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Outside the door to his quarters Spock can hear a rush of hurried footsteps and the low hum of voices. He sedately adjusts the flame on his fire-pot, situates himself for meditation, and tries to block out the noise. Everyone on the ship has been distractingly excited for the past few days due to the upcoming change-in-command and the anticipated arrival of the youngest captain in Starfleet, James Kirk.

Spock does not share their excitement; nor does he particularly care to learn about Kirk's character, despite his usual curiosity which should drive him toward research on the rising star. As of late, Spock has found himself dissatisfied with his service in Starfleet. He has been reluctant to renounce his duty to Christopher Pike, who valued his mind and his duties to the ship; but now Pike is leaving. Spock has no obligations left. Perhaps, then, it is time to return to Vulcan.

His father will doubtlessly be pleased.

It will take him some time to find a suitable replacement and properly set the affairs of the department in order; furthermore he has several long-term projects to finish. It is unfortunate that information of Pike's transfer was withheld from Spock for so long, or he could have had more time to prepare, but. Kaiidth. He will give himself six months before resigning. This 'Captain Kirk' will have settled in by then and can worry about his new science officer, too.

He snuffs out the candle with a perfunctory gesture and listens closely as the chaos in the halls seems to increase. There is a quick shout of alarm, but any concern that there is a problem is offset when it is followed by a flurry of giggles.

Humans are so very strange.


 

First Officer Mitchell is present along with Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, who is working at the transporter controls, when Spock steps into the transporter room.

The XO looks at Spock and a small smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth. He straightens and inclines his head with mock-graciousness. “Lieutenant,” he says. The polite way to refer to a Lieutenent-Commander is by the simple appellation 'Commander'. “This is a big day for you, isn't it?”

“Please clarify, Sir.”

“Captain Pike plucked you right from the Academy,” Mitchell drawls. “You were his little emotionally-stunted prodigy. Kirk won't be so invested. Big change.”

Spock is impassive. Kirk's final opinion of Spock will have little relevance to him. Spock's days on the Enterprise are numbered. “Change is a constant, Commander,” he says placidly, refusing to rise to the man's prodding.

At the transporter console, Montgomery Scott clears his throat. “Beaming him up now, Sir.”

The whine of the transporter pierces through the room, and Spock shifts his shoulders as he turns to watch the blue cascade of light that precedes the captain's arrival. As the fourth officer in the chain of command – and, if both the captain and commander are disabled during an emergency, the most likely individual to temporarily take control for any extended period - he is expected to make an appropriately professional impression on the captain. He shifts his stance and prepares to offer the ta'al as the fluttering glow of molecules on the transporter pad coalesces into a humanoid form.

His breath catches.

Laughing hazel eyes roam around the room, lingering on Spock for a long moment. His mind is seared with light and the impression of a sun. The newly-formed human steps forward, and his proximity makes the sudden pounding of Spock's heart redouble itself until his abdomen feels tight with pressure.

Captain Kirk – Spock's t'hy'la – smiles at the small group. The tiny curve of his lips makes his whole face look hauntingly soft. “Gary,” he says. “Commander Scott, and – Commander Spock, is it?”

Kirk raises his hand in a rough approximation of the Vulcan ta'al. Spock returns the greeting numbly. He hopes wildly that his hand is not trembling.

Scott says something he doesn't hear.

“Time to meet your ship, Jim,” Gary announces.

Captain Kirk smiles. “I've fallen in love already,” he says. He moves toward the door, glancing back at Spock as he leaves.

And when he is gone, all colors seem to fade in his wake. Spock lets his hand fall slowly. When he sees the Chief Engineer is looking at him, he turns and exits abruptly as well.

Change, indeed.


 

The rumors circulate with amazing rapidity.

Captain Kirk is proficient in every area of the ship, they whisper. No – better than proficient, he is a genius. He spent three hours sparring with security staff in the gym and went on a tour of the science labs afterward. He is friendly with both the officers and the general crewmen. The women, especially, talk about his grin and his friendly warmth.

Spock should stay away from him.

“Commander! Is this where you've been hiding?”

Spock closes his eyes briefly, composing himself before he turns around.

None of Spock's attempts to force himself to remain calm can prepare him for the penetrating earnestness in the captain's eyes. This gaze sharpens with concern as he looks over the Vulcan. “You haven't been working all day, have you? I stopped by your quarters earlier and you weren't there.”

Spock pauses. “My apologies, Sir. Did you require something?”

“Oh, no, it wasn't for business – I was just wondering if you'd like to join me for lunch. Or, well, dinner now.”

Spock's initial question is 'why', and he tries desperately to think of a polite way to pose this query. Failing to do so – and hampered significantly by the fact that it is difficult to even look away from the face of his new captain – he says, “Very well, Sir.”

Kirk's smile widens. It a pleasant look. It is also very emotional, and Spock is already learning that Captain Kirk telegraphs his emotions very freely.

He wants to make James Kirk smile forever, and it is not logical.

