Kirk took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He would swear there was the scent of mulberries in the air. He looked around the nearby foliage and spied a bush that bore deep red berries very similar to the Earth berry. He grinned and flipped open his communicator.
"Kirk to Enterprise."
"Spock, you have got to get down here. This place is amazing!" He turned in a circle, staring up at the gargantuan trees that loosely resembled a cross between the ancient Californian Redwood and the giant Sequoia.
"Sensors do indicate an Earth type environment of agreeable temperature and weather patterns," Spock replied.
"Spock, you have the distinct ability to kill the best of moods with your damn logic." Kirk scowled at the communicator.
"Always willing to serve."
Kirk thought he detected the slightest smirk in Spock's voice and rolled his eyes. "Just get down here! Bring McCoy and Sulu with you. They can check out the plant life and the immediate environment. If everything checks out, I'm going to release the crew for shore leave."
"Very good, Captain. I will beam down presently. Spock out."
Kirk flipped his communicator closed and made his way through the low forest undergrowth to the bush he'd seen earlier. He knew better than to eat anything that hadn't been analyzed yet, but the smell was so enticing that he lifted one of the heavy branches and leaned in to take a deep breath of the heady scent.
Kirk turned at the sound of McCoy's voice. As he dropped the branch of berries, something caught at his hand, and he swore under his breath. He looked down and saw a long thin scratch down the length of his palm. A trickle of blood was seeping up from the shallow cut. He pressed it against his thigh and waved at McCoy.
McCoy shook his head in wonder, turning first one way and then another. "Jim, this place is just...wow!"
Spock stood by, his hands clasped behind his back. "It is pleasant," he said seriously. "Though the temperature does still leave something to be desired."
"It's that hot blood of yours, Spock," Kirk smiled and clapped the Vulcan on the shoulder. "Oh-sorry about that."
Spock looked over at his shoulder and saw the red smear on his uniform shirt. He turned his eyes to Kirk's hand.
"Have you injured yourself, Captain?" He reached out for Kirk's hand.
McCoy pulled out his scanner and passed it over Kirk's hand while Spock held it out for his examination. Kirk tugged at them both.
"Bones, it's just a scratch for crying out loud!"
"What did you scratch it on?" McCoy asked, his brow furrowed.
Kirk waved an arm behind him. "That bush over there. The berries on it smell divine."
"Surely you didn't eat them, Jim!" McCoy glanced up in dumbstruck horror.
Kirk grimaced. "I'm not entirely stupid, Bones. Give me some credit here!"
Spock was still holding Kirk's hand open for the Doctor and had not noticed that his thumbs had begun to lightly brush up and down the sides of the scratch.
"That feels pretty good, Spock," Kirk said without looking at him. His fingertips had begun to tingle.
Spock stiffened slightly and ceased the caress. McCoy ignored them both and turned over his shoulder to shout at Sulu.
"Sulu, get over there to that bush and tell me what readings you get."
"Well, what's the prognosis, Bones? Will I live?" Kirk asked jokingly. He tipped his head back and looked up into the trees. Sunlight filtered through the canopy and cast a soft golden glow all around. "This place is sheer heaven. Don't you think so, Spock?"
"It does appear to be somewhat of a paradise, at face value." Spock had not let go of Kirk's hand, but he was now far too aware of their close contact to slip up again. He stood ramrod straight and held Kirk's fingers in a clinical, completely impersonal manner.
"Face value, Spock? Have you gotten so jaded already that you expect the bogeyman around every corner?"
"Jim," McCoy interrupted, "how do you feel? Dizzy or anything?"
Kirk scowled at McCoy's seriousness. "I'm fine, Bones! It's a scratch!" He shook his head and tipped it back to admire again the distant canopy above. A breeze picked up and blew across his face, bringing the scent of water. He closed his eyes and drew in a breath.
"Captain, can you hear me?"
