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The Thousandth Man

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His Captain touches him at least once on every occasion they are together. As would be expected, the longer the length of time they are together, the more the Captain will touch him. Over an entire shift, the Captain will touch him on an average of 3.7 occasions. The most frequent touch is a light pat to the upper back, usually accompanied by a ‘Carry on, Mr Spock’. Occasionally, he will lean close to examine something and their shoulders will connect. Sometimes, he will slightly overreach when taking a report from Spock and their fingers will brush. Spock's entire physical interaction with the rest of the crew in a week equates to slightly less than half a shift with his Captain. This is not a matter to which he has given a great deal of thought. As their second in command, and a Vulcan, the crew tend to approach him with the appropriate level of deference, which in his case translates to respecting physical boundaries to the extent that even accidental touch from a crew member is relatively rare. He is aware that there is a belief amongst the more credulous crew members that if you touch Commander Spock, even by accident, he will read your mind. This is nonsense, of course, but the belief in his unfeasible and inappropriate telepathy is useful, as it discourages physical contact.

Jim’s command style is very different. He frequently touches his subordinates when it is appropriate to do so: shakes hands, slaps backs, squeezes shoulders; all to express his genuine appreciation of the work of the crew he frequently refers to as the best in the fleet. And they love him for it. Spock knows that there is an ongoing competition amongst the younger crew members to see who can inspire the most signs of approval from their Captain. Spock does not believe that Jim is cognisant of this, nevertheless, for the purposes of their game he is frustratingly even handed in his praise.

Spock is aware that, were he to participate in their game, he would probably beat the combined score of the entire crew, saving perhaps Dr McCoy and Chief Engineer Scott. His relationship with the Captain has come a long way since the day Jim apologised for slapping his back in a burst of enthusiasm. Spock had immediately averred that he was accustomed to such human displays of emotion, and Jim had given him that amused, affectionate look Spock has become intimately familiar with in the time since. The Captain, emboldened by Spock’s lack of disapproval, had subsequently – carefully telegraphing his intentions in an almost pantomime manner – ventured to touch his first officer more frequently, and again receiving no signs of disapprobation, had settled into his existing pattern of expressing his current feelings towards Spock in whatever appropriately physical manner his mood inspires.

Spock is used to this behaviour. Indeed, although he is loath to admit it, even to himself, in his own subtle way, he actively encourages it. It is easy to rationalise doing so: it improves his relationship with his Captain, which can only be good for the whole ship; Jim’s touch is never intrusive, nor unwelcome. The truth is a little less rational than he likes to examine: Jim's mind is highly dynamic, and beneath the carefully cultivated image of command and control, his emotions run deep. Occasionally, usually when he himself is tired, or has not meditated with his usual frequency, or when one or both of them is in some form of distress – either physical or emotional - and Jim touches him, there is something of the transference that the others fear. Rarely actual thoughts, but definite touches of emotions that are not his own. Usually these are directed at him, and they are, almost without exception, overwhelmingly positive: trust, affection, respect, gratitude, and a kind of enjoyment and pleasure arising from Spock’s mere existence. It is utterly human, and illogical, and irresistible. It is pleasing, and warming in a way that Spock does not care to examine too closely, to be so highly valued by a being as exceptional as James Kirk, and he finds himself treasuring these tiny moments of revelation.

Until now.

The first time it happens, they are in a senior staff briefing. The meeting is drawing to a close, and the Captain is summing up proceedings and issuing orders for the day ahead. The Captain has unexpectedly asked his opinion about a suitable candidate for a vacant position in Engineering, and Spock is quickly scanning through the shortlist created by Chief Engineer Scott, when Kirk puts his hand on Spock’s arm to get his attention.

His touch is like an electric shock and it takes all of Spock’s control not to yank his arm away from the source. As it is, his head snaps up in a way which doesn’t escape Kirk’s notice, although the Captain's speech doesn’t falter. Spock carefully, casually lowers the padd to the table, voices his opinion, and withdraws both hands to rest in his lap.

As the meeting ends and the others file out, Spock waits for them to leave before rising. Not unexpectedly, Kirk hangs back and shoots him a look. ‘Spock? You okay?’

‘I am well Captain.’ It is true, then. The tingling sensation in his arm has stopped. He files the incident away for examination at a more appropriate time.

Kirk examines him for a moment, then smiles. ‘Well then, Mr Spock, let’s go mind the store.’

Three hours later Spock has put the incident entirely from his mind when Kirk approaches his station on the bridge. There is a nebula off their port bow emitting unusual readings. Spock has already deemed it fascinating, earning him a smile from his Captain, and Kirk has ordered the ship to hold position to allow the science department to ‘have at it’, as he terms it. However, ’having at it’, from a science perspective requires very little involvement from the Captain, and Kirk, growing restless, has wandered over to Spock, ostensibly casually, but Spock knows that the Captain would like an update on findings, and how long this is likely to take. Despite the distraction of the concurrent streams of readings from his departments across his console, Spock is aware of Kirk’s presence even before he strolls into his peripheral vision.

The Captain comes to a stop mere inches from Spock’s right shoulder.

‘Having fun, Mr Spock?’ His voice is low enough to keep the conversation between them. Without looking, he knows his Captain’s eyes are twinkling.

He raises his head from his viewfinder. ‘I am merely facilitating the accurate and timely investigation of a phenomenon of potentially significant scientific interest, Captain. There is no ‘fun’ involved.’

Kirk grins at him. ‘If you say so, Mr Spock.’ As he speaks, he leans slightly toward Spock, and lightly bumps his left shoulder to Spock’s right. It is a movement he has made before, and Spock knows it is a human gesture, indicative of teasing, of shared understanding. This time, a heat spreads from their connection, leaping through his system like wildfire. The sensation is so sudden, and shocking, he sways away from Kirk, keeping a clear distance between them. Kirk freezes in surprise. Spock slowly resumes his work, and after a moment, his Captain walks away.
For the rest of the shift, Kirk stays away from the science station, calling for updates from across the bridge.

After the shift is over, Spock leaves quickly, before Kirk can waylay him, and returns to his quarters. He feels an illogical guilt for not waiting for his Captain, and for not joining his team in their analysis of the day's readings, but he ascribes it to his recent difficulty in sleeping, and subsequent tiredness. It is more important that he meditate.

In his quarters, he changes into his meditation robes and slowly, ritualistically, lights his meditation candles. Just starting the calming routine makes some of the fog that has been over his brain all day start to lighten. It is a feeling that lasts until he is in meditation and the source of his responses to Jim becomes painfully, traitorously, distressingly apparent. His time is upon him. He feels his gut twist at the realisation. He had hoped, he had so desired, to be spared this. It had felt right that he should be spared. For all the distress his human half has wrought, it seems wrong somehow that in this, it has failed to spare him the full wrath of his Vulcan heritage.

He must leave the ship, return to Vulcan, and seek out T’Pring.

He casts around in his mind for the recollection of her face, the touch of their bond. Surely it should be growing stronger now. Surely there should be something of her within this burning. Momentarily, he allows the maelstrom forming below his conscious awareness to surface. Seeks in it for the antidote to the fire, the feel of her mind, the remembrance of her touch. But the touch his mind supplies is not hers. The mind it seeks is not Vulcan at all.

His mind, it seems, has betrayed him. Without his knowledge, without his conscious acquiescence, it has chosen his bondmate, chosen the mind and body it will accept to slake the fever of pon farr. This one, and no other. He groans in disbelief as the knowledge sinks in. His mind - his soul - has chosen his dearest friend, his Captain, the relationship most precious to him, and thrown it into the fire.

How has this happened? It must be his fault. He has been careless, reckless even, in his approach to Jim. They have melded numerous times. Each time he has told himself there was no other choice, that for the good of the mission, to save lives, to help his Captain, that they must join their minds. Was he always truly objective? The touch of Jim’s mind is even more pleasing than the physical touches he imparts with such freedom. He has sought it once too often and this is the result – the diminishment of his bond with T’Pring, and the desperate, aching need to unite with Jim.

Spock takes a steadying breath. Kirk can never know. He has – albeit unwittingly – betrayed their friendship. The bond with T’Pring must be completed. Surely when the true fever – the plak tow – strikes, it will not matter that their bond is weaker than it should be? That his mind reaches for another? It cannot matter. Their bond must be consummated. The ache for Jim, wild, uncontrollable thing that it is, must wither and die.

He has not reckoned, of course, with T’Pring. With challenge, and combat, and death.

Chapter Text

The pon farr is over. Yet still, like a drumbeat over the distant horizon, the ache exists. It is quiet now, quiescent, biddable to his will, but it remains. A reminder of his carelessness in letting one radiant, dynamic mind too close, too often. He will not repeat the mistake. He will not meld with his Captain again.

If only the dreams would stop. Vulcans, it is said, do not dream. That is only partially true. Their mental discipline and meditative techniques obviate some of the need for the dreaming state, but in times of heightened stress, dreams still occur. Only in this case, they are nightmares. Again and again when he closes his eyes he feels his friend’s body go limp against him, sees the radiance die in those dear eyes. The fever fades and behind it the horror, the enormity of his act rushes in. Jim is dead. Jim is dead by his hand, and his life, both of their lives, are destroyed. Just as his despair crests, he wakes in his bunk on the Enterprise, sweating and in distress. He has never slept more than a few hours.

He had thought that this disturbing dream would fade with the passage of time, but time, it appears, is not passing fast enough. The lack of sleep and emotional equilibrium is already affecting the performance of his duties. He is slower of thought, and indecisive. He cringes internally at the thought of consulting McCoy, but the doctor’s continuing close monitoring of his condition after their trip to Vulcan has no doubt already told him much. Spock is somewhat surprised the summons to sick bay has not come already.

*

Kirk is dreaming again. The sands, the bells, the heat – God, the heat - the fight, and Spock. Or the wild, feral, desperate man that has taken the place of his beloved friend, his calm, unflappable first officer. Spock’s weapon tightens around his throat. From so close he can feel Spock’s heated breath on his face, Jim looks into his eyes, and sees his own death. The cloth tightens again. He is pinned beneath Spock’s weight and his superior strength is rendering Kirk’s remaining struggles useless. The sounds around him grow dim as someone is shouting. McCoy? Not like this, he thinks God, not like this. He stares up at those wonderful, familiar eyes, and seeks desperately for his friend. Spock, come on, I know you’re in there. Come back to me, please. But there is no answering glimmer, none of the warmth and affection of his friend. Just unrelenting, violent rage. The darkness is gathering now. Coherent thought is getting harder. His struggles are slowing. ….wish I had seen Earth one more time…. hope they give my lady to someone worthy of her…… He hopes….he forces his eyes open one last time. He can’t see the face that looms over him anymore, but he thinks, as hard as he can, trusting to Spock’s telepathy. Don’t grieve Spock. Don’t let this destroy you. My first officer. My best friend. I loved you. Live for me.

As the darkness claims him, Kirk wakes in his bed, tangled in his sheets and sweating, for the seventh consecutive night. He gasps convulsively and drags himself to the cabin’s tiny bathroom, splashing water on his face to rid himself of the sensation of that oppressive Vulcan heat. The face that stares back in the mirror is not a starship Captain on the top of his game. He looks like he’s been deprived of sleep for a year. Chewed up, and spat out. Repeatedly. This can’t go on. He swears at the man in the mirror, as he realises he’s going to have to speak to his Chief Medical Officer.

*

The CMO of the Enterprise sits behind his desk and regards the finest command team in the fleet sitting with on the other side of it with a mental sigh. They are studiously avoiding each other’s gaze and look like men summoned to court martial.

McCoy starts. ‘You’re probably wondering why you’re both here. Although you shouldn’t be, because,’ and he regards them as sternly as his innate compassion will allow, ‘you should have talked about this, instead of playing the hero. Again.’ Kirk shifts uncomfortably, and the doctor continues.

‘Put simply, you are suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress, arising from the events on Vulcan, and no doubt exacerbated by your reluctance to embrace the concepts of ‘off-duty’ or ‘vacation time’.’

Jim glances quickly to Spock before looking back to McCoy warningly, ‘Bones, I know we need to keep Spock in the loop for command purposes, but,’ and here he looks back to Spock with an unconvincing half smile, ‘honestly, it’s not as bad as he’s making it sound, it’s just-’

McCoy interrupts. ‘Jim, I’m talking to Spock as well.’

Kirk breaks off and looks to Spock in surprise. McCoy waits for Spock to explain, but the Vulcan shows no sign that he is aware of Kirk’s expectant gaze.

The doctor continues, ‘Your first officer is also symptomatic.’

As Captain, it is Kirk’s right to know of any problems with his XO’s performance, and the gaze that Kirk turns to Spock is half concerned friend, half commanding officer.

He says, ‘Spock?’

The Vulcan shifts uncomfortably, the first visible reaction since they sat down. Without looking at either of them, he says, ‘Doctor McCoy is correct. I have been experiencing problems with both sleep and meditation. The resultant effect on my performance is a reduction in efficiency of twenty-seven percent.’ This is delivered in a rush to a dent on the edge of McCoy’s desk.

Kirk absorbs this for a moment, watching his friend, and then says, ‘So- still in the high nineties, performance-wise, by anyone else’s standards?’ The lightness of his tone takes Spock by surprise and he raises his eyes to be rewarded by a brief glimpse of the first genuine smile he has seen from his Captain in days.

‘The point being,’ McCoy interrupts carefully, ‘that having spoken to you both at length about this -’

He glances down at his padd, but still catches Jim’s whisper to Spock, ‘I bet that was fun.’ Squashing his instinct to glare at Kirk, McCoy busies himself with his notes long enough to allow Spock to give Jim a speaking glance which the Captain meets with a sympathetic smile that vanishes as quickly as it came. If they have to unite against me, McCoy thinks, that’s fine, as long as they unite.

He continues, ‘-and considering our options, the primary course of action I would recommend is time off. What you need, what you both need, is a nice relaxing vacation, and a staged course of therapy over a number of weeks, possibly months.’

McCoy breaks off. Kirk is staring at him with barely concealed impatience. ‘But we both know,’ the doctor continues resignedly, ‘that that isn’t going to happen. And I won’t medicate either of you any further. The risk of impairing your ability to function is too great.’

Kirk says, ‘You said ‘options’, Doctor. Plural. Without leaving my ship, being medicated, or being relieved of duty. What’s next?’

McCoy lays his padd on the desk in front of him. ‘The problem you both have is psychological, not physical. Hence my suggestion of therapy. But any therapeutic intervention will take time, and you are both in no state to wait.’

He waves a hand to forestall Kirk’s protest. ‘This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for both of you, don’t let’s pretend otherwise.’ He fixes Kirk with a glare and the Captain subsides. In sickbay, McCoy is the effective superior officer, and Kirk only occasionally forgets it.

‘Say what you will about the Vulcans,’ the doctor continues, ‘and God knows I've said plenty, they’re significantly ahead of us in the healing of psychological trauma without the use of medication. The Vulcan Health Institute gave me access to their research library when we started this crazy ride.'

McCoy shoots a glance to Spock, who is watching him guardedly. ‘I want you know that I don’t suggest this lightly. In fact, if I had my way, I wouldn’t be suggesting it at all.’

Kirk snaps, ‘Get to it, doctor.’

McCoy adopts his most business-like tone. ‘The key traumatic event that’s affecting both of you is Jim’s effective death on Vulcan.’ Kirk glances to Spock again, concern in every line of his face. He looks as if he’s about to speak, and McCoy continues, ‘So we have to deal with that at the source. Amongst other things, you have both described distressing dreams and waking up in states of extreme anxiety regarding the fate of the other. A part of your subconscious mind has, in essence, not moved on from that moment. With time, and continued exposure to each other obviously alive and well, that would fade.’

The silence in the room is stark as McCoy continues, ‘But, as we don’t have time, I’m proposing we adopt the more direct, Vulcan approach to the problem.’

‘What are you suggesting doctor?’ If possible, Spock has grown even stiller, and, McCoy thinks, paler.

He hurries on, ‘This type of therapy is most often seen with bonded couples, but it can be just as effective without the bond provided both parties are willing to meld and establish a low-level mental link. Essentially, when the minds of two people in your situation are linked, it is harder for your subconscious to convince you Spock, for example, that Jim is dead, when he is present – at least mentally - as the suggestion is forming. In practice, it’s more complicated than that, but basically the mind of the other acts as an anchor, as reassurance, against the forming of the stress response. According to the papers I read, the situation could resolve itself in a matter of days. A few weeks at the most.’

Kirk looks relieved. ‘Well that doesn’t sound too arduous. I mean we’ve melded plenty of times. Spock? What do you-’

Spock quietly, but with resolution, ‘No. We cannot.’ He doesn’t meet Kirk’s eyes.

Kirk stares at him in confusion. ‘Spock, we’ve melded before. Why is this different? Is it the bond?’

Spock doesn’t reply. He is trying to suppress a trembling that is threatening to overwhelm his physical equilibrium. 

McCoy says awkwardly, ‘Spock, I know the meld is a private thing for Vulcans. I’m not suggesting this lightly, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything better. I’m sorry.’

Spock looks up then, and says quietly, in a voice that isn’t entirely steady, ‘No apology is necessary Doctor. You have done your job with your usual efficiency and diligence.’

McCoy’s mouth falls open slightly, and he says gruffly, ‘Well. Erm. Thank you.’

‘Bones, can Spock and I have a minute?’

McCoy grabs his padd and heads for the door. ‘I’ll be outside if you need me. Let me know what you decide.’

The silence in McCoy's absence is oppressive. Kirk runs a hand across his face. ‘Spock, I'm sorry. I should have noticed something was wrong, I was just so absorbed with- ‘

Spock says quietly, ‘Jim.’

Kirk looks across at him. Spock continues, ‘It is I who should apologise. I have betrayed your trust, and our friendship.’

‘No,’ Kirk interrupts firmly, ‘None of this is your fault, I won’t hear it.’ He reaches across to touch his friend's arm in reassurance, and Spock visibly flinches.

Kirk stares at him with undisguised hurt. ‘You keep doing that. Spock, what the hell have I done wrong?’ He is trying to sound reasonable but hurt and some anger are leaking into his voice. ‘Talk to me. I feel like I’m losing you, but I don’t know why. Help me fix this.’

Spock can’t meet his eyes. Jim is hurt and once again it is the fault of his so-called friend. Kirk is waiting for a response, and part of Spock is crying out to embrace McCoy’s suggestion. But he cannot. Not without ensuring Kirk truly understands the extent to which he has strayed from their unspoken bond of friendship.

‘Dr McCoy is correct. I have not recovered as I should have from the effects of pon farr. I do not have sufficient data to determine why.’ He avoids Kirk’s eyes as he says this, again delivering his speech to McCoy’s desk. ‘I can only theorise that it is a combination of factors, including my unique genetic makeup, the fact of T’Pring’s challenge, the outcome of our combat, and -’ he forces himself to continue ‘- and the fact that I remain unbonded.’

Spock doesn’t have to look up to know that he is being studied with all the considerable focus that his Captain can bring to bear.

Kirk says, not ungently, ‘Spock, I may be being unforgivably dense, but I’m only human and you’re going to have to spell this out for me. Why does all that mean we can’t meld?’

Spock closes his eyes. For a moment it feels as if he is standing on the edge of a dizzying precipice, beyond which is the end of all he holds dear. He forces himself to speak, and is pleasantly surprised by the level, neutral voice which comes out.

‘As you are aware, Vulcans are a highly telepathic species. It is our natural state to utilise this ability in our closest relationships. From our earliest years, mental bonds are formed with our parents, our future bondmate, even close friends. It is seen as not only valuable training in mental discipline, but also an aid to mental and emotional stability.’

He takes a steadying breath. ‘I was unable to form a successful bond with my mother, due to my youth and her low psi rating. My bond with my father was only marginally more successful, and did not survive my leaving home for the academy. My bond with T’Pring was never strong. I suspect now that she wished it that way. I had no close friends.’

He hears Kirk’s intake of breath, and a small abortive movement, and knowing his Captain as he does, suspects that he is physically restraining himself from reaching across the inches that separate them. The thought is painful and yet oddly comforting. He continues quickly.

‘Given those circumstances, and my current relative emotional and mental weakness following the events on Vulcan, I would be uniquely susceptible to the forming of an accidental bond as my mind attempts to compensate for my current lack.’

Kirk says slowly, ‘So your concern is that if we were to meld, for any reason, including Bones’ therapeutic suggestion, we might accidentally form a more permanent bond?’

Spock forces himself to meet Kirk’s gaze. To his surprise, Kirk’s expression is not repulsed, or irritated. He looks surprised, but mostly, curious.

‘Yes. I believe the risk to be greater with you than anyone else due our previous melds.’ Spock takes a breath and looks away. ‘I have been perhaps less careful of the frequency of our mental joining than I should have been. I apologise.’

Kirk frowns. ‘Spock, if memory serves, I asked you to meld with me. On all of those occasions. It was a direct order at least once. You’re taking too much responsibility on yourself.’

‘Nonetheless, Captain, this is the situation.’

Kirk takes a sudden breath. ‘And this is why you won’t touch me. Spock, surely a bond couldn’t be formed so easily? Even with our history.’

‘Usually not, but given my recent mental and emotional instability the desire to do so has been …. extremely strong.’ Spock is aware that his physical controls are insufficient to prevent his face from heating at this admission, and hopes that the lighting in McCoy’s office is poor enough that Kirk will not notice. He twists his fingers together in his lap and tries to keep his tone formal as he adds, ‘As I have said, it is the natural state of Vulcans to be bonded. I am aware that you have been discomforted by my recent reactions to your presence. I hope you can understand that it was out of a wish to not impose upon you any more than I already have.’

He can feel the weight of Kirk’s stare. ‘Impose on me? Spock, you’re my finest officer. My closest friend. You could never impose on me.’

Spock looks at him then, and his expression is so desolate, so wracked with guilt that Kirk has to grip the arms of his chair to stop himself reaching out to comfort.

‘Jim. I killed you.’

It hits Kirk, then, that Bones is right. They haven’t talked about this. And they should have done. Telegraphing his every move in a way he hasn’t done since the start of their relationship almost three years before, Kirk reaches across and takes Spock’s hand in his. A shiver runs through his first officer’s tense form but there is no further reaction as Kirk says, ‘And I’m here. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.’

He presses Spock’s hand lightly as he adds, ‘I knew what I was getting into. You warned me. You pulled yourself out of an all-consuming damn fever just to warn me. But I wasn’t about to let anyone else go through that with you. And -,’ he breaks off, ‘and if only one of us got to walk away, I wanted it to be you.’

Spock says, with sudden vehemence, ‘She should not have chosen you.'

Kirk shrugs. ‘You said yourself it was logical. And there wasn’t a chance in hell I would have just stood by and watched you fight to the death.’

Spock is looking at their joined hands. Silence falls between them.

Kirk says carefully, ‘Let's say you're right. Let’s say a bond does form. Bonds can be broken, can’t they? That’s why we're in this situation after all.’

Spock nods. ‘Yes. Any unwanted bond can be broken. It would not cause lasting damage.’ Silently he adds, to you. He can’t imagine the sense of loss that would result from having a bond so ardently sought, formed, and then ripped away, but this is not about him. This is about putting things right between them. For Jim.

Spock finds that he is suddenly unable to release Kirk’s hand. He is seized with the conviction that this is the last time he will touch him, and he cannot bring himself to let go. He looks at their joined hands as he says. ‘Jim, there is one more thing you must know. If we are bonded, for any length of time, and the bond is successful, as is likely given our mental compatibility, it is also likely that when my time is next upon me -’ there is no way, in any lighting, that Kirk could miss the flush on his cheeks as he says, ‘- I will turn to you.’

It takes a few seconds for his full import to land and when it does, Kirk’s grip reflexively tightens in his. It is a prelude to pulling away, and Spock closes his eyes against the inevitable emotional reaction. But it is in that moment, more than any other in their acquaintance, that Spock has cause to be grateful for his Captain’s unparalleled ability to adapt to anything that is thrown at him. Kirk’s intake of breath is sharp, and his swallow audible, but when he speaks it is with definite amusement in his tone as he says, ‘We've got seven years though, right? Don’t worry, Spock. I’m sure in that time we can do better for you than me.’

Spock opens his eyes to be sure he has heard correctly. Far from the repulsion he has expected, Kirk’s expression is part shocked, part amused, but still determined. For a moment, Spock can merely gape at his Captain. He had been so sure that this would be the moment that Kirk would turn from him, and his isolation would be complete.

Kirk says gently, his hand still in Spock’s, ‘So. Any other objections?’ The sensation of Kirk’s hand in his, after the initial frisson, has now settled a kind of peace throughout his over-taxed system and Spock can feel his quite reasonable and valid objections melting away. He says, ‘None’.

Kirk nods. His expression has hardened into one Spock recognises from the bridge, when a course of action is decided, and Kirk will see it through, come what may. ‘Right. Is now good for you, or is there some kind of preparation required?’

Spock blinks. ‘I do not believe our situation would be improved by further delay.’

Kirk looks at him. ‘Well then, Mr Spock,’ he takes their joined hands and carefully lifts each into place over an approximation of the meld points on his face, ‘over to you.’ He pretends not to notice the slight tremor in his first officer’s hands as he murmurs the ritual words into the space between them.

‘My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.’ Spock’s breath ghosts across Kirk’s face.

Their mental joining is every bit as easy and natural as Spock had hoped, and feared. His mind slips effortlessly into the warmth and welcome of Jim's. He senses his friend’s pleasure and satisfaction at this intimacy, shared only with him. He has cause, once again, to be impressed with Kirk’s mental discipline as the initial flare of emotion at the sensation of Spock’s mind in his, is quickly suppressed and coalesced into focused thought. Spock. Do you need me to do anything?

For his part, Spock is profoundly relieved that his own mental shielding is still in place, sufficient to keep the true depths of his mind from Jim. Although, the initial flame at their contact through the meld has not had the destabilising effect he feared. Instead of disturbing his equilibrium further, if anything, Kirk’s mental presence has soothed his distress of mind.

You are already assisting. We are melded at a surface level now. We can communicate with language without vocalising, and feel surface emotions, but little more. In order to create a bond that will survive beyond our current physical contact, we must deepen our connection.

He feels Kirk’s acquiescence. Just do what you need to. Nothing you won’t have seen before in here. He feels Kirk’s slight bravado for what it is, an attempt to reassure them both.

Before we do, Captain –

He is interrupted. Spock. You’re in my mind. Call me Jim.

As you wish. Jim. Before we proceed, may I share with you some techniques that may assist you in ensuring that our connection goes no deeper, and there is no more sharing than you deem appropriate? A form of mental shielding, if you will. Kirk’s mind immediately supplies an image of his mental presence and Spock’s, separated by a glowing artificial construct which is essentially the shield system of the Enterprise in scaled down form.

Spock sends back, with some amusement, Indeed.

He spends some moments demonstrating to Kirk the rudiments of mental shielding, and once again his Captain proves himself a remarkably quick study. Spock experiences some relief at the thought that Kirk will also be able to regulate the sharing across their bond.

Finally, he sends: Jim. I will now begin to deepen our connection. It may feel somewhat disconcerting at first, you may experience thoughts and emotions that are not your own. Please allow them, and try not to fight against the sensation. I will minimise it as far as possible.

Whatever you have to do, Spock, It’s fine.

He realises, with a frisson of surprise, that Jim is not finding this experience unpleasant or invasive. He feels a sudden burst of affection from Kirk, the source of which he is at a loss to ascertain.

Jim?

Of course I’m not finding this unpleasant. I now know what it actually feels like when you do that ‘not quite smiling’ thing. It’s...nice. There is some embarrassment in the wake of this mental observation and Spock realises that Kirk hadn’t actually meant to share it.

He supplies quickly, If you are ready, Jim?

Go ahead.

Anxious to not prolong this any more than necessary, Spock lowers some of his own mental shields and reaches into his Captain’s mind. There is a brief flash of surprise and resistance which vanishes almost as quickly as it arises, leaving behind a quiet acceptance of his presence, and an open invitation to explore further. The level of freedom is more than any Vulcan would offer, and Spock is momentarily dizzy with the potential of it. There is a rush of longing, and a sudden sharp desire to claim this mind as his own. He ruthlessly suppresses it, relieved that Kirk would have been unable to pick up on it from behind Spock’s own, stronger, mental barriers.

When he is sure the feeling is entirely suppressed, he carefully lowers more of his own mental shielding, allowing more of his mind to flow into Kirk’s. The sense of violation that this could trigger, that he fears, does not arise. Instead their thoughts and feelings flow together with an ease and gentleness that somehow remains clearly their individual minds and yet sings with a vibrancy and strength that is greater than them both. In this, as in all things, they are entirely in harmony with each other, and as the meld deepens and the bond forms, all sense of trepidation and fear, their individual doubts and insecurities, fall away until they are resting in the joined space of their minds, their mutual warmth and affection creating a mental haven that they are both reluctant to leave.

Aware that time has passed, and not entirely sure how much, Spock begins to withdraw from the connection. The reluctance he senses from Kirk’s side of the bond to let him do so is both flattering and a relief.

He comes to himself slowly, and opens his eyes. His hands are now resting in his lap. He cannot recall withdrawing them, but they had obviously become redundant after the forming of the bond. Kirk’s eyes are still closed, but as if he is aware of Spock’s gaze, they flicker open, and he smiles, an open, genuine, unguarded smile.

Spock tries carefully, Jim?

Kirk’s eyes widen. Spock? The surprise on his face is almost comical.

The bond has formed successfully, it would appear.

Yeah. Kirk’s mind brushes the edge of his, like an explorer testing the boundaries of an unknown land. He is surprised at the force of Kirk’s mental presence, strong even without the physical touch. I can ….sense you. In my mind. Not just your thoughts, but...you.

Spock flushes. I hope it is not an unpleasant sensation.

No, not at all. Kirk is concentrating so hard he is frowning.

He watches Kirk’s face as he explores their bond. He uses his own mental techniques to gently redirect when Kirk tries to stray too far into his mind, still impressed at Kirk’s ability to do so. Minutes pass as they both adjust to their new mental landscape.

Kirk sends suddenly, How far apart can we be for this to still work?

Spock blinks. I am...unsure. A rush of enthusiasm, not his own.

Let’s find out. Kirk stands, and steps towards the door. Sensing his movement, it opens and McCoy appears as if transported to the spot, looking at them both with concern.

‘Bones!’ Kirk greets him as if the Doctor waiting patiently outside had entirely slipped his mind.

McCoy regards him with suspicion. ‘Well you look cheerier.’

Spock stands, attracting McCoy’s focus. ‘We have adopted your suggestion, Doctor.’

McCoy looks from one to the other in open surprise. ‘You didn’t let the grass grow.’ He exhales. ‘Right. Good. I want daily reports from both of you. Morning and evening. How you’re sleeping, how your work is affected, mood, meditation, concentration, the lot. I’ll forward you the reporting template. And I want you both in here to update my baseline readings after every shift. At the remotest sign of any negative side effects, you’re both back here, stat. No arguments.’

He eyeballs them both pointedly. ‘Am I clear?’

Kirk opens his mouth and Bones says, ‘Or you both just stay in sickbay. Your choice.’

Kirk says, ‘We’ll look forward to seeing you, Doctor.’

As they leave, Spock hears: You go to your quarters, I’ll meet you there in a minute.

He walks slowly to his cabin, nodding to crew members along the way. A gentle hum in the back of his mind tells him that the growing distance between them is not affecting the bond. After a few minutes, Kirk’s mental voice says Spock?

Yes, Jim?

Just checking.

As he arrives at his quarters: Spock?

Yes, Jim?

Just checking.

A few minutes later, curiosity gets the better of him. Jim. What are you doing?

Seeing how far apart we can get.

Where are you?

Shuttle bay.

Spock raises an eyebrow.

Spock. Kirk’s mental voice is delighted. Did you just raise an eyebrow?

Spock blinks in surprise. Yes, Jim.

The distinct sound of laughter echoes through the bond. Felt it. Brilliant. Hold on, I’m coming back.

Spock has a flash of memory: himself, as a young boy, watching his friends running from place to place and room to room, experimenting with the strength of a mental connection he had never experienced. He had not been asked to form a friendship bond and in that moment, he had desperately wanted one. To have it now, as an adult, with his Captain, of all people, is...odd. But decidedly not unpleasant. It takes a great deal more control than it should to avoid smiling as Kirk appears at the door to his quarters.

‘Clear as a bell. Brilliant.’ Kirk comes inside, grinning. ‘It feels like it’d work anywhere on the ship.’ He catches Spock’s eye and only looks slightly abashed. ‘I know. Serious medical purpose and all that. But this could actually be useful from a practical perspective, instant communication anywhere on the ship, if comms were down... do you think it’d work ship to surface?’

Spock cannot help but stare at him. Of all the reactions he had been expecting to what was essentially a forced bond, this enthusiastic exploration of possibility was not on the list. Although in retrospect, he thinks, given who he was dealing with, it probably should have been.

Kirk is looking back at him and he hears, Sorry, Spock. Is this...inappropriate use of a serious mental link?

Spock regards him steadily. Not at all, Captain. You are being very...human about it.

Kirk cuts him a look half way between a glare and a laugh, then his eyes widen. In his excitement he switches to speaking aloud, and Spock is not entirely sure he is aware he has done so. 'A-ha! That was a joke! I felt that!’ He points at Spock, grinning cheerfully. ‘You, mister, will never be able to claim you don’t understand humour in my presence again.’

They slip back into their usual banter as easily as breathing.

Spock says blandly, ‘I never claimed to not understand your humour, Captain. Merely to not find it humorous.’

Kirk has leaned against his desk to regard Spock with a wicked grin. ‘That’s a bold claim for someone who has me in his head. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?’

‘We will.’ There is a distinct twinkle in Spock’s eyes which seems to echo across the bond.

Kirk slaps the desk and stands straight. ‘Well, Mr Spock,’ Kirk says cheerfully, ‘I feel fit for duty, how about you?’

‘Indeed Captain.’

As they enter the turbolift, Spock sends, Jim. I will shield the bond more extensively when we are on duty. I would not wish to be a distraction.

Or have me distract you? Kirk sends back with a sideways glance.

There is a flicker of amusement through their bond, although Spock’s face doesn’t change. I cannot conceive of such a circumstance, Captain.

As Kirk is formulating a reply, the easy presence at the back of his mind vanishes, and he is abruptly alone in his own head. He blinks rapidly and inhales. For someone who has been alone in his head all his life, the sensation is surprisingly unwelcome.

He glances at Spock. The Vulcan’s face is shuttered.

Kirk sends carefully, Spock? There is no response, and no sense at all of his friend's mental presence. Jim turns back to face the turbolift doors and frowns in concentration. Focusing his mental voice, he sends towards the shielded part of his mind, with as much determination and mental volume as he can muster, SPOCK! HEY! SPOCK!

A look of disbelief crosses the Vulcan’s face as he turns to face his captain. Kirk arranges his face into a look of innocence as the turbolift comes to a stop. As the doors open he adds, ‘Just checking.’

Chapter Text

For the first few hours of their shift, Kirk resists the urge to try and speak to Spock through their bond. After essentially being mentally shouted at, Spock has, with the air of one somewhat put upon, lowered the barrier between them to the point that if he concentrates, Kirk can clearly sense Spock’s presence. This, to the Captain’s mind, is a far more practical state of affairs. There is no telling when the ability to communicate with his first officer without speaking aloud might be useful and having a total block in the way of that seems simply unnecessary. 

