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Perched in the Soul

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Enterprise, Bridge

 

Jim finishes the report with a flourish, thinking to himself he’s managed to explain the aborted mission on Karkus very clearly without going into tremendous detail about what occurred between him and Spock. It was an uncomfortable situation to say the least, and not one that either of them really needed Starfleet aware of, lest they be removed from duty until such time as it could be resolved. And just into the fourth year of their 5-year exploratory mission, weeks away from Vulcan at maximum warp, it’s simply more practical to conceal their issue and deal with it until they can get it taken care of.

 He swivels around to face the science station, where Spock is bent over the scanner. It takes him a few seconds to realize he is staring before he turns away abruptly, casting a quick glance around the bridge to ensure no one had seen the expression on his face. Luckily, it’s mid-shift -- past the usual chatter and pleasantries of the first hour -- so his crew is diligently applying themselves to their work.

 Still, he wants Spock’s opinion on the report before it goes out, not just as his First Officer, but as the other affected party. No one else but the medical team know -- Bones and M’Benga and Chapel, at least -- and he thinks Spock also prefers it that way, but they haven’t really discussed it much. He can understand how awkward it must feel for Spock, especially after Jim witnessed what the ritual was supposed to be for Vulcans. He’d even involuntarily participated it in then too; poor Spock can’t seem to keep Jim out of his Vulcan love life.

 “Mr. Spock,” Jim says as he stands from his chair, and Spock thankfully straightens from the scanner immediately. Jim inclines his head on his way to the turbolift. The few bridge crew who’d even bothered to look up when their Captain addressed Spock look away, entirely used to seeing their CO and XO departing for private briefings.

 Spock follows him, and as soon as the turbolift doors close, Jim tells him, “I’d like to go over the report.” He hands Spock the padd containing the report, and by the time they reach deck 9, he has already scrolled down past the synopsis portion. He follows alongside Jim to the briefing room Jim prefers -- the one that synthesizes the best cup of coffee on the whole ship -- still reading as he walks, though with his speed he’s likely almost done with it.

 The first thing Jim does when the doors close behind them is dial up a cup of coffee, deeply inhaling its full-bodied scent with gusto. Before he can take a sip, he remembers what M’Benga had advised him after their return from the disastrous Karkus mission about his caffeine consumption and Spock.

 Regretfully, he replaces the mug in the synthesizer and watches it dissipate. Bones had smugly pointed out it would be good for Jim to cut back on the stuff, the 8-cups-a-day hypocrite, but it was the effect on Spock that had convinced Jim without further question. Spock didn’t realize that Jim was running entirely without coffee, under the impression that Jim was cutting back to prevent the side effects it would cause, but Jim had gone completely stimulant-free for Spock’s sake.

 Instead, he dials up a glass of very cold water, hoping it will shock his body into thinking he isn’t as tired. He sits down across from Spock just as he is setting the padd aside and folding his hands in front of him. Jim takes a long sip of his water, hoping Spock will take the opportunity to speak first.

 He does. “Captain, you were untruthful in your report.”

 Jim smirks as he wipes a droplet of water from his top lip. “It’s hardly the first time, Spock. Does it really concern you?”

 Spock surveys him for a moment. “While it is preferable to be truthful, in this situation it is...logical to omit certain personal details that were not relevant to the outcome of the mission.”

 “I’m glad you see it my way, Spock.” Not that those “personal details” were irrelevant to the outcome, as they had saved Jim’s life, but they both knew what it would cost if they were to disclose the full truth.

 “I will structure my own report accordingly.”

 Jim gives him a look of mock surprise, laying his hands flat on the conference table. “Spock, don’t tell me I finished a report before you. That’s unheard of. Are you well?”

 Spock raises a single eyebrow in response. “I admit that I was waiting for guidance. I found myself unable to articulate the full details of what occurred between us, perhaps even reluctant to do so. You know my people are private in these matters.”

 “Yes, I understand,” Jim says, and he truly does after having seen how Spock was very nearly willing to die rather than reveal the truth of his affliction during his Time. “I know this must be quite trying for you. I’m sure you expected you had several more years before a bond became...necessary, and now you’ve got one with a colleague.”

 Spock purses his lips for a fraction of a second, so briefly that Jim barely catches it before Spock’s expression smooths out once more. “A friend,” he says after a long pause.

 A soft smile comes to Jim’s face, and without thinking he reaches out and sets his hand on top of Spock’s. An instant later, he snatches it back in shock.

 “I’m sorry, I--what was that?” His mind is reeling at the sensation that had just bloomed between them. It had been like a droplet of sunshine had unfurled in his chest. He’s flabbergasted to see Spock’s cheeks flushed green; he’s never seen Spock so discomfited.

 “I believe it was something akin to an ozh’esta, an intimate gesture between Vulcan couples.”

 Jim thinks back to the Vulcan ambassador’s visit with his wife some years ago, and how they had on occasion chastely touched fingers. ‘Maybe not so chastely,’ he privately reassesses, thinking of how that unintentional ozh’esta had felt, and stifling the part of his mind that begins to wonder what a more intentional touch would feel like.

“Does that...always happen?” he asks, completely aghast to think of all the times he’d offered a hand up to Spock or discreetly nudged Spock’s hand to get his attention. “I’m sorry if I’ve ever--”

“There is no need for concern, Captain. Though Vulcans are touch telepaths, the sensation is not so--” he seems to fumble for a word “--pleasurable from simply any casual touch. It is connected to the bond we currently share, which heightens the sensation in this erogenous zone between partners.”

Jim fights down a reaction to Spock saying the words “erogenous zone” aloud, but the question still bubbles up out of him. “Hands are an erogenous zone for Vulcans?” He regrets it instantly as Spock’s hands defensively slide from the tabletop to his lap. “Sorry, that’s not really any of my business. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, it’s just that not much is known about many of the interpersonal habits of Vulcans, so I was surprised.”

Spock nods. “It is no matter. Such interpersonal lapses are inevitable between us until the matter is resolved. While humans are more open to sharing information on their sexuality, I am aware that individual preferences and provocations vary greatly, and I hope you will forgive my unintentional trespasses as well.”

“Of course, Spock,” Jim says gently, sensing his friend’s discomfort with how their personal bubbles have effectively been merged for the duration of this ordeal. He was disappointed in the part of himself that was looking forward to these unintentional trespasses, having already spent years setting his own feelings and desires to the side so as not to disturb or burden Spock with them.

Jim picks up the padd Spock had set aside. “I’ll go ahead and file this with Starfleet, and you can send yours along as well whenever it’s finished. I don’t need to review it.”

Spock assented with a nod. “Thank you, Jim.”

 

* * *

 

Planet Karkus, Unknown Forested Area

 

First Officer’s log, stardate 5975.6. The away mission to Karkus has not gone as smoothly as anticipated. Unbeknownst to Starfleet, in the months that have elapsed since last contact, the Karkusian government has been overthrown by a violent and xenophobic regime calling themselves the Trykusians.

While relations with the Karkusian government were cordial and welcoming of future diplomatic parties to Karkus, the Trykusians have evidently misrepresented their intentions in the communication we received from them upon the Enterprise’s arrival in orbit. Our party was attacked shortly after beam-down, resulting in the immediate casualties of security officers Lieutenant Winn and Ensign Tsp’r. Unfortunately, their bodies could not be recovered, as the remaining party members were forced to flee for our lives.

We were still in contact with the ship at that time, and Commander Scott was able to retrieve Lieutenant Uhura by transporter beam. However, the signal failed, leaving Captain Kirk and myself trapped on the planet. At this current time, I cannot accurately hypothesize whether this failure was due to some natural property of the dense forest into which we fled, or if the signal was intentionally jammed by agents of the Trykus regime to prevent our escape. In either case, this failure has been most advantageous to them, as the Captain and I spent many hours alternating between running and hiding in an attempt to elude the numerous search parties combing the forest area.

