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Trinkets Out of Time

Chapter Text

Spock knelt in his quarters staring at the metal box.  He should not feel such trepidation in its presence.  Illogical that he should be experiencing a flutter of panic over mere things.  However, it was their owner, now deceased, that stirred such turmoil within him.

Once he had been informed of Ambassador Spock’s death on Yorktown, he had been compelled to speak with his father.  Sarek had relayed the details of the small, traditional funeral ceremony without overt sentiment.  It was only when Spock inquired after the ambassador’s katra, that Sarek had significantly paused.

Sarek’s answer was still disconcerting to Spock.  The ambassador had chosen not to preserve his katra in the rebuilt Katric Ark on New Vulcan, nor pass it on to another.  Surmising the knowledge from his original reality too dangerous to access, the elder chose a true death.  Though the Vulcan High Council had initially disagreed – it was one more loss when they had already suffered so many – they had respected his request and thus, Ambassador Spock passed into memory.

Spock’s grief became more pronounced; a bitter, biting chill that served as a catalyst in the review of his own mortality.  It was in that very same conversation that his father had informed him of another last request by the ambassador.  He had bequeathed all his possessions to Spock.

Refocusing, he resumed the task at hand, laid his hands upon the box and lifted the lid.  Inside were several items; a journal, a dress robe befitting a diplomat, a mediation robe and mat, incense, various smaller objects and two intricately detailed antiqued silver boxes - one square, one rectangular.  Even for a Vulcan, such a limited number of items attested to the elder’s displacement; the breadth of his history lost in another reality and too little time lived in this one to accumulate anything more.

Of all the items, the two metallic boxes intrigued him.  For no other reason than its nearer proximity, Spock chose the rectangular box first, withdrawing it from its nestled place within a pocket of the dress robe.  The object was lightweight and sturdy, and appeared upon brief inspection, to slide open.  With both thumbs moving upward, he gently pushed back.  What was revealed was more telling about the ambassador than in all the conversations they had had over the past several years.

It was a picture of the elder’s Enterprise crew, taken on the bridge in another time, another reality.  It occurred to Spock, that the ambassador must have carried this on his person for decades – the only explanation for its existence here, in this reality.  The elder appeared no more than sixty Terran years of age in the photograph and yet he had been one hundred sixty-two years old at his death; over one hundred years of carrying this trinket with him.  It was not only staggering, it was illogical.

A photograph served no utility, especially with a Vulcan’s eidetic memory.  Ambassador Spock would have been able to recall, in exact detail, the circumstances regarding this picture.  The only reasonable inference: it held something more important to the elder than logic or utility.

Spock studied the photo more closely.  Fascinating.  Worn with age, some of the eyes were different shades, as was the color and styling of their hair, but they were all accounted for:  the Ambassador, Jim, Dr. McCoy, Nyota, Chekov, Sulu and Scotty.  They all looked content, united by a familiarity born of countless missions and decades of sharing their lives and limited space.  They looked like – like a family.

Spock felt himself jarred by the realization.  It was like a warm ocean wave crashing through the deepest parts of his mind, soothing the edges of his grief and bringing with it a tranquility that coalesced into one irrefutable insight.  This is what they are, what they all are, regardless of variations in realities:  family.  It was in this instant he realized he could not resign his commission in Starfleet.  He would do what he could for the new colony – help the Vulcan race survive, continue what he could of the elder’s work – but he belonged aboard the Enterprise, alongside his shipmates, his family.

Refreshed by his newfound decision, he pushed the lid closed and set it aside.  The remaining smaller box was more intricate than its predecessor, delicate even.  Gently picking it up, he cradled it in his hands and flipped the lid back.  Spock could only think ‘curious’ as his eyebrow rose.  A small piece of parchment, folded precisely to fit within, bore his full name in the flourished Vulcan script of his people.  Plucking the note out of the box revealed a companion:  a pendant burrowed amongst plush red cloth with a chain of thin, silvered metal, tarnished by extensive wear.  Inlaid in the center was a stone.  It was not overly large, perhaps the size and shape of a house wren’s egg, and so deeply red, it appeared almost black in the low light.  It bore a striking similarity to a rare stone highly treasured on Vulcan-That-Was.

He briefly placed the small jewelry box down and returned his attention to the handwritten note.  It was unusual to feel the subtle roughness of paper between his fingertips.  Such accoutrements had long since ceased to be used for communication with the advent of technology which was not only more efficient, but environmentally less taxing.  Carefully unfolding the message, Spock read the note in short order.

 

Mr. Spock,

Please forgive the sentimental failings of a dying old man. 

This has been with me far longer than I ever expected and as such, has become as much a definable part of myself as my hybrid biology.

I could not bring myself to destroy it – the only solid, tangible thing I have left of him.

In not doing so, I suspect you will allege I am breaking my vow to not alter your destiny.  However, there are many choices left to be made in your burgeoning life.  The one before you now remains yours and yours alone.

When you once inquired why I did not relay pertinent knowledge directly to you, I explained how I could not deny you of a friendship that would define you in ways you could not comprehend.  But upon my entry into this time, I may have very well done so, irreparably.  I have not been able to reasonably resolve my guilt, the burden of my culpability in all the events that have transpired since.

Whatever choice you make, I again urge you as I did then.  Put aside logic and do what feels right.  What is right can never, truly, be illogical.

Live long and prosper,

Spock

A sharp inhalation did not dispel the unsettling disquiet weighing upon his mind.  What relevance did a conversation from years ago about his and Jim’s friendship have?  His glance fell upon the object with scrutiny.  The pendant appeared innocuous enough yet the elder counseled that once withdrawn from its resting place, it possessed the potential to change his destiny.

Spock’s contemplation of the notion was brief.  Ultimately, every choice, no matter it’s perceived significance, transformed his life; its immediate potential realized upon its making, while the residual effects, like ever increasing ripples created after a single droplet into a body of water, would continue outward.  Further complexity grew as more choices were made, either against or in tandem with the previous choices.  The ripple could be disrupted or compounded by the next.  Realistically, this one could not be any more or less important than any other.  Kaiidth. 

He set the note aside and picked the small box back up.  Upon extracting the trinket from its protective nest, he noticed a button previously hidden by fabric.  His eyebrow lifted in surprise.  It was a holo-emitter.  Resting it in his right palm, he lightly stroked his thumb across the stone and pressed the activation button.

Jim materialized before him.  Not his Jim, but the ambassador’s; older and more confident, with a jovial expression and mischievousness in his eyes.  It was then that Jim began singing…

 

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…I know, I know.  It’s illogical to celebrate something you had nothing to do with, but I haven’t had a 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 a while, so I’ll be the first to wish you luck and to say…I miss you, old friend.

 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?  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.  Admit it, Spock.  For people like us, the journey itself is home.

The recording ended, the holo-image of Jim Kirk fading into nothingness.  Spock’s brow furrowed in consternation.  Why had this been so important to the ambassador?  Sentimentality?  Surely a message from a friend, even as dear a friend as the elder Spock and Jim seemed to be, would not warrant such devotion.  The Ambassador was a dichotomy; a proven man of logic, a respected elder and competent ambassador and yet, by bearing these items close to him for decades, a man of deep emotional sentiment.  He replayed the message twice more, searching for the answer to his question amongst the words. 

Finding none and his immediate compulsion satisfied, he caressed the pendant between his fingers, intent upon returning it to its original location but hesitated when he felt minute irregularities on the backside of the pendant.

Upon turning it over, perplexity transitioned to utter shock, the pendant falling from his hand as if it had been a scorching brand.  It was an engraving.  But the words were ancient, almost primal and completely unexpected.

 

My love, my t’hy’la, parted from me and never parted.  Always, James.

Spock’s heart rate elevated rapidly, the rush of blood running along his body, inflaming his cheeks.  It – it couldn’t be.  T’hy’la?  Jim and the ambassador?  The odds were…infinitesimal.  And yet, laying innocently in his lap, carved intricately into metal, was undeniable proof.

Spock could not help the creep of indignation into his inner thoughts.  This was the mere ‘friendship’ the elder spoke of?  Words began to echo, their meaning infinitely more substantial in the clarity of revelation.  ‘Yours is to be by my side…the only solid, tangible thing I have left of him…the journey itself is home…put aside logic, do what feels right.’ 

His mind, acting in collusion with this newfound knowledge, achingly whispered the ancient word:  T’hy’la.  Even when Vulcans numbered in the billions, it was a rare connection, revered and cherished.  There was no translation in standard that could adequately convey the meaning, but it had been attempted – brother-in-arms, friend, lover.  Indeed, it was all of these things and more.  If their counterparts had been t’hy’lara, that meant…bonded.

A surge of longing resonated within his mind.  Bonding was not something Spock had dared to expect for himself since Vulcan’s destruction.  With his mixed heritage, the perception of defect inherent in his humanity, Spock had calculated a less than five percent chance that any of the remaining unbonded survivors would agree to bind themselves to him as their partner.  Nevertheless, a one in twenty chance to produce offspring was not insignificant to the Vulcan race.  It was what had swayed his decision to leave Starfleet initially.

