Jim had circled the house for nearly an hour after a restless sleep, drawn back toward the kitchen before a rapid retreat only to repeat the process. Eventually, however, he settles in the doorway between living room and kitchen, head on bent knees, sweat slicking every inch of visible skin.
Picking up the newest variation, Spock slowly crosses the room, careful to avoid the appearance of stealth, but Jim doesn't move, eyes closed and surprisingly still.
At the first touch of the hypo, one hand flashes up, locking around Spock's wrist. Almost instantly, Spock can feel the tangled mass of Jim's emotions, the tenuous control the only thing that keeps it from overwhelming him.
"Spock," he whispers in a voice that Spock's never heard him use. "T'hy'la."
Spock takes a deep breath and fights back the instinctive response to that voice and that mind. "This will help," he says, and Jim's eyes drift down, lingering on the hypo in confusion.
The grip shifts, easing, and Spock presses the hypo against Jim's arm as a damp forehead presses against his shoulder. "I'm so tired," Jim whispers helplessly. "It's hard to even think."
Tentatively, Spock circles his shoulders with one arm, and with a sigh, Jim leans into him bonelessly, fine tremors running through his body. "You should rest."
"There's a mountain," Jim answers thickly. "It's all I can see when I close my eyes. You died and everything stopped and I didn't think I'd ever breathe again. But there was a mountain and it was like waking up again, and I could breathe." Jim shivers. "You said my name before you remembered your own."
Spock reaches tentative fingers into Jim's mind, easing away the memories, unwillingly fascinated at the glimpses into a life he would never live, foreign and familiar both.
If there were such a thing as fate, Spock thinks, startled by his own bitterness, such a thing as destiny, and if those things were so mutable they could be so easily destroyed, to show them this was an obscenity. No rational universe would permit this, would reveal all that could be with the knowledge it could never come to pass. "Jim," he says, closing his eyes at the fierce rush of joy and grief and hope like the burn of a new dawn in the desert. "Rest now."
Jim sighs once, breath warm against his throat as Spock eases him into unconsciousness. Spock shifts carefully until he can press his back against the wall, Jim a warm, trusting weight across his body. Pressing a hand against Jim's face, Spock breathes the words that allow him to block the memories from haunting Jim's sleep, trying to believe he will not remember these flashes of a universe not his own: a place where to James Kirk, he was far more than colleague and friend, the Federation did not hover on the edge a war there is no certainty they could hope to win, and he had never watched his homeworld die.
It's not the first time that Spock has found himself waiting in the transporter room for no logical reason (for many reasons, perhaps, but few of them logical), nor is it the first time he's waited after a diplomatic conference for Captain Kirk to return; it's the first time, however, that he acknowledges that this time, at least, there is a logical reason for him to be here.
The Captain hasn't been himself and has been avoiding Spock with worrisome success, and Spock cannot find a logical reason for either of these events.
"The Captain is hailing," the transporter tech says, voice shaking. "Should I--"
"You are dismissed," Spock says firmly, taking the controls. Looking insultingly relieved, the tech leaves, and Spock hears the door open before Nyota joining him, mouth set in a grim line. "You do not--"
"Yes, I do." A medical tricorder is in one hand, hidden in the folds of her skirt. "Get him up here. I don't like that we weren't able to track him for this long." She gives him a sideways glance. "Even you couldn't find him."
Spock initiates transport, watching the Captain materialize, looking much the worse for twelve untraceable hours planetside. Lieutenant Sulu, just behind him, moves almost immediately, catching the Captain as he collapses slowly toward the floor.
"Spock!" The Captain says with a surprisingly pleased smile, wiping his mouth with a blood-flecked hand. Nyota approaches, and the Captain's smile changes. "And hello to you, Lieutenant," he murmurs.
She rolls her eyes, frowning at the readings, then nods at Lieutenant Sulu. "Take him to sickbay," she says, glancing at Spock. "His alcohol level is point three. He shouldn't be conscious."
"I can hold my liquor," the Captain says defensively, trying and failing to fight off Lieutenant Sulu's tight grip. "Come on, I'm--"
"An idiot," Nyota says, gesturing sharply. Spock joins Lieutenant Sulu, helping shift the Captain's weight between them as they approach the turbolift. "Sickbay," she says as the doors close.
The Captain sways between them, trying to stay on his feet; Spock alters his grip, bare skin sliding against his fingers, and stiffens, surprised by the startling intensity that should have been pushed beneath the artificial haze of alcohol. Nyota turns to look at them, eyes wide. "He is not intoxicated," Spock says. "Lieutenant--"
"That's not possible." As the door opens, Nyota backs out, double checking the readings before leading the way to sickbay. "His blood alcohol is--" She stops short as the door opens, staring at the tricorder. "It's dropping. Fast."
"I always liked you," the Captain slurs, chin digging into Spock's shoulder, breath hot against his skin. Abruptly, a finger draws a slow line down his ear, and Spock jerks away, too surprised to control his response. "You have any idea what I've been thinking about--"
"You'll want to stop talking now," Nyota says, acid with worry. "Dr. McCoy should return from the planet soon; he's been informed we found the Captain. Sulu, wait for him in the transporter room."
The Lieutenant gives them a surprised look, but Spock's attention is on Nyota, currently helping him settle the Captain on a biobed. The readings that flare as it comes online take Spock's total attention, watching the violent fluctuations. As the sickbay door closes, Nyota says, "Computer, lock the doors, Uhura alpha three. Admittance to Dr. Leonard McCoy only."