He had been hoping that the unknown sector of space they are currently traversing might make his point for him, in some exciting and unanticipated way. Unfortunately it has proved to be remarkable only in its truly spectacular dullness and Kirk has been reduced to tackling the backlog of administration that burdens the life of any starship captain.  

After three hours of this, he is bored beyond endurance and the lure of being able to talk to Spock without alerting the rest of the bridge crew to their Captain’s restlessness proves too strong.  

Spock. He’s not sure about the level of mental energy required for the thought to transmit and wonders if he’s pitched it too low. However the reply is immediate. 

Yes Captain? 

Spockwe talked about this. Jim. 

We are on the bridge.  Spock’s mental voice sounds slightly scandalised.  

Kirk thinks idly that he will never get tired of the way Spock’s mental voice is so much more expressive than his speaking voice. He tamps down quickly on the thought lest it be accidentally transmitted.  

Ah yes. Quite right, Mr Spock.  

There is a lull in their mental communication.  

Was there something you wanted, Captain? 

Watcha' doin'?

There is a very definite feeling of long suffering patience from Spock’s side of their bond. Kirk wonders how often he has that feeling in relation to his human colleagues. A lot, he guesses.  

I am continuing to analyse the readings from the nebula we encountered two weeks ago. I am reviewing departmental reports from our astrophysics and security teams. I am overseeing the  recalibration of the sensor arrays, and remotely assisting Lieutenant Aashral with a diagnostic of the pad in transporter room two.  

Kirk blinks. All at once?  

It is a quiet shift. There is a definite undercurrent to this statement that Kirk recognises although he takes a moment to place it.  

SpockAre you - Kirk is working quite hard now to keep his face straight -bored 

He turns his head in time to see his first officer, still intent on his console, stiffen slightly.  

Vulcans do not get bored, Captain. We fill our time constructively.  

Kirk looks back to his report, smiling to himself.  

If you say so, Mr Spock.  

He hears, quietly but distinctly, Starship Captains, on the other hand.... 

Kirk’s head snaps up and he turns to stare at Spock’s back. I heard that! 

His movement attracts Sulu’s attention and the navigator half turns, ‘Something you need, Captain?’  

Kirk raises a hand to rub his neck. ‘No, no. Just a crick. Too much report reading. Thank you, Mr Sulu.’  

There is a suspicious and suppressed vibration into the silence from Spock's side of the bond.  

You'd  better not be laughing at your Captain over there, Mister.  

He hears smoothly. Captain, that suggestion is unlikely on a number of levels.  

Uh-huh. Well I can’t be chatting to you all shift. I’ve got thrilling reports to read.  

I have forwarded the astrometrics report to your padd. In case you are in need of further  ...thrilling....  reading material.  

Astrometrics. Be still my beating heart.  

Captain, there is a problem with the sensor recalibration. It will require my undivided attention for some moments. This is transmitted with an obvious reluctance that tugs at Kirk. He wonders if Spock is aware how much of his background emotional noise is seeping across the bond.  

He sends back fondly, Go ahead Spock. I should be reading these reports anyway.  

Spock’s presence in his mind disappears and Kirk returns to his padd. An hour later, he realises that at some point Spock’s presence has returned. He sends, How are our sensors?  

Better than ever, Captain 

I would expect no less, Mr Spock.  

They return to work in companionable mental silence.  

As their shift ends, Kirk jumps up, glad for the opportunity to finally get off the bridge. He makes a mental note to schedule some kind of snap inspection for tomorrow to give him a chance to stretch his legs mid-shift.  

At his movement Spock turns, and Kirk shoots him a smile as they head for the turbolift.  As the doors close, he says ‘Congratulations, Mr Spock. You were successfully not distracting, all shift.' 

‘That is most gratifying, Captain.’ 

Kirk waits.  

‘This is where you tell me I didn’t distract you either.’ 

Spock pauses. ‘You were..... somewhat distracting.’ 

‘Oh. I thought I was pretty good.’ 

‘You engaged in mental ‘small talk’, I believe we could term it. Vulcans do not.’ 

Kirk stares. ‘Really? They have this,’ he gestures between their heads, ‘all the time, and no small talk? No ‘How are you? What are you up to? How about the weather?’ Nothing?’  

‘No.’ 

‘Huh. Okay. I’ll avoid it in future.’ 

Spock shifts slightly beside him. ‘You need not.’ 

Kirk blinks. ‘You just said I was distracting.’ 

‘I did not say the distraction was unwelcome.’ 

Kirk feels a smile spread across his face.  

‘It was a quiet shift,’ Spock adds. The feeling across the bond is a little embarrassed.  

‘And we did talk about ship’s business,’ Kirk supplies helpfully, ‘The sensors, and so forth.’ 

‘Indeed, Captain.’  

The turbolift deposits them near sickbay and they stroll through the corridors.  

‘You took your time,’ Bones grouses as they enter.  

‘We came straight here.’ Kirk objects. ‘The only possible way to get us here faster would be to beam from the bridge and I’m not authorising that as a good use of ships resources.’ 

McCoy waves them to a corner and they perch reluctantly on adjacent biobeds. ‘And we’d all like to end our shift, thank you, but I’ve got to deal with you two first.’  

The Doctor could easily have assigned  this monitoring task to a more junior   member  of the medical staff.  

McCoy activates the beds and waves of medical notation appear in panels over their heads.  

There is a distinct scoffing noise from Kirk’s side of the bond. No chance. Pass up the chance to get both of us in sickbay at the same time? He’d have to be dead.  

McCoy has a medical tricorder out and is running it over Spock’s upper torso, frowning at the results. 

I have observed his invariable tendency to be in sickbay when you or I are also present. It happens more often than strict observation of his assigned shifts would deem probable.  

That’s the thing about Bones. He’s the finest doctor in the fleet. But that’s not why I twisted his arm to convince him to join my crew. McCoy has moved on to Kirk, stabbing at the tricorder like it has personally offended him. He’s loyal to a fault. Once he’s decided you’re his responsibility, he’ll move any damn mountain to keep you alive, whatever the regs say.  

Kirk watches as his CMO compares the tricorder readings to those above their heads. Spock sends, and Kirk wonders with amusement if he knows how impressed he sounds, He lied. To T’Pau 

Kirk feels a grin spreading over his face as he meets Spock’s eyes. Yeah. He did, didn’t he? And here we are.  

Some of the relief and fondness in Spock’s mental voice seeps into his face and there is a ghost of a smile as Kirk hears, The Doctor is a most dedicated physician.  

They both become aware at the same time of the lack of activity around them. The dedicated physician in question is looking between the two of them with narrowed eyes.  

‘Wait just one second here. I thought you two were quiet. Are you,’ he gestures back and forth between them, ‘talking to each other? Up here?’ He taps his temple.  

‘That is the nature of Vulcan bonds, Doctor.’ Spock supplies. 

‘Not all of them, according to my research.’ He turns to Kirk. ‘Jim, you okay with this? I mean your psi rating’s good for a human but by Vulcan standards it’s pathetic.’ 

Kirk laughs. ‘Don’t worry, Bones, I’m holding my own.’  

McCoy frowns. ‘Well. Out loud in my sickbay if you please. I’m not having you both plotting how to avoid your next physical whilst I’m stood right here.’  

Spock says quietly, ‘We were voicing our appreciation of your actions on Vulcan.’  

McCoy huffs a breath. ‘Yes, well, that is my job.’  

‘No.’ Kirk regards him warmly. ‘You went above and beyond the call. No-one else would have even thought of what you did. I haven’t said it before, but.... thank you.’  

McCoy swallows once, and then says in voice noticeably gruffer than his usual drawl, ‘Both of your readings have picked up slightly, which is a good sign. Now clear out of my sickbay and take your disturbing mental chit chat with you.’ 

‘Thank you, Doctor.’ Kirk leaps off the biobed in relief.  ‘Right. After all that sitting down, I need a workout. Spock?’ 

‘I shall review Lieutenant Aashral’s practical work on the transporter pad.’  

McCoy’s raised voice follows them out of sickbay, ‘Spock! That doesn’t sound like off duty activity to me!’ 

By common consent, they hustle to the turbolift.  

Later that night, Kirk has worked out, showered, and finally, finally finished reading his report list for the day. He throws himself on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Spock has been quiet since they left sickbay and Kirk has deliberately not contacted him, either through the bond or otherwise. He knows how much his first officer values his privacy, and is painfully aware that he has skirted the boundaries of thoroughly invading it all day.  He takes a deep breath, and releases it. Overall, this has been one of the strangest days of his command. Nothing to alert Starfleet about, and the ships log will make exceptionally dull reading. But his relationship with Spock is the lynchpin around which the efficient command of the Enterprise turns, and there has been no greater change to it in their shared history.  

He reviews the day, looking for anything he could have done better, or differently, until he feels a presence at the edge of his consciousness gently calling itself to his attention. Jim. Good evening.  

The smile creeps to his face before he is even aware of it. Hey, Spock. 

I wished to inform you that I am about to retire for the night. However, rest assured that my mental shielding will remain in place at all times.  

I wasn’t worried, but thank you.  

I did not want you to be concerned that I would –accidentally or otherwise – eavesdrop on your dreams, so to speak.  

Aren’t we supposed to be 'dream eavesdropping', at least a bit?  

Indeed, however, we will each be alerted to the relevant dreams by the associated emotional charge, and the inclusion of the other. Different dreams should not carry the same resonance across the bond, and therefore not disturb the non-dreaming party.  

Ah right. Okay. Kirk can feel the pull of sleep, and Spock’s point is reassuring. He yawns. Thank you, Spock. I hope I don’t disturb you. 

Likewise  Jim. Sleep well.  

‘Night, Spock. He feels the presence in his mind diminish, but is oddly comforted when it does not disappear entirely.  

Kirk is thrown against the sand. The impact jolts his ahn woon from his hands and before he can react, Spock is on top of him, pinning him down and tightening his own weapon around Kirk’s exposed throat. He struggles, but like this, his first officer’s superior strength is telling and he cannot throw him off. The tightening is relentless, and he is fast losing the ability to breathe. He scrabbles against the strength holding him and tries to meet Spock’s eyes. It cannot, it cannot, end like this. He tries to suppress a rising panic. His vision is clouding.  

Spock, come on, I know you’re in there. Come back to me, please. Help me. Spock! 

Jim. 

He can no longer breathe, or see the man whose strength is ending his life. In desperation he sends Spock – 

Jim, you are dreaming.  

Spock, don’t grieve for me – 

Jim. Look at me.  

Something has changed. The grip around his neck has loosened. The grey clouds across his vision have begun to clear. As they do he sees the face of his closest friend, not lost in a violent, feverish rage, but suffused with concern, dark eyes gazing into his with a hope and affection that makes his heart stutter with relief.  

Spock? 

I am here.    

His maelstrom of emotions – anger, despair, panic, desperation - begin to subside and in it's place he feels a soothing calm begin to insinuate itself into his consciousness.  

He grips the arms of the man above him, grounding himself in Spock’s silent support. Closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, then another.  

Jim. I am so very sorry.  

He feels then, behind the calm being projected to him, a distress that Spock is fighting to suppress. He opens his eyes to see his friend’s face lined with guilt and sadness. Acting without thought, he sits up and pulls the unresisting Vulcan into his arms.  

It’s okay. I’m okay. It was just a dream. He is not entirely sure which of them he is reassuring. Around them, the sands of Vulcan begin to fade.  

When Kirk wakes, it is a gentle return to consciousness, not the frightening jolt of previous nights. He stares into the darkness for an orienting few seconds. He can feel the bond between them like a living thing, vibrating with emotions that Kirk cannot say for sure are solely his.  

Spock? 

I am here. 

You okay? 

I should ask you.  

I’m fine. That’s the best end to that dream I’ve had. Thank you.  But you didn't answer the question.  

I am well Jim.  

He knows from the feel of the bond that Spock is shielding. The distress of earlier has not faded.  

Spock. Don’t torture yourself. You have nothing to feel badly about. There is no response. Jim takes all the respect, admiration, and deep affection he has for his friend and sends it towards the shielded section of the bond.  

The reaction is immediate.  

Jim. Do notThe wave of emotion intensifies, then almost cuts out entirely as Spock shields against him. The difference is so stark that Kirk gasps.  

Spock?  I’m sorry, I was trying to- 

The mental voice is faint. I know. And thank you. But you must not share so much of yourself. The bond will deepen.  

Oh. I’m sorry.  

It does not matter. You must sleep and I must meditate.  

Right. Yes, of course. Good- 

Spock’s presence disappears from his consciousness.  

Kirk stares at the darkened ceiling. -night.  

In his quarters, Spock is kneeling, breath coming in sharp gasps. He leans forward onto his hands in an attempt to regulate his breathing. Kirk’s well-intentioned attempt to reassure him had almost overwhelmed his already stretched mental resources. The intensity of emotion pushed at him from that most precious mind, had triggered an equal and opposite reaction as the bond sought to join them even more deeply, and his mind cried out to claim it’s chosen mate. Halting that natural response had been extraordinarily difficult.  

Slowly, his breathing stabilises. Blocking Jim entirely from his mind is not sustainable, as the bond will continue to strive for completion, but for the moment it allows him to centre himself and bring a sense of equilibrium to his shattered composure.  

Gradually, his calm returns, and he slips into meditation. When he is convinced that the recklessness of earlier will not repeat itself, he ventures to loosen his mental shielding slightly. The bond shimmers in satisfaction as it is completed again, and he feels Kirk’s mind once more resting against his. His Captain, it appears, has slipped back to sleep. Peacefully, this time. One again, his friend’s mental presence is calming, rather than agitating, and Spock sighs in relief. Perhaps he too will now be able to sleep.   

Chapter Text

James T. Kirk blinked slowly at the ceiling of his quarters. One of the expected side effects of being a starship captain was the highly developed ability to go from deep sleep to full alertness in seconds. This morning, however, his mind was a little slower to part from the first decent sleep he’d had in weeks and given the disrupted nature of that sleep, he figured the extra few minutes were allowable.  

Stretching out on his bed, his mind drifted towards the bond. The energy emanating from it seemed a little less vibrant than usual, and it took him a moment to realise why. He’s asleep. Jim thought affectionately. Peacefully too. Good.  

He glanced at the chrono next to his bed. Still nearly three hours until the start of his shift, and he felt remarkably well rested. He jumped out of bed and padded over to his desk, activating the monitor. McCoy’s unfinished survey of the previous night popped up and Jim grimaced, remembering how little he had felt like tackling questions about his mental and emotional state the previous night. With the clear head of a good night’s sleep the answers came easier and he fired the completed questionnaire back to his CMO. Then a mischievous impulse seized him and he thumbed the comm link on his desk. 

‘Kirk to McCoy’ 

A drowsy voice answered. ‘McCoy. Whatssup?’ 

Kirk affected his most irritatingly cheerful morning voice. ‘Good morning Doctor, I trust you had a pleasant sleep?’ 

‘What time is –’ There was a distinct rustling as McCoy turned over to check, then: ‘God dammit Jim, you’d better be dying.’  

‘I just wanted to let you know that I’ve sent over your questionnaire.’  

‘You wanted me to know that now? Almost three hours before my shift?’  

Kirk kept the smile out of his voice. ‘You did say this morning.’ 

‘Yes, this morning!’ McCoy could go from zero to irate faster than anyone else Kirk knew. ‘Not the middle of the night!’ 

‘I thought there was no time like the present to let you know that your treatment seems to be working.’ 

‘Well I'm delighted.’ McCoy grumped. He was doing his best to continue to sound annoyed, but the satisfaction of the friend and medical professional was seeping through. ‘You slept alright then?’ 

‘A nightmare started, but Spock headed it off. Just like you said. I slept like a baby after that.’  

‘Good. Well since I’m awake’ - this was said with pointed vehemence - ‘I shall call our Vulcan friend and hear it from him too.’  

Kirk paused. ‘Give it an hour, Bones.’ 

‘What for?’ 

‘He’s asleep.’ 

There was a silence from the other side of the comm link. ‘Do I want to know how you know that?’ 

‘We’re bonded, remember? His mind feels different when he’s asleep.’  

‘Well that’s … disturbing.’ There was a sigh from the other end of the comm. ‘Jim, I’m sorry there wasn’t another way to do this.’  

Jim ran a hand absently through his hair. ‘Don’t apologise, it’s not as bad as you think. Actually, it’s not bad at all. I’m ...kind of enjoying it.’ He wanted to go on and explain how different Spock’s mental voice was to his spoken voice: less formal, freer with his emotions. But it felt like something private, and he didn’t want to share, even with McCoy. So he settled for: ‘It’s....nice.’  

‘Uh huh.’ McCoy sounded unconvinced. ‘Sounds hellish intrusive to me. I think I’d -- hold on. Just one damn minute. How come he gets to sleep and I get woken up for this conversation that we could have had at any other time today?’ 

Kirk replied cheerfully. ‘The joys of being CMO, Bones. You’re never off duty.’  

‘And don’t I damn well know it. Now clear off and I might get another half hour’s shut eye.’  

‘See you later Bones.’ 

His CMO broke the connection with something that sounded suspiciously like ‘Not if I see you first.’  

Kirk grinned. Today was going to be a good day.  

‘Good morning Captain.’ 

‘Good morning, Mr Spock.’ He had become aware, earlier, when Spock’s mental energy had changed to consciousness, but had resisted the urge to reach out. His forbearance was rewarded with one of Spock’s almost smiles as they fell into step along the corridor.  

He sent: Thank you again for last night.  

No thanks are necessary Jim, it was the purpose of this exercise.  

All the same, I slept really well. 

As did I. 

Kirk said aloud, ‘Good.’ He clapped his hands together. ‘Right, I’m off to engineering. Quick inspection, make sure everything is shipshape down there.’  

There was an infinitesimal pause before Spock said, ‘I find it hard to believe that Mr. Scott would allow things to be otherwise.’  

‘Well, it doesn’t hurt to ch-.’ Kirk stopped.  

That pause... Spock? Were you just about to pull my leg? 

Jim? 

Jim sent: About my use of shipshape. You were about to make another comment. I felt it. He grinned at Spock. Something about it being impossible for a part of the ship to be other than shipshape?  

The expression Spock turned on him was innocence personified. I have no idea to what you are referring, Captain.  

Kirk laughed out loud. You stopped because I’d have felt you were kidding. He poked Spock in the side. You old fraud. He grinned up at his first officer with affection. Spock’s face twitched and for a heartbeat, Jim thought that Spock was about to smile back, right in the middle of their ship, for all to see.  

Spock’s face remained impassive. There is no need to be insulting, Captain. But the affection behind his comment kept Kirk cheerful all the way to engineering. 

An hour later, and Kirk was wondering why he didn’t spend more time with his engineering crew. Scotty and his team were delighted to have the opportunity to show off their section to the Captain, and he was hardly able to reign in their endlessly enthusiastic explanations. Kirk's scores in all of his starship engineering courses at the academy had been excellent, and he kept himself up to date with any and all developments that concerned his ship, but even so he found himself slightly losing the drift of some of Scotty’s more detailed explanations. He wished he’d invited Spock to join the inspection. He had the knack of asking just the right questions to shine a light into whatever esoteric corner of the engineering world Scotty was currently absorbed in.  

At the thought of his first officer, he wondered how Spock’s bridge shift was coming along. Uneventfully, if the bond was any indication. He smiled to himself at the thought of Spock being bored again.  

Scotty was expounding at length about his upgrades to the magnetic couplings around the warp core, and as Jim listened, he reached out and placed his hand against the barriers that shielded the warp core from the rest of the ship. The heartbeat of the Enterprise vibrated through his body.   

Scotty caught his expression and beamed with pride. ‘Aye, she’s a good lass.’  

‘She is that, Scotty. You take good care of her.’  

The Scotsman drew himself up. ‘I’ve got the best team, sir.’ 

Kirk looked around to see said team regarding him with expectation, and raised his voice. ‘You do indeed, Mr. Scott. Congratulations are due to you and your team. This is the finest engine room I’ve ever had the pleasure to inspect.’ The surrounding crew members grinned and shot triumphant glances at each other.  

Scotty beamed around at them all. And then, as quickly as it had arrived, the smile disappeared. ‘Right, you lot, back to work. You dinnae get to be the best section in the fleet by standin’ around!’ Kirk smothered a grin as the crew disbursed like frightened rabbits. They clearly viewed Scotty as some kind of generally benevolent god, who could be terrifying when offended.  

As Scotty moved on to rhapsodise about the new lining of the Enterprise’s nacelles, Kirk had the worrying feeling that he may have accidentally committed more than their fair share of ship’s resources to one of Scotty’s passion projects, and he made a mental note to get Spock to check his calculations later. Then he remembered he could just -  

Hey Spock.  

The reply was gratifyingly immediate. Yes, Captain? 

Bored, Jim thought to himself triumphantly. Knew it.  

He sent: Spock, Scotty wants to pull energy from other systems to run simulations on improvements he’s proposing to the impulse drive. He reckons about 10% more than they’d usually pull when the ship’s at impulse. I said we’d probably be able to manage it, what d’you think?  

Indeed , Captain.  The realignment of the sensor array will be completed today, and will result in a 5% overall system efficiency. The remaining allocation required for Mr. Scott’s calculations could be achieved by temporarily taking offline non-essential systems. Perhaps on a rotating shift pattern for the length of the project. Did Mr. Scott indicate the proposed duration?  

Hold on, I’ll ask him.  

‘Scotty,’ Kirk interrupted a short diatribe on the efficiency of the engineers who had recently assisted with the overhaul of the warp nacelles on starbase eight, ‘Spock thinks the 10% boost in power for the impulse simulations will be fine.’ 

Captain - 

‘He wants to know how long you’ll need it for.’ 

Jim -  

Hold on, Spock. I can’t hold two conversations at once. ‘He’s proposing to offline some non-essential systems for the duration.’ 

Scotty blinked at him in confusion, and said uncertainly. ‘Ye’ve nae had a chance tae speak to Mr Spock?’ He looked around as if expecting the Enterprise’s first officer to leap out from behind the nearest console.  

Kirk froze. ‘Ah.’ He recovered quickly. ‘Er, not exactly, no, but I can …guess what he might say.’  

Your guesswork is truly exceptional, Captain. The voice in Kirk’s head was dry.  

Scotty grinned. ‘Oh aye, ye’ve worked together long enough. Well about two days I would think. Maybe three if we’re really thorough. Four at the most.’ 

Kirk sent: You know, you’re funny for a guy who doesn’t appreciate my humor.  

Aloud he said, ‘I think Mr. Spock would say four days is fine, Scotty. I think he’d be delighted to work out four whole days worth of non-essential system shut-down rotas. In fact, why not take another day. Just to be safe. You wouldn’t want to miss anything.’ 

Scotty beamed in delight. ‘Thank ye, Captain. Ye’ll have the best impulse drive in the fleet.’ As he hurried off to give the good news to his team, Kirk heard: Very funny, Jim. 

I knew you’d come around to my sense of humor. 

The wry silence through the bond continued as Kirk hustled back to the bridge. He grinned to himself as the turbolift deposited him at the Enterprise's command centre. Teasing Spock through the bond was fun, but doing it whilst being able to watch his face was better. Maybe he'd take Spock along on any snap inspection tomorrow. 

The rest of the shift passed uneventfully. McCoy was once again understatedly pleased with whatever readings he was using to monitor their relative stress levels, and their visit to sickbay was happily brief. 

In his quarters, Kirk found himself no longer dreading the necessity to go to sleep, and almost looking forward to it. Setting aside the ‘fleet research paper he’d been reading, he stretched out on his bed, and thought, Spock.  

Yes, Jim? 

I might turn in early, if that’s okay.  

You do not require my permission. 

I know, but I wanted to warn you. In case I dream again, and disturb you.  

You do not disturb me.  

Thank you. He wondered if bonds were always this easy, this comfortable. What are you doing that I won’t be disturbing?  

Practice. The image of Spock’s lute formed in Kirk’s mind.  

Oh, lovely. I mean, I don't know much about music, but I like listening to you play.  

Thank you. The feeling at the other end of the bond was a little embarrassed, and then Spock sent hesitantly, Would you..... like to listen now 

Jim smiled. I would, very much.  

The sound of the lute began to drift through the bond. The music was nothing he recognised, but it was soothing, and gentle, and surpassingly lovely. Eventually, Kirk felt himself begin to drift, and sent drowsily, G’night, Spock.  

Good night , Jim.  

The sound of the lute lulled him to sleep.  

Kirk slammed awake, bolting upright and gasping for breath against the searing heat and fire that threatened to overwhelm his fractured control. It took a few precious seconds to ground himself and realise that the sensations were not coming from his own mind. Kirk threw up a mental wall between him and the maelstrom, concentrating on the feel of his own body, and the sheets clenched in his hands. He took a few deep, shaky breaths. Dear God. Was that what pon farr felt like? It was genuinely terrifying. Like being caught in an emotional hurricane. His breathing began to even out. But if Spock was dreaming of pon farr, then it was Jim's turn to help him out of his nightmare.    

Kirk closed his eyes, centered himself strongly as he could in his own mind, then began to lower his mental shielding. Even at this remove, the hurricane threatened to drag him in. He needed a way to punch through it. He focused his mind, and threw his mental presence as hard as he could against the turbulence. Spock! For a moment, he thought he had succeeded. There was a break in the unrelenting chaos as a voice coalesced out of the mental turmoil.  

Jim. 

Kirk froze. There was something wrong with that sound. It was Spock’s voice, but not his way of speaking. That voice was predatory. Dangerous. He sent uncertainly: I’m here.  

For a moment he caught he glimpse of himself, lying on the sands of Vulcan. His face was distorted, and his body unmoving. Then a howl of denial, of grief, seared through his mind and he was thrown away, his mind instinctively protecting itself from the raw violence of it. Vulcan disappeared and he opened his eyes, gasping, on the floor of his quarters.  

The bond was shielded now, whether by his mind or Spock’s he couldn’t tell, but the emotion behind it was gathering again, this time into a tempest of grief.  

'’Dammit.’ His voice sounded shaken even to himself.  

He pulled himself upright and bolted for the door, running the few steps along the corridor, overriding the privacy lock on Spock’s quarters and rushing to the bed. Spock was ashen pale and covered with a sheen of sweat. His entire body was rigid and his face was a rictus of pain. Kirk gripped his shoulders and tried to shake him awake. It felt like trying to shake the bulkhead.  

‘Spock, I’m here.’ He tried to turn his friend to face him. ‘It’s okay. Spock!’ 

There was no response other than an awful, keening moan of pain. Kirk reached for Spock’s face, trying to turn it to him. ‘Spock! Wake up! You’re --’ His fingers brushed the meld points and there was a tingle of response.  

He stared at his hands, and back at Spock’s face. Surely he couldn’t – he was practically psi-null - but it was worth a try. And he had felt it done so many times -  

He placed his fingers carefully on Spock’s meld points, imagining the feel of Spock’s fingers against his own face. The prickling sensation intensified as he sent, as clearly as he could: My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts. 

The shielding between them fell like paper. Forewarned this time, Kirk braced against the swirling grief-despair-anger-pain and sent clearly and loudly into the centre of it, putting all the calm and warmth he could manage behind it: Spock. It’s Jim. I need you. Wake up.  

There was a break in the swirling emotional pain, and Kirk held his breath.  

Jim? You are...alive? 

Kirk felt almost giddy with relief. Spock’s voice. His real voice. Yes! You’re dreaming. You need to wake up now. 

Spock sat up so quickly that Kirk’s hands were dislodged from his face. Jim blinked in disorientation as the meld ended abruptly. Spock’s face was inches from his, staring at him in disbelief and wonder. Jim found himself unable to breathe. He had never seen his friend so open, so vulnerable. Spock reached up and caressed his face, and Jim felt his heart leap into his throat. Spock said reverently, ‘You live.’ Jim swallowed around the lump in his throat. The naked emotion on Spock’s face was hard to bear. He said, his voice raw, ‘I do.’  

The moment hung suspended between them. Then Spock dropped his gaze, clearly struggling for control. Acting without thought, Kirk took his friend into his arms, and leaned his head against Spock’s. They sat resting against each other, as their breathing regulated and some of the tension eased out of Spock’s trembling form.  

Jim said quietly, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t faster. I could have spared you that – I just couldn’t get through. I don’t have the mental discipline that you have.’ 

Spock stirred slightly and leaned back, raising his head. Jim’s hands fell against his upper arms and he looked down at them as he said uncertainly, ‘Jim, did you--’ he paused, as if struggling to process something, and looked back at Kirk in disbelief, ‘Did you meld with me?’ 

Kirk dropped his hands self-consciously. ‘I tried. I didn’t think it would work.’ 

Spock was staring at him in fascination. ‘I - It should not have. You are human.’ 

Kirk shrugged, quirking Spock a half smile. ‘Desperate, is what I was.’ 

Spock lifted one of Kirk’s hands, turning it over as if expecting to see some explanation written there. He breathed, ‘Fascinating.’ 

Jim watched Spock as he held Jim's hand in both of his, still examining the fingertips as a slight frown creased his forehead, ‘It must be because of the bond, but even then it should not be possible to--'  Jim only half listened, relieved to see Spock regaining some of his equilibrium. Gradually, he became aware of his own half-dressed state, and of Spock’s. Of the bond that hummed between them, and the intimacy of their current position. Of the moment, mere minutes earlier, when he had entertained the wild notion that Spock might reach for him. Might even…kiss him. And in that moment of relief, of heightened emotion, had he... wanted it? 

Spock’s voice came back to him from the previous day, clear as if he had spoken again ‘I would turn to you.’  

Jim felt a jolt of arousal so unexpected and sudden that he jerked his hand reflexively from Spock’s grip. Spock looked at him in surprise that was almost hurt.   

Jim said, ‘You need to sleep. I - shouldn’t keep you.’  

Spock expression shuttered slightly as he said, ‘As do you. I apologise for disturbing you.’ 

‘Don’t. There’s no need. I only did what you did for me yesterday.’ He gave a rueful half smile. ‘And not so efficiently.’ 

'Your methods were unorthodox but surprisingly effective.’ Spock’s voice was regaining a little of its usual steadiness. 

Jim flashed him a quick grin. ‘Sounds like every performance evaluation I’ve ever been given.’ 

‘That would not surprise me.’  

Jim huffed a laugh and made to stand. ‘Listen, I’ll leave you to -' 

Spock made an odd, abortive gesture as he rose, as if he had been about to seize Jim’s hand and thought better of it.  

Jim hesitated. ‘Spock, are you sure you’re okay? I can stay.’ 

In the dim light, Spock looked incredibly pale. Moments ticked by as Kirk stood uncertainly beside the bed. Spock didn’t meet Kirk’s eyes as he said, ‘Jim, we must break the bond. As soon as possible.’ His hands twisted convulsively in the sheets as he spoke.  

Kirk stared. A cold hand had gripped his heart. He said, ‘Not yet. It hasn’t served its purpose. Bones said a week.’ He drew a steadying breath and sat back down. ‘Spock, I’m sorry. I know this must be hard for you. I know I’ve been invading your privacy, and I’m constantly talking in your head. It’s just the novelty of it. I'll be better, I promise.’ He broke off, suddenly aware that he was rambling, and that Spock was staring at him. 

Spock said, his voice unsteady, ‘Jim, you do not understand.’  

‘Then what? Tell me.’ 

‘The bond is growing stronger. You should not have been able to initiate a meld. It is not possible for a non-Vulcan.’ Spock sounded as though the words were being torn from him. ‘We must break the bond. Now. Before it becomes too - painful- to do so.’ 

‘No.’ Kirk’s voice was firm but gentle. ‘Look, if we break it now, we’re back where we started. Let’s talk about it tomorrow, get Bones’ opinion. And I promise: I’ll stay out of your head unless absolutely necessary.’ 

Spock didn’t look at him as he said, ‘Jim, I -' he broke off, then the rest of the words came in a despairing rush, '- I do not want you to stay out of my head.’ He had that guilty, broken look again that Kirk hated.  

Jim said slowly, ‘Since we’re being honest – I don’t want you to stay out of my head either.’  

Spock looked at him then, an awful, desperate relief in his face. Jim reached over and smoothed a section of Spock’s hair into something approaching its usual neatness.

He said, ‘Go to sleep, Spock. That’s an order.’ 

This earned him a twitch of an eyebrow. ‘I think you may be exceeding your authority in this area, Captain.’  

Kirk smiled. ‘Report me tomorrow, okay?’  

There was a pause, and then Spock said carefully, ‘Perhaps it would be better to discuss this at a more .... appropriate time.’ 

‘That’s the spirit.’ Kirk rose again, then hesitated. ‘Are you sure you’re -’ 

‘I am well, Jim.’ It was almost convincing. 

‘Okay.’ He moved away. ‘Well. Goodnight then.' 

‘Goodnight, Jim.’  

It took all of Kirk’s self-control not to look back.  

Chapter Text

When he woke the next morning, Kirk knew immediately that Spock was shielding his side of their bond. The silence in his mind was resounding, and unwelcome. He sighed and sat up, running a hand over his face. He was more tired than yesterday, due mostly to the length of time it had taken him to fall asleep after leaving Spock’s quarters. He still hadn’t reached any satisfactory conclusions about what had actually happened – his memories and emotions of the night before were so mixed with Spock’s he had had a hard time sorting out what was him and what was Spock. He knew he didn’t want the bond broken, but examining the reasons for that had required a level of self-examination he hadn’t been ready for after his encounter with Spock’s nightmare and the intensity of emotion that followed.  

He swung himself out of bed and began to prepare for the day. Perhaps Spock was right. Perhaps they needed to break the bond, sooner rather than later. It was selfish of him to want to keep it just because he enjoyed it, even if it was helping them both. Spock was right about the risk – bonding with your Captain for a brief therapeutic intervention was a whole different proposition to bonding for life. He couldn’t inflict that on Spock.  

Yes, Spock hadn’t seemed to want to break the bond either, but Kirk wasn’t about to kid himself that was due to his innate appeal as a bond mate. Spock had said it himself in sickbay: he had no-one else to bond with, and to be bonded was the natural state of Vulcans. In that circumstance, even a bond with an undisciplined and over-sharing human mind was better than nothing.  

He was pulling his uniform shirt roughly over his head when the comm sounded. 

‘McCoy to Kirk.’  

He freed his arm and thumbed the comm link on his desk. ‘Kirk here.’ 

‘What? No early morning call? You want a lie in and my reporting is suddenly less urgent?’ 

Kirk stifled another sigh. ‘Good morning to you too, Doctor.’ 

McCoy’s voice immediately sounded sharper. ‘That’s not the voice of a man who had an uninterrupted night’s sleep.’  

Kirk sat heavily. ‘I slept okay. Took a while to get off though.’ He tailed off, running his thumb along the edge of the desk, unsure how much more to share.  

‘Talk to your friendly country doctor.’ McCoy’s voice was that of the friend, but Kirk was under no illusions that he’d get away with sharing any less than the medical professional wanted to know.  

He said flatly, ‘Spock had a nightmare. A bad one. I died again. He was shielding so I couldn’t break through at first to let him know I was okay. We got there in the end though.’  

‘Okay.’ McCoy’s voice was still curious. ‘That sounds like progress to me but I’m not hearing any sense of self-congratulation over there.’ 