He follows the man down to the Officer's Mess. At this hour there are few officers milling around, and no one pays them too much mind.

They collect their food and sit down in a solitary corner. Spock searches for something to say. Humans tend to enjoy their social niceties, so Spock asks, “Have you finished moving in, Sir?”

“Oh, yes. My books took the longest – boxes and boxes of them. Gary was going to help until he realized what he was carrying, I think – then he just started rolling his eyes at me, as always.”

“You collect antique literature?”

Perhaps some surprise has colored his tone. “Is that a bad thing?”

“No, Sir - merely surprising.”

“Everyone has a few surprises in them, if you look deep enough, Mr. Spock.” The captain smiles. “Why, I bet if we looked closely enough at your past I could find a few instances that would make you look positively excitable.”

“There is no need to be insulting, Sir.”

Kirk throws back his head and laughs.

Heads turn to look at the strange pair – and they must look strange, Spock thinks. He is not known for socializing with his shipmates – much less making them laugh – but this fact does not seem to have deterred Kirk.

“Do you have a favorite?”

“Author? I'm fond of any genre – though I have a soft-spot for the old classics. I find it's good to be familiar with many different types of literature – and it's an excellent way to learn about a culture, too. 'There is no darkness but ignorance'.”

“Shakespeare, Sir?”

“A guilty pleasure,” the man confesses.

“Guilty?”

“It's not nearly as intellectual as people think,” Kirk confides. “ - I mostly enjoy the comedies.”

“I have always found Shakespeare somewhat... verbose,” Spock demurs.

Kirk barks out a laugh, though Spock is not sure what he has said that could be considered amusing. “Well, I suppose the way he writes is not the most logical way of conveying information, is it, Mr. Spock?”

“Indeed not.”

Kirk looks at him with something that Spock might classify as fondness, and he has to focus on his internal systems to prevent a slow flush from rising to his neck. The ship is cold by the standards of any Vulcan, but he feels suddenly warm. “I wouldn't think you would be much interested in Earth literature, Commander – or fiction at all, for that matter.”

“My mother was somewhat insistent on the matter – she at least maintained that I should 'give it a try'.”

“She enjoys fiction?”

“My mother is human.”

Kirk straightens. “ - Is she? I don't remember that in your file. That must have been - “ Kirk pauses. “Difficult. I can't imagine there are many human-Vulcan mixes.”

“No. I am the first to survive.”

Kirk looks at him, and tilts his head. His eyes seem strangely gentle. “Well,” he says. “ - At least you've set an excellent precedent.”

An odd stillness hovers between them – and then it is abruptly broken by a loud and brute force that blusters up from their left.

“Jim,” Gary Mitchell greets. “There you are – up for a game of tennis later?”

“Sure.”

“I'm going crazy, doing nothing but piloting through empty space,” Gary complains. “ - I can't wait for shore leave.”

Kirk chuckles. “We just set out, Gary. You can't want leave already.”

“Clearly you've been away so long you've forgotten the wonders of Risa,” Gary taunts. To Spock, he says, “This one here never gets through a shore-leave without a woman. Or four, if you remember that time on Sparkan III - “

“Gary,” Kirk warns.

“He once charmed a Klingon.”

“He's exaggerating,” Kirk says. “ - and if I did 'charm' that Klingon woman, it wasn't intentional.”

“She wanted your babies. Literally, those were her exact words.”

Kirk flushes.

Spock pushes back his chair slowly. “Excuse me, Captain, Commander. I believe I must be going.”

“I'm sorry, the subject didn't bother you, did it?”

“He's a grown man, Jim, calm down - “

“Captain,” Spock acknowledges again. He rises stiffly and exits the Mess.

When he returns to his quarters he finds himself strangely listless. His thoughts are tangled, his mind conflicted. In this state there is little recourse except for meditation, so after some consideration he arranges his firepot and seats himself on the thin mat kept on his floor.

It seems to take longer than normal to sink into the expected state of serenity; his mind is still whirring.

What Spock has found unintentionally is something spoken of in legends and song. He can feel the fluttering edges of an unformed bond straining against his mind, already alight with the glow of the captain's life-force so close to his own. He does not know how he has failed to sense this man, the potential for this bond, before their meeting just days prior. Surely the beacon of his spirit would resonate from anywhere in the universe – Spock cannot imagine being blind to him now that he has seen.

But James Kirk has not seen him.

Spock has checked the captain's files. Psi-ratings are public information, and Kirk's tests produced human-average results: meaning, he is a psi-null, receptive to telepathic and empathic influence but unable to produce any such emanations himself. He cannot sense the touch of another mind unless someone were to enter his thoughts and make him feel it; he certainly cannot detect the subtle, delicate psionic pulses that surround all life, however small.

Apparently, he cannot feel the bond.

It is a logical conclusion, but unprecedented. Spock tells himself that to equate a biological fact with personal rejection is illogical – but nevertheless he is here, on the same ship as his t'hy'la, who smiles at him and brushes by his arm but will not, cannot say the ancient words.

