“Now I mean it!”
Jim rolled his eyes at the stubborn overprotectiveness of his friend. Sometimes his chief medical officer could be a real pain in the backside, to put it eloquently.
“Bones, I promised, didn’t I? And besides, I’ll have Spock there to keep an eye on me.”
Now it was the doctor’s turn to roll his eyes.
“Oh yeah, my other stellar patient. I don’t know why I agreed to this, but I am for damn sure stopping in to see you both tomorrow, whether you like it or not.”
Jim lightly slapped a hand on his friend's back.
“I did say you could come and babysit, Bones! No funny business or fun business, this is strictly rest and recuperation leave for my first officer and I. Starfleet’s honor.”
The doctor grumbled good-naturedly as he shooed Jim away.
“I’m not letting the two worst patients in all the galaxies ruin my R and R plans. You both better take this medical leave for what it is: for healing. I’ll be by every day to make sure you’re following doctor’s orders. Now get going, I’ve seen enough of you for today.”
At that, Jim couldn’t help the amused chuckle that escaped his lips. Behind the irritable exterior, he knew Bones was pleased he and Spock were doing alright, all things considered. Which probably explained why it hadn’t taken much cajoling to get him to agree to let them take their recovery down at the Starbase.
True, it wouldn’t be the kind of leave Jim had been looking forward to. But the week of rest, hijacked by his chief medical officer with endless appointments and tests, was still better than nothing.
Turning on his heel, and throwing Bones a small wave, Jim walked towards the lift doors where Spock had been waiting for him.
The taller man gave him a nod of acknowledgement as Jim joined him. Sneaking a look up at his friend, Jim was all the more relieved that Bones had let the two of them out of sickbay.
He had been meaning to talk to Spock ever since waking up. There were many things the captain wanted to say, but between his recovery and the running of the ship, he hadn’t been able to get Spock alone. But now they had a week mostly to themselves. Jim probably had Bones to thank for that, too; signing Spock up to check in on him, while receiving his own prescription for rest, ensured that they’d get the time, and the privacy, they’d been missing on the Enterprise.
The lift doors hissed open. Spock gestured for Jim to go first as he picked up both men’s bags, a neutral expression on his face. They stood close to one another, their shirts barely brushing.
A dash of anxiety bubbled in Jim’s chest as he contemplated his plan. Maybe Spock didn’t want to talk about what happened. Maybe his friend just wanted to move past, to forget. It would be easier that way.
Bones threw Jim a small smile, catching his friend’s eye before the lift doors shut. He couldn’t have devised it any better himself. The captain and stubborn first officer needed time together to make sense of, and come to terms with, all that happened between them. They definitely weren’t going to get that on the Enterprise. Arranging medical leave for the two on the Starbase, with Spock appointed to keep an eye on Jim, was an important prescription.
Bouncing happily on his toes, the doctor couldn’t wait to hear what the two thought about their sleeping arrangements.
Spock lowered his and Jim’s bags to the floor before guiding Jim lightly by the elbow to the edge of the bed. The walk to his quarters was longer than they had anticipated, and it left the captain more winded than he cared to admit.
“Adjoining…rooms,” Jim said between breaths. “Hope that’s alright with you, Mr. Spock.”
The Vulcan caught Jim’s eye before glancing quickly away.
“I’m sure it meets all the prerequisites for our medical leave and my assigned duties.”
Jim chuckled quietly at that, gaze roaming around his room. It was quite spacious, with a sitting area, a small kitchen, and a large window looking out to the stars around them.
“I’m sure that’s exactly why Bones put us here.”
Spock didn’t offer a reply, just began pacing around the large accommodations with his hands clasped behind his back. Jim tried to ignore the still present nervousness in his chest. It was rare not to receive a variation of Spock’s usual amused reaction to his lighthearted jest; the quiet was indicative of the tension he’d noticed between them.
Unsure what to say, Jim kept his mouth shut, mind racing. Finally, finally, he and Spock were alone.
But what to say?
How to start?
While their silence was companionable as usual, there was an added charged undercurrent rippling around them. The things unspoken, heavy and emotional, in the air.
Jim’s confidence was wavery, but the board was set; he only had to open with a risky gambit. He took the jump into the unknown first.
“Well…we’ve put it off long enough, don’t you think, Spock?”
