After leaving a message for Dr. McCoy, who is unavailable, Spock accompanies Jim to the hospital. As it is Jim's first visit, one of the nurses offers them a tour of the hospital grounds. Though her expression does not reflect pride, she does not conceal her satisfaction with the building and grounds, or the fact that it already boasts a small but growing medical community of competent instructors and students from all over the Federation. Spock cannot find fault with this.
Returning to the main room, Jim goes to talk to a nurse as Spock examines a complicated abstract mural before a cool, even voice breaks through the quiet. "Captain Kirk?"
Spock turns to see Healer Sorin in the waiting room. Faint green shadows darken the pale skin beneath his eyes, but there are no other signs of fatigue, coat immaculate over pristine surgical scrubs. Healer Sorin scans the room, finding Spock immediately. "Commander Spock. If you would come with me--"
"Sorin?" Abruptly, a man leaves a group composed of an older woman, a younger one, and a small child. Spock joins Jim, marking Healer Sorin's resemblance to the other man. "Sorin, I heard--"
"You should not have come here," Healer Sorin says; almost invisibly, the long fingers tighten on the data pad. "It is not your place."
"I would ask pardon," the man says after a moment. In comparison to Sorin, the man seems surprisingly agitated, eyes flickering from Sorin to Jim, to Spock, then back to Sorin. "I am--concerned for her welfare."
Healer Sorin tilts his head slightly. "I see. I cannot satisfy your curiosity. If you will excuse us--"
"I do not ask only for myself, but for our son," the man continues, voice overly-controlled to Spock's ear; to his surprise, the man extends a hand, grabbing Sorin's wrist. "I request--"
Before Sorin can answer, the child pulls free of the older woman's hands, running across the room. Startlingly blue eyes look up into Sorin's, and though no more than five, he displays superior control to his father, reaching up to gently detach the clinging hand. "Excuse my father," the boy says gravely. "I understand this places you in an ethical dilemma. I--may I visit my mother yet?"
Healer Sorin's expression does not change, but he hesitates before replying. "She has just completed surgery, Selar," he says slowly, and to Spock's ear, there's a sense of prevarication as well. "When she has completed recovery, I will contact you."
The child nods gravely, stepping back as the woman joins them, and abruptly, Spock understands Sarah Clemens remark: It is not pleasant. It is, in fact, an understatement. Over the odd, uncomfortable feeling, the mental equivalent of the grate of metal against metal, he can feel Jim's almost violent mental recoil, body tensing beside him. Reaching out, he brushes his fingers against Jim's wrist, blocking the strength of the projection.
"We will leave," the woman says quietly, reaching for the child. Before they can touch, however, the child shifts away, leading his father toward the door; the older woman glances at Healer Sorin for a moment before joining them.
Healer Sorin watches them for a moment before turning back to Jim. "I regret the delay," he says. "If you will accompany me, we have the preliminary results. Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi will brief you on current progress."
"So there's been progress?" Jim asks, falling into step, but his gaze flickers back to the door the family had exited, unnerved.
"I will permit Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi to explain. There are some--complications that I am not certain I can explain as thoroughly as they will be able to, and I need to oversee recovery." As Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi come into view, Healer Sorin nods. "If you will excuse me."
Spock nods, but Sorin is already exiting from another door. Jim frowns slightly at the departure before Dr. McCoy joins them, leading them to a small group of chairs as he perches on the edge of a desk. "So we think it might be working."
Jim straightens. "Might be?"
"It's too soon to be certain," Dr. Uloi says, taking the desk chair as she examines the data in her tricorder, but her suppressed excitement shows in the tight grip of her hands, the tremble in her voice. "But the results are extremely positive in three of the remaining catatonic patients. Two briefly regained consciousness, and the nurses assigned to them say they are beginning to show signs of awareness of their surrounding already. One is currently in REM sleep, which is--" She stops, mouth trembling slightly as she fights down premature hope. "It is too soon to be certain. But this is very encouraging."
"And the other two?"
Dr. Uloi looks at McCoy hesitantly. "The procedure was successful in all five. All of them are showing signs of regeneration. But two have yet to respond or show signs of emerging consciousness."
"Melody?" Jim says, looking at Dr. McCoy.
"Yeah, nothing yet." Dr. McCoy slumps. "Don't know why either. Her and the Tellarite, but the Tellarite might take a bit longer; there's a lot less genetic similarity in Tellarite and Vulcan than Vulcan and human. The results are slower. So we're not ruling it out yet. Melody was among the first, with the most extensive damage. It's possible she just needs longer."
"Right." Rubbing his forehead, Jim looks at Spock. "Okay, let's split this up. McCoy, collate the reports, and you and Uloi consult with Spock and get me a recommendation. How long will it take?"
"I should have my data analysis complete by tonight." Dr. Uloi says, rising from her chair.
Dr. McCoy nods tiredly. "Same."
"I'm going to go back to the ship and send a message to Starfleet, since they're probably wondering what the hell we've been doing here," Jim says, looking faintly irritated, as he usually does with the demands of bureaucracy. "Give me a summary to give them for now?"
"Already done. Should be on your terminal." Dr. McCoy rubs a hand wearily over his face. "Won't be much, but--"
"I'll make it sound like more." Standing up, Jim looks at Spock. "I'll meet you at the Ambassador's later. I have a feeling whichever admiral I get is going to be talking for a while."
