This story supposes two things:
- Jim dropped out of Starfleet and is an architect.
- He is married to Spock Prime, and they live on New Vulcan.
You can read their love story here. These are their continuing domestic adventures.
Part One: On the raising of sehlats
Jim should have made it clear that when he said he was bringing home "a surprise," he meant a baby sehlat. That much was obvious from the look on Spock's face, which was annoyance mixed with shock, his mouth o-shaped and eyebrows raised slightly higher than usual. Jim made a "please don't be mad!" expression, grimacing around the ball of fur in his arms, and deposited the sehlat on the common room floor. It immediately sunk its claws into the carpet and stretched.
"I thought it'd be fun to have one around," Jim said, crossing his arms over his chest. "And it'll keep you company during the day while I'm at work."
"I do not require company," Spock said as the cub took an interest in a leg of the coffee table.
"So what do you want to call it?" Jim asked, kneeling down to remove the cub's tiny fangs from where they were actively attempting to chew metal. He picked it up and turned it 180 degrees, so it plodded toward the couch. Jim steered it toward the wall of windows.
"I wish to call it someone else's property," Spock said.
"Come on," Jim pleaded. "You liked the idea last month."
"I like the idea," Spock clarified, "not the reality."
"But he's so cute!" Jim said. "They couldn't find anyone to adopt him, and I thought...we've got a back yard. Besides, you said you had one as a kid, so you know all about them."
"I-Chaya was an adult at the time I was responsible for him."
"Oh," Jim said.
The cub turned his attention to the meat of Jim's hand and bit down. Jim yelped. He yanked his hand away and stood, rubbing it.
"He's temperamental," he muttered. "We should call him Bones."
I-Chaya the Second quickly claimed the common room and yard as his domain. To illustrate this, he marked them with his claws, shredding the right side of the couch and creating a displeasing series of grooves in the wall next to the back door. Of the six plomeek plants Jim had procured for the garden, two survived, one missing half of its bulk.
"He was itchy," Jim explained and scratched I-Chaya's ears. In return, I-Chaya ripped Jim's shirt with an affectionate swipe of his paw.
Spock disliked I-Chaya, but he tolerated him for Jim's sake. As with Vulcans, sehlats were endangered. It was Spock's duty to aid in their survival, even if that meant harboring a temperamental cub who seemed intent on destroying their home.
Jim promised I-Chaya would never be allowed near the bedroom, but on the nights when interplanetary affairs required Spock's attention at the embassy until quite late, he often found them curled together on the bed. I-Chaya would appropriate Spock's pillow, and he curled his head underneath Jim's chin. Twice, they had replaced the sheet because I-Chaya's claws had torn through the fabric.
"This is hardly economical," Spock told Jim, who replied with a blowjob and effectively ended the conversation.
Spock reluctantly accepted that I-Chaya was not going anywhere when Jim took a holo of the three of them and placed it in a silver frame on the mantel.
"So we can remember when he was little," he said.
"Is the state of the furniture not memory enough?" Spock asked. That evening, I-Chaya destroyed his most comfortable pair of shoes.
By the time I-Chaya reached eight months in age, he had doubled in size. A favorite pastime became lumbering around the house, invading the cabinets. When he stood on his hind legs, he could reach the counter, and his snout had enough of a point to tease open the pantry. Jim devised a locking system and a gate which kept him out of the kitchen, but then Jim left for a two-month period to consult on a project on the southern continent.
"I'll call you every night," he promised, leaning across Spock's desk to kiss him. "You two keep each other company."
Spock made sure to close the bedroom door firmly at night when he retired for the evening and waited for Jim's call. He could see I-Chaya's shadow underneath the door, was certain he curled up on the other side to sleep. He did not allow this to move him.
Since the building's construction four years earlier, Spock had taken an office in the New ShiKahr branch of the New Vulcan Embassy, with bi-monthly trips to the southern continent. It pleased Jim that Spock's home office was reserved for his personal use: memoirs, sketching, reading. Spock supposed the separation of home and work was logical, but now that he was of an advanced middle age, he found the morning walk to be taxing on his knees.
Spock did not care for the replicator bank at work. He packed his own food for lunch, placed the assortment of containers into a bag, and went to the front door. It was cool that morning. Jim would have said "it's hot as balls, babe," but it was decidedly cooler than normal, with a wind blowing in from the nearby sea in the southeast. He returned inside for a cloak, fastened it at the neck, and started out. I-Chaya scampered out the door, nearly knocking Spock down, and began to sniff at the groundcover.
"Go back inside," Spock ordered. I-Chaya took a bite from a plant and panted and blinked at him.
"Go home," he tried again, but I-Chaya merely tilted his head and seemingly smiled.
He happily trotted next to Spock as he walked to his office. He curled up beneath Spock's desk and promptly went to sleep. It was practical, Spock decided after an hour, feeling waves of I-Chaya's body heat roll off of him. Spock was often cold in his older age, and I-Chaya's presence kept him warmer than usual as he worked. He estimated his productivity increased by five percent because of it.
That night, Spock allowed I-Chaya to sleep in the bedroom, indicating the foot of the bed where he laid a sleeping mat. I-Chaya availed himself of Jim's pillow.
Art by CanneDeBonbon
Part Two: Children
"I take back what I said about being an awesome parent," Jim said, holding David at arm's length. They were in the common room, on the couch, and David had finally stopped crying for the first time in almost an hour. He gurgled and spit up something white. It had chunks in it. "I suck at this."
"You lack experience," Spock said over his PADD from where he was seated (safely, the jerk) across the room at his desk. "That is not the same as lacking the ability to do something."
Jim thought he detected amusement coming through the bond, though it was muted. He sent back the mental equivalent of a rude hand gesture and scowled at Spock, who looked at him fondly, then turned his attention back to their very small house guest. More white dribbled from his lips.
"Is it logical to throw up everything you just ate?" Jim muttered, staring David in the face. The spit up ran down his chin and onto his bib, which was soaked and just, ew. Disgusting. It was his third bib this morning. Jim had the other two in the wash along with a blanket and his favorite pair of pants (Spock said they'd clean up fine; Jim had his doubts). David made a tiny sound, like a cat mewing, and jerkily moved his arms. The movement registered as inhuman, more like the strange, writhing foods the Andorians imported that Jim quickly walked past in the market. David was tiny and helpless, and why had Jim volunteered for this again?
"Because you are a good friend," Spock answered without Jim having to ask out loud.
"They needed a vacation," he sighed and conjured the exhausted look on Bones's face which had started this whole thing in the first place.
"It will be beneficial."
"Nothing like a three-day pleasure cruise with an open bar," Jim said wistfully.
David burped in agreement.
Jim wasn't sure how to hold him. Was he supposed to lay a baby on his lap or just keep him up in the air? David wasn't heavy, but the position was awkward. Jim's shoulders burned. David moved his legs, but there was no pattern to it. He was just testing them out, Jim supposed.
"His nerve cells are not fully myelinated," Spock explained. "His motions are largely involuntary."
"Get out of my head," Jim demanded, but Spock merely smiled at him when Jim laughed on the last syllable.
Jim couldn't remember two things Bones had told him during the half-hour lecture he'd given Jim before he would even hand over the baby. Carol had practically dragged him out the door, but that hadn't kept Bones from messaging Jim pretty much hourly for updates. It had been an hour and forty minutes since the last one. He was overdue.
