The first time it hits him, Jim Kirk's standing ankle-deep in mud on some godforsaken rock just this side of the Romulan Neutral Zone, its name an instantly forgettable string of Greek letters. Ensign Shrela takes a knife in the shoulder -- and who the hell throws knives anymore, anyway? -- and goes down, blue Andorian blood spreading across her red uniform. The two colors are oddly vivid. He's definitely not going to recommend this planet for Federation membership, he thinks, to keep from thinking about anything else. And the Vulcans won't be colonizing this dirtball, that's for sure.
Jim wipes the sweat out of his eyes and grips his phaser tighter, taking aim at whoever the fuck is in the trees when suddenly it all goes fuzzy, his vision knocked out of focus.
We were more than that, a voice says, in his ear, too close, and he feels the press of hands on his arms, sliding up to his shoulders. There's someone here. In front of him, his mind insists, which is, as his first officer would say, illogical. Got to be behind him. On him. He is hardly conscious of how he comes to this decision; he just knows it. Jim has a habit of trusting his instincts. They've saved his ass more than once.
Reflexively, he dives, pushing the intruder away, rolling, turning, bringing his phaser to bear, firing on... empty air. No one.
When Spock and Bones and the rest of the away team come running a scant few minutes later, presumably alerted by the phaser's whine, he wipes the mud off his face and tells them there was another knife. They believe him. He doesn't believe himself.
That night in his quarters, he tosses and turns, restless, for hours, before sleep finally claims him. His dreams are full of darkness. He is alternately cold, and hot, and there are hands on his face.
Be with me, the voice says, half-familiar and half-alien, ragged with a strange loneliness that he can't bear to hear. It touches something deep within him, a raw, heart-sick place that he didn't even know existed. Be here, Jim. His name is held out -- an endearment, a lifeline, a key to a lock he doesn't know if he can open, but he desperately wants to try. He has to say something.
The words are out of his mouth hardly of his own volition, an instant, powerful response. They echo through his quarters, like the sound of his own scream after a nightmare, and only then does Jim realize that he is awake. That he was awake the whole time. He didn't dream it. Again.
He's talking to himself. God, he's hearing voices. One voice. The same voice. Is he crazy?
Maybe command is taking its toll. Maybe he's not cut out for this after all. He's imagined himself moving rapidly through the ranks, of course, having a distinguished career, being the youngest captain in Starfleet -- as he thinks it, something about the phrase echoes in his ears and makes his head spin. Like déjà vu.
"Computer, lights. Half-power."
His quarters are flooded with dimness. Exactly normal, except for him. He throws the covers off, stands up, starts to pace the room, trying to shake the vertigo. He's not crazy. If he's aware enough to worry about it, he can't be.
All right, so he thought he'd have a few more years to make captain. Half of Starfleet's heavy cruisers, once full of the Federation's best and brightest, are drifting in pieces through what remains of 40 Eridani A, the system where Vulcan isn't. Starfleet is hurting for officers. If they hadn't bumped him up, it would have been some other poor bastard. And Kirk's good. The best. He knows it. He has the Enterprise, and he deserves her.
He's just... hearing voices. Sounds minor, when you put it like that. A small setback, in the scheme of things.
Maybe tomorrow it'll be gone. He'll get some sleep. It'll be better. He'll hold together, and then the crew will hold together, and it'll be all right. The future has fucked with the present enough that, Christ, it'll never be the same, but their lives now are the only ones they've got. And he is responsible for four hundred of them.
"Computer, lights off," he says, finally.
His surroundings are obediently plunged into darkness, and he settles back into bed. He tries not to dream.
It's ship's morning, which is as close to morning as it gets in a place where the view outside is always black. 0800. Jim drags himself out of bed and into the shower, wincing as the sonics jar his teeth. So far, so good. His shift is at 0900. Plenty of time for food, he thinks as he pulls on the uniform. The captain's braid still looks odd. He'll give it time. It's only been a week.
He heads to the mess. Crew mess, of course, not the officers' mess. It's his ship now, and he wants to know her people. All of them. Today he's a little later and must have missed mess call; the only seat in the place, he sees as he comes over with his tray, is next to a Sulamid he definitely doesn't know. He's never actually met a Sulamid. First time for everything.
"Captainsirhello," the Sulamid says politely, moving his tentacles off to clear the seat. A lieutenant's stripes are wrapped around one reddish-purple limb.
"Hello, yourself," he says, trying not to stare -- not that he knows where he should or shouldn't stare, given that the Sulamid's whole body is a mass of tentacles. "Lieutenant...?"
"Namesignifier thisone Thranu. Departmentpostassignment astrogation," the lieutenant says, sounding both pleased and nervous. He extends one tentacle in Kirk's direction, as another tentacle grabs something off his plate that looks like a tree limb and pulls it somewhere into his body. Kirk regards his own plate of oatmeal with a sudden swell of gratitude.
