It's like a tsunami. A monumental wave approaching. He can feel it, he knows it's coming but he's powerless. He can't stop it.
He's still reeling from the adrenaline of the space jump, trying to catch his breath when he's hit by this unstoppable wave of feelings and he's not even sure he's breathing anymore. For all his training, his shields don't stand a chance and crumble under the force of billions of voices screaming in terror. It's deafening and he's sure he's going to break, he can't possibly contain all that fear.
Their pain and loss hit him in his chest like a brick wall. It mounts and crashes into him until he feels as if he's being obliterated by it. He takes his last breath – billions of them – and it catches as something seems to snap…
…and all is silent.
He's still panting hard when Spock reappears on the transporter pad, hand outstretched toward his absent mother. For a brief moment all Jim can feel is a hole inside him, where there was unimaginable pain and then silence now there's nothing, just emptiness. It's eating at him like a black hole. He feels sharp pangs of loss, grief and denial, guilt and regret coming from those around him before they're swallowed in the darkness.
He tries to breathe but the darkness sucks it all in.
He's running in the snow. Falling and running from a monster that wants to make him his dinner but can't run from the monster that's eating him from the inside.
"How did you find me?"
Surprise coming from the stranger who acts like they know each other. Joy, affection, protectiveness, sorrow. He tries to block them out but to no avail. He focuses on listening to the Vulcan.
"I have been and always shall be your friend."
As it turns out a mind meld is the last thing he needs right now. More feelings and he is defenseless.
"Emotional transference is a side effect."
Guilt and grief wash over him like water on sand, loosening and erasing the boundaries of his mind. He feels small and lost, he can't see the beginning and can't reach the end.
He has nothing to hold on to.
"You have to go back to the Enterprise."
He has a mission and he needs to focus on that.
He's yelling at Spock trying to make him show what Jim knows he's feeling. Spock's pain is so acute that it feels like torture and his anger reverberates through Jim leaving him dizzy. He can't even fight back when Spock attacks him.
He sits in the captain's chair and takes a breath.
For a second he thinks he's in no better shape than Spock.
On the first day of their five-year mission Spock can admit to experiencing anticipation before entering the bridge. Captain James Tiberius Kirk welcomes him aboard with a soft smile that strikes Spock for his openness and through his telepathy he can perceive the sincere joy the Captain feels and senses in him the same anticipation. He can't help but being warmed and reassured by it.
When Kirk gives his order to ship out he turns to Spock, who meets his gaze and nods. This wordless understanding echoes what they had during the Narada mission, as soon as they actually started working together. This is why Spock came back. He has never been so instantly in tune with someone and it feels right.
Their first shift passes smoothly and uneventfully, every crewmember nonetheless busy with the many tasks a starship of their caliber requires. As soon as the beta crew arrives the Captain slips into the turbolift, saying something about checking personally with the heads of the various departments. Spock follows him swiftly, offering to accompany him as it is only logical for him to familiarize himself with all personnel. The Captain nods his approval and Spock notices he is more relaxed while they're in the turbolift together. Surely Kirk is feeling the pressure of his many responsibilities and that accounts for his tense state, Spock considers it a sign that he is taking his job very seriously and thinks it will ease once he gains more experience.
The feeling of anticipation doesn't leave him even when he departs from his Captain, who excuses himself to retire to his quarters. Logically he knows it will take time to ascertain if his counterpart's words will hold true in this reality and Spock is adept at waiting. He has been practicing his whole life, waiting for that kind of acceptance that never came from anybody but his mother. He will wait some more.
Kirk is sitting on his chair on the bridge, he glances back at Spock who nods and he feels reassured. It's like a reverse radar, instead of the points of action – so much noise, so many emotions pushing against the nonexistent boundaries of his mind – he needs to find that one point of silence. The only calm in this swirling chaos that invades his mind.
He can do this, he only needs some time to get a grip on it and he will control it again. He has to focus. That will keep him going.
He rushes away from the bridge as soon as he can, trying to busy himself until it's reasonable for him to hide in his quarters and fall on his bed gripping his head. It hurts so much he has tears in his eyes and can't help the pained sound that escapes his gritted teeth.
If he asks Bones for an inhibitor the doctor will be onto him in a second, poking and prodding, so that's out of the question. His only chance is to meditate all those feelings and thoughts away to ease his pain at the source.
Too bad that hasn't worked for him since the destruction of Vulcan.
Still, he has to keep trying. He folds himself in the lotus position and starts taking deep breaths, shifting his focus internally and away from the pain. Except his mind is filled with it and he can't escape. His meditation doesn't hold for long but he doesn't give up and after a couple hours he has managed to lessen his headache, finally falling back on the bed and into sleep filled with echoes of crying voices.
During their first senior staff meeting on board the Enterprise Spock sits on his Captain's right and watches the crew file into the conference room. They greet each other cordially and begin to sit, some stopping to introduce themselves to those they are not yet familiar with. Spock notices Kirk flinching and shooting a glance at Lieutenant Commander Scott who is shaking Lieutenant Uhura's hand. Then Spock distinctly hears his Captain think "That's something I really didn't need to know!" and he has to control himself not to show his surprise. He is used to perceiving humans' fleeting thoughts and feelings when in close proximity to them, but not when he is shielding as strongly as he is now.
However he doesn't have time to ponder the possible implications, as his Captain calls for the room's attention and starts briefing everyone on the details of their first mission.
At the end of the meeting Doctor McCoy lingers in the room to inquire after the Captain's health. Spock thinks that perhaps he noticed Kirk's tense demeanor too. The Captain quickly musters up a smile and admits to a light headache, nothing a good night sleep won't cure. McCoy seems satisfied at the explanation and Spock doesn't say anything, he doesn't know his Captain well enough to have an opinion yet.
Four days into their five-year mission Spock requests entrance to the Captain's quarters for a brief report and finds him sitting cross-legged on his bed wearing comfortable clothes. He has a couple pads in front of him but must have turned them off when Spock entered. Spock notices something else, an object on a shelf not far from the bed, but refrains from mentioning it instead proceeding to discuss ship's business.
"Is that all, Commander?" Kirk asks when Spock seems to be done.
"Yes, Captain." He pauses, "May I ask a personal query?"
"Sure." Kirk looks curious.
"Would you be amenable to a game of chess?" he glances at the board sitting on Kirk's shelf as if to silently explain his question.
Kirk looks surprised from Spock to the board and back, "Absolutely! Do you have time now?"
Spock nods "I am currently off duty."
Kirk smiles and gestures to his desk "Have a seat then."
That night Kirk loses three games but Spock observes him smiling and generally being more relaxed than he has seen him on shift during these first days. Spock cannot help being pleased and decides to make their games a regular occurrence in the future. Even though he lost, the Captain has proved to be an engaging opponent.
At the end of their first diplomatic mission Spock is in the transporter room with the Captain and Lieutenant Uhura attending the departure of their guests, three representatives of the Reelan people.
The Captain flushes a deep red at the greeting words of the Reelan leader, a humanoid with long white hair and amber eyes that seem to burn.
"We would be honored by your presence to our joining festivities, Captain. Are you certain you cannot attend?"
Kirk represses a shiver and says "Thank you for your invitation. Unfortunately my duties demand that we depart immediately. It's been an honor meeting with your people." He executes a perfect bow in the Reelan style and the party is finally beamed back to their planet.
Uhura glances at Kirk "That must have been the hardest thing you've ever done."
Kirk turns to her with a smirk and raised eyebrows. "No pun intended, sir." She adds grinning. Kirk throws his head back and laughs.
"Since when is 'joining festivities' code for three-day orgy anyway?" he asks bemused, "I totally grew up on the wrong planet!" he groans, making Uhura laugh too.
"They weren't that hot though." She says while they exit the room, Uhura and Spock on either side of Kirk.
Kirk makes a face "Yeah, the ears were really putting me off."
Uhura nods "Too hairy."
Spock just walks along, amused at the exchange without showing it. It is the first time he has heard his Captain laugh so freely.
For a while it will also be the last.
Every night Kirk wakes up sweating from nightmares populated by figures screaming in agony. Migraines become his constant companions and he finds almost no relief in meditation. When he can't sleep he works out in the gym, mindless of the hour, trying to bring his body to a level of exhaustion that will force him to sleep. The rest of the time he focuses on his job, the only thing that keeps him from giving up entirely.
He can feel Spock's eyes on him, the Vulcan is always by his side and Kirk knows he notices everything. Every time he slips and flinch for a particular strong wave of emotion, every time he tenses in pain, every time he seems to know exactly what those around him are thinking or feeling. Those are the times he gets the most curious glances from Spock, and he wonders if the Vulcan knows, or if he's starting to piece the puzzle together. Kirk knows Spock is a telepath too but has no idea how much he can surmise without touch and he's being very careful with that.
Sometimes he gets the urge to just tell Spock everything. When they're alone working on paperwork or playing chess and they stop to just talk of everything and nothing, in those moments Jim finds he can still smile and has to bite his tongue not to just tell him. It's starting to feel more and more like they're friends and surely Spock would understand better than anybody else, but he can't bring himself to do it.
Tomorrow will be better, he thinks every day. It never is.
It was supposed to be an easy mission. Meet with the locals, play nice, secure a trading contract for their dilithium and see if they would like to officially join the Federation now that they've reached warp.
