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Part I

Jim pointed toward the bar. "Just go in, and get us a booth. I'll be there shortly."

Spock hesitated. "Perhaps I should accompany you."

Jim shook his head. "And listen to you whine while I shop? No thank you."

"Vulcans do not whine, Captain," Spock said disapprovingly.

Grinning, Jim pointed again. "Go, get a booth. Order a drink. I'll just be a few minutes."

Spock held in a sigh. He could tell this was not an argument he was going to win, especially as he had no intention of telling his friend why he was uncomfortable going into the bar without him. Reluctantly he turned and headed toward the drinking establishment.

Jim watched his friend school his face into his unreadable Vulcan mask and felt a moment's uncertainty, wondering why Spock had put up, for him, such a fuss. Letting it go for the moment he looked up and down the walkway trying to find an acceptable clothing shop. Unusually clumsy, Jim had managed to spill a cup of coffee all over his tunic as the afternoon’s meeting had drawn to a close.

He could beam back up to the ship for a clean shirt, but it seemed as if he and Spock hadn’t had a night of relaxation in weeks, and he didn't want to jinx it by getting unavoidably caught up in ship's business. A sign down the way caught his eye and he headed for it at a brisk walk.

Spock did his best to ignore the looks shot his way as he entered. Despite knowing it was an illogical reaction, Spock found the attention he garnered in a setting such as this disturbing. He was ill equipped to deal with the sexual energy and emotions that saturated this kind of environment. Spock's two experiences of sexual congress with another being had occurred against his volition. Both episodes were more like some poorly remembered dream and had left him with little confidence in his own sexuality. And the whole debacle of his first Pon Farr hadn't helped.

On the whole, sex was something he'd rather not think about it. And yet, in this milieu, on his own, it was difficult not to. He had come to realize, for some inexplicable reason, that Vulcans presented a sexual challenge to many of the constituents of an establishment of this kind. When alone, he was regularly approached. And either not knowing or not caring that he was a touch telepath, as part of their courting ritual they often touched him. He shielded himself, or tried to, but Spock had discovered, much to his dismay, that sexual energy was a powerful force. It often got past his shields, leaving him too open to the accompanying emotions. For the most part, the emotions were negative: needy, desperate, and lonely, and they stirred his own feelings of loneliness, unsettling him.

Jim provided a welcome buffer that the Vulcan was uneasy to be without. He was rarely approached when he was with Jim. He still saw their glances, but something on his captain's face or posture kept them away. His captain garnered much attention of his own, and Spock was quite willing to be eclipsed.

Over time, Spock had noticed that something on his own face seemed to discourage many suitors vying for Jim's attention. This had disturbed him at first, made him wonder if it was an emotional display of some sort, but on reflection decided that when he and the captain went on shore leave like this, it was to purposefully spend time with each other, and it was only logical to impede potential interruptions.

Crossing the floor, Spock did his best to avoid touching anyone, grateful that it had yet to become unduly crowded. He spotted a booth in the back, well shadowed, and out of the way. He moved to claim the space, sliding gratefully into the booth, facing the door so as to see Jim when he arrived.

The large man scowled at his smaller companion. "Xan, I feel empty. I need to feed."

"I know, Vox, I can feel it, too." Xan eyed his brother. The marks that spiraled down his arms and across the tops of his hands were losing their clarity. His own were suffering the same fate.

"Get me someone who will last a while this time. That last one died too fast."

Xan watched the Vulcan make his way to the back of the bar. "Don't I always take care of you?" he asked Vox, watching the Vulcan slide into a booth in the back.

The voice was petulant. "I need someone soon."

"I think I just found someone. Someone nice and strong." He laid a hand on Vox's arm. "Stay here. Let me get things arranged."

Vox nodded and pressed back against the wall. "Hurry."

Xan headed across the room, aiming for the back booth.

Jim was flirting. Not that he planned to do anything about it, not when he was with Spock, but it never hurt to get some practice in. She was very pretty and willing, and Jim was mildly surprised that he wasn't interested in doing more than flirting. What he really wanted was to get back to Spock and enjoy some private time with his Vulcan friend. Lately it seemed as if ship's business had intruded every time he and Spock were together playing chess or having a quiet dinner.

He had come to enjoy this friendship more than he’d thought possible. Getting Spock to agree to accompany him on a shore leave, even if just for an evening, felt like a major victory. Jim took it as an acknowledgement that, at least on occasion, he meant more to Spock than the latest mathematical or physics conundrum to which he was applying his impressive mind. Jim knew that Spock would always put him first if push came to shove, but every now and then, being human, he wanted public affirmation. Time spent away from his beloved experiments might appear to be a small gesture for Spock to make, but it was enough for Jim.

He still hadn't chosen a shirt to wear. He wasn't sure why it seemed so important to find the perfect outfit. Smiling at the saleswoman, he began to solicit her assistance in choosing his attire for the evening.

Xan slid into the booth across from the Vulcan. "Don't get many Vulcans in here."

Spock met the man's gaze with his impassive one. "I expect that is true." He noted the marks on the stranger’s arms and hands. One eyebrow rose.

Xan took that as encouragement. "Are you looking for anything in particular?"

"No,” Spock said. “I merely wish to be left alone."

Xan pasted a winning smile on his face. "People don't come to a place like this to be left alone. I’m guessing you’re just playing hard to get."

"I assure you, I am not." A small robot drone appeared with Spock's choice of beverage held on its tray. Spock reached for it, eyeing the machinery with curiosity. Then he looked up at the man still sitting across from him. The marks caught his eye again. "I am not familiar with your species."

Xan nodded. Most people weren't. His kind tended to lay low, what few of them were left. He had little fear this Vulcan would have heard of them. "I am a Thalaman."

"What is your planet of origin?"

Xan did not want to reveal more. "See, I was right. You do want some company."

Spock realized that he might, perhaps, be communicating a contradictory message. He chose the outcome most desired and withdrew. "Forgive the intrusion."

"No problem. Come on, I want to introduce you to my brother. You can ask him anything you want." He reached out his hand to touch the Vulcan's arm.

Spock pulled his arm back before the touch was completed, reinforcing his shields. "I do not wish to meet your brother. I only wish to be left alone." Spock eyed the door, finding he was also wishing his captain would appear.

A more predatory smile crossed Xan's face. "We could have a good time."

Spock's eyebrow rose. "I find the probability of that to be extremely low. And, I do not require a…," the Vulcan forced the words out, "…good time."

Xan didn't really care whether this particular Vulcan wanted a good time or not. In fact, when Vox got his hands on him, Xan could guarantee that he wouldn't be having a good time. He looked the Vulcan over, appreciating what he was seeing. Maybe he could talk Vox into letting him go first, while he still looked good. Using a move he had perfected over the years, he attempted to stand as if to leave and knocked Spock's glass over, spilling his drink. "Hey, I'm sorry about that."

Spock used his napkin to catch the fluid that was threatening to drip on him. "It is of no concern. I will simply order another one."

"I'll do that. It's the least I can do."

"That is not necessary," Spock said firmly.

"Sure it is,” Xan said implacably. “I spilled it. I'll be right back."

Spock let out a small sigh and attempted to mop up the rest of the liquid. He cast another quick glance toward the door, wondering what was taking his friend so long.

Xan determined from the bartender what Spock had been drinking and had the order refilled. With his back to the Vulcan, he glanced around surreptitiously, then removed a small vial from an inner pocket and emptied its contents into the drink, shaking it lightly to mix the two fluids. Turning around he walked back to the booth and handed Spock his drink. "Sorry about that."

"There is no need to apologize. It was an accident."

"Yeah, yeah, an accident." Xan nodded. "Maybe I'll check back with you later. See if you've changed your mind."

"I will not."

Xan nodded again, his inner voice crowing. "You never know. You just might."

Spock felt somewhat stymied, not knowing how to converse with someone who so illogically refused to believe anything being said. He said nothing, and went back to cleaning his table with the napkins the drone provided. Finally, with some relief, he heard the man turn and walk away. Spock finished wiping up the spilled beverage and then sat even farther back in the booth, taking a swallow of his drink.

Xan walked across the bar back to his brother. Vox gave him an anxious look. "You got someone for me?"

"I just gave him some fluny. Give it about fifteen minutes."

"Who is it, Xan? Who is it?" Xan could hear the greed and desperate need in his brother's voice. The marks on his arms were even fainter.

He pointed toward the back booth. "There. The Vulcan."

Vox's eyes grew wide. "A Vulcan? I ain't never had a Vulcan before."

Xan grinned. "Neither have I." He looked at the man sitting in shadows. "But that's gonna change tonight."

Wearing his new shirt, he made arrangements for his uniform to be delivered to the ship and headed back down the street to the bar.

On the way he encountered a street performer who was able to contort his body to an unbelievable degree. Both fascinated and revolted, Kirk stopped to watch.

Spock's glass clunked down on the table and he realized with a sense of astonishment that he had misjudged where the surface was and had actually released the glass a distance of several centimeters above the table. His eyebrows rose as he looked at the glass as if it might reveal some new secret to the universe. Slowly, he became aware of the fact that his body wasn't operating at its usual peak efficiency. He was having difficulty focusing on objects across the room and clearly his depth perception was off.

He then noticed he was feeling unusually relaxed which, paradoxically, made him anxious. He immediately started running some internal diagnostics on his physiological processes. Spock was dismayed that his ability to think was also impaired. His thoughts felt sluggish, and it required significant concentration to maintain his focus.

That alarmed him even more; something was seriously wrong. He fought through the haze and concentrated on his body. The first abnormality he became aware of was a hormonal imbalance. The new configuration teased a memory, and he struggled to draw it forth. Spock closed his eyes, hoping the lack of visual distractions might assist him.

Instead he found an entirely new onslaught of alarming sensations. He could feel the cloth of the booth seat under his hand. It was velvety, and he marveled at its softness and nap. The air currents from the fans in the ceiling flowed like little eddies across the skin of his face and hands; he turned his head to more fully experience it. The music wafting through the air seemed to pierce his shields, touching his emotions.

Spock snapped his eyes open. Determined to regain control, he took a deep breath and attempted to slip into a light meditative state. While only moderately successful at achieving his goal, he was able to recollect the last time his hormones shifted to this extent, and a sense of dread slithered down his spine. It couldn't be his time again; it was still years away. Spock also recalled that there had been nothing pleasurable about his last Pon Farr, whereas now, despite his concern, there was a certain appeal to this sensual experience.

But almost as if his thoughts were the precipitating event, the sensations began to unpleasantly shift. A charge of released adrenaline pumped through his system and behind his eroding controls he could sense his own less amiable emotions. It was essential he get back to the ship before he could do any harm.

There was something else Spock knew he should be concerned about and grew increasingly frustrated at his inability to marshal his thoughts. Then it came to him, and panic coursed through him as he remembered his unbonded status. Spock had thought he would have time to find a mate, someone who would quench the fire when it overwhelmed him again. If this was truly Pon Farr, it was too late, and his death was upon him.

The Vulcan's breathing grew rapid, finding it almost impossible to keep up with the sensations streaming through his body. Spock fumbled at his waistband for his communicator. His fingers were shaky and unskilled; it seemed to take forever before he was finally able to unhook it and flip it open. Spock wished it were possible for him to be transported directly to his quarters. It was humiliating that someone might see him this way, so out of control. Holding the communicator he hesitated before speaking, sure his condition would be obvious by the tone of his voice alone.

As he hesitated, someone plucked it out of his fingers. "You don't need that."

Spock raised his eyes to find that the man was back. He didn't understand why his communicator had been taken. Struggling to speak, Spock said haltingly, "I must request that you…," Spock paused, tried again, "I must have that back."

Xan shook his head. "I don't think so."

Confused, the Vulcan glanced at the man again. "I don't…I still don't require your company."

"Ah, but I require yours." Spock reached for the communicator but the man slipped it into his pocket and slid into the booth next to the Vulcan. "Hey, relax. You got no place to go."

"You are incorrect. I must go." Spock shook his head, trying to clear it. He needed to get back to the ship. He fumbled at his belt for his communicator but found it was gone. His brow furrowed as he tried to determine where it might be. He had a vague memory of holding it in his hand. Spock looked at the table but only found his glass sitting there.

Xan grinned. "Did you like your drink? I made it special, just for you."

Spock stared at the glass and then at Xan, trying to make sense of what he'd just heard. "What…what did you do?" He slowly reached for the glass and gingerly picked it up, bringing it to his nose so as to cautiously sniff the remains. He detected nothing unusual. Not, Spock thought, that his senses could currently be relied upon. "You…what did you give me?"

"It doesn't matter. All that matters is that we're gonna go have a little fun." Xan reached out and touched Spock's hand. "Come on."

Spock let out a groan as he sensed the Thalaman's thoughts and emotions. It was as if a foul presence moved into his body. He could see what he and his brother had done to people in the past. The man's need to hurt, the satisfaction he found in the pain and humiliation of others, buffeted the drug befuddled Vulcan. He groaned again and moved further back into the booth. He found himself letting out a mental cry for Kirk.

Xan enjoyed hurting people, and he was an expert at it. He could tell that just his touch was hurting the Vulcan. He reached for the Vulcan's other hand and held them both tightly, empathically feeding on his pain. His eyes started to gleam. When he felt the Vulcan start to pull away, feeling how much strength still remained even with the effects of the drug, Xan grinned in satisfaction. Vox would get what he needed with this one. As if on cue, Vox slid into the booth across from Spock.

Spock didn't even notice him; he was too busy feeling invaded. His emotional response to the pictures in the man's mind, fear, anger, disgust, shame, they all raced through him, faster than he could cope with. Escape was paramount. He shoved against Xan and successfully dislodged him from the booth. Spock desperately lunged from the seat, cursing his drugged body and its slowed response time. But before he was half way out Vox reached over the table and blocked his exit. As Vox touched him Spock recoiled, this man's mental emanations even worse than the other. The Vulcan felt pummeled by his lust for violence, his unspeakable capacity for cruelty. He could sense what this man intended to do to him, the way he meant to use him.

Spock watched as the larger man's marks began to glisten, their definition sharpening and with a sickening horror he realized that the man was somehow feeding off of him. Then the first man sat down next to him again and grabbed his arm. The Vulcan could feel his controls breaking apart. Spock was terrified that if these men forced him to mate in his state of mind, that the inborn imperative to mentally bond during his time of mating might cause him to reach for their minds more fully, and the thought had him swallowing bile in an effort not to vomit. Again, in his mind, he cried out for Jim.

Jim felt a moment's disorientation as he watched the street performer, and it coalesced into a strong need to get to Spock. Easing his way out of the crowd he headed for the bar. He hadn't realized quite how far he’d wandered. When he could see the sign for the bar a few hundred meters away he felt the disorientation again and a frisson of fear sparked down his spine. He began to walk faster, dodging his fellow pedestrians, feeling an urgent need to assure himself of his friend's safety. Jim had no idea why he was feeling this way but he had no intention of ignoring it. The closer he got, the stronger the feeling grew. Jim began to run.

When he slammed through the bar door, his eyes scanned the interior. He found Spock in the corner, but the tableau in front of him was so unlikely that Jim stopped for a moment, trying to make some sense out of what he was seeing.

Spock was with two men, and they were both touching him. One man held his arm, and the other was leaning across the table, his hand on Spock's chest. Jim took another look, this time at his friend's face. Spock was afraid and in pain, and every protective and possessive gene in Jim's body took over. Moving quickly he raced to the corner booth and grabbed the smaller man. "What the hell are you doing? Get away from him." He glanced at his friend, needing an explanation. "What's going on here?"

Spock let out a gasp of relief, both at the arrival of his captain, and at the diminishment of the telepathic impressions buffeting him. But then Xan made another grab for Spock's hand, shoving Jim away. Spock let out a small moan as the hungry need doubled again. He tried to speak. "I can't…I need." Spock shook his head, frustrated at his inability to speak coherently.

"This doesn't concern you,” Xan said to Jim fiercely. “Our friend is just ill. We were about to leave."

Jim reached for the man again, grabbed a fistful of fabric at the neck of his shirt and yanked. "He's not going anywhere. And I said,” he snarled, “get your hands off of him."

Vox reluctantly lifted his eyes away from Spock, not wanting to interrupt his feeding. He saw Xan being lifted out of the booth by an angry man. His brow furrowed. "Xan, I can still have him, can't I? You said he was my Vulcan. You said I could have him." He spoke slowly, his voice sounding almost inebriated.

Anger shot through Jim and he finished his movement throwing the man to the floor. He shifted into the booth trying to push the larger man's hand off of Spock's chest. "He's not your Vulcan. I don't know what you think you're doing, but you can forget it."

Xan spoke from the floor, not willing to relinquish this prize. "We can make it worth your while. How much do you want?"

Jim's anger rocketed into rage at the thought of these men trying to buy him off. He shoved Vox's hand away and glared at him, hovering over Spock protectively. "He's not yours at any price. He's mine. Leave him the hell alone." Then Jim wrapped his fingers around Spock's upper arm.

Spock was having difficulty following all the interactions. But he heard Jim claim him, and he felt his touch. All of Jim's emotions, the anger, confusion and fear, rammed into Spock as well. But they were coming from a man the Vulcan was familiar with, imbued with his essence. And blazing through the human's hot emotions was an indisputable belief that Spock belonged to him.

Spock's instincts acknowledged the claim, the acceptable source especially welcome. A need to touch this one's mind suffused his thoughts and his hand rose to find the meld spots on Jim's face.

Jim wasn't paying attention. He was busy watching the two men who seemed to have no intention of leaving. Xan was slowly getting up off the floor. He looked up at Vox. "Kill him. Then we'll take the Vulcan and go."

Vox lunged across the table, grabbing Jim by the throat. Jim tried to dislodge his attacker's hand, but the man felt as if he was made of iron. Vox edged his way out of his seat and pulled Jim up and out of the booth.

Jim could feel the man shifting his grip and, in the pit of his stomach, he knew that once he got the right grip, his neck would be snapped. And if that happened, Spock was dead too. He struggled harder.

Spock was already moving. His fury at being denied access to his mate gave his muscles the impetus to move. A snarl sounded.

Jim was pretty sure that Spock was the one snarling, but even still, every hair on his body rose in response to it as his body sensed the danger. He felt a moment of intense gratefulness that that particular sound wasn't being directed at him. Spock snarled again and spoke, his voice whipping through the air. "You dare to touch what's mine?"

Vox ignored him. His friend had told him to kill this man, so that's what he'd do. Then he could get back to feeding. The Vulcan had been indescribably delicious, and all he'd done so far was touch his chest. He tightened his grip on Jim.

The impact from Spock's first blow resounded through Jim's body. Only support from the Vulcan kept him from falling. He felt Spock's muscles bunch as he hit the man again. The second blow knocked the larger man half way across the room. Jim heard a vicious crack as the blow connected but he ignored it to look up at Spock.

He almost lost his ability to breathe. Spock was standing there in all his pre-reform Vulcan glory, and it was a terrifying and awesome sight. Memories flooded his mind: Spock standing over him as they fought on the hot sands, eyes blazing, face flushed with anger, chest heaving. Seeing the smaller man start to rise, Jim snapped out of his trance and reached for his communicator. Flipping it open he spoke quickly, grabbing on to Spock. "Kirk here. Two to beam up. Now!" He felt the Vulcan start to sag and moved to hold him tightly as they dissolved.

Xan let out a shout of dismay as the two men dematerialized. Cursing, he turned to his brother, who was lying on the floor several feet away. No one in the bar paid either of them any attention. No one paid attention to anything in this bar except their own business. It was one of the reasons why Xan and Vox frequented it.

He moved to Vox's side and saw the pain in his eyes. There was a trickle of blood exiting his mouth forming a small puddle on the floor. His breathing was rapid and shallow, his eyes pitiful as he looked at his brother. Vox tried to speak but only moans emerged.

His brother was dying. Despite his sadness, he laid his hand on Vox's chest, not willing to deny himself the sensation of drinking the pain and fear, especially having been denied the banquet of the Vulcan. Xan saw a small gleam in Vox's eyes, as he greedily fed on Xan's anger and frustration; his last feeding before his life force left him.

Xan kept his hand on Vox's chest until the last emotion dulled. Then he got up and walked out of the bar. Someone would clean the body away, somebody always did. Xan couldn't imagine how he'd find another partner like Vox. He cursed again as he headed for his lodgings. Deciding to stop for a bottle of Finiskian whiskey he reached into his pocket for some money and was surprised when his fingers contacted something hard.

