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Blood of My Blood

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“It would seem my initial calculations were correct, Captain. No life forms present.”

Jim nodded at Spock’s assessment, eyes taking in the absolute barren emptiness around him. There used to be a colony; a thriving population, cities, 21st century technology, and now…nothing. Higher command had sent the Enterprise to investigate when communication had been lost a few weeks prior. Just out of the blue, all contact ceased.

Jim and Spock had landed a few minutes ago and were shocked by the state of affairs. They hadn’t been expecting total annihilation.

Everything in ruins. Destroyed.

Not a living soul. No bodies either.

Just…nothing.

They’d walked around curiously, Spock analyzing with his tricorder and Jim looking for survivors. Well, really looking for anyone or anything. But besides the remains of burned out and crumbling buildings, and the dregs of battles begun and ended, they found no evidence of life. This colony just ceased to exist, almost spontaneously. It may have been a civil war, famine, Klingon interference, natural disasters, any number of possibilities and scenarios. Hopefully Spock would be able to provide some answers.

 

Jim kicked at a rock near his foot, unable to fight the rising level of dread in his chest. He couldn’t exactly put his finger on it. But this place had sent shivers down his spine from the moment him and Spock beamed down.

There was something wrong with this planet.

And he wanted nothing more than to leave that very instant. Turning jerkily, Jim cleared his throat.

“Uh, Mr. Spock. If you are quite done with your readings, I suggest we contact the transporter room...”

“Very well, Captain. I believe I have sufficient data.” Spock paused, looking around him inquisitively. “It would seem most prudent to minimize our time on this planet.”

Jim smiled. “My thoughts exactly Mr. Spock.”

 

The two began their short walk back towards the clearing they’d beamed down in. Spock continued with his readings and observations, while Jim stared at the destruction around them. The captain ran a hand over the ruins of an old building. He caught his hand on a rough edge, nicking his palm. Hissing in annoyance, and with a heavy sigh, he realized he was much too preoccupied. Preoccupied with what happened to this place and why. The why was killing him. Answers were what he wanted, needed, most now. Things like this didn’t just happen every day.

He stopped briefly to stare at an empty room. A kitchen table was knocked over, chairs upturned, a discarded teddy bear lying in a pile of rubble and dirt. So much upheaval. So much death. It confounded and confused. But why. Why? Jim hastened to catch up with Spock, not wanting to dwell on the family that used to live there and their unknown fates.

At a brisk jog, the captain joined Spock. His pressing desire to leave the planet was increasing with every moment. Even Spock seemed slightly rattled. The pervasive dread that had sunk into Jim’s bones, set his teeth on edge, and itched at his skin was becoming a little too much to handle. It choked him, drowned him. Fear darting and weaving through every fiber of his being. It was a completely foreign and terrifying experience.

Jim was pleased to note that his first officer already had his communicator out and had coordinated their transport back with Mr. Scott.

“Beaming up momentarily, Captain,” Spock briefed as Jim joined him.

The two shared a professional nod.

“Thank you, Mr. Spock. Let’s get out of here.”

 

As the beam locked onto their location, Jim couldn’t help but feel relieved at their departure. It could not have come any sooner. He could feel the warmth from the transporter begin to divide him into particles and pieces, grabbing him and Spock and their equipment and returning them safely to the Enterprise. But, amidst this partitioning and separating, an odd sensation began to bloom within him. It was different from the beam. This felt too hot in some moments and too cold in others. It stole the air from his lungs and robbed him of his strength, pain mercilessly alight and raging. Consuming.

Before he could truly understand this overwhelming sensation, he and Spock were beamed off the surface of the inhospitable wasteland.

Chapter Text

Scotty was surprised to get the call to beam back Jim and Spock so soon, but hey, the Scotsman was not complaining. The quicker they were done with this side mission, the quicker they would be on their way back to the nearest base for some well-deserved R and R. He had a few technical manuals he’d been dying to dig into.

The familiar sound of the transporter finishing the beaming process tore his eyes from his control panel.

“Well, gentlemen. You werna gone verra lo-” Scotty stopped his congenial banter as Jim wavered on the platform before dropping heavily to one knee, his head cradled in his hands.

“Captain! Jim!”

The engineer sprinted to the platform.

At Scotty’s outburst, Spock confusedly glanced towards his friend. Worry seized him with a bone-crushing vice. In the next moment he was crouching next to Jim, a firm hand gripping his arm. Any words he might have said were stuck behind the sudden lump in his throat.

“Jim? You alright, laddie?!”

The captain didn’t immediately respond. Eyes shut tightly, Jim reached out a searching hand. His fingers found purchase in Spock's uniform and he latched on with a desperate ferocity, breathing erratic and heavy. Help, Jim's mind screamed. Something's wrong. He needed help...

 

Spock shot Scotty a piercing look.

“Mr. Scott, it would be more productive for you to get Doctor McCoy up here than to continue to shout the captain’s name.”

The engineer, pale-faced and tight-lipped, sent Spock a brief nod before racing towards the communicator.

Jim was terrified of what felt like a mighty battle being waged within him; in his head, his organs, his blood, his cells. He was pushing back on something that was fighting for control, attacking his mind and exhausted muscles. Searching for a weakness. 

And then, as quick and overwhelming as the feeling had seized him, suddenly…it was gone. He felt lighter. A retreat or lull giving him a brief respite. The shakiness of his limbs dissipated and the incessant ache in his temples receded. 

Maybe...it was over? 

Jim took a steadying breath. He was okay. He thought so anyways.

“I’m…I’m alright, Mr. Spock.”

The Vulcan glanced down in surprise at Jim’s voice.

“Jim?”

Moving his hand up to pat Spock’s shoulder, Jim stood slowly. Whatever had happened in the beam up seemed to be over. Spock kept his hand on Jim's arm, concerned and curious brown eyes searching. 

"Are you sure, Captain?"

Jim opened his mouth to answer, but he wasn’t sure what to say. How could he explain what that was? It was over as swiftly as it had begun. Probably just the result of a faulty beam up or transporter malfunction. Instead of offering a reassurance that he didn’t have, Jim sent Spock a tight smile and straightened his uniform. 

 

“My God, man! What happened?”

Bones, followed quickly by Scotty, came storming into the transporter room. Jim waved an unconcerned hand as he stepped away from Spock.

“I’m fine.”

“Fine my ass! You’re bleeding!”

Bleeding?

Jim took stock quickly. He hadn’t been injured or anything, and he opened his mouth to argue with the doctor, when he felt something drip over his lip and down his chin. Raising a hand, Jim swiped at his nose.

It came away crimson.

The stark red, making his hand appear incredibly pale in comparison, transfixed him.

 

Something inside of him surged at the sight. A whisper in his mind, a compelling pull to act. He had the strange urge to take the blood on his hand and…touch everyone with it.

What the fuck? Where the fuck did that come from?

Jim recoiled from his own disturbing thought. That impulse was scarily strong, increasing with every second...and it terrified him. It was like a dark pulsating spot in the back of his mind, whispering dangerously evil suggestions that his body almost couldn’t ignore. Suddenly, he knew that feeling was back. Jim had to fight it, though he knew not what the “it” was. Or where it had come from. Or why.

With all the strength he could muster, Jim snapped his hand down to his side and forced it to stay there. He made his fingers wrap into his pant leg and remain enmeshed in the fabric, struggling to tamp down the violent compulsion.

It was a vicious inner battle that the good side of him managed to win; whatever he was fighting against was none too pleased with the result.

A tingling sensation began to claw at every inch of his skin. Jim had the strange impression of his head being barely above the surface of a raging sea, kicking and straining against the undertow, about to be pulled underneath. He was fighting tooth and nail for control, against…something.

Something inside of him.

 

Shakily, he watched as Bones leaned in with his tricorder, muttering. The doctor cursed loudly about the medical readings on his device; they were going absolutely haywire, one minute perfectly fine, the next completely mystifying.

“This tricorder’s busted, Jim. I want to get you down to sick bay to check you out properly!”

Bones’ voice was increasingly grating on his resurfaced headache and Jim clenched his jaw in annoyance.

“I said, I’m fine, Doctor. Just a little tired.”

“Well that’s a nice way of saying you look like shit.”

“Oh, cut it out! I said I’m fine and I am. It’s the beam up that was the real problem. Why don’t you check that out with Mr. Scott here, and leave me the hell alone!”

The vitriol in Jim’s words pushed the doctor back a step and caused Spock to raise his usual left eyebrow in surprise.

The unsuspecting anger startled the captain, too. Jim rarely snapped at anyone, let alone one of his best friends. Maybe he just needed to lie down. Cool off and rest. He was having some sort of weird reaction to the transporter. That had to be it. The odd feelings, the pain, the confusing sensations, they were probably just from a bad beam up. There was no other logical explanation that came to Jim’s mind. No words to describe what was happening inside of him. Some rest would do the trick. He hoped.

Quelling a powerful (and incredibly troubling) urge to stay and pick a fight with his chief medical officer, Jim swiped a sleeve across his face and quickly stalked from the transporter room.

The three remaining men shared pointed looks.

“Stress is what it is, lads. Gotta be the stress,” Scotty offered, running a hand through his hair. Bones glanced at him and shrugged, his aggravation bristling at being dismissed in such a way. Spock remained silent.

They all went their separate ways; Spock towards the bridge, Bones to sickbay, and Scotty to the control panel to figure out what had gone wrong with the beam up. His instruments had given him no indication that something was amiss. But Jim had told him to check, and so he would.

 

Bones stomped all the way to sickbay before collapsing into his desk chair. He was just trying to help dammit. But Jim was being stubborn, as usual. And he was tired…they all were tired. 

Despite his conclusions, a seed of worry twisted uncomfortably in Bones’ stomach. He couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more going on.

 

Spock entered the bridge to find the captain’s chair empty. He had expected Jim to come right here after he’d hastily left the transporter room, but was pleased to note that he hadn’t. His friend was hopefully in his private quarters, resting. Exactly where he should be.

It was difficult to ignore his undulating emotions after he and Jim had beamed back from the planet’s surface; relief at leaving their bleak surroundings replaced instantaneously with alarm for Jim, and then with concerned puzzlement. The beam up had left him unaffected so he did not share Jim’s assessment about the “problem”. And Jim’s pain had been evident when he’d dropped to the floor, head in hand. The human body was complex and odd at times, but Spock was positive that pain, and bloody noses, were not the norm.

Mind toying with the perplexity of Jim’s reactions, the Vulcan sat in the captain’s seat and instructed Sulu to break the planet’s orbit, and asked Chekov to plot a route for the nearest star base. The navigator’s calculated travel time of 8.3 solar days was met with a brief nod from Spock.

“Warp factor 3, Mr. Sulu.”

“Yes, sir!”

As he felt the ship moving beneath him, Spock once again mulled over the captain’s odd behavior. He hoped that he was catching up on sorely needed sleep. Despite a small, nagging feeling of worry, Spock calculated Jim would feel much better after a rest.

 

How wrong he'd turn out to be.

Chapter Text

“That’s it! He’s had a stick up his ass for 24 hours now and I can’t take it anymore!” Bones thundered, throwing his arms in the air.

Spock listened diligently, doing his best to control his own emotions. Because by all accounts, Jim did seem to be…on edge. He’d observed 19 separate outbursts, Jim’s voiced raised and angry and so very unlike his usual self. The Vulcan had to admit that the doctor, though crude in language, could be onto something.

A few hours after hightailing it from the transporter room, Jim had stalked onto the bridge with a proverbial dark cloud around him. Spock assumed it was his typical irritability after rousing from sleep. But after yelling at Uhura, calling Sulu incompetent, and almost making Chekov cry, Spock had begun to suspect something more. Very quickly the bridge grew thick with tension and malcontent. The silence was broken only by the beeping and chirping of machines.

Approximately 7 minutes later, and without explanation, Jim had jumped to his feet and all but ran to the lift. He’d passed Spock near the communication section and icily instructed him to take the bridge. As he’d said those words, Spock could have sworn he saw something peculiar pass through the captain’s eyes. His face and voice conveyed clipped annoyance. But his eyes…Spock almost thought they looked pleading, fearful.

Before he could respond, Jim’s stare had once again filled with bitter antagonism and then he was gone. Spock watched him swipe angrily at his nose as the lift doors hissed shut.

No one had said anything, but the first officer could tell that Jim’s mood was affecting everyone. Uhura had been much too quiet. Sulu and Chekov spoke only to each other, with the navigator doing his best to not let his tears fall. Everyone else on the bridge had shared surprised or upset whispers whenever they thought Spock wasn’t looking.

As for the Vulcan, he too had been flummoxed. The captain was behaving irrationally and for no apparent reason. What’s more, Spock felt as if Jim had been…avoiding him, though he knew not why. And Spock had tried not to let that bother him. He instead focused his efforts on determining why everything that had occurred since they’d returned from their mission made zero sense. But no solution had appeared.

As time passed, Jim had yelled at practically everyone aboard the Enterprise, and the general mood of the ship had quickly deteriorated. The captain was acting impossibly testy, irritable, and always seemed to be looking for a fight.

Unsurprisingly, he had found one with Doctor McCoy not ten minutes ago.