Dr. Uloi and Dr. McCoy fall into a spirited discussion on the regeneration technique and its future applications. After receiving directions to the recovery room, Spock leaves them, unsurprised to find Sorin in attendance.
Unobserved, Sorin permits himself the luxury of moving more slowly, seating himself beside Melody's bed to complete his calculations. Though Spock knows he is aware of Spock's entrance, he does not look up until they are complete. "The regeneration was more thorough than projected," Sorin says abruptly. Spock looks at the woman, wondering if she is the source of her son's blue eyes. "The other four will recover."
Spock looks at Sorin in curiosity. "How can you be sure--"
"I examined them all after leaving you. The Tellarite female should awaken by midday." Sorin's eyes fix on Melody. "Melody will not."
Spock takes a careful breath. "You said you did not know her--"
"I did not. I stated I had only met her once, to complete her bonding to my brother. That was all that was required to know her." Sorin lifts his eyes, looking at Spock. "You avoid the obvious questions. I will not lie if you ask them."
"Do you do this for your family's honor? Their actions do not reflect upon you--"
"I am clanless," Sorin answers coolly. "I have declared and registered myself so, when I had completed bonding my brother with his current bondmate. Their honor is their own."
Spock digests that. "Why?"
"For her, of course." Sorin looks at him calmly. "You did not suspect this, nor have the others, which has been to my benefit. My objectivity would be called into question, and I might not have been permitted to perform the procedure that has helped the other patients."
Spock looks at the patient's still face. "You are certain she will not awaken."
"I know my own skill, Commander," Sorin says dispassionately. "I created the channels in her mind that assisted her to accept my brother's mind into hers. I was careful and thorough, and the youth and resiliency of her mind made it surprisingly easy to adapt it to a Vulcan mind, despite their difficulties. Much could be attributed to my brother's natural lower psi, and their compatibility was so much that I used all of my skill to assure their bond would be as strong, and as lasting, as any Vulcan bond could be. Destroying it took great determination--and caused great damage. She was very young, Commander, and her human mind grew with his. It does not--" Sorin pauses, thinking, "--it does not understand how to be alone."
"You feel professionally at fault?"
"Yes. But that is not the reason I wish to see her open her eyes." Sorin's eyes fix on her face. "Her son inherited them. My mother's bondmate thinks they are too human. I suppose he thinks that it is an insult."
Spock nods slowly.
"I wish her to wake up, so that I may see them again."
Spock closes his eyes at the cool restraint. "I grieve with thee, Healer Sorin."
Sorin is silent for a few moments. "I would like to request transportation under the Federation charter providing emergency medical aid. I will take Melody to Betazoid; Dr. Uloi has recommended a hospital there with a specialization in empathic healing. My application for a position in return for Melody's continued treatment has been accepted."
"Her son is still here."
"Her right of residence and her citizenship could potentially be revoked, and my brother will not protect her. She has no one to speak for her but me. I will repudiate my citizenship once we arrive on Betazoid. My correspondence with immigration has been extremely positive, and they have indicated they will accept us both after three years of residency."
"You have been thorough."
Sorin nods coolly. "I am always thorough, Commander. Federation law allows me to assume her custody and care as her closest living relative, despite her separation from my brother. Unfortunately, it will not allow me to do the same with her son. My--inquiries have been unsuccessful, and my brother refuses to consider abjuring his rights. In light of Melody's condition, I do not think my appeal to the Federation council will be accepted, but I will continue my efforts."
"I will speak to Captain Kirk on your behalf," Spock answers, aware Jim will respond positively. "Our date of departure is not yet decided--"
"We will be ready on your word, Commander. I have already completed most preparations for her care; Dr. McCoy has assured me his sickbay is more than adequate and has several research labs he will put at my disposal during the journey." After a moment, Sorin rises. "I am tardy in my rounds, Commander." Sorin hesitates. "I find it difficult to leave her. It is illogical, but that does not make it less true."
Picking up his tricorder and datapad, Sorin removes the chair to its proper place. Turning to face Spock, he bows slightly. "I have you and your bondmate to thank for what progress she has made, as well as the other patients. The records Dr. McCoy kept on Captain Kirk were instrumental in discovering a method we would not have considered without proof. The loss of privacy is regretted, and I appreciate the sacrifice that was made."
"Jim would not do less. Nor would I."
Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "I would make a further request, then--I understand Dr. McCoy was thorough in documenting you both. I would like to request you release your own records for the period of your bond with Captain Kirk. They will not be made available to anyone but myself and will be used only in my research of Melody's condition, along with Captain Kirk's. He has already given permission that his may be used with the caveat that they never be released. I make the same assurance to you. Your ability to manipulate Captain Kirk's health does not have precedent, and may assist me to discover paths I would not otherwise think to explore."
"I will give permission to Dr. McCoy," Spock says. At Sorin's nod, Spock returns to Dr. McCoy, who smiles tiredly at Spock's request.
"He's methodical all right. If Jim wants to know, we can accommodate Melody probably better than the hospital can. He's wasted as a general physician, and I don't say that often. If she were better, I'd be recruiting them both for my sickbay."
Spock raises an eyebrow. "She is a physician?"
"Was, before her kid was born, from what I understand." McCoy rubs his eyes. "Wrote some interesting papers about emergency care in disaster relief."
Spock looks involuntarily toward the hallway and the recovery room beyond it. "Interesting."
