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Acquisition

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Chapter One: The Complexity of Touch

 

            The harsh situation on Primidius had injured many souls on the Enterprise over the past two weeks of relief efforts, but perhaps the one person who had been affected the most was the least capable of showing that hurt.  It was one thing to witness the near-fall of an entire civilization, to beam down into a blazing ruin of a once-pristine world.  It was another thing altogether to be able to sense the death screams of millions of untrained psi-sensitive minds and the pounding regret and agony of millions more. To directly experience an echo of the fall of another world, to relive the memory of the loss of billions in a split second of mind-numbing horror.

            Spock had coordinated and led the landing parties for the Enterprise, had seen and experienced first-hand the devastation, and no one had thought to consider what the effects of the grim work would be on the Vulcan’s sensitive telepathy until Spock, having requested a routine beam-up, promptly collapsed in the transporter room.  Jim, forced by Starfleet order to remain on the ship during the operation, had been called down to sickbay from the bridge, and had run the entire way.

            M’Benga had moved the Vulcan into one of the isolation rooms, away from the bustle and noise of the overflowing sickbay, and had met Jim outside the sealed door, the captain still breathless.

            “He’s conscious, Captain, but in an almost unresponsive state.”  M’Benga looked exhausted, they all did, but his eyes were uncharacteristically full of worry.

            “What happened?  Is he injured?”  Jim made an aborted movement towards the door, but M’Benga shifted, blocking his path.

            “We didn’t…I didn’t think to consider the inhabitants’ psi-active signature.  They barely even consider themselves telepaths, don’t consciously use their abilities, but in a disaster like this, their minds would have been screaming.  His mental shields would have helped, at first, but… .”  The doctor glanced down.  “After Vulcan, this may have been too much.”

            Jim stared at the door, every instinct telling him to go inside.  He felt something like panic licking at the edges of his mind; panic and sickening realization, remembering Spock’s expression when he had beamed up from the disintegrating surface of Vulcan, the silence and grief and shock in sickbay immediately following.  And, since then, he would occasionally find his first officer standing alone on the observation deck, staring out at the stars, holding his hands slightly out at his sides in the Vulcan display of grief.  Jim knew better than perhaps anyone Spock’s intimate knowledge of personal loss, the lingering desolation hidden beneath formidable shielding.  Ever since Jim’s own death, Spock had gravitated closer to him, and Jim would sometimes perceive the Vulcan’s intense gaze as reassurance that Jim himself had not gone.  

            M’Benga was direct.  “Don’t touch him, Captain.  You can try talking to him, but keep your distance.  I’m going to try to let him come out of this himself, and there’s some medication we can try, eventually, but don’t stress him further.”

            “Okay.”  Jim nodded impatiently, and some part of him wondered why he was so damn scared.  The doctor turned to key in the sequence, and the captain stepped through immediately, waiting until the door had shut behind him before slowly approaching the biobed in the center of the small room. 

            Spock was laying on the bed, still in his uniform, rumpled from being worn under the containment suit, dark eyes staring directly up at the ceiling.  In the sudden presence of his unresponsive first officer, the panic and fear at the edges of Jim’s thoughts surged, and he balled his hands into fists, remembering M’Benga’s instructions.  He opened his mouth, knowing that he should say something, that he was Spock’s closest friend, that if anyone could prompt the Vulcan back to himself, it would be Jim.  But the words wouldn’t come, they sounded inane and insufficient in Jim’s mind, and he closed his mouth.

            There was something that M’Benga did not know, that no one really did, except for probably Nyota and maybe Bones.  That Spock didn’t mind Jim’s touch, the human’s naturally tactile expression, his casual brushes and playful nudges.  That, after Khan, the Vulcan would even reciprocate.  In the privacy of the captain’s quarters after shift, with a chessboard between them, Spock would occasionally offer the barest touch on Jim’s arm or shoulder.  And once, after a particularly grueling mission, he had even placed his hand on the back of Jim’s neck as Jim had sat, head bowed, at his desk, shoulders slumped in fatigue.  The captain remembered that touch in particular, remembered the heat from Spock’s skin, and the low buzz of gentle feeling that had finally lulled him into sleep.

            Jim took a breath and then exhaled, loud in the small room.  He glanced furtively at the door and then made up his mind, stretching out a hand and gently letting it rest on Spock’s, feeling the smooth skin and the familiar warmth.  Wake up.   Jim let his fingers tighten, curling around Spock’s, and tried to project safety and affection to his friend.  Come on, Spock.  I need you to wake up.  There was no response, and the panic threatened again, and Jim brought his other hand up, fully clasping his friend’s.  He closed his eyes and pictured the sanctuary of their relationship, and the deep-seated feelings of brotherhood and understanding that always flowed so easily between them.  Jim let his mind wander, concentrating solely on the sensation of Spock’s hand in his, hoping to provide an anchor, a way for his friend to find his way back from the psychic trauma.  I need you.

            A sudden surge of powerful emotion, so intense as to be indecipherable, welling up from somewhere, cascaded through Jim’s mind like a livewire, and the ragged gasp from the Vulcan on the bed made the human jump and pull his hands away.  Spock’s eyes blinked rapidly, finally focusing as his head turned slightly, and, as his gaze met the captain’s, there was an expression on the Vulcan’s unguarded face and in his eyes that made the breath catch in Jim’s throat.  Something open, and astonished, and searching, and the strength and unexpectedness of it made the captain step back, confused and almost wary.  With his movement, Spock’s expression dissolved back into impassivity and, if the dark eyes still held that depth of inexplicable emotion, Jim could no longer see it, as the Vulcan turned his head away.

            An awkward silence, odd between them, stretched, and Jim cleared his throat.  “Are you okay?”

            Spock’s voice was slightly rough, but firm.  “My shields are now functioning properly, Captain.  Thank you.”

            The door slid open to admit M’Benga, shooting Jim a look as he passed the captain and moved to his patient’s side.  Jim opened his mouth to ask something else when the comm whistled, and Nyota’s voice paged him to the bridge.

            “He’ll be fine, Captain.  I’ll keep you informed.”  M’Benga’s tone was clipped and dismissive and Spock had not turned his head.  Reluctantly, Jim left.

 

 

 

            Three weeks later Jim found him again standing on the forward observation deck, hands out at his sides, staring at the stars.  Spock did not turn at the sound of the door sliding open and shut to admit the captain, he did not move as Jim murmured a command to engage the security lock, and he did not betray any indication that he was aware of Jim’s presence, even as the human came to stand next to him.  Ever since Primidius, Spock had kept his distance, and Jim had found himself missing his friend.  Missing his touch.

            Jim watched his first officer’s profile, softly lit by the whirling colors of warpspace, at the angles of Vulcan gentled by more human lines, at upswept brows and precisely cut hair, at Vulcan ears and human eyes.  Jim clasped his hands behind his back, his thoughts lingering on the uniqueness of his friend.  “You’re not alone, you know.”

            There was no movement, and Jim silently looked out into space, wondering if his presence might be imposition enough.  It was without warning that Spock’s reply came, his voice low, barely audible, “I am not alone, in the human sense.  But in the Vulcan sense, I am quite alone.  I cannot feel what remains of my people, with the distance between us, and my mind existed in silence behind essential shielding.  The screams of Primidius were…difficult.  They were a sudden and overwhelming noise and press of emotion.  However, I find, illogically, that now that the silence has returned, it is almost more difficult to bear.”

            Jim’s hands tightened behind him.  “Why?”

            There was a slight hesitation, and Spock’s arms moved to cross over his chest.  “For a Vulcan, it is quite shameful to admit to such weakness as a desire for touch, of a mind or otherwise.  After my planet fell, I was forced to shield against the effects of the loss of the psionic background of my people.  The events on Primidius forced that mental awareness back to the forefront, and I experienced again what was lost.  I find myself now…yearning for connection.”

            “For a human, touch is necessary, not something shameful.”

            “I am not human.”

            “I know.”  Jim licked his lips, bowing his head slightly.  “So you keep reminding me.”

            “I apologize.”  Spock’s reply was too quick.

            “Don’t.”  Jim’s retort was just as rapid, and he looked intently at his friend.  “If you need me, I’m here.”

            The Vulcan looked down, and Jim turned fully to face him, reaching out and gripping his shoulders deliberately.  Dark eyes rose, and Jim saw something deeply reflected there before Spock blinked, and it was gone.  But the corners of Spock’s mouth lifted, just slightly, and the human smiled back, hoping his friend could feel his certainty through their simple contact.

 

 

 

            The air on Klijster’s World was crisp and light, scented with the refreshing fragrance of snow and the native evergreen flora, chilled and practically sparkling.  Jim raised his arms over his head, eyes closed behind his sunglasses, and shouted exuberantly into the clear air, his voice echoing among the surrounding peaks.

            “Jim?”

            Jim opened his eyes and turned, a playful smile on his face, regarding his thoroughly bundled first officer.  “Emotions are better out than in, right?”

            The captain could barely see the dark eyebrow rise underneath the hat pushed down almost to the tops of the Vulcan’s own sunglasses.  “Quite the contrary.”

            Jim made an exasperated noise, moving past his friend and over to the short trail back to their cabin.  The captain heard Spock turn to follow him, and allowed himself a small sigh.  Six weeks had passed since they had departed Primidius, allowing the hospital ships and diplomats to take over.  And, despite Jim’s assurances that night on the observation deck, Spock had remained slightly distant, apart.  They still met for almost nightly games of chess and discussions of ship’s business, sometimes talking well into gamma shift, but Spock had retreated somewhat, his expression invariably impassive, his voice a careful monotone.  However, Jim would sometimes turn to catch dark eyes on him, intently, or hear Spock hesitate before speaking, as if he might have been about to say something different.  It was almost as if the Vulcan was waiting, or searching for something that he was not prepared to ask for openly.  And Spock had not touched him, not once, since waking in sickbay with Jim’s hands on his.

            Jim listened to the crunch of snow beneath their boots, remembering a late dinner in the deserted mess two weeks back and Nyota shaking her head when he had told her he was going to ask Spock along on this shore leave.

            “He won’t go, Jim.  Besides the fact that it’s cold there, and he wants to supervise the new install, he won’t allow himself to… .”  She had abruptly broken off, focusing completely on her bowl of fruit.

            “What? Let go?”  Since Spock and Nyota had become more friends than lovers, the captain had started to truly enjoy the banter he and the communications officer had always shared over their favorite topic of conversation.

            She had snorted.  “Something like that.”  She had pressed her lips together and leaned back in her seat, staring at the captain like she wanted to say more.  Or hit him with something.

            Jim had taken a deep breath.  “Nyota, he’s hurting.  I can tell he’s hurting, and I can feel him shutting down.  After Primidius, and everything else, I want to be able to talk to him, spend some time with him, away from the ship. I think it might help.”

            “Look, Jim.”  Her voice had been suddenly serious.  “If you can’t figure this one out on your own, I’m probably the last person who should be helping you.  But, as things stand now, I can’t see him agreeing to go with you.”

            He had tried to push for more, but she had refused to discuss it further and he had pushed the cryptic conversation from his mind, caught up in actually convincing Spock to accompany him.  Jim had been persistent in arguing against every one of Spock’s logical refusals, to no avail, and had finally, with less than three days to go, decided to try a different strategy, remembering his friend’s admission about needing touch, about seeking a connection.  They had lingered over a chessboard in Jim’s quarters, and the captain had opened a bottle of wine that he had been gifted during his recovery from the Khan affair.  Spock had indulged him in this, knowing that most anything from that period of time was not something Jim wished to experience alone.

            They had drunk the entire bottle, together, and their conversation had drifted to human relationships.  Jim had talked of their friendship, emphasizing its importance to him, and had asked Spock to join him on shore leave once more, reaching out and touching the top of the Vulcan’s hand gently where it lay on the tabletop.  He remembered how Spock’s eyes had widened as their skin touched, remembered how the dark gaze had grown even more intense.  And then, carefully, almost tentatively, the Vulcan had turned his hand over, allowing their palms to touch.  Jim had felt a stirring in his mind, then, almost as if his thoughts were brushed as softly as his hand.  And then the corners of Spock’s mouth had lifted slightly, and he had answered, “Yes, Jim. I would be honored to accompany you.”

            Surprised, but elated, Jim had given his friend a blinding grin, gripping the Vulcan’s hand briefly before releasing it and leaning back, and the small smile on Spock’s lips had remained until they had parted that evening.

            Now, Jim smiled to himself as he pushed open the cabin door and walked in, Spock following.  They worked to divest themselves of their winter outerwear, placing boots and coats next to the travel bags they had brought in upon arrival and Jim finally stood up straight, eyeing his friend.  Spock’s cheeks, nose, and ear tips were pale green, and his hair was disarrayed from the hat.  He was wearing a thick, black sweater over jeans and gray socks, and his expressive eyes held a slight hint of disbelief, as if he couldn’t quite understand how he found himself in this situation.  Jim’s grin widened, and he reached forward to slap his friend on the shoulder.  “C’mon, I’ll make you some hot tea.”

            The captain made his way to the small kitchen, and found an old-fashioned pot, filling it with water and setting it on the heating unit.  When he turned around, Spock was standing stiffly just inside the doorway from the living area, his hands clasped behind his back.  If he didn’t know better, Jim would say that the Vulcan appeared nervous.  Spock had remained overly quiet throughout their journey on the civilian transport from the starbase to the resort, and then on the long air taxi ride up to the cabin.

            “Hey.”  Jim tilted his head.  “You okay? Not regretting coming, are you?”

            “Negative.”  Spock’s reply was almost too quick, and he seemed to gather himself.  “I am simply…uncertain as to the requirements of this type of interaction.”

            Jim laughed, turning to rummage through the cupboards for mugs and pulling a box of teabags out of the grocery satchel.  “It’s just me, Spock.  We interact all the time. What’s different about this?”

            Spock’s eyebrow lifted.  “It is more significant, presently, is it not?”

            Jim frowned slightly, pouring hot water over the two teabags.  “Um, I guess. I’ve never asked anyone to come on shore leave with me before, just the two of us.  I mean, Bones doesn’t count; he usually spends most of his leave passed out or hanging out in the bar.”  He chuckled shortly.  “He gives me shit for running around, but there’ve been leaves when I could barely get into my room because he’s had a fucking sock on the door twenty-four-seven.”  He raised his head, and saw the line formed between slanted brows.  “Sorry, just, you know, yeah, it’s significant.”  He smiled, pushing a mug across the counter towards the Vulcan.  “I’m glad you’re here, Spock.”

            Spock took two steps forward, unclasping his hands to reach for the mug, the warmth in his eyes answer enough.

 

 

 

            Much later, Jim sprawled on the couch in front of the fire, his hair damp from a shower, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt and cradling a mostly-empty glass of brandy in his hand.  He had started drinking as he watched Spock prepare the meal, and had continued, enjoying the freedom of knowing that a red alert was impossible, and that his responsibilities were light-years away.  He reached over to the low table in front of the couch and refilled his glass, settling back and swirling the liquid in front of him, admiring the golden-brown hues.  He felt warmed, both inside and out.  Spock had finally relaxed somewhat over dinner and conversation, and had even initiated touch again, brushing his hand against Jim’s back as he helped clear the table, and pressing two fingers to the inside of Jim’s wrist in a deliberate gesture after the captain had praised the food for the seventh time, before heading off to the shower.

            Jim sipped the liquor, leaning his head back, feeling deeply contented and hopeful that, whatever darkness lingered, this time together would be beneficial to the Vulcan, and for himself, as well.  He couldn’t deny a strong sense of satisfaction that Spock had agreed to accompany him, knowing that the Vulcan trusted him, and valued his company.  Jim was aware of his own deeply hidden longing to be needed, to be indispensable to someone, and Spock’s willingness to shed his Vulcan inscrutability and distance, with him, fulfilled that craving, without the dangers that usually befell human relationships.  Jim did not have to make excuses for his duty or justify his own faults, and, most importantly, he did not have to explain his inability to admit to love to a person who also, he believed, could not, or would not, do the same.

            When he heard the soft sounds of footsteps from the bedrooms, Jim barely turned his head, simply raising a hand and gesturing towards the table.  “Help yourself, Mr. Spock.  Captain’s orders.”

            There was the slightest hesitation, and then Jim heard the clink of glass and the gurgle of liquid being poured before Spock sat next to him on the couch.

            “I believe I recall you insisting that military protocol be dispensed with, Jim.”

            It took a moment for the words to pierce Jim’s pleasant buzz, and then he laughed out loud, turning to take in his first officer, dressed in black pants and a long-sleeved white tunic, holding the glass of brandy carefully in cupped hands, his head tilted.

            “Well, most of it, anyway.”  Jim shook his head, still chuckling, feeling the warm sensation of the liquor extend across his body and having the random thought that it had been a long time since he had sex.

            Spock had turned his head to look into the fire, and Jim found himself staring at his friend’s profile, at the dark hair, meticulously combed and shining, at the exotic point of his ear and the long curve of his throat, at the arched brow and the smoothly shaven skin of his jawline.  Shaking himself internally, Jim forced his gaze back to his glass.

            Next to him, Spock drained his liquor in one smooth gulp, raising both eyebrows as he swallowed and placed the glass on the table.  “Fascinating.”

            “What?”  Jim glanced back over, watching with overt amusement as Spock shifted on the cushions, leaning back and poorly approximating Jim’s slouch.

            “My metabolism allows for rapid processing of alcohol, however, I find I still transiently experience the desired effects.”

            “You’re drunk?”  Jim couldn’t keep the curiosity out of his voice.

            “No.  But I am compromised.  I am warm, which is agreeable.  I am also finding it more difficult to regulate my telepathy.”

            Jim chuckled and leaned over to refill Spock’s glass, watching as the Vulcan picked it up and studied it before taking another generous swallow.  “Can you feel what I’m thinking right now?”

            An almost eager expression slipped across Spock’s eyes before he answered, “No.  To lower my shields in that way without your knowledge would be a breach of trust.”

            Jim grunted, taking another sip of his drink.

            Dark eyes searched Jim’s face.  “However, I would be honored to have your thoughts, Jim.”

            Jim swallowed, grimacing as he felt the burn of the brandy down his throat.  “Why?”

            The line in between Spock’s brows returned.  “Forgive me.  As I stated earlier, I am uncertain of the requirements for this… .”

            “This type of interaction.  Yeah, I remember.”  Jim furrowed his brow.  “Spock, what type of interaction are you talking about?”

            The Vulcan’s expressive eyes reflected confusion.  “You do not wish for our relationship to deepen?”

           “Uh… .”  Jim blinked in surprise and made a slight face as he tried to recall his exact wording when he had asked Spock to join him for leave.

            “In your quarters you touched my hand, and in doing so offered your thoughts to me.  At that time I could sense your desire to… .”

            “To… .”  Realization suddenly dawned and Jim sat upright, his face coloring.  “Oh, shit.”  He remembered that touch in his quarters, innocent enough between human friends, but to a Vulcan, apparently meaning something completely different.

            Spock actually flinched.  “I sensed that you wished our interactions to change. That you feel strong affection for me.”  He paused.  “That you wished for a sexual component.”

            Well aware that his musings of a few moments past were indeed exactly of that nature, Jim bit his lip, feeling a wave of panic as he recalled Spock’s own discrete touches earlier that night, freely offered after so many weeks of reticence.  He stammered out a reply, “Um, yeah, I probably had a little too much to drink that night… .”  His voice trailed off and he mentally kicked himself for his libidinous subconscious. 

            Spock’s demeanor and posture had shifted completely into Vulcan impassivity.  “I ask forgiveness for any offense.  I did not understand.”

            “It’s okay.  I mean, it’s just sex.”  Jim’s awkward chuckle faded as he looked into dark eyes utterly devoid of expression.

            “Vulcans do not engage in casual intercourse.  I misunderstood your invitation here as an overture to pursuing a bonding between us, which I was amenable to.”

            “A bonding?”  Jim’s mouth fell open.  “Like a permanent bond?”

            Spock merely looked at him and Jim shook his head helplessly.  “You can’t be serious!  We’re friends.  We’re, we’re… .”

            “We are t’hy’la.”

            Jim pushed his shock and confusion away as he tried to regain control of the situation, brushing past the unfamiliar word, his voice firm.  “We’re friends.  Spock, I asked you here because I was worried about you, after what happened on Primidius.  You pulled away, from me, from Nyota, from everyone.  You didn’t…you told me that you wanted a connection that you didn’t have and couldn’t ask for and I wanted to help.”  He inwardly cursed the half-empty decanter of brandy.

           Spock’s gaze dropped to his hands, resting on his knees, before raising his eyes to meet Jim’s again.  “Your touch was out of pity?”

            “Out of caring!”  Jim burst out.  “I care about you.  You’re the closest…well, you’re my brother, my friend.”  He saw Spock swallow and rushed forward.  “Of course I feel strong affection for you.  Very strong.  You’re the most important…I feel… .”  He blushed furiously, feeling trapped, his voice coming out sharper than he intended.  “I’m not going to fuck that up by fucking you.”

            “I understand.”  Spock smoothly rose to his feet.  “I believe I shall take my leave.”

            “Wait!”  Jim stood, too, his glass forgotten on the table.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean…I don’t want this to...I don’t want to lose you over something like this.”  His voice had a frantic note to it.  “I can’t lose you.”

            There was a moment of silence, and then Spock lowered his eyes again, his voice quiet.  “You will not lose me, Jim.  This was a cultural misunderstanding, nothing more.”

            He turned to go, and Jim raised his hands.  “Spock, wait!  What is t’hy’la?”

            The Vulcan stopped, his posture drawing up to be even stiffer than before.  Jim could see the tension across his shoulder blades.  “It is not presently important.  Good night.”

            Jim watched him leave, watched the long lines of his body disappear into his bedroom, and heard the door shut definitively.  “Fuck.”  Jim stood by himself, his mind racing over every word of their conversation, over what Nyota had said, weeks before, over Spock’s unexpected acceptance of Jim’s invitation and the Vulcan’s fleeting smile.  Jim had touched Spock’s hand, and it had meant something.  And Spock had touched Jim’s thoughts, however briefly, and seen something.  It didn’t make sense: if Spock had seen only alcohol-inspired lust and affection, however deep, between friends, he would never have assumed that Jim meant to pursue a committed relationship.  And that unfamiliar word obviously had some significance.

            Jim couldn’t shake the impression that he had somehow allowed this to happen, even though a romantic involvement was perhaps the absolute last place Jim would consciously want to take them.  He had not, before this, even considered it, having too long of a personal history of one-night stands and casual flings, liaisons pursued for selfish reasons and the ever-present awareness of moving on.  The captain turned to stare into the fire, some instinctive part of him rebelling against the very idea.  To have what was between them, which was already the most important relationship of his life, be soiled by the frivolities of physical sex, of jealousy and unbalanced needs, of unfulfilled wishes and the looming threat of indifference.

            No, he amended to himself, shoulders slumping, understanding that it wasn’t just that.  It was his long-buried, seldom-faced fundamental certainty that love, in that way, only led to a bitter ending and the sick vacuum of loss.  He saw his mother’s eyes, always touched by pain.  He remembered the screams of Tarsus, as families were torn apart, the tears of his friends after Nero’s slaughter, seeing Gaila’s face, now forever lost.  Seeing Bones’ pained expression when his ex-wife was mentioned, and, perhaps most of all, recalling the utter grief and loneliness that hovered beneath the thoughts of another Vulcan, displaced from his own universe, witness to the destruction of his planet, yet still, beyond that, carrying a lingering emotional wound that Jim knew had come from the loss of someone beloved.

            He bowed his head, suddenly feeling shame and self-loathing and anger all mixed together, knowing that his stunned reaction had probably hurt his friend. Spock had admitted that he himself was amenable to a bonding between them; perhaps he had been all along, and even Nyota had seen it.  Jim remembered the satisfied look on her face before they had all parted ways back on the ship and cringed.  Of course she had seen it.  And damn her for not warning him.

            He allowed himself to fall back onto the couch again, and turned his head to watch the fire, slowly dying down into glowing coals.  He had a headache already, the internal warmth and contentment from earlier vanishing with his friend’s presence.  He lay there for uncounted minutes, his thoughts spinning in circles, and finally, his eyes drifted shut and he slept.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Slide

 

            Something startled Jim out of a dreamless sleep, a sense of ephemeral urgency, gone almost before he opened his eyes, and he sat up quickly, disoriented in the unfamiliar space, running a hand across his mouth and peering into the darkness.  There was not a sound, but, as he sat there, he felt the transient chill of air as it made its way back through the house, as if the door had recently been opened.  Curious, Jim stood and walked towards the front, pulling on a coat and slipping his feet into his boots.

            The door opened to the sight of Spock, still dressed in the thin clothes from earlier and a pair of unfastened boots on his feet, standing in front of the cabin, arms at his sides, staring up into the night sky.  The Vulcan’s breath billowed out into the freezing air, and he did not move as Jim stepped out to stand just behind him.

           “Spock.”  Jim’s voice was jarring against the silence of night, and a thrill of fear ran down the captain’s spine as his friend didn’t respond, didn’t even flinch.

            “Spock.”  Louder, this time, and Jim moved forward, next to the Vulcan, reaching out to grasp his upper arm, shaking him slightly.  “Spock?  Are you alright?”

            The Vulcan suddenly blinked rapidly, his face turning away from the wash of stars across a velvet sky, his eyes lowering to meet Jim’s.

            The human’s eyes narrowed as he saw the expression of open confusion on his friend’s face, and slipped his hand down to lightly touch the Vulcan’s, gasping slightly as he felt the chill there.  “How long have you been out here?  What the fuck?”  He grasped his friend’s arm again, pulling him around and back towards the cabin, his anxiety increasing as the Vulcan didn’t resist, leaning against him, and Jim hadn’t even gotten the door closed behind them before Spock started to shiver.  Violently.

            Swearing under his breath, Jim guided the Vulcan towards the couch in the main room, throwing a blanket around his shoulders and turning to the fireplace, pushed the barely glowing embers back into flame.  He glanced back to see the blanket fall from numb hands and spun around as Spock’s eyes started to close and he started to slump to the side.

            “No, no, no, come on!”

            The logs were barely catching, and his mind raced before he remembered the shower.  Wrapping his arms around Spock’s body, he hauled him up and maneuvered him towards the back of the cabin, into the bathroom, supporting his swaying friend with one arm as he flipped on the hot water.  Jim made quick work of their clothes, a sense of panic rising as he felt the unnatural coolness of Vulcan skin, wondering if he should call for emergency assistance.

            It was awkward, but Jim managed to get them both into the steam-filled stall, and felt Spock’s body shudder as the spray hit it, hearing his friend make a small, pained noise against his neck.  They stood there for endless minutes, Jim holding Spock tightly against him with the Vulcan’s back in the heated spray, running hands up and down his arms and torso, feeling the dangerously low body temperature slowly increase, and finally feeling Spock’s head lift, meeting bleary brown eyes.

            “Jim?”  The Vulcan blinked, his eyes focusing and widening slightly as he glanced down and then back up again. “What happened?”

            Jim pulled back cautiously.  He had left their underwear on, but it was soaked through, and he kept his gaze on his friend’s.  “Spock, you were standing outside without a coat for gods know how long.  You were freezing, and practically catatonic.  If I hadn’t gone out there when I did… .”  His voice trailed off, and he peered closely at his friend, his adrenaline-fueled fearful energy dissipating into confusion and concern.  “What the fuck were you doing out there anyway?”

            Spock looked away, over Jim’s shoulder, straightening his posture slightly, and Jim removed his hands from the Vulcan’s arms, standing away completely.  Spock hesitated and then spoke, his voice low and slightly uneven, “I was meditating and I sensed a presence.  Something alien, beyond my experience.  I went outside, but the presence disappeared, and I remember nothing else beyond being cold.  And then coming back to myself here, with you.”

            A muscle in Jim’s jaw tensed, and disbelief warred with concern for dominance.  “You sensed an alien presence and you just walked out to meet it?  Without waking me?  Are you sure you weren’t sleepwalking or something?”

            “Vulcans do not somnambulate.”

            “Right.  But they do stand outside in the middle of freezing weather without a coat on looking for ghosts.”  Jim saw his friend swallow, and sighed, running a wet hand over his face.  “Spock, I’m worried.  You don’t…you don’t do things like this.”

            “I am aware.”  The Vulcan’s voice was soft, and he still wasn’t meeting Jim’s eyes.

            The captain wasn’t sure of what else to say, and simply reached out to flip the water off, pulling a large towel from the nearby rack to hand silently to his friend before grabbing another for himself and stepping out onto the rug outside the stall.  He glanced back at Spock, who had wrapped the towel around his shoulders.  “I’m going to get us some clothes.  Just dry off, okay?”

            The Vulcan finally met his eyes.  “I do not require… .”

            Jim simply shook his head definitively.  “No.  You scared the shit out of me.  I’ll be right back.”  He wrapped the towel around his waist and left the bathroom, his mind racing as he absently grabbed clothes from his bag, and from Spock’s room.  He wasn’t exaggerating his fear and worry and he didn’t like the conclusions his thoughts kept returning to.  Spock’s collapse after Primidius and now this: it seemed to point to some sort of possible mental damage.  Jim stopped suddenly in the hall, his arms full of clothes, wondering if that could be the reason for Spock’s consideration of bonding, and then realized it hadn’t even crossed his mind that his friend might have sensed something real.  “Fuck.”  His mouth tightening, Jim walked back into the bathroom.

            Spock wordlessly accepted the clothing, his eyes full of distress, and Jim heaved a sigh before walking back out again, dropping the towel and his soaked underwear and pulling his pants and t-shirt on in the hallway.  The door opened, shortly, and the Vulcan walked out, pausing as he noticed Jim standing there, arms across his chest.  Jim looked him up and down, noticing the pale tone to his face and the continued shivering, the tremor in his hands.  Frowning, Jim motioned the Vulcan ahead of him down the hall, and following immediately behind, trailing after him even into his bedroom.  Spock raised an eyebrow as he turned slightly, and Jim narrowed his eyes.  “If you think I’m letting you sleep by yourself after all that, you’re definitely losing it.  Get in.”

            The eyebrow was joined by its mate, but Spock climbed into bed, and Jim stalked to the closet, pulling out two more blankets and layering them on top of his friend before flipping the lights off and sliding in on the other side.

            A thick silence fell over the two men, and Jim shifted awkwardly, feeling his friend’s shivering continue even under the warmth of the blankets.

            Jim cleared his throat.  “I need to know something.”  He swallowed.  “What exactly did you see when you touched my mind after chess that night in my quarters?”

            “You are aware of your own thoughts.”  An evasion if Jim ever heard one.

            Jim snorted softly.  “I should be, I guess.  But perception of a thing can often be different from the reality.  At least for humans.”

            “You seek to cast my interpretation of your thoughts and actions as a mistake.  And I will acknowledge that, to the extent that you do not acknowledge your own mind.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”  Jim winced at the belligerence in his voice, feeling suddenly defensive.

            Jim felt Spock fold his arms in front of his chest and turn away, curling in on himself.  The shivering had not stopped, and Jim let out an exaggerated exhale, shifting over underneath the covers and perfunctorily wrapping his arm around his friend, pressing his body along the Vulcan’s back.

            Spock did not move away, but he bowed his head.  “My shields are not as they should be, presently.”

            Jim sighed again, tiredly, his tone laced with sarcasm.  “Well, then maybe you can tell me what I’m feeling, since I’m obviously not prepared to do it.”  Abruptly, the captain was pushed away, as the Vulcan rolled away from him, slipping out from under the blankets and moving to stand against the wall.

            “Spock… .”

            “I do not understand.  When you touched me in sickbay, I verified something that I had only been given cause to speculate about before.  You are t’hy’la to me.  I knew you could sense my response to you and that you were afraid and uncertain.  And so I retreated and still you continued to offer your touch.  I did not, however, know whether you intended these gestures in the Vulcan way, or as a part of human friendship, and I refrained from returning them until I could discern this for myself.  When you touched my hand, in your quarters, the gesture was purely Vulcan, and quite specific.  And when I touched your thoughts, I sensed that you indeed experienced such depth of emotion for me, such a wish for our relationship to strengthen, and, indeed, sexual interest, that I believed I had confirmed your intentions.  Perhaps I should have been more direct, but your mind was quite clear.  And now, despite your rejection and your present strong emotive radiation of annoyance, you continue to touch me.  I now request that you clarify my position.”

            “Yeah, you’re freezing.”

            “Jim.”

            “No.”  Jim threw the covers back and vaulted out of bed, flipping the light switch and moving to stand immediately in front of his friend.  Spock’s eyes widened, but he did not back away.

            “Spock, what happened to you on Primidius, and before that, with Vulcan, never really got healed, did it?  M’Benga said that you’d fixed your shields, but that’s just covering up a larger problem, isn’t it?  And I wouldn’t bring this up except that you pretty much assumed I was going to ask you to marry me, and I just caught you standing by yourself in the snow, with the very real possibility that you’d have frozen to death had I not woken up when I did.”

            “Jim, I… .”

            “No, listen!”  Jim furrowed his brow.  “And what really bothers me is that you’re more concerned with why I have or haven’t been touching you rather than why you think you sensed something and felt like you had to go check it out, with no backup and, worse, with no memory of what happened after you went outside.”

            Spock’s eyes had shifted to a point over Jim’s shoulder, and his lips were tight.  Jim’s hands clenched into fists at his sides, his voice growing louder.  “And you’re still standing here, stubbornly, instead of getting warm!”

            The Vulcan remained silent, his eyes averted, and Jim huffed, his jaw tense, staring at him.  “Spock, look at me.”

            There was no reaction, and Jim’s anger flared.  “Look at me!”  He reached out, grasping Spock’s upper arms in both his hands, feeling the barely repressed shivering, seeing the Vulcan finally turn his head slightly and meet his eyes.  And there was an open expression there, a vulnerability that Jim had seen only twice before: once when Spock had just watched his mother die, and once while he had watched Jim do the same.

           Jim’s fingers tightened, his anger abruptly subsiding, and he swallowed, his voice softening.  “I didn’t mean it when I said that, before, about…fucking things up if we… .”  His voice trailed off, and he exhaled, stepping back and sinking down to sit on the edge of the bed.  He swallowed.  “I can’t explain why I am the way I am about relationships.”  A bitter laugh.  “Well, maybe I can.”  He looked up, and saw Spock watching him intently.  “I can give you the psych rundown, but basically I’ve got problems with inevitable bitter fucking endings.  I can’t even say the word love, except when it comes to an inanimate object.  So, when I said I’m not going to fuck things up, I really meant it.  Because I would fuck things up, and I just can’t do that to you.  To us.”

            There was a long silence, and then Spock moved to sit next to Jim, allowing their shoulders to brush.  “I never told my mother that I loved her.”  He raised his chin, staring at the wall, his hands flexing on his lap.  “I never told you.  It does not make it any less true.”

            Jim stared at him.  “Spock… .”

            “Kaiidth.”

            Jim stammered, and Spock shook his head almost imperceptibly.  “You have given me your answer, Jim, I will not speak of it further.  My…lapse during my meditation was most disturbing, and you are correct about my body temperature.  Perhaps rest is advisable at this juncture.”

            Jim blinked, a strange pain growing in his chest, and he swallowed, his voice barely audible.  “You’ll let me stay with you?”

            Spock looked at him, and there was the barest hint of sadness and resignation in his eyes.  “Yes.  Thank you, Jim.”

            The captain hesitated a moment and then shifted back on the bed, lifting the covers and sliding underneath, watching Spock do the same, turning off the light.  Jim moved over so that they were close enough to share body heat, but no closer, and lay in the darkness, feeling the Vulcan’s occasional shivering gradually ease, and his friend’s soft breathing slow into the rhythm of sleep.  But sleep would not come for Jim himself, and he stared at the ceiling, thinking of a selflessly honest declaration of love that belied a deep familiarity with loss and a lifetime of never belonging anywhere.  And he thought of his own objections, made with such certainty despite himself, despite the growing sense of shame that he would consider rejecting such love, such loyalty, out of a selfish defensive compulsion, out of surprise and confusion and a fear of losing control.  He had never sought out a relationship that had even hinted towards the permanent, but then he had never been offered this before.  And a small part of him couldn’t help but think himself a fool for so impulsively and callously turning it down.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Taken

 

            Jim came sharply back to awareness again, blinking blearily up into the lingering night, realizing instantly that his bedmate was no longer next to him.  “Spock?”

            “Jim.”

            Spock’s reply was ragged, and Jim pushed himself up and flipped the light switch, ice running through his veins as he saw the Vulcan’s tall figure standing next to the end of the bed, staring into thin air, his hands now in fists at his sides.  The captain moved forward, swinging his legs out of bed and standing, tentatively taking a step towards his friend.  “What’s wrong?  Is it happening again?”

           “Yes.”

            Spock’s eyes were unfocused, his voice barely a hiss, and he had started to shake again.  Jim moved closer, a thrill of fear running down his spine.  “What do you sense?”

            There was no response, and Jim stepped closer, reaching out tentatively towards his friend.  His hand was barely inches away when Spock let out a gasp and swayed, sitting down suddenly on the bed.

            The room was silent, except for the sounds of the Vulcan’s labored breathing, and Jim couldn’t shake the feeling of foreboding that hung heavily within the room.

            “Spock.”  Jim moved to sit down next to his friend.  “Spock, what was it?”

            The Vulcan was staring out in front of him.  “A presence, as before.  However, this time I was able to consciously adjust my shields and did not lose awareness.  It is seeking…something and growing stronger.  I sensed…profound intent.”

            “Intent?”  Jim set his jaw.  “Intent to do what?”

            “To acquire.”

            “To acquire?  To acquire what?  Where is it?  What is it?”  Jim did not try to hide his frustration, his voice rising.

            “I do not know.  It is gone, now.”

            The captain let out a sharp exhale.  “We’re going back to the resort.  Tonight.  And I’m calling M’Benga.”

            Spock raised his head to look at him as the human stood and started for the door.  “Jim.”

            Jim stopped, his back to his friend.  “Spock.  If this is real, or if this isn’t, we can’t just sit here.  There’s something wrong, and… .”

            “I know what I know.”  The Vulcan’s tone was flat.

            Jim slowly turned, and met his friend’s gaze.  “Okay.”  He nodded, running a hand through his hair.  “Okay.  But we’re still going.  I’m going to go pack my stuff and call for an aircar.  They’ll run one up here if I give them enough credits.”

            Spock stood, and inclined his head.  “I apologize, Jim, I did not… .”  His words were suddenly stifled, and he stiffened, his eyes widening and becoming unfocused again.

            “Jesus, Spock, what the f… ?”  Jim stopped abruptly as a low throbbing noise echoed throughout the small bedroom.  The barest hint of pale, blue light slithered through the trees immediately outside the small window, and cold fear erupted in Jim’s mind.  He managed to move a step towards the door, towards his communicator and his phaser, when the light seemed to intensify and focus, and the entire room seemed filled with icy cerulean color.

            Jim suddenly found himself unable to move, his hand half-outstretched, his mouth open, a feeling of leaden euphoria slowly sliding along his motionless limbs.  He took a breath, feeling it extend almost indefinitely, and then Spock exploded into motion next to him with a hoarse cry, practically diving for his bag and coming up with his own phaser held in both hands.

            The Vulcan moved between Jim and the window, firing rapidly through the pane and towards the source of the light in a shower of glass and sparks.  Three shots.  Six.  A high-pitched noise reverberated through the cabin and the light abruptly flared into a pulsing reddish hue, a targeted beam screaming through the window and directly impacting Spock’s chest, launching him back into Jim.  They hit the bed behind them and slid onto the floor, and the euphoric haze was instantly gone as Jim rolled off his unresponsive first officer, grabbing the phaser and pointing it at the window, his arms shaking as feeling screamed back into them.

            The light was gone, but the pervasive throbbing noise remained, and Jim felt terror slide along his skin along with the freezing air from the broken window.

            “Spock?”  Keeping the phaser pointed towards the window with one hand, Jim reached down and grasped Spock’s shoulder, shaking him slightly.  “Spock, c’mon, we’ve gotta get out of here.”

            The Vulcan was unresponsive, and Jim swore as the eerie blue light suddenly crept back through the window.  Averting his eyes, he shook his friend harder, and then gritted his teeth as he felt the hazy tendrils begin to stretch out across his mind again. With a last burst of energy, he spun to grip the phaser again with both hands, firing through the window as Spock had done, keeping the trigger depressed in defiance of the leaden weight of his limbs.  And when the light shifted and the gleam of red filled his vision, he spared a last thought to the folly of doubting Vulcan senses.

 

 

 

            Jim came back to awareness slowly, blinking under overly bright lights, his vision focusing on a sheer, white floor.  He coughed, feeling a sharp pain in his chest, and a stinging sensation on his right, upper arm.  “Spock?”  His voice was hoarse, and he pushed weakly at the slick surface of the flooring beneath him before he heard a noise behind him and familiar, warm hands gripped his wrists, steadying him.

            “Jim.  Be calm.”

            The captain swallowed, turning onto his back and looking up at his first officer, kneeling next to him.  Spock’s eyes were clear and he appeared unharmed, and Jim breathed a sigh of relief that they were still together, wherever they were.  He lifted his head, waiting until Spock had loosened his grip on his wrists to slowly push himself up into a sitting position.

            They were in a small room, blindingly white, and illuminated by recessed filaments in the ceiling.  There was a noticeable outline of a door within one of the walls but no obvious latch or keypad, a small apparatus in the corner that could perhaps be a toilet, and a rectangular indentation, set into one of the walls at chest-level, housing a metallic bowl and a pile of what appeared to be thin towels or cloths.  As Jim perused their surroundings, Spock shifted to sit cross-legged in front of him, studying the captain’s face.

            “I have been awake for three point four hours, after six point one hours of unconsciousness.  We are on a ship, traveling at warp speed, judging by the harmonic resonance that I am able to audibly perceive.  I have sensed no other living beings, and no communication has been attempted.”

            “Nine and a half hours,” Jim murmured softly, his arm stinging again as he shifted his body.  He paused, glancing down at his shoulder and froze.

            Spock inclined his head.  “We have, however, been subjected to a dermal modification, which I have been unable to… .”

            “A tattoo?  What the fuck?” Jim interrupted, craning his neck to see what appeared to be several lines of dark scripting on his own upper arm, the sleeve of his shirt neatly torn away above his shoulder, exposing the calligraphy.

            “The characters are unfamiliar to me.  Perhaps most similar to hieroglyphs found in archaeological sites on Beta Vonatu IV and Jorluni’s World which have been accredited to an ancient race of spacefarers, suggesting that either they are an extinct script modified and being utilized for modern purposes, or… .”

            “Or we’re being held by aliens who’ve suddenly re-appeared after thousands of years.”  Jim winced and lowered his arm, feelings of anger and frustration building in him, noting that Spock’s sleeve had been all but removed as well, the wording on his arm surrounded by greenish-tinged skin.  The characters appeared different from his own, but the captain was still focused on assessing the situation.  “Anything else?”