Spock watches silently as she arranges Captain Kirk, hands gentler than he'd expected from her earlier anger. To his surprise, she reaches out, hand pressing against Kirk's face, mouth curving in an encouraging smile. "Hey. You with us, Captain?"
"You're terrified," Captain Kirk says curiously. "What's impossible?"
"Nothing is, apparently," Nyota answers shakily. Spock frowns, looking between her and the Captain, whose focus shifts abruptly to Spock, tracking his every movement with unmistakable intent.
"Captain," Spock says, watching as the readings show the Captain's metabolized the remainder of the alcohol, "did you consume any unfamiliar beverages while you were on the planet's surface?"
Captain Kirk's head tilts, curiosity growing. "That's not the question you were thinking."
"Alcohol doesn't do this," Nyota murmurs, coming up beside Spock. "There's something else going on. He's been acting strangely for the last few days." She checks the tricorder briefly; the readings from the biobed are stabilizing, but slowly. "If I was making an educated guess, the alcohol was partially to drown out excess psi-traffic. He's not telepathic; he wouldn't know how to handle a sudden influx of noise. He may not even have known what was happening to him."
"It's getting loud again." Abruptly, one hand closes over Spock's wrist, and the skin to skin contact is decisive; Spock sees Nyota nod confirmation as he shields himself, feeling Nyota do the same; Captain Kirk sighs in relief, going abruptly boneless . "Much better. Thank you."
"You should rest, Captain." Captain Kirk rolls onto his side, eyes never leaving Spock's. "Dr. McCoy will be here soon."
"Not quite what I'm looking for," he answers softly. "Stay."
Gently, Nyota reaches between them, easing the Captain's hand away from Spock and lowering it to the biobed. "I just need him for a minute, Captain. We'll be in view the entire time, okay?"
The Captain gives her a drowsy smile. "I always liked you best."
"I doubt that very much, but if it shows up on my evaluation, I certainly won't argue." Getting a blanket from the foot of the bed, she pulls it gently over the Captain, watching until his eyes fall shut, falling asleep almost instantly.
Following Nyota out of easy hearing of the bed, Spock watches her glance at the tricorder again before speaking. "Nyota, what this appears to be--"
"You authorized my independent studies in advanced xenobiology," she says softly. "And provided the materials for thirteen species, including Vulcans. I know what I'm looking at and you do as well. He's reckless, but he's not stupid, not when Starfleet's breathing down our necks every second. He didn't let it get to this point at the Academy, and trust me, I'd know if he had."
Spock takes a deep breath. "I am the only Vulcan he has had extended contact with in the last year, and I can assure you, I am not--affected--nor have we ever melded--"
"But you're not the only one he's ever met." She looks up sharply. "You'd better find out how much contact he had with the other one. And talk to Dr. McCoy. We need to know when this started. If we're reading this right, it's only just beginning."
Jim awakens so suddenly that Spock doesn't have time to prepare himself: abruptly, a foot is pushing his chair away from the table, shoving it back against the wall, and Jim braces a hand on the back of the chair, dropping into Spock's lap.
Even now, he's careful of bare skin, the only point of contact between them the heavy weight through four layers of fabric. "How long?" Kirk murmurs, leaning close enough that Spock can feel the warmth of his breath.
"Twenty seven point eight hours," Spock says, controlling his voice with effort. Belatedly, he's aware both hands are gripping the seat of the chair to resist the urge to touch.
"And after that?" There's a slow sweep of breath against his collarbone, sweat-dampened spikes of hair brushing his chin.
"Unknown. No human has ever--" He feels his breath catch as if from a distance when Jim grinds down briefly, listening to Jim gasp before he pulls away, sending himself into a messy crouch on the floor, staring up at Spock with eyes dilated black.
"I'm not doing this," Jim breathes. "Not like this. This isn't--fucking biology isn't going to--"
"I would point out that you are neither the first nor the last to make that statement," Spock says, regulating his breathing with surprising difficulty. "And it was in vain."
Jim's bares his teeth. "Don't fuck with me, Spock."
Standing up slowly, Spock approaches the table, feeling Jim tracking him as he picks up the hypo. "This should--"
"Thanks." Almost faster than Spock can follow, Jim snatches the hypo, pressing it against his arm before he breathes out, closing his eyes in relief. "I'm going upstairs," he says, stumbling two steps before catching himself on the doorway. "Don't come near me."
Jim nods, licking his lips, turning to lean against the wall. Face pale and sweat-slick, he looks helplessly at Spock. "If you leave now--"
"I will not."
Jim cracks an unhappy smile. "Not sure I could let you anyway." Before Spock can respond, he's gone, taking the stairs two at a time with surprising agility. Spock picks up the tricorder he had left activated, studying the red spikes before turning it on himself.
The overlay is definitive. Pulling up a chair, Spock picks up the second hypo and injects himself.
The Captain was released from sickbay before alpha shift, appearing on the bridge with no apparent ill-effects--and from what Dr. McCoy had indicated, no memory of the events of the night before. The Captain could possibly dissemble well enough to mislead Dr. McCoy, but he looked at Spock and Nyota without embarrassment, checking on everyone as if nothing untoward had occurred the night before.
