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Written for the K/S Advent Calendar of 2014. Many thanks to my husband for the beta.


"Science Officer's Log, Stardate approximately 6032.9 – exact stardate uncertain. Following Federation orders, the Enterprise has entered what appears to be a previously undetected dark matter nebula in the Tellar Sector. Due to the pending Terran holidays and the nebula's shape in the initial computer modeling, some in the crew have dubbed it ... Santa's Beard. Navigation is proving difficult and indications are that subspace communications will be severely impaired or disabled. Lieutenant Uhura and I are attempting to compensate."

Spock logged off and resisted the urge to shake his head. Human holidays represented the height of illogic and superstition and he wanted nothing to do with them. Unfortunately, they were difficult to escape aboard a ship filled with humans. "Computer: Temperature up point three degrees." Spock lifted an eyebrow. "Report time and degree of all temperature changes occurring ship-wide within ninety seconds previous to my mark: Mark."

"Working...three temperature decreases of point one degrees at thirty seconds, twenty-two seconds and fifteen seconds previous to mark."

"Computer: Send logs of temperature and environmental changes to all science stations every half hour until further notice."

"Acknowledged."

"Spock to Engineering."

"Scott here."

Spock noted the slight increase of tension in Scott's voice. "Environmental temperature status, please."

"Temperature appears to be holding steady, but the controls are unresponsive. We're tryin' to figure out how to correct it now."

"Do you require my assistance?"

"Not yet, Mr. Spock. Will you be telling the Captain about the issue, or shall I?"

"I shall report it, Mr. Scott. Spock out." Spock was out of the door and on his way to the Bridge as soon as he signed off, noting another temperature drop as he went.

*****



"Captain's Log, Stardate ... still a guess. It's been four ship's days since the climate controls became unresponsive and the temperature continues to fall at the rate of two degrees Celsius per day. Chief Engineer Scott is still at a loss to determine either the cause or the cure, though we anticipate an improvement when we finish charting this previously undetected nebula and emerge from it. Until we do, subspace communications remain uncertain, as does navigation.

Starfleet regulation uniforms are functioning correctly to preserve human body temperatures, but Doctor McCoy has logged his concerns about First Officer Spock should the temperature drop below ten degrees for any length of time. It is currently twelve degrees and falling."

Kirk ended the log entry and let out a breath. "You shouldn't be able to see your breath on the Bridge," he muttered. And then he saw Chekov blowing smoke rings with his.

Sulu saved Kirk the trouble of a reprimand by elbowing Chekov. "Knock it off, Pav," he muttered. "We need to get out of here before we freeze to death and you're the navigator!"

"It is not so cold," said Chekov. "It's a nice—"

"Spring day in Siberia, yes I know. But in Nagasaki—"

"You come from San Francisco, where twelve degrees is—"

"A cold day in December," Sulu shot back. "And besides, my bones like Nagasaki."

"I know. That's why you wisit your third cousin six times removed every time we go back to earth even though you hate her!"

This was an old argument that was only likely to get worse as the temperatures dropped. "Gentlemen," said Kirk, "you'll have time to fight about this in your off-duty hours. In the meantime, mind your instruments and get us out of here as quickly as possible, please."

"Aye, aye, Captain," said Chekov.

"Yes, sir," said Sulu.

"And I come from Moscow, not Siberia," muttered Chekov, just as Kirk was settling back into his chair.

Kirk blew out a slow breath and nearly made it into a smoke ring.

*****

"Medical Log: Supplemental. Ship's temperature has dropped to eight degrees Celsius. After treating chilblains on five crewmen, I'm ordering gloves and head coverings for all personnel, effective immediately. First Officer Spock is being monitored for signs of hypothermia and is ordered to wear double layers of clothing at all times. He is to report to Sickbay every six hours until further notice."

The Sickbay door swooshed open, ushering Kirk to McCoy's desk.

"What can I do for you, Captain?"

Kirk rubbed his gloveless hands together and blew on them. "You can give me a brandy, for one thing."

"Alright," said McCoy, rising and turning to his liquor stash, "but only if you put your gloves back on. And this is the last time until the temperature goes back up."

"Trying to keep it all for yourself?" Kirk quipped, pulling the gloves out of his sleeves.

