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>data point 001<

 

It’s not even a full goddamn month into their five-year mission before Jim snaps and summons all the bridge crew to his quarters off-shift.  McCoy gets a private comm that just says bring the good stuff, so he expects that when he shows up it will be to an already-drunk Jim, grabby and working towards clingy, looking to get properly smashed like they did in the good old pre-commission days. 

 

Instead, he arrives at the same time as Chekov, and stops him outside the captain’s door with a glare.  The kid’s nineteen, not anywhere near old enough to drink — not in Federation space — and yet for some reason, he’s double-fisting what looks like vodka and a decanter of bright blue Romulan ale.  “The hell — ” he starts.

 

“The keptin — ” Chekov starts at the same time, but then the door is sliding open, and Jim’s smiling on the other side of it, stripped down to his undershirt and some track pants.

 

“Finally,” he says to them, and then to the room behind him, “Hey guys, the alcohol’s here.”  McCoy hears a muffled thank feckin’ god, and what sounds terrifyingly like his head nurse whooping.  Jim turns back around to McCoy’s scowl, makes a noise like pffsh, and says, “Buck up, Bones — we’re not drinking alone tonight.”

 

Chekov slips past both of them into the captain’s quarters, making his escape.  McCoy scowls some more at Jim, just for good measure.  “That kid’s not old enough to drink,” and before Jim can do anything more than open his mouth, “Dammit, this is a starship, not a frat house — ”

 

“And you’re a doctor, dammit, not a bartender,” Jim cuts him off, grabbing him by the shirt and hauling him inside before McCoy can figure out the risks versus rewards of this situation.  “Just play one round, Bones.”

 

McCoy looks around the room as the door slides closed behind them.  It’s full of Starfleet uniforms in various states of disarray — red and blue and yellow layered over regulation black underclothes.  Jim’s clean, modern quarters don’t offer much sitting space, but there are people packed onto his one couch, sitting on his desk, at the bar, on the floor between other people’s feet, most of them more relaxed than McCoy has ever seen them.

 

That’s just the effect Jim has on his crew, some days.  McCoy glances at Chapel, in pants for once — Hannity, with her hair down around her shoulders — Sulu smiling like he hasn’t since they left spaceport, ruffling Chekov’s curls as the kid sits down in front of him — Scotty with his pants rolled up past his knees — Janice Rand squeezed onto the couch next to — Uhura, and Spock, whose knees are pressed together.

 

“Play a round of what, Jim?” McCoy says, but Jim’s already got the whiskey out of his hands, he’s already pouring it into an array of shot glasses — all except for three, which look like they’re full of chocolate syrup.

 

That’s how McCoy ends up with Chapel’s head on his shoulder and an entire month’s supply of whiskey gone to terrible use, trying to keep track of the entire Enterprise command team’s alcohol intake and glare the smile off of Jim’s face over the low center table at the same time.

 

“Alright, alright,” Scotty says, loud and drunk, as Jim pours another round of Romulan ale for those that need it.  “Quiet down, sprogs, I cannae — ” Jim slides him a shot over the table, and he catches it clumsily, spilling some onto the table.  “Alright.  Never have I ever — slept with more than two people at once.”

 

Jim knocks back what’s gotta be his eighth shot of the night.  To McCoy’s absolute horror, Chapel peels herself away from his side l to gulp down a shot of whiskey, then slides her glass back over.  Jim catches it, exclaims happily, “Nurse Chapel — ” smiling that dopey loose-drunk smile that means he’s going to dance soon —

 

Hannity says, “Never have I ever been naked in public.”  Jim laughs to himself and looks down at the table — McCoy remembers the streaking incident of second year.  Scotty knocks back a shot, too, bright red.

 

Chapel must be tipsy enough that she can’t get up the coordination to leave her spot curled around McCoy’s arm, but it’s her turn next.  Never have I ever,” she draws the slurred syllables out, considering, “had to go to the hospital because I did something stupid during sex.”

 

McCoy winces and watches Jim take his shot — that had been a long night.  Chekov does a shot of Romulan ale, and Janice does her first shot of the night, still whiskey — then glances fleetingly at Chapel and blushes.  McCoy is suddenly fiercely glad he wasn’t the attending physician that night. 

 

Jim finishes pouring the next round, his aim slightly sloppier than the round before.  Everybody’s buzzed at this point, loose and laughing — except McCoy, who’s only had two shots, and Spock, who seems content to keep his post next to Uhura, not saying anything, not drinking the chocolate syrup, just sort of watching everyone else with a quiet disapproving, amused crinkle at the edges of his eyes. 

 

McCoy grins, and stars, “I’ve never — ”

 

“Never have I ever,” Jim and Scotty interrupt him, loudly and out of time, and Chapel giggles into his shoulder and slurs quietly, “Yeah, doctor — you have to say it — ”

 

He scowls at all of them, except Chapel, because she’s the best damn nurse in the Fleet, and who the fuck cares if she gets melty and cuddly when she’s drunk — he sure as hell doesn’t.  “Fine, asshats.  Never have I ever made love to someone in this room.”