‘Spock thinks we should break the bond.’ 

There was a pause. ‘I assume you mean now, not in a few days?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘What’s the logic behind that idea?’ 

‘He says I shouldn’t have been able to get through to him when he was shielding. He says the bond is getting stronger. And the stronger it gets, the harder it is to break, apparently.’  

There was a slow exhale from McCoy’s side of the comm. ‘I see.’ 

Kirk said quickly, ‘It’s working though, I know it is. I mean last night was bad but without the bond it would have been worse. I hate to think what he’s been going through.’ 

 ‘So…. you’re not on board with the bond breaking plan.’ It wasn’t a question.  

‘No, I’m not.’ Kirk paused. ‘I mean, if he really wanted to break it, of course I would, but he doesn’t, he said as much. He’s only worried about it being hard to break, but there’s no point in worrying about that until it needs to happen.’ It occurred to Kirk that he was sounding a little defensive, so he added, ‘And it is working, right? Our readings are improving?’ 

McCoy replied carefully, ‘I’d need to see today’s results to say definitively, but yes. All the signs are good. I think it’ll only take a couple more days for your levels to even out, three at most.’  

‘Well that’ll be fine, I’m sure. I’ll speak to Spock.’ 

McCoy said with a quiet firmness that brooked no argument, ‘I’ll speak to Spock. You get on with being Captain.’ 

Kirk opened his mouth to protest, but what came out was, ‘Okay.’ He stopped. ‘Yeah, that’s probably – yeah. Thanks, Bones.’  

Spock sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the door. He needed to leave. He needed to stand up, walk out of his quarters, and head for the bridge. The bridge. Where he would spend the day with his Captain. His best friend, and the man who last night had effectively done the impossible to pull him out of a nightmare of his own making, thereby proving how innately compatible their minds were, and how painful this bond would be to break. Indulging it now, allowing Kirk’s affection and friendly chatter in his mind, would make it so much worse when the time came. But how could he do otherwise, when to block his friend would cause the hurt he was trying to avoid? And he couldn’t lie to himself that he wanted to block the bond. Sharing thoughts and feelings with Jim was proving to be one of the abiding joys of his life, and to end it prematurely, just through fear of the future, surely that was…not logical? 

The sound of the door chime made him jump.  

‘Come in.’ He looked up, expecting to see Jim, but McCoy entered, tricorder in hand.  

‘Morning, Spock.’ He stood in confusion as McCoy crossed straight to Spock’s desk, pulled out the chair and dragged it to the bed. ‘Sit down; I’m doing house calls today.’ 

Spock rallied. ‘Doctor, this is unnecessary, I would have –‘ 

‘I know, but we doctors like to keep our hand in, in the field. Can’t be surrounded by cutting edge medical technology all the time, sometimes you just gotta make do with a tricorder. Sit.’ 

Spock did as instructed. He couldn’t deny that not having to go to sickbay would be a relief. McCoy sat beside him and for a moment the only sound was the whirring of the small device in the doctor’s hand.  

Spock waited. He was under no illusions that McCoy was simply here to take readings. Whatever the doctor wanted to say would be said, and Spock could no more prevent it than he could fly. The machine stopped its whirring and McCoy consulted the screen with a look of satisfaction. He sat back and Spock regarded him evenly.  

‘It is working, you know.’ McCoy was using that tone he reserved for those moments when he felt a patient was especially vulnerable, and Spock wanted to bridle at it, but instead he felt his hard won defences begin to drop.  

He said tightly, ‘I am aware.’ 

McCoy nodded. He took a breath, and then said, ‘Spock, I don’t know how easy it is to quantify this, but Jim said you think the bond is getting stronger. How much difference is three more days going to make; and what kind of impact am I looking at when you break it?’ 

McCoy’s habit of getting straight to the point had both pleased and irked Spock in the past, but on this occasion, he was glad to have avoided the small talk anyone else would have attempted. He said carefully, ‘I cannot be sure.’ 

McCoy said, ‘Understood. I won’t hold you to it. Ballpark it for me.’ 

Spock released a breath. ‘After further consideration, I believe I may have been inaccurate in my statement to the Captain. Although I do believe the bond is increasing in strength, I do not believe three further days will make any significant difference.’  

McCoy blinked. ‘Okay. Good.’  

‘The bond is already stronger than it should be.’ 

‘Oh.’ McCoy frowned. ‘How did that happen?’ He regretted the question immediately when Spock looked away guiltily.   

Spock said, ‘I did not anticipate the compatibility of our minds. I have not initiated a bond before and I –,‘ he swallowed before continuing, and his gaze fell from McCoy’s, ‘I thought to compensate for the Captain’s lack of telepathic ability by initiating a slightly deeper bond than I would otherwise have done. In retrospect, that was an error.’  

There was a pause, then McCoy sighed. ‘Huh. Well, you live and learn.’ 

Spock turned his head to stare at McCoy, and the doctor gave his best folksy country medico shrug. ‘Spock, we’re both off the map here in terms of expertise. What you’re saying is, the damage is done. We’ve just gotta minimise the impact.’ His voice took on a firmer tone. ‘So. What will happen when you break the bond?’ 

Spock drew himself up. ‘To the Captain? I do not believe there will be any physiological impact. I will be able to minimise any psychological harm that may possibly occur, and I do not believe there will be any lasting injury.’   

McCoy waited.  

Spock said more uncertainly, ‘From what he has said, I think he may – experience a level of emotional impact.’ 

McCoy waited.  

Spock continued with the air of a man traversing a mine field, ‘He has expressed that he is – content - with the presence of the bond, and may experience a sense of loss at its absence.’ He added with more conviction, ‘I do not believe the impact will be lasting.’  

McCoy waited.  

Spock said uncertainly, ‘Perhaps if you were to speak to the Captain –‘ 

McCoy said patiently, ‘You, Spock. What will the impact be on you?’  

Spock felt as if the air had been sucked from the room. He wanted to take a breath, to respond to the doctor’s question, but the tightness in his throat was preventing him from speaking.  

McCoy watched him for a moment longer, then looked away. When he spoke, his voice was light. ‘Did you know you haven’t taken any leave that wasn’t mandated since you came on board? I’ve checked. In fact, you haven’t taken any time off at all in over six months. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that as CMO I am required to ensure that you take regular leave, particularly given the stresses of your role. And despite your unparalleled performance record, regulations demand that I do so imminently. I was thinking - end of the week?’ This last was a question, and he looked over at Spock.  

The Vulcan nodded.  

McCoy added quietly, ‘Do I need to get any expertise here that I don’t have?’ 

Spock found he could speak again. He said, ‘I would not wish to trust my care to any expertise other than yours, Doctor.’ 

McCoy looked down for a moment, breathed out, and then stood up. ‘Well, I think this home visit experiment has been a success. I might make a habit of it.’  

Spock felt a light touch brush his shoulder, then McCoy was walking towards the door. As he reached it, Spock heard, ‘Anything you need, you know where I am.’  

After McCoy’s visit, Spock felt oddly lighter, and headed for the bridge with more confidence than he had felt earlier. As he entered Kirk turned in his chair and shot him a slightly uncertain smile. He nodded in return and took his station. 

A few minutes later, Kirk had wandered over. Keeping his voice low, he said, 'Spock, everything okay?’ 

‘Yes, Captain.’ He met Kirk’s concerned gaze. ‘It is.’  

Kirk looked him over, then smiled. ‘Good.’ He leaned on the console next to Spock and surveyed the bridge.  

Spock carefully lowered his mental shielding, preparing to inform Jim of at least some of his conversation with McCoy. And realised that Jim was also shielding.  

Unwilling to push at barriers Kirk was choosing to place, and aware that they might be overheard, Spock said, ‘It is quiet today.’ 

Kirk nodded. ‘Scotty’s got all his team running simulations. I’ve asked security to run drills, so it’s just a skeleton bridge crew for now.’ 

Spock said, as discreetly as he could, ‘I was not referring to the bridge.’ 

Kirk turned back to him in surprise. ‘Oh. I wasn’t sure -' his mental barrier vanished and part of Jim's mind was once again inside his own. Spock felt some of his own tension ease as that familiar, cherished voice spoke in his head again - after last night. I didn’t want to assume Jim broke off. Are you okay? Is this okay?  

I am. And this could never be unwelcome.  

Kirk smiled at him, and the feeling through the bond was of such affection, that Spock had to pause before continuing, I have spoken to the doctor about the bond. We are agreed that seeing out his recommended term would be the best course of action.  

Kirk’s smile widened. Great. Spock felt a wash of relief that was not his own. That's great, Spock. If you’re sure? 

I am.  

Jim’s smile widened. Three more days of me and my unnecessary small talk. How will you cope? 

Spock sent: I was considering tranquillisers.  

Kirk laughed out loud. Me or you?  

Me, but since you mention it - 

Hmm. Not totally sure, but you’d probably be on the wrong side of the  regs  somewhere there. Knocking out your Captain. Even with provocation. Oh, whilst I remember, I promised Bones I’d meet him in the rec room for lunch, and he said to drag you along if you’re feeling like it.  

I look forward to it.  

Great.  

* 

Two hours later, they left the bridge. Uhura, although technically in command of the bridge in Kirk’s absence, remained at her station to keep up with ship’s comms. For at least as long as it took the turbolift to descend to the rec level, then she walked over to the only other occupants of the bridge.  

‘Gentlemen.’ 

Sulu and Chekov looked up as she stopped next to their shared console in front of the view screen.  

Uhura drew a breath. She was opposed to gossip, and would not tolerate idle talk of their command team in her presence. However.  

She began. ‘Is it just me -’ 

She never finished, as the end of the sentence was drowned by Sulu’s, ‘No, there is definitely something,’ and Chekov’s, 'It is wery strange.’ 

‘Well that’s a relief. As long as I’m not imagining things.’ She walked back to her station. 

That evening, Kirk watched Spock across the 3D chessboard. This was the first time they had played since the bond, and the first game had been a disaster. They had both inadvertently overhead the other’s strategy, confessed to the same, changed their respective strategies, and then overhead the changed strategy. The game had been abandoned, especially as Kirk felt the bond gave him something of an unfair advantage, given that his strategy was generally improvised and adapted as the game went along anyway.  

Now they were both pointedly shielding the bond, and the second game had been thus far more successful, at least in terms of keeping their game plan a secret. However, Kirk was finding the lack of any sense of Spock’s presence in his mind at least as distracting as the bond, and was giving serious thought to throwing the game to end the silence. He’d almost made up his mind to do it and reached for a different move, just as Spock changed his mind about his move and went for a unexpected piece. Their fingers brushed, and Kirk felt again that oddly charged tingling sensation from the previous night.  

He said, without thinking, ‘Is that why bonded Vulcans do that touching with their fingers?’  

Spock looked at him in shock. ‘Jim?’  

Kirk had the feeling he’d just mis-stepped, but without the bond he couldn’t quite identify Spock’s response. He said slowly, ‘That tingling sensation. It’s quite...pleasant, and it made sense of that gesture.’ He held his two fingers up in an approximation of the motion he’d once seen Sarek and Amanda use. 

Spock was staring at his raised hand. ‘You - felt -?’ 

Kirk nodded. ‘It happened last night when I was trying to reach you. And again, just now. I figured it must be the bond, it’s never happened before. Will it happen every time we touch?’ 

Spock said, in an oddly lost voice that tore at Kirk, ‘I do not know. I have never experienced a bond like this before.’  

‘Well we don’t want to be taken by surprise.’ Kirk reached across the table to where Spock’s hand lay near the board. ‘Let’s find out.’ He gently brushed his index and middle fingers against Spock’s. The impact was immediate, and shocking. The accidental touches of earlier had led to a warm, tingling sensation. The deliberate, prolonged touch of a newly bonded pair felled his half-hearted shield and sent a charge of arousal through his system like wildfire. He snatched his hand away as Spock did likewise and they stared at each other across the chessboard, breathing fast. He didn’t need the bond to know what Spock was feeling, but it vibrated between them anyway, like a living thing, stronger than Kirk had yet felt it, and he had no idea if the desire it whispered to him was his, or Spock’s, or both. But he knew without question that he had never wanted to reach for someone so much in his life.  

He made to move, but Spock beat him to it, rising so fast his chair tipped over, and the chess pieces rattled in place.  

Spock stammered, ‘Captain, I-I should leave you to your evening.’  

Kirk blinked. Right. Yes. Captain. Spock looked like he was ready to bolt if Jim so much as leaned in his direction. Kirk suspected it was only the habit of waiting for dismissal that was holding him in place. He took a steadying breath. ‘Spock, I’m sorry. That was totally inappropriate. I had no idea it would be so -’ he struggled for a word that would not make it sound like the primary focus of his mind was stopping himself shoving aside the damn table.  

Spock’s face was flushed and his voice unsteady as he said, ‘I was also unaware of the ...strength of -’ he broke off, then added quickly, ‘We must be careful. We cannot do anything that might deepen the bond.’ 

Kirk said quickly, ‘Yes, absolutely. We know now. No unnecessary touching. We'll be fine.’ 

Spock said, ‘I should-’ 

Kirk nodded. ‘Yes. Right.’ 

‘Goodnight Captain.’ 

‘Goodnight Spock.’ 

The sands of Vulcan were warm on his back. The suns were low in the sky, keeping the temperature warm but not excessive. Kirk sat up in confusion and looked around. The place of challenge was deserted, the beams of the setting sun breaking through the columns and rendering the stark beauty of the landscape in shadows and sunlight.  

He knew this place, but not like this, in silence and peace. Instead of his uniform, he was wearing a dark, ornate robe. The quiet was eerie.  

Until a voice said, ‘Jim.’  

Kirk looked up. Spock was standing beside him, dressed in an identical black robe. He smiled in relief and raised a hand. Spock took it and sank down onto the sands, reaching across the space between them to hold Kirk's face. He said, ‘Jim. May I?’  

Jim had no idea what he was asking permission for, but he didn’t care. There was nothing he wouldn’t do, or give to this man, here on these sands. He said, ‘Yes.’ And then Spock was kissing him, and there was nothing else in the galaxy, no sands, no sunlight, just the feel of Spock’s body against him, and Spock’s lips on his. The bond crackled between them, and Jim reached out, pulling them even closer together, and pulling Spock down with him as he sank back onto the sand.  

Spock was kissing him as though their lives depended on it, as if this would be his one and only chance. Jim twisted his fingers through that sleek black hair, encouraging his every move as Spock kissed his way down his neck, and onto his chest. Spock’s hand, which had finished opening his robe, was now exploring the planes of his lower abdomen, and as it brushed his hardening length he arched up into that ardent touch.  

‘Oh God, yes, please.’ He was begging and he didn’t care. The hand paused its exploration and Spock raised his head. His eyes were dark, and Jim could feel his need, his desire, pulsing through the bond, mixing with Jim’s own desperate arousal, creating a feedback loop that left them both trembling on the edge.  

Spock said, in a voice that was almost a growl, ‘My t’hy’la.’ 

Jim said, ‘Yes. Yours, Spock, only yours.’  

Then Spock was kissing him again, his hand stroking along his length, and Jim came with a cry that echoed off the ceiling of his quarters. His eyes opened and he stared up, momentarily disoriented. Vulcan had vanished and he was entirely alone. Spock was gone. For a moment, the sense of loss was dizzying.  

Then he looked down at himself, and slammed his head back onto the pillow in frustration. And yes, he was damp. Brilliant. Just brilliant. He was a starship captain, not a randy teenager. Maybe Spock was right, they needed to break the bond as soon as possible. At the thought of his first officer, he froze. Ignoring the part of his mind that didn’t want to know, he felt for the bond. To his intense relief, Spock was shielding. So there was a chance he hadn’t - experienced - that particular dream. Jim fervently hoped not. Things were likely to be awkward enough tomorrow without Spock being privy to his Captain’s wholly inappropriate fantasies.  

As he pulled himself out of bed and headed for the bathroom, he vowed to be more careful. He’d been treating this whole experience like a new, exciting game, without any thought for the consequences. Well that would change. From now on, he would stay out of Spock’s head, shield the bond, and give him all the privacy he deserved until this was over.  

As he got back into bed, he ignored the treacherous part of himself that cried out against any diminishment of his connection to Spock. His friend deserved better. 

 

Chapter Text

The sun of Talonia IV, known to its inhabitants in standard translation as the Eden Planet, was at its height in the sky overhead. Despite it being the middle of the day and apparently the summer season here, the surface of the planet was still cold.


Kirk frowned at the clear sky. He hoped the rest of the planet was more deserving of the name Paradise than this particular corner of it. To his mind, Eden should be warmer. And greener. The second city of Talonia was probably wonderful, if architecture was your thing, but Jim felt it was definitely lost on him. Spock, he thought, would appreciate it far more. He glanced across the city square to where his first officer was listening politely to the head of Talonia's Global Academy of Industry.


He hadn’t attempted to contact Spock through the bond all day. They hadn’t had a chance to speak of anything other than the task at hand. The summons from Starfleet to divert to Talonia had woken Kirk in the early hours from an uneasy sleep and the intervening time had been a whirl of orders, briefings, and mission parameters.


Spock, as ever, was the consummate officer, and Jim had no idea how things stood between them after the awkwardness of the previous night. He sighed inwardly, then turned his most professional smile on Talonia’s president. The short, elderly alien was expounding with pride on Talonia’s innovative use of dilithium and their extensive supply, and Kirk was reminded of the purpose of his mission. The Talonians were showing no reluctance to pursue Federation membership, or share their abundant natural resources, and part of Kirk’s job was to discover what they might want in return. He laughed politely at the President’s joke and she beamed at him.


‘Captain Kirk,’ and her accent reminded him oddly of Chekov’s, ‘You must come and see our newest architectural wonder. Our finest building, designed to represent the crystalline structure of unrefined dilithium.’


‘I would love to, thank you.’ He raised his head to call Spock, sure he’d get a kick out of a dilithium building, then remembered his vow to keep his distance and smothered a sigh. He turned back to woman at his side with a smile. ‘Please, lead on, Madame President.’


Across the square, Spock watched from the corner of his eye as his Captain and the President walked away, still talking cheerfully. He resisted the urge to reach out to Jim through the bond as he disappeared from sight. The Captain had been shielding since their chess game of the night before, and Spock would not violate his privacy, especially not after-


An image rose unbidden before his mind, and he turned away from the group before him, leaving Chief Engineer Scott and the Academy Principal to their conversation, as he gathered his control. Perhaps it was good that he and his Captain were apparently to be apart for the day. The morning had been….difficult.


The sound of Jim’s voice, the sight of him, had all brought back his unwitting violation of the night before. After the highly charged end to their chess game, he had retired quickly, meditated, and tried to sleep. He had avoided thinking about the sensations through the bond, avoided thinking about Jim. He had succeeded until the Captain had fallen asleep. Sensing this, Spock had lowered his shields to make sure he would know if Jim dreamed of Vulcan. And he had. And Spock had responded immediately, insinuating himself into Jim’s dream as soon as he heard his name, in time to see himself on top of his Captain, pressing him into the sand.


But there had been no violence, no fear in this dream. He had watched Jim arch into his touch, heard Jim moan his name, and heard himself claim his Captain as his own. He had fled the dream, thrown up his shields, and forced himself into meditation. To no avail. The image of his friend; aroused, wanting - wanting him - would not leave him. For all its shocking intensity, it had seemed so right.


His only consolation was that he had not intended to violate the Captain’s privacy so entirely. His only intent had been to help, to end Jim’s distressing dream. And he was fairly certain that Jim had not known he had been privy to the dream, and there was no need for him to know. Perhaps if they never spoke of it, all could be as it had been.


He became aware that his attention was being sought. He dragged himself back to the present. Uhura had joined their little group and was looking at him expectantly. ‘Yes, Lieutenant?’


‘Commander,’ Uhura repeated without blinking, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I’ve finished the upgrades to the universal translator. It shouldn’t have any more trouble with the Talonian language.’


Spock nodded. ‘Thank you, Lieutenant. Good work.’


She smiled at him. ‘Thank you, sir.’ They both became aware of the impassioned, technical conversation happening to their immediate left, as Chief Engineer Scott and Principal Tan'le'shen discussed the finer points of dilithium refinement and storage.


‘Of course,’ Uhura added dryly, ‘I’m expecting Scotty to come up with a few words I haven’t added yet. I don’t tend to read the most technical engineering journals.’


Spock said neutrally, ‘You would not be expected to, Lieutenant.’


Uhura looked at him, trying not to let the disappointment show on her face. That was the kind of comment the Spock from three years ago would have made. Her Spock, the ‘post-captain' Spock, as she liked to term him, should have made a different comment. Something dryly amusing about her choice of off duty reading. Not the greatest joke in the galaxy, to be sure, but enough to let her see the warmth and humour that was hidden away beneath that purely logical exterior. She followed Spock's gaze to the corner of the square where the Captain had left a few moments before and huffed a quiet breath.


As the conversation continued around her, and the translator did its job perfectly, Uhura allowed her mind to wander, unobtrusively watching her Commander in her peripheral vision. Something was going on with him and the Captain. It had started pretty much from the moment Spock's apparent wife had appeared on the viewscreen. The subsequent events on Vulcan were a closely guarded secret and a source of rampant speculation amongst the crew. Uhura didn’t participate in the speculation but a late night conversation with Chris Chapel and Miles Haddon, the transporter tech on duty that day, had told her much of what she needed to know. The Captain had been brought back to the ship in a perilous state. Miles had described vividly the unexpected arrival of Nurse Chapel, resuscitation kit in hand, to the transporter room, and the tense wait for a signal from the surface. McCoy’s request for a beam up for himself and the Captain, and Haddon's horror at the realisation that what he was actually beaming up was the Doctor and, to all intents and purposes, a corpse. Then the beam up, and the beaten, unbreathing body.


Miles had watched in frozen dread as McCoy had grabbed a series of hypos from Chapel and jammed them in the Captain's neck, then, pushing aside his torn uniform, directly into his heart. They had all three waited in unbearable tension until McCoy’s tricorder had begun to emit a steady beep. McCoy had breathed out, closing his eyes for the briefest of seconds in his relief and then barked, ‘Sickbay, now.’


Before leaving, he had turned to Haddon. ‘Commander Spock will be beaming up shortly. Send him straight to sickbay. Do not let him go anywhere else. Doctor's orders.’


Haddon had nodded mutely, and waited. The signal had come, and as the Enterprise's second in command materialised, Haddon had opened his mouth to relay McCoy’s order. And stopped, as the sight of the Enterprise's transporter room seemed to rob Spock of whatever strength was animating him and he staggered in place. Whilst he didn’t look as bad as the Captain had, he looked utterly beaten, physically and mentally. Miles wasn’t even sure the Commander knew he was there. As Spock began to walk slowly off the pad, like a man whose every movement was painful, Haddon said, as gently as he could, ‘Sir?’


The gaze Spock turned on him made Miles draw a steadying breath. He looked like a man who had lost everything dear to him in the world, and was holding the devastation away only by sheer force of will. Haddon said carefully, ‘Doctor McCoy said you are to go straight to sickbay, Sir. Doctor's orders, he said.’


Spock stared at him for a long time with such a pale, unresponsive expression, Haddon began to wonder if he should repeat himself. Then Spock said, in a raw, broken voice that was almost a whisper, ‘Where is -' his voice cracked, and he tried again, ‘Where is – Jim?’


It took Haddon a full second longer than it should have done. He knew, of course, that Captain Kirk’s given name was James, had even once heard Dr McCoy call him Jim. He had just never imagined that their entirely formal Vulcan second in command called him anything other than Captain. He swallowed and said quietly, ‘They took him to sickbay, Sir.’ Spock had turned and walked out.


The rest of the story Uhura had got from Chapel, including Spock’s claim that he had killed his friend, and his reaction to his living, breathing Captain- and, oh, how she wished she’d been a fly on the wall for that. So they had fought, on Vulcan, or been forced to fight, and naturally the relationship that followed was…. strained. Until it wasn’t. Almost overnight they had gone from strained silence to a congeniality and pleasure in each other’s company that had been so long absent it made Uhura’s heart lighter to see it.


Then there had been the strangely charged silences on the bridge. The Captain had started reacting oddly, apparently to nothing Spock had actually said. But they were still so together, so in tune with each other, that Uhura, although noting it as strange, hadn’t been unduly concerned. After all, their relationship had always been an odd mix of mutual respect, admiration, affection, and yes, flirtation. She had never seen either of them react to anyone else the way they did to each other. The Captain seemed to delight in trying to get a reaction out of Spock any way he could, and Spock seemed to equally delight in subverting the Captain's expectations at any opportunity. It was a dance that seemed to take the pressure of their respective positions and subvert it into something that gave them both energy and inspiration to be even better together than they were apart. And the crew knew it.


Which made today particularly hard to watch. Even through the mission focus and the professional demeanours, it was obvious: their command team could barely look at each other. Uhura could only hope that whatever had come between them would resolve itself again and normality would be resumed. But, frustratingly, hoping was all she could do.


*


Kirk gazed around, turning in place to admire the crystalline structure which entwined around him and above him. The President was describing in detail the technicalities of construction, but Kirk wasn’t entirely listening. It really was a spectacular building. He was sorry Spock wasn’t here to appreciate it. As the tour continued, almost against his will Kirk’s mind returned to his dream of the night before. It had felt so visceral, so real. He just wasn’t sure where it had come from. He had never dreamt, had never even thought, of Spock that way before. Apart from being his friend, and a Vulcan, Spock was his first officer. And sleeping with your officers was a fast track to trouble. Not that he hadn't noticed Spock was attractive. He was his Captain. He wasn’t blind to his physical appeal. Or his considerable wit, intelligence, and charm. It just wasn’t something that could ever happen.


And yet it had felt so right. God, it had. But had it come from him, or was it just a product of the bond and their current closeness? Perhaps his mind had just latched onto the intimacy of the bond and taken the next natural step. He had certainly never been so intimate with anyone he hadn’t slept with. In fact, he thought, as he warmly voiced his admiration of the intricacy of the carving along the walls, he had never been so intimate with anyone, ever. Had never wanted to be. He had certainly never claimed, had never wanted – his face heated at the memory and he turned away from the bright, crystalline windows – to belong to anyone. Did he want to belong to Spock? Was that even the question? Given his position, could he belong to anyone? Captaincy was a lonely road, and one he’d been willing to walk his entire life. He had always thought it had to be, but was he wrong? What if whatever he had with Spock was bigger than one career? What if it was a lifetime’s worth? He certainly couldn’t imagine a life without Spock. But maybe he was just reading too much into an intense, short period of closeness. Of course, the only way to answer that would be to ask Spock to extend the time of their bonding. With the risk of intimacy that entailed. He knew even without thinking that it was a risk he was willing to take. But was Spock? There was only one way to find out. End this awkward silence, and ask. Tell Spock what he wanted, and how he felt. He would do it tonight. Decision made, Kirk immediately felt better.


Which was when the building exploded.


*


Spock was listening to Scotty explain to Principal Tan'le'shen the finer points of Federation dilithium refinement when the pain shot through his mind like a driven spear. The impact stole his breath, as the floor beneath him shook, and he fell to his knees. As he hit the ground the pain flared and vanished. He held his head, screening out the alarmed voices that rose around him as Uhura dropped to his side. ‘Sir, are you alright?’


Spock threw his consciousness along the bond, searching for any sign of Jim. His vibrant presence was entirely gone and the silence was deathly. Desperately, Spock went further into Jim’s mind than ever before, and was rewarded with a spark. Not consciousness, but life. It was enough.


He croaked out, ‘Jim.’


Uhura had her communicator out instantly. ‘Uhura to Captain Kirk. Come in, please.’


Spock managed, ‘Injured. Get the Doctor.’


He heard Uhura hailing the Enterprise, as an ashen faced Talonian ran to Principal Tan'le'shen. The translator informed him that the building that Kirk and the President had been touring had exploded. An attack was suspected. Both were missing.


Spock used all of his consciousness he could spare to cradle that precious spark as he pushed himself to his feet.


‘Mister Scott.’ His voice was rough but steady. ‘Return to the Enterprise immediately and assume command. Recall all personnel currently on the surface, and raise the shields. Keep the ship on high alert until it is ascertained whether this attack is confined to the surface.’


Scotty nodded tightly, pulling out his own communicator, as Uhura said quickly, ‘Sir, request permission to remain on the surface and retrieve the Captain.’


Spock opened his mouth to order her back to the ship, then stopped. He had no way of knowing how much of his focus Jim would need. He said, ‘Granted. With me, Lieutenant.’ He began to run towards the source of the spark as two transporter beams coalesced on the square, one taking Scotty and the other depositing McCoy. As he left the square he heard Uhura calling to McCoy to follow them as she ran behind him. He heard their footsteps as he neared the crystalline building. There was nothing left of It. Whatever grandeur it had been was now just a sparkling pile of rubble on the ground before them.


McCoy said, shaken, ‘Jim was….in there?’


Spock said simply, ‘He lives.’


McCoy looked at him, and exhaled. ‘Okay. Good. Let’s get him out.’


Even as he spoke, a rescue effort had begun. Talonian uniformed operatives were fanning out around the site.


Spock closed his mind to their activity and focused on the area of the wreckage that spoke of Jim. When he was certain of his bearings, he pulled out his tricorder and scanned beneath the surface. ‘There are a number of pockets of space and air created by the fall of the building. The nature of the building in both it’s manufacture and material is preventing accurate readings but I believe Jim to be-' he walked into the rubble, ignoring the broken edges that tore at his uniform ‘- here.’


He knelt and laid his hand against the rough, sparkling ground. He didn’t know whether it was hope or imagination but he felt he could sense Jim’s heartbeat beneath his hands.


One of the Talonian operatives had seen his movement and started towards them, disapproval on his face. He was intercepted by Uhura who gestured to Spock and rapidly outlined the situation. The thrust of her argument seemed to be that Spock and McCoy should not only be allowed on the site but should be assisted by the authorities as they were uniquely able to find their Captain who would be with the Talonian President. This argument seemed to be carrying some weight and Spock blessed Uhura even as he tuned them out.


Pressing his hands into the shards of earth, he reached for Jim with all he had. The bond, although frighteningly inert, was still active, and he used it to take as much of himself as he safely could into Jim’s mind, cradling and protecting that spark, willing it to grow into the radiant light of Jim’s consciousness.


Next to him, McCoy was staring at his medical tricorder. ‘Spock, I’m not getting anything.’ He voice was tight.


He heard himself say, ‘The building is preventing accurate readings.’


‘So no beam out then.’


‘No.’


The spark flickered.


*
Jim was floating. It was dark and quiet and he had no awareness of himself to ground him. There was, he sensed dimly, a greater darkness beyond, into which he could simply fall, if he so wished. He had the vague sense that he should not, that to do so would be in some way premature, but on the other hand, there seemed to be no reason to stay here, in this ….nothingness.


He had just decided to give in to the drift of his mind in that direction when there was suddenly something else. Another presence, surrounding him, holding him, like he was precious, like he was…loved. Yes. Loved. He remembered that. He nestled closer to the new presence, allowing it to surround and hold him. This was better than alone. Better than just darkness. He drifted, feeling now that it was safe to do so.


Gradually he became aware that the presence required something of him. Some kind of – of focusing. Of attention. He was confused. The presence had all of him. What more could it want? He thought to move away to the undemanding darkness. The presence seemed to sense his intent and held him even closer than before. Then he realised it was…. speaking to him. One word, over and over, like a litany. Jim.


Jim. He knew that. He was Jim. Yes. That was it. He was Jim. And he knew the presence too. It had a name also. It was….It was…


Spock?


The relief was so immense that Jim almost recoiled. Then the presence seemed to gather itself and he heard again, gently, Jim?


Yes. I think. Yes. I’m here.


Coherency was returning gradually to his thoughts, but there was much that he still didn’t know.


Spock? What’s going on? Where am I?


You are safe, Jim. I am here.


You won’t - go anywhere, will you? It’s dark here on my own.


No, Jim, I will not.


Okay.


*


Spock said, ‘I have reached Jim.’


‘How’s he doing?’ McCoy knelt next to Spock in the rubble. The Vulcan’s face was pale and his eyes were closed. Surreptitiously, McCoy stopped uselessly scanning the rubble and turned the tricorder on Spock. If he was going to do anything reckless, the doctor wanted to be forewarned.


‘His consciousness is faint. He is confused. I believe his injuries to be extensive. Currently I am assisting his mind to block his awareness of his physical body.’


‘Can you give me any idea what his injuries are?’


‘I shall try.’ Spock’s voice had an oddly distant quality that was making the hairs on the back of McCoy’s neck stand up.


He waited.


Spock said, ‘There is a crush injury to his chest. I believe one of his lungs is no longer functional. There may also be a pelvic fracture. One of his legs is broken.’


McCoy set his jaw. ‘Nothing I can’t handle there.’


Spock said, his voice shaking a little, ‘There is a head injury. I am unable to determine its extent. His coherency and memory are affected.’


McCoy said, ‘Okay. That’s good enough, Spock. Just - stay with him.’


He took out his communicator to call Christine. Footsteps crunched on the rubble behind him. Uhura said, ‘Doctor. They’re going to move some of the rubble. They need you and Commander Spock to be out of the way.’


He didn’t wonder why she’d addressed this to him. Spock was a hunched, pale statue on the ground besides him. McCoy said, ‘Right.’


He reached across to Spock and laid a gentle hand on his arm. The Vulcan’s eyes flew open. McCoy said, ‘Spock, they’re going to try and get them out. We need to move.’


Spock stared at him, wide-eyed. ‘I cannot leave him.’


McCoy said carefully, ‘I know, but he’s here, right?’ He touched his forefinger very lightly to Spock’s temple. The Vulcan nodded. McCoy added, ‘So you can move for me.’


Spock looked as if the thought had not occurred to him. McCoy gave a gentle tug at his upper arm. If Spock didn’t want to move, it would be like trying to move a shuttlecraft with his bare hands, but to his surprise the Vulcan moved with him, slowly, jerkily, but with noticeable progress. As his hands left the rubble, McCoy noticed flecks of green on the crystal ground.


Spock said, with considerable effort, ‘I believe it is the first layer of rubble containing the most of the crystalline structure of the upper floors of the building that is preventing the operation of the transporter.’ McCoy blinked at the unexpected coherence of the sentence. ‘If that could be cleared, we may be able to beam him out.’


Behind him, McCoy heard Uhura relaying this to the rescue team, and confirming that, yes, the transporter could also be used on their President. There was a crunch of ground as the operatives and earth moving equipment moved forward. He led Spock to the edge of the rubble. The Vulcan stared unseeing at the fallen building.


McCoy turned to Uhura. ‘I’m going back to the ship, I need to prep sickbay and be in the transporter room when he arrives.’ She nodded. He said tightly, ‘Get them to move that damn building.’ She nodded.


He pressed the medical tricorder into her hands and she looked at him in surprise. He said quietly, with a glance at Spock, ‘I need you to stop him doing anything stupid.’ Uhura blinked.


McCoy indicated the screen. ‘These are his current vital signs. If they fall below this level,’ a line appeared on the screen, ‘You need to get him to wake up. You’ll have to slap him, hard across the face. As many times as it takes until he stops you. If your hand doesn’t hurt, it’s not hard enough.’


Uhura gaped at him, 'Doctor?’