 

Spock had entered sickbay to the raucous sounds of raised voices and items colliding with walls. A chair, he surmised. And some small, metal object as well. It was unmistakably Doctor McCoy and Jim and neither one seemed particularly cool-headed.

“Don’t you dare pull rank on me, Jim Kirk!”

“I’ll do whatever I damn please because this is my ship!”

“Oh, the old ‘this is my ship’ excuse. Haven’t heard that one a million times!”

“I will not be getting my blood drawn and I will not be getting examined!”

“Jesus, Jim. I’m a doctor, not a psychic! If you won’t let me examine you I won’t be able to figure out what’s going on!”

“There is nothing going on!”

“Tell that to your nose, which is bleeding again, and my tricorder which showed very odd readings before you decided to smash-it-against-the-wall!”

 

Spock stood just outside the office door, listening. The comment from Bones made him pause midstride. Another bloody nose? They’d been happening frequently enough for it to be considered statistically significant, in his opinion. And that was the second mention of a faulty tricorder.

Maybe that nagging uncertainty he’d had since beaming up hadn’t been too illogical.

“I am not going to stand here and be lectured by some-some country doctor who has no business whatsoever being in space!”

Jim’s agitation seemed to be growing exponentially. He so very rarely yelled at Doctor McCoy…Spock tried not to let this new development worry him.

“I’m leaving, Doctor, and you better not follow me!”

The captain came barreling out of the office and nearly collided with his first officer. Wiping his sleeve at his nose, Jim jumped back in surprise.

“Oh. Uh-”

Spock didn’t feel it would be wise to begin a conversation in his friend’s current state, so he didn’t offer a response. He let his dark eyes coolly observe the anger lining Jim’s face, the blood dripping from his nose, the tense set of his shoulders.

And then there it was again.

That look.

A brief flicker that Spock wasn’t entirely certain he’d seen. Because how could Jim’s eyes be imploringly asking for help when his mannerisms, behavior, actions, and words conveyed the exact opposite?

It lasted for less than a second. Almost like it didn’t even happen. Again, Spock saw his best friend’s eyes change, morphing in the harsh light of sickbay. They once more matched the bitterness and malice the rest of him embodied.

He shoved forcibly past Spock without another word.

 

“I can’t-I can’t believe it!” Bones hollered as Spock entered his office. The Vulcan was loath to admit it, but he couldn’t either; the lack of a logical explanation, or any sort of reasonable answer for that matter, was making his apprehension and confusion grow.

“It would seem, Doctor, that something is wrong.”

“Yeah, no shit Sherlock. Jim and I have had our disagreements, but he’s never thrown a chair at my head or smashed a single piece of Star Fleet equipment against the wall!”

“Fascinating…”

Bones snorted.

“Yeah, real fascinating there Spock.”

Spock righted the chair on the floor and took a seat while Bones continued to pace, too riled up to stop moving. This was a…disturbing development. All the overt signs of Jim’s worsening anger sent a shiver down Spock’s spine. He hated not knowing what was wrong with his best friend, not knowing how to fix it, and not truly knowing how he felt about it all.

Bones continued to complain and grumble about Jim’s behavior while Spock offered small sounds of agreement. It was the man’s comment about Jim having a stick up his ass that caught his full attention and elicited an eye roll from the Vulcan.

“Doctor, while your comment adequately expresses your frustration with the situation, I think it might be best if we channel our efforts into determining just what is wrong with the captain.”

Bones threw him a hard stare before collapsing into his own seat.

“You’re right, you’re right, Spock.” A frustrated huff. “It just doesn’t make any sense! Yeah, he’s acting real strange. And getting worse. But physically…something’s up there, too. I still don’t know what made him collapse in the transporter room, or what’s giving him bloody noses. And all these tricorder’s must be defective because I haven’t gotten a single clean reading from him!”

The doctor’s words struck a chord with Spock.

“All of this began after we beamed back up, wouldn’t you say, Doctor?”

“Well…yeah, Spock. I guess so.”

“Mr. Scott informed me that nothing was amiss with the beaming process. As I have shown no signs of ill-effect, I do not believe a transporter malfunction to be the root cause. However, we did beam up from a planet.”

Bones snapped his fingers.

“You said the place gave you the creeps, right? Well maybe he’s processing something he saw! Or he picked up a deep space cold, or…”

“I do not believe those were my…exact words, Doctor. And there is no certainty or clarity about this situation. But I also was down on that planet. We were parted for a minute or two at most. If something was down there, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume I would also be affected?”

In response, Bones let out a frustrated groan. He sunk his head back to rest on the chair’s headrest and closed his eyes. All of this was beginning to give him a hellacious headache.

“Well, the planet’s the only reasonable explanation, wouldn’t you say Mr. Spock?”

The taller man cocked his head, agreeing with Bones’ assessment.

“It would seem so, Doctor.”

“Right.” Bones clasped his hands together and rested them on his stomach. They needed a plan. Well, they needed answers, but a plan would do fine for now.

“I’ve got a small amount of data I managed to take before Jim smashed the tricorder. A blood sample and full physical would be ideal, but I can start analyzing what I’ve got so far. And maybe you can go do whatever it is you science people do, and see if you can’t find out more about that planet we just left?”

Silence.

Bones peeked open an eye. Spock’s brows were knit, his gaze focused unblinkingly on a spot on the desk. Whatever remaining anger the doctor had been clinging to dissipated in that moment. It was easy to forget how much Spock really cared about Jim, considering that he never showed it often and would deny any evidence of his emotions vehemently.

But he did.

The two were closer to each other than they were to practically anybody else. Bones couldn’t imagine what seeing Jim like this was doing to the Vulcan. He’d hate to be inside the man’s head on any given day but the last 24 hours especially.

“I know, Spock,” Bones whispered, emotion coloring his words. “I’m worried about him, too.”

The sickbay office grew silent. Both men were weighed down by the heaviness of their thoughts and their ever-growing unease. Between the two of them, they knew Jim Kirk the best. It was up to them to figure out just what was going on…and hopefully before anything got worse.

Chapter Text

It was all consuming.

Within him—coursing, tearing, engulfing.

Fighting for control. The urge to dominate unbearable.

But Jim was doing his best.

He’d been fighting his whole life. He was good at it. He’d come up against aliens, monsters, other humanoids, old friends—and emerged victorious. This was just another battle, another enemy to defeat. He wouldn’t stop fighting against it, ever.

Whatever “it” was.

 

He felt the change in him when it took over. The rage, the anger. It was like he was watching himself from outside, from the passenger seat as it steered his emotions, words, and actions. Like he was a completely different person. One who had the drive to incite violence, instigate, corrupt; to spread and multiply. Possess everyone, the will to rule over all life.

Jim heard its desires.

The brutality, the rage.

Knew exactly what it wanted.

The chaos. The destruction.

So he fought it with everything he had.

Much to its frustration, he’d been able to keep himself mostly isolated. Sent his friends a few cries for help, probably too brief or unnoticeable. But Jim put his faith in them. Especially Spock. They’d figure it out eventually. Hopefully before it was too late.

Because he never yelled at Bones like that.

He never yelled at anyone like that.

And this had been the longest stretch of time he’d ever gone without talking to Spock. Or touching him.

His best friends had to know something was wrong.

They had to.

Jim didn’t know how much longer he’d be able to fight its urges…

 


 

“God dammit all to hell!”

Bones shoved his chair away from his lab station. The readings…they had to be wrong.

It was the only explanation.

How else could the data make sense?

The tricorder recordings he’d managed to take in the transporter room and his office showed two completely divergent set of data. One was more or less consistent with human vitals, but the other…

Bones shook his head.

They weren’t readings he’d ever seen before. There was no way that general fluid analysis on Jim’s circulatory system was accurate.

It was impossible.

Running a disgruntled hand through his hair, Bones wished the numbers on his screen made sense. And he really hoped Spock was having more luck.

 


 

The only outward signs that the Vulcan was frustrated beyond conception were the two fingers he had pinching the bridge of his nose and the defeated sigh he let escape his lips.

Things were not going well.

His readings were, in a word, bizarre.

Elementary analysis of the planet showed a complete lack of iron; which, for a Class M planet, was implausible. While fascinating in and of itself, Spock knew it didn’t provide a clarifying answer. Further data revealed no nuclear signatures or radiation and a severe depletion of natural resources. That, when taken in conjunction with the visual scans that showed unprecedented damage, confirmed the planet had undergone total annihilation.

No life readings whatsoever.

Except…

There was a small signature on the far side of the screen, barely a blip. Could be a statistical anomaly, the result of a faulty reading. Whatever it was indicated that there was a fine layer, no more than a few cells, that covered most of the structures on the planet. Not exactly living organisms, as they registered as merely a small reading of biological life.

What all these individual facts added up to, Spock didn’t know.

He just needed to keep digging, keep analyzing, keep focusing. The answers had to be in here somewhere.

Because he had to help Jim.

 


 

“Right-o. I hope ye found somethin’ in yer numbers there, ‘cause I just ran into Jim out in the hall and he was madder than a sober Irishman!”

“Keep your voice down, Scotty. The last thing we need is for him to find out about our secret ‘Lets Figure Out What’s Wrong with Jim’ party.”

“Well, issna like we’re hidin’ this meetin’, laddie…” the engineer huffed.

“Not hi-ding per se, Mr. Scott,” Bones countered. “Just meeting in a normal meeting place without our commanding officer. Totally normal, very normal meeting.”

Scotty snorted. “Nothin’ normal about this.”

His whispered reply petered out in the big room.

The hissing open of the door had them both jumping in their seats. But the familiar blue shirt and pointy ears were not indicative of their brooding friend. Well, brooding in a different way friend.

Spock looked tired, which didn’t happen very often. And he’d been inordinately quiet over the past day of research. Even for a Vulcan. Bones and Scotty could tell this was eating at him, wearing at him; the not having a clear answer meant there was no clear solution for how to handle Jim. Spock would never reveal the instability of his emotions. But seeing the captain is this way…affected Spock more than he cared to admit.

The three men had decided last night to work together to come up with solutions to their current predicament. They knew that what was afflicting Jim was more than just fatigue, stress, an emotional reaction, or a combination of the three. While they could have explained away one flare of a temper or one yelled command, they could not account for the steady rise in hostility in Jim’s words and actions.

He was getting worse.

And they were getting nowhere.

 

Spock entered the room lacking his usual cool controlled exterior. Bones and Scotty shared a concerned.

“I really hope you’ve got something, Mr. Spock.”

The taller man sat wearily at the table and placed his PADD down next to him.

“There are many things I have, Doctor. The answer is not one of them.”

“Dammit,” Bones breathed.

“Let’s no give up hope just yet, laddies. Now, tell me, what have ye two found?”

The doctor went first, providing a detailed record of his odd tricorder readings. When he highlighted Jim’s circulatory system, Spock looked at him sharply.

“Doctor. Can you repeat that?”

“Uhh. Sure, Spock. While not as good as a blood sample, which could give us a more comprehensive analysis, the partial scan I did picked up an anomaly in Jim’s blood. An unexplained dip in iron levels. Which doesn’t mean much by itself-”

“No, it doesn’t, Doctor. But my readings of the planet revealed there was no iron present, highly unusual for a Class M planet. It is hard to ignore the correlation of our two findings.”

“Sure, but what does it mean?” Scotty inquired.

“It means, Scotty, that something is taking the iron. It doesn’t just disappear by itself.”

“Precisely, Doctor. My readings further indicated that there were thin layers of cells coating the surface of the planet. Their life readings were barely perceptible, which is why they did not appear on our initial scans. It could very well be a single-celled organism that Jim and I picked up when we beamed down to the surface.”

“Sounds dandy, Spock. But how come you’re not yelling and picking fights with everyone, too?”

“I…do not know, Doctor.” Spock leaned back in his chair, huffing in an unusual display of frustration.

Silence descended as each man was lost in the sea of his swirling thoughts. They knew more now, but what did it all add up to?

“So,” Bones mused, rubbing his chin in thought. “We’ve got disappearing iron and semi-alive cell bodies…”

“Which is more than we had yesterday!” Scotty quipped.

“While they do not provide an immediate answer, I believe we are on the right track.”

Bones was relieved to see a shadow of Spock’s usual spark flickering in his gaze. He would never, ever tell the Vulcan, but he was sure glad to hear him talking and acting a bit more like himself. If anyone could figure this weird puzzle out, it would be the pointy-eared science officer.

“Now, gentlemen, I say we begin our queries with a look at environmental disturbances that could cause an iron-imbalance.”

“An excellent idea, Mr. Spock.”

At the Vulcan’s raised eyebrow, Bones chuckled, his first in quite a while.

“Obviously, Doctor. That is why I suggested it.”

Scotty hid his smile behind his hand as he stared down at an academic article on planetary iron stores on his PADD.

Maybe, just maybe, they were getting somewhere.

 


 

Three incontrovertible facts had been agreed upon: the iron was an important factor in whatever was going on, it somehow must have occurred on the planet, and Jim was getting worse. Many questions and what ifs elusively remained. But it was a start. They’d decided to split up: Scotty’s job was to keep an eye on their disgruntled captain, while Bones and Spock were headed down to the labs for more tests. The first of which was to determine why Jim was showing symptoms of something while Spock was not.