 

Uhura dutifully does a shot, raising it to him before drinking.  Then she hands Spock his, and raises a perfect eyebrow until he drinks it, looking stiff, licking chocolate syrup off his lips as he sets the shot glass down. 

 

Across the center table, Jim grumbles, knocks back another shot of Romulan ale, and slams his glass rim-down on the table.  The whole room goes quiet — even varying degrees of shit-faced, the Enterprise bridge crew is still sharp as a tack — everyone’s eyes fixed on their captain, and McCoy knows they’re doing the same math he is — especially Spock, who is watching Jim unwaveringly.

 

Jim smacks his lips, looks up at all of them.  Realization dawns on his face, and he drops his head back, squinting at the ceiling, carefully not looking at any of them.  “Oh, fuck.”

 

>data point 018<

 

Spock’s captain sucks in a breath like he’s just surfaced out of deep water, and they rematerialize on the Enterprise’s transporter pad.  Most of Jim’s weight is supported by his arm across Spock’s shoulders — he’s trying to grasp Spock’s shoulder, but there’s only a weak pressure behind his fingers, his heartbeat is thready against Spock’s side, the work his lungs are doing sound like a high whine, and —

 

Over the past six months in unexplored space, the transporter room has come to signal a homecoming, for Spock.  Now, it is anything but — there is no home here while the captain is grievously injured in his arms.

 

McCoy steps up onto the transporter pad as soon as it’s clear, taking half of Jim’s weight.  Once he moves, the transporter room snaps into a flurry of activity all at once — an orderly steps to try and help the doctor move Jim onto a floating stretcher, but Spock won’t relinquish him, is unable to remove his hand from Jim’s arm even as he lays on the stretcher, and McCoy starts to run a tricorder over him.

 

“What the hell happened down there?” the doctor demands, turning his glare on Spock.  “Comms cut out — ”

 

“There was — an alien creature,” Spock supplies, on autopilot.  Nurse Chapel succeeds in detaching Spock’s fingers from Jim’s tattered uniform.  “It was gaseous, dark purple.  It fell upon the away team before we knew that it was sentient.  I believe it — it exsanguinated Ensign Mallory and Ensign Ohmer — ”

 

“Quarantine the transporter bay!” McCoy shouts over him.  Redshirt orderlies hasten to obey the order.  “Vent corridors from here to — I don’t fucking know, someone do the math for traveling gas!” 

 

Jim is very pale, his lips red-blue, chest heaving while the doctor jabs a vicious path to his veins with lines to blood and IV fluid, no time to be gentle.  Jim’s blue eyes travel across Spock’s face, catching a few times, and then settle with their gazes locked — distantly, Spock feels Chapel taking his vital signs, sees McCoy jab Jim in the neck with a hypo — and then the captain opens his mouth, windpipe clearing, and —

 

“Commander Spock,” Chapel is trying to get his attention.  Commander.”  Normally, Spock would never be rude to another crewmember, but under these circumstances, he shakes Chapel’s hands off him and steps to the captain’s side, catching the shaky hand that Jim flails in his direction.

 

He’s hit with a shockwave of sensations — pain, grief, fear not for himself but for his crew, strangling urgency that seems utterly out of place now that they’re safely aboard — before he can tame their minds apart.  Jim tries to speak, manages to rasp, “R—Rizzo.  Lieutenant Rizzo, we can’t — we can’t leave him — Spock —

 

“Captain,” Spock interrupts, “Lieutenant Rizzo was not a member of the away party — ”

 

“We can’t leave him down there, Spock,” Jim babbles on, like he hasn’t even heard him.  His memories from the past four hours are pushing at Spock’s mental shields like a battering ram, unfinessed and unfocused.  “I left him, Spock, why did you let me leave him, we can’t leave him — ”

 

Jim, Lieutenant Rizzo did not accompany us to the surface of Argus X,” Spock returns forcefully.  “He is safely on board the ship.  Furthermore, I assure you that I would never allow you to leave a member of our crew behind, under any circumstances.”

 

Jim’s eyes search his for a long minute, the doctor grumbling about goddamn code-talkers, but then their gazes lock, Jim’s clears, and the bombardment of Spock’s mind lets up, like a receding tide.  Jim blinks, and his hand tightens its grip on Spock’s, even though his muscle control is still weak, his other arm is jabbed full of needles — and Spock has seen his captain terrified, broken down, but never this lost

 

“Can you,” he says — stops, swallows, looks away from Spock.  “Can you — Lieutenant Rizzo — can you get the computer to locate him?  Tell me where he is, Commander.  Just — please.

 

>data point 064<

 

Nyota never accompanies away teams unless there’s a very high probability that her services as a translator will be needed.  She understands — she can fight, but she’s five-seven, barely more than a hundred pounds, and if it really came down to it, she wouldn’t be much help to anyone but herself in a survival situation. 

