by cim


For a number of reasons, Spock was certain that his losses of concentration and Jim's actions precipitating them were unintended on Jim's part, despite the fact that he now experienced the reaction with ninety-seven point one eight percent reliability.

Spock was certain that the effect was unintended primarily because the captain (whom he only thought of as "Jim," if he was on duty, in moments when his mental faculties were weakened by the phenomenon) could not possibly know how sensitive were the tips of Spock's ears.

Of course, there were other reasons as soundly logical to dismiss the idea that the captain would do any such thing on purpose. There was no logical reason for his action. While admittedly the captain often acted without conspicuous logic, Spock had also rarely found him to be completely inexplicable. Not only were no logical motivations apparent, no likely motivation, even an illogical one such as emotion, suggested itself to Spock.

Yet Spock had reluctantly accepted his inability to dismiss a suspicion from his mind which he knew was most illogical. Illogical to consider that Kirk, for no logical and no imaginable reason, would deliberately provoke the confusing and irrepressible emotional and physical sensations. Illogical that time after time these sensations seemed to overpower him for a long moment, and illogical that his increasing expectation of their occurrence had failed to give him the capability to prevent, suppress or even control them. Illogical to suspect the captain of any malicious (and thus wholly unprecedented) behavior. Without knowing of the sensitivity of Vulcan ear-tips, the captain could not even suspect Spock's distress. Such knowledge must be the foundation of any possible plan or intent; and the captain did not have it.

The frequency of the reaction had recently increased, as the incidence of the captain's behavior which caused it had. The behavior in question was the captain's leaning forward over Spock's shoulder from a standing position behind him to view a computer display and, occasionally, to speak. There was nothing remotely unusual about the behavior; Kirk did the same thing to all the bridge officers on occasion. There was no basis for complaint other than his own distressing inability to master his reaction. To admit such a thing would be shameful. To ask his superior officer to modify his own behavior to accommodate an unacceptable weakness on Spock's part was unthinkable.

Logically, the only alternative was to continue not controlling, not suppressing, but hiding his confusion. Again and again, most illogically, his mind continually re-examined the situation, arrived at this unsatisfactory conclusion, and began at the beginning as though he had not determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were no satisfactory solutions. For the last seventy-four point four days, or the last eighteen point six one percent of the time that he had been aware of the phenomenon, Spock had been certain of that.

Though his attention was fixed on the instruments at his station, he sensed the human's approach, of course. Sensed it, and quelled the abortive swell of apprehension in himself. He was powerless to prevent the captain from resting one hand on the corner of the chair so that it just brushed his own shoulder, or from leaning forward slightly.

"All's well, Mr. Spock?" he inquired, beginning to scan the readings on the small screen.

Their heads were separated by approximately point two eight four meters, but Spock felt it, perhaps as a result of the nerves in his ears tingling expectantly, stretched to their full sensitivity. The slight eddy of exhalation was like a feather trailing forward along the edge of his ear, perhaps, but softer and less concrete, or a breeze, but warmer. Humans' breath was cooler than Vulcans', due to their lower body temperatures, and it would have cooled slightly in the air. Spock was aware that part of his ability to sense it must be because of the natural moisture content, again higher than a Vulcan's.

He was at a loss to explain why this idea was distressing to him, but it was. It shocked Spock that it required an effort on his part to force his attention to answering the captain's question. He could not lie, and that made him hesitate, even though he knew that Jim referred more to the Science station than to Spock's mental state. "I believe so, Captain," he finally responded.

At a questioning glance, he automatically lifted one eyebrow. The captain's whole being rippled with amusement, it seemed. Fascinating, as usual. He did not laugh, only allowed the corners of his lips to twitch toward the curve of a smile, then relax again, but he met Spock's eyes with his own widened with an irresistible invitation to shared amusement.

The unintended result of Spock's reply, combined with the eyebrow, was a misdirection. The captain appeared to have taken it as an attempt at human humor.

Perhaps it was as well, since it eliminated the possibility of suspicion.

"Carry on, then."

Kirk was speaking of his work at the science station, but his words had another meaning as well. Spock was sure that he would carry on. He found the idea faintly amusing, in a dark and somewhat depressing way.

Another unintended effect: he was experiencing the human concept of irony.


Jim Kirk was sufficiently distracted that he didn't realize he was distracted until a little twinge of déjà vu startled him into stopping with his mouth open, on the verge of saying "All's well, Mr. Spock?" for the second time in no more than ten minutes. He closed his mouth, and realized the paced circuit of the bridge he was completing made either the fifth or sixth this shift. Damn. What was wrong with him?

He had been standing an extra several moments behind Spock's dark head bent over his station, lost in thought. Spock made no move to show he was aware of Jim's presence, but soon…in a moment….

"Captain?" Yes. There it was.

"Nothing. I'm sorry, Spock. Carry on." But a whisper of insight that had been tickling at his mind stabbed at him quite suddenly-So busy lately-the detour to Vulcan and the battle, right after leaving Pike at Talos IV-I should talk to him-and made him add, "Mr. Spock." He paused, waiting for Spock to straighten and face him fully. "Chess this evening?" he asked in a low-pitched voice, because he wouldn't normally have this conversation on the bridge.

"Yes, sir. I am free after 1900 hours."

"Very good, Mr. Spock. 1900, my quarters. You have the conn. I'll be back shortly." He left the bridge.

It all really came down to strength of will, Jim reflected in the turbolift. Not just his concentration on the bridge, although evidently (he thought with some humor) it would have to come down to that, in the absence of a better motivation like insatiable interest. He didn't think this with any worry because he knew his insatiable interest wasn't really gone. He was just feeling a little off, which happened to him occasionally but never very badly, and it would be over soon, and until then he would simply deal with it.

He would focus. A deep breath and measured steps in the corridor did a bit to help with that, but the real balm was the sight of the stars nestled in their bed of emptiness, visible on the observation deck even though they were in warp thanks to the quirks of modern technology. Technology be damned, though, there was something quietly majestic, something that hinted at the ability to overwhelm, in even the smallest slivers of space. A spiritual something that, rather than making you want to say spiritual things, made you breathe deeply, feel the weight of your feet on the deck and the tension in your shoulders and temples--and then clasp your hands behind your back and forget it all again for a moment or two, along with everything else.

Jim strolled, rather than paced, back towards the turbolift, feeling his eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiled, almost laughed, thinking of Spock and McCoy. (Spock's quickly-dampened exuberance to see him alive that had almost become a hug; McCoy's mouth twisting around the gleefully delivered, "In a pig's eye!")

"Captain," Spock greeted him on his return, sliding gracefully out of the center chair. No unnecessary angles or pauses in Spock's movements-always the shortest distance between two points.

"Mr. Spock, report."

"Nothing to report, sir."

"Thank you." He nodded; Spock inclined his head and shoulders into his little cross between a bow and a nod before returning to his station. It had looked Vulcan, sparely elegant and perhaps a little forbidding, rather than overly submissive.

Because he had determined to focus that shift, he did, quite easily. When he really wanted to do something like this, it wasn't difficult. His brain knew how to manage itself. Strength of will, Jim thought again with a corner of his mind, but not looking up from the science report he was reviewing. It was a write-up of research, not high-priority, and hadn't been written by Spock, but his signature was on it nevertheless in turns of phrase and adverbs ("indubitably," "conversely," "in accordance with," "logically"). There was hardly any point in reviewing it once Spock had edited it, but he might as well read it now as when it had been officially finalized and transmitted.

He had been thinking a lot in terms of will power, recently. It had started, he thought, in orbit around Talos IV, at the false court-martial. He had been floundering, never completely out of control but never sure of himself, either, struggling to regain his balance and make his universe make sense again with one of its underpinnings-Spock's loyalty-seemingly removed. He had been confused and angry with Spock, but more than anything, as the explanation unfolded, hurt.

He had trusted Spock so much that even in the face of overwhelming evidence, including confession, he had found it hard to believe in his betrayal. So much that he had felt lost without his utter confidence in his first officer, and had doubted all his judgment as a result. He remembered the court-martial as strange, not dream-like, precisely, but harsh and clear and too fast. Jim's trust in Spock had not been absolute, not quite (or honestly-after so little time-not yet), but near enough to it that the whole shape of his reality had been changed by the concept that Spock could have failed him.

This trust, on his part unconscious and innocent, was rudely disturbed by first the betrayal, then the almost-as-painful conclusion that Spock's trust in him was-less. He remembered the pain that he had had difficulty controlling, let alone understanding. He remembered saying tightly because his voice couldn't tremble, "You could have told me." He remembered Spock's explanation: "Ask you to risk the death penalty, too?" With one eyebrow raised slightly, but not, he understood perfectly, to indicate humor or inquiry as it usually did. He had understood it intellectually at the time, but his gut hadn't been able to accept it for a few days.

When logic had been able to rule him again, his chagrin at the whole episode hadn't vanished, but merely transmuted itself to a new awareness of a new fault of his, as if he needed to discover any more. Strength of will, he had realized then. Spock's was tremendous. How great must the temptation have been to tell Jim from the beginning? He could have avoided all the tension, the wariness that had intruded on their relationship. He could have spared himself the raw emotion Jim was sure he had betrayed through his words and his very posture during the court-martial, even if he hadn't already been bleeding enough of it into the air to smother Spock. They probably would have survived the episode anyway, the way they always seemed to survive everything. Spock had known this, but his honor had prevented him from risking his captain's life or his friend's in an errand that to him was personal. For the additional act of self-sacrifice, he'd endured the additional punishment of Jim's confusing hot-and-cold anger in the midst of his trial.

It wasn't that Jim blamed himself for his own lack of understanding; he did, but it was in the past. He would not make the mistake of mistrusting Spock again.

It wasn't that he wanted more understanding from Spock of his position, either. He suspected that Spock had understood his position all along. Spock could have simply said the right thing at almost any point-he knew Jim, could anticipate his thoughts and wishes at a lightning-glance, could have found the words that would cut through long enough to make Jim listen. Spock could have gained his forgiveness early. Once again, he had acted scrupulously correctly.

Jim simply doubted, horribly, whether he would have had the strength of will to do what Spock had done. Tempting to say he would have, but he simply couldn't see himself doing it. Wouldn't the temptation to share his burden with Spock be too great for him? Wouldn't the knowledge that Spock would be willing or eager to risk his life as well be enough for Jim? The honor which so often demanded difficult action, which forbade sharing the burden of guilt for his actions--Spock had obeyed without question. It would not stop Jim, would never make itself heard at all. It would never occur to him that it wasn't his right to allow that risk-to accept that sacrifice. It was in his nature.

Part of him wasn't sure that this was a weakness on his part, though of course it didn't condemn Spock.

The very doubt was evidence of weakness!

Strength of will had been on his mind since shortly after Talos IV, then. He thought of himself. In general, he had a lot of it. His control was painstakingly thorough, almost effortless now, in most areas, but he suspected that those were the areas in which he wanted it to be. He thought of Bones, who seemed to see little value in it. Bones said what he thought and did what he knew to be right, and that was the end of it. In a doctor, Jim acknowledged it was a virtue. He thought of Vulcan culture in general, after the ritual at koon ut kaliffee and his meeting with T'Pau.

This had been simmering in his mind, surfacing occasionally, for weeks now. He didn't allow it to consume his thoughts for the rest of the shift-he read reports, examined the work at all the stations, read some more reports, sat in the command chair and looked at the viewscreen and pondered what he could do other than read more reports. Luckily, his shift was nearly over by then. He handed the command over and stepped into the turbolift with Spock, who had been waiting silently for him. They walked to their respective quarters in silence, though, the only communication that passed between them being the little pauses Spock made to allow Jim to go through the door first.

Jim started in on some paperwork, reading stuff that was frankly too boring for an off day, and so then he gave up on work entirely to read for fun. He wasn't up to a new novel, though, he discovered, so he chose a classic in real paper form from his bookshelf. The door-chime interrupted a train of thought that was unfocused, but dealt partly with the events of Catch-22 and partly with their modern uneasy relations with the Klingons and Romulans and partly with the planetary survey geophysics was preparing for. He was so unfocused that he didn't realize he was unfocused until he had already said "Come," and actually been surprised for a millisecond before the doors began to slide back and he remembered that they'd had an appointment.

"Captain," Spock said, stepping into the room. Jim felt a little guilty about having forgotten, not because it would cause any inconvenience but because he didn't do that.

"Jim," Jim reminded him mildly, smiling and stretching a little as he set the book aside, then standing up. "I assume you haven't eaten, Spock."

"That is correct."

He moved to the replicator. "Some of that Greek vegetable pastry okay with you?"

"Spanakopita, while less healthy than many vegetarian dishes, would be agreeable," Spock said deadpan, making Jim chuckle. He even turned momentarily from the replicator for a glimpse of Spock's expression. It was priceless, perfectly earnest in all its lines and angles, but with that amusement still so clearly written in it. The smile was there and not there. …How did other captains manage their starships without Vulcan first officers?

"Jim," Spock said, seating himself at the little table, "is it your particular wish to play chess this evening?"

He was concentrating on cutting the pastry, which was extremely flaky and tended to disintegrate into a mess of tiny buttery flakes, spinach and unidentifiable creamy stuff that oozed off his fork. Spock was having no trouble. "My heart wasn't exactly set on it, no."

The eyebrow. Jim finally managed to keep his face straight when he saw it, although that had something to do with the food in his mouth at the time. "Then may I suggest that rather than chess, we spend some time on the recreation deck 'working out'?"

"You may." He waited a beat in which Spock's eyebrow twitched, but didn't quite rise. "That's an excellent idea, Mr. Spock-right after dinner."

Jim Kirk had been so comfortable, and so normal, through dinner, that it was only as he left his quarters with Spock at his side that he realized he had not been distracted or unfocused at all, and that it had required no effort of will to keep himself that way.


Jim had been slightly different lately, and Spock had estimated that this was due to fatigue. That assumption had been supported by numerous recent events. Several times that day, the captain had shown signs of absent-mindedness. This was an unusual behavior for him, but one that Spock understood to be related in humans to physical weariness, or alternatively to what McCoy had described as being "just plain worn out."

Spock had initially found this phrase not only puzzling, but completely incomprehensible; however, when a red-alert drill had been called the day after leaving Vulcan and the koon ut kaliffee, and he had gone an additional forty-three point six one hours without sleep, he had begun to gain an understanding of it.

He was forced to reconsider his earlier assumption when he emerged from his quarters after three point four minutes, having changed from his uniform into attire more appropriate for physical exertion, and found Jim already in the corridor, leaning against the bulkhead with his arms crossed. His smile was somewhat distant. It was a facial expression Spock had learned to associate with Jim's claim that he was "just thinking," usually about "nothing important."

They walked side-by-side towards the turbolift. "Jim, are you not…tired?" Spock asked as they stepped through the doors.

"Not particularly." Kirk glanced up at him, smiling slightly. Evidently he was amused--by what, Spock did not know. "Why?"

"Lately I had observed some subtle changes in your behavior, but did not know how to classify them. This morning, however, when I observed what I believe you humans term 'absentmindedness'-" Jim was laughing, now; another good sign "-I thought I understood that you were demonstrating mental fatigue similar to the physical variety, which would have some of the same physical indicators but would not necessarily abate simply with sleep or rest. I believe humans are most susceptible to this condition."

He was definitely laughing now. "Are you saying that you aren't susceptible to mental fatigue, Mr. Spock? To getting tired of something? What about when Bones is teasing you? Don't you ever feel impatient?"

This was more familiar territory, and Spock responded almost without thought, "Vulcans do not experience impatience."

He got a sideways look from Jim again, glimmering with amusement, before his face shifted into a pensive mask. "You may have something there, though. I may just be…experiencing a mental fatigue of some sort." Spock nodded, satisfied to have his guess confirmed. "I'm curious, though."

"Yes, sir?"

"If you thought that I was tired, wasn't it illogical to suggest we go to the gym?" Jim led the way through the doors of the room in question.

"If my guess that your weariness was not physical had been incorrect, you would have declined the invitation. I would then have canceled the chess game and insisted that you rest."

Jim laughed outright again. It was a sound that, curiously, brought Spock pleasure, whether he understood its cause (earlier, his denial that he experienced impatience) or not (for instance, now). Jim quickly answered Spock's raised eyebrow: "You were concerned for me, in other words. I've been seeing more and more obvious displays of emotion from you, Mr. Spock. You should be more careful."

"As your welfare is crucial to the efficient functioning of the ship, my actions were in no way illogical," Spock replied calmly and truthfully, sidestepping the question and relaxing almost imperceptibly. If Jim wanted to play this game, then not very much could be wrong. Perhaps in one sense, this relief he experienced was less than logical. He paid this idea little attention, though. He had decided long ago that concern for Jim was logical, since this was part of the nature of friendship; having voluntarily entered into friendship with Jim, he was obligated, was he not, to accept its rules?

Jim let it go, just glancing up with a grin from under the bronzed arch of one arm. "Zua?" he asked, giving the Vulcan art a humanized pronunciation and shortening it by approximately fifty percent.

"Negative." Spock stretched towards his left foot while the captain stretched in the opposite direction. "The jiu h'a tenna is a form of combat. The recent…events at the koon ut kaliffee make me reluctant to participate in it with you at this time, Jim."

"Spock, I don't mind," Jim said so easily that Spock knew the statement to be absolutely true, from the depths of his guileless being. More difficult, then, to give the necessary reply.

"Captain, I do."

"Oh." He straightened, looked at Spock with humanly inscrutable silence for a moment, then smiled again. "It's Jim, though."

"This is like Vulcan yoga," Jim observed in a break when they had finished the whole sequence of movements in the first level of the synchronized exercises.

Spock took exception to the comparison. "This version of the pattern is not intended to be strenuous. It is for children."

Jim stopped stretching and sat up, grinning. "Is that a challenge, Spock?"

"No, Jim. I merely responded to your reference to--"

Jim interrupted, "Show me the other version."

"There are many patterns of movement within the discipline."

Spock was aware that he had unintentionally awakened the competitive part of Jim's personality but was unprepared for the reply, "Show me the most difficult." He hesitated, unsure of his response to the unusual request.

"Excuse me, Captain. I should have explained the nature of the hama more thoroughly before we began. It is performed by almost all Vulcans, and there is a series of related patterns, thematically united and separated by difficulty. The pattern I showed you is the one I performed as a small child. As each version is mastered, the next is learned in a systematic progression. However, there is a point after which the nature of the motions is fundamentally different. The tenth major variant is learned just prior to the rapid development of telepathic abilities. The meld between teacher and student has a…ritual importance on Vulcan that is part of a variety of symbolic acts surrounding this 'telepathic puberty.'"

Jim appeared fascinated. "You're saying that after a certain point, it's not possible to perform the exercise without telepathic abilities?"

"No. Merely that it is impossible to learn it without a meld."

Jim smiled again, a particularly dazzling grin. "Then you can teach me," he said, in such a way that Spock was certain he had been tricked.

"It is correct that I am capable of giving you the necessary knowledge, Jim. However, it seems illogical for you, a non-telepath, to engage in a meld that is not natural to your species simply for the purpose of performing these exercises, which are purely recreational. You have no need to know the tenth variant. Perhaps it would be preferable to show you the eighth and ninth."

"Spock," Jim said, "I think you've observed by now that humans frequently want to do things for reasons that are not logical. I want to do this exercise because you seemed to think that it would be difficult for me. If it's not dangerous, I see no reason not to meld to gain the knowledge. You've melded with me before, remember?" The human raised both eyebrows.