"Are you really having that for breakfast, Thranu?" the woman in science-blue on the Sulamid's other side says in a tone of cheerful reproach. "Bit early in the day for chlorophyll, isn't it?"
"Dessertmealfoodafter," Thranu retorts.
"Oh, a likely story," she says, and Kirk chuckles, lifts his mug of coffee, and is about to join in--
I fear you will misunderstand my response. The voice is across from him. Right here. Right fucking here.
He looks up. The ensign who was across the table has already left. No one is here.
His coffee spills all over the deck.
Jim steps out onto the bridge, only a few minutes late, relieving the sleepy-looking Lieutenant Riley, as he settles into the center seat. Just a normal day. Nothing unusual. Right.
The rest of alpha shift take their positions. At the edge of his vision, Uhura slips her earpiece in and frowns.
"Transmission from Starfleet Command, sir. Admiral Komack to speak to you."
He leans back in the chair. "Let's have it on the main viewscreen, Lieutenant."
"Aye, sir." She touches a few buttons, and Komack appears, as stern as ever.
He inclines his head. "Admiral."
"I've got new orders for you, Kirk. Pulling you off the colonization mission, to deal with the Klingon situation."
This is not going to be a good day. "The Klingon situation, sir?"
Komack folds his hands in front of him and leans closer to the visual pickup. "The Klingons are understandably upset about Nero's destruction of their fleet." Upset. Everyone's upset. It hasn't really hit him yet, Jim knows, that half the students in his year are gone. Yesterday he thought for a good thirty seconds about messaging Gaila before he remembered.
"Understandably, sir." He gives a tight smile.
"They've chosen to interpret this as an act of war on the part of the Romulan Star Empire. Three hours ago, a group of Klingon cruisers attacked the dilithium mines on--" he looks down at his report and attempts the name-- "Rhei'llhne, just inside Romulan space."
"Oh." Really not a good day. Still, it's better than last week.
"The Romulans, quite reasonably, have disavowed all responsibility for Nero's actions, but the Klingons aren't buying it. So they've called for a meeting with the Klingons in neutral territory."
Jim straightens his uniform shirt a little. "Sir, I see that it's a bad time to be a dilithium miner, but--"
"This is where you and the Enterprise come in. They've requested the Federation act as mediators. I'm sending you."
Diplomacy. Huh. Well, he'll give it a try. "Thank you, sir."
Komack snorts. "Don't thank me yet. The talks begin tomorrow. You'll receive the location and further details shortly. Good luck. Komack out."
The screen returns to the usual starfield, and Jim tilts his head back and sighs, shutting his eyes. Some mission.
When he opens his eyes again, there's a man on the viewscreen. He has long gray hair, a strange assortment of leather clothing, and a mad gleam in his eyes. He's about to turn and ask Uhura what the hell she's put up when the man shifts, becomes more youthful. His face smooths, his hair darkens to brown, but his eyes are still the same. One breath, two, and the man fades away entirely, replaced by stars.
Jesus. What's wrong with him?
Thankfully, the rest of the shift is without incident. The orders are received, Chekov plots a course for the location -- some civilian-owned station out by Klingon space -- and they warp away. No more lightning storms. No more seeing and hearing things that aren't there. They'll be at the meeting tomorrow.
At the shift change, getting toward ship's evening, he ends up with Spock in the lift out.
"Deck six," Kirk says, and as the turbolift starts to descend, he considers his first officer. He's still not sure where he stands with Spock. It's the usual gripe the more emotional species have with Vulcans, he knows, but for a different reason. Usually people say they don't know what's behind that mask of Vulcan control. He's seen behind Spock's; the man did try to strangle him. Which is a problematic attitude coming from one's second-in-command. And for all that, they hardly know each other. Not in this reality.
He clears his throat. "Are you free, Spock?"
Spock nods ever so slightly. "Do you have matters you wish to discuss?"
I want to get to know you. He can't say that. "Not -- not mission-related." An idea occurs to him. "Do you play chess?"
Spock starts at that, or seems to. A trace of surprise. "Indeed. Do you play chess, captain?"
Jim leans back against the wall of the turbolift and allows himself a grin. It's probably smug. "Wanna see my FIDE rating?"
A raised eyebrow. "How intriguing."
"It was my mother's idea," he says, in answer to the question he's pretty sure Spock wants to ask. "She thought if she gave me something intellectual to do it would keep me from stealing aircars and picking fights."
"Did it?" There's genuine interest in Spock's voice.
He laughs. "Nope."
Spock inclines his head; Jim thinks that must be like a smile.
The rec room on Deck 6 is only half a rec room, these days -- the partitions are still up across the middle to separate the half where some of the Vulcan refugees were staying. Nevertheless, there's a table in the corner with a tri-D chess board. Good enough.
