When Jim got back to the ship the first thing he did was dispatch a message to Starfleet command, politely thanking them for their concern and assuring them that his crew was more than capable of handling their current issues without bothering any starbases. Then he retrieved a status report on their progress, and for a moment, almost reconsidered it. Not that his crew was doing a bad job or anything – no way. But as he looked at a to-do list that consisted of several pages of very, very tiny text, and a confirmed repairs list that was only one page of normal-sized text, he wondered if he wasn't just exhausting his people for the sake of his own pride.

Of course, there was also their pride to consider. Scotty was practically apoplectic at the implication that he couldn't fix his own ship when Jim told him that they might be heading off sooner than expected. He suspected that his chief engineer was running numbers in his head, trying to figure out if they could cram all of their repairs into one short, twenty-four period.

He made a mental note to keep an eye on the engineering duty rosters to make sure that Scotty didn't, you know, actually work his subordinates to death.

And then it seemed like spending a few hours on the colony had resulted in an eruption of chaos in his absence, because suddenly he was bogged down with tasks to approve, priorities to reconsider, reports to run through, and a reminder that next month he'd have to have his crew's performance evaluations ready for Starfleet.

He wondered if he could get away with just typing 'awesome work' into everyone's file. Somehow he didn't think Starfleet would appreciate his brevity, however honest it might have been.

One of the definite downsides to skipping straight ahead into the rank of captain was that it seemed like he got to miss out on the less responsible jobs. Not that he'd trade it, or anything, but as he looked over the repair estimate for when the viewscreen's operating system would be back to one-hundred percent, and saw the tech from computer sciences working on it, he mused that that had never been – and now never would be – him. Sometimes it felt like he had all of these skills that were just sitting there, lost behind a datapad because he had to be busy organizing shit while everyone else actually did it.

Then again. Captain.

The moment was pretty fleeting, because really, if he wanted to go help fix the viewscreen's operating system, no one was going to stop him. Not on his own ship. So just for the sake of it, he spared a few minutes to lend the ensign on the job a hand, and he got two things out of it. For one, he managed to feel like he was being useful again, and not just dictatorial. For another, he made the acquaintance of Ensign Leung, who was incredibly nervous around him for some reason but then started talking about an incident involving her first year academy flight instructor and a nose-dive that had cemented her decision to aim for a more maintenance-oriented career. He liked getting to know his crew.

Partway through the process they were interrupted by a blonde-haired yeoman wielding another stack – well, two probably wasn't a stack – of datapads for him to go through. She introduced herself as "Yeoman Rand, sir" with a smile that was just this side of flirtatious. He returned it almost entirely on automatic reflex, and then awkwardly considered that that might be taken as encouragement, and so retracted it in exchange for the work she handed him.

"What're these?" he asked absently, thumbing through the first one and noting Scotty's signature on the bottom. He recognized it, not because it bore any actual resemblance to the name 'Lieutenant-Commander Montgomery Scott', but because the only other ranking officer on the ship with writing that unintelligible was Bones, and Bones always started his signature out with 'Driller'. Supposedly it was actually 'Doctor', but Jim let the scribbles speak for themselves. So 'Lmt Candle Megumy 5oolt' was probably Scotty.

Either that or a crewman with a very weird set of parents.

"Mr. Scott sent up the latest diagnostics report from Engineering. The other one is the crew requests for shore leave. They'll need your approval before anyone else can leave the ship, Captain," Rand informed him dutifully. Jim would have done it before taking his own leave, of course, but apparently other people actually needed things like time to make decisions. He'd been a bit worried that no one else wanted to go, but he reeled in his curiosity and went over the status report first.

Seemed that the transporters were now as stable as they ever were, which was a good piece of news. Scotty still wanted to keep them from indulging the warp drive, though, since he wasn't sure he trusted the readout system for monitoring leaks, cracks, and radiation levels yet. Jim thought that this may be a stalling method to buy them more time before they could reasonably follow Starfleet's contended orders. Particularly since the readout system's repairs were prioritized somewhere below fixing the melted consoles in the astrometrics lab.

Not that he was going to complain.

When he was done he handed the update back to Rand with an absent nod, and then turned his attention to the shore leave requests. There weren't many, and the vast majority of them came from the science department. Jim wasn't sure if this was because scientists were naturally inclined to be more curious about the colony or if it was some strange flocking instinct which centered around Spock. Or both.

It was probably both.

He approved the requests with a cursory check-over. There wasn't really anyone on the ship who he thought shouldn't go down, except maybe Bones, and if he'd asked to then Jim probably would have died from shock. Which would have led to him getting revived in sickbay, and then he could have demanded to know in person why the doctor had lost his mind.

"Not going down yourself, Yeoman?" he asked, handing her back the second datapad. It was meant as a joke, really, especially since the fair-skinned woman probably wouldn't have done well in the scalding sunlight.

She looked momentarily alarmed. "Should I, sir?"

Jim blinked, because he had no idea why anyone would think he ought to know what they should do with their spare time. "…No?" he replied uncertainly, glancing at Ensign Leung, who was working diligently on the computer systems and seemingly unaware of any stilted conversations going on within her earshot.

Rand relaxed a bit, and shook her head. "Oh, good," she said. "I don't think I could handle all that sand and hot weather, to be honest, Captain!"

Jim smiled and nodded and concluded that some people took him way too seriously. He let the yeoman go along her way and tried to get back to his self-appointed task, but a few minutes later he was being pulled away again by another one – this one a brunette, who was all business – so, eventually he gave it up as not meant to be and went back to his captainly duties.

His tedious, tedious captainly duties, which did a very bad job of distracting him from worrying about his first officer, because they weren't exactly challenging right then. Just numerous. He worried that Spock was having a hard time. He worried that he wasn't, and that when he came back to the ship a large part of him would rather stay in the colony. Or that his father's condition would be concerning enough that he'd come back to the ship and wind up resigning his commission to look after him or something, and dammit, this sucked because he didn't really think it was going to happen, but that didn't stop his brain.

Mostly he was concerned that the other Vulcans were being jerks to him, though. He was sure that Spock could handle it. He was also sure that he shouldn't have to.