His friend stilled his movements, his back to him.
“I am…inclined to agree, yes,” the Vulcan offered quietly.
Jim wanted more than anything to get to his feet, close the distance between them, and place a reassuring hand on Spock’s shoulder. To be near him, to show he cared. But the obstinate man had to meet him halfway for this to work.
Jim hesitantly cleared his throat. Again, he couldn’t help but think “What to say?” and “How to start?”.
He might open with an apology, the good ol’: “I was totally out of my mind when I hit you and then tried to kill you, and I promise I didn’t mean all those horrible things I said”.
But that seemed like something you ease into…right?
Maybe he should explain his actions in his dream. Why he’d initiated the intimacy, the closeness between them, on that pier in San Francisco. They could discuss their…proximity, or even just the length of his unconscious stay.
Or they could focus on everything that happened besides Jim. Some safe topics, less emotionally charged, like the running of the ship, how they arrived at his diagnosis, Spock’s unusual displays of worry…damn.
Unfortunately, no one topic seemed easier than any other. For two people as stubborn and reticent as he and Spock, this discussion would prove potentially uncomfortable and assuredly interesting.
Jim made up his mind in the ever-growing silence to start with the ship; hopefully a nice, neutral topic to ease them into it. But before he could say anything more, Spock turned around, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Captain. Jim. If I may,” Spock cleared his throat, unclasping his hands and reclasping them in front of him. “I believe I have a solution that could make this…explanatory endeavor easier on us both.”
Ever so slowly, he closed the distance between them and settled down next to Jim on the bed. The captain held his breath as he realized Spock was a touch nearer than he normally would have allowed himself to sit.
Intentional, Jim had no doubt about that.
With an eyebrow quirked up (adorably, in Jim’s opinion), and a hesitant expression burning in his eyes, Spock continued.
“It is a rather unusual case, so it begs for an unusual solution. I am proposing…” The Vulcan paused momentarily, as if bolstering some hidden nerve. “A mind meld. We have already done one, as you undoubtedly recall the circumstances surrounding your awakening. Normally, I would not suggest it, as it is intensive and draining on both subjects. But I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks in this instance, as you and I would be able to share with one another all that has transpired over the past 10 days without having to find the…words.”
Jim inclined his head towards Spock and gave him a small smile. Leave it to his best friend to find a solution they both were comfortable with.
“I think…that sounds most agreeable, Mr. Spock.”
His whispered response was filled with the deepest, honeyed tones of trust, spreading a welcoming warmth in Spock’s chest.
“I must warn you, Jim, this could be quite overwhelming and tiring. It will be different from the last time. And…” He trailed off, his apprehension apparent.
The captain placed a reassuring hand on Spock’s knee before giving it a little nudge with his own.
“It is a completely unfettered, unfiltered connection. Not like watching one of those old cinema films from the 21st century. This time, it will be the free, overwhelming flow of thoughts, sentiments, feelings…we will have no secrets from one another.”
Spock hated how nervous he sounded at the proposition. In this meld, Jim would be able to sense all he’d endured emotionally and physically. No hiding it, no deception, no obfuscations. It would be the both of them, raw and real and vulnerable.
Jim’s hand on his knee subtly tightened, the nonverbal reply seeming to make the concern coiled in Spock’s abdomen lessen somewhat. It soothed as equally as it excited.
This meld would be different, of that Spock was certain. It wasn’t a desperate connection forged to save his friend, to draw him back from the alluring abyss of fantasy, the soothing temptation of desire. This…this was…intimate.
More exposed than Spock had been with anyone before, than he had ever allowed himself to be.
But Jim was different.
Spock hoped with every fiber of his being that Jim would see his intricacies and complexities and secrets, and find them beautiful. Might love him in spite of—no, because of them. He desperately wanted Jim to appraise the portrait of his life and find him worthy.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. But a meld? Well…it was more than just those two things—it could be movement, experience, vivid life. It could marry together the beautiful brushstrokes of memory with everlasting prose; weave a captivating novella with poignant photographs; could be lines and lines of carefully selected phrases coupled with flashing hues and a ballet of watercolor.
It was life and it was living. It was memory and it was feeling. It was a bond so profound, so open, that the malicious shadows of deceit dare not creep in.
