Hiraeth: a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for lost places.
Chapter One: My Mind, To Yours
They faced each other again in the low light of Spock’s quarters, their positions mirroring that other discussion where difficult truths had been revealed: deep cultural secrets and a looming loss of control. This time, however, the very air felt haunted with cruel experience and complicated by a much more intimate revelation. The reality of the fight in the red sands of Vulcan could not be relegated to simple memory, now bound as it was in this nascent connection between them.
Even as he clung to it as a desperate final defense, Spock’s veneer of impassivity was faltering, and his just-spoken words seemed to hover in the heavy silence: We share a bond, Jim. The Vulcan had thought that the worst lapse of his emotional control had already occurred with the impossibility of Jim alive and grinning at him in sickbay, but he had been so very wrong. Spock had followed his captain to the bridge and had dared to imagine himself again secure behind implacable walls, only to have their tender mental link slowly revealed as his own shock had begun to ebb.
Now, the captain stood stiffly with his hands clasped behind his back. Perhaps itself a defense or possibly a nod to Vulcan propriety, it would not be the first time he had adapted the customs of another in order to facilitate honest discussion. And Jim’s reply, when it came, lacked any surprise.
Spock’s exhaustion, born of weeks of minimal sleep and nourishment, the fierce stresses of the rising blood fever, and the catastrophic battle on the surface of his estranged homeworld, seemed suddenly nearly insurmountable, and the Vulcan bowed his head, reaching out to grasp the back of his desk chair. “I cannot be certain. The situation in which we find ourselves is a significant deviation from the cultural norms with which I am familiar.” Spock could not suppress the bitter thought that his entire life had been a deviation from traditional Vulcan expectations.
“In what way a deviation?” The captain’s immediate query held a dangerous tone and Spock narrowly avoided shifting uncomfortably. It was everything he could do to shield and his controls were practically nonexistent, his mind sluggish.
“Bonds are put in place at a young age. Minds are linked and tradition is strictly followed.”
“But things happen. People die; they change their minds.” Jim’s voice sharpened. “The bride declares a fight to the death.”
Spock flinched and crossed his arms over his chest. T’Pring’s contempt for him and for his human companions had come across with painful clarity. “The kalifee had not been invoked for centuries; it was quite unexpected.” He looked away. “As was this.”
“Perhaps not totally unexpected.” Jim sighed, releasing his tight stature to walk over and perch on the narrow couch across the room, rubbing a hand over his face as he looked back at his friend. “It happened during our fight?”
“Yes.” Spock shook his head, still looking away. “The combat evidently facilitated the termination of my betrothal bond in a way that should not have happened. When…during…when we… .” He trailed off helplessly, shame curling his insides.
“When we were rolling around in the sand on top of each other,” Jim finished, a ghost of a smile playing about his lips.
“Affirmative.” Spock shot him a frosty look before continuing, his words uncharacteristically running together, “Another bond spontaneously took its place. I surmise that our intrinsic compatibility, close physical contact, and the disordered, profoundly uncontrolled state of my mind conspired to—.”
“Spock,” Jim interrupted gently. “That’s what I meant when I said it wasn’t totally unexpected. This…this draw between us has always seemed to be there. We’re friends and—.”
“A spontaneous bonding link does not form between friends,” Spock interrupted heatedly, realizing only too late what he had given away. He saw Jim’s eyes widen slightly before the captain shrugged with almost calculated casualness.
“Well, you said it.”
The human kept talking, “The bond to T’Pring broke.” Jim narrowed his eyes as he spoke the woman’s name. “And ours formed.” He let out a dry chuckle and leaned back, crossing his legs. “Probably not what she expected when she woke up this morning. I wonder if T’Pau would have made us keep fighting if Bones hadn’t pulled his little stunt.”
Spock swallowed, considering that something else might very well have taken place there on the sand. The shock of Jim’s apparent death had been devastating, and in the powerful surge of emotional energy any remnant of the mating urge had retreated. But if Jim had still been there, warm and writhing beneath him, the new bond calling to his own fevered mind, Spock knew that he might have... .
The Vulcan turned abruptly, his hands clenching into fists as he felt his face contort. He did not wish to be seen like this, not even by Jim and not even after what his friend had already witnessed. He felt naked, exposed in a way he had never been before and he couldn’t think… .
