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He becomes aware of it abruptly.

It seems like something he should have seen, or suspected, earlier. But it is a very sudden understanding, when he understands at all.

They are at Neven III at a diplomatic dinner when it happens. The dinner, technically, is over; now is the time for the exhaustive socializing that seems to follow such events no matter what planet is hosting. Jim, in his dress-green tunic, is on one end of the wide room. He has lost track of Spock entirely, which makes it doubly strange when a sudden frisson of alarm sweeps through him. His head snaps up to meet Spock's gaze some thirty yards across the room over the heads of a milling crowd of alien dignitaries.

In a moment, he understands what is happening. “Everyone needs to evacuate! Keep calm!”

A baffled silence falls around him.

Over near Spock, a sudden struggle starts to take place; the Vulcan is wrestling someone for a disruptor pistol. As this becomes clear people understandably find Jim's suggestion much more sensible, and a stampede for the exit ensues.

It's only later – much later, after the Enterprise debriefing – that Jim stops, and thinks; now, how did I know that?

He supposes there are rational explanations. He knows Spock very well by now. It could have been good luck, looking up to see him at just that moment – but his intuition tells him differently, and by now Jim trusts that sense. He uses the intercom to ask Spock to meet him in his quarters.

The way Spock carefully looks at the walls wipes away any hint of doubt.

He stands, meandering slowly around the room as though he doesn't know precisely what he's doing. Spock keeps his hands folded carefully behind his back, staring straight ahead.

“So,” Jim starts the conversation. “I don't think I'm crazy, do you, Spock?”

“Never, Sir.”

“I don't think this is a 'Sir' conversation,” he guesses.

“...No,” says Spock, more quietly.

Jim turns, facing Spock squarely. “I felt something down there – I knew you were in a dangerous situation but I don't know how, or why.” Jim waits. When nothing is forthcoming, he continues, “...and, I have a problem with that.”

“We call it t'hy'la,” Spock says.

“So you know what this is?”

“Yes.” Spock isn't looking at him. “On Vulcan, it would not need to be explained – it is a positive thing. Spontaneous mental bonds can form between – people of certain affinities, who spend enough time together, though it is rare. But I was uncertain how to broach the subject – it should not need to be addressed.”

“Except that I'm human.”

“Yes. And incapable of shielding your mind, or having any choice in this.” Spock hesitates. “I would understand if you wish to have the bond – broken.” Does he imagine it, the way Spock's breath changes around the word? “It can be done, and I would not - “

“Spock,” Jim interrupts. His eyes have grown considerably warmer. “You know I've always welcomed your telepathy.”

Spock looks at him – and he seems surprised by what he sees. “This is considerably different,” he warns slowly. “Very intimate, and – long-lasting. Bonds deepen with time. They can become painful to remove, later.”

Jim smiles faintly. “I won't be changing my mind,” he says.


 

He wants to experiment with the bond, now that he fully recognizes its existence; but he also acknowledges that Spock will surely become aware of any attempts. He will probably not approve or be comfortable with the tampering. But he does pay close attention to the interactions between himself and his first officer, and what he finds is a little surprising.

He wonders how he never noticed it before, the way he catches himself thinking, almost randomly, “Spock is tired. I should make him rest.” Or, “Spock is awake. Let's see if he's up for a game of chess.” Or even, more eerily, “I need to get this to Spock – he's in the science labs right now.”

Strangely, no one else seems confused when he makes the mistake of voicing his assumptions aloud. Perhaps he's the only one who never noticed, then, because everyone around him seems to take his matter-of-fact knowledge as something natural.

Sometimes, more rarely, he thinks he can see why people call Spock cold. There are odd moments where he looks at Spock and the outside does not match the bond.

Like today, with the simple task of star-charting:

“An anomalous reading,” Spock reports crisply, back straight. “The radiation patterns from the dwarf star are impossible by our understanding, Sir.”

“Are they?” Jim asks, with only a little curiosity. And he watches Spock.

Because on the surface, the Vulcan's face is smooth; his shoulders are drawn and tight; his hands are clasped firmly behind his back, military-correct.

