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Not long after they returned to the Enterprise – their Enterprise, and not some sadistic version of a Federation starship – Leonard realized that he had a serious problem.

Over the last few months, his relationship with Spock had finally reached bearable levels of sniping, and he could sense Jim’s relief at the change. After countless missions together, Leonard now understood that Spock’s impassiveness was little more than an impressive mask, and he had finally made some peace with what he’d previously perceived as genuine cold heartedness.

Now, instead of seeing Spock as an unfeeling bastard, Leonard simply thought of him as a smug, arrogant, over-compensating Human-Vulcan hybrid – one who was simply trying to make sense of where he fit in the world, and not having much luck of it. In that sense, he and Leonard were quite alike, and the realization had mellowed Leonard’s previous animosity, causing him to lace his jibes with something close to affection.

This unexpected epiphany, however, had been doubled-edged, and Leonard’s head was still spinning. Scotty – far too perceptive for someone whose head was always stuck in a Jeffrey’s tube – had long teased him about the thin line between love and hate, and Leonard was beginning to concede the point. He could no longer imagine his life without the aggravating Vulcan, and the thought of an Enterprise without Spock aboard was too boggling to comprehend.

Maybe that was part of why he’d saved the mirror version of Spock. He was a doctor, and he wouldn’t just leave someone to die – but he especially couldn’t have left Spock there, when he was the only one aboard who had something resembling decency. A man of integrity in both worlds, Jim had said, as he’d regarded the mirror Enterprise’s first officer with undisguised affection.

Leonard shuddered, and wrapped his arms around himself, stomach churning at the memories. Integrity by that world’s standards, perhaps – and he knew that being cut-throat would be the only way to survive on that ship –

But that forced meld had been horrifying, and Leonard was still shaking two weeks later. Now, whenever Spock brushed past him on the bridge, Leonard couldn’t stop himself from flinching, recoiling before he even realized what he was doing, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the Vulcan caught on.
- - -

After Leonard spends two weeks desperately trying to wiggle out of this mess, Spock manages to corner him in his own sickbay, right before his shift is ending.

“You are avoiding me.”

Putting the last of his hypos away, Leonard fights the urge to bang his head against the desk, quite sure that he would get some masochistic satisfaction from it. His mind flashes to another sickbay – more of a medieval torture chamber – and as repressed memories from two weeks ago start crawling into his consciousness, he fights the urge to back away.

“Not everything’s about you, Spock.”

“Indeed, Doctor. For once, you have provided a quite logical assessment.”

Leonard manages a tired smile, even though his hands have started to shake. “Why do you care, anyway? It’s not like I’m affecting your ability to work. Anything else would just be illogical concern.”

“If there is truth to that statement, then I believe that this is the part where you gloat.”

Despite himself, Leonard can’t stop a weak grin, and he ducks his head to hide it. When he tries to imagine the mirror version of Spock making anything resembling a joke – and almost breaks his brain in the process – it is oddly reassuring.

“As you are not gloating,” Spock continues determinedly, and Leonard’s contentment immediately fizzles out, “I can only conclude that something is bothering you. As I have ascertained that my presence seems to be the cause, may I invite you to my quarters for 21:00, so that we may talk?”

Pressed against the wall with inhuman strength… his skin crawling as those fingers make contact, a twisted mockery of everything Leonard’s wanted for years…

“You may, but I may say no.” Leonard manages to stop himself from backing away, knowing that his fear is ridiculous, and hating that this has become his instinctive reaction to Spock’s presence. At one point, such an invitation would have made his skin heat, filling his head with unwanted images, sent a tingle straight to his toes –

But now Leonard can barely look at Spock, and while he doesn’t want to live like this – doesn’t want their tentative friendship to be tarnished by that hellish mirror-verse encounter – he can’t remember the last time he was this frightened, and he doesn’t know how to make this better, when he can barely meet Spock’s eyes.

“May I inquire as to why you are reluctant?”

“Sure, but I won’t be answering.” Leonard sees the tiniest frown appear on Spock’s face – barely more than a twitch of expression, but there nonetheless. “This has nothing to do with you, and I’m more than capable of taking care of myself, so why don’t you go –”

“You are a poor liar.”

There’s no hint of self-satisfaction in Spock’s voice, but Leonard still feels anger skip across his skin, and he presses his lips together. “I said no. Now scram, before I find something to vaccinate you against.”

“I am overdue for my Synthania vaccination. Perhaps now is a convenient time?”

Spock has raised two cocky eyebrows, but Leonard’s body skips past annoyance, and heads straight towards fear. He tries to stammer out a snarky response, only to find that his voice has gotten strangled somewhere in his chest, and he curses himself for being unable to hide his unease.

Trapped in another sickbay, with scalding fingers pressed against his skin… held against a painfully strong body, a bloom of agony scraping across his mind…

“Doctor?”

