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Chapter Nine


Ten
2372-2379 - Prime Universe



Jim woke up the next morning knowing himself for a fool.

He remembered his anger of last night, and while he still wished Spock hadn't been quite so high-handed, he hadn't deserved Jim's fury. And even as angry as he'd been, and as annoyed as he still felt...it didn't matter.

God, he could be such an idiot.

Spock hadn't even come to bed last night. Their first day together in months, after their first weeks together in decades, and Jim decided to pick a fight and make Spock feel unwelcome in his bed?

His anger wasn't worth Spock's pain. Neither was his pride. If he couldn't let his bondmate help him, he'd be a pretty sad excuse for a bondmate himself. Part of marriage was supporting each other in tough times.

He didn't even bother to get dressed as he left the bedroom in search of Spock, half-afraid Spock would have left the apartment and stayed elsewhere. But when he poked his head into Spock's meditation room, he found him kneeling on his mat, his eyes closed. Spock must have spent the night putting the room together before he started meditating, because Jim hadn't left it in any sort of order. The room was meant to be for Spock, and Jim hadn't felt right setting it up himself.

He lowered himself to kneel in front of Spock, knowing his knees would protest when he tried to get up later and not caring. He just looked at Spock, at the lines on his face and how calm was etched into them, but not peace. Their bond was quiet, as was usual when Spock meditated, but Jim could still see faint traces of troubles in the corners of Spock's eyes and the angle of his mouth.

He didn't want to disturb Spock, though, so he decided to meditate himself. It couldn't hurt, at least.

Meditation was not one of his favorite activities -- even as he aged, he hadn't liked sitting still that long. And while he had discipline enough -- when he cared to exercise it, he remembered, thinking ruefully of last night -- it was nothing to the kind of discipline and control a Vulcan learned. He could meditate, but it never came as easily to him as it did to Spock.

Meditation did have its uses, though. Spock, with his telepathy, had the ability to touch Jim's thoughts even with great distance between them, having once heard them all the way from Vulcan when Jim was on Earth. Jim, who was psi-null, couldn't do the same. The closest he could come during any separation was getting a sense of him during meditation.

But he hadn't even considered that, this time. He'd let himself get so wrapped up in missing Spock, and resenting his absence, he hadn't even thought of meditation.

And it could have given him greater benefit than just a deeper sense of Spock. The purpose of meditation was, after all, to center oneself, and Jim could admit he hadn't felt centered at all since leaving the Nexus. Meditation might have helped or it might not have, but he hadn't even tried.

Well, he would try now. He set his own hands in an approximation of Spock's, closed his eyes, and concentrated on breathing. He quickly got back into the rhythm of matching his mental energies to Spock's, and that helped. Even if he didn't usually meditate, he always enjoyed doing so with Spock.

By the time Spock's hand touched his, bringing him out of his trance, he'd lost track of how much time had passed. He wasn't sure about centered, but he at least had let go of the anger and even the annoyance, and certainly felt a lot calmer.

He opened his eyes to see Spock looking at him, keeping his own face and eyes impassive. Jim couldn't even get a sense of his thoughts through the bond.

"Do you feel better?" Spock asked quietly.

Jim nodded, taking in a deep breath and then letting it out slowly. "I shouldn't have gotten so angry with you," he said. Spock made a move to draw his hand back, but Jim caught the hand and held it. "Spock, I'm sorry. You were right. I was in pain, and I was avoiding it."

"I, too, am sorry. I knew you would likely be displeased at my attempts to help, but --"

Jim shook his head, interrupting him. "I was in pain, and I was lashing out," he said firmly. "And I seriously overreacted. You only brought up the possibility -- you weren't actually making any decisions for me. I was just..." He looked down at his hands, one still holding Spock's. Shame colored his cheeks a faint red. "I was just taking any excuse I could find to make myself be the injured party, I guess. I didn't want you to keep shoving my weaknesses in my face."

"That was not my intention," Spock said. He looked down before flicking his eyes back up to meet Jim's. "I merely wished to help."

"I know," Jim assured him. "And I appreciate it. I do. And I think you did, even if not exactly in the way you intended. The argument, and waking up without you when I could have been waking up with you -- it showed me that even if I had been the injured party, it wouldn't matter. I wasn't willing to let that come between us."

