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Bittersweet Serendipity

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There is no instinct like that of the heart…

- Lord George Gordon Byron

 

There had been many times over the course of the last five years that Spock had contemplated the path he’d chosen. It had been a question of feeling over duty at the start; and he had chosen the path distinctly un-Vulcan. He had chosen to do what ‘felt right’ and the memory of that day had lingered in his mind as a constant reminder. Spock had tried to live his life in honor of both sides of his heritage, Vulcan and Human. To turn his back on his human half after the death of his mother had been unthinkable. He’d wanted to feel his emotions; needed to feel them, if only to remind himself that he still carried a part of her inside of him. At present however, those feelings, those too strong emotions, were drowning him.

He’d chosen a life in Starfleet aboard the Enterprise over a life on New Vulcan for one reason and one reason only… the encouragement from his counterpart. His elder self had spoken of a life that had seemed both too alien to comprehend and something that lit up a tiny spark inside of him that could only be nurtured by a life of exploration and… a friendship that would change his life forever.

That friendship had not come at first. In fact, it had not come for quite some time. Relations between James Kirk and himself had been stilted at best at the start of their first five year mission. Kirk had seemed happy enough to have him onboard and as his First Officer, they’d exchanged genial pleasantries as any other members of the crew, but that closeness that his counterpart had promised was distinctly absent. And of course Spock did not expect it to form overnight, especially not with the beginning that they’d shared, but he had expected it to form nonetheless. It saddened him some that it took the deaths of Kirk’s actual friends for the ice to finally break between the two of them. Kirk, for all of his boisterous bravado and devil may care attitude, carried within him the heart of a man who bled for every loss of life and a compassion that was extended to even the most undeserving. They’d all gotten a glimpse of it with Nero at the end, but it was a thing that, for the most part, his Captain kept closely guarded.

Their friendship had developed slowly after the deaths of Ensign Kelso and Lt. Mitchell and only in part to a suggestion made by Mitchell. Kirk was a chess player; of this Spock had been aware. He’d even glanced a game or two between Kirk and Mitchell when they’d played in one of the Rec rooms. It had been the Lieutenant’s belief that Spock would have enjoyed a game played against the Captain, to which Spock had declined at first, but after Mitchell’s death he’d thought it to be a sort of ‘olive branch’ between the two of them. Kirk had agreed and the rest, as they say, was history.

Since then, the pieces of Spock’s promised friendship had started to fall into place. Kirk had begun to come to him about everything; they’d complemented each other in every way – one playing off the other. Their occasional chess games had developed into twice a week, sometimes three times if they’d found themselves with the time, and they’d learned to talk to each other about more than just work. For instance, Spock discovered that Kirk had a propensity to collect classic works of Terran literature; he was fluent in several Earth languages – including Ancient Latin – as well as several alien dialects that included Andorian and Tellarian. He could also read and understand both Vulcan and basic Klingon; though the Klingon was the only one he could speak in return. He enjoyed music of all types from all worlds, but tended to favor classic Terran rock the most. However, Kirk never once showed anything but the utmost delight when Spock would play his ka’athyra for him.

Kirk’s request that Spock join him for a second five year mission had pleased him greatly and his response had been immediate. By then, the man had begun to incite emotions in Spock that he’d not even known were possible. They’d discovered worlds together, mapped out nebulas, lived life and faced death a hundred times over. They’d become an extension of each other; two halves of the same coin. Even Dr. McCoy had slotted in his share of crass observations about the way Kirk and he worked together. Spock had, in the beginning, just chalked it up to simple human jealousy or playfulness, nothing more. Over time though, even the good Doctor had become a permanent, close fixture in his life.

The years they’d spent together and the experiences they’d shared shaped the men they had become. It was only now though, that Spock looked back on the last few years of his life and realised that he’d been missing the most important thing of all… love. He’d been so content in their friendship, so content to bask in the life they’d shared together, that he’d let himself turn a blind eye to the feelings that had been growing inside. It was not the love of a friend or the love for a brother. No. The love he bore for Kirk was so strong, so powerful in its hold on him that the mere thought of separation caused a deep well of sadness and fear to build in his heart. He’d not understood it before; the human desire to infer that the human heart was the seat of all emotion. It was clear to him now though; he could feel it in the staccato beat and the ache that was pulsating in his side.

James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise, had been missing for fourteen days, twelve hours, thirty-six minutes, and twenty-four seconds. This was supposed to have been one of those missions that Kirk had taken to calling a ‘cakewalk’. They were supposed to be happy, enjoying another job well done. All Spock could do though, was think upon a time when another James Kirk had stood before him, the words of his counterpart, and a promised dream that he feared he’d let slip through his fingers as well.

I ask that you do yourself a favor… put away logic, and do what feels right. The world you have inherited lives in the shadow of incalculable devastation… but there is no reason you must face it alone. His counterpart had said, standing there in Spock’s quarters at the academy. The elder had pulled a pendant from around his neck and placed it down upon the edge of Spock’s desk. His fingers had hovered over it, as though it were the most precious thing he’d had to offer and it pained him to part with it.

This was a gift to me. Representing… a dream. One we were unable to fulfill. The way you can now. His counterpart’s voice had been so soft when he’d spoken; barely above a whisper. There had been anguish reflected in those eyes so much like his own, so much so, that it had caused his own heart to break. He hadn’t been able to imagine then what could evoke so much visible emotion.

Spock had found out afterwards that what he’d been given were the last words that another James Kirk had spoken to his counterpart before his death a few days later. He could still see the older version of Kirk standing before him, the holo-emitter projecting a perfectly pristine image for his eyes to drink in. Even in his golden years, James Kirk had been a handsome man.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you… Kirk had smiled that now familiar smile that Spock knew could light up a room.

I know I know, it’s illogical to celebrate something you had nothing to do with, but I haven’t had the chance to congratulate you on your appointment to the ambassadorship so I thought I’d seize the occasion… Bravo, Spock. They tell me your first mission may take you away for awhile, so I’ll be the first to wish you luck… and to say… And there, in the midst of that unbearable pause in time, Spock had seen that same anguish that he’d seen reflected in his counterpart’s eyes.

I miss you, Old Friend.

There’d been another pause, but Spock had been too busy trying to ascertain the pressure building in his chest to take much note of it, though his eyes had never strayed from the image before him. Kirk’s eyes had been hazel in that other world.

I suppose I’d always imagined us… outgrowing Starfleet together. Watching life swing us into our Emeritus years… I look around at the new cadets now and can’t help thinking… has it really been so long? Wasn’t it only yesterday we stepped onto the Enterprise as boys? That I had to prove to the crew I deserved command… and their respect?

Though he’d never admit it to anyone, Spock smiled at the memory. He could remember his own emergence onto the bridge of the Enterprise, seeing Kirk look to greet him from the Captain’s chair… Permission to come aboard, Captain? That smile splitting Kirk’s handsome face even if Spock had not thought it so then. Granted. Oh how it ate at him now.

And yet the older Kirk’s words played on in his mind…

I know what you’d say — ‘It’s their turn now, Jim…’ And of course you’re right… but it got me thinking: Who’s to say we can’t go one more round? By the last tally, only twenty five percent of the galaxy’s been chartered. I’d call that negligent. Criminal even — an invitation. You once said being a starship Captain was my first, best destiny. If that’s true, then yours is to be by my side. If there’s any true logic to the universe… we’ll end up on that bridge again someday.

Kirk was grinning again, those eyes of his sparkling as though they held all the secrets of the universe inside them. Admit it, Spock. For people like us, the journey itself… is home.

Spock’s hands were shaking now as they had then. At the beginning of things, he’d put aside duty and ‘followed his heart’. He’d sought to fulfill the dream that had slipped from the other’s grasp. Now though, he was being ordered on to one final mission before returning to Earth with Kirk presumed K.I.A. Tensions on the planet below were rising and the Enterprise’s continued orbit was in question by the ‘powers that be’ down below.

Kirk’s disappearance had been enacted by a band of rebels when they’d beamed down to check on the newly established mining colony of Kessik IV. The civil war had been ongoing for many months now; the colony having divided itself down the middle due to a general lack of agreement on how things should be run. Of course, the Federation had not been notified of any such disturbance, because of the colony’s insistence that they remain independent, and the landing party had been taken by surprise.

The leader of the colony, Yorlois, had informed them that due to the heavy dilithium deposits, locating the rebel outpost had been all but impossible. Even if they’d wanted to help, which was debatable in the opinion of most of the visiting crew, they hadn’t even been sure they could. Now, with the Captain’s disappearance and the Enterprise’s continued presence, Yorlois feared some sort of retaliation even though they’d been promised that no one in the colony would be held responsible. Still, they’d gone so far as to assure Spock that the rebels kept no prisoners alive and that Kirk was most likely dead already. Starfleet command had been inclined to believe them due to the fact that minutes after the landing party’s disappearance, all life signs had vanished.

What did he do now? Did he follow orders, abandon the search, and take the Enterprise on to the outpost requesting aide? Or did he foster the hope that Kirk was still alive somewhere below? The more he thought about it, the choice was simple. Even if Kirk were dead, he would not leave without his body. The rebels, one way or another, would produce his Captain.

*****

“You can’t be serious!” Nyota snapped out as she followed Spock into the hanger bay. “I don’t want to leave him any more than you do, but going down there alone? Ordering the Enterprise on without you? That’s just plain crazy even for you!”

Spock had known from the moment he’d made his decision that Nyota would fight him on it. Despite the termination of their relationship several years ago, they’d managed, after a while, to remain friends. They weren’t the best of friends or the closest, but they were friends and despite the disillusionment of the past, they still cared a great deal for each other.

“The Enterprise’s mission is concluded, Lieutenant, and we have been asked to leave. You, like the rest of the crew, will follow my orders as I am following the orders of Starfleet command and will venture on to Cestus III,” he informed her as he made his way up the ramp to the shuttle he’d decided to take down to the planet. He’d stocked it with enough supplies, both essential and medicinal to facilitate a long-term search and rescue mission.

“But they’ll court-martial you!” she bellowed and yanked him around to face her by his arm. “You’re throwing away your entire career on a maybe. Believe me, I care about Jim too, but he’d be the first one to tell you to march your ass back up to the bridge and complete the mission yourself. You can’t just… he wouldn’t want you to do this.”

Spock allowed his features to soften and he reached out to place a consoling hand on Nyota’s arm. “You did not leave me behind when the Enterprise was ordered on to Makus III and I was stranded on Taurus II. In fact, you saved not only my life, but the lives of Dr. McCoy, Lt. Commander Scott, Yeoman Rand, and Lt. Boma. I must do the same for, the Captain.”

Nyota shook her head, pain and anger both vying for domination in her eyes. “I couldn’t leave you because I loved you,” she stated softly and shook her head again. There were tears in her eyes. “I wasn’t necessary for the continued function of this ship. You are. And… you were the first one to scold me the minute we stepped foot back on the Enterprise. You were furious with me because I’d disobeyed a direct order.”

Spock dropped his arm away and tried to show her with his own eyes that he was doing the same thing now. He wasn’t sure that he could actually say the words out loud. Not yet. Once he said them he couldn’t unsay them and he was still in the process of attempting to make them make sense.

“What you did for me…” he stated quietly, “is what I must do for him now. I cannot leave him, Nyota. Please understand this. I will take whatever punishment both the Captain and Starfleet deem fit, but only after I know that he is safely back where he belongs. Please, do not fight me on this any longer. I understand now that I was wrong in being angry with you for doing what you felt was the only thing you could do.”

She stepped back, her mouth dropping open in what could only be interpreted as shock. “I had no idea,” she murmured. “After all this time, all these years, he finally got to you too.” Nyota’s smile was bittersweet. “How can you think that… you said to continue our relationship was illogical, that it interfered with our duties as Starfleet officers. How is this logical? How is giving your heart to him logical? He’s the most illogical human you know!”

“Not the most illogical,” came Dr. McCoy’s voice from behind them and Nyota whirled around to find the Doctor standing there with a bulging supply pack in hand. Spock was certain that she was glaring and from the sheepish look the Doctor suddenly gave it confirmed it. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop. I just happened to walk up at the last minute and well… um… your voice kind of carries in here.”

“You’re going too?” she asked, still clearly angry but sounding more and more exasperated by the second.

McCoy just offered up a crooked grin and shrugged one shoulder. “It’s Jim. If there’s any possibility that he’s still alive down there, there’s no way that this pointy-eared hobgoblin is going without me. Besides, M’Benga can perform my duties as well as I can and I know that when we find that idiot Captain of ours, he’s going to need me.”

“And what about Starfleet command?” Nyota inquired, turning sideways so that she could look back and forth between the both of them.

McCoy snorted and pushed gently past the both of them onto the shuttle. “Starfleet command can take their orders and shove’em. I ain’t leavin him here. And there’s no way that I’m changing my mind so don’t even try. Mr. Spock here’s already given it a go.”

“Indeed,” Spock replied and inclined his head. He didn’t relish the thought of spending what could possibly be an extended period of time alone with the loud-mouthed Doctor, but McCoy had insisted and Spock could not deny the man. He was the closest to Kirk after all. The two of them had always been hard to separate.

“Tell me you wouldn’t climb onto this shuttle if we asked you to,” McCoy said and Nyota shook her head, annoyed, but they all knew the truth. Every crewmen aboard the Enterprise loved Kirk, especially his command crew. Every single one of them would lay down their lives for him and each other. They were a family. They had been for some time now.

She turned and stomped her way down the ramp, ponytail swaying behind her. “You damn well better be alive when we get back,” Nyota snapped out without turning around. “And when you find that insufferable idiot… give him a kiss for me and tell him he’ll be home soon.”

They both watched her go and once she’d disappeared back into the main part of the ship, McCoy gave Spock a quick slap on the back of the shoulder then turned to stow his gear. Spock arched a brow at him, both irritated and amused. The Doctor was far less tactile than the Captain, but there were some things, some mannerisms that the two men shared. The ‘shoulder slap’ was one of them and while normally one from the Doctor would be met with an annoyed glare, this time he found that he did not mind it so much.

“Alrecht, Commander,” Scotty’s voice came over the comm. once they’d sealed up the shuttle and geared it up for take-off. “Ah packed ye a wee gift baskit in th’ back there. Ah took th’ liberty of enhancin’ some of th’ equipment. Long range communicators an' tricorders should work nae matter where ye are, despite th’ interference from th' dilithium. I’ve attached boosters tae them. Especially brilliant boosters if ah do say so myself… an' ah do. Just adjust th' frequencies as needed. We should be able tae pick up yer signals from th' enhanced communicators when we return, so tak' caur of’em.”

“You’re a god among men, Scotty,” McCoy replied and they heard the Scotsman hum in agreement.

“Aye, Laddie. Ah know thes. Just ye gie th’ Cap’in back here an’ ’en we can celebrate mah genuis.”

“We will endeavor to do just that, Lt. Commander,” Spock stated and then set about lifting the shuttle up off the hanger bay floor.

The departure from the ship went smoothly and Spock flew it once around the Enterprise for a last look… just in case.

“We look forward to your return, Enterprise,” he relayed and then turned the shuttle towards the planet. “Live long and prosper, My Friends.”

“And remind M’Benga that my sickbay better be ship shape when I get back!” McCoy barked out.

“I’ll be sure to pass along the message, Doctor,” Lt. Commander Sulu replied. “I’ve sent along some information that I think you’ll find will come in handy, Commander. There’s a heat signature that keeps popping up in the mountains to the north of the colony. It’s on the far side of the mountains and it’s faint. There’s also no real pattern to it, but it’s definitely reoccurring. It may be nothing, but if the rebels really are hiding in those mountains, that’s where I’d look first.”

Spock felt something akin to hope blossom in his mind. It wasn’t much, but it was the best starting point that they were going to get and that was good enough for him. “Thank you, Captain. I will adjust our coordinates to the location you have provided.”

“Be safe, Guys. We should be back in orbit hopefully within the next seven to ten days and will attempt contact then.” Sulu informed them.

“Acknowledged, Enterprise. We will see you soon. Shuttle out.”

*****

They set the shuttle down at the base of the mountain range and according to the coordinates that Sulu sent them; they were roughly half a day’s walk from the last known location of the heat spike. That was, of course, taking into consideration the unknown terrain of the mountain.

“I don’t need sensor readings to tell me that I’m not going to enjoy this,” McCoy noted after they’d lowered the ramp and stepped out to take a look around.

The terrain around them was mostly dense woodland, stretching for miles in every direction, and they were banked on three sides by the stretch and curl of the mountain range. They were in a valley of sorts, surrounded by tall, mammoth trees, much like the redwoods of Earth. The only differences here were that the bark, instead of the characteristic ‘red’, was a silvery white color, and the canopy seemed to umbrella out and hang like willow trees. The foliage that hung down off of the wispy, weeping branches was lush and the shockingly white leaves tapered in size.

The grass beneath their feet was a sort of honeydew color; a pale, pale green that gave way to patches of virtually white sand. When the wind kicked up, it caught some of the loose leaves and sent them flitting and dancing through the air… too big to resemble falling snow, but it was still a striking vision to behold. Caught in the sunlight, under the expanse of a brilliant blue sky, Spock could make out flashes of pale pinks, blues, and lavenders mixing in with the snowy vegetation.

“These mountains…” McCoy’s voice cut in, “they’re all rock, snow, and ice. Reminds me of the Rockies back on Earth. Well the tops of them anyway. It’s a beautiful sight, but I’ll tell you one thing, if it’s cold down here… you can bet your pointy little ears that it’s going to be hellaciously cold up there.”

Spock turned to him, eyes incredulous. Normally the Doctor was the one basking in the beauty of the planets they visited. He’d always moan and complain about the transportation to the planet, but once he was there, it had always been hard to get him to focus on the task at hand. Lt. Commander Sulu was much the same. It was an odd change of events that Spock was the one to notice the virtual ‘Winter Wonderland’ around them and McCoy was turning a blind eye.

“What?” the Doctor asked, frowning.

Eyebrow twitching, Spock merely blinked at him and headed back inside the shuttle. “I suggest that we change into more appropriate attire. As you stated, the higher up we go, the colder it will become. I believe there should be several sets of thermal gear stowed somewhere aboard.”

McCoy mumbled something unintelligible under his breath and then followed. “Jim just had to go and get himself lost in the damn mountains. I hate snow. Hate it,” he complained. “The last time this happened was so much easier.”

Spock stopped, caught midway in the process of tugging off his uniform shirt and undershirt. He lowered his arms and turned, his eyebrow making it all the way up this time. “May I remind you, Doctor, that the last time Captain Kirk was lost to us…” he tucked his hands behind his back, one hand clasped around the wrist of the other for fear that he might strangle the man. “Not only did we lose him to an interphase that transported him to an empty universe, the crew of the Enterprise nearly went mad and killed each other, we were attacked by Tholians, the Captain nearly suffocated in space when we did manage to get him back, and you and I both heard things in the Captain’s final messages to us that we most likely should not have. Do you really find that situation to be preferable to this one?”

“Well…” McCoy mumbled and had the decency to blush. “No mission in which we lose him is preferable… but at least there was no damn snow during all the other times.”

Spock chose to ignore the man at this point and resumed tugging his shirts up over his head. Perhaps the less they talked the better.

“I’ve always been curious,” the Doctor stated as he too pulled off his uniform shirts and reached for the thermal gear they’d had packed onboard. “What did he say to you in his message? I mean, I remember what the general message to both of us was… you with your whole logic and intuition and me with the helping you with it… but… we both got private messages as well. I was just…” McCoy sighed and tugged on his thermal top then proceeded to sit down so that he could take off his boots.

“In all the years I’ve known Jim, he never talked about his past. We talk about everything, but that. I could probably tell you stories on most of the scars he proudly wears like a damn badge of honor, but I can’t get him to tell me what happened to his back. I know you’ve seen them… those scars that make his back look like a damn cross-stitch pattern. There’s only two ways you get scars like those and it turns my stomach to think of him being subjected to either of them.”

By the time McCoy fell silent Spock had finished pulling on his thermal underwear and was in the process of tugging on a pair of thick, black winter trousers. He had seen the scars that the Doctor spoke of and he’d often wondered how Kirk had gotten them. They were soft, barely there, silvery lines that had faded with time. Spock had never asked about them and the Captain had never offered up an explanation.

“I did not listen to mine,” he finally replied and it was the truth. He’d listened to the Captain’s final orders concerning the ship, but… at the time… he’d saved Kirk’s private recording to him for a moment when he would have been alone. Before that time had presented itself, they’d retrieved the Captain and all was well again. Once upon a time he’d listened to the final words of one Kirk… he’d not been prepared to do it for a second time.

“Oh,” was the Doctor’s reply and Spock looked over in time to see the man turn away from him.

Curious, he asked, “What did yours say… if I may inquire.”

McCoy shrugged a shoulder and tugged a blue fleece sweatshirt over his head. “Just… you know… private things. Told me to tell Jo that he loved her and to not be sad. Told me where to find some things he wanted delivered to George and his family on Deneva. He told me… Christ sake, Spock…” the man sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Damn kid can’t keep doing this to me. I’m too old for this shit and I really, really don’t want to have to actually go through with delivering those messages.”

Spock tugged on his own gray fleece sweatshirt and then seated himself so that he could pull on a pair of thermal socks and black hiking boots. “You will not,” he assured him. “Jim is alive and we will find him. There will be no need for final messages.”

“Jim?” McCoy poked and Spock felt the tips of his ears heat. “You know… you only call him Jim in extreme situations. Why is that, Mr. Spock?”

Ignoring the Doctor’s inquiry, Spock stood and moved to their hiking gear. “I suggest we prepare what we need and set out, Doctor. Kessik IV has no moon and even if it did, I do not think it wise to traverse an unfamiliar mountain side with little to no light. We should get as far as we can while the sun is up and then find a suitable place to make camp for the evening.”

“Mhmm,” McCoy hummed, finished with his own boots, and then moved to help Spock load the packs. “I see how you are. Damn tight-lipped Vulcan hobgoblin.”

“I will share with you the answer to your inquiry, Doctor, if you will share with me the… personal things… you declined to disclose a few moments ago,” Spock replied.

“Don’t forget to pack a couple of extra phasers. We’ll need them to heat the rocks up there for warmth. Don’t wanna get stuck in the snow with no way to fight hypothermia,” was the Doctor’s chipper response and Spock fought back a satisfied smirk that the subject was now closed.

*****

“It’s b-been three days, w-we’ve traipsed all over t-this half of these g-godforsaken mountains, and w-we’re still no c-closer than the d-day we got here,” McCoy grumped and tried to warm his hands by tucking them under his armpits.

Spock was watching him from where he’d taken up position at the mouth of the cave. “The heat signature Lt. Commander Sulu informed us of has yet to spike again. I am positive that once it does we will be able to triangulate its location.”

McCoy just shuddered, squeezed his hands into fists, and attempted to tuck them in tighter. “And if it’s n-nothing?”