He pulled out the communicator. Xan stopped and considered it. Running his fingers over its contours, he could almost taste the Vulcan's anguish. The desire to taste it again rippled through his body, followed by a longing for revenge. Tightening his grasp around the metal he decided his money would be better spent hiring someone to research the device to find out where the Vulcan had gone. He owed Vox that much. He'd find the Vulcan and make sure his death would be slow.

As the Enterprise solidified under Jim's feet he tightened his hold on Spock to keep him from falling. Under the strain of the Vulcan's deceptively heavy body, all Jim was able to do was try to gracefully lever them both down so they didn't land in an unseemly heap on the transporter pad.

The Transporter Tech let out a gasp. "Captain, are you all right?"

Kirk looked up. "Yes, I'm fine. But Mr. Spock is not. Contact Dr. McCoy immediately."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk turned to his friend. "Spock, Spock," he whispered. "What happened down there?"

Dark eyes attempted to focus. The possibility of control was still outside his grasp, and the changes in his body continued to provide a significant distraction, but the mind invasion was gone and he found some words. "…drugged me."

"Why?" Jim was appalled.

"They wanted…Captain, I burn."

Jim's jaw dropped. There was no mistaking that phrase, or what it meant. "You can't. It's too soon. It's still years away."

"The drug. It has..." Spock closed his eyes, wanting only a moment's peace, knowing it was not to be. The need for Jim's mind clamored through every cell of his body. He clenched his fists tightly enough to draw blood to prevent himself from acceding to his desires. "You must move away. You must not touch me."

Jim glanced up, noticed the tech's wide-eyed gaze as he stared at his two commanding officers, and his lips tightened. "Clear the room, Ensign." Spock let out a small moan and clenched his fists tighter. As the door slid shut behind the tech, Jim noticed the wounds his friend was inflicting on himself and Spock's hands. "Stop. You're hurting yourself."

Spock pulled his hands back and struggled to crawl away, gasping, "It is necessary."

Jim moved closer. "Why? Let me help." His voice was pained.

"You cannot. I must apologize."

"For what?" Jim asked in an exasperated tone.

Spock spoke the words stiffly, with frequent pauses, as though needing to catch his breath. "You spoke words…of claiming, and you touched me. My mind has accepted…your claim. When the fire takes me I will…try to bond with you. You must stay away."

Jim ran Spock's words through his brain a few times. "I claimed you?"

"You did not mean to. I know that. You said…I was yours. I felt it in your thoughts."

"And I meant it. You are." He felt another surge of anger. "You sure as hell weren't theirs."

Spock moved farther away. "You mustn't say it. Please, move away from me."

Shaking his head, caught up in the need to protect his friend, Jim said, "If you need to bond with me, then do it. Won't you die without it?"

Spock groaned. "You do not know what you are offering."

"I don't care. I'm not going to just watch you die." Jim moved next to Spock again and reached for him.

Spock pushed him away, hard enough to send him several feet. His voice was thick with tension. "Do not touch me. I refuse your offer." Spock doubled up on the floor as his stomach seized tightly with cramps. "It is a drug. I will not…submit to this. I will not."

Jim was across the floor and at Spock's side once more when McCoy burst through the door, a team behind him. "Jim, what's wrong?"

"He hasn't told me much,” Jim answered. Someone drugged him down on that planet. I don't know with what. He's…" Kirk glanced at the team and saw that they were busy getting Spock on a stretcher. He softened his voice. "It made him…Bones…he says he's in Pon Farr."

McCoy's eyes widened and he ran his tricorder over Spock's body. "Damn it all to hell."

"Is he?" Jim demanded.

McCoy looked at the reading. "Well if he's not, it's sure a good imitation." Reaching into his bag he pulled out a hypo and made a few adjustments. He moved to Spock's side and pressed it against his neck. Before he could administer it, the Vulcan's hand shot out and he grabbed the doctor's wrist. McCoy winced, knowing he'd sport a bruise later. He looked down at Spock, annoyed at this interruption to relieve his patient's pain. "What? What is it?"

Spock gasped it out. "Do not let the Captain near me. Don't let anyone near me. You must isolate me."

McCoy spoke in soft tones, wanting to placate Spock so he could administer a sedative and get him to sickbay. "Sure, Spock, whatever you need."

Spock wasn't satisfied with the doctor's response. His grip tightened. "Promise me."

McCoy could see fear in the Vulcan's eyes. Slowly he began to realize that for Spock to ask this request, to actually request to keep Jim away, it must be vitally important. He nodded. "No one but me. I promise."

Spock saw the vow in the doctor's eyes and let go of his wrist. The doctor administered the hypo's contents, and the Vulcan lost consciousness.

Jim followed McCoy into sickbay, not wanting to leave Spock's side. He attempted to follow him right into the isolation room but the doctor turned around and put his hand up. "Not you, Jim."

"What do you mean, not me?” Jim asked affronted. “You don't think he meant that, do you?"

"It doesn't matter whether he meant it or not. I promised him. And once he's awake, he can change his mind." He turned to the rest of the team and gestured for them to leave the small isolation room as well. He'd handle this one on his own. It was probably impossible but he wanted to try to protect Spock from prying eyes. "Everyone out." Jim opened his mouth to argue and McCoy gestured to his team again. "Out." Then he pointed to the captain. "You can wait in my office. We need to talk." At Jim’s further hesitation McCoy put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I need to take care of Spock. You need a drink. Doctor's orders. You know where it is."

Jim gave him an unhappy smile, backed up a few steps, and just stood there as the doctor shut the door in his face, opaquing the windows. When he heard the lock engage he sighed, and after resting his hand on the door for a moment, he turned and headed into McCoy's office, letting it close behind him. He went straight for the liquor.

McCoy ran some scans trying to figure out what Spock had been given. When he was finally able to isolate it, his jaw tightened in anger. "What the hell were they doing giving this to a Vulcan?" he muttered under his breath. Unfortunately, he could imagine all too well what they were doing. McCoy had been on enough shore leaves with Spock to see the looks of appreciation that were directed toward the Vulcan.

McCoy could understand the appeal. Spock was a good-looking man, and on top of that, he was all wrapped up in that damn Vulcan mystique. He imagined that there were quite a few fantasies, both on ship and off, fueled by the challenge of breaking through that iron control. But for someone to try and force him…The anger shot through him again. Pushing the anger aside he began to diagnose and treat the Vulcan's symptoms. As the ramifications of Spock's condition ran through his brain, a trickling of fear worked its way in. As far as he knew, Spock was still unbonded. If he really was in Pon Farr, from the little reading McCoy had been able to do, Spock might not survive.

Jim was on his second drink. It wasn't helping. He kept seeing the look on Spock's face in the bar when he'd first gotten there, the anguish on Spock's face on the transporter bay, his groans of pain. The way he'd pushed him away.

McCoy stood in the doorway to his office and pursed his lips when he saw the shape Jim was in. He glanced again at the central bay's monitors, positioned so he could keep an eye on all of Spock's vital signs as he talked with the Captain. Jim looked up at him, his eyes tortured. "How is he?"

"Stable, for the moment."

"Is he…?" Jim sighed. "Is he really in Pon Farr?"

"For all intents and purposes, yes, but…"

"But?" Jim asked.

McCoy shrugged. "I’m not sure how much of this will fade when the drug works its way out of his system." His brows pulled together in confusion. "What the hell happened? How could this happen when you two were together?"

Jim looked down at his new shirt, a shirt he wished he'd never laid eyes on. "I ran an errand. I was only gone half an hour. I came back and there were two men with him." Running his hands down his face, he swallowed. "They were…they were touching him. One had hold of his arm, and one had a hand on his chest." His voice grew angry. "It was like they were…" Jim shook his head, unwilling to continue.

McCoy had to ask. "Why doesn't he want you with him?"

Jim let out a frustrated moan and stood, pacing the small office. "When I got there I tried to push them away. They kept saying he was theirs, that he belonged to them." He glanced up at his friend, his eyes ablaze with remembered fury. "They tried to give me money to walk away."

McCoy's eyes grew dark with his own anger, but he stayed silent, watching the captain. He glanced at the monitors. There were some slight fluctuations. It wouldn't be long before Spock was awake.

"I got mad,” Jim continued. “I shoved one away. I told them Spock was mine. I told them to leave him alone." He let out a long sigh. "I guess I grabbed Spock, I don't really remember." He waved his hand as if he was fast-forwarding himself. He flashed McCoy a pained, rueful grin, wishing he felt any of that grin inside. "Spock says I claimed him. He's afraid he'll try to bond with me."

McCoy's eyebrows rose and his mouth opened into a surprised moue. "What?"

The grin dropped off of Jim’s face. "He said his mind found mine compatible. I told him it was okay. I told him he could bond with me but he said no. He pushed me away."

McCoy's jaw dropped. "What? You said what?"

Jim's voice held a hint of desperation. "Won't he die? Won't he die if he doesn't bond with someone?"

The doctor wished he could tell his friend something else, but he couldn't lie. "That’s more than likely, if this really is Pon Farr."

Jim leaned against the wall with his fists, resisting the urge to slam them through. "Fucking thirty minutes. God, I never should have left him."

"Jim, it wasn't your fault. He's an adult man, for God's sakes. He's stronger than you are, and perfectly capable of taking care of himself. It was just bad luck. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"What did they give him?"


The lack of information was telling and Jim nailed the doctor with a harsh glare. "Which is?"

McCoy sighed, feeling another flush of anger. "It's a drug used to break down inhibitions, to make someone suggestible, it's used as a…shit, Jim, outside of a medical setting it's used as a rape drug."

Jim had suspected as much, but hearing it confirmed was so much worse. He pictured Spock in his mind again. "So when they were touching him, he could tell what they wanted, he'd have known."

McCoy closed his own eyes at the thought; not even being able to imagine what that would be like for a touch telepath. What it might have been like if they had succeeded. "You stopped them, Jim. That's what's important."

"For what?” Jim asked with a harsh laugh. “For Spock to die in Pon Farr?" He shook his head. "Besides, I did nothing. One of those men would have killed me. Spock saved us both. I think he killed him. And that reminds me, I need to send down a security team to determine what sort of legal disaster we've created."

"Whatever Spock or you did, it was in complete self-defense."

"I know that. I know that."

McCoy watched Spock's vital signs fluctuate again. "I need to get back in there."

"Let me go in, I need to see him."

"No, Jim. You need to go to your cabin and get some sleep."


"No. I’m sorry."

"I can't just let him die."

"He's not dying right now."

Jim blew out another breath. "All right. I'll leave it alone, for right now. But if he starts to die, there is nothing you can do, short of throwing me in the brig, that will keep me out of that room."

McCoy saw the determination in the captain's eye and was certain he meant every word. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." He chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment. "And you're to stay off duty for the next 24 hours. You've had a shock too, and need to rest."

Jim opened his mouth to argue but the doctor walked away, releasing the lock mechanism and easing himself into the isolation room.

Getting up, exhausted with worry and guilt, Jim headed back to his own quarters as directed. As the door to his place closed behind him Jim sagged briefly against it. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, running his sweaty palms down his torso. At the touch of the fabric he opened his eyes and stripped the shirt off, ramming it down the recycling chute.

Jim knew if Spock were here he would tell him he was being illogical, that he was indulging in a shameless display of emotionalism. Jim didn't care. He never wanted to see that shirt again, knowing it would remind him of what the time spent purchasing it had cost his best friend. Putting on a robe he lay down on his bed, but he didn't sleep for a long time.

When Spock had gone through his first Pon Farr, McCoy had kept careful records. Some of it had been retrospective, but he'd carefully recorded his observations about Spock and gathered all the medical literature he could get his hands on, determined if he were around when the next one hit, he'd know what to watch for.

So far, Spock was going through each stage of Pon Farr exactly as predicted, with one large difference. It was all occurring much faster than expected. McCoy ran the set of tests again and frowned. What should have taken Spock's body days to go through, was only taking hours.

The good news was that it gave the doctor some hope that Spock might actually survive without being bonded. He hoped that when the plak tow hit, Spock would go through it so fast he’d pull out the other side before his body could go into multi-organ failure. The bad news was that all the pain and stress that accompanied a Vulcan's time of mating seemed determined to make the best use of the shortened time available. The readings were so high on the Vulcan that McCoy didn't know how he wasn't screaming in agony.

Spock had snapped the bed rails. Crumpled them, actually. He'd have dug his fingernails through his palms if McCoy hadn't wrapped Spock's hands with enough gauze to protect the already scored skin. The doctor checked the readings again and his apprehension rose. At this rate, the plak tow could hit any minute. He'd been trying to keep the specifics to a minimum whenever Jim checked in, but the doctor was afraid he might have to throw him in the brig to keep him away much longer.

Letting out a sigh he looked up and felt his heart skip a beat when he realized Spock was looking at him. What really took him aback was that the look was lucid. Spock had been awake intermittently, but McCoy had seen that he was too involved in trying to fight for his survival and his sanity to be truly aware. They had barely exchanged a handful of words over the hours he'd been in sickbay. But now Spock was watching him, his eyes momentarily clear.


When Spock spoke, McCoy revised his opinion. His voice sent chills down the doctor's spine. "I can sense him."

McCoy immediately knew who he was talking about. "Jim?"

Spock barely nodded. "His mind calls to me."

"He knows not to come here."

Spock eyed the doctor again. "It does not matter."

McCoy remembered a documentary he had watched on sharks. Remembered how they cut through the water, all latent power and benign menace until presented with an opportunity, and then they struck with deadly accuracy. It had been unnerving to watch. McCoy felt the same watchfulness in Spock's eyes. "What do you mean, it doesn't matter?"

"I know where he is."

The doctor felt the fingers creep down his spine again. He could almost hear the gongs on Vulcan being struck. "Should I sedate you?"

"It will not keep me from him."

"The door is locked and keyed only to my voice."

"You are a fool if you think a locked door will keep me from what is mine."

McCoy lifted his hands, making a gesture of supplication, as if to ask the Vulcan what he should do. Then he decided to speak his mind. "He offered, Spock."

That statement seemed to make an impact. Spock shook his head, reaching for a shred of remaining sanity. "I will hurt him if I find him."

"Spock,” McCoy offered cautiously, “He'd do anything to keep you alive. You know that."

"I do. But I will not. I will not inflict this on my Captain and my friend." A gasp forced its way through Spock's lips as the cramps started in again. "I am almost in plak tow." The words were strained. "Even were we to link now he would not have the experience with the bond to cool the fire. He would get swept up in it and add to my own, and I would forget he was human." His eyes glazed for a moment and then refocused on the doctor, fear on his face. "You must restrain me."

McCoy shook his head, the idea anathema to him. "No, I…"

"You must. I will kill anybody who gets in my way; I will kill anyone who tries to stop me. I will be a danger to this ship and its crew. You must restrain me now, while I am still sane." As the doctor continued to stand there, Spock grew angry. He barked out the order, his voice ricocheting around the room. "Now. Do it now."

McCoy found himself obeying that voice. Replicating a set of his heaviest restraints he tied down the Vulcan at his wrists and ankles. Spock tested their strength. He let his head drop down on the bed, feeling a moment's relief. McCoy was muttering. "He won't be okay with this. I’m not okay with this."

"It does not matter,” Spock said, exhausted. “He will be safe. That is all that matters."

"He would say the same of you."

"You would not be able to save him this time with a trick, Doctor." Spock could feel the madness approaching. "Leave me."

"No, I can help with the pain."

"You cannot. I demand privacy." His eyes shone with a quiet desperation. "Please, Doctor. Grant me this."

McCoy ground his teeth. "God damn it, Spock. How can you ask me to just leave you here?"

"There is nothing you can do. I will either survive or I won't. Kaiidth."

"I won't promise not to come back in if I think I can help." He looked at Spock, to get his agreement and found himself taking a step back, his heart in his throat. There was nothing but madness in the Vulcan's eyes, and he was straining at the restraints, every muscle in his body tight with the effort. McCoy prayed that they'd hold as he left the room, locking it behind him. Cursing Vulcan physiology he spun around and almost ran into the Captain.

Kirk didn't mince words. "How is he?"

Before McCoy could answer they both heard the Vulcan start to keen, his voice so filled with torment that both he and Jim felt it resonate in their gut. The doctor looked around sickbay, looked at the staff currently frozen in place. "Clear sickbay." He would spare Spock this public forum as well, if he could. As they hesitated, he spoke again. "Out." His voice was steel. They left. McCoy turned to Jim. "You too."

Spock let out another cry, then called Jim's name. Jim headed for the isolation room; there was no way he could ignore that plea. He found his arm being grabbed by the doctor. "Bones, let me go,” he snapped. “He needs me."

"He doesn't know what he's saying,” McCoy countered. “That's instinct you're hearing, nothing else."

"Open the door," Jim demanded.

"You're just making it harder for him. He'll sense that you're near. Don't make him do something he'll regret."

"And you think me letting him die when I could have helped is something I can live with?"

"Captain,” McCoy said with an iron will. “You may not go in there. Spock was certain he would hurt you, and I’m not willing to dispute that. I'm not putting you both at risk."

"You can't stop me." Jim was at the door, trying to open it, trying to override the doctor's voice commands. When he was unsuccessful he slammed his fists against the door, realizing that the doctor could indeed stop him. "Damn it, Bones, let me in." Spock let out another cry. Jim pressed his forehead on the cold surface and called back to him. "Spock, I'm here."

His words provoked another anguished cry and the sounds of thrashing. McCoy put his hand on the captain's arm. "He'll break something trying to get to you. Get out of here, now. And that's an order." As Jim stood his ground McCoy pushed harder. "Don't make me call security, Captain."

Jim's jaw clenched and unclenched, his mind searching for an acceptable resolution to his quandary. He found none. Angry at Bones, angry at himself, and angry at the circumstances, he stormed into the doctor's office and slammed his hand on the control that would shut the door.

McCoy sighed. He knew it would be better for Spock to have Jim as far away as possible, but he also knew that if he forced it, he would end up having to call security. He decided he could accept this compromise. At least this way he could keep an eye on both of them. Sitting, he checked his data and the current readings. Taking into account the increased rate of every other stage of this forced Pon Farr, he estimated Spock would be in plak tow for approximately two and a half hours. For a moment he wished Spock were standing beside him so the Vulcan could quote the exact time to him. Turning his chair so he could watch the monitors, he settled himself in for an excruciating wait.

Jim paced the small office. The sounds of Spock's cries were somewhat muted in here but he still heard every one. They crawled inside his skin and roiled in his gut. He glanced at the clock. If Bones was right, there was still 42 minutes left. Still plenty of time for Spock to die.

He'd gone out of the office every so often to argue with McCoy, demanding he be allowed to see Spock. The doctor wouldn't give an inch, and Jim knew when to stop each time to keep himself from being forcibly ejected. Being here was bad, listening to Spock's cries was torture, but not being here would be worse. Much worse. So each time, when he could see that he was pushing McCoy too far, he backed down and hid in his office. He looked up at the clock again. Forty-one minutes.

McCoy kept his eyes on the monitor. He wanted to go in there and sedate Spock, give him something for the pain, do something to ease his body's torment. Rationally he knew there was nothing he could do. This much he had found in the literature. A Vulcan's metabolism was so increased during plak tow that any drug burned off in minutes, sometimes seconds. McCoy supposed that if they had found a drug that would take the edge off, every adult male Vulcan would carry a stash of it in his back pocket.

But McCoy hated feeling helpless. It was almost more than he could tolerate to watch and do nothing. Clenching his jaw he kept his eyes on the monitor, waiting for the signs that would show it was over. Then it would be a race against time, trying to support Spock's body while he recovered. He closed his eyes for a moment.

Jim stood in the office, listening. It was quiet. His heart in his throat, he opened the office door, yelling for McCoy. "What happened? He stopped."

McCoy was already barking out an order for the door to open and stepped inside the isolation room, Jim right behind him. They both let out a pained gasp. The Vulcan looked dead. Racing to his side, the doctor did a quick assessment and let out his breath giving Jim a nod. He was still alive, at least for the moment. McCoy swallowed when he realized that Spock had managed to rip off one of the restraints, breaking his wrist in the doing of it. There was green blood oozing from both wrists and ankles, the skin badly abraded.

