Original Title: Companionship to Love
Notes: Part of the Progression Series. Sequel to Breathing.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009 and I make no profit from this work.
Subject to the Requirements of the Service
Things between Jim and Spock had...changed, ever since that 'incident' (that's what Spock calls it) on the enemy vessel. Ever since, to Jim, water became not a soothing commodity, but something to be steered clear of.
He honestly didn't know how Spock's views on water had changed - if they had at all - but Jim hadn't had a water shower since, sticking strictly to sonic. And once, when shore leave meant the joys of a proper soak in the bath, now he loathed the very idea of it.
But that wasn't the big change. No, the big change was that Jim had formed a habit of sticking to Spock like glue. Superglue. Wherever one could be found, the other wasn't far away, even off-duty, off-ship and on shore leave. McCoy had referred to it, once, as 'keeping the Vulcan in your back pocket' and had smirked.
(Jim didn't want to know what that meant.)
Even though they'd been friends a while, Vulcans didn't socialise much, and so Jim hadn't really spent a great deal of time with Spock. Chess games, duty shifts, and the odd meeting that went from business to chatter (or as close as Spock got) relatively promptly. But now they were taking meals together, spending nearly every hour of time together barring sleeping, and Jim found himself greatly disliking the times when Spock switched to gamma shift to work in the science departments more.
"Face it, Jim," McCoy had told him one evening, roughly two months after Spock's near-death. "You're practically shadowing the hobgoblin. If I need to know where you are, I just ask myself where Spock would be."
And yeah, Jim was okay with that part. He knew of other crewmembers always to be found in pairs - Sulu and Chekov, for example. You next-to-never found one without the other.
But what he didn't necessarily like was that the closer he and Spock got, the louder the rumours became. Spock didn't need those kind of rumours following him around. Gossip was a very human thing, not Vulcan, and Spock was often disparaging of it. And then the nature of the rumours - well, Jim was pretty sure Vulcans didn't gossip about casual relationships either.
But the worst was not what Spock might think of it, but what Jim did think of it.
Because, hell, if he was really honest with himself, he wouldn't much mind.
Therega II was a non-Federation planet, but also a planet (complete with a usually affable population) that Starfleet had known about for decades. The Follen - the primary humanoid species on Therega II, though not the only one - were Jim's kind of aliens: friendly, fairly welcoming, respectful of other cultures, but technologically advanced enough to be able to tell other species to fuck off if they didn't take to them.
Being a resource-dry planet, the Klingons had never shown much interest. The Romulans, frankly, had better things to do than socialise with (or conquer) a bunch of exuberant aliens whose idea of a party was similar to the human idea of a party: drinking, sex, and noise. Same with the Vulcans, really, though for slightly different reasons. And the Orions - well, they'd shown interest, and been told to piss off rather promptly.
And then the news came through: the Follen and the Hvana (the secondary humanoid species on Therega II) had finally come to an agreement about the Federation, and were looking to join it. And while their technology was incompatible and would be of little value, their economy and medical knowledge would be a great asset.
The Admiralty had wasted no time in giving Jim their new orders.
And nobody on board minded much. Therega II was relatively warm, quite dry, and didn't home enormous creatures who liked to eat humanoid things. The Follen and the Hvana were willing to touch the humans, keep their six-fingered hands away from Spock, and assist with the adjustments necessary to the translators to aid communication. They weren't secretive, didn't demand too much participation in bizarre rituals, and kept the crew well-informed as to what was going on.
Particularly in their telepathy.
The Hvana were telepathic; the Follen were not. The Follen, as a result, seemed to be quite pleased when Jim asked them to keep from physical contact with Spock, and the Hvana didn't seem to care either way. They were not, they explained, touch-telepaths, although they employed a similar moral code to the Vulcans regarding reading minds without permission.
That was to say: they didn't tolerate it.