"Then you are willing to let me help?" Spock asked. His hand tightened around Jim's.

Jim let out another breath, and nodded. "I need some," he admitted. "As much as I don't like it, I haven't been handling things very well on my own. You just...know I don't like asking for things." He tried smiling, but was pretty sure it came out weak.

"I do know," Spock said tenderly, raising his other hand to brush across Jim's meld points, sending a sense of fondness. "And I admire you for your self-sufficiency, as much as it can at times be out of place."

"And this is one of those times, I suppose." Jim removed his hand from Spock's, but only so he could take hold of Spock's shoulders and use them to lever himself up. Spock sat still and steady as he did, and brushed his fingers against Jim's as Jim pulled away. Then he accepted the hand Jim held out to him and used it to stand himself.

Once they stood in front of each other, Jim stepped forward and brought his arms around Spock in a swift hug, resting his head on Spock's shoulder with a sigh of contentment as Spock's arms closed around him in return. They stood like that for several moments until Jim pulled away and gave him a more genuine smile.

"Well," he said. "What do you think about going to Berkeley for the day? It might be nice to check out the campus."

"Berkeley is indeed a beautiful area," Spock replied serenely. "I believe our day would be well spent there."

--

Things got better for Jim after that. Not immediately and not totally, but he was determined to at least stop avoiding all the things he didn't want to think about.

One of the first things he did, after coming back from Berkeley, was to invite Scotty over. Scotty accepted with alacrity, and didn't try to hide his relief when Jim told him what was going on.

"I knew ye'd listen to Mr. Spock," Scotty said, sitting with the two of them after dinner with a glass of Glenlivet in his hand. "Advice from me you could always take or not, but I knew ye'd listen to Mr. Spock."

"I'm sorry, Scotty," Jim said again, toying with his own glass of brandy. He was getting tired of apologizing, but knew his friend deserved the apology. "I just wasn't in a very good place, I guess."

"Aye, I could see that," Scotty agreed. "An' I understood. It's not that easy, building up your entire life almost from scratch."

Jim nodded. "How did you do it?" he asked. "I should have asked you before, but I just wasn't thinking."

Scotty took a sip of his scotch. "Well, I can't say I handled it any better than you did at first," he replied. "And probably quite a bit worse. Young Geordi LaForge, he made it pretty clear that I couldn't be helpful as I was, so of course I had to do something to get meself up to speed. But it was hard." He raised his glass at Spock, who nodded back at him. "Mr. Spock, he was already on Romulus, but he did come to visit me a couple o' times. That helped, but, and no offense to you, Mr. Spock, it just wasn't enough."

"I apologize, Mr. Scott," Spock said. "I believe I was less of a friend than I might have been."

Scotty shook his head. "No, don't you be worrying about that," he replied. "You had your work, and I understood that, and never begrudged it. And while it would have been lovely to have a friend around more, you weren't really who I wanted."

Spock nodded. "I, too, miss Uhura," he agreed. "But I understand as well. I do not miss her the way I missed Jim when I thought him lost to me."

Jim put his brandy down on the table, reaching out to take Spock's hand. "I haven't been thinking as much as I should have about what the two of you went through when I was gone, and were going through when I was having trouble."

"It's hard to think of others when you're in pain," Scotty said philosophically. "I'm just glad you're doing better now, sir."

"And you, Scotty. How long did it take for you?"

"Well, it's actually still an ongoing process," Scotty admitted. "I have my good days and my bad days, though the good outnumber the bad by a goodly bit. It's helped having something else to concentrate on. Engine designs have come quite a long way, and even if I'm not still taking care of the Enterprise, I do have plenty of things to keep me occupied and interested."

"That's still something I'm having trouble with," Jim said, shifting around on the couch. "You only had to catch yourself up in what was already your field. I can't go back to captaining a starship."

"What about getting a ship of your own?" Scotty asked. "Have you thought about that?"

Jim exchanged a look with Spock. "Somewhat," he replied. "It does sound pretty attractive -- all I've ever wanted to do was explore the universe. But Spock has his work, and I knew when I retired from Starfleet that I didn't want to do anything to keep me away from Spock. Continuing to travel would be wonderful, but losing that is a sacrifice I'm willing to make to stay with Spock."