McCoy poured two glasses. "No, just trying to make sure that you don't get a rush of cold blood to your heart." He looked pointedly at Kirk's still ungloved hands.

Kirk gave an exasperated sigh and donned the gloves.

McCoy gave him a knowing nod and handed him one of the brandies. "Now what can I really do for you, Jim?"

"Tell me how to help four hundred and thirty-four humans and a Vulcan survive hypothermia." Kirk lifted the brandy to his lips as though to gulp it down.

McCoy stopped him. "Go easy with that, unless you're trying to get drunk enough to proposition a random crew member to keep warm."

Kirk stopped his swallow just in time.

McCoy smirked as Kirk glowered at him and swallowed with slow sourness.

"You're not actually going to order that, are you?"

"That is against several very good Starfleet regulations, and you know it!" McCoy took a sip of his own, warming it in his mouth before swallowing it. "Besides, last I knew, you don't sleep around with the crew."

"No," said Kirk, contemplating his glass, "I don't."

McCoy peered at his friend and settled on, "Is the cold getting to you?"

Kirk snorted. "Maybe."

McCoy grinned. "Well, if you buy me a drink for once, you might persuade me to cuddle up with you for a couple of minutes. But only if we're both fully clothed and all the women are taken."

"If it gets ten degrees colder, I might just take you up on that," said Kirk.

McCoy lost his smile. "If it gets ten degrees colder, we're going to be in real trouble, Jim. Even if the engines, the galley and the food synthesizers keep running, we're going to start seeing hypothermia set in with tissue damage if it persists. Hasn't Spock come up with anything, yet?"

Kirk frowned, looking at McCoy as though he suspected him of swallowing a live Tribble. "Not as far as I know. He would've contacted me, if he had."

"Contacted you? Is it so cold on the bridge that you have freezing fog up there?"

"Spock's not on the Bridge, Bones. By your orders."

"What orders? I didn't order him to stay off the bridge."

Kirk sprang out of his chair. "Come with me – and bring your med kit!" He took off on the run.

McCoy grabbed his equipment and ran after him, catching up just in time to see Kirk punch a comm button.

"Kirk to Bridge!"

"Bridge. Lieutenant Uhura...."

"Where is Mister Spock?"

"The computer says he's in his quarters, Captain, as Doctor McCoy ordered."

"I didn't order any such thing," yelled McCoy.

"If he goes to the bridge, tell him to stay there," said Kirk. "And record a message to Starfleet: We are officially abandoning our attempts to map this nebula on my authority. Kirk out." He was running before he hit the button.

They reached Spock's quarters in record time and Kirk's fist reached the door before the rest of him stopped running. "Spock!"

He barely controlled his hand as the door swooshed open.

"Captain?" Spock looked at him quizzically, his face about two inches from Kirk's fist.

"Mr. Spock." Kirk peered into the eyes of his First Officer before realizing that he should unclench and lower his hand. "What are you doing here?"

"I am obeying Dr. McCoy's orders."

"Oh?" said McCoy. "And what orders would those be?"

"You ordered me to keep warm, no matter how the task had to be accomplished."

Kirk's eyes widened. "The fire shrine...."

"All regulation failsafes are in place, Captain. The temperature is no higher than normal. However, I must keep it in close proximity in order to carry out Doctor McCoy's medical orders."

McCoy glared at Spock. "I suppose I have to give you points for creativity, but you might have let me in on the joke, Spock!"

"Joke, Doctor? I do not perceive any humor in pursuing the most logical option available to me to comply with your logged order."

McCoy rolled his eyes, opened his mouth and bit back anything he was going to say.

"Well," said Kirk, "since we're here, do you mind if we come in?"

"Not at all, Captain. In fact, it would preserve and enhance the ambient temperature in my quarters."

Kirk smiled and shook his head as he entered.

McCoy scowled and activated his medical scanner directly at Spock. "Temperature normal – for you – blood pressure, pulse, respiration ... all normal. Seems like you're doing well, Mister Spock."

"On the contrary, Doctor. I am managing to control my body's systems despite the fact that the room's temperature has dropped to eighteen degrees."

"That's ten degrees warmer than the rest of the ship," said McCoy. "Maybe we should make a Vulcan fire shrine for every cabin."

