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Trade Winds

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Six Weeks Later

Archanis System

2500 light years from Vulcan

 

Jim forced himself to stay still in the Captain’s chair. Everything was fine – no need to panic. It was a totally normal mission. The away team's communicators were cutting out, and that was fine, and Jim wasn’t even bothered by that. They were in a mountain range. Things could be expected to get spotty.

Spock and his team were tracking down some sort of flower that produced spores the Federation was interested in. They’d only been planet-side for three hours. The estimate had been five. He should really relax.

Enterprise to away team,” Nyota said calmly into her receiver. “Please respond.”

No answer. She repeated the message a few minutes later. They couldn’t have been attacked – the planet was uninhabited. Just thick vegetation. And cliffs. Cliffs made of crumbling rock. And loose dirt that had never been trod on by a humanoid foot before, ready to fall away at any provocation.

“It is not protocol, Captain,” Spock had said yesterday on the bridge, when Jim had suggested tagging along. And Jim hadn’t even argued. Since when did he not argue? 

“Chekov,” he asked. “Can you try to get a lock?”

Chekov’s fingers moved feverishly over his panel. He shook his head. “Negative, Keptin. Ionic interference. We will have to wait for them to move to higher ele-wation.”

Jim sighed and tapped his foot. “You still don’t know where it came from?”

He shook his head again, a jerky movement. Jim forced himself to be quiet so he didn't freak the kid out even more.

He was sure the tense quiet on the bridge was entirely due to his nervous twitching, and not because anyone else thought something was wrong. It was definitely in Jim's head. Spock would hate his worrying.

Vulcans possess strength three times that of a Human, Jim, he would say. I do not require protection.

Nyota's periodic transmissions were the only sound in the whole atrium. The ADD wouldn't be restrained, and Jim's heart was flying. He couldn't think of the last time he hadn't been on an away team, but it had happened. He'd been fine, then. Now shouldn't be different.

Just as he thought that, the small twinge in his chest he thought was his pulse stuttered, and then fell out of step.

He stood.

“I’m getting something,” Nyota said at the exact same time, pressing buttons. What she was hearing cut into the speaker system.

Screaming.

Everyone looked up at the ceiling, even though the speakers were set all over. Human instinct - 'find the source of that noise, because someone is getting fucked up and I don't wanna be next'.

Chekov was already trying to lock in as the signals started coming through clear enough to beam their party up. Sulu, too.

Jim leaned in over Nyota's back, craning his neck to talk into her receiver without slamming their skulls together.

"Away team, what's happening?" He yelled.

“We – found it!” Someone said brokenly. Not Spock. “They were moving – “

It turned to staticky gibberish, then cut out completely. Jim swirled, hopping over the rail to Chekov. The targets on the map spanned a short patch of forest, searching, then shot into place. Chekov squeaked.

“Got them, Keptin!”

“Everyone?”

“Aye, sir!”

“Beam 'em straight to Sick Bay,” Jim ordered, already in the turbolift. "Sulu, Security Code 24."

Code 24 meant training all their sensors on the scene of the accident to look for foul play or perpetrators. Inhabitants they hadn't been able to see before. Natives who had never seen a space man before.

Nyota jumped into the lift next to him, throwing a look that dared him to argue. He didn't.

"Captain," she started, and then didn't say anything after. The turbo doors parted, and Jim broke into a sprint. They could hear the screaming all the way from there. He just barely avoided smacking his face on the Sick Bay doors when they opened too slowly.

He was stopped right away by two big security guys. Frederickson and Ulat.

“Get him out of here!” Bones yelled, further inside, a mask over his face. Jim looked at who he was bending over - Ensign Gorvrosch - and then around at the others. The Junior Head of Science (Spock called her reliable, the highest of compliments) wept and tried to escape as masked nurses slipped thick binds around her wrists. There was blood pouring from her inner arm. There were more security there, helping keep the thrashing crew people still.

"Captain," Ulat said, trying to push Jim back into the hall. "Please - "

Jim knocked him with his shoulder - ouch - to try and see - 

“Spock!”

“Captain,” Frederickson said, more urgently. “The air isn’t safe.”

“Then get him a mask!” Nyota snapped, somewhere behind him.

Spock was on a bed, pushed all the way to the back wall. No one was tending to him at all. He was the only one completely still, no flailing at all. But he was awake. Jim felt him. The bond was almost always silent on his end nowadays, but as soon as he saw Spock it pulled.

He wasn’t entirely sure what happened next. Ulat ended up on the floor and Jim was free enough to run across the room, shoulder twinging in pain.

Bones turned with inhuman speed and caught him around the waist, anchoring them both to Gorvrosch's table. “Jim! They might be contagious, you moron.”

He was close enough to see green blood pooled under Spock’s shirt, over his hip. Maybe he felt Jim, too, because his eyes cracked open. Bleary, blinded by pain.

His hand opened, moving half an inch higher in the air. He was reaching out.

Jim shoved Bones away and closed the distance, grabbing Spock’s wrist and holding those shaking fingers to his face.

Bones' angry yells faded away. The screaming became background noise as the meld kicked in. For one moment, there was complete silence. Then a white-hot pain seared into his mind. It consumed him like all the other melds, but there was a lack of composure on Spock's end, and instead of the gentle warmth Jim expected, he was sucked in and just as quickly pushed back.

He was disoriented, and the pain stopped as Spock's hand fell away. Bones made up for that by marching Jim backwards and slapping the ever-loving shit out of him.

It helped speed up the process. Sound rushed in and he could feel his heart trying to beat out of his chest.

“What did he just do to you?” Bones growled.

Spock’s eyes were shut again, his arm hanging off the bed limply. “Carnivorous plants,” Jim muttered.

What?”

“Spock got a scan in just before they were attacked. Stingers. Located under mobile tree roots. The toxin is targeting the basal ganglia and limbic systems.”

They were just words to him, but Bones sprang into action, pushing Jim sharply away so he reeled into the wall. He sagged against it. The lights were very bright, suddenly.

“Alkysine!” Bones yelled. The nurses scattered to follow orders as he worked on Spock himself, inserting a tube into his inner elbow. “Intravenously, not misted!”

“One round for everyone but Spock,” Jim cut in, Spock's message still spinning around his head. “He’ll need 200mg’s extra of cortical – “

“Analeptic,” Bones finished, nodding and stabbing something into Spock’s neck. “Yes, Spock," he muttered lowly, "thank you.”

How he knew what had passed between them, Jim had no clue. But he was glad it wasn’t being questioned.

He stared at the tube of liquid going into Spock’s bloodstream, trying to get a grip. There was no more foreign pulse in his chest, or anything else abnormal from the bond. Spock's breathing appeared even.

The screaming slowed down as everybody got their drugs. It didn't feel so urgent anymore, as the nurses worked on treating wounds instead of just restraining patients. Bones lifted up Spock's shirt, revealing the upsettingly deep puncture that still oozed blood. Jim had to look away.

Only then did he see Nyota. She had put a mask on, and urged him to do the same. The clasps sealed shut against his ears, fresh air clicking on and regulating his own breathing.

"Did he hurt you?" She asked, running a hand over the side of his face.

Spock's skin knit itself together under Bones' lasers.

“Is he in pain?” Nyota said.

Jim grimaced, which she took as his answer, casting Spock a heartbroken look.

The tricorder in Bones' pocket started lighting up and beeping. He fumbled to get it out while gloved up.

“Falling heart rate!”

The nurses converged. “It’s his healing state!” Jim yelled, Nyota holding him back.

Bones took a hypo from Christine, but didn't use it right away. “He tell you that?”

Jim nodded desperately. “Characterized by slowing heart rate and rapid decrease in neural functions.”

That was the last of it. Spock's words were all out, and Jim was alone in his head again. He really hoped that was by design, and not because Spock couldn't - 

"Fine." Bones grimaced and made a pleading motion to Nyota.

“Captain,” she wound her arm through Jim’s and pulled. He only resisted for a moment, watching Christine wheel Spock into a closed off room. His arm hung limp off the side. “Jim.

Tinny alarms rang in his ears once they were in the quiet of the hallway. “The fuck is a healing state?” he asked. 

"I don't know." They were outside of Medical, but Nyota still pulled him. Farther and farther from Spock. "Spock made you say all that? Did you know he could do it?"

Jim nodded. Sevek had done the same thing during their meld. Copy-paste Vulcan messages.

“You were screaming.”

He looked at her, surprised and trying not to show it. "Okay, so what? He was in pain."

She just nodded. Jim bit his tongue, parsing that fact. He didn't remember screaming. It had only lasted a second, after all.

"They'll live," he informed the bridge crew tersely. Everyone let out a big sigh of relief, Nyota fielding the rest of their questions with what she knew.

"Trees?"

"That eat people?"

"Please tell me someone got a scan."

"Actually." Jim zoned back in at that last comment, answering Sulu before Nyota could. "Spock did get a scan. Has that been sent up yet?"

"I don't think they've had the chance," Nyota muttered behind him. He ignored her and hit the comms button on his chair.

"Kirk to Scott."

"Keptin!"

He raised an eyebrow at Chekov, who was half-standing over his station, undecided on something. "What?"

“The interference. It read as ionic before, but now I believe…” He trailed off, sitting down with a thwump. “I believe it is organic."

“Scott, here," the chair comm fuzzed in. "What’s going on?”

“Uh.” Jim blinked. “I need the most recent scans from Spock’s tricorder. It'll be somewhere in Sick Bay.”

"I can do that," Scotty said. The line closed.

"Chapel says air scans were clear," Nyota called. Jim ripped his mask off, hearing her do the same.

"What did you say?" He asked Chekov, rubbing his jaw. "You think...what?"

It came up on the viewscreen. A simulated projection of the mountains where the attack happened. Clouds of darkness drifted over them where the scans weren’t - or hadn't been - coming through. "Playback of precisely twelve minutes ago," he said.

“Not registering as anything we know.” Sulu added, changing fields so Jim could see one particular grouping, half-blocked but quickly clearing. “The sensors were trained on these trees during the security check, and guess what? The clouds came from them. It's not ionic interference at all."

Jim watched the clouds drift quickly across the screen. “We were in orbit for twelve hours before beaming down. This just started.”

“Approximately thirty-five minutes ago, Keptin.”

“B.I.D. activity, maybe?” Jim speculated. “Isn’t it midday down there?”

Sulu shook his head. “Six hours into a twenty-hour day, in that hemisphere. It's morning.”

Jim didn't know nearly enough about botany to have a response. Their best guy was in a goddamn healing coma. The least Spock could have done was tell Jim how long it would last.

“Interference is ending,” Chekov announced, switching to a live feed. The blank spots on their feed were almost completely gone. “Emission cycle lasted thirty-six minutes.”

Thirty-six minutes. That short, and it only happened when their team was on the ground. Jim never trusted coincidence. “You're sure that's what blocked our comms?”

They both nodded. There was a short silence, where Spock should have put in his input.

“Keep an eye on them," Jim decided. "I want that area scanned to hell and back.”

____________________________

 

He went to Sick Bay as soon as shift ended (actually, a few minutes before), making for Spock’s room. Bones was in his way almost immediately.

"I was just about to call for you."

"What the fuck?" Jim asked, exasperated. He was trying to be sneaky, but it seemed there was some kind of Jim-alarm installed in Bones' office. "What do you want?"

Bones had that look – jaw jutted out, eyes angry. Jim was too confused to dodge the hypo.

“Ow!”

“Go. Now.” He pushed Jim into the little white room with flashing lights.

“Bones!” He shut his eyes against the burst. “I thought the dye had to set, first!"

There was no answer, and the door opened two flashes later. Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d just been feeling normal again, and now there were bright spots behind his eyelids. Something knocked his shin as he stumbled out.

“Are you done?” He snapped, shouldering past the asshole in his way.

“He’s not awake." Bones stayed at his heels, following him into Spock's little room, lowering his voice. "But he's stable. I'd be more confident if I knew what this 'healing state' is supposed to accomplish."

