Jim was annoyed.
Dr. McCoy had approached him in the halls after shift and asked what was up with Spock - and Jim had had to gape at him like a goldfish. A stupid goldfish. And then McCoy had come out with all this stuff about missing meals and being unusually terse with his staff, and blah blah blah. And Jim hadn't noticed a damn thing.
Sure, so they were busy. They'd been on near-permanent missions for the last four months, one diplomatic function after another, and now another exploration of a planet that had finally stopped being volcanic had been dropped into their laps. So Spock had been down in the labs for the last two weeks, helping the science departments with their data.
It still didn't excuse Jim not noticing something was up.
So yeah, Jim was kind of annoyed right now.
But he'd forgotten Spock's effect on him: his annoyance drained in a moment when he entered their quarters, and found the Vulcan meditating in front of the window, their new planet turning lazily at the bottom of the view. Jim had no idea why he liked seeing Spock meditate so much (maybe because then he truly did seem at peace? The way humans did when they slept?) but when he did, he couldn't bring himself to be annoyed.
"But we will talk about this," Jim said, desperately trying to remain stern, then puttered about his evening routine, waiting for the Vulcan to finish.
Some time later, Spock surfaced slowly from his meditative state, to find Jim sitting cross-legged in front of him, and watching him intently. The Captain was already in his sleepwear, his hair ruffled from (presumably) a sonic shower, and he was frowning slightly.
"That took longer than usual," Jim noted. "You okay?"
"Merely fatigued, Ca-"
A warning look.
"Jim," Spock amended.
Jim hummed, and pressed a Vulcan kiss to Spock's left hand. "You sure? Bones is worried about you. Says you haven't been eating lately, and you've been snapping at your staff. And his staff, but we all do that."
Spock's eyebrow twitched, and Jim snickered.
"You do it too, admit it," he teased, but sobered up again quickly. "You sure you're okay?"
"As I said, Jim, I am merely fatigued. It has been a...long few weeks."
"Yeah, I hear ya," Jim muttered, yawning widely. "Well, if you're sure. God knows we all need a bit of a break, even hard-assed Vulcan superdudes like you."
Spock didn't even bother to respond to that. He rose fluidly from the floor, and retreated to the head to wash and change. By the time he returned, Jim had relocated to their bed and was checking the alarms.
"I want you on the bridge tomorrow," he said as Spock slipped into bed. "I want you to take a break from the labs. I know what you're like. You won't break for lunch if someone doesn't make you."
Spock settled against his side peacefully, again not commenting. There was little need, when Jim was merely verbalising what he had clearly decided a while ago.
"You're going to do it," Jim said, tugging until Spock's head was rested on his shoulder, and he could thread his fingers through that dark hair. He got a kick out of messing it up, he had to admit.
"Is that an order?"
"Not yet," Jim said. "But if you've not agreed to it by morning, it will be. So you'll do it? You'll be on the bridge tomorrow, and ignore the labs all day?"
If Spock were human, Jim got the distinct impression that he would have been sighed at. And yeah, that was possible. His Mom had always made it into an art form. But he got no sigh, and he couldn't see the eyebrows from this angle to tell if one of them had been arched.
"Very well, Jim."
"Good," Jim said, the firm tone gone as soon as it had appeared. He pressed a kiss (human) into Spock's scalp and scratched lightly at the nape of his neck until he received that tell-tale rumble of pleasure from the Vulcan's chest. "You're tired. Go to sleep."
He got no response, but waited until he felt Spock go lax before he allowed himself to drift.
Here, all was well with his universe.
Jim's serenity did not last long. Over the next couple of weeks, he began to pick up on what Dr. McCoy had clearly already noticed. When Spock did eat, it wasn't much, and he was even passing up on his favourite foods. And although Spock wasn't terse, exactly, and he certainly wasn't snapping at the bridge crew, at least, his sense of humour was absent and he often...well, if Jim didn't know better, he'd say Spock was filtering out the customary bridge banter as opposed to observing it and categorising them into a list, starting with 'most logical' and ending up with 'Jim Kirk' at the very bottom.
(No matter what Spock said to the contrary, Jim knew he was doing it.)
The Vulcan was also very tired. He meditated for longer than usual, and Jim had actually woken up before him for three days in a row. Which, short of sedations or completely separate sleeping times due to shift changes, was practically unheard of. And...well, Jim didn't want to be worried (if Spock were human, he would simply call it overwork and give him a couple of days off to recharge) but...he was worried anyway. Vulcans were so in control of themselves that this, even to an amateur like Jim, was really quite worrying.