Exiting out into the hallway, they all agreed to meet up again in two hours’ time to go over their new findings, and hopefully have a clearer idea for how to solve the “Jim” problem.

“And now remember, let’s keep this between us, right gentlemen?” Bones whispered.

But apparently not quietly enough.

“Keep what between you?”

The three men turned in surprise.

“Oh, Jim-”

“We didna see ye there laddie-”

The captain was standing in the middle of the hallway, arms crossed, eyes burning with barely concealed rage. In such an uncertain state, there was no telling what was about to happen.

“Just what are my three most senior staff officers doing meeting in the command suite?”

“Oh, nothing Jim. Nothing. We were just talking…” Bones trailed off, every lie that popped into his head sounding much too unbelievable.

“Seems there’s quite a few things going on here that I don’t know about.”

Jim’s words were harsh and accusatory. They reminded Spock of a time when the transporter had malfunctioned, of coming face to face with a Jim unburdened by social constraints and morality, dark eyes as unhinged then as they were now. But this was not some manifestation of an evil duplicate, this was his Jim Kirk…but not his Jim Kirk. His mind could understand that, even if his heart could not.

Scotty and Bones instinctively took a step back, but Spock remained rooted in place. The captain closed the distance between him and the group, stopping almost toe to toe with his best friend.

“I bet this was all your doing. Wasn’t it, Mr. Spock?” Jim poked angrily at the taller man’s chest. “You think I don’t see what’s going on here?!”

Spock squared his shoulders and peered coolly back at the captain. He hated the rising level of his friend’s voice, hated the dark malice dancing in his eyes. But he had hated the 49 hours and 12 minutes of distance more. This was as close as he’d been to the captain since beaming down to the planet. He tried to ignore that fact as he stared into Jim’s eyes, not backing down an inch. This version of Jim scared him to his very core but at the very least he was talking to him again.

“Captain, this is not a conversation for the hallway.”

Spock’s measured response seemed only to enrage Jim further. It was as if any and all remnants of the man he knew disappeared in an instant. The fire in his eyes burned Spock with a ferocity that was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. Spock’s heart ached.

“Mutiny! That’s what this is! So much for friendship. You would dare try and take this ship from me? Your vile whispers, sowing discontent and discord! How dare you?!” Jim forcefully shoved at Spock’s chest, pushing him a few steps. Bones and Scotty stepped back as well, eyes glued on the captain.

A slight trickle of blood appeared at the base of Jim’s nose.

“How dare any of you?! What do you know of leadership, Mr. Scott?” Jim pointed accusingly at the engineer. “Down there with your engines and power circuits and switches. You know nothing, you drunk Scotsman. I’ve fired you once and I can do it again. And you!” Jim’s hand swiveled to Bones. “An inept country doctor. Too far out of your depth up amongst the stars. How many have died on your watch, Dr. McCoy? How many have you been unable to save?”

Both men were pale, withering under Jim’s scorching attacks. They knew the words were not his, knew that something more was going on to make him say these things. But were they his true thoughts, brought out by some inhibition, like the sickness they’d picked up over a year ago? Or were they the cruel creations of some other nameless evil?

“And Mr. Spock. My best friend. I never thought the day would come when you’d try and subvert command from me. But I guess you’ve always wanted that power. Craved it. I’m just an obstacle standing in your way. Isn’t that right?”

The hatred in Jim’s eyes pushed painfully on Spock’s chest until it was difficult to breathe.

“Captain, this is neither the time nor the place. You do not really mean-”

“You have no idea what I mean! Yes, you may know me better than anyone. I can see it in your face that this…this anger of mine is tormenting you. How sweet that you care. I thought Vulcans didn’t feel, Mr. Spock. But that’s right! You’re only half-Vulcan. An unloved half-breed who has never fit in anywhere. Worthless. Spineless. After all we’ve been through and you still can’t even admit how you feel about me.”

It was a completely different person standing before the three Starfleet officers. This man might look like Jim and sound like Jim, but it wasn’t him at all. Every word carefully selected to wound them as deeply as possible, to bristle their own responding anger and send them spiraling into violence and self-destruction.

Jim’s eyes bored into Spock’s, a dark smile on his face.

“But I know exactly how I feel about you, Mr. Spock. And there is no one I hate more.”

Spock didn’t see the punch coming. He had no cause to expect it because Jim had never done a thing like that.

It didn’t make it hurt any less, though.

The captain’s knuckles painfully connected with his left cheek. At the touch, a hurricane of feeling overwhelmed Spock’s senses and had him reeling as much as the blow. He could sense Jim’s battle, his weariness, his struggle to survive. There was a malice tainting him, tormenting him. It was slowly poisoning his mind and his body to carry out its will. Jim, the real Jim, was reaching out desperately for help. Now it was clear more than ever that there was something inside him, something controlling him. The revelation shook the crumbling foundations of Spock’s composure.

And then the connection was severed. Spock was falling backwards, Jim’s knuckles no longer bruising his face. Stumbling roughly into Scotty and Bones, the Vulcan managed to knock all three of them to the ground. They landed unceremoniously tangled in a pile of limbs.

The memory of feeling Jim’s torment lingered in Spock’s mind. A brand seared into his brain that he could never wash away. He shook his head quickly, searching for some clarity or rationality. He had to think. Objectively. Rationally. Think about what he should do. Giving in to the rising torrent of emotions inside of him was not an option; even if Jim’s words stung like lashes and clawed devastatingly at his heart. He focused on the pain blossoming in his cheek to ground him.

Brown eyes rose to look up into the face of his attacker. His friend. The man he trusted more than any other. The one whom he loved more than any other.

Bones and Scotty looked up as well, surprise morphing with their newfound fury.

No one moved. Jim’s rage rolled off of him in waves, his knuckles red, his nose still bleeding. For a moment they thought Jim was going to start a fight with them all.

But he didn’t.

 

The next ten seconds were the longest ten seconds of Spock’s life.

It was deathly silent in the hallway as they all watched, transfixed.

Jim seemed to be fighting…himself. An unseen battle waged against an unseen enemy. One instant he was the frenzied monster, the next he was a shade of normal. His left hand seized his right, gripping the wrist fiercely and pulling it to his chest. Terrified eyes, wide and bloodshot, set in a mercurial face. Anger replaced by exhausted resistance, and then quickly morphing back. Sweat beading on his forehead.

The three men could do nothing but stare at the odd display. They could make no rational sense of it, had no practical explanation for what they were witnessing.

Bones’ brain supplied the one concept most similar: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Suddenly, all color drained from Jim’s face. His limbs began to shake and his breathing became erratic. He looked forlornly at Spock, tired eyes whispering a pleading request.

“Spock.”

With a resounding crash, Jim’s knees gave out and he slammed to the floor, unconscious.

Chapter Text

As Jim’s knees had buckled and his eyes rolled back into his skull, Spock jumped to his feet. He’d managed to get to Jim, sliding on his knees to catch his friend’s head before it collided painfully with the floor.

“Jim? Jim can you hear me?”

The man in his arms remained unresponsive.

Spock’s heart leapt into his throat. None of this made sense; not the numbers, the events of the last two days, nor the actions of his captain. He wanted to let the tears welling in his eyes fall, knowing they would never stop. He wanted to ball his hands into fists and scream into nothingness. He wanted to punch and kick and smash and break, the fires of his anger fueling a path of destruction. He wanted to hold Jim in his arms without ever letting go. He felt, and felt, and felt. Too many emotions devastating him and drowning his rational mind. It was all too much.

He heard Scotty and Bones come up behind him. Protectively, he tightened his grip around Jim. But he was careful to keep his touch only on the uniform, not eager to repeat the inundation he’d experienced at connecting with Jim’s skin earlier.

“Spock, I need to check him out.”

Bones’ voice was soft, hesitant.

“No. You cannot.”

“Spock, this isn’t up for debate-” Bones tried again as he leaned a hand down towards Jim.

“Don’t touch him!”

Defensively, Spock scooted away from the doctor with Jim now pulled all the way into his lap. The desperation in his voice stopped Bones cold.

“Dammit Spock,” the man growled in frustration. “I need to make sure he’s okay!”

The Vulcan shook his head, brown eyes narrowed up at Bones.

“None of us should touch him, Doctor. I believe whatever is afflicting him can be spread by close contact. The likeliest culprit is an infection or invasive cellular species.”

Bones took an instinctive step back, and shared an anxious look with Scotty.

“But, Spock. How…”

“I-I could…feel it inside of him when he hit me.”

“Jesus Christ.” Bones crouched down a few feet away from Spock, trying to catch his eye. The Vulcan looked lost, his expression empty.

“Then you’ve been...”

Spock could only nod, the distance in his gaze growing.

Bones felt fear prickle hot and cold over his skin. Things had gone from bad and confusing…to much, much worse.

He got to his feet slowly, backing away from the huddled forms on the ground.

“Scotty,” the doctor breathed. He was unable to tear his eyes away from Jim’s still form, the paleness of his face, Spock’s long arms wrapped around him possessively, haunted oblivion in those brown eyes.

“I need you to get the decontamination team down here. You take control of the bridge for the foreseeable future. We’ll be at the star base in-” he paused for some mental math, “about a week. Keep a tight lid on this, Scotty. Not a word to anyone. I’ll stick Spock and Jim in isolation until I can figure out what’s going on.”

Without a word, the engineer nodded. Bones glanced at him and tried to smile. He could see his own apprehension and worry mirrored in the Scotsman’s gaze. Bringing up a heavy hand, he squeezed his friend’s shoulder reassuringly.

“It’ll be okay.”

But the words fell flat. Neither one of them believing the false optimism in the hushed promise.

 


 

“Thanks for the update, Scotty.”

Bones flicked the end button on his computer.

The crew was starting to get antsy, suspecting something was wrong. But unsurprisingly their trust in their captain and their faith in their superiors hadn’t wavered. Bones and Scotty had decided it was best to tell only a handful of people—Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov—and supply a variation of the truth. Jim and Spock picked up some kind of deep space flu from the planet’s surface, and needed to be kept in isolation so as to not infect the rest of the crew.

As the hours ticked by Bones was beginning to think the flu idea had some merit. A beep from his PADD told him his new report was ready.

But the result didn’t make a lick of sense.

And so he ran it again.

And again.

And again…

 


 

Four hours earlier…

 

Bones shadowed Spock as the Vulcan carried the still unconscious captain in his arms towards sickbay. Kept a discrete distance, feeling utterly useless.

Spock was right: if Jim had something, anything, that made him contagious, limiting the spread of exposure was the most intelligent course of action. Didn’t mean Bones had to like it. He was trained to help; trained to heal. And he could do neither one at the moment.

He busied himself observing the Vulcan striding in front of him. With how fragile Spock seemed emotionally, he did not let it show. He’d slipped on a detached façade. Retreated into himself without so much as a word to anyone. His sole focus on the man in his arms.

He carried Jim with a gentleness Bones did know he possessed, and a strength the doctor would have assumed diminished after their hellacious last two days. But his every step was sure. Steadfast.

 

 

Bones didn’t say anything as Spock delicately placed Jim on a biobed. The captain still gave no indication of stirring. Spock stared down at his friend’s face, his own mask revealing the barest hints of the anguish roiling within him.

Abruptly, he turned towards the doorway that Bones was standing in. His jaw was clenched and his hands were fisted by his side. The browns of his eyes searched the doctor’s face, swirling with something Bones couldn’t identify.

“Leonard.”

Bones didn’t think Spock had ever used his first name before that moment. It spoke volumes to his distress, his anxiety, his unimaginable fear, without lasting more than a second. And frankly, it scared Bones shitless.

“Right. Right.” The doctor ran a hand through his hair. “Decontamination. Isolation protocols. Full work ups on you and Jim.”

Spock just stared at him, large eyes slightly unfocused.

“You…you just stay there, Spock. Give me a minute and I’ll be…I’ll be right back.”

The Vulcan barely acknowledged Bones’ words. He just turned back to the bed, eyes focused on the rise and fall of Jim’s chest, one hand hovering in the space above the unconscious man’s arm.

Bones never moved so quickly.

 

 

He’d returned in a donned protective suit, fitting an air tight seal around the sickbay door to create an isolation section of the room. Spock still stood rooted by Jim’s bed. And Jim still hadn’t woken.

The scans, blood samples, and readings were conducted in a tense silence. Bones stopped trying to engage Spock in conversation after his second unanswered question. The beeping of the machines were the only sounds to keep them company.

Spock’s readings seemed normal enough for a Vulcan.

Jim’s were slightly more distressing. His vitals showed an accelerated heartrate, fatigue, pain flaring in his head and chest, decreased oxygen levels. And the same odd reading of low iron. With no apparent cause.

Yet.

He gave Jim a hypo to help alleviate some of his discomfort, packed up his samples and tricorder, and made for the sealed door.

The doctor wished there was more he could do. He still felt utterly useless.

Before he left, Bones turned and stared at Spock.

He wanted to offer some words of comfort, some inspiring message of hope, some promise that he’d fix everything. But he knew nothing he could say would help Spock in that moment. His own chest constricted at seeing Jim lying pale and struggling in sickbay. But that was his friend lying enigmatically pale and sick in a bed, while for Spock…Bones wasn’t entirely sure what Spock was to Jim and what Jim was to Spock. But it damn sure wasn’t just friends.