Remember? Irony, Spock noted again, almost impassively. Spock was in that rare position in which Doctor McCoy would be delighted to see him: concession of a lost argument. "It is true that it is not dangerous. Therefore, if you wish…." He made a little gesture with one hand that he thought was unusually awkward and inexpressive, but Jim, who understood perfectly, made a similar one, relaxing the set of his shoulders, tilting his face up and waving towards his jaw. Spock recognized it instantly as invitation.

In order to initiate the meld, it was necessary for Spock to move closer to Jim on the mat and sit facing him, since Jim was already seated. He had not moved from his position when he stopped exercising; his legs, in loose blue pants, were folded together in front of him. Spock settled himself, taking deep breaths like those prior to meditation. He considered it wise to use extra care in a meld with non-telepaths, as they were not trained for it, although on the occasions of past melds he had learned the precaution was largely unnecessary with Jim. The human's mind was impressively aware, impressively controlled-

Ah. When he had suggested this exercise at dinner, it had not been without the consideration that hama provided no opportunities for Jim to lean over his shoulder, and thus no opportunities for exhalations to touch the tips of his ears. Logically, this should have prevented the occurrence of the reaction, since only that single event had as yet caused it. Unfortunately, Spock had failed to consider that that might change, and now as his fingers hovered, parted, in the air in front of Jim's face, the deep breath he had taken to calm himself was having the opposite effect. The scent of Jim's male human sweat was…equally disturbing.

After forcing himself to ignore the fascinating scent for the time being (he would remember it perfectly later; there could be no need to think of it now), Spock was once again able to concentrate.

His fingers settled to the meld points, and he looked into Jim's eyes, gave the words voice for Jim's benefit. For Vulcans, the slightest touch was sufficient to allow transmission of thought. "My mind to your mind…" //…my thoughts to your thoughts.// Unlike the previous time, he heard the words echoed on the surface of Jim's mind. It should not have been as surprising as it was, given what Spock knew of Jim Kirk. "Fast learner" was one of the smallest compliments that could be paid him.

//What are you going to do?// Again, although it should not have been, it was astonishing. Jim had never been trained to create a mental voice. His thoughts were articulated clearly, formed almost entirely of words, but enriched with the sense of the question as well.

Of course, through the meld, Jim sensed his surprise, and Spock now experienced the more astonishing, almost overpowering, and completely novel sensation of mental laughter, like the sound of Jim's human chuckles, but like a telepathic message, too, with a few explanations and some images embedded in it. It represented a lack of telepathic control, in that Vulcans were trained not to put different kinds of meanings together in this way, the way they naturally fell. Suddenly Spock could not understand why they were taught this. This mental laughter was…//fascinating. You are utterly untrained, yet one would never know this.//

//I had assumed you had given me the knowledge.//

//I have not.// A moment of mutual contemplation passed before Spock continued with the explanation Kirk had requested before. //I will share my own memory.//

A wash of…not thought, since it was not articulated at all: simple curiosity. Jim was intrigued. Was this what intrigue felt like to Jim? How different, and yet similar…. Intriguing. //Explain.//

//It will necessitate a deeper meld. Now the outer edges of our minds are in contact; in the deeper meld, our memories will be closer. This form of communication will no longer be useful.//

//Language will not be necessary.// There was no questioning tone. Spock was finished with surprise at Jim's understanding, however.

//Correct. I will call up the memory. With the memory-processing parts of our consciousnesses linked, you will experience it as well. It will imprint. When we break the meld, the memory will remain.//

Another of those waves of feeling, so un-Vulcan, and yet so logically efficient: acceptance. Spock erected some specific inner shields, dropped an outer one, and reached deeper into Jim's mind. It took only a moment for Jim to assimilate the process and exert his own effort at the meld, speeding it by pushing back into Spock's mind. Spock was not at all surprised to discover that Jim had his own equivalent of shields; of course, Spock was careful to avoid them nonetheless.

Feathers of questioning confusion, //something wrong,// in the sub-linguistic communication they had now reached. Spock's awareness flowed toward the source: Jim had encountered a shield. Their understanding of the problem was simultaneous. Jim's wave of //embarrassed sorry// melted into Spock's

//regret-cause uncertain-should have explained.// Both feelings vanished, neutralized. Deeper into the meld. It was delicate work, now, not a complete meshing and overlapping of consciousness but narrow fingers of Spock's self weaving through the deeper parts of Jim's mind toward memory. At this level of meld, there was no question of Jim's not knowing how to do the same.

They reached the deepest necessary level with twin flashes of //satisfaction/success…now.//

Spock found the memory. They started to remember, beginning with emerging from a meld with his own instructor and the momentary stillness, the slight disorientation when he slowly opened his eyes. He had not understood before, because none had tried to explain it to him, that the meld was not a shortcut to learning the harder hama, but the only way possible. The level of coordination with another person was only possible after the meld, when the residual ghosts of thought patterns would convey a sub-conscious understanding of the partner's movements. It was the kind of exercise that might have been choreographed by Surak, apparently designed to teach the mechanics of trust and cooperation. Spock's instructor, a Vulcan somewhat younger than his own father, inclined his head to indicate the beginning, and Spock found that he remembered what to do, and slid into a taut crouch, twisted under the instructor's arm, found his muscles flexing in unaccustomed ways to push with the force of his teacher's jump, change the direction, propelling him into a roll across the floor mats…and then the instantaneous relaxation of every muscle to allow the moment of weightlessness before he, too, fell.

... And a ripple, a splash in the equilibrium of their meld, the memory fading away in mutual alarm and surprise that lasted only an instant. Awareness of a sound registered, but in the meld, neither of them could truly hear. Then a confusion of pulling and snagging, burning as by mutual consent he and Jim dragged themselves backwards, shields snapping up and half-up with careless haste. Then they surfaced, once again in their separate minds.

Senses started registering. Spock's eyes opened and he was staring into the widened gold of Jim's, his fingers on the meld-points still, hearing McCoy's voice: "Sickbay to Captain, urgent." It was obviously not the first time he'd said it. Spock's hand fell away. Jim blinked twice, shook his head slightly and winced, then turned and stood in one organic movement. He was at the wall intercom in a moment, but Spock had not missed the waver of disorientation as Jim's balance had failed him when he gained his feet.

"Kirk here."

"Jim, are you alright? I was about ready to send a team down there. I called for you about five times."

"I'm fine, Bones. What was it?"

The Doctor's manner altered, and he said briskly, "A serious injury, Jim. You'd better come down here."

"On my way. Kirk out." He turned with a little smile before leaving. "Another time, I suppose, Mr. Spock."

"Certainly, Captain." He watched the doors slide shut, and remained motionless where he was for several minutes, looking at them.


Since the young woman was in a coma and her condition was quite serious, Jim was relieved to finally notice that the shoulder of her uniform was blue. It meant that Spock would be here soon as well. "The facilities of a starbase could make a real difference to her condition?" he asked Bones.

"I don't know, Jim; that's the thing. They probably could. I would just feel more comfortable with her in the hands of people who have more equipment, the kind of stuff we can't keep here. More detailed monitors. There's no knowing when she'll wake up…."

Spock entered, and Bones trailed off. "Spock. What's the probability that we could divert to the nearest starbase?"

"Unknown, sir." He stepped next to the biobed so their shoulders were even. "That depends partly on Lieutenant Gonning's condition. However, our current destination, Oscurus I, is nearly on the way to Starbase 1117. Perhaps after our mission there."

Jim listened to Spock's summary of their activities on Oscurus. Geologic surveys, anywhere from a day to five. He listened, but he knew he had made up his mind. If they went to the starbase first, four days' warp beyond Oscurus, doubling back to do the surveys and proceeding from there to their next assignment could add as many as ten days, depending on weather patterns on the planet. That delay could prevent their making a rendezvous on time to pick up a shipment of ores. On the other hand, if they finished at Oscurus first, the four days to Starbase 1117 would add two days at the most to the trip to the rendezvous, since it was partly on the way already. Making this kind of calculation, Jim thought, was something he did all the time; it didn't often involve someone's life or death so explicitly. He wasn't happy with saying he couldn't divert, but he said it firmly anyway. From Spock's expression on hearing the verdict, he thought Spock had already known, too. Bones must've been tired, because he didn't argue for more than two or three minutes.

Jim declined the offer of a drink and left the two of them in Sickbay. In his quarters, he paced, barefoot and bare-chested, thinking confused thoughts about the fact that he really needed some time to think, about poor Lieutenant Gonning, about Spock and Bones, about himself and the nature of command, about the hama and the mind meld. The fact that he couldn't focus on any one of them forced him to reluctantly acknowledge the futility of staying awake longer. He picked up the book from earlier in the day, regarded its cover for a moment in silence, then set it aside with a sigh. He would sleep.

An hour or so before he was supposed to wake, Jim's eyes opened abruptly, breaking off a dream and sending its remnants dancing away. He shook his head, but couldn't bring himself to think of sleep. "Computer, lights to fifty percent." A shower left him feeling somewhat refreshed, but a small frown lingered in the lines of his face as he settled into the chair behind his desk with the novel again.

Spock should have been the least perceptive of the bridge crew, considering he was not even human. Regardless of whether he possessed intuition (yes, Jim was sure), reading human moods through Jim's best attempts to camouflage them should have been difficult. Perhaps it was the unique combination of human and Vulcan, Jim thought, looking away from the innocently piercing gaze, or perhaps it was just Spock.

"Yes, Spock, I'm just fine." He sat opposite his first officer and watched Spock's eyebrow rise in silent, polite disagreement over the rim of his teacup.

"Let's try that chess again this evening," Jim said aloud. By the time the "let's" was out it was too late. He had not realized he was going to say that. But he remembered the flash of insight yesterday…his struggles toward some insight, he thought. He needed to talk with Spock. They hadn't talked about the fiasco of a marriage ceremony, or even talked at all since Talos. "And really chess, this time," he added. Chess was more conducive to conversation. They could try the exercise later. Cowardice seemed faintly, unpleasantly associated with his agreement to skip the chess the day before.

"Very well, Captain." Jim allowed the slight frown to melt away under the heat of coffee and the weight of an omelet in his stomach. They stood to walk to the bridge together just as Bones left the replicators with a bowl of something that looked unpleasantly healthy; he took their table as they left it.

Jim had been sitting alone on the darkened observation deck with the book in his hands for most of the time in which he was supposed to be eating lunch. On the way to Engineering to inspect it, he almost literally ran into Spock in the hallway.

"Captain. It is lunchtime, is it not? You have not eaten?"

For some reason, Jim didn't lie. "No, I was just going to go to Engineering."

"I have not eaten, either. If you join me for lunch, I can then accompany you to Engineering. I have an errand there."

For some reason, Jim found himself agreeing. "Very well, Mr. Spock," and he stepped back for Spock to lead the way. (He really hadn't been going to eat.)

When he went to Sickbay, so exhausted he could almost doze off on his feet in the doorway, he had just finished handling the last of a series of minor crises, and it was almost 2200 hours. Chess had been a clear impossibility when at 19:58 he was still in Jeffries tube 8. Gonning's profile was peaceful, cast in low yellow lighting and deep shadows, and just beyond her the forms of Spock and McCoy were visible through the window to McCoy's office. The door was closed, blocking the sound, but Bones was gesturing agitatedly and Spock standing rigidly upright, looking a little over the human head as he spoke-Vulcan body language for I'm offended. Back off.

Damn. McCoy was still on the attack, and Spock looked more and more like he wanted to take a step backward, but would never, of course, take any such eminently illogical action. Jim started across the room towards them, trying to look authoritative and not tired. Bones had seen him through the window, and when he got there, the doctor jerked the door open with unnecessary force and immediately turned to him, hissing,

"Wait just a damn minute, Jim!"

"Bones, please don't…." But he was too tired to exert enough force of personality to stop what was said next.

"That damn Vulcan has no idea what it's like to be human! I suppose I should get tired of waiting for him to display a little sympathy in any case, to go with all that intelligence of his."

Finally, Jim was able to speak over him. "Bones, you know as well as I do that people in comas can still sense their surroundings. Now, I suggest that if your emotions are too powerful for you to control them as Spock does, that you at least take them out of the room and away from your patient." He was clearly right, and it only took a few moments to stare the doctor down.

"I'm sorry, Jim," Bones finally said, still staring at Spock, now with more incomprehension than malice. "I'll be ready to report on her condition in a moment."

Jim caught Spock's gaze, flicked a glance at the door. They waited in the hall.

No matter how many times he lived what felt like the same scene after a confrontation between the two of them, he couldn't fully assure himself that Spock understood Bones. He stole a glance up at the pale face (paler now? Tired?). "Care to tell me what that was about?" he asked evenly.

"The doctor expressed sympathy for the lieutenant's condition as 'undeserved,' an observation which I pointed out was true but hardly relevant or constructive. He invited speculation as to the immediate cause of her injury…." It was almost funny. Jim could probably have guessed the rest of the conversation from there. "I merely observed that many accidents of this nature can be avoided by care, and that humans are prone to lapses in attention in many situations of stress. The doctor took exception to that statement," Spock finished unnecessarily.

"You know," Jim ventured, "that when Bones attacks you personally in an argument like this-it's often an expression of frustration with other events beyond his control. In this instance, he's upset because he's worried about Lieutenant Gonning."

"I surmise that the good doctor also feels some guilt."

Jim considered. "Yes, I think you're right." More silence. "He doesn't really believe that you're not concerned for the welfare of your subordinates."

He had accidentally said something that fortunately brought a slight relaxation. "Indeed, Jim, I believe he is not certain." One eyebrow rising. Jim was only imagining the twitch of the corner of his mouth, surely.

Spock left, and when Bones walked into the corridor, Jim was chuckling softly.

A few days went like that, demanding, with boring sprinkled in for variety, but above all, exhausting. It was another restless day on the bridge. Jim paced behind all his officers at their stations, then in front of his chair, then the stations again, twice. He found himself standing before his command chair after some minutes, like a lost little boy, facing backward and looking at the back of Spock's head, the line of black hair against the pale olive neck, and the curve of his back in blue velour. His mind absently traced the shape of the last few days, and weeks, even, while his eyes absently traced the shape of his first officer's shoulders.

By the time Jim sat down in the command chair again, he had formed the mostly-serious intention of playing chess and talking that night no matter what kind of emergency might come up.


"Kirk to Commander Spock." By coincidence, the captain's communicator call came when he was in Spock's thoughts. Doctor McCoy would have used the human aphorism "to speak of the Devil," a phrase that was imprecise and based on culture-specific data, but also one that had the rare virtue of being immediately understandable.

"Spock here," he said, standing next to the wall intercom in Life Sciences, his right glove in his left hand. It was not so startling a coincidence that Spock should have been thinking of him when he received a communiqué, since his thoughts had been turning to the captain (and not just to his problem, either) with greatly increasing frequency lately. Since their aborted meld, he judged that he had thought of Kirk at least briefly every hour he had been awake. Furthermore, of every three point four hours, he had spent an average of twenty-one point six eight minutes thinking either of the captain or the problem. Since Kirk called him an average of one point five times per day using the intercom, the coincidence had been bound to occur quickly. He had anticipated it for some time.

He was learning to live with illogic large and looming in his mind at all times. He was even learning to grow…accustomed to it. No; he was growing…comfortable with the lack of logic and explanation, though not with the tangle of inexplicable thought and half-repressed emotion. That was still far from comfort-inducing.

"Could you do me a favor? I'm supposed to be giving a lecture to some Security teams, but it falls in the only time I could get long enough for a meeting with both Bones and Scotty about possibly outfitting a shuttle with adequate medical equipment to transport Gonning to the star base ahead of schedule. Anyway, I'd prefer not to reschedule the Security session. I knew you were perfectly capable of giving the talk for me, that is, if you wouldn't mind…. I know you're off now; you're not busy, are you?"

Spock was already stripping off the remaining glove. "No. May I ask the subject of the lecture, sir?"

To his puzzlement, he heard a muffled chuckle before the response came. "I'll do better, I'll tell you. As you know, we're scheduled to pick up a small group of non-humans for training at our next starbase, and their first post is going to be with Security. Since the Andorians are the most human-like of the group, and we have so few non-humans in the crew, I thought Security should have a brief lecture on the cross-cultural interaction they'll be obliged to engage in."

"Understood, Captain."

"Mr. Spock." There was a pause as if he hesitated, which again aroused Spock's curiosity.


"Chess this evening?"

"Certainly. When I have finished in Security, perhaps…?"

"At 18:50, I believe, Commander. Let's try your quarters tonight, for a change. I'm beginning to think that mine are jinxed."

"Jinxed, sir?" he said automatically, although he had a recollection of the term.

"Never mind," he said, sounding near laughter, but not quite chuckling. "Hopefully, I'll be able to explain it to you later this evening. Kirk out."

An hour and a half passed before the wandering attention of an ensign brought the thought, tinged with regret and another emotion…irritation, that Jim would have known immediately what to do to seize the young man's interest. He realized that he'd broken the pattern of four point eight eight days by being so focused on his task that his mind hadn't strayed to the captain in more than an hour. He also realized, immediately afterward, that the thought brought a swift surge of feeling that he unfortunately couldn't analyze with only the portion of his mind not concentrated on the lecture. By the time Spock left at 18:50, half-truthfully claiming a previous engagement, the feeling had faded, and he was unable to gain any new insight to his…state. To his…

…mind. To…

…himself. Intuition, Spock thought, startled by the spontaneous insight. His human blood had been forcing itself on his notice more and more frequently lately. Then he rounded the corner and saw Jim, resting a shoulder against the wall with his back to Spock, his head bent in thought. The reflection of the overhead lights in Jim's hair falling in a circle created the illusion of a luminous white crown. Spock continued walking, but realized somewhat to his surprise that he had not yet said anything. Then, when he opened his mouth, he discovered to his further surprise that no words came, and closed it again in distracted dissatisfaction.

He had not looked away.

"…Jim," he was able to begin, as though it were a new word he had invented for the purpose of this new greeting, but Jim had turned by then, having sensed his presence.

"Hello, Spock. I was right? It was 18:50?"

"I departed at 18:50," Spock replied, palming the lock. "I am not certain that that was the time you had previously arranged with Major DeSousa."

Kirk turned his head to look up curiously as the door slid shut behind them. "You happened to be finished?"

"Computer, lights to seventy-five percent. I finished my lecture before 18:40," he said. "The major was most understanding of my wish not to be late for our appointment. She informs me that she is fully cognizant of how demanding you are as a commanding officer, and further hypothesizes that this quality is associated with your brilliant leadership." He quirked one eyebrow up, daring comment.

Jim raised both of his own eyebrows slowly. Spock was interested to note that his amusement did not manifest itself in laughter this time, but confined itself to the curl of his lips into an unselfconscious smile.

"What do you wish to eat, Jim?" The human only shrugged, an imprecise gesture that Spock now appreciated, as he was able to interpret it correctly. "Old Terran style pasta with vegetable sauce is agreeable?"

A short nod. The captain's eyes were fixed on the currently empty firepot and the traditional shrine behind it. When he'd taken the plate from the replicator, Jim shook his head in silent amusement-which Spock found quite baffling, as he saw no cause for amusement.

Spock opened his mouth to say Captain?, caught himself in time and instead asked, "Jim?" as he seated himself on the other side of the table.

Jim looked up. Now his smile was changed slightly, broader on one side than on the other, in the expression associated with human acknowledgement of irony. Again, this was unexpected. Even with humanity apparently in control of him to an almost terrifying (exhilarating?) degree, certain nuances still escaped Spock's comprehension.