Jim had been watching McCoy's face. At the tight nod he looked down at Spock. His voice was tight with anger and disbelief. "You restrained him?"

"Shut up, Captain." McCoy didn't have time to get in a fight. Setting up a respirator, McCoy inserted an airway, drafting Jim as his assistant.

Jim did as directed, belatedly identifying that, of course, now was truly not the time to be fighting with McCoy. His anger unabated, it was now sharing space with the overwhelming relief that his friend was still alive. As the doctor fiddled with some of his equipment, Jim touched the Vulcan's cheek with the back of his fingers. He knew Spock wasn't out of danger yet, but the warmth of his skin was reassuring. After icily asking permission, he moved around the bed, taking off the restraints. He kept looking at Spock, waiting for signs of consciousness. Finally he whispered to McCoy. "Is he really all right? Will he live?"

McCoy nodded, his attention never leaving Spock. "Yes. Barring any unforeseen complications, he should pull through."

"When will he wake up?"

"Not for a while. I imagine he'll slip into one of his Vulcan healing trances, and we won't hear from him for a couple of days." McCoy kept moving, making sure all of the Vulcan's vital organs were supported and functioning adequately. He glanced at Jim. "Go find my staff. I need them back."

As much as he hated to leave his friend's side, Jim did as requested. He didn't have to go far. They were standing outside of sickbay, waiting for news, wanting to be easily available in case their services were required. Jim gestured them back in and watched as they started responding to orders. Jim wanted to go stand by Spock again, reassure himself with the warmth of his skin, and the rising and falling chest, but as he watched them all hover around Spock, he knew he would just be in the way. Feeling suddenly lightheaded, he decided what he really needed to do was sleep. Stumbling his way back to his cabin, he crawled onto his bed, and was asleep in seconds.

Forty-one hours later Spock was released from sickbay. Dr. McCoy restricted him to quarters and put him on temporary medical leave. For the first time since Spock had come on board the Enterprise, when the door to his quarters closed, he locked it and engaged the privacy light. For six days he only spoke to the doctor on the intercom. He refused to see anyone, including Jim.

Part II

Jim was pacing. "I've gone there at least three times a day. He still won't let me in. It's been six days," he added, outraged. "He's ignoring me." He pointed at himself with his thumb. "Me." Jim wished for a moment that he were in his own quarters so he could throw something.

"Jim, he's on leave. He has the right to see, or not see, who he chooses."

"But, why doesn't he want to see me? I don't understand." Jim threw himself onto the couch in the doctor's quarters. "Are you sure he's all right?"

"As well as can be expected. I've spoken to him every day." McCoy didn't add that it was part of the bargain he'd struck before allowing Spock to be released to his quarters. Otherwise he was sure Spock wouldn't be talking to him either. He also didn't add that he knew Spock had inquired as to the captain's whereabouts from the computer before leaving sickbay. It was only when he knew Jim was on the bridge that he had left for his quarters. The doctor spoke carefully. "I imagine he's embarrassed at his lack of control."

"He doesn't need to be embarrassed for God's sakes. None of this was his fault."

"Jim, I can't believe I'm saying this, but stop expecting him to think like a human. He's a Vulcan."

Jim didn't care how Spock acted as long as he got to see him. Being denied access to him was painful; he missed his friend badly. Running his fingers through his hair, he asked, "So when do I get my friend back?"

This was the conversation McCoy had been dreading. He let out a long breath. "I'm not so sure you'll ever get him back."

That got Jim's attention. He sat up straight on the couch. "What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I said."

"Explain, Doctor."

McCoy let out another long breath. "Jim. I imagine the reason why none of us has seen Spock is because he’s busy meditating, trying to shove every emotion he has so deep inside his Vulcan shields that they'll never see the light of day again."


McCoy talked right over him. "And I imagine that the thought of being around an emotional human, even you, is something he can't deal with yet, which means he's probably not having much luck getting his shields back in place."

"So, all the more reason…"

"Which is why,” McCoy said, again interrupting, “he is probably refusing to see you, as you tend to provoke his emotions more than anyone else even when his shields are in place."

Jim opened his mouth to speak again but then snapped it shut. He paced for a minute, finally asking, "So what do I do?"

"Nothing, at least not until he asks for it. Which I don't believe he will." McCoy ran a hand over his face. "Well, actually I do believe he'll ask you for something."

"What?" Jim would do anything Spock asked.

"I think he'll want to go home."

Jim's eyes opened wide. "Go home to Vulcan? Why? He's been attacked before. He's been in danger and almost died often enough to keep us both well stocked in nightmares. I understand that what happened was painful for him, but why would he want to leave?"

"Well, for one thing,” McCoy said, “so he can see a Vulcan healer. He asked me to see if I could locate one on Starbase 52 for when we arrive there in three days. Just the fact that he asked tells me he's in way over his head trying to deal with what happened."

"So find him one," Jim said reasonably.

"There isn't one, Jim,” McCoy said as patiently as he could. “Vulcan healers don't hang out on Starbases. They hang out on Vulcan." He let out a long breath. "I think he needs help, but there's not much I can do for him. I think that whatever those men did to him was as serious as a physical rape. Spock didn't say much, but he did tell me the name of whatever species those men were. There's not much in the literature, but what's there isn't good, and it's mostly derived from victims who somehow survived an attack. They're empaths, but not the good sort we've come across, like Gem. They feed on pain and misery, and the most expeditious way to have a steady source of food is to create the pain themselves."

McCoy's lips tightened at the thought of creatures like this existing, and at what they had done to Spock. "The drug just made it worse. It amplified the experience, exponentially. And it caused Spock to completely lose control, which for a Vulcan, is about as demeaning an experience as they can have. Plus he did it in public. Plus he propositioned his captain and best friend, which, if he had followed through on that instinctual need, would have involved potentially raping and, most likely, seriously injuring him."

The doctor continued to relentlessly relate what Spock was dealing with. "The amount of pain he was in during his plak tow would have knocked the entire crew out for a week, and that healing trance of his was barely effective. In fact, I’m not sure he even actually achieved it. He had to be restrained by me to keep him from injuring crew. Oh yes, let's not forget that he is reasonably certain he committed murder, even if the security team found no trace of a body, or anybody even willing to talk about what happened. He's now gone through his second disastrous Pon Farr. I mean, I know it was drug induced which is probably why he survived it, but I'm sure it still felt like a real Pon Farr to him. Jesus, Jim, he's been raked through an emotional coal bed of every negative human emotion there is, while being stripped of every bit of Vulcan control that helps him cope."

Jim looked at his friend, sick to his stomach. "Bones…" He began to pace again. "There must be something I can do. There must be some way I can help him."

"If he were human, I'd agree. Humans need their best friends at times like this. But for Spock, admitting right now that he even has a best friend, that you are someone he needs, is just opening up the door to more emotions, something he’d clearly not ready to deal with, which is why he's not letting you in, literally or figuratively. I don't know that he'll ever want to deal with it. I certainly think if you were to try and talk to him before he's ready, you'd push him further away."

"So there’s nothing we can do?"

"Jim, I don’t know. I don’t know the first thing about helping a stubborn Vulcan deal with the stuff Spock is going through. I can see several outcomes and I don’t like a single one of them.”

“What are they?”

McCoy sighed and ticked them off on his finger. “First one is he'll manage to pull it together on his own. I believe that the only way he can achieve that is to pull back into his Vulcan shell as tight as he can, and to completely deny his emotions. Essentially back to square one."

"Next," Jim said quickly.

"He'll ask for an extended medical leave, and go home to Vulcan for assistance. Again, if…and I mean to say if…if he comes back, he'll be Vulcan through and through."

"Next," Jim said again, his voice tight.

"He'll go home to Vulcan and he won't return at all." McCoy moved to the edge of his chair and reached for his drink. "He had to go through this Pon Farr unbonded. I can't imagine he'll ever want to risk that again. He needs to find someone to bond with, and then he'll want to stay put, so he doesn't take the chance of being too far away when his time comes. Especially as this one came so early. We all know it was the drug that precipitated this, but I don't guess he'll want to assume that the next one will come on schedule."

"I don't like any of those options."

"I know you don't, but I don't think I have a better one for you. I suppose if he stays, he might in time, start to loosen up again. But he'll still have to go to Vulcan eventually. He still has to bond, and despite his momentary lapse in judgment when he fixated on you, there's no one here he's likely to bond with."

"Why not? Why can't he bond with me?"

McCoy leaned back, glass in hand, chewing the inside of his cheek as he considered the captain. When Jim looked as if he might speak again McCoy held up his hand. "Wait. Give me a minute to regroup here. I thought we were having one conversation but suddenly I find we're having another."

"What does that mean?"

"I thought we were talking about Spock."

"We were, we are."

"No, it appears we’re talking about you and Spock."

Jim leaned against the wall he was closest to, his hands fisted. "I don't want to lose him."

"I know that, but…and maybe I'm putting myself out on a ledge, but I’m thinking you don't want to lose me either, right?"


"So, if I came to you tomorrow and told you I was tendering my resignation to go back to my roots and become a country doctor in Georgia, would you propose marriage to me to keep me here?"

Jim sent him an exasperated glare. "That wouldn't be my first choice, no."

"But it would be for Spock?" At the confused look on Jim's face, McCoy rolled his eyes and spoke in angry tones. "Spock told me that you didn't understand what you were offering. Please tell me that you did. Please tell me that you knew that bonding with Spock would mean nothing less than a marriage. And not the two or five year contract kind, but the 'til death do us part kind, and according to Vulcan tradition, possibly beyond that. You knew that, right?"

Jim's eyes flashed with annoyance. "I know about Vulcan bonds, Doctor. I admit I didn't really think about it at the time. I just knew he was dying and I was what might keep him alive."

"He's not dying now. And you just mentioned it again. Did you think about it this time, or are you still just flying blind?" Jim didn't answer and McCoy let out a harsh laugh. "Thank God he hung on to his sanity long enough to refuse you. My God, man, what were you thinking?"

Jim's lips curved around an unhappy smile. "I think we've just ascertained that I haven't been thinking." He started to pace again but stopped quickly, turning to face Bones. "When we were down on the planet, when those men were talking about him as if he were theirs, a part of me went crazy." He tapped himself on the chest. "All I could think about was that he was mine. I wanted to kill them for trying to take him away from me. I can see why Spock thinks I claimed him. I did. As crazy as things got down there, that was crystal clear. He was mine. My Vulcan. Nobody else's. Mine."

"And now that you're back on the ship?"

"I still feel that way."

"Do you love him, Jim? Or I suppose the better question would be to ask if you're in love with him."

Jim ran a hand tiredly over his jaw. "I don't know. I do know I don't want to live without him."

McCoy got up to pour himself another drink. He was going to need it. After refilling Jim's glass as well, he sat down again, gesturing for the captain to sit as well. Once Jim was seated back on the couch he began. "Okay, let's start at the beginning. Are you attracted to him?"

Jim just looked at the doctor but didn't answer.

McCoy sighed. "Okay, let's get even more basic. Have you ever even been with a man before? Have you ever wanted to be?"

Kirk took a deep breath. "Just a little experimenting when I was younger. You know, the basics."

"Actually I don't know. What sort of experimenting?"

Kirk reddened. "Does it really matter?"

"Yes, it matters. You need to explore this stuff, Jim. You owe it to yourself and to Spock to really know what you're doing. So, just answer the question."

"Fine. Mutual masturbation, a blowjob or two. The basics."

"And after you experimented, then what?"

"I decided I liked women better."

"Has it crossed your mind that being bonded with Spock might include having sex with him? That in order for the two of you to bond that he'd need to penetrate you? And in case that isn't clear enough, let me be blunt. You would need to engage in anal sex." McCoy stood up now and began to pace. "Were you maybe thinking that you could just nobly deal with that every seven years, and the rest of the time Spock would be fine if you continued to have sex with women?"

Jim was blushing a furious red now. "I didn't really give it a lot of thought, no."

"Lord almighty, Jim. You do know that Vulcans don't just have sex during Pon Farr, right?"

Jim looked away, not answering, his jaw clenching and unclenching.

"Do you know anything about Vulcans and sex?" McCoy pushed.

Jim squared his shoulders, fighting back his temper. "Enlighten me, Doctor."

McCoy gave a grateful shudder that Spock had refused to see Jim. He brought his attention back to his friend. "I had an enlightening conversation of my own with Lady Amanda one night, on one of our visits to Vulcan. She actually laughed at me." McCoy let out a small chuckle at the memory. "I think I'd had a little too much to drink and had the gracelessness to ask her if it ever got lonely for her between Sarek's times."

Jim's eyebrows rose. "You asked her that? Shit, Bones." Then he recalled his friend's words. "She laughed at you?"

"For quite a while. And then made it very clear to my alcohol hazed mind, that not only do bonded Vulcans have sex outside their time, but that, in fact, they were quite sensual and very responsive to their partner's needs. Apparently it's logical to have sex for pleasure with one's bond-mate." He grinned at Jim. "I think she'd had too much to drink as well because she leaned in close to me and whispered to me that once you had sex with a Vulcan, you were spoiled for anything else. Then she tapped her temple and said, You see, they know what you want, they know what you need'."

Jim was riveted. "What did you say?"

"I didn't. All of a sudden this big smile came over her face, and for some reason I looked up and saw that the Ambassador had come into the room, and she'd known, even though her back was to him. She turned to him, and they looked at each other, and the vibes going between them almost knocked me down. They disappeared soon after that, and I'm betting they snuck off to have sex."

The thought of Ambassador Sarek and Lady Amanda having sex was a bit unsettling to Jim, but he was mostly thinking about having sex with someone who could read his mind. He could feel his groin tighten at the thought.

McCoy took another sip of his drink, his voice rich with sarcasm. "So, here you'd be, all nicely bonded with Spock, ensuring that he'd be stuck with you for all eternity, and then when he'd be wanting to get all snuggly with you, you'd be off to the whorehouse."

Jim started to get mad but the thought of Spock wanting to get snuggly derailed his temper. He grinned instead.

McCoy shook his head, exasperated. "What the hell are you grinning at?"

"The thought of Spock snuggling." He dropped the grin and stopped Bones' next tirade. "I hear you, Doctor, loud and clear. I was out of line to offer without thinking it through."

McCoy was satisfied with that admission. "So, what now?"

"It sounds as if I have some thinking to do."

"Okay, fair enough. So just to add a little fuel to this fire, let me give you another possible scenario."

"I'm ready."

"You decide you're in love with Spock, you somehow manage to get in to see him, convince him that emotions aren't all bad, that in fact, some of them can be downright enjoyable, talk him into bonding with you, and you both live happily ever after."

Jim downed his drink and flopped back on the couch, disheartened. "Doesn't sound very probable, does it?"

"Well, if Spock were here he could calculate the exact probability of this particular scenario coming to pass, but working it out on my own, I'm guessing it's pretty low." McCoy moved to the couch and put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "But if anyone can pull it off, it would be you." He paused. "But don't even think about trying it unless you mean it,” he added sternly. “If he let down his guard again, and ended up feeling betrayed by you, I don't think he'd ever recover from it."

Jim shot to his feet, feeling an acute need to be alone. "Message received." He sent his friend a tight smile. "And thanks."

"That's what I'm here for, Jim."

Jim nodded and left the room. He went to the observation deck and walked to the huge window, resting his forehead on the glass, letting the view seep into his body. Listening intently he sifted through the myriad of noises around him until he could hear the subtle vibration of the big ship's engines. The combination calmed him in a way that little else did.

The only other thing that calmed him like this was being with Spock. The thought of losing him was unbearable. Pushing the emptiness aside, he pulled a chair up close to the window and sat down. Resting his head on the back of the chair, his eyes on the darkness of space and the streaks of starlight, he began to run his mind over the conversation he'd just had with Bones, trying to find the truth within his own heart.

Part III

Spock was nearing despair. It had been eight days since he'd left sickbay, and he had yet to attain a deep meditative state. His thoughts and emotions distracted him, keeping him in the lighter levels where healing was not possible.

His body ached from a combination of not having recovered satisfactorily from the accelerated Pon Farr, the hours spent kneeling at his meditation stone, and a lack of sleep. Spock knew he badly needed to achieve a deep trance or get some sleep, but both eluded him. He had tried to sleep, but he was finding it difficult to sufficiently relax. In addition, the few times he'd fallen asleep, nightmares had awakened him. Nightmares of sufficient unpleasantness to make him reluctant to sleep at all.

He found it impossible to let go of the feelings the attack had engendered in him. Spock could still feel the mind touch of those two men, as if they'd left a residue behind impervious to cleansing. Thoughts of Jim also made him cringe. What Spock had said and tried to do to him was indefensible. A small logical voice insisted that Jim would not hold it against him, but the Vulcan was not that forgiving.

He had been aware each and every time Jim had been at his door. A part of him had longed to open the door, had yearned to pull on his friend's strength. It had pained him to know that he was causing Jim further hurt by refusing him entrance. But Spock still felt the urge to meld with Jim and felt tainted by it, as if it made him little better than the men who had tried to force their minds on him. Spock knew he could control it, that he wouldn't force himself on Jim, but the thought and desire was there, and it shamed him.

He knew he couldn't avoid the captain forever. But he didn't think he could tolerate the emotions. With his shields nonexistent he had been able to feel Jim's emotions even from the hallway. Spock knew he was worried, that he felt guilty, and that, to assuage those feelings, he would require assurance from Spock that he was all right. And Spock, while he had developed a skill for bluffing and misdirection under the excellent tutelage of his captain, was not capable of lying that blatantly to his friend, and could offer no such assurance.

He was not all right. Spock was beginning to wonder if he'd ever be all right again. He wasn't at all sure that he'd be fit to serve on this ship again. As the days passed he realized that he needed assistance. Vulcan assistance. Spock had hoped, illogically he knew, that there might be a Vulcan healer on Starbase 52, but, of course, there was not.

If he were unable to heal himself, it meant a return to Vulcan. And logic dictated that if he were to return to Vulcan that he should use that opportunity to find a bondmate. And logic also dictated that if he found a bondmate, that he should stay close to his mate. Spock could not go through another Pon Farr unbonded. The pain had been intolerable. He was amazed he’d survived it. His body trembled just at the memory.

The thought of taking a bondmate was a further cause of depression. His mind had been captivated at the idea of bonding with Jim, and now the desire had been firmly planted for that clever, quicksilver, impulsive mind. By comparison, the thought of a Vulcan mind now seemed dark and uninspiring.

Spock acknowledged a deeper truth within. He had wanted Jim's mind for a while. It had started with their first meld. Ever since Spock had first entered his captain's mind he had felt the allure, and every meld since then had cemented the need.

The Vulcan knew Jim had offered to bond with him, but believed that Jim had made that offer only to save his first officer's life. He was also sure that if they had bonded, Jim would come to deeply regret it. Spock didn't think he could live with that. He also feared that the fresh onslaught of emotions that a meld with Jim would inevitably bring would overwhelm him. He already felt as if his emotions were ruling him, running roughshod over him. Spock was unable to keep up, or even identify half of what he was feeling, let alone process them and move beyond them.

The Vulcan wondered again, as he had every day since he'd sequestered himself in his quarters, how humans did this. How did they function? How did they get through the day feeling this much? Spock felt so unequal to the task. He sighed. Shifting his body position slightly to relieve his discomfort as he knelt, he again tried to quiet his thoughts and emotions, to go deep within, longing for the stillness.

Jim punched his pillow trying to smash it into a shape that would somehow facilitate his falling asleep. He wanted to be with Spock. He wanted Spock to want to be with him. Jim hadn't quite processed what that all meant yet, but the Vulcan's absence was eating away at him.

He had continued to go by his quarters, needing to let Spock know he was thinking of him and available. Jim figured the crew was getting used to seeing him standing outside Spock's quarters, talking to his door. He had to admit that a part of him was currently relieved that Spock wasn't opening his door. After his conversation with Bones, Jim wasn't sure he was quite ready to face his friend. But he was also afraid not to talk to him. The last couple of evenings when he'd opened the door to his own quarters his heart had started racing as he checked his messages, sure that he would find Spock's request to return home.

Jim had spoken the truth to McCoy that he didn't want to live without Spock. With the Vulcan at his side, he had become the man he wanted to be. Spock gave him the courage to be more than he’d ever thought himself capable of. The selfish part of him wanted to bond with Spock just to ensure he'd always be at his side, that he'd always have that smile that wasn't a smile to brighten his day, that never-ending support and constancy that he'd come to depend on.

