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Trade Winds

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It took him the entire walk back from Medbay to manage one single coherent thought: he was going to murder Spock. As soon as he was, y’know, no longer in mortal peril.

Jim expected him to be awake, maybe even working or something. But no, he was curled in on himself in his bed, shivering violently.

“Hey, hey!” Jim rushed to his side. “Spock?”

His eyes opened slowly, and not all the way. “I am well.”

He was well enough to lie about being well. Jim clenched his hands. “A mating ritual?” He snapped. Spock stopped trying to sit up. “Vulcans have mating rituals and I didn’t know about it?!”

Spock’s nose twitched. “McCoy uses Terran words to describe something no Human should speak of.”

“Oh, cut the crap. You lied to me!”

“I did not…lie…” Spock said, and then winced. “I asked you to deliver me to Vulcan. Nothing more.”

New Vulcan!”

Hal-tor sa’awek.”

“Uh-uh. You better start speaking English. Right now.

“I go alone,” he spat, with a hint of a plea. “As I told you.”

“Seems pretty difficult to go through a mating ritual on your own.”

“I will meditate,” Spock grit out. “In solitude. Pon farr can be endured this way.”

He was lying. Jim grit his teeth, wondering how he hadn’t caught onto it the first time. Spock couldn’t lie for shit.

Jim locked their fingers together, squeezing tight. Spock's eyes flew open again a moment later.

"I do not understand," he whispered, feeling Jim's emotions through their skin.

“You don’t want me to go with you. Why?”

“You are angry.”

“No shit.” Jim sighed. “Look, just – just tell me why you don’t want me to go. I’ll understand.”

And that was what good lying sounded like. Because Jim would never understand. Not a single bit.

“Why?” He asked again. “Are you planning to be with someone else down there?”

Spock gave him an outraged look, as though what Jim suggested was ludicrous, and not kind of plausible. At least, it was the only explanation Jim could come up with.

“I would rather die,” he whispered.

Dramatic, but Jim believed him. He pretended he wasn’t relieved. “Then I’m coming.”

“It is dangerous.”

Jim closed his eyes and breathed through his nose, repositioning his knees on the floor so his eyes were on level with Spock’s. “Babe, you’re not dangerous. Not to me.”

Spock took a deep breath. “You do not understand.”

“I understand this.” Jim squeezed his hand again, still trembling. “When we were on Setlik, and the bond was unfinished, you were acting just like you are now. Fighting with Bones, trying to push me away. I was able to fix it once you let me in.”

“Jim…”

“I’m supposed to be there. The Council expects me to come with you.”

Spock’s eyes slipped closed. “Respect my wishes, Jim.”

“Spock. Hey.” Jim nudged his shoulder, then again but harder. “You’re not actually asleep, are you?”

Spock didn’t react when Jim nudged him again except to make an irritated sound. He was asleep.

“I am so mad at you,” Jim said, getting to his feet. “Fuck.”

He jerked the covers off of his own bed and threw them over Spock’s body, commanding the temperature up to what he usually set it at when Jim wasn’t there.

“Computer.”

“Yes, Captain?” Said a voice in the ceiling.

“Alert both me and Lietenant Commander McCoy if Commander Spock leaves his quarters. Immediately.”

“Affirmative.”

____________________________

 

He didn’t even get some time to think – Nyota and Scotty were right there not twenty paces down the hallway, in the process of hunting him down.

“We dropped the mission?” Scotty cried.

Nyota tried to walk right past him, to Spock's room. He caught her by the arm.

“I wouldn’t.”

She used his grip to yank him closer, leaning right into his face. “What happened to the colony? Where the hell is Spock?”

“Nothing happened. Spock is fine.”

Her nostrils flared out, ponytail swaying angrily. “We have a right to know why we changed course, Captain.

“Actually,” he snarled back, “You don’t.”

She seemed taken aback by his tone. He didn’t apologize – everyone needed to just back off for a few minutes. “The colony is fine,” he continued, as an afterthought. “You know we didn’t get any distress signals.”

“Then why?” She asked, fury melting into worry.

“Yeah,” Scotty echoed, clearly uncomfortable with the level of tension in the hallway. Jim let go of Nyota’s arm. “I’d have liked some warning before going straight into Warp factor nine.

Jim looked between them, certain they’d already tried to pry this information out of Bones. Nyota was so furious because he’d also refused to tell her anything.

He decided on as much as the truth as he could give. “Spock is taking leave. On New Vulcan.”

“In the middle of a mission?” Scotty asked, squinting. Nyota swiped a hand over her forehead. She was actually panicking, Jim realized.

“Is this because of the trees?” She asked. Jim shook his head. “Then…his father.”

“I told you, everything is fine.

She made to walk past him again.

“Don’t, Uhura. That’s an order.”

What?” She snapped, whirling around in pure disbelief.

Jim kept his face empty, needing her to drop it. Thank God he still held some kind of Captainly mojo – Nyota exhaled and strode back the way she’d come. Scotty shrunk out of her way with a bewildered frown.

That wouldn't be easy to fix.

“Well?” Jim asked, when he didn’t say anything.

Scotty threw his hands up. “I won’t ask.”

“Excellent. Walk with me.” He started at a slow pace, not at all wanting to catch up with Nyota at the lifts. “We’re not due for maintenance.”

“Not for a few months. Perfect condition.”

Captains and First Officers could take shore leave, or medical, whenever they needed to. Usually not at the same time. If Spock and Jim were going to be gone for a week…

He never felt the need for a vacation, and Bones never let him get sick. He really didn’t want to leave his ship in the hands of anyone else for so long…not even Sulu, who he trusted completely. The Enterprise was his.

But the only other option was enforcing shore leave on everyone, on what was sure to be the most depressing planet in the solar system. New Vulcan was just a desert. Like its namesake. And like its namesake, it was home to a still-recovering population of people who were already prone to disliking outsiders.

“I’m going with him, Scotty,” Jim breathed. There. It was decided, and Scott was his witness. “Think you can manage without me for a week?”

Scotty looked over at him, still frowning. “Think you can manage without us?”

____________________________

 

One night turned out to be a very, very long time. Jim and Bones sat in the ready room and filed all the necessary paperwork and preparations – which included, happily, permission from Starfleet to dock the Enterprise on Earth.

Jim felt good about that, but he was also horribly jealous. He hadn’t been home in almost seven months.

“Scott said we’re not due for maintenance, but I thought we could get the dining hall refitted, and maybe a rotation of books for the library. Have you noticed the chicken tasting kind of beef-y recently, too? Maybe our replicators should be looked at – “

“Yeah,” Bones said, rubbing at his face with his hands.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s just – you’re worried about the chicken?”

