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Story Notes:

Written for LiveJournal's K/S Advent challenge of 2011. Many thanks to my husband for the beta.

 

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He recalls the scent of mint. It's the bane of his mother's garden, but also her pride and joy. She had so much of it that she'd learned to make just about everything with it. Desserts, salads, vegetables, hors d'oeuvres, drinks, soaps, candles, candies, toppings, cleaning agents and especially main dishes were created to make use of the mint that took over the herb bed she'd initially planned. It was all delicious. Well, almost all of it was. The experiment with mushrooms and mint-infused huitlacoche was an unmitigated disaster. It still makes him wince just to think about it.

But one year, Sam developed a tickle in the throat that turned into a cough that turned into swollen bronchi that required medical intervention. After that, they could never have mint inside the house again. At least, not when Sam was home. As long as they didn't burn the stuff, or use it to clean the house, they could have drinks and food when he was at school or off-planet.

Poor Sam. He died without ever having tasted Mom's mint julep, a recipe Jim hasn't had the heart to tell Bones puts all others to shame. It's the wrong season, though it really doesn't matter on a starship, but Jim finds himself craving the concoction beyond reason.

He sighs. The food synthesizers won't produce the drink in a way that he recognizes. They can reproduce the taste and smell of peppermint oil, but it's not the same as mint leaves, especially those his mom grows. Besides, mint juleps aren't designed for Christmas, and holidays never really were his thing after he joined Starfleet. Neither was family.

The ship is tucked in for the night – quieter than usual as crew members settle in with friends and lovers after holiday parties and games. They're running a skeleton crew. He'd be on the Bridge if Spock and McCoy hadn't insisted on pointing out that he'd failed to take mandated time off that duty for the past ten point eight days. And of course it's logical that Spock should be manning the Bridge. Vulcan holidays don't usually coincide with Terran ones.

Poor Bones is doing the night shift in Sickbay, probably dealing with those needing detox pills or counseling in the absence of family. Jim aches for the man's company, but has decided to stay away. Either all those stories about Sickbay at Christmas are true, or Bones craves off-time enough to fake the records convincingly. Either way, Jim loves him enough to stay out of the way.

He rises to pace, wondering if a chess game on the Bridge would be so very out of line on a quiet night. Totally against regulations, yes, but what's the real harm?

Spock would object. Spock would be right.

Jim shakes his head. "Can't damn him for his loyalty," he mutters. He snorts. He's said that so many times that it's starting to overspread other traits like meticulousness and competence. But then, how else could performing one's duty with such careful attention, especially when so ordered or expected by one's commanding officer, be viewed?

He feels a sudden surge of desire and despair course through him. It settles into loneliness. He's always lonely around the winter holidays, now. It's harder and harder for him not to begrudge the crew their hard-earned cheer and time to relax and connect. He would never act on such feelings, of course, and he copes better on every other night of the year. On Christmas night, though, after all the gift-giving and celebrating are done, all he wants – all he has ever wanted – is to settle in with someone who feels like home.

Sam's dead. Bones is busy. Spock will need to meditate and sleep when he goes off duty – his week has been no less grueling than Jim's.

Jim trudges to his personal effects locker and removes a tiny bottle of cognac that he's been squirreling away for a rainy day since he took command of the Enterprise. He also retrieves one of two crystal cordial glasses that came with it. "Thanks, Mom," he murmurs.

*****


He recalls the scent of mint. After all the trouble she took to grow it, it has become the pride of his mother's garden and a point of interest for diplomatic visitors and horticulturists within reasonable transport distance of Shi'Kahr. Despite its reputation for aggressive growth, mint doesn't grow well in dry conditions, especially in temperatures routinely exceeding thirty-seven degrees Celsius. The first thirty-one attempts at growing it had resulted in dead or diseased plants, if they had germinated at all.

At first, Sarek had objected to the concessions Amanda needed to make in order to overcome those difficulties. After all, Amanda could grow it in a pot inside her coolhouse, if she so desired. It grew well in there, safely contained and protected from predation and Vulcan's heat.

But when he'd found Amanda weeping and pried out of her the fact that she was homesick and that she knew her desire to grow mint out of doors was illogical, he had acceded to her wishes and granted her permission to install cooling technology in the soil and around the area in which the mint was to be grown.