“I do not believe that an otherwise out-of-place heat signature will be ‘nothing’, Doctor,” he replied and looked out into the night.

There was no moon that orbited Kessik IV and thus it left the nighttime hours pitch black and all encompassing. The only positive thing about a moonless sky was that to travel in the dark would require some sort of light source… they’d see someone coming if the cave was approached. Another helpful element of the rather extensive mountain range was the wind sheer. At their current altitude, the tricorders had registered wind shear up to fifty miles per hour. It was all rock and ice and snow on this mountain. No one would be surprising them any time soon.

“And if it does not lead us to the Captain then we will simply have to start looking some place else. The miners are certain that the rebel base is somewhere in these mountains.” Spock couldn’t afford to think otherwise right now. “We will find them.”

Silence stretched out between them, broken only by the howling of the wind, and Spock took the time to reflect on what he would do if they did not find Kirk alive. Five years of constant companionship with the man had changed Spock. His emotions came more freely and in vast array, though he did well to not show them. There was an occasional smile here or there, but only in the presence of the Captain and/or the Doctor. Spock was more comfortable with himself and more accepting of his place in life. He was a Vulcan, yes, and he wished to honor that part of his heritage. It did not mean that he could not embrace his human side though. He only wished his mother had lived to see the change in him.

This was not the first time that he had feared he would not see Kirk alive again. The Captain was, for lack of a better description, a ‘trouble magnet’. He had a tendency to rush headlong into danger even if it was not of his own making and truth be told… more often than not it was mostly the wrong place at the wrong time for them. Also, it was not as if their jobs were not without risk. They were sent into volatile situations all the time. The Enterprise was the flagship of Starfleet after all.

Still, there had been a few times that had been worse than others. The incident with Khan still left a bitter taste in Spock’s mouth. There was even a lingering fear that someday... that man, that monster, would come back for them. Kirk had died because of Khan. Spock had listened to him draw his last breaths, had watched the life and light flicker out in his eyes, and it had broken something inside of him. That day still haunted him.

There had also been the Coridan conference incident. Much like the issues here on Kessik IV, dilithium had been at the heart of the conflict. They’d been escorting delegates to the conference on Babel to decide whether the Coridan planets should be admitted into the Federation. With so many races coveting unclaimed dilithium rich planets, it had been no surprise that there had been those who would have seen the conference disrupted. What had come as a shock though, had been the Orion assassin that had smuggled himself onboard disguised as an Andorian. He’d murdered the Tellarite ambassador using a Vulcan execution technique… the tal-shaya. Both his father, Sarek, and his elder counterpart had been aboard, though no one had been willing to point the finger at either. Only then had his counterpart suggested a deeper look into the Andorian delegate. Before they’d gotten to him though, Kirk had been attacked.

Spock could recall, as though it had only been yesterday, the sight of his Captain slumped lifeless on the deck. There’d been so much blood; so much red that for weeks afterwards just the mere sight of the color had turned his stomach. Kirk had been bruised and bloodied from the struggle; his lung had collapsed from the knife wound and yet still he’d managed to subdue the assassin. The man had always put the safety of others and the safety of the ship above his own.

Spock could also recall the overwhelming rage he’d felt towards his counterpart for not warning them. His suggestion to look into the Andorian delegate and his later information about the Orion ship that had been following them had been a clear sign that the same incident had befell his own Kirk in the previous timeline. Why had he not told them sooner? Why had he let Kirk nearly die? Spock had asked these questions and more, though he’d only been given one simple response…

I do not wish to interfere with the current timeline any further than I must. My presence here, along with Nero’s, has caused enough damage. Any changes I make may lead to further disruptions.

That same evening, Spock had found the man standing by Kirk’s bedside in sickbay while the Captain slept. There’d once again been a wealth of emotion in the older Vulcan’s eyes as he’d run a hand back through Kirk’s hair.

It is not that I do not care for him, Spock. His counterpart had spoken softly at his arrival. I find that I care for him more than I should. I’ve felt his mind, melded it with my own, and while I know that this is not my own James Kirk… I still long for him nonetheless.

You’ve melded with him? Spock had asked and he’d been horrified at how angry and betrayed he’d felt in that moment.

His counterpart had nodded. On Delta Vega… I melded with him after saving his life. Had I not been there, one of the planet’s local inhabitants would have made a meal of him. It was short; a simple sharing of the circumstances which had brought both the Narada and I back in time, but… I cannot express to you the exhilaration I felt at having his mind melded with my own.

A look to Spock, he was sure, had shown his counterpart just how unhappy he had been with the whole thing. At that point in time, he’d only melded with Kirk once and he hadn’t even really considered it a meld. He’d only helped him forget something, an android named Rayna that he’d ‘fallen in love with’. It had also been at that time, there in the sickbay looking back and forth between his counterpart and his sleeping Captain that he’d remembered something Dr. McCoy had said to him…

I feel sorry for you, Mr. Spock, because you'll never know the things that love can drive a man to. Love fills all the empty spaces inside of you. It mends and completes all the broken parts. You do things you’d never normally do, because what you feel for that person makes every chance you take and every rule you break worth it. It’ll break you down, destroy you in a way you’d never even imagined possible, and then build you right back up again. Love is ecstasy and misery, elation and desperation all rolled up into one emotional rollercoaster ride that you’ll never experience simply because… well that’s not written into your book is it?

Observing his counterpart and the way he’d spoken of Kirk, the way he’d looked at him… and the way that Spock felt and acted now… he finally understood the both of them. Spock finally understood the lengths that someone would go to for love. He understood the chances someone would take and the lengths that they would go to. He understood why, even though his own James Kirk was not his counterpart’s Kirk, the elder Vulcan still craved the presence and the mind of the man. Spock believed, with every part of himself, that if the elder Vulcan ever had a real reason to take Kirk away from him, he would.

“Spock!” McCoy bellowed, causing Spock to whip around in the entrance way. The Doctor merely shook his head at him. “I’ve b-been calling your n-name for the past five m-minutes. You’re t-thinkin’ so d-damn hard that it’s giving m-me a headache.”

He glared at the man for all of five seconds before his eyes narrowed and he truly studied the Doctor’s face. McCoy’s cheeks were bitten red, his lips were chapped, and he looked as though he were trying to keep up a continuous rocking motion to fight away the cold. The temperature outside had fallen well below 0˚ and if it was affecting him, and it was, the strain on the Doctor’s human body was probably threefold.

“You should make use of another of the thermal blankets, Doctor. I fear your body’s temperature is dropping too low.”

“I…” the Doctor pulled the blanket he already had tighter around himself and hunched forward. “I m-miss him, Spock. I know he’s out there s-somewhere and I know we’re g-going to find him, b-but… there’s t-this part of m-me that I just can’t t-turn off, t-telling me that he’s n-not coming home this t-time. Hell t-there’s a part of m-me that thinks w-we’re not going to m-make it home. W-we planned for everything just f-fine, but damn it… I’m f-freezing my ass off in t-this g-gods awful s-snow. I can b-barely f-feel my f-fingers anymore and no m-matter how m-many of these b-blankets I wrap around m-myself… it w-won’t keep the hypothermia away f-forever.”

Spock looked back towards the entrance and then moved over to McCoy. “We should move further into the cave for the evening. I believe there is the beginning of a storm assaulting the face of the mountain. The temperature is going to continue to decrease as the night goes on. Once we get settled in for the night, I will use one of the phasers to heat up some of the larger rocks. That should help to regulate your body temperature.”

The Doctor just nodded and tried to push himself to standing only to slide back down again. Spock reached for him, tugged him up against his side, and wrapped one of McCoy’s arms around his shoulders.

“Perhaps it would be a good idea for you to return to the shuttle tomorrow, Leonard,” he told him as they moved further into the cave. “I can continue the search on my own and inform you when I have made a discovery.”

“There’s no way in hell I’m leaving you up here by yourself,” McCoy grumped. “I know you run hotter than humans but come on, Spock… tell me all this cold isn’t messin’ with your delicate Vulcan senses.”

Spock sighed, something that was becoming a habit around the Doctor, much to his dismay. “Yes, I find the cold irritating. However, it does not impair my ability to function properly. You on the other hand are already exhibiting signs of hypothermia.”

McCoy grunted as Spock deposited him gently on the cave floor about a hundred feet in. “Just help me warm up and I’ll be fine,” the Doctor assured him and Spock let the matter drop for the moment. If his symptoms hadn’t cleared by the morning, he’d walk him back down to the shuttle regardless.

Before he began laying out their bedrolls, Spock pulled one of the phasers out of his pack and set about heating several large rocks around them. He didn’t heat too many for fear that it would melt too much of the ice in the cave, but it would be enough to provide them with some warmth from all sides. Once that was done, he tucked the phaser away and began setting up camp for the night.

McCoy shuffled over to his bedroll and extra blanket once Spock had laid them out for him and he sat cross-legged, huddled under the extra thermal blanket. He laid out his own bedroll, then dug around for some protein bars and water bottles. McCoy declined both.

“You should eat,” Spock pushed gently and offered him the food and water again. “It will help you keep up your strength.”

“I told you, Spock, I can barely feel my fingers right now,” McCoy replied and squeezed his aching hands into fists again. “I wouldn’t be able to hold anything. Just let me warm up first.”

The idea that the Doctor couldn’t feel his fingers bothered Spock, so he set the items aside and knelt before his friend. “Give me your hands,” he stated and held his own out in return.

McCoy frowned at him, but stretched out his hands and waited. Spock carefully slipped off the Doctor’s gloves and while it eased his mind that frostbite had not set in, it worried him that the man’s hands were so red and swollen stiff. The gloves simply were not enough protection against the elements. McCoy could hold his hands closer to one of the rocks, but it wouldn’t help the swelling or the stiff joints, so… Spock did the only thing he could think to do. He wasn’t thrilled about it, but he pulled off his own gloves and began to slowly massage each of the Doctor’s hands.

“God you’re warm,” McCoy murmured and it sounded as though he’d tried to bite back a groan and failed.

Spock ignored him in favor of the oddly pleasant hum that had begun to build in his mind. His mental shields were all securely in place and he was trained enough that he didn’t glean any of the Doctor’s thoughts just from a simple touch, but it was enough that he very nearly pulled away. The tingle building in his fingertips shot up his arms when the Doctor brushed his thumbs across the backs of his fingers.

“I’ll be a sonofabitch,” the Doctor hummed and in a move that left Spock speechless, he grabbed a hold of Spock’s wrists and raised his hands to his face. “Never gonna call you cold-blooded again. Christ you feel good.”

“Doctor,” Spock croaked; shock causing his cheeks to heat slightly. That hum in his head was vibrating the whole of his body now and Spock could barely breathe.

McCoy either didn’t hear him or chose to ignore him because he continued to press Spock’s hands not only to his cheeks, but the sides of his neck as well. He brought one hand up, pressed the tips of Spock’s fingers to his lips and Spock shuddered. Heat prickled at the back of his neck and rolled down his spine to pool in his gut. McCoy’s lips were brushing back and forth over his fingertips and the warm breath hitting his sensitive skin was enough to short circuit just about every rational thought he had.

The cold was forgotten as McCoy mouthed at his hand and Spock tightened his other hand around the Doctor’s throat. It wasn’t tight enough to cut off the man’s air supply, but it was enough to keep Spock from swaying on his knees. His whole body had lit up from the contact. It had been so long since he’d been touched this way; so long since he’d felt the heat of arousal swimming in his belly.

“Leonard,” he all but panted and pressed the pad of his thumb in against the man’s lips to stop his ministrations. “You must… stop.”

McCoy blinked at him, his hazel eyes appearing slightly glazed over. They searched his face slowly, rolled downward, and then rolled back up again. Spock had all but had to straddle the man’s lap when McCoy had pulled his hands forward and now… now he was frozen, hovering there with his cock half-hard and his mind lit up like a supernova.

“I…” Spock’s throat had closed up on him, leaving his voice nothing more than a raspy whisper. He was breathing too heavy, his chest heaving. The continued contact kept all of his synapses firing. He wanted to let go, he needed to put some space between them, but his starved mind and body were vigorously rebelling against him.

“Is that it then?” McCoy murmured softly, his lips brushing against Spock’s thumb. Spock shuddered and grit his teeth to keep from thrusting his hips forward. “A little stimulation to these sensitive Vulcan hands of yours and you come undone? No wonder you’re so damned anal about people touching you.”

The Doctor’s eyes were large, still a little glazed over, but Spock knew what that expression was on the man’s face. It was wonder. McCoy was in awe over the effect he was having on him. The man’s cheeks were stained a deeper red now, not from the cold this time, but the heat.

“I can see the attraction now,” McCoy whispered and one of his hands tightened around the wrist of the hand Spock had around his throat. “You can’t help yourself can you? All this touching… my mouth on your fingers. I’ll bet you can even feel me in that hoodoo head of yours.”

The chuckle that followed that statement was low and rough. It sent thrilling vibrations up his fingers that exploded into thousands of tiny little pleas for ‘more’ and ‘yes’. They stoked the urge to touch the Doctor’s mind and see if it was as alluring as the sensations he was pouring out all over him.

And then he thought of Kirk.

Kirk with his sandy blonde hair and big blue eyes. He thought of the way the Captain’s cocky smile could both infuriate him and force him to submit to things he’d never normally submit to. Spock thought of their chess games and the haphazard, completely illogical way that Kirk moved his pieces across the board. He thought of that one brush of perfection when he’d touched Kirk’s mind and helped him to forget. That was the mind he yearned for. Kirk’s were the hands he’d dreamt about and it was his lips he wished to kiss. His body was blazing hot and ready to break, but not with the man before him.

Shame settled heavily in his stomach. He wanted the soft brush of lips against his skin. He wanted to feel those lips part and bless him with the cool wetness of tongue and mouth. He wanted Kirk to be with him there and then so that he could finally give voice to all of the damning emotions that were driving him insane. Even if all he received in return was rejection, at least they wouldn’t be eating through him any longer.

“You… you’re thinking about Jim right now,” McCoy breathed out with an odd look on his face. It wasn’t so much a question as it was a statement and Spock sank back onto his haunches, effectively pulling away from the man. “I saw him… in my head. You… and he was… and you were… wishing I was him.”

Spock fisted his hands in his lap in an attempt to regain control of himself. “Forgive me, Doctor. I did not mean to project. I am sorry.”

“Is that what all this is about?” McCoy asked and leaned forward. Spock closed his eyes, unwilling to make eye contact just yet. “That’s why you blew off Starfleet command. That’s why you’re down here wandering around in knee-high snow trying to kill yourself. You’re in love with him.”

“I do not wish to speak of this,” Spock bit out, though the anger was focused inward more than at McCoy. He’d let things get way too out of hand.

“Well that’s just too damn bad isn’t it?” the Doctor snapped back and Spock finally opened his eyes to look at him. “I know why I’m here. Hell everybody knows why I’m here. Jim and I are just transparent that way. We always have been. But you… how long have you been sitting on this?”

Without answering, Spock pushed himself to his feet and moved away.

“No you don’t!” McCoy yelled. “You don’t get to walk away from this one. I saw you damn it! You were practically making love to him in my head… which is… I don’t even have words for what that is. I can still feel what you were feeling. I…” The Doctor’s voice lowered and Spock closed his eyes again. “Does he know?”

Another long silence stretched out between them and Spock managed to put all of the suddenly fractured pieces of his heart and head back together again. “He does not,” he finally replied. “There has never been a time… I did not wish to…”

McCoy snorted. “He’s not an easy man to love, Spock. Believe me. I’ve tried.”

Slowly, Spock turned and looked at the man. “I was unaware that there was a romantic relationship between you and the Captain.” His tone sounded harsh even to his own ears and he tried to clamp down once more on his turbulent emotions.

The Doctor smiled at him. “Sit back down, Commander,” McCoy instructed and waved to the bedroll next to his own. “I think there’s a conversation you and I need to have.”

Spock’s eyebrow arched and for a moment he didn’t move, but when the Doctor’s expression assured him that he wasn’t going relent he did as he’d been asked. McCoy smiled again.

“You know, I hated you at the beginning of this whole thing. You made Jim’s life hell because he beat your damn test. You wouldn’t even listen to him because there was no way he could possibly know something that you didn’t. And even when it turned out that he was right, you still never gave an inch. He nearly died on that wasteland of planet you marooned him on because you needed to show him who was boss.”

Spock opened his mouth to reply, but McCoy held up his hand to silence him. “I get it. You were hurting. You’d just lost everything and you were taking it out on him because you couldn’t help yourself. The thing is though… what I couldn’t understand… is that after all of that, he still wanted you. They made him Captain and you were his one and only choice for first officer. He tried so hard to be your friend and you never gave an inch. It took someone that actually gave a damn about him dying for you to even deign to spend time with him when it wasn’t actually required.”

The Doctor sighed and resituated himself before continuing. “It still felt like me and him then. After spending three years with him at the academy, I’d gotten used to him hanging all over me for every little thing. For all of his bravado and bluster, he used to be damn insecure when you got down to the core of him. Whatever happened to him when he was a kid… it fucked his head up but good. Never would talk about it with me; said it was his pain and nobody else’s. He’d just sink into one of those black moods of his every now and again. When he was like that though, it was like…” McCoy licked his lips and dropped a guilty looking gaze to the ground. “It was like he needed me more. He needed the tactile comfort… the reassurance that he was worth something and that there was someone who gave a damn about him.”

“And that was when you became… intimate?” Spock asked. The last word tasted like acid on his tongue. He wasn’t stupid or blind. Kirk hadn’t exactly been celibate for the past five years. There’d been men and women alike, but none that had been anything more than a passing fancy or a means to an end. Unless he were to count Miramanee, but even then… that had not been his Kirk. That man hadn’t known anything of the stars or Starfleet, the Enterprise or Spock. Though, Spock had envied the woman and the child she’d almost been able to give Kirk. He’d always been certain that one day he’d wanted a family of his own, he’d just never been certain he could have one. There was so much that was still a mystery about his own physiology.

McCoy nodded and looked up. “It was during our second year at the academy. He’d just come back from a long weekend with his mother. I’d never seen him like that. Jim was… he was anxious and agitated; depressed maybe. We went out drinking that night. I was hoping it would relax him a little, but when we got back that night… yeah… things happened. It was never serious, not for Jim. Nothing was ever serious for Jim. The first time lasted a few months, then he disappeared for a week, and when he showed back up it was like nothing ever happened. After that… I don’t know. I guess he came to me when he needed the attention from someone who actually gave a shit about him. It was a rare thing honestly and once we were on the ship it just stopped altogether.”

The Doctor’s eyes narrowed and Spock arched a brow. “I would have accused him of getting what he needed somewhere else, but when he wasn’t on duty he spent all of his free time with you. You took my place and I hated you because of it.”

“It was never my intention to…”

“I know, Spock,” McCoy stated and shook his head. “It had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the fact that Jim just needed you more. I don’t know how it happened, but he found some kind of damn kindred spirit with you and that was that. I learned to deal with it and after a while, well… I guess I figured out for myself that you weren’t so bad. It kind of makes more sense now too. It even makes me feel a little better knowing that you’re just like the rest of us poor bastards. You have to be careful with him though, Spock. Jim closed off that part of himself a long time ago. He’s the job through and through. He’s married to that damn ship and he probably will be for the rest of his life.”

“And because we care for him, we will continue on the journey with him,” Spock added. “Because it would be too painful to be parted from him, even if all he can ever offer us is the friendship we already possess.”

McCoy nodded and smiled, though there was a sadness there that lingered in his eyes and in the lines around his lips. “Jim’s like Romulan Ale, Spock. The first sip is overwhelming and hard to swallow, but the longer you drink the more pleasant the whole experience becomes and you learn to love the burn. He’s addicting and it should be illegal.”

Spock inclined his head and the corner of his mouth lifted up into a small half-smile. “Your comparison is surprisingly accurate.”

“Yeah well, I’ve have eight years to get drunk off of him and stay that way,” the Doctor replied. “And he was the only man. I’ve had girlfriends, I’ve been married and divorced, and I even had my share of one night stands. All beautiful women. I’ve looked before. I’ll admit that. I’m not gonna play the whole ‘I’m not gay, but I’ll take it up the ass because it’s him card’. That’s a load of horse shit. I’ve looked and I’ve appreciated. Hell even you’re easy on the eyes, Spock. I might have even let things go too far if you hadn’t stopped us. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed the physical comfort of someone I care about.”

Both of Spock’s eyebrows shot up then and he tilted his head slightly to the side. “You would have…”

“Sucked your fingers until you crawled into my lap?” McCoy supplied and grinned. A bit of the red had returned to his cheeks. “Probably. I’m cold and I’m irritated. I’m worried out of my damn mind here, I’ve probably tossed my whole career down the crapper, and yeah… I could think of worse ways to spend the evening then being wrapped up in the arms of a gorgeous man who I respect and care for.”

The Doctor’s smile softened then and he sighed. “But you’re still new at this aren’t you? Or you really are so deeply in love with him that even though you’re not together, it’d feel like cheating to you.”

Spock just nodded and looked down at his hands. He didn’t know what to make of the Doctor’s comments. He was flattered by them of course. McCoy was, after all, very aesthetically pleasing and the man’s mind had been nearly as mesmerizing as Kirk’s. He couldn’t deny that he’d felt something. He’d been aroused and ready to go… only, he didn’t know if it was because he’d spent the last few days with nothing but Kirk on his mind or if it had truly been the Doctor up until the end.

“Are you going to tell him?” McCoy asked, his voice breaking through Spock’s thoughts.

Spock looked up and after a moment, nodded. “I am. I no longer feel as though I have an option in the matter. My emotions are volatile at best and I believe it will be the only way to explain why I have done what I have by coming down here to search for him. He would not have wanted us to.”

The Doctor shook his head and then shuddered before reaching down and pulling the blanket back around him. “No, I don’t think he’ll be too happy with us. I’ve stopped listening when Jim’s throwing one of his tantrums though. Secretly, he’ll be happy we came for him. Though if we ever make it off this rock, I don’t want to come within five hundred miles of snow ever again.” The man looked utterly miserable.

He thought about it for a moment and then carefully, Spock reached out and gathered up both of McCoy’s hands in his. The Doctor’s head jerked up, his eyes questioning. “I see nothing wrong in… sharing body heat. I would be amenable to sharing a bedroll if you would like,” Spock informed him and ignored the tingle that once again lit up the tips of his fingers.

“Are you offering to sleep with me, Commander?” McCoy asked with a glimmer of playfulness lighting up his eyes. Spock fought hard not to roll his. That would have been most un-Vulcanlike indeed.

“If by ‘sleeping with you’ you mean offering to share my body heat in a non-sexual way, then yes, Doctor, I am offering to sleep with you. In our current situation it is logical to take advantage of any means of conserving warmth. It will also be… comforting… for the both of us.”

“Yeah,” McCoy murmured and squeezed Spock’s hands gently. “Comfort sounds like a winner right now.”