Scotty smiled at him. "That sounds wonderful," he agreed warmly. "Not that it doesn't sound a bit strange to hear you willing to give up traveling the stars, but the people in your life matter. You sort of take them for granted until you lose them and only then do you think about how much they gave you."

"That's always how it is," Jim said, squeezing Spock's hand again. "Those years when I had both the Enterprise and Spock were perfect. But if I had to choose, I'd choose Spock. Every time."

"For which I am gratified," Spock told him, stroking the back of Jim's hand with his thumb in a move conveying sincere affection. "I, too, will choose you, Jim." He caught Jim's gaze and held it, his eyes serious. "If you need me, I will be here, despite my work on Romulus."

Jim smiled at him, and stroked his hand back. "Thank you," he told him. "That means a lot to me. But I don't think it will be necessary. I'll find something to study at Berkeley and something to keep me busy, and I'll spend time with Scotty, and stay in contact with you and my friends on the Enterprise. I'll be fine."

"Of course you will," Scotty said heartily. "I'll make sure o' that, Mr. Spock, never you worry!"

"Were I inclined to worry, I would certainly be relieved," Spock replied, his tone very dry. Scotty laughed, recognizing the tease.

"So what have you been considering, Jim?" Scotty asked. "Any ideas on what you'd like to do?"

"Not really," Jim replied, smiling wryly. "That's part of what tripped me up before. I just couldn't think of anything I could do when what I'm best at isn't an option."

"Well," Scotty went on, "you may have made many an unreasonable demand on my engines, but you're not so bad in Engineering yourself. Have you thought about that? If you go into theory especially, it's a mobile career. There's enough holographic technology around now so you can model your designs anywhere, and with a pretty high degree of accuracy."

Jim chuckled -- of course that would be Scotty's suggestion. But he couldn't deny it bore thinking about. He knew enough about starship engineering, as any captain worth his salt had to, that he wouldn't be completely out of his depth in studying it further.

"You may have something there, Scotty," he answered slowly, and Scotty beamed into his scotch. "That's actually a really good idea."

"Aye, and maybe you'll learn a thing or two about what's reasonable and what's not!"

He gave Scotty his best innocent look. "I already know what's reasonable," he said. "Anything a captain needs."

Scotty snorted. "I think he might need a bit more help than he's willing to admit," he told Spock, who raised an eyebrow. "He's delusional, poor man."

"I think it unlikely any help will be efficacious," Spock mused. "I believe this trait to be a permanent flaw."

Jim just shook his head at both of them. "You think you're so funny," he said. "How many times have my 'unreasonable demands' saved our skins? No gratitude!"

"Yes, sir, Captain, sir!" Scotty saluted. "Will there be anything else, sir?"

"That will be all, Mr. Scott," Jim replied, amused. And it was, because Scotty took his leave soon after.

But Jim revisited the topic later that night, as he and Spock prepared for bed.

"What do you think about Scotty's suggestion, Spock?" he asked as he slipped under the covers and turned to face the center. "Engineering?"

"It is an aptitude of yours," Spock replied, likewise settling on his side facing Jim. "And Mr. Scott is correct; engineering is a subject one might study anywhere. If you find yourself intrigued by the suggestion, there is no reason why you should not pursue it."

Jim sighed and moved closer until he could tangle his legs with Spock's. "Yeah, I guess," he said. "I'm just really going to miss the exploring. That's what I've wanted to do my entire life, and I don't like feeling too old for it."

"But you are not," Spock replied, reaching up to stroke along Jim's cheek. "You may be retired from Starfleet, but that does not mean you are too old to explore."

Jim nuzzled into the gentle hand for a moment before replying, "Okay, but how? We don't have a ship anymore, Spock. The only ships that do exploration, apart from some private ships, are Starfleet, and they don't take civilians who just want to see the galaxy."

"Unknown planets are not the only things we might explore," Spock told him. "How much of your own planet have you seen? How much of mine? As familiar as they feel to us, they too have new things to offer."

Jim grinned at him, letting his affection and gratitude emanate from him. "You know, that's right," he said. "I've rarely been out of North America, even, and I haven't seen much more than Shi'Kahr, your family's holdings, and Mount Seleya on Vulcan. I have always been interested in seeing more."

"Then we will do so," Spock replied. "Romulans, too, hold the marital bond in high honor. I do not believe I will lose ground for ensuring your happiness."