"I was surprised to see spaghetti." Spock raised an eyebrow. "You described it…precisely, but did not use its name. Spaghetti is an extremely common Earth food. It was originally Italian, but has been adapted to the cuisines of all the major cultures. It has been eaten in the former United States for…oh, hundreds of years."

"Then it was your surprise that was humorous."

Jim's hand rested on the edge of the table with a fork in it, and he regarded Spock intently for three point nine seconds, with a completely unreadable facial expression.

Spock thought in the sudden way that he had earlier labeled "intuition" that such expressions could be interpreted through practice and long acquaintance with humans. I will, he thought, surprising himself, be able to interpret all his facial expressions in the future. The prospect was a pleasant one.

"I'm not exactly sure how to explain it," Jim finally said. "It has to do with the way that you said it…and the fact that it was in a manner characteristic of you."

Spock raised his other eyebrow, but commented only, "Indeed." They began to eat.

"Perhaps we should skip the chess tonight," Jim finally began, frowning slightly as he twisted the last noodles on his plate around the fork.

"You are tired?" Spock asked dispassionately, experiencing a slight feeling of disappointment. He had not played chess for several weeks now.

"That's just it." Jim looked up, still frowning thoughtfully. He seemed to be thinking very carefully about something. Spock recognized the look, which usually predicted a fantastic leap of intuition in the immediate future. "I shouldn't be, but I am. Not tired, precisely. I think you were right when you said--" he sighed. "That I'm just worn out. But I shouldn't be." Spock waited for further explanation.

When it came, it surprised him so profoundly that he was not sure he had heard correctly. "Jim?"

"We need to talk," Jim repeated almost grimly, except that he was no longer frowning. He looked up, but his gaze was fixed on a point over Spock's shoulder and he seemed to be lost in thought.

Spock finished processing his initial emotional reaction of relief (that Jim did not wish to leave)/confusion/apprehension. "May I inquire…?"

"I'm not sure," Jim admitted after a pause, coming back to himself and meeting Spock's gaze. A short wait of another point nine seconds produced the explication. "We haven't really talked lately, have we? Not since…just before I diverted to Vulcan."

"It has been longer than that, Jim. I was not myself in the grip of the pon farr," Spock agreed soberly.

"Well, then," his companion said quietly.

Jim accepted a cup of coffee, which he cradled in both hands and sipped gingerly as he settled into a chair. Spock judged that his tea would remain too hot for consumption for one point five minutes. (Perhaps it would be necessary to reprogram the replicator yet again.)

"Perhaps if you could explain…" he began after a moment.

But Jim was shaking his head. "I wish that I could. I just don't have anything concrete. It almost feels as though there was something important that I've forgotten. Something told me we should talk."

Spock was surprised. "I know of nothing important that you might have forgotten."

"No, no," Kirk replied, relaxing slightly in his amusement. He waved one hand dismissively, grinning and looking into his coffee. "I didn't say I had forgotten something. I was merely comparing my idea that I needed to talk to you for some unknown reason to the feeling of having forgotten something."

Spock raised one eyebrow. "Ah. I am not familiar with that sensation."

Jim looked up and started laughing outright. "That's right. You wouldn't be, would you?" The lights in Spock's quarters glinted from his hair. Spock was arrested, and this time realized almost immediately that his reaction was one of aesthetic appreciation for the image. It was what humans would have called dramatic in a work of art, with much contrast between the deep shadows around Jim's jaw and in the hollows of his eyes, and the brilliant highlights.

It was not the first time he had been conscious of the thought that an image of the captain would make a dramatic photograph, or drawing, or painting.

It was the first time he had been conscious of a pang of emotion, or a physical sensation in his reaction.

His situation with regard to Jim (which, though it certainly was a problem, no longer seemed to be adequately described by such a label) was complicating rapidly. If it had been possible to perform an experiment of such a nature, it might have proven interesting to test his reaction to the stimulus of Jim's breath against his eartips in his current state. That was clearly not possible, but he suspected that his reaction would be far different from those he had experienced before and probably from anything he had experienced before. His curiosity, no, his wish to know it was almost capable of overpowering his fear. Neither, of course, could breach the wall of his control. Weaken it, he thought when he realized he had not been paying attention, but not breach it.

"…but what you did, hijacking the Enterprise and Captain Pike, was really extraordinary," Jim was saying.

"Captain. I have already expressed my reasons and my regret for my actions. I cannot offer anything further. To reiterate the points made previously would be pointless."

Jim leaned forward over his knees, gazing penetratingly at Spock. "No. I'm not censuring your actions. Everything that needed to be said about that has been said already, Spock. You're right. When I condemned your behavior, I did so in anger. In hurt. What I'm telling you now is that your actions were exemplary, in every respect, throughout the incident."

Spock was shocked on so many levels that he found himself unable to summon response. He was surprised first that Jim would reverse his thinking on the matter; second that Jim could find his actions admirable (as Spock himself, while acknowledging their necessity, could find no satisfying logical means of excusing his betrayal); third, that Jim could forgive him his actions in order to express that conviction, even if it had been true that they were exemplary and that it was in Jim's character to see that in them. He sat in silence for precisely two seconds before he could force a response, as he knew one was expected. "I…had not expected any such statement," he admitted finally. Though he spoke carefully, his voice was not even. "I am at a loss. I not only cannot agree; I can neither understand it, nor comprehend how you could make it at what must surely be great cost to your pride."

"The cost of lying to myself," Jim replied, "is much greater. You have seen me paying it these last few weeks. I'm tired when I'm not tired, distracted when there's nothing to think about. I forget to eat, I sleep too much and then I forget to sleep. It's as though so much of my mind is devoted to holding the truth away from my consciousness that I can't function as I should-as I must be able to, as captain of this ship."

Spock had failed to take into account, obviously, the great depths of this man and his incredible strength. He bowed his head. "Forgive me, Captain; I have underestimated you."

"No," Jim said gently, and wouldn't continue until the force of his personality drew Spock's eyes up to his again somehow. "Forgive me. My reactions throughout the events around Talos IV were emotional and selfish. Childish. I have made you feel guilt…or, excuse me," with a smile, "I should say, I have made you consider your actions as unwise or imperfect, incorrectly. You would not have doubted them otherwise."

Spock was horrified by the misperception. Every word with which Jim attempted to claim the blame that was Spock's was almost…painful. "I do not regret my actions, as I have said," he attempted to explain. "They were necessary. My loyalty to Captain Pike required them of me. My motivations were personal, so I could not endanger you by taking you into my confidence. I know now that I was naive, but even had it occurred to me that you could be held accountable for my actions regardless, I could not have told you and must still have done everything in my power to return Captain Pike to Talos IV. There was nothing I did that was not inevitable. However, I also know how my actions upset your trust in me. I regret that very much. Furthermore, the betrayal of your trust was not a correct action. It was necessary, but not forgivable."

"Spock, don't you see?" he asked so earnestly that Spock felt his certainty waver. "You were right. You were right to try to save Captain Pike. You were right to keep it from me, whatever my feelings about it. You did not betray me. In order to not betray anyone, yourself, Captain Pike, or me, you took the hardest route: you risked your life and your career, and you made me believe you had betrayed me. You were so correct that you didn't even attempt to explain to me before it was asked of you by the Court Martial."

"I did not deserve your consideration," he responded almost desperately. "I did betray your trust. I did it consciously."

"But you didn't," Jim replied. "Spock. Be logical. You must know that honor doesn't work that way-a separate measure of it for each person with whom you interact. How could my trust in you ever be secure, if you had betrayed Christopher Pike?" Spock said nothing, but a swell of response in him declared the difference between simple ties of honor and respect, and all the myriad things which bound him to Jim. "Even if my belief in you was unshaken, if you were someone who could have ignored those other demands of honor, my trust in you would be misplaced."

Spock considered. "Both positions are logically correct," he decided at last. "They do not, in fact, disagree with one another. My actions were in one sense a betrayal of you and in that sense, irremediable. You are also correct. We are in effect arguing which of the two truths is more powerful, or more important."

Jim nodded, "Whether the end justifies the means."

The situation was not exactly analogous, but that phrase could be used as a tool to describe it if "honor" were taken as the end. "In a manner of speaking," he said.

Jim had that look, slightly predatory, that forecast his coming victory. "I hope you'll take my word, then," he said. "It does."

Spock shifted in his chair, leaning backwards and to one side and stretching his legs in front of him, formulating the correct response. "I cannot cease to regret actions which resulted in pain for both of us," he said, pausing on a rising note so that it was clear he was not finished.

"Yes." Jim nodded, still narrow-eyed in pursuit of mutual understanding.

"That said," he continued, looking up to meet Jim's eyes honestly, "I cannot reject your word."

A moment passed before Jim had completely evaluated his statement, then a smile spread across his face that was full of grace, almost painful to see in its innocent purity of gratified pleasure.

No: it was painful to see, because it sparked in Spock the most unexpected reaction yet, a swift internal brightening till the intensity of a single emotion-tenderness-demolished all his self-deceptions in one beautiful, fell swoop and threatened to burn through his skin likewise, or perhaps to radiate from his eyes. As he had remained frozen in place, his eyes were still fixed on Jim, and he saw the dark eyelashes sweep down over the curves of his cheeks, and the large smile fade until all that remained was a sensual curve to his lips, so seductive that for almost a full second Spock held to the illogical thought that it was inconceivable that Jim hadn't intended it. And hard on the heels of the other emotion came a new surge, almost overpowering: desire.


"Lieutenant Uhura, report!" he screamed again, and he was crying. He never cried. The communicator seemed to be part of the wall; at least, that's where her image was, calm and collected, dressed in a high-throated gown of blood-red, with white satin gloves to her upper arms and heavy gold jewelry in her hair.

The Enterprise (which, while still itself, was the approximate shape of a standard shuttlecraft, only somewhat larger) lurched violently again; the lights would have flickered, but they were out, and Jim wasn't sure if the pool of darkness in the corner was shadow or blood. The communications signal was obviously interrupted, because while Uhura's image stayed true, the voice faded out, then in, in a series of short, incomprehensible blurps.

James Kirk was extremely frustrated and very, very frightened.

"...I'm sorry, sir," Uhura concluded with a delicate shrug. "I'm just really not sure about those readings you asked for and it would be too much trouble to get them right now. You understand."

"Lieutenant, we are dealing with a life or death situation!" he growled, not a little incredulously.

"Captain, do you have any idea how long it would take to get in contact with astronomy?" she said, sounding a little put out. "And then they would want to call Engineering, and someone would need a subspace channel to the nearest starbase and they would want me to look something up and I'm sorry, but I really don't feel like it."

"Goddammit, Uhura, I have to know the stats on this anomaly so I can get the hell out of here, and I don't have a lot of time to kill! They'll get him."

She actually started chuckling. "Don't get so worked up about it, sir," she said. "Maybe later." And cut the connection.

Jim fell to the floor, fists clenched helplessly, and darted a fearful look towards the closed door to the rear compartment. Then he turned resolutely from it to face the instrument panels…and that dark pool in the corner.

When he knelt in front of it, he was certain it couldn't be blood because there was no smell, so he reached out to touch it. His finger encountered a tense surface somewhat like gelatin that gave to pressure and bounced back. It took several seconds for the cold to set in, but then it made him gasp with the pain as it spread burning-numbing up into his hand. His elbow was starting to tingle with the fore-effects of it before he heard the pounding on the second door, which seemed mounted on the exterior hull. However, when he opened it cautiously, gripping his now-numb hand, he glimpsed a room on the other side before Spock fell through and slammed it shut.

"Spock!" he exclaimed, astounded. "I thought you were in the other compartment. I thought," and his voice lowered, wavered, "they had you."

Spock shook his head, still struggling to catch his breath. Then his eyes lit on the way Jim was clutching his left wrist; he reached out and seized it. "You are hurt!"

The numbness gave way to a stab of fresh pain that left him gasping, and he could barely speak: "Yes."

Spock glanced towards the sealed and barricaded doors to the rear compartment where their enemies were trapped. Then he apparently made his decision. He dragged Jim after him back through the door into a near-empty room with walls and ceiling upholstered in dark red. This fact hardly had time to register; Jim collapsed to the floor, dizzy with shock and adrenaline, pain and relief and a number of other concerns. Spock knelt in front of him, mumbling something about the infection, and lifted Jim's wrist to examine it in the light.

All Jim could see was the fall of his smooth dark hair, a glimpse of nose, the blue line of his shoulders. He was not even surprised when Spock closed the remaining distance between his face and Jim's hand and laid his lips in the palm.

The touch scorched through the ice, spreading painful tingling waves, but it banished whatever the "infection" had been. (It seemed appropriate, given the ritual feel of the gesture.) As soon as Jim could feel his hand again, he caught Spock's head in his hands and lifted it so that he was staring at his first officer's pale face framed in the tan curves of his own thumb and forefinger. He didn't stare for very long; whatever guided his motions was as implacable as religious ritual, as though there really was nothing he could do but drift forward into a calmly searing commingling of lips, no alternative to this first kiss so even and sure that he knew on some level, they had been practicing for years. No solace in the wild pitching and sensor blackout of this Enterprise but the insanity of this brief, fragile new embrace….

Maybe there wasn't.

He woke up. There were tears on his pillow. Jim struggled free of the last clinging strands of the dream, shaking his head and wiping his cheeks with one hand as he used the other to prop himself up. He opened his mouth to ask the time, but then the communicator chirped again, and Bones said agitatedly, "Sickbay to Captain!" and he rolled out of bed, hit the transmitter button.

"Kirk here." Where did that come from? he was thinking.

Bones' voice was grim: "Jim, you'd better get down here."

"On my way." He was already standing by the closet, but he hadn't quite stopped thinking of the dream yet. The fact that he was so shaken up and the further fact that the novel idea was still such a turn-on, he thought grimly, seemed to mean it was more on the order of repressed desires stirred to the surface by recent events than of random flukes that you would be able to laugh about a few days later….

Still bleary from sleep and his mind fixed firmly ahead on Sickbay and what he would find there (another emergency so soon? Surely not another injury), his lips still tingling not-unpleasantly, he was barely aware of struggling into uniform. The floor of the corridor was already muffling the fast falls of his boots before he had tugged the sleeves and hem of the gold tunic into place.

He found Bones' back to the door and the patient, watching Chris Chapel through the window into the sealed lab. She was mixing something scientific, metal and glass instruments and vials spread around her in an arch on the table.

"Bones," he called. The doctor turned from the window.

"I don't think Gonning's got long, Jim," he said, his voice a little low, his face pulled taut.

"What! Why, what's gone wrong?"

"Her medication has. She's been hooked to the computer for biomonitoring. I ordered a mild stimulant that's been shown in clinical studies to have a positive effect in cases like this.

"The instruments started going haywire, and at first I didn't know what was wrong. She's having a severe allergic reaction to the drug, Jim. The histamine blockers I gave her had no effect. Neither of those things should have been possible, given its content. Nurse Chapel took it into the lab to have a look for me…it's a bad batch. Its chemical makeup is all wrong; no wonder poor Lieutenant Gonning's body is trying to fight it off. It's somehow affecting her brain function. All this activity--" he pointed to a printout-- "is abnormal. I think it's in danger of locking her permanently into the coma if this continues."

Jim ran over and over it in his mind. "This wouldn't have happened if we'd gone first to the station."

"Now don't blame yourself, Jim!" Bones replied urgently, his blue eyes snapping in irritation. "You know we wouldn't have reached the station yet, anyway. This is not your fault."

Jim was pacing the little space beside the bed (four steps if they were small and slow, an awkward one and a half if they were long). "So what are you saying, doctor?" he finally demanded.

Bones put his hands on his hips, met the captain's gaze squarely. "If she doesn't wake up in the next-oh, forty minutes, hour-, she probably never will."

There was a dark silence in the room. Jim continued to pace. There it was. To lose a crewmember to something like this.

"Is there anything you can do to wake her?"

"I don't dare risk another drug now, even after we've made sure it's got the correct makeup. Christine's in there now, trying to test the interactions, but we've got a snowball's chance in hell of getting positive results from that in time. Other than that, there's nothing but hope."

Jim stopped near the head of the bed, gazing down on Lieutenant Gonning's face. She was a little younger than he himself, a petite girl with a mass of wildly curly beige blonde hair spread behind her head on the pillow. Her chin and nose were pointed, and there was a dusting of freckles along her cheekbones and forehead. Pale blonde eyelashes glinted. In the low light, her face appeared sickly-pale and waxen. She was so fragile and innocent.

Bones' voice broke softly into his reverie. "Chris talked to other ensigns in Science and some of Gonning's friends. They say they're not certain that her fall was really a freak accident. She was engaged to a young Betazoid, a medical assistant on the Plutarch. She'd just received word that morning that he was killed in the line of duty."

"A Betazoid," Kirk repeated dumbly.

"They're empaths," Bones said, and suddenly his voice was coming from a great distance as the whole world stood still momentarily to allow the chain reaction of intuitive thought to play itself out in Jim's mind. "It's probable that they had a rudimentary link, which would have been broken with his death."

Jim shook himself and lifted his head abruptly. He was at the wall intercom in two long strides, paging Spock's quarters. "Kirk to Spock. Kirk to Spock. Urgent."

"Jim?" Bones asked in a whisper, coming to stand next to him and staring at him in utter confusion.

"Spock here." the voice came over the intercom collected and distinct. (Spock would never sound as if he'd just woken up, Jim thought.)

"Mr. Spock, you're needed in Sickbay. There's been a development. Situation is critical."

"On my way. Spock out."

It was fortunate that nothing in their circumstances required Jim to shift his gaze from Spock, because he probably couldn't have summoned the necessary strength of will. Spock listened to Bones' quick summary with his lips curved in a frown of concentration, then turned his head to look at Jim and lifted one eyebrow in inquiry.

"Lieutenant Gonning's fall may not have been simple coincidence. She had just received word that her fiancé on board the Plutarch was killed. Her fiancé was a Betazoid, Spock."

Now the other eyebrow rose in startled sudden comprehension, and his eyes sharpened. "An empath," he said.

"It's possible the two of them shared a telempathic link."

"If they intended marriage, Captain," Spock corrected, "and the young man was raised on Betazed, I would say it is almost certain. If his empathic abilities were particularly weak, that might prevent a link. On the other hand, the more powerful an empath he was, the stronger the effect on the lieutenant would have been." His tone was interested, and Jim could almost feel irritation rising in Bones next to him.

"Bones, I want records on Gonning's fiancé."

"Captain, I'm sure Nurse Chapel…."

"Yesterday, Doctor." Bones retreated to his office without another mutter. "How likely do you think it is that the hypothetical severed link could have some effect on her body's response?"

"In Vulcans, the effects are severe but rarely immediately life-threatening with a bond so young. It is likely that it affected her fall, and possible that it could have a different, more profound effect on Lieutenant Gonning, since she is human." Spock was watching him intently, waiting to have Jim's thoughts revealed to him, patiently silent, alert and efficient (and of course, radiant with controlled power and usually-unobtrusive sexuality).

"Given her problem may be partially telepathic…."

The lines of Spock's body straightened from anticipation to understanding. "You wish me to attempt a meld to save her."

"To wake her."

"In this instance," Spock replied calmly, "those objectives are one and the same."

Yes. "Is it possible?"

"It is-possible that through a meld, I would be able to return her mind to consciousness."

Jim's eyes narrowed sharply at that pause. "But? Why did you hesitate just then?"

"There are too many variables to make any kind of prediction. I could prove unable to reach her mind, or unable to affect it."

Jim nodded deliberately, turning that over in his mind. "Alright. Then the next question is whether it's safe for you."