            His voice was sharp and the Vulcan raised an eyebrow.  “In addition to the tattoo, I have noted that my blood has evidently been sampled.”  He held out his arm, and Jim narrowed his eyes at a swollen puncture wound on his inner arm, just below the elbow. Jim examined his own arm and his heart rate increased as he noted a similar mark.  Spock continued, “The material of this chamber is similar to plastisteel, but with a much higher overall resistance to stress.  I was unable to physically damage it, even along the seam of what appears to be the door.  The oxygen content of the room and the gravity appear to be Earth-normal, even if the ambient lighting is somewhat more intense.”

            Jim made a face and straightened his back, stretching his muscles and feeling lingering soreness.  He pushed himself up to stand, peering up at the filaments in the ceiling.  They were out of reach, almost twelve feet in the air, and, as he looked closer, he could see a transparent layer of material separating them from the rest of the room.  Spock rose to stand next to him, following his line of sight to the lights and crossing his arms over his chest.  “Indeed, Jim.  That material is impenetrable without proper tools.”

            “You’ve tried?”

            “I was otherwise unoccupied for three point four hours.”

            “Fuck.”  Jim exhaled through his nose and mimicked Spock’s stance.  “How about that light back at the cabin?  You seemed to be able to break out of whatever hold it had on you that last time.”

            Spock tilted his head.  “The first time I sensed it, I was aware of it only as a presence, one which apparently had a deleterious effect on my memory.”  He raised both eyebrows.  “The second time, I did not lose awareness, and was able to recognize an ordered psionic pattern, thereby adjusting my shielding to prevent its direct impact on my mind.  I was able to analyze it, and discern purpose: a powerful and exclusive intent to acquire.  The third time, the strength of the proximal presence was initially overwhelming; however, I was able to eventually negate its effect.”

            “And then it shot you.”

            “An equivalent to a strong stun beam, apparently.”

            Jim frowned.  “But there was something else, a bluish light.  It made me feel lethargic, like my arms and legs weren’t working, but I didn’t care.  I felt almost euphoric.  If you hadn’t interrupted it by shooting at the thing, I don’t know… .” His voice trailed off.

           Spock shook his head minutely.  “I did not experience such.  My perceptions were restricted to the awareness of the presence, and my attempts to negate its influence on my mind; perhaps my ability to mentally shield protected me.  The presence itself was of incredible power, and I do not believe it was organic; it did not register my own recognition of it, as a telepath would have done.”

            “A computer?”

            “Indeed.  Scientists have begun experimenting with artificial transmissions within the range of psionic energies, from the standpoint of exploring hypercomputing.  From my experience, its behavior is more indicative of a computer’s response to command protocols than a living being.  There is no curiosity, no emotion, no psionic depth beyond a singular imperative.  It does not respond to my attempts to interact with it.”

            “I’ll buy that.”  Jim took a deep breath and pursed his lips, his friend’s words causing him to think of something.  “Spock, can you feel it now?”

           Spock’s lips tightened, almost imperceptibly.  “Yes.  It is quite strong, however, I have adjusted my shielding and, at present, am in no danger.”

            Jim looked skeptically at him, knowing his first officer too well to assume that he was telling the complete truth about his safety.  Spock, however, simply returned his gaze placidly, and Jim finally looked away, letting out his breath loudly.

            “We’re on a ship driven by an ancient alien computer and obviously being taken somewhere.  And there’s no way out.”  He glanced at Spock again and furrowed his brow.  “So, we just, what, sit here and wait?”

            “I see no other option.”

            “Fuck.  Fuck!”  Jim rubbed a hand over his mouth, his mind racing, anger building within him.  Frustrated, he took three steps towards one of the gleaming white walls and kicked it, wincing as his bare foot simply bounced off. 

            He had raised his arm to try an impulsive punch when Spock was suddenly at his side, gripping his wrist in a prohibitive hold.  “No, Jim!”

            The captain looked up as the filaments above slowly shifted color into the soft blue he remembered from the cabin.  The feeling of helpless euphoria was immediately evident and encompassing, and Jim exhaled softly as all of his anger and frustration bled out of him, his arm going limp in Spock’s grasp.  He blinked, feeling as if time was slowing down, seeing his first officer’s lips move, but not hearing the sound of his voice.  He was vaguely aware of fingers pressing to his face, and then… .

            Shock and awareness slammed through him like a blow, and he gasped and struggled, pulling sharply away from his friend’s grip.  The lights had gone back to normal, and Spock was standing in front of him, concern slipping across expressive eyes, his hand held out between them.

            “Jim?”

            “What the fuck was that?  What the fuck happened?” 

            He was breathing heavily, eyes darting around the room, and Spock took a step towards him.  “Captain.  You exhibited a strong emotional state that resulted in a response by the controlling system on this ship.  You must control your emotions.  Do you understand, sir?”

            It was the choice of address, the carefully-correct military enunciation, that cut through his strangely panicked reaction and Jim’s breathing slowed as he raised his chin, meeting Spock’s gaze directly.  “Yeah, I’ve got it. I’ll be okay.”

            Jim took a step back, and then another, and flinched slightly as his back hit the wall, but when there was no reaction from the filaments, he slowly slid down to the floor, letting his legs sprawl out in front of him, feeling exhausted, and confused, and, somehow, numb.  His anger had shriveled away, leaving almost a void within him, and in place of his frustration was a sense of defeat.

            Spock stepped carefully over to sit next to him, crossing his legs neatly underneath him.  Jim chanced a glance over, and saw intent dark eyes, and swallowed.  “What happened?”  He studied Spock’s face.  “You weren’t affected.”

            Spock’s voice was almost gentle.  “No.  Evidently the energies utilized were deflected by my mental shields.”

            “You melded with me.”

            Spock’s gaze abruptly averted.  “You were unresponsive, even as the suggestive impulses faded.  I did not know how else to reach you.”

            “I don’t remember it.”  Jim’s tone was sad, and he blinked, unsure of why he felt so bereft.

            Spock didn’t answer, and Jim bowed his head.  “I don’t remember it. Jesus.”

            “Jim.”

            “What did you see?”

            Spock’s back abruptly stiffened.  “Captain, I do not believe that… .”

            Jim looked at him.   “What did it do to me?”

            The Vulcan blinked once, and then tilted his head.  “Your mind was externally influenced to negate your particular strong emotion and induce a sense of false euphoria and compliance, as you yourself described.  Your mind was momentarily…not under your control.  I could sense your anger and then its abrupt absence.”

            “Control. It’s a method of control.”  Jim’s blood ran cold, and he absently fingered the tattoo on his arm, the sting helping him focus.  “Strong emotion.  Anger, fear, frustration… . Resistance.”  He glanced around the room.  “It prevents resistance.”

            Spock raised an eyebrow.  “If it is a method of control, it appears to be targeted at species with heightened and overt emotional expression.”

            Jim made a face.  “Great.”  He narrowed his eyes at his friend.  “So, next time, when we’re trapped somewhere and you get zapped every time you say something is ‘logical’, I’m going to be just as smug.”

            “Vulcans are not capable of being ‘smug’.”

            Jim crossed his arms in front of him.  “There’re a lot of things Vulcans turn out to be capable of.”

            A small line formed between upswept eyebrows, but Spock met Jim’s gaze evenly, and finally the captain had to look away.  “Sorry.”

            There was an extended silence, and Jim finally dared to look back at his friend.  Spock’s expression was unreadable. The captain rubbed his hands on his knees.  “I’m sorry,” he repeated.

            “I took no offense.”

            “Well, you should have.  This is what I meant when I said I’d just fuck things up.”  When Spock did not respond, Jim sighed and crossed his legs, wanting to distract himself from the lingering numbness and disconcerting vacancy left by the light.  “Spock, how long have you…uh…had… ?”  He cleared his throat.  “What is t’hy’la?”

            Spock’s dark eyes did not waver.  “It is a rare, fundamental katric resonance.  It is hypothesized to be due to complementary psionic energy patterns, however, aspects of it are completely unknown.”

            Jim grunted, his voice dry and touched with sarcasm.  “So our brains were meant to be together and therefore we should get married.”

            “There are historical references to pre-ordination, but more contemporary research suggests that compatibility of developed personalities as well as natural psionic signatures is required.  I did not mention marriage.”

            Jim sniffed.  “No, just a permanent mental bond.”

            “It is an arrangement that involves significant intimacy, from which a physical relationship is likely to follow.  It is not necessarily exclusive, and does not preclude marriage with another.  However, in cases involving high compatibility between bondmates, an additional marriage bond is usually unstable.”

            “And we’re highly compatible.”

            “Yes.”

            Jim shook his head.  “Spock, that sounds crazy.  How do you even know all this?”

            “I experience k’oh-nar in your presence.”  Brown eyes softened almost imperceptibly.  “Heh aitlu nash-veh esta t'du.”

            Jim stared at him incredulously, wondering if he’d translated it correctly, his voice quiet, yet earnest.  “How can you tell me that?  Just like that?”

            “It is not logical to prevaricate, Jim.”  Spock blinked and lowered his eyes briefly before standing smoothly.  “If you will excuse me, I shall examine the room again for an avenue of escape.”

            Jim stayed seated on the floor, watching his friend slowly peruse the walls.  His mind was racing, and he concentrated on taking deep breaths, not wanting the filaments to snap him back into placid disassociation.  He watched Spock’s unconsciously graceful movements, the fierce concentration, the almost gentle motions of his hands along the seams of the door.  And he remembered his thoughts before falling asleep next to his friend’s warm body in the cabin.  Remembered, even before that, brown eyes and a hand placed on a transparent surface, a connection that seemed inescapable and, somehow, a presence that felt like home.  A trusted companion, a brother, a friend; a lover?  Jim’s eyes slid over black hair, knowing how it had felt against his fingers when he had held Spock’s head in his lap after a grievous injury on a faraway world.  Over pale skin, knowing its heat.  Over the Vulcan’s body, long and lean and defined, knowing its measure, having held it against him, having watched it in motion, having contemplated it with a heretofore subliminal attraction.  An attraction that he had not known was reciprocated and a possibility for a match that he had never truly considered.

            Jim felt his face color slightly as he contemplated what it would mean for them to be together: something with the potential to be transformative and terrifying all at the same time.  Total.  But to admit to love, to open himself to everything he had always avoided was almost, even now, unthinkable.  All his demons hovered beneath the surface, waiting, whispering the reservations he had relied on for practically his entire life.  Reservations that made sense within the unpredictable lines of human relationships, where declarations of love were used occasionally as weapons, where physical intimacy was sometimes seen as a distraction.  Where he could hide beneath excuses and lies and misdirection.  Where he could pretend, and deny, and change his mind.  Where it was safe to care conditionally, to leave some defenses in order to guard against inevitable loss.

            He considered what it would mean to share the mind of the man in front of him.  To share himself with someone who could, so incongruously and unexpectedly, pronounce his regard, his love, and his need.  Where would he go when there was nowhere to hide?  What would he be when everything was exposed?  And what if, after that, it was all taken away?  Jim sighed and pushed himself up, moving to begin to examine the walls on the opposite side of the small room, forcing his thoughts away.

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

All Vulcan translations from the VLD.

K’oh-nar: fear of losing control

Heh aitlu nash-veh esta t'du: And I desire your touch.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: My Heart For Yours

 

            Twelve hours had gone by since Jim had awoken in the small room.  Twelve hours spent mostly in silence, as he and Spock each examined and re-examined the walls, the ceiling, the floor.  The metallic bowl caught their attention once when what appeared to be an electrolyte solution of some kind appeared, materializing out of a silent white mist as if from some kind of transporter beam.  Neither man had touched it, yet, but Jim’s own thirst was growing, and his continued emotional vacancy was making him uneasy.  His lack of anger and irritation was in sharp contrast to his feelings before the strange blue light, and he felt strangely incomplete and disoriented, as if a fundamental part of his emotional landscape had simply been removed.  Worse, with the absence of predictable and, to him, natural emotions, others were swelling: fear and anxiety chief among them.  And, below it all, was a persistent question…why?   Why had they been taken?  And why he and Spock in particular?  Potential answers flew through his mind: slavers, terrorists, enemies of the Federation, an unidentified alien power.  The apparent familiarity with Earth-type conditions, as seen in the gravity, atmosphere, and even the shape and functionality of the mechanisms in the room implied that their captors were prepared for humanoid transport, and humans in particular.  But the scripting on their arms, and the sophistication of the energies used to control them implied the unknown.  Again, the sheer absence of expected frustration caused the captain’s unease to increase.

            The threat of the blue light kept him focused on maintaining his emotional control, but he was finding it harder to concentrate.  And he noticed that Spock, too, seemed to be suffering; the Vulcan had retreated to meditate hours earlier, and now sat cross-legged in the center of the room, his hands trembling just barely where they rested on his knees.  Jim finally stopped to sit with his back against the wall, facing his friend, and he bit his lip as he studied the Vulcan’s face.  There was a thin line of stress between Spock’s angled brows, and a marked tension to the skin around his eyes.  His coloring was paler than normal, and his lips were pressed together tightly.  Jim felt a lingering sense of foreboding, Spock’s previous dismissal of the effect of the presence on his mind fading into the reality of his current state.

            Jim licked his lips, his gaze wandering over to the bowl, set into the indentation in the wall.  He glanced back at Spock and was gathering himself to stand when the Vulcan let out a sharp gasp and his eyes flew open.

            “Spock?”  Jim’s fear spiked and he crawled forward on the floor to kneel directly in front of his first officer.  “Are you okay?  What happened?”

            Spock’s dark eyes focused slowly.  “The presence is now attempting to interrogate my mind.  I sense that it is directed to determine the reason I myself have not triggered or been affected by the conditioning.”

            Jim reflexively glanced up at the filaments, still gleaming with an overly bright white light.  Spock shifted slightly, watching him.  “Jim, the strength of the psionic energies being utilized is not yet overpowering, and the method of interrogation suggests that a reverse process may be possible.”

            The captain looked back, meeting his friend’s gaze.  “You mean, you might be able to read it the way it’s trying to read you?  I thought you said you tried to interact with it already?”

            “Indeed.”  Spock’s jaw muscles tensed.  “However, my previous attempts were in the interests of communication.  The presence is now stronger and more invasive, and I propose a more aggressive effort on my part.”  He blinked.  “Jim, it would be advisable to make the attempt now, in the case that the strength of the energies continues to increase.”

            Something in the way the words were spoken sent a chill down Jim’s spine.  “It’s getting worse?”  There was a tremor in his voice and he grimaced.

            “Jim, you must not… .”

            “Yeah, I know.”  Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath, forcing his fear away.  He opened his eyes again and looked intently at his friend.  “Do it.  Let’s see what happens.”

            Spock inclined his head and closed his own eyes, and for the space of several minutes there was silence.  Jim glanced around the room again nervously and then he heard it: a low whine, somewhere above them, subtle at first but growing louder.  He looked back at Spock to see the tension returned to his frame, his entire body now shaking.  “Fuck,” Jim murmured, glancing back up.  The filaments hadn’t shifted color, but the whine was even louder.  A soft noise from in front of him caused him to look sharply back and he gasped aloud as he saw his friend’s body shaking even more, green blood slowly beginning to ooze from his nose and ears.

            “Spock?”  There was no answer, no response, and Jim clenched his fists, his fear growing.  The whine turned into a high-pitched note and then the filaments started to shift, a dull reddish glow enveloping them.  Jim only had time to inhale before a red beam shot from the ceiling, impacting Spock’s back, and the Vulcan toppled forward limply.

            “No!”  Jim threw himself forward, covering his friend’s body with his own, anticipating another shot, but the attack did not come, the filaments returning to the bright white hue, and the high-pitched tone disappearing abruptly.  The sudden silence was disconcerting, and Jim pulled away to gently turn his friend’s body over, feeling at his neck.

            The Vulcan’s pulse thrummed rapidly and strongly under his fingers and Jim’s shoulders slumped in relief.  The blood had run thick and smeared across his face, and his features were lax, his limbs limp, but he was breathing.  Jim quickly stood and crossed over to the pile of small towels next to the metallic bowl, grabbing three of them and moving back, kneeling down again and gently wiping the blood away.  The fear was still there: a deep-seated terror and sense of desperation that Jim had felt before when Spock had been in danger.  There was guilt, and sadness, and something else, and Jim shifted his body, lifting his friend’s shoulders and pulled him bodily back towards one of the walls, sitting back and arranging Spock’s weight against him, braced between his legs, the Vulcan’s head leaning against his shoulder.

            Realizing he himself was shaking, Jim wrapped his arms protectively around his friend, glancing around the room.  There was nothing, now, but the subtle thrum of the warp engines and Jim was again struck by the utter absence of galvanizing rage, or even irritation.  It felt fundamentally wrong and he tightened his grip involuntarily, allowing his fingers to stroke through silky hair, seeing in his mind’s eye the way his friend’s body had convulsed and fallen when that beam had hit him.

            He felt a sharp pang somewhere in his chest, and amidst his struggle to subvert the amorphous fear roiling within him he was aware that there was something else being allowed to break through: something deeper, rising up. And he suddenly knew when he had felt it before: back in that isolation room in sickbay, after Spock’s beam-up from Primidius, when he had held the Vulcan’s hand in both of his and told him he was needed.  It was a feeling he had attributed solely to Spock, at the time, and had been so intense and unexpected as to be unreadable.  But now, as he stared at his friend, he realized that the feeling had come from both of them, and it was something profound.  Something he should have recognized, before, but lost in assumption and denial and hubris.  Something he had felt before, trapped behind that glass, and had been forgotten in the haze of death: responsibility, protectiveness, and above all, love.  It had been there all along, and only now, holding his injured friend, trapped in a strange vessel on a voyage into unknown dangers, was he able to finally recognize it for what it truly was.  And now, his mind and body fatigued from the ordeal of the past day, he was helpless to prevent the astonishing feeling from growing and intensifying, and he felt the slow creep of the false euphoria even as his peripheral vision picked up the subtle shift in the color of the lights. He felt his head fall back against the wall, and was swallowed by hollow, cerulean peace.

 

 

 

            Jim blinked, suddenly aware of a heavy, warm weight leaning against his body, of the lack of circulation in his limbs, and looked down at his friend’s unconscious form, registering familiarity and recognition.  Swallowing against his parched throat, Jim gently eased Spock down to the floor and shifted his own position, grunting as he felt pins and needles across his arms and legs.  He felt numb, and strangely calm.  Curious, he stretched out a hand and looked at it, turning it over, and then raising his gaze to take in the room, remembering what had come before.  He had been angry, here.  He had been frustrated, and terrified, and anxious here.  He had known love here, but now, despite the memories of those emotions, he felt none of them.  He looked up at the walls and identified his own acceptance, and a generalized feeling of contentment, even satisfaction.  His throat hurt, and he was thirsty, and so he rose, stumbling slightly from the stiffness of his joints, and padded over to the metal bowl.  It lifted away, smoothly, and he drank deeply, the liquid inside tasting faintly of salt and citrus and immediately easing the ache in his throat and the dull feeling in his head.

            He replaced the bowl, watching with detached interest as the white mist formed again, coalescing into a fresh serving of the liquid, and wandered back to kneel at Spock’s side, reaching out and taking his hand, holding it loosely.  He looked down at it, confused at his natural inclination to touch, and started as he felt the Vulcan’s hand grip his unexpectedly, looking over into wide, brown eyes.

            “Jim?”  Spock’s voice was weak.

            Jim smiled gently.  “You’re awake.”

            Spock pushed himself up, his eyes never wavering from Jim’s face, his grip still tight on the captain’s hand.  Jim’s smile faded.  “What’s wrong?”

            He could feel a gentle sensation against his thoughts, shifting, searching, and he winced as something pushed, suddenly aware of a strange emptiness within his own mind.

            “Your mind has been…tampered with, Jim.”  Spock’s voice held a sharp tone of distress, and Jim felt the barest touch of unease through their contact.  He felt an impulse to pull his hand back, but he refrained.  There was no danger here; the Vulcan was familiar to him, he was… . 

            The push came again and a feeling of immense sadness washed over the human as the empty feeling grew stronger and the contentment vanished.  “There’s something missing.  I can’t remember… . I can remember what I should feel, what I did feel, but I don’t feel it now.”  He blinked, a sense of claustrophobia sweeping through him.  He wanted to feel. It was instinctive to feel, but he couldn’t remember how.  He was suddenly drowning in grief, in sadness, in profound longing, welling up from somewhere.  And he saw the lights begin to shift again overhead.

            “Please.  I don’t…I can’t let them take anything else away.  There won’t be anything left.”  He could hear the plea in his tone, could feel the tendrils of euphoria reaching for his mind again, and then he felt his friend’s fingers firmly on his face.

           Do not think of it.  See me, Jim.  Feel me.

            The Vulcan’s mind was powerful, drawing Jim in without hesitation, shielding him, protecting him, and Jim suddenly recognized the emotions hidden here, strong and vibrant, set free between them.  Love, anger, frustration, protectiveness, determination, all fathomless and forceful, surrounding his mind.  Suddenly, it was if something broke open inside of him, and Jim felt a ripping sensation as his own lost feelings streamed back with painful clarity, a mirror to the depths before him, the emptiness from before now overflowing.  He could feel himself struggle in the maelstrom, and sensed Spock’s shields straining to protect him, the blue light dimly and harmlessly brushing against formidable barriers.

           Nam’uh hayal, t’hy’la.  Control.

            Jim followed his friend’s example, allowed the emotions to subside, to retreat, focusing on Spock’s mental voice as a guide.  And, slowly, he felt the blue light disappear, felt the meld dissipate, and was suddenly back in his own space, apart, isolated, Spock’s fingers falling from his meld points.

           For a long moment they simply breathed, watching each other, and Jim shifted awkwardly, collapsing from his knees to sit down heavily on the floor.  All of the emotions still pulsed through him, jumbled, intense, but he kept his focus on his friend’s eyes, all his willpower concentrated on calming his mind, relaxing his body, not wanting the light to come again, taking him apart piece by piece. 

            He took one more deep, cleansing breath, touching his hands to his temples and then letting them fall to his lap.  “Thanks.”

            Spock tilted his head, his gaze unblinking.  “The light is apparently a form of selective emotional disassociation.  A rapid conditioning process using psionic energies to identify and manipulate certain pathways related to individual emotions.  As you experience each one, intensely, the conditioning is triggered.  It apparently repeats as needed to quell all potentially intense feelings.”

            Jim swallowed.  “Were those…are these your emotions or mine?”

           “I was forced to expose you to my own mind in order to deactivate the conditioning.  What you are experiencing now is yours alone.”

            “I didn’t know I felt… ,” Jim began, but stopped himself, realizing what he was about to say sounded foolish.  He lowered his eyes.  “You’d seen all that before in my mind.  You knew that it wasn’t just affection or lust I felt for you.  It was… .”  Despite everything, he still found himself stumbling over the word.

            Spock was silent, and Jim exhaled.  “That’s why you thought I wanted a bond.”

            The Vulcan finally blinked.  “For my people, emotion is a linear process, each proceeding as separate from the next, though they can co-exist.  Each must be acknowledged and dealt with individually by conscious discipline in order to be controlled.  For humans, I have found that emotions are dimensional and interactive, complex, and do not usually warrant conscious action.  They are not required to be identified and isolated, but exist as consequence to others, and within a dynamic framework.  I wrongfully assumed that a particular emotion would dictate your actions.”

            Jim stared at him, feeling a groundswell of feeling and reluctantly willing it back down.  “I knew you were the most important person in my life.  You are the most important person in my life.  And you were safe, because I hadn’t considered that you would ever want me, like that.  I can’t…I have no experience with making this sort of thing actually work.”  His shoulders slumped somewhat, an unfamiliar sick feeling growing in his stomach.

            Spock hesitated and then reached out, touching the captain’s wrist with two fingers, letting them minutely caress the human’s skin.  “Defeat does not sit well with you, Jim.  I fear that the method of control is responsible for your present resignation, however, it is merely external conditioning, and can be reversed; your mind knows the pathways, now.  It is in you, Jim, to persevere: to turn a fatal situation into survival.  You must remember that.”

            “You sound like you won’t be with me.”

            “I may not be.” 

            It was simply stated, and as Spock pulled his hand away Jim swallowed, blinking and looking down, gathering his thoughts.  When he next looked back at his friend, the Vulcan’s eyes were softer than he had ever seen them.  Jim managed a half-smile, rubbing his hand over his forehead.  “Did you find out anything?”  His voice was quiet.

            Spock watched him.  “The presence I sensed is indeed an artificial construct.  I was able to tune my own psionic energy to combat the attack on my mind, and to attempt to discern something of the underlying programming, however… .”

            “It shot you again.”  Jim frowned.

            “Its defenses appear to be quite sophisticated.  The dominant command appears to be different from the original order to acquire.  It now is accomplishing a directive to secure and deliver.  The energies are quite specific and targeted, and I inferred that this ship is more of a drone than a central mind.”

            “A drone.”  Jim licked his lips, his eyes darting around the room.  “Maybe we’re being taken to this central mind: a ship, or a planet.  In any case, assuming we can’t get out of here, it’s going to be almost impossible for anyone to track us.”  He bit his lower lip slightly, tasting the faint remnants of the liquid he had consumed, considering that the remoteness of their planned leave would mean that days would go by before their absence was even discovered in the first place.  He looked sharply back at his friend.  “Are the energies still increasing?”

            “Negative.  They have stabilized.”

            “Okay.”  Jim took a breath and hesitated and then reached out his hand, placing it deliberately and carefully over his friend’s.  Spock’s eyes softened even more and he turned his palm to Jim’s, and the captain felt that same, gentle brush across his mind as he had felt in his cabin.  But this time, he knew exactly what he was doing, and the question he was answering.  For a moment, it was only the two of them, and then the almost subliminal sound of the engines changed pitch and Jim felt a slight pull on his body as inertial dampeners compensated.  Wherever they were, they had arrived.

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

All Vulcan translations from the VLD

Nam’uh hayal: Be calm.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: A Sky Without Stars

 

            The feeling of dematerialization was slippery and cold, and the white mist obscuring his field of vision caused Jim to feel a twinge of panic before bright light filled his eyes and a slightly higher-than-Earth gravity field tugged at his limbs.  He stood, defensively, sensing Spock thankfully still next to him and rising to his own feet, and breathed in deeply, registering a warm, oxygen-rich atmosphere.  They were in a broad clearing, standing on hard, dirt ground, surrounded by an array of uniform houses constructed of some kind of reddish brick and covered by thatched roofs.  As Jim raised his eyes, he saw a thick, forbidding forest looming in the distance, separated from the settlement by an ominously tall brick wall that extended, as far as Jim could tell, around the encampment in all directions, enclosing it completely.  A pale blue sky stretched above them, cloudless, and a bright yellow sun hung above them.

            Jim felt Spock move protectively closer to his side as a motley group of humanoids emerged from the open doorways of the structures: an overwhelming multitude of humans with scattered Andorians, Klingons, Tellarites, Deltans, Orions, and others.  He saw men, women, and children, the vast majority of them obviously young.  A plethora of species, and the only things they seemed to have in common were the rough clothing they wore and the uniformly placid expression on their faces.  It was this expression that sent chills down the captain’s spine, as he remembered the controlling blue rays from the ship and the vacant, complacent state he had existed in before Spock had melded with him.  His eyes flew from face to face, seeing no challenge there, no aggression, but feeling no comfort in that fact.  Along the outskirts of the gathering crowd he saw several humans carrying what appeared to be weapons, their expressions as passive as the rest.  He chanced a glance at Spock and saw the Vulcan’s attention focused on an approaching figure.

            A female, evidently human, appearing to be in her twenties, had separated herself from the approaching group and walked purposefully up to stand in front of the two officers.  Like the rest of the crowd, she wore leggings and sandals and a rough, long-sleeved tunic.  Unlike the others, she held her head high, wavy dark-brown hair loosely falling over her shoulders, her hands clasped loosely in front of her.  Her expression was as serene as the others, but her pale blue eyes reflected a degree of confidence.  Jim watched her, recognizing a leader, and as their eyes met a small smile curved her lips.

            “Welcome to your new home, friends.  My name is Eloida.”  Her voice was strong, and reverent, as if her words were a prayer, or an offering to a higher power.  The cadences were familiar from Jim’s childhood, when he had attended church services briefly with his brother and stepfather, and her speech held a trace of an unrecognizable accent.  He could almost feel Spock’s mind racing next to him.

            Seemingly uncaring of Jim’s narrowed eyes, the young woman continued calmly, her voice carrying clearly over the silent crowd, “You have been chosen.  Brought here in order to preserve your race, to participate in a most perfect community, to be safe, and cared for, and at peace.  You will find that all of your needs are tended to as you exist, procreate, and… .”

            “Wait,” Jim interrupted sharply, the previous threat of the filaments apparently gone.  “Where are we?  Who’s in charge here?”

            She stopped, a flicker of something flashing through her eyes before she continued evenly, “You are here; that knowledge is sufficient.  We are protected by the Guardian.  We are a perfect community of… .”

            Jim held up a hand.  “I want to speak to the Guardian.”

            Her brow furrowed slightly and her smile disappeared.  “Did you not feel the peace of the blue light during your journey to us?”

            Jim opened his mouth to respond, and felt Spock’s fingers slightly brush his wrist, a transferred wisp of thought urging caution.  He stopped, looking around at the gathered crowd, noting the almost-imperceptible signs of confusion on the faces of those assembled.  He took a breath, inwardly alarmed that his ability to instinctively assess a situation appeared to be lacking.

            His hesitation and uncertainty was unusual as well, and his jaw tensed as he heard Spock’s voice at his side, the Vulcan’s usual monotone as measured as ever.  “Indeed, we experienced the blue light, and were enlightened.”

            Eloida’s smile returned.  “You are welcomed to our community.  Please follow me and I shall guide you to your new home.  You shall commune with the Guardian tonight, and all remaining questions shall be answered.”

            Jim exchanged a glance with his first officer and followed the woman as she turned and began to walk away, her steps measured and unhurried, her head high and her hands still clasped in front of her in an almost ceremonial fashion.  As she stepped past, the crowd parted, the empty smiles back, and Jim belatedly forced his own countenance into an approximation of the placid look, again surveying his surroundings.  He considered the wall, confirming that it indeed surrounded the settlement, noting again the unbroken formidable greenery beyond, the tops of the trees meeting the cloudless sky, wondering if the barrier was for protection or control.  Despite being outside, the clearing felt like an enclosed space, and Jim gritted his teeth at the vaguely oppressive sensation.  Eloida led them past uniform houses set up in a geometrical pattern, past assembled beings, largely human, and Jim was struck by the notable absence of Vulcans or Romulans, involuntarily sliding closer to Spock.  They approached a final ring of buildings before the looming wall surrounding the settlement, and she finally stopped in front of one of the houses, motioning them through the open doorway.

            “As you arrived together, you will abide here, together, until you pass the tests of willingness and a suitable mate can be found.”  Her smile widened slightly as she craned her neck to peer at Jim’s tattoo.  “You will be easy to match, however,” her smile faded as she glanced at Spock’s arm, “your friend’s impure status makes him impossible to mate.  Unfortunately, he will function here as esne.”  Her eyes grew slightly unfocused.  “It is regrettable, as you were both chosen.”

            Jim’s own expression vanished in confusion and sudden alarm, but he forcibly refrained from a more obvious response as he stepped inside the house.  Brick floors covered by several matched throw rugs, a single large room with two simple beds and matching dressers pushed against the walls, a table and two chairs in the center of the room, and a doorway in the back leading to what appeared to be a bathroom.  There were no windows, and the steady illumination came from the ceiling, where Jim was dismayed to see several long filaments, similar to those found on the ship that had delivered them, again protected by a solid, clear panel.  He exchanged a pointed glance with Spock, seeing that the Vulcan had also noticed the lights.

            Eloida had remained in the doorway.  “Please be comfortable.  We will perform a cleansing ceremony shortly and I shall return to guide you.  Be at peace.”  She made a short bow, her open hands held out in front of her ritualistically, and then turned to go, her movements steady and almost regal.

            Jim watched her leave, and stepped back to the entrance, peering outside.  Two of the armed humans from earlier had taken position several paces away from the house, and though the men’s expressions remained as passive as before, they now held the weapons in their hands, ready for use.  Jim frowned and retreated, unhooking a flat cloth panel held at the side of the entrance and allowing it to fall across the open doorway.  He turned back to the room, where Spock was inspecting the dressers and the bedding.

            “Spock, what the… ?”  He abruptly cut himself off as the Vulcan held up his hand, stepping towards him.  “Shit,” he mumbled, leaning forward into Spock’s fingers, raised towards his meld points.

            The meld was light, almost surficial compared to the previous one, and Jim could feel formidable shields, both inside and out, the powerful emotions from before submerged and controlled, flowing like an underground river beneath almost palpable discipline.  His friend’s mental voice echoed against his mind, We may be monitored here, Jim.  There is a presence, similar to that which we encountered on the ship, but considerably more complex, and exhibiting more refined energies, spread across a broader spectrum; perhaps what Eloida referred to as the ‘Guardian’.  At present, my shields are able to resist it.  I have a hypothesis as to our situation, initially formulated during my contact with the presence onboard the ship and confirmed to an extent by what we have witnessed here.

            Jim pushed a reply back, clumsily, What’s that?

           The presence is indeed a computer, programmed to seek out, care for and preserve a group of disparate humanoid aliens in the face of the potential destruction of their own homeworlds.

            Jim’s natural sarcasm was evident even in his untrained mental voice.  So, you’re saying we’re trapped on an ark?

            Evidently.

           Can you sense where the power’s emanating from?   He was struck suddenly by an image of the uniformly encompassing wall, of the forest, of the lingering feeling of being caged.  Are we even on a planet?

           I do not know. I can sense no obvious mechanical structure or engines, but scale may be a factor.  Given time and exposure, I may be able to interrogate the presence further, however, it may be beneficial to pursue a more subtle approach than I attempted onboard the ship.

           What the hell did she mean by ‘esne’?   Jim’s thoughts swirled as he tried to remember an archaic definition.  Worker?  Laborer?

           Perhaps.  It may also refer to a class system here.  She did imply that procreation and obedience are guiding precepts.  Disobedience or inability to produce offspring may be cause for subjugation.

           She said we were chosen.  Why us?

            Jim could feel his friend’s mind shift as he registered unfamiliar uncertainty.  I do not know, Jim.  The title of ‘chosen’ may well represent all of those who are brought here.

            The captain made a mental grunt of acknowledgment, realizing that he felt almost relaxed, protected beneath Spock’s shields, in spite of the confusion and danger of the unknown environment they had been thrust into.  He involuntarily felt his mind slide deeper into his friend’s mental space, strangely attracted to the overwhelming warmth and safety he felt there.

            His mental voice was languid, even as he tried to maintain his focus.  You need to tell me if the energies get worse, like they did on the ship.  I don’t want… .  He couldn’t hide anything, here, and knew that Spock could sense his fierce protectiveness, his underlying fear, his growing awe of this experience of mental sharing, and, suffusing everything, the undeniable love that he had so recently recognized.  I don’t want to lose you.  He dimly felt the meld strengthen around him, drawing him ever deeper, sinking inexorably towards the fathomless river of impossibly guarded emotion as if driven by an invisible force.  Never lose you.  He reached… .

            The meld broke around him with a silent crash as the low sound of a single tone ricocheted through the village, and Jim blinked rapidly, forced back to isolated reality, seeing Spock’s brown eyes wide and touched by apology and hearing Eloida’s slightly suspicious voice from behind him.  “We are ready for the ceremony.”

            Jim hesitated, taking a deep breath, trying to regain his equilibrium, not wanting to look away from his friend’s intense gaze.  Almost deliberately, Spock turned away, and Jim let out his breath sharply, himself turning and nodding at the young woman, schooling his expression into one of near-blankness.  Her slightly narrowed eyes softened, and she stepped back from the doorway, holding the cloth panel aside in a clear invitation, and Jim squared his shoulders, walking towards the door, Spock two steps behind him.

 

 

 

            The sun was setting behind them as they followed the crowd towards the high wall, over seven meters tall, the darkly looming vegetation reaching ever loftier into the darkening indigo sky.  Jim peered forward, noticing that a haphazard wooden structure had been constructed and pushed up to the wall: steps leading up to a small platform on a level with the top of the fortification.  The crowds silently allowed them to pass as Eloida led the two officers forward to the very bottom of the steps and motioned smoothly for them to stand next to her.

            A hush had fallen, and the surrounding people held a uniform expression of soft anticipation on their faces.  Even the Klingons looked calm, composed, waiting.  Spock shifted closer to Jim’s side as the captain peered warily about, seeing the armed men from before still close by, and others as well, lingering on the outer reaches of the assembly.  He had a strong feeling of foreboding, a chill running down his spine, and, as the sky above them erupted into long streaks of reddish light from the falling sun, a noise was heard from the center of the village.  It was the sound of a single male voice, raised, speaking in a recognizable language, his tones breathless and thready, and Jim’s blood turned to ice as he realized he had never heard that language spoken in that way before.

            The crowd parted, and no less than four humans pulled a resisting, bound male forward.  The male was shirtless and barefoot, unnaturally thin, his trousers in tatters around his legs, his hair unruly, and his eyes wild.  He was Vulcan, repeating a ragged phrase over and over, “E’shua ekhlami!  Nam’uh ralash-fam! Ti’amah!” 

            He appeared to have been beaten severely, streaks of green blood crossing his torso and smearing his face, dark bruising running up and down his chest and stomach, arms and legs.  Jim felt Spock tense beside him, and, with the eyes of the crowd safely on the prisoner, stole a glance over at his friend.  Spock was as pale as a sheet, his expression completely impassive, but his shoulders were drawn up and he had clasped his hands tightly behind his back.  Jim shifted even closer, feeling building desperation and anger and helplessness and a terrifying instinctive sense that his friend was somehow himself in danger in this place, even if not immediately.

            The captive was half-dragged up the scaffold, and Jim’s jaw tensed as he ground his teeth in frustration.  He and Spock were surrounded, and, despite the people’s apparent complacency, the captain knew that the numbers were solidly against any sort of interference.  The crowd remained silent around them, expressions almost reverent, and as the prisoner and his escorts reached the top of the wooden structure, Eloida stepped forward, her voice carrying clearly in the windless air, “We hereby cleanse our community of a esne-al-rishiya, one who cannot be controlled.  He represents a fundamental weakness, and a threat to our wellbeing.  We will offer his life to the f’ylao’tri, as payment for their protection.  May his death be quick and our way preserved.  Be at peace!”

            The captive, his voice rising in pitch, almost frantic, was pushed to the very edge of the wall, and Jim started as the crowds around him began a high, ululating cry, stamping their feet and waving their arms in terrifying unison.  The subdued anticipation had given way to almost manic exuberance in a split second, and it was dreadful in its intensity.  The trees beyond the wall began to shake, and the ground trembled beneath them, and Jim clenched his hands into fists as he heard a high-pitched animalistic shriek sound out from the other side of the barricade.  One shriek followed another, and another, and the cry from the assembled people reached a fever pitch as the restrained Vulcan was pushed forward, his feet scrabbling on the brick, his arms twisting desperately in his restraints.  And then he was gone, and the crowd fell silent, and there was a single horrifying scream from the other side of the wall and the unmistakable sound of the rip of flesh and the crunch of bone.  The trees shook again and the ground trembled, and a thick, bloody silence hung.

            Jim’s insides felt like ice, and he could hear the blood pounding in his ears in the disconcerting quiet, his fingernails bluntly cutting bloody patterns in his palms.  Calmly, Eloida turned to him, her smile open and pleasant.  “Please return to your hut for your evening meal, for communion, and for rest. I shall see you at the morning gathering.”

            She tilted her head almost shyly as she spoke, peering up at him out of the corner of her eyes as Jim’s jaw worked and, finally, he simply nodded.  Her smile widened, and she turned away.  The crowd was dispersing in silence, and Jim forced himself to match their measured paces as he began to walk towards the house, Spock close by his side, the captain’s lingering sense of horror echoing in his head with every step.

            The deepening night was lit by small lamps and by small pinpricks of light above and, as they walked, Jim barely heard Spock’s slight intake of breath.

            “What is it?”

            The Vulcan’s voice was a whisper in the windless air, and the captain could just make out his face turned to the sky.  “This is a ship, or some other construct, Jim.  The stars are artificial.”

            Jim looked up, and instantly saw what Spock meant.  The lights were arrayed in a regular pattern, of uniform color, and did not display the normal scintillation one would expect with normal atmospheric turbulent effects.  He glanced furtively at the other people, walking around them, but none seemed to notice either the false stars, or the newcomers’ interest.

            “A sky without stars.”  The captain’s voice was soft enough for only Vulcan ears to hear.  “And a people without mercy.”  He stepped closer to Spock, feeling the warmth of his body against the chill lingering in his own heart and mind. 

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

 

Vulcan translations from the VLD

E’shua ekhlami!  Nam’uh ralash-fam!  Ti’amah!:  Demons among them!  Be silent!  Let me go!

 

esne (Anglo-Saxon England) a member of the lowest class; laborer (from The Free Dictionary)

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: All I Want

 

            Their small house was still illuminated from the inside by the softly-glowing white light emanating from the filaments, and, as they entered, Jim slid the cloth panel across the entrance in a rapid, rough motion, glancing up warily at the ceiling as he held onto the fabric in a tight grip, practically willing any further intruders away.  He was practically overcome with anxiety, with confusion, with fear for his friend and a powerful curiosity about this strange place, and he could feel his body shaking as he struggled to control it.  After several seconds, as the remaining sounds of passers-by faded into silence, and the filaments above showed no signs of response, Jim slowly lowered his hand from where it had gripped the cloth.  Bright stains of red blood were left on the dun-colored fabric, and Jim stared down at his palm, neat, crescent-shaped wounds marking where his nails had dug in painfully.  The captain swallowed and turned, noticing covered metal trays resting on the table, and a neatly folded pile of clothing and a pair of sandals for each of them on the beds.  The thought of touching the food or the clothing made the sick feeling in his stomach grow, however, and he pressed his lips together, raising his eyes to look at his friend.

            “Spock… .”  His voice trailed off as he took in the overt signs of distress on normally impassive features.  The Vulcan stared past him, and as Jim’s own anxiety faded in growing concern, he moved deliberately to the side, forcing his friend’s gaze to meet his, seeing brown eyes focus and then close.

            “Tell me.”  Jim’s voice was quiet though firm, audible clearly to Vulcan ears.  “Show me.”  There was something in him that longed for the meld, and even as he pushed it aside guiltily, he couldn’t help leaning into Spock’s fingers.

            The deep river of emotion was running dangerously close to the surface of the Vulcan’s mind, and was dark with intensity.  Jim did not reach, at first, faced with a very real fear that he would be overwhelmed by the power of what he beheld there, but then he felt a gentle brush against his consciousness, almost a plea.  And he sensed immediately that he was needed, that his touch and his strength were desperately needed and desired.

           I’m here. It’s alright.  I’m here.  Jim responded instinctively, not knowing if it was the right thing to do, forcing himself to remain as calm as possible as he felt the brush turn into a near-embrace, and then, slowly, the intensity waned, and the dangerous, uncontrolled power of the Vulcan’s emotions abated.

           I apologize, Jim.  Spock’s mental voice held a tremor, and Jim remained silent.  Given the recent…event, I can offer a possible explanation for why Vulcanoid species appear to be absent here.