Jim felt a quick burst of exasperation at how much of a politician Spock had turned into, but he let it go. He was still Spock.

"Sounds like a plan," he affirmed, and yawned. "Computer, lights off."

He turned around as the lights blinked off and snuggled back into Spock, who slid an arm around him. Spooned together, they fell asleep.

--

With those decisions in mind, Jim's life went on. The dreams about the Nexus dwindled over the months until he never got more than flashes of his life there, easily dismissed. He still sometimes missed the ease of life there, but those feelings quickly passed.

He did decide to apply for the doctoral program in starship engineering at Berkeley, which accepted him. And while the work was hard, especially since he'd missed out on decades of advancements specifically in that field, he did still have enough of a grounding that he could stay on track. He found Scotty's help invaluable as well.

It was not a passion. He never felt that knot of excitement in his belly he always would on sitting in the captain's chair on the bridge of his ship.

But even if studying engineering was not his first, best destiny, as Spock had once termed his captaincy, it was not a chore either. He enjoyed the challenge and details of the work, even if it didn't truly call to him.

He couldn't deny he missed the excitement, though -- more than that, the feeling of rightness he got when aboard his ship. Doing something else grated on him when he still wanted to be out amongst the stars, going where no one had gone before. He hated being grounded.

But he put up with it for Spock. If the only way he could stay with Spock was to be grounded, he'd accept being grounded. Even when he chafed at the limitations and burned to see someplace new.

He and Spock put their plans for traveling into motion several months after their conversation about traversing their own planets, though the occasion wasn't as happy as the idea had originally made him.

"Having you and Scotty around is wonderful, but...I need to see everyone else," Jim sent in a message to Spock, who was back on Romulus. "I can see their biographies and their...their obituaries, but it doesn't feel real, still. I don't know if going to visit their graves will make it real, but I think I need to do this. But I want you there with me, so I'm going to wait until you come back."

By this time the Romulan Senate had finally agreed to give him a visa, but Jim decided to wait on joining Spock until he finished with his doctorate. The Romulans might allow him to live there, but he didn't think they'd be willing to let him study engineering -- or anything else involving their technology -- from them. He'd wait until he could get a lab of his own.

The message Spock sent back to him had been very supportive. He had visited the graves of his old friends before, but not in many years, and of course he would be willing to go with Jim. Scotty, too, said he'd visit at least Uhura's grave with them, though he thought he'd stay longer in Nairobi afterwards.

All four of them had been laid to rest in their original homes. Sulu was in San Francisco, though Jim had not yet been able to bring himself to visit him. Uhura was in Nairobi, still one of the largest cities in the United States of Africa. Chekov was in St. Petersburg, though as one of the former Commanders in Chief of Starfleet, he also had a memorial on the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters.

Bones was in Atlanta, which would be the last stop but one on this particular trip around the world. Jim knew he would want to spend some extra time with the closest of his old friends, and with the granddaughter who had invited Jim and Spock to stay with her in memory of her grandfather.

Visiting their graves was both easier and harder than he'd thought it would be. When Spock arrived, they visited Sulu almost immediately in the memorial plot for Starfleet officers north of San Francisco. But Jim looked at the headstone, at the bare renderings of dates and epitaph, and just didn't feel a sense of Sulu.

The headstone gave no indications of Sulu and his copious hobbies, his deft and steady hand on the helm, his loyalty and protective fierceness, his calm ability as a captain. It was just a marker.

He knew closure was a process, not something that happened with one event. He'd still hoped, though, the pain of their absences would start to ease with visiting their graves. Wasn't that the reason humans had memorials like this? For the living? The dead didn't need them.

They stayed longer in Nairobi and St. Petersburg, since Jim had never been to either. Scotty came with them to Kenya, and introduced them to Uhura's great-great-great-great-niece, Penda Uhura. She did not look extraordinarily like her aunt, but there was something in the look of her eyes and the set of her smile so like Nyota that for a moment Jim had to catch his breath.

She came with them to the cemetery, and sang a mourning song in Swahili. For them, Jim knew, because she had never even met her aunt. Or maybe she sang for herself as well. Jim knew family had been important to Uhura.

When they went to St. Petersburg, almost against his will Jim kept looking for all the things Chekov had insisted were "inwented in Russia." He didn't find any evidence, of course, but he knew he wouldn't. He could imagine Chekov's amusement at his reaction, though.