He took her arm, pulling her away from the rubble. He said quietly, urgently, ‘Nyota, I’m telling you this as a friend. Jim and Spock are.... telepathically linked. It was only ever meant to be temporary but if – if anything happens to Jim, I’m worried Spock might try something … that we might lose him too. I need you to make sure that doesn’t happen.’
Uhura’s face had run a gamut of emotions, and settled on determination. She said simply, 'Understood, Doctor.’


*


Jim. You may feel some vibration. Or hear some noise. We are attempting to reach you.


I can’t feel anything. Is that bad?


No. I am preventing you from utilising your senses to interact with your physical form.


Why?


You are injured, Jim. And there is no logic to causing you physical distress.


There was a pause.


It’s bad, isn’t it?


Dr McCoy is confident he will be able to heal you.


Is he there?


He has returned to the Enterprise to await your arrival in the transporter room.


Oh. Then why haven’t I beamed out yet?


There is some...interference. We are clearing it now.


Okay. Spock?


Yes, Jim?

 
Is it going to take very long?


I … do not know. I am sorry.


It’s dark here.


I know.


Jim felt Spock’s presence intensify around him, holding him, warming him, keeping him safe.


*


On the surface, McCoy’s tricorder emitted a warning beep. Uhura stared at the readings, and back at her commanding officer. He was kneeling beside the fallen building, pale and unnaturally still. The dip beneath McCoy’s line had been brief, but noticeable, and all of the readings were now lower than before. She moved closer to Spock, and watched the lines thread across the screen. In front of them, Talonian rescuers began to painstakingly shore up the ground, and slowly shift away the rubble.


*


Spock?


Yes, Jim?


I can’t remember if I’ve said this, but – I love you.


There was a pause.


And I you, Jim.


Good.


Jim’s consciousness began to drift.


Jim. You must stay awake.


But I’m so tired.


I know. But please Jim. As you love me.


Okay. Will you stay with me?


Always.


*


Uhura watched as sections of the crystal structure were lifted gingerly away. She knew they were moving as fast as they could safely go, but she still wanted to scream at them to hurry up. In her hand, the tricorder beeped again, more urgently this time. Spock’s readings were now hovering barely above the line McCoy had set.


Uhura said, ‘Sir?’ There was no response. Not that she had expected one.


She pulled out her communicator. ‘Uhura to Enterprise.’


‘Scott here.’


‘Scotty, they’ve moved some of the structure, can you get a read on the Captain?’ She had no doubt at all he was in the transporter room.


Her belief was confirmed as he said, ‘I’m trying, lass, but his communicator's gone, that bloody building is a sensor nightmare, and his life signs are -.’ He broke off. ‘They keep fading.’ This last was a cry of frustration. ‘We need ‘em to move more o’ that damn building.’


‘They’re on it. I’ll try and hurry them. Scotty, the very second you have him - ‘


‘Aye, lass, the doctor is sayin’ the same.’


‘Scotty, beam Mr. Spock up too. Together if you can, but if not, the Captain first, then him immediately after. Don’t wait for a signal. Just do it.’


*


Spock?


Yes?


I need to leave now.


No, Jim, you need to stay here. With me.


I can’t. I’m so sorry, Spock. I want to. But I can’t.


Jim’s presence, already weak, began to slip away. Spock redoubled his effort, pulling away from his own physical form as he strove to keep their contact alive.


Spock! You need to let go.


I will not.


You can’t come with me.


Jim’s presence began to push back, to push him away. The effort was feeble, but Spock was already weakened, overstretched. He felt Jim begin to fade.


Jim, no. Do not, please.


Stay Spock, stay safe. The beloved voice was fading. I love you. Live for me.


*


On the surface, Uhura watched as another large section of fallen building was moved aside.  Oh surely, that’s got to be enough. In her hand, the tricorder emitted a high continuous whine. She glanced at the screen in alarm. Spock's readings had plummeted below the line. She was just fast enough to catch him as he crumpled, lowering him gently to the ground. Uhura knelt by his unmoving form. Hard enough to hurt your hand, McCoy had said. She raised her arm.


In front of her, Spock’s form began to glow, that achingly familiar, golden whirl. As the transporter took him, Uhura slumped in relief, then looked to the sky above where the Enterprise orbited, far out of sight. Please, she thought fervently. Please. 

 

Chapter Text

Jim was dead. His physical form lay crushed beneath the crystal surface of Talonia. But the spark of his presence remained, and Spock clung to it with all the mental energy he could summon. His link to his own physical form was growing weaker, and more tenuous. He could not hold Jim’s consciousness for long. The human katra was not like the Vulcan. At the death of the body, the essence, the animating spirit, passed beyond the veil, and this Spock could neither prevent nor recall. But he could delay. Whatever afterlife awaited his Captain could be deferred, to give McCoy the chance he needed to restore Jim’s physical form to the extent that it could once again house his soul. Jim’s mental voice had faded away, but as long as the spark remained, there was hope. Spock had no doubts about Leonard McCoy's abilities as a physician. If Jim could be saved, the doctor would do it. But if Jim’s soul were gone, then all his efforts would be in vain. So Spock held on, and prayed that the doctor would have the time he needed, before they both were lost.  

Leonard McCoy stood in the transporter room, medical tricorder in hand, already scanning the empty space on the pad. The readings flatlined continuously across his screen. He looked to Scotty. The Scotsman was hunched over the transporter console. He looked to McCoy like a hawk hovering over a field that was hiding a mouse. Next to him, Chapel and Collins stood with the restrained tension of athletes before a race.  

He said, ‘Scotty, this is taking too long.’ It felt like an hour since he'd beamed up.  

He Scotsman frowned. ‘Aye.’ He said, uncertainly, ‘I could try more power through the system. It would blow the circuits if I did it for too long...’ 

McCoy said tensely, ‘Scotty, the longer this takes, the less chance Jim has.’ 

Scott nodded. ‘Aye.’ He raised his voice. ‘Scott to engineering. I need more power to the transporter.’  

A worried voice said, ‘Sir, you’re already at max, as instructed.’ 

‘She can take ten percent more.’ Scott’s voice brooked no argument. ‘Do it, lass. On my authorisation.’ 

There was no response, but the lights in the room suddenly glowed brighter and McCoy became aware of an aggressive humming sound. 

Scott said, suddenly, tersely, ‘The signal’s clearin’. Stand ready, Doctor.’ 

McCoy spun back to the pad. The whine of the transporter began. The hum intensified. A pop and a hiss came from the console as Scotty swore. A form began to coalesce in front of him, and another in front of Chapel. As the body in front of McCoy materialised, the part of him that loved his friends cried out, even as the field physician began his work. The information across his tricorder had not changed, other than to register the presence of organic matter. He pressed the pads of the resuscitation device against one of the small unruined sections of Kirk’s chest with one hand and injected adrenaline directly into his heart with the other. The shock travelled through Jim's system, showing briefly as a heartbeat on the tricorder, before the straight unbroken line returned.  

McCoy tried again.  

No response.  

‘Dammit, Jim. Come on.’  

He tried again.  

For an endless second the line remained unmoving.  

Then it flickered. And jumped. And again.  

It was small, and intermittent. But it was there.  

Yes. Thank God.  

McCoy glanced over to where Chapel had applied the same resuscitation pads to Spock’s unmoving form. She glanced up from her tricorder, caught his eye, and nodded.  

Round one to the medics. 

He said, ‘Chris, leave him to Collins, I need you in surgery, now.’  

They were summoning him back. The shock coursed through his system and pulled his consciousness towards his body with a natural and irresistible force. No, Spock thought at them frantically. You must take Jim first. But they couldn’t hear him. And he could no longer stay. He cried out in despair as the spark that was Jim fell away.  Just as he lost contact with the last fragment of his dearest friend, the spark - jumped. Towards him. Away from the darkness beyond. For one unending moment Spock feared he had imagined it. Then it happened again. The third time, it passed him with a rush. Spock thought: McCoy. Then he released all resistance, surrendered to the pull of his physical form, and lost consciousness.  

Leonard McCoy sat the in corner of the isolation room, back against the wall, staring at the two biobeds in front of him. He was aware that he had been staring at them for some time, but couldn’t summon the energy to move. The mediscanners above the beds emitted the occasional subdued beep. McCoy stared, trying to make the scrolling readouts improve by sheer force of will. It didn’t work, as it hadn’t worked for the hours he’d been sitting there.  

They’ve done it this time, he thought dully. They’ve actually finished me. Come with me, Bones, it’ll be great, Bones, frontier medicine on the edge of known space, Bones. Funny how the words ‘but you’ll need to save my life with absurd regularity’ hadn’t featured in that conversation at all.  

Chapel had been in twice, trying to move him, but he’d shooed her away to bed, with the lie that he would be off duty soon too. She’d been at his side for the whole epic ordeal, and it was pointless depriving them both of sleep. Bitter experience told him that this was the most crucial time in Jim's recovery. If anything happened now, and his  response was too slow, then the hours of painstaking surgery would be undone. All that work. He wouldn’t be believed. He imagined presenting to Starfleet’s annual medical conference and getting laughed off the stage at the ludicrousness of the notion that anyone could survive those injuries. Yet that intermittent, quiet beep proved that someone had. And if anyone could beat the odds, it would be James Kirk. Again. Hang on in there Jim, McCoy thought tiredly, for me.  

His eyes slid across to the other biobed. For him.  

Spock lay, pale and unmoving, less than two meters from his Captain. His readings were better. Still too low by his usual standards, but better than Jim’s. Physically, he was fine. Some cuts and abrasions on his hands and legs, but nothing a first-year nursing student couldn’t deal with. And Matt Collins, an experienced starship nurse, had done just that. But Spock was still unconscious.  

McCoy thought he knew why. The readings above the biobed were not entirely consistent with the Vulcan’s usual healing trance. And didn’t it just say everything about their lives that McCoy had those readings committed to memory. But he suspected that the difference this time was that the need for the trance was entirely mental. Spock’s consciousness was protecting him from something. If McCoy had to guess, he would say that it was either the pain of losing his connection with Jim, as the bond would not have survived the Captain’s death, or the trauma of some incredibly foolhardy effort to tie his consciousness to Jim’s at the point of death. Probably, McCoy thought tiredly, both.  

He wondered, not for the first time since the start of his vigil, if he should contact Vulcan and request a healer. He would happily tolerate an ancient, irascible, superior old Vulcan haunting his sickbay: hell, he’d tolerate ten of them, if it would bring Spock back. But some instinct told him to wait. That Spock would not want outside interference. Especially not now, not from his own kind. But he needed Spock to wake up. Because somewhere, deep down, he knew he believed what all of the crew believed: that if one member of their unparalleled command team was alive, then the other would be too. If Spock lived, breathed, spoke; then Kirk would. And the Enterprise, and her crew, would still be virtually untouchable. It was superstitious nonsense, and the crew believed it with all of their hearts. And so, deep in his soul, did Leonard McCoy. So he stared at the readouts over their beds, and waited.  

 * 

An urgent repeated beep forced itself on his attention. Alerted by the change in stimulus, McCoy tried to force his eyes open. His eyelids felt like there were lead weights attached, and his muscles ached. The dim light behind his eyelids told him it was ship’s night. Fell asleep, he thought, dammit. He tried again to make his eyes open, and when he succeeded, the readings above Spock's bed were substantially closer to Vulcan - or rather Spock - norms, and indicative of a return to consciousness.  

He scrambled up and leaned over the bed. 

‘Spock?’ 

The Vulcan's eyes opened slowly, blinking even against the dim light. His eyes fixed on McCoy as he tried to form a word.  

McCoy said quickly, ‘He’s here.’ He stood aside so Spock could see Jim. ‘He was in a bad way, but physically he'll be fine. Eventually. I can’t say for sure about the effects of the head injury until he wakes, but I’m optimistic.’ 

Spock, who had looked over at Jim as soon as McCoy moved, was drinking in the sight of him like a drowning man in the presence of air. Without looking away, Spock said roughly, ‘He died.’ 

McCoy took a tight breath. ‘Yes. Again. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.’ 

Spock tore his gaze from Jim and looked up at his other closest friend. McCoy looked exhausted. He reached out to where the doctor was leaning tiredly against the biobed and touched his lower arm, trying inadequately to convey something of his gratitude. ‘You are an exceptional physician, Leonard.’ 

McCoy stared down at him, fighting to keep his emotions in check. ‘God, Spock, you can’t just say stuff like that when I’m this tired. Save it for the next time we annoy each other, okay?’ 

It was a mark of Spock’s own tiredness that he didn’t bother to dispute the notion that they sometimes got on each other’s nerves. Instead he said, ‘The ship?’ 

McCoy looked relieved at the change of subject. ‘Never in danger. Purely domestic terrorism, apparently. Some Talonians didn’t like the idea of sharing their resources with alien outsiders. I’ll leave the full briefing to Scotty but he said that the Talonians are falling over themselves to give us as much dilithium as we can carry. They seem concerned that we might be about to call down a galactic war on their heads for nearly killing our Captain. To be honest, I’m not sure Scotty has worked too hard to reassure them.’ 

Spock sat up abruptly, and swung his legs off the bed. ‘I must speak with Mr Scott, and relieve him of command.’  

McCoy said firmly, but not ungently, ‘Hold your horses there, Mister.’ He laid a restraining hand on Spock's shoulder.  

‘Doctor-’  

‘Don’t ‘Doctor’ me when you’ve just finished telling me how good I am.’ 

‘I am already regretting my earlier remark.’ 

‘Tough, I’ll be bringing it up regularly.’ McCoy looked over at Jim and back to Spock. He continued more quietly. ‘In the meantime, you’ve been unconscious since we beamed you aboard and before I clear you for duty I need to know why.’ 

Spock immediately looked guarded. McCoy said carefully, ‘Did the bond break? When Jim died?’ 

He watched as Spock's eyes went back to Jim as if drawn there against his will. He said, almost inaudibly, ‘Yes.’ 

‘And how are you doing?’ 

‘I am....better than I had feared.’ McCoy stopped himself from commenting on the lowness of that particular bar. Spock did not meet his eyes. ‘The healing trance has proved most effective.’  

Instead he said, ‘Spock, it's the middle of the night. Nothing’s happening. The ship is fine. Alpha shift doesn’t start for another six hours. Go to the bridge, find Scotty, debrief with whoever’s on duty, do whatever you need to do. But I want you to rest for at least five of those hours, and I want you back here before your shift starts.’ 

To his utter surprise, Spock said, ‘Agreed, doctor.’ He rose. Almost unconsciously, he took a step towards Jim's unmoving form. McCoy glanced at the readouts, then said quietly, ‘I’ll be in my office.’ 

Alone with his Captain, Spock covered the distance between them in a few strides. The urge to reach out and touch, to reassure himself of Jim’s continued existence was overwhelming, but there was no part of him that wasn’t covered with medical devices or dermal regenerative pads. The only visible section of Jim’s skin was on his face. The left sides of his face and skull were obscured by a piece of equipment that Spock didn’t recognise, but the right side was miraculously clear. Spock reached a trembling hand to Jim’s exposed temple. He should not. But he needed to know. He needed to be sure. He could not go about his duty in doubt as to Jim’s status.  

He touched his fingertips to the bare skin. Words were no longer necessary, so familiar was Jim’s mind. He moved quickly through the awful quietness until he found it. Deep below Jim's conscious mind, now rendered silent, his essence had returned to its rightful home. He reached gently towards it,and it reached back, calling to him of home and love. Of fierce intelligence, and strength, of compassion and humour, and determination that could ford a galaxy. There was irresistible warmth and radiance, and Jim. He broke the meld whilst the strength to do so remained to him. He knew now. Jim would recover. That was enough.  

He walked away from the unmoving form, painfully aware of every step. The brief meld had shown him something else: he could never touch Jim’s mind again. So close had been their bond and so entangled their souls as Jim slipped towards death, that Jim’s mind now sought his own almost as fiercely as his sought Jim’s. There was now no safe level of mental contact, no barrier that would long withstand the need to join them both.  

When Jim recovered, he would explain as much, and they would agree never to meld again. And Spock could consign this aching loneliness to a far corner of his mind. All would be as it was. Before Vulcan, before pon farr. This brief interlude of surpassing joy, of longing, and of loss, would be forgotten.  

James Kirk was alone. He knew he hadn’t always been. There had been...someone. Holding him, surrounding him, keeping him safe. Then something had happened. And now that beloved presence was gone. And he couldn’t find it again, however desperately he searched. He had briefly imagined it’s return, but he was alone again. And he didn’t want to be. He didn’t want to be here anymore. He had.... something to do. Something important.  Exhaustion pulled at him, urged him to let go. But he fought. He had to be.... awake. He had to be awake. He had to be... had to be.....captain. Conscious awareness returned, and with it, alarm. How long had he been out?  What had happened to his ship? How were his crew? In his head he was moving, shouting for attention. Only he wasn’t. His body was not responding to the messages of his mind. He couldn’t feel any movement at all. He began to panic.  

Suddenly there were hands on his shoulders, grounding him, and a familiar voice said, ‘Jim? It’s Bones. You’re in sickbay. Everything is fine. You’re going to be okay.’ The voice repeated itself.  

Jim found that he could make his eyelids obey his commands. He forced them open. Leonard McCoy’s face hovered into view, eyes sharp, face concerned. His voice said clearly, ‘Jim? You with me?’ 

Jim stared into McCoy’s eyes, and had a couple of tries to get his vocal chords working. Eventually he said croakily, ‘Bones?’ 

McCoy smiled, ‘That’s a good start. Do you know where you are?’ 

‘Sickbay.’ His voice cracked but he ploughed on stubbornly. ‘You just said.’ 

McCoy’s smile widened. ‘Oh yeah, so I did. Which sickbay?’ 

‘On the ship.’ 

‘What ship?’ 

If Kirk hadn’t suspected an eyeroll would hurt, he’d have done it. ‘Better be the Enterprise.’  

‘Well done. Stardate?’  

Kirk frowned. Or at least he hoped he did. 'Depends how long I’ve been out.’ 

‘Huh. Fair point. What’s the last thing you remember?’ 

Kirk concentrated. After a pause: ‘Talonia. Crystal building.’ 

‘Excellent. What -’ 

‘Bones.’  It was meant to be snapped out, but the croakiness of his voice made it more of a plea. ‘The ship – the crew – was anyone else hurt?’ 

McCoy’s face softened. ‘No. No one. The ship’s fine. All of the crew, present, correct, accounted for, and finding increasingly implausible excuses to stop by my sickbay and enquire after you.’  

Kirk’s face visibly relaxed. He said, ‘What the hell happened?’ 

‘Some Talonian terrorists dropped a building on you and their President. Not everyone likes to share with offworlders, apparently.’  

Kirk said, ‘How is she?’ He had liked Talonia’s enthusiastic President.  

‘I don’t know, Jim.’ McCoy looked guilty. ‘Scotty relay beamed her to their most advanced medical facility straight after we got you out. If her condition was anything like yours, I imagine it was touch and go.’ At Kirk’s expression, he changed the subject. ‘On the plus side, Scotty says we’ve solved the Federation’s dilithium supply problem for the foreseeable future. The Talonians are falling over themselves to make amends.’  

Kirk swallowed. His throat felt like sandpaper. ‘Mission completed then.’  

McCoy stared. ‘Yes, because that’s the main thing here, obviously. By all that’s holy Jim, if you complete a mission like that again, I’ll kill you myself.’  

Kirk could feel exhaustion clouding his thoughts. But he had to know. He said shakily, ‘Bones, why can’t I move?’ 

McCoy said quickly, ‘Because I’ve put a neutral inhibitor on your spinal cord. You won’t have any movement below the neck.’ Kirk stared at him in alarm. ‘It’s nothing to worry about, I’m confident you’ll get all movement back. But I needed to be sure you wouldn’t wake up and try and leap off the bed. And I couldn’t keep you under because I needed to assess the impact of your head injury.’  

Kirk said, shakily, even as he felt himself slipping away again, ‘But I’m going to be okay?’ 

He dimly heard McCoy say, ‘Yes, Jim. Now go back to sleep.’  

Something was missing. He remembered more, now. He was James Kirk, and he dreamed of a starship because he was her captain. He had a crew who looked to him. And they were safe. But there was something missing. Something important that he had forgotten. He fought his way back to consciousness. He had to find – but he still couldn’t move. He gave a cry of frustration.  

A figure appeared at his side. Sickbay was dimly lit, and for a moment he thought it was McCoy, but then the figure leaned over him in concern, and was illumined by the lights of the mediscanner over his bed. Dark hair, darker than McCoy’s, a pale, aquiline face, and eyes that gazed into his, so brown that in this light they were almost black. Jim felt like he couldn’t breathe. This was important, but he couldn’t remember 

The figure said, ‘Jim? Are you in distress? Shall I fetch the doctor?’ It already had a hand on his shoulder, he was aware of the pressure. Now it reached up and touched the exposed right side of his face tenderly, wiping away a tear of frustration that had threatened to fall. And then he knew.  

‘Spock.’ And now he was crying, and he couldn’t stop himself. ‘I forgot. I forgot you. I’m sorry.’ 

‘Hush, ashayam, hush, you are injured, there is no harm.’ 

He could hear the shakiness of his own voice as he said, ‘You’re not in my head. I can’t feel you, why can’t I feel you?’  

Spock’s faced clouded for a moment. ‘You died, Jim. The bond is broken.’  

‘Oh.’ He fought a wave of distress. ‘Then put it back.’ 

Spock stared at him in shock. ‘Jim. I cannot.’ 

‘Yes, you can, you did it before. I don’t want to be alone.’  

Spock visibly swallowed, then said gently, ‘Jim you are injured. Your mind is unclear. You are – ‘ He stopped. ‘This is not the time.’  

‘I know all that. It doesn’t matter. I want it, Spock, I do. Please.’  

Spock said, unsteadily, ‘If you wish it, we can discuss this at a later date. When you are well.’ As Kirk opened his mouth to protest again, he said, ‘In the meantime, I will remain with you, if you wish.’  

‘Yes. Yes, I wish.’ 

Spock’s face disappeared from his view, and Kirk almost cried out in protest. Then it reappeared, and there was the sound of a chair being placed close by. Spock sat, and Jim felt the pressure around his shoulder being replaced by a pressure around his hand. Spock reached over and gently wiped away the moisture cooling on his cheek. It felt like a caress. Jim leaned his head towards it.  

Spock slowly withdrew his hand, and for a long moment they sat in silence. Then he said, ‘Dr McCoy informs me that I may not discuss ship’s business with you.’  

Kirk swallowed. He wanted nothing more than to fall asleep again, listening to Spock’s voice. He said unsteadily, ‘I won’t tell him if you won't.’ 

So Spock talked. About the ship, and the crew. About the fallout from their visit to Talonia, and the actions of Scott and Uhura. About security drills and dilithium storage. Somewhere around the repairs to the transporter, Jim fell asleep.  

When he awoke, it was ship's day. Spock was gone. McCoy appeared at his side as if he’d beamed there.  

‘Good morning, sleeping beauty. How are we feeling today?’ 

Kirk glared at him. If anything, this seemed to encourage McCoy further. ‘The hobgoblin sends his best. He’s on the bridge now but I've no doubt he’ll be back later whether you like it or not. He’s already been in once this morning.’ 

‘Bones. I have to get out of here.’ 

McCoy frowned. ‘You see, it’s that sort of comment that worries me. ‘ 

‘Bones!’ 

McCoy sighed, and his face grew serious. ‘Jim, listen to me, and listen well. You will be fine. But not today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. You need time to recover. If you try and rush this, it will take longer. And if you do anything to undo my hard work, or endanger your long-term recovery, I will message ‘fleet command myself declaring you permanently unfit for duty. Do I make myself clear?’ 

Kirk swallowed. ‘Yes, Doctor.’ 

McCoy softened. ‘But that doesn’t mean I want your ugly mug around here any longer than necessary. So let’s get you moving, shall we?’ 

He leaned over and touched something on the side of Kirk’s neck. ‘Okay. I’m about to reduce the neural paralyser. You’ll start getting some sensation back.’  

He eyeballed his patient pointedly. ‘Do not play the hero. If it hurts, you holler. And no moving until I say.’ 

Jim became slowly aware of his body. It ached. The ache started gradually, an all-over generalised pain that made him feel made of glass. Then the acute pain started. First in his chest, then his groin, then his leg. He’d been stabbed, so the feeling was at least recognisable. But he'd never been stabbed in multiple places at once. It felt like all the separate areas of pain were somehow connected, creating a fault line of agony through his body. He closed his eyes and set his jaw.  

McCoy was speaking but Jim couldn’t hear him, couldn’t focus enough to listen. There was a pressure against his neck, and the hiss of a hypospray. Almost immediately, the pain began to subside.  

Jim opened his eyes. McCoy was staring at him with the pained air of a man dealing with a particularly recalcitrant child. He said, ‘What did I just say?’  

Jim said, in a strained voice, ‘It was fine.’ 

McCoy pointed the hypospray at him. ‘Play the hero in my sickbay again, and the next building they drop on you, you’re on your own.’  

‘Sorry, Bones.’ 

McCoy huffed. ‘Okay, well, the good news is, that’s as bad as it gets. Neural paralyser completely off. Pain meds pretty high level but that’s to be expected for now.’ 

Now that the pain was bearable, Jim felt slightly less breakable. He said, ‘So, do I get to move now?’ 

‘Be my guest.’ Jim braced as if to sit up. McCoy said with alarm, ‘Whoa there, soldier. Let’s start with your right hand.’ 

Jim was sleeping. Spock stood near the bed, watching his chest rise and fall. McCoy’s report on his progress had been positive, and he was certainly more recognisable now that some of the medical devices around him had been removed. 

Gently, he laid his hand over Jim’s and felt the warmth, and the pulse beneath his fingers. Just that slight contact made some of the tension he'd been holding all day ease. He closed his eyes in relief, then opened them and guiltily withdrew his hand. He should not. He had promised himself. But staying away from sickbay was proving ….difficult. McCoy had described a particularly brutal physiotherapy session, and he had wanted to reassure himself of Jim’s wellbeing.  

Jim’s appeal of three nights ago came back to him. Even though it was for the best, refusing him had felt ….cruel, and had gone so strongly against his own wishes on the subject, it was dizzying. He had no desire to have to refuse again, and had been carefully timing his visits for when Jim was most likely to be asleep. It seemed the most sensible thing for him to do whilst Jim was so..... vulnerable. Certainly, whilst McCoy had forbidden any talk of ship's business. With nothing to distract them, their conversation might stray to matters better avoided.  

Jim’s hair, naturally unruly at the best of times, had been sheered to the skull on the left side, and was sticking up at crazy angles on the other. Without thinking, Spock reached out and tried to smooth the right side into something approaching order.  

A voice behind him said, ‘Hey, Spock.’ As McCoy came to the other side of the biobed, checking Jim’s vitals on a pad, and glancing at the overhead monitor, Spock became aware of his unconscious action, and withdraw his hand, attempting to look as formal as possible.  

‘I imagine he’ll be asleep for a while.’ McCoy’s gaze skimmed past Spock’s hand, then up at his face. ‘How’re you doing?’  

‘I am well, thank you, Doctor.’ 

‘Uh-huh.’ McCoy eyed him sceptically, ‘Sleeping okay?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘See, I know that's not true. My spies tell me you were here most of the night.’  

‘That was not your question. When I slept, I slept well.’ 

McCoy regarded him with the air of a man whose patience is sorely tried. So. No ill effects from -?’ he indicated Jim.  

Spock did not reply.  

McCoy said, ‘Whatever it is, if it’s physical, I can help. If it’s not, I can at least listen.’ 

Spock said, even as his hand drifted towards Jim’s where it lay on the bed, ‘I have been experiencing some...headaches.’ He caught himself and returned his hand to its place at his side.  

He had been expecting a remonstration for not informing the Doctor sooner. To his relief, McCoy simply said, ‘To be expected. Meditation not helping?’  

Spock shifted uncomfortably. ‘I have been unable to maintain any kind of physical healing trance whilst there is still a - mental healing process occuring.’ 

McCoy nodded. ‘Wait there.’ He disappeared for a moment, then returned, hypospray in hand. He crossed to Spock’s side of the bed, applied the hypo to his neck, and handed him another. ‘That’ll hold you for now. Take this one for tonight, if it gets bad again.’  

‘That is not necessary Doctor, the pain is not so acute when I -’ he stopped, and his gaze flicked guiltily down to Jim ‘-when I am not on duty.’  

McCoy had followed his gaze. 'Okay. Well take it for your shift then. It's your lucky day, I’m not rationing my medication.’  

‘Thank you Doctor. I shall do so.’  

In front of them, Jim began to stir, muttering in his sleep. Spock took a step back. ‘I should leave. I must consult with Mister Scott - ‘ 

‘Spock,’ McCoy interrupted, ‘you can be here when he’s awake, you know. He keeps asking after you.’  

Spock looked away. McCoy said carefully, ‘Spock, what’s going on? Usually when one of you is injured, wild horses can’t keep the other one out of sickbay. I’ve checked with the nurses, you only ever come during ship’s night.’ 

Spock said, ‘My duties -’ 

McCoy said, ‘Nope. I’ve seen both of you practically run the ship from my office. Try again.’  

There was a silence. Then Spock said dully, ‘Jim requested that I reinstate the bond.’ 

McCoy stared at him in surprise. ‘What in the sam hell for? I know the way it broke was far from ideal, but it had basically done its job.’  

Spock said awkwardly, ‘He expressed that he...missed it.’ There was something in his voice that killed the sarcastic comment McCoy had been about to make.  

Instead, he said quietly, ‘Well I’ll be.’  

Spock continued, ‘I have ascribed the request to his current circumstances. I do not imagine it was a request he would have made had he been physically healthy and in his usual state of mind.’ That oddly strained tone was still in his voice.  

McCoy stared at him for moment, and then said, ‘Uh-huh.’  

They watched Jim sleep in silence.  

McCoy said, casually, ‘And if that’s not it? Just out of interest.’  

‘I beg your pardon, Doctor?’ 

McCoy scratched his chin. ‘Well, I mean, you’re probably right. Very logical conclusion, there.’ He looked up at Spock, ‘But he’s not what you might call the poster child for logic, our Jim, is he?’  

Spock sounded irritated. ‘Doctor, please elucidate your point.’  

‘I’m just wondering what that conversation might go like if he was fully fit and healthy.’  

Spock was staring at him in disbelief. He said, ‘I- that speculation is irrelevant. He is not.’  

‘But if he was.’ McCoy said, still in that casual, gentle tone. ‘Would you want to? Re-establish the bond, I mean.’  

Spock stammered, ‘That question is - ‘ He broke off. ‘There is no logical reason to - ‘  

McCoy was looking at him, eyebrows raised.  

Spock said uncertainly, ‘I must – I have duties to attend to. Excuse me.’ He turned away from the doctor and walked out of sickbay. 

As the door swished closed behind him, Leonard McCoy sat in the chair next to Jim’s bed and stared at his patient. Then at the door through which Spock had abruptly exited.  

After a while he said quietly, ‘Well. I’ll be.’  

The next night McCoy was essentially lying in wait, watching the isolation room through the open door of his office. The Captain still being in isolation was, more than anything at this point, a privacy issue. The primary topic of conversation throughout the ship was the state of the Captain’s health, and McCoy had never had so many minor – or practically non-existent – ailments appear in his sickbay. Starfleet crew were, almost by definition, the personality type that viewed a decapitated limb as a minor inconvenience to the mission: a tendency personified by their Captain. Hypochondriacs were relatively rare. But just today McCoy had threatened two crew members with unnecessarily invasive medical testing if they darkened his door again without good purpose.  

He waited until Spock was standing next to the sleeping Kirk before emerging from his office, and wandering casually over to the isolation room to examine the readouts over Kirk’s bed.  

‘So,’ he began without preamble, ‘I don’t think it’s actually the worst idea in the world.’ 

Spock looked at him in wary confusion. ‘Good evening Doctor. To what do you refer?’  

‘You and Jim. Bonded.’  

If Spock had been human, his jaw would have dropped. As it was, a minimal movement of facial muscles conveyed unpleasant shock.  

McCoy continued, ‘I’m not suggesting anyone needs to buy a hat or anything, but you can’t deny, it was working pretty well there.’ 

Spock stared at him in disbelief. Taking advantage of the unexpected lack of response, McCoy carried on, leaning back against the adjacent biobed and warming to his theme. 'Listen, I have as good an opinion of my medical abilities as anyone. But I’m also fairly sure that if you hadn’t been bonded to Jim when that bomb went off, all the surgical skill in the world would have done me no good. Am I wrong?’ 

Spock found his voice. ‘This conversation -’ 

‘Am I -’ McCoy repeated over him ‘-wrong?’ For a moment he thought he’d pushed too hard.  

Then Spock said tensely, jaw working, ‘No.’ 

‘Right. Then on Jim’s behalf and my own: thank you. For whatever damn fool thing you did.’  

Spock looked stricken. McCoy continued quickly, ‘So I guess my question is, given that Jim seems to think it’s a good idea -’ 

‘The Captain is in no fit state -’ 

McCoy held up a hand. ‘Granted. I agree. Neither of you should be making any decisions until he’s fully hale and hearty.’  

Spock said tightly, ‘There is no decision to be made.’ 

'Ah. So your mind’s made up then.’  

‘The Captain does not truly desire the reinstatement of the bond.’ 

McCoy raised his eyebrows. ‘Given that you told me yourself he said the exact opposite, that’s a hell of an assumption you’re making there.’ As Spock opened his mouth, McCoy continued, ‘Yes. He’s ill, I know. Boy, do I know. He’s a worse patient than you are. But here’s what else I know: short of actual bodily possession, or a direct order, there’s not a force in this galaxy that can make Jim Kirk say or do something he doesn’t want to. And let’s be honest here: even the direct order thing is sketchy.’ 

He waited to be contradicted. At Spock’s silence he continued, ‘So given that,’ he exhaled, ‘I’m just wondering why you think it’s such a terrible idea?’   

Spock stared at the doctor across Jim’s quietly breathing form. He took a steadying breath. HIs hand sought Jim’s again, and he caught the edge of the bed to prevent the movement. McCoy watched him, his expression not unkind.  

In a slightly unsteady voice that grew firmer as he continued, he said. ‘I did not say the idea was terrible. However, there are a number of valid reasons against its reinstatement.’ 

McCoy settled himself more comfortably against the biobed and folded his arms. ‘I’m listening.’ 

Despite the fact that they were alone in the room, Spock lowered his voice. ‘The bond between Jim and myself was unusually strong. Were it to be formed again, particularly after the intensity of our recent experiences, I believe there would be significant trauma to both of our minds should it need to be broken. The Captain has only experienced the bond for a matter of days. I believe over time it would become...less appealing. Even invasive. I also fear that there would be – an imbalance. Jim’s mind is strong, but he is not Vulcan. I would not wish him to feel his own unique mental landscape were being - overwhelmed, if the bond were to grow in strength. After a long period, I believe my continuing mental presence would become ...tedious. In short, I do not believe the Captain has a true idea of what a long-term bond would be like. 

‘Also, the bonding of command team such as Jim and myself is ill advised. Should one of us be injured or killed, the performance of the other would be affected, at what would likely would be a crucial time for the ship. And aside from that, I believe such a bond between us would be frowned upon by Starfleet. Whilst not strictly in contravention of regulations, as there are no regulations concerning bonded couples in Starfleet, I believe we would be subject to guidance intended for married couples, and may be prevented from serving together. Such a bond might also prove deleterious to the Captain’s career.’  