Spock was dressed in a Medical gown, arms at his sides, face smooth and composed. A thick gray blanket had been thrown over his lap. 

"You didn't know? I thought the High Council was telling you stuff, now."

“I thought so, too. Bastards.”

Spock’s hand was cold. Maybe not cold, but not nearly warm enough. The faintest prickling crawled over Jim's palm. He exhaled. Spock was in there. 

“Jim.”

“Oh. You’re still here?”

Bones crossed his arms. "You let him do...that to you." He gestured at Jim's head. "I saw it."

"So. What?" Jim said through his teeth. Why was everyone suddenly questioning it? Nyota should know better than anyone about melds, and Bones was taking scans of Jim's brain every other week. "He saved everyone! It was necessary!"

"So why were you begging him to stop?"

Jim opened his mouth to retort, couldn't, and instead asked - "How long did it last?"

"About a minute. You started hollering near the end." His uncertainty reflected in Bones' face. "It doesn't usually go like that, I take it."

"The meld can't hurt me," Jim said, turning his back to the door.

"If one synapse is out of place on these scans, he'll be in serious shit with me, Jim. I mean it."

Jim snorted, waiting for the sound of Bones closing the door. "Hear that, Spock? You better wake up soon and beat his ass."

Spock's face didn't change, his hand didn't twitch. Jim sighed, pressing his lips to Spock's knuckles and closing his eyes. Finally, he was coming down from the adrenaline. Hours of anxious unrest had taken it all out of him, leaving a hollow feeling inside.

It wasn't the first time one of them had almost died. It wouldn't be the last. Jim knew the risks of the job, so why was this day so much harder? Their botched mission two weeks previous hadn't been this upsetting, and they'd nearly been blasted to shrapnel by Kingons. If the Constellation hadn't swooped in and saved their asses, it would have probably been over for real.

He didn't cry. Not really. He just sniffed and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and then he felt better. The tingling in his hand and Spock's was the next best thing to Spock being awake. It would be fine, and getting to watch Spock sleep was a bonus - Jim hadn't seen it since Setlik III. Spock always woke up first and fell asleep second.

His pulse was very fast, which was normal. Jim turned his hand over, stroking along his palm and remembering the nights on Setlik.

____________________________

Everyone was out of Sick Bay by close of Beta. Except for Spock. Jim sat in while they gave their statements, no one able to say anything more than what Spock had already relayed - they were attacked by trees. Big whoop - it was old news by now. Junior Head of Science, Reliable Trinity, was going through Spock's scans, but it would be a while.

Jim took his work into Spock's sickroom, PADD on his knees and his forehead resting on the edge of the bed. Gorvrosch, Nyota and Scotty had all been by, briefly. Now it was well enough into the evening that Jim didn't expect anyone else, and he was considering sleeping right where he sat when a big, sudden inhale of breath had him sitting up so sharply it hurt.

"Hey!" He said. Spock's eyes were open. "You're up!"

"Are you well?" He asked hoarsely, right away.

Jim took his hand. "I'm fine. Everyone is, thanks to you. You're the only one still in here."

“We were taken by surprise." He sounded very together for someone who had been comatose for six hours. Jim would have needed a minute or two. "I was in the process of obtaining a scan – “

Jim shook his head in disbelief. “It’s okay. I already sent it to your department.”

Spock stopped looking around for his tricorder, head falling back. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Jim fiddled with Spock’s left hand, pancaking it between his own. Maybe he was imagining that it felt warmer already.

“I should not have melded with you as I did.”

Quieter. It sounded like an apology. Jim looked up from their hands, watching him for any sign of distress. “It’s fine. No harm done.”

“Doctor McCoy was right to be angry with me. You could have been very injured.”

“He was just overreact – wait, you heard that?”

“I did.”

Jim felt the color drain from his face. If Spock had heard that, then he’d definitely been present for all of Jim’s not-crying. 

His hand was squeezed, which was hopefully all the acknowledgement it would get.

“Do you believe the meld emotionally unbalanced you?”

Or not. Spock’s blank curiosity stung. “No?”

Curiosity turned to curiosity. "Why would you ask that?"

The door opened, and Jim pulled away. He only did it because he figured Spock would, too, but Spock had actually tightened his grip for a second, like he was trying to hold on. Weird. Very weird.

“Spock,” Bones said in greeting, ignoring Jim entirely but at least not asking him to leave. Christine ghosted in behind him, waving a tricorder over Spock's body. “How ya feelin’?”

Spock folded his hands over his stomach, gazing up steadily. “As you are so fond of saying, you are the doctor.”

“Hardy-har. And I was getting’ all choked up thinkin’ I’d never hear your sass again.”

“There are no traces of the toxin left in my system.”

Bones raised his eyebrows, clearly waiting for Christine’s nod of affirmation. Spock swung his legs over the side of the bed, his bare foot knocking Jim’s knee. “As you can see, I am recovered – “

“Adrenaline levels are pretty high.” Bones took the tricorder from Christine. “Is that part of the healing state?”

“It is of utmost importance that I see those scans – “

“It’s 2300 right now. You can do it tomorrow.” But Bones stepped back so Spock could stand. "You listening to me?"

“I do not require any more rest than rytemk has provided.”

Rytemk. The healing state.

“Christine, would you go fetch Mr. Spock some clothes? And…Jim?”

“What?”  He looked up from Spock’s angular feet.

“Would you give us a minute?”

Bones wanted to talk to Spock. Alone. About what?

Jim was too slow to answer, because Spock threw him an irritated look. “You may go, Captain."

The shortness was a little undeserved, Jim thought, but he stood and left anyway. Spock being a dick so soon after waking up was probably a good sign. Better than the alternative, anyway.

But really, he thought, entering his quarters and shedding his clothes. What the fuck?

Because now he was going to have to go to sleep with all this…unresolved shit. Spock really would work through the night, Jim knew that wasn't an empty threat. He’d go straight to the labs and work on whatever it was he’d managed to collect before a tree almost took him out for good.

Jim finished up one last report before showering and going to bed early, pretending he hadn't left the fresher door open. Just in case.

_________________________________

Sometimes he didn’t see Spock at all in the night. The only way he would know he’d been there at all was if he woke up with sweat still on his skin, leftover from being pressed to a Vulcan-hot body. Spock had a smell, too, that he left behind on the sheets. Cedar and cinnamon.

Spock was quiet as a mouse always, but Jim sometimes still woke up as he slid into bed, waking up enough to turn over and kiss him once or twice. Sometimes their busy schedules lined up perfectly, and they had enough free time for more than just kissing.

When Jim woke up the morning after the tree attacks, he knew Spock hadn't been there. And that was a first of its kind. Jim didn't like it at all.

He reasoned to himself that it wasn't a completely baseless emotion - Spock wasn't an idiot. Surely he knew Jim would want more than just a hand squeeze after the events of the previous day. He understood nuance in Human feelings, even if he didn't admit it. And, thanks to their frequent melds, he was perfectly aware of the nuances of Jim's brain.

He knew that Jim would have wanted to see him. And even if Jim wasn't exactly sure of what he needed (Comfort? Reassurance? Sex?), he was still ticked off at Spock for not providing it.

Of course it was stupid. Very simple, Human pettiness and of course Spock was avoiding that. He probably saw it coming when he had to listen to Jim's pathetic sniffling. No, thanks. He'd rather stay with his precious scans and let Jim think himself to death.

“Captain on bridge,” Sulu called when Jim arrived, shuffling past the lift with an armful of PADDs. “Commander Spock’s figured it out, sir.”

Jim stopped. Spock was there, in Chekov's chair, looking good. Not even tired.

He was ready for work, which meant Jim probably should be, too. "What have you got, Spock?" He said, striding forward to view the screen better. Bowden IV spun there, red near the equator and brown everywhere else. There was a target locked on the spot the attack had happened.

Spock looked up from Chekov's station, face empty. He didn't say anything, and Jim felt more than saw a look pass between Chekov and Sulu. 

Jim stared back, off-kilter. Was that supposed to be an angry look? Spock always answered direct questions. If he was mad at Jim for whatever reason, he would just say something snappy instead of giving him the silent treatment.

"Spock?" Jim tried again. Something snapped into place behind Spock's eyes.

"Diagram four," he said, standing. Chekov took his chair back and hit a button. Bowden IV disappeared, replaced by a scanned image of a tree. It wasn't a picture, but a rough reconstruction pulled together from Spock's scan.

“The tensile root system that attacked our crew seems to draw its movement from neither water release nor nyctinastic pattern.”

Spock sounded normal and self-assured. The turbo lift opened for Bones and Nyota, which he ignored completely.

“The above-ground root structure resembles that of Terran kelp and smaller marine growths. Those similarities in mind, my initial assessment was that such a structure would exist to pull the bulk of the tree closer to the ground. Clearly, that hypothesis must be rejected. These outer haptera,” he dropped one hand to Chekov’s screen, maneuvering the diagram toward the roots, where the inner stalks were much thicker and sturdier, “were capable of not only outward movement, but borderline sapient levels of precision.”

Jim crossed his arms. "The tree thinks."

Spock made a pained face, which meant he thought Jim was over-simplifying. “The vascular tissue does not conduct water, despite the majority of the planet’s flora showing a tendency to such. The fluid could not be scanned to any degree of accuracy, nor can it be deduced.”

The screen brought back the planet’s surface – a recording from the day before, judging by the timestamp. Clouds of darkness gathered at the south border of the forest, moving quickly North.

“This planet has a high prevalence of geostrophic winds. Irregular, though what preliminary environmental surveys we have access to show at least one seasonal uptake in Pressure Gradient forces across the Northern hemisphere. The time of year would indicate we have found another.”

“You… think it’s related?” Jim questioned, squinting and trying to understand why wind was important.

Spock stared up at the screen, his face lit in shades of blue. “I do not know. Returning to the planet with more specialized equipment should yield the results I need, as well as a pollen sample,” he added, almost as an afterthought. 

“You barely survived the first trip,” Bones pointed out, echoing Jim’s thoughts exactly.

“You have my report,” Spock told Jim, giving no indication Bones was even in the room. “I will retire to the lab if you have no further need for me.”

Jim hesitated before nodding, a heavy stone of doubt settling in his stomach as Spock walked away. Bones joined him at the chair.

“It’ll be hard to talk him out of this,” he said, like he was issuing a challenge.

"Not hard," Jim corrected, leaning on the arm of his chair. "Impossible. You shouldn't have let him off bed rest."

It wasn't about the pollen anymore. Spock had stumbled into something else. Or rather, it had stumbled stinger-first into him. This planet was like a little game of botanical Clue.

“You get a look at what the toxin was?”

Bones shrugged. “I know it was poison. Would have had them brain dead in ten minutes without help, but our drugs knocked it out pretty quick. Anything more in-depth is Spock’s territory.”

Jim pressed the heel of his palm into his eye. “Finish the injury report?”

He nodded. “All done. Waitin’ for your sign-off.”

“Thanks.” Jim sighed. “I’ll do that now.”

_________________________________

 

It took the better part of Alpha to read Spock's proposal, which came in just an hour after he had gone to the labs. Beta was half-over before Jim had read it enough to really understand. Spock's point was that the trees released pollen in anticipation of the planet's high winds. Like any reproductive species, the presence of possible danger to offspring triggered a protective response. Danger, AKA a bunch of humanoids tramping through their forest.

What sent a chill down Jim’s spine was wondering how they would have evolved to that point on a planet without animal life.

And Spock wanted Jim to send him back out there the very next day.

Paperwork, check. Gym, check. He was out of distractions, and it wasn't even Delta yet. Maybe what he needed was a good old-fashioned book. Paper and ink.

The ship's recreational library was on Level Eight, which was quiet (for now - the Beta guys were the real partiers). Jim had gotten Spock down there only twice since their first movie night together. They'd watched Marked City and Rear Window, both of which Spock had quietly disliked.

The Human culture stuff had kind of stalled after Spock's attempt at teaching Jim some meditation tricks. That had gone kind of horribly, through no fault of Jim's own. Meditation was just fucking boring.