Our unfamiliarity with the terrain and lack of supplies or weapons has struck a devastating blow to the potential success of this mission, which I am now considering an escape mission. After many hours of evasion with no rest, the Captain was injured by an energy weapon of an unknown type, causing a severe wound to his left side and a number of other lacerations from the ensuing fall. I was able to carry him away from the site before the Trykusian search party was upon us, but without supplies there is nothing I can do for his wound. While the security officers carried holster phasers per protocol, a medical kit was not included among the supplies for a diplomatic mission.

The Captain’s wound is not deep, but it oozes blood constantly, and is quite hot the touch. By my estimation of the rate of blood loss and the average human male’s complement of blood, it is unlikely he will survive the coming night unless we are rescued and immediately medical care is provided.

From what small amount of light pierces the thick canopy of the forest, I can conclude that the sun seems to be setting. It has been some time since I have heard our pursuers. Perhaps they will resume their search by daylight, or perhaps they assume we were both hit by their energy weapons, as one shot came very near to striking me as well. In such case, they may simply be abandoning us to our fates, considering the efficacy of their weapons.

With my strength flagging, I have little choice but to take what rest I can. I will continue to attend to the Captain’s wound by whatever means I can devise, and attempt to contact the ship. My tricorder contains an amplification beacon that I am considering activating to boost the signal, though this also presents significant risk of detection and our subsequent discovery. The situation is not yet so urgent that I will take that risk, but if the Captain’s health deteriorates, I may have no other choice.

End log.

 

* * *

 

Enterprise, Sickbay

 

The only reason Jim had followed Bones to sickbay without protest was that he’d seen the mad twinkle in Bones’ eyes and knew he was willing to drop the bombshell about Jim and Spock’s bond in front of all the bridge crew if Jim made so much as a peep of protest. Now he’s laying down with his shirt off and electrodes hooked up all over his torso, which doesn’t even make sense considering the bond is in his head.

“And what controls the rest of your body, Jim?” Bones tells him when he points this out. “That damn fool brain of yours, which you let the Vulcan hotwire himself into. So who knows how the hell the damn thing is running the show these days?” Bones taps irritably at the padd, and Jim can’t tell if it’s because he’s displeased with the readings, or if he’s just displeased that the readings are normal and he’s got nothing else to complain about. Either way, he’s been displeased ever since the whole thing began, and there’s no point in reminding him that Jim had been unconscious, on the brink of death, and hadn’t been in a position to allow or refuse Spock. It’s not worth having that conversation again.

“I feel fine,” Jim offers, though it’s more to irritate Bones than to provide useful information. Bones glares at him, and Jim muses on how that glare could melt all the ice on Andoria. “Really, Bones,” he adds genuinely. “No headaches, no memory loss, no telepathic bleedover; I haven’t felt any side effects.” He specifically isn’t mentioning the very interesting side effect he’d felt the other day with Spock in the briefing room. Bones doesn’t need to know Jim had accidentally kissed his First Officer in the Vulcan fashion.

Bones sets the padd down too hard. “And just how would you remember if you had memory loss or not?” He stares hard at Jim, but the effect is ruined when he breaks out in a smirk. “Anyway, these readings seem to agree with what you’ve been feeling. You seem fine. For now.”

Jim sits up and begins peeling the electrodes off of his chest.

“Not so fast,” Bones says, lightly slapping Jim’s hands away. “I meant it when I said I want you back in every week for a check-up, and don’t make me come chase you down for it again. I don’t care if you like it or not, those are my terms,” he adds when Jim groans. “And if you have so much as a twinge of headache in that thick skull of yours, you’ll bring it straight down here to me for a full scan. Vulcan-Human bonds are rare, and not just because they prefer not to associate with us iron-bloods. Most of ‘em don’t even take, and the ones that do can still go very wrong, and almost always for the human.”

Smiling through a sigh, Jim agrees. “If anything changes, I’ll come right down here, and I’ll bring Spock too.”

Bones turns away, grumbling under his breath about the whole source of the problem as he presses the call button. A few seconds later, Nurse Chapel enters. She smiles warmly at Jim, and he’s a little surprised at how her friendly and professional demeanor hasn’t cracked even once during this whole fiasco. Considering her feelings for Spock, Jim would have thought she’d be cool toward him for essentially Vulcan marrying the object of her affection.

But then, perhaps her ardor for Spock had cooled after the awkward situation on the planet of the Platonians, when the two pairs of Jim and Uhura and Spock and Chapel had been forced to kiss for their entertainment. Jim hadn’t been able to help but overhear poor Christine’s horrified words as she and Spock slowly moved toward each other, resisting futilely with all their might.

Jim also remembers something Spock had told him after the other awkward situation, on Vulcan. “You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting,” he had told Jim of his parting words to Stonn, T’Pring’s chosen. Perhaps it had proven true for Nurse Chapel as well in that moment of terror and mortification.

In any case, Chapel makes pleasant conversation with him as she applies the gentle solvent which allows the electrodes to slide off the skin easily and without residue. She hands him his uniform shirt and boots, and turns away to dispose of the used medical supplies while he dresses.

“I’ll reach out to your yeoman to schedule recurring weekly appointments with Dr. McCoy for the next few months. Hopefully we can find something around eleven-hundred hours; the doctor is usually at his least horrid after his third cup of coffee, so it’ll be easier to suffer through.” She winks at him conspiratorially, and he makes a mental note to ensure she has a full day off next time they take shore leave somewhere nice.

 

* * *

 

Planet Karkus, Unknown Forested Area

 

Jim is dying. It would be illogical to deny this fact any longer. As he approaches the critical zone of two liters of blood loss, his window of survival shrinks rapidly.

One choice remains to Spock. He forces himself to acknowledge that two choices actually remain, and that he is disregarding the unactionable one. He will not abandon Jim. This leaves him with the only viable option of activating the amplification beacon, and hoping that the Enterprise will pick up the signal and be able to find them before the Trykusians do.

Spock does not know what the Trykusians will do if they capture him, a “filthy foreigner” as they had termed the landing party before opening fire on them, but he does know that Jim will die. And if he does not activate the beacon so that the Enterprise will have a change of locating them, Jim will die.

And if Jim dies--

Spock is already prying the small device out of its slot on the side of his transporter. He has never used this one before, and it will need to be replaced if-- when they return to the ship, as they are single-use beacons. It is a relatively new device, one that would have changed the outcome of many a past mission, and may yet save his Captain’s life.

He unfolds the tiny tripod that the beacon rests upon, which automatically brings it to life. Using the tripod as an interface, he modulates the beacon’s settings. When he is satisfied with the changes, Spock flips open his communicator.

“Spock to Enterprise, do you read me?”

There is a long moment of interference static before the signal evens out and a familiar voice comes through the speaker. “--ander Scott. We read you, Mr. Spock. What is your status? Lieutenant Uhura said you were attacked and that Tsp’r and Winn are dead. Is the Captain with you?”

“Commander, we are in need of immediate beam-up and emergency medical attention for the Captain. He has been hit with one of the energy weapons that killed the security detail, and I estimate he will survive no more than another hour without medical intervention. Can you get a lock on this signal?”

“Negative, Commander. Chekov’s got your location pinpointed, but the transporters can’t get a lock. I’ll head down to the transporter room myself to see what I can do to boost the signal. Is there anywhere out in the open you can get to in the meantime?” Spock can hear the distinct sound of boots on the metal floor of the bridge and the turbolift doors opening, and is grateful Commander Scott wastes no time.