"Have to say, if it weren't Sorin, I'd wonder a little about the coincidence." Shaking his head, McCoy stands up. "I'll get Sorin the records and then I'm going to sleep. You going back to the Ambassador's?"
"Wait up and I'll go with you. The Ambassador will want to hear how things went." Picking up his tricorder, Dr. McCoy retraces Spock's route to recovery, and Spock settles himself to wait.
"So not a medical emergency? Shit." Getting up, Jim paces to the opposite side of the living room. "So what now?"
"Finish up, get the reports, and get out of here, in that order. Lyra's staying for a while, but with the patients' now recovering, we have no reason to be here anymore." McCoy looks sourly at his tricorder. "Lyra's already contacted their families since their former bondmates have disclaimed responsibility, so the ones well enough to travel are coming along with Melody. Sorin's agreed to continue their treatment onboard until we get them to Starfleet Medical. Their families will meet them there to arrange transportation to another facility if they want to move them closer. Lyra will bring the others when they're ready for travel."
Jim sighs, coming to a stop by the window. "Great." Sighing, he turns around to look at Spock. "Starfleet will have orders for us to leave immediately when I make my report. Anything we can do?"
"I do not see another solution," Spock admits, thinking of Sarek's determination. "Our presence, I think, will make no difference in the final decision."
"Yeah, I was afraid you'd say that."
The Ambassador, silent up until now, looks between them. "I will keep you apprised of events in the colony," he says slowly. After glancing at T'Sora, he continues, "If the decision is made to strip non-Vulcans of citizenship--"
"Make the call, I'll be here to get anyone who needs to leave," Jim says grimly, eyes fixed on some point outside.
"My family will require transportation as well," the Ambassador says. Spock glances at T'Sora in surprise. "We--and others of our acquaintance--have discussed this possibility and our probable response."
Jim turns around, eyes narrowing. "How many?"
"One hundred and forty-two individuals I am certain of, with two hundred and nineteen who have expressed uneasiness with the current actions of the Elders and the Federation Council. I estimate two percent of the current population will emigrate in reaction, or will take up residency elsewhere while keeping their citizenship in hope that the current trend reverses itself."
"Have you considered current Starfleet personnel in your calculations, Ambassador?" T'Prina says abruptly. Spock looks up to see T'Prina and her bondmate enter the room, the door just closing behind them. "There are currently two hundred and sixteen Vulcan cadets and one hundred seventeen Vulcan Starfleet officers; I have maintained correspondence with my classmates regularly over the course of my internship and they have been made aware of the events currently occurring in the colony."
"Can you speak for them, Cadet T'Prina?" Spock asks curiously.
Raising an eyebrow, T'Prina takes a seat, accepting a glass of juice from T'Sora. "I speak only for myself, Commander Spock. However, by my estimation, two thirds disagree with the challenge to the Grayson Test. I find those results encouraging, as I will require their assistance when we return to Earth."
Jim abruptly leaves the window. "T'Prina," he says thoughtfully, "how good is your memory?"
"I am Vulcan; I have an eidetic memory. As you do, though you conceal it very well." Jim's eyes widen; sometimes, Spock reflects, Jim thinks he is better at hiding his abilities than he is. "Why?"
"You only accessed the database once, for a total of two hours fifteen minutes, from a terminal here before sending a transmission to Starfleet Academy. I noticed it while I was pretending to listen to Starfleet this afternoon. Specifically, the history of legal challenges to the Grayson Test."
T'Prina glances at her bondmate then nods, almost to herself. "I have decided it would be logical for someone to challenge the exception to the Federation Charter," she says. "After consulting with Lieutenant Uhura to familiarize myself with Council procedure, I instructed my classmates to immediately lodge a formal protest with the Council that our rights as Federation citizens will be violated should the exception be passed; they are drafting their response and collecting support as we speak. That should delay the passage sufficiently for the end of my internship and my return to Earth. I feel that a direct defense of the Grayson Test should be accomplished in conjunction with the appeal, and I have determined it would be logical if I presented the arguments to the Council for it myself."
Jim slowly takes a seat beside Spock. "You aren't a legal scholar, T'Prina."
"Neither was Amanda Grayson, Captain." Sipping her juice, she looks between them serenely. "She was one of Vulcan's greatest citizens; it will be my privilege to follow in her footsteps."
"I always wondered what you did with your free time," Jim says, mouth curving in a smile. "Thinking of couping the Vulcan Elders by any chance? I'll give you a couple of days off if you need them."
"I assume you are complimenting me on my competence," T'Prina says after a moment of thought. "I accept the praise."
Jim grins outright. "Anytime."
After assisting Healer Sorin and Dr. Lyra in transporting the three patients to the Enterprise, Spock completes coordination of their departure after taking leave of their hosts. Jim, unsurprisingly, had remained in the colony for some hours after the rest of the crew had beamed up.
Spock will not admit to impatience; fortunately, Nyota and Dr. McCoy do so at great length and with much feeling, and in return, Spock does not make mention of the fact that the doctor has no function on the bridge during departure, nor does Nyota require his assistance to complete her duties.
Abruptly, the turbolift doors open. "Miss me?" Jim asks rhetorically. T'Prina automatically opens her mouth, but she has been long enough with them that she shuts it again with a raised eyebrow. Dropping into his chair, he tilts his head back and gives Spock a grin. "Sulu?"
Sulu grins as his hands move over the helm. "Yes, sir."