He opened the library door without knocking, which was an entirely normal thing to do. It wasn't until the person inside jumped to their feet and squeaked that Jim felt he had done something wrong.

“Keptin!”

“Chekov.” Jim looked around, trying to hide his surprise. Chekov was just in there alone, sitting at an empty table. “At…at ease? I was just looking for a book.”

“Oh.” He didn’t sit. “Me too.”

“…Right.” Jim stepped toward the bookshelf, glancing over the titles with a pair of squirrely eyes on his back. “How ya doin’?”

He rarely saw Chekov outside of duty. Sulu hung around him a lot, but the age difference probably made it hard to really be friends. God knew Jim had trouble with it. He felt simultaneously protective and wary of the little guy, but didn’t want to treat him like a kid. Despite everything, some people (admirals) still treated Jim that way, and he fucking hated it.

“I’m fine,” he answered, still high-pitched. “Keptin.”

“You can call me Jim, y’know.” War and Peace? Who decided a starship full of people would be clamoring to read old snooze-fests like that?

The door slid open quietly. Jim glanced over his shoulder – noticing how stiff Chekov had just gone – at Ensign Robards. From Engineering.

“Captain!” He said, stopping short in the doorway.

Jim was the Captain, yeah, but not such a hardass that his crew members were visibly terrified of him. “Ensign,” he said shortly, taking a book at random and shoving it under his arm. “I’ll just…”

Robards jumped out of his way as he hurried out the door, shaking off the encounter and wondering what the hell he’d just interrupted.

The book was short, at least. The Big Sleep. Fiction. Lucky – it could have been a history text, or a Starfleet manual. Fuck knew they had enough of those laying around.

________________________

 

The faint whirr of the opposite fresher door was his only warning to Spock’s approach. Jim pushed up from his slumped, double-chinned reading position and shut the book on his finger, marking his spot.

Spock walked straight to Jim's terminal and sat, flipping it on without a word.

“I really didn’t think I’d see you tonight,” Jim said.

“Dead end,” Spock grit out. It wasn’t a full sentence, and it was a very Earth term. “The data I am able to analyze is incredibly limited.”

“So what are you doing?”

Spock typed quickly, hunched forward. “I cannot identify the inner fluid. Quite frustrating."

"Really?" Jim asked sarcastically. Spock looked more than just frustrated. "Why?"

"The way it moves and triggers movement...is familiar.”

“Oh, yeah?” He crossed his legs, wondering if it was even worth it to be pissed off. Spock was miles away, mentally.

“To take a liberty, I would compare it to humanoid sash-dvunek.”

“…Which is?” 

Tap, tap, tap. What was he even writing? And why did he have to come to Jim’s room to do it?

"Hello?"

Spock sighed. “Shall I be more clear than even that?”

“Sorry.” If he hadn’t already closed the book, he’d slam it shut. “I don’t have my Vulcan travel dictionary on me.”

“Speak plainly, Jim.”

“Are you using sarcasm these days?He cracked his knuckles, then scratched the skin where his underwear met his thigh. Spock still didn’t look up or elaborate. “’Sash vu-nick'?” He eventually prompted.

Spock did look at him, then, with an incredulous frown and a blink like the words on the screen didn’t want to leave his vision. “Yes. How did you…?”

He swiveled his entire body toward the bed, going still in sudden, deep thought.

Jim’s trepidation from earlier came back full-force, his intuition trying to tell him something wasn't right.

“Lactic acid,” Spock whispered suddenly, looking to Jim in a beseeching way. Like he wasn’t completely sure. “Lactic acid.”

Jim had a disturbing realization. “Sash vu-nick is Vulcan for lactic acid?”

Spock nodded, still frowning

“So you just… forgot the translation?” That happened all the time, for multi-lingual people Jim knew. But never Spock, and Standard wasn’t really his second language.

The idea seemed to surprise Spock as much as it did Jim. He looked like he might say something, but instead turned back to the terminal.

The freak behavior was starting to feel like a sign. One of many that day. “That toxin – “

“Does not remain in my system,” Spock cut him off, with a sharp hand movement.

Jim narrowed his eyes, watching him type for several minutes. 

He tried to get through more of the book (ancient, pre-Warp, and hopelessly misogynistic), but reading always made him tired. He set it on the side-table and shuffled down the mattress. The thick, insulating blanket kept Spock warm enough at night, which was worth Jim sweating to death. It wasn’t long after he closed his eyes that the lights flicked off and he heard Spock messing around in the fresher.

He sighed in relief when a warm, naked body slid into the bed behind him, wrapping an arm around his middle and pressing a nose to his neck. Even if he knew what was coming next.

“You are angry.”

Jim wasn't even sure if he still was. “Maybe,” he breathed. “Just a little.”

Spock didn’t say anything. So annoying.

“I thought you were going to die." It was difficult to get the words out. “You almost did die.”

“I made certain the away team was as prepared as was possible concerning what we knew – “

“I’m not blaming you for it,” Jim snapped. 

Spock pulled him so they were touching from chest to foot. His hand flattened out over Jim’s stomach, which all meant he was trying to get more skin contact. Like it helped him figure out what Jim was saying without having to do something so undignified as ask.

“I just kept thinking about who they would send to replace you.”

Spock’s hand went still over his ribs. “Indeed?”

“Yeah.” It was mollifying to hear a twinge of hurt in Spock’s voice. “They’d probably send someone really easy to work with. Nice, engaging, understanding. I’m sure they’d get along great with Bones, too, which would take a load off my shoulders.”

So much of their skin was touching – Spock knew he was kidding.

“And I would absolutely hate them,” he finished anyway. Spock exhaled and held him tighter.

“You do not think me nice?”

The weight in Jim's chest lifted at that. “No. Christine is nice. Nice is…personal.”

Spock’s long eyelashes tickled his neck. “You do not think me engaging?”

“Only when you want to be.”

“You do not mean it.”

And maybe he didn't. Since they’d been…being together…Spock hadn’t once used his Vulcan-ly charms to sway Jim’s opinion on anything. Instead, they argued as much as they always had on duty. Once, a few weeks ago, it had been so bad Spock didn’t speak to him for two entire days save what was absolutely necessary for work. Jim, fed up, had purposefully pushed a little too far one afternoon...the aftermath was, objectively, bad.

But the during had been so good. Being fucked (their first and - so far - only time) by a thoroughly pissed-off Vulcan had been crazy good. But also intimate, and perversely tender, and something like total enlightenment. He didn’t think Spock had been prepared for how much it would be, and he’d kind of spiraled.

Of all the things Jim had expected from dating a Vulcan, apologizing through a locked fresher door because the sex was too good was not one of them. He wondered if Vulcan couples fucked each other silently and without emotion. Then he wondered if all Vulcans were as good at it as Spock was.

Thinking about that made Spock tighten his arm in question as he felt Jim's sweep of remembered arousal. He really shouldn't even consider it. It was so late.

“Who’s our youngest crew member?” He asked instead, willing his dick to stay limp. They could think about sex when Spock was no longer in danger from killer trees.

“Lieutenant Chekov.”

“Second youngest?”

There wasn’t even a beat for Spock to think about it. “Ensign Robards.”

Jim snorted. “Do you know the age of everyone on the ship?”

“That would not be a productive use of my time. Ensign Robards’ lack of experience has come to my attention often enough that I took note of his file. He is twenty-two years old.”

So Jim had interrupted something. They were the two youngest people on board – it made sense they would be aware of each other.

“Has he done something to warrant your notice?” Spock asked, probably wondering why the hell Jim was thinking about Chekov while they were in bed together.

“Just gossip. Nothing you’d care about. I wish you did, though…I bet you hear all kinds of things with those ears.”

“I do,” Spock said cryptically.

Jim wound their fingers together and closed his eyes. He couldn’t shut his brain off, and he knew Spock wouldn’t really be asleep until long after Jim was. He only slept about three or four hours, the rest of the night spent in silent meditation. Which sucked, because it was the only time he ever took the shields down and Jim was asleep for it.

His thoughts turned to the not-meld from earlier. How disturbed everyone else was by what they'd seen. It made him wonder if he normally said things out-loud and mentally while they were melded. It was like learning he was a sleepwalker or something.

“Did you know it would hurt me?” He asked.

Spock didn't answer immediately. “I was not in my right mind. It was ill advised.”

“But…” Jim started, and felt Spock tensing up a little. “That was all in my head, right? It couldn’t leave, like, real damage, could it?”

There was another hesitation, then Spock pulled back as far as the mattress would allow, tugging on Jim’s shoulder. He rolled onto his back, allowing Spock to watch him with his night-vision. 

“It could. Were I not in full control of myself.”

Jim touched his thigh. “I didn’t know it was a matter of skill.”

“It is. Vulcans have to train for many years in youth, usually with a parent or tutor. It is not common practice to ever utilize mind melds with an alien.” Jim smiled at being called the alien for once. “As it can easily leave them with permanent psychological disability.”

He stopped smiling. “Is that so?”

“Fortunately I had the unique opportunity of having a father familiar with the art.”

“And a mom to practice on,” Jim finished. Spock moved his hand to Jim’s throat, wrapping around without exerting any pressure. Jim swallowed, feeling his resolve against sex start to crack.

“I do not suggest you allow me to meld with you again while I am in such a state – “

“Like I’m gonna let you die if I can help it!”

“It would be better.” Jim’s protest was cut off as a hot tongue grazed the skin behind his ear. Fuck. “I could not live with myself if I harmed you in any way.”

His leg stretched out, falling across Jim’s waist and pinning his erection. Jim turned his face to press their mouths together. Their first kiss of the day, he realized.

Any way?” He teased. "Because I can think of one thing that hurts really, really good."

“James,” Spock said, exasperated, but also like he might want that again, too. "T'nash-veh."

He kissed Jim again, roughly, then moved his leg so he could touch Jim's dick with gentle strokes. He groaned, reaching for Spock’s groin, but there was nothing there.

“I only desire to pleasure you,” he whispered, low an grumbling in Jim’s ear.

“Fine.” Jim licked into his mouth, gasping and thrusting into his hand. “This doesn’t mean I’ve approved the beam-down tomorrow.”

Spock didn’t answer, but sat up so he could jerk Jim off and cover his mouth at the same time, and for once Jim was really okay with being told to shut up.

___________________________

 

“What do you mean, weird?” Bones asked, eyes narrowed over his coffee mug. Jim glanced around, making sure no one was within listening range.

“He forgot English last night.” It was the most descriptive he could get with his concerns without talking about how oddly aggressive the one-sided sex had been. Good, obviously, but Spock had never bitten him before. Not so hard, anyway. He rubbed over the bruise on his hip, pushing around his toast on his plate. “Just a word, but still.”

“Could be nothing,” Bones said, like he knew there was something else. Jim shrugged. “I didn’t see anything wrong with him physically. But you know him better than I do. All you have to do is call it off. We can send someone else.”

“Yeah.” And then Spock would probably have another tantrum about boundaries, because Jim’s only real evidence against him was sexual. He would brush off the forgetting-Standard thing as simple exhaustion. “Or you could just make something up. Take an ink stylus to his brain scans? Create a tumor?"

“No.” He stole Jim’s toast, giving a wide, early morning yawn. “You two are attached at the hip. Just ask him if there’s something wrong.”

“Oh.” Jim widened his eyes. “Thank you, Bones. I’ll just ask.”

“Whatever’s going on,” Bones said, a touch of sternness, like Jim was insulting him by insinuating Spock left Sick Bay with something still wrong. “Has nothing to do with the damn trees. If it’s a lover’s spat – “

He grimaced as Jim did a half-spit take, water dribbling down his chin as he coughed. “Dear God don’t call it that.”

Bones gave him a strange look, but Jim was too busy hacking his lungs up to care. His comm clicked on before either of them could start making fun of the other.

“Captain to ready room,” came a muffled voice. Jim dug it out of his pocket.

“Spock?”

The other side clicked in just in time for them both to hear the end of a sigh. “Yes. Would you meet me in your ready room?”