"White or black?"
Spock glances at him and shifts his weight onto the other foot. Jim's starting to be able to read him. That's nerves.
"Whichever you would rather I have, captain."
"Call me Jim," he says. "We're off duty." He hopes Spock will know the gesture for what it is. He sits and motions Spock to sit on the white side. He'll give him the first move, too.
Spock raises an eyebrow and settles himself in the chair. "Thank you, capt-- Jim."
He looks down at his pieces, and when he looks up, Spock has already moved. Pawn to the second level. Huh. Probably trying T'Shaien's Gambit. Waste of time. Spock already tried that the last time they played--
The last time? They've never played before.
His vision wavers, and he grabs his head.
"Captain?" he hears Spock saying, from very far away. "Captain? Are you unwell?" A long pause. "Jim?"
Jim shakes his head, trying to clear it, and looks up again. "Fine, fine. It's been a long day."
"Ah. Your move," Spock says politely.
Twenty minutes later, he is being thoroughly trounced, which he might expect given that he can't shake the feeling he's done this before. Every move he makes, his brain whispers that he's made it before, and it never worked. It's doing a great job undercutting him.
"Check," comes Spock's voice. "Mate in three."
Spock picks up his knight and places it neatly on the queen's level, in the middle of the war zone that is Jim's side. He has such elegant fingers. The thought drifts through Jim's mind, idly. He could reach out with his hand, the first two fingers. A kiss.
God, why would he do that? How is that even a kiss? And why the hell would he want to kiss--
Abruptly, he realizes he is aroused. His body throbs at the thought of reaching out, of touching-- he has to go. Has to get out of here. This is too weird.
"Well played, Mr. Spock," he chokes out, standing up from the table. "The game is yours."
He can practically feel Spock's confused stare burning into his back as he hurries out.
Jim lies supine in his bed. He can't sleep. He glances at the chrono. It's been an hour. If whatever it is is going to happen again tonight, he'll be ready.
He feels the press and weight of another body alongside his. Hotter than his. Against his skin. It ought to be terrifying, but all he feels is an overwhelming sense of rightness, suffusing him. Yes. He is loved. He wasn't expecting this -- that it would make him feel these things. He has no defenses.
Ah, Jim, t'hy'la, the voice whispers in his ear, roughly. Very close now. I have missed you.
A phantom hand touches his face -- warmth against his temple, cheekbone, jaw -- in a pattern he feels he's known all his life, and he laughs for the joy of it, the rediscovery. They are together now, as they should be.
Another hand traces along his collarbone, down his chest, like it knows every inch of his body already, and Jim shoves his hips up toward it, arches his body. He knows this lust. He is hard already, impatient to be touched.
"Oh, God, please--" The cry, ripped from his mouth, echoes in the empty quarters. Empty? No. They have each other.
Let me, the voice says, low with desire.
"Yes," Jim says, blindly. "Yes, please, anything--"
The hand moves lower, the body closer, and the other's joy is bright within his mind. He can feel everything, everything they both feel, and it is like nothing he has ever known and something he has always known at the same time.
Yes, the voice breathes. The other is aroused too, he knows. His pleasure is passed and magnified between them. It laps against him in waves, the rhythm of the hands he can feel on him that are somehow the most inconsequential part of it.
"I love you," Jim gasps, knowing that it is the right thing to say, and somehow a pale imitation of what he feels, what he has always felt.
The other's voice in his mind breaks as the pleasure crests higher, more than he can bear, more than they can both bear. He cries out and comes, and he knows that the other does the same, and--
It is gone. He is alone in his quarters. There is come drying on his stomach, and he hasn't even touched himself. He is shaking.
It is the third mission of his command, and Captain James T. Kirk suspects he is going insane.
"--time is 0700 hours. We are approaching Deep Space Station K-7. Senior officers to the bridge. Repeat, senior officers to the bridge."
Uhura's voice on the comm brings him fully awake. Jim shoves the covers off and leaps out of bed, making a face down at his body as he heads for the sonic shower. High frequency. Better make it quick. Did he jerk off last night? He can't quite remember, but he clearly must have. It feels like a dream. Maybe he dreamt it.
Ears still ringing from the shower, he pulls on his dress uniform. Itchy.
Time for diplomacy. Pull himself together. He can do this.
"Open a channel to Station K-7," Jim says, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. Around him, he can see the rest of the bridge crew doing the same.
"This is K-7," a bored voice informs him, almost before he sees the man in an orange jumpsuit on the screen. "Station Manager Lurry."
"This is James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Request permission to beam over."
"Here for the talks?" the man says, still without much interest.
No, he thinks, the quadrotriticale. Wait. The quadro-what?
"Yes," Jim says, finally. Of course. The talks.
"Permission granted. Lurry out," the man says. The screen goes blank and stays blank. Good.