“Ship morale is only as good as its worst protein replicant.”

Bones rolled his eyes.

Jim decided to level with him. “I have to leave my ship for a week,” he said. “With only a few hours’ notice. I’m not ready for that! We’ll reach New Vulcan in, like, five hours, and I still don’t know what’s going to happen down there – I – I don’t know anything.”

All he could do was think. And worry. And truth be told, Bones was doing a much better job of worrying about Spock than he was. He’d forced Jim to go into Spock’s room and scan him with a tricorder, then again an hour later, then again to try and make him eat.

The first two times, Spock had been asleep. The tricorder showed no change from before. Just a crazy jumble of numbers and some alerts that said critical condition.

The third time, when Jim walked in with a plate of food, Spock was up and pacing, shirtless.

“Have we arrived?” He’d asked, suddenly super focused and calm. His hands were behind his back. Jim couldn’t see if they were shaking.

“Not yet.”

“Then why are you here?”

Jim wasn’t very interested in checking on him again after that, but the computer hadn’t alerted them to Spock leaving his quarters. Whatever.

“So, yeah,” he said to Bones. “I’m worried about the chicken. I would like to fix the chicken, because right now the only thing I can fix, is the chicken. Okay?”

“The ship will be fine, Jim.”

“I know.”

Bones scrubbed at his face again, sitting back up. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Jim sighed, throwing the PADD down onto the table. Bones looked painfully serious. “Haven’t we said enough for one day?”

Bones raised his eyebrows, plunging right in. “How serious is it? Between you two.”

“Quit.”

“Jim, listen to me. Listen. I’m coming at you as a friend, here. Your friend. And as someone who knows you, it’s no secret you’re not a relationship kind of guy.”

“I – “ Jim laughed, incredulous. Not at what Bones was saying, but the implied reason he was saying it. “What?”

“Before this thing with Spock, you didn’t hang on to anybody more than a few days. Maybe a week.”

Jim glanced at the door, considering making a run for it.

“Jim.”

What?”

“Nothing out there is gonna make this go away. Will you just have a conversation with me? For once?”

“You’re trying to shrink me,” Jim said. He could feel it.

“I’m your friend,” he disagreed tiredly.

“Yeah. My friend. Hard to talk to a friend about your other friend when said friends despise each other. Andwhen that friend is hooking up with your other friend’s ex. I don’t recall you ever trying to have any ‘conversations’ with me about you and Uhura. Wonder why that is?”

“I don’t despise him,” Bones said sternly, deftly ignoring the jab about Nyota. “And you calling him a ‘friend’ is proving my point.”

“It was a figure of speech.”

“All I wanna know is how things are. I…" He made a face, shrugging. "I think that what you’re about to get into is going to be very, very serious. If you’re not prepared for it – “

“I can’t believe you are lecturing me about relationships.”

“Don’t you dare.”

Finally, Jim had cracked past all the weird, emotional sincerity bullshit. Bones clenched his jaw and got that red hue to his cheeks that meant pissed. Unfortunately, he didn’t rise to that bait, either. “You refuse to talk about it, Jim. I mean, you see that, right? If you’re not going to talk about it with me, then who?”

Jim wasn’t even sure what ‘it’ was that they were talking about anymore. He said as much.

“All of it!” Bones cried. “You never even dated the guy. You went from what was barely a friendship to letting him do that bonding crap. That’s a huge change, Jim, from sleeping your way through our cadet class.”

“Well, there were no cadets on board. I had to make do,” Jim drawled, standing and trying to gracefully storm out of his own ready room.

“I think Spock would agree with me."

Jim turned back, rage striking him speechless.

“He knows you well enough to see that you ain’t ready for this, and that’s why he tried to give you an out.”

Ready?!" Jim yelled. "What exactly am I not ready for? Jesus, Len, I’m not a moron, and I’m not a monster. I fully intend to keep every promise I’ve made to him. Alright? Can you fuck off, now?”

An out. An out. Part of Jim’s brain spiraled around those words. That wasn’t what Spock was doing, right? He didn’t really think Jim wouldn’t want to be with him if something like this was going on? He was sick, he didn’t want anyone to see, that was understandable. But Jim was Jim.

And as for the rest of it, they’d been having sex. What was there to be so scared of?

“You told your mom about Spock?” Bones asked quietly. “Your brother?”

That struck a chord that Jim tried very hard to ignore. It was a gut punch, and Bones knew it.

“I’m not trying to start a fight,” he muttered. “Or…give you the impression that I’m not happy for the both of you. I am. Just…maybe you should consider not going with him. Let the other Vulcans take care of it.”

“I’m going with him,” Jim said through his teeth, not even bothering to voice his thoughts on whether or not Vulcans gave a fuck about Spock’s health. “Finish these reports.”

____________________________

Jim sat in the Captain’s chair most of the night, unable to sit alone in his room, much less sleep. Delta shift tiptoed around him, speaking in lowered voices on the bridge.

They arrived at 0400. New Vulcan spun in the viewscreen, black and ominous. They were locked in orbit with the dark side.

“Hail them,” Jim said, standing. The Delta Comms Officer worked on it for a minute.

“No answer,” she said, sounding surprised. Then, “Oh! They’ve just sent a transmission. Coordinates, Captain.”

Rude to an almost unprecedented level. Fucking Vulcans. “To where?”

“Beam down point. The Confederacy’s headquarters.”

He was confused for a second, then remembered. The Vulcans didn’t call this place New Vulcan. Spock did, sometimes, but they were officially the Confederacy of Surak. Kind of a mouthful. “Alert Chief Officers, have Engineering ready for us.”

“Yes, sir.”

Spock was sitting on the floor, now, instead of pacing. He was in his meditation pose, hands on his knees. Jim walked past him and grabbed his go bag from the closet, throwing in a PADD, a toothbrush, and, in a manic haze, Spock’s chessboard and incense. When he was ready he stopped in front of Spock and touched the top of his head.

“We’re here. I packed some of your stuff, but if you wanted to take – “

He stopped talking as Spock got to his feet. A very, very forced blankness settled over his eyes.

Jim tried to take his hand. “Maybe you should eat before we – “

“No.”

Spock walked right past him, into the hall and away.

“Captain,” said the computer. “Commander Spock has – “

“At ease. Dismiss that order.”

Scotty was waiting for them at the transporter pad. As was Bones, and Sulu, and, inexplicably, Nyota. Spock acknowledged no one, just walked up to the platform and waited, gazing steadily at the wall.

Nyota stared daggers at him, then at Jim. Like this was his fault.