Jim has a long-standing habit of avoiding Spock when he's being brilliant and logical in his lab; not that it isn't hot when Spock is being a genius, more that genius really isn't as interesting to watch as one might think. There's also the matter of it being a lab; Jim tries to avoid any sign he can follow any conversation that includes words of more than two syllables, and being around labs tends to dampen the effect.
It's not logical, except it is; as Jim has explained to Spock, several times, winning is as much about your opponent making mistakes as not making mistakes yourself. You would think people would catch on (his Academy records are public, for God's sake), but they never really do, which just goes to show Jim's right. Per usual.
Punching in the code, Jim finds the lab currently not in use or prepping for use or recovering from recent use, so it suits him perfectly. "Lights," he says as the door automatically locks behind him. Sitting on the cool metal lab table, Jim makes himself comfortable. "Hey, baby. Miss me?"
"Captain." The computer pauses. "I have noticed your absence."
"Good enough." He loves her, he does. "Okay, I have something and I'm not sure what it is, but I can guess and I need you to confirm." Taking out the repaired game solid, he puts it in the table's receptacle. "I need a complete spectrum comparison run against the solids from those ships that we recovered with this. I need to know where they came from."
"Manufacturer?" she queries. If she weren't a computer, he'd say she was curious, and he's willing to go with that.
"Sort of. I need to try it from two directions. I uploaded the encryption algorithms from the game I got from Dar; search all known Federation and non-Federation encryption signatures for a match. Hypothesis: there is a Romulan with close ties to the Orion Syndicate companies, if not working for one of them outright." Jim pauses. "Cross-reference--Dar Abon, Ferengi, all aliases, cross-reference all Romulan individuals or possibly companies he is known to be in contact with, cross-reference James Kirk. If I give you my aliases, you gonna turn me in?"
The computer gives a general feeling of confusion. "I do not understand the question."
"Just a thing in Indiana; don't worry about it." Jim slides off the table, hunting up a keyboard. "We'll start with my juvenile stuff and go from there, okay? This may take a while."
"Yes, Captain," she answers promptly. "Awaiting input."
Since it's about a week until they get back to Earth, Jim announces an interdepartmental chess death match, triple elimination, to avoid homicide by boredom hitting them in a perfectly running ship with nothing more interesting to do than diagnostics. While it doesn't end in death, per se, it's more fun to say that than interdepartmental chess play-for-shifts match. And the losers symbolically fall on their timers after; most of them end up in sickbay for bruising. It's really funny.
As usual, Jim is still banned, because apparently being mostly-married to a grand master means everyone thinks you will use your grand master partner to cheat.
T'Prina looks at him in bewilderment. "Why would they suspect that?"
"Because I cheat at poker," Jim says glumly as half the rec room hates each other silently over a chess board. "Which is a totally different thing, by the way. Everyone cheats at poker; it's practically a rule."
T'Prina nods her utter shock that he isn't in a Federation penal colony.
"To be fair," Jim says, because he does try, sometimes, "there might be some residual bitterness from the fact Spock wipes the floor with them every time. So blame Spock, really."
"That is the reason," Spock says, taking the chair beside him, "that I have excused myself from competition."
"It was getting discouraging to play for shifts against the person who made the shift schedule," Jim admits, pushing the plate of chess-themed snacks toward him, since eventually Spock will get them anyway and why fight it? Also, Jim finds vegetables carved in the shape of a chessboard, complete with tiny, creepily accurate renditions of chess pieces, disturbing. "I'm officially judge, though, and it's a nice change of pace to be in charge and people actually listening. Speaking of--" Jim gets to his feet "--Mlk, you cannot en passant there, penalized one turn. I am instituting a minimum skills test to verify everyone knows the rules next time, I swear to God. I do not care if Denebian rules treat pawns like bishops after the tenth move, either, so don't even."
T'Prina picks up a decoratively checkered cookie for examination as Jim sits down again, feeling righteous in his power. "I see."
"It is late," Spock observes to the far wall, having cleared the plate with logical efficiency.
"I'm off duty until beta," Jim protests even as he stands up again, kind of wishing he'd at least saved a cookie. "T'Prina, I'm appointing you assistant judge; you're authorized break their fingers if they cheat."
T'Prina looks at Spock for sanity, which Jim finds really insulting.
"He has not slept properly since we left the colony," Spock tells her, taking the dramatic step of actually taking Jim's elbow and steering him toward the door. "Do not break their fingers, Cadet."
"Yes, Commander," she says obediently, though Jim detects a hint of disappointment. "Good night, Captain, Commander."
"I've slept!" Jim protests as the door closes.
"Three point six hours in your ready room is not sufficient," Spock answers placidly, the bastard, and Jim watches the approaching turbolift in resignation. "I understand you take pleasure in your duties as judge--"
"Mostly I like to mock the ones who lose, really," Jim admits as they step inside and Spock gives the order for their deck. "If they won't let me play, they have to let me heckle."
"Possibly, but I am sure they will admit that I have a greater right to your undivided attention when you are not on duty."
Jim looks at him. "You were consulting with Sorin most of the day."
"I am not now." As they exit the turbolift, Spock doesn't let him go. Sounding thoughtful, like he does when diagnostics illogically fail, he adds, "Perhaps I am jealous."
"You aren't." Jim looks at Spock; there's no way to tell. "Are you?"
