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Shakedown Cruise

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“All right, Mister Sulu, let’s see what she’s got.”

“Heading, Captain?”

“Hmm…” Kirk glanced around the bridge. “How about we pop over to Rigel VII to watch the moonrise?”

“Captain,” Spock interjected, “that journey would take one-point-five-one Terran years even at warp 8.”

“Oh.” Kirk shot him a look of mock consternation. “In that case, head…thataway for a few hours,” he gestured towards a star visible on the viewscreen, “then we can turn around and head back.”

Spock followed the direction he was pointing, to a bright star trailing after the prominent belt of Orion.

“Computing course to the Sirius system,” Chekov supplied.

As the brand new Enterprise-A jumped to warp speed, Kirk turned around to face Spock with a broad grin. “Good to be home, isn’t it?”

Spock cast his gaze over the bridge, noting several key differences. “All this ship shares with the original Enterprise is its name and basic construction.”

Kirk’s smile faltered, and Scotty looked outraged. Even Chekov and Sulu turned to look, and Uhura’s eyebrows were approaching her hairline.

Spock frowned, aware that he was missing something but unable to determine what it was. It was something in McCoy’s expression of surprised amusement that triggered the memory. “You have an illogical, emotional attachment to the Enterprise,” he recalled aloud, as visions of Kirk driven mad by the fear of losing her echoed in his head.

Kirk’s face went strangely blank. “Emotional attachments are often illogical, Mister Spock.”

All around them, eyes suddenly snapped back to consoles, with an air of discomfort that seemed to Spock an inexplicable response to what he considered to have been quite a rational statement of fact. He was about to congratulate Kirk on his self-awareness when the ship suddenly lurched forward. Spock was thrown backwards, his shoulder impacting with Kirk’s chair. Further injury was only averted when Kirk reached out to grab him, preventing his head from hitting the corner of the chair.

As Spock righted himself, Kirk stood with him, his hands lingering on his shoulders. His gaze flickered up and down the length of Spock’s body and then, apparently satisfied, he slowly withdrew his hands and spun around to the forward console and called, “Report?”

It took a moment for Spock to reorient himself; he felt dizzier than the brief jolt truly warranted. For three full seconds he watched Sulu and Chekov’s hands fly over the console, cognizant of the urgency and yet distanced from it. It took considerable effort to regain his composure and wrench his attention to the present. He rushed to the science station, grateful that the Humans in their distraction appeared not to have noted his momentary lapse.

“Scanners do not register anything in the vicinity,” Spock reported. “Recalibrating for –”

“Captain!” Sulu cut in. “The helm’s not responding.”

“Mister Spock?”

“Gravitational sensors record the presence of an extreme potential well,” Spock reported.

“A black hole?”

“Negative. Spacetime curvature is finite – escape velocity point-nine-five c.”

“Well, Mister Sulu?”

Sulu threw his hands in the air and swung his chair around to face the captain. “Warp drive’s offline, sir. There’s no helm control at all.”

“Offline?” Scott bristled as though he considered this a personal affront. He moved to the Engineering station and his face fell.

At the same moment, Chekov called over his shoulder, “Keptin, navigational system is going crazy – first it said we were in the Galactic center, now we are nowhere at all.”

“Nowhere?” McCoy scoffed. “How can we be nowhere?”

While an argument broke out around him about the interpretation of the readings, Spock focused on recalibrating the sensors. If his calculations were correct, the gradient of the gravitational potential was approaching a local maximum. He began calculating the forces exerted upon the ship, but a sudden sense of heightened awareness caused his mental calculations to falter.

Kirk was standing behind him, his hand resting on the back of Spock’s chair and his unspoken question a palpable weight in the air.

“We are traversing a wormhole,” Spock explained without looking up from the sensors.

“And how do we get out?”

“Even if the helm were operational, the tidal forces are too strong to be overcome with reverse thrusters.”

“So we just have to hold on until we’re flung out the other side?”

Having completed his calculations, Spock straightened and turned to face Kirk, hands clasped at the small of his back. “There is a forty-two-point-six percent chance that the tidal forces will rupture the ship’s hull.”

As though to reinforce his point, the ship shuddered and lurched. Spock instinctively grasped Kirk’s arm to steady him. Ahead, Sulu and Chekov appeared to be moving in slow motion. McCoy stood on the other side of the bridge, caught stationary in the act of wild gesticulation.

“Time dilation effects are an expected consequence of extreme gravitational forces,” Spock assured the captain. He realized he had not removed his hand from Kirk’s arm and did so with haste.

Kirk shot him a glance, but Spock could not discern the question so he fell back upon reporting facts. “We should pass through the maximum of the gravitational field in one-point-seven minutes.”

Kirk shouted something, but the sound was so distorted that Spock could not distinguish the words. He returned his attention to the scanners, but the readings were changing more quickly than he could perceive them. The display began to flicker and crackle, and finally faded to blackness as the ship gave an almighty shudder. There was a metallic groan from far beneath them, and the floor began to shake. The differential forces across the length of the ship were tearing at its very seams, trying to rip the hull apart. The bridge was plunged into darkness and a deafening creak rent the air.

With no scanners, no power and no lighting, there was nothing to do but wait and see if the ship could withstand the forces and emerge on the other side of the wormhole.

The next shudder threw Kirk and Spock against the railings. Spock caught Kirk by the shoulders and managed to absorb the bulk of the impact himself, but the force of the blow threw him off balance and they tumbled to the ground. Spock moved to climb back up, but Kirk stopped him with a hand upon his arm. Realizing they were safer close to the ground, Spock remained still, but Kirk did not remove his hand. In the dark, Spock could not see him, but he could feel how close he was. And there was something more, some sensation tugging at the back of his mind that intensified when they were in physical contact. Kirk was trying to say something, his tone and the force of his grip on Spock’s arm laden with urgency, but even as close as they were the spatial distortion was too strong and Spock could not make out a word.

A lurch threw them back against the railings and then, as suddenly as it had started, the shaking ceased.

A heavy silence settled over the bridge, oppressive in its completeness. Spock quickly cataloged the damage that implied; the engines had shut down, and the power too, though the backup power must still be functional as the artificial gravity was still in effect.

“Spock? Are you hurt?” Kirk’s voice interrupted Spock’s analysis.

By way of response, Spock climbed to his feet and helped Kirk to his. There was a whirring sound, and the bridge was bathed in light as the backup systems came online. Kirk rushed over to the forward console to check on Sulu, Chekov and McCoy, and Spock turned back to the science station to assess the damage. Structurally, it was sound, which was quite remarkable given the forces involved, but the computer was still offline.

“Damage report?” Kirk called.

“Reports of multiple microfractures,” Uhura replied. “All contained. Computer systems are offline throughout the ship.”

“Mister Scott?” Kirk prompted.

“Completely shut down,” Scotty replied. “Even if the systems can be restored, it’ll take an hour to get everything back online, and until then, well, we’re flyin’ blind.”

“Understood,” Kirk nodded. “Commence complete restart.”

“Aye, sir.” Scott scurried off the bridge, and Kirk slumped into the command chair.

Driven by some instinct, Spock moved to his side, resting a hand upon the arm of Kirk’s chair. McCoy did the same on the other side, muttering under his breath about Starfleet having handed them a death trap.

Kirk looked up at to Spock, “Why didn’t we see it coming? The sensors should have detected gravitational waves.”

“Yes,” Spock agreed. “There was no such reading until we were beyond the event horizon.”

“Was it shielded somehow, then?”

“That is possible.” Spock doubted it, though. “Alternatively, there could be a fault with the sensor array or the ship’s computer.”

Kirk’s mouth set in a grim line, but his response was forestalled by Scotty’s voice sounding over the intercom: “Er, Cap’n, we have a wee problem… The door to Engineering’s stuck.”

“I’ll be right there,” Kirk replied, and he left the bridge without a backward glance.

Spock assumed the captain’s chair, ignoring McCoy’s disapproving glare. This felt familiar; his position here, Sulu and Chekov in front of him, a disgruntled McCoy at his side, triggered a number of memories. They were disjointed, and without any context he could not have said when or where those events occurred, but the fact that they surfaced at all was reassuring.

Gradually, lights on various systems around the bridge began to flicker. Scotty and Kirk must have gained access to Engineering, then.

“So now, what, we’re sitting ducks?” said McCoy beside him. “What if an asteroid comes hurtling towards us?”

“The probability of encountering debris sufficient to penetrate the ship’s shields is four-point-five percent.”

McCoy glared at him. “That’s not very reassuring.”

Spock lifted an eyebrow at the doctor’s tone, but replied neutrally, “I merely stated a statistical fact. Any attempt at reassurance would be illogical when we have no means of controlling the situation.”

“Now, listen here, you –”

Spock tuned out McCoy’s rant. It was a matter of some fascination to him that he had evidently learned to work with these impetuous beings. Oh, he didn’t doubt that they were of good character – in the short time he was aware of having known them since his fal-tor-pan, they had demonstrated as much beyond doubt – but that was of little consequence when it came to the routine of working together.

McCoy heaved a sigh. “You’re not even listening to me, are you?”

“Indeed I am not.”

Spock caught Sulu and Chekov exchanging a smirk. McCoy glared at them and folded his arms across his chest with a scowl. Spock had to remind himself that it would be illogical to derive amusement from the situation.

Had he really worked with these humans for twenty years, and with others like them for even longer? It was disconcerting not to have an answer to that question.

*

With the power restored, the first order of business was to work out exactly where the wormhole had flung them.

“This makes no sense,” Chekov exclaimed, slamming a fist on the console. “It says we are in orbit around Deneb IV.”

“So either we’ve jumped fifteen hundred light years to a planet that’s turned invisible…” Sulu began.

“…Or the computer is broken,” Chekov concluded.

They both turned to face Spock, as though expecting him to hold some answer, but he could think of nothing. The patterns of stars were sufficiently different to tell him that they were a long way from the Sol system, but without knowing which direction the wormhole had sent them in, he was at a loss.

“Uhura,” Spock commanded, “is the communications system operational?”

“Only internally – all subspace channels are dead.”

“Very well. Recall Captain Kirk to the bridge.”

While Uhura put out a call for the captain, Spock returned to the scanner, hoping to be able to take a reading of whichever systems lay nearby. The closest system was one-point-four parsecs away, a K-type star orbited by four gas giants and two rocky planets with no atmospheres. It was consistent with thousands of known systems, and statistically it could be one of millions of unknown systems too. He moved on to the next one.

Spock’s work was interrupted by the sound of the turbolift door opening onto the bridge – or rather, trying to open, before becoming stuck. A number of expletives in the captain’s voice came through the small gap.

Spock felt a crackling surge of irritation, like a badly tuned transmission that faded as rapidly as it had appeared. Ignoring it, he crossed the bridge and hauled the door open, revealing a red-faced Kirk.

“Thank you, Mister Spock,” he said tersely, before stepping out onto the bridge. “Now, what’s going on?”

Sulu and Chekov exchanged nervous glances. Spock stood up straight, hands clasped behind his back, and explained, “There appears to be a technical difficulty with the positioning and navigational control systems.”

“A what?”

“We’re lost,” Uhura supplied.

“Lost?” Kirk exclaimed. “How can we be lost?”

Chekov shrugged and turned to Sulu, who said, “The computer can’t make up its mind where we are!”

“You need a computer to guide you towards the brightest star in the sky?”

Sulu and Chekov exchanged a surprised glance at the uncharacteristic rebuke, and Chekov’s tone was decidedly defensive as he pointed out, “From wherever we are now, it need not be the brightest at all.”

While Kirk raked his hand through his hair and began to pace the bridge, Spock turned back to the science station. He had a good enough reading of the surrounding space to analyze the spectral types of every star within a three-parsec radius, but none matched Sol. “Captain, there are no G2V-type stars within ten light years.”

The entire bridge turned to look at him. Kirk gestured towards the viewscreen and said, “Well, where’s the wormhole? Can’t we go straight back through?”

“The sensors report no gravitational anomalies.”

“How sure are you of your readings? The sensors didn’t see it the first time, either.”

He had a point; Spock supposed he couldn’t be sure at all, and that was unnerving. If he could not trust his observations, what was he supposed to believe? “Unknown. The possibilities are that the sensors are failing to detect the presence of a nearby wormhole, or that it spontaneously formed and then collapsed.”

“Most likely scenario?”

“Quantum mechanics does present a theoretical possibility of spontaneous wormholes. However, we already have evidence to suggest a fault in the ship’s computer system. Occam’s razor would therefore suggest that is the most likely explanation. Nonetheless, the distinction is immaterial; we cannot return through a wormhole that we cannot detect, any more than we can if it has ceased to exist.”

“Very well. Expand your search radius and scan all surrounding space for G2V-type stars.”

Spock worked for a few minutes before reporting, “One thousand and seventeen candidate stars located.”

Kirk slumped into the captain’s chair. “How many?”

“One thousand and seventeen.”

“Right.” He sighed. “Uhura, contact Starfleet Command. We may have to admit we’re lost.”

“We have no subspace communications, Captain,” said Spock.

“Unbelievable,” Kirk sighed. He activated the intercom – that, at least, was working - and called Scotty and McCoy to the bridge. While they waited, Spock moved to Kirk’s side. Kirk smiled up at him, and the light of that smile seemed to warm him from the inside.

Unaware of where that thought had come from, Spock suddenly stiffened and took a step backwards. Kirk frowned at him and looked as though he were about to say something, but then the turbolift doors opened – properly this time – to admit Mister Scott and Doctor McCoy.

Kirk jumped up from his chair and looked around at each of them, a grim expression on his face. “It’s unclear what has happened,” he said in his strongest command voice, “but the result seems to be that we’re lost; no navigation systems, no communications. Our priorities must be to determine our location and to establish communications with Starfleet.” He took a deep breath. “Since this was supposed to be a quick shakedown cruise, we can expect they’ll be searching for us when we don’t return, but we can’t rely on them finding us. Fortunately, we have the most senior crew in the ‘fleet…”

“Yeah,” McCoy snorted. “Three Captains, four Commanders, and not a damn clue where in the seven hells we are.”

Spock interjected, “It is logical to assume that we remain in the Galaxy and have not been transported to a mythical plane of reality.”