            Jim felt his friend’s resolve to discuss this as impersonally as possible, despite the horrific mental death-scream that still echoed in his mind.  Jim could sense it even now, a shrill, vacant pain, like fingers on a chalkboard.  He couldn’t help but shiver as he contemplated what Spock had felt as Vulcan had fallen, or on Primidius.  Drawing on his command persona, even here in the intimacy of their mental joining, he pictured himself straightening his shoulders, awaiting a report.  Go ahead, Commander.

           The psionic presence here is not yet as acutely invasive as I encountered on the transport ship, however, I can estimate that continued exposure would result in significant degradation to mental shielding in a relatively short time.  Without such shielding, there is an immediate danger in directed emotive manipulation for Vulcans who define their self-perception, if you will, by stringent mental discipline and emotional control.

           So he went crazy.

           He did not appear to be completely sane.  There may be other reasons for this, particularly considering the absence of other members of our race.  A broken or damaged bond may have made him more susceptible to a loss of control, however that does not explain the physical injuries.  Spock’s mental speech trailed off, and Jim sensed interior barriers return.  Jim did not press, did not want to distress his friend further, trusting him, but he was not prepared for the abrupt return to his own mind as the Vulcan ended the meld.

            “No.”  Jim instinctively reached out, capturing Spock’s hand as it slowly dropped from the human’s meld points.  He had sensed, immediately before the meld ended, a surge of grief for needless death and his friend’s growing anguish at the possibility of his own mind slowly lost to madness under the relentless alien energies.

            “Trust me.”  We’re going to get out of here.  He projected the words he couldn’t say out loud through their contact, hoping that Spock could sense them even without the more intimate mental closeness.

            Spock gazed at him, and Jim slowly released his hand, his own fingers lingering against warm skin.  The captain opened his mouth to say something else, and then, in the background, he heard a distant chime.  The lights above them brightened, and swept across them both, and two soft beeps were heard immediately before the low hum and yellow glow of a force field appeared across the door.

            “Shit.”  Jim took a sharp indrawn breath as the filaments above them darkened briefly before changing to the familiar pale blue.

            Spock’s fingers snapped back onto Jim’s face even before the captain could turn his head, and Jim suddenly found himself again securely within his friend’s mental shields, sensing the feathery tendrils slipping harmlessly past.  Something was different, this time.  The tendrils were not as focused as before but they were more pervasive, more broadly energetic.  Jim considered that these might not serve the same purpose as to selectively negate individual emotions, but rather to allow for expansive disassociation from all emotions, leading to the passive, complacent state that they had observed among the people here.  The danger to the human was obvious, and Spock’s mind was running fast and almost desperate.  Gently, safe behind strong walls of their own, Jim allowed his own feelings to expand, looking to comfort, to strengthen, to reassure, knowing that this was something Spock couldn’t ask for directly, but needed nonetheless.  Again, the human felt the inexorable pull to fall deeper into his friend’s mind.  He considered the compelling mirroring of matching bright places in each of them and remembered the soft brush of his friend’s mind, before, almost a caress.  Bravely, he tried now, however crudely, to duplicate it.  His unpracticed mental reach was delicate, almost tentative, but he felt sharply the scintillating bright colors of his friend’s mind as his deliberate touch was registered, wondering if this was how Vulcans smiled, or laughed.

            Time seemed to lose meaning, and it seemed all too soon that the tendrils ceased to brush against mental barriers.  Jim was reluctant to return to himself, coming back to awareness still standing in the middle of the small house, bare feet cold on the rough rug, limbs stiff, his hand again on Spock’s.  The hum and glow of the force field across the doorway was gone, and they were surrounded by lingering dimness, the filaments having deactivated almost completely, barely lighting the interior of the house with a pale white glow.

            They stared at each other in the darkness, Spock’s eyes like dark pools in the shadows of the room, and Jim slowly released his grip on long fingers, lowering his own hand to his side, feeling sharply, disconcertingly alone.  There was a chill in the air, and the lingering warmth from the meld was dissipating rapidly.  Jim shivered, the cold snapping him back into the harsh reality of their situation, and a sense of determination filled his mind.  He reached his hand back to his friend’s shoulder, gripping tightly, pushing a sense of purpose towards Vulcan senses, imagining he felt an acknowledgment.

            The captain shifted his weight, eyes moving up to the filaments and then to the cloth still hanging over the front entry.  He cleared his throat, softly, wondering if the defenses within the compound were relaxed after the “communion”.  Hopefully, he stepped towards the door, sensing Spock follow close behind, and carefully peered around the cloth, his eyes slowly adjusting to the deeper darkness outside, lit by small lamps, set along the ground next to the small buildings and on the top of the surrounding wall.  Jim tentatively stepped out, wary of discovery, seeing no sentries or guards.  He raised an eyebrow, skeptical at any turn of good luck at this point, moving quickly out away from their house and silently towards the wall, Spock slipping after him.  If they could scale it, and somehow hide in the thick forest beyond, away from the villagers and the fearsome unknown beasts, they might have a chance at escaping the constant threat of brain washing and monitored control that currently surrounded them.

            The scaffold still stood against the ominous brick surface, and Jim licked his lips, stepping up onto the wooden stairs, wincing at the creak they produced under his weight, over-loud in the still air.  He gestured to Spock to remain below and carefully made his way to the top, crouching down and peering over the wall.  The light from the lamps barely penetrated the inky darkness below, and he felt rather than saw the dense forest stretching away from and above him.  He shifted his position, leaning forward even farther, and then he heard a loud crash within the foliage immediately below him, hearing a grunting noise and the scrabble of something on the bricks, and had the barest impression of legs and fur, a dozen eyes and sharp, glistening fangs before he threw himself backward and tumbled halfway down the scaffold.  The creature was immense, and the scrabbling grew louder, and the air was suddenly pierced by the loud shrieking noise that had cut through them during the execution earlier.

            Jim gasped and scrambled down the rest of the stairs.  “Go, go!” he hissed, following Spock into the shadow of the nearest ring of houses as three human men burst past them, carrying weapons and hand-held lamps, the first sign of aggressive movement Jim had seen among the cowed populace.  Aside from, of course, tossing an unarmed man over the wall to his certain death.

            With Spock next to him, Jim pressed himself against the wall of one of the houses, holding his breath, already feeling bruises forming from where he fell against the wood.  The three humans walked along the wall in what appeared to be a practiced pattern, examining the scaffold and listening as the shrieking noise slowly died down and the scratching sounds from the other side of the wall ceased.  The captain waited until the men had disappeared into the darkness before stepping away from the wall.  “Well, we’re not getting out that way tonight.”  His whisper held a note of frustration.  “Any ideas?”

            He felt rather than saw Spock’s eyebrow rise, his voice a low murmur.  “Not at present.”

            Jim made a face, glowering up at the fake stars, feeling the claustrophobic sensation wash over him again, and tried and failed to push down a swell of anger.

            It was almost as if Spock could sense the emotion roiling within him as warm fingers pressed to one of his wrists, and Jim felt a surge of calm move into him.  “Let us return to the house, Jim.  I am…concerned with the consequences should we be discovered here.”

            Jim’s thoughts flashed back to the creature, or creatures, waiting beyond the wall, to the unpredictable changes in the attitudes of the people here. He pressed his lips together, and nodded, knowing Spock probably couldn’t see him, but could read him through their touch.  The warmth on his wrist disappeared, and Jim led the way back to their small dwelling, motioning Spock in first and giving a final glance around him before slipping in himself.

            The filaments above them were now dark, the only light coming faintly from around the cloth over the door, but as the two men moved about the single room in preparation for sleep, Jim had a sudden, irrational desire to keep his friend close.  The immediate danger from the filaments above may have been temporarily gone, but the sight of the sacrificed Vulcan’s wild eyes and tortured body and memories of Eloida’s off-hand comment about “impure status” had instilled a deep-seated fear in him regarding Spock, and it combined with his exhaustion and emotional vulnerability to cause him to simply act, without much thought.  As Spock moved past him towards the other bed, Jim reached out and grabbed at his arm, his fingers meeting cloth in the darkness and sliding down to grasp his friend’s wrist.  The Vulcan stopped immediately, and Jim tugged slightly.   

            “Get in.”  It was not a command, or a plea, but something in between: firm, but with a touch of hesitancy.  But Spock did not hesitate, and Jim felt his way onto his own bed and under the covers, stretching his body along his friend’s back as Spock lay next to him, throwing the thin blankets over both of them and wrapping an arm securely around the Vulcan’s waist, feeling him shiver and not entirely sure if it was solely from the cold.  Jim instantly compared the comfort of their previously entwined minds with the different comfort of their closely pressed bodies and felt slightly bereft.  He tried to push it away, knowing the Spock couldn’t help but pick up on it in their close proximity, but the vague sense of emptiness stubbornly persisted.  And he felt somewhat ignorant, having thus far attributed only human experience to what they shared between them.  Having touched his friend’s mind intimately, he now realized that what was offered was so much more: love, acceptance, a complete sharing and understanding.  A fundamental need for each other than transcended the realm of the physical, something that truly and necessarily encompassed the Vulcan concepts of c’thia, and kaiidth: a connection that bound them to honesty and acceptance and released them to joy.  It was the culmination of what he had always sensed between them: a chemistry that couldn’t be denied, a friendship that seemed destined, a brotherhood forged through blood and tears.  It was undeniable and, suddenly, his previous objections seemed all too irrelevant, the simple feeling of their bodies together felt all too inadequate.

            His thoughts must have been transmitted through their contact because he felt Spock shift and turn to him, felt the soft stroke of fingers along the side of his face, heard the whisper of his friend’s voice.  “If we continue to meld with this frequency, even asleep, a bond will form, Jim.”

            “I want… .”  Even now, he couldn’t decide truly what he was asking for: reassurance, companionship, a meld, a bond, a lifetime?  He just knew that he wanted, despite everything, because of everything.  And he trusted Spock enough to understand.  As warm fingers drifted to fasten onto Jim’s meld points, the captain allowed himself to relax, laying his head onto the pillow, moving his arm to drape over his friend’s waist, allowing his exhausted mind to fall into Vulcan heat, and, finally, sleep.

 

 

 

            Stripes of light were seeping along the edges of the cloth covering the doorway and the filaments above again gleamed with portentous white light when Jim next opened his eyes.  Spock was gone from his side, but he could hear water running in the bathroom beyond a drawn cloth shielding the doorway from the main room, and could still feel the lingering warmth and familiar scent of his friend’s body on the blanket.  Jim couldn’t remember dreaming, simply recalling a sense of being safe and protected; and he was rested, the strange insecurity lingering from his previous exposure to the filaments gone.  The sound of water stopped in the bathroom and the captain sat up and swung his legs out of bed, shivering in the abrupt chill, and tensed as he saw the white mist, familiar from their journey on the ship, encompass the untouched trays on the table.  The trays glimmered and disappeared momentarily before reappearing, a hint of steam escaping from beneath the rounded covers.

            “Fascinating.”

            Jim looked over to see Spock standing in the bathroom doorway, the cloth pushed back.  The Vulcan was staring at the table, wearing the drawstring pants that had been left for them the night before, holding the shirt in his hands, and his hair was damp and pushed to the side.  Jim frowned and narrowed his eyes as he took in the signs of continued tiredness on his friend’s face.  He stood, feeling the stretch in his muscles, and padded closer.  The way Spock avoided his eyes as he pulled his shirt over his head confirmed Jim’s worry.

            “You didn’t sleep, did you?”

            “Vulcans do not… ,” Spock began in his usual detached monotone, interrupted as Jim moved even closer.

            “Bullshit, ‘Vulcans do not’.  Did you sleep?”

            Spock raised an eyebrow.  “Indeed, I did, Jim.”  His voice was softer, still uninflected, and yet, somehow, Jim could tell what he meant.  That Spock had slept, but that he had not relaxed his shields, could not relax his shields.  And he had expended more energy by protecting Jim’s mind as well as his own during the “communion”; energy that was not limitless, as the spectacle the previous evening had so chillingly demonstrated.

            “Fuck.”

            “Jim.”  There was careful warning in the pronouncement of his name, and Jim’s jaw worked before he schooled his expression into careful lines, glancing up at the filaments reflexively.  So far, they had not exhibited the immediate repression that the shipboard system had done, despite Jim’s wavering emotional control, and the captain pondered if resistance was rare here, after the initial indoctrination.  Perhaps the nightly communion was all that was required to maintain control of the populace.  It was a frightening thought that subjugation could be accomplished and maintained so easily, and yet it was entirely plausible.  If it weren’t for Spock’s shields, Jim himself would already be lost, or well on his way.  Perhaps yet another reason why Vulcans were absent here: they were a threat to control. 

            He took a deep, steadying breath and focused on Spock’s hair, so uncharacteristically mussed, feeling a small, impromptu smile slip across his face.  An almost haughty expression shadowed Spock’s features before disappearing, and the Vulcan stepped away from the entrance to the bathroom, walking towards the table.

            Jim felt his own stomach growl with the thought of food, and, the tiny smile still remaining, slipped through the bathroom doorway, tugging the cloth across.  Jim began to strip himself of his clothes, pausing for just a moment as he realized that the thin sleep shirt and pants were the only things remaining from before, and he felt an irrational desire not to take them off.  He imagined Spock’s raised eyebrow and sighed, finally standing naked, folding the clothes with care and placing them on the floor next to the door.

            When Jim emerged, clutching a coarse towel around his waist, Spock was seated at the table, a bowl of a grain-like substance in front of him along with a glass of the electrolyte liquid and a single piece of what looked like fruit.  Jim walked past his friend to the bed, where his own new clothes waited, pushed into a messy pile against the wall.  “Is the food any good?”

            “It is edible.”

            Jim pulled on the clothes, wincing at the rough texture of the fabric, and reluctantly slipped on the sandals.  The tattoo on his arm had stopped hurting, but his stomach was practically cramping from hunger and he sat down next to his friend, pulling off the cover over the other tray and taking a bite of the grainy mixture.  The taste was surprisingly spicy but not off-putting, and the captain’s hunger kept him eating until the tray was empty and he finally looked up.  Spock had placed his spoon back on his tray, his grain only partially eaten, his features still pale, and the skin tight around his eyes.

            “Aren’t you hungry?”  Jim tamped down his worry, not wanting to take chances with the filaments above them until he better understood their purpose, or if they were being monitored in some more obvious way.

            “I am not, at present.”  Spock drained the liquid and set the empty glass down with an audible click.

            Jim was about to say something else when a low chime sounded from outside. The captain glanced up, but the filaments did not change, and Spock looked towards the entryway.  “The morning meeting.  I can hear passers-by.”

            “Great.”  Jim frowned as he thought of Eloida’s poorly hidden interest in him, and the ambiguous fate that awaited his Vulcan friend.  He reached out and captured Spock’s hand where it lay on the table and brought it to his face.  The Vulcan’s eyes widened, but his fingers brushed Jim’s meld points.  The connection was immediate, this time, and felt effortless, and Jim had the fleeting thought that they were getting closer, somehow.

           We are, Jim.

            Jim couldn’t help leaning into his friend’s hand and thoughts.  We have to figure out if we’re being monitored, or if the filaments act as they did on the ship.  Maybe we can try an experiment later on.  Or try to deactivate them somehow.

           Perhaps our experiences today will provide us with more knowledge of our situation.

           They may think we’ve been indoctrinated already, after last night.  We have to be careful.   Jim tried to force his fears from the previous night away.  The light meld made him aware of his own hand still lightly resting on Spock’s, pressing the Vulcan’s fingers onto his face as he had done before, and Jim self-consciously allowed his hand to drop, thinking that perhaps his instinctive gesture was an intrusion.

            Spock’s fingers did not move. Your mind stabilizes mine, Jim.  And as I said before, your touch is…desired. 

           So this is helping?  My mind?  My touch?   Jim raised his hand almost eagerly.

            Their shared mental space was suddenly full of anticipation and Jim sensed familiar warmth extending deeper into his mind, a longed-for mental touch turning into a slow, gentle stroke, a caress, even an embrace.  It was like nothing Jim had experienced before and yet everything he had yearned for the previous night, holding his friend’s body against his, feeling their minds together.  The feeling of entwining deepened, and Jim felt his eyes close in pleasure, wanting to… .

            A sharp, wordless bark from the doorway broke the meld into pieces, and Jim fought down a surge of fury, seeing Spock flinch next to him, their hands dropping and separating.

            Eloida was standing, staring at them.  “Why do you allow him to touch you like that?”

            Jim swallowed, pushing a nonchalant look on his face.  Fake it, fake it, fake it.

            “Is it forbidden?”

            Her expression shifted awkwardly, as if a series of thoughts were cascading through her mind, and she finally tilted her head.  “It is not.”  Her voice held a new note though, an almost strident tone that made the skin on Jim’s neck crawl.  Her eyes were strangely possessive, contrasting with the passive confidence that Jim had seen up to that point.  “But he is not fit to procreate and, once you are mated, must serve his purpose elsewhere than at your side.”

           Jim forcibly kept the near-blank expression on his face, sensing Spock straighten in his chair.  Both kept their silence, waiting for her further reaction.

            She raised her chin and folded her hands in front of her, her gaze sliding between the two officers.  “Your presence is now required at the morning meeting.”

            Any response was caught in Jim’s throat, and he gritted his teeth as Eloida turned abruptly to leave.  He swallowed repeatedly, a feeling of dread spreading through his gut, a sense of helplessness chasing after.  The pleasure and warmth of his friend’s mental and physical touch had disappeared with this harsh reminder of their precarious situation, and the knowledge that the loss that Jim feared might be close at hand.  He stood, slowly, and glanced at Spock, who had also risen and was looking at his captain with an intense look in his expressive brown eyes.

            “Nam’uh hayal, k’diwa.

            Jim remembered the words from before, while they were on the ship that had brought them here.  Be calm.  It was, truly, all he could do, and he reached out impulsively with two fingers extended, feeling Spock return the gesture, heat sparking where their skin touched.  Their gazes met and held, and then Jim straightened his shoulders, glancing up one last time at the filaments above them.  “Let’s go.”

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

Vulcan translations from the VLD

k’diwa: beloved person, abbreviated form of one who is 'half of my heart and soul in its deepest sense’

Chapter title taken from a song by Kodaline

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: The Chosen Ones

 

 

            The walk to the center of the village was a short one, made at a steady, unhurried pace.  The inhabitants they accompanied all held a passive expression on their faces: small smiles and blank eyes.  They did not acknowledge one another beyond a small nod, and the relative silence was eerie.  Jim walked as close to Spock as he dared, keeping his own countenance non-threatening, a tiny smile a mask for his turbulent thoughts.  Below his feet, dirt and gravel crunched, and he glanced up to the cloudless pale blue sky, the brilliant light of a simulated sun filling his vision to the left, shining just above the tree line.

            As they passed the innermost ring of houses, they came to what appeared to be an open-air amphitheater with benches in a semicircular arrangement surrounding a wooden platform.  As they neared, Jim saw Eloida pause and speak to a large human male, gesturing towards them with a casual wave of her hand.  Spock stiffened, and Jim saw the human approach, a weapon appearing in his hand from a holster across his chest.

            The man pointed the weapon at Spock.  “You are not among the chosen.  You will come with me.”

            “No.”  The word ripped from Jim’s mouth before he could stop it, and the man in front of them flinched slightly, several other people stopping and turning to look at the captain curiously.

            Spock stepped in front of Jim, his eyes fastened on the armed man.  “I shall accompany you.”

            The man’s expression shifted back into complacency, and he gestured with the weapon to a group of people off to the side, surrounded by others holding holstered weapons.  “From now on you will join the group of esne before the morning meeting.”

            “I understand.”  Spock glanced at Jim and walked purposefully towards the gathering.  Jim watched him go, a feeling of helpless panic rising. He could almost feel Spock’s mental voice in his head, warning him to remain calm, and he swallowed, squaring his shoulders and forcing himself to walk to the benches and join the rest of the gathering motley group of beings.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Spock and the others motioned away, disappearing from sight through the first ring of houses.  He was alone.

 

 

 

            Spock could feel Jim’s anger and alarm distantly through the delicate tendril that connected their minds, and sent an illogical missive to be calm, knowing that it was highly unlikely that his psi-null t’hy’la would be able to sense it.  It was fascinating that their connection, which was hardly a link and much less than a bond, could have formed so quickly and Spock considered if he should have been more forceful in relaying the risk of a permanent union.  Continued intimate mental contact was, however, unavoidable, if the captain was to remain in his own mind and not be subjected to the emotional disassociation delegated by the Guardian.

            The Guardian.  A name given to what Spock was now certain was a highly advanced, near-sentient computer, capable of operating with energies resonating along psionic pathways.  Even now, Spock could sense a steady background presence constantly touching his shields.  Not aggressive, not yet, but strong enough to require him to actively maintain his mental barriers.  He anticipated that there would be more belligerent interrogation as the presence adapted to his resistance, much like the shipboard computer had.  From what he could sense, the blue light signaled the use of energies that were particularly effective on the brain patterns of non-telepathic species, such as humans, however, that did not preclude the possibility of profound damage should those same energies be allowed to encounter his unshielded mind.  Psionic computing could potentially be manipulated by telepaths, and Spock considered this a potential weakness in the control system, but he knew that any sort of attempt to manipulate or disarm the Guardian would require more information than he currently possessed, particularly with the demonstrated consequences of non-compliance.

            The loss of one of his species had been particularly difficult, and it was not simply because the unknown Vulcan’s fate might soon become his own.  The strident death-scream had reverberated painfully along old wounds: Vulcan, Primidius.  It had also reminded him of the gentler human whisper of passing he experienced with his mother, and with he who was his t’hy’la.  It had forced Spock to contemplate the potential loss of someone who was closer to him than anyone else had ever been, someone who was only now becoming aware of the possibilities of their relationship, and who was apparently willing to leap, the concerns of the past fading in the face of new experience.

            Spock had sensed Jim’s need for the touch of their minds together, the longing for something the human did not yet completely understand, and Jim’s love, now fully acknowledged.  That need, longing, and love were quite familiar to the half-Vulcan, as Spock felt his own katra surge at the brush of Jim’s fingers, or at the stroke of the human’s brilliant mind.  Jim… .  Shades of panic now swept along their tenuous connection, and Spock refrained from turning back to look at his t’hy’la, knowing that Jim’s composure hung on the barest edge.  Strength would need to come from both of them in this place, and so he turned his attention to the situation at hand.

            The small group of people that now surrounded him was of varying species: seven humans, a Klingon, three Deltans, and an Andorian.  They all still held the strangely empty expressions that had lingered on the faces of those who remained behind in the amphitheater.  They also appeared, on closer examination, to have sustained some injuries.  One of the Klingon’s arms hung loosely at his side, and one of the humans had the entire side of her face covered with bruises.  The Andorian was missing one of his antennae, and a Deltan was holding her ribcage with both arms, as if in pain.  The humans in particular were older, perhaps in their forties or fifties, and Spock recalled his original observation of the relative youth of the population overall.  If procreation were the point, then age would perhaps be reason enough to be demoted to the lower class.

            They were headed towards a small brick structure, located within the clustered houses in plain sight, and as they neared, one of the guards moved forward to open the doors, revealing a staircase headed down into the ground.  There was no resistance offered by the others, and Spock followed them, touching on the tendril of connection to Jim as the doors clanged shut behind him.

 

 

 

            Eloida had taken the stage in front of the rapt crowd, speaking of being chosen, of true destiny, of the benevolence of the Guardian.  Jim pretended to listen, scanning the crowd out of the corner of his eye.  The prevalence of humans was obvious, with other humanoid species seated in small groups, all with uniformly blissful expressions.  Even the smallest children stared patiently and pleasantly at Eloida, holding themselves unnaturally still.  The lack of emotional expression was uncanny, and disturbing and… .

           Spock… .  Something in his mind seemed to gravitate suddenly towards his friend and Jim shifted his eyes in the direction the small group of outcasts had taken.  The captain chewed the inside of his cheek, fighting worry, fighting anger, and then, suddenly, the presence of a large Tellarite next to him caught his attention, and he heard Eloida’s voice.  “Please welcome our newest arrival.  Grefiv will now administer the test of willingness.”

            “The test of… .”  Jim snapped his mouth shut, even as he noticed a long piece of what appeared to be one of the filaments wrapped around the Tellarite’s arm.  Too late he saw a greenish glow begin, and gritted his teeth.  It felt invasive, searching, and the muscles of his neck tensed as an alien sensation spread throughout his mind.  It was nothing like when Spock melded with him, when he had felt so warm and protected.  There was no love, here.  And he loved… .  His thoughts threatened to disappear into the pale haze, but he focused on that feeling.  Love.  I love.  I won’t let them take that away.   And then suddenly he was back in himself again, the light gone, and the Tellarite stepping back.  His mind raced frantically, but he didn’t sense that same vacant feeling as before, and as he thought of his friend again he sighed inwardly, still feeling that deep-seated emotion, that love.  It was only a test, and not the full disassociation, then.  He had gotten lucky.

            His eyes shifted sharply to the platform in front of him, where Eloida’s pleasant expression had faltered slightly.  “You are not ready.  Your mind is not yet one with us, completely.”  She almost frowned.  “You must dwell here longer and experience the Guardian’s peace more deeply in order to fully become one.”

            Jim nodded gravely, finding it suddenly easier to paste a simpering smile on his face.  This outcome was obviously not expected, and Eloida appeared almost as troubled as she had when she had entered the small house to find Jim and Spock in the midst of a meld, but it also seemed as though he would not be sent immediately for indoctrination.  He sensed the looks from some of the people seated near him, could almost feel the hovering confusion, but he kept his own eyes resolutely forward, and his expression bland.

            Eloida’s own smile slowly returned as she averted her eyes, raising her voice to address the crowd again, “And now, I shall call from among you those who are in need of release, for our service to the Guardian is a pure one, and we must purge our inner demons.”

            There was a satisfied murmur across those assembled, breaking the silence, the attention towards him diverted, and Jim watched as several adults rose smoothly and made their sedate way down to the platform.  Eloida gestured to a female human standing next to the dais, and the people were led away in the direction that Spock and the others had gone.  As they disappeared, and Eloida began another long soliloquy, Jim looked after them, unable to help a dark, cold feeling from pooling in the pit of his stomach.

 

 

 

            They were in a large room, the floor and walls an unforgiving concrete, the ceiling lined with wood beams.  On the far end of the room was what appeared to be a flat pallet, with a tight coil of filaments extending from the ceiling, currently dark.  The light came from lamps, similar to those Spock had seen outside, set up in sconces high on the walls.  One by one, the esne walked over to take positions along the wall, and the human who had pointed his weapon at Spock before walked to him and gestured to a place next to the Klingon.  “Over there.”

            “For what purpose?” 

            Spock kept his tone level, and the man tilted his head.  “You are esne.  You are to act as the vessels for release so that the demons may be purged.”  The man peered at him, looking at his ears in particular.  “You are esne-al-rishiya.  Your time here will be short, as has been seen before with others of your kind.”

            Spock refused to be intimidated.  “And the others?”  He glanced at the Klingon, still standing complacently against the wall, waiting, though his dark eyes were now fastened on the half-Vulcan.

            “They are esne-al-lajiya, ones who cannot be bred, though they are one with us and understand their place.  They will submit voluntarily and you will not, but the ending will be no different.”

            “I… .”  Spock words were abruptly cut off by a bright beam of red light from the man’s weapon as it crashed into his chest.  He doubled over, gasping to force air back into his lungs.  This was not the same stun beam as he had experienced before; this one calibrated to subdue, but to retain consciousness.  He felt the pulse of the presence relentlessly against his shields along with the feeling of hands on his arms, dragging him back to the wall, cuffs that he hadn’t noticed before fastened around his wrists at neck-level.  He closed his eyes, concentrating on breathing as the effects of the beam wore off.  The guards had retreated and the rest of the people were simply standing, staring out into space, smiling, the Klingon’s eyes finally having shifted away.

 

 

 

            “The light is as water to us.  The fluid of possibility from which we can rise anew, as better, more perfect creatures and better representatives of our kind.  We exist in a perfect world, where we are provided everything, and where we have no cares, no worries, no fears.  It is perfect and therefore we can become purified through it, through the words of the Guardian, spoken directly to our minds.  We do not desire for anything; we do not want for anything.”  Eloida’s second sermon was lasting well over an hour, and Jim resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably on the hard bench, the silence, the reverent expressions, and, most of all, the utter stillness of the beings around him making him profoundly uneasy.  Even the babies did not cry, or move beyond a slight wriggle.  The simulated sun moved above them as the meeting wore on, and finally a chime was heard, the same tone as had indicated breakfast.  Eloida abruptly stopped and raised her arms.  “The midday meal.  Be at peace!”

            Jim rose with the others and followed the crowd back to the small houses, finding his own and entering, dissuaded from attempting to escape or go elsewhere by the sudden presence of armed guards following discretely behind.  A confusing sense of distant pain struggled at the edges of his mind, and Jim, alone, sat on his bed and lowered his head into his hands.  He bit his lip, knowing that the filaments were above him, more threatening now that he did not have Spock there to shield him.  The captain tried to center himself, tried to prevent his roiling internal turmoil to grow, wishing he knew the extent of the filaments’ ability to pick up on his emotional state, wishing he knew if he was being monitored, wishing he knew what was happening to his friend.  He eyed the steaming tray on the table, noting that there was only one, and glanced up, eyes taking in the solid panel of transparent material protecting the filaments.  Unlike on the ship, this panel was within reach if he stood on the bed, and Jim’s gaze went immediately to where the panel intersected the brick walls, evaluating potential points of weakness.

 

 

 

            Spock could only watch as the first three human esne were beaten to a bloody pile on the floor by the newly arrived inhabitants.  It was startling, even for the half-Vulcan, to observe the abrupt shift in behavior as soon as the seven new people, all human males, entered the underground chamber.  All seven immediately lost the passive, complacent expression in favor of something darker, aggressive, and sinister.  They waited by the entrance, their expressions scowls, their teeth bared, appearing almost feral, bare-handed or clutching primitive weapons.  And then, as they were called forward, one at a time, they would consider the esne standing along the wall before choosing one and beating him or her senseless.  The esne did not resist, and appeared to only cry out under the direst of abuse.  And after each attacker stepped back, their hands and clothing streaked with blood, their expression would return to its normal blissful smile, their posture would relax, and they would disappear back through the doorway leading to the stairwell, back to the village.  The armed guards would then drag the bloodied victim to the pallet in the back of the room and allow the filaments to cascade bluish-green light over the battered body.  Minutes later, the esne would arise under his or her own power and leave the chamber, their own placid expressions firmly in place, major injuries apparently healed and only bruises and bloodied clothes remaining as evidence.

            The fourth and fifth attackers each chose Deltans, and Spock observed that the healing rays’ effect on Deltan physiology appeared to be less efficient than on the humans.  The Deltan who had arrived at the chamber clutching her ribs was in even worse shape as she rose from the healing pallet, but she managed to make her way out unaided and on her feet.  The sixth attacker, however, approached Spock himself, the look in the human’s eyes menacing, and his rage pounding against the Vulcan’s shields.  Spock evaluated the threat, taking in the man’s overly thin body and the large stick he held in his hand, and, as the man stepped even closer, Spock reacted defensively, kicking off the wall and impacting the man’s head with the side of his foot.  The man spat blood and fell limp, thrown away by the force of the blow, the stick clattering on the ground.  A shower of red stun bolts impacted the Vulcan’s body, and he slumped, gasping, hanging from the restraints, seeing the Klingon next to him turn and stare with a strange look in his eyes before the final attacker advanced with a yell, taking up the stick and viciously slamming it across Spock’s head.

            The blows came strong and fast, and Spock twisted away from them as best he could under the restraints and the lingering disorientation from the energy weapons.  As the feeling came back into his legs, he swung a kick out again, catching the human on the knee.  Another flurry of beams crashed into him and he grunted, crumpling again, but this time seeing the Klingon next to him blink rapidly, shaking his head as if to clear it.

            The guards were advancing towards him threateningly, their previously unaffected expressions now full of irritation and near-disgust.  Spock pushed weakly with his legs, trying to regain his footing in case of another attack, feeling pain radiate along his body, when the Klingon next to him suddenly burst into action with a primal yell.  Suddenly the air was full of screams from the injured human, dragging himself away clutching his knee, and from the guards, who were firing their weapons repeatedly.  Spock blinked blood out of his eyes, seeing the Klingon land several devastating blows on the guards before succumbing to the stun beams.  The remaining esne were still standing, disconcertingly motionless, and the Klingon was now lying as if dead, the arm that had hung useless before now bent at an unnatural angle underneath him.  One of the guards, breathing heavily, blood dripping from his mouth, peered down at the Klingon and then looked back at Spock, raising his weapon and firing it point blank into the Vulcan’s chest.  This time, the beam sent him into unconsciousness.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: Because Of Me

 

 

            Jim stood on Spock’s bed, using the small spoon sent along with the tray to attempt to wedge between the brick and the slab of transparent material.  So far, there had been no response from the filaments, no sounding of alarm, to reaction of any kind, and it emboldened him to continue, digging out small pieces of the brick and allowing it to fall onto the blanket below.  His agitation was growing as he worked, for though the pain at the edges of his consciousness had diminished somewhat, he instinctively knew that it had somehow to do with Spock, and it made his focus on his task more difficult.

            His efforts were aborted, however, by a soft shuffle outside the doorway and a rustle as the intervening cloth was hastily pulled aside, and Jim dropped the spoon, jumping to the ground just as Eloida poked her head through the entryway.  “Are you here?”

            He wiped his hand quickly across his sweaty brow, pasting the smile back on his face and trying to control his breathing.  “Yeah.  Uh, yes.”

            She slipped in, holding her hands clasped in front of her in her usual gesture, her eyes shining.  “What is your name?”

            “What?”  Jim stepped forward to shield the small dustings of brick from her line of sight.

            Her smile widened just slightly.  “Your name?”

            “Kirk.”  He felt a strong disinclination to tell her to call him ‘Jim’.  Spock called him ‘Jim’.  Bones called him ‘Jim’.  He tilted his head, watching her, wondering how much, if any, information he could get before she grew suspicious.  “Eloida…how often do you hear the Guardian’s voice?”

            She looked around the room.  “Every night, of course.”

            “Can the Guardian hear us now?”

            She looked vaguely puzzled.  “The Guardian can sense our demons, and will adjust his voice accordingly when we are next in his presence.  He has no need for our words.”

            Jim nodded, taking that to mean that the filaments here did not function to quell emotions as reactively as they had on the ship.  It indicated, however, that they acted with an intensity relative to that experienced by a subject during the day, which implied some sort of monitoring.  “Where are the esne right now?”

            She bristled, her eyes narrowing.  “You ask after your friend.”

            Jim smiled apologetically and shrugged.  “He is my friend.”

            She lifted her chin.  “You will learn to live without him.  He is esne-al-rishiya, and of a kind that cannot survive long here.”

            Jim kept the smile on his face.  “Why not?”

            She tossed her hair back from her shoulders.  “His kind resist the Guardian until they are forced to hear him, and then they are punished by being consumed by their demons.  When that happens, we must remove his kind from our walls.  Like last night.”  She peered at him.  “I do not wish to speak of him, further.  You may be his friend, but you are my mate.  We will perform the binding ceremony when you fulfill the test of willingness.”

            A chill ran down Jim’s spine at her matter-of-fact tone and her casual dismissal of Spock.  “And…if I don’t fulfill the test?” 

            He knew he might be going too far, but her smile simply softened.  “Of course you will; all of our kind do.  Eventually.”  She stepped closer to him, her gaze intensifying.  “Your presence here is most irregular.  I find myself warm and hungry, and I am curious as to your ability to invoke that.  I find myself…impatient?”  She studied his face, stepping even closer.  “My own demons come to the surface when you are near.”  She swallowed, her voice dropping into a bare whisper.  “I almost went, myself, to the purgation today because of you.  You must pass the test of willingness, so that we may be joined, and this…feeling is put aside.”

            Jim shifted, wanting to change the subject.  “Eloida, where did you come from?  Before the Guardian?”

            She blinked at him.  “I have always been here.”

            “You were born here?”

            “Yes.”  She reached out slowly, touching his wrist with her hand.  “But many of those who are here now have been brought, like you, and you will pass the test soon.”

            He glanced down at her hand, her skin cool and smooth.  Everything in him wanted to push her away, but he saw a way to distract her, to get the information he needed.  “Many are brought?”

            She hesitated, and he deliberately moved his hand to hold hers.  A faint blush stained her cheeks and her voice was barely audible.  “Yes, every fiu’bah, new ones are brought so that their kind shall not vanish from existence.”

            He squeezed her hand slightly.  “How long has the Guardian been here?”

            She glanced up at him.  “You ask a lot of questions.  Do you not hear the answers in the Guardian yourself?”

            He licked his lips.  “I do, but I merely wish to talk to you, to hear you say it.”

            She lowered her eyes again, her blush deepening.  “You are strange, Kirk.  I find your differences most interesting.”

            He held his silence, tightening his fingers around hers.  After a moment, she sighed, “The Guardian has been here always.  For a thousand suh’bah.  Years?  More, even.  Our kind was the first to be saved: a plague on our world, dwindling population.  Others followed as crises threatened their worlds.”

            “Who is chosen?”  Jim slowly brought her hand to his mouth as she hesitated again, gently brushing her fingers against his lips.

            Her breathing quickened.  “I do not know; only the Guardian knows who is to be brought and why.  Representatives for each kind are sought out so as not to disturb the way of things.  It is…insurance?  We are the future of our kind and have a grave responsibility.”  She shuddered and moved closer to him, her body inches away.

            Jim nodded, dropping her hand and stepping back deliberately.  “Yes, a grave responsibility.  And we must wait until I have passed the test.”

            She stared at him a moment, and he could see emotions flashing through her eyes as her mouth opened and closed.  Involuntarily, he glanced up at the filaments, but they did not change, and she finally brought herself under control, clasping her hands in front of her again.  “Yes. When you have passed the test.”

 

 

 

            The sensation of reawakening was gradual, and Spock recognized an almost trance-state, sensing the very slight acceleration and focus of his body’s systems combating the internal damage he had sustained in the attack.  He surmised that he was reclined on the pallet, still within the underground chamber, under the blue-green rays.  However, he noted that the energies being utilized were not impacting the instinctive shields surrounding his higher cognitive function and that they were not optimized for his physiology; he could sense that the damage he had sustained was not healing as efficiently as would be expected within the tow-kath.  Perhaps the rays were most effective on human physiology; it would explain the limited healing evident in the Deltans and the Klingon and it might also explain the overall abundance of humans in this place.

            Spock slowly became aware that the intrusive presence he had sensed since arriving in the village, and even on the transport ship, was somehow more proximal here, more accessible, and he deliberately extended his own mind carefully towards the concentration of power.  He kept his probing limited, different from the purposeful offensive he had attempted while still onboard the ship, and deduced centers of memory, centers of purpose, of functionality, a formidable command structure, a vast isolated virtual system.  Spock gently touched on a memory center and sensed the complex’s response as a non sequitur, as if this manner of contact had never before been attempted.  His investigations confirmed his original hypothesis that this artificial intelligence was vulnerable to directed telepathic interference.

            He began to probe more deeply, and then sensed rough human hands on his person as he was pulled out and away from the pallet, landing hard on a cold, concrete floor, two guards peering down at him.

            “Get up and return to your dwelling.”  The human’s voice was flat, his expression just this side of annoyed, and Spock recognized him as one who had been struck by the Klingon earlier.  Now, however, the man’s face was free of marks, and he appeared otherwise uninjured.  Spock blinked and rolled slightly, pushing himself up.  His head was pounding forcefully, his time-sense was disturbed, his body was still painfully sore, and he suppressed the urge to wince as he glanced around the chamber.  The rest of the esne were gone, aside from the Klingon still stretched out awkwardly on the floor.  Spock couldn’t discern whether the alien was alive or dead, so still was his body, and was suddenly shoved slightly by one of the remaining guards.  Spock began to walk stiffly in the direction of the stairs, instinctively reaching for the tendril of connection to Jim, sensing sensed a profound frustration and anxiety from his t’hy’la through the muted link.  More than anything else, that connection encouraged him forward, and he forced his weakened body onto the stairs, the two humans remaining behind.

 

 

 

            The false sky was streaked with deep reddish colors as Jim paced back and forth within the small room.  It had been hours since Spock had been taken away, hours of waiting and pacing, hours of helpless worry.  After Eloida had departed, Jim had worked again on exposing the junction between the transparent panel protecting the filaments and the brick of the house.  He had nearly been successful.  Nearly.  The utensil had just scratched against the corner of the panel when the filaments had flashed, just once, and Jim had fallen backwards, disoriented, as the white mist had appeared, re-forming the crack and sealing the junction as tightly as it had been before.

            Frustrated and angry, and filled with a uniquely human defiance, Jim had thrown the utensil at the ceiling, watching it bounce harmlessly away as he filled the air with his entire repertoire of swearing, allowing his emotions full sway.  There had been no response, no change, and even though the frustration and anger remained, Jim felt a subtle sense of relief, confirming that he did not have to fear the immediate consequences of the filaments as he had on the ship.  His next thought, however, had been full of trepidation.  If the Guardian’s nightly response was tuned to the day’s emotions and Spock didn’t return… .

            A sound from outside drew Jim’s attention immediately, and he moved quickly forward, shoving the cloth back from the entrance and coming face-to-face with his friend.  Jim stood there, staring, feeling overwhelming anxiety shifting rapidly to shock and horror and then anger so vivid he saw his friend flinch.

            “My gods,” the captain murmured, reaching out and grasping the Vulcan’s shoulders in both hands, pulling him inside gently, away from the possible stares of guards and passers-by, and, releasing one hand, yanked the cloth back across the entryway.  In the soft white light of the interior, Spock looked even worse than he had in the long shadows outside.  His clothes were ripped and covered in both red and green blood, one side of his face was swollen, and there was a barely-closed gash across his left temple.  His nose was bleeding profusely, dripping unnoticed down his chin, and he was standing uncertainly, his normally perfect posture bowed.  But, perhaps the worst of all was the slightly stunned look in his eyes, the barest hint of confusion.  Jim’s emotions roiled and his jaw worked, and he raised one hand towards his friend’s face before thinking better of it and carefully guided him to sit on one of the beds.

            “What the fuck happened?  I knew something was wrong, but…I felt…I’m going to get you a towel, you’re bleeding all over yourself.”

            Almost curiously, Spock raised a hand to his nose and then examined it, eyes widening.  Jim swallowed and hurried into the bathroom, grabbing several small towels and carrying them back out.

            “Lie down.”  He used his command voice almost without realizing it and reached out, helping Spock recline back on the bed, handing him a towel to press to his nose, and stubbornly pushing up his friend’s tunic to examine his torso.  He hissed slightly as he took in nasty dark green bruising and involuntarily thought back to the captive Vulcan the night before, and the horrific state his body had been in before he had been thrown over the wall.  “What happened?”  His voice was soft but he couldn’t help the helpless scowl that twisted his face, wanting desperately to touch, and not knowing if it would do any good.

           Spock shifted and looked up pointedly at the filaments.  “Jim… .”

            The captain shook his head.  “No.  It’s different than the ship.  Don’t ask me how I know, but I do.”  He clenched his hands into fists, feeling his nails dig bluntly into his palms, scoring the marks left from the day before.  “What did they do to you?”