“Negatory,” Spock says, coming up with a rough calculation of how many kilometers deep into the forest they have traveled. “It would take many hours to reach the edge of the forest where we entered, and if Chekov was able to easily find our signal with the emergency beacon, I believe we will soon have unfriendly company.”

Scott swears quietly, and Spock pretends not to have noticed it. “I’ll see what I can do. Maven, get Doctor McCoy down here, the Captain will need him once we get them beamed up.” He is speaking to the transporter room technician, and Spock is satisfied with his determination, already preparing for their arrival rather than doubting if it can be achieved.

Beside him, Spock hears a wheeze, and he sees that Jim’s lips have turned blue. “Mr. Scott, I must terminate communication at this time. The Captain is in extreme medical distress. Please hurry. ” Before he can receive a response, he snaps the communicator shut and practically tosses it aside, bending over Jim.

Jim’s breathing is labored, and Spock feels for his radial pulse. Beneath Spock’s fingers, the pulse of the vein goes from rapid to thready over the course of two minutes, signalling a significant deterioration in the Captain’s condition. Spock does not know what else he can do. Despite the strip of fabric bound tightly around his ribs, Jim’s wound has continued to seep blood unceasingly, and the energy weapon may have had other damaging or lethal properties that have prevented it from clotting despite its shallow nature.

If only he had the ability to place Jim into a medical coma, to slow down his bodily functions and buy him only a little more time for Commander Scott and the Enterprise to come through. And then it occurs to him that such a thing might be possible for a Vulcan.

The trance he has utilized in times of extreme illness or injury in order to expedite his own healing could potentially be used to slow Jim’s inevitable decline. However, even if Jim was fully conscious and not laboring with the immense effort to stay alive, he would not be able to achieve such a state with his human mind and utter lack of mental training.

But Spock can achieve a trance, and Spock can connect their minds. It would not be the first time they have touched minds, but it would be much more invasive and without Jim’s express permission as well. The true son of Vulcan within him rebels at the idea of such a violation, but his mother’s son overrides the restricting ideal in favor of saving Jim’s life. He is certain Jim would consent, particularly if it means he will live.

There is always the concern that a meld so deep could have other side effects. He has found Jim’s mind to be quite compatible in the past, nearly irresistibly so, and there is a significant risk of a permanent connection if he diverts his attention away from preventing it from forming, in order to help induce the trance state.

Another gasp for air from Jim decides the matter for Spock. He sits back against a tree to keep him upright while he is concentrating within their mindscape, and pulls Jim to him, securing Jim to his chest with an arm across him. The fingers of Spock’s free hand splay over the meld points, and he intones the familiar words. “My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.”

 

"My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts."

 

* * *

 

Enterprise, Captain’s Quarters

 

After Jim’s third yawn in the past ten minutes, Spock raises an eyebrow at him and asks if he should leave Jim to his rest for the evening. “The chess game will keep until tomorrow, and perhaps your performance will improve after an adequate rest cycle.”

Jim chuckles and places a hand over his heart as if wounded. “Spock, you’ve been spending too much time with Uhura.” Spock tilts his head inquisitively at this. “She’s taught you all her best techniques for cutting a man to the quick.”

Spock’s reaction is not precisely a smile, but what passes for one by those who know him well. “It was merely an observation, Captain.”

“Well, you observed right.” Jim presses a hand to his forehead. “I haven’t felt fully human since I stopped drinking coffee. Between losing the caffeine boost and detoxing from it at the same time, it’s a miracle I even remember the rules of chess, let alone that I’m able to put up a respectable defense.”

“I was not aware of this change,” Spock says, and Jim realizes he’s said too much. “I was under the impression that you were cutting your consumption for my sake, not that you were to forgo caffeine entirely.” He stares at Jim through the levels of the chess board, the well-worn pieces standing stoically between them.

Jim sighs heavily, cat out of the bag. “Well, when M’Benga told me the caffeine could cause complications for you, I decided it would be safer to just eliminate it. Besides, Bones is thrilled. Says my blood pressure’s better than it’s been in years.”

Spock’s brow furrows in thought. “While it is pleasing to hear of the benefits, I regret that you were forced to undertake this change due to my actions.”

Jim wants to shake jim for that, so instead he gets up and walks to the synthesizer. He needs some kind of hot drink to fool his brain into thinking it’s getting its fix. He dials in a hot chocolate and calls over his shoulder, “Anything for you, Spock?”

“Negative, Captain, though the offer is appreciated.”

As the synthesizer spins up his mug of hot chocolate, Jim smiles. The damned thing has got whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top, like a kid’s dessert. Still, it’s hot and fragrant, and it’s not one of those awful, bitter cups of tea he keeps thinking he’s craving only to remember how much he dislikes tea on the first sip. If only he’d thought of cocoa sooner. It reminds him of cold winters in Iowa, coming back inside from playing outside in the snow with Sam and peeling off their wet layers before enjoying a cup of steaming hot chocolate in nothing but their thermals.

He carries the mug back to the table, where Spock looks up from his contemplation of the board to observe Jim’s drink choice.

“Don’t even give me the eyebrow, Mister,” Jim says sternly, retaking his seat. “I gave up caffeine, I might as well enjoy a bit of whipped cream.”

Spock’s eyes crinkle in amusement as they often do, though he’d undoubtedly deny to his grave that it could be construed in such a manner. “I do not presume to criticize your choice. Of late, I have observed that your nutrition choices have been quite appropriate. When your yeoman brought you a salad during the senior staff meeting yesterday, you did not even remark upon it.”

Jim furrows his brow over a sip of the steaming cocoa, like dark velvet on his tastebuds. “I suppose I was too engrossed in Scotty’s proposal on improving our warp efficiency to dispute it. Still, anything’s better than that kot’un’lik tea I keep thinking I want.”

In the middle of reaching for a piece on the second level, Spock pauses abruptly. “Elaborate.”

“Oh, you know. I think, I’d love a cup of kot’un’lik tea, so I dial one up from the synthesizer. But when I take the first sip, I realize I hate kot’un’lik tea. I’ve never liked it, don’t even know when I had it for the first time.” Jim shrugs and waves a hand in the air before him aimlessly.

Instead of pointing out the illogical waste of ordering a beverage one does not enjoy, Spock seems concerned. “Jim, how long have you had this craving for kot’un’lik tea?”

Jim thinks about it for a moment, and the penny drops. “Ever since Karkus. Maybe not until a few days later, or a week. It’s happened every few days since then. Do you think--”

“Kot’un’lik is my preferred blend of Vulcan tea,” Spock says, cutting off Jim’s question and yet answering it at the same time. “I programmed the recipe into the synthesizer myself in our first year of the mission.”

“And...how often would you say you drink it?”

There is a long pause, but finally Spock says, “Every few days.”

Jim leans back in his chair, letting out a heavy gust of breath. Here it is. The first sign that the bond isn’t just some insignificant thing they can hide from everyone and from themselves. Or...perhaps not the first, after the accidental kissing incident.

“Well, I can’t really say I’m surprised something like this has happened. I don’t doubt your telepathic abilities, Spock, but with only one person shielding…Has there been any bleedover from my side? I’d hate to compromise your dietary preferences.”

“I have not noticed any thoughts or compulsions that are not my own, though you will need to report this to Doctor McCoy.” The look in his eyes says that if Jim doesn’t, Spock will.

But Jim’s no fool, he would have told Bones about it even without the implicit threat. “I’m seeing him for my weekly check-up tomorrow. Unfortunately, it’s right at oh-eight-hundred hours, so he’ll be cranky as the day is new.”

“I assume you will handle it as adeptly as you always handle Doctor McCoy’s moods,” Spock says, finally resuming their game as he moves his knight to the first level to capture one of Jim’s pawns.