“I don’t know,” Kirk mused. “We’ve been transported to alternate dimensions before, remember?” Spock looked at him, blankly, and Kirk’s face hardened. “No,” he said somewhat tersely. “I guess you don’t.”

It was not the first time Kirk had expressed frustration with his lack of memory, and Spock once again found himself at a loss. His attempt at humor having failed, he turned silently to the science station. The scanner was equipped with an integral field spectrograph, which he could use to identify distant galaxies and hence determine their heading. Position would be more difficult to determine, as it would require identification of individual stellar systems. The reduced number of variables would make stars impossible to identify specifically, but given enough parameters, there would inevitably be a finite number of solutions. The probability of converging on a unique solution, though, was only seven-point-three percent…

“Spock?”

Kirk had moved to stand beside his shoulder, unnecessarily close in Spock’s opinion, and was looking at him with the curious intensity he had assumed on occasion ever since Spock’s fal-tor-pan, and which unnerved him immensely. Unable to discern Kirk’s intention, Spock had to prompt, “Captain?”

A shadow seemed to fall over Kirk’s face, and his voice was clipped as he asked, “Do you remember how everything works?”

Spock glanced at the console. He had no memory of having used one of these before, yet the controls seemed familiar. “I was able to operate the Klingon vessel,” he pointed out.

“Of course. Ah, carry on, then.”

While Spock worked on triangulating their position, Kirk did not move away, and Spock was uncomfortably aware that he was being watched. He tried to ignore the feeling and absorbed himself in the methodical work of identifying and cataloging galaxies. The Magellanic Clouds were easy to find, but the next few galaxies the scanners identified turned out to be nearby nebulae. There had to be an error in the computer; at some point, he would locate and fix it, but for now he resigned himself to manually identifying each extended object. Eventually, he found two more galaxies, easily identifiable as Andromeda and M87 at the heart of the Virgo cluster. He turned his chair to face Kirk, who was now leaning back against the railing, observing him.

“Our current heading has an altitude of seventy-seven degrees, azimuth twenty-four-point-three,” he reported.

Kirk looked impressed. “So how far are we from Earth?”

Inexplicably, Spock felt guilty, as though he was letting this man down as he explained, “Unknown. I am currently able to identify direction but not position.”

Kirk frowned, so Spock continued, “I cannot measure the distance to galaxies with sufficient accuracy to differentiate between positions within the Milky Way; for that, I will require a detailed map of the surrounding stars. However, stars are not so easily distinguishable, and the Galaxy remains incompletely mapped.”

Kirk didn’t look as though he was listening, so Spock did not expand further. He followed Kirk’s gaze, but found only an empty bulkhead. He inclined his head in question, and Kirk looked straight at him, his expression pained. “Why is it that you can remember how to work a starship, yet you can’t remember the last twenty years of our lives?”

Spock felt himself go still as he considered the question. It was illogical for the captain to be more concerned with this than with determining their location, but Spock did not point that out. He could sense that there was an emotional component to the question, but chose to respond only to the logical one. “My procedural memory remains largely intact; my declarative memory will take longer to return.”

Kirk moved to lean against the science console beside him. “You recite facts as well as you ever did.”

Kirk’s tone was vaguely accusatory, and it triggered an upwelling of unpleasant emotion within Spock. He buried it, shamed by the ease with which it rose, and took a deep breath. “My retraining was carried out on Vulcan, Captain,” he pointed out.

Captain,” Kirk repeated bitterly.

Spock paused. His gaze flickered over to the central console, where Sulu and Chekov were perhaps rather too pointedly focused on their own work. He returned his attention to Kirk, but had no frame of reference from which to understand what conversation they were having here. He had learned, in the course of their mission to Earth’s past, that Kirk was prone to deep and wildly fluctuating emotions, but Spock as yet lacked the familiarity to know how to handle them. He wondered if he ever had.

“It appears we have an abundance of time,” Spock said in a hushed tone, ignoring the growing irritation that gnawed at him. “What is it you wish me to recall?”

Kirk said nothing, just stared at the console and traced idle patterns over its controls. Just as Spock was beginning to wonder if he had heard the question, Kirk looked up at him with a weak smile. “You won’t understand it if I just tell you. You need to remember for yourself.”

“That is illogical.”

“Yes,” Kirk sighed. “That’s the point.”

Spock watched him in silence as a range of sad and wistful expressions passed over his expressive face. Spock felt an unusual urge to ease whatever it was that troubled him, but he had no idea how to go about it. His own head was a tangled mess of unsettling emotion, which he instinctively quashed.

Kirk stood up straight and adopted an uncharacteristically officious tone as he commanded, “We need to figure out where we are.”

“That is what I am attempting to do,” Spock reminded him.

“Right.” Kirk paused, raking a hand through his hair. “Very good, Mister Spock.”

For a while, Spock watched him pace back and forth, but when it seemed that no further order would be forthcoming, he returned his attention to the science console. The most efficient way to resolve their problem would be to write a program to identify and classify the stars, using spectral type and luminosity to estimate distance; that should provide a rudimentary three-dimensional map, which could be cross-correlated with the maps in the computer database…

Kirk was watching him again. Spock could not say how he knew; he could hear that the captain was talking to Uhura, but he could feel the weight of Kirk’s gaze prickling at the back of his neck, though he knew the idea lacked any scientific merit.

He looked up to confirm his intuition. Kirk had paused, one hand on the back of Uhura’s chair, and was regarding him with that unnerving intensity.

Sensing that perhaps Kirk needed to feel that he was contributing to their current predicament, Spock suggested, “Captain, I require suggestions for known, easily-identifiable objects with calibrated distance measures.”

“Like variable stars?”

“Only if they are individually identifiable variable stars.”

Kirk returned to the command chair and swung around to face him, his expression now thoughtful. Spock did not, in fact, require any suggestions at all, but found that he could now continue his work without being distracted.

And there was something that made no sense; Kirk was still looking at him, but with his attention focused on some problem, that prickling sensation had entirely vanished. Spock allowed himself the brief thought, Fascinating, before he returned to his work.

*

Spock sat back in his chair, watching the computer at work. There was no input required now; he had programmed it to scan the surrounding stars and compare the results to the charts in its database. With so many variables, it could take hours, days, even weeks to converge on a solution.

“Problem, Spock?”

A quick glance to the side told him that Kirk was watching him again. “Negative, Captain. The program is complete; there remains nothing to do but wait until it computes our position.”

“That’s great! How long will it take?”

“Insufficient data.”

“A guess?”

Spock considered the possibilities. One hundred billion stars in the galaxy, less than a quarter of them accurately mapped; the odds were substantially in favor of an infinite, non-convergent computation. He swung his chair around to the side, facing Kirk, and something caused his thoughts to shudder to a halt.

Kirk was looking at him with such openness and hope. Spock was reminded of McCoy’s words back on the Bounty, of how much faith Kirk placed in his guesses. Spock had already noticed that he harbored an irrational fear of disappointing this man, and could only assume it was this instinct that caused him to reply, “Two to three weeks, Captain.”

Kirk’s eyes widened, but then the corner of his mouth quirked into a smile. “As vague as that? That’s quite conservative for you, my friend.”

No, it wasn’t. A feeling of guilt tugged at the back of Spock’s mind, but he could not bring himself to voice his deception. All the same, he could not look upon Kirk’s trusting face, so he swung his chair forward to face the viewscreen. Ahead, the blackness of space beckoned, speckled with the light of unknown stars.

“We could stop and ask directions,” Sulu suggested.

Spock hesitated, unsure whether the comment was in jest. He could feel Kirk’s expectant look, though, so he replied, “There are one hundred billion systems within the galaxy, of which less than point-one percent contain habitable planets. Of those, fewer than one hundredth of a percent have been explored –“

“But surely,” Kirk cut in, “we can reduce the odds by scanning for nearby systems with Class M planets?”

It remained statistically unlikely that they would happen upon an inhabited planet, and even less so that they would find a spacefaring society capable of assisting them with determining their position. However, Spock could sense that Kirk needed to do something, even if the doing would not really achieve anything. Driven again to offer comfort by some force he could not identify, he said, “That is a worthy suggestion. I shall commence scanning the nearest systems immediately.”

At the hissing of the turbolift doors, Kirk rose to his feet with an enigmatic smile. “Hold that thought, Mister Spock; it seems that our relief is here.”

As Beta shift filtered onto the bridge, the others headed straight to the turbolift, but Spock lingered to explain his program to his relief. Only when he was done did he realize that Kirk was waiting for him by the turbolift doors.

Once the doors had closed behind them, Spock inquired, “Do you require any assistance, Captain?”

Kirk’s smile faded. “I was just going to… Do you have anything pressing to do this evening?”

“I require meditation.”

“Right.” Kirk turned away, not before Spock saw a distinct frown crease his brow. Before he could ask, though, the doors slid open onto Deck Five and Kirk marched straight to his quarters.

Spock followed behind, more slowly. He felt lost, and not just in the literal sense of the word.

*

Meditation eased some of the disorder in Spock’s head, but he remained restless. There was no rational explanation for his unease; a quick check from his terminal revealed that his program was still running and required no input. Nonetheless, he was unable to keep from dwelling on the looks of irritation and disappointment he had been receiving from Kirk ever since the fal-tor-pan. Every thought of Kirk tugged at something at the back of his mind, something that no amount of meditation could either define or erase.

Spock was forced to conclude that his retraining on Vulcan was not so thorough as it had appeared. Their mission into Earth’s twentieth century had been enough to demonstrate to him the necessity of accepting his Human side, but he had no frame of reference from which to understand it. The feeling he had identified as ‘fine’ was in fact far more complicated than he was able to – or cared to – explain to his father.

Since meditation had failed to clarify his thoughts, it was logical to conclude that he required additional data, which he could only obtain from further contact with his Human shipmates. His first instinct was to visit Captain Kirk, but something held him back. There was an undercurrent of tension in all his interactions with Kirk that made him most uncomfortable. Perhaps it would be advisable to collate as much data as possible elsewhere before attempting to understand Kirk’s reactions. He also considered McCoy, but the highly-strung doctor was unlikely to provide anything in the way of answers.

Instead, Spock decided to return to the bridge; if nothing else, he could scan some more systems for likely planets.

On his arrival onto the bridge, Scotty rose from the command chair, but Spock gestured for him to be seated. “As you were.”

“Mister Spock!” Uhura’s head popped out from beneath her console, her hands full of cabling. “Are you busy?”

“Negative.”

“Great - could you give me a hand here?”

“Certainly.” He knelt beside her, grateful that he was not alone in feeling his off-duty time was better spent here. She handed her armful of cabling to him, and he idly examined it. “Have you managed to identify the fault?”

“Sort of,” she sighed. “There’s no power here or here,” she gestured towards two panels, “but there is here,” she pointed to another in between them. “It makes no sense.”

Spock glanced down to the bundle in his arms. “Have you ruled out faulty wiring?”

“That’s what you’re going to help me with. I’ve tested all those cables, so I know they’re fine. We’re going to go through one by one and exchange each one in turn to find where the problem is.”

“That is a logical approach.”

Uhura glanced over her shoulder, a smile lighting up her face. “Why thank you, Mister Spock.”

They worked methodically, Spock selecting a cable and holding it in place while Uhura tested the voltage across it. After a while, she began to sing softly. The song triggered something at the back of Spock’s mind; not a memory, exactly, but a feeling. He had no name for it, but it was not unpleasant; it produced the same sort of comfortable lethargy that might result from meditation.

It was only when he caught a phrase that he realized, “That song is Vulcan.”

She stopped singing, and Spock caught an instantaneous sense of regret within himself before he could stop it. When she looked over her shoulder to him, she was smiling. “I picked up a few in the months I was there.”

Waiting for me, Spock reminded himself. “You sing it well.”

“That’s very kind of you.” She turned back to her work. “Did you bring your lyre?”

“I did not.” Spock was not even aware he owned one, though it did not surprise him to learn that he had held an interest in music. “Did I used to play?”

She paused in her work to smile at him, but there was something sad in her expression. “You did.” Uhura hesitated, looking as though she might say something else, but evidently thought better of it. They continued to work in silence for a while, until at last she declared, “I’ve got it! But…damn… It looks like the subspace transmitter is completely fried.”

Scotty rose from the command chair and came to stand over them, peering at the component in Uhura’s hands. “Do we have a spare?” she asked hopefully.

Scotty shook his head. “This was only supposed to be a shakedown - we’ve nothin’ like the usual supplies. I don’t even know if we can jury rig something…”

Spock considered that for a moment. The subspace transmitter was required to send data at faster-than-light speeds. The only comparable technology on board was the warp drive, but the components in question were critical. He looked up. “Do you have any suggestions, Mister Scott?”

“Aye… Nothing we can do without crippling the rest of the ship, though.”

Uhura sighed. “This was a waste of time, then.”

“Not at all,” Spock countered. “You have solved the analytical problem. The rest would be trivial, were the requisite parts available.”

Uhura smiled. “That doesn’t really help us, but thanks. It’s good to have you back, Mister Spock.”

Spock could think of nothing to say to that.

*

The days swiftly fell into a routine. Kirk often commented on how quiet and empty the ship felt with only a skeleton crew, but Spock – whose memories of a crew any larger than this one were fragmented at best – adjusted more easily. Nonetheless, Kirk’s increasingly irritable and quarrelsome manner was beginning to wear on his nerves.

“The recycler gave me a blue uniform this morning,” Kirk ranted at him in the turbolift at the start of their shift one day. “Blue.”

“Do you have an aversion to the color, Captain?” Spock responded.

“Jim,” Kirk snapped. “You used to call me Jim.”

Taken aback, Spock hesitated before replying, “We are on duty.”

Kirk’s shoulders slumped, and he sighed, “That never bothered you before.”

Spock looked straight ahead at the wall of the turbolift. “I see. Jim.”

They continued the journey in silence, but out of the corner of his eye Spock could see that Kirk looked miserable. It was quite illogical to place such importance on one’s form of address, but Spock said nothing for fear of making the situation worse.

When the turbolift came to a halt, Kirk lurched towards the door as though desperate to escape. It opened just a fraction, and then stuck. The mechanism whirred and clicked as it jammed. Kirk cursed in frustration and kicked at the offending door. “Useless piece of crap,” he muttered.

