At first Jim thought he was imagining it.
The way his first officer had taken to watching him, ever assessing and touching him with fleeting caresses, almost mistaken for the casual, affectionate gestures of close friends. The problem with that, however, was that Vulcans didn't do touching, everyone knew that. They were touch telepaths and uptight sons of bitches who would probably rather crack a smile, or god forbid, horror of all horrors, exhibit a fit of temper than be privy to the thoughts of the overly emotional human species. The other issue being that this particular Vulcan barely tolerated Jim at best, if the way he persistently quoted regulation was any indication, as if Jim didn't know any of them himself as captain, and well, Jim didn't particularly want to know what Spock thought of him at worst. It would undoubtedly wound his ego.
So Spock's sudden interest in him was rather odd. But, if Jim were straight to the point about the whole affair, Spock was just odd, period. No one could feasibly be that uptight without considerable effort. Not even a Vulcan. It just wasn't theoretically or physically possible.
"Well of course Spock is acting odd," Bones announced with a snort, leaning back in his chair in the mess hall and crossing him arms, and flashing his close friend his infamous 'what turnip truck did you just fall out of?' look. "Have you ever seen the guy act normal? Odd, for Spock, is pretty damn normal."
"It's not a matter of what's normal behavior for other people. Spock's typical behavior is in counting the ways I shouldn't join an away team, and then finding every alternative for the word 'irrational' to describe every risk that I must take to protect my crew," Jim insisted, "but the staring and the touching and the standing almost damn near in front of me every time we meet someone new? That is not usual for Spock. An outsider might start to think that he gave a damn."
It did kind of burn to say that, to admit out loud that even after six months of serving together as Captain and First Officer Jim still felt that he had to prove himself to Spock, the rockiness of their initial meeting still lingering in the back of Jim's mind, haunting him. Yes, they had saved the earth together, and yes, they had come to an understanding and worked rather well together, Jim stating what he wanted, and Spock offering suggestions on how that outcome could be reached, but personally, Jim still felt the chill of Delta Vega. Still felt the fear of watching a hungry beast chase him down, and still felt the sting of abandonment.
In his mind's eye, it was hard to separate the almost affronted glare of an indignant Spock, confronting Jim for cheating on the Kobayashi Maru, from the Vulcan who stoically worked with him now, ever assessing, constantly sizing him up.
Jim couldn't help but feel that in Spock's eyes, he could only always come up lacking.
"Has it crossed your mind that maybe he's just trying to mend bridges? I mean, personally, I don't like the guy, but you are the Captain and his superior officer. The Hobgoblin's confounded logic would dictate that it's better to work with you than against you, especially considering what the two of you have already accomplished," the doctor suggested reasonably, poking at the replicated mashed potatoes on his plate as if they were something he couldn't quite identify but that he was certain came infested with a particularly nasty disease.
"Maybe you're right," Jim conceded, pondering it.
If Spock was truly trying to bridge that final hurdle of their relationship, one working towards that mythic friendship his other universe counterpart had spoke of, Jim would welcome it. He had the best crew that Starfleet had to offer, and Spock was the crowning jewel. More than anything, he wanted his crew to be successful, to reach their full potential and take the universe by storm. But more than that, he wouldn't turn away the chance to achieve a legendary friendship, one based on trust and even love. There was a time when Jim hadn't had any friends at all, and while he'd been at the Academy, lovers came and lovers went, but Bones was his only constant, the only relationship, albeit a platonic one, he had put effort into maintaining.
He was ready now, as Captain of the Enterprise and as a person who had finally come into his own, to take on more friendships, to trust people more. And if that meant letting Delta Vega fade into the corners of his memory, finally letting it go, then so be it.
If Spock could put forth an effort, so could he.
"Of course I'm right," Bones retorted with a snort, shaking his head at his friend. "One of these days you're going to finally get that I'm always right."
"Which would be the same day you admit that I'm the smartest, best looking Captain ever to put on the gold shirt, and that Starfleet should erect a statue in my honor and put it on display at the Academy, and you're in constant awe of my captainly prowess," Jim teased, winking at his friend and shooting him a teasing leer.