Inside, though, Jim senses a niggling delight, a curiosity and fascination and darting, shy wonder. He only realizes that he's grinning when Uhura starts to stare at him.

“...Well,” he says, a little belatedly. “Find out why, Mr. Spock.”

It doesn't take long, either, for Jim to remember the Vulcan claim that curiosity is not an emotion, which is probably why Spock seems to let himself be curious about everything. It's wonderful. Sometimes Jim has to focus on restraining himself from wandering away to see just what Spock finds so fascinating. Other feelings skitter across his mind, too, but these are briefer and more fleeting. He can sense the way Spock blanks them out, acknowledging and promptly ignoring his own responses in almost every situation.

He wonders how long he has been subconsciously aware of these emotions, this pull; he wonders if, on some level, he always has been. He still can't entirely comprehend how people can claim Vulcans (and Spock in particular) are cold, or callous, or unfeeling. But he at least starts to understand that they are seeing something very, very different than what he does.

(He doesn't really regret that.)


 

Jim reaches out to stop Spock before he can leave the recreation room. “Would 1930 work for tonight? I have a video-meeting with Admiral Komack.”

“Certainly.”

Flashing a smile, he watches the Vulcan leave, then turns back to where McCoy is sitting.

And staring at him.

“...What?”

“How come you can do that?” asks McCoy speculatively.

“Do what?”

“The - “ McCoy does something weird with his hand.

“You're going to have to use your words, Bones.”

“Touching him,” McCoy says, irritated. “People don't go around touching Vulcans. Much less prickly ones like Spock.”

'Prickly' is not the first word Jim would use to define Spock.

“I don't really think about it,” he says.

“You're normally pretty good about cultural sensitivity,” McCoy points out. “Hell, even I know better than to poke around Vulcans.”

“That's not what I mean.” He frowns. “I would think about it if he minded.”

He realizes his mistake immediately; McCoy's eyebrows fly up.

“Oooh,” McCoy drawls. “If he minded. Well. Ain't you special.”

Kirk rolls his eyes, leaning back in his chair. “That's quite enough, thank you.”

“Oh, no, you're not getting away that easy. What's that supposed to mean, if he minded.”

“I'd be careful if it were another Vulcan,” he says. “But it's Spock.”

“Yeah. It is. And far as I know Spock still grew up in the Vulcan-culture and still has their creepy mind-tricks – in fact I know he has their creepy mind-tricks – so I'm not really seeing the difference.”

Jim opens his mouth – then stops.

Creepy mind tricks.

...Yes. That's why people refrain from touching Vulcans, isn't it? To prevent their minds from touching...

McCoy is waiting for an answer.

“Oh,” he says, very slowly. “I'd say that makes a very big difference, Bones. A very big difference, indeed.”


 

Spock starts giving him shielding lessons after two months. Jim's first question is, “Do I need to shield? Is it polite?” And Spock looks at him and says that no, he has no obligation to do so, but he should always have the option. Also, it is a good technique to have on hand in case they run across telepathic foes in the future, and now with his telepathic senses heightened by the bond Jim should be able to maintain some slight resistance against intrusions.

Jim concedes that the last reason, at least, is worthwhile, so he never complains about the lessons.

He also has another gift, which is a very alien-looking pendant with Vulcan script on it. Vulcans do not lightly give gifts, so he accepts it graciously and does not bother wondering about the matter.

He nearly forgets about it until a few weeks later, when the Enterprise is granted shore leave on Jentana IV. Shore leave, of course, means civilian dress.

And it's only proper to express gratitude for a gift by wearing it, right? Besides, the pendant is pleasant enough to look at, even if its weight is strange around his neck – simple and flat, made of black obsidian, with scrawling script made of what might be gold flakes. It's small and fits close to his throat and he forgets about it after a few hours of wandering through a large bazaar on the planet's western continent.

Which is why it's jarring, suddenly, when an unknown Vulcan steps in front of him and demands, “Why are you wearing that?”

“Excuse me?”

The woman's face is blank, her eyes hard. “Why are you wearing that pendant, human?”

