They beam down into a balmy, subtropical clearing, flanked by boxes of standard outpost supplies. The air is perfumed with the scent of massive orange flowers, and birds sing sweetly in the distance, but none of this quite registers to Jim as he takes in their reception committee.
Half a dozen excellent specimens of humanity – or at least, the male portion of humanity – are arrayed before them, smiling radiantly and naked as the day they were born.
Jim blinks a few times, but they don’t vanish, or grow extra eyes, or flicker like a bad projection. He shoots a brief, panicked glance at the rest of the landing party. McCoy is wide-eyed, Uhura is biting her lip in an obvious attempt to suppress laughter, and Spock looks mildly intrigued. Reassured, he sets his mind back on the task at hand. And comes up gloriously blank.
One of the men makes the first move, stepping forward with upraised palms. Probably their leader, judging from his gold circlet and blue sash. He’s a rare kind of redhead, and Jim can’t help but note, with a vague and shell-shocked sense of appreciation, that the carpet matches the drapes. And how about that, there’s a second circlet much lower than the first.
“Welcome to Mazos Five, friends and brothers, weary travelers. I am Arsenio, High Priest of the Phallus.” He sounds like he’s stepped straight out of a Shakespeare play.
Silence ensues. Arsenio’s grin widens. His teeth are very white.
A familiar presence over Jim’s shoulder is accompanied by the comforting whine of a tricorder. “They are human,” Spock informs him. “Evidently intrepid colonists who banded together under a common… ideology.” The last word contains the germ of a question.
With this minor reassurance, Jim recovers his footing. “I’m Captain Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise,” he says, hoping his flat tone means he seems composed and prepared. He taps at his PADD to check the logs, but mostly to avert his eyes and question his sanity one last time. There it is, still plain as day. “We were… informed this was a penal colony.”
“Yes, of course! And we were delighted when you answered our summons,” Arsenio says. “We accept your gifts and shall throw you a grand celebration in return.”
Then a second man speaks up, stepping out from behind his fellows. Tall, dark, and handsome in every sense of the phrase. “Afterward, if it pleases you, our peoples may form an alliance and engage in trade.”
“My acolyte, Naaran.” Arsenio offers.
Jim’s attractions tend toward women with a few pipedream exceptions he could count on one hand, and this fellow Naaran falls squarely under the ‘exceptions’ category. Worse yet, he’s standing far back enough that there’s literally no way Jim can keep his eyes above the nonexistent belt. His brain trips into one of those stunned loops that it’s prone to when the universe throws him a curveball and he doesn’t have a bat.
“What kind of celebration?” Bones ventures, saving him from blurting out something faltering and idiotic.
“The very best kind,” Arsenio says. “Food and merriment to your heart’s content. Spirited competition. The freedom to exist without shame amongst brothers and comrades.”
“We have karaoke,” Naaran adds. A few of the men nod.
Then Arsenio glances meaningfully past Jim, and his smile fades for the first time since it took over his face. “However, my heart weeps to tell you that women are not permitted to attend the sacred rites.”
That snaps Jim back to reality in record time, and the whiplash jumpstarts his irritation. He might be disarmed by the sheer strangeness of this first contact, but he can’t let such a provincial statement go unchallenged. “Now, wait a minute. If you want to host my crew here, you’ll host all of us.”
Arsenio looks just as astonished as the landing party probably did five minutes ago. “But the celebration cannot be observed by female eyes. It is sacrilege.”
Jim is about to embark on a rant about Federation values and respect for all sentient beings when Uhura places a staying hand on his arm. “It’s all right, Captain,” she says, in a tone pitched for landing party ears only. “This seems like the perfect place for a boy’s night out.”
“Lieutenant, I don’t think–”
“We have to open hearts before we open minds, don’t we, sir? Besides, if the women beamed down, there’d be all sorts of trouble.” She nods toward the array of Mazoans, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “And it wouldn’t be them responsible.”
“You don’t believe we’d stir up trouble on our own?” Jim pretends he can’t still see Naaran out of the corner of his eye.
“Considering there’s about fourteen percent of you with the necessary inclinations, only half of whom are single, and none of whom can get pregnant… not really,” she says, provoking a quiet laugh out of McCoy. “Not on the same scale.”
“You haven’t been hacking my databanks, have you?” McCoy says. “Why, you’re barely one point off with those numbers.”
“Oh, I’m quite sure you’re one point off, doctor.”