They moved about in silence after that, Spock unwilling to say any more on the subject and McCoy apparently content to smile like he’d won one of his ridiculous bets he was always participating in. The bedrolls took no time to stack over each other and Spock pulled out the phaser to recharge the heated rocks one last time before they crawled under the blankets.

Once that was done, he placed the phaser down by the palette and then slipped inside the bedding. McCoy shifted a bit before pulling back on his own gloves and then settling into Spock’s side. They curled up together, their bodies interwoven to maximize the contact, and it wasn’t long before they both slipped off to sleep.

*****

There was a warm wind blowing in out of the south that kicked up the loose sand and sent it cresting and crashing back down in thin waves of burning red-orange. Scarlet shadows sprawled out long and languid across the ground. In the distance, Spock could make out the ascending spirals and sharp, jutting towers that made up the skyline of ShiKahr. Beyond it, surrounding it; lay the rolling plains and canyons of the Forge. The sight of them made his heart flutter and pound in his side.

Below his feet lay the smooth, hot expanse of jutting rock and as he turned, Spock realised that he was standing on an outcropping, high up in the L-langon Mountains. From his position, he could gaze out on the horizon of Vulcan for miles and miles. His eyes drank in the beloved sight; his home, his people… all the things left only to his memory now.

The air was hot and arid. It wrapped around him like a warm, comforting blanket and Spock closed his eyes, though they did not stay closed long. Fear of this hallucination… this dream ending, it left him with a clawing hunger to view his fill until he could bear no more.

“This makes your spirit happy,” stated a soft, melodic voice and Spock whipped around. “And yet you grieve.”

The scene changed with him, throwing him off balance for a moment. Instead of the mountain ledge, he found himself standing on the back veranda of his parent’s home. He’d been born here. His mother had held him for the first time on the chaise not two feet away.

Across from him, perched on the narrow ledge of the veranda wall was a humanoid creature he’d never encountered before. Her skin was a pale, grayish-blue in some areas that faded into the soft ivory skin tone of humans. Like the Andorians, her hair was snow white and hung down to her waist in flowing waves, save for the crown of her head. There, her hair was knotted and twisted into multiple tight braids that rose up, finlike in their design; five across the top and two that swept out at the back of her ears like the high collar of a royal robe. The blue tinge to her skin was deepest and most beautiful along her hairline.

The woman’s eyebrows were sharp, thin white lines that arched up and straight, higher than a humans but not so pronounced as a Vulcan or Romulan. Running the length of them, nestled in the center of her forehead and kissing just at the bridge of her nose were a collection of small bluish dots. Eyes of silver studied him, rippling and changing like the surface of a reflecting pool. Her cheekbones were sharp and high and the pale ivory of her skin seemed to glow from the offset of the rich, deep blue hue of her full lips.

It wasn’t until she lowered herself from the ledge and stood at her full height that Spock could take in the rest of her. She was tall and willowy; her body adorned in barely any clothing at all. Her breasts were covered only with a tight, white material that hugged the swell of her and left her arms and flat stomach bare. More bluish dots colored the tops of her shoulders and spread down the outsides of her arms and her sides. At the swell of her hips, dipping low below her navel was a thin, braded cord of silver that seemed to be holding up two long panels of the same white material. The panels covered the front and the back of her, leaving her legs bare on the sides and showing off more of the bluish dots. No shoes covered her feet, though that same braided silver at her waist was wrapped several times around each ankle.

“Who are you?” Spock asked, his eyes watching her every move just as she watched him.

“I am…” there was a long pause as she seemed to search for something and then she smiled at him. “Your people have many titles for me, but the most fitting I think is, Mekina. I am mother to all; one of the first. A…Perserver. You may call me, T’Sai Namiri.”

Spock’s eyebrow arched, his mind submitting question after question before his mouth could process them. “I am S'chn T'gai Spock, T’Sai Namiri,” he offered in greeting and gave a slight bow of his head. “May I ask… how is it that we are currently on my homeworld of Vulcan when that world no longer exists? And… how is it that you know my native tongue?”

Namiri bowed her own head and then turned to look out upon the rolling, burnt orange sands and the jutting rocks that lay nestled beneath the warm glow of the red sky. “I know all the words of all my children and this place… your home… it is where your spirit dwells. I am not the one who has brought us here, S’chn T’gai Spock. You are.”

Spock’s head tilted in thought and confusion. The last thing he remembered was going to sleep in the mountain cave on Kessik IV with Dr. McCoy. “I do not understand. How have I brought us here?” he asked and crossed to stand at her side.

Namiri turned her face to him. Now that they were closer, he could see the shifting of black and pin prinks of brilliant white in those silvery eyes of hers. Her iris’… they were shifting; swirling like the curling tail of a galaxy in constant motion. It was breathtaking.

“It is simple, Child,” she mused and as though she were reaching out to touch the face of a PADD, her finger tapped something in the open air and like ripples created on the calm surface of a lake, the landscaped shifted and changed before his very eyes. Spock found himself back in the cave, standing over two prone figures in the dark. It was Dr. McCoy and himself, both tucked between the folds of their bedding, fast asleep.

“Do you see?” she asked, her voice echoing softly.

Spock nodded, his mind racing even faster. “I am dreaming,” he stated calmly, though calm was not an emotion he was feeling at the moment. “What I am experiencing…” He turned his gaze to her and found that Namiri had moved several feet away and was perched on one of the larger rocks. “You are not of my mind. I did not create you.”

“No, S’chn T’gai Spock, you did not,” Namiri replied. “This was the easiest way for me to communicate with you. I apologize for the distress it causes you. I can feel in your spirit that you are a private being. I hope it will help you to know that it is not my intention to violate your mind. It is strong though, vibrant and virile. The closer you came, the louder it called to me. Your memories are your own. I only sought out a place that would bring you joy so that we could acquaint ourselves. You supplied the rest.”

“I see,” he murmured and yes, that did make him feel a little better about the whole thing. It still didn’t answer why this was happening or how though. Where had she come from? What did she want? Why had his mind called to her and how had he not known about it?

A soft, warbling laugh filled the cave and Spock looked up to find Namiri gazing at him with mirth filled eyes. “I hear everything, Child. Every plant, every tree… every star in the sky. All you have to do is open your mind and listen. They all have their own voice and are willing to speak if you will hear them.”

She shifted, slipped herself from the rock and as she moved the world changed around them. Spock found himself standing in the valley at the base of the mountain again. Namiri’s feet sank into the pale green grass as she moved and he could not look away from her. She looked as though she belonged there; like she’d been born out of the forest itself.

“I felt the imprint of your mind on the young one’s. It was just a whisper… a seed planted but left untended,” she said as she drew closer. “You are pieces of a whole; fractured spirits left to whither if not bound. Your spirit recognizes his, calls for it, and yet you both deny the natural course of things. I could see this in his mind as well. He is… broken, the product of a reality that should not have been. He does not trust, does not allow himself to love. He seeks contentment in pleasing packaging, speaking empty words. There is such a loneliness in his heart that I feel it suffocating my own. Only that one…” she said, pointing, and Spock looked to see a still sleeping McCoy curled up beneath one of the trees, “has touched him as deeply as you. He has touched you both, left his imprint on your hearts.”

Namiri reached out and let her fingers hover over Spock’s temple. He nearly pulled away, but stilled himself when she did not venture to actually touch. “I can feel this loneliness in you as well, Child. You deny yourself so many things. You punish yourself for something you could no more control than any other child created in its mother’s womb. You are a blessed child of two great worlds, S’chn T’gai Spock. The first. You are the ni’var; two halves united. Your Jim… he is your kh’liorah and the dark one, your Bones… he is your vo'ektaya.”

Spock’s heart was pounding now, hard and fast as though it were going to come bursting out of his side. He didn’t know how to not fight what he was. Kirk and McCoy had helped him over the years. They’d shown him that he could show his human side without it making him less of a Vulcan. When Kirk looked at him, he did not see race. All he saw was Spock. Kirk accepted him, cared for him, fought for him when no one else would. McCoy had become his friend; still his antagonist of course, but their camaraderie was jovial. They’d bonded over their mutual affection and worry for Kirk and it had grown over the years into a mutual affection for each other.

“Where is he?” he choked out, unable to say more. “Where is Jim?”

Namiri’s hand fell away and she studied Spock’s face again before answering. “When I found him, his light had already begun to fade. The injuries to his frail body were many. The men who hurt him, they were hidden in shadow. They…” she stopped for a moment and Spock thought he might scream. He was so close. Namiri knew where Kirk was. She’d seen him, touched him. She could take them to him.

“Would you like to see what happened to your Jim?” she asked. “I can show you what his mind shared with me.”

“Please,” was his reply. The night that Kirk had gone missing had been one of the longest nights of Spock’s life.

The visit to the surface was supposed to have been a short one. Kirk had beamed down with a small security detail, to meet with the leader of the colony and they’d received a tour of the town and the mining facilities. They were supposed to have returned to the Enterprise shortly after dinner, but had never contacted the ship. Yorlois had claimed that everything had gone smoothly. He said he’d informed Kirk that even though there was a problem with the rebels, they wanted to settle their own difficulties without the interference of the Federation. Kirk had acquiesced, they’d enjoyed their meal, and then he and his two security officers had headed out to the beam up location. The Captain’s life signs and those of the security officers had disappeared half an hour later.

Namiri nodded and her arm lifted, hand extended, one long finger pointing back over his shoulder. When Spock turned, he found himself standing just outside the small township near the beam out point. The sky was dark, leaving most of the world blotted out save for the faint pools of light coming from the nearby buildings. The beam out location itself wasn’t anything special, just a small area on the outskirts of town that had been agreed upon by everyone involved. The people of Kessik IV weren’t used to visitors and as such they did not welcome the random appearance of strangers on their streets.

Kirk was standing in a circular pool of faint light, Lieutenants Hauser and Marks flanking him, their attention on something to the right. The Captain’s eyes narrowed, straining to see. Four men emerged from the darkness, all with weapons, and none of them friendly. Spock recognized them. The tallest of the four was Yorlois’ head of security, Cyrus. The two men to the left of him were Barnes and Slade, Cyrus’ lieutenants. The last man was Grisham, Yorlois’ personal assistant and right hand. Before Hauser and Marks could pull their phasers, they were shot and killed. Kirk reached for his own phaser, but Cyrus wounded the Captain’s arm, causing him to drop it.

They attacked him all at once, their blows hard and unforgiving. Kirk fought them; put Barnes on the ground with what was clearly a busted knee before Slade delivered a debilitating blow to Kirk’s head with a piece of steel piping. He crumpled to the ground and a steady flow of crimson blood began to seep into the dirt. Kirk was conscious as they kicked him; conscious as that same bit of piping was driven down hard across his legs, breaking them.

Spock’s delicate ears could hear each weak, wet, gasping breath… each whimper and cry… and it fueled a rage in him unlike any he’d ever known. He wanted to rip each man limb from limb; wanted to do to them what they’d done to Kirk. To Jim. His Jim.

The true shock though, the thing that ripped Spock’s world in half, was the end. He watched as Grisham moved closer, his hand extended with the phaser. “You shouldn’t have gotten curious, Captain. Should have just done your little tour and gone back to your pretty little ship.”

Kirk’s head lifted, his mouth trying desperately to work. “Go… to hell,” he choked out, his hand twitching uselessly in the dirt next to him.

Grisham smiled; his eyes cold and clear. “After you,” he murmured and fired… twice in the chest. Kirk’s body jumped, his mouth opened, but all that came was a raspy gurgling sound and then… and then… he was gone.

The memory faded and they were once again in the forest.

“No,” Spock breathed out and sank to his knees, his legs no longer willing support him.

The white wasn’t white anymore. It was red, all red. The world was tainted and diseased, spinning down, down, down until there was nothing left but a crimson halo of pain. Spock didn’t realise he was screaming until something hard slammed into his face and he opened his eyes to see the frantic face of Dr. McCoy staring down at him.

“Spock!” the Doctor screamed and shook him.

Spock gasped, sucked in lungful after lungful of air until his insides burned. He tried to push the Doctor away, but his hands wouldn’t work right. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t think. There was too much pain. So much red. Kirk was gone. He was gone. He was so fucking gone that it tore right down the center of him and left Spock flayed open and raw. Then there was a pinch and a hiss and the world faded away.

*****

The first thing that Spock became aware of when he awoke was the sound of running water in the distance. There was also a smell in the air; it was a combination of scents actually, something fresh and crisp blended with hints of… flowers and spice?

Opening his eyes revealed a small room; the walls the same slick stone of the cave, but it was furnished to resemble a bedroom with sparse furnishing. He was lying on one of two slender beds, which appeared to be stacks of furs on wooden platforms that took up most of the far wall directly across from the entrance way. A large animal skin had been placed over him for warmth and several others hung from the walls like decorative tapestries. He sat up, swung his legs over the side, and scanned the items in the room.

To his left was a small makeshift table with a pitcher and basin on it for washing. Next to the basin was a tiny pot with smoke rising from it. Spock assumed it to be some sort of incense. There was a fresh set of clothes folded neatly and set in the seat of the chair that sat adjacent to the table. His boots were on the floor next to it. Another table, this one on the right side of the room, housed his communicator and both McCoy’s and his gear. The Doctor was nowhere to be found.

Spock sat there in silence for a long while. There was an ache in his chest and side that would not leave him. He knew he should get up, search for the Doctor… figure out where they were, but the motivation would not come. He was frozen there, lost in a memory. That last breath, the last rattling rush of air that puffed across Kirk’s lips as he’d died was on continuous loop in his head. He watched black pupils expand, eating brilliant blue as the light faded from eyes he cherished. The anguish of that moment was so profound, so soul crushingly intense, that Spock felt he might actually be driven insane from it. He knew he’d never forget that moment. He’d never be able to un-see it. It would haunt him all the long years of his life, serving as a reminder that in Kirk’s greatest moment of need… Spock hadn’t been there.

“Spock?” McCoy’s voice called softly, but Spock didn’t look to find the man. He simply sat there, his mind shifting over to another memory that made his heart twist in his side. With the weight of that memory pressing down upon him, he did a very human thing. He confessed.

“We were arguing just before Jim beamed down to the surface,” Spock mumbled. He could see Kirk’s angry face clearly; jaw tight, blue eyes livid and blazing. “We had been at odds for several days. I…”

“Spock,” McCoy said again, this time sinking down on to the pile of furs next to him as he did. His hand settled at the small of Spock’s back. “You two… you argue all the time. It’s just the natural way of things. Jim knows how much you care about him though. Whatever was said between the two of you before he left, there was no way he didn’t know that it was said in anger and you didn’t mean it. He loves you. He’ll always forgive you anything.”

“I…” Spock swallowed, closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them again. “My father has summoned me. I received his comm several weeks ago. He wishes for me to join him so that another bondmate can be chosen for me. My returning there and taking a mate would mean that…”

“You’d be staying,” McCoy finished. Spock nodded and heard the Doctor blow out a slow breath. “Let me guess, Jim was upset because you’d already promised him another five years?”

“Affirmative,” he replied. “We will have an extended leave once we return to Earth, but… if I take a new mate it would only make sense for me to remain on New Vulcan to foster the newly formed bond and aide however I can with my people.”

“And that’s what you want,” the Doctor stated, his voice soft.

Spock shook his head, his eyes still gazing blankly ahead of him. “I did not wish to leave him. I wished to stay aboard the Enterprise. There are things I could not tell him though… things I must be prepared for.”

“Like what?” McCoy asked and Spock sucked in a deep breath before shaking his head again.

“The matters are of a personal nature. I told Jim this,” Spock said. “He would not accept that answer. When I refused to go into detail, he became angry. The conflict between us was exceedingly more hostile than normal.”

McCoy made a snorting sound and Spock turned to find the man with a bemused, almost wistful smile on his face. “You find this amusing, Doctor?” His words were harsh, cold and biting and McCoy’s smile faded immediately.

“No, Spock,” he assured him. “I don’t find it amusing. I just… well I’m surprised that I didn’t see it before now. I mean, I’m pretty good at reading Jim. But this? This I wouldn’t have seen coming in a million years.”

Spock was scowling and he couldn’t stop himself. His emotions were too raw, too close to the surface for him to control himself. “I am unclear as to what you are referring to,” he sneered. It would be so easy to unleash his anger on McCoy. He’d been the closest to Kirk; the closest to them both.

McCoy smiled again, this one soft with a hint of exasperation around the edges. “Can’t you see it?” the Doctor asked and it looked as though he were begging a question from him with his eyes. Spock just glared back at him, not in the mood for guessing games.

McCoy sighed and shook his head. “Think about it, Spock. You know Jim just as well as I do. He doesn’t get that angry unless he’s hurting. I’m the angry one. You’re the calm and calculating one. Jim evens us out. He’s playful and laid back. Sure he’ll go off half-cocked when it comes to missions, but never when it’s personal. He doesn’t do personal, Spock. He’s too afraid of it. There’s only three things in this fucked up existence of ours that he’s ever latched on to… his ship, me, and you.”

The Doctor was still looking at him as though his epiphany should have been obvious. There was still that question being asked with his eyes. Utter and supreme frustration forced Spock to sigh. “What is it you are expecting of me, Doctor?” he asked, his tone sounding exhausted and defeated. “I am aware of my friendship with Jim and his proclivity to… not take things seriously.”

“You really don’t get it do you? It’s all that logic. It erects a stupid wall in that brilliant brain of yours,” McCoy grunted and shook his head again. Spock started to glare again. “He was scared, Spock, and that fear made him lash out. Losing the people he cares about most, being abandoned by them, that’s Jim’s biggest fear. It’s why he keeps nearly everyone in his life at arm’s length. He’s afraid of getting emotionally involved because he’s convinced himself that sooner or later, they’ll either hurt him or leave him. Probably both. I got lucky with him when we ended up rooming together at the academy. He couldn’t shut me out because he had to deal with me every day and eventually he figured out that I wasn’t going anywhere. He figured out that I’d do just about anything for him and in point of fact, I did. You though… he never saw you coming. You got under his skin and now the thought of you not being there…”

McCoy fell silent but Spock understood what it was now. It was a new ache that blossomed in his mind along with the swift flood of painful guilt. “He assumed I was abandoning our friendship and attempted to shield himself through anger and avoidance.”

The Doctor’s head teetered back and forth a bit. “Mostly,” he replies. “Probably. I mean, let’s be realistic about it. You would have gone to New Vulcan, started your life there and Jim… well… Jim would have gone on. He would have taken on the next five years of his life in space without ever looking back but, he’d be colder somehow. More closed off. It wouldn’t be your fault. You’re entitled to do with your life what you want. I can promise you this though, and only because I know him. He’d never let another crew member, especially another First, get as close as you did.”

Spock frowned and turned his gaze to the floor. “It was not my intention to abandon him. Our friendship would have remained no matter where I chose to reside. I tried to explain that to him, but he would not hear me.” The suffocating pain and anguish of Kirk’s memories flooded back into his mind and Spock’s shoulders hunched, as though he were trying to brace himself for impact. “No matter what I said, he would not hear me. And now…”

“Spock,” McCoy murmured and the hand at Spock’s lower back moved up to grip his shoulder. “There will be plenty of time for you and Jim to work this out once… well once everything is back to normal. We need to focus on what’s important right now though and that is the fact that he’s alive, he’s here, and we need to figure out just what the hell happened so that it doesn’t happen again. Okay?”

The world seemed to stop. It didn’t tilt, it didn’t pause. Spock could no longer hear the continuous flow of running water or each and every breath that the Doctor took next to him. He couldn’t hear, couldn’t think… couldn’t feel or smell. Everything was two dimensional. The world had gone flat and colorless, like he could simply lift his hand and rip it down the middle like so much fragile paper. Only… Spock couldn’t recall at the moment how to make his body actually function the way he wanted it to.

Was it possible that McCoy didn’t know Kirk was dead? Would Spock have to explain it to him? Would he have to recount the things that Namiri had shown him? Spock didn’t want to do that. He didn’t think he could. It was bad enough that he’d never be able to cast the images from his own mind. Why would he ever want to share them? He didn’t. Of that he was certain. And yet, the whole situation seemed wrong and disconcerting.

They’d moved. They were no longer in the cave and clearly… clearly… they were in some sort of encampment. An encampment meant one thing and one thing only… Clearly they were not back at the mining settlement. Why would the miners have rooms carved out of rock? No. They’d been taken to the rebel encampment. It was the only logical answer. So, if they were with the rebels and clearly not being held against their will, then it was only logical that Namiri would have spoken with McCoy as well. So, McCoy had to know that Kirk was dead. Right?

But then… what if Namiri was not with the rebels? What if she were only a figment of Spock’s mind? What if he’d somehow gone mad in his desperate attempt to locate his Captain and imagined all of it?

No.

Spock shook his head and brought his hands up to press against his face. He wasn’t crazy. The dream had been too detailed. There were too many variables. Too many signs that it hadn’t been his own imagination, but it had, in fact, been exactly what he’d thought it to be. Only… that sounded a bit crazy as well and he really wasn’t making sense to himself. Nothing made sense. Everything was too much; too loud, too hard, too much pain to wade through and actually convince himself that he’d not just… given up. Losing Kirk had done something to him physically and mentally that he’d not wanted to admit to. Not even to himself. It had been as though… as though…

“I felt him go,” he mumbled as he dropped his hands away. Spock could see McCoy staring at him out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t bother to turn and look at him. “I knew something was wrong before his life signs ever disappeared. I knew Jim was in trouble before he failed to report back aboard the Enterprise at the agreed time. I just… did not know it at the time.”

His head dropped, chin pressing against his chest and Spock balled his hands into fists in his lap. “I did not even realise until just now. I remember feeling uneasy. I remember feeling fear, but I did not know why. I even remember feeling the overwhelming urge to contact Jim just to check on him. I assumed it was left over emotions from our argument before he left. Perhaps even a bit of anticipation and fear of continuing our conversation once he was back aboard. And then…” Spock closed his eyes and let the realization and grief wash over him.

“It was just gone. He was gone. I did not understand it then, but I do now. Somehow I must have… I never questioned how easy it was for me to read him, to know Jim’s emotions and his moods. I never questioned why I could anticipate his needs before he even voiced them. I just accepted it. Ignored it. I felt him leave me and the bond was so fragile, so faint, that I could not even register it for what it was.”

“Spock,” McCoy hedged in, but Spock violently knocked the Doctor’s hand away and stood up.

“I have been emotionally compromised from the moment his heart stopped beating,” he rasped. The room was spinning around him and it took everything Spock had not to stumble and try to right himself. Logically he knew that the room wasn’t spinning and that he was in no danger of falling, only it was spinning and he did feel like he was going down. He'd felt this way before, with Khan when Kirk had sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise and her crew... with the destruction of Vulcan and the death of his mother.

“Spock!” McCoy barked and Spock heard him, he knew he had, but everything faded away after that and he fell back into darkness.