"Even if we had the materials, Bones, the risk of fire is too great." Kirk eyed Spock sharply, looking him up and down. "How many layers of uniform are you wearing?"

"Four."

"And here I thought you'd decided to try the shortbread the galley laid on for us," quipped McCoy.

Spock gave McCoy a baleful look.

"Gentlemen," said Kirk. "Spock, can you tell me anything more about what's causing the climate control malfunction?"

"The tests we've been running have yielded nothing conclusive. However, there is something that might be of interest."

"Oh?" Kirk felt his spirits lift unexpectedly.

Spock sat down at his desk, making Kirk aware both of the uncharacteristic disarray on it and of the fact that he and McCoy had interrupted a large slog of work. "Three of the last seven ionization mapping sweeps have shown a more regular pattern that is uncharacteristic of the background pattern typifying the nebula so far."

"That's odd," said Kirk, rounding the desk as Spock brought up an image on the viewer. He frowned at the readouts. "Could that be a pulsar?"

"Difficult to say, Captain. We have no record of a neutron star within a parsec of our last confirmable location. The closest approximation at which we can arrive by combining reliably mapped sub-sectors with the partial readings obtained during the forty-nine point two hours between first visual contact and reaching our point of entry would tend to imply a maximum linear dimension of twenty point three light years."

"That's a big nebula."

"Yes. It is of more than sufficient size to hide a pulsar...."

"But...?" said McCoy.

Spock peered at the screen. "There are new readings...."

Kirk draped his arm over the back of Spock's chair and leaned down to look.

"Here, Jim." Spock pointed at a line in the new data log.

Kirk squinted at the tiny print – mostly to avoid thinking about the effect that Spock's voice had on him whenever their faces were in such close proximity. "I'm no expert, but that doesn't look like the readings I've seen from pulsars before."

"We need more data to be certain," said Spock. "Our time here could prove useful." He turned his face toward Kirk, an excited light kindling in the back of his eyes that warmed Kirk's heart.

"I just told Lieutenant Uhura to tell Starfleet that we're leaving on my authority. But," Kirk added, as Spock's face began to fall, "I can extend our stay for a few—"

"Not more than three days, Captain," McCoy interceded firmly. "And you'd better start ordering the crew to double up with friends if this ship keeps getting colder. No exceptions," he added, looking Spock straight in the eye.

Kirk could feel the tension pouring off his Vulcan friend at McCoy's words. "We'll cross that bridge if we come to it." Belatedly, he straightened and moved towards McCoy and the door, tugging the hem of his shirt back into place. "Mr. Spock, I want everything you can find on that ionization signature as soon as you have it. I'm going to pay a visit to Engineering. Maybe Scotty can figure out how to make a few more fire shrines and deploy them safely."

*****
"Captain's Log, Stardate to be determined upon exiting the Santa's Beard Nebula. Despite deploying portable heating units to all essential areas, including one experimental Vulcan fire shrine devised by First Officer Spock and Chief Engineer Scott for use in Engineering, ship-wide ambient temperature continues to fall two degrees per day. It is now four degrees and I have ordered all personnel to stay close to heat sources and sleep two to a bed under thermal blankets. Despite all best efforts, hypothermia-related illnesses and injuries are rising and Sickbay is full.

"Mr. Spock is making progress on pinpointing the source of the unusual ionization patterns, but we still cannot determine what is causing them. According to ship's chronometers, the December traditional observance day is due to begin in thirty-six hours. I doubt that things will feel very festive if we're all trying not to freeze to death."

Kirk rubbed his hands together, trying to figure out what more to say. He couldn't think of anything, so he signed off. He made use of the head – not the most pleasant experience in such cold weather, but he'd survived worse at Yosemite – and washed his hands. At least the hot water was working. Too bad the water ration wouldn't let him just steam up his quarters for the duration.

The food synthesizers were also working, so he punched in the code for the herb tea that McCoy had ordered him to consume. Definitely an acquired taste that he didn't think he'd ever acquire, but it warmed his hands, face and body and was manageable if he downed it quickly when he could.

As he held it against his face, he became aware that hadn't heard any movement from Spock in their shared facilities for quite a while. That wasn't atypical, but something nagged at him about it this time. He knocked back the tea and moved. They'd known each other long enough that they never locked each other out, but he still knocked when he reached Spock's door to the bathroom.