            “It…it is complicated.”  Spock moved the cloth away from his face and moved to sit up again, the barest wince confirming his discomfort.  He looked at Jim closely, eyes moving over his form.  “You are well?”

            “Spock.”  Jim’s voice broke over the word, feeling a visceral well of emotion thrum through him.  He forcibly steadied himself.  “Please.”

           The Vulcan swallowed and raised a hand.  “May I… ?”

            Abruptly a low chime was heard, rolling across the village like a dirge.  Jim stiffened, looking into his friend’s eyes as Spock lowered his hand.  “Another ceremony?”  Immediately his thoughts returned to the other Vulcan, and the present appearance of his friend, and his heart began to race.  “They’re not going to take you… .”  His voice trailed off in a haze of sudden fear and Jim suddenly felt one of his hands clasped and held, felt something bare and small flare at the back of his mind, and breathed out as a surge of calm overlaid his frantic thoughts.

            Spock’s voice was almost gentle.  “I do not believe it is for me, t’hy’la, but we must go.  I will show you when we return.”

            “Fuck.”  The curse was forced between gritted teeth, but Jim stepped back, not releasing his hand as the Vulcan stood next to him.  Even human ears could hear the steady shuffle of feet as people walked steadily past their dwelling, and Jim met Spock’s eyes.  “Stay close to me.”  He felt the heat of Vulcan skin against his and thought back to the ozh’esta of that morning.  Now, however, with desperation and death seemingly so close, he wanted more, and shifted his grip, entwining their fingers together.

            He hadn’t been able to protect his friend earlier, and, in all likelihood, he wouldn’t be able to do so now if intentions turned hostile, but he had to do something.  “Stay with me,” he repeated, his voice no more than an intense whisper.  And it was almost enough to see Spock’s slow nod, itself in acquiescence to Jim’s very human illogic and his need to help, an acknowledgment of Jim’s deeper meaning.  Their fingers tightened and Jim waited until the very threshold of the house before reluctantly letting go.

 

 

 

            The crowd was the same as the previous night: waiting silently and still in the growing darkness, their expressions worshipful in the spare light.  The scaffold was in place, and the lights along the top of the wall burned, creating bright halos against the looming forest beyond.  This time, Jim lingered at the edge of the gathering multitude, standing as close as he could to his friend without obviously touching him, concentrating on keeping his own expression and body as open and relaxed as possible while scanning the surroundings for hidden threats.  He licked his lips, forcibly loosening his fists as Spock’s fingers skimmed briefly and unobtrusively against his wrist.

            Eloida appeared, emerging gracefully through the gathered people to stand at her place at the base of the scaffold.  Her chin rose and her voice sounded as clearly as the previous night.  “We hereby cleanse our community of a esne-al-rishiya, one who cannot be controlled.  He represents ultimate weakness, and a threat to our welfare.  We will offer his life to the f’ylao’tri, for our protection.  May his death be quick and our way forever preserved.  Be at peace!”

            There was a pregnant pause, and then the sounds of a weak struggle were heard, and the crowds parted to reveal a half-naked Klingon being pulled along by two large humans.  The alien was nearly unconscious, his feet slipping in the dirt, and his voice reduced to throaty growls as he pulled weakly with one arm at the restraints securing his hands behind his back.  Jim felt Spock tense behind him, and moved back so that his body brushed his friend’s.  He knew, somehow, that Spock understood what was going on, that his friend recognized the Klingon, and through his own relief that Spock was not, apparently, in any immediate danger, he felt a simmering fear that whatever had happened to the Vulcan that day had somehow resulted in this grim display.  And what would the future hold?

            The Klingon was pulled bodily up the scaffold inch by agonizing inch, his growls deepening and his struggles increasing, and another human guard moved over to force the alien up the crude steps and towards the wall.  The sudden high ululation of the crowd was sharp, and spread like wildfire amongst the gathered beings as the people craned their heads.  The horrifying noises from the other side of the wall sent shivers down Jim’s spine as he remembered the flash of jaws from the previous night, and, with a final, almost challenging noise, the Klingon was forced over the wall.  The crowd was immediately silent as high-pitched bestial shrieks rent the night, and the sound of gasping, choked grunts of pain were suddenly overshadowed by gruesome ripping and crunching noises that clawed into Jim’s ears.  The captain focused his gaze forward to the wall, trying to will the harsh sounds away, feeling almost like a frantic child caught in a nightmare.  And then it was over, the pained clamor ceased, and the trembling of the ground and the rustle of the foliage marking the passage of the f’ylao’tri slowly faded into the now-inky blackness as the guards descended from the scaffold, and those gathered silently dispersed, heading for their dwellings.

            Jim turned, and had taken a few steps before he realized that his first officer was not beside him.  Turning, he saw Spock standing, hands open at his sides, chin raised, gaze fixed on the place where the Klingon had disappeared.  The captain didn’t know how he knew, but he sensed the grief beneath his friend’s stoic visage, the recognition of a life lost, of a warrior’s honor horribly satisfied.  And then the moment was over, and Spock had crossed to his side again.  Jim himself glanced back to the wall, seeing Eloida’s silhouette, and involuntarily moved between his friend and the young woman.  She was dangerous in a way he didn’t yet fully understand, and every instinct screamed not to underestimate her.  She did not call out to him, but he felt her eyes on his back until they retreated behind the dubious protection of the cloth shielding the door to their small house.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: Push

 

 

            The filaments were still gleaming a soft, white light when the two men returned to their dwelling, fresh clothes and steaming food waiting, as before.  And, as before, Jim felt too sick from the recent gory spectacle to even consider eating.  The blood-stained towel had disappeared, along with the discarded clothes they had worn on the journey to this place, and Jim felt another irrational pang of anger and frustration as he realized that small, remaining tie was now gone, lost to this place as he feared he might himself be lost.  He caught sight of his face in the bathroom mirror: pale, drawn, lines around his mouth that hadn’t been there before, shocking after just over a day in this place.  And Spock, standing behind him, bruises and swelling marring his face, dried blood streaked across his cheek and under his nose.  Averting his eyes from the reflection, Jim turned to face his friend.  “You knew him.”

            It was not a question, and Jim swallowed as he saw Spock raise his hand.  “Allow me to show you.”

            “Wait.”  Jim stepped back.  “Those filaments are going to activate soon.”  He made a face, glancing at the door, his tension climbing as he considered the possibility of avoiding the beams altogether, wondering if they were still being watched.  Cautiously, he stepped back around his friend and slid the cloth back partly.  He had barely poked his head out when he came face-to-face with an Andorian male carrying a sidearm.

            “You must remain in your house.  It is nearing the time of communion with the Guardian.”

            It was an effort for Jim to nod, a tight smile barely hiding his sharp frustration.  He dawdled as he pulled the cloth back, noticing the large number of presumed guards slowly circulating among the houses outside.  As he turned back to Spock, he allowed his anger to fill his expression and chewed his lip viciously.  “Can’t avoid it that way.”

            The Vulcan, who had turned to face him, inclined his head, stepping back smoothly and lowering himself carefully to the floor, crossing his legs, mindful of his injuries.  After a moment of hesitation, his mind churning through alternatives and finding none worth acting on, Jim sat down in front of him, mimicking his position.  “At least they’re leaving us alone in here.”  His voice was as taut as his body as he considered what the consequences would be if they were to be separated.  Almost defiantly, Jim raised his chin, waiting for his friend’s mental touch.

            But instead of reaching for the meld, Spock merely sat and gazed at him, brown eyes intense and full of an emotion that seemed to resonate very gently as a whisper at the back of Jim’s mind.  The captain watched him.  “There’s something forming already, isn’t there?  Because we’re melding so often?”

            “Yes.”

            “A bond?”

            “The beginning of one.”

            Jim let out a dry chuckle.  “Guess we’re going to get married after all, then.”

            An eyebrow arched.  “At this stage it is still severable with very little discomfort.”

            “No.”  Jim’s reply was almost too quick, and the sarcasm was gone from his voice, replaced by something vulnerable.  His eyes searched Spock’s face.  “I want this.”

            The vague emotion was somehow becoming more discernible, filtering over the nascent link between them, and Jim furrowed his brow, recognizing sorrow.  He reached out impulsively, capturing Spock’s hand in his and feeling the dark emotion expand into his mind.  “I want this,” he repeated, squeezing his friend’s hand for emphasis.  “I want you.”

            Spock looked down at their clasped hands.  “You misunderstand, Jim.  Our link will strengthen if we continue to meld; that is beyond my control.  This…emotion is due to the fact that I do not wish it to expand further at this time.”

            Jim couldn’t help a pang of sharp confusion and hurt.  “What do you mean?”

            Brown eyes rose to meet blue.  “If our connection were to strengthen, it may be damaging to you if it was then abruptly broken.”

            “Broken.”  Jim’s breathing had quickened, and the fear was back.  His jaw tensed.  “You mean if you died.”

            “It is an increasingly probable scenario.”

            “Bullshit.”  Jim’s automatic response sounded hollow, and he took an involuntary breath as he heard a distant chime and the lighting brightened, casting the bruising on his friend’s face into sharp relief, the sweep of what could only be a scan and the soft beeps apparently confirming their presence drifting into the edges of his awareness as Spock’s fingers met the captain’s meld points ahead of the blue oblivion.  Falling into Spock’s mind, behind the safety of his mental shields, was easier than ever, almost unexpectedly so.  There was a distinct perception of touch, almost entwining, that permeated their shared mental space, and Jim was bathed in surprise, in sorrow, in longing, in the love he found there, feeling matching places shine again in his own mind.  He felt the intangible connection threaten to pull them inextricably together, sensed Spock’s attempts to hold himself, belatedly, back.  He caught a glimpse of the raw potential of the pure bond, saw into the depth of their possible convolution, and realized that Spock was right, that to allow that closeness would be to invite catastrophe if it was then torn asunder.

            He saw, and reluctantly pulled back himself, sensing hurt expand as distance was enforced.  Steeling himself, Jim sought the procedure of information, forming a question in his mind touched with his command voice.

            I want to know what happened today.  Show me.  Jim could feel Spock’s immediate deliberate focus, could sense necessary shielding strengthen and sharpen the separation between them, forcing the sense of mental touch to waver.  And then he felt a psionic shudder as a crashing wave of information descended on him.  He saw images, felt pain, heard the sharp sounds of the impacts on his friend’s body, smelled blood, both human and alien, and sensed the awesome and shockingly accessible power of the intelligence that controlled this place.

           You have a plan.

            Spock’s mind rippled with determination.  Contact with the central mind is possible when I am under the healing rays.

            Jim’s powerful emotional reaction forced a mental flinch from the Vulcan.  You’re going to allow them to beat the shit out of you just so you can stay under longer.  No.

            I have no choice, Jim.  It is my place, here, and it is illogical to resist, given this new possibility.  If I am successful in manipulating aspects of the central complex, I may be able to exploit weaknesses in the system, or, at the least, ascertain more information than we have thus far been provided.

            Around them, on the periphery of the meld, Jim could feel the tendrils of the affecting rays slowly diminish and disappear.  He sensed Spock begin to withdraw their immediate connection and he instinctively reached out, somehow grasping onto his friend’s mental presence and holding on.

            We’re not done.  I don’t want you doing this.  We were able to sneak out last night-maybe the guards are only to ensure the people are in place for indoctrination.  We can try again; another place on the wall, maybe find some kind of control complex.

            I have already located such, and a repetition of last night’s excursion holds a very low probability of success that… .

            I won’t let you do this!  Jim’s mental voice was powerful, fueled by a slew of emotions that roiled within their shared space, pushing outward and suddenly breaking against the careful barriers that had been erected against deeper awareness.  The barriers trembled and cracked, and, bolstered by the realization that Spock wasn’t actively resisting, Jim pressed forward fully, boldly, almost aggressively.

            The sheerest film lay between the depths of their minds, and the urge to touch, to entwine, had returned and felt keenly by both.

            I cannot lose you.  It was spoken almost in unison, mentally conveyed with far less thrust, and with far more tentativeness, the shades and tones behind it soft, and full of unspoken meaning, rippling those matching places that were pulling them together.

            And then, just as they were about to fully merge, when Jim had reached out to brush aside that last, remaining obstacle, their mental landscape collapsed with potent silent definitiveness that forced a hollow cry from Jim’s dry throat.  He was alone, and the silence in his mind screamed as he stared in shock at the Vulcan sitting in front of him.

            “What?”  His voice cracked and he swallowed.  “What the fuck was that?”

            Spock’s eyes were anguished for a bare, fleeting instant before the depth of emotion was subdued and submerged.  His voice was, however, unsteady.  “It is not advisable for the connection to deepen at this time.”

            Jim stared at him, knowing the truth of it, having seen it himself, and yet, when directly presented with the possibility, couldn’t keep himself from it against logic, against judgment, against every self-protective impulse he had cultivated precisely to deny this kind of vulnerability.  He swallowed again, realized he was breathing heavily, and jerkily pushed himself to his feet.  His anger flared at what he perceived as the Vulcan’s defeatism and he took two steps away, peering down at his friend in the low light.  Spock’s head was tilted back, his eyes black pools within the deep shadows on his face.  The pulse at the back of the human’s mind was stronger, now, and, as Jim watched his friend, the anger faded almost as quickly as it had come, disappearing into growing awareness of Spock’s deep feeling of protectiveness, near-desperation, and guilt.

            Glimpses from the meld poured back into Jim’s thoughts: images of the Klingon’s reaction inspired by Spock’s defiance, images of the inability of the healing rays to effect full results in non-humans, and the guard’s matter-of-fact declaration that Spock would not survive long here.  And superimposed over that was his friend’s powerful desire to keep Jim safe, body and mind, knowing that time was running out one way or another.  If Spock succumbed to madness, was thrown to the f’ylao’tri, or was injured beyond the rays’ capacity to heal, Jim would surely fall to the mind-control and emotional negation of the Guardian.  And if they truly bonded, Jim might not survive the rendering of the link between them.  Even in the most basic understanding of what was between them, Spock had seen and understood Jim’s fear of loss, and was protecting him even from that, despite Jim’s impulsive wish for the bond.  The Vulcan had made up his mind as to the most efficient way to proceed, the best way to limit the risk to himself alone, keeping Jim from danger as best he could.  And through the spectrum of his friend’s mind, Jim could see clearly that it was not, in fact, defeatism, and not simple adherence to duty.  It was devotion.  It was love. 

            And love through the gateway of protectiveness was something that Jim realized he knew intimately, something familiar and far easier to accept and allow than an oblivious declaration of romantic intentions, and somehow more significant.  It had echoed within the captain himself as he had helplessly watched his friend be taken away that morning, as he had observed Spock’s injuries and struggled through the horror of the ceremony that evening.  Jim’s voice was suddenly as gentle as it had been within the meld.  “The Klingon wasn’t your fault, Spock.”

            The Vulcan’s expression did not demonstrably change, but he slowly unfolded his legs and stood as well, his movements more halting than usual.  “It was because of my actions, however inadvertent.  I will not allow you to risk your life frivolously, when another plan will suffice.”  A note of command had slipped into Spock’s voice, and the captain could feel Vulcan determination harden into resolve through their link.

            Jim took a breath, and then another.  “I know.”  He swallowed and his hands flexed, wanting to touch, feeling empty after the powerful closeness of the meld.  “I know, Spock.”  He could sense the fatigue now, the link sharpened to the point where Spock couldn’t hide it.  Or perhaps the latest encounter with the filaments had taken more of a toll, this time.  And he knew he could push, he could win this and venture outside once more to test the wall, to test his luck, and Spock would follow, as he always did.

            They stood, watching each other in the near-darkness, and Jim realized sharply that this was everything he feared, and yet, was everything he wanted.  The danger of violent and sickening loss was there, and undeniable, and yet there was something in him that simply leaped over the lifetime of careful and callous avoidance and denial.  It had been different when he could pretend that his defensive objections carried full weight and measure, when he could attempt to argue their reasonability.  But now, when faced with a love that had not only been openly and honestly stated, but was being proven by devotion and protectiveness that knew no selfish boundaries, he found himself pushing away all the safeguards that were suddenly better crafted as excuses.  He had been a fool to dare to paint this partnership, this friend and brother and potential lover with the brush that had sufficed for others.  And it was clear that to deny what he had felt in the meld, what he had now recognized in himself, even at the risk of death, was foolish in the extreme.

            He knew that Spock sensed his thoughts, or perhaps simply felt his own human resolve, because the Vulcan raised his chin slightly and opened his mouth, as if to argue, and Jim moved forward, his hands moving to cradle his friend’s head, and his lips meeting the Vulcan’s, his touch remaining gentle despite the deliberate motion.  A thrill of almost shock rippled against Jim’s mind as he brushed his mouth over his friend’s, softly, chastely.  Spock had gone perfectly still, and Jim pulled away just enough to separate their mouths, but kept his hands where they were, his fingers just slipping up into Spock’s hairline and against the Vulcan’s ears.

           There was an instant when Jim wondered if he would be pushed away, knowing that he had crossed a line that he himself had placed between them, and then he felt Spock’s gentle exhale, breath hot against his mouth.  Warm hands moved atop Jim’s own, and fingers tentatively slipped between his, and Jim smiled slightly, moving forward to press their mouths together again, this time more firmly.  Spock’s fingers flexed, and his lips parted further, allowing the kiss to slowly deepen, and Jim could feel the desperation from earlier, still mixed with guilt, slipping along their connection.  Mindful of their contact, he pushed his rapid and jumbled thoughts to his friend, his certainty that this was worth it, no matter the price later on.  He felt Spock make a small noise into his mouth and the Vulcan shifted closer and Jim deepened the kiss even more, their tongues sliding past each other, bodies pressing into each other, Spock’s fingers tightening within Jim’s as if he were holding on for dear life.

           An inhuman shriek from beyond the wall echoed piercingly and cruelly through the small house, and Jim tore his mouth away, feeling Spock’s hands abruptly release his own to move to grip Jim’s upper arms.  The alien noise faded, and the two men stared at each other again, Jim’s hands dropping from Spock’s jaw to rest lightly on his shoulders.

            “Meld with me.”  Now, the note of command was in Jim’s voice.

            “Jim… .”

            “Do it.”

            Spock released Jim’s arms, raising one hand to brush past his meld points.  “We will bond.”

            Jim couldn’t help a chuckle.  “That’s the idea.”

            Jim could feel, through the link that loosely bound them and through the soft touch of his friend’s fingers against his skin, that Spock was struggling to enunciate his own fear of loss, of what it would mean for Jim if the bond was broken, and the captain shook his head.  “I won’t let you go.”

            The touch turned into a caress.  “You may not have a choice, ashayam.”

            The meaning of the word slipped into Jim’s mind, beloved, and he remembered yet again that terrifying wound remaining in an old Vulcan’s mind, an immeasurable loss.  He took a breath and raised his chin, bringing Spock’s fingers more firmly in contact with his face, nodding slightly, his voice a whisper.  “Do it.”

            Falling was a way to describe it, but flying might also suffice.  There was simple intent in this meshing of their minds, and, this time, no barriers to prevent them from entwining.  The contact was immediate, and the intermingling was profound.  Thoughts, feelings, memories all rushed into each other and at first all Jim could sense was blinding light and intense pressure, a feeling of exhilaration pounding through every aspect of their connectedness.  Emotions crashed and swirled and Jim felt as if he might lose himself before controls and barriers began to methodically reappear, directing the maelstrom and aligning their minds so that the connection flowed smoothly, and the sense of mental touch, while encompassing, was not hindering.  The meld ended and Jim realized they were back on the floor, both leaning heavily against one of the beds, and even though Spock’s fingers had fallen away from Jim’s meld points, the sense of contact remained strong.

            The filaments had finally darkened completely, yet Jim could sense Spock’s now overwhelming exhaustion, could almost, with their new connection, feel the steady encroachment of the background psionic energy pressing against stalwart shielding.  Slowly, the captain reached out, gripping his bondmate’s hands and pulling him up, guiding the Vulcan’s long body down onto the bed and slipping behind him, covering them both with the blanket.  Spock went without resistance and Jim felt the Vulcan’s muscles relax against him as he wrapped his arm protectively around Spock’s waist and leaned his own forehead into neatly trimmed black hair, murmuring softly, “Thank you.”

            The newly forged bond shimmered between them, heavy with lingering warmth, and Jim felt Spock slip into light sleep, feeling his own fresh determination that they would not be defeated here; that they would both prevail, and see the Enterprise again.  Determination that couldn’t, however, completely erase the small, persistent fear that hovered over them and stalked along the walls outside.  Fear that Jim knew would be faced, sooner or later.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Asunder

 

 

            Jim felt a firm grip on his shoulder, pressing almost the point of pain, sharp fingernails cutting into the loose fabric of his tunic, and blinked his eyes open, turning just enough to realize that he was lying in bed, still holding his sleeping bondmate to him, Eloida herself standing just behind him, her grasp reflecting the rage brewing in her pale eyes.

            Jim couldn’t help the crash of shock that he could feel ricocheting across the bond, and Spock came awake sharply as Jim pulled away, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, forcing Eloida to release her grip and step back.  Three guards stood immediately behind her, weapons drawn and aimed, and Jim raised his hands and slowly rose to his feet.

            Anger warred with confusion in the young woman’s eyes, and her hands were now fists in front of her as her gaze swept between the two men.  “You lie together? As mates?”  Her voice held a hysterical twinge, and the bond roared to life as Spock slowly moved off the bed and stood next to Jim, his posture unsteady.

            “No.  No!” Jim protested, knowing it wouldn’t do any good.  He blinked rapidly, feeling dizzy, almost as if there were two sets of perceptions rushing through his brain.  He could sense Spock’s lingering exhaustion and almost painful pressure against strained mental shields, and the accompanying whirl of thoughts and impressions made Jim feel faintly nauseous.  He forcefully swallowed and focused on the woman in front of him. Her hands had relaxed and now hung limply and her eyes had become unfocused as she stared somewhere over Jim’s shoulder, her breath coming in almost gasps.

            “Eloida?”  Jim’s voice was tentative, and her eyes snapped back to his as she drew further away, allowing the guards to press even closer. 

            “I am in need of purgation.  You are not in communion with the Guardian.  Both shall be reconciled immediately.”

            A cold blanket of terror slipped down Jim’s spine, and he shifted to stand between the weapons and his bondmate, raising his hands now in a plea.  “Eloida, no.  Please. This is my fault, not his.  Let me talk to you and explain… .”

            “Take the esne!  Kirk is to remain here for communion.”

            Her tone was clipped, and no sooner had her words left her mouth than the nearest guard moved forward, his weapon steady.  “Move aside.”

            “No.”

            “Jim.”  Spock’s voice, from behind him, and Jim felt a soft brush of reassurance across their bond, felt a glimpse of love, determination to protect, a sense of inevitability and sadness.

            “No!”  He made a single, abrupt motion forward and a red beam shot out from the guard’s weapon, impacting his chest.  Jim fell sideways against the bed, barely conscious, and struggled limply as he saw another guard reach forward, grasping the Vulcan’s arm and pulling him roughly towards the door, the others following.  He opened his mouth, but nothing came out, and he felt a sharp, desperate dread rise from deep within him, carried on a wave of impotent rage.  Spock!  He could still feel their connection, could feel something shifting and solidifying determinedly within his friend’s mind, saw the way his bondmate allowed himself to be pulled away, eyes unfocused and staring.  Jim’s hands gripped the thin blanket helplessly, and he tasted blood in his mouth from where he had bitten his tongue.  This was the loss he feared, and his thoughts skittered over a gaping wound that spanned universes, over the sight of families ripped apart by the Tarsus death squads, over the despair he had seen in his own mother’s eyes each anniversary of his birth.  His muscles cramped, and he stared at the woman who had paused just in front of the doorway.

            Eloida remained for several seconds, looking down at him with a strangely anticipatory expression on her face.  “You will remain here and commune with the Guardian and I shall return at midday to test your willingness again.  You will be one of us, Kirk.”  Her eyes were hard as she turned and followed the guards and Jim could only focus on breathing as he heard the dull hum of the force field appear across the doorway, seeing the soft glow of blue begin to appear from the filaments above, his consciousness fully disappearing into blinding whiteness.

 

 

 

            Spock allowed himself to be forcefully escorted through the village, only faintly aware of the direction they were headed.  His concentration was focused on his bondmate and on his shields, and what was happening in the small house where Jim remained.  He had felt Jim’s fear and anger sharply, had sensed his friend cry out to him, and then the curl of the rays, licking against Jim’s mind.  He had extended his shields, reinforcing them relentlessly against the attack, able to utilize the bond to protect Jim’s mind even though they were separate.  If they had not bonded… .  There was no time or energy to contemplate the very real possibility that Jim would now be lost to him, and Spock let it slip from his thoughts.

            Their connection was taxing, and he was holding Jim’s mind in a state of near unconsciousness to avoid the additional strain of the human’s thoughts and emotions.  He sensed his body descending down a familiar staircase, felt himself thrown to a hard floor.  He did not struggle, could not spare the energy or the focus, and was barely aware of another person entering the chamber along with the guards.  And now, despite his fight to protect his bondmate’s mind, he could not help but feel the waves of rage, jealousy, and hatred roiling off of the newcomer’s mind.  Eloida.  So, he was to act as esne for her.  Kaiidth.  He allowed that thought to slip away as well, turning his mind completely to his t’hy’la, ignoring the pain as he felt the blows begin to descend.

 

 

 

            The whiteness vanished with a force that was startling, and Jim blinked up at the ceiling of the small house, feeling his head pounding with a phantom pain and his limbs shaking from some past effort.  The filaments glowed normally, passively, and the hum of the force field was absent.  The cloth across the doorway had been pulled back, completely, and the false light in the sky outside hung close to its zenith: it was almost midday.  He lay there, unmoving, feeling.  But his relief was tempered by fear, for along with the anger and the anxiety, and the desperate love, he felt the pulse of near-agony superposed over the bond, and knew that his bondmate, who had somehow managed to protect him, even from a distance, was in pain.

            Jim’s first impulse was to leap up, but that instinctive response failed with the numbing weakness of his body.  He clumsily grasped for the bond in his head, but it fell away from his untrained flailing, feeling almost like an open wound, slippery and raw.  He flinched away from it helplessly and tried again to push himself up, managing to sit weakly and leaning heavily against the bed, swallowing dryly, thoughts pounding through his mind.  I will be tested.  I must appear to have been successfully conditioned.  Jim drew on his command training, on what Spock himself had taught him, concentrating on control, knowing that he would be no help to his friend if he was turned, and aware that Spock’s ability to protect him a second time might be compromised.

            Minutes passed, and Jim felt his arms and legs slowly stop shaking, felt some semblance of strength return, replacing the lingering vertigo.  The pain was still there, but Jim drove it to the back of his mind, allowing his expression and his shoulders to relax, and just in time.  From outside, he heard the slow approach of footsteps, and Eloida appeared again in the doorway, her face back in its placid lines, a weapon held in a firm, confident grip.  Jim looked up at her, noticing that her clothes had been changed and her hair was damp.  There was, however, a single smear of green on her cheek, and the captain was suddenly unable to control a fierce roil of emotion, his breath catching involuntarily as he forced his gaze to her eyes.

            “Jim.”  Her voice was soft and yet flat and it took him a second to realize that she had addressed him by a name he had never given her.  He could feel his jaw begin to tense and knew that his expression reflected his inner turmoil.

            “Are you now one of us?”  There was no malice in her tone or her expression, but Jim’s blood ran cold.

            “Yes.”  He tried for the falsehood, even as he saw her eyes drift across his expression and down his body almost casually.

            “We shall see.”  She turned smoothly and walked out, and Jim jumped as the force field’s hum sharply returned.  No.  The blue light from the filaments was immediate, this time, and shockingly brilliant, and he scrabbled weakly against the bed as the euphoric rays fell over him again.  And somehow, this time, the sense of loss was overpowering.

 

 

 

            The pain was almost unbearable as Spock rolled onto his side, coughing roughly and spitting out blood.  She had gone, and yet still the two remaining guards had not moved him to the healing pallet.  Physical agony lanced through him as he struggled for breath, and he diverted his attention from his shields in an attempt at control, aware that his bondmate’s mind was no longer under direct attack.  Spock had not been able to defend himself from Eloida’s passionate and brutal assault, and he knew he was now paying the price: cracked ribs, blood loss, contusions, concussion.  There was a deep, penetrating wound to his left side that he did not remember suffering, and his back was a bleeding pattern of torn flesh, and he did not remember how it had come to be that way.

            Spock could sense the presence of the two guards, standing against the far wall.  Their hesitation with regard to his healing was disturbing; Spock had presumed that suffering such an attack would allow him another attempt at accessing the central complex, but, as the minutes ticked by with no indication of movement from either guard, he began to re-evaluate his initial conclusions.  Perhaps Eloida’s vicious reaction was only the start; perhaps he was even now slated to become the latest victim of the f’ylao’tri.  He pushed such disturbing thoughts away, concentrating on his body, on controlling the pain and regulating his systems to attempt to deal with the injuries on his own, feeling himself shiver violently against the cold floor.  He could not allow himself to go into the tow-kath. Not without Jim to help him out of it.

           Jim… .  He felt a wave of anger and fear rush along the bond from the human, and sensed the pressure of yet another attack begin against his t’hy’la’s mind.  Spock shifted his concentration again, releasing any control over the physical pain to force all his energy into the mental shields that protected them both.  It was grueling already, and he felt the cold shift deeper into his body as he neglected any control over his regulatory systems, weakness spreading over his limbs.

            Time slipped by, and with it his ability to keep track of it.  He could feel blood pooling slowly around his body, making the floor sticky as his energy slowly waned.  Everything, everything was pouring through the bond, through to his telsu, and yet he could feel himself slowly failing against the relentless energies, which seemed stronger somehow, more like what he had faced on the transport ship.  These were forcefully directed and intense and Spock felt an emotion emerge that he had never experienced himself before.  He took a deep, shuddering breath, remembering something Jim had told him once: Panic isn’t the end of the world.  It’s a signal that you need to act, and act quickly. It means that you just need to do something, anything, and make it count.

            A plan formed in his mind, galvanized by his Vulcan discipline.  It was logical, but it would lose him his bondmate.  It entailed a workable probability of success, but Jim would succumb to the rays, to the emotional wasteland that the captain had feared so strongly on the alien ship.  Spock knew he would lose Jim anyway, if he lost consciousness, or if he was indeed intended for the wall.  And this, this would allow them a chance.

            It was perhaps the most difficult thing he had ever done, to lower his shields deliberately, to remove the protection from around his bondmate’s mind and feel Jim slip away from him, subsumed in the cloying energies.  But, with his shields gone, he could feel the artificial intelligence with a clarity that had before only been possible on the healing pallet.  Spock knew he had little time, but he was ready, having glimpsed the command and memory structure before, however briefly, and he was determined.  He could feel his physical strength draining further and plunged into the stream of psionic energy, searching, straining his mind, allowing information to pour into his brain.  He pressed onwards until the moment he could take no more, and blackness overwhelmed him.

           

 

 

            Jim awoke to a numb sensation in his legs and feet and flexed his hands, feeling the scratch of the rough carpet under his fingers.  He had been here before, to this place of calm.  To this place where he could remember so much, and yet was so presently detached.  He raised his hands and held them in front of his face, noting that they were familiar and that they belonged to him.  His head hurt, the numbness extending only so far, licking against a place that ached and yet was unreachable.

            The room around him also was familiar, and Jim shifted to tug at the thin blanket on the bed behind him, pulling it forward against his face, breathing in a scent that caused the ache in his head to deepen, strangely.  He remembered his friend, and he remembered the identity of the emotions that had screamed through him, before.  Respect, loyalty, love; anger, fear, grief: all wrapped into this being who was absent.  And Jim remembered how Spock had been taken away, the link that had briefly bound them together sundered in the prevailing power of the Guardian’s voice.  Something tugged at his indifferent detachment, and he tilted his head, closing his eyes.  He had loved, but no more.  He had fought, but now accepted.  And why not accept?  He was home, and had a purpose and a mate.  Eloida had been here and would come again, and he would leave with her and serve his people and their future.

            His throat was dry and he swallowed, glancing over to the doorway where long shadows were gathering, and the sky was darkening.  That was unexpected, as he remembered it being morning, or at least midday.  Somehow, he could not bring himself to be overly concerned, however, and he pushed himself up to stand, reaching his hands up in a long stretch.

            The line of his arms above him brought the softly glowing filaments into view, and Jim felt a gentle smile curl his lips.  Home.  The word pulsed within him, and he considered his current lack of worry or anxiety, his absence of love or desire.  He thought of his friend again, and remembered that the Vulcan had once been a source of those undesired feelings.  Love was loss, and Jim no longer feared either one.

            The ache throbbed in his head, and Jim blinked, a sense of claustrophobia hovering in the background as his thoughts lingered on Spock.  He felt the barest touch of frustration, the lone emotion almost overwhelming him, and he shook his head, forcing thoughts of his friend away.  He didn’t know how long he stood there, in the center of the room, his arms now held limply at his sides, but he was not surprised when he heard the slow footsteps outside his door and saw Eloida step into the house, hesitating in the doorway, her expression again serene and her eyes running over his form.  He had an abrupt memory of blood spread across her cheek, but saw none, now, and decided it was not significant.

            “Be at peace, my mate.”

            “Be at peace.”  The words required no thought and he found himself bowing slightly, his hands held out to his sides in a gesture that at once surprised him and made perfect sense.

            Her smile curled wider as she watched him and he saw her chin lift.  “I was correct, then, as to the influence of the other on your willingness to listen to the Guardian and accept the teachings.”  Her shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath.  “It has always been that our kind has most readily adapted to this life.  I saw no reason to separate you until I saw how extensive his interference had become.  Those transported together usually remain together, but you were not the same kind, and his purpose was different.  In the future, we will be more prepared.”

            Her words held a slightly cryptic tone, but Jim, again, found he was not concerned.  He looked at her and felt calm.  He remembered things that he once might have held: bitterness, hatred, curiosity, and found none, now.  The numbness covered all, except the persistent, unexplainable ache in his mind.

            She continued as if she had not expected a response, “We will conduct a ceremony tonight that shall put the matter to rest.  His kind were not meant for this, even as esne.”  It made sense, and Jim nodded.  She stepped backwards and turned, holding out her hand in an invitation, and he walked forward to take it, her skin cool and dry in his grip.  The claustrophobia was back, though, and he released her hand as they moved out into the growing darkness outside the house.  She did not appear to mind, and kept her eyes forward as they walked towards the wall, at the head of a slowly growing crowd moving as one towards the scaffold.

 

 

 

            Spock awoke with a sharp cry as the remains of his shirt were roughly torn from his body, his wounds re-opening.  Hands pushed him over to his stomach and his arms were forced behind him, bound with some kind of rope.  His mind screamed from the previous flood of information and from the damaged bond.  Some degree of shielding had instinctively snapped back when he had lost consciousness, but he was weakened, both physically and mentally, and the pain was crushing.

            Those same hands gripped his upper arms and pulled him to his feet, and Spock distantly registered the fact that, despite the skin-to-skin contact, he could barely sense any degree of emotion from his guards.  Their minds were blank, empty of everything except an obligation to serve and protect and a deep artificial calm.  There would be no sympathy from them, and he did not need his telepathy to know what was to come.

            He was largely dragged, his limbs weak from loss of blood and recent trauma, and he could hear the grunts of effort as the men supported him up the stairs and into the growing darkness of the village.  The area around them was deserted, and he could hear, up ahead, the shuffle of feet and the sound of collective breathing, the rustle of clothes and the creak of the wood of the scaffold.  And, now, growing closer, he could feel Jim’s presence as a dull resonance within his own mind.  The dynamism and light that he normally associated with his t’hy’la was gone, retreated behind alien mental walls and barriers.  He was certain he could still reach his bondmate, if allowed a meld, but he knew that touch was now impossible.  A part of him began to grieve, and desperately so, and he forced the remnants of his control to push the emotions away.  If he succeeded in his plan, he would acknowledge and assimilate the wrenching damage to their bond at another time.  If he failed, it would not matter, and perhaps his katra would be allowed to touch Jim’s in passing through the charred remnants of their connection.

            As he was pulled closer, he heard Eloida’s voice rising above the crowd, speaking familiar words of esne-al-rishiya and the f’ylao’tri, of weakness and protection.  And, finally, of a wish that Spock’s death be easy.  A particularly rough yank on his arms forced a grunt of pain from him, and he felt the weakened bond reverberate indistinctly as he finally saw Jim’s face.

            Blue eyes were dull, and his expression was of a kind with the surrounding horde: almost reverent.  It was profoundly disturbing, and Spock flinched as his own mind reflexively reached for Jim’s and met indifferent walls.  The Vulcan allowed himself one more glance at his bondmate before looking away, turning his own mind away as well.  He did not want Jim, even subconsciously, to feel this.

            Eloida’s eyes were blank as she watched him dragged up onto the scaffold, step by step.  He closed his eyes, allowing his weight to fall more heavily on his guards, blocking out everything around him, concentrating on the small strand of discovery he had found in his contact with the controlling presence.  And then, as the ululation of the crowd below him began, he could feel the f’ylao’tri approaching.  He had learned that they were psi-sensitive themselves, but undisciplined, their minds nearly set wild by the constant background psionic energies of the Guardian.  Spock ignored the horrifying rustle of foliage, the trembling of the wood beneath him, the high-pitched shrieks, and the proximity to the edge of the wall, darkness yawning below.  He stretched his mind and reached out to one of the rapidly nearing psyches.  It paused and reached instinctively and hungrily back, and, ignoring its mental turmoil, Spock extended his shields through the contact, protecting the creature’s mind, feeling shock and a sudden return to order, feeling an surprising sense of loyalty bloom in relation to himself.

            Spock’s sensitive hearing was pummeled between the screams of the other creatures and the cries of the crowd.  He felt the hands on his arms tighten as he finally resisted, inches from the edge, pushing his shields more firmly over the creature through their loosely joined minds, projecting sensations of familial warmth and safety.  Spock was pushed relentlessly to the edge, despite his struggles, and then, hovering on the very threshold of oblivion, he felt it: his t’hy’la’s mind, somehow rising up against the walls that enclosed it, crying out to him.  And he could do nothing; he could not risk losing his tenuous shielding over the creature, and he knew it would mean that Jim would see him fall, pleas unanswered.  And he did fall, finally, his last perceptions being the sweep of air past his ears, the sense of a large creature rising to meet him, and his bondmate’s scream, echoing through his mind.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: He Who Forgets

 

 

            He remembered everything.  The sight of his bloodied friend dragged up the scaffold, soulful, saddened brown eyes locked on his for a long moment before turning away, the final, weak struggle as his friend was pushed to the edge, and, most of all, the way Spock fell from the edge, twisting his body so that his face was, finally, to the sky.

            Jim remembered the uncontrollable surge of emotion that had burst suddenly through the careful barriers erected by the Guardian.  He remembered starting to scream, starting to follow his friend up the scaffold, and being held back by firm hands.  He remembered the smell and taste of the dirt as he was pushed down into it, and then the cold blanket of unconsciousness.  He remembered, but, thankfully, now did not feel any of it.

            He had awakened on the bed in his small house, the light seeping in around the cloth and the sight and smell of newly delivered food informing him that it was now morning, and he sat up slowly, cataloguing the twinge in his muscles, and the dirt remaining under his fingernails.  His throat hurt, however, his mind was clear, even of the dull ache from the previous day, and he was content.  He had loved and he had lost, and the horrible pain he had felt at that loss only confirmed that the path his life now took was the correct one; destined, even.  Purposeful.  He swung his legs off the bed and stood, a small, serene smile curving his lips.

 

 

 

            Spock lay in near-darkness, his injured, half-naked body draped over a warm, curved abdomen and surrounded by long, furred legs.  The shine of the f’ylao’tri’s multiple eyes was constant, but dim, reflecting the sparse light reaching this far into the cave.  The black, unblinking orbs were trained on him, and he could feel the subtle, occasional shift of the creature’s jaws and body.  His mind still protected the creature, a young female, and her impressive defense of him as he had fallen from the wall was strongly rooted in her perception of him as clan.  As her mind cleared further, and with such close contact between them, he could fully sense her sapience, the exposure to the ambient psionic energies having acted in her species to produce a madness that kept rational thoughts at bay, or so he gleaned from his rapid-fire interaction with the computer.  He could sense affection, now, and deep gratitude.  Shame, for the role she and her kind had been coerced to play, and relief that she was no longer under the corrosive influence.  Her mind, starved for touch, embraced his without a hint of aversion for his humanoid appearance.  Spock himself had experienced such starvation, knew the emptiness and exposure produced by a lack of needed mental touch, and his intimate knowledge of such had motivated his plan.  Reminiscent of his t’hy’la, he had taken an uncharacteristic gamble in his strategy, and he had gained an unlikely ally.  He could not pronounce her name, and so he called her A’lazb, after the Vulcan word for arachnid.  She had found the name to be acceptable.

            His injuries were extensive, and here in the dark, surrounded by heat and in the presence of a sympathetic mind, he was able to simply lie still and allow his body to begin to heal.  He could not dare a trance, not with his weakened shields protecting both him and her, but he could regroup, at least, and begin to contemplate what had happened, and what still needed to be done.  He was alive, but he had lost his bondmate’s mind to the Guardian: the connection with Jim was raw now, and almost broken.  The captain’s own efforts to overcome the conditioning, in the end, had apparently only succeeded in a more concentrated exposure to the energies, and Spock could not sense anything beyond a mere shadow of their link.  He estimated that Jim’s emotional dynamism had been silenced by the disassociation to the point where he likely felt nothing at all.  Perhaps even the sense of emptiness that he had alluded to on the transport ship was gone, masked by an oblivious blankness.  Was it ironic, then, that his t’hy’la now existed in a sterile world of memory but no feeling?  It struck Spock that this was perhaps the closest a human might come to the discipline of kolinahr, where emotions were banished once and for all.

            He remembered speaking to Jim on the observation deck about the events on Primidius, a conversation in which he had exposed his own need for touch and admitted that the silence in his mind was difficult to bear.  He had known then that Jim was his t’hy’la, but he had also known of his friend’s complex emotional landscape and was unprepared to relate their inherent compatibility.  Humans were not predictable beings, especially where deep feeling was involved, and James Kirk had made a career for himself by defying predictability even in its simplest form.  For Spock, it was illogical to deny something because of a fear of losing it, although loss, now, was proving to be even more difficult to bear than the silence had been.

            Watching his mother die, and Jim, and sensing his world collapse, taking his people with it, had all been profound, devastating things; things that had struck to the core of himself and, ultimately, provoked deep emotional responses.  And this loss, of the intimate touch of his bondmate’s mind, while perhaps not as final, was similarly provoking.  With this latest injury, and his own mind already in a weakened, vulnerable state, his controls were proving to be almost completely ineffective at preventing wrenching emotions from ripping into his psyche, grief foremost among them.  Grief and loneliness, and a sadness so deep he felt he was falling into it without end.  He sensed wetness on his face and knew that there were tears there.  Perhaps it was a kindness that Jim could not feel, if the mental wounds from the damaged bond ran so deeply into this uncontrolled emotional well.