As Spock takes a step closer, the frown on his face only slightly more pronounced, Leonard bites down against a choking surge of panic, and raises his hands in the universal signal for stop. Spock immediately freezes, and Leonard shakes his head helplessly, feeling like he’s going to be sick.

“Spock, get out of here.”

Spock says nothing, but he makes another hesitant movement forward, and Leonard remembers –

– a sharp spike of pain as his mind was invaded… a ruthless presences scraping across his memories… shoved against the wall of that twisted sickbay, with Spock’s looming presence an overpowering terror…

“I said leave me alone!”

He’s backed up against his own desk, and when Spock opens his mouth to speak, Leonard cuts him off, not wanting to do this here – not with his heart beating so hard he can hear it, his hands shaking themselves to pieces, and memories of a similar encounter screeching across his mind.

“I’ll swing by your quarters later, alright? But only if you leave.” Leonard glances around the sickbay, fear and self-loathing washing over him, making the shake in his voice painfully evident. “I can’t – I just can’t do this here.”

Spock’s expression has become perfectly neutral – more so than normal, even, and Leonard flinches at the sound of his voice, even though it is perfectly toneless. “21:00. I hope –” Spock pauses, as though unsure of what to say, and Leonard bites his lip at the hesitance. “I shall – adjust the room temperature to a mutual comfort level.”

Before Leonard can respond, Spock has nodded and left the room, and Leonard is left alone, hands still clutching the side of his desk. He covers his face for a moment, and tries to regain his composure, cursing both himself and that mirror universe. He’s a doctor. He knows how trauma works. He should be able to deal with this.

“Dr. McCoy?”

He drops his hands to find Uhura standing hesitantly in the doorway, concern written across her face. Leonard fights the urge to blush with embarrassment, and shakes his head, moving across the room to his hypo cabinet, pretending to clean up.

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

“Can I talk to you for a moment?”

The last thing he wants to do is talk, but he can’t think of any credible reason to refuse. With a steadying sigh, Leonard turns around and almost crashes right into her, but he can’t be annoyed when she rests a hand against his arm, the touch oddly comforting.

“What happened.”

It’s not phrased as a question, really, and Leonard frowns at her, trying to forget about Spock, and figure out what she’s talking about. “I don’t understand –”

“With Spock. The other one.”

Leonard freezes, feeling like the air has been squeezed from his lungs. “How did you know?”

His voice cracks a little, and he suddenly realizes just how messed up he really is, but Uhura is smiling softly at him, her hand still resting against his arm.

“You’ve been jumpy whenever you’re on the bridge – and before you ask, no, I don’t think anyone else has noticed, other than Spock and the Captain.” She pauses, her brown eyes troubled, and Leonard fights the urge to hug her, wondering how he hasn’t noticed that she’s hurting too. “I only see it because I’ve been feeling the same way. Whenever – whenever Sulu comes near me, I mean.”

She hasn’t looked away from him, fearless even in her unease, and Leonard does hug her now, finding that he suddenly needs the contact – probably far more than she does. “What happened?”

As she tells him, her voice perfectly stable, he pulls her a little closer, and wishes that none of this had ever happened. It’s not fair to any of them – and certainly not to Uhura, who is one of the most genuinely decent people Leonard had ever met, and doesn’t deserve to be hurt in this way.

“And so,” she finishes softly, pulling away to look at him, “I know what it’s like to look at someone, and see someone else. You’re one of the strongest people I know, and for you to have been so affected by this… well, I came down here to talk to you, wanting to help somehow, and saw what just happened with Spock…”

Leonard pulls away as she trails off, suddenly unable to meet her eyes, fearing that she’ll read the entire story there. He can’t remember when he became such a goddamn coward – but maybe it has something to do with that lingering feeling of another presence scraping across his consciousness, too terrifying and intimate for Leonard to handle.

“Maybe I’m not as brave as you, Uhura. I don’t want to talk about it. Not yet, at least.”

Instead of pushing him, she just nods and squeezes his hand. “He’s the one you should be talking to, anyway – not me. But if at any time you need a friendly ear, don’t worry about waking me up.”

Leonard’s fear recedes a little bit at her words, and he manages a genuine smile, even if it’s rather small. She smiles back at him, squeezes his hand one last time, and then leaves the room without looking back. After a long moment, Leonard exhales softly and finds a seat, feeling like he’s been blindsided. He looks around sickbay, blinking a little stupidly, and tries to figure out what just happened.

Did Uhura just offer him a 24/7 lifeline? And did he really agree to come to Spock’s quarters?

With an unhappy noise, Leonard curses himself and glances at the computer. 18:00 – meaning that he should probably get to the mess hall, and try to eat something, so Jim doesn’t flip out about Leonard’s tendency to take care of everyone but himself.