Kirk would probably not want to say them, even if he knew what those words were.

It is better not to know.

There are soft sounds from outside Spock's quarters. He ends his meditation and stares into the darkness with lidded eyes.

He has been alone for many years, and he makes a decision. This changes nothing.

He will continue with his plans to leave the Enterprise – and Captain Kirk, so kind, will never have to know the conflict of having to refuse his alien first officer.


 

“Don't you ever socialize with the rest of the crew, Commander?”

Spock glances up at the captain as the man approaches, leaning against a wall and looking down at him. They are in rec room four, and Spock finds this to be an odd question; it is fairly unusual for him to frequent the rec rooms at all, so he would consider this to be perfectly social behavior for himself. Even if he is talking to no one, and only toying with the ka'athyra in his hands. “I hold voluntary debates among the scientific staff three times a week.”

“I'm sure they appreciate that,” Kirk agrees. “ - I was referring more to recreation.”

Spock considers this question. “ - Is that not recreational?”

Kirk smiles. “Would you like to play a game of chess? I've heard you programmed the computer.”

“I did.”

“I beat the computer.”

Spock raises an eyebrow slowly.


 

“Now this is the kind of assignment I enjoy,” Kirk sighs. He waves off two lieutenants and an ensign who start to spread out through the waving stalks of orange grass.

Commander Mitchell has remained on the Enterprise, as per the customary protocol recommending that one commanding officer should stay with the ship when another is planet-side.

“Last week you indicated an interest in meeting new cultures, Sir,” Spock comments. There are no sapient civilizations on Mirus III.

“Well, I like those missions too,” Kirk says cheerfully.

The captain has expressed enthusiasm both at the prospect of visiting the planet and – more gratifyingly – having the opportunity to see his new science department get to work. He has asked intelligent but not tiresome questions regarding the team's expectations regarding their investigations thus far.

It is the purpose of any captain to weigh the needs of all the ship's departments, of course. Spock reminds himself that Pike, too, was not uneducated in the sciences and could follow Spock's summaries with a more than adequate understanding. But Christopher Pike never showed any overt interest in the department unless there was some sort of emergency which compelled the man to try and micro-manage the Vulcan's subordinates, usually to detrimental effects.

From Kirk – who wanders off to peer at a yawning blue flower that curls away from his approach – Spock senses nothing but fascination.

“You keep looking at your tricorder,” says the captain suddenly.

Spock is surprised. “Yes, Sir,” he acknowledges, unsure how to respond to this observation.

The captain is crouching over a patch of brilliantly variegated fauna. Several flowers release long, writhing tendrils and Spock immediately holds up the disputed instrument, lowering his head.

Kirk side-eyes him.

“Aren't visual observations an important part of field study, Science Officer?”

The captain's voice s light, but Spock cannot immediately identify the man's tone. “...Of course,” he replies.

“Then why don't you put that down and start to appreciate the view? Just for a minute?”

After a beat, Spock complies. He sets his tricorder to scan the environment passively and steps closer to the captain.

Kirk reaches out a hand to touch his shoulder as Spock approaches, then immediately pulls back. “Sorry.”

“I do not object, Sir.”

He realizes this truth even as he states it; and, for whatever reason, his words make the captain smile. The expression makes the sun reflect off the the darkest flecks in the human's eyes, accentuating the way they pull up at the corners. Kirk turns suddenly.

“I think it likes you, Commander,” he teases.

The flower Kirk has been examining is extending one delicate blue tendril in Spock's direction. It pauses when he turns, then inches forward in short, swaying movements, as though these soft undulations will somehow disguise the advance.

Raising an eyebrow, Spock glances around and bends down to pick up a twig. He prods a tendril and watches as the whole plant snaps back in one percussive motion.

“Scientific inquiry at its finest,” Kirk deadpans. Strangely, he does not seem amused. “ - You didn't have to discourage it, Mr. Spock.”

“It could have been carnivorous, Sir.”

“It's such a tiny, fragile thing – it couldn't have hurt you.”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” Spock says. “And alien ways of life should never be underestimated.”

They sit in silence for a moment, watching. The wind rustles the grass, sending small tufts of fuzz and twirling seeds spinning through the air. Slowly, the shining blue plant starts to quiver. A small blue vine uncoils from its body and starts to press along the ground.

And Kirk sounds satisfied when he says, “Persistent thing, though. Isn't it?”


 

To call the time on Star Base 3 'shore leave' is, perhaps, something of a misnomer. Spock spends the first three days sorting through issues with new personnel and fielding complaints and requests from the base's staff, which leaves him only one day for recreational purposes. He is surprised when Captain Kirk comes to his quarters before he is scheduled to beam down and wonders if the man has any further demands to make of Spock's time. The Vulcan does not particularly think he would mind; his plans include perusing a not-very-interesting art exhibit the base has just set up, as he has not had the time to find anything more diverting.