Of course Starfleet's info on the planet is not up to date because they've admittedly had bigger fish to fry, so Kirk figures he should cut them some slack. He finds it hard though when he beams down in the middle of a civil war and two of his security officers are killed on sight, while the third one starts stunning every being they come across. Spock and Kirk draw their phasers too and suddenly it's all too clear why they couldn't contact anyone on the planet, communications must have been the first thing disabled when hell broke loose. Luckily they have a check-in with the Enterprise in an hour with orders to beam them back if communications are still impossible. All they have to do now is survive until then.
They start running towards the periphery of the city they beamed to, covering every time they can and praying their phasers don't run out of charge. They've almost made it to the edge of the city when it starts raining, making it almost impossible to spot threats before they're too close. Spock suggests they hide in the forest that spreads on the north-east and they're almost there when Spock is hit and falls down in the mud. Kirk and the remaining security officer – Lieutenant Yuki – manage to stun the assailant and his companions before Kirk runs back to Spock, who has been hit on his thigh and is bleeding too much for Jim's liking. He helps the Vulcan up and drapes Spock's arm on his shoulder so that he can lean on Kirk to walk. They have to slow down now and Lieutenant Yuki has to play backup for them on her own but they finally reach the forest. They keep walking into it for a little while or they won't be hidden at all but soon Kirk stops, too worried for his Vulcan First Officer who is trembling against him. He helps Spock to a sitting position, back propped up against a tree while Yuki stands guard. They're all soaked to their bones.
"How long until the Enterprise beams us back, Spock?" Kirk asks, taking off his gold shirt and moving closer to Spock.
"Approximately 27 minutes, Captain."
"Okay. I have to stop the bleeding now." He warns before starting to wrap his shirt around Spock's thigh as tightly as possible. "You're going to be fine." He tells Spock with that finality in his tone that Spock is familiar with now, the one that states illogical and improbable outcomes that somehow always come true. Spock just looks at him.
"Yuki, are you injured?"
"Good. We should be getting out of here soon. You've got a killer aim by the way." He praises and Spock mentally approves. "You did great today."
"Thank you, sir." She musters a small smile then resumes watching out for eventual enemies.
Spock is still watching Kirk so he notices immediately when Kirk frowns and turns his head sharply to their uncovered side. He closes his eyes then opens them and shoots three times with his phaser. Yuki whips around at the sound of phaser fire. Spock hears distant thuds, like bodies falling to the ground.
"Captain?" she whispers.
"I think I hit them all." He says like nothing out of the ordinary has just happened.
"How did you locate them?" Spock asks, some of his surprise probably audible in his tone.
"I heard a noise, it couldn't be any of us so I fired." He shrugs.
Spock cannot help but think that three perfect shots in a dark forest while it rains are a stretch even for his surprisingly resourceful Captain.
"I did not hear anything."
"I'm afraid the bleeding has distracted you, Spock." Kirk replies with a pained smile.
There is something Kirk is not telling him and Spock is determinate to find out what it is.
Later, after Spock has been released from Sickbay he joins his Captain in his quarters intending to ask him about the events that occurred planet side and the many other small things Spock has noticed during these months. Kirk is writing communications to the family of the deceased when he suddenly stops, covering his eyes with one hand, not saying anything for a couple minutes. Spock knows these are the first casualties to happen under his command and doesn't have it in him to question Kirk anymore. Instead he just sits closer and when Jim, sensing the movement, instinctively leans a bit into his shoulder Spock doesn't move back.
2 months, 3 weeks, 5 days and 17 hours since the start of their five-year mission is how long it takes Spock to find out the truth.
It's too late.
It doesn't bode well for them since the beginning. They're supposed to retrieve a team of scientists from the planet Psi2000 and they find them all inexplicably dead. They have to proceed anyway and record data of the planet collapsing onto itself, which is really the last thing any of them wants to see even if this time it's a natural occurrence and there are no people dying with it. Everybody is tense, almost vibrating with it, and Kirk is slowly going mad just sitting on the bridge with nothing to do but watch a dying planet, all the while bombarded with his crew's unease and voices screaming in his mind, replaying different events.
The distraction comes in a form he wouldn't have chosen, an unknown virus brought aboard by the careless science officer that accompanied Spock on the planet. The man dies seemingly without cause but not before having spread the contagion to the bridge crew and who knows how many more.
While Spock goes around neck pinching everyone who acts out of the ordinary – like Sulu who apparently thinks he's D'Artagnan – and maybe even enjoying it a little, Kirk thinks with a rueful smile, he has to help Scotty take back the engine room where Chekov has barricaded himself and is delighting everyone with his dubious musical talent.
What they find when they finally get it back is even more troubling. Chekov has turned off the engines and it would take thirty minutes to restart them when they barely have eight. Kirk runs off in search of Spock, who will be able to work the matter-antimatter implosion necessary for a cold-restart without blowing them up, or they will be sucked into the atmosphere of Psi2000 and die anyway.
He finds Spock sitting in a conference room, head buried in his arms mumbling to himself. Kirk is immediately hit by all the conflicting emotions warring inside Spock and it takes his breath away, making him stumble and lean onto a wall.
"I never told her I loved her. She will never know. I will never see her again."
Grief, sorrow, regret, love, guilt. It's too much. It's the last straw.
"Not you too, Spock. Don't do this to me." Even speaking is too much of an effort under the pressure of all that Spock is feeling. "I need you to restart the engines even if they're cold. We have to try or we'll die with this planet. Spock, focus on that! Go now!" He urges through gritted teeth before he's completely shattered and collapses to the ground, falling into the black emptiness that has been waiting for him.
Spock is shocked out of his momentary lapse of control by his Captain's loss of consciousness. He does not touch him to avoid infecting him, but alerts McCoy to the Captain's status and location and is in turn informed that the doctor has found a cure and is administering it to the crew with M'Benga's help.
Spock then runs to the engine room to follow his Captain's orders. The result of the successful cold-start is fascinating, they travel three days back in time. Spock is sure the data they collected will be discussed for decades in the scientific community but right now he has more pressing matters to attend to, he orders the Enterprise on course to their next mission and goes to Sickbay to personally inquire on the Captain's status.
"This can't be right! He's convulsing and this damn thing says he's in a coma!" McCoy growls fiddling with the controls of the biobed Kirk is lying on. The doctor is still trying to restrain Jim's body and calling for M'Benga to come help.
"Doctor!" Chapel tries unsuccessfully to gain his attention, while restraining the Captain on the other side of the bed "LEONARD! Calm yourself or you'll make it worse!"
Spock, who is watching the scene without disturbing, is perplexed by her statement. The doctor is known for being vociferous while executing his job steadily and efficiently, even Spock is somehow beginning to get used to it, though he can't say he appreciates it. McCoy freezes at the words though, still gripping the Captain's arm who's convulsing horribly, but he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before injecting Kirk with something.
"Thank you, Christine." His voice is level and devoid of the usual grumble that seems to underline everything he says. Spock isn't even sure he recognizes the man but has no time to consider it because his eyes instantly go back to the Captain, his convulsions are finally subsiding.
M'Benga enters the room, cool and collected, a tricorder in hand with which he immediately starts scanning Kirk. He shakes his head "There's nothing wrong with the readings, he's in a coma." Spock feels something cold drop in his stomach at the words.
"Let me see" McCoy turns to study the readings taken by the biobed and confront them, "It still doesn't make any sense, look at these spikes in his brainwaves."
"He's in pain" M'Benga says, then frowns "but he's not hurt."
"Not physically." notes McCoy.
"You think he's been affected by the virus?" Chapel ventures.
"He didn't show any symptoms, did he Spock?" M'Benga asks.
"The Captain left the bridge without coming into contact with anyone, but he seemed distressed. When he found me again he was clearly in pain and then he lost consciousness."
"It doesn't fit with the virus. What kind of pain?"
"He didn't elaborate but he has had headaches on multiple occasions lately." Spock offers.
"What? Why didn't he come to me? Why didn't you tell me? Don't answer." McCoy pauses "What I meant before is that I think the virus messed him up indirectly. I think this is backlash for all the rampant emotions on board."
"But he should have been able to shield." Chapel objects.
"Apparently not. And I've never had a case like this, it's like he's stuck in a pattern of pain," he points to the readings "see how they recur? It's like a loop, but how do I break him out of it? I've never seen anything like this in any Betazoid I've treated!"
"He can't sustain that much pain for much longer." M'Benga observes, studying the readings.
McCoy huffs "That's why I need ideas!"
Spock takes a step toward McCoy "Doctor, the Captain is Betazoid?"
McCoy looks at him with a manic expression "Only part Betazoid, not to mention he was born in space so God knows the radiation he got and what it did to him!" he turns back to M'Benga "Why is he reacting like this? Couldn't he be normal for once and lash out like any other Betazoid I've ever met?"
"Doctor, perhaps I can attempt a mind meld to discern the cause of the Captain's state." Spock intervenes.
"Vulcan voodoo, really?" McCoy explodes at the same time as M'Benga says "Spock, I'm not sure it would be safe for you, we don't know anything for sure."
"Are there other viable options?" Spock asks with a raised eyebrow.
McCoy reluctantly shakes his head, "Fine, do it. But I'm going to monitor you too. Be careful, don't hurt him more." He pauses, "And bring him back" he says with a meaningful look.
Spock is falling and falling, everything is dark around him and he's alone. There's nothing he can hold on to, no feeling, no thought, just darkness. His fall seems to last endlessly and he realizes with fear that he has no way to determine how long it is, no way to stop it.