“I’ll let you know the minute I find something out,” he whispered hurriedly, voice thick.

 

 

Bones practically ran from the isolation room, and the minute the decontamination process ended he ripped off his suit. He gulped desperately, willing the air into his lungs. The tiny room, with the dimmed lights and silence, had felt terrifyingly oppressive—the fear, the worry, his own helplessness weighing on him with every step and movement. Bones hated that feeling, hated his own ineptitude. He was a man of science, learned and studied and intelligent, and yet he had no answers. No miraculous medical solution that would fix his best friend lying in sickbay, or fix his other best friend (yes, begrudgingly he admitted to himself, the best moniker was accurate) who was acting odd even for a half Vulcan. He felt so goddamn useless it was suffocating him.

It took him a moment to realize that his hands were shaking.

The chief medical officer knew he had data to analyze, tests to run. Things that he needed to do, especially with the top two officers in charge down for the count. But he just…he needed a minute. Just one minute to breathe.

“Dammit, dammit, dammit…”

A sob bubbled in his chest as all the events of the last 48 hours crashed down on him in an unrelenting deluge.

 


 

Bones looked at the readout from the fifth scan and one thing was abundantly clear: Spock was not affected. He’d run this same test four times previously and it always came back with that fact. The strange element he’d found in Jim’s blood was nowhere in any of Spock’s samples no matter how many times he ran the test.

Which only confused him more.

Bones had been able to identify an odd substance in Jim’s blood that had no busines being there. He didn’t know what it was yet mind you, but he’d bet all his Saurian Brandy that it was what was making the captain act so strangely.

And that was making him sick.

Getting to his feet, Bones snatched his PADD and raced towards the isolation room. He had some more information, and he knew just the Vulcan who could piece it all together.

He was almost hopeful as he shoved his arms into his protective suit and stepped through the plastic screen. Spock was fine, he was perfectly healthy, and he couldn’t wait to tell him and-

The sight that greeted him turned his blood cold.

“Oh, fuck.”

Chapter Text

Spock completed his 211th lap next to the biobed. It was really much more than that, he was certain, but he’d lost count on numerous occasions.

Which disturbed him greatly.

Objectively, he realized he was acting highly illogical. He should be meditating, or resting, or helping Doctor McCoy determine what was afflicting himself and the captain.

But his brain didn’t seem to want to focus on anything productive.

Bringing a hand up, Spock rubbed at his temples in frustration and began his 212th pace towards the door. He’d had over three hours to attempt to control his emotions but had so far been unsuccessful. There was a heaviness in his chest and his mind that he recognized belatedly as sadness. The words his best friend had spewed in the corridor nagged at his attempts for stability, the way Jim had dropped to the floor and remained unresponsive since stabbed coldly at his heart, the uncertain territory they’d ventured into with whatever was affecting Jim snuffed out any flickers of hope.

They had rudimentary facts, puzzle pieces that didn’t seem to fit. No answers. No solutions. No way to fix what was going on.

Spock turned on his heel and stalked back towards the biobed. He’d completed yet another lap in his unrelenting pacing, but he was no closer to control.

He had first tried to categorize his emotions, order them neatly in a line as each one popped up. But quickly, Spock had given up on that plan, as they surged and swelled at varying intervals and with no rhyme or reason. Unable to keep track, anticipate, or properly process them all left him frustrated. It also left him ashamed, his inability to solidify his composure foreign and irksome.

213th lap.

Before meeting Jim, Spock had prided himself on his overt Vulcan-ness. He may have been half human, but he acted almost entirely Vulcan. Always disciplined, always calm and calculating. He immersed himself in the world of facts and figures, finding refuge amidst the certainties and unfailing ways of science. Numbers never lied. People did.

But then he’d been assigned to the Enterprise. And then he’d gotten James T. Kirk as his captain.

The comfortable routine of his ways unraveled inch by inch. With every interaction with Jim, Spock felt a new piece of his human side come to life, coaxed to the surface by a smile, a laugh, a touch. It should have scared him more than it did. He should have hated this surging of feelings. Yet…he didn’t. It felt right.

214th lap.

Days, weeks, months, years. All passing, Spock becoming a little more human each time.

Jim showed him the strength to be found in his emotions. Praised the unique outlook he brought with being both human and Vulcan. Their connection, their bond, ever deepening. Spock shouldn’t have been so comfortable showing Jim the feelings he usually tried so hard to ignore or suppress. But he’d realized that Jim was not someone he needed to hide from. His best friend made him feel seen, heard, valued. Never looked down on him for his background, never ridiculed him for his objectivity and detachment, as so many others had.

215th lap.

They’d become friends gradually, Jim wearing down Spock’s defenses with his cheeky grins and playful teasing. Chess games, shared meals, long talks about nothing in particular became their norm. And for the first time in a long time, Spock didn’t feel so alone.

Wherever Jim went, Spock was not far behind. They worked effortlessly as a team, a command relationship that was the envy of other Starfleet ships. Spock was proud of this. Proud of all the two accomplished together and the high performance of the Enterprise.

216th lap.

And then one day, one moment in particular that Spock would never forget. That changed everything.

Jim had walked him to his quarters across the hall after finishing another normal night of chess and conversation. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing unusual. And then as Spock had opened his door, Jim had placed a hand on his upper arm. Physical touch was an agreed upon facet of their friendship; Jim was one of the few people that Spock didn’t mind having near him, or invading his personal space. But there was something swimming in Jim’s eyes that night, the goofy grin he was wearing, the warmth emanating from the friendly touch. It probably hadn't meant anything to Jim, but it had meant everything to Spock.

As Jim had said goodnight and gave his arm a squeeze, Spock realized something with astounding clarity: the undefinable emotion he’d been feeling for as long as he could remember, the emotion that had always been there since the moment he’d met Jim, was love.

200 and…?

210th?

No…220th?

No…

Spock sighed. He’d lost count again.

Wearily, he sat on the edge of Jim’s biobed. His concern for the captain ensnared him, blue and soft and billowing. It was followed by a crushing wave of despair, pewter gray, cruelly staining the fabric of his mind, droplets disintegrating any shred of light. And then a fierce torrent of helpless anger, red and hot and blinding.

That thing inside Jim was poisoning him. And there was nothing he could do.

Spock could still feel the darkness, the unknown malice staining his memory. Its corruptive presence had been overwhelming when Jim had hit him. The touch had been brief in time, but profound in its conveyance. Long fingers traced the growing bruise on his cheek as Spock remembered sensing the evil coursing through Jim’s veins, the captain valiantly fighting but slowly weakening, losing. The thing corrupting his best friend was winning. It wanted to control, to multiply, to devour. Destroying species from the inside out. Extinguishing life with provoked violence until it was all that was left. Waiting for its next victim.

He should never have let the captain go off by himself.

He should have insisted he get checked out the minute they beamed back.

He should have realized sooner that something was horribly wrong.

What if delaying treatment negatively impacted Jim’s chances of survival?

What if he couldn’t determine what the “it” was?

What if it completely took over Jim and the man he knew was lost forever?

What if it killed him?

It would also kill you, Spock reminded himself.

But...it slowly dawned on him that he wasn’t feeling symptoms of any kind. No lightheadedness that had affected the captain, no uncontrollable rage or drive for violence. That was bewildering. Maybe it was slow acting. Or maybe it wasn’t passed through dermal contact…

Spock looked down at his hands in hopes of finding some clarity in an unsuspecting place. They were knitted stiffly in his lap, bouncing in conjunction with the nervous bobbing of his knee. That anxious tic hadn’t surfaced in quite some time.

A flash of color caught his gaze.

To his dismay he noticed a streak of burgundy saturating the front of his shirt. When he was holding the captain, Jim’s face must have brushed against his blue top. Another perfectly pristine uniform, tainted. It was sticky where it had leaked through to adhere the fabric to his skin, the drying liquid an uncomfortable sensation.

Unwittingly, he heard Jim’s cruel voice echoing in his ears.

Half-breed.

Never fit in.

Unloved.

Worthless.

I thought Vulcans didn’t feel.

They felt more painful than any phaser blast or broken bone he’d ever experienced. Jim, who knew him better than anyone, took his deepest fears, the pillars of his self-loathing, and hurled them back at him with patronizing disgust. Knew exactly what to say to bring him to his knees. To tear at and crush his soul. They were words spat in anger, and the logical part of Spock knew Jim hadn't meant them. But he couldn’t deny how deeply they wounded him.

 

A low moan snapped Spock out of his stupor.

“Jim?”

The Vulcan got to his feet and moved hesitantly towards the top of the bed. He watched Jim’s hands curl into the blanket, his head moving side to side as the captain fought his way back to consciousness.

“Jim?” Spock tried again, more quietly this time.

Confused, owlish eyes blinked up at him. It looked like the captain was about to say something when abruptly, a panicked expression filled his gaze.

Jim shot up into a seated position. He was gasping and coughing, sounding like he couldn’t catch his breath. Clawing desperately at his throat, Jim’s scared eyes found Spock’s. The vital monitor began to beep incessantly, loudly reinforcing that something was wrong.

“Jim!”

Spock grabbed Jim’s shoulders and searched his face, hating the terrified expression he saw.

“Ca-can’t-” The captain gasped harshly. “N-no a-air!”

Jim grabbed at Spock frantically, his fear palpable. Loud gasps, bleak battles to take a breath, filled the isolation room. Spock released his hold on Jim and tried to pry the captain’s hands from their vice-like grip in his shirt.

“Jim. I need to go get Leonard. You have to let me go!”

But he wouldn’t.

If anything, he clutched Spock’s uniform even tighter. Jim was shaking his head and staring pleadingly at his best friend. There was something he had to say while he had the presence of mind to say it. Before whatever was inside of him clawed to the surface.

“I-it. Bl-blood. N-no.” A strangled gasp. “T-t-touch. Sp-sp-spread. K-ki-kills!”

The harsh coughs Jim dissolved into fearfully stabbed at Spock's heart. “Shh, Jim. Don’t try and speak. Just let me get-” But the rest of his words died in his throat.

The transformation was almost comical. Suddenly, the captain stilled, ceasing the unsuccessful efforts to catch his breath. He stopped fighting, stopped struggling. Everything just stopped.

Jim was staring past Spock, eyes unfocused. The abrupt change was unsettling, the newfound silence sounding foreign to Spock’s ears.

And then Jim slowly turned to face him.

 

Spock couldn’t suppress a shudder.

Those eyes that were usually so full of life and love, warm and gentle, now were distant, harsh, cruel. The darkness was once again in control.

“It” was back.

With a strength that surprised the Vulcan, Jim launched off the bed, using the hands that were tangled in Spock’s shirt to propel the two men roughly to the floor. The captain landed heavily on Spock, while Spock’s head collided sickeningly with the ground. Jim connected one punch, then another. A third painful blow to the face finally snapped Spock out of his shocked daze.

He ignored the dark waves that probed his mind from Jim’s touch and raised his arms to cover his face. Bucking his hips, Spock managed to shift Jim off balance enough to worm out from beneath him. He had an opening to deliver a blow of his own, but couldn’t bring himself to do so.

Jim’s eyes were wild, his teeth bared. The open hostility in his gaze didn’t make Spock nearly as scared as it should have. Instead, it just filled him with immeasurable sorrow.

This was not a man he knew or recognized. And he wouldn’t be able to do more than play defense. He couldn’t hit Jim if he tried.

Spock dodged a wild swing and got to his feet, putting some distance between him and the captain. He glanced towards the door. It would have been too much to hope for Bones to be walking in that very moment.

No such luck. Not that he believed in that sort of thing anyways.

A wave of dizziness surprising him, Spock shot out an arm towards the wall, his vision blurry. Damn. This was an unfortunate development, and one he hoped was merely a result of his rough landing on the sickbay floor and not a first sign that he’d been infected. It also significantly increased the likelihood of the fight swaying in Jim’s favor.

He shifted his eyes over towards the captain. Jim’s hands were raised, seeming like a boxer in a ring. There was no remorse or hesitation evident in his stance, no uncertainty in his dark gaze. He needed a plan, and quickly. Spock looked frantically around, before his eyes skated behind Jim and noticed the communicator positioned on the wall. If he could just get over there, keep Jim at a distance, he could contact Bones, or really anyone, for some help…

Slowly, he began to skirt the outside of the room, his back to the wall. Jim followed his movements, the two beginning a circular dance around the room. As Spock glanced towards the wall, assessing the distance between him and the communicator, Jim lunged.

The force of the movement slammed Spock into the wall before he crumpled to the floor, his mind fuzzy and gaze swimming. He should have seen the attack coming. The two had been in enough skirmishes together for the first officer to know exactly how Jim would fight, his movements and techniques, his strikes and retreats. As his back hit the ground, Spock recognized that his probable head injury and his uncontrolled emotional state were hampering his ability to focus.

A very unfortunate development.

Even as he felt Jim’s weight on him, effectively pinning him to the floor, Spock couldn’t bring himself to fight back. Which was entirely illogical.