Jim also takes a moment to appreciate Uhura’s encyclopedic knowledge of the crew, and then forces himself to reconsider their situation, extracting taboo and bewilderment from his perspective as best he can. Two days are set aside for this mission, and everyone has been restless lately. The women could be given shore leave aboard the ship. Most importantly, whatever the miscommunication here – and there must be one somewhere – their unorthodox welcoming committee looks friendly, not criminal. Not one bit.
“Maybe you’re right,” he says, casting a brief and skeptical glance toward the Mazoans, who are also murmuring amongst themselves. A few are shuffling their feet, impatient but quiet. The unsettling effect of their nudity has almost disappeared. Almost.
Jim kneads the bridge of his nose and turns his back on them for one last consultation. “Mr. Spock. Thoughts?”
“Protocol encourages us to learn about new cultures through any reasonable means, participation included. While their invitation is illogical, it does not appear unreasonable.” Spock folds his hands behind his back and looks supremely put-upon. “In any case, Starfleet will want to know about an undocumented human colony.”
“I vote we stick around a little while too, Jim.” McCoy adds. “At least make sure they have adequate medical facilities. And I certainly don’t see anyone complaining if a supply run turned into a shore leave.”
“No, I don’t either.” Jim admits.
“That’s the spirit,” Uhura says cheerfully, watching over their conference with the aspect of a cat about to pounce. “Now if you don’t mind, Captain, I’ll just be on my way. I’m feeling a bit... out of place.”
“We’ll be in touch.” Jim nods once. “You have the con, Lieutenant. I trust you know what to do with it?”
“My very best, sir.” She stages a little half-bow and flips open her communicator. “Enterprise. One to beam up.”
Jim waits until the shimmer of the transporter whisks away Uhura and her shrewd, disquieting grin before he turns back to the Mazoans. He takes a deep breath and hopes he won’t live to regret this decision. Or any of the other million and one preposterous decisions he’s had to make since the ‘Fleet ironed another braid on his sleeve.
“All right. We accept.”
The men cheer, and much to his dismay, start twisting and pelvic thrusting in unison. There’s a lot of wiggling involved, not to mention the awkward sound of flesh slapping flesh. Jim flinches but can’t seem to tear his eyes from the display. It’s equal parts hypnotizing, horrifying, and hilarious.
“I believe I have identified the source of our confusion,” Spock says abruptly. “Not penal. Penile.”
“Oh, Lord,” Bones mutters. “It must be Friday.”
Meanwhile the dance has been brought to an impressively synchronized close, and Arsenio claps his hands together briskly. “Now then. If you would please free yourselves from those barbaric devices you call ‘pants,’ we can begin the festivities!”
Captain’s log, supplemental. During the course of deliveries to broadcasting fringe planets, we’ve stumbled upon a nudist colony of several hundred whose inhabitants harbor a near-religious obsession with the male genitalia. They’ve asked us to ‘forge an alliance,’ a process which first demands a certain state of undress and debauchery on the part of half my crew.
We, uh… we thought they were a criminal rehab facility. I swear.
[pause duration 00:00:09]
Oh, damn it all to he-
Jim’s sense of modesty is rooted in his humble Iowa upbringing. No one ever taught him nakedness was wrong, per say, but clothes were simply right. They were protection from blizzards and sunburn, from splinters and poison ivy. They made a statement about where you came from, and what you wanted people to know about you. In more recent chapters of his life, clothes have become a valuable shield. Everything he wears from command tunic to boots reminds himself and others of his station.
And with his entire male crew acting like teenage boys going streaking for the first time, he feels the need to compensate. So he lingers under an awning on the sidelines, pants secured in the upright and zipped position, much to the chagrin of their hosts. None of whom will talk to him without persuading him to give up said position, let alone hold a conversation about colonial rights and responsibilities.
His head falls back against his lounge chair with a soft thunk as a small horde gallivants past, swinging in the open air. He’s seen more family jewels in the past hour than what thirty odd years worth of skinny dipping, communal showers, and strip searches has previously afforded him. He can’t decide whether to be amused or appalled. Or intrigued, because Andorian anatomy is far stranger than he could have guessed.
But watching his crew frolic around in their birthday suits doesn’t faze him. What he can’t quite get over is the Mazoans’ sheer, inescapable dedication to their theme. Their village is overrun by decorative obelisks carved in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors, explicit instead of merely suggestive like the typical Earth variety. Oblong plants and cactuses dominate imposing swathes of garden. Every tent post, sundial, table leg, and vaguely cylindrical object is pornographic by design.