Now though, the conversation with Bones had made Jim wonder what exactly he had to offer Spock. He was afraid that if Spock had bonded with him, that he would now be regretting it, regretting having an emotional human stuck in his head who was still ambivalent about having sex with his new Vulcan male bondmate.

Jim could almost imagine it. He could imagine running his fingers through Spock's hair, and defining those pointed ears with his tongue. But any time he tried to take the fantasy much further, his mind balked. He almost wished Spock had just taken him, because then it would have happened, the sex would have already happened, and the two of them could just start working together to move on from here. Because, despite his fears, Jim knew that if they had bonded, the two of them would figure out a way to make it work, that together, they would find a way.

The utter truth of that settled over Jim. He had to see Spock; it was time to talk. Even without a bond the only way they would get through this crisis was to work it out together. Kirk looked at the chronometer. It was too late now to go see him. They'd be arriving at Starbase 52 tomorrow. Kirk promised himself that after he took care of ship’s business, he'd go to Spock's quarters and sit outside his door until he let him in. With that resolve firmly in place, he finally drifted off to sleep.

Ever since Xan had discovered that Spock was an officer on the Enterprise, he had kept himself apprised of the ship's whereabouts. He had secured transport to Starbase 52 when he discovered that the ship would be docking there for several days. Xan was confident that he'd find a way to get on board. The anticipation of touching and then killing the Vulcan had been building within him until now it was at fever pitch. He couldn't remember ever anticipating a kill this much.

While he had been doing his homework on the Enterprise, he had taken the time to do some reading up on Vulcans. He'd known they were strong, that was why Xan had chosen him for his brother. But he hadn't known anything else. The Vulcan's unexpected reaction to his and Vox's touch became clear when he read they were touch telepaths. The Thalaman had spent many pleasurable hours imagining ways to take further advantage of that.

Now that the Enterprise was near, Xan had found it ridiculously easy to break into the ship's computer. He knew it wouldn't have been as easy to access the tactical and ship's operations software, but all he wanted was information about the crew. He ran his finger over the illegally purchased, photocopied but still legible, blueprints of the ship. He studied all the routes to the Vulcan's quarters and out again. He smiled. Just a few more hours. Xan let the anticipation build.

It had been a frustrating day. Jim was reminded at every turn how efficient his first officer was. With Spock on medical leave, Jim had ended up doing clean up for every snag the crew ran into while trying to restock and refit the Enterprise. It's not that he wasn't capable. He knew his ship backwards and forwards and was well acquainted with all her needs. But, despite the bruising to his human ego this admission caused, there was no doubt that the Vulcan could multitask in a way that made attending to the hundreds of details of running the ship seem effortless.

Finally, at least for the moment, everything was taken care of. Now he could attend to his own pressing business. He began to walk swiftly toward his first officer's quarters. He had only walked a few meters when he heard his name called. Suppressing a groan at the further delay he turned to speak to his Security Chief.

Spock felt himself finally slip into a deeper meditation. The comparative calm of his mind at this level was a welcome relief to the mental din he'd been trying to cope with. He had decided yesterday that he would simply not give up until he was successful. It had taken fourteen hours and seventeen point three minutes of meditation to arrive at a state that normally took only minutes of effort to achieve.

Spock pushed aside his thoughts, fearful that the frustration they engendered would destroy this small accomplishment. Attempting to block out any sensory awareness, he focused more deeply.

Getting on the ship had been almost too simple. He'd simply killed one of the laborers delivering supplies and taken his place. No one had even checked his face against the ID badge he was boldly wearing. It had been just as easy to then slip away and start moving down the ship's corridors, intent on his destination.

When he arrived at the Vulcan's door, he paused to pull his tools out. He grinned at the thought that this great starship, perhaps in its own belief in its indestructibility, left itself so vulnerable. These locks were laughable. It took him less than fifteen seconds to disengage it. The empath allowed the anticipation to fill him again. He could sense the Vulcan inside, as if their previous contact had created a bond between them. Xan collected himself. There'd be time for celebration later, after he'd feasted on Vulcan misery.

He slipped into the room, the door shutting quickly behind him. He re-engaged the lock. Xan stood there for a minute, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness, trying to determine exactly where the Vulcan was. A smile crossed his face as he silently moved across the room. He eyed his quarry. He was there, on his knees. Xan thought it an appropriate position.

Jim tried to pay attention but his impatience made it difficult. Finally he interrupted the Lieutenant. "Walk with me."

Anderson looked at the captain in surprise, but he quickly fell into step with him rather than be left behind. He was about to continue with his report when his curiosity got the best of him. "Where are we going?"

"Mr. Spock's quarters."

"Is he better, then?" Despite McCoy's and Jim's best attempts to keep the events quiet, there truly was very little privacy aboard a starship. Rumors had abounded all week, many of them ridiculously far from the truth, but enough of them startlingly close to it. Jim had found it gratifying that the major sentiment was simply concern for Spock. The crew, in its own way, felt that Spock belonged to them as well.

There was a momentary hesitation in his gait as Jim wondered how to respond to Anderson's question. He decided on a hopeful truth. "Not yet."

As they entered the turbolift Anderson opened his mouth to speak again but at the look on the captain's face he shut it again. He decided he would wait to speak until prompted, and in the meantime, would simply accompany his captain.

Spock sensed the presence of an intruder a second before a hand wrapped around his throat. A sound of pain and disbelief forced itself from his throat as he felt the familiar and hateful mind's presence slam into him. His mind balked. It couldn't be. The disbelief and fear temporarily debilitated him, making him submissive to the attack, and he found himself on his back, his attacker's hand tight around his throat, a weapon aimed at his head.

Xan grinned ferally at his victim. "Remember me?"

Spock tried to think rationally. He attempted to push past the assault on his mind, past the threatening emotions and intentions, the hatred, and visions of how he would die if his assailant's intentions were to come to fruition. But Spock could not think rationally. He hadn't been able to think rationally for days. All Spock knew was a certainty, even if it meant his death, his attacker would not get what he wanted.

Letting out a cry of rage, Spock wrenched away from the intruder and rolled to his feet. He stayed low, in a crouched position, ready to parry the next attack. Spock looked at his Vulcan weapons on the wall across the room, and then determined his phaser was closer. He made a small movement in that direction.

Xan pointed the weapon. "You know I'll shoot."

Spock's voice was quiet but determined. "You are not facing a drugged Vulcan now. You may find me more difficult to kill than you anticipated."

An unfriendly grin flitted across the Thalaman's face. "I have certainly anticipated it." As the Vulcan moved again, Xan spoke harshly. "Take another step and I shoot." His eyes were vigilant as he watched his prey. "But don't look for an easy death. I'll aim to impair, not to kill." His face took on a hungry look. "I'm counting on your strength, Vulcan. I want you to take a long time to die."

Spock did not feel strong right now. He could feel the weariness in his body and his soul. He had been under attack for too many days. He tried to calculate his chances of survival given his current circumstances but was unable to. A part of him just wanted it all to be over. Sadness arched through him at the thought of not being able to say good-bye to his captain.

As if reading his mind, the intruder grinned. "And once I've taken what I want from you, I'll find your friend. The great Captain James T. Kirk, and I'll take what I want from him, too."

Spock's eyes darkened with anger, his voice deadly. "You will not touch him." It was suddenly imperative that he live, so as to ensure his captain's safety. "I will kill you first."

"Does the idea of his death cause you pain?" Xan's face lifted a little, his nostrils flaring, as if he could smell the Vulcan's distress. "Good,” he snarled. “Maybe I should just wound you now, and we can wait for him to show up. Then I can kill him while you watch."

Spock knew if the man’s weapon fired that the discharge would be picked up by the ship's sensors, causing a security detail to come investigate. He tried to determine the best way to get the man to shoot his weapon and yet result in minimal damage to his own body. He was not sure if it was possible in such close quarters. Yet, if this man's capture, and the captain's safety, necessitated his own death, then so be it. It was a price he was willing to pay.

After taking a deep breath to try to marshal his body's resources, he struck, low and fast, knocking Xan off balance and causing him to fall to the ground. The hand holding the weapon hit the floor and the weapon fired, the energy pulse causing an explosion as it hit a stand holding a piece of Vulcan sculpture. Spock restrained the Thalaman's weapon hand, wrapping his other hand around Xan's throat. The urge to kill was strong.

Jim and Anderson stepped out of the turbolift on deck 5. Kirk knew he should give Anderson his attention and allow the man to finish his report but he couldn't seem to stop his body's momentum toward Spock's quarters. They both heard the sound of a weapon firing and halted, listening intently, needing more information as to where the danger was. Within seconds, the Lieutenant's communicator chirped. Anderson whipped it out and his first word was simply a question. "Location?"

The voice was anxious. "Mr. Spock's quarters, sir."

"The captain and I are on deck five now. We're on our way." He glanced quickly at the captain to find him already running. He dashed after him.

Xan reached up with his other hand and wrapped it around the Vulcan's throat. The Vulcan was very strong, as he'd expected, but Xan had unexpected strengths of his own and had no intention of dying yet. He pressed the one advantage he knew he had. Refocusing his thoughts from ones of survival into ones of malice, sadism and domination, he began to mentally cudgel Spock with the negative thoughts and emotions through every contact he had with the Vulcan's body.

The invasion affected Spock's concentration. Xan felt the body on top of him waver in its focus and took full advantage. He wrestled his hand free, bringing it up and placing the weapon once again at the Vulcan's head. He spoke with a vicious delight. "Just remember. Your captain's next."

Spock could sense the man's intention to kill Jim and it infuriated him. Letting out a cry of rage, he struck the man's hand away with all his strength.

Outside the cabin, Jim could hear the sounds of a struggle. It only took Anderson a couple of seconds to disengage the lock, but it seemed to the captain as if it took hours. The door slid open. Jim took in the life and death fight of the two men on the floor. With a sense of shock, he recognized the man from the bar. He lunged into the room, calling Spock's name.

Spock heard the call and looked up. Using the distraction, Xan whipped him across the face with his weapon. Moving with a startling speed he rolled out from under the Vulcan and stood, weapon still in hand. As the Vulcan made as if to spring again, Xan changed his strategy and pointed the weapon at Jim. His eyes flickered between the two men, but his voice was directed at Spock. "If you move, I'll kill him."

Spock did move, but it was to put himself in-between Xan and his captain. Jim let out a cry as he saw the weapon rise, registering the man's intention to shoot, regardless of his target. "No, Spock!"

Anderson took advantage of the interaction of the three men to move into the room. As he saw the man's finger tighten around the trigger mechanism of his weapon, Anderson fired his own phaser. The intruder crumpled to the ground as the energy hit him. Anderson ran to the body, kicked the weapon away, and felt for a pulse. The phaser had not been set on kill but the shot had been fired at close range. The Security Officer looked up at the captain and shook his head. "He's dead, sir."

"Good," Jim snapped out. He knew it was an inappropriate response but he didn't care. "Get it out of here. And find out how he got on board." A movement caught the corner of his eye, and he watched as Spock collapsed to his knees. He snapped out another order. "And get Dr. McCoy."

Jim took a step towards Spock, the events of the last two weeks and the time apart making him feel unusually awkward and unsure of what to say. "Spock, are you all right? Did he…?"

Spock shook his head, but Jim didn't know to which question it was in answer to. Then more security arrived, and they dragged Xan away. The door shut behind them, and Jim could hear Anderson paging McCoy from one of the hallway intercoms.

Alone with Spock for the first time, he turned to the Vulcan. He was sitting, knees pressed to his chest, his arms holding himself tightly. Spock's face was hidden with his forehead resting on his knees. Jim took a step closer and realized that Spock was trembling.

A rush of tenderness and protectiveness inundated Jim. The Vulcan's posture spoke of such desolation that Jim found it unbearable and knew he couldn't ignore it. Acting on instinct, he moved to Spock's side and slid down to his knees. Reaching out, he wrapped his arms around his friend and pulled him close.

Jim felt Spock stiffen, and for a few seconds he wondered if he should let go. But a deeper knowing within him told him to stay where he was. He concentrated all his energy on trying to send Spock soothing thoughts of caring, and friendship, and safety.

Spock was beyond overwhelmed. The initial attack, his Pon Farr, his self-imposed exile, his futile attempts at recovery, the unceasing bombardment of his own emotions, this latest attack on him, the threats to Jim, and now, Jim's touch, all left the Vulcan powerless to shield against the invasion of Jim's emotions.

He instinctively struggled for a moment, craving a seemingly unattainable moment of peace, convinced he needed to be alone for that. But then he started paying attention to his friend. Started feeling the positive emanations, the desire to console, the promise of protection, the love. And after a few moments Spock stopped struggling. Instead, he began to soak it in. His thirst for it was incredible, like a man walking in a desert, certain of death, but instead finding an unexpected oasis.

Jim could feel the instant Spock accepted his touch. He closed his arms even more tightly. He didn't think, now that he was holding him, that he would ever be able to let him go. Jim felt Spock move, and he prayed he wasn't planning to move away. But instead, Jim felt arms go around him in return, grabbing at the back of his shirt almost convulsively.

Spock reached out for Jim, needing his strength, desperate for the assurance he was safe and cared for. His arms came up of their own accord and he held Jim tightly, as if to make sure that he would not be deprived of this life-sustaining succor. Spock’s own emotions rose within him as if they could no longer be contained. He found himself awash in feelings that would be denied no longer, of sadness, loneliness, and despair. The Vulcan could feel his body's physiological response to these emotions and helpless to stop it, Spock, for the first time in his life, rested his head on someone's shoulder and wept.

Jim’s heart lurched when he realized Spock was weeping. Consternation swept through him at this very un-Vulcan behavior, and it made his chest painfully tight. The tears spoke of the torment the Vulcan had been in. Jim felt a stabbing pain that he had left Spock to deal with this on his own. He wished with all his heart that he had come down here that first day and insisted Spock open the door. He should have known. He should have known his friend was in such distress. Raising a hand he ran it down Spock's hair and spoke softly. "I’m here now. I’m not going anywhere." He ran his hand through the dark hair again, softly caressing his scalp with his fingertips.

McCoy ran down the hall. He'd gotten a brief report from Anderson. It didn't sound as if anyone had been wounded, but for some reason he felt deathly afraid for Spock. He truly wasn't sure how much more the Vulcan could take. Every day their conversations had given the doctor the impression that Spock was barely hanging on. He paused for a moment outside Spock's door, taking a calming breath. Then he hit the entrance pad.

McCoy stopped short, taking in the sight of his captain on the floor, his first officer in his arms, tortured breaths coming from the Vulcan. Jim lifted his head when the door slid open. His own eyes, bright with unshed tears, caught the doctor's before he spoke. Without wanting to alert Spock, Jim shook his head with a small movement, trying to communicate without words. He didn't want anything to interrupt this catharsis, knowing Spock needed it, knowing he himself needed it.

McCoy heard the unspoken plea and respected it, agreeing with it. He turned and left the cabin, the door sliding shut behind him. He felt a moment's dismay that he had encouraged Jim to stay away from Spock. Then he let it go, realizing that it had been the shock of another attack that had most likely caused the Vulcan to accept his friend's comfort. Up until now he had been running away from it as fast as he could.

The doctor wondered if Jim had figured out his feelings for Spock. He sincerely hoped if Jim had decided he wanted the Vulcan as more than a friend, that he didn't take advantage of Spock's current vulnerability. He had known Jim to use a situation to get what he wanted. The doctor pushed that thought away as unworthy of his friend. He truly couldn't believe that Jim would do anything to hurt Spock, putting his own needs ahead of the Vulcan's.

He stopped for a moment, bounced on his toes. The vision of the two of them holding each other was branded on his mind. Somehow it had looked so…right. McCoy couldn't help but think of that unlikely happy ending the two of them had discussed. The doctor decided the odds had just improved significantly. Despite his concern for his friends he found himself smiling as he walked back to sickbay.

From where they were on the floor, Jim scooted back until they were leaning against the bed. Spock seemed no more willing to break contact than he was so he continued to hold his friend tightly even though the weeping had stopped. Jim continued to run his fingers through the dark strands and whispered occasional soft words of comfort. He felt Spock grow more and more relaxed, his breathing deepening. "When's the last time you slept?" Jim asked softly.

Spock didn't care. All he knew was that he had been granted his moment of peace. A part of him was ashamed of his emotional outburst, but he couldn't deny that he felt better. Illogical, but true. He savored his friend's closeness, a fact that surprised him. He had never been put off by Jim's touch, had in fact welcomed it. What was surprising was the protracted nature of this current touch, and his unwillingness for it to end. He made a very un-Vulcan like grunt in response to his captain's question.

Jim couldn't help smiling at the sound. He would have been happy to stay here all night, but the Vulcan's exhaustion was palpable. He asked again. "When? For more than a few minutes, and without being drugged or unconscious."

Spock sighed and forced himself to think. Finally he spoke. "Thirteen days." Spock felt his body tighten as he thought of that night, and this night, and all the nights in between.

Feeling the renewed tension, Jim’s hold on the Vulcan tightened. "Oh, Spock. I’m so sorry. I should have been here. I should have broken the damn door down."

Spock lifted his head and then sat up. Still reluctant to lose the contact, he didn't move completely away; his right thigh was pressed against the captain's left, and Jim's hand rested on his shoulder. Spock shook his head. "I didn't…I would have sent you away. I didn't know that this would be what I needed. I never would have imagined such a thing."

Jim took a good long look at his friend. Spock had always been thin, but now he looked gaunt. His skin was almost gray in the dim light, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. Squeezing Spock's shoulder he gave his friend a small smile. "I still never should have left you alone for so long." He stood and reached down a hand. "You need to sleep."

Spock allowed the human to pull him up. Jim was right, he did need to sleep, but the thought of further nightmares made him cautious. And he didn't want to be alone.

Noticing the death grip Spock had on his hand, Jim said, "I'll be right here, Spock. I won't go away."

Spock nodded, his eyes clearly conveying his gratitude. Overcome with weariness the Vulcan sat down on the bed and closed his eyes.

Jim helped lay him back and covered him with a blanket. Spock rolled to his side, pulling the blanket up tight to his chin. Jim stood there, looking down at him for a minute or two. He pursed his lips and considered the bed. Then he looked at the closest chair and frowned. Throwing decorum out the window, deciding it had no place in this situation, he sat down next to the Vulcan and settled in with his back against the head of the bed where he could be as close as possible while he watched over his friend as he slept.

He resisted the temptation to run his hands through Spock's hair. It had felt inhumanly soft and his fingers itched at the thought of touching it again. But he didn't want to press his luck. Spock had already allowed him enormous latitude invading his personal space, and he didn't want to do anything that might cause Spock to close up. So he settled for watching the Vulcan's face, taking in the new bruise on his face. Angry, Jim closed his eyes, just feeling so damn relieved that he'd been close by when danger had struck.

He thought of the man who'd been here tonight, who had come here clearly to get to Spock. His single-mindedness stunned Jim. His gut clenched at the thought of coming in here tomorrow, or even later tonight, and finding the Vulcan dead. Murdered. Tortured. Jim wasn't sure he'd have survived that. He was fiercely glad the man was dead; he only wished he'd been able to kill the man with his own bare hands. But at least he was dead and he would never threaten Spock again.

Sleep was starting to pull at Jim when he was awakened by a moan. He opened his eyes and looked down. Spock let out another moan and shifted restlessly. Reaching out a hesitant hand, Jim softly touched Spock's hair. "Shhh. I'm here." Spock let out another small pained moan and Jim hoped it wasn't in response to his touch. Acting on that hope, Jim ran his fingers through the hair again. He was gratified when Spock settled down, the nightmare averted for the time being.

Jim allowed his mind to drift. Sometime later he realized that he was still touching Spock, long after he'd fallen back to sleep, and his hand stilled in mid air. Spock shifted in his sleep, moving his head closer to Jim, unconsciously at least, letting Jim know that he required his touch. That suited Jim fine and he gladly continued to run his hand through the soft, fine hair. After a while he found himself drifting again, and with his hand resting on Spock's head, he finally fell asleep.