Suddenly he's blinded by light, he closes his eyes then opens them slowly, carefully. He's standing on sand and that is all there is, only a seemingly infinite flat expanse of sand everywhere he looks. There's no horizon, nothing in sight in the far distance not even something resembling a sky, where one would expect the mind to produce the image. Looking up all he can see is white lifeless emptiness. It's daunting and oppressive and Spock feels chilled by this deserted landscape.
He can't feel his Captain's presence.
McCoy stares at Spock's readings, "He's stabilizing now. What the hell is he doing that got his heart going that fast?"
M'Benga shrugs, they have no way of knowing.
"Is there any way to break him out of it if it all goes to hell?" McCoy asks.
"Not without a skilled telepath and I wouldn't bet on it anyway."
"We've already used up all our telepaths."
"I could try slapping him in the face" M'Benga mimics the gesture.
McCoy would laugh if he weren't so worried, "Not that I wouldn't enjoy seeing that but would it really work?"
"It's worth a shot."
Spock tries calling him.
Nothing changes around him.
Spock kneels down on the sand and spreads a hand on it, he closes his eyes. The sand is cold. He tries to will it to change, to take him to his Captain but nothing happens.
What is he doing? He is not a trained healer, he has never attempted anything like this, he will fail. He will not find him and will lose himself trying. It's illogical.
A hot feeling courses through him. Even if he will lose himself it is still worth an attempt, his Captain needs him and Spock wants him back.
The sand under his palm warms briefly at that thought. Spock's eyes flash open, startled. Nothing has changed. Perhaps strong emotions can elicit a response. But the Captain was suffering already from all the feelings he was exposed to. What if he caused him even more pain?
Spock has barely admitted to himself that he's allowed to have emotions and here he is trying to determine the right ones to find his Captain. He is sure Kirk would laugh at the irony.
The sand trembles suddenly.
Not just emotions maybe, but those connected to the Captain. He thinks of the first time he entered the bridge and Kirk's smile, friendly and welcoming. He thinks of his words, of Kirk guarding his back on the Narada, honor and trust. He thinks of his Captain not leaving his side when he got hurt, and suddenly there's a ripple in the white emptiness and he can see his memory replaying in front of his eyes, Kirk stunning those who threaten them and he feels a fierce loyalty. The sand starts to tremble visibly, it moves all around him like a earthquake. Spock concentrates on the friendship they're building and how he wants it back.
He's engulfed in a soft warm glow and at first he can't see the source, then a small globe of light enters his line of vision, floating in front of him like a small star. It pulses with life and seems to get stronger and brighter while Spock watches it. The light dives down and crashes into the sands making everything explode and disappear.
Spock is engulfed in darkness once again but this time punctuated with stars and Spock can finally feel his Captain's presence. It's feeble and Spock can feel his agony, the pain that caused him to retreat so far from Spock's reach. He follows that trace and reaches for Jim, wrapping around him to shield him from the pain and pull him back to the surface. He doesn't know if Jim realizes Spock is there with him but when he feels relief pouring out of him he knows his efforts are working. Carefully, he guides them both back to consciousness, releasing the meld.
Spock falls on a chair that had been put near him, blinking against the harsh lights of Sickbay.
"Good god, man! You've been at it for almost an hour! I thought we had lost you both!" there's raw relief in McCoy's voice.
Luckily Spock doesn't have to answer because Jim moans in pain rolling on his side, his back to Spock. He squints up at the doctor, "Bones?" he croaks.
"Shh, Bones. Hurts." He brings his hands to his face.
"What, Jim? What hurts?"
"Everything. Head. Make it stop."
"I can give you something for the headache. But I need to check you out first, you were in a coma, you damn fool! What did you do to yourself? Are you shielding at all?"
"Can't. Everything's gone." He grimaces. "So much pain."
McCoy glances at Spock, a scared look in his eyes "I need to give him something for the pain, he's incoherent."
After having been in Jim's mind Spock is not so sure that's an accurate assessment.
"He's resting, finally. I gave him an inhibitor, he should be able to sleep that way." McCoy informs Spock as he enters his office where the Vulcan has been waiting for him. The doctor sits in his chair with a weary sigh and scrubs a hand on his face. "The way he says it, he's been like this since the destruction of Vulcan." He says slowly.
"He has experienced it telepathically."
"And empathically, let's not forget about that 'cause that's the kicker. I'd rather not tell you this, but I'm sure you'd just bug me until I did anyway, so." He takes a deep breath, "Jim has felt everything all those people felt in their last moments."
Spock is silent.
McCoy fills the silence, "And the idiot didn't tell me! He says he hasn't been able to shield anything since then. Three months, Spock! What the hell am I going to do to help him?"
"Did the Captain say if he had consulted with a healer?"
"No, he didn't. That's not how Jim works. He never tells anybody that he's part Betazoid. I only know because I'm his doctor, besides me only M'Benga and Chapel know because I need backup and at least one nurse who knows what the hell she's dealing with. I don't think he's ever seen a healer, as far as I know his mother saw to his training and that was it."
"That is illogical and could have been detrimental to the Captain's health."
"And that surprises you?" McCoy asks sarcastically. "We're talking about Jim here, he's not exactly the most logical tool in the box."
"Vulcans do not feel surprise, Doctor." Spock replies stiffly.
"Sure. Is that why your eyes bulged out when you found out he's part Betazoid?" He waves a hand in front of him to ward off any retort. "We need to find someone who can help him. That's our priority now."
"Diverting our course to Betazed is impossible at this juncture."
"Which is good 'cause Jim doesn't know anybody there, and I doubt Starfleet would appreciate the publicity that would inevitably come out of going through the official channels."
Spock nods, "Then the Captain will have to take a temporary leave and see to his health through Starfleet's health program."
"So we should just drop him off at the next Starbase? He'll never go with that! And you've already seen for yourself how well marooning him works! He'll find his way back every time, like a damn boomerang." He makes a wild gesture that Spock imagines is supposed to mimic the object he's referring to.
Spock raises an eyebrow at McCoy, glaring slightly, "As I am now more familiar with the Captain, I believe you are correct."
McCoy scowls back but refrains from commenting.
Having exhausted all logical solutions, only one remains and Spock has been thinking about it since he found Jim. "Perhaps I could offer the Captain my assistance."
"Isn't it dangerous for you too? It didn't look like a piece of cake to me while you were connected to him."
"Those were extenuating circumstances. With the Captain as a conscious participant any risk would be less significant."
"But you're not a healer." McCoy objects, extremely reluctant to just hand over the care of Jim's health.
"That is true, but all Vulcans are trained to see to both their physical and mental health. While I am not familiar with Betazoid training I believe it is safe to assume a certain degree of similarities. I will need to speak with the Captain concerning this possibility before we can consider the matter settled."
"Right, you do that. It's not like we have any other options really."
Since McCoy has put the Captain on mandatory sick leave for twenty-four hours (to Jim's undignified annoyance) Spock has to justify with the crew their Captain's absence, stating that the Captain is in acceptable health, but is forbidden to receive visitors because he is recuperating from what could be considered a telepathic attack. Some of the senior officers look even more worried then, but seem mollified after Spock adds that Kirk has been extremely loud in expressing his displeasure at being confined in his quarters.
Nonetheless Spock finds himself cornered by Nyota as soon as their shift is over.
"Is he really ok?" she asks with a slightly worried look. Spock is not surprised, he's not the only one who has had to revise his opinion on James Kirk during the last three months.
"I did not lie to the crew as you seem to imply." He says in his best emotionless tone.
"I didn't mean that, it's just that a telepathic attack sounds bad."
"It was," he admits "but the Captain is very strong." After only a glimpse of Kirk's sufferance Spock is still wondering how he even survived this long.
Uhura nods, "Did you see him?"
"Yes, I assisted him during the most troubling part through a mind meld. I am not at liberty to discuss the details, Nyota. It would be a breach of the Captain's privacy."
She waves a hand in front of herself "That's okay, I understand. I'll help you reassuring everybody. Did you see the look on Chekov's face? Like they kicked his favorite puppy." She smiles, "That's some hero worship he's got going. Anyway, he'll be back tomorrow, right?"
"If he recuperates satisfactorily, yes."
"Are you going to help him?"
"I will endeavor to do so, with his permission."
"Then I'm sure he'll be fine." She smiles again and leaves.
Spock visits the Captain as soon as he has attended to the rest of his duties. Kirk is of course still in his quarters and Spock finds him sitting cross-legged on his bed, wearing grey sweats and a white t-shirt. It suddenly occurs to him that this is not the first time he has found his Captain in such a position, and only now he recognizes it as an attempt at meditation.
"Hey, Spock." The Captain smiles faintly "If you're here to relieve me of command I understand." He's had all day to prepare himself and not come off like even more of an ass to his First Officer, whose opinion of him must have hit a new low after the recent events.
"Lieutenant Sulu currently has the conn, Captain." Spock says helplessly not having foreseen this line of conversation.
"Come on, don't beat around the bush. You're here to tell me I was compromised and illogical. Look, I thought I just needed time to get it back under control. I couldn't imagine I'd end up collapsing three months after the fact."
"I confess I am not sure whether you qualify as compromised. You have been working efficiently, always taking into consideration your subordinates' input and nobody was negatively affected by your state. With the exception of our last mission which resulted in you being incapacitated, an occurrence that is to be expected at some point by every commanding officer, you have always discharged your duty successfully." He pauses, then adds "Furthermore, I should point out that Vulcans are not in the habit of hitting any kind of flora."
Kirk doesn't show any reaction to the last statement, "So you're saying I'm not illogical?"