And that’s only the décor. The celebration itself takes everything deep into the territory of the absurd and then one step farther. There is feasting on salaciously-shaped foods and abundant alcohol on tap. There are generic sporting events, like foot races, and some less generic ones, like an actual pissing contest. There is dancing, both innocent and not-so-innocent. There is decorative penis painting.
There’s a human ring toss.
Jim feels a little dizzy. He’s already decided this will be one of those missions he neglects to report accurately, because it’s just not worth the trouble, publicity, and paperwork. Otherwise he’ll have an entry attached to his name forever that sounds like Freud’s greatest hits mixed with a healthy dose of hallucinogens, and God only knows what future biographers would make of that.
No, he learned his lesson after trying to explain the Lazarus incident. What a nightmare.
A familiar albeit sing-song voice provides a welcome intrusion on his thoughts. “I see somebody’s still a pants-slave.”
“Guilty as charged,” Jim mutters, as a very naked McCoy flops into the chair beside him.
“C’mon, man. Live a little!” His CMO is a good deal drunker and happier than Jim has seen in years, even taking the Omicron Ceti III spores into account, and Jim isn’t sure what to make of that. “I thought you of all people would be the first to dive in.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
But Bones has apparently derailed that train of thought and ignores the question entirely. “It’s harmless fun. Reminds me of the Academy, in fact.”
Jim’s experience of the Academy party scene consisted of Gary dragging him to a few and him cowering on the sidelines. He stares at Bones and considers that maybe he didn’t miss much. “I’m simply concerned about how this could reflect on the crew,” he says. Not lying, exactly. Just omitting any mention of personal discomfort.
“Who’s gonna know? None of us will tattle, that’s for sure.” Bones taps the side of his head like he’s playing the sage to Jim’s sober ignoramus. “Mutually assured destruction.”
“And the women?” Jim says.
“They have no proof.” He scoffs. “They don’t even know what’s going on down here. Besides, I heard through the grape vine they’re having a grand old time back home. Everyone needs to blow off some steam.”
Jim shoots him an exasperated look. “Surely there are better ways than doing Bacchus proud.”
Bones slings an arm over Jim’s shoulders and hangs there like a dead weight, bridging the gap between their chairs. His voice comes out in more of a stage-whisper than the surreptitious tone he’s probably aiming for. “Let’s be honest now. Man to man. How often do you wish you could just… hang free in the breeze?” He sweeps a hand across some imagined vista. A frontier of emancipated, dangling dicks, both literal and figurative. “And how often do you get an excuse to do it?”
If Jim were also eight shots down on the sliding scale of professionalism, he would admit that togas and the like wererather liberating. That some days he overheated for no reason at all, and the only thing worse than ‘Fleet-issue pants were clammy ‘Fleet-issue pants. That red gym tights were uncomfortable and kind of superfluous, and they might as well have some damn conviction and go Greek during workouts like the Mazoans.
But he’s not there yet, not by a long shot.
Fortunately Lieutenant Riley chooses that moment to stumble past singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” off-key. He’s sporting an impressively detailed elephant painting, which offers a diversion when Bones doubles over with laughter at the sight. Jim escapes from under his arm and flees.
He picks his way through the village, dodging crowds of revelers and ducking between colorful pavilions. The Mazoans are a pastoral people, living mostly in tents but possessing many modern conveniences and a handful of warp-capable ships, brought from their various home planets when they came to settle here. Their preferred aesthetic is simple, and most of their dwellings don’t have real walls, which makes it tough for Jim to avoid being spotted by his crew. Several of whom insist on stopping him and holding conversations in the buff until they’re dragged away by Mazoans giving him the stink-eye.
At last Jim finds the one person on the planet who can always be trusted to maintain some semblance of decorum. His target is seated in an empty pavilion at the edge of the settlement, long hands folded together, elbows planted on his knees as he observes the madness around him.
“Mr. Spock, my fellow pants-slave.” Jim claps Spock on the shoulder and reads amusement in the Vulcan’s slight nod. “I feel like the only chaperone at the prom.”
“I cannot speak from experience, but I believe I concur with your sentiment,” Spock says. “However, the risk of danger is minimal.”
“If you will note, perhaps two dozen Mazoans are abstaining from the consumption of alcohol. They have already stopped Ensign Albright from climbing under the influence.”
“Climbing?” Jim frowns. “A tree, you mean?”
“An… obelisk,” Spock says.
“Oh,” Jim says, and then it dawns on him. “Oh. The, uh… central one, I assume?”
