Telepathy is a dangerous skill.
Psi-latent species, like humans, make light of the gift and fear it in turn. Telepathy is revered, demonized, sexualized, ostracized, and victimized apparently on a whim. Lady Amanda says to her son, “People fear what they do not understand,” but such a range of reactions over the course of history seems more like lunacy than the doings of any rational beings.
But, as the range of adverse misconceptions suggest, psi-latents hold many false notions about telepaths. There is nothing mystical or majestic about the skill; nothing powerful or innate or ingrained. Telepathy, like any other skill, must be honed. Wielded well, it is a delicate, powerful instrument. Wielded poorly, it can scar the user beyond repair.
This is why the first lessons in the mind-arts are so vital. The preferred method of instruction is, in itself, a sort of practical example and a conveyance of information rolled into one: a mind-meld.
Given the mutability of child-minds, it is easiest for the young to meld with relatives, people with whom they already share familial bonds. Traditionally, sons learn from their fathers – when they have them – and daughters from mothers.
In this regard, if none other, Spock cha'Sarek is determined to be normal. He shivers against the night air as he waits for Sarek to join him in the garden behind their estate-house. Above, T'Khut gleams fat and watchful in the evening sky. This, too, is part of the first-melding ritual.
He kneels against the cool sand for several minutes more. Sarek appears eventually, silently, his long dark robes moving mysteriously without sound.
Sneaking is undignified, Amanda would say. But Amanda is inside. This is not for her.
There is no room for words. Sarek holds out a hand, and Spock meets it.
He has heard about mind-melds, of course, and studied for this moment with intense rigor. In theory, a mind-meld is a complete joining. A union of selves. All barriers fall; no secrets remain, not in this, a training meld. Perhaps later, when Spock grows more skilled, he will be able to selectively transmit certain thoughts, but today everyone will be laid bare. People describe the sensation as intimate, freeing. Traditionally, it is a night that brings family closer together.
In reality, it's horrifying.
His mental barriers slide apart, shattering under the cold surgical touch of Sarek's more experienced probe. The older Vulcan enters his mind like a bird through quicksand, fluttering rapid wings and only becoming more embroiled in the dank muck of Spock's mind.
They fall, together, lost and twisting. Spock has a sense, vague and bewildering, of Sarek scrabbling for some point of reference – but Spock cannot help in this. He is the student, here, and can offer no guidance. He watches silently, helplessly, as Sarek drowns.
Sarek pulls away slowly, painfully – a panicked flail that leaves stinging patches behind. Spock's mind clings – there is no other word for it – and when finally they tear apart, hissing for breath, Spock can still feel faint shadows of his father's mind, pieces frayed and stolen that shouldn't remain.
Sarek's face is pale and drawn in the starlight. He says nothing, but seems to be gathering his strength. After a moment, he rises on unsteady legs and walks away.
They never meld again, and Spock knows without it being said that he has, in some way, changed everything.
Spock is not very familiar with T'Pring T'Sela, the girl-child one year above him. Her clan is respected, of course – not as much as his, but then, no clan is. They are to be bonded, he has been told, these formalities decided and ironed out with little input with Spock himself. He is certain the pairing was made logically.
Still, it is recommended that future couples acquaint themselves before being bonded at the official ceremony. Their minds have been lightly linked already with the assistance of a priestess, but today they have come together, privately, with the intent of a more personal ritual. A full meld will let them know one another totally and intimately. It is a common and accepted practice between betrothed pairs, and almost expected between married couples. After his disastrous experience with Sarek years before, which Sarek has since called a 'severe clash of personalities', he looks forward to a meld as it should be.
T'Pring has a delicate beauty to her. Vulcan females mature more quickly than males, and at their young age she looks down on him, but her features are narrow and sharp, angular with a sleek, almost dangerous smoothness that is the picture of Vulcan aristocracy. She does not seem deterred by his own hesitance to initiate the meld, but places one of her cold hands on his cheek, then plucks up his own fingers with the other.
