When he dreamt, he dreamt of comfort and ice. Of running and adrenaline, of snarling beasts, of escaping death, and of the three fingers firm against his face that gave him his first taste of what it felt like to be loved.

Had he known, at the time, that melding with the older, nicer version of his first officer would haunt him for months afterwards, he might have been more motivated to dodge when he'd first seen those long, graceful fingers coming towards him. He'd been so ignorant then, so immensely naive. God.

With a sigh he sat up in his bed, running his palm over his face. It was a wasted effort trying to sleep. Why bother when he'd only dream of melds anyway and wake longing for something he couldn't have?

Five minutes with a Vulcan had been all it took to snare him completely, hook, line and sinker.

And now, some months later, he was slowly, but surely, going nuts… uh, more nuts than Bones already accused him of being, that is.

He'd done fine in his Xenobiology class at the academy. In fact, he'd aced the freakin' thing with hardly an effort, thank you kindly, but nowhere in that class had they prepared him for the fact that A) there was such a thing as a Vulcan mind-meld, and B) it was more addicting than licking a Cardassian Sunrise off the belly of an Orion whose pheromones were a-flaring. That, once the experience had been catalogued in his brain, he'd long for it, covet it, need it, again, with everything in him.

Vulcans should come with warning labels.

Clearly. They really should.

That and the whole 'melding with a Vulcan will elicit feelings, proceed with caution' should be included on all Xenobiology courses. It was only right. Jim hated to think of one poor innocent schmuck falling prey to the wily charms of one Vulcan on one mission to save Earth and pass on feelings of love, unity, comfort and… acceptance.

So much acceptance, in fact, that Jim Kirk, president of the Mouthy Jaded Cynics Club, had learned then that, yes, there was good in the universe, that it wasn't just a theory to subscribe to, an unattainable goal to strive for.

Love, pure and untainted, wasn't, in fact, in the same mythical category as Santa Claus, where he'd previously filed it. Vulcans named Spock carried the treasure deep within their souls, offering it up on special occasions, like when charming, intelligent, heroic, and strapping young men had been so wrongfully and cruelly marooned on a giant snowball of a planet as punishment for the crime of innocently trying to save the galaxy.

Giving up all pretense of resting, Jim stood, only to realize that he had no idea what to do with himself now that he was wide awake and exhausted. His shift didn't start for hours. He really didn't feel like going through reports to fill the time, and his mind, as ever, was still on that meld...

'Our minds, one and together..."

The meld had felt like a thick, soft blanket; so comfortable, so warm, spreading heat throughout his body, from fingers to toes, effectively blocking out the chill of Delta Vega. For those brief moments he had felt a part of something greater than he was.

It had been life-altering, damn it, so Jim figured he was excused if he waxed poetic whenever he thought of it. And if he went back and forth between wanting to shudder at his own over-the-top corniness at the consistently soppy direction of his thoughts, to longing to do a meld again (and bringing a suitcase so he could move right in) well, that was his business. It had been a defining experience, such circumstances granted certain allowances in the wistful thinking department, even for starship captains.

Especially for starship captains... Well, the lonely ones, anyway.

The meld had been the only time in his life he could remember when he hadn't been lonely, when his thoughts weren't his only compassionate and understanding companions, so yeah, 'life-altering' was an apt description.

The problem, Jim thought as he paced the length of his quarters, was that he wasn't sure how he felt about his life being altered. Didn't know whether the old guy had known just how the meld would affect Jim when he'd done it, yet had proceeded to do it anyway. Had the outcome (i.e. Jim's new found knowledge that melds were fucking awesome), been intentional? Was he paranoid for thinking it might have been? The elder man had been rather insistent that Jim and Spock were destined for greatness, together. Did that greatness also encompass some kind of meld exchange program?

Having met at least two Spocks, and become aware of their rather devious natures oh-so-cleverly hidden under Vulcan aloofness, Jim wouldn't put it past him.

The conniving old coot.

In fact, the only thing worse than devious, other-universe-Vulcans and their love-vibes-of-doom? Was when said other-universe-Vulcans had younger counterparts who were attractive and smart as hell, possessed a subtle yet completely hilarious sense of humor, and were the first officer to one James T. Kirk.

Jim sighed, halting in his pacing to bemoan his circumstances and curse fate for perhaps the billionth time in his life.

His own Spock remained ever close, yet so far away. Even if Spock-the-younger were up for melding with him and was, in fact, kind of perfect for a pursuing and wooing, J.T style, and maybe engaging in a romantic engagement, or two (or perhaps twenty) said Vulcan happened to be dating someone else, as in someone who wasn't him.

Jim's heart twinged. He didn't do repressed longing well, never had. There was no such thing as a no win scenario, he still believed that just as firmly as he ever had. But despite the temptation, Jim would never consider trying to take Spock from Uhura. Wouldn't compromise the structure of his command team for anything, not even weird-ass meld-cravings with a taken man.

It was official, his life sucked. Except it didn't entirely suck, and that was the problem. He loved being Captain, and despite being rather 'green' at it, he couldn't imagine being as happy doing anything else, being anywhere else. He had this awesome, state-of-the-art ship. He had this crew teeming full of people who were too damn smart for their own good. He should be in such a state of positive Zen ol' Buddha himself should be bowing before him, man. But he wasn't, because despite all of that it felt like something was missing. It felt as if a hole had been somehow punctured in him during the meld, briefly filled, then left empty, vacant, and deserted afterwards.

Goddamned Vulcans. This should be the time of his life - he had everything he had thought he wanted not one year ago firmly in the palm of his hand, yet his days were filled with longing, and his dreams were filled with remembering.

An ambassador seeking to negotiate trade with the Federation would flirt with him and he'd wonder what type of ESP ratings her species had. He would beam down to beautiful, warm, tropical, uninhabited planets and all he could think about was an old man in a cave on an ice planet. His Yeoman brought him coffee on the bridge during a tense shift and all he could think about was a kind of Vulcan tea he knew he'd never tasted but whose tart flavor he could clearly recall. Bones hugged him in relief when he returned safely from a difficult mission, and Jim kept expecting the hand on his face, the press of fingers and mind that would make him feel so much closer to someone... It was getting to be a tad ridiculous.