*****

The waking world came into sharp relief again to the feel of something heavy and warm pressed against his chest. Spock blinked several times, waited for the room to come into focus, and then looked down. There was a small, white, fluffy creature lying on his chest. It reminded him of pictures he’d seen of the Terran artic fox, though only in the face and body structure. The ears were rounded like a shelat’s instead of pointed like the fox’s and the tail, or rather tails… there were three of them… resembled that of the le-matya with the addition of a tuft of hair on the tip. Its nose and the delicate stretches of skin around its eyes and mouth were blue like Namiri’s. There were also tell-tale blue spots that stretched up its muzzle and back over the crown of its head and ears.

It warbled at him, its large blue eyes regarding him with curiosity, and then it licked a forked-tongue out to taste the skin along his jaw. Spock startled at the feel of that cool, dry tongue flitting against his skin and reached up to remove the animal. His hand was stopped in mid-air though, his wrist captured by one of those swaying tails. The animal warbled at him again and nuzzled its head against his chest. Spock felt a burst of soothing calm leech into his bones and he dropped his hand away.

“That is Meeka,” a voice stated from somewhere in the room and Spock lifted his head to find Namiri standing in the doorway. She nodded her head towards the creature lying on his chest. “He was drawn by your pain. The Thesalit are a psi-sensitive race. I think you will find that, if you let him, Meeka can help you center your mind.” She moved further into the room until she was standing beside the bed and could reach down to pet at the creature’s back.

“The creature can enter my mind?” he asked, more than a little unsettled at the prospect. Meeka warbled and another wave of soothing calm washed over him.

Namiri smiled. “He cannot enter your mind as you can enter the mind of another nor as I can. The Thesalit sense emotions; empaths is what I believe you would call them. Meeka can feel the turmoil your mind is currently submersed in. He senses your grief, the severing of your light, and wishes to help you reclaim your peace. If you allow him, he can act as a conduit for your emotions until you can once again master them on your own.”

Spock frowned and sat up, causing the creature to scramble from his chest to his lap. “I do not require assistance at this time,” he snapped out and then had to draw in a slow, deep breath to stop his hands from shaking.

“You are ill, Child,” Namiri said softly. “You have been ill since the loss of your light. Even now your emotions cloud your mind. You cannot control yourself and thus your body fights you. If you would only allow us to help you as we helped the young one.”

“If you truly wished to help me then you would take me to Jim!” Spock snarled as frustrated anger threatened to suffocate him again. “You said you found him. You have his body here with you. Take me to him!”

Narmiri’s expression remained calm in the face of Spock’s rage. Her smile still clung to her lips and her ever-changing eyes appeared soft and sad. “Very well, S’chn T’gai Spock. You will follow me.”

Meeka leapt to the floor, allowing Spock to stand, and they both followed Namiri from the room. A short passageway led them away from the room and released them into a great, cavernous chamber. Stalactites hung from the roof of the cave in differing shapes and sizes, each glittering a vast array of sparkling colors. There were different pathways leading here and there, some venturing upwards, others lower into the depths of the underground network. Various openings around the chamber hinted at other passageways, some covered with what appeared to be a curtain of white vine. The most impressive sight however, was the large waterfall that coursed over the face of one wall of the chamber and spilled into a crystal clear pool of luminescent water. Upon closer inspection, Spock deduced that it was not the water that was luminescent, but something within it that made it glow.

There were man-made bridges and walkways that had been constructed to ease navigation through the chamber, as well as large patches of that same honeydew grass that he’d seen outside the mountain. There were trees growing in the chamber, some bunched together, others scattered, all spilling their willowy branches down towards the ground. Under a few of the trees sat humanoid creatures that looked very much like Namiri.

They had the same spotted ivory-blue skin and snow white hair, but their ears were more like Meeka’s rather than a humanoid’s. They were furry and rounded and sat nestled at the top of their heads in their hair. The arch of their brows and slope of their noses were more pronounced, sleeker and harder somehow, like a cat’s. Upon closer inspection he realized that they too had three tails, just like Meeka, and that their legs and feet were shaped more like hind-legs and paws. Their fingers were long and slender, tipped with what looked to be sharp nails or claws.

“Where are we?” Spock asked finally and managed to tear his gaze from the chamber to look back towards Namiri. “And who are these people?”

“We are in the heart of Denyavi,” she answered, then turned to enter one of the entrances that were covered with vine. “And you are the guests of the Thesalit.”

“Denyavi?”

Namiri chuckled softly. “The mountain, Child. You are at its core.”

Again the muscles in Spock’s face betrayed him as his lips curved down into a confused frown. “But Yorlois said that it was the rebels who dwelled in the mountains. He said it was his own people that had separated from the main encampment. There was never any mention of indigenous inhabitants.”

Namiri stopped and turned to look at him. “Have you not learned by now, S’chn T’gai Spock, that this man speaks more falsehoods than truth? Yorlois and his followers came to this world with darkness in their hearts and took what did not belong to them. The Thesalit are a peaceful people. They would have gladly shared their land and all of its riches. It was not enough though. The dark ones enslaved the Thesalit and began to strip the land. Some of the humans rose up against Yorlois, that is true. They helped some escape, like Meeka. The others remained in the mines or were killed before their time. I often venture out, helping those that I can.”

She turned away from Spock then and began to walk, leading him further down the passageway. “This is how I found your Jim. He saw the lie in Yorlois’ heart. Your Jim questioned him, demanded to know what was being hidden from him.”

They came to another small room at the end of the passageway and stopped just inside the entranceway. McCoy was sitting in one of the chairs at a small table, spoon in hand. In the opposite chair sat a young human boy, no older than four or five. His cheeks were round and tinted the softest shade of pink. His hair was golden blonde and his eyes… there was no mistaking those bright blue eyes.

“What is this?” Spock whispered. Both his mind and his eyes were unwilling to process what it was he was seeing.

Both McCoy and the boy turned to look at them as Namiri began to speak again. “This is what I was attempting to explain to you when you pushed me from your mind. You saw the state of him when I found him. His spark was leaving him; no longer in this world but not quite traversed to the next. I found it hovering between and was able to retrieve it.”

McCoy had gotten up from the table and was looking back and forth between Spock and the boy. The boy was staring, his eyes curious. Spock shook his head. “I do not understand. This is not Jim. It cannot be. You must… you must take me to him.”

“Spock,” McCoy began but Namiri held up her hand to silence the Doctor.

“The injuries inflicted upon his body ensured that life could no longer be sustained,” she stated, her hand lowering. “The vessel had to be repaired. He is not changed. His… essence?” Namiri looked to McCoy then and the doctor cleared his throat and stepped forward.

“Um, if I’m understanding this correctly,” he began and glanced back to the boy, then to Spock. “Namiri used some of her DNA to heal him. It didn’t replace Jim’s own DNA so much as it sort of bonded to it. He’s still Jim only he’ll be able to… I don’t even know how this is even possible. It's a lot like what I did with Khan's blood. Namiri, her race, they’re like shapeshifters I think. Not shapeshifters like the Thesalit where they can change into animal form. More like they can change into different versions of themselves, but not other people. She can be female, as she appears now, or male. She can be smaller, bigger, younger, older. She can heal herself, mostly, and because of those healing properties, her blood worked to fix Jim’s body. She can even change the color of her skin, but not her basic genetic makeup.”

“Yes,” Namiri agreed with a smile and nodded. “His body is whole once more but must adjust along with his mind. To prevent your Jim from moving on, I took his mind into my own so that his body could be repaired.”

“And once she put it back,” McCoy chimed in, his eyes once more only for the boy, “it had an interesting effect on his body.”

Spock’s eyes narrowed, but Namiri continued to gaze at him serenely. “With the reintroduction of his spirit, your Jim’s body was once again active. His body is changing in accordance to the memory asserting itself. They are… learning each other.”

“So yeah,” the Doctor mused as he looked back to Spock. “I don’t get it. It shouldn’t even be medically possible... changing a human into a shapeshifter, but here we are. Jim’s body is healed, but his head’s out of whack and because of that, his body is changing to suit the memory. Right now he’s stuck in his childhood I guess and so his body has changed into the representation of his four year old self.”

Spock’s head was churning with too much information and still he found it hard to accept what it seemed McCoy had so easily. This could not be his Jim. His Jim was a grown man, an adult, one he knew every inch of because he’d committed every meeting, every sparring session, every chess game, every instance of their time together to memory. Still, if this was true, he needed to know something.

“How long will his mind be effected by the transference?”

“I do not know,” Namiri replied and there was something in her eyes that told him she’d not anticipated this particular side effect. “Your Jim’s mind is very unique, complex in its makeup. It was a task just to contain it within my own. I have no explanation as to why he is not as he was. There was nothing of him left behind inside me.”

Spock watched as young Kirk slipped off his chair and moved over to wrap himself around McCoy’s leg from behind. The Doctor’s hand immediately began to smooth down over the top of Kirk’s head. He was peaking around McCoy’s leg, watching Spock, but apparently too afraid to approach him. In truth, Spock wouldn’t have known what to do with him if he had approached him. His stomach seemed to be tied up in knots and though the chaos of his mind had calmed somewhat, it was still there.

Without a word, Spock turned and stalked away from the room. He couldn’t deal with the image of a small Kirk staring back at him. He couldn’t deal with the implications of the future that lay ahead of them. Kirk’s mind might never recover from what Namiri had done. He could be trapped inside his own head; trapped inside a body that would change whether Kirk wanted it to or not. There was no control there and there was no resemblance of the man that Spock had loved.

*****

With every step that Spock took, a new and overpowering fury flared to life. He felt jittery and on edge. Meditation would not help. He had not been able to meditate properly since Kirk had gone missing. It was only now that he knew the reason. Whatever had tied them together had been broken with Kirk’s death. Now Spock was left flailing emotionally and had no way to anchor himself. He couldn’t even really explain how this had happened at all.

It wasn’t a bond that had joined them. Not a proper one anyway. Spock would have sensed that from the moment it had formed. It was something strong though; something powerful enough to have left him shattered without it.

In his mind Spock tried to pinpoint when exactly this connection had formed. He’d only touched Kirk’s mind once and that hadn’t even been a full meld. It had been nothing more than a slight brush of their minds; shallow and short. Kirk’s mind had been easy to slip inside of though, like a welcoming embrace without the explanation of why. Could they have been connected then? Wouldn’t he have sensed it?

The more Spock thought about it, the angrier he became. The only way he’d get definite answers would be to seek out a Vulcan healer. The answers would be useless to him though. His connection with Kirk was gone. Kirk was gone. He’d been taken away from him and replaced with… with… a tiny child with too large eyes that looked like but were not the ones he longed so badly to see.

Growling, Spock focused all of his anger into one solid punch and slammed his hand into the wall closest to him. The bones of his fingers crunched against the rock and it sent a pulsating pain reverberating up his arm. He hit the wall again and again, shredding the skin covering his knuckles and leaving smears of green against pale gray. With each impact he saw the faces of the men who’d destroyed him. He saw them broken and bleeding just as they’d left Kirk, only their deaths would come slower. Their pain would be tenfold and Spock would revel in it until there was nothing left of them.

“What the hell are you doing?” a voice snapped from behind him and Spock was so lost that he did not recognize it. He just lashed out. He grabbed the unsuspecting intruder to his pain up by the throat and slammed them hard into the wall. His fingers closed in tight, despite the pain screaming through them.

Hands clawed at his wrist, but Spock could not be swayed by them. He just growled and squeezed tighter. He needed to inflict the pain raging through his mind onto someone else. He needed for someone else to feel what it was that he was feeling. He needed to destroy the ones who’d turned him in to this.

“Sp… Spo…ck,” a voice rasped and cool fingertips brushed his face. There was something familiar in that touch, something that soothed the tattered edges of his fraying mind, and Spock blinked once, twice, then lowered McCoy to the ground.

“Forgive me,” he mumbled, distracted, lost somewhere between rage and despair. McCoy was gasping and coughing, folded completely in against Spock’s chest. Spock just stood there, desperately wanting to flee but unable to move.

When the Doctor’s breathing finally regulated itself, Spock felt the push of hands against him. He backed up a step, giving McCoy his space. The Doctor’s hands were twisted in his shirt though, clinging, and it took Spock a minute to focus on the fuming face in front of him.

“I don’t… care if… you are emotionally compromised,” the man rasped and coughed again before he could continue. “You can’t just… my God, Spock… you nearly killed me.”

Spock’s head shook slowly, almost involuntarily, and he tried to ball his hands into fists. Only one managed it. The other just sort of twitched and throbbed at his side. The pain probably should have been excruciating, but all he felt was numb.

“I am sorry, Leonard,” he said, his voice barely carrying in the space between them. “I cannot… I fear that I no longer have control of myself. I should… leave here. I am a danger to you and others around me.”

McCoy’s face transformed from angry to livid and he yanked Spock closer. “Damn it, Spock!” he yelled and shook his head. “You aren’t going anywhere. Do you hear me? We just got Jim back. I’m not going to lose you in return. I get it okay. Your head’s all messed up again. Noted. I’m not going to let you go wandering off in the middle of nowhere so you can have a Vulcan mental breakdown though. Just… what do you need?”

Spock blinked at him again. “I need…” he began, but the words weren’t there. He could not give voice to what he needed.

The Doctor’s face softened and he released his grip on Spock’s shirt only to reach up and cup the sides of his neck. The touch worked to ground Spock a little more and some of the red haze cleared from his mind.

“Talk to me, Spock. Tell me what I need to do here, because I’m as lost as you are right now.”

Spock’s eyes slid shut for a long moment and then opened again. There was only two things that he needed and McCoy could give him neither. “I need to punish the men who hurt Jim,” Spock replied. His voice cold and hollow to his own ears. There should be fire there, but there was none. There should be rage, but it was all he could do to rein it in while McCoy was so very close.

McCoy nodded. “I want to punish them too, Spock, but there’s nothing we can do about it right now. Okay? We have to wait for the Enterprise to return and once they’re here, we can sort this whole thing out.”

Spock shook his head again and finally stepped back, away from the other man’s touch. “Not Federation justice, Leonard. We are beyond that now. I cannot un-see what I have seen. You have no idea what they did to him… what they did to me.” He drew in a slow, deep breath, then blew it out.

McCoy looked horrified, like he knew what Spock was about to do and it scared the shit out of him. “Spock, you can’t,” he insisted and reached for him again, but Spock grabbed the Doctor’s wrist.

“I can,” Spock insisted. “And I will.”

“No!” McCoy snapped. “You can’t just walk in there and start killing people. That’s not you, Spock. You’re a damn Starfleet Commander for fuck’s sake!”

Spock stared at his friend for a long time. The man was wrong. “Not today,” he replied and reached up to grab McCoy’s shoulder. “Not anymore.”

The Doctor slumped into his arms before he could open his mouth to protest.

*****

“Is he dead?” a young voice intoned from the entrance to Spock and McCoy’s room.

Spock glanced at the Doctor’s unconscious form on the bed and then turned to look at the boy standing in the doorway. Kirk had aged. It had only been 53.26 minutes since he’d seen him last and already he’d changed. He was twelve now, maybe thirteen.

“He is not,” Spock replied and carefully tugged his pack over his shoulder. He’d been hoping to slip away before anyone noticed their absences, but clearly that wasn’t going to happen.

Kirk continued to stare at him and there was something heartbreaking in that gaze. Gone was the shy curiosity and fear. Gone was the unfettered innocence of childhood. There was something hard in those eyes now; something bruised and brittle, something too old for a boy so small.

“The lady that’s been taking care of me said I should come and talk to you.” Kirk chewed on his bottom lip for a moment and then seemed to gather himself up enough to step into the room. “She said…” he paused, unsure of either himself or what he was about to say. “She said you were sick too.”

Spock blinked at that. It was true on some level, though he wasn’t so much sick as he was out of control. By Vulcan standards he supposed that could be considered ailing. He only hoped he could remove himself from the company of those he cared about before his mind truly abandoned him.

“I have been experiencing some difficulty, yes,” he stated and Spock tried to draw himself up just a little bit straighter in Kirk’s presence. It was ridiculous, he thought, the need to seem in control for the sake of a man - a boy - who no longer knew who he was. “My circumstances are unlike your own however. Your mind will return to you in time.”

Kirk’s teeth worked tirelessly at what appeared to be a now tender and swollen bottom lip. His head nodded, though the action seemed half-hearted. “You sure about that?”

That gave Spock pause. No. He wasn’t sure that Kirk’s mind would repair itself. He’d never witnessed anything like this before. He’d not even know it was possible. Even by McCoy’s admission, medically it wasn’t possible. But here they were nonetheless.

Every moment Spock lingered was a moment closer to McCoy waking and attempting to stop him from leaving again. He couldn’t walk away from the boy in front of him though. He’d never been able to walk away from Kirk. At least, not without an explanation.

“You are the strongest man I know, Jim. There has never been a problem you have not been able to devise a solution to. I do not think that this time will be any different,” he stated matter-of-factly. Kirk just quirked an eyebrow at him.

“You can’t know me,” the boy insisted with a frown and shook his head. “I’ve never even… I don’t understand how any of this is possible. I don’t know how I got here or who any of you people are. The last thing I remember was packing for Tarsus IV and then going to sleep. The next thing I know… I’m here and some blue chick with crazy eyes is telling me I need to come see you.”

Two things hit Spock at once; Kirk didn’t remember their meeting from an hour ago and… Tarsus IV? How was it possible that Kirk had survived the Hell that was Tarsus IV and Spock had not known about it? The weight of it all seemed to bear down on Spock’s shoulders, forcing him to drop his pack to the floor and sink down into one of the chairs at the table.

Had Kirk gotten those terrible scars on his back on Tarsus IV? Had the people there really been so depraved that they would have tortured such a small boy? Kodos had sentenced so many to death; men, women, and children. He had not cared for their ages. He’d only cared that, in his eyes, they were of little use to the community at whole and they were, in effect, expendable.

“Are you okay?” Kirk asked softly and Spock had to take in a slow, deep breath before he could look at him. The boy had moved a few steps closer and while his face was creased with concern, those eyes still held that wary uncertainty.

Spock nodded. “I…” he began, but the words wouldn’t come. They were a lie that lodged in his throat and threatened to suffocate him. He was not well. He was so far from well that he didn’t really remember what it felt like. And how was he supposed to explain any of this to a boy who may or may not remember this conversation an hour from now?

“Where were you going?” Kirk asked; cutting Spock’s roiling thoughts off at the knees.

Spock looked up to find the boy even closer now with one of his small knees pressed against the edge of the vacant bed. The answer that came was the only one he knew to give.

“I was going to punish the men that hurt you.”

Kirk’s eyes grew wide and he licked at his lips before drawing the bottom one back in between his teeth again. Thoughts and emotions flickered in his eyes, one chasing after the other like shadows at twilight. The uncertainty hanging around him was stifling now. It caused Kirk to fidget; shifting his weight from foot to foot, his fingers plucking at the seam of the loose pants someone had dressed him in.

“Jim?” Spock called softly and the boy swallowed thickly before actually meeting his gaze again.

“Does my mother know?” The question was all but whispered, Kirk’s tone weighted down with hesitant trepidation.

“Winona Kirk has not been informed of your current status,” he replied, unsure of what else to say. Spock got the distinct impression that they were talking about two very different things and that sparked his own curiosity, though he knew it was wrong to pry into Kirk’s affairs knowing he wasn’t truly cognizant of it. “Is there anything in particular that you wish for me to communicate to her?”

The silence in the room had a ringing quality to it as Spock waited for Kirk’s response. The boy just seemed to think for a long while and then sank down on to the edge of the bed with a shake of his head.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kirk mumbled.

Spock frowned and had to quell the desire to move over to the bed and wrap an arm around Kirk’s shoulders. “It matters to me,” he hedged and was once again gifted with the full weight of that overly cautious blue-eyed stare.

“Why?” Kirk asked; his voice small. “You don’t even know me. I’m nobody.” Kirk’s head was shaking back and forth, his eyes losing their focus. “Nothing,” he murmured. “My own family knows and they do nothing. They just… pretend that the bruises aren’t there.” Spock thought he might choke on the bile that was suddenly rising in his throat.

Bruises? Someone had been abusing Kirk before his trip to Tarsus IV? Had Tarsus IV been someone’s attempt to get Kirk away from the abusive element in his life? If so, where had they placed him once he’d been rescued from Tarsus IV? Had he gone right back into an abusive environment? Had there been nothing pleasant about the boy’s childhood? Could this be why Kirk was the way he was; detached and abrasive when it came to trying to proving himself?

Kirk’s tiny body slumped a little, his shoulders curling down, and he all but sank into himself. It was then that Spock registered movement out of the corner of his eyes. He turned to find McCoy lying on his back, one hand raised to cover his face, and there were tears dripping down over the swell of his cheek. He wasn’t sure how long the Doctor had been awake, but it had been long enough. They’d both learned things that they’d always wanted to know, but could have never dreamed up in their wildest dreams.

Looking back to Kirk, Spock realized that he was again at a loss for what to say. He couldn’t promise him that he wouldn’t ever let anyone hurt him again. Kirk’s memories would return in time and he was sure that along with them would come the pain of many more hurts he’d been subjected to over the years. He was also unsure if Kirk would even remember it later.

Thankfully he was saved from having to respond at all by the sudden appearance of both Namiri and Meeka. Meeka trotted into the room, clearly on a mission, and immediately tucked himself in close to Kirk. Spock watched as the hurt and anger all but disappeared. Namiri remained in the doorway, but her dreamy, melodic voice carried in the small room.

“It is time for some nourishment, Little One,” she said and Kirk stared at Spock for a long, silent moment before nodding and standing with Meeka wrapped up in his arms.

“Are you going to leave now?” Kirk asked before turning away and the boy wasn’t the only one watching him. Both Namiri’s and McCoy’s gazes were on him. Spock looked to McCoy, saw the same burning question in his eyes, and he gave a small shake of his head.

“No.”

McCoy exhaled loudly, as though he’d been holding his breath, and Spock almost felt guilty about the wince that followed. The Doctor’s head would surely be hurting after he’d been rendered unconscious.

They both watched as Kirk left with Namiri. They watched as the white vine curtain that had been covering the doorway dropped back into place. There was silence again; the kind that slipped in through your pores and crept in close to coil around your lungs and suffocate you.

“I am sorry, Leonard,” he offered softly, though Spock could not bring himself to look at the other man. His mind was still a fragile thing, forced too full with too many emotions and he did not think that he could make room for anymore guilt than he already felt.

McCoy just grunted and Spock listened to him shift against the bed. “How bad off are you?”

Spock tried to perform a sort of mental tally of his physical condition, but his mind was too shattered to complete it. “I fear I am unable to control myself at this time,” he replied and just managed to force his tone into some semblance of his First Officer persona. “I have never experienced this sort of emotional instability before and it is proving to be very volatile.”

Another long silence lingered in the air around them and then finally McCoy released a loud huff of air. “You were fine before,” he stated. “Or well, not so much fine as stable. We were both upset about Jim and yeah there was that little incident in the cave with you and me and…” The Doctor drifted off for a moment and Spock felt his cheeks heat. He certainly did not need to be reminded of his emotional slip in the cave.