By the time he had another few minutes to himself it was the end of alpha shift, the 'evening' according the ship's clock and late night on the colony's surface. Spock hadn't called up to the ship or beamed back yet, which was a little worrying, but then again Vulcans didn't need to sleep every night the way that humans did. Jim took advantage of that fact and made a call down to his first officer's communicator.

"Spock here," came the formal reply, and Jim got a distinct 'there are other people in the room with me' impression from the tone of his voice. Which was fine, because he'd had to access his communicator from the bridge, so they were both in the same boat there. A very tired Uhura was sitting at her station and keeping the channel open for him.

"Mr. Spock," he said. "I was just wondering if you knew when I'd get my first officer back?"

There was a pause on the other end.

"If my presence is required, Captain, I can return immediately," Spock told him eventually. "However, if not, I request to remain here for another shift. There are several matters of interest that have commanded my attention."

Jim frowned a little, and wondered what qualified as 'matters of interest', since that could be anything from interesting development projects to someone trying to poison his food. He bit down on the impulse to ask if everything was alright, and then reluctantly approved his request. He couldn't think of a good reason to bring him back the ship, anyway, and Spock wouldn't have asked if he didn't want to stay. Or think he should.

His frown had deepened by the time Uhura had closed the connection, and he realized that most of the bridge crew was watching him – some subtly, and others not so much. They all turned immediately back to their duties when he straightened up, though. Well, excepting his chief of communications, of course. She just regarded him for a second, looking tired. She'd pulled a double shift to try and oversee the last of her department's major repairs.

"Make sure you get some rest soon, Lieutenant," he said. Uhura graced him with a brief, half-hearted smile and a nod of agreement, which was probably the friendliest interaction they'd had since they'd gotten back from Earth, and Jim took it as a good sign.

It didn't do much to help his agitation, however.

Discomfort lingered under his skin when he left the bridge. At first he headed for his quarters, intent on resting for a while and calming himself down. It proved to be a bad idea. Mostly because of the conspicuous lack of chess partners or distractions. The still and quiet of his quarters wasn't much comfort. It was more than just that he missed Spock – he wasn't that much of a sap yet, thanks – it was his own anxiousness. After a few minutes he was pacing his quarters, tapping one hand against the side of his leg and feeling increasingly frustrated. He didn't even know what he was frustrated with. Spock? The colony? Vulcans in general? His own inactivity? Starfleet? Everything, maybe?

He took a breath, and blew it out again between his lips.

Punching something seemed like a good idea.

With that in mind he headed down to the gym and vented his frustrations on a hapless punching bag until his limbs were pleasantly exhausted and his lungs had that mild burn of over-exertion.

It was everything, he decided when he was finally standing, exhausted, in the shower. Not even a year ago he'd been a guy with something to prove. Now, though, he was getting tired of proving – now he was just trying not to lose anything. It was a better place to be, but it was also a more difficult one. He didn't want to worry about Spock. He didn't want to worry about Starfleet. For about fifteen minutes, he considered how nice it would be if it all could just be simple. What the old man had said had shaken him. What T'Pau had said had pissed him off. He had crew with the Nelson on a mission that was still making his head reel, Starfleet was trying to make too many of his decisions for him, his ship had seen better days, and he still didn't know how he was supposed to ask Spock...

Dammit. No wonder his stress levels had gotten high. None of this was crisis-type stuff, either, the kind of thing that demanded decisions and didn't leave any time to build up in his system before the situation was dealt with, one way or another, and it all blew over. Nope, this was a whole bunch of quiet, nagging, obnoxious bullshit that he couldn't do anything about.

Well, except the proposing. It was probably a good thing Spock was off the ship just then or Jim might have gone up to him and just asked, if for nothing else than to conclude at least one of his problems. Issues. Things, or whatever.

By the time he'd cleaned himself up and emerged from the gym he was tired, but not tired enough to go back to his quarters. So instead he made he set off for sickbay, intent on dragging Bones out of his office and bothering him for a while. Having a medical crisis and a sickbay in technical disarray had turned his friend into all but a workaholic. Pretty much like the rest of the ship, in fact.

Jim managed to complete part of his plan. He got to sickbay and found Bones in his office, but the good doctor wasn't exactly in the mood to be dragged back out again.

"Do you have any damn idea how much I have to do?" he demanded, looking distinctly unimpressed at the idea of doing some perfectly sane, like taking a break. "I've still got eight patients laid up in recovery and an entire slew of shore-leave candidates to jack full of drugs. Why don't you beam back down to the colony and bother Spock some more?"

Jim blinked, and then frowned. It seemed that despite hypo-ing his neck to oblivion that morning his CMO still hadn't completely gotten over being put-out with him.

"Come on, Bones, you're not even on shift," he cajoled, deciding to ignore his friend's tone and slapping his shoulder. "I approve the duty rosters, remember? M'Benga's got sickbay under wraps."

Bones glanced at him, his gaze narrowing a little. "Come to think of it," he said. "Why aren't you beaming back down to the colony?"

He shrugged.

This earned him a long stare, followed by a resigned sigh, and then his friend getting up and closing the door to his office. "Fine," he said. "You talk while I work."

"Talk?" Jim asked, genuinely confused as he was herded into the chair across from the desk, and Bones retook his seat on the other side. He gave Jim a look, as if to say that he was being intentionally dumb. Which probably wouldn't have bothered him so much if he had been. As it stood now he just felt like an actual idiot. "Talk about what?"

Bones sighed. "Well, let's start with what's bothering you and go from there," he suggested.

"Nothing's bothering me."

Okay, so that was a lie, but what was Bones going to do about anything? Except maybe distract him. Which probably wouldn't happen if he was busy talking about his problems.

"Jim," he said. "Either talk or get out. It's your call."

For a few minutes Jim settled for Option C, which was sitting in the chair and giving his friend an unimpressed look. But Bones just went back to his work and ignored Jim – who had most emphatically not come to talk about his problems – started scowling instead. Then he kicked the side of the desk lightly for a minute or two. Then he sighed and shifted in the chair. Finally, he spoke up, but it wasn't with any large revelations.

"What are you doing?" he asked instead, his limbs beginning to feel a little leaden from the day's activities. Bones didn't even look up when he answered.

"Inventory," he said.

"Oh."

