable spotting for him--what was he supposed to do if Spock needed help?) could look coy, then Spock looked coy.
Jim shifted back in his chair. Exciting as that was, he didn’t want to make Spock uncomfortable. “What is she like, Spock?”
“Yeah, the Romulan commander. Our unwilling guest. What is she like?”
Despite being jealous of the woman and hating her for having nearly killed Spock, Jim was curious. He was curious about women, as a rule, and he was very curious about a woman with that amount of power. Spock held his tea near his mouth, his eyes sliding off as he considered the question. “She is . . . a woman of strong mind and heart.”
“’A woman of strong mind and heart’?”
“Quite a statement for a Vulcan.”
“Perhaps. Nevertheless, it is so.”
It was a rare woman who could inspire Spock’s compliments. Jim would have liked to meet her.
Spock’s eyes were in his tea again as he raised the steaming cup to his mouth and sipped, just wetting his thin, shapely lips. Innocent as a boy with his hand in the jam jar. Un-fucking-believable. Jim propped his chin in his hand. He said in wonder, “My God, Mr. Spock . . . I think you . . . did you like her?” Maybe Jim wouldn’t like to meet her. Maybe he was trying not to think about shoving her out of an airlock.
“I think you liked her.”
“I respected her.”
Yeah, uh-huh, sure. He suppressed the slight sinking feeling in his stomach, covering it with confident flirting. “You liked her.”
“I always respect individuals with a strong sense of self and of duty.”
Spock’s eyes were on Jim for that last statement, and Jim felt the compliment. He smiled, the disappointment lifting a little. But only a little. “Yeah . . . but you liked her. She might have killed you, you know.”
“She was merely doing her duty by her people. She was not ignoble or cruel.”
Huh. Jim had half a mind to take himself down to deck two and find out for himself just how “not ignoble” this Romulan woman was. He wondered if the size of her breasts or length of her legs was “not ignoble,” then chastised himself. Those were things that would rope him in, not Spock. If Spock said she was not ignoble, then she was downright honorable. If Spock said she was strong, she must have the heart of a lion. And she was beautiful, too, that much Jim knew.
That didn’t mean Jim had to like her. “But . . .” he stammered. “She’s a Romulan.”
Oh, shit. That had not come out right. Spock gave him a look, then said, “Excuse me,” and stood.
“Hey, wait--“ Jim said. Christ, he hadn’t meant to make Spock leave! Why couldn’t he just keep his mouth shut when he didn’t know what to say? Spock paused at the side of the table, looking down at him. “Don’t go. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--“
“Jim, I am simply going to use the facilities,” Spock said.
Oh. Jim chuckled, lowering his chin and raising his eyes in an apologetic, and (he hoped) charming smile.
Was that a smile? Was Spock smiling? Maybe, but now he was turning to go to “the facilities,” and leaning out of his chair to the side Jim couldn’t tell whether his eyes were smiling. The bathroom door closed behind him.
Jim wondered whether he should set up the chess set. This was the time of evening they usually started a game, if they were going to play. But he hadn’t asked Spock for a game, and Spock might have some research to do or something. He was behind on a lot of work due to planning the mission. But if Jim just set up the board then Spock would stay out of a sense of obligation.
Maybe Jim should do it.
No, no, that was manipulative. Jim didn’t do things like that with Spock. That is, he didn’t--
The door to the bathroom opened and Spock came to stand at the side of the table again, his hands clasped behind his back. He stood there, looking down at Jim. Why wasn’t he sitting? His tea wasn’t gone; he never left the cup empty. He wasn’t going to call it a night, was he?
“Spock, I understand if you have work to catch up on, but would you care for a game of chess tonight?”
“Jim,” Spock said in his intenser-than-usual tone. He sat down. Jim got the feeling that whatever Spock was going to say had nothing to do with chess.
His mouth went dry. “What?” he croaked. Smooth one, Kirk.
Spock set the tube of pain reliever on the table. Jim’s mouth went even drier. He hadn’t meant to lie to Spock about the pain, just hadn’t wanted him to worry. He closed his eyes, shaking his head and chuckling a little. Brilliant starship captain indeed. He was really digging himself a hole tonight.
There came a touch under his chin. Twice in one night. Spock’s gentle, hot fingers guided his chin up. Slowly, with the barest of guiding touches, Spock turned Jim’s head, examining first his left ear, then turning it again to look at the right. Spock’s fingertips were all but scalding the tender skin under Jim’s chin. What would they feel like stroking his jaw, or splayed upon his neck? He shivered.
He allowed his head to be turned so that Spock got a very clear, straight-on look at his left ear, which suddenly seemed to burn and sting even worse than before. He should say something. What should he say?
“Uh . . . I was just about to--“
“. . . Yeah, okay.”
Spock had shushed him. Jim didn’t even know what to think about that.
He closed his eyes again. There was something so vulnerable about this, so exposed, just sitting there, not moving, letting Spock look at him. Jim’s heart was beating so hard, and Jim knew Spock could see the pulse in his throat.
Something cool touched the upper curve of his ear.
The cream. Spock was putting the cool cream on his ear, smoothing it tenderly along the ridge, exerting almost no pressure. He didn’t rub the cream in; he stroked Jim’s ear until it absorbed. The cream penetrated the thin flesh, tingling, easing away all traces of the burn and the sting.
Spock turned his head, applied the cream to his other ear. Jim submitted without a word, allowing himself to remain silent, cherishing the touches. He didn’t try to control his emotions—he was sure Spock knew how he felt--but he did try to control their intensity. No good to overwhelm Spock.
The entire procedure took about five minutes, and Jim’s heart was a steady throb in his chest every second of it. When it was over, Spock turned his head again so that they faced one another. His skin was flushed a little olive again, his eyes wide and shining--so pretty. His lips looked more supple than the thin pressed line they usually made. It took every ounce of restraint Jim had not to lean forward and kiss him.
“Jim,” he said, and his voice sounded different, too. Softer, throatier. A chill swept Jim’s spine.
“Yeah?” he whispered.
“When you sleep tonight, you must lie on your back. Please take care not to roll over onto your ears.”
“’Kay,” Jim said. He had no idea how he was going to do that. He usually rolled around like a loose log when he slept. But he would try his damnedest.
Spock took a deep breath, held it, then released it as he lowered his fingers from Jim’s chin. “Good night,” he said, still in that throaty voice that sent a shiver down Jim’s spine.
“’Night,” he said.
Spock rose and moved toward his own quarters on the other side of their shared bathroom. He stopped once to look back at Jim, gently inclined his head, and then disappeared behind the bathroom door.