Jim would love to know what a psychologist would make of him right now: 'Subject is addicted to telepathic connections with aliens. Probable cause? Wasn't hugged enough as a child.'

Perhaps Bones was right… maybe he was a couple pecans short of a pie.

Jim thought he'd done a great job, so far, of keeping this desire of his hidden from his first officer. He had his pride, damn it. He wouldn't admit soulful longing to anyone, wouldn't give anyone that kind of control, would never, ever allow his weaknesses to be exposed so blatantly. He would present an infallible front if it killed him…

So, he projected complete invincibility like the champ he was... until the Enterprise, on a mission to deliver supplies, ran into an ex of Bones's by the name of Nancy Crater. An ex who, instead of sharing camaraderie with him over their mutual affection for one Leonard McCoy, as he had kind of expected, tried to suck the ever living salt from Jim, rendering him momentarily unable to speak and proving once and for all that ex-girlfriends sucked, and shape-shifting aliens pretending to be Bones's ex-girlfriends sucked – well, sucked salt, anyway. Semantics.

Spock had barely intervened in time. The Nancy-Crater-shaped-beast, who had beamed aboard his ship in the borrowed form of a crew member, had him pinned, his body nearly drained of a substance he apparently needed to live, and hell if he'd listen to Bones ever again when Bones claimed 'too much salt equals bad, you don't need that gallon of it on your fries or in your body, have a little potato with your iodine'.

When Spock had got the beast to release him and knocked her out cold with a nerve pinch, Jim hadn't been able to speak, his throat so dry and coarse that it felt like a desert complete with tumbling sage brush.

They had needed a way to communicate the 'don't bother taking the fucking bitch to the brig, shoot to kill, shoot to kill!' without Jim using his poor, abused throat to say so.

Once again he saw three fingers coming toward him, and although a part of him was horrified, frantic with the thought that Spock might find out, a far larger of him was immeasurably excited.

Finally, he would be home once more. He'd feel that level of completion that was like nothing else in the UNIVERSE, man.

He held his breath and squeezed his eyes shut. This was it...

Spock's gentle fingers touched his face, and the shock of contact sizzled like electricity between them, and Jim felt the gentle pressure, the merging of another's thoughts into his own, the wonder associated from that type of unity and then came the feeling that something was off... that the meld was somehow wrong. Like it was missing something, something vital. That thrum of connection that he had felt in the other meld, with the older Spock.

Desperate, now that the meld had been initiated, to feel as he had felt before, he searched throughout the mind open to him, marveling at the intensity of Spock's emotions, how imposing it seemed, how tightly reined. Spock's mind felt like a precipice over an abyss of sheer, foreboding intensity, and Jim was perhaps edging a little too closely to the rim . His mind was sharp edges and shadows and so, so desolate.

It was heartbreaking.

The elder Spock's mind had been tainted with sadness and loss, that was true, how could it not have been? The man had been forced to watch as his planet imploded, had been thrown from his own timeline into another where things weren't as they should have been; but despite all of that, there had been comfort in that mind, a lifetime of memories and adventures and the knowledge and experience of love. And, of course, there was acceptance, not just of Jim, although that had been there, too, clear as a cloudless Iowan sky during summertime, but also acceptance of himself. Like he had achieved a sense of peace with the duality of his nature, Human and Vulcan alike.

He wanted his Spock to have that, too. Didn't think it fair that one mind could be such a bright place while the other should be so dark. So Jim envisioned light, and brought it here. He felt Spock's surprise at that, felt his alarm, and tried to reassure him…

"Shhh, Spock," his mind said to Spock's, "I can make it better. I promise. Let me try. Let me fix this."

Spock did not eject him. Seemed to be too curious and awestruck over what Jim was doing to try, and Jim took that as a sign that he was free to continue. He continued to envision color and sunlight and warmth, and sent it to the dark corners. Tried to smooth the sharp edges of Spock's mind with a mental caress. He didn't think about how he was doing it, or why; Jim relaxed and let instinct guide him.

Beneath his touch Spock's mind preened.

Gradually, the mind became more like the one he had known, felt less harsh and more free. But it wasn't enough. It needed something more. In the other Spock's mind there had been this tunnel, Jim hadn't entered it, hadn't needed to, for the joyous feelings he had basked in, the love, the affection, the marvel, had flowed through the tunnel and had met him, no further steps required. Jim thought, perhaps, that this time, with this Spock, he needed to enter the tunnel, that perhaps Spock didn't know how to project those feelings and thus it was Jim's responsibility, as the official appreciator of 'The Mind of Spock' and a two-time meld connoisseur, to show him how.

And so enter it he did.

Spock made a feeble attempt to stop him, Jim felt alarm threaten their link just as surely as he felt all of Spock's other emotions, like they were tangible - a storm manifesting - but Jim wasn't deterred. Spock, this Spock, was broken, and Jim desperately wanted to fix him, felt the need as certainly as the need to breathe, or sleep, or eat. He was almost helpless to prevent himself from doing these things He had the strangest impression that in fixing Spock he would be repairing them both.

The crossover itself was uneventful, one half of Spock trying to push him away, but another, more motivated side (the side of Spock Jim coined HKB – the Half that Knows Better) welcomed him, beckoned him further, as if recognizing Jim as…. something…

Something, for lack of a better term, 'familiar'.

Reaching the other side, however, turned out to be quite problematic, for that was when a bright light met and engulfed him, cocooning him until the universe turned white.

"Jim, you idiot, wake up!"

Ah, nothing said Welcome Back, JTK, like the dulcet tones of his best friend's voice overflowing with care and affection.

What Jim didn't understand was how he had landed himself in sickbay. Until the memories of becoming the human equivalent of a salt lick, mind melds, and Spock all filtered across his mind in a mad rush of images.