Another minute ticked by. Jim leaned back in the chair, and despite the utter boredom of the moment and the lack of obliging distractions, found it actually wasn't so bad to just sit and listen to the beep of Bones' console. He didn't talk. Instead, after a while, he found his eyes drifting shut, his thoughts quiet as he kept his gaze on the silvery lining of the walls. He blinked, and the next thing he knew it felt like his face had been weighted down with a heavy blanket, and Bones' hand was on his shoulder.

Not a blink, then. He must've drifted off.

"You alright, Jim?" his friend asked in a tone of voice that implied he was about three seconds away from getting his tricorder and making his own assessment.

"'M fine, Bones," he replied. "How long?"

"It's been about an hour," the CMO supplied helpfully. "I thought you were being too quiet. If you're tired, Jim, go and sleep in your quarters for godsakes."

He sighed, and then nodded, getting up from his chair. "Yeah, I guess I should," he agreed, feeling the unpleasant lethargy that came from sleeping just a little, which made it worse than sleeping not at all would.

As he was leaving, the hand on his arm halted his progress. "You know, I might not actually kill him, but if Spock's done something, Jim, you can tell me," he said. "I'm plenty creative. Did you know that the vaccine for the Rigellian Flu gives Vulcans a really terrible rash in some pretty sensitive areas?"

Jim did not know that. Nor did he want Spock getting any unpleasant rashes, although he appreciated the sentiment. More or less. "It's fine, Bones, Spock didn't do anything," he said – a comment that was received with some skepticism. He exhaled deeply and shook his head. "I just need to ask him something, and I'm not sure how to."

There was a bit of an awkward silence.

"…Knowing you, I probably shouldn't pry into this, but it's been awhile since I ate anything," the doctor said. "What do you need to ask him?"

He looked like he expected Jim to spout something bizarre and sexual and very, very kinky, which was funny enough that he almost did on principal. But his brain was a little too tired for that.

"Just if he'd married me," he assured him, and for a minute Bones looked relieved, following the tone of Jim's voice and the fact that he hadn't involved any cringe-inducing words in his sentence. Then the actual content of what he'd said hit home, and Bones stared at him.

And stared at him.

And when Jim didn't say 'gotcha', he groaned and dropped his face into his hands. "Jim," he said.

"Yeah?"

"Jim, how long have you been dating Spock for?"

He blinked, and thought about it. "You know, I'm not really sure," he admitted. "I didn't even think we'd gone on any actual dates until the other day, but it turns out when he asks me all formal-like if I'll do something with him, and we go and do it? Those were dates. Apparently. Why?"

Bones looked at him, then shook his head. "No, I mean…" he trailed off, and shook his head again, as if Jim was being very strange. But in a wholly expected way. "Don't you think it's a little soon to go and do something like pop the question?"

Jim nodded. "See, I thought about that," he said. And he sort of had. A little. "But I'm pretty sure I want to keep him around for as long as I can, and since I figured out that I… maybe… um, you know, love him and all of that shit, it'd be kind of stupid to wait around. Unless he wants to wait around some more," he quickly amended. "But if there's a finish line to this whole process I'm waiting there right now."

Bones just kept looking at him.

He didn't fidget, because that would have been nervous and not at all profound, but his hands may have shifted the corner of his sleeve a little. For no reason.

"…Well, hell," he said at last. "If you fuck up that's what divorce is for."

Jim diplomatically decided to take that as well-wishes.

"Thanks," he replied.

"I have two suggestions," Bones informed him sagely, looking him dead in the eye and lowering his hands onto his shoulders. "The first one is the most important. Pre-nup."

"Bones. I don't own anything." Well, not anything that couldn't be replicated or fit into a duffle bag, anyway.

"...Okay, one suggestion, then," his friend amended. "Just ask him."

Jim blinked.

"Huh?"

Bones rolled his eyes. "He's Spock, Jim," he said, as if this should be obvious. "It's not like I'd know, but going out on a limb here I'd say he's not a big romantic type. He won't care how you ask him. That'd be illogical. So just ask him the next time you can get him alone for a few a minutes."

He had a point.

On the other hand, as he'd said, Bones didn't really know – and Spock was kind of romantic. In a weird, practical, ghost-kisses-on-your-ear and playing chess kind of way. That thought gave Jim pause, and he considered it for a minute. He didn't know if that was how Vulcans did romance or just the one half-Vulcan, but it didn't much matter. If that was the kind of language Spock was most comfortable speaking in, then maybe it was the best language to pop the question in.

"I have to go think," he decided.

"Don't strain yourself," the doctor advised, but Jim was already considering things to the point where all he did was nod and make his way – still mostly sleepy – out of sickbay and to his quarters.

For some reason once he actually got there, though, his drowsiness seemed to fade, and he found himself sitting at his desk, turning thoughts over in his head and wondering if he'd fall asleep in a chair again.

He did.

But before that happened he considered about twenty different ways to ask Spock to marry him, and picked one. Because he'd had enough of this shit, and being all hesitant and nervous didn't suit him.

A series of strange, disjointed dreams danced in his head for half of the night, calling up images of the old Corvette. He'd lost the keys to it, and try as he might he couldn't find them. No matter where he looked they remained stubbornly lost, until he finally gave up and found himself at his own funeral. He wound up making out with Spock at one of the buffet tables, though, so at least things more or less ended on a typical note.

He woke to find that the lights had automatically dimmed and that he was slumped over the top of the desk, his cheek pressed against the surface along with a not inconsiderable amount of drool. One of his arms had ended up at an awkward angle between the desk and chair and had gone numb. With a groan he shifted it, wincing at the pins and needles and wondering if that had been what woke him up.

Then the call for the door sounded. Presumably for at least the second time.

Blearily, Jim checked the time – three in the morning by the ship's clock – and then, feeling slightly confused and a little concerned that something had blown up or fallen apart while he'd been unconscious, he made his way over to the door and opened it.

All things considered, he really hadn't expected it to be Spock on the other side.

Not that he was complaining.

"Spock?" he asked. Or meant to ask. It actually came out more like 'spuh?' thanks to his sleep-addled mouth. His first officer lingered in the doorway, dressed in a slightly dusty uniform and…

…And sporting a bruise on his left cheek, livid green and yellow running along the bone. Jim scowled at it until it occurred to him that standing there glaring at his first officer's face might be giving him the wrong impression, and that Spock had yet to make much of a move or say anything. Reaching out, Jim closed one hand around his forearm, and then pulled him into his quarters. The door swooshed shut behind him.

