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On Restless Pinions

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"Time flies on restless pinions - constant never." - Friedrich Schiller

In a cluster behind his father’s house there grew a variety of cacti – knobby, oblong, stout, singular and multiples – all spiny and uninviting. But on one of them, a delicate flower bloomed in a spill of magenta. Amid the dull brick hue of the sands and the dry, sun-fried shades of cactus green, the blossom was a shock of vivid color, stimulating and electrifying. Sometimes, when his mother was preoccupied by a conference call or tending to a student, Spock was able to slip off the grounds to admire it. When he touched the petals, his fingertips tingled at the softness. When one would wither and drop, he stilled the illogical ache in his chest, for surely there would be another one more beautiful to take its place.

When he found out he was to be betrothed following the successful completion of his kahs-wan, Spock knew there was only one token of his esteem that would be good enough to offer when he met she who would become his wife. Her name was T’Pring, and she seemed spun from fine porcelain, a gossamer spirit with wide dark eyes, and she looked at his cast with unveiled curiosity. Before the elders linked their minds, Spock held out the clipped flower to her with his uninjured arm. Silently she took it from his hand, and where her fingertips brushed his palm there was a spark of recognition.

When they reached adolescence and began attending Shi’khar Academy together, Spock brought T’Pring a flower once a week, and she would allow him the privilege of arranging it in her ornate hair. All who saw her knew she belonged to him, and quietly, privately, he was proud.

Sand and silt: Uzh-Ah’rak was rich with it. It was a damper planet than Vulcan Past, more humid than the northern provinces, where T’Pring had been born, and the moisture stifled her, stopped up her breath. Such a thought was illogical, she knew; certain places on Vulcan Past had been as humid, and Vulcans there had thrived as well as those from the flatlands and the mountains. They had been two years on Uzh-Ah’rak and still T’Pring bristled at all this damp, the way her skin stuck, the way her hair misbehaved. But she took care to remind herself that the body was of no consequence — she was here because of her mind, her expertise in the telepathic arts, and her obligation to her people to put that expertise to work in rebuilding their society.

And because of Stonn.

His sand, his silt. When they had first arrived here six and a half Uzh-Ah’rak months after the initial settlement, after too long spent in refugee camps on Earth of all places, T’Pring had watched Stonn exit the shuttle and drop to his knees to inspect the quality of the soil. He pushed his hands into it, rubbed it between his fingers, into his palms. Nothing existed for him in that moment outside of the sand he held in his hands, the loam underneath. By the light of Uzh-Ah’rak’s blazing afternoon sun, she could see the muscles of his back shift and work through the fabric of his tunic; she had to avert her gaze and calm her racing heart. When finally he stood, he was filthy, dust and clay on his trousers, his tunic, his face, his hair, his hands, and T’Pring’s breath caught in her throat. He looked as he once had, as a working artist on Vulcan Past, in the life they had shared in contentment. It had been but half a standard year, and a lifetime.

He had stood and T’Pring had watched him become part of the landscape of Uzh-Ah’rak, free of the dark weight of the past several months. Stonn, she knew, had found his place, and she with him. He held out his hand.

Now T’Pring returned to their modest house in the city center. She required meditation to order her own mind after ten hours spent counseling others, but when she walked through the door, she found glass and sand strewn at her feet. She paused in the entryway and listened.

From Stonn’s workroom in the back came the sound of heavy sculptures being thrown to the walls, to the floor. Crashes, snarled curses — words T’Pring had never heard Stonn utter. She squared her shoulders and took careful, deliberate steps through the debris. When she reached the door to his workspace, she rapped in hard, percussive strikes.

The crashing and cursing stopped. There was a heavy silence as T’Pring waited straight-backed outside the door.

When he finally opened it, Stonn was somehow pale and flushed at once, sweating, and he visibly steeled himself against the penetrative quality of her gaze. His mouth was a thin, hard line, colorless.

Ko-eik-te’krusu,” he said. “Greetings. I trust your workday was satisfactory?”

“It was as expected,” T’Pring replied. She arched her brow. “Perhaps yours was less so.”

Stonn stiffened but stood silently before her, fists clenching at his sides. She raised her hand and rested her fingertips against his temple. He closed his eyes.

“I will make the arrangements as quickly as possible,” she said. “Go rest in the bedroom.”

Before she could turn away, he caught her hand in his, turned her palm up and pressed it into his face.

When T’Pring was twelve, she was sent to her grandmother’s house for one week during the school year. It was as far as one could get from Shi’kahr before crossing over into the next province, and Grandmother bred sehlats, who smelled like the wild beasts they were. The entire ordeal had been inconvenient, and when she returned, she told her mother so.

“I must never be taken so far from school again,” she said. “It was an hour’s drive by air car, and I am simply not willing to spare the study time.”

T’Kafna paused in her lesson planning and leveled a finely sculpted eyebrow at her. “Do not presume to dictate the choices I make in running this household, daughter,” she said. T’Pring, rarely rebuked, felt her heart give a wholly unexplainable thud in her side. She slid into a chair beside T’Kafna and twisted her hands in her lap. T’Kafna glanced at her and gave a short huff of exhalation. “Do not fidget,” she said. T’Pring forced calm into her limbs.

Finally her mother set her padd down and turned to face her. She pulled T’Pring’s chair closer to her own and met her gaze.

“Perhaps you are old enough now,” she said, “to learn the way of things. The price of a Vulcan man. The pride of a Vulcan woman.” T’Kafna stood and moved to the doorway, where she pressed the intercom and called for tea. She sat back down in front of T’Pring, and they were silent until their housekeeper, Tolksar, brought the tea and nutritional refreshments. When he left, T’Kafna look a long draw from her cup and seemed to contemplate T’Pring’s nose.

“Mother?” T’Pring prompted. She knew it was not her place to order her mother about, but she had assignments to do, and if her mother was merely going to stare at her, then she could do it in another room, while T’Pring did her schoolwork.

But T’Kafna drew herself up to her full, stately height, for all that she was sitting down. T’Kafna was a fierce woman, logical in the extreme, and so beautiful. In secret, T’Pring hoped that she would someday be like her.

“Do you know why the old families practice the tradition of bonding their children upon completion of the kahs-wan, daughter?”

T’Pring answered immediately. “To strengthen the ties between clans with an honorable marriage.”

T’Kafna made a low humming sound that T’Pring could not decipher as agreement or disapproval or something else. But she knew she was correct, she knew. She had been taught the words since her own bonding four years earlier, and they came to her now by rote.

“That is what children are taught, yes,” T’Kafna said. “But the truth is something less—” She waved her hand. “—sanitized. I often question the wisdom of keeping such things secret, but it is not my place to question the foundations of our society, do you understand?”

T’Pring sat up straighter. “What is the truth then, Mother?”

T’Kafna set her teacup down. “The truth is, T’Pring, that Vulcans, despite what the elders may tell you, are creatures of flesh, of blood, of heart and spirit. We are bound by our bodies though our minds are our treasures, and that should not be a source of shame. When we forge our bonds, we do it for logic; when we live our bonds, we do it for the enrichment of our existences. Do you understand?”

T’Pring swallowed. She did not understand. More, she did not like not understanding. Confusion was a foreign state of mind, and she was blind, deaf, dumb. “No, Mother,” she said, voice small.

“I am being unclear,” T’Kafna said with a sharp shake of her head. “I apologize. Let me be plain: T’Pring, I speak of intimacy, both of the mind and of the body. Successful bonded pairs share a mental accord deeper and more… personal than those shared with family. It is a true understanding of another being, and, because our bodies exist and to deny it would be the height of illogic and farce, such an understanding manifests itself in a sharing of the physical. To be close to one’s bondmate in mind and body both is a gift, my daughter.”

T’Kafna fell silent and T’Pring turned her explanation over and over in her mind, as well as what prompted the conversation in the first place. She could come to only one conclusion, but she was not certain she should say such a thing to her mother. However, courage was a virtue lauded since the earliest days of Vulcan civilization, and T’Pring drew all of hers around herself like a shield.

“You… sent me away so you could copulate with Father?”

T’Kafna’s face did something bizarre, just then — her brown eyes crinkled, and her mouth curved very slightly upward. T’Pring thought her mother might not be well and panic threatened to seize her.

“T’Pring, I need not send you away to do that.” She poured more tea into T’Pring’s cup, already over-full, and pushed it at her. “There is more — pon farr. Have your age mates discussed these words with you?”

Cautiously, T’Pring nodded and blew on her tea.

“And what did they say?”

T’Pring took a breath. “Wild, illogical things, Mother. They bear no repeating.”

T”Kafna gave her look as if unimpressed. “You would do well, daughter, to recall that I too was once young, and privy to the scintillating conversations of pubescent children.”

T’Pring shifted in her seat, rolled her shoulders. “Skoltek said — he said that once every century, Vulcan males lose hold of their logic and rampage through the streets, raping sehlats.”

T’Kafna merely nodded. “And what else?”

“T’Kander said she saw a pon farr once, and it looked like the offspring of a wild Vulcan and a le-matya, and it howled at T’Khut.”

“And?”

“And… and Valek said her grandfather perished because of one.”

T’Kafna sagged back into her chair. She cast her eyes away from T’Pring, studied the opposite wall. She cupped her hands around her tea.

“That, my daughter, is precisely why we practice traditional bondings. So that when the Time of Mating, pon farr, comes upon them, Vulcan males do not succumb to the blood fever and meet death in its flames. The first pon farr is unpredictable — it could occur as early as seventeen and as late as forty. That is why it is important to have a mental link with a compatible mind before the commencement of the marriage: so the bondmate can keep her wits and do what must be done before a senseless death takes place. A bondmate’s duties during pon farr are to submit, to placate, to offer comfort and succor while the male is in need.” Here she turned to T’Pring and pinned her to the chair with her gaze. “This is an honor, daughter. This is what passes between bondmates, a true fire. It is a time when all is laid bare. You should not fear this time, despite your mate’s lack of logic, and despite what others may say. This is when you will be closest to him, as close as it is possible to be, and that is…indescribable. Mine may not be the prevailing wisdom on the subject, but… daughter, I have had a successful bonding. I lead a life of contentment with my chosen and our children. I would not change this.”

T’Pring thought of her bondmate, Spock. Half-human, a year younger than T’Pring herself, slightly round and more than slightly small for his age. They had reached a comfortable accord and exchanged letters on a regular basis detailing their academic interests. They would attend secondary school together in the near future, and she anticipated an increase in time spent with him socially. She wondered if she, too, would be pleased and honored to serve him in his Time. But her mother kept speaking, so she cast off the unsettling thoughts of Spock, older, taller, stronger, with dark eyes that flashed, dangerous.

Pon farr occurs approximately once every seven years,” T’Kafna was saying. “It lasts between three and six days. You will recall, T’Pring, that when you were five, you stayed with Grandmother as well. You took pleasure in tending the sehlats, then.”

T’Pring found she could not look at her mother. She burned her mouth on tea. T’Kafna’s chair dragged across the floor, a terrible grating sound, and T’Pring felt her mother’s hand smooth over her hair, and then she was alone with the truth.

T’Kafna, of course, was dead now. T’Pring looked in the mirror and could not find traces of her mother in the lines of her nose, her jaw, her brows. She favored her father in looks and always had, but now, almost twenty years after her mother first told her about pon farr, she imagined that she was her mother’s daughter more than ever. Stonn’s Time would not be a burden for her. She would touch him, with her mind, with her hands, with her mouth. She would cherish him.

She cleansed herself thoroughly using the mildest of scentless soaps, washed the product from her hair, from under her arms, from her face. She groomed her brows, her pubic hair. She brushed her teeth, she cleaned inside her anus. She blew her hair dry and let it fall about her shoulders like a wanton woman, like someone of no status. Her stomach was flat, her hips gently flared, her breasts full and well-shaped. In the mirror she appeared healthy, shimmering even, and she felt a spark of — yes, pride. She did not bury it.

T’Pring put on a simple tunic and peeked inside the bedroom. Stonn lay curled in the bed, muscles tense even in sleep. He had need of her, and urgently. She closed the door and went into her office. There was just one more thing to put to rest before she could bond with her chosen.

“Knock knock,” came Jim’s voice. Redundantly, since he was already inside Spock’s quarters, sticking his head into the office space where Spock sat doing his paperwork. Spock looked up at the smiling face.

“Jim,” he said. “Come in.”

Jim entered properly, but instead of taking a seat across the work table, he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.

“Tell me what I saw on that shore leave schedule isn’t true.”

Spock suppressed a sigh and set his padd down. He leaned back in his chair and regarded Jim with steady resolve.

“I have no pressing needs on a pleasure planet. I require minimal rest, which I can achieve more expediently and more efficiently through meditation in my own quarters, and my presence on the duty roster means that other crew members may take extra time as deserved.”

Jim came over and clapped Spock on the back.

“Always taking one for the team, aren’t you, First Officer?” Shaking his head, he finally took the seat opposite Spock. “And come on, you’re thinking about it all wrong. A spot of R & R isn’t about ‘expediency’ and ‘efficiency,’ for Christ’s sake. That’s like… the opposite of rest and relaxation.” Jim stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankle. He linked his hands and braced his head in the palms as he slouched back in the chair. Frankly, it looked uncomfortable.

“It is my choice, Jim.”

Abruptly Jim’s posture snapped forward such that his feet were planted flat on the deck, elbows on knees, body draped across the table. Blue eyes took up all the space in Spock’s line of vision.

“Come on, Spock,” he said. “Who will I go joyriding with in the undeveloped outlands? Who will come with me to all the nerd sites? Who will I force to eat increasingly weird native meals with me?”

Spock knew he had a weakness for those eyes. What’s more, Spock believed that Jim knew he had a weakness for those eyes, though he was reasonably sure that Jim was not aware of the nature of that weakness. Jim simply thought everyone could be swayed by a big-eyed, pleading look from James T. Kirk — even Vulcans.