Kirk has other intentions.

“An arboretum?” Spock asks blankly. “On a Starbase?”

“Visiting natural environments has proven to have positive psychological effects on most species,” Kirk says brightly. “And Starbase 3 supports over two hundred thousand residents, after all.”

“Nevertheless, it seems an unusual venue for a visit.”

“Well, you don't have to come,” Kirk says lightly. “But if you don't have plans...”

Spock pauses. “...Nothing important,” he admits.

Which is how he somehow ends up walking through the well-shaded paths of a carefully tended arboretum with Captain Kirk. It is the first occasion Spock has had to see the man out of his Starfleet-issued clothing.

Captain Kirk looks somehow younger than ever in his rumpled checkered shirt and slacks – quite an accomplishment, for a man already famous for being the youngest captain in the fleet.

Standing under an arching tree – an import from Grazar, Spock notes – it is hard to recall that the two are inside a colossal but ultimately artificially-constructed base spinning through the reaches of space. They have no link. No anchor.

It is a beautiful place.

But he doesn't understand why Kirk has brought him here, and the captain himself is providing no answers. The man seems content to roam in silence, surveying the scenery with quiet appreciation. Though Spock would typically respect and even prefer this calm camaraderie he finds himself strangely restless. He is not accustomed to being so uncertain of his place, and he finds he does not like it.

Speaking to fill the silence is a human habit; perhaps Spock has picked up some of their mannerisms over the years. “You spent the last several days with the new arrivals, did you not, Sir?”

Kirk looks over at him. It seems to take a moment for the words to register. “ - Oh. For the Enterprise, yes. Many of them are young – it's good to see people so excited to get into space.”

“Humans enjoy enthusiasm,” Spock notes. “ - I tend to prefer experience.”

Kirk chuckles. “Well, it's a fair mix. And we'll have a proper CMO soon. Our next doctor will be an old friend of mine, actually. Leonard McCoy. You couldn't ask for a better physician.”

“I look forward to meeting his acquaintance.”

“Oh, I'm sure you'll get along.”

“As you say, Captain.”

Kirk frowns suddenly; the expression seems foreign on his face, darkening his eyes. Spock finds, irrationally, that he does not like this look. “We're on shore leave – you can call me Jim. If you want.”

Spock hesitates. He weighs this statement for sincerity. Humans frequently make requests which they do not actually expect to be fulfilled, especially in social situations. But he senses no such duplicity from the captain. “Very well. You are also welcome to refer to me informally when off-duty.”

The captain looks at him expectantly, but Spock says nothing else.

After a beat Kirk – Jim - seems to accept this. They keep walking over the carefully cultivated grass path. Jim folds his arms and tilts his head back to peer at the tree-tops.

“I never know what to think of you,” says Jim suddenly.

Spock pauses. “ - Clarify.”

Jim glances at him. “You try so hard to stand apart. From everyone.”

“That has never been my intention.”

Jim considers him. “Maybe not.” The captain looks away. “You know, when I met you, I don't know why – but I thought we could be excellent friends.”

Spock feels a vice close over his heart.

“Indeed?” he asks.

“And,” Jim continues, turning to him. But here the man stops.

“...Yes?” Spock prompts.

“...And I thought, maybe that's true,” Jim says. Spock tilts his head slightly; Jim is speaking swiftly and not quite meeting his eyes. “I'm – very glad you were on the Enterprise.”

There is a strange note in this last sentence.

“I am also certain we will work well together,” Spock says. “We have already proven this is true.”

They are standing under the cover of a chestnut tree. Jim turns suddenly and rests his hand against the trees trunk so that he isn't facing Spock. “We do,” he says. “ - Maybe it's time to get back.”

“...Certainly, Jim.”

Jim jerks his head around. He meets Spock's gaze squarely for a moment.

Then he smiles.


 

Spock is not quite sure about Jim's opinion that he will learn to 'like' Dr. McCoy, but he does acknowledge the man's extensive medical accomplishments and is sure to compliment him in this area. Dr. McCoy seems oddly emotional and most immune to praise. Spock is not bothered by this; he rarely had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Piper, and his relationship with Dr. McCoy will likely be similar.

Jim seems strangely amused when they are both together, and seems to enjoy spending time with them both at once.

At one point - while McCoy is loudly advocating the latest Starfleet-sponsored critique on Tholian vaccines and Spock is responding with strained patience because McCoy is wrong, wrong, wrong – Jim starts grinning at them and won't stop. McCoy pauses to eye him suspiciously. “What's got you smiling like a fox?” he accuses. Like this is some sort of problem, Jim being happy.

“You know,” the captain muses, “You two really act a lot like brothers sometimes.”

McCoy immediately begins to sputter denials. Spock tilts his head. He only has one brother, and while McCoy cannot quite be compared to any Vulcan, he is, at least, excessively emotional. So perhaps the comparison is not completely inapt.