And for a brief time, his involvement in saving the elders and what Vulcans the Enterprise could, garnered a reprieve against the aversion to his hybrid status.  However, the benefits of celebrity were short lived.

It seemed that although Vulcans overall were considered a progressive species, near extinction brought back subtle, and not so subtle discriminatory inclinations.  The prevailing thought amongst most was not to dilute the now rare Vulcan genome: it was not logical to produce less than pure Vulcan progeny.

It was, in part, a reason behind his and Nyota’s dissolution of their romantic engagement.  She disagreed with the viewpoint that he suffered from disadvantage, that his humanity hindered him, made him inferior.  Her words rang in his mind, as if she were standing in front of him, huffing breaths in outrage.  Shackling yourself on New Vulcan, surrounded by those who would fail to see your uniqueness, your exceptional qualities, and your brilliant mind is to let part of you die, Spock!  But Spock had faced the prejudice, taunting, and bullying before.  He was confident in his control, that he would overcome and persevere while at the same time contributing what he could.

Spock knew it would be a less than ideal environment, but the sacrifice was his to make to help ensure that all that was Vulcan was not lost.  He now understood he need not forego the peace of his soul in order to do so.

Indeed, there was a renewed sense of anticipation, a barely contained current in his mind at the mere notion of t’hy’la.  He had refused to think of bonding for so long (illogical to yearn for that which you cannot have), it was if his mind, suddenly recognizing the potential to end his imposed starvation, was trembling in heady eagerness at the possibility to satiate its ravenous hunger. 

It was then he noticed other body functions had followed suit, wreaking havoc - the incessant pounding in his side, quivering roil of his stomach and chaotic mass of his thoughts – and Spock felt like collapsing from the discomfort.  He had not felt so…unbalanced since Jim’s death.

Meditation.  He needed to meditate before the sensations, the emotional impact, overwhelmed him.  He did not fail to notice the tremor of his hands as he picked up the pendant or while he refolded the letter, returning them gently to their proper place.  Both trinkets were restored to their original locations and the lid shut on the elder’s affects.  He stood, traversed the short distance to his own mat, and fell sharply to his knees. 

It took him three times longer than was customary to reach even the first level of meditation and another hour past that to ultimately distill the chaos of his thoughts.  He was left with one glaring emotion that he could not properly meditate and process the intensity of – fear.

Was Jim meant to be his t’hy’la in this reality as well?  Was that why Spock’s reactions to Jim always bordered on extreme?  He had been severely, emotionally compromised twice by Jim, once in provocation and once by Jim’s death.  With the information he had now, was it because his t’hy’la had been before him and Spock’s mind, without conscious acknowledgement, ached for the soothing, healing quiet of the bond, once to calm his anger and once to assuage his grief?  Was that why Jim could elicit emotional responses from him more easily than any other he had ever known?

His captain was an enigmatic individual and many felt the inevitable lure of all that James T. Kirk was – beautiful, forthright, charismatic, intelligent, sensual and strong-willed.  Could being t’hy’lara explain the inexorable pull Spock felt in Jim’s presence; the unavoidable consequence of two katras in constant proximity, straining against their continued separation?  It was plausible.

But even more distressing was the fear associated with the possibility of never.  What if, because their paths had been altered, his once t’hy’la was forever lost to him?  A bond his mind now greatly desired, but could never be.  The fear was alarming in its potency.  Spock dropped his chin to his chest and allowed his shoulders to sag, a physical representation of the pressing heaviness of his thoughts.

In the privacy of his quarters, he allowed himself the smallest audible sigh.  This would not be solved by any amount of meditation he forced upon himself today.  Continuing to dwell upon it now would only have a detrimental effect on his health.  The elder was correct.  There were many more choices to be made, but not all of them could be made tonight.

In any event, his internal time sense registered that he had thirty minutes before Leonard’s surprise birthday party for Jim began.  Although he initially declined, intending to complete the latest mission report, Spock surmised a ninety-two point four percent chance he would be unable to focus sufficiently on the tedious task.

An image flashed briefly in his mind of a picture carried for over one hundred years.  He understood the implicit meaning; a subconscious indication that he should spend this time with his own family.

Inhaling and exhaling in measured counts, Spock took another ten minutes to ritualistically conclude his meditation.  Although he could sense an underlying ripple of protest in his mind, of the thoughts left in disorder, it was the maximum level of proficiency he could attain at the moment.  Therefore, logically, it would have to be sufficient.

He stood and proceeded with readying himself for the party.  Once changed and his ablutions complete, Spock spared a single glance at the mundane silver box inconspicuously concealing profound secrets in its shallow depths.

He walked out of the door with the grave understanding that he indeed had many more choices to make.  But could he do what felt right?  Truly, he did not know.

Chapter Text

Eyes shuttered closed as Spock stood in the transporter room, attempting to count in measured, even breaths, hands clasped firmly behind his back.  It was a vain attempt to calm his current compromised state.  Briefly, he let his thoughts drift, becoming the catalyst to a rapid flash of images, moments, and thoughts replaying behind eyelids.  They conspired to delve him further into the churning turmoil battering against his mind.

Ten months had ticked by since the ambassador’s death and the crew of the Enterprise had spent the last four back in space completing the final two years of their five-year mission.  It had been routine and banal, becoming what some even deemed episodic.  Spock suspected the serenity of the last few months was a manufactured reprieve of sorts.

The Enterprise and her crew had been through significant tribulations since her maiden voyage – Nero, Khan, Krall – and all the destruction, devastation, and death each had wrought.  There were some whom Spock felt illogically longed for more excitement and adventure, but he was content returning to their roles as explorers and scientists.  It had also allowed him time to reexamine the information gleaned from Ambassador Spock’s belongings and explore what affections he had for his captain, their depth, and his intentions.

Initially, Spock had attempted to maintain a calculated distance from Jim, increasing the likelihood of processing all that he had learned without undue external influence.  But it had become near impossible; their lives were too deeply intertwined and it seemed neither operated at peak efficiency without the other.  Long hours were spent in each other’s company, not only on Starfleet and Federation business, as their duties required, but personally - playing chess, taking meals together, and sharing rare, quiet moments – deepening their friendship with the more intimate details of their lives. 

As Spock examined their burgeoning relationship further, indeed, they were a well-suited match.  They complemented each other; Jim relied on Spock’s logic, stoicism, and objectivity, while Spock relied on Jim’s passion, unconventional problem solving, and gut instincts.  Together, they thrived.

It was during one of these tranquil moments, in his captain’s cabin after a shared meal, that Spock’s perception of their relationship changed with a jarring, unexpected realization: he desired his captain.  An easy banter had ensued and Jim had simply smiled at one of Spock’s dry, logical witticisms.  But it was not just any smile.  It was genuine, warm, and vibrant, complete with crinkling at the corners of Jim’s eyes.  Want had flooded through Spock, shocking him, causing a pale green flush to tinge his cheeks and ears. 

Even without the tentative, whispered promise of t’hy’la, Spock found himself captivated by Jim.  Further inner reflection found this desire had been steadily growing over the years, building upon itself piece by piece; a puzzle coming together without a picture to follow, and it’s solution revealing an image not readily extrapolated from all the smaller parts.

Once acknowledged, Spock’s desire, his longing for Jim, intensified.  He found himself watching Jim for the mere pleasure of it and in doing so, noticed things he had not before.  As a scientist, Spock knew enough of the indicators of human arousal, but had failed to see all the signs clearly displayed before him: dilated pupils, increased respiratory and heart rates, and flushed skin.  Jim’s touches had always lingered – hands resting on Spock’s shoulders, the lightest brushing of fingertips when exchanging items – as did eye contact.  Although their respective sexualities had never been openly discussed, all signs indicated that Jim desired him, as he desired Jim.  It had given him hope that there could be something more between them.

Indeed, it was only last ship’s night, that found them on the edge of plunging into the depths of ‘something more.’

*****

“Spock?”

Mentally, Spock startled.  “Yes, Jim?”

“It’s your move.”

“Yes.”

Jim’s brow furrowed in concern.  “Are you okay?  You seem a bit distracted.”

“I apologize.  I must admit that I am less than one hundred percent focused on our game.”

Jim raised his brow.  “Really?  Must be pretty impressive to distract you, Mister Spock.”

His skin flushed pale green with the beginnings of nervousness and arousal as Spock gazed into Jim’s vibrant, bright blue eyes.  “Indeed.”

Jim reached for his tumbler of Saurian brandy and swirled its contents.  “Anything I can do to help?”

Although he had been through the scenarios and probabilities time and again, Spock was experiencing heightened degrees of apprehension.  There was still a twenty-seven point four percent chance Jim would not agree to what Spock was about to suggest.  But he deferred to one whose wisdom was beyond his; he had finally decided, after all these months, to do what felt right.  To delay further would only cause more internal conflict.

Spock took a noticeable breath and plunged headlong into hastily uttering the words he’d only ever recited in his mind.   “If you are amenable, I propose the pursual of an intimate relationship between us.  I find myself desiring you in many capacities…”

Had he perhaps thought beyond his nervousness at such a declaration, he might have delayed his announcement until after Jim had finished swallowing his sip of brandy.