It occurred to Spock that Jim was leaving out something very specific and very important from his list of Things To Do With Spock On Shore Leave: Who will I torment while I pick up an alien female to entertain with the pleasures of my body, which you will never know? At first, Spock thought Jim was being malicious, cruel even, to mock Spock’s regard so, but as time went on, Spock came to the rather comforting conclusion that Jim was simply oblivious, both to Spock’s affections and to how his behavior wounded him. So Spock did his level best to set aside his esteem, and to remind himself that he was not free to accept affection even in the unlikely event that Jim should wish to bestow it upon him. Thus they had not shared shore leave for two cycles, and they would not share this one either.

“Surely Dr. McCoy can be prised from Ms. Chapel’s side for a few activities.”

Jim made a dismissive puff sound and waved his hand. “Bones. First of all, hates air cars; secondly, only ever wants to go see museums of medical oddities if he’s doing museums at all, and ew; thirdly, and most importantly, no, you can’t tear those two away from each other. It’s…” He rotated his wrist in the air trying to find the right words even as he pursed his lips and furrowed his brow in a sour expression of distaste.

“Tedious,” Spock supplied. Jim’s gaze cut to him.

“Yeah,” Jim murmured, hand dropping to the table. “Yeah, that’s exactly it.”

Spock swallowed. “I’m sure you will find suitably stimulating company on-planet. I will remain on the Enterprise.”

The corner of Jim’s eyes drooped infinitesimally and his expression tightened. He drew his hand back and straightened in his chair.

“Yeah. All right, Spock. Maybe next time?”

No, never again. “Perhaps.”

“Right.” Jim stood. “Well, I guess I’ll get going. Unless you’re up for a chess match?”

“I have a great deal of paperwork to complete tonight, Jim.”

Jim nodded and moved to leave. At the partition, he paused and turned back to Spock. He seemed to hesitate, but timidity had never been something he was accused of.

“What happened to us, Spock?” he asked. “You used to come on shore leave with me. You used to play chess with me whenever. We used to… hang out. Did I do something?”

The only thing Jim was guilty of was being himself, and Spock could not hold that against him. Even if doing so were not the height of illogic, he found he had no wish to fault Jim for being as he was. Jim simply was as Spock had come to admire him: brash, arrogant, flirtatious, exuberant. Intelligent, strong, vulnerable, accepting—

“No, Jim, of course not. You’re — wonderful.” As soon as it was out of his mouth, Spock wished he could bite it back. These were not words bandied about in the bonds of typical human male friendship as he had come to observe them. Men were often rough with each other, using affectionate insults to express their esteem if they expressed it at all. Spock felt his eyes go wide in a moment’s loss of control.

But Jim didn’t seem to notice. He just cracked a crooked smile that didn’t reach his eyes and said, “Wonderful, huh? So it’s not me, it’s you?” Spock frowned and cocked his head. Jim waved his hand again. “Never mind. I think you’re great, too, Spock. I’ll see you for alpha.”

Spock watched him leave and a heavy sensation came over his chest. He let himself take in a moment’s blankness, his mind emptying as he exhaled. Then he took up his padds again and got back to work.

Spock’s communicator trilled at his desk. “Uhura to Spock, come in Commander Spock,” came the familiar intonation.

Spock slapped the comm button. “Spock here.”

“Commander, there’s a transmission from New Vulcan for you, marked ‘personal.’”

“Patch it through, Lieutenant.”

Spock sat down in the chair as his view screen flickered, and a point of light expanded until a face filled the screen. It was T’Pring’s face, somehow impassive and imperious at once. At the sight of her hair down, Spock had to calm the uptick beat in his heart.

“Spock,” T’Pring said. “I hope this finds you well.”

Spock inclined his head. “I am functional. What is the purpose of your communication?”

“I call as a courtesy in acknowledgement of what we once shared,” she said. Spock remembered afternoons spent in study, fleeting touches, and, once, a communion of their bodies and minds, a scant few hours when he had felt so close to another being that a cautious contentment had bloomed in his chest for the first time. The next day, a broad-shouldered young man with calluses on his hands named Stonn transferred to their school from a southern province, and T’Pring had been lost to him. Now, though light-years separated them, she managed to tear his measure of peace away again when she said, “Stonn has entered his time, and I intend to bond with him. The connection between us, Spock, will necessarily be severed.”

“I see,” Spock said. He was suddenly very aware of the touch of T’Pring’s mind in his – warm and steady and unobtrusive, like a heartbeat. Though he was often unaware of it on a conscious level, its absence would be… disconcerting. “I wish you both peace and long life.” As he moved to cut the transmission and collect himself, T’Pring cocked her head in a familiar gesture he had come to be fond of, in a different time. He paused and raised an eyebrow in question.

“I am aware that my actions are detrimental to your wellbeing, Spock,” she said. “I find it necessary to apologize.”

Kaadith. I have known that this day would come, and I am functional.”

“And yet you mourn.”

Spock suppressed the flare of irritation that threatened to eclipse his calm. “You were promised to me,” he said, containing the illogical urge to thump his chest with a fist.

T’Pring straightened her spine and hardened her mouth. “In an archaic ritual used in ancient times to subjugate the female of our species, and which existed on Vulcan Past only amongst the oldest families, mired in tradition. It is a new era, a new planet. No, Spock, I belong to no one but myself, and for me, Stonn is the only rational choice.”

She said “rational choice” as if Stonn were the manifestation of a perfectly ordered list of what is desirable in a mate, yet Spock had been uncomfortably aware of the light in her eyes when she beheld Stonn in those final months before Spock had left Vulcan. That fire had had precious little to do with rationality.

Spock thought then, unbidden, of his captain, whose esteem shone light into Spock’s austere existence. Whose smiles and small touches were the high points of any given day Spock spent in his presence, and whose absence from his life now was a barren desolation, even when Spock engineered those absences himself. Spock would never enjoy his intimate company for innumerable reasons, T’Pring being the first, and Spock’s decided masculinity being the second. Spock pushed down a bitterness at the irony of his convenient reason number one removing herself from his list and following the inexorable path of her heart while Spock could do no such thing.

“In lieu of apology, I ask of you one thing only,” he said.

“Proceed,” T’Pring said with a stiff nod.

“I ask that you acknowledge that you follow not logic in this decision, but the caprices of your emotions. You… care for Stonn, and your preference for him over me is rooted in that affection.”

T’Pring watched him silently through the viewer. The bond between them hummed and throbbed. It stung like an overstretched muscle.

“You and I are not suited, Spock,” she said at last. “I knew it from the only time I slipped into your half-human mind. You are not suited to any Vulcan.”

Spock, who had heard enough of such words and their variations to last him a lifetime, still felt bile roll in his gullet at their utterance. And from T’Pring, they were doubly painful — she had never said such a thing to him before. She had, in fact, deliberately avoided such talk in the past, and shielded him from the talk of others. He let nothing on his face betray the fact that he felt those words like a physical blow.

“Nevertheless,” T’Pring went on, “it would be disingenuous to insist that Stonn and I do not share a mutual affinity. When I am with him, contentment suffuses my being. Does it satisfy you to hear as such?”

Anger and resentment drained from him like so much rainwater. He could neither keep his bitterness lashed nor cultivate it anew. It was gone, and in its place was a lonely sterility and just a dash of jealousy. His hand hovered over the disconnect button.

“Then I do not wish you contentment,” Spock said. “I wish for you a full measure of happiness, and the courage to allow it free rein during private moments with your chosen. Live long and prosper, T’Pring.”

He disconnected and sat staring into the empty viewer for a long time. When he felt something living and raw crack and then snap along the tender edges of his mind, he rose, stripped, commanded the lights down, and curled into his bunk several hours before his usual resting period. He covered his face with his hands and tried to calm the tremors before he fell into a fitful sleep.

T’Pring was uncharacteristically silent as they made their usual way back to the House of Sarek after school on a torpid mid-year day. Spock was content to be in the company of his intended though they shared no conversation. Once in a while, he felt her cast a speculative gaze at him, but hers was a consideration he did not object to.

When they arrived, they greeted Spock’s mother and made their way to his wing of the house. Spock took his usual seat in his study and began to arrange his textbooks in the order in which he intended to work from them, but T’Pring did not do the same. He felt her move up beside him and he looked up with an arch in his brow.

“Did you forget one of your school books?” he asked. She was close enough that he felt the heat of her on his side. He could smell the fragrant blossom he’d put in her hair that morning.

“T’Biran asked me an impertinent question during the midday meal.”

Spock cocked his head. He had grown accustomed to tucking away the small hurts, the taunts from his peers for which he could find no logic, but T’Pring, who benefitted from her family’s status as well as her own ethereal desirability, was rarely subjected to such harassment, and thus was less prepared when confronted with them. As they neared the end of their secondary education, she seemed to bear more and more the brunt of their classmates’ prejudice against Spock.

“Cast it from your mind,” he told her. “T’Biran is known to speak and act without care to logic. She should not trouble you.”

T’Pring pulled a chair over to sit beside him. She placed her hand near his on top of his physics book, their fingertips mere millimeters apart. Spock’s lips parted.

“It is not she who troubles me,” she said. “She is low-born and beneath my notice. Yet her query has merit, and I find I must assuage my own curiosity on the subject.”

Spock curled his fingers into a loose fist and drew away from the temptation of T’Pring’s. He straightened around his wariness.

“I assume you bring this to my attention because it pertains to me.”

“Affirmative.”

“Proceed.”

T’Pring hesitated, but placed her hand over Spock’s. “It is expected of those who share marriage links to engage in copulation, is it not, Spock?”

Spock felt his eyes widen, but T’Pring’s face remained impassive. “I suppose,” he said.

“Why have you not sought my favor for coitus? Is it because your genitals resemble those of a human male?”

Spock pulled his hand away and turned back toward the table. He fixed his gaze on his books.

“That is quite personal.”

“Am I not your intended bondmate?” T’Pring asked. “Your companion and confidante? Have I not stood at your side, unwavering when our classmates mounted their verbal attacks?”

“T’Pring…”

She reached her hand out again and this time laid it on his chest. Helplessly he cleaved to her touch, pressed down upon it with his own hand. He tangled their fingers and heard the hitch of her breath.

“Do I not deserve to know, sa-telsu?” Her voice was soft and even.

Spock forced himself to meet her eyes. Through their contact he could feel her turmoil, her resentment, and there, low, a steady thrum of arousal. It was intoxicating.

“I am Vulcan,” he said. “My… genitals are Vulcan.” He felt a convulsive squeeze of her fingers.

“Show me?”

“I am not certain that is appropriate.”

T’Pring rubbed his fingers, maddening strokes of expert precision. This much they had done with some frequency, mingling sensation with emotion in the touch of their hands. But on the brink of adulthood, Spock desired more. T’Pring, he could feel, had an answering wish.

“What is more appropriate than two beings promised to one another to share in the physical manifestation of that promise?”

Spock swallowed. He let go of her hand and stood. He calmed his fumbling fingers enough to unbutton his trousers and splay open the flies. He pushed the waistband of his underpants down underneath the folds of his sac. He was halfway to a full erection, and his penis – his Vulcan penis, complete with the covering of hundreds of villi engorged and eagerly waving down his entire length – hung heavy between his legs. T’Pring stared at it from her seated position, pink mouth parted, and then she flicked her eyes up to meet Spock’s.

“May I?” she asked. Spock swallowed again and took in a shaky breath. He nodded once, and T’Pring pressed her hand to the base of the shaft, and with the other she cupped his testicles. A rush of blood sent it surging in her grip, and he was at full proportions, big and weighty, villi quivering, slick head extending from foreskin in keen greeting. “Very Vulcan,” T’Pring murmured, and Spock thought he detected a note of satisfaction. She gave a cautious squeeze, and his villi flared outward to maximize touch. Spock bit back a moan. T’Pring slid in one motion to her knees before him and pressed his backside to the table. “Have you thought of this?” she asked him, her wide eyes a clear and perfect brown.

He blinked down at her. “Have you?”

“Frequently,” she said. “And I have done research, of course.” She steadied his penis in one hand while she stroked his villi with the other. Moisture seeped out from them to ease the passage. Spock willed his knees not to buckle. “I am gratified that you are a proper Vulcan in this.” She closed her hot mouth over the head of his penis and the pleasure so overwhelmed his synapses that Spock could not contemplate the casual offense in her words.

T’Pring explored Spock’s penis with too much caution and a certain lack of poise, but the heat of her mouth and the slick press of her tongue were enough to make Spock’s controls tenuous. He wished to touch her, but he was unsure of what to do with his hands. Finally he settled them in her hair, careful not to dislodge the white flower he’d placed there earlier. She was bobbing up and down with increasing grace when he felt the pressure of orgasm gather at the base of his spine, but it was then that she pulled away. Spock gasped, thwarted, and she stood. Braced against the table as he was, they were eye level, and she pinned him with the intensity of her gaze.

“Touch me,” she said, and she pulled his hands to her breasts over her clothing. She pressed close to his body, and he could feel the heave of her breath against his neck. “Touch me, Spock.”

“T’Pring,” he said, “I—”

“Do you desire me, Spock?” she whispered into his heated skin. “Do you think about our bodies and minds in communion?”

“Yes,” he hissed.

“Then cease your missish hesitation and touch me.” She closed her hands around his and forced him to squeeze her breasts. They just filled his palms, a pleasing weight, and he could feel the hardness of her nipple through her fitted tunic. His exposed penis throbbed, caught between their bodies, and he thrust against T’Pring’s leg mindlessly even as he pushed her tunic up around her armpits. He encountered a flimsy brassiere, barely more than a slip of cloth lashing her breasts to her body, and he pulled the cups down to expose her breasts – creamy and full, tipped with sweet olive nipples – to his sight. She let out a tiny sound, a gasping moan, before she pressed her lips together to smother it.

Spock spun them so he was the one whose body bore hers against the table, and he bent to take one of her nipples into his mouth. T’Pring stifled another moan, but her hand in Spock’s hair twisted and clasped him to her breast. He pushed her onto the table and she spread her legs only to wrap them around his hips and pull him into the juncture of her thighs. He didn’t bother suppressing his grunt when he rutted against her and suckled her breast. Her breath came ragged, and small sounds escaped her throat each time he nicked her nipple with his teeth.