 

That’s why she was perplexed when the captain gave the order for her to join the expedition onto the carcass of the dead Klingon ship.  That’s why she’s still perplexed to find herself in this situation — following closely with Kirk, Spock, and Lieutenant Commander Giotto, phaser in one hand, treading carefully over the wrecked deck, ducking sparking conduits and protruding portions of the battered hull. 

 

She ran the scan for bio-signs herself.  There are none aboard — the crew most likely evacuated or dead — no one for her to talk to, and she’s never eager to admit it, but Nyota feels slightly out of her depth. 

 

The captain is leading them confidently through the maze of the destroyed ship as if he’s been here before, not a single footstep out of place, not a single wrong turn.  Something about the way he’s carrying himself strikes Nyota as profoundly out of place, like he’s an entirely different man since they stepped foot on the transporter pad.  She tries not to focus on it too much — not right now.

 

“Captain,” she says, as they round what most be the thousandth turn, into the thousandth empty corridor, “I think the distress signal we intercepted must have been some leftover automatic broadcast.”

 

Kirk glances back at her, his expression much older than his years in the harsh red emergency lighting.  “No, Lieutenant,” he says.  “Someone sent that signal.  I know it.”

 

She wants to ask how he could possibly know it — how he could even believe that it might possibly be true, with no bio-signs and half the interior vented into the abyss.  But Spock meets her gaze, and shakes his head very minutely — he must have a better idea of what’s going on than she does, somehow.

 

They continue on, Giotto bringing up the rear of their little party.  Nyota feels uneasy — something about this ship seems off, because while the exterior was distinctly Klingon, the interior isn’t anything more than a confusion of corridors — they’ve passed no armories, no war rooms, no barracks, no sign of Klingon text or technology at all.  Nyota’s sure Spock has noticed the same thing, but he hasn’t said anything.

 

Kirk leads them around a last corner, the gangway sloping downard, and they’re in a massive cargo hold.

 

It’s nothing like Nyota has ever seen — high ceilings that end in a sort of dome, walls and floors studded with what look like signal interruptors, cargo crates hoisted off the floor on thick cables, perforated with holes.  She inhales, and nearly chokes on the stench — it smells like something has died in here, recently.

 

Kirk holsters his phaser, walks a beeline straight across the hold without clearing any of the blind corners or even looking around.  Spock hastens after him, doing what the captain has neglected to do, but Kirk has already reached his apparent destination — a crate hung particularly low to the ground, nearly at eye level.

 

His face goes tight and quietly angry, the way it does when he doesn’t want his crew to know that anything is wrong.  “Lieutenant Uhura,” he says, “come over here.”

 

She goes, Giotto flanking her the whole way.  It’s strangely quiet, the only sound their footsteps and some sort of strange rhythmic hum — not the engines, in this state of disability, but something else.  Spock meets her eyes briefly as she approaches him and the captain, and she’s catalogued most of his microexpressions but she doesn’t recognize this one, tense jaw and set mouth, dark eyebrows downturned.

 

“You speak Orion, Lieutenant?” Kirk asks, even though he should already know the answer to that.

 

She starts to answer of course, but then she looks over at the crate they’re standing in front of, and freezes.  There are a child’s chubby green fingers hooked through the perforations, and when she tries to adjust her focus to see into the crate, she sees multiple pairs of eyes, wide in the darkness, staring out at them. “Captain?” she asks, because she’s not sure —

 

“This is an Orion slave ship, Lieutenant,” he supplies, in answer.  “Disguised to look like a Klingon warbird, so that it could trade in Klingon space.”  He looks back to the crate, and his eyes soften, and she knows that he’s remembering the same thing she is — Gaila, holding their hands and telling them my childhood was kind of fucked.  “These little ones must have been left behind in the evacuation.”

 

Nyota steels herself, steps up to the crate, and hooks her fingers through one of the perforations.  “Njit p’tajn,” she says, gently.  “Morlu vaj Starfleet.  P’taulb jenj mlaunjla mlionj cuad lanjla.  Jobla jenj t’j ludla.”

 

“Ailnla uta,” one of the children says.  “Njoliscla t’j njoum jaenj.”  Nyota never studied Low Orion, but it’s close enoguh to High Orion that she gets the sense of it — they’re afraid of the masters, they don’t want to slip into danger agian.  “Hajx, ajxa.  Hodla, hodla p’ticelnla.”

 

Nyota tries to shape her accent to mirror theirs as she tells them that they’re safe now, that they’re going to help them.  It’s a good thing that she’s mastered the art of compartmentalization, because the smell of vyun-pashan is making her sick, but she can’t let the children see, and she’s listening to Kirk and Spock with one ear, where they’ve withdrawn from herself and Giotto to converse in low voices.

 

“Captain, these children could not possibly have sent out a distress signal.  I share Lieutenant Uhura’s conclusion that the signal we intercepted must have been merely residual — ”

 

“Yeah, Spock, I know that.  I’m not stupid.”