Negotiations went well. While they insisted upon all negotiating happening with Jim at the table, the other crewmembers were both welcome, and free to come and go as they pleased. Lieutenant Uhura and Spock were in almost constant attendance, while Dr. McCoy was constantly being drawn aside by interested Theregan citizens who wanted to hear all about Federation (and human, and Vulcan) medicine.
(Apparently doctors were revered on this planet. Jim liked that: it would keep McCoy from grumbling for at least a week. Maybe even a week and a half.)
The glitch came at the end of the negotiations.
Like a lot of other species, the Follen and the Hvana both had rituals that they wished the Captain to complete before signing any agreements. The Hvana went first (possibly due to Follen deference to them in part of their own, internal treaties) requesting something that sounded to Jim like a Vulcan mind-meld.
"It is to establish your character and intentions," the Hvanan representative (a weird little green guy who looked like a cross between an Orion and a Romulan, and wasn't that a weird mental image?) explained. "I will only brush the surface of your mind, and of course respect any boundaries you wish to install to keep your personal affairs out of this business."
"You have done this with humans before?" Jim asked.
"Of course," the representative nodded. "This is why I offer it to you, and not your First Officer. Although he is telepathic and therefore better suited, I have never performed this brush with a Vulcan, and I am unsure of the consequences."
Jim glanced at Spock uncertainly.
"The Vulcan mind is too tightly controlled and sectioned off to be of much interest in such casual mental touches," Spock explained flatly. "Quite likely, the ambassador would not be able to garner the information that he requires from me."
Jim shrugged, and nodded. "Well," he said. "Go on then."
It was nothing like a mind-meld, he promptly found out. He was barely aware of the Hvanan representative, and there was no physical touch involved. He felt a vague unease, as though he were being watched in a dark alley in a dodgy area of Chicago (the representative murmured the word 'Chicago' to himself in obvious curiosity) but no presence, no like the meld with Spock, or his elder self.
He did, however, feel the burst of surprise from the Hvanan representative when his thoughts turned (as they always did, now) towards his Vulcan officer.
"Interesting," the Hvanan representative said, speaking slowly as if dazed. His eyes (three of them) cleared quickly, and he cocked his head. "How odd. I was unaware, Captain."
The Follen leader was looking anxious, and the Hvanan waved the expression aside.
"Nothing wrong," he said. "Merely...surprising. I had been made to understand that humans are often physically expressive of their emotions towards other people."
"We...are?" Jim guessed.
"And yet, I would not have guessed without the brush at your depth of feeling for the Commander."
Jim flushed a little, and Spock quirked an eyebrow. The Follen ambassador was also looking remarkably confused now.
"I, er," Jim said. "Well, I..."
"They are habashka," the Hvanan said to the Follen, almost as an aside, and the Follen's eyes (only two) widened comically.
"I see," he said. "You are certain? That is most...unusual, certainly. I was not under the impression that Vulcans entered into such arrangements."
Jim really had little clue what they were talking about. Even if the Hvanan had glimpsed his close friendship with Spock, why would the Follen have been told that Vulcans didn't make friends? It was unusual, certainly, but not unheard of. T'Pol had been known to make human friends, and the interaction between Vulcans and other species after the Narada incident was undermining the idea that Vulcans didn't value friendship quite thoroughly, thank you very much.
"Well, if all's well," he prompted, trying to steer the conversation back on track.
"Ah, yes," the Follen ambassador said, and snapped his fingers (twice as long as a human's, and about half the width) imperiously. Promptly, an aide appeared with an elegant wine glass, filled with red liquid. Probably wine, but you never knew with aliens. "This is the tramala. It is a holy drink on our planet, and no Follen establishment would accept a treaty without its ceremonial consumption at the proceedings."
"Hang on," Jim said, and beckoned one of the ensigns. "Fetch Dr. McCoy."
The ensign vanished again, and Jim smiled apologetically.
"We must be sure all food and drink consumed on alien worlds is safe for our consumption."
"Of course," the Follen agreed. "We have no wish to poison such esteemed guests."
McCoy, however, took half a second with his tricorder before shaking his head firmly.