"Mr. Spock," Jim says, rising out of the chair, "you're with me. Sulu, you have the conn. Uhura, have Dr. McCoy meet us in the transporter room."
"Aye, sir," he hears from behind him as he steps into the lift and takes a few deep breaths. All right. He can do this.
The Klingons are an ambassador and a captain, introduced to him as Klor and Krann.
"Greetings, Captain," Klor says, and as Jim looks at the man his face shifts, becomes even more alien, darker. His forehead ripples, grows ridges. It's very un-Klingon, one part of him thinks, but the rest of him knows it looks right somehow. Jim forces a smile.
"Greetings, Chancel-- Ambassador," he corrects himself hastily.
"A pleasure to meet you," Krann continues smoothly where his superior left off, holding out his hand. Jim takes it, shakes firmly. "I have learned your Terran custom," he adds. "The handshake. To show that one is unarmed."
"Klingons don't shake hands?" Jim asks, while waiting to see if this man, too, will become someone else. So far, so good.
Captain Krann bares his teeth. Possibly that is a smile. "We are always armed."
They leave, and the Romulans come up next -- three of them, all women, in the usual military scarlet and black. Their leader is a tall bony woman with a nasty scar running down her face and short, Vulcan-style hair. "I am Commander Atta," she says. "You may not call me Atta." She does not offer to shake hands, nor does she introduce her subordinates.
"James Kirk," Jim says, coolly. "Captain of the Enterprise. This is my first officer, Commander Spock, and my chief medical officer, Dr. McCoy."
"I should hope we would not need a medic," the woman returns, eyeing McCoy speculatively.
Next to him, McCoy chuckles uneasily. "Let's hope it doesn't come to blows, ma'am."
The woman almost channels some kind of nightmare Vulcan expressionlessness. "We prefer poison, Doctor."
She and her envoy brush past the three of them and head into the conference room, after the Klingons.
McCoy exhales loudly. "Well."
"Indeed," Spock says.
"I've never trusted Klingons," Jim says, fervently. "And I never will."
McCoy gives him an odd look. "Jim, when have you ever met a Klingon?"
What kind of question is that? Of course he's met -- oh.
"Never," he says, lamely. "Just, you know, on principle."
It only takes Jim an hour to find out that diplomacy is probably not going to be his favorite thing about captaincy. The Romulans, it turns out, wanted the Federation as mediators not because they thought the Federation would be neutral, but because they thought their experience with Nero would make it clear he was acting on his own. The Klingons are just out for blood.
"We demand a formal apology from your government!" Klor roars.
Atta is unflappable. "The Narada was not acting as an agent of our government, as the Federation is aware." She gives Jim a sidelong glance. "To apologize would be to claim Nero and his crew's actions as our responsibility."
"We demand reparations!" Klor continues.
"You already helped yourselves to our dilithium," Atta counters.
Krann joins in. "You attacked us first!"
"As I already said--"
Jim puts his face in his hands and sighs. When he looks up, he sees that Spock, seated next to him, has been watching his every move. He is so close. He could just lean over and -- no. No. He shouldn't. He knows he shouldn't. But he wants to.
They break for lunch. The Romulans eat some gelatinous blue thing. The Klingons have something that looks like live, wriggling worms. From the other end of the buffet, Jim can hear them complaining that it's not alive enough. Or something. Ick. Jim takes another swig of the drink he grabbed from the Romulan end; turns out to be Romulan ale. Good enough. He and Bones raise their glasses to each other.
"You are aware," Spock says, serenely, after taking another mouthful of his salad, "that the imbibing of intoxicating beverages is discouraged during diplomatic missions."
"This isn't a mission," Jim says in between bites of his sandwich. "This is lunch. Besides, they're all doing it." Maybe he can get just drunk enough to stop wondering what Spock's skin feels like.
"It's medicinal," McCoy adds. Good to know Bones is on his side.
When they reconvene, Jim at least is in higher spirits from the, well, spirits, which is good because the Klingons and Romulans have moved on to threatening one another with trade agreements.
"We'll stop selling you ships," Klor says.
Atta is steely-eyed. "Your lousy birds of prey are substandard. We don't need them."
"Ah, but you do. We know what your government's resources are going to," Klor returns, with the air of someone who knows a secret.
One of Atta's envoy, a shorter, round-faced woman, chooses this moment to jump in. "We won't sell you the cloaking device."
Jim sits up straighter. The cloaking device? The Romulans are making a -- of course they are, they've had it for years. He knows, he stole one, for Christ's sake. No, of course he didn't know they were making one; how could he? The thoughts clash alarmingly in his head, and he squeezes his eyes shut.
"Intriguing," comes Spock's voice, next to him. Spock is still too far away.
Atta snaps something in Romulan to her aide that probably means "shut up."
Jim opens his eyes, to see that now everyone at the table looks angry. Fleet Intelligence will kill to know about this.