T'Pring's mind is ice.
It screams through his mind, scraping his skull with rough edges that catch and bleed against his skull.
But he could adjust to this, he thinks, after the first pained moment. It fits, pained but hard, settling in against his own mind with the throb of something that doesn't quite belong but could be wedged into place. Then he feels something else, colder, more chilling than the ice. Repulsion. Disgust.
T'Pring shoves him from her mind, and they break apart.
She takes back her cool, soft hands, and folds them inside her voluminous black robes. “We shall not do this again, Spock,” she tells him blankly. “There is no need for us to meet until our bonding day.”
“Not at all?”
“Not at all.”
And, without another word, she turns and leaves him alone, with only the hollow places in his mind for company.
Sybok is... interesting.
'Interesting', Amanda Grayson always says, is a polite word for strange. Perhaps that applies here, too, but that does not mean strange is bad. When guests come to the house of Sarek, and look with ill-concealed curiosity for the ambassador's half-human son, they turn to Sybok and fail to hide the assumptions behind their eyes. Sarek often says, “This is Spock – our son,” gesturing pointedly to himself and Amanda, while Sybok completely fails to hide his amusement.
Not that he really tries.
He would have adapted well, Spock always thinks, had he been born to Spock's own life. Sybok would have reveled in the role of being Vulcan's first half-human child. Instead of struggling to meet his father's heritage, he would use the duality as an excuse to act however he liked.
“You have such an opportunity here,” he often tells Spock. “What a waste.”
In anyone else, this attitude would be chafing. But it is impossible, somehow, to think that Sybok means to disrespect him when Sybok is also the one to whisper insults about every cold-eyed visitor who slights Spock during formal dinners, and occasionally sneaks into his room at night to whine about being 'bored' (a trait only he and Mother seem to understand), running his fingers incorrectly over the strings of Spock's lyre and keeping them both from sleep.
Yet when Sybok makes his request, Spock is wary.
“I am uncertain of the wisdom of this proposal, brother.”
“No one else will meld with me, Spock,” Sybok... Spock hesitates to think whines, but it is perhaps the most accurate term. “And it's fascinating, how the mind works, but I can't properly study my own mind.”
“I have been 'studied' quite enough for my satisfaction,” says the first successful Vulcan-human hybrid.
“It won't take long. And you know why I need to do this!”
Spock averts his gaze.
'Need' is a strong word. But, yes, Spock knows. Sybok's mother was ridiculed for bizarre beliefs about religion and the mind – beliefs Sybok still pursues, outside Sarek's gaze. He is not sure this is something he should encourage, however.
“Besides,” Sybok adds, “I can finish teaching you to meld properly. Sarek never did, I imagine, brother? That's likely why T'Pring reacted... as she did.”
The words are not delicate, but pointed.
Spock considers his hands studiously, mulling over his brother's words. Sybok's gaze is like a brand on his neck, eager and impatient. Finally, reluctantly, he looks up.
Sybok has neither the detachment of Sarek nor the grace of T'Pring. His grasp is two-handed. He brusquely uses his left hand to tilt Spock's face up, holding him steady, and then heavily splays the other hand over his psi-points.
There is music.
It is not pleasant music.
There are chimes in the distance, discordant, echoing against the screech of jagged metal being dragged against stone. Colors flash – red, white, yellow, green, blood, blood pouring through the pores of his skin and down into his marrow.
“I said I'd teach you,” roars a voice through the chaos. It sparks through the colors and pops against the sound. “I will.”
Instructions flood in – not Sybok's own teachings, but distorted, second-hand memories from the older Vulcan's schooldays. The idea squirm through their shared consciousness like slipping eels, crawling until they find areas small enough to squeeze through. Every now and then, one gets stuck, and a horrible pressure builds until it pops free.