With an infuriated sigh, Leonard leaves sickbay in Christine’s capable hands and heads for supper, wanting to just bury himself into a pile of blankets, and pretend that the world doesn’t exist.

- - -

At 21:05, Leonard finds himself standing reluctantly outside Spock’s door, his stomach filled with Klingon warships. They’re doing flips and summersaults, chasing each other in dizzying circles, and Leonard can barely breathe through the unease that has swept across his body, fear creeping from his toes to his ears.

He’s still trying to find the strength to press the buzzer when he catches a random crewmember boggling at him, and realizes that he must look rather crazy – standing alone in the hallway, and staring at a goddamn door. It’s not exactly the impression he wants to give his potential patients, and his fear is replaced by annoyance just long enough for him to press the buzzer, though his hand is shaking as he does so.

“Come.”

The random crewmember is still watching him, so Leonard quickly enters the room, holding his trembling hands against the sides of his legs. Spock is sitting calmly at his table, and as the door swishes shut behind Leonard, he fights the instinctive urge to run, hating how messed up he is over all of this.

“Do sit down, Doctor.”

Spock is still staring down at a pile of papers, and Leonard wonders if it’s just to give him some time to reorient himself. Swallowing back his gratitude, Leonard cautiously seats himself down, and suddenly realizes that his skin isn’t soaked with sweat.

“Thanks,” he says softly, and Spock finally looks up, his expression completely inscrutable. “For changing the temperature, I mean. I normally feel like I’m suffocating.”

Spock only nods, and Leonard finds that he can’t quite hold that gaze. When he looks away, Spock gets to his feet, and Leonard watches cautiously as he crosses to the replicator, and comes back with a mug of steaming tea. Spock sits down as he slides it across the table, and although Leonard would normally be confused, right now he’s too freaked out to be anything but appreciative, and he murmurs a quiet thanks, getting a nod in return.

Then, just as Leonard is raising the cup to his lips, Spock opens his mouth to speak, and Leonard’s gratitude burns up like a pile of dry kindling.

“I wish to know how I have wronged you.”

Leonard chokes a little at the bluntness, and when Spock only raises an eyebrow, Leonard suddenly finds the anger he needs, and glares with everything he’s got. “Would you believe me if I said this has nothing to do with you?”

“No.”

Not a moment’s hesitation, mixed with a perfectly bland expression, and Leonard almost hates him. He sets the cup down, and tries to ignore the churning in his stomach, the tight feeling in his chest.

“You’re going to think it’s stupid.”

His voice is self-deprecating, but Spock shakes his head minutely. “You are many things, Doctor, but stupid is not one of them.”

Leonard blinks. Was that a compliment?

“For the last 12.7 days, you have been uneasy in my presence. The Captain has noticed as well, and I have seen Lieutenant Uhura regarding you with concern.” Spock’s expression hasn’t changed at all, and Leonard suddenly wants to smack him. “A ship’s chief medical officer and first officer must be able to work together.”

“Purely professional concern, then?”

Restraint is not one of Leonard’s more prominent characteristics, and he doesn’t hide the bite in his voice, suddenly realizing that the night is only going to get worse. His hands have started to shake again, and he’s fighting to keep his attention focused on the desk, trying to ignore the feel of Spock’s eyes on his skin.

“Would you prefer that I addressed this from my personal position?”

Leonard quickly looks up, and although Spock’s expression is perfectly passive, there’s something in his eyes that Leonard can’t read, and it makes him pause, his brain still trying to process the unexpected sentence.

“You have one?”

He snaps out the words without thinking, and when Spock stares at him for a long moment, as though he hadn’t even considered the question, it almost makes Leonard regret his instinctive animosity.

“Doctor –”

“I mean, really, Spock. You think I suddenly believe that you give a damn?” Leonard feels sick as he speaks, but he’s suddenly realised how to get out of this mess, and escaping this room is almost worth undoing the progress they’ve made. “We’ve spent a year fighting with each other. What did you expect?”

He holds Spock’s gaze and inserts an obvious challenge into his own eyes, and as the words settle in the quiet room, Spock’s expression barely changes, but his voice is much cooler than before.

“Nothing less than that exact response, Doctor. I shall not take up any more of your time.”

When Spock stands up and walks towards the door, Leonard restrains an audible sigh of gratitude, even as he tries to breathe through the tightness in his chest. He doesn’t want to ruin their truce, but if he can’t even stand to look at Spock, it’s not like they’ve got much of a friendship to salvage –

As Leonard climbs to his feet and turns around, Spock suddenly steps around the table and moves in much too close, and fear slams through every inch of Leonard’s body, sending him backwards into the table. He almost chokes on his anger as he tries to steady himself, clutching at the table edges.