"Spock, I want you to take the next two solar days off," Jim said one evening, roughly a fortnight after McCoy's initial concerns. "You keep saying you're fine, but there's something off. Maybe you just need to relax instead of running yourself ragged all the time."
"I know, I know," Jim said, looping his arms around Spock's waist. "You're Vulcan and have superior work ethic and capabilities and blah-blah-blah. But there's something wrong, Spock. Don't give me that look! I know it, you know it, and Bones will know it if you pause in front of him for more than thirty seconds."
"Jim, I assure you..."
"Hey, you're the expert here. Maybe you're right and it isn't anything to be fussed over. But I'm still making you take a couple of days off," Jim insisted. "Relax and recharge. Play a million games of chess against the computer if you want, but no work. Forty-eight hours."
"Will be just fine for two days," Jim said firmly. "And Sulu could use a little command practice. He'd make a good XO one day himself. I'm thinking of training him up a bit. Come on. You take two days off for you, and I'll pass a few things to Sulu and see if he's worth training up properly."
When the Vulcan still seemed to hesitate, Jim began pressing kisses to his jaw. By the time he reached the left earlobe, Spock was having difficulty expressing his protests to mandatory time off. And by the time Jim had reached the pointed tip, they were on the bed and neither could quite recall (or care) what they'd been discussing.
It got worse.
Jim returned from dinner in the mess hall the next day to find the temperature in their quarters turned right up, and Spock not only in bed, but shivering in bed.
Jim had seen Spock shiver the grand total of twice. And both had been because he was in an incredibly cold environment.
"You're sick, aren't you?" he murmured, ghosting his fingers over Spock's forehead. The skin wasn't hot, exactly, but it was definitely warm. And as Spock's core temperature was always lower than Jim's, his skin feeling warm to the touch wasn't good.
"I believe so," Spock muttered, not bothering to open his eyes.
"Okay, I'm calling Bones," Jim said firmly. "You're sick and there's no colds or 'flu doing the rounds. Yet."
Spock didn't actually protest, which was the most concerning thing of all, and Jim crossed hurriedly to the console, keeping one eye trained on the bed.
"Bones, can you come to my quarters? Spock's sick."
"The hobgoblin's come down with something?" came the dry response. "Should he be in Sickbay, or can't you get him there?"
"I'm sure I could," Jim said. "But he's feverish and already pretty damn uncomfortable. Can you come here?"
"Fine. Give me five minutes," McCoy said, and the connection was cut.
"Hey," Jim murmured, crossing back to the bed and giving into his need to pet Spock's hair lightly. He wondered vaguely why that seemed to be instinctive when dealing with sick or hurt people, even when they were Vulcan and probably wouldn't appreciate it all that much. "Can I get you anything?"
"No," Spock replied, but he caught Jim's hand in his and set them on the pillow near his face. Jim obediently hunkered down by the bed to hold his hand and pet his hair.
And yes, he was getting pretty damn worried now. Since when did Spock need such...human, tactile comforting?
That was how McCoy found them, when he briskly let himself in, but he refrained from comment and had a tricorder out and beeping before Jim managed to say hello.
"Symptoms?" he asked.
"He's feverish," Jim repeated obediently. "He's been off his food and distracted for a while. And tired. He's been sleeping a lot, and meditating even more. Spock?" he added, turning back to his ill friend. "Anything else?"
When no reply was given, McCoy actually softened his tone. "I can't help you if you don't tell me where it hurts, Spock."
"Nausea," came the flat response. "An aversion to eating. An ache in my lower back that has persisted for approximately six days."
"No decimal points?" Jim teased lightly, but McCoy was frowning.
"Okay, Spock, on your front," he said. "I'm going to have a look at your back."
In no time, Spock's sleeping shirt was pulled up and his back exposed. Immediately, both the doctor and Jim saw the swelling - on a human, roughly over the kidneys.
"You been short of breath as well, Spock?" McCoy asked, pressing against the swelling gingerly, and retracting his hand when Spock hissed. "Heart rate changed?"
"No, and yes."
"Uh-huh," the tricorder was waving.
"What's wrong with him, Bones?" Jim asked anxiously, staring at the swelling. It was smooth and long, obscuring the spine completely just above the hips. And it looked solid, not a pus swelling or a blister-type swelling. It looked...Jim swallowed. It looked like a tumour his Aunt Anna had had when he was a kid.
Right before she'd died.
"I'm not sure yet, Jim," McCoy said, "but I'm suspecting a couple of things. I'm going to take a blood sample and run a couple of tests, and consult with Dr. M'Benga. If I'm right, he can stay here, but strictly bed rest and off-duty."