Finality – completion. Gongs sounding and iron doors crashing and black stars rushing. “Out,” Sybok says. “Please, I know I said – but I can't – get out, get out, get out - “
They're out. Spock exhales; his face aches from the force of Sybok's grip. He opens his eyes, and sees Sybok staring at him.
“Have you discovered your religion?” Spock asks, because there is nothing else to say.
Sybok touches his strained fingers to one another, swaying. He tilts his head. “Or the antithesis of it,” he suggests.
“You should not interpret this meeting as any sort of accusation.”
“However, concerns have arisen.”
“It is unusual.”
“I am – aware.”
T'Pau's silence is almost more intimidating than the slow, measured rasp of her voice. Her sharp eyes assess him with an experience that has weighed the world for over two centuries, and found much of it wanting. This woman – his grandmother – is not prone to sympathy.
“You are prepared?
“Very well. Open your mind.”
He does. And he closes his eyes, too, though this is not asked.
He knows by now what this meld will do.
Hands softened by age touch his temples, light but strong. There is a different steel here. He is bound by mental forces as soon as their flesh meets.
“My mind, to your mind. My thoughts, to your thoughts...”
Her power is unprecedented, and the years and experience in T'Pau staggers him. He feels the flavors of her youth slip by, unfathomable, then the wide expanse of her life stretches forth; a slow elastic pull of earthy rock, the strength of nature.
Then, he realizes; the bond is reciprocal. She is feeling him, too. And it takes a moment to comprehend this.
Because T'Pau's glittering mind lies shattered and scattered, gleaming in fragile pieces under his own shadow. He has not noticed, in the breadth of her experiences, that her present-self is lost. He tries to gather her together, and the pieces fall like shards of crystal.
For the first time, frightened, it is Spock who leaves a meld.
T'Pau is rushed to a hospital after their meeting. It is three days before Spock is summoned to her side.
When he goes to her, she seems small and withered now, though in truth she is not changed from before. She looks different because the mystery is gone; he knows her mind now, has seen more than she ever intended. Her eyes glimmer hard and frail with the knowing.
“I know what you will say, Matriarch.”
“I cannot meld. I cannot control myself. And I cannot leave Vulcan. I am...” His throat closes over the word. Wrestles with it. “There is...”
T'Pau looks at him. “You may meld,” she says.
Spock stares at her. His breath escapes him in shock. “...What?”
“You may meld,” she repeats. “You can leave Vulcan. And you cannot, perhaps, control yourself - “ she watches his flinch with the look of one who has just been proven right “ - but you might learn. And there is something more important than all of these things, which I would have you remember, grandson, when you leave this place.”
Spock takes a breath, and keeps his shoulders square. If he is to leave, with the approval of T'Pau, he will act like a proper Vulcan. “What is that?”
She looks back at him. “You stopped,” she says.
V. Dr. Van Gelder
“Now look Spock,” McCoy says. “Jim Kirk could be in real trouble. Now will it work, or not?”
“It could be dangerous,” Spock says. "You do understand."
And he doesn't.
Spock isn't even sure he understands.
He tells McCoy that melding is an old practice – a risky practice. Both things are true. Not true enough. He does not speak of the risk inherent in melding with an unstable individual – the possibility of becoming trapped in Van Gelder's own deranged mind. He does not say, aloud, that he has not entered a mind-meld in over twenty years, and never a human one.
And he certainly makes no mention of his own, imperfect abilities – his strange flaws that made his decision to leave Vulcan so much easier.
Here is another first: Spock is the one to touch his fingers to the face of this sweating, terrified human on the biobed, and whisper, “My mind, to your mind... My thoughts, to your thoughts... Our minds are merging... Our minds are one...”
Van Gelder hates and fears him; Van Gelder hates and fears everyone, so this is not a surprise. It is surprising to learn that this behavioral trait is new, and conditioned into him.