Jim put it back, thinking. “Come with me.”

“No.”

“Please? I need to know I’m not being crazy.”

Bones heaved a huge, reluctant sigh and stood.

“Hear about the trees?” Jim asked as they made their way up.

“Besides tearin’ holes in the crew?”

“Spock said they were…like muscles. Human muscles. Or something.”

He looked over. Bones was pinching the bridge of his nose. “Trees with muscles. Fuckin’ love that.”

Spock stood at the head of the table in the ready room, arms crossed. As soon as he saw Bones, his tense expression changed into something really very hostile.

“I paged the Captain,” he said flatly. “I was not under the impression that this ship was run by two.”

Bones squeezed Jim’s arm hard, turning to go. “He seems fine to me.”

“Wait!” Jim called after him, watching the door slide shut and dropping his arms. “Nice one, Spock. Remember what I said about ‘engaging’?”

“Why were you with him?”

Jim turned on his heel, really and truly confused. Because the way Spock had said it was more like ‘why were you with him’, and Jim didn’t know what to say.

“Excuse me?”

Spock was breathing hard, but he closed his eyes and seemed to force calm before opening again. “I need to discuss the details of the survey.”

Jim felt his eyes go wide. If the sex was sign number three, then this was definitely four. Spock never started a sentence with I need. Four seemed like a good number to stop on. “Spock, listen - “

“Time is of the essence,” Spock leaned down to hit a button on the console, showing a thermal imaging map of the Northern hemisphere. “I believe I have isolated the attack to thermal activity within the trees only present while the spore is being released. Over the past twenty-four hours, this specific range has displayed – “

“Why did you call me in here?” Jim asked suspiciously. Spock’s hand, where it hovered over a dial, clenched into a fist. “We could be doing this on the bridge.”

The start of Alpha had come and gone, and Jim was just realizing how abnormal this all was. “I know you think you’re fine, but…”

“But what?” Spock asked quietly. Jim bit his cheek, then squared his shoulders.

“I don’t feel comfortable sending you down there.”

Slowly, Spock turned towards him, fixing his eyes on the wall. "You are uncomfortable with it?"

"Yeah," Jim said, squinting.

"Are you certain that your concern is of an entirely professional nature?"

There it was. The 'boundaries' card. "You want professional? Maybe you should have thought about that before using my brain like your own personal voice-mail. And you've been acting off, okay? I know you know I'm right.”

Spock stared at him, then took a careful step around the corner of the table. Jim fought the urge to back away. 

“Are you saying this at the suggestion of Doctor McCoy?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jim said, only growing more sure of his decision. “You’re not okay – “

Spock’s face had remained utterly blank, so it was wildly unexpected when their mouths crashed together. Ditto that when Jim was picked up and set on the table top. There was a halting kind of protest in there just before his brain stalled out. He groaned and locked his knees around Spock, throwing himself into it before the inevitable, Captainly instincts kicked in.

“Wait,” he said, just barely escaping the thrall of Spock’s tongue.

Spock was kissing him. In public. Semi-public, anyway. Jim vaguely recalled the protocol surrounding this. On-duty sex was…problematic. On-duty sex with Spock, however, was really…kind of…

Wait,” he said again, jerking back with a little more resolve. Spock moved like he might pull him back up, but stopped abruptly, looking at the hand that hung in the air between them, still half-reaching for Jim’s collar. It was shaking.

Horrified, Jim caught it, squeezing and subtly edging Spock away so he could stand again. Bones' advice seemed less far-fetched, suddenly. Just ask.

“What is this? What’s going on?”

Spock looked at his own hand, eyes widening enough for Jim to start to worry.

“Spock!”

He blinked, finally, head shooting up like Jim had startled him. When their eyes met, he inhaled sharply and pulled his hand away, backing all the way to the wall.

“Who do you want to send down in your place?” Jim asked flatly, leaving no room for argument.

Spock's tongue flashed out over his lower lip. “I will postpone the expedition.”

“Okay.” Jim was late. He should be on bridge. “I'm ordering you back to Sick Bay. Understood?”

Spock stared at him. Jim straightened up, remembering the last time one of them had tremors and a lack of sense. “Do your eyes hurt?”

“My software update would not allow a repeat gas leak. Hydrogen does not affect me as it does you.”

“Something else, then. Something that affects you this time.”

Spock’s eyebrows went up at that, but his eyes were clouded and far away. “Perhaps.”

Jim resisted the urge to reach out. “Do you want me to come with you?”

For the briefest of instances, Spock looked very fragile. Jim thought he must be concussed, and wondered how Bones could have missed that. “That is not necessary.”

“Okay.” And Jim never wanted to hear about ‘boundaries’ again – it took everything not to walk Spock back to their rooms and force him to lie down. “I’m canceling the mission.”

Spock nodded, eyes still not really there, and left. Jim took a second to calm down before running to the bridge. No one asked after his absence, and it wasn’t unusual for Spock to spend days in the labs.

“No expedition,” he said, standing over Sulu’s shoulder to watch what he was doing. Spock seemed to have left he and Chekov orders to watch the thermal map intently, recording small shifts in temperature not only in the air, but within the tree trunks as well. “Would you let Spock’s team from yesterday know?”

“Yes, sir,” Sulu said. Jim sensed the question at the tip of his tongue, asking why Spock wouldn’t tell them himself, but he bit it back. Jim clapped his shoulder. Good man.

Jim sent Bones a message, asking him to relay ASAP if he found anything wrong with Spock.

They witnessed another massive release of pollen matching Spock’s prediction to the minute. They couldn't exactly scan anything while it was going on, but Spock's hypothesis was that just after the release, the inner temperature of the trunks would be too low for them to move. Some complicated botany shit like energy allocation and turgidity. If he wasn’t being so strange, Jim really wouldn’t doubt sending them back down. It looked like he’d figured it out pretty soundly.

If it was anyone else, a little bit of disorientation the days after a near-death experience would be normal. Expected. That Bones would clear him for beam-down in the first place spoke to how much they all tended to expect from Spock.

Jim briefly wondered if he would have noticed the small lapses in usual behavior before, and realized that yes, he absolutely would. How many times had he just looked at Spock in the mornings after Vulcan, and known it would be a bad day? Lots.

They did their best to get through the pollen cloud that blocked the sensors, to no avail. They would need to collect a sample to really unders,tand what was going on. Someone would have to go back down, if he decided their safety could be reasonably more secure than the last time.

He returned to his chair after the pollen storm had ended - thirty six minutes exactly - and saw that he had a message from Bones.

Spock never came in. Too busy to chase him down. Your problem.

A few people stood at attention when Jim burst into Botany. He waved them off, heading straight to the back where he knew Spock's office to be.

He was there, sitting and staring off into space. Not even working, and not reacting at all to Jim's approach.

"Spock," Jim hissed, slamming his hands down. Spock flinched and blinked. No tell-tale signs of illness. No yellow circles under his eyes, or paleness past the usual.

"Captain," he said, and stood like they had a meeting scheduled or something. "Would you escort me to Sick Bay?"

Jim nodded, even though that’s exactly what he was planning on whether Spock wanted it or not. They walked out together. He didn’t realize he’d reached for Spock’s arm until it was jerked out of his grip. 

"What the fuck is this, some kind of power move? Because I think I gave you a direct order," Jim whisper-yelled, punching for the lift with his entire fist. "Is this your macho-Vulcanism thing with Bones? He's your doctor, whether you like it or not. And I'm actually your Captain, so the next time I tell you - "

"What did yo tell me?"

He sounded unsure, so Jim spelled it out for him. "I told you to go to Bones. You ignored me. We all caught up now?"

"I ignored you," Spock repeated, calm as ever. "It would seem so."

"Why?"

Spock stared at the lift wall silently, parsing something out. Jim hoped it was a fucking good explanation.

"I have no memory of speaking to you this morning," he said.

Jim - for a second - thought Spock was joking. Then Spock looked at him, and Jim believed. When the lift doors opened, he took Spock by the elbow and took off, ignoring a muttered protest.

“Bones, get in here!” He yelled, steering Spock into an empty room and sitting him down on the same cot he had vacated the night before. Spock had stopped resisting. 

“Jim?” Bones stepped inside, eyes moving to Spock suspiciously. “What is it?”

He pointed to Spock’s general un-Spockness. “I ordered him here this morning. And he says he has no memory of our conversation.”

Bones frowned between them. “Is this true, Spock?”

Spock nodded, but his expression had changed. Instead of vaguely confused, his eyes had gone completely blank. Jim glared at him while Bones retrieved a tricorder from the main room.

“Is he concussed?”

“…No,” Bones said, scanning Spock. “Unless he hit his head on something since I saw him last.”

“Did you?” Jim asked harshly. Spock glanced at him and shook his head. “So what changed?”

Spock must have known – frankly, he should have already been diagnosing himself. He was obviously aware of how bad memory loss was, and his silence was fucking frustrating. Angry, Jim opened his mouth to ask again, but Bones put a hand on his shoulder.

“Let’s just calm down.”

Jim snorted, leaning over his shoulder to look at the results he couldn’t understand. “What is that? What's it saying?"

Bones set his jaw, elbowing Jim out of his personal space. “You told me it was your healing state. You said it would go away.”

"I assumed it would," Spock said. "I hoped it would."

Bones paled, lowering the tricorder to his side.

"What the fuck is going on?" Jim exploded, sick to death of being out of the loop. Bones raised his eyebrows at Spock, who said absolutely nothing. "I swear to Christ - "

"Jim," Bones said with forced calm. "Spock's adrenaline levels are off the charts. I don't even know how he's conscious right now."

Jim leaned toward the tricorder, squinting, but a hand closed around his arm and jerked him to Spock’s side with bruising force.

“Ow – Spock – “

“Be silent,” Spock breathed, clutching him close. Bones watched the contact but didn’t comment. “It is pon-farr.

Bones didn’t look surprised, but Jim was confused at Spock's tone.

"Pon-farr. Okay? Good. So this has an explanation," Jim babbled, relieved. "Why didn't you guys just lead with that? Jesus."

Bones looked again at the readings. "If that's really what this is..."

Spock got to his feet, still holding tightly to Jim. "You are aware of your obligations."

"What are his ob - ow," Jim hissed as Spock's fingers contracted.

Bones looked at Jim. "I have to contact the High Council. Any Vulcan crew members experiencing the onset of this thing - "

"We must go," Spock said urgently.

"Wait just a minute, okay? I gotta give you something for the - "

"There is nothing to be done. I am taking medical leave - effective immediately." He moved toward the door. Jim planted his feet.

"I think you should stay here, Spock. Let Bones treat you - "

Spock turned to him with strange, frightening speed. "He is no longer my physician."

"What?" Jim and Bones said in unison.

"It is my right," Spock said, speaking to Bones but looking at the floor. "I defer to whatever doctor is appointed to me by the Council."

"Well, the Council ain't here, are they? While you're on this ship - "

“I will not listen to anything you say. You may place me under arrest if you wish. Otherwise, step out of my way.”

Spock!” Jim yelled, confusion bleeding over to anger. “You can’t talk to him like that!”

Spock's hand went even tighter. Jim was losing feeling in his fingers. "I cannot stay here, James. I must speak to my counterpart."

Jim didn't know which to respond to first - the fact that Spock had just blatantly referenced his future-self in front of Bones, or that he had said Jim's full name in mixed company.

Bones chose for him. "Who?" He asked, squinting. "Counterpart?"

"His dad," Jim lied. "He means his dad."

Spock moved again. Jim had to put serious effort into not being dragged along with him. "You must set course for Vulcan."

Jim stopped fighting for a second, having to brace himself against the wall. "You mean New Vulcan."

Spock stopped, too, his eyes going wide. Jim shared a look with Bones, the gravity of the situation falling between them.

"Why don't you sit - " Jim started.

"I cannot stay here."

Jim blew out a frustrated breath. "So go! And please don't take my arm with you."

"You cannot stay here, either," Spock snapped. Jim considered slapping him. "I should not be alone in my current condition. Please."