Jim wiped David's mouth with his thumb, amazed that a person could be this...small. He looked like a tiny version of Bones, except his hair was light like Carol's, and he smiled a lot more. David had head control, at least. Newborns scared the hell out of him, the way their heads lolled forward or back like a doll's. He resigned himself to resting the baby on his left knee and fumbling for a cloth, which Carol had thoughtfully left at the top of the diaper bag. He gently wiped David's mouth and folded over the soiled corner of the cloth, laying it beside him.
"Better?" he asked. David grabbed the side of Jim's hand in reply and began to gnaw on it with his gums. It was pretty gross but somehow endearing, so Jim let him slobber. At least he wasn't crying. He patted David's back. "So how come we haven't gone on vacation?" Jim asked.
"The last time I suggested it," Spock said lightly, "I recall that you had a pressing deadline and were unwilling to take the time off."
"You make it sound like I don't want to go."
"I did not say that."
"Well, you implied it," Jim said.
"I merely recalled the reason why we have not taken a vacation. If you desire, we can arrange one immediately."
"Yeah?" Jim asked.
"Is there a destination you would prefer?"
"Someplace warm," Jim said, "where we can get naked for a few days."
"Your suggestion has appeal."
"That's because you like seeing me naked."
"It is a shame you cover your body in clothing," Spock agreed. Jim looked down at David, beaming. His hand glistened with spit, but David appeared content. Jim smoothed the wisp of his hair and sniffed. His knee was warm where David sat—no, not just warm. It was...wet.
Grimacing, he lifted David up an inch to peer underneath him. His leg was wet, all right, but it wasn't what he expected.
"He just shit all over me," he said flatly and stared at the gray-green ooze. His stomach lurched, and he could feel his esophageal muscles start churning in reverse. If he threw up on Bones's kid, he'd never live it down. He angled his head away and took in a deep breath over his shoulder, gagging. How was he supposed to get from here to the bathroom without getting shit all over the floor?
"A little help here?" he called snappishly.
Spock brought a towel, which they wrapped around David and carried him to the bathroom where Spock deposited him in the sink. Jim stripped off his pants and scrubbed his thigh, which felt cold and clammy.
"Gross," he said. "And those pants are ruined."
"You have an exaggerated sense of what has occurred," Spock said, removing David's bib and onesie. "Hand me a cloth."
Jim did, and he watched Spock clean David's legs before laying him on the counter.
"I don't think I can watch this," Jim said as Spock unfastened the diaper tabs.
As it turned out, he couldn't. Jim high-tailed it out of the room and bolted for the back yard, heaving in breath after breath of fresh air. No way. No fucking way were they ever having kids. A sehlat was enough. I-Chaya lifted his head from where he lay snoozing in the afternoon sun and cracked opened an eye.
"Be glad you weren't in there," Jim told him.
He stayed outside until he was sure he wouldn't get sick, then took one last deep breath and went inside. I-Chaya grunted and turned his face away from the door. Jim couldn't hear the water running anymore, but he could hear Spock quietly humming and poked his head into the bathroom.
Spock had David wrapped in the towel, held to his shoulder, and he was slowly rocking him back and forth as he faced the soaking tub. Jim didn't recognize the song, but it was obvious from the slow rhythm and soothing melody that it was a lullaby. Jim rested his head against the door frame, content to listen. David's eyes were open. Jim smiled at him and waved. He conjured the image of someone rocking Spock like this when he was a child, something he had seen during melds but never asked about. She was a beautiful Terran woman, with chestnut-colored hair swept away from her face. She held Spock in her arms and sang to him on a balcony which looked out over a red landscape.
Art by thesecretmichan
Jim turned away, suddenly feeling like he was intruding. He sat on the couch and pretended to read until Spock came out of the bathroom, still holding David to his chest. David was asleep, kinda peaceful looking, and Spock lay him on the couch between them. David made small, choked noises: little gasps, almost cries. Jim stroked his hand with one finger, and David latched onto it. Jim couldn't stop staring.
"That's amazing," he said after a while.
"Indeed," Spock agreed.
Part Three: Sex
It is a scientific fact that as Vulcan males age, their sex drive increases. This improves the likelihood that one will procreate before death, thus continuing one's bloodline. It's one of the more logical aspects to Vulcan sexuality, which (with its logic-stripping, seven-year fertility cycle) didn't help where repopulation was concerned.
Spock's sex drive had been steadily increasing since he was sixty-one. It had continued to increase for one hundred and two years. Jim knew, because Spock informed him of this the morning that Jim had to push him off and say, "Give me a minute" while he caught his breath. Spock explained, and Jim stared at him with a dropped jaw.
"You're kidding," he said when he was able to complete a sentence. "It's actually increasing?"
"Affirmative," Spock said.
"Awesome," Jim said and covered his face with his arms. "I'm going to need to take up running or something."
So he wasn't surprised when Spock showed up on site the morning they poured the foundation of what would become the New Vulcan Museum of Post-Reform History. He wasn't surprised when Spock leaned in to nuzzle his neck and kiss his ear. He wasn't surprised when Spock suggested Jim come home at lunch time. He wasn't even surprised by the lewd hammer reference, though he did raise an eyebrow and ask, "You okay?"
Spock's cheeks were flushed from the walk over; it was an exceptionally hot day. But there was something wild in his eyes, almost primitive. He looked at Jim like he was, well, a piece of meat, which was weird considering the whole vegetarian thing.
Art by CanneDeBonbon
Jim agreed to go home at lunch time because Spock wouldn't leave, and his handsy behavior was starting to draw attention, even from humans. He had Jim's shirt off before they even got the front door closed. Jim wrinkled up his nose.
"I need a shower," he said. "I feel disgusting."
"No," Spock said and insisted on having sex right then and there on the woven mat just inside the door. Jim rubbed the rug burn on his lower back and stared at Spock from where he sat, knees pulled up to his chest, leaning against the wall.
"Not that I'm complaining," he said, "but what the hell was that?"
Spock blinked like he was coming out of a dream. He looked around, to the strewn clothing, down his own naked body, and over at Jim. His face morphed from neutral to sad, and he sighed deeply.
"Did I hurt you?" he asked.
"No," Jim said slowly. Spock frowned to himself and folded his hands together. Jim could sense his distress, coming through in pulses. He rubbed his temple. "Um. Do you need to meld or something?"
Spock was still for a moment, then nodded slightly. Jim stood up and pulled Spock to his feet, guiding him backwards through the house. Spock looked...off. His coloring, maybe? He was still flushed green all over his chest and neck, even though they were inside where the air was at least kind of breathable. He panted. Even his lips were too green, his hair sweat slicked and pushed away from his forehead.
He looked, well, horny. Like, really horny.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Jim asked as he switched on the shower and pushed Spock inside. Spock took Jim's hands and held them to his chest.
"Jim," he said. "Do you recall, prior to our bonding, when I spoke to you about Vulcan biology?"
"Sure," Jim said, biting his lip. "So this is...is that what this is?"
"Yes," Spock said.
"Oh, man." Jim let his head rest against the tiles. "I guess I'd better use a couple sick days. Good thing I've got five years' worth."