Instead, Jim’s eyes went wide with apparent shock, choking on the brandy and coughing violently.  Spock began to rise to render aid, but Jim waved him away, and so he remained seated, tightly clasping his hands, weighted moments passing as Jim took deep breaths to calm the spasming of his lungs.

“Spock!?”  Jim coughed roughly several more times.  “Are you...are you serious?”

Spock stiffened perceptibly.  Perhaps this had been ill-advised.  Perhaps he had made a mistake.  “Vulcans are always serious when discussing matters of an intimate nature.”

Jim broke eye contact, dropping his head to run both hands through his hair, disheveling it.  “I don’t – I mean…I just.  Fuck.”

An encroaching sense of dread caused Spock to stand rapidly, jarring the small table, knocking over several chess pieces in the process.  Spock needed to escape.  Spine rigid, he rapidly declared, “I should depart.  I have several neglected duties to attend to.  Excuse me, captain.”  Without waiting for dismissal, Spock pivoted on his heels.

“No!  Wait!”  A screech of a chair echoed as Jim clasped onto Spock’s wrist with surprising force, halting his forward motion.  “Spock.  Shit.  Please.  Stay.”  Then, with the same abruptness, Jim released his wrist, softly whispering, “Unless…unless you regret saying it.”

Slowly, Spock turned back towards Jim, taking in his lowered eyes, and the vulnerability of his posture, the same vulnerability that assuredly was reflected in his own.  Even though he was less confident in the outcome of this exchange, he could not lie.  “Negative.  My desire to be with you remains unchanged.”

A breath rushed out of Jim’s lungs.  Jim looked up, gently smiled, and stepped closer to Spock, their bodies mere inches apart.  “That’s good, because I would very much like to pursue an intimate relationship with you.  And I didn’t mean to make you doubt my answer,” Jim murmured.

Spock breathed deeply in relief.  All had not failed.

“It’s hard to not feel a bit of disbelief and shock when someone you’ve wanted for so long, wants you back.”  Jim’s eyes had brightened, but his demeanor remained unsure.  “It’s…it’s not something that I’m used to, despite rumors.”

They stood, gazing at one another, their proximity permeating the space between them with heat and renewed energy.  As moments stretched, the air began to crackle with expectation.  Spock’s eyes dropped to full lips, lingering, imagining, before drifting back to Jim’s eyes.  The urge to kiss Jim was nearly overwhelming.  “Jim?” 

Jim flicked his tongue over his lips.  “Yes, Mister Spock?”

He closed the small distance between them, grabbing Jim’s hips and pulled their bodies flush, arousal sparking between them.  “I want – .”  He faltered, the roughness of his voice foreign to his Vulcan ears.

Running a hand up Jim’s solid form, Spock tangled his fingers in Jim’s hair and tugged lightly, forcing his head to tilt back, neck beginning to arch.  Spock watched, mesmerized, as brilliant blue was lost to an encroaching sea of black.

Jim’s lips parted as he breathed out, “Definitely a yes, Mister Spock.”

Spock’s blood roared in his ears, a hammering pulse all but drowning out his other senses.  But before he could crush Jim’s lips to his, the moment was effectively shattered as a boatswain whistle sounded.  It took several moments of focusing to register the sounds.  Jim was being hailed by the bridge.

“Bridge to Captain Kirk.  Bridge to Captain Kirk.”

Spock immediately dropped his arms and stepped back, drawing on years of Vulcan discipline to steady his elevated pulse, while Jim cursed quite audibly and aggressively in barely contained frustration. 

Jim strode the short distance to his terminal and punched the button with more fervor than required, tersely answering the comm.  “Kirk here.  What is it, Lieutenant?”

“Sorry to disturb your evening sir, but we have received an urgent, priority one communication from Starfleet, direct from the Admiralty.  Coded for command personnel only.  Should I pipe the communication to your quarters, sir?”

With hands braced on either side of the terminal, Jim dropped his head, resignation settling across his features.  “Yes, Lieutenant.  That’ll be fine.  Kirk out.”  Cutting the line, Jim turned back to Spock.  “Well, Commander, it seems duty calls.”

Straightening his spine and clasping hands behind his back, Spock answered, “Yes, captain.”

Spock sensed a moment of hesitation before Jim stalked forward in purposeful strides, eyes blazing.  “However, once our duties are complete, we will be continuing this.  Consider that an order if you need to, Commander.”

With the anticipation of a promise lingering, Spock confirmed his compliance with a crisp, “Yes, captain.”

*****

Spock’s eyes opened, once again noting the passage of time.  A mere two hundred and eighty-nine minutes had passed since that moment; a statistically insignificant amount considering the vastness of time, the average lifespan of humans, and even longer lifespans of Vulcans.  But everything since that communication had devolved into chaos.

The file the captain had received indicated that, approximately six weeks ago, Starfleet had lost communication with a group of surveyors sent to study the Elithandri system.  As the closest ship in the quadrant, the Enterprise had been ordered with all haste to check on the small surveyor colony and ensure their safety.  Apparently, one of the members was a niece of one of the admirals, and Jim suspected it was the real reason for the urgent status.  At warp five, they had arrived in just over four hours, most of which had been spent making plans, studying files, and prepping the away team.

However, the dossier contained a glaring omission: it had failed to mention the system’s proximity to hostile factions.  In the eight months since the original survey, the planet had fallen under Klingon control and now, in addition to the original colonists, the entire away team’s status was in jeopardy, including that of the captain’s.

Spock’s only information thus far, had been a distress call from Jim.  The away team had been ambushed and all but the captain, Chekov and Ensign Rutovika had returned.  Based upon the quickly divulged information, a sophisticated, localized jammer – initialized upon the away team’s materialization – had prevented beaming and communication.  Jim had gotten the rest of the team outside affected area, but Chekov and the ensign had been pinned down.  The captain had gone back, alone, to retrieve them.  There had yet to be another call in the twelve point seven four minutes that had elapsed since.  Past the ten-minute mark, Spock calculated the survival rate of their missing crew members to drop ten percent for every sixty seconds of continued communication silence.

He stood now in the transporter room in fierce rigidity; a great golem ready to slay the encroaching hordes, an internal fire raging, on the verge of explosive combustion.  Spock sensed time eroding, the last dribbles of sand falling through the hourglass unimpeded.  The only thing he knew, without a doubt, is he had waited too long to make his intentions known.  He vowed it would be the last hesitation he would make regarding his captain.

Inwardly, he cursed the precious moments being wasted while waiting for Dr. McCoy to appear.  Spock could only describe the expanding, deep, gnawing pain as barely-controlled panic.  Patience waned just as Dr. McCoy rushed in, medical bag and tricorder in hand.

McCoy wasted no time continuing their last conversation.  “Dammit, Spock!  I know what this means, but Jim doesn’t want any more lives endangered.  I don’t like it any more than you do, but he gave orders to – “

“We have no time to discuss your continued reservations regarding this endeavor Doctor,” Spock interjected.  “Your disapproval has already been noted.  Once we have all the crew safely aboard the Enterprise, I will submit myself for disciplinary review, and you can report me for insubordination for failing to follow the direct orders of a superior officer.”  Spock took a deep breath, his next words nearly coming out in a low growl.  “Until that time, as I am acting captain, you will either accompany me, or find someone who will do so without further comment.”

The doctor’s eyebrows rose significantly, but no other words were spoken.  Spock turned, watching everyone settle on the transporter pad.  None of the security officers looked at him; their eyes flicking past without making direct eye contact.  Dr. McCoy was actively clenching his jaw, bouncing on his toes in barely contained agitation.  Kaiidth.  Spock would deal with the repercussions of his words and actions once all the crew were safely aboard.

Spock pivoted, watching hands fly over configurations as the man behind the transporter controls worked furiously.  “Mr. Scott.  What is the status of the equations I gave to the nuclear electronics lab?”

Scotty looked up briefly.  “They’ll be finished entering them into the computer by the time you materialize on the planet, sir.”

Spock nodded crisply, turned, and activated the comm panel by the door, paging the bridge.

Sulu answered instantly.  “Yes, sir?”

“Mr. Sulu, once any member of this team relays coordinates, you will fire full phaser banks at that location.  The strong pinpoint charge of M-rays, coupled with the combined output of all our engines, should collapse and destroy the force field affecting communication and beaming.”

“Understood, sir.”

Closing the conversation with an abrupt, “Spock out,” he spared a final glance in Mr. Scott’s direction.  “Is everyone’s viridium patch signal visible and transmitting correctly?”

“Aye, sir.  Including the extra ones for the others.  As soon as any of the signals reappear, I’ll have them back here in a jiffy.”

He joined the others waiting on the pad.  Based upon brief conversations from the recovered away team, they were beaming just outside the jammer’s range behind a small copse of native foliage, which would provide immediate, temporary cover until they could assess their surroundings and locate their missing crewmen.

Phasers were drawn and readied.  Spock, Dr. McCoy and the four security officers braced themselves to beam down.  “Energize, Mr. Scott.”