“You mean we will,” Jim says, pleased at the taken-aback look Spock sported momentarily. “I told him if there was any funny business in my head, I’d bring you along with me so we can work it out. I’m sure he’ll want to consult with M’Benga as well, but nobody on this ship knows more about the Vulcan mind than you.”

“Very well,” Spock concedes. He then gestures to the board for Jim to make his move.

Jim pretends to look over the board, considering his options. In reality, he already knows what move he’s going to make. When he moves his bishop, his queen will be in danger from Spock’s castled rook, and perhaps a tempting enough target for Spock to think he can leave his king unprotected on one side for a turn. He just needs to make it seem as though he’s sure his queen will be safe, to make Spock believe that Jim believes Spock will never leave his king unprotected even for such a great prize as capturing the enemy queen.

He leans forward to make his move, nudging the white bishop aside to make room for his queen while scooping up the fallen piece in a single move. Settling back into his seat, he tries to look smug as he takes another draw of his hot chocolate. I took your bishop and we both know you’re not going to do anything about it , he teases with his eyes.

Spock studies the board before looking up at Jim. Unexpectedly, he cocks his head slightly, before turning his gaze back to the board. Jim follows the line of his eyes to the black queen and the castled rook and the still-protected king and the knight two levels below (which would land a space to the side of the queen and not topple her) and then back to Jim again for a brief flicker and then to the queen again. And that single look was strange because nothing short of danger or duty can usually distract Spock from a chess game. But as Spock contemplates his next move, Jim sees Spock glancing at him several times for only a fraction of a second.

Finally, he is compelled to ask. “Spock, is something wrong?” He’s been referred to as suggestive before, and now he’s wondering if Spock is reading something into things, especially after what had happened in the briefing room two weeks ago. And also wondering if he really is projecting something best kept locked up tightly, pressed so deep down into the recesses of his mind until the bridge between their minds has been dismantled.

Opening his mouth for a moment, Spock pauses. It’s uncharacteristic of him to be at a loss for words, but luckily for Jim, he finds them before Jim’s mind can create more and more elaborate scenarios of Spock expressing his horror at the situation between them and Jim’s behavior.

“Jim, you have whipped cream on your lip.” Jim blinks at him. Is...that all? “I am never certain of the human etiquette for such things. It seems some prefer to be informed, while others become defensive--”

“Thank you, Spock,” Jim interrupts, before Spock can explain why this is illogical. “I am one of those who prefer to be told.” He licks his top lip, and tastes sweetness. “Did I get it?”

Spock is watching him intently now, and he shakes his head. Jim realizes how uncomfortable it is to sit there licking his lips and asking Spock to inspect them, so he swipes at the spot with one finger. It comes away with a smudge of whipped cream, and he instinctively pops the finger into his mouth to suck it clean.

The sound he hears can only be described as a growl, and he barely has time to register the chess board crashing to the ground before his arms are seized in a strong grip. Spock pulls Jim’s face close to his.

“You would provoke me?” he asks in a deep rumble, and Jim can’t look away from the dark, dark depths of his eyes, the earthy brown of his eyes nearly swallowed up by his dilated pupils. “You would put on such a shameless display when our bond remains unconsummated?”

Jim opens his mouth to reply, but instead of producing words he finds it is suddenly merged with Spock’s. It takes him a split second to register that Spock is actually kissing him, hungrily and wonderfully , and Jim engages with equal enthusiasm. One of Spock’s hands releases his arm to snake down around his waist, pressing Jim closer to his body. When their groins meet, firmness to firmness and heat to heat, Jim lets out a deep moan into Spock’s mouth.

Unfortunately, it serves as a reminder for Spock as to whom exactly he is sharing this intimate moment with, and he releases Jim and is halfway across the room before Jim’s whine of protest dies in his throat. Spock is facing away from him, arms now wrapped around himself, and Jim’s unconsciously do the same, as if holding in the warmth of Spock’s body that had been so suddenly ripped away.

“Captain, I must offer my most sincere apologies. The personal liberties I have taken are inexcusable, even under our current circumstances. I had thought myself in control of this aspect of the bond, the drive to be fully mated--”

“Spock, it’s alright,” Jim says placatingly, reaching a hand out before realizing how unwelcome it would be. “Listen, you’ve been carrying the strain of this whole thing for a few weeks now, it’s understandable that there would be a lapse.”

“With all due respect, Captain, it is not.” There is an unexpected bite to Spock’s tone, and Jim understands he has taken the wrong tack. “A Vulcan is nothing without his control. And yet I have forced myself upon you twice now -- on Karkus when you were not able to consent to the meld, and again when I pressed my physical advances on you without welcome or permission.”

“You can stop that right there, Spock,” Jim says sternly, and Spock noticeably calms at the authority in his voice. He actually turns around to face Jim, arms falling into his usual position with hands clasped behind his back. Seeing this, Jim knows what he can do to help Spock, by being his Captain and directing the course of events to the most diplomatic conclusion.

“Now first of all, you saved my life on Karkus, so I don’t want to hear another word about that. If you hadn’t melded with me, everyone on this ship would be calling you Captain and I’d be in a pine box in the Kirk family plot back on Earth. And secondly,” he pauses here, and takes in a deep breath to steel his nerves for what he is about to say. “You didn’t just kiss me without my consent. You might have your Vulcan strength, but I’ve got a mean right knee that has taken care of more than one persistent suitor.”

Jim waits for Spock to understand, and for a long moment of silence he thinks Spock might not be able to come up with the words to ask. He’d almost enjoy rendering Spock speechless twice in one evening if not for the uncomfortable circumstances.

“Captain, do you mean to tell me you were indeed intentionally enticing me into a sexual response to you?” Jim’s heart skips a fucking beat when Spock says “sexual response.”

He laughs though, hoping Spock doesn’t hear the slightly manic edge to it. ““No, not at all.” He wouldn’t have even imagined it possible for him to coax a response out of Spock, let alone have had the guts to try it. “That was...an interesting and unexpected case of cause and effect. No, what I’m saying is, we’re both being affected by this bond.” He gestures between the two of them. “It’s making us want things we wouldn’t normally want from one another. You’ll forgive me, Mr. Spock, but I’ve never imagined our relationship to include this degree of physical intimacy.”

And Spock’s nod of assent to Jim’s massive lie is like a knife in the gut, but he presses onward to preserve what closeness Spock permits him. “There’s nothing wrong with our impulses right now, even if they are a bit inconvenient. We’ll both just take a little more care with our actions and personal space until this thing is resolved.”

He turns around to survey the damage to the chessboard. It seems intact, though the pieces have gone everywhere. Spock approaches his side and bends to pick one up, but Jim stops him with a command. “Leave it,” he says wearily, haunted enough by tempting images of Spock bent over his scanner on the bridge. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Very well, Captain.” They’ve slid into their respective roles as Captain and First Officer in the wake of this interpersonal debacle, and Jim only hopes they can manage to find a way to return to their previous easy intimacy without further lapses. Spock seems disgusted enough with himself from this one, and Jim has to admit it hurts a bit. “I shall return to my quarters and meditate. Perhaps extended meditation will prove beneficial to suppressing the baser instincts that accompany this bond.”

Jim bids him goodnight before getting down on his hands and knees to pick of the pieces of the chess set and his fool heart.

 

* * *

 

Enterprise, Transporter Room

Day of the mission

 

Doctor McCoy is standing by when the transporter room materializes around them, but Spock registers his growling voice only distantly, still absorbed in the meld with Jim. Their heart rates are synced, respiration even and in time with one another, and it requires all of Spock’s concentration to regulate these and several other of Jim’s autonomic functions. He cannot simply let go, though they are now in a place where Jim can be treated. He must retreat slowly, or Jim will slip back into shock, and there might be no retrieving him from its depths at that point.