A few times during this speech McCoy had made to interrupt, then stopped. As Spock came to halt, he said slowly, ‘So you’ve given this some thought then.’  

Spock said defensively, ‘I wished to be able to answer the captain's request.’   

McCoy nodded. ‘Very logical.’ 

‘I trust I have adequately answered your question.’ 

'Well, technically, yes, but not really, no.’  

Spock said frostily, ‘I fail to see what else -’ 

McCoy said patiently, ‘The bond.’ 

‘What, Doctor?’ 

‘You haven’t actually said you don’t want it.’ 

Silence spilled through the room, broken only by Jim's welcome, regular breathing between them. At the expression on Spock’s face, McCoy dropped his gaze and watched Jim’s chest rise and fall in the subdued light.  

After a while, Spock said, ‘I find I - cannot say that.’ 

McCoy nodded. ‘Yeah,’ he said quietly, ‘that’s what I thought.’  

James Kirk was angry. The feeling had been building over a couple of days, and now, as he lay on his biobed listening to the sickbay shift change happening around him, he was about ready to bust. He’d reached fed up two days ago, passed irritated yesterday, and was now just angry. Angry at himself, for still being in this bed, angry at McCoy for his insistence that Jim remain in sickbay when he was perfectly capable of leaving, angry at his ship and crew for surviving with apparent ease without him. But most of all, he was angry at Spock. He’d started off confused, worked his way through hurt, and now he was annoyed. Four days. Four days since he’d woken up, and Spock had visited once. One time. After everything they’d been through together, especially recently, Jim felt he deserved better.  

The rational side of his mind pointed out that, apparently, Spock had visited him each night, when his duties allowed. Or so he had been informed by McCoy and the nurses. But that was more annoying. Why visit when he was asleep? Why visit, and not wake him? That rational part of his brain pointed out that Spock was probably legitimately busy. He was, after all, acting as Captain, First Officer, and Science Officer for one of the busiest ships of the line. And he was forbidden, by one of McCoy’s irritating and unnecessary decrees, from talking to his Captain about any of it. But this, to Kirk’s mind, was no excuse. Other topics of conversation could be found. McCoy’s decree could be ignored. But only if Spock was actually here.  

The only conclusion was that, after only one visit, Spock had decided that he didn’t want to spend any more time with Jim outside of their professional relationship. After all, according to McCoy, the bond had worked. No more nightmares. Great. He’d got what he wanted and was probably relieved to have the irritating, chatty human out of his head. He’d certainly made it clear, on his one visit, that he wouldn’t welcome a renewal of their bond. Well, fine. Jim could live with that. But he could only live with it if he had something to damn well do. And he was utterly, entirely sick of sickbay. If he never saw the place again, it would be too soon.   

He swung himself upright, and slid carefully off the biobed. He knew he could walk across sickbay and back, twice. By his calculations, his quarters were, via the nearest turbolift, ten times that distance. He was pretty sure he could do it. Then he could access his computer terminal. And sleep in a proper bed. McCoy would be annoyed, obviously, but he just couldn’t bring himself to care. And McCoy was off duty, so with any luck he wouldn’t find out until alpha shift tomorrow.  

He waited until Matt Collins was in the office, then crossed sickbay as quickly as he could, and slipped out of the door.  

After less than ten metres it became clear he had missed one very important element from his stamina calculations: his crew. If one more of the dedicated, loyal, solicitous bastards stopped him to ask about his health he was going to bust them out of the ‘fleet. In the empty turbolift, he slumped against the wall, breathing hard and sweating. There was a pain starting in his groin and hip region. When the doors opened he began counting steps. Only a little further.  

Rounding the next corner, Lieutenant Wallis saw him and cried out in delight. ‘Sir! It’s so good to see you out of sickbay.’  

With a superhuman effort, Kirk made himself smile. ‘It’s good to be out, Lieutenant. Looking forward to getting back to work when the doctor lets me.’ 

She grinned, ‘He can be strict, can’t he? I don’t envy you all that time in sickbay.’   

You don’t know the bloody half of it, Kirk thought. Aloud he said, ‘Well, don’t let me keep you, Lieutenant.’  

She nodded. ‘Yes, sir. Good to see you sir.’ She moved on, still smiling.  

The corridor ahead was mercifully clear. Probably only one sickbay’s worth of steps left. Maybe a sickbay and a half. Kirk kept moving, kept counting. The pain in his groin was spreading. He should have grabbed a few of McCoy’s hypos before he left. Bad planning, he thought.  

He rounded the corner. His quarters were only meters away now. He fixed his eyes on the doors, kept himself moving. His legs were beginning to tremble. He slowed down, his stride becoming more of a shuffle. Ten more steps. Five. The doors to his quarters, sensing his presence, slid open obediently. He crossed the threshold, and the doors slipped closed. Jim took another uncertain step, then another, heading for the bed. If he could just lie down for a bit – as his foot connected with the floor, a stabbing pain shot up his side, and his leg just gave out. He fell, landing heavily on his side. The pain in his side began again, and he cried out with the sudden intensity of it. Curling into the foetal position, he lay as still as he could, even as his head swam with nausea, and waited for the pain to subside.  

In his quarters, Spock donned his meditation robe. It was earlier than he would usually meditate – he had only just come off duty – but it had been a particularly trying shift, and he felt unusually drained. A brief meditation would fortify him for the evening of work ahead, before his nightly visit to sickbay. Or so he hoped. He settled into position and closed his eyes. As was his routine, he began to acknowledge the sounds and sensations around him, more apparent to his Vulcan hearing than to anyone else on board. The relative silence of his quarters. The low hum and vibration of the ship’s engine. Footsteps in the corridor. Then, unexpectedly, a low thud and a cry. Spock’s eyes flew open in surprise. The sound had come from his left, on the other side of the wall. The Captain’s quarters. Except there shouldn’t be anyone in the Captain’s quarters. They had been empty since the morning of the mission to Talonia.  

He stood, and crossed his own quarters, took the few steps along the corridor to Jim’s, and overrode the privacy lock. Jim was lying, still in his sickbay scrubs, in a hunched, painful curl on the floor. Spock crossed the room in two strides, and knelt down. As he did so he called out, ‘Spock to Doc-’ 

A hand seized his arm. Jim croaked, ‘Don’t. Don't call Bones.’   

Spock looked at him in alarm. ‘Jim, you are - ‘ 

‘I’m okay.’ Jim gasped out. ‘Just need a minute.’ 

‘Jim - ‘ 

Kirk barked, ‘That’s an order, goddammit.’ He closed his eyes against the pain the effort to try and shout had produced. When he opened them again moments later, Spock’s face had assumed an expression that Jim mentally labelled ‘quietly mutinous’.  

Spock said stiffly, ‘Very well. May I be of assistance in another way?’  

Jim had no energy left to argue. He rasped, ‘Sure, whatever.’  

‘May I touch you?’ 

‘Yes, fine, I said whatever.’ Stupid, pedantic Vulcans. 

‘You will inform me if your discomfort increases, and I will desist.’ 

Kirk fought the urge to laugh. If his discomfort increased, he’d pass out. It wasn’t like he wasn’t aware that his position was less than ideal. The floor was too hard, and hurt his hip. He was cold, and couldn’t stop shivering. But if he could move, he’d have damn well done it already. He snapped, ‘I can’t stand up right now, so don’t try it.’  

Spock said simply, ‘That will not be necessary.’  

Spock moved behind him, and Jim felt an arm around his shoulders, and another behind his thighs.  

He began, ‘What the hell are you -’ and then he was being lifted, and cradled against Spock’s chest. The sudden warmth was blissful and he closed his eyes, gripping the front of Spock’s robe to pull him closer. The relief lasted only a few moments, then he was being lowered onto his bed. Unwilling to surrender the blessed comfort of that inhuman warmth, he held on, pulling Spock down beside him. There was a brief resistance, then Spock followed him, leaning against the pillow to allow Jim to curl up next to him, plastered against his side, his head still cushioned on Spock’s shoulder, against the soft material of his robe.  

Gradually, the warmth began to spread throughout his overtaxed system. The pain had faded to a dull ache. Jim dozed.  

When he came around, he had no idea how much, if any, time had passed. He was still, he realised with some embarrassment, draped over Spock like an unnecessary human blanket. He raised his head. The Vulcan’s eyes were closed, but at his movement, they opened.  

Jim cleared his throat. ‘Hey.’ 

‘Good evening, Jim.’  

‘Um. Fell asleep there.’ He felt as though he should probably move, but as Spock wasn’t actually moving either.... 

‘Yes.’ 

‘How long was I out?’ 

‘Twenty seven point four five minutes.’ 

Jim couldn't help it. The unnecessary precision made him smile. This earned him a raised eyebrow of enquiry and Jim felt all the uncertainty of the last few days rushing back. He heard himself say, in a choked voice, ‘I missed you.’ 

A cloud crossed Spock’s face, but when he spoke it was with utter conviction. ‘And I you, Jim.’ 

Jim felt a weight lift from his shoulders. He sighed and laid his head back against Spock's shoulder. He felt like there was more they needed to say, but now wasn’t the time. He felt tiredness threatening to overwhelm him again. He was just so comfortable.  

The silence stretched between them. He flexed his hand where it rested on Spock’s chest, against the material of his robe. He said absently, ‘This is nice.’ 

‘It was a gift from my mother.’ 

‘Uh-huh. It’s very soft.’ A thought occurred and he looked up at Spock. ‘Almost decadent really. One might almost say, not wholly logical.’ 

The eyebrow of mock affront he earned made him smile again. Spock said, ‘On the contrary, it is eminently logical to have a garment for meditation that facilitates relaxation.’ 

‘Of course. How foolish of me. Sorry.’ 

‘That is quite alright, Jim.’ Spock paused and then said, ‘You have recently suffered a blow to the head. It is to be expected that your logic would be even more impaired than usual.’  

Jim gaped. ‘Even more impaired – ‘ But he couldn’t maintain his outrage in the face of Spock's best expression of blank innocence. He lowered his head and laughed into Spock's chest.  

They sat in comfortable silence for a few moments, then Spock said quietly, ‘Jim, you require sleep. And I there is work I must complete before tomorrow.’ 

Kirk tightened his grip on Spock’s robe. ‘Couldn’t you – do it here?’ God, he hated how pathetic that sounded. He made to sit up and move away, ignoring a stab of pain. The gentle pressure of Spock’s arm around him held him in place.  

Spock said thoughtfully, ‘Your plan is certainly cunning, Jim, but it will not succeed.’ 

Kirk blinked, ‘What?’ 

‘If I collect my work and return here to complete it, in your current position you will be able to read over my shoulder, thereby violating the doctors strict orders regarding your avoidance of ship’s business. However, if I return to my quarters to work, you will be unsupervised and free to violate the doctor's orders using your own terminal. Either way, you are in contravention of the doctor's explicit instructions.’ 

Jim found himself smiling again. ‘Damn. Got me. You’re in a tough spot there, Mister Spock. How are you going to resolve this conundrum?’ 

‘I shall return to my quarters, retrieve my work and sit here.’ He indicated his current position. ‘If you lie here,’ he indicated next to him, ‘Then I shall be able to ensure that you cannot see my work, and observe that you are, in fact, asleep.’ 

Jim was still smiling. ‘You know, it’s that kind of thinking that makes you so invaluable as a first officer.’ 

Spock acknowledged the compliment with an arch nod. He slid elegantly from his reclined position and stood up. ‘I shall return momentarily.’ 

As the door slid shut Jim lay down, pulling the blanket over himself to try and contain the warmth that was already beginning to fade. His awareness of his aching body was starting to creep back in. Moments passed. Come on, Spock.  

As if summoned, the door swished smoothly open again and Spock entered, padd and stylus in hand, still clad in his meditation robe. He crossed the room and sat carefully on the bed, back to the wall, with the padd on his lap. Jim sighed in relief and tried to shuffle unobtrusively closer to the returned warmth. Spock looked down at him with exaggerated suspicion and Jim raised a hand. ‘Not looking. Just ....getting comfy.’  

Spock almost-smiled and returned his attention to the padd. Jim watched him for a while then said, ‘If Bones turns up I’m just gonna pretend to be asleep.’ 

Spock looked down at him. ‘The doctor’s ire will be somewhat justified, however I do not believe pretence will be necessary; you are clearly exhausted. There will be no need to ‘play pony', as I believe the expression has it.’ 

Kirk grinned. ‘Play possum, Spock. The expression is –‘ A shadow crossed his face and he stopped.  

Spock said uncertainly, ‘Jim?’  

Kirk said wistfully, ‘I don’t know if you knew that. When we were -,’ he gestured between them, ‘I could tell. But now I can't.’  

Spock looked down at his padd. After a moment he said quietly, ‘You should sleep, Jim.’ 

Kirk swallowed. He said, ‘Yeah. Okay.’ 

He closed his eyes, and began to drift. When he opened them again he wasn’t sure if he’d slept. Spock hadn’t moved, but an almost imperceptible frown had creased his brow as he read. Watching him, Jim felt a stab of guilt. Spock was the most competent officer he had ever served with by a considerable margin, but even so, his current situation would try anyone’s abilities. 

He said quietly, ‘I know what Bones said, but if there’s anything you’d like a view on, just ask.’  

Spock had glanced over as he started to speak. As Jim finished, his expression gentled and he said with utter sincerity, ‘Thank you, Jim. I shall.’ 

Kirk smiled at him in relief. As Spock returned his attention to their work, his frown gone, Jim reached up to the hand nearest him that was holding the side of the padd and touched it gently. Spock looked up in surprise and released his grip. Jim curled his fingers lightly over Spock's palm and lowered their joined hands to rest between them, in front of his heart.  

As sleep claimed him again, a voice said, very quietly, ‘Rest well, ashayam.’  

 *

Chapter Text

Two hours later, Jim was still asleep. Spock had finished Jim’s work for the day and started on his own. He would usually, at this point, break for a few minutes in the interests of optimum efficiency, however he was still unable to move away. An hour previously, Jim had shifted in his sleep and was now lying on his back in a comfortable sprawl at Spock's side. His sleep looked deeper and more comfortable than any Spock had observed in sickbay. What he hadn’t done during his sleep movement, however, was release Spock's hand, which was still held in his own, but now pressed against his chest. This position allowed Spock to monitor Jim’s heartbeat and respiration directly, which he had used to rationalise having not made any attempt to retrieve his hand. Conducting all his work with one hand had produced a marginal drop in efficiency, but Spock judged it a sacrifice worth making.  

In lieu of being able to move, he closed his eyes, with the idea of commencing a few minutes meditation. Which was when the doors to Jim’s quarters flew open to admit a furious McCoy.  

James Tiberius K-’ he all but shouted, then stopped, taking in the scene. He stalked to the bed, glared at Spock, and began to scan Jim with the medical tricorder at his side.  

‘I should have known you’d have something to do with this,’ he hissed at Spock, even as he checked through the readings.  

Spock arched an eyebrow. ‘To what are you -’ 

‘Do not play dumb with me,’ McCoy hissed. ‘I am this close to having you both confined to sickbay for the rest of this ride. You were aiding and abetting Captain Breakout here.’  

‘As any brief scan of the ship’s records will confirm, I was on duty at the time of the Captain’s departure from sickbay.’  

‘You didn’t call me when you found out he was here, though, did you? What, did you think I’d discharged him?’ McCoy continued in the same vicious whisper. ‘Oh, you can nearly walk, Jim, off you go, it’s only captaining a starship, no bloody pressure.’  

‘The Captain was most insistent that you not be disturbed -’ 

Not be disturbed?!’ Veins were beginning to stand out on McCoy’s neck with the effort to keep from shouting, ‘Do I look undisturbed? Is this the face of an undisturbed man?’ When Spock didn’t reply, he said, ‘And not for nothing but he isn’t the Captain right now, you are, and it’s not like he ordered you not to -’ On Spock’s expression, he stopped. Then, ‘- oh, he did, didn’t he? He actually ordered you not to call me.’  

Spock’s expression was a study in neutrality. McCoy swore under his breath, then checked the tricorder again. Spock seized the opportunity to attempt to gently extricate his hand from Jim’s.   

McCoy was muttering, ‘At least he hasn’t done anything irreparable. Swelling is a bit worse, he’s going to need more painkillers tomorrow, not that he deserves them...’ 

Spock ventured, ‘His sleep has been more restful over the past two point two hours than I observed in sickbay. His respiration and heartbeat have been consistent with human norms for sleep.’  

McCoy glanced at Spock’s hand, then at his face, then said grudgingly, ‘Well that’s something anyway.’ He glared down at the peacefully oblivious man between them. ‘I’m still going to give him a piece of my mind when he wakes up. By all rights I should be marching him back to sickbay.’ He sighed and looked back to Spock. ‘So, what was the idea here? Were you planning to get any sleep at all, or are you adding starship nurse to your current impressive list of duties?’  

Spock said, in as dignified a manner as he could, ‘The Captain seemed to feel he would be able to manage without aid; however, I was planning to complete my work for the evening, and then rest here in case he required assistance.’ 

McCoy rolled his eyes. ‘Oh, did he. Well if it’s alright with you, Doctor Spock, I’ll do the patient monitoring, thank you.’ As he spoke, he attached a small medical transmitter to the side of Kirk’s neck. ‘This will send all his readings direct to me, and whoever’s on duty in sickbay. If he so much as breathes in a way I don’t like, he’s back in isolation, and I’m putting a guard on the damn door.’  

Spock felt a trickle of genuine relief as the small device lit up and began to transmit. ‘A wise precaution, Doc-’  

McCoy pointed the small mediscanner at him. ‘Don’t try and make it up to me, Mister, you’re not out of my bad books. I want to know immediately if there’s any problem at all, anything you don’t like. You call me straight away and I don’t give a damn what Jim said. Mess me about again, either of you, and he’s off duty permanently. Are we clear?’  

‘Yes, Doctor.’ 

McCoy sighed. 'Christ, you’re both as bad as each other. It’s like dealing with kids. Except kids might actually do as they’re told once in a while.’  

Spock forbore to reply. There were occasions, when dealing with the doctor, when discretion was indeed the better part of valour. This he deemed to be one such.  

McCoy continued, ‘Right. I’m going to get some rest. I suggest you do the same. I’ll come back in the morning and see how he’s doing.’ 

Spock said, ‘Agreed Doctor.’  

McCoy appeared to be waiting for him to move. As carefully as he could, he began to edge away from the sleeping Kirk, attempting again to retrieve his hand. Sensing the motion, Jim turned over in his sleep, closing the gap Spock had created, and bringing his other hand over to more firmly hold Spock’s in place.  

McCoy said thoughtfully, ‘You know, he never really struck me as the teddy bear type.’  

Spock cut him a glare.  

McCoy had the look of a man working to suppress a smile. He said, ‘You could just stay here, you know. He does seem to be sleeping better and I don’t think it’s just being out of sickbay.’ He paused. ‘Anyway, up to you.’ He started towards the door, then called back, ‘As long as you get some rest too – we’ll be monitoring him, so just get some sleep.’  

Spock watched as the door swished shut behind the departing McCoy. He looked down at the sleeping man at his side. Slowly, he tried again to move away. Jim made a small, unhappy noise and a frown creased his forehead. Spock ghosted his free hand across Jim’s forehead, watching as the frown disappeared, then sighed and lay gently down, careful not to jolt the patient. Jim gave a breath of satisfaction, taking one of his hands from Spock’s, only to throw it over his chest to hold him firmly in place. His breathing resumed the rhythm of deep sleep. Spock closed his eyes, and laid his arm across his chest, next to Jim’s. This would be, he promised himself, the only time.  

Jim Kirk sat at his desk, reviewing edited highlights of the ship’s performance for the past two days. It had been a week since he left sickbay, and although McCoy had still not entirely forgiven him, he had finally allowed him to work for short periods each day. He had accepted with appropriate gratitude, but he’d actually been up to speed with the ship's performance for the last five days, thanks to Spock. The Vulcan had visited after every shift and it hadn’t taken very long for them to agree to violate McCoy’s ‘no ship's business’ instruction, if for no other reason than any other subject seemed to end up, well, awkward.  

Jim sighed, worrying at the frown lines between his eyebrows with his fingers. He’d only been reading for an hour and a headache was already threatening. Getting a verbal summary of events from Spock had felt like a lot less effort. But he’d be damned if he’d mention any temporary drop in mental stamina to either McCoy or Spock. Quite apart from his professional pride, relationships with both of his closest friends were..... a little strained. McCoy was still mad at him for leaving sickbay prematurely, and Spock was being the consummate first officer and acting Captain. Incredibly professional, efficient, and almost unbelievably competent. Odes could be written to the expertise of Spock’s handling of the current situation. Frankly, it was wearing.  

The hadn’t talked about the bomb on Talonia, Jim’s time in sickbay, or his first night back in his quarters. It was as if spending the night in each other’s arms hadn’t actually happened at all. Only Jim knew that it had and this time it wasn’t dreams, or delirium. He had woken up twice, nagged by his various aching muscles to shift his position, and both times, Spock had been sleeping beside him, face turned towards Jim, warm and relaxed from its usual slightly stern impassivity. Jim had willed himself less tired, so that he could savour the moment. But exhaustion had claimed him and when he finally awoke again after the start of alpha shift, Spock was already on the bridge.  

He wished his memories of Talonia and the immediate aftermath were clearer. It was all irritatingly vague. He supposed he should be grateful. No-one should really recall a building dropping on them, but all the same, he hated that he couldn’t remember it, especially as Spock clearly did. He couldn’t help feeling like he’d lost something important in forgetting his time under the crystal rubble.  

He remembered sickbay though. Remembered asking Spock to reinstate the bond, and his point-blank refusal. He’d been right, of course, Jim had been in no state to make any decisions. There was a good reason the threshold for competency of starship captains wasn’t simply consciousness. Didn’t make it hurt any less though. And now he was almost back to normal, a mere day away from McCoy’s seal of approval to return to full duty. And absolutely nothing had changed. He missed Spock. Missed the bond. Missed their easy banter, and the way things used to be. Before Vulcan. But at the same time, he wasn’t sure he wanted that again. Now he wanted...... more.  

He remembered the evening of their chess game, and the dream that followed. Even a month ago he would have claimed to have never thought of his closest friend that way. And now it was a thought his mind returned to frequently. Especially without his duties to distract him. And last night, those thoughts had produced the obvious physiological response, for the first time since his surgery. The depth of arousal that thoughts of him and Spock together produced had come as a surprise and a relief. Clearly his feelings on the night of their game had not been due solely to the bond. And just as clearly, the surgery had not done any permanent damage to any areas of potential importance in a new relationship. And if his response wasn’t due to the bond, just maybe Spock's hadn’t been either.  

He patted the stylus against his hand as he thought. He wished he knew how Spock felt. What if Jim’s illness had been a convenient excuse not to reinstate a bond he didn’t want in the first place?  

He threw himself back in his chair and stared at the ceiling as if the answers might be written there. There was only one way to know. He had to speak to Spock. But not yet. When he was completely cleared for duty again, so there was no reason for refusal on the grounds that he wasn’t competent, or clear headed. His back began to twinge and he swore, sitting forward again in the chair.  

His eyes fell on the padd next to his monitor and his doodling there. Ash- something. He frowned. He was sure that Spock had said it to him. At least once, maybe twice, when he was either slightly delirious or almost unconscious. Which meant he wasn’t supposed to hear it, making it all the more important to find out what it meant. It wasn’t a Standard word, or he’d have remembered it accurately, which meant it had to be Vulcan. He had the feeling if knew what it meant, it might give him an insight into Spock’s mind. But he couldn’t find any Vulcan words that started with ash- that seemed right. There were seventy-seven words or terms in the Vulcan-Standard dictionary on the computer and they were all highly practical. Elevate, elevator. To repeat, to iterate. Exponential. There was even a word for a specific Vulcan medical instrument used to lift fragments of a fractured skull, which whilst potentially recently relevant, would be an odd thing for Spock to mention. And McCoy would no sooner refer to his instruments in Vulcan than he would voluntarily transport. 

Fortunately, there was someone he could ask. A Federation-renowned language expert, in fact, and due to visit him any minute. He’d have to – obfuscate - the truth a little bit. Couldn’t come right out and explain where he’d heard the word. But still -  

His door buzzer sounded, and he called, ‘Come in.’  

Uhura entered, looking at little uncertain, until she saw him, and a grin split her face, ‘Sir!’ 

He stood up, waved her over to the other seat at his desk. ‘Nyota, sit. And don’t call me sir, I’m not allowed back on duty for at least another day. Doctor’s orders.’ 

To his surprise, she seized his outstretched hand and squeezed it in both of hers. ‘Captain, I’m so pleased to see you looking well, we’ve been so worried.’  

He laid his hand over hers and gave them a squeeze in return, genuinely touched. ‘Thank you. I’m pleased to be well, I can tell you. I can’t wait to get back to the bridge, as soon as I’m allowed.’ He pulled an expressive face. ‘Bones is being very strict with me.’  

She grinned as he released her hand, and sat down. ‘I think he’ll be glad to get you back on duty, he must be sick to death of people stopping by sickbay to ask about you.’  

Kirk laughed. ‘I hope so. I need to encourage it. Try and get people to nag him into letting me back at it.’ 

Uhura said, ‘The sooner the better for us, sir, erm, Captain.’ 

He grinned at her. ‘As I'm not officially Captain right now, you could give ‘Jim’ a try.’ 

She considered this for a second. ‘Nope, not going to work, sir, sorry.’  

He laughed. ‘Fine. Whatever’s comfortable for you. I’ve had Scotty calling me lad all morning. To be honest, I’ll be glad to get back to Captain there, it was like an engineering lecture at the academy.’ 

She laughed, and held up her padd. ‘Mr Spock said you wanted department heads to give you an overview of what’s been happening whilst you were in sickbay.’  

Kirk sat back. ‘Please do.’  

Twenty minutes later and he was wondering if he could get Uhura to do all his departmental summaries. She was concise, erudite, and a pleasure to listen to. Unlike his head of security, who had an obsession with detail and a voice so monotonous he was genuinely concerned about nodding off during the briefing.  

Ten minutes later, as she came to a halt (and they had all, suspiciously, kept their briefings to a rather neat half hour, he couldn’t help but wonder if Spock had had a word about tiring the Captain), he picked up on a few details and began asking questions. After another fifteen minutes, he felt he had a good grasp of the current situation with the communications team. As the conversation came to a halt, and after appropriate and well-deserved praise of her efficient running of the department, he said, as casually as he could, ‘Nyota, can I pick your brains? Not strictly ship’s business related, but I’m curious about something.’  

‘Yes, of course, sir. Go ahead.’ She sat expectantly.  

He said, a little awkwardly, ‘It’s just something I – overheard. A Vulcan word. And I’ll be damned if I can find it in the standard dictionary.’ 

‘What’s the word?’ 

‘Well, that’s the problem, I can’t remember it exactly. It was ash- something. Ashiam or asheeam? I didn’t hear it all that well.’ 

If Uhura was wondering why he’d apparently been eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation, or why he wasn’t asking his actually-Vulcan first officer to answer his question, it didn’t show at all on her face. Her entire focus seemed to be on solving the problem as presented. He loved her a bit for that.  

She said, frowning slightly as she thought, ‘Can you give me any context? Was it any kind of technical conversation, for example?’ 

‘No, definitely not. It was more...personal, I’d say. Like between, um, close friends.’ 

Her face cleared. ‘Oh, well, I know why you couldn’t find it on the computer then.’ 

Kirk looked at her curiously. She said, a little awkwardly, ‘You know how –practical- Vulcans are? And – prone to being a bit – secretive? Not our Mr Spock, of course.’ She added hastily.  

He smiled at her affectionately. ‘Of course not. I’m with you, Nyota, go on.’  

‘Well, apparently, when the Federation communications team went to Vulcan to get all of their language recorded for our computers, including the translator, they didn’t actually get all of it.’ 

Kirk stared. ‘What do you mean? What didn’t they get?’ 

Uhura leaned forward, warming to her theme. ‘Apparently, the Vulcan language team told them, that for their purposes: diplomacy, trade, commerce, and so forth, that they didn’t actually need all of the language. Only the practical parts of it, if you like. It’s a sore point with the Federation comms team, let me tell you, they keep asking for the rest. There’s nothing extraneous, or impractical, if you will, in the dictionary.’ 

‘What the hell did they deem impractical? Wait. Are you telling me there are no Vulcan swear words in the dictionary?’ 

She laughed. ‘No, and nothing poetical either. Basically, a lot of what we might think of as emotional words are missing. Terms of endearment, and yes, swear words, that kind of thing.’ 

Kirk said, ‘So if a Vulcan swore at me during a conversation, it just wouldn’t translate?’ 

‘In that unlikely event sir, no, it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t translate if he called you darling, either.’ He laughed, as an odd expression of dawning realisation crossed her face.  

He said, ‘So no hope of finding my word then.’ 

She had been staring past him, lost in thought for a moment, then bit her lip. ‘I wouldn’t say that sir, actually.’ She smiled at him then, and there was a secretive air to it. ‘We communications types have our ways. Just wait here for me one minute.’  

To his surprise, she jumped up, and left his quarters, reappearing a couple of minutes later with a small old fashioned book under her arm.  

‘I think you’ll find it in here, sir.’ She laid the book on the desk. Kirk stared at it, turning the pages in fascination. ‘Uhura, is this hand written?’  

She looked embarrassed. ‘I had to copy it out in the Academy Library on Vulcan. No padds allowed.’  

He looked up, genuinely impressed. ‘This is amazing.’  

She blushed. ‘I didn’t want to be caught out in the field. You never know what word you might need. And if the translators don’t have it, I certainly should.’  

Kirk was starting through the ‘a’ section. ‘And you think it’s in here?’ 

‘I’m pretty sure, sir. I’ll leave you to it.’ That slightly knowing smile was back.  

Kirk looked up. ‘I won’t be a minute, you don’t want to take your book?’ 

She had gathered up her padd. ‘Oh, don’t worry, I don’t use it anymore, I have it memorised. I’ll pick it up another time. Thank you, sir.’ She was backing towards the door. ‘Keep getting better, won’t you?’ 

Kirk smiled, ‘I will, thank you, Nyota.’ 

She beamed at him then. ‘Anytime, sir. Oh, and happy reading.’ She slipped out of the door, still smiling to herself.  

He kept reading. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d read actual hand-written words, not printed, but Uhura’s writing was a work of art in itself, and easy to read -

Ashayam. He knew it the moment he saw it. The word sang through his consciousness as if happy to have been finally acknowledged. Beloved. He temporarily forgot to breathe. Spock had called him beloved. Twice. He was almost certain. He felt a lump in his throat. Well, that was it then. Surely – he reached across the desk to thumb the comm link. Then stopped.  

ThinkJimthinkDon’t rush in. Get this right. Spock’s objection of a week ago still stood. He hadn’t yet been cleared for duty. And might still, therefore, not be competent to make a decision in Spock’s eyes. And what if Spock had other objections? He needed to be able to answer them all. They had to have this conversation, once, and resolve the issue of their bond one way or the other. He couldn’t keep asking, that would be ridiculous, and embarrassing for them both. And whatever happened, their professional relationship needed to come out of this intact. Or as intact as it could be.  

What other objections could Spock have to their bond? He should know. He knew his first officer better than anyone. Or so he hoped. And Spock wouldn’t have talked about this with anyone else. Kirk stopped. His fingers froze in the act of tapping the stylus in place. He had been effectively out of action for nearly a fortnight now. That was a long time for someone with something on their mind not to talk to anyone at all. Even a Vulcan. And there was one other person that Spock might speak to. They were close, deny it as they might. And even if they hadn’t spoken, he still might have some insight into the situation. Mind made up, Kirk pushed away from the desk and headed for sickbay.  

McCoy barely glanced up as he entered. ‘Oh look, if it isn’t Doctor Kirk. Come to discharge some patients against medical advice? I thought you’d had enough of this place.’ 

Kirk let the door to McCoy’s office close. ‘I’m not forgiven then.’ 

‘Not even nearly.’ McCoy continued to read his padd. 

Kirk frowned. ‘How much grovelling is this going to take, exactly? I did apologise. I was hoping for a - friendly - chat.’ He sat across the desk from McCoy. 

McCoy eyed him askance. ‘You’re making some big assumptions there about my current level of friendliness towards you. Start grovelling, and I’ll let you know when we’re good.’  

Kirk sighed. ‘Bones -’ 

‘That’s Doctor McCoy to you.’ 

‘Bones.’ 

McCoy snapped. ‘Don’t ‘Bones’ me. You walk out of my sickbay, less than a week out from being clinically dead for a length of time I don’t like to contemplate, after hours of reconstructive surgery, you risk your recovery, your future health and career, not to mention my sanity, and why exactly?’ His voice was getting louder. ‘You never explained that. Beds not comfy enough for you? Too damn proud to be sick? Do tell, Jim, I'd love to know.’ He stopped, breathing hard, a hair’s breadth short of shouting.  

Kirk swallowed. His first instinct, his Captain’s instinct, was to square off. Shut the conversation down. Have the last word. But Bones wasn’t talking to his captain. He was talking to his friend.  

He rubbed the back of his neck, let out a breath and said quietly, ‘I was angry. And I let it get the better of me. I shouldn’t have. It was reckless and stupid and for what it's worth, I really am sorry.’  

The room was silent. Then McCoy said, ‘Do you know how close we were this time?’ 

Kirk looked up. His friend looked tired, and unhappy.  

He said, ‘How close?’ 

‘If you hadn’t been bonded to Spock when that building fell, we wouldn’t be sitting here now. Nothing I could have done would have been enough. Do you get that? Nothing. You would have been gone, and there would have been nothing I could -’ he broke off, stared hard at the edge of his desk.  

The room fell silent again. Moments passed. Eventually, Kirk said softly, ‘I don’t think about it really.’ McCoy looked up. Kirk carried on, ‘What you do, in here. I just figure you’ll always do it. Always put me back together. Always put my crew back together. It’s what you do. I take my risks and you work your miracles, and I just...take it for granted. I am - sorry for that. You deserve better. I couldn’t do what I do without you, and I’d hate to think you don’t know that. Or how much I appreciate it.’ 

The room fell silent again. McCoy sniffed, then said, ‘Alright Jim, don’t go nuts. Apology accepted.’  

Another moment went by, then McCoy said, ‘What time is it?’ 

Kirk blinked. ‘Eighteen hundred hours, why?’  

McCoy stood and walked to a small cabinet, moved aside some legitimate medical supplies and produced a bottle of bourbon. ‘I’m off duty, I’m having a drink. Can I tempt you?’ 

Kirk raised his eyebrows. ‘I dunno, I wouldn’t want to upset my doctor, he’s pretty strict.’ 

‘I tell you what.’ McCoy pushed a glass across the table. ‘I won’t tell your doctor you’re drinking, if you don’t tell my captain I’ve got an illegal stash of alcohol on board.’ 

Kirk grinned. ‘Just us friends here.’ 

McCoy poured him a glass and sat down. ‘Right.’ They clinked glasses.  

Half a glass later, McCoy said, ‘Go on then.’ he gestured with his tumbler at Kirk. ‘You didn’t come down here to drink my estimable bourbon and shoot the breeze. Let's have it.’  