 

“I would neither imply nor believe such a thing, Captain.  However, I must enquire as to how you were able to ascertain the presence of these children on board, and the need for Lieutenant Uhura to accompany us — ”

 

“It was just a hunch,” Kirk says interrupts, before Spock can get any more momentum.  He sounds sad, voice tired and heavy, and Nyota knows that he’s lying.  “Some gut feeling, Spock — ”

 

“Captain, I can think of no logical reason why you would not impart to me the actual motive for your conclusion,” Spock interrupts, and she knows that voice — that’s the voice that means he’s beginning to get frustrated with human illogic, “unless you do not trust that I — ”

 

Fuck, Spock, it’s not that,” Kirk sighs.  “Course I trust you, I trust you more than anyone else in the universe.”

 

“And I, you,” Spock returns easily.  Nyota feels something wrench unhappily in her chest at that, because it took her two years to hear him tell her you are very dear to me, Nyota, and even that was less of a declaration than this, now, casually thrown between the first officer and his captain.  “But what — ”

 

“You would think I was crazy if I told you,” Kirk says, and there’s a bit of a laugh in his voice, more self-deprecating than amused, and certainly somewhat forced.  Somehow, Nyota can’t blame him.

 

>data point 122<

 

In the three years they’ve spent in uncharted space, Sulu has accompanied Kirk on countless diplomatic missions.  Most of them are mind-numbingly boring — just like this one — but Sulu’s just happy to get off the bridge for a while, even it it means just sitting around in the sandstone halls of the floating palace Stratos while Kirk makes nice with the locals, looking out over the multicolored clouds of the planet Ardana.

 

On second thought, it’s actually quite a lovely way to pass the time.  Sulu would prefer if there were some flora, but you can’t have everything.  Kirk bounces on the balls of his feet next to him, and says, “God, this place is beautiful.  Shame about the civil unrest, and all that.”

 

Sulu casts him a sideways glance.  They didn’t get here more than fifteen minutes ago, they’ve only met the aide who showed them where to wait for the delegation, and the worker who was operating the transporter pad.  How Kirk has already deduced that there’s civil unrest here, Sulu has no fucking clue.

 

He doesn’t have time to ask before there are footsteps behind them, and they turn to meet the Ardanon delegation, tall thin men and women in thick robes better suited for these altitudes than Fleet uniforms.

 

“Captain Kirk,” says their leader, a man with thick, severe eyebrows.  “It is an honor to receive you in our royal city.  I am High Advisor Plasus.”  He gestures to two beautiful women, standing beside him.  “May I present my daughter, Droxine, and my charge — “

 

“Vanna,” Kirk says, smiling.  Sulu turns to openly gape at him, but the captain is, horrifyingly, already hugging the woman, pulling back to look her in the eye.  The woman — wearing a bandana over long auburn hair — looks as confused as Sulu feels, with a tinge of the abject offense that Advisor Plasus is displaying. 

 

As soon as Kirk sees the expression Vanna’s wearing, the wide happy smile on his face drops straight off.  “Oh, not again,” he murmurs to himself, and then releases Vanna.  “My apologies.  Our greeting customs are — slightly different from your own.  I will endeavor to be more — diplomatic — in the future.”

 

Thankfully, no one mentions the fact that Kirk had known Plasus’ stepdaughter’s name before he even spoke it.  Everything seems smoothed over enough, as Sulu and Kirk walk with the delegation towards the hall where Kirk will be negotiating for access to a rare Ardanon mineral, which fights plagues.

 

Sulu’s still sort of uneasy about it all, though, so once Kirk and Plasus have disappeared inside the chamber, and Plasus’ daughters have left him alone with a couple Ardanon security, he pulls out his comms unit. 

 

“Sulu to Enterprise,” he says.  He gets Uhura back, telling him he’s a go for Acting Captain Spock.  “Yeah, I recommend standing by for emergency transport.  We’re all good right now, but the captain came pretty damn close to creating an interplanetary incident a couple minutes ago.”

 

“What was the nature of the incident, Helmsman?” Spock inquires.

 

“He — uh,” Sulu’s kind of at a loss for words.  Weird occurrences like this one are certainly no stranger to people who spend a lot of time around the captain, but still.  “He hugged the High Advisor’s charge.”

 

There’s a moment of silence on the other end of the line, where all Sulu can hear is the high atmospheric winds outside the palace.  “Are the captain and this woman acquainted?” Spock asks, at last.

 

“No, I don’t think so,” Sulu answers.  “I mean, she looked pretty surprised at the whole thing.  So did Plasus — the High Advisor.  I don’t know what it — I mean, have we visited this place before? Are there Starfleet records of the planet, or something, that we just overlooked?”

 

“Negative, Helmsman,” Spock replies.  “I am sure the captain will be able to illuminate our understanding of the incident, when negotiations are adjourned.  Meanwhile, please keep me informed of the proceedings on the planet, as I do not doubt Captain Kirk will fail to do so himself.”  And the comm disconnects.