His self-preservation, his instinct for survival, was absent. It failed under the overpowering urge to not harm Jim. Not hurt him no matter what. That thought surmounted all else, screaming louder than every impulse and reflex and drive. He looked into his best friend’s eyes, the cold fury unrecognizable, and he calmly rationalized that Jim might kill him.

He could feel Jim’s hands sliding around his throat and Spock still couldn’t believe what was happening. Jim wouldn’t do this. This wasn’t possible. But as the pressure tightened and he suddenly found it more difficult to breathe, he realized he was very, very afraid. And he probably should have fought back.

Because yes, Jim would never hurt him. But this wasn’t Jim.

He clawed at the hands on his throat, his vision already darkening around the edges, while his mind filled with the thoughts that often visited those near death. Snapshots of happy memories. His mother. His friends. Jim's laugh. Fears of the unknown. What happens after death? Who will remember me? Have I done all that I was meant to do? The bitter pill of regret. Never getting to see Jim smile again. No more shared moments, conversations, or new memories to make. Never telling him how much I love him.

He’ll take that secret to his grave.

Above the crashing deafness that accompanied his losing battle with consciousness, he thought he might have heard the protective seal of the room opening. He even thought he heard the chief medial officer’s familiar voice, gruff and temperamental as usual. In any other situation Bones’ obscene language would have him rolling his eyes and commenting on the unnecessary vulgarity. But he was otherwise preoccupied and barely registered his loud cry.

“Oh, fuck.”

Chapter Text

Whatever he’d been expecting to find when he’d enter isolation, this wasn’t it. How could he have anticipated Jim, with wild fire in his expression, strangling Spock, whose struggles were weakening with every passing moment?

Nope. Not in a million years. He almost couldn’t believe it, except it was happening right before his very eyes.  

Bones dropped everything and sprinted towards the pair. He had enough good sense to grab a sedative from a nearby drawer before undertaking any attempts to intervene. In one fluid motion, he’d prepped the hypo, bent down next to Jim, and injected the medication into his neck, before the captain even realized what was going on.

Thankfully, it had an instantaneous effect. Jim’s grip on Spock slackened and he listed heavily to one side. Bones managed to slow his fall, helping Jim gently to the ground until he was laying on his back. He seemed to be unconscious, but stable. With the sounds of Spock’s staggering gulps for air echoing in his ears, the doctor double-checked that Jim presented no current threat to their safety before turning his attention to the injured Vulcan.

Much to Bones’ chagrin, he observed Spock already fighting his way into a sitting position. He was entirely too pale, with deepening bruises on his face and blood matted in his hair. Bones quickly categorized the injuries, his eyes lingering on the angry imprints left on Spock’s neck where Jim’s fingers had just been. The visual proof of Jim’s ferocity turned the doctor’s stomach.

“You alright, Spock?”

The taller man didn’t respond. In Spock’s opinion, it was an incredibly loaded question and one he wasn’t entirely certain how to answer. What could he say? His head was pounding, his face felt as battered as it probably looked, and he’d been quite close to never taking another breath again. Plus, his emotional control remained tantalizingly out of reach, an open wound relentlessly oozing fear, apprehension, confusion, frustration, helplessness, and sorrow. How could he ever respond to such a simple question when he didn’t have anything near a simple answer?

So, he didn’t.

Instead, he remained stubbornly silent, rubbing absentmindedly at his throat. The doctor rolled his eyes exasperatedly and decided to try a different question.

“So…you wanna tell me what happened?”

At that inquiry, Spock glanced up into the doctor’s concerned stare. That wasn’t really an easier question. However, with what Bones just witnessed, he probably owed the concerned man a semblance of a reply. Ignoring the protests from his body, Spock used the wall to get back onto his feet.

“It-” the Vulcan tried to clear his throat and winced at the pain it caused. “It is no matter, Doctor. I believe Jim is in need of medical attention.”

The raspy quality in Spock’s voice made Bones cringe, and his answer had him rising to his feet with annoyance coursing through his veins. Face to face, he could see his friend’s efforts to compose himself, the lines of exhaustion on his face, a haunted look in his eye. Bones couldn’t remember a time he’d been more worried by the Vulcan. It was unsettling. Hands on his hips, he fixed Spock with a troubled glare.

“I’ll get to him, you stubborn Vulcan. Right now, I’m a little busy trying to make sure you’re still a participant in the land of the living!”

At the vexation in the doctor’s tone, Spock decided, intelligently, to remain silent; focusing instead on the much too laborious process of breathing in and then out again. He let Bones poke and prod him, hissing in discomfort only on occasion. It was easy to tune out the man’s dismayed grumbles about the trickling cut on the back of his head, the deepening bruises, and his probable concussion. Spock’s concern did not rest with himself, as he knew he only had minor injuries. The source and focus of his tumultuous emotions—concern most of all—was Jim.

Finally waving away Bones’ hands that had been inspecting the discoloration on his neck, Spock straightened his uniform. “If you are quite done, Doctor,” he whispered hoarsely. “I believe we should relocate the captain to a biobed.”

Bones crossed his arms. No, he wasn’t nearly quite done. He didn’t like the swelling bump on the back of Spock’s head, nor the violent bruises blossoming on the man’s neck. While he knew he’d probably need a hand hoisting Jim off the floor and carrying him across the room, Bones could still be just as stubborn as Spock.

“I think you need to get your Vulcan-ass to a biobed while I relocate the captain.” Bones tried to stand up a little taller, searching for the authority to make his command stick.

“Doctor, you will not be able to lift the captain by yourself,” Spock replied matter-of-factly. It was a shadow of his usual poised demeanor, more emotion leaking through his words and eyes than Bones suspected he wanted. But the doctor pretended not to notice.

He glanced down at Jim, then across the room towards the biobed, then up at Spock. It seemed a little further than he’d anticipated…

Damn.

Bones huffed in irritation—he hated admitting Spock was right.

“Fine. Fine! But I don’t want you overexerting yourself. And I do expect you to take the bed right next to his when we’re finished,” the man groused as he stooped down to grab one of Jim’s arms.

 

 

Spock, to his credit, did exactly what Bones had asked him to do. It hadn’t taken long to move the captain from the floor, and once complete, the Vulcan had dutifully sat on his own bed. He didn’t much have the energy to fight with Doctor McCoy. Avoiding any and all conflict was undoubtedly his best course of action.

“Okay!” Bones let out a huff and turned on his heel to appraise his second patient. “Now you want to tell me what happened? Or perhaps how you’re feeling?”

Spock looked down at his hands, knee once again bouncing against the ground.

“It would seem whatever is afflicting the captain and myself has progressed immensely in the past few hours. His change in behavior was most abrupt, as was his transition to violence...”

Despair was discernible in the grated sound of his words. Bones wished more than anything Spock didn’t have to relive what was assuredly an incredibly traumatic experience. He also wished he had something that could mend emotions as easily as flesh and bone.

“He’s getting worse.”

“So it would seem, Doctor.”

The pair lapsed into silence. Bones busied himself with treating Spock’s injuries as best he could. Spock remained quietly brooding, gaze fixed on Jim’s biobed and listening to the reassuring beeping of the monitor that let him know his friend was still alive.

After a minute or so, the doctor stepped back. Not wholly satisfied with the condition of his patient, but quite reassured that he was out of danger.

“Alright, you’ll live.”

Bones set down his tricorder and threw Spock a pointed stare. The Vulcan returned it tiredly.

“That much is quite obvious, Doctor.”

“Aha, there’s that rapier like wit.”

Spock looked up at him blankly before shifting his gaze back to Jim.

“Which reminds me!” Now that everything was settled down, Bones figured he could do what he’d initially come in here to do. Even though that seemed like a year ago. “Before I so rudely interrupted your little tête-à-tête, I had planned on giving you some good news.”

Crossing back across the room, Bones picked up his hastily discarded PADD and data cards. The realization of Spock not being infected was easy to forget with the excitement they’d just experienced.

“Alright, no jumping up and down or waving your arms in the air after I tell you this fantastic bit of news, I know it’ll be hard to contain yourself...”

A look of weary confusion crossed Spock’s face, Bones’ sarcasm going just slightly over the man’s head.

“Any who! What I’d originally come in here to tell you, my timing impeccable as always, was that your lab work and tests all came back normal.”

That had gotten Spock’s full attention.

“Normal?”

“I managed to isolate the foreign substance in Jim’s blood, that I imagine is the root cause of all this. And I ran your blood sample five times just to be sure: you’re not infected.”

Bones had hoped that the reveal would have improved his friend’s mood. But as the seconds ticked by, his conviction wavered. Spock, eyebrows knit and lips pursed, appeared to be processing all he’d told him.

“I…I do not understand. I...touched him. We’ve been in close proximity for an extended period of time. I’d calculated that if it were an infection of some sort, it would be passed through dermal contact…”

“Well, I hate to say this—actually, I don’t hate to say this, this is an incredibly wonderful moment for me if you ignore the unknown element in Jim’s blood that made him go bananas and the sheer lack of answers about practically everything else. But I finally, finally, get to say this to you: it seems like you were wrong, Mr. Spock.”

The doctor’s attempt at levity fell flat. Not that he’d truly expected anything but. On a normal day, his wry wit and crude humor were rarely understood by the Vulcan, typically requiring the captain to clarify or translate. Now…well, now Spock was far from normal. He’d been working non-stop since he and Jim beamed up from the planet, bearing the brunt of the captain’s duties as well as feverishly pursuing a solution for what ailed their friend. Bones would guess he’d hardly ate or slept. And then, as if the hold on his control hadn’t been tenuous enough, Jim had hit him and then collapsed, and then attacked him again in sickbay. That would be enough to crack a regular person. But Spock? The infamous Vulcan who claimed to not feel? The first officer who prided himself on his composure and detachment?

Bones had to think his friend was drowning from the inside out. Struggling to identify, come to terms with, and accept all the emotions he was currently feeling. Inundated by their sheer volume and profundity.

With a frown, he noticed Spock rubbing a hand at his temple and then hesitantly attempt to swallow, the action seeming to cause a high level of discomfort.

“I’d offer you a hypo for the pain, Spock…”

Bones trailed off hesitantly, observant gaze fixed on his friend.

“I do not wish to add nausea to my list of symptoms,” Spock interjected. Then, more softly, he continued. “But thank you…Leonard.”

“That’s the second time you’ve used my real name, Spock!” The doctor scoffed with fake irritation. “As I’ve just told you, you’re not dying on me, so there’s no need for civility. It’s never worked in our relationship before and we don’t have to start now!”

At that, Bones could almost see the corner of Spock’s mouth twitch upwards.

“So! As I was saying, you are not affected. Loud triumphant music plays in the background. What I believe we should do now is figure out why you’re not infected. Sound like a logical plan?”

In reply, Spock grabbed the PADD from Doctor McCoy’s outstretched grip and began to scan the data. Bones couldn’t help the small smile that spread across his face.



Giving Spock the necessary time to review his findings, Bones turned to check on Jim.

He frowned down at the screen displaying the vitals. The tricorder’s evaluations were normal only in their abnormality, just as he’d predicted; but now it seemed the moments of odd readings seemed to be lasting much longer than the regular human readings. Bones administered a hypo to help alleviate some of Jim’s pain. There wasn’t much else to do until they could figure out just what was wrong with him...

“Doctor-” Spock’s musing diverted Bones’ attention. “I concur with your analyses. This alien component in Jim’s blood must be the source of his odd behavior and physical ailments. As it is, this also provides a clarification of transmission: it is blood-borne.”

“Glad I could do something right in your eyes, Mr. Spock.” Bones couldn’t help the teasing tone that entered his voice. It seemed as if a laser focus had taken over Spock; the ghost of his usual demeanor gave the doctor a renewed sense of hope. They might be able to solve this yet.

“And I am most definitely not infected, Doctor?”

“Yes, Spock. For the third time,” his response accompanied by a dramatic eye roll.

“But that can’t be possible. I’ve touched Jim’s blood.”

“Come again?”

Spock handed the PADD back to Bones and gestured at the obvious stain on his shirt.

“As I carried the captain here, Jim’s blood got on my uniform and soaked through to my skin. But I am still unaffected…which I would calculate has more to do with my inability to be infected than it does with our hypothesis about the substance being blood-borne.”

Bones’ eyes lit up with understanding.

Snapping his fingers, he began to pace between the biobeds.

“A blood-borne substance that hates your Vulcan-ness! We can work with that Spock. I think between the two of us, we’ll be able to determine what it is-”

Before the doctor could continue, Spock interrupted with a panicked “Doctor!” and leapt to his feet. His eyes were wide as saucers and the fear in his voice sent a cold shiver down the doctor’s spine.

Bones whirled around. Loud alarms from Jim’s monitor were piercing the air.

“He can’t breathe! Leonard, you must do something. This happened before…”

Bones ignored Spock as he raised the head of the bed up. He didn’t need the Vulcan’s analysis to let him know that his friend was in trouble, the pained wheezing and gasps informing him Jim was not getting enough oxygen. Slamming various drawers open, the doctor found what he was looking for.

He deftly stabbed a hypo into Jim’s neck and slid an oxygen mask over his face.

Slowly, the loud coughing and spluttering died down in tandem with the two men’s anxiety levels. Spock remained stiffly by the head of the bed, ashen faced and perturbed. Bones ran a frustrated hand through his hair.