Spock’s eyebrow lifted. “I do not believe an inanimate object can respond to insults.” He stepped past Kirk and heaved the door open enough to allow them to pass. Kirk pushed past him, throwing a glare over his shoulder, and they worked their entire shift in silence.

*

Spock woke early and managed light meditation, but the deeper levels eluded him. His mind felt disordered, like a defective holovid that kept skipping and freezing, and he couldn’t navigate it well enough to organize it.

Frustrated by his thwarted efforts, he went straight to the bridge. Sulu and Chekov were already there, having worked the previous shift, and the navigation console was in pieces between them.

“Good evening, Mister Spock,” Chekov greeted him, not looking up from the circuitry he was studying.

“Or morning, for you,” Sulu added.

It was fourteen-hundred hours ship’s time, actually, but the designation was of little consequence when they were all operating on different sleep cycles. Spock chose to forgo the pleasantries and knelt down beside the heap of circuit boards and computer components that littered the floor. “Have you succeeded in isolating the fault?”

“It’s pretty dead,” Sulu explained. “Scotty scavenged as many parts as he could from the transporter system, so we’re going through and replacing them.”

Spock quickly identified the section they were working on and set about assisting them with their task. While they worked, Chekov muttered, “Would never have happened if starships were built in Russia.”

Given the irascibility of Chekov’s tone, Spock was confused when Sulu’s response was a fond chuckle. “I suppose you’re going to claim starships were a Russian invention?”

Chekov gave him a petulant glare. “The first satellite in orbit was Russian.”

Sulu rolled his eyes. “You didn’t get warp drive, though; that was an American.”

Spock watched their interactions closely. Apparently cultural one-upmanship was some sort of game. Both participants exhibited signs that they were enjoying the argument, despite the facts that the achievements they cited dated from long before their births and thus they had played no part in them. Most illogical.

Nonetheless, Spock sought to understand his Human shipmates, so once he believed he understood the rules, he submitted, “At the time of the launch of your first satellite, Vulcan had achieved warp 7.”

Sulu and Chekov both looked at him, apparently surprised that he had spoken, or perhaps that he had said the wrong thing; it was hard to tell.

Sulu recovered first, lapsing back into his easy smile. He nudged Chekov in the ribs and said, “Beat that one.”

Chekov scowled at Spock. There was a high probability it was playful, but Spock wasn’t sure he would know the difference.

After thirteen minutes of working in silence, Sulu ventured, somewhat awkwardly, “You remember history, then?”

Chekov gave him a scandalized look, but Spock did not feel affronted. Memory was a complex process, made even more so by his unique situation, and curiosity was perfectly reasonable.

“I was given extensive tuition on Vulcan,” he explained. “Primarily in the sciences, engineering and mathematics, but also in philosophy, the arts, literature and, yes, history.”

Chekov’s eyebrows rose towards his hairline. “That’s a lot to fit into three months.”

Spock could not see why it should have taken any longer to collect and retain facts, but sensed it would be impolitic to draw attention to the fragility of the Human mind by pointing that out, so he said nothing.

Sulu took a deep breath and a casual air that was rather too deliberate, suggested, “I don’t suppose that education included your own service record?”

“Indeed it did. I joined Starfleet Academy in 2250 and was assigned to the USS Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike in 2254 –”

“I meant,” Sulu interrupted, “did you look it up yourself, or believe the version they told you?”

Spock frowned. “I see no logic in lying about easily verifiable facts.”

“Not lying, exactly, but –”

“Hikaru,” Chekov cut in with a warning glare. “The keptin said –”

What the captain had said went unspoken, because at that moment the turbolift doors slid open to admit Kirk to the bridge. He seemed inordinately amused by the sight of the three of them on the floor. Spock rose with as much dignity as he could muster, instinctively straightening his uniform jacket.

“Everything all right here?” Kirk addressed the three of them, but his gaze rested upon Spock.

“Aye, sir,” Sulu replied. “We’re almost done.”

“Very well.” Kirk heaved a sigh and settled into the command chair. “And what about you, Mister Spock? Plan of attack?”

“There is no need to attack anything, Captain. With your permission, I shall resume scans of nearby systems.”

Kirk gestured for him to go ahead, so he crossed to the science station and took his seat. He started up the scanner, but his attention was caught by the computer. His service record would be in the ship’s library, with whatever Sulu believed may have been concealed from him. Something held him back from consulting the computer in front of the captain, though, and for the duration of his shift he was not left alone. He focused on his work – fruitless though it once again turned out to be – but some small corner of his mind kept straying back to that computer and what secrets it might be hiding.

If Kirk noticed his distraction, he did not say so. He occasionally wandered over, requesting an update that he could just as easily have heard from the command chair. He had a habit of leaning over Spock’s shoulder, so close that he could feel the Human’s body heat. His mind told him that the proximity was unwelcome, yet he found himself leaning into it, and even regretting its loss when it eventually moved away. It was disturbing, as though his mind and body were divorced, unable to agree on even the most basic matters of instinct.

By the third time it happened, Spock was so tense that his hands trembled. He tried to maintain some outward semblance of calm, but he saw that Kirk was studying him, a frown creasing his brow. “Something the matter, Spock?”

“Captain,” Spock ground out between clenched teeth. “Please do not stand so close.”

Kirk backed away. He was quick to conceal the wounded expression on his face, but Spock caught it and instantly regretted his words. He opened his mouth to retract them, but Kirk spoke first.

“I apologize, Mister Spock. I… forget, sometimes.”

He returned to his chair and slumped into it. Spock watched him for a while, feeling utterly wretched. He owed this man so much, yet everything he did was in some way wrong or disappointing.

When their shift was over, Kirk did not even inquire after Spock’s plans for the evening, which presented some relief. Spock went straight to his quarters and sat down in front of his terminal.

“Computer, read out service record of Captain Spock, serial number S 179-276 SP.”

He sat back and listened, fingers steepled, while the computer read out his long history. The facts were all known to him, and he even felt like he remembered some of the missions, though he found it infuriatingly difficult to separate real memories from suggested ones.

While the computer reeled off his actions under Captain Pike, Spock interrupted it and commanded, “Computer, resume playback from the year 2285.”

There was an extensive entry concerning the Enterprise’s encounter with Khan Noonien Singh, with which Spock was already familiar. The only discrepancy he could find was that he was described as “presumed dead,” the fal-tor-pan was “medical treatment,” and the deactivation of his Starfleet commission had been annulled as an error. None of this struck Spock as surprising, though; he was already familiar with the Human capacity to overlook things they did not understand, having encountered it frequently on their mission to twentieth century San Francisco.

Had Sulu expected him to be unduly concerned about his death being erased from Starfleet records? Spock sighed and switched off the terminal, wondering once again how he had ever learned to navigate the illogical natures of Humans.

*

One Human Spock was quite certain he had never understood in any lifetime was Doctor McCoy, whom he encountered that evening in a rec room, swearing at one of the food synthesizers.

“All I want is a coffee,” McCoy grouched. “Why does it keep giving me this swill?”

“That is not a faulty synthesizer, Doctor,” Spock pointed out. “You have never been satisfied with the quality of synthesized coffee, so why you persist in requesting it is a mystery.”

“That’s true enough,” McCoy grumbled, sparing one last glower for the hapless machine before he turned to face Spock, his eyes narrowed. “You remember that much, then.”

Yes, he did, though he could not fathom where the thought had come from; it was simply there, as though it always had been. “It is logical to assume that my memories will return in a gradual fashion.”

“Let’s hope so,” McCoy sighed.

“It would appear that prompting accelerates the process,” Spock ventured, watching his reaction carefully.

McCoy grunted his agreement. “That’s normal. That is, for the closest analogy to your situation I’m aware of.”

“Is there anything else that can be done?”

“Not that I know of. I mean, damn, it’s not like there’s a precedent here…” McCoy trailed off, his eyes narrowing. “Something’s bothering you. What is it?”

Spock flexed his hands behind his back. He was discomfited in the extreme, but he needed to know. There was a long silence. Just as McCoy was beginning to look impatient, Spock blurted, “The captain suffers.”

McCoy hesitated, looking decidedly uncomfortable, before he reluctantly confirmed, “Yes, he does.”

“The rest of the crew are my friends also, are they not?”

“I suppose so.” McCoy sounded wary.

“Yet they seem unconcerned.”

“Not unconcerned, exactly.” McCoy was fidgeting, obviously wanting to be elsewhere. “They just… dammit, Spock, you really need to talk to Jim about this.”

“I have attempted to do so. However, the captain has proved…”

“Cranky as hell?”

“…Uncommunicative.”

“Right.” McCoy shook his head. “You know, the old you would be having a heart attack right now if he could see you asking me for advice.”

“Does conversing with you often result in cardiac difficulties?”

McCoy rolled his eyes. “Give me strength… No, but it might yet turn me to drink.” Before Spock could give voice to his confusion, McCoy continued, “Can you not guess why Jim’s taking this a bit rougher than the others?”

Spock analyzed the parameters that were available to him, the correlation between instances where Kirk had lost his temper.

“The captain places greater value on the memories I have not recovered than do the others. He feels that I cannot be an effective first officer without this knowledge.”

“Dammit, Spock, you really think he cares about his first officer?”

Spock backed away, alarmed by the anger in McCoy’s voice. The doctor rolled his eyes and, in a softer tone, said, “It’s not his first officer he misses, Spock. It’s his… friend.”

In all honesty, Spock could not fathom what the difference was, but it was clear that he could not expect a concise, rational explanation from the mercurial CMO. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said. “This has been… illuminating.”

Spock let himself out, and spent some time just wandering the deserted ship, poring over what little information McCoy had provided. The doctor was overly emotional for Spock’s liking, driven by instinct and passion. He was also close to the captain. No one, then, had more insight into Kirk’s mind. Yet for all McCoy’s words, he said very little, and Spock remained none the wiser.

He wandered the corridors aimlessly for a while, eventually finding himself at an observation deck. As he let himself in, he became aware of the not-quite-stillness of the air which told him he was not alone. It seemed somewhat unlikely that they had both chosen this place at random, and Spock wondered what had drawn him here. Had they met here often, in the past? Why did he still not know?

Kirk did not turn around, but his back tensed, and Spock knew that his presence had been noticed. “My apologies, Cap - Jim. Would you prefer to be alone?”

“Not at all.” Kirk waved him over, and Spock cautiously went to stand by his side. He maintained a gap of a few inches between them and faced forward, towards the large viewscreen, but his eyes darted to the side. Kirk looked tired and drawn, lines furrowing his features and bags beneath his eyes. Spock maintained the bounds of propriety only by sheer force of will, so great was the urge to place a hand upon Kirk’s shoulder.

They stood in silence, but for once it did not feel wholly uncomfortable. Still puzzled by Doctor McCoy’s words, Spock paid particular attention to the way Kirk held himself, the shift of every muscle as he fidgeted, every ghost of emotion that flickered across his face, and he found the study oddly soothing.

“Do I meet with your approval?” Kirk said at last into the silence, his lips quirking into a smile.

“I only wish to ascertain your wellbeing, Cap - Jim.”

Kirk visibly relaxed, and slowly turned to look at Spock with a gentle smile. “I know.”

They lapsed into silence once more, staring out into the blackness of space. Spock found himself unnaturally aware of the rhythm of Kirk’s breathing, and unconsciously matching it.

A further seven minutes passed before Kirk spoke again. “We’re not supplied for a long mission. If this turns into one…”

“We have only a skeleton crew; neglecting the warp drive and non-essential systems, the ship has adequate supplies for thirty-six months. And even then, the materials required to sustain the life support systems are easily obtainable. A crew this small can, in theory, be sustained indefinitely.”

Kirk darted an expression of concern at him. “You think we’ll be out here that long?”

“I have insufficient data to compute the time until our return.”

An odd look crossed Kirk’s face. “Your best guess?”

Spock’s instincts railed against guessing when there was so little data available, but he recalled Kirk’s positive response to his previous guess, when computing for time warp, and felt compelled to answer, “Factoring in the range of possible locations we might be occupying, the faults in the shipboard computer systems and the limitations of a skeleton crew, I would guess,” he stumbled only slightly over the word, “that it will take six days to compute our position. The journey time back to Earth will, of course, depend on what that position turns out to be.”

“Six days?” Kirk’s eyebrows rose. “That’s awfully specific for a guess.”

“There is a finite number of stars within the Galaxy, and the speed with which the scanners can feed data, combined with the processing speed of the computer to provide cross-correlation, are known factors.”

“What if we turn out to be in unchartered space?”

Spock hesitated, unsure whether he should acknowledge the truth of this possibility when the captain’s moods were so fragile. It was a direct question, though, and it was his duty to answer. “That is the cause of the margin of error. In such an occurrence, the time required to compute our position exceeds the combined lifespans of everyone on this ship.”

Spock expected, from experience on their previous mission to Earth’s past, to be berated for so calmly confirming the likelihood of their imminent deaths, so it was surprising and confusing when Kirk smiled at him. Raising an eyebrow in question caused Kirk to turn fully towards him and place a hand upon his arm.

“So you’re saying we could be out here for the rest of our lives?”

Spock wondered if he was walking into a trap as he cautiously confirmed, “That is one possibility.”

For some reason, that caused Kirk’s smile to broaden. He squeezed Spock’s arm before allowing his hand to drop to his side.

Spock hesitated, but caution gave way before curiosity and he tentatively asked, “Forgive me, but I find your reaction illogical.”

Kirk shrugged. “What does it matter, really? I mean, sure, ideally we’ll find our way back to Earth and head out again on a proper mission with a proper crew, but if it turns out our destiny is this, to roam the stars in some unknown part of the Galaxy, then, well, would that really be so bad?”

Spock privately thought that boredom would destroy them long before their natural lifespans could, but he kept that thought to himself. “We will get home.”

“Home?” Kirk gave a snort of laughter. “Earth isn’t home, Spock. This is; always has been. You were right, you know.”

“I find that a logical assumption, but in what specific regard?”

“When you said –” Kirk cut himself off, his smile fading. “You told me once that it was a mistake for me to accept promotion, that being a starship captain was…what was it? Oh yes, my ‘first, best destiny.’”

“As a starship captain, you deserve a full crew.”

“Maybe. Or perhaps we just can’t have everything exactly the way we would like it.”