The 'please' did it. Jim closed his eyes, way too much happening at once. Pon-farr, Spock told him (after a lot of prodding) was a cycle of Vulcan adulthood that essentially equated to a week of meditation with elders. A brainstorm. It had made sense at the time, sort of. Vulcans were so obsessed with control that it made sense they would have to freak out every now and then. An evolutionary compromise. But Jim thought it would just be some general irritability on Spock's part. Not...dementia.

He also said that it wouldn't happen for several years. Five or six, if Jim remembered correctly.

No, Jim didn't think leaving Medical was a good idea, at all. "What happens now?" He asked. "We get you to New Vulcan, and the elders...?"

"James," Spock said again, in a pointed way. Jim opened his eyes. Spock looked uncomfortable.

"Jim," Bones began, but Spock gave him a look of such intense fury he went silent. And then his face turned red.

It was easy, suddenly, to step into Captain mode – like these were two fighting crew members and not his best friend and his…his Spock. He put a firm hand on Spock’s shoulder, making sure he had his full attention before speaking.

“Go to the hall and wait for me.”

It was a pleasant surprise that it worked. Spock's fingers slid away from his arm, and he left.

“Did you know it would be this bad?” Jim asked. Bones suppressed whatever vitriol he'd been about to throw at Spock, and shook his head. “Do you know anything that we’re supposed to be doing?”

Bones took a deep breath and raised the tricorder. “If this gets any worse, I think it might kill him. And he's right. I can't do a thing about it. The orders they gave out about this were to get the sick person to New Vulcan as soon as possible. It's got its own code in the Fed Regs now."

“How long?” Jim asked, still Captaining. 

“A week,” Bones hedged. “Or less.”

Jim swiped the back of his hand over his brow. “What, um, what happens when you talk to the Council? What’s the protocol, here?”

“I’m supposed to contact them first, then they’ll go to Starfleet and explain. You should go.” He nodded to the door. “Try to keep him calm. Asleep would be best.”

"Asleep. Sure." Jim didn't really want to walk through the door. He was terrified.

"I'll tell the Council," Bones said. "Maybe they'll give me a good excuse to tell the crew."

Jim groaned. He had to lie to the crew! "I'll be back."

Spock was waiting in the hall, thank God. They walked silently back to their rooms, Jim stewing on his anger. And his fear and worry, but mostly anger.

"Okay," he said, when they were behind closed doors. Spock went to his bed and sank onto the side of it, fisting his hands on his knees. "Talk."

"I..." Spock started. "I apologize. Please understand that the stress this day has caused you in no way compares to my feelings on the matter."

"I don't need an apology. You didn't tell me it would be this bad."

"I did not know."

"What?"

"I have never - " Spock looked at him, and then away. "I thought there would be more time."

"Well, why is it happening now?" Jim asked. Spock's excuse of time had gotten Jim to drop the subject, but now he was kind of fucking upset that he didn't know anything he was supposed to be doing.

"I do not know."

"What is the Council gonna do?"

"I do not know."

"Well, I know that when Humans kept getting headaches for hundreds and hundreds of years, they invented aspirin. They figured it out. Why does it feel like you don't know what's going on?"

Spock stood abruptly, his hands still in fists. "I will go to Vulcan. I will meditate. It will not be easy, but when it is done I will return in improved health. That is what I know."

He was lying, Jim realized. "You don't know," he accused. Spock opened his mouth, a worried crease forming between his eyebrows. Jim stepped closer. "You're scared."

"I am not," Spock argued. "I am simply...not prepared."

"For what?"

"You should not return here," he said, nodding decisively to himself. "I will require solitude for the remainder my illness."

Jim couldn't believe it. "Starfleet gave me access to your medical records," he said. "After some Vulcans enrolled at Starfleet, they decided that your doctor should know about this. And they decided that your ...that I should know about it, too. There's a Regulation for the situation. That's how much thought they've put into this. And all you know...is that you need to meditate."

It just didn't add up. Spock knew everything about everything, including how to treat wounds from a carnivorous tree on a nearly uncharted planet.

Spock's silence was infuriating. "I'm going with you," Jim announced. That got a reaction - Spock frowned.

"No," he said.

"Yeah," Jim said with more resolve. "Why shouldn't I?"

Spock cast his eyes around. "You have yet to reach a successful meditation by Human standards, much less that of Vulcan. It is a ridiculous notion that you would accompany me."

His hands were still shaking, Jim realized. "How do you feel?" he asked, stepping closer again. He took one of Spock's hands in his own, prying it out of a fist. "This is like Setlik III all over again. Should we meld?"

They usually did about once a week, less often now than at first. Jim had gotten pretty good at it.

"We cannot," Spock said, his voice soft and dazed. He pulled his hand away. "The Fires."

"The what?"

"I burn," he whispered. Jim gaped as his distraught expression. "It is not safe for you."

"What does that mean?"

"Go," Spock told him, sitting back on his bed. "I will sleep."

"O-okay. I'll take care of it, alright?" He said, deciding to leave this for now. Spock nodded. "I'll bring you dinner, later."

"Just...change our course, Jim," he said tiredly.

Change course. That freaked Jim out, too. Spock would never turn away from something like this - the trees and their mysterious lactic acid. But he was. He was dropping it cold.

"I'll be back," he assured, going ignored. "ASAP."

 

___________________________

 

Everyone was just staring at him. Jim rolled his eyes, gripping the back of his chair so hard it hurt. It was like he'd just done a cartwheel instead of giving very clear orders.

“Last I checked, I was sort of in charge of this thing, so...” He waved his hand in the air.

Sulu snapped out of it, first. “Heading, Captain?”

That seemed to jar everyone into motion. Chekov ran back over from talking with the Gravity Chief, falling into his seat and getting everything in order. The thermal images disappeared.

“New Vulcan,” Jim said heavily, already turning to Nyota, who had big eyes. “Orders will be through soon.”

“What’s happening?” She mouthed, clearly less concerned by the lack of orders than their new destination. Jim really wished he could tell her. Maybe she would know something about it. 

He decided on ignoring it for now. The turbolift had just opened, showing a grim-looking Bones. Jim went over, feeling everyone’s eyes on his back.

“Course changed?” Bones asked him in a low voice. Jim nodded. “ETD?”

“Now.”

That seemed like the answer he was looking for. “Get us goin’. Come see me right after shift.”

Jim didn’t like the urgency in his voice, but the crew were probably not going to let them whisper to each other in the lift all day. “Sure thing.”

Whatever it was, Bones couldn’t send it over the database. The Starfleet orders came in about an hour away from Bowden IV. All it said was that the Enterprise had been suspended from the mission, and that they would be relieved by the Elcün. It didn’t give any reason for it, and Jim was hard-pressed to commit to any one lie until he’d talked to Bones. So the bridge was just full of uncertain, awkward silence. Everyone was assuming the worst – that something bad had happened to the colony.

It didn’t help that Spock was mysteriously absent.

New Vulcan was relatively nearby. Four days away at Warp factor five.

“Take us up to Warp Nine,” he told the helm. Everyone responded as they should, but Jim still felt that he'd lost a little bit of their trust.

 

__________________________________

 

“I talked to that M’Benga,” Bones said immediately, yanking Jim into his office and shutting the door. “Guess no Vulcan doctor could be bothered.”

Jim tugged at his collar. He was sweaty and anxious and worried about Spock. “And?”

Bones sat heavily behind his desk. “And…he said it's routine.” He sighed sharply. "Everything. All of Spock's symptoms, the memory loss..."

"What else did he tell you?"

“Well, I’m not Spock’s physician during this mess – M'Benga sort of shut me down once I mentioned that.” His voice was more hurt than he would ever admit to. “Which he can decide, by the way, I checked with M’Benga about it. It means I’m not your doctor, either.”

“What? Yes, you are.”

Bones should look more irritated, Jim thought. But he only looked…tired. “I'm sorry, Jim. You just gotta go along with it.”

"Fuck that. Fuck this. Why do I need a doctor, Bones?"

Bones stared at him for a long time, brows furrowed. "Shit."

"Bones."

"What did he tell you, Jim?"

Jim swallowed, tasting bile. "He said he needs to go to New Vulcan - well, no, actually he kept saying Vulcan - and meditate. Like it's a...big psychic migraine, or something. At least that's what he said. Weeks ago. But now it seems like he has no idea what's going on, or what to do. He said it was years away, and now it's here without warning. I think...well, he seems afraid."

As he talked, something strange worked over Bones' expression. Confusion, then deep thought, then he leaned down for the whisky. And poured Jim three fingers. Three.

“Jim,” he said, while Jim gave the glasses a nervous look-over. His voice had taken on a light, careless tone. “Spock threatened to kill me earlier.”

Right when he’d taken a sip. Jim slammed a fist down, fighting the whisky that singed his trachea. Twice in one fucking day Bones had made him choke to death. “He what?!”

“Right before I came up to bridge, I stopped at his quarters. See, I was fairly certain you didn't have the full story, so I thought I'd ask him about it and see if he didn't have his own reason for keeping' things from you.

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know a lot about pon farr, Jim, but it sure as hell ain’t no migraine.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The next thing Jim knew, sleep was over and he was already midway into the spiral of a panic attack that had dogged him all night. He snapped awake with a gasp, rolling instinctually to his side and grasping at his heart.

Count back from ten, he thought to himself, citing the Starfleet regulations that taught control. They weren’t his favorite, but being injured was par for the course in his line of work, and you couldn’t spiral into shock every time you caught a phaser to the shoulder or tumbled down some rocks.

He took box breaths, trying to get ahead of the lung spasms so he could hold his breath and force his heart rate to slow.

Where are you?

He was on New Vulcan. In Ambassador Sarek’s house. Naked, on top of the deep red sheets but still sweating bullets.

Where is the threat?

Spock wasn’t there. But he would be. Jim rolled back over. The window was too bright to even look at. Was it morning? How long had he slept?

Where is the injury?

No injury. Nothing to tend to, or plug up. Just good old fashioned anxiety.

The PADD was still on ship time. 1700 hours. Which meant he’d landed on New Vulcan twelve hours ago. He’d slept a lot, but, he noticed, felt much more like himself than he had the night before. Like the situation had cemented itself, or the psi-blocker had stopped psycho-somatic runoff from Spock’s distress.

Spock.

When his breathing was perfectly even, Jim got to his feet and noticed two things. One, a bookshelf. It was behind the open bathroom door, book spines pressed together across beams of metal. Two, some kind of coat rack? It was similarly cut out of the wall, four identical black robes hanging from hooks. There was a shelf above, stacked with folded fabric that he would guess were extra bedsheets. Maybe clothes.

In the ridiculous heat, robes sounded infinitely more comfortable than the extra uniform he’d packed. He slung one over his shoulders, grimacing at how much of it dragged on the floor. He wasn’t that short.

Windows lit the hallway, warming the rough stone beneath his feet. He went for the kitchen first, footsteps too loud in the intense silence.

By the cold pantry, there was a device he was certain was a replicator. But the language settings were Vulcan, so it was utterly useless to him. He could recognize a few words in speech, maybe, but the letters were like a child’s scribbling. Dots and loops and squares. He wouldn’t recognize his own name.

He ran the sink’s tap and took a hesitant taste of the water, leaning into the basin. It had a heavy smack of something to it, but was definitely water. He gulped it down until his stomach hurt, relishing the coolness of it.

There were glasses in a cabinet. He filled one up and journeyed to the sitting room. Weird white couch, chair, some books. A black screen on the wall that he didn’t investigate. The bright light of day illuminated what he had missed the night before – the windows were just windows. One of them was a door that led out to a balcony.

He approached the glass, peering outside. The terrace was spacious, and more inviting than the inside of the house. Earth-like. Two chairs sat on either side of a pit that probably burned fire (Vulcans barbequed?). And plants. Too many to even discern. The horizon stretched beyond, dotted with shapes that blurred beneath waves of heat.

He slid the door open a crack and immediately slammed it back shut.