St. Petersburg was beautiful, elegant and graceful with an attractive sense of history. They went to visit the city center, which had some buildings dating back over six hundred years, despite the demolition that had gone on in Russia during the communist revolution in the early twentieth century. Jim had been to Vulcan, which had buildings of its own millennia old, and he knew there were buildings on Earth older than these by far, but these were the first he'd really seen.

The world went on, but it didn't always change that much. People usually found a way to preserve the things important to them. Jim carried that idea with him even to the cemetery where Chekov lay, and managed to find a measure of peace in it even as he shivered at the graveside.

Atlanta was the hardest, though, when they returned to North America. He'd been there before with Bones, and though he appreciated Spock's presence at his side, he found himself struggling as he walked along familiar streets and heard a familiar drawl all around him, in unfamiliar voices. He would never hear Bones's voice again, except in recordings and memories.

Bones's granddaughter, Leah Michaels, was many years older now than Jim himself, which was very disconcerting when he remembered her as a tiny thing sitting on his lap and calling him Uncle Jim. But she still smiled, called him Uncle Jim, and gave him a hug he returned. Her mother, Bones's daughter Joanna, was also gone now -- she'd died even before Bones had, and he had requested to be placed next to her.

They stayed the night with Leah, and the next day went to go see their dearest friend. Spock brought something with him he kept in his hand and hid from Jim, and Jim decided to let Spock be mysterious if he wanted.

McCoy's headstone was beneath a magnolia tree, and several leaves had fallen on the grass in front of it. As Jim stood there, staring at it, tracing the engraved letters with his eyes, Spock knelt down and brushed the fallen leaves away. Then, very carefully, he placed a glass full of liquid and a leaf down, making sure it was steady before he let go.

"Mint julep," he said, when he stood back up and caught Jim's eye. Jim looked at Spock, looked at the mint julep, and started laughing.

He kept laughing until tears leaked from his eyes and a lump in his throat choked the laughter down. He tried to breathe in, but could only manage hiccupping gasps. Then Spock touched him, the gesture and their bond conveying boundless sympathy and love, and Jim could no longer hold back the howl. He cut the sound the sound off almost as soon as it left him, but too late to regain control. Blindly he turned towards Spock, who caught him as the tears burst harshly from him.

Spock held him as he turned into a shaking, sobbing mess, slowing sinking down with Jim in his arms until he was seated cross-legged on the ground with Jim cradled in his lap. He put up with tears and mucus on his bare neck and did nothing but continue to stroke Jim's back and hair.

Finally the sobs died down into hitching breaths, and then they too died down until there was silence and Jim could hear faint birdsong off in the distance. He didn't particularly feel like moving, but he'd gotten Spock's neck and shoulder kind of disgusting, so he pulled back.

"I do not mind," Spock assured him, though he pulled a pack of tissues out of his pocket.

Jim chuckled, still sort of wetly. "Planning ahead?" he asked, his voice hoarse and clogged. "So much for not minding."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "While I had no objections to the process that put such fluids on my skin, I would prefer they not dry there," Spock said, in words so similar to what he said about other bodily fluids in other situations that Jim started laughing again, even as he wiped away at the combined mucus and tears from Spock's shoulder and his own face.

When he finished his cleaning, he put the used tissues back in the packet, for lack of anything better to do with them that wouldn't require getting up. That done, he cuddled back against Spock's shoulder, rested his forehead against his now-dry neck, and closed his eyes. He wasn't sure he precisely felt a catharsis of some sort, but he did feel a little better, though exhausted and somewhat shaky.

"Thank you for coming with me," he murmured into Spock's skin, and sighed as Spock's hands resumed petting his back and hair.

"I would be nowhere else, ashayam," Spock said quietly.

They stayed there until dark had nearly fallen, holding each other close and remembering their almost-brother.

They stopped last in Riverside, Iowa, where some of the descendents of Jim's nephew Peter still lived. It was strange to spend time with them, for them as well as him, but he appreciated it. He also took the opportunity to visit his parents, who had rested there since even before the Nexus had swallowed him. They reminded him the pain of loss really did ease over time.