Nyota signals him three hours into the shift, and Spock waits patiently as she transfers the contact logs that detail the last three weeks of transmissions. There are sixty-four public communications from various ships; seven hundred eighty-two private. Thirteen deleted, five of them within the last ten days, authorized by the Captain. Spock pulls up the tracking data Nyota had decrypted and attached; even she couldn't override the Captain's authorization codes without more time, but the metadata was far easier to locate. Spock copies the data into his tricorder, wiping the information from his station and locking the deletion. It is improbable that the Captain will check the log files for their stations, but possible, and Spock prefers to leave no evidence behind.
Rising, he glances at the Captain. "I require Dr. McCoy's assistance," he says. Waving a hand idly, the Captain barely looks up, passing him a bright, drowsy smile. Spock supposes it's fortunate they're in known Federation space and three days from shore leave.
A shore leave that the Captain had authorized very recently, stating that their last mission had been rough enough to justify the indulgence. Starfleet hadn't argued with his assessment; Captain Kirk's command had been successful far beyond their expectations, and he had learned to take advantage of his reputation if it was of benefit to his ship or his crew.
Dr. McCoy gives Spock one curious look before he turns toward his office, hands fisted at his sides. As the door closes, Spock says, "Computer, lock the door, authorization Spock, three, one, delta."
Dr. McCoy sits on the edge of his desk defensively. "What is it, Commander?"
"You were not forthcoming on what you already knew of the Captain's condition when we last spoke, Dr. McCoy," Spock says, controlling his voice with an effort.
"Medical matters are not your concern," Dr. McCoy says sharply. "And doctor-patient privilege--"
"Is irrelevant when the ship is at risk."
McCoy stiffens. "He'd never put the ship at risk. You know that better than anyone."
"I assume this is why he authorized unscheduled shore leave on Earth." Dr. McCoy looks away. "I see. Authorization for the release of medical records can be complicated. You have the duty to release them to concerned parties if there is a situation that demands--"
"This. Isn't." Dr. McCoy's eyes narrow. "We're taking care of it."
"You are uniquely unqualified to deal with any part of it," Spock answers flatly. "If what I suspect is accurate."
Dr. McCoy doesn't answer.
"Computer," Spock says, "I require a release of all medical data regarding Captain James Tiberius Kirk."
Dr. McCoy pushes off the desk. "The only way you can get at it is by questioning his mental fitness. That will--"
"Authorization?" the computer queries.
"The captain was retrieved from a bar last night after engaging in no less than ten separate altercations," Spock says, unable to make himself modulate his voice. "His blood alcohol indicated blood poisoning, but he metabolized it at a rate thirty-three times higher than a human body should be able to achieve. This morning, he had no memory of his actions. That does call into question--"
"You asshole." Dr. McCoy's hands clench at his sides; Spock wonders if the doctor will so forget himself as to attack him, calculating the probability as relatively high. "You question his mental fitness on the record--"
"I do not wish to." Spock waits for Dr. McCoy to calm. "I do not do this from prurient interest. But you have neither the knowledge nor the training to deal with what is to come. Release the records so I may evaluate the situation with all the information available."
"I contacted the Vulcan embassy--" Dr. McCoy starts, then stops himself, frowning to himself. After a moment, he looks at Spock. "This is off the record, and only because you're right. What they gave me I could have gotten from a kindergarten anatomy book." McCoy circles his desk, dropping into his chair, shoulders slumped. "And couldn't tell 'em why--"
"They would not have believed you." Nor, possibly, would it have made a difference. The Captain is not Vulcan. Tapping a few keys on his console, Dr. McCoy turns the screen.
"Two weeks of scans. We've been monitoring the results. The memory problem is new, but I suspect it's directly related to the alcohol interacting with his hormone levels. His last memory was falling asleep in his quarters."
That corresponds with the report from the transporter personnel assigned to beta and gamma shift None of the transporter techs had recalled seeing Captain Kirk that night. Evaluation of the transporter logs had shown a section of purged data; the Captain was perfectly capable of programming the transporter for delayed activation and setting a command to purge the logs when transport was complete.
Spock reads through Dr. McCoy's daily scans of the progress of the Captain's condition that soon escalated to three times daily. The staggered hormonal fluctuations continue apace, slowly shifting until the sudden spike that he and Nyota had observed in Sickbay the night before. "There were five transmissions erased from the log," Spock says, pulling Nyota's scan from the night before to overlay the Captain's baseline, studying the unmistakable pattern. "You contacted the Embassy. Who else?"
"Starfleet, though they probably think we're nuts, since we couldn't figure out what we were asking for."
"Were they the only contacts made?"
Dr. McCoy's gaze fixes on the far wall. "Jim made a call to the Vulcan colony yesterday."
Spock is not sure how long he sleeps; it is logical to do so while he can, but it has rarely been something he could not quantify after waking, a sense of the amount of time that had passed. The darkness of the room gives no indication of the time, but a glance at an old-fashioned Terran grandfather clock in the corner tells him it's past dusk.
Jim should have woken by now.
Getting to his feet, Spock follows the slowly strengthening pull of Jim's mind through the thread of awareness Spock had established between them. The memory of Jim's order briefly floats through Spock's mind, but it seems--oddly irrelevant.
Climbing the stairs, Spock follows the unmistakable feel of Jim, restless and barely conscious, foreign memories flashing at irregular intervals as he fights his way from sleep. Opening the door to the small room that had belonged to Jim from his early childhood, Spock watches Jim roll onto his back, blankets twisted untidily at his feet.
Perhaps he should have brought the tricorder if he truly came to evaluate Jim's condition, but Jim shudders before Spock can complete the thought, fingers spreading wide on the bare sheet before curling in, fabric clenched in his hand. The blue eyes flicker half-open as he draws up one leg, heel pressed into the mattress.