It will hardly take any time at all, the voice in his head says. The voice sounds almost happy. Totally unaware of what's going on now.
"Listen," Jim says, rubbing his temples, and everyone in the room turns to look at him. "I, uh -- could we have another break?"
He takes another sip of ale, but that doesn't stop Atta, across the room, from shifting into another Romulan -- longer hair, face unscarred, beautiful now. A commander too, he knows. The room wobbles, and unfortunately he's pretty sure that isn't the ale talking.
McCoy comes up next to him. "Are you all right, Jim? You don't look too well."
"Fine," he lies. "Where's Spock?" Spock should be here. He's too far away. He's always too far away.
"Off letting Starfleet know about the Romulans' little slip," McCoy says, under his breath. "Beamed back to the Enterprise."
"How responsible of him."
"Yeah, well, someone's got to do these things before we forget."
Forget. The word echoes in his head. Forget, the voice says, and Jim's world melts around him.
At the other end of the table, General Chang helps himself to more gagh. Chang. The plot. He has to stop him. He has to notify Starfleet.
"Let Fleet know," Jim says, urgently. "Chang's going to kill the president. After he kills the chancellor."
"Jim -- I -- what? Who?"
He runs from McCoy. Chang is right there. Perfect. He taps Chang on the shoulder.
The Klingon turns. His one remaining eye focuses on him. "Yes?"
"I know about your plan, General."
Jim punches him in the face. After that somehow they are on the floor, and he tastes blood, and from somewhere far away McCoy is calling his name. Chang is pinned underneath him. Jim takes his comm, so he can't contact that ship of his, throws it across the room. He's done the right thing. This will delay him. If he gets rid of Chang -- but no, he has accomplices, dammit, he forgot about the accomplices --
"Throw Valeris in the brig," he says, thickly. It's hard to talk.
A hypospray hisses against his neck, and for about half a second he wonders why he's down here with Captain Krann. Then he ceases to wonder about anything.
"Gonna tell me what's wrong, Jim?"
He stares up at the ceiling of sickbay as McCoy passes a series of increasingly unfamiliar medical equipment over his body. McCoy leans down and gives him his best old-fashioned country doctor smile. The face warps, suddenly, into a lined face that isn't right, not quite. Not yet. His clothing is covered in ice. It's like he's on Delta Vega with him. No, not Delta Vega. Rura Penthe. What the hell is Rura Penthe?
Above his head, the gentle pounding of his heart rate on the biobed spikes into a fast drumbeat.
"Your vitals check out," McCoy says, dangerously calm. "But you and I both know you're not firing on all thrusters. As your chief medical officer, I can remove you from command."
"You wouldn't," he says, hopefully.
"Try me." Well, that doesn't leave him with much of a choice.
Deep breath. Swallow. "I'm having hallucinations, Bones. And sometimes I believe them. And it's getting worse."
"Oh, hell." McCoy grabs his hand, pulls him off the biobed, and drags him through sickbay, into his office. The desk is piled high with printouts, journals, datapads, and McCoy shoves them all to the side as he takes his seat.
"Sit down, Jim." He gestures at the opposite chair. The doors slide shut. "Have a drink," he adds, pulling out a bottle from the desk drawer, pouring them both a cup.
Nice office. He's never seen it before. He's seen it a thousand times.
Jim grabs the glass in a convulsive movement and drains it. Scotch. His throat burns. "Good stuff," he says, hoarsely, when he can speak again. "Don't you usually go for bourbon?"
"Mmm," McCoy says, taking a much more reasonable sip of his own drink. "Our new chief engineer has quite the collection, and he's generous. You hearing voices?" The question is delivered in a tone of neutral interest, like the rest of it. Like he's just making conversation.
He nods miserably at the table. One voice. Just one.
"What are the voices telling you, Jim?"
Telling him? The voice isn't telling him anything. Nothing that makes any sense, anyway. Some of it's not even in Federation Standard. "I don't know what he's telling me. He misses me." God, that sounds stupid. It comes nowhere close to expressing the grief and joy mixed that he knows isn't his.
"He?" The voice is a man. He didn't even know that until he said it. "Do you know who he is?"
The voice has always sounded familiar, but -- no. He doesn't know. Maybe he did. He can't remember. He shakes his head.
"All right. Anything else?"
"I'm seeing things." Jim's own voice rasps hoarsely in his ears. "I'm seeing everything -- people, places. Only they look different, somehow. I can't explain it." Best to leave out the other details.
A sigh. McCoy is silent for a long while, and when Jim looks up he has his fingers steepled on the desk. "It's not psychosis, Jim. Can't be. Fleet has every nucleotide of your genome mapped. No genetic propensity, and you know as well as I do the Academy wouldn't have admitted you if you had. Nothing environmental, either. Every last one of your psych screens has been clear. Whatever this is, it's come up fast."