As the doors to their quarters open, Jim surveys the epic level of neatness that's been achieved and tries to remember the last time he was in here for more than a few minutes for other than hygiene-related purposes. A little guiltily, Jim makes his way in the general direction of the bathroom, noting the small changes. There's a rug that T'Sora and Spock had gotten at some point, what is probably the beginnings of a water sculpture in the corner (he and Spock are not creative; they'll have to get someone in here to program it properly), a new meditation stone, and a faint sense of developing domesticity that gives him a horrible flashback to leaving the name of that 'bot manufacturer with Rand.
"Are we boring? It's not even two. And I'm not even on duty!" Jim strips off his uniform tunic and in the spirit of compromise puts it with the other laundry, leaving his boots in the closet with a faint feeling of accomplishment for doing his part for domestic tranquility. Coming back to the main room, Jim stops at the sight of the chess board set on a low table. "Wow. Let the good times roll."
Spock, already cross-legged by the table, continues methodically placing each chess piece. "I thought perhaps a game of chess would help you relax before we retire."
Sitting down, Jim tries to remember their last game. "We party like it's twenty-nine, ninety-nine, don't we? Who starts?"
"Orion rules," Spock answers calmly. Mildly amused eyes look into Jim's briefly, then drag down his body before taking a leisurely journey back up; with a faint sense of shock, Jim realizes he's flushing. "The first move is determined by the person wearing the least amount of clothing at the beginning of the game."
Jim glances down at himself (no footwear, no socks, no tunic) and grins. "Strip chess? What's my forfeit?"
"I will name it when I win." Spock hasn't ever lost a game of Orion strip chess as far as Jim knows; of course, as far as he knows, Spock's only ever played it with him. "I believe it is your move, Jim."
McCoy and Sorin are consulting on something complicated and disturbingly multi-colored that reminds Jim vaguely of a map of the highway system in Maine before he realizes it's a brain scan from one of the patients.
"The regeneration has been more complete than I anticipated," Sorin says as Dr. McCoy changes screens. Jim has seen his own often enough (far too fucking often) to recognize the brightly colored area off left is the psi-center on a human. "All of the patients have activated psi-centers. That is--unexpected."
"You just might have found a way to create telepaths," McCoy says flatly. "Three of the patients were psi-null; two of them are listening to conversations happening in the rec room right now and the third's been commenting on the state of my love life. Or lack thereof. That's something to wake you up in the morning, no coffee required."
"I have been instructing them in shielding," Sorin answers absently. "The Academy regime introduced by one of your nurses was inadequate to their newfound abilities. They are improving."
Bones gives Sorin a disbelieving look. "Human minds aren't--"
"Human minds have psi-centers; like your appendix, they are underdeveloped or atrophied in your evolution." Sorin looks at the results critically. "The patients are following a more aggressive path than Captain Kirk's after his bonding with Commander Spock--"
"I'm not a telepath," Jim says loudly, introducing himself into the conversation. Sorin looks at him without surprise, but Bones jumps, frowning at Jim. "At all."
"You are highly sensitive to your bondmate, however," Sorin says coolly, brown eyes unreadable. "I understand part of the diagnostic of pon farr was made when you began to read the thoughts of your officers due to an incident on the Centurius Station--"
Jim hesitates, looking at Bones, who is staring much too hard at those scans. "I don't remember much about that. Bones?"
"I read the reports Spock and Nyota gave and talked to them both about it," McCoy admits finally. "Off the record. I also have the arrest record from the planet, as well as the witness reports collected before Sulu managed to get you out of it. Your psi-centers were fully activated for at least twelve hours and you were reading at a ten meter range by all accounts, both active and passive thought."
"What?" Jim looks between them. "You've never mentioned--"
McCoy scowls. "Because it was one time and there were other concerns, like you being an asshole about having a goddamn death sentence. It never happened again, and you've never shown signs that it came back--"
"Wait." Jim looks between them. "I don't have regenerated brain matter, one, and two, I wasn't bonded to anyone then."
"Your body, however, was responding to the memory of a bond," Sorin says dispassionately. "It has been a source of fascination among many medical staff at the Academy." Which Jim really didn't want to know, thanks. "While we have no precedent for your situation, it is possible that the very lack of a bond is what caused the changes. You must understand; the instinct is very strong in us, and we will do a great deal to achieve--completion." Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "If the pon farr could be anthropomorphized thus, it was aware you were unbonded. It made the alterations necessary to attract and bond with a suitable mate."
Jim looks between McCoy and Sorin blankly. "Please tell me I'm hallucinating this conversation."
"You communicate very easily with Commander Spock telepathically," Sorin answers. Jim starts, feeling McCoy's eyes narrow on him. Sorin looks between them for a second, then at Jim. "I see. You did not inform Dr. McCoy of this development. I had wondered at the exclusion in your medical records. I believe this conversation should be continued in private, then."
"The hell it is," McCoy says acidly, staring at Jim. "You never said--"
"Sorin," he starts, because McCoy is going to take a very long conversation and a lot of alcohol, "I don't think--"
"I have consulted with your bondmate," Sorin says carefully, looking at Jim to see if he understands the significance of the distinction, "and gained his permission to speak to you of this. I had planned to seek you out today to request a meeting."
Jim takes a deep breath; Spock's privacy issues are almost equal to his own. There's a good reason for this. "Fine."
"Jim," McCoy says dangerously, "what the hell--"
"Later, I promise. Just--" He motions toward the door. A lot of alcohol, he thinks uncomfortably at McCoy's glare; distantly, he can feel Spock's focus shift to him. "Sorin, my quarters, half an hour. Bones--"
"Right after," McCoy says venomously with a significant look at the hypos. Yeah, he gets it. "And you better have a good reason."