Jim swilled the liquid in his glass for a moment. ‘Can I ask you something first? What you said earlier, about me not being here if I hadn’t been bonded to Spock. What did you mean?’ 

McCoy sighed. ‘Christ Jim, I’m a doctor, not a Vulcan. I’m not even sure myself.’ He downed the rest of his glass. ‘All I know is, when they beamed you up here, you were gone. As soon as I saw you, I thought -’ he stopped, staring at his glass. ‘I’ve been at this game a while. You get to know. The ones you’ll bring back. And the ones you won’t. The ones you should fight for. And the ones you shouldn’t. You always try, of course, but -’ he broke off again, shrugged. ‘I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker. Sometimes, there’s just no one there to save, you know? And when I saw you, I thought - only, suddenly, there you were. And I had something to fight for.’  

Kirk waited. The silence in the room felt heavy. McCoy said, ‘I asked Spock about it, after. I don’t know what he did, but I know he shouldn’t have even tried it. We had to bring him back too. He was unconscious for nearly a day. Some kind of healing trance. The ship was fine, so I didn’t even try to bring him out of it.’  

Kirk said, ‘What do you think he did? Best guess.’ 

McCoy shrugged. ‘Best guess? There was a moment there, when you died, when the bond broke, that he should have let you go. But he didn’t. He hung on, and nearly took himself down with you.’ He reached out for the bourbon bottle. ‘Bloody idiot.’  

On Kirk’s expression, he said with surprise, ‘You didn’t know that.’ It wasn’t a question.  

‘No. No, I didn’t. I don’t remember what happened after the building fell.’ 

‘Well you wouldn’t. That was a hell of knock you took.’  

‘Will I remember?’ 

‘Honest answer? I don’t know. You might, one day. You might never remember. I can’t tell you, Jim, I’m sorry.’ McCoy continued, ‘But you’d think Spock might have mentioned it. Don’t you two ever talk?’ 

Kirk grimaced. ‘Not lately, no. Not really. Not unless it’s about the ship.’  

‘Uh-huh.’ 

‘Actually, speaking of Spock, I wanted to ask you - ‘He broke off as McCoy held up a hand.  

‘Just a second.’ McCoy poured himself another, larger, glass of bourbon. ‘I feel like we’ve reached the heart of this conversation and I’m not entirely sure I want to be sober for it.’ He took a swig, downing a third of the glass, before returning it to the table with a thud. ‘Okay. I’m good. Shoot.’ 

Kirk watched him with amusement. ‘O-kay.’ He cleared his throat, and said as casually as he could, ‘I was just, er, wondering about when I was out. Did Spock mention anything at all? About the bond, or – or anything?’ 

‘Why? You want me to pass him a note in study hall?’ Kirk glared and McCoy laughed. ‘Sorry. Sorry, couldn’t resist.’  

He took another sip of bourbon, took a breath, and said, ‘He said that you wanted to reinstate it. The bond.’ 

‘Did he say he refused?’ 

‘Yep. Had a good list of reasons though.’ 

Kirk sat forward. ‘Which were?’ 

McCoy eyed him thoughtfully. ‘My turn to ask a question.’ 

Kirk sighed and finished his own drink, pushing the glass across the desk for a refill. ‘If you must.’ 

McCoy poured the bourbon as he said, ‘Why did you want the bond back? It had served its purpose after all. Spock thought you were just asking because you were sick, and feeling vulnerable.’ 

Kirk looked stricken. ‘Did he?’ 

‘Yeah. For two people who spend so much time together, sometimes it’s like you’ve never even met.’ He waved his glass at Kirk. ‘So -' 

Kirk sipped his own drink, trying to think of a way to answer the question without revealing too much.  

After a minute, McCoy blew that hope out of the water by saying quietly, ‘Jim, neither one of us has time to sit here all night, so just answer me this. Are you in love with Spock?’ 

Kirk blew out a breath. ‘Christ Bones, don’t beat around the bush, will you?’ 

McCoy shrugged. ‘I’m not getting any younger sat here. And let’s be honest, we can talk all night, but that’s the only answer that means anything.’ 

Kirk shifted uncomfortably. ‘Of course I love Spock.’ 

McCoy pointed at him. ‘Don’t play semantics with me, Jim Kirk. That wasn’t the question and you know it. Are you in love with him?’ 

Kirk swallowed. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.’ 

McCoy stared. ‘You’re asking a man to marry you based on you think so?’ 

Kirk blinked, ‘Who said anything about marriage?’  

McCoy stared at him in disbelief. ‘Please tell me you’ve done at least that much research. Jim, if you reinstate this bond and it sticks, that’s it. You and Spock. Together. Forever. There’s no breaking it. Not without risking actual harm to both of you. And I don’t mean broken hearts.’ 

Kirk frowned. ‘I’ve no intention of breaking it, as it happens, but I can’t help noticing we just did exactly that.’  

‘Yes, and Spock told me himself that wouldn’t fly a second time. That any second bond would be deeper than the first and harder to break. You have to mean this, Jim. No more alien princesses – 

Kirk frowned in irritation. ‘Oh, come on, Bones. You know that's just-' he waved a hand, ‘- the mission. Whatever’s necessary.’ 

‘I do, yes. But you know what I mean. You play on your reputation as the love ‘em and leave ‘em type. Girl in every port. It suits you. Never tied down. Married to your ship. And now you’ve found someone who’s actually on the ship. Who lives it like you do. Who’d give as much for it as you would. But is he just convenient? When our five years are up, is it just going to be ‘thanks for the memories, Spock,’ and on to the next one?’ 

Kirk had gone pale. ‘Just what the hell do you think-' 

‘I don’t know Jim, you tell me. Because I haven’t heard anything yet that makes me think you love him the way that-' he stopped suddenly.  

Kirk stared at him. ‘What were you -' he broke off and started to smile, his anger falling away. ‘You think he’s in love with me.’ 

‘Stop smiling like that, you look like an idiot.’ 

‘You do, don’t you?’ 

McCoy stared at him in irritation. ‘I can’t believe you don’t. How much more obvious does he need to be? Wear a sign?’  

Kirk stared. ‘He's Vulcan. It’s not obvious.’ 

McCoy rolled his eyes. ‘Well I figured it out, and it’s not me he’s crazy about.’ 

Kirk said quickly, ‘Okay, so assuming you’re right, why the hell doesn’t he think we should bond again?’  

‘Hold on there. You still haven’t answered my question.’ 

Kirk stood up. ‘For God’s sake, Bones. He began to pace. ‘Yes. Alright. I love Spock. I am in love with Spock. Okay? Happy?’ 

McCoy sipped his bourbon. ‘Ecstatic. How about you? Feel better for getting that off your chest?’ 

Kirk stopped. ‘Actually...yeah. I do.’ He ran a hand through his hair abstractedly, then smiled.  

McCoy frowned. ‘God, you need to stop doing that. It's really disconcerting. No sensible adult should look that lovesick.’  

Kirk eyed McCoy pointedly. ‘Alright, Doctor. Your turn. Reasons we shouldn’t bond. Go.’ As McCoy frowned in the effort of remembrance, he leaned over the desk and took McCoy's drink out of his hand. ‘Stop drinking and focus. You need to get this right.’ 

McCoy looked indignant. ‘I’m nowhere near drunk enough to forget things.’ He cleared his throat.  

Kirk sat and listened whilst he went over Spock's objections. As McCoy spoke, he watched Kirk’s expression go from optimistic to irritated. As he finished, Kirk was frowning.  

McCoy waited. After a moment Kirk said quietly, with that absolute focus McCoy recognised from mission briefings, ‘Okay. Let’s leave the career and duty stuff for now. Firstly, it's my concern, and secondly, I don’t think it’ll be the issue Spock thinks it is. I just need to double check the regs before I talk to him.’ 

He drew a breath. ‘The other stuff, though? The Vulcan stuff?’ He stood up again, started to pace. ‘How the hell do I answer that? All I can say for sure is that the bond we had was incredible. But how can I possibly say how it will affect me next month? Or next year? Or ten years from now?’ He turned on McCoy. ‘The data you took when we were bonded. Was there any sign, at all, of a negative effect on me?’ 

McCoy shook his head. ‘No. But Jim, you were bonded for such a short time, it’s a practically negligible sample.’ 

Kirk slammed his hand on the back of the chair. ‘Then what other data do we have? There must be something in those files you accessed from Vulcan when you were researching the bond. About other Vulcan - Human bonds.’ 

McCoy was shaking his head before Kirk had even finished speaking. ‘I looked. After I talked to Spock. The data isn’t there, Jim. What records there are, and there aren’t many, are sealed to me. As I'd expect, to be honest, because these people are still alive, and I’m not their doctor.’ 

Kirk stared. ‘So there’s nothing? Nothing out there that can give me an argument?’ 

McCoy said, ‘I tried, Jim, I’m sorry.’ 

Kirk ran a hand through his hair. ‘Then what can I tell him? He’s given me a no-win situation here. How can I predict my reaction to something that hasn’t happened yet? It’s the damn Kobayashi Maru all over again.’ 

McCoy said, ‘Didn’t you beat that test?’ 

‘Yeah. But my solution was...unconventional.’  

‘So? What’s the unconventional solution here?’ 

Kirk stared. ‘There isn’t one. You said it yourself. There’s hardly any data and what there is, we can’t have. And even if we had it, it might not be what we want to hear. I mean, there’s really only one long term Vulcan-Human bond that we know about -' He stopped.  

McCoy said, ‘Right. And there’s nothing on the Ambassador’s medical records about his marriage bond. I’ve still got access from Babel and I checked. Apparently that stuff is for Vulcan eyes only.’ 

Kirk said thoughtfully, ‘We don't need his records. We need the Lady Amanda’s.’ 

‘Oh good, I’ll just call right up and ask for her records. Any detail they’ve got about her marital bond. I’m sure it’ll be no problem. It’s not like we're dealing with a really secretive people or anything.’ 

‘We don’t need her records either. We can just go to the source.’ 

McCoy said, bourbon glass suspended midair, ‘Sorry?’ 

Kirk said. ‘We’ve met. We got along. I could just...call her and ask.’ 

McCoy said slowly, ‘So your solution is to call Spock's mom and ask her personal questions about her marriage bond to the Vulcan ambassador? Because there’s no way that could go wrong.’ 

Kirk shrugged. ‘You said unconventional.’ 

McCoy said, ‘Unconventional, Jim. Not suicidal.’ 

Kirk spread his hands. ‘I’m open to other suggestions.’ 

McCoy opened his mouth, then closed it again.  

‘Spock wants to know what the likely long term affect on me will be if we bond. The only way to find out for sure is to live it. But in order to make that happen, I need to hear from someone who has lived as close to our experience as possible for as long as possible. She’s it, Bones. There is no-one else.’ 

McCoy said, ‘Well, rather you than me.’ 

Kirk grimaced. ‘Thanks Bones, very supportive.’ 

‘Hey, I’ve done my part here. I’ve been your, whatsit, wingman. You’re on your own now.’ 

Kirk felt himself smiling. ‘My wingman? What is this, academy date night?’ 

McCoy scowled at him. ‘Don’t look at me. You started it. Now go call your boyfriend’s mother and stop bothering me. I’ve got bourbon to drink.’

Chapter Text

Amanda of Vulcan sat in their garden of their home and stared unseeing at the padd on her lap. She had been staring at the same padd for the past half hour and inspiration, or enthusiasm for the task, had not improved in that time. She understood the logic of her husband’s request, and the imperative behind it, but – she sighed and raised the padd, looking again at the list of names.  

Her husband had spent the last weeks, since Spock's brief visit to his home planet, seeking a new bondmate for their son, a task with which Amanda had thus far refused to assist. Reading between the lines of her husband’s brief commentary on the subject, the task was proving easier this time around, at least in terms of enthusiasm for the idea amongst the Vulcan families he had approached. Amanda had done her best to ignore the resentment that idea engendered. As a young, unproven, half-Vulcan half-human hybrid, Spock had not been an easy child to find a match for amongst the traditional families of Vulcan society and Amanda had suppressed many angry tears at the notion of her son’s rejection. Now, when he was a success in multiple fields, including at the Vulcan Science Academy where his papers, Sarek informed her, were highly anticipated, and in Starfleet, where again, her husband informed her, with a pride he almost managed to conceal, he and his Captain were widely acknowledged to be the finest command team in the 'fleet, now, apparently, Spock was a prize to be sought after. Amanda wanted to tell them all where they could stick their new-found enthusiasm.   

After innumerable conversations on this theme, Sarek had left her with his short list, and firm instructions to select a candidate by the time he returned. Unfortunately, his short list was – well, there was no other word for it - dull. There were four young people on it. They were all from excellent families, accomplished, intelligent and could, if one were neutral on the subject, be considered an excellent prospect for a match for one’s son. But Amanda was not neutral on the subject. She huffed a breath. The first time had been easier. Spock had been so young and eager to gain his father’s approval by agreeing to the match with T’Pring. There had been very little need to consider what his future preferences and wishes might be, as the bond would be established by the time he reached maturity, and he would naturally be drawn to T’Pring. But now he was a grown man. With his own preferences, and wishes, and hopes, and choosing for him no longer felt appropriate.   

When she had shared this opinion with her husband, she had been reminded that Spock himself had given permission for them to search for a bondmate. Amanda had argued that acquiescence to Sarek’s suggestion that they do so did not constitute any enthusiasm for the notion, which had earned her a raised eyebrow from her husband, and a mild comment about her tendency to seek for problems where none existed.   

One positive from the breaking of Spock’s marital bond was that Amanda was now free to admit to herself that she had never really taken to T’Pring. The young woman had never said anything overtly, but Amanda had always been convinced that she had somehow felt herself superior to Spock, in spite of his achievements, presumably because he was – and here Amanda ground her teeth – ‘only’ half Vulcan. T’Pring herself had not contacted anyone associated with her former bondmate since the ending of their bond, and Sarek and Amanda had heard about her upcoming marriage to Stonn through mutual acquaintances. Which would have been somewhat embarrassing, should Vulcans concern themselves with such things.   

She cherished secretly the hope that there had been more to the breaking of the bond with T’Pring than she and Sarek had been told. Not that they had been told much. A terse communique from T’Pau informing them that the bonding had not gone ahead, and then silence. She had messaged her son immediately, only to receive a reply only marginally more informative than T’Pau’s message, despite her many questions. Yes, he was well, no, the bonding had not gone ahead, no, he was not disappointed at its loss, yes, he would accede to his father’s suggestion that they find him a new bondmate.   

Amanda’s only consolation in the anxiety that had followed their wait for Spock’s reply was that Sarek had been every bit as anxious as she. He hadn’t even made a serious attempt to hide it from her. Other than in the specific way it directly applied to herself and her husband during his time, they did not discuss the subject of pon farr, but Sarek’s obvious concern had compelled her to ask for further information. Under other circumstances, it would have been fascinating to hear more about the often-secretive culture into which she had married, but their mutual anxiety had destroyed her usual enthusiasm for new Vulcan-related information. According to Sarek, the breaking of a marriage bond established from childhood was almost unheard of, and highly unorthodox, not to say dangerous. The only way Sarek could conceive it had happened was through the koon-ut-kalifee, a term that Amanda was not familiar with. She had listened in horrified disbelief as Sarek had calmly outlined the nature of the challenge, and its likely outcome. Only the knowledge that Spock was alive and on the Enterprise (a fact confirmed by Sarek after T’Pau’s initial message) had stopped her descent into actual panic.   

Alarm had evolved rapidly into confusion. Spock was alive. Stonn, T’Pring’s likely champion, was also apparently unharmed, not that Amanda could bring herself to care. So what had happened? After an evening of most unVulcan-like speculation, Sarek had drawn a halt to their conversation, on the grounds that it was illogical to continue to discuss a subject upon which no conclusions could be drawn. Amanda’s request that he contact anyone present to find out what had happened was flatly refused. Such things, apparently, were not discussed.   

She had briefly contemplated contacting that nice doctor from the Enterprise, Leonard McCoy, whose skills had saved her husband and son during the Babel conference, and even more briefly contemplated contacting Spock’s commanding officer, James Kirk, but had dismissed the notion after Sarek’s absolute insistence that such things were not discussed with outsiders, and that they would therefore be unable to supply any further information. Her mind lingered momentarily on Spock’s friends from the Enterprise. For they were his friends, that much had been obvious even from their brief time on the ship. Kirk in particular had been obviously fond of her son, effusive in his praise of Spock to his parents, and eager to affect a rapprochement between father and son.

She allowed herself a small moment of joy at the thought that all the years of silence between the two people who meant the most to her in the world had finally ended, and smiled to herself at the memory of being teased by her husband and son in McCoy’s sickbay.   

She took a grounding breath, and returned to the list. She had so hoped that perhaps the bond with T’Pring had not succeeded because Spock had found a more suitable match for himself. And as the days and weeks had ticked by she had waited for a communique from her son, and cheerfully delayed Sarek in his search for a replacement for T’Pring. But there had been nothing from the Enterprise, and her logical reasons for delaying the vouchsafing of her opinion on the shortlist had run out.   

Maybe, if she was lucky, something terribly important would intervene this afternoon, and she would have a good excuse for not presenting her husband with a decision when he returned.   

*  

Light years away, James Kirk paced the small space in front of his desk. The idea was logical. There was no one else who could tell him what he needed to know. That didn’t change the fact that the questions he wanted to ask were pretty personal and he was asking Spock's mother. There was no way this wasn't going to be awkward. He could only hope that Amanda would understand the rationale behind his questions.   

Improvising a way through tough situations was effectively what he got paid for, but James Kirk, Starfleet’s finest and youngest Captain paced again, hoping that something would miraculously occur to him that would render this conversation unnecessary. Or less awkward. Or maybe that the ship would be attacked by Klingons.   

He sat down and activated the screen. How to start. ‘Hey, Spock’s mom. Turns out I’m crazy about your son but he won’t bond with me because he’s worried I don’t know enough about human Vulcan bonds to understand if this is really what I want.’ Probably a bit blunt, Kirk thought.   

He had already informed Uhura of his desire to contact Vulcan. Not only had she evinced no surprise, he strongly suspected that this call wouldn't appear on the log of ships business. His call went through with disconcerting speed. A young Vulcan man appeared on Kirk’s screen and announced smartly, ‘Good afternoon Captain Kirk. You are connected to the Residence of Ambassador Sarek. I am his adjunct, Selen, how may I be of assistance?’   

Kirk cleared his throat, ‘I was actually hoping to speak to the Lady Amanda.’  

‘You are requesting to converse with the Ambassador’s wife?’   

Didn’t I just say that? ‘Yes please.’  

‘What is it regarding?’  

Kirk blinked. Now you’re asking. He settled for, ‘Her son.’  

Selen’s image disappeared abruptly from the screen.  

Moments later the image reformed. The room had changed from the rather sterile environment behind Selen to a surprisingly cosy looking study. Books lined the far wall beside a window through to a remarkably earth-like garden. Kirk had just started to admire the view when it was blocked by the arrival in front of the screen of Amanda. She slipped into the chair before the monitor, pale and breathing quickly.   

‘Captain Kirk.’ She regarded him anxiously.   

For a few seconds Kirk stared at her in confusion. This was not the calm, together woman he remembered. Then he cursed himself for seven kinds of fool and said quickly, ‘Spock is fine.’   

‘Oh.’ Amanda breathed out slowly. Her demeanour changed and she smiled. ‘Then, to what do I owe the pleasure, Captain?’  

‘It’s Jim, please Ma'am, and I should have called ahead, that was incredibly inconsiderate. I apologise.’ Brilliant James T, he thought, put the fear of God into her about her son. What an excellent way to start this conversation.   

Amanda waved this away. ‘Not at all, we mothers have a tendency to over react. Or so my husband informs me.’ 

‘Ma’am, is this a bad time? I can call back?’  

‘Oh, no, there's no need. I imagine your time is even busier than mine, and in fact this is an excellent moment for a call. I had an unpleasant task to complete this afternoon and tragically, you are keeping me from it.’ She affected a look of comic suffering.   

Kirk smiled. He’d forgotten how much he had liked Spock's mother. ‘So, actually, if we could prolong this conversation?’  

‘That would be very helpful. And if I am to call you Jim then you must call me Amanda.’  

‘Thank you, Ma'am. Amanda.’ He paused and cleared his throat. Then took a breath. Amanda’s expression was slipping rapidly towards curiosity.   

Kirk said quickly, ‘Ma'am. Just so we’re clear, I’m not calling you as Spock’s commanding officer. This is a personal call, and I really hope it won’t come across as wildly inappropriate.’ 

Amanda blinked. She had noticed that Kirk appeared to be wearing a casual shirt, rather than his uniform, but had simply assumed he was off duty. But then he seemed like the type to sleep in his uniform, so perhaps that was more significant than she had thought.  

She said carefully, ‘You told Selen this was about Spock. He is….alright, is he not?’  

‘Yes, Ma’am, he is. He’s in the science lab right now. He should be off duty, but-‘ He gave a small half shrug, half smile.  

‘But he’s never really off duty.’ she finished for him. ‘He is very like his father in that respect. Between them, they have sufficient work ethic for about seven people.’  

Kirk laughed. ‘They do indeed, Ma’am.’  

Amanda noticed he had slipped back to calling her Ma’am, but as he seemed to be more comfortable doing so, she decided to let it go for now. A thought occurred to her, and she said with interest, ‘Does Spock know we’re having this conversation?’ 

At this, Kirk looked positively embarrassed. ‘Er, no, Ma’am. He doesn’t.’ 

Amanda leaned back and regarded him thoughtfully. ‘Curiouser and curiouser. Will you tell him?’ 

Kirk looked even more uncomfortable. ‘To be frank Ma’am, that depends on the outcome.’ 

Amanda raised an eyebrow in a way that was so like her son it made Kirk’s breath catch. And I thought he got that from his father.  

She said, ‘In that case, Jim, you’d better tell me what this is about.’ 

Kirk bit his lip, opened his mouth, and closed it again. This had been much easier in his head.  

Amanda leaned forward. She said, as gently as she could manage, ‘Jim. If this concerns my son and his happiness in any way, I imagine there is very little you could say that I would consider inappropriate. Vulcans can be a very private, one might almost say secretive, race, but we humans are less so, are we not?’ 

Kirk met her eyes. He said, ‘Ma’am, I need to ask you about Vulcan - human bonding.’ 

Amanda stared. She was absolutely sure she hadn’t misheard, but still: ‘I’m sorry, Jim, did you mean bonding as in an engagement? Leading to a marital bond? So, bondmates, in Vulcan terms?’ 

‘That’s it, yes Ma’am.’ 

Amanda’s hand flew to her mouth. ‘Is Spock getting –‘ 

Kirk said quickly, ‘No, Ma’am, he isn’t.’ There was something a little sad in his expression, and Amanda stared at him in disbelief. She’d seen that look before. She had refused Sarek, the first time he’d asked, and his expression had not been entirely dissimilar to the one Kirk wore now.  

She breathed, ‘Oh.’  

Kirk watched comprehension dawn and shifted in his seat. He said, ‘I have asked him if he would establish a  - more permanent bond, and he refused. I wasn't quite myself at the time and he felt that I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and - he might have a point.’ He ran a hand through his hair. ‘I have tried to research this, but there’s just nothing out there, so I hit on – asking you.’ 

The confident starship captain Amanda remembered from her previous visit to Enterprise was a far cry from the anxious young man on her viewscreen, and Amanda’s heart went out to him even as her mind whirled. On the one hand, this conversation had taken an unexpectedly familiar turn. Kirk had no way of knowing, but he was far from the first prospective human bondmate to reach out for advice to Ambassador Sarek’s wife. Whilst she and Sarek had been the first Human / Vulcan marriage, they were no longer the only, a fact Amanda happily felt she bore some responsibility for.  

On the other hand, he had asked Spock to bond with him and been refused. And Amanda was hardly in a position to gainsay Spock’s own opinion on the matter. She had opened her mouth to say as much, when something in Kirk’s statement struck her as odd. She said, ‘Jim, what did you mean by ‘more permanent’ bond?’ 

Kirk said, ‘We were already bonded. Only temporarily, just for –‘ he broke off. He realised suddenly that any further explanation would require discussion of the events on Vulcan, and he had no way of knowing how much Spock had told his parents, or even how much he would want them to know.  

Amanda was staring at him, and her gaze was sharp. 'Jim, you will explain to me, right now, exactly what is going on between you and my son.’  

Kirk realised that his assumption that Sarek was the more intimidating of Spock’s parents might have been wide of the mark. He said slowly, ‘Ma’am, how much has Spock told you about what happened during his last visit to Vulcan?’ 

Amanda straightened. ‘He told us that the bond with T’Pring was broken.’ Silently she cursed the secretiveness of Vulcan society. Kirk looked worried, and not like a man about to impart any further information. He doesn’t want to betray Spock’s trust. The thought made her pleased and slightly irritated with him at the same time. She said, with more confidence than she felt, ‘Obviously, we assumed that T’Pring had utilised the koon-ut-kalifee in order to force the breaking of the bond.’ 

Kirk looked relieved.  He nodded. 

‘You were there?’ The question was out before she could stop it. 

Kirk nodded again. He said, ‘Bones and I both. Spock asked us.’ 

Amanda closed her eyes. She said, ‘Thank you.’ When she opened them again she said in a voice that wasn’t quite as steady as she would have liked, ‘I hated the thought of him going through that on his own.’  

Kirk half-smiled then. He said, ‘Me too.’ 

Amanda’s mind was already moving. She said, ‘But, if T’Pring challenged, there should have been a fight. To the death.’ She suppressed a shudder. ‘But Spock is alive, as is Stonn, so I don’t understand. Who died?’ 

Kirk looked rueful. He said lightly, ‘That would be me.’  

He had rarely seen anyone look as floored as Amanda did in that moment. She stammered, ‘What? How?’ 

He said, ‘T’Pring chose me. As her champion. To fight Spock.’ 

Amanda gaped at him. ‘She chose you? An offworlder? And you agreed?’ 

Kirk mouth set in a firm line. ‘I was hardly about to let Stonn fight him. Spock wasn’t – at his best.’  

Amanda said faintly, ‘No, he wouldn’t have been.’ She was looking at Kirk as though she’d never seen him before. ‘Jim, what happened?’  

So Kirk told her about the fight. About McCoy’s trick to save them both, and the aftermath. Their dreams, and McCoy’s idea of the therapeutic bond. Amanda listened intently, showing no reaction other than the occasional nod of encouragement when he seemed to be about to stop talking. Kirk felt an upsurge of relief at being able to talk about this with the only other person in the galaxy who might really understand.  

At the end he said, ‘So, it worked. No more nightmares. Everything is back as it should be. Only it isn’t, because it made me realise some things I should have realised a long time ago, and I think Spock feels the same, but he won’t re-establish the bond because he says I don’t know what I’m letting myself in for. And I can’t argue with him because I don’t know what Vulcan –human bonds are like. I’ve been trying to find out but there’s nothing out there. No information. So I thought of you,’ he finished. ‘And now is the moment where you tell me this is entirely inappropriate.’  

Amanda smiled gently. ‘I don’t think it’s inappropriate. In your shoes, I’d be talking to me too. In fact, I wish I’d been around when I was marrying Sarek. Imagine the awkward conversations with T’Pau.’ 

Kirk’s face took on a horrified expression and Amanda laughed. ‘Precisely.’  

She sobered and said, ‘Jim, my experience isn’t universal, I can only speak for myself, but if I can tell you anything that might help, I’d be happy to. But please remember: I’m answering you as I would anyone else who asked these questions.’ She added, a little sadly, ‘I don’t have any insight into how Spock feels about any of this, and I wouldn’t be comfortable discussing it. That’s between you and my son.’  

Kirk looked relieved. He nodded, ‘Understood, Ma’am.’ He added, ‘So, can I ask – Spock seemed to think that if we were to establish a permanent bond it might become deeper and stronger over time, and become harder for me to cope with. Is that your experience?’ 

Amanda said, 'Before I answer that, and without going into too much detail, can you give me an idea what your temporary bond was like? Could you sense the other’s presence in their physical absence, for example?’ She added quickly, ‘If you don’t want to answer, that’s fine, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.’ 

Kirk flashed her a quick smile, ‘I can hardly complain about personal questions. And yes, all the time really, unless one or both of us was shielding. And we chat. Chatted. A lot. Or at least I did.’ He looked a little sheepish. ‘Spock told me Vulcans don’t really do that, but he said he didn’t mind.’ 

Amanda said slowly, ‘And how far apart were you when you - chatted?’  

‘Anywhere on the ship really.’  

‘And you weren’t ever touching when this communication happened?’ 

Kirk said, ‘No. We, er, we avoided touching, as a rule.’ 

Amanda frowned. ‘Why?’ To her utter surprise, Kirk actually blushed. He said, avoiding her gaze, ‘It became quite - intense.’ 

Amanda said, ‘Ah.’ She cleared her throat. ‘Okay, moving on. Did you have any physical symptoms after the bond was established? Headaches, or tiredness, for example? Or a general feeling of being mentally overwhelmed?’ 

Kirk considered. ‘I was tired, but that was stress and lack of sleep. It actually got better after we bonded. Other than that, no, I felt great.’ 

Amanda said, uncertainly, ‘Jim, I appreciate you can’t speak for Spock, but as far as you know, did the same seem to be true for him?’ 

Kirk frowned, and then said, ‘Yes, Ma’am I think so. Before the bond he was pretty on edge, and tense. We both were. Afterwards, everything was easier. Until things got a bit - awkward.’ 

Amanda said, ‘Jim, I’m sorry, I need to be clear on this: that awkwardness you mention between you, was it because of the bond itself, in that it made you uncomfortable – either physically or mentally, in some way – or because of the uncertain state of your relationship?’  

Kirk said, ‘It wasn’t the bond. I mean, this is all new to me, but I'm fairly sure that if Spock and I were – together – the bond would just be – amazing.’ He smiled softly at something Amanda couldn’t see. ‘I mean, it was pretty incredible anyway.’  

Amanda watched him, keeping her expression neutral. She was trying so hard to keep this conversation impartial, as if this were a chat with any prospective human bondmate, but to see someone look like that, speaking of a bond with her son, made her heart give a leap of joy.  

She looked away, gathering her thoughts, and then said,’ In answer to your original question, no, I haven’t experienced the bond becoming deeper over time. I think I would say it is more firmly established, but it isn’t noticeably stronger now than the day it was formed.’ She took a breath. ‘I do understand Spock’s concern but it sounds like you coped unusually well with the bond. I can't imagine why that would change.'

She added thoughtfully, ‘Humans use the words bonding and marriage interchangeably, as if they are equivalent, but they really aren’t. Divorce is relatively common in comparison to the breaking of the Vulcan marital bond. That’s incredibly rare. For a reason.’   

Kirk waited, watching her with fascination.  

She said, ‘It’s difficult to describe. In a marriage, you choose, every day, to continue that marriage. To stay together. In a bonded pair, you choose once, and then there is no more choosing. You are simply two halves of a whole and you can no more choose to not be a part of that whole than you could choose to chop off a limb. Possible, but unbelievably painful.’  

She pressed her lips together a little self-consciously, ‘Does that make sense?’ 

‘Yes, Ma’am, it does.’ He added, ‘Spock is concerned I might get bored of him.’ 

She gave a sudden huff of laughter. ‘And I’m sure you will. And he of you. And you’ll get mad at each other, and crazy about each other, and have days when you can’t believe you married each other. But those would be –’ she gestured absently, ‘a passing thing. It wouldn’t touch the integrity of your bond.’  

Kirk felt a lump in his throat. He wanted that. He wanted it with Spock. So much.  

As if sensing his thoughts, Amanda said gently, ‘Jim, there’s something else you should know. The bond you’ve described to me as temporary is already stronger than any human Vulcan marital bond I've ever heard of. The connection you have, the ability to sense each other thoughts, and feelings, the sensitivity to touch: I think what you and Spock have found between you is extremely rare.' 

On screen, Amanda stood, walked to a bookshelf, searched for a moment, then pulled out an old volume from a high shelf. She walked back to the screen, ‘Jim, may I send you a copy of this? It’s an old Vulcan text, a little out of fashion these days, but I found it useful. Sarek gave me a copy when we became engaged. Obviously, it’s about Vulcan-Vulcan marital bonds but much of it is still relevant, even more to you, I would think.’ She began to flick through the pages. ‘There’s a chapter towards the end – it refers to something called a T’hy’la bond, it’s rarely spoken of these days -’ 

Kirk started. Amanda caught the motion and looked up, ‘You’ve heard the term?’ She sounded surprised.  

Kirk said, awkwardly. ‘I had a dream. When we were bonded. Spock used it to me.’  

Amanda sat down quickly in front of screen. ‘Oh. Oh my dear. Then it isn’t my place to talk to you about it.’ She regarded him fondly. ‘You need to have another conversation with my son.’  

He quirked her a smile. ‘I intend to, Ma’am.’  

She smiled at him, a genuinely affectionate smile, and Kirk thought there would definitely be worse mothers-in-law in the galaxy than Amanda. He said, a little hesitantly, ‘Spock mentioned that Sarek was looking for a new bondmate for him.’  

Amanda waved this away with some vehemence. ‘Oh, don’t concern yourself with that, obviously Spock’s wishes come first. If he chooses a bondmate for himself then of course we’d be delighted.’ Kirk wondered if that would be totally Sarek’s view, and then decided to leave that concern to Amanda.  

‘Then let’s hope he does, Ma’am.’  

She gave him a conspiratorial smile. ‘Let’s hope.’  

To her surprise, a shadow suddenly crossed Kirk’s face and he said, ‘Ma’am -’ and stopped. 

‘Yes, Jim?’ she said encouragingly. ‘Did you have another question?’ 

He said hesitantly, ‘Yes, Ma’am, I -’ He stopped again and she frowned.  

He said, ‘Ma’am, this is very personal, and I can’t expect you to answer it.’  

Amanda stared at him, mentally reviewing how these conversations usually went. Then she realised the subject they hadn’t touched on that everyone invariably worked up to, sooner or later, and said quietly, ‘Jim, did you want to ask about pon farr?’ 

 He looked slightly relieved, but still tense, ‘Yes Ma’am, but obviously it’s so personal, Spock said it isn’t spoken of, I don’t want to -’ 

Amanda held up a hand. She said, ‘Jim, ask your question. If it’s too personal, I won’t answer and we’ll pretend this bit of the conversation never happened, okay?’ 

He did look relieved then. ‘Yes, Ma’am. Very practical.’ She smiled.  

He said, ‘When - when it was Spock’s time, he wasn’t always – in control. During the fight, I knew pretty quickly I would lose. If it wasn’t for Bones, he would have killed me. I know the fight isn’t a typical thing, it only happened because of the challenge, but – I wondered about – in general – the level of – of force, during it.’ He stopped, colour rising in his cheeks.  

Amanda was staring at him in wide eyed disbelief, all trace of humor gone from her face. She said, in a low, horrified voice, ‘Oh Jim. You thought – well of course you would, given what happened – and -  you still wanted to – oh my dear.’ She looked on the verge of tears, and Jim said in alarm, ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry, just ignore -’ 

Amanda held up a hand, visibly gathered herself, and said firmly, ‘No. We need to be quite clear on this. The very worst thing, the very worst, that can be said for pon farr is that it is – a little – well, exhausting. From a stamina perspective.’ She had gone a little pink, but carried on determinedly, ‘Jim, half of a bonded pair could no sooner harm the other than themselves. Your pain would be theirs, and vice versa. Especially at that time. Everything is so – heightened. Do you see?’  