"So what is it?"
Another sigh. "If I knew that, you'd be cured. I'm sorry, Jim."
Jim stares at him for a long while; McCoy meets his gaze, evenly.
"Have you ever heard the word t'hy'la?" He tries to pronounce it as best he can. He doesn't know why he's even asking. "He -- he says it to me, sometimes." Except it's not like the voice is saying it; it's like the voice has said it. The distinction is important, somehow.
McCoy's eyes narrow. "Can't say as I have. You've asked the computer?"
"It's not in there."
"Maybe you made it up, then." He shrugs. "I'm a doctor, Jim. That's medicine, not linguistics."
Jim's out of his seat, and the door slides open for him before McCoy can even muster a good amount of outrage.
"See ya, Bones," he calls over his shoulder.
"Jim!" McCoy yells from somewhere behind him. "Come back here! I haven't cleared you for duty. Chapel, someone, anyone, get the captain 10 ccs of anesthezine! Now!"
Luckily, he's already well down the corridor.
Uhura is, as he suspected, going off-duty and just entering the rec room. He nearly runs into her, and she shakes off his arm with a strange look. Bewilderment. He's probably acting very strangely. He doesn't care.
"Nyota!" he says, and her face closes off. "Hey, can I call you Nyota?"
"Tell me about xenolinguistics," he says, and she looks at him like he's insane -- which, after all, he might be -- but heads to a table with him anyway.
"What do you want to know?"
"Well," she says, uneasily, still giving him that look, "it depends on the area of study. Xenophonetics and xenophonology, my subfields, first try to come up with an inventory of phonemes and their corresponding allophones, classified by their articulatory properties. Place and manner of articulation, voicing, and so on. Then we can figure out their representation in the Interplanetary Phonetic Alphabet. Of course, to do that in the first place you have to know something about anatomy, how sounds are produced in that species at all, which requires -- you're not listening to me at all, are you?"
He leans forward. "If I tell you a word, will you tell me what it means?"
"Sure." Uhura shrugs, seemingly nonplussed by the change of subject. She probably knows he didn't really want to know. "If I know the language. What language?"
"I don't know."
She laughs in that awkward way people do when it's not really funny. "I'll try."
"T'hy'la," he says, fervent, trying to make it sound like it does in his head. It almost sounds right. "It wasn't in the computer."
"T'hy'la," she repeats, frowning in thought. "There's an Old High Vulcan word that sounds like that. I think it means 'friend.' I get the impression it's something they don't really want to talk about. Maybe that's why it's not in the computer banks. Where did you hear it?"
"In my head," he says, turning away. Why would there be a Vulcan word in his head? What the hell is going on?
At least he knows who to ask about this one. Spock's got to know. He has to.
"I'm insane, and you're in command," Jim says, as soon as the door to Spock's quarters slides open. "Can I come in?"
Spock blinks two or three times and steps back. "Enter."
It's always hot in Spock's quarters, and the lights are too bright. He's definitely altered the environmental controls. Jim thinks that if Spock could thin the oxygen mix and raise the grav, he'd probably do that too. Be more like Vulcan. More like Vulcan was.
"Whew." He's sweating already. "How does Uhura like this heat?" Maybe he did drink too much.
Spock raises an eyebrow. "If you are referring to my former relationship with the lieutenant, we amicably parted four days ago."
The words don't quite make sense for a few seconds. "Oh." He looks up. "You've got to help me. There's these Vulcan words in my head, and I'm seeing things and hearing voices, and Bones says he can't find anything, and I thought you could, you know, do your thing. The mind meld thing."
Spock visibly stiffens. "I would prefer not to, captain."
"Why not?" He steps closer, and watches as Spock steps back. "Come on, Spock, please. You're the only chance I've got."
He can almost see the thoughts running through Spock's mind, and then Spock gestures at the couch. "Sit down."
Jim does, and Spock sits next to him. Very close now, he thinks. Almost close enough. Spock raises his hand to his face and he waits for the feeling he felt on Delta Vega, the easy slide of another's mind into his.
This is not easy. It is as if Spock is leaning on him, is crushing him. The press of another mind against his is heavy, and he fights it. He can't breathe. He strikes, shoves the mind away. He has to get away.
"You are resisting," Spock says, and his face is taut with something that could be pain. "Please. Jim. The more you fight, the more it hurts us both."
"I can't help it. It wasn't like this on Delta Vega."
Spock looks quizzical. "You melded with my counterpart?"
"Yeah, he wanted to tell me about Nero, and--" Jim stops. "Hey, you know about him? That -- that bastard. He cheated!"
Spock gets that abstracted look. Thinky face. "I believe I may know what is wrong with you. We will need to meld to confirm." He raises his hand to Jim's face again, fingers finding the psi points after some hesitation. "Breathe with me, Jim."