He cupped her firm buttocks with one hand, kneaded the muscle beneath her thin leggings. She writhed beneath him, rocked her hips up to meet the insistent thrusts of his, and again Spock thought he would ejaculate, this time on her smooth, bare stomach, but once again she pushed him away. This time she pressed his shoulders down to encourage him to kneel before her. She shuffled out of her leggings and underwear and spread her legs. Spock’s mouth went dry at the sight of her labia parted like petals, dew glistening from her bright green slit. From underneath a hood of flesh at the top, her clitoral villi trembled delicate and tender over the raw pearl of her clitoris. Her scent intoxicated him, and he tugged at his testicles to keep himself from climaxing.

“Please,” she said, though it sounded more like a demand than a request.

Spock grasped her by her hips to anchor her before he lapped at the moisture that peeked out from within her. She gave a sigh and dropped to her elbows on the table, slinging her legs over his shoulders. She smelled of the succulents that grew near his cacti, and the flavor of her was mild and salty. He set to licking at her hot insides, savoring the viscous fluid that leaked from her, but then her hand was in his hair and she was pulling him up against her body again.

“Does this not please you?” he asked in a voice gone hoarse. The flower had fallen from her hair to the table.

“I assume you will become more skilled with repeated practical application,” she said. “Please stimulate me manually now.”

At the first slide of two of his tingling fingers into T’Pring’s wet, grasping vagina, Spock’s eyes closed and he could feel them cross behind the lids. With his free hand, he pumped at his penis, the spongy little villi springing back up each time his hand passed over them. Spock gave his fingers a shallow thrust, and T’Pring’s right hand came up to rub at her clitoris.

“Curl your fingers,” she told him. He obeyed, rubbing the pads of his fingertips against the anterior wall of her vagina, where he could feel more pliant villi pulse at the attention. T’Pring groaned close-mouthed and her head fell back, eyes closed. Drawing in a breath, Spock began to thrust his fingers into her with more fluid, purposeful motions, and he was sure to drag his fingertips against her inner villi. Her legs closed around him, and she pulled his head down to her breasts again. He moaned around his mouthful while she laid herself on her back and wriggled her single free hand back down to rub quick circles on her clitoris. Her tight channel began to contract around his fingers even as she arched to draw him in further. His breath came heavily and he let go of her hip to begin jerking his penis toward the inevitable end.

T’Pring’s orgasm struck first, and the rush of sensation that passed between their skin sent Spock’s villi flaring into stiff little nubs as he too climaxed, his semen spurting onto T’Pring’s thigh. Spock slumped into his chair and blinked through the haze of climax to take in T’Pring, supine on the table, legs limp and dangling off the edge, glistening with her own fluids and striped with Spock’s, chest heaving for breath. Spock lifted his hand to his nose and inhaled the intimate scent of her. His villi gave a feeble twitch, but then lay sated and quiescent against his length. He tucked himself back into his trousers.

After a moment, T’Pring propped herself up and leveled her gaze at Spock. Her tunic was still rucked up above her breasts.

“That was satisfactory,” she said. “I expect we will become experts at copulation.”

Spock nodded, but he stared at her swollen nipples and longed to feel them on his tongue again. He pulled her into his lap and ignored the zing of her suppressed confusion when he peeled her tunic off. He nestled his face in the fragrant, smooth skin of her chest and held her to himself. Her arms settled around his neck and she patted his hair awkwardly.

She drew back to meet his eyes, and her fingers skimmed his temple.

“May I?” she asked. Spock’s heart flipped. He had not dared to hope for this, for T’Pring to want to touch his mind with her own, to know him to the core. He swallowed and nodded, and when his eyes closed he felt T’Pring enter him like life-giving water.

Joining with T’Pring in the most elemental of ways was like seeing colors for the first time, like paint meeting paint in a dazzling display, like the sun lighting him up from the inside. Her being enveloped him, as his did her, and warmth like a heartbeat raced up his spine and burst into his mind and body both. He could feel her beside himself, and he felt whole, complete. Wonder flooded his senses and distantly, he could feel his limbs clutch T’Pring’s body to his, his mouth suckling at her breast, and then there was a break, a rolling thunder, a rising panic, and T’Pring tore herself away.

Spock gasped and blinked up at her. She was panting, hands shaking, and quickly she turned her back to him to pull her tunic back on.

“We must return to our studies,” she said. She pushed a padd into his hands and sat as far away from him as the table would allow. She did not meet his eyes for the rest of the afternoon.

T’Pring found the mandatory arts program at Shi’Kahr Academy to be illogical and wasteful. Spock, of course, had a track in music and music theory, as he was a lyre player of some natural poise, and music was a respectable form of math. However, that was his choice. T’Pring was a powerful telepath, specializing in linguistics. She had no need to create art of her own, and she had no natural inclination toward art of any sort — she was tone-deaf; her drawings and paintings were rough, disproportionate children’s scratchings; she had no eye for holography; mosaic and collage ended up a chaotic mess in her hands. All that was left to her for the necessary art credit she required for graduation was sand sculpture. Desert born and bred, daughter of Vulcan, T’Pring nonetheless disliked sand and disliked sand sculpture — the churning mixture of sand and silt gritted against her skin, dirtied her body and her clothes no matter how large the smock she donned, stuck beneath her fingernails. But it was halfway through her final semester and she could not drop; she had no options remaining.

She thought of Spock with his lyre, his natural ease, as she entered the sand sculpture studio during a free period and prepared her workspace. Spock had been her one constant companion since they entered the academy together. He had even moved up a year due to his accelerated progress. She had heard many instructors speak of his great intellect, and how he had overcome his unfortunate heritage. She walked tall when they enumerated her bondmate’s many accomplishments; he was betrothed to her, linked for always, and he was a son of the ancient and venerable House of Surak. There was no one in the academy who had a finer future than T’Pring. But more than that, she had believed they shared an accord, their minds attuned, their temperaments matched. She had believed that there could be no more successful match than that of Spock and T’Pring, and she was well satisfied in that.

Then, yesterday afternoon, she had felt that future, that satisfaction, crumble like one of her lopsided sand sculptures.

She had let T’Biran’s words twist something proud inside her into something dark and unclean. She had let the pounding of her blood through her veins get the best of her. And in that weakness she found her undoing: there would be no contentment in a full-fledged bond with Spock. His mind, once she had pushed past the order and the logic into the deepest core of him, was a pulsating miasma of color and sensation, warmth and desire and soft feeling, yearning and ferocity and symphonic noise. Her innards curdled at the touch, the proximity, and T’Pring was made brittle and overwhelmed in the aftermath. She still held Spock in high esteem. She still desired the future she thought they would share. She still wished to sit at the Council of Elders as a head of the House of Surak someday — but to deny reality was the height of illogic, as her mother would say. T’Pring was nothing if not a pragmatic realist. She would meditate and commit herself to logic, and a solution to her dilemma would come to her in time. She would be patient, and in the meanwhile, she would be polite and supportive to her betrothed. He deserved as much.

T’Pring had her block of silt domed and spinning on her wheel, asymmetrical and already threatening to collapse, when the studio doors slid open and someone T’Pring did not know glided in as if he were the proprietor of all he surveyed. He was approximately her age, fair of hair and eye — a Southern origin, then — ganglier even than Spock, but broader about the shoulders, and his overlarge ears stood out perpendicular to his head. He had a pointy chin beneath a pursed, harassed mouth, and he stared at her as if she were the interloper.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Stonn, son of T’Kelsen,” he replied in his curious accent. Illegitimate as well as presumptuous, with neither the brains nor the shame to hide either. T’Pring was not impressed. “I arrived here today from Shan’Kehn.”

T’Pring turned back to her latest ruin, buried her hands in it as if the final product were of the utmost importance to her.

“Scholarship, I presume,” she said.

The newcomer gathered his materials and took the wheel opposite her. She felt his imprudent gaze settle on her face. She stared intently at her own pile, a shapeless mess.

“The measure of my worth is not in my family name,” he said. The whir of his wheel filled the silence. Then, “Nor is yours.”

“You speak out of turn,” T’Pring snapped. When she looked up, he had already coaxed a cylinder from his silt, the dull red coating his hands up to the wrist. In the cup of his palms he threw sensuous shapes as easily as T’Pring might breathe.

“What is your name, ko-eik-te’krusu?” he asked her softly, barely audible over the hum of his wheel. Empress, he dared to call her. Like a Vulcan queen of old, like an uncivilized beast, slave to her baser natures. T’Pring’s mouth pinched.

“You are not worthy of my acquaintance,” she said.

Those pale eyes lingered, unabashed, on hers. Apparently he did not need to look at his work for it to be the finest she’d ever seen, greater in mere minutes than that which she had seen even her instructor create. She swallowed down the rising of her gullet.

“Who could ever be?”

“You dare to mock me?”

Finally, finally, he dropped his eyes to his work. In seconds the tall, delicate structure was a wide, deep bowl, perfectly symmetrical. One hand inside and the other a supportive brace on the outside, his thumbs crossed over the lip of the bowl like a bird in flight, and the bowl grew beneath his ministrations. His hands were large, the fingers long and sturdy, the palms square. They were rough; he worked with them every day, perhaps on a farm, perhaps in this foul clay.

T’Pring’s structure sagged and fell to the side with a dull thud. She felt her shoulders droop before she drew herself back up. But Stonn had stopped his wheel and as T’Pring gaped, he stepped right over the table that stood between them and planted himself on the edge, his legs open and framing her wheel from the other side. She jerked back when their knees touched.

“Like this, ko-eik-te’krusu.” And with no further warning he placed his hands in the mess and centered it on the wheel, effortlessly transformed it back into a dome. She chanced a glance at his eyes, but they were intent on the silt, and all she could see was the foreign green light of them. “Your hands must be strong and steady, like the resolve I see in your eyes. Support the silt from the bottom up with hands that never waver.” Up, up, the silt went, and then, very carefully, he pulled her right hand — by the wrist, but still dangerously close to impertinence — and pressed it to the base. He dribbled water over it. The other he pulled in the same manner and placed at the top of the structure. “You control the silt,” he said, “by pressing with the left and supporting with the right. Never let the speed of the wheel dictate that which you would see made.”

He was close enough to smell, and he smelled like the desert. T’Pring’s lungs felt too tight.

Stonn returned to his own wheel and they passed the period in silence. When T’Pring finished and made to clean up, on her wheel was a single serviceable bowl.

The atmospheric controls of the Enterprise were set at twenty-two degrees Celsius — human-normal — and this was generally considered to be the optimal temperature at which humans should work.

Spock needed thermals.

His uniform came with black undershirts in thermal fabric and thicker, moisture-wicking socks, and that was standard procedure for all Starfleet officers from warmer planets, or even for humans from warmer climates on Earth or Earth colonies. 1.6% of the crew required such garments, in fact.

And yet Spock awoke freezing the day after he parted from T’Pring. He checked the temperature in his quarters, which read as Vulcan-normal — thirty-two degrees — and then he checked the corridor, which also proved normal. Then he commed down to engineering to ask if anything seemed amiss in atmospheric control, only to be told all was well. Even though it was quite early in ship’s day, Spock commed Lieutenant Ix’laak from the Marvis system to ask if xe too felt a chill this morning, but xe informed him that xe was experiencing no difficulties outside of the usual ones with xir tail. Spock promised to have the quartermaster design a better uniform before he cut the transmission.

A shiver wracked him and he called up the temperature to forty degrees. After his sonic shower, he donned two of his thermal undershirts and partook of two cups of steaming tea, as hot as he could get it.

His day was almost tolerable.

After beta shift the next day, his temperature seemed to have righted itself, but he could not achieve an acceptable meditative state, and he perceived a slight nausea, even momentary sweating, which kept him from the necessary focus.

Humans were susceptible to various maladies that had similar symptoms; the most common culprits were sure to be influenza or the common cold. He had never succumbed before, but he knew that in the limited and recycled atmosphere of a starship, a comparable virus could be expected to infect a significant percentage of the crew. It was not completely out of the question that he should contract a human illness, but the more he contemplated the possibility, the more he believed it illogical. After all, the crew was mostly intact — minor injuries and scant illnesses, none resembling his, represented those currently in treatment by the medical staff.

Spock tried to go deeper into meditation, but his thinking was scattered, his breath out of line with the pace of his thoughts. And then — there, in the recesses of his mind, he became aware of what was left of his bond to T’Pring. It was merely a ragged stump, a limb torn off.

Spock’s eyes snapped open. There would be no meditation until his bonding cortex healed, but he estimated that it should take no longer than three days, less once he could achieve a healing trance. Vulcans recovered from broken bonds naturally; bonds broken by death or by design, like his, were a normal occurrence, if not a pleasant one.

He would endure.

A week after he had his bond torn from him, Spock stared into his view screen at the science station. It gave gas readings of the star system the Enterprise was currently hurtling though before it would reach the site of this cycle’s shore leave. Spock tried to commit them to memory, as was his habit, but found that he was having trouble concentrating and understanding why he should do such a thing. He leaned over his console and addressed Uhura at communications.

“Status of transmissions?”

Uhura glanced at him, curiosity plain on her face. “If I get any, I’ll tell you,” she said.

Spock subsided into his seat. He swiveled around and caught the captain’s eye. Jim smiled at him.

“What’s the word on that space gas, Mr. Spock?”

Sulu snorted, and Spock saw Chekov throw an elbow into his ribs. Behind them, Jim rolled his eyes and sent Spock a commiserating look.

“As expected, Captain.” He couldn’t remember the precise percentages, but Jim had never asked for those before anyway. “And this star system appears remarkably free of detritus. We’ll fly unencumbered, like a soaring eagle.”

Jim hid a smile in his hand. Unsuccessfully. “Thanks for the update, Mr. Spock. Carry on.”

A dismissal if ever he heard one. Delivered mockingly, which Jim had not done since their inauspicious beginnings, but Spock could not be sure he interpreted that tone correctly. Spock turned back to his viewer without bothering to suppress his sigh. Face pressed into the eyepiece, Spock closed his eyes.Just for a moment, he told himself. Just until this fuzz, this noise, goes away.