Jim sighs. Yeah. A lot of alcohol.
"I apologize," Sorin says calmly, taking a seat on the small couch Jim indicates. Not for the first time, Jim thinks that of all the Vulcans he's met, Sorin may be the first who actually embodies the human concept of emotionless; it's hard to reconcile that with what Spock learned about him and Melody. "I did not realize--"
"Nah," Jim waves a hand. "He'll get over it. Now, what exactly is this about?"
"Commander Spock consulted with me regarding your shields," Sorin answers. "Until Dr. McCoy and I discovered the increased psi-readings on those we treated, he did not realize that it was not merely unfamiliarity that was causing you distress when you attempt to shield."
"I'm not distressed," Jim answers, eyes narrowing. "It's just--"
"Exhausting. It should not be." Sorin gives Jim a penetrating look. "Commander Spock was given only the preliminary training in the advanced mind disciplines; he would not have been aware that merely shielding a mind that is not psi-sensitive should not have been so difficult. Nor would he have been aware that between a Vulcan and those without that sensitivity, the level of communication you enjoy is--unusual."
Sorin tilts his head. "Outside of a meld, it is extremely uncommon to easily communicate with a non-telepathic species. A bondmate taken from such a species would require many years for their sympathetic nervous system to adapt. You have been bonded only a year. That by definition is unusual."
Jim can almost feel Spock's completely unemotional chagrin finding that out. This is going to be a very fun voyage, he can tell. "I'm not a telepath."
Sorin's head tilts thoughtfully. "After the first signs of increased psi abilities among the patients, I asked Dr. McCoy for the specifics of the incident during your pon farr that you state you cannot remember--"
"I'm not a telepath, Sorin. And I think I'm the authority on that."
"That is debatable," Sorin says terrifyingly. "Your bond is--unusual in many ways, not least due to how it was formed. An unanticipated bond formed during pon farr is extremely rare and never with the complications you endured. I would be interested in discovering the range of your ability, but I see you are uncomfortable, so I will come to the point. I wish to offer my services as an instructor."
Jim starts. "For--"
"To instruct you in shielding. Despite Commander Spock's efforts, you continue to experience difficulties. He feels that perhaps your requirements are beyond his current level of skill. After making an evaluation, it is probable I can assist you."
"What would that require?"
"I will need to meld with you."
"No." Jim controls the urge to order him to leave, but nothing can stop the flinch. "I don't--I mean, I really don't like people in my head."
Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "You are distressed."
"I--" Jim stops, feeling helpless. There's no way to explain this. "What--this thing with Spock--it wasn't his choice. Not really. Or mine, if I'd had a choice back then. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change anything, but it was--" Jim swallows. "Don't you people not talk about this?"
Sorin's expression doesn't change, but Jim has a faint sense of being studied. "I did not realize how deeply it had affected you." After a moment, Sorin nods, almost to himself. "Commander Spock was equally reticent to permit this. Would you be easier if he was present during instruction?"
"He will join the meld." Sorin pauses, considering. "It would also serve to also instruct him in the more advanced disciplines, as neither of you have regular access to a mind healer or an acolyte."
Jim take a deep breath, sensing Spock's wary agreement: It would be unusual, Spock admits. But the disciplines are passed on thus among the acolytes of Gor, so it is not without precedent.
Right. Rubbing damp hands against his knees, Jim looks at Sorin sharply. "Can you read me now?"
"If I chose to." Sorin looks at Jim placidly. "My shields are a part of me. It is a conscious act to lower them to do a full reading. I can promise you, my training in the mind disciplines was strict and fully encompassing. I will do no more than evaluate your mind to discover how to teach you to efficiently shield yourself. Your bondmate has sufficient training and natural talent to easily observe and understand everything I will do." Sorin hesitates. "I could not affect your bond, even if I was so lost to the ethics of my people as to wish to. Commander Spock was accepted to study kolinahr for many reasons, among them his strong psi abilities; even a full adept could not interfere your bond with him. He is capable of responding well before any damage could be done."
Jim lets out a breath. "All right. Spock will check my schedule with Rand."
"Thank you, Captain." Sorin begins to rise, then hesitates. "I am aware of what you endured in experiencing the pon farr of an unbonded male. You were generous to permit your experience to be documented and studied by the Academy. The Academy did not reciprocate in kind, nor I believe told you how valuable that information is, especially at this time, with so many unbonded due to the death of their bondmates. For myself--" Sorin takes a breath, and for a second, Jim thinks he sees something flicker across the expressionless face, raw and endlessly deep, an unhealed wound. "It is no longer illogical to hope."
"Logic needs no thanks," Jim says awkwardly. "This--with the instruction--will that also--"
"I would have offered whether or not it was of benefit to Melody," Sorin answers. "The study of your bond with Commander Spock during the course of instruction could help me discover a new path in assisting Melody." Getting to his feet, he nods gravely. "I will speak to your bondmate and arrange a time convenient to you both. If you have further questions, I am at your service."
"I may take you up on that."
"So are you an adept?" Jim asks idly, trying not to watch Spock struggle with the water sculpture and failing utterly.