"On the contrary, I believe your decision not to inform anybody of your state was highly illogical. I am merely stating that you were the only one who suffered its detrimental effects."
"Oh, good! I'm illogical and masochistic! Hadn't heard that one in a while."
"The doctor and I have surmised that the only way for you to receive the care you require is to disembark at the next Starbase." Spock says trying to stir the conversation to what he actually wants to discuss.
"What?" Kirk jumps up from his bed and starts pacing "No! No way. Spock! One minute you're being all understanding and the next you want to throw me off the ship? I thought we were past this!"
There is a subtle note of hurt in his voice that doesn't escape Spock and makes him hasten to explain, "We also expected you to react this way. That is why I proposed an alternative solution to which the doctor has tentatively agreed."
Kirk stops in his tracks and gives him a suspicious look, "What's that?"
"As the only other telepathic being on the ship, I volunteered to assist you in your healing process."
His declaration is followed by stunned silence and Kirk gaping at him. Then his Captain's shoulders sag "Spock, it all started with Vulcan. I don't think it's fair to ask you this."
"You are not asking, I am offering."
"I can't believe you'd do that for me." Kirk rubs a hand on the back of his neck.
"To coin a phrase, Captain, I thought we were past this." Spock replies with a pointed look.
He is rewarded with Kirk's first genuine smile in days, "I like it when you're snarky."
Spock lets the comment pass, intent on convincing Jim to actually accept his help, "You were attempting meditation when I entered, correct?"
Kirk nods, going back to sitting on the bed "I was, but I can never hold it for long."
"I believe I can be of assistance. If you agree to a mind meld I am confident I can aid you in rebuilding your shields, which in turn will help you achieve meditation."
"Spock, I appreciate your offer, I really do, but I don't think that's a good idea. Last time was bad enough."
"Last time, Captain?"
"Yeah, your older counterpart melded with me to give me all the information I needed as fast as possible when I was on Delta Vega. It was intense and I wasn't either prepared or stable." He runs a hand on his face "I had never had that kind of telepathic contact with anyone outside my family."
Spock blanches "He forced it on you in your distressed state?"
Kirk's eyes widen "No, no! It wasn't like that, he asked but I wasn't familiar with it, while it was obvious that he was completely comfortable with me. He must have done it with my alternate self I guess, so he didn't really wait for an answer. I'm not angry at him, it was necessary and he couldn't have known the state I was in. He wasn't intrusive, the meld was pretty shallow but the emotional transference was… too much, Spock. I think I blacked out for a second."
"Captain," Spock pauses, searching for the right approach "when you collapsed and Doctor McCoy ascertained that your abilities were the cause, I performed a mind meld to bring you back to consciousness. I regret that I was unable to seek your permission at the time, did you find the meld distressing?" he asks and Kirk notices an edge of unease.
"It was you?" he asks unable to contain his awe.
Kirk closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, recalling the sensation of being cradled and coveted like the most precious thing in existence. He's been going back to that feeling and focusing on it all day, trying to center himself using the memory.
"It wasn't distressing at all." He says with feeling "It was…" perfect, the most amazing thing I've ever felt in my life "I had never felt anything like it. I didn't realize it was you."
Spock nods, feeling illogically proud and relieved.
"I should have known." Kirk adds, surprising Spock.
"It is reasonable that you did not, as we had never engaged in telepathic contact before," his muscles tense a bit thinking of his older self "and you were severely compromised."
"Yeah, but" Kirk huffs a laugh without humor, looking everywhere but at Spock "this is going to sound ridiculous, but you're pretty much the only thing that kept me sane these past three months."
It doesn't sound ridiculous to Spock, who is filled with warmth at the words.
"While I am pleased I could be of assistance, I cannot imagine how it was possible as I was unaware of the circumstances."
"You do realize you're the only one on this ship besides me who actively shields, right?" Kirk asks with a small smile and Spock is momentarily floored by the simplicity of it. "You have no idea what a relief it was for me every time we were alone in a room. Actually even if there was someone else, I could sort of focus on you and keep a clear head." His eyes widen then and his expression is close to horrified, as a realization seems to dawn on him.
The sudden shift alarms Spock "Captain?"
Kirk looks back at him "Spock, I'm sorry! I hadn't really thought about it and it must sound awful, like I've been using you, but I swear it wasn't like that."
"That is illogical, Captain. You did nothing wrong and therefore have no reason to apologize. I am pleased that I was able to offer a respite from chaos, even if I was not conscious of it."
"Thank you" Kirk says, his voice intense in a way Spock has never heard it. "For shielding," he grins there "for bringing me back and offering your help."
"My offer still stands, Jim." Spock tells him and Kirk's smile widens at the use of his name.
Kirk takes a breath, as if preparing himself. "I'd like to try." He says at last.
Spock joins his Captain on the bed, sitting cross-legged in front of him, their knees almost touching. He asks for permission even if they've already agreed and Kirk smiles at him nodding.
"My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts."
Everything is different now that his Captain is conscious. His mind is so alive and bright and vibrating with energy that Spock almost forgets what he's supposed to do for a second. The contrast is startling in a most pleasing manner. Spock quickly regains himself and begins his exploration.
Kirk's relief at Spock's gentle touch is met by Spock's joy at being able to provide it. Somehow Spock is able to soothe the wounds he finds in his mind and Jim marvels at it, he had almost forgotten how it felt not being constantly in pain, how it felt to be whole. It will be a long way before he's actually whole again, but he's been suffering alone for so long now, that the difference is already palpable.
Spock still feels like water, but this time Jim's not destroyed, he's nurtured by it. His mind thrums with a new strength as if Spock's breathing life in him again. Jim welcomes it and feels like he's regaining shape, he knows where his boundaries are again and he could shield from the world if he tried. He doesn't now because he doesn't want to let go of Spock. He feels safe. So instead he holds onto him and Spock lets him.
When they pull back Kirk's eyes are shining with unguarded amazement and Spock's breath catches at the intense gaze directed at him. Soon though Kirk averts his eyes and when he looks back at Spock he has regained his composure. It makes Spock wish Kirk would be unguarded with him all the time.
"You are still…" Spock starts but cuts himself off.
"Fragile?" Kirk asks tilting his head "You can say it, my ego has survived worse." He assures him grinning with real humor.
Spock lifts an eyebrow, but nods.
"I know, I'll keep working on it."
"Perhaps we could meditate together, I would gladly assist you in your progress."
"Really? I'd like that. I used to meditate with my brother when I was a kid. It's been so long now. Are you sure it wouldn't bother you?"
"Vulcans engage in joint meditation with members of their family. It would be beneficial for me too. Your mental presence does not bother me at all." Quite the contrary, he thinks to himself.
Kirk clears his throat awkwardly, "Okay, then. Maybe tomorrow after shift?"
"That would be acceptable." He stands up and looks Kirk over for a moment, his gaze fixing on the dark shadows under his eyes "Captain, am I correct in assuming that you have not been sleeping well?"
"I do sleep, just never for long. Most nights I have nightmares… it all comes back when I'm sleeping, you know? Sometimes a headache will build up while I'm asleep because I can't shield properly, and the pain wakes me up. It will pass once I manage to shield again." He shrugs like it doesn't really matter.
"Vulcans have ways to induce restful sleep, you would not remember dreaming."
"Should I count sehlats?" he grins up at Spock, who proceeds to ignore his human habit of joking.
"No, Captain. It will simply require me to briefly touch your mind once you are ready to rest. If you allow me."
"Go ahead, Spock. I'm beat even if I've been doing nothing all day."
Kirk lies down in his bed and pulls up the covers. It's silly but he feels suddenly embarrassed in doing such a simple gesture in front of his First Officer, because it's a symbol of how much more familiar and intimate they've become tonight. The thought makes him feel raw and exposed. He tries to swallow down the lump that has formed in his throat and tells himself the hurt and stress of these past months are finally getting to him.
Spock stands next to the bed and stretches a hand to Kirk's forehead when he's settled but Jim stops him, curling his fingers around Spock's wrist.
"Thanks, Spock. You're a real friend." Then he closes his eyes and lets Spock press two fingers to his psi points, murmuring softly in Vulcan.
Kirk falls asleep instantly and Spock stands there, reluctant to leave even if he knows his Captain is safe now. He takes a moment to observe the Human and think about the trust Kirk has granted him, more and more since the Narada mission and culminating in what they shared tonight. He discovers in himself a fierce desire not to disappoint him.
The following evening Kirk welcomes Spock in his quarters with a big smile. He's slept through the night, without nightmares, for the first time in months thanks to Spock.
"I went all out for you tonight!" he announces presenting with a flourish an addition to his quarters. It's a cozy and warm-looking meditation mat with two big cushions that seem very comfortable.
"We can still sit on the bed like yesterday if you prefer, but this is a classic, isn't it? And I promise your backside is gonna love that cushion!" his enthusiasm heartens Spock, it's clear the Captain has truly benefited from their previous session.
"Even ignoring the fact that backsides do not have a separate consciousness from that of the being they are attached to, in my case this part of my anatomy is as Vulcan as I am and therefore not prone to emotion." Spock deadpans.
Kirk laughs at that and then retorts "I have now melded with two versions of you and you're still going with that?" he shakes his head at Spock "You're not fooling me, mister!"
A corner of Spock's mouth quirks up almost imperceptibly and he decides to stir the conversation onto safer topics. "Have you experienced much discomfort today?" he asks, then goes to sit on one of the cushions. Kirk smiles and joins him.