            He could sense A’lazb’s response to his surging emotions, felt her curl her legs closer around him in a gesture of comfort.  Like him, her own mind was designed to accommodate a low psionic background of family, a web of connection that was now effectively silenced.  Her world was lost to her, and her clan, and he could feel her grieve with him the loss of his telsu.

            Spock winced involuntarily as he shifted his weight.  The deep wound in his side had sealed, surficially, and the lacerations on his back as well, however, the cracked ribs he could not heal without a trance and each breath was a strain on his controls.  The huge creature’s abdomen rose and fell with her own breathing, and Spock slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, unable to prevent a small grunt of pain.  He had absorbed consequential information from his contact with the intelligence that supervised this place, and although his mind was, at present, too weak for another attempt at that contact, he knew enough to proceed with his plan.  Slowly, he lifted his hand towards the large creature’s head.  She sensed his intentions and curled closer, and both their bodies shuddered as their minds forged a closer contact.

            As he moved within her consciousness, he contemplated that this act would have been unheard of for a full-Vulcan.  Mental intimacy was something closely guarded among the Vulcan people, and even more so among the survivors of Nero’s rage.  Jim had not been wrong when he had asked about the injuries inflicted by the fall of Vulcan, and exacerbated by the horror on Primidius.  Every surviving Vulcan held some degree of psionic damage and, as a result, the remnants of their culture had turned inwardly, closely guarding that which was most defining, including the mental disciplines.  It was the preservation of their species, to be sure, but it was also a defense, protecting lingering wounds that could not be explained by logic, hiding a vulnerability that was purely emotional.

            He sent A’lazb an image of a place, and felt her acknowledgment as well as her warning: they both would fall victim to the remaining f’ylao’tri if they were not careful.  Her determination, however, was equal to his and she unfolded her legs and slowly turned so that he was sprawled across her back, his hand on her furred hide holding the small connection between them.  Cautiously, she slipped outside, the rays of an artificial sun bathing them both as they made their way through the forest.

 

           

 

            The morning meeting was short, and capped by Eloida’s declaration that he had passed the test of willingness and was now, fully, among them.  Jim’s duty was obvious, and they left the meeting together, to go to her own house, her simple statement that he was now her mate making it so in the eyes of the Guardian and the people.  Her house was a mirror to the one he had previously occupied, and two covered trays were waiting on the table.  He walked forward, cognizant of his duty to eat, and blinked as her hand closed over his wrist.  He stopped, obediently, and turned to face her, and she stared up into his face, her hand still gripping his wrist.

            “Our duty is to provide for the future of our kind.  All else is secondary.”

            “Of course.”  He blinked, watching her, remembering that he had done this before, with others, and aware that his body usually responded almost immediately.  But there was something missing, and he tilted his head slightly, evaluating himself.  He was hungry, and thirsty.  His body was sore where he had been pushed to the ground the previous night, and he required a shower.  However, he did not presently desire her or, indeed, anything else. 

            He saw her placid expression shift, saw her swallow; her grip tightening on his wrist.  “You may proceed.”

            Jim felt the pressure of her fingers against his skin, felt the low heat of her grip, the sweat on her hand.  Something stirred within him, something deeply buried behind solid, necessary walls.  His friend’s voice: It is in you, Jim, to persevere: to turn a fatal situation into survival.  You must remember that.  A mental touch, a pathway back, a way to overcome the barriers that existed in his mind, a bridge between what he had felt before and what was missing now.  Ashayam.  And he was overwhelmed with the surety that this was wrong, that he was wrong, and he wanted to fight.  Spock, no.  He flinched as the ache from earlier blossomed in his head, and her grip on his hand now felt like a violation.  He pulled away, roughly, seeing surprise register on her features, and stumbled back, bringing his hands to his temples and shaking his head.

            “No. No, no, no.”  The words were murmured, and he did not hear them, caught up in the resurgence of grief and pain, the lost feelings flowing suddenly into him, forcing the horrific emotions associated with his bondmate’s brutal death powerfully into his mind and the perceived absence of the link they had shared felt like a knife in his thoughts.  He fell to his knees, his voice rising to a bitter cry, and as she reached out to him he shoved her back viciously.  “You killed him.  You threw him to those…things.  My gods, what have I done?  I couldn’t…I didn’t…no, no, no… .”

            She had fallen against the bed across the room and struggled to sit up, her placid expression trembling.  “Your duty is to me, to your people here.”

            Tears ran down Jim’s face as he drew in a ragged gasp, and he clenched his hands into fists as he stared at her.  “These are not my people, not my duty…my duty was to him, and I as good as pushed him off that wall.”  His voice was a low hiss, and he staggered to his feet, his eyes hard, his emotions swirling, his chest feeling like a gaping wound.  He had to get out of here.  Spock… .

            Scrambling, she rose with him, and the passivity was all but gone in the face of urgent conviction.  “You are my mate, Jim.  It is our destiny.  You were chosen for me, for this.  Your friend was merely brought along with you, as companionship often eases initial distress.  You are mine.”

            He stepped closer, saw her draw back as her eyes betrayed fear.  “I’m his.  Always his, even now.  And your Guardian made a big fucking mistake bringing me here.  If I’m going down, that fucking computer is going down with me.”

            “Kirk… .”  She reached for him and he side-stepped, grabbing her arm and twisting it behind her back, pushing her in front of him as he headed for the doorway.  She struggled, but she was no match for him, and he stepped out into the bright, false sunlight. 

 

           

 

            The thick forest was utterly absent of larger faunal life, as far as Spock could see, awkwardly positioned as he was on the back of an immense arachnoid traveling rapidly and deftly amidst the thick trunks of towering trees.  There was utter silence around them, unbroken by the calls of birds or other creatures, and even A’lazb’s footfalls were surprisingly muted against the soft ground beneath them, in marked contrast to the uncoordinated trembling that preceded her kind near the wall.  The false sun filtered dimly and sporadically through the rich greenery above and Spock felt himself drifting in a dim haze of pain and exhaustion.  He had never understood the very human word surreal, but now, injured by jealous rage on a worldship light-years from anywhere, his bond nearly broken and his mind still under attack, his only ally an improbable one and his chances of survival dwindling, he believed he had now come to fully comprehend it.

            A’lazb stopped abruptly, and Spock, unprepared, slid from her back and landed on the ground with a cry of pain, his vision whiting out for a moment.  He could sense her apology, and also her near-excitement, and managed to raise his head, focusing on a large clearing up ahead.  The artificial sunlight shone unhindered, causing the dull-gray metal of what appeared to be a set of doors built into the ground to gleam.  Spock shifted on the ground, recognizing the doors from the multitude of images gleaned from his prior contact with the Guardian, and becoming aware of A’lazb’s scrutiny of his person.  He looked up at her, feeling her empathic emanations of concern and anxiety, and she turned, striding towards one of the large trees on the outskirts of the clearing, definitive purpose evident in her movements.  She scaled the tree, her legs wrapping around the trunk effortlessly, and then, after several seconds of climbing, rotated her jaws, cutting into the protective bark layer.  Vulcan senses picked up the scent of something sweet, and heard gentle, almost sucking sounds before the large creature deftly descended and approached him again.

            Her jaws were slightly open, the fearsome fangs dripping with some sort of sticky liquid, and her eyes focused on him.  Surreal, his mind repeated, as he pushed himself up enough to reach out and capture some of the liquid in his palm.  It was indeed sweet, and not as viscous as he originally assumed, and he felt his body’s instant response to the influx of glucose.  He drank again, and again, sensing her satisfaction, and finally felt strong enough to stand, pushing himself to his feet and swaying only slightly before a strong, furry leg extended to support him.  And when Spock actually smiled at his companion, he realized that the glucose had acted in another way as well.  He would not classify himself as drunk, but the sharpness of his physical pain had diminished, and the raw agony of the damaged bond had retreated to the edges of his mind.  It was enough, and he straightened, reaching out to touch A’lazb’s jaw, mentally informing her of what he intended to do.  Her bulk would not fit through the small doorway, which was evidently designed for humanoids, but he caught a wry feeling from her as she moved away from him, entering the clearing and, with one strong stroke of a leg, dislodged one of the doors enough for it to swing into the underlying space.  Her mind was alight with humor as she turned to regard his reaction, and he raised an eyebrow, sensing no immediate alarm within the energies still shifting against his shields.  Leaping before looking was a trait shared by many, he surmised, and his smile faded as he thought again of his t’hy’la.

 

 

 

            The darkness of unconsciousness gave way to the white light of the filaments, and Jim turned his head, blinking rapidly as a figure next to him came into focus.  Eloida’s expression was calm, untroubled, expectant, a small smile curving her lips.  Jim exhaled, remembering dragging her out of the small house, taking only a few steps before multiple stun beams had hit them both, seeing visions of pale blue light waver in and out, along with glimpses of pale blue eyes.  He remembered the sick grief and fierce pain slowly disappear into the shades of memory, until he was left with…a shudder racked his body as he felt the pleasant numbness fade almost immediately, the empty feeling almost swallowing itself as the surge of his previous emotions rushed back unbidden.  This time, the conditioning had barely survived his awakening.  He could see Eloida’s eyes fill with confusion and a hint of distress, feeling his face contort as the memories compounded, along with the grief.

            The captain could not help a sob, his head pounding, and he saw Eloida stand quickly, and move towards the doorway, hearing her voice gently over the sound of blood rushing in his ears.  He knew what was coming and he threw himself off of the bed, rolling and twisting as the blanket caught around his ankles.  She had disappeared through the door, and he crawled forward, hearing the snap of the force field just before the filaments above shifted unremittingly and he collapsed, the familiar and feared euphoria capturing his mind yet again.

 

 

 

            The descent into the underground chamber was slowly and cautiously made, aided by the appearance of soft, automatic lighting along the stairs extending immediately below the doors.  The stairs and walls were not of the same crude and primitive material that he had observed in the village.  Rather, they were of a similar nature to the white material Spock had observed in the holding cell on the transport ship, and it reflected the light, casting the entire space in a cool, ghostly aura.  The Vulcan moved stiffly, and could not combat the shivering that had taken over his limbs as he had moved away from the false sun’s rays.  A’lazb had refused to retreat, and, if he permitted himself to glance up, would have seen her multiple eyes glinting above him.  Night was only hours away, now, and they would both have to find cover before the nocturnal wanderings of the other f’ylao’tri would threaten them.  As it was, Spock kept his eyes focused forward, his hands held out in a defensive posture, knowing that he was mentally and physically vulnerable and having no other choice but to proceed.

 

 

 

            Jim awoke to the feeling of restraints on his wrists and a rough wall behind his back.  He blinked, feeling a now-piercing headache, and other injuries: bruises, a twisted knee, rawness on his wrists where the metal had chafed his skin.  For a moment he did not remember, and then it all poured back to him: the blue light, the now wide-open pathways in his mind that prevented the barriers from forming, the sense of being dragged, and Eloida’s voice, caustic in his mind, He is esne-al-rishiya, now. He cannot be enlightened, nor controlled.  I have failed in my duty.  We shall conduct the ceremony tonight.  I shall consult the Guardian, for we continue to lose so many.

            The captain raised his head, looking around the enclosed space, noting the absence of anyone else, the brick walls, the lighting, the strange pallet in the corner with the bundle of filaments above it.  He looked in front of him and saw faint bloodstains on the floor: red, pink…and, more vividly, green. His stomach turned, and he retched, throwing up its meager contents onto the floor in front of him. Spock had been here. He had seen it in his friend’s thoughts, could see it now in the evidence on the floor.  Spock, who had died horribly.  His friend.  His bondmate.  His love.  Grief rose again, ripping through Jim’s heart and soul, and he again felt tears on his face and defiant anger, allowing his emotions free rein, at last screaming out his torment.  The surrender was strangely satisfying, even in the midst of the harsh agony of the memories he was helpless against.  Spock’s body, covered with blood and bruises, his eyes, wide and searching.  The simple grace in the way he had fallen, and the horrible pain of loss, reaching every nerve in Jim’s body.  He imagined he had felt the tear of the bond, but then couldn’t think about it anymore, allowing his head to fall against his chest.

 

 

 

            When Spock stepped off of the stairs, the lighting extended, wrapping around and illuminating a small room, following his progress.  The air was still and stale, but breathable, and Spock turned his attention to a large console against the far wall, a low bench immediately in front of it.  Above the desk an oval screen shimmered, glinting almost silver as the lighting on the walls slowly intensified.  In his contact with the presence, Spock had seen this location and this doorway as a central access point, a physical link with the artificial intelligence controlling this facility.  And now that he was here, the Vulcan could indeed sense the energies intruding more potently against his shields, feeling more directed, as it had on the ship.  It was not, however, in a state of alarm or emergency, and Spock could only speculate that the controlling mind did not consider him a threat, or did not understand his presence here.

            Time was of the essence, especially with the increased stress on already weakened shields, and Spock moved forward quickly, relying on ingrained Vulcan discipline to control the pain and the cold as best he was able.  He walked towards the console and examined it, noting the absence of any sort of keypad or buttons.  There was a line of darkened panels above a series of small spheres inset to the top of the console, with small etched patterns on the surface apparently defining keys or buttons.  He paused, considering the geometrical arrangement, and realized that the placement of the majority of the spheres crudely matched the geometry of the arrangement of the houses within the walls.

            “Fascinating.”

            There was a single sphere, slightly larger than the others, offset towards the edge of the console.  Spock studied it, noting the slight variation in coloration and the increased density of markings, and cautiously reached out, placing one of his hands on its cold, smooth surface, feeling several of the impressions mold themselves to his fingertips, seeing the screen in front of him shimmer brightly and then burst into life, showing a schematic of what was undeniably a ship: a huge craft largely constructed of engineering infrastructure, with the topmost level defined by this false world.

            He shifted his fingers experimentally, and the schematic zoomed to a smaller section, showing pictures of the village, equations appearing similar to the standard transporter matrix and layers and layers of scripting of a type similar to what appeared tattooed on Spock’s own arm.  The Vulcan assessed the most efficient way to proceed, noting that the proximity and intensity of the presence was amplified exponentially with his physical contact with the sphere’s surface.  It was only a slight effort to extend his mind and… .

            The connection was instant and intense, and Spock’s mind was suddenly thrust into what could only be a virtual command center, feeling powerful energies surround him, feeling what was left of his shields collapse catastrophically.  He heard A’lazb’s scream from above him and faltered just for an instant before turning his concentration completely on the virtual structure around him, knowing that his own strength was nearly at an end, and that if he were to do something, he would have to do it now.

            He pushed forward, his experience with the vagarities of computer science serving him well as he rapidly catalogued the streaming patterns of energy around him, moving directly for the central complex.  He heard, dimly, the crazed scrabble of legs at the doorway, and A’lazb’s scream ricocheted through the room again, sharply.  And then he saw it: a central hub, a kill-switch, and mentally reached forward, activating it.

            There was a strong pulse that vibrated outwards, and then the auxiliary branches of the environment went dark as Spock himself was thrown out of contact with the computer.

            He blinked, the flashing lights fading from his sight, realizing he was lying on the floor immediately next to the bench, staring at the ceiling.  The lights in the room had dimmed slightly, and Spock was instantly aware of the absence of the pervasive presence that had attacked his shields since he and the captain had been taken.  No, he thought, forcing his wounded mind to focus, the presence was still there, but different somehow, weaker and more localized, existing almost as an individual being would, somewhere beyond this room.  He raised his hand to his face, wiping fresh blood away from his nose and ears, and heard a soft trill from the doorway above him.  Spock slowly turned himself over and pushed himself to his feet, swaying mightily before collapsing back to the floor, his injuries screaming.  A’lazb trilled again, moving in agitation, and he crawled to the base of the staircase, lying still for a moment, having never before felt this depth of utter exhaustion, both physical and mental.

            The f’ylao’tri’s mind had instinctively reached back for his as the energies faded and he could sense A’lazb’s worry for him superseding the profound relief she was experiencing at the return of the low-level psionic background of her people.  It was weak and full of confusion, anger, and grief, but it was there, and he could feel her mind embrace it, even revel in the renewed connection.  And as he lay there within the sudden absence of the energies, he sensed something within his own mind, cautiously swelling amidst the raw emptiness of the remnants of his bond with Jim.  Focusing on it was difficult, and painful, and Spock gritted his teeth as he sensed…vibrant anger, determination, endless grief, guilt, pain.  The Vulcan gasped, and heard A’lazb shuffle again above him.  Jim had somehow overcome the conditioning, but was now in danger of the very fate Spock had himself suffered, he was certain of it.  Slowly, tediously, Spock crawled the rest of the way up the stairs, pulling himself into the growing gloom of dusk outside, meeting his friend’s many eyes as she leaned down to peer at him, one huge leg gently brushing against his arm.  He swallowed, raising a shaking hand to her jaw, sending her images of his t’hy’la, and thoughts regarding the inevitable fate of those deemed unworthy and uncontrollable.  He felt her shudder, felt her disgust, again, at what had befallen her own people, and she sent back an assurance and a simple promise.

           A’lazb moved back, her eyes flashing, and disappeared into the darkening gloom too quickly for Spock’s wavering gaze to follow.  He fell back, beginning to shiver again, straining to reach Jim’s mind and still finding it nearly impossible to sense anything besides heightened surficial emotions.  The absence of the overarching presence had freed him from the constant energy expenditure, but he was dangerously weak, and knew that the damage to the bond prevented any meaningful contact.  The utter silence of the forest around him was ominous, and Spock glanced back to the still-glowing brightness of the underground chamber, offering some small degree of protection.  He bit his lip as he crawled back to the door, maneuvering his body in and down the stairs again, making it halfway down before curling into himself, trying to preserve body heat, feeling his wounds pinch and strain.  He could sense his body slowly shutting down, could feel his mind straining to fall into the tow-kath, and, finally, he lost the battle for consciousness, his last thoughts being of Jim.  Only if A’lazb managed to save his telsu, would it be possible for the Vulcan to awaken again.  If she failed, and Jim died at the hands of the people, or the other f’ylao’tri, then Spock was content to follow his bondmate once more into the unknown. 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

The chapter title is taken from a lyric from "Nothingman", by Pearl Jam.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twelve: Stay With Me

 

 

 

            They came for him at dusk: four guards with blank expressions and cold hands, perfunctorily firing a stun beam into him before releasing the cutting restraints and ripping his shirt from his back.  He had expected them to come, and had wondered if he would care.  He did.  Even in the fog left by the beam, he had fought them, struggled as they had secured his hands behind his back, kicking, twisting and even biting, spitting out blood that wasn’t his.  The guards had not reacted beyond simply shooting him again, and Jim was barely aware as he was dragged up the stairs and out under the darkening false sky.  The village around him was deserted, as he knew it would be, and he felt his sandals fall from his feet as his body was roughly taken towards the wall.

            He felt cold and empty, with a bitter touch of anticipation, but no fear, not anymore.  This wasn’t his first touch with death, and wherever he would be going, he knew he would not be alone.  Ahead, he saw the lights along the wall, bright against the impenetrable forest, and the gathered, silent crowd.  The feeling had started to come back into his limbs and he struggled again weakly, raising his eyes to stare directly at Eloida, standing by herself at the base of the scaffold.  She was speaking now-familiar words, her expression back in its passive lines, her chin slightly lifted, her hands clasped indifferently in front of her.  She did not meet his gaze, and his struggles increased as he was pushed towards the wooden structure, bracing his feet against the lowest stair, craning his neck, wanting some sort of acknowledgment from her of what was about to happen.

            She finished her speech and paused, the only sounds the shift of cloth and the whisper of breath from the assembled people.  And then she turned to face Jim, and he saw it now, barely hidden beneath her veneer of passivity: jealousy and rage.  He held her eyes, even as she nodded with finality to his guards and he was shoved viciously up the steps; and as he reached the top he heard the eerie ululation begin.

            But through his haze of grief and anguish, as Jim was shoved mercilessly towards the edge of the wall, he noticed that something was different, this time: there was no matching shrieks from the depths of the forest, no trembling of the ground, or haphazard tearing of the foliage.  Only a potent silence, and, shimmering faintly in the low light and the gleam from the lamps atop the wall, reflections from what appeared to be a hundred eyes.

            Jim couldn’t help his gasp, and he felt the hands on his arms falter as the men beside him looked down into the unexpected sight.  The f’ylao’tri stood motionless in a line, staring up at the waiting humans: huge, hairy, spider-like bodies, vicious fangs, and black, black eyes.  Seconds ticked by, and the ululation from below slowly ebbed in the absence of the expected sacrifice, and Jim heard quick footsteps behind him on the steps, hearing Eloida’s hiss as she looked to the other side of the wall, “What are you waiting for? He is to be sent over!”

            “Eloida… ,” one of the guards said, his voice tremulous.

            “Now!”  Her reply was sharp, but instead of finding himself shoved closer to the edge, Jim felt the rough grip on his arms released completely.

            The same guard continued softly, “Eloida, if the Guardian wishes this, why do the f’ylao’tri, our defenders and the Guardian’s, not accept him as an offering?  Something is wrong.  Perhaps we have displeased the Guardian.  Perhaps Kirk is indeed chosen and only requires further communion. If… .”

            “Silence!”  Her voice was shrill, and Jim sensed the guards backing away from both of them.  He turned to face her, and saw her holding a weapon in her hand, the crowds below now murmuring in apparent agitation, the guards beside Jim now exhibiting open distress.  Jim stared into her pale blue eyes, almost colorless in the long shadows of the deepening evening.  Her expression was hard, blank in a terrifying way, and he knew that she would shoot an instant before the red beam impacted his chest and he fell backwards.  He heard the wind in his ears and saw the scattering of false stars above him, his last thoughts being that he had watched Spock do the same, that being forced to live without his bondmate for a day had been enough, and that perhaps this wasn’t so bad after all.  He heard the swish of immense legs an instant before his head impacted with something and the darkness closed over his vision.

 

 

 

            Night was all around him: darkness and the rush of air and the sounds of alien breathing.  Warmth and some kind of coarse fur, and, now, a soft trilling sound that reverberated around him.  His hands were loose, and he was sprawled over an immense, moving body, his eyes slowly adjusting to take in the specter of huge trees practically flying past and the outline of other large forms moving alongside him.

            Jim’s brain caught up and provided him with a detached, though slightly hysterical analysis: he was not dead, then, and somehow had found himself on the back of one of the f’ylao’tri, heading deeper into the forest, presumably away from the wall.  A surge of fear washed over him, considering that they may be taking him somewhere else to kill him, and he shifted on top of the beast’s back, sliding awkwardly towards the edge.  The creature abruptly stopped, and Jim slipped off, falling further than he expected and hitting the soft ground with a grunt.  But instead of aggressive action, or an attempt to subdue him, the creature slowly backed away, the others moving to encircle Jim, but allowing him a wide berth.  The captain pushed himself to his feet, standing in a defensive crouch, straining his eyes in the near-black forest.  To his left there was a repetition of the trill he had heard earlier, and another, smaller, f’ylao’tri stepped cautiously towards him.  He could barely make out an extended leg, offered in his direction, and the creature trilled again.

            Jim stood still, every sense trained on the creature in front of him, his mind racing.  A thought flew into his head of speaking with Spock, immediately before jumping with Khan to the Vengeance: It’s not logical, it’s a gut feeling.  And now, his gut was telling him to trust, to stand down, even to go where they intended to take him. He hoped that he was not being influenced by the grief that even now tore at his insides, knowing that Spock’s reverence for life and undeniable love for his t’hy’la should dictate that Jim not give up.  And it was true that he was not dead yet.  Straightening and holding his head high, with a spirit that, even so horribly wounded, would never accept defeat, Jim spoke aloud, “I’ll go with you.  I don’t understand, but I’ll go with you.”

            The smaller creature in front of moved closer with another, even gentler trill, and Jim felt the soft brush of a leg against his arm, as if in a gesture of comfort.  He furrowed his brow, feeling more then seeing the f’ylao’tri lower its body, moving its other legs to allow him to climb onto its back.

            The rush of night air felt different now that Jim’s immediate fears were quieted.  The influx of adrenaline had slowed, and the well of grief threatened yet again.  The chill around him felt almost like death, like the cold, raw place where his bondmate used to be, and Jim swallowed hard as he heard yet another gentle sound from the f’ylao’tri beneath him, feeling its pace increase impossibly through the blackness.  Jim was forced to hold on, gripping into the soft fur on the creature’s back, wondering at the surprising quiet with which the enormous creature moved, so different from the fearsome ruckus that had preceded each death at the wall.  The captain involuntarily shuddered as he remembered the flash of fangs and the frantic scrabble of legs, so completely opposed to the benign, almost gentle demeanor of the creatures now.  He thought of the abrupt shifts of behavior seen in the people here, influenced by the energy field of the Guardian, and considered if the f’ylao’tri themselves had been subjected to its power.  What had changed?  Jim frowned, and then leaned forward, peering into the night ahead.  There was the barest hint of light pouring from what appeared to be an opening or doorway inset to the ground immediately ahead, growing more obvious as the creature approached closer and then smoothly came to a halt, along with the others, purposefully lowering its body.

            Still somewhat anxious, Jim did not hesitate to slide off, feeling his bare feet sink into the soft ground underneath and shivering slightly as the chilled air swept around his exposed torso, suddenly bereft of the warmth provided by the great creature’s body.  The captain glanced around, but the creatures didn’t move; all holding silent and still, apparently waiting.  He swallowed again and lifted his chin, aware that any answers, one way or the other, appeared to lie ahead, within that doorway.  He took one step, and then two, and continued to walk forward, displaying a bravery that he did not feel. 

            As he approached, he saw that the light seemed to be quite similar to the soft white glow from the passive filaments, casting a shell of brightness into the night above.  There were two doors, one still in place, and the other swung in towards an underground chamber, dented and bent as if it had been struck by some large force.  Casting a final look back at the f’ylao’tri, standing like sentinels behind him, Jim squared his shoulders and walked to the entrance, peering down.  He saw a set of stairs and cautiously stepped down, taking no more than three or four steps before he saw something that made him utter an involuntary cry, his hand going out instinctively to the wall for support, shock and disbelief making his head spin and his blood roar in his ears.

            “Spock!”  He flung himself forward, stumbling on the steps and sliding the remaining distance between them, his hands flexing in helpless terror before he pressed his fingers to the Vulcan’s neck, searching for a pulse.  You’re alive!  You’re alive?  Spock’s skin was unnaturally cold and pale, and Jim nearly recoiled, tears forming in his eyes.  He couldn’t see any signs of breath, and pressed his fingers in more forcefully.  Please, please, please.  His own breathing was coming harsh and ragged now, and the pounding of blood in his ears was deafening.  Spock?  T’hy’la?   He still couldn’t feel anything, and he reached forward, impulsively pulling the Vulcan’s upper body onto his lap, bending over and pressing their foreheads together, stifling his own sobs.  Stay with me.  Stay with me.  Stay with me.  And then there was the barest flutter of eyelids, the smallest puff of breath onto his face, and Jim pulled back, feeling tears now rolling down his own face, pressing his fingers to Spock’s neck again.  There, faint and abnormally slow, was the pulse of blood, and Jim let out his breath in a crashing exhale, cradling his friend against his body.

            A healing trance, it had to be.  And the captain didn’t know how long he sat there, clinging desperately to the Vulcan, when he heard the smallest trill from above him.  He looked up, and saw the gleam of the soft light reflected in a dozen eyes and somehow recognized the smaller f’ylao’tri that had offered him that tentative caress.  He blinked, taking a deep breath.  “You brought him here, too, didn’t you?  You saved him and brought him here.  Did you know that we… ?”  He broke off, feeling slightly stupid, knowing that the creature couldn’t possibly understand him, his words sounding jumbled even in his own head.  We had a bond.  We were…we are bondmates.  

            He himself was cold, and he could imagine that Spock, if conscious, would have been freezing, similarly dressed in nothing but a pair of rough trousers.  He relaxed his grip enough to gently chafe the Vulcan’s exposed skin and then froze, his hands passing over newer injuries that he had overlooked in his frantic rush to see if his friend still lived.  There were angry gashes across Spock’s back, barely closed, and a deep wound in his side, slowly seeping blood, framed by an array of dark bruises over his ribs and abdomen.  It appeared that Spock had been beaten again, and severely, before being thrown over the wall and a flare of white-hot anger washed over the captain.  Jim gentled his grip, leaning back just enough to look at the abused face, trails of dried blood and bits of dirt on too-pale skin, darkened along one swollen side and under closed eyes by bruising and fatigue, the slowly healing gash along his temple sticky and raw.  Jim swallowed, remembering how he himself had pushed for the meld, and the bond, guiltily remembering how Spock had fallen asleep that fateful night with the remnants of the first trip to the chamber still on his face and body, too exhausted to notice.  I should have taken care of you; I should have cleaned your wounds.  I shouldn’t have fallen asleep.  I’m so sorry, t’hy’la.  Jim reached out to stroke through black hair, normally so shiny, now mussed and matted with blood and grime, searching his own mind for the connection that had, so briefly it seemed, completed his soul.  He made a frustrated noise as he felt nothing but his own now-brutal headache, wishing he had a blanket, or a cloth, or a cup of water, or a fucking comm unit.

            The creature at the doorway above him made another sound, more of a grunt, and Jim frowned, wondering how much of what he thought or felt was being communicated to it.  He glanced down at Spock’s limp body again, and then let his gaze drift towards the bottom of the stairs to the just-visible console, the glowing screen, and the arrangement of spheres, each now lit with multicolored lights surrounding the markings on their surface.  And there was one light in particular that caught his eye, a rectangular blue panel near the top of the console, blinking slowly on and off.  Jim stared at it, hearing the creature’s expectant grunt again, and made a decision.

            Staggering slightly under his friend’s weight, Jim pulled one of Spock’s arms over his shoulders and wrapped his own arm around the slender Vulcan’s waist, avoiding the deep wound and mindful of the angry mess on Spock’s back.  He himself winced as his fingers gripped into ugly bruises, but there was no sign of awareness from his bondmate, and Jim awkwardly made his way down the remainder of the stairs, finally settling Spock to lean against the wall at the base of the staircase.  As Jim’s touch lifted, the Vulcan’s eyes fluttered again and a low moan was heard, bringing the human back to his side immediately.

            Jim furrowed his brow, gently holding Spock’s shoulders as the Vulcan began struggling in earnest against the trance, his limbs jerking and the muscles in his face contorting.  He hadn’t been under long enough: the injuries on his body were still largely unhealed, and even the swelling on his face remained from the original assault by the people in the village.  But as the low moan came again, Jim knew that Vulcan determination would not be denied.  Cringing, the captain pulled his hand back, lightly slapping his friend across the less injured side of his face. There was a hiss from the doorway above, and Jim, never taking his eyes off of Spock, called up impatiently, “I know what I’m doing, goddammit.”  He gritted his teeth, fighting back tears, and another, slightly harder, slap followed, and then a third, and then Jim found his wrist grasped and held in a weakened grip, and he inhaled sharply as he stared into dark eyes he thought he’d never see again.

            Spock’s lips moved in a soundless pronouncement of Jim’s name, and Jim felt the grip on his wrist loosen enough for their hands to meet, fingers intertwining.  And then Jim leaned forward, closing his eyes, the touch of his mouth to his bondmate’s a firm pressure, a helpless affirmation.  He dimly felt Spock’s other hand rise to his meld points, and he gasped against his bondmate’s lips, feeling the ache in his head pulse as their bond burst as brilliant colors in his mind and blinding white light against his eyelids, restoring itself almost instantly.  He heard a small sound and felt Spock’s hand and mouth fall away abruptly and opened his eyes.  His bondmate had slumped back against the wall, his face even paler than before under the bruising, and his eyes were barely focused.  Jim’s own headache had suddenly eased, but he himself now swayed under a pulse of vertigo and a that strange, subtle compounding of sensory perception.  Blinking, he sank down next to Spock against the wall, reaching again for the Vulcan’s hand and feeling his bondmate lean into him, sensing his friend’s exhaustion and uncontrolled pain as a sharp mental echo.

            But the dark had, now, impossibly, yielded to the light, and he was holding his bondmate’s hand, sensing his living presence and his mind and his devotion.  And despite everything, he smiled, turning his head and brushing his lips across Spock’s right temple, murmuring into his hair, “I love you.”

            Spock leaned further into Jim’s caress, tightening the press of their fingers, whispering, “Talukh nash-veh k’du.”  For a moment, it was only the two of them, and then the bright blinking light of the console and the deepening cold filtered into Jim’s consciousness, and he bit his lip, bringing to mind the thoughts and images that had coalesced through the reopened bond and the meld, feeling a rush of near-pressure in his head as their dire situation re-asserted itself.

            “You deactivated it.”  His voice was raw, and he still felt the ghost of tears drying on his cheeks.

            Spock’s voice was weak.  “I…disconnected active control over…remote systems.  The energies are no longer…attacking my shields, but it… .  I am…uncertain… .”  Spock’s voice trailed off and he swallowed, straightening slightly with obvious effort, eyes locked on the console.  “The control interface is still active here.”

            Jim focused on the still-blinking blue panel, and then up at the doorway, where the f’ylao’tri was hovering. He could sense her agitation through his bondmate’s telepathy.  “A’lazb.”

            She stopped her shifting and peered at him, and he inclined his head, hoping that she could feel his gratitude and respect.  “Thank you.”

            She trilled loudly, and Jim smiled.  He looked back at Spock, his smile fading.  “Do you think we can access some sort of communications system?”

            Spock had turned his head, and his eyes were searching Jim’s face.  “Yes.  There must be…communication between the transport ships…and the central mainframe.”  He paused, blinking slowly, his voice slightly stronger.  “I can attempt to interface with the computer again… .”

            “No.”

            Jim’s jaw tensed and his fingers tightened, and he knew Spock could sense his thoughts by the stubbornly raised eyebrow.  “Jim… .”

            “I’m going to try, and don’t even bother trying to talk me out of it.”  Jim shifted his grip to absently caress his bondmate’s hand.  “We’ve got to try something now, before it manages to re-route itself or that crazy bitch decides to come after me, and, no offense, Spock, but you look like shit.”

            The eyebrow rose almost impossibly higher.  “I doubt she will venture outside the compound.”

            Jim’s face took on grim lines, knowing that the transfer of thoughts had gone both ways.  “Wanna bet?”  At Spock’s silence, the captain nodded once, and loosened his hold on the Vulcan’s hand.  “I’m going to try.  If I fail, then you’re up again.  Okay?”

            “Yes, Captain.”

            Jim could feel the slight touch of exasperated affection through the bond and grinned widely, shifting back and standing up.  He deliberately met Spock’s dark eyes, avoiding the now obvious patterns of emerald blood sliding down pale skin under the wound in his bondmate’s side.  Nodding again, he turned resolutely towards the console, walking forward and sitting on the bench.  The blue panel kept blinking, and Jim exhaled sharply.

            “Fuck it.”  He reached out and pressed his hand against the alien surface.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: Endgame

 

 

            At first, nothing seemed to happen, and then Jim felt the faint press of what felt like tiny ridges against his fingers and palm and he heard a soft pinging noise, similar to the chime in the village.  He glanced over at his bondmate and then up at the ceiling, half-expecting to see the ever-present filaments and feeling a distinct sense of relief when there was nothing but bare ceiling.  Furrowing his brow, Jim looked at the viewscreen, where his involuntary manipulations of the panel had caused initiated a single flashing line of what appeared to be code, the scripting varying with blocky characters and other symbols.  The captain hesitated, and then lifted his hand carefully, not wanting an inadvertent command to send the system into a full lockdown or a fucking self-destruct. 

            The ping sounded again, almost, the captain imagined, impatiently, and Jim glanced again over at Spock, who was watching the screen and uncharacteristically biting his lower lip.  “It appears…to be awaiting a command sequence.”

            “No shit.”  Jim chewed the inside of his cheek savagely, his eyes widening at the faint taste of blood, belatedly recognizing that he was tense with anxiety and anticipation and realizing that he was probably projecting it to his bondmate.  The captain flexed his hands and took a deep breath, forcing his rigid jaw muscles to relax.  “Any ideas?”

            Spock shifted against the wall, and Jim caught sight of the Vulcan’s arm where the tattoo had been inscribed.  He peered at it curiously and then twisted to glance at his own arm before leaning over to examine the still-illuminated panel.  The small ridges that had emerged on the surface were still there, defining what appeared to be small rectangular keys, each inscribed with a different pattern.  Jim looked again at his arm.

            Spock had slowly pushed himself up, one hand pressed over the still-bleeding wound, and had walked over to stand next to his bondmate.  The sensation of doubled perception had eased, for the most part, and although Jim could still feel shades of his bondmate’s physical and mental pain, it was nowhere as pronounced as when the bond had been immediately restored.  Jim glanced up at him, noting the stooped posture and continued shivering.  “Your shields?”

            Spock’s breathing was labored, his speech halting.  “I have…adjusted your perception of the bond, Jim.  I apologize if… .”

            “No.”  Jim interrupted tersely, feeling a stab of guilt.  “It’s fine.  I want to be able to feel you a little bit, at least.  After you were gone… .”  Jim shook his head and swallowed, turning back to the board, wanting to touch and to hold and to comfort and knowing they had no time.  “Read my thoughts.  What do you think?”

            “As your marking evidently identified you as one of the chosen,” a rasping breath, and Jim sensed wry undertones, “I would recommend…your pattern instead of mine.”

            “Okay.”  Jim glanced once more at his own arm, memorizing the scripting there, and reached out, deftly pressing each individual character in a deliberate sequence.  He held his breath as he reached the end, and they heard the ping again, and the viewscreen brightened into a pattern of undulating colors and a female voice emerged over hidden speakers, in Standard.

            “I am the voice of the Guardian.  You have not accepted your place in this community, a haven of safety and peace.  You have disrupted this operation, and our purpose.  You will explain.”

            The voice paused, as if waiting for a response, and Jim cleared his throat, eyes shifting over the console before he decided to simply speak.  “I do not accept it.”  He narrowed his eyes, raising his voice slightly.  “I will not accept it.”

            “You have interfered with the operation of this place.  Why do you do this?”  The monotone had not changed, but Jim sensed an emphasis somehow.  He stood and nodded, conscious of Spock standing behind him.  Until now, he had felt nearly helpless, caught unawares on shore leave, forced to contend with a people and a power that defied understanding and reasoning, torn from his dearest friend’s side and confronted by some of his most fundamental fears, faced near-oblivious existence and the absence of any kind of self.  Now, reunited almost miraculously with his friend and able, finally, to be heard, he felt some of the fatigue and hunger and pain fall away.  Spock had gambled, now Jim would play chess.

           The captain lifted his chin.  “This is not a haven of safety and peace.  It’s a prison.”

            The reply was rapid.  “You do not present a logical argument.  Your kind exist here in total peace and tranquility.  There is no fear, or anger, or lust.  There is no hate.  There is no war.”

            “But there is death.  And violence.”

            “The methods of control require an infrequent purge of emotion to avoid systematic rejection by the population.  The continued well-being of the population requires that contentious members be cast out, for the good of the many.”

            Jim scoffed, “Your methods are flawed.  Humans cannot be kept in such…emotional barrenness.  In order to thrive, we need to fight, to overcome challenges, to love and laugh and feel.”

            “You wish to invite pain.  That is a destructive impulse.”

            Jim opened his mouth, but the voice continued, still without obvious inflection, “You have been acquired in an altruistic attempt to ensure the viability of your kind.  Out of respect for the sacrifice of your freedom, you will never again feel fear or want.”

            “But you also take away love.  That’s something humans can’t live without.”

            There was an extended pause, and then the voice returned, “Love is transient, and is as destructive as hate, or fear; perhaps even more so.  It is uncontrolled.  We allow for no uncontrolled destructive impulses here.”

            Jim leaned forward, adamant.  “Love isn’t destructive; it’s definitive.  It’s purposeful.  It… .”  Jim glanced at Spock, who shook his head slightly, and then back at the screen, changing his tactics.  “Why was this ship constructed?”

            The voice responded placidly, “This vessel was constructed by the leaders of our world as an altruistic gesture in order to ensure the viability of your kind, and other endangered sapient species.”

            Jim crossed his arms, feeling a twinge from his abraded wrists and ignoring it.  “And why were we considered endangered?”

            “A plague was decimating a highly populated area of your planet; this fell under the auspices of this vessel’s programming.”

            “That plague ended.”

            “The plague was not the only example of potentially devastating problems.  There were several wars, and another plague, and other, extra-terrestrial dangers presently exist.  As does other humanoid species, your kind has a single-minded propensity to extinguish yourselves due to your high emotional state.  We strove to rectify this using passive methods of control, to preserve you, and similar humanoid populations.”

            “Why?”

            “What is lost cannot be reclaimed.”

            Jim narrowed his eyes.  “I submit to you that what you have here, in this place, is not what you originally ‘acquired’.  The true nature of the people here has already been lost!”

            “Your statement is ill-defined.”

            Jim could sense Spock’s encouragement, and pushed forward.  “You’ve taken away, through your methods of control, what it means to be human, or Andorian, or Klingon.  You’ve taken all that is good and worth fighting for and left a stagnant shell, a population lacking what it needs to thrive.  You haven’t saved these people or these cultures; you’ve destroyed them!  I submit to you that your purpose is not being satisfied.”

            There was a much longer pause, and then the voice came again, in an almost imperceptibly higher pitch, “Our purpose is to ensure viability.  To ensure continuation.”

            “But your methods have failed.  Your control over these people does not ensure continuation, but discontinuity.  The very identity of the people you capture is altered, and their behavior and interactions are changed, their culture is changed.  What was has been lost.  What is lost cannot be reclaimed.  Your methods are flawed.”

            “Our methods… .”  The voice faltered and stalled before starting again, and now the change in pitch was obvious.  “Our methods are necessary for the continuation of this project.  We must maintain control, and control necessitates the absence of destructive emotions.”

            Jim unfolded his arms, pointing at the screen.  “And humans need those destructive emotions.  We aren’t…human without love, or passion, or anger, or fear.  They are inherent.  To take them away means that what you have in your possession is no longer human, but something else, and your purpose is negated.”

            A burst of static briefly flickered across the viewscreen, and the voice came again, even higher-pitched, “Our purpose is not fulfilled.”

            Jim’s voice echoed strongly in the chamber.  “Your methods are flawed.  Your purpose is unfulfilled.  Your project is a failure.”

            “Failure.  Methods…do not compute…require… .”  The colors on the screen suddenly stalled, and the voice stopped unexpectedly.  The lights on the panels blinked once, and then held steady as the viewscreen flashed and went blank, and Spock gasped, reeling and almost falling.  Jim turned and grabbed him, trying to be gentle against the Vulcan’s injuries, feeling through the bond that the localized presence from before was now, abruptly, gone.

            Spock blinked as Jim steered him around to sit on the bench facing the console.  “I surmise that the control system has…deactivated itself.  Well argued, Jim.”

            “Simple logic and it crashes.  Figures,” Jim muttered as his eyes roamed over the panels.  “The lights are still on, though.  Good news for us or bad news for us?”

            “Perhaps…a stand-by protocol exists to prevent complete failure of life support and other crucial systems.  Unknown if other systems…comms…are affected.”

            Jim had lowered himself next to his bondmate on the bench and he rubbed a hand over his own mouth, his voice softer.  “Spock, can you try to make contact again?  See if there’s any kind of active communication equipment?”