Another nightmare woke Spock up. He felt a hand on his head and his eyes snapped open, his body tense, afraid he might still be trapped in his nightmare to find himself facing another leering face and unwelcome hands on his body. But then he felt Jim's presence. Through his touch he could sense the quiet murmur of his captain’s mind as he slept. Spock closed his eyes in relief. Not a nightmare. He was awake, and his friend had been true to his word and had stayed.

He turned his head carefully so as to not dislodge the hand resting on his hair and looked up at Jim, sleeping against the head of the bed. He felt an overwhelming gratitude for his presence here. Spock resisted the urge to touch Jim's face, to allow his fingers to come in contact with the meld points. The desire was still strong to bond and it shamed him. He consoled himself with the thought that by his next Pon Farr, he would no doubt be many parsecs away from this man. Spock suppressed a sigh. Somehow the thought of that was not at all comforting.

He glanced back up. The part of him that tried to always be solicitous of his captain's well being thought of waking him and insisting he go back to his own cabin to sleep, but he found himself incapable of uttering the words. Instead he just lay there, watching his friend's face, and the lock of hair that had fallen on his forehead, watching his chest rise and fall, until the rhythm of Jim's breathing lulled him back to sleep.

Sometime during the night Jim shifted down until he was lying fully on the bed, and he woke to find himself face to face with Spock. Hazel eyes smiled at the picture in front of him, touched. Spock had captured one of Jim's hands and was holding it against his chest, still deep in sleep. Running his eyes over the Vulcan's face, he decided that his friend looked a little better, his face having lost some of its pallor.

Jim craned his head to look at the chronometer. 0600. They had both slept all night. JIm had been jerked awake several times by Spock's nightmares but had easily drifted back to sleep after reassuring the Vulcan of his presence. It was gratifying for Jim to see this evidence of Spock's need for him. Being rejected by him for days on end was not something he cared to repeat.

Reluctant to move, but knowing that he needed to make a few calls to make arrangements that would enable him to stay with Spock, Jim gently extricated his hand and slipped out of bed. Moving out of the sleeping area he sat down at the computer terminal. Keying in the doctor's call numbers he yawned as he waited for McCoy to pick up. He grinned at the grumpy face and voice.


"Bones, rise and shine."

"Is Spock all right? Do you need me?" His voice was much more awake this time.

"He's sleeping. He slept most of the night. I think it's the first sleep he's gotten since this whole disaster started." Jim sighed. "He had a lot of nightmares. I wish…," then shook his head. "Never mind. I don't want to leave him. As long as we're safely docked, I plan to stay put, right here."

McCoy ran his hands over his face, scrubbing for a moment, hiding a tremendous yawn until he moved his hands away and unselfconsciously finished it, to Jim's amusement. "I'll put you out on…well…family leave. I guess Spock's as much your family as anyone is."

Jim smiled softly. "Thanks. Will you talk to Scotty for me, let him know he's in charge? I'll send him a message now and talk to him later but I hate to wake him up so early."

"Well, thank you for your consideration," McCoy grumped.

"Come on, Bones,” Jim said with a grin. “I had to let someone know I was playing hooky, and you wouldn't have been satisfied just getting a message from Scotty. Admit it."

McCoy scowled. "Yeah, yeah, all right. Are you going to call Communications or do you want me to?"

"I'll do it. You go back to bed."

McCoy just rolled his eyes and terminated the call. Kirk contacted the communications officer on call and let him know to call the chief engineer for any pressing ship's business until otherwise notified. Then he composed and sent a message to Scotty, telling him to contact him if anything urgent came up. Shutting off the computer, he stood and stretched.

The voices woke Spock up and his keen hearing focused on Jim's voice. The Vulcan was both relieved that he was still there, and disappointed that he wasn't next to him. Exhausted, Spock started to drift off again. Then he heard the soft padding of feet and forced himself to open his eyes. He took in his captain's sleepy yawn and without thought, patted the bed next to him. Then realizing what he had just done, he sent a startled look up to his friend.

Jim just grinned. He waved his hand, dismissing Spock's concern at the inappropriate invitation he had just tendered his captain. "Go back to sleep, Spock. I was just making arrangements to take myself off duty." He gestured to the bed. "Sure you don't mind? I could do with some more shut eye."

Spock shook his head and moved over some more. He supposed his need to be physically near his friend was yet another sign of his lack of control, but it was also illogical to deny oneself what one required to heal. And having Jim here had provided the first true opportunity for sleep and some desperately needed peace of mind, both essential ingredients towards his eventual improvement.

Jim lay down on his side and gave Spock one of his lopsided smiles. "You sure this isn't making you uncomfortable? I could sleep on the floor."

Spock shook his head. "It is surprisingly comfortable. I find your presence…" Spock searched for the word. "…reassuring."

"Good. I find yours reassuring as well. I didn't like not seeing you."

Spock's lips tightened. "I must apologize for my behavior."

"Don't. I didn't say it to make you feel badly. I just…I was just worried about you…and I missed you." The softly spoken confidences shared while they were lying side by side in bed suddenly felt uncomfortably intimate. Jim changed the subject. He gestured toward the Vulcan's face. "Does that bruise hurt? I should have let Bones do something about that."

"It is of no consequence."

"I'm not sure I believe you," Kirk said with a frown. "Other than that, do you feel better? You look better."

"Yes, clearly I required sleep."

"I think you could use some more."

"I concur."

"So close your eyes and go to sleep."

Spock hesitated but then spoke. "You will stay?"

Jim felt a moment's sadness at the still haunted look in Spock's eyes. He nodded. "I will stay."

Spock looked at Jim for another moment but then nodded and closed his eyes. Jim watched his face, his eyes following the upswept eyebrows and the angles of his face. A surge of love flooded Jim. Suddenly, despite their nearness, the Vulcan seemed too far away, and Jim was tempted to move his body closer, to wrap his arms around his friend and hold him close. Jim let out a breath, rolled onto his back, and hoped Spock couldn't hear the pounding of his heart.

When next Jim woke he was tangled in limbs. It took him a moment to figure out where he was and with whom, but then he saw an elegant pointed ear on the pillow next to him and it all came rushing back along with a flash of desire. His fantasies of running his tongue over Spock's ears came back to him, and his groin tightened.

He glanced down to see how their bodies were entwined and then wished he hadn't. Suddenly fantasizing past touching Spock's hair and nibbling on his ear seemed ridiculously easy. Too easy. Spock's lips were so close to his he could feel his breath with each exhalation. The Vulcan's arm was resting across his chest, his other hand holding one of Jim's captive again. Their legs were entangled, bringing their lower bodies into alarming proximity.

Jim closed his eyes and thought of antimatter fluctuation equations to keep from pressing even closer, to keep from finding out how soft those lips might be and how warm a Vulcan's tongue would feel tangled with his, or how his first officer’s cock might feel thrusting against his own. Jim let out a small groan as, despite the equations, his thoughts continued to betray him, echoed by the stirrings of his body.

Jim knew he needed to move away from Spock before his friend awoke. It would take him about a nanosecond to pick up on what his captain was feeling. Jim was horrified that in his current state Spock might, even for a moment, see this as another attack.

That thought galvanized him. Throwing his dignity out the window and hoping he didn't break anything, he just rolled off the bed. "Ow." Jim rubbed his hip and his elbow.

He heard a movement on the bed above and saw Spock staring down at him, a look of puzzlement on his face, Jim’s rapid and thorough disentanglement having woken him. "Are you injured?"

Jim grinned ruefully. "Everything seems to be in working order." He subjected the Vulcan to some scrutiny. "How about you? You look more rested."

"I believe I have slept a sufficient amount at this time." He continued to look at Jim. "Do you need assistance?"

Drawing up his knees, Jim held them loosely with his arms. "Nope, I’m fine,” he said casually. “So, what's first on the agenda this morning?"

"I believe I require sustenance."

Jim frowned, taking in the gaunt face. "Yes, you do. Has it been thirteen days since you've eaten as well?"

"No, I believe Dr. McCoy provided me with intravenous nutritional support while I was in sickbay."

"So only nine days, then," Jim said grimly. He rose and stretched. "I'm assuming you want to eat here?"

"Yes, however, you are not required to stay."

Jim considered his friend again. "Are you trying to tell me you're sick of me?"

A flash of concern flickered through the Vulcan's eyes. "No, that was not my intention."

Flashing him an unrepentant grin, Jim said, "That's a good thing, because I'm not going anywhere. I told you, you're stuck with me for the time being." He rubbed his hip again. "Although I think I'd better requisition an air mattress for me to sleep on. That bed's a bit small for the both of us."

"I apologize if I inadvertently caused you to fall out of bed."

Jim shook his head. "Not your fault." He frowned as the Vulcan sat up and leaned against the bulkhead, still looking terribly weary. Jim stood there, sensing that Spock wanted to talk.

Spock ran his fingers with Vulcan precision through his hair, his hands emerging with the black hair perfectly in place. Then he spoke. "I must…you have…" Spock sighed, frustrated at his difficulty in finding the right words.

Jim moved back to the bed and sat down on the foot of it. "What is it, Spock?" It had been a while since he had seen the Vulcan at such a loss for words, especially when it was just the two of them.

Spock tried again. "This has been…difficult for me. More difficult than I anticipated."

A surge of anger raced through Jim at the thought of the attacks. He worked hard on suppressing it, not wanting to subject Spock to any negative emotions. Taking a deep breath he sent an encouraging look the Vulcan's way.

Spock looked at the bedding between them. "I had…begun to doubt my abilities to recover. I have never…" Spock's lips tightened and he shook his head. "It has been difficult." He glanced quickly at Jim and then back down at the bed. "I thought I would have no option but to return to Vulcan for assistance."

Jim watched his friend continue to struggle for words. How could he have left him so long? "I’m sorry I didn't come sooner."

Spock shook his head again. "If it had been left up to me, you wouldn't have come at all. I saw only the Vulcan way. And once my own skills proved inadequate to the task, then the obvious logical step was to find a Vulcan healer."

"Bones guessed you would want to go home. The last few nights I've been petrified I'd find your request waiting for me on my computer."

"You would have found it if another day had passed without surcease from the…unpleasantness I was experiencing."

Jim wanted to hug Spock again. A part of him felt his friend needed it, would in fact welcome it. But after the way Jim had woken up he was nervous about touching the Vulcan, nervous those feelings of desire might flare and be communicated to Spock. Instead he touched his friend briefly on the knee. "I'm still sorry. I meant what I said. I should have just broken the damn door down."

Spock tilted his head to the side. "You did."

"Well, actually Anderson broke through the door."

"But you broke through my despair." Spock lowered his gaze again, acutely uncomfortable with the emotional tenor of his words. But he was determined to finish. "You…your emotions…your…affection for me…your…touch…it was what I needed." Spock finally lifted his gaze to Jim. "I thank thee for thy gift."

Jim's eyes were bright as he returned the gaze. He cleared his throat. "You are welcome." He mimicked the Vulcan's formal phrasing. "I thank thee for accepting it." He glanced at Spock to see if he had more to say but it looked as if his friend had said what he needed. Jim leaned toward his friend. "Now allow me a moment of human sentimentality. Then I will go replicate breakfast and give you a few minutes to recover. All right?"

Spock slowly nodded. "You may speak."

"You, my friend,” Jim said with a soft smile, “are the most important person in the universe to me. And if it is within my power, there is nothing I wouldn't gladly do for you. Don't ever doubt that." He stared at Spock for a moment, and then swung off the bed and crossed the room.

Spock watched him go, astonishment in his eyes and undeniable warmth creeping through his veins. The Vulcan had never truly understood why Jim had offered his hand in friendship. He had at first been confused by it, and then gratified by it, and had, over time, come to trust it, but he had never understood it. Spock believed the captain could have his pick of friends, knew that anyone would consider it an honor and a privilege to be considered a friend by such a man. It had mystified him when Jim had gone after his friendship with such single-minded diligence.

Spock clasped his hands in his lap and bowed his head. And now to be given such an unexpected gift. To be told that he, Spock of Vulcan, held a place of such esteem in the human's heart. More of the pain of the last two weeks lost its hold. Spock almost smiled. Never would he have thought that it would be emotions that would help him find his way back to his inner peace. He had a way to go yet, but had made significant recovery in just the one night. And all because of this extraordinary man.

Spock moved to the edge of the bed and stood. He made his cautious way across the room, fighting off a bout of dizziness. Jim saw him and met him halfway, taking his arm and getting him settled in a chair. Spock gave him a rueful look. "I am afraid I am not yet up to full strength."

Jim sent him an exasperated glare. "Spock, you've been attacked twice, gone through Pon Farr, and you haven't slept or eaten in almost two weeks. Even you, my Vulcan friend, may require more than one good night's sleep to cure you." He pivoted sharply and picked up two plates of food, placing one in front of Spock. "Now eat."

It was a simple breakfast, and it seemed to Spock that it was exactly what he needed, some fruit and a hot grain cereal. He felt another flash of gratitude for his friend. Picking up his spoon, he began to eat.

Jim could barely pull his eyes away from his friend's face. It distressed him to hear how close Spock had actually come to leaving him. His heart contracted at the thought of all the ways he might have lost his friend these last two weeks. He pushed the unwelcome thoughts away focusing on the fact that Spock was alive and with him now, and Jim had absolutely no intention of ever being without him. As disconcerting as it had been to wake up and find himself getting hard as he lay next to Spock, it was helping clarify matters. Jim found himself grinning. At least there was no doubt he could be attracted to the man.

"Do you find something amusing?"

Lifting startled eyes to his friend, Jim found himself reddening, his mind empty as he searched for something to say. He latched onto the first feasible white lie he could think of, which was not really a lie at all. "Just glad to know you're better, that's all."

"Indeed." Spock sent Jim a look that let him know he wasn't buying it for a minute, but didn't press further.

Jim was grateful Spock let it pass. They both sat there in companionable silence and ate. When they were done, Jim collected the dishes and put them in the cleaner. Turning, he leaned back against the counter. "Do you need to sleep some more?"

Spock shook his head. "No. I shall attempt to meditate." He hesitated and then spoke again, his gaze on the table. "It is not necessary that you continue to stay. I do not wish to be a further imposition."

Jim just looked at him, waiting for Spock to lift his eyes. When he did, the human could see that his expression was carefully guarded. He pursed his lips, cocking his head to the side, his brow furrowed. "No, I'll think I'll stay a while longer." When he saw the flash of relief in Spock's eyes, he knew he'd made the right decision. "Go meditate. I'll use your computer and get caught up on some reading." He shooed the Vulcan away with a hand movement. "Go."

Spock stood and with a small nod he walked over to his meditation area. Kneeling down, he began to compose himself. He was surprised at how comfortable he felt having Jim there. He had, in fact, been worried that he might actually leave. Spock didn't want to be alone. He felt a small tug of shame at that thought but let it go. Spock was tired of chastising himself. It was illogical to fight against the truth, and the truth was he wanted Jim there, and Jim seemed quite willing to remain. Having settled that to his satisfaction he took several slow deep breaths and focused on stilling his mind.

Jim was glad Spock hadn't argued. He was clearly still feeling vulnerable, and Jim had no intention of leaving him alone until he was sure that the Vulcan was stronger. Sitting down at Spock's terminal he signed on and accessed his files. Taking in the sheer number of reports that waited for his attention, he sighed. He opened the first one and began to read.

The day passed quietly. Spock meditated for close to two hours, and then reluctantly took a nap, despite his insistence that Vulcans don’t nap. Stretching out his shoulders by rolling them back and forwards in turn, he shut off the computer. He had gotten through weeks of backlogged reading material but didn’t think he could stand to read one more thing. What he really needed was a workout.

Standing, he moved around the grill and ran his eyes over the sleeping Vulcan. Spock had looked much more peaceful after his lengthy meditation. His eyes still revealed some tension, but it was slowly ebbing away. Jim knew that Spock’s eyes would reveal little to anyone else, but he knew his friend too well.

As he continued to stand there, Jim found himself wishing fervently that he had the right to cross the room, sit next to his friend, and wrap his arms around him. After last night and this morning, he had found himself wanting to touch Spock at every opportunity. Throughout the day, he had shamefully indulged himself, knowing Spock wouldn't mind. Just small touches, a hand on the shoulder, a slight touching of a hand while making a point, but it didn’t satisfy. He could still feel his friend's body trembling in his arms last night, and he remembered his response to the Vulcan’s proximity this morning.

Jim shook off his reverie and decided that he definitely needed a workout and then a cold shower. Leaving a message for Spock and fully expecting to be back before the Vulcan awoke, Jim let himself out of his friend’s quarters and headed for the gym.

It was as if he were watching the scene from a great distance. The man who called himself Vox lunged across the table, grabbing Jim by the throat. Hanging on tight he edged his way out of his seat pulling Jim up and out of the booth.

Spock watched as Jim struggled in the man's grip, his toes barely touching the ground as he tried to get some leverage. The Vulcan knew he only had seconds to save his captain but his body was like lead, refusing to acknowledge its mind's commands.

Then, it was too late. Spock let out a cry of anguish as the man made a sharp movement, snapping Jim's neck. Finally free to move, all Spock could do was catch his friend's body as it fell to the floor.

Spock woke up, his own cry still reverberating around the room. He lay in bed, momentarily disoriented and panicked. He turned his head, as he had so many times the night before, to be soothed by the body lying next to him. He felt a moment of fear when he discovered the bed was empty. For a second his world was hollow, as if everything that had made his life worth living was suddenly scooped out of him. Spock got a glimpse of what his life would be like without Jim. Instinctively he rebelled, and his mind sent out a wordless cry.

Seconds later Spock had control again. Forcing his mind into patterns of logic he ran through the likely scenarios. Standing, he moved across the room, looking for a message light on the terminal. It was there. He touched the play indicator. “Spock, I've gone to the gym. I just needed to stretch my legs. Hopefully I'll be back before you're even awake."

Spock decided he would use the time, before Jim's return, to meditate again. His emotional response to Jim's absence clearly indicated a still startling lack of control. Moving silently to his meditation area, Spock gracefully sank to his knees.

Jim wandered into his bathroom as he was talking to McCoy. "Will you just order me one?"

McCoy's voice was annoyed. "Blast it all, Jim, stop moving away. This infernal computer isn't picking up your voice." When there was no response he called out again, his voice sharper. "Jim. Get back here."

Jim came out of the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. "What? Oh, sorry, Bones. It's been a long time since I packed for a sleepover. I don't want to forget anything." He grinned.

McCoy rolled his eyes. "I'm glad this has all been such an amusing adventure for you. I take it he's feeling better?"

"Well, I’m not the doctor, but yes, I would say it won't be long before he's back to his old self so you two can get back to arguing again."

"If you repeat it, I'll deny it to my dying breath, but I cannot tell you how glad I'll be to argue with that pointy eared Vulcan."

"That makes two of us, Bones. But I don't have to deny it." Jim stuffed the toothbrush into a small bag on the bed. "So will you order me an air mattress?"

A teasing light came into McCoy's eyes. "And why, exactly, do you need me to do this? Why don't you just order it?"

"I would just as soon avoid any crew speculation, that's all,” Jim said, hoping it sounded plausible. “I’m just trying to respect Spock's privacy."

McCoy let out a patronizing grunt. "Where did you sleep last night?"

Despite his best efforts Jim could feel the heat rise in his cheeks. "None of your damn business," he huffed.

This time McCoy sent him a glare. "Tell me you didn't. Spock wasn't in any shape…"

Jim glared right back. "Bones. No." He waved a hand in the air as if to ward off the whole conversation. "I…we…all right, I slept on the bed with Spock, but all we did was sleep." Jim chose not to mention his precipitous fall out of bed.

McCoy scrutinized Jim, saying, "Hmmm."

"What the hell does that mean, Doctor?"

"Nothing." There was a pause. "So, why the air mattress? Why not just share the bed again?"

Jim kept glaring, wishing he’d never brought the subject up. "Look, yes or no?"

"All right, all right. Keep your pants on. I'll order one for you."

Jim was about to muster an ungracious thank you when he heard Spock's voice in his mind, crying out in fear. He paled and let out a gasp.

McCoy saw his face. "Jim, what is it?"

Already running for the door, he yelled, "It's Spock." Then he was gone. McCoy grabbed a tricorder and was out of sickbay just as quickly.

As he was on the same deck, Jim was there in just a few seconds. He hit the entry pad and raced in the doorway. "Spock!"

"Right here, Captain."

Jim skidded to a halt, surprised to see Spock kneeling serenely at his meditation stone. "Are you all right?"