Kirk gave him a sideways glance, and Spock felt compelled to look away. He took a deep breath and said, “You regret the loss of the original Enterprise.”

“Of course,” Kirk agreed. “I regret that it was necessary.” He gave a lopsided smile. “I’d do it again, though, even knowing what it would cost.”

“Why?”

“To bring you back,” Kirk said simply, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

It wasn’t obvious at all to Spock. “I am not as I was before my death; I have this on good authority from both yourself and Doctor McCoy.”

An expression of pure anguish tore at Kirk’s face, and it pained Spock to see it. “Spock,” Kirk sighed. “That doesn’t mean… It takes some getting used to, sure. And I get frustrated sometimes – I’m only Human, I’m afraid – but that doesn’t mean – goddamn it, Spock…” He half-turned away, raking a hand through his hair. “Don’t ever think I’d rather you weren’t…” He trailed off, shaking his head.

They stood there in uncomfortable silence for a long while. Kirk was looking away, but Spock studied him carefully. Kirk was exhibiting classic signs of distress - the incomplete sentences, the body language, the cadence of his voice - but Spock could not discern the root of the problem. His question was a logical one, given the circumstances of which he was aware, but he had no context, no memory even of the events of which he been such a key part. He knew only that this man was his friend, and that it was his most fervent wish that he suffer no sorrow.

Watching Kirk’s face carefully for any reaction, Spock spoke solemnly into the deathly silence. “It was not my intention to cause you grief… Jim.”

Kirk’s attention snapped to him at once, the corners of his mouth twitching in a surprised smile. Spock was taken aback by the ease with which he expressed pleasure over such a simple thing as the use of his name. He wondered at that; was there some history of which he was unaware, some past trauma that made Kirk so dislike being referred to as ‘Captain’? It had started before his demotion, which ruled out the most logical assumption…

His train of thought was cut off when Kirk said, in an unashamedly fond tone, “You grieve me frequently… but never intentionally.”

“I shall have to accept your authority on that.”

Kirk gave him an odd look, then. It seemed that he was about to say something, but that he thought better of it. Spock prompted him with a raised eyebrow, and Kirk sighed. “I keep forgetting how strange this must be for you. Having no memory of your life, being surrounded by people who know you better than you do…”

“How would I know that it is strange, when I have no other frame of reference?”

“Of course,” Kirk smiled. “Quite logical.” He started to turn away. “Have you eaten?”

Spock hesitated before replying, thrown by the suddenly normal, conversational tone. Kirk’s emotional outbursts had a habit of dying out as suddenly as they arose, leaving Spock adrift. “Negative,” he replied. “Perhaps you could introduce me to my favorite cuisine?”

“Sure.” Kirk began to lead him away to the mess, then paused. “Although this is a Federation synthesizer on a dubiously-functional ship, so ‘favorite’ is a relative term, and ‘cuisine’ may be pushing it…”

“It is nonetheless preferable to the fare provided by the Klingon vessel.”

“An astute observation as ever, Mister Spock.”

They walked side by side to the mess hall. Kirk seemed more at-ease than he had been since their departure, and Spock allowed himself the brief emotion of pure relief that at last some progress was being made.

It turned out that Kirk had quite a thorough knowledge of the Vulcan inventory of the food synthesizers. He selected farr-kahli, assuring Spock that it was something he usually enjoyed. As soon as the taste hit him, it was familiar; not only that, but he had a distinct image of himself sitting across a table from Kirk – not here, but perhaps in Kirk’s quarters on the original Enterprise. The scent of him was associated with this food somehow, and the image of that cabin was so vivid that he knew he must have known it well.

That thought caused him to wonder. They had already proven they worked well together, but McCoy had said that it was his friend Kirk missed, and if they were given to sharing meals in the captain’s quarters then it was logical to assume they were in the habit of spending off-duty time together. Perhaps that was the area he needed to address.

He looked across at Kirk, who was gazing somewhere over his shoulder, a slight frown marring his features.

“Jim…” Spock began. Kirk’s attention snapped to him, and Spock was taken aback by the delighted smile that lit the captain’s face. It took Spock a moment to piece his thoughts together. “If I may ask, what do we normally do with our time?”

“What do we do?” Kirk repeated, his brow furrowing with incomprehension. “I presume you mean besides commanding the Enterprise?”

Did he? “Unknown.” Spock paused, seeking the correct terms of reference, and tried again. “We are friends?” In his hesitance, his intonation implied a question, though he knew it to be true.

“Yes.”

“In my understanding, Human friends engage in activities outside of their working environment. As I am not Human, I do not know whether that practice extends to myself…”

“It does,” Kirk confirmed. He looked suddenly uncomfortable, and a curious red flush spreading from his cheeks and down his neck indicated rising blood flow. “You want to know what we…do…together. Outside of work.”

“Affirmative.”

Kirk sighed and gave a slightly awkward chuckle. He took a deep breath. “Well, we play chess.” His eyes narrowed. “You don’t always win. Sometimes we spar….” His mouth quirked into a smile. “You always win at that…”

“As would be expected, as Vulcans are naturally stronger than Humans.”

“Indeed they are.” Kirk’s eyes dropped to his plate, and he chuckled softly. It seemed to Spock that there was some private joke he was missing, and the gulf between them, so nearly bridged, widened.

Hoping to claw Kirk back to him, Spock asked, “Would you be amenable to a game of chess?”

Kirk’s smile was warm and genuine. “Of course. There’s a set in my quarters.”

There was also a set in one of the rec rooms, Spock knew, but being invited into the captain’s quarters for a social interaction seemed like a significant step forward so he said nothing.

They disposed of their trays and walked together to Kirk’s quarters. The door had barely closed behind them when Kirk muttered, “Computer, raise temperature five degrees.”

“That is not necessary,” Spock protested, guessing that the adjustment was for his benefit.

Kirk looked surprised. “Oh, I didn’t even realize I was doing it.” With a wry smile, he added, “Habit, I guess. Anyway, it’s easier for me to lose a layer than it is for you to get warm.”

That was a logical point, so Spock did not dispute it. True to his word, Kirk shrugged off his red uniform jacket, leaving his white undershirt. Spock watched him intently, captivated for reasons he could not even explain to himself. Perhaps it was the easy informality of the action, but it seemed as though there was a buried memory pressing against the edge of his consciousness yet not quite able to gain purchase in his mind.

“Are you all right, Spock?” Kirk inquired as he began to set up the tri-dimensional chess set.

“Quite all right,” Spock murmured, tearing his attention away.

“Can you remember how to play chess?”

Spock studied the layout, unsure, but then his hand reached out as though of its own volition and moved a pawn. “It would appear so.”

Kirk looked strangely sad, and Spock felt a peculiar pang in his stomach. He wanted to ask, to understand what it was that troubled his friend, but the words would not form. Instead, he sat in silence, watching the shadows of thoughts that crossed Jim’s face as he studied the board. With a limited number of opening moves available to him, Spock knew it must be something else that played on his mind, but Kirk remained silent and Spock did not press him.

If Spock had assumed that his superior intellect would give him an easy edge over the Human, he was rapidly proven wrong. He was obliged to focus all of his faculties upon the game, and even then he found he was losing pieces as fast as he could take them. Fortunately, instinct served where memory could not, and it seemed that his understanding of tactics was untarnished.

Kirk’s game bore a striking resemblance to his command style; apparently haphazard on the surface, but with a ruthlessly aggressive undercurrent. After one especially bold move, Kirk inexplicably laughed. Spock raised an eyebrow in query, and Kirk explained, “I’m just remembering one of our very first games. I was new to the Enterprise, you’d been her first officer for years already… I was quite intimidated by you, to tell the truth.”

Spock tried to recall what he knew of their service records. “Were you not then the captain?”

“I was. But you can’t always pull rank on a Vulcan.”

“I was insubordinate?”

A smile spread across Kirk’s face, and he looked up to catch Spock’s eye. “Frequently.”

Spock turned that piece of information over in his head, disturbed by its implications. “If that is indeed the case, it is not immediately apparent why you would take pleasure in that recollection.”

“Not logical, is it?” Kirk chuckled to himself.

Spock was unnerved. He could not understand why this confident – brash, even – captain would have been intimidated by an inferior officer, let alone an insubordinate one, yet he seemed to recall it fondly. Once again, Spock was left feeling as though he was on the outside of some private joke.

He was coming to realize that they had been close friends prior to his death, but it was still a struggle to see how that might have worked. Had they joked together? Had Spock known how to joke, once? He thought over other observations he had made of friendships between the crew; had he and Kirk argued, like Sulu and Chekov?

That thought brought Doctor McCoy to mind, and the way in which Kirk seemed to accept his aggressive nature as normal. It was a matter of confusion to Spock; a man to whom he had entrusted his katra was, he had to assume, a trusted friend, yet McCoy demonstrated frequent bouts of hostility.

“Jim…” Kirk’s head snapped up suddenly, as though interrupted from his own train of thought. “Is Doctor McCoy’s…somewhat antagonistic nature normal, or is he, too, frustrated by my…defects?”

Kirk’s eyes seemed to cloud over. “He’s always bickered with you, but it’s not… That is, it’s a respectful sort of antagonism, if that makes sense?” It did not, but Spock nodded anyway. “And don’t call yourself defective, Spock.”

Spock raised his eyebrow. “I apologize, Jim, I was merely referring to my loss of memory as a statement of fact.”

“I know, but…”

“It is logical to assume that you are not alone in your frustration.”

“I guess not,” Kirk sighed. “Although… it affects me more than the others, I guess.”

“Because you are my closest friend.”

It was an obvious statement, based on accumulated observations ever since the fal-tor-pan, and especially from their time in San Francisco, not to mention the fact that his had been the first name that Spock remembered. Yet however obvious it seemed, Kirk’s face lit up as though Spock had just said something remarkable.

“Yes,” he confirmed in a choked whisper.

“Our shared experiences therefore carry more emotional weight for you than they do for other members of the crew.”

Again, it was only a logical deduction, yet Kirk looked startled. “Yes,” he repeated. He held Spock’s gaze for a moment, then looked away, laughing to himself. “Oh Spock,” he said, “you are…quite something, you know that?”

“I do not understand.”

Kirk’s brow furrowed, and Spock sat back, giving him the space to form his explanation. At length, he spoke, slowly, as though the thoughts were only coming to him as he voiced them. “I’ve been sitting here, trying to figure out how to reverse the last twenty years and relate to you as you were when I first met you, before we got to know each other. And then you come out with emotional weight, straightforward as that, not as though it’s a dirty word…”

Spock tried to piece Kirk’s words together into a coherent thought, but came up blank. With a raised eyebrow, he gestured for him to continue.

“It’s just… You’re not the Spock I first met when I joined the Enterprise. You’re the Spock I know; my…friend.” Inexplicably, he stumbled over the word. “You just don’t remember how you got there.”

Spock thought about that for a moment, but had no context on which to draw. “I cannot make the comparison,” he admitted.

“I know.” Kirk gave him a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have pieces of your life missing like that.”

“I do not know any differently,” Spock reasoned.

“True. But isn’t it weird to have to ask me about your life?”

“Yes. Yet, no stranger than it is for you to have a friend who has no idea why he is your friend.”

“It must seem terribly illogical to you, to have such Human friends.”

“No.”

“No?”

“In the short time that I am aware of having known you, you have demonstrated many…admirable qualities. It does not surprise me to learn that I value your friendship.”

It was most certainly a compliment, if Spock understood anything at all about the concept, so he couldn’t understand why Kirk looked as though he’d been struck. He leaned back, suddenly wary. “I…apologize if I have spoken out of turn.”

“No.” The word fell from Kirk’s lips on a sigh. For a silent moment he turned a captured pawn over in his hand, apparently lost in some thought that Spock could not perceive. After a time, his head snapped up, and his eyes widened upon seeing Spock, as though he’d forgotten he was there. “I’m sorry, Spock,” he murmured. “I just…” He trailed off and shrugged.

Spock was left feeling utterly disoriented, as though he was supposed to have followed the thought to some logical conclusion and had become lost along the way. In an attempt to diffuse the tension, he remarked, “I will have you checkmated in four moves.”

A smile tugged reluctantly at the corners of Kirk’s mouth. “You already have,” he said, quite illogically for it was demonstrably untrue. Spock refrained from pointing that out, though, reasoning that he was, again, missing something. Kirk studied the board intently for a moment, then made a move that was utterly lacking in logical motive or apparent strategy.

Kirk sat back in his chair, evidently enjoying Spock’s confusion. Then, while Spock was pondering how to respond to this bizarre shift in tactics, Kirk suddenly leaned forwards, resting his chin upon his clasped hands, and looked intently at him. “Spock,” he began, then broke off, shaking his head. “Spock…” he tried again.

Spock abandoned his consideration of the game and turned his full attention on Kirk, gesturing with a raised eyebrow for him to proceed.

Kirk’s confident expression faltered slightly. He picked up the pawn again and resumed idly turning it over in one hand. There was hesitance in his voice as he said, “May I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

Kirk smiled, an expression of grim determination. “When you chose to return with us to Earth… At that time, you did not feel friendship for any of us?”

“I did not,” Spock agreed. “Though I had, of course, been informed that you were my friends.”

“Right… But you came to feel it, rather than just know it… didn’t you?”

Spock had the distinct impression Kirk was driving towards a conclusion while Spock could not see the road. Hesitantly, he confirmed what Kirk already knew: “I did. I do.”

Kirk was smiling as though triumphantly, though Spock could not guess what achievement he had made. He replayed the conversation in his head, but could identify nothing he had said that could have been a revelation. Warily, he asked, “Were you in any doubt of that?”

“No. I just…understand something now.”

When Kirk showed no sign of elaborating, Spock inclined his head in question.

Kirk smiled, more warmly than at any point since the fal-tor-pan. “I’m sorry I’ve been snippy with you. I just… We had twenty years, after all. But honestly?” He gazed at a point somewhere over Spock’s left shoulder. “If I have to do the last twenty years over again, I can do that. It’s…you’re…worth it.”

Spock had no idea what to say to that. Was he supposed to be agreeing to recreate every mission they had partaken in? Obviously not… though the thought gave him an idea. If he did remember their shared history, would the context assist him in understanding Kirk’s changeable moods? Would Kirk be more content if they could relate through those shared experiences?