There was no answer.

"Spock, if you don't respond within five seconds, I'm opening this door."

Five seconds seemed an eternity.

"All right, Spock, I'm coming in." Kirk opened the door to find Spock lying on the floor, eyes open and unseeing, face slightly ruddy – something he'd never seen before. He was at the terminal within a second. "SICKBAY!"

"Sickbay—"

"Medical emergency in Spock's quarters. Hurry!"

"This is Chapel. Doctor McCoy's on his way, Captain."

"Thanks. Kirk out."

Kirk dropped to the floor by Spock's side and started checking for signs. He could barely feel a pulse. He leaned down to listen and feel for breath and felt a small susurrus on his cheek. He took Spock's hand and began to rub it, barely hearing the door open.

"Put his hand down, Jim," said McCoy, voice surprisingly quiet. "Gently."

Despite all instincts to the contrary, Kirk did as he was told. McCoy used that tone of voice only to save lives. He watched for what seemed like hours as McCoy ran his scanner over Spock's supine body. "Why is his face red?"

"He's suffering from hypoxia. He'll turn green again in a minute." McCoy warmed the hypospray between his hands before pressing it to Spock's upper arm.

As the proper color returned slowly to Spock's face, Kirk waited for a sign of consciousness. "Is he in a healing trance?"

"It doesn't look like it. It just looks like good, old-fashioned hypothermia in a really stubborn Vulcan who should have said something earlier."

"I believe I did, Doctor." Spock's voice was so weak that Kirk's heart skipped a beat.

"Spock—"

"Gently, Jim," said McCoy. "And you too, Spock. Sudden or harsh movements can cause unexpected heart arrhythmias." McCoy began to run his scanner over Kirk.

"I'm fine, Bones—"

"You have mild to moderate hypothermia, Captain. Have you experienced any lapses in memory? Couldn't remember where you were going or what you were about to say? That sort of thing?"

Kirk rubbed his forehead. "I was making an official log entry. There was something I felt I should say but I couldn't remember." He looked at McCoy. "I don't usually do that."

"You ordered everyone to sleep two to a bed, but you didn't—"

"—suspend the non-fraternization rule!"

"You might want to do that right now, Jim. There are a lot of awkward crewmembers lining up outside Sickbay."

"Do you think I need to, uh, broadcast that, or would it be okay to send it to all terminals?"

"They won't believe it if they don't hear it in your voice," said McCoy. "I know I wouldn't," he muttered, as he pressed the hypospray to Kirk's arm.

"What was that?" Kirk glared from his arm to McCoy.

"Think of it as a vitamin supplement to help your body deal with your neglect of it."

Kirk waved him off as he went to the terminal at Spock's desk. "Attention all hands: In order to facilitate current orders regarding sleeping arrangements, the ... relevant sections of the non-fraternization rule are hereby suspended until further notice. Kirk out." He could feel himself turn beet red.

McCoy grinned at him. "Seems like you're now warm enough to help Spock recover, Jim."

The blood drained instantly from Kirk's face. He almost reached for the corner of the desk to support himself. "What?"

McCoy's smile disappeared. "Like I said, Captain, no exceptions. Do you want to lose your First Officer?"

"I am functional, Doctor."

"I'd have more faith in that statement if you weren't flat on the floor." McCoy waved his medical scanner over Spock's chest. "Core temperature has risen point one five degrees to thirty point seven."

"Where should his temperature be, again?" Kirk vowed that this time, he'd remember.

"The average Vulcan temperature is about thirty-two point eight, give or take about a quarter of a degree. Spock's norm is a balmy thirty-four point eight."

"Thirty-four point eight two seven, Doctor." Spock turned his eyes toward Kirk in what only he recognized as a wordless plea.

"Bones, how do I help him?"

"Cuddle him."

Kirk blanched. "What?"

"You heard me: Cuddle him! You know that as well as I do. It's the first thing they teach you in survival training. So someone has to cuddle Spock. Preferably naked."

"Uhmmm...."