He meant to say 'what happened?' but somehow the angrier and more presumptuous "who hit you?" was what tumbled past his lips.

Spock regarded him silently, stiff and still and warm beneath his grasp.

Jim tightened his grip.

"…It is not relevant," Spock said after a moment. "I apologize for disturbing you." His gaze took in his slightly rumpled uniform and the flitted briefly over to his untouched bed.

"I fell asleep in the chair," he explained. "So what happened to you?" His first officer still smelled of the desert world they were orbiting, and the dusting on his clothing and a small rip along the bottom of his blue shirt were giving Jim a dark impression of what might have gone on.

Spock's answer was to take a step towards him, exhale, and reach tentatively for his hand. Jim met him halfway.

"It is not important," he heard him say quietly, more of a whisper than anything else. He couldn't help but feel a little frustrated with that answer as their fingers closed together, and hea tremor of heat rushed underneath his skin. He blinked, then felt distinctly awake as Spock shifted and, far from maintaining the decorum of their gesture, suddenly gripped his hand, twining their fingers together and closing the distance between them, carefully bringing their mouths together.

Jim blinked again, because as pleasant as the lips suddenly moving against his were, he was becoming increasingly aroused and was alone in a mostly dark room in the middle of the night with Spock. Which was distinctly awesome, and he was pretty good at rolling with the punches. But there was a gigantic question mark hovering over this whole thing and he probably… should…

Spock wound an arm around his back and pressed in close to him, shifting their hips together and ensuring with appreciable efficiency that the last of the blood in Jim's head moved to more demanding areas. And then his first officer made one of his soft, strange little noises into Jim's mouth, and talking seemed like the least important thing ever. Next to thinking.

Still, he gave it a valiant effort, because this was Spock and he really didn't want to screw things up right now. "Uh," he said. Which was meant to be 'are you sure you're in charge of all of your mental faculties right now, because I seem to remember you being the one who put that moratorium on this kind of thing, and I know I didn't start this one because I was just sleeping and then answering a door'.

"I am taking liberties," Spock informed him. Which was obvious. "I believe this is permissible?" He quirked an eyebrow upwards, his expression a little too intent and seriousness to convey actual curiosity or amusement.

It should have been funny, though, because that was a stupid question to ask. Jim answered by pressing him up against the door and shifting his leg between his, planting his hands against warm hips and running his tongue along the spidery, oddly-textured skin of his scar. Spock inhaled sharply, gripping his shirt so tightly he ran a risk of ripping it for the second time that day as Jim moved against him.

There were no more questions from either of their lips after that. Not a lot of words longer than a syllable or two, in actual fact, and somehow or another they wound up eventually migrating to the bed, and Jim honestly tried to stay awake afterwards but by the end of it all he was warm and relaxed and deliciously spent, so it was a battle lost before it was begun.

The next time he woke it was because his alarm had gone off. He stared for a moment at the pointed ear which was in his immediate line of sight. There was a tiny green mark on the lobe from where he'd bitten down.

He did the responsible thing and pressed his lips against it, feeling a distinct sense of déjà-vu which would have been amplified had Spock been awake and playing with his hands. After a minute his ministrations earned a reaction – although he was sure that the alarm, at least, had woken his first officer up before he did – and found the ear moved out of reach as a pair of dark eyes regarded him solemnly.

Jim paused.

"If you say that was a mistake, I will kick your ass."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "Good morning, Jim," he replied, and now, at least, he looked kind of amused.

Jim grinned reflexively at that, shifting a little and becoming phenomenally aware of the way their bodies were fitted together, one of his hands resting comfortably against the small of Spock's back and the other one spread out beneath his neck. Spock's own long-fingered touch was against his thigh.

He cleared his throat a little. "Not that you should take this as any kind of disapproval," he said. "But I'm pretty sure we just had sex."

His first officer practically radiated amusement. "That would appear to be the case," he replied.

"Great," Jim said. "Except that I don't remember making any really compelling arguments in the two seconds between when you buzzed the door and when you jumped me, so I'm kind of wondering why exactly you changed your mind."

Spock's amusement dimmed, and he seemed to think for a long moment, his eyes flicking over Jim's face, his neck, his shoulders. He took a breath, and then shifted himself a little closer and touched their foreheads together, his exhalation ghosting over Jim's lips. As he made contact, something a little odd happened. It took him a minute to place the sensation – kind of like the little trill of connection their touches usually held had been dulled. The change was especially conspicuous since the sensation normally got stronger (or weirder) when their heads touched, not quieter.

"I reconsidered," Spock said.

Jim gave a small snort. "Yeah, I guessed that much," he replied. "Why?"

"…When you returned to the ship," his first officer began with definite slowness, as if he didn't really want to say anything, but had already decided that he had to anyway. "I was presented with an opportunity to consult with my alternate self."

He froze.

"I did not inquire as to your question," Spock assured him immediately. "Even if I had I do not believe he would have divulged such information."

No, he probably wouldn't have.

"So what did you ask him?" Jim wondered out loud.

The hands on him shifted, tightening their grip almost imperceptibly and making his blood pump a little faster than it had been before. "I had several inquiries," Spock admitted. "It occurred to me that even with the differences between our timelines, his insights would not be completely without merit. He provided me with the details of his relationship with your alternate self, several impending issues I would be wise to take precautions against, and the circumstances surrounding your death in the other timeline."

Jim blinked, and pulled back a little. "You asked him how I died?"

Spock replied with a look that said he really shouldn't be so surprised. "It is a matter of some interest to me," he explained, and okay, when he put it like that with the word 'obviously' lingering unspoken behind the rest, he guessed it made sense. Kind of. In a morbidly-creepy-but-also-strangely-touching way.

It did pose an interesting question, though. Jim exhaled. "So you heard about my other self's death and decided to beam back aboard and get some?" he asked, just to be sure he was getting this right. Again, not that he was complaining, but he knew that Spock's principals were important to him, and it was starting to sound like he'd had another freak-out. Just a kind of quiet, sexy one.

"While that would be a technically accurate break-down of events, it is over-simplified," Spock informed him.

"Then maybe you'd better start from the beginning," he suggested, mentally calculating how much time he had before he needed to be on the bridge. Enough for a long conversation and a very short shower, he reasoned, if they skipped breakfast. Or some more sex, but as appealing as that idea was, talking probably had priority. For now.