"I wrote our history into your skin," Jim murmurs, reaching dreamily back until one hand closes over the headboard, back arching for a remembered touch. "There was nothing of your body that was a mystery to me after all our years together. And it still wasn't enough. Nothing will ever be enough."
Spock closes a hand on the doorknob, metal bending against his palm.
"I felt you watching me and felt the bruises I carried beneath my uniform that you placed on my body…" Kirk lets out a soft gasp, head tilting back with an incredulous smile. "I had you as well, always within me wherever we go--and Jim, he's so young, so very, very young, and so different. But he feels like you…"
"Jim," Spock manages, mouth strangely dry, the word barely audible even to himself. But it's enough; Jim jerks up, twisting on the bed until he looks at Spock, radiating an uncomfortable combination of lust and humiliation.
"I hate this," Jim whispers, hands closed tightly over the edge of the mattress. "I can't get away from them."
Spock clears his throat with difficulty; he doesn't let go of the warped metal of the doorknob. "If you contact the council, perhaps--"
"And what? He can't do anything about it and it's--" Jim's eyes fall half-closed. "Christ, I don't even know which one of them I'm supposed to be anymore. They didn't either. They--" Jim buries his head in his hands, shoulders shaking.
After a few seconds, Spock senses Jim begin to bring himself under fragile control, layering shields over pure will, the cracks visible even as he settles himself, getting slowly to his feet. There's little defense against the chemical reaction of your own mind. "How many hours left?"
Spock lets the doorknob go, pushing the door open far enough that it's hidden in shadow. "Sixteen point nine five. " He hesitates at the drag of Jim's eyes over him like a physical touch. "Approximately."
"Right." Running a hand through his hair, he sighs, looking away. "I'm gonna take a shower. I'll be down for the next round of experiments after."
Spock nods, retreating before Jim can come too close; it would be too easy to touch him and the only touch Jim would welcome now is that of someone that is light-years away or long dead. "Very well."
Retreating down the stairs, Spock takes out the hypo, pressing it against the inside of his arm, and returning to the kitchen to prepare for the next series of tests.
The Captain doesn't seem particularly surprised when Spock formally requests a meeting.. As is typical when he's done something he knows will lead to disapproval, he's slumped behind his desk, squinting unhappily at his console and drinking what appears to be his eighth cup of coffee today.
"Come in," the Captain says, eyes fixed on the screen. "Does Uhura deliberately use the smallest possible font or is it my imagination? Am I going blind?"
"I will make inquiries." Spock remains standing, knowing it will unnerve the Captain more than silence, and waits as the Captain continues to attempt to appear that he is engaged in examining reports when they both know very well he ignores them until the last possible moment.
After a few minutes of silence, the Captain sighs, pushing the console away. "I know you've been itching for this all day," he says, resigned, poking nervously at his cup. "So get it out of your system. Unbecoming an officer, making Sulu cry, upsetting your ex-girlfriend, whatever."
"Lieutenant Sulu did not cry," Spock corrects. The Captain looks up briefly, eyes narrowed. "Lieutenant Uhura was worried, and continues to be. It seems," he says, watching the Captain's slight frown, "that you have not been entirely forthcoming in explaining the breadth of contact you had with my--counterpart."
The Captain straightens abruptly. "That's none of your--"
"Yes, it is." Spock lets the statement stand. "Your performance has been compromised by the results of this contact. And you have neglected to inform me of this fact."
The Captain stiffens, but he doesn't deny it. "I know."
"You arranged this return to Earth to--I think it would be appropriate to say 'cover' for your current condition."
"Got it in one." Pushing the chair back, the Captain circles the desk. "Computer, transfer all command functions of the Enterprise to Commander Spock, effective immediately. Lock out all command code and security clearance until further notice. Kirk, seven-twelve, sixty-nine, skip the look, Spock, trust me, just because it's juvenile doesn't mean it's not funny." The Captain sighs. "The ship is yours, Commander. Try to keep her in one piece."
That hadn't been among the possible outcomes Spock had anticipated resulting from this interview. "Captain--"
"Jim." Dropping on the low couch, Jim covers his face briefly. "I was going to do this tomorrow anyway; the last readings weren't really encouraging."
"Use my name, Spock. You outrank me as far as chain of command goes right now."
"Jim. I do not think--"
"Oh, you've been thinking. Found that block I put on contact with the colony, didn't you?"
Spock hadn't, and finds himself faintly annoyed that he hadn't investigated further. "Did you intend to inform me of your condition or did you assume I would not question why you wished to temporarily resign command?"
Tilting his head back, Jim stares at the ceiling. "I guess I didn't think you'd push if it didn't affect the safety of the ship," Jim answers finally, sounding tired. "It's just--"
"You assumed I would not--" Spock stops himself. "You were mistaken, Captain. Your welfare concerns me above and beyond your position as captain of this ship. I had believed," Spock continues, unable to stop himself, "that this was true of you as well."
Jim looks at him, frowning slightly before his eyes widen. "Dammit. I didn't mean--I mean, I meant to say--" Jim trails off, rubbing his forehead restlessly. "I didn't mean to say you would be fine with me dying as long as it doesn't affect the ship. It's just--hard to think right now."
Straightening, Jim takes a deep breath. "Right. I'm assuming Bones spilled, so what do you want to know that he couldn't tell you?"
"When did this begin?"