Kirk opened his eyes. He was lying on the ground propped against Spock's arm and chest. He could feel the heat radiating off the Vulcan. He turned his head and saw McCoy leaning over his med kit on his other side.
"What happened, Spock?" Kirk asked groggily.
"You passed out," McCoy barked before Spock could answer.
Spock raised an eyebrow and glared at the Doctor. "You lost consciousness for a moment, Captain. There was no warning."
Kirk tried to sit up, but as he changed position, the ground rocked beneath him, and that beautiful canopy above his head started to spin. He squeezed his eyes closed and leaned back against Spock.
"Dizzy?" McCoy asked.
"Yeah, you could call it that," Kirk replied. "Did I get into something when I scratched my hand on the bush, Bones?"
"No." McCoy held up a handful of small branches from the nearby bush. Sulu stood over his shoulder running more analyses. "The bush seems to be harmless enough. I think something was on it; maybe an insect or other native animal life. Whatever it was gave you a super concentrated dose of some kind of nerve inhibitor."
"Have you got anything to combat it with?"
Spock noted the edge of worry in Kirk's voice. His arm tightened around Kirk's shoulders.
"I'll need to get you up to sickbay and run some more tests. Can you stand?"
Kirk nodded and leaned into Spock as the Vulcan pulled him bodily off the ground and held him firmly around the waist.
Kirk waivered as the ground rocked again. He flailed with an arm to gain purchase on something-anything-that would steady him against the nauseating movement. Spock reached out and gripped his arm and turned Kirk to face him.
"I'm sorry, Spock. I-" Kirk let his head fall forward onto Spock's chest.
"-just can't get the world to hold still."
"Relax, Jim," Spock said softly near Kirk's ear.
Kirk smiled wryly against Spock's shoulder. It was a sure sign the Vulcan was worried out of his mind when he deigned to called Kirk by his given name.
"Doctor, I think haste is appropriate at this juncture," Spock said as McCoy gathered up his kit and stood. Kirk was sagging heavily against him, indicating a spreading weakness.
McCoy opened his communicator. "McCoy to Enterprise. Four to beam up, and have a med team on standby in the transporter room."
"Aye, Doctor," Scotty's voice came over the channel. "Is everything all right down there?"
"The Captain's been infected with some kind of nerve toxin from an indigenous life form. I'll know more when I get him back to the ship."
"So, no shore leave then?"
McCoy ground his teeth in frustration. "Not right now, Mr. Scott. Now, get us back up there!"
Nurse Chapel was waiting in the transporter room with an orderly and Dr. M'Benga and an anti-grav gurney.
"Lay him down there," McCoy instructed Spock.
Kirk had gone completely limp against Spock, so he lifted the smaller man into his arms and carried him off the transporter pad. He carefully deposited Kirk on the anti-grav gurney and then followed it as they went through the corridors toward sickbay.
McCoy started pulling equipment toward him as he walked through the sickbay, Christine followed close on his heels taking spare hypos and pieces of equipment out of the doctor's hands as he reached for one thing after another. He pointed to the bio bed in the middle of the exam room.
"Up there. Quickly, now!"
Spock ignored the orderly and once again gathered Kirk's body up and laid him out on the bed. "Jim?"
"Yeah, Spock," Kirk replied dazedly. "I'm still here."
Spock was reassured by the sound of his Captain's voice. He hovered at the side of the table until McCoy pushed him aside to attach a sheaf of electrodes to Kirk's head and chest. He waved a hand at Kirk's uniform shirt as he started sticking down the electrodes on the Captain's forehead and temples.
"Spock, get that off of him, will you?"
Kirk did his best to offer a grin. "No time for foreplay, Mr. Spock."
McCoy groaned and pushed Kirk's shoulders up off the bed. Spock followed along quickly and caught the bottom edge of the Captain's shirt and tugged it up over his head. His knuckles grazed Kirk's ribs and muscled chest as he pulled the garment off. He felt an involuntary shiver run up his arms. Kirk moaned softly.