Jim starts. “...Is there a reason I shouldn't?”

“Only members of the House of Surak should bear that marker.”

He knows Vulcans well enough, he likes to think, to tell that she is practically bristling with indignation. Or, perhaps it doesn't even take someone familiar with the species to tell; they're starting to attract a few odd looks.

“It was a gift. I didn't mean to offend.”

“You should not wear it,” she says. “And I would ask again where you, or your donor, obtained it; such things should not be found off Vulcan.”

He frowns. “He is Vulcan.”

She goes very still. “ - Excuse me?”

“He is Vulcan. The one who gave it to me. Look, is it a big deal?”

The woman is staring at the pendant again, eyes a little wide. Then, suddenly, her expression smooths again.

“...If a member of the Clan has given it to you, that is his prerogative,” she says slowly. “ - Disregard what I have said; I spoke in error.”

It's the closest to an apology he can expect. But it still doesn't tell him anything about the pendant.

As she turns to leave, he stops her, and asks; “Can you tell me what it means, then? If it's so important?”

“If you do not know, it is not my place,” she says. And she leaves.


 

After some consideration, Jim does not ask about the pendant. But he does think long and hard about the encounter on Jentana.

A member of the House of Surak, she had said. Only members of the House of Surak should bear that marker. Vulcans are very precise; were there any exceptions to that custom, any at all, she would have made that clarification clear in her definition.

He has a few suspicions; but, now does not seem like a good time to broach any of them.

(He'll have to make a time, then...)


 

Sometimes, Spock looks at him like he wants to say something. His gaze lingers and shifts, his jaw works, and he breathes deep as though preparing for a speech.

But, in the end, he looks away; he says nothing.

That's fine. Jim can wait. Because he knows, in time, he'll understand.


 

After the fourth time Spock mind-melds with an alien creature for the purpose of a mission, they go back to the Enterprise and Jim asks, “What is it like?”

“To what are you referring?”

They go into Spock's quarters today, greeted by a wash of dry heat and red light. “To know someone's mind.”

Spock glances at him, unreadable. “You are always in my mind, Captain.”

“Not like that.”

“Do you want to be?”

It does not seem like an idle question. With deliberation, Jim pauses, then says, “Don't you?”

Spock seems to accept this as an answer.

He turns suddenly, standing close. Jim waits, feeling his own pulse loud and roaring in his ears as Spock's gaze flicks down to meet him. One long-fingered hand rises with delicate precision, lowering softly over the edges of his face.

His mind buzzes as the telepathic link widens, expanding. Spock bends his head closer, until Jim can pick out the minute striations and alien-ruddy flecks on his irises. Then his eyes close, and Spock takes a slow breath. Jim raises his own arm, gripping convulsively at his friend as though for balance.

“My mind, to your mind...”

They fall.

They fall through glass tunnels that open into vacant spaces, void spaces, wild jeweled star-scapes where wings are needed to traverse safely. And they spin wings of steel and silver and crystal, flying to meet each other -

They are melting and they are solid, one being. They resonant together. “Here,” they say, and rifle through memories like pages of a book, sharing, reminiscing; a summer day, a childhood hurt, a love lost and forgotten.

A natural wave dampens their wings. They fight it, and fly higher. They reach the sun. “Icarus, Icarus, remember Icarus,” they whisper together, but the name means nothing here, and the lights are all so bright -

They spread themselves through the blackness and fill the empty places until nothing is empty, everything is Them. It is almost Too Much, a sensation of bursting, and they – and Jim -

Jim -

The mind breaks with a wild snap of broken tension. Jim shudders himself through it, dazed and gasping. His face is cold and damp; his vision is blurred with blue. He realizes the warmth against his face, his chest, in his arms, is his first officer. He loosens his hold, and leans back enough to look Spock in the face.

“Are you alright?” He asks.

Spock is staring at him vacantly.

“Hey.”

He reaches up to touch the Vulcan's shoulder. Spock is breathing shallowly, staring at him. Between them, Jim can feel the hum of telepathy still spinning, ready to join them once more. He could lose himself like that, he thinks.