"In retrospect, probably a month ago," Jim says tiredly. "Just some problems with concentration and some--" Jim looks away abruptly. "Other things I put up to imagination. Then Bones was updating my medical record and the tricorder picked up some weird readings, so he did a full physical and compared the results to what was on file. There was a pretty obvious pattern of changes dating from around the time I took command."
"From your contact with my counterpart."
Jim smiles faintly. "Pretty much, yeah."
"If it is as I suspect you could take leave and go to the colony--"
"It's not. I mean--" Rubbing his face, Jim looks at Spock again. "It's not real. Bones got in touch with a couple of the Betazoids at Starfleet Medical, since obviously, getting direct information was like talking to a really hostile wall, but it's not what you think. It's a memory. A really, really fucked up memory. There's no link."
Spock stares down at him, collating the data. "I will need--"
"He--Spock, my--the other Spock," and Spock doesn’t stiffen to hear the possessive, "we--he gave me information the fastest way he could. It was just information. It's not his fault. But hey, if Vulcan ever asks, pon farr apparently starts showing up in hormone fluctuations a year before it manifests, at least in humans. No more wondering when it will happen; can predict it down to the second now. I'd like a special commendation from the Vulcan Science Academy. But don't name this after me. Too creepy."
"You are rambling." Taking the seat beside him, Spock watches as Jim lazily turns his head to face him, pale and eyes glassy. "Jim?"
"The thing is," Jim says, voice husky, "you're really close. It's hard to think around you."
There is no way to mistake his meaning. "What happened during the meld with him?"
"Nothing like this. He just showed me what was going on. There wasn't--I mean, that's all I got out of it then. The rest is pretty recent."
"Captain." The white knuckled hands tighten. "Jim. I do not understand."
"He and Kirk--the other Kirk, his Kirk," and something dark fills the words, something Spock recognizes, "were--together. Whatever. And he hadn't--hadn't with anyone else since him. He knew me, Spock. And you know what else? So did that bond. It wasn't--wasn't right--I wasn't right--but it thought I was. For a little while, anyway."
That made no logical sense. "He was bonded with your counterpart."
"Bingo. And apparently, it was just about time for that tradition you don't talk about. Because God knows, getting straight information from a Vulcan is like --crap, sorry, sorry. Could you maybe move a few feet away?"
Spock hesitates. "Would you allow me--"
Jim stiffens, eyes widening; space opens between them. "That," Jim says, "would be a very bad idea."
"If you have a bond--"
"It's not a bond! Trust me, the way I'm feeling, I'd have been at the colony a week ago if there were. But it's not that. He doesn't even know."
After a few moments, Jim closes his eyes. "I contacted the Colony and he was--well, between the memories and the fact he's just married, I figured out what was going on."
"That does not clarify the sequence of events, Captain, or explain how this could have occurred."
"It's really--complicated." Taking a deep breath, Jim nods his agreement. "All right. Will this--will this affect you if you do? It--" Jim winces. "You have a really profound effect on this."
"I think," Spock says with careful patience, "that I can control your symptoms for the length of time it would take to discover what has occurred."
Jim hesitates, looking anywhere but at him, then shifts closer, nodding. "Right. Just--hurry. You're distracting. It's been a problem."
Nodding, Spock reaches for him, ignoring the flinch, settling his fingers gently on the psi-points as he falls into the familiar litany: My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.. To his surprise, it's almost disquietingly easy, Jim's mind opening with unfamiliar ease. Recognizing him, Spock realizes, startled. Not merely recognition, but a warm comfort that is something of relief and welcome and dread all three.
A few seconds tell him everything he needs to know. Breaking the connection, Spock finds it more difficult than expected to let him go; Jim has no idea how to break the mental link, and his mind, at least, has no desire to do so. Pulling back, Spock watches glazed blue eyes open reluctantly, and can sense the second that Jim finds himself again, the temporary relaxation replaced with a stiffness that Spock can now classify as humiliation.
"He did not know he did this to you."
Jim nods, refusing to look at Spock, cheeks flushed with color. "It's probably not in the standard training to cover how to handle melding with your lover's multiverse counterpart. He doesn't know. It's a memory of what they had together. But the bond--didn't know that when he touched me, and when it recognized me, it--" Jim sucks in a breath, biting his lip. "I get why you don’t talk about it," Jim says finally. "What this does to you."
Spock swallows, looking away to give Jim at least the illusion of privacy. "I have consulted with Dr. McCoy--"
"Yeah, noticed that, thanks. Because this isn't humiliating enough, I get to have you of all people witness it. That's exactly the kind of luck I have." Slumping back into the couch, Jim takes a deep breath. "It won't--probably--kill me. So it's a matter of waiting it out."
"Whether or not it is true pon farr--"
"It's not. No mental bond. Just fucked up ships meeting in the night. If it was--" Jim hesitates, discarding the remainder of the thought. "It's not, and that doesn't leave a lot of options other than the obvious, to get through this."
"--the symptoms are similar enough that there is no practical difference. There are certain compounds that can alleviate the symptoms--"
"Weirdly, not for humans." Jim waves away Spock's next comments. "And Bones has been working on it. We're--handling it." Jim manages a smile. "It's not that bad. Just--"
"--but they only delay the inevitable. It has not truly begun." Jim's smile fades. "For a Vulcan, this would be an indicator that they should return home. The urgency has not yet begun to manifest itself."
"Which is why I'm waiting it out on Earth."
"At Starfleet Medical?" Spock would prefer Jim be kept directly under observation by both him and Dr. McCoy, at least until Dr. McCoy's presence becomes unnecessary.