“It is the only one tall enough to climb,” Spock says.
That’s something of an understatement. None of the Mazoan buildings, cloth or otherwise, are taller than one story, and the obelisk in question sticks out like a sore thumb at twice the height of anything else in the settlement. Or more accurately, something less thumb-like and considerably more graphic.
“Well, it’s good to know they’re… keeping an eye out.”
Jim takes a seat on the padded bench next to Spock, leaving plenty of space between them. Awkward silence descends, underscored by lively drumbeats from across the village and the hysterical laughter of the inebriated.
“So, I’ve been thinking,” Jim says, to distract himself from the bizarre mental images Spock’s report has invoked. “There isn’t a single woman on this planet, as far as I can tell. How have they not died out?”
“Based upon the information I have gathered, recruitment from local space and the occasional venture into surrogacy,” Spock says. “It appears several neighboring systems view them as monks, after a fashion.”
Jim blinks at him. “Monks.”
“After a fashion.” Spock adds.
“I see.” Jim doesn’t at all. He glances over at Spock, and it occurs to him that his first knows far too much for a man fully clothed. “Hold on now, they’ve actually talked to you about this?”
“I overheard,” Spock says, after a reluctant pause.
Spock feigns offense but says nothing, and Jim smiles. They sit apart from the surreal carousing for awhile, their own private island of calm, sharing observations and watching the games with respective fascination and amusement.
Naturally, the peace is short-lived. Before long a Mazoan and an obviously-buzzed crewman make a beeline toward them, carting a tray of unconventional popsicles. Jim recognizes the latter as Ensign Foster from sciences. Engaged to Lieutenant Parma, and Jim hopes for her sake that the man isn’t a grower. Just looking at that monstrosity dormantmakes him nervous.
The Mazoan starts proselytizing about pants-slaves and the natural good without delay, a lecture Jim has heard at least a dozen times this afternoon. Foster’s role is apparently to bribe them with food, which he does by shoving the tray into Jim’s chest.
“No thank you,” Jim says, pushing back. “And you’re wasting your time.”
“–from which all life and pleasure stems.” The Mazoan keeps right on rambling, stuck to his script. “Let us praise the burning rod which proclaims us male–”
“Burning?” Spock shoots Jim a sidelong glance. “Not literal, I hope?”
“–shifting staff of satisfaction, righteous rod of–”
“Well, that depends on if you’re speaking objectively or…” Jim says, before he thinks better of it.
“You really should try one, sirs. They’re grape.” Foster offers.
“–holy lance of love, whether hard as steel or soft as silk–”
“That’s enough, that’s enough!” Jim summons his angry, pre-morning-coffee captain voice and shoos both naked evangelists away. He’s heard more than his fair share of odes to dicks for one lifetime; even before this mission, if ‘Fleet award ceremonies counted.
The intruders look offended by his outburst and – thank whatever gods or determined alien mimics are watching over him – leave reluctantly. But right before Foster steps out of reach, Spock plucks a popsicle off his tray with the effortless stealth of a pickpocket. He studies his loot for a moment, gives it a cautious lick, and promptly takes half the thing in his mouth. Jim finds himself both transfixed and tremendously grateful for his pants.
Spock mistakes his gawking for simple curiosity. “The climate is quite warm,” he says, with a nonchalance that seems impossible when a man is inflating giant penis balloons a few dozen meters over his left shoulder.
Jim wants to point out that Spock sets his quarters warmer than this, but suddenly a minor stampede rushes past their tent, discarding food and flowers in its wake. Triggered, as far as Jim can tell, by a faint shout of “helicopter contest!”
“Helicopter?” Spock stares after them, then peers at Jim, brow furrowed. “How could the Mazoans have acquired an archaic Earth vehicle?”
Jim starts laughing. He can’t help it anymore. He’s surrounded and shunned by nudists, his men are letting it all hang out in the strangest way imaginable, and his first officer is fellating a purple penis. The mere thought of explaining this to Spock, or explaining any of this to anyone at all, sets him off.
“Spin ‘till you win!” someone who sounds unsettlingly like Sulu whoops in the distance.
Hour five, almost dusk, and Chekov and Scotty goad him into it. Well, quintuple tribble dare him, and while such a protocol didn’t exist when Jim was a schoolboy, it stirs that same competitive instinct in him nonetheless. He’s also finally managed to apply a first contact attitude to the whole peculiar situation. This is just another alien culture, and a truly liberal man of the galaxy like himself ought to grab it by the – err, ought to expand – no, broaden his horizons.