"Jim, you still with me?" McCoy asked quickly.
Kirk tilted his head to look up at Spock. The dark eyes looked back at him, horror struck, but also curious. "Yeah, I'm with you, Bones."
"Good. Lay back down."
Spock eased Kirk's shoulders back onto the bed.
"Jim, can you still feel all your extremities? Fingers, toes, hands, feet?"
Kirk nodded. "Yeah, I think so. That hand with the scratch feels a little numb, though."
"Mmm." McCoy continued to work, hooking up scanners and watching the readings. He ordered Christine to do a blood culture and compare it with the initial scans he'd taken of Jim on the planet.
Spock stayed on the other side of the bed, out of the Doctor's way, but close at hand. He was absently rubbing the backs of his knuckles where they had brushed Jim's skin. He was feeling very strange. He knew that he needed to report to the bridge. Jim was in capable enough hands here, and the ship needed a Commander in the Captain's absence. But Spock could not make himself move from the bedside.
Kirk's whole body jerked suddenly and he took in a gasping breath and then another. "Bones?" his voice was rough with fear, "I can't-can't breathe..."
"Damn, this stuff is quick," McCoy swore. "Christine, I need 3 cc's of Doraphedrine! Now!"
Spock laid a hand on Jim's shoulder. He could feel the muscles convulsing under the skin as Jim tried to keep control of his fear. Jim riveted his gaze on the ceiling as he tried to draw in ragged breaths that became more labored with each second.
Spock felt his own chest constricting in what he could only label as abject terror. For a moment he was standing on that precipice again, looking into the empty space where his mother had stood. He closed his eyes briefly against the mental image and took a deep breath to refocus himself. He heard the hiss of a hypo spray and the muscles beneath his hand relaxed perceptibly.
Jim's eyes were full of concern as he lay looking up at Spock, his breathing still irregular and harsh. Spock's heart twisted. His Captain's life was in danger, and yet he could still notice his first officer's discomfort.
"I am fine...Captain."
"Well, he's not going to be," McCoy spouted. He was looking between scanners and sorting through hypos like a man possessed.
"Doctor?" Spock felt that awful twinge of terror again. It was a long way down.
"Bones...what is it?"
McCoy stopped suddenly. He steadied himself on the edge of the bio bed. His gaze darted to Spock and then down to Jim.
"Jim, this thing-whatever it is-it's moving so fast..... I don't think-I can't stop it." His voice had fallen to a whisper. His eyes were desperate.
And Kirk understood. The most difficult thing for Bones as a doctor was to be faced with a situation that he couldn't fix, just as Spock's was to be faced with a problem that defied logic.
"Bones, it's okay. Just do what you can...please."
McCoy nodded mutely. He knew what Jim was asking. Please don't let me die in pain. He picked up a hypo loaded with painkillers. He positioned it over a hard bicep.
A thin, wiry hand reached out and locked around his wrist.
"I believe...I may have a solution, Doctor."
"Spock, please, let me do this for him. He doesn't have much time...."
Kirk's entire body was going numb fast, and he could feel the heaviness coming back into his chest. He picked up a half deadened hand and weakly grasped Spock's where it rested on the bed.
"Spock, let it go. McCoy knows what he's doing."
Spock did not speak. He did not trust himself at this point. Every cell of his Vulcan blood was screaming at him to let McCoy ease Jim's passing, it was the logical thing to do. But his human blood was crying out in denial, it did not want to give up the vibrant life before him. His chest was so tight he thought he might suffocate as well. The pounding of his heart was irregularly fast even for a Vulcan. Terror and desperation coursed through him. The cliff was there, but he could not-would not-lose another life to it.
"You need time, Doctor."
McCoy looked from his captive wrist to Spock's burning gaze.
"Yes. I need to slow it down, but nothing seems to be working. It's taking over all of his life functions at once."