Spock remained silent, but with renewed resolve, he resumed their game.

*

The visual records of their missions were, fortunately, stored within one of the functional units of the computer. Spock took to reviewing them in his off-duty hours, whenever he was not otherwise occupied with the captain.

It turned out McCoy was right; there was a wealth of information there that was could not be gleaned from the mission reports alone. In particular, Spock was captivated by Kirk’s vibrant command style. He was brash, and often relied on leaps of intuition that appeared to have no basis in logic; in all ways, utterly alien. While all of his training railed against it, Spock was entranced.

Watching himself, on the other hand, he found excruciating. He was half-Human; this was an incontrovertible fact. Why, then, had he spent the better part of his life trying to deny what was a basic biological fact?

There was that other biological fact, too. Those events, Spock watched in horror. They were clearly edited to conceal the precise nature of Spock’s Vulcan illness, but he was able to use his own knowledge to piece the fragments together. When he was done, he shut off the computer and sat back in his chair, horror seeping through his veins.

He had – as far as he would have known at the time – killed his captain. And for what? He knew the woman’s name, T’Pring, but only in the cool, impersonal sense of knowledge acquired rather than experienced.

At some point over the intervening years, Kirk must have forgiven him for this, but how? Spock could not imagine that he had ever forgiven himself.

He tried to meditate, but his mind would not clear of the images he had seen. He felt the sudden, overwhelming urge to see the captain, and before he could rationalize away this desire he was on his feet and pacing down the ship’s corridor.

He paused outside Kirk’s quarters, his sensitive hearing picking up the sound of voices inside.

One was McCoy’s, and it was raised. Spock caught the words, “…only making you miserable, Jim,” before he hurriedly alerted the captain to his presence, feeling guilty for his inadvertent eavesdropping.

“Enter,” Kirk called.

The doors slid open, and Spock saw that Kirk and McCoy were stood on opposite sides of the cabin, obviously in the middle of a heated debate. Kirk looked surprised to see him, though not necessarily displeased, but McCoy did not shift his glare from the captain.

As Kirk’s gaze raked over Spock’s body, held awkwardly as he knew it was, concern crept over his face. “Something the matter, Spock?”

“Not at all. I apologize for the intrusion – I shall leave you to your –”

“Not necessary,” McCoy cut in. “I was just leaving.” He gave Kirk one last pointed look before pushing past Spock and out of the cabin.

Kirk watched him go with a heavy sigh and then raked a hand through his hair and turned to Spock with an obviously forced smile in place.

“I did not mean to interrupt,” Spock began, but Kirk forestalled him with a raised hand.

“It’s nothing, Spock. He’s just… ratty from being out here so long, I think. So what can I do for you?”

Spock found himself at a loss for what to say. He had not come here with any specific question or motive in mind, only a desire for his captain’s company. “I merely wondered,” he hazarded, “if you would be amenable to a game of chess.”

A grin spread over Kirk’s - no, Jim’s - face, and he gestured for Spock to take a seat.

While they set up the board, Spock surreptitiously observed him. It was alarming how his perception had changed; in place of the weary, often irritable Admiral he had come to know since leaving Vulcan, he now saw echoes of the energetic young captain he had previously served.

“It is your turn to take white,” Spock said. “I believe that today you will require the advantage.”

“Oh really?” Jim’s eyes sparkled with challenge. “Such confidence when you’ve only won forty percent of our games.”

Spock slowly lifted one eyebrow, though he struggled to maintain his cool composure in the face of Jim’s radiant smile. “On this ship, perhaps, but overall I believe my record stands at fifty-six percent.”

Jim’s eyes went wide, and the color drained from his face. “Is that so?”

“Am I incorrect?”

Jim toyed with one of his pawns, and Spock found himself unable to tear his eyes away from the way Kirk worried at his lower lip with his teeth. “No,” he said at last. “You’re…quite right.” He paused, then slowly lifted his gaze to meet Spock’s eyes. “Did you keep a record of that, or…”

Understanding dawned, and Spock reasoned it was quite logical that he felt profound relief at the implication. “No. I simply… know.”

A smile dawned over Jim’s face. It was oddly enchanting, and made Spock want to learn how to elicit it with greater frequency. He analyzed the data he had obtained from the computer, isolating instances in which the captain had displayed happiness. One particular instance came to mind; Did you enjoy it, Captain? Jim, shirt torn, disheveled and dirty, his skin glistening with sweat… Spock realized he was experiencing the same reaction to the memory as he did to Jim’s smiles now; his heart rate was elevated, his breathing quickened. He moderated the responses immediately, but not quickly enough to evade Jim’s attention.

“Spock?” Jim’s brow creased in concern. “What is it?”

Spock took a deep breath, calculated that his pulse was back to its usual two-forty, and ensured that his expression was entirely neutral. “Nothing of concern,” he said. He swiftly made his move, hoping to return Jim’s attention to the game.

Jim was nothing if not persistent, though. Even as he contemplated the board, he said, “Does that happen often? That you…just know things?”

“On occasion. It is peculiar. Something will usually prompt a memory, and then I find it is there, in which case it must have been there all along, but inaccessible. It is most illogical.”

“Actually, for Humans that’s quite normal.”

“What a frustrating way to live.”

“It is, rather,” Jim agreed with a wry smile.

“I am hopeful that continued meditation will allow my mind to become more ordered. To live like this for a prolonged period would be most tiresome.”

“Oh, I don’t know. You might find you like it.” Spock recognized that smile and the crinkled corners of his eyes and knew that he was being teased. He raised one eyebrow in derision at the idea, and Jim continued, “You used to tell me my mind was dynamic.”

“We melded.” It was a statement, for he already knew it to be true; it was in the logs, numerous melds in the line of duty. What the logs hadn’t said, though, but which he now knew with absolute certainty, was that he had experienced an emotional reaction to those melds, and an irrational desire to prolong or repeat them.

He glanced across the table. Jim was watching him, intensity simmering behind his eyes. Spock briefly wondered how Jim would react if he requested a meld now; but even the idea was illogical. It was an invasive practice, and there was no reason to pursue it. Yet he found that he wanted to know that mind again, as he once had, and he found himself wondering what situations might present themselves that would render such a course of action necessary.

“You are distracted, Mister Spock.”

Spock wrenched his attention back to the game, alarmed to note that Jim would have him checkmated in three moves. “Indeed,” he was forced to concede. “I cannot fathom why. It seems that I find your company most…arresting.”

It was worth the discomfort the admission caused him to see the beatific smile that graced Jim’s face. Jim went to reach for his hand, but caught himself, and Spock found despite himself that he regretted the aborted gesture.

Spock lost the game, but left with a feeling of warmth pooling in his abdomen. He defined the feeling as friendship, and he did not feel ashamed.

*

“Captain,” Spock called from the science station. “The computer has identified our position.”

Jim rushed across the bridge and leaned over his shoulder. Spock could feel the warmth rising from him, and unconsciously leaned towards him. “That’s brilliant, Spock!” Jim grinned. “So where are we?”

“We appear to have been thrown almost to the upper edge of the galaxy, in the direction perpendicular to the disk. The return journey should take four-point-seven days at warp 7.”

“Great.” Jim squeezed his shoulder before taking a step back. “Plot a course, I’ll call Scotty to start up the warp drive.”

Jim returned to his chair to activate the ship wide intercom and inform their small crew, “We’re going home!”

Spock noticed something odd about Jim’s tone. He was clearly aiming for jubilant, but it sounded forced, and the longed-for smile was absent. Spock moved to stand beside him and inclined his head. “Jim? Is something wrong?”

“Of course not. We are going home, aren’t we?”

Spock stood there, watching him while he pieced together the requisite clues to interpret the captain’s mood. At last, believing he understood, he said, “On the contrary, we are returning to Earth to effect repairs. Then we can return home.”

That, at least, earned him a genuine smile, and he felt profound relief at having correctly identified the source of Jim’s ambivalence.

“We? You will give up your teaching post and come back out into the black again, then?”

“Is that what concerns you?”

Jim shrugged. “I’ve been thinking about it.”

“My teaching duties at the Academy were taken over by someone else once I was… presumed dead. As to my plans, I realize we had not discussed it directly, but I believed my presence here, on what was supposed to be a ‘shakedown cruise,’ was an indication of my desire to remain your first officer. If, of course, you are amenable to the suggestion.”

“Yes, Spock. I’m… quite amenable.”

“Then I do not understand the problem. Did you have cause to doubt that I would wish to remain under your command?”

“Of course not.” The corners of Jim’s mouth quirked into a wry smile. “One thing no one could ever fault you on is your loyalty.”

“I am gratified that you think so.”

Jim sighed. He looked Spock up and down, and Spock felt the scrutiny prickle at his skin. Jim’s gaze lingered on his hands in particular. Suddenly self-conscious, Spock clutched his hands behind his back. “You did not truly doubt my intentions, did you?”

“No,” Jim sighed. “Not really. Although of course it’s nice to be sure. The thing is – this will sound ridiculous, I know – but it’s just… This might be frustrating, and damn, but I’ve been bored out of my mind – and yet… I think, in a way, I’ve sort of enjoyed this.”

Spock puzzled over this for a moment, then concluded, “You are most illogical, even for a human.”

“I guess I am.” A smile spread over Kirk’s face, as though he took Spock’s observation as a compliment. It was most incongruous, yet it eased the knot in Spock’s stomach, so he accepted it.

The rest of the crew demonstrated all of the exuberant jubilation that Jim had lacked, and while they waited for Scotty to report that the warp engines were warmed up, Sulu and Chekov began excitedly discussing their plans for shore leave while the ship was being repaired.

Spock glanced down and caught Jim’s eye. He lifted one eyebrow in query, and Jim smiled. Their wordless arrangements for their own shore leave having been made, Jim visibly relaxed and began laughing along with the others.

Satisfied, Spock looked away, only to catch McCoy staring at them with evident curiosity.

*

They were still two days out from Earth when Spock arrived for his shift to find that Jim was not there. Spock took command, but became concerned when a half hour passed with no sign of him. They were holding a steady course in warp drive, so Spock quietly excused himself and went to the captain’s quarters.

Jim was asleep, his blanket in a tangle around his waist, arms flung haphazardly to the sides. Spock’s first instinct was to leave – if Jim was tired, Spock was quite capable of taking the conn for a short time – but something held him back.

Watching Jim’s deep, even breathing was stirring something within him, some dormant memory. He knew with sudden certainty that he had watched over Jim while he slept before, but he could not picture the memory, nor place it in any context, and that failure was frustrating.

Something made him cross the room to stand beside Jim’s bed. He should wake him or leave, he knew, but he could not bring himself to do either. Instead, unwittingly, apparently acting on some forgotten instinct, he found himself sitting carefully upon the edge of the bed, wary of any movement that might wake his captain.

Even in sleep, Jim appeared troubled. Spock felt frustrated with himself, at his own inability to understand or aid his captain, as was his duty. Though it would be illogical to deny that what motivated him was not purely duty. This man had sacrificed so much for him; Spock would never be able to repay him for what he had done, but it seemed wrong that he was so utterly incapable of even understanding him.

Before the thought even occurred to him, he found his gaze hovering over Jim’s temples. Perhaps he would be able to understand, if Jim would only permit… But no, that was an intimacy too great to ask.

Unconsciously, his fingers traced the air over Jim’s bare shoulder, maintaining a separation of a couple of centimeters, just enough to feel the warmth radiating from his skin. It felt familiar, though that made no sense. For no reason that Spock could fathom, his pulse began to accelerate, and the increased blood flow caused his skin to warm.

Before he could dwell on the reaction, he reluctantly shook Jim by the shoulder to wake him.

Jim turned onto his side, towards Spock, mumbling indistinctly. Spock’s hand lingered on his shoulder, unwilling to break the connection where he could feel Jim’s lassitude and contentment. He shook him again, calling, “Jim?”

“Spock?” Jim murmured sleepily. He reached one hand up to clasp Spock’s, lacing their fingers together. The touch send a charge racing up Spock’s arm, setting his every nerve ending alight, but he could not bring himself to extricate his hand.

“Jim, it is time for our shift.” Spock voice sounded roughened to his own ears, and he was grateful for the darkened room that provided cover for his flushed skin.

Jim grumbled about it being too early, but hauled himself up to a seated position, yawning. He finally relinquished Spock’s hand, and Spock realized only then that he had been holding his breath. He withdrew his hand, flexing it, but the sensation of Jim’s warm skin lingered.

“Spock?”

Spock looked up and realized that Jim was wide awake now, and was regarding him with careful scrutiny. He made to move away, but Jim stopped him with a hand upon his forearm.

Unsure what was required of him, Spock remained still, holding Jim’s gaze while he fought to maintain control of his reaction to their proximity. Once he was sure that he was projecting neutrality, he said, “Can I help you, Jim?”

“No.” Jim looked away with a self-deprecating smile. “I’m sorry… Had a bit of a late night with Bones’ not-so-secret stash of Romulan ale.” He met Spock’s gaze again, his expression clouding over. “I must have been dreaming. You were still…”

Dead, Spock silently completed the sentence. “I am here.” He reached up to brush aside a stray lock of hair from Jim’s forehead. Jim leaned into the touch, causing Spock’s heart to flutter in his side. Reluctant to withdraw, he traced a line down to Jim’s cheek.

The feeling hit him with a flash so sudden that it burned. It was like falling into the Osana caverns of his homeworld, the sensation of hurtling through space so vivid it left him nauseated. And there was pain, too; a searing pain that seemed to burn through his skull, so intense that he was physically thrown backwards.

Spock opened his eyes. He was on the floor against the privacy screen. His heart rate and blood pressure were elevated, and pain lanced through his head. He blinked a few times to clear his vision. Jim was staring at him with wide eyes, breathing heavily.

“What the hell just happened?” Jim demanded.

“I apologize, Captain. I did not intend…”

Jim’s hand rose slowly, and he rubbed at his temple. “You were in my head.”

“It was not my intention. I merely – I did not initiate a meld.”

Spock forced his shields into place, the effort so great that it sent physical pain shooting through his body.

Jim was rubbing at his temples, visibly shaken. His voice was low and cold when he ordered, “Get out.”