As the tingling sensation of his molecules being separated inundated his senses, Spock had one thought pressing upon his mind: an additional two point four-two minutes had slipped by, and with them, so had the probability of finding Chekov, Ensign Rutovika and Jim alive.  The odds had just fallen to below fifty percent. 

For the first time in his life, Spock hoped he had made an error; that his calculations were wrong, grossly inaccurate, erroneous.

He could not bear to contemplate seeing his captain’s lifeless form again in this existence.

Chapter Text

The arrival on the planet was met with an eerie silence.  Their immediate surroundings lingered with the smells of ionized air and burnt vegetation.  Spock took a moment, focusing his sensitive hearing to listen.  There were no indigenous animal sounds, no perceptions of movement; the brief battle had silenced the minutiae of life.  His gut twisted with fear, but he could not afford to waste time on additional assessments.  He turned to the security officers, clipping his words.

“We will split into three teams of two.  Doctor McCoy, you will accompany me.  The recovered crew reports there are proximity mines located between us and our missing crewmembers.  Your tricorders have been reprogrammed to search for latent heat and electronic signatures similar to those produce by the tricorder itself.  This should accurately pinpoint the mine’s scanning field and its placement, allowing you to avoid activating it.  You will maintain a standard wide-V search formation, with myself and Doctor McCoy at central point.  Given the density of the foliage and atmosphere, a distance no further than one hundred twenty meters apart will ensure we are not out of vocal range as communicators will not function once inside the area of effect.  Understood?”

Brisk replies of “Yes, sir!” answered back.

Scanning the area ahead once more, Spock motioned, and the teams took their positions.  Giving one last listen, he gave the signal, each team creeping forward into the foliage.

The unnerving stillness, unnatural silence, and acrid scents were oppressive.  He spared a brief glance at McCoy as they trudged through the undergrowth.  Leonard was unusually quiet, their recent words and current mission no doubt affecting his current disposition.  But Spock found that it did not matter.  Finding their missing crewmates, finding Jim, was his only concern.  He would deal with the repercussions later, as long as Jim was safely returned.

But the incessant march of time assured that Jim’s odds were falling as another minute ticked by, and then another, as their search yielded nothing.  His fists clenched as the panic rose within him, bombarding his shields.  It swelled to a crescendo, his ears buzzing, when Spock heard a triumphant yell come from the left.

“Commander Spock!  Over here.  We found them!”

Spock shouted at the other team to converge on their location.  They rushed to the first team’s side as fast as the foliage and scanning for traps allowed.  Regardless of the statistics he'd calculated, Spock was unprepared, rendered silent by the scene that lay before them.

Beside the trunk of a large tree, Chekov lay motionless on the ground, unresponsive, his body bent at odd angles.  The ensign sat propped against the trunk, her arm injured, with the ripped cloth of her pants fashioned into a sling, while blood flowed freely from a head-wound.  And Jim.  Jim was leaning against the ensign, his skin pale and eyes unfocused, his torso bare and breathing labored.  His gold tunic, clutched in both hands and pressed against his right side, was soaked in crimson.

In the mere seconds Spock had taken to observe, McCoy was already in action, rushing to Jim’s side, gently maneuvering him, and laying Jim’s body flat to the ground.

“Goddammit, Jim.  You never do things half-assed.”  McCoy turned.  “Spock.  Get vitals on Chekov and Ensign Rutovika.  I’ve got to stop Jim’s hemorrhaging.”

Spurred into action, he quickly applied the viridium patches to the three crewmen, before doing as he was bidden by taking the medical tricorder, and performing quick, cursory exams, relaying the information to McCoy.

He was relieved to find that Chekov was alive, but it appeared he had suffered a spinal injury that had paralyzed him from the waist down.  He was currently unconscious either from the pain or shock or both.

Rutovika had a concussion, a broken arm, and hairline fractures in two ribs.  She touched his arm and spoke in a pained voice as she watched McCoy work.  “I’m sorry, sir.  It’s our fault.  The captain…he came back for us.  But it’s our fault.”

“What happened, ensign?  Report.”

Rutovika’s head snapped forward and her eyes met his, the order obeyed with little hesitation.  “Chekov and I had a theory.  Based upon the field of disruption and its size and function, the Klingon’s had to have a compound nearby to power the jammer.  So, we went further than the other teams.  We wanted to find it.  And we did.  Not only the jammer’s source, but a complex where we suspect the colonists are being held.”  She paused, her eyes drifting back to Jim.  “But the Klingons saw us and started to pursue.  We ran but got pinned down.  The captain found us, got us out.  He was leading us back while we told him what we found.  That’s when…when we activated the mine.  We didn’t see it in time and…” 

Rutovika’s limbs began shaking and he observed her dilated pupils and pale, sweaty skin.  She was in shock, but he needed as much information as possible if they were all going to make it back to the Enterprise alive.  He snapped sharply, “Ensign, focus,” hoping to keep her lucid and talking.

She startled but nodded her head and continued.  “There was no time.  Captain Kirk…he turned and used his body as a shield, throwing us to the ground.  Only, there was a broken tree limb where we landed.  Chekov’s back hit full force.  The concussive force and our extra weight…it must’ve damaged his spine.  He couldn’t feel his legs.  I landed partially twisted and hit my head and broke my arm.  And the captain, he…the shrapnel tore into his side.  But he wouldn’t stop.  We got my arm in a sling, but Chekov became unconscious.  So, we carried him between us.  The captain was bleeding too much, but he said we could make it outside the jamming signal, we just had to hurry.”  Rutovika’s voice fell in despair.  “It was just too far.”

“Where is the compound and the power source?”

“Approximately 600 meters, almost due east.  The coordinates are logged in my tricorder.  I’m so sorry.”  The ensign trailed off, the shock finally settling in, as her eyes became glazed and unfocused.

Spock turned his attention to McCoy, dread pooling in his gut.  The doctor’s hands were coated in Jim’s blood.

“Doctor?”

McCoy glanced up briefly.  “We’ve got to get him out of here, Spock.  I need a surgical suite.  I can’t close the wound here and I can’t stop the bleedin'.  I don’t have the tools I need for this massive an injury.”

“Can he be moved?”

McCoy shook his head, worry in his eyes.  “Unfortunately, no.  We can’t risk tearin' what’s still together and movin' him will only exacerbate tearin' and blood loss.  He did enough damage himself by carryin' Chekov in this state.  He needs to be beamed out.”

If Jim could not be moved, then Spock would remain at his side until he could be beamed out.  He grabbed the ensign’s tricorder and turned to one of the security teams.  “Mr. Elkaritch.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Have you heard all the information provided by the ensign?”

“Yes, sir.”

Spock thrust Rutovika’s tricorder into his hands.  “The location of the jammer is logged there.  Take your team back to the entry position and relay the coordinates to Mr. Sulu, who already has standing orders to fire full phaser banks on that location immediately.  We must get this jamming field down now.  Once accomplished, Mr. Scott will beam us aboard using the viridium patches, however the colonists will have to be beamed up using their Starfleet biometric frequencies.  Understood?” 

Another succinct, “Yes, sir,” and Spock watched briefly as security team two sprinted to obey his orders.

It was then he heard Jim’s raspy, threadbare voice.  “You shouldn’t have come.”

Spock turned, dropping to the ground to kneel beside him, opposite the wound Dr. McCoy was working on frantically.  “Captain, I…”

Jim coughed violently, blood trailing out, staining his lips and cheeks as the pain wracked his body.  “I said…not to.  Not worth…your life.”

“Dammit, Jim.  Stop talkin',” McCoy scolded.  “You goddamn reckless, self-sacrificin', pain-in-my-ass.”  But despite all his blustering and gruffness, Leonard’s next words were a soft, desperate plea.  “You’ve got to hang on.”

Jim winced, his body shuddering with pain.  “S-sorry, Bones.”

“Don’t be sorry, kid.  Just stay with us, okay?”

But Jim’s breathing became more labored and his chest gurgled with gathering fluid.  “Spock?”

“Yes, Jim?”  Spock’s heart lurched painfully in his side, his pulse a pounding, thunderous roar in his ears.  They were not separated by glass, but this moment felt eerily similar to the one before: catastrophic, gut wrenching, and world-shattering.

“Sorry d-didn’t say…n-never a good time for us…”  Jim drifted, his voice thinning and eyelids fluttering.

McCoy became desperate.  “Come on, you’ve got to stay with us.  Jim!  Stay awake.” 

But it was no use.  Jim’s eyes closed, and his breaths became so shallow as to seem non-existent.  Spock’s whole body cried out in terror.  He could not lose him.  He could not watch Jim die.  Not again.  He would not.

He made a decision in mere milliseconds.  “I need your consent, doctor.”

“Consent?  What in the hell are you talkin’ about?”

“I might be able to aid in saving him by melding with him.  Take over his autonomous systems until he can be beamed to the Enterprise.  But he cannot consent.  As CMO with medical privilege, you have the authority to consent in his stead.”

