“Mmm?” Jim hummed over the rim of his tumbler. Jim lowered the glass, pursed his lips, and then let out a satisfied “ah.”
Spock hesitated, wary of provoking a confrontation.
“Yes, Spock?” Jim said, leaning against the countertop with his ankles crossed. It brought to mind a much younger Jim Kirk, golden and glowing, and not the recently retired and subsequently moody man who was now his bondmate.
Spock dismissed the memory, mentally scolding himself for entertaining such somber thoughts. Jim was as he always was, even if he was having difficulty adjusting to his retirement.
“Jim, I do not believe you remembered to get the red bell peppers,” Spock said.
“What? Didn’t I?” Jim straightened and looked around the kitchen, and then set the glass down with a sharp tap before beginning his search in earnest. He went through the cupboards, shuffling through the packages he had only recently put away, muttering to himself the entire time. He opened the refrigerator, searched there as well, and then let the door fall closed as he stood rubbing at the back of his head.
“Jim, it is of no consequence. I can—”
“No,” Jim interrupted, his head snapping up. “No, that’s—wasn’t that on your half of the shopping list?”
“No, Jim. I do not believe it was.”
Jim looked giddy with triumph. “We’ll see!”
He patted at his pockets, and finding nothing there, he scrambled over to the canvas totes they used to carry their groceries and began to dig through them. He popped up a moment later with a torn piece of green paper, which Spock recognized as half of their shopping list. Jim’s half.
Jim’s eyes darted back and forth as he perused the list, and then his face fell.
“It does not matter,” Spock said consolingly.
Jim walked back over to the counter, still staring at the paper. “Well, Spock, I guess you were right.”
Jim’s voice had been bright, but the smile now on his face was tight, and it did not reach his eyes. He picked up the tumbler, downed its contents, and then went to pour himself more.
He walked back into the kitchen, his feet shuffling and a hand resting casually in his pocket.
Spock turned to him and stared pointedly at the glass in his hand. “You are having another.”
Spock had meant it as a simple observation, but it did not come out that way. All the worry and frustration Spock had been feeling recently seemed to have seeped into his tone, turning the statement into a judgment.
Jim froze, and the surprise on his face was quickly replaced by something steely, cold. “You would begrudge me a couple drinks, Spock?”
There was an edge to Jim’s voice that Spock had rarely ever heard directed at himself, and he instinctively reached out through the bond for reassurance, even though recently the bond had been...not closed off, exactly, but more quiet on Jim’s end than he was used to it being. Not so, now. Spock came up against a churning cloud of dark, human emotions.
Spock heard a clatter but did not realize he had dropped the knife he’d been holding until Jim sauntered over and picked it up, setting it next to the cutting board.
“It was not my intention to…” Spock started, staring into fathomless hazel eyes.
Jim made his expression unreadable, something he was alarmingly adept at for a human. He was looking down at the zucchini Spock had chopped and swirling the amber liquid in his glass when he said, “Do you really need the red peppers? I’m sure it’ll be fine without them.”
Spock generally made it a point to delicately handle Jim’s rare dark moods, but now he found himself growing weary.
He did not bother to hide the flash of irritation he felt and firmly stated, “It is my mother’s recipe.”
Jim raised his hands in surrender, the liquid sloshing precariously in his glass. “You want me to go back to the store?”
“There is no need.” Spock reached back and untied his apron, not meeting Jim’s eyes. “I shall go.”
He heard the clink of glass on marble and a moment later Jim’s hands were on his arms, holding them still. When he looked up Jim’s face was very close to his, expression tense but not angry, as he had expected.
“No. I’ll go.” Jim gave his arms a squeeze. “Since you’ve already started, and I know you like to prepare this dish just so, the logical solution is for me to go.”
Jim’s lips quirked in a half smile, though his forehead was creased and his eyes heavy with feeling.
Spock nodded. “Very well.”
The weight of Jim’s recent depression had settled over Spock through the bond, subdued but unmistakable. Jim’s pain would always be his own, but in this instance Spock felt woefully ill-equipped to deal with the issue. He decided that he must do something soon to improve his bondmate’s mood, but for now, perhaps a short walk and some time alone would do Jim good.
Jim moved back and gave Spock a quick but searching look before turning away. He shrugged on a light olive green jacket, and as he walked to the door he called out, “I’ll be right back.”
Spock finished removing the apron and took an unsure step after Jim only to hear the front door close. For a moment that seemed to swell and stretch and then grow still, Spock found himself paralyzed by indecision. Though his Vulcan dignity railed against it, he had the urge to dash out after Jim, to catch him and kiss him in the human fashion before letting him go on his errand.
The moment passed, the decision made, and Spock turned back to his task. Strangely unnerved, he reached out through the bond and briefly brushed against Jim’s mind. It was warm, even in sadness. The light it cast over his own more stringent mental landscape was beautiful, necessary, and Spock’s breath caught.
All would be well. He would see to it.
He had retrieved the knife and was cutting up vegetables again when the pain ripped through him. The light in his mind flickered violently and then went out, plunging him into total darkness.
Somewhere far away, there was a sharp bodily pain in Spock. He knew that he had fallen to his knees, and that his fingernails were digging into his temples, but these things were inconsequential in the face of the roaring pain in his mind.
Jim. Spock must reach him. He must pull Jim out of the darkness he had fallen into, must lead him away from death.