“Men,” he said. “You’ve been briefed.”

Scotty and Sulu nodded, saints the both of them. Because it hadn’t been much of a brief. Gotta go, Jim had told them. Might be an entire week. Don’t ask why.

He shook their hands. It didn’t look like any of them had gotten sleep that night.

“Enjoy Earth,” he told Sulu. “Enjoy the seat. Have a Budweiser for me?”

Sulu cracked a wan smile. “I will.”

His eyes went to Spock, questioning and confused. Jim didn’t know what to say, but he suddenly didn’t want to leave things in a bad way with Bones.

“See you soon,” he said, trying to convey the rest of it with his face. Bones shook his hand, answering with his.

“See ya, Jim.”

Jim looked again at Nyota, a by-product of trying very hard not to look at her. She was so mad. He hoped Bones’ shore leave wouldn’t be ruined because of all this. It definitely was.

“Don’t crash the ship,” he couldn’t help but add, stepping up next to Spock. Only Scotty smiled, saluting him and leaning over the terminal.

“Ready when you are, sir.”

“Good luck,” Nyota said suddenly, pushing off of the wall. She wasn’t talking to Jim.

Spock looked at her, swallowed hard, and nodded.

Jim tore his eyes away from the exchange. “Energize.”

Please don’t let this be a mistake, he thought to no one in particular.

The room fuzzed out, replaced instantaneously by their destination. Grand Vulcan Station, apparently. They had been beamed into a cavernous room full of people, walking this way and that.

“Isn’t it, like, the middle of the night?” Jim muttered, looking up. The ceiling was high, made of the same black stone as the walls and floor. None of the Vulcans (so many at once Jim’s head started hurting) turned to stare. A few glanced over blankly and kept walking, but apparently there was no greeting party.

“Captain Kirk.”

Jim turned. Two people approached the pad, one a tall human man and the other a short, startlingly old Vulcan woman.

Ko’mech-il,” Spock said.

Kic’blu,” the woman answered very shortly. Her long black robes swished as she walked away. Spock stepped down from the platform.

“Captain,” the human man said. “You may come with me.”

“But – “ He looked at Spock’s retreating form. He was just going to leave Jim stranded in this place? “Spock!”

“It’s alright. He’s safe with T’Mott.”

Irritated and rapidly spiraling into anxiety, Jim looked at the guy more closely. He was wearing a Starfleet uniform, all white with a Lieutenant Commander badge. His shoulders were stiff, posture at attention. Because of Jim? Or did living with Vulcans long enough just make you look like that?

“You’re M’Benga.”

“Correct,” he said, unsmiling. “Just this way, please.”

“Where did they go?” Jim asked, setting off with him through the giant room. It looked like they were headed toward the front doors. Everywhere he looked he met a pair of unfeeling black eyes.

“A meeting, of sorts. I will elaborate further in my office.”

Jim frowned at his Vulcan-like way of talking. “Where are you from?”

“Chad. And you?”

“Iowa.”

Well, he was no conversationalist. “You know,” Jim started. “This is a pretty cold reception. Even for Vulcans.”

M’Benga pushed open one of the tall, heavy doors and held it for Jim. “We will discuss that in my office, as well.”

Jim stepped past him, holding back a retort by the skin of his teeth. Then he got his first glimpse of New Vulcan.

“Whoa.”

Before them was a sprawling set of steps, branching out into webbed walkways lined with short, stalky plants and cacti. It was nighttime, which only made the city around them that much more stunning. Lights twinkled from buildings that rose high above, some dark stone like the High Command building, some a bright white kind of sandstone, and some pure metal.

He already felt a million miles away from the Enterprise. They’d probably already left.

“It’s – it’s only been a year.”

“Yes,” M’Benga said. “Welcome to Shi’Kahr-uhz. This would have been impossible without the support of the Federation.”

“It’s…definitely impressive.”

“That,” M’Benga said, nodding across the street at one of the sand stone buildings. Not very tall compared to the others. “Is the science building. We’re going there.”

Jim moved forward, feeling a little like he was dreaming. The lack of sleep mixed with the neck shot of adrenaline he’d been under for the past seven hours mixed with all this.

“It’s the gravity,” M’Benga said, like he could read Jim’s mind. “Just a little lighter than Vulcan-that-was. Still heavier than Earth, but closer. You should adjust in a few days.”

Jim spotted a few other Humans crossing the road ahead of them. Non-Starfleet, from the looks of it. He and M’Benga stepped out of the way of a shuttle, Jim almost losing his balance twice. Pointing out the gravity difference had only made him more aware of it.

The night was heavy, but not really hot. Just warm enough for an uncomfortable sweat to gather in all his dark places. He was sure morning would bring much worse.

“You really mean to tell me there’s only one science building here?” Jim asked, pulling open  the door with some effort. A nice waft of slightly cooler air hit his cheeks.

M’Benga actually laughed at that, very quietly. “To your left.”

The hallway to the left took them deeper inside and down a subtle decline. The sandstone exterior was misleading – inside the building he could have been in a starship. Everything was sleek white duranium and shiny bronze plaques with commemorations or, more likely, memoriums, written in Vulcan.

“Here we are.” M’Benga stopped and typed a code into a door. It slid open, releasing even colder air. Jim collapsed into the plain chair in front of M’Benga’s desk, taking in big lungfuls of it. He didn’t realize how winded he was.

“Water?”

“Please,” Jim gasped.

M’Benga went to the wall and slid open a discreet hatch, asking the tiny replicator for water. Jim looked around for any sign of who he was dealing with. It was no Vulcan’s office, that was for sure – there were pens left unattended across the desktop, ripped sheets of paper with notes jotted down. So M’Benga wrote with pens. He was old school – wooden desk and all. No pictures, though. Jim leaned as far forward as was polite, trying to get a look at his non-transparent screens.

No windows down on this level either, yet two green, fern-like things hung down from the ceiling in either corner of the far wall. Jim cocked his head. They may have actually been ferns. Which was as close to Earth as he would be getting for a while.

“Here.”

“Thanks,” he said, taking the already frosting water glass and gulping it down. “Sorry, I’m a mess right now.”

“Believe me.” M’Benga sat across the desk, folding his hands together. “I understand completely.”

“Do you?”

He regarded Jim in silence. Up close, in this lighting, Jim could see that his face was more lined than he’d thought. Mid-thirties, maybe? Or aging was just a side effect of living on Vulcan for so long.

“I must apologize for the…’cold reception’. The city’s dignitaries are currently off planet, and the elders are…heavily occupied.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

His eyes were dark, like a Vulcan’s, but they were kind. “I don’t know if you’re aware, Captain – “

“Jim, please.”