 

>hypothesis<

 

Spock hears a crash from within their shared bathroom as he is preparing for bed.  It is nearly 0100, only five hours left until the start of alpha shift — late night, by human standards — and normally Jim is already fast asleep by this time, with the rest of the alpha crew.  Spock finishes fastening his sleep tunic around his waist, the cuffs of his loose pants brushing his ankles, and goes to the bathroom door just as there is another crash.

 

Jim is swearing inside.  Spock tilts his head close to the door, and calls, “Captain?”

 

When there’s no reply, he tries again, and when still Jim doesn’t respond, he types his override access codes into the padd on his side of the door, and it slides open.  His captain is slupmed on the floor with his back against the door to the sonic shower, bare-chested, having emerged victorious from what looks to have been a vicious battle against his uniform gold shirt and grey jacket. 

 

Jim squints up at him.  “Spock?” he says.  He’s clearly intoxicated — bloodshot blue eyes, slurred syllables, neck not quite up to the task of supporting his head, dirty blond hair is mussed, like he’s been running his fingers through it.  Spock feels an unexpected urge to gather him up, clothe him, and bring him to bed.

 

“Are you quite alright, Jim?” he asks. 

 

The smile that splits Jim’s face is nothing like the usual brightness of the captain.  “Sure, Spock.  You know me.  Peachy-keen.”  Spock is not familiar with that term, but he does not believe that Jim is using it correctly.  “Jus’ had a — thought I could flush it all outta my head with some’a that Andorian wine.”

 

Spock crouches next to him, and neither comments nor moves when Jim grabs his knee.  He has learned, over the years, that the tactility is merely a side-effect of the captain’s inebriation, and he has come to not mind it.  “Andorian wine is very potent,” he says.  “How much did you consume?”

 

Jim chuckles.  “Not enough, Spock.  Not — hey.”  His smile turns to a tight frown, and his gaze is startlingly clear when it finds Spock’s.  His grip on Spock’s knee tightens.  “Can you un-meld someone?”

 

Spock feels his eyebrows draw together in consternation.  “I do not know what you mean — ”

 

“Don’t play stupid, Spock,” Jim interrupts, a note of anger to his voice.  “You’re the farthest thing from stupid, so just — don’t.”  When Spock still fails to offer him the response he wants, Jim sighs, sits up straighter, and raises a shaking hand to his face, fingers spread.  “You know, mind melds.  Can they be undone?”

 

Jim should not even know what a mind meld is, let alone the meld points.  It is a private ritual, the ability for Vulcans to share their minds with another, and few outsiders have ever experienced it, or even witnessed it.  There is a part of Spock that knows he ought to be outraged at the intrusion, but Jim is watching him steadily,  blatantly, like he doesn’t even know that he ought to tread carefully.

 

“They cannot,” Spock says, finally.  “To meld with someone is to share your entire being with them.  It is not something that is ever undertaken lightly.”  Jim lowers his eyes at his explanation, balling his hands into fists to steady them, and Spock wants to demand how, who, why did you not come to me, but he does not.

 

“Well,” Jim says, careful, like the words are thorns in his mouth, “that fucking sucks.”  He lets go of Spock to scrub a hand over his eyes, and Spock is not a religious man but if he were he thinks he might pray — that the wet sheen in the captain’s eyes is merely a trick of the light.  “Can I — I need, can I jus’ — ”

 

Spock cannot imagine an ending to the inquiry which would cause him to say no.  “Of course, Jim,” he says.  Jim buries his hands in the excess fabric of Spock’s sleep tunic, pulls him into a tight hug — to Spock, in these quiet calm hours, the entrapment of his arms feels desperate, like he’s asking him for something, like he’s in pain, and Spock cannot fathom letting his captain suffer alone, so he returns the hug just as tightly.

 

Spock has only performed a meld once in his life.  At Starfleet medical, McCoy swearing at Jim’s vital signs, saying, his brain activity is dropping, he’s going to lose it — and it hadn’t even been a choice for Spock to share the activity of his mind with Jim’s, a precise inundation of mental energy.

 

Jim’s heartbeat is slow against Spock’s chest, and his mouth is right next to his ear.  “There’s a — this word I keep hearing — it’s Vulcan, I think.  T’hy’la.  What’s it mean?”

 

Spock cannot help taking a sharp breath.  “It is — ” Jim, his mind supplies.  “It is High Vulcan.”  How Jim might have heard such a word, such a carefully guarded — he cannot know.  “The translation is not — it does not translate.  It is — a treasured friend, a blood-brother, a partner in all things.”

 

Jim hums against his neck.  “Yeah, thought it was something like that.”

 

Spock knows that it is highly likely that Jim will have no memory of this exchange in the morning, due to the nature of Andorian wine.  He knows, logically, that it is for the best, that there be no tension between them, that Jim not live with the knowledge that he drunkenly hugged his first officer — but, illogically, he wishes that Jim might wake up and remember speaking the word t’hy’la into Spock’s skin. 

