Jim couldn’t help but worry as he tracked Spock’s movement when the Vulcan left the bridge, going to take a private call from Sarek. He didn’t let himself dwell on it. If it was important, Spock would tell him.
Jim wasn’t sure when the feeling had first began, but he did know when he had finally recognized it for what it was. The occasion hadn’t been anything special; just an ordinary day on the bridge. There hadn’t been any emergency or drama that required attention. In all actuality it had been an uneventful if not somewhat boring day. But as the crew had delivered their reports on the all-green status of the ship, he had been suddenly blindsided by the feeling of home that unexpectedly overcame him.
He must have gasped or made some other indication because Spock had suddenly turned towards him, a brow raised in question. But Jim had just shook his head indicating that he was fine and had pretended to be absorbed in the PADD on his lap. He’d known Spock hadn’t been convinced because he had felt those eyes on him for several long minutes as though the Vulcan was dissecting him with his gaze. Jim had been relieved when his First Officer hadn’t called him on it and had finally back to his own work.
It was a feeling that he only vaguely remembered from when he was very young: the first few years he had had with both his mother and brother before she had started bringing home abusive boyfriends and before she finally couldn’t pretend that all was right anymore and had run away to space, leaving him alone. It was something that he both craved and feared.
At first he hadn’t put much thought into what around him was actually qualified as home, just assuming the obvious, that it was the Enterprise and her crew that had become his family and refuge. But as time passed and shore leaves came and went, he began to notice that there were times what he still felt at home even while not on his ship. No matter the amount of problems he might have had, lying to himself had never been one of them. And when he finally realized that Spock was the source of his feeling of home, he did the obvious thing and totally freaked out.
Internally of course, though he may have thrown some things around in his quarters and been a little rough on the Ensigns he had sparred with after.
It wasn’t even because of the evident reasons. Jim wasn’t concerned that Spock was male. He had accepted and made peace with his sexuality years ago. Nor did he care that the man was a Vulcan or his First Officer.
No, the problem was that Jim was scared shitless he might follow in his mother’s footsteps and lose himself completely if he ever allowed himself to become too close to Spock.
Jim had seen how it had destroyed his mother, knew it was in his blood, and that scared him to death. On the other hand, he wanted to believe that he was stronger than that, that he would survive it. In his line of work, everyday was a risk. He’d known it when he’d signed up for it, and he wasn’t one to give up or run away from a challenge.
Uhura pulled him out of his musings when she called out, “Captain, I’m picking up a ship. It appears to be an Orion slave freighter.”
“Yellow Alert. Have they seen us yet?”
“It doesn’t appear so, Captain.”
“Good. Chekov. Do a full tactical scan. Tell me what we’re dealing with.”
A moment passed before Chekov answered, “The Lieutenant is correct, sir. It does appear to be a slave ship. There are seven Orions spread out across the upper decks. Huddled together on the lovest deck are thirty nine life forms, none of vhich are Orion and most I cannot identify. Some are very veak, Captain. There isn’t much time.”
“Red Alert. Shields up. Sulu, get us as close as you can without being detected. Chekov, I’m counting on you to take out their weapons. There should only be one weapon bay on that ship. Uhura, have Commander Spock and Dr. McCoy meet me in the transporter room with a security team. Chekov once their weapons are offline use the tractor beam to keep them from running. Sulu, you have the comm.”
A chorus of “Yes, Sir” and “Yes, Captain” followed him to the lift.
As the door began to close, Chekov hesitantly called, “Captain?”
Jim held the door. “Yes, Chekov?”
His reply was sobering. “There are Vulcans in the hold, sir.”
Jim tensed but moved his hand letting the door shut. “Thank you, Chekov.”
As the viewscreen blinked off Spock slowly lowered his hand from its customary farewell position. While he’d expected this order for some time, as illogical as it may have been he’d hoped that it would have been later still, that’d he’d have time to choose his own mate before it was too late. Uhura had been his original choice, but it had quickly become apparent that they were incompatible in more than one way. They had amiably parted ways by mutual agreement and had gone back to their old friendship.
If not for his mixed heritage, it would have only been logical for him to find a bondmate as his species faced imminent extinction. But as a halfbreed he was sterile, and without extensive genetic intervention, he could not father children. With the current state of their society it would not do to waste resources on such a thing when they were desperately needed elsewhere.