“This happened before?” The doctor growled.

Spock merely nodded.

“Damn,” Bones muttered.

What more could he do? Why couldn’t he fix this? Was Jim...dying?

Frustratedly, he readjusted the oxygen mask on Jim’s face.

“Damn,” he said again.

In a rare moment for the abrasive doctor, he took one of Jim’s hands in his own. There were quite a few things he wanted to say, but he didn’t want to get too emotional in front of Spock. Even though he knew his friend wouldn’t mind.

Keep fightin’, Jim. We’ll figure this out.

Squeezing the limp hand in his, Bones moved to place it back on the bed. But an odd discoloration on his friend’s palm halted his movement.

“What the devil is this thing, Spock?”

The Vulcan glanced across the bed at Bones. His gaze took in the doctor’s concern, sprinkled with bits of frustrated anger, and the hand he held. A foreign mark marred the captain’s hand. It looked like a thin cut across the middle of his palm, but instead of the usual encircled red tinge of healing, deep blue tendrils snaked their way outwards from the wound. Both Spock and Bones were transfixed by the malicious pattern of intersecting navy lines, appearing disturbingly alien on Jim’s skin.

“I do not know, Doctor. But whatever it is, I suggest we find out quickly. We’re running out of time.”

Chapter Text

Jim

 

He screamed and screamed and screamed into the darkness. But his own echoes were the only replies.

His chest was on fire and his throat was raw.

Yelling wasn’t doing anything for him.

Unable to move, unable to fight, trapped in this inky prison.

 

Why was he here?

 

Where was here?

 

It seemed as if the deepest of nights had descended, snuffing out every flicker of light that dared rise up against it.

 

He was alone.

 

And freezing. With a shiver, he realized that it was cold. Impossibly cold. If he was able to see anything around him, he knew he’d see the fog of breath escaping his lips.

 

The darkness and the temperature were unnerving.

He felt the icy trickle of fear trace up and down his spine, and the heaviness of dread settle in his stomach.

 

And yet...he had the sneaking suspicion that this wasn’t real. There was an otherworldly quality that gave his surroundings a fantastical feel. 

 

But if this was a dream, why couldn’t he wake up?

 

Suddenly, a loud buzzing noise began to assault his ears, drowning out even the voice in his mind. Incessant, almost to the point of pain, it pressed in on him from all angles. Pushing and pushing and pushing. The buzzing was unyielding.

It was choking him.

Pouring into his mouth and filling his lungs.

He couldn’t breathe.

He struggled and thrashed under the pressure but it would not cease.

 

It was dark, he was cold, and he was almost certain that he was dying. This no longer felt like the safety of a dream or the safety of an illusion. His pain and his fear were all too real.

 

And then, as quickly as it began, the ominous buzzing retreated, drawing out of him like venom sucked from a wound. It left him empty and weak, but the wounded wails of the withdrawing sound brought him a small comfort.

 

But...was that...?

 

He could almost hear something else.

 

His throat dry from shouting, his body afire with agony, he strained towards the sound.

 

Voices.

 

They sounded like voices.

 

He wanted to cry out that he was here, that he needed help. “Save me,” his mind screamed.

The voices faded away.

So, too, did the pain.

 

His chest filled with the unencumbered relief of oxygen and tears filled his eyes. But he was still trapped in the darkness. 

Keep fighting.”

The whispered reminder floated through his mind.

He wasn’t sure what he was fighting against, or what he was fighting for. Still, it seemed like sound advice. Because he sure as hell wasn’t supposed to be here. Wherever here was…

 


 

Spock

 

“Captain’s Log, Star Date-” Spock furrowed his brow, and double checked the number on the computer. “Star Date 4799.3, First Officer Spock in temporary command. We are two solar days out from the nearest Starfleet base.” He paused and took a deep breath. Scotty had offered to make the report for him, but Spock had declined. “Events of the last few days are as follows. They are presented with only the information relevant for this report, and are free of any personal emotions, extraneous evidence, and superfluous sentimentality.”

Spock scratched at the healing cut on the back of his head. He shut his eyes, revisiting in his mind all that had transpired, attempting to sift out the facts from the feelings.

“Doctor McCoy and I determined a number of facts surrounding the captain’s…health. First and foremost being the cause of his physical symptoms and subsequent deterioration.”

 

 

Spock pushed away from the microscope, the most recent addition to his bare bones lab station he’d set up in isolation. He grabbed the doctor and pulled him towards the viewer, asking him in a rush what he thought that floating organism in Jim’s blood looked like.

“My God.”

The substance was similar in structure and composition to terran parasites. This was the breakthrough they’d been waiting for. The two men, bursting with excitement at their first tangible answer, spent the next countless number of hours studying every parasite and parasitic disease known to Starfleet’s databases.

But to no avail.

Not a single one matched Jim’s symptoms.

 

 

“Unfortunately, this initial discovery was followed by a stagnation in our inquiry. The chief medical officer and I had a…minor disagreement about standard operating procedures for the isolation room.”

 



Bones threw up his hands in the air.

He didn’t know why he thought he’d be able to convince Spock to leave the isolation room since he wasn’t infected. Of course, maybe because it was only logical.

“I don’t know why you can’t get it through that thick skull of yours!”

The taller man sat, with his arms crossed, at his lab station in the corner of the isolation room. He had a skeptical eyebrow raised and didn’t seem to be listening to what the doctor was telling him.

“My skull is no thicker than yours, Doctor. That is entirely irrelevant to our present disagreement. But as I’ve just pointed out, there is no reason I cannot stay since it has been proven that I am not infected.”

Grinding his teeth, Bones tried to calm his frayed nerves. Why did the Vulcan insist on always finding new ways of getting under his skin? It was hard enough trying to keep Jim alive. Now, he had to deal with an impossibly stubborn first officer; a first officer who was refusing further medical treatment for his own injuries and refusing to leave his best friend’s bedside.

 

An epic shouting match, mostly on the doctor’s part, ensued. Bones stalked from isolation, unsurprisingly vanquished and in quite a sour mood, while Spock resumed his pacing next to Jim’s biobed.

 

 

“Though we were running on little rest, the doctor and I put our personal struggles and differences aside to work towards a solution. In addition, my previous injuries were all but healed at this time.”

 

 

“And you still haven’t answered my question!” Bones thundered, nostrils flaring and eyes focused intently on Spock.

“Doctor, there are more pressing things to worry about-”

“Like hell there are! You, Mr. Spock, as much as you’d like to deny it, are currently my patient. I’ve been kind enough to leave you mostly to your own devices while we’ve been working, but when I ask a question about your health, I expect an answer!”

Spock sighed, the doctor’s heightening frustration evidence of a return to his normal antics. But not a welcome return.

“Doctor, as I am not presently concerned, I do not believe you should be either. Instead, we should be concerned with confirming our findings and ensuring the captain’s physical health does not continue to decline.”

Both men were squared off in a staring match, more frustrated by their lack of ideas for a cure than they were with each other.

“Come on, Spock! You’re not invincible. You need rest just as much as anybody else. Or at least meditation. Which, according to my count, you haven’t done since the night before you and Jim beamed down! That’s…that’s five and a half days, Spock! Definitely too many to go without meditating, though I’m no expert…”

“You’re correct, Doctor. You are no expert.”

“Spock!”

“Doctor.”

Bones shot daggers in Spock’s direction. The Vulcan had an uncanny talent for pushing his buttons. All he seemed to be doing the last few days was yell; yell at Spock, yell at Jim’s monitor, yell at Spock, yell at his medical staff, yell at Spock...

He gave himself another year before the captain and the first officer succeeded in giving him high blood pressure…probably an ulcer, too.

Maybe six months at this rate.

 

Spock stared passively back at him, undoubtedly reading every one of his thoughts.

“I’m just saying you need to take care of yourself, you pointy-eared thorn in my side. Excuse me for caring.”

The doctor huffed and crossed his arms. Spock pursed his lips before responding in a much more even tone.

“As I stated previously, I am fine, Doctor. I believe we should return our attention to finding a cure for this parasitic disease.”

Bones knew he was fighting a losing battle. Wasn’t happy about it, but knew it just the same.

“Fine. Fine! I’ll let you keep working, if, and only if, you take a break every few hours, you get your three required meals a day, and I see you nap at least once. Get it? Got it? Good.”

Spock merely rolled his eyes in return and gestured at the seat next to him. Grumpily, the doctor sat down, snatching the PADD from the counter and muttering under his breath.

 

 

“It was soon after that Doctor McCoy made an important discovery, determining the next piece of the puzzle.”

 

 

“It’s the iron, Spock! That’s the missing link!”

Spock’s eyes lit up.

“Why, Doctor, I do believe you’ve earned your pay for the day. The iron. I did not even consider…”

“It explains the weird elemental analysis of the planet, Jim’s medical readings, and why it didn’t infect you!”

“But…” Spock hesitated, his earlier excitement all but dashed. “While we now know it is a blood-borne parasite that feeds on iron…how precisely do we cure it?”

Bones didn’t have an answer for that.

 

“This new connection between the parasite, its blood-borne transmission, and why I did not contract it when I came in contact with Jim, was crucial to our eventual determination of a treatment. Unfortunately, the captain’s vitals sharply dropped soon after this new discovery.”

 

Bones was frantically working to counteract the worsening symptoms, dashing around the isolation room, a hard look in his eyes, while Spock could only watch.

They were powerless to help. To stop it. They may have made two discoveries rather quickly, it didn’t seem fast enough. It was as if the parasite knew the two men were zeroing in on a cure, and so it decided it would inflict as much damage as possible before its eventual end.

“I’ve done all I can for him. I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker,” Bones said as he looked forlornly up at the vitals monitor. Jim was stable, but only just.

Spock stared unblinkingly at the striking pallor of the captain’s skin, the shallow rise and fall of his chest, the unnatural sound of his breathing.

 

 

“Once Doctor McCoy was certain the captain was stable, he came up with a rather unique solution to our quandary.”

 

The silence between them was a charged emptiness you could slice with a scalpel. They had all this data, readings and calculations and analyses, but no solution. No cure. And Jim was only getting worse.

Bones glanced sharply towards Spock as he paced in front of the captain's biobed.

“Any new ideas?”

At the Vulcan’s frustrated scowl, Bones cursed under his breath. They’d hit a wall. Figuratively speaking, although the good doctor had punched his office wall yesterday. His knuckles still smarted.

He watched as Spock once again poured over the information, eyes glued to his screen. What good were their discoveries if they hadn’t yet discovered the cure? That miraculous remedy remained tantalizingly out of reach. Bones scrubbed a tired hand over his face.

“Maybe…maybe we just need a new set of eyes, right? We’ve been staring at these numbers so long I’ve practically memorized them. We need a different perspective. A fresh angle.”

“What did you have in mind, Doctor?”

Dark rings tattooed the flesh beneath Spock’s brown eyes, betraying his exhaustion. They were starkly accompanied by a patchwork of bruises that traced along his high cheek bones and jutting jawline. It was one of those images that Bones didn’t think he could ever get out of his mind, but each time he looked at his friend, the violent visage surprised him and twisted his stomach uncomfortably into knots.

“How about we call in some reinforcements?”

 


 

Jim

 

He felt...odd. Like he was floating through space with no tether to reality or time. Thankfully there was no pain.

Nothingness dove within him and shrouded him in an unburdened existence, making him feel light and safe.

Gone was the imperious buzzing, the darkened prison, the unending fear that plagued him before. Now he was walking the shores of an obscured expanse; aimless, free.

 

He felt stronger, his steps more sure. This newfound rejuvenation convinced him he could run for miles, leap buildings in a single jump, scale mountains without ever tiring. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt this good.

 

But again…he knew this wasn’t real.

 

A part of him was urging his mind towards consciousness. The draw towards it was impossibly strong, like there was something he had to do, but he couldn’t quite figure out how to get there.

 

It was like chasing a balloon rising higher in the air. Every time you reach for it, a slight breeze brings it just out of your grasp.

Your fingertips brush it, time after time after time, but you can’t quite get there. And then finally the balloon is just a retreating spot in the sky, frustratingly unattainable.

 

He wanted to wake up, to catch that balloon. An unseen force was propelling him towards wakefulness because there was something important happening. He just didn’t know what…

 


 

Spock

 

“We had kept the truth from the crew for a number of reasons, the only other person besides myself and Doctor McCoy who knew of Jim’s illness was the chief engineering officer, Mr. Scott. But as the doctor and I had not discovered a solution, we decided to bring in the senior staff for some assistance. Lieutenant Uhura, Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, and Mr. Scott were all requested for a debriefing in Doctor McCoy’s office.”

 

 

“So, this is what we’ve got. An alien parasite of some kind, transmitted by touching an infected person’s blood, that feeds on the iron in the host body, and seems to cause violent tendencies. Any questions?”

Spock cleared his throat, attracting the focus of the group.

“You forgot our most recent discovery, Doctor.”

The quiet sadness of his voice sucked the air out of the room.