Spock was aware that he was stumbling for the door, but he could not feel his legs. His vision had become sharp, and yet he did not truly see anything. He heard the front door close behind him, but it meant nothing. Unwilling to wait for the lift, Spock tumbled into the stairwell, his flight downward an eerie, echoing journey that seemed to go on forever.
He found himself quite suddenly beneath the early evening sky.
His eyes went directly to the intersection, where a small crowd of people were already gathering. A burly human who was speaking loudly into a comm unit collided with Spock’s shoulder, nearly spinning him around. Then man laid a hand on Spock's shoulder to steady him, and Spock felt the man’s alarm like an electric shock. He pressed forward, desperate to reach Jim.
A plume of smoke rose up from a crashed hovercar on the other side of the intersection where it had collided with another vehicle. Sparks where flying from beneath a damaged panel, and Spock knew it must have lost control and flown through the intersection, but he could not bring himself to understand what this had to do with Jim. His mind closed up on that information, locking it away for the moment.
Jim was running to the small grocery store just down the street. Spock was making Jim dinner, and later he would make love to him, let him know that he was needed.
Jim would feel better.
Spock stumbled as he stepped off the curb.
Jim was not answering his mental call, the bond dark and unresponsive. Spock must reach him, must ascertain the problem. He must take whatever steps necessary to fix it.
The hovercar sparked brightly. Its windshield was damaged, a startling web of tiny cracks spread across one side, and there was a dent on the hood that had nothing to do with the other vehicle involved in the collision. His mind could not process...could not...
Why did Jim not answer him?
Spock’s heart was palpitating painfully in his chest, and he knew that his mind was not functioning properly, that reality was slipping from him. He did not know how to pull himself back.
He kept moving forward.
There was a small collection of people in the road, some of them directing traffic, two of them kneeling around a prone figure. The humans shifted their positions and he caught sight of a flash of green. The olive green of Jim’s jacket.
No no no no no no...
Spock went to him. A man tried to pull him back, to keep him from Jim, and Spock tore himself out of the man’s grip. The man fell back with a startled cry, and no one else touched him as he collapsed to the ground next to his fallen bondmate.
Jim was on his back, one arm flung over his chest. His expression was peaceful, but the slow pooling of crimson beneath his head, and the bright splatter of blood across his cheek made Spock feel as if he were falling and falling and...
Spock clutched the hand on Jim’s chest, and his eyes fell upon Jim’s other hand. It was palm up, pale against black asphalt.
I’ll be right back.
Spock wanted to lift Jim into his arms, and must have made some move to do so, because a voice near him said, “Don’t move him! He could have spinal injuries.”
Spock bent his head down to Jim instead, cupping his hands on either side of Jim’s face. He closed his eyes, and the feeling of Jim’s warm breath gusting softly against his lips caused relief to flood through him. Jim was breathing, alive. Bleeding, broken—but alive.
His relief was short-lived. With his hands on Jim, he had a better sense of their bond, and it was being stretched taut. Spock gasped, realizing that at any moment it could snap.
Jim was slipping away from him.
“Jim,” he whispered. “Please, do not leave me.”
He received no response, not even the faintest touch of Jim’s mind. He let his fingers find the proper position, and plunged into the darkness.
Spock would go with Jim. Spock would follow him anywhere.
“Should someone stop him?” a female voice asked, far away, unimportant.
Spock fled from the voice, deeper into Jim’s fading mind. Across a distance that could not be measured, Spock perceived the faintest shimmering of light and moved quickly toward it. He felt the rushing of a cold wind and crashed into the hazy presence, wrapping his whole being around it and clinging fiercely.
He distantly heard the screeching of sirens, and the sound of voices crying out, some of them concerned and some of them commanding. It was not important.
He was with Jim.
They slipped into the endless dark together.
Spock felt a tugging against his mind and shifted away from it. Here he felt nothing, and this new presence threatened him with awareness.
He was not sure where he was, or what had occurred. He only knew that here in the dark he was safe from a devastating truth that might destroy him if he faced it. When the presence began to curl around him, tugging at his consciousness, Spock resisted. There was something very important that Spock had been trying to find, and now his search was being thwarted.
Spock twisted away, going deeper. He felt shattered, incomplete, and he needed to find the part of himself that was missing.
He was slowly becoming less and less, his essence bleeding away into nothing, but he could not stop. He had not yet found...
The presence was persistent, and it followed him. When it reached him again it latched on, sliding tendrils of intent around and through him. He was caught, struggling vainly back toward the dark as the presence pulled him along. He stretched his very being out from between the gripping tendrils, desperately reaching for...
He felt himself grow more solid and realized that he was not just this, this amorphous cloud of feeling and need. He had a body, and he was being forcibly pulled back into it. He did not want this. He needed more time. He must find…
Air rushed into Spock’s lungs, and he reached out with his hands, finding emptiness.
“Jim!” Spock’s voice was far too loud, hurting his own ears.
The presence had abruptly vanished, leaving Spock startlingly alone in his head. He should not be alone. Jim should be with him.
Spock opened his eyes, and found himself blinded by white light. He lurched into a sitting position, kicking and tearing at the fabric draped over him. He fought madly against the pain, fought against the crushing sense of loss, fought against the hands that were attempting to hold him down. He did not wish to return to a reality in which Jim did not exist.
The thought overwhelmed him and he went limp, closing his eyes and beginning the retreat back into his mind.
Fingertips pressed against his face, and a foreign voice sounded in his head, the presence from before.
Why do you resist?
Jim is gone.
He is not dead.