Jim nodded at once. That...that lump was enough to convince even the most hard-assed of Captains, never mind Spock's lover.
"And if I'm right," McCoy continued. "His temperature's going to rise further, and he'll experience some muscle weakness. He might throw up..."
"But Vulcans can't..."
"They don't," McCoy said. "They can, but they don't. Not unless one of three things is happening, and I'm pretty sure this is one of them. He won't throw up with the same force or volume that you could, but he might be ill enough to give it a good shot."
The fact that Spock wasn't making dry, offended comments was rather more frightening to Jim than McCoy's grim tone.
"Don't bother trying to feed him, just keep him hydrated. I'll leave you a tricorder; keep an eye on his temperature, and if it gets above ninety-four, get him to Sickbay immediately."
Jim swallowed against a suddenly dry throat.
"But he'll be okay, right?" he whispered.
McCoy finally looked at him, and his stern visage softened again. "Yes, Jim," he said, squeezing the Captain's shoulder. "There's only a couple of things that I know this could be. Dr. M'Benga might know a couple more than me, but I honestly don't think it's anything dangerous. Nasty, but not dangerous. Not with two surgeons on board."
Jim bit his lip and nodded, helping Spock back over onto his side and drawing the blankets up.
"Alright, Spock, hold still," McCoy said, bending over him with a couple of hyposprays. One drew a small vial of blood, and the other hissed as it threw something into his bloodstream. "Muscle relaxant," McCoy explained flatly. "It'll stop any tremors. He'll be very uncomfortable about moving for a while, Jim, so leave him be. If he doesn't want to move, don't make him."
And with no further explanation, the doctor was gone.
And Jim couldn't get the mental image of that lump out of his mind.
Jim woke up that night when Spock suddenly shifted, leaned over the side of the bed, and threw up into the trash can that Jim had put there, just in case.
"Oh Jesus," Jim murmured blearily, sitting up and rubbing at Spock's shoulder comfortingly. "Want me to call Bones?"
There was a pause before Spock answered, sitting back and closing his eyes. "No," he said eventually.
"Be right back," Jim whispered, kissing Spock's temple (too warm, still) before slipping out of bed. He rinsed out the trash can in the head, and got a glass of water while he was there. When he returned, Spock was sitting very still, and his pulse was jumping in his throat, angry at the disruption vomiting had caused. "You feel really bad, huh?"
"A fair assessment."
The Vulcan downed the glass of water quickly before curling back into the blankets as if the room was sub-arctic. Jim curled up with him, rubbing his hands over goose-bumped flesh and frowning at the contrary heat that was pouring off Spock's head and face.
"Do you know what's happening?" Jim whispered.
"I believe, in humans, the equivalent condition would be kidney failure."
"It is the failure of a Vulcan organ, but not an essential one. Removal of the organ usually prevents any problems from progressing."
"Usually," Jim repeated.
Spock simply pressed his face into Jim's neck and didn't answer.
"I love you," Jim whispered, his voice cracking.
There was a pause, then: "Jim? I do not believe that I am in danger of suffering permanent damage or death."
"Maybe not," Jim said. "But you're still really ill, and it's scaring me, and...and I love you. I just need to say it. I love you."
"And I you, beloved."
Jim was called away the next day to deal with Admiral Nogura's enquiries as to what had happened on Xeda VI (answer: a very awkward cultural dislike of dark hair, and so negotiations were rendered impossible without the universal translator functioning for Xedan yet, and Lieutenant Uhura being banned from the function entirely) and by the time he returned, Spock had taken a turn for the worse.
He had clearly vomited several more times, and the cabin temperature was raised to a near-ridiculous levels. When Jim used the tricorder McCoy had left, the Vulcan's temperature was heading squarely for ninety-five degrees. And rising.
"Kirk to Sickbay," he snapped at the console. "I need a medical team to my quarters immediately, as well as Dr. McCoy. Spock's getting much worse."
He was impressed with himself at how calm he sounded, but his knees shook when he approached the bed and Spock turned dazed eyes on him.
"Jim," he murmured, his voice faint and breathy. "I do not...feel well."
"It's alright," Jim crooned, cupping his face and kissing his forehead reverently. "It's alright, it's going to be fine. Bones is coming. We're going to get you to Sickbay, and you're going to be just fine. Computer, reduce temperature by two degrees."
"No, Jim," Spock whispered, clutching at his hands with a sad fraction of his true strength. "It is already...already cold."
Jim's heart lurched at the stumble. "No, it's not, Spock. You're feverish, sweetheart. You're really, really warm right now. You can't get any warmer."
"It is cold," Spock insisted.