Spock raised one eyebrow. "Captain, I have never encountered any information to make me doubt its safety. However, as I have said, such an endeavor would carry a high degree of uncertainty. I do not know what to expect."

"That's not acceptable. I can't make a decision without a prediction. You're far more qualified than I to guess the outcome. I need your judgment," he forced himself to say, although he didn't like the idea of the risk-especially now, which made it immeasurably worse.

Spock frowned. "If you wish the attempt to be made, I will make it. As captain, you are accustomed to relying on your own judgment and intuition. You are also uniquely qualified to do so. I have no reservations about accepting your decision."

Jim's mind raced with frustration and instincts speeding up to the whirlwind-force that always swept him along in crisis, leaving reason far behind. One whispered voice from his unconscious told him to order the meld, but another part whispered that Spock lied, that "uncertainty" and "danger" were one and the same, that what if this were the time, what if he were hurt now? "Dammit-!" he hissed.

Because the loudest voice of all screamed the need for haste, and it was the one he must give in to. His mouth opened, and "Do it" was coming out in the hard cold command voice that he was sometimes surprised to hear.

Those were the good times, because the other times he suspected it was the truest voice he possessed.

Spock had already nodded while Jim's whirling thoughts automatically coalesced, concentrating into the narrow knot of focused attention necessary in this situation. Control-he had it, all right.


This, Jim's swift and nearly unconsidered intuitive leap from uncertainty to correct decision, was how Jim had earned his unquestioning devotion. It was a measure of Spock's comfort in the other's presence that his descent into trance was not even slowed by Jim's speaking to him, nor by the necessity of reply: "Would it be better if I left?"

"No," Spock said with his eyes closed, speaking in the measured rhythm of his breathing. "Your presence may serve as an anchor, which could balance the uncertainty of melding with an unknown such as an unconscious and possibly wounded mind." Jim was silent, then, and Spock's awareness of him faded to an unobtrusive sense of support. This was why he would not question their interaction now, when the ability to function as one was crucial.

He would not admit any doubt of his motives in agreeing or his motives in having Jim remain in the room, where normally a Vulcan would attempt this in solitude. He would not attempt to analyze his own logic for error, because he knew that it was there, but did not know whether he would find it.

He would not cease a habit-his utter faith in Jim-which had never failed, which had produced astounding victory, simply because it also felt good.

He would dismiss all these thoughts and let his mind grow like a still pool with a cohesive and liquid sense of intent, and wait only for Jim's attention so that he would know he should begin.

Peripheral vision showed him the cessation of movement as Jim, standing a few feet away by Lieutenant Gonning's feet, turned to look at him and gave the short nod. His fingertips settled lightly to the meld points.

Spock felt nothing, no current of emotion from the warm skin. The girl was in a coma, and could have been psi-null; with a mental shrug, he began. "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts…."

Beyond awareness of sight, he sensed the swell of the girl's mind but did not contact it. Summoned, and was denied. Reached, and was thwarted.

Spock's eyes opened, and he frowned. It should not have been possible for a meld to fail so completely. "It is as though I had encountered an invisible barrier," he murmured aloud.

Jim stirred in concern, but didn't move further and said nothing. Spock took a moment to collect himself again, to let go his grip on the room and drift inward, before he repeated, "My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts…."

Again, the sense of separation was there, and again, it repulsed his attempt at contact. He had half-expected it, though, this time. He repeated the words in his mind to strengthen himself, //My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts.// The words were intended to induce the shallow trance-state which Spock had already achieved, but he repeated them again as he extended himself, and again was forced to turn back.

Returning to himself would be pointless, and any avenue of exploration other than this was impossible. All he could do was reach for meld again and again. He drew his sense of Gonning's mind into alignment firmly with his image of her small white face, visualized his hand clearly to accompany a concentrated effort to reach her. //My mind to your mind,// he said, and threw the force of will behind his push, //My thoughts// he strained against the barrier //To your thoughts.// Without ceasing to push forward, Spock said aloud, "I had not anticipated this difficulty in reaching someone in a coma. I cannot reach her.… I will try again."

He tested the strength of the barrier. It was like and yet unlike a shield he might have encountered in another's mind, the same feel, but more flexible. If Gonning had created her mental shields using the visualization of a net rather than of a wall as he had been taught, they might have produced this effect. Curious that shields would strengthen in a coma, as they often relaxed in sleep and other forms of unconsciousness. He had read of nothing like this, but then, he had known of the existence of so many unknown variables, and had warned Jim of them himself.

He narrowed his concentration further, sinking deeper into a meditative trance state, and stretched himself once more into contact with the shield in a single concentrated spot (one "strand" of the "net," perhaps). Then he gathered himself together in preparation and thrust forward with all of his consciousness against the single point. //My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts…//

All in an instant of frozen time, Spock felt something give, felt the disturbance rustling and shivering across the surface of his mind. He felt his body stretch taut, then slump limply as blazing agony waited like a wave poised to rush over him. He felt the jar as his weight was caught suddenly under the shoulders and at the contact, in the instant before a fount of pain became all he knew, he felt through the touch a bitter ecstasy of terror and guilt.



By the time the weight of Spock's deceptively slender unconscious body had forced him to his knees on the floor, Jim was in control of the flood of panic. (Though not of the emotional and mental whirlwind that was his painful self-revelation-that tremendous surge of panic, grief, guilt, the result of repressed sexual attraction, close friendship? Oh, God, if only it could be.) Nothing he could do about it-think. He couldn't move Spock, couldn't put him down. Shifting his grip so his right wrist wasn't bent so awkwardly under the angle of the Vulcan's shoulder blade, he called, "Bones!"

The doctor appeared after only three tries and stood looking down at them. Spock was sprawled on the floor, the austere beauty of his angular face bleached white with strain and dyed with shadow a gray pallor that brought a throbbing ache to life in Jim's gut.

"My God!" he exclaimed. "What happened here?" Jim spared a glance up at the concern on his face.

"He was having trouble initiating the meld. Then he just seized up and went limp. He was in great pain, though. Something went wrong."

Bones was pulling out the medical tricorder. "He was able to speak?"


"Then how do you know?"

Jim's eyes were fastened downward, at the tip of one pointed ear pressed bent against his own golden tunic, just above his diaphragm, and the satin-smooth curve of dark hair above it. It was a sight of horror and sweetness mixed almost unbearably.

"I-" With an effort, he dragged his mind to the doctor's question. How did he know? "When I touched him, before he lost consciousness, I felt it."

Bones raised his eyebrows, but made no comment. "It's like a trance, Jim," he said after a moment, consulting the tricorder reading.

"Yes, but how do we get him out of it?"

"For the healing trance, you would just slap him really hard a coupla times. I wouldn't try that, though, if this is brought on by trauma-it's not the healing trance, readings are different. It's like he's partly unconscious and partly in a trance-a very deep one. I don't know, Jim; I don't like it. It could be dangerous. His system is showing signs of stress, like going into shock."


"-I don't know."

Jim looked up and let his eyes hold the full force of his fierce desperation for a fraction of a second, and spoke in the unyielding voice of the captain. "Figure it out."

Bones crouched next to Spock and studied his face with an intent frown. "I could give him a shot of something; don't know how well that would work. We could slap him; it probably wouldn't do much harm, at least. We could just wait for a while and see what happens, or…." His voice trailed away.

Jim frowned; obviously, Bones had really meant that he didn't know. Like Spock had said, unknown variables by the dozens complicated the situation.

That was no excuse for not taking action.

His fingers itched to try the shape of Spock's face and the texture of his hair, to see if he'd dreamed them correctly.

"Get a hypo," he ordered after a few seconds. Though he was aware that he was still frowning, with his eyes narrowed, he couldn't stop.

"I'll mix something," the doctor replied quietly, and moved towards the little lab next to the one Chapel still occupied.

Jim's attention was so focused on the top of Spock's head, the cap of ebony and the upswept points of the eyebrows that he could just see from this strange angle, that he was hardly aware of shifting Spock's weight to free his left hand. There was a precarious second or two when he thought he wasn't strong enough and he would drop Spock, but after some swift movement, he was still holding his head and shoulders off of the floor, and his hand rested at his side.

While he knew and accepted that as captain, it was his responsibility to make judgment calls, that didn't mean he was able to banish the guilt. Hadn't he made the decision to order a meld after a struggle with the selfish part of him that (now more than ever) wanted to keep Spock safe? Had he decided as if to prove something-to prove something, hell, to prove wrong the self-image-inverting suspicion sparked by the dream-in reaction to that impulse?

If only this could have happened tomorrow or the day after, after he had had time to contemplate and understand and come to terms with that disturbing (compelling, elating) dream. He would. Perhaps later it would not be so difficult. He tried to imagine this scene happening any other way, and suddenly wondered whether the dream had changed anything. Before he was aware of this confusing desire, wouldn't he have ordered the same thing, caught Spock as he fell, allowed the rest of the universe to recede in his concern? Wouldn't he have done anything, risked anything for Spock before? Hadn't he already been willing to?

Yes. He had and would. That was why he had lifted one of those strong, elegant hands to his face and was manipulating the slender fingers carefully to rest in the familiar spots on his own face. He whispered the words and spoke them mentally as well, as he'd done before in that other meld. "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts."

Jim would've expected forming a meld to be different one-sided, like perhaps he would have to stretch into contact with Spock's mind all himself. Instead, Spock flowed swiftly to meet him. One second of the motion he had learned before, the forward push, and then-

Conflagration. The first contact with Spock's mind became like diving into an expanding wave of blinding incandescent light. Part of him began to feel fear, because of the intensity and speed of whatever it was that was happening to him as his whole being tore wide open all at once, fingers of the light racing through him, the sensation of falling dominating his mind with a curious laughing exhilaration. It was like a whirlwind of sensation, and as its speed peaked, before it released him, he actually lost consciousness for a split-second. Another instant was then over before he realized what had happened. He and Spock were now melded as deeply as they'd been before, all the way to memory; he was floating in the midst of Spock's sleeping mind.

No: he realized on the thought that he was reaching effortlessly deeper, so easily he had not noticed. //Wake up.// The response was a pulse of the serenity that already surrounded him. It wasn't good enough. He wanted Spock awake. //Seeking with urgency-demand.// The same reply as before. Deepening the meld now was delicate work; he was certain (or Spock was?) that he was reaching the limit of what he could manage untrained. All the work was doubled or trebled by his determination not to perceive whatever should remain guarded from him.

But it worked. Finally, when he felt stretched very thin across the expanded space of two minds, the wish rose in him again, and it was found, caught by something. Jim seized onto it, wouldn't let go, and felt the threads of himself twining into it until….

Spock woke, like a light being switched on in the depths of their mind(s).

A clamor of relief and joy spilled from him uncontrollably, somehow amplified by this close contact. The raw true realness of all that emotion might have embarrassed him. It was mirrored, though, by something as vast and warm, if less clamorous, in Spock, as the other gained full awareness. There was a pause that seemed as dramatic and tense to Jim's adrenaline-charged mind as any millisecond reasonably could, in which he felt from Spock first a wave of confusion, and then a few tiny pricks of dismay. The emotions washed over both of them through the link and Jim barely had time to inquire why--maybe Spock simply had to re-oriented himself, and remember what had happened? Before a tendril of curiosity could unfurl, Spock had himself apparently under control. The worry blanked out; Jim was floating in a warm sea of sturdy, implacable calm. He could hardly--couldn't--remember what--the relief lapping gently at him was deep and clear, and he'd never seen an emotion like a visual image before; if he dipped his fingers in it, it could almost have gone to the bottom of his consciousness-- --for a moment he almost forgot his purpose and lost himself in the slow-moving liquid mingling of their minds.

But there was no time to waste-at the same instant they began the slow, careful withdrawal from a meld that was proper, untangling and centering, not just pulling back. Up he went, through memory, the processing layers of the conscious mind, sub-verbal and verbal thought.

//Thank you,// Spock said, just before they pulled apart and shook themselves aware. (Weren't thanks illogical?) Then they were blinking, and Spock shook his head a little, looking confused.

"Thank God," whispered fervently on a released breath, was the first thing they heard. Jim turned his head to see Bones standing a few feet away. "Jim, how you pull off crazy stunts like this I will never understand."

Spock, Jim was relieved to see, was able to sit up, then stand with no trouble. "The captain did for me what I was attempting to do for the lieutenant: initiated a meld, and used the contact to call my mind back to consciousness." He added to Jim, "With your leave, sir, I will attempt to wake the lieutenant at this time, and explain later. I believe I understand all now. The problem I experienced before should not occur again."

"Report," he requested, glancing up at Spock's profile. He was still pale, but under the normal lights didn't appear so ill. It made Jim feel less sick himself, but no less guilty.

"The lieutenant has regained consciousness and her condition is stabilizing; the doctor anticipates that he will be occupied for several more hours, and says he will report tomorrow."

"But you said you had understood what happened…?"

Spock frowned. "Apparently, sir, I was not able to initiate a meld with Lieutenant Gonning at first because, though I did not know it, my mind was engaged at the time in another…meld."

Jim stopped in his tracks. Spock paused, turned and raised an eyebrow. "But that's impossible!"

"Obviously it is not, Captain," he returned. "It is, however, extremely surprising. I am not aware of another instance of this phenomenon."

"What-melding unconsciously?"

"The meld was not initiated unconsciously," Spock corrected. "We formed it together three point two eight days ago in the gym. When we withdrew from it so rapidly, we did so incorrectly. I believe that we dissolved only the conscious portions of the meld at that time, leaving the deeper elements intact. It seems to have remained in place as a kind of link since then, without our awareness."

They started walking again. "You said this has never happened before?"

"To my knowledge it has not."

Jim was too tired to be exactly certain of what he thought about that. He suspected it was a ridiculous kind of completely unjustified pride, or, worse yet, hope. "So what exactly caused you to lose consciousness?"

"I believe that that, also, was a result of attempting to form a new meld while the pathways of my mind were still occupied with the old one."

They were rounding the corner, and the white of the walls glowered antiseptically, so that he had to resist the urge to close his eyes. "Ah." Jim couldn't stifle a yawn, let alone force his mind into any kind of new understanding over the tattered throbbing of fatigue. He would obviously have to discuss this more after he had thought about it, which he would not be able to do until after he had slept. "What time is it, Mr. Spock?"

"Two point six minutes till 0600 hours."

"You are excused from Alpha shift to sleep, which is what I also plan to do. I'll see you later this morning, for a talk."

"Aye, sir."

Jim squashed the urge to stand and watch Spock vanish into his quarters. He was almost shocked at himself, but not quite, when he realized he was hoping for the conclusion of the earlier dream.


The first stab of pain, like an echo of the incident in Sickbay, fortunately came while he alone and asleep. When the agony released him, Spock found himself completely awake, though by no means rested.

The error in his logic was now painfully self-evident-inescapably, literally painful, the judgment of his weakness forced on him, etched burning in his mind. It was clear that he had not allowed himself to consider that the link formed by the improperly-terminated meld had, in fact, been a bonding link because he had feared that eventuality. The link's implications-its staggering irony-were as cruel as the pain of the withdrawal attack he experienced. It was the inevitable result of a bond broken, as he had broken this one.

It had been only three point four hours since his initial collapse; he had slept for only one point eight three hours. That was clearly insufficient sleep, given the drain of so many melds on his energy reserves. The two attacks themselves had taken something from him as well. Spock forced himself back to sleep despite the danger posed by the possibility of experiencing another attack while unconscious.

The second attack interrupted the deep meditation that he had deemed safer than sleep after a minimal four more hours. It was a full second shorter than the preceding one, and this allowed Spock the hope that they would be mild enough by the time one struck him standing that he might not fall as he had in Sickbay. He consumed several small cups of tea before he left his quarters for Sickbay, but no food. The attacks and the insufficient rest had somewhat upset his body's equilibrium, but of course, he must still report for Beta shift at 16:00, and before that, he needed to speak to the doctor about the injured crew woman.

Her eyes were closed, although her skin had a warmer tint, caused, no doubt, by increased flow of blood. The door to McCoy's office stood open, and the captain was conversing with him within quietly. Spock approached. "…You wouldn't have let him do it otherwise," McCoy was saying in an intense whisper, "And if I'd thought the danger was unacceptable, I wouldn't have let him, either, Jim, you know that!" They looked up at his approach, but he had surmised already that he was the topic of conversation.

"Spock," the captain greeted him, studying his face carefully, "How do you feel?"

"I believe I have rested sufficiently, sir, to regain the energy depleted by last night's telepathic activities and enable my functioning for Beta shift today." He turned to the doctor: "Am I correct that the lieutenant is not unconscious, but merely asleep?"

"Yes, Spock. Whatever you did worked beautifully. She stabilized very quickly. Nurse Chapel and I were able to reverse the effects of the bad medication, and she's been sleeping soundly for several hours now." He was evidently, as McCoy would say, "in the doctor's good graces" for his efforts on the lieutenant's behalf.

"I am gratified," Spock replied, inclining his head, since an answer was obviously expected.

When that response--or perhaps the manner in which it was uttered; the doctor was really peculiarly absorbed with that issue-seemed inadequate and caused McCoy to make a face, the captain intervened hastily, "Well, Bones, you've done a good several days' work all in one night. I want you and Nurse Chapel both to go get some rest now. Just take the day off, report back for Alpha shift tomorrow. Spock and I will be on the bridge for Beta shift…. Spock." He indicated the door with a jerk of his head, and they left Sickbay side-by-side.

Unfortunately, Spock's hope that he would be able to keep his balance when an attack took him on his feet remained unfulfilled. At least they had left Sickbay already, and the doctor was not a witness to his collapse; now he had only Jim's concern to deal with, the human hands on his ribcage, the confusion and fear in the wide hazel eyes when he regained control and opened his own.

He had not lost consciousness that time, and Jim had not touched him until the pain had receded, so that no telepathic communication passed between them other than his impression, through those hands, of the same emotions he had found in the captain's face. Spock was slumped against the bulkhead in the corridor, his head lolling limply on his neck, and Jim crouched in front of him. "Spock! What was that?"

He searched for and found the power of speech, and stood because it was necessary to move away from the disturbing contact with Jim's hands. "Captain," he said, "Evidently…I did not rest sufficiently, after all."

If any doubt had remained, Spock was now certain that he and Jim had, improbable and illogical as it seemed, inadvertently formed a full bonding-link. This he had first weakened in his attempted melds with Lieutenant Gonning and then severed with his consciously complete withdrawal from the meld with Jim in Sickbay. The recurrence of these attacks eliminated the possibility of other cause. Furthermore, though the debilitating mental spasm had passed, through the captain's touch he had felt the other's emotions as should not have been possible without a very high level of attunement between their consciousnesses. And finally, although the pain had been gone, the contact with the captain's thoughts had brought a faint echo of it back to life, like a small shudder of loss in the new gray dull place within himself.

"I can't allow you on the bridge like this."

Spock realized that he had allowed his eyes to close again, and that he was leaning heavily on the wall. He stood up, opened his eyes and returned Jim's gaze. "Perhaps that is wise," he admitted.

Jim's lips firmed into a tight, narrow line. "Come on," he said. "You're going to your quarters." He took Spock's arm in his hand and pulled him away from the wall. They moved down the hall with Spock leaning on Jim for balance. Although the contact was difficult to bear, he acknowledged that he had little choice. "You will sleep for all of Beta and Gamma shifts, if necessary," he said as they approached the turbolift. "None of that meditation, Mr. Spock."