“Jim,” he allowed. “I spoke briefly with Doctor McCoy yesterday. He called me with some understandably urgent concerns regarding Commander Spock’s mental state. I’m sure it was a frustrating conversation on his end, but I thought it would be better to speak to you directly about this. Give you all the information at once.”

Now they were getting somewhere. Jim sat straight, because slouching really wasn’t an option in his torture-device of a chair.

“To begin, it would be best if we could agree now that any conversation we have be kept strictly confidential.”

“Of course.”

He nodded. “I am also planning on arranging a meeting with Doctor McCoy to further discuss and elaborate upon what I withheld from him yesterday. Clearly, what limited information the Confederacy released to Starfleet…is simply inadequate. I apologize for that.”

“Somehow, I don’t think it’s your fault.”

M’Benga didn’t smile, but his shoulders got a little less tense. “You must be very anxious about Spock.”

“Uh, yeah,” Jim laughed uncomfortably. “You could say that.”

“It’s my understanding that you know essentially about what is taking place. Is it alright with you if I start from the beginning?”

Whatever that meant. “Go for it.”

“The words that Doctor McCoy used, and that I assume he related to you, were ‘mating ritual’. Correct?”

Jim nodded.

“An oversimplification. Yes, foundationally, the cycle of pon-farr exists to achieve reproduction. It’s not completely unlike that of Humans. A Human woman’s fertility cycle lasts thirty or so days. In Vulcan males, that cycle is seven Terran years long. At the onset of a new cycle, they are at their most virile. Conversely, like Human males, Vulcan females are fertile from the onset of puberty until they die.”

That was already more information about Vulcans than Jim had ever heard strung into one sentence. He wondered what it would take to get this guy on the Enterprise. Just to make Bones feel a little bit of healthy competition.

“Are you familiar with the pre-Surakian age?”

“Um…yeah, a bit. Vulcans were tribal, warlike.”

“Correct.” He paused, looking off at nothing in particular. “You are bonded to Spock.”

“Yes,” Jim answered, though it didn’t sound like a question.

“Your relationship was officially recorded five weeks ago. How long ago did you bond?”

Jim’s first instinct was to withhold that information, and withhold it hard. He didn’t know this guy, didn’t really have any reason to trust him. “Six weeks. About.”

“And when did the relationship actually begin?”

“…six weeks. About.”

M’Benga talked like a Vulcan, but he wasn’t one. Jim saw clear as day the look of concern that passed over his face. He didn’t like that answer.

“So you have melded with him. You’ve seen firsthand how the way he outwardly expresses emotion is no indicator of how he actually feels.”

“Well, yeah, but I didn’t really need the meld to know that.”

“The belief shared by Humans, and by any other race familiar with Vulcans, is that their philosophy exists to suppress their emotions. Some might even say…eradicate. The truth is, the pre-Surakian age was wracked with conflict because of these emotions. Not just that they ran freely, but that they ran so deep. More so than Humans, or Tellarites or Betazoids. On pre-Surakian Vulcan, hunger was starvation. Anger was bloodlust. Love was passion. Sadness…” He blinked, taking a pen in one hand and rolling it between his fingers. “Surakian logic completely transformed everything about the planet. There was peace in his ways, and prosperity. There is no higher purpose for these people than a well-ordered mind.”

Jim almost asked for a pen and paper. He wasn’t sure how many new things he could hear and retain in one sitting.

“They want to control these emotions. And they have done so, successfully, for thousands of years. But, as we know on Earth, evolution is not quick to change. Embryos still develop tails. Children are born with third molars, and pyramidalis muscles. Vulcans have vestigial bones in their inner ears … and they retain their emotion.

“Directly after the Time of Awakening – when Surakian logic took hold - Vulcan was developing complex societies, and ruling bodies and laws. Logic was a boon, and yet…even the most stringent followers of Surak were still reduced to savagery by the onset of pon-farr. Those who had bonded early in adulthood were simply that – bound. They rode out the experience with their partners, and that was that. But not everyone was so lucky. A Vulcan male experiencing pon-farr without a bondmate would do whatever it took to obtain a mate. Even murder.”

Jim clenched his fists. “What.”

M’Benga took a breath. “This became untenable, so two systems were formed. The first was Kolinahr. Have you heard of it?”

“No.”

Kolinahr is a discipleship. A years-long journey through Vulcan, walked on foot and culminating at the Plateau of Tai-la. It was said that the sands there would absorb emotion. The Vulcan seeking what they called ‘Truth’ would walk the desert until all emotion was purged. Forever.”

“Forever,” Jim whispered. “How?”

“I can’t say. In fact, no one can. Truth is given differently to every Vulcan, and it is theirs alone.”

“It sounds like bullshit.”

M’Benga smiled. “It’s…mystical. But the fact is, Vulcans who have gone through kolinahr no longer experiencepon-farr. At all.”

“You mean they still do that?” Jim cringed away from even the thought. Vulcans were already so blank. But at least he knew there was something in there. What kind of a life was one without any feeling?

“I’m afraid it is no longer possible,” M’Benga said with a certain heaviness Jim didn’t understand.

“Why not?”

“We’ll get there,” he assured. Jim frowned. “Kolinahr was one solution to the problems that pon-farr posed. Though, as I’m sure you’ve already realized, an incredibly difficult one. Few Vulcans would attempt it, even if it meant saving themselves from the rigors of pon-farr. The most lasting school of thought against it was that it is illogical in the specific instance of child-rearing. Pon-farr was necessary for the continuation of the species.

“Emotion is a guiding factor for both a parent and a child; instrumental in mental development and interpersonal communication. So the second solution was born: koon-ut-la. When their child reaches the age of seven, Vulcans choose another child of around the same age, and bond them. Not like your bond, though…looser. To be awakened when the male – or one of the males – reached their first pon-farr. The bond leads them to one another, and no one dies in the process. Everyone has a match.”

“Do they have a choice?” Jim asked, thinking of the woman Spock had been bonded to. Engaged. “What if they find someone else?”

“It…rarely happens.”

“Rarely?”

“There is a ceremony. Tomorrow afternoon, when you see Spock – “

“Tomorrow afternoon? That long?”

“Yes. He is currently in the first stage of pon-farr. The Fires, they call it. Ket’lio asenoi.

Spock had said that. The Fires. “What does it mean?”

“A hormone released early on in the process. The physical effects are…disorientation, tremors, and the sensation of burning.”

Spock said that, too. “And adrenaline.”

“Yes.” He tapped his pen on the desktop. “Do you know what katra - ?”