"It wasn't a bed of roses but it wasn't as bad as before either. I still had to resort a bit to concentrating on you, though." He makes a face. "Sorry."
"Do not apologize, it is perfectly understandable."
"That felt easier too, actually. Like I could recognize your presence and find it more easily, at least when we are in the same room. I noticed it on the bridge. Do you think it's because we melded? Or was I just deluding myself?"
"I believe your conclusion is correct. Our minds are now more familiar with each other as we have engaged in a deep meld twice. It is something I had not thought of in a long while, but when I lived on Vulcan I was attuned to the presence of my parents' minds."
"You used to meld with them?" Kirk asks, not sure if he's allowed.
"On occasion, yes. I also meditated with my father whenever we were both available." Which wasn't often, but he had deeply missed it after his father disowned him for refusing admission to the Vulcan Science Academy.
Kirk nods "I had sort of forgotten how it was. I had become so used to it being unilateral, you know? With mom gone and my brother on another planet. I hadn't realized until now how much I missed being able to actually share this."
"I must admit to a similar realization."
They look at each other for a moment and Kirk feels a little awkward. He considers Spock a friend but he's not used to share so much with someone, especially this part of himself, but it feels right and if anybody can understand he thinks that's Spock. So he takes a breath and steels himself, reminding himself that he already trusts Spock with everything and this is just one more thing.
"Okay, what do we start with?"
"I believe we should begin with meditating. I will keep my meditation light so as to be aware of you at all times in case you need assistance."
Kirk nods and positions himself comfortably, his eyes falling shut. He concentrates on evening his breath and cleansing his mind of all thoughts, it's hard because he feels the pressure of emotions pushing against his precarious shields. He tries to retreat further into his mind, find his core, peaceful and beautiful where he can order his thoughts and feelings but something shatters and he opens his eyes again.
Spock's eyes fly open immediately after, "Seven point two minutes" he informs.
Kirk groans and drops his head onto his crossed legs "That's even worse than usual."
"I'm not sure. I couldn't completely block everything out but I don't think it was that. It felt like I was stuck and just couldn't go deeper. It's been feeling like this since Vulcan, every time I tried to meditate."
Spock then asks permission for a meld and soon finds that Jim's mind has erected a barrier to protect itself from the empathic memory of the destruction of Vulcan. Unfortunately this also means that Jim cannot process those emotions, the barrier is there because he has already been overwhelmed once and probably wouldn't survive it a second time, but unless they are dealt with there will be no true healing either. They both understand this and in the meld Spock can feel all too clearly Jim's reluctance.
A memory comes to the front of Jim's mind, in it he's a kid sitting on a cushion in front of a blond woman, he reaches for her wrist and grabs it, seemingly concentrating on her heartbeat to achieve meditation. The memory fades and a music plays softly, peaceful and soothing, Spock recognizes some of the Terran instruments, flute, violin, piano, maybe small bells. He is mesmerized by the harmony they create. "I used to listen to this at the Academy to keep out all the noise while I was meditating." Jim supplies.
When they slip out of the meld Spock proposes they try meditating again and offers Jim his wrist. Jim hesitates, saying it will distract Spock because of his touch telepathy but Spock argues he was already using his telepathy to monitor him, this will actually be less taxing on him. Kirk relents then.
At first it seems like it won't work, Spock's heart beats faster than that of a human and it's a little disconcerting for Jim. Once he gets past the novelty of it though, he actually manages to concentrate on it so well that it's like it's pulsing directly in his mind, and it's incredibly reassuring. Keeping it as a focus he starts strengthening his shields and doesn't feel any interference.
It lasts forty-three minutes before a communication from the bridge beeps on his terminal breaking the silence and their meditation. Kirk curses under his breath and stands up to answer it. It's nothing that couldn't have waited and he mentally berates himself for not putting the filter for emergencies only up. Still, they have already made progress and Spock says they will meditate again in the morning before their shift, since it seems they found a way that works, and that cheers Jim up a bit.
When Spock leaves his quarters, Kirk realizes with a start that he misses not just his physical presence but his mental one, too. The feeling was dimmed when Spock was still there, but it's undeniable now.
"You didn't tell me Spock pulled me out of my coma." Kirk says without preamble, dropping in the chair in front of McCoy's desk in his office.
"Sorry, I was busy making sure you wouldn't slip right back into it." The doctor replies sarcastically.
Kirk raises his hands in mock surrender "Fine. No need to get bitchy." He grins at McCoy's scowl. "I was just surprised, is all."
"He said he was gonna talk to you, I figured he'd tell you himself." Kirk nods, confirming it and McCoy asks "So, how's your therapy with the elf going? Is he any good?"
"It's going well. It's not easy but I'm slowly getting some of my control back." He pauses then adds "He's pretty amazing actually. Never felt anything like it."
McCoy's eyebrows hit his hairline "Are we still talking about therapy here?"
Kirk smirks "Are you jealous, Bones? You wanna get in my mind-pants too?"
"Not even if you beg."
When Spock enters his Captain's quarters he notices immediately that the temperature is warmer than usual. Not quite like Spock's standard setting but significantly warmer than the rest of the ship. Kirk doesn't seem disturbed by the slight change and Spock doesn't mention it, silently appreciating the gesture.
"What you got there, Spock?"
"A scented candle, Captain." He holds it up so that Kirk can see it better. "It is supposed to enhance calm and facilitate meditation. I checked with Doctor McCoy, you should not have any adverse reaction to its components."
Kirk looks amused, "Is it even possible to have an allergic reaction to a candle?"
"I believe you capable of many unusual feats."
"I'll pretend that's a compliment" Kirk grinned at him.
Spock doesn't reply, instead moving to what is becoming their usual spot for meditation, Kirk immediately follows and they settle comfortably. Spock lights the candle and places it next to them, offering his wrist to his Captain as they wordlessly fall in a meditative state. Tonight Spock plans to confront the empathic memories that have been eating at Jim for so long, but he chooses not to tell him before they meld, he doesn't want Jim to be anxious when attempting meditation.
As soon as they meld he can't hide his intent any more.
"Do not resist, Jim."
"I can't. I don't want you to feel this. Not again."
"I am here to help."
"It's not fair. You shouldn't have to relive it."
"I will not be alone this time and neither will you. We will face it together."
Jim is silent, all his energy concentrated on blocking Spock. It's straining him and they both know he won't last much longer, he's too weakened.
"Jim, cease your attempts at resistance. It will increase your pain and destroy you in the end. I will not allow it."
"You're bossy." There's a laugh around that thought and Spock can feel Jim is starting to give in, slowly allowing Spock to deepen the meld.
It's not easy. In fact, apart from the first hand experience they both had, reliving the last moments of the Vulcan people is the hardest thing they've ever done. But Spock was right, together they're stronger and even if at first it seems they will be submerged by the crippling fear so many katras shared in those last moments, they actually manage to shield and sift through the memories at their pace.
There's a paralyzing second though, when Spock has the distinct impression of feeling his mother, that has them almost crumbling under the pressure. Jim is somehow able to separate that feeling and shield it from Spock, who finds his control back. It is illogical, he tells Jim, his mother was not a telepath and there can't be any trace of her in these memories. Still his mind throbs painfully where his parental link with her once was. Jim doesn't remind Spock that his memories are empathic too and therefore there is a trace of Amanda in his mind, he just hadn't been able to distinguish her before. Now that he knows, he holds onto it. He will cherish it for Spock. One day, he promises himself, he will let Spock know that among the fear she also felt happiness because she saw her son one last time, and her love will burn in Jim's mind until Spock is ready to feel it again.
That night Jim wakes up with tears running on his face, the burning pain that seems to split his head in two must have been building for a while and he barely has time to open his eyes and moan in pain before he is hit by a bout of nausea. He stumbles out of the bed, almost falling, and rushes to the bathroom, dropping on his knees in front of the toilet. He makes it just in time, but between the puking and the splitting headache he feels about to pass out. His vision blurs, black spots appearing at the corners, and he has a flare of panic thinking "Not again".
When the heaving subsides he slowly lies down on the tile floor trying to fight off the loss of consciousness with even breaths. The last thing he remembers thinking is "Spock!" and then nothing.
Spock wakes up with a jolt, sure that he has heard his Captain call his name. Of course a cursory glance around his quarters confirms what he already knows, Jim is not in Spock's quarters. That leaves only the possibility of a telepathic communication which alarms Spock even more. He doesn't hesitate in leaving his quarters and rapidly reaches Kirk's that are fortunately next door, overriding the code without a second thought. It is the most logical course of action and if he is mistaken he will apologize for the intrusion.
The room is dark and quiet when he enters, Spock slows his pace and orders the light to fifteen percent, enough to see but not too disturbing if his Captain is sleeping. The bed is empty and Kirk is nowhere in sight though, so Spock enters the bathroom and finds him unconscious on the floor. The sight chills him but doesn't stop him, he kneels next to Kirk and rapidly assesses that he is unconscious but has not slipped into a coma again. Relieved, Spock finds a cloth and wets it to dab at Jim's face, who slowly starts to stir.
Kirk grimaces, the pain from his headache coming back with his senses, "Spock?" he croaks, throat raw from the previous abuse, "What are you doing here?"
"You called for me."
"What?" his face is scrunched up in pain, eyes shut tight against the low lights.
"You are in pain, I should call Doctor McCoy."
Kirk's hand shoots up to grab Spock's arm, "No, don't wake him. I've got what I need for the migraine there." He points to a cabinet. "I just didn't reach it in time."