He could not lie, so he did not answer. Of course he must sleep, but he would also spend as long as necessary to discover how he might deal with this problem. How he would manage to suppress or control his physical reaction to the effects of a broken bonding-link, which had been known to cause insanity in the past, when he could not suppress or control his emotional reactions to the proximity of this human, Spock did not know. (He found his previous absorption with that lesser problem almost amusing, now: his feelings for Jim were the least of his worries. He could not even spare the effort to suppress them, or to hide them from himself.)


"I…will do what is necessary," he said, controlling his voice tightly. His nose was a scant five point six two inches from the human's hair, and he could smell soap.

"Sleep," Jim replied, steering him into the turbolift.

"I will sleep," he agreed, and stood up on his own feet with an effort.

In his dream, the captain was dressed in a very formal Vulcan robe. The sigils on the sash were those of the house of Sarek, as he might have worn, had the bonding link between them occurred…otherwise. They were in the Federation Council chambers, which Spock remembered only vaguely from glimpses in his childhood and as a cadet. There were no others present.

Did the Council chamber have a skylight? He thought not-perhaps it was that no image of Jim was truly complete without the shaft of sunlight caressing him, even an alien Jim who looked powerful and collected in his robes, and not at all restless. In truth it was a bit large for him and hung long over his hands.

Jim lifted one hand and held out the first two fingers to Spock. Spock, frozen motionless, blinked before he lifted his own hand. It was all very slow, and he wasn't sure if he alone was moving slowly, or the entire dream was. It was hard to believe that he was reaching out to return such a gesture, but he seemed to have no control over his movement. Then everything shifted. Suddenly they stood on the bridge of the Enterprise. Spock was wearing the formal robes; Jim was in uniform. His back was to Spock, who stood stupidly with two fingers still extended. Then Jim looked over his shoulder and gave Spock a questioning, professional little smile, lifting his eyebrows. Spock let his hand fall.

The captain frowned. "Mr. Spock, your station is unmanned." Spock started towards it; then he realized the state of his attire and went to the turbolift instead. The doors closed, and as they did, the lights blinked out, leaving him in complete darkness, lost. There was no sense of movement. He reached out for the wall of the turbolift. Nothing was there. He fell forward, stumbled over something, and continued falling, and falling, feeling all his body coiling tight and tense, involuntarily anticipating his eventual impact. It never came, just more falling, more terror, and for some reason, it was difficult to breathe. It seemed as though the headache took him by surprise. It didn't crash over him all at once. Instead, he realized that it had been growing for some time. Either way, it felt as though his whole mind were on fire.

Spock began to scream.

His eyes opened. His body was rigid. He felt pain, dimly, in the palms of his hands where his fingernails had dug into them. The attack, rather than waking him, had intruded on his dreams, as he had known it might. He had been in some real danger, he thought with rather detached horror, of dying in his sleep.

Finally Spock sat up and went to get his meditation robe. He had slept, this time, for six point eight six hours. Perhaps that was an indication that the frequency of the attacks would gradually decrease?

He was obviously in need of information on the subject. He would see to it as soon as he had meditated. What he needed most desperately was his former control over his own body. That, unfortunately, was out of reach, and might never be his again.

Spock meditated, lightly, and then deeply, and then lightly again, for precisely two and one-third hours. This left less than eight hours for resting, which would be an adequate amount of sleep, assuming it were uninterrupted. Of course, that was unlikely; the other attacks had been closer together than that. He had in mind a meditation technique to control the attacks, which he wouldn't be able to test unless he was awake.

If an attack struck during Alpha shift on the bridge, and his meditation technique did not work, it was likely that the entire bridge complement would witness it. Jim would connect the two occurrences, and he would be forced once more to offer explanation. When he had told Jim of the dark Vulcan secret of the plak tow, he had not imagined he could ever have a more surreally unpleasant and embarrassing conversation. Explaining the attacks would necessitate a thorough explanation of bonding links and would necessitate confession of his…weakness…for the human, his former absorption with it. He could not lie to Jim.

It had been nearly eight hours, and the next attack should be soon, if it followed the previous pattern at all. He could use the computer to search for information and thus remain awake. Or he could meditate further.

He needed sleep badly. As he stood next to the computer terminal, indecisive, his hands trembled, and he felt cold, though he knew the temperature setting had not been changed. Fatigue.

He had told Jim he would sleep.

He was seated alone in the mess hall, as neither Jim nor Doctor McCoy had yet entered, when his mind twisted, burning, within him. Spock forced himself to stillness and centered his awareness quickly, entering the third level of meditation all at once. He concentrated on remaining motionless for the remaining one point zero two seconds until he was once again free, when he rose from meditation. His eyes had remained open.

His childhood interest in meditation and drive to match or out-perform his full-blooded Vulcan peers had served him well, apparently. Without the extensive practice that had honed many of the mechanics of meditation to reflex, he would not have been able to enter the third level so quickly without extensive preparation, isolation, and darkness. Meditating with one's eyes open was something children practiced for the novelty, and left when they reached adulthood and the discomfort was no longer worth the achievement.

Spock returned to eating a replicated salad. The replicators were quite sophisticated, and, indeed, Spock had spent a total of seven point four hours in the last six months doing what Jim called "tweaking" their programming to alter the flavors, particularly of the vegetables. Their taste was usually satisfactory. This morning, his capacity to enjoy taste had no doubt been eroded by the stresses of the past twenty-four hours. He forced himself to finish eating his salad in any case; the lack of rest, in addition to the broken bonding-link, had weakened him.

He felt some satisfaction that his theory about the meditation technique's efficacy had been proven correct. It would enable him to function during Alpha shift through the next several days, while he finished researching the phenomenon and determined what to do. Hopefully the short duration of the link meant the effects of the breaking would be relatively mild, perhaps of comparatively short duration. The possibility that the taboos and strictures of Vulcan culture would make solid scientific information hard to come by was a disturbing one, but of course he could do nothing but wait until such time as he was able to conduct the necessary research to find out.

The captain approached the table Spock was occupying quickly, smiling broadly and carrying a replicator tray. "Good morning, Mr. Spock! How are you?"

"Good morning, Captain. I believe I am…better."

At the staff briefing that day, the captain requested Spock's analysis approximately one quarter of a second prior to the onset of another of the attacks, and he was forced to freeze for an instant, battling unconsciousness, pain, and black despair, before he could answer somewhat stiltedly, "I agree with Mr. Scott, Captain. The problem is reparable, but will take some work, and will certainly worsen if we continue to draw so heavily on the engines without fixing it. The delay of our arrival at the rendezvous would be justified."

He had hesitated before speaking, and Spock realized, as well, that his control over his voice was slipping. The change in the tone was almost immeasurably small, but the captain looked at him for a moment silently before answering.

The next two attacks occurred on the bridge and when he was getting a tray of food from the replicator that evening during Beta shift. The second time, Jim was at his side, unfortunately. Spock knew it would be necessary to ensure that Jim witnessed as few as possible to prevent his uncanny human insight. He gave as little sign of it that time as he had in the briefing room, just stilling momentarily. The attack was minor. However, Jim had been speaking, and signified that he recognized something wrong by cutting off mid-sentence:

"Bones seemed a little worried about her, still, but she's going to return to-"

Spock did not understand how Jim could sense the attacks without the dissolved bond. Surely he was giving no noticeable outward sign? For once, Jim's intuition and extraordinary powers of perception were working against him, it seemed. "Please continue, sir," he said when he was able.

The captain turned his head to look at him from under lowered brows, but after a little silence, he resumed. "Well, as I was saying, Mr. Spock, Lieutenant Gonning is going to return to duty tomorrow."

"Yes." He had been aware of that, of course. "It is fortunate that she has recovered so quickly."

They seated themselves at a small table and proceeded to consume some steamed vegetables and filets of fish with a spicy Terran rice dish from the Indian subcontinent, respectively. "Chess tonight?" the captain inquired halfway through his second slice of fish.

"Captain," said Spock, relieved that he would not have to use even a misdirection, "I am still in need of rest, I fear." At another time, he might have been reluctant to confess as much to Jim, who would most likely become concerned by it. However, tonight he judged that it was more likely to alleviate whatever suspicions had been aroused by the two attacks the captain had witnessed already. To a human, fatigue might well be adequate explanation of the two spells.

Humans were much given to believing what they wished to be the case-a weakness which he himself was not so free of as he had thought before the occurrence of all these events.


Jim knew something was going on when Spock refused to play chess on the grounds that he was "still in need of rest." Of course, he obviously was still in need of rest, but Spock hardly ever admitted that he needed rest. Vulcans could go for extended periods without sleep, if necessary, and it was habit with him to act unfailingly Vulcan.

Spock was hiding something. Of that much he was positive. He had never seen Spock appear absent-minded before as he had at the briefing and in the corridor, and he just couldn't believe it of him. Of course, that he could trust Spock was another thing of which he was positive. That made it more mysterious, he thought: what was wrong?

And what was Spock's reason for keeping it from him?

It worried him a great deal, in fact, in its nebulous way. Three instances of nearly-undetectable strange behavior from Spock following one collapse in the hallway outside Sickbay didn't constitute grounds to demand an explanation.


A few more, and he would certainly corner Spock and get one. He was worried, dammit. More so than he usually liked to admit, but he had had no way to hide it from himself after that instance outside Sickbay, on the way to the bridge. Spock had still been too weak to walk alone for nearly a whole minute. Spock? Weak?

He crawled into his bunk feeling uncomfortable and dissatisfied and lay there, rigidly tense, for more than forty minutes. Jim rolled over and punched his pillow, frustrated, and made fists in the blanket. He tried to think of something soothing, rather than rehashing again and again the scenes in the briefing room, the mess, the bridge, and, of course, the corridor. (Jim shuddered and turned his pillow over to press his face against the cool side.) He could think of nothing positive, so he tried to empty his mind completely. No, that didn't work, either. He knew objectively that he had to make himself focus, calm down, and sleep. He needed the rest. However, his conscious mind was racing too quickly for his subconscious to take over yet. Spock had said, after Jim pulled him out of the collapsed meld-attempt in Sickbay, that the two of them had had a continuous link for several days before that.

Spock's collapse in Sickbay: he had frozen first, stiff and tense, before he'd gone limp and collapsed. Jim hadn't caught him by his arms until he had started to fall, and when he had, he'd somehow (the link?) felt the terrible pain Spock was feeling for a moment. But his other collapse, at the beginning of Beta shift, in the corridor: he'd seemed to collapse at once, going in milliseconds from an upright position to a boneless slump against the bulkhead. Jim had caught him at about the same instant as before, just in time to stop him from literally falling to the floor. The second time, there had been nothing in the touch of pain. He might have attributed that to the lost link, except that he had still gained a brief impression of Spock's mind: fatigue, shame, despair. Unexpected reactions, which was probably why it had taken him almost two hours of Alpha shift before he identified that flash as telepathic communication with Spock.

Jim had been distracted on the bridge throughout Alpha shift today. It had been easy for him to see that Spock was very tired just from his uncharacteristic silence, the absence of tightly-reined overflowing energy that you could usually see in every movement.

Of course, it hadn't helped either that the dream, in conjunction with Spock's first collapse, seemed to have unlocked a box in his mind containing lots of lovely repressed thoughts concerning Spock's face and body, particularly the slender length of his legs, the shapes of his long torso, and the high curves of his cheekbones. Okay, perhaps he was sexually attracted to Spock. Was that so unusual? He could just get in line behind Chris Chapel and half the female ensigns in Life Sciences (all those, in fact, who didn't seem to belong to the James T. fan club), not to mention a few security guards. The more seriously concerning thoughts were the ones like How did he grow into a completely indispensable part of me-like another limb-without my noticing?

Professionally, of course, he'd recognized how difficult it would have been to be captain without him: they were the best, most efficient command team in the Fleet now, he freely acknowledged. In the history of the Fleet, some whispered, and he knew that that was a possibility. No, Spock had become far less dispensable than that, less dispensable, even, than a best friend who was also an outstanding first officer. The truth, he had realized today, was that he had successfully made Spock into, essentially, his only close association. Bones was a "best friend" as well, certainly, exactly the sort he'd had in the Academy and as a boy in Iowa. That is, close, but not approaching Spock.

He had been thinking about this for the better part of the day, and recognized that the difficulty in phrasing his realization in words indicated that the difference wasn't so much quantity as quality. Quality of emotion.

Maybe when that idea stopped scaring him immobile, he would be able to sleep.

Finally he sat up, blankets pooling around his waist, with an inarticulate growl. He ordered a cup of tea from the replicator, then cancelled the order because he remembered that it contained caffeine (he had a moral objection to decaffeinated tea). He finally settled for warm milk without chocolate, which was also mildly stimulating, he remembered, and gulped it down quickly, feeling the thick sluggish path of heat through his chest.

Rather, Jim thought with dark amusement, like the feeling he'd only allowed to overtake him once, so far, on the occasion of Spock's first collapse, but which he'd sensed waiting for him every time in the past couple of days that he looked at Spock. Sometimes even when he hadn't looked at him directly at all, like in the mess hall, when he'd been talking and suddenly realized, cursing himself for not paying attention, that Spock had gone completely still next to him, all at once. He'd paused, thinking very hard, wondering how he knew that something was wrong (no trace of the meld left-instinct?), but he did know. And when he had looked up, finally, after Spock told him to go on, and met his eyes, Spock had looked so tired, so tightly-strung, that Jim had been frightened on his behalf. He'd already ordered Spock to rest several times, and Spock had said that he had. He was supposedly resting, or, ideally, sleeping right now. What more could he do?

Jim lay back and gazed up at the ceiling in the dark. Once more he tried and failed to think of nothing, but he finally drifted further from coherence, and his mind was filled more with images and less with actual thoughts. The last coherent thought he had, in fact, was How did I keep it from myself for so long? Certainly not the first time he had thought it over the last two days, but with a slightly different reference this time.

Unfortunately, the realization hadn't gone away in the morning. Jim ordered coffee from the replicator and cupped it in both hands, frowning over the rim, hoping he could get all his brooding over with before he had to leave. Damn, he thought, also not for the first time in the last several days. No particular emphasis, though-he was getting positively half-hearted about it.

He downed the coffee in a single gulp and struggled quickly into his uniform. "Computer, time," he said. If he had woken up at the usual time, he was going to be late to breakfast.

"Time is twenty-nine minutes till oh eight hundred hours." At least he would only be a few minutes later than normal.

Spock would have given him either seconds or tenths of a minute with that, he thought absently. It sounded wrong the other way. Jim shook his head impatiently. No need to get maudlin, which he thought he might be in danger of. He made a conscious effort to hold his head up in the corridor and smile at Lieutenant Davis Matthews when he passed her. The idea was that he would somehow internalize the cheerfulness before reaching the mess (reaching Spock, he admitted).

How was Spock today? What if he was no better?

Flash of that hot helpless feeling. Damn, he thought again. Wasn't everything complicated enough without this? Couldn't he have realized, oh, last week, or next week, that he was somewhere beyond hopelessly infatuated with Spock? Then he shook himself. Might as well verbalize it to himself now, in the corridor. If he didn't, the way his luck had been running, it would probably sneak out of nowhere and clobber him on the head on the bridge or something. Also, the corridor seemed like a better place to do any sudden collapsing that might occur, especially with no one else around, than the mess or the bridge or the turbolift.

"In love," he muttered out loud, and didn't collapse, after all. It was small comfort, at that point.

Spock explained much later that he had been under the impression that the attacks would decrease slowly in both seriousness and duration. When it happened, though, Jim wasn't in a position to know what he would have meant by "the attacks," though he'd had his suspicions, even if Spock had been in any condition or state of mind to give him that information.

They were walking away from the mess, this time, just a step or two behind Bones, headed for the turbolift. "You're more human than you like to think, Spock," the doctor was gruffly lecturing over his shoulder, and doing a creditable impression of a man who was perpetually irritated, rather than concerned for one of his best friends. Jim was not bothering to hide his smile at this. "You need rest, dammit, just like everyone else-" Bones had just said, when it happened.

It all seemed very fast at the time, and Jim was only relatively certain that the first thing that happened was that Spock's chin jerked up fractionally. Since Jim had been watching him extremely carefully for several days, he caught him this time even before he swayed on his feet. He was opening his mouth to say Spock's name as he moved, but when he actually had one arm wrapped around Spock's back it didn't come out, because at the first contact of his right hand with Spock's right arm, he felt what Spock was feeling, which was an unendurable, shattering kind of pain, and he couldn't speak, any more than Spock could. It was lucky that it didn't worsen with increased physical contact, because without Jim realizing quite what had happened, Spock's sway became a mutual stagger, and they were once again on the floor with Spock sort of in Jim's arms, sort of spilled across his lap. The pain hadn't receded yet, and Jim was gasping. He couldn't see anything, but when he thought about it later, he was certain that his eyes were open.

Spock was not quite unconscious, he could feel, but neither was he capable of thought or communication until the attack was gone. Jim realized that his eyes were open because there was no opening involved when he regained the ability to see; the blackness just faded spottily to the edges of his vision. Bones was crouching on the floor in front of them, holding Spock's arm in one hand and Jim's in the other.

"S'okay," Jim managed to hiss, and then gasped some more, and tried to breathe deeply. Apparently that meant that it was okay for the doctor to take his hands off of them and open the medical tricorder at his side.

"No injury," he was muttering, and then he muttered it again, "no injury," and leapt to his feet and stood at the nearest wall intercom to call for a medical team.

Spock didn't look very comfortable, but Jim, who was supporting himself with the arm that wasn't halfway around Spock's shoulders, wasn't strong enough to move him. The small of his back was sort of pressed against Jim's other knee, his legs twisted awkwardly, one bent under the other. Jim's arm around his back only supported a fraction of his weight; he was close enough to the floor that he wouldn't really be falling even if Jim had been able to let go of him, or inclined to do so. His eyes had opened for a moment, but drifted shut without locking to Jim's. His lips were parted. "Captain," he murmured.

"Shhh," Jim said, instead of "What the hell just happened?", his other impulse.

Bones took care of it for him. He turned from the wall and dropped to his knees in front of them again. "What the hell just happened?" He demanded.

Jim glanced down and to the side. Spock's eyes were closed again, so Bones probably wouldn't be addressing him; he didn't look conscious. "Spock had some kind of attack," he frowned. "He was in great pain."

"That much was obvious, thank you," McCoy replied, acidly. "But it doesn't explain how you know yet again that your pointy-eared friend was in pain, or why both of you practically lost consciousness and are experiencing elevated heart-rates and altered brainwave-patterns." Jim raised his eyebrows. The elevated heart rate was understandable with Spock lying in his arms, but he had no idea what to make of the brainwave patterns.

"Vulcans are touch telepaths," Jim said. Maybe he could make the doctor angry enough by consistently stating the obvious to get out of this conversation entirely until he knew what the hell had happened himself.

"That means that they receive-"

Spock had opened his eyes again, and both of them looked to him instantly. Jim could feel the muscles against his arm shifting as Spock struggled to sit up; it took a minute to do it by himself, but obviously he wouldn't appreciate the implication that he needed help, so he and Bones sat by.

When he spoke, his voice was raspier than usual: "Doctor. If you do not mind, I prefer to delay any explanation until I am-better prepared. I will go to my quarters for now…."

"Like hell you will. You're going to Sickbay. And so is the captain."

Jim's head snapped up. "Me? Now, Doctor McCoy--"

"Our little Vulcan here, as we've already discussed, isn't the only one who nearly lost consciousness in the last five minutes. In fact, you admitted yourself that you experienced all that he did."