It was impossibly hot. One single burst of wind almost took his eyebrows off. The windows must have been tinted, too, because he had to blink the light out of his eyes, turning into the relative darkness of inside.

Well, there would be no escaping this place. Not in the daytime. He wouldn’t make it fifty feet before collapsing.

After collecting himself a little, he turned back and pressed close to the glass, looking up. The sky was just white. He couldn’t tell if it was cloudy or bright. Probably not clouds. That would imply some kind of water cycle.

He traveled room to room, finding another small window at the end of the house that finally let him see the sun. He located it in the sky and withdrew to the shadows, rubbing his eyes. It wasn’t overhead.

The door that had been locked the night before remained as such. Jim considered picking it, just for something to do. And that closet with the red carpet – it was painted red. He little altar and the incense…he’d seen something like it, he realized. Because he had been in Vulcan household before – just not physically.

Spock’s memories had painted a good picture. All the things that had happened where he grew up – a lot of them centered around the kitchen. Like when he once witnessed his mother cut herself on accident with a kitchen knife. He was tiny, just a kid, and it was the first time he realized that her blood was red, not green. The memory wasn’t a happy one.

Jim walked back to the front of the house and made the comparison. The two kitchens were nothing alike. This was smaller, made more of metal than brick and stone. There was no window over the sink, no plants filling it.

Back downstairs, he found another locked door. And then an open one.

It was dizzying. Jim stopped in the doorway, wondering for a split second if he hadn’t just appeared on Earth.

This room was like no other in the house The walls were the same, but they were covered with things. Art, big canvases of it. Landscapes, both Earth and other. Jim stepped onto the plush rug that covered the floor and inspected the closest decoration. A familiar framed diploma.

S'chn-T' Gaii Spock

Valedictorian

Starfleet Graduate Class of 2255

Although Jim’s definitely didn’t say valedictorian. He was surprised Spock would keep this.

Nothing in the room looked like Spock’s. The paintings, the faded red armchair, the wall lined with books Jim had seen in libraries growing up. Spock didn’t collect all this. Sarek sure hadn’t.

It was creepy. And sad. Like someone had just closed a book and stood up from the armchair, going upstairs for some tea.  Sunlight billowed softly past thin blue curtains and settled over sealed boxes stacked against the walls. Jim did a double take – the curtains were moving. There was airflow here. And it was cooler, by no small amount.

Jim had taken an archive science class in college, once, just for shits and giggles. So he knew that Earth books didn’t do well in heat like this. They were being preserved.

For someone who was never coming back.

Jim backed out of the room, closing the door and taking a few steadying breaths.

The sun had moved the next time he checked. Farther from the horizon. He made a mental note: 1800 hours was definitely after noon.

Which meant he didn’t have much time.

The meal replacements did not look or smell appetizing. But Jim was starving, so he sucked it up and just chugged, resisting the urge to plug his nose as he forced down the chalky, protein-thick sludge. It filled his stomach in a threatening way, like his body hadn’t decided if it wanted to puke or digest.

And then the tubes. Jim held one up to the light. Clear liquid, no label. M’Benga had been awfully vague about the ingredients. Bones definitely didn’t know about this, or Jim was certain he’d have come down here to give M’Benga a piece of his mind.

He’d tweaked his sciatic nerve during combat training a few years back. A campus nurse had given him a hypo of steroids, cleared the pain right up. Hormone supplement, though…that was a new one.

Of course Jim knew that people took hormones often and for all kinds of reasons. Totally run of the mill for a large portion of Terran society. But Jim. Cisgender, Hawkeye State, command-track Jim. He had hoped to never need this sort of thing until he was, God forbid, too old to get it up on his own.

Why did he need it, anyway? M’Benga didn’t think he could handle some marathon sex? He was a damned captain.

Ah, fuck it.

Jim took it like a shot, and it felt like a shot. A phaser shot, straight down the esophagus. His first instinct was to cough, which of course only ended up choking him as the acrid potion shot down his windpipe. He fell to his knees, just barely suppressing a dry heave.

No wonder M’Benga had packed so many vials. He must have counted on Jim throwing it up.

A few seconds later, Jim wished he had. Once it settled into his stomach he realized just how vague M’Benga had been.

Instantaneous relief. His headache – gone. Nausea – gone. A gentle buzz settled into his fingertips and feet. The first response was shock, and the second anger.

Drugs weren’t exactly new to him. Back in Iowa, as a teenager with bad friends and nothing better to do, he’d definitely experimented. Alcohol (of course) was too easy to come by. A high school buddy had an older brother who was friends with some Fleet officers that got ahold of Orion Sniffing Flowers and Guevarian mushrooms. This was much more mellow than that.

Around the same time, Jim had been prescribed amphetamine-based medicine for his ADD, but it hadn’t really worked for him. He’d given it to his friends instead of taking it himself, and their experiences with it had been different.

This was kind of what they’d described. Only much, much better.

Strength and clarity replaced his fatigue, urging him up off the floor. Okay. Okay, fine. He was on an alien planet, he was totally alone, and he was high. Totally fine.

He tossed the empty vial in the bag and walked back upstairs (Very slowly. His feet didn’t feel like his feet.). Now that his headache was gone, he thought he would be able to at least stand on the balcony for a second. Get a better look at his surroundings.

The wind was visible in the rustling stalks and branches of the plants, but none of that was audible from inside. There was just nothing – not even the ventilation system that definitely existed. Jim slide the door open all at once, letting the mountain wind buffet past him for a moment. It was hot and dry, but sounded like music.

He stepped carefully out onto the bleached white stone, checking twice to see if he would even notice his feet being scalded. No. It was cool. But too bright – he had to pull the robe’s hood up and make binoculars with his eyes before he could focus past the protective tears that kept welling up.

By necessity, the plants were all cactus-like. Nothing beautiful and leafy like M’Benga’s ferns could survive like this, and the ones in front of him clearly needed some help. They were planted in two long troughs on either side of the terrace, one filled with soil and the other running water. Jim could hear it when he got closer – hydroponics. Jim reached past a very spiky, bulbed plant and dipped his finger in the gently rushing liquid. It was nice. If the trough were any bigger, he might have tossed the plants over the side and taken a bath.

The landscape was bleak. Shi’Kahr-uhz was there, glittering in the sun, as well another city far to the right. Looking up was difficult, but he thought he saw clouds in the distance. Long and flat. Lenticular or stratocumulus. If he could figure out which, it may have given him a clue as to the weather, but one prolonged glimpse cost him several minutes of semi-blindness. He stumbled back inside and slid the door closed, gasping from the heat.

When the door snapped shut, and the sound was doubled, Jim blinked. Were the drugs that strong? That he was hearing things?

But then the light in the room changed. Jim spun around.

“Spock?” He held a hand up. Two shadows stood in an aura of more sunlight from the open front door. “I can’t – I can’t see.”

The door banged closed, casting a darkness that, mixed with the after image in his eyes, purely blinded him. He felt at the robe to make sure it was fixed tightly closed, waiting for someone to say something.

As the silence dragged on, he stepped forward, blinking furiously. There was no kind of clutter in the house, so he didn’t crack his shins on anything, and by the time he had crossed the room he could see again.

Spock looked…bad. Weak. He stood with one hand braced against the wall, shoulders slumped. The robe hewas wearing seemed tailored for his build, falling in gentle folds to his feet and fastened up to his throat.

It was his expression that alarmed Jim the most. Openly shocked, though at what Jim had no clue. Spock just stared at him, eyes bulging, jaw locked in a tight rictus.

T’Mott spoke in a frail but clear voice. Jim had already forgotten about her.

Du ac-ruth au tu-istau ngiq’e ek’wak tu?”

He looked away from Spock. “What?’

Svi' nash ha'kiv heh ek' vath,” Spock answered immediately, with the voice of a dying man. Jim winced just hearing it.

He had been screaming. You didn’t get a voice that torn up unless you had been screaming. Jim wanted to ask what the fuck had happened, but Spock’s strange expression was freaking him out. What was so shocking? Did he not expect to see Jim here, or something?

T’Mott said something sharp. Jim realized she was looking at him.

“I don’t speak Vulcan.”

She gave him a look that he had a difficult time interpreting as anything other than disgust, and reached out. Her warped, elderly fingers touched against Spock’s meld points, and Jim wished she wouldn’t.

Spock sort of shuddered, but he didn’t pull away from her. He didn’t look away from Jim at all.

Rom-halan,” she announced.

A second later, the door opened and closed. Jim released a breath.

“What the fuck? Are you okay?”

Spock rushed him. There was really no other word for it. He pushed off the wall and lurched forward, the force of their contact throwing Jim off balance. He got his foot under him once, but after that crashed backward onto the couch.

Spock crashed right on top of him.

Jim would have liked to ask where the old lady had gone, and if she was coming back. Spock’s mouth was onhis, though, kissing him with such ferocity it wiped his brain blank. Spock…had never kissed him like this. Not even close.

There was a loud tearing sound. Jim was sure it was his own head ripping in half, but no. Spock’s fingers were cutting Jim’s robe apart like paper. Vulcan strength – Jim had seen him do it to bedsheets.

“Where have you been?” Jim asked, shoving him back. “What did they do to you?”

Etek nam-tor teretuhr.”

“Wh – I don’t speak Vulcan!”

The hands around him flexed. Jim vaguely noticed the rest of his robe falling off of him in pieces. Spock kissed him and ground his hips down, the both of them rock hard.

The both of them. Jim’s brain completed its mitosis, one half focused on Spock’s wellbeing, and the other…

“Not here,” he said, somehow getting to his feet. Spock tried to pull him back. “Not here. Come on. The bedroom.”

After a second, Spock stood, his still-intact robe falling regally to the floor. Jim, naked, rolled his eyes and turned, tugging Spock along with him. “I thought you would be meditating.” He looked over his shoulder. “You really aren’t gonna answer me?”

It was clear he wasn’t. A flicker of worry made Jim stop just outside the door. Spock didn’t look good, but he also didn’t look right. His eyes weren’t…

“Don’t you want to look around?” He said. “You’ve never even visited this planet before. You’ve never been in this house.”

Spock was breathing hard, and if he were human he might have been clammy with sweat. There was a shakiness to his hand, wrapped in Jim’s, that felt like sickness. But wasn’t that exactly what M’Benga had described?

Jim pushed the door open, only to come to another halt at the end of the bed. He knew exactly what was going to happen next, but couldn’t help feeling…unsure. They were both out of their element.

Spock hadn’t wanted him here.

The hand in his tightened, spun him around in a dance-like move that smacked his chest against Spock’s. No escape, no excuses.

A small, internal fight ended before it had really begun, because Spock’s hands on his hips alighted something in his brain, the same fog from earlier that made the wind feel like music. The sound of his first brain shutting down, bowing to the whims of the second. The drugs. He should have not taken the drugs.

Even those thoughts, worried and concerned, drifted off like the rest. His back hit the mattress. Rough hands dragged down his arms, his ribs, his hips. A lithe thigh wedged between his legs and ground against his length.

Thank God it’s me, he thought in one final moment of coherence.

After that, the moments stretched and condensed. Physical input and little else.

An urgent, tense line of desperation wound through Spock’s body. Their kisses edged on violence, teeth clanging together once and sending an uncomfortable jolt through Jim’s spine.

A hand wrapped around him, coated already with Spock’s natural lubricant. Obscenely loud, wet sounds filled the silence. Jim heard every beat of his heart, and every rasping breath Spock took. It was incredible. He lost himself in it for what could have been a long time or a minute.

Suddenly, sharp. Too sharp. “Not so fast – I’m gonna – “

Spock slowed his hand (so he did understand English), and forced Jim’s knee up, which was confusing until his fingers slipped low, beneath Jim’s testicles and still lower.

“Are - ?” Jim bit back a moan as a finger circled his hole. Fuck. “Are you sure? We – “

He pressed in harder. Jim gasped and tried to look at him, but Spock was intently mouthing along his throat.

He wanted it. Fuck, did he want it. “Spock,” he said, as a warning. It came out as more of a plea.