“Captain!” Uhura’s voice, and Spock himself seemed to be tipping to the side, but he caught himself and managed to remain upright. The bridge swam around him, and his inner eyelid drooped, beyond his control. Jim appeared at his side, propping him up, a dizzying proximity.

“Spock, are you all right? I’m taking you to sickbay.”

Spock sagged against his captain even as he said, “I am well, Captain, no need for histrionics.”

But Jim’s arm remained tight across his shoulders, and Uhura’s eyes were brown and concerned and warm, taking up all the space on the bridge, in the universe.

“Eyes are dilated, balance is off,” he heard her say. “And I’d put money on temporary cognitive impairment.”

“All right, Mr. Spock, you and me are headed to sickbay. Up you get.”

Spock clutched at Jim’s sleeve, stricken. “No, Jim, no.”

Jim, frowning. He squeezed his bicep. “Come on, Spock, you don’t hate McCoy that much. Let’s go.”

“Captain. Let me.” Uhura stood before him once again, shoulders squared, eyebrows lifted: the communications officer in her element brooked no argument. “Spock? Listen to me. You’re going to sickbay whether you want to or not, either on a hovering gurney or under your own power, your choice.”

Spock focused hard on the tip of her nose. He righted himself and pushed his shoulders back. “I am ready to proceed to sickbay, Lieutenant.”

“Glad to hear it, Commander.”

Jim led them out while the rest of the bridge crew stayed intent at their stations, perfectly willing to pretend that Spock’s outburst never occurred. Human, illogical, and something Spock acknowledged that he would be wholly grateful for when this episode passed. Such a trespass would not have gone undissected on Vulcan Past; it would have been forever picked apart and peered at with the usual Vulcan precision, and never forgotten, never forgiven. It would be logical, after all, to file away the information of some infirmity, to call it back whenever there came a disagreement so one party could discredit the other. Much like the abject offense of being human. Half. Mongrel.

Spock liked humans. Even the one that manhandled him onto a cot and called him a “damned stubborn mule of a hobgoblin.”

“Bones, he was fine yesterday,” Jim said, and Spock could see his face, hovering above him, eyebrows thick and drawn down. McCoy twisted up his whole face and sent Jim a wild eyebrow of his own.

“Oh, and I suppose you think illness just announces itself politely like a visiting dignitary.” He gave a dramatic roll of his eyes. “You know better than that, Jim. Especially with this one. He’s probably known something was off for days and tried to logic it away.” McCoy prodded Spock with the tricorder that was still whirring away at his side. “Hey. How’ve you been feeling the last few days?”

Spock ventured a swipe of his tongue over his teeth. He tried to think of one, but there was no other word for it: “Fuzzy,” he said. “But functional. Am I no longer functional? Am I error codes and overheated hardware?”

Above him Jim’s face pinched inward and McCoy’s mouth flattened. McCoy placed two fingertips at Spock’s temple. Calm — McCoy felt calm, and Spock could feel him. Cool and calm. A consummate professional, for all his flaws, for all the differences between them.

“This damned tricorder — it’s a flaw, but it’s calibrated to human-normal, and it’s not telling me the right things. It says you’ve got an imbalance, Spock. But it’s— not hormones, or anything. It’s something else. It’s almost like you’re slowly bleeding out, but, well, you haven’t sprung a leak anywhere I can tell.”

“Oh my God, what?” But neither Spock nor McCoy paid Jim any mind.

“Vulcan telepathy,” Spock said. McCoy’s hand dropped away and he nodded.

“You know what’s wrong already.”

“It should not be wrong. It should be… well. Functional. That it is not is an anomaly. Homily. Hominy.”

Spock watched Jim and McCoy exchange glances. Gruffly McCoy patted his shoulder.

“All right, Spock,” McCoy hushed him. “Well. I’ve called M’Benga in for a look at you, and we’ll see what we can do about a vid conference with a Vulcan healer. You should rest up here.”

McCoy jerked his head to indicate to Jim that he should follow him out, but Spock caught his sleeve. They both turned back to him. Blue eyes, hazel eyes, kaleidoscope color.

“I would prefer to coalesce in my own quarters.”

McCoy’s face split wide to accommodate a toothy grin, but Jim scowled and hissed “don’t laugh at him, dick,” into McCoy’s ear. But Spock had big ears, good for catching quiet mouse things.

“Can’t mind you if you’re on your own, Spock,” McCoy said.

“Sickbay smells of… sickbay.” Spock couldn’t contain a full-body shudder, and McCoy looked long-suffering.

“Spock, I can’t leave you alone, and I can’t spare a member of my staff to be at a single patient’s beck and call, even the first officer.”

“Bones,” Jim interjected. “We’re just flying through empty space here. I could take the rest of alpha off, sit with him. Make sure he doesn’t get into anything or try to do work like a total overachiever.”

McCoy turned to Jim and stared at him hard. In that stare was a silent communication Spock couldn’t parse out. He itched to push a fingertip to McCoy’s wrist so he could understand too, understand Jim. From this vantage, Spock had an optimal view of both men’s mandibles — McCoy’s sharp, perhaps with a day’s worth of stubble, held at an angle Spock might call ‘defiant.’ And Jim’s — first the muscles ticked, then the entire jawline flushed pink.

“It’ll be fine, Bones,” Jim bit out after a moment’s passing. “I’ll be fine. And mind your own.”

McCoy crossed his arms and turned back to look at Spock with an exaggerated scowl. Then a big finger was in his face, waving away.

“Your captain spoils you, Spock,” he said. “I hope you can appreciate it. And you’re waiting ’til M’Benga gets here, at any rate. He might be able to prescribe something so your thinking’s clearer.”

With some effort Spock managed to move his head enough that McCoy was no longer the only thing he could see.

Jim smiled at him.

M’Benga diagnosed Spock with an improperly broken bond.

“But T’Pring is a professional,” Spock said. And he believed that she would not deliberately harm him, despite all that had come between them.

M’Benga merely shook his head and regarded him with a significant measure of pity. “Not with work like this she isn’t. You’re going to need to see a healer, not just speak to one.”

He hypoed Spock with a compound designed to treat the symptoms of an improperly broken bond, but it would do nothing to treat the cause, and he would have to have it administered every six hours. There was nothing for it but to be patched at the source. Spock tried to think of the quickest way to a healer — a passenger craft from the pleasure planet was his likeliest chance, either to Earth or to Uzh-Ah’rak. Earth was closer from this sector, but Uzh-Ah’rak likely boasted more healers. On either planet, the healers were sure to be overworked and careworn. Spock supposed it didn’t matter either way — he couldn’t go alone in his condition, and Jim seemed to have appointed himself Spock’s minder. Spock would go wherever Jim deemed it convenient.

When Spock was safely ensconced in his quarters, he said as much to Jim. He sat on his bed, tea in hand and blanket about shoulders, because apparently Jim had decided to make a fuss.

“What do you mean, you have no preference?” Jim asked. He pulled a chair up to the foot of Spock’s bed and kicked his feet up. “I figured there’d be more healers on New Vulcan, better ones. And don’t you have people to see, progress to check out, stuff like that?”

“This is hardly a pleasure trip, Jim,” Spock said. “I do not wish to take up more of your time than I already have. Your shore leave —”

“Is no big deal, Spock, I already told you. And Scotty can handle command for the next little bit. That’s settled, then — we’re going to New Vulcan.” Jim cocked his head. “Wouldn’t you do the same for me? If I were the one who needed to go somewhere?”

“Of course,” Spock said without hesitation. There was no question.

Jim nodded. “Yeah. And you’d swear it wouldn’t trouble you, either.”

“It would be no burden.”

Jim gestured outward with one sweep of his hand. “So there you are. This is… what friends do for each other.”

“Cross star systems?”

“No sweat.”

They shared a moment’s accord, Jim grinning, Spock letting the muscles of his face relax. In the other room Spock’s replicator beeped, and Jim got up to collect the cup of hot chocolate he programmed. When he returned to his seat, he blew on it and took a sip, then grimaced so thoroughly it must have been physically painful.

“It’s getting better,” he choked.

“Your expression indicates otherwise,” Spock said, craning his neck to eye the black sludge.

“You wouldn’t believe what I was dealing with before.”

Spock had some idea. He remembered variations on a theme: faux-chocolate in a mug like pebbles, like dirt, like sand. The tender pink tip of Jim’s tongue, darting out to taste the mixture, always with explosive results.

“So,” Jim said, his voice overloud between the sleek bulkheads. “Do I get to know what’s wrong or should I make up something really bizarre to occupy myself?”

“It is… private,” Spock told him. The blue of Jim’s eyes dimmed and he tucked his nose back into the hot chocolate. His smile had devolved into something forced and painful, and he stared resolutely at a bit of bedding by his knee. Hastily, Spock added, “so it must not go beyond this room.”

Jim perked and pulled his chair up closer to the head of Spock’s bed. He leaned his elbows on his knees and looked into Spock’s face expectantly.

Where to start? In truth, it started with Spock’s kahs-wan, when he proved himself worthy of a mate and the name Vulcan. Or maybe the story really began millions of years ago, when modern Vulcans first evolved, when pon farr first ravaged the fierce warriors of a different era. But Spock was not certain Jim required the ‘history lesson,’ as humans often referred to such things with sneers in their voices. He would make it as concise as possible.

“Vulcans who possess a certain level of social status are betrothed to one another as children by the dictates of tradition,” he began, “and this is accomplished through a mental link called a bond, which functions, essentially, as an organ in the Vulcan body. Due to biology, all adult Vulcans are required to have a bond, though, as you might imagine, there is still a twenty percent divorce rate among Vulcans who prove incompatible. A successful bond is prized among Vulcans, venerated, even.” The thought that he would never have one made him ache somewhere that did not have a name.

“So… you were one of these children,” Jim filled in. “You were engaged.”

“More than engaged,” Spock said. “She was… my only companion. My wife. I had believed… ridiculous, romantic things. Human things, I suppose.”

Jim’s mouth took a mournful downward turn.

“You loved her, Spock. That’s not a crime.”

Spock let himself lift his shoulder in a tiny shrug. He had wanted all of T’Pring’s attentions on him, had wanted, in some ways, to consume her, to be consumed by her. It had been an overwhelming feeling that, at the time, he had tried to deny out of deference to Vulcan non-emotion. But he was more than ten years removed from it, and now that he felt the same stirrings again for the man beside him, he did not want to damn himself by labeling it as that most tumultuous of human emotions, that thing he had seen burn bright and hot before exploding, or fizzling to embers, leaving everything in its path scorched and destroyed no matter how it ended.

“She loves another,” he said, “and has since we were young. The time came that she could no longer delay their bond. Thus, she severed the connection between us. However, it seems to have gone awry, resulting in trauma to the bonding cortex in my brain.”

“Why?” Jim asked then, voice harsh. “Why couldn’t she delay it enough to wait for you to pop over to New Vulcan and do it without making you bleed to death? Whoever she is, Spock, she doesn’t sound like that great of a catch to me.” Jim sat back in the chair with his arms crossed over his chest, lower lip protruding obscenely.

In his weakened state, Spock felt two things: gratitude that someone, that Jim, should feel so protective of him, and annoyance at the fact that Jim couldn’t understand how T’Pring’s hand was forced, couldn’t see beyond his esteem for Spock into T’Pring’s situation. Couldn’t understand Vulcans — their bodies, their bonds.

“She had little choice,” Spock said.

“Yeah, I don’t buy that,” Jim said. “Whatever’s happening now, it could have all been avoided if she’d just gotten a quickie divorce when she realized she didn’t want to be with you.” Jim shook his head. “There’s this thing I’ve noticed — people do and say horrible, unspeakable things to the people they care about, things they would never dream of doing to a complete stranger on the street. What is that? If you love someone, shouldn’t you cherish them, treat them, well, kindly? I don’t get it, Spock, and I never have.” He hitched up his shoulders and glanced at Spock’s eyes before his gaze skittered away. He was self-conscious of a sudden, Spock realized, as if only now aware he’d said too much. He hunched in on himself and dropped his eyes to the deck. “Whatever. Glad I don’t do the relationship thing.”

“In our case, it is more complicated than you posit,” Spock told him. “There is—” Spock took a deep breath and sighed. “There is the matter of the biology of the Vulcan male. A time of great shame.” Jim’s eyes flicked back up to his. “It is the pon farr, the time of mating.”

Those eyes grew huge and round. “Seriously?”

Spock broke eye contact and stared straight ahead at the bulkhead opposite his bed. Another deep inhale.

“Once every seven years, the Vulcan male descends into the plak tow, the blood fever. He must mate — or die. The first pon farr is unpredictable — this is why children are bonded, so the bond can settle and be strong enough to sate the male when his Time comes, even if it comes early. The bondmate holds the life of the stricken male in her hands.”

“Vulcans are secretly kinky, this is so awesome.”

Spock sent him a quelling arched eyebrow, and Jim ducked his chin back down to hide — again unsuccessfully — a smile.

“Sorry.”

“As I was saying,” Spock continued pointedly, “the sexual component of pon farr can be the source of some amusement and speculation, especially amongst children who are learning about it for the first time, but sex is, even in a society dedicated to logic, something of a fact of reality: not much spoken of, but frequently engaged in nonetheless. The true source of shame in pon farr is the loss of control. In pon farr, a Vulcan has no logic, no regard for the sanctity of life. He will rage, he will kill, anything to get to his mate. He is a savage beast, a throw-back to a less evolved time. If he is not sated, in flesh as well as in mind, he will perish. All Vulcans are taught at an early age that it is a most harrowing ordeal.”

“I get it,” Jim said, sober once more. “Your… wife stayed bonded to you as a favor. In case you went into pon farr and needed her.”

Spock nodded. He closed his eyes and set his head back on the bulkheads, suddenly exhausted. When he opened his eyes again, Jim was peering at him intently.