Spock all but scrambled for the door, grateful for the short time alone in which he could process what had happened. In his retraining on Vulcan, he had not come across anything that might account for this incident. Initiating a mind meld was supposed to require physical contact and concerted effort, and even once achieved it was not supposed to cause excruciating agony. Even assuming that had been an accidental meld – if such a thing were possible – he should only have sensed Kirk’s thoughts and feelings. Anything more than that implied the existence of –

Suddenly, Spock understood.

*

Thirty-seven minutes passed before Jim arrived on the bridge. Operating on autopilot, Spock rose from the command chair. He lingered beside it while Kirk took his seat, poised with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Captain,” he said. He hesitated, and glanced sideways. Kirk was looking directly at him, apprehension hanging heavy in his gaze. It was an inappropriate location for such a discussion, yet Spock could not delay it. “Jim,” he tried again, his voice pitched low for Jim’s ears alone. “I apologize for forcing the meld upon you. I assure you it was not intentional.”

Jim gave him a weak smile. “It’s quite all right,” he insisted, though the chill remained in his voice. “It was an accident. Leave it at that.”

Spock swallowed, unable to broach the subject of what he had found in Jim’s mind. Jim could obviously tell that he was waiting to say something, though; his head was cocked and he was watching Spock expectantly.

Spock glanced around the bridge. The crew all had their heads down, too obviously aware of the tension between their commanding officers. With great effort, Spock retreated to his station for the most difficult shift he had yet endured. Throughout, he was aware of Jim’s eyes on him, but uncharacteristically Jim remained in the command chair and did not once approach him. Spock found himself utterly unable to focus, his mind was so disordered, filled with fragmented thoughts and unanswered questions. He felt guilt, too, though he knew his intrusion had been unwitting. He should never have gone to Jim’s quarters.

Conversation between the other crewmembers was muted for the entirety of the shift. The tension weighed on Spock like a physical burden, causing him to expend more energy than usual to accomplish standard tasks. It was exhausting, and by the time the shift came to a blessed end, he wanted nothing more than to retreat to his quarters to meditate some order into his mind.

Fate, though – or perhaps more likely Jim’s contrivance – had other ideas, and Spock found himself alone with Jim in the turbolift. He was silent and staring at an empty wall, and Spock found he could not let the issue lie. Delicately, he said, “I was not aware that humans could form mental bonds.”

Jim’s face tightened into a grimace. “They don’t,” he sighed and stopped the turbolift. “Unless the bond is with…”

“One of a telepathic race,” Spock completed. He was thinking of his mother, but he knew what he was implying, had almost known it as soon as he felt the raw edge of the severed bond in Jim’s mind. He took a deep breath, not knowing whether or how to continue. Jim was clearly waiting for something, though, so he added, “It is not healing as it should.”

“No.” Jim’s expression was shuttered, unreadable. “I guess if you keep scratching at a wound it’ll never heal.”

“I apologize,” Spock said sincerely. “You should have told me.”

“Bones wanted me to,” Jim admitted with a sigh. “But… I didn’t know how. Or I didn’t think you’d believe me.”

“Why would I have cause to disbelieve you? I see no logic in lying about something of this nature.”

“I don’t mean believe, I mean…believe.”

That statement was so nonsensical that Spock could not even grace it with a response.

“Anyway,” Jim continued, “I guess I was hoping you’d remember on your own.”

Spock could not understand why that made a difference; it was a statement of fact, and how he came upon it was of no consequence. Yet his inescapable need to ease Jim’s mind forced him to admit, “I believe I was beginning to.”

Jim smiled, but there was sadness to it. “I did wonder.”

“You should not have left it so long. Regardless of how I came to be aware of it, it is imperative that we re-establish the bond.”

“Wait,” Jim held up a hand. “What did you say?”

“We must re-establish the bond,” Spock repeated.

“Must we? Why?”

The look Jim was giving him was deeply searching. Spock sensed that there was some answer he was looking for, but he could only provide the logical one: “The severed bond causes you pain. You cannot deny this; I felt it.”

“Yes,” Jim made no attempt at denial. “It does.”

“Furthermore, the way our minds leaped together without a conscious meld implies that the bond is seeking to re-establish itself naturally.”

Jim shrugged. “So keep your hands away from my face. Anyway,” Jim added, “now that you know to expect it, I’m sure you can control it better.”

“That is beside the point.”

“Is it?”

Spock frowned. “It is illogical to refuse something that will ease your pain.”

Kirk gave a rueful laugh. “You’re not offering me a painkiller, Spock, you’re asking me to marry you.”

“I make none of the demands that would traditionally accompany such a bond. It is merely the logical solution to your problem.” He took a step closer, eyeing Jim carefully. “Jim, let me help.”

Jim looked as though he’d been punched. Without another word, he restarted the turbolift and they completed their journey in silence before going their separate ways.

*

Four hours later, Spock was still in his quarters, listlessly reviewing further logs of their past missions.

Now that he was aware of it, he realized it ought to have been obvious. The mind meld was a dangerous thing; it was only possible to join with another’s mind so many times before an irreparable link was formed between them. The logs revealed that circumstances had conspired to force an alarming number of melds between himself and the captain.

The brief, painful glimpse of the shattered remains of their bond in Jim’s mind was insufficient for Spock to know whether they had ever formalized the link into a true bond. It made no difference, really – the effect was the same – but there was a part of him that could not stop wondering. Perhaps, if he was ruthlessly honest with himself, even hoping.

His ruminations were interrupted by the doors to his quarters opening without warning, admitting a frantic Doctor McCoy.

“Spock? What the hell happened? Are you all right?”

“Doctor McCoy,” Spock responded calmly. “I believe that your medical override is for emergencies.”

“Don’t you get all high-and-mighty with me, you pointy-eared –”

“Doctor,” Spock cut him off with a severe expression. “I hardly think resorting to insults is appropriate.”

But McCoy was wound up now and not to be deterred. He pointed a finger in Spock’s face and snarled, “I know you have a soul in there, because I damn well had to carry the thing, so don’t you dare act like a walking computer now.”

“Doctor,” said Spock in a cool voice, “I request that you calm yourself and explain your purpose here, or leave.”

“Explain my purpose? My purpose is I’d like you to explain to me what the hell you did to Jim.”

Spock hurriedly clamped down on the lurch of fear that tore at his gut. “Is there a problem with the captain’s health, Doctor?”

McCoy threw his hands up in despair. “How the hell am I supposed to know? He’s tight-lipped as an Aldebaran shellmouth. But he was fine last night, then he spends one shift with you and then…” he made a frustrated gesture with his hand and glared at Spock. “What the hell did you do to him?”

“I did nothing,” Spock replied truthfully. “I offered to assist him with a problem of which I recently became aware, but he refused my assistance. I therefore consider the matter closed.”

“And what problem was that?”

“I am not at liberty to say. I suggest you discuss this with the captain.”

McCoy placed both hands upon the edge of the desk and leaned menacingly towards him. “Oh no you don’t. I’m not leaving here until you tell me what’s going on.”

Spock’s gaze darted to McCoy’s shoulder, but he resisted the temptation. He supposed it was logical that the ship’s physician may have been aware of the bond between its commanding officers, in which case he was breaching no privacy. He could also admit to himself, at least, that he was intensely curious. With some hesitance, he said, “Very well. Be seated and, please, lower your voice.”

McCoy complied, but he waited with a suspicious glare for Spock to proceed.

Spock took a moment to organize his thoughts before finally inquiring, “Doctor… the bond that existed between myself and the captain… was it formed accidentally, in the performance of our duties?”

“Accidentally?” McCoy snorted. “Hardly. He made me wear dress uniform; I’m not likely to forget that in a hurry.”

“Dress uniform,” Spock repeated. “There was a ceremony, then.”

“Two,” McCoy corrected him. “One on Earth, one on Vulcan.”

“Why?”

McCoy shrugged. “I guess he wanted a traditional Earth wedding as well as the Vulcan shenanigans. Or more likely his mother did.”

“I didn’t mean why were there two,” Spock clarified, the discomfited feeling swelling within him. “I meant, why were we bonded?”

“Beats me,” McCoy muttered. Spock waited, his gaze fixed on McCoy’s face as he watched the doctor squirm under the uncomfortable line of questioning. Eventually, McCoy sighed and said, “Fine, I know why. He’s been in love with you since…well, pretty much as long as I’ve known him.”

Something in Spock’s stomach lurched. He tried to ignore it, and maintained a neutral expression. “That is illogical, since I am not capable of returning the feeling.”

McCoy smirked and shook his head. “You can fool yourself, but I’m not falling for that. You were as smitten as he was.”

Spock felt his eyebrows fly up of their own volition. It sounded unlikely – scandalous, even, to his Vulcan training – yet his insides coiled at the suggestion and some instinct told him that it was true.

After a long, uncomfortable silence, McCoy heaved a sigh and leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his chest. “So that’s it, then? He finally let slip, or you figured it out?”

Spock made a noncommittal sound, not wanting to discuss how the matter had come to light. “I do not understand why he sought to conceal it.”

“Well,” McCoy sighed, “I wasn’t so keen on that myself, but try telling the captain anything.”

Spock hesitated before confiding, “He will not reinstate it.”

McCoy’s eyes went wide. “Well, that’s…”

“Illogical. I do not require anything of him; there is no valid reason to deny something that ease his pain. As a doctor, I’m sure you must agree.”

“Sure. But hang on there just a minute – you don’t require anything of him? Like what?”

“Clearly, he does not desire a bondmate at this time –”

“Did you tell him that you don’t require that of him?”

“Of course.”

McCoy rolled his eyes. “You’re even more of a fool than he is.”

Spock raised an eyebrow.

“Honestly…” McCoy shook his head. “You think he doesn’t want you because you came back with a few marbles missing?”

“Marbles, Doctor?”

McCoy glared at him. “You know damn well what I mean. And I’m sick to death of this. Go talk to him, before you drive the rest of us to mutiny.”

*

Jim was not in his quarters. Spock hesitated only a moment by the door before heading towards the observation deck. He knew not what drove him, but he knew with absolute conviction that’s where Jim would be.

He expected that Jim would still be angry or cold, and that he was prepared for. Instead, he looked resigned, sad even. “Look, Spock,” he sighed, “I know you must be freaked out, but I really can’t talk about this right now.”

“I am not, as you say, ‘freaked out.’ I will admit that I am…curious, however.”

Jim looked back over his shoulder, a smile teasing at the corners of his mouth. “You must think it all terribly illogical.”

“I have no doubt there was logic to the decision.”

“No,” Jim sighed. “Not really.”

Spock watched the grief and frustration that played over Jim’s face, feeling utterly helpless. He took a step towards him, wishing he knew how to offer Human comfort.

“Jim…” The name escaped him on a breath, almost a plea, and Jim met his eye. Spock found himself captivated by the naked emotion he could read there. Without thinking, he instinctively extended two fingers to brush against Jim’s. The contact lit a spark under his fingertips as the connection between their minds sharpened and intensified. Realizing what he was doing, Spock made to retract his hand, but Jim stopped him. Slowly, deliberately, Jim held his hand in place while he touched their fingers together. His expression was one of grim determination, at odds with the intimacy of the gesture. Spock had the uncomfortable feeling that he was being tested and found lacking.

Jim moved his fingers slowly up and down. Spock held his breath and watched, fascinated. The touch was electric, sending charges racing through his nerves and causing him to give an involuntary shudder that made Jim’s lips twitch in the ghost of a smile.

Spock wondered if Jim even knew the significance of what he was doing; but of course he must, if they really had been bonded for so many years. He realized he had not considered the full implications of that; had they shared quarters, spent their leave together, been…physically intimate, even shared a pon farr? The thought horrified Spock, but at the same time he found himself wanting to know every detail and terrified to ask.

He closed his eyes and focused on what he could feel of Jim inside his head. The fractured bond was faint, though the contact intensified it enough that he could feel Jim’s emotions if not his thoughts. They were tumultuous, difficult to separate and identify, but the overriding sensations were of joy tempered by grief. With his free hand, Spock pulled Jim closer and buried himself in those feelings until they were his own. He knew Jim’s longing for his bondmate, for the constant reassuring presence in his head, the shared glances across the bridge or chessboard, the passion with which they shared their bodies. Spock had no memory of these things, yet he yearned just the same. And then, there was the grief; the feeling of loss, confused by the fact that the subject of his longing was right there with him, a constant reminder of what was gone.

It didn’t have to be gone, Spock wanted to tell him; they could be again what they once were, even if he had to learn it all anew. He could not transmit the thought through the weak bond, though, and he could not bring himself to express such an emotional sentiment aloud.

Jim’s hand closed around his, and Spock opened his eyes. Somehow, they had ended up pressed against one another, their faces barely inches apart. Jim’s eyes were searching his, questioning. Without knowing how he understood the question, Spock lowered his head for a human kiss.

It was an illogical practice, not to mention a messy one, yet Spock was struck by how right it felt. Jim’s lips were warm and yielding, and the breathy sigh that escaped him sent a shiver down Spock’s spine. He held on to Jim’s hand, clinging desperately to the feelings that raced through his head; relief, desire and the edge of trepidation. With his free hand, Spock clutched at Jim’s uniform, drawing them closer together.

The feelings were familiar; the yielding lips under his, the way Jim’s hand intermittently squeezed at his, the desperate sounds that emerged from his throat. He couldn’t recall when or where he had kissed Jim before, only knew with absolute certainty that he had. When he raised his hand to slide fingers through Jim’s hair, he knew that its texture would be fine and soft. He ran his tongue along Jim’s lower lip, slightly roughened and chapped, and it was as though a memory teased at the edge of his mind, just out of reach. As though he could chase it, he plunged his tongue into Jim’s mouth. Jim’s lips parted willingly for him, with a deep groan that seemed to reverberate through Spock’s body. Jim’s tongue was warm, and as it caressed his, Spock was overwhelmed by an onslaught of emotion. He could perceive nothing distinct, only burning need and the edge of aggression, so desperate was he to claim and possess.

The intensity of it was all too much; Spock staggered backwards, breaking the connection between them. The loss of physical contact was jarring, and the echoes of Human emotion still resonated through him. His heart rate was elevated by one hundred and eighty percent, his blood pressure by one-fifty. His skin felt overheated, and he knew that he would be flushed green.