"No," Jim shook his head. "It's not cold, sweetheart. You're just very sick. You're going to be fine, I promise. I promise."
"You promise?" Spock whispered, just as the doors hissed open and McCoy marched in, following by three orderlies and an anti-grav stretcher.
"Promise," Jim nodded. "Bones, his temperature's right up, and I think he's delirious."
McCoy swore, then nodded. "Right. On the stretcher. Now."
Jim moved aside to let them move the Vulcan, but the moment his hands dropped from Spock's face, the Vulcan cried out and reached for him again.
"Hey, hey, I'm here!" Jim hastily reassured him, seizing one of those long-fingered hands again. "It's alright, I'm right here. I'm not leaving you."
"Jesus, I see what you mean," he heard McCoy mutter.
"What's wrong with him, Bones?" Jim pleaded, still clutching Spock's hand as they started to move him towards Sickbay. The ship halls felt cool to him after the heat of their quarters, and he could only imagine how cold Spock felt.
"Organ failure," McCoy said curtly, the tricorder constantly on the go. "It's responsible for some of the enzymes to digest vegetable matter, and ridding the blood of toxins. A combination of the human pancreas and kidney, in a way."
"But you said he'll be fine!" Jim hissed.
"He will be," McCoy said firmly. "They can survive fine without it, Jim, the other organs will pick up the slack. But it's infected and swollen and it needs out. It's like human appendicitis. He'll need surgery, but it's quick and easy - even for me - and he'll be fine."
Jim tried to step away again when they reached Sickbay and got Spock up onto a biobed, but he cried out incoherently again, and Jim was back in an instant, unable to stay away when faced with that panicked delirium.
"Jim, try and keep him calm," McCoy ordered. "We're not prepped for surgery yet. I can't sedate him this early or he'll wake up too soon, and he can't get all worked up."
Jim nodded, only half-listening, as he bent over the biobed to smooth down Spock's hair and press kisses on his face.
"It's alright," he murmured. "You'll be fine, sweetheart, it's alright. I know you're hurt and you don't feel well, but you'll be fine..."
It felt odd, to speak to him aloud this way. When they melded, Jim's thoughts were often overly affectionate and mushy, overflowing with protectiveness and possessiveness and the need to comfort. But he rarely treated the Vulcan that way, never mind in public. Spock didn't understand it, and to some extent, didn't particularly like it. So they'd always kept it very private, and Jim had largely kept his hands - and voice, and pet names - to himself.
But now, despite McCoy's reassurances, Spock wasn't the only one scared.
And in Jim's own worry and confusion, and his half-eye kept on the bustle of Sickbay as McCoy and M'Benga conferred, and the nurses came and went with unrecognisable things, he didn't notice Spock's hand fitting into place over his psi points, and then
it was cold, icy cold, and there was a razor-sharp wind at his face, and blurry shadows converging and leering and blocking him in and he didn't understand and he was lost and how did he get here he wasn't meant to be here here was bad and dangerous and he wanted to go home but no home didn't exist now home was gone and lost in space and there was the ship and Jim was gone where was Jim he had left he promised not to leave he promised it would be all right and this is not all right and
Jim righted himself in the blur and pulled himself together. "Spock!" he called, and the wind screamed at him. "Spock, I'm here! It's me, I'm here!"
Out of the white nothing, Spock formed like a lightning strike, and Jim was caught in his embrace, hard and unyielding and so desperate.
"Alright," he whispered, pressing close. The shadows were screaming too, now, but he ignored them, pressing Spock's head down onto his shoulder and clutching him close. "It's alright, sweetheart. You have to calm down, alright? Can you do that for me? Calm down. I'm here, it's all right."
"I...I do not understand..."
"You're sick," Jim whispered. "Bones is going to remove this organ thing and then you'll get better. You've got a fever, that's why you're so confused. It's just a fever."
"But it's cold."
"No it isn't," Jim murmured, kissing the side of his head. "It's not cold. You're with me, aren't you? And I'm not cold. I'm never cold."
"Warm," Spock said obediently, fingers clutching at the back of Jim's shirt.
"That's right," Jim encouraged. "I'm warm. And you'll be warm soon, too."
"Why...are you here?"
"I think you melded with me," Jim chuckled. Spock wasn't shivering any more, but he felt unusually relaxed. Perhaps that was how he always was, deep in his mind. But when Jim spoke, he stiffened up again, and Jim shook his head. "No, none of that. I don't mind. I like melding with you, you know that. And you needed me. I'm here. And I'll be waiting when you wake up again after your surgery."