“You bastard,” he hisses, suddenly unable to censor himself, fear and shame digging a hole in his self-restraint. “You did that on purpose.”

“I did not. I would never deliberately harm you. But I do not regret your reaction, as I now –”

“What the fuck is your problem?” Spock still looks immaculately composed, and Leonard can’t stop himself from yelling. “You don’t even like me! Why do you suddenly care?”

Spock takes a step closer, and Leonard flinches again, cursing himself as he does so. Spock immediately stops, and then hesitates, looking a little lost for the first time in this entire debacle. It’s an expression that Leonard hasn’t seen in awhile, and it cools his temper just the slightest.

“I must know. You have just demonstrated beyond any doubt that you are afraid of me. What have I done to make you so uneasy? This cannot continue.”

“If I can keep it together on the bridge –”

“I am not concerned about our professional interactions.”

Spock’s voice is just shy of clipped as he interrupts, and Leonard doesn’t know how to deal with that statement. When nothing more seems to be forthcoming, he searches for an explanation in Spock’s face, and finds nothing helpful. “Spock –”

“Doctor,” Spock interrupts softly, carefully clasping both hands behind him, “Only 29.6 standard days ago, you managed to blind me. If I had no personal investment in your well-being, I would not have facilitated this opportunity for conversation.”

Something twists in Leonard’s stomach, and he can feel his face flush, both with guilt and unexpected pleasure. “I said I was sorry,” he mutters darkly, and Spock nods impassively, as though they are discussing simple sensor readings.

“And I accepted that apology. I raise the point now –” Spock pauses for only a second, but it’s enough to make Leonard take notice. “I am not as – insensitive as you may believe, Doctor. I wish for you to – I do not want you to be frightened of me.”

His heart is suddenly racing out of his chest, and Leonard doesn’t even try to deny it. “It’s nothing you’ve done.”

“I have not observed you acting this way among any other members of the crew.”

“Been stalking me?”

“That is… not the term I would employ.”

Leonard could make some snarky comment about semantics, but he suddenly realizes that there’s no getting out of this, and he forces himself to stand up straight, holding Spock’s eyes as he does so, watching for any hint of what Spock is thinking.

“You can’t tell Jim. He’ll blame himself.”

Spock nods in agreement, and Leonard takes a moment to study Spock, cataloguing the differences between him and the mirror version. They are two very distinct people, but at the same, there’s just enough in common for Leonard to be terrified.

“You know, I think I actually prefer you without the beard,” he says casually, hating that his hands have started to shake again. When something darkens in Spock’s eyes, Leonard knows that he’s been understood, but he can’t quite talk about it yet, so he focuses in his eyes on the carpet, and tries to buy time.

“My own fault, really. You – Spock, I mean – was dying. I saved him, and managed to get myself trapped alone with him.”

“You are educated in psychology, Doctor. Surely you realize the dangers of assigning self-blame.”

Leonard flushes and raises his eyes again, suddenly needing to get this over with. “As soon as he woke up –” His voice is shaking, so he stops and steadies himself, his heart racing doubling its normal speed. “He woke up, wanted to know what was going on, and – and –”

Leonard looks away again, trying to forget the memory of pain shooting through every inch of his being. His embarrassment is almost as strong as his panic, and he can’t look at Spock, still expecting a comment about how there’s no logic in fear –

Spock has taken a single step closer, but it’s enough to make Leonard flinch, and Spock stares at him, his expression indiscernible. “I apologize for frightening you. I am not him.”

“I know. I still can’t –”

“Leonard.”

His first name shuts him up mighty quick, and he tries to focus on the concern that’s managing to sneak through Spock’s eyes, an astounding sight to his already overworked brain.

“If I am right in assuming that he forced a meld upon you, then what he did was a terrible violation. You know that I am incapable of such a despicable action.”

The simple truth there is calming, and Leonard nods shakily, grateful that Spock hasn’t tried to move any closer.

“Will you – can you still trust me?”

If the fear that shoots through his body is any indication, Leonard has his answer, and he says nothing. As Spock’s lips thin slightly, he steps away from the door, and the gratitude that washes across Leonard leaves his knees shaking.

“Are you occupied tomorrow at 21:00?”

The gratitude makes a quick exit, and Leonard nearly bites off his tongue. “Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

They stare at each other, Spock’s face a perfect mask, and Leonard suddenly pictures another four years of this – four years of flinching away every time Spock brushes past him, four years of Leonard’s longing doing a nauseating dance with debilitating fear –

When Leonard nods, it’s one of the most difficult things he’s ever managed to do, and Spock acknowledges it with a nod of his own. He says nothing else, and when Leonard walks past without looking at him, he’s careful to keep them from brushing together.

- - -

“That’s your solution?”