Spock nodded his understanding. He looked down at Jim. "There is a technique Vulcan's have developed that aides in healing the body. It is a process by which all body functions are slowed, almost to the point of death, while the body repairs itself."
"Spock, that's ludicrous!" McCoy tried to shake the Vulcan off. "Vulcan's are trained from childhood in those techniques. Jim has no practice in self healing trances!"
"It is not necessary that he does, Doctor. I will initiate the trance, slow the body functions, and hold him in-stasis-if you will, while you prepare a cure."
McCoy backed down just slightly. He looked down at Jim, who was wheezing again with the effort of dragging in air.
Kirk rolled his head to the side. "Will it give you the time you need, Bones?" he gasped out.
"If it works...yes."
Kirk let his eyes drift closed. "Go for it, Mr. Spock."
Spock nodded once and rubbed his hands together briefly. He took several deep, calming breaths and then raised his hands to Jim's face. He had never melded with a human before. He was not even sure it would be successful.
He touched the cool skin at temple, cheekbone, and jaw.
"My mind, to your mind...my thoughts, to your thoughts," Spock intoned the ancient words. He completed the connection.
His mind was suddenly awash in a typhoon of sensation that threatened to drag him under and drown him. There was color and sound and chaos. Emotions ran amok, sending his soul flying high and then pulling it deep within the blackness of grief. He tried to steady himself, to find some solid ground to stand on. He drew in a long, slow breath and thought of a craggy mountainside. In a moment, the turbulence subsided and he could feel hot sand beneath his boots.
Where are we, Spock?
Spock opened his eyes and looked around. The land was dry and desolate and in the distance a storm of otherworldly proportions brewed on the horizon. They stood on a cliff overlooking a scene of impending annihilation.
"This is Vulcan, in the moments of its destruction."
Jim looked out over the land reduced to rubble, the sky frozen in its terrible configuration as harbinger of death.
His heart clenched in his chest as he realized that Spock had witnessed this scene. He had been standing right here watching his world torn apart...watching his mother die.
Spock did not need the link the meld gave him to feel the sorrow in his Captain's face, but it washed over him anyway and he had to steady himself beneath it.
"It is all right, Jim."
"No, no its not, Spock!" Jim said fiercely. "I am so sorry. I don't think I realized just how hard it was for you to do what you did that day."
Spock's head bowed and Jim thought he detected a shudder in the strong shoulders. He reached out and placed a hand on one of those shoulders. He had never dared touch Spock so casually before, but here in this place that was not a place, it seemed very easy to let the conventions slip away. Spock did not flinch, or avoid his touch.
"Why here, Spock? Why did you choose this place?"
Spock took a breath. "In my mind, it is the edge of all things, the edge of death, and that is where I must hold you until Dr. McCoy can find a cure."
"We have time then?"
Jim walked to the edge of the precipice and sat down. He patted the rock beside him. Spock joined him at the edge and sat.
"Tell me about her, Spock."
Spock looked down at his hands. He had not thought of his mother since the day she died. He had pushed the event from his mind after Jim had taunted him to violence on the bridge. His human emotions had been far too potent for him to deal with, so his Vulcan control had pushed them away to be dealt with at a later time. His Vulcan eidetic memory made the images too vivid for his human half, and he closed his eyes against them.
"She was...beautiful." Spock's voice was rough and very low. "She was so strong-in mind and will-to live among us for so long. She was always patient and never lost her temper, except when it came to...."
"To...what, Spock?" Jim urged gently as Spock let the words drift off.
Spock was hesitant. The emotional tide within him was building. He could feel his control slipping, not unlike it had on the bridge that day. This was slower, but no less painful. He forced his eyes open and stared out over the ravaged landscape still frozen in time.
"She wanted...what was best for me when I was young. She felt that meant embracing my human side as well as my Vulcan." He faltered as the sounds of her raised voice through the stone walls of their home came back to his ears. "She fought with my father, only that one time, saying I had to be permitted to explore for myself...all that I was."