The matter did not unduly concern him as he had long since resigned himself to a life without children. He’d been four years of age when his parents had found out, but he knew that it had hurt his mother terribly when she’d heard the news. He’d tried to explain that it wasn’t her fault and that he did not mind, but in her own eyes she was always to blame. She’d never given up the hope that someday he would provide her with the grandchildren that she so desperately craved. Now it did not matter because even if he did, she would not see them.
He still felt an inexplicable tightening in his chest whenever he thought of his mother which was more often than he cared to admit. But he could remember the happy times now, instead of a repeat of her falling before his eyes again, and again, and again.
His father had given him two months to find a mate, or he would pick one for Spock. An unprecedented proportion of unbounded males had gone into pon farr prematurely, and Sarek feared that his son would be among them. Spock had hoped that he’d be spared such a thing completely due to his halfblood nature, but after talking to his future counterpart, he had realized that was not the case. It would not be good for anyone if he entered pon farr while unbonded on a spaceship that could be many weeks travel from Rok, the planet that many of the surviving Vulcans were now calling home.
Over the past year, he had gotten past his hatred for Jim, knowing that the man could not go against his nature anymore than Spock himself could and that he truly hadn’t meant the things he’d said to Spock in order to illicit an emotional response. That tentative understanding had quickly blossomed into respect as he had worked with his Captain. The night that Jim had requested him as a chess teacher, Spock had been hesitant, but was pleasantly surprised when the Captain had turned out to be an excellent pupil, absorbing everything he could teach him.
He had been more than a little shocked when one evening thirteen days into their sessions that Jim had won. Spock had examined the board not understanding what had happened; he hadn’t seen it coming and it wasn’t something that he’d taught him. Spock was considered a Grandmaster and had not been defeated in over a decade.
Jim had just laughed at his puzzlement. “Spock, I’m a genius in my own right and you play with logic. It was only a matter of time before I could come up with something illogical enough to get around it.”
Raising a brow in response, Spock had merely kept up his study of the pieces, going over the game move by move. Finally straightening up, he had praised. “You are correct. An illogical tactic, but most effective. Fascinating. I will have to examine it more extensively at a later date. I look forward to our next game.”
Jim had not won the next game, or the next, or the next thereafter. In fact he still lost most of the games they played, but it was the fact that he won any at all that mattered.
Those games were never spent in silence, but rather filled with talk of many things, things that Spock would have never imagined Jim knew anything about or had any interest in. He had quickly learned that the Earth phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ applied to his very illogical captain. The man was a walking contradiction, but Spock was oddly fascinated by him, couldn’t help but be drawn to him. James T. Kirk exuded a charisma unlike anyone he’d ever encountered.
If the odds hadn't been against him, if he hadn't known it would ruin the friendship that he’d come to value so much, he knew who his choice for a bondmate would be. But of course he would never ask, never ruin it because he knew what the answer would be. He could only hope his father would make a good choice and that his intended would be a good match.
Spock was out the door as the yellow alert sounded. When red sounded a minute later followed by orders to meet in the transporter room, he almost ran.
Jim didn’t even get a chance to give his speech before they were being shot at. He couldn’t quite say how none of them were injured in the resulting chaos, seeing as how the Orions were waiting for them in the transporter room. When the smoke finally settled and they had a chance to breathe, all the Orions were dead. Jim sighed, having hoped to capture some alive to take home and try and hopefully find other such ships.
Activating his communicator, he ordered, “Chekov, status.”
“All the Orions appear to be dead, sir. You need to get to the lower deck, Captain. There are only thirty lifeforms remaining.”
Jim cursed inwardly. But he’d be grateful for any that he was able to save. He just hoped that there weren’t any lifelong slaves. They rarely took their freedom well. “Direct us.”
The walk there seemed to take forever as they traveled a maze of twists and turns. Jim figured that it was purposely designed that way so that if anyone ever escaped it would take a considerable amount of time for them to find their way anywhere.
The door they finally came to was nondescript, nothing to set it apart from the dozens of other doors they’d passed. Trying the handle Jim was surprised to find it unlocked. Wondering if they had the right room, he hesitantly turned the handle and pushed the door open, only to be met head on by the smell of dozens of long unwashed bodies and death. At first Jim couldn’t make out anything but forms in the dimness of the room, but as his eyes adjusted he finally got a full dose of the horror.
Everyone that was able was huddled up against the back wall as far away from the door as possible, obviously well trained or well terrified.