McCoy’s eyes widened in incredulity.  “That’s too dangerous!  Can’t you see we are losin’ him?  What if you’re in there, your minds linked, and he –“

His voice was but a mere whisper as the painful truth tumbled forth.  “Then it will be as it is meant to be.  I cannot watch him die again.”  He watched McCoy grimace, close his eyes, and bow his head in supplication.  But no answer came.  “Leonard, please.  Do I have your consent?”

“Gods, help us,” McCoy whispered.  When his eyes open seconds later, they were intense, full of resolved determination.  “Do it, Spock.  You have my consent.  Save him.”

Spock wasted no further time, pressed his fingers to Jim’s psi points, and quickly uttered the words, “My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts.”

Spock fell into the meld easily; there was little resistance from Jim’s mind.  Jim’s mindscape was a swirling chaos, cold and grey.  At first, Spock could not discern anything, nor could he perceive Jim’s projection of self.  Gnawing fear rose in his chest, a howling beast threatening to claw its way out to scream into the void.  Holding on to hope that he was not too late, he kneeled, pressed both palms flat to the ground, closed his eyes, and concentrated.

First, he focused on Jim’s pulse.  With the massive blood loss, it had already become rapid and erratic, but Spock steadied it, slow but even, while constricting blood vessels to stanch the flow of Jim’s precious lifeblood.  Within the brain and along the endocrine system, Spock activated several key hormones to help stabilize bodily function, elicit calm and lower damage to critical organs.  When Spock sensed the smallest shift, that the changes he’d made might be enough to sustain Jim short-term, Spock stood and opened his eyes.

The mental environment had changed.  It was lighter; still cold, still grey, but more reminiscent of San Francisco covered in a dense fog, the cloud cover too thick to discern any of the sun’s warmth.  Regardless, he had no time to waste.  He hurried along, calling out for Jim.  He needed to find him and keep him engaged until they could get him to the Enterprise.

He felt something then, a twinge, an inexplicable pull, the softest brush of a presence.  The fog began to dissipate, the landscape rising up on all sides to meet him.  He appeared to be walking along a dusty dirt road between corn fields long since harvested; their dried, shriveled brown stalks presenting an unsettling visage.  That's when he saw him, up ahead, walking along the same road.

But where he should have felt relief, fear’s claws once more sank deep in his side, threatening to overwhelm him.  A black, gaping maw of oblivion awaited at the end of the road.  It was death.

Spock broke into a sprint, yelling as he gained ground.  “Jim!  Jim, stop!”

Jim grew still and slowly turned towards him, his head tilting and eyes blinking in a caricature of normal human movement.  Spock halted when he was within arm’s reach.

“Spock?”  Jim’s head tilted to the other side.  “Spock?  Are you…real?”

“Yes, Jim.  I am here.”

Jim only nodded, the dazed look in his eyes remaining, as he turned and resumed walking towards the emptiness.

But Spock could not let him leave.  “Jim, please.  You must stop.  You cannot continue that way.”  He grabbed Jim’s arm and spun him around.  “I cannot allow it.”

Jim looked down at Spock’s hands gripping him and offered no resistance, only curiosity.  “But why?  There’s something out there waiting for me.  It’s calling me.  It needs me.”

Spock wanted to shake him, but it would do no good.  If Jim didn’t win this battle first, they had no chance. 

“There is something calling you.  It is death’s song, enthralling you.  If you stay upon this path, travel into the darkness, your mind dies and your body soon after.”  Spock pleaded, “You must stay.  Fight it, Jim.  I cannot do it for you.  Stay here with me.”  

Spock watched, for how long he did not know, as thoughts and musings drifted across Jim’s face.  With the perception of time lost within the meld, it seemed like hours had passed before he saw clarity return to Jim’s eyes.  Spock breathed a sigh of relief.  They had gained a small reprieve.

“Spock?  Where are we?”

“Within your mind.  I melded with you to help save your life.  You are gravely injured.”

Jim spoke slowly as the memories coalesced.  “The planet…the jammer.  And the mine.”  Jim placed his hand to his right side even though here, in his mind, there was no wound.  “I remember now.”  Spock saw a flash of panic cross Jim’s features a moment before he said, “Chekov and Rutovika.  Are they alive?”

“They are injured but alive, last I was aware.”

Tension eased slightly out of Jim’s frame.  “Good.  Good.”

“Jim, if you will permit me, I would prefer to distance you from this place.  It is not wise to linger here.”

Jim nodded in assent and they fell in step, side-by-side, as they had so many times before.  The further they walked from death’s grasp, the more profound Spock’s relief became.  Spock also observed Jim’s self-projection become clearer and clearer, until his movements and mannerisms were indistinguishable from physical reality.  It was an encouraging sign.

As they traveled along the road, the mindscape kept changing, undulating into various terrains and scenes, each one a bit more colorful and livelier than the last.

“This is so…odd.  It’s like a dream, but it feels real.”

“Mental constructs are a separate, unique reality; what happens here can have lasting effects to your traditional physical reality.  Additionally, these constructs are exclusive to each individual and each melded pair.  The fluctuations are expected.  You are both injured and experiencing a meld for the first time.”

Jim simply hummed in acknowledgement.  “It’s not my first meld,” he absently replied, “though this is nothing like that one.”

Spock stumbled, caught off guard by the declaration.  “Who else has melded with you?”

“The old man, the other you.  He melded with me once and it was…unpleasant.”

The surge of heated possessiveness was instantaneous and uncalled for.  He had no claim to Jim, nothing that marked him as Spock’s, but nonetheless, he had to tamp down his jealousy before asking, “What was the purpose of this meld with my counterpart?”

“It was an information dump, really.  An easy way to explain the how and why of his and Nero’s appearance.  Only, it was right after Vulcan was destroyed, and his grief was staggering.  After it was over, he mentioned something about emotional transference, but all I know, is it hurt a lot.”  Jim paused, a flicker of pain echoing in his eyes.  “Sometimes it still does.”

Spock clenched his jaw against the anger that billowed unbidden in his chest.  There was little he could do in this moment, and there were the more pressing matters of life and death.  But when they were back aboard the Enterprise, he pledged to find a way to ease the emotional pain imprinted upon his captain.  He could not allow Jim to continue to suffer the pain of Vulcan’s loss.

They continued their trek, each lost in their own silent reflection, observing as the environment changed again.  Only this time, a hill rose before them covered in rich green grass.  Jim lead them up, stopping at its peak to gaze at the scene before them.

Below them was a lush, fertile valley, painted in surreal, vibrant colors.  Wildflowers grew in abundance, covering the valley with bursts of rainbowed hues while off to the left lay a blue lake, crystal-clear and unfathomable.  Spock could not help but notice the lake possessed the same color as Jim’s eyes.  It was spectacular in its beauty.

Jim breathed out a hushed ‘wow’ and turned to Spock in disbelief.  “This is my mind?  I don’t believe it.”

Spock's eyebrow rose in query.  “Why would you not?”

Jim blew out a breath and shrugged.  “Because there’s a lot of dark places in my mind, Spock.  Most of my memories aren’t great.  But this?  This is just so beautiful.”  Jim continued onward, entering the valley into a field of bright, yellow wildflowers.

Spock began to follow, but stopped abruptly at the base of the hill, his conscious mind finally registering exactly where they were.  Stunned by the revelation, he watched as Jim strode further into the field, then stopped and gasped in delight.

“Spock!  This is amazing.”  Jim knelt in the flowers, running his hands mere inches above the ground.  “There’s energy humming through here and the ground is warm.”  Jim chuckled.  “It’s gonna sound crazy, but it feels like it’s surrounding me, cocooning me.  Like I’m having a mug of hot chocolate, while wrapped in a soft blanket in front of the fire during the winter.”

When he did not answer, Jim looked back, noting that he had not followed.  He gestured to Spock and smiled.  “Come on and feel this.”

Spock felt his very core tremble at the invitation, but he knew he could not go.  “I am sorry, Jim.  But I cannot.”

Jim frowned, confusion knitting his brow.  “Why not?”  He could see Jim growing concerned before he asked, “Is this a bad place, too?”

Spock shook his head in earnest.  “No.  It is…it is your bonding center.”

“My bonding center?”

“Yes.  Even as a mostly psi-null species, humans are capable of bonding with other telepathic species.”

Jim rolled his eyes in frustration.  “I know humans can bond with other species, Spock.  It’s just that, I don’t know, you seemed shocked by mine.  Is there something wrong?  Do other’s not look like this?”

“I can only speak to what has been recorded in Vulcan texts, but no, they do not.  Yours–”

“Yeah, just stop there.  I get it.  It’s damaged just like everything else in here.”  Jim’s face became crestfallen, the exuberance he had displayed earlier dissolving into thin air.  He stood, brushing the dirt off his pants in agitation.  “Let’s get out of here and just forget –“

“Jim, no.  You misunderstand.  I had not finished.”  Spock took a breath to steady himself.  “It is true that your bonding center is not like others, but that is because it is much more than any others.  I can feel the energy pulsating from it.  It is warm and welcoming, strong and vibrant, fertile and nurturing.  Like the mythological sirens called to the sailors of old, it calls to my innermost self, to that part of my mind that longs for connectedness.”