Spock's eyebrows furrowed. "Quite all right. What has disturbed you?"

"I heard you call, I thought you were….” He made a vague gesture at his head, then stopped talking, realizing how inane he sounded. Jim shook his head. "Never mind. I'm just glad you're all right."

Spock stood, comprehension warring with disbelief. Before he could respond the entrance pad was hit again and when the door opened, McCoy was standing there. "What's wrong? What happened?"

Jim shifted on his feet. "Sorry, Bones." He smiled a bit sheepishly. "False alarm."

McCoy took a good look at them both. He could read consternation on the Vulcan's face, confusion on the captain's. Deciding he'd let the two of them work it out he walked over to Spock. "Well, as long as I'm here, let me have a look at you." Despite the current poleaxed look on Spock's face, McCoy was relieved to see, that indeed, the Vulcan seemed remarkably better. Something inside of the doctor relaxed. "Well, you're certainly better, no doubt about it." He sent the Vulcan a sharp look. "You're still off duty, though, and I expect you to take it easy."

Spock met his look with an implacable one of his own and raised an eyebrow. "Take it easy, Doctor?"

"You know damn well what I mean, Spock." Shutting off his tricorder he turned and headed for the door, muttering under his breath. "Damn Vulcans."

As the door slid shut Jim grinned at Spock. "You just made his day." He frowned at his friend. "You sure you're all right?" Jim's eyebrows rose as he watched his friend's skin turn a darker shade of green. His eyebrows rose even higher when he decided that Spock was blushing. "Spock?"

Spock sighed. "I must apologize."

"For what?" Jim said, as he directed Spock to sit on the bed. Kirk pulled up a chair and sat across from him. "Am I imagining things? Or did I hear you call me?"

"I do not know how it is possible."

"That's beside the point."

Spock looked down at the floor, his hands tightly clasped, uncomfortable discussing his lapse of control, appalled that it had affected his captain. "I…" His eyes flitted to Jim's and then away. "I had a nightmare. I dreamt that…" Another quick look and away.

Jim's lips tightened at the look of pain in the Vulcan's eyes; he had hoped not to see it again. He wondered what the dream had been about. Spock hadn't discussed any of his dreams from the night before, even though he'd felt them jerk the Vulcan awake, time after time. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Spock's voice was harsh. "You died. That night in the bar, I watched as you died. I was unable to assist you." Spock shook his head, as if to dispel the vision. "I woke from the dream and you weren't here. I was momentarily…disturbed by your absence. I…I must apologize for my lack of control. It was unforgivable to intrude that way. I do not understand how it could have happened."

Jim pursed his lips, thinking back on that night. "It's happened before." Spock's eyebrows rose. Continuing, Jim said, "That night. I heard you call. It's what got me there. I had gotten sidetracked by a street performer when I felt something in my head."

"Again, I must apol…"

"Don't apologize, Spock,” Jim said, firmly interrupting. “If I hadn't heard you that night, by the time I'd made my way back, it might have been too late. I’m grateful you can call me when you need me, even if you don't know why it's happening."

"That night, the cause was perhaps sufficient. However, right now there was insufficient cause. I…I lost control. If you had been on the bridge I might have distracted you at a pivotal moment. It must not happen again."

"Why wasn't the cause sufficient? I realize it was just for a moment, but you thought I was dead, right?"

Spock gave a terse nod. "I did not consider all the facts. I allowed my fear to dictate my actions."

Jim shook his head fondly at the Vulcan. "I know it’s an illogical response, but instead of feeling angry at the intrusion, I find myself feeling quite complimented that the thought of my death would…disturb you so much."

Spock lifted his eyes to meet those of his Captain, his expression clearly dismayed. "Did you have cause to doubt that?"

"No, no I didn't. It's…maybe it's a human thing, I don't know. But there is a difference in knowing someone cares for you, and actually hearing it out loud."

Spock recalled the words Jim had spoken to him earlier in the day, and how it had made him feel. It allowed him to understand what his friend was saying. Pushing past his discomfort, Spock chose to return the gift. "Do not doubt it. I found the thought of your loss quite…unsettling. I would, if I could, always choose to be at your side."

Jim felt a rush of warmth and felt an unexpected prick of tears at Spock’s words. Then, all the words registered. “Wait a minute. You sound as if you might not have the choice."

Spock shifted on the bed, perturbed that Jim had been so astute. He should have known his friend would hear the words that had remained unspoken. "Jim, I must, at some point, return to Vulcan."

Jim didn't pretend to misunderstand. "To bond?"


"If you had been bonded,” Jim said cautiously, “and had a nightmare that something happened to your bond-mate…" He trailed off, not sure what he was asking.

Spock waited a few moments to allow Jim time to complete his thought. When it became clear that Jim was done, Spock finally said, “Immediately upon waking, I would have sensed my bond-mate’s wellbeing. There would have been no reason for fear. And if for some reason I was still concerned, my bond-mate would be able to mentally reassure me through our bond if he…if my bond-mate were not present." Spock was not aware of how his voice communicated his longing for such a thing, or how much his pronoun slip revealed.

Jim responded to that longing and felt the echo of it in his own being. His voice was husky when he spoke again. "We're not bonded in some way, then?" he asked wishfully.

Spock heard the change in Jim's voice and, in surprise, met his captain's gaze. Their eyes locked over the meter of space that divided them. The Vulcan felt the desire for Jim's mind sweep through him and clenched his hands to keep from lifting them to touch his face. The ache to know and be known was a siren's call.

Jim saw the need in Spock's eyes and was spellbound. He wanted to move to the bed, wanted to hold him, touch him, kiss him. But he was afraid to make the wrong move, afraid that the longing he saw in Spock's eyes was for a bond-mate, any bond-mate, and not specifically for him. He spoke softly as he asked again, "Are we? Is that why I could hear you?"

Spock barely shook his head, his voice correspondingly soft. "I do not have sufficient data. I would only be able to speculate at this time."

The Vulcan's formal words seemed like the most bewitching kind of foreplay. Jim's fingers were itching to run through the dark hair again, and he could feel his cock start to harden.

Spock watched his captain's pupils dilate. His eyes took in the flushed skin and increased respiration, and as the facts tumbled together in his mind, he came up with a startling conclusion. Jim was sexually aroused. He had seen his friend in this state often enough, but he had never felt the force of it before. Spock's breath hitched in his throat as the unbelievable thought crossed his mind that Jim, perhaps, desired him.

Spock desperately needed clarification. He wished Jim would touch him so he might read his emotions, gather more facts so he could understand what was happening. Without more information he had no idea what to do. It would be unthinkable to reach out himself, to invade his friend’s privacy.

Despite his previous misadventures, Spock had little experience with the desires of the body. He knew his body had gone through the actions of copulation and he knew that at the time he had felt desire, but, after the fact, once his mind was back under his control, he had not been able to summon it again. It was a Vulcan's way to first desire a joining of the mind, and from there, allow the desire for physical union to follow.

Contradicting himself, Spock was now nervous that Jim might touch him. If he reached for Spock, and Spock was unable to respond, it might be interpreted as a rejection. Another fierce longing to touch the human's mind swept through him. Again, he clenched his hands.

Through the haze of his desire, Jim managed to register the confusion in Spock's eyes and the clenched hands. Abashed at his behavior, Jim pushed his chair back, stood, and crossed the room to move to the small eating area. Letting out a small groan he sat at the table and rested his head on his arms.

Spock heard the groan and wished again that he knew what to do. He needed to know what Jim was feeling. A dangerous thought raced through his mind as he remembered Jim's offer to bond. Perhaps Jim also desired…Spock shook his head and attempted to push that thought aside, refusing to fuel his already illogical and inappropriate longing for his captain. The Vulcan was unwilling to believe, even for a brief moment, that what he longed for most, might be his for the taking.

A chime at the door interrupted his thoughts. Relieved at the distraction he quickly stood. "Come."

It was McCoy again, holding a package. He walked into the cabin and held it out to Spock. "Jim's air mattress."

Spock raised an eyebrow but took the mattress. He looked down at it, unsure what to say.

McCoy could feel something in the air. He looked around. "Where's Jim?"

Before Spock could respond Jim appeared. "Right here."

McCoy pointed to the mattress in Spock's arms. "One air mattress, as ordered, sir."

Jim tried to grin. "Thanks, Bones."

McCoy looked at him, at Spock, and then at Jim again. He frowned. "Everything all right here?"

"Fine,” Jim said. “Spock and I were just about to play a game of chess, weren’t we, Spock?"

Spock heard the slight pleading note in his captain's voice and could not refuse it. "Yes, we were."

The doctor stared at the Vulcan. He wasn't buying it. McCoy tried to decide if he should stay and insist on finding out what was wrong or if he should just get the hell out of dodge. After a few moments, he decided to retreat. Somehow he didn’t think either party would appreciate his interference. He patted the air mattress. "Well, I’m done with my deliveries for the night. I'll see you tomorrow." With another pointed stare at them both he left.

Jim moved to the eating area again and opened a cabinet to retrieve a bottle of Saurian brandy. He lifted it up and looked at Spock. "Do you mind?"

Spock shook his head and watched as Jim poured himself a drink. Spock again felt his own inadequacy. It was clear Jim was upset, but Spock did not understand the particular source. There were too many possibilities, all requiring different responses. He looked down at the package in his arms and he turned and placed it on the bed. Taking off the outer wrapper he gently stroked the velvet-textured fabric. His mood unsettled him and he moved away and headed back to the eating area.

Jim had cleared it off and was setting up the chess game. He glanced up at the Vulcan and after placing his hands briefly behind his back, he held out his closed fists, silently asking Spock to choose. Spock made his selection and when the fist opened, it revealed the black pawn. Jim swiveled the set so the white pieces were in front of him.

Kirk studied the chessboard. Without looking up he said, "Thanks for covering for me. I'm sorry I made you lie to Bones."

"I did not consider it a lie. There was a high probability that we would indeed play chess tonight."

A tight smile crossed Jim's face. "Nevertheless, I'm sorry."

Spock considered his friend. "We seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time lately making what appear to be unnecessary apologies to one another."

Glancing up, a more genuine grin appeared this time on Jim’s face. Looking back at the chessboard, after some deliberation, he made his first move.

They played several games, and as the time passed, the awkwardness also seemed to pass. They talked about the ship, about the last mission, about the new orders received the day before. They talked about everything but what had just happened between them. Spock wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed. As the hour grew late, Jim yawned.

Spock eyed the chronometer. "It is late. You appear to be tired, and I also require some rest."

Jim nodded. "I am tired." He stood and looked for his bag, then realized he had left it in his quarters in his mad dash to get to Spock. "I need to run to my cabin. I'll be right back."

"Captain…Jim. I am, again, grateful for all you have done, but I will be all right if you would rather sleep in your cabin."

Jim was almost tempted. Not because he didn't want to be with Spock, but because he wanted to be with Spock too much. But then he remembered the cry in his mind and he gave Spock a tight smile. "I think I'd rather be here just in case you have more nightmares. It will keep me from tripping over my feet trying to get here."

Spock looked at the floor. "I would, of course, attempt not to contact you mentally."

Jim could have slapped himself. "I didn't mean it like that." When the Vulcan did not lift his gaze he tried again. "Spock, I’m glad I heard you. I want to know when you need me." He could feel the tension in his body grow. "If I hadn't heard you that night…" Jim’s mind was suddenly unpleasantly full of thoughts of what his life would have become if he'd gone into that bar only to find the Vulcan gone, having no idea what happened to him, perhaps never knowing, or perhaps having Spock’s body found days later, used and destroyed. Without conscious awareness he let out a soft cry.

Spock took a step toward him and touched his shoulder, wanting to console. The grief his friend was experiencing of what might have been rocked through him. He tightened his grip on Jim's shoulder. "Jim." As the stricken eyes looked up at him, he continued. "I am fine. You did hear me. Those events did not come to pass."

Jim nodded, struggling to push the thoughts away. He covered the Vulcan's hand with his own. His voice was shaky. "If I had lost you…" He didn't finish the sentence.

"You did not. Nor did I lose you. You were equally at risk."

"I never did thank you for saving my life,” Jim said a little shakily. “He meant to snap my neck. I could feel him trying for the right grip." Jim could feel the Vulcan's body grow taut. "Spock?" He moved his hand down to grasp his friend's arm.

"That was my nightmare,” Spock confessed. “In my dream I was unable to move fast enough. He was successful and broke your neck. I caught you as you fell."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring it back."

"It is illogical for a dream to have such a powerful affect after fully awakening from it. I do not know why it still bothers me so."

"For the same reason I can’t seem to rid my mind of what might have happened if I'd taken any longer to get to you."

Spock nodded briefly. "Perhaps we will both benefit from each other's presence tonight."

Jim smiled. "I agree. Let me get my stuff. I'll be right back." He headed for the door and exited the room.

Spock moved to the bed and lifted the air mattress. Finding the mechanism on the side he triggered it and laid the mattress on the floor as it began to inflate. Reaching into a storage area he retrieved spare linens and a pillow. He was arranging the blanket on the mattress when Jim reentered the cabin, grinning at the sight of Spock making the makeshift bed. "Do Vulcan children ever spend the night at other Vulcan children's homes? I mean, just for the pleasure of each other's company?"

Spock shook his head. "No. Engaging in such an event would be considered quite illogical."

Jim snorted.

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "I infer from your sound effects that humans participate in this sort of event."

"God, yes. It was one of the best things about being a kid." Jim sat on the mattress. "Being with a bunch of other boys, everyone in sleeping bags, talking until late at night, telling scary stories, making fun of each other, dreaming about what we'd be when we grew up." Jim rolled onto his back, lost in his memories.

Spock sat on his own bed, watching his friend, glad to see him in a lighter mood. "And did the young James T. Kirk dream of being a starship captain even then?"

"Yup. Well, I hadn't necessarily decided to be a starship captain, but I knew I wanted to fly." Jim rolled to his side. "Did you ever wonder what you'd end up doing when you were a kid?"

"No. It was different for Vulcan children. We studied; we were expected to excel. One's scholarly aptitude would in time dictate one's path."

"But at some point you must have started to dream. How else could you have ended up here, so far away from your planet's expectations of you?" Jim caught Spock's eyes. "How else could you have ended up here, with me?"

"From the moment of my conception, I rarely met my planet's expectations."

Jim snorted again. "Their loss, my gain." With a glance at Spock, Kirk said, "You never fail to exceed mine." He grinned at the answering smile in Spock's eyes. Satisfied, he rolled onto his back again. "This feels like a sleepover."


"A sleepover. Having friends sleep over. This feels like one. Just good friends, talking, being with each other."

Spock glanced down at his friend, his eyes still smiling. "If that is the case, then I can appreciate its appeal." Jim flashed him a brilliant smile. Spock blinked at the force of it. Then Jim was on his feet, bag in hand, heading for the bathroom. The Vulcan lay on his bed, listening to his friend clean his teeth and change into sleepwear.

When he came out Jim grinned again. "All we need is my mom in the other room so she could periodically yell at us for making too much noise and insist that we go to sleep this instant." He threw himself on the mattress.

Spock sat up on the edge of the bed. "I do not understand. Why would you wish to make your mother unhappy?"

"No, Spock. She wasn't really unhappy. It was all part of the ritual, like a game. We'd be laughing and whispering, and trying to be quiet, as if we were trying to fly in under radar. But we'd always get caught and my mom, or one of the other boys' moms would yell at us. Then it would all start over again until we finally fell asleep."

One of Spock's eyebrows rose. "If I am to engage in the ritual of a sleepover, I believe I would rather experience it without either of our mothers in the next room."

Jim snickered. Then he rolled on his stomach, head resting on his arms. "Just us, then."

"That would be satisfactory." Spock rose to complete his own bathroom ablutions. As he walked back to bed he glanced down and a small smile graced his lips. Jim was fast asleep. Spock quietly lowered the lights and got into bed. He kept his eyes on the human until sleep finally claimed him.

Jim’s sleep was filled with nightmares. Time after time he watched helplessly as Spock was taken from him. He kept thinking he was waking up, but then he’d be sucked back into another iteration.


Still locked in sleep Jim let out a cry.

Spock grabbed his friend's shoulders and shook harder this time. "Jim. Wake up. You are dreaming." Jim felt the pressure on his shoulders and shrank away from the contact, pushing at the arms holding him. Spock tried again. "Captain."

Jim opened his eyes. He gasped out his friend's name. "Spock?"


“Am I really awake this time?” he asked guardedly.

“You are,” Spock said solemnly.

The next moment the Vulcan found himself the recipient of a powerful hug. "You’re alive,” Jim murmured against his ear. “You kept dying over and over again."

Spock was inundated by Jim's anguish. The resonance of Spock’s own powerfully disturbing dream had still not dissipated. Jim’s pain was one he could easily understand, and he would not turn away from it. Overriding the instinct to pull away in telepathic self-preservation, Spock slowly wrapped his arms around his friend. "I am here, Jim."

The arms tightened in response. "I’m so damn sorry."

"You have done nothing to apologize for. You are here, as am I, and we are both alive."

Jim burrowed his head against the Vulcan's shoulder. "I never should have left you. I never should have let you go in that place alone."

"That is illogical. You could scarcely be able to function adequately if you never let me out of your sight."

Jim let out a mirthless laugh. He made no effort to move.

Spock could feel the tension start to ebb out of his friend. He found himself, again, unwilling to move out of the embrace. As it became clear that Jim was making no effort to free himself, Spock daringly lowered his head and allowed his cheek to rest on the human's hair.

Jim let out a sigh, the horror of his dreams receding in the warm embrace of his friend. Feeling as if he was, finally, exactly where he belonged, he made a small humming sound of appreciation. His hand softly caressed Spock's back, and Jim took a deep breath, pulling in the scent of his friend, finding his aroma irresistible. He shifted his head so he could access Spock's neck so as to better touch and smell his bare skin.

Spock followed the hazy patterns of his friend's emotions. He felt them shift from a sense of mutual consolation to something more. And then he knew. Against all probability, his captain desired him. He was momentarily paralyzed. Spock tried to analyze the situation, tried to determine what the best course of action would be. Should he pull away? Should he try and ascertain the depth and permanency of his captain's regard? Should he attempt to speak to Jim about the mental stimulation he required? Should he try and physically respond without a meld? His inexperience goaded him.

Jim pressed his lips against the bare skin above Spock's collarbone. His tongue flicked out to taste what he had just kissed. Then he froze, as the facts began to trickle in, as his awareness grew of exactly what he was doing and with whom.

Spock could sense his captain's dismay. The Vulcan's heart froze for a moment until he ascertained that his friend's dismay wasn't due to what he was doing, or his choice of partner, but rather concern that he might have given offense. Possible actions raced through Spock's mind and he chose the one that was calculated to best meet the overarching need of the man in his arms. Spock slowly let his head fall to the side, baring more of his skin to Jim's lips and tongue.

It was a universal signal and Jim's body responded to it. Letting out a deep groan he moved even closer and let his lips wander. One of his hands continued to caress the Vulcan's back while the other moved to tangle fingers through the black hair.

Spock found the touch to be pleasant. But he knew he wasn't responding adequately. He fought the urge to lift his hand to his friend's face.

Jim moved up to Spock's mouth and gently bit at the Vulcan's lower lip. That was when it registered on the human that his friend wasn't moving. He hadn't left Jim's embrace, and he was clearly allowing this assault on his person, but he wasn't participating. Jim moved his head away, his desire rapidly fading at the thought that his touch had perhaps been unwelcome. He lifted concerned eyes to his friend. "Spock? I thought…" His sentence trailed off as he saw the Vulcan's eyes. Jim could see desire there. The human tried to reconcile the flames in the Vulcan's eyes and the stillness of his body. The conflicting stimuli caused Jim to pull back even more.

Spock reluctantly let him go. They were still touching so Spock remained privy to his captain's emotions. The main one right now was confusion. This was progressing just as the Vulcan had feared. Jim was interpreting his lack of response as rejection. He clutched at his friend's arm, making sure the human moved no further away. Spock searched for the right words to explain.

Spock's grasp on his arm captured Jim's attention. His eyes dropped to the Vulcan's fingers, and then lifted again. "Spock, talk to me. Do you want this? Have I ruined everything?"

"No." Spock hesitated, still unsure as to how to proceed.