He searches through Van Gelder's mind as carefully as he can, seeking the information relevant to his mission. And eventually Van Gelder reaches back, feebly, with only a human's instincts. But also mad man's instincts, too, eerily accurate.
Van Gelder wonders, Oh, we are not so different, are we?
Spock pulls away. He has what he needs.
He does not want to think of what Van Gelder means.
He does not want to think of why, of all the melds has conducted, this hasty attempt with a lunatic human has been the most successful of all.
VI. The Horta
The horta's mind is a fascinating thing – different on an innate level from every carbon-based life-form with which he's ever melded. He would enjoy exploring her mind in more detail, yet it is clear that, though she appreciates the chance to communicate, the mother horta finds this contact repulsive.
She does, however, try to sooth the sting of this thought by complimenting his ears right after.
VII. Kirk, and Kirk, and Kirk
For the several months since Kirk's captaincy began, Spock has gone from being pleasantly surprised at the man's competency to tentatively appreciative of the man himself. Kirk strikes him as always being anomalous among humans in ways he cannot quite define. He is extraordinary without being perfect, flawed but, Spock cannot help but think, apparently superior – he must be superior, somehow, logically, because Spock cannot stop himself from thinking of this man as the best humanity has to offer without being able to quantify why.
So, logically, there must be a reason.
He has many traits considered admirable among humans; courage, loyalty, compassion, consideration, honesty, and more. But these traits are not singular. And there is no reason for Spock to think other traits – like his love of paperback books, or his peculiar habit of roaming the decks every morning around 3am for no particular reason – are equally as praise-worthy or notable.
Sometimes it is more tempting just not to think of him at all.
But something that humans might call a 'friendship' develops as the months pass, and Spock thinks he might be content with this. He has never found the idea of friendship particularly attractive, but there is something easy and restful in the gentle conversations, the late nights spent over chess or discussing a book in the Observation Deck, or walking around the bay of an alien port.
Then, Sarla III happens.
A telepathic race bent on their destruction. Desperation. Kirk grasping him, begging; “Keep them out, keep them out, can't you, please - “
After returning to the ship, Spock waits with resignation for the inevitable. At the worst, he knows, Kirk will ask him to transfer; at the best, their friendship will be forever altered, and he will need to transfer anyway. He will not be able to bear it, to see the veiled disgust in his captain's eyes. Kirk is certainly too considerate to voice his disdain aloud, but after seeing Spock's mind there is no chance – none at all – that he will be able to withstand the Vulcan's company. It would be cruel to demand as much.
He starts the paperwork as soon as he returns to his quarters. When Kirk fails to summon him, he decides the duty clearly falls upon himself to make the first move. He will need to assure Kirk, before he leaves, that the human's disgust is a natural reaction, he reminds himself. It would not do for Kirk to feel guilt over some perceived, non-existent bias against telepathy.
A consummate actor, the captain behaves no differently than is usual during the next day's shift. Perhaps out of a sense of guilt for his actual feelings, he even seems to be somewhat more solicitous than usual, smiling constantly at Spock. The Vulcan finishes and submits the paperwork over his lunch-break.
He returns to the bridge and can tell that Kirk has received it, because the captain immediately snaps out, “Commander, with me.”
Spock doesn't argue. Uhura takes the conn, and he follows Kirk into the Briefing room that adjoins the bridge.
Alone, Kirk turns to him, agitation in every movement. He's clutching a datapadd. “Spock, what is this?”
Spock doesn't even look at it. “A transfer request, Sir.”
“I'm well aware of that. Why am I looking at a transfer request, exactly?”
Spock looks carefully at a point just over Kirk's shoulder. “I thought it would save some discomfort to make the request now, Sir.”
“It is an inevitable necessity.”
Kirk sets down the padd. “I'm afraid you're going to have to explain your logic, Mr. Spock. Forgive my human slowness.”
Spock clasps his hands behind his back. “Sir, given the events on Sarla III, I cannot expect that you would consider any continued association between us possible. I have taken the necessary steps to remove myself from the ship.”