Water, rocks, forcefields, and a set of controls: it isn't warp core theory, but then again, if it were, both of them would probably be a lot better at it. Water sculpture is the equivalent of finger painting for adults--it's supposed to be fun and relaxing and it just isn't. Getting up from the terminal, Jim circles the water formed in sets of geometric squares before falling into the rock-filled basin at precise right angles and feels a headache starting already.
Spock doesn't look up from the controls. "No."
"Sorin seemed impressed with you." Nudging him with a hip, Jim looks at the code for a moment and cuts off a corner of the topmost square to see if that helps; it doesn't. Between the two of them, they've managed to create the least aesthetically pleasing art ever. "God, I hate water sculpture. I almost failed art at the Academy, you know."
Spock's eyes narrow, but that's because he almost failed art, too, and whoo boy does he hate admitting that.
Cutting off another corner, Jim stares at it for a minute. "Is this thing supposed to cause vertigo?" he asks before Spock reverts his changes. "You are a level seven computer technician. I graduated top of my class from Starfleet Academy. It shouldn't be this hard."
Spock starts his speech on art, meditation, and intellectual stimulation, but then really looks at what he's doing and winces, returning to the controls with renewed determination. Leaving him to it, Jim drops onto the couch, wondering if other people have these kinds of domestic issues. In some ways, Jim supposes that the fact both of them lack even a rudimentary understanding of normal cohabitation rules is a plus; not knowing exactly how it's supposed to work in normal relationships saves them a lot of stress in the long run.
"Sorin?" he reminds Spock.
"My psi-rating is very strong," Spock answers. "But a true Adept is very rare. Sorin is the only one born in five generations. It is not a comfortable gift among my people, not least to those that have it."
Jim mulls that, lying back and picking up a datapad to pretend to read. "You didn't tell me you were that worried about my shielding." Jim touches the screen, opening one of the historical texts he'd asked the Ambassador to get for him. His written Vulcan had gotten insanely good, which just goes to show that he wasted three years studying when he could have just waited for Spock to drop the entirety of his knowledge in his head and been done with it, accent included. "You blocked it."
Spock hesitates, a mental checking that Jim can feel more than see. "I did not wish--"
"I know you didn't want to worry me." Sighing, Jim drops the datapad over the side of the couch. "But you went to Sorin about it before you told me, and that's not on. You get that, right?"
Spock turns to look at him. "I was aware it would displease you."
"Not a regency heroine," Jim says, rolling on his side, arm tucked beneath his head. "I get needing mental space and everything, fine. This isn't that."
After a moment of consideration, Spock shuts down the controls, and Jim pulls up his legs enough for Spock to sit down, half-sitting himself to stare at Spock meaningfully.
"I thought the flaw was within myself."
Jim blinks slowly. "You thought--"
"That my--that when we bonded, it was done--incorrectly." Beneath the tight control, Jim can sense exactly how that conversation with Sorin must have started and feels sympathetic nausea. "He did not think that was the problem; however--"
"So that's why he was so insistent." Jim frowns, leaning back against the armrest. "I think we'd know if you did it wrong." He tries to control the shudder at the memory of Sorin's brother and his bondmate. "Seriously."
Spock doesn't shudder, but he would if he were human. "What was done between us was under--unusual circumstances," Spock answers diplomatically. "Your will was compromised--"
"We are not having this discussion again." Jim can see where this is going: it's a very irritating place that usually ends with one of them on the couch. "I told you--"
"I do not doubt your acceptance," Spock answers calmly. "But given the choice--"
"God, we are having this discussion."
"--you would not have chosen me as a mate."
Jim stares at him for a minute. "You are a such an idiot. Do you think I regret it? Or if I'd known---" Jim stops, feeling a little helpless. "Okay, to put this in terms that will make sense to you; I would have logically--and I cannot believe I have to say this--chosen this. It wasn't just better than dying in a really humiliating way. Though yeah, it was definitely better than that, too."
Spock looks his opinion on guessing probability. "Jim--"
"You know how I feel about you. Not like you can't pick up that without even trying."
"I do. And I know it was not true before this happened between us. It is very rare that Vulcans are required to bond as we did, and you are not telepathic. It is not a question of whether you were coerced; it is a question of how much, and if there is residual damage."
The problem is, that's true, and also, not true at all; feelings have never been Jim's forte and Spock spends a lot of his free time pretending they aren't there at all. This can be both good and bad; being able to skip talking about their feelings is, for Jim, a huge plus. The minus is, they're both shit navigating a conversation about them when they do have to talk about it, and all the bonding in the world doesn't mean jack shit when it comes to that. At least Spock has Uhura as a frame of reference for how this is supposed to work; Jim's pretty sure that if they were depending on him to figure this out, they'd be very almost-divorced, or possibly homicidal.
"It doesn't matter," Jim says slowly, searching for the right words. "What we did--and this was we, not just you, so the martyr act needs to stop--just--maybe sped it up, I don't know. Some people meet at like, the Academy or on duty and go years figuring each other out before they get around to a relationship. So we cheated. I'm known for that."
Spock doesn't raise an eyebrow, but Jim thinks he wants to. "Jim--"
"You didn't damage me. You didn't coerce me. It was a choice." Jim takes a deep breath. "The Ambassador asked me, you know. About everything. The thing is, I wouldn't change anything, except understanding what you were offering me before I almost drove us both crazy. Which you know, that part, yeah, that was your fault."