Jim gives a tense smile, only a little of what he's feeling. He watches the rise and fall of Spock's chest, only an arm length away, and then looks up to meet Spock's eyes. Breathe. In, out. In, out. In. Ah--
For an instant, they are one. Or rather, he is two. Think about this, his other self says. I am curious. Tell me about this. And, no, no, he can't. He mustn't. He pushes--
Spock practically leaps back from him, with a strangled gasp. Their minds pull apart.
"It is as I suspected," Spock says, his voice gone hoarse, wavering with what must be an effort to keep that Vulcan calm. "There have been blocks placed on some of your memories; I suspect it is the work of my counterpart. The blocks are beginning to fail, and your conscious mind is having difficulty integrating the memories properly."
So he's not crazy. Thank God. "Can it be fixed?"
Spock gives a small nod. "It is possible. To have it done most easily, you would need to visit the best mindhealers, in ShiKahr, on V--" His mouth snaps shut, and his eyes widen a little. That must be how Vulcans do "appalled." At least he's not the only one who keeps forgetting. "They are all dead. I apologize."
"Can you fix it?" If Spock could identify the problem, maybe he can fix it. He's got to. "Listen, I won't pry into your secrets or anything--"
"You would not have the choice." Spock interrupts him. "The meld necessary to remove the blocks would be very deep indeed, from one of my skill level. You would be aware of all that I am, as I would be aware of you."
He chuckles, despite the gravity of the situation. "Well, then, we can get to know each other better."
"I would ask," Spock says, and stops. "I would ask that you not think ill of me for anything you encounter in my mind."
"What, do you secretly hate me or something?" Jim snorts. "I'll deal."
"Or something," Spock says, back to unreadability. "Very well. Are you prepared?"
Almost before he has time to think about it, Spock's fingers spider across his face. "My mind to your mind--"
"My thoughts to your thoughts," Jim whispers.
We are one. It is easier, this time. Maybe it gets easier with time. The other is determined, cool, but with feelings running hot, close to the surface, seeping through the mask of control. He understands. It must be hard to be him. It is hard to be himself. He is a child, sitting on a bench and waiting for his family to pick him up. He has been fighting. Blood trickles from his lip. It is green. Red. Green.
Not that, he knows. He should not think about that. He should think about Delta Vega. What happened on Delta Vega. Forget, the other Spock said -- but why would he say that? It is illogical. It is fucking weird. It is fucking illogical. The memories are still there. They have not been erased; they have merely been blocked. He has been told not to think of them. But it is all right to think of them, his other self says. I am here with you. We will think of them together.
"I have removed the blocks," Spock's voice is saying, from much farther away than Spock is. Spock is right here, as he should be. As he has always been. "I must now help you integrate the memories."
And they remember...
"He proudly lived to see you become captain of the Enterprise," the other Spock says. "A ship we must return you to as soon as possible," he adds, turning to walk deeper within the cave.
"Wait," Jim says. Something in his head feels different. Strange. Happy. "We weren't -- were we lovers?" Watching this happen in the meld, Jim has a feeling he knows what's coming. Not an awful feeling, strangely.
Spock turns back to him, and he can see his Spock, too, in this man. Both of them, together. Spock gives one of those Vulcan eyebrow quirks. "Were I to answer verbally, I fear you would misunderstand my response. If I may show you--" He holds up his hand again, starts to move closer.
Whoa, wait, another one of those things? "I thought you said we didn't have time."
"Jim." Spock almost smiles. "It will hardly take any time at all. It is a mind meld."
"Oh," he says, and as he looks at him he can almost see the psi points on Spock's face. No, not see. Perceive. A different sense, somehow. Did that thing give him telepathy?
"Only temporarily," Spock says, as if he heard him thinking. He probably did. "Your sense of my thoughts should wear off shortly after the conclusion of this meld. Be with me. Be here, Jim. Never and always touching and touched--" he starts, and that's different, Jim ought to to know what it means somehow--
Spock presses his hand to Jim's face again, and he feels -- joy. Absolute joy, in an intensity that is shocking. He cannot withstand it.
We were more than that, Spock's voice says in his head. We were more than lovers, more than friends. You were my t'hy'la. We were everything to each other.
Spock shows him his life. The life he never lived. He is on the Enterprise. He is beaming down to a thousand planets. He sees all their missions, and all that was not missions -- playing chess, night after night. Laughter. The look on Spock's face when Spock thinks him dead. They stand close, and one day they stand closer still.
Jim puts his hand to Spock's face, instinctively finding the psi points, both in the memory and out of it.
I died for you, the memory of Spock says, showing him his own face, years older, crumpled in grief, distorted through a radiation barrier. And you brought me back to life. Another view of himself, on Vulcan, looking about to cry from happiness, surrounded by robed Vulcans. The fal tor pan.