It helps, no doubt, that he has been cajoled into drinking several shots by this point.
So when he drops his pants and takes a seat in the painters’ tent, he feels downright debonair. He is doing his duty to lubricate – no, facilitate relations with friendly planets. He is a man of the people. He has arrived.
The artist, whose name is Rain or River or something else nature-like, flips through a book of designs both sensual and whimsical to varying degrees. Jim is impressed by the creative variety, and so is the small crowd of crewmen and Mazoans hanging – leaning over his shoulders and making enthusiastic suggestions. And complimenting him on his ‘manhood’ in a weirdly sincere and innocent way, which he ignores because he can’t begin to guess the proper response.
Everything is going well until the buzz in the room noticeably dies down, and a couple of the Mazoans present glower past Jim, toward the tent entrance. Jim follows their gazes and discovers, much to his horror, that he has been thrust – placedin a situation he hadn’t exactly bargained for in the beam-down clearing.
The brazier light casts shadows that caress the angles of the interloper’s face in the most flattering way possible. Somewhere along the line he’s abandoned his blue science tunic, and he might as well be naked for all the effect that clinging black undershirt has on Jim. He walks with utter indifference to his surroundings, hands folded smartly behind his back, and stops almost directly in front of Jim’s chair. The crowd shifts and gives him space in the same way clothed people would shift around naked people on more inhibited planets.
“Captain,” he says. One devastating eyebrow skims his hairline. “I see you have decided to ‘go native.’”
“I… why yes, I have. When in Rome.” Jim squirms in the chair and fights the powerful urge to cover up with both hands, if only because he’ll probably misjudge and end up smacking himself. Instead he feigns calm and thanks his lucky stars for whiskey dick. The man in front of him is the founding member of his exceptions list, after all.
“I wanted to inform you that Lieutenant Uhura sent a status update approximately four minutes ago.” Spock takes a single, ponderous step closer, setting himself apart from the crowd even more. “All is well aboard the ship.”
“Thank you, Mr. Spock.” Then Jim’s lucky stars go nova, because while alcohol suppresses his body, it gives his mouth license to say all kinds of things in an unjustifiably seductive tone. “Is there… anything else I can do for you?”
Spock stares at him. Jim dons his best poker face and suppresses a minor panic attack.
“Negative,” Spock says, “but might I submit a proposal?”
He takes an ink brush and a blank sketch book from the artist’s table, and without a moment’s hesitation, paints an intricate design down the page. A straight line accented with spirals and crosshatches. His strokes are precise and confident, and the way his fingers grip the brush is graceful. Distracting. Then he places the sketch book back down with a vaguely self-satisfied expression. The end result looks like calligraphy, although Jim is too dazed to place what kind.
Before he can open his mouth to ask, a cold, wet touch against a very vulnerable place makes him thrash and yelp like a dog with a trampled tail. His gaze leaps from Spock down to the dark blot marking him just below the hairline, then up at the frowning artist, whose ink brush is still poised at the ready.
“What are you doing?” Jim sputters.
Nature-name gestures at the sketch book. “Painting.”
“I don’t remember telling you I chose this!”
“I like it,” he says, shrugging. “It suits you.”
Several of the onlookers nod and murmur their agreement as though they were watching a grave debate, and Spock says nothing. In fact, he’s on his way out, and Jim barely catches a glimpse of his back before he ducks into the night.
There’s a brief, uncertain pause, and then the artist takes charge again with the kind of bull-headed and self-absorbed attitude Jim usually associates with admirals. “Now hold still or you’ll ruin it.”
“You could ask nicely,” Jim mumbles, as though that constituted an actual protest.
A half-hearted flutter settles within him at the gentle stimulation as Nature-name works, although it’s too thoroughly diluted by alcohol to amount to anything. The swirls and thinner lines of the design tickle though, enough that he has to bite down on his hand to keep from squirming. Compliments from bystanders abound; apparently they’re used to holding people down for the finer details.
It’s over faster than he expected, and he is forced to admit that penis looks a hell of a lot more interesting than it did before. He wonders briefly if there’s some kind of conclusion he can draw about women and makeup from this experience, but he’s dragged out of the painter’s tent and the revelation is lost to him forever.
The rest of the night passes in blurred fragments of pandemonium.
Jim fends off advances from Naaran and feels alternately saintly and stupid for awhile. He barters at one of the more far-flung and dimly-lit jewelry stands for a purchase he’s bound to regret in the morning, and hides the spoils in his discarded boots. He tries out one of the ‘sense-booths’ and concludes the Mazoans will be swimming in riches within a year if their Federation trade membership goes through. And to think, he could have died never knowing what air from every conceivable climate felt like wafting around his unmentionables. With adjustable wind speed, no less.