Bones grinned. Well, the corners of his mouth turned up slightly, anyway, which, for Bones, might as well have been a face splitting grin.
"Save that charm for Spock, flyboy, I'm immune," Bones countered, leaning back in his chair. "Of all the strays I've picked up in my life, I wind up with the one with enough confidence to fill the Alpha Quadrant."
"Only the Alpha?" Jim asked, mock affronted.
While Bones chuckled, Jim felt goose bumps form on his skin, and he got the feeling that….
The entry way swished open, and Spock walked into the mess hall, eyes immediately surveying and landing on Jim almost instinctively: ever dark, ever considering.
Considering what, Jim did not know, but he was bound and determined to find out.
Catulla was a Federation planet known for its starship technology. The Enterprise was there for basic maintenance and to pick up supplies. It should have been routine, no mess, no foul, but Jim should have suspected that, with his penchant for finding trouble where there should be none, a routine maintenance and short shore leave would become sinister. Really, it was almost comical how he seemed to be the butt of a constant cosmic joke. If the situation wasn't so dire, he'd probably laugh.
Jim felt that his primary responsibility as Captain was to protect his crew. They were his, hand-picked and brilliant beyond the telling of it, and if it was in his power to do so, he would make sure that each and every one of them survived their five year mission. The protectiveness he felt for them was innate, especially his need to defend Spock, though he couldn't exactly explain why he felt so defensive on his first officer's behalf. It just came naturally, and the feeling was so strong, he really didn't appreciate being called on it by a half-Vulcan that was pissing him the hell off.
Orders were fucking orders, goddamnit. Jim didn't become captain by purchasing a captaincy online, complete with a cute little certificate. He got to make the big decisions, and Spock got to deal with it, like it or not.
"Spock, get out of my way," Jim glowered at his first officer, who had stepped in front of him, sheltering him from the path of the phaser blast in case the thieves currently threatening Spock, Bones, Uhura and him decided to follow through on their threat and blast them all to kingdom-come. "I'm captain, I will deal with these bastards."
"No, I think not," Spock replied in an even tone, turning his head briefly to eye Jim with his quintessential Spock raised eyebrow look. Jim was becoming highly adept at reading Spock's expressions, and almost all of them involved a raised eyebrow, particularly the ones he reserved just for Jim – in any other situation Jim might even feel special that he had his very own Spock expressions, but right now, when he was trying to save Spock's ass and Spock was stubbornly refusing to comply, special wasn't a term he particularly wanted to use. It was far too polite and didn't involve nearly enough cursing. "You are the captain and therefore non-disposable, both to the Enterprise and her crew. You will remain where you are while I negotiate our terms."
"As captain, it is my job to protect my crew, which includes you, now get the fuck behind me while I negotiate our terms, my way," Jim snarled, barely containing his anger through considerable effort. There are days when he wondered if he'd met his match in the stubborn department, or if Spock actually had him beat. Jim's mother would never believe it if that were the case, as she insisted that Jim took obstinate to a whole new level of being.
One of these days, assuming she ever made one of her rare appearances in Jim's life, he'd introduce Spock to her, just to let her know that his picture had been replaced in the dictionary under 'pig-headed idiot'.
"I will not," Spock announced again. "You are being unreasonable. As first officer, it is my responsibility to relieve you of duty when your orders are detrimental to the safety of the Enterprise. I relieve you of duty, Captain. I'm sure Dr. McCoy would concur with my assessment of the situation."
"Oh no, don't bring me into this," Bones announced, his tone indicating obvious amusement despite having a phaser pointed in his direction. "I'd appreciate it if the two of you leave me out of your 'lover's' spat."
"Gee, thanks for backing me up there Bones, I appreciate the aid, really," Jim glared at his friend before turning that stare back on his erstwhile first officer. "And you. I am being entirely reasonable. I'm trying to save your ass. There is nothing unreasonable about that. You have no jurisdiction in this situation to relieve me of duty."
"Anything that involves you coming to harm is not being reasonable," Spock grated, shocking the other three with the emotion, the anger, which leaked through his endless cool resolve.