Thankfully, McCoy saves Spock the trouble of responding by answering for both of them. “You're insane,” he declares. “And if anyone acts too familiar, it's you both. You're attached at the hip these days. If you start developing pointy ears, Jim, I swear I'll quit.”

“Illogical,” Spock says. “Proximity to a member of another species is not enough to cause physiological changes in humans - “

“And that's why,” McCoy adds. “ - You two are more like brothers than anyone.”

This statement is said offhand, with exasperated lightness – but there is more truth to it than McCoy can know. T'hy'la, bond-brothers. Spock blinks slowly. “Indeed,” he agrees.

Jim looks around at him, pausing. “...It would certainly make for an interesting family gathering,” he says lightly.

Spock raises an eyebrow.

When he turns, McCoy is staring at the captain with an oddly soft look on his face. Spock is not well-equipped to interpret human facial expressions, but if prompted he might describe it as pity.


 

“I never even thought this was a possibility,” Jim says. “Somehow, I always thought I'd be starting and ending this mission with Gary.”

They are alone in the captain's quarters. Jim is nursing a small glass of whiskey, which is unusual. He does not typically indulge in front of subordinates, not even Spock. But these are not typical circumstances.

“Death is rarely expected,” Spock says. “You had no logical reason to anticipate these events.”

“Our job is dangerous,” Jim says. “We could lose – anyone. At any time.” Jim looks at him a long, long moment. “ - Even you.”

“Also statistically unlikely,” Spock says. “But possible.”

His words do not seem to comfort the captain, which is understandable; the truth is rarely comforting.

“I want you to be my first officer,” says the captain abruptly.

The request is surprising, but in retrospect it shouldn't be. With Mitchell's death Lieutenant-Commander Montgomery Scott comes next in the chain of command, but the Chief Engineer is devoted to his work and has made it quite clear in the past that he has no ambition for command. There are other excellent officers on the Enterprise, but those who would be most likely to be selected for such a position – namely, the other department heads – are young and inexperienced. Unless the captain is to look outside the crew for candidates, Spock is the only logical choice.

Spock considers these factors in silence. Jim straightens. “You can refuse, of course,” he begins. “I don't want you to feel obligated - “

“I accept.”

Jim stops. Then the words seem to register. “You do?” he says blankly. Then: “You do! That's – fantastic, Spock.” The relief on Jim's face can't be masked.

And it is, in truth, part of the reason for Spock's immediate agreement. Jim has been struggling to deal with the personal and professional repercussions surrounding Commander Mitchell's death. Spock has no doubt that he will recover in time, but assistance can only be beneficial. Spock cannot allow his t'hy'la to suffer alone.

“And – thank you,” Jim adds, more quietly.

Spock raises an eyebrow. “I have just been promoted, Sir – that hardly warrants gratitude on your end.”

But Jim knows him too well, because the captain only smiles. “I mean it,” he says. “Thank you.”

Spock turns his head.

They discuss the logistics of Spock's new position and the department shift changes for the next half-hour before Spock makes his exit.

Somehow it occurs to Spock only later, after he has returned to his own quarters, that it would be highly irresponsible for a first-officer to resign within only several months of taking his post.

It is possibly time for him to reconsider his options.


 

Spock is sleeping when he senses a light start to dim.

He wakes with a sense of both confusion and sudden, uncomprehending terror that pierces through his Vulcan control and shatters his mental shields. It takes many long, agonizing seconds before he can wade through the onslaught to identify what he is feeling; longer, still, to recognize that these emotions are not his own.

The terror becomes subsumed with rage – and some of this is his – as Spock falls sprawling inelegantly from his twisted sheets to land hard on the floor. He wrestles them away and fights through the darkness to reach the shared bathroom between his quarters and those of the captain.

A light is starting to flicker, and he needs to make it right.

Spock bursts into the captain's quarters in time to hear a violent clatter of metal as a red-shirted assailant shoves the captain over his desk, jamming him against a scattered collection of padds, data discs, a small scanner and a regulation-computer. The man's hands are wrapped around Jim's throat, and the captain is bent backwards, one hand scrabbling behind him as though he is searching for a weapon.

His movements are slow and weak.

Spock moves before the interloper can notice him – before, indeed, he himself even registers his own intent. In one brutal motion Spock grabs the man by the arm and pulls him backward; his Vulcan strength is so disproportional to the human's smaller figure that the intruder is sent flying against the room's far wall.

On the desk Kirk gasps for breath as Spock finally recalls himself. The red-shirted man is fumbling for a phaser – and there is something strange in that, the possession of a phaser, which he will consider later. Spock does not give the man time to regroup. Aiming for the neck is too dangerous when the man wields a weapon; instead Spock unexpectedly dives at the man's feet, and is rewarded with a yelp of alarm as they crash down together

The sound of a discharging phaser fires close by his ears. Burnt ozone fills the air. Spock does not have time to look around.