It would be him. Laid bare.
He’d never wanted something so uncertainly terrifying in all his life.
Spock brought his hand up gradually. He kept his eyes open, wanting to remember every moment of this exchange; the way Jim’s lashes fluttered against his cheeks as he shut his eyes, the trusting expression on his face, the smile hiding in the corner of his mouth, the strewn locks of hair brushing his forehead.
Ever so gently, Spock placed his fingers on the meld points on Jim’s face. This time, under very different circumstances. Jim thought Spock’s touch felt more wonderful than anything he’d ever experienced; Spock had to remind himself to breathe.
The surging energy of their connection was already thrumming.
Spock cleared the chaos within him, focusing on the physical connection between the two and bolstering the accompanying mental bridge.
“My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts...”
Spock let his eyes slip shut as he ardently chased the warm glow beckoning to him from Jim’s mind…
This connection between them was difficult to fully comprehend, but Jim didn’t find himself afraid. He could…sense Spock all around him, in this space between, in this joining of souls. It wasn’t a physical existence they’d entered together, as it had been when Spock rescued him from his dreams. This was like his and Spock’s consciousness were lithe, floating clouds, intermixing and weaving and surging.
Spock’s mind was indescribable. It vibrated with electrical thrill, it was a multifaceted puzzle, it was a gorgeous night sky sprinkled with the star maps of his life. Magnificent.
The cloud of his consciousness, for lack of a better term, called to Jim. He pushed towards it, answering its whispers, its essence of safety and warmth. What would he find? What would Spock show him?
They were memories.
All that had happened, all Spock had gone through. Now Jim was experiencing them, too.
Sparks of color, shades of the familiar, thoughts and emotions. Jim was feeling all Spock had felt, seeing all Spock had seen…and he didn’t know how Spock managed it. How could his friend feel this way and not collapse, or give in, or spontaneously combust?
It was almost too much to bear.
The ambiguous shapes began to morph into flashes of recollections.
He watched himself waver and fall to a knee on the transporter platform, the beginning of this harrowing ordeal.
He felt as Spock began drowning amidst his fear and worry and uncertainty. They were all pushing on the lid he kept so stubbornly fixed in place, surging up and up and up until they’d almost tumbled free.
A deep blue sadness washed over him as he watched himself with rage in his eyes, yelling at his crew, acting so very wrong.
He hardly recognized this combative, angry version of himself. It was almost like a resurgence of his evil half, but even that version hadn’t alienated his best friends.
His heart broke as he watched himself throw venomous insults at Spock and then finally take a swing at him. He could feel the pain from the blow, blossoming on his own cheek just as it had done to Spock’s, ruthlessly rippling outwards with the sting of betrayal. The physical pain was no match for the utter devastation that coursed like a cold fire through Spock’s veins; the heartbreak, the disbelief, the torment. It was crushing, devastating. Alienating and cruel.
He’d done these things to Spock.
Jim could hardly believe it.
But here he was, seeing it all through his best friend’s eyes.
He hadn’t realized Spock carried him to sickbay after that. Or that he’d resolutely sat by his side, trying—and failing—to control his emotions.
Jim felt Spock acquiescing, showing him the storm of confounding sentiments and fluctuating thoughts. Being sedated and trapped in his mind seemed easier than the anguish he’d subjected his first officer to. Through their connection, he felt everything. It was the most unguarded and erratic Jim had ever experienced when it came to Spock.
Sick bay was cold, sterile.
A bio bed.
Spock paced before sitting in the chair next to him, then rose again to resume pacing. The Vulcan’s emotions were rolling off of him in ten-foot high waves, crashing down unrelentingly all around him, inundating anything and everything in their path.
And then he was gasping for air, the fear in the room weighing heavily around them. The terror in his friend's eyes crushed him, the worry lacing his words coiling around Jim's heart.
As if Spock’s feelings weren’t enough, Jim felt his own self-loathing and shame rise up achingly in his chest. He knew what was about to happen.
Jim could hardly stand to watch as he lunged at Spock, attacking his best friend without remorse, hands on his throat, seconds away from killing him.
No regret. No second guessing.
He couldn’t believe it.
He hated what Spock had had to endure.
“My God. Spock…the things I put you through.”