Jim hesitates. "No."
Even for James Kirk, that makes little sense. "You need to be under constant observation--"
"Oh hell no." Straightening, Jim launches himself to his feet, and Spock observes the difference between Jim's normal restless energy and the wire-tight stress manifesting itself now. "No. This is not something that's going down in Starfleet Medical history. None of this. Bones is putting it down as a mild hormone imbalance and that's it."
"This is private," Jim snarls, turning on him. "This is--of all people, Spock, you get how much this is not for anyone to peer at and categorize and study." Jim hesitates. "And your people aren't exactly thrilled with humans in general. I really don't need to destroy diplomatic relations by exposing--this. Much less how it happened and who it happened with."
"That is a laudable goal, but your health and safety are of greater concern."
"A memory--someone else's memory--can't kill me."
"The latest scans do not bear this out."
"I can't do that to him."
The root of Jim's reluctance is merely confirmation of what Spock had suspected; he finds he wishes he'd been mistaken. "What he did to you--"
"He would never hurt me. He didn't know--he couldn't know. If he did--if this was--he has a life, Spock. Kirk--his Kirk--was part of his past. Dragging that out now after everything he's lost--what is he supposed to do? Leave his wife and take up with me on a starship?"
"That is not the option you have forefront in your mind, Jim."
Jim flushes, and Spock feels his clumsy attempts to shield. "I'm not a teenage girl. I can't run off and live on love--or logical and carefully considered acceptance of the parameters of a successful relationship, whatever--in the colony. What would I even do there?"
Spock stills as a breath of thought escapes Jim at the words. "But you considered it."
"Not seriously." Jim doesn't lie well. "But he has a wife, and the possibility of kids and something better than anything I could give him. Something real, that's not just memories. And not a bad copy of what he had, which is all I could be for him. This--it isn't real. He lives with enough ghosts; I won't be one of them."
"You could," Spock answers, the words surprisingly difficult to speak, "offer him the possibility."
All at once, the manic energy seems to melt away. "Spock, I can tell you without fear of contradiction--I am not the man he wants. I can't be, even if I knew how. He was Starfleet's favorite captain--yeah, think about that for a few minutes, no one brought him up on charges for fucking with the Kobayashi Maru, they worshiped him--he was--" Jim stops. "You know, I've had my share of crises of confidence, everyone does, but really, do I have to have the memory of another me being the greatest captain in history to compete against? It's not like I need that kind of shit on top of--God, I should stop talking, stop talking now. Get out."
Spock stands up. "Jim--"
"We'll arrive on earth in three days," Jim says, not meeting his eyes. "I'll go home with some monitors so Bones doesn’t give himself a heart attack and can track my symptoms, I'll check in regularly, and everyone goes on leave. When we all come back, we'll never speak of this again."
"You are irrational. What you are attempting to do is something that few Vulcans have ever achieved, much less--"
Jim's head jerks up, eyes meeting Spock's. "It's my decision to make while I still can. Now get out. I need to meditate or beat someone up or break things, and I really can't do that if you're still here. I think I've deep-sixed plenty of respect this last week and I'd like to cling to the illusion I won't lose yours."
"You will not." Jim flinches, answering only with a tight nod. "I ask that you reconsider--"
"No. When we get back, you can tell me all about how illogical I am and everything, promise. I won't even argue! But you gotta go, because I can't--deal with this when you're this close."
Spock nods reluctantly, going to the door. As it opens, he turns to see Jim turned away, looking out the viewport, searching the stars. Spock wonders if he's looking for the location of the colony before the door closes between them.
Jim's distant, barely aware of what he's doing after Spock tries the final compound, moving automatically into the chair and picking up the sandwich at Spock's direction. Spock's not sure where he thinks he is, but the environmental controls in the house have been raised by six degrees, so he supposes if one were to recreate a desert, even with the humidity of an Iowa summer, it is not a poor way to start.
Restless, Jim barely waits to complete his meal before drifting toward Spock before moments of startled clarity drive him away, unable to settle to any activity. Spock notes the disconnection before removing the latest mixture from consideration as Jim trips, knocking himself into the wall without any indication of awareness, eyes blank.
An hour later, Jim returns from his brief retreat outside, sitting at the foot of Spock's chair, head resting against his knee, hair spiky and dark with sweat. "That last one," he says, voice thick, "it's already metabolized. Also, I think I scared the mailman."
"Mailman?" Through the thin material of his uniform, Spock can feel the heat of Jim's skin.
"Guy," Jim says, voice muffled, hand closing absently just below Spock's knee. "Brings--um, hard copy. Then he puts it in a box for the owner to retrieve."
"That is an illogical waste of resources," Spock answers as Jim tilts his head up, chin digging into his thigh.
"Typical humans." Jim snorts a laugh, then seems to realize where he is and what he's doing. After a brief, confused struggle with himself, he sits back, but his hand remains as if he'd forgotten it was there. "Take sedatives off the list, by the way. We might be at coma-level and I'm not really into the potential for brain death."
"I have come to that conclusion as well," Spock says steadily, ignoring the skim of Jim's fingers, five points of heat even through the layer of fabric, the light contact enough to inform Spock that there would be no opportunity to try again. He has no idea what he's doing, Spock reminds himself, feeling Jim's mind respond to his own careful calm and reinforcing it before he continues. "Dr. McCoy has been unable to discover another viable solution."
"Yeah." In a whirl of motion, Jim finds his feet, oddly graceful. "We're out of time, aren't we?"