Jim let out a nervous short laugh. "No, to which part? No, you don't want this? Or no, I haven't ruined everything?"

This Spock could answer easily. "No, you haven't ruined everything."

Closing his eyes in relief, he said, "I need some help here, Spock. I don't know what to do."

Spock's eyebrow rose. "Indeed? I find myself in a similar predicament."

Jim barked out a laugh. "Great." He ran a hand over his face. "Do we just pretend this didn't happen?"

Spock shook his head. "No."

"Answers of more than one syllable would be helpful here," Jim snapped, frustrated.

Spock began to realize that he, however unlikely, had the advantage here. He knew his own heart, and he was aware of the captain's regard and desire. It was incumbent on him to speak, regardless of how difficult it might be for him. He took a deep breath. "Captain." At the look on Jim's face he tried again. "Jim. I can feel your affection and your desire for me." He watched as Jim looked down, taking in all the places where their bodies were still touching, communicating his emotions to the touch telepath. Spock could feel Jim bracing himself as if for bad news, and he spoke quickly. "They match my own."

Jim glanced back up, the wariness making way for hope. "They do?"

"Yes." Spock paused. "But I am a Vulcan." The wariness came back. Spock took a moment to reflect on how fascinating it was to carry on a conversation while touching someone, being able to register every response to each sentence spoken. "A Vulcan's…desire stems from mental compatibility, the stimulation of minds meeting, exploring." Spock slowly lifted his hand and placed it softly on Jim's face, fingers not quite on the meld points.

Spock's words and soft touch ignited Jim's desire again. Letting out a soft moan he placed his hand gently over Spock's. "We need to bond first?"

Spock was both shocked and thrilled at the longing he felt from Jim that accompanied his words. "You would do this?" A look of incredulity formed on the Vulcan’s face.

Jim stilled, wondering if he’d again overstepped his bounds. He hesitated, then spoke softly. “Do Vulcans bond with same-sex partners?” He knew Spock had wanted to bond with him when he was in Pon Farr but perhaps that had been a moment’s aberration, wrought out of the threat of death.

Spock’s voice was even softer, almost a whisper. “It is an honorable tradition for a Vulcan to bond with his T’hy’la.”


“He who is closer to one’s soul than a brother.”

Jim’s heart turned over. “Oh, Spock.”

Spock could feel that Jim's longing was unabated, and he was barely able to believe what was happening. “You truly wish this? You would be my bond-mate? You understand what you are offering?”

Fear momentarily seized Jim at the irrevocable decision being laid out before him. But, in an instant, it passed. The words came so easily and truly he wondered how he could have been so blind for so long. “I love you, Spock. I would always choose to be at your side, in all ways.”

Even though Spock could feel Jim’s emotions as he spoke, showing them for truth, the words still blindsided him. He stared at Jim, not speaking. A thousand thoughts raced through his mind. He had found his bond-mate. This man with the captivating mind would be his. And soon, Spock would learn how to physically desire him and he would make Jim’s body his as well. He would not have to leave this human who had become more important to him than his own life. He did not need to return to Vulcan. He would not need to bond with a relative stranger to survive his next Pon Farr. His T’hy’la would quench his fire when next he burned.

Jim watched Spock’s face, and waited for him to speak. When no words were forthcoming, he began to feel a bit anxious. Smiling a lopsided smile, he teased his friend. “Bones would pay money to see this. You, Spock, a Vulcan, speechless.” As another long moment passed with still no response the smile slipped off Jim’s face and his next words were nervous and pleading. “I need you to say something, please.”

Spock wanted to respond to Jim’s entreaty, but he doubted his ability to find adequate words; he did not think they existed. In response to Jim’s request he slid his fingers directly over the meld spots on the human’s face, his brows lifting in a mute request for permission.

Nodding, Jim closed his eyes. He waited for Spock to enter his mind, expecting what he had always experienced, a careful, respectful, sharing of thoughts. Instead, Kirk found himself falling into a bottomless well of joy. It surrounded him, supported him, crept inside every pore of his body making him feel more alive than he had ever felt before. His body was trembling with the onrush of Spock’s overpowering emotion. Jim felt his own joy bubble up in response. He had done this. He, Captain James T. Kirk was responsible for making Spock feel this. Jim didn’t think he had ever accomplished anything so wonderful. He basked in the joy for another few moments and then began to project his own love and desire.

Ten seconds later he was flat on his back being thoroughly kissed by a Vulcan. A jolt of sexual energy flowed through his body and Jim, instantly, wrapped his arms around Spock and kissed him back.

The kiss was devastating. Jim didn’t know if it was possible to come from just kissing but he was thinking he was about to find out. Spock seemed to know exactly how to make Jim desperate for more. He could feel Spock’s single-minded determination to completely explore his mouth with his tongue, and teeth, and lips. It set every cell in Jim’s body on fire. He wrapped his legs around the Vulcan to press his hardening cock against Spock’s.

At the sensation, Spock let out a groan, and buried his head in his human’s shoulder, pulling in some much needed air.

Jim ran his hand through Spock’s hair. “Are you all right?” Despite the joy he was still feeling from Spock, that groan had sounded almost painful.

Spock lifted his head and looked down at Jim. Jim’s desire had opened the sluice gates. The Vulcan was too busy with all the sensations he was experiencing to try to talk. His fingers still on the meld spots he lifted his other hand and wonderingly touched Jim’s other cheek. Then he answered Jim’s question the only way he knew how. Holding the human's head captive he lowered his head and kissed him again.

Jim had no idea how long they kissed. It felt like hours but when he next had to break for air, it didn’t feel long enough. But, the fact that Spock was getting uncomfortably heavy began to work its way through his lust. As soon as the thought became conscious, Spock rolled them until Jim was on top.

“Did you hear me?” Jim asked, looking down at Spock from his new vantage point.

“Yes,” Spock managed to say. “We are still in our meld.” Spock pressed his fingers against Jim’s face, as if to remind his friend of the connection.

“Why can’t I hear your thoughts?”

“You should be able to. Perhaps you have not been concentrating enough.”

Jim grinned. “I’ve been concentrating, just not on your thoughts.” Jim caught a flash of amusement from the Vulcan. He gazed down at Spock, a part of him absolutely astonished that he was lying on top of his first officer, feeling the proof of Spock’s arousal against his own. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Another ripple of amusement came through the meld. Spock almost smiled. “I fail to see, from the evidence at hand, how you can possibly not believe this is happening.”

“Ha ha.” Jim rolled his eyes and grinned again. “Oh, and by the way, you might be able to continue fooling the other people on this ship, but between you and me, you have just lost the right to ever pretend you don’t have emotions.”

Spock sighed. “Jim, between you and me, I do not believe that I have been successfully fooling anybody, especially not you.”

Jim lowered his head and captured the Vulcan’s lips for a quick kiss. The confession touched his heart. “God, I love you.” The response was another breathtaking infusion of joy. And to Jim, even with no words being spoken, it was a clear declaration of love from Spock. His heart full, he spoke softly. “Are you bonding us now?”

Spock brushed back the errant lock of hair on Kirk’s forehead, realizing as he did so, how often he had wanted to do that. “No, I need time to prepare.”

“But you will?”

Another burst of joy. “Yes. If it is thy wish.”

“It is. I need it. I need you.”

Spock’s hand reached up to cradle Jim’s head and pulled him down for another soft kiss.

Jim sighed happily, just enjoying the sensation of their bodies lying together, the urgent need to mate temporarily replaced by an overwhelming sense of contentment. He had no doubt the passion would rise again, but he didn’t want to rush things. This felt too important. Jim touched the fingers still in position on his face. “This could get awkward.”

Spock lifted a brow. “I am not sure what will happen if I separate us.”

“You mean you might only feel physical desire for me if we’re mentally hooked up?”

“That possibility exists. As I said, I have never done this before.”

“Well, let’s try it. You can always reconnect us if you have to.” Jim felt reasonably certain that it would not be necessary. He could sense Spock’s new passion like a low burning flame, just waiting to be stoked. He couldn’t wait to be the one to stoke it.

Spock felt a moment’s reluctance. Now that he’d had another taste, his longing had only been sharpened. Never had he thought a human mind would feel so provocative. Only the joyful reminder that it would soon be his on a permanent basis helped him withdraw from the meld. Spock pulled his hand away from Jim’s face.

“Well?” Jim asked.

Spock felt unaccountably shy all of a sudden. He closed his eyes, his inexperience coming back to haunt him.

Jim knew the answer as the erection underneath him stayed hard as a rock. Not wanting to give Spock too much time to think, he lowered his head and gently nibbled on the Vulcan's lips. When Spock began to kiss him back, Jim knew a moment of exultant exhilaration and took his time thoroughly exploring the Vulcan’s mouth.

When the need for air forced him to pull back he continued to rain kisses on Spock’s face, his cheeks, his jaw, and up to one of his ears. Jim smiled as he finally got to fulfill this particular fantasy and ran his tongue over the point. He lifted his head to glance down at Spock. Jim grinned when the Vulcan made a clearly recognizable sound of disappointment over the withdrawal of his touch. Jim tongued his ear again. “I’ve dreamed about doing this.”

Spock’s eyebrows rose. That fact seemed inconceivable to him. “You dreamed of this?”

“Touching your ears, seeing how they would taste in my mouth.” Jim grinned at the look on Spock’s face. “Do you like me touching you like this?” Without waiting for an answer he bent down again and took the tip of the pointed ear into his mouth, sucking gently.

Spock did like it. He let out a small gasp at the sensation and found himself thrusting up against Jim’s groin. A small part of him was aghast at the lack of control his body was exhibiting. The larger part of him, for the first time in his life, didn’t care. The joy engulfed him again and his hands swept down Jim’s back, inching back up under his shirt, needing to feel his partner's skin.

Jim growled when he felt Spock’s hot hands against his naked skin. The two of them worked Jim’s shirt off and it went flying. Jim's fingers started to roam and he tried to figure out how to get his soon to be lover's robe off. Finally he rolled to Spock’s side, his lips caressing the Vulcan’s neck. “How do I get this off of you?”

In one smooth motion Spock had it unfastened and Jim opened it, helping Spock shrug it off his shoulders. Jim took a moment to appreciate the body being displayed for him. He had seen the Vulcan naked often enough at communal showers but never like this. He was lean and muscular, the Vulcan strength clearly evident despite the too thin body. Swamped by possessiveness, Jim swept a hand down Spock’s body and wrapped his fingers around the thick cock rising from the thatch of black curls. Following through on his need to possess his dark lover he moved down and took the rigid cock into his mouth.

The cry Spock let out gave Jim a heady feeling. He was doing this. He was making the normally cool and collected Vulcan cry out, thrust his body, and make those whimpering noises. Jim used his tongue to caress the ridges, his lips creating a small suction.

Spock cried out again. He couldn’t seem to draw in sufficient air. Never had he thought something could feel like this, that he could feel such sensation, such raw primal need. Spock looked down and tried to process the fact that his captain was holding his firmly erect cock in his mouth, that his captain’s tongue was doing things to his body that Spock wouldn’t have believed possible if he wasn’t experiencing it for himself.

A small analytical part of his brain was quietly cataloging everything Jim did so he could repeat the procedure on his soon to be bond-mate. The rush of pleasure that thought gave him, combined with the talented ministrations of his captain’s mouth catapulted the Vulcan into the first orgasm that, as far as Spock was concerned, truly counted. Tangling his fingers into Jim’s hair he surrendered into bliss.

Jim swallowed every drop of Spock’s come and then crawled back up the Vulcan’s body. He smiled a very proud smile when he saw the look on Spock’s face. He looked like a big, happy, contented cat. The Vulcan lifted dazed eyes to Jim and his lips actually curved into a smile, a small smile, but still a smile.

Jim laughed and hugged Spock tightly. “This is going to be so great, you and me. It’s going to be better than great.”

Spock’s voice was still a bit breathless. “I would not presume to argue with you.”

“That is very wise of you, Mister Spock,” Jim said with another laugh.

In an effortlessly quick move, Spock had Jim flat on his back again. The brief demonstration of the Vulcan’s strength excited Jim, and the soft kisses Spock was placing on his neck and chest only added to the fire. Spock ran a tentative hand down Jim’s body, his hand ending up on the human’s hip. “It is permissible to touch you in return?”

Jim let out a moan and twisted his body to try and get Spock’s hand closer to his cock. “Yes.” He thrust up against the hand that was now lightly caressing him. “Please.” Then, dislodging Spock momentarily, Jim pulled his pants down and off, kicking them off the bed.

Spock continued kissing Jim’s body, stopping to flick a curious tongue over one of his nipples. He was gratified at the response and did it again. Jim’s hands found their way into Spock’s hair. Spock hadn’t realized until last night how sensitive his scalp was and took a moment to appreciate the sensation. But he did not allow himself to become distracted. He was determined to return the favor so recently bestowed on him.

After spending another few moments on Jim’s other nipple Spock moved downward. Once at his goal he took the time to do some exploring. With gentle strokes he tasted the sacs beneath the rigid cock. When Jim’s movements and moans encouraged him to continue he carefully drew them into his mouth, bathing them with the warmth and wetness of his mouth and tongue. Spock found the taste and texture of Jim’s body to be exquisite and wanted more.

Spock licked the length of Jim’s cock, wanting to taste it all. He placed a hand on Jim’s hip not wanting the human’s movements to prohibit him from his thorough exploration of every centimeter of his lover's maleness.

Jim thought he might explode. He let out a moan that almost sounded like a sob. “Suck me. Hurry.”

Spock decided to acquiesce to Jim’s demand and took the cock into his mouth applying the requested suction. He slowly pulled Jim in deeper, exerting strong controls over his gag reflex so he could take as much of him inside his mouth as possible. As Jim’s cries increased Spock shifted his position so he could glance up at his face. The Vulcan was momentarily stunned that he was causing this unraveling of his captain. Jim was lost in the throes of passion because of him. Spock found the thought enormously satisfying. He shifted the bulk of his attention back to his captain’s anatomy.

Jim felt the familiar tightening sensation in his balls. He thrust up again. He tried to warn Spock that he was going to come but couldn’t speak. With another thrust he lost himself in a blinding orgasm, stars exploding under his eyelids. When his body had stopped shuddering, he fought against the lassitude working its way through him and reached down, pulling the Vulcan to his side. Wrapping his arms around him tightly, he pressed his lips against Spock’s neck. “I thought you said you never did this before.”

Spock turned his head a little, hoping Jim might suck on his ear again. “That is correct.”

Jim took the hint and nibbled on the Vulcan's ear. “You’re a quick study.”

“I had a most excellent tutor.”

Kirk let out a soft pleased laugh. “So tell me, Spock. Do Vulcan males go to sleep after sex like human males do?”

Spock’s voice was drowsy. “It is impossible with such a small sample size to deduce a meaningful hypothesis about the male Vulcan population.” Spock shifted his body to avoid the jab from Jim’s elbow. He wrapped his arms around his lover and tucked him in tightly against his body. “However, I think I can safely say without error that this particular Vulcan requires sleep.”

Jim smiled but was too sleepy to respond. The last thought that went through his head was the realization that Spock did like to snuggle. He was still smiling as sleep pulled him under.

Part IV

McCoy took a sip of coffee as he reviewed his messages. His eyebrows rose as he read the third one down. "Well, I'll be damned." Punching in the numbers for Spock's quarters he drummed his fingers on the desk.

Spock had risen to use the bathroom. The soft chime caught his attention on the way back to bed. "Spock here." He had lowered the temperature in the cabin for Jim’s comfort and had drawn on his robe to ward the chill off.

The doctor's face lit up the display. "Spock. Guess what?"

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "Doctor, the odds of making a correct guess without further information are approximately one thousand…"

McCoy interrupted. "Never mind." He shook his head in mock disgust at the Vulcan's willful obtuseness. "There's a Vulcan healer on Starbase 52. He arrived last night and my request was forwarded on to him."

Both eyebrows rose as Spock considered the doctor's words. "Indeed?"

"Yeah. Anyway, I just need to know if you still want to see him." McCoy didn't think Spock would, but he hadn't wanted to make that decision on his own.

"He might be useful. I must speak to the captain about it."

McCoy furrowed his brow as he tried to figure out why Spock would need to talk to Jim to determine if he needed to see a Vulcan healer or not. As he was about to ask he heard Jim's voice call out. "Spock?"

Spock turned his head in response to the query. "I am here, Captain."

Jim's voice sounded exasperated. "Want to try that again? Without the Captain?"

McCoy tried to hide a grin as Spock shot him a quick glance, as if hoping that perhaps he had conveniently signed off just a second before. Spock sighed. "Captain, I…"

Kirk's voice, as he interrupted Spock, was still tinged with exasperation but nothing could hide the affection in it. "Have it your way, then, Mr. Spock. But could you please just get your sexy ass back to bed?"

The doctor's mouth dropped open and he stared at the Vulcan. Spock sighed again. "Jim, I will be in there as soon as I finish my conversation with Dr. McCoy." A loud silence filled the air.

Jaw snapping shut McCoy gave into the grin. "I don't suppose you're going to try to tell me that that wasn't what it sounded like?"

Spock squared his shoulders and flashed the doctor a rueful look. "I see little logic in that activity as I believe it would be an exercise in futility."

"You're darn tootin' it would be." Bones started to laugh. "Tell Jim your computer has a much better pick up range than his. He might want to get his fixed, or yours, as the case may be." Still laughing, he added, "And tell him to drop by sickbay later."

"I will pass along your messages. Is there anything else?"

"Yes. I'll just send along the healer's contact information and you can call him yourself. Oh, and Spock?"

Spock lifted an eyebrow and mentally braced himself. "Yes, Doctor?"

"I'm glad. The both of you deserve something good. I just wanted you to know."

Spock's other eyebrow rose at the unexpected, supportive comment. Unsure of how to best respond he gave the doctor a small nod, uttered a quiet thank you, and signed off. Spock allowed himself a small moment of regret for the fact that his life would never again be the emotionless, orderly, and precise affair he had worked so hard to achieve. Then, rising, he moved around the corner and back to the man who had turned his life upside down and made it infinitely better.

"I'm sorry, Spock," Jim said, doing his best to look contrite, although it was spoiled by an escaping laugh. "I didn't mean to put you in that position."

"It is irrelevant. As CMO, it would have been necessary to inform the doctor about this change in your status."

Jim reached out and encouraged the Vulcan to join him down on the air mattress. "You're such a romantic fool." At Spock's confused look he laughed again. "I’m teasing you. I would have said that Bones needed to be advised that I had fallen head-over-heels in love with the most extraordinary being I know, and soon I hoped to be bonded to him for life, because he's the best thing that ever happened to me."

Spock ran his hand down his human's cheek, his own face not quite hiding his delight at Jim's words. "Ah." He thought for a moment, trying to find his own comfort zone between the illogic of stating what is already known, and the romantic notion of speaking flowery words simply to please one's mate. Finding within himself the need to please his lover he spoke what was for him, the simple truth. Running his eyes along the captain's body, from his toes to the top of his head he spoke. "You are so beautiful."

If the brilliant smile Jim gave him was any indication, the desired affect had been achieved. Spock was pleased. He moved closer and kissed his human, reveling in the fact that it was his right to do so. Jim let out an appreciative sound as he pressed a kiss on the Vulcan's jaw, enjoying the odd sensation of beard stubble under his tongue. Suddenly, he remembered the call. "What were you talking about, anyway?"

Spock actually had to think for a moment. He pulled back and moved into a sitting position, wanting to talk. "A Vulcan healer has just arrived on the Starbase and has responded to Dr. McCoy's queries. He has offered his services."

Jim sent a little prayer of gratitude to whoever was listening that the healer hadn't been available until now. He caught the look of anticipation in Spock's eyes and he sat up as well, curious. "And?"

"We spoke of bonding last night."

"Yes, we did," Jim said with a broad smile.

"I infer from your…romantic comments, that this is something you would still choose to do."

"The sooner the better."

A small smile graced Spock's lips at the enthusiastically expressed desire. "I concur with your wishes."

Jim tried to add things up. "I’m assuming that somehow the healer is a factor in this bonding discussion, but I thought you said you could bond us."

"I believe I can, but, as I mentioned before, I have never done this before."

"So, he could check us out, make sure all the connections are hooked up right?"

"An inexact metaphor, but essentially correct."

Jim frowned. "He won't give us a hard time, will he? Make you feel bad for bonding with a human?"