Once. They had done this one time before, so surely that fell into the bounds of whatever the fuck M’Benga had been talking about. Spock had already consented to this, and so had Jim, so it was fine, right?

Spock was being slow about it, and tender, gently working Jim open while stroking his cock. Burning hot, searing pleasure seeped through his muscles. When he said Spock’s name again, he pulled back just enough for Jim to touch his cheek.

It wasn’t right.

Spock was always less guarded when they were alone. Especially during sex. And Jim lived for those moments. The seconds-long winces and gasps of climax, or almost-smiles, or jokes. Especially the blushes, which Spock was so prone to.

He was blushing, now, but not in the demure, bashful-cum-offended way Jim liked so much. This was a full-body, green flush to his chest and neck and face. Exertion, probably, but not like anything Jim had ever seen from him. And his expression was wholly unfamiliar, too. Scary only because Jim didn’t know it, like he knew all the other Spock-faces.

The last (and only) time Spock had fucked him, it had been a very focused, scrutinizing thing. No matter how many times Jim informed him he could be as rough as he wanted, he insisted on meticulously, slowly fingering him open.

Jim had enjoyed being the center of his utmost concentration. This wasn’t like that. Spock was looking at him like he wanted to kill him. Or eat him alive.

Jim was so distracted by it he hardly noticed the addition of a second finger. When the third came, brushing his prostate on every third or fourth stroke, he dropped his head back and moaned. Spock’s hand moved faster, less carefully, until Jim couldn’t breathe.

“I’m ready,” he panted, running his hands through Spock’s hair. “I’m ready.”

And he was. Very ready.

Spock ripped his hand away – ow – and pulled Jim’s knees up and around his waist. Jim shuffled down the bed a bit, so ready to be filled it was making him insane.

Spock pushed in immediately, no pretense. Jim felt his jaw drop open and could do nothing to stop it. The flush on Spock’s chest deepened. One slow stroke all the way in and out, and then –

Spock gasped and fell forward, forehead slamming into Jim’s ribs. He said something that, in his ravaged throat, only passed through his lips as air. His hands dug into Jim’s flesh with enough force to bruise.

A long silence. Hot, water cum landed on the backs of Jim’s thighs and ran down to the sheets.

“Um,” Jim finally said, puzzled. That had been fast. Scary fast.

With a wet-sounding sniffle, Spock lifted his head and moved on like nothing had happened. He found Jim’s entrance again and pushed back inside.

Jim did not squeak – the high pitch came from instinctively trying to be quiet. But they weren’t on a starship, and he didn’t have to.

So he encouraged Spock speed up, one moan in particular cutting off with a yelp. Spock’s eyes shot to his face, pausing for less than a second before repeating the motion at the same angle, and more forcefully.

Jim inhaled so hard it actually hurt. Spock’s fingers dug in just above his hipbone, pinning him to the mattress as he pistoned his hips forward. Every single stroke slammed his prostate, paralyzing him with sensation. Hot, white hot, burning him from the inside out.

God, he needed this. He had for a long time, without realizing. Just sex. Taking a stranger home, ripping the absolute shit out of each other, and then going their separate ways. All physical and no meaning.

It wasn’t how he wanted to think about Spock, but it was how he wanted to think of sex.

Their bodies twisted together, arms and legs and mouths. Jim couldn’t fill his lungs fast enough before another thrust punched the air out of him, and Spock didn’t let up for a second, bracing an arm above Jim’s head for leverage. Just when Jim was getting close, he came again. Twice in, what, five minutes? Was that normal?

Jim winced in frustration as Spock tried to pull out of him. He locked his ankles together and kept him close.

“It’s fine,” he said. Spock nosed his neck and groaned as the orgasm ran its course. Jim closed his eyes, hardly recognizing his own voice. “It’s okay. Keep going.”

The next thrust made his eyes roll back in his head. Spock murmured molten Vulcan words in his ear. Jim heard what sounded like his name, and t’hai’la a few times. Ashayam, t’nash-veh…words Spock used in their melds, and very rarely out loud.

Jim repeated some of them, when he could catch his breath enough to speak. Each time, Spock reacted strangely. A stifled gasp or, once, what sounded suspiciously like a sob. Jim was too far gone to try and figure out why. He only wished he knew more Vulcan.

The hazy feeling from the drugs was back full force, and Jim really needed to come. He flipped them, or tried to – in the end it seemed to be more Spock’s decision than his. But then Jim was straddling him, sinking even farther onto his length. Spock stared at him, gaze unflinching and breaths coming uneven.

Jim enjoyed another flicker of doubt – there was almost nothing he recognized in those eyes. Spock should have been trying to compose himself – closing his eyes or turning his face away. The tips of his ears should have been green.

“Ashayam…” he said, guttural and strained. As though daring Jim to forget who he was. Jim shut his eyes against the confusion, rising and falling once. The ragged edge of orgasm knocked his thoughts clean away.

Faster, faster. Spock took his cock and stroked it in rhythm with Jim’s movements. Then he sat up, just as Jim fell forward, peppering his neck with licks and bites.

“I’m – “ Jim started. Spock twisted his hand just-so, and white exploded across Jim’s vision.

It grew in intensity, guided along by Spock’s rough touch, until Jim felt himself scream.

Another hand, on the small of his back, easing him to the mattress. Before the white even faded, Spock was plowing into him with renewed force. Dizzy, ungrounded static pulsed through his inner ear.

He didn’t dare open his eyes. He didn’t trust himself not to puke, so he just held onto Spock until it passed. And then he realized something.

There hadn’t been an orgasm. The orgasm was still building – his dick was still hard.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he panted, getting close again. Tears leaked from his eyes. “Harder.”

Spock questioned him. At least it sounded like a question. “Yes,” Jim said anyway, gasping as the command was met eagerly. Spock gripped his hair and snapped his head to the side, exposing the junction of his neck and shoulder and biting down hard.

Jim came so hard it was more like blacking out. There was nothing but scorching heat and a semi-severe pain in his neck, and he couldn’t even tell if his muscles were incredibly tensed or completely loose. He’d just been thoroughly turned inside out, and all he could think of was that he wanted more.

A low voice brought him out of his daze. Spock had pulled out of him, and was licking cum up from Jim’s stomach. That, at least, wasn’t new. The guy loved jizz.

Jim focused on breathing in and out, his heart flying way too fast to be healthy. Had the ceiling been beige, before? Had the air tasted like ash?

Spock licked down to his cock, drawing it into his mouth and sucking hard. Jim spasmed up.

“Whoa! Hey,” he eased Spock away, beginning to notice how drenched in sweat he had become. “Just – I just need a – “

Spock made a noise in the back of his throat, half-complaint and half-plea, running his tongue along the side of Jim’s balls, against his thigh. It tickled.

Dread cut through his post-orgasm bliss. Spock was very erect, and clearly in no mood to cuddle and take a nap. That had only been round one.

This would be going on, and on, and on.

Fuck it, Jim thought. I’m James Tiberius Kirk. I can fuck for more than one measly hour.

“Come on,” he said firmly, ignoring the fluids slowly leaking out of him. “Showers.”

Spock caught his wrist, kissing up his arm. Jim allowed it, entranced at the gesture. It felt old, romantic. Seductive.

“Shower,” he repeated, scuttling off the bed. Spock rose with him, asking some sort of question. “God, Spock, can you just speak Standard? This would go a lot smoother.”

Ri tor hal-tor.” It sounded desperate, and he didn’t look happy. He kept talking, voice rising in pitch.

“Hey!” Jim interrupted. Spock fell silent, eyebrows pinched. “You just fucked me in the ass. I don’t know the Vulcan word for hygiene, but I’m sure it’s one of your favorites.”

He put a hand on Spock’s upper arm, drawing him toward the bathroom. Jim went into the sonic stall with him and started pressing buttons, hot hair blasting the both of them.  As close as they would be getting to clean.

Spock pulled him to his chest, running his hands over his body. Jim shuddered and wished again for running water.

Jim should have been dead on his feet after that kind of activity. There also should have been some significant discomfort in his lower region, but he didn’t feel anything quite yet. It was hidden behind the foggy veil of whatever M’Benga had cooked up for him. Thank you, modern medicine.

So instead of trying to escape, Jim turned and kissed Spock square on the mouth. And when Spock picked him up and brutally fucked him against the shower wall, he didn’t have one worry about how this would fall out. How Spock would feel about what they were doing when only weeks previous he couldn’t even look Jim in the eye after.

No, not a single worry at all.

_______________________________

Heat. All around him, pouring into him. Peace and love, a warm embrace with a cold exterior. It whispered comforting words, a quiet voice he didn’t even realize was there until it fell steeply off into echoing silence.

Without the voice, the heat was suffocating instead of familiar. Deafening, cruel silence.

Jim woke slowly, his deep sleep interrupted by a singular, unpleasant sensation. He touched his nose, catching a bead of sweat before it dripped onto the pillow. Ugh.

Sunshine blazed into his eyes, warmth only slightly muted by the tinted glass. He didn’t move, trying to take stock of his body, and then of his place in time. Was it morning or afternoon? He couldn’t have slept very long, but the last thing he remembered was the room bathed in a red glow. Sunset…or his drugged up senses getting confused.

Everything – everything – ached dully. Head, shoulders, back…knees? When the fuck had he been on his knees?

A sound drew his attention. Nearby, and…stressed? Belabored breathing and tiny gasps.

Ignoring the symphony of small pains that accompanied the movement, he rolled over. Spock faced away from him, curled on his side as far as the space would allow. The tremors were back, and every vertebrae seemed clearly visible along his spine. Jim reached out to him, then retracted his hand, standing as quietly as possible.

Meal replacement first. He vaguely remembered disliking it the day before. Now it was like the nectar of the fucking gods. And the hormone supplement made all of the aches and pains fade right away.

He stared into the bag and rubbed his neck, double counting the remaining psi-blockers to be certain his memory of injecting one wasn’t false. It was uncomfortable, how time slipped away from him, but indeed there were two canisters left. Jim stared at them, swallowing hard against fear.

The drugs were mind-altering. Because Jim was certain he had been there at least two days, but that couldn’t be the case. There were two hypos, and if he had forgotten to take one the bond would be open and Jim would be…how did M’Benga put it? Insensate and drooling.

Maybe he was. Comatose and dreaming.

His dream-mate made a distressed noise, drawing Jim out of his thoughts. He floated across the floor.

Spock’s arms were crossed over his stomach,  face locked in a contortion of pain, lips mouthing words Jim couldn’t hear and probably wouldn’t understand if he did. There was no response when Jim said his name, but when he crouched down beside him and stroked over the side of his face, his eyes opened.

Jim caught his breath.

Terror. Spock’s eyes moved around like he couldn’t see Jim at all, like he was seeing something entirely different. Something that scared him.

“Spock? Are you…?”

“James.” Spock’s gaze focused, all the fear switching over into hot need.

“Yeah. I’m here,” Jim answered, excited by the Standard. Did a name count as Standard? “How are you feeling? Did you sleep at all? Can I get you – ?”

Spock pulled him onto the bed, silencing him with a kiss.

________________________

Hours they touched each other. And Jim couldn’t be fucked for two days straight no matter how good the drugs were - or the fucking – so he had to pull out some old tricks, settling down between Spock’s legs for extended amounts of time, licking up and down the labia-esque folds of skin his cock protruded from. He knew how sensitive they were by the way Spock always pushed him away. But now he let Jim explore the wet dips and ridges with abandon, coming often and hard, sometimes with shouts and sometimes in silence, his hands tearing at Jim’s hair and scraping up his back.

Sometimes he started talking with the same grating hoarseness as the day before. Jim ignored him, because it was upsetting. The words were confused, and not at all erotic despite their delivery through groans and pants. Maybe Spock was asking him to stop, or telling him that it hurt or something. He wouldn’t know. If he ever did try to stop, Spock would look even more like he was in pain.

“I’m here,” Jim said, brushing his hands along Spock’s face as they rutted together. Spock moaned and shuddered with yet another orgasm, knees bracketing Jim’s hips. Jim continued his administrations, hand clamped around both of their lengths, until it happened again.