There was a rush of warmth, then, that had nothing to do with physical temperature, and Jim pressed another kiss to that pointed ear, and then
He jolted, stunned, thrown back into his own head (complete with headache) like a shot, and nearly fell over. McCoy was staring at him, stunned, and he grinned guiltily.
"I think he melded us."
"Damn right he did," McCoy muttered. "Well, he's sedated now. We'll have it out within the hour. You okay?"
"Yeah," Jim said, straightening up and swallowing. "Comm me when you're done."
"Jim, he won't wake up for..."
"Comm me," Jim said sternly. "I made a promise."
He ignored the faint, warm hum in the back of his mind.
Spock woke to a faint warmth in the back of his mind, and he admitted a certain amount of curiosity about the new addition. Exploring it gently, he travelled the wire-thin link (a twist of silver and gold echoing out into the surrounding world) and withdrew hastily (in no small amount of surprise) when he encountered another mind at the other end.
A quite familiar mind.
Which, from the faint brush, was bubbling with concern.
He opened his eyes.
"Hey," his vision filled with Jim's face, pinched and anxious, but now smiling gently. "Welcome back. How you feeling?"
Spock considered it, then said: "I am...uncertain as to what has happened."
"You got worse," Jim said succinctly. "You're in Sickbay. Bones removed your...well, he told me the name, but I can't say it."
"Spock?" Jim murmured. "I don't mean to worry you or anything, but...do you remember melding us?"
Spock stiffened. "Pardon?"
"You melded us," Jim said. "You were delirious and scared, and you melded us. No, wait, don't look at me like that! I never mind melding with you, you know that. Just...this time...I can still...um, feel you. In my head. Not like meld-feel-you but...like I know you're there but I'm not looking at you or anything. A kind of sense."
Spock drew in a sharp breath. The link.
"I'm not explaining it very well, am I?" Jim asked with a rueful smile.
"On the contrary," Spock breathed. "I believe I may have...inadvertantly bonded us. I apologise deeply for my transgression, and I shall contact New Vulcan immediately to..."
"Whoa!" Jim said, and planted firm hands on Spock's shoulders to keep him down when the Vulcan made to sit up. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down. You bonded us?"
"It...seems so, yes."
"As in, that marriage bond you told me about? The touching and never touched thing? The one your parents have - er, had?"
"Okay," Jim said. "So...you and me, we're always linked now?"
"It is possible to break a new bond before it is fully anchored in either participant, and as we are only eight days at Warp Five from..."
"Whoa," Jim said again. "Stop it. Explain this to me clearly, Spock. Why is this a problem?"
Spock actually looked appalled. In a flash, he'd schooled his expression again, but the slip had been there.
"I have initiated a permanent marriage bond without your consent. This is tantamount to..."
"Okay," Jim interrupted, yet again. "Yes, okay, we didn't exactly discuss it. But Spock, you've told me about the marriage bond before, remember? And ever since you did...I gotta admit, I wanted one."
"I've wanted to bond with you for months, Spock," Jim said. "I didn't say anything because, hell, I was happy as we were. And you were, too, I know you were. But I did want it. And if...if that's what you did yesterday, then...I'd like us to keep it? If...if you want?"
He looked so hesitant, his commanding attitude diminishing with every word, that Spock almost reflexively offered his fingers in a Vulcan kiss, which Jim met with a smile.
"You wish to...remain bonded with me?" Spock asked.
"Yes," Jim said, rubbing their fingers together carefully.
"You are certain?"
"Yes," Jim said, and reached to kiss him lightly the human way as well. "God, Spock, yes. I just want to keep you, here with me, forever. Or as long as we get, whichever comes first. Being bonded with you...well, that seems a pretty good way of doing it, right?"
He kissed the Vulcan again, cutting off any response, and waited until calm and love washed through the fledgling bond before breaking it off again.
"So can we keep it?" he murmured, stroking Spock's hair with one finger. The medication was beginning to pull him under again, Jim could see it, and he wanted to end the discussion before that happened.
"If that is your desire."
"What's yours?" Jim asked.
Spock frowned a little, and said, "It has...long been my wish to bond with you, Jim."
And man, you just got all sappy when a guy like Spock told you that. Jim flushed and beamed, and kissed him again.
"I guess we're married, then," he murmured. "Doesn't seem like the turning point everyone makes it out to be."
Spock brushed another Vulcan kiss across his fingers, blinking tiredly up at him.
"Go to sleep," Jim murmured softly. "I'll be here when you wake up. I'll always be here now."
When McCoy arrived at the beginning of Beta Shift to check on his patient, he found the Captain dreamily petting the Vulcan's hair, and McCoy would bet Scotty a hundred bottles of Romulan Ale that the Commander was even smiling (just a little) in his sleep.