“You were stronger than this though is what I’m getting at,” McCoy finally continued after clearing his throat. “I know what Namiri showed you. She told me while you were out and I figured that was what made you lose it back there in the cave. I can understand that. I can’t imagine having to watch him die. I don’t… I don’t even want to think about it. And you've had to do it twice now. I can't even... But he’s here, Spock. Yeah he’s not exactly how we’d hoped to find him, but he’s alive and he’s safe and the rest we can figure out as we go along. So you have to help me here. You need to tell me what’s going on with you because I can’t help you if you won’t let me.”

Spock balled his uninjured hand into a fist and tried to speak but the sound came out as a strangled, unintelligible choking noise. The simple task of trying to figure out how to answer the question was infuriating.

“What would you have me say?” he snarled, his fist tightening. His fingernails dug in so hard that his skin split beneath them. The rush of pinching pain that it sent through him ripped across his mind like the first lick of fire in zero gravity. “I do not know how you can help me! I cannot even help myself! There is too much! It is all too much! I am angry that my father summoned me away from the life that I have chosen for myself. I am angry that he cannot understand why I feel my place is here and not there. I am angry that it upset Jim. I am angry that the last thing I said to him was that he was ‘selfish and incapable of understanding anything beyond his own wants and needs’. I am angry that he left me aboard the ship when I should have been at his side. I am angry that these… humans,” he growled, spitting the word out like some vile obscenity, “… could end his life so violently and I was not there to stop it. And…”

His voice choked off at the knowledge that Kirk had just inadvertently shared parts of his hidden pain with them. Spock knew without a doubt that the man would not have willingly shared something so nasty and emotional about his past. These were the things that Kirk had spent his entire adulthood trying to hide from people.

Spock’s chest was rising and falling rapidly. He felt lightheaded and sick to his stomach, but now that the words were coming, he couldn’t stop them. “We bonded. I do not know how or when, but it was there and I did not... They ripped it away from me!” he was snarling again, teeth bared and he was up on his feet without even realizing it. “I did not see it! It was there in my mind and I could feel him. It was like the smallest of whispers at the back of my consciousness. I could anticipate his moods. I knew when he was ill or overworked. There were no thoughts, no active swapping of dialogue… just the faint impression of what he needed, when he needed it. I ignored the implications, assuming it was a natural byproduct of your human version of friendship.”

Spock was on his feet then, pacing, and the more he paced the smaller the room felt. “I felt his fear. I knew it. My own anger at the situation would not let me see it though. The severing of our bond made me blind to everything else. It uprooted all of my control. I could not meditate, I could not rest. My only focus was finding him, getting him back… connecting. There was no choice in following him down here. I would have followed him anywhere at that moment. Do you understand, Doctor? Do you see?”

McCoy was suddenly standing in front of him, one hand pressed to his chest to stop him from pacing, the other on his shoulder. “You need to stop,” he stated calmly, but firmly. “You’re just working yourself up here and that’s exactly what we don’t want.”

Spock growled, his eyes narrowed, and before McCoy could protest Spock shoved them both into the wall. “In the cave,” he bit out between gritted teeth, “do you know why you had such an affect on me?”

McCoy just blinked owlish hazel eyes at him and shook his head. Clearly he’d not been expecting this.

“Your mind,” Spock breathed out and he lifted his injured hand so that he could brush the tips of his fingers over the Doctor’s temple. The tingling sensation that buzzed through his fingers dulled the throbbing ache and caused his eyelids to flutter. “Jim… I touched his mind once. Not a full meld. Just a brush of our minds together. It was enough though. The compatibility of minds, Leonard, it is what Vulcans look for. I could have lost myself in his mind. I would have happily given my own to him. He is my match in every way; my other half. When the small connection that we had was broken, I could not repair the damage because I was unaware of it. My mind sought to do it for me… with you. Your mind is compatible with my own, Leonard. It would…”

Shaking his head, Spock grit his teeth and stepped away; cradled his injured hand to his stomach. McCoy winced again, rubbed at the back of his head, and then narrowed his eyes. “Do you think you can pull your shit together long enough to function without all this Vulcan hoodoo shit? Or do you have to have this… bond?”

“An established connection would aide me in stabilizing my mind, which would in turn give me a greater control over my emotions. I do not know if I am capable of control without one now that I have had one,” he answered honestly and tucked his good hand behind his back to keep from reaching out again. The connection with McCoy was tempting, but it wasn’t what he wanted. He’d never wanted to form any connection like this. It would be too close to forcing himself on someone and he’d rather go insane than do that. He just hoped that if it truly came to that, that the good Doctor had enough common sense floating around in that head of his to put him down.

“Okay so…” McCoy sighed, scrubbed his hand across his face and then let himself sag against the wall. His brows were knitted together in contemplation. “What if I gave you something? You know, like a sedative? Do you think it would help keep you calm enough for you to meditate and get your shit together?”

Spock’s eyebrow arched at the choice of phrase. “I need complete control of my faculties to, as you say, ‘get my shit together’,” he replied, caught half way between frustration and amusement.

McCoy pulled a face and it would have been funny if Spock had been in the mood for it. He wasn’t though. All he could think about was how much focus and physical power of will it was taking to keep from either overpowering his friend and forcing a meld or escaping that damned mountain and collecting his pound of flesh from each of the men who’d hurt Kirk. Every time he lost control, he felt himself slip a little further over the precipice into insanity.

“What about a temporary connection?” the Doctor asked and Spock had to make himself focus on the man. He’d not even realized he’d stopped paying attention.

“A temporary connection?” he inquired, confused.

The Doctor pulled a face again, though this one was more disturbed than bemused as it had been last time. “Yeah,” McCoy replied; his hand waving about in the air. “You know…”

The man cleared his throat, scrunched his nose up so far that it nearly pulled his top lip over his teeth, and then reached out to slip his hand onto the bare skin of Spock’s neck. The sensation of skin on skin contact was enough to have Spock swaying on his feet. His hands fell to his sides, his arms going limp, and heat rushed up to fill his cheeks. McCoy looked unsure, but determined.

“You said we had a connection or something. That we were compatible.” The Doctor licked his lips and then tried to tug Spock forward. Spock was taken so off guard that he actually went, stumbling forward until there was barely any space left between them.

“Is there some sort of…” McCoy stopped, his head wavering back and forth as he thought about what he’d say next. He choked off a disgruntled growl and then sighed. “Look, I don’t know what the hell it is that you need, but I know that Jim needs you in command of yourself and so do I. If that means that I gotta let you walk around in my head a little then… as much as I really don’t like that idea…” he growled again and shrugged. “If it’s what you need then I guess we don’t have much choice do we?”

Spock softened then; his heart fluttering wildly in his side. “You would allow me access to your mind even though you despise the thought of it?”

McCoy shrugged one shoulder and dropped his gaze so that he was staring down at Spock’s torso rather than look him in the eyes. “Jim’d kill me if I let you go bat shit knowing that there was something I could have done to prevent it,” was his eventual reply.

The transference of emotion was accidental. Normally Spock would never purposely read someone, but his defenses were compromised and McCoy was so obviously lying… in part at least.

“He would never ask this of you, Leonard,” Spock stated quietly and took a step backwards. “We both know that. It is also something I would never ask of you. You are my friend and I could not…”

The words died in his throat as McCoy’s hand slipped around his uninjured one and squeezed. Spock’s breath was gone, stolen away by the electric shocks that were pulsing up his arm and radiating out over the rest of his body. It was too much. His already frayed senses were suddenly pushing into overload and it was either throw himself as far away from the contact as possible or shut his eyes and let it consume him.

His feet were rooted to the spot.

“I’m offering and you need it,” McCoy murmured. “Just tell me what it is we need to do here. I don’t think I can just offer myself up for some kind of mind fuck that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life, but if there’s something else… something that will help you without screwing us both up…” The man sighed and Spock shuddered at the feel of warm breath ghosting over his face.

He knew what it took for McCoy to offer himself up the way he was. Spock was still unclear to this day why the man had ever ventured into space at all. He’d brought along with him more phobias than was healthy for a normal human psyche. Kirk had been part of it yes. Of that he was sure. There had to have been something more to it though; something that drove him into a journey that he’d never have taken otherwise. Spock was glad for it. Without it, he would have lost out on the experiences their unique friendship had gifted him.

When Spock opened his eyes it was to the realization that he was stroking his index and middle fingers up and down the length of McCoy’s. The unintentional kiss was sending warm flashes of soothing affection out to sooth and placate his tattered nerves. The Doctor was just staring at him, hazel eyes dark, lids heavy, full pink lips parted ever so slightly. McCoy’s free hand reached out, gently stroked along the fingers of Spock’s injured hand, and Spock felt his body light up in response.

“You should let me go, Leonard,” he said and his voice was only slightly above a whisper. “You should not force this on yourself when my heart belongs to another.”

McCoy huffed out a soft laugh and tugged Spock closer. “I thought it was illogical to associate a bodily organ with the seat of all emotion,” he mused. The corners of Spock’s mouth twitched and then his breath caught in his throat as the Doctor began to slowly stroke his first two fingers rather than simply caress them.

“Can you give yourself to more than one person?” the Doctor asked and it had Spock’s eyebrow inching upward.

Sharing himself with more than one person was not something he had ever considered before. Even when he’d been romantically involved with Nyota and bonded to T’Pring, Spock had not viewed the relationships the same way. His life with T’Pring would have been unavoidable. That part of himself had been promised to her by his parents before he’d even really understood what love and desire was. Their relationship, or lack there of truthfully, had never involved any emotion at all. Nyota had been new and different however. There had been a part of him, a large part, that had cared for her deeply. What McCoy was suggesting though… that was all but unheard of.

“I…” Spock began and had to really make himself concentrate on something other than the slow, methodical molestation of his fingers. His body was practically singing from the attention, though it did very little to quiet the chaos of his mind. “I do not… Jim is…”

McCoy huffed again and tugged Spock in closer. They were pressed together now, chest to chest, hip to hip, groin to groin. “I’m not asking for your heart and soul, you damn hobgoblin,” he grumbled and tightened the arm that he’d looped around Spock’s waist to pull him closer. The other hand was still working gently at his hand, McCoy’s fingers caressing up and down each of Spock’s. “I’m asking if you can do whatever you need to do with me and still bond with Jim when this is all over.”

The weight of that question had Spock’s head clearing for a moment. It came with a rush of pain that had him nearly fighting to step back. McCoy just tightened his arm around him, even though they both knew that if Spock wanted to get away he could.

“I never had any intention of bonding with Jim once he had returned to his adult self,” Spock stated quietly. “I have no reason to believe that the Captain shares my feelings and there are certain responsibilities that I must…” He stopped, released a shaky breath, and dropped his head forward into the side of McCoy’s neck. “The small bond we shared was created accidentally and without our knowledge. It is… better… that it was severed. I would never force my desires upon him and a bond between us would benefit neither of us once I join my father on New Vulcan.”

McCoy’s fingers stopped and Spock lifted his head to meet his gaze. “You love him, you’re going to tell him that you love him, but you don’t want to bond with him and you’re still running off to that damned colony after all of this?” The man’s tone was incredulous and tinged with anger.

Spock tried to pull away again, but the Doctor’s arm tightened around him once more. “Please, Leonard,” he begged. “I do not wish to fight with you.”

“And there won’t be any fighting if you just answer me,” the Doctor insisted. “You can’t just confess your love for him and then run away. You can’t do that to him, Spock. Too many people that he’s loved, that were supposed to love him back, have let him down. He loves you. You got this thing between you that just… I can’t explain it. It’s there though and half the time I don’t know whether to hate you for it or be thankful that he’s at least let you get as close as you have. I think I manage both evenly. Don’t call me on that in public though because I’ll deny it till the day I die.”

Spock stared for a long time at the man holding him. McCoy was the loudest, most emotional human he’d ever met and despite all of his own tales of heartbreak, he also had the greatest capacity for love and compassion. He was the finest Doctor in the fleet, loyal, passionate, and intelligent beyond his years. He was handsome and proud and by far the most ridiculously infuriating person he’d ever known. Bonded or not, the man already had his very own spot carved out in Spock’s life and it would wound something vital inside of Spock to lose him.

“It is possible,” he stated and McCoy just sort of blinked at him stupidly.

“What?”

The corners of Spock’s mouth twitched again and he resumed the soft petting of their fingers. The tingling shocks born from their rekindled contact was enough to stoke the fire burning low in his belly. Spock wanted this. His need for intimacy didn’t diminish his love or need for Kirk. It only meant that things were so much more complicated than he’d ever wanted to acknowledge or admit.

“A simple bond with you would not prevent me from instigating a marriage bond with another when the time presents itself. And… as much as I wish for this person to be Jim, I must think of my people and not just my own selfish desires. My people, now more than ever, are depending upon the rebuilding of our race. This requires procreation on an extensive level. I do not know if this will be possible on my own part, but I must be prepared if my time comes.”

McCoy nodded. “Okay. I get it. They need every fertile Vulcan male to shoot one off and propagate the species. You don’t have to get married to some woman you neither know nor love though. Can’t you just donate some sperm and still have the life you want?”

Spock shook his head, his hand stilling again. “I am afraid it is not that simple. There are things, private things, that every Vulcan must go through that requires a bond. Until that time is upon them, no male can produce offspring.”

It was McCoy’s eyebrow that shot up this time. “So… basically you’ll be firing blanks until your ‘time’ rolls around? Then you’re good to go, but only if you’re bonded?”

“Yes and no. I am indeed infertile at the moment and will remain that way until my time is upon me. In truth, I have always hoped that I would be spared such a thing. It is not a time any Vulcan enjoys. Once it is upon us we must… mate or die.” The heat in Spock’s cheeks had returned and he dropped his gaze down again.

“Die?” McCoy echoed. “You’re gonna… just like that? You what? Go into heat and either you have sex with the one you’re bonded to or you die? I don’t get that. How is that even possible?” The Doctor sounded angry again and Spock regretted ever even broaching the subject. There were reasons why this was not discussed.

Spock sighed for what felt like the millionth time and shifted his body in McCoy’s grasp. “It is more complicated than that, but yes, that is the general outcome. It is simple biology, Leonard, and something we can neither avoid nor change. It is one of the reasons why my father wishes for me to join him on New Vulcan so that he can ensure I have a stable bond once my time is upon me.”

McCoy nodded, shifted his own body against the wall, and began a slow stroking of Spock’s side with his hand. The man was thinking again. Spock could all but see the proverbial gears turning in his head. “Couldn’t you bond with Jim, have your time with him, and then donate to help make more little Vulcans?”

Spock came so close to snorting it was embarrassing and he had to clear his throat to control himself. “Unfortunately, no. During the mating cycle, another male would be viewed as a challenger… an enemy… and thus a fight to the death would ensue. I would rather spend the rest of my life in a loveless marriage, in a life that was not of my own choosing, than harm him in any way.”

McCoy sighed and dropped his head back against the wall. “I can’t believe that there have never been any homosexual couples amongst your people, Spock. I mean, people love who they love. Surely the marriage bond would ensure that you’d want to mate with Jim rather than kill him.”

“It is not a question of love, Leonard. Vulcan mates are chosen at a young age by the parents. It would be illogical to base a pairing on emotion alone. If the bond is broken at any time, such as mine, another suitable partner is chosen based on the compatibility of the minds and the benefits to our society at large.”

Something sparked in the Doctor’s eyes and before Spock could open his mouth to comment he found himself being yanked around and then shoved back into the wall, though McCoy was careful of his bad hand. “Forgive me if I sound like an ass, Spock, but that’s bullshit. It’s no way to live. People need love; they need passion and the knowledge that they are needed.”

Spock tried to arch his brow, but McCoy had grabbed his good hand again and had laced their fingers together. It sent another needy jolt through his body and he honestly couldn’t tell which way was up anymore. He was so lost, had been fighting too hard, and there just wasn’t enough for him to hold on to anymore.

“Leonard,” he gasped and pressed his injured hand to the man’s chest. The painful throb of rough contact took the edge off of his need and frantic jumble of nearly incoherent thoughts. “Stop.”

“Do it,” McCoy hissed and Spock frowned at him.

“What?” he breathed out, his control slipping out of his grasp once more as the throb began to fade.

“Create the bond,” the Doctor snapped back. “Do it now. Do whatever the fuck it is you need to do before we both end up half out of our minds.”

Spock shook his head and tried to back away but the wall was at his back leaving him nowhere to go. Everything was suddenly so very, very wrong again and he wasn’t sure how they’d found their way back here. The connection was there between them, anything Spock wanted he could have, but the problem was… none of this was what either of them wanted. McCoy was his friend and was putting himself out there because he didn’t think there was any other choice. He’d do it because he cared for him. Spock wanted a man who didn’t even exist at the moment and had no intentions of bonding with even if he could. Sum all of that up and they were both so far beyond compromised that it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It didn’t help that the guilt was back, rearing its ugly head and reminding him not only of Kirk, but the fact that he’d been kissing the good Doctor not five minutes ago. Hadn’t he ridded himself of that guild only a moment ago? Rationalized it?

There was a faint choking noise to the left of them and they both whipped their heads around to see Kirk standing in the doorway. His cheeks were flushed pink and he was studiously looking at the ground and not at them.

“Lady Namiri said I should offer you both something to eat, but if you’re busy…” He trailed off when McCoy jumped back from Spock like he’d been burned. Spock hissed at the jarring of his hand.

“We were just…” the Doctor fumbled, but Kirk rolled his eyes and snorted.

“I know what you were just doing. I’m not stupid.” There was something in Kirk’s eyes when he looked between the two of them that caused the heat in Spock’s cheeks to spread down his neck. Twelve year old boys should not have that look in their eyes. It left Spock decidedly uncomfortable.

They all just stood there for a long time staring at each other in awkward silence. It was like some weird cross between getting caught by your lover In flagrante delicto with another and being caught by your kid. Kirk was neither, but it was still too close to feel like anything else.

“So,” Kirk said and then cleared his throat. “Food?”

“Yes!” McCoy replied at the same time that Spock said, “No.” Both of them looked at him, one glaring, the other curious.

“You need to eat something,” McCoy stated. “Do you even remember the last time you actually put food in your stomach?”

Spock moved himself over to the table and lowered himself into one of the chairs. “My mental state has not changed, Doctor. I do not feel that I am well enough to partake in sustenance with other people at this time.”

“You could stay here if you want,” Kirk stated, surprising them both. Spock arched a brow at him. “I mean… I could sit with you if you want. You seemed to do okay before when we were talking.”

The corner of Spock’s mouth twitched and he tried very hard to ignore the flutter in his side. “That would be acceptable,” he replied and the thought of choking down food he probably wouldn’t be able to keep down was worth it when Kirk smiled at him.

“And what about your little problem?” McCoy inquired. His tone let Spock know that there would be no avoiding the issue.

Kirk glanced back and forth between the two of them, the curiosity seeming to grow exponentially. The Doctor wasn’t going to let him lose himself to his baser instincts and Spock wasn’t willing to bond with him just to give his mind that small bit of reprieve. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them. At least, not when Kirk was still very much alive and wedged right in the middle of them.

“Once I have eaten you may give me a sedative,” Spock told him. “Until he is well again and we are back aboard the Enterprise, I am afraid that is the only action I can allow.”

“But what about…” McCoy began, but Spock held up a hand to silence him.

“I am too unstable to establish any sort of proper link and I do not think that you fully understand what this would mean for the both of us, you in particular. Therefore, you will either sedate me or let me go.”

The Doctor glared at him and grumbled something about stubborn, illogical idiots, but finally acquiesced with a grunted, “Fine. I’ll back off for now, but if you start to go batshit again, you’re using me as an anchor and that’s final.” He glared at Spock’s hand, then sighed. “And you’re letting me fix your hand.”

Kirk was still glancing back and forth between the both of them, his mouth quirked up into a crooked little half-smile. The scene carried with it the heavy weight of the way things used to be and Spock found himself wishing that he could just go back in time and undo everything that had led them there in the first place.

“Yes, Leonard,” he replied and held it out for the Doctor to examine.

*****

The changes in Kirk’s genetic makeup were remarkable to say the least. Two days had passed since McCoy had begun Spock’s sedation and over the course of those forty-eight hours, Kirk had changed three times. The shifts were fluid and apparently painless, mostly occurring in either a time of extreme distress or while he’d been asleep.

The first shift had happened that first night while Spock had slept. Kirk had kept him company for a long time until the drugs had finally forced Spock into sleep. When he’d awoken, the twelve year old boy was gone; replaced by a withdrawn and traumatize thirteen year old Kirk. It had been clear that that Kirk had still been suffering from the horrors he’d lived through on Tarsus IV. They had tried to draw him out, but in his near catatonic state, Kirk had withdrawn into himself and had immediately shifted into a much younger version of himself. McCoy had surmised that it was a defense mechanism of sorts. Kirk was sending himself back into a time when he’d felt safe. Five year old Kirk had adored McCoy, despite the loss of those familiar to him, and had spent the rest of the day clinging closely to the Doctor.

The next shift had gifted them with a quiet and brilliant eight year old Kirk. The boy had panicked over the absence of his brother Sam and the fact that he was surrounded by strangers in a strange place, but he’d calmed down long enough for McCoy to convince him that he was safe and he’d be able to go home soon enough. They both hated lying to him, but Kirk never seemed to remember what happened during the changes. It had been Spock that eight year old Kirk had been drawn to. He’d spent the better part of the day asking a million and one questions about Vulcans and space and Starfleet. Spock in turn had filled his amazing young mind with all of the information he could and he’d fought against the pull of the drugs. Kirk had questioned him about that as well; asking how he was sick and why he was so tired. The boy had brought him soup and they’d eaten together and just before Spock had drifted off that night, Kirk had curled up next to him and done the same.

The rude awakening had come in the form of a sixteen year old, combative Kirk. Teenage Kirk was a nightmare. He was angry and crude, demanding to know ‘Where the hell he was’ and ‘What the fuck was going on’. McCoy had taken it upon himself to try and calm the boy while Spock had fought to force himself to his feet. The sedatives made him sway dangerously, but he’d managed it.

“Jim, please,” McCoy intoned softly and held up his hands in a placating manner. “No one here is going to hurt you.”

“Screw you, Pal,” Kirk sneered and raised the only thing in the room he’d found to use as a weapon, the broken handle of the pitcher. The crash had been what had woken Spock with a rather unpleasant jolt. “You grabbed the wrong kid, Asshole. Frank won’t pay shit for me and good luck tracking down my mother.”

“We did not kidnap you, Jim,” Spock assured him. “If you would but let us explain, you will see that no one here means you any harm.”

Kirk’s eyes narrowed at him and his lip curled up into a nasty snarl. “I know your kind,” he spat. “I’ve seen monsters like you. You kill innocent people for no reason! You ruined my life and now what? Huh? You here to finish the job? Murdering my father and turning my mother into a fucking basket case wasn’t enough? You need a little hands on now?”