The darkness in Spock’s mind called to him, promising relief from the pain, but he hesitated when the presence spoke again.
Your bondmate lives.
Spock sensed the truth in these words, but also heard what remained unspoken. Still, if Jim was alive, he could not go. His place was at Jim’s side.
The presence retreated and Spock followed.
Spock became aware of his body more slowly this time. His fingertips tingled and twitched against the stiff blanket, energy spreading out and through his limbs. A shiver went through him as he moved his cold feet, then bent his knees, though he did not kick out this time. He did not open his eyes until he felt rooted in his body. When he did, the white light dimmed until the hospital room shifted into focus.
A middle aged Vulcan man stood at his bedside, and Spock knew this was the healer who had brought him back. Behind the healer stood a human doctor, an older woman with silvery hair and a grim slash of red for a mouth. When Spock’s eyes met her steely gray ones, her expression only seemed to grow more severe.
The healer stepped forward, drawing Spocks attention. “I am Healer Telas. It was necessary for me to touch your mind in order to facilitate your recovery.”
Spock knew there was something he was meant to say to this, but after a few moments of struggling to find his voice he merely nodded his head.
This seemed to satisfy the healer. Clasping his hands behind his back, he went on, “I have ensured that you will not be separated from your mate. Legally, you can not be denied access to him for longer than it takes the medical staff to run any necessary tests.” The human doctor stiffened slightly, but said nothing. “Your rights as his bondmate will be protected, however, I must ask that you refrain from melding with him until his brain activity approaches what is normal for a human male.”
“What…” Spock swallowed hard and blinked up at the healer. His memory of the accident was slowly returning to him, but he still felt unbalanced, confused. “Why?”
“Your bondmate is in a coma. If you meld with him you run the risk of being pulled into a coma yourself. If he begins to regain consciousness, you may assist him, but until such time it serves no purpose for you to risk yourself as you have already done.”
Spock felt a flash of irritation at the healer’s tone, and struggled to sit up. Healer Telas caught his arm—heavily shielding his own thoughts as healers are taught to do—and helped him up.
“I wish to see him. Now.” Spock began to slide his legs over the side of the biobed.
Healer Telas held up a hand. “It would be best if you gave yourself more time to recover before attempting any physical activity.” He stepped around the biobed and pulled back a white curtain. “Here.”
Spock’s heart fluttered at the sight of his bondmate in the next bed. Jim was pale and far too still, and the various tubes and wires hooked up to him made him seem trapped, vulnerable. Jim would not like to be so confined. Spock settled back on his own bed, exhaustion overtaking him, though he did not take his eyes from his bondmate.
“My presence is required at the Vulcan Embassy, but should you need anything during your stay at this facility you may contact me there,” Healer Telas said, moving closer but not blocking his view of Jim. “I have informed the doctor of your immediate needs, and after she speaks to you about your bondmate’s condition, you will be left alone for the time being. I would advise you to use this time to meditate and process what has happened.”
Healer Telas fell silent, and after a moment it occurred to Spock that he should say something. Spock’s chest felt tight and a persistent pain was tugging at him from deep within, making it difficult for him to focus. Though it strained his nerves to take his eyes off of Jim for even a moment, he forced himself to turn to the healer.
With a deferential dip of his head, he said, “I thank you for your assistance.”
The healer bowed, and though his expression did not change, Spock sensed sympathy emanating from him. The healer seemed to sense that Spock could not manage much more in the way of polite interaction, and with a nod at the doctor, he took his leave.
The human doctor stepped forward, glancing down at the file in her hand. “Mister...Spock. I am Doctor Mercer. As the healer mentioned, your husband is in a coma. He had numerous injuries, the most serious of which was the head injury. The scalp laceration and all other abrasions have been healed, but he also suffered a pelvic fracture, a broken femur, and internal—”
It took Spock a moment to realize that the doctor had stopped speaking. Spock took a shaky breath and looked up to see her staring at him, surprise quite evident on her face.
He focused his attention more sharply on himself, and realized that the throbbing pain in his mind had begun to manifest itself physically. His shoulders were hunched, his hands trembling. He knew there must be evidence of it on his face as well, in the lines creasing his brow and in the downward twist of his open mouth.
Spock wondered if Doctor Mercer had ever seen a Vulcan lose his composure before. He suspected not.
Spock could not bring himself to feel shame for his lapse of control. It did not matter. Only Jim mattered. He felt a sick twisting in his stomach upon learning the extent of Jim’s injuries, but he comforted himself with the knowledge that Jim might wake, might return to him.
That Jim might not wake up...it was too terrible to contemplate.
Doctor Mercer recovered, her eyes becoming softer and some of the lines in her face smoothing out a little. “I can give you the details when you’re more rested. You should do as Healer Telas suggested, and we’ll talk more later.”
Spock nodded and pulled the thin hospital blanket up to his chest. He turned his gaze back to Jim and tried to let the sight of his bondmate soothe him.
“I can’t tell you that he’ll be fine, because we don’t know that yet,” Doctor Mercer said, her voice lower than it had been before, “but for now he’s stable. Get some rest.”
After the doctor left Spock slid off the bed. His toes curled a little as his bare feet hit the cold white floor, and he hurried over to Jim’s bed. He swayed and lurched forward as dizziness swept over him, but caught himself at the last moment on the side of the biobed. He looked down at Jim’s face, and began to feel a painful tightness in his chest.
Jim looked so fragile, so worn. When had the lines around his eyes grown so deep?