Never let it be said that Jim Kirk did things by halves, even having creeped out days from hell. Apparently nearly being eaten, both physically by a crazy salt monster, and mentally by the guy he secretly kind of wanted, had been the order of the day. Which would undoubtedly sound entirely insane… to anyone who wasn't him.

Instead Jim was actually surprised that there hadn't been some Klingons attacking to make the day all that much more joyous.

"Bones," he groaned, bringing his hands up to block the extremely annoying and hurtful sickbay lighting, "we've got to discuss your taste in women. I know you mentioned that your ex-wife only left you your bones after the divorce, but I don't think Miss Carter would have left you even that… at least not without the salt sucked out of them first. Christ, were you a male praying mantis in a past life, or what? What's with the epic relationships of doom?"

Bones snorted. "Oh, that's nice! Cast aspersions on my taste in partners, when it was you - you infant - who just bonded yourself to Mister Stoic over here, and without being telepathically adept, AND without being aware of whatever the hell it was you were doing. Frankly, I'd rather have the salt sucked out of me than all of that, but there is no accounting for taste."

Jim's head was throbbing quite painfully, at least that was his excuse, and an honest one, for why it took a moment for his best friend's words to penetrate his thoughts. It also explained why he hadn't noticed, at first, that Bones was not alone in standing by his bed.

"Wait, what?" Jim asked, moving to sit up, until his head warned him, in no uncertain terms, that moving was very much a bad idea when it came to pain management. Very much.

And that seeing things in triplicate wasn't really a good sign, either.

Which meant he had to have been hearing things. Pounding headaches, blurred vision and a significant decrease in electrolytes excused a great deal, like hearing impairment… didn't they?

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I thought you had just mentioned that I bonded myself to Spock, but that can't be right…"

"I assure you, Captain, it is," a second voice stated, and Jim heard the monitor by his bio-bed start beeping erratically, indicating the sudden increase in his heart-rate. Bones frowned at him, the threat of hypospray injection gleaming in his eyes and his fingers twitching as if to carry out the threat.

And like the completely kowtowed lad he'd never admit out loud to Bones that he was (why provide ammunition to be used against him?), Jim took a deep breath and willed his body to relax, and the steady beep of the monitor began dropping to a more sedate pace.

So his best friend was a tad intimidating, particularly here in his natural habitat, what of it? The threat of hypospray relaxant could would send anybody cowering.

Despite his pounding headache, his vision was beginning to crystallize, at least in the sense that he could make out the faint outlines of a single Spock instead of the five identical ones his mind had previously tried to present before him.

Yet even with his vision fuzzy, he couldn't help but look for the tell-tale signs that Spock was beyond upset with him. Anything from a Vulcan glare of untimely demise to hands being outstretched to choke to kill… again. But he saw none of that, not even in a fuzzy way. Spock simply stood there, calm as you please, with his uniform neatly pressed and not a hair out of place, his demeanor relaxed yet professional, as if he were addressing the Captain on the bridge after an order to carry on a routine mission.

Clearly what Jim thought was the significance of being 'bonded' and what Spock thought was the significance of being 'bonded' were two entirely separate things. Otherwise, obviously, Spock woulda killed him.

He had been certain that 'bonded', for a Vulcan, meant 'married'. His clearly inadequate xenoculture course had suggested as much. Yet for a guy with a girlfriend Spock was strangely serene about the whole affair.

Too serene.

Even for a Vulcan.

"Doesn't bonded mean married?" he asked, in far too much pain to beat around the bush. Not that he'd do subtle anyway, not in this situation. In fact, both Spock and Bones were lucky he'd tailored his response to the dictates of politeness, instead of going with a blunt, 'If bonding means what I think it means, why am I still alive, Spock? Are you waiting for Uhura to have a go at me instead? You want to make it a slow and torturous death? So much for Vulcan pacifism.'

"It does," Spock answered simply, and it was at that point when Jim became convinced that he had fallen down a rabbit hole, and that soon he was going to meet a caterpillar and a Cheshire cat, and start eating the 'shrooms he already felt like he was high on.

But for now, he'd play along.

"And it doesn't piss you off that I inadvertently married us?"

Which was a pretty crucial question, he thought, no matter how completely insane it sounded being spoken out loud.

Christ on a cracker, he was fucking married… The sheer magnitude of it was just starting to sink in.

"Our minds were surprisingly compatible. Immensely so. In fact, for a psi-null human to be able to recognize the mechanics behind a bond, let alone execute the formation of it, is remarkable. Practically unheard of. My mind's complete acceptance of yours, without coaxing or ceremony, was also unprecedented. In Vulcan culture such bonds are rare, so much so that there are those who do not believe they actually exist. It is… most gratifying to find that they not only exist, but that I am fortunate enough to encounter one directly."

Which, Jim guesses, was Spock's way of saying, 'eh, we're married, care for a game of chess?'

Bones's expression was incredulous. That was something, at least. Some evidence that he hadn't somehow been sucked into another parallel universe where everyone was crazier than he was.

Gamma shift, when good little captains are supposed to be sleeping, came. Jim was still married.

It was no less surreal now, mindlessly staring at the ceiling in sickbay, than it had been hours earlier when Spock and Bones had been here with him discussing it.

There ought to be a parade and ticker tape. A marching band jazzing out to a upbeat rendition of Pachelbel's 'Canon in D', while a guy on a megaphone announced 'that's right, ladies and gentlemen, former ladies man James 'Tomcat' Kirk is a taken man, who would have thought it?', or something to exemplify the significance of the event. Anything other than this... nothingness would do.

Jim sighed as he twitched restlessly in his bio-bed, unable to find a comfortable position.