Leonard can hear his voice crack, but he doesn’t care. His mind is running in circles, reeling from Spock’s ridiculous proposition, and when Spock simply raises an eyebrow, Leonard actually fights the urge to hit him, suddenly regretting that he ever agreed to meet with Spock again.

“What the hell is this, shock therapy? Throw the arachnophobe into a pit of spiders until he’s desensitized?

“The goal of another meld would not be to desensitize you.”

“Then what the hell is the point?”

He pushes his chair back from the desk, wondering how fast he can escape from this room. He knows that his intentions are clear on his face, because Spock half-frowns, as though disappointed with his reaction.

“The objective would be to demonstrate to you how a meld should feel. I can think of nothing more logical than replacing negative memories with positive recollections from a similar occurrence.”

“That’s just great, then.” Leonard can hear the sudden disgust in his voice, but he doesn’t even try to hide it, wondering what ever made Spock think that he would agree to this. “You want to stick your psychic fingers into my head to prove that you can meld us without hurting me.”

“Yes.”

“That’s complete bullshit.”

“You have a better idea?”

“Yeah.” Leonard gets to his feet, and fails to stop a flinch when Spock stands as well, easily towering over him. “Leave me the hell alone, and let me deal with this on my own time.”

“Unacceptable.”

“Deal with it.”

Leonard turns to leave the room, his hands shaking wildly, and his heart trying to beat free of his chest.

“Doctor.”

Something in Spock’s voice makes him turn back around, even as he curses himself for being so helpless when it comes to this Vulcan. Spock’s expression hasn’t changed, but there’s something about the tense set of his shoulders that gives away his unease, and he seems to struggle for a moment, as though looking for the right words.

“I know that you and I do not always agree. However, I do not wish to lose your… acquaintanceship.”

Leonard stares at him, his fear receding for the first time in days, the tiniest hint of pleasure curling through that place inside him that always screams to life whenever he and Spock agree on something. He can feel a tiny smile cross his face, unable to care if he’s making himself too vulnerable.

“Did you really just tell me that you want to be friends?”

When there’s no mistaking the minute scowl on Spock’s face, Leonard’s grin widens, and the Spock in front of him is suddenly not blurring into his mirror counterpart.

“The pleasure you seem to derive from this notion leaves you no grounds to ridicule my statement.”

“Lucky for both of us, then.”

They stare at each other for a long moment, until Leonard can feel his smile fade, his fears creeping back up to strangle him.

“Your counterpart said that my counterpart was a big softie, even in that universe, and I’m secure enough to admit that I can’t bounce back from life the way you and Jim can. I don’t want to take what was an already horrible experience and make it even worse.”

“You do not wish to further confuse myself and my counterpart.”

“Basically.”

“I would never hurt you.”

Spock sounds almost insulted, and the indignant tone sends a rush of warm fondness through Leonard’s body, suddenly reminding him of another good reason to keep Spock out of his mind. Leonard’s fears aside, he can remember the line about sharing feelings, and he knows that his desire for Spock isn’t exactly buried away somewhere deep inside his brain.

“I still don’t think this is a good idea –”

“Have I ever asked you for anything?”

Spock is looking at him as though he can see right through him, and Leonard can only shake his head, not seeing where this is going.

“I’m asking you now – if you can find it within yourself to trust me – to allow me to do this. To demonstrate that a meld need not involve pain, and to attempt to correct the trauma inflicted by my counterpart. I do not enjoy being at odds with you in such a concretely negative manner.”

The words warm something deep inside Leonard, and when Spock actually looks away for a moment, Leonard realizes just how much it took for Spock to admit to being upset with their current situation.

“You mean you enjoy our bickering, but being in an actual fight isn’t quite as fun?”

Spock still isn’t looking at him. “I occasionally find our verbal sparring to be stimulating.”

“I’ll have to keep teasing you about your ears, then.”

Spock’s lips have thinned just slightly. “You are stalling. Will you allow me this opportunity?”

“Not sure you’ll get close enough to try. I seem to be a little twitchy when you’re concerned.”

“May I suggest that I seat myself upon the bed, and allow you to come to me?”

Leonard boggles at him for a second, but there’s not a hint of anything other than calm concern in Spock’s eyes, and Leonard wonders if the Vulcan even hears the words coming from his own mouth. Do they really have to do this on the bed?

“My god, you make me sound like a skittish animal.”

“I had an unusually shy pet sehlat when I was young, and you rather remind me –”

“Finish that sentence, Spock, and swear to god, this pleasant little interlude is over.”

Spock’s lips don’t change at all, but Leonard knows that he isn’t imagining the smile he can suddenly see in those dark eyes. Without another word, Spock locks the door and crosses the room to sit on the bed, and Leonard is still boggling at the almost romantic setting until he suddenly realizes that this is the part where he actually has to make himself go to Spock.

“Huh.”

“Doctor?”

“Is it illogical if my legs don’t want to move?”