There’s a grand dance at some indecent hour of the night, held around the central obelisk. A fire pit encircles the base of the imposing erection – structure, casting a bright orange glow over the whole fantastic scene. At least a hundred Mazoans weave between each other in complicated patterns, spinning and leaping and singing about penises in such flowery language that an objective party reading transcripts might never guess what in the hell they were carrying on about.
Afterward a few of Jim’s crew disappear into the shadows with Mazoans and each other. Holding hands or giving chase into the woods and nearby tents, mostly in pairs but sometimes more. For such an open people, the Mazoans keep their sexual affairs relatively private, sequestered in the shadows and behind draped fabric. That doesn’t stop Jim from stumbling upon an orgy while looking for the facilities, and he’s disoriented enough by the sight of so much glistening, naked skin that it takes a good ten seconds for his brain to catch up with his eyes. Then ten more for his legs to catch up with his brain and propel him backward to a strategic retreat.
The less flexible and the committed among his men lounge around the obelisk fires, trading stories with their remaining hosts, snacking and napping under the stars. Jim mills among them awhile before he settles down on a mountain of pillows, eyelids heavy. He no longer cares about ‘hanging free in the breeze.’ He honestly couldn’t give a damn if he tried. Blame desensitization or heartfelt acceptance, the dividing line between comfort and discomfort has shifted within him, and he doubts Adam himself was more relaxed before the Fall.
But when he catches Spock watching him from across the fire during the hazy, inexorable minutes before sleep, it sets his heart racing.
Most of the crew beams home before noon the next day, variously hung-over and exhausted, but otherwise content. Jim doesn’t think they’ll request another shore leave for a year.
More importantly, the time for the promised diplomatic talks has arrived. He’s in no shape for it now. Daylight sears his retinas, and anything louder than rustling leaves makes him feel as irritable as a rabid mugato. But his utter lack of self-consciousness from last night is intact enough that he’s able to stay undressed for the proceedings, except for a command shirt to make him feel more official. The Mazoans don’t take much offense to shirts. Also, he’s not entirely sure where his pants are and he’s not about to admit it.
A fresh-faced Arsenio leads him to the largest tent in the village, an impressive and ornate construction, sunlit and dyed shades of blue Jim didn’t know existed. Inside five other Mazoan leaders sprawl in a semicircle around a short brazier, and they’re all smiles, welcoming him as a ‘brother.’ They’re wearing sashes like Arsenio, but narrower and without an accompanying circlet. Circlets.
“This is Eckhard, Daire, Lanir, and Corrigan,” Arsenio spreads his arms wide to encompass those present. “They are my advisors. You already know Naaran.”
Jim exchanges an uncomfortable glance with the acolyte and wills himself not to think about the interesting things Naaran whispered in his ear last night. He can only remember some of them, which helps, but his own inelegant rejection is still painfully clear. When Arsenio ushers him onto some floor cushions, he’s grateful for the excuse to look away.
“Let us begin,” Arsenio says. He produces a gold scepter from a nearby chest, remarkable in that there is absolutely nothing phallic about it.
Someone conspicuous is missing, though. Someone who sweeps through the tent flap not five seconds later, looking disheveled, science blues askew across his shoulders.
“I apologize for my lateness,” Spock says. His back snaps ramrod straight as he moves to kneel in the empty space beside Jim. “It appears word of these proceedings did not successfully reach me.” Jim recognizes the sarcastic bite in his tone, even if no one else in the tent does, and almost smiles.
Naaran, on the other hand, frowns grimly. “I’m sorry, Captain, but pants-slaves cannot participate in alliance forging.”
Even ignoring the disrespect placed on Spock by not addressing him directly, Starfleet required the presence of at least two commanding officers to ratify a treaty. Jim crosses his arms and tries to keep things light. “Surely you can make an exception,” he says.
“No man hidden from us may be fully trusted,” Arsenio says in the sternest tone Jim has heard from him yet. He glowers from the other side of the brazier, tapping the scepter against his knee impatiently. “Shame is a poison among brothers.”
“Hold on just a minute, Commander.” Jim lifts a hand before Spock can excuse himself on some pretense of not rocking the boat. He realizes quite suddenly that the Mazoans’ wariness toward Spock must have been building all this time, and now it’s become a full-blown point of contention. He tries a different tactic. “You trust me, don’t you? I can vouch for him.”