He'd never admit it to anyone, not even Bones, especially not Bones, 'cause the good doctor would undoubtedly tease him about it mercilessly, but at heart Jim was a bit of a romantic. Sure, he'd kind of given up on the concept of marriage as a whole, one didn't have to grow up in a house with the stepfather from hell to reach the conclusion that marriage was seldom sunshine and roses, though it certainly had helped. Yet even with all his baggage he'd always thought, if hell froze over and he did get married, it would be for love and for life, none of this two year contract, take a test drive and if you don't like it, return it, mumbo-jumbo. He preferred the attitude of his ancestors: that marriage was a lifetime commitment between two people, a promise to love and honor and obey (thought he had a bit of an issue with the 'obey' part, and felt the phrase should be amended to say 'love, honor, and make love to daily'... the only person Jim Kirk 'obeyed' was himself, and maybe an admiral or two, when it suited him to do so).

So put him in suspenders and call him gramps, he didn't know what to make of his 'marriage'.

Yes, he was a mite in love with Spock. Or, at least, he had a bit of a man-crush on him. Had from the get-go, even before he had realized that melds were so awesome.

And yes, the crush itself was kind of strange because the Vulcan first officer wasn't really his 'type', if there were such a thing. Said Vulcan first officer was male, for one. And while Jim wasn't really discriminatory in recognizing attractiveness (and was, in fact, rather good at discerning it, ask anybody), be it in male or female form, he had always gravitated more towards women and could in fact navigate their bodies the way he could an asteroid field.

He'd known, for example, that his best friend Bones had amazing lips and a rather nice butt, or that Pike had nice eyes and really big... hands. These things were rather obvious.

But it wasn't until he had met and fallen for Spock that he began to wonder if he leaned towards females more out of habit than anything else.

The thing was, Spock kind of hit him with a bang. A big one. Jim's attraction to the Vulcan had been instant, and powerful, and completely out of his control. There had been this Vulcan, beautiful under the Academy lights, face barely concealing his rage that a cadet would have the absolute gall to cheat on this stupid-ass test he had programmed, and somehow Jim's mind had translated that to, 'um, wow, this guy is neat.'

So yes, there was more to Bones' claim that Jim was insane than even the good doctor knew.

And because the thought was pretty fucking funny, he wondered what his mother would say if Jim called her, just out of the blue, after years of silence, to tell her...

'Hey, guess what, Ma? That son everyone in Riverside would tell you was a wild one and would never settle down? Well, he's Vulcan-married, bonded and everything. No need to send a gravy boat or toaster oven, thanks, no room for it in officers quarters.'

It might be worth breaking their silence just to see the look on her face. Or the face of anyone else in Riverside who had known him.

They'd probably think he was pulling their leg.

A part of him wondered if someone was pulling his leg.

The thing was, Jim had done a good job of squelching his attraction. Even after Spock-the-Elder had taught him 'The Joys of Mind-Joining'. Even after he'd come to crave that type of connection. Even after Jim had come to realize that his-age-Spock and his communications officer had a thing going on.

Maybe he hadn't been as careful as he thought. It could be that the crew had got together to set up this elaborate prank to make up for his instigation of 'Thursday Night - Drill Night'.

It was almost easier to believe that scenario than the one he most wanted to believe...

That he and Spock, for better or for worse, till death do they part, were married.

Jim felt his body tremble, felt his breathing speed up, go quick and shallow, and secretly, somewhere deeply buried, he wanted to cry. Though he'd eat his hospital gown before he'd physically allow himself to do so, even alone he couldn't permit that weakness.

Every relationship in Jim's adult life had been impersonal. He liked it that way. There were no hurt feelings. No drama. No 'I'm so disappointed in you, Jim' or 'I'm going to use your feelings for me to manipulate you into changing, Jim' speeches, none of that whole messy relationship stuff.

He'd recognized right away, on both an instinctual and a cognizant level, that Spock had the power to elicit messy relationship-type feelings, which yes, scared the bejesus out of him, but he had figured that he was safe from it all.

First off, said Vulcan had pretty much hated his guts when they first met. Which yeah, admittedly, had stung a little… All right, so it had stung a lot. It wasn't just his pride that had hurt there; on a fundamental level, his soul had hurt.

Then enter Spock Prime stage left, and there was living proof that, with time, Spock was capable of chilling the fuck out (both literally and figuratively). And, yes, he had loved the whole meld thing, it was true, but his Spock hadn't needed to know that, nor did he need to know that while Jim loved Spock's mind and wouldn't mind living in a meld, if such a thing were possible, the body that came with it also wasn't half bad. The repression of feelings had been the order of the day on more than just Spock's side of the 'let's do reserve like no one's business' courtyard. As long as Spock was ignorant of Jim's affections, and Jim's mouth was locked up tighter than Bones's prized liquor cabinet, they could co-exist in peaceful, space-exploring harmony. They could even be friends, as the elder Spock had indicated they would.

Status quo, when it came to his heart, was a very fine state to be in. Very fine.

This new thing? Not so much.

The marriage thing could only blow up in his face. Spock was going to break his heart, whether the Vulcan was aware he'd be doing it or not, in one of two ways: either by demanding a severance of their bond despite the Vulcan's curiosity about their 'mental compatibility' or he would keep the bond and their marriage would be the experiment of the ages 'come look at this bond a psi-null human managed to create... how unusual.'

The thought of being hurt by this whole thing scared him. Scared him a lot. And if there was one thing Jim hated, it was being scared.

Why was it that Fate always chose to fuck with him when he was at his most comfortable? What was it about him that the universe had the incessant need to humble? He was so sick of being jerked around in the emotional department, starting with the death of his father and culminating in a Vulcan love interest who intimidated the fuck out of him.

He couldn't stay here like this. Stuck in sickbay with an unending cycle of thoughts that left him restless and manic.

A quick look around told him that the coast was clear. With Bones gone for the night, and only a night nurse who had her nose buried in a PADD left as watchdog, Jim's getaway was easy.

Jim slipped silently out of the bio-bed, and ninety seconds later was standing in the turbolift contemplating which deck to go to.

Returning to his quarters was definitely out, as the only fate worse than having his thoughts stuck in an unending cycle of how screwed up his life was would be being stuck in a tiny room contemplating how screwed up his life was... There wasn't nearly enough pacing opportunity in his quarters for his peace of mind.