He’d meant it to sound humorous, but he can hear the self-disgust in his words, and Spock stares at him for a long moment, before crossing his legs and resting his hands on his knees.

“Doctor, when we were stranded on Miri’s home planet, although it was you and I who discovered the cure to the disease, it was you who injected yourself with the vaccine, even at the potential risk to your own life.”

Leonard blinks at him, not seeing where this is going.

“While we were exploring the Omicron Delta region, and you were killed in defence of a fellow officer, I do not believe that you ever harboured her any ill regard, despite that your attacker had been manifested from that very officer’s own imagination.”

The memory stirs an unpleasant darkness in Leonard, but the words are gentle, and he concentrates on watching Spock, realizing that the steady sound of his voice is oddly soothing.

“In orbit around Deneva, you challenged every decision I made, trying to protect me from both myself and from the creatures that were attacking the colony. Furthermore, although we both made the decision to use the light which blinded me, you alone attempted to take sole responsibility, and you never once attempted to justify what had happened to me.”

Spock is watching him with an intensity that makes Leonard’s knees weak, and none of that shakiness is coming from fear. There’s something in Spock’s eyes that’s stripping away Leonard’s unease, even as Spock recounts some of the most unpleasant moments from their time in space. It’s as though Spock’s assessment of their mission is filling his mind with memories of their agreements and bickering, and somehow chasing away the terror left by Spock’s mirror counterpart.

“My point, Doctor, is that I have never known you to lack courage.”

Leonard sucks in a breath as Spock’s words go straight through him. He’s never thought of himself as a coward, but to have Spock flat out agree with that assessment – well, Leonard wouldn’t be surprised if he was blushing about seven shades of red.

“You sure know how to sweet talk, Spock.”

One cocky eyebrow has gone up again, Spock’s eyes laced with a hint of humour, and something about that familiar and well-loved expression gives Leonard the courage he needs to cross the room. He hesitantly seats himself beside Spock, who remains perfectly still, and continues to stare at him until Leonard starts to squirm.

“Ya know, if the goal is to make me less nervous, staring at me like I’m a science experiment probably isn’t going to help.”

Spock’s lips turn up the tiniest amount. “I was waiting for you to regain your customary insulting persona and tone of voice. You consistently seem more at ease when you are indulging your tendency to complain about –”

“Did you just tell me that I’m only happy when I’m being a bitch?”

Leonard’s heart has started racing, from both unease and lust at being so close to Spock, but he somehow manages to keep that insulting ‘tone of voice’ that Spock apparently finds amusing. However, instead of getting the customary snarky response, Spock simply shifts a little closer, and fear washes over Leonard again, leaving his stomach churning in circles.

“Spock, I don’t know if this will work.”

Spock stares at him for a moment longer, before he reaches out to rest a hand over Leonard’s, and the action is so surprising that Leonard can only stare back. He feels like he’s missing something crucially important, something that he really should know –

“Oh my god.”

The stuttered words spill from his mouth without his volition, as he feels a sudden surge of calm that definitely isn’t coming from him, a wonderful soothing sensation skipping along every nerve in his body. He knows he’s staring worse than before, but Spock is somehow managing to look smug with only his eyebrows, and Leonard couldn’t have torn his gaze away for anything.

“You may have wondered at my tendency to avoid physical contact. I assume that you now understand.”

“Jesus.”

He’s still not coherent, but something that feels dangerously close to amusement has mixed in with whatever telepathic relaxant Spock is shooting into his veins, and Leonard’s fear takes a back seat to the physical reality of touch telepathy. It’s one thing to know it in theory, but this is – this is something incredible.

“You did not experience a sharing of emotion with my counterpart?”

Leonard’s heart stutters at the mention of that encounter, but when Spock’s fingers press a little harder against his skin, it somehow grounds him again. He manages to shake his head, trying to breathe through the alien sensation of feeling someone else’s emotions underneath his own skin.

“I did, but… not like this. That Spock was – cold. Impassive. I got nothing beyond a sense of certainty in his own actions – unshakable faith in his decision. If there was other emotion somewhere in there, then it was buried deep. Nothing like you.”

As he hears the rambling words come from his mouth, he’s suddenly awash in muted amusement that doesn’t belong to him, and he abruptly realizes that this is what Spock’s humour feels like. He’s not just seeing a Vulcan half-smile or a reluctant softening around Spock’s eyes – he’s full on feeling what Spock feels when he’s amused.

“For many Vulcans, your assessment of my emotional control would be insulting, but I shall accept your praise as it was intended. May I proceed with the actual meld?”

He’s being asked for his permission to take this further, but all Leonard can do is continue to stare. “Do you have to control this all the time? Any time someone touches you –”

“I am also a proximity telepath.”

Leonard’s brain almost breaks at the implications.