“You are so much,” says Spock at last, helplessly.

Jim knows exactly what he means.


 

On Trillanis V, Spock is injured.

He isn't injured seriously – not by their usual standards, anyway – but it is enough to land him in Sickbay. Being gored in the gut by an angry animal could do far worse, but luckily he has gotten off with only a glancing blow.

Still, the damage will take time to heal even with the copious aid of dermal-regenerators, and Spock has once again declined sedatives and painkillers in favor of Vulcan pain-management practices, much to the disgust of the entire medical staff. Jim isn't thrilled, either – Spock looks about ready to faint – but he understands the reasoning.

“I don't suppose it would be helpful,” he says, when they are alone in Sickbay, “to tell you that your biologists are very excited about the corpse of the animal that speared you? Apparently the muscle-to-bone ratio should be completely unfeasible. And it has no brain.”

“It is always excellent to hear that one's contribution to science is meaningful,” says Spock dryly. He shifts his shoulders, moving back on the biobed with evident pain.

Jim tenses, watching him, then reaches out. “I wish I could help,” he says.

Spock looks down.

Jim has caught their hands together. Now he turns the Vulcan's wrist, twisting their hands palm-to-palm. Their fingers barely brush, but he sweeps one thumb with rough strokes over the side of Spock's hand.

“...You are doing quite enough,” says Spock, and Jim smiles.

The door opens.

“So do you want painkillers yet?” McCoy demands, half-engrossed in a padd. He has a hypo in the other hand, obviously ready to fight if the answer is 'no'. “I'll never believe that Vulcan mumbo-jumbo about - “

McCoy stops suddenly as he looks up.

“I am quite adequate, Doctor,” Spock answers. “Your supposed cures do more harm than good to my physiology – though I appreciate the attempt.”

“...Right,” says McCoy slowly, his eyes lingering on the pair's clasped hands. “...Tell me if you change your mind.” He turns his head, eyebrows crawling up. “...And how are you doing, Jim?”

“Me? Fine.”

“Hmm.” McCoy looks between them again.

Jim glances down as Spock shifts, and can't quite keep himself from smiling.

“...If you need anything,” McCoy says again. “I'll be in my office,” and he's gone.


 

On shore leave, McCoy is busy back on the ship fussing over a few quarantined crewmen, and Spock is still on duty. Jim is down on the planet with Scotty, and they find themselves – without really planning it – at a pleasant enough bar, a sort of quiet corner better for privacy than anything.

Which seems strange, because Scotty is usually the type to seek company and exuberance on shore leave. Jim enjoys exploring something new, or relaxing. Yet somehow there seems to be little of interest to him here.

“You alright, Captain? You seem a mite restless.”

“Oh – I'm fine.”

Scotty doesn't push. Scotty never pushes. The engineer sips at his scotch, rolling a piece of ice between his teeth.

“What do you think about her?” he asks abruptly, and nods his head at a short Deltan woman across the room.

“What? What about her?”

Scotty just hums and sips at his drink affably. “Crew's talking,” he says, conversationally. “Nothing bad, captain. But they're talking. Thought you should know.”

A little mystified, Jim picks up his own glass, but doesn't drink. “Talking,” he repeats.

“Mmm.”

“About, Scotty?”

At that, Scotty just huffs a little, and takes a long swig of his scotch.

After a pause, Jim does the same.

He goes back to the ship; he doesn't really need more time off.

He does need to think, though, and he sits for a long while considering what to do.


 

And, the next day, Jim asks this question:

“You said I'm your t'hy'la. But what does that mean?”

“You know what it means,” says Spock. “It is everything we are.”

Jim considers this answer carefully, and then has another question. “But is it everything we could be?”

Spock does not answer.

So Jim takes the risk. He stands in front of Spock and reaches up. He places one hand on Spock's face, and presses forward to kiss him gently.

A pair of arms draw around his shoulders.

When he leans back, the Vulcan is watching him. “Is this t'hy'la?” he has to ask.

“It is everything we are,” Spock repeats softly, and reaches down to entwine their hands.

And Jim knows they're going to be just fine.