"That will not be necessary, Doctor, Captain. I assure you both I can—"

"No, you can't," said McCoy. "The ambient temperature in this room – which is the warmest on the ship, by the way, except for the galley – has dropped to fourteen point three degrees. If you don't let someone cuddle you within the next twenty-nine point six minutes, give or take a minute or two, you'll die."

"Why twenty-nine point six minutes, Bones?"

"Because that is when the potion with which Doctor McCoy injected me will have been metabolized at my current core temperature."

Kirk looked down at Spock and offered his hand.

Spock took it and rose slowly, leaning on Kirk's stability for a second before moving to his desk.

"Oh, no you don't," said McCoy. "I'm ordering you off duty until your core temperature has reached a minimum of thirty-three degrees. And that's only because we probably won't get out of Santa's Beard without you. I'm coming back in ten minutes with two extra thermal blankets for your quarters and if you two aren't in bed with each other or someone else when I get back, the next people at your doors will be the sweatiest security guards I can find to be your living blankets!"

As McCoy stalked out the door, Kirk was struck at once by his own utter loneliness, his annoyance at the doctor's irascible demeanor, the horror of being paired up with Ensign Bush – long rumored to be the sweatiest man ever to board a starship – and the uncomfortable prickle of excitement at having no choice but to share a bed with Spock. A rather small bed.

He looked at Spock to see much the same stream of consciousness running across his friend's face. "It's your choice, Spock," he said. "As captain, I can't pull rank on anyone in this matter."

"I would infinitely prefer you to any other person," said Spock immediately. "Given our current situation and McCoy's orders," he added, a slight flush of green suffusing his cheeks.

"Of course," said Kirk, trying to tame his smile to respect Spock's sensibilities.

And then came the awkward silence.

"It seems logical that we share your bed," said Kirk, "seeing as how your quarters are warmer than mine."

"Yes." Spock stood stiffly by his desk, hands locked behind his back.

"So why don't you get into bed while I go get the thermal blanket from my quarters before McCoy comes back?"

"That is a logical plan," said Spock.

"Good." For a few stretched-out seconds, Kirk felt rooted to the floor where he stood. And then he forced himself to move.

He didn't allow himself to think too closely about what he was doing. But the price for that was McCoy's voice saying 'Preferably naked' in an endless loop, so he focused on getting the blanket and some sleepwear. Toothbrush, soap and razor were already in the bathroom. He chose not to think about the items in his nightstand drawer or the fact that Spock probably had the exact same supplies, thanks to Starfleet regulations.

Five minutes later, sleepwear donned, Kirk found Spock pulling his boots off with unaccustomed difficulty. "You want a hand with that?" he asked before thinking about it.

"Assistance would be logical," said Spock.

Kirk knelt to pull the boots from chilled Vulcan feet. He rubbed Spock's feet gently, noting four pant hems on each leg. "I know it's cold, but McCoy's, uh, prescription will work better if you take off extra layers of clothing before," Kirk swallowed, "cuddling."

"Oh, yes.... Of course, Captain." Spock sat on the bed, looking glazed.

"Shirts, at least," said Kirk.

"Yes." Spock grasped the hems of at least two shirts and started pulling them over his head.

It was as Kirk and Spock were struggling with doffing the latter's third shirt that the door buzzed and McCoy barged in. "You're early, Bones," said Kirk from underneath a shirt hem and through a tangle of arms.

"Can't help it. It's snowing in the medical lab. Nothing serious – one of my frozen trainees spilled some ... never mind. Just continue stripping and get under these." McCoy shoved the thermal blankets onto the foot of the bed. "And that means all the way. No pajamas, no uniforms, not even socks or underwear." McCoy hurried toward the door. "Naked!" The order was shouted with the door at its widest aperture when at least three people were talking – and then gasping – in the corridor.

The door closed before Kirk could reprimand McCoy. "You keep going," he said to Spock. "I'm going to lock that door."

Kirk took about a minute to lock the door, during which time he heard Spock stripping off his clothes with some difficulty and a lot of speed. He took a deep breath to calm himself, remembering that he and Spock had seen each other naked on several occasions, touched each other in comfort and combat, rescued each other countless times, seen each other at their best and worst, even touched each other's minds more than once. And in that touch, it was pointless to look away from the sheer joy of knowing how much they loved each other.