Spock did not leave immediately after their return to San Francisco. He had timed the trip to coincide with pon farr, their first after their reunion. Pon farr gave Jim a turn to take care of Spock, which he appreciated, particularly after Spock had spent so much time this trip supporting Jim. Days after pon farr ended, though, Spock had to leave, and Jim started working again on his doctorate without further delay.

The next time Spock left Earth, Jim was determined to be ready to leave with him.

--

One of the things that surprised Jim the most about living and working on Romulus was how he quickly gained a lab partner and a lab.

Turomek was a Romulan theoretical engineer who, far from being as xenophobic as Romulans typically were, found working with a non-Romulan interesting and intriguing. His only concession to the paranoia of the Romulan government was to make sure Jim had nothing around him related to cloaking technology. Otherwise, he was perfectly happy to have someone around to bounce ideas off of who thought so differently from the way he did.

Jim actually rather liked him, and he never thought he'd be able to say that about a Romulan. Respect, yes, but actual liking?

"Dr. Kirk, come here. Tell me what you think the result will be if we adjust matter/anti-matter levels around a core combined of dilithium and trilithium? If we could sustain the energy of a potential explosion indefinitely--"

"You think that might actually be possible? Trilithium's still not exactly stable," Jim pointed out. "And I don't think the dilithium will be enough of a stabilizing factor, not with anti-matter involved as well."

"You are being pessimistic!" Turomek cried. "Come, let us create a simulation."

Creating a simulation was Turomek's response to pretty much every idea he had, no matter how viable -- or unviable -- it was. Jim had a sneaking suspicion he enjoyed even the ones that failed for the unique ways in which things would tend to explode.

Jim rather thought that would be how this simulation would turn out as well. He hid a sigh. He liked Turomek well enough, but he missed practical work.

Turomek's enthusiasm for someone different was far from the norm on Romulus, though. People tended to avoid him or sneer at him in the streets -- Spock, at least, blended in better, though enough people knew what he looked like that he sometimes got sneers as well.

And Jim couldn't say he enjoyed the way most of the senators spoke to him, a mix of condescending and antagonistic. Remaining diplomatic in the face of constant provocation was a chore, but Jim realized he was now a diplomat's husband, as strange as that seemed, and he didn't want to cause any trouble for Spock. He also didn't want to do anything to cause the government to rescind his visa.

But it wasn't all bad. He was one of the first free humans allowed on Romulus, which was historic enough for him to really appreciate. He spent much of his time in his lab with Turomek, who didn't care about his species, and almost the rest of his time with Spock.

Being with Spock was worth the sneers and slurs. Particularly when he could offer support to Spock as well, who was more likely to come home with tales of defeat than stories of victory. Something inside Jim glowed with pleasure and pride when he could be there for Spock, as Spock had been there for him.

Jim was lonely, with so few people willing to even talk to him. But he still communicated with Scotty and other friends off-planet, and he and Spock left fairly frequently themselves to visit Earth, Vulcan, and some of the other Federation planets he'd not been to often before.

After captaining a starship, his new sedentary life sometimes grated on him. Still, he put up with it for Spock, and had few regrets.

Life on Romulus could have been a lot better, but Jim was not going to complain.

--

Jim stayed in contact with his friends on the Enterprise-D over the years, even if he got to see them only rarely. When Deanna Troi and Will Riker announced their engagement, he was pleased to say he would come to their wedding -- the ceremony on Earth, at least. He thought he'd probably skip the one on Betazed. At approaching seventy, he wasn't sure he wanted to be naked in public.

Actually, the ceremony itself took place on the Enterprise in orbit above Earth; only the reception was on the planet itself, in Riker's hometown of Valdez, Alaska, just at the foot of the Chugoch Mountains. Jim was happy with the chance to see the mountains, though Valdez was even colder than St. Petersburg.

The wedding reminded him of his own marriage to Spock, as weddings usually did, even though this one was human and his own had been on Vulcan, with all the Vulcan traditions. Even the tradition about the Vulcan male being in pon farr for it.

Spock's fever had come on him less than a year after V'Ger and his acceptance of the connection between them, so Jim hadn't had to wait very long. When Spock had felt its approach, he and Jim had simply requested and received vacation time from Starfleet, grabbed their closest friends, and traveled to Vulcan. Spock had initially been reluctant, obviously remembering the events of his first koon-ut-kal-i-fee, but Jim had convinced him. He'd wanted Spock to have his traditions, and he'd wanted the memories of their ceremony to replace the ones of their disastrous first trip to Vulcan. Sarek and Amanda had even made it, though Spock had been past caring until several days later.