"That would be best. The plak tow is beginning. I will meditate," Spock said, closing his eyes.
"Do you need a doctor or a healer?"
"No," Spock said. "I must rest."
Jim sighed uneasily, but he said "okay" and finished washing his hair. He guided them both onto the bed and covered Spock with blankets, resting his cheek on a pillow so his meld points were easy to access. Spock hesitated, so Jim took his hand and positioned it on his face.
Melds were usually relaxing, a way to reconnect after Jim had been away for a couple months overseeing a project, or when Spock had been preoccupied with something at work. They usually felt like floating, or like reaching for one another over a vast space. It was pretty weird, the first time, having someone else in his head. It was weird just to like someone enough to trust him with thoughts and memories which were private. But Jim had grown to love it, reveling in the fact that Spock knew every back alley in his brain and loved him anyway.
But this was chaos. Spock's mind churned like the sandstorms which swept across New Vulcan's Forge. It surged toward Jim and enveloped him. He gasped and clung to Spock's wrist, fighting his body's instinct to pull away. And then Spock's mouth was on his, possessive and punishing, and Jim could only whimper in response.
"It's okay," he whispered when Spock stilled and pressed his face into Jim's chest. He said it again, more for himself. "It's okay."
Spock fell asleep. Jim was afraid to move. He lay still and stroked Spock's hair as he watched the sunlight trace a path through the room. Spock slept quietly for a couple hours, but Jim's stomach was in knots. He remembered the conversation, a couple months before their bonding ceremony. He remembered the way Spock's eyebrows knitted together, how he'd held Jim's hands lightly, as if he expected him to pull away. Then, the words "blood fever" had sounded like a promise.
Spock stirred when the sun had passed the window, and Jim wondered if his employees had been trying to get ahold of him all afternoon. He'd left his comm in his pants pocket, and his pants were on the floor somewhere. Jim kissed Spock's temple when Spock stretched and rolled onto his other side. Jim took the opportunity to get up, fetch his comm and a glass of water. He gingerly opened the door to the patio and went outside. I-Chaya had appropriated Spock's lounge chair for his personal use. Jim sunk onto its twin and dialed Bones, relieved when he answered.
"It's me," Jim said.
"I know it's you," Bones said. "And what can I do for you?"
Jim took a deep breath and plowed forward.
"If I had to have sex for, let's say, three days straight...what precautions do I need to take?"
"You haven't joined some damned fool cult, have you?"
"No, I—" Jim started, scratching his cheek. "It's a Vulcan thing. It's their, um, mating cycle."
"He does know you're incapable of bearing his children, right?"
"You're not helping," Jim said. Bones snorted.
"Lubricant," he said in his best doctor's voice. "And lots of it."
"I know that," Jim snapped. "What else?"
"If you think you've developed an anal fissure, I want you to see someone to get it fixed. Those can take a few weeks to heal, as I'm sure you remember. I assume you have a dermal regenerator?"
"Yes," Jim said.
"They're often sold with a wand attachment for just this sort of thing. Don't forget to lubricate the wand before insertion."
"Okay," Jim mumbled, red faced.
"Are you able to eat or drink while this is going on?"
"I have no idea," Jim said, wondering why he hadn't thought of that.
"Stay hydrated, at the very least. If you can get up to shower, do it. And keep some general painkillers on hand. You're going to be plenty sore."
"Alright." Neither of them said anything for a while. Jim sighed heavily into the phone.
"Are you okay with this?" Bones asked gruffly.
"I just wish I knew what to expect," Jim admitted. "It's not like there are a lot of humans married to Vulcans on the colony."
"Wish I knew what to tell you. If you need me to talk to the doctors there, you let me know. You know I don't trust all their voodoo."
"Thanks," Jim said and gave a small laugh. After they hung up, he stretched his legs out in front of him, suddenly aware of the fact that he was naked in the back yard. He let the setting sun touch every part of him, but even the late afternoon heat couldn't stop the panic that was swirling in the pit of his stomach. He sent a message to his foreman and went inside.
He tore apart the bathroom cabinets, pulling out the backup lubricant and a small regenerator he often used to fix minor work injuries, like scraped knuckles and puncture wounds. Sure enough, there was a wand-shaped attachment he'd never taken out of the box. He removed it with shaking hands and laid it beside the sink. He retreated to the kitchen and quickly replicated a sandwich for himself and broth for Spock, which he brought into the bedroom.
"You're burning up," Jim said, resting the back of his hand on Spock's forehead. "Are you sure you don't want me to get a healer?"
"It will not help," Spock said and looked at Jim hungrily.
"I brought you something to eat," Jim offered and motioned to the bowl. He opened the nightstand drawer and took out the half-used tube. There should be enough, otherwise he would have to cross his fingers and rely on the replicated variety. That was handy in a pinch, but...
Spock reached for him gently, and Jim lowered himself onto his body, kissing him.
It'll be okay, he told himself. It's just a couple days.
"Spock?" Jim said, gripping his face, pleading with Spock to hear him. Spock's eyes were glazed over, his skin as hot as Jim had ever felt it. Jim was starving, but he was so tired that he could hardly open his eyes. His back ached; his pelvis was bruised from Spock's weight on him. He needed a shower. He needed ten minutes with his eyes closed.
"We need to sleep. Spock, please," he choked out. "Just for a little while."
Spock growled low in his throat, but he stopped his advance. His palms were so warm, almost uncomfortably hot where they clenched Jim's shoulders. Jim combed his fingers through Spock's hair, smoothing it where it stuck to his forehead.
"Come on," Jim whispered. "Please." Spock's eyes fluttered closed. He nodded once, and Jim lowered his head to the pillow. His breathing deepened, and he dropped immediately into a dream state.
Spock was chasing him through a jungle, crouching beside the trail to mask himself in a tangle of foliage. Jim trembled as the leaves trembled overhead. He tripped, catching himself on his palms. He skinned them, but there was no time to clean his hands. He wiped the dirt on his pants and continued to run—
Spock's lips pressed to his shoulder woke him, the first tender action in two days. Jim felt his body pulled into a sitting position, resting against a firm, cool chest. Spock brought something to his lips (water?) and he drank willingly, felt it coat his tongue and gums, leak out of his mouth before he could swallow all of it.
"Drink," Spock whispered and smoothed Jim's hair. Jim drank what water there was in the glass, and Spock helped him to lie back down. Jim lay half sleeping while Spock pulled the sheets from half of the bed and rolled Jim onto it while he removed the other half. He dressed half of the bed in a new sheet, and rolled Jim back to his rightful place. He covered him with clean blankets after he sponged his body with a warm cloth.
"Sleep," he said sweetly, kissing Jim again, before crawling back into the bed and holding him.
Jim slept for hours, waking up in an afternoon. He had no sense of what day it was. He stumbled into the shower, into clean robes, into the kitchen for coffee to quell the headache that throbbed in his temples. It was difficult to walk, but there hadn't been any blood in the shower. That was...good, he supposed. The rest was just bruising.
"Sit down," Spock said, coming into the kitchen from the common room. He must've heard Jim moving around. "I will get you whatever you wish."
"Coffee," Jim croaked and fell into the chair opposite the window. "Gallons and gallons of it."