Heart aching, Spock crawled onto the bed and curled up on his side next to Jim. He reached an arm over Jim’s chest and inched closer, until they were firmly pressed together. Jim was as warm as he always was, but Spock felt nothing else through the touch.
He had just become aware of the plaintive beeping coming from the monitor above the bed when a harried-looking nurse came in.
The nurse frowned and placed a hand on his hip. After glancing at the monitor he said, “I’m sorry, sir, but you’re interfering with the readings. I’m going to have to ask you to return to your own bed.”
Too tired to argue, Spock slowly raised himself back up and got off the bed. He did not return to his own bed, however. He wished to remain near Jim, and his own bed was too far away.
After a moment the nurse sighed quietly and went to retrieve the high-backed chair near the window. Spock hadn’t noticed it, hadn’t really looked at anything but Jim, and was grateful when the nurse brought it over. The nurse set the chair down, and Spock tugged it closer to the bed before lowering himself into it. Once he had a hand wrapped gently around Jim’s wrist, he leaned back and closed his eyes, the nurse forgotten.
He would wait for Jim to wake, no matter how long it took.
Leaning back in the chair, Spock slept.
Spock had been sitting at Jim’s bedside for seventeen hours when a familiar, drawling voice came echoing down the hall and through the open door.
When Spock looked up, it was to see Leonard McCoy standing in the doorway, his skinny arms crossed over his chest.
“Hey, Spock,” McCoy said, his smile faint and his eyes sad.
“Doctor McCoy.” Spock was mildly surprised by McCoy’s appearance, but gave no sign of it.
“Starfleet Medical called me when they had trouble waking you up. I guess they sent for a Vulcan healer?”
Spock looked down at his hands, which he had folded in his lap.
“I talked to Doctor Mercer. She seems optimistic that he’ll wake up.”
“Yes.” The silence following his affirmation felt expectant, but Spock did not know what else to say. Doctor Mercer had kept him updated, but whatever outcome medical science predicted, the fact remained that Jim was still in a coma.
McCoy’s eyes filled with affection as he looked at Jim. “We can’t know for sure right now what kind issues he’ll have after an injury like that, but if I know Jim, he’ll be up and around long before it’s medically advisable.”
Feeling tired and unbalanced, Spock leaned heavily into the bed as he reached up to take Jim’s hand.
“I’m surprised you haven’t crawled in with him. I had a devil of a time keeping you two apart on the Enterprise when one of you was hurt,” McCoy said, obviously trying to keep his tone light.
“They do not allow it,” Spock said numbly. He looked up at McCoy, blinking away his fatigue.
“They don’t—” McCoy started. His blue eyes grew stormy. “Well, we’ll see about that. I’ll be right back.”
McCoy strolled purposefully out of the room, and Spock returned his attention to Jim. Though Spock did not currently have the energy for social interaction, part of him was relieved that McCoy was here. Spock felt weak and useless, dazed by the unnervingly silent bond. McCoy’s presence made him feel more grounded, and he knew he could trust the good doctor to attend to the things that Spock himself was too distracted to deal with.
Spock heard McCoy’s voice, echoing and loud, and soon realized he was speaking with Doctor Mercer.
Spock’s eyebrows rose in muted amusement when he caught McCoy’s urgent voice saying something about “a Vulcan’s needs,” and for the first time since Jim had been injured, he felt a little like himself. The feeling was fleeting, and by the time McCoy and Doctor Mercer entered the room he felt as emptied out and tired as before.
Doctor Mercer strode straight to the head of the bed, and began to make adjustments to the monitor. A melodic chorus of beeps and chirps filled the room, and Spock was hardly aware that Doctor Mercer was speaking until she stepped away and pointedly addressed McCoy.
“...So if you’re really concerned about what a Vulcan needs then you might consider encouraging him to eat something and get some sleep. What he’s doing isn’t healthy.”
“Yes ma’am,” McCoy said. “I’ll see to it. Thank you.”
“Mmmhmm,” Doctor Mercer hummed before walking out, her expression a mix of impatience and indulgence.
Spock turned to McCoy just as McCoy whirled to face him, bouncing lightly on his toes.
“All right, Spock. Here’s what’s gonna happen,” McCoy said, rubbing his hands together. “I’m gonna get you some food, and you’re going to eat it—”
“I am not—”
“—No complaints. When you’re done, you can crawl up on that bed and keep Jim warm like I know you’ve been dying to do. Does that sound all right?”
Spock was tempted to correct McCoy, to explain to him that it was Jim’s generous heat that would keep Spock warm, but he was overcome by emotion and could only nod his head.
McCoy seemed satisfied and left. He came back several minutes later with a tray, and set it on an overbed table, sliding it close to Spock.
Spock reluctantly lifted the lid from the tray, and saw that McCoy had brought him soup and bread; it was not Vulcan food, but comfortingly close to it.
McCoy watched him eat, talking softly about his trip to the hospital, about the weather, about everything but the thing that was foremost on their minds, and Spock was grateful for it. He half-listened to McCoy as he ate, soothed by his presence.
When he could eat no more he set down the spoon, sitting back with a deep breath.
McCoy moved the table away and reached a hand out to Spock, taking his arm.
“Come on, let’s get you to bed,” he said, helping Spock to his feet.
The contact was brief, but Spock felt the sharp pressure of his friend’s concern, and the low thrum of his sadness. Spock acknowledged neither, knowing McCoy would not want him to. He lay down next to Jim, carefully wrapping around him and closing his eyes. The monitor above the bed did not protest this time, and Spock relaxed against his bondmate’s side.