The Vulcan blinked twice, lifting his hands to his temples. He had finally lost any semblance of control, the charged and dangerous conversation finally overwhelming him, and he heard a tremor in his voice as he muttered, “I was lost to myself, and to you. I believed that I had killed you. And if I had not killed you, then I would have done worse.”
“Worse.” It was not a question, but Jim sounded confused. “Than killing me? You mean—?” He cut his words off abruptly and Spock heard another, deeper, sigh, the dawning of understanding. The captain’s voice was strangely kind. “If you had been forced to do that, Spock, I would have understood.”
“You cannot—!” The Vulcan choked off his protest, too close to the edge, suddenly mired in a slew of inescapable emotions. His heartbeat was too fast, the chemical signatures of the aborted pon farr still lingering in his blood. And would the symptoms return? Now, with this new bond initiated, would the cycle simply begin again? Would the eventual retreat of shock and emotional intensity allow the fever to recur? And in the fullness of it would he be compelled to—? He closed his eyes, his legs giving out from under him, falling to his knees on the floor of his quarters and dimly hearing his name called from behind him.
There was movement, and then he felt hands on his shoulders, and with his shields gone, his friend’s mind was helplessly open to him now. Jim was frantically worried about him: the human’s thoughts racing through possibilities, conjectures, and calculations, trying to solve an apparently unsolvable problem. But beneath it all, astonishingly, Spock sensed deeper, stronger emotions: powerful affection and driving fear. The fear was of loss, of losing Spock, and the affection held countless dimensions of comfort and loyalty and love, bound in unique steel.
It was too much for his oversensitive, overwrought telepathy, and Spock tried to pull away. But Jim’s hands were firm, holding on with what seemed like inhuman strength, or perhaps Spock was simply that depleted. The Vulcan yielded finally, his shoulders slumping, his head bowing, sensing Jim kneeling behind him, and the hands slid forward into an embrace, the human’s forehead coming down to rest against the back of Spock’s shoulder.
“My friend,” Jim whispered, the colors of his mind so bright and within them was the acknowledgement of all they were to each other: things spoken and unspoken, things shown or simply understood, triumphs and struggles, new perspectives and gentle familiarity, and a unique, beloved connection that, until now, had been mostly human in scope.
“My dear friend, don’t you see? It only makes sense for us to be this, too.”
“Jim.” Spock’s reply was tremulous, full of all the admitted terror of what might happen should his biology assert itself again, his control vanishing again. “I will not—.”
He did not expect the captain to chuckle, his friend’s arms tightening slightly before sliding away as Jim leaned back to sit cross-legged on the carpet, watching him with bright, hazel eyes.
Uncertain as to how to interpret the confusing jumble of emotion that had flared between them, Spock haltingly mimicked his friend’s position, folding his own hands tightly. His perception of Jim’s mind had dimmed with their separation and he involuntarily chased after it along their new bond, disconcertingly unable to help himself. He had been driven to T’Pring without a choice in the matter, and his need for her had been purely physical: for survival and blind relief. Now, his need was colored by want, by a desire that he would never have allowed to emerge if it weren’t for his shattered control, and it was terrifying. He realized belatedly that he was shaking.
In front of him, Jim had sobered and was staring at him intently. “If this is about sex, then you have to know,” he shrugged, “I’d be honored.” Almost as soon as the words came out of his mouth, the captain’s lips curled wryly. “More than honored, actually.” His cheeks colored slightly as his lashes lowered, but just as quickly his gaze lifted again and his expression was searching. “But that’s not what you need right now, is it?”
“No,” Spock whispered, almost rendered mute by this human’s confounding intuition and determination.
“But another time?” Jim waved a hand, somehow easily brushing aside the paralyzing gravity of Vulcan taboo. “If the fever comes again? Or even in another seven years?”
“Yes.” Spock’s reply was almost inaudible. He wanted to say more to dissuade Jim, to protect him, to keep his friend safe from what would surely be a shameful loss of control, an animalistic display… .
“Fine. Done.” Jim raised his eyebrows, prompting him, “Alright?”
Spock blinked and the captain continued briskly, “Aside from that, I can’t feel much, but I can feel that you need…something, though.” He tilted his head, shifting himself forward so that their knees brushed. “Meld with me?”