Jim placed a tentative hand on his arm, his head inclined in query. Even through the cloth, Spock could feel him. He had to blink a few times to clear his vision, and when he had, the sight hit him like a blow to the chest. Jim’s hair was mussed, his lips darkened, his skin reddened and glowing with perspiration. Memories teased at Spock’s mind, indistinct and elusive, yet there, if only he could discipline his mind enough to reach for them.

Jim dropped his hand and stepped backwards, leaving Spock feeling bereft. His eyes on the floor, Jim said, “I’m sorry, I… got a little carried away.”

“No.” Spock took a step towards him and slowly, tentatively, lifted a hand to his face. He traced his fingers along the jawline and heat prickled at his skin. Jim’s eyes fluttered closed, and he leaned into the touch. Spock felt warmth flood through him, though whether the feeling was his own or Jim’s he could not have said. “Jim…” He leaned in again, this time just brushing their lips together, cataloging the hitch in Jim’s breathing, the way his hands grasped at Spock’s uniform.

As he pulled away, Jim’s hands came to his shoulders. He was smiling, but his expression remained guarded. “Are you sure?”

“Quite sure, Jim.”

“You’re not just doing this because you did before, and you think it’s what I want?”

“On the contrary,” Spock held Jim’s gaze, “I believe I wanted this before I knew what we were before. I simply… lacked the context to recognize the emotion.”

“Oh, Spock…” Jim’s hands ran up and down his upper arms. “I still have trouble believing you’re really here, sometimes. Bones always said I led a charmed life, and now…” He smiled, and for the first time it lit his eyes. “How many people get to fall in love with the same person twice?”

*

Working alongside Jim the next day was an exquisite torment. He was the very model of professionalism, but occasionally, Jim would wander over on some pretext or another, hovering just behind him while they discussed sensor readings or calculated course adjustments to avoid belts of asteroids or dense nebulae.

Spock found himself having to employ every mental discipline he knew in order to maintain his focus, and even so, he estimated that he was operating at only ninety-six percent efficiency. He found that he was constantly aware of Jim’s presence, could even sense when he was being observed. And when Jim stood close to him, he had heightened awareness of his every gesture, his breathing, his heart rate.

Humans often talked of time as though its rate of passage could vary in accordance with the relative tedium or otherwise of an activity in which one was engaged. Spock had never understood the concept; his time sense was unerring, and regular and he could not imagine it otherwise. Now, though, as the hours of their shift crawled by, he found himself constantly checking the chronometer, convinced that his internal clock was underestimating the elapsed time.

At one point Jim caught him doing it, and bit back a smile. To his horror, Spock realized he was experiencing vasodilation, and knew that the green tinge of his skin would be quite visible to the captain. Jim was discreet enough not to mention it, but Spock did notice that the captain’s gaze lingered on his ears as he returned to his chair.

After eight hours that felt as though they had spanned a lifetime, the turbolift doors finally opened to admit Scotty and Uhura, the first of the next shift. They were laughing at some private joke as they arrived, but their laughter suddenly ceased as they perceived the strange tension on the bridge.

“That time already?” Jim remarked, his voice laden with irony.

Scotty and Uhura exchanged a bemused look but made no comment. Scotty went straight to business, asking, “Anything to report, Cap’n?”

“Nope, all quiet.”

While Jim handed over to Scotty, Uhura came over to the science station. She inclined her head, pointedly following Spock’s gaze towards Jim, and raised her eyebrow in query.

Spock snapped his attention back to the console, with no idea of what to say. He was relieved of the need to respond when his replacement arrived. He rose to hand over the science station, and said, “We will approach a dense molecular gas cloud in three-point-seven parsecs.”

As he left the bridge, he passed Uhura’s station, and she gave him an enigmatic smile. “Good night, Mister Spock,” she called after him. “Enjoy your evening.”

Jim placed a bold hand upon his shoulder, and said, “You heard the commander.” He jerked his head in the direction of the turbolift and Spock followed, unresisting, though acutely aware of the eyes that followed them off the bridge.

Once they were alone in the turbolift, Spock turned to Jim. “Would you care to join me for dinner?”

“Certainly, Mister Spock,” Jim replied. “Only… in my quarters? There’s something I want to tell you.”

“Very well.” Spock followed Jim to his quarters, feeling inordinately pleased when Jim adjusted the temperature controls and removed his jacket.

Jim selected their meals and brought them over to the table, but he made no mention of whatever it was he wanted to discuss. They ate for the most part in companionable silence, with only occasional comments about the ship. Spock was hyperaware of Jim’s attention on him the whole time, though, and it made him conscious of every movement he made and every quirk of his eyebrows.

When they were done with their meal, Jim reached across the table to touch his hand. Spock remained perfectly still while Jim’s fingers traced over his, noting the heightened sensitivity of his skin and the quickening of his breathing, then he turned his hand over and returned the gesture.

Watching the way their hands caressed each other, he became aware of similar moments in his past. They hovered just out of range of his conscious thought, and if he tried to focus on them they vanished altogether. It was the feeling that he recalled most strongly, the contentment with the edge of anticipation, not always accompanied by this gesture. Often, it was just the way Jim had looked at him, the way he could speak volumes with only his eyes. Some moments he recalled vividly; a gentle teasing after a mission, or a quiet moment in Jim’s quarters aboard the original Enterprise. And some, he only thought he remembered, but upon closer examination transpired to be only the memories of observed logs.

He became so lost in trying to analyze and categorize the surfacing memories that he lost all conscious awareness of Jim’s presence, until some time later Jim’s hand closed over his.

Spock blinked and lifted his gaze from their joined hands to Jim’s face. Jim licked his lips and took a deep breath before asking, hesitantly. “I wanted to tell you… That is, do you wonder how we got together? The first time, I mean?”

Spock hesitated. He wished he could say that he remembered it clearly, but he did not. “I do recall some of our time together,” he said, slowly. “Yet the memories are short and lacking in context.” They were random, too, which frustrated him; why did he recall innocuous moments on the bridge and games of chess, but not the momentous occasions; their first kiss, their bonding?

“Have you imagined how it might have happened?”

Imagination. A difficult concept for a Vulcan, but Spock was not wholly Vulcan. If he could accept that he felt emotion, it should not be hard to admit that he also imagined. Or perhaps fantasized would be closer to the mark. Yet how could he confess to the captain he so fervently admired, that he had imagined the heat of his skin, pictured his face contorted in passion, fantasized about plundering his body? These things should not be spoken of, and the words caught in his throat.

Perhaps his quandary was visible in his expression, because Jim’s smile softened. “I used to fantasize about it, too, before it happened. I came up with so many scenarios… usually the same basic themes, though. One of us is injured, and the other is so driven to despair that he suddenly confesses…”

Spock murmured his agreement; in his analysis, that seemed the most logical beginning to a romantic relationship between them.

“There were other possibilities too, though. One of those infections that strips inhibition, or spores like those on Omicron Ceti III. Perhaps an alien race would force us to… do something, and it would turn out we didn’t mind so much after all…” He took a deep breath. “And then, of course, there was the pon farr…”

Spock tensed at the forbidden mention of his Time. “Please,” he said in a rough voice, “tell me it was not…”

“No,” Jim smiled. “I thought about it a lot, though. I figured if seven years passed and we still hadn’t sorted ourselves out, I’d better have a perfectly logical argument for why I was the best one to help you…”

Spock could not even bear to think of it. The thought that he might shame himself by being stripped of all logic, all reason, and sating himself mindlessly in Jim’s precious flesh… “How long were we…?”

“We’d just celebrated our seventeenth anniversary when you…”

Died, Spock mentally finished his sentence. “Seventeen years?”

“Terran years,” Jim clarified unnecessarily. “But yes, I still got a couple of pon farrs with you.”

Inexplicably, he was smiling; nostalgia must have a curious effect on the human mind. “I am sorry,” he said in a low voice.

“Don’t be. They’re some of my fondest memories.” His smile faltered. “I only wish you remembered them too.”

Spock’s gaze drifted over the meld points, but he did not ask; he was reluctant to re-enter the mind that still grieved for him. Eager to change the subject, he said, “Yet you said that was not how it began.”

“No, we were already bonded by the time that cropped up again.”

“Then how…”

Jim turned onto his side and propped his head up on his hand, while the other remained on Spock’s arm. “What do you think? Near-death experience, spores, alien mind control?”

“They are all logical suggestions.” And Spock knew from the computer logs that all had happened to them; it was unnerving to think that somewhere in those logs was concealed a much greater story.

Jim gave a soft laugh. “Indeed. And yet it was none of those.”

Spock felt his eyebrow shoot up. He ran a quick analysis of their missions and suggested, “If I recall, we spent a lot of time imprisoned together…”

“Yeah, I thought about that too,” Jim chuckled and then fell silent. His expression sobered, and Spock wondered if he was reconsidering the wisdom of pursuing the conversation. Spock was on the verge of taking his leave when Jim spoke again, his voice quiet and unusually hesitant. “One evening,” he said, “we were in my quarters playing chess, and I was trying to work out some excuse to return to the place with the anti-inhibition infection, or planning what I’d say the next time you landed yourself in Sickbay after stupidly throwing yourself in front of phaser fire meant for me. I think you noticed I wasn’t really paying attention to the game. You said something about me not being up to my usual standard, and I said that perhaps you were just getting too used to me. You went very quiet; I thought maybe I’d offended you or something. And then, out of nowhere, you said you wanted to declare koon-ut so'lik.”

“My desire to become your mate,” Spock repeated softly. He was grateful for the low lighting, which concealed the green blush he could feel rising to his cheeks. It had not occurred to him that he might have been the one to initiate the encounter, except in the violent manner driven by the blood fever.

“Yeah,” Jim grinned, “I was pretty shocked too. In a good way, though.”

Unsure how to respond, Spock turned their hands over and idly traced a pattern over Jim’s fingers with his own. Beneath the surface of his own tumultuous emotions, he could feel the undercurrent of Jim’s, and the intensity of it caused him to shiver.

It was as though something longed-for was being held just beyond arm’s reach. He felt desire, both his own and Jim’s, and a craving beyond his wildest imagination. They were so close, yet still Spock wanted, craved more, and he could feel that same craving echoing and reverberating between Jim’s mind and his own.

“Jim,” he breathed, desperation lending a rough edge to his voice. “Do you require me to make the same declaration a second time?”

“No.” Jim squeezed his hand and pulled them both to their feet. Spock moved around the table and pulled Jim closer to him, running his free hand up Jim’s side, over his shoulder and into his hair. Jim fell into him, wrapping his arms around Spock’s torso and resting his head against his shoulder.

Spock hesitated only a moment, then brought his arms around Jim’s shoulders and held onto him. The scent of Jim’s hair filled his nostrils, and Spock breathed deeply of it. It clearly triggered something within his memory, for he was suddenly overcome by a sense of fervent passion.

Perhaps Jim felt the change in him, because he drew away just enough to claim him in a deep, Human kiss. Spock responded with eagerness that frightened him. Instinctively, he reached for the hem of Jim’s shirt, but then stopped himself, suddenly unsure. Jim broke the kiss to gasp, “Yes, Spock. Do it,” and lifted his arms while Spock pulled the shirt over his head.

Then they snapped together again, Jim’s kiss deep and punctuated by desperate sounds from his throat. Spock clutched him close to his body, hands roaming over the expanse of skin now revealed. His back was so enticingly warm, and the extensive skin contact caused his emotions to bubble at the surface. Spock knew Jim’s desire and reciprocated it tenfold; it burned in his blood, so fevered that it felt fit to burst through his skin.

Jim staggered backwards, fumbling clumsily with the clasp of Spock’s uniform jacket, and Spock followed, twisting and moving to facilitate the removal of his garments until at last their bare torsos were pressed together, and – oh – that was bliss. With their skin in contact from waist to breast, Jim’s emotions reverberated through Spock’s body, intensifying his own. He wanted more, and his hands shook as he worked at the fastening of Jim’s trousers. He was kicking off his boots at the same time, his movements frenzied, uncoordinated. Once they were both, finally, unclothed, Jim fell back onto his bed, pulling Spock down to lie in a heap on top of him.

Spock had assumed he would be a cool, thorough lover, but he burned. His instincts took over, compelling him to seek all the contact he could, so he stretched out on top of Jim, writhing as he sought to press their skin more firmly together, to feel the essence of Jim flood through him. His hands gripped Jim’s arms, holding him down, while he pressed Human kisses to his face and throat. Beneath him, Jim squirmed, emitting strangled sounds of pleasure, occasionally whimpering or gasping his name. Only as he heard each new sound did Spock know that he had heard them all before, and he made it his mission to commit each one to memory.

He focused his attention on Jim’s face, tracing his fingers over Jim’s reddened lips, up and around the exotic curve of his eyebrows, carefully avoiding the meld points. He longed for that, too, but not right now; in this moment he was too focused on piecing together his own mind. He bent to run his tongue around the shell of a delicately curved ear, relishing the alien shape, and Jim bucked beneath him, his breath hitching. Spock repeated the action on the other side while Jim squirmed, his hands roaming over Spock’s back.

Jim’s movements were drawing Spock’s attention lower down, where a brand of iron heat was prodding at his stomach. He lifted himself enough to look down upon the body beneath him. Jim’s skin was golden and slick with alien sweat. Spock bent his head to lick a trail up Jim’s throat, reveling in the foreign, saline taste. The flavor of it triggered something inside him, some knowledge long forgotten, though it did not quite coalesce into a memory. Wanting to encourage it, Spock sought the taste everywhere he could find it; in the dip of Jim’s throat, around the curve of a pectoral muscle, and in the dusky hollow beneath his arm. Jim tensed at that, but when Spock paused he earned a growl of protest.

“Please, Spock,” Jim groaned. “I can’t –“ he bucked his hips so that his erection prodded Spock’s body, demanding his attention.

Spock reached down to wrap a hand around it, and Jim hissed through clenched teeth. His penis was thick and heavy, and it twitched in Spock’s hand. He squeezed it, watching the way Jim writhed, skin stretching taut over muscles. Fascinated, Spock moved down his body, pausing to lick at Jim’s navel and the crease of his thigh, cataloging every scent and texture.

The penis he held was simultaneously alien and familiar. The smooth skin of the prominent glans was tinged a dark purple-red, and clear fluid leaked from the slit. He tasted it with the tip of his tongue, and Jim convulsed, clutching frantically at Spock’s hair. The salty taste was even stronger here; seeking more of it, Spock wrapped his lips around the head and sucked, hard.