“Oh. Right. Um. Yes. The past few days, the captain has exhibited a number of symptoms in addition to the increased anger and penchant for hostility. There were bloody noses, bouts of lightheadedness, one instance of fainting, and some difficulty breathing. But other than that, his vitals were relatively normal. Until…well, yesterday.” Bones paused momentarily, collecting his thoughts. It was still hard to think about...let alone brief to the people he was closest to. “The captain…Jim…is getting much weaker. He can’t breathe without assistance, and we can no longer rouse him from his sedated state. I’m doing the best I can but he’s deteriorating and I can’t figure out why. It’s as if this parasite has decided, since it can’t infect anyone else, that it needs to attack its host. And Spock and I…we’ve been unable to find a cure for the damn thing. Which is why we’ve brought the best and brightest together...”

Bones petered out. He glanced around his office expectantly, making eye contact with each member of the group. They all stared back with varying expressions of shock, worry, and uncertainty.

Uhura was the first to break the tense silence.

“The flu explanation then. That wasn’t entirely true?”

Bones shrugged his shoulders and opened his crossed arms as if to say, Well, what’d you expect?

“Right. May I see the readings?”

Spock handed the communications officer his PADD, and she studiously began studying the data.

Scotty didn’t offer any verbal acknowledgement, just got to his feet and began pacing, perturbed by the rapid decline in Jim’s condition. As for the other two new members, Sulu and Chekov, they just shared an indiscernible look.

It was a lot to process.

They both had taken Scotty’s announcement on the bridge about the captain and first officer contracting a strain of the flu without question. That was their job. As one day turned into five, though, the two had shared their whispered worries with each other. It seemed their fears were validated.

When you’ve spent as much time in space together as they all have, lines between professional relationships and friendships become blurred. All of them weren’t just concerned for the welfare of their senior officers; they were concerned for their friends.

Scotty stopped behind Chekov and Sulu’s chairs and placed a hand on each of their shoulders.

“Right-o, we’ll get crackin’ onnit. Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, grab a PADD and getta readin’.”

 

 

“I left after Doctor McCoy’s brief to check on the captain. His vitals were still on their steady decline and so I remained in the isolation room to monitor his progress. The necessity for accurate data when determining a solution is imperative. It was approximately 3 hours and 14 minutes later that Mr. Scott retrieved Doctor McCoy and myself.”

 

 

Scotty shook Bones out of his uncomfortable nap. Cracking his back and massaging his neck, he got up out of the chair he vaguely remembered falling asleep in and fixed the engineer with a grumpy look.

“This better be good, Scotty. I haven’t slept in a while…”

“Didya think I’d wake ye if we hadn’t come up with somethin’?”

The exhaustion that clung to Bones was immediately replaced by a fervent focus. He scrubbed the rest of the drowsiness from his eyes and stared hopefully at the Scotsman.

“You…you’ve got an idea?”

Scotty broke out in a huge grin.

“It might be stark ravin’ mad, but aye, we’ve had an idea.”

Bones nearly sprinted from the room to grab Spock, while Scotty returned to the doctor’s office. The two men barreled into the room, eyes expectant and out of breath.

“Mr. Scott, Doctor McCoy informs me that you have an idea," Spock failed to keep the strained hope from his voice. 

“Well, it wasna really me, laddie. It sorta came to all four of us…”

“Scotty, give us the bottom-line up front. What’s the idea?”

 

 

“I would like to note for the record that I am submitting the four senior officers, as well as Doctor McCoy, for meritorious awards for their expertise and professionalism in finding a cure for this new disease.”

Spock checked the time. He hadn’t been to sickbay in what felt like days, although it was really only 6 hours and 41 minutes. Hopefully enough time for there to have been some desirous impact from their solution…Bones would have said something in his message if it hadn’t started working.

Clearing his throat, he continued his report.

 

 

“Think of Jim like an engine, laddie. He’s got something evil taintin’ his energy source at the moment-”

Sulu interjected animatedly.

“And so what we need to do is split the bad energy from the good, in a sense remove the parasite from it’s fuel source: the iron.”

“Yes!” Chekov added. “If ve ken find a vay to filter ze pathogen out of ze keptin’s blood, zen ve are okey-dokey!”

Uhura nodded in agreement, a small smile on her face.

“Right, Mr. Chekov. What we’re proposing is building a machine to separate one from the other. Jim’s blood will be filtered to extricate the pathogen from the blood, returning the clean blood to Jim’s body. And if there’s any parasites that aren’t caught with this method, we think Spock’s blood could be the solution.”

Spock and Bones shared a surprised look.

“My blood, Lieutenant Uhura?”  The Vulcan sounded tired, but his friend nodded enthusiastically, her confidence reassuring.

“If the copper in your blood is toxic to the parasite, that could be the reason that even if you were infected, the parasite didn’t affect you. Your body was naturally able to fight it off because the parasite found no fuel source to use, so it couldn’t reproduce, couldn’t survive, and couldn’t make you sick. If we begin administering the captain with some doses of copper-”

Bones snapped his fingers.

“That just may work. I mean, copper isn’t the best thing to be introducing into a human body, but in small enough doses it may do more good than harm if it kills the suckers. And the filtering! Well, I’ll be damned. What you’re suggesting is based off the old principal of dialysis from roughly 20th century Earth medicine. I haven’t seen a machine like that since we took a historical class at the academy, but I’m sure we could come up with something.”

The doctor looked over at Spock with real optimism in his eyes.

 

 

“The doctor, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Sulu got to work immediately thereafter. Myself, Lieutenant Uhura and Mr. Chekov returned to the bridge where I assumed command. Doctor McCoy contacted me briefly 2 hours and 5 minutes ago to inform me that the three men had constructed the necessary machine. They are already in the implementation phase, and once I visit sick bay, I will be better able to speak about the captain’s prognosis and the efficacy of the proposed remedy. End of log.”

Spock shut down his computer and sat back wearily.

The events logged were just as he’d promised himself they would be; free of any residual emotion or personal opinion. Reflective of the Vulcan side of him. The human half of him…well, Spock wasn’t certain. He still wasn’t completely in control, the events of the last several days had opened deep wounds and revealed terrifyingly strong emotions, and he hadn’t successfully been able to achieve a meditative state.

If this was how humans felt all the time he didn’t know how they functioned.

It reminded him of one of the Enterprise’s early missions, when the entire crew had succumbed to a disease that removed all inhibitions. For many, the effects were slightly comical. Like Mr. Sulu, who hadn’t been able to live down the jokes about fencing shirtless.

But for Spock, it had been a nightmare. Every last one of his defenses was obliterated in an instant, and he was overcome by all he had previously been able to successfully repress. Every feeling was torture, every moment pure agony. He had never wanted to relive that experience ever again. And yet here he was, without the disastrous effects of the disease, but with the same devastating emotions.

He'd visit sick bay in a minute.

Right now, he needed to get in control. 

 


 

Jim

 

This time he woke up facing a cloudless blue sky. Leaves danced in a slight breeze on branches above his head, the smell of fresh earth and adventure permeating his nose. This was someplace he recognized, and the warmth of remembrance blossomed in his chest.

He didn’t know how, but this was the lake he’d hiked to many times in the forests across the San Francisco bay. It was a popular spot for Starfleet cadets who tired of the cold ocean and crowded beaches. He liked to come here and just think; propped up against a tree, gazing out at the sun bouncing along the murmuring waves, with nothing but himself and nature. It was peaceful, comforting.

 

But this time he wasn’t alone.

 

He was surprised at how unsurprised he was at watching a man climb out of the lake and jog over to where he was laying. Plopping down effortlessly, the man crossed his hands behind his head and mimicked watching the rustling leaves.

I t  was a comfortable situation, a routine that seemed to be a familiar occurrence between the two of them.

 

He didn’t want to break the silence because it was like the purest, most vibrant sheet of stained glass. He was afraid that it would inevitably shatter.

It was so perfect.

He didn’t want it to ever end.

 

The man rose up on an elbow and placed a gentle hand on Jim’s chest. Though the lake was undoubtedly cool, the man exuded a pleasurable warmth from every inch of his pale skin.

Nothing else in the world around them mattered in that moment.

With the warmest brown eyes he’d ever seen, the man looked down at him. The gaze was tender and soft, filled with intimacy and affection.

 

He was certain he could stay in this moment forever.

 

It was wondrous and dreamy and magnificent and perfect.

 

As the man lazily traced a hand up his chest to cup his cheek, he couldn’t help but smile. This was a dream he never wanted to wake up from. Just him, a beautiful sunny day in the most beautiful place on earth, with the man he loved.

 

Chapter Text

Spock walked stiffly into the isolation room, hands clasped behind his back and a hooded expression on his face.

Bones turned around and immediately smiled.

“Spock! I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, but I think we’re on the right track.”

The Vulcan arched one eyebrow skywards.

“So it is going well?”

He was pleased that the anchor of worry inside of him, that had been growing and ever plummeting since Jim’s worsening, wasn’t detectable in his voice.

“It’s not an elegant solution, which is probably why neither one of us thought it up. Right now, though, his stats look pretty good for someone in his condition. I can’t speak for his mental state just yet, but physically he’s slowly inching his way back from the brink.”

The doctor crossed the room and hesitated just briefly before placing a reassuring hand on Spock’s arm. He knew the man avoided physical contact whenever possible, but Bones wanted to convey his comfort and his concern and his hope.

He felt Spock stiffen.

“I think it’s gunna work. I really do.”

Bones smiled, but Spock didn’t return it. He gave the shorter man a brief nod before deftly pushing past him and taking the vacated seat by Jim’s bed.

From the detached façade and precise speech, Bones could tell that Spock was desperately clinging to his Vulcan control. Using it like a suit of armor, a protective shield. Anything that would guarantee he wouldn’t have to suffer the visceral oscillations of his emotions. The doctor wanted to say something, do something to help. But he didn’t know what.

Shaking his head, he made one final check of Jim’s vitals. The machine they’d built was doing what it was supposed to be doing—Jim’s oxygenation levels were incrementally rising, and his fatigue and pain levels were declining. Another hour or so of this, and the copper-based treatment he’d synthesized with Uhura would be the final step.

Then, fingers crossed, he’ll wake up.

 


 

Jim recognized the hot sands of Vulcan extending in front of him as far as he could see. The temperature wasn’t insufferable, as the vague memory of being cold was still recent in his mind.

It washed his skin in a comforting warmth that made him feel safe, protected.

The cotton clothes he wore weren’t Starfleet issue, but he didn’t think it important to decipher why. This had the vague feel of home to it, a sense of belonging and familiarity that dissuaded any worries or doubts.

He spun slowly on his heel, taking in all around him. He was standing on the patio of a rounded, metal building. It was raised slightly from the sands below, giving him a fantastic view of the harsh landscape. Though an arid desert, Jim found it rather beautiful. The dips and dunes, the peaks and plateaus, all constructed of the reddest sand. Changing with every gust of wind, every shift of the planet’s surface.

At the sound of an automatic door opening, Jim glanced back, pulled out of his reverie. 

He couldn’t help the joy that inundated his senses and left him reeling and slightly breathless. Never in his whole life would he get used to Spock looking at him like that. Love, unsuppressed and vibrant, swirling in his chocolate eyes, the coy smile drawing up the corner of his mouth. He looked at peace, comfortable, unburdened. So unlike the collected, calculating science officer on the bridge. This was his Spock, the Spock he fell in love with.

As the taller man wrapped his arms around him, enveloping him and drawing him into his loving embrace, Jim felt the purest, most true sense of love.

He finally knew what that word meant.

This was where he belonged. And he never wanted to leave.

 


 

“Doctor, I am troubled by these latest readings.”

Bones glanced up from his desk. Spock was standing hesitantly in his doorway, brows drawn and lips pressed firmly together. 

“I know, I’ve been looking at them, too,” the doctor replied, gesturing to the open seat in front of him.

The Vulcan sat rigidly, his eyes dark and betraying nothing. Bones put down his PADD, eased back in his chair, and really looked at his friend--he saw the ever-present lines of exhaustion on his angular face, the overcompensation of control making him appear cold and detached, the sporadic nervous bounce of his knee. He doubted Spock would talk to him of all people about it…this was usually a Jim thing. Just another reason for the stubborn man in the next room to wake up as soon as possible.

“For all intents and purposes, Spock, Jim’s doing fine. And once we administer a few doses of the copper serum, he’ll be right as rain. Well, he’ll be weak as a newborn kitten and need close monitoring for at least a week if not more. But he’s going to come out of this okay.”

 

The treatment was working, much to Bones’ relief. It was doing all they had expected it to...and yet there was one measurement that showed no progress at all.

“It was not his physical health to which I was referring,” Spock murmured in reply.

Bones knew that too; he just didn’t have an answer.

There was no logical explanation as to why Jim hadn’t woken up yet. He hadn’t given the captain a sedative in quite some time, hadn’t even needed to administer a hypo since starting the blood treatment. And based on his calculations, Jim should have woken of his own accord hours ago.

“The mind is a funny thing, Spock. I’m sure it’s just taking his brain a little longer to get the memo that he’s healing.”

His attempt at confidence fell flat, sounding forced even to his ears.  

Spock glanced at him sharply, something flickering across his face too quickly for the doctor to register.

“His brain scans show normal levels of activity and function.”

Bones nodded.