“I do,” Jim said eagerly, happy to know at least one of these words. “It’s like a soul.”

“More or less. Right now, Spock is with an elder who is guiding him through the process of relinquishing his shields. Completely removing the barrier between his mind, and his body.”

“But – he can do that already. He does that…every night.”

M’Benga gave him a strange look. Almost disbelieving. “Fascinating.”

“Why?”

He opened his mouth, then shook his head. “No matter. Tomorrow, that first stage will end when you consummate your bond. An elder will read you the rites – “

“Sorry,” Jim interrupted again. “We…I mean, we already did that part?”

M’Benga raised his eyebrows. “Pardon?”

“Maybe I’m wrong about this…but that’s the same word Spock used. Consummate. We…finished the bond.”

When M’Benga answered him, his voice was slower. “The koon-ut-kal-if-fee is an essential component of a long-term bond. It’s curious to me that Spock would forgo it.”

Bones talked like that when he thought Jim was being stupid. Jim bit his tongue, shrugging. “I’ve never even heard of the koon-ut-kal…whatever until right now. Maybe…maybe he was planning on mentioning it, I don’t really know. He thought he had more time.”

“Jim.” M’Benga leaned in, eyes wide. “What do you mean by that?”

“He told me…well, first of all, he told me pon-farr was something entirely different than what you’re telling me. But he said it wouldn’t happen to him for at least six years.”

“I don’t follow,” M’Benga said. “Spock is the only documented hybrid of the Human and Vulcan races. His pon-farr cycle is unpredictable. And irregular, obviously, as he is…” he glanced over at his screen. “Thirty years of age. Nearly a decade past what should have been the first. By what measure was he…anticipating it?”

Jim wanted to smack himself. Sevek! Of course. Spock knew because he’d probably asked Sevek about it. “I don’t know.”

M’Benga didn’t seem to believe him, but he moved past it. “His hybrid status should be taken into consideration…but, again, there is no way of knowing. While I believe he will experience pon-farr as any other Vulcan would, there is another complication.”

“Great.”

“At what point did Spock, or you, realize what was happening?”

Jim looked at the ferns. “Hard to say. We were doing a survey on this planet, and Spock got hurt. There was a toxin from some…plants that almost killed him and the rest of the away team. He acted kind of strange that day, but it really could have just been him recovering.”

“When he understood what was happening to him, where did he ask you to take him?”

Gravity thumped at Jim’s inner ear. “Vulcan.”

“Did you correct him?”

“I…I did. But he kept saying it.”

“And he will again. He is now.” M’Benga looked at Jim’s empty glass. “Would you like something stronger?”

Jim raised his eyebrows. “Really?”

“I think it will help us through this next part.” He reached below his desk and pulled out a handle of Glenfiddich.

Holy shit. Jim wondered if he was hallucinating. “Well, McCoy’s definitely going to like you. Cheers.”

The first sip was heaven. Sweet, esophagus-burning heaven. Gravity became a little more agreeable after the second, and he actually felt less loopy.

“This kind of consultation is by no means commonplace, you know,” M’Benga told him, visibly relishing his own sip. “Vulcans would have no need to be briefed on the subject. But since I was made aware of your imminent arrival with Spock, I knew you would need quite a bit more information than you were armed with. I’ve just explained to you the biological aspect of pon-farr, but the more…spiritual part is going to be difficult to understand.”

“Don’t tell me he’s Lutheran,” Jim deadpanned. He cringed internally. Tense situations made him say the most inappropriate shit.

M’Benga gave him a startled look, then laughed. “I must tell you, I’ve missed jokes.

Jim smiled, then stopped as M’Benga became serious again. The guy was as back-and-forth as Jim felt.

“There is no analog on Earth for what pon-farr truly is. I’ve thought about it, and the closest I can get is with the example of salmon. You’re familiar?”

“Sure. They swim upstream.”

“Right, well, they don’t just swim upstream. Salmon are born in riverbeds. They swim out to sea, live their entire adult lives there, and then, when it is time to spawn, they return – with near perfect precision – to the exact riverbed of their birth. There’s no reason that they should be able to do this. They just do. Now, tell me Jim…what happens to the salmon if there is no current?”

“They…can’t find their way.”

“And if there is no river?”

Jim didn’t really want to answer that. M’Benga swirled his glass around idly.

“There were twenty seven million survivors of the attack on Vulcan. A planet that housed at least ten billion. It was the most devastating thing I have ever witnessed in my life.”

“You were there?”

“I was in the process of helping with a very complicated birth. Vulcan births are relatively complex – I’ll spare you the details – but this was critical. Essentially a surgery. We were in the final stretch, and…then the ground shook.”

Jim hadn’t expected to live through this again tonight. He finished off the Glen with a wince.

“We barely made it out, on an emergency shuttle. It would have taken us five weeks to get to Earth, but Starfleet sent out a rescue party.” His mouth became a thin line. “We lost the mother. The child survived.”

“I’m…I’m so sorry.”

“I will never forget that day, as long as I live. I know you will not, either. But what I lost was a patient. I didn’t lose a bondmate, or a child. A parent.”

He paused after that, which made Jim think he was talking about Spock.

“Most of the twenty seven million on this planet lost someone. Colleagues, friends. Families have been torn apart. And they lost their planet. So, two problems were created. There is no longer a riverbed, so to speak. There can be no Kolinahr without the Plateau of Tai-la, or its sands. And there is no longer a stream to follow. A Vulcan in the throes of pon-farr will not understand what this planet is. They will be lost, and confused, and completely alone. Their instinct is useless.”

The burning in Jim’s throat was starting to feel more like impending vomit. “What are you getting at?”

“There is a third way of dealing with pon-farr. It’s a last resort, and it happened very rarely until recently. To start, I wouldn’t describe Vulcan unions as loving, or passionate. But they are loyal. A bond is sacred. When somebody loses their bondmate…they often cannot or will not take another. Which means they will be alone for all subsequent pon-farr cycles.

Jim set his glass down, numbed not from alcohol but from dread. “Meditation?”

“Exactly.”

So what the fuck did that mean? A last resort. Spock had tried to go with the last resort before just telling Jim the truth.

“It’s a complicated process, and dangerous.”

Jim looked up.

“Survival is…eighty percent.”

“Why?” Jim asked very loudly. M’Benga looked startled.

“Difficult to say. I’ve never been party to it. The elders do not like performing it, but there’s no other option.”

“People die from it?”