He pulls back as quickly as he dares, which is still a gradual process that takes several minutes. It is not until he is holding onto only the last few critical functions that Spock realizes what has happened. ‘Kaiidth,’ he thinks, putting it aside for later contemplation. At some point in the near future, he will need to explain what has happened to Jim, but for now he is still focused on ensuring Jim will survive to have that conversation.

His current hold does not require all of his concentration, so he allows a part of his consciousness to retreat from the mindscape, though he keeps his eyes shut and fingers connected to Jim’s meld points.

“Doctor, I believe Jim is stable enough to transfer to the medical bay, though it would be advisable for me to remain in contact with him until you begin treatment.” He can hear the unmistakable whirr of the gurney being brought closer and lowered. At last he opens his eyes, in time to see two nurses reaching for the Captain. “Do not,” he tells them, and they both freeze in place and look to the doctor.

“Spock’s strong enough to handle it,” McCoy tells them roughly, and both men retreat to the other side of the gurney, holding it steady as Spock rises to his feet, with Jim still held closely to his chest. He carefully lowers them back down onto the gurney, positioning them so that Jim is laying down on his back with his head resting on Spock’s thighs where he kneels.

“Ridiculous,” McCoy mutters, gesturing for the nurses to follow him with the gurney. Spock stares down intently at Jim’s face as the gurney rises and rapidly proceeds down the corridor. At the turbolift, he hears McCoy shouting “Emergency medical override, McCoy seven-lambda-four,” and within seconds a lift arrives, the override superseding all other requests.

In the medical bay, McCoy shouts for the surgical team to “get their asses scrubbed and in the OR” before turning to Spock. “I don’t know what the hell you’re doing to him there, but in two minutes I’ll be prepped for surgery and I want you completely unhooked from his brain by then.” Flinty blue eyes meet stone brown ones for a few seconds before McCoy turns away to his preparations.

Nurse Chapel, already clad in her surgical garments, approaches the gurney and offers to assist Spock down. However, he can sense that this is a polite directive rather than a belief that he requires assistance, so he carefully extricates himself from under Jim’s head and climbs off without yet breaking the link. “I have to get him prepped,” she says regretfully. “He’s got to be disrobed and sent through the sterilizer field prior to surgery.”

“I will accompany him.” Before she can protest, he adds, “I will depart before Doctor McCoy arrives. I merely wish to prevent the Captain’s vitals from slipping further as long as possible.” She sighs and shakes her head, but gestures for him to follow. He walks alongside the gurney as she guides it into the pre-surgery bay. The door slides shut behind them.

He watches as she begins to efficiently disrobe the Captain, neatly slicing apart and slipping his already-torn and bloodied clothing from him. He looks away for dignity’s sake when she gets to the trousers, until she has placed a blanket over Jim’s lower half for discretion. Spock sees that the makeshift bandage wrapped around Jim’s abdomen still remains, and he assumes it has been left for the doctor to remove at the start of the procedure.

At this point, he begins the final process of disengaging from Jim’s mind. He can feel a protest coming from both of them, a deep-seated desire to remain intimately connected. It is with great reluctance that he at last severs the link, and it is marked by a distinct gasp from Jim.

Nurse Chapel frowns at the drop in Jim’s vitals, which Spock had predicted. From the alerts her medical tricorder is blaring, it appears to be worse than Spock had feared. It is possible that due to what happened between them in the meld, Jim is panicking at the loss of the connection. His respiration is clearly distressed. In a flurry, Nurse Chapel sets the tricorder aside and activates the sterilization field. She spares Spock only a brief glance. “It’s time.”

He nods, though she has already turned away, and quickly presses two fingers to Jim’s jaw. ‘Parted and never parted,’ he conveys through the touch, and Jim’s breathing begins to slow once more. As he hears the doctor’s approach, he slips out of the bay before he can be removed.

He needs to speak with Doctor M’Benga.

 

* * *

 

Enterprise, Turbolift

 

Jim can’t tell if the extra meditation helped or not, as Spock’s demeanor throughout the next alpha shift had been on par with usual. The alpha bridge crew usually take the turbolift down together once their replacements have all arrived, and Spock is speaking calmly with Uhura and  one of the Operations officers until the lift stops at deck 6 and Uhura departs, along with Torrance and M’Ress. The next deck down, Jim ends his conversation with Chekov and Sulu as their exit to their deck, leaving only Jim, Spock, and Lieutenant Carray on board.

Beside him, Spock and the Lieutenant are discussing some sort of algorithms, but Jim isn’t so much paying attention to the content of the discussion as he is the body language of the participants. Or at least, one of the participants. Carray is a lovely woman, golden-skinned and dark-haired, and she’s exhibiting many of the subtle signs of non-platonic interest in her attention toward Spock. Jim could almost laugh at how closed-off Spock is by comparison, so practiced at showing nothing.

When the lift stops at the Lieutenant’s deck, she bids them goodbye with a last look back at Spock. The turbolift begins its descent once more before heading aft toward their section, and Jim can’t resist needling Spock, who is either oblivious to these things or pretends to be.

“Lieutenant Carray seemed very reluctant to end the conversation, Spock,” he observes none-too-casually. Spock graces him with the look that clearly says I am aware that you are being illogical at my expense . Jim nudges him with an elbow. “Come on, you can’t tell me you didn’t notice.”

Spock resumes staring at the front of the turbolift. “It had the potential to be a stimulating discussion. Perhaps the Lieutenant regretted that there was not opportunity to speak more in-depth on the subject.”

Suppressing a chortle at the unintentional suggestiveness of “stimulating discussion,” Jim points out that Spock could have invited her to continue the discussion at this or some later point. “She would have jumped at the opportunity, I should say.”

“Perhaps,” is all Spock says, though.

Jim decides, after last night’s awkwardness, that he’d like to make something abundantly clear. He grips the turbolift handle. “Halt turbolift.” Spock turns to him with one eyebrow raised inquisitively. “I want to make sure you understand, just because we’ve got this...thing going on right now doesn’t mean you’re not perfectly at liberty to pursue...other interests.”

Spock turns to him, releasing the handle he’d been holding onto (per turbolift safety protocol). He stares at Jim for an uncomfortably long time. “I am not,” he says slowly, “‘perfectly at liberty,’ as you say.”

It’s absurd how pleased Jim is to hear that, at least until he remembers how horrified Spock was to kiss him.

“What do you mean? This isn’t a real bond, Spock.”

There is a flash of something in Spock’s eyes -- anger? “It is very real to me, Jim. Even if we do not intend to consummate the bond and live as telsu, it is a true bond between us until it is dissolved. I can have none other than my bondmate.”

Jim wants to ask what that means, what Spock means when he says “I can have no other.” But he’s already trampled over so much of his friend’s Vulcan privacy, he can’t bring himself to ask why .

He’s spared further agonizing when Spock asks, “Are you interested in Lieutenant Carray?”

“What?” Jim asks stupidly, thrown off by the question. “No! And even if I was, anyone can see she’s clearly--”

“I see. Perhaps there is some other ingenue on board who has caught your eye. You are certainly under no obligation to be loyal to our bond, made as it was without your consent. If you wish to ‘pursue other interests’...”

Ingen --now, hold on a minute there, Mister,” Jim says indignantly. “Just because I pointed out the Carray is interested in you, you don’t have to go implying that I’m skirt chasing among my own crew.” He wants to fold his arms over his chest, but he’s still holding the handle that’s keeping the turbolift halted while they apparently argue.

Spock folds his arms behind his back, suddenly looking as cold as ever. “Given our current situation, your human proclivities, and a lack of off-ship interaction over the past few weeks, I can only assume you would be seeking companionship to alleviate your current condition.”