Jim was too stunned to reply. He was used to Spock being protective of him, even if they'd only been working with each other so many months, but to have that need outweigh his Vulcan doggedness against exhibiting emotion? It was almost touching. And Jim felt his heart give a sudden jolt, before he remembered the circumstances in which they currently stood.
Their would-be thieves were rotating their heads back and forth between him and Spock as if watching a tennis match, obviously stunned that their attempt at robbery wasn't exactly going according to plan and their prey was not sufficiently cowered. Once again, Jim had to squelch the urge to laugh. If he and Spock could hone their ability to be equally protective of each other and argue over it come hell or high-water as a means of distraction, they could use it in future dicey situations.
"Oh for god's sake," Uhura grated, whether out of annoyance over Jim and Spock's argument or the situations with the thieves, Jim couldn't say. Since she and Spock had broken up shortly after their mission started, Jim had been staying well out of her way aside from their working relationship, so admittedly he did not know her that well. He knew her just well enough to know that she was scary as hell and he had no desire to be around her in a post-breakup bad mood.
An assessment which turned out to be accurate as she swiftly moved to kick the hand of one of their robbers, knocking the phaser out of his hand and catching it in her own before turning it on their captors.
"Do the two of you want to take bets on who can shoot this thing first?" she asked the two still holding weapons.
The robbers looked at each other, the weapon-wielding Uhura and the angry Vulcan staring resolutely at his captain, weighed their odds, and decided to turn and walk swiftly away.
"Well, that ended well," Jim announced, flashing Uhura a smile. "Guess neither of us got to play hero, huh Spock?"
"Starfleet, I had to go and join Starfleet. I could be in Georgia right now sipping brandy. I must need my head examined," Jim heard Bones mutter under his breath.
But Spock remained silent, eyeing his captain intently and Jim couldn't shake the fact that there was more to Spock's behavior than that of a first officer valuing his captain's safety.
And there had to be something more to Jim's over-protectiveness as well.
The chess games had been the alternate universe Spock's idea.
Jim had wanted to get closer to his Spock, wanted to cement their partnership, and who better to ask than the older version of Spock, himself?
So if older Spock had mentioned that chess was a game that he and his Jim had enjoyed, well that was something that Jim could easily accommodate. Sure he was getting his ass kicked at chess, again and again and again, but surprisingly, that aspect really didn't bother him as much as it would if it were anyone else he was playing against, even considering his normally driven competitive streak. With Spock he just kind of took it in stride.
It was easy to take it in stride when aforementioned ass kicking resulted in him getting to spend more time with his first officer, whose presence was becoming addicting in an almost literal sense. It was odd, when he took a minute to ponder it, that he could go from puzzling over how Spock perceived him one day, to knowing when Spock was going to enter a room before he entered it, and becoming overly protective of him when on away missions or shore leave the next. And lately, since they started spending more time together, the fleeting touches that Spock seemingly indulged in when it came to Jim resulted in Jim getting just a little bit dizzy, a little bit hot… a little bit craving Spock's attention.
That fact disturbed him when he was alone, but when they were together, his concerns didn't matter, because Spock would continue to eye him as if he couldn't tear his eyes away, and Jim knew that whatever weirdness was happening between them, at least it was a mutual weirdness.
He figured that his body's reaction to Spock might have something to do with their growing closeness, or maybe even the fact that Jim had significantly curbed his libido since becoming captain of the Enterprise, not wanting to jeopardize his professional career with an easy and loose reputation that would ruin some of the respect he had garnered in becoming an efficient leader. He was long over due for some release.
Besides Jim was getting better at the game, it was only a matter of time before he would be the one doing the ass kicking and still be in Spock's company. It was a win/win scenario. The release could come later, feasibly on their next shore leave where he could pick someone up who wasn't a subordinate. Until then, there were stimulating visits with Spock, and ribbing Bones at every opportunity by describing said stimulating encounters, only mildly exaggerating the stimulating part with the aim to annoy…. It was the little things that made life grand.
"You know Spock, I may not believe in no-win scenarios, but I don't see how this game is anything but won, so I concede. This is getting to be rather embarrassing," Jim teased, eyeing the chess board with feigned annoyance.