He stripped himself naked, first in body, then in psyche. "Will we meld if we touch like this?" He wasn't sure he should hear so much longing in his voice.

"Not as such. A meld is a deliberate act. However, I do not know that our minds won't touch. My shielding is uncertain." Spock's voice sounded raw – naked.

"I won't mind if it happens," said Kirk, "but will you be all right?"

"Yes," said Spock, his answer muffled by a pillow or an arm.

Kirk turned to find Spock facing away from him. "You know I'll do everything I can to control my thoughts and emotions...." He cut himself off, unable to confess his worry about sexual arousal. Maybe thinking enough about Aunt Wallace or Denebian slime devils would take the edge off. But he didn't want to think about people like Aunt Wallace, as she'd been a thoroughly horrible being and Spock just shouldn't be exposed to that without necessity.

"Captain ... I'm cold."

Kirk got into bed, pulled up the blankets and wound his arms around Spock in one smooth move. The feeling of Spock's icy skin against his made him pull his friend closer than he'd ever allowed himself to think of doing. "Why didn't you tell me you were in this much trouble?" he murmured.

"I had not realized that I was."

"Hypothermia will do that to you." Kirk let his hand wander down to the spot over Spock's heart, delighted to feel its ridiculously fast beat as he tried to warm it. "I remember once when I was a boy ... we went camping in Glacier National Park in Montana. It was late September and the temperature dropped our first night there. Dad hadn't checked the heaters before we left home. We shared sleeping bags, so we all thought we'd be fine, but then Sam talk a walk and Mom caught him trying to pet a grizzly bear. She made us get a hotel after that."

"She was wise."

Kirk laughed gently against Spock's shoulder. "If you only knew...."

"Captain...."

"Yes?"

"What should I do with my arms?"

"Whatever you want that keeps us warm and doesn't cause us injury."

"May I turn around?"

"By all means. Do you want me to turn, too?"

"Are you uncomfortable in your current position?"

"No, not at all. But the bed's very small for two adult men, so it might be best if our knees are facing the same way."

"That is logical. Thank you, Captain."

"So we'd best turn together...."

"Agreed."

"On three – one, two, three...."

The turn happened without a hitch and Kirk shivered as Spock's arms came around him.

"Am I making you cold?"

"No!" Kirk grasped Spock's arms as they tried to withdraw. "It's just that I'm aware of how cold I was before you were hugging me." He pulled Spock's arms a little tighter around him and let himself settle back further into the embrace. "This feels nice."

"Thank you, Captain."

"Spock... We're off duty. We're naked. We're in bed together with nothing but our skin between us. Call me Jim."

"Yes, Jim."

"And relax. This will be all right."

Spock was silent.

Kirk turned his head to search Spock's face as best he could. "What's wrong?"

"I am concerned about what might happen when we fall asleep."

Kirk squeezed Spock's arm and stroked it. "What's concerning you?"

"Certain ... autonomic responses that can occur during sleep."

The heat rising in Spock's body felt very good against Kirk's but made him wince in sympathy. "Well, if it's any comfort, I think we may both be in the same boat." He patted Spock's hand awkwardly.

Spock didn't even pretend not to understand the idiom. "We may not be. In addition to the nocturnal penile tumescence to which I initially alluded, I must now confess that I harbor certain ... desires that you may find incompatible with your own."

Kirk did everything he could to ignore Spock's scent, the raw-sex timbre of Spock's voice, the velvet skin and sheathed muscle moving against his back, the knowledge that if he moved just a centimeter that way, he'd probably be exploring Spock's penis with the cleft of his ass.

It didn't work. He was hard as a rock. "I know you love me, Spock," he said quietly.

"As you do me, Jim," Spock returned.

Kirk squeezed Spock's hand, wishing he could kiss it. "Do you mean that you also have feelings for me? Of a sexual nature?"

"Yes."

"Then we really are in the same boat." Kirk turned around carefully to find his erection knocking against one that was just as hard – and very hot. "Do you want to do something about this?"

"Very much," said Spock, "though I fear I would not be at my best tonight."

"I think you'd be fine," said Kirk. "And we shouldn't be too strenuous about it, anyway." He took a moment to stroke Spock's shoulder. "Is it okay if we hug like this?"

"I would welcome it."