Really. It did.

Dammit.

Spock regarded him silently for a moment before speaking again. It gave him enough time to appreciate just how small the bed was, and how distinctly satisfying it felt to be entwined with Spock in it, warm and languid and very distracting.

"My father is a figure of increasing importance, given his status as ambassador to the world upon which the colony is most heavily reliant at this time," he began, which seemed like a wild veering off-topic, and Jim wondered if it counted as weird to talk about your father while you were naked in bed. Personally, he'd never tried it. "The demands upon him are extensive, and he has taken insufficient care in regards to his physical and mental health. I have become concerned for his well-being." He took in a breath and seemed to sink slightly further into the pillow behind his head. "However, given that our time here may be notably limited, I am not in an adequate position to render him any kind of substantial aid. I initially sought my alternate self out to request that he approach our father and monitor his health."

He hadn't really been afraid that Spock would decide to stay on the colony. No. So he probably shouldn't have felt as relieved as he did that his first officer had made arrangements for his guaranteed absence from it. But he did anyway.

"I had not intended to make any further inquiries," Spock continued. "However, when I reached his residence, I found that my current frame of mind with regards to his recent conduct was perhaps not optimal for conversing."

Jim took a second to translate that out of Vague.

"You were all pissy with him?" he suggested.

"I may have been more abrupt than was necessary," Spock admitted. "However, his demeanor was easily as disapproving as my own."

"He was all pissy too?"

"Essentially."

He blew out an exasperated breath that made a few strands of Spock's bangs – which always fell politely back into place, no matter how thoroughly he ran his hands through them – flutter for a second. He had a feeling that if he were more expressive, Spock would have rolled his eyes then.

"Should an alternate version of yourself make an appearance in our universe, perhaps you will be less inclined to judge my distaste for his presence," he informed him. "Regardless, that ongoing discussion is not relevant to our current one."

Jim blinked. Then he grinned, because it was kind of endearing when Spock got all huffy.

His first officer's gaze moved briefly to the curve of his lips and some of the colour in his face grew darker before he started talking again. "Our conversation eventually deteriorated into a few key accusations, at which point he offered to divulge certain information of interest to me," he explained. "He… explained several factors of our relationship in his universe, and while I disagree with many of his assessments, he convinced me that I have been behaving detrimentally towards you."

All at once, it felt like someone had lodged something distinctly cold at the base of Jim's spine. He froze, looking into an earnest, honest dark gaze.

But the words which Spock said next sent his discomfort at war with another emotion.

"I will take you any way I can get you," he said quietly. "I will not impose restrictions upon you at the risk of losing you should they act against your inherent nature. In this light, if I must choose between social decorum or your companionship, the decision is obvious."

This seemed like the beginnings of a bad pattern. He wondered if it would ever be possible to have sex with Spock and then not get thrown into a blender full of emotions afterwards.

He stared at him for a quiet moment, taking in the angles of his face, of his collarbones, the lines of his body before it disappeared underneath the blankets, the feel of his hands on him. He moved his own arms and slid one of them off of his side and into his grasp, watching Spock's eyelids flutter momentarily as he pressed a kiss to his palm.

"For such a smart guy, Spock, sometimes you're an idiot," he informed him. Spock's eyes immediately flew open again, but whatever he was going to say died in his throat as Jim ran his tongue up along the pad of his thumb, coming out instead as a broken exhalation. "And if you'd waited like a day – not that I'm complaining – before you panicked and decided I was getting ready to pack my bags and start running around with presumably beautiful and sexually willing people left and right, you would know that, because I am awesome."

Confusion showed in Spock's eyes for a second before Jim experimentally ran his thumb along the soft skin between his index and middle finger. "…I do not understand," he admitted a little roughly, and Jim considered that maybe the quick shower could also figure in some quick fun, too?

"Well, I guess it fits," he said thoughtfully, shifting a bit because the sound of Spock breathing like that was setting his blood on fire. "I mean you're prudish – by human standards, anyway – and I'm… uh, not, and here you are all willing to be sleeping around with a guy you're not even married to, and here I am all willing to get married to a guy who I wasn't sleeping around with."

It wasn't the proposal he'd rehearsed. But it seemed to fit.

Spock froze.

Jim's nerves went into overdrive and he stilled as well. Waiting.

"…You are speaking in terms of your willingness to consider a future marriage?" his first officer asked him eventually.

Jim's initial response was to press his lips against the pulse point of his wrist. "No," he then said. "I'm speaking in terms of getting a fucking marriage license. Today. If you want," he replied. "I could do it myself," and how weird was that? "but I also can't, since it's, you know, myself. But I figure they must have some way of doing it on the colony." Then he considered that. "Or if you're worried about your father finding out we could do it the next time we're near a Federation planet. Or starbase. Or, hey, when we rendezvous with the Nelson to pick up Sulu and Chekov and the others I could ask Captain Malhotra to do it."

It would be interesting to see the look on her face. He wondered if she'd even be surprised, considering she'd already seen him practically dead with worry at Spock's bedside. "If you want to," he repeated quickly.

Spock was looking at him with an unreadable expression on his face.

"It is not required," he said. "Jim, I will not make any unreasonable demands of you."

Jim's internal blender decided to settle on 'offended and slightly angry' at that remark. He scowled, and then, giving in to temptation, slid the pillow out from underneath Spock's head and hit him with it.

Apparently that was an unpredictable move, judging by the brief look of surprise it earned him.

"You know, I had a conversation with the old man about us, too," he said. "That question I had?" Curiosity overrode Spock's previous, moderate expression. Jim inched away and nearly rolled himself off of the bed. "I was fishing for suggestions on how to ask you to marry me. And you know what he told me?"

After a second, Spock quietly shook his head, once.

"He told me all of this bullshit about him and the other me and how they'd dicked around for decades, and how you were being a manipulative jerk for trying to do something official and monogamous with me because apparently you have emotional commitment issues and I like sex," he snapped. "But you're not him, and I'm not some dumb animal who can't be happy unless he's rutting with anyone he finds attractive. You'd think I'd have proven that by now."