"Doctor, the sensory impressions conveyed through simple touch are somewhat dulled for the recipient-the captain did not experience all that I did and should be back to normal shortly." Jim didn't miss the implication that the same wasn't true of his first officer, and he was still trying and failing to imagine pain greater than the amount he'd gotten from Spock.

"You are going to Sickbay," he decided. "And then I want-" a report, he almost said, but this was personal, wasn't it? "-a full explanation." A lame finish, since he wasn't sure he could demand one except on that tricky "endangering the ship" ground. Not that Spock would deny him.

Spock returned his gaze earnestly. "Jim," he began, not appearing to notice that he hadn't said "Captain." "I believe that once you hear my explanation, you will recognize the futility of sending me to Sickbay." Jim studied him with narrowed eyes, while in the background McCoy sputtered,


Spock was looking into his eyes still and, perhaps more significantly, he was looking into Spock's. Illogical, he knew, to think that one could detect deception that way, and Vulcans were largely unreadable. But he'd always been able to read Spock, he thought. Except Talos, and the whole pon farr thing-the two most recent notable incidents in their history, yes, but hadn't he felt something wrong on both of those occasions? He could easily be imagining that, something reminded him. Of course he would want to believe that he could always read Spock. But trusting him wasn't in question, anymore, was it? He'd made that decision.

"At several times in the past one point six six days things have occurred which have made you suspicious," his first officer was saying. His eyes were the most uncommon shade of brown, really, dark and clear. "I have assured you repeatedly that I am 'all right,' yet have also admitted to fatigue that is unusual for a Vulcan and displayed signs of strain. Perhaps you have also detected other signs which you were not able to fully understand, but your highly developed intuition has led you to believe that, as the doctor would say, 'something is not right.' In addition, you are confused and concerned because I have made no attempt to speak to you of this."

He raised an eyebrow. Jim's mouth was very dry, but he had relaxed, some. He nodded slowly.

"I owe you an explanation," Spock said. Jim wasn't going to argue with him, whatever he had been thinking before. "I would prefer to tell you everything I have to relate," he added after a deep breath, in a way that said clearly that that wasn't really what he would prefer at all, "and at that point, if you still believe that a visit to Sickbay would be beneficial to me, I will go with no further protest."

"You'll just do anything to avoid going to Sickbay, won't you?" Bones said indignantly. The medical detail had arrived and were exchanging glances, not moving any closer.

"I feel much better," Jim said to him, ignoring that comment, and stood up. "I feel…normal, in fact. I'm not going to go to Sickbay. I'll take Spock's" not report "explanation in his quarters, and I'll take him to you before I return to duty if it's my judgment that he needs a check up."

Blue eyes flashing, the doctor shook his head emphatically. "Now, just a damn minute, Jim! No way are you going on the bridge after this! Sickbay is where both of you belong after an unexplained collapse, and I don't care whether Spock thinks I can do anything about it or not! You're not going to take command of this starship until I know what caused that and that it's not going to happen again. You call Scotty right now, and inform him that he has the bridge." The finger and arm outstretched pointing towards the intercom practically quivered.

Jim smiled placatingly and took a step forward.

"Bones, Bones," he tried, reaching for the arm to put it back down. "I'm fine. I'll be fine."

His hand was shaken off, and the doctor glared at him. "No, Jim."

They remained standing there for a moment, eyes locked. Finally Jim sighed. "You have a point." The members of the medical detail released a collective breath, which all three of the senior officers pretended not to notice, unless McCoy really didn't. "You don't know the cause or effects of whatever that was. I won't take the bridge today, but you realize, I can't make a habit of excusing both Spock and myself from Alpha shift." He glanced at Spock, thinking for the first time of the probability of rumors linking the two of them. He was sitting as they'd left him, leaning against the bulkhead, his legs straight out, giving every indication of watching attentively. "I'll take Spock's explanation, and I won't return to duty until you're satisfied." Carefully not making any actual promises about what he would disclose. He wouldn't have Spock reluctant to reveal things because of such a constraint.

Bones, still obviously deeply dissatisfied, nodded his assent stiffly, admonished them both to rest and to call him if they so much as sneezed or had a strange thought, and walked away, taking the medical detail with him and muttering indistinctly about green-blooded pointy-eared Vulcans who had more pride than they knew what to do with and foolhardy soft-headed buffoons who couldn't stand to admit to so much as a whisper of weakness.

Jim shook his head and smiled after his friend, and then turned back to the bulkhead and silently offered a hand to his weakness.


The next stab of pain came as he was explaining to the captain his theory of what had happened, following the previous attack by barely thirty-eight point five minutes.

"...This is substantiated by my own memory of the several days preceding the initial incident in Sickbay, when at several times knowledge I could only have gained from such a link guided my actions. For instance, when I sensed your presence nearby as well as the fact that you had not eaten lunch, and was able to intercept you--" he said, and broke off suddenly. This one rendered him unable to see or hear, blanked the surface of his mind of thought. It was not as severe as the previous one but was certainly worse than most of the other more recent ones. He had not been capable of reaching even the first level of meditation.

When vision returned to him, Jim was leaning forward. "Another one?" he said urgently. Spock nodded. "When does this explanation cover these…attacks?"

After a moment he was able to produce the words to convey his understanding. "Yes. This is…ninth. I…will explain." To his dismay, he could not speak a whole sentence at once.

Evidently, Jim's human impatience wouldn't allow him to wait through the rest of the explanation. "What causes this?"he demanded.

He tried to answer with the speed the sharp tone of the questions demanded, but couldn't quite. "I…do not know…for certain," he said. There remained no real doubt in his mind, but without proof and much more extensive research, he could not say that he was "certain" to his captain. "I assume-the initial pain was caused by attempting to break through the barrier of the previous meld incorrectly-it is impossible to end a meld other than by withdrawing from it…in reversal of…the way in which it was entered. Although that does not account for…this," a crude gesture indicated himself, and his fragile posture, "…I believe that our current state has to do with the unrecognized meld as well."

"Do you mean the meld we made in the rec room, itself, is still somehow in place? And these attacks of yours are the result of your interrupting it with the meld with Lieutenant Gonning?"

Spock sat in silence for a moment. He needed the space as much to gather his resolve as to recuperate his ability to speak properly. "No," he said slowly. "I will explain it all, Jim. But it is very complicated. Also, as I said, I cannot be certain."

"Go ahead," was the prompt answer. Jim had assumed his customary look of total attentiveness. "I have a feeling this is important enough to be worth the time it takes to hear it."

Spock found it vaguely troubling to deal with him like this, with so much intimacy so recently behind them and in the decidedly un-neutral environment of the captain's quarters. Jim's behavior, too, was a combination of intimacy (his previously relaxed manner, his insistence on abandoning titles, and the personal nature of the subject matter) and command (his tone of voice, the same one he used on the bridge in crisis-clipped and abrupt, efficient to accommodate urgency).

He let that pass without questioning it; he was tired. "Mind-melds are not undertaken casually on Vulcan. In a telepathic society, privacy is considered very important. However, it is a necessary function-they are used to exchange information, to allow healers to treat patients, and to form bonds, under certain circumstances. Therefore we are all trained in the traditional ways to form and dissolve them. However, the intricacies of a sentient mind logically imply that each meld is unique. Because your mind is different from Doctor McCoy's, for instance, the melds that we form, while nearly identical to each other, will not be the same as a meld I might form with the doctor." He paused to organize his thoughts; Jim nodded once, but didn't interrupt.

"A link is forged during a meld between two individuals, usually guided by a healer so that a permanent connection is formed. When I say 'link,' you should understand that I refer primarily to the bonding link, the telepathic connection placed between married partners. All marriages on Vulcan include one. Marriages are arranged between children on Vulcan, and a healer places the link between the two children at that time. It is finalized in marriage or broken in combat at the koon ut kaliffee.

"Links other than those forged by a healer for a marriage are rare, but possible. These still take the same form as the bonding link. For instance, it has been known for couples to form their own bonding links through constant physical and telepathic proximity. Pairs other than life-partners have occasionally been linked historically, but the practice has long been discontinued.

"The term 'link' is the translation of the only word in the Vulcan language for a telepathic connection lasting as long as the one we apparently sustained. The only other types of communication are melds, which are of short duration, and require sustained physical contact…."

"So it's not that we 'sustained' a meld for so long, precisely," Jim said immediately. "Because that's impossible. The meld was a…a 'link' already."

"According to what I was taught, the unconscious formation of a permanent link in a single meld, even with another telepath, is impossible," Spock pointed out. "What you suggest was also my hypothesis. However, bonded Vulcans are still able to perform mind-melds with others. Clearly there was something unique about the situation."

Jim leaned back in his chair slightly and made a little gesture with one hand. "Continue."

"The third type of telepathic communication is the brief and superficial exchange of thought and emotion that is possible through any physical contact. That is why I have chosen to use the word 'link' to describe our situation, though I am uncertain of its precise applicability…. All of the links that I have mentioned are in essence the same phenomenon, although it may be initiated in several ways. And as I have said, although I know of no instance of such a link being formed in a situation similar to this one…I do not believe that there is another variety of link."

Jim was silent for a moment, tapping the side of his face with the forefinger of his right hand. "You're suggesting that the link we had unintentionally formed was essentially the same as the one shared by Vulcan couples I've seen? The fingers?" He moved the hand from his face, putting out the first two fingers in a rough approximation of the gesture used by married couples to communicate telepathically. It was casual and merely an illustration, but it disturbed Spock nonetheless with the sudden force of fierce physical and emotional desire it created in him.

"That is correct. I hypothesize that the link was formed when we broke the meld incorrectly, perhaps through a variation on the mechanism that creates the link with repeated melds."

"Physical and telepathic proximity?" Jim said.

"Yes. If this is the case, it has some intriguing implications. For instance, that a great length of time or large number of repetitions is not the precipitating factor in the spontaneous link, as has been assumed."

He had truly interested Jim, he saw: the human leaned forward again, his eyes widening a little. "What would it be, then?"

"Unknown. There is insufficient information to make a determination at this time."

Jim relaxed again and closed his eyes briefly, to think, Spock was aware. He watched the still face for point seven one minutes: the startling harmony of color between the deep brown-gold of his hair and the faint warm tint to his fair skin, the contrast with the barest rosy flush of his lips that Spock knew would spread to his cheeks with vasodilation as a result of a rush of the excitatory hormone adrenaline. Another possible cause, he thought suddenly, was to release heat generated by physical exertion. Therefore, his face would look similar when he was agitated and when he was engaged in sexual activities-

Jim's eyes opened abruptly. If Vulcan physiology had included a similar mechanism of vasodilation with either arousal or embarrassment, he would have been very startled to see Spock's face. Luckily, this was not the case.

"The Vulcan bonding link is only broken in combat during pon farr, if the mate challenges, like T'Pring did?"

"Normally, yes. In fact, the link is widely regarded as irreversible once made, except by death in combat. The exception to this is new seed-links between children who have not yet been married-healers sometimes break them. Also, when partners have been married less than a year and divorce becomes a necessity, a healer can break the bond. It is not done often, because the procedure is risky and can have serious side effects."

"You mentioned that when we were discussing Lieutenant Gonning."

Spock nodded affirmatively.

Jim said slowly, "So, you've never heard of such a link being dissolved without the aid of a healer either. Why did you think it would work?"

"We had a link which was formed not only accidentally, but without our awareness," Spock said. "Quite simply, nothing else seemed very improbable, any longer. Since it had been a side effect of a single meld, it seemed logical that withdrawal from the meld in the proper manner would reverse the effect without difficulty."

"But it didn't," Jim pointed out.

"No," he agreed thoughtfully. "It did not." He did not mention, yet, his fear that his own subconscious mind could be at fault. If part of him had not wanted to let go of Jim-highly likely, since even now, the illogical wish to reach out, catch and hold him and never let go was nearly overpowering-perhaps the link had once again been broken incorrectly. He could only be grateful that the pain affected only himself.

"At first I did not believe that it could be a…" he swallowed the bonding, unable to say it, "…be a link. All that I have ever been taught indicated that that was impossible. Of course, I knew of the consequences of broken links, although I did not have specific knowledge as to their nature. However, the thought of them as a risk barely occurred to me, and that not until it was too late."

"'The consequences of broken links,' you say. What exactly do you mean by 'serious, but not life-threatening'?" Jim was making reference to what he had said in Sickbay, just before his attempt to wake the lieutenant had resulted in the tearing of their link. It was rather ironic, actually, since the young woman's own severed link, after threatening her life very successfully, had gone on to threaten his.

Spock was somewhat at a loss as to what to tell Jim. "It is not spoken of on Vulcan," he said. "Vulcan children tell much-exaggerated and no doubt highly inaccurate horror stories about the early divorces and the broken links that result. There are also stories which I judge to be completely fictitious about bonds of much longer standing being dissolved. Even in the later years of schooling, we learned only that the resultant damage to the psyche causes periodic…'spells,' and that because the link grows in strength over time, it becomes more and more difficult to sever, until finally, with old couples, only the death of a partner will suffice."

"Tell me more about 'spells.' You said something about how young her bond was when I told you that Gonning's fiancé was a Betazoid-am I correct that as the bond strengthens, it gets harder to break, but the side-effects also get worse if it is successfully broken? That would explain why it's worse to break it after the marriage ceremony than to have the bond dissolved prior to it. Perhaps something occurs at the ceremony to strengthen the bond."

Quite possible, of course, and that had occurred to Spock before. Once again, the human had astonished him with his fantastic leaps of understanding. Spock himself had ineveitably devoted considerable thought to this over the last two days.

"In either of those cases, a new bonding link would be formed with another mate. I do not believe that the 'spells' occur if the link is dissolved prior to the first pon farr and replaced immediately with another. In the case of divorces, I understand that the…'spells' are more severe and can be quite painful, and gradually decrease in frequency and intensity. It is customary to wait a short time before another bond is formed."

"Another partner is always found?"

With more effort than he had expected it to take, Spock prevented himself from wincing. "To my knowledge, yes. It is my understanding that once the pathways for a bonding-link have been created, they must be-engaged-to prevent the attacks or spells we spoke of."

"After a wait-to heal?"

"Presumably, that is the purpose."

"How long is it?" Jim asked. Spock wondered whether his face looked unusually pale; he felt cold. A most unpleasant sensation. He realized now that the insanity of the pon farr had done much to make the previous shameful conversation more bearable. His only consolation was that it did not appear to have occurred to Jim that any unusual emotional attachment (or physical attraction) would have been necessary for the accidental formation of a bonding-link.

"I believe the period is one point five days," he admitted.

Jim tensed, but his face did not betray his thoughts or emotions. "It's been more than forty-eight hours." Patently true. Spock said nothing. "What are the spells supposed to consist of?"

"Captain-Jim-I do not know."

"Conjecture," he insisted, regarding Spock steadily from beneath slightly lowered eyebrows.

It was obviously useless to offer the descriptions he had heard as a child; they could not have been correct, and were clearly exaggerated even without his knowledge of the actual nature of the effects. He managed to force himself to say, at last, "I do not know if the effects are the same or similar for each individual. Also, because I am half human and you are human, if what I have been experiencing are the after-shocks of a broken link between us, they are likely to be even further different from what most Vulcans experience. However, as I have no other remotely reliable source of information, I must conjecture that the spells are somewhat similar to those which you have noticed recently."

Jim nodded. "Those variables make it unpredictable. It's possible that the genetic element is why you haven't already healed?"

"Possible," Spock agreed. But not likely. He did not say so, of course.

There was more silence from Jim, this one longer. The captain didn't close his eyes, but gazed thoughtfully at the wall, where there was a shelf holding a few expensive antique Earth books.

When Jim's gaze focused on him again, it was bright and intent, and his eyebrows had returned to their normal position. In fact, Spock thought he was completely relaxed, even happy. Illogical, but he could almost sense an incongruous smile. "Vulcan culture is so full of ritual and taboo," he said, "that you don't know about something until it happens to you.

"You don't know what happens in a marriage ceremony-we could've done it, unintentionally. It seems likely, even though you've always been taught that it's the duration of a bond that matters, that it's actually the strength of it, which usually happens to be linked to duration. If that's the case, then we could have accidentally formed a stronger bond, a more-than-one-year-bond. Therefore, you would be subject to the kind of side effects that are not considered acceptable risks by Vulcan tradition and Vulcan healers. You don't know what the harmful side effects of a broken bonding link are, whatever the strength or duration of the link. But you think that's what this is-a stronger link. If the healing simply took longer than one point five days after a year, wouldn't they allow divorces, and make them wait the extra days or weeks? Of course; that's only logical. The effects must therefore be impossible to completely heal."

Spock felt a curious sensation upon hearing this. The difference between having emotions and suppressing them immediately, and attempting to recognize and accept, then control them, was a tremendous one. He often found that his years without practice made it difficult for him to label his reactions. Was that-emotional pain, mixed with exultation?

"In a word," he began to reply, and was caught unaware by another brief stab of agony, his vision obscured by pure white, all his senses deadened. Instead of the end of his sentence, he uttered only an involuntary gasp before the pain receded. When he once again had the use of his senses, he found Jim's fragile human hands gripping his shoulders, possibly with as much force as they could. He looked up into Jim's pale face and took in the tense expression. "…In a word, yes," he concluded a bit roughly.

"You're all right now?" Jim said, apparently dismissing his statement.

"The episode is over," Spock replied. "It will be some minutes before I am completely recovered. However, for the most part I am 'all right.'"

"But for how long?" the captain muttered as if to himself.

"Unknown. I have not experienced a sufficient number to predict the frequency with which…." The strength of emotional reaction flowing from Jim at the physical contact points at his shoulders ended that train of thought. "Jim," he managed, "I can feel…your anger."

To Spock's surprise, the immediate response was not withdrawal from the touch, but the damping down of the anger until it vanished entirely and the only emotion Jim was broadcasting strongly enough to be felt without effort was concern. He felt one eyebrow climb at the skillful control evinced. This, for some reason, made Jim smile and relax, letting go of Spock's shoulders and straightening. In Spock's experience, Jim's concern for Spock's welfare caused him to be unhappy when Spock was in distress. The current reaction was not only inexplicable, but-unpleasant. Spock realized with some horror that he was hurt, but could do nothing to stifle the feeling.

"Well, Spock," Jim said, taking his chair and drawing it closer, "what do you know about this? How can the side effects be stopped? Drugs, against the pain?"

Spock was somewhat confused, since he had thought Jim was following his explanation perfectly. Indeed, he had comprehended the majority of it before Spock had been forced to voice it himself. "As for suppressing them, they are mental, and not physical. They would hardly be considered dangerous if they could then be healed. There is no way, Jim. "

To his further confusion, Jim smiled. "Don't you mean," he said in exactly the gentle voice he used to say "Checkmate," "that there is only one way to stop them-by removing the cause?"

Spock frowned. "I do not understand."

"Wouldn't the side effects go away," Jim replied, smiling more broadly in his particular dazzling, tempting way, "if the bonding link were re-established?"

Spock was completely and utterly flabbergasted.


"Yes," Spock said slowly, raising his eyebrow again, "but that is completely out of the question, of course."

"Why?" Jim demanded, ruthlessly banishing his internal wince at that "of course." How ironic that the only practical course open to him now was the telepathic link of married couples. He would lose Spock entirely, otherwise, since he would clearly not be able to function as first officer, or on a starship at all. He doubted whether he could have stood the knowledge that he was essentially the cause of irreparable psychic damage to Spock before, when he was just his best friend. But now! Now it would be more painful either way, in a bonding link at the dictates of logic, or remaining the cause of such pain.

Of course, it was no contest. The bonding link must be reestablished. If Spock could be made to agree.