Kirk had expected it to be awkward, but it wasn't. What stunned him was not an errant elbow or knee but the way they just fit together and how utterly each knew how the other would move and where their limbs needed to go to maximize contact and warmth and comfort and connection and heat. "Spock," Kirk exhaled against that beloved cheek.

"Jim," Spock whispered into his soul.

And then they were kissing like it was the most necessary thing in their lives and timeless as the universe, twined around and moving against each other, knowing that it should always have been like this.

Kirk could feel Spock's mind touch his, even though those long, gorgeous fingers were nowhere near his face. He gasped as one of them explored and teased near his opening and he instinctively hooked his thigh over Spock's waist. Lube? he thought...

It will not be an issue. Spock rubbed the head of his very slick penis against Kirk's balls.

Kirk's eyes widened and his desire flamed. I really hope this isn't a dream.

It was then that Spock's fingers brushed Kirk's cheek in question.

"Yes," Kirk breathed.

And that's when he found out what a meld really was. Not thought so much as concept. Not concept so much as feeling. Not feeling so much as all. And with that touch, Kirk understood why sex was so exclusive between bonded Vulcans. And though he and Spock weren't bonded in that way, it was clear that it wouldn't take much to make that happen, especially when he felt Spock seeking permission to enter him and all he could feel was unequivocal desire and long-denied, body-and-soul need.

Spock's entry was gentle, exquisitely careful despite a need even longer-held than Kirk's. There was pain – whose and of what kind were indecipherable and unimportant. That Spock shared and shouldered so much of Kirk's was something never to forget or let pass, though he could only mark it for the moment. But it kindled in him an even greater desire to push past the pain of physical entry to the inexorable joy of lust and love and freedom and release – which he wanted to stave off for as long as he could. He realized belatedly that he was getting closer and closer to orgasm along with Spock, yet there was no hand on his cock. And when he felt Spock's release as jolt inside his soul and noticeable spasm inside his body, he cried out and came as Spock gathered him close.

"T'hy'la...." It was a breath from Spock's soul that rippled through Kirk's.

Kirk didn't know exactly what it meant, but he didn't need to. He was also delighted to find out that Spock was still coming – a fact he'd have to plan for if they ever did this again, which he really hoped they would.

Thirty seconds later, Spock withdrew carefully from Kirk's body and mind.

Kirk held him. "Are you all right?"

"I do not know."

"Tell me." Kirk just held him, knowing not to stroke or rub though he didn't know how he knew.

"It may be too much." There was moisture gathering in Spock's eyes.

"I know," said Kirk, though it nearly broke him. "Do you want me to go back to my quarters? If I tuck you in right, we might be able to convince McCoy that we spent the night together—"

"No. Please stay, Jim."

"I'd be delighted. Spock ... may I kiss you?"

"Yes."

Kirk kissed Spock's cheek, his nose, his mouth. "I love you. Whatever happens, I need you to remember that."

Spock raised a hand to touch Kirk's hair, hesitating at the last moment before stroking the unruly cowlick off his cooling forehead. "I will never forget. My love for you is permanent."

Kirk captured the lone tear escaping Spock's eye. "That's very good to know," he said thickly.

*****
Kirk was awakened by the hail from Spock's terminal. He stumbled out of bed into a room that was shockingly warm and went to the desk, punching on the sound but not the picture. "Kirk, here."

"Uhura here, Captain. Incoming message from ... from the Santa's Beard Nebula, sir."

"Pipe it down here, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir."

"This is Ambassador Grol of Tellar. We would like to apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced during your incursion into the ... well, let's just call it the Santa's Beard Nebula, shall we?"

Kirk threw on a shirt and his trousers before switching on the visual. "Ambassador Grol, the Federation was unaware that Tellar had interests in this nebula."

"Captain Kirk, this is the Tellar sector. Everything in it is of interest to Tellar. Surely you must understand that."

"I see. Since we are communicating and the ship appears to have suddenly warmed up, should I take it that you employed a tractor beam to tow us out of the nebula?"

Grol's face soured. "Much as I'd like to claim credit for that, I can't. The nebula's border in this area is unstable. We've been trying to map it for ten planetary rotations and it keeps shifting. Our best estimate is that you have about three of the time units you call days to put enough distance between your ship and the nebula to be ... safe from its effects."