“Current...condition?” Jim asks, and then it dawns on him. “Is that why I’ve been--nevermind.” He cuts off the sentence before he can say too much, but Spock evidently hears it anyway and nods. Jim sighs heavily. “That explains that, then. But I’ll tell you this, and I thought you knew it about me already, but I don’t compromise my crewmembers like that. The trust between a Captain and his crew is far more important than baser instincts.”

Spock looks away for a moment. “I apologize,” he says. “I have noted your integrity, particularly in this area, and to imply otherwise was unworthy.”

“It’s alright,” Jim says gruffly, still a little stung. “Besides, I’m more than capable of settling my own urges.”

Why on Earth did he say that? He steals a glance at Spock, who is flushing a pale shade of green high on his cheekbones. And that’s strange because Spock has always maintained a very matter-of-fact viewpoint on sexuality, never fazed by such discussions in his presence before.

“Yes, perhaps that is best,” Spock says quietly. “Though I have never been one to partake often in ka-tem-farr.”

“Ka-tem-farr,” Jim repeats, the words alien and yet slightly familiar. The tips of Spock’s ears are green now, and he’s staring at Jim. Jim leans toward him. “It can’t be healthy, keeping your desires pent up like that.” His voice comes out low and husky, and Spock’s body gravitates toward his.

As if driven, Jim slides a hand down Spock’s chest. He feels those powerful Vulcan lungs working harder, feels the veritable drumroll of a heartbeat beneath the ribs, seeks lower, lower…

Brushes against the hardness he already knew he would find, desire calling out to desire between the linked pair. Spock groans and his eyes flutter shut. As Jim’s fingers splay over Spock’s cloth-covered erection, Spock’s hips judder into his hand. Jim chuckles. “You like that, baby?” His only answer is the feel of shuddering breath against his neck as Spock drops his head to Jim’s shoulder. “It’s ok, I’m hard too.” One of Spock’s hands curls around the hem of his shirt while the other trembles. “You can feel it if you want to.”

And as if those were magic words, Spock’s free hand is on his groin, exploring the shape of him. Jim presses lightly against him, craving a firmer touch or friction or anything , and is rewarded with a moan right below his ear. “Oh, baby, those hands ,” he says in delight, remembering what a touch between bondmates feels like. “Does it feel better skin-to-skin?”

Spock squirms against him and whimpers, and it’s an affirmative if Jim’s ever heard one. He doesn’t want to stop rubbing Spock’s cock, so he lets the turbolift handle go, quickly undoes the fly of his trousers, and frees his own cock. He barely has time to register the cool air on his heated flesh before Spock encircles him with a hand and gently pulls. Jim’s head thunks back against the wall of the turbolift, and Spock moans and mouths at his neck.

It’s different , Jim thinks, in the best possible way. It’s like every nerve in his body is alight with the pleasure of having Spock stroke his cock. He wants to know how it feels the other way around, so he’s got both hands working at Spock’s zipper when the turbolift lurches to a start once more.

Both of their heads snap up, noses barely missing each other, and they lock eyes for a split second before Jim’s hand grabs onto the handle and he barks out, “Halt turbolift.” His already-racing heart has spiked with adrenaline, and his blood is like fire, raring to pour all that energy into wringing more of those whimpers and moans of out Spock.

But Spock’s eyes are shuttered now, his fists balled into hands at his sides, and Jim knows the moment is gone, evaporated like mist at high noon on Vulcan. Suddenly ashamed of his words and his actions, Jim hastily tucks himself back into his trousers and tries to compose himself as best he can after nearly getting his hands on Spock’s…

“Deck 12,” he says, and the lift begins to move once more. It stops after only a few seconds for the passengers it had been attempting to pick up when Jim had let go of the handle. Without a word, Spock disembarks at this wrong stop, leaving a handful of crewmembers to board the lift with an unusually stoic Captain.

 

* * *

 

Enterprise, Chief Medical Officer’s Quarters

 

“You gonna quit soakin’ up all my good bourbon and tell me what’s eating you, or am I going to have to sit here and watch Kentucky’s finest go to waste on a morose fool?”

Jim looks up from his deep contemplation of the rocks glass containing the amber liquid he had been hypnotically swirling around for the past several minutes. Bones has a fair point. He’d shown up an hour ago asking if they could talk about something, only for Jim to stall and change the subject a dozen different times to trivial inanities when Bones tried to steer around to the point again. He regretfully sets the glass down on the side table and sighs.

“You’ve been doin’ a whole lot of that lately, too,” Bones observes over the rim of his own glass, still only on his second to Jim’s fourth. “When a man sighs like that, there’s only one likely source of the problem.” He raises his eyebrows at Jim to suggest what they both already know.

“Do I need to say it, then?” Jim asks, far too petulantly for a starship captain, he knows.

Bones rolls his eyes. “I imagine it’d help to admit it. Lord knows I’ve never actually been able to tell you what to do.”

Jim shakes his head with a smile, knowing Bones isn’t wrong. “Tell me what happened when Spock told you about the bond that had formed.

Those deep-set eyes give him a wry look for dancing around the point again, but Bones sets his glass down and leans back into his armchair. “Don’t know why you’re so curious about how I found out when you’re the one who had to learn about it by hearing him in your head, but alright.

“After your surgery -- which was frustrating as the day is long, by the way; you kept pouring out all that perfectly good B positive we were pouring into you -- I found the hobgoblin hovering outside like a hungry alleycat. M’Benga was with him, so at first I thought he’d been injured too, but it was much worse than that.” Jim snorted, shaking his head ruefully.

“What? I’ve patched Spock up hundreds of times, that’s something I can do. But this mind thing? That’s outside of my wheelhouse, nothing I could do for it. Of course it’s bad news to hear of a problem you can’t fix.”

“I’ll grant you that,” Jim agrees, having far too many of those problems of his own.

“So M’Benga sits me down and starts explaining all this nonsense about Vulcan telso bonds--”

“Telsu,” Jim corrects automatically, and Bones glares at him.

“Hobgoblin mind voodoo,” Bones clarifies, “and I’m sitting there, still in my bloody scrubs and not giving the slightest care as to what he’s talking about. And then when he’s done, he tells me he’ll head up Spock’s care for this matter and that he knows I’ll want to monitor you closely, but that we ought to compare notes regularly to ensure the bond isn’t having any detrimental side effects on either of you.”

“I’ll bet you loved that,” Jim murmurs.

“You can bet I flipped my lip at that. Of all the horseshit you’ve gotten yourself into over the years, Jim, this has got to take the cake. I always wondered if you’d end up shotgun married during this mission, but I never thought you’d carry it out so literally.”

Jim snorts into his bourbon, coughing a little. “You’ll forgive me if I didn’t really have any choice in either part of the ceremony, the shooting or the wedding.”

Bones scrutinizes him for a moment, and Jim pretends to be unbothered for a moment. “The honeymoon phase doesn’t look like it’s going too well for you either.”

“That obvious?” Jim asks.

“I’ve known you were all muddled over that walking computer for years, and I always thought the feeling was mutual, as much as a Vulcan can feel, anyway. And not that he’d ever admit to it.

Jim hums noncommittally at that. Spock has made it very clear that he doesn’t feel that way about Jim, but the rejection is still too fresh to point that out.

“So,” Bones says, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. “I don’t understand the problem. You’ve both got what you want, don’t you? Even if you never meant for it to happen that way.”

“Neither of us has what we want, that’s the problem.” Bones stares at him for a moment, uncomprehending. “There’ve been a few...lapses, but Spock made it pretty clear that the only reason it happened was because the bond isn’t, you know, consummated.”