"No way, Jim," he said. "That stuff's made of the same ingredients as Klingon hek'taar wine. You'd be dead before you'd finished swallowing. Any human would be."
The Follen frowned. "Then...none of you could consume it?"
"No," McCoy said flatly. "There's about four compounds in there that would kill a human, and very quickly. There wouldn't even be anything I could do to stop it."
"Ah," the representative was looking very uneasy. "I'm afraid it is necessary. Our institutions are...full of suspicious people. They will view a treaty signed without it as an ill omen, and demand its rejection. They will simply not consider an agreement made free of the tramala wine."
He looked very apologetic about it, but Jim had read enough of the mission briefings to know that he wasn't lying. The reason it had taken so long for the planet to approach the Federation was their religion of not trusting out-worlders, and believing in (to Jim) ridiculous things. To the point that their word for Orion was translated into Federation Standard as 'sky-devils of ill worship'.
"What of its effects on Vulcanoids, Dr. McCoy?" Spock asked suddenly.
The Follen turned to him eagerly.
"Would it be within the bounds of the treaty for Spock to drink the wine?" Jim asked.
"Of course," the Follen representative said, brightening up considerably.
"I'm not sure," McCoy was fiddling with his tricorder. "The Vulcan constitution is sterner, certainly, but two of those four compounds would still kill you, Spock. The third would make you very ill, and we haven't got any data on the fourth."
Jim was already shaking his head. "No," he said.
"I said no," he cut Spock off sharply. "I'm not having any of my crew killed to do this. Starfleet will have to send an ambassador of a species that can tolerate this wine."
"Captain, I could tolerate this wine," Spock said evenly. "The Vulcan digestive system is such that it would take an hour at the least for any poisons to be absorbed through the stomach or intestines. If the doctor can identify the poisons and remedy them, then there is little cause for concern."
Jim turned to McCoy. He almost wanted him to say that he couldn't do it, and stop Spock from deliberately drinking poison, but he also knew how important new Federation members were, after the fall of Vulcan.
McCoy shrugged. "He's right, and it's possible. I can get antidotes into him before he drinks, and with his Vulcan biology, they'd be able to render most of the compounds inactive. He'd get pretty damn sick, but he wouldn't die."
"Would you excuse us a moment?"
The Follen representative bowed, and gestured for them to carry on. Jim promptly seized Spock by the elbow and hauled him several feet aside, before spinning to face him.
"You can't do this," he said.
"The treaty is..."
"I know, I know. You can't do it, but I have to let you," Jim muttered bitterly, almost to himself.
Jim pinched the bridge of his nose.
"I just...every time it seems like the universe wants to pull more shit, I have to put you in the firing line," he whispered. "I just want a break, want the world to give you a break. You do realise that, right? Every time I've gotten anywhere with you, it's because you're hurt."
"I think you may be indulging in the human act of exag..."
"No, I'm not," Jim said shortly. "Every damn time. I learned to respect you because of the way you held up under torture. I realised I thought of you as a friend only when you got injured. I only realised how damn fucking important you are after you nearly...after that Romulan...well, after."
He rubbed both hands through his hair in exasperation, before sighing heavily and finally looking Spock in the eye.
"Are you sure, absolutely certain, that that wine isn't going to...hurt you?"
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Having not conducted a scientific examination of the wine myself, I could not be certain. However, there are very few ingestable poisons that can kill a Vulcan. Most poisons do not react with the Vulcan digestive system, and must be introduced intravenously or through the lungs. Consuming poison, while uncomfortable, is rarely lethal."
Jim held his gaze a while longer.
"Just...don't...don't get...damaged?" he asked finally. "I...I need you. And I don't think you realise how much."
"On the contrary, Captain," Spock said. "The Hvanan representative referred to us as habashka. I have observed a similar trend in my own thought processes, and in your own."
Spock did his not-quite-a-smirk thing, and returned to the waiting representatives.
"I will drink the tramala wine," he stated, and the Follen representative beamed.