"Of course," Spock said and set the machine to brew. Jim protested when Spock first bought it, because coffee machines were extravagant, and importing the beans was expensive. But the southern continent had proven suitable for cultivation (Vulcans didn't touch the stuff, but the volunteers definitely did), which meant Jim had a never-ending supply of Vulcan's Best.
Through the window, I-Chaya was munching on a plomeek leaf. Jim smiled at the sight, even though he knew it meant they'd have to replicate most of the plomeek for the season. Spock served him coffee with a sprinkling of a local spice that pleasantly burned his tongue. The closest Terran comparison he could think of was cinnamon, but this was hotter and more bitter. It woke up the coffee's flavor.
"Thanks," he said and gratefully took a sip. It was too hot to drink, but he drank anyway, let it swirl around his mouth. The roof of his mouth would peel tomorrow, but he just winced against the burn and swallowed. Spock usually sat across from him, but he pulled up the adjacent chair and rested a hand on Jim's shoulder. Jim sighed and reached his own to cover it.
"I love you," Spock said. Jim could feel it in every cell, like a blanket wrapped around every part of him. He closed his eyes.
Part Four: In-Laws
It was safe to say Winona didn't get it.
She'd seen Jim sleep his way through the pickings at the Shipyard. There'd been that one time she walked in to find him on his knees in the shower with a "guest," and Jim's line about looking for the soap didn't fool her for a minute. Also, there was the fact that they were naked in the shower together, and the guy had an obvious—well. The thing is, Winona had seen a lot. She'd seen Jim get his heart broken ("It wasn't broken. You've got to be in love for that.") his first year at the academy, and she'd seen him forget about Starfleet altogether and pursue his dream. That had stung at first. She'd been proud to see him follow in her footsteps, was looking forward to him being "the other Kirk." But Jim seemed happy. She could tell every time he called her, every time his face filled her view screen.
That didn't mean she understood it, though. The first time Jim called to say he was in a serious relationship, she was excited for him. She remembered when she and George first met, what it was like to be young and in love. She asked about his significant other and wasn't surprised by the obviously Vulcan name—Jim was working on the colony, after all. She'd heard of Spock, actually, when he was still at the academy. The Tereshkova had considered him for a science post. Since the Science and Engineering departments often worked hand-in-hand, she'd been one of the officers to review his qualifications. Of course, Chris Pike had gotten him in the end.
"How did you two manage to meet?" she asked, tucking an unruly strand of hair behind her ear. "You were only at the academy for a semester, and last I heard, the Enterprise is out on a one-year mission."
"Oh," he said with a laugh. "Yeah, not that Spock. It's a funny story, actually."
If Jim hadn't looked so absolutely serious, Winona would have thought he was kidding when he told her about a black hole and a time-traveling Romulan. She asked him to repeat the year he said Spock had come from: 2387. She quickly did the math in her head.
"I'm sorry," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "That would make him a hundred and thirty-two years older than you."
"Yeah, just about," Jim said. He gave her a shrug and lopsided grin.
She stood at the dock station with a regulation duffel bag and regulation handkerchief to wipe the sweat that was dripping into her eyes. Jim said they'd pick her up, but she didn't see anything resembling an aircar in sight. She pulled out her comm to check the time. She was early, but not by much. She noticed the small cafe and decided she had time for something cold. Actually, it didn't matter if it was cold—wet was the point. Her mouth was parched, and she hadn't been on surface more than a few minutes. She'd always disliked the desert.
The cafe had a limited menu. She ordered a bottle of Altair water and a sandwich and took a seat by the window. The air was cooler by a good twenty degrees, still warm by Earth standards, but at least she'd stopped sweating. She tucked the handkerchief away and put the bag at her feet. She ate quickly (a bad habit she'd picked up over years of working in Engineering—there was no such thing as a lunch break when you babysat dilithium) and reclined against the glass with her water, watching people amble about outside. Vulcans didn't amble, she amended as she studied them. They walked with infuriating purpose. The volunteers stuck out like awkward toddlers, meandering past. It was refreshing.
She checked her comm again. Jim was definitely late. She shaded her eyes as she looked down the dusty road, but she couldn't make out anything that looked like an aircar. She was about to instruct the comm to connect Jim when she spotted two figures approaching.
Winona thought of herself as a tolerant woman, but she bit down on her index finger as they came into focus. Jim laughed and swung his arms as he walked. His hair glinted in the sunlight, almost white at the tips. Beside him, Spock...well, he might as well have been Jim's great-grandfather. His hair was graying, skin pale, and he wore robes which just brushed the ground. Jim had sent her a picture of Spock a few months back, and she'd chatted with him a handful of times by vid. He was polite and considerate and obviously in love with her son, but it made her skin crawl to think about the two of them together.
She drew in a deep breath and let it out with an audible whoosh of breath into her clenched fingers. Jim paused in front of the area where she had seen a passenger shuttle loading, turning around in a circle with a hand shading his eyes. She snorted a laugh and shouldered her bag, stepping back out into the heat.
"You look lost," she told him as she approached. "Don't you recognize your own mother?"
"There you are," he said and slung an arm around her shoulders. "How was your trip?"
"Long," she said. "How the hell do you stand the heat?"
"Cold showers," he said with a laugh. He hugged her tightly, kissed her cheek, and stepped a few inches away. He held out a hand for Spock, who lowered his chin but took it. Jim grinned and rolled his eyes. "Mom, this is Spock."
"I might not be a genius, but even I could figure that out," she said with a wink. She looked Spock dead in the face. "Ambassador."
"Commander Kirk," he said. Inwardly, she congratulated herself on how nervous he sounded.
"It's nice to finally meet you," she offered. "And I think we can do away with the formalities. Winona is fine."
"Winona," Spock repeated. He appeared to take inventory of her possessions and motioned to her bag. "It is hot. Allow me."
Normally she would've refused on principle, but she let the bag fall to the dirt. "Thanks," she said and wiped her hands on her pants. She slung an arm over Jim's shoulders and began to walk with him toward the town. She was aware that Spock followed behind them only by the crunch of stone that was out of sync with her own footsteps.
"So," she said to Jim, who appeared tan and radiant. "I want to see everything you've built since you've been here."
When Winona had envisioned Jim's future, she'd always pictured him with captain's stripes and a starship. A selfish part of her had never given up hoping that he'd change his mind about Starfleet. She certainly hadn't pictured him with a husband who was almost three times her age, an endangered pet intent on destroying the furniture, and a father-in-law younger than his husband.
"Commander," Ambassador Sarek said and held up the ta'al. She returned it with what she knew was an exasperated look. He lifted an eyebrow. "You look as if you could use a drink."
"You have no idea," she said gratefully and gripped his forearm when he offered it.
They sat in his study, a cozy room lined with shelves and a few books. Jim and Spock remained in the front room. A wood carving of a woman's face sat on an otherwise bare shelf.
"Is that Spock's mother?" she asked, leaning back in an uncomfortable wooden chair. She drank the wine he had poured without complaint, though it was weaker than the whiskey she preferred.
"Yes," Sarek replied and folded his hands on his lap. "May I speak openly?"
"I hope so," she said and drank the contents of the glass.
"You seem unsettled by the relationship between our sons."