 

>abstract<

 

McCoy lets Jim stay out in the sun of New Vulcan until the skin on his nose starts to get that purplish tint that means the sunbrun will start to blister soon — and then he drags him under a nearby canopy.  He offers Jim his flask, but the captain shakes his head, staring with an unreadable expression at the small party gathered around Ambassador Spock’s smoldering pyre — Sarek, Spock, and Uhura.

 

With the Enterprise still undergoing repairs at Yorktown, they’ve managed to eke out a full ten day’s leave.  It wasn’t enough time for McCoy to make it to Earth and back, so instead of seeing Joanna, he’s here — next to Jim, trying to avoid Spock and Uhura in their still-awkward-stage of separation, offering moral support for his captain as they witness the release of Ambassador Spock’s katra — because Spock’s in no state to do it.

 

“I’ve got all his memories crammed in my head,” Jim says, suddenly.  McCoy looks at him sharply, but Jim’s still just watching the smoke rise off the pyre.  “Or — I don’t know, a lot of them, at least.”

 

“Shit,” McCoy says.  He takes a hearty swig from the flask, because he thinks he’s going to need it for this particular conversation.  “How’d that happen?”

 

“Delta Vega,” Jim says.  “He melded with me.”  McCoy remembers their own Spock’s meld with Jim, remembers the frantic beep of his tricorder and yelling at Spock and the fantastic feeling of experiencing a nerve pinch for the first time.  “It made me believe him, but there was some — I don’t know, overflow.”

 

There’s a pinched expression on Jim’s face, and McCoy has no idea if it’s from the sun or from Ambassador Spock’s death or from whatever he’s thinking about.  He offers Jim his flask again, and this time the captain takes it, taking a big gulp and then wincing at the sting as he hands it back.

 

“Comes in handy sometimes,” Jim says, with false lightness that he doesn’t usually bother with around McCoy.  “They — the other Enterprise, they ended up in a lot of the same situations we do.  Not everything turns out the same, but it’s like — having future vision, or something.”

 

McCoy only took one godawful psychology course way back in med school, a hundred years ago, but he knows that there’s stuff Jim’s not saying.  He knows how to read people, to a certain degree, but one thing he never took a class in was bedside manner.  “Just fucking tell me, Jim,” he says.  “Whatever it is.”

 

Jim’s staring at Spock’s back, stiff like his father’s next to him.  “They ran into Khan, too,” he admits.  “Spock figured it out first, over there — that someone had to fix the core.  He would’ve figured it out first here, too — only I already knew, before any of it even started.”

 

“Spock died,” McCoy returns, for clarification, “in that other universe.  Spock was the one who died.”

 

“Yeah,” Jim agrees.  “It’s weird — I think I’ve got some of the other Jim’s memories, too.  Because they melded, and then the other Spock melded with me — I don’t fucking know.”  He shakes his head.  “Either way, I’ve got it three ways in my head — I remember being Spock, how it felt to die.  I remember being me, here, how it felt to die.  And I remember being me — the other me, there, watching Spock die.”

 

McCoy hands the flask over.  “One more and you’ve got the full box set,” he says.

 

Jim takes another swig, and when he hands it back McCoy finally recognizes the expression in his eyes.  It’s grief, the deep natural inconsolable kind that you can’t do anything but stand next to and wait out.  “In the other universe, I’m dead,” he says.  “I mean, obviously — the other Spock was like two hundred.  But he was there when I died.  He was with me, holding my hand.  So that’s all four.”

 

McCoy tries to imagine how it would feel to have two hundred years of memories that weren’t your own crowding your brain, and then he stops, because this goddamn planet is already giving him a headache, he doesn’t need to turn it into a migraine.  “Might as well get it all out now,” he tells Jim.  “You already started.”

 

Jim breathes out hard, and says, “Yeah, alright.  Fuck.  The other me knew his father, so there’s that.  At least I know all of those memories are his, not mine.  It’s getting where I’ve got a tough time parsing things out, every once and a whlie.  We were both on Tarsus.  Some of the things, I can’t remember whether I did them, or whether he did.  I know a ton of shit about the crew that I don’t know if it’s our crew or theirs.”

 

None of this — not the frustration or the sadness or the vehemence with which Jim’s speaking — none of it belongs here, in this peaceful place, the top of a cliff looking out over the desert, the pale purple of dusk starting to creep across the horizon far-off.

 

“I know everything about Spock, but I don’t know if it’s my Spock or the other one,” Jim goes on.  “They were — we were — the other Spock and the other Jim, they were — married.”

 

McCoy chokes on his swig of bourbon, and gapes at Jim.  “The hell?”

 

Jim smiles a little.  “You were the best man.  Spock’s, I mean.”