Spock broke off and turned his face away.
Jim reached out and put a finger under the stern Vulcan chin and turned the face back to his. His heart shattered at the sight of tears there. He started to pull his hand away, but Spock caught it in his own and pulled it into his lap. He held it there, very still. Jim did not move.
"I was sent away to school shortly after that," he continued.
"That seems cruel," Jim said softly.
"Vulcans do not think of family in the same way humans do. We are loyal to each other, but the constant reassurance of closeness is not necessary."
"Not necessary for a Vulcan," Jim replied gently, "but perhaps for a Vulcan who has human blood, it is."
Jim turned his hand over in Spock's lap and closed his fingers around the long thin, deceptively delicate looking ones that held him. He lifted his other hand and brushed Spock's cheek, holding his hand there when the other did not jerk away from the contact. Spock's eyes closed again, more tears tracked down his face, and a convulsive sob shook his spare frame.
"You are not alone, Spock. We are here for you, all of us...I'm here for you." He scooted across the rough rock until he was shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh with the Vulcan. "As close as you need me to be."
The dam broke.
Jim watched as Spock leaned sideways, almost in slow motion, and buried his face against Jim's chest. His arms went around Jim's waist and he clung like a child, sobbing against him. Jim leaned over Spock's back, saying nothing, only covering him, protecting him against whatever was out there that might hurt him in that moment. He had seen very few men cry, and he had never seen a Vulcan cry. He did not know if they were even able to cry. Perhaps it was only Spock's human blood that gave him the ability to take advantage of the release.
They sat for a long time like that until Spock was finally still and his breathing had returned to normal. He pulled away slowly, and Jim felt an awful stab of lonely emptiness. He kept hold of Spock's hand.
"You seem to have a talent for undoing my control, Jim." Spock's voice was quiet, but not angry or accusing. "This is the second time you have forced my hand at recognizing my emotional distress."
Jim grinned. "It's good for the soul every now and then."
They sat in silence.
A rumbling from deep within the rock caught Kirk's attention.
"What was that, Spock?"
Spock looked up the mountain, and then out to the horizon where the black storm was staid. The clouds around it began to move slowly. He rose quickly and pulled Jim with him.
"Spock? What's going on?"
"The storm, Jim."
Kirk followed Spock's gaze and did not miss the slow churning of the cloud banks. He began to feel lightheaded and leaned on Spock's arm. A moment later he was on his knees in the sand again. Spock knelt in front of him, holding his shoulders.
"Bones..." Kirk felt the blackness creeping in at the edges of his vision. "He's run out of time, hasn't he, Spock?"
As Jim's muscles gave out and he started to crumple to the ground, Spock pulled him in and cradled him against his chest. He looked up into the Vulcan's face and found, instead of the long practiced closed indifference, that it was open and in pain. Spock's eyes shone again with tears.
"No, Spock...don't. Not for me." Jim's eyes drifted closed. He could feel that same heaviness in his chest again, and the air was suddenly too thick to breath.
Spock reached up and touched Jim's forehead. He let the tips of his fingers glide, feather light, over his face; and with two fingers pressed together, he touched Jim's parted lips.
"You will not die," Spock said, more to himself than to Kirk. "I will not lose anyone else here in this place...I will not lose you."
Kirk was beyond reply. He felt like he was falling away from Spock, away from everything. No part of him would obey his commands anymore. He wanted only to open his eyes one last time, to look at Spock's face; that face that could bring him peace for the rest of his life, if he had one. He had not realized how much Spock's mere presence meant to him until this moment when he felt himself being pulled away from it.
Spock could feel Jim slipping away from him. The storm was moving faster across the plains towards them. He had to act if he wanted to save his Captain's life, and it had to be now. He placed a hand against Jim's temple. He had heard of the dah-kash-novh, but he never seen one attempted. It was said that the dah-kash-novh was used only at the moment that life could no longer be sustained any other way, but that the one who initiated the meld must be ever aware of the line of death and not to cross it. It was a double meld, a meld on top of a meld, that plunged so deep into the mind that there was a danger of losing oneself. Spock would take that risk. He could think of no better place to be lost than with Jim.