Spock felt a blanket being tucked around him, and a moment later he heard a faint creak as McCoy settled into the chair Spock had vacated.
“You sleep now,” McCoy said softly. “I’ll be right here if you need anything.”
More tired than he could possibly express, Spock slept.
“Absolutely not. I am not leaving him,” Spock said. He pressed his lips into a firm line, glaring over the biobed at McCoy.
“Spock, he’s not going to wake up in the time it takes you to go home, shower, and pick up a few things.”
Spock sat straighter in the chair, turning his gaze to Jim. “No.”
“It’s been four days and you haven’t left his side. It will do you good to get out and move around a bit.” Seeing that Spock was unmoved, McCoy changed tactics. “And you could pick up some of Jim’s books. Wouldn’t you like to read to him? You know it’s possible that he can hear you. Don’t you think he’d like it if you read to him from his favorite books?”
Spock reached up to take Jim’s hand, but pulled back at the last moment. He did not wish to make contact with Jim while he was agitated. What if Jim could sense it?
“Yes. I believe he would enjoy that,” Spock conceded. When McCoy started to grin, he added, “Which is why I am sure that you, his friend, will be willing to go to the apartment for me and retrieve the things I need.”
“You bull-headed—” McCoy bit back the rest of whatever he had meant to say, and settled for scowling at Spock. He crossed his arms and glanced at Jim, and his expression softened a little. “Fine. All right.”
McCoy made a show of shrugging on his jacket, and turned to Spock when he reached the door. “I want you to eat something while I’m gone.” McCoy aimed a pointed look at the untouched tray on the bedside table before going on, “And try to get out of this room for a little bit, even if it’s just a stroll down the hall. I’ll be back soon.”
As McCoy turned to the door, Spock looked up and said, “Thank you...Leonard.”
McCoy adopted the grouchy expression he reserved for moments when he was trying to appear unaffected, and as he went through the door he mumbled, “All right, all right. No need to gush all over me.”
When McCoy was gone Spock looked at the tray of food and repressed a sigh. He was not hungry, but he did not wish to make his friend worry any more than he already was, so he retrieved the tray. He ate the cold, bland food, chewing slowly and staring dully ahead. He was finding it more and more difficult to look at Jim, to see the total lack of luster and life in those slack features. He ate in silence, his heart heavy and his mind blank.
He could not bring himself to go for a walk, as McCoy had requested, but he did manage to meditate for twenty-six minutes.
Spock’s mind felt hollowed out and bruised, so painfully empty after being lit by the glow of Jim’s love for years. In the past fifteen hours he had found himself randomly startled by brief flares of light that flickered and sparked before vanishing back into the emptiness. Nothing else came to Spock through the deadened bond, not the barest hint of thought or feeling to assure him that his bondmate was still with him.
Doctor Mercer had noted changes in Jim’s brain activity, and both she and McCoy seemed encouraged by this development.
Spock refused to allow himself to hope. He would stay with Jim, he would wait, but he remained poised as though on the edge of a void, ready at any moment to fall into it. He could not bear to hope for what might be beyond his reach. But he would wait.
An all too familiar harrumph pulled Spock from his musings.
“Well, you ate something at least,” McCoy said, bustling further into the room and swinging a bag down from his shoulder. “Maybe we’ll go for a walk later.”
“Perhaps,” Spock said.
McCoy was not fooled, and frowned as he dug through the bag. “Here, I brought your PADD. It’s all lit up with messages, so that’s something you can do besides staring at the walls.”
Spock knew that McCoy was concerned, and that his attempts to provoke were an illogical manifestation of that caring, but he did not have the energy to respond in the expected way.
When McCoy saw that no reply was forthcoming he went on, “I brought you a fresh change of clothes and some toiletries. I didn’t know what books to bring so I just grabbed a few at random. I’m gonna go get some rest in a bit, if you want to read to him.”
Spock nodded, appreciative of the fact that McCoy seemed to have a good sense of when Spock needed to be alone with Jim. Up until now Spock had not really felt inclined to talk to Jim, certain that his bondmate could not hear him. Now...Spock felt the urge to speak to him, to remind Jim of his importance, to read to Jim some of the literature he enjoyed so much when he was well.
A memory of Jim came to him. He saw the reflection of firelight against reading glasses, smelled the scent of an antique book, held so delicately by Jim’s blunt fingers, and felt contentment seeping through the bond. Everything was warm, good, and Jim was happy.
The memory vanished, and Spock found himself again in the barren hospital room. He could not repress a shiver. McCoy was standing near him, Spock’s PADD in hand, his face creased with worry.
“You all right?” he asked.
He could not begin to make McCoy understand what it meant to have the bond go dead and cold within him, how it made his blood feel as if it was turning to ice, and ate away at his controls, so he simply nodded his head. When he finally found his voice again he took the PADD and said, “I am...well enough. Thank you.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.” McCoy bustled around the room for a minute, putting things in order, then said, “I’m gonna head out now, but I’ll be back in the morning. Send me a message if you need anything before then, you hear?”
They both knew that he wouldn’t, but McCoy gave a satisfied nod and left.
The room felt very empty, and for an irrational moment Spock had the urge to flee it. Then the beeping of the monitor above Jim’s bed filtered into his thoughts, grounding him, reminding him that he was needed here.
He would not leave Jim’s side.