            Spock focused on the panel and leaned forward, reaching out with his left hand to gently touch one of the spheres.  Nothing happened, and Jim’s eyes darted back and forth as Spock lifted his hand and reached for the blue panel before pulling his hand away and letting it fall to his own lap.  “The psionic emanations have ceased.  There is no present pathway…along which to initiate a telepathic interface.”

            “Fuck.”  Jim briefly considered kicking it, and then, suddenly, the viewscreen flashed on with what looked like a cursor, blinking in the lower left corner.  He glanced at the keypad and then at his bondmate.  “We really need a universal translator.  I don’t want to accidentally take the stand-by off-line, or reboot it somehow.”  He looked at Spock.  “Did you get any of the language from your contact with it?”

            Spock shook his head, and his posture was even more hunched over, the shivering unabated.  “Not sufficiently.  The…communication was primarily image-based…conceptual virtual structure.”

           Jim licked his lips, brow furrowed, and he shifted closer to the Vulcan.  “We’ve got to send a message.”

            Spock’s dark eyes rose to meet Jim’s blue gaze.  “That is not all, Jim.  The…settlement, the people there are also in trouble.”

            “Why?”

            “It is unknown how long the full effects of the indoctrination last as it is reinforced nightly.  A sudden re-emergence of…full emotional experience and self-determination will be traumatic.”

            Jim jumped as he heard A’lazb’s sudden yelp, and both men looked towards the overhead doorway as the low rumble of what sounded like thrusters roared through the opening where, inexplicably, false daylight was also now streaming.  Jim leaped up and grasped Spock’s arm, helping him to his feet.  “That’s a ship!”  Spock winced as he stood, and Jim wrapped the Vulcan’s left arm over his shoulders, holding Spock’s waist with his right arm.  There was a single pained grunt as flesh was stretched and injured ribs compressed, and Spock kept his hand tightly over the open wound, but he willingly followed Jim’s lead towards the stairs and up towards the surface, where the roar had shifted to a near-whine.

            Jim slowed as they neared the top, and peered up cautiously as the whine abruptly stopped with a definitive metallic creak and loud settling, and a series of loud hissing noises, perhaps exhaust de-venting, echoed above them.  It was indeed a ship, and it had landed in the clearing, just shy of the surrounding trees, its metallic skin gleaming in the sharp light approximating midday.  A’lazb had disappeared into the forest, and Jim didn’t blame her.

            “What do you make of the lighting?  Maybe some sort of stand-by condition when the control system went down?”  His question wasn’t met with a response and Jim began to gently release his bondmate, wanting to investigate alone, when Spock shifted to look over at him and Jim felt a stern sense of warning across their bond.

            “Okay, okay,” Jim muttered, eyes fastened on the craft outside.  “Can’t fault me for trying.”

            They emerged from the doorway and approached the craft, and Jim craned his neck to take in the structure, his confidence growing as the ship showed no signs of hostile action.  “It’s the size of standard scout craft, but I don’t recognize the configuration. There’s no scripting or anything.  I see warp nacelles, but never in that… .”  Jim shifted his grip on his bondmate as the Vulcan slumped even heavier in his grasp, breathing ragged.  “You alright?”

            “No.”  Spock’s uncharacteristically short response forced a grimace from the captain, an expression that was suddenly replaced by astonishment as the human spied something nestled up against the belly of the ship.

            “Spock, look at that!”   

            Supporting the Vulcan, Jim walked them closer to the apparatus, a large box-like structure that appeared to be capable of remote operation. It had a compact engine attached to its rear as well as a tightly-coiled bundle of the familiar filaments on the front, along with what appeared to be weapons ports.  “This must be one of the transport ships-and I would bet this…contraption is the thing that appeared outside our window on Klijster’s!  The whole thing must be programmed to return in the event of this kind of system shutdown.”

            He glanced over and saw Spock nod minutely.  “It is logical…to expect the ship…to have comms capability.”

            “Yeah.”  Jim craned his neck again to survey the ship again and frowned.  “But how do we get in?  Maybe an access door or something?” 

            He stood still for a moment, chewing the tender inside of his cheek, and then tugged gently at Spock’s waist.  “Come on, let’s check out the aft section.”

            The Vulcan stumbled slightly, but followed his captain, and Jim winced again at his bondmate’s labored breathing, loosening his grip on too-cool flesh.  They slowly made their way along the side of the craft, finding no evidence of a port or door, when Spock stopped abruptly.

            “What is it?”

            “A panel, Jim.  Like the console.”  Spock pulled away to step closer to the metallic skin, and Jim followed his gaze, seeing a small, rectangular panel at eye-level, slightly inset into the hull.

            “What do you… ?”  Jim’s question was abruptly interrupted as Spock reached out and pressed his left palm against the panel.  With a noise of alarm, Jim took the single step forward that separated them and had closed his hand over Spock’s shoulder when he felt a slippery swirl of dematerialization, and his vision clouded over with white mist.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Ninth Life

 

 

            When Jim saw familiar white walls he let out a string of profanity before spinning around and noticing that what, before, had only been a faint outline of a door was now wide open, leading out into what looked like a dark hallway.  He paused, listening, every muscle tensed, but when nothing happened the captain straightened, turning back to face Spock.  “You weren’t going to give me any warning?”

            “It was…a guess.”

            Jim stared at the Vulcan and his expression softened.  “Sorry.”  He stepped forward and reached out, sliding a gentle hand down Spock’s upper arm, frowning as he felt the chill of the skin there, his eyes shifting to regard the now green-soaked left side of his bondmate’s trousers below the oozing wound.  “It’s getting worse; you need to sit down.  Or lie down.”

            “After.”  Jim felt a world of hidden meaning beneath that single word through their bond, recognizing steadfast determination in dark eyes.

            He pressed his own lips together, releasing Spock and crossing to grab several of the small towels that still remained next to the now-empty metal bowl inset to the wall.  Stepping back over, he touched Spock’s blood-covered right hand, still covering the deep wound, pulling it away and gently pressing two of the folded cloths against his side.  There was a spike of discomfort across the bond, but Spock’s expression did not change as Jim moved the Vulcan’s hand back on top of the makeshift bandage.  Their eyes met again and Jim didn’t try to hide the frustration and worry that plagued his own mind.  “When we see Bones again, there’s no way I’m springing you early from sickbay.  I can feel it, you know, bullshit poker face or not… .”

            His muttered rant was cut short by the touch of two fingers to his lips, and Jim swallowed hard, catching Spock’s left hand in his and holding it against his mouth in a desperate kiss, feeling love and understanding swell across the bond.  “Okay,” he murmured against too-cool skin, “let’s get this done and get the fuck out of here.  Lean on me.”  He pulled Spock’s arm again over his shoulders and supported his bondmate as they made their way out into the corridor.

            There was remarkably little space to move within the craft, which was perhaps expected given its purpose and its apparent purely automatic functioning.  The walls and floor of the corridor were smooth and dark-gray, and the same type of lighting that had been found in the underground chamber now lit their way forward, illuminating as they walked.  It was a short trip to a tiny bridge: a familiar-looking console and viewscreen set up directly in front of them, additional equipment mounted to the walls and ceiling around the room, and Jim released Spock to examine the boards.

            As in the chamber, the equipment here appeared to be maintained at a low power level, perhaps some sort of stand-by, and Jim mentally praised Nyota and her insistence on a regular briefing on xenolinguistics and adaptive technology when he saw something that was, without a doubt, a communications station.  He studied the panel and glanced back at Spock.  “Please tell me you got an idea of the numbering system, if not the language.”

            He sensed the Vulcan approach and peer over his shoulder.  “I…believe I can program a frequency using the leftmost keypad.”

            “Okay.”  Jim flexed his hands and eyed the other indicators.  “Key it in and let’s see what we can do.”

            Spock reached out with his left hand and pressed a series of keys.  “Attempting emergency channel code alpha-five-two… .”

            The captain licked his lips as he perused the panel, finally shrugging and pressing the most obvious-looking button.  There was a heart-pounding pause and then the familiar hiss of an open band sounded and Jim let out a whoop.  He glanced over at his bondmate.  “Do you think you can find the nav station or something like it?  Find our present coordinates?”

            “Aye.”  Spock looked around him and crossed slowly to one of the panels opposite, his movements sluggish.  Jim licked his lips again, absently rubbing the raw flesh on his wrist, wincing at the sting.  So close, so close… .  He saw Spock touch several keys and one of the viewscreens illuminated, showing a starfield.  Another sequence, and Jim saw the field shift through a series of different perspectives, alien scripting appears near several of the stars.

            “I cannot be precise with this equipment, but I believe we are in sector six.  Of Alpha Quadrant, Jim.”

            “That’s well inside Federation space!”  Jim stared around the room, his expression incredulous, wondering at the alien technology, at a secret that had existed for a millennium or more, wondering how many had been brought here and been lost here.  How many had been born here and died here, no one back home the wiser.  And where had the craft originated?  Feeling awe, and anxiety, and simple disbelief he finally focused back on the communications station, straightening his shoulders deliberately and preparing to compose a message.

 

 

 

            Two hours, twenty-six point five minutes, according to Spock.  For two hours and change, they had waited for a response, sending calls at regular intervals, alternating emergency frequencies, checking and double-checking the channel, and nothing had come back.  No static, no subspace pulse burst, nothing.  And now Jim was hungry and thirsty and tired, pacing around the small room growing furious with frustration, and Spock was sitting against the wall, eyes closed, legs stretched out in front of him, his right hand still pressed against the open wound, a small pile of blood-soaked towels beside him.  The air inside the craft was slowly growing stale and cold; the environmental controls obviously not operational at the current low power level, and Jim knew they would be forced to leave soon.  Spock had determined that the transporter setup would deliver them back into the midst of the village, as it had before, and although Jim knew that food, water, and clothing would be available there, he also believed it when Spock stressed that a state of chaos would most likely exist.  And neither of them were in any condition for a fight.

            The captain turned on his heel, glancing at the panels, about to do another circuit when the Vulcan’s eyes opened.  “Nam’uh hayal, t’hy’la.

            Jim grunted.  “We should have heard something by now.  We’re not that far into the frontier.”

            “I agree.  However, you must…be calm.  Please.”

            It was the last word, touched with the barest hint of a plea, the bond echoing with lingering exhaustion, pain, and emotional turmoil, which forced Jim to stop.  And then he felt something else over their connection as well: a basic, profound yearning.  He looked into Spock’s dark eyes and recognized where he had seen their expression before: after Primidius, on the observation deck, when Spock had first talked of needing touch.  With the bond, the emotion was unmistakable and undeniable, and Jim’s eyes widened as he reeled internally with the power of it, and of his own instinctual response.

            Crossing the small room in three steps, he lowered himself down to sit next to Spock, stretching his own legs out to favor his twisted knee.  For a moment, they simply looked at each other, and then Jim slowly reached out, brushing his fingers over a cheekbone and ghosting over a pointed ear, letting black hair slide past his fingers as he slipped his hand gently around the back of the Vulcan’s neck.  He pulled, ever so slightly, leaning forward himself so that their foreheads touched, and Spock’s other hand came up to caress the side of Jim’s face, slipping along his meld points.

            The sense of helpless frustration washed away in the tide of warmth between them, and Jim closed his eyes, reaching out for their bond.  His mental touch was clumsy, but he sensed Spock’s fingers alight, the Vulcan’s mind leaping to meet his, and the meld expanded into a beautiful, brilliant thing.  The shields and barriers were gone between them, and the pulse of his bondmate’s deepest thoughts and emotions poured across his mind like silk.  Jim felt himself exhale into the contact, and then he sensed darkness beneath the light, pain beneath the ecstasy, a deepening chill beneath the warmth.  Jim saw, and fought his way back to consciousness, pulling back enough to stare into brown eyes touched by apology, seeing the gray cast to the Vulcan’s face and the spreading dark-green discoloration across his abdomen.

            “No.  You’re not going to die now, dammit.”

            Spock’s hand fell back to his lap, where Jim reached out reflexively to grasp it.  “The wound is not closing, Jim.  The exertion…I believe that some piece of the weapon remains inside my body and there is worsening internal bleeding.  My blood volume is… .”

            “Fuck your blood volume.  You’ve never given up before and you’re not going to do it now.”

            “Jim… .”

            “No.”  Jim’s eyes narrowed.  “I’m not going to watch you die like this.  Not after what we survived, not after… .”  His voice broke.  “Go into a trance.”

            Spock shook his head slightly, his voice soft.  “It will not be enough.”

            Jim ignored him and leaned over, releasing Spock’s hand to tug his other away from the soaked towels, grimacing as he gently pulled the sticky cloth away, exposing the wound.  He examined it, seeing the relentless seepage of blood and the signs of internal bleeding: discoloration and slight distension on his bondmate’s naked torso, feeling dread rise from deep within himself.  Summoning the vestiges of his command persona as his only remaining defense, he forced his frantic emotions down as he carefully pressed the towels back.  “Dammit.”  He looked up.  “How long?”

            The Vulcan stared at him, not presuming to misunderstand his meaning.  “Unknown.  Perhaps…hours, or less.”

            Jim’s jaw tensed.  “We’re going back to the settlement.”

            Spock blinked.  “Jim… .”

            But the captain shook his head definitively.  “We can’t stay here with the enviro settings off-line, and we’ve done all we can with this comm equipment.  The settlement is a risk, but I’ve got to get you somewhere where you can lie down and get warm.”

            “Jim, you should not risk… .”

            “No, listen.”  Jim raised his hand, brushing through his bondmate’s hair, willing him to agree.  “Like you said, if the settlement is in chaos, we have to try to do something anyway; there’re children there.”  He stared into brown eyes.  “Also, if anyone comes looking for us, they’re going to search for a concentration of life-signs.”  He knew he was stretching, grasping at straws, but he had to do something.

            “Yes…Captain.”

            “Okay, hold onto me.  We’ve just got to go back into the holding cell to initiate transport, right?”  He supported the Vulcan as they both stood, seeing Spock nod minutely, and Jim bit his lip.  “Can you communicate with A’lazb?  Tell her where we’re going?  It might be easier if we have a few giant spiders at our back.”

            Spock swallowed.  “No…I cannot.  She may be too far away and…I am unable to focus.” 

            The Vulcan’s voice trailed off, and Jim felt his own dread threaten to turn into panic.  He glanced over at the comm panels one more time, seeing nothing, hearing nothing.  He muttered an obscenity as they walked down the short hallway to the open holding cell.

            “Spock, once we transport over, I want you to try to go into a trance.  Slow everything down.  It may not be enough, but it’ll buy you some time.”

            “Jim, the people may be hostile…Eloida… .”

            The captain felt a wave of sick fury as he heard the young woman’s name.  He had seen in Spock’s thoughts that she had been the one to injure the Vulcan, to have inflicted this possibly fatal wound.  “I’ll handle her.”  He felt the stickiness of blood against his own side where Spock was pressed against him, and the fury warred with fear.  “Promise me.”  And that was it: not a command from a captain, but a plea from a bondmate.  A very personal, desperate plea that was full of everything he had never said and now had no time for.

            They entered the room.  “Spock, promise me!”

            The white mist began to surround them, and as Jim felt the strange slippery feeling creep over his body, he heard his bondmate’s quiet reply.  “No.”

 

 

 

            Though they materialized in the village exactly where they had days before, Jim tore his eyes away from Spock’s profile to take in a place that was suddenly completely unfamiliar.  The air was thick with hanging smoke and the cries of children rent the air.  Around them, people were wandering aimlessly, eyes wide, appearing to be in a state of shock.  Jim took an involuntary step forward, and Spock shifted slightly against him.

            “My gods… ,” Jim murmured, shaking his head at the expressions of the people.  What used to be blank, passive stares were now tormented, contorting constantly with the pull of different emotions.  Their attention was drawn immediately, however, to Jim, and he found himself backing away slightly as several began to approach, hands held out in a pleading gesture, mouths working soundlessly.  As more, and more noticed his presence, they all turned towards him, advancing slowly and haltingly, as if they wanted to walk faster, but couldn’t remember how.  Their advance was not aggressive, however, and Jim recognized one or two former guards, weapon forgotten in their holsters, themselves appearing as confused and anguished as the others.  He noticed that none of the people were touching; in fact, they seemed to avoid proximity to each other, shying away from casual brushes, and hesitated before coming within arm’s reach of the two officers.

            The voices of the children continued to echo around the village, and Jim caught sight of babies clutched in older children’s arms and children clinging to each other, and while fear was almost universally reflected in their faces, they were not catatonic and, unlike the adults, seemed willing to touch.  Jim’s eyes swept over the gathering throng.  He had backed away as far as he could go, almost up against a nearby house, Spock still supported in his arms, feeling across the bond the Vulcan’s shields solidifying desperately against the dizzying array of emotions still flashing across tormented faces.

            More and more people appeared, each obviously avoiding contact with the others, each appearing to be trapped in their own personal hell, each, for some reason, desperately looking at Jim as if he was the key to their salvation.  And, finally, one of the women in front of them found her voice, soft and shaking, “You return from the f’ylao’tri?”

            Jim opened his mouth to respond, when one of the former guards coughed and raised his own voice, “Yes, this is Kirk, whom I myself escorted to the f’ylao’tri.  He, and his friend, were saved from death by their mercy, and by the command of the Guardian and have returned, as the old prophecies have called for.  They are the chosen.”

            Jim began to shake his head, but was stopped by the feeling of Spock’s fingers tightening on his where he held the Vulcan’s arm slung across his shoulders.  He sensed warning across the bond and stilled, waiting to hear the crowd’s response to the man’s words.

            Another woman, at the edge of the crowd called out, her voice high and near-hysterical, “Why does the Guardian abandon us?  What message have you from the Guardian?”  The crowd lost its tense silence in a burst of fevered murmuring, and Jim felt Spock waver and sink heavily against him.  Gently, the captain let his bondmate slip to the ground next to him, stepping forward protectively and raising his own arms, hearing the crowd’s din slowly fade.  He paused, considering his words and their import, painfully aware of his bondmate’s fading strength, wary of Eloida’s obvious and suspicious absence.  Thoughts of the Prime Directive flashed through his mind, and he wondered, academically, if this acquired culture, as long-lived as it was, could be considered to fall under that rubric.  And he thought of his ship, and her mission, and what it truly meant to be free, wondering if it was possible to give that back to these people.

            He lowered his arms and glanced back at his bondmate, sitting on the ground behind him, long legs curled underneath his body, still holding the soaked towels to his side, dark eyes fastened on Jim, and the captain felt a surge of something across the bond, falling into his own mind ahead of a background still seeped in pain and fatigue and a growing fundamental weakness.  It was hope: shining brightly along their connection, shadowed by a sense of very real resignation, and the whispered thought that perhaps what Jim would say here would be worth it.  Spunau bolayalar t’Wehku bolayalar t’Zamu il t’Veh.

            Jim turned back to the waiting crowd, feeling and well as hearing the potent silence.  Even the children had quieted.  “I’ve heard it spoken of light and of water and of a possibility that we can rise anew as better creatures.  The Guardian has not been silenced, but has fallen silent in order for you to fulfill that possibility.  What you are experiencing now is new, but is not to be feared, but to be understood.  It is not to be fought, but to be cherished.  You are free.  Free to feel, and to care, and to love.  Free to hope, and to live as individual persons, making your own choices, and your own decisions.

            “It will be difficult, but it will be worthwhile.  You were never meant to live like this, forever under the Guardian’s protection, but only until you were ready to emerge and find your place under your own power, under your own will.”

            He paused, looking up at the false sky, his eyes watering as if it were a real sun that shone upon his face, taking his bondmate’s hope and sending a desperate wish that their calls had been heard, and that, even now, a ship might be on its way.  “Very soon, others, like me, will come, and you will be taken to a place where you can determine your own destiny.  You will be your own light, and, like water, you will make your way past obstacles in order to emerge into your rightful place.  You will become what you were meant to be, you only need to take the first step.”

            A young man standing near the front of the crowd leaned forward.  “You will help us?”

            “I will, as far as I am able.”

            The young man shifted slightly and then stepped forward, holding his hand out deliberately, his eyes huge, but determined.  Understanding his intent, Jim took a step forwards as well, reaching out and clasping the other’s hand in his own, hearing the boy gasp at the contact and cling to him like a lifeline.

            Jim smiled sadly, watching as others in the crowd slowly reached for each other, clasping hands, tentatively embracing, tears falling from their eyes in catharsis.  He stared into the young man’s eyes, murmuring the words to an old hymn he had once listened to as a child, “I once was lost but now am found.”

            “Demon!”  Eloida’s voice cut across the soft noise like a knife as an energy beam set to full-power blasted a hole in the side of the house less than two meters away.  She appeared through the crowd, the weapon clutched in her hand, pointed squarely at the captain.  Her clothes were ripped and her hair was wild, and her expression was almost manic.  “You are dead!  You were sent to the f’ylao’tri!  You were sacrificed along with your…your phu’liak.  You are spirits; demons sent to torment us in the hour of our trial.  You are the evil of which we need to be purified!”

            Several people had screamed, others were grabbing their heads in their hands, and more were now clinging to each other.  Agitated cries filled the area and the children had shrunk away.  Jim stepped back from the cowering young man, holding his own hands carefully at his sides, turning slowly to face her and moving so that he was in between her weapon and his bondmate. “The Guardian has set you free.  The people have fulfilled their purpose and are free.”

            “Lies!”  Her voice sounded distraught, and the weapon in her hands was shaking.  “You are a demon and it is my sacred duty to defend the people, to defend the Guardian.  I was wise to eschew you as my mate.  You were a disease in the people, and it is my duty to destroy you as I destroyed you before.”  She took a step forward, and the people near her moved rapidly away, the ripple moving through the gathering, more screams rending the air.

           “Eloida,” Jim offered his hands, palms up, “please.”

            “I will kill you and the Guardian will speak again.  The food will come again, and the healing.  The stars will shine while we sleep and we will want for nothing.  If I kill you we will be returned to our perfect community.  If I kill you…Jim.”  Her eyes narrowed, her face frozen in grim anticipation, and the people around her shifted, growing more agitated, the tension swelling as her grip solidified and the weapon steadied, and Jim took a deep breath, knowing he had no way out, seeing her finger tighten on the firing pin, stretching his mind along the bond in apology, and… .

            The shriek of an energy bolt blew past him, but from the wrong direction, and the captain opened his eyes to see Eloida’s body thrown backwards, stunned, her own weapon falling from her hands.  Jim spun to see Spock standing weakly, one of the former guards sitting confusedly on the ground in front of him, a weapon held steady in the Vulcan’s bloodstained hands.  Dark eyes were fierce against pale skin and slid to meet Jim’s astonished gaze before widening slightly and falling closed as Spock collapsed, the weapon dropping as he crumbled onto the dirt ground.

           Jim was at his bondmate’s side in an instant, ignoring the cries and shocked reactions of the crowd around them, falling to the ground and lifting Spock’s head onto his lap.  The people were beginning to scream, to moan, to wail, shouting out in hysterical tones: questions, accusations, fear and anger, shock and disbelief.

            Now, the people advanced, and Jim curled himself around his bondmate’s limp form in a final act of protection just before a familiar shriek echoed around the village and the thunder of giant legs filled the air.  A’lazb landed next to Jim with a powerful thud, followed by a phalanx of other f’ylao’tri, moving in a line from among the nearby houses, moving forward to defend the two men.

            Jim looked up, expecting to see the retreat and panic and instead seeing something approaching reverence appear instantly on the faces of the gathered crowd, seeing them all, almost as one hold out their hands in the familiar gesture that Jim had seen Eloida use so many times.  Be at peace.  A single child, standing at the edge of the crowd, stepped forward, fear suddenly gone, her voice tremulous but audible.  “You are the chosen of the f’ylao’tri, the defenders of the Guardian.  We greet you as our new leader.”

            There was silence, again, and Jim stared at the rapt expression of those in front of him as A’lazb slid closer, bending her giant head down to peer at Spock’s motionless form.  Blinking, Jim followed her gaze, feeling his bondmate’s shallow breathing growing fainter, seeing the signs of injury marring the long lines of his body, the loss of blood finally too much.  He swallowed, feeling the sense of Spock’s mind growing small within his own, the bond feeling like it was collapsing upon itself, a sense of unimaginable grief rising to fill the gaps. The absence, the forever empty places, the landscape of loss stretching on and on… .  “Spock, no…please. Ashayam, stay with me.”  His own voice was barely a whisper, and he shifted, pulling Spock’s body against his, pressing his face into the Vulcan’s neck, wrapping his arms around him.  He could just feel the thrum of a slowing heartbeat against his lips, hearing A’lazb’s mournful trill next to him.  No.  He was losing Spock, and losing himself, and losing his mind as he heard the sound of something both familiar and impossible, and he heard renewed shouts from the crowd, and a growl from A’lazb, and then the sound of a voice, again both familiar and impossible.  Impossible… .

            “Jim!”

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

Vulcan translations from the VLD

Spunau bolayalar t’Wehku bolayalar t’Zamu il t’Veh: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

Lyric from ‘Amazing Grace’ by John Newton (1725-1807)

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: Return

 

 

            “Jim!”

            It felt like slow motion: McCoy’s voice, the sudden frightened dispersal of the crowds, the protective motion of A’lazb, and the shouted warnings of Fleet security officers.  But it was the gleam of phasers raised against the brightness of red shirts that snapped Jim back into reality.

            “No!  Hold your fire!  Stand down!”  He had raised his head and one hand but refused to let go of Spock completely.  “A’lazb, no!  They’re friends!”  His mind was a frantic whirl, and he reached forward, managing to grab one of her legs, desperately and inelegantly shoving a thought towards the arachnoid: an image of his shipmates, a feeling of friendship and camaraderie, not knowing if it would work.

            Bones had run ahead of the security team, his eyes fastened on A’lazb’s intimidating form, his face betraying fear and gritty determination.  At Jim’s words, and as the huge creature’s threatening posture eased, the doctor jogged forward to kneel at Spock’s side, medkit already out.  The scanner beeped and the doctor swore, reaching immediately for his communicator.  “McCoy to Enterprise, I have them.  Stand by for emergency transport of three.  Medical emergency, have crash team standing by in the transporter room.”

            An unknown voice acknowledged and Jim tightened his grip on his bondmate’s body as the beam caught them.

 

 

 

            The familiarity of the transporter room was lost in the frantic rush of activity that followed, and Jim, who materialized still holding Spock, his own mind still desperately reaching for the fading siren call of the bond, cried out sharply as hands gripped his shoulders and his arms, pulling him away from his bondmate.  He struggled, hearing M’Benga’s voice rising above the din, shouting orders, and the captain jerked away from the cold press of a hypo against his neck.

           “Jim!  Jim, settle down, dammit.”

            “No!  I’ve got to…you don’t understand. Let me go!”  He had almost won free when the hands caught him again.

            “Hold him!”  McCoy’s voice was steel.  This time, the hiss of the hypo was inescapable, and Jim’s body collapsed back as his muscles seemed to give out from under him.  He was still conscious, however, and could only watch as Spock’s unmoving form was whisked into the hallway on a gurney, surrounded by medical personnel.  McCoy’s face, lined with anxiety and frustration, came into focus above him.

            “My god, Jim, what happened over there?”

            Jim couldn’t speak, his eyes fastened on the closing doors.  He was terrified to look inward, terrified that the bond had completely disappeared, knowing that the wave of grief that threatened to consume him was held back by the barest glimmer of hope.  But, finally, he couldn’t help but seek that tender thread that bound him to his t’hy’la, darkly now, and faint.  Stay with me, Spock.  Please.

            “Jim?”  McCoy’s voice was softer, directed to him after a flurry of orders to the two remaining nurses, and Jim saw the doctor gesture and felt his own body rolled and then raised onto another gurney, feeling motion beneath him, the stickiness of blood remaining on his skin and clothes.  He felt vaguely like he was floating, closing his eyes as the ceiling flashed above him.  The bond seemed dimmer and the wave of grief steadily approaching.  Enough feeling was returning to his body for him to grip his hands into fists, and he sensed the cool, dry air of sickbay and opened his eyes, turning his head helplessly towards the intensive care unit before he himself was taken into the main ward.  He couldn’t hear anything, but he could sense something unraveling, and the tide of uncontrolled emotion was almost upon him and he began to struggle again, feeling the nurses’ hands pressing him down to the gurney as they approached a biobed.  Ashayam, please.

            There was fear, and pain, and anger, and unrelenting grief, and Jim drew a ragged breath, knowing that he had to speak, feeling as if he were about to fall, and knowing now that whatever he had felt as Spock went over that wall had not been the breaking of a bond at all.  Not like this.  Turning his head, he saw McCoy’s face again and forced rapid words from unfeeling lips, “Bones…the people down there…the f’ylao’tri, the spiders.  They’re in danger, all of them.  Evacuate that ship…do not activate the computer…dangerous energies… .”  His words trailed off into a pained moan as agony shot through his head and the tumultuous emotions surged, the sensation of unraveling becoming acute.  “No!”

            “Jim, what’s wrong?  Fuck.”  McCoy’s voice was raised, but not enough to drown out the Code that sounded sharply over the general com.  “Xin, get over here with that hypo!”  A nurse and doctor ran past them, on their way into the IC unit.

            “Yes, sir.  Doctor, should you… ?”

            “M’Benga’s doing all he can and I’ve got the Captain here going into some kind of shock; I’m staying here.”  McCoy’s voice was clipped.  “Get him onto the bed.”

            Jim dimly felt himself lifted onto a biobed and heard another hypo release its contents into his neck, but all of his focus was on the bond.  He closed his eyes, blocking out everything but the feeling of distant warmth that was fading, reaching his untrained mind towards what he knew to be his bondmate’s presence, holding on, holding fast, feeling his mind scream with ruthless stubbornness, I won’t let you go.  I won’t fucking let you go.  It was a clumsy mantra, and held nothing but raw emotion and human doggedness, but something changed, and the unraveling stopped, and the feeling of falling slowed, and Jim opened his eyes, gasping, to see his oldest friend staring at him with open confusion on his face.

            “Readings stabilizing, doctor.”

            “I don’t know what the hell that was all about.  Jim, can you hear me?  Jim… .”

            But the captain’s vision was darkening, waves of exhaustion and pain and weakness pouring back through the widening and unshielded bond, his own mind feeling sluggish and spent, and he exhaled, letting himself fall again, but this time into known unconsciousness. 

 

 

 

            Gasping awake in a haze of confusion, relief, and fear, his mind flailing frantically for the bond, Jim struggled on the biobed for a bare instant before familiar hands gripped his wrists.  “Jim!  It’s okay.  You’re on the Enterprise, you’re safe.”

            “Bones!”  His voice was rough, his throat dry. He stilled, looking into concerned hazel eyes.  “Spock?”

            “He’s alive.  Jim, what happened to you?  We got a report just two days into leave that you and Spock were missing and… .”  McCoy’s voice went on, but Jim was no longer listening, his eyes growing unfocused as he concentrated harder, feeling…something: weak and dark, but there, and hurting.  And sharply on the heels of his recognition of the bond was an undeniable urge from deep inside him, calling him to his bondmate: a need for closeness, basic and powerful.  Jim swallowed dryly, turning with surprising rapidity to kick the thin sickbay blankets off his body and to sit up, swinging his legs fully over the edge of the bed before his startled friend could react.

            “Jim, what the fuck?  You’re in no condition to be…Jim!”

            The captain had gotten both feet on the floor, pushing himself up mightily before swaying and leaning into McCoy, who had by then rounded the bed and was sputtering.

            “Bones, I need to get to Spock.  You don’t understand, it’s important.”

            “Goddamn right I don’t understand.”  But McCoy didn’t push him back into bed, having enough experience with the particular force of nature that was Jim Kirk.  The doctor huffed and wrapped his arm more firmly around his friend.  “You’re reacting to the meds we gave you-they should have made you sleep for another few hours.”  He shook his head at a nurse who had entered the room, hypo at the ready, and started to walk forward, supporting the captain and lowering his voice.  “He’s still in the IC unit, working on another transfusion and still unconscious.”  As Jim slowly straightened, McCoy made a face and allowed the captain to move slightly away, walking mostly under his own power.  “You’re as stubborn as they come, kid.”

            Jim exhaled and avoided the nurse’s confused expression, letting McCoy guide him through the iso unit doors and back out into the main bay.  Once there, his eyes widened and he stiffened, seeing beds, chairs, and even the floor full of both familiar and unfamiliar faces.  The people’s clothes were now patchwork combinations of standard Fleet wear, but they were clean and appeared calm, and Jim noticed the young man who had grasped his hand back in the village step forward, bright eyes full of recognition.

            “It is Kirk!  Our leader, and the chosen of the Guardian!”

            The captain heard McCoy’s exasperated sigh but nodded to the man, and to the others, still desperate to see Spock, and not quite understanding the situation.  The doctor scowled.  “Alright, you’ve seen him.  But now Kirk’s got to go and lie down, just like you should be doing; all of you.  He’ll be back when he can.”

            The young man stepped back almost deferentially, but didn’t take his eyes from Jim.  In fact, none of those gathered looked away, and when they reached the entrance into the secure IC unit and the outer doors sealed behind them, the captain glanced questioningly at McCoy, who was still scowling.

            The doctor reached out to punch in a code to release the inner doors, muttering, “That ship you were on was losing power and life support so we had to transport everyone here.”  He gestured with his chin back at the main ward.  “They’re all on some pretty heavy-duty meds, and have the psych team working on overdrive.  Your spider friends are being looked after in the shuttlebay; only place big enough to handle them.  And our ship’s holding position awaiting a proper medical vessel and security escort.  No one’s sure exactly what’s going on, but it’s pretty obvious you’re some sort of god to those people in there.”

            Now, Jim was looking forward.  “Not a god, Bones.  Just a man with very convenient timing and a heavy dose of luck.”  His voice held more than a touch of bitterness, and, as the inner doors finally hissed open and he saw a single, prone form on a biobed inside, he pushed away from McCoy, crossing the room on unsteady legs to gently clasp Spock’s hand.

            The Vulcan was almost as pale as the sheets underneath him, but the dirt and blood that had encrusted his body and tangled in his hair had been cleaned away, the bruising had mostly faded across his face, the swelling completely gone, and the ugly gash was practically invisible, a thin greenish line sliding into black hair.  He lay on a heating pad, and a standard sickbay jumpsuit covered his body beneath several blankets, but Jim was sure that the other wounds would have been tended to as well.  The Vulcan’s arms lay at his sides, above the blankets, and on the other side of the bed, two IV units enclosed his lower arm almost completely. Jim recognized a transfusion pack by the green liquid and instinctively glanced up at the readings on the panel above Spock’s head.  The indicators were low, but appeared to be holding, and the faint trace of the bond had strengthened somewhat with their skin-to-skin contact.  Despite the sunken appearance of Spock’s face, and the coolness of his skin, he was alive, and Jim drew a shaky breath and almost fell into the chair that McCoy had pulled over to place just behind him.

            “So.  You wanna tell me about it?”  McCoy’s voice was gentle as he lowered himself into another chair and waved away the two nurses who had approached as the doctor and captain had entered.

            Jim grunted, shaking off the question, concentrating on the feel of his bondmate’s hand in his.  “Is he going to be okay?”

            McCoy exhaled and shifted in his seat.  “I’m not gonna lie to you, he was on his way out.  His heart stopped at one point and M’Benga had to perform emergency surgery.”  The doctor tilted his head.  “Right about the same time as you went into some kind of shock.”

            When Jim didn’t react, McCoy shook his head and leaned back.  “The surgery was successful and he’s gone into one of his voodoo trances.  Good news is there wasn’t any permanent damage to his organs and he appears to be responding well to the transfusions.”  The doctor took a breath.  “He was torn up pretty badly, though, Jim.  I don’t know how he lasted as long as he did, but I think he’s going to be alright.”

            Jim could feel McCoy’s eyes on him.  “Okay.”  A deep breath, and a softly repeated word.  “Okay.”  He wouldn’t dare to feel relief, not just yet, but he was willing to trust in Vulcan strength and McCoy’s stubborn resolve.

            McCoy furrowed his brow but held his silence and the quiet stretched, broken only by the soft beeping of medical monitors and the low murmur of voices at the nurses’ station.

            Jim abruptly stiffened, eyes tearing from Spock’s profile to regard the doctor closely.  “Who’s in command?  Did that ship out there have any offensive capabilities?”

            Bones raised a hand.  “Commodore Preshar, from Starbase Six.  He canceled leave and took over when you and Spock were reported missing: two high-profile command-level officers taken under reported hostile circumstances, everyone thought the Romulans or Klingons were to blame and it became obvious that the Enterprise was the only starship in range with the firepower and sensor capability necessary for a pursuit.  Then Scotty found evidence of a strange energy signature within a faded warp trail, headed into a quiet area of Federation space completely separate from any reasonable course a Romulan or Klingon ship would take, and we started wondering if something or someone else was to blame.

            “Eventually the warp trail disappeared, and then we got a repeated message across Starfleet emergency channels.  It was faint and almost unreadable, but it was your voice, and we tracked it to that ship, just floating out there, energy levels dropping, but with a concentration of human and humanoid life signs in an upper section.  And you should see it, Jim, from the outside.  No wonder the thing was hard to find; there were these strange panels made up of a material that refracted energy, both scans and regular light, making it appear nearly invisible.  Much simpler than the cloaking technology in development today, but effective, and it took a bit of tweaking for the science officer on duty to find a scanning frequency that worked.

            “We had broadcast a response to your message, but there was no sign our reply had gotten through, and no signs of offensive action, so I convinced Preshar to let me beam over with a security detail.  I don’t know what I expected to find, but it wasn’t the two of you surrounded by giant spiders, half-naked and covered in blood, with a throng of crazies ready to pounce.”

            Jim licked his lips at the mention of crazies.  “Did you find anyone named Eloida; young woman, maybe mid-twenties, dark hair?  She had been hit by a stun beam right before you showed up.”

            McCoy blinked at him.  “Yes.”  His tone was cautious.

            “She needs to be in lockdown, Bones.” 

            Jim was half out of his seat before McCoy nodded.  “She’s under restraints, Jim, and on medication.”  His expression was sober.  “She’s conscious, though, and coherent.  She’s been asking for you repeatedly.  Even more than the others out there.”

            “She tried to kill Spock.  And me.”

            McCoy’s brow furrowed.  “Whatever happened may not have been entirely her fault, Jim.  All these people’s brains show evidence of significant damage in certain areas associated with creative thinking and self-control, something that seems to be due to chronic exposure to some kind of energy field.  At least, that’s my hypothesis based on comparisons with brain scans from psych patients who’ve been exposed to long-term brain wave manipulation therapy on rehab colonies.”  He shrugged.  “Also, based on what you said before you passed out after we brought you onboard.  But this, whatever it was, was pretty destructive.  The children seem to have been the most resilient; most of them are bouncing right back, but some of the adults are far enough gone that we’ve had to place them under heavy sedation and security measures.  Some are having trouble remembering what happened, or simply don’t recognize this,” he waved his hand, “as being reality.”  He tilted his head, his voice quiet, but intense.  “Jim, what happened down there?  Who are these people?”

            The captain looked at his friend for a long moment and then averted his eyes, glancing around the gleaming, white unit before alighting on Spock’s face once more, his fingers tightening on the Vulcan’s.  The entire experience, over just days, had been intense and horrific, disturbing, and deeply affecting.  And how to explain it, even to a friend?  How to explain an alien computer, programmed to retain a controlled, damaged version of humanity and the horrors it inspired?  How to explain recognizing love despite oneself and then suffering its brutal loss?  Experiencing fantastic luck and bitter injustice?  How to explain having known the unexpected heights of an intimate, inhuman sharing of minds as well as the depths of very human pain and grief?  Only days, hours even, filled with discovery and disappointment, death and life.  It was almost unbelievable, and yet, as he held Spock’s hand, he knew that he had to face it, and in the only way he knew how.  Slowly, almost unconsciously, his posture straightened and he raised his chin, his expression hardening.  “I’ll put it in my report, Bones.  Right now I need you to get me a uniform.”

            The doctor’s eyes narrowed.  “I’m not allowing you back on-duty, Jim.”

            Jim shook his head, finally turning to meet McCoy’s eyes again.  “Not on-duty, but I need to see Preshar right away.  You’re right that there were energy fields active on that ship that were uniquely harmful to humans and humanoids, and especially Vulcans.  It’s a huge security risk that can’t fall into the wrong hands.”  Taking a breath, he slowly disentangled his hand from his bondmate’s, feeling suddenly chilled.  “And I need to speak to someone in Astrobiology.”

            “Astrobiology?”

            “Yeah.”  Jim stood up, his determination keeping him upright on still-weak legs.  “I want to know where A’lazb and her people may have originated.  It might give us a clue as to where that ship came from.”

            “A’lazb?”  Bones sounded irritated.

            “The giant spiders in the shuttlebay.  I need to talk to them as well.”

            “Anything else?”  The doctor had stood as well and folded his arms across his chest, his lips pursed, his tone sarcastic.  Jim knew he was pushing it by refusing to elaborate further, and swallowed, glancing at Spock once more before raising his eyes to meet McCoy’s hard gaze.

            “Please stay with my bondmate?”  Jim watched his friend’s expression shift from confusion to slowly dawning realization, watched the doctor’s hands drop to his sides and his eyes close momentarily before opening again, hazel depths touched finally by understanding.

            “Sure, kid.  I’ll be right here.”  Bones’ voice was gentle, and Jim managed a small smile as the doctor reached out to grip his shoulder.  “He’s not going anywhere.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: Rising

 

 

            It was nearly four hours before Jim left Commodore Preshar’s temporary quarters on Deck Five.  The medical ship Soranus and its escort vessel, the gunship Carter, were en route and expected within six hours, and Jim had sent a preliminary report to Command, emphasizing the potential dangers held within the captured, quiescent, vessel.

            The Enterprise was currently holding yellow alert, but no further signal or energy emission had been detected from the alien craft, nor any sign of alien reinforcements or recovery attempts, despite continued scans.  Preshar’s concerns, as well as Command’s, had been focused on the security risk associated with the psionic energies as well as the potential for an interplanetary incident with its unknown designers.  Astrobiology and Xenoarchaeology had been pulled in on a secure conference, and were working the available data, but no one was cleared to re-board the alien vessel until more detailed scans had been completed and any remaining threat was assessed.  Several preliminary identifications had been made among the recovered humans, including a woman reported missing for three years from Delta Colony, an outlying settlement near Klijster’s World, but Qo’noS had not yet been informed of the few Klingon survivors. 

            The captain had kept his report brief, by-the-book, and as unemotional as possible, mentioning his bonding with his first officer only in necessary terms.  There was no explicit rule preventing personal or intimate relationships between senior members of a starship crew, but it was frowned upon, especially within the command team.  The response, however, had been one of simple acceptance, and Jim couldn’t shake the feeling that it was not a complete surprise even to the admiralty.  Raj Preshar, who had lost his wife in a hostage situation aboard a Fleet science vessel, was particularly supportive, and had been the one to urge Jim to leave to be at his bondmate’s side as soon as the report was submitted, the calls were completed, and the security situation was sufficiently evaluated.  Jim had turned to depart, troubled by his misinterpretation regarding his prior relationship with his first officer and wondering if he himself was the only one who hadn’t understood its depth.  For the captain, whose strengths lay in an ability to be both introspective and to be aware of others’ perceptions, it was a startling realization, and he felt the shame and guilt that had plagued him following Spock’s honest declaration of love rise anew.  With the bond still dark and faint, Jim felt unsettled and tired, and any sense of closure eluded him.     