The gym, then, it was. Ah, blessed room: wide open spaces, state of the art equipment, clean, neat, and inviting... the absolute perfect diversion. As luck would have it, for once, it was blessedly people-free. On a ship with over 400 crew, privacy was as hard to come by as a case of Romulan ale. Which wasn't usually a problem for him. In this moment, however, Jim didn't think he could look anyone in the eye without wondering how the ship's rumor mill explained their captain winding up in sickbay, again, that afternoon.

For as long as Jim could remember, physical activity had been his escape. When he was pushing his body beyond its endurance was the only time he could get his mind to stop, the only time he was at peace from processing theories or contemplating 'what-ifs'. So that was the plan. Sure, he'd inadvertently bonded himself to his Vulcan first officer not hours before without even knowing how, and that was after having a large portion of salt sucked out of his body, thus winding up with the headache from hell. Sure his body was going to protest this course of action, and probably profusely at that. But he'd run marathons completely hung-over back in Iowa; a little pain had never stopped him from doing anything.

He'd deal with Bones's opinion on the matter (and his best friend would have an opinion, of that Jim had no doubt) in the morning.

With only a minimal warm-up, he set the treadmill at the highest setting geared for human endurance, but soon realized it wasn't enough, not fast enough, not hard enough, not intense enough to truly block out reality. It certainly didn't help that the computer kept chirping at him that 'your heart rate is above safety levels, please select a more sedate setting' in a way so annoying he felt like telling the feminine voice to fuck off. Instead he used his override code, rigged the thing to shut up, and he drove himself harder, pushing his body to the point he felt sick with it. It wasn't until bright lights had started to dance around his eyes and sweat poured down his face and stung his eyes that he felt strong arms engulf him and yank him off the machinery and against a muscled chest.

A sense of calm pervaded his mind, sending soothing signals coursing through Jim's body, getting his heart rate to slow and his erratic breathing to calm. His body tingled where it was physically connected to Spock's, and Jim felt a dichotomy of impulses: one to run away as quickly as his still-wobbly legs would carry him, and the other to sink against Spock and let fate play out as it would.

Spock's grip never let up, effectively taking away Jim's ability to choose one or the other.

"Despite your insistence to the contrary," came a clipped voice, "I doubted that leaving you alone to think was a prudent course of action. I see I was correct in that assumption. Would you please explain to me why you felt it necessary to make yourself more ill?"

Jim thought it mildly hilarious that Spock, of all people, would ask that, considering what Jim had forced on him.

"Best way I know to escape my life for a while," he answered honestly, because, really, he and Spock were bonded now, and while he didn't know the full extent of what that meant, he was pretty sure Spock would be able to distinguish a truth from a hedge. Come to think of it, Spock had always been pretty much able to do that with Jim anyway, bond or no bond. Lying to him would be, and always had been, a futile endeavor.

There was a moment of silence, and Jim felt the current that existed between them shut down, leaving him feeling strangely frightened and alone. It wasn't pleasant.

"Do you wish to escape the bond we have formed?" Spock asked, and, Jim felt his uncertainly, his hurt and his hope hiding behind the impartial tone.

His heart broke a little in response.

"If you're asking if I want to escape you, you know that I don't," Jim answered, his eyes staring straight ahead but seeing nothing. "I can sense that you sense my fascination with you. I wouldn't have been able to traverse that tunnel, the one in your mind, if I hadn't. And I sense now, between us, that you've already realized the extent of it, how I've been drawn to you pretty much from the word 'go'. Screw the fucking bond for taking my privacy from me!"

His anger was escalating the more he spoke. He couldn't help it. It was a knee-jerk reaction to having his right to pine in silence taken from him.

The bond was opened on Spock's side once more, and a wave of calm washed over him, tinted with hope and a sense of love that wasn't his own.

A few more deep breaths, a few more moments passed, Spock still with his arms around him from behind, giving no indication of ever letting go. "I wanted to escape my guilt that I took away your right to be with a partner of your choosing," Jim continued, his voice wistful despite himself. "And that I've also, inadvertently, changed the dynamic between my senior staff. There is no way Uhura is ever going to forgive me for stealing her man. I was skating on thin ice with her as it was."

"Would it help if I told you that you wouldn't have been able to bond us if I hadn't agreed to it?" Spock whispered in his ear, and Jim felt his heart rate pick up anew. "I have suspected for some time, since my elder counterpart sought me out to speak about our potential 'friendship' all those months ago, that there was more to our relationship than he let on. I was right. When I told you that the compatibility of our minds was rare, I was not exaggerating. You were meant for me, and I for you. Having tasted your mind, having felt it merged with my own, I know there will never be another for me. There cannot be. I regret that Lieutenant Uhura will be hurt. I have never meant to cause her pain."

Spock paused for a moment, a flash of sorrow and repentance reaching out through the bond.

"But I cannot regret the set of circumstances which has connected my path with yours," he continued, and Jim felt, again through the bond, that he meant it. "I now know what my counterpart meant when he stated that our relationship would define us in ways neither one of us could imagine. I followed you aboard the Enterprise to find this out… I now find one word particularly apt to define our relationship: t'hy'la."

The last word wasn't so much said as it was breathed against Jim's neck like a heated gust of wind. The unfamiliar word sent shivers through his body and raised goose bumps on his flesh.

His first thought upon Spock's revelations, however, wasn't to marvel over what t'hy'la meant as much was it was to realize that he'd known this about them, all along - the thing that Spock had just confirmed –this way Spock's presence had of washing out anyone else's whenever he was around. Jim had somehow suspected that something about Spock and him, and their relation to each other, was different… not of the norm. Spectacular, even. He had just known that there had had to be a reason he'd found himself drawn to the Vulcan from the moment they'd met, despite what he had thought his sexual orientation had been, and despite his previous cavalier attitude when it came to relationships. He had dealt with physical attraction from the moment he'd hit puberty and yet, at 25, well past the age of mindless teenage crushes and puppy love, Spock had blind-sided him with this rush of feelings he couldn't articulate, couldn't pass off as mere attraction, couldn't exactly compare to anything else he'd known.