Jim stopped trying to count the minutes. He existed second by second, sometimes awake and sometimes somewhere else. Always close, rarely close enough. Whenever the exhaustion crept up on him he’d break away and force down the contents of a vial, maybe a meal replacement if he was allowed the time. The chemicals snapped him right back into it, but they also made it really hard to come. By design, probably, but irritating. He had maybe one orgasm for every one of Spock’s five or six.

There had to be a stopping point, he reasoned hazily. Spock hadn’t eaten any food or drank any water – how much come could he even produce before they both turned into raisins?

When Jim was denied yet another orgasm by the concoction swirling through his veins, he really couldn’t help the sob of frustration that escaped him. He’d reached some kind of primal state of need, and if he didn’t find a release he thought he might just die.

At the sound, Spock sat up and pushed Jim’s head away from his crotch.

“What?” Jim asked, wary of the concerned look on his face. “Are you o – kay – “

Spock’s foot wedged beneath his knee and, in a fit of total gymnastic nonsense, rolled him onto his back.

What Jim had learned over the countless hours (days?) in this room was that Spock had a hidden, balletic sense of motion. Of course he was graceful in ways Jim could never be, but this was something else. In this state, Spock was a flexible, sinuous dream. They ended up in positions Jim didn’t even understand – things he wouldn’t even attempt with Spock on a regular day.

Right now, though, it was simple. Spock got him flat and took him into his mouth. The heat was a balm to Jim’s every need, languid swipes of tongue so much softer than the grating callouses of his own hand. When climax hit, he doubled forward with a yell. It was like being punched.

Spock swallowed everything, moaning deep and low. Jim pulled at his hair until he looked up.

“I love you.”

No hint of recognition in Spock’s eyes. Jim blinked away tears, and said it again anyway.

__________________________________

An indeterminate time later, Jim woke up. Again. It kept happening, without him ever deciding to go to sleep in the first place. Just…awake.

This time was even more disorienting, because it was pitch black. A dream still lingered behind his eyelids. A pleasant one. Dancing at the bar off Valencia Street – the one from the early Academy days. Techno pop bounced in his ears, dropping off fast into New Vulcan silence.

He rolled over, one hand searching the blackness for Spock. Jim found his shoulder, then his chest. On his back, then, and breathing too steadily to be awake.

Jim sat up. M’Benga said Spock wouldn’t sleep. He shouldn’t be sleeping.

“Spock?” Jim whispered, just to be sure. Spock was a very light sleeper. That alone should have gotten him an answer of some sort. Jim shuffled down the bed, resting his hear against the left side of Spock’s ribcage, finding his wrist with two fingers and counting his pulse.

Fast. Normal? Jim couldn’t recall the healthy range of bpm for Vulcans. 90? His heart sounded strong enough.

Jim almost shook him awake, but stopped himself. Instead he gently traced his fingers over the planes of Spock’s face. Slack with slumber, lips slightly parted.

Sleep, if that’s what it was, could only help. And M’Benga had said himself that Spock was only half human - his genetic reactions would be different than a full-blooded Vulcan’s.

And Jim could use a break, however brief. He pushed Spock’s flop of hair up and kissed his forehead before gingerly crawling out of bed. No drugs. Not yet. The all-over pain was almost welcome, at that point. It offered a sharpness he needed.

After some feeling around, he found the PADD and a robe. The lights outside their room were turned on, blinding him with orange light.

Going upstairs was surprisingly difficult. His ankles were like cracked glass, creaking internally with every step. He took a break halfway up, sliding open the PADD with shaky fingers.

The idea had come sometime the day before, like having his brain so focused on Spock had allowed him to work out the problem without realizing it. The replicator in the kitchen was set to Vulcan, and so was the sonic shower. He assumed everything was, including the black screen in the sitting room.

It was to make calls, he was certain. No way did Spock’s dad sit around watching holovids all day. Jim examined it for a moment, touching the surface to no avail. Probably voice commanded, but not responding to Standard. Of course not. That would be too easy.

A quick feel around the edges revealed a few buttons. He pressed all of them, and the screen lit up. One single line of Vulcan text blinked at him. He pressed the largest button again, bringing forth more lines. Side by side, arranged like a menu.

Perfect.

He picked music at random from the PADDs selection. Classical hip-hop that blared loudly and relaxed him. Finally, something to listen to that wasn’t his own thoughts.

The PADD connected to the house’s signal easily enough. Jim pulled the armchair closer and sat, hacking away. The house had some protections, but nowhere near starship-level. Jim could have pried into personal documents if he was a complete asshole, but hopefully what he was doing would leave no trace.

Getting in wasn’t a problem, but he found very quickly that the internal structure was comprised of Vulcan binary, which he knew of but obviously never learned at the Academy. It took more than an hour to guess his way to the viewscreen in front of him. The white text finally flickered over to a simulation of the PADD screen and he pumped his fist.

Proper subspace signal with all the data of his PADD – including the contact for Bones’ apartment in San Fran. It was early on Earth, probably, but Jim didn’t feel like doing the math. He just made sure the robe covered his junk and pressed call.

It sat for two long moments, then accepted. Bones’ disgruntled face appeared in perfect clarity. It was so amazing to see someone that wasn’t Spock, Jim didn’t even catch what Bones said. Just the sound of his voice was a huge change.

“Well, are you gonna fucking say anything?”

Jim blinked. “Sorry – “

“I asked what the hell happened to you.”

He looked upset, Jim realized. He stupidly patted his hair. “I just woke up.”

“Not your hair, moron. Have you looked at yourself lately?”

Jim glanced toward the windows, his reflection blurry. Bones made a startled noise.

“Your neck!”

Jim flinched at his volume, touching the spot where he’d been injecting psi-blockers. Was there a bruise?

“Wrong side,” Bones snapped.

“Who gives a fuck,” Jim snapped, yanking his collar higher and hoping Bones hadn’t noticed his voice break. “Good to see you, too, by the way!”

Bones sat back, the room behind him dark. “What’s wrong with your voice?”

What a wonderful friend, Jim thought, and cleared his throat. “Sorry. There hasn’t been a lot of talking going on over here.”

“Gross, Jim.”

Jim definitely hadn’t meant it like that, but he didn’t feel like elaborating on the fact that Spock wasn’t currently capable of speaking English.

“I didn’t think I’d hear from you. How’s it going?”

“I…” Jim thought about how he could answer that. Nothing reassuring came to mind. “It’s fine. He’s sleeping.”

Bones gave him a searching look. “You really don’t look good.”

“Yeah, you said that. I’m…” he looked away, losing his train of thought. “Doing my best?”

They both cringed at that phrasing.

“I mean, I – I’m trying t-to – “ He shut his mouth. Was it the drugs or the lack of conversation for the past two days that made it impossible to have a conversation? “…do my best.”

Bones looked – fairly – horrified. “Jim.”

“How’s the ship?” He asked hurriedly. “Make it home without trouble?”

“Not a hitch.”

“Good,” he breathed, more relieved than he probably should have been.

“Is that the only reason you called?”

“No.” Jim stared down at his knees. He didn’t want to admit, even to himself, that the past few day had started to seriously mess with his head. This conversation almost felt like a dream. “Thought you might have been worried about me. I figured I’d put you at ease.”

He was sure Bones would laugh at him for it, but he didn’t. “I’m more worried right now than I was. Look at me.”

Jim didn’t want to. He was sure Bones had noticed the size of his pupils already. “Have you talked to M’Benga yet?”

“No. Did – did he give you something?” He frowned when Jim looked up. “My God, man. You’re completely strung out, aren’t you?”

“Feels that way.”

He shook his head, fury seeping through the screen. “What the fuck have you gotten yourself into?”

“I – “

“No, just – “ He did a double take at something above his screen, and his expression changed. “Gotta go, Jim. Talk later.”

The call ended. Just like that.

Jim stared at the black glass for a long time, ignoring the well of tightness in his throat. It was fine. He knew exactly what had happened – Nyota was at Bones’ apartment, and she must have woken up at the sounds of their voices. It was easier for her to not see Jim in this state, obviously, because she would probably just ask more questions than she undoubtedly already was.

It had just been so nice to have a conversation. And Jim had been planning to have Bones recount for him, in detail, every meal he’d eaten since landing on Earth. And the weather – it was probably cold there…

Bang.

Jim was on his feet so fast the room spun. But it wasn’t the front door that had just slammed open. The sound had come from inside the house.

And then, in the same breath, a yell.

James!”

Spock. Spock was yelling, his already fucked voice making the sound that much alarming.

Sanu! Rai sanu tor hal-tor!”

Jim took off, ignoring the various complaints of his joints. “Spock!”

They met at the staircase, Spock stumbling into view at the base just as Jim started his descent. In any other situation, Spock running around in the nude, fully erect and crashing into walls would be hilarious beyond measure. But it only stopped Jim cold, shooting terror into his chest.

Spock braced himself with one arm, looking up at him with the wildest, most insensate gaze Jim had ever seen. Like he was looking at a ghost.

“James,” he said, and then collapsed.

Jim barely managed to catch his head before it hit the hard stone floor.

“Spock,” he said, pulling him into a sitting position with difficulty. “Open your eyes. Spock!”

His weight tipped again.

“Look at me, baby, look at me.” Jim patted his cheeks, not quite a slap.

Spock opened his eyes, but they were glazed over. Fevered.

Wilat nam-tor etek? Wilat nam-tor du?”

“I don’t know what – is something wrong? Nod if you understand me.”

Spock nodded, a barely-there movement.

“Something is wrong?”

He nodded again. Jim had to lean in to hear his next words.

Etek nam-tor ri fi’Vuhlkansu.”

“Vuhlkansu…Vulcan?” Jim’s mind raced with panic. “Uh – we’re here. New Vulcan. U- uzh-Vuhlkansu,” he attempted, probably fucking it up. Spock shook his head.

“Okay. Okay, listen, I’ll get M’Benga to come over here and – “

Spock grabbed him. “Rai.”

It sounded like a ‘no’. Jim glared at him. “You need a doctor.”

Ri tor hal-tor. Sanu.”

Jim had heard that first part before, somewhere in Spock’s mumbling over the days. He made Spock look at him again.

“Are you hurt?” He waited for Spock to shake his head. “Do you need water? Food? Medicine.”

Spock’s hands tightened on his sides. Jim looked down at his straining green erection.

“You need…”

It was a perverse impulse. Jim brushed his fingers along the side of it, dread pooling in his stomach when Spock moaned.

Maybe sleep hadn’t been such a good idea, after all. “Come on. Let’s go back to bed.”

Spock made to stand, but as soon as Jim tried to pull him up it all went to shit. He fell heavily to the floor, curling his hands around his groin, knees coming up to protect the area. The sound he made wasn’t even human.

“Spock.” Jim tried to move his hands. “Let me look – damn it, Spock! Tell me what’s wrong with you!”

Finally, he was able to pry Spock’s hands away. It seemed like the fight had just gone out of him, which was even scarier.

It didn’t look like there was anything wrong. Jim touched it again, watching Spock’s face tighten.

“Is this what you need?”

A nod. Jim gathered his resolve for a second, packing away all his feelings and shoving them to the back of his brain. Later.

Now, Spock needed him.

Instead of trying to move him again, Jim sat on the floor and put an arm under his shoulder and neck, gathering him to his chest and very gently stroking his dick with his other hand. An odd embrace. Some might even say bizarre.

“I’ve got you,” he said into Spock’s hair. Spock gripped the lapels of his robe, every part of him vibrating with tension. Or pain. “I’ll take care of it.”

Spock whimpered against him. Jim flinched at the sound, and ached for the drugs, if only so they could smooth the minutes together. Without them every second felt like hours.

Two orgasms later – horrible, spasmic things – the noises stopped. Spock had passed out, limp in Jim’s arms.

Waking him up was difficult. It felt unimaginably cruel to force him into awareness.

It was even more difficult to get him back into bed and spend the rest of the night he felt anything close to aroused.