"I'm not sure 'unsettled' is the right word," she said after a minute. She nodded when he held out the bottle and poured her another glass. He stopped when it was a third full. She shook her head, so he filled it until the wine was near the brim. "Better," she said. "Are you joining me?"
"If you prefer," Sarek said and poured himself a small quantity. He swirled it in the glass before bringing it to his lips. He appeared thoughtful as he drank, tapping his index finger against the side before he set the glass down in front of him. He folded his hands together and regarded her with a slightly tilted head, as if he were waiting for her to speak.
"You can't tell me you weren't shocked," Winona said. The wine was overly sweet, but she drank it quickly.
"The difference in their ages is great," Sarek replied. "However, Spock was bonded to the Jim Kirk of his time. Their katras, their very life essences, were tied together. It is the same with Spock and your son."
"You're not honestly telling me that Vulcans believe in soulmates," she said flatly.
"Not the human concept," Sarek said. "However, a bond such as theirs is uncommon. It exists on a physiological level. It can be detected by scientific equipment; therefore, it would be illogical to deny its existence."
"So this isn't just a phase," she said and pushed an index finger into the vein on her temple.
"No," Sarek said. "I have known James for five years, and in that time, I have come to believe he cares for my son deeply. My son feels the same for him."
"You have to understand how surreal this is," Winona said. "I'm on New Vulcan, drinking wine, talking about love and feelings."
"We are not without emotion," Sarek said, apparently amused. His eyes crinkled at the corners, though his mouth remained taut.
"You do a damned good job of hiding that fact."
"We control our emotions," Sarek said, "so they do not control us."
Winona considered this, pushing her spine into the chair. From the other room, she caught Jim's sprightly laughter.
"Can I ask you something personal?" Winona said after a while. Sarek nodded. She chewed the inside of her lip and spun the glass round and round in her hands. "Your wife. Was she happy living on Vulcan?"
"She was," Sarek said.
Winona hummed to herself and drank the rest of her wine in silence.
Lunch was a simple affair. Sarek's housekeeper had laid out a variety of food, most procured at the local marketplace. Winona watched with fascination as Jim loaded his plate full of greens and ate them with a smile and a hand on Spock's arm. She stared at them long and hard. She found herself frowning when Spock obviously lowered a hand to Jim's leg as they sat drinking tea, but the sight of Jim so happy made her smile.
While the rest of them sat in the common room, she went to the kitchen to graze for leftovers. Jim might have gotten used to eating lettuce as a primary food source, but Winona considered herself a carnivore. She found a processed bean product which promised a texture like cheese and was staring into the backyard, chewing a wedge of it, when Spock approached.
She could tell it was him from the way his robes moved around his ankles. Sarek's were heavier and made less noise. Jim was in jeans.
"Your father tells me that you were married to Jim where you came from," she said.
"Yes," Spock replied. He stood to her right and followed her gaze out the window.
"What was he like? In that life?"
"Quite different," Spock said, "and yet remarkably similar. He was a member of Starfleet, a captain. I served as his first officer."
She had to laugh at that, though her eyes welled up. She touched a thumb to each of them. "I always knew he'd look good in stripes," she said.
"I regret my presence here altered his life to such a degree," Spock told her. His voice was calm, yet there was an earnestness to it. "I regret it altered yours as well."
"So where you're from, George…"
She tried to imagine George as he might look now: thirty years older, maybe gray at his temples, permanent laugh lines etched into his skin. She wondered what he would say about the whole situation, if he would've raised any concerns or simply welcomed Spock into the family. She finished chewing the last piece of questionable foodstuff and washed her hands, then crossed her arms over her chest and leaned a hip against the counter. Spock peered at her sideways.
"I told Jim many times that I was too old for him."
She smiled and shook her head. "I guarantee that he saw it as a challenge."
"Do you disapprove?"
"No," she said quietly. "I admit that I was shocked at first, but I want him to be happy. You make him happy. How can I argue with that?"
It seemed silly now that she took the shirt out of her suitcase and lay it on the bed. She'd found it on leave when she'd been back to Earth and stayed at the house in Riverside. The house held too many ghosts; she'd found it impossible to sleep, so she'd gone through drawers and closet shelves, intent on packing a few things for the boys.
She'd shipped a package to Sam and Aurie on Altair IV containing old holos and a few sports awards. The box she packed for Jim had contained his favorite hardcover books from her library, the chess set she'd bought just when he was learning to play. She'd almost packed the shirt on top, had even written a note to accompany it. Thought you should have this. She'd removed it at the last minute and stuffed the box with one of his old t-shirts instead.
He knocked on the bedroom door. It had to be him, she just knew.
"It's open," she called and folded the few clothing items she'd brought. She set them in the suitcase, then arranged her sandals on either side. "Can't believe a week's gone by already."
"Goes quickly here," he agreed. "Can I help with anything?"
"I'm almost finished," she said and closed the suitcase.
"You forgot one," Jim said and pointed to the shirt.
"Actually, I brought that for you." She picked it up, held it balled in her hands, and drew it to her chest. "You don't have to wear it."
Jim held out a hand. She passed it to him and watched as he unfolded it on his palm and stroked the material.
"It was your father's," she explained. "From his first assignment. I wanted to give it to you years ago, but I thought you might assume I was trying to guilt you into enlisting."
"How come you didn't give it to Sam?" he asked, meeting her eyes. His were saucer wide and glassy. When he swallowed, she saw the quiver in his mouth. She pulled him into a hug, the shirt wedged between them.
"I think he would've wanted you to have it," she said.
They walked to the dock station together. Spock carried Winona's bag, but this time he walked at her side. Before she stepped into the shuttle, she hugged them both goodbye.
"I don't suppose I can expect a pointy-eared grandchild anytime soon?"
"I'll have I-Chaya call you," Jim offered.
Inside the shuttle, she sat by the window. She buckled her safety belt, then stretched back in the seat. She could see them, standing in the shade, waiting for her to depart. Jim had his arm slung around Spock's waist and leaned a head against his shoulder. Spock dropped a kiss onto Jim's hair. With her PADD, Winona captured a holo of them through the window. She'd frame it. It would be a welcome addition to her cabin.
Part Five: The practicality of replicators
Not everything is a universal constant. Jim's cooking skills are a prime example. When they first met, Jim declared his proficiency in operating a replicator, and he had regularly proven his ability to prepare food in this manner. The few times tthat Spock had witnessed Jim attempt to assemble a meal from ingredients they purchased at the market resulted in passable meals and extended cleanup sessions. But Jim was five years older and notably more mature. It had been Jim, after all, who signed them up to receive six of the first viable plomeek plants developed for New Vulcan's climate. I-Chaya had relieved them of four, but the remaining two were healthy, and Jim insisted they would make soup when the fruit ripened.
When Spock told Jim about his counterpart's fondness for baking, they were perusing the market. Jim appeared intrigued. They paused in front of a cart offering a variety of grains and legumes. The faded green tent flapped noisily in the hot breeze. Jim chewed his lip and dipped his fingers into a bin of grain. It was unsanitary, but who was Spock to deny Jim such a tactile pleasure? The bond positively reverberated with it.
"Baking, seriously?" Jim asked with a tilted head. "Was I any good at it?"
"You were adept," Spock told him, imagining the inevitable flash of interest in Jim's eyes behind his sunglasses. He sent an image, one of the many feasts Jim had prepared laid out on a table that overlooked the Pacific, a particular cinnamon chocolate cake Jim made on special occasions.