Spock closed his eyes and stepped over the edge of the cliff.
Jim was in darkness, complete and void. He wondered if this was death. He could not say that he had ever believed that there was anything after death, but he also thought he would be unaware. But he was aware, at least some part of him was. He could not feel his body, or else he could move no part of it. He could see nothing, and hear nothing, but perhaps that was only because there was nothing to see or hear.
That voice...yes! He wanted to cry out with joy, but no sound issued from his numb lips.
Jim, do not leave me.
Kirk felt arms around him. No, more than arms. A whole body stretched against him, inhumanly warm. The heat penetrated him and the body that was beside him a moment ago melted into him bringing his limbs alive, expanding his chest, letting in air. He heard a loud, slow, steady sound.
Has the storm arrived, Spock?
No, Jim. Spock's voice was low and far away. It is the sound of your heart...
Spock? Are you all right?
For you, Jim...all that I am....
Jim felt a sudden panic. If that sound was his heart beating, then he must have been dead. Or close enough that it made no difference to quibble over. Then Spock was-
Spock, don't you dare!
The void exploded in a burst of pain. Kirk cried out in agony as his mind was wrenched away from Spock's.
"Jim! Jim, can you hear me?"
"Spock!" Jim forced his eyes open. "Bones?" McCoy was leaning over him, sweaty, pale as death, his eyes almost mad with fear.
"Thank God! Jim, I thought I'd lost you!"
"Bones...Spock? How is Spock?"
"He's okay, Jim. It was touchy for a moment. I don't know what he had to do to keep you with us, but I'm not sure it wasn't more him than me that brought you back." McCoy mopped his brow and glanced across Jim to the gurney that had been wheeled up beside Jim's bio bed.
Spock was on his side, a hand hanging over the edge of the gurney, paler than Kirk had ever seen him. He reached out a hand and touched a limp fingertip. The Vulcan's eyelids fluttered and long black lashes lifted slowly off the austere cheekbones.
"Spock," Jim's voice was barely above a whisper, "don't you ever do anything like that again."
"Yes, Captain." Spock's eyes closed again, and he was gone.
"Let him rest, Jim," Bones advised. "He's taken a beating, and it isn't the kind of thing that I can do anything to help him." He motioned to an orderly. "Get Mr. Spock a bed. I think he'll be needing it for at least the next twenty-four hours."
"Bones, please...leave him here...with me," Kirk asked softy.
McCoy looked at him quizzically, but waved the orderly away from the gurney.
"You need to rest, too, Jim. It's a miracle Spock was able to keep you under so long, but it did give me the time I needed to create antidote. I think a day or so of rest, and you'll be good as new." He patted Jim's shoulder. "But I'm not recommending Gamma Delaris 2 for shore leave."
"No," Jim laughed weakly, "no, I don't think so." He cast a glance at Spock lying haphazardly on the gurney, looking so infinitely human. "After all, we only have so many Vulcans to go around."
When Jim opened his eyes again, Spock was standing over him, his hands clasped tightly behind his back, his shoulders pulled so far back his shoulder blades were probably touching.
"At ease, Mr. Spock." Kirk's throat was dry. He swallowed and then tried to lift up on an elbow and find something to drink. Spock's hand touched his shoulder with a light pressure to push him back to the bed. Kirk raised his eyes to Spock's and saw concern mingled with...fear? He reached up to cover Spock's hand with his own. He half expected the Vulcan to pull away from him, but he didn't He stayed there, resting his hand on Kirk's shoulder, squeezing almost imperceptibly.
McCoy came around the corner.
"Ah, Jim, good, I'm glad to see you're awake."