Spock opens it and finds a small kit with various hyposprays inside, mostly allergy shots as he quickly finds out.
"The blue one." Says Kirk from the floor, then adds "Don't worry, it's all Bones approved."
Spock doesn't doubt it and proceeds to inject Kirk with the right hypo. He carefully helps his Captain up, despite Kirk's protests that he should just stay on the floor, and leads him back to bed, sitting himself on its edge. Fifteen minutes pass in a relaxed silence until Kirk drops his hand from his eyes, the meds finally taking effect.
"How exactly did I call for you?" he asks, confused and bleary eyed.
Kirk groans, unhappy at his lack of control. "Sorry I woke you up."
"There is no need to apologize. Did you experience distress because of the meld?"
"I don't know, I guess we opened up a can of worms last night and these are the consequences."
Spock's eyebrows vanish under his hairline. "We did no such thing."
"It's an expression." Jim says with a weak smile, "It means we chose to do something over which we don't have much control and now we must deal with the mess."
"I see." He pauses, "I should have ensured that you rested peacefully, I can provide that now if you wish."
Kirk sighs and nods "Thanks, Spock."
They're playing chess in Kirk's quarters after a long boring day of watching stars fly by while they're on route to Xippin III, where they are escorting a delegation of diplomats.
"I have a question," Kirk says after moving his bishop "but you're not gonna like it."
Spock doesn't lift his gaze from the chessboard, intent on studying the situation. "How did you reach that conclusion?"
"Because it's a personal question."
Spock looks up then to grace Kirk with his most skeptical eyebrow.
Kirk rolls his eyes, "Yeah, I know we've been in each other's minds and there's not much more personal than that, but it doesn't mean privacy is out the window either."
Spock nods and lowers his gaze back to the board "I agree. What is your question?"
"Isn't Uhura annoyed that you're spending so much time with me? I feel like I'm taking up all of your free time." He pauses to watch as Spock moves his knight, then finishes "You know I can handle things now."
"Lieutenant Uhura has expressed surprise at our developing friendship" Spock starts and Jim grins, half amused at Uhura's comment half pleased at the implicit admission, "but also satisfaction," Spock continues "she believes it will be beneficial to both ourselves and the running of the ship. I am also aware that you do not necessitate my constant presence but I find your companionship pleasant. Is that acceptable?" He's looking at the board again when he asks that, but there's a telling tightness in his posture that wasn't there before.
"Of course it is!" There's a smile in Jim's voice and it's enough to relax Spock. "I'm having fun, I just didn't want to take advantage. Still, maybe you should spend some time with your girlfriend."
Kirk concentrates on checking the position of every piece, his strategy seems to be working and he has managed to put Spock momentarily on defense but he needs to be careful.
"Lieutenant Uhura and I are not engaged in a romantic relationship."
To hell with concentration.
"What? Since when?"
"Since I chose to join the new Vulcan colony."
Kirk frowns comically "But then you came back!"
"I did, but I had other reasons too. We agreed a friendship would suit us better."
I had other reasons too. Which sounds like she alone wasn't enough to stay. Yeah, Kirk wouldn't have settled for that either. He nods without commenting and moves his queen.
They slip out of the meld and Spock is satisfied with the progress they're managing, it's slow but evident. Jim's shields are stabilizing and even if he still concentrates on Spock's heartbeat to meditate, the Vulcan thinks it is more out of a sense of companionship than necessity. He doesn't mind.
"I have considered what you told me of your encounter with my older self during meditation." He broaches a subject that has been running through his mind for some time now. "It seems illogical to me that he would expose you to such danger performing a mind meld when you were in such a distressed state. Especially since he claimed a friendship with an alternate version of you, he should have known better."
"I don't think he knew the state I was in." Kirk replies, slightly surprised. "He was sure you were compromised but didn't say anything of the sort to me. Maybe he just didn't think of it. He was pretty shaken up himself after all."
"And he did not notice your distress during the meld?" Spock can't help his instinct to dissect every minute detail, especially when he has developed a deep personal interest in the matter.
"I think he attributed it to emotional transference. He said so." Kirk shrugs. "Spock, don't obsess over it. It's not anybody's fault. I already feel stupid, I mean there are Vulcans who have actually heard their families' voices among those screams, whose bonds have been broken. They're out there rebuilding and I'm here," he holds out his arms helplessly "completely unable to even hold my meditation for longer than fifteen minutes without help."
"Jim, you should not think less of yourself for this. Yes, Vulcans are rebuilding because it is necessary and logical to provide immediately for those who survived, but do not think they are not experiencing distress, the level of which is unparalleled in our history. I am also convinced that your empathic abilities have amplified the experience. I admit I wondered how you had survived it, let alone fight it for so long without assistance."
"What about you? You're handling it by yourself."
"You know better than anybody that I was gravely compromised. I have since been examined by a surviving Vulcan healer and engaged in deep meditation with my father. It is still an ongoing grieving process."
"I can't even imagine how the healers are coping then. Dealing with their grief and everybody else's."
"It is certainly a trying task." Spock concedes and they both fall silent for a moment.
Jim looks up at him and says in a low voice, "I could feel it. After you beamed back from Vulcan, those were the only times I ever felt you projecting. It was…" he shakes his head, unable to put it into words, "I'm sorry I had to turn it against you."
"It was necessary. I understood your reasons long ago." When Kirk looks at him, he can spot an intent in his eyes. Spock stays still, waiting, but after a moment Jim seems to shake himself and Spock is left wondering what he has convinced himself not to do.
"There is something else I wished to discuss." Spock says picking up the thread of conversation when Jim turns his gaze to the side.
Jim looks back at him, giving Spock his attention.
"Vulcans have a technique, similar perhaps to the one I used to allow you to sleep restfully, that serves a different purpose. It makes people forget about certain events, or emotions." He explains carefully.
As usual Jim seems to know exactly where Spock is going with his topic, as his eyes widen and he leans slightly back. "What are you saying, Spock?"
"I could make you forget." It's barely more than a whisper.
"No." His answer is categorical, his voice intense. "Never. I couldn't live with myself knowing I choose to forget. It wouldn't be fair to those who died, it wouldn't be respectful."
"I would only erase the empathic memories that flooded your mind, you wouldn't forget the events." Spock replies, even though he understands perfectly what Jim means, and a part of him had expected nothing less from him.
Jim shakes his head, "I know that it hurt me, but we're dealing with it and it's getting better. I can't just erase them, it's like… like I have something of them inside me." His voice cracks but he keeps going, "Emotions give meaning to what happened. We evolve as individuals because of that, I know it's not like that for Vulcans but it is for humans. Even when it hurts it makes us grow, I would never choose to forget just like I would never choose ignorance over knowledge. I'm all about the hard truth, Spock, because that I can face."
Spock considers it for a moment. "I understand." He says, because it's true, and adds this to the fascinating puzzle that is James Kirk.
After almost three weeks of sessions with Spock, Kirk is in Sickbay again to be checked out by McCoy. He went willingly if only to spare himself the humiliation of being sedated on the bridge. He's dressing himself after Bones has thoroughly scanned every inch of him, obviously paying particular attention to his brain even though the doctor still claims it's nonexistent.
"Don't tell him but I think it's hilarious."
"What's hilarious, Bones?" Kirk asks looking up at his best friend after pulling his gold shirt back on.
"The fact that a Vulcan of all people is offering you the emotional support you need. And he's not just offering, he's actually bringing it from what I see. You haven't been this healthy in a while." McCoy explains looking at his readings and making some notes on a PADD.
"Bones, be careful. You sound like you're paying Spock a compliment and being happy about it. Should I call for a red alert?" he jokes.
"Shut up." McCoy grumbles.
"Maybe you've been infected with something. Or it's space madness! 'Cause you know, space is disease and madness wrapped up in darkness!" he grabs his friend by the shoulders "Feel like you're going to puke, Bones?"
"Enough!" he explodes, disentangling himself from Jim's grip. "Out of my sickbay you idiot parrot! Why did I ever talk to you? Why?"
"I think you were drunk, Bones." Kirk's laughing openly now, McCoy is still insulting him in colorful ways while shoving Jim ahead of him to hide the grin that he's barely keeping at bay. It's good to see his friend is back to being himself, but it doesn't mean he can hang around cluttering his Sickbay.
Their next diplomatic mission is to act like mediators between two neighboring planets who have a long history of on-and-off war. Starfleet wants to secure a peace treaty that will guarantee stability in such a key location of the quadrant and sends the flagship to make their intentions clear. The two races they come across probably have a distant common ancestor because their features have many commonalities and they both have telepathic abilities. Spock is worried at the added pressure these abilities will put on his Captain, who is already facing his biggest diplomatic challenge yet.
He doesn't mention the possible danger to Kirk, but is nonetheless reassured on the matter by his Captain who probably senses Spock's unease despite his attempt at controlling it.
It takes them nine days of strenuous almost non-stop talks to get the parties to agree on a peace treaty, but they also obtain a trade agreement and the foundation of a society that will manage cultural exchanges between the two civilizations, things that will no doubt help the peacekeeping efforts.
Kirk and Spock meet every night as usual to meditate, leaving out melding in favor of strengthening their shields. Those are the only moments Spock sees Jim relax and he finds himself in a similar predicament when alone with his friend.