Pushing himself up, Jim crawls across the couch, straddling Spock's lap. Jim prefers physical contact because he's human and humans mostly like that sort of thing; he suspects Spock likes it because he uses it like a diagnostic tool, and (possibly) because it's edgy for a Vulcan to feel up a human or something. Apparently, Spock was a total rebel during his adolescence and never really got over it, which Jim finds hilarious. "When is the appointment with Sorin?"
"Tomorrow evening. I confirmed with Yeoman Rand that your schedule was open."
"Because if you didn't go through her first, she'd kick your ass," Jim says with a grin. "Like I said, she needs a ship of her own to bully." Getting up, Jim pulls Spock to his feet. "Come on."
"Do you have something in mind?" Spock's eyes flicker to the water sculpture; he's seriously not going to let that go.
"You will never hear me say this again," Jim says, hating himself a little, "but I think I'd better meditate."
That gets Spock's undivided attention; even water sculpture failure can't compete with that. "Really."
"Don't get used to it," Jim warns, sitting on the edge of the bed to take off his tunic. "But if I'm going to have someone else in my head--" He needs Spock there first, tonight, so he can remember it when he has to let someone else do this to him.
Spock takes the tunic from his hands, fingers brushing Jim's in perfect understanding. "I understand."
Yeah, he does.
They're entering the chess semi-finals, which means the entire ship is on edge, with crewmembers and officers eyeing each other hostilely in hall and mess and generally acting like the super-competitive people they all are.
Stopping by Uhura's station, he looks over her shoulder to see what appears to be the beginnings of a tentative class schedule for the coming year. "Concentrating Ling I and II?" Jim asks, leaning against the console. Uhura twitches, giving him a frown for being a sneaky ass. "Kind of heavy."
"They can handle it. On a starship, practical application teaches better than classroom. I'll rotate my students into Communications; I'm coordinating with cross-training so the enlisted crew will work in departments related to current classes."
"Good idea." Cross-training for crew was mandatory in Starfleet, though most starships paid only lip service to the idea; it took a lot of coordination between department heads and the paperwork was unreal. And department heads were notoriously possessive of their people, even enlisted personnel. An attitude Jim both understood and ignored; every member of his crew rotated departments regularly, including junior officers, and the department heads either dealt with it or found another ship. Starship duty could be epically boring; Jim learned that the hard way. It could also be epically unpredictable, and if Jim had to learn how to solder power conduits while lying in Jefferies tubes during a firefight and still give orders to Spock on the bridge, well, he sees no reason that anyone else should be spared the joy. "Send me the final draft and copy Rand so she and Spock can rework the crew schedules."
Pushing off the console, Jim wanders to his chair, feeling particularly useless. Whoever decided a captain's duties must have been either really into diplomacy or just the laziest ass ever. Not that his crew is doing any better: currently, the helm is staffed with a near-comatose Sulu, and Chekov is playing three dimensional sudoku while pretending to scan dead, dead, dead space.
Somehow, Pike had made this all seem so much more interesting than it really is, and Jim silently hates Spock for figuring this out a long time ago. Science officers and first officers have all the fun; currently, his first officer is playing in his lab and pretending it's work and not the most fun a Vulcan can have. "Status?" Jim asks, trying to sound commanding.
"Nothing," Sulu answers sullenly, then straightens in alarm. "Er, everything normal, sir."
Jim waves irritably and sinks further into his chair. "Yeah, kind of what I thought."
"Captain?" Uhura says abruptly. "We're receiving an encrypted communication." She pauses; turning in his chair, Jim watches her hands tap quickly across her board. "You'll want to see this. The algorithms are similar to the ones recovered from the data solids at the Begammon Station."
"You're kidding," Jim answers blankly; of all the possibilities he'd considered, he really hadn't thought he'd be contacted directly. "Send it to lab two and come with me. Sulu, you have the bridge."
Uhura stands up as her relief takes her place, following him to the turbolift. "Why lab two?" she asks as the door closes.
"The computer's been running a search on every encryption algorithm we have in the databases," Jim answers. "We're going to put this one in and see what happens."
"We know it's Orion, so you're looking for a direct link to someone," she says thoughtfully. "You think they are using variations of the same encryption patterns each time?"
"Even the Federation doesn't create a brand new standard every time one of them gets broken," Jim answers as the turbolift doors open. "The computer can give us the possibilities. I need you to tell me which ones were potentially by the same person or entity." Jim stops at the door. "Release lock, alpha a beta b one two three and add Lieutenant Uhura to authorized personnel."
Following him in, she looks at him over the lab table. "How many are we talking about?"
"Last I checked, one million sixteen thousand matches." Uhura stares at him. "We had only one sample! Communications are your specialty, not mine."
Rolling her eyes, Uhura sits down, pulling up the message on the terminal. "Right," she says with a sigh, waving him toward the door. "I'll keep you updated."
Jim squints. "Are you throwing me out of my own secret project?" Uhura just looks at him, then significantly, at the door. "Fine, fine, I'm going. I've got a communiqué from Starfleet and one from Mitchell waiting for me. Probably wants to know the sitch on Vulcan and get those cheat codes."
"Mitchell?" Uhura says acidly. "So now we report to that overbred--"
"Hey!" Jim says, offended. "Let me remind you, I'm fifth generation Starfleet. I'm way more overbred than he is."
Uhura gives him a harassed look. "But you don't act like it, Captain."
Jim rocks back on his heels, surprised. "Wow. Is that a compliment?"
She doesn't answer; Jim will take that one as a win.