Jim cried out and arched his back. “Spock – stop –” He tugged at Spock’s hair, pulling him off.

Spock raised his head and lifted one eyebrow. Jim’s cock bobbed in front of him, just brushing against his lower lip.

Jim swallowed as he fought for breath, and made a swiveling gesture with one hand. “Turn ‘round,” he gasped.

It took Spock a moment to understand what he meant. As he realized Jim’s intention, a charge shot straight to his groin, and he swung himself around so that he faced the foot of the bed. Stretched out alongside each other, Spock suddenly felt irrationally self-conscious. He watched with apprehension as Jim shifted down the bed until his head was aligned with Spock’s crotch.

Spock held his breath, controlling his reactions as Jim ran his thumb over his hip. He looked deep in thought, and through their skin contact Spock could feel a sense of melancholy. “Is something wrong, Jim?”

Jim shook his head with a weak smile. “No. You had a scar here, before. I forget, sometimes, how amazing it is that you’re here.”

Spock had no idea what to say to that. Perhaps Jim felt some of his discomfort, because he tore his attention away from Spock’s hip and ran his fingers along the underside of his erection. “Yeah,” Jim murmured, a grin spreading over his face. “Now this is how I remember it…” He leaned in to nuzzle the base, then licked a slow line up to the tip. “Stop controlling yourself.”

Spock exhaled slowly and tried to relax, but it took extreme effort not to thrust himself into Jim’s mouth. To distract himself, he took the head of Jim’s cock between his lips and sucked him straight down to the root. His nose was pressed against Jim’s testicles, short hairs prickling at his nostrils. He inhaled deeply, the heady scent of salt and musk and Jim stirring countless erotic visions, real or imagined. He swallowed around Jim’s cock and gripped at his buttocks to draw him in deeper, closer.

Jim was moaning around Spock erection, the vibrations reverberating up Spock’s spine. Spock released Jim’s cock, teased his tongue into the slit and sucked at the pre-ejaculate. He brought a finger to his mouth and then, slick with saliva, slid it into the warm cleft of Jim’s ass and circled the rim of his anus. As he pressed inwards, he simultaneously sucked the whole length of Jim’s cock into his mouth and inhaled his scent. Jim’s entire body convulsed, and there was an explosion of flavor upon Spock’s tongue. It was a cloying bitterness, and the flash of memory it evoked was so vivid that it brought Spock to a sudden, shuddering climax.

Spock rolled onto his back, shaking, as ghosts of sensation still coursed through his body. With great effort, he dragged himself back up to the head of the bed to lie beside Jim. He clasped Jim’s hand between them, letting the hints of Jim’s emotions seep through him.

“Fuck, Spock,” Jim sighed. “Where did you learn that?”

Spock took a deep breath. His mind was hazy and disorganized, filled with random and disordered new memories. “The logical assumption,” he replied, “would be that I learned it from you.”

“No. I mean, don’t get me wrong,” he squeezed Spock’s hand, “it was pretty damn incredible before, but that was…”

“Fascinating.”

“Yeah.” Jim turned his head to look at him, and grinned. “That.”

*

While Jim slept, Spock lay awake, staring up at the ceiling. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw images of Jim as he was and as he had been, both in command and in the throes of passion. It was far too distracting to be conducive to sleep, yet Spock found himself reluctant to leave Jim’s side.

Jim sprawled when he slept. One arm was thrown over his head, the other over Spock, and the contact provided a pleasant background hum in Spock’s thoughts.

For three-point-two hours he lay there in waking dreams of years past. He could not meditate while in contact with another, but the more he relaxed, and the more he focused on Jim’s presence beside him, the more familiar it all became.

Eventually, though, the inactivity made him restless. With great reluctance, he carefully removed Jim’s arm from where it was draped over his chest and extricated himself from the bed. While he dressed, he watched the rise and fall of Jim’s chest and memorized the rhythm of his breathing. It calmed him, and as he left the cabin, he felt utterly composed once more.

He returned to his own cabin to meditate. The familiarity of the surroundings, infused with incense redolent of Vulcan, assisted him in organizing his mind. The newly-acquired memories remained incomplete, but by correlating known variables he was able to contextualize them to some degree.

Four-point five hours passed before he was distracted by the sound of someone buzzing for entry. Jim. Spock could almost feel him on the other side of the door, though logically such a thing was impossible.

He called, “Enter,” and slowly rose to his feet.

Jim looked wary as he stepped through the door. His gaze upon Spock held a quiet intensity as he asked, “Is everything okay?”

Spock stilled, watching him for some clue. Jim took a step closer and clarified, “You left.”

From nowhere, the thought came to him. “You prefer that I remain with you when we have engaged in intimate activities.”

Jim shrugged. “You don’t have to. I just wondered…”

“I am quite well. I merely required meditation.”

“Oh.” Jim glanced down at the mat upon the floor. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“You are not interrupting.” Spock held out a hand and Jim came to him, visibly sagging with relief. The touch of their hands send a thrill through Spock’s body. He drew Jim closer, buried his nose in his hair and inhaled deeply.

He felt the vibration of Jim chuckling in his arms and drew back far enough to raise a quizzical eyebrow.

“You do that a lot,” Jim explained, mirth glinting in his eyes. “Smell me, that is. You didn’t used to.”

Spock frowned in mock consternation. “The olfactory system is the one most closely linked with memory.”

“Ah,” Jim gave him a knowing smile. “It’s only logical, then.”

“Quite logical.”

Jim kissed him, teasing at his lips the Terran way. When they separated, he seemed lighter, the burden he had carried ever since Spock’s resurrection suddenly lifted.

“You laughed,” Spock recalled, suddenly certain. At Jim’s quizzical expression, he clarified, “When I declared koon-ut so'lik. You said I was so formal, I made it sound like a business arrangement…”

“My proper first officer,” Jim grinned and reached up to trace the outline of a pointed ear.

“And then you pushed the chess game aside… You later accused me of bringing it up so that the game would not be completed to your inevitable victory…”

“Quite right.”

“Which was illogical, as I was only three moves from Checkmate.”

Jim made a face at him. “Did you really have to remember that detail?”

Spock leaned down and buried his face in the crook of Jim’s neck, breathing deeply of his scent. “We…undressed…and then…”

And then, he wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t have said whether he would have been able to piece together the precise order of events even before his death. He remembered this scent, intoxicatingly human. He recalled the feel of Jim’s skin, the way it became damp in the heat of passion, in contrast to his own body, dry as the Vulcan desert. He kissed Jim again, sliding his tongue between yielding lips and groaning as the taste brought its own flood of memories. That first time, when he had trembled with trepidation, the countless times they had claimed one another in desperation as one or both narrowly escaped death. There were slower, more leisurely explorations in there too, which Spock could not place, though in some of them Jim looked not too different to the way he did now.

Spock kissed his way along Jim’s jaw as more and more memories flickered through his head.

“Spock,” Jim murmured against his ear. “We still have an hour before we’re due on the bridge…”

Understanding, Spock led him by the hand over to his bed. He undressed Jim slowly this time, reverently touching every exposed area of skin with sensitive fingers. Jim responded in kind as he divested Spock of his clothing and caressed him with eyes, hands and mouth.

It was the most natural thing in the world to lie down with Jim and to gather him into his arms. He kept one hand on Jim’s in a passionate Vulcan kiss, and with the other he stroked Jim’s face, his breath catching at the sparks of thought that jolted through his touch as his fingers passed close to meld points. He longed, more than anything, to linger there, join them as one and to know Jim more deeply than any other ever could. Yet he held back, knowing that a meld might reforge their bond and not yet certain that would be welcome.

Through the shallow link of their touch, Spock could feel Jim’s longing, and he shared it. Flashes of images soared through his head; golden skin, slick with sweat, clothing hurriedly discarded amid frantic kisses, the arch of Jim’s back beneath him, hazel eyes glistening as they looked up at him in wonder.

Somehow, he had ended up partially draped over Jim, their hands joined at Jim’s side while the fingers of Spock’s other hand traced the line of Jim’s jaw, their faces only inches apart. He blinked and saw a much younger Jim beneath him on the bunk of a different Enterprise; the image was gone in an instant, but it seared onto the back of his mind.

Jim stretched out languorously beneath him, and their bodies writhed together. Spock kissed him deeply, as though he could chase those forgotten memories within Jim’s mouth. They were there, all of them, though they blurred together. He was no longer sure where he was; he recalled this taste and these sensations so vividly that they might still have been on the first five-year mission aboard the old Enterprise, all the intervening years a dream.

Jim arched beneath him, pressing the evidence of his arousal against Spock’s hip and with it forcing yet more memories to surface; stolen moments between away missions, in their quarters, on the observation deck, even on one memorable occasion on the bridge while the ship lay deserted at a Starbase. There were the longer, slower sessions at their home in San Francisco, too. Only as that memory surfaced, of the two of them sprawled out naked upon the floor beneath the wide window looking out over the Bay, did he recall that they had lived together. Or rather, that they had shared an apartment, for the ship, out among the stars with the two of them in command, would always be home.

With great effort, Spock broke the kiss. Jim’s murmur of protest reverberated through him, and he almost gave in, but he forced himself up just far enough that he could see the expression of captivated bliss upon Jim’s face.

“I remember,” Spock said, his voice hoarse. “It began on the first five-year mission.”

“And by the second, we were bonded.” Even in the half-light, Jim’s smile was radiant.

“I do not yet recall that,” Spock admitted.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jim shrugged. Spock’s eyebrow rose. “Really,” Jim insisted.

Spock traced his thumb over the beloved face, and they shared a small, secret smile. “So,” Spock said, “will you allow me to reinstate the bond?”

“Yes.” Jim’s voice was barely more than a whisper, yet it rang in Spock’s head as though it had been shouted.

Spock froze as the reality of Jim’s acquiescence hit him. For a long while, he just looked at him. The artificial glow of the dimmed cabin lights illuminated Jim’s skin a warm golden color, a direct contrast to his own pallor.

Eventually, impatient, Jim took hold of his hand and moved it into position. He met Spock’s gaze, his eyes urging him on.

The moment his fingers glanced over the meld points, he felt that lurch as their minds snapped together, the fractured bond seeking him out. This time, he held on, deepening the link into a full meld.

It still burned, like a river of fire coursing through his body. Yet it was muted now, lacking the raw edge he had felt before. And then, as the initial rush subsided, there were Jim’s thoughts mingling with his, all wonder and light.

It was like coming home, yet at the same time entirely new. He explored Jim’s mind, testing out the texture of his thoughts, and only after he had felt them did he realize that it was all familiar to him. Jim surrounded and infused him, until he could barely separate their thoughts at all.

Dimly, he was aware of Jim’s body moving against his, another cock rubbing against his own. As passion ignited between them, he felt it echoing between their minds, intensifying in an infinite feedback loop. He knew exactly how and where Jim wanted him, how hard, how fast, and even as he luxuriated in the damp skin against his, he felt also the novelty of dry, cool skin atop him.

Jim insinuated a hand between their bodies to grasp both their cocks, shifting and twisting until it felt right to both of them. And then he squeezed and moved his hand up and down, and intense pleasure resounded in their joined minds. Spock could feel everything; the thrill of a long glide along his slickened, sensitive shaft, the jolt of pleasure as Jim squeezed the Human glans. He felt the blood that coursed through Jim’s veins, slow and steady, as well as the thrum of his own heart.

The heat built rapidly, intensifying as they rocked together, lost in an ever-growing loop of sensation. At last, it coalesced into searing heat that coursed through both bodies and bright, white light in their joined minds.

Spock rolled to the side, gathering Jim into his arms. He was breathing heavily and residual tremors chased each other through his body. He felt a bubble of amusement that took him a moment to recognize as not his, and realized only then that they were still joined.

“It fades after a while,” Jim said around a yawn. “Then it’s just like a background…awareness, I suppose.”

Feeling Jim’s lethargy, Spock leaned over and kissed him, thinking, We are due on the bridge in seventeen minutes.

He felt Jim’s irritable response, and reminded him, We will arrive home today.

Not home, Jim corrected him. To Earth.

Indeed.

*

For their approach to Earth, the entire senior crew had been scheduled for bridge duty, and Spock found something illogically comforting in that. After the disorder of this mission, and of his own mind of late, he was reassured by the familiarity of Sulu and Chekov at the central console, and Uhura behind them at communications. McCoy, too, had come to observe their arrival, and he threw Jim and Spock an unnervingly knowing smile as they emerged from the turbolift together.

“How are those engines holding up, Scotty?” Jim enquired as the engineer rose from the command chair.

“Warp drive’s the only bit o’ the girl still working, but she’s hanging in there.”

“Approaching Sol system, Captain,” Sulu reported.

“Very good. Drop to one quarter impulse once we’re in range. With no subspace communications we’ll have to send a message to Starfleet by radio.”

While Uhura initialized the light-speed communication, Jim settled back into his chair and met Spock’s eye with an unguarded smile.

“Well,” he said. “This was an eventful trip, wasn’t it?”

“I’m gonna have words with whoever put this girl together,” Scotty grouched. “A team o’ trained monkeys could’ve done a better job.”

“Well, she’ll be all yours once we’re docked,” Jim promised him.

“I’ll have her right as rain in no time, Cap’n.”

“No hurry,” said Sulu. “I’m looking forward to a nice stint of shore leave.”

“As am I,” Jim agreed. He smiled to himself, and his gaze drifted towards Spock.

“So what are your plans, then?” asked McCoy. “Do we have to get dolled up in dress uniform again?”

Spock shot Jim a glance, and Jim shrugged in response. In the back of his mind, he felt the presence of the bond and knew that he was being asked permission to share what had passed between them.

Seizing the initiative, Spock turned to McCoy, maintaining a coolly neutral expression, and said, “If you wish to spend your shore leave in dress uniform that is, of course, your prerogative. However, the Captain and I intend to take some time to rest and readjust to our renewed bond.”

McCoy’s face broke into a grin, and there were congratulations from Scotty and Uhura, and a knowing, triumphant glance from Sulu to Chekov, but all Spock could focus on was the quiet thrill in the back of his mind that told him his bondmate felt… fine.