Jim scoffed, crossing his arms.  “The sirens lead sailors to their death, Spock.  Not such a great analogy.”

Spock felt chastised but remarked, “Perhaps not.  But this place, for me, is no less tempting a thing.”

“And why can’t you come in?”

“I have already declared my desire for you.  We are compatible in many ways, but mentally, we are compatible in ways I dared not hope for in any prospective partner.  To touch all I desire, to cross this threshold, I fear losing control.”

Spock watched as Jim briefly considered his words briefly before asking, “And what happens if you lose control?”

“A bond could form.  I must admit I become…compromised where you are concerned.”  Spock straightened his spine, clasping his hands behind him.  “I must stay here, focused, until I can sense your body’s stabilization by Dr. McCoy.”  Spock’s voice softened.  “I cannot afford to get lost in you.”

Jim stepped forward, his eyes sharp and assessing.  “You know what, Spock?  I felt like these last months, something changed between us.  A good change.  And last night, that moment where we almost crossed that line?”  Jim carded his fingers through his hair in frustration.  “How many times do I have to say it?  For you to understand?”  Jim stared at him, blue eyes solemn, sincere, and pleading.  “I don’t know what I’d do without you.  And I don’t want to find out.  I need you.  I want you.  I want us.”

Spock could not deny the surge of longing within him to hear such words.  He needed only to take one step forward to stake his claim, but he resisted.  Jim could not, in his condition, understand all that bonding would entail.  He made his own entreaty with just one word.  “Jim.”

“Don’t you think we’ve wasted enough time?  I know I have.”  Jim shook his head in self-reflective disdain, something Spock identified with all too well.  “I’ve spent a lot of my life keeping people at a distance, even though I cared, even though I wanted more.  But I was just afraid; of being hurt, of screwing up, of being known.  And dammit Spock, I don’t want to let this slip by us again.  I don’t want any more regrets.”

Spock attempted, in vain, to draw on his Vulcan disciplines to maintain equilibrium, but Jim’s words affected him greatly, throwing him off balance.  Every pathway was alight, the very fiber of his being trembling with eagerness.

Spock knew how deep his regard, his affection, for his captain went.  He could not prevail against the pull of the exceptional human standing before him.  It was futile to resist.  “I do not want any further regrets.”

Jim smiled tenderly.  “Then let’s stop making them, stop fighting this, and finally do something about it instead.”  Jim closed the final distance between them, placing his hands on either side of Spock’s neck, his thumbs stroking along his jawline.  Spock’s hands fell to Jim’s hips, anchoring himself to Jim, gripping firmly in anticipation. 

Jim gazed into Spock’s eyes and murmured, “Because this is fucking long overdue,” just before closing his eyes and pressing his lips firmly against Spock’s own.

Spock’s body and mind rang out in exhilaration, his hands twitching at Jim’s hips, as soft, warm lips pressed, their breath intermingling.  The air around them grew electric, crackling with energy.  Heat emanated and sparked where their bodies touched.

That’s when Jim flicked his tongue along the seam of Spock’s lips, demanding entry.  Spock shivered, a breathy “ah” escaping.  Jim seized the advantage, his tongue delving and seeking Spock’s, crushing their mouths together.  They fed off one another’s passion, fanning the flames into a wildfire, until the kiss devolved into biting and nipping, licking and sucking.

He was drowning, wave after wave of sensation crashing over him.  He clung to the man in his arms like a lifeline; the only thing able to sustain him and give him breath.  Spock snuck a hand under Jim’s tunic to feel rippling muscle move beneath soft, supple skin.  Using it as leverage, he pulled Jim forcefully to him, slamming their hips together, while his other hand threaded his fingers into thick, blond hair.

Jim moaned his approval, grinding their hips together.  It only served to further enflame him.  He met Jim’s tongue thrust for thrust, each embattled in the fierce desire to consume one another.  Tugging hard on Jim’s hair, he pulled them apart, their lips releasing with a ‘pop.’

Jim’s eyes flew open and flashed; want, desire and need blowing his pupils wide.  He kept their eyes locked, as his hand slowly, deliberately drifted across the dip of his waist to grab a handful of Jim’s perfectly round posterior.  Jim whimpered, his hands clenched at Spock’s shoulders, his body pressing harder into Spock’s.  Their lips, already swollen and bruised, crushed together again.  They were lost in each other.

It was only when the ground shook, rumbling beneath them, knocking them off balance, pulling them apart, that they reluctantly paused, panting heavily.

Jim tossed his head back in husky laughter.  “I guess the old Terran saying is true.  You literally just rocked my world.”

“I admit, I am not unaffected.”

Jim beamed, his eyes bright, crinkling with merriment and simmering desire.  “Yeah, I can tell.”  Jim leaned in for another kiss, but Spock stepped back.  

“I apologize, Jim.  But we must stop.”

“Why?!”

“The tremors were a warning.  I must regain control.”

Now, Jim was concerned.  “A warning?  Of what?”

“It is not unheard of for intimacy within a meld to create a bond.”

“Wait.”  Jim held up his hand in question.  “You mean we could be that kind of intimate, in our minds only, and it could also form a bond?”

Spock could feel his cheeks heating again, this time in equals parts desire and embarrassment.  “As I previously mentioned, the mindscape has repercussions as real as the outside world.  For telepathic species, intimacy in and of the mind, is as great or greater than that of the physical flesh.”  Spock blushed deeper.  “Though I admit I greatly desire physical intimacy with you.  I find your form exceedingly pleasing.”

“Why, thank you, Mister Spock,” Jim teased.  “I think you’re pretty damn hot, too.”  However, Jim’s grin quickly sobered into something more serious.  “But I think we’ve stalled long enough.”  Reaching out, Jim took Spock’s hand, lightly tugging.

“Jim, this could –“

“Create a bond, I know.”  Spock felt blue eyes pierce deep, steady, and unwavering.  Jim said the next words in staccato, emphasizing their importance.  “No.  More.  Regrets.”

Fear and elation coursed through him.  All the things he had dared not hope for stood before him: an equal, a mate, a bond.  He held little doubt that his future consisted of golden hair and blue eyes, a warm smile and a brilliant mind.  He did not weigh the logic of it.  This – Jim – it all felt right.  After all, what is right can never, truly, be illogical.  With the decision made, he stepped forward with Jim into the bonding space.

They were several meters in when the ground beneath them started to quiver, the wildflowers swaying with the intensity.  Spock watched, awestruck, as the bonding center transformed.  Purple-red mountains crested in the distance and the landscape divided; half of it remained green and lush, the other became grainy, burnished-red sand.

“Whoa.”  Jim stared at the changes in astonishment.  “Is that…Vulcan?”

Spock was rendered momentarily speechless by seeing parts of his home again, its beauty and familiarity bringing with it a deep pang of loss.  “Yes, this is Vulcan-That-Was.  It would seem this is the projection of me within this space.”

But before they could process the initial changes, a powerful tremor rattled the ground, startling them.  The ground split open along the divide a few meters ahead, two enormous gnarled cords of energy erupting through.  One glowed liked Terra’s Sol: warm, vibrant, and golden.  The other shimmered like moonlight upon water: cool, soft, and blue-white.  They grew upward, five, then seven, then ten meters high, intertwining, wrapping around each other, tighter and tighter, until they fused where they touched.  The ends of the cords frayed, branching out, canopying, before suddenly bursting into hundreds of delicate tendrils.

It was a tree.  They watched without words as the energy cooled and the tree formed protective bark around the pulsing power within.  Just when it seemed like the tree was complete, each tendril burst, deep red leaves unfurling along each.

Spock felt it then, a hum in his mind that was not his own, just as he heard Jim inhale sharply.  They had indeed created a bond.

Jim spoke, his voice laced with wonder.  “I can sense you.  Is that the bond?”  He gestured to the tree.  “Is that…us?”

“Yes.  It is the physical representation of the bond within your mind.”

“It’s beautiful,” Jim whispered.  “Is there a matching place like this in your mind?”

“Similar, though distinct to my mind as well.”

Jim paused, considering.  “Is all this normal?”

“I cannot claim what is ‘normal’ with any accuracy, as each bond and bonded pair is infinitely unique.  But, I sense this is different.  Other.”

Jim turned, worry etching his brow.  “Different good, right?”

“I sense no negative impact, though the difference escapes me.  It is currently…undefinable,” Spock mused.

Jim squeezed his hand gently.  “Then let’s go check it out.”

They walked the short distance to examine the tree.  Spock registered surprise when he realized what representation had been chosen for him.  “My half of the tree appears to be an Indukah.  It was a tree endemic to Vulcan-That-Was, but rare.  It only grew near an oasis.”  He gazed at his now bondmate.  The symbolism was not lost on Spock.  Jim was his oasis, his cool drink, his place to rest after a long, desert trek.

Spock also noted Jim’s side.  It was not a tree he was easily familiar with, but he could narrow it down, based upon certain markers.  “Your side appears to be a Terran tree, most likely from the genus Tilia.  More common names would be lime tree, linden, basswood –“

“Basswood.  I haven’t thought of those in years.  I saw them a lot back home in Iowa.”  Jim studied the tree, taking in the finer details.  “They were pretty cool.  The new growth would be this bright, ruby red, which was pretty weird, and the blooms were these unusual, off-white looking clumps of flowers.  It also had this crazy-thick, gnarled bark.”