Which was why Spock found Jim in the kitchen the following morning, scowling over a tray of overly puffy, charred biscuits. A layer of flour coated the counter and the floor, as if there had been a small explosion. Spock noted a PADD propped up against a bowl of fruit, displaying a recipe for Southern American-style biscuits on screen. All of Dr. McCoy's bourbon would not have made the biscuits edible. Spock sighed fondly and watched Jim leave a pair of white handprints on his jeans when he wiped his palms on them.
"I don't get it," Jim said. He poked a biscuit, then hissed a curse word and sucked his finger. Spock felt the burn through their connection and winced.
"Perhaps the oven is not properly calibrated," he suggested. It was not a lie, exactly. He was merely stating a possibility.
"I must've adjusted the cooking time wrong," Jim muttered, scratching his head. "I made sure to account for atmospheric pressure. It's a Terran recipe, so it should need more moisture and less leavening agents, but..."
"Did you increase the baking temperature?"
"No, it said to bake them at—" He checked the recipe and scratched his face, leaving a smear of flour on his cheek. Spock took a cloth and wiped it away. "Aw, shit. Well, that explains it."
It did not, however, explain why Jim's second and third attempts resulted in similar end products.
"Perhaps you should try a method of cooking other than baking," Spock said to the crown of Jim's head. "One that is less precise." He ran his fingers through Jim's hair and waited for a response. Jim groaned into Spock's chest and began to tug at his sleep pants.
"How 'bout you get these off so you can fuck me," Jim said, throwing them onto the floor before flopping over onto his stomach.
Jim insisted on repeating his attempts at cooking. After two weeks of failed kitchen experiments that even I-Chaya would not consume, Jim managed a passable bowl of potato and leek soup. Spock lowered a spoon into it hesitantly, keenly aware of Jim's anxiety. It bled through their bond in pulses and caused Spock to perspire.
"I added a lot of spice to it," Jim blurted before Spock had the spoon in his mouth. He prepared to make a factual yet optimistic statement about the soup, perhaps compliment the pale green color. It was a pleasing shade. The soup was overly warm, but he was careful not to react, shielding the initial discomfort. He was surprised by the flavor. It was not bad. In fact, it was quite good: not overly salty, with a burn at the back of his tongue as he swallowed.
Jim bit his lip and grimaced. "How is it?" he asked uncertainly.
"It is excellent," Spock said, lowering the spoon for another mouthful. He was sure to blow on it this time.
"Are you just saying that, or is it really okay?"
"You are aware I do not lie."
"You choose not to," Jim corrected. "That's not the same thing as not being able to do it."
"Perhaps," Spock said, taking a third sip, "but I am not lying."
Jim grinned and started in on his own serving. He appeared surprised after the first sip, sitting back to wipe his mouth on his wrist.
"Hey, you know, that's not bad," he complimented himself and soaked a wedge of bread in his bowl. "I think the spice really does something for it."
As a result of the initial success, Jim decided to try and replicate his results the following weekend. Sarek came for lunch, and Jim proudly set out the bowls and a platter of bread. Sarek spread a napkin over his lap. Jim and Spock followed suit, and the three of them began to eat.
The first taste was as good as it had been the previous week, though it left a more lasting burn down Spock's throat. He cleared it and took a second mouthful. He had likely ingested a pepper seed. Sarek nodded approvingly and cut a piece of bread into pieces that he chewed slowly.
Jim looked at both of them and smiled, tearing a chunk of bread with his teeth. His cheeks were pink, more flushed than usual. He ran a finger under his collar. Oddly, Spock did the same and cleared his throat again. The burning sensation in his mouth remained, compounded by additional spoonfuls. He reached for his water and remembered, belatedly, that it would not counter the effect of the pepper.
"Excuse me," he said and walked briskly to the refrigerator. He took out the container of milk Jim used in coffee. The burn in Spock's throat was exquisite, a fascinating interaction between the capsaicin and his mucous membranes. It caused a sensation of intense heat, which had become uncomfortable. He brought the milk to the table with three glasses and poured them each a measure.
"Drink," he said. "The casein will help alleviate the burning."
Jim drank two glasses and sucked on a hunk of bread, his eyes watering. Sarek's discomfort was only apparent because of more color on his face; he drank quietly. Spock counted twenty seconds before Jim gasped and fanned his open mouth.
"Curious," Sarek commented. He dabbed his mouth with a napkin.
"It wasn't supposed to be that hot," Jim lamented and coughed. "That was the same pepper I used last time."
"The amount of capsaicin can vary depending on cultivation," Spock said. His throat tingled, but the burning had lessened by half.
"I'm so sorry," Jim groaned and poured a third glass of milk. He gargled it, tilting his head back, ostensibly holding it against his throat.
"Amanda would have enjoyed it," Sarek offered. Jim beamed at him through watery eyes.
The use of any ingredient with a rating on the Scoville scale ceased abruptly. Spock suggested that Jim return to basics, preparing simple items such as grilled vegetables or eggs. Jim stood over the frying pan, tongue stuck between his lips in concentration. Spock left him to his devices and settled at his desk to go over proposed changes to the curriculum for the upcoming semester. He was eight minutes, four seconds into his reading when Jim called for him.
"Yes?" Spock answered.
"Um...the eggs aren't scrambling."
Spock frowned and switched off his PADD, hurrying into the kitchen. He came up behind Jim and put both hands on his waist.
"See?" Jim said, nodding down at the frying pan where a sunny yellow omelette sizzled. Spock pressed his mouth into a line.
"That is the expected result if you do not manipulate the eggs while they cook."
"But I beat them first," Jim protested weakly. He sighed and scratched his neck, leaning back into Spock's chest. "So what did I just make?"
"An omelette," Spock said, "and it is done."
He guided Jim away from the stove and slid the creation onto a plate, then cut it into quarters.
"Thanks," Jim said glumly. He ate noisily while standing up. "Tastes okay," he added after one minute, fourteen seconds.
"With continued practice," Spock said between bites, "you will become proficient."
He pushed a wave of fondness to Jim, who laughed and shook his head.
"All I can say is thank god for replicators."
Part Six: In sickness and in...sickness
It was absolutely not Jim's fault that he was sick, no matter what Spock said.
Okay, sure. He'd been working longer hours, but that's because a huge number of his workers on the museum project were Telosian. If the last five years had taught Jim anything, it was that Telosians couldn't be trusted to do anything right. Which sounded, yeah, xenophobic as hell and Jim was an asshole for even thinking it. But fuck if he was going to let anyone cut corners on such an important building, especially when Jim Kirk's name was behind it.
Why the hell didn't Vulcans think constructing their own buildings was logical? They relied too much on off-worlders to fill labor jobs, which was bullshit. Vulcans were twice as strong, infuriatingly precise, and never a minute late for work. But Jim only had two Vulcans on the museum job, both of whom he'd put in charge while he was out. Which Spock informed him might be viewed as racist, but Jim insisted he'd promoted them due to their superior ability to multi-task and keep accurate track of time.
"It's logical, babe," he coughed. "I thought you'd like that?"