Once he had steadied his breathing he leaned back in the chair and looked down at the PADD in his hand. He entered the passcode and brought up his inbox, his eyes scanning the new messages. One in particular caught his eye, and he tapped the screen to open it.
The message was from John Harriman, the captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B. In the message Captain Harriman, who had invited Jim to be on the Enterprise-B for its maiden voyage as a guest of honor, expressed his condolences and wished Jim a speedy recovery. Spock knew the voyage was all about publicity, and bitterly mused that Command must be very sorry indeed that James T. Kirk was unable to take part.
Spock briefly considered sending Harriman a reply, but could think of nothing to say.
He scanned the other messages, and seeing that none appeared to be urgent, turned off the device and set it aside.
He clasped his hands in his lap, and attempted to gather his thoughts.
“Jim,” he finally said, looking up at the still form of his bondmate. “McCoy is insistent that I read to you, and perhaps I will.”
Spock cleared his throat and dropped his eyes again, feeling lost. It was a full three minutes before he could bring himself to speak again.
“I do not know what to do. I do not want to return to our apartment without you. I do not want to go back to the place where you...where we were so happy and see only shadows. It would be empty without you. Everything is empty without you.”
Spock stopped, breathing deeply. He reached up and clasped Jim’s wrist, hoping to receive some sense of him, but nothing came through the touch.
“I know you would not want me to blame myself for what has occurred, but I do. I had the urge to go after you when you left, but I did not. I lied to myself, I told myself that it would be better if you had some time alone. But really I was hurt and prideful, and unprepared to face you.
“Jim, please. Come back to me. I promise that I will be more patient with you. I will be more understanding. I know that retirement has been difficult for you and I will do everything I can to make you feel better. I will let you win our arguments, on the rare occasions that we have them, and if you wish to have a drink after a difficult day I will not protest. I will give you anything you need. Anything.
“Jim...I hurt. I am selfish and in pain and I cannot bear to be without you. I do not know if you can hear me, but I need you to hear me. I need you to wake up. Please.”
Spock’s voice broke on that last word and he lowered his head, throat tightening and eyes burning.
Guilt and pain swirled within Spock, stabbing through his mind and twisting his gut, and for the briefest moment he thought he felt the mental flicker of a single word:
“No.” McCoy was shaking his head, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Doctor McCoy, you do not understand—”
“So it’s back to McCoy, then.”
“—the nature of a Vulcan bond. His mind calls to me.”
“You can’t risk it. Doctor Mercer agrees with me, and even the Vulcan healer said so. You are not to meld with him until his brain activity approaches normal.”
McCoy was pacing the room, occasionally whirling around to scowl at Spock. Spock had stood up from his chair, but kept one hand on the biobed, centimeters from Jim’s fingers.
“You said he has shown marked improvement. He has begun to respond to stimuli, and this morning he opened his eyes again.”
“Spock…” McCoy stopped pacing, and moved closer with his hand outstretched, though he did not touch Spock. “It’s true that he has been responding well to treatment, but at this point it’s simply too risky. Jim wouldn’t want you to risk yourself like that, not after what happened the first time you melded with him. He’d agree with me.”
Spock felt a sudden spike of anger, and glared at McCoy. “Do not...”
He didn’t realize that he had taken a step forward until McCoy moved back, both hands out as though to keep Spock from moving closer. Spock stepped back, and let himself sink heavily into the chair.
“Forgive me. I have...been unable to meditate.”
“It’s all right,” McCoy said, watching him warily. “Don’t worry about it.”
McCoy could not seem to decide if he should step back or move closer, but Spock ignored him, unsure himself which he would prefer.
Over the past two days Spock had started to feel a strange sensation at the back of his mind, a kind of mental itch that made it difficult for him to meditate. The sensation grew stronger when he tried to sleep, causing him to wake during the night and pull closer to his bondmate for reassurance. Spock was tired, and his nerves felt frayed.
McCoy finally moved, resting a hand on the back of Spock’s chair. “Spock, if you need to talk, about anything at all, you can talk to me. You know that right?”
“I appreciate your concern, but I do not feel the need to converse at this time.”
“Yeah, well, my offer stands. If you decide to stop carrying the weight of the world around on your shoulders I’ll be here to help.” McCoy was soon grumbling, “I don’t know why I bother. You’re just as stubborn as you ever were, you know that?”
A memory sparked, a bright recollection of a much younger Jim on the bridge of the Enterprise, a teasing smile on his face.
“Mister Spock, you’re a stubborn man.”
Jim had been leaning so close to him, his smile growing wider as he and McCoy began to chuckle. Spock had given nothing away, but inside his heart had been soaring.
“Yes, sir,” Spock whispered, answering the memory.
“Spock?” McCoy’s eyes narrowed for a moment. “Maybe you should try to meditate again, or if you can’t do that, sleep. You must be tired.”
The urge to get rid of McCoy rose up strong and sudden. “I believe you are correct. I shall attempt to meditate again when you leave.”
McCoy seemed to grow suspicious of Spock’s compliance. “Maybe you should eat something first. I can run down to the cafeteria and get you some of that sautéed tofu nonsense you like. Better yet, why don’t you come down—”
“No, thank you. I am not hungry at the moment.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, I’ve got some calls to make anyway, so I guess I’ll get out of your hair for now,” McCoy said, sounding put out.
Willing to play his part if it meant McCoy would not suspect anything, Spock blinked at him. “My...hair?”