In deference to Sarek, Amanda had worked with Vulcan scientists and designers to assure that all such technology relied on energy generated by Vulcan's sun and thermal output, and that the water used to help the mint grow was either collected in an additional water butt during the rains or recycled from household use.

The success of the project became quietly famous, and was studied by those wishing to improve agriculture on Vulcan and other Federation planets like it. Thanks to Amanda, the mint garden was also a masterpiece of design and, as one Terran horticulturist quipped, a visual example of horticultural diplomacy. No species of mint that grew there invaded any other plot in Sarek's perfectly spare garden.

Sarek attributed that to the challenges that Vulcan growing conditions presented to the mint family. Amanda agreed, smiling her less than secret smile indicating her conviction that she understood a greater truth.

Spock was grateful for the mint garden. Unlike most Vulcans, his taste buds could discern the differences in flavor between the varieties, and he liked them all. As a child, he'd taken comfort he couldn't understand in the cool green of that garden. During the Terran winter holidays, Amanda would decorate it with tiny sparkles of energy-efficient light. When he was five, he caught her trying to control her emotions and inquired as to her difficulty.

"I miss the tree," she replied.

It was then that Spock learned about Christmas trees and why conifers couldn't grow on Vulcan. He remains grateful that Terrans stopped killing trees to decorate their houses two centuries ago. He still finds the idea repugnant and unfathomable, and is gratified that the Grayson family merely decorated a well-tended tree in their garden in harmless ways.

Spock is ill at ease. He explores the idea that he might be bored. This is illogical, as there is always much to be done on a starship. It is unfortunate that regulations prohibit doing any of it whilst in charge of the conn, but he is not averse to violating that rule when conditions are tranquil and he can stay on the Bridge whilst performing other tasks. He does not see a logical reason why that rule could not be rewritten to acknowledge the diversity of innate ability amongst the crew.

He finds that he does not wish to perform other tasks, which troubles him. He comes to the conclusion that he requires meditation more urgently than he realized when he reported for duty, even though that doesn't seem quite right.

He feels the urge to move, so he rises and walks to the science station. His body seems to approve of the physical action, and he decides to undertake a short workout in the gym upon termination of his duty shift. Since he is the only being on the Bridge and all systems show normal, he sees no harm in walking around it in order to relieve some of the urge to exercise.

It might also serve to alleviate the loneliness troubling him. He always feels that to some extent. Were there other Vulcans aboard, it would be logical to assume that the condition would lessen. But logic troubles him, in this case. His psychological and psionic centers both tell him that the truth lies elsewhere. His training tells him that he should trust logic. His mother and Doctor McCoy tell him that he should trust his emotions, of which they are convinced he has many. Captain Kirk would have a more balanced perspective, but McCoy has ordered him to rest.

Something in his musings triggers memories of conflict between Sarek and Amanda at the time of the winter holidays. They have never been as Amanda presented them to him – a time of family harmony and joy. He wishes he could talk to Jim, but he has sensed that it's a difficult topic for his Captain, as well. He would suggest a game of chess, but that would necessitate playing it on the Bridge, which is correctly forbidden.

He sighs. He is glad that nobody was there to witness it. He begins to recognize a certain truth in the idea that time passes at varying speeds, depending on one's mood.

*****


Jim has stared at the tiny bit of cognac in the cordial glass on and off for the past ten minutes, at least. It's mesmerizing. Beautiful. Sparkly, like Christmas lights against the warm wood of his childhood mantelpiece. And he hasn't been able to drink a single drop since he poured it two hours ago. If he could get drunk on self-pity, he'd be well over the edge by now. Maybe he can. Maybe he can let himself wallow so much in his mother's words – "Share this with someone special, Jim" – that he'll need a detox from McCoy in the morning. Maybe—

Mint. There's mint in the room. It's so faint that it must be a hallucination. Clearly, his plan to get drunk on maudlin memories is working.

But it's stronger, now. And there's that strange, buzzy tingle at the back of his throat – the one that he likes and that Sam said felt like ice picks hammering at his mucus membranes. Jim rises, following the smell. He thinks of his old hound, nose in the air after a tasty scent.

It's coming from the head. He frowns, all business. If something's gone wrong with the ship's chemical systems, everyone's going to have to be called to duty.

He checks the fresher and the shower. Nothing seems off, but the scent is strong in the room. And then he tracks it to the door that leads to Spock's quarters. He is about to knock, but stops himself. They've never discussed using the head as a gangway between their quarters, and this is not an emergency.