"You are improving," Spock stated simply, his dark eyes capturing the captain's gaze and maintaining it.
Jim felt something then, transfixed by Spock's stare. There was a faint buzzing in his mind, while the temperature of the room began to rise, making the air heady and difficult to breath. Jim had to shake his head to break the spell. Their weirdness, that physical manifestation of whatever this was, seemed to be escalating.
"Gee Spock, compliments like that are likely to go straight to my head," Jim remarked with a snort, standing to see Spock to the door, unnerved but fighting desperately not to show it.
Spock stood gracefully, taking the hint, yet as he brushed past Jim on his way to the door, Jim felt the buzzing increase, his heart rate raise and the hairs on his arm stand on end. The closer Spock was to him, the more intense Jim's reactions, and he felt all of the air rush out of him as that realization kicked in. He couldn't brush this off as growing closeness or sexual repression, not anymore. There was something, something driving this, there had to be.
"What is going on, Spock?" he asked, determined to clear the air despite how tired he felt. "Something is happening, and I want to know what it is."
On the surface Spock seemed his normal, stoic self, but Jim watched as the pupils of his eyes dilated and heard the slight hitch in his breath and knew, innately, that he had surprised Spock with his question.
Apparently 'surprised' was not a state that Spock particularly enjoyed being in, as he raised his eyebrow and then promptly turned to leave, managing a polite, "There are many things that occur with each moment that passes, Captain, and it is too late in the evening to specify to which particular instance you are referring. Please do have a good evening," as he glided speedily out the door before Jim could get another word in edgewise.
It was well known fact that Vulcans didn't lie. Jim thought that that might be true, but they could sure as hell evade like it was no one's business.
The chess games stopped. So did the touching. And the stares. The only time Jim saw Spock was on the bridge, and even though he saw him so little, it still didn't escape him that Spock was acting erratic. On the bridge, there was heavy breathing, obvious struggles to maintain composure and eventually, actual emotional outbursts from Spock which stunned Chekov so much that the poor kid looked like he was about to wet his pants each and every time. Jim would have been concerned, overly so, if he wasn't experiencing his own breakdown. He wondered, in an increasingly rare moment of clarity, if he and Spock had caught the same bug, that maybe Bones had been right the day they'd first met, and space was disease and danger.
The sleeplessness came soon after the lack of concentration and the irritableness, followed by fever and chills soon after that. By the time he had stopped denying that this was something he could control and showed up at Bones' door begging for a sedative, Jim felt about ready to jump out of his skin.
When the sedative, vitamins, various strands of flu vaccinations and any number of other hyposprays that Bones took way too much delight in shoving at him did not work, Jim's over-taxed mind could only come to one conclusion: Spock had somehow infected them both with a disease for which there was no cure.
Well, if Jim was going to die, he was taking Spock with him.
Jim felt no hesitation in overriding his first officers door, nor did he feel particularly guilty in evading Spock's privacy. They were so past the point of privacy it wasn't even funny. Whatever this thing was between them, slowly driving them both insane, it would end tonight.
The first thing that hit Jim upon entering Spock's room was the scent of incense, so strong that it made him gasp. The second was the flicker of candle flame in an otherwise dark room, and the third was that his first officer sat on the floor, eyeing Jim with a sort of desperation that was so foreign on Spock's face that Jim wondered idly if he had entered the wrong room.
His anger dissipated when he met Spock's eyes with his own, and Jim could only sigh, feeling his shoulders slump, as he gazed at the man who affected him so harshly, and pretty much had from the beginning. The question of what was going on was on the tip of his tongue when the buzzing in Jim's mind started again, louder and more persistent this time, and Jim could only whimper and look at Spock in despair.
"We have formed an empathic connection," Spock announced softly, jolting them both with the sound of his voice piercing the stillness.
There were too many questions to ask in response to that announcement and not enough time before Jim's head exploded to ask them all, so he settled with, "And how did we do that?" and hoped it would be enough.
"Our minds are compatible," Spock answered, sweat appearing in droplets on his forehead. Jim did notice that the temperature of the room seemed to be steadily rising. Was that them, or the room? How could an empathic link accomplish an increase in temperature?