Spock's hand slipped from Kirk's shoulder, and he made a tiny sound of protest until the long fingers came to rest very discreetly over his hand on the bed.
"Here, drink this," McCoy proffered a glass and Kirk took it.
"One of your country potions, Doctor," Spock said.
McCoy shot Spock a stabbing glare. "Water, you green blooded-" he stopped short when he felt Kirk's hand at his wrist. He looked down and saw a stern warning in the Captain's eyes. He frowned.
"The elixir of life, Spock," McCoy amended. "Nothing better in the universe to clean out the body...except maybe a good Scotch."
This last he added with a mental note to partake of his own medicine when he got back to his office. He eyed Captain and First Officer warily. Something had happened in the time that Spock had been inside Kirk's head. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something between them that had not been before.
"How are you feeling, Jim?" McCoy asked, focusing his attention on Kirk and, for the moment, ignoring the strange tension between the two men.
Kirk experimentally wiggled his fingers, toes, and rotated his shoulders and neck. "Pretty good, Bones. I don't think there's any deleterious side effects lurking." He pushed himself up on the bed and this time Spock let him. A wave of nausea worked its way up from his gut and he slumped back on the bed with a huff.
McCoy reached for a hypo. "Take it easy, Jim. I don't expect heroic feats of anything out of you for at least two days." Kirk scowled at him. "No arguments! You're staying here until I'm sure that whatever that stuff was you got into your system is completely out of it."
Kirk nodded reluctantly. McCoy cast Spock a threatening glare against jail breaking his Captain when McCoy's back was turned and then left the room.
Kirk relaxed back onto the bed and put an arm behind his head.
"So, Mr. Spock."
Spock raised an expectant eyebrow. "Captain?"
"I didn't think you liked me that much, Spock."
"I am not required to ‘like' you in order to perform my duty, Captain." Spock replied.
Kirk frowned at this. "That's it, then?" He looked hard at Spock. That spark of fear that had been in his eyes earlier was turning into a raging storm fast. Spock's fingers tightened convulsively around Kirk's. He looked down at their joined hands. Spock's body jerked as if he had just suddenly noticed their physical contact and tried to yank his hand away. Kirk squeezed hard and refused to let go.
"So...that's it then," Kirk repeated in a softer voice.
Spock's head bowed in something very like defeat. "Captain...Jim...I cannot function efficiently like...this."
"Like what, Spock?" Kirk coaxed gently.
Spock worked his mouth like the next word he wanted to say was going to choke him. "Feeling...like this."
Kirk smiled. No smirk, no jibe, no hidden meaning; just an honest, grateful smile. A shiver moved through Spock's body. Every drop of his Vulcan blood was straining, commanding him to leave the room, to leave the presence of this man who could undo him with only a look. His human blood thrummed in his veins like a well tuned instrument about to play solo in a symphony. His efforts to reconcile the two were nearly making him ill.
Kirk didn't miss the strain on Spock's face. He moved his hand up Spock's arm and rubbed it slowly. "Don't fight it so hard, Spock. You don't need to; not with me."
Spock gave a minute, fierce shake of his head. "I am Vulcan."
"You are you," Kirk corrected. "You're half human, Mr. Spock, and that is no crime here. Don't fight yourself so hard. Listen...listen to your heart."
Spock raised his eyes to Kirk's at the last words. He felt his heart twist in his chest. Kirk was looking at him like there was nothing else in the room-hell, in the universe-but him, and every cell in his body vibrated in pleasure at the realization.
"Now, about what you did back there-" Kirk started to scold, but he felt Spock's muscles lock up under his hand again. "Spock?"
"I apologize, Captain." Spock extricated his hand and took a step away from the bed. "I could deduce no other way to keep you alive in the moment."
Kirk raised an eyebrow this time and lifted up onto his elbow, ignoring the slow rock of the room at the sudden movement. "Spock, I'm not asking for an apology! I just wanted to know if-if you did what I think you did."