When they finally depart at the end of their mission, Spock notices that Jim is bursting with energy, his happiness at their success almost palpable. They're walking to his Captain's quarters after dinner in the mess when Spock compliments him on his handling of the situation. Kirk replies "I couldn't have done it without you," stepping closer and moving his arm as if to hug him sideways but rapidly aborting the gesture and walking on. Spock falters in his step but follows him.
That night they meld again and Spock sees Jim's shields are stronger than ever. They end up sharing some memories, Jim laughing and thinking "You do that to test my attention level, don't you?" when Spock's inner voice slips into Vulcan, and Spock realizes for the first time that Jim actually speaks the language. How he did not notice before is beyond him, perhaps it has to do with the effect Jim's mind has on him. Some of the memories are from the last few days, and in them Spock can see Doctor McCoy watching the Captain like an hawk. "He's a mother hen" says Jim but his affection for his friend is clear and an older memory pushes to the front of his thoughts, this time the doctor is all but shouting "Have you been meditating at all?" his face contorted in a manner most hilarious to Jim.
They slip out of the meld to the sound of Jim's bright laughter, he is still holding Spock's wrist in his hand and Spock is so accustomed to the touch that he hadn't even noticed it, but now he is intensely aware of it as he is enveloped in Jim's happiness. Despite the fatigue Spock is sure Jim is feeling, his friend is unusually animated tonight and Spock basks in the pleasant waves emanating from Jim.
As Jim's hilarity subsides Spock asks about the last memory they saw and Jim tells him it's from their first year at the Academy, launching in a retelling of how he met the doctor and how they came to share a dorm room.
"At first sharing a room with Bones wasn't easy. I mean, you've met the guy. He's a firework both verbally and emotionally. I liked him and the verbal part was fun but the emotional side was hard on me the first few weeks. I hadn't been in close quarters with anyone for years, and even then it was with Sam so it was completely different, we were both trained to shield ourselves.
"I didn't tell him I was part Betazoid 'cause it's not all I am, right? And I didn't want him to feel bad. Slowly I got used to it and in a couple of months I had it under control. But then one day I was having lunch with him, eating what I thought was an innocuous piece of cake and my throat suddenly started feeling tight and my tongue was swelling. It turned out there was a stray piece of kiwi, just my luck, and obviously I'm allergic. He started jabbing me with hypos," Kirk mimics stabbing himself in the neck several times "he knew some of my allergies, but wasn't officially my doctor so he'd never seen my records and it was a bit trial and error there for a minute, but he got it right in the end." He grins.
"As soon as he had it under control he hauled me to the hospital and demanded to see my records, and of course as he started reading them he was yelling at me and telling me how I was an idiot. I kept telling him to shut up 'cause my head hurt and everything else too, my shields weren't holding well so he was really hurting me without knowing it. When he did shut up I was a little out of it and kept shushing him, because I could still feel his emotions." He grins again and shakes his head at the memory "He must have thought I was crazy, at least until he read the family history on my records and found out I was part Betazoid."
Jim pauses and his expression turns thoughtful, "He left without a word and didn't come back until three hours later. By then I was lucid and honestly panicking 'cause I thought he was either angry at me for not telling him or full on disgusted with me. What if he wasn't comfortable with a telepathic roommate? Privacy and all that, you know? Some people have problems with that, it's a matter of trust after all and I couldn't exactly present a good defense since I hadn't been honest with him. But then he came back and the first thing he did was asking me if I was shielding fine. I could only nod at him 'cause I was a little stunned, so he proceeded to tell me that he'd signed up for a class that taught doctors how to shield their minds, so they could treat telepathic patients without distressing them. Then he told me he wanted to be appointed as my doctor since obviously I couldn't take care of myself." He laughs then.
"What did you do?" Spock finally asks, even though the answer is quite obvious.
"The only logical thing, Spock." Jim smirks "I hugged him within an inch of his life."
Whenever they go on away missions, the Captain makes it a habit of scanning the emotions and thoughts of the beings they come across. On more than one occasion this manages to save lives or defuse possible crisis due to cultural misunderstandings.
One time, after they've beamed down to retrieve a team of scientists they will then accompany to the nearest Starbase, and have saluted the small circle of people welcoming them, the Captain steps next to Spock so they're close enough that the back of his hand touches Spock's for a brief moment.
It's not unusual for them to stand so close, they've been doing it practically since day one, without either of them consciously noticing it. The crew of the Enterprise is used to it and strangers wouldn't know the difference, so nobody bats an eye. It's somewhat an intimate touch, especially for a Vulcan, but it's not a kiss. They're familiar with each other in a way they're not with anybody else, so Spock doesn't mind it. It also has a practical purpose, which is for the Captain to subtly share what he knows with his First Officer without alerting anybody else. Of course the Captain doesn't need touch to communicate telepathically, it's just a signal he uses to warn Spock because Jim feels strongly about mind boundaries and that's something Spock respects deeply. It is perhaps due to the fact that he hasn't had much interaction with telepathic beings, while Betazoids normally use their abilities more liberally, Jim is used to the privacy of his mind and is adamant in granting the same respect to those around him.
When he feels the light touch on his hand Spock immediately concentrates on what Kirk is projecting. Mistrust is what he feels. "They're planning something and it's not good" is what Jim tells him. His suspicions seem to be confirmed when, instead of being led to the scientists' location, they are offered refreshments in the locals' council building, with the excuse that the team they're supposed to retrieve is occupied with last minute preparations.
Spock finds himself separated from Kirk but when he sees his Captain hesitate in drinking the traditional tea he's being offered, he doesn't even need the warning Kirk is sending out to understand that their drinks have been spiked either to kill or to incapacitate. He fakes dropping his own cup, something that is so uncharacteristic for him that it's sure to draw the attention of the whole landing party, and uses the distraction to aim his phaser at the leader's head. Everybody follows his lead and they find out the science team is being held hostage, but the locals just couldn't pass up on the opportunity of kidnapping the heroes of the Federation too.
"And you thought tea would get us when a crazy Romulan couldn't?" Kirk sneers at them, "Book 'em, Giotto." He orders and the security officers proceed to cuff all the suspects.
The mess hall is almost deserted when Kirk and Spock enter it to grab a late dinner after finally having won their battle against paperwork. Jim is almost convinced that even Spock would choose Klingons over paperwork any day of the week by now.
They sit at an empty table with a salad for Spock and a turkey sandwich for Jim, who's rubbing his neck trying unsuccessfully to alleviate the pain that has settled there.
"Captain, may I ask a personal query?" Spock asks after a couple of bites.
Kirk nods his assent, mouth busy chewing.
"I have garnered the impression that you have not had much contact with other telepathic beings. Am I correct?"
Kirk nods again, then elaborates "You're right. When my grandma moved to Earth she had to adapt to life there. Betazoids tend to come off as very blunt, almost rude, to Terrans and they don't really have the same sense of privacy, you know? They're used to their abilities so it's not weird for them to know exactly what those around them feel or think. But it is for Terrans. She took it in stride, but mom had a much harder time."
Spock frowns slightly.
"She was just a kid when she started showing her abilities, I think she was eleven, and while she was used to some teasing because of her black eyes," Spock's chest tightens at the words "that was nothing compared to what she got after. At first she didn't think of shielding or hiding what she knew, because she was used to grandma and it seemed fine. But kids are cruel, they started bullying her, calling her a freak, accusing her of lying only to protect themselves because she could call anybody on their bullshit. It was rough for her."
"Then one day she got so mad that she knocked out one of her teachers, she was projecting so strongly. The guy was fine, he just blacked out for a minute, but she got suspended. She went home and demanded to change school. After that she became adamant about shielding and privacy. She even shielded from her mother for a while, because she blamed her." He shrugs sadly and pauses to finish off his sandwich.
The remnants of Spock's salad are almost forgotten. "Did they resolve their divergence?"
"In time, yes. But mom was uncomfortable with herself for a long time and refused to openly acknowledge that part of her. It got better when she joined Starfleet and met dad. But then she lost him and she didn't want us to go through what she did. Grandma was great back then, I think that's when they really got it back, after the Kelvin. I mean, PTSD and post partum depression? That's a recipe for disaster if I've ever seen one. Grandma was the only one who could get through to her."
"You cannot possibly remember that period."
"No, but I've seen mom's memories." Jim taps his forehead with a smile, "She wanted me to know."
Spock forces himself to finish his dinner, unsure whether to prod further when Jim has already shared so much.
Kirk anticipates him though, "They trained us together, mom and grandma, when Sam and I started showing our abilities, so that's why it's always just been family for me. But they never told us to hide what we were." He pauses, "Not advertising it seemed safer though" he admits.
That night after meditation when Kirk whispers "I miss her" Spock doesn't need to ask who.
A couple days later Spock can't stop thinking about how isolated and lonely Kirk must have felt after his mother died, not having his brother there either. He knows the feeling and can relate to it, he wants to tell Jim that he understands but doesn't know how. That night he proposes a meld and Jim doesn't hesitate to give his consent. It's not unusual, Spock has been using mind melds to monitor his progress but they've been doing it less frequently now that Jim has regained his control. Spock misses the direct contact with Jim's mind but is able to shield that feeling from Jim when they meld. He can't hide his confusion though and it seeps through to Jim who reads it perfectly, without Spock having to explain.
"I know you understand." Jim says simply and his certainty surprises Spock, his mind flashing back to the Psi2000 incident when he had admitted he had never told his mother he loved her. How can he be understood without words?
"She knew." Jim reassures him.
"How?" Spock just has to ask.
"Because of this."