“She has an admirable measure of integrity, and she is not without compassion for me, though she does not wish to be bonded to me. I believe that if my need arose, she would have done her duty, and then requested a breaking of our bond, which would have been her right. When her chosen entered pon farr himself, she could wait no longer. Though she is a practitioner of telepathic healing, she must have been… wrong-footed in her haste. I do not begrudge her this. Do you understand now, Jim?”

Jim frowned, but slowly he nodded.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do. Man, you’re way more forgiving than I would be. You’re dying, Spock.”

Spock let the corners of his mouth rise minutely. “Only in the existential sense, Jim. With the requisite medical care, I will be, as humans say, proper as precipitation.”

Jim blinked at him. “God, I missed your jokes,” he said. He was not smiling, though. “I wish we—”

“What, Jim?”

Jim’s Adam’s apple bobbed and he looked away. He took a swig of his drink.

“Nothing, Spock. We should hang out more. Like buddies do.”

Spock found that he no longer wished to keep himself from this man. Even if being close without the permission to touch would be akin to masochism. Even if he had to watch him pursue woman after woman, again and again, right before his eyes. It would be worth it, to be near him.

“Perhaps,” Spock ventured, “during the next shore leave, we could rent an air car.”

Jim slouched back into his chair, demeanor considerably lightened.

“I’d like that, Spock,” he said.

“I do not require coddling,” T’Pring said when Stonn brought her a bowl of fruit native to Uzh-Ah’rak. She lay in bed two days after Stonn had passed out of pon farr safe and whole. And bonded. She had taken leave from her duties at the Center for Telepathic Linguistics and intended to use the full week. Nonetheless, there was a padd in her lap.

“It is my right to coddle you as I see fit,” he replied. He pushed back the covers and climbed in alongside her. He lay his head on her shoulder and put his arm around her waist, careful not to jostle the padd. “Patient files?”

“Indeed. Take care not to look at them.”

Stonn hummed out some kind of agreement and turned his face away, only to start trailing his lips over her shoulder, her chest, her breast. T’Pring set the padd aside and sighed, carding her fingers through his hair.

“I had expected the cycle would ease your insatiability for some time.”

“I must admit to a certain amount of satisfaction when you are wrong, my ko-eik-te’krusu.” He sucked on her nipple, cupped the other breast and pinched the nipple there. T’Pring clutched him closer, her legs falling open, and Stonn moved atop her. She felt her loins go liquid as he fit into the cradle of her pelvis. Her palms absorbed the muscular width of his shoulders, the strong line of his back, the hard swell of his diminutive buttocks.

“How did I find such an unsupportive bondmate?” Between them, their bond bloomed open, a desert breeze, thrumming with life. Matching heartbeats.

“Choice,” he said as he slid inside her. She arched her back, forced him deeper, clasped him closer. “Always by choice, ashayam.”

The disorder of the space port on Amilin IV, the pleasure planet on which the crew was taking five days’ worth of leave, threatened to overwhelm Spock. His brain buzzed at his proximity to the rush and bustle of activity, the press of hundreds of harried bodies. Sometimes, despite his best efforts to keep his exposed hands close to his body, someone’s skin would brush against his and there would be a spark, a hiss, a recognition; unsolicited intimacy that stung the open wound of his bonding cortex. Abruptly, Spock was reminded of his roommate at Starfleet Academy, an underachiever of the highest order. While Spock was attempting quiet study, the other cadet would often moan, “I can’t read anymore, dude, my brain is totally fried,” and Spock would check for smoke before he realized halfway through the first semester that the phraseology was merely an example of illogical Standard idiom that he would never quite comprehend like a native speaker.

In the crush of the crowd, Spock suddenly understood his former roommate, who had made Lieutenant in the end, who had been someone whom Spock had managed not to alienate completely in his first year. Spock had even attended his funeral in western Montana. His grandmother had hugged him.

When Jim finally appeared at his side after checking in at the New Vulcan transportation desk, Spock tugged his sleeve — a t-shirt, civilian wear — and Jim obligingly leaned his ear close to Spock’s mouth.

“My brain is totally fried,” Spock said into that seashell curve.

Jim drew back, leveled a crooked half-smile at him, and thumped a hand on his shoulder.

“I think you need another hypo, Spock. Let’s get into our cabin. I sprung for first class; it’s gonna be awesome.”

And though Spock had not told Jim the nature of his difficulty with the crowd, with the psychic noise, Jim stuck close to him, forged ahead such that anyone who might touch Spock touched Jim instead. Spock felt the skip of sparks in his abdomen — a feeling. Gratitude. Examined, acknowledged, tucked away. Jim led the way towards the shuttlecrafts that waited to take them to the ship in spacedock.

“Jim. Jim.” He had to raise his voice to be heard.

“Yeah, Spock? We’re almost there, just hang on.”

“Jim, a first class cabin will not be covered by Starfleet per diem.”

Jim tossed an easy smile over his shoulder even as he kept maneuvering them through the crowds.

“Jim. Jim, you mustn’t waste your hard earned credits on me.”

Jim stopped and turned around. He stood closer to Spock than Spock was accustomed to, a protective stance.

“Hey, don’t be like that,” he said. “I wanted to. I’ve always wanted to fly first class — champagne and legroom, right? And it’s not like my salary’s going anywhere else. Seriously Spock, don’t sweat it. My pleasure.”

“I will repay you.”

Jim’s mouth grew droopy and unpleasant, bracketed by frown lines. He turned back around and started forward again, pulling Spock along close to his back by his tunic.

“It’s fine, Spock. Come on — the sooner I can sit you down the sooner I can stick you full of meds.”

First class was a sprawling, well-scrubbed deck on the starboard side of the small passenger ship Helena. Aside from four corridors with private passenger cabins, there was also a dining room, practically gilt in its ostentation; a recreation room with gym equipment and table tennis; a modest cinema scheduled to show family-friendly holofilms during the day and darker fare in the evenings; and a lounge, complete with fully-stocked bar, plenty of couch space, card tables, and private nooks that would still receive service from the staff. Said staff operated all over the first class deck, striking a curious balance between unobtrusive and obsequious that Spock found both disconcerting and faintly irritating.

The very fact of those states of being were a testament to his illness. He grew weaker each day, his mind duller, his sense of balance tenuous, his ability to regulate his temperature in tumult. He needed M’Benga’s hypo with more frequency — he was up to one every four hours, even during resting periods. And of course, Jim would hear nothing of Spock attending to himself; Jim was awake, alert and without a complaint on his lips, no matter when Spock required his medication.

The trip to Uzh-Ah’rak was scheduled to take four days, three nights, and Spock had not meditated in almost ten standard days. He was deteriorating with increasing speed, and he knew he could not hide it from Jim for much longer. Perhaps Jim would see fit to while away the travel time in the cinema or making friends in the lounge, and would not notice if Spock rested in their cabin for the duration of the trip. Spock’s captain was a gregarious man, a man who enjoyed company both platonic and intimate, a man who attracted admiration everywhere he went. He couldn’t help it. It was written into his DNA, the fabric of his character, like the blue eyes, the bronze hair, the pinkish tone of his fair skin, the breadth of his shoulders, that laugh, rich and intoxicating. Yes — Spock would encourage Jim to socialize among the other passengers, and he would be spared the knowledge and helplessness of Spock’s decline.

Four days to Uzh-Ah’rak and a healer.

Spock lay curled on his bunk facing the bulkheads when the door to the cabin whooshed open. The blanket was pulled over his ears.

“Spock?” Jim’s voice — of course. “Why don’t you come to the lounge with me? There’s some quiet spots, and we can have snacks. Spock?”

“I am fatigued, Jim,” Spock said. He didn’t turn to face his captain. “And not in need of refreshment.”

He heard the door close and then there was a depression on his bed, Jim’s meager human warmth palpable even through the blankets. Spock gave a violent shiver, and then he couldn’t stop.

“Hey,” Jim murmured. Spock felt him rub a hesitant hand over Spock’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m gonna turn the temperature up.”

Jim got up and Spock heard him fiddle with the temperature controls. Suddenly, an acute longing came upon Spock for the Enterprise, with her voice commands, her familiar replicator glitches, her particular smell.

There was some shuffling — Jim peeling off layers, maybe even down to just his undergarments. It would be much warmer than a human accustomed to cold winters and air conditioned summers would be used to.

“You need not stay,” Spock said.

“Spock. I’m staying.”

“The lounge —”

“Will still be there in a couple hours.” Spock heard him puff out a long exhale and shift on his bunk. “Now I can sit here and be quiet while you take a nap, or we can talk. Which would you rather?”

Spock didn’t say anything for a moment. He would not sleep at this hour, and there was no hope for meditation. Without Jim, there would be only this wall, these wracking shudders, this hemorrhaging bond.

“Talk,” he said.

“Okay. So. What do you wanna talk about?”

“Tell me… something I do not know.”

A huff of disbelieving laughter.

“Man, Spock. That’s a tall order. What am I supposed to say?”

“Relate an anecdote. Humans enjoy sharing humorous, incredible, or curious accounts from their pasts.”

“You’re asking me to tell you about myself. Are you going to reciprocate?”

Spock made the effort to flip over onto his other side. He pulled the blanket down enough to stick his nose out and peer at Jim. Indeed, Jim was down to his boxer-briefs, supine on his bunk. His head rested in the cradle of his linked hands atop the pillow, and Spock could see wisps of brownish underarm hair. He made the perfect picture of human masculine beauty, and inwardly, Spock ached. Jim blinked at him, guileless, open.

“I will endeavor to find a comparable anecdote to share, yes.”

When Jim smiled, the skin around his eyes crinkled pleasantly. If Spock had been closer, he may not have been able to stop himself, in his weakened state, from reaching out and pressing a fingertip into the tiny creases.

“Awesome,” Jim said. “I’ll make it something good then. Let’s see.” Jim brought his arms down to cross over the fine musculature of his chest, and he braced his chin in the meat at the base of his thumb, fingers drumming at his lips. “All right, Spock. You’ll appreciate this.

“The summer I was twelve, my step-dad sent me and my brother to science camp in Illinois. Not even somewhere decent like Chicago, you know, just over the border from Iowa, like if we just weren’t in his state he didn’t have to think about us. Anyway, science camp was dull; I knew everything they tried to get us to learn about, Sam pretended he didn’t know me, and the other kids were mostly dorks. Except for this one girl, Carol Marcus.” Jim gave a long, appreciative sigh and Spock’s heart sank. Not only did he have to watch Jim on his conquests, he had to listen to him enumerate them, too. “She was a year older than me and about ten times cooler. A million times cooler than the other kids. She was smart, too, and she never cared if we had to dissect something; she liked it, she was good at it. She’d even brought her own dissection kit, which was so awesome. When everyone had to introduced themselves, she said she was going to be a scientist, and she was going to catalogue all sorts of animals from all sorts of planets, even discover new species.” A short laugh. “File her under Crush Object #1 — and she didn’t even know I was alive. Obviously.

“So one day we were scheduled for a hike at some reconstituted state park, I don’t remember the name, and it was going to be just totally boring, I mean, slow walking along the big trails with lots of stops to eat or pee or look at something we already knew all about. Obviously they should have broken up the groups by age or something, so the little kids could go slower, or for less time, or whatever, but — hindsight 20/20 and all. Anyway, there we are walking along when I see it, about forty feet out: a badger. Hiding, you know, just shuffling around, but they’re not really supposed to be awake during the day. So I duck out from the group; the counselors were always looking after the little kids, making sure they didn’t do something dumb. Guess they forgot no one’s really exempt from being a dumbass, no matter what their age. So I’m going and I’m going, trying to follow this badger but I can’t find it, and then I’m totally alone. Can’t hear the group, can’t hear voices, nothing. And I wasn’t scared, I was relieved. I thought to myself: I can totally forage for food, build a campfire, set up some kind of lean-to, maybe even a latrine. I’ll just stay here all night and look up at the stars, and no one else will even be there to bother me, or whisper about my dad, or push me around. So I began to look for a good place to set up camp.

“Then, all of the sudden, there’s this crash in the brush, and out comes Carol friggin’ Marcus with her hair all tangled and messed up, sunburned, her backpack sort of half off. She’s like, ‘what are you doing here?’ like she’s not the one who just stumbled onto my campground like a deranged bear. So I’m all suave, you know, this is my moment. ‘Camping out,’ I said. ‘You can stay, if you want.’ Jesus, Spock. I mean what exactly was I gonna do with an older, cooler, smarter girl out in the woods?” Jim shook his head, the corner of his mouth curled up in a rueful smile. “But miracle of miracles, she goes ‘yeah, okay,’ and sits down next to me. I’m just staring at her, because I had nothing else in my arsenal, and she looks like an angel, all streaked with dirt like that. Then she goes, ‘hey, wanna see something cool?’ Duh. Obviously. Have you met me? So she leads me out of my camp and down through all these trees and it looks like no one’s ever been there but us and then — surprise! Dead armadillo.”

Both of Spock’s eyebrows flew up. “Jim, armadillos are endangered on the North American continent.”

Jim nodded. “Yeah, and they have been for like hundreds of years before we were born. So anyway Carol Marcus says she found it before, and she wants to dissect it but she didn’t bring her kit. I was all, ‘don’t worry — James T. Kirk to the rescue’. My kit’s just camp issue, kind of crap, especially compared to hers, but whatever. And no shit, Spock, she legit starts doing an autopsy on this thing. Had a Y-incision on it like it was no big deal, like it wasn’t covered tip to tail in armor. She’s all ‘respiratory arrest,’ ‘probably rabies,’ when one of the counselors finally shows up and starts screaming at us, hauls us by up the ears like it’s a Victorian novel, and drags us back to the group. Anyway, long story short, we were punished by being kept from the stupid after dinner activities no one ever wants to do anyway, and we were given these gigantic rabies hypos, and our parents were called and everything, and Carol Marcus didn’t even look at me for the rest of camp. Never found out what happened to her after that summer, either.” Spock caught the note of wistfulness in Jim’s voice.