At thinking those words, the vivid memories around Jim shifted. Spock as responding to him. The tangible emotions swirling around him receded, giving way to other images, showing the captain all the things he’d missed.
Days and days of tests and studies and research.
Neither Spock nor Bones stopping for more than a few hours at a time, not sleeping enough, not eating enough. Their focus solely on fixing him.
Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov pitching in to help.
His closest friends and most trusted crew members rallying together to help him at his most desperate hour.
Spock sitting by his side, his hand lying incredibly near Jim’s own on top of the bed.
Everything on the ship running smoothly despite his absence. Jim smiled at this shared thought; it was quite obviously a point of pride for his Vulcan first officer.
The discovery of the treatment. Elation, relief, and newfound hope swelling in the eyes of his friends as they got to work.
Spock resuming his command of the bridge, a steady, expert hand guiding his ship.
His friend recording in the captain’s log all that had transpired.
Returning to sickbay to check on his progress.
Jim could sense Spock’s tenuous hold on his self-control as his eyes took in his pale complexion and the vitals on the screen above his bed.
He hadn’t realized how weak he was, how close to death he’d come, in those final few hours. The fragility of Spock’s emotional composure was evidence enough.
Spock and Bones fighting over how best to pull him out of unconsciousness. His friend’s worries about the meld, knowing what he was risking by agreeing to the connection. What he’d be revealing through their shared bond.
Finding him on the pier in San Francisco.
Wishing they could stay there, but knowing they had to leave.
Emerging from his unconscious like breaking the surface of a tranquil pool.
Jim felt the draining effects the meld had on his friend, watched himself take in a shaky breath and blink open his eyes. The unadulterated joy sparking in Spock’s chest at the sight made Jim burn with affection.
He sensed that Spock wanted to talk, desperate to know what Jim knew about his feelings, but too anxious to broach the subject…
Slowly, the warmth of Spock’s mind fluttered away from Jim’s own. The images around Jim, the bathing of emotions and passions, retreating like an ocean tide.
He understood the silent message: Now it was his turn.
Reaching back into the depths of his mind, Jim pulled up his first memory of this ordeal. He’d go chronologically, an open book flicking page after page, letting Spock know everything.
Jim reached for the tendrils of Spock’s mind. Opening himself up, knocking down his walls, ready to be one with his best friend…
Spock hated the alien feeling of the thing inside of Jim. Its presence was immediately apparent, dark and malicious and evil.
Jim had fought it from the very beginning. Unsure about what was coursing within him but knowing it to be wrong.
He felt Jim’s pain, the futility as he struggled against the venom beneath the surface. Brief moments of clarity when Jim would look to his friends with the eyes of a trapped man, would purposefully use impersonal language and forced distance to hint that something was amiss. Spock was stunned and prideful at witnessing these resistances. His friend was a fighter, and the parasite hadn’t won easily.
Jim’s memories chilled Spock to the bone.
The fear his friend had endured was choking, nauseating. He’d been held captive in his own skin, forced within the walls of his mind, unable to break free. The parasite had controlled everything, and Jim could only watch.
Spock recoiled from Jim’s shared feeling of drowning in his own skin.
The puppet of a malevolent master.
He had had no control over what he said, what he did.
It barely even broke through Jim’s hazy lucidity that he’d hit Spock, that he’d spouted off bitterness and insults meant to wound deeply.
The parasite tinged everything grey around the edges, making sounds sharper.
It whispered acrimonious evils in Jim’s mind, poisonous plans for destroying the Enterprise from the inside out.
Spock felt cold as he sensed the parasite’s frustrations, Jim stymieing every one of its attempts to replicate and terminate. The emotions roiling within his friend ratcheted up to new heights. With the looming shadow of dread hanging over him, Spock knew that Jim knew what the parasite was doing.
If it couldn’t infect, it would kill.
Jim knew he was going to die.
Fear, frustration, and woe prevailed within his friend. The parasite was attacking Jim; feeding off the iron in his blood, weakening his body, stealing the oxygen from his lungs, pumping pain through every fiber.
Spock could hardly stand it.
It was like boarding up the last ray of light, distinguishing the final flame of hope. Dipping just beneath the surface of the waves, never to return to the air above, sinking down, and down, and down…
There were sparks of the real world, hearing snippets of Bones and Spock’s voices, the feel of a hand on his arm. But Jim could never get there.