McCoy was already rummaging in his medikit, and promptly produced two hyposprays, which he emptied into Spock's neck. "I want you in Sickbay in half an hour," he said firmly. "It shouldn't kill you, now you've got that in you, but your body really isn't going to like that stuff."
Spock nodded, and Jim took up the pen (looked more like an ancient Earth quill) to sign the treaty.
Spock drank, and it burned.
It took Jim another hour to finalise everything, and inform the crew that the mission had been a success, and everyone was invited to the after-party. Which was one thing that Hvanans, Follens and Humans alike agreed on: parties, and the forms they took, were excellent rituals.
He made it to Sickbay an hour and a half after Spock had drunk the wine, and found the place almost deserted, apart from Dr. McCoy and the Vulcan in question.
"How's he doing?" he asked quietly, seeing the Vulcan's eyes were closed. He was pale (even for Spock) and shivering under two thermal blankets, which bulged in the tell-tale signs of heat packs being tucked around him.
"Freezing," McCoy said flatly. "I was right. His body is really fucking pissed at this kind of treatment."
"Vulcans don't vomit to get rid of food like we do," McCoy said. "If they did, they'd upset their heart rhythm, that pump being where it is. So their body temperature drops like a shorted-out shuttlecraft into San Francisco bay. Stops the enzymes from digesting the offending food and forces the body to pass it through without taking anything from it. Very little of the questionable shit gets into the bloodstream, and what does gets annihilated by their immune systems. His body's trying to sustain him at the thin line between cold enough to defend him, and cold enough to kill him. Working so far."
"So he's going to be okay?"
"Once it gets down into his guts, he won't be able to take it in, and his temperature'll come back up. Until then, we've got to be on guard against hypothermia," McCoy said grimly. "He keeps coming in and out, but I think that's normal. His brain's not impressed either, seems like it can't decide whether to go into a trance or not."
Jim curled his fingers into the side of the bed.
"They called us habashka," he said quietly.
"What'd it mean?" McCoy asked.
"Lovers," Jim said quietly.
"Thought so," McCoy grunted.
Jim blinked at him.
"Come on, Jim, we all know you carry a torch for that green-blooded computer, even if you didn't," McCoy snorted. "The way you were screaming your head off when he nearly drowned; hell, I've seen that a thousand times in clinic. Usually the husband or wife of the patient, though, not the commanding officer."
Jim flushed red.
"You might as well go for it, Jim," McCoy shrugged. "Spock obviously knew what they meant by that word, and - hell, Jim. Trust me, I know what an offended Vulcan looks like, and that wasn't one of them."
He was interrupted when the Sickbay doors hissed open, and Scotty came in supporting a dangerously swaying lieutenant that Jim vaguely recognised from maintenance.
"Got an electrical burn for ye, Doctor," he drawled, looking all too happy about the situation, and McCoy winced.
"Jim, if his temperature drops by another degree, give me a yell," he said briskly, making a beeline for the swaying woman.
Jim ignored the hubbub, leaning over the bed and resting a hand gingerly against Spock's covered shoulder. He was trembling finely, his hands twitching on the covers like he was having a bad dream, but he stirred at the touch.
"Hey," Jim murmured, when Spock opened bleary eyes to peer up at him. "How you feeling?"
A rumble of discontent, and he chuckled weakly.
"Bones said you'll be fine," he reassured, before adding: "I found out what habashka meant."
Spock frowned minutely.
"They weren't right," Jim continued, his heart staggering in his chest slightly at the confession, "but I'd like to make them right. If...if you do, too."
For all that he could command with ease and calm in dire situations, something about Spock undid him every time.
"Say something," he breathed, twitching the blankets higher when another shudder rolled up Spock's spine. And not the good kind.
"I would find such an arrangement...agreeable."
Jim laughed, a little more shakily than he'd liked, and turned his hand to brush his fingertips up against Spock's.
"I do know some things about Vulcans," he murmured, at Spock's look of vague surprise. "But you can teach me more, can't you?"
When Spock intertwined their fingers, he decided to take that as a yes.