Bones wrinkles his nose theatrically. “Do me a favor and never use the words ‘Spock’ and ‘consummated’ in the same sentence ever again.” He grunts and contemplates his glass for a moment. “Now I can’t say I know what his major malfunction is, but if that man doesn’t love you, I’ll eat my hat. Do you know how many projectile weapons he’s caught with his body to protect you?”

Jim does know, and he remembers the pain of watching each one hit Spock as if it were him. “Friendship and loyalty are very different from romantic love,” he points out. “It’s complicated by the fact that the bond is causing us to be physically drawn together. But he’s repulsed by it, and that makes me feel…”

“Like shit?” Bones supplies helpfully

Jim runs his hands through his hair in exasperation. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Hm. Well, it seems like you do, you just don’t want to do it.”

With another long sigh, Jim nods. “I keep going over it in my head. If we were to avoid each other at all costs, move to separate shifts and stop associating off-duty, will the bond force us to seek each other out?” Bones shrugs at him, having no more clue how it work than Jim does. “And anyway, I can’t imagine spending the next two years of this mission without his company.”

“You know what you’ve got yourself here, Jim? Two choices with the same worst-case scenario.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” Jim says sardonically.

Bones waves off his negatively. “Listen, you glum idiot. One of those choices has nothing but the worst-case scenario as a result. You spend the rest of the mission miserable because you miss Spock. But if you actually talk to him about this like a damned adult, it’s entirely possible you can come up with a better solution for this problem between the two of you eggheads.

Jim smiles weakly at him. “This isn’t your usual folksy advice, Bones.”

“Shut up and finish your bourbon. And tomorrow, when you’re fully sober and not so mopey, go tell your Vulcan what’s bugging you.”

“And if he rejects me?”

“You’re already assuming he has, can it get much worse?” Privately, Jim thinks that yes, it can get much worse if he has to hear it directly from Spock, but…

“Maybe he’ll take pity on me, a poor emotional human,” Jim says at last, before throwing back the last of his drink. “And maybe then we can still play chess over the comm a few nights a week until this mission ends and we can go to Vulcan to get mind-divorced.”

“As long as I don’t have to waste any more of my good stuff on your heartsick ramblings.” Bones helps him up from the sofa, and Jim accepts the good-natured cuff on the shoulder before pulling his best friend into a hug. Bones grumbles even as he wraps an arm around Jim.

 

* * *

 

Enterprise, First Officer’s Quarters

 

For all the time they’ve spent together, Jim has only rarely been in Spock’s quarters. He stands in their shared bathroom nervously, waiting for the result of his knock on the door to Spock’s side. After what had happened in the turbolift, after the things he’d said , he wouldn’t be surprised if Spock ignored his plaintive knock. He’s still ashamed of what happened, and even more ashamed at how he still longs for another encounter like that, despite Spock’s disgust.

The door slides open to reveal Spock in a casual robe, his room dimly lit behind him. “Captain,” he greets Jim. “Is there something I may help you with?”

It stings that Spock has retreated into formality, but he knows how much harder these things are for Spock with his Vulcan sensibilities.

“I wanted to talk about what happened the other day,” Jim says, trying not to think about how awkward his hands feel hanging at his sides. What does he usually do with his hands? Does he curl his fingers, or just keep them straight like this? “We’ve still got two years left in this mission and I don’t want our command to be compromised by any kind of tension between us.”

Spock stands there for a moment without replying, but finally steps aside and gestures for Jim to enter. “Very well.” It’s not a ringing endorsement and Jim would feel a whole lot better about his impending confession if Spock didn’t sound so reluctant, but Bones was right when he’d pointed out that Jim essentially has nothing to lose at this point. Nothing that isn’t already slipping out of his grasp like droplets of water.

He’s a few steps in when Spock says, “Captain, may I offer you a beverage?”

Jim turns around to face him. “No, I don’t intend to impose on you any longer than necessary, Spock.” This is it. After years of slowly simmering attraction, Jim is finally going to admit to his feelings. Jim is going to open his mouth and just say it

“I apologize for what happened on the turbolift.” That was not what he was going to say. “I suppose we’ve been getting a little carried away lately.” The understatement of the century, this train is steadily off the tracks and Jim is desperately trying to steer it back on track.

“Yes,” Spock responds cautiously. “The bond is overcoming our own inclinations. I have been thinking on this for some time, and I believe I have a solution.”

“Give the bond what it wants?” Gods and Gamesters, no. Jim is horrified at his own words. He’d walked in here intending to tell Spock that it wasn’t about the bond; not for Jim, anyway. That he wanted to be with Spock, but only if it was what Spock wanted to. That despite his feelings, he’d spend the rest of mission miserable and lonely if it would bring Spock peace.

Instead, he’d walked in and made light of it like a fool. He’s almost afraid to look at Spock, but braves it anyway. What he sees there causes him to quail, Spock looking stern and unamused. Jim opens his mouth to apologize, but Spock holds up a hand to stop him.

“I understand that it is human custom to make light of serious situations, but what we speak of is no humorous matter. The gravity of our condition has become evident, and we may no longer delay the inevitable necessity of--”

“Nothing is inevitable, Spock,” Jim interrupts before he can say it. “I don’t believe in a scenario that can’t be beaten by two of the best minds in Starfleet.”

Spock shakes his head solemnly. “What you say may have been true thus far in your career as a starship captain, but in this matter you have no authority over that which drives us. What has happened between us will continue to progress until…”

Jim waits with bated breath for him to say it. A moment passes and he doesn’t seem likely to, though. “Until the bond is consummated,” Jim supplies tentatively, heart aching at how Spock seems to dread the possibility. “And then the bond is...unbreakable?”

“Not...precisely,” Spock says, and turns away. “But it will not be broken after that point.”

They stand there in silence in the dim room. Jim casts his gaze around at this place that is all Spock; the firepot that burns low, the meditation mat rolled up in the corner, the lirpa whose bite Jim knows all too well. He thinks about the bond, about what Spock says will happen if…

Will not be broken” is not the same thing as “can not be broken,” but the difference eludes him. He only knows that it’s significant somehow.

Jim takes a few steps toward Spock, and places a hand on his shoulder, ensuring there is no skin-to-skin contact. “Spock, I don’t want to do anything you don’t want.”

Spock slides out from under his hand, and Jim lets it fall back to his side. “You have been too self-sacrificing on my behalf, Captain. I cannot allow you to carry this burden any longer.”

“You’re no burden to me, Spock. Don’t you know by now what I would do for you?” The words are on the tip of his tongue, all Jim has to do is just say them.

“Would that I could say the same.” Spock seems to shrink into his large robe, receding into it. “I am far more selfish, I would--” He stops speaking abruptly. “Perhaps it is best you go now. Please consider requesting an emergency return to Vulcan so we may have the bond severed before it is too late.”

“Selfish? Vulcan? Severed?” It’s all too much to take in and all Jim can do is repeat words stupidly as Spock steers him back to the door of their shared bathroom. “Wait, now hang on a minute. You’ve laid your life on the line for mine more times than I can count. Even now, the only reason we’re in this mess is because you did it to save my life. How do you call that selfish?

Spock opens his mouth several times to say something, but always closes it again quickly. Finally, he presses the button to open the door, and gestures through the doorway. “Captain, please.”

Jim squares his shoulders and stands up straighter. Spock could move him if he really wanted to, but Jim’s not going to be hurried away from this conversation. “No, Spock. You’re too important to me to just let this go. I...care for you, more than a captain should. More than a friend should.”

The words hang in the air between them, and they stare at each other. Spock is the first to look away. “It is the bond,” he says quietly, sounding almost pained.