"Jim-"

"I mean, you jumped me. You usually jump me. And then leave, like a fucking tease, and if I can put up with that shit without grabbing the first semi-appealing crewmember to finish the job then maybe I'm not interested in sleeping around. Maybe I'd rather have you all of the time than just some of the time, with other people peppered in for fun. Maybe I don't want some fucking 'open' rela-" his comments were cut off with a short 'mmph' as Spock's tongue put an abrupt stop to the flow of words.

He really liked Spock's tongue, though, so he didn't mind too much, even if he was still pissed off.

Something flickered at that touch, however, and the barrier that had been muting the less-human quality of their contact fell away. Jim started as it felt like a firecracker had been ignited behind his eyelids, and he knew Spock had been holding back a little, had been trying to keep something like this from happening before but had apparently given up on that now. He felt relieved.

Except that he didn't. Or at least, that wasn't his relief. It took him a second to sort out that he was actually just getting a very vivid impression that Spock was relieved, and it definitely wasn't because of his facial expression, which was currently set to 'make out'.

After a minute or two the kiss broke away, and his lips felt like they were on fire as his skin tingled and Spock's throat bobbed ever-so-slightly.

"It is illogical to over-complicate matters," he said, and somehow it managed to sound a little bit like an apology. "Vulcan marriages are simple ceremonies. A gong is struck, and the head of one or both participating families will preside. They are considered secondary connections, arrangements made mostly in legal terms, and are less important than the bond between the participants."

Jim turned that last sentence over in his head, trying to figure out why Spock would be telling him that being married was less important than being in love. It didn't sound very Vulcan. It also kind of ran counter to what he'd been saying previously.

Clearly reading, and expecting, his confusion, Spock carried on. It was a little hard to focus on words just then, but Jim managed. "When I was betrothed at the age of seven, a mental connection was made between myself and my intended," he explained. "Such actions are often taken to facilitate or simulate a natural tie which Vulcan minds are prone to building with compatible partners. Upon T'Pring's death, that tie was broken, and my mind instinctively began to seek out an appropriate replacement among individuals with whom I had made physical contact."

For a moment, he seemed almost embarrassed.

"I did not realize this was occurring. It is a self-preservation instinct in most Vulcans, but not one which has commonly been an issue in the past. By the time I realized that I was subconsciously building a connection to you, it would have been difficult to halt the process without the aid of a trained mind healer," he explained, in a tone and manner which seemed to vaguely suggest that he'd been looking at dirty pictures of Jim behind his back. "I… was having difficulties in determining the most optimal means of informing you."

He stopped, then, not quite meeting Jim's eyes. It occurred to him that he should probably be shocked or something. Instead he was just mostly curious.

"What does it do?" he asked.

Spock blinked.

"The bond?" he clarified, and Jim nodded. "It permits greater insight to one another's well-being and mood, relative to proximity. In Vulcans it has several other chemical affects on the brain, although they are rarely discussed, and I must confess myself not overly well-informed in this area. Bonds are not usually detrimental, however."

He considered this, thinking on how he'd gotten weirdly psychic in regards to his first officer's moods lately. "So it's not like we can read each other's thoughts or anything?" he asked.

Spock's mouth made a somewhat relaxed quirk. "It would be easier to create a casual mental connection via touch than in a standard mindmeld, but no. Vulcan telepathic capabilities are not designed for sustained advanced contact with another mind, which is what would be required for such a process."

"…Huh," he concluded, licking his lips a little and then fixing them momentarily to the hot skin of Spock's jaw. "So basically what you're saying is that you're willing to play it fast and loose with me because all we need at this point is the paperwork?" Before Spock could reply, Jim slid his hand down between them, effectively cutting the words off into a small gasp. "You bastard. You're supposed to ask someone before you marry them." The words were undermined by the fact that he didn't even sound remotely angry. Maybe that had something to do with the light feeling in his chest. Which wasn't giddiness, really, even if there wasn't a better word for it. It was… Spock-induced pleasantness.

Or, preferably, something even less stupid-sounding than that.

"You are… pleased?" Spock finally managed to say, looking a little bewildered.

Jim groaned. "No, Spock. I'm absolutely miserable. That's why I popped the question – because the idea of doing cool shit with you for the rest of forever is completely unappealing to me," he said against the skin of his neck. "Fuck, you said it yourself, why make it complicated?"

And when it was phrased like that, it really did seem remarkably dense, and like a waste of time to talk about things anymore when there were much more interesting uses for their mouths. After a few minutes Spock mentioned that they'd be needed on the bridge soon. Jim pointed out the merits of showering together in order to save time. Spock could see the logic in this, even though the ship's showers were tiny and it wound up being kind of awkward with elbows and knees and Jim just laughing a lot, which actually made it kind of awesome, too. Because even uncomfortable shower sex with Spock was somehow stupidly hot, especially when his first officer kept looking at him like that. Like he couldn't remember why they hadn't been doing this every single morning since San Francisco.

"I believe this qualifies as the shortest courtship in recorded Vulcan history," Spock informed him as he stole a clean pair of uniform pants from Jim's drawers – and even though they looked the same as most uniform pants that was so insanely sexy that he had to remind himself that it was bad form for the captain to turn up late for his shift. Especially if he was late because he was doing the commander.

"Yeah, well, it's illogical to waste time," Jim replied cheerfully as his first officer slipped on one of his spare undershirts, as well, and he mentally added that it made it hotter that he didn't even ask.

"That is true," Spock conceded. "Particularly in such a dangerous field of work as our own."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Do me a favor and don't go on a mortality kick, alright?" he asked.

Spock's response to that was to raise an eyebrow at him and then gather up his dusty uniform from the floor, dressed in Jim's blacks and looking very dark and vaguely amused and okay he really had to stop going there right now. But his attention did wander back over to the bruise mark on his cheek.

He stared at it thoughtfully for a moment. "What else happened down there?" he asked at length.

Spock glanced up at him. "An altercation of little consequence," he replied with a bit too much innocence.

"Yeah? With who?" He tried to keep his own tone fairly casual as he pulled on his boots at the corner of the bed.

"I must retrieve a uniform shirt from my quarters," Spock replied, as if this action should somehow prevent him from identifying whoever had hit him. "We have insufficient time for further discussion."