Spock watched him throughout the reception, the soft look in his eyes indicating he, too, was remembering their bonding. His pon farr was due to return to him in another few months, though the ferocity of it had diminished as he aged. Jim thought they might go back to Vulcan for that, as they hadn't been since their first Time together.

He couldn't persuade Spock onto the dance floor, but he did manage to snag Troi away from her new husband for a dance.

"Congratulations, Deanna," he said as he spun her around. "I'm glad to see the two of you finally have things figured out."

"Thank you, Jim," she replied, smiling. "And we got there when we were ready."

"I know how that is," he agreed wryly. "The waiting could be very tiresome."

She laughed. "It did have its moments," she said, "but both of us needed time. And I think we're the stronger for knowing who we are and what we want."

"Oh, you certainly are," he replied. "There is certainly something to be said for building that kind of strong foundation before trying to add a serious romantic relationship on top of it." He turned his head slightly to look at Spock, and smiled to see him deep in conversation with Data, the android officer who would soon be Picard's second-in-command.

"There certainly is," Troi agreed, and when the song ended, she went back to Riker, accepting his arm around her waist and his quick kiss on her lips.

After the reception ended, Jim and Spock had intended to spend more time in the Alaska area despite the cold -- Jim had always wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, even though by this time he had seen far more dramatic lightshows in space. But when Spock heard about the events on Romulus and the ascension of the Reman Praetor Shinzon, he insisted on returning to Romulus early.

They ended up arriving only after Shinzon's subsequent death, but once he heard the entire story from both Picard and Commander Donatra, he wasn't sure if he was glad to have missed it, or sorry.

--

They did return to Vulcan for Spock's next pon farr. They stayed at the family estates, which stood empty with Sarek's second human wife gone back to Earth not long after his death. Not that they saw much of the estates.

Pon farr had always been a special time to Jim, and part of that feeling had ended up transferring to Spock during their first Time together, assuaging his own fear of the fever. He just...always felt so close to Spock during this time. Utterly cherished, even when Spock was sometimes rough -- he still always knew who Jim was, unlike the first time, when the two of them had fought and Spock's eyes had held no recognition that the man he choked the life from was his captain and his friend.

Since their bonding, however, pon farr had evolved into a time of absolute sharing. Jim gave himself until he didn't even feel like he and Spock were separate people. That sometimes scared him when he thought about it, but he never felt any fear in the moment. In the moment, there was nothing but Spock, and his need, and assuaging that need. He and Spock were so tightly bonded that while pon farr took a lot out of both of them, Spock's fever was as responsive to Jim as Jim was to Spock. While Jim would often be sore for days after the fever ended, their bond ensured that Spock never needed more than Jim could give.

Spock was also a lot more overtly affectionate during this time. Jim figured it was partly a control issue as well, but Spock would feed Jim, wash him, brush his hair, stroke along his skin until he felt as if his bones were melting. Half of Spock's vocabulary seemed to be endearments -- he constantly called Jim ashayam, k'diwa, t'hy'la, and talukh-veh. He would also call him James, the full name Spock almost never used except when feeling particularly passionate. It always made Jim's skin shiver and arousal pump through his blood to hear his full name issued in that smoky, deep voice.

The words ran through him mentally as well, claiming him there too. Vulcans were always telepaths, of course, but they seemed to rely on their telepathy more during this time. Pon farr at its root was partially about the complete joining of two people, and Jim certainly felt that with Spock. The corresponding emotions would rush through him at every endearment with the force of the tides, and it was all Jim could do to respond, to give his words and emotions back to Spock.

Spock was gentle, this time. Still utterly dominant, but he coaxed Jim's submission out of him, rather than demanding it, though Jim gave it as freely as he always had.

They stayed on Vulcan even after the pon farr ended, Jim happy to take the chance to see more of this planet, still so strange to him even after several visits. He loved looking up at the night sky and seeing different stars. Even the ones he recognized were in different configurations.

He never would have guessed, judging by his first visit, but Jim very much enjoyed his times on Vulcan.

--

Chapter Eleven
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