He reaches over and yanks the assailant onto his stomach, ignoring a disturbing crack which likely signifies a dislocated bone. The man draws in a horrible breath as Spock places his fingers on the junction between his neck and shoulder.

Beneath him, the struggling man suddenly goes boneless. Spock starts to stagger to his feet, wondering where Jim -

“Security to captain's quarters,” Spock hears. It takes a monumental effort to remain upright. “Emergency alert. Repeat, security to captain's quarters - “

“Jim,” Spock says. “Are you well?”

The captain moves away from the comm. unit on the wall to step closer to him. “I'm fine,” he says – and rubs his throat as he speaks. The skin there is a ruddy, angry red. “ - You're bleeding.”

Spock finds that he is; his forearm hit against the corner of a shelving unit on the way down and has torn open. He allows Jim to take his wrist and elbow in a gentle grip even as he says, “An insignificant wound.”

Green blood drips onto the floor.

Jim turns his attention to his attacker. “I know him,” he says slowly. Spock looks and sees that the prone figure is wearing a red ensign's uniform. “ - Charles Tristan. From Security. He transferred in three weeks ago.”

“Fascinating.”

Several security guards arrive minutes later with Dr. McCoy at their back; there is a brief moment of confusion as Dr. McCoy bulldozes his way to Ensign Tristan's side and the security officers take up positions around the CMO, Spock and Jim while looking around warily.

Jim sighs. “Stand down,” he says. “Take Ensign Tristan to Medical and have him restrained. He's to be arrested and questioned when he wakes.”

These orders are met with astonishment and chagrin, but the officers obey. Security Chief Giotto stays behind as his men begin to move Tristan. McCoy steps back and lets them do so without protest.

“At least those Vulcan tricks of yours are good for something,” he tells Spock gruffly. The first officer can only incline his head in acknowledgment.

Then his eyes land on Ensign Tristan's discarded phaser, which still lies on the floor where it fell from his hand. Frowning, the Vulcan turns to face Jim.

“I do not understand why he did not just shoot you,” Spock notes.

“Jesus, Spock,” McCoy says.

“If the ensign wanted Captain Kirk dead, shooting him unexpectedly would have been the most efficient route.”

“He didn't want me dead,” Jim corrects. “He wanted to kill me.”

“I fail to understand the difference.”

“It was personal.”

Irrelevant. Jim would be dead either way – which is unacceptable, and the only thing that is truly important about this scenario.

There is a beep from Chief Giotto's comm. He turns away briefly and mutters into the device, then looks up. “Sir, Dr. M'Benga reports that Ensign Tristan has been secured in a private room. I would like to begin a search of this area to document the scene.”

Jim sighs. “No sleep, in other words.”

“Actually, that's convenient,” McCoy says. “Because you're staying overnight in Sickbay – both of you.”

“I'm fine,” Jim protests. He still has one hand wrapped around his own throat, prodding gingerly at the tender marks there.

“And I'm sure you've just taken to decorating with green paint, too,” McCoy retorts. Jim looks down and grimaces, though Spock thinks this is something of an overreaction. He has lost a relatively small volume of blood.

But McCoy's words seem to sway the captain. “Alright, alright. Chief, this looks pretty open and shut, but I'd like to see your report as soon as you've finished.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The procedures of Sickbay are invasive but familiar. Spock endures his treatment stoically and watches to be sure that the captain does not manage to avoid his own share of time under a dermal regenerator. Dr. McCoy pronounces them “as fine as two fools can be” and leaves them by two beds in Sickbay. The lights are dimmed – though Spock can hear, through the darkness, the distant sounds of staff still moving and working quietly in the adjacent room – and he can still make out the faint outline of Jim's face.

“You do not seem to be resting, Sir,” Spock says at last.

Jim doesn't seem to be startled. “Just thinking.”

This is fair; the captain has much to think about. But Spock considers the answer carefully in the context of everything else that has happened tonight. “You seemed very sure that the Ensign's motives were personal, Sir.”

A small huff of laughter. “Yes. He monologued at me.”

Spock does not know what this means.

“He explained the whole thing,” Jim says, apparently realizing this. “As he was strangling me – it takes a certain kind of mind to do that, do you understand? He wanted me to know his motivations.”

“Before you presumably died?” Spock questions.

“I didn't say he had a good reason for it. He just wanted me to know.”

“And what was this reason?”

“He wasn't very coherent,” says Jim slowly. “ - Not at all. I don't know how he passed his psych testing. But he kept talking about Lisa – how I'd hurt Lisa, how I'd taken Lisa, how nothing could make up for Lisa - “

“Do you know whom he was referring to?”

“...I dated a woman named Lisa once,” Jim says. “It didn't end badly, I don't think. I try to never end things badly. We just weren't right, but she was crushed, and that happens sometimes. But I heard later that she just closed up – stopped dating people altogether. Even though it's been years since we'd seen each other, she wouldn't have anyone else.” Jim pauses. “...I don't understand that.”

“I do.”