“You know damn well what I mean.” McCoy scoffed, but he seemed more buoyant as he walked to the door. “All right, you go ahead and meditate. I’ll see you later.”
Spock felt relief when the door closed behind McCoy. He had tried to explain to both Mercer and McCoy that he felt certain Jim should be conscious by now, but unsurprisingly, they had interpreted his assertion as an emotional plea.
The brain swelling had gone down and Jim had been showing signs of awareness for days. Spock understood the explanations the doctors gave him, the cautious reassurances and the equally cautious warnings, but he was certain there was something they were missing. Jim was human, yes, but he was bonded to a Vulcan. Could that not make a difference in his recovery?
The doctors had found nothing to suggest as much, but Spock refused to accept the situation as it was.
He crawled onto the biobed and arranged himself around Jim as he did when he was ready to sleep, but he did not sleep. Spock dragged his fingers up Jim’s arm, feeling the tiniest pulses of energy between them as though they were phaser blasts.
The doctors were wrong. McCoy, for all his well-meaning concern, was wrong.
Jim’s mind called to him.
Spock closed his eyes. A nurse came in and, thinking Spock asleep, quietly went back out. Spock listened to the soft beeping of medical equipment and the dull hum of a conversation taking place down the hall. He brushed his fingers over Jim’s face, caressing the meld points, feeling for a sign of Jim’s presence.
He waited, listening with his mind. Minutes passed.
The spark, when it came, was faint and far away, but it urged Spock on. His fingers pressed harder against Jim’s skin as he fell into the darkness, this time steady on his course.
The hospital room was gone. His body was gone.
Spock moved with intent, heedless of the cold dark that pressed in on him, disorienting him. Light flashed in the dark of Jim’s mind, sharp and small, a random synaptic burst, but Spock did not allow himself to be distracted. He moved through the dark, feeling painfully alone in the mind that had once been a haven of warmth and love to him.
He knew where he was going, and he would not let the silence all around him confuse him or throw him off course. He could not afford to doubt.
In the end Spock let instinct guide him, following the whisper-soft pull of his soul toward his other half.
He found it finally, the place in Jim’s mind where the bond was.
Jim was there, faint and golden.
It was then that Spock understood why Telas had warned him not to meld with Jim. His bondmate’s presence clung there, fading and confused, and Spock knew that he would not return to consciousness without Jim. If this was all that was left of Jim, if Jim could not gather himself, gain strength, and struggle toward the waking world, they would remain here together.
Spock would not leave Jim.
Jim’s presence seemed to swell and shrink, growing almost imperceptibly dimmer each time it did, as though Jim was losing heart. Spock wrapped around him, unsure of how to lure him back. Jim did not seem aware of Spock, pulsing against him in an almost reflexive manner, no real warmth coming through.
Spock felt his own consciousness grow sluggish, the weight of this place bearing down on him. Spock understood what had happened, that upon being so gravely injured Jim had collapsed in on himself, retreating to the place in his mind that made him feel safest. But Spock had no idea how to lure him out of this place now.
Spock must make Jim aware that he was safe, that his body was healing and his bondmate waiting for him.
Something flashed for a moment, and Spock caught a glimpse of a memory, saw it waver and dissipate into colorless mist. Jim was remembering him in weak, desperate bursts. It occurred to Spock that perhaps Jim thought the presence with him now was nothing more than a persistent memory. Spock pressed closer, surrounding him.
Jim, I am here.
He felt himself merging with Jim even as Jim became aware of him. He felt his heartbeat when it stuttered, trying to match the rhythm of Jim’s heart. He felt the moment when Jim understood what was happening, knew that he was deeply unconscious and Spock was falling into him more deeply than he ever had before.
The tiny sparks Spock had been seeing exploded in a dazzling conflagration of emotion and memory. Spock began to lose himself in Jim.
Jim willed him away and Spock began to fall, twisting and reaching out in confusion.
“...you reckless, green-blooded…”
Brief touch, followed by a shock of emotion. Sadness, fear.
“...stand back, sir.”
“...separate them? Contact Healer...”
Shrill beeping. A clamor of urgent human voices.
“Sir, you’re going to need to…”
“...Spock! Do you hear me? Don’t you dare...”
Wanted to tell him, yes, I hear you. Don’t go.
“Pulse one-fifty, BP sixty over…”
“...damn it, so let me…”
“...him out of here!”
White light, blinding, harsh. Eyes water.
Am I weeping?
Weightless. Hands gripping, air rushing. A firm surface.
More beeping, the hum of machines.
“...human hybrid, no known…”
That light in his mind, stronger now. The bond. So warm.
A pinch against his arm, a hiss and a prickling feeling at his neck.
Spock looked up from the pot on the stove, listening intently.
Jim was watching a news program, and judging by the tinny quality of the sound, he had located the PADD Spock had left for him on the bedside table.
Jim had been released from the hospital the day before and was already chafing over being on bed rest. Despite his protests, he did seem to be benefitting from his inactivity, and spent the majority of his first day home sleeping.
Spock glanced at the couch and saw that McCoy was still asleep, slumped over on the cushions with his arms crossed over his chest. The blanket Spock had placed over him was sliding off of his legs, but aside from the occasional incoherent grumble, McCoy seemed to be content. Spock felt a surge of affection for his friend, and knew he would miss him once he left for home later that day.
McCoy had not been happy with Spock after the meld at the hospital. But his vehement disapproval had lessened once it became apparent that Jim was swiftly recovering due to Spock’s intervention.