This was also symbolic, an appropriate representation for Jim.  “Basswoods are known for their tough, seemingly impenetrable outer bark; dense and strong, providing protection against harm.”  Spock locked eyes with Jim as he said the next words.  “But the inner bark is just as strong.  Indigenous humans used it to create rope, just as this tree has now become the tether of our connection to each other.”

Jim’s face lit in a glowing smile.  “How you can talk science and metaphors and make it romantic, I’ll never know.”  He turned back to assess the tree.  “Do you think it’s safe to touch?”

“Certainly.  It will not come to harm nor is it dangerous.”

Jim let go of his hand, and stepped forward, placing both palms on the tree.  Stillness lingered for a moment before the air around them changed, crackling with charged energy as the tree undulated from root to tip.  Jim gasped in surprise.  “Wow, Spock.”  He turned his head, eyes wide.  “I can feel you.  I mean really feel you.”

Curious, Spock stepped forward and placed one hand on the tree, but what he sensed, what he felt, was not what he expected.  Spock began trembling and could not speak.  The tremors increased in intensity until he was shaking uncontrollably.

Jim turned to him in panic.  “Spock?  What’s wrong?  Are you okay?”

The ground rumbled again, the tree quivering in solidarity, before it suddenly burst into bloom, showering them in bits of soft, white petals and dusty, yellow pollen.

“I – Jim.”  Spock fell to his knees, the weight of the revelation too much to bear.

“Spock!”  Jim fell to the ground with him and grabbed his shoulders, shaking him lightly.  “Spock, please.  What’s wrong?”

Spock looked at Jim, his entire being filled with bewilderment, adoration, and reverence.  “T’hy’la.  You are t’hy’la.”

Spock felt the collective energy of the bond pulsate with power, the tree straining and buzzing from the strength of the word.  By Jim’s reactions, he had sensed the same.

“What does t’hy’la mean?” he asked.  “I can feel its weight settle in my bones.  It feels old, ancient, powerful.”

Spock could barely make the reply, his mind still swept up in the throes of the discovery.  “A t’hy’la bond is ancient; rare even amongst billions of Vulcans.  It means many things: friend, brother-in-arms, lover, but more.  The nearest human equivalent would be soulmate, but even that pales in comparison.”

Jim graced him with a radiant smile.  He leaned in and pressed a warm, soothing kiss against Spock’s lips, pulling back to murmur, “Then I guess you’re stuck with me, huh?”

“You are my captain, my friend and my bondmate.  You are also my t’hy’la.  I am and forever shall be, yours.”  Spock raised his hand, reaching out to touch him, lightly stroking his fingers from temple to cheekbone to jawline.  “Taluhk nash-veh k’dular.”

Spock knew Jim did not know the Vulcan words, so he pushed their meaning, their depth, their significance, through the bond. 

Jim’s eyes softened, a gentle smile emerging.  He whispered in response, “I love you, too.”

They let the moment linger, both basking in all they had seen and learned and felt, when Spock suddenly tilted his head, his brow wrinkling in concentration.  “I sense Dr. McCoy has repaired the most grievous of your injuries and your body is now stable.  It is time for me to release you, so that we may both return to a conscious state.”  Spock stroked Jim’s face gently once more.  “I will see you in medbay.”

“You bet your ass, you will.”  Jim surged forward, gripping Spock to him, their lips crushing together in a bruising kiss that left them both breathless.

When they broke apart, Spock held two fingers up in the ozh’esta, Jim meeting them without hesitation.  “I await thee.”

Spock gathered himself and watched as Jim and the landscape faded to grey and then to black.  It stretched infinitely until he felt the jarring sensation of disconnection; a snap of force as he was thrust back into his own mind.  He hesitated briefly, but there was no turning back.  The physical world awaited.  So, he drew a ragged breath and opened his eyes. 

Chapter Text

Spock abruptly interrupted the tense silence, startling McCoy when he barked out, “I need your consent, doctor.”

“Consent?  What in the hell are you talkin’ about?”

“I might be able to save him by melding with him.  Take over his autonomous systems until he can be beamed to the Enterprise.  But he cannot consent.  As CMO with medical privilege, you have the authority to consent in his stead.”

He was incredulous.  “That’s too dangerous!  Can’t you see we’re losin’ him?  What if you’re in there, your minds linked, and he –“

Spock’s voice broke, words tumbling forth in a mere whisper.  “Then it will be as it is meant to be.  I cannot watch him die again.”

McCoy closed his eyes, bowing his head as the flash of memory seared the darkness.  With perfect recollection, he saw Jim lying on a slab in medbay, lifeless and growing cold.  He also knew the things he’d done then to save Jim’s life weren’t exactly ‘by the book.’

Spock implored, “Leonard, please.  Do I have your consent?”

Hopefully, he’d be forgiven if this all went to hell, but Spock was right.  Losing Jim again was unacceptable.  “Gods, help us,” he whispered.  He opened his eyes, gazing into Spock’s with resolved determination.  “Do it, Spock.  You have my consent.  Save him.”

McCoy watched Spock place his hand, fingers spread, on Jim’s face and utter, “My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts,” and then become stock still.

He didn’t know if he’d made the right decision, letting Spock inside Jim’s mind, but just like when he’d made the call to use Khan’s blood, whatever the outcome of this was, he’d take full responsibility.

Jim’s loss of consciousness was not reassuring, nor was the rapid heartbeat, pale skin, and shallow breathing.  He was in hypovolemic shock, and if they couldn’t get him back to the Enterprise in the next ten minutes, Jim would die.  He looked down at his hands, soaked in Jim’s blood, and felt as if their prayers were hinged on a fool’s hope.  They were gonna need a miracle.

He flinched when Jim gasped loudly, the garbled breath rattling in his chest.  But gradually, he noticed Jim’s breaths even out, his respiratory rate slowing.  McCoy checked his pulse.  It was slower too, but stronger.  He sighed in partial relief.  Whatever Spock was managing was working, at least temporarily.  Now if only everything else would fall into place, and quickly.

It seemed like ages passed, each moment infinitely longer than the last, as Leonard watched Jim walk the fine line between life and death.  He ordered the security officers left with him to take another set of tricorder readings on Rutovika and Chekov.  They were obviously injured and unconscious, but for now, stable.

A huge crack of thunder startled him in the quiet of his vigil.  He looked up to see a red beam swathed across the sky.  The Enterprise was firing on the Klingon base.  In mere seconds, an explosion wracked the earth and air, the ionization in the air raising goosebumps on his flesh.

He felt the tingle almost immediately, the separating of his atoms, as the Enterprise beamed him, Spock, the injured crewmen, and the two security officers aboard.  Materializing on the transporter pad took mere seconds, but McCoy was already barking orders the moment he could be heard.

“I want these crewmen on an anti-grav stretcher and in medbay, stat.  And bring an extra stretcher for Commander Spock.  Until he breaks the meld, we can’t separate them.”  Leonard turned and looked over his shoulder.  “Mr. Scott, get me M’Benga on the comm.”

“Aye, sir.”  Scotty’s fingers flew on the console and within moments, M’Benga’s voice echoed in the room.

“M’Benga, here.”

“Geoff, we’re headed your way, eta two minutes.  I need two surgical suites prepped immediately.  The captain’s critical, currently in hypovolemic shock from lower right quadrant abdominal injury.  Set up for immediate blood transfusion and IV antibiotics.  The other’s for Chekov, currently stable, but also critical, currently with a known spinal injury and concussion.  Set for standard IV fluids, full body imagin’ and neurological function scan, and spinal regrowth injections.  Third crewman, Rutovika, is in shock, with a compound fracture of the ulna and hairline fractures on two of her lower right ribs.  Non-critical accordin’ to the scans, so a nurse can start the bone repair and standard intravenous fluids without needin’ a surgical suite.”

“We will be ready when you get here.”

“Good.  McCoy out.”  Leonard nodded to Scotty to close the channel, just as the stretchers arrived.  Rutovika was put on her stretcher easily, and once braced against further spinal trauma, so was Chekov.  However, getting Jim on his was going to prove difficult.  McCoy couldn’t afford to release pressure on the wound and Spock couldn’t be removed from Jim’s other side.  He wasn’t the only one trying to figure it out.

“Uh, sir?  How are we going to – “

“Strap the stretchers together, quickly.  It’ll take three or more of you to lift Spock onto the thing.  Vulcans are not only stronger, they’re denser too.  Then on the count of three we will all move as one and get them on the stretchers.”

He watched them scramble, moving quicker than he’d ever seen.  Most of them had been with the Enterprise since the beginning, and with that came a certain faith in their command team: to get them out of dire situations, to rescue them, to turn death into a fighting chance to live.  And they’d done it again, gotten everyone home. 

But the fear in their eyes was telling.  It was an acknowledgement of the singular thread of life that Jim clung to.  Death was close to taking their captain, and possibly the commander, too.