He exits his quarters and buzzes Spock's door.

"Enter."

"Spock, I'm sorry to – mint?"

"Yes. I received some leaves from my mother on Starbase Eleven."

Kirk breathes in, deeply.

Spock lifts an eyebrow. "Would you care for some mint tea, Captain?"

"Yes, please, if you can spare – oh! She sent you quite a bit, didn't she?"

"She harvests it somewhat ... aggressively at certain times of year." Spock took a bit of time to finish pushing the sack of leaves back into his personal effects locker.

Jim smiles. It feels unfamiliar, especially as it spreads and spreads across his face. "My mom does that all year!"

Spock frowns. "Yet she has not sent you any. I assume that you do not dislike it...."

"I like it fine, but she uses it in everything."

"Ah. Mother does not, though Sarek and I are both partial to it." Spock retrieves a second cup from the shelf near his bed.

"I didn't know mint grew on Vulcan. I mean, Mom said it would grow anywhere, but isn't Vulcan too hot?"

Spock nods. "Mother had to employ cooling technology for the mint garden."

Jim shakes his head, stupidly glad to be having this conversation. "Let me guess ... the Lady Amanda's Mint Garden has become a tourist attraction on Vulcan."

"It has attracted comment." Spock pours the tea.

"Remind me to stop by and see it, next time I'm there." Jim lifts the cup to breathe in the minty steam. "Is this chocolate mint?"

"Yes. It has become popular amongst Father's associates."

Jim grins. "A hint of chocolate with none of the deleterious effects?" He goes back to inhaling the deepening scent.

"Unfortunately, full Vulcans are rarely able to detect that subtlety of flavor." Spock sips at his cup, and his face changes.

Jim's heart leaps. He's never seen Spock so enraptured – not when the man is in his own person, unaffected by the influence of intruding mind or substance. It's beautiful.

He sips his own cup. It's heavenly – rich and light, all at the same time, as only homegrown mint can be. And yet, it's not the mint he's used to. It isn't that it's chocolate mint – Mom grew that stuff, too. It's that it doesn't come from Mom's garden. He can't honestly say that he can taste the desert in it. It's more that knowing where it comes from, the difference he tastes makes sense.

And when he looks up at Spock, the taste of the tea settles itself in his brain as 'home', sitting beside the beloved face in front of him. It's then that he realizes that Spock's face has been at the center of his being for so long that he doesn't know how to exist without it.

It's dangerous. Lethal, when added to the physical attraction he's always pushed down near Spock. He fights the urge to touch Spock, to embrace him – to kiss him.

"Jim." The voice is quiet, deep and rich as velvet.

"Sp—" Jim swallows. "Spock?"

"I am happy that you are here."

"So am I...."

Spock takes a long, slow sip of tea, holding Jim's eyes.

Jim thinks as he watches Spock's beautiful lips. He meets the challenge, drinking from a cup of liquid that is on the very edge of too hot, and thinking very loudly about everything he's always wanted to do to Spock.

Spock's intent is no less clear in his return volley.

Jim shivers as his arousal grows. He takes his next turn, feeling his eyes burning into Spock's as the tea and all it means burns into his core.

This time, he doesn't stop drinking.

Spock joins him.

They have moved. They are close enough to touch, to embrace, to kiss.

They finish together.

Jim is rock hard, but that doesn't register nearly as strongly as the sheer need unlocking itself inside. He licks the last drop from the rim of the cup.

Spock takes it from him and puts it on the desk.

The kiss begins before Spock's hand finds its way to Jim's face and Jim's arms enfold Spock's body.

Spock tastes of mint. He also tastes exactly as Jim had thought he would in dream after dream. He moves slowly, savoring Jim's mouth.

Jim deepens the kiss, opening himself to the need he feels pouring off Spock. He moans as his erection rubs against Spock's. Even through their clothes, it makes Jim's arousal soar.

Spock's arms twine around Jim, large hands opening over his back, possessing him.

Jim's not sure whether to care if they take their clothes off or not. He's going to come soon, even if they just keep kissing and tasting and touching each other.

But then Spock's hands are under his tunic, easing it off with sensuous speed.

Jim opens Spock's trousers to release the shirt and undershirt, pulling those off together.

They pause, eyes holding.