“No,” Jim insists, grabbing his wrist. “The way I feel has nothing to do with the bond’s effect. I’ve always felt this way about you. So much so that I came in here to tell you so, and to tell you that I care about you so much, I’d rather suffer without you than to make this worse for you. I can rearrange our duty shifts, move our quarters, stop spending time together off-duty, all of it. You’re not the selfish one here, it was me.

“This thing that’s happening between us, it’s everything I’ve always wanted, except...it’s not because you don’t want it to be happening. And now I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make this right, even if it means calling up Starfleet with my hat in my hand and begging for permission to reroute to Vulcan so you can be rid of me.”

It occurs to him then that Spock is staring down at where Jim is gripping his wrist, where the sleeve of his robe has fallen back and bare skin is exposed. A part of him wants to drop Spock’s arm like a hot rock, but instead he tries his un-telepathic best to project the force of his sincerity, his regret, his genuine regard for Spock.

And then the most unexpected thing happens. Spock takes hold of Jim’s wrist, and Jim lets go of Spock in surprise, but Spock does not let him go in turn. Instead, his hand slides over Jim’s, fingers brushing with a pleasant tingle. Their eyes meet, confusion and hesitation, and Jim wonders what Spock is doing.

“It is not the bond’s effect for me either,” Spock clarifies, having heard Jim’s internal question through his touch-telepathy. “I fear it has not been so at any point, save for my inability to control myself.”

Jim gasps, heart hammering in his chest. A smile creeps up over his face until it’s so wide his face could split in two. “You thought I didn’t want this,” he says, and Spock nods. “And I thought you didn’t want this. And we’ve both been too scared to say anything for, what, years?”

With his free hand, Jim caresses Spock’s jawline, and Spock’s eyes flutter shut. “No, don’t do that. Please, look at me. I want us to see each other for once.”

Spock complies, and they simply gaze into each other’s eyes for a short while, until Jim notices the color on Spock’s cheekbones. “You’re blushing again,” he teases.

“You are also experiencing vasodilation,” Spock points out, despite the fact that his cheeks have gone greener.

Jim leans in close enough to murmur against Spock’s lips. “You make me experience a great deal of things, Spock.” He lightly rubs their still-touching fingertips together.

“Jim,” Spock says breathily, and then kisses Jim. It’s different than the other time they had kissed, in the middle of the chess game. Spock is the one to initiate, but he is not so aggressive. Instead he’s pliant, molding himself to Jim’s body.

Pulling back, Jim asks because he has to be sure, “This is what you want? You want me, this, us?” Inelegantly phrased, he thinks, but the best he could do with so little blood in his brain.

Spock leads him gently by their clasped hands toward his bed, but Jim resists being pulled down onto it, wanting to hear Spock confirm it before they commit to something so serious. Spock looks back at him. “Do you recall my words about if the bond is consummated?”

Thinking back, Jim paraphrases it. “Yes, you said it couldn’t be broken if it was consummated. That’s why I need to know that you--”

“Not couldn’t , Jim,” Spock says, pulling Jim down onto the bed atop him. It’s too perfect, too tempting the way Spock lets his knees fall to either side of Jim. “I said it will not be broken. I would not allow it, not once the bond had come to full fruition. You are--what you are to me is--I am selfish, and--”

His mouth is suddenly covered by Jim’s, the words muffled and lost between their lips and tongues. When Jim pulls back, he smiles at his lovely, selfish Spock. “No, I wouldn’t allow it either.”

Jim spends the next several minutes unsuccessfully trying to hide the fact that he can’t actually figure out how to get Spock out of his robe. Spock spends those same minutes slowly divesting Jim of his clothing, until Jim is fully nude and frustrated. Thankfully, he capitulates to his bondmate’s pitiful looks, and reaches into the folds of the robe to untie a single sash. From there, the whole garment seems to melt off of him, and Jim takes great satisfaction in balling it up and tossing it across the room.

He takes even greater satisfaction in the fact that Vulcans apparently don’t wear anything under their robes--or at least, Spock doesn’t. Jim resumes what they started in the turbolift, ecstatic at finally getting to touch Spock in the same way this time.

 Spock is every bit as needy and debauched as he had been in the turbolift, and Jim enjoys seeing how loud he can make Spock scream by stroking him while sucking each of his long fingers. Something changes when Jim licks his hand clean afterwards, though, and suddenly he’s the hungry Vulcan from their first kiss once more.

 In a move too fast for human comprehension, let alone reflexes, Spock has flipped Jim over on his back and is astride him. Jim has done this before a few times and he’s a conscientious lover who would never rush a partner, but Spock doesn’t give him any sort of chance to warn him or offer preparation. He’s just sinking down on Jim’s cock like he was made to do it, and there’s nothing Jim could or would do about it at this point.

At first Jim can only clutch the bedsheets desperately -- and they’re silken, that filthy hedonist -- as he’s ridden with abandon, but he clutches blindly for and finds one of Spock’s hands and pulls it to his temple. Spock’s hips slow, and he asks, “You wish this?”

 Jim groans at the way Spock continues to grind down on him. “I’d says yes to anything right now, Spock.” Spock looks troubled at this and stops. “But yes, now and always. I want you to meld us like you did before. Only this time, I want to remember it.”

Spock leans down and kisses him, his fingers moving into position as their tongues gently caress. Jim feels the previously shielded-off bond blow wide open and everything just sort of whites out for a while.

When he comes back into his usual senses, Spock is lying beside him, his exceptionally warm body curled around Jim protectively. Seeing that Jim is no longer staring into the ether, he sits up. “The experience may have been too intense for our first intimate session.”

Jim kisses him sloppily on the jaw through a wide grin that doesn’t feel like it will ever leave his face. “You just wait until I can feel all my fingers and toes again, and I’ll show you an intense experience.”

 

* * *

 

Epilogue

Vulcan, 1 month after the completion of the 5-year mission

 

Jim hates the feeling of this healer’s hands on his face. It simply feels too intimate, something no one but Spock should be allowed to do. He should probably try to curb this line of thought since the healer can assuredly hear what he is thinking. It’s not that he’s not grateful she agreed to perform this check-up at the home they are renting on Vulcan for the next few months.

Luckily, it’s not much longer until the healer’s presence withdraws from their mindscape and her hands withdraw into the long sleeves of her robe. “Your bond is strong,” T’Laya remarks, and Jim practically glows with pride. “It is indicative of a high level of mental compatibility.”

“I knew such to be the case when the bond formed accidentally during an extended meld,” Spock says. “Though there was still concern that the bond could fail, since my telsu is human.”

“Oh, I never worried that it would fail,” Jim says, placing a hand on Spock’s lower back. “After all, it kept trying to pull us together, no matter how hard we fought it.” Spock acknowledges this with a nod.

“Please explain,” T’Laya says, looking at them curiously.

Jim is happy to launch into an explanation of how they resisted the pull of the bond for nearly two months before acknowledging that they both wanted to keep it. Of course, he omits the part about their insatiable desire for each other and what they did in that turbolift, only vaguely alluding to the physical desire.

“I believe you have misinterpreted the nature of the bond,” T’Laya tells them. “While it can make it difficult to ignore the presence of one’s telsu, particularly before it is consummated, it cannot compel the act of consummation itself.”

Jim and Spock simply stare at her for a minute, before turning to look at each other. Despite his best efforts to suppress it, a very pleased smile grows on Jim’s face. “So that was all you who growled and me and knocked the chess board over.”

Spock looks as if he has bitten directly into a sash-savas fruit. “And it was you who initiated in the turbolift and referred to me by an infantile human pet name.”

“You thought you were being selfish !”

“You believed the only way to refrain from indulging was to literally isolate ourselves from one another.”

T’Laya slips out at some point during their playful argument, leaving Jim and Spock to get themselves completely carried away.