It was easy to accept Spock's words as truth when a part of him had always known… that the two of them, in relation to each other, weren't normal, whatever that was.

And now, something the elder Spock had said to him made perfect sense…

"This universe is correcting the discrepancies between it and the other one," he mumbled, more to himself than to Spock. "You belonged to me there, and somehow, I've always known it..."

"As you belonged to me."

Jim shivered once more, the concept of fate and destiny rebelling against his independent nature, insensitive to the stunning outcome.

"Spock," he said then, still as lost as ever, perhaps more so, now that he knew his attention was returned, now that he knew that his first officer was just as heavily involved in his uncertainty as he was, that the two of them were left, bonded, new to it, new to each other, in love but frightened of it, at the expense of time and the feelings of others, on a ship of four hundred people depending on their leadership and their ability to function as a cohesive command team, "what the fuck do we do with all of this?"

Spock's hold on him tightened, his mouth so close to Jim's ear that he could practically feel the movement of Spock's lips against his skin, "Kaiidth, or, as you humans would say, we work with it."

Not the most romantic declaration, perhaps, but for Jim, it was exactly what he had needed to hear (at that precise moment in time).

In the past, when someone had taken him to their bed, his intimidation factor had been nonexistent in favor of the more prominent feeling of 'woohoo, I'm gonna get some'. Things felt a little differently when you were newly married to a guy you kinda, sorta, liked a whole lot.

Afterwards, Jim could remember little that happened between leaving the treadmill area and arriving freshly showered in Spock's quarters. He couldn't remember much of the walk back from the gym, couldn't say whether they had encountered anyone on their journey, or how long it had taken them to get there, the only thing he could say for certain was that Spock's hand had been on his shoulder they entire time and the heat and weight of it had felt good, and kept him grounded, convinced him he wasn't, in fact, dreaming.

This was to be his wedding night... he had definitely not expected that when he woke up that morning. Unable to help himself, he let out a small laugh, and Spock's grip on him tightened, just a little, as if to say 'yes, this is real, you are mine and possession is nine tenths of the law'.

Spock's quarters were another dose of realism in a seemingly surreal world. For one they were dim, and also calming, the faint scent of incense in the air, with a few Vulcan artifacts displayed proudly on the walls. For another the temperature in the room was almost suffocatingly hot, but rather than be jarred by that fact, Jim found it... relaxing. He'd had a weird day, and as weddings went, theirs was one for the books, the sauna like atmosphere of the room felt good to his salt deprived, workout burned muscles and weary heart.

The only thing jarring was how awkward he felt.

He had been aware of his reputation at the academy. And to be fair, it was partially earned, he was a man with many needs, though only about half of the rumors had any basis in fact. He wondered what Spock knew, or thought he knew?

The thing was... there were going to be so many firsts this night, his head spun. His first time with a man, which in itself was enough to cause the ol' heart to pump overtime. He wanted it, oh how he wanted it, on a scale of one to ten his want factor was like, one hundred, but it was a first and he didn't quite know what to do with that. Another first was the permanency. This wasn't a one night stand. This was the first night of many, and first impressions were key to starting this marriage off on the right foot.

Oh, no pressure there, none at all.

And lastly, it would be his first time with someone for whom he had deep feelings. Jim couldn't help but wonder if that would make the sex different... more different than it was already going to be doing it with a Vulcan, telepathic, male, that is.

Jim was willing to bet the telepathy had tremendous potential, and that thought sent a shiver of excitement up his body.

And as before, when Spock had found him in the gym, he felt a wave of calm serenity take possession of his mind, forcibly relaxing him.

"The bond?" he asked Spock, more curious than anything.

"Yes," Spock replied simply. "The bond connects us empathically – I can sense your emotional state, when I reach to assess it, and send my own back to you. You have nothing to fear from me, Jim. I knew you to be beautiful and dynamic even before I had seen your mind."

Jim snorted. "I don't think 'beautiful' and 'dynamic' is how you would have described me when we first met at the Kobayashi Maru hearing."

He was only slightly teasing. There was a question in his statement, one that had him nervous even despite Spock's soothing effect.

Spock nodded. Jim didn't know what that meant.

"Had I had time to meditate that day," Spock said at last, brown eyes soft as he stared back unwaveringly at Jim, "it would have dawned on me then, as it dawns on me now, that from the moment we met you have been able to elicit emotional responses from me in a way that no other has before you. From the first it was, admittedly, indignation, and also, although more significantly buried, fascination. Now it is awe... and reverence."

"Reverence?" Jim asked, and if he thought his heart had been working overtime before, now it was beating so fast it could potentially take flight.

"Yes, you are mine. Captain James T. Kirk with the dynamic mind - the human who faced his father's murderer and offered him clemency. The man who entered an alien mind without the slightest bit of repulsion and made himself at home there. The creative thinker who would rather change the parameters of a test than face failure," Spock paused for a moment, his words measured, soft, and slightly weary, as if he feared Jim's reaction. "I consider myself fortunate, indeed, in my choice of mate."

Jim was dazed, and humbled, and raw. In fact, he'd never felt more vulnerable than he did in that moment. All this emotion in the air, all this feeling, it was overwhelming. But his vulnerability, for once, was okay. Because he trusted Spock, trusted him more than he had ever trusted anybody. It was a new thing, this feeling of being wanted for who he was, non-conformity and all, this feeling of being appreciated. He could get used to it.

But first, he had to let Spock know the feeling was shared. That it was he who was awed, that someone so smart, someone so strong, someone so amazing, was now his.

He couldn't think of an adequate way, in Standard, to convey the depth of his feeling, there weren't nearly enough available adjectives to do so and so he said, instead, in a way that had the anticipation within him swell, "Spock, meld with me."

Spock laid his warm fingers on Jim's face, and Jim felt that heady sensation of their two minds brushing, then linking.