He was trapped within his mind.
The parasite having locked the door and thrown away the key…
Spock could suddenly feel Jim’s uncertainty through their connection. The images around Spock remained out of focus, vibrating with doubt.
His friend was hesitating, but why?
“Jim, it is alright. Do not be afraid.”
The Vulcan willed his affection and trust across their bond, wanting Jim to feel safe sharing the deepest parts of himself.
“You’ll see things in these dreams, Spock. I don’t know whether I should apologize or warn you…”
Spock’s consciousness thrummed with reassurance.
“Show me” was his whispered reply.
He felt Jim searching the darkness around him, the injurious presence of the parasite glaringly absent.
Jim wanted to wake up, wanted to get back to him.
Spock could hardly comprehend it.
Time held no weight in the darkness, space had no meaning. Jim pushed against his constraints to no avail. The jail of his mind held firm…but he didn’t find it nearly so overbearing as before. There was a safety in the darkness, security within his subconscious that ensured he’d never have to feel pain again.
He could stay here.
Live in his dreams…
A sunny summer day. Spock felt Jim’s relaxation, saw the familiarity of the lake through his friend’s eyes. It was utterly peaceful and happy. Spock could understand why Jim had been so reluctant to wake up.
He tried to control his surprise at seeing himself emerge from the water and plop down next to Jim on the towel beneath the tree. That was not what he had been expecting. He could sense Jim chuckling at him across their connection, amused by his reaction.
The scene felt domestic, intimate.
Spock liked it.
He could sense the warmth of the moment, the love. There was no other word for it, for what was tangible in the air between the dream versions of them.
And then he found himself somewhere he should call home, but rarely in the full sense of the word. It felt more like the place he came from, where he was born. Representing a part of himself that he never truly felt at peace with.
Curious, that Jim’s dreams had brought them here.
While he initially bristled at recognizing they were on Vulcan, that feeling did not last long. He watched as Jim stood in casual clothing on a balcony, comfortable despite the heat. Suddenly, Jim turned, and the most radiant smile graced his beautiful features.
It didn’t take long to figure out why. Dream Spock joined Jim on the balcony, wrapping his arms around him and holding him as close as physically possible. The two stayed that way, love pulsating all around them.
Spock could sense the wishful hope of this dream, the fantasy. He understood why Jim had hesitated in showing him this; it was the bravest revelations of his heart, the truest expressions of his feelings. In response, Spock could go one of two ways. One more heartbreaking than the other. He didn’t think he’d have had the courage to let Jim in this way if the roles had been reversed.
He watched fondly as instead of a dream, this time Jim took them to a memory. A shared memory. One Spock enjoyed remembering just as much as his friend.
This first meeting was colored with affectionate hues, painted with unspoken feelings, sizzling with a natural connection.
Spock was happy, and could sense Jim’s own happiness at reliving this moment.
Slowly, he was beginning to understand why Jim had remained unconscious for so long. These dreams, these illusions, were intoxicating. They were thrilling. He was having a difficult time wanting to leave them, enjoying submerging himself in Jim’s mind.
The final image of the two of them standing together in the bridge began to fade around him, signaling the last of the shared dreams.
Regrettably, Spock extricated himself from the tangles of Jim’s consciousness. He missed the warmth and the intimacy as soon as he had.
He rather enjoyed being so close.
Like waking up from a long slumber, rousing slowly and softly in the morning light, Spock coaxed he and Jim back from their connection…
Spock’s dark eyes fluttered open. At some point, his forehead had fallen to rest on Jim’s, their faces an inch away from one another, their breath intermixing.
Jim’s own eyes blinked as he climbed back to wakefulness. He was surprised to find himself sagging against Spock, drained physically and mentally.
The captain didn’t know how to put it into words. It was unlike anything he’d ever experienced, bringing him closer than he ever thought possible with another person. As if their souls had looked at one another, mixed and connected and bonded in such an unguarded way, that it defied all explanation.
Spock had seen him. Seen all of him.
His thoughts, his feelings, his passions, his secrets.
It was amazing.
Spock smiled at Jim, reveling in their closeness, unwilling to be the first to separate them. Touch was still such a foreign concept for him to enjoy. But with Jim, as with all things, he made it different. New. Wonderful.