Kirk has a strange look on his face.
After opening his mouth a few times, all he says is, very soft: “...I think you're making quite a few assumptions there, Spock... and I'm curious about what experiences led you to make them.”
Spock says nothing.
At length, Kirk says: “I don't want you gone, Spock. In fact I hope very much that you stay here, and withdraw this request.”
At this, Spock is left confused. “...Sir?”
“What did you expect, exactly?”
“...In light of the events on Sarla III - “
“You've mentioned, yes. I assume you mean the meld.”
Spock turns his head away. “An invasion.”
“I consented. Vulcans can use melds in such emergencies, I've heard the stories. You've never seemed troubled in the past, with the Horta, or Van Gelder - “
“We left Dr. Van Gelder on Tantalus V, and the Horta on Janus VI,” Spock replies.
“So why is that different?”
“Because my mind is – different. Repugnant. And I would not subject anyone to my presence further, after touching it through a meld.”
Kirk looks at him.
Spock looks back.
“...This is what you've been told?”
“By the Vulcans of my acquaintance, it is my experience that people... do not respond well.”
Kirk breathes out, softly, through his nostrils. Closes his eyes. Spock notes that his hands are clenched and white-knuckled around the datapadd.
“...Withdraw the request, Spock,” He says at last. “ - Consider that an order.”
“I do not believe you can actually - “
“Consider. That. An order.” Kirk's eyes open. “And I don't want to hear another word about it.”
“If keep talking, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep my temper,” Kirk mutters. “- But more importantly: no one on my crew is going to talk about themselves like that. Understood?”
Spock looks at him helplessly.
Apparently taking this for assent, Kirk nods firmly. “I expect to see the retraction paperwork by the end of the night, Commander.
- And he does.
Spock is uncertain how to react in the weeks following his talk with Kirk. The captain makes no further mention of the events on Sarla III. Neither of them discuss the meld, or their discussion.
But it would be inaccurate to say that nothing has changed.
On the bridge, Kirk watches him 32.12% more often; at least, that Spock has seen. When Spock is not facing the captain, the number may be higher. And contrary to his expectation that the captain will avoid his company, it seems that he is instead actively sought out.
- He does not know what to make of it.
Nor does he know how to ask, or if he should. It is impolite, to speak openly of melds and matters of the mind. Less so, of course, between those who have themselves melded, but it still feels like Spock has committed a violation against his captain, just as he has always committed a violation to others subject to his mind.
About three weeks after the event, he is sitting with Kirk and McCoy at lunch when the latter mentions the empathic skills of the Betazoids. “Not sure how comfortable I would be, working with them,” he says. “Good on Lieutenant Mahdavi if she can stand it, I suppose, but I couldn't work with that many telepaths.”
“Empaths, Doctor,” Spock corrects absently. “A very different ability.”
“They speak to people in their heads,” McCoy retorts. “Seems similar enough to me. Creepier than your mind-melds, even.”
“Hardly comparable at all.”
McCoy grunts. “Well, at least people know when a Vulcan is using a meld,” he concedes. “ - Probably. I suppose you people can't just get thoughts from a touch?”
“You have seen the act; you know it is more complex than that.”
“And not all Vulcans can meld,” Kirk interrupts. His voice is absent, but his eyes are glittering with calculation. Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “How did you learn, Spock? Is it a common ability?”
Spock flickers his gaze to the captain, then glances down. “'Common' is not perhaps the word I would use. Most Vulcans, it is true, cannot meld; the ability is greatly exaggerated by off-worlders. But all members of my clan have the skill. It is usually inherited.”
“Interesting,” says Kirk at length.
McCoy swings his head between them with narrowed eyes, like he knows he's missing something and doesn't like it.
“So it was normal for your family, at least,” Kirk adds.
Spock eyes him. “...To a point.”
Until I actually did it, he thinks but does not say.