"It is not logical to work yourself to such a degree that you must lie in bed for two days," Spock corrected him. He smoothed the hair away from Jim's forehead. His hand felt colder than usual, and Jim bristled. His skin felt like a thousand pinpricks. "You have a fever," Spock observed.
"I'm fine," Jim countered. "Anyway, you can't catch something from working."
"You placed unnecessary stress on your body," Spock said, "lowering its ability to fight disease."
"There's nothing wrong with hard work."
"I have never said otherwise. However, the fact remains that you have a fever, your throat is sore, and you have developed a cough. These symptoms indicate an upper respiratory disease. As such, you must rest."
"Fine," Jim huffed and allowed Spock to pull the blankets up to his shoulders. He absolutely did not smile at that, not even a hint. (Maybe a hint.)
"I will come home at midday," Spock said and brushed his lips on Jim's forehead in the manner he had developed. It made Jim feel like a child sometimes, when Spock did that. He felt like one today, the way Spock had manhandled him into bed, tucked the covers in all around him, and brought Jim a cup of tea: the no-caffeine, herbal, smells-like-musty-sheets kind. It sat untouched on the nightstand.
"You don't have to check on me," Jim said hoarsely. "I'm going to sleep for a few hours, and I'll be fine."
"I will come home regardless," Spock told him. "Would you like I-Chaya with you?"
"No, leave him in the yard," Jim said, and okay. Maybe his head did feel a little fuzzy, and his throat and jaw were sore, compounded with a throbbing in his right temple that extended to his neck. His knees and elbows ached; he gingerly straightened his arms to rest along his sides.
"Your comm is on the nightstand," Spock said and stood. "If you need anything, do not hesitate to contact me."
"I won't," Jim said. "Promise."
He heard Spock leave: the soft clunk of the door closing, his footsteps as he walked from the bedroom to the front of the house, a click when the security system locked the front door. Jim lolled his head on the pillow and tried to sleep. The back of his neck was in knots. He moaned a little as he adjusted his position and coughed. It put pressure on his sinuses and temples; the pain flared, and he could feel the outline of both lungs from the residual ache. He could draw their blueprint on his chest. He coughed again, harder, and this time it was his lung that throbbed in time with his head. The pain shot behind his left eye.
Sleep. He needed to sleep.
He shivered and burrowed further into the blankets. He'd never ordered the heat up once on this planet and he wasn't starting today. His teeth chattered, an uncontrollable rattle that shook his whole head and neck. Every hair on his legs and arms stood at attention, rendered sore by the drag of sheets over his skin when he flinched. He held his breath, hoping it might still the next cough, but it came anyway. The shockwave of pain washed over him, and maybe he should've asked for I-Chaya to come inside, because I-Chaya could crush him and put him out of his misery.
Jim never got sick. Sure, his immune system wasn't the greatest. He had a list of allergies due to complications involving stress-induced, false-gravity, premature space birth. When he'd lived with Bones, he'd been hypoed within an inch of his life to ward off all the known diseases (Terran and otherwise). He got injured on the job with regularity, but that came with the territory. He hadn't been gone a day from any job since he moved to New Vulcan, except for the five days he'd taken off when Spock got...well, at least that was only every seven years. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been laid up for days, unable to open his eyes more than a couple millimeters, and feeling like someone had put rebar through his skull.
He thought of Spock, the smooth texture of his palms, like well-worn leather. He didn't want Spock to see him like this any more than he wanted to feel like this, and yet he wished Spock hadn't gone back to work. Jim imagined the touch of his hand rubbing gently at each temple where the pain was sharpest, trailing fingertips to each of Jim's meld points and pressing ever so gently, forming the faintest of connections. He imagined the sensation of Spock's fingers in his head, stroking the place where the pain originated, until he couldn't really feel it anymore. His eyes felt so heavy. He couldn't hold the right one open. He allowed the left to fall closed and heard his breathing deepen, the way it did when he was getting ready to fall asleep. He fell, because it was akin to falling, and imagined Spock—or maybe the image came to him?—holding a hand out to Jim across a reddish landscape.
Is this Vulcan? Jim asked.
The dream Spock nodded, blurred at the edges and not quite opaque. He could see through the chest and belly, just barely, to the red rocks beyond. he knelt and scooped up a handful of soil, rolling the dry sand between his fingers. The larger chunks crumbled and blew away on the hot breeze. Dust. It was all dust. Over his shoulder, he could just make out two figures, silhouetted against the blood-orange sky. One cradled the other, who hung limp from a length of fabric wound tightly around his throat.
You killed me?
Had Dr. McCoy not intervened.
Jim watched Spock lower the older version of Jim to the ground, heard him declare his own life forfeit.
You loved me, even then.
Yes, though it was many years before I acknowledged it.
They were no longer on Vulcan, but in what looked like a medical bay. Spock lay prone on a biobed, his hand clasped within Jim's. Bones looked over them as they smiled at one another. They were late 30s, maybe. Spock practically glowed.
When did you realize you loved me in this life?
Jim saw an image of himself and Spock standing on the front steps of the New Vulcan Science Academy, the ribbon fluttering to the ground after Jim cut it. It was five years ago, Jim remembered, not long before Bones came to visit. They were already living together, and it had morphed from casual to...well, not.
I loved you then, too.
If he hadn't been certain, Jim knew now that this wasn't a dream. He could feel Spock's essence surrounding him, entwined with his own, like two vines that had long ago grown inseparable. It felt like a meld, but somehow more surreal. He let himself float in it, in the warm, familiar energy of Spock's mind. The orange muted, grew dark as pitch, as black as space but starless, and Jim slept.
When Jim woke, he lay on his side, knees curled to his chest, and they hurt. His back hurt. His neck hurt. His throat had obviously survived a sandstorm. He coughed, and the action jostled the bed, caused further coughing which ached. He clutched his chest uselessly. The room was dark. He tried to sit up, but he shook from cold instead, moaning. Ugh, pathetic.
There came a brush of fingers like breeze at his temple, and he slipped back under. This time, he dreamed of Iowa.
"Never thought I'd be back here," Jim said, toes just shy of the drop-off. His voice echoed in the quarry below. Spock stood next to him, far enough to his left that they were not touching, but Jim could sense him somehow, a magnetic tug under his skin. He felt it when Spock shifted his weight forward just enough to observe the wreckage. Instinctively, Jim held out an arm.
"If memory serves, your father was fond of that vehicle." Spock's voice was amused. He settled back onto his heels, and Jim relaxed. He dropped his arm and snorted.
"I was an asshole of a kid," he muttered and hooked his thumb through a belt loop.
"You were upset."
"Well, yeah," Jim said and scrubbed a wrist over his eye to wipe away the dust. He turned his head ninety degrees to the right and watched his eleven-year-old self squirm belly down on the dirt, pull himself back up from the edge.
"You cannot punish the dead," Spock said, his confusion as palpable as the tenderness behind it. The younger Jim stood proudly and walked away from the edge.
"You can try," Jim answered.
"Did it help?"
There was a long pause. A breeze blew up from the quarry, hot and dry. It was New Vulcan's breeze that touched him while he stood at the edge of a cliff in Iowa. He felt dizzy and swayed on his feet. This wasn't real, he reminded himself. He was safe, sick in bed but home, and Spock was with him. He closed his eyes against the dream.
"No," he said finally. "It didn't."