Jim gave him a distinctly unimpressed look. "You're absolute shit at hedging," he informed him. "And I really doubt that you would let me get away with beaming aboard all beat up-"

"One small blemish hardly qualifies-"

"-all beat up and not demand to know what had happened, so just get it over with and tell me," he finished, folding his arms and regarding his first officer expectantly.

"It is truly unimportant," Spock insisted, although he looked kind of like he knew he wasn't going to win this fight.

"Then it's not going to be a problem to tell me about it," Jim reasoned. Then he stood up, and walking over, impulsively closed his hands over Spock's hips and pressed a quick kiss to his lips.

Or it was supposed to be quick, anyway. Instead it lingered for a while, warm and slow, one of those strange kisses of the kind he'd never had with anyone else. He followed it up with a couple more, chasing a brief fascination with Spock's lower lip until he decided that it was probably better to stop now, and Spock pressed their fingers together as he moved back.

"C'mon," he said. "I don't think there's anything you could say that would bother me. I once got into a fight with a guy because he was sitting next to me and we were both spoiling for it. I'm pretty sure you had a better reason than that."

A thought occurred to him, and he frowned a little, wondering if someone had brought up Spock's mother. He was starting to think that Vulcans had a real knack for being assholes in that subversive, insults-disguised-as-polite-observations kind of way.

"We have many things left to discuss," Spock finally agreed, his voice in that slightly lower tone of his. "Perhaps we could return to your quarters after our shift has completed and discuss matters more thoroughly then?"

Jim figured that was the best he was going to get, and he only failed to resist the urge to touch, kiss, or otherwise make contact with Spock a few more times before the half-Vulcan finally escaped, drawing a few glances as he exited the captain's quarters in an incomplete uniform. Several glances were speculative. None of them looked even remotely surprised, however. He wondered how long the gossip mill had had them going at it, despite the fact that last night was the first time aboard the ship.

His lips spread into a grin at that. He supposed this counted as an official christening, Jim Kirk style. For a moment he entertained a brief fantasy featuring himself, Spock, and his captain's chair, which was ludicrous and unprofessional and would remain strictly confined to his imagination (unless, of course, Spock should express an interest in hearing it, in which case it could have free reign of his imagination too) but definitely put a spring in his step as he made his way to the bridge.

He didn't even realize he was whistling until he got into the turbolift with Not-Sulu, and that was something because Jim had never been a whistling kind of guy before. After a beat he cleared his throat and let the sound die off.

This whole thing? This was turning him into one of those people.

He tried to think of an appropriate mental reference for what to call them, but the nearest he could turn up was 'stupidly happy'. It never crossed his mind to wonder what his crew was making of his sudden mood-swing. He got the status report from his shift relief and looked it over, quietly wondering if Scotty slept, because there was another update from engineering and it looked like they were really pushing to make any possible trips to Starbase 18 as pointless as possible. All in all they were doing a pretty kickass job, too. Everyone was. If he hadn't known how bad the damage was he wouldn't have guessed it at this point.

The next time the turbolift whooshed open it was to admit his communications officer to the bridge. She took to her station, but kept shooting him curious glances.

Jim realized he was humming now.

Fuck.

Even though the humming was then promptly stopped, the curious glances (from Uhura and most of the other bridge crew, he realized after a minute) continued until Spock made his way onto the bridge.

And then, for some reason, it was like a collective group of lightbulbs went off, and suddenly nobody was interested anymore.

Having a ship crewed largely by deductive geniuses had its downsides.

"Sir, we've received a transmission from the Nelson," Uhura informed him after Spock had assumed his station, back straight and face typically unreadable. And if anyone else noticed the bruise on his cheek, no one was saying anything, although he thought there was a certain edge to his communications officer's voice that implied some distracted concern. "Shall I patch it through to you?"

"Yes, please, Lieutenant," he replied, and a moment later his armrest beeped to inform him that she'd done as much. He scrolled through the message. It was remarkably formal, covered in all the proper Starfleet crests and employing multiple references to the articles and subsections which had been observed, and Jim had a pretty good memory and he'd been looking into this stuff, but even considering that he had to pause a few times to figure out what 'Radiation Protocol 34-C' and 'Contact Protocol 189-F' and a few of their similarly-named cousins were. Either the person who had put together this report was the single most frightening being he had ever contemplated, or they were Spock. In a bad mood.

Jim mused that he could have taken the thirteen-page report and boiled it down into a single paragraph:

We got to the planet. We didn't find any more Klingons. We returned the Irri to the surface, and they didn't seem happy about it, but there's not much else we can do about that until Command stops debating on what to do. We sent an away team down to the surface to examine the dilithium deposits. The results were inconclusive and an explosion delayed further investigation. Lieutenant Sulu was involved, but he's alright.

He was relieved to learn that Sulu wasn't seriously injured because there was an awful lot of superfluous text between the mention that he was with the away-team and the mention that he was still alive, and in between they'd decided to throw in that someone had died. For a few minutes it had felt like he was playing on a morbidly sadistic game-show in text format.

At some point during his reading Spock had quietly wandered over. "I have forwarded the updates from the science department," he informed him professionally, surprising Jim who hadn't even heard him move. He nodded, with a grin – because it was Spock – and before his first officer returned to his station he'd quietly asked: "Has there been trouble?"

Jim blinked at him, then considered. "Nothing substantial," he replied. "You can read it yourself if you want to. In fact you probably should." There was a good chance that Spock would pick up anything in the report that he might have missed. He'd gotten phenomenally better at this stuff ever since he'd resolved to, but Starfleet's bureaucracy was like a force of nature. There were regulations and sub-sections and amendments to those regulations and sub-sections, along with proper channels, codes, regulations that were absolutely imperative to follow and ones that seemed like they were out-dated or just plain weird and which no one actually followed, but which still existed because they hadn't been cleaned out of the system yet. Then there were also the shortcuts, the strange terminology, and things that were generally only learned after years of service and familiarity with the system. Every time he changed the ship's status to Red or Yellow Alert, every time he re-organized the crew's shifts, or approved re-organizations for the department heads, every time they docked at a planet like Vulcan II or were delayed by trouble in engineering, or he left the bridge during a duty shift, or, in the most complicated cases, opened fire on another ship, there was a long laundry list of bullshit he needed to cite in order to explain and justify his actions.