The following minutes weren’t pleasant. Some of them were too far gone to help other than ease their pain. Others Bones didn’t even recognize the species and wasn’t able to do much with in fear of hurting them further. He set Uhura to figuring out how to communicate with the races they didn’t know as quickly as possible.
He turned to find Spock crouched over someone curled up in a corner. Walking over, Jim froze behind him as he realized it was a Vulcan woman. “Is she—?”
“Yes. Only just.” Spock stood and turned away.
“Spock. I’m sorry.”
“Captain, to be sorry is illogical. I did not know her.”
Jim wanted to disagree, but didn’t feel like arguing in this situation. He had the slaves beamed over first, directly to sickbay, before sending the bodies directly to the morgue where they would receive the respect they deserved even in death. Then, he called to Chekov for one last scan.
“Sir, there’s still one more life form in there. The signal appears to be to coming from inside the wall.”
Doing a quick scan of the room his eyes found a small vent barely distinguishable from the rest of the wall. The access panel to the ventilation shaft was surprisingly difficult to pull off. The resulting hole was small, much too small for an adult to fit into, probably why it wasn’t better closed off. But it was plenty big enough for a child to fit. Crouching down to peer into the shaft Jim felt his heart begin to race. Righte at that moment he could truly say that he knew what fear smelt like, and he fervently wished that he could have done without the introduction. The light of the room did not filter very far into the opening and his vision wasn’t good enough to penetrate the darkness beyond. Grabbing the flashlight from his pack, he flicked it on and ducked even lower to peer into the now illuminated passage.
He nearly dropped the light and fumbled to keep a hold of it as the child came into view. For one awful moment, Jim feared the worst as he took in the total stillness of the form crammed as far back into the shaft as possible. But the impossibly huge blue eyes that stared unblinkingly back at him as if they were judging the worth of his soul made his heart break. It was a face that’d once gazed back at him in the mirror before he’d learned to mask it. No child should ever have a reason to wear such a face.
The child blinked, turning his head, and the spell was broken. Jim only had a moment to recognize the pointed ear and realized briefly that he had never seen a blue eyed Vulcan before the child darted forward impossibly fast. For a brief moment, Jim feared that the boy was trying to run, but he was quickly proven wrong as the child plowed into him so hard that the air was knocked out of him and with an oof he landed heavily on his ass.
Deceptively strong, the child’s thin arms and legs wrapped securely around Jim. Tiny hands fisted tightly in the fabric of his shirt and he heard the material groan in protest, close to ripping before loosening his grip. A sharp chin dug into his collar as the child tucked his face so deeply into Jim’s neck that he feared for the boy’s ability to breath.
At the first touch of skin against skin, there was a rush of awareness unlike anything Jim had ever experienced before and he couldn’t help but cry out.
“Jim!” Bones exclaimed, making a move to pull the boy away from Jim, thinking the child was hurting him.
Jim turned, shielding the boy with his body, but Spock was suddenly there, blocking Bones’ movement.
“Do not,” Spock ordered, leaving no room for argument.
But Bones was never one to take orders particularly well when it came to Jim’s health. “But—”
“Jim is in no danger. Interference will endanger them both.”
Bones wasn’t happy. “Explain.”
“To the best of my knowledge, the child has initiated a parental bond. Normally such bonds are created at birth and develop slowly over a period of months. Obviously that is not the case here and the bond is being created at a rapid rate. To separate them now could prove detrimental to both of them. The Captain in particular is in danger because he is not a telepath and has no experience in such a matter.” Spock paused, letting the doctor absorb what he’d just said.
Bones’ eyes went wide. “You mean to tell me that that boy just chose Jim as his father?”
“God save us.”
Jim woke up slowly, unpleasantly hot and feeling as through a large weight was pressing down on him. From the texture of the bed under him, he knew he was in sickbay before he even opened his eyes. Wracking his brain, for once he couldn’t recall what had happened that would have landed him in such a position. He remembered [remembered] an Orion ship and slaves, then… a little Vulcan boy.
“Shen!” he shouted as he attempted to sit up only to realize that there was actually a weight on his chest. Eyes wide, he took in the child curled up against him, fast asleep but still holding on tight.
Bones’ voice from the doorway to his office caused Jim to jump. “Well look who finally decided to join us again in the land of the living. I’d recommend you keep your voice down. He finally passed out, but he’s so exhausted that I’m hoping he’ll be dead to the world for a good long while. The sleep will do him good. His name is Shen I take it?”