The triumphant, almost knowing look in Kirk's gaze makes him briefly and irrationally concerned that he has spoken aloud.
They meet each others' gaze.
“...Okaaaay,” McCoy drawls. “Glad we covered that. Very. Informative. I think.” He taps a fork against his plate. “...Seconds, anyone?”
They're in Kirk's quarters when it's brought up again.
“You know,” Kirk says, moving a rook around with an unusual disregard for tactics. “Today I learned something very interesting about Ensign Ortiz.”
“Yes. You know he took archery classes for nineteen years? He won the Argentinian national competition on earth. That sort of skill could be of enormous benefit on some of the pre-industrial planets we've been to with developing civilizations. But it's not a part of his official file.”
“Perhaps Starfleet should reconsider which details should be put onto official record.”
“Oh, most certainly. But it also goes to show that it's important for a commander to get to know his crew, too.” Kirk pushes his king one square to the left – a useless gesture. “It made me consider – what don't I know about you?”
“Or vice-versa,” Kirk presses. “If anything, we of all people should know each well... our strengths, our weaknesses... if we want to function as the best team possible. Would you say that's logical, Spock?”
Spock. Not 'Commander', no 'Mr.'.
Spock sits very still. “...I – Yes, Sir. I would tend to agree.”
Kirk nods once. Then he moves his queen. “Check.”
Spock stares at the board, blinking in confusion. He can see now that he has been in error; what had seemed like a thoughtless arrangement of pieces throughout the first half of the match has expertly pinned him in. There does not seem to be a way to escape. Carefully, he selects the best route with little hope.
Kirk lazily shifts a castle. “Check,” he repeats. “As I was saying. I think it's important, then, that we get to know each other a little better,”
“I believe we know one another very well, Sir,” Spock says.
“Oh, I thought so, too,” Kirk says. “But you see, I think there must have been a few misunderstandings along the way – especially if you believe that I could ever, ever find you 'repugnant'.”
Spock lifts his eyes, quickly, to meet Kirk's compassionate gaze. His throat is strangely tight, and he can't hold the look. “...Jim - “
Kirk is winning the game; he could easily defeat Spock in a few moves. Suddenly he tips over the king, and in the same motion reaches over the board, touching Spock's wrist is a hold that is not-quite invasive. “Meld with me,” he says. “Again. I want to tell you – to show you – what we didn't have time to share last time. Please.”
“I do not think it will be as you expect.”
“Fear is illogical, Spock. Haven't you always said that?”
“Fear is illogical. A logical supposition, based on evidence - “
“Then meld with me. No scientist likes an unproven hypothesis. Are you really content to do otherwise?” Slowly, carefully, Kirk pulls the wrist closer to his own face; Spock does not resist him. “If you are – tell me now. And I'll never bring it up again.”
Their breaths are loud and uneven. The ship hums around them. Spock thinks of quiet nights on Vulcan under T'Khut's heavy eye, and behind Kirk, the overhead light glares down on them both.
Slowly, he closes his eyes.
“My mind to your mind... My thoughts to your thoughts...”
They fall together – bright golden, gossamer strands of thought glimmering with memory-jewels that flare and merge seamlessly. Abstract ideas flow like water over the edge of their joining, curling and lapping. There is a feeling – almost a sigh – how could we hate this, how could anyone, why would we hide, why, never leave, never flee, never, never, never...
(Sillyfoolishforthinkingjoyjoylo - )
Soft grains of light spill between them as the link is stretched apart, ended reluctantly; and Kirk smiles at Spock with a look that is half-drunk with fondness.
“See,” he asks. “I think we know each other much better – don't you?”
Later, Kirk brushes his hand against Spock's wrist on the bridge. Glowing thoughts blossom between them, and the smile on the captain's face could surpass the stars.
Spock does not smile. But he looks at the captain, a human so far different from himself, and thinks that there is nowhere in the universe he would rather be.