"If there had been a way for your father to survive," Spock said gently, "he would have found it."
Jim nodded sadly and opened his eyes again to find them standing on a starship. It hummed beneath his feet. The walls were the color of putty, control panels an array of blinking lights. A curved red railing separated the upper deck from the lower. He drew in a breath of dry, recycled air in time with the whoosh of a turbolift, the sweep of doors opening.
In the center of the bridge was a single chair, square and heavy, with solid sides and a black seat. It was empty. He looked down to see his own arms clad in gold, a captain's stripes encircling his wrists.
"That's where he sat," Jim guessed, casting his eyes back to the chair. Something in his chest felt heavy. He walked forward, strangely compelled to touch the chair, and stepped down gingerly onto the lower deck.
"Yes," Spock said behind him.
Hesitantly, Jim reached a hand toward the chair and turned it toward him. He ran a finger over the buttons on the arm rest. Spock kept his arms behind his back and touched nothing.
"My mom always wanted me to re-enlist," Jim murmured, stilling his hand.
With a thumb, he brushed the alert button. It all felt wrong. None of this belonged to him. He withdrew his hand quickly and looked away, to the viewscreen, to the reddish orange planet which dominated it. The ship orbited the planet as it slowly made its rotation around twin suns. Jim knew this, as he knew the name of the planet without asking. Spock held the railing and hung his head as Jim stepped up to him.
"It wasn't your fault," Jim said, touching his cheek. "You have to know it wasn't your fault."
"It is…" Spock began, swallowing, "difficult to accept."
"I know." Jim's voice was a whisper, nearly swallowed by the ping of machinery and thrum of the engines. He felt Spock's mental energy press against his and smoothed a thumb over his cheek. "Can I ask you something?"
"You wish to know if I would choose him."
"Yeah," Jim breathed, dropping his hand. He traced one gold stripe with an index finger.
Spock pressed two fingers to Jim's lips, tipped his chin up until their eyes met. "I would choose you both," he said.
Jim's eyes welled up, but he had to laugh. "At least with two of me, there's a chance we could satisfy your sex drive. And he could give me some cooking tips."
He wiped his eyes and hugged Spock to him. The dream retreated. The ache returned, bone deep, causing Jim to moan pathetically as he chronicled every sore joint and overly sensitive area of skin. But he smiled through the discomfort when Spock began to trace swirling patterns on his palm, the only part of his body that didn't hurt.
Jim was able to sit up on his own the next morning. He dragged himself into the bathroom and punched in the command for an eight-minute sonic cycle, the longest setting available. He rested his forehead against the wall while he took a piss. Whenever they got around to planning a vacation, they were definitely going somewhere with water. An ocean maybe. A swimming pool would be nice. Water showers were a must, though. He cracked an eye open and regarded the soaking tub. They rarely used it, because Jim felt bad about using water frivolously, even though Spock assured him that 98% of it would be recycled. Maybe just this once. He canceled the sonic and adjusted the bath controls.
He couldn't help the moan that escaped when he lowered his foot into the warm water, then the other, and sank up to his shoulders. The water rocked in the tub gently, swishing against his neck. He leaned his head back against a towel he draped over the edge, and he closed his eyes. Guilt officially cancelled. This felt amazing.
He stretched his arms and legs under water, spread his fingers, and rolled his shoulders. The heat eased the ache and stilled his shaking. Sweat beads formed at his hairline, and for the first time in over a day, he was actually overheated. He welcomed it, let the sweat pour down his face, until he was so hot that he felt his chest throb with it and had to raise his arms up and out of the water. He draped them lazily over the sides of the tub, let water drip from his fingers onto the floor.
A slurping noise caused him to crack open an eye, and he noted I-Chaya lapping at the puddle. He was getting too big to fit through the Terran-sized doorways. Jim considered a retrofit with larger archways. They'd only have to replace five doors. It was doable, probably wouldn't take more than a week.
"Hey," he said in a hoarse tone, reaching to scratch I-Chaya's nose. A warm tongue licking water from his fingers. "How did you get inside? Did Spock let you in?"
I-Chaya seemingly gave him a questioning look, which made Jim laugh. "Okay. Stupid question. I'll get out in a bit, okay? I'm just really comfortable."
He patted I-Chaya's head and returned his hand to the water. I-Chaya dipped an experimental paw into the tub, looking like an overgrown housecat with fangs. He whimpered when his foot got wet and curled up on the ground to lick it.
"You're a desert animal," Jim told him, closing his eyes again. "You're not supposed to like water."
"You have finally made use of the soaking tub," Spock's voice said from the direction of the bedroom.
"Only took five years," Jim called back.
"Are you feeling better?" Spock's voice was closer. Jim heard the movement of fabric and footsteps on the tile floor.
"Moderately," Jim said, smiling when Spock kneeled beside the bath and touched his forehead.
"Your fever is gone."
"Cross your fingers that I can make it into work tomorrow."
"Perhaps I will hope that you will opt to remain home with me instead," Spock said playfully.
"How 'bout you opt yourself into the tub?" Jim suggested, grinning at the sound of Spock pulling his shirt up and over his head. His grin widened when he heard pants hit the floor. Spock's additional mass caused the bath water to rise almost to the edge—Jim's eyes flew open—but the overflow valve efficiently corrected the water level. When they weren't in danger of a flood, Spock adjusted their positions so that Jim rested in the vee of his legs, with his back pressed to Spock's chest.
"I am pleased you have recovered," Spock told him and mouthed a wet kiss to Jim's neck.
"Almost recovered," Jim corrected, craning his head to give Spock better access. Spock rarely shielded from him any more. He wasn't shielding now, and Jim felt wave after wave of love as Spock continued to kiss him. Jim hummed contentedly to himself and laced their hands together, bringing them to rest on his stomach. "This is nice. Kind of like a hot tub without bubbles."
"Indeed," Spock said against his ear.
On the floor, I-Chaya snorted and raised his head, peering at the two of them over the edge of the tub.
"If I'm still feeling better in an hour, we'll go for a walk," Jim promised him. "A short one," he amended.
"He no longer fits his harness," Spock said.
"He won't run away," Jim said and beckoned to I-Chaya, who licked his fingers. "Will you?"
"You do recall that I-Chaya does not understand Standard," Spock said fondly.
"He understands enough."
"He does not comprehend the word no."
"Sure he does," Jim said. "He just chooses to ignore it."
I-Chaya appeared to smile and plodded out of the bathroom. Jim heard him settle on the bed and grunt four times in succession. Chuckling, Jim breathed in deeply, resumed his hold on Spock's hands, and thought he just might fall asleep like this, perfectly warm and content.
Spock coughed. Spock never coughed.
"Oh, sweetheart," Jim said, turning around and cupping Spock's face in his hands. He noted that Spock was flushed pretty green, and his eyes looked watery. "I think I gave you my whatever-this-is."
"It is likely."
"At least it doesn't last long," Jim promised. "We should get you into bed."
"I-Chaya is making use of it."
"Let's go to the couch, then," Jim said and stood up, carefully stepping onto the stone floor to avoid slipping. He grabbed two towels from the closet just outside the door, wrapped one around his waist, and took the other in to Spock.
"Come on," he said, helping him up. "We're overdue for a movie marathon."