The Vulcan dropped his fingers reluctantly after a few moments, loath to break such a connection.
“Are you alright, Jim?”
His voice was quiet.
A lingering current hung in the air around them, a tangible energy that kept his heartbeat racing and his emotions high. Spock wondered if Jim could sense it, too.
“Yeah,” Jim breathed. “M’ just a little tired.”
There was a contentedness in the captain’s weary words and a smile in his clear eyes.
“I did attempt to caution you, Jim.”
The captain let out a huff of laughter as he nudged against Spock’s forehead playfully.
“It was worth it.”
Even though the meld was over, Spock was certain that something endured. A slumbering section of his soul was now coaxed to life, remaining linked with Jim in some unspeakable way. He could feel Jim’s relief at sharing all that had transpired, his happiness at baring his long-kept secrets, his marrow-deep affection, his pure love.
It was worth it in every sense.
“I do believe Doctor McCoy would have my head if I didn’t make you rest,” Spock murmured.
He wished to stay this way, connected physically and mentally with Jim, for the rest of his days. But he could sense his friend’s need for sleep.
Jim suppressed a groan as Spock began to gently shift away. The Vulcan had barely risen, with the intention of helping his friend back into bed, when a hand on his arm halted any further movement.
Jim’s whispered plea hung between them, quiet and needing. His dark eyes shone up at Spock, revealing his implored desire to not be alone. It didn’t just seem to be a word meant for the moment. It seemed to be an ask for much longer, a question packed with the promise of all their tomorrows, a facsimile of forever.
To remain for the night, to remain for all nights?
The questions were not difficult ones. And the answers were even plainer.
As if Spock could ever truly leave his captain.
“Jim, I had every intention of doing so. Come, let me help you. You need to rest.”
The tired man gave him a reassured smile. With a graceful gentleness, Spock guided Jim back to the top of the bed, removing his boots and tucking the blanket up to his shoulders. He was pleased to see Jim’s eyes already fluttering closed.
Before he could move any more, Spock again found a hand grasping at his arm.
There were no words spoken or looks shared. But the Vulcan understood.
Instead of the chair he had originally been planning on, Spock readjusted and sat in the space beside Jim. It felt…right this way. He hadn’t known why he’d thought to sit anywhere else.
Minutes ticked away, a calm energy saturating the room. Spock took a steadying breath and settled further back against the headboard. He hadn’t realized how comfortable sharing a bed with Jim would be.
There was a feeling washing over him, one that danced beneath his skin and fluttered in his chest. It was as miraculous as it was foreign.
It had been a stranger the past ten days, leaving him uncertain and distressed. And the solution? The remedy he’d needed for his own malady?
The constant ebb and flow of his emotional composure was now righted, the tenuous hold on his inner stability regained. Now, the control with which he grounded himself and governed his life was once again restored.
Spock fought the exhaustion pulling at his own eyes as his friend’s breathing finally evened out.
How pleasantly strange it was to be lying here. A place he’d imagined himself in before, holding the affections of a man he never thought he would. And yet this was not one of Jim’s dreams they were wrapped up in, this was reality.
Jim mumbled incoherently, drawing Spock from his musings. Shifting slightly, the man nestled up against Spock’s side, curling towards him before returning once more to chase the vestiges of slumber.
Spock couldn’t help the small grin that tugged at the corner of his mouth.
How normal this felt. How unbelievably right. They had much still to discuss, but there was time for that. Time that may not be solidly promised, but was no longer robbed by a faceless malice lurking in Jim’s blood.
He brought an arm up and over his friend’s sleeping form, laying his hand atop his forehead. Rhythmically, he began to trace Jim’s hairline the same way he remembered his mother doing for him. Through his touch, he sent all his bright affections, his sincerities, his love, reminding Jim even in sleep that he was here, and here he would stay.
There had been a moment, a vision, in Jim’s dreams that had awoken something inside of him. Something he hadn’t realized he’d been missing or searching for. It called, beckoned, to the human half of him.
Filling holes he hadn’t known he had.
Revealing a truth he’d long ignored.
The red sands of Vulcan were not his home. They had never been.
His home was where his heart was. And that now lay with the man next to him, promised without question, forever.