Spock’s right hand lifted almost involuntarily, reverently, hesitating slightly as he reached for the psi points, his eyes searching his friend’s face as Jim boldly lifted his chin and closed his eyes.
When the hesitation stretched, Jim’s eyes opened again, a quizzical expression crossing his features.
Spock’s fingers moved reflexively at the sight of that piercing hazel gaze, but when he touched his friend’s face it was not a joining but a caress. Jim’s lips parted in a surprised inhale, and then he closed his eyes again, leaning his head into the Vulcan’s touch.
Spock’s breathing had quickened, and he watched his own fingers trace over human skin, brushing into soft hair and over a rounded ear and then down his friend’s jawline.
Hazel eyes opened again as the Vulcan’s hand fell away and Jim’s brow furrowed. “Alright?” It was a completely different question from before, and Spock slowly nodded.
“Why did you do that?” The human’s question was encouraging. “Touch me like that?”
“I apologize—,” Spock began instinctively.
But Jim cut him off with a firm gesture. “Stop it, you know I welcome your touch.” He paused, his eyes lowering. “But you know why I haven’t—.” His voice trailed off and his gaze rose, his brow furrowed. “I’m not a telepath. I need you to tell me.”
Spock’s back straightened. “Demonstration of…of affection is normally pursued between—.” He let his words fall away. How to explain that he had wanted to make his own offering of trust, as Jim had offered his own mind so freely? How to explain that he wanted to express his regard in human terms, however difficult and untried, as Jim had given of himself so selflessly both here and on red sands?
Jim tilted his head. “And you have…affection for me?” He asked as if he already knew the answer, a smile again ghosting over his mouth.
The Vulcan stared at him, unable to respond, pushed far beyond his emotional limits already.
The human nodded slowly. “I think I understand. May I?”
The Vulcan looked down to see Jim’s right hand extended between them. Cautiously, Spock reached out, and his own eyes closed as Jim’s fingers brushed his, moving forward, interlacing with his own. Gentle, tentative at first, the clasp was intimate for a touch telepath, the first attempt at such intimacy that the Vulcan had ever consciously allowed, and Spock’s nerves shuddered, sang, and then soared as their palms came together.
“Spock.” The Vulcan’s eyes opened at the concern in the human’s voice. “You’re shaking again. Too much?”
Spock remembered to breathe, looking down to see the fine trembling along his hands and his brows drew together as he pulled away. Jim didn’t protest, dropping his own hand to his lap and studying his friend’s dark eyes, appearing unperturbed at his friend’s reaction.
“If it helps, I can tell you how I feel. You may already know, but consider it a nod to human convention.” Jim wore a casual smile, but his tone was serious, his eyes intense. “I find a sanctuary in you that I’ve never known before. It’s something I feel I’ve always wanted and never knew to ask for.” He folded his hands in front of him, continuing frankly, “It’s hard to put it any differently except to tell you that I need you and I don’t know how Vulcans express that.” He paused, frowning slightly. “If they even do.”
“I do not know.” Spock exhaled, realizing that he didn’t. “But I also…find sanctuary in you, Jim.”
The words would have seemed profoundly alien to him, except that they resonated with particular rightness with regard to his perception of the bond. Jim’s acceptance, trust, friendship: all things that should have been immaterial and even shameful according to the rigorous rationality of his upbringing, were cherished. Perhaps it was his complete exhaustion and collapse that enabled him to enunciate this, but it would now be illogical to deny it. Kaiidth. Their cautious approach to each other had now taken on the delight and comfort of expectant inevitability.
In the wake of Spock’s tentative words, the human’s smile was a brilliant thing. “I want to see that. Let me?”
“Yes.” Spock reached out again, and as his fingers made contact with Jim’s meld points he murmured, “T’hy’la t’nash-veh.”
There was the shock of initial contact, then warmth and light, fading desperation and the blooming of tentative hope. Spock drunk from the depths of his friend’s powerfully compatible and eagerly offered mind, soothing the lingering turmoil and bringing a semblance of calm to his katra. The blurred lines of their relationship were even paler here, potential now an unabashed driving force held at bay by neither man’s willingness to push the other. For Spock’s deepest thoughts held apprehension, equating the expression of his own sexuality to the bleak, yawning grief of those moments when he believed Jim lost by his own hand and Jim’s mind, however open, humanly resisted complete exposure and surrender. But, the human finally understood what connected them, accepting it even as he had accepted everything about his half-Vulcan best friend. And Spock had fallen into his t’hy’la’s mind: unconstrained, unshielded, and exuberantly passionate, Jim’s thoughts and emotions seemed to accommodate any remaining excess energy, leaving elusive calm behind.