“There’s no lasting damage, Spock, of that I’m certain. But consciousness has always been an unquantifiable term in Earth medicine. It’s multifaceted and layered and ambiguous. I can only test for it in roundabout ways, like with the imaging scans and measurements of electrical activity you have on your PADD.” The doctor paused and scratched at his jaw in thought. There were two possible explanations, and he didn’t like either one. He was tempted not to share them with Spock. But undoubtedly the Vulcan would come to the same conclusions on his own.

“Jim is…fine. He’ll wake up. Maybe prolonged unconsciousness, almost in a coma-like state, is some lingering effect of the parasite. It could be keeping him there. Either that…or he doesn’t want to leave.”

“What do you mean, doesn’t want to leave?”

Bones averted his gaze from the tendrils of pain swirling in Spock’s eyes.

“Jim might not be ready to wake up. He might not want to.”

 


 

The bed beneath him was recognizable immediately as his own on the Enterprise. Jim sat up and looked around confusedly. His uniform was fresh and clean, lying out on the bed next to him. His room looked brand new, hardly lived in at all.

His surroundings had the familiarity of memory to them, as if he’d lived this exact moment before.

Rising and dressing quickly, Jim made his way towards the bridge. He exchanged pleasantries with the crew he passed, with each step, becoming more and more certain as to why he’d had the spark of recognition.

This was his first day as the captain of the Enterprise. It was truly one of the greatest days of his life, a day that he would never forget.

But for another reason, too.

 

The lift opened and he greeted the newly assigned communications officer, Lieutenant Uhura, with a warm smile. They spoke briefly before he sat, for the first time, in the captain’s chair.

He felt a thrill settling into the dark cushions, running his fingers over the buttons and switches. Command. It was what he had been working towards and the moment was finally here. This would be the seat from which he would launch thousands of decisions, where he’d commit his crew to boldly go where no other had gone before, as the saying went.

It was electrifying, his excitement palpable.

 

And then the lift hissed open again.

Jim turned.

The man who entered the bridge was composed, stoic. His blue shirt meant that this could only be one person.

He was tall, with dark hair, and the unmistakable features of Vulcan descent. There was an alluring puzzle within the man’s dark eyes--their depths so intoxicating that Jim found himself struggling to look away.

His attraction to the man was immediately obvious; his pulse quickened, his cheeks flushed, and his mind struggled to form coherent words. Jim just hoped that no one else noticed.

This was his first day, he didn’t need to give off any airs of unprofessionalism or incompetence. Swallowing thickly, and doing his damnedest to push those unprofessional thoughts out of his mind, Jim got to his feet.

He forced a neutral expression on his face and climbed the few stairs to the upper platform.

“Mr. Spock, I presume?”

The taller man nodded. Jim clasped his hands behind his back in what he hoped was an authoritative manner. 

“I’ll show you where you’ll be working. Right this way.” 

Throwing an arm out, Jim gestured behind him towards a computer bank, a few monitors, and an empty chair.

With another brief nod, the man walked past him. As he did, he drew rather close to Jim, the sleeve of his shirt brushing the captain’s own golden uniform.

Jim had to remind himself to breathe.

The brief contact was almost electrical; a spark, a connection between the two of them that seemed absurdly innate. The captain wondered if the other man noticed it, too…

 

It was this moment that he remembered so fondly. Seeing Spock for the first time, sensing their unspoken bond as he passed close to him. This was when he first fell in love with his first officer.

It was unplanned but instantaneous.

Terrifying yet thrilling.

A secret he’d harbor for subsequent days and weeks and months.

 

From that moment on, he’d search for Spock in every crowded room. He’d yearn for his unwavering support, his wisdom, his friendship.

Wondering every time he placed a hand on Spock’s shoulder or grabbed his arm, if the other man knew.

Knew how deeply he cared for him, how being near him made him feel on fire, made him feel so alive.

How one look into his dark eyes could turn his whole day around, one game of chess could soothe his worries and assuage any fears.

How every moment with him was pure magic.

 


 

"Spock, it might be our only option!"

“Doctor, I…”

Bones gripped Spock’s arms exasperatedly, resisting the urge to shake him. They were running out of options, the Vulcan had to see that.

“I wouldn’t be asking this if there were any other way, Spock.”

The first officer looked into Bones’ frantic expression and knew he was right.

 

Jim still was not waking up. The treatment worked, he was improving little by little, and he was on his last round of copper treatments to kill any remaining parasites in his system. But the captain stubbornly remained unconscious.

Bones was out of ideas and Spock was trying not to let that worry him. So here they were, arguing once more at the foot of Jim’s bed, just like they’d done countless times in the past week.

The suggestion to use the Spock’s “weird mind voodoo” to pull Jim out from wherever it was he was hiding in his mind was a last ditch effort. Spock had initially balked at the idea, not just on principle, but also because honestly...he was afraid.

Connections meant both ways, and Spock wasn't entirely convinced he wanted his uncontrollable emotions anywhere near where Jim might see them. Or sense them. Or discover them. 

And yet...

What if this was their only option?

Their last recourse?

The one thing that would ensure Jim woke up without any negative effects to his mental state?

Bones was laying out explanation after explanation about the dangers of physically pulling someone from a comatose state, how most of the time that didn’t even work, and as much as Spock hated to admit it, the doctor was right.

He had no idea what he’d find if he went into Jim’s subconscious. Some guesses and inferences were all Spock had to go on. Whether it was a lasting effect of the parasites or Jim choosing not to wake up, it made no difference. If this would help Jim in any way, if this was safer and smarter, Spock would do it. 

Even though it terrified him.

Even though he wanted to keep his feelings and thoughts protected within himself, shielded and shrouded from all others. 

He may want those things as he always had.

But he wanted Jim back more.

 

Holding up a hand, Spock halted Bones’ long-winded tirade.

His mind was made up.

Without a word, he walked to the side of Jim’s bed and took a steadying breath. The silence in the room was deafening as Spock brought his fingers towards Jim’s face. Whatever awaited him in this meld, whatever he’d have to fight or do, he wasn’t ready...but he’d do it. Jim needed him. 

Jim needed him. 

That thought was grounding. It sparked a newfound clarity in his discombobulated mind, it focused his emotions and gave him something tangible to cling to in this sea of uncertainty. 

Jim needed him.

Fingers placed delicately on Jim’s face, Spock pushed all else from his mind and focused in on the captain. He could feel the waves of his friend’s consciousness rippling beneath the surface, beautiful hues of gold and crimson and navy swirling in intoxicating patterns. Jim was as beautiful on the inside as he was on the outside.

Choosing a particularly strong tendril of brilliant red, Spock chased it deeper. Fully immersing himself into his best friend’s mind. Hoping, wishing, praying that he’d be able to get him out...

 


 

Spock looked around in amazement as the familiar surroundings of San Francisco materialized around him. A crisp breeze blew in from the bay, chilling his cheeks and filling his nose with a harsh, salty tang. But the temperature was warm—the sun peeked out from behind the patchwork of wispy clouds in the brilliant sky. Still too cold for Spock’s liking, but he reminded himself that this wasn’t the creation of his subconscious.

Curious the places we choose to visit in our dreams.

Spock glimpsed a lone figure on the pier ahead of him.  He was in civilian clothes, leaning casually against the railing, eyes fixed out towards the horizon and the rolling, grayish waves.

 

Jim.

 

Spock hesitated briefly. This was such a peaceful moment, a pleasant solitude that he regretted having to pull Jim out of. But no one could shut themselves away in the comfortable corners of their mind forever. There was a life to live, reality to return to.

He began purposefully down the pier, each step drawing him nearer to the contemplative man.  At least he could sense no underlying currents of malice or deception. This didn’t seem to be the destructive concoction of the alien disease, rather an escape the captain was reluctant to leave.

An escape he had to leave.

 

Jim heard him approach. He turned slowly, and as he made eye contact with Spock, a wide grin broke out on his face. There were no traces of worry or lines of stress. He was undeniably happy.

“Spock! I was wondering when you’d be back...hey! You forgot the ice cream!”

Spock looked down at his hands then back up at the captain. He was uncertain as to if he should play along or try and lead him out of the dream immediately. 

“I...do apologize, Captain. How careless of me.”

”Nah, don’t worry about it, Spock. And we’re on leave, I don’t want to have to keep reminding you to call me Jim.”

The playful mischief dancing in the man’s gaze sent Spock’s heart thumping wildly.

 

This was definitely not what Spock had been expecting when he’d agreed to help Jim wake up from the prison of his unconsciousness. This...this had all the rose-colored hues of a dream, a wish even. Jim wasn’t surprised to see him. Had been expecting him. Which was in and of itself rather fascinating to consider, as if Spock was a common theme within Jim’s subconscious. But he knew he shouldn’t be dwelling on things like that. He had to focus.

Clearing his throat, Spock walked the last few steps to the railing and stood next to the captain. He was going to help Jim journey back to wakefulness, guide him and protect him and make sure nothing went wrong. Even if this—the two of them, together, on a beautiful day in San Francisco, was rather pleasant.

Before he could say anything though, Jim did something rather unexpected.

Grabbing one of Spock's arms, Jim placed it over his shoulder and sidled himself up next to the taller man, not a breath of space between them. He weaved his own arm behind Spock's back and pulled him closer.

The sudden intimacy and proximity made Spock lightheaded.

Unexpected, and yet...he was surprised at how wonderful Jim's hand felt hugging his hip, how the temperature around them seemed to increase a few degrees, how his friend nestled perfectly against the contours of his side.

If this were Spock's dream, he wouldn't want to wake up, either. 

Taking a somewhat shaky breath, the Vulcan shifted around so that he was facing Jim, but not so far as to remove the man’s arm. He rather liked their current arrangement.

“Jim, why are we here?”

The captain frowned in response, a small crinkle appearing between his brows.

“This is where we agreed to take our leave!” Jim said as if it were the most obvious answer in the entire known galaxy. “What a weird question, Spock.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Spock whispered, taking his free arm and raising it until his hand was pointing at Jim’s forehead. “Why are we here.”

 

The pier around them began to fade away, like oil paints dissolving beneath a steady rain. All the poignant details and vivid sensations one by one giving way to ambiguous colors and unquantifiable shapes.

It was just Jim and Spock, standing in the midst of everything and nothing.

 

“None of this was real.”

Jim’s voice was low, his tone woefully accepting. At some point he’d stepped away from Spock, shrugging out from beneath his friend’s arm and putting some distance between the two.

Spock merely nodded.

“And I suppose we have to leave," Jim whispered, beginning to fidget with the edge of his gold uniform shirt. It betrayed his growing unease.

Spock observed this, and how the captain kept his eyes fixed unseeingly towards the floor—both unusual behaviors. It moved something within him, tugged at a buried emotion. He could feel it welling in his chest and scattering through every nerve and molecule. Without a second thought, the Vulcan moved towards Jim, placing one hand delicately on his shoulder and the other gripped loosely at the back of his neck.

“You have lingered here too long, Jim. You are needed elsewhere.”

Spock’s quiet declaration was layered with kindness, his tone dulcet and warm. A comforting embrace that was as much physical as it was verbal.

Jim shyly raised his head until he was eye to eye with his friend, their faces inches from one another. The captain searched his dark eyes, exploring their inner workings and lighting a match within their profundities. How desperately he wished to stay. Go wherever his mind dreamed up, never leaving Spock’s side.

It was too sweet to last; bitterness must always follow.

 

Spock was right. They had to go.

“Spock, I…” Jim faltered, his resolve shaky. He blinked a few times before fixing intensely on the taller man’s gaze. “There are so many things I want to say to you, I don’t even know where to start.”

Spock could sense the waves of self-loathing, frustration, and disappointment rippling from his friend. The last few times the two had interacted before Jim couldn't wake did not end well for either of them, and Spock understood how painful it was to remember.

But now was not the time or place. Their emotions were too raw and exposed here, illuminating the air around them, plain as day. An aura neither one could hide.  

“We have time enough for all of that, my friend. Let us not worry about it now.”

Jim nodded and swallowed thickly.

“I’m sorry.”

Those two words lingered in the air between them, swirling amidst the clouds of abstract color and intangible form. Spock wasn’t sure how to respond. Instead, he threaded his fingers loosely in Jim’s hair and lowered his forehead until it was warmly pressed against Jim’s own. He pushed feelings of calm and assurance, of peace and safety, of love and promise through the touch. Sensing Jim relax, Spock focused his breathing and steadied his mind.

Honed in on the layers separating them from the light above.

Pushed grudgingly through each level and doorway.

With each step, inching closer and closer to the surface.

Pulling them out of fantasy and back to reality…

 

Spock opened his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose. He didn’t try to rush back to his senses, taking his time in detecting the weakness in his limbs, the slight dizziness, the depth of his exhaustion. It would take some time to recover from this.

And then he realized the most important factor he had not yet considered.

Jim.

Blinking sluggishly, he glanced sharply towards the man in the bed.

Framed by long fingers, and set in a rather pale face, two bright brown eyes were peering up at him.

Chapter Text

“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.

“So…”

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.

“And what?”

“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.

His biobed.

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.  

“That was…”

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.

Utterly breathtaking.

Perfect.

 

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.

Stay.”

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.

Peace.

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?

Jim.

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.

Their 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.