"It was unforgivable of me to take the steps I did, Captain. If you feel it necessary, you may report my actions to my father on New Vulcan, and the proper corrective measures may be taken."
Kirk scowled hard. "Spock, what the hell are you talking about? I just wanted to know if you damn near killed yourself in order to keep my ticker turning over, and you're talking about ‘corrective measures'?"
Spock's head shot up. Confusion clouded his dark eyes for a moment and Kirk got the distinct impression that he had missed a very large something in the conversation. "Spock, talk you me."
"Captain, I was speaking of the-the Bond."
"Yes, Captain. The only way to save your life was to Bond my mind to yours through the dah-kosh-nohv, thereby making us one entity and allowing my life functions to sustain yours."
"I...see." Kirk didn't see at all except that, even though this sounded like just one more element of Vulcan mysticism to him, it was certainly a great deal more important than that to Spock. "I'm going to gather that this-Bond-is a bit more serious than just to be used as a life saving measure."
"As I said, Captain, it was unforgivable of me to take the action, but I could see no other way-"
"Except letting me die." Spock gave a jerking nod. "And why didn't you just let me go?" Kirk knew he was being cruel, but he needed to break through that tough Vulcan hide. His feelings for the man standing in front of him had taken a total one eighty in the last several hours and he needed help understanding how and why that had happened.
"Captain, I-I couldn't lose-" Spock broke off. He looked down at the floor, but not before Kirk could catch the glisten of tears in the dark, Vulcan eyes. The next words were spoken softly, a bare breath of sound. "I couldn't lose you."
Kirk's heart wrenched in his chest. Tears burned behind his eyes. He felt Spock shrinking away from him and reached out and grabbed the man's hand and pulled it in to rest on his bare chest. Through the intense heat of that hand, Kirk could feel the pain, closer to outright anguish, in Spock's heart. It was an unsettling sensation, but amazing all the same. Under the pain, he felt a clutching type of fear that threatened to unbalance him. Then there was the shame. Strangely it was not shame at the feelings that assaulted him now, but shame at himself and his fear of allowing those emotions to show.
Beyond all of that there was one quiet, sparkling jewel, nestled in the darkness that was Spock's protection from the world around him...his love for James T. Kirk. The longer Kirk gazed into it, the brighter it burned until it was blinding white and all consuming.
Kirk let go of Spock and shook his head to clear it. Spock rocked back on his heels like he'd been shoved. He fought for his balance a moment and then leaned onto the edge of the bed for support, breathing heavily as though the whole experience had cost him every ounce of energy he had.
"Spock...I don't think I understand."
The shadow of rejection shuttered Spock's eyes and he began to straighten up.
"No! No, Spock, don't you shut down on me! I just...I just don't understand what happened..."
Spock shook his head. "I committed the ultimate breach in trust. I have connected us. We will share...everything, until it can be remedied on New Vulcan."
Kirk clamped down on the frustration that was rising in him at Spock's stubborn unwillingness to open his eyes and see what was in front of him. "What if I don't want it remedied?"
"New Vulcan is only 3 parsecs out of our-" Spock drew up short, only just registering Kirk's words.
"If it connects us, Mr. Spock, then avail yourself of that connection and open your damn eyes."
Spock looked stung for a moment and then lifted a hand to gently touch Kirk's temple.
Kirk could not be sure what Spock saw, but he tried very hard to be sure he felt only one thing. Love. Love and all the gifts that would come with it. He filled every molecule of himself with warmth and projected it toward Spock. It was no jewel shining in the dark, like Spock's love for him. Loving Jim Kirk would be the greatest challenge that Spock ever accepted. His love was rough hewn and sharp around the edges, hard to hold, but sturdy and durable, and it could last a lifetime.
Spock's hand dropped away and Kirk caught it on the way down, lifted it and brushed his lips against the knuckles.
"Let the connection stand, Mr. Spock."