The words are unthinking. Jim looks at him with surprise, though, and Spock cannot retract his statement. He continues. “On Vulcan, it would be expected for a pair – once joined – to remain together for life. Separation among mated pairs is rare. And it is considered perfectly understandable to refrain from seeking a new mate, in the rare event that the first is lost.”

“But Vulcans are telepathic. Bonded. Aren't you?”

“ - Typically.”

“So of course you would have that connection,” Jim reasons. “But for humans... we're always searching for the right person. I don't know that we ever can stop searching... Maybe that's why our marriages fail so often, these days. Something in us is always looking for perfection. A fantasy that doesn't exist.”

Spock meets the captain's gaze and finds he can't look away. “There are those among my people who would call themselves more than content. To be bonded is to experience a joining of minds.”

“But once you're bonded – that's it, isn't it?” asks Jim heavily. “No one else will have a chance with you.”

“Once bonded, a Vulcan will desire no one else.”

“It's a romantic theory,” Jim says. “But a lonely reality.”

“Only for those who remain parted,” Spock says. “Or unfulfilled.”

“Those who never bond with the person they want. Do Vulcans fall in love, Spock? If Vulcans look for someone to spend their lives with... you must know what it is to love someone.”

Jim is staring at him with unnerving intensity. Spock doesn't know how to respond; he does not have an answer to this question. Or, at least, no answer that is acceptable. He takes a breath. “That is a personal question, Sir.”

The tension breaks. Jim turns away, sagging. “You're right,” he says. “ - I - “

Spock waits.

“I shouldn't have asked that,” says Jim finally. Lamely.

Spock does not agree or disagree. He does say, “Perhaps it is time to rest, Sir.”

“Yes. Yes.” Spock hears a sigh in the darkness. “Good-night, Spock.”

______________________________

The diplomatic dinner on Karus III is not the most tedious that Spock has ever experienced, though it does present some not atypical challenges that may be involved when dealing with new cultures. Spock finds that the natives, who look at Spock and Jim with wide silvery eyes, are blunt and eager to ask many questions about the Federation as well as both human and Vulcan cultures. Spock absently wishes that more crewmembers had accompanied them to the planet's surface simply so that others could be present to fend off the growing barrage of inquiries.

The natives are short and slender, with light blue-tinted skin and six fingers. They are still firmly humanoid – Spock has seen many more dramatic physiological deviations from the human 'norm' that is so common in the galaxy – but they seem strangely delighted with his and Jim's similarities.

“We really don't look that much alike,” Jim keeps saying. “Just look at Mr. Spock's eyebrows, or - “

“Or the captain's round ears,” Spock interjects dryly. Jim sends him a surprised look, then laughs aloud, nodding his head in sheepish concession.

They want to know all about the differences between Earth and Vulcan. Jim tells them about the fields of Iowa and Spock gives statistics on the geographical landscape of Vulcan. Spock talks about Surak and Jim reminisces about his favorite Earth philosophers and influences.

And at one point, they inevitably ask Jim if he is married – perhaps sensing that the captain is the more gregarious of the two. Looking around, Spock can see many Karusians standing in small pairs or even close groups that he starts to suspect are not platonic.

Everyone seems very eager to hear the captain's answer, and it seems that a collective sigh goes through the natives when Jim answers, “No, I haven't had the pleasure. Could you tell me about the marriage traditions on your planet?”

It's an intelligent question, because some races can become aggressively hostile toward different cultures, and marriage is often a key point of conflict. But the natives seem perfectly relaxed as they explain that they marry young – by Earth standards – to 'their best friends'. They seem to think this is enough of an explanation. One of the diplomats they are speaking with, Jitar, mentions having a wife and husband, so presumably polygamy is accepted and practiced regularly. Spock assumes their traditions are not stringent, as they do not seem upset that the captain is unmarried despite his 'advanced age'.

Jim tries to compare their cultures. Men and women marry, yes; so do women and women, and men and men; polygamy is acceptable on earth but very rare in most places, due to ancient customs and long-standing traditions. Humans typically wait until later in life to marry.

“Although I've heard Vulcans bond young,” says Jim, glancing at Spock. “ - and Vulcans only have male-female pairs, right?”

“On the contrary,” Spock says. “Marriages are arranged at a young age, but the choice to marry or dissolve these half-formed bonds is finalized by a couple later in life. And Vulcans bond primarily on the basis of mental compatibility – therefore physical differences are irrelevant.”

The aliens are nodding. But oddly, Jim is staring at Spock as though he has said something very strange. “Really,” he says. “So – you have homosexual couples on Vulcan.”

The aliens look puzzled; Spock suspects the term does not translate, which is linguistically interesting for what it says about their culture. “I do not believe it is completely precise to use such a term in relation to Vulcans, but it is not, in effect, inaccurate.”

Jim blinks rapidly.

“If Vulcans bond early, are you married, Commander?” asks one of the natives.

“...I once had a betrothal bond,” Spock concedes. “But circumstances arose that necessitated breaking it.”