            His somber mood persisted as he exited the commodore’s quarters, and he nearly walked into a crewman.

            “Captain!”

            Jim looked up, about to apologize, and was struck by the warmth and relief he saw in Ensign Aminev’s brown eyes.

            “It’s good to have you back, sir.”  Jim felt his hand grasped in an impulsive handshake, and couldn’t help but return the smile spreading across the face of the young engineer.

            “Thank you, Ensign.  It’s good to be back.”  The young man nodded and released Jim’s hand, turning to continue down the hallway, and Jim looked up at the gleaming white panels of the corridor, truly registering the simple comfort and knowledge that he was back onboard his ship, back where he belonged.

            Passing other crew on the way to the turbolift, seeing their pride and happiness in his presence, and exchanging heartfelt greetings made it clear to him: this was home, more defining than his command chair or the braid on his sleeve, this, the heart and soul of Enterprise, his family.  He had been gone only days, yet he felt as if he had fought his way back from another life, and he could still sense the strange juxtaposition: freedom and captivity, lies and truth, emotion and barrenness, and all the shades of gray in between.  He boarded the lift, closing his eyes briefly as he listened to the low heartbeat of his vessel: air whispering through recirculators, the steady pulse of the engines at station keeping.  And his mind reached instinctively towards his dearest friend, now bondmate, a being whose presence had always seemed to encompass the feeling of home more than any other.  Jim thought briefly of how he had always spoken of the Enterprise with his first officer: How’s our ship, Spock?   Our ship.  He shook his head, opening his eyes; he truly should have known.

            As the subtle whir of the lift began, Jim crossed his arms over his chest, feeling the lingering pull and sting on his upper arm where the tattoo had been removed, his thoughts of home and his friend leading him somehow back to the words he threw at Eloida in an agony of grief: These are not my people, not my duty… .  And he had been wrong.  For they were his people, as much as any Federation citizen was, his to defend and protect.  They were his duty, and are.  McCoy’s analysis of the brain damage suffered due to the long-term exposure to the psionic energies flashed through his memory, as well as his simple statement: She’s been asking for you… .   The captain swallowed, caught between the lingering horror of his experience, and the responsibility and compassion that called him to make a necessary but distasteful visit.  And he knew he had to do it now, before he saw his injured bondmate once more and anger prevented him.  Ri klau au ik klau tu.  The saying was valid, but he himself was only human.

 

 

 

            Jim had managed to slip in past the main ward without being seen by the people there, and one of the doctors on duty had shown him into the auxiliary ward, where they had sent the more violent and resistant cases.  Eloida was lying on the first bed that he passed, still restrained, looking completely different in a sickbay jumpsuit, under a thin blanket, her brown hair twisted into a single braid lying over one shoulder, eyes closed.  He hesitated, feeling the tension return to his shoulders and neck, and then lifted his chin, stepping forward to stand next to her bed, clasping his hands carefully behind his back.

            She opened her eyes after only a few seconds, blinking rapidly and gasping as recognition moved across her face, followed quickly by fear, confusion, and something that Jim had never expected to see.

            “Kirk!  Jim.  You have come to me.  I have asked and asked, but they would not tell me where you were or when you would come.  I am so…happy to see you.”

            Jim remained silent, his jaw muscles shifting.  Her expression was shockingly open, so different from the superior placidity he had seen before, or that horrible jealous rage that had almost meant his own end.

            “Jim, do you not remember me?”  Her brow furrowed.  “I myself do not remember…much.  They," she glanced over his shoulder, “said it was normal, but I do not believe it to be.  I remember a voice telling me what to do and where to go and why.  I remember a sense of duty and service.  And I remember you.”  She smiled, and her pale blue eyes were disconcertingly warm.  “You are my mate.”

            Jim stared, and he could feel the color drain from his face.  He heard a soft sound from behind him, and turned to see one of the psychiatrists standing there, a worried expression on her face.  She raised her hand, and he pressed his lips together, stepping over to her side.

            “Yes, Doctor Anderson?”

            “Captain,” her voice was low, “we’ve managed to stabilize her aggression, but she is having more and more trouble with her memory.  She’s fixated on you, and probably because you were a focal point during the last few days.  Am I correct?”

            “Yes.”  Jim didn’t elaborate, and the doctor simply nodded.

            “She may not recall any of this conversation even minutes from now, but she might remember that you were here.  It might calm her if you answer her as simply as possible; she seems to respond well to straight-forward explanations, even if she does not fully understand.”

            “Jim?”  Eloida’s voice carried from behind him, and the captain flinched, his hands tightening behind his back.

            Anderson watched him closely.  “Captain?”

            Jim shook his head.  “I understand.  I’ll only need a few minutes.”

            “Yes, sir.”  Anderson lingered for a second or two, and then turned to go, and Jim faced Eloida once more, stepping back to her bedside.

            The pale blue eyes were searching his face, and Jim’s emotions warred within him.  He opened his mouth, but she spoke first, and her voice held sadness.  “You are one of them?”

            “I…am.”

           Jim watched her carefully, but she simply nodded.  “You were mine?”

            It would have been so easy to lie, but Jim chose not to do so, and his own voice came unexpectedly gently as he responded, “No, Eloida, I was not.”

            She blinked, something passing through her eyes.  “You are his.”

           Always his.  “Yes.”

            “I…wronged you?  I remember touching you, and, now, I remember your…your anger.”  She frowned, and looked away.  “Your…sadness.  I hurt him; I remember his pain, his voice saying your name.”  There was a pause, and then her eyes lifted to his once more.  “He lives?”

            “He does.”

            She nodded and again turned her face away.  “I…am sorry, Jim.”

            “I’m sorry, too, Eloida.”  He waited, but she was silent, and her eyes were closed, her chest slowly rising and falling in the rhythm of sleep.  Jim looked up, his eyes burning with the ghost of tears, and shook his head sharply, clearing his vision.  He turned on his heel and walked away, towards the doors to the ward, nodding succinctly to Anderson as he passed her.  The doctor nodded back, and her eyes held understanding, and sympathy. 

 

 

 

            Jim paused as he left the aux ward, again avoiding the main unit, his hands flexing at his sides, thinking of fault and grief and pain and love.  He did not hate her, after all, and he was beginning to believe that he did not blame her.  He swallowed hard and wondered if it would have been so if Spock had died, if his own forgiveness would have gone only so far.  He was content not to have to find out.  Five days and change since they had been taken, since he had been forced to examine himself in ways he could never have anticipated: he had discovered that he would fight when there seemed to be nothing left, would defend his ideals despite overwhelming resistance, and would embrace love as a fundamental, defining need instead of avoiding it out of fear and ignorance.  Days since he had realized something that everyone else had seemingly already known and now he couldn’t imagine living without.  Spock… . 

            He was shaken out of his reverie by a wash of vertigo, and reached out to place a hand on the smooth, white wall, steadying himself.  A passing nurse hesitated.  “Are you alright, Captain?”

            Jim frowned, sensing the bond expand suddenly to feel strange and insistent inside his head, and felt a strong impulse to be near to his bondmate.  “I’m…fine, Mr. Kaplan, thanks.”  The nurse stopped, his brow furrowed as if he didn’t quite believe his commanding officer, and Jim straightened and gestured down the hallway, nervous energy dancing along his limbs.  “Let me into the IC unit, will you?”

            “Yes, sir.”  Kaplan still looked worried, but turned and preceded Jim the short distance to the unit entrance, punching the panel for the outer doors and stepping inside, moving to key in the access code for the inner doors.

            Jim barely nodded an acknowledgment, his entire focus now on the bond practically undulating in his mind as the doors hissed open and he stepped through, heading directly for the minor commotion around Spock’s bedside.  The half-Vulcan was sitting halfway up, propped on an elbow, and McCoy was delivering a solid strike to his face.  Alarms were beeping in the background, and two nurses and M’Benga were standing to the side.  McCoy’s hand went back again, and Jim flinched as Spock’s head snapped back, seeing M’Benga’s surprised expression as he noticed the captain’s presence.  One more slap, and McCoy’s wrist was caught, and Spock pushed himself up fully, and Jim stepped forward, feeling the bond settle and align as Spock’s conscious shielding stabilized.

            The Vulcan released McCoy’s wrist immediately and the alarms silenced one by one.  The captain made an involuntary movement forward and stopped, aware of the people around them, and McCoy followed Spock’s gaze towards Jim.  The doctor smirked and shook his head slightly, muttering, “Well, if I didn’t believe it before, I do now.”  He stepped back and peered at the overhead panels, one of the nurses handing him a scanner as he raised his voice towards his patient.  “Okay, Spock, let’s see how you’re going.”

            Spock was still terribly pale and his shoulders were uncharacteristically slumped, but his eyes were bright and fixed intensely on his bondmate.  Jim’s lips parted, but he hesitated, not knowing what to do or say given their audience and Spock’s predilection for privacy.  McCoy and M’Benga were conversing in low tones, and, finally, despite the scrutiny of the nurses and the proximity of the doctors, drawn by a powerful impulse that couldn’t be denied, Jim decided to simply act.  Moving to the other side of the bed, he reached out with one hand, entwining his fingers with the Vulcan’s, just barely resisting an urge to press his lips to dark hair, and feeling his tight muscles relax as their skin made contact.

            “You alright?”  He searched his bondmate’s face, hearing one of the nurses quietly gasp and the doctors’ conversation abruptly stop and wondering if he’d gone too far.

            But Spock only nodded slightly and tightened his grip on Jim’s hand.  “I am functional, Jim.”  His voice was weak, but Jim smiled, bringing his other hand forward to fully enclose his bondmate’s, feeling the bond expand warmly between them, sensations of humor, relief, and, most definitively of all, love.

            McCoy recovered first, pointing a stylus at the Vulcan.  “Bullshit. Your blood volume and core temperature are still too low.  You were barely under long enough to make a difference.”

            Spock raised an eyebrow at the doctor and looked again at Jim.  “A’lazb?”

            Jim’s smile faded.  “I haven’t been to see her yet.  We transported everyone over here and all the f’ylao’tri are being cared for in the shuttlebay; that ship out there is running dark.”

            Spock sat up straighter.  “I must see her, immediately.”

            McCoy’s expression darkened, and his voice came out sharply, “Absolutely not!”

            “Doctor, I am the only telepath within this crew, and therefore the only person who can communicate with the f’ylao’tri.  They are responsible for saving my life, and the Captain’s, and have themselves been subjected to significant trauma.  It is my duty to… .”

            McCoy glowered.  “You may be the only telepath onboard, but you’re still under my care and, in my humble medical opinion, probably shouldn’t even be conscious right now.”

            Spock’s voice held a note of dismissal.  “I have sufficiently recovered to leave this unit.”

            “Listen, Spock, you may have Jim wrapped around your finger, but you’re not… .”

            “Bones,” Jim interrupted quickly, “a word?”  He gently released Spock’s hand and jerked his chin at his CMO, who frowned deeply but came around the bed to follow him, handing the scanner back to the nurse.

            As Jim turned, he heard M’Benga’s question towards the Vulcan, “Ki’tel-tor du?

            Spock’s response was quiet, but firm.  “Ha, nam-tor ish-veh telsu t’nash-veh.

            “Ri tvai thrap-tor, hi… .”

            “Nam-tor ri thrap wilat nem-tor rim.  Nam-tor etek t’hy’la.”

            Jim waited until McCoy had followed him several paces away, turning so his back was to the others and simply looking at his oldest friend.  The doctor’s frown turned into a scowl and then slowly eased until only lines of worry were left on his face and he sighed.  “I know.  I’m sorry, Jim, I shouldn’t have said that, but he’s still dangerously weak and you don’t even need a damn scanner to see it.  He almost died, and, hell, you probably shouldn’t be on your feet either after what happened.”  McCoy waved both hands.  “Which I had to read about, by the way.  Thanks for officially copying me on that report.”

            The doctor’s sarcasm fell heavily and Jim stepped closer.  “Bones, I… .”

            “No.”  McCoy shook his head, the sharpness in his voice suddenly softening, and he sighed again.  “No, I understand.  I wouldn’t have wanted to get into it more than I had to either.”  Hazel eyes met blue and Jim was struck by the intensity there.  “I saw you, Jim, when I first beamed down.  I operated on your first officer and saw what had been done to him.  I had to listen to those people in there cry and scream and beg for something that had been destroying them.  And then reading the details in your report,” he drew in a shaky breath, “what happened to you, and to Spock, was horrific.”

            Jim glanced at the floor, feeling Spock’s eyes on his back and knowing that Vulcan hearing could pick up everything that was said.  He looked back up at McCoy, seeing the depths of concern in his friend’s eyes.  “It was…bad, Bones.  But we need, I need, to find some purpose in all this.  And part of that is finding answers about that ship out there, and another part is taking care of those who took care of us.  Spock’s right about A’lazb; we wouldn’t be here now if she hadn’t helped us.  And we may be home again, but she’s in yet another foreign place, surrounded by strangers.”  He took a breath, seeing McCoy’s instinctive negative response and shaking his head emphatically.  “I’m not asking this as your captain, obviously, but as a friend.  Let Spock go down there for a few minutes so we can sort this out and then he promises to rest as much as you order.”

            McCoy’s expression was skeptical.  “He promises?”

            “I will comply, Doctor,” Spock’s level voice cut in from behind Jim, and the doctor started, exchanging a glance with M’Benga who shrugged, evidently guessing the reasoning behind the captain’s conference.

            “Fine.  If he can walk by himself and if he stays hooked up to a portable IV.  And I’m coming down, too.”  The doctor crossed his arms.  “And afterwards you both are confined to sickbay until I give the all-clear.”

           “Sure, Bones.”

            Jim gave him a half-smile, but McCoy just shook his head exasperatedly, looking away to one of the nurses.  “Barnes, get Commander Spock a uniform, will you?”

            She mirrored the doctor’s troubled expression but nodded crisply.  “Yes, sir.”

            Jim winced, but walked back over to his bondmate’s side, catching M’Benga’s thoughtful once-over before the doctor turned pointedly back to his PADD.

            “I believe you said that there was ‘no way I’m springing you early from sickbay’, Jim.”  Spock’s voice was its usual monotone, but the captain picked up a hint of humor through the bond.

            “I lied,” Jim replied dryly.  He watched Barnes approach with a neatly folded pile of clothing.  “Here, let me help you get dressed.”

 

 

 

            The trip down to the shuttlebay was slow, and held a background of tension among the three men, or, at least, between the humans.  Jim walked as close as he dared next to his bondmate, mindful of Spock’s deliberate pace, knowing that the Vulcan’s outward impassivity was belied by growing weakness and discomfort.  The portable IV unit encircled the Vulcan’s lower left arm, his uniform sleeve rolled up to accommodate it, and Spock’s already ghostly pallor had worsened since he had arisen, almost too smoothly, from the biobed.  As they entered the turbolift and Jim caught a barely perceptible sway out of the corner of his eye, he wondered if his own talent for bullshit hadn’t rubbed off on his first officer.

            Spock glanced over at him and Jim pursed his lips to keep from smiling, feeling the barest hint of affront swell across their connection.  A snort from a watchful McCoy brought the captain’s attention back on his human friend.

            “You realize you’ve both just signed yourselves up for a full panel of scans when we get back?”  The doctor’s hands were open and hovering just in front of him, as if he were waiting for Spock’s inevitable collapse.

            “Vulcan bonds are not damaging to humans.”  Spock’s tone was nonchalant, and Jim smiled as he heard Bones sputter.

            “In the one case that we know of, it wasn’t damaging.  With you two?  And with the circumstances you were under at the time?  Not to mention you’re both fucking lucky that you escaped without any lasting impairment from those psionic emanations.”

            Jim pressed his lips together and shifted closer to Spock, and Bones narrowed his eyes as if he were about to say something else when the lift slowed and the doors slid open to the entrance to the shuttle deck.  Jim gestured the others out first and walked towards the doors, where two security guards were standing watch.

            “Captain, Commander.  Doctor.”  Ensign Wells stood at attention as the three officers approached.

            “At ease, gentlemen.”  Jim gestured to the doors.  “Any problems?”

            “No, sir.  It’s been quiet.  We’ve been performing a visual check and walk-through twice an hour as per Commodore Preshar’s orders, but the spiders-I mean, the f’ylao’tri, have been very accommodating.  They’ve not attempted contact of any kind and, actually, have hardly moved since they were beamed aboard.  They’re mostly clustered together, like they’re cold, so we increased the ambient temperature.”

            “Good.”  But Jim’s brow was furrowed and he sensed his bondmate’s concern, felt Spock’s shields begin a deliberate adjustment.  “Open the doors, please.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            As the doors slid open and Jim stepped through, Spock and McCoy following, he noticed the low ambient lighting along the entire cavernous bay.  The temperature was slightly higher than usual, and, as his pupils adjusted, he saw the familiar gleam of hundreds of eyes.  The guard’s observation still held: the f’ylao’tri were largely pressed against each other, legs entangled and bodies close together.  But before he could move further in, he heard a soft rustle and a familiar trill and the scrabble of legs against the plastisteel deck.  McCoy recoiled instinctively, but both Spock and Jim stepped forward to greet their friend.

            “A’lazb!” Jim spoke first, reaching out and pressing a hand to the arachnoid’s leg, gently stroking in a motion similar to how she had attempted to comfort him back on the other ship.

           Spock didn’t speak, but approached silently and raised his own hand to her jaw.  Jim felt the shudder of mental contact through her body and slipping along the bond, and A’lazb shifted closer to the Vulcan, curling two of her front legs loosely around him as he raised his other hand to her face as well.

            The meld swelled and the effects pulsed along the bond, leaving Jim with the impression of images, sensations, and feelings passing rapidly between the two beings, snippets of language, knowledge, explanation and understanding.  Spock murmured unintelligibly and Jim became aware of a subtle vibration, almost a purr, within the body of the huge creature.  Despite the contentment and acknowledgment leaking over the bond, the captain’s own head began to hurt from the intensity of the connection, and he winced, letting his own hand drop and hearing McCoy’s scanner running in the background.  And just before he felt like he should say something, the meld ended abruptly and Spock stumbled forward against A’lazb’s body, the arachnoid’s legs constricting to hold him.

            “Spock!”  Jim leapt forward, and A’lazb released her legs just enough for Jim to pull his bondmate against him.  The Vulcan was conscious, and as Jim touched him he shivered and leaned into Jim’s body.  “Are you alright?”

            “Yes,” Spock’s voice was a whisper, but grew stronger, “I have…successfully communicated our location, identity, and intentions and she will relay the information to the others.  She, in turn, will speak for her people.”  A deep breath.  “Nyota may find the universal translator requires significant re-programming.”

            A’lazb trilled softly, and Jim chuckled, shaking his head.  “Never mind that for now.  Are they healthy?  Do they need anything?”

            Spock took another breath, steadying himself and moving to stand away from Jim, straightening his uniform tunic.  “They are well, and the sustenance presented to them is sufficient.”  He met Jim’s eyes.  “The cessation of the psionic energies has allowed their natural low-level telepathic connection to resume.  They are…taking comfort in mental and physical closeness, something that had been denied them on the ship due to the madness.”  He blinked.  “Their minds have been affected, however.  A’lazb does not recall or now sense a collective species-awareness which most likely would exist in a telepathic society, and they do not know how long ago their kind was taken.”

            “The humans’ and humanoids’ memories were damaged, too.”  Jim glanced over where McCoy was glaring daggers.  “I think we’ve got a date in sickbay.”  Spock nodded gently and Jim shot an apologetic look at the doctor and was about to say something else when the alert siren blared and reddish light spilled over the darkened bay. 

            Preshar’s voice echoed across the deck, “Red alert, red alert, this is no drill; all personnel to battle stations.  This is no drill.”  A’lazb let out a squeal that was mirrored by the other f’ylao’tri, and Spock exchanged a quick glance with Jim before reaching back to place a calming hand on the giant arachnoid, sending reassurance along a surficial mind-touch.  The squeal turned into an agitated trill, and A’lazb grunted, turning and slipping away towards the others as Spock turned back to his bondmate.

            Feeling anticipation stream along the bond, Jim looked at McCoy, who was already looking resigned.  “How about one more exception, Bones?”

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

All Vulcan translations from the VLD and VLI, and with advice from mightymads-thank you, my friend!

Ri klau au ik klau tu: Do no harm to those that harm you.

Ki’tel-tor du?: You have bonded?

Ha, nam-tor ish-veh telsu t’nash-veh.: Yes, he is my bondmate/bonded.

Ri tvai thrap-tor, hi… .: I do not mean to offend, but… .

Nam-tor ri thrap wilat nem-tor rim.  Nam-tor etek t’hy’la.: There is no offense where none is taken. We are t’hy’la.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen: Not For Nothing

 

 

            Jim burst through the doors to the bridge, Spock close on his heels and McCoy following.  The bond was awash with swirling exhaustion and vertigo, and Jim’s head reeled before he felt mental barriers rise higher, blocking most of the harsh sensations.  Jim moved forward, seeing Preshar glance up, intensity defining the lines of his face.

            “Kirk!  You’re cleared to be up here?”

            The commodore didn’t wait for McCoy’s acknowledgement before standing and walking swiftly over to stand next to Jim.  “We’ve just gotten a reading that a large ship is inbound from outside Federation space, moving on this position at an estimated warp twelve, due to reach us in,” he glanced at the chrono, “ninety-two seconds.”  He licked his lips.  “Shields are up and we’ve taken a full defensive posture.”

            “Commodore!” Nyota’s voice rang from Jim’s left.  “I’ve just isolated a call going out from the automated ship!  It’s on a very high-energy band, rapid-burst and repeating, and may have been going on for some time.  Possibly a distress beacon?”

            “A call for help.”  Preshar’s voice was low.  “And they’re on their way.”

            Jim’s hands were in fists at his sides as Preshar slid into the command chair, barking orders, “Confirm shields, arm weapons.  Lieutenant Uhura, did you get that message out to the support craft?”

            “Aye, sir.  The Carter acknowledged and is increasing speed to maximum, ETA two hours, twenty-two minutes.  All log entries and reports copied to Command on a secure channel.”

            “Weapons and shields confirmed, sir!” 

           Sulu looked back at his commanding officer, who nodded.  “Thank you Mr. Sulu.”

            Jim swallowed, and glanced over at Spock, who had moved to stand next to him.  McCoy was hovering, and for good reason: the Vulcan looked on the verge of collapse.  Jim reached over surreptitiously and grasped Spock’s upper arm for support.  The bond vibrated with determination and curiosity as Lieutenant Ube at the science station turned sharply.  “Incoming contact, Commodore!  Entering normal space…now, sir!”

           What snapped out of warp space was like nothing Jim had ever seen before.  A behemoth, looming over the Enterprise, a huge quasi-cylindrical main section and four large spheres, possibly engines or sensor arrays, arranged every ninety-degrees, extended on spoke-like struts from the front section of the craft.  The entire surface of the vessel possessed an eerie translucence, and Jim could see vague hints of colors swirling within the pearlescent skin.  The spheres themselves were glowing with a soft white light that was disturbingly familiar, and Jim’s grip tightened on his bondmate’s arm.

            “Holy shit,” Preshar muttered, his own hands clenched over the arms of the command chair.  “Uhura, send standard greeting, all available frequencies.  Ube, what do our scanners show?  Are they taking an aggressive posture?”

            Ube was peering across his readouts.  “Sir, I…I’m not sure what I’m seeing here.  I’m picking up energy reading I’ve never seen before.”  With a quick motion that belied his weakness, Spock slipped out of Jim’s grasp, crossing over to the science station where Ube quickly vacated the chair.

            Uhura’s voice was clipped.  “Broadcasting universal peace and hello on all known frequencies, Commodore.  No response.  I can’t mimic that high-energy burst with the current configuration, and it’ll take time to modify.”

            Jim felt McCoy step closer to him and stared at the huge craft, the skin appearing to almost pulse, the spheres beginning to shine more brightly, their color changing… .

            “Commodore!  Recommend full power to shields, including emergency reserve; we’re being scanned.”  Spock’s voice held a note of distress, and Jim knew what was coming, could see it on-screen in the growing pale blue coloration of the spheres, could feel it as a building familiar pressure against his bondmate’s mind.

            Preshar didn’t hesitate.  “Do it, Sulu!  Full power: everything we’ve got into the shields!  Stand by on… .”

            The commodore’s voice trailed into a startled moan as he clutched at his head, as everyone on the bridge did, as Bones let out a cry of pain, as Jim felt Spock’s mental shields expand relentlessly to close over his own mind.  The spheres on-screen were brilliant blue, and across the bridge crewmembers were screaming, gasping, falling to the floor, falling into unconsciousness.  Preshar crumpled to the deck. 

            “Spock! We have to destroy it!”  Jim stumbled forward, tripping over Chekov’s limp form, reaching for the phaser controls.

            “No, Jim!”  Spock was leaning across his board, and the shout was echoed in Jim’s mind, resolutely.  “Their intent is…non-hostile…scans…all on psionic energy bands.”

            “Non-hostile?”  Jim shook his head, staring at the screen in front of him, at the blue light that had haunted him, wanting nothing more than to send an array of photon torpedoes into the spheres, extinguishing that destructive light forever.  And his hand was almost to the controls.  “Fuck!”  He turned, seeing Spock staggering towards him, hearing the screams and moans fall into grating silence as his crew passed out around him.  “How do we get them to turn it off?  How do we communicate?”  He was yelling, but he couldn’t help it, the pounding sensation of the directed energies feeling closer and closer against his bondmate’s shields, and he could sense the reverberations of his own frantic energy.  And then he knew, as Spock reached him; he saw the answer in brown eyes and reflected through his bondmate’s memories: Spock would drop his shields, like he had before.  But before, Jim’s mind had been lost.  Now… .

            “Nam-tor wuhkuh k’nash-veh, t’hy’la.”

            Jim had only time for a single intake of breath before Spock’s fingers fastened on his meld points and his awareness narrowed powerfully into their shared mental space.  Entwining, meshing, there were no words to describe how it felt as their minds fell together, all barriers and controls deliberately removed, their thoughts and dim awareness of their physical selves sliding into and within the other until no difference remained.  And only when Jim’s mind was fully wrapped into Vulcan warmth did the shields hovering above them begin to disappear and the powerful energies streamed towards them.  This time, Jim did not lose consciousness.  This time, he felt acutely the mental reach of Spock’s mind towards the alien force, bringing his t’hy’la with him.  And then it was like overload; the energy, the information, the intent.  But this was no artificial intelligence, no isolated construct, but a pathway leading to something else.  Scans, of immense energy, searching, probing, parsing through incredible amounts of data, and it was only a matter of time before the humans and humanoids onboard the Enterprise would completely succumb to their damaging energies.

            And so Jim acted, pulling on his bondmate’s mental strength as well as his own fierce loyalty and protectiveness towards his ship, his people.  A mental scream, directly into the heart of the force.  STOP!  And, amazingly, it did.

            Jim came back to himself lying on the floor in front of the command chair, blinking rapidly and scrambling to his feet, seeing the huge ship still looming on the viewscreen, but with the spheres no longer glowing that eerie, devastating blue.  Spock was sitting on the floor next to him, eyes wide and unfocused, and the others were still lying on the floor, unresponsive and unmoving.  Jim licked his lips, his breathing still coming in near-gasps.  “Spock?”

            The Vulcan answered without looking up.  “The…energies have ceased.  We must…communicate.”

            “Nyota’s frequency?”  Jim glanced back at the viewscreen and then knelt down next to his first officer.  “She said our equipment couldn’t duplicate it.”  His question was leading, and he knew Spock could follow his thoughts.

            “I…can modify our signal through the computer.”  Spock shifted as if to stand, faltered, and Jim wrapped an arm around him to pull him up, feeling Spock waver and almost fall again before getting his feet underneath him.  The bond felt like a dull ache under driving determination, and Jim gritted his teeth as he helped Spock up to his panels, stepping over unconscious bodies on the way.

            “Your message was quite…succinct,” Spock murmured as he seated himself heavily before his panels, hesitating only an instant before his hands began to move over the touchscreens.

            “No time to argue.”  Jim bent down to shift Ube’s unconscious body, folding his arms gently across his chest and adjusting his head before moving down to where Nyota lay curled up on the deck.

            “No.”

            Jim looked up from checking Nyota’s pulse as the bond grew heavy with sudden weakness. “Spock?” 

            He could see Spock biting his lower lip as he keyed in a final sequence and half-closed brown eyes focused on the human.  “Ready, Captain.  At your chair.”

            Jim nodded once, and turned away, feeling his bondmate fight for consciousness behind him, stepping over Preshar’s limp form to stand next to the command chair, squaring his shoulders and reaching for the transmission key.

            “This is the Federation starship Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk, commanding.  Our objectives are peaceful.  Please identify.”

            Silence, and the screen did not change, and Jim heard the soft sounds of footsteps behind him, turning to see Spock stumble and almost fall before reaching Jim and leaning heavily against the back of the command chair.

            They exchanged a significant look before Jim swallowed and took a breath.  “This is James T. Kirk, in command of the Federation starship Enterprise.  Please identify.”

            The speakers crackled and whined, and Jim’s eyes snapped to the viewscreen where a soft pattern of colors played across the surface and a male voice, speaking clipped Standard in a non-accented monotone, echoed across the silent bridge, “We are the Fushiri.  We have come into your space in answer to a distress beacon.  We now recognize that our scanning beams are harmful to your kind.  We apologize.”

            Jim furrowed his brow.  “That ship out there was sent by your people?”

            “Yes, Captain, many of your years ago and during an entirely different era of our society.  At that time, our own homeworld was extinguished during an interplanetary conflict and, in the light of a bitter and difficult peace, we sought to rectify our own mistakes by insuring the survival of other species.  Species like yours, Captain, well-known to us but yet too immature to preserve themselves.”

            Jim shook his head.  “That’s a noble objective, but the practical results were flawed, as… .”

            “Yes, Captain,” the voice interrupted, “we have analyzed the cause of failure in the automatic functioning of the preserver ship and acknowledge your personal role.  We did not intend harm.”  There was a pause.  “The operation of the preserver ship continued well past its expected interval.  Our society had moved on, and, until we received the distress beacon, had not realized it was still functioning.”

            Jim’s mouth fell open.  “But, you had to have realized that it may still have been out there, still working, still acquiring.  And what of the people it had taken?”

            “Most regrettable, Captain, we agree.  But you must realize yourself that priorities change, as societies do, and the ship did serve its purpose to an acceptable extent.”

            “In what way was that?”  Jim’s tone was harsh and he couldn’t help the sarcasm leaking in.

            “The species known as the f’ylao’tri have survived, despite the destruction of all life on their homeworld due to a catastrophic meteor collision.”

            Jim was momentarily silent, feeling a stab of grief over the bond from the Vulcan at his side.  There was a sick feeling in his own stomach as he absorbed the aliens’ nonchalance, and when he finally spoke his voice was quiet, repeating his previous assertion, “You would have allowed the ship to continue, without oversight.  Lives lost, wasted, and for what?”

            “Our past leadership’s reasoning was solely altruistic and the preserver ship satisfied its basic function.  Those who constructed and sent the ship are long departed and we can presently only express our apologies.”  Another pause, and the voice came slightly louder, “In the interests of galactic peace, we shall depart, and remove the preserver ship and its inherent technological dangers from your space.”

            Jim swallowed, shaking his head.  “And where are you from?  Will this…experience lead to a dialogue between our peoples?”

            “You are still quite primitive and vulnerable; a simplistic culture, though one with some degree of promise.  We entrust the inhabitants of the preserver ship to you, but you and your Federation are not yet ready to join us as equals.  The information we obtained regarding your kind shall prove useful for our records and histories.  Farewell, Captain.”

            The channel clicked closed and Jim stared as the screen faded to a starfield, where the Fushiri ship had moved away and was slowly rotating to port, the preserver ship now following.  A snap and a brilliant flash, and both vessels were gone, an effervescent trail fading away into darkness.

           “What the fuck was that?  The way of advancement is condescension and dismissal?”  Jim turned to glance at his bondmate.  “A fake apology and they wash their hands of all responsibility?”  The red alert lighting was still flashing, lighting Spock’s dark hair with hellish hues.

            Spock blinked at him, and released the back of the command chair to slowly lower himself to sit on the floor.  Jim hesitated, and then flipped a switch on the chair’s arm, feeling slightly dazed and very empty, his voice a shadow of his normal strong tones.  “This is the Captain.  All decks report.”

            A long silence lingered, punctuated by the sounds of low moans and shifting bodies that echoed around the bridge as crewmembers slowly regained consciousness.  Then the intercom beeped.  “This is M’Benga on Deck Four.  It looks like we all lost consciousness, Captain.”  Jim heard a rustling sound and murmuring, followed by the doctor’s voice.  “So far nothing more serious that I can see, sir.”

            A mumbled curse sounded from the upper level of the bridge, and McCoy pushed himself to his feet, giving Jim a cursory once-over before bending over Ensign Lind, collapsed in front of the tactical console next to him.

            The intercom beeped again, and the again as newly conscious crew called in deck by deck, all reporting the same thing: having passed out, and then regained consciousness to a splitting headache and confusion.  Jim acknowledged each message, as Nyota regained her seat and Preshar finally stood, swaying greatly, dark eyes fastened on the viewscreen and meeting nothing but an empty starfield.

            “Kirk, what happened?”

            Jim was suddenly overcome by a wave of exhaustion so intense he saw stars in front of his eyes.  He swallowed, feeling slightly nauseous, knowing that a good part of what he felt was seeping over the bond, but a significant fraction of it was altogether his own.  Distantly, he knew he was suffering from post-traumatic stress from his captivity, from his new powerful and unexpected mental connection, from the sheer relief of seeing that ship depart, the terrifying blue light hopefully extinguished for good.  He swallowed, meeting Preshar’s gaze.  “The scans were on a psionic energy pathway that caused the crew to lose consciousness.  I was shielded through my bond with Spock, and we were able to get them to stop the scans.”

            Preshar’s eyes dropped to where Spock sat unmoving, leaning against the smooth, white surface of the chair.  “Did you… ?”

           “Communicate, yes.”  Jim rubbed a tired hand over his face, and didn’t try to keep the irony from his voice.  “They apologized and left with the other ship in tow.  Told us that we weren’t ready to contact them further.”

            Preshar’s expression was incredulous.  “That’s it?”

            Jim swallowed again, his head starting to spin.  “That’s it.”  He stumbled slightly and half-fell to the floor, sitting next to his bondmate, hearing Preshar order a newly-awake Ube to scan nearby space.  The red lighting still flashed across the bridge and Jim closed his eyes briefly, his voice audible to Vulcan ears only.  “It’s just so fucking stupid.”

            “Not all…versions of advanced societies are utopic, t’hy’la.”  Spock’s own eyes were closed, the portable IV unit flashing on his lower arm, his visage again deathly pale and his own voice pitched for Jim alone.  “And the ship did serve…a purpose, for the f’ylao’tri.”

            “But at what cost?”  Jim’s thoughts were again of loss.  “I always thought I’d die for a reason.  For some reason.  But that?”  He looked over to where Preshar was helping Sulu back into his seat at the helm and beyond to the coldness of space.  “We would have died for nothing.  For some alien society’s do-gooder experiment that had been long ago lost and forgotten.  This was all for nothing.”

            “Not…for nothing.”

            Jim grimaced.  “Right. A’lazb.  Not that I want to tell her, though.  Fuck.”

            “No, Jim.”  Brown eyes opened and fastened on blue, and Jim reached out to clasp Spock’s hand, feeling warmth push through the lingering exhaustion and pain within the bond, sensed his friend’s assurance that their ordeal, however difficult, had been worth something: A’lazb, the children, the people and families across worlds who had lost a loved one without any answers.  And also, a newfound understanding of the dangers and risks of the psionic energies used by the Fushiri, a missing piece of history merely hinted at in the ruins of civilizations long gone, and, of course, their bond itself.

            Jim smiled faintly, his fingers tightening on Spock’s.  “You’re right. Not for nothing.”  The reddish lighting faded into the normal brilliance of the bridge as the warmth of the bond diminished slightly with the Vulcan’s fall into unconsciousness and Jim turned his head slightly as McCoy knelt down next to them.

            “I have a feeling you’re not gonna argue with me this time, kid.”

            “Not a chance, doc.”  Jim closed his eyes again.  “Keep us together?”

            “I will.”

            The soft chirp and beep of bridge operation was soothing, and, as he heard the background murmur of McCoy’s voice, he concentrated on the sound of the Vulcan’s breathing, letting his own mind fall into the bond.

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

Vulcan translations from the VLD.

Nam-tor wuhkuh k’nash-veh: Be one with me.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: Comfort And Courage, Healing And Hope

 

 

            Jim lay on his side in the dim lighting of an isolation room in sickbay, his body pressed against his bondmate’s back, his arm wrapped around Spock’s waist.  His forehead leaned against the back of the Vulcan’s head and he could breathe in the scent of his friend’s hair, could feel alien warmth along the length of his body and within his own mind, where the bond stretched perceptibly between them.  Another attempt at a healing trance, coming so closely on the heels of two others, was dangerous, made even more so by the fact that Spock had forced his way out of the others prematurely.  A brief, barely-lucid awakening in sickbay following the Vulcan’s collapse on the bridge prompted M’Benga to take the more conventional step of drug-induced sleep combined with fluids and medication to speed up blood cell replacement.

            The bond was there but elusive, dark, despite Jim’s untrained attempts to touch his bondmate’s mind through it.  Though they had been placed on adjacent biobeds in a private room, Jim had lain awake, aware of the fact that Spock wasn’t wrapped in the usual security of Vulcan mysticism, but merely in human care, and with human vulnerability.

            Thoughts of a coldly advanced race and a forbidding wall, the fate of a helpless people, and the impending duty of informing a friend of the loss of her civilization ran through his head.  The room itself was disturbingly silent, the sounds of the ship muffled, and the small physical distance between himself and his bondmate seemed to yawn in front of him, emphasizing their mental silence.  It had been, suddenly, too much, and Jim had finally kicked his blanket away, half-rolling and half-climbing out of his own bed and sliding in next to Spock, gently moving the Vulcan onto his side, mindful of the IVs, pulling the blankets around them both.

            Jim bit his lip, tightening his grip on his friend’s waist.  He knew that it should be over; knew that the Enterprise was headed back to Starbase Six via a rendezvous with the Soranus, knew that in a few hours’ time the humanoid survivors from the preserver ship would be transported to the medical vessel under the Carter’s protection.  He knew that the Fushiri were gone, and their almost impatient condescension hinted that they would not soon be back.  Spock was alive and breathing against him, the Enterprise was undamaged, and Preshar had already requested a resumption of the aborted leave for the starship’s officers and crew once they had docked. It should be over, but something left him feeling…uneasy.

            He shifted his head, feeling the soft strands of black hair brushing over his cheekbone and his nose, pressing a gentle kiss to his bondmate’s head.  But physical touch was no longer enough, and sleep still eluded him, and he yearned for Spock’s mental embrace.  He battled frustration and a surprising insecurity, and fear.  And then he felt guilt for longing for the confirmation of something that had been proven again and again, through blood and life and death itself.  It was a human impulse, he knew, driven by the prejudices and jaded disappointments of years past, by the specter of loss that still hung over them, too recent to dismiss or ignore.  It was a response to trauma, both mental and physical, to exhaustion and lack of food, to the stress of having his ship threatened.  And it was a response to his bondmate’s selfless honesty, strength, and determination and to Jim’s own inescapable feeling that he, the captain, the friend over all others, should have done better.  He should have known, he should have acted, he should have trusted.  Why couldn’t I tell you I loved you?  Why couldn’t I see it myself?  What’s wrong with me that I couldn’t see it until you showed me?

            Jim sighed and opened his eyes as the door quietly hissed open, raising his head reluctantly to take in McCoy’s somber expression.  The doctor’s voice was barely above a whisper.  “M’Benga says Spock can probably sense it when you’re this agitated, Jim.  Having him fight to come out of this would be a big risk; you’re not doing him any favors.”

            Jim’s arm tightened again, stubbornly, before he sighed again and slowly slid away from the Vulcan, hesitating and adjusting the blankets back around his bondmate’s body as he stood next to the bed, finally looking up at his oldest friend with a rare helpless expression.

            “C’mon, I’ll buy you a drink.”  Bones tilted his head wryly.  “Or maybe some milk.”

            Jim sniffed and a ghost of a smile drifted across his face as he stepped carefully away from the bed towards the door, pulling his boots on.  McCoy’s hand fell onto Jim’s shoulder as they left and remained there, steering the captain down the hallway towards the CMO’s office.  Jim hesitated as they passed the doors to the main ward and glanced at his friend, who shook his head.  “They’re still asking for you, if that’s what you wanted to know.  It might be a good idea for you to make an appearance when they’re transported over to the Soranus in a few hours, but right now,” he frowned as his eyes raked over Jim’s slumped form, “I doubt you’d be helping them any.”

            “Right now, I’m not much help to myself.”  Jim tore his eyes away from the doors and continued on towards McCoy’s office.  The doctor followed him closely and in silence, keying open his door and gesturing Jim inside, waving his hand at the sofa against the far wall before turning to open a small cabinet next to his desk.

            The captain fell onto the cushions, stretching out his legs and leaning his head back, running both hands over his face.  “Bones, did you know?”

            “Know what?”  McCoy appeared in front of him, holding a glass filled with a golden liquid.

            “Know I loved Spock.”  Jim took a generous swallow and coughed.  “Aren’t you having one?”

            McCoy’s eyebrow went up as he shook his head, sitting on the couch next to his friend.  “I’m on-call.  Between you, your hobgoblin, the entire ship being knocked out, and the horde of lost souls in the main bay, the medical staff’s been running in circles.”  He took a measured breath.  “And, yeah, I did know, or could’ve taken a good guess.”  Hazel eyes narrowed.  “Didn’t you?”

            “No.”  Jim blinked rapidly as another swallow sent the liquid burning down his throat.  He remembered Spock’s words, back at the cabin: I never told my mother that I loved her.  I never told you.  It does not make it any less true.  He winced as he remembered his surprise, his confusion, and his lingering sense of shame.  “That first night we were on leave, before that ship and everything after, he told me that he loved me.”  He shook his head.  “Well, he eventually told me after I’d pretty much acted like an asshole.”

            “You gave him the song and dance about never having loved anything that didn’t have engines?”

            Jim made a face.  “It wasn’t a song and dance, Bones.”  He swirled the remaining liquid in the glass.  “It was a defense, you know?  I believed it and it worked, it fit; it was easy.  But he had touched me; I’d allowed him to sense my thoughts and he knew better.  When we were onboard that ship, he melded with me to protect me from those energies and I could feel his mind and his emotions in a way that was undeniable and I forgot about the reasons why loving someone was a bad idea.”  He gestured with the mostly-empty glass.  “And we bonded.  I insisted on it, in the end.  And then things went really bad and I thought I had watched him die.”