Spock’s eyes widened and he felt all the blood drain from his face. “I would never…” he started to mumble, but McCoy cut him off.

“Vulcan, Jim. Spock’s not a Romulan. He didn’t have anything to do with what happened to the Kelvin,” the Doctor stated and moved just enough to the left that he was standing between them. “And no one is going to touch you. We’re your friends, Jim. I know that doesn’t make any sense to you right now, but we are.”

“Liar,” Kirk hissed. “If you weren’t planning on hurting me then why can’t I remember anything? Why can’t I remember how I got here or who you are? I’m not stupid okay! You’re human for fuck sake! How can you protect that thing? He’s a monster!”

“He is not a monster!” McCoy bellowed and took a step towards Kirk. That one step was a mistake.

With an enraged cry, Kirk lashed out and the Doctor barely managed to step back in time. The sharp edge of the broken handle caught him across the chest, slicing open the fabric of his shirt. The shock of the attack only seemed to slow the Doctor a little and he managed to grab the wrist of the hand Kirk held the weapon in. He was not, however, fast enough to avoid the elbow to the jaw. McCoy staggered back, the edge of the bed caught his heel, and he went toppling over. Kirk didn’t waste a second of the advantage as he charged forward.

Spock rushed forward, intent on drawing Kirk’s attention and draw it he did. The boy snarled at him. Spock’s main focus was on disarming the boy and he even managed to get him down on the ground before Kirk landed a swift kick to his kneecap. He staggered, caught himself against the table and then gasped as a fist was driven home into his ribs on the right side over his heart. Spock rolled against the table, shifted so that he could see where the next attack was coming from, and the whole world seemed to slow to a crawl.

“Jimmy, no!” he heard McCoy shout and then the jagged end of the handle was being buried into his side, between his ribs, right where Kirk’s fist had impacted a moment before.

It should have hurt more than it did. It burned, made his breath still in his throat, but all Spock was aware of was sliding down to his knees. Kirk dropped with him, his hand still wrapped around the hilt, his fingers stained green with his blood.

“Jim?” Spock murmured softly, confused and a little lightheaded. He raised one shaking hand to the boy’s face, felt that cool skin beneath his fingertips, and then the world slipped sideways into darkness.

*****

Something cool and dry brushed against his forehead. There were sounds echoing in his ears, muffled and far away. It was blue where he was; dark and blue and he was so cold. All he could feel was the cold pressing in against him, holding him down, letting the pain gnaw at him like a starving animal. Someone was whispering to him and he could feel the brush of their fingers against his and the whisper of their lips against his ear. That blessed warmth enveloped him; licked at his aching body before the cold crept back in to chase it away. Then there was nothing but the black as it opened its arms to him and wrapped him up.

*****

Stay with me.

The words floated to him out of the dark and Spock wanted to open his eyes, he did, but they wouldn’t listen to him. They felt heavy like they’d been weighted down. His whole body felt weighted down actually and he could feel something pulling at him, attempting to tug him back down into oblivion. It was tempting, so very tempting just to follow.

The sensations of cool and dry and familiar brushed against him like a searching, needy cat. They slithered over him, coiled around him like a wound spring and then loosened. There were words being whispered, drawing him up, up, up against the weight and the timber of those words made something flutter inside of him. With the flutter came the smallest hint of pain, but it faded as quickly as it had come. That heaviness was still there though, tugging at him, threatening to drag him down with it into nothing.

You have to wake up. Do you hear me?

Spock drifted up, inched closer to the welcome timber of a familiar voice. He wanted to touch that voice. He wanted to wrap around it the way it was wrapping around him.

I can do this without you ya know. I’ll just file it away as another fucked up twist in what isn’t even supposed to be my life.

Silence raced in, bringing with it a lance of disappointed agony that drove right through him. Was he not needed? He’d been ridiculed his whole life. It had always been never enough or too much. Not enough Vulcan, too Human. Too emotional, not emotional enough. Freak. Half-breed. Son of a whore. Not good enough. Never good enough. Always have to be more, more, more. He had to be better than everyone. Stronger, faster, smarter, More.

It ate at him; poured over him like a suffocating wave, and Spock let himself sink. If he just let go then no one could turn him away anymore. No more too high expectations or disdainful glares. He could just cease to exist and everyone would be better off for it.

But then…

You’re supposed to call me on my bullshit.

That voice was back and there, on the horizon of his mind, peeked the first brilliant rays of his own personal sun. It caught him in its gravity and pulled.

You always call me on my bullshit. You’re not the only one of course, but you do it the best. You’re the only one…

The sun broke, trembling in the gloom.

Damn it, Spock. Open your eyes. I can’t… I won’t fight you anymore. You can leave okay? You can go home and do whatever it is you think you’re supposed to do just... If you die then none of this means anything. None of it.

The words were softer now, whispers in the dark. He felt the gentle press of cool dry lips against his ear and knew in that moment that the weight had lifted.

“Why’d you have to follow me here?” Kirk whispered and pressed a barely there kiss to the tip of Spock’s left ear. “Stupid, silly, stubborn Vulcan.”

He was gone then, moving away from him and Spock’s hand moved of its own volition. It wrapped around Kirk’s wrist, halting him, and Spock cracked open his eyes just enough to gaze upon the face that he’d so desperately been searching for. Kirk turned wide, red-rimmed blue eyes down to him.

“I will always follow you, Captain,” he rasped; his throat dry and sore from disuse.

Kirk snorted, tears filled his eyes and he slipped a hand onto Spock’s bare shoulder. That hand caressed up the side of his neck, over his jaw, and stilled at his cheek. Spock managed to cover it with his own, but only just. He was weak; very weak and the lure of blissful, painless sleep was calling to him again.

“I’m so sorry,” Kirk whispered; his voice broken and thick with emotion. His other hand was on Spock’s chest just above his wound.

It took a moment for Spock to get a deep enough breath to be able to answer. There was still too much pain and he realized that the Doctor must have had him heavily sedated.

“There is… nothing to apologize for,” he assured him and tried to offer a small, reassuring smile but he wasn’t sure his mouth actually cooperated.

The muscles in Kirk’s jaw worked for a long moment before he actually opened his mouth to say something. “I tried to kill you, Spock.”

Spock huffed out a pained breath and he had to close his eyes to center himself before he could speak again. “Please, Jim. You were… not yourself. I know you would never… hurt me.”

He sucked in a sharp breath as the pain became more acute. Whatever the Doctor had given him was clearly wearing off. “What happened?” Obviously he’d missed a few things if Kirk was back to himself.

Kirk sucked in a shaky breath and seemed to draw himself up to his full height as if trying to ward off some invisible force that was attempting to tear him down. “The handle…” He shook his head, squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again. “It nicked your heart. Bones patched you up as best he could. Saved your life. He was hoping you’d go into a healing trance and mend the remnants of the surgery, but you didn’t. He said you were...”

Kirk frowned and dropped his gaze to Spock’s chest. “He kept you under for the first twenty-four hours so that you wouldn’t do any damage to yourself if you woke up and tried to move. We got pretty worried when you never came out of it though. You’ve… been in a sort of coma for nearly four days. Your vitals have been all over the place. Bones was actually afraid that you were trying to skip out on us.”

Spock blinked a few times, his eyelids heavy from the pain and drugs. “And… you?” he asked. Kirk just smiled.

“Later,” he murmured and lifted the hand from Spock’s cheek to brush it back through his hair. “Just… do you think you can heal yourself now? Are you well enough?”

He felt exhausted, torn open and raw, but surprisingly his mind was clearer than it had been before he’d been injured. “Affirmative, Captain. I believe I can do that.”

Kirk’s smile wavered, but he nodded and released a small pent up breath. “Carry on then, Commander,” he stated softly and brushed the pad of his thumb over Spock’s cheek. “We’ll talk when you come through on the other side.”

Spock tried to nod, but he was sure the action resembled more of a twitch and he closed his eyes. His mind settled, opened, reached out in search of his injures and as he let himself drift away into the trance, he felt another barely there kiss being pressed against his ear. ‘Yes,’ he thought. They had a lot to talk about.

*****

Spock woke to the sound of soft snoring and a constant, warm vibration against his stomach. The room was dim, the only light a faint, glowing blue from somewhere towards the foot of the bed he was laying upon. He was grateful for the dark because it allowed him to open his eyes without the piercing pain of bright white light. It was one of the things he’d always hated about waking up in sickbay. The lights were just too blinding.

A turn of his head showed McCoy dozing in a chair to his right. He was leaning to one side, his head propped on his hand. His hair was messy, as though he’d not even thought to run a brush through it over the past few days. It hung down, covering half of his forehead and most of an eyebrow. The stubble on his face was thick, just shy of reaching full beard status. McCoy was already an attractive man, but Spock could admit to himself that the unkempt look worked for him. It added something to the man’s overall appeal. Unlike Kirk. Spock enjoyed the clean-cut, freshly shaven look of his Captain.

The vibration on his stomach turned into a rumbling purr and Spock lifted his head to find Meeka curled up on top of him. The little creature was watching him with big blue eyes and the corner of Spock’s mouth twitched into a smile as he reached up to pet at his head. Meeka warbled at him and he felt a wash of affection blanket him.

“Have you been lying with me this whole time?” he asked and Meeka dropped his head to rub it affectionately against Spock’s stomach.

“He’s barely left your side,” came McCoy’s gruff voice from beside him. “I think he likes you, though why is beyond me.”

Spock dropped his head back onto the bed and turned his face to the man. The Doctor was sitting up straight in the chair, his arms draped over the sides, and he looked tired but he was smiling.

“You should rest yourself properly, Leonard,” he chided softly, his voice again rough from disuse.

McCoy waved him off and stood. He moved around the bed to the table where he poured some water into a small cup and then turned back to Spock. “How are you feeling?”

Spock’s head titled to the side a little as he ran down a mental inventory of his body’s functions. “I believe I am functioning at exactly 90.323 percent,” he replied. “There is still some discomfort, but I expect that to lessen within the next few days.”

McCoy nodded, then helped him sit up so that Spock could take the cup from him. The water was blessedly cool and quenched the inflamed burn of his throat. McCoy hovered over him for a moment and then turned away. Spock could all but taste the tension in the room. Something was wrong. The Doctor wasn’t scowling at him or giving him a thorough dressing down as he normally did when he’d been critically injured.

“Leonard,” he began and steeled himself for the response that might follow his question, “has something happened to Jim? Did I… Perhaps in my weakened state I was reduced to self-gratifying hallucinations, but I was under the impression that he was back to normal now.”

McCoy huffed and whirled around on him, his face flushed with anger. “How can you even ask me that?” he snapped out. “No, you stupid hobgoblin! Nothing happened to Jim. It’s you. You died, Spock. Your goddamned heart stopped beating. I had it in my damn hands and it just stopped beating. Do you have any idea… I mean can you even imagine… I can’t even…” he growled and yanked a hand back through his messy hair. “I can’t even finish a damned sentence properly!”

He looked crazed. That was the first thing that came to Spock’s mind as McCoy glared down at him with wild eyes. “You’re not allowed to die!” he snarled, pointing at Spock. “Do you hear me? I can’t take that shit! I just…” he drug his hand back through his hair again and then shook his head. “I’m too old for this shit. Between you and Captain Dumbass out there I’m going to be driven to an early grave. Is that what you want? Is it!?”

Spock arched a brow at him and then reached out a hand to take one of the Doctor’s in his. “I am sorry that I troubled you. It was not my intention to become injured. I simply wanted to keep Jim from hurting you or himself.”

McCoy grunted and squeezed Spock’s hand before pulling his own away. “Yeah well, you’re an idiot. You both are and I’ve decided that I don’t love either one of you anymore. It’s too much like being the only adult in a damn daycare. Bad ass kids. That’s what you both are. Kids.”

Spock let his hand drop down into his lap and the corner of his mouth quirked. He was no longer surprised at the warm burst of sincere affection that blossomed in response to his friend’s words. In fact, now that he could think properly - which was something he did not understand at the moment - he was absolutely positive about two things. He was in love with Kirk, now more than ever, and… he was also very much in love with the man standing next to him. He wasn’t sure how it had happened or how either of the men in his life would deal with it, but he didn’t think he could ever deny either of them.

“I have no doubts that I will live a very long life, Leonard, provided you are there to take care of me,” he stated matter-of-factly.

McCoy flushed, his face turning bright red, and he did this odd head bob/shake thing that made him look slightly unhinged. “Yeah well… you just… God how did I get here?” he mumbled and let out a soft, breathy laugh.

“I think I’d like to know the answer to that too.”

They both jerked their heads around to find Kirk standing in the doorway. He had his arms crossed over his chest, his face was blank, but his eyes betrayed him. There was pain in those eyes; pain and betrayal and it made Spock’s heart ache. Didn’t he realise that he was the center of their worlds? Didn’t he know that this was just as much about him as it was them?

“Jim,” McCoy breathed out and cleared his throat as he ran his hand, once again, back through his hair. “How long you been standing there?”

Kirk smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Long enough to know that you two are more than just friendly with each other now,” he stated. There was something hard in his tone, like he was trying to sound amused or maybe supportive, but it fell flat and empty. “This been going on a while and I just didn’t see it or is this something new?”

McCoy’s mouth moved silently for a moment and Spock decided it would be best if he intervened. “There is nothing ‘going on’, Jim,” he tried to assure him. “At least, not in the way you perceive it.”

Kirk’s eyebrow arched. “But there is something,” he pushed. “I’m not stupid you know. I know flirting when I hear it. There’s something a helluva lot stronger than friendship being tossed around between the two of you.”

“Oh please,” McCoy snorted. "Don’t you stand there, after all these years, and try to dictate my feelings to me. We ignore feelings around here remember?”

Spock thought that McCoy’s words had been meant as a playful poke, but unfortunately they’d not been received that way. Kirk blanched and it was all Spock could do not to sigh. He did not want a conflict. He didn’t want hurt feelings or harsh words. Admitting to the both of them how he felt about them was going to be hard enough without the two of them at each other’s throats.

“I don’t ignore your feelings, Bones,” Kirk fired back before Spock could say anything. “I have never ignored your feelings so if you’ve got something to say then let’s hear it.”

Spock watched as McCoy’s jaw clenched, he drew himself up to his full height, and then… he nodded? “Alright,” the Doctor stated, his voice laced with a fine line of resignation and maybe a little guilt. “You want to play dumb. Let’s play. Yeah, Jim, I’m in love with him. Is that what you wanted to hear? Does it make you feel better? I am in love with Spock.”

Spock’s eyebrow shot up and his heart suddenly doubled its pace. Meeka shifted on his lap, pressed up tighter against his stomach, and that calm, affectionate blanket just wrapped tighter around him.

“You know what though?” McCoy continued. “It doesn’t do me a damn bit of good because he doesn’t love me back. He loves you. It always comes back to you and honestly, I can’t even be angry about it because I’ve been in love with you for years. You know that. I know you know that, but you just choose to fucking ignore it and I’ve always let you. So there. Happy?”

Kirk’s arms dropped to his sides and he took a step forward into the room. The ice had melted from his eyes and had been replaced with something else. Spock wanted to call it guilt as well, but no. This, perhaps, was equal parts sadness and shame.

“Bones…” Kirk started, but McCoy shook his head.

“No,” the Doctor snapped. “You don’t get to be angry or indignant or anything else for that matter. I got it okay? You don’t do love. You don’t do anything that might actually cause you to put yourself out there. At least not for me anyway. For him though, you get jealous. God forbid someone else show any interest in your precious Vulcan.”

Spock opened his mouth, ready to tell them both that arguing wasn’t going to get them anywhere, but Kirk was charging forward. “I’m not jealous damn it!”

“Oh the hell you’re not!” McCoy yelled back. “It’s written all over your face. Well I got news for you… you’re safe, Kid. You got him. You’re bonded to him for fuck’s sake and I’m still stuck on the outside looking in.”

The whole room went quiet. Spock’s eyes closed and he tried very hard to just focus on breathing in and out. Just a little while ago things had been fine between them. They’d been friends. Now what were they going to be? And how was he supposed to explain what he didn’t even understand himself?

“What?”

It was Kirk’s voice, but Spock couldn’t make himself open his eyes. McCoy must have realized what he’d done because Kirk’s shock was followed by a low groan from the Doctor.

“Holy Christ, Spock, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to just… fuck.”

“What’s he talking about, Spock?” Kirk asked softly.

Really there should be a rule about not antagonizing a man who’d nearly died - had died -only a few days prior. There was nothing for it though. He wasn’t going to lie to Kirk. Not after the hell they’d all been through in the past... how many days?

“I believe Leonard was quite clear in his statements, Jim,” Spock replied as he opened his eyes. His voice was as even as he could make it. “I was going to tell you once we were safely back aboard the Enterprise, but I suppose – as you say – the proverbial cat is out of the bag.”

McCoy shot him an apologetic look and Spock drew in a deep breath before continuing. “My feelings for you extend far beyond friendship, Jim. I did not wish for it to impede our professional relationship however and I saw no reason to risk a friendship that took us some time to establish. As for the bonding…”

Kirk sank down onto the edge of the bed, causing Spock to stop speaking and they both just stared at each other. The man’s face had gone blank again and Spock’s heart dropped. He had anticipated many things, but stone-faced silence was not one of them. It caused his resolve to crumble a little.

“I…” Spock’s eyes dropped to Meeka’s small body and he ran his hand down the curve of his back, desperate for some type of distraction from those empty eyes. “The bond Leonard spoke of… I assure you that its formation was completely accidental and it was severed at the time of your… death. I do not… I will understand if you wish to pursue disciplinary action as is your right by both Vulcan and Federation law. It was… careless of me not to have noticed its creation before now.”

“Is that why you followed me down here?” Kirk asked, his voice neutral as though he were attempting to tip-toe his way around some important diplomatic matter.

Spock looked up at him, McCoy took a step towards the man, and Spock had to reach up to still his actions with a hand upon his arm. The look on the Doctor’s face spoke volumes. He wanted to strangle their clueless friend and Captain for thinking that they wouldn’t have come after him regardless.

The stress of the past few days and the extent of his injures was still taking their toll on him. Spock was already tired again and wished that they had waited for this. He wasn’t sure if he was up to it. He wasn’t sure that he could take Kirk walking away from him. Not yet.

“I would have followed you regardless, Jim,” Spock assured him. “We both would have, as would have the others if I had let them. I could not allow them to risk their careers however and ordered them on to the next mission. They obeyed under firm protestation.”

That got a small smile out of Kirk and when McCoy visibly relaxed, Spock let his hand fall away. The Doctor chased his touch though, surprising everyone, and reached out to let his hand sit comfortingly at the back of Spock’s neck. It was an intimate touch, one that sent both a thrill of excitement and uncertainty through him. Kirk’s eyes narrowed slightly, imperceptibly so if you didn’t know the man and what to look for.

“And this?” Kirk asked, his hand rising to motion between the two of them.

“Christ, Jim…” McCoy sighed at the same time Spock steeled himself and murmured, “I care for him as well.”

Again the room went silent. Both men’s eyes had gone wide. Spock drew in another calming breath, his hand still petting at Meeka’s back. He suspected that his endless supply of calm was largely due to the odd little creature.

“You,” McCoy breathed out, his hand slipping somewhat down Spock’s back. “But I thought…”

“As did I,” Spock answered. He looked between the both of them again and then finally settled on Kirk. “I have loved you like no other for many years. You are… a part of me that I had not realised was missing until you’d already filled the empty space. There is no other place that I wish to be than by your side.”

Kirk’s face twisted, his renewed anger apparently banishing everything else. “And yet you’re leaving. When we make space doc back on Earth, you’re just going to hop the next transport and never look back.”

Spock’s gaze fell again and this time even Meeka’s shared calm could not chase away the anguish he felt at the thought of leaving. “It has never been something that I wished for, Jim, and I have no desire for it to be a permanent separation. Even if I cannot remain in Starfleet, it is not my intention to cut you from my life. Either of you.”

“Say no.” Kirk growled. “If you love me… if you really love me… then you will tell your father no. You will stay aboard the Enterprise where you belong.”

Kirk’s words bit across his skin and sunk their claws into his heart. He wanted to. It was all he wanted. “I cannot,” Spock replied instead and his next inhalation of breath caught in his throat.

The bed trembled beneath him and suddenly Meeka was vacating his lap and Kirk was replacing him. The Captain sat astride him, pressed himself in close, and his hands came up to grasp the sides of Spock’s face.

“You will tell him no,” Kirk snarled softly. Spock couldn’t help but stare up at him in wonder. Those blue eyes were blazing; sparking with barely contained lust and rage. They were pleading with him, begging him to stay and fight and live for him. Every taut muscle in Kirk’s body screamed of possession and a hunger that set a fire burning in Spock’s belly.

“Jim! Damn it be careful with him!” McCoy chastised; his own hand closing around one of Kirk’s wrists.

McCoy’s protests were ignored though in favor of Kirk yanking Spock’s head forward and crushing their lips together. It wasn’t a sweet kiss. It wasn’t soft or loving. It was hard and rough and demanding. It was the ravenous protestations of a starving man who’d only just been led to a feast and informed he could not eat.

Kirk’s hands pushed back, tangled themselves in Spock’s hair, and the whole world tilted on its axis. Spock’s reserve was broken, laid bare by Kirk’s eager offering and he returned the kiss with equal fervor. They ate at each other. Hands roamed, clutched and clawed until they were both rutting against each other in desperate abandon.

The moment was shattered however when McCoy attempted to retreat away from them. Spock felt it the second his comforting presence drew back from his side, but it was Kirk who reached out and stopped him.

“No,” Kirk gasped, his hand closing around McCoy’s wrist. He tugged the man forward until the Doctor was forced to kneel on the bed next to them. “Stay.”

“Jim,” the Doctor protested, but the Captain leaned in and kissed him.

Their kiss was softer; slow and sweet. McCoy’s arm wrapped around Kirk’s waist, but instead of pulling him closer, the man moved forward until he was pressed up against the both of them. His free hand lifted, cupped Kirk’s cheek, and they all but melted into each other. Spock watched as their tongues warred with each other, each fighting for dominance. They were beautiful together.

When they broke apart, both panting, Kirk pressed their foreheads together. “I never meant to ignore your feelings, Bones,” he gasped, chest heaving. “I knew. I’ve always known. I just couldn’t… I was so afraid of losing you. I thought that if I just kept you at arms length it would be okay.” McCoy kissed him again; just a chaste press of their lips before he tilted his head and began to string a wet line of open-mouthed kisses along Kirk’s jaw and neck.

God,” Kirk groaned and his hips began to give small, eager little jerks. Spock reached for them, dug his fingers in hard, and tugged Kirk in close so that they were grinding into each other again.

“Never worked though,” Kirk panted and lifted one hand to tangle in Spock’s hair again while the other clung to McCoy. “You stayed with me. Even when I was an ass to you. You stayed and it made me love you so much more. Wanted you so badly.” McCoy nipped at the skin just below Kirk’s ear and the Captain cried out.