“You are often amused by my constant search for control, but perhaps you now understand why it must be so.”

“You could read all our minds if you wanted to? Without even touching us?”

Somehow the thought isn’t as terrifying as it should be – though that could have something to do with the warmth of Spock’s hand against his. Spock, however, is looking insulted again.

“I am still exerting the control I need to avoid overhearing your thoughts, Doctor, even as I permit a transfer of sensation from myself. Do you truly believe I would read your thoughts without your permission?”

And at the heart of this experience, no, Leonard doesn’t; and it’s suddenly such a simple truth that he doesn’t know why he’s been so terrified. He can feel an honest-to-god blush begin to spread across his cheeks, as he thinks back to his behaviour over the past few weeks.

“Yeah, Spock – I know you wouldn’t do that. It’s just that –”

“Perhaps logical knowledge is difficult to reconcile with an irrational emotional response.”

There’s a hint of almost chiding there, but Leonard couldn’t have stopped his smile for anything, and he feels himself shake his head. He takes a moment to attempt to catalogue what Spock is feeling, but beyond the main sensations he can’t pick out anything specific – a blanket of calm, humour, and – something that almost feels like affection?

“If you will allow me to proceed, Doctor.”

He nods hesitantly, and then fingers are gently pressing against the flushed skin of his face. He feels himself seize up again, suddenly just as terrified as he’d been minutes ago, but he forces himself to stay still, reminding himself again that this is not the same man who ripped into his thoughts – that this is a friend, someone he trusts his life with.

“My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.”

He doesn’t have time to panic over the sudden flashback that tries to explode behind his eyes, because Spock is suddenly inside his mind, and there’s more sensation – unthreatening, if somewhat overwhelming – than Leonard can process. He reels for a second, and then what feels like telepathic arms seem to catch him, as the swirl of something – colours? – around him begin to solidify, their different hues coming together to create something that isn’t a coherent image, yet somehow still feels like home.

I would advise that you refrain from discontinuing your oxygen intake.

There’s true concern wrapped around the humour that laces Spock’s words, and Leonard suddenly realizes that he’s hearing Spock’s voice in his own head. He assumes that somewhere in his physical body he may have actually been shocked enough to forget the necessity of breathing, and he makes a concentrated effort to relax.

Spock?

Relax, Doctor. This is what a meld should feel like.

There’s another swirl of movement around him, and then he’s bombarded with more sensations that don’t belong to him, Spock’s thoughts and feelings mixing with the colours of his own emotions. None of Spock’s feelings are threatening – they’re downright pleasant, actually – and Leonard can feel his own happiness as both its instigator and as a second recipient, as their emotions seem to bounce off each other.

Goddamnit, Spock. How do you keep this little trick to yourself? I don’t know if I want to go back to my own mind – it’s going to be downright lonely now.

A sudden and overwhelming wash of loneliness suddenly ricochets through him – piercing, undeniable, desperate loneliness – and he thinks he stops breathing again for the full three seconds it takes Spock to get the emotion under control. There’s a dangerous silence for another few seconds, and Leonard thinks he can distantly hear his heart breaking, as waves of shame replace Spock’s loneliness.

There is much that you do not know about me, Doctor. And as it would be useless to deny the sentiments that you just experienced – yes. The Vulcan mind can become lonely without a connection to another individual.

Does it help to have me here?

He wants to take back the question the moment he thinks it, but the damage is already done, and he holds his mental breath until he feels the emotions around him shift again, and warmth seems to drift across his body.

Yes. It is – pleasant.

At the uncharacteristic hesitance in Spock’s tone, and the sudden uncertainty that Leonard can feel swirling around him, his fear disappears completely. He’s just about to celebrate that fact when he realizes that this means that his other emotions are going to have a chance to surface – and he’s barely had time to think the dangerous thought before he’s trying to not focus on how good it feels to be close to Spock, which of course brings that exact though to the forefront, reminding him of how desperately he wants to be closer, to be connected with Spock in both mind and body –

A wave of complete panic sweeps over him, and then there’s something than feels like a mental embrace wrapping around his rampant emotionalism, as though Spock is trying to steady him.

Spock?

There’s no immediate response, but a moment later the room solidifies around him, and Leonard blinks rapidly as Spock’s face comes back into focus, the physical world suddenly real and tangible again. It takes Leonard about half a second to register the warm fingers still pressed against his hand and face, and his stomach dips wildly when Spock simply stares at him, his lips parted ever so slightly, and something that looks dangerously close to hopeful uncertainty written across his face.

“Spock?”

His heart racing and his skin suddenly flaming, Leonard can hear the shake in his voice, and Spock seems to flinch as he pulls his hands away.

“Wait.”