The other eyebrow rose to join the first, and his first officer said dryly, "Captain, we are not married."

Jim found it difficult to control his complex reaction to that remark. Amusement, and a half-pleasant ache mingled with nostalgia, for the humor; something more negative, perhaps regret, perhaps resentment, at the suggestion of rejection. "That's quite correct, Mr. Spock," he said. "However, I think it's most surprisingly illogical of you to say so. You've said yourself that links are possible between pairs other than life partners."

"Certainly they are possible," Spock said. "That is not the issue. They have not been practiced for thousands of years, since my people were primitive nomads, because after a certain point in civilization it was considered improper to share such a level of intimacy with any but a married partner. The other links that existed in the past were between hunters and warriors, who used the link for efficiency in battle."

"It's-similar to our situation," Jim argued, resisting the urge to say something short-tempered to the effect that their other options didn't look particularly nice, either.

Spock only said, face expressionless, "Such shield-brothers were also lovers."

God, but this conversation was becoming surreal! In a perfect universe, Jim would have responded something like, "Sounds good to me," and in the next second they'd have been kissing passionately, tearing at each other's clothing-another good idea, he thought wryly. He sighed instead. "I said 'similar,'" he noted, "not 'identical.'"

The dark head bowed in concession of the point. "Nevertheless, such an arrangement would be-impractical."

That Spock was grasping at straws annoyed Jim disproportionately; he suspected that this was because his feelings were hurt. Oh, well. He had a right for his feelings to be hurt, dammit. "On the contrary," he countered, raising an eyebrow of his own, "it would be extremely practical. A telepathic link between the two of us would be useful in all kinds of combat situations."

"You misunderstand. That is not my objection." He didn't look up.

"What is it, then?" No answer. "Spock." Spock winced at the harshness of the tone but wouldn't meet Jim's eyes. "Listen," Jim said sharply, "If you have a reason, I need to hear it. I won't accept simple refusal, when the alternative is your being virtually incapacitated for the rest of your life! You'll be unable to function as first officer, unable to function on a starship! I will not allow you to do that to yourself for no reason. In fact, I cannot imagine any reason for which I would allow you to. I'm not ready to give up the best first officer in the fleet to his own stubbornness. I think learning to live with human emotions is a small price to pay for being able to function, to remaining on the ship. So if you have an explanation that may convince me, start explaining."

Spock had looked up at the challenging part of the speech-"not allow you"-Jim had known that would get through to him. "The decision is not yours to make," he said stiffly.

Jim couldn't remain in his chair. He moved to stand in front of Spock. "No, it's not," he said. "But that won't stop me from using every means at my disposal to keep you here and to have you accept my solution." He was getting too close to the naked edge of his own emotions; perhaps he would have to use that weapon as well, though the idea frightened him. "It may be wrong, but I'm not like you. My honor is not strong enough to completely control me. If it had been me before Talos IV, I would have included you in my plan. I wouldn't have been able to keep it to myself. And if you still refuse, it will be beyond my control. I cannot go along, I cannot let you lie down and accept defeat."

Spock's face betrayed nothing of his thought or mood. "Jim, I know of no one else with your capacity to defy defeat. It is not in me." Jim had not expected this much resistance, so soon. Spock refused even to attempt to explain himself, which suggested both that he had no such explanation and that he realized as much.

"Yes it is!" he hissed, practically shouted. "And if it's not-I'll put it there!" Jim was hardly aware of the movement, but he was gripping Spock's shoulders tightly again.

"Jim," Spock frowned. "I am puzzled by your insistence. I do not understand…."

Jim felt himself bending weakly under the weight of it. The thought was so distasteful, it was an effort to whisper rather than yelling, "Because it would be my fault." His lips tightened into a grim line and he stared past the point of Spock's left ear, unable to bear the prolonged sight of Spock's face pale and filled with tension. "It's my fault."

Spock started, the fine muscles under Jim's fingers tensing steel-hard and relaxing. "No," he breathed.

It was already beyond Jim's control-the contact, the proximity, the frightened comprehension in Spock's voice, the desperation and grief and desire in him all conspired to draw him closer. He closed his eyes against any possible rejection and leaned in quickly, before another part of his mind could call him back, to press his lips against the narrow, soft curves of Spock's.

Surprisingly soft-the surprise melting too quickly into reason-bending heat. It wasn't like the dream kiss at all, except in the staggering rightness. The rightness didn't stem, though, from any eerie sense of half-familiarity or any security. Rather, desperation fueled his adrenaline and he felt no sense of security, merely trembling uncertainty and an infinite novelty and sweetness. How could his body hold so much emotion, so much eagerness and hope and so much dark bitter caution, to even begin to restrain it?

All he knew was the taste: duskily metallic almost like blood; smoky and sweet and not totally definable; elusive, so that he parted his lips, dared to touch the upper curve with the tip of his tongue. His hands on Spock's shoulders had tightened but his arms were relaxed, now. When Spock's lips softened and parted under the gentle pressure of his tongue, Jim felt reality pulling away from him. He allowed himself to lose it, briefly, and submerged himself in hope.

If only Jim could be assured he would never be greeted with any sight on opening his eyes (he thought with a flash of passionate insanity) but the upward sweep of Spock's ink-black eyelashes, the abraded darkness of his just-parted lips and the confusion in his face.

"Jim…?" he said.

Jim did not want to have a long conversation-he burned with urgency, with the insistence of intuition that told him to press now. "Well?" he said. "Will you?"

The confusion intensified for a moment into a frown. "I do not understand. It is impossible…," he murmured.

Suspense was almost unbearable, and Jim made the decision to put all his faith in his intuition. Perhaps if Spock understood that a link would not be a burden to Jim-quite the contrary-he would be more likely to agree, logically.

And then there was this: the kiss. Spock had accepted the kiss. If….

He could hardly stand to think anything so painfully hopeful. If Spock was not unaffected by him, but believed his feelings unreturned, he would be doubly unlikely to agree to a bonding-link. Green-blooded pointy-eared Vulcans who have more pride than they know what to do with, Jim thought, not completely without humor.

If Spock agreed, he would surely find out anyway, and Jim couldn't risk less than everything for this. He crouched on the floor before Spock's chair, seized one of the long-fingered hands from the arm of the chair and held it over his own uptilted face. "Meld with me, now, and you will understand." He had to concentrate on breathing.

The fingers settled into place a little slowly, as if Spock were still lost in thought; then Jim felt a slight tingling, physical or mental or both, and closed his eyes.

This meld was like the first, only a little faster-no burning, no white heat, no headlong rush into the depths of each other's minds, only a delicate contact slowly strengthened. The touch of Spock's mind was as unintentionally erotic as his kiss. It was as though Jim had forgotten the exquisite sensations of melding, and his mind, given this second taste, had remembered. Now the memory brought hunger and anticipation tingling to life and he reached out blindly and greedily to deepen the contact. He was powerless to control the tangle of emotions he felt; they had been burning high and intense since Spock had first lost consciousness last night. Jim struggled to project, to reach out into Spock's mind with the caress of his own wonder at the crushing newness, his recent confusion and lingering astonishment coexisting with vast and solid certainty, his memory of unexpected desire and unspeakable tenderness, his guilt and the hope so unaccustomed he didn't know how to extinguish it. Then he felt himself relaxing somewhat and he could feel the wonder in Spock's answer, only //Jim. Jim. Jim,// over and over again while he lost himself in the deep, still, scorching heat and brilliance and further certainty of Spock's answers-confusion and innocence tangled with hopeless joy at his self-knowledge, and more, so much, too much, and-

Hunger, iridescent with mutual urgency. A waterfall of tangled breathless ideas, some long-buried. Jim's preoccupation with the smooth silken cap of Spock's hair and the fierce irrational desire to disarrange it. //Please do-// Spock's aesthetic appreciation of-Jim's eyelashes? Jim's mesmerized contemplation of the tip of the unconscious Spock's ear, Spock's internal shudders of imminent arousal (unrecognized) at Jim's breath on his ear tips. The musky scent of Jim. The insidiously seductive taste of Spock's lips. Jim's breath hitching at Spock's raised eyebrow; Spock skewered by darts of poignant longing at Jim's ironic smile. Jim wanted to kiss away any last trace of uncertainty, wrap himself around Spock and absorb it, whisper sexy nothings into the elegant ears and smooth the shivers of desire from every inch of Spock's skin with his fingers. Need and be answered-sense need, and answer it. See, read the smile that was only his-smile, and know only Jim smiled with him. Work together. Fight side-by-side. Win together. Play chess together. Jim's fear that his new need was greedily insatiable, Spock's of the unpredictable power of the emotion, met and melted together in careless abandon.

Like a kiss, the delirium had to be broken after a while for the equivalent of a breath. Reason returned, and as their minds lapped at each other's edges, Jim said, //Will the link have formed again just from this meld?//

//It has not,// came the reply.

Jim's thought that in that case, forming the link must precede sex, was tinged with regret. Spock's response mingled embarrassment, arousal, amusement and an almost scientific intrigue. Jim's mental presence rippled with silent laughter.

Then Spock said, //It is believed that the only way to form a bonding link without the aid of a healer involves a melded sexual encounter.//

//Of course, we've disproved that.// Not that he wanted to try to replicate their original method.

Jim was still whirling. He had woken, what? A little more than two days hours before, with the knowledge branded behind his eyelids that he was sexually attracted to Spock. Less than an hour later, as a result of his own choice, Spock had lost consciousness and he'd been confronted with the greater realization that he was in the grip of feelings for Spock very much more complicated and deep-rooted and emotional than simple desire. It was inescapable, too large and terrible and too fascinating and wonderful to push away or forget, but he'd had to tamp it down to deal with the crisis.

To accept difficult self-understanding so quickly, to go in two days from ignorance to a life's commitment? To take an upside down, inside out new self-image with whole new acres of his subconscious exposed to the light of self-examination?

To lose Spock?

Jim had never refused a challenge, and never failed a test.

This had been both. If winning now required that after the emotional investment had been made, he assimilate a new view of the entire universe now, then….

A mental smile overtook the furious flow of reason, wiped the surface of his mind blank for a moment, and Spock's as well. All things considered, this was a good thing. A happy coincidence, you might say. It could save time…kill two birds with one stone. And, by God, he wanted it. He wanted desperately. //Then let's do it,// he said, and felt Spock's mind flare in answer. //I love you,// he added with a kind of innocent wonder, and felt them both tremble.


This meld, unlike the previous two, hadn't been deep enough to shut off all sensory input. However, it did make concentration more difficult, and so it was necessary to withdraw, this time with great care, so that they could begin. When Spock opened his eyes to look into Jim's flushed face, doubt might have struck in the first instant of isolation. But Jim knew the danger; even before Spock could flinch he had lifted his hands and buried them in Spock's hair. His fingers swept tingling trails of sensation across Spock's scalp, which was particularly sensitive both telepathically and in the normal sense. The whisper of Jim's thoughts was there in the touch, but at the gesture the need for reassurance had fled. He remembered from his contact with Jim's mind a long string of glimpses of himself and the image, perfectly imaginary, of this happening before, and the whimsical but curiously intense desire to disarrange his hair. He remembered what he had said: //Please do.// Spock closed his eyes again, and when he felt the outer edge of the hand curve against his cheek, he turned his head to press his lips into the palm. The hand curled close around his face at the touch, and Jim cupped his face and drew him gently up by straightening and moving back a step.

The force of his own physical desire for the human was, he thought, cause for caution. In other circumstances, he would have thought it wise to delay any further sexual experiences. The point was moot, since in any other circumstances, his face would not be cradled with such unbearable gentleness between the soft human hands, or the surface of his mind flooded with a number of small affectionate whispers from the other. He would not stand in Jim Kirk's darkened quarters, breathing the cool moistness of human breath and the salty sharp musk of human sweat and even, it seemed, the tawny-green radiance of human eyes, would not be finally free of any constraint on the impulses he had long suppressed….

-To reach out, to answer the slow feathering of Jim's fingers over his jaw and down his neck by wrapping his arms around Jim's torso, slithering, then crushing gold velour. When he drew Jim up against the length of his body, he found he had to tighten his embrace convulsively to prevent the escape of the delicious feeling created by the contact. His reward for the action-besides Jim's increased proximity-was a mixture of gasp and chuckle that sparked an entire chain reaction of unaccustomed and difficult-to-identify internal sensations. Then Jim said, "I seem to have lost sight for a moment of my purpose. We need to hurry." Spock loosened his grip so as not to obstruct Jim's breathing; Jim, however, quickly nullified the effect by returning the embrace with, Spock thought, at least a brief application of his full human strength.

Spock was gratified by the confirmation of his hypothesis that Jim's next act, when he raised his face from the curve of Spock's neck and shoulder, would be the initiation of a second kiss. It began hot and open-mouthed, and Spock had the curious sensation of dizziness, though his eyes were closed. Communication was still needed between them, but he couldn't speak when his lips were so pleasurably otherwise occupied. Finally, in between short gasps of breath, he suggested that they locate a more suitable location for their activities. The smile made little creases appear near the corners of Jim's eyes and was very similar to his typical response to Spock's jokes. It and the feeling in his abdominal cavity that, unlike the heat of the pon farr, inexplicably reminded him of melting marked the end of his attempts to understand or analyze his responses.

They found Jim's sleeping area without separating and without watching their surroundings largely through Jim's presence of mind and his larger experience with thinking and moving despite a thick haze of sexual desire. For his part, Spock could hardly keep his eyes open-they seemed to close of their own will with the application of each new, unhoped-for stimulus. The skin of his ribs and shoulders tingled subtly in the wake of Jim's slow, searching caresses; his mind kept faltering and stuttering, trying and failing to understand what was happening, being distracted at the crucial moment by breath at the base of his neck, a feather-light touch on the undercurves of his buttocks, moist lips on-!-the tips of his ears-! Spock struggled for a moment to draw breath; "Jim," he gasped, turning his head involuntarily. Fortunately they had moved as far as Jim's bunk, and when his lapse in attention allowed his knees to give way he only sank onto its edge and was borne onto his back in a reclining position by Jim's warm solid weight.

The soft human chuckle sounded new and amazing, uttered millimeters from the outer curve of his right ear, and made him shudder with pleasure. He vaguely felt a soothing, smoothing touch against the jut of his hipbone as Jim repeated the kiss, traced the edge of Spock's ear with a cool tongue, and gently bit the tip. "Jim!" he exclaimed again, unsure whether he meant to express shock or pleasure or a plea for more, or all three.

Cool breath touched his temple again, and Jim murmured back, "Spock... ." His voice faded away as he buried his face in Spock's hair just behind the ear. Spock tilted his chin up to allow better access and found himself stroking Jim's shoulders through the barrier of the captain's tunic, reveling in the feel of the man filling his embrace and the heat and tension building all through his own body.

"I do not understand how," Spock began somewhat unevenly, pushing the gold tunic up out of the way, "a melded sexual encounter works-" and broke off, gasping, at a sure caress to his growing erection "…It will prove quite difficult, as I am rapidly losing my presence of mind."

Jim pulled back a little to meet his gaze at close range, hazel-green eyes twinkling. "You don't think you can manage it?" he teased.

"I did not say that," Spock replied more collectedly, and raised an eyebrow to test his new knowledge of its effect on Jim. The experiment would have had little empirical value, since it was immediately apparent from his smile that Jim understood the purpose, but it proved rewarding in any case, because Jim's idea of punishment (or perhaps reward?) was to smooth the eyebrow back into place with his thumb, then follow its curve with his lips.

Spock took that opportunity to maneuver the shirt the rest of the way off of Jim, marveling at the steadiness of his hands as he did so. Perhaps he had dissociated himself from his sense of disbelief? A logical explanation, and an action that would have been quite logical if had been done consciously, but he was by no means certain that that was what he had done. In fact-this was surprisingly, almost frighteningly, easy to accustom himself to.

Spock caught at this thought and paused to examine it and rejoice in the newfound knowledge that it was quite incorrect. There was no need to resist becoming accustomed to greater intimacy with Jim, Jim's scent and taste and the feel of his lips and tongue on Spock's throat. On the contrary, Spock wanted very much to become used to that and more, to learn everything about Jim that he could.

Want, he was discovering, had a powerful logic of its own.

The teasing coolness of human hands against his ribs beneath his shirt made Spock arch away from the bed, prompting a chuckle from Jim- "I thought perhaps we should just stand up and undress all at once, but it's more fun this way. I get to unwrap you like a present."

Spock said indistinctly, partially because his face was muffled at the time by the folds of his tunic and undershirt and partially because he still seemed short of breath, "I hope that you do so with continued alacrity."

"Oh, I intend to," came the response as the garments were tossed into the air to land haphazardly on the floor, and the smile made his heart beat faster and flooded him with a complex tangle of emotion.

"Jim," he murmured softly, not possessing the words to communicate what he wished. He would have to rely on Jim's instinctive ability to correctly understand him.

The intent had not been to request another kiss, but Jim interpreted it as such, to Spock's delight. Each kiss was new and different, and yet each time, the texture and shape of Jim's mouth were more familiar. Each time, the fires in him burned brighter. Because they struggled out of their uniform pants during this kiss, with only occasional breaks in contact, Spock didn't remember that activity in very great detail. He was only conscious of the irritation of separation and a tremendous thirst for Jim's kiss and a hunger for his touch that grew greater for all his attempts to satisfy them.

When he kicked free of the trousers finally, rolled over onto Jim, and felt the length of his body pressed to the other's skin on skin, it was as though he was waking suddenly from the dream that was the rest of his life.

"Like an entirely altered state of consciousness," he whispered rather huskily, pressing their bodies closer together.

Hands closed on his hips firmly, and Jim thrust back, rubbing them together. "Sex with a Vulcan," he joked/gasped, "Complete with running commentary. At least you'll skip the written report this time?"

"Am I to infer, Ca-Jim," he paused, gasping at the feel of lips and tongue on his nipple, "…that you do wish written summaries of our" --groan-- "future activities?"

It took a moment before Jim looked up at him, his face dark with arousal and promise, while his thumbnail described a tiny circle around the other nipple. "Perhaps we could forego the conversation?" Had that look, rising after the lifting veil of lashes, the little twist of lips, been created somehow only to tempt him?

Spock bent his head, prompted not so much by impulse as by need, to capture Jim's lips for another kiss. They tasted the same, felt the same. He was beginning to learn how they parted, how they pressed against his and with what force, how they gave softly under pressure, how they fit against his open mouth, and how they clung at the end of a kiss. He would know them exhaustively, in every detail, and commit them to memory, he thought. Soon, he would know them better than he knew his own. The thought was nearly…dizzying. "Yes," he agreed.

Jim's skin was a luxuriously smooth satiny expanse stretched over the intoxicating curves and angles of his body that stayed cool to Spock's touch even when flushed to rose in the most ecstatic passion. When he tilted his head back, the lifted line of his throat demanded the sharp scrape of teeth and soothing caresses of Spock's lips, too fervent and intense after their long years of storage in his subconscious to be called mere kisses. The inward curve of his back just above the buttocks was shaped as though intended for Spock's hands, but he found they couldn't linger long there when so much remained to explore.

Jim's little chuckles and gasps and moans seemed to cause Spock's blood to pound more heavily all throughout his body. When his hands lit on Jim's hips and slid seemingly of their own volition into the soft creases joining legs to torso, though, the astounding result was Jim's thighs falling apart in blatant, wanton invitation. "Don't be so cautious," he breathed, and his voice crawled up Spock's spine and made him shudder with the frightening feeling of abandoning himself utterly to lust. Jim's cool fingers on his buttocks urged their groins impossibly closer, and Spock's slick sex rubbed again against the other's. "Shh," Jim whispered at his shiver, and drew his head down one-handed so that anticipation of another kiss made his body sing.