Jim squeezes Spock's shoulders. "I love you," he murmurs.

"As I do thee."

Jim dives for Spock, kissing him, unclothing him, hiding in him.

Spock opens Jim's trousers with skill that Jim will have to investigate later and pushes them down as far as he can without pulling away from the kiss.

Jim steps out of them. "Boots," he says against Spock's lips.

Spock utters something in Vulcan that sounds a lot like a curse and then says, "Bed...."

They sit side by side. Jim focuses on removing his boots. He does not look at Spock's gorgeous, naked body. "Starfleet needs to redesign its footwear," he snarls.

Spock captures Jim in his arms and bears him down onto the bed, tossing the last boot towards the work area. "I have longed for thee."

"Me, too." Jim hisses as their erections meet. "And you can have as much of me as you want, but right now, I'm only going to last about another minute."

"I, too, am highly aroused." Spock rubs himself against Jim, his penis already seeping.

Jim gasps and pulls away, slightly. He holds Spock's face in his hands. "Do you trust me?"

"Always."

"I trust you, too." Jim kisses Spock with all his soul and then turns so that he's facing Spock's groin. "So beautiful." Rolling Spock onto his side, Jim kisses his belly, his hip, his thigh, his balls, and then his shaft before engulfing the head, ridges and all, in his mouth.

Spock gasps. "Jim!"

And then Jim grunts when he feels Spock's mouth around him.

They are both so stimulated and so close that it should be impossible to set up any sort of rhythm. The act they are performing is not usual for a first-time sexual encounter, making a disastrous outcome far more likely. But through skill (Jim's) and discipline (Spock's), they find a rhythm between them.

Jim loves the feel of Spock's double corona as his tongue delves between the ridges. Even more arousing is the way they flare in response. And Spock's mouth on him is something he's going to want to experience for the rest of time – hot, moist, and a tongue so skilled that he's really going to have to ask where he learned to—oh!

To Jim's surprise, Spock comes first. He's not sure whether it's the feel and taste of Spock coming or the sensation of Spock moaning around his penis that sets him off, but he's only seconds behind.

Jim gasps, which lets Spock's penis slip out of his mouth. He makes a point of recapturing it as quickly as he can before Spock finishes, sucking and swallowing until they are both done. He doesn't know much about Vulcan sensitivity after sex, so he releases Spock gently as soon as he can.

He turns himself around and finds himself face to face with a panting, flushed Spock who is staring at him, eyes full of surprise and apprehension. There is also a streak of semen on Spock's cheek.

Jim laughs gently and licks it off, stroking Spock's hair.

Spock's eyes widen and go feral. He lunges for Jim, engaging him in a deep, hungry kiss.

It is when Spock ruts against him that Jim realizes that Spock is still hard. He's not sure if he can stand this in his hyper-sensitive phase, but he bears it because it's Spock, and it's their first time, and there's no way that he's going to be that cruel to someone he loves so much.

Fortunately, it's over when Spock comes again in less than a minute over Jim's belly and chest. Spock buries his face against Jim's shoulder, trembling.

Jim holds him through it. "Hey. Hey.... Spock.... It's all right. Are you okay?"

Spock nods against Jim's chest.

"Do all Vulcans come twice?"

"I know only that I do."

Jim kisses what he can reach of Spock's brow. "Now you're beginning to sound more like you."

"Jim, I am sorry. I had thought myself more skilled."

"Spock. Hey, Spock." Jim reaches to tilt Spock's face up, but Spock's face refuses to comply. "Hey, come here!"

Spock allows some of his face to be seen, but doesn't quite meet Jim's eyes.

"You are plenty skilled, Mister! I made a note to ask you just how you acquired some of those skills, in fact, 'cause they are not on the beginner's list." Jim tilts down toward Spock's mouth and speaks in his own low, feral voice. "Now, I'm going to kiss you again, unless you don't want it, and I want you to give it everything you've got."

"That would be agreeable." Spock's mouth meets Jim's in a kiss just as deep as the previous one, but slower, much more sensual, full of meaning and desire and peace.

When it ends, Spock searches Jim's eyes. "Will you stay?"

Jim strokes Spock's face. "Who'd have thought I'd find home by following a trail of mint leaves?"

Spock kisses him. When he draws back, he is smiling.

Jim doesn't know why, and doesn't care as he curls around and into Spock. He falls asleep redefining home.

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