“I’m sorry, Captain Kirk, but promises are simply not enough,” Arsenio says, talking over Spock, and Jim has had it with playing nice.
“Look here, we’ve been more than accommodating of your culture. If you want to deal with the Federation, I can’t have you discriminating left and right against–”
“Captain,” Spock says. “That is quite enough.”
Then he stands, unzips, and shoves his pants down around his knees.
Jim can’t look away fast enough. He just isn’t prepared, in much the same way a planet isn’t prepared for a supernova, and then it’s too late – the image is seared into his memory, and every corner of his animal subconscious drinks it in greedily. Eye level. Why did he have to be eye level?
The Mazoans are murmuring their approval, but Jim can’t hear a word of it.
No amount of alcohol could save him now. An all-too-familiar knot gathers low in his stomach. Hot pressure against sensitive skin. He tries to think about something else, anything else, but he’s coming up blank. His face feels like it’s been shoved into a warp core. He stares stupidly down at his lap, and the ink design is still there, underscoring the very source of his problems. Desperate, he shifts the way he’s sitting and tugs on the hem of his shirt, hoping the gesture looks casual.
A pants-less Spock sits back down at his side with hardly any space between them. There’s no way he won’t notice, Jim thinks with a stab of dread. Then Spock leans closer and speaks directly into his ear, sparking an unhelpful shudder down his spine. “Perhaps next time we find ourselves in a similar situation, you will listen to me before defending my honor.”
His voice is low and wry, and Jim wants to snap at him and do unspeakable things to him all at once, which is a bit disorienting. He swallows around the lump in his throat and lets his confusion voice itself. “I thought this was against Vulcan values.”
“Vulcans are adaptable to changing circumstances,” Spock says, slightly haughty. “Besides, we harbor no specific prohibition against nudity. That would be illogical. However, humans are not logical, and I thought it best to uphold human norms here, lest the crew perceive me differently upon return to the ship.”
Jim allows himself a few seconds for that to sink in, and then a few more. Because he’s fairly sure Spock just admitted to worrying about his image. “You… don’t suppose they’ll perceive me differently?” he says.
“Not at all, Captain.”
Sheer mortification, and the new concerns Spock has planted in his mind, finally begin combating his unfortunate reaction, and Jim finds his focus again. His focus being a point on the far wall of the tent perfectly aligned so he can’t see below chest level on the man sitting next to him. Their hosts, who have been watching and probably assuming the little aside was serious business, look relieved.
The rest of the meeting goes swimmingly. It turns out the Mazoans are next to normal once the strange ceremonials are out of the way. They’re a literate bunch, familiar with the essentials of contract protocol and informed on current events. They agree to some resource and trading rights, the Federation agrees to protection and assistance in development, and everybody goes home happy.
Except Jim, who has seen his ultimate pipedream sans pants. Though far worse is the damning sequence of events that followed the fateful glimpse, because Spock is more than capable of putting two and two together. Jim can only hope his first’s ignorance of human sexuality in the wild will prevent that from happening any time soon.
By evening on the Enterprise, it’s almost like Mazos Five never happened. Everyone who visited the penile colony has washed up nicely, combed the outdoorsy debris out of their hair, and resumed their duties with zero noticeable fuss. There might be a hint of awkward tension lingering in the air, looks that last too long or too short, but Jim is cautiously optimistic that he’ll call this one a success.
The only casualties on his part are a pair of pants that he cannot, for the life of him, remember what he did with. Thankfully he wasn’t the only one missing some clothes, so he couldn’t be singled out when the women sent down spares of everything before final departure.
He’s on his way to his quarters after an uneventful second shift when he runs into Spock, whose schedule isn’t synced with his on the weekends. By the time the turbolift doors open and eye contact is made, it’s too late to turn back without looking ridiculous, so Jim steps inside and chooses his floor with a forced cavalier attitude.
“Mr. Spock,” he says.
“Captain.” Spock nods.
Jim shifts his weight from foot to foot, and sweat gathers on the back of his neck. Clothing feels constricting and itchy to him now, so there’s no way to pinpoint whether the source of his discomfort is Spock or simple physical annoyance.
Regardless, the question that’s been nagging him for the past day or so is screaming in his head. He has every right to wonder, and there’s no time like the present. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” he says.
“The… design you recommended for me. Vulcan writing?”
“Ah, yes,” Spock says. “It was… something of a joke, Captain.”