“You had me, Jim,” McCoy murmured between kisses. “You know that.”

“I know,” Kirk whimpered and his breath hitched when those teeth bit at the juncture of his neck and shoulder. “Couldn’t… let it go though. Was scared. And then Spock… God I was so confused. Wanted you both.”

McCoy pulled away from Kirk’s neck and looked down at Spock with glazed over, blown wide hazel eyes. The hand on Kirk’s face moved, cupped Spock’s cheek, and the contact made Spock’s heart flutter. McCoy’s thumb brushed along his cheekbone and then dipped down to press against his lips. Spock licked his tongue out to taste him. Kirk joined in and pressed his own lips to the Doctor’s throat.

“God help me,” McCoy gasped, his head dropping to the side to give Kirk better access. “You two are going to be the death of me.”

Spock’s response was to part his lips and suck the man’s thumb into his mouth. He suckled him, bobbed his head up and down until the Doctor was groaning and thrusting his own hips. Kirk smiled down at him, his gaze heated and hungrier than Spock had ever seen him look. Spock’s eyes followed him down when Kirk shifted on his lap and dropped himself low between them. His hands were working at the fastenings of McCoy’s trousers.

“Jim,” McCoy croaked; his voice thick and broken with desire. “We should… oh god,” he groaned as he was pulled free of his trousers and underwear. Kirk’s mouth closed over him. “Fuck! We should talk about this first!”

“Later,” Kirk mumbled around his mouthful and McCoy groaned one last time before turning his attention back to Spock. He slipped his thumb from Spock’s mouth and traced the line of his lips slowly. Spock blinked up at him, captured by the man’s intense gaze.

“Spock,” he huffed out, his voice unsteady. McCoy’s other hand had twisted itself into Kirk’s hair and he looked as though rational thought was quickly fleeting. “Are you… sure?” he finally managed.

Spock’s eyebrow arched as if to ask the man if the sudden attention to his nether regions had impaired his intelligence. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure that this was the appropriate time for sexual congress between the three of them, but he had no doubt that he wanted it. The sinfully obscene sucking noises and the enthralled look on McCoy’s face was enough to silence any protest that Spock might have had though. He could endure any remaining pain from his injuries as long as some of their attention was focused on him as well.

His response to the Doctor’s question was the soft press of his lips to the man’s palm. “I believe we are overdressed for our current activities.”

That seemed to illicit both an emotional and physical response from both of his new lovers and the corner of Spock’s mouth twitched as that particular oversight was quickly rectified.

*****

The universe and all its wonders faded from existence for a while. All there was for Spock was the awakening of his senses. Everything was touch and taste, sound and smell and the glorious, glorious sight of the two men who had captured both his mind and his heart. His existence narrowed down to just the three of them; to the feel of their hands and mouths on his body, exploring, and his own mapping out and memorizing of each of theirs.

They touched and teased him and he worshiped them for it. Spock lost himself in the slick slide of their bodies pressed together. Kirk entered him first; loved him and filled him and thrust inside of him until Spock had broken and his calm deportment had shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. McCoy joined him then. He pushed inside of Spock, lodged himself in along side Kirk and they tore him apart piece by piece until there was nothing left of him.

They sucked and licked at his fingers, rubbed them and caressed them until Spock came unhinged and flew apart with a violent shudder and shout. He felt them both; their lust and love poured over him like the warming rays of the Vulcan sun and he gladly let himself be drowned in it. They filled him up. They devoured him and each other until his tight channel was overflowing with their love for him. The force of it left them shaking and destroyed, clutched tightly together in a tangled, sweaty embrace.

And when the fires cooled and each of them had rested their fill, they shifted and swapped and started again.

*****

“Say no,” Kirk mumbled against the naked skin of Spock’s chest. He was draped halfway over him and the Doctor was curled up against Kirk’s back.

Spock didn’t have to think about what Kirk was referring to. He’d not forgotten the conversation that had led to the conflict between them and their lovemaking. What could he say though? There was little choice in the matter. He needed a bondmate. He needed to know that when his time came there would be someone there to help him quench the fires.

“Jim,” he sighed and Kirk gave a low, threatening growl before pushing himself up on an elbow to glare down at him.

“I don’t care about any argument you might think you have. You will say no. Your father doesn’t own you. You’re not property. He can’t just demand something from you and expect you to come running. You’re an adult. You make your own choices. I need…” Kirk clenched his teeth and dropped his gaze to Spock’s chest. “I need you to pick me.”

The words had been painful for him. Spock could see what it had taken for Kirk to admit what he had. The pain was chased away by a small, sad smile and Kirk looked up to him again.

“This is everything to me, Spock,” he mumbled. “You and Bones… you’re all I have. I have the Enterprise, but that’s not going to last forever. We’ll all eventually get reassigned and things will change, but… but I need for this to stay the same. I…”

Something was there, right on the tip of Kirk’s tongue. Spock could see it. The moment faded though and Kirk left the words unspoken. Instead, he shifted and pulled himself up slowly so that he was sitting astride Spock’s hips. McCoy made what sounded like a disgruntled chuffing noise and cracked open sleep bleary eyes.

“Stay,” Kirk said again and he moved his hands to rest on Spock’s sides. McCoy glanced between the two of them; then shifted over so that he was pressed along side of them and he was propped up on an elbow.

“Jim, he’s got his reasons,” the Doctor stated softly. “I may not agree with them or like them, but they seem better than the alternative.”

“And just what is the alternative?” Kirk snapped. “Because I don’t know why the hell any of this is happening and I really don’t appreciate being left out of the loop.”

Spock didn’t want to have this conversation again. It embarrassed and shamed him just to think about it, but considering the situation he did not feel he had much choice in the matter.

“Every Vulcan, once they come of age, must endure a mating cycle,” he began and wished he could look away or cover himself because he felt much too vulnerable in that moment. “The cycle is called Pon Farr. It strips us of our logic and leaves us at the mercy of our baser instincts. It is at the time that we must all return home, complete the marriage ritual, and then mate or we die.”

“I’m sorry,” Kirk interrupted. “You die? You actually die if you don’t get laid?”

Spock’s brow twitched in annoyance, but he nodded. “To put it crudely,” he replied. “As I said our minds are stripped bare and we are unable to control ourselves. Our body chemistry changes. We become fertile with the introduction of a reproductive chemical that allows us to procreate. If we cannot answer this drive to bond and mate however, we will go mad and then our bodies will shut themselves down. It is unpleasant and can be quite painful. To avoid this outcome, my father has summoned me so that I may replace the mate that I lost when Vulcan was destroyed.”

Kirk seemed to shrink a little and then just as quickly he perked back up. “Well what about me? Didn’t you say we bonded or whatever?”

A far too familiar pang of guilt and sadness cut through Spock and he shook his head. “Our bond was severed, Jim. And even if it still remained, it was not a proper kan-telan. What we shared was the weak bonding of two similar minds. The kan-telan is… more than a betrothal, but less than a marriage. It is the start of a bond that will allow my mate to know when I have entered into Pon farr. Once the cycle begins, we will join on New Vulcan for the proper ceremony and binding of the marriage bond. One male cannot be bonded to another. All other males are viewed as a threat once the fires take us. I would see you as nothing more than a challenger and we would be forced to fight unto the death.”

Kirk’s expression twisted into one of annoyance and disbelief. “But that makes no sense! If the bond is there, then shouldn’t that change the rules up?”

McCoy snorted and nodded his head. “That’s what I said. Apparently there aren’t any homosexuals.”

“I did not say that there were no same sex relationships,” Spock corrected. “I said that most Vulcans do not factor in emotion when choosing a mate and that another male would be viewed as a challenger during Pon farr.”

“Yeah but does that apply to all males in general or could it be different for the one you are actually bonded to?” Kirk asked. “I mean, there has to be a loophole here. I can’t believe that there has never been a bonded male couple.”

“Jim,” Spock sighed with more than a little exasperation infused in his tone.

“No, Spock! I’m serious about this. If this is what we have to work around so that you can stay with us, then this is what we’re going to do,” Kirk bit out. “Besides, logically speaking, if you already have a marriage bond formed with one person – male or female – wouldn’t that take precedence over everything else?”

“But the bond would not be finalized until I was already within the throes of Pon farr,” Spock countered.

“Does it have to be?” McCoy asked and they both turned to look at him. “Well I mean, can’t you just go ahead and get married before hand? Have everything bonded and finalized and whatever else before your actual time hits?”

“I…” Spock started and couldn’t rationally come up with a reason as to the contrary. There was no reason why Jim and he could not go ahead and be bonded properly. Still, the risk to his very human husband was something he did not want to risk. “There is still no guarantee that you would be safe once my time is upon me.”

Kirk sighed and leaned down over Spock though he was careful to avoid his still tender side. “Do you want to go, Spock? Is that it?”

“No, Jim. I do not wish to leave either of you.”

“And do you love us?”

Spock’s eyebrow arched. “I believe the last several hours if not days are proof enough of my feelings for the both of you.”

“Then stay,” McCoy intoned softly. “We’ll figure out the rest of it when the time comes because there is no way that either of us would let you die.”

Spock found it difficult to argue the point with either one of them. He hadn’t lied. He didn’t want to leave and he cared deeply for them both. What would be the price though? If he thought, even for a moment, that he’d put either one of them in danger, there was no way he could stay. There was also no guarantee that he’d ever go into Pon farr. It didn’t seem logical to plan his life around something that may never happen.

“I will stay as long as you are both aware that if my time does come upon me and I cannot take Jim to my bed, I will have to take someone else.” Spock didn’t like the idea of it, but it was what they would be faced with and he didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings going in.

McCoy remained silent but nodded and Kirk pulled a face as though even the suggestion of it was something distasteful. And of course it was, but there was nothing any of them would be able to do about it.

“Jim?” he pushed, unwilling to move forward if something this important was going to stand between them.

“I understand,” Kirk finally huffed out. “I don’t like it, but I get it and if it’s the only way we get to keep you then… well then I guess we don’t have much of a choice do we?”

“No we do not,” Spock agreed and while he wished it didn’t feel like there was this sudden tension between them, he was happy to have made the decision to stay.

McCoy pressed a soft kiss to Spock’s shoulder and then settled down against the pillows again. “Now can we please not talk about anything serious for like, I don’t know, the next ten years? My brain’s a little overloaded and exhausted at the moment.”

“You sure you’re okay with all of this, Bones?” Kirk asked, but there was a slightly teasing tone to his voice.

“Gee let’s see… I get all the benefits and pleasures of having the both of you in my bed and I get to leave all of the ‘I do’ bullshit to the two of you,” the Doctor mused and proceeded to stretch out languidly. “Yeah I think I’m good with that.”

Kirk reached over and twisted one of McCoy’s nipples. “Yeah well, just because there won’t be anything written between us doesn’t mean you ever get to leave. You hear me?”

McCoy just rolled his eyes and slapped Kirk’s hand away. “If I was gonna leave, Jim, I would have done it already. What I can’t believe is you actually wanting to rush down the aisle and get married. I never figured you for the type, Kid.”

Kirk turned his gaze back to Spock and he smiled down at him. “I never saw the point in getting married honestly. I mean, I’ve never really believed in love or things that last forever. I just figured that the job would always be enough. This though… this is different somehow. This is… us. Us I can do. This is real and it matters and it’ll be hard, but it’s worth it.”

“Indeed,” Spock murmured and just like that, as quickly as it had come, all of the tension melted away.

*****

Five years was a relatively short time for a Vulcan and yet, the last five years of Spock’s life had changed him in ways that he could not even begin to understand. His whole life’s plan had been flipped on its head by some simple turn of… fate? No. Spock didn’t believe in fate or destiny. Things were what they were. There were times though, such as now, that he wondered what that other life would have been like. He had questions to ask; many of them. He only wondered if his counterpart would be open to answering them. At the same time, he did not want to know at all. Some things were always better left to the unknown.

He wondered though, what had life been like for his counterpart? What had his journey with his Kirk been like? What had their Dr. McCoy been like? The rest of the crew? Where was his mother? Had he had a different relationship with her? Had she known how much he loved her? How important she was to him? And his father, had that Sarek been accepting of his counterpart’s life in Starfleet? Of James Kirk? Would his own father be accepting of his new found relationship?

Spock lowered his gaze from the sight of the waterfall in the main cavern. He’d slipped away from his two sleeping companions some hours ago. He’d needed time to think, time to meditate and regain the last frayed vestiges of his mind. Meditation had come much easier; easier than it had in nearly a month. Once he’d regained that stability though, all the questions and concerns had come rushing to the forefront.

Would his father be accepting of his relationship with not only James Kirk but Leonard McCoy as well? No. He would not. Would his father be accepting of his choice to stay in Starfleet at the sides of his lovers rather than return to the colony and take up his life and duty as a Vulcan? No. He would not. The choices he made now would put a strain on his already tenuous relationship with his father. He’d chosen Starfleet and a more human approach to life once already. What would it do to them now that he was choosing that same life once again? And would it last? That was the question that plagued him the most.

Kirk and McCoy were creatures of habit and emotion. Kirk was dedicated to his job and his life as a Starfleet Captain. McCoy had been correct in his view on the Captain before. Kirk was the job through and through. The man cared deeply about those around him and he took personal responsibility for each and every member of his crew. When it came to his own well being though, Kirk had always been rather dismissive of his well being. He found pleasure and release in the unfettered exotic. There were no expectations, no commitments, and no real feeling beyond base pleasure and desire.

McCoy was much the same, despite his one tie to fatherhood. The man was a good father despite the infrequency with which he saw his daughter. He cherished her like he cherished no other. But a relationship? The Doctor had stated several times over their many years of serving together that commitment and marriage were nothing more than torturous deals made with the Devil. He’d vowed to never see himself in an arrangement that would see him as torn down and unmanned as his previous wife had left him.

How then could Spock trust that what had transpired between them wasn’t anything more than just a fleeting interest? Human minds were fickle things. They twisted and manipulated situations to accomplish their own desired outcomes. Kirk was walking, talking proof of that. The man did not believe in no win scenarios. He did not believe that there were things in life that he could not have. His actions the evening before were unlike him. Kirk did not share himself so easily. He did not offer up sentiment or confessions of love. McCoy was much the same. Neither one of them had ever, prior to this incident, shown any romantic inclinations towards him. Was it simply because he’d made his intentions of leaving known? Would they go this far just to insure his continued presence on the Enterprise?

A part of him dismissed the idea as preposterous. Neither man was that heartless or self-sacrificing. They would not go against their own natures to ensure Spock stayed. Why then, he wondered. Why the sudden change overnight?

“You’re over thinking things as always,” came Kirk’s voice over the rushing sound of water.

Spock tilted his head to look up at the man from where he sat beneath one of the trees. Kirk was standing less than a foot away from him, dressed in black trousers and one of McCoy’s gray thermal undershirts. There was a loose flowing, white robe draped over his shoulders that fanned out around him and Spock was sure that it was something Namiri had given him. The man’s feet were bare, his toes curling in the soft honeydew grass. Kirk looked tired still. His cheeks were flushed pink and his hair was in disarray, but there was a small smile playing around his lips.

“Why do you do that?” Kirk asked. “Why do you have to question everything? Why can’t you just, I don’t know, trust us?”

The implication of distrust sent a sharp pang of hurt twisting through him and Spock quickly utilized his newfound stability to close off any expression that he might have let slip. It felt comforting to know that he could pull the safety of his Vulcan heritage down around him once more.

“I do trust you, Jim,” he stated with a perfect level of calm. “If you have doubts to the contrary, then I would submit that our friendship is not what we thought it to be.”

Kirk’s face hardened and he took a step forward, his shoulders taut with barely contained tension. “Stop it! You know I didn’t mean it like that! I have never questioned our friendship and you know it! I just… Christ, Spock... I just meant that I wish you would trust me enough to know that I wouldn’t just tell you I want you and not mean it.”

Spock’s brow rose in question. “I never implied that you did not.”

“No. No you didn’t,” Kirk replied and moved forward so that he could kneel in front of Spock. “But I could see it written all over your face. You can try and hide from everyone else behind that stone cold Vulcan mask of yours, but that doesn’t work with me. I can read you, Spock. I’ve been able to read you for a while now.”

The thought that the man could read him so adeptly both disturbed him and appealed to him. Especially if it was Kirk. But then… “A byproduct of the bond we shared no doubt.”

Kirk nodded. “Maybe. Or maybe I’ve just been paying really close attention all these years. Maybe I worked twice as hard at figuring you out along the way because I couldn’t bare not knowing what was going on in that head of yours.”

“Perhaps,” Spock allowed, but he wasn’t sure he believed it. “I do not understand why you would put forth so much effort in trying to read me however, when you could have simply accepted me as I was and focused your attentions where I am sure they would have been more productive.”

A wry snort wrestled its way out of Kirk and he seemed to deflate a little. “Because you were the challenge, Spock. Don’t you get that? You are the most amazingly complex man I’ve met in my entire life. You’re handsome and intelligent. You’re funny and resourceful and you know just the right thing to say and when to say it. You keep me on my toes and shut me down when you know I’m about to make a mistake. You keep me safe. You protect me and fight with me and force me to see reason when everyone else would have walked away. Don’t you see?” he asked and Spock startled at the wet shimmer of tears in the other man’s eyes.

“Don’t you get it, Spock?” Kirk whispered and he dropped his gaze to the grass between them. “Somewhere in the middle of all this I fell in love with you. You’re the one thing… you’re the only thing, that I could never live without.”

Spock sat up straighter at the confession and reached forward to place his hand on Kirk’s only for it to be slapped away. “No. Just… just let me get this out okay because I don’t know if I’ll be able to say it again if I stop now. You have no idea how hard this is for me. I don’t say shit like this okay? I don’t… Christ fuck! I promised myself along time ago that I’d never let anybody close enough to hurt me. When my dad died, he took a part of my mother with him. She was nothing without him. Sure she loved me and my brother, but we didn’t fill the hole that losing my dad left inside of her. She couldn’t even really be around us because we reminded her too much of what she’d lost. You can’t imagine what it was like to watch her fade away more and more as the years passed. I didn’t understand it when I was younger. I was too full of anger and resentment. I didn’t get that all she wanted…” Kirk’s voice trembled and he sucked in a slow, deep breath before continuing. “She couldn’t give us what she didn’t have anymore. My dad took her heart with him when he died and all she wanted was to be with him again. And the only thing that stopped her from doing just that, was us.’

‘I feel that when I’m with you and God help me I hate you for it sometimes.” The chuckle that followed those words was wet and ragged and Spock watched as tiny little glistening teardrops escaped from Kirk’s downcast lashes. “All I wanted in the beginning was your acceptance and your respect. I think maybe… All I saw sometimes when you looked at me was disdain and disgust. My Uncle Frank used to look at me that way. I was a burden for him; something he’d been forced to deal with because he didn’t have a choice. I guess maybe I thought you sort of felt the same way. You’re nothing like Frank though. He was an abusive drunk who took out his anger and frustration on a little kid because he knew I couldn’t or wouldn’t fight back. You though… you’re the best man I know, Spock, and I needed to prove to you that I wasn’t the worthless punk that you thought I wasn’t. I needed for you to see that I wasn’t some loser that had simply gotten lucky. I busted my ass for three years to get my foot in the door and honestly, Spock, I didn’t expect to make Captain so fast. I just wanted to save us and yeah… I got lucky.”

Spock was trying hard to take in all of the information that he was being bombarded with as Kirk idly picked at the grass and drew in another breath. He didn’t care for being compared to a man who had clearly abused his privileges as a guardian to a much younger Kirk, but he wasn’t going to argue the point. He, himself, had nearly killed Kirk within forty-eight hours of meeting him – a fact that brought him a great amount of shame and regret.

“Gary used to try and get me to make small talk with you,” Kirk began again and Spock had to pull himself out of his own thoughts so that he could pay attention. “I think he saw how much I wanted things to be okay between the two of us. He knew I wanted your respect. I thought you hate me though so I never pushed you. Color me surprised when you offered to play chess with me after… after he died. God, Spock, you have no idea how much your presence helped me through that. You didn’t let me dwell on it and you didn’t let me blame myself. Besides Bones, Gary and Lee were my two closest friends at the academy. I was the reason they were assigned to the Enterprise. If not for you, I think I might have fallen apart a little. But you kept me together and you pushed me forward. And after that, well… you became more than my friend. You were my anchor. You helped make me into a Captain that people respected and looked up to. Hell you helped make me a man that I could respect.”

Kirk looked up at him then. The tears had stopped, but his cheeks were still damp and his eyes were ringed with red. “It was so easy to fall for you,” he murmured as the corners of his lips played at the beginnings of a smile. “I was falling before I even realized it was happening and once I was there, it was too late to stop it. All I could do was just bury it deep down and pray to God that you didn’t notice. I knew it would ruin everything if it ever came out. I knew if I ever got lucky enough to actually touch you that there’d be no turning back. When you told me you were leaving though, that was the moment that I finally understood my mother. I loved you and you were leaving and it scared the hell out of me because I knew what I’d become without you there.”

“Jim,” Spock breathed out and he reached forward and tugged Kirk into his lap. There was no resistance in the other man. His body moved willingly and once there, Kirk all but melted in to him.

“I love you,” Kirk whispered as he brought his hands up to cup Spock’s cheeks. “I love you so much and… and when I finally came back to myself and I saw you laying there. Oh god, Spock,” he rasped and Spock gathered him closer as he started to breakdown again. “I had your blood on my hands and I thought you were dead. I thought I’d killed you. I couldn’t… I don’t think I could have survived that. I can’t… you can’t leave me, okay? You can’t ever leave me because I don’t think I can do this without you.”

The tears were falling again and Spock closed the small gap between them to kiss each and every one of them away. His heart was pounding and the world was spinning out of control, but Kirk kept him centered and he held on tight. The doubts were gone. His worry and fear of the future and what was to come had faded away. This, what they shared between them, it was all that mattered and Spock would gladly give up everything to keep it.

“Only death could ever part me from you, Jim,” he assured him and cuddled the man in closer to him. “And even death could not take from me the love I bear you. I have been and always shall be yours.” Jim smiled at that and it was as though the sun had risen there in the heart of the mountain.

Spock kissed that smile. He kissed the lips he loved and the love they shared between them burned a brand onto every atom of his being. He was loved and loved in returned. Kirk was his and he was Kirk’s. No matter what happened after today, they would carry a part of each other on through this life and into the next. He needed then, in that moment, to bind them so that even once they’d been forced to part, they would always and forever be touching.

His hand rose, his fingers searching out the meld points on his lover’s face, and Kirk sighed as he offered his face up to him. “My mind to your mind,” Spock murmured and the rest of the world melted away.

They fell into each other; tumbled and rolled and coiled together until there was nothing left separate of the two. He felt Kirk in him and around him. They were one in a way that he’d never felt with another. Kirk was love and life. He was friend and brother, Captain and lover. He was home and heart and every star that made up the universe. They were fire and ice; one licking hot and needy at the core, the other melting away to cool and quench the burning desire. The essence of them twisted and turned, bled so deeply into the other that the landscape of their minds became one and when they surfaced from the meld it was to bucking hips, shaking limbs, and aching throb of their shared arousal.