"It would not be logical for him to disparage what cannot be undone."

Laughing softly, Jim leaned back on his elbows. "Cannot be undone." He shook his head, another soft laugh escaping. "All my life the idea of commitment to another person has terrified me. Now you throw out the phrase 'cannot be undone' and all I can think is that I want it. I want you, forever. An ironclad contract with no escape clause."

"Jim, you must be sure."

"I am sure," Jim said without a trace of doubt. "Are you sure?"

"I am more sure of this than I have ever been of anything."

"You really are a quick study,” Jim said with a brilliant smile and admiring glance. “And you have quite a knack for turning a man's head with your romantic foolishness."

Spock bowed his head slightly at the compliment. "You give me reason."

Reaching up to trace the lean lines of the Vulcan's face, Jim gave him a shaky smile. "What did I ever do to deserve you?" As Spock made as if to speak, Jim moved his fingers over his lips to stop him. "No, don't argue, let me feel this. You are such a gift. There is nothing in my life I can regret if it brought me to this moment, to you."

Kissing Jim's fingers, Spock closed his eyes, allowing his lover's affection to flow over and around him. Trying to honor the human's request and not argue the point, Spock chose instead to agree. "Nor can I regret anything that has happened to me."

Jim pulled Spock down to lie next to him and wrapped his arms around him tightly. None of them would make him change his mind, but after a few minutes he spoke of one of his three fears. "Do you think Starfleet will try to separate us?"

Spock moved far enough away so he could see Jim's face clearly. "They cannot. Vulcan bond-mates who are both in Starfleet must be allowed to serve together."

Jim lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "Really?"

Spock nodded. "After T'pau's discussion with Admiral Komack on the occasion of my first Pon Farr, she insisted on the creation of several regulations to protect bonded Vulcans. As my bond-mate, you would also be protected by these laws."

"For a Vulcan who refused to live up to his planet's expectations,” Jim said softly, and proudly, “you have certainly made an impression." He let out a breath. "Okay, that's good news. I was a little nervous about that."

"You are still nervous."

Jim grinned and shook his head. "Soon there'll be no more secrets between us at all, will there?"

"Does that disconcert you?"

"No." Jim was sure about this too. He sat up, eyes intent. "Can you bond us now?"

"First tell me of your other fears," Spock asked, sensing there was more.

"The crew. How do you think they'll react?"

"I am uncertain."

Jim scrunched his face up. "Well, I guess we'll just deal with it." He pointed toward the bathroom. "I was thinking that I could move into those quarters. That way we could have a suite."

Spock's eyes shifted to the bathroom. On the other side was a connected cabin. It would have been the quarters of the science officer, if Spock had not occupied that position as well. With sufficient cabins to house the rest of the officers, it had stayed uninhabited. "A most logical suggestion."

"Who'd have guessed?” Jim said with a teasing grin. “Me, the logical one, and you, the romantic."

"I have little hope that you will allow logic to always dictate your path."

Jim snickered. "No, you know me too well for that." He blew out a breath. "When you said you needed to prepare before you could bond us, what did that mean?"

"I must meditate for a short while."

"So, will you?"

"There is still something you are nervous about."

"Yes, there is. But that is staying my secret until after we're bonded. It's not important, trust me." Jim reached for Spock's hand. "We're both on leave, the ship is docked, no emergency is looming, and there's a Vulcan healer available to make sure you get the mental wiring right. I say let's do it."

Spock briefly touched Jim's meld points, needing final proof of Jim's willingness. "May I share your thoughts?" he asked.

Kirk buried the one thought he had no intention of sharing right now and then nodded his head. "Yes."

Spock opened his mind and found himself surrounded by Jim's love and determination. He sensed no doubts, just longing coupled with anticipation. Spock shared his own thoughts with Jim, allowed him to feel his own anticipation, his own longing for this union. As his hand dropped away, Jim kissed him, hard and fast. "How long do you need?"

"I am not sure, but I suspect that thirty minutes will be more than adequate."

"Great. I need to go to my cabin for something. I'll be back." With that, Jim got up, threw on his clothes and after another quick smile, he left the room.

Spock watched the door close and then he rose as well and moved to his meditation area, sinking to his knees.

Jim stood in his bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. He wondered if he would look different once he was bonded, if having the Vulcan in his head would cause him to see with different eyes. Jim was astonished at how peaceful he felt about the whole affair. Except for one thing.

He looked down on the counter. There was a brown paper bag lying there. After that brutally honest conversation with Bones about bonding with Spock, Jim had left the ship, needing to walk, needing to wrestle with his thoughts away from everyone he knew. And, even while a part of him had shied away from the thought of ever, ever using it, he had made a purchase.

Jim reached for the bag and opened it, spilling the contents out on the counter. Lubrication. He picked up the tube and tossed it in his hand, mixed emotions competing inside his brain. One part of him was in a panic. The other part of him was feeling horny as hell at the thought.

He looked back in the mirror. He hadn't wanted to share this with Spock, because he'd been afraid that if Spock realized how nervous he was about this particular sex act, Spock would insist on waiting. Jim didn't want to wait. And somewhere deep inside, behind the nervousness, was a deep trust. He knew Spock would sooner cut his own heart out than hurt him.

Besides, men, everywhere, loved this way, taking pleasure in it. In his own escapades, Jim had occasionally enjoyed a bit of anal stimulation during sex. Those memories were allowing the horny as hell bit of him to surface. But this was different. Jim knew it was different. It would make him belong to Spock in a way he had never belonged to anybody.

Suddenly his mind was full of the memory of Spock's joy, the joy that had taken him over, and almost shaken him apart with ecstasy. He wanted that. Jim wanted that joy, wanted to know that he was the cause of that brimming emotion. Kirk slid the tube in his pocket. Grinning at the mirror again, he flicked off the light, and left his doubt behind him.

Part V

McCoy walked into the lunchroom and noticed the attention one of the room's occupants seemed to be garnering. There were several whispered conversations going on, and quite a few of the crew were grinning. The doctor followed the gazes and his eyes grew wide as he realized it was the captain who was the unwitting recipient of all the attention. He grinned himself as he took in the view.

Jim was sitting alone, his elbows resting on the table, chin resting on his palms, staring off into space with the dreamiest look on his face that it had ever been McCoy's privilege to see. He had to bite his lips to keep from laughing out loud. The doctor walked up to the table and sat down. Jim completely ignored him. He cleared his throat. Nothing. Tamping down another laugh he tried again. "Jim."

This time Jim shifted his gaze so that his dreamy eyes rested on McCoy. The doctor was almost jealous of the person to whom that look would be directed. Almost. Then he watched as the eyes cleared. Jim lifted his fork and pushed some food around on his plate, pulling himself together.

McCoy grinned. "You look like a man in love."

Jim looked around, frowning as he watched his crew looking everywhere but at him. Suspicious, he looked back at his friend. "Was it that obvious?" A part of Jim wondered how anybody could not know what had happened to him. How could they not see that the fabric of his life had been completely reshaped? He gave in to the impulse to shift in his chair, rejoicing in the discomfort of his lower body, undeniable testament to his being claimed in every way by his Vulcan mate.

McCoy snorted. He lifted an uneaten roll off of Jim's plate. "You gonna eat this?" Jim shook his head. The doctor took a bite. "So where's Prince Charming?"

Jim almost choked. Then his eyes grew distant for a moment and he grinned. "Sorry."

McCoy sent him a confused look. "What are you sorry for?"

"Never mind,” Jim said with a dismissive hand wave. “I wasn't talking to you."

The doctor's eyebrows almost lifted off his head. "Excuse me?" He looked around. "Who the hell were you talking to?"

"Spock." Jim leaned toward McCoy. "I keep forgetting I don't have to talk out loud."

McCoy wondered if Jim was having a nervous breakdown. He asked his question carefully. "Where exactly do you think Spock is?"

"He's trying to meditate. But he keeps saying I'm distracting him." Jim grinned. He had felt the joy in Spock's complaint.

McCoy got it then. "I'll be dipped in shit. You did it."

"Yup, you're looking at a married man, Bones."

"A happily married man, if I had to guess."

"A very happily married man." He tapped his temple. "I can't describe it. It's the most amazing thing I've ever experienced." And it was. All of it had been.

Jim grinned again, and McCoy could tell it was in response to a private conversation he was not privy to. He couldn't help smiling in response as he watched Jim, even as he was realizing this would take some getting used to. The two of them had always seemed to be able to silently communicate but at least they'd both been in the same room at the same time. "Well, send him my congratulations."

A second passed. "He thanks you." Jim shook his head and laughed softly. "He also says I need to learn how to shield so I don't broadcast quite so loudly. We're lucky we don't have any other telepaths on the ship right now. He's hoping the Vulcan healer can help with that."

"I would think that Spock could help with that. He shields all the time."

"I know,” Jim said, giving Bones a dazzling smile. “But he says he is not objective in this matter, as he finds himself illogically enjoying my enthusiasm."

McCoy snorted. "Spock's never gonna know what hit him."

Jim laughed. Then he leaned in again toward the doctor. "How do you think the crew is going to take it?"

Judging from the grins on everyone's face when he walked in the lunchroom, McCoy didn't think it was going to be a problem. He didn't mention the fact that more crew were coming into the mess hall. Clearly the word was out that something juicy was going on and the mess hall was the place to see it. McCoy also saw credits being exchanged. He suppressed a grin and focused back on the captain. "How do you think they're going to take it?"

"I'm afraid they might think that it could affect our ability to make objective command decisions for the good of the ship."

"Oh,” McCoy said pointedly, “so you're afraid they might think that you or Spock might put yourself in danger for each other, or race all over the galaxy, against all hope, searching for one another? Or maybe they'll be concerned that one or the both of you might go against Starfleet orders, or put your careers on the line to save each other's lives?" McCoy thought for a moment. "Or wait, maybe they'll worry that Spock will find some regulation that he could break in order to keep his captain from throwing his life away on some fool mission."

Jim made a face at his friend. "Point taken." That pretty well summed up how he and Spock had treated each other ever since Jim had assumed command. He sat back in his chair. "Has it been there all along, and I just didn't see it?"

"Something's been there all along, and the crew thrives on it. They trust you and Spock completely, because they see you both as unconquerable. You won't let him die; he won't let you die. End of story. And they figure if the both of you are alive, they get to stay alive too. The two of you being bonded will just make them believe it more."

Jim glanced around. "Do you think any of them suspect?" He frowned. Without waiting for an answer he spoke again. "There are an awful lot of people in here. I don't remember it being this crowded before." The crowd, for some reason, made him lonely for Spock. Jim tightened his sphincter muscle, a thrill shooting through him at the sensation. It was as if Spock was still inside him, thrusting into him. Kirk could feel himself getting hard, and he wrestled for control. He looked up to find the doctor laughing at him. "Want to let me in on the joke?"

"Jim, for a captain who usually has his finger on the pulse of everything that's going on with his ship you're being unusually clueless. I find it charming." McCoy ran his hand over his jaw. "Let's see." He watched as a few more crew entered the room and hastily spoken conversations occurred bringing the newcomers up to speed. Changing his verbal direction he looked over at his friend. "You do know that everything you and Spock do is of tremendous interest to your crew, yes? Even, and in some cases, especially the personal stuff?"

Jim nodded. "I wasn't always a Captain. I know how this works."

"You know that betting pool?"

"The one that doesn't exist?"

"Yeah, that one."

"What about it?"

"Well, your and Spock's sex life have been, on occasion, a topic for debate."

"My sex life? Spock's sex life?" Jim realized his voice had gotten a little loud, and he clamped his lips shut. He glanced around the room and frowned as he watched too many crew behaving with far too much nonchalance. Jim leaned toward McCoy and spoke more softly. "Our sex lives?"

McCoy nodded. "Whether you'd score on any particular shore leave, odds on whether you'd sleep with any of the crew, that sort of stuff."

Jim's jaw dropped and he neglected to keep his voice down again as he said sharply, "I have never slept with anyone under my command." The fact that he had spoken not only too loudly, but had just told a bald-faced lie hit him at the same time. He could feel the blush blooming. Ignoring the muffled laughs around him he covered his face. "Is my face as red as it feels?"

"Redder." McCoy felt a moment's pity for Jim. "We could take this conversation someplace a bit more private, if you'd like."

Jim just shook his head. If he got up out of this chair he knew his feet, and the rest of his anatomy, would take him straight to Spock. Again he focused on the slight discomfort of his body, pictured Spock as he oh-so-gently, and with so much control, tried to breach his body without causing any pain. Jim forced himself to concentrate on his conversation with McCoy. "Okay, let me amend that statement,” he said honestly. “Up until last night I never slept with anyone under my command." Then his brow furrowed. "They made bets on me? And Spock? What were they betting on Spock?"

"Who he'd bond with. When he'd bond."

Jim was interested despite himself. Despite the fact that the whole thing seemed disrespectful of his Vulcan first officer's obsessive need for privacy. "Who was the money on?"

"Christine for a while, Nyota, anyone from Vulcan, you."

Jim was absurdly pleased and jealous at the same time. He pushed past the other names and focused on the part he was pleased about. "Me?"

McCoy nodded. "You. Especially lately."


The doctor rolled his eyes. "Well, let's see." He glanced up to see that they had a rapt audience. He pitched his voice low. "First, Spock gets brought back onto the Enterprise, and despite our best attempts to keep it quiet, word gets out he's in Pon Farr. And, people hear him yelling your name. Meanwhile, you're hanging around sickbay trying to see Spock, no matter how many times I tell you to go away. With me so far?"

"Go on," Jim said with a sigh.

"Okay. Spock gets released from sickbay and for the next week the crew sees you outside his door several times a day, begging for him to let you in. Then you, according to the rumor mill, somehow, magically, know that he's in danger and get to his cabin just in the nick of time to save his life. Where, in a classically romantic gesture, Spock throws himself in front of you to save your life. In the meantime, Spock's door shuts behind the two of you, and neither of you are seen for over two days and, when you finally surface,” McCoy finished with a flourish, “you're sitting in the mess hall looking like a love-smitten teenager. I'd say general sentiment is that you’re a safe bet."

Jim flashed the doctor a lopsided smile. "So, essentially what you're telling me is that the cat is out of the bag?"

McCoy barked out a laugh. "What I’m telling you is that this particular cat is not only out of the bag but is up on the roof caterwauling."

Letting his eyes peruse the mess hall, this time Jim paid real attention. He saw nothing but enthralled expectation surrounding him. Then he felt Spock inside his head, checking in. And for a moment he was back in the room in the astonishingly skillful arms of his inexperienced lover. His chart-breaking genius lover who sometime between the amazing blow job in the wee hours of the morning, and the time when Jim walked back into his room with a tube of lubrication in his pocket, had found the time to do some reading on human sexuality.

Jim was convinced that Spock had somehow found the time to read the Kama Sutra, and every other love text that had ever been written. And the combination of the new knowledge Spock now possessed, and his eagerness to please, and the loss of his own Vulcan control as he succumbed to his own pleasure had turned Jim on more than he had thought possible.

He had never been touched this way, with so much love, so much dedication, so much focus. And he'd wanted Spock to take him. He had been so hot that when Spock first put a finger inside of him to start preparing him, Jim had been startlingly impatient for the Vulcan cock to be slamming inside of him, shoving him across the mattress, taking control of his body.

And Spock had been so close, pressing for entry. And then he'd realized he was causing Jim some pain, and he'd suddenly figured out that anal sex had been Jim's fear, the fear Jim hadn't wanted to talk about. Spock had tried to pull away, but that hadn't been remotely okay with Jim. He had expected a little pain, and he'd been so horny at that point, he truly hadn't cared. But he did care that Spock was denying him what he now wanted, what he desperately craved.

Jim had taken things in his own hands and had pulled Spock to him, and with one hard push had impaled himself on that velvet cock. And it had hurt. It had hurt more than it would have if Spock had kept going, but it didn't matter because it was done. No reason for Spock to pull back, just all the reason in the world for him to stay exactly where he was. Because by then Jim's well-prepared body had started to stretch, had started to accommodate, had started to enjoy the new sensation.

Sensing it, Spock began to move, every stroke setting Jim on fire, every move designed to make him go insane with desire. Then he'd felt fingers on his face, and Spock had pushed within his mind as well. For a few seconds Jim had hovered between both acts of penetration, the one of his body, and the one of his mind, and wondered if a human being was built to survive this. But then had come the love and the joy, and Spock's desire, and his exultation in the act of their bodies and Jim knew he could do this forever, would do this forever, that nothing could feel more right. And his heart and his mind and his soul had exploded into light with his orgasm, triggered by Spock's groans, his Vulcan love words, triggered by Spock shooting his seed deep inside him with one claiming thrust after another. And when they were done, Jim had never, ever, felt as loved, inside and out, as he did at that moment.

And in this moment as well, because Spock was still there in his head, loving him, wanting him. Jim realized someone was calling his name. He looked up to see McCoy watching him. "Are you all right?” McCoy asked with a frown. “You sort of went away there for a minute."

Jim was almost afraid to look down in his lap, afraid that maybe he'd come in his pants, in the mess hall, in front of half his crew. He shifted a little and realized with some relief that he was still hard. He glanced at McCoy, and gestured towards his own head. "Sorry, it's still a little…" He shook his head, having no words to describe what was going on.

McCoy cocked his head to the side. "I’m putting you both on personal leave for two weeks. You need some time to get used to this." He smiled softly at his friend. "You and Spock, it's a good thing, Jim, so don't take this the wrong way, but you're not exactly fit for command right now."

Jim knew he was right but he argued anyway. "We're scheduled to leave in three days. I already have my orders."

"Well, this CMO is pulling rank. I'll deal with Starfleet. You need a couple of weeks for the two of you…" McCoy stopped talking as he saw a new grin on Jim's face. Something about that smile looked familiar, and he knew without even looking that Spock would be walking into the mess hall any second. He shared the memory again with his friend. "You have the same smile on your face as Lady Amanda did that night."

Jim smiled even more, remembering that conversation. He crooked his finger to encourage the doctor to lean in. "Do you remember what she told you?"

McCoy remembered. He nodded.

"She's right. One hundred percent right. And you know what else?"

The doctor wasn't sure he wanted to know any more information. "What?"

"Vulcan’s like to snuggle," Jim said mischievously. At the look on McCoy's face, Jim laughed. His eyes moved to the door, and the crew's eyes moved as one to the door as well.

Then Spock was there and the look in his eyes made Jim feel as if it was only the two of them in the entire universe.

McCoy could feel the energy sizzling in the air. He watched Spock for a moment and thought maybe he'd been wrong. That maybe it would be Jim who wasn't going to know what hit him. He chewed his lip to keep from smiling. There had always been women, and men for that matter, on ship and off, who had done their best to flirt with Jim, trying to get him into bed. But McCoy was willing to hazard a guess that no one would try that anymore. Not with that look on Spock's face.

Jim gave Spock a brilliant smile and then turned back to McCoy. "Caterwauling on the roof, huh?"

McCoy nodded. "Like a tomcat in heat."

Pursing his lips, Jim stood. He walked over to Spock and held up his hand, the index and middle finger extended, the others curled inside his palm. He offered his fingers to Spock, the way all Vulcans, for centuries, had greeted their bond-mates.

Spock silently considered his mate. He had tried not to eavesdrop on the conversation between Jim and Dr. McCoy. But every now and then Jim's thoughts had been impossible to ignore. However, Spock had simply listened, stroked the bond, and then had refocused on his meditation. But then Jim had relived that moment of bonding, that moment when they had been connected in every way possible, that moment when against all odds, Spock had been able to claim his bond-mate, and Spock had found himself out of his cabin, striding toward the mess hall, the urge to be in his mate's physical presence undeniable.

And now Jim stood before him, proudly and publicly proclaiming their new status. Allowing his lips to form a small smile, more of a smile than anyone in this room, with the exception of Dr. McCoy, had ever seen on his face, he lifted his own fingers, and pressed them against Jim's. That small touch enflamed him, and he communicated silently to his mate the urgent need to be alone with him.

Jim nodded, feeling the same way. They turned as one and began to walk out the door.

McCoy called out to them. "I don't want to see either of you on this ship for two weeks."

Jim flashed him a smile and then the door was closing behind them. Lost in their silent communication, neither of them heard the cheering of the crew that followed them down the hall.

The End