"You gotta go. Preferably when I'm not looking. I'd prefer not to end up with a broken neck."
"I do not think that will be necessary."
Jim frowns. "You're faster than I am--usually anyway--and stronger. I'm pretty sure you can get away and it'll probably have to involve significant injury."
"I do not wish to."
Jim stills. "I don't understand."
Spock sends a final message to Dr. McCoy waiting on the Enterprise before shutting down contact. The doctor, Spock supposes, will be extremely unhappy. Spock finds he does not particularly care. "I do not wish to leave you."
"You have to. I told you, it's--" He drifts closer. "Too much--too much like what--" As his hip brushes the table, upsetting the terminal, Jim reaches out absently to steady it, eyes flickering over the screen before pausing. "This isn't mine-- "Leaning down, Jim taps the keyboard, scrolling back through three days of scans with an increasingly bewildered expression. "You've been scanning yourself."
Jim drops on both knees, opening each scan by timestamp and studying the results. "You’ve been doing this since you got here. Why would you--" Abruptly, he pulls up his own latest scan, taken when he came down from his shower, and the one Spock had done of himself only minutes before. As they overlap, spikes just beginning to synchronize, Jim sits back on his heels. "You said I wouldn't affect you."
"I said you were unlikely to affect me. I did not say I would not allow you to do so."
Jim's lips move silently for a moment. "You're not--you have years before--" Rubbing his forehead, he looks at Spock. "This is taking duty to a really uncomfortable level," Jim says blankly. "And I mean crazy when I say that. More than hanging around me and getting up close and personal with my femoral artery by a warehouse of Romulan disruptors."
"Duty was only one among many motives for making this decision."
"I don't--wait." Returning to the console, he pulls up Spock's neatly detailed notes on each of the variations that they had used to control Jim's symptoms, reading through them before pausing, looking at the hypos on the table before picking up the only one that remained unused. "This one is a traditional Vulcan formula--it doesn't work, not on me. That was one of the first McCoy tried. We don't keep it stocked. But you had it ready before you came." Jim looks up. "For you."
"That compound takes five days to synthesize. You had to have started the process after we talked on the Enterprise."
Even with the distance between them, Spock can feel Jim's precarious focus, the startling moment of clarity in the unstable mass of emotion and physiological reaction; he's never doubted either Jim's shocking intelligence or his ability to process information in ways that he's learned over time are unique to that singular mind. "Why? You don't want--we don't--we've never--"
"Perhaps," Spock says, as carefully as he can; the last hypo was hours ago, and soon, neither of them will be able to think at all, "you are not the only one who does not want to be a ghost."
Dr. McCoy finishes packing the hypos, mouth tight. "This is a shitty idea. This is probably the shittiest idea ever thought up on this ship, and Jim gives you some stiff competition on that one."
"Do you have an alternative treatment that you have been withholding for a belated dramatic reveal?" Spock answers, adding a medkit and the data solid of Jim's latest scans. "If so, I believe this would be the appropriate time for disclosure."
"Didn't say I had better." Adding a medical tricorder with a dark look, he stalks to his office, returning with four hypos. "You're just lucky he's too distracted to look at what I was synthesizing," Dr. McCoy says wryly. "When it starts, one every eight to twelve hours. It's never been tested past two doses, so after that, you're on your own."
"I'm aware of the limitations, Doctor," Spock answers, taking them and adding them to an inner pocket of the bag. "Unless there is something else--"
"You're three years off if Jim's memories are accurate," Dr. McCoy says bluntly. "You don't know if your physiology is mature enough to handle this, and it won't be a slow build. I know, you said Vulcans aren't always synched with their bondmates or whatever you call them, and it happens early anyway, but I'd be more comfortable knowing what happened to them afterward."
Spock loops the bag over one shoulder. "The few problems that have been recorded were in regard to conception and irrelevant to the situation."
"Thank God for that," McCoy mutters. "Jim'd never forgive you if you knocked him up."
The sickbay doors opens abruptly, and McCoy turns, face flushing in anger, but the entrance of Nyota silences him. Spock watches in curiosity as Dr. McCoy's expression warms, smiling at her as she comes to a stop by the biobed.
"Dr. McCoy," she says with a nod, then turns to Spock. "Sulu and Chekov beamed out this morning and I transferred control of sensors and communications to the Captain's chair. Use these," handing him a set of small sensors, "in the house. I have the bridge for the next five days until Scotty comes on duty, then emergency control will be routed to sickbay and Dr. McCoy's office. If required, we can use the sensors to triangulate your position and beam you both out and directly to sickbay."
McCoy makes a pained sound, and Nyota's mouth twitches. Leaning up, she brushes a kiss against his cheek. "Be careful." Her mouth twitches again as she steps back, slowly growing into a smirk. "Have fun."
Spock ignores Dr. McCoy's snicker. "If that is all--"
"We'll walk you down. I dismissed the transporter personnel for leave early. I can handle the transporter." Nyota glances at Dr. McCoy. "Ready?"
McCoy glances briefly at Spock. "I don't think I'm the one you should be asking that. When you get down, get a reading first and send it up so I can get his current baseline and start projections. We'll go from there." Abruptly, Dr. McCoy slaps his back with an expression of exaggerated sympathy. "Hope he doesn't kill you, Spock."
Under the circumstances, Spock reflects as they leave sickbay, he shares the practicality of the sentiment.
The punch is not unexpected.
"You son of a bitch," Jim breathes, getting to his feet as Spock braces a hand on the wall to stand up, watching Jim's helpless semi-circle pace, like something trapped and not liking it much. "You set me up."