Jim imagines ‘kick me’ and shudders inwardly. “A joke,” he says.
It isn’t a question so much as a statement of disbelief, but Spock responds anyway. “Affirmative.”
Long seconds pass. “I’d appreciate a translation.”
“Well.” Spock shifts his weight, eyes drifting to the floor. He folds his hands behind his back, and Jim can see the pedantic tsunami coming from a light year away. “It may not parallel the structure of human jokes, precisely, but rather–”
“Translation, Commander,” Jim says. “The writing. What was it?”
Spock heaves a minute sigh. Then he arches an eyebrow, slides his gaze toward Jim’s feet, and states in a tone so matter-of-fact it’s practically self-parody: “My name.”
The lift doors open with a scandalized woosh. Spock steps out and proceeds briskly down the corridor. The lift doors close.
Jim remains motionless until Scotty finds him there maybe five minutes later, staring at the far wall and being chided by the ship’s computer to ‘please choose a destination.’
“So what did you gals and non-binaries get up to while we were gone?” Doctor McCoy says, and the dinner table goes silent. The women trade looks under the curious attention of the men for a moment or two.
Uhura is the first to respond, and her voice is oddly high. “Oh, nothing really.”
“We ate a lot of junk food,” Landon says. They all nod earnestly.
“And watched sappy movies.” Chapel adds.
A few technicians breeze past on their way out of the mess, and a piece of their conversation carries only to the keenest ears around the table.
“…can’t figure out is how ten hours of tape just up and vanished. Tamara told me she was there all night, and she didn’t notice anything unusual.”
If anyone were to watch those deleted security tapes, they would bear witness to a nonsensical chaos not all that different from the nonsensical chaos that took place on Mazos Five. They would see gangs of women naked but for makeup war paint and a few critical sports bras bearing foam dart guns and sprinting around the ship, screeching like rabid howler monkeys. They would see empires rise and fall – the rec room battle between the Vagavengers and the Boobeyes lasted nearly two hours – and grudges settled and solidified. They would see Uhura declare a truce as reigning Queen of the Ship and mandate the rest of the night be spent making blanket forts.
They would watch innocent undergarments, depilation devices, and beauty accoutrements subjected to all manner of creative tortures before being quietly dumped in the matter recycler before dawn.
Jim barges into his first officer’s quarters the minute Spock gets off duty. Well, more like ten minutes after, because he had to work up the nerve first. He catches Spock midway between the bathroom and his desk, the sudden intrusion freezing him in place like a deer in headlights.
They gape at each other for awhile before Jim points out the rampaging circus elephant in the room. “You wrote your name on my dick.”
“Technically,” Spock says, “Artist Rose wrote my name.”
“You wrote your name. On my dick,” Jim says firmly. Spock only looks at him, no doubt waiting for a more direct accusation, and Jim scrubs a hand over his jaw. “Among humans, that sort of thing is considered a very specific kind of joke.”
“What kind precisely, Captain?”
“Flirting, Mr. Spock.”
Long moments pass, and Spock’s stare is calm and unwavering, a silent challenge. Daring Jim to maintain eye contact. “The term is not inaccurate,” he says carefully.
Jim is too busy reeling to respond.
“It was the genitive case.” Spock continues, after an expectant pause. “Possessive, you would call it. The declension is grammatically invalid, which is a frequent feature of Vulcan word games.”
Jim checks in with his brain. No, still reeling.
The persistent lack of reaction seems to make Spock uncomfortable and a bit hesitant, because he drops his eyes to the floor. “If my interest is not mutual, I understand. But I thought you should know your appearance has always been pleasing to me, and yesterday I found myself particularly enamored of your– ”
He doesn’t get any farther before Jim crosses the gap and crushes their mouths together. Brimming with arousal and the mildly smug realization that this wasn’t so impossible after all.
Spock sucks him off against the room divider, keeping him unbalanced and pinned in place with one leg hitched over a blue-clad shoulder. Strong hands press bruises into Jim’s hips, and Jim is far too thrilled about having an excuse to run his hands through silky black hair. He comes embarrassingly quick – in his defense, he tries to explain as Spock hauls him toward the bed, it has been awhile – and he returns the favor with every ounce of enthusiasm four years of bottled up attraction can fuel. Which is to say, he’s yawning so much the next morning Bones keeps shoving scanners in his face and giving him dubious looks.
A week or two later, Spock discovers an eccentric Mazoan souvenir buried in Jim’s sock drawer (traded for a pair of pants) and relieves his buyer’s remorse.