“As I understand it, the younger you are, the more intense pon-farr is. Older Vulcans can more easily endure it, because they have grown accustomed to the cycle. Someone younger, still processing the death of a bondmate, or anyone else close to them, for that matter, will be experiencing those feelings of grief more strongly than you or I could even imagine. The psychic stress of suppressing pon-farr through meditation, while going through all of that, can be too much.”

Spock had tried to do that. Jim grappled with that for a few minutes. M’Benga gave him the time he needed.

“So…” he swallowed against the shake in his voice. “If everybody has lost someone…”

M’Benga nodded, closing his eyes. “I would not be telling you this if I didn’t think it was relevant, but this must really be treated as absolutely secret. You cannot speak of it to anybody, except Spock.”

“What is it?”

“Your word.”

Jim gripped the arms of his chair. “Fine. I give you my word.”

He opened his eyes. “The colony has been promoting its progress, and while the progress is real, there is…” he glanced to the door. “A crisis happening here. It was difficult enough for the elders to spend all their efforts on healing broken bonds – a trauma in its own right – but this level of loss…it’s unprecedented. The implosion of Vulcan was so profoundly catastrophic that we have actually seen a massive uptick in pon-farr among the population. Individuals who went through a cycle two years ago, or three, are going through it again now. It has never happened in documented history.”

Spock’s pon-farr was early because of Vulcan. “Why is it happening?”

“There’s not enough evidence to explain fully, but…fluctuations in an emotional state often present themselves physically in Humans. Women desperate for a child experience hysterical pregnancies. High levels of stress result in hair loss, early greying. So, yes, we have hundreds of people a month going through this withoutbondmates. There is no time to find them one, even if they were amenable. There is barely enough time to organize and create space for them, and allow the elders time to rest… it’s untenable. And the survival rate is decreasing.”

“Meaning what?”

“Suicides,” he said flatly. “The emotional toll is too high, and we’ve lost people to it. Which only leads to more devastation, trauma…a chain reaction that may go on for some time.”

Jim ‘s heart stopped, and then started a million times faster. “They’re keeping this from the Federation. They’ve been lying about their population.”

“Yes,” he shrugged. “There is no other option.”

“What about therapy for these people? Medications, even.”

M’Benga was already shaking his head. “Dead in the water. Jim, the only reason I even know pon-farr exists is because there are simply not enough officials to help. Not with this and keeping the colony afloat.”

“They’re letting people die because they’re too proud to admit they fuck every now and then?” Jim reached a yell near the end, loud in the small room and echoing in his ears. M’Benga raised an eyebrow.

“After everything you’ve heard tonight, you know that’s not all this is. It is what they consider to be their greatest failure as a species. It’s not spoken of in society, it’s not even talked about between spouses. Or parents and their children, for that matter. Spock, for example, knows as much as you or I now do about it, but that’s all. He doesn’t know what to expect. Like all Vulcans, he was blindsided by it. And there is no time to recover once it’s started.”

Jim knew his mouth was hanging open, but there was little he could do to stop it.

“So, here we are. It has started, and I need to let you know what to expect.”

Jim pushed his glass forward. M’Benga hesitated before pouring more scotch.

“I will tell you first, there is no real anecdotal evidence of what pon-farr is like for a bondmate not experiencing it themselves. Except for one couple. Human female, Vulcan male.”

Jim understood his expression. “No.”

“I didn’t imagine you would want to read the journals of Amanda Grayson, but they provide a dearth of information you will need. I read over them myself in your stead.”

Jim nodded tightly, focusing very hard on keeping the contents of his stomach where they were supposed to be. M’Benga gave him a sympathetic look before standing up, clicking a controller. The wall to Jim’s right lit up with a diagram. Vulcan (Male), it read at the top. An outline of a body.

Pon-farr is marked by a series of symptoms with which you are now familiar. The release of the Vulcan hormone yamareen through the endocrine and circulatory systems.” The diagram body displayed these changes with a concentration of red at the endocrine organs, specifically the brain. “After the shields are lowered, and he is with you and the ceremony is complete – “

Jim’s stomach rolled again at the word ceremony.

“Tomorrow. When his shields are lowered and he is near you, plak-tow will begin. The second stage.”

He hit a button, and the red spread out from the organs where it was concentrated, saturating the body’s outline. Some numbers and charts to the sides changed, too, but Jim focused on the color. How startling it was.

“There is no translation for what plak-tow means, but I would call it…fever. Were you to reject him, to answer your earlier question, he would become aggressive toward whoever it was you were rejecting him for.Traditionally, the two would duel to the death for the prize of the intended. Thankfully, you will not be rejecting him. From that moment on, his only thought will be to mate.”

“Won’t he be in pain?” Asked Jim, gesturing to the diagram. “If he was burning before – “

“Pain…I can’t say. You certainly will be – that’s where your need for a physician becomes relevant.”

“What, you’re gonna tell me about the birds and the bees?”

“Hardly.” He didn’t crack a smile this time. “This is the point in pon-farr where the urges and blood-fever reach across the bond and ignite in a bondmate. They share in the emotions, and the need to mate. Without the capability to maintain shields, there will be no barrier between your mind and his. I do not believe you would survive that, much less be able to perform.”

He turned back to his desk, opening a drawer and pulling out a black bag. Small, like a cooler. “You will be taking psionic blockers.”

Psi-blockers?” This was actually worse than a sex talk. “What for?”

He unzipped the bag and pulled open the side of it. It rolled out, exposing three shiny silver hypo canisters. “You cannot be telepathically linked to him. The disorientation you’re feeling isn’t just because of gravity, or the lack of moisture in the air. It’s Spock, and these feelings will increase exponentially in the coming hours until you are insensate and drooling. Are you ready?”

“Wait,” Jim said. M’Benga stood but didn’t come any closer. “Wait. You want to shut off the bond?”

“It will be numbed, yes. But not damaged.”

Jim was loathe to even consider it. The bond was the only thing keeping him calm right then – the fact that he couldn’t feel anything meant Spock was still well enough to keep his shields up. If it went numb, how would he know if something was wrong? The incident with the trees had at least taught him that – he would know if Spock was in mortal danger.

“Will he know?”

M’Benga primed the hypo, sliding up the needle. “He will. I imagine knowing it has numbed will make it easier for him to relinquish control. The sooner he may leave the Fires.”

Jim had heard so many new words that night he couldn’t even remember what the Fires were supposed to be. Metaphorical Vulcan bullshit. “Just do it.”

“I will administer this one,” he said, stepping up. Jim squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the hit. “After this, you’ll be on our own. You must take one in twenty four hours, and every day after until they are gone. Ignoring my advice may put both of your lives at risk. Do you understand?”