This meld was the best yet. There was no longer darkness, or shadow, instead there was light, and love, and tranquility. This feeling of belonging, of harmony - two pieces to a puzzle joining to become a greater whole – it encompassed the whole of his mind, the whole of his body. There were so few times in Jim's life where he had felt so at peace with himself and the world around him, but when he had been a child there had been a barn on the Kirk family farm, and the barn had had a loft laden with hay. Jim would often sneak up there to read one of his paper books, it was his little safe haven from the world, where sunlight streamed in through holes in the roof, and the air smelled of old wood and must. Spock's mind was like that loft, safe, warm, and familiar. An oasis in the middle of a desert, a port amidst a storm, the new center of Kirk's own personal galaxy.

Apparently melds got even more addicting with repeated use, and Jim dimly wondered if there would ever be enough.

Their passion grew, much like an ocean swell, growing and growing and growing until it encompassed them both, infiltrating their serenity like an approaching storm, though a pleasant one. Jim barely registered the meld ending, for only a breath passed from existing within Spock's mind, to Spock kissing him with unrestrained passion. Spock's hands cupped Jim's cheeks as if to keep him there forever in the kiss. His efforts, though appreciated, were unnecessary, for Jim wouldn't have stopped for the world. Spock's lips were like the rest of him, warm, firm, and sensual, and Jim basked in being held, feeling Spock's body against his own, tasting Spock's flavor on his tongue, and breathing in Spock's scent.

He felt drunk with it.

From there it was a mad rush to discard clothing, both of them trying to do it without breaking the kiss, Jim barely holding in his laughter when this turned out to be an impossible task, especially when they were reminded that neither of them were wearing shirts that had buttons. Yet he couldn't stop touching Spock, and Spock couldn't seem to stop touching him, one of his hands on Spock's shoulder as he tried to take his pants off with the other. Spock's arm across Jim's waist as he shimmied and kicked off his own. It was as if some part of their bodies just had to be in contact at all times lest one of them disappeared and all of this turned out to be a dream after all.

Somehow, despite all of this, they had made it to the edge of the bed sans clothing, where Spock pushed Jim gently down onto the mattress and followed closely behind him.

Jim's former anxiety didn't seem important any more, at least, not as important as feeling Spock all over and the need to have him, all of him, right the fuck now.

Spock was up and over him, his arms the only thing keeping him from covering Jim entirely, so Jim couldn't really get the view he wanted, but he could certainly feel and so he reached down and grabbed Spock's cock in his hand, marveling at the texture of it, like satin over steel, becoming amused and also faintly giddy when it turned out that Spock secreted lubricant when stimulated, and Jim couldn't help but think, albeit distantly, that good God, that was rather... convenient.

Laughter shown from Spock's dark eyes as he looked down at Jim from his place above. Then he swooped down for another kiss.

And then fear and nervousness were the last things on Jim's mind. He had no room for them because his mind was so full with the combination of lust, passion, and love, that he could very well die of it. But oh, what a way to go. Whoever said that too much of a good thing was detrimental must have been a eunuch.

Spock allowed his body to fall on Jim's, his weight welcomed and feeling so, so good as Spock's hands journeyed south and joined Jim's over his penis, allowing the lubrication to coat them thoroughly before he moved his hands to finger Jim's opening.

Jim gasped, amazed at the new sensation, feeling his own dick harden just at the thought of what was about to happen, until he relaxed and let Spock's amazing fingers do their thing.

He thought that nothing could be more perfect than feel of Spock's naked skin against his own, and his body, so lithe and impossibly strong, above him and all around him, but really just being here at all, with Spock, like this, married and horny and drunk with it, Jim could only marvel at his luck.

Spock removed his fingers, and he used his hands once more to lift himself above Jim, meeting Jim's eyes, pupils dilated with lust, body shaking with pent up passion, face entirely open with longing and love, before finally pushing home.

Jim expected the pain, but it was nothing he couldn't handle, and he was so dizzy with longing that he barely registered a brief sense of being uncomfortable coming and going before a certain spot was hit and lights exploded before his eyes.

He gasped and grasped on to Spock as tightly as he could, his eyes shut tight as he rode wave after wave of ecstasy and when a precipice was reached, and Jim felt he might explode into a thousand pieces just from the sheer depth of his longing, Spock entered his mind once more and they came undone together.

It wasn't that he was a chicken, per se. He'd never shied away from conflict in his life, but to say that he was relieved that Spock pulled Uhura aside to do the explaining, alone, would be an understatement.

He wasn't afraid of her, he wasn't… okay, so maybe he was, just a little. But it wasn't so much her anger that had him cowed as much as it was the hurt he was sure would shine from her eyes once she found out the whole truth.

People thought a lot of things of him, only half of them true, but he wasn't insensitive to the pain of others. And when it came to his people, his crew, he felt fiercely protective. Had it been anyone else who took Spock away from Uhura, Jim would have been first in line to kick their ass.

And that thought was troubling. He couldn't very well kick his own ass. Though he supposed he was doing a fair job of it in the mental anguish department.

"Jim, don't take this the wrong way," Bones had told him. "You know I'd do anything for ya', but I've never been so glad not to be you right now." And Jim thought that, if he were Bones, he'd feel the same exact way, with an added 'AND HOW' on top of that.

He and Uhura hadn't seen eye to eye for the longest time. She had thought him a sex fiend and an egotist, and had from the get-go. And Jim, so determined that he didn't care what other people thought of him, so used to being cavalier lest he actually believe the constant stream of harsh words of the stepfather who had raised him in lieu of his absentee mother, that he continued to let her think that throughout their time at the Academy. In fact, he had played his role with gusto, and had fun doing it.

The situation with the Narada, and Vulcan, and Nero, had changed all that, had aged them all irrevocably. Had made a leader out of him and a crew out of a young and eager group of cadets.

Jim guessed what he feared the most was that the bond between him and his crew, forged through life and death situations and profound acts of clever heroism, was now going to be tested by the change in his and Spock's relationship and its effect on Uhura.