"You did not respond to logical arguments," Spock answers, controlling the urge to approach.
"I had a plan!"
"In your current condition, you were incapable of making a logical assessment of the situation. I did so for you, as is my duty--"
"Duty my ass!" Spock watches the fingers of one hand spread, palm dusting lightly against one thigh as Jim paces. "You manipulated me from--Christ, you've been planning this since I told you about it."
"I asked you to reconsider your course of action at that time and over the following three days. You refused to engage in productive dialogue or listen to any of the reasonable objections of either Dr. McCoy or myself. It was necessary to formulate an alternative to what was, in fact, not a plan but an overly emotional sense of martyrdom for a man who--"
"This is about Spock?"
Spock is surprised by the intensity of his own reaction. "You formed this illogical course of action--one that is actively dangerous to your health and sanity--for the sole purpose of sparing Ambassador Spock discomfort that resulted from his own careless actions. That is illogical."
"It's perfectly logical if you have, oh, a conscience," Jim snarls. "What, you really thought I'd just bang in and fuck up his life because I'm a little uncomfortable--"
"You could die. Characterizing this as discomfort is another symptom of--"
"It's not a symptom of anything but goddamn compassion--"
"Compassion," Spock bites out, realizing he's moved two steps from the wall, "was not your motive for refusing any logical course of action. You seem to be unable to assess the situation accurately; permit me to do so for you. Your actions from the beginning to this moment have been wholly motivated by your inability to accept that there are things that are beyond your control. Furthermore--"
Jim's face drains of what color it has. "Say like it is, right, Spock?"
"--for reasons that pass comprehension, you continue to labor under the impression that you are capable of making a rational judgment. You are not."
"My judgment was not affected when I told you exactly why--"
"When a perfectly viable alternative introduces itself, you respond with anger instead of recognizing that, no matter your extremely subjective feelings, you cannot resist this by will. If you had been permitted to continue on this course of action, the likelihood of survival is only exceeded by the likelihood of insanity. Your decision has been compromised by your current state. I chose to the decision for you."
The next punch is sloppy, telegraphed easily by both body and face; Spock dodges it, spinning Jim to the floor, narrowly avoiding the overturned chair. Jim comes up in a crouch, blue eyes dilated black. "I don't need you."
"You would prefer the company of a man who would wish for you to be someone else?" Jim's faster this time, and Spock narrowly dodges the sharp jab of his fist. "I understand it is traditional to indulge in melancholy poetry to express adolescent irrationality--"
"Fuck you." Jim's fist catches him in the stomach, kicking the chair toward the door. Somewhere, something clatters to the floor; Spock suspects the kitchen table has become a casualty. "Fuck you and your fucking--"
"I might add," Spock says, sweeping Jim's feet from under him, "that this 'compassion' does not seem to extend to those with whom you live your daily life. Do you find Dr. McCoy lacking when compared to the memories that Ambassador Spock gave you? Or is it merely your first officer that suffers by comparison?"
Jim, pushing himself up on one arm, freezes. "What?"
"Over the last year of our acquaintance," Spock says, planting a foot by Jim's hip and knocking him back into the floor, "I was aware that there was a thread in our interactions that did not follow the natural development of our relationship. I admit, however, it was a surprise to realize during our discussion that you have spent this year comparing me to my counterpart. The results, it seems, have not been favorable."
Jim doesn't move. "I haven't."
"I find myself unable to trust your veracity." Dodging Jim's attempt to unbalance him, Spock pivots, kicking his hand down to the floor before pinning him. The touch of bare skin is a shock, neatly tearing the edges of Spock's remaining control. Catching Jim's wrists above his head with one hand, Spock watches the rapid rise and fall of his chest, face flushing as the dilated eyes fix on him. "Do you wish to offer an objection? I admit I am curious to understand your motivations."
"Spock." Jim licks his lips, chasing the thin line of blood, before letting his head fall back. "It wasn't like that. You're--heh, you're nothing like him. You have no idea how--how much you're--"
Spock circles Jim's throat delicately, thumb pressing against the hard pulse of the jugular. "This I have come to understand."
Jim's eyes fall half closed with a groan as Spock tightens his hold. "Who's irrational now, Spock? Your judgment's as fucked as mine."
"Where you are concerned," Spock answers flatly, "my judgment has long been compromised."
Jim's hand loosens its hold on his wrist. "What?"
"This is not the way I would have chosen, and to do this--to act upon this, when you've already expressed a preference--"
Jim sighs, the hand on Spock's wrist loosening. "No. You've got it wrong. I never meant for you to--there wasn't a competition."
"It would be illogical to attempt to compete against an idealized memory," Spock says softly. "However, you have not hesitated to do so on my behalf. So we come to this. You have a choice."
Reluctantly, Spock releases him, settling back to keep Jim's hips pinned. "A--choice?" Jim says thickly, pushing himself up on both elbows. "You said--"
"In a few short hours, you will be beyond thought. You will not care who you approach, so long as they are physically present, and I will be in similar condition. You may choose to wait until the decision is taken from your hands by the requirements of your body. Or you may choose to accept what cannot be changed."
"But the results will be the same either way."
They won't be; Jim knows that as well as Spock does.
It's harder than expected to move away; Spock can feel his shields eroding even as he stands, watching as Jim pushes himself fully upright.
"I will await your decision," Spock says softly and leaves the room, ignoring the belated brush of Jim's hand.