Jim nodded in agreement, then froze, not knowing how he knew the child’s name. He felt a headache coming on. “What happened?”
“I figured you’d be able to tell me, what with the bonding and all.”
“Bonding?” Jim repeated in confusion.
“Congratulations, Jim. You’re now a father!”
“What?!” Jim almost yelped with incredulity.
Jim almost fell off the bed as Spock spoke up from a chair next to him. He had somehow missed the fact that the Vulcan had been sitting there all along. “Doctor, you lack tact. Please let me explain.”
Jim just nodded dumbly, wondering what the hell was going on.
“Vulcans, as you know, are not a tactile species, but what we forgo in ways of physical touch we more than make up for in terms of mental bonds. Vulcan parents bond instantly with their offspring at the moment of conception, and as the infants grow and mature, more connections are added with every meeting of the minds. Some bonds are obviously stronger than others, but for a child the bonds to his parents are of the utmost importance. Without these bonds a child cannot develop. Orphans do not survive long without a bond.” Spock paused, letting his words sink in.
Jim’s eyes went wide as he took in Spock’s meaning. “He chose me! Why would he do that? I’m a human. I don’t know the slightest thing about how to raise a child, let alone a Vulcan child. What am I going to do?”
Jim could see the accusation in those dark eyes. “If you sever the bond with him so soon, he’ll die.”
Tensing, Jim replied soberly, “God, Spock. Do you really think so little of me?”
Spock actually looked crestfallen, a visible sag to his shoulders. “No, Captain. I am sorry.”
Jim sighed, flopping back against the bed, mindful of the precious burden using him as a mattress, and threw an arm over his eyes. “No, Spock. It’s me that’s sorry. It’s a valid concern. I don’t exactly have the best reputation. I’m notoriously selfish. I think most anyone would question putting a child in my care. I’d be a horrible father”
Suddenly fierce, Spock interjected, “You are wrong, Captain. I think you will make a great father.”
Incredulous, Jim dropped his arm and met Spock’s eyes. “You’re crazy.”
Spock’s eyebrows rose, but he said nothing.
Bones decided that it this was an appropriate time to remind them of his presence. “Okay enough of the chitchat. Now that Jim’s awake, is it safe for me to examine the child?”
Jim suddenly hauled himself up, while gathering Shen against him and scooting as far up the bed as he was able. He hissed, “You will not touch him.”
All three men were visibly startled, even Spock, who stood at the declaration and stared wide-eyed at them on the bed. “While it has been long hypothesized that parental bonds help foster protective instincts in parents, I’ve never seen such a strong response. I did not expect to see one so strong nor so quickly. Perhaps it is because you are human. Fascinating.”
Bones didn’t understand what he was dealing with, and he didn’t like it. He slowly moved forward as though approaching a cornered animal and stopped when Jim practically bared his teeth at him. “Now, now. No need for that. I promise I won’t touch him, Jim. I just need to run some scans. You can stay right there just like that. Just relax. He’s safe. I won’t touch him.”
Jim visible calmed and Bones hesitantly moved forward again, relaxing as well when Jim made no move to stop him. It only took a few moments to begin the scans and the automated programs went to work.
Jim was still tensed as tightly as a spring, and he caught Bones’ eyes uncertainly. The words that came out of his mouth were the last thing Bones had ever expected to hear from him.
“I’m scared, Bones.”
Bones tried to grin, but he knew it was weak. “Well kid, that’s parenthood for you.”
Spock understood Jim's reticence. A starship after all was not an idea place to raise a child, nor was a human the ideal choice to raise a Vulcan child. “If you prefer, after the bond has settled, I can contact my father and see about a permanent placement for Shen. I am sure there would be several willing families.”
That was the wrong thing to say. Jim was off the bed and heading toward the door. “No. You won’t take him from me. He needs me.”
It was then that Spock and Bones noticed that Shen was wide-eyed and awake, visibly frightened. almost shaking, one delicate hand resting against Jim’s neck.
Clenching his eyes shut, Jim groaned in pain, bringing a hand to his temple before collapsing to his knees.
Bones moved to rush forward, but Spock stopped him, ignoring the doctor’s protests, finally understanding what was going on.
Shen was projecting.
“Doctor, it would be best if you were to leave. I do not have time to explain right now.”
Bones opened his mouth to demand answers but thought better of it and shot one last desperate look at Jim before closing his mouth and walking out, locking the door behind him.