Carol Marcus did not sound like Jim’s usual choice of paramour. She sounded intelligent and self-reliant, living comfortably outside the bounds of social norms and the more attractive to Jim for it. Jesting lines sent in Uhura’s direction aside, Jim’s ‘type’ had seemed, before this revelation, to run toward the vapid and large-breasted. Spock reordered what he had previously believed about Jim’s companions, placed ‘intellect’ and ‘independence’ at the top of his mental list of data.

“Your turn, Spock,” Jim said, and Spock’s gaze snapped back to his. “Quid pro quo.”

Spock pulled the blanket down further so that his chin was uncovered. He was warming up, anyway. He cast about for a comparable anecdote — a wild land, a girl loved in the way of innocents — and there was only one.

“I once participated in a similar survival exercise,” he said. “It is called the kahs-wan, and it is a rite of passage for all young Vulcans.”

“Oh, that sounds fun.”

Spock shrugged. “Participants must survive ten days in a desert canyon called The Forge without food, water, or weapons. If they meet with success, they are deemed worthy of forging a marriage link.”

“Hold up.” Jim gesticulated at him. “You said the other day you got engaged when you were little.”

“That is correct,” Spock replied. “I was seven standard years of age. I entered the challenge a year early without informing my parents, in a bid to prove wrong the constant taunts of my peers.” Again, a shrug. “It was foolish, and motivated by emotion rather than logic, but it was very long ago, Jim.”

Jim sat up and faced him. His torso glistened in the low lighting; he was probably overheated, and yet he said nothing about it. His thick brows were drawn down into a furrow, and he braced his hands on the edge of his bunk.

“Spock. Vulcans send little kids to do survival shit in the desert? Oh my God, what if someone dies?”

“Some do. One or two per year, on average. My cousin Tekshar was one such child… he simply did not return. No body was recovered. It is the way of things. Was.”

Jim looked stricken. His face, previously flushed in the heat, drained and took on a grey, unpleasant pallor.

“Oh my God. Oh my God.”

“Shall I continue my anecdote or are you too preoccupied in questioning my cultural traditions to listen properly?” Spock just barely refrained from pulling the blanket back up and over his eyes in a fit of pique.

“Sorry, Spock. I’m sorry. I’m working on the cultural sensitivity thing, I swear. Go on.” Instead of lying back down, he put his elbows on his knees and rested his chin in his hands, eyes on Spock and unwavering.

“As a child, I had a companion animal, a sehlat, named I’Chaya. He had been with me since birth, and he was very loyal. On the third day of my kahs-wan, I perceived that I was being followed, possibly by a predator. I was… quite small in those days, frequently in and out of healers’ offices, everything about me from my size and my reserve to my logic and my brain turned over and tutted about to the point of acute annoyance. Despite this, I was aware of my physical limitations — I knew I would not survive against the fauna I might meet in the Forge. Wild sehlats, le-matya. The only means I had of overcoming a confrontation with one was trickery. So — I set up a rudimentary trap, little more than a hole in the sand before the cave in which I had taken shelter, and from a higher perch I waited for nightfall, when I knew my pursuer would seek my warmth.

“At the sound of an agonized howl and a great thud, I realized that my trap had worked — but it had captured only my own sehlat, I-Chaya. He had followed me from the house of my father, fending off predators without my knowledge. I rushed down to the mouth of the cave to meet him, and he rose from my trap as if it had been a mere dip in the sand. I was very fortunate that he had not been a predator after all. However, despite his ease with escaping my trap, he had sustained a sprain to one of his back paws, the left. I apologized to him and led him into the cave, where I huddled against his warmth. He… he was very dear to me.” Spock pulled his knees up against the threat of his voice breaking. More than anything in this moment, he wished for his control to be restored to him. “On the final night before the completion of my kahs-wan, a le-matya attacked me while I’Chaya was some ways off in search of water.”

“Oh, no,” Jim murmured, barely audible. Spock met his eyes and nodded.

“Yes. I was struck down, my face bloodied, my arm broken. I stayed as still as I could manage — le-matya were known for detecting their prey through movement rather than traditional sight or smell, but the damage was done, as a human might say. The le-matya sprung into action, but never met its mark. I-Chaya had returned, and as I watched, helpless, a fierce battle ensued. I-Chaya managed to deal a fatal blow, fang to belly, but not before the le-matya had perceived his weakness and tripped him by the left hind leg, forcing him to stumble and landing its claws in his throat.

“He did not take long to expire, a fact for which I am still grateful. I stayed with him until morning — the smell of a fight, of the blood of a le-matya and sehlat and their two corpses were enough to keep other predators away. At dawn I left him to return to the outpost, where elders would be waiting for those who had succeeded in completing the kahs-wan. A day later, I was declared a mature Vulcan. A week after that, I was bonded to T’Pring, who had also completed her kahs-wan.”

Jim’s face held open sympathy. “I’m sorry, Spock. About I-Chaya.” Then, in garbled, awkward Vulcan, “I mourn with thee.”

Spock felt his chest constrict to hear the guttural syllables issued from Jim’s throat in all sincerity. He had not been aware that Jim had made a study of the Vulcan language.

“Thank you, Jim.”

“You don’t… I just want you to know you don’t have to tell me anything upsetting just because I’m a bastard who pokes things with sticks. Anything you tell me, Spock, it’s always up to you. Only what you want to.”

Spock pressed his lips together. “I am not ‘upset,’ Jim.”

Blue eyes went wide and Jim shook his head vigorously. “No, no, of course you’re not. I know. I’m just saying. For future reference.”

“I see.”

“Okay. Just so we’re clear.” Jim took a deep breath and when he blew out, he directed the stream of air over the pink, damp skin of his chest. “How are you feeling?”

“My temperature has been regulated,” Spock said. “We can turn down the controls. You are uncomfortable.”

Jim sent him one of his half-smiles, one part flirtatious, two parts self-deprecating. Over time, Spock had learned not to take that expression to mean more than it did. But he was half-naked and flushed and looking at Spock and it was difficult.

“I guess it’s pretty obvious, huh? I’m sweating like a pig over here — gross. Sorry. But hey, we can keep the temperature up. You’re not shivering anymore, but this is better for you anyway, isn’t it?”

Hesitantly, Spock nodded. “But I do not wish to inconvenience—”

“Pshh,” Jim interrupted him. “Stop right there, Spock. There will be no more talk of ‘inconvenience,’ or ‘repayment,’ or ‘taking up my time,’ okay? Besides, Iowa has blazing hot summers, and old houses full of air conditioning in disrepair. I’ve had worse, Spock, and I’ll live.” He threw himself back into his pillows and flung his limbs open. They hung over the edges of the bunks. “So. Wanna get room service?”

Jim harangued Spock into ordering a fruit plate while Jim himself got an array of Earth-style sandwiches. Spock had expressed some confusion over Jim’s rather pedestrian choice — there were delicacies from all over the galaxy available, after all — but Jim just shrugged at him.

“They’ve got real bread here, Spock. All sorts of real food in a real kitchen, actually. But I’m talking about fresh-baked, hot out of the oven stuff. Yeah, I got sandwiches, and I won’t regret a moment of it.”

By the time the chime at the cabin door came, Spock had managed to sit himself upright and was no longer cocooned in the comforter. Jim scrambled from his position on the bunk and pulled on a t-shirt before he answered the door with a wide, lazy grin.

The woman pushing the food cart was in a smart navy uniform.

“Fruit and sandwiches for Captain Kirk?” she asked. Spock watched her eyes follow the lines of Jim’s body straight down to his bare feet and back up. Just a flick of her gaze in the merest fraction of a second, but Spock caught it. He felt heavy, weighted on the bed. The woman was a humanoid female of proportions generally considered pleasing, black hair coiffed, face painted. Spock could not see Jim’s face to gauge his reaction, but he was certain it was favorable. If this interaction proceeded in a similar fashion as shore leave, Spock would be alone in this room tonight, and for the next three nights. He remembered quite forcefully why he had stopped taking shore leave with Jim after all.

“Thanks,” Jim said, and he pulled the cart in. He took her hand to shake it as humans are wont to do, and in that movement he discreetly tapped his credit chip against hers, contained in a bracelet.

“Thank you, Captain Kirk.” She was making eyes at Jim, Spock believed the term was. He crossed his arms over his chest and resisted the frowning pull of his own brows, but Jim merely ushered the staff member out the door with his usual charm and locked it behind her. Then he turned around and clapped his hands together, eyes sparking with delight as he beheld the tray of sandwiches.

“God, can you smell that, Spock? It’s like a bakery exploded in here.” He rubbed his hands together and pulled the cart into the space between their bunks. He peeled his shirt off again and flung it into a far corner before settling on the edge of his bunk and pushing the fruit plate in Spock’s direction. He grabbed one of the delicate little triangles and bit into it heartily. The ensuing obscene noise issued forth from Jim’s throat brought a hot flush to the tips of Spock’s ears. “Oh my God,” Jim said. “Spock. Spock you have to try this.” He plucked another triangle from the same sandwich off of his plate and placed it on Spock’s. “This one’s brie with poached pear and watercress on a baguette. I think I might cry.”

Spock started, but it seemed Jim was merely engaging in the common human linguistic foible known as hyperbole. Mouth full, Jim nonetheless made a wrist-rolling gesture at Spock indicating he should partake of the food before him. Spock reached for a piece of Orion heman’oshk root.

“Will you not follow the flight attendant out?” Spock found himself asking in a fit of masochism. “She was… very attractive. And if I am not mistaken, she made you an offer.”

Jim stopped chewing and the sandwich euphoria left his face. He blinked, finished chewing, and swallowed his mouthful.

“She was okay, I guess,” he said, back slumping. “But I’m chilling here with you. Aren’t you having a decent time, even though you’re sick? Am I bothering you? Do— do you want me to leave you alone, let you get some rest? I could go to the movies or something for a couple hours, ’til your next hypo.”

“No,” Spock said, too loudly. Jim startled back, eyes gone wide. Spock amended his tone. “No. I wish for you to stay.”

Jim’s shoulders relaxed and he gave a single sharp nod. They passed their meal in companionable silence.

It was cold. Ship’s night, ship’s day — Spock had no sense of time. His skin felt as though it might fall away. He wanted to sleep, sleep for always. He could hear everything, so loud it became a deafening nothing, so loud it stole his vision, blanked his tongue. He couldn’t remember what the Mandelbrot set was. He was—

“Spock. Spock, I’ve got you, it’s okay, it’s gonna be okay. Thirteen hours. It’s gonna be okay.”

Arms around him, a tight hold to steady the shaking. A tight hold to keep him inside himself.

When Spock next became aware of himself, he lay in a dimly lit healers’ chamber and his father sat in a chair beside his cot, legs crossed, hands linked atop his knees. At the prickle of Spock’s consciousness reentering the atmosphere, Sarek’s head turned and he peered into Spock’s face.

“Greetings, Spock,” he said, raising his hand to present the ta’al. “Give me an assessment of your well-being.”

Spock’s mouth was parched and his mind slow, but he took an inventory of his bodily systems. With difficulty he unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth.

“Bad,” he grated out. Sarek frowned at him.

“I suppose that is one way of putting it,” he said. “I will get the healer.”

Sarek stood to leave, but Spock asked, “Jim?” and Sarek turned around.

“A most fervent and loyal friend, Spock,” Sarek said. “You would do well to keep him. He is in the waiting chamber, worrying quite loudly, for all that his mouth remains closed.”

Sarek left him with that image, and Spock subsided back into his pillows. Time passed — he did not know how much — and an aged Vulcan woman in healing robes glided in. She stood over his bed and laid the tip of her middle finger between his eyebrows. He could not feel her presence in his mind; whether due to her skill or to his own degeneration, he did not know

“Spock, son of Sarek,” she said. “My name is T’Venna. Your bonding cortex is in acute distress.”

“I know that,” Spock managed to snap. T’Venna removed her finger and flattened her mouth. “Apologies. I am… not myself.”

“No, you would not be. Your case was almost beyond our capabilities here. I employed a powerful suppressant to ease the firing of the synapses in your bonding cortex. As it stands, your former bondmate is on her way to do her part in the healing process, and even that is time we cannot spare.”

Spock did his best to raise an eyebrow. “Why must she be present?”

T’Venna returned her fingertip to Spock’s forehead to assess him, but when she spoke, it was aloud.

“It is her mistake which has brought you here. It is her absence which is the open wound. Likewise, your mind is familiar with the touch of hers, and will likely not reject a deeper touch from her in its fragile state, as it did mine at my first attempt. T’Pring, with guidance from me, will be the one to ease your plight, son of Sarek.”

“I see, Healer. Thank you.”

T’Venna inclined her head and dropped her hand to her side. “I must venture a query of a rather personal nature.”

“Proceed.”

“Do you plan to bond with another while you are on Uzh-Ah’rak?”

Spock closed his eyes. The idea of another presence in his mind was tempting, as tempting as the promise of rain during a drought, but he could not imagine the intimate touch of someone who was not Jim, or even T’Pring. She, while no longer his chosen, was warm and familiar and comfortable, a known quantity.

“No,” he said. He cleared his throat when his voice came out tremulous. “No.”

“I recommend that you bond at your earliest convenience, Spock. Pon farr waits for no Vulcan.”

“I have human heritage.”

One of T’Venna’s eyebrows arched impressively. “You look Vulcan to me, son of Sarek.” With that, she swept from the room in a flourish of robes.

On the bedside table there was a glass of water. Spock propped himself up to reach for it. He drank it greedily, and its final drops came too soon. But then, like a cloud making way for the sun, the door opened and Jim stood in the jamb, glass of water in hand. He grinned to see Spock awake and was at his side in two long strides.

“Jim,” Spock said.

“Hey, Spock. Hey.” Jim watched him drink from the glass as if the sight were a most enthralling holofilm. Spock handed the glass back to him when he was finished and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Jim just gazed into his face like a man starved. “I was so afraid, Spock. You don’t even know.” Jim sat where Sarek had been and pulled his chair as close as it was possible to get to Spock’s cot. “You really — you looked dead, Spock. I couldn’t even find your pulse.”