A flood of Spock's memories are gently evoked then and they see…
Spock as a child closing his eyes while his mother hugs him, a small hand gripping her robe.
Spock hitting his classmate because he cannot stand insults to his mother.
Spock refusing admittance to the Vulcan Science Academy because his mother is NOT a disadvantage.
Spock at the Academy sending messages and talking to his mother on video chats.
Spock holding her hand and protecting her while trying to save her from the destruction of Vulcan.
"She knew." Jim repeats, "Words are important, even necessary, but actions speak for themselves. She knew you, she understood you."
"Like you do." Spock cannot help but think back and he feels Jim's happiness in response.
When they slip out of the meld Jim doesn't comment on the fact that it didn't seem to have any purpose besides sharing something Spock didn't know how to voice. They just go about their routine, playing chess until Spock bids his Captain goodnight and retires.
The morning after, Spock engages in a brief solitary meditation and comes to the conclusion that perhaps Jim wasn't the only one healing during their sessions together.
They haven't melded in two weeks. Jim doesn't need help anymore, his shields are back full force and he has been controlling and using his abilities smoothly. They still meditate together everyday, it's one more thing they like to share and Jim loves spending so much time with Spock. Tonight when Jim proposes a meld Spock is reluctant. He has experienced a great deal of pain when he melded with the Horta earlier in the day, the creature was hurt and feeling a deep grief, Spock doesn't want to ruin Jim's newly reacquired balance and as he is distressed himself by the experience he can't guarantee a good shielding from it. Jim replies that's exactly why he wants to meld, he wants to help Spock process the pain, just like Spock did with him. He's sure he can do it and argues that Spock knows it too. Spock relents easily, he always cherishes Jim's touch in his mind.
They meld and Spock is immediately enveloped in Jim's presence, his touch is warm and soft while he eases Spock's pain. Spock feels bathed in the sun. Jim's mind pulls him closer and wraps around him with gentleness and care. Spock follows his friend willingly and is led to a place he has never seen in Jim's mind before. From the outside he can't see much except for stone walls and a white gate, there's foliage overflowing from the top of the walls and Spock thinks it's a secret garden. He knows it to be Jim's mind core and he's humbled at being lead here.
They enter and it is, as Spock thought, a beautiful blooming garden, colorful and buzzing with life. Spock turns to the sound of running water and sees it dip into a small pond, where the water is so still that Spock knows nothing could create a ripple in it. He kneels next to it, wondering that he can't see the bottom. "Those are all my memories" Jim explains, standing next to him. Spock stands up then, noticing something he hadn't seen before, a small floating light placidly drawing patterns in the air. "I don't know what that is." Jim says with a small smile, "It wasn't here before, but I really like it."
Spock's gaze follows the light, recognizing it from the first time he had melded with Jim to save him. The small globe flies toward them and swirls excitedly around Spock, "It seems to like you." Jim says with a laugh. The light never leaves them when they sit in the grass to simply revel in the peacefulness.
"Stay imzadi" Jim's mind whispers and in this ethereal place Spock can see Jim reaching for him.
Suddenly though he's being pushed away and the meld is broken. Spock is frozen in his spot, the sudden loss of Jim's presence so shocking that he has to restrain himself not to tremble.
Jim is leaning back as if he wants to physically escape Spock. The sight hurts him even more.
"Jim?" he murmurs.
Jim's face is flushed and his breathing is heavy, "Spock, I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?" he scrambles to kneel in front of Spock and reaches a hand toward him but he doesn't touch. "Tell me I didn't hurt you." He whispers.
"I was momentarily overwhelmed by the sudden breaking of the meld but I am not harmed." He pauses and Jim starts apologizing again. "Did I upset you in some way?" he asks surprising Jim into silence.
"What? No, of course not! I'm just tired and I think I lost my grip on it for a moment." He pauses not quite knowing how to address the real issue "I'm sorry if what you saw" heard "made you uncomfortable." He finishes lamely.
"Nothing in your mind has ever made me uncomfortable, Jim." He notices Jim's stunned expression and continues "But I am not familiar with a word you used." Spock looks at him and Jim stares back for a moment before averting his eyes, retreating into himself and sitting back on his cushion to further distance himself.
"Yeah, I don't know where that came from. I don't remember what it means."
Human memory is subject to error, Spock knows this. He could believe Jim's statement if he were making a face at Spock and shrugging, as he usually does when he is sincerely perplexed by something. But Jim is looking down to the side and his body is tense, his fake smile is self deprecating. Spock is reassured in some measure that his friend is obviously feeling bad about lying to him, but it doesn't stop him from wanting to know the truth. It doesn't stop him from wishing Jim would stop hiding from him. Does he not realize that Spock accepts him completely?
When Spock leaves his quarters shortly after, Jim walks to his bed, grabs his pillow and throws it at the opposite wall. In his head his own voice screams coward at him.
The words echo in Spock's mind while he walks the corridors of the Enterprise. What does imzadi mean? It must be a Betazoid word and Spock regrets not being familiar with the language. He should have studied it, especially after learning of Jim. He should have learnt it for his Captain, for his friend.
Why has he left? Why not insist with Jim to know the meaning of the word?
Spock stops in his tracks. He's just outside the linguistics lab and he can see Uhura sitting at a table, working alone on a PADD. He steps inside and goes to sit opposite her.
"Hi, Spock." She greets him with a smile.
He replies with a nod, "Nyota, I have a query. Are you familiar with the Betazoid language?"
"Yes, what do you need?"
"What is the meaning of the word imzadi?"
"Where did you encounter that word?" Uhura frowns.
"I heard it spoken." Spock answers almost truthfully.
"You heard it? Is there a Betazoid on board? I had no idea! I'd love to meet them, I haven't had a chance to speak the language in a while."
"Perhaps I will introduce you to them if you share the information I need."
She laughs out loud at that "What is it, a bargain? Wait a minute, did this person call you imzadi?"
"Is it relevant?"
"Yes, it is! I thought you and Jim…" a stunned look takes over her face "Is the Captain a Betazoid?" she asks leaning over the table and lowering her voice.
Humans and their leaps of logic. How did they do it?
"He is!" Uhura seems to have taken his silence for a confirmation. "But it doesn't make any sense… how can you be imzadi…" She snaps her fingers. "You've been melding with him!" She recalls. "Do you still do it?"
"On occasion." Spock's completely befuddled by now and he answers almost by mere reflex.
"And melds without a purpose are a very intimate kind of contact. I can't believe it." She breathes the last words. "I never would have thought he had a romantic side."
"Nyota, I admit I do not follow your reasoning. The Captain and I are friends. Melds do not imply a romantic attachment." Spock's becoming exasperated.
"But you want to be more than friends, don't you? Then take him, Spock."
His face flushes furiously.
"Oh, look at you! You dirty minded Vulcan! You're blushing!" She laughs. "I meant you need to tell him how you feel and make it official. So I can tease the hell out of him!" Her grin has an evil edge to it.
"Nyota, I do not find any logic in your statements." He admits.
"Not my problem anymore, sweetie." She replies teasingly. "Just go get your man. Trust me." She winks at him.
Five minutes later Spock is back in Jim's quarters.
"Is everything okay?" Jim asks, wary.
"I have inquired as to the meaning of the word imzadi." Jim visibly tenses. "I asked Nyota." Spock adds.
"What did she say?" He's sitting on his bed, pointedly not looking at Spock.
"She did not elaborate on the meaning but seemed convinced that I should talk to you. I considered searching the linguistic archives."
Jim looks up at him then. "Did you?"
Spock shakes his head. "I came here after my conversation with her."
Jim takes a deep breath, "Are you okay? You know, after the Horta…" He makes a vague gesture.
"I am fully recuperated. Jim…"
"I'm not trying to derail you. Just checking." He threads a hand trough his hair "Would you be willing to meld again?"
Spock is surprised by the request, but agrees. They sit on their usual spots, cross-legged and close enough to touch. Spock places his fingers on Jim's meld points and Jim reaches for his free hand, gently grabbing his wrist.
The landscape of their joined minds shapes itself in a desert at night, Spock recognizes Vulcan in it but when he looks up at the dark sky he doesn't see its sister planet, there's Terra's moon in its stead. Spock lowers his gaze and is met by Jim's blue eyes, shining with a pure unguarded emotion. Spock can feel it all around him, warm like the desert wind.
"Imzadi means beloved, Spock. It also means first. And while I'm certainly not a virgin, the intimacy I have shared with you goes beyond anything I've ever experienced. I've never allowed anyone in my mind, or in my heart for that matter, the way I did with you." He steps closer, his fingers slowly caressing Spock's cheek, "I've called you my imzadi since that first night." It's only a murmur but with their minds joined Spock feels it reverberate through him with the power of Jim's love, finally revealed.
Everything shifts around them and together they watch Spock's memories of Jim. His soft smile when Spock stepped on the bridge that first day, every look that said so much without words, every time Spock noticed his friend relax when they were next to each other. Spock's surprise at finding out about Jim, his reverence while bringing him back, to him, because Spock wanted him. His need to be near Jim physically and mentally. Jim's gaze after the first time they had truly melded, a sight Spock cherished.
Spock remembers the words and understands them now. He lets his love reach every corner of Jim's mind and soul.
They gently slip out of the meld and Jim pushes Spock on his back, straddling him and kissing him with all he's got, trying to impress with touch everything he feels for him. Their bodies fit perfectly together, just like their minds.
"Stay with me, imzadi."
"You do not need to ask, ashayam. I am and always will be yours."