Spock moved forward slowly, frightened blue eyes following his every movement, before he sank into a crouch near them. “Shen, I know you are frightened and hurting, but what you are doing is hurting Jim. He is not used to the strength of our emotions. You have chosen well. He will not let anyone hurt you, but first you must trust him to keep you safe. Jim is my captain, and it is my job to keep him safe. Because you are his, it is also my job to keep you safe as well. I take my responsibilities very seriously. Will you allow me to help?”
Those bright eyes just stared at him unblinking for a long moment as the boy weighed his choices. His hand suddenly dropped from Jim’s neck as he went boneless, decision made.
Spock reached forward hesitantly, waiting for any sign of discomfort, more than readyto stop if Shen was not willing. Settling his fingers lightly against the meld points, barely touching, he intoned, “My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.”
He’d seen hundreds of minds in his life, but nothing like this. At first glance there was nothing, just a barren landscape. The next instant it was shifting, boiling and rolling like an ocean in the storm, all rushing over him, threatening to consume him. Spock was amazed that the child could appear so calm on the outside, when inside he was filled with uncontrollable fear. In the midst of it all was a bright golden light, the bond to Jim. Spock had never seen a bond so strong.
The images he saw were horrifying even to him. More than slightly shaken, Spock began the task of organizing and filtering, using the bond as an anchor. It would have been best if Spock could have helped Shen do it himself, but was in no state to even try. It was a long process, with many setbacks along the way.
By the time he was done, he was exhausted. He still managed to guide Shen into a deep healing trance but not before noticing a new bond already forming between himself and Shen. Slowly, gently he slid out of Shen’s mind, careful not to disturb him.
While it had seemed like a long period of time in Shen’s mind, mere minutes had passed outside. Pulling back he looked up at Jim, only to be greeted by a tear-stained face.
“They touched him, they didn’t actually touch him, but they touched him. Not physically, but mentally. And they did it over and over and over again. He didn’t even have a way to fight back, didn’t have the slightest defense against them. And they didn’t have a reason for it other than that they could, because he was such an easy target. They didn’t care. It was worse than—” Jim broke off and wasn’t able to meet Spock’s eyes.
But Spock was quick and understood what was left unsaid. Slowly he stood, and held out his hand to Jim.
Jim stared at it for a moment before hesitantly taking it and being pulled to his feet.
“Let us retire to your quarters. You will be more comfortable there.”
Jim nodded jerkily, suddenly feeling wrung out and dead on his feet. He followed Spock to the door.
Bones was waiting for them, demanding to know where they were going. Spock patiently explained that Jim just needed sleep and would be much more comfortable in his quarters. They would feed Shen as soon as he awoke and if anything turned up on the scan results Bones knew right where to find them.
Annoyed Bones wanted to stop them, but didn’t have the time. He had too many other patients to take care of.
Jim didn’t give a second thought to Spock helping him out of his clothes and under the covers. He went where directed. He protested slightly when he momentarily lost contact with Shen, but calmed when the comforting weight was again placed on him.
He wasn’t sure how long he drifted in and out of awareness, but he knew Spock came and went several times, making him eat and drink.
When he finally returned to full consciousness at first all he was aware of was the weight pressing against his very full bladder and his ravenous stomach demanding sustenance. He glanced over at the bathroom door, wondering how quick he could be because he still didn’t want to leave Shen behind.
“I’ll hold him.”
Jim practically fell out of the bed as Spock stood from his place at the desk. “Shit, Spock. You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Actually Captain, the chances of you having a heart attack from—”
Jim cut him off. “Sorry Spock. I don’t really care at the moment.” He quickly slid out of bed and gently placed Shen in Spock’s arms before dashing to the bathroom. He briefly marveled at the ease with which he was able to leave Shen with Spock when he had reacted so severely with Bones.
As he emptied his bladder, he wondered just what the hell he’d gotten himself into this time. Jim got a hold of himself, before he freaked out. After a quick encounter with the sonics he was feeling much better. The only matter left was getting something to fill his stomach.
Exiting the bathroom, he was greeted by a sight that warmed his heart. Spock had somehow curled up his long frame into the easy chair and was resting his forehead against Shen’s. They were lost in their own silent communication and he realized that this was what home really was. He wondered if he was worthy of it. But this, watching the two of them, he decided that even if he wasn’t, he'd move heaven and earth to become worthy – because this was what he wanted.
Rok = hope
Shen = to rise or ascend