T'Pring, for all that she wanted his house name, would not stay with a man who already had a t'hy'la.


 

After Karus III Spock determines very quickly that something has deviated in Captain Kirk's behavior.

The captain watches him on the bridge, which is nothing new. Spock has determined that Jim looks at him 5.3 times more than he watches Lieutenant Sulu, who has just been promoted from Astrosciences and whom he observes next most often after Spock. But now that frequency has nearly doubled again, which is... fascinating.

The captain invites Spock to a chess match one evening. The hour is far later than when they usually meet, and the captain is unusually taciturn for the first part of the match. Spock wonders at this behavior.

Still, Spock himself is somewhat distracted and not playing at his best. The captain could potentially turn around the game – which is why he is so surprised when Jim reaches out and tips over his king, standing abruptly.

“I can't do this any more,” he says.

Spock stands as well. “Jim?”

Jim seems to be looking through him. “This. With you. It can't – I can't do it.”

Spock experiences a strange disconnect as he tries to understand what Jim is saying. Do – what, precisely? Play chess? He glances down at the board, uncomprehending.

“I've never been one to avoid the problem,” Jim tells him. Spock was not aware that there was a problem. “But I have – standards, that I follow for myself. And I thought it was useless, anyway. I told myself it was a passing thing. But it's not.”

Jim's eyes burn into his. The artificial lights are shining off the light of the captain's insignia, and Spock looks at that instead. “I do not understand.”

Jim grabs his shoulder.

Even through the thin fabric of his science-blues the touch sears like a brand. Whatever Jim is feeling, it is making the uncompleted bond in Spock's mind call for completion. And for once Jim has no apologies for this invasion of space; whatever message he has is clearly compromising his usual consideration.

“Can't you feel this?” Jim asks. “If you want to turn me away, say it. And nothing has to change. But I can't keep looking at you without taking the chance.”

He seems to be waiting for some sort of answer. As though he has said something which can be answered. Spock tries to think of a response, and says at last, “I once called you a friend.”

Jim goes very still.

Spock weighs these words with careful consideration. “Words sometimes do not translate well between my language and yours, captain. Vulcan language is precise and usually our cultures are compatible. But in this case there is no accurate Standard word for my meaning. The Vulcan word for what I would call you could mean several things – friend, and brother, and also lover.”

Then the captain steps forward and kisses him.

It is a very human gesture. Jim's lips feel very dry against his own at first, shifting gently and with almost reverent care. Arms reach up to wrap around his shoulders, pressing him close. The human-warmth of his t'hy'la, so close at last, causes their bond to sing.

Spock reaches out and presses his fingers into Jim's hip; he feels a smile against his teeth. A trembling sound comes out against their mouths, and it rises into the air like a prayer.

When Spock pulls away – and he has to pull away, or else succumb entirely to the writhing heat twisting through his limbs – Jim pushes his face against his shoulder. His breathing is fast and low – not strained with effort, but exultation.

Spock knows this because he can feel it.

“Spock,” Jim says.

They are enough.


 

It is one, two, three months after, and the room is warm by human standards. Spock can feel heat radiating from Jim's body where their skin touches; but he continues to lean back against the human, and Jim does not complain, tracing absent patterns against the side of his neck with one hand.

Spock is lying supine and cannot see everything, but he knows that in his other hand Jim is holding a padd. Through their nearly-full bond he can sense Jim's frustration. “You need not finish these decisions tonight.”

“It shouldn't be this hard to find a navigator,” Jim complains. He sighs. “ - The Russian, Chekov. There, done.” Jim tosses aside the padd with a tone of finality.

“He is somewhat young.”

Jim wags a hand. “Don't start now. He's a rising star at the Academy. Good at physics, too.”

Spock twitches an eyebrow.

Jim continues, “I'm glad the rest of my senior offices were already assigned when I joined up, you know. Those are the hardest posts to pick.”

“Indeed.”

“Though... I wonder what other positions I might have to replace.”

“To my knowledge, no one is considering transfer.”

“Captain Morson sent me a message – as a courtesy, you understand. He doesn't know about us, I suspect, but he'll be sending you a notice soon enough. He plans to retire and you're going to be tapped for the USS Frontier.

Spock considers this news silently.

“A science vessel on the front,” Jim says. “Not a bad posting.”

“Not at all,” Spock agrees.

Jim taps a quick beat against Spock's arm. The Vulcan is silent.

“Well?” Jim says at last. His voice cuts with impatience.

“Naturally, I shall tell the Captain to select someone else for promotion,” says Spock. “ - My place is here. And our mission is not yet complete.”

“...For the sake of your career - “

“I am quite content, captain. And I assure you I am aware of what I desire.”

Jim brushes a hand against his shoulder and exhales slowly. “I do love you. Have I said that enough?”

“I have noticed an interesting phenomenon – I do not believe I have wearied of hearing it.”

“Well. I think I can stand to say it a few more times.”