Jim had woken slowly over a period of days, and though he would need some physical therapy, Spock was certain that in time Jim would make a full recovery.
Spock felt he had been given a second chance with Jim, and meant to make the most of it.
Spock stirred the creamy broth in the pot, wrinkling his nose a little as the strong scent of bacon assaulted him. He did not often prepare meals that contained meat, but at the moment it seemed a very small thing. He only hoped Jim enjoyed the final result.
Spock’s head jerked up, and he moved the pot away from the heat before hurrying to the bedroom.
“Jim?” Spock’s voice was calm, but his face must have betrayed his worry.
“Oh,” Jim said, sitting up a little straighter against the headboard. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
He could see that Jim was not in any distress, so it was not difficult for Spock to inject a little “sass,” as Jim called it, into his reply. “I am hardly likely to be startled by the sound of my own name, Jim.”
Jim smiled, a tired, happy smile, and reached out a hand. “Come here. Come look at this.”
Spock sat on the bed but did not acknowledge the PADD in Jim’s hand until he had arranged the pillows behind Jim to make a more comfortable seat for him.
Jim stroked Spock’s cheek, then pulled him closer so that they were leaning into each other.
“Look,” Jim said, pointing at the news article on the screen.
Spock felt a jolt of something unpleasant go through him when he saw the headline. The glaring bold letters declared that Captain John Harriman had been killed during a rescue mission.
Not waiting for Spock to read the article, Jim went on, “The Enterprise-B responded to a distress call from a vessel carrying El-Aurian refugees.” Jim turned to Spock, his eyes bright, intense. “I was supposed to be on that ship. Maybe, if I hadn’t been injured, if I could have been there, I could have done more.” Jim pursed his lips, and his eyes dropped to the screen, “I could have...”
Spock’s heart throbbed and anxiety spiked through him. If Jim had been on that ship, it was very likely that he would have taken action that might have gotten him killed. If Jim hadn’t been injured and unable to be on the that voyage....
“Spock?” Jim set the PADD down and took Spock’s hand. “Hey, what is it?”
Spock swallowed hard and squeezed Jim’s hand. “I am just very grateful that you are alive.”
Spock felt Jim’s arm go around him and closed his eyes, letting Jim pull him into a warm embrace.
“I’m sorry you went through that,” Jim said. He rubbed his hand up and down Spock’s back, scratching lightly. “But I’m okay now, and we’re together. Everything will be all right.”
“Yes.” Spock’s voice came out a whisper against Jim’s neck.
Jim held him for a minute longer, his fingers softly stroking. When he spoke his voice was cheerful and clear. “What are you cooking in there? It smells great.”
Spock sat up, though he did not relinquish Jim’s hand.
“I am making soup,” he said, still struggling to calm his mind.
“Soup?” Jim’s face fell, though he did seem to be making some effort to hide his disappointment. “That’s...I mean...it’ll be better than hospital food, I’m sure.”
Spock’s lips quirked in an indulgent smile. “I do not wish to overwhelm your digestive system after so much bland hospital food, Jim.”
“Ah. That’s...considerate of you.” After a few quiet moments Jim asked, “What kind of soup?”
“I believe it is called ‘loaded potato soup.’”
Jim’s face brightened. “Oh! That’s what the bacon’s for?”
“I can’t wait.” Jim beamed at him. “Thank you for taking such good care of me.”
“It is my pleasure.”
Jim gave him a roguish grin, running a hand over Spock’s thigh. “Oh, it will be.”
Spock remembered the day of the accident, and the feeling that had overcome him when Jim had walked out the door. He had been so tempted to go after Jim, to hold him and kiss him in the human fashion.
He did so now.
Jim made a muffled sound of surprise as Spock’s lips pressed against his, but he eagerly wrapped his arms around Spock as Spock gently lifted him, pulling him closer.
Spock delighted in the feel of Jim’s body against his. Jim was thicker around the middle, his face rounder and more lined than it had been all those years ago when they first met, but that same fiery spirit burned within Jim, heating Spock’s blood and filling him with satisfaction. Jim was beautiful, warm and alive, and Spock was immensely grateful to have Jim in his arms.
The bond buzzed with joyful energy, once again a source of light and warmth in Spock’s mind.
Jim hummed contentedly, but after a minute he pulled away. “Is Bones still here?”
Jim chuckled. “Maybe you’d better go wake him up. He’s supposed to be leaving today, isn’t he?” At Spock’s nod Jim went on, “I don’t think he’d appreciate if you let him sleep away our last few hours together.”
Spock slid to the edge of the bed and stood up, sighing softly as his back protested. “It seems a shame. He is such pleasant company when he is asleep.”
Jim laughed, his eyes crinkling with mirth. “You two aren’t fooling anyone, you know.”
Spock raised an eyebrow, and gave a faint shrug when Jim continued to grin at him.
“Will we be having a picnic on the bed or will you allow me to eat at the table?” Jim teased, squirming against the pillows.
“As long as you refrain from engaging in any vigorous activities I see no reason why you should not leave the bed for a short period of time.”
Jim bit his lip, and Spock suspected that he was valiantly suppressing the urge to comment on certain vigorous activities that he would like to engage in. Impressed with his restraint, Spock offered him two fingers, and Jim cheerfully met the gesture.
“All right, go wake up Bones and he can keep me company while you finish cooking the soup.”
Spock was almost to the door when Jim called out, “Spock.”
Spock turned. “Yes, Jim?”
“I love you.”
Spock’s soul sang. “And I love you.”