The hypo hit his skin and released a burst of fluid straight to his neck. “I understand,” he grit out. Bones must have spent his very short phone call with M’Benga spelling out all of Jim’s most annoying tendencies as a patient.

Whatever effect the psi-blocker had on the bond, Jim couldn’t feel anything different. He hoped Spock was too busy meditating to realize anything was amiss. “How many are there?”

“Six. As well as these.”

Jim leaned on his elbows, crossed against the side of the desk. The bag was just a complex set of pouches, all zipped together. M’Benga unrolled the opposite side. Test tubes. At least twenty.

“These are a specially-concocted formula to replicate, to the extent possible, a Vulcan’s level of arousal during pon-farr. They will increase your sex drive past…well, past anything any other doctor would allow you to take.”

Jim stared at the unassuming tubes, escalating to an even higher level of ‘detached from reality’. “Aphrodisiacs?”

“Aphrodisiac, steroid, hormone supplement, adrenaline…don’t worry, I’ve taken your allergy profile into account.”

It sounded more like hard drugs than a 'formula'. “What about my liver?”

The blank expression glued to M’Benga’s face turned pinched. “This has been trial tested on another Human. It works.”

Jim was tempted to throw his hands over his hears and chant la la la la. He wanted nothing more than to forget that he was walking in Spock’s mom’s footsteps.

M’Benga again glided past Jim’s uneasiness. “When you stop taking them, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal. Nothing too serious, just don’t be alarmed when that happens. As for your diet – “ More unzipping. After the hour-long history lesson on Vulcan biology, he was being alarmingly flippant about Jim’s. “Vulcans do not need to eat or drink during pon-farr. There’s nothing in Spock’s anatomy that would suggest he is any different in that regard, but resist your urge to pressure him into consuming anything. It likely won’t help, so you should let him decide. It would also react badly with the hormone supplements for you to eat anything solid, so these,” he opened up the central compartment of the bag. Full of small, unlabeled jars. “Will stand in as your meals.”

Jim gave him a look that he ignored.

“Enough nutrients to counteract the energy you will be expending, and more than enough calories to fuel you.”

“Okay.” Jim swallowed. “Is that all?”

“Not quite.” M’Benga looked down at the bag, then zipped it closed, pushing it across the desk. He sat with a sigh. “Six weeks is not a long time, by Human standards. I imagine…I imagine you have engaged in sexual relations.”

Now he was really leaning into the Vulcan-speak. Jim nodded, not trusting his voice.

“Spock will not be in the headspace to…consent. Or to ask for yours.” He held up a finger when Jim opened his mouth. “I’m not saying I think he would…hurt you. In fact I’m sure he will not. A no will suffice, if necessary.”

Jim was too shocked to be angry. M’Benga was actually implying that Spock might rape him.

“It would be wise to keep your activities within the bounds of what the two of you have already agreed upon. Does that make sense?”

“Not really.” Jim hadn’t even thought about consent. So…did that meant he would in some way be taking advantage of Spock? “Let’s move on.”

“You – “

“Next topic,” Jim said, his voice going too high-pitched. M’Benga gave him another disapproving look.

Plak-tow will last days. He will not sleep, or rest. He will not be himself, or in any state to communicate with you in words. This will be difficult for you, Jim, and…a test of your relationship.”

He added the last part very delicately. Jim tensed. “It’ll be fine.”

M’Benga gave him a long look. Jim tried not to feel like a child. “When plak-tow begins to wane, Spock will return to himself. But remember what I said about emotions. He will feel everything. The loss of Vulcan will seem as though it were yesterday.”

Jim flashed back to the day after Vulcan was destroyed. Goading Spock, emotionally compromising him. “It’s been a year and a half.”

“It doesn’t matter. You must prepare for it.”

“Prepare how?”

“You know him better than I. You have seen his mind.”

“Yeah, parts of it.” Jim stood up, almost losing his balance. God, he was tired. “Look, I’m not qualified for this. I’m – I’m not a psychologist. Or a therapist. I’m not even sure he wants me there – “

You,” M’Benga stressed. “Are the only one qualified to do this. Your voice is the only one he will hear, within plak-tow and after. Your mere presence makes all the difference. You are his bondmate.”

“Yeah, well, when I agreed to a bond I didn’t know it meant this,” Jim snapped, pacing in a circle. “Shit.” He took a breath and looked over at M’Benga, sitting patiently. “I didn’t meant that.”

“It’s none of my business. I’m only trying to make sure you both get through this as safely as possible.”

Jim snorted, pulling at his hair. “I’m – are we done, here?”

“If you wish. I know it’s late, but if you have any more questions for me, this is your last chance. You will be isolated for the rest of the week.”

Jim was too overloaded with exhaustion and panic to even begin to formulate a question. Except, “Isolated where?”

“I thought that would be obvious. You will be staying at the Ambassador’s residence.”

For a wild second, Jim thought he meant Ambassador Sevek. No. The other Ambassador. “You’re fucking joking, right?”

“Ambassador Sarek is off-planet. He left earlier today to travel to Earth, where he will stay until you and Spock no longer require isolation.”

“You’re saying – you mean he knows?”

“Of course. He was made aware the moment Doctor McCoy sent word to the Council.”

“Wait.” Jim smacked a hand against his own chest. “Does he know that it’s me Spock is with?!”

“I don’t know,” M’Benga said slowly. “I can’t imagine Spock would undergo a soul bond without informing his family.”

Jim grabbed his bag, and the zipped one full of meds, and slung them both over his shoulder. “Where does he live?”

M’Benga pursed his lips. “I’ll call you a shuttle.”

___________________________

Beyond the city was a mountain range. Jim looked out the window of the shuttle at the smooth black peaks. There were lights up there, but he couldn’t discern the shapes of the houses until he began to ascend.

There was no pilot. The unmanned shuttle had pulled slowly up to M’Benga’s office building and stopped. There had been less people on the streets, less voices echoing from the Consulate building he’d beamed into.

“Is Spock still in there?” He’d asked, nodding to it as he climbed in. M’Benga reached past his knees to type in a set of coordinates. “When will I see him?”

“He is within the Council chambers,” he sighed, bracing a hand on the entrance. “I believe they will be finished with him sometime around 1200 hours tomorrow, though that could vary. One last precaution – “ he’d pulled out a communicator. Not Starfleet make. “Take this, and contact me if you need to.”

“If I need to?”

“If there is an emergency.”

“What kind of emergency?”

M’Benga shook his head, stepping back. “And keep your psi-blockers out of sight. Spock may try to destroy them if he sees them.”

He stepped back again.

“Thank you,” Jim called, holding the door open as it tried to slide shut. “You didn’t have to do all this.”