"What does that mean?" Jim inquired, starting to wheeze in the heavy air.
"It means we are well matched," Spock elaborated, his own breath hitching. "It is rare for a Vulcan to discover a match as suitable as the one we share, so rare that only in the ancient dialect is there a word to describe it. If a Vulcan is unmated, then a replacement could unconsciously be found without the will or consent of either party. I believe that is what happened here. My intended, the one chosen for me in childhood, died when my planet did, and my katra sought you as a mate. I did not understand why, until my older counterpart explained it to me. You are my t'hy'la, I believe you humans would call it 'soulmate', and that is why you were chosen and our link formed without the necessity of a meld."
"But you hated me when we first met," Jim stated incredulously, shocked even through his dizziness, even through the shakes and the heat and the feeling of ants crawling on his skin that were, together, starting to drive him mad. "How could we be soulmates when your initial feeling upon meeting me was one of disgust?"
Was the fever making him hear things? Was that it? There was no way he could be hearing what he thought he did.
"Disgust at your actions, undoubtedly. You cheated on my test and then blatantly opposed my authority on the Enterprise, but not at you, never at you," Spock clarified, noticeably starting to shake himself. "My first thought upon seeing you was that you were aesthetically pleasing. My second thought annoyance, in a highly illogical sense, that you could elicit emotional responses in me when I had worked diligently throughout my youth to suppress that aspect of my genealogy. It wasn't you I hated, but your natural ability to evoke emotion in me."
It was something Jim had needed to hear without realizing it, as he felt a weight lifted off of him at Spock's words.
Still though, Jim ached, and he burned, and he couldn't make sense of any of this, not really, but he did know that he wanted Spock to hold him, wanted him to touch him and look at him as he had before, wholly and all-consuming. He wanted this fever to end before it killed them both.
"So why is our empathic link doing this to us? Why all of the physical symptoms?" Jim asked, his equilibrium finally giving way and causing him to fall to his hands and knees. In an instant, Spock was at his side, arms coming around him instinctively, anchoring him. Where Spock touched him, his skin prickled and seared, and the fever escalated to a higher point. Being close to Spock just made him want, so badly.
Good god, the room was spinning, and lust like Jim had never known before, not even as a teenager discovering for the first time just what wonderful things his hand could accomplish, engulfed his body like a tidal wave.
"Because the link is so powerful, the need to complete the bond has resulted in pon farr," Spock explained, voice pained and barely above a whisper. "We must mate to end this."
"Then let's do it," Jim proclaimed. He couldn't make sense of any of this, didn't understand soulmates or t'hy'las or katras, but he did know he wanted Spock, and wouldn't mind mating with him. In fact, he wanted it right fucking now.
"If we do this, we will be forever linked. We will be married in the eyes of my people and in the eyes of the Federation. If we do this, our empathic connection will only strengthen. Can you give that to me, Jim? Can you bind yourself to me and only me, for the rest of your life?"
Jim was surprised at Spock's restraint, surprised that Spock asked this of him when he knew that Spock's experience with the pon farr was just as intense, if not more so, than his own. He was also touched by it. Jim wasn't opposed to marriage in the general sense, never had been. It had always been something that he thought he might want to experience once he settled down and became more established in his career. And he realized, suddenly, that while he had been the one who could evoke emotions in Spock, sometimes without even trying, so too could Spock do the same in him.
It had always been Spock; from the moment they met, it had been Spock. The Vulcan captured his attention in a way no other ever had.
"Yes," Jim answered, and Spock bore him gently to the floor.
When Jim woke he no longer felt as if his body were burning from the inside out, no longer felt uncomfortable in his own skin, no longer felt edgy and irritable to the point of madness. What he did feel was tell-tale aches in all of the right places, and the presence of Spock's complete, unhampered love in his mind.
He supposed he and Bones had been right, all those weeks prior. Spock was definitely odd, and for that Jim couldn't be more grateful. That oddness had brought them to this, and Jim wouldn't have it any other way.
He felt cherished, he felt complete, he felt acceptance in a way he never had been before, absolute and total.
It also didn't hurt that, furthering the plus column, pon farr sex was just plain awesome.