‘I think so, Ma’am.’  

‘Good.’  

‘Thank you, Ma'am.’ 

‘It’s Amanda. And you’re welcome.’ She sighed. ‘Jim, whatever happens, I am so glad that Spock has friends like you. And Leonard. He is always so far away, to know that he has people around him who care so deeply for him -’ she broke off to take a steadying breath.  

Kirk said quietly, ‘And we will, Ma’am. Whatever happens.’  

She smiled at him. ‘Thank you.’ Then: ‘Good luck, Jim.’ 

He smiled. ‘Thank you. Amanda.’  

She laughed. ‘Finally. You have a lovely evening, Jim.’ 

‘You too. Ma’am. Amanda.’  

Amanda sat in her garden as the late afternoon turned to evening. This was her favourite time of day, when the suns were low enough in the sky that there was no need for the temperature regulator and she could feel the breeze from the desert on her face. She heard the door to the garden open, and Sarek appeared, dusty from his travel from the city, but still tall and elegant in the evening sunlight.  

She jumped up, hurried across the garden, drew his face to hers, and kissed him, before stepping back and extending her middle and index finders in the approved Vulcan fashion. Sarek looked down at her, his eyes bright with amusement as he touched his fingers to hers and said, ‘And good evening to you, my wife. I trust you had a pleasant day?’ 

Amanda led him back to the bench in the garden as she said, ‘I did, thank you, my husband. And I had a very interesting conversation this afternoon.’  

Sarek looked at her affectionately. ‘Indeed. And I presume you will be informing me as to its contents.’  

Amanda nodded. ‘Oh, I shall. But for now,’ she waved a padd that he recognised as the one he had given her this morning with the list of potential bondmates for their son, ‘there is no need for us to discuss this.’ She sat down with an air of finality.  

This was not an unexpected response. Sarek said patiently, ‘My wife -’ 

Amanda said, ‘My husband. Sit.’ She patted the bench. ‘And listen. I know what happened when Spock came home last month. You were right. About the koon-ut-kalifee.’  

Sarek sat. Until Amanda reached the point in her narrative when T’Pring chose her champion, at which point he stood, and began to pace. She recognised the signs of suppressed anger and hurried her narrative along to the point of McCoy’s trick and Kirk’s supposed death, at which point he stopped and muttered, ‘That man is an excellent physician’ before continuing to pace.  

Amanda reached the point of Spock’s departure from Vulcan. ‘And obviously,’ she added, a little sourly, ‘we know what happened with Stonn and T’Pring.’ 

‘Indeed, we do.’ Sarek said darkly.  

Amanda stood and took his arm. ‘My husband. Calm yourself. All is well.’ 

‘I am perfectly calm, my wife.’ 

She raised an eyebrow at him, and he blurted, ‘To have violated the sanctity of our rites in such a manner as to choose an outsider, risking the life of a Starfleet Captain, no less, with such blatant disregard - ‘ 

‘Sarek.’ Amanda said firmly. ‘I understand your displeasure, but it may well be that T’Pring has done us all a service.’ 

He all but gaped at her, and Amanda had to bite her lip to stop a very unVulcan smile. She sat down and patted the bench again. ‘Sit down, my love. I need to finish telling you about my conversation with Captain Kirk.’ 

Sarek raised an eyebrow at her, but did as requested. After she had finished, they sat in silence for a while.  

Sarek said thoughtfully, 'Our son’s trepidation is understandable. To have such a strong bond, with an undisciplined, human mind -’ Amanda glared at him, and he finished smoothly, ‘- would be a worthy and edifying challenge for any Vulcan.’   

He added, ‘Do you believe our son will accept James Kirk as a bondmate?’  

Amanda sighed. ‘I don’t know, but I - find myself hoping he will.’  

Sarek's eyes went to the padd at her side. ‘We have identified other candidates. With more areas of compatibility with our son, and more obvious advantages as a bondmate over James Kirk.’ 

‘You described him to me yourself as the finest Captain in the ‘fleet.’ 

‘It is not a large fleet.’ 

‘Sarek!’  

‘I do not understand your preference for this match.’  

Amanda said simply., ‘He loves our son.’ She added hopefully, ‘And if Spock loves him too -’ 

‘My wife. Despite the prevalence of the idea in much human literature, love does not conquer all.’  

She slipped her hand into his, entwining their fingers. ‘It did for us. I mean, logically, there was an entire planet full of better matches for you. You were quite the eligible bachelor.’  

Sarek sighed, and Amanda hid her smile. She knew that sigh. It was the one that meant she was about to get her way, over Sarek’s better judgement. He said, ‘As I have previously stated, marrying you was the most logical course of action.’ His love sang across their bond and made her smile. He continued. ‘There was no emotion involved.’ 

Amanda laughed quietly and shuffled along the bench, closing the gap between her and Sarek, and letting her husband’s warmth offset the cooler night air beginning to creep through the garden. Vulcan’s suns had set, and the stars were thrown wildly across the sky over her head. She looked up, imagining, if she looked hard enough, she could see a tiny ship, out there against the endless black.  

She sighed, and Sarek’s arm slipped around her waist. She rested her head on his shoulder, eyes still on the stars. She thought, Choose well, my son.  

 

Chapter Text

Spock shut down his monitor, then stared at the blank screen for a few moments, still processing the conversation. As Acting Captain of the USS Enterprise, at least for the next 12.3 hours, he had not been surprised when the call from the Admiralty had been routed through to him from the bridge.  

What had surprised him however, was that the call was specifically for him, not the captain of the Enterprise, whoever that might be. He had been expecting a conversation with regards to the health of Captain Kirk, but, again to his surprise, the subject had been bypassed almost entirely. Admiral Nogura had settled for a brief, ‘How’s Jim doing?’ and at Spock’s positive reply, had said, ‘Good’ and then got straight to the point. Apparently, the Federation and the Vulcan High Council had decided to expand their current areas of co-operation into the specifically scientific exploration of space. A jointly crewed ship was proposed, with the remit of exploration and discovery, with special emphasis on following up on new discoveries such as those made by the Enterprise, and other front line starships. A Captain was sought and he was, Nogura informed him abruptly, the obvious choice.  

This had not been the first conversation with regards to either alternate assignments or promotion Spock had had with a superior officer. The success of the Enterprise’s voyage had led to what Kirk referred to irritably as ‘poaching’ of the Enterprise’s crew, even before the official end of their mission. It was a subject upon which the Captain had mixed feelings. On the one hand, he was pleased to see his loyal crew being appropriately rewarded with opportunities to further their careers. On the other, the subsequent need to identify and train appropriate replacements was a constant source of annoyance.  

One of Spock’s fondest memories of Jim had been his attempt, during one late night chess game, to disguise the utter horror that had initially crossed his face at Spock’s mention of an offered promotion. In an attempt to cover his reaction, he had waxed lyrical about the opportunity and the advantage to Spock’s career, without giving Spock the opportunity to mention that he had already turned it down.  

At an earlier point in their acquaintance, Spock would have interrupted to reassure his Captain of the situation, but they were almost a year into their friendship, and Spock had been seized by the impulse to - prolong the conversation a little.  

He had said, with every appearance of careful consideration, ‘So it is your opinion, Captain, that I should accept the offered posting?’  

Kirk had stopped, frowning. ‘Well, I didn’t say that.’  

‘But you have made an excellent argument for its advantages.’ 

‘Well, yes, but I mean, obviously staying here would be better.’ 

Spock had assumed his best innocent expression. ‘For what reason?’  

‘This is the Enterprise.’ Jim had said it like this alone would be enough. ‘The best ship in the fleet! We’re on the edge of known space here, expanding our knowledge of the galaxy nearly every day.’ He warmed to his theme. ‘We don’t know what we’ll come across tomorrow, or what the universe has in store the next day, and we've got four more years. Don’t you want to stay and discover what's out there?’  

And he had known it was illogical, but he did enjoy hearing Jim talk about their mission. So he had said thoughtfully – and really, he had been pushing it, in terms of playing devil’s advocate, but Jim hadn’t noticed, 'It was stated that my unique skillset would be most suited to the post.’ 

Jim’s jaw had set. ‘There’s no way you’d be better suited anywhere, than here. Look, I know it’s your decision, and I shouldn’t be trying to influence you, but Spock, you’re the best first officer and science officer in the fleet. Yes, Starfleet would send me other people, but they couldn’t replace you, it's not possible. We’ve been called the best command team in the ‘fleet. And we are. Not me. Not you. Us. You can’t really be proposing to split us up. The ship needs you. I need you. God, I’d be lost without you.’ He had stopped, a little embarrassed. ‘Just think about it carefully, is all I'm saying.’ 

Spock had swallowed, and then said quietly, ‘I have already refused the offer.’  

Kirk had stared at him. For a moment Spock had been concerned.  

‘Spock, you -’ a slow smile had begun to break across Kirk's face ‘- you were winding me up.’ He had leaned across the table to lightly punch his arm, laughing as he did so. ‘God, you utter -.’ Spock blinked. ‘I thought you were serious.’  

Spock had ventured, ‘I was serious in seeking your opinion.’ 

'Okay, but next time, try leading with, “Jim, I’ve already decided not do this, so don’t panic, but hypothetically -” you know, in an effort not to give me a damn heart attack.’  

‘Jim, I -’ Spock had stopped, trying to find the right words for what he wanted to say, ‘-I thought you were aware. I have no desire for any promotion, however advantageous from a purely career oriented perspective, that would take me away from the Enterprise. I find this posting eminently suitable to fulfill my ambitions, both professional and personal.’ He had looked across at Jim, who was watching him attentively. Spock felt as if something more was required. He said hesitantly, ‘The relationships I have formed here are of value to me. The Enterprise is – my home.’  

For the rest of the evening, he had frequently caught Jim looking at him, and smiling to himself.  

But that had been months ago. Before he had been aware of the true nature of his feelings for Jim, and before their bond. Everything he had said to Jim that night remained true, but it was now clear that he could not remain on the Enterprise. Jim had been out of sickbay more than a week. Would be back on the bridge tomorrow. And there had been no further mention of a resumption of their bond. His assumptions regarding Jim’s motivations in sickbay had obviously been correct. And Jim was clearly imagining that everything could go back to the way it had been. Spock had hoped so too, but the last week of attempting to resume their previous relationship had proved that hope futile. Jim’s presence had become, instead of the comfort of a dear friend and close colleague, the constant reminder of the joy of a bond that he desperately wanted, and could not have.  

So he had turned his mind to the prospect of leaving the Enterprise. Then had come the call from the Admiralty. Not the first, but the first that had been even remotely tempting. Nogura had, with the slightly surprised air of a man who hadn’t expected the conversation to get even so far, given him 24 hours to consider his position and provide a response.  

In the quiet of his cabin, Spock gradually became aware that, next door, Jim was speaking to someone. The sound was muffled, and he couldn’t hear another side of the conversation at all, indicating that it was probably taking place over Jim’s monitor. The quarters on the Enterprise, whilst not completely sound-proof, were sufficiently insulated to prevent any casual noise from reaching human ears. Vulcan hearing, however, had not been considered.  

Jim had forestalled any suggestion of meeting in the evening with the statement that he was having an early night to prepare for his shift tomorrow.  Such was clearly not the case. Perhaps Nogura was informing him of his proposal to Spock. He had indicated he might do so. It would be the logical, and indeed polite, act.  The more notice Jim had of a potential change to key personnel, the better.  

The lighting in his cabin, automatically adjusting to ship’s evening, began to fade. The call in Jim’s quarters came to an end, and the room fell silent. Spock waited. He imagined, given their conversations around this topic in the past, that Jim would want to speak to him about Nogura's request. It was, given what he knew of his Captain, the logical conclusion.  

As time passed, the lighting, given no contradictory instructions, began to fade again, into ship’s night.  

James T. Kirk was back where he belonged. McCoy had finally, finally cleared him for full duty, and he was on the bridge, and in the Captain's chair. Total honesty would require him to admit he was feeling a little- emotionally compromised. On his arrival, the entire bridge crew had stood and applauded, until he had rather gruffly ordered them all back to work, lest his slightly overwhelmed reaction be apparent. 

And now he was watching the stars on the viewscreen, trying not to notice the occasional satisfied glance from his crew, or the frequency with which yeomen from the various ship’s departments appeared at his elbow, wreathed in smiles, to present him with some minor report that could have waited to another time, or gone to someone else. Always accompanied with some warm comment about being pleased to have him back. After a few hours of this, he saw Sulu and Chekov start to exchange amused grins when each successive yeoman began to speak.  

After the third consecutive such event in one fifteen-minute period, he waited for the turbolift doors to close behind the yeoman in question, then said, 'Mister Spock, did you torture these people whilst I was in sickbay?'  

He heard a muffled laugh from Uhura's station. Spock straightened and turned to face him. First time since I sat down, Jim thought.   

Spock said, with dignity, ‘It is merely their human need to express appreciation at the return of their appointed commander. It does not reflect on my competence as interim Captain.’ 

Jim blinked. He said, ‘No, Mister Spock, I didn’t think it did. Just my little joke.’ He felt a stab of confusion. What the hell was that? 

Spock nodded and turned back to his monitor. Jim stared at his back for a few moments. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Uhura frown. As he turned back to face the viewscreen, he caught the disappointed glance between Sulu and Chekov. Jim set his jaw. He’d been planning to wait another day, make sure he hadn’t missed anything. But if this thing between them was affecting things so much that the crew noticed, it needed sorting. He tapped his fingers lightly on the side of the command chair for a few moments in thought, then stood and walked with studied casualness over to the science station.  

With no preamble, he said quietly, ‘What time will you finish your meditation this evening?’ 

Spock blinked in surprise at the non-sequitur. He said, ‘Captain?’  

Kirk said, still keeping his voice low, ‘We need to talk. I think that would be a good time.’  

Spock said, ‘I am available earlier in the evening -’ 

Kirk shook his head, ‘I’m busy earlier. I’ve got a - report to finish.’ He looked expectantly at Spock.  

The Vulcan said hesitantly, ‘Twenty-two hundred hours.’  

‘Good. I’ll pop round then.’ Kirk pushed away from the science station, and did a slow circuit of the bridge, stopping to chat personally with every member of the delighted bridge crew along the way.   

Spock stared after him with concern, until he noticed Uhura looking at him with an odd expression on her face. He nodded self-consciously, ‘Lieutenant.’ He bowed his head and continued his work.  

Kirk returned to the command chair, and stared out at the stars, resisting the urge to glance over at Spock. He was aware he hadn’t given much opportunity for refusal of his proposal to meet up, but given the way things stood, Spock might have made an excuse, and that was unacceptable. His choice of time and place wasn’t an accident either. Spock had been so incredibly formal with him this last week, that he had deliberately picked a time and place as far as possible from reminders of the ship, and their duty. Getting off the ship entirely would have been ideal, but the Enterprise wasn’t due to dock or make planetfall anywhere for the better part of a month, and he couldn't wait that long. 

Waiting until Spock had meditated would mean he was out of uniform, and relaxed. Meeting in Spock's quarters, would also, Jim hoped, serve to make him more comfortable.  

His mind turned to his conversation with the Lady Amanda of the previous evening. He wished she had had an electronic copy of that Vulcan book to send him. She had seemed to think it would be useful and god knew he could use the encouragement right now. But in typical Vulcan fashion, there was no electronic copy to be had. Hard copies only, and only on Vulcan. Amanda had sent him the hard copy but heaven only knew when that would arrive. Delivery of physical, personal effects to starships on active duty was notoriously unreliable.  

Three hours later, on his way back to the bridge from the rec room, where he’d had the most boring Bones-mandated lunch imaginable, a slightly breathless Uhura accosted him in the corridor.  

‘Sir! I was hoping to catch you. Could I have a quick word?’ 

He looked at her in surprise. ‘Sure. I’m on my way back to the bridge, shall we walk and talk?’ 

She fell into step next to him. ‘Actually, Sir, I wanted to catch you before you got back. You know we passed within hailing distance of the Reliant half an hour ago?’ 

‘Yes. I said a brief hello to Captain Robson. Good man. Counting the days to retirement, can’t say I envy him.’  

She nodded. ‘Yes sir, I routed the call. Did he mention the parcel at all?’   

‘What parcel?’  

‘I got a message from the transporter room after you went for lunch. A parcel arrived marked for your eyes only. As it was also labelled private, I didn’t want to mention it on the bridge, so I’ve just asked a yeoman to leave it in your quarters.’ 

Kirk stared. ‘A parcel came for me via the transporter?’  

‘Yes Sir. The tech said had never seen anything like it. He said it’d been relay beamed from halfway across the quadrant via three starships, two starbases, and five merchant ships. Apparently, it was only sent yesterday.’ 

 ‘From where?’ 

‘Sent at the urgent request of the Vulcan Ambassador.’  

‘And it was marked private for me? Are you certain it’s not for-’ He stopped. Oh, surely not.  

Uhura was watching him, and he’d be damned if she wasn’t suppressing a smile. She said, ‘Shall I ask Commander Spock if -’ 

He said hastily, ‘No. Thank you, Lieutenant. Very - considerately handled, thank you. I’ll, er, I’ll meet you back on the bridge.’ 

She was smiling now. ‘Yes sir. Thank you, sir.’ 

Jim Kirk stood, turning the book in his hands that he had last seen less than 24 hours ago in Amanda’s study, on Vulcan. And now it was here, in his quarters. If he’d been asked to hand deliver it using the Enterprise, he couldn’t have done it faster. Nice to know I’d have in-laws with influence, he thought wryly. He glanced at the chrono. He had ten minutes before Spock would be wondering why the Captain had apparently decided not to return from his lunch. He sat, re-read the note.  

Jim dear, I hope this finds you well, and doesn’t fix me forever as an interfering mother. This is the book I mentioned that I found so helpful before I married Sarek. I hope it’s useful to you too, and gives you some of the information you need.  Please take care, and do keep in touch. Amanda.  

He opened the book, and skimmed through the opening few chapters. The book had obviously been written in Vulcan and translated to standard, as some of phrasing was a little - clunky. Jim wondered if Sarek had had it translated, just for Amanda. Spock’s father hadn’t struck him as the type for romantic gestures, but then the book would have been useful, and he couldn’t imagine there was a standard translation just lying about on the chance that a logical Vulcan decided to throw in their lot with an emotional human. Also, the binding was quite ornate, and there was an – albeit slightly impersonal – inscription from Sarek to Amanda. He felt oddly privileged to be handling it, and to have been sent it from the original recipient.  

He skimmed a few more chapters. Amanda had been right. Although the text was predicated on both parties to the bond being Vulcan, the general information on what to expect from the bond was interesting, and seemed to reflected his experience. Annotations and underlinings showed where Amanda had also taken an interest. There was a chapter on the effects of an imbalance in psy-rating between the bonded parties. This chapter had been marked before, with a yellowing piece of paper, and a girlish hand. He smiled affectionately at this memento of the younger Amanda. He stopped at the chapter describing the expected long-term effects of the bond, and then a thought occurred. He used the note to mark his place, then skipped on towards the end. The annotations grew less, and then stopped entirely at the final chapter.  

The T’hy’la bond. He stopped skimming, and read more slowly. The translator had obviously had a more difficult time with this section. The language was old fashioned, and more esoteric. Kirk read with interest. Before the time of Surak, when logic and peace had become the guiding principles of the species that would one day be a beacon of both for all the planets of the Federation, Vulcan had been riven by conflict. The detail was brief but explicit. The people of Vulcan had fought for dominance between themselves and across the surface of their world in as brutal a fashion as Kirk had ever read or heard about. He drew a sharp breath and read on, glad to have only ever experienced the Vulcan of this century. Some of the wars had raged on for decades, and the warring clans had sent rank after rank of warriors to their front lines to fight and kill for the glory of their cause. In the early years of these wars, these warriors had been exclusively men, although Kirk noted that the womenfolk were not simply expected to sit at home. Their role had been to protect – in as brutal a fashion as any soldier – the homelands, and provide tactical and practical support to their armies. But this arrangement left partners and wives apart from their menfolk for years at a time. Thus, it had been accepted that warriors whose time came upon them during a campaign would turn to each other to ensure their survival.  

It was interesting, Kirk thought, that the biological imperative of pon farr had essentially prevented any kind of negative view of same sex relationships ever forming on Vulcan. Even at a time when Vulcans were slaughtering each other over seeming ideological trifles, practicality had won out. Amongst these battle forged sexual partnerships, longevity was rare, for a number of reasons. The chances of both parties surviving for any length of time were small. One or both were usually already bonded to someone else, and the imperative to breed and produce more warriors meant that male/female bonds were a pre-requisite for anyone of child-conceiving age.  

The only exception to this was the T’hy’la bond. Such bonds were formed apparently entirely at random. Two warriors, already brothers in arms, came together to ride out the turmoil of pon farr and instead of a brief and frantic coupling, had found an intense and unusual compatibility, both physical and mental. A bond was formed which was rare but highly prized, by both the parties concerned, and those around them. The passionate and profound nature of the bond meant that the parties to it would fight harder and more fiercely to preserve their partner, and by extension, the warriors alongside them. It had been considered a sign of good fortune to have such a bond in your ranks.

And it didn’t say anywhere that the parties to the bond both had to be Vulcan. It was implied, but not explicit.  

T’hy’la. He wondered how he had actually known the word. As far as he was aware, Spock had never used it to him, and yet he must have somehow picked up the word from Spock’s mind to have placed it in his dream. Perhaps he already thinks of us that way. Friends. Brothers. Lovers. God, he hoped so. He remembered Spock’s voice from that dream, that rich baritone suffused with desire. T’hy’la. 

‘Bridge to Captain Kirk.’ Spock’s actual voice, cool and clipped, cut through his heated imagination like ice water. He glanced at the chrono again. Damn. He jumped up, hit the comm link. ‘I’m on my way.’ 

The rest of his shift dragged by interminably. Once again, the vast wonder and endless variety of space proved notable by its absence.  By the time the shift ended Jim could feel he was too tense.  He needed to relax. He couldn’t talk to Spock like this was a mission briefing. He left the bridge quickly and went for a workout, before returning to his quarters and showering, reviewing the notes he’d already made, and adding to them with reference to Amanda’s book. By twenty-one hundred hours some of his tension had eased.  

He transferred all of the relevant data to a padd, and tapped it idly as he thought. Had he missed anything out? He looked down again and caught sight of his own wrist, gold command braids almost glowing in the dim evening light. Damn. He jumped up, peeling off his tunic, regulation trousers, and boots, and stood half-naked in front of his closet. Only then did it occur to him that he might have a problem. His closet was almost entirely full of variations on a theme of uniform. Dress uniform, regular uniform, variant green command tunic, numerous regulation trousers and underwear. Frowning, he shoved aside every Starfleet issue item and found himself face to face with a truly hideous shirt in a swirling multicoloured pattern that was literally headache inducing. He stared at it in surprise for a moment before remembering a slightly drunk Bones on a previous shore leave. ‘I’ll make your next physical shorter if you can get a date wearing this.’ He doubted Don Juan himself could have got a date in that shirt. He threw it aside. Where the hell is all my off-duty stuff? I must have some.  

He experienced a moment of dread that he might have to call stores. He was already on the naughty list of the perennially disapproving Lieutenant who ran the Enterprise's stores due to his habit of requiring a new uniform tunic with what was - apparently - unusual regularity. He couldn’t imagine calling down and asking for a casual shirt. How would he word that exactly? Do you have anything suitable for seducing my first officer? 

Closet ransacked, he went through the small drawers beneath, which proved slightly more fruitful. He pulled out a dark pair of trousers and a light-coloured shirt, donning them quickly and walking to the bathroom to check the overall effect in the mirror. And stared in disbelief. Clearly, he had selected these items of clothing with the idea that they would be worn off-duty. But the dark trousers and almost-gold shirt that stared back at him in the mirror might as well have had ‘my subconscious wants to be in uniform’ printed on them. It is possible Bones has a point about my aversion to leave.  

He went back to the drawers and tried again. Pushing aside anything that bore even a slight resemblance to his uniform, his hand closed on soft, dark blue material. He pulled it out and found himself looking with some relief at a casual, long sleeved, light jumper. Back to the mirror, and he gave a huff of relief. Not only very much not his uniform, but also, quite flattering. Suggestive at least that the form beneath might be worth further investigation. 

He wondered where it had come from, then his mind supplied a very dim memory of a conversation with his mother, during his final visit before assuming command of the Enterprise, when he’d been busy going over the latest report on requisitions for his ship;  

‘Sweetheart, I’ve added some clothes to your bag.  

‘Thanks Mom, but you’d better not, there isn’t a lot of space.’ 

James Tiberius Kirk, was that a space joke?’ 

What?  Oh no, I mean literally, you can hardly get anything in the storage space they give you.’ 

But surely, as the Captain  -  

No, still no storage.  Wait until I’m an Admiral.   

Okay, well, just take the jumper then. In case it’s cold.’ 

Mom, you know the ships are all environmentally controlled.’ 

‘Yes , but you do get shore leave occasionally and you’ll want to look nice.’ 

‘- Fine.  One  jumper though.'   

And a coat?' 

No. Definitely no coat.  

Kirk smiled softly at the memory. Thanks, mom. He realised with a stab of guilt that he’d literally spent more time talking to Spock’s mother in the past few weeks than he had to his own, and he’d been determined to make more of an effort, especially since Sam –  

He sighed. He didn’t want to think about that now, but he vowed to carve out a regular time to call his mother. He ran a hand through his unruly hair, trying to institute some kind of order, and checked the chrono again. Twenty-one fifteen hours. Forty-five minutes to go. Perhaps if he reviewed his arguments again – 

‘Bridge to Captain Kirk.’ 

He stepped to the desk and thumbed the comm link. Please be something quick. ‘Kirk here.’ 

‘Sir, I’m sorry to interrupt you.’ She sounded it too. He had never heard Uhura sound apologetic about doing her job, but she sounded positively abject as she continued, ‘I’ve got Admiral Nogura over subspace.’  

Kirk closed his eyes briefly. Marvellous. ‘Put him through down here, Lieutenant.’ 

He moved round and sat in front of his monitor as the stern visage of his superior officer appeared on the screen. And broke into what was, by Nogura's standards, a beaming smile, and by anyone else’s standards, a grimace. Well this isn’t going to be goodKirk thought.  

‘Jim! You’re looking well. Excellent. All recovered?’ 

‘Thank you, Admiral. Yes, completely recovered. Glad to be back in harness.’ 

Nogura nodded. ‘I bet. Nothing worse than not being in command on your own damn ship.’ 

‘Yes sir. Although she couldn't be in better hands than Commander Spock’s.’ 

Nogura’s unsettling smile returned in a way that made Kirk think he’d said something wrong before the conversation had even started. ‘Couldn’t agree more, Jim. In fact, it's about time that first officer of yours had his own command, and we’ve found the perfect ship. Not only that, but he’s practically agreed to take her.’ 

Jim felt as if the ground had just opened beneath his feet. He said, ‘I'm sorry, what? Admiral?’ 

Nogura continued, ‘And the good news for you, Captain, is that I’ve managed to find you the best first officer in the fleet as a replacement. Even more experienced than your Mr Spock.’ 

 ‘Admiral, I already have -' 

Nogura swept on as if he hadn’t spoken, ‘And there’s no need to thank me, but I’ve also managed to find you a science officer. Two for the price of one, Jim, you can’t say fairer than that.’  

He finally paused to allow for response and Jim wanted desperately to make a strident one, but he was suddenly finding the air in the room too thin. He said, ‘And Spock, er, Commander Spock, has accepted the offer?’ 

Nogura said, ‘Well he’d be a fool not to, wouldn’t he? The man knows where his best interests lie. I’m about to call him to confirm but he sounded pretty keen. Just giving you the heads up, Jim.’ 

‘Thank you, Admiral. I – I appreciate that.’ 

‘Good man. I’ll send you over the details of those officers I mentioned. You won’t be disappointed.’ A voice belonging to someone Kirk couldn’t see sounded faintly through the monitor and Nogura looked away from the screen and nodded. When he looked back, he seemed surprised to see Kirk still there.  

‘Captain. I’ll be in touch.’ The image blinked out.  

Kirk sat at his desk, staring in disbelief at the blank screen. His eyes fell on the padd and Amanda’s book, still waiting on the edge of his desk. All the time he’d been preparing this, Spock had been planning to leave. He was leaving the Enterprise whilst her Captain was trying to find a way to bind them together, maybe for life. Jim felt like the biggest idiot who ever drew breath. He stood, breathing hard, snatched up the padd and book and left his quarters.  

The doors to Spock's quarters opened immediately at his command. The Vulcan was standing next to his meditation area. He was shrugging on his robe just as Kirk entered, and froze mid-movement. ‘Captain? I was under the impression we were meeting in -' 

Kirk snapped out, ‘Are you leaving?’  

Spock stared at him in surprise. ‘What –‘ 

‘I just took a call from Nogura. He seems to think you’ve all but accepted a promotion. When were you planning on telling me?’ 

Spock said carefully, ‘I am still considering the Admiral’s proposal.’ 

‘Well you’d best hurry up, he'll be calling in a minute for your answer.’ Kirk knew how angry he sounded, and how irrational it was, but he couldn’t help it. He began to pace. ‘What the hell happened to ‘the Enterprise is my home’? Was that just until a better offer came along?’  

Spock had gone utterly still. He said tightly, ‘I am permitted to consider -' 

‘Oh, consider away, Commander, I’m just wondering what changed from ‘these relationships are of value to me’? Not as valuable as your own ship, apparently.’  

Spock had turned to face him. He was pale. ‘Captain, I believe your assertions to be unjust and inappropriate.’ 

‘Oh really?’ Jim’s pacing took him to Spock's desk, so he dropped his padd and book, and turned back. ‘And yet you haven’t answered my question. What’s changed?’ 

‘I am not obligated to answer that question.’ 

‘Well I don’t know what damn ship you think you’re serving on mister, but on this ship, you answer my questions.’ He was aware, on some level, that he was being unreasonable but he couldn’t seem to stop. 

‘Your insistence upon my justification is highly irrational.’ 

‘And your insistence upon not telling me is highly illogical. You’ll be leaving anyway so what does it matter? Get it off your chest!’  

And then they were talking over each other. 

‘You do not understand, - 

‘Don’t try to tell me this is a Vulcan thing because – 

‘I no longer wish to serve -  

‘that’s not-  

‘with you.’ 

Spock’s words landed like a punch to the gut. Kirk said, hoping he'd misheard, ‘What?’ 

Spock repeated dully, into the terrible silence. ‘I no longer wish to serve - with you.  

Why not?’ Jim's voice was barely above a whisper.  

‘Bridge to Commander Spock.’ Uhura’s voice fell into the silence like a stone.  

After a heavy moment, Spock moved to his desk. Jim backed up to let him pass, and his legs hit the edge of Spock’s bed. He sat heavily, watching as Spock, never even glancing in Jim’s direction, carefully hit the comm switch.  

‘Spock here.’ 

Uhura said, still in that oddly apologetic tone, ‘Sir, I’ve got Admiral Nogura for you.’  

Spock said, in a detached voice, ‘Please route the call through to my quarters, Lieutenant.’  

From his position, Jim couldn’t see the screen, but the lightening of the desk and the slight stiffening of Spock’s posture told him that Nogura’s image had appeared. He didn’t want to hear this. Out of sight of the screen, he stood up and moved quietly towards the door.  

Although he never took his eyes off the Admiral, Spock heard Jim’s footsteps, and the opening and closing of the door. Other than an initial greeting, Nogura had not yet given him the opportunity to speak, for which he was illogically relieved. Believing that leaving the Enterprise was the right thing to do and actually doing it were two very different things. He found himself deeply reluctant to say the words that would take him away from his home – and from Jim. On screen, Nogura’s monologue was interrupted by a voice off-screen. He frowned and said, ‘Just a minute, Commander.’ His image disappeared.  

Spock found himself releasing a breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding. His eyes wandered briefly from the screen, and fell on the padd and book that Jim had left behind. The book looked – familiar. He moved the padd, then stared in disbelief at the seal of his family embedded in the book’s binding. He knew this book. As a child and young man on Vulcan, he had regularly crept into his mother’s study to read her human library, and had often ended up returning to this, very Vulcan, book. Automatically, he reached across and opened the book to the chapter he had read the most. The book fell open easily, to a piece of old-fashioned paper marking the place. He lifted the paper and read the title of the marked chapter. The T’hy’la bond. He turned the paper in his hand. His mother’s handwriting stared back at him. Jim dear – as he read, he felt his heart rate begin to climb, and a kind of desperate, intense hope began to claw at his insides. 

He stood abruptly, clutching the note, then his eyes fell on the padd. He should return it to Jim. He should definitely not read it. Even as the thought crossed his mind, he reached down and activated the screen. The device came to life and he drew a breath as he scanned quickly through its contents. He recognised immediately the list of reasons he had given McCoy against the resumption of his bond with Jim. Each one seemed to have, in his Captain’s comprehensive and concise phrasing, a refutation and contrary opinion next to it. Spock gripped the back of his chair against a wave of longing so acute it made him almost dizzy.  

A voice from the screen said uncertainly, ‘Commander?’  

He dropped back into the chair. Lieutenant Kershaw, the Admiral’s aide, was looking at him in concern. ‘The Admiral’s apologies, Commander, he’s been called away, he’ll have to get back to you.’ 

Spock found his voice. He said unsteadily, ‘Thank you, Lieutenant, I shall - await his call.’ 

Kershaw nodded, ‘Thank you, Commander, I’ll leave you to your evening.’ 

Spock nodded faintly and Kershaw’s image disappeared. Standing again, Spock seized the padd and book, and almost ran from his quarters.  

Jim sat at his desk, staring at the 3D chess set on the other side of the room. He wondered if anyone else on the Enterprise played. He’d never even bothered to find out. He didn’t care, really. It’d be best to get rid of it anyway, it took up a lot of space for something he’d not be using.  

The doors to his quarters flew open and Spock stepped quickly in, looking, for one of the few times Jim could remember, genuinely flustered. Christ, Jim didn’t want to have his conversation. He really didn’t need to hear about his failings as a Captain from the man he – well, it didn’t matter now. As Spock opened his mouth, Jim held up a hand.  

‘Spock, I owe you an apology. You were right. Your reasons are your own, and obviously I’m - really pleased for you.’ It didn’t sound convincing, but he’d said it. ‘Now if you don’t mind -’ 

Spock held out the padd and book. Jim stood, cursing himself for a fool. He examined Spock’s face, trying to gauge whether he’d actually looked at either of them. The ‘that was unprofessional’ conversation, much as he didn’t want it, was infinitely preferable to the ‘letting you down gently’ conversation.  

Spock said, ‘I believe these are yours.’  

Jim swallowed and said, ‘Yes. Well, the book is - on loan.’  

‘From my mother.’ 

Jim’s heart sank. 'Yes.’ 

Spock said, ‘This is the report you were working on earlier?’ 

‘Yes. Look, Spock -’ 

‘May I hear it?’ 

‘Sorry?’ 

‘It seems – relevant to my interests, however, there does not appear to be a conclusion.’ He held out the padd. ‘I should like to hear the report. Perhaps we could arrive at a conclusion – together?’ 