Kirk was gasping and rocking in his arms, riding out the near orgasmic bliss that their union had left him drowning in. Spock fared little better. His own hips thrust up, seeking the comforts of the tight, hot body that was so lovingly pressed against him. Neither of them gave a care for the very public arena they found themselves in or noticed that the willowy curtains of foliage that hung down from the branches of the tree had closed around them, blocking them from view.

“Spock,” Kirk gasped and whined as his fingers curled against the sides of Spock’s neck. “Please. Need you inside of me.”

“Jim, I…” he rasped, but Kirk cut him off with hungry lips and wandering hands.

They ate at each other, ravenous after the joining of their minds. And the presence of that bond was intoxicating. It was unlike anything that Spock had ever experienced before. It was deeper than the weak connection they had shared before. It was deeper even than that bond he’d shared with T’Pring. He could feel Kirk inside of him as though they were still twisted around each other. He knew what he needed, his emotions, his thoughts, everything. It was all there. They were one entity now, bound together for all eternity.

So lost in his exploration of the bond was he that Spock hadn’t noticed Kirk shedding his trousers. He gasped though when his lover’s talented hands pulled him free of his own. Spock was hard and aching and the touch of that hand wrapped around him was nearly his undoing. He gasped and bucked, thrusting himself into that tight ring of fingers.

“Jim!” he moaned and found that he could not stop. He just thrust and thrust until the world threatened to spin right off its axis and turn them all on their heads.

Kirk stayed right along with him. He jerked at him, palmed and worked his cock until copious amounts of precome were leaking down Spock’s shaft and smearing over his fingers. Everything moved so quickly after that. They were kissing and touching, loving each other so completely and Spock stared in wonder as his lover lifted himself up and began working himself down onto his own fingers, preparing himself. It wouldn’t take much. Their lovemaking the night before had undoubtedly left him loose and ready. Still, Spock’s eager juices would leave Kirk slicked and willing.

One thrust, two, and Kirk was moaning and humping his body against him. Spock’s hands were on his hips, digging in to precious skin and bone. A hand wrapped around him again, guiding, and before Spock could suck in a breath in preparation, Kirk was sinking down onto him until he was seated completely against him.

“Fuck fuck!” Kirk groaned, his hips jerking with small, desperate little thrusts. His arms had come up around Spock’s shoulders and that sinful mouth of his was working against the shell of one of Spock’s ears. “Please fuck me. Please please please. Need you so much. Love you. Loveyouloveyouloveyou.”

And just like that, the control that he’d fought so hard for and had finally regained, snapped. Spock tightened his hold on Kirk’s hips, lifted him up, and then slammed him back down on top of him. They cried out in unison and both began to rut and hump against each other in wild abandon. They were all slick heat and sliding flesh, groping fingers and hot, wet kisses.

It was too much though; too much agonizing pleasure and need to sustain them for long. Spock could already feel his end pooling hot and heavy in his belly. He reached blindly for one of Kirk’s hands and laced their fingers together as his other arm wrapped around his lover’s waist. From his mouth spilled forth slurred and passionate declarations of love and belonging and promises all laid bare in his native Vulcan tongue. Kirk chuckled breathless and then cried out as Spock drove himself into that tight bundle of nerves within him.

“Yes!” Kirk gasped out and worked his hips harder and faster. “There! Oh God, Spock, do that again!”

Spock did. He shoved them both forward, pressed Kirk’s back into the ground, and fucked into him until his lover was writhing and begging and falling utterly and complete apart beneath him. Spock hissed at the bite of nails from the hand that had shoved its way underneath the back of his shirt and grunted against the clinging tug of muscled legs that were wrapped around him. He thrust and thrust and thrust; jarred them both right down to their bones. And when he found himself standing along the edge of the precipice, he reached a hand between them, took his lover in hand, and pulled him along with him.

Kirk’s body arched beneath him and the man sang praise to his name as he spilled himself shatteringly hard and hot between them. Spock watched in wonder as his unbreakable Captain fractured and fell apart. It was the most breathtaking sight he’d ever stood witness too. So breathtaking in fact, that it yanked the invisible cord attached to his groin and the walls of his own destruction cracked and gave way. He burst with a sharp cry of Kirk’s name and spilled himself into the still contracting body of the man he loved.

They panted and rocked against each other for a few more blessed moments and then Spock lowered himself enough to press a soft kiss the Kirk’s lips before rolling off of him completely. His lover followed him, curling tightly in against his side, and they held on to each other as though their very existence depended upon it.

“Our bond, it was there, Jim,” Spock panted softly as he raked his fingers through Kirk’s short, blonde hair. “It must have survived somehow… perhaps when I touched your face just before I lost consciousness.”

“That would certainly explain why my mind just all the sudden sorted itself out I guess,” Kirk murmured and he pressed a kiss to the center of Spock’s chest. “I guess I just needed you to anchor me down like always.”

“Indeed,” Spock huffed and drew in a deep breath before letting himself relax fully, his eyes sliding shut. “It would explain why my own mind is calmer than it has been in weeks.”

Kirk snorted out a soft chuckle. “Who knew I’d be a calming influence on you.”

“Klingons and Romulans combined calling for a summit of peace would have been more likely,” Spock mused and Kirk twisted one of Spock’s nipples in retaliation.

“Hey!” Kirk snapped with feigned irritation. The effect was lessened somewhat by the playful spark in his eyes and the trembling curl at the corners of his mouth. “I’m not that bad.”

Spock actually chuckled and tugged Kirk in closer against him. “You are worse, Jim,” he teased and then lifted his head to press a kiss into his lover’s hair. “But I love you in spite of it.”

Kirk grumbled for a moment, but soon settled down against him and rested his head on Spock’s chest. “I love you too, Spock. Even if I may forget to say it sometimes. I hope you’ll always know that I do.”

Bringing up his hand, Spock brushed his fingers across Kirk’s temple and then let that hand fall to his lover’s shoulder. “I will always know your heart, Jim. And you will always know mine.”

“Always?” Kirk mumbled and Spock could hear the heavy pull of sleep creeping in.

“Always, Jim,” Spock assured him softly and kissed the top of his head once more before letting his own body settle into the first pulls of sleep.

*****

“Your light has returned, Child,” Namiri stated as she came to stand by Spock’s side. “I can feel the easing of your spirit.

Spock nodded, his gaze lingering on the sight of Kirk and McCoy talking with some of the Thesalit people. “This place has given me a great many things, T’Sai Namiri. I thank you for that.”

“There is no need for thanks,” she told him and he finally looked to her and the serene smile that always seemed to shine on her face. “Things are as they should be now and the way of things may yet be righted. I saw the heart of your Jim, the way things came to be for the two of you.”

Reaching out, Namiri placed one of her small hands on Spock’s side, just over his heart. “I grieve with thee for the loss of so many,” she told him. “And I thank the Elder for creating the bond between you and your Jim. Because of his unintended misstep, your future will be born of hope and unexpected blessings.”

Confused, Spock could not help but ask for clarification. “The Elder? How exactly is my counterpart responsible for my bond with Jim?”

Namiri simply smiles again and pulled her hand away. “The touching of minds that you share, the Elder shared this touch with the young one. It was innocent, just a transference of information from one to the other. His own bond with his own light had been severed though and when he touched that familiar mind once more, it was mended. The strength of it was weakened, because you are the same in all things physical, but different in the rest. A bridge was formed though and when you touched the young one’s mind, the bond sought out that same connection.”

Spock’s eyes went wide and he nearly shook himself in shock. A wash of concern bore down on him and he looked to find Kirk’s worried gaze seeking out his own. Kirk was moving towards him a second later with McCoy on his heels.

“What’s wrong?”

Spock had to take a moment to still himself. He was not angry about what had transpired, but he could not deny the burning flash of jealousy that had speared through him.

“You never told me that my counterpart bonded with you on Delta Vega,” Spock stated calmly.

Kirk’s brows shot up. “I… he didn’t! I mean, all he did was show me how the whole nightmare with Nero had gotten started and how they’d both ended up in the past. It was a quick in and out thing so we could skip a long, detailed conversation that I probably wouldn’t have believed in the first place.”

Spock’s eyebrow twitched and he tucked his hands behind his back. “That is not all that he shared with you.”

“I… what?” Kirk asked, clearly confused. The expression on McCoy’s face was one of exasperation. It was as though the Doctor expected things like this out of his sometimes painfully dim Captain.

“When my counterpart melded with you, the bond he shared with his own Jim had been severed and left unmended. As you are, in essence, the same James T. Kirk, his mind automatically sought out yours to heal what had been broken. Being that you were not his Kirk however, the bond was weak at best and easily buried away. Though I am sure he was aware of it afterwards and I am unsure as to why he would not inform you of such a connection. Furthermore, because a bond had been established between yourself and my counterpart, but not nurtured…”

Spock broke off for a moment and realized that he’d not told the Captain about how he’d helped him to forget. That, in and of itself, was just as much a violation as what his counterpart had done.

“I… there was a mission almost a year ago now,” he began again, this time with a softer tone. “You were heartbroken over the loss of a woman you’d become acquainted with during that mission. You… fell in love with her only to find out that she was a robot.” Spock cast his gaze downward in shame and contrition. “I had never seen you in such pain and I, at the time, only wished to ease it for you so I… I touched your mind while you slept and made you forget. When I did this though, your own untended bond with my counterpart sought me out and connected us.”

“What?!” The outburst had clearly come from McCoy and when Spock looked up, he found both men glaring at him.

“Forgive me, Jim. In my desire to protect you, I violated the trust you placed in me,” he stated softly. Spock knew that Kirk could feel the remorse and shame that he was feeling. He also felt the white-hot stabbing pain of betrayal and disappointment that flowed from Kirk through their bond. That more than anything nearly put Spock on his knees.

Kirk just sighed and shook his head. “I get that you were trying to protect me, Spock, but you don’t ever… ever… get to invade my mind without express consent. Do you understand me? What you did…” he sighed again and moved forward until he was pressed to Spock’s front. “What you did was stupid and unnecessary, but it got us here and I can’t be angry at you for that. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the doghouse though. When we get back on the ship, we’re going to sit down and talk about what you can and cannot do in my head.”

“Yes, Jim,” Spock agreed and dropped his head down so that he could press his face into the cool skin of his lover’s neck.

He heard McCoy snort out an exasperated laugh next to them. “I don’t know why you two bother even being angry with each other in the first place.”

“Oh shut up, Bones,” Kirk chastised. “It’s not like you aren’t in the same damn boat now.”

“Don’t remind me,” the Doctor grumped and Spock felt the addition of the man’s warmth wrap around him. “I just might deny it later and pretend that none of this insanity ever happened.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” Kirk snapped out. “Not if you want to continue getting laid.”

“For Christ sake, Jim!” McCoy softly snarled. “We aren’t exactly alone you know. Forgive him, Lady Namiri, he sometimes forgets that he’s not a crude, backwater country boy anymore.”

Namiri giggled in response and her laugh echoed in the cavern around them like the tinkling of wind chimes.

“You know,” came another voice from behind them, “this would be slightly awkward and embarrassing if it wasn’t so painfully obvious to the rest of us.”

McCoy released them both as Spock straightened and Kirk yelled out, “Sulu!”

The Lt. Commander was standing a few feet away from them with Nyota and a full security detail flanking him. Sulu looked amused, as did Chief of Security Hendorff. Nyota seemed caught somewhere between amused, shocked, and sad. The other members of the security detail were pretending valiantly that they hadn’t just caught both of their commanding officers and their CMO sharing a rather intimate group hug.

“How the hell did you manage to find us through all the damn interference?” Kirk asked after he’d walked forward and had given Sulu a brief hug and pat on the back.

“Scotty,” Sulu replied with a huge grin. “Before the Commander and Dr. McCoy left on the shuttle, Scotty worked his magic on a few tricorders and communicators. We found the shuttle first and after some fine tuning from the Chief, he managed to pin point your exact location.”

“Nice to see all three of you still in one piece,” Nyota added, though her eyes were only for Spock. She moved forward slowly and wrapped her arms around his middle, hugging him. “I’m glad you didn’t listen to me.”

Spock wrapped one arm around her slender shoulders and pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head. “Thank you, Nyota.”

He felt a surge of uneasy affection roll over him and Spock looked to find Kirk staring at him while McCoy and Sulu chatted quietly off to the side. Seeing Spock and Nyota interact the way they did made Kirk uneasy. It made him question himself; made him question what they had and Spock quickly leveled a glare at him and sent through their link all the love and affection he held for him. Kirk ducked his head, suddenly ashamed for having doubted him.

“You,” Nyota snarled, suddenly turning away from Spock and pulling out of his grasp to stalk towards their Captain. Kirk’s eyes had grown wide and Spock watched his lover gather himself up for the verbal reaming he was about to receive.

“Don’t you ever scare me like that again,” she snapped out, her voice shaky with unshed tears, and she wrapped her arms around him as well. “We thought you were dead you stupid, infuriating asshole.”

“You know me,” Kirk replied and winked at Spock before wrapping his arms around Nyota and squeezing her tight. “Anything for an excuse to cuddle the most beautiful girl in the universe.”

Nyota gave an undignified snort before smacking Kirk hard on the chest. “Inbred townie hick,” she huffed out.

Kirk snickered and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Uptight mouthy bitch.”

She let loose another snort and snuggled her way under Kirk’s arm, wrapped her arm around his waist, and then looked back and forth between the both of them. “Can we go home now?” she asked with a slightly pleading tone. “I need a vacation from all of this male macho bullshit.”

“That would be acceptable,” Spock replied and moved to stand with his hand resting just below Kirk’s arm at the center of her back. “Though I do believe we have a few miners to deal with before we leave.”

“That we do, Mr. Spock,” Kirk replied and there was this dark sort of fury that settled in his lover’s eyes. He could feel the man’s righteous anger flowing off of him in suffocating waves.

*****

The raid on the mining township went down hard and fast. They’d had two other security details beamed down to a location just outside of the city and with the help of the Thesalit and their tunnel networks through the mountains, they’d met them there. Kirk split them into three teams, one headed by himself, the other by Spock, and the third by Sulu. Spock hadn’t been happy about the separation, but he’d acquiesced because even if they weren’t physically together now, they couldn’t be parted. He would feel if his lover was in danger.

Sulu’s team had been instructed to storm the mine and take into custody all of the guards there. Kirk had gone straight for Yorlois and Cyrus to cut the head off of the beast and make sure that nothing like this ever happened again. Spock had wanted Grisham. He’d wanted to hurt the man. He’d wanted to break every bone in the man’s hands to ensure that he’d never hold another phaser or even be able to lift a spoon to feed himself. And there was a part of Spock, a dark, barbaric part of him that thrilled when Grisham had fought back. Grisham had fired upon them, refused to be taken into custody, and Spock had dealt the man the same blow Grisham had dealt Kirk. He’d fired two shots into the man’s heart without so much as blinking. He would not mourn the man nor regret his actions that day.

When they’d also managed to round up Slade and Barnes, Spock joined Kirk and Sulu back at the beam up location. Yorlois’ enforcers had been taken into custody and already beamed aboard the Enterprise. They, like their boss, would spend their time in the brig before being turned over to the Federation for prosecution.

“You can’t do this!” Yorlois snarled as Spock came to stand next to Kirk. “We aren’t bound by Federation law here! You have no right!”

“We have every right,” Spock snarled back. “You tried to assassinate a Federation Captain and murdered two other officers!”

Yorlois paled a bit, but continued to glare. Kirk just pressed a hand to Spock’s chest and Spock felt a wave of calm ease over him. He was starting to get a little sick of people dictating his emotions to him; which was both amusing and painfully frustrating all at once.

“You lied to the Federation, Yorlois,” Kirk stated and glared right back at the man. “You assured us that this planet was uninhabited when you settled here and that, I think we all know, was a lie. You’ve enslaved these people, killed countless others, and yes… the Federation has every right to walk in here and yank it right out from under you. The Thesalit people have requested aide and asylum. You and your men will be prosecuted by the full extent of the law and I promise you this… you will never see the light of day again. I will make sure that they bury you in the deepest, darkest hole they can find and that you stay there.”

Yorlois glared back but Kirk was ignoring him now in favor of snapping open his communicator. “Scotty!” he yelled into it.

“Aye, Cap’in,” Scotty called back.

“Beam the rest of this scum aboard and toss them into the brig for me will ya?”

“You betcha,” Scotty replied happily. “I’ll make sure they’re tucked in nice and cozy.”

Spock heard the underlying threat in those words and chose to ignore the implications. No doubt, by some strange turn of events, the cameras would fail in the holding cells at some point during their journey home and no one would be able to explain the bruises or the bloody cuts and split lips that would follow. McCoy would likely be put out at having to send someone to tend to the prisoners though. Spock was sure he wouldn’t do it himself and there was no way either he or Kirk would order him to.

Yorlois and the rest of his men disappeared a moment later. The security teams were beamed up a moment later and that left Kirk, Spock, and Sulu standing with Namiri and a few of the Thesalit elders.

“We cannot thank you enough for saving our people, Captain Kirk,” one of the elders said and that was the first time that Spock could remember any of them actually addressing them personally. So far, their interaction had been through Namiri alone.

“We feared, at first, that you would be as the others. But we are glad to be proven wrong,” another stated and Kirk just shook his head.

“I don’t need thanks. Your people saved my life and offered safe haven to me and my men.” Kirk glanced to Spock and his smile softened. “You’ve also given me something I never thought I’d have.” He looked back to the elders and bowed his head. “Giving you your freedom back was the least I could do. And please, if you ever require anything, I’ll make sure that I am always there to help if I can.”

The elders bowed as well and then Namiri reached out her hand to place it upon Kirk’s shoulder. “I will miss you, Young One. You have shown me so many wondrous things. Just be sure to accept and welcome with open arms your own blessings when they are bestowed upon you. You have a many great adventures still left before you and I have no doubt that your mark on the stars will be a memorable one.”

Kirk chuckled and leaned in to press a soft kiss to her cheek. “Thank you, Namiri… for my life and my heart. I fear I would have lost him without you.”

“Not lost, Child,” she murmured and smiled as she patted his cheek. “Only misplaced for a time. All things that are meant to be will eventually find there way home.”

Spock opened his mouth to speak, but looked down with a start when something bumped his ankle. Meeka was at his feet, warbling softly, and butting his head for attention. Spock huffed out a small laugh, surprising both Kirk and Sulu, and reached down to retrieve the little one and lift him into his arms.

“I believe I have you to thank most of all, Little One,” Spock murmured and scratched gently behind Meeka’s ear. “It was you who kept me from losing myself. I thank you for that. I only wish I could repay the gift you have given me.”

Meeka warbled happily, his tails twitching and swaying to and fro. Namiri approached them with Kirk and Sulu in tow. “Meeka is a precious one, S’chn T’gai Spock. When Yorlois and his men came with their ship and their weapons, Meeka’s parents were among the first to die. The small group of settlers that rose up against their leader’s tyranny rescued him. He would not take to the others though. He allowed them to care for him, but he would not change from the form you see now. You are the first that he has shared himself with.”

“Thank you, Meeka,” Spock said and hugged the little one gently. “I am honored.”

Meerka warbled again, his gaze flicking back and forth between Spock and Namiri. Namiri smiled.

“He does not wish to be parted from you,” Namiri mused and reached out to run her own hand down Meeka’s back.

The corners of Spock’s mouth pulled down, not at the thought of taking Meeka with him, but from the knowledge that he could not. “I fear that a starship is no place for one like Meeka,” he replied sadly and Meeka echoed his sadness with a subdued, pitiful warble.

“Oh I don’t know,” Kirk interjected and reached forward to also scratch at the back of Meeka’s ear. “It’s only for the ride home and after that, well… we won’t be on the ship. And I’ll bet money that by the time we get to Earth, every member of the crew will be in love with him. I think we could swing it and I’ll bet the brass would give us the okay if we ask.”

Spock’s eyebrow shot up and Meeka began to warble and all but bounce in Spock’s arms. Namiri’s tinkling laugh joined Meeka’s warbling and Spock found that he could not say no to three pleading sets of eyes.

With a put-upon sigh and an amused quirk of his lip, Spock gave a nod of his head. “I would cite regulations but I fear you would just ignore them,” he mused.

Kirk’s smile put the sun to shame and he gave Spock a chaste kiss on the cheek. “You do know me so well,” he murmured.

Sulu rolled his eyes.

“Go now,” Namiri said and nodded once before backing away and standing with the elders. “We will await the arrival of the other members of your Federation. Enjoy each other and send me word of our Meeka from time to time.”

“Thank you again, Lady Namiri,” Kirk said. “I look forward to seeing you again.”

“And I you, Young One,” she replied.

Spock raised his hand in the sign of the ta’al as Kirk called for Scotty to beam them up. “Live long and prosper, T’sai Namiri. You have blessed me with more than I could ever thank you for.”

“More than you know, S’chn T’gai Spock,” she replied as the familiar pull of the transporter beam locked on to them. “More than you know.”

*****

“So,” Kirk began from the Captain’s chair. Meeka was curled in his lap, purring contentedly. “Homeward bound, Mr. Sulu?”

“Aye, Captain,” Sulu replied. “It’ll be good to be home for awhile.”

“Aye,” Chekov agreed. “But not too long. Zhere is still zat nebula we picked up on ze scanners last month zat needs to be documented properly.”

McCoy just huffed and shook his head, arms crossed over his chest. “That would be a good time for you wouldn’t, Kid?”

Chekov grinned at him and his big eyes sparkled with mischief. “Nyet,” he replied. “Commander Scott’s party tonight… zat will be a good time. Nebula is excuse to hurry home again.”

“I think I could second that,” Sulu stated and smiled at the young Russian genius. Chekov smiled back and his cheeks blushed a deep shade of rosy pink. Anyone who had eyes in their head could see what was going on between the two of them.

Spock just watched on happily and couldn’t help but notice the fact that Scotty was not in engineering. Instead, he was slotted in close to Nyota and leaning over her station. He was talking and she was smiling up at him the way she used to smile at Spock. He was happy for her; happy for them both in fact.

His eyes drifted to McCoy and then to Kirk. He’d found his own happiness in the least expected places and he hoped that they would stay with him always. Kirk, more than likely well aware of Spock’s internal musings swiveled in his chair to look at him.

“What do you say, Commander,” he asked with a soft smile. “Shall we go home?”

“I would be amenable to that, Captain,” Spock agreed and sent along a silent As long as we are together to go with it.

“Home it is then,” Kirk called out and swung his chair back around to face forward. “Lay in a course for Earth, Mr. Sulu… Maximum warp.”

“Aye, Captain,” Sulu replied.

Meeka warbled happily from his place in Kirk’s lap, signaling that for some of them… Home truly was where the heart lay and that most of them were already there.