He only inclined his head. “It was nice to meet you, Captain. I will see you soon.”

“Soon.” Jim pulled his arm inside. The door shut. The shuttle continued slowly down the street. Agonizingly slowly. It wasn’t until it reached the outer limits of the packed-in buildings that the speed picked up, whizzing quietly over the sand.

Jim craned his neck as it took him higher and higher up the steep rocks. The city shone behind him, smaller than he would have thought from within. It looked like it had sat there for a hell of a lot longer than a year.

“Come on,” he muttered, poking at the controls. After some prodding, he got the thing to go a little quicker, and then a blinking red light told him he had reached maximum speed. Rocks streaked by, lit in flashes by the shuttle’s front light.

Eventually, it stopped. Jim looked around before exiting. He was in the dark, on a strange planet, armed with only a phaser that was still tucked at the bottom of his go-bag. He hadn’t looked into the wildlife here, but recalled Spock telling him about some large animals out in the desert.

The quiet was intense. It pressed in on his eyes and ears as much as the darkness did. There was no moon, but the stars!

He was still staring up at them when a soft rustling alerted him to the shuttle’s departure. It sliced through the night the same way it had come, a headlight shining on the opposite face of it. Hot, rasping wind blew sand into his back, urging him toward the only building in sight.

Behind him, the mountain continued up. Up close, he could no longer see where it stopped.

In front, there was a house. Small, rounded roof. He couldn’t see the color, or any windows or markings that showed who lived there.

Too bad he knew.

Very aware he was walking into Spock’s dad’s house, he dragged his heavy feet over the rocks and approached the door. That was stone, too. And it had a knob.

Lights flicked on when he entered. He pushed the door shut against the night and looked for a lock. None.

The air inside was warm. He caught his breath for a minute, taking it all in.

A smell he couldn’t identify. Green, somehow. And the lights were yellow.

He’d never been inside a Vulcan house before. Just Spock’s quarters on the ship. There was nothing adorning the walls, or the large, reflective windows across the room. He looked at himself in them.

“Hello?” He called, just to be absolutely sure he was alone. No answer. “Computer.”

Again, nothing. He kicked off his shoes and knocked them against the wall before moving forward, trying not to feel like he was in enemy territory.

The house was long instead of tall, stretching out and to the sides. If he had to compare the architecture to Earth, he would call it Tuscan. Smooth brown stone floors and walls, arched entryways and doors.

Right in the foyer was an alcove, cutting into the wall to make space for a strange, bronze sculpture. It looped and spun in on itself, sharp to the touch. To his right was an archway, through it a kitchen. Recognizably so – shiny metal countertops and a sink basin. He slid open a few of the cabinets, finding some utensils that, for all he knew, were Terran. It had been a long time since he’d had a kitchen, much less cooked anything.

There was a cold room. A pantry, maybe. Big enough for him to step inside and slump against the door in relief. Cold. What a thought.

He sucked in several burning lungfuls. There was food all around him. Produce, mostly, but all Vulcan. M’Benga didn’t say he couldn’t eat solid food tonight, but since he wouldn’t enjoy it anyway, he left it all alone. Vulcan food wasn’t enough. He wanted a burger. Some fries, a three-pound milkshake a liver-melting Earthbeer.

God, he was jealous of his crew.

Another arch took him back to the room with the windows. A sitting room, one would think, though there wasn’t much space to sit. A low, white bench spanned most of the area. It was made of cushion and fabric, but hard.

More statues. Vaguely animal-shaped things that he sort of hated. A room with a long dining (or meeting?) table made of wood. At the center was a plant, but he couldn’t identify it and it was predicably ugly and plain.

The first door he found was locked. With a key hole. The second opened up to a dark, lightless room just bigger than a closet. There was a red rug laid down, a single pillow, and what looked like an altar. It smelled like Spock’s incense.

A weird little room, but he didn’t have time to snoop. The need for a bathroom was growing more urgent by the second. Alien planets always did horrible things to his bowels.

He looked everywhere. There had to be one. As much as Spock tried to hide it, you didn’t share a fresher with a guy for a year without learning intimately what was going on with his digestive system. Vulcans definitely shit.

At least Spock was much more polite about it than Bones had been when they were roommates.

A staircase surprised him at the end of a hall, coming out of nowhere so fast he nearly fell. He descended the wide, flat stone steps to a second level invisible from the outside. Instead of going down into the mountain, he realized as he faced himself in yet another black window, the house was built into the side of it.

One door in the narrow hall was ajar. Jim beelined, ascertaining that it was indeed a bedroom before rushing to a second door and yanking it open. Proximity to a toilet (however pretentiously Vulcan in build) made his body change tracks, rushed every bad feeling up to the base of his throat.

His knees cracked on the floor, vomit barreling out of his mouth in a wave of bile and Glenfiddich. He should have eaten something when Bones told him to.

When it was done, he collapsed backwards and just laid there. White ceiling, gray walls. Where even was he? On New Vulcan, awaiting his Vulcan bondmate to bring him an emotional storm he was in no way equipped to handle, a bag of drug cocktails on the floor somewhere in the other room.

None of this shit was in the Starfleet recruitment manuals. He would have remembered.

The shower wasn’t even a shower. It was just sonics. Stupid desert people.

His clothes were soaked with sweat, and flecked with vomit probably. He peeled them off and stepped into the stall. The control screen was in Vulcan, as inaccessible to him as the rest of this place. He just spun and clicked and slid his finger around until air blasted him, hot and useless. Even if it rid his body of sweat and oil, it wasn’t water and it wasn’t soap. He felt better, but not exactly clean.

There was a chair in the bedroom. Instinct kept Jim awake long enough to shove it against the doorknob. If someone walked in, or tried to, he’d at least hear the chair clatter to the floor.

He placed the phaser – set to stun – under a pillow, and rolled onto the surprisingly large, surprisingly comfortable bed. The pillows were perfect, too.

Or maybe he was so tired the sandy ground outside would feel just as good. Jim closed his eyes.

I’m here, he thought, like he would in a meld. It was just him in his head, but he pretended Spock could hear him, anyway. It’ll all be okay. It won’t be as bad as M’Benga thinks.

Spock was in the Council chambers. It didn’t sound like a very chill place. What were they doing to him?

You shouldn’t have let him walk away from you, Jim chided himself. No matter how calm Spock had seemed.

They had to be better than this, he thought deliriously. Spock couldn’t do this to him ever again.

After worrying for a second that the bed he was lying naked on top of might belong to Spock’s dad, his brain finally hit the emergency button and shut itself off completely.