I loved you, he thinks. I loved you. In the memory, he leans in, closer, kissing Spock. That's a psi point, there, the lips. The memory of the meld deepens. He watches himself raise two fingers to meet Spock's free hand. They've done this so many times, he knows. Somehow he has pushed himself against Spock; they are against the icy wall of the cave, sliding down. He does not feel the cold. Neither of them do.
Ah, Jim, t'hy'la. I have missed you, Spock says, and there is joyful laughter within his mind. Their minds sink, lock into each other, and he needs to be closer, even closer.
He pulls his hand away to fumble with his clothes, Spock's clothes, and then the chill strikes him. That's not going to work.
We hardly need to do that on this planet, t'hy'la, comes the amused voice. Not when one has telepathy.
He knows, somehow exactly where to touch in Spock's mind, just as Spock knows exactly where to touch his. And how strange is that? He is aroused, pressing the length of his body against Spock's, as Spock breathes heavily beneath him. With the precision borne of years of practice, Spock's mind is around his, everywhere, and he feels it just there, and he is shaking, coming hard, and Spock is doing the same, and--
The meld breaks, or the memory of it. They lie there in the cold in silence for a few long minutes, and Spock's eyes look at him almost sadly.
"This was not for you, old friend," he says. "I am sorry. I was grieving, and I have taken advantage of you. It is best if this does not affect your friendship with my other self."
"What?" Jim doesn't understand.
In the memory, Spock presses his fingers to Jim's face again. A different set of psi points. "Forget."
The memory breaks off.
What the hell? That was... highly illogical. That was love. Love is illogical. As the thoughts race through his mind, Jim is pretty sure which of them is thinking what.
I am not him. That's clearly Spock.
No, Jim thinks, but you could be him someday. Could have been him. And I could -- I could love you.
That's what he's been feeling. Attraction. His mind holds out a memory of him facing down Spock at his Kobayashi Maru hearing. That's what he felt, even then. And now, that and love.
Surprise, from the other, and a ripple of something that could be laughter, a holding out of memories. I thought you would happen upon how I felt.
Jim drops his hand from Spock's face. His Spock. The meld lessens in intensity, but is still there. Good. The better to concentrate. He can feel a little bit of Spock's confusion.
"Spock--" His throat is dry in the heat. "Spock, can I...?"
In his mind, Spock smiles. Yes.
He leans forward to kiss Spock just as Spock leans in to kiss him, and they meet, awkwardly, the meld flaring to life again. Spock wraps his free arm around him, pulls him close, and they are kissing, and kissing.
He pulls clumsily at Spock's uniform. Spock rips at his; he thinks he hears fabric tearing. There's that Vulcan strength. He's touching Spock, skin to skin, and somehow they are on the couch? The floor? He doesn't care.
Spock pushes him over; he is underneath him and arches up, rubbing himself against Spock, hearing him gasp. It might have been fun in the mind meld alone, but it's much better with both.
"Jim," Spock says, in his ears and in his mind, tilting his head down to kiss all along his throat. Yes.
Jim shifts, getting a hand between them, wrapping his hand around both of them, thrusting up against Spock, as Spock's mind locks deep into his, deeper and deeper.
He wants this to go on forever. Just like this, with the two of them here, with Spock in his mind. The pleasure he feels, the happiness -- it's all around them. They move against each other in an easy rhythm, faster, faster. Their bodies are slick with sweat. He can barely hold onto Spock's hips.
Above him, Spock is beautiful. His face is flushed green, his head thrown back. He pushes against him, and again, and again, and if Jim can just hold on, can remember the look on his face--
He comes, and Spock groans in his ear, bites his shoulder, and is coming too. Shaking, they hold each other, and Jim smiles, and laughs, and smiles, and smiles.
Spock rolls over to lie next to him, not touching him for the first time in -- minutes? Hours? The feeling between them lessens a little with lack of contact, but it's not gone.
"I can still feel you," Jim says, wonderingly, holding his hand up to almost touch his face, and then Spock's. "What -- are we...?"
Bonded, Spock says in his mind, and then, "Fascinating. I wonder how this will affect our professional relationship."
"Worry about it later," Jim interjects, and kisses him again. "Now, worry about -- shit, the Klingons. I forgot."
As he scrambles for the shreds of his clothing, he can feel Spock's confusion yet again.
"What about the Klingons?"
"I think I'd better apologize," Jim says, handing Spock his shirt. "After I borrow your shower."
Ambassador Klor is grinning broadly. "We respect your show of strength, Captain, and would be willing to listen to any suggestions you might have."
"Ambassador, I'm terribly-- what?" Maybe he'd done the right thing after all. McCoy kicks him under the table. "Oh. Of course."
Spock looks up at him and nods ever so fractionally. The bond between them pulses hot and bright, and Jim can't stop smiling.
That went well, t'hy'la, the voice in his head says, and this time he knows it's Spock.