When the intimate joining slowly ebbed, Spock’s fingers lingered on cool skin in an echo of the tentative caress from earlier. His thumb slowly and carefully slid along the fullness of Jim’s lower lip, following its curve as the human smiled, hazel eyes still closed.
“Better?” Jim murmured, and Spock sensed the tug of Jim’s thoughts at the fringes of their bond, involuntarily reaching for what they had shared. The Vulcan let two fingers pair, tracing Jim’s cheekbone before reluctantly pulling his hand away.
Only then did Jim’s eyes open, and Spock could clearly read some odd mixture of joy, hope, and concern in their depths. Wanting to reassure, the Vulcan nodded in the human way. “Yes, Jim. I am…much improved.”
The concern faded slightly, but Jim still studied him for a long moment before his smile turned wry. “We’ll do this again,” he said firmly, and his tone clearly conveyed his skepticism of Spock’s assessment. His head tilted and he winced dramatically as he stretched a leg out. “Maybe not on the floor, though.” He slowly unfolded himself, standing and offering his hand to his friend, and his expression now was proof that he knew full well what he was offering, and accepting.
Spock hesitated only an instant before reaching back, and as he clasped his friend’s hand he felt the contact illuminate their mental dynamic.
Jim grinned shamelessly and the Vulcan’s breath caught in his throat, an unfamiliar thrill chasing down his spine.
“We’ll go slowly,” Jim said softly. “But I want—.” He trailed off, his grip firming before he released his hand, lifting his chin almost defiantly. “I want you at my side, always.” There was deep significance in the words: a promise, a plea, and a command.
Overwhelmed, all Spock could do was stiffly nod, and he noticed that Jim seemed to be waiting after their hands separated, hazel eyes inexplicably and intently searching the Vulcan’s features.
Blinking and confused as to an appropriate response, Spock haltingly clasped his hands behind his back. He could read the tiredness hovering over the captain’s face, certain he had taxed his friend too much already, and he himself was profoundly exhausted mentally and physically, his thoughts scattered, his own posture bowed.
The captain’s expression sobered, falling into its usual command lines as his lips pressed together and he stepped back. He exhaled through his nose, a glint of wistful affection shining in his eyes. “Get some sleep, Spock. And if you need me, for anything, let me know. That’s an order.”
Another helpless nod, and Spock watched the human retreat through their shared bathroom, briefly closing his own eyes, exhaustion still heavy along his limbs. The meld had been transformative: his restlessness had vanished, and his mind felt clear for the first time in weeks. Or perhaps even more significant than that, he felt…contentment where before he had known only suppression and…dread. The place in his mind that he had always, consciously or unconsciously, protected himself against, like a barely-healed wound, was now a place of solace. T’Pring’s mind had always been shrouded to him, and only with its absence, and now the presence of another did Spock recognize the severity of the loneliness and the pain that was bound within his sense of her. It had been a wound, held for thirty years, laced with denial and regret and bitterness from both sides. Now, alone, alive, and with the knowledge that he was wanted and accepted by another, he could sense the lack of it as if a physical weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He considered briefly if his former betrothed was, even at this moment, experiencing the same freedom and he felt a pang of blazing anger, a bad taste at the back of his mouth, a surge of unexpected heat that made him sway.
He hissed as the room spun around him, feeling sharp fear chase the rage; he was not centered, he still had no control, and even the transient calm brought by their meld was helpless beneath the power of resurgent Vulcan emotion and the instability dictated by his own fatigue. He closed his eyes, reaching for something to hold onto, knowing that meditation was necessary and unable to find a place to start, and then his mind clasped strongly onto the bond.
Bright to his telepathic perception, though not nearly as defined as it might evolve to be, it was warm and gentle and imbued with everything that had sung through their meld, everything that made their friendship so inviolable. And Spock exhaled, slowly lowering himself without ceremony to his knees there on the floor of his quarters, allowing the light of his friend’s unknowing mind to surround him. The excess emotions drained away, as before, leaving the possibility of focus, and the lure of some measure of elusive peace.