 

McCoy makes a loud noise meant to convey disgust and denial and outrage at the same time, but really just sounds like angry gurgling.  Jim actually chuckles.  “The other you was much more supportive, you know,” he says, like that will make McCoy feel bad, or something.  “He went on away missions with us — them — fuck, whatever.  You, me, and Spock — the other ones — riding off into the alien sunset.”

 

Jim’s smile actually seems genuine.  “I remember some really detailed sex stuff, too — you know, if that would make you feel any better.  The other me and the other Spock were really creative — ”

 

McCoy takes an angry gulp from the flask, and says, “Fuck you very much, Jimmy.”

 

>data analysis<

 

They’re well clear of Tholian space by the time Jim is released from sickbay.  Spock has not left his side in the seventeen hours since he was successfully rematerialized, has withstood the doctor’s grumbling  while he treated the captain for oxygen deprivation, paced the short length of Jim’s room in medbay while he rested.

 

Spock is disinclined to leave Jim even as they arrive at their quarters.  The day’s events are still fresh in his memory — the fear for his captain, constant from the moment the Tholians interrupted his transport until Spock watched him take solid form with his own eyes, on the Enterprise.

 

Jim seems to feel the same way.  He enters his access codes, steps back as the door slides open, and glances at Spock, standing silently behind him in the corridor.  “With me, Commander,” he says.

 

Spock follows Jim into his quarters gratefully.  He doesn’t say anything as Jim goes straight to his bunk, just waits in the sitting area until the captain returns, changed out of his scrubs and into a white tee shirt and grey sweat pants.  He waves Spock over to him, and they sit down on the couch, looking out the large porthole on the opposite wall into the streaking brilliance of warp space. 

 

For a long time, Jim says nothing.  Spock takes comfort in his mere presence, the knowledge that he is alive and safe, his heart beating in proximity to Spock’s.  Then Jim says, “Alright, I gotta tell you something.”

 

The entirety of Spock’s attention is already on him, but he turns his gaze to him as well, and waits.  “I — ” Jim starts, then cuts himself off.  “The other you, he — ” he stops again, watching Spock unwaveringly for Spock doesn’t know what.  “There’s — it’s — I’ve got this whole other life inside my head, Spock, but it — the thing is, it feels a lot like this one — ”

 

Jim squeezes his eyes shut, rubs the back of his hand over them.  Spock waits patiently, even though he wants nothing more than to touch Jim, even just on the shoulder, reassure himself for the millionth time in the last seventeen hours that he is indeed real, not that interdimensional specter.

 

Blue eyes reemerge, focused intently on Spock.  Jim says, “Oh, fuck it.”  And his hands are on Spock, one in his hair and one grabbing the front of his shirt, and Jim is kissing him.

 

Everything falls into place.

 

Spock pushes back against him, seizes him up in his arms.  Jim is nearer to him than anyone has ever been, pressed into him, spilled over into every corner of his existence, and Spock can suddenly not fathom how anything else could ever feel so right — so vital as the exploration of Jim’s mouth, the captain finally wrapped around him, the frontier of skin-to-skin contact, Spock’s mind rushing through a cacophany of emotions —

 

Relief, desire, fullness, coming home, trust loyalty partnership forged in blood, exhaustion, safety, love love love, the familiarity of countless years, heat, warmth, together together together, infinity —

 

Spock brings a hand to the captain’s face, and pulls back far enough to murmur, “Jim.” 

 

Jim makes a strangled noise and tucks back into him, lips moving desperately against his.  Spock holds him, eases him back into the couch so that Spock can lay overtop of him, their legs intertwined, the space between them nonexistent as they press chest to chest and stomach to stomach, breathing together.  Jim hums into his mouth, and Spock is hit with a wave of contentment, of belonging like nothing he has ever felt.

 

Their lips part, foreheads still touching.  Jim’s eyes meet his, and they’re — disbelieving, awed.  He runs his fingers up the side of Spock’s face, over the shell of his ear, and he smiles, the same smile as after they survive the impossible, after the jump and land on solid ground, when Spock awakens to find him at his bedside in medbay, the smile that tells Spock everything is okay, we’re okay.

 

He hears Jim whisper, “T’hy’la,” and every atom of his being sings in primal joy.  Spock kisses that smile, melts it until Jim is kissing him back with matched fervency, and he still doesn’t know how Jim knows the word — the word for what they are — but he can feel through their touch that he is the one who spoke it to him.

 

Spock bites gently at Jim’s lower lip, then relinquishes it and moves lower.  He sucks at the skin of Jim’s neck, tastes the alien salt of his skin, and if he could only hear one sound for the rest of his life, he would choose the breathy moan that escapes Jim as Spock closes his mouth over his throat, slides his hand underneath his shirt to feel the expanse of his heaving lungs.  “Spock, fuck,” he says, with a hint of laughter.

 

Lower still, Spock pushes his tee shirt up around his chest, presses kisses to his stomach, presses the word t’hy’la, presses the promise of infinity over and over into Jim’s skin.  His captain is breathing heavily, and when Spock reaches the waistband of his sweatpants, he drops his head back into the couch cushions, runs his hand through Spock’s hair, says, “God, please, Spock.”