At the memory, Jim dipped his chin into his chest to stare at the floor. Spock, unable to contain himself, struck out and locked his hand around Jim’s wrist, squeezed it until the bones ground together beneath the skin. Blue eyes flashed and color suffused Jim’s cheeks as he met Spock’s gaze.

“I thought you were gone,” he said, his voice a broken whisper. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“I’m here, Jim,” Spock said. “I’m still here.”

Jim’s breath came as ragged pants. His face was very close, now. If Spock leaned ever so slightly more forward—

Jim’s forehead came to rest against Spock’s. They closed their eyes; Spock could feel the feathered brush of Jim’s eyelashes. He was breathing Jim’s air, holding Jim’s wrist. Though his telepathy had been dampened by drugs, and he could read none of Jim’s emotions, he felt fortified by the contact, serene. For the first time in almost two weeks, Spock felt strong.

The slide of the door and the patter of footsteps broke them apart, and Jim turned away from him to face the interlopers: T’Venna and T’Pring, both of them unfazed at the sight that met them.

“Leave us, Captain Kirk,” T’Venna said. “We do not have the luxury of time.”

Jim glanced at Spock and gently twisted free of his grip. Spock swallowed, parted his mouth to speak. But Jim rose, favored him with a small smile, and left the room.

T’Pring approached his cot. She looked, as ever, like a vision from a dream. T’Venna came up behind her.

“Forgive me, Spock,” T’Pring said. “I did not intend such an ordeal.”

“T’Pring is not a healer, son of Sarek, merely a counselor,” T’Venna added. Spock saw T’Pring’s dark eyes go flinty, but she held her tongue and bowed her head. T’Venna’s hand closed over T’Pring’s face. “Do as instructed; nothing more, nothing less.”

Spock tipped his face up and closed his eyes. He felt T’Pring’s tapered fingertips settle on his meldpoints, and then she was there, smooth and fragrant and such a relief, T’Pring, telsu.

Shh, he heard her soothe him, though it was a rebuke. We both have someone else now, someone better. Allow me to right what I have wronged so that we may return to them.

You are forgiven, T’Pring, Spock told her, and he led her to the desolate tatters of his bonding cortex.

Horror. Spock…

Forgiven, Spock reiterated, and he felt a wash of red gratitude not his own. T’Pring paused as if listening to something in the distance, then Spock felt warm, living energy pulse around the ruin of his bonding cortex. It was stitching back together, a new growth, tender but strong, fresh, green, alive. T’Pring receded from Spock’s mind, and then Spock’s eyes opened and T’Pring stepped away from him. Spock kept her gaze, even as T’Venna excused herself and closed the door behind her.

“You care for him, as I care for Stonn,” she said.

Spock took a breath and lowered his eyes. “It is fact, like planets orbiting suns.”

T’Pring touched two fingertips to the knuckles on Spock’s fore- and middle fingers. She leant close to his ear.

“Then I wish you the full measure of happiness,” she said, “and the courage to allow it full rein during private moments with your chosen.”

A flutter of her gauzy dress, and T’Pring was gone.

Spock’s mind had been nothing like T’Pring remembered. It seemed dry, brittle, grey, even as electrical sparks burst through at irregular intervals to rain down light and pain. To be inside such a mind was painful, more so even than her previous experience when it had been a healthy vista of bright colors. And his bonding cortex… it bore no dwelling upon; she would put it from her mind. She was responsible for its poor state, but she was also responsible for its restoration. Kaadith — she and Spock were free of one another now, free to make their own choices, and free, even, to be as friends. Time and circumstance had given them that. Nonetheless, the ordeal had made her long for the clean ordered lines and harmony of Stonn’s mind. She hoped that tonight they could come together that way, mind knit to mind in perfect communion.

When T’Pring arrived at home, Stonn greeted her with a touch to her hand and led her to the living space.

“How fares the son of Sarek?” he asked.

T’Pring pulled her bare feet up on the sofa and tucked them to her side. Beside her, Stonn stretched out one arm and accepted her into the resulting crook of his body.

“He was in grave peril,” T’Pring told him. “Worse than I had believed when the healers commed us. I did not realize what I had done — it was hubris, Stonn.”

“But you rectified your misstep?”

“Affirmative. He will be fully recovered in a matter of days. I am gratified.”

Stonn’s hand stroked through her hair, picking out her pins and clips. Lock by lock her hair tumbled past her shoulders.

“Is he much changed from the boy you knew?”

T’Pring shifted enough to peer at Stonn’s profile. Green eyes flickered before staring resolutely ahead. A curious sensation bled from his skin into hers.

“You are… jealous?” she asked.

Stonn sighed and turned his head away.

“Illogical,” he grumbled.

“And yet it is so.”

Stonn turned his body enough to face her fully.

“Yes, it is,” he said. “I cannot compete with a genius from the House of Surak, half-blooded or not. I have always known this and boggled at my fortune.”

“And me, Stonn? You think me so fickle as to change men like I might my jewelry?” Anger, ruthlessly controlled, tucked low in the innermost parts of herself. But not before Stonn felt it heat her blood for a fraction of a second. It spiraled into him, set off a moment’s panic.

“No, no, ko-eik-te’krusu, I think no such thing.” He clasped her hands in his, pulled them up to press his mouth to them. “Forgive me. I am but a flawed man before a goddess.”

“Spock is honorable and good,” T’Pring said. “He shares an accord with his captain.”

Relief, cool and calming. Stonn’s control was not what it could be, but his failings were integral components of his character.

“Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise? Is he not a male of his species?”

“Do not be so provincial, Stonn,” T’Pring said. “He will make a worthy mate for Spock, and I wished them happiness.”

Stonn frowned. “Happiness?”

“Happiness,” she repeated firmly. She rested her head against Stonn’s and he squeezed her to himself.

“I received news today,” he said after a pause. “I have been commissioned to sculpt a bust of Surak for display in the fountain before the New Vulcan Science Academy. They want it to be three and a half times larger than life-size.”

“This is a great honor,” T’Pring said. “We must prepare a celebratory meal for this evening.”

Stonn let a cautious sense of pride flow from himself into her. He knotted their fingers together. His palm was hot and rough against the softness of hers. In the space between their hands she felt their pulses match and keep time.

After Spock took six hours to meditate, he spent 2.6 additional hours being examined by T’Venna and two other healers at the crisis center. Apparently, he was the oldest patient with a case of improper bond breaking they had ever seen. Inwardly, Spock was impatient with the proceedings; with his strength and control restored, he wished to hasten his return to the Enterprise, but he submitted to examinations nonetheless. When he was finally left alone and permitted to don his tunic and trousers again, he met his father in the waiting chambers. There was no sign of Jim.

Sarek stood.

“You shall remain at my house for two days.” He raised a quelling hand before Spock could even begin to mount a protest. “I have already made arrangements with your captain, whom I persuaded to take some rest upon news of your full recovery. He was much fatigued, so I placed him in the guest quarters of the north wing.”

Spock’s wing. The wing he would belong in, should he ever come take his place on Uzh’Ah’rak. Spock stood taller, squared off the habitual stoop of his shoulders, and met Sarek’s eyes.

“You… do not disapprove?” he ventured.

There was a moment’s hesitation, but Sarek’s hand came to rest on Spock’s shoulder. It was the first time Spock could recall his father touching him since before his kahs-wan.

“I know that I have been… a hard man, my son,” he said. He dropped his hand and turned to lead them out of the center and to his air car. “Come along.”

Spock slung his pack into a chair when he arrived in his own chambers in the north wing. Despite the entire wing being his own, he had, in fact, rarely stepped foot in it. The colony was thriving, and in the 2.2 years since the onset of the mission, the Enterprise had had occasion to provide aid and show solidarity only three times, and the first time, construction on Sarek’s house was not yet finished. Spock was grateful to have a place in his father’s house — but it was not his own, and would not be for the foreseeable future.

Spock wished to seek out Jim, to resume their interaction where it had been interrupted, to determine if all of his most illogical hopes had root in a reality wherein Jim returned his regard. But here, outside the healers’ chambers, alone in quarters that were his in name alone, Spock doubted himself — and, without his telepathy to rely upon, doubted the motives for Jim’s actions. It could have been purely platonic; Jim was forever going on about ‘being buddies’ and ‘hanging out,’ as he might for Mr. Scott or Dr. McCoy or Mr. Sulu. Spock was not certain he was ‘buddy’ material. Likewise, Spock was not certain he could hide his esteem any longer; he did not wish to contemplate the impact this would have on his position on the Enterprise.

In fact, the entire idea that Jim might hold him in a romantic light now seemed preposterous. When had he ever expressed sexual interest in another male? Never. When had he ever expressed a desire to share more than a passing liaison with any of his conquests? Never. Jim’s actions were not outside the bounds of typical human male friendship. Spock was a fool. A naïve fool, awash in mortification. Spock clenched his hands.

He would meditate. He would regain control of himself and his baser feelings. He would wear down his ill-advised favor for his captain until it was nothing more than a hard black nub he would call ‘duty’ and ‘honor.’ He would not disgrace himself, nor give Jim cause for embarrassment. He would be the perfect Vulcan first officer.

Spock rifled through the drawers to find incense. He lit some, placed it on the bedside table. He rolled a meditation mat flat on the floor in the empty center of the room and arranged himself on top of it, legs knotted into lotus, spine upright.

There was only breath. Deep, from the diaphragm, cool in his lungs, measured from his nose. He was breath.

Then, fingertips. Not his own, at the base of his throat. Spock’s eyes snapped open to find Jim kneeling beside him, hand splayed on his collarbone, radiating affection, lust, admiration.

“So I know it’s crazy impolite to be all up on someone when they’re meditating, but I’ve been waiting for you all day, Spock. Or night. Or, you know, mission.”

“Jim.”

Jim’s lips turned upward. His eyes were warm, and the hand on his chest swept upward to cup his cheek. There was doubt in that touch, and a lingering thread of worry.

“Tell me I haven’t gotten this wrong,” Jim said. The tip of his nose touched the tip of Spock’s.

“Jim, I require… specificity. To what do you refer when you say ‘this?’” Spock’s hand crept up to rest on the small of Jim’s back.

Jim’s laugh came as a puff of air across Spock’s lips and he wrapped his arms around Spock’s waist. A dip of his head and they were kissing, a slow, soft sweetness, lips just parted, hesitant swipes of the tips of tongues. When Jim pulled back, his breath was labored.

“That specific enough for you?”

“I believe so.”

“Cool. Because I need to get up; this floor is hell on the knees.” With that, Jim stood and stretched, making a pained grunting sound. Spock’s heightened hearing caught the cracking of his knees.

Spock rose and gathered up the meditation mat, rolled it up and placed it back in the closet. When he turned back around, Jim was perched at the foot of his bed, grinning.

“So. I’m way prettier than T’Pring,” he said with a wink. Spock rolled his eyes.

“You are both uniquely attractive beings, Jim.”

“I definitely have a sweeter ass.”

Spock cocked his head and raised an eyebrow, considering, and Jim laughed out loud, a joyous, raucous sound that bounced off the walls and multiplied.

When he quieted, Jim pulled Spock down by the sleeves to sit beside him.

“I gotta say, Spock, I thought you were letting me down easy, all that blowing me off for chess and shore leave and stuff. But I couldn’t quite keep myself from trying to get you to quit it.”

Spock pulled one of Jim’s hands into his lap. He placed it palm-up into his left hand, and with his right he explored that palm, committing to memory each long line, each scar, each callus, each ragged cuticle, each knuckle. Jim’s breath came quicker.

“I believed you did not return my regard,” Spock said. “More, that you were incapable of doing so, the fact of my gender among the chief reasons. My reticence was… a gesture of self-protection. Forgive me, Jim.”

Jim turned his hand in Spock’s and tangled their fingers, palm pressed tight against palm. He rubbed his thumb into the back of Spock’s hand. When Spock lifted his eyes from their joined hands, he found Jim gazing at him, sober.

“I overcompensate. And I usually—” Jim heaved a great sigh. “—don’t actually sleep with the women I pick up. I just do it to prove I can. Or to make you insane with jealousy. Psych 101, Spock — I thought you’d be all over that.”

Spock swallowed and gave a shake of his head. “When it comes to you, Jim, I am never sure of my footing.”

“I was being an asshole anyway. Who does that to someone they care about?” The side of Jim’s mouth came up in a small smile. “How’s this: you and me, together, for as long as… well. As long as one of us doesn’t get sick of the other and punt off to have a bunch of logical Vulcan babies.”

“One of us?” Spock arched a brow. Jim shrugged, cheeks going a dull pink.

“I’m in deep, Spock,” he said. “But I… I would try to understand. If you needed to do… whatever.”

“Your commitment to vague language is most vexing.”

“Spock. I’m serious. I know that you’ll be all pon farr-y someday. I know… I know I can’t keep you.”

“I see.” Jim was unwilling to perform the duties of a bondmate during the time of mating. Spock understood that, even if it pained him.

“Wow. We should have had sex before bringing on the downer portion of the evening.”

Spock stood and turned his back to Jim. He opened the closet doors with great purpose, but he just stared at the neat line of tunics that hung from the rail.

“Spock?”

“I would try not to harm you,” Spock blurted into the closet. “If… if we did not let the blood fever go on for too long. If we… performed the necessary acts at the first symptoms.” He turned back around to face Jim’s bewildered expression. “And it may never occur anyway, Jim — I am human, after all.”

“Wait wait wait.” A flurry of hands. “I think we’ve got our wires crossed here. You’re saying you can survive pon farr with me? Even though I’m a dude?”

Spock’s jaw snapped shut and he pursed his mouth. His brows drew downward.

“Yes, of course. What does gender have to do with weathering pon farr?”

Jim gaped at him. “Oh! I mean… you used female pronouns for the bondmate when you were explaining all that mating stuff to me. And… what that healer said to me after she finished fixing you.”

“T’Venna spoke to you? What did she say?”