Kirk said bitterly, ‘Didn’t you just tell Nogura-'  

‘He was called away. I did not speak to him.’  

Feeling a little like he was in a strange kind of dream, Kirk took the padd. He said, ‘Right. Okay. It was – I spoke to Bones. About what you said whilst I was in sickbay. About the bond. And why we shouldn’t renew it. Look, just - sit down a second.’  

Spock immediately did as requested, moving past Jim to sit at the desk, and then looked up. There was something in his face that made Jim’s anger fall away. He looked expectant. Even....hopeful. James T. Kirk had trusted his instincts all of his life, and right now they were shouting at him that he could have everything he had dreamed if he just got the next few minutes right.   

He squared his shoulders and said with more certainty, ‘Right. Starting at the top, I’ve been through the regs.’ He reached across his desk and flicked on the monitor. ‘I’ll send the relevant sections to the screen.’  

‘As you probably know, there aren’t any regulations against bonded couples serving together, mainly because there aren’t any bonded couples in the fleet.’ He risked a glance at Spock. ‘We’d be the first.’ There was no visible reaction so Jim continued quickly, ‘Which means Starfleet would have three options: write new regs, apply the regs concerning married couples, or import some ready-made regulations from a fleet which has plenty of bonded couples serving in it.’ 

He looked over expectantly and Spock supplied obediently, ‘The Vulcan fleet.’  

‘Right.’ Kirk touched his padd and the monitor next to Spock began to display extracts from both Starfleet and Vulcan regulation manuals. ‘Option A is highly unlikely, given what we know of ‘fleet administration and their lack of enthusiasm for having work created for them. If they apply the regs concerning married couples, we’ll be fine. The only married couples who can’t serve together are those whose assignments are on frontline starships and who have kids.’ He shrugged at Spock. ‘It’s a risky job. Starfleet isn’t in the business of creating orphans.’  

‘Option C is interesting though.’ He broke off. When he spoke again, something of the tone Spock recognised from mission debriefs and reports had begun to creep in. ‘By the way, - and I'm not suggesting this – but if you ever take a command post in the Vulcan fleet, get them to have a review of the regs book, will you? I’ve never seen anything like it. There are rules for everything. How you’d be expected to have all that committed to memory and recall it in a crisis situation, I have no idea. 

‘Anyway.’ He cleared his throat. ‘This is the relevant section. It’s pretty long,’ the monitor next to Spock began to display a section of densely spaced text in Vulcan, with a standard translation running alongside, ‘But essentially, it says that bonded couples on a long-term assignment should be posted together. Which would be us, obviously. There are a few exceptions but basically, according to the Vulcan regs, you simply can’t keep bonded couples apart for any significant length of time. It’s almost regarded as cruel and unusual.’  

Spock listened as Jim went through a more detailed analysis of the Vulcan regulations concerned, and how they could easily be adapted to the Starfleet manual. He found himself struggling to suppress an odd mixture of hope and despair. Starfleet might indeed, permit the bond, and it had proved its usefulness in the event that one of them was seriously injured, but he did not wish a bond of convenience, to be utilised only in extreme circumstances.  

Kirk was saying, ‘And I understand your concern about the effect on one of us if the other was hurt or killed, but you proved yourself we don’t need to worry about that.’  

Spock looked at him curiously.

Kirk said, ‘Answer me this. If we hadn’t been bonded, and events on Talonia had happened exactly as they did, would you have done anything differently?’  

Spock paused. There was an argument to say that he should have returned to the ship instead of sending the Enterprise’s third ranking officer. However, the ship had been in no immediate defined danger, and Kirk’s status had been unknown, but clearly critical. He said honestly, ‘I would not.’  

Kirk nodded, clearly having expected that answer. He said, ‘For the record, had our situations been reversed, I’d have stayed too.’ He went to say something else, then stopped abruptly. He said, ‘Spock, I don’t know what you did, but I know I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t done it. Bones said you were out for nearly a day. I don’t like you taking that kind of risk for me. The ship needs you.’  

Spock said reasonably, ‘The ship needs you more. You are the Captain. The risk was calculated and is mine to take.’ When Kirk looked like he might be about to comment further he added, ‘You have significantly endangered your life to preserve mine on seven separate occasions, which is arguably a more objectionable risk in terms of expendability of personnel.’ 

Kirk frowned. ‘Look, moving on because I've got other points to make, but,’ he pointed the padd at Spock, ‘never, ever let me hear you refer to yourself as expendable again.’  

Spock began, ‘I was -’ 

Kirk said forcefully, ‘Never again.’ 

They stared at each other for a moment.  

Kirk raised the padd. ‘And I don’t know why you thought a bond with you would be deleterious to my career, but that is very definitely my risk to take.’  

He returned to the list, sighed, and muttered, ‘And here be dragons -’ 

Spock said, ‘Jim?’ 

Kirk said, ‘Spock, you know I can’t tell you for sure what the long-term effect of a bond would be on either of us, any more than I can tell you what will happen on the ship tomorrow. Or the next day. But I can give you a dammed well-informed guess.’ 

He took a breath and continued, ‘You told Bones that you were concerned about the effect on me of a long-term bond. That I might feel in some way overwhelmed. I can tell you now, I didn’t. Not for one second we were bonded. If anything, it was – grounding, having you there. I mean, having access to everything you know, as well as everything I know without even having to be in the same room? It’s a hell of an advantage in any circumstance, you’ve got to admit.’ He paused. ‘And just having you there, all the time, I – I liked it. A lot.

He hurried on. ‘And breaking the bond – look, we can’t factor that in as a concern. It would be like not taking a starship out of drydock because you’re worried about it being attacked. Spock, I have no intention of breaking this bond. If it breaks, it will be because one of us is dead.'  

He fixed Spock with a half-chastising glare. ‘And do I really have to address the point about getting bored of you? Spock, it’s been almost three years, you don’t think that might have kicked in by now? Assuming it’s even possible?'

He sighed. ‘But you were right on one thing. I don’t know what a long-term bond would be like.’ 

Spock had turned the book over and opened it to the first page, where an inscription in his father’s hand was visible from across the room. ‘And so you spoke to my mother.’ 

‘Yes, look, I know that’s not ideal.’ Kirk was pacing again now, gesturing with contained energy, caught up in his argument. ‘But you objected to us on the grounds that I didn’t know the effect a long-term bond would have on my – on a human mind. So, I tried to find someone with direct experience. And that is not a big pool of people, Spock. Your mother is pretty much it.’ 

It was Spock’s turn to feel as though he was having a surreal dream. He said faintly, ‘You informed my mother that you wished to bond with me?’ 

Kirk stopped pacing. ‘I didn’t inform her as such, no. She, uh, inferred from context. Look, the point is, there are no negative long-term effects on the human mind of a bond. Your parents are fine, your mom is fine, and she didn’t see any reason to think we would be any different. In fact, she -’ He stopped. 

Spock said quickly, ‘She what?’ 

Kirk set his jaw. ‘She thought what we had was pretty special. And that we’d be foolish to throw it away. I happen to agree.’ 

A thought struck him and he shifted uncomfortably. ‘She also confirmed that she and Sarek were looking for a new bondmate for you.’ He ran a hand through his hair distractedly. ‘Look, Spock, whatever happens between us, that didn’t go so well the first time around. Just - be careful, okay? Make sure it’s someone ...worthy of you.’ He wondered if Sarek and Amanda had already selected a candidate. Maybe sent the list to Spock. He wished he’d asked. He said uncertainly, ‘I’m sure there’s a queue, but they’d better be pretty special, is all I’m saying. You deserve - ‘ he sank into the chair across from Spock, leaning his elbows on his knees, ‘well hell, you deserve better than me, frankly, but I – I love you, is all. I’m in love with you. I thought that might be enough.’ 

He risked a glance at Spock. The Vulcan was staring at him with an expression Kirk had never seen before. He looked like a man in shock.  

He continued quickly, ‘I’ve no doubt at all you could find someone smarter than me, more logical than me, less human than me,’ he quirked a half-hearted smile, ‘someone who wouldn’t talk at you through the bond and would know all the right Vulcan ways to do things, someone who doesn’t always rush in where angels fear to tread, and doesn’t spend every waking hour captaining a starship.’ He stopped. ‘But I swear, Spock, you won’t find anyone who needs you more. Who wants you more. Who loves you more, than I do.’ 

He stopped. Spock was still staring at him with that odd, detached expression. He said, awkwardly, his heart beginning to sink, ‘That’s it really. That was....what I had to say.’ 

There was silence in the room. Jim stood, and he was embarrassed at his inability to keep his voice entirely steady. ‘You can say something now. If you like.’ 

‘You have been speaking for seven point four minutes.’ Spock’s voice was faint. 

Oh, he timed me. This can’t be good

‘Seven point four minutes.’ Spock’s voice was a little louder. And there was something in it that made hope flutter in Jim’s chest. He sounded.... emotional. ‘And the first six and half minutes were entirely unnecessary.’ 

Jim blinked rapidly whilst he processed that statement. ‘Spock are you -’ he felt a rush of hope ‘- are you saying I should have opened with ‘I love you’?’ 

Spock stood then, and came towards him, all elegance and restrained strength, and godJim loved the way he moved, and oh, he was really close. 

Spock raised a hand and gently caressed Jim’s face, ‘Yes.’ 

Jim felt himself smiling. He said, ‘I thought - you didn’t want to serve with me anymore.’ 

Spock seemed to be examining by touch what he had only been permitted to look at before. He said simply, ‘Because I am in love with you.’  

His fingers brushed along Kirk’s jawline, ‘I believed my feelings to be unrequited. It was - distressing.’  

Jim thought his smile was probably the one Bones had called lovesick. He didn’t care.  

Spock was looking at him, and smiling too. It was small, but unmistakable, and achingly soft. He said gently, ‘My ashayam.’ 

Jim slipped his arm around Spock’s back. ‘I know what that means.’  

‘You have been undertaking a great deal of research on this issue.’ Spock’s other hand was now also cradling Jim’s face, and his fingers ghosted tantalisingly close to the meld points. The tingling sensation was back. 

Jim felt like his heart might beat out of his chest. ‘I thought -,’ he began. Spock bent his head, just a little, and their faces were so close,’- it’s always good to be prepared. Didn’t want to rush into anything -’ 

‘And you chose now -’ Spock’s breath was warm on his face,’- this circumstance, to adopt that philosophy?’ 

Jim carded his hand through Spock’s hair, and tightened his arm around the lithe, warm body, determined to close even the small distance between them. He whispered, 'This was really important.’  

He thought, for a moment, that he might hear Spock laugh, but whatever sound he might have made was swallowed as their lips met, and Jim was finally, finally kissing him. 

Everything happened after that with dizzying speed. It was as if a dam had broken, and all the common sense and logic in the galaxy couldn’t stop the torrent. He couldn’t touch Spock enough, couldn’t find enough bare skin, couldn’t stop kissing him, couldn’t get himself close enough to that warmth and strength. Everything was wonderful, and too much, and not enough. Spock’s hands had moved away from the meld points. One was in the small of his back, fitting their bodies as close together as possible, and oh, god yes, more of that, and the other had slipped around his head to ruffle through his hair. He forced himself to break their kiss, and gasped, ‘Spock,’ into the air between them. Spock chased his departing lips for a second before registering the sound. He opened his eyes, breathing quickly. ‘Yes. Jim.’ 

Jim took a second to take in the sight. Spock’s lips were kiss flushed, his eyes blown wide, his hair wildly out of place, and a green haze stood out sharply on his cheeks. He looked dazed, and aroused, and utterly perfect. Jim said, ‘Dear god, Spock. You look – ravishable.’  

Spock blinked rapidly. He said, ‘Then why have you discontinued the - ravishing?’ For a second Jim couldn’t remember.  

Then: ‘The bond! Spock, you need to bond us.’ He reached up to where Spock’s hand was in his hair and tried to move it to his face. Spock’s eyes followed the movement, and he said, with a slightly dazed smile, ‘I have often wondered –‘ he ruffled Jim’s hair lightly. ‘- what it would feel like to do that.’ 

Jim found himself smiling back. ‘Me too. I mean your hair. Obviously. Not mine. Wait. We're getting off the point again.’ 

Spock was now looking at Jim’s hand where it covered his own. Slowly he drew it towards him, and pressed his lips to Jim’s fingers. The resultant sensation went straight to Jim’s groin. He heard his own voice, at a slightly higher pitch than usual, say, ‘Oh.’ 

Spock was kissing his way to Jim’s fingertips. Jim blinked rapidly. There was something he’d been – oh right.  

‘Spock, Spock, the bond!’ He’d been aiming for insistent but hit breathy.  

Spock, having entwined his fingers with Jim’s, had now returned his attention to Jim’s neck, and god, he’d forgotten how much he liked being kissed there. Or maybe he just liked Spock kissing him there, he wasn’t entirely sure. 

‘Spock -' And that felt amazing, but - 

Spock was working his way down Jim’s neck to his chest, and they were wearing way, way too many clothes for this and Christ, he’d forgotten again

‘Spock-‘ 

There was no way he’d be able to focus much longer. 

Commander.’ 

Spock’s head snapped up and something like focus came back into his eyes.  

Well that worked, Kirk thought.  

He said quickly, ‘Spock, wouldn’t all this be even better if we were -' 

‘You may not.’ 

Kirk blinked, disconcerted. ‘May not what?’ 

‘Utilise rank in – intimate situations.’ 

Kirk’s eyebrows rose and he grinned. ‘Oh, may I not?’ 

‘No. It is - inappropriate.’ 

‘You won’t be calling me Captain in bed then.’ 

Spock’s breath hitched a little at the mention of them in bed, but his tone was impressively even as he said, ‘I will not. It would be disrespectful to your rank.’ 

The part of Jim that wanted to laugh warred with the part of him that thought that was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to him. He bit his lip. ‘Well you know me, Mr Spock. I’m always appropriate.’ To emphasise his point, he slipped his free hand under Spock's robe, and his regulation t-shirt, and was rewarded with the warmth of Spock’s bare abdomen.  ‘Now, about that bond -’ 

Spock caught his exploring hand lightly, and held it in his own. ‘If you are certain. Jim, you must be certain.’ 

‘Spock,’ Jim gestured with his free hand towards the desk, ‘I just gave you a damned presentation. My final Academy exam had less work put into it. Let’s not wait any more. You and me. The rest of our lives. Let’s get started.’ As he spoke he gathered Spock’s hands in both of his. Which was when he noticed the fine trembling running through them.  

‘Spock?’ He looked up in concern. ‘You okay?’ The Vulcan was pale, and the slight trembling had seized his whole form. Jim said, ‘Is this too fast? Am I pushing too hard? Spock, just tell me. Now I know that you want this too, it’s fine. We can wait. As long as you need.’  

Spock’s hands came to his face, and he was being kissed again, fervently and longingly, as if both their lives depended on it. As he broke away, Spock said, ‘No. I do not wish to wait. I burned for thee, James Kirk. I would know your body, and your mind, and your soul.  

Jim took a deep breath. Hearing to Spock talk like that was sending heat through his body. He said, ‘Spock, I don’t know the right words but I want that too. All of it. With you. Whatever I have, whatever I am, is yours.’ 

Spock was breathing hard. He said hesitantly, ‘Jim, I - I wish to - have sex with you.’  

Jim blinked. ‘Spock, I got that. I am totally on board with that plan. I have literally dreamed about this, so -' 

‘I – am aware.’ The flush on Spock’s cheeks was more pronounced.  

Jim stopped. ‘Wait. Hold on. You saw that? I thought you were shielding!’   

‘I was, but I heard my name, and I naturally assumed you were dreaming of me in a more – negative context.’ 

‘Ah.’ It was Kirk’s turn to flush. ‘well, no, not very negative, as it goes.’ 

‘Jim. I wish to make love in that way. With you. But without the bond.’ 

‘Why?' Jim looked at him in surprise. ‘I mean, why without the bond?’  

Spock said, hesitantly, ‘Because after tonight we will never again be without it. You are human. I am half human. I should like to know what it is like to- in the purely - human way.’  

Jim felt a shiver course down his spine. ‘You need to know I’m never going to turn down any suggestion that involves sex with you.’  

‘That is gratifying, Jim.’ That gentle smile was back. ‘I hope you do not find the experience – disappointing.’ 

Jim laughed softly, ‘Spock, it’s you. I don’t think it would be possible for me to be disappointed.’  

An odd look came to Spock’s face then, a combination of uncertainty and vulnerability that Kirk had never seen. It brought out a feeling of fierce protectiveness, and he pulled Spock closer even as the most unlikely thought occurred. He almost dismissed it, before instinct drove him to ask, ‘Spock, are you – have you, I mean, of course, you’ve done this before, right?’  

Spock’s face shuttered slightly. ‘Jim, until two months ago I was married.’ 

Jim stared. ‘To a woman you hadn’t seen since you were seven!’  

‘Nevertheless. Vulcans do not form romantic relationships outside of an existing marital bond. Even one that is unconsummated.’ 

Jim looked at him in shock. ‘So, you’ve never actually – with anyone?’  

‘I have not.’  

Oh.’  

Spock was looking at him with concern. ‘Jim, is that a problem?’  

‘No. I mean, God, no. Really, not. I’m just - thinking of all the incredibly disappointed people you must’ve turned down. I mean, you’re you. I – yeah. Wow.’  

Spock looked as if he were trying to suppress a smile. ‘Jim, your coherency appears to have been impaired.’ 

‘Yes. Sorry. You took me by surprise, is all.’ 

‘If it helps, I am fully cognisant of all theories of human sexual interaction.’ 

Jim swallowed hard. ‘And that’s a statement we’ll be revisiting, but Spock, are you sure you want to here? Now? I mean it’s not exactly – we could wait -' 

Spock said patiently, ‘Jim. I have been married to someone who did not want me for thirty years.’ He reached a hand up to lightly touch Jim's face. ‘And now, there is you. My commander. My dearest friend. And I hope, my lover. And yet, for reasons which elude me, you will not stop talking.’ 

Jim said, and had the oddest sensation of wanting to laugh and cry at the same time, ‘Is that your way of saying ‘Shut up and have sex with me?’’ 

‘Was I too subtle?’ 

And then he did laugh, as he pulled Spock closer. ‘Just try and stop me.’  

‘Bridge to Commander Spock.’  

Jim broke their kiss and breathed into Spock’s neck, ‘Ignore her, she’ll go away.’ 

There was a huff of something that could have been laughter against his hair. ‘She most assuredly will not.’  

Damn.’ Jim lifted his head and sighed. ‘It’s going to be Nogura again. What will you tell him?’  

Spock assumed the demeanour of a man faced with a difficult decision. ‘There are persuasive arguments on both sides.’ 

Jim hit his arm lightly. ‘Oy!’ 

The amused look Spock turned on him was so suffused with affection, Jim felt his heart skip a beat.  

‘Bridge to Commander Spock.’ Uhura’s voice now carried the tone of someone expecting to be imminently demoted.  

Never breaking eye contact, Spock rearranged his robe, stepped over to the desk, and flicked the comm link. ‘Spock here.’ 

‘I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, it’s Admiral Nogura. Again.’  

‘Patch him through to the Captain’s quarters, please, Lieutenant.’ 

As Spock sat at his desk and the screen came to life, Jim watched him with affection from behind the display. It seemed a relationship with Spock was going to involve considerably more –teasing – than one might expect from a relationship where one party was Vulcan. Well, that was just fine with Jim, he could give as good as he got, better, in fact –  

An idea occurred and he looked back to the desk. Spock was every inch the consummate officer – other than some slightly ruffled hair, which Nogura would be unlikely to notice. He had the best professional poker face Kirk had ever seen. He wondered just how good it was. Then grinned to himself. I’ll give him ‘persuasive arguments’.  

He heard Nogura say, ‘-and of course, the ship will be outfitted with the latest advanced sensor arrays -’ Spock was clearly, and politely, waiting for a suitable gap in the conversation to refuse the commission. That’s a mistake, Kirk thought. He wandered quietly to a point behind the screen, and in front of the bed, where he would be directly in Spock’s eye-line, and began to slowly remove his jumper.  

Spock’s eyes flicked to him then back to the screen so fast he almost missed it. Casually, Jim stretched, then sat on the edge of his bed, bouncing lightly a few times. Across the room he heard Spock say, ‘Admiral -’ 

Jim removed his boots and socks, and set them carefully to one side. He stood, and slid his thumbs slowly into the waistband of his trousers. Spock was not looking at him so pointedly it was almost painful. He could hear Nogura, still talking, as he pushed lightly at his trousers. They fell to the floor and he bent to retrieve them. There was a distinct intake of breath from across the room and Jim bit his lip to keep from smiling.  

Spock said, more insistently, ‘Admiral, if I may-’ 

Clad only in Starfleet-issue briefs, Jim laid his trousers neatly next to his jumper, careful to walk entirely from one side of Spock’s peripheral vision to the other as he did so. Returning to the bed he lay down and stretched out, for all the world a man relaxing after a long day.  

Spock had now resorted to interrupting. ‘Admiral, of course I would be delighted to review the specifications for all the ship’s equipment, and provide appropriate recommendations.’ Jim slid a hand down his chest, towards the waistband of his briefs. Spock said, in a louder tone, ‘However,’ Jim stopped, ‘much as I am grateful for the opportunity, I find I must decline.’ 

Nogura said something that he didn’t catch. Spock said, speaking as quickly as Jim had ever heard him, ‘And I am grateful Admiral, however as I have stated in the past, the Enterprise currently provides excellent opportunities for exploration, both spatial  and scientific, and after careful consideration, I find I am content with my current posting.’ 

Nogura said something in a clipped, irate tone, and Spock said, ‘Thank you Admiral. I will. Good evening.’ 

The monitor flicked off and Spock drew a deep breath, then looked up. The expression on his face made a frisson run down Kirk’s spine.  

Spock stood then, and stepped around the desk, removing his robe and Starfleet issue t-shirt as he stalked towards the bed. Jim felt himself getting hard. God, but he was fine to look at. Spock was disposing of the rest of his clothing just as efficiently, and Jim could have spent hours admiring that particular view, but then Spock had reached the bed. The flippant comment Jim had been planning to make was smothered in a wave of desire as Spock crawled across to him. Jim fell back and watched Spock advance until he was above him, their bodies mere inches apart. Spock breathed, in a barely controlled baritone, ‘That - was unprofessional.’  

Jim breathed as he drew Spock’s face to his, ‘Just making sure you didn’t change your mind.’  

Then they were kissing again, and it was glorious. Jim wound his arms around Spock’s back and his legs over Spock’s thighs and pulled their bodies together. An answering hardness met his own and the moan Spock made was a noise he would never, never tire of hearing. He arched up, increasing the contact, and Spock draw back with a gasp. His eyes were dark, and blown wide with desire. Before Jim could speak, he reached between them, took Jim’s briefs in his hands and simply tore them apart before pressing their bodies together once more. As they came together, skin to skin, Jim realised that this initial encounter was not going to last nearly as long as he had hoped. It was all too wonderful, and too overwhelming. He reached between them and took them both into his hand. Spock gasped and drew back as if electrified. Jim said breathlessly, ‘Love, is this okay?’ 

‘Yes, Jim, please, Jim, oh -’ and now Spock was trembling again, and it was taking every ounce of self-control Jim possessed not to come. The sight of his reserved, controlled, Vulcan first officer utterly blown apart with desire was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen. He said, in a choked voice, ‘Spock. Come for me. I want to see you. Please, love.’ He stroked them together with increasing speed. Spock made an incoherent noise of want, and thrust hard against him, ‘Jim, oh, oh Jim- ‘and then he was coming, Kirk’s name on his lips, and at the sight, he couldn’t hold back any more. 

Jim had no idea how much time passed before coherent thought formed again, but when it did, a number of things called themselves to his attention at once. First, there was a heavy weight half over him, warm breath against his neck, and an arm across his chest. This was something of a relief, as it would take nothing short of a red alert to move him at this precise moment, and it was comforting to know that he wasn’t the only one. He moved his left arm to hug the weight a little closer, lest it surrender to the lure of independent thought, and try to move. Second, his lower abdomen and chest were something of a mess. Casting around for a way to solve that problem without actually leaving the bed, he hit on the wreckage of his briefs, which did the job for both of them adequately enough, although he’d be a pair down for the rest of their mission because there was no way he’d be having the ‘how did your item of clothing become damaged?’ conversation with stores.   

Through all of his rearranging, Spock hadn’t moved. He nuzzled gently against Spock’s forehead. ’Hey.’  A thought occurred, and he reached across for his sheet, pulling it over them both, but making sure to cover Spock. He wasn’t cold, but he’d intended that if anything like this had happened, it would be in Spock’s quarters where the ambient night-time temperature was programmed to be slightly higher and more suited to Vulcan norms.

Getting no reaction, he moved his head to one side in an effort to see Spock’s face. Only then did he realise that, through closed eyes, and entirely without any other physical movement, Spock was crying.  

After a moment, Jim gently shuffled them both so Spock was even more closely fitted against him, bringing his other arm across to hold him more firmly in place. He let a few more moments go by, resting his head against Spock’s. Eventually he said quietly, in a conspiratorial fashion, ‘You know, I’m pretty glad right now that you don’t have a vast pool of comparative experiences on which to draw. It’s just that, usually I try to, er, draw things out a little more than that.’ He felt Spock’s head move slightly against his shoulder and added, ‘After all, I’ve got something of a reputation to protect here, so if anyone asks, this took all night.’  

A voice against his neck said thickly, but with something of it’s usual dryness, ‘I shall inform the crew.’  

Jim laughed, and reached up to move Spock’s face just enough to kiss him lightly. ‘I'd appreciate that.’  

He’d been intending to continue the joke, but at the sight of Spock’s face, what came out was, ‘God, I love you.’  

Spock reached over to entwine his fingers with Jim’s. ‘And I you.’  

‘You okay?’ 

‘I apologise for my reactions, I found myself momentarily – overwhelmed.’  

‘Ssh.’ Jim shuffled down the bed so they were face to face. ‘Hey. Don’t apologise. For anything that just happened. It was incredible. I – I can’t quite believe it.’ Jim raised a hand to stroke Spock’s cheek.  

‘Nor I. It is – even more than I had hoped.’ 

'I know. We’ve got all this,' Jim made a gesture to encompass the Enterprise around them. 'and us.'  

Spock’s hand had crept to his face, and was ghosting along the meld points. Jim felt his heart rate, which had begun to level out, start to climb again. As Spock opened his mouth to speak, Jim said, ‘Yes.’  

Spock stared at him, inches away across the pillow. His breath was coming faster. Jim took his hand, kissed the fingertips, and moved it back to the meld points. 

Spock sat up, and pulled Jim with him. They were still mere inches apart, and the dim light of ship’s night cast his face into shadow, highlighting the points of his ears, throwing his cheekbones into sharp relief, and making his eyes glitter. He looked more alien, and more wonderful, than Jim had ever seen. ‘You are certain?’ 

Jim took a breath, and found his voice, ‘Do it.’  

He closed his eyes, and felt Spock’s fingertips against his face. He said, as Spock spoke the words, ‘My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts.’  

And then he was no longer alone. Spock’s mind poured into his, and this time there was no holding back. Jim chased every thought and feeling that sang to him of Spock, and pulled them close. He felt first, as before, Spock’s thoughts and surface emotions, then there was more. He was loved, and the depth of it took his breath away. Jim let everything he was feeling bubble up in response, taking all his love, his admiration, his trust, and gratitude and sending it back, creating a feedback loop of joy like he’d never felt. The bond exploded into existence as if it had never been gone, chasing away all the shadows of doubt at their time apart and glowing between them like a river of gold, flowing into every corner of their minds, bringing warmth and light, and finding its home. For a time, all they knew was each other, and all they wanted was this.  

As last, Jim heard Spock’s voice in his mind, clear and beloved and gentle as a breeze: Ashayam 

He roused himself with some effort. I’m here.  

We should end the meld now, and allow the bond to settle.  

Jim took another moment to simply bask, then sighed, If you say so.  

There was a glimmer of reluctance, then the immediacy of Spock’s presence in his mind began to fade. Jim began to slowly become aware that he had a body, as well as a mind. After a long moment, he opened his eyes. Spock was where he had been, eons or maybe only minutes, before, gazing at him with such intensity that Jim felt his breath catch. Spock’s hands had drifted from the meld points to caress his face. Jim turned his head to brush his lips against Spock’s fingertips. A frisson of arousal shot through the bond and Jim’s eyes snapped back to Spock’s. Slowly, deliberately, he repeated the movement. Spock’s eyes blew wide and before Jim could move, he was on his back, being kissed breathless, desire racing across the bond on a feedback loop of increasing intensity. He was kissing and being kissed, touching and being touched. He felt Spock’s desire, fierce in its intensity and focus, and answered it with his own, flipping them over to trap Spock beneath him, knowing the exact rhythm, the exact movement, to drive his lover to desperation. He could hear his name like a litany and had no idea whether it was aloud or in his head. He felt every increase of Spock’s pleasure, and it magnified every moment of his own. He knew the moment Spock was about to come, and it triggered his own release, searing through his body and mind, white-hot in its intensity and heat, and the world went dark.  

When he came to, he was on top of Spock, and being looked at with concern. Jim cleared his throat, which felt suddenly dry, and managed, ‘Will it - always be like that?’ 

Spock said unsteadily, ‘I have read that newly formed bonds are often – very intense, and somewhat erratic. There will be a period of settling. The process will be easier if we spend as much time together as possible.’  

Jim croaked a laugh. ‘Well, you’ll get no argument from me. Best keep this particular brand of quality time to our quarters though. It would raise comment on the bridge.’  

Spock laughed. And it was a sound as full of joy as Jim had ever heard. He felt Spock’s love for him across the bond, fierce and gentle and perfect, and his joy in their union, and had to lower his head to Spock’s chest, and take a steadying breath. Spock’s hand came to his hair, and he felt a silver of concern across their bond. Ashayam?  

Sorry. Just – having a moment. He was relieved the bond avoided the necessity to speak. Spock’s hand reached down and thumbed away a line of wetness on his cheek. There was a rush of tenderness through the bond, then with odd formality, Spock said, ‘James Tiberius Kirk. Husband. T'hy'la. I claim thee as my bondmate. Parted from me and never parted. Never and always touching and touched.’ 

Jim raised his head, affected by the sudden weight of the moment. ‘Spock, do I need to say anything?’  

Spock said, a little hesitantly, ‘You could repeat the words, if you wish. It is not strictly -’ 

Jim said with conviction, ‘S’chn T’gai Spock. Husband. T'hy'la. I claim thee as my bondmate. Parted from me and never parted. Never and always touching and touched.’ 

Jim felt Spock’s pleasure in the words across the bond, followed by a slightly embarrassed sensation. He looked up curiously. Spock said, apologetically, ‘The declaration of bonding should have been made earlier. I was …distracted.’  

Jim smiled. ‘I won’t tell the bond police if you don’t. And speaking of us being distracted -’ He fished around for the other half of his ruined briefs and wiped them both again.  

Spock said, ‘I apologise for the destruction of your - ‘ 

Jim threw him a glare of mock chastisement. ‘Bonded, remember? You’re not even slightly sorry.’ 

A slightly rueful smile ghosted across Spock's face. ‘It is true. I am not.’ 

Jim grinned as he stretched out again and pulled the sheet back over them. ‘You won’t be able to get away with anything now.’  

That goes both ways, my ashayam 

Jim laughed. Oh, this is going to be fun.  

A few moments passed in contented silence, and Jim felt a heavy lassitude begin to creep across him. ‘We should try and get some rest. We can’t both be sleep deprived on the bridge tomorrow.’ 

He realised suddenly he had no idea at all how far away their shift was. And looking at the chrono would involve moving again. ‘Spock?’  

There was a satisfied mumble against his shoulder. ‘Yes, Jim?’  

‘What time is it?’ 

Spock murmured, ‘Twenty-two –’ He stopped, then continued with less certainty, ‘twenty, no, twenty-five – He raised his head. A frown had creased his brow and some consternation filtered across the bond.  

Kirk grinned. ‘You’ve absolutely no idea, have you?’ 

Spock looked as disconcerted as Kirk had ever seen him. ‘I have not.’  

Jim laughed. ‘We broke your internal chronometer.’ 

Spock sighed and laid his head down again. ‘I shall rectify the problem tomorrow.’ 

Jim lay for a while, enjoying the sensation of Spock’s warmth against his side. Another – slightly worrying - thought occurred to him. ‘Spock.’ 

A slightly sleep-addled voice said, ‘Yes, Jim?’  

'You need to call your mother. In fact,’ he gave Spock an ineffective shove, ‘you should call her now.’ 

Spock opened his eyes and stared. ‘For what purpose?’ 

‘Because they’re trying to find you a new bondmate. You need to tell them. Thank you and everything, but mission accomplished.’ 

‘They are no longer searching.’ 

‘Oh good.’ 

‘My father has sent me the list.’ 

‘There’s a list? Where?’ 

Spock began, ‘It is on the compu-' but the sight of Kirk’s perfect, naked form distracted him from completing his sentence. Jim had leapt from the bed and padded to the desk. He entered Spock’s login and began to scroll through his messages.  

‘Jim.’ Spock’s voice was mildly chastising. ’That is not an ethical use of your command override.’ 

‘Have you read it?’ 

‘What?’ 

‘The list.’ 

‘I have not.’ 

Kirk stopped his perusal and looked across to the bed. ‘Why not? Someone makes you a list of your ideal life partners based on no doubt highly accurate and logical criteria and you're not interested?’ 

Spock blinked. ‘The list was pointless. I wanted only you.’ 

Jim felt a lump rise to his throat. He left the computer, walked back to bed, leaned down, drew Spock’s face to his, and kissed him thoroughly. ‘I had no idea you were sweet.’ 

Spock frowned as he walked back to the desk.  

‘I am not -' 

‘One second love. Ah. Found it.’ 

‘Jim. What are you -?' 

‘Eliminating the competition.’ 

Spock raised an eyebrow. ‘They are not competition. Such a thought is absurd.’ 

Jim shut down the monitor and returned to the bed, throwing himself down next to Spock. ‘Don’t get complacent. Command 101.’ 

Spock reached across and lightly ruffled Jim’s hair. ‘You are ridiculous.’ 

Jim arched his head back and looked up in amusement. ‘Is that any way to speak to your commanding officer?’ 

‘My apologies. You are ridiculous, Captain.’ 

‘Hey, what happened to no rank in the bedroom?’ 

‘As ever, I find my better judgement compromised in your presence.’ 

Jim grinned up at him. ‘Only in my presence, I hope.’  

‘Indeed.’  

We’ve made our lives more complicated , you know.  

I am aware

Whatever happens, it’s already worth it.  

The next morning, Spock had returned to his own quarters - with what Jim felt was gratifying reluctance - to prepare for his shift. Jim finished dressing and sent, Well I'm good to go, you? 

Yes.  

They emerged from their quarters at the same time, and fell into step together, heading for the turbolift. By mutual agreement, they were at least partially shielding the bond on both sides. Anything less was simply too distracting. Jim felt an oddly nervous sensation as they walked. With the bond shielded, and them both back in uniform, they were once again Captain and First Officer. It felt as if the night before had been a glorious, but insubstantial, dream. As the turbolift neared the bridge, he sent clearly, Spock

Yes, Jim?

I love you. 

And I you, Jim. 

Just checking.  

 

 

*