 

If there is anyone else in the universe at this moment, Spock is not aware of them.  His captain — his t’hy’la — is looking down at him with heavy eyelids, through sun-stained lashes, every muscle in his body languid, clothes and hair rumpled, red marks left on his skin by Spock’s mouth, the endless expanse of space rushing by outside, the light of countless stars running over Jim’s body like water. 

 

Spock is not sure if it is he or Jim who feels it, but he is suddenly overwhelmed with the certainty that his entire life has been leading to this, to this one impossible-incredible-beautiful man.

 

He pulls Jim’s pants out of the way, and his underwear, and sinks down, his hand and his mouth on Jim at the same time.  He can feel every tiny movement of the captain’s body, can feel the same heady explosion of pleasure that Jim is feeling, can feel his own deep contentment to have a part of Jim inside him, to have Jim safe and here and in his hold, in his mind in his life in his past in his present in his future —

 

>conclusion<

 

“It was like a flood,” Jim says, afterwards.  “That’s the best way I can say it, I think.  All his memories, and everything in his brain from his me — it got into all the spaces in my mind, and filled them up, but it also soaked through everything else, so sometimes I can’t really tell what’s mine and what’s from the meld.”

 

They’re sitting in Jim’s bed, facing each other across mere inches of rumpled sheets, their knees touching.  Spock has stripped to his black regulation underclothes, and Jim is wearing only his briefs.  Spock’s neck is now painted with green bruises to match Jim’s, and he must conclude that, after being pressed back so messily into the mattress, his hair must be rather tousled.

 

“The experience of melding with you must have been very compromising,” Spock postulates evenly, despite the slow rage that still burns in his stomach at the idea that his counterpart once melded with Jim against his will.  “After so many years living in a world where his bondmate was dead, it would have been…”

 

“Yeah,” Jim’s lips pull up in a lopsided smile, his fingers pressing nonsensical patterns above Spock’s knee.  The sight of him like this, comfortable and sated in Spock’s presence, makes something inside him purr.

 

“I cannot undo the meld, Jim,” Spock says, his own hand moving to Jim’s waist of its own accord.  “However, I may be able to assist you in separating your own memories from those of my counterpart.”

 

Jim grabs one of his hands, sliding his fingers between Spock’s.  Spock can feel that he knows the significance of his actions — of hands, for Vulcans.  “That would be — fucking awesome, actually.”

 

He raises Spock’s hand to his face, not even a hint of hesitation.  Spock spreads his fingers, hovering just above Jim’s meld points, and searches his captain’s eyes for any sense of fear, or uncertainty.  He finds none, only warm blue.  Jim leans forward, off-kilter, and kisses him.  “I trust you,” he says, voice low.  Spock.”

 

Spock presses Jim’s meld points.  “My mind to your mind,” he murmurs.  “My thoughts to your thoughts.”

 

His mind feels as if it has been submerged.  He follows where Jim leads him — to an Enterprise that looks like theirs but not quite, to these same quarters well-lived-in, to a hazy memory of warm bodies in bed, of elation, gold wedding bands — to the bridge, to their crew, older but the same, familiar — to Vulcan, Vulcan, a house overlooking a rocky desert valley, and to San Francisco, an apartment littered with paperback books —

 

To Starfleet medical, Spock’s bedside, Jim’s bedside, hands clenched and I love yous pressed between lips, the thrill of narrowly avoiding death multiplied across lifetimes, countless second chances, and Spock cannot for the life of him separate himself and his bondmate from their counterparts — to hundreds of planets, rushing through the slipstream of space faster than his mind can process, amazing brilliant incomprehensible —

 

Spock pulls out of the meld, overwhelmed.  He breathes deeply for a moment, his forehead pressed against Jim’s, and re-centers himself.  Then he sits back and opens his eyes.  Jim’s already watching him.  “It will — ” he says.  “Sorting this out will — require meditation, on both our parts.”

 

Jim smiles softly, just a turn at the corners of his mouth.  “Yeah, okay,” he says.  He brushes Spock’s hair away from his face, then kisses his forehead, his eyelids, the bridge of his nose.  “That’s okay.”

 

They leaned closer during the meld, and now Jim is cross-legged, Spock’s legs hooked around his waist.  The computer is starting to turn the lights to synthetic dawn, in keeping with Jim’s wake-up schedule. 

 

“You have been living all these years with the knowledge that we are t’hy’la,” Spock murmurs, still inundated with the shared emotion of the meld, “and you never said anything?”

 

“I thought maybe things were different in this universe,” Jim says, and his hold on Spock tightens.  “You were with Uhura, you were happy, we were just friends — ”

 

Spock kisses him soundly.  “No,” he says, and kisses him again, a hand on either side of his face, and again, and again, until Jim is laughing, smiling against his mouth.  “We have always been — much more than that.”