Spock rose from the bed and shook his head in the negative.

"Very well," said Kirk, keeping eye contact with the ambassador. "We'll need a day to make sure that our systems are sound before we leave. Assuming they are, we would prefer to warp out of here as quickly as possible so as to avoid further contact with the nebula unless you think such speed would be inadvisable."

"Your plan is acceptable," said Grol, though it clearly wasn't what he had hoped.

"Excellent. Thank you, Ambassador. Kirk out." He moved to Spock. "What?"

Spock moved toward the desk and disabled the terminal. "Before I lost function yesterday, I analyzed the data runs we'd performed on the nebula. The unusual ionization pulses appear to be a message, possibly a code. Lieutenant Uhura has been attempting to come up with a translation. And Jim, if I may...." he held up his hand in the meld position, looking earnestly at Kirk.

"Yes."

Even before Spock touched Kirk's face, his thoughts were clear: The Tellarites are listening in and blocking our sensors.

Kirk looked up abruptly, almost breaking the link. Are you sure?

They aren't very good at hiding it.

Did you tell anyone else?

Scotty and Uhura.

Kirk gave Spock a surprised, affectionate smile at his inner name for Scott. Christmas cards.

??

Trust me. Kirk re-enabled the terminal. "Thank you, Mr. Spock, that's a great idea!" He punched the comm button. "All hands, this is the Captain. Science Officer Spock has suggested that writing Christmas cards would be a good way to alleviate boredom while we run checks on all systems prior to departure from Santa's Beard. It's an excellent way to say those little nothings privately, so get writing! Non-fraternization rule is still suspended until we leave the Tellar sector. Kirk out."

Spock raised an eyebrow about as high as it could go, but then nodded as though it could work. "I might need some practice writing those, Captain. I am ... unaccustomed to Christmas cards."

"Of course you will, Spock. I'll get some from my cabin. Mom sends a box every year." Kirk took less than a minute to fetch the latest box of blank cards from his quarters.

Spock took less time than that to write that Scotty and Uhura were working on subverting/diverting the Tellarite blocking of their sensors and that the temperature loss aboard the Enterprise was too persistent and regular a thing to be anything other than a signal.

Kirk nodded in agreement and wrote, 'Are you aware of any civilizations that communicate via ionization pulses?'

Spock shook his head and wrote, 'But that may be a 'red herring'. If they're trying to evade the Tellarites, this could be an effective means of doing so.'

There was a buzz at the door, which Kirk answered. "Christmas cards for Mr. Spock," said Yeoman Blizniak, "and for you, Captain."

"Thank you, Yeoman. Always nice to get Christmas cards."

"Aye, sir. Will that be all?"

"Yes, that's all for now." Kirk smiled as she left and then handed Spock his cards and opened the one from Lieutenant Uhura.

'Dear Captain Kirk,
The code is a song. It's called The One-Horse Open Sleigh. You've probably heard the more famous version called Jingle Bells. What could it mean?'

"Spock, Uhura sent me the nicest card. Want to take a look?"

Spock looked at his card and raised an eyebrow. "Indeed, Captain. She also sent me a card. Most thoughtful." He handed it to Kirk.

'Dear Mr. Spock,
One-Horse Open Sleigh was written by James Lord Pierpont. This may mean nothing, but he died in a town called Winter Haven. I thought it interesting since it's been so cold on board.'

Kirk looked at Spock sharply and began to write. 'The U.S.S. Pierpont disappeared in this sector two years ago.'

Spock wrote back, 'Highly specialized intelligence-gathering ship designed to tap into enemy ships and disrupt crucial systems.'

'Sounds like they might need a rescue. Can we get to them?'

'I believe so. I'll meet Mr. Scott in Engineering to devise a way to navigate through the nebula. Ms. Uhura should send a musical response to the effect of "Message received; on our way".'

'Done. Have I told you lately that I love you?'

'Yes.'

Kirk smirked at Spock. "You know," he said out loud, "reading these makes me wonder if I should ever reinstate the non-fraternization rule."

Spock stroked two fingers over the back of Kirk's hand, sending shivers up his spine. "I see no reason why there couldn't be a small ... relaxation of it."

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