But no-he merely laid his lips against the furiously hammering pulse under Spock's ear. It didn't matter; every caress was now scandalously intimate, and Spock felt himself sunk beyond hope of redemption into a shifting quagmire of emotion and sensation.

He could not, however, consider that situation anything but positive at the moment.

A seductive tilt of Jim's hips beneath him, and the insistent, punishing pleasure as their groins were ground together. He released Spock's neck and insinuated the hand between them to wrap it around Spock's sex.

Spock felt his mouth fall open on a soundless cry. "Jim," he was able to say in a moment, and his tone reached for scolding and fell short, sounding instead like a prayer. "Jim." That time, he gave in, and let his voice caress the syllable as it would whenever he failed to guard against the urge.

"Spock," came the response, whispered though there was no need for quiet- "Are you going to make love to me, or not?"

For a brief eternity he could say nothing, and then the words came, "Yes, oh, yes," as he pulled away, freeing Jim to stand and move into the little bathroom between their quarters.

Spock knew the captain's quarters, and he knew that because of their shape, it wouldn't be possible for him, lying in the bed, to see Jim when he was in the bathroom.

That didn't stop him from turning his head to follow Jim's shape as far as possible, tracing the smooth flex of the muscles beneath his smooth skin. In a moment, Jim's voice said, marvelously low and husky, "With both of us suffering from unrequited love, and sharing a bathroom, you would think we would keep some form of lubricant someplace easily accessible." From the sound, Jim was standing in the door; Spock lifted himself on his elbows and turned to catch another instant of the sumptuous sight of him.

"That action would have been most illogical," he began, but Jim had started moving towards him, a little bottle in his hand, his penis standing up proudly and his eyes seemingly lit from within, and greener than ever.

"Spock," Jim interrupted, smiling and seeming breathless, "You must remember never to look at me that way when we're on duty." He dropped onto the bed and into Spock's achingly eager embrace, laughing a little because Spock had raised his eyebrow. He explained with his lips pressed to Spock's temple-they seemed to have found their way to precisely that spot unerringly time after time, and knew just how to make his breath come unevenly, though he'd never suspected how spectacularly arousing that would be- "It might make it a bit difficult to concentrate."

Too intent on his purpose to answer, Spock only caught Jim around his waist and drew the other's body down on his, pulling the oil from Jim's unresisting fingers as he rolled once more to place himself on top.

It took him two tries to unscrew the cap, and he couldn't look at the openly emotion-filled smile on Kirk's face as he poured some onto his fingers.

"Let me." Blunt fingers sweeping the oil from his hand and in the next instant, wrapping gently around his penis and sliding up and down efficiently. That contact lanced through Spock like an electric shock, and he couldn't tear his eyes from Jim's fingers, unless it was to look at Jim's face, where the rosy lips were parted, the cheeks flushed in arousal just as he'd imagined. He could never have imagined, though, he was certain, the long shadows of Kirk's lowered eyelashes on those flushed cheekbones. The distance between them was too much, suddenly, and making an incoherent sound of need, Spock sat up and claimed Jim's kiss again.

They kept kissing, deep and possessive but short, like taking sip after sip of some powerful liquor, until the intoxication of it made them break off gasping. Jim said a soft string of "mm"s and leaned back slowly onto the bed, lifting and spreading his legs as he did so, his half-lidded eyes still locked with Spock's.

Jim might have said "Hurry," Spock thought, but he no longer had to: Spock's eagerness made his fingers tremble, but nothing could slow his movements now as he pressed with his thumb against the opening to Jim's body. They discovered that the oil remaining on the fingers of his left hand was sufficient to allow his thumb to slip past the ring of muscle, which relaxed unexpectedly, admitting him to pressure and heat. More oil. He could not be other than careful. He did not want to risk any injury or unnecessary discomfort to Jim.

His forefinger slid in easily, and he pressed inward, searching for a particular piece of anatomy….

Ah. Jim pressed against the touch, his back curving away from the bed, and said unsteadily, "Now." Still Spock was cautious, and it wasn't until two fingers fit into the dark heat without resistance that he pulled Jim's hips forward onto his own knees.

He held himself poised and let his eyes close for a moment, shutting out the ravishing sight of his captain, pink and trembling with need and totally unguarded.

"Please." The word sounded forced from Jim, and Spock saw yet another expression on the beautiful face that had the power to arrest the functioning of his lungs.

With a groan, he surrendered.

Point four seconds of delicious resistance, quickly easing as the sphincter muscles relaxed, Spock told himself, but part of him was most insistent with its offerings of metaphors: the opening of a flower, the feel of the color of Jim's swollen lips, the hungry embrace of heat. He felt his body temperature rise as he pushed deeper as slowly as he could make himself. His skin threatened to burn away entirely, leaving him a raw entity now formed entirely of sensation, when Jim deliberately tightened his inner muscles around Spock's rigid length, then impatiently lifted his hips to take Spock completely in. "I'm-fine," Jim said in a breathless voice that yesterday would have given Spock great cause to worry about his reactions to the captain. Today, though, it was all the assurance he needed, when control was slipping inexorably from his grasp.

He pulled back against the pressure and excruciating pleasure and thrust again, paused to let a wave of exquisite smoldering heat in his abdomen recede. Thrust again, and more quickly, again, holding Jim's hips so tightly he feared he would bruise them, but unable to stop, so possessed was he by the flame. "Jim," he cried involuntarily, his mind tumbling away from him too fast to stop, to control himself, and the agony of rising want and need and hot hard pleasure was so overwhelming, he didn't understand how he retained any ability to think.

"Yes," Jim growled.

Then Spock somehow remembered their purpose, and the reason he was losing his virginity to this raging golden inferno instead of to something slow, or deliberate, or at all gentle. With difficulty, he lifted one hand to Jim's face, and his fingers found the meld points while Jim's eyes glistened at him, dark russet gold with passion.

He didn't need the ritual words; just that contact, and the thin tangled lace strands of Jim's mind were reaching for him eagerly. He reached with his mind, took hold of Jim's consciousness and plunged into it as he plunged into Jim's body. He felt the indescribable doubled sensations, the tangling of himself with Jim, deeper, deeper, knowing all, and the tight warmth inside Jim's body. He wished to lose himself in Jim, not for the first time; but this time, he could. Spock glimpsed insanity.

Now deep-melded, Spock and Jim were equally short of breath, equally desperate, filled equally with a kind of furious tenderness. Spock thrust once, and rotated his hips, and gasped great lungfuls of the heavy scent of Jim, and felt sensory input vanishing as a sudden explosive swell of physical pleasure turned their intertwined minds to brilliant light. Then, for a moment stretching toward forever, all he knew was the insanity he'd seen before, a blissful racing falling crushing burning screaming ecstasy filled with Jim.

Then-nothing, as sleep claimed their minds, still locked in that breathtaking intangible embrace, all at once.


Scent. A scent that was not familiar, but that seemed to reach into his stomach and stir when he focused his attention on it. Warmth-not the warmth of the climate control set the way he liked, but the kind of warmth he remembered from his childhood that was almost a living thing of itself, that came silently to comfort him on winter nights. And goodness, so much of it it felt normal to be so exhilarated that, half-awake, you could laugh aloud, and reach through the bulkheads, and gather the stars in the palms of your hands.

Obviously there was something special about this sleep, and Jim Kirk determined not to lose it just yet; he made himself drift backward toward oblivion once more, unwilling to move, to think, to shatter the warmth and the scent and the well being with remembrance.

A long, luxurious, simply lovely while of floating without purpose or real awareness, yet not totally asleep, faded away so gradually that Jim could feel no more than the regret of a split-second at its end. Now those nebulous sensations of before had marvelously disturbing, terribly exciting names. Scent: a cocktail of human and Vulcan sweat, and human and Vulcan sex, and a tantalizing hint of Spock's hair. Warmth: yes, he thought with a rippling, shivery feeling, you should be warm with a naked Vulcan body curving around yours, blanketing you, shielding you, whether or not you had just had an incredibly hot "melded sexual encounter" with that Vulcan-otherwise, you weren't getting your money's worth. As for the blinding clarity suffusing him, threatening to make him utterly dizzy if he opened his eyes and looked for the first time on Spock asleep in his arms…that was something he had never experienced in such strength before, but perhaps he had anticipated it. Hadn't he known, at some level, not what it would be like with Spock precisely, but at least that it would be a fury beyond his imagination's grasp, with the power to dissolve and remake him so easily? Wasn't that what he had (foolishly) feared?

Even with his eyes closed, Jim wondered fancifully whether they had ever been as open before. Relaxed contentment rose like champagne bubbles through the liquid of his mind. Part of him suggested the newborn bonding-link (or rather, the resurrected one) was responsible for this feeling. Of course. But did it matter? Except that maybe, if it was, he would continue to feel this way forever: peace, with these little flashes of glory, years of that fantastic lovemaking, years of Spock, ship's days of him and sunny days and moonlit nights and rain, and all the places of Earth and corners of the galaxy, and the carmine deserts of Vulcan. Jim was breathless, not just with paralyzed longing, but because he had somehow failed to notice before that he had never envisioned anything else for himself.

Everything was different. Everything.

To think he would never have offered and given this sweet sacrifice if not for a whim of ego, a meld in the rec room, and a near-fatal accident. God. The majesty of chance made him shiver. He was now a person who could promise forever, no, thrust it on Spock, and mean it. He was less than married, but more than betrothed to these feelings: the scent. The warmth. The content.

The bonding-link: his curiosity woke Jim the rest of the way up, and he reached out blindly along it, like stretching a new limb for the first time. Then he found that he and Spock were still partly melded, and Spock's sleep had been all that kept him from noticing before. He stretched further, experimentally, and started to deepen their meld a little. He touched a dream and almost sank into it himself before he recalled that since he and Spock had gone to bed together in the morning, it might well be lunchtime by now, though his sated body wouldn't register the discomfort while he focused his attention on the gentle touch of Spock's mind. Jim didn't know what he did, exactly, but he felt Spock start to wake, and he managed to open his eyes, turn his head in time to see the elegant face in repose before sleep winged away.

What a sight, though. He had been right not to look before; he couldn't have looked very long at the silken circle of that open mouth, the audacious extravagant curl of that pointed ear, the shock of eyelashes on his sage-ivory cheekbones, without delaying their dinner considerably. "Good afternoon," he said softly and solemnly, when Spock's eyes fixed on his, and Jim heard the echo of his voice in his head from the link. He couldn't even smile in the first few weighty seconds as their eyes locked, much as he felt like it.

"Good afternoon." Spock's voice was nearly a half octave deeper than usual, and it started the slow twisting and coiling in his belly again. He could have shivered, if not for the encompassing heat of Spock that was just starting to register as separate sensations: an arm pinned under him and flattened against his back, the length of his torso against the lightly furred steel-hardness of the other's, a slender muscular thigh high up between the two of Jim's and the other foot's high arch behind one of Jim's knees, the burning imprint of long fingers at his hip reaching toward the small of his back.

"If I excuse us from Beta shift as well, we won't be so exhausted on the bridge tomorrow morning."

Spock took the bait. "Jim, as there are eight hours between the end of Beta shift and the beginning of the next Alpha, there is ample opportunity for rest."

"But only if we sleep," Jim replied with a seductive smile, more huskily than he had intended. He could hear everything Spock said twice, once in his mind, and taste the texture of Spock's thoughts, and he was growing very distracted.

Spock's mouth turned up at the side and one eyebrow started to rise; his fingers stirred in the small of Jim's back, and he flattened his palm there, pushing their bodies infinitesimally closer together. His reply was purely in Jim's mind, //Point taken.//

Jim was smiling now, foolishly, he feared, but he didn't much care. //We fell asleep and woke up without breaking this meld.//

Acknowledgement and a wistful admission, //I have been reluctant to withdraw from mental contact.//

So was Jim, poignantly so, which knowledge Spock drank from the surface of his mind, and for a vertigo-inducing moment the mental contact flared deeper. Jim had not been aware of moving, but then he had to open his eyes again, and found his nose and mouth pressed above Spock's collarbone. //What was that?// They both wondered at once, and then they both knew that it must come from the bonding link.

They drew out of their meld carefully, because it would complicate the behavior of the link, and they needed to learn to understand the link quickly, hopefully before tomorrow's Alpha shift. When they were finished with their careful pulling back, though-they were not. Then Jim realized the remaining contact was not really a meld, but the low constant song of a communion of souls. It was like a deep meld, but gentled, veiled.

Jim tilted his chin up to better see Spock's face. It made him smile. The Vulcan looked sensuous and thoroughly loved, and would probably never look convincingly austere to Jim again. "We ought to get out of bed," he said. "We'll need to eat dinner. And we owe Bones some kind of…er…discussion."

"Yes." A brief eddy of Spock's amusement reached out to touch him, followed by a wave of affection.

"…So," he gathered his wits to say, "If we want to catch Bones in the mess-it's probably about twelve hundred hours…."

"It is eleven forty-two, approximately."

Jim pushed up on one elbow, rolled onto Spock's thin whipcord body and said very close to the other's lips when they parted in surprise, "...It's approximately eighteen minutes until Bones eats lunch, my meticulously correct Vulcan, so we should leave soon." He was unable to control his smiling, now, and he felt the link pulse with it. And then, from Spock, came desire so fierce and unexpected that it possessed Jim completely for a moment, flattened him, and he let answering heat flare up in him as he kissed Spock, a long, urgent, searching kiss. Their lips pressed together; his tongue slid in the wet satin of Spock's mouth. Before he knew it, he had made a surging, impatient sound, and his hands were buried in Spock's hair, holding him close and closer yet.

When he came to himself, he had parted Spock's legs with his knee, and was breathing in long, shallow gasps. Instead of more oxygen, though, his brain seemed to receive more of the fascinating smell of aroused Vulcan. Spock's eyes were sleepy, still, and his hair was tousled, but his hands on Jim's ass were knowing, if uncertainly so. Jim was afraid that it was too late to stop.

//Or perhaps we'll talk to the doctor later,// he thought on a tide of surrender.

//Yes,// Spock said, and whimpered aloud a deep-throated, alien sound. Jim's stomach was in knots, tiny tangles, all fused together in slippery heat.

His will power seemed to have failed him again, but this time Spock had done no better; he writhed under Jim, and kept thrusting upward against the insistent rocking of Jim's hips, grinding their groins together while their bond seemed to widen and deepen, swallowing Jim's mind a piece at a time, driving him slowly mad. Spock's pleasure, like a drug more dangerous than his kiss, was more arousing than Jim's own, somehow. Jim lowered his head, fell headlong into another one of those incandescent kisses of dissolution and rebirth, and imbibed it, let it wash over both of them.

They made hasty, fumbling love to one another, tangling their legs together, drinking the smell of each other's hair, thrusting awkwardly so that their erections rubbed together between them with maddening inconsistency. Jim clutched at Spock's hips with his fingers slipping, and didn't bother to try for a better grip. They swallowed each other's pants and moans and sighs and all the little whispers they made immediately, and they tried desperately not to break the contact of their lips. The feel of Spock under him, the taste and smell and awesome heat of him, blended in Jim's mind with the skittering mental caresses as their minds surged and lapped together, swirled, embraced, kissed. The bond was fully open, now, and it almost hurt, the wealth of Spock, so much he could only just hold him. He nearly wept, from the merciless sweetness or because in an epiphanic moment as he felt that last subconscious store of himself open to Spock he had realized that even with their whole lives, he would never exhaust all there was to know of the other. Now everything was just a blind blur of fever and pleasure, with Spock at the center. //Oh God,// they thought, and it must've come from Jim because Spock never said it, but they had no way of knowing. Another…oh…just...there, and Jim stopped, suspended shuddering on a thread. At last they came, and the bond, incredibly, opened further in a dizzying instant.

//This bond seems to guarantee simultaneous orgasm,// Jim thought with idle amusement (and maybe a little awe) a few minutes later.

//Among other sensations which are also shared.// Spock's thought was more sober. If one of them were injured, the other would have to choose between feeling the pain, possibly compromising his ability to perform his duty, and closing off the bond. Of course, the latter was the more logical course.

//But that "logical course" negates the positive aspects of the bond I mentioned before,// Jim said, following the direction of Spock's thought.

//There is much we should have discussed before taking this step.// It sounded completely normal for Spock, but Jim had to laugh, because hadn't been able to summon even a tiny hint of regret or remorse.

//Well, it could be an advantage. But you must know that when I said that, I was angry that you had rejected my first offer to bond. I was only lashing out at you, Spock. And trying to convince you to accept.// He was growing used to this telepathy awfully quickly. Maybe it helped that he and Spock had already been accustomed to communicating so much by look, and gesture, and a native soul-deep sympathy that he had always deceived himself into calling "friendship" before. Bones was going to be displeased, though, when they forgot to speak out loud.

//You mentioned that you wished to see the good Doctor this afternoon,// said Spock.

Yes. Unfortunately, that meant getting out of bed and a cessation, if only temporary, of this physical contact. Jim wondered whether he were subconsciously trying to memorize every detail of Spock's shape as quickly as possible; Spock thought so, based on his assessment of his own motivations.

Jim emerged from the bathroom naked and damp from the cold shower that he'd had to take after the hot one they had shared. He walked slowly forward, his gaze captured by the unbelievable, unreal, bewitching sight of Spock half-naked and wet-haired, bent over Jim's computer terminal. With, Jim saw with possessive amusement, the addition of a few interesting green marks on his neck.

A step, and another, like walking against a very weak force field. His palms were tingling ridiculously in anticipation of the touch of those narrow, muscular shoulders. Spock was reading information he had obtained on bonding links through various routes and computer systems, not all of them legal. Jim had caught that much while still in the bathroom alone.

Now he stopped behind Spock's chair and leaned forward over Spock's shoulder to see the screen more clearly. "What's this one?" he asked aloud. He was still absorbed in thinking his voice sounded shockingly loud when it registered that he was feeling a complicated wave from Spock of something. He turned his head a little in puzzlement to meet Spock's eyes at an odd angle. What? Amusement and irony, swift arousal, and the memory of distress, dismay and pain? "Spock?" He was speaking out loud again.

Then the answers came into his mind in the form of a string of memories of exactly this movement, and Spock's responses: noticing the feeling of Jim's breath on the tip of his ear; indefinable unease; once, a shock, and confusion; finally, mingled longing and dread, and the "shameful" distraction and loss of logic. //I had no idea!//

//Obviously not. However, in the grip of powerful emotions to which I was unaccustomed, I found that truth hard to believe. Part of me kept insisting you intended to torment me, somehow, though I knew you could not.//

This made Jim Kirk straighten suddenly in the kind of snaking sudden insight that always ruled him in combat, though his hand stayed on Spock's bare shoulder: he had not known, but now his mind bubbled with a store of remembering those same instances. And he began to suspect….

He found himself speaking aloud. "Spock, I don't know if I'd say I intended to torment you-maybe more like to torment myself-but I think…perhaps subconsciously…." Spock had turned in his chair to look up at Jim with one eyebrow a trifle elevated, and at this point he surged to his feet in a graceful, economic movement, and with the same, seized Jim's arms and brought their open mouths together for a silencing inferno of a benediction.

The surfaces of both minds were inundated with the still-unaccustomed pleasure and intimacy of it. //Perhaps subconsciously, the effect on you was never unintended,// Jim thought, and then that last thought, too, drowned in the kiss which was both belated punishment and reward for the revelation.