Leonard reaches out to grab a warm hand without thinking, suddenly overcome with a desperate yearning to keep Spock close, and there’s no way he imagines the sharp inhalation that passes though Spock’s lips. Leonard instinctively tightens his grip on Spock’s hand, wanting to hear the sound again, and Spock’s eyes slowly slide closed, the slightest hint of green sneaking across his cheeks.

“Doctor. This is unwise.”

Leonard can’t even find the words he needs to respond. He’s holding Spock’s hand, and Spock is blushing, and they were just inside each other’s minds – with a sharp inhale, he tries to project all his affection through their joined hands, and he knows that something’s gotten through when Spock actually jerks in his seat.

“Doctor.” And there’s no way to disguise that as anything less than a gasp. “Please cease. We are both compromised –”

“Damn right we’re compromised.”

His words sound like a growl to his own ears, and when Spock’s eyes slide back open, Leonard abruptly realizes that he’s looking at a reflection – need, uncertainty, hope. Leonard’s fear has long since dissipated, as Spock’s hand almost burns a brand against his own skin, and he can hear little but their panted breaths, his mind reeling from what’s about to happen.

Not giving Spock a chance to respond, and hoping against hope that he’s not about to be tossed out on his ass, Leonard gathers his courage like a shield and leans forward slightly, carefully brushing his lips across Spock’s. He lingers for maybe two seconds, and then pulls back, their hands still tightly clasped together.

“Spock?”

The intensity in Spock’s eyes is enough to make Leonard feel like he’s shaking apart, and Leonard is about ready to find religion and start praying when Spock’s eyes drop to his lips, his fingers tightening around Leonard’s hands.

“This is unwise.”

“So you’ve said.” Leonard cannot believe how fast his breath is already coming, as he watches an endearing shade of green begin to spread across Spock’s cheeks. “I don’t really care.”

Spock is still staring at him with badly disguised trepidation, his unease clear in the tension around his lips, and Leonard gently squeezes his hands again, trying to keep them both centered. Spock chokes out an odd sounding breath and tries to pull his hands away, closing his eyes when Leonard doesn’t let him, though Leonard knows that if Spock wanted to, he could be halfway across the room by now.

“Come on, Spock.” Leonard isn’t sure how the shaky words keep coming, when he feels like he’s flying into a thousand different pieces, the impossibility of him holding Spock’s hands more than he can deal with. “You know what you felt in my mind. For once in your life would you please just –”

Leonard is yanked to his feet with surprising strength, and unceremoniously pulled against a body that seems to radiate intoxicating heat straight through their layers of clothing. Spock has dug his fingers into Leonard’s hips, as though in an attempt to keep him from running, but escape is the farthest thing from Leonard’s mind as inhumanly warm lips descend against his, and his eyes slide shut in disbelieving bliss.

The kiss starts slow, not at all like Leonard had imagined. When he had fantasized about this, he had envisioned one of their arguments finally exploding into something more – he had anticipated rough kisses and scraping fingernails and sharp bites against his skin, bruises and scratches and teeth marks –

Instead, Spock kisses him like he’s something precious, his gentle fingers rubbing brands of heat across Leonard’s hips, and Leonard can feel his knees turning to rubber beneath him. He doesn’t think he’s ever been kissed like this – wasn’t even aware that this was something he wanted – and now that Spock’s gentle exploration is making the room spin, Leonard wonders how he never realized how badly he needed this.

“Jesus, Spock.” He breaks the intoxicating contact for just a moment, needing to get a look at Spock’s face. “Where the hell did you learn to kiss like this?”

“I had great incentive to learn.”

Leonard can’t stifle his helpless laugh, the sound spilling out across Spock’s lips, and when he pulls back to stare the Vulcan, he can’t deny how incredibly endearing he finds the flush across Spock’s cheeks. Fighting against every base urge in his body, he leans forward to press an almost chaste kiss against the green skin of Spock’s face, fighting the urge to just throw his arms around Spock and hold him close until nothing in the universe can ever hurt either of them.

“So, Spock. Seems like you and I have been dancing around this for awhile, haven’t we?”

“Apparently.” And when Spock’s hands slide down to settle against Leonard’s hips, and the space between his brow furrows, Leonard has to fight the urge to reach out and stroke his fingers across the skin of Spock’s face. “And, Doctor, you must know – I would never hurt you. Ever. I could never –”

“I know, Spock.” Leonard finally gives in to the desire to touch, raising his fingers to the sides of Spock’s temples, distantly remembering how painful it was to the have the mirror version of Spock dig his fingers in there. “I know you wouldn’t. I just needed… to feel it firsthand.”

“I would never harm you in such a way.”

“I know.”

And as Spock stares at him with something far beyond the impassivity he must have been hoping for, Leonard closes his eyes, takes a steadying breath, and leans forward to press their foreheads together, enjoying the sensation of finally being this close together without a wall of lies and bravado thrown up in between them.