It was like learning a whole other language, actually, and it sucked. Of course, he supposed that was why communications had an entire department, but even they couldn't translate everything out of Starfleet's peculiar eccentricities for him. Then there was the fact that it was one thing to take his own actions and reports and translate his actions into their more official forms, and it was another to take someone's otherwise unknown actions and translate them out of it. So even though he was getting better, he was pretty sure he'd have to be captain for a while before he could read one of these things and catch not only the technical meaning, but any underlying notes that he was currently oblivious too.

Although he thought the message of this one might be 'neener, neener, we're professional', which undermined itself in spirit. It did kind of make him feel better to think that some officer on the Nelson had just unintentionally made themselves look like an idiot, though.

By the time he'd finished the report some of the edge had been taken off of his insanely good mood, which was probably for the best. He felt at ease in his chair as he went through the science station's update, which involved less creative phrasing than engineering's but made it sound like his ship's scientists were all very noble martyrs because they'd forgone several crucial repairs to their observational systems in favor of focusing their endeavors on the medical department for the time being.

"I'll be sure and tell Bones that he owes you one, Spock," Jim quipped lightly, the bridge still relatively quiet with the morning shift change.

"I am certain he will be appropriately receptive to that concept," Spock replied, and when Jim glanced up at him he was still facing his station, but he got the briefest impression that wasn't unlike a twitch of his lips. Just a faint, easy-to-miss undercurrent of amusement.

He grinned.

And then it was all business for the next several hours, particularly when they received word from the colony that the maintenance and engineering staff they'd loaned them for equipment repairs could had completed their tasks with 'admirable efficiency' and could be returned to the ship, and would the Enterprise be taking the Nelson back their crew as well? Which was an interesting question, since Jim knew they would be rendezvousing with the ship again in the near future, but if they actually wound up going to the damn starbase then he wasn't sure if they'd be meeting them before the Nelson itself was in the vicinity to pick up their people.

In the end he decided to take them aboard if for no other reason than that they could use the additional help with their own repairs, and that the colony temperatures were pretty rough on humans after a while. Then he dispatched a message to the Nelson to let them know.

It was past noon when he felt Spock's familiar presence lingering over his shoulder. He glanced up, curious and questioning, and his first officer inclined his head slightly. "It is past time for a meal break," Spock informed him straight-forwardly.

Jim blinked. He generally forgot to eat lunch at least half of the time, but given that they'd skipped breakfast that morning in lieu of… other activities, and Spock had mentioned it, he guessed he should probably eat something.

"Alright," he agreed. "Lieutenant…" Not-Sulu. Damn. "Johnson," he guessed, "you have the conn."

It must have been the right name. Either that or Johnson was a really good sport, because all he got was a cheerful 'yes, sir' before he followed Spock to the turbolift.

When the doors closed he gave Spock his best, most flirtatious smile. "Are we actually going to eat lunch, or was that an excuse to get me alone?" he asked, and felt deeply satisfied and just a little smug when that comment got him just the slightest blush.

"It would be inadvisable to make a habit of missing meals," Spock said, his slightly reproachful tone running in contrast to the look in his eyes, which quite clearly said that if humans didn't require regular nutrition then they would be heading for his quarters instead of the mess hall. Which made Jim seriously reconsider how hungry he was.

But Spock was still Spock, and apparently that meant eating on one's lunch break and not running off for midday sex. Still, Jim extended a hand towards him anyway as they exited the lift, and as warm fingers brushed against his he mused that he didn't have anything to complain about right then. And maybe he could get a head start on figuring out what exactly had happened down on the surface while he was gone.

"Some of the data from our recent upgrades was corrupted," Spock informed him quietly as they entered the mess hall, his tone low.

Jim glanced at him. "Corrupted as in, 'damn, that weird weapon really did a number on us' corrupted or corrupted as in 'someone's been messing around in our files' corrupted?" he asked in an equally quiet voice as they retrieved their meals, Spock's vegetarian dish looking about as appetizing as the plate it was on.

Spock seemed momentarily taken aback. "It was not my intent to imply sabotage," he said, still speaking quietly enough that they wouldn't be overheard. "I believe it was, in fact, a case of incompetence. Ensign Tormolen has been given several assignments which have not been completed with satisfactorily," he explained.

"Tormolen?" Jim asked, running the name through his head as they took their seats.

"He is in my department, and is usually proficient at his duties. But he has shown an unfortunate propensity for neglecting to follow safety and maintenance protocols."

Spock seemed just this-side of annoyed.

Jim frowned a little. "You reprimanded him, right?" he asked.

"This would be the third time," Spock replied. "I believe more severe action should be taken at this point. Ensign Tormolen is fairly young, and while the majority of the crew has adjusted well, it would not be unreasonable to consider that some of our officers are as yet incapable of properly conducting their duties."

"Wait, you want to send him back to the academy?" he asked, blinking a little.

Before Spock could answer, a gruff voice from over his shoulder asked "Send who back to the academy?" and Bones slid into the seat next to him.

"Ensign Tormolen," Jim supplied before clapping the doctor on the shoulder, not sure if it was really that great to have the extra company now that he could finally talk to Spock – despite his first officer's inexplicable choice of subjects – but willing to go with it.

"Never heard of him," Bones replied bluntly. Then his gaze fixed on Spock's cheek, and he frowned. "What in hell happened to your face, Spock?" he demanded.

Jim gave his first officer an expectant look. "Yeah, Spock," he said. "What the hell happened to your face?"

Author's Note: First things first, I am, very, very sorry about how long it took to get this chapter out, and the whole unpleasant disappearing act. My laptop was quite old and finally died, and to make a long story short, it took me awhile but I wound up just buying a new one. Unfortunately I lost a lot of my files, so I also had to then re-write this chapter and a bunch of other stuff, but I got this chapter finished and so I'm posting it straight-away with my heartfelt apologies for the wait and for probably scaring some people into thinking I'd died or vanished or something.

I have a mind-boggling number of messages and so I won't be answering all of them, and it'll take me a while to get through them, but suffice it to say thanks to everyone for every nice/wonderful/kind thing, and I'll read it even it I don't reply, but if I reply to everything then it'll probably take me an age to do it and I've got a lot of writing to do to make up for lost time and files.

Also, I do apologize if this chapter wasn't up to standard. I couldn't do any writing without my laptop and so I might be rusty from the dry-spell, as well as the fact that the first half of this chapter was a pretty close re-write.