“Weird Vulcan double speak, I guess,” Jim said. “She was all ‘it would be best if Spock son of Sarek bonded on this planet, in the presence of healers’ and ‘perhaps you could shed light on the kind of mate he would prefer.’ And she looked so severe. I thought she was telling me off. Oh my God, I am such an ass.” He slapped a hand over his eyes.

Spock felt lighter, positively buoyant. He stepped forward and lifted Jim’s hand from his face. Blue eyes shone up at him, full of a helpless sort of devotion that Spock could now read with ease.

“While I would welcome a bond with you at some point, Jim, I believe it would be unwisely precipitous to initiate one before we have truly tested our compatibility in a romantic and sexual context. It would be like… getting married before going on our first date?”

Jim laughed and tugged Spock down. Spock let himself lose his balance and together they tumbled onto the bed. Jim’s mouth sought Spock’s and Spock opened to its ministrations. He let his own weight bear down on Jim, who moaned and writhed beneath him as if Spock were a delicacy all his own to cherish. Spock started when he felt Jim’s hands slide down his sides and squeeze at his buttocks.

“Let’s pretend the past two years were our first couple dates,” Jim said. “I should probably put out about now.”

“I have no idea what you’re saying,” Spock said. “Please continue touching me.”

Jim laughed and obliged by flipping up the back of Spock’s tunic and pushing his hands down the waistband of his trousers to grab handfuls of his bare backside. Jim’s legs fell open and he pulled his knees up close to Spock’s body. Spock thrust helplessly into the cradle of Jim’s thighs. He could feel the column of Jim’s penis firming up against his own. The promise of it sent a thrill up Spock’s spine.

Jim insinuated a hand between them in an effort to undo both their pants, but Spock stilled his progress with a touch to his wrist.

“Jim — I am not experienced in these matters.” It seemed important that he know, suddenly. There had been no one since T’Pring more than thirteen years ago, and his passing interest in Lieutenant Uhura had been consumed by poor timing and debilitating grief.

Jim drew his hand back and looked Spock in the eye.

“Do you want this? We can stop.”

“I do not wish to stop,” Spock said. “I merely… had to tell you.”

“Okay. Okay.” Jim brushed Spock’s overgrown fringe from his forehead. He had not been able to groom it in his condition. Jim’s fingertips trailed over Spock’s brows and the bony orbits of his eyes, down his nose, across his cheekbones, along his jawline. His thumbs came to rest of the swell of Spock’s lower lip. “Tell me what you want.”

Spock shifted half on his side, legs still tangled with Jim’s. Jim ran a hand down Spock’s back, slipped a hand beneath his tunic and caressed his hip.

“I wish to taste you,” Spock said. Jim clutched at him, pushed their hips together.

“Yeah?”

Spock nodded, emboldened. “And I want… I want to ejaculate in your mouth.”

Jim let out a low whimper and threw his weight to the side enough to roll them both, and then he was astride Spock and peeling off his t-shirt, flinging it off into a corner.

“Off, off,” he muttered, and Spock found himself roughly divested of his tunic, his nipples tweaked, his chest hair raked through with short nails. Then Jim’s hands were at his waistband and Spock was kicking off his trousers and underwear and Jim had somehow slithered neatly from his jeans , and then— “Oh my God, it’s a sea anemone!

Spock looked down at his engorged penis, green villi flushed and stiff, standing at attention, quivering slightly. Spock supposed it did look a bit like certain species of that endangered Earth sea creature, but he was not certain Jim should crow with such delight over it.

“It’s a normal Vulcan penis,” Spock said, and perhaps a light petulance had crept into his tone. Why did he keep having to tell his partners this? Jim only grinned at him and arranged his knees to frame Spock’s hips before he leaned forward to inspect Spock’s genitals.

“Whatever, it’s totally awesome and I want it in my mouth.” And, without further warning, Jim swallowed Spock almost half way, and Spock’s voice was silenced, caught in his throat as he choked on the surreal sensation of Jim sucking him with hearty abandon, slurping and groaning around the length of him like a starving man at a feast. Spock’s eyes rolled back in his head when Jim inserted his tongue beneath the hood of his foreskin and lapped at his glans. One of Jim’s hands pumped the base of his shaft, and each swipe over his villi, of hand and mouth, sent Spock soaring to unfamiliar heights. Masturbation proved woefully pale in comparison. Spock looked down at that happily bobbing head and could not decide if he wished to feel the quality of that hair or of those broad shoulders; he settled for a hand on each, and then let his head drop back into the pillows and his eyes close.

Jim’s other hand crept beneath him and pressed into Spock’s testicles. When he removed his mouth from Spock’s penis, Spock began to protest until he applied that mouth to the delicate sac and lower. He was aware of a strangled, choked off sound coming from his person, but he found there was nothing he could do to stop it when he felt Jim’s tongue flicker over the tight knot of his anus. His hand tightened in Jim’s hair and he rocked down into the contact. Jim’s laugh was a vibration against his perineum.

“Like that, Mr. Spock?”

Spock only pushed further into Jim’s tongue. Jim laved him until he was slick and filthy, sucked the muscle until it gave beneath his seeking tongue, and then he stopped and rose up. Spock groaned in disappointment and forced his eyes open.

“Hold on,” Jim said, stroking through the light dusting of hair Spock’s splayed inner thigh. “This’ll feel good, I promise.” He encouraged Spock to tip his pelvis upward, and then, slowly, he inserted his middle finger into Spock’s body. Spock gasped and held his breath. Jim’s eyes flicked to his. “Okay?”

The sensation was alien and strange, but somehow relieving. He nodded, and Jim resumed his movements. The finger filled him gently, prodded along his sensitized walls, and it suddenly felt as if Spock had been empty before Jim and this maddening finger had come along. Jim thrust it shallowly in and out, and alternated with a gentle circling motion. Then, he bent and closed his mouth over Spock’s aching penis again.

Spock’s villi were oozing copiously, slicking Jim’s face, but Jim kept at his task, fusing suction with acrobatic tongue work and a clever hand that had already sussed out just how to tug at his villi to drive him to the brink of orgasm. And then Jim crooked the finger embedded in Spock’s anus.

Without warning Spock’s climax consumed his entire body. He lurched upward and scrabbled at Jim’s shoulders as he emptied himself down that waiting throat, and though his mouth was poised for shouting, there seemed to be no sound forthcoming. When his orgasm finally abated, Spock fell back into the bed and gasped for breath. Behind his eyelids, supernovas.

Spock felt Jim extricate himself from the grip of his body. He laid sloppy kisses up Spock’s stomach, over his chest, on his throat. Spock gathered himself and pushed Jim down on his back.

“God, Spock,” Jim panted. “The way you look, the way you taste.”

“I believe it is, as they say on your planet, ‘my turn,’ Jim.” After all, Spock had still not fulfilled the first desire he’d expressed.

“Oh God.”

Spock licked down Jim’s near-perfect torso until he reached the thatch of brown pubic hair. Jim’s penis rose thick and rosy to loll on his tight abdominal muscles, and his scrotum drew tight against his body, the testicles within firm and swollen. Spock nosed about in Jim’s curls, breathing deeply of Jim’s dizzying pheromones, and he felt Jim’s hand in his hair, heard Jim’s low groans. Beside his ears, Jim’s thighs were clenching and quivering.

Spock took just the head of Jim’s penis into his mouth; his skill would grow with practice, but for now, he simply wished to give Jim pleasure without the awkward learning curve. With his hands he pumped Jim’s shaft and with his lips and tongue he worked Jim’s eager red glans. Jim’s flavor was a dark, earthy musk, and Spock worked at sucking it all from Jim’s body.

Jim gave a sharp tug at Spock’s hair — unintentional, but Spock felt a spark of arousal light his testicles nonetheless — and with a single agonized grunt, he ejaculated into Spock’s mouth. There was more semen than expected and before he could stop it, it had dribbled back down Jim’s penis. Spock lapped it all back up, but once it was in his mouth, he was not certain it was a precisely pleasant substance. Slimy.

Jim’s chest had gone a mottled pink and he languished in the pillows with his eyes half open. When Spock rose from his task, Jim opened his arms and Spock settled at his shoulder, arm across Jim’s waist. Contentment and satiation bloomed between them, mingled; Spock was unsure whose it was he could feel.

“We need to do that all the time,” Jim said.

“I will schedule it into our duty rosters,” Spock replied.

Jim chuckled, the sound like heavy thunder in Spock’s ears. He rolled onto his side, facing Spock.

“Better keep us busy, First Officer. Can’t have an idle command team.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Jim pressed his grinning mouth to the relaxed line of Spock’s, and Spock let him in. They kissed for long, slick moments, and when Jim pulled away, he looked at Spock in awe.

“I just had this insane out of body experience.”

Spock quirked an eyebrow. “Really, Jim. My vanity.”

“Ha ha, Spock.” Jim scowled. He inched closer and closed his arms around Spock. “No seriously. It was this flash, like I was just not here anymore but there, just for a second. It was us, on the Enterprise, but we were way old, like sixty, and the uniforms were totally awful. And I looked at you and you did that thing where you smile at me but not really because that would not be logical. And the stars were zooming past us and I could feel you in my brain like the best hug and I knew everything was just how it was supposed to be. You and me and our girl, perfect.”

Spock laid his hand on Jim’s jaw.

“Perfect,” he echoed.

As they waited in the hall before council chambers, T’Kafna finished pinning T’Pring’s long hair to her head in an elaborate coiffure.

“This is most aesthetically pleasing,” T’Kafna said. “Your bondmate must strive to be worthy of such beauty.”

“Surely he completed his kahs-wan already? Mother?” T’Pring knew it must be true — these were the rules of the traditional bonding. This was how children became true Vulcans. Her bondmate would have proven himself in the heat of The Forge, as she had. He would be worthy.

“Of course, daughter,” her mother replied. “Do not ask tiresome questions to which you already know the answers.”

T’Pring dipped her head to stare down at the floor. Her feet dangled over it, a reminder of her short stature. She was going to be betrothed today — she would be named a woman in the house of her fathers, and she could not reach the floor from her seat. She found this incongruous, illogical. She stretched her legs, pointed her toes, grazed the floor just barely.

“Sit straight,” T’Kafna said, and as T’Pring complied, the doors at the end of the hall parted and two male figures emerged tall and slender. Her father and, if she made the correct assumption, the father of her bondmate. Trailing behind them, a slight woman, a human woman, T’Pring realized, held the hand of a small, rather stout boy whose left arm was encased in a cast and lashed to his body with a sling. Their shoes clicked as they neared, and T’Pring felt her mother’s hand at her back, urging her to stand.

As the adults introduced themselves with parted hands, T’Pring stared frankly at her intended, and he gazed back steadily. His eyes were large, a lighted brown of surprising depth. He pulled his hand from his mother’s grip, rummaged in the roomy pocket of his tunic, and stepped closer to her. The conversation taking place over their heads stopped as he held out his uninjured hand. A lush flower, the bloom of a cactus, rested in his palm.

“A token,” he said.

T’Pring reached forward and plucked it from his hand. At the touch of her fingertips, electricity. They both drew back. T’Pring hazarded a glance at her bondmate’s mother; she was gazing at Spock with an expression foreign to T’Pring, who could suddenly see all of her pearly human teeth in the open crescent of her mouth.

“There now,” said her bondmate’s mother. “Introduce yourself.”

He glanced up at his mother before turning back to T’Pring and raising his hand in greeting.

“I am Spock, son of Sarek of the House of Surak. I am honored to bond with you today.”

Beside her, T’Pring could see her father nodding his encouragement. She parted her fingers.

“I am T’Pring, daughter of Sofal of the House of Skor. The honor is mine.”

Those shiny human teeth flashed at her again, and she felt the weight of her father’s hand on her shoulder. She craned her neck to look up at him.

“Acquaint yourself with your intended, daughter,” he said. “Your mother and I must enter council chambers with Sarek and Amanda before your link is established.”

The three Vulcans stepped away, but the human, Amanda, did a curious thing. She knelt before T’Pring’s bondmate and cupped his full cheeks. She pressed that expressive mouth to his forehead.

“I’m so proud of you,” T’Pring heard her say. She could see the fascinating rounded shell of her ear peek out from beneath her headscarf. “Just be yourself, Spock. I love you.”

“Mother,” Spock whispered.

“I know. Okay. I’ll go.” Her lips met Spock’s forehead again, and when she stood, she met T’Pring’s eyes and gave her a nod before joining the other adults. The doors to council chambers parted and they disappeared behind them.

T’Pring sat back down on the bench and Spock joined her. She held his gift in her lap. She noted that his feet dangled even higher than hers. After 2.3 minutes passed in silence, she turned to him.

“Is it odd, being half human?”

He turned to face her. His eyes held such warmth, such unfamiliar warmth. She leaned in closer to him.

“My mother instructs me to think of myself as a whole rather than in fractions.”

“Her logic must be inferior to that of a Vulcan’s.”

Spock turned away, and without that gaze there was suddenly an emptiness. T’Pring was bereft.

“And yet I cannot fault it,” Spock said. “I am here, functional and not defective, my katra greater than the sum of my parts.”

T’Pring sat quietly beside him contemplating his words.

“That is sound logic,” she said at last, and she placed the flower back in his possession. “You may put this in my hair.”

She turned her back to him and felt him shift until the heat of him seeped into her. With one hand, he found a place for the flower and secured it. When T’Pring turned back around, those large eyes shone with wonder.

“It would please me to do this for you always,” he said.

T’Pring held out two hesitant fingers. Spock stared at them before he tapped them with his own. At the touch, they both turned back to face straight forward, backs upright.

“How did you injure yourself?” T’Pring asked.

“On the final night of the kahs-wan, I was attacked by a le-matya,” Spock told her.

T’Pring could not help herself; her mouth parted in shock. Quickly she sealed her lips and wiped the expression from her face.

“Truly you possess great valor,” she said. “Tell me of your kahs-wan and I will tell you of mine.”

Behind the doors to the council chambers, two sets of parents, the council of elders, and a team of healers were negotiating a future for Spock and T’Pring. But on a bench in the hallway, feet swaying inches above the ground, they found themselves capable of securing that future for themselves.

Art by Maggie2mw

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