When they were ready, he marked, “One, two, three…lift!”  With no little effort, they got them on the stretchers and raced to medbay.

Everything about the next three hours, he would remember as a blur – a high pitched white noise among the anxiety within – begging the universe to spare Jim’s life once more, begging his hands to be steady, begging for another medical miracle.  The chaos, the surgery, the blood, were all swirled in his mind.  But there was one moment that stood out with perfect clarity.

He had just finished being fist deep in Jim’s abdominal cavity, the extensive repairs almost complete, when the alarms on the biobed shrieked several times in warning, shattering his tempered elation that Jim just might pull through.  That is, until he glanced up at the indicators, his jaw clenching at what they told him.

“What in the hell?”  He looked down at Jim and Spock, still connected in the meld.  “Are you two out of your goddamn minds?!”  He turned to one of the startled staff beside him.  “Get M’Benga in here stat!”

The nurse ran off to the other surgical suite while McCoy continued to work, finishing the last of the repairs before closing.  In his peripheral, he saw Geoff come in, guarded for whatever McCoy had in store.

“You needed me, doctor?”

“Yes.  You studied on Vulcan.”  He waved one hand at the flashing information on the screen.  “I’d like you to look at the neuropathic indicators there and tell me what in the hell I’m lookin’ at.”

M’Benga remained calm, turning to study the screen with keen interest.  It didn’t take long for him to confirm McCoy’s suspicions.  “It would appear that Captain Kirk’s telepathic measurements have increased ten-fold.”  M’Benga touched the screen, enlarging the portion of Jim’s brain that was currently glowing blue.  “This area of his brain is no longer latent, but active.”

Gritting his teeth, he ground out, “Are they doin’ what I think they’re doin’?”

Geoff turned to him, delivering the words with kind, sympathetic eyes.  “By all accounts, yes.  They have formed a bond.”

“Of course, they did!  Only Jim could turn near death into a goddamn third date and proposal while my hands are in his abdominal cavity.”  He took a breath and stared down the other half of the duo, even though he was pretty sure neither one could hear him.  “And you just wait.  We’re gonna have some serious words, you pointy-eared hobgoblin.  I said save his life, not marry him!”

He might regret the outburst later – he knew it was unprofessional – but dammit, these two idiots could drive a man to insanity.  He huffed in frustration.  There’d be no separating them now, not that anyone ever could.

No one spoke further, though he continued to grumble under his breath as he finished.  Another ten minutes and he hoped that Jim would be stable enough that Spock could come out of the meld.

With the surgery finished and the other patients cared for, Leonard had chosen to keep vigil over Spock and Jim.  He’d been sitting in the chair beside their bed, waiting for close to an hour, when he saw Spock’s head lift and his hand drop from Jim’s face, breaking the meld.  Spock drew a ragged breath, his eyes flying open.

Spock said nothing, but Leonard watched him assess Jim, eyes roaming from head to toe, the scientist and the lover both being put at ease with Jim’s progress and current state.  Spock sighed and laid back on the biobed, likely exhausted from the physical and mental strains.  It was only then, when Spock turned his head, that he noticed McCoy sitting beside them.

“About damn time.  Thought I might have to surgically remove you from him,” he grumbled.

Spock sat up quickly, moving as if to get off the bed, but his color paled and his body weaved unsteadily.  Leonard jumped up from the chair and grabbed him by the arm.  “Dammit, Spock.  Lie back down.  You were under for a long time too, ya know.”

Spock settled back onto the bed.  “It appears the strain was significantly more than I had calculated.”

“I’m just an old country doctor, so what do I know?  But,” he crossed his arms, eyebrow raising, “if I had to make an educated guess, I’m fairly certain that gettin’ bonded while you were in there contributed to the miscalculation.”

Spock at least had the decency to look contrite.  But before he could speak, McCoy continued.  “Since you helped save his life, I’m gonna give you a break.  But don’t think for a moment, that we won’t have a much longer conversation about everythin’ that happened today.”

Spock inclined his head ever so slightly in acknowledgment before turning to glance at Jim.  “What is his status?”

McCoy dropped his arms, switching his mantle to less the concerned friend and more of the Enterprise’s CMO.  “He’ll pull through.  Spend a week in medbay, light duty for a week probably and then full active duty after that.  It was touch and go for a little bit, but then he seemed to just bounce back.”

Spock spoke quietly, “It was the bond.  It helped strengthen him.”

McCoy, for all his grousing, knew just how much Jim needed that type of connection and couldn’t help but soften in response.  “It probably did more than that, Spock.  It gave him somethin’ to stick around for, to look forward to.  That’s sayin’ a lot for Jim.”  He paused, making sure he had Spock’s full attention before sternly adding, “And don’t you dare screw it up or I’ll have your pointy ears.  He’s already been through too much.”

Spock spoke in earnest.  “I could not, cannot.  He is t’hy’la.  I will treasure him always.”

“Better believe you will,” McCoy warned, but there was little bite to his words.  He’d always hoped Jim would have someone care that deeply, love him even more than he did.  Judging by Spock’s statement and expression, he was very serious about his bond and commitment.

Spock turned again to look at Jim. “How long before he awakens?”

“Now that the meld’s broken, it shouldn’t be much longer.”

As if on cue, Jim groaned, his eyes fluttering, struggling to open.  Spock rolled, slowly turning his body to face Jim, careful to avoid any physical contact that could potentially hurt him.  “Jim?”

Jim smiled, soft and drowsy, once his eyes opened and focused upon Spock.  “Hey, Spock.  Glad to see you.”

“I am pleased to see you as well, ashayam.”

Jim’s brows furrowed in concern.  “Though, I can’t feel you like before?”

“I have been shielding since I broke the meld.  I did not want to overwhelm you.  I will adjust them for you.”

A few seconds later Jim sighed in contentment, a lopsided smile gracing his features.  “Better.”

McCoy knew it.  They were going to be insufferable.  As if he couldn’t tell by the shit-eating, dopey grin on Jim’s face.  They were love-sick puppies, and he wasn’t sure how he was ever going to handle it.  Their continued, aggravating penchant for self-sacrifice, particularly for each other, was definitely going to get worse.  He didn’t have enough alcohol to get him through it all.  “Unbelievable,” he muttered.

Blue eyes finally turned to meet his.  “Hey, Bones.”

“Hey yourself, kid.  How’re you feeling?”

“Alive.  In pain, but…better than the alternative.”

“Good.  And since I know it’s not your favorite thing, full disclosure that you’re here with me for at least a week, so get used to seein’ my handsome face a lot more.”

Jim groaned, this one in complaint of his extended stay in medbay.  But Leonard didn’t miss the fear and sudden panic flash in Jim’s eyes, nor the change in his heartrate and blood pressure, as Jim rapid-fired the next words. “Shit!  How are Chekov and Rutovika?  Did we get everyone?  Did the base with – “

Leonard held up his hand, stopping him.  “Chekov will recover, but he’ll need more specialized work on his spine than I can give him here on the Enterprise.  Means he’ll need to take an extended leave of absence for further surgeries and recovery.  Rutovika will be fine; bones are mendin’ and pysch is dealin’ with the shock and trauma.  We got the colonists out and they are all being assessed for injuries and such as we speak, and Sulu already reported the Klingon interference and engagement to Starfleet.”

Jim visibly relaxed, the last of his body’s tension dissipating once he knew everyone had made it back aboard the ship.  Every ward accounted for.  Then those intensely blue eyes asked forgiveness, pleading for leniency.  “I had to, Bones.”

He sighed.  “I know.”

“They’re my responsibility.  I couldn’t just leave them there.”

“I know that, too.”  He also knew that some of Jim’s life experiences had dealt wounds that had cut him far too deep to ever fully heal, leaving nasty, jagged scars.  “But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to talk about.  Includin’ the stunt you two pulled.”  The reprimand caused color to rise in both their cheeks.  “But at least I won’t have to watch you two idiots pine over each other anymore.  I’ll give you two a few minutes alone, before I need to come back and recheck your vitals.”

“Thanks, Bones.  You’re the best.”

“Don’t mention it.”  He walked to the door and stepped across the threshold.  Only after he heard the door swish shut, did he breathe deep, feeling the relief wash over him to sink deep into his bones.   He was eternally thankful it had all worked out in their favor today.

~~~~~

Back inside the private room, Spock tenderly traced Jim’s face with his fingers once more and placed a gentle kiss upon his bondmate’s lips.  He softly spoke the same words he had in the meld, giving them form and substance in the waking world:  a choice made, a promise to keep.  “Taluhk nash-veh k’dular.”

Jim echoed the same, whispering, “I love you,” as his eyes began closing and he drifted back to sleep; the few minutes awake too heavy a burden on his damaged but healing body.

As he lay beside Jim, slowly drifting into a meditative state, Spock could not help but think of the ambassador’s bequeathed belongings: trinkets out of time and out of place.  Perhaps his counterpart had meddled, and meddled even further after death, but Spock could not help but feel that things had finally been set right.  Jim would no longer worry about what he would do without Spock, and Spock was no longer torn between obligations.  They were t’hy’la and together they would thrive.