It was for that reason that when she reported for duty that day, eyes puffy from crying, and glaring daggers at him, Jim let the act of mild insubordination slide… and continued to let it slide long past the point of intolerability.

She didn't speak to him about it, didn't let it affect her job, but the tension on the bridge was thick enough to cut with a knife, and he couldn't really blame her for it. Worse yet was that in every other aspect of his life he was happy.

Spock turned out to be more amazing than Jim could have ever guessed. Every day he'd wake up to a warm body next to his own, and he had never thought, could have never imagined, how wonderful that actually felt, how nice it was to reach out and be able to touch Spock whenever he wanted. Or he'd turn in his chair on the bridge and Spock would look at him, one brow raised and a flash of humor in his eyes, and Jim would automatically smile, entirely unable to help himself. It felt good to smile. It felt good to love.

And always there was this quiet hum in the back of his mind, this low buzz that told him how Spock was feeling; this vital connection that thrummed between them. It was odd that something that should feel intrusive was actually fulfilling. Like he'd never realized how lonely he'd actually been, until his bond with Spock had been born.

It was kind of messed up that he finally had something he had longed for all his life, longed for without really knowing he'd longed for it - a companion with whom to share experiences and to bounce off any thought that went through his head - only to feel guilty for it.

It was only when he could take it no more that he finally broke down and did what he should have done in the beginning: he followed her into the turbolift after a shift.

Just before the doors closed on them, Spock's eyes met his and he nodded, a silent show of support, a wave of calm weaving down the bond from Spock towards him.

The calm was nice and all, and Jim appreciated the sentiment behind it. Boy did he. He could remember a time when it felt as if the entire universe was against him, but to have someone at his back like that... well, he wasn't following Uhura to dwell on how lucky he was in love, and that was why Spock's calming vibes did little to sedate the overly rapid tempo of his heart.

He was there to offer penance. He knew how amazing Spock was, he knew how it would kill him to lose that. That he had been responsible in inflicting that kind of pain on someone else... it ate at him.

For a moment, once the doors had shut, and after Jim had halted the lift, there was silence, Jim searching desperately for what he could possibly say, now that he had her alone, and Uhura glaring straight ahead, refusing to meet his eyes.

What finally came out, mainly out of desperation, made his heart hurt. But he had to know. . "Are you going to ask for a transfer?"

Another moment passed with yet more silence. For a second Jim thought that she wasn't going to answer him. That she would continue to ignore him and the elephant in the room would remain there for the rest of their five year mission.

But finally, she spoke, her eyes still straight ahead, still refusing to look at him.

Jim thought, distantly, that that was more than fair.

"No. The Enterprise is the flagship. I've worked too hard and too long to get here. We're the only ship on a deep space exploration, the opportunities to meet new cultures..." She trailed off, though Jim was engrossed in what she was saying and the passion behind it. She carried the same desire they all did, the same eagerness to see what was out there.

It was funny that he had always kind of painted her as a bit uptight, stickler for the rules, down to earth, feet planted firmly in the soil type. Someone who had enlisted because she had a special gift, in her case the gift of tongue, and Starfleet was the best source of study for that gift. He hadn't realized that she, like Spock and himself, was an adventurer. Someone who wanted to explore. Someone who wanted to discover.

The Enterprise was the greatest means in the Federation to do that.

The insight was humbling. As Captain it told him that he needed to reach out to his crew more, discover their wants and dreams, see what made them tick.

It also made him more sad, in a way, that he had been instrument in hurting a kindred spirit, a fellow nomad.

"I don't think sorry is going to cut it here. It's horribly cliché, spoken without any real meaning far too often, and not nearly enough. Would it help if I offered you free license to kick my ass? Seriously, we can go to the gym right now and I'd let you wail on me to your heart's content. Hell, I'd even let you tie my hands behind my back to do it..." HE wasn't sure she would take his next words in the lighthearted, tension-releasing way he meant them, but he could never help trying to cheer up a pretty lady. "You binding me would actually be kind of hot."

It was fleeting, but the ghost of a smile tickled the corners of her mouth, and Jim felt his heart lighten in a way it hadn't been since his last meld.

"Tempting, Captain. Very. You probably have no idea how much. But no. Settling differences with violence is rather Pleistocene, don't you think?" she replied leisurely, though Jim wasn't fooled for a moment. There had been an insult in that... just like old times. He smiled.

"You insinuating that I'm a Neanderthal, all teasing-like, means that you don't entirely hate me, right?" he asked, and although his tone was light, there was anxiety behind the question.

She paused again, her expression darkening. For a moment Jim feared he'd brought them back to square one, and he cursed his mouth for running away from him, but finally, after seconds that felt more like centuries, she answered.

"I spoke with Spock, the elder Spock, from the alternate reality, shortly after our Spock broke things off with me. I wanted to understand why? If there was anything that could be done, or if I would be fighting a useless battle. I'm not going to pretend that I'm okay with it, or that I'm not as mad as hell, but I do understand... what t'hy'la means to a Vulcan, particularly in light of so much recent loss."

That word again. The one Spock had called him. The one whose definition he still needed to look up. Though, the wistful way Uhura said it, and the endearing way Spock had, did give him some clue as to its meaning. The thought of it squeezed at his heart.

Never alone, never again.

"I promise to give this thing with Spock everything I've got," he said in reply, at loss for anything else to say, but meaning it. Wholeheartedly.

"See that you do," she replied and she reached out and set the lift in motion once more.

Their situation wasn't sunshine and roses and probably wouldn't be for a good long while, but it was a start. A good start.

Meanwhile, Spock and him, they would get them all there.

He had already remade himself once before, from the only genius level repeat offender in the Midwest, to the youngest person to be given the rank of Captain in Starfleet history. It seemed only fitting that his final incarnation, and the one for which he felt most comfortable, the most at peace, was a universal constant: Jim Kirk, captain of the Enterprise and partner of Spock.

The End!