            McCoy regarded him silently.

            “Everything I had always feared and even expected came true, and the pain…the pain was enveloping.”  Jim drained his drink, holding the glass loosely in his hands, studying it.  “And then I got him back only to watch him slowly fade away right in front of me.  But in all that, through all that, I never questioned that decision to bond with him.  Even the pain was worth that brief…touch, that knowing, and I had to face that everything I had believed before was wrong.”

            “You love him.”

            “I do.  Fuck, I did and apparently was pretty obvious about it and I wouldn’t admit it to myself, or couldn’t admit it to myself.  Even the fucking admiralty wasn’t surprised when they got my report.”

            “Well, you did blow off your command and the Prime Directive for the guy.  And take him on as first officer after he almost killed you.  And M’Benga told me about the Sleeping Beauty act you pulled after Primidius.”

            “I didn’t kiss him.”  Jim frowned as he realized he hadn’t been as unobtrusive as he had thought.

            “How the fuck do you think Vulcans kiss?”

            Jim grunted in response and watched as his friend stood and retrieved the decanter from the desk, walking back and re-filling his glass.  “Thanks.  And you know the worst part?”

            “Aside from making out in my sickbay?”  Bones set the decanter on the floor and sank back onto the couch, a smile playing about his lips.

            Jim ignored his comment.  “It was that I had actually never thought of him in that way before, not really, because of all the crap I’d associated with that definition of love: all the pettiness and the transience and the loss.  He was so much more important, and I thought he’d never ask for anything like that anyway.  Until he did.”

            “But it wasn’t out of the blue.”

            “No.  He’d observed me, like any good scientist; waited until he thought I had figured it out on my own and returned the sentiment.  He underestimated my own stubbornness, I guess.”

            “A lot of us do.”  Bones leaned forward.  “You’re not the first person to have to be hit over the head to recognize your own feelings, Jim.”

            “Hmmm.”  Jim swallowed.  “Hit over the head, or have a Vulcan say it first, and then get shot by a stun beam, kidnapped by aliens, and threatened with brainwashing and torture.”

            McCoy shrugged.  “Or that.  Is this why you can’t sleep?  You said you didn’t regret it, and I see how you look at him, but… .”

            The captain shook his head emphatically.  “No.  The bond isn’t the issue, it’s the fact that I was so thickheaded.  I always thought that I knew myself, at least, and this whole experience… .  It’s made me doubt myself, Bones.”

            Bones raised his eyebrows and rubbed his chin.  “Really, Jim?  Because I heard a lot out of you after we beamed you back and none of it sounded like you were having a problem with self-doubt.”  He sniffed.  “You wanna know what I think?”

            “Obviously,” Jim answered dryly.

            The doctor narrowed his eyes.  “I think you’re not used to being wrong.  You’re a genius, you’re a starship captain, the veteran of a few pretty spectacular clusterfucks that you, personally, were responsible for getting us out of.  I could’ve told you that you were in love with that hobgoblin the minute you woke up from your coma, after Khan, and couldn’t take your eyes off of him, but you’d already made up your mind about romantic entanglements and what constituted a committed relationship.”  He took a breath.  “And I can’t really blame you, kid.  Some of the things you’ve lived through and experienced would’ve made anyone maintain some distance.  You’ve lost a lot.”

           “But so has he.  His world, Bones, and he was still able to reach out.”

            “Fear is illogical; he isn’t human.  He certainly wasn’t running around trying to prove to himself that love was fleeting and self-destructive, and he’d already lost you once before.”

            “Yeah.”  Jim absently swirled the liquid in his glass.

            “His response to loss is to reach out, and your response is to pull away.  Like I said, he’s… .”

            “He’s not human, yeah.”  Jim took a sip and shifted in his seat.  “And you know what the turning point was?  When I really started to really understand that I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about?  We melded.  And I saw that there would be no hiding, no chance for games and bullshit.  I saw what we could be, together, and I saw his love for me and it was…everything, Bones.  Even though I was scared, I knew it was worth it, to have that, to feel that.”

            “And that’s why you really shouldn’t be beating yourself up over this.”  The doctor leaned back.  “There’s not a human alive who could be that for you, who could go against a lifetime of self-fulfilling prophecy and convince you that it was worth it.  You’d built your walls so high that you needed to be shown it to finally believe it.  You got blindsided, Jim.  It happens.  Even to genius starship captains.”

            The captain grunted again, draining his glass and tipping it at his friend.  “You shouldn’t look so smug.”

            “Yeah, well, I’ve been getting a lot of practice with psych these days and not much of it has done any good, so I’ll take the win.”  Bones rubbed his hand across his face and through his hair.  “I don’t know, Jim.  Those people in there have a long, hard road to travel and a part of me wonders if it’s even possible for them to have any sort of normal life.”

            “At least they have the option, now.”  The alcohol and the emotionally-charged conversation were suddenly catching up, and Jim blinked slowly, feeling like his head was swimming.  He raised bleary eyes to his friend.  “Want to help me back to the room?”

            Bones snorted.  “No chance, kid; you’re sleeping here.  I want to make sure your bondmate heals properly this time.”  He stood up and gestured definitively, reaching over to unfold the blanket that sat on the small table next to him.

            Jim made an attempt at a face but sank back against the cushions, swinging his legs up and awkwardly toeing off his boots, summoning enough energy for one token argument.  “I think it’s best for us to stay close together, though.”

            The doctor tossed the blanket over the captain’s body and raised an eyebrow.  “Yeah, by the way, we’re going to have a conversation later on about how your brain reacted when he coded back there.”  McCoy’s hazel eyes hardened.  “Am I going to lose you, Jim?  If something happens to him?”

            Jim swallowed and stared at the ceiling.  “I don’t know, Bones.”

            The doctor nodded slowly.  “You know why I have to ask.”

            The captain turned his head.  “I know.  We’ll figure it out.”

            “Okay.”  Bones pressed his lips together.  “Get some sleep; I’ll check on you later.”

            “Thanks, Bones.”  Jim’s voice was barely a murmur as he closed his eyes.

 

 

 

            The dreams were bad.  He saw the wall, felt the sensation of falling, felt a beloved body growing limp in his arms.  He saw dark eyes close and heard himself distantly scream, and jerked awake covered in sweat and gasping for breath, reaching again for the bond. 

            It felt stronger somehow, but still largely shuttered, and Jim resisted the urge to mentally poke at it, remembering McCoy’s concern and Spock’s obstinate selflessness.  He glanced at the chrono above the door and pushed himself up, rubbing his hands over his face; just over four hours had gone by.  He stood, testing his strength, and walked into McCoy’s private bathroom, swishing mouthwash, splashing water on his face and relieving his bladder.  He glanced at his reflection briefly, sharply recalling the mirror in that small house on the preserver ship, and flinched, turning away, exchanging his dirty uniform blacks for a fresh set from the replicator and returning to the office to pull his boots back on, running his hands through his hair.

            The doors to the soundproofed office opened to a minor commotion coming from the main bay, and Jim straightened his shoulders as he stepped into the hallway, knowing that if the original schedule had held, the transport of the people to the medical vessel was currently in progress.  Not for nothing.  Spock’s words echoed in his mind, along with that sense of duty that had prompted his visit to Eloida.  These were his people, having together experienced something that no one else who hadn’t been there would understand.  And now, on his ship, they were his responsibility.

            As he passed through the doors into the main bay he was confronted with the survivors, mostly standing, many holding onto each other, surrounded by medical personnel from both the Enterprise and the Soranus.  Many were visibly upset, and, as Jim stepped further into the main ward, he heard a soft exclamation and all eyes were suddenly on him.

            “Kirk!”

            “Our leader, the chosen!”

            “He has come!”

            Jim took another step forward, deliberately assuming a calm smile, and raised his hands in the ritual gesture he’d seen so often on the preserver ship.  Be at peace.  As if he’d issued a verbal command, the people quieted and watched him expectantly.  Jim noticed the confused looks on the faces of the medical vessel’s crew, but the Enterprise personnel merely looked relieved.  Jim swallowed, knowing that they would expect a speech, guidance, or simply instructions.  He wanted desperately to give them hope.

            He lowered his hands and met their eyes directly, much as he did on the bridge before a dangerous mission.  His strengths as a commander lay in introspection and perception, but also in inspiration.  His ability to enunciate a task or a purpose in a way that resonated with the audience and his natural tendency to lead by example caused Spock, very early in their command tenure, to observe, “Your methods of command often utilize your dynamic range of emotional expression to incur motivation.”

           Jim had laughed at the quizzical expression on his normally impassive XO’s face and had retorted, “Don’t tell me you find it illogical and inefficient-it seems to work.”

            “On the contrary,” Spock had responded, “I find it curiously compelling.”  His unguarded gaze, strange, at that time, had betrayed warmth and approval.

            Jim remembered reaching out and clapping the Vulcan on the shoulder before looking away to hide the emotion in his own eyes.  He had taken his first officer’s words as one of the best compliments he had ever been given, and had begun to give his impromptu speeches with Spock beside him, cementing their reputation as a cohesive command team.

            Now, he couldn’t help but briefly touch on the bond that connected them, feeling a gentle satisfaction in the knowledge that Spock would always be at his side, in that way.  “You’ve heard me speak of rising anew, and that the Guardian’s voice has quieted so that you can endeavor to be free and live under your own will.  You’ve heard me speak of the others that will help you along the way, to fulfill your destiny, as the Guardian intended.”  He gestured towards the medical staff.  “These are the others.  You can trust them.”

            The young man from before moved forward, releasing the hand of one of the children.  “We hear you, but what of our homes?  What of the f’ylao’tri?  There, even though we could not hear the Guardian, we knew our place.  Now, we are alone.”

            “The f’ylao’tri are safe in their new place.”  Jim swallowed, forcing the smile to remain on his face even as his thoughts drifted to the difficult conversation he would need to have with A’lazb once Spock awoke.  “As you will be.  And you are not alone.  You have each other, and these are your people now.”

            “Will you come with us?”

            “My place is here.”

            “But… .”  The young man looked suddenly anguished, and then angry, and then confused, as if he wanted to argue, or beg, or complain, and didn’t know how.  Helplessness, and all the emotions streaming across his expression and in his eyes, and Jim was struck by a memory of Spock’s mind, during their meld after the Vulcan esne had fallen to his death.  He remembered Spock’s emotions running deep and desperate and practically uncontrolled, and he recalled how he had helped.  Mental reassurance, in this case, was impossible, but a purely human substitute might be as comforting, and Jim reached out with his hand, much as he had on the ship before Eloida’s terrifying appearance.  The young man hesitated and then clasped it tightly.

            “Could you see the Guardian?” Jim asked quietly.

            “No.  But we could feel…we could hear… .”

            The young man’s voice trailed off, and Jim nodded.  “That’s exactly it.  You can hear the Guardian’s voice in your own words; you can feel the Guardian’s care in the touch of your hands.”  He struggled to maintain the soft, confident smile on his face, knowing he was straying into dangerous theological and philosophical grounds.  But then again, he remembered the cadences of Eloida’s sermons, and the reverent manner in which she behaved, reminiscent of sacred ceremonies in Jim’s own distant memories.  Perhaps faith, of all things, was useful and necessary here; a starting point from which to learn, having a basis in the rhythm of life on that ship.  But, in this case, faith in a larger power would need to be transcribed into faith in each other.  “Care for each other; it can be as simple as that.  No more esne, no more demons to be purged.  Each of you is as important as the next, regardless of ability.”  He squeezed the young man’s hand once and let go, seeing him step back, brow furrowed.

            One by one, the people moved closer, taking Jim’s hand in turn, and the captain looked up to see McCoy standing beyond the crowd, arms easily crossed over his chest, a small smile on his face.  He nodded once, catching Jim’s notice, and Jim nodded back, feeling some of the darkness lifting from his thoughts.  Not for nothing.

 

 

 

            It was nearly an additional three hours before the last of the survivors were beamed over to the medical vessel, including the Klingon survivors.  Preshar had come down personally to sickbay to relay the final instructions regarding their foe’s people: relations with Qo’noS were practically nonexistent, Command was not sanguine about reporting the circumstances behind the Klingons’ capture, and it had become obvious that the Klingons themselves did not remember much of their homeworld or, indeed, any of its politics.  It was a complicated situation, and the final fate of the Klingon survivors within the Federation had yet to be determined, but it was deemed least harmful to keep them with the others, for now.

            As the final clearances were made for the Soranus’ departure, heading for Earth and the advanced and secure medical facilities there, Preshar gestured to the captain.  “Jim, do you feel up to a short conversation?”

            Jim nodded, even though he had been hoping to check on Spock.  The bond had been slowly brightening as the patient processing and transports had continued, and M’Benga had absented himself in the past fifteen minutes to monitor his Vulcan patient.  Preshar waved the captain over to an empty conference room just off the main bay and engaged the privacy lock, walking over to the table in the center of the room and sliding into one of the chairs.  Jim followed suit, sighing slightly at the rush of relief he felt from getting off of his feet.  He had not been injured as cruelly as his bondmate, but his exhaustion was again catching up to him.

            Preshar watched him closely.  “I’d ask how you’re doing, but I think it’s pretty obvious.”

            Jim took a breath and offered a half-smile.  “I’m not going to argue with you, Commodore.”

            Preshar nodded.  “I won’t take long.  I just wanted to see if you had any thoughts as to the f’ylao’tri.  Command’s not expressing any final opinions given our lack of information about them, and, as your first officer is the only one who’s communicated directly, we likely won’t know much more before arrival at Six in about twenty hours.”

            Jim licked his lips and leaned forward in his chair.  “I have, actually.  I think we should ask New Vulcan for help, possibly even consider a settlement.”

            “New Vulcan?”  Preshar’s brow furrowed.  “Why?”

            “The f’ylao’tri are low-level telepaths.  According to Spock they should have had some sort of connection or awareness of their kind, even over great distances.  Something similar to the k’war’ma’khon shared by Vulcans, and, given what the Fushiri told us about the fate of their homeworld, the absence of which makes more sense.”

            “You think that because they both lost their planets… .”

            “I think that the f’ylao’tri are intelligent, communal creatures, with a telepathic sensitivity that bears accommodation and understanding.  Who better to understand?  It’s worth asking, at least.”

            Preshar shrugged.  “I’ll make the call, if you want, or we can wait until we dock.  In all honesty, this request would probably be most effective if it came from Commander Spock.”

            “I’ll talk to him about it.”

            “Of course.”  Preshar tilted his head.  “I also wanted to let you know that I’m submitting a recommendation that both of you receive commendations for your actions on that ship, and in the aftermath.  You saved lives and diverted a threat to Federation security.”

            The captain’s jaw tightened, and the commodore shook his head, anticipating an argument.  “There was good done here, Jim.”

            Jim opened his mouth and then gasped slightly as the bond unfurled in his mind, pushing as if seeking reassurance before relaxing back to a subdued awareness.  Spock’s conscious presence, however distant, warmed the captain, and he couldn’t help a small smile, dropping his hand from his temple without realizing he had raised it.

            Preshar was studying him.  “Your bondmate’s awake?”

            Jim blinked.  “Yeah.  Sorry, Commodore, I’m still getting used to it.”

            The older man smiled sadly.  “You’re lucky, Jim.  Cherish every moment; in our line of work you only get so many.”  He stood.  “As you’ve heard, I’ve arranged for the Enterprise to resume scheduled leave once we reach the starbase.  Barring any unforeseen emergencies and final medical clearance, I expect you and your first officer to report for time off.  I think you’ve earned it.”

            Jim stood as well.  “Thank you, sir.  For taking care of my ship and for coming after us.”

            “My pleasure, Captain.”  Preshar flashed him an easy grin and turned to leave, the doors sliding shut behind him, and Jim stood still for a long moment, contemplating the commodore’s words.  Finally, his thoughts already preceding him, he walked out of the conference room, passing through the main bay and heading toward the isolation rooms, and his bondmate.  

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

Vulcan translations from the VLD.

k’war’ma’khon: The mental linking of one Vulcan to another; the being of one people, one world.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: With Thee

 

 

            Jim’s pace quickened as he neared the door to the isolation room, and he very nearly burst in, his gaze fastening immediately on brown eyes, the bond seeming to widen and intensify as they drew closer together, filling Jim’s conscious mind as he walked directly to the Vulcan’s bedside and reached out to clasp one of Spock’s hands in his.

           Dr. M’Benga didn’t bat an eyelash this time, standing on the other side of the bed across Spock’s seated figure, acknowledging the captain’s presence with a small nod and barely pausing as he made notations on his PADD.

            Jim glanced up at the panels and then at his bondmate, whose arms were now free of IVs and whose skin was finally absent of that almost deathly pallor.  “Everything okay?”  The Vulcan’s face was impassive, but Jim smiled as the answer was silently and wordlessly pressed through their bond: he could feel Spock’s recovering strength and focus and his improved controls; powerful emotions subdued and aligned so that they ran beneath formidable barriers, but within easy access of Jim’s casual awareness.  The love and warmth flowed more easily now, perhaps as a result of the Vulcan’s improved physical health, and Jim’s smile widened as he basked in it, feeling some of his remaining tension disappear, wanting desperately to get even closer still. 

            Spock’s fingers shifted slightly within his, and Jim, still looking into depthless eyes, felt the stirrings of his own arousal and pushed it down guiltily as M’Benga cleared his throat next to them.  “Commander, your vitals aren’t quite within normal range yet but there’s been enough improvement that I can release you to quarters. I recommend continued rest and a significant period of meditation.”

            The Vulcan turned his head to regard the doctor and Jim could feel the sudden laser-focus of Spock’s mind: thoughts whirling too fast and deep for him to sense.  “Doctor, I wish to visit the f’ylao’tri before proceeding to my quarters.”

            The captain bit his lip and saw M’Benga frown.  “I’ll allow it, granted that you will return here if your physical condition worsens.”  He hesitated and glanced at Jim.  “Only a brief meld is recommended, given recent extensive telepathic strain and the presence of your new bond.  Your scans indicate it has not fully settled yet.”

            “Understood.”

            Jim shook his head.  “What do you mean, ‘settled’?

            There was a flush of anxiety and reluctance across the mental connection, but M’Benga appeared unfazed and almost eager.  “A fully-developed bond results in observable physiological changes within the brains of both bondmates.  Based on our most recent scans, made when you were brought here from the bridge, both of you already exhibit evidence for such development that will, theoretically, be completed when the bond is physically and mentally matured.”

            “And that involves… ?”  Jim’s voice trailed off, seeing Spock’s eyes drop, the simmering anxiety in the half-Vulcan’s mind becoming more forceful.

            “Melding of your minds, physical touch, participation in active communication of emotions through such touch.  Depending on the level of contact, maturation can take days or weeks, however, during that time telepathic effort outside of the bond can be more taxing than usual, due to the increased shielding necessary to protect your mind, Captain.”  M’Benga tilted his head, his dark eyes curious.  “It will be interesting to track your brain’s development, sir.  As a human, you are psi-null, or were, before this.  Now you have a marked psionic sensitivity to your bondmate.”

            Jim furrowed his brow.  “So, I’m a telepath now?”

            “Not independently, I would think,” M’Benga raised his eyebrows thoughtfully, “although previously latent parts of your brain have been affected.  I do not believe a human has ever been involved in a t’hy’la bond before so I do not have enough data to speculate further.”

            The anxiety was suddenly damped out behind shielding and Jim stepped back and released his hand as Spock abruptly swung his legs out from under the blankets and stood, rolling his shoulders slightly. 

            The doctor continued to watch the human patiently.  “Do you have any other questions, Captain?”

            Spock was still avoiding Jim’s gaze and the captain frowned, remembering something the Vulcan had mentioned back on the transport ship, just after they had been taken.  “Is this type of bond exclusive?”

            M’Benga’s eyes shifted quickly towards Spock before looking back at Jim.  “T’hy’la is extremely rare, and the answer to your question would traditionally depend on the depth of your connection, which should eventually be assessed by a healer.”  He glanced again at Spock.  “It also would depend on the wishes of the individuals involved.”

            But the Vulcan held his silence and Jim forged forward, motivated by his bondmate’s obvious reticence and conscious that this might be his only chance to get a straight answer.  “Just one more question.  Uh, what would happen if one of us dies?”  The shielding abruptly wavered and Jim felt a shiver of fear from the Vulcan, and a rush of thoughts that held the flavor of desperation and denial.  He set his jaw, keeping his eyes on the doctor.

            Again, M’Benga’s eyes slid to Spock before he answered, and his voice held a darkly serious note, obviously aware of how close they had already come to that very scenario.  “That would again depend on the depth of the connection.  Normally, a severed bond can be mitigated somewhat by a healer’s intervention and by enforcement of shielding, if death is known to be imminent.  However, in the case of a traumatic severing, for example by unexpected death, mental injury usually results.  This type of injury can simply cause pain or can result in the death of the surviving mate in the rare instance of a particularly deep bond.  In your case, Captain, I do not know how you might react, given your humanity and the intricacies of t’hy’la.  In Vulcans, the mental injury is hypothesized to be due to an onslaught of uncontrollable emotion, which overwhelms the psyche and manifests as pain.  Humans may be better equipped to deal with such.”

            “I see.”  Now, Jim turned to directly regard his bondmate, seeing distinct turmoil in Spock’s dark eyes and sensing it vividly along their connection.  He glanced back at the doctor, his voice firm.  “Thanks, Geoff.  I think that’s all, for now.”

            “Of course, Captain, Commander.  I’ll put the medical recs through.”  M’Benga nodded at them both and turned to leave.

            Jim waited until the doors had slid shut before moving subtly closer to Spock, approaching but not yet touching.  The black jumpsuit the Vulcan was wearing cast his features into pale relief, and Jim could see obvious weight loss in the slightly pronounced cheekbones and the dark shading under brown eyes.  The bond seemed strangely guarded now, almost vibrating with an underlying tension, and they watched each other for a moment before Jim shook his head, his voice quiet as he tentatively identified uncertainty in his bondmate’s emotions.  “I want you as my partner in all ways.  Husband, lover, friend, mate, t’hy’la, whatever you want to call it, I’m in.  But I think you already knew that.”

            The tension wavered and then broke, and Spock tilted his head slightly.  “Given past misunderstandings, I am forced to…appreciate the direct enunciation of my position, k’diwa.”  The corners of his mouth turned up, just a bit, and he reached out, two fingers extended in the ozh’esta.  

            Jim grinned, meeting the Vulcan’s hand with his own, feeling the gentle touch of their fingers as sparks along his skin and a glorious warmth in his mind, and his eyes swept over his bondmate’s features even as his mind inelegantly probed for hidden weakness and distress.  “You sure you’re better?”

            “I am certain that I am not worse.”  Spock’s mind and features tensed again, and Jim’s smile faded as he remembered A’lazb, and the duty they needed to perform. 

            Their hands separated and fell, and Jim exhaled.  “Let me get you a uniform," he broadly waved a hand, “again.”  He chuckled dryly as he turned away towards the replicator set into the far bulkhead.  “I have to say, I’m really getting sick of this place.”  He punched in his command and glanced back at his bondmate, who had slipped his shoulders and arms out of the jumpsuit.  “I mentioned to Preshar that we might consider asking New Vulcan to accept the f’ylao’tri.”

            “That is an excellent idea, Jim.  If you wish, I can direct a formal enquiry to my father.”

            “Great.”  Jim could sense Spock’s approval and interest across the bond, and marveled at the growing emotional clarity he was experiencing.  The bond had already strengthened, and seemed to be continuing to do so, and whether it was from Spock’s recovering health or the maturation mentioned by M’Benga, Jim was curious as to how far it would go.  He had glimpsed the potential depths of their connection within the meld, but, even separate from each other, he was finding himself sensitive to his bondmate’s emotional landscape, even beyond the Vulcan’s controls.  Perhaps it was human idiosyncrasy, but he felt curiously giddy at the thought of being able to read through the impassive mask.  It has always seemed easier for him than others to glimpse hidden truths in expressive eyes and in the subtle nuances of countenance, but now Spock was like an open book, and Jim could not help but enjoy it, and the constancy of their connection.  He knew he was needed, and he knew he was loved, and he didn’t require words for either.

           That fact seemed, given his own previous oblivious satisfaction with their friendship, somewhat personally convenient, and his brow furrowed as he gathered a fresh uniform from the machine and walked back to his bondmate, who now stood unselfconsciously in a pair of regulation briefs next to the biobed.  As he handed the uniform over and Spock began to unfold it, Jim stepped back, leaning a hip against the bed.  “We can see what A’lazb wants to do, and the others, and send the message before we reach the starbase.”  He stalled, watching Spock pull the black t-shirt over his head.  “I want you to eat something when we get back to my quarters.”  A raised eyebrow as Spock stepped into his pants.  “And I want you to know that I love you.  I want you to be able to sense it, like I feel you.”  His words had come out rushed, and he caught his breath.  “Do you?”

            Spock slipped the blue tunic over his head and tugged at the lower hem, a glimmer of humor crossing between them.  “I do, ashayam.  You are not ‘taking advantage’.”

            Jim snorted delicately.  “I order you not to put up with my bullshit anymore.”

            “I believe,” the Vulcan replied archly, adjusting his cuffs, “that those particular circumstances do not fall within the purview of the service.”

            Jim watched him, wanting desperately to take the two steps forward and touch, embrace, losing himself in the warmth of his bondmate.  It wasn’t blatant arousal, now, but more of a long-denied basic need, and he knew Spock felt it too by the way the Vulcan’s eyes darkened and the bond warmed before the Vulcan blinked and stepped deliberately back.  “If you would excuse me, Captain.”

            The military cadence acted, as usual, to force Jim back into his own awareness, though he bit his lip with frustration, nodding absently as Spock turned and disappeared into the small adjacent bathroom, the door sliding shut after him.  Their duty, one he did not wish to perform, warring with his suddenly fierce desire to be simply let it all fall away.  But grim duty must come first, and Jim turned away to retrieve Spock’s boots from where they rested against the wall near the doors to the room, resigning himself.

 

 

 

            The low lighting and higher temperature were still the same as the two officers stepped onto the shuttledeck, and, as the doors sealed behind them, Jim heard the now familiar scrabble across the plastisteel as A’lazb approached.  This time, he could just barely sense the soft interweaving of psionic energy that stretched among the huge creatures, perceptible through Spock’s telepathy.  The Vulcan had adjusted his shielding as they had made their way below decks, and Jim knew that what was now a fairly open pathway would be shut as the meld was attempted, given Jim’s pained reaction to the previous attempt.  Jim smiled a greeting to his friend and looked deliberately to Spock, who was rubbing his hands together, an expression of concentration on his face.  A’lazb’s many eyes flickered over them both and she eased herself closer to the Vulcan, lowering her face nearer to him, a faint trill vibrating through her huge body.

            Spock’s hands rose to gently cradle her jaw, and her legs came carefully around him as before, and Jim flinched as the bond was abruptly closed.  Somehow Jim sensed that the meld was deep, and he took an involuntary step forward as Spock let out a pained grunt, his face contorting, and A’lazb herself produced a sudden high-pitched scream that sent shivers down Jim’s spine.  The other f’ylao’tri began to shift in agitation, and nervous trills sounded from around him in the dim caverns of the bay.  Spock was shaking his head, his eyes squeezed shut, and great tremors were running along the large arachnoid’s body, mirrored by the trembling of the Vulcan’s hands.  Jim could feel a dull pressure where the bond lay silent and dark, growing into discomfort and then a shade of pain, and Spock whispered, “Tushah nash-veh k’du.  Tushah nash-veh.”

            The meld broke violently, and Spock staggered, letting his hands fall and stumbling towards Jim as A’lazb slipped backwards, letting out a keening noise as she went, the other f’ylao’tri moving forward to surround her.  Jim wrapped his arms around his bondmate, clinging to him as the bond unfurled again, wrought with remembered and shared pain, harshly glinting with memories of a terrible day and an immeasurable loss: the mental death-screams of billions, pain and sadness, guilt and fear, and loneliness so stark that it made Jim’s eyes fill with tears.  A’lazb had not felt her own species’ tragedy, at least, but the knowledge of what her people now lacked was almost as rending.

            “What can I do?  What do you need?”  He could barely whisper it, feeling his head pound with his bondmate’s pain.

            “She will speak to…the others of their future, once they have grieved their loss.”  Spock drew in a ragged breath, his face buried against Jim’s neck.  “Bolau la’es t’du, t’hy’la.”

            “I’m here.”  Jim pressed his cheek to Spock’s hair, looking beyond to where the f’ylao’tri were coming together, holding onto each other similarly.  “Will they be alright?”

            “There is nothing more I can do.”

            Jim nodded and turned, gently guiding Spock towards the door. As they approached, the Vulcan pulled away, straightening and tugging his tunic into place, and Jim’s hands flexed, feeling the lack of contact as a physical ache.  Spock walked directly to the turbolift as Jim murmured instructions to the two guards outside the doors, and then they were alone, the lift whispering its progress to Deck Five, the Vulcan still maintaining his rigid, separate posture, the bond straining under the weight of grief and stress and lingering weakness, longing and the need for touch.  It was obvious that Spock was barely holding himself together, and Jim felt the same.  Almost there.

            “Do you need to see M’Benga?”  Jim had to ask, and frowned into the resultant silence.  The ride was quick, and the stiff walk to Jim’s quarters even quicker, and then, finally, finally, they were alone as the door smoothly slid shut behind them.

 

 

 

            Spock had moved forward several paces into the room, standing rigid with tension and his hands in fists at his sides, his shoulders rising and falling with obvious breaths.  He kept his back to Jim, and the whirling emotions coming through over their bond reflected a return of the uncertainty and even fear; the reverberations from the deep meld and the sharply recalled memories still echoing within Spock’s mind.  Jim swallowed, and murmured a command to lock the door, lower the lights, and raise the temperature, finally stepping forward.  He knew, this time, what he could do, that touch was important and that his was welcomed and cherished.

            “I’m here,” he repeated softly, raising his hands to his bondmate’s shoulders and slowly moving closer still, letting his hands slide across Spock’s chest as his arms came around the Vulcan, finally standing fully behind him, their bodies pressed together, Jim’s arms wrapped tightly around Spock and his forehead leaning against dark hair.  There was a barely perceptible tremor in the Vulcan’s body, and Jim pressed his lips to the warm skin at the back of his bondmate’s neck as Spock’s hands came up to cover the human’s own.  Another tremor shook them both, but the swirl across the bond calmed slightly and Jim turned his head.  “Want to try this again?”

            He knew that his thoughts were passing easily through the bond and their close contact and felt Spock nod.  “Good.”  He gently pulled away, keeping hold of one of the Vulcan’s hands and stepping around to meet dark eyes.  “C’mon.  We’ll get you warmed up and then we’ll both eat.  And sleep.  And try to manage to be halfway presentable before having to debark at Six and face McCoy’s scanners again.”

            Spock exhaled, and Jim took that as an agreement, tugging slightly on his bondmate’s hand as he walked towards their shared bathroom.  Spock followed willingly, and Jim released his hand as they entered, reaching over to punch in a shower setting.  Hot water poured immediately into the stall and steam began to billow out, and Jim turned back to see that Spock had pulled off his blue tunic and was holding it in his hands.

            Shaking his head, Jim moved closer and took the tunic from his friend, tossing it carelessly to the floor and reaching out to the hem of Spock’s black undershirt.  There was still some discomfort and weakness radiating across their connection and Spock’s eyes were fathomless as he watched Jim’s motions.  Pulling off the undershirt and dropping it on the floor, Jim crouched and grabbed at Spock’s ankle, tugging his boots and socks off one at a time as the Vulcan obligingly lifted his feet.  A touch of affection and humor was whispering between them now and Jim offered a wry half-smile as he stood again, reaching for the fastening on his bondmate’s pants.

            He had both hands resting gently against the waistband of Spock’s uniform trousers when his eyes lifted to run across the Vulcan’s naked torso, and his fingers stilled abruptly as he swallowed, feeling something very much like pain wash over his insides, the bond shuddering with it.

            It was only the faintest mark, a thin greenish line where a jagged wound had been, and the bruises were mostly faded, soft brushes of irregular color against pale skin and muscle, concentrated over now-healed ribs.  But Jim’s jaw tensed and he pulled his hands away to grip Spock’s shoulders, gently turning him around, seeing the remnants of the injuries across his back, faded, but visible nonetheless.

            “The doctor assures me that it will not scar.”  Spock’s voice carried a note of reassurance that Jim felt through the bond.  “It is well, Jim.”

            “It’s not, actually.”  Jim’s response was dry as he turned his friend around again, releasing one hand to stroke softly over the almost invisible cut on his temple.  He saw Spock repress a shiver and Jim frowned at the dim sensation of chill, moving his hands back more definitively to his bondmate’s pants and unfastening the clasp, pushing them down and letting Spock step out of them, intending on getting the Vulcan quickly under the heated spray.

            However, he paused at his friend’s briefs, feeling suddenly ridiculous at his hesitation.  They had seen each other naked before, they had slept in the same bed, they were mentally joined, and Jim was pretty sure he had actually proposed just a short time before.  But this act of disrobing, performed casually so many times before with other lovers in every manner of seduction, was now unexpectedly of great consequence.  And it didn’t help that the usual driving sensations of arousal and excitement were largely in the background, pushed behind worry and love and protectiveness; lingering anger and fear incited by the evidence of their ordeal still written on his bondmate’s body.  Spock had said that he could feel Jim’s depth of emotion, but it was only human to tend towards a physical demonstration of caring.  And now, the human couldn’t help his nervousness, aware of the fact that they were about to step over the line separating the honesty and transparency of mental closeness with physical lovemaking and all its expectations and potential pitfalls.

            He stalled once again, mentally pulling back and moving his hands to pull off his own uniform shirts and kick off his boots, awkwardly tugging off his socks and pants.  Spock was watching him, his head tilted slightly and an eyebrow barely raised, confusion and curiosity slipping between them and Jim finally decided that he himself should probably follow that directive not to allow his own bullshit.  Stepping forward with his remaining bravado as a thin, unconvincing cover, Jim slipped his fingers beneath his friend’s waistband, against hot skin, and tugged, letting the thin garment slide down long legs and drop to the floor.  He straightened, reaching towards his own underwear and felt his hands gently batted away, felt warm fingers slip against his own skin, and met dark eyes as the only remaining barrier between them fell away to the floor, finally allowing his mind stretch back along the bond and sensing gentle comprehension and trust.  Spock’s fingers deliberately lingered against Jim’s hips and the captain felt the growing thrill of arousal coloring the bond.

            “What do you want?”  It was whispered as Jim leaned almost imperceptibly forward, not wanting to push, this time, knowing that healing and rest were still necessary, and that taking advantage was still a possibility.

            “I… .”  Spock blinked, and he closed his eyes, lowering his head so that his face was pressed against Jim’s neck, moving subtly so that their bodies touched.  “Aitlu nash-veh esta t’du. Bolau nash-veh esta t’du, ashayam.

            Jim breathed in deeply and exhaled, mentally probing deeper and sensing that, though his arousal was welcomed and reciprocated, his bondmate’s present overarching need was for comfort, for simple touch and closeness, pushing his arousal away for the moment and bringing his arms up in an embrace, running his hands up and down Spock’s torso once before gripping the Vulcan’s upper arms and tugging gently.  “Let’s get in the shower before we waste my water allowance.”

            Spock allowed him to separate them long enough to step under the hot water, and Jim immediately moved to wash them both, letting long strokes of his hands spread soap across the defined planes of their bodies before the water rinsed them clean.  And in this, Jim did not hesitate to touch, bathing every part of his bondmate’s body with determined care, pushing his sexual awareness of the masculine beauty of his friend’s wet, nude physique to the edges of his mind.  It would have to wait.  Spock bent his head for Jim to wash his hair, and the human forgot his arousal momentarily in favor of running his fingers through the thick, black strands, registering his bondmate’s relaxation and pleasure across the bond.  The pleasure was followed quickly by deepening exhaustion, however, and Jim reluctantly turned off the water, reaching quickly to grab two large towels.  Spock’s eyes didn’t leave Jim’s as he slowly dried the water from his body and Jim rubbed his own hair dry, tossing the towel on top of the other clothes and eyeing his bondmate.  “Do you want to eat?”

            “No.”

            “Bed, then?”  Jim thought about arguing, but some fleeting sense along the bond told him that it wasn’t worth it, and he smiled at how Spock simply dropped the towel to the floor, his hair completely disarrayed and a glimmer of dampness remaining on his chest, their mental connection taking on an almost languid feel.

            The lights were low, and the temperature had been set high enough that Jim felt no chill as he exited the steamy bathroom and padded over to the bed.  His own bunk was slightly larger than the norm, but they would still have to squeeze to fit comfortably. S omehow he figured that it wouldn’t be a problem.

            He watched Spock climb in, and followed closely behind, pulling the blankets over them both and smiling even wider as the Vulcan turned immediately and surrounded him in heat.  Their skin touched everywhere along their naked bodies and Jim heard the unfamiliar sound of Spock’s sigh, his head again buried in Jim’s neck and shoulder, the bond now impossibly warm and open and lethargic between them.

            “Better?”  It was a rhetorical question, and Jim felt the mental affirmative along with another, smaller, sigh. “You feel good.”  Jim shifted slightly, chuckling as his bondmate simply held him even tighter.  “Is this what you wanted?  What you were trying to tell me that night on the observation deck after Primidius?”

            Spock’s voice was muffled against Jim’s skin.  “I did not know, except that I recognized you were t’hy’la, and that I…wished for your touch, both mental and physical.  I could not ask for it, as such, however.  As I said, Vulcans do not… .”

            Jim chuckled again.  “And I repeat my assertion that Vulcans turn out to be capable of more than might be anticipated.”  He paused, smirking.  “Well, half-Vulcans anyway.  Lucky me.”  He opened his mouth to say something else and felt Spock move, pushing up and pressing his lips to Jim’s.  Jim’s words trailed off into a pleased sound, and he closed his eyes, feeling the gentle contact of their mouths intensify as their tongues touched and Spock’s hand caressed the side of Jim’s face, angling to allow an even deeper exploration.

            Warm fingers slid across meld points, pausing just enough to send sparks within Jim’s thoughts, and he instinctively reached along the bond, mentally leaning into his mate.  Spock slowly pulled his head back, dark eyes searching Jim’s in the low light, a question forming amorphously in his thoughts.

            “Yes,” Jim whispered.  “Please.” And he caught the barest upturn of Spock’s lips as he felt the press of fingers against his face and the bond seemed to expand to overtake everything in a sudden, brilliant light.

            It was home and life and love, and their joined thoughts were whispers against a background of fathomless emotion.  It was multifaceted: safe and calm, but with the inevitable echoes of harsh memories.  There were places of darkness, but overwhelming places of light, and every place they touched shone.  It was different from before, when there had been danger lurking over them and a sense of time running out.  Now, the connection was expansive and joyful, relaxed and natural.  As Jim had expected and ignorantly feared, there was no hiding, no pretending, no games, no lies; only closeness, understanding and acceptance: at once terrifying and exhilarating and inhumanly intense.

            Jim drifted within Vulcan warmth and love, sliding past thoughts and memories, shared and apart and now experienced together, sensing the promise of what they could be, suddenly realizing that he had indeed been blindsided, and how very satisfying it was.  Convolution.  He would never let this go.  It was…everything.

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

Vulcan translations from the VLD (and with advice from mightymads-thank you so much!).

Tushah nash-veh k’du: I grieve with thee.

Bolau la’es t’du: I need your presence.

Aitlu nash-veh esta t’du.: I desire your touch.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty: The Simplicity of Touch

 

 

           Jim woke suddenly and blinked, feeling disoriented.  The bed next to him was empty and he sat up abruptly, feeling his head pound as he registered his own thirst.  The chrono indicated that he had been asleep for over fifteen hours and he stared at it in disbelief, clearing his dry throat and coughing.  “Spock?”

           On my way, ashayam.

            “What?”  He swallowed and glanced around the room, confused at the disconcerting clarity of his bondmate’s voice despite his obvious absence, and then Jim heard the door buzzer, impatience behind its prolonged ring, belatedly realizing that it was probably what had jarred him out of sleep.

            He pushed the blankets back and swung his legs out of bed, tugging on a pair of sweatpants and a random t-shirt on the way out to the main room, his confusion growing as he realized that his cabin was empty.  “Spock?”

            This time there was no answer and Jim reached the door just as the buzzer sounded again, hitting the manual control and watching the door slide back to admit his pissed-off CMO.

            McCoy stepped in without preamble, taking several steps before glancing around and finally turning back to face Jim.  “Have you really been asleep this whole time?  Where’s Spock?”

            “Here, Doctor.”  The Vulcan’s voice was as calm and uninflected as ever, as he smoothly walked through the bathroom door, presumably from his own quarters, looking pristine in his uniform blacks and carrying a glass of water.  The bond was pulsing calmly and brightly in Jim’s mind, whispers of gentle happiness and satisfaction thrumming from the Vulcan.

            “Where were you?”  Jim ignored McCoy, running a hand through his own messy hair and studying his mate as he stepped forward to take the glass.  “When did you leave?”  He narrowed his eyes at the Vulcan before tipping the glass and drinking deeply, sighing inwardly as the cool liquid soothed his throat and his headache began to ease almost instantly.

           Eight point one hours ago.  I have been engaged in necessary meditation.

            Bones advanced, turning a scowl and a scanner on Jim as the captain drained the glass.  “You know, you two were supposed to at least check in with me or M’Benga.  Good thing for fucking biosensors-at least I knew you weren’t dead.”

           I am gratified you were able to rest, Jim.

            “Wait.”  Jim dodged McCoy and peered at the Vulcan, who appeared slightly smug.  “Say that again.”

            Bones rolled his eyes and began to wave the scanner at the first officer.  “I said… .”

            “Not you, Bones.  Spock.”

            “He didn’t say anything!  Now… .”

            “Bones, wait!  Spock, say something.  Like before.”  Jim could feel his bondmate’s inner smile, despite the usual impassivity of his face.

           I believe you are referring to our ability to communicate via the bond, Jim.

            The captain’s mouth dropped open.  “Holy fucking shit.”

            “What?”  McCoy glanced from one to the other.  “What the fuck is going on?”

            “I can hear him in my head.”  Jim stared.  “I can hear his thoughts.”

            Spock raised an eyebrow.  “Not all of my thoughts, Jim.  Merely those directed specifically towards you.”

            Jim shook his head, focusing inwardly on their connection, which seemed stronger and more noticeable than ever.  Can you hear me?  He formed each word deliberately.  “Could you hear that?”

            “Affirmative.”

            “Wait.”  Jim deliberately thought of how they had held each other before sleep, how their skin had touched and their mouths had… .  His thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a wave of arousal across the bond and the barest coloring of green over his bondmate’s cheekbones.  “Well, I guess you can pick up more from me than I can from you.”

            McCoy’s eyebrows were inching towards his hairline as Spock inclined his head slightly.  “At present, yes.  However, I shall adjust my shielding to avoid such contact unless you wish it.  I can also instruct you in developing your own mental shields.”  Jim felt the clarity of their connection dampen somewhat as Spock’s shields slipped into place.  It was immediately disconcerting, and he flinched.

            Spock stepped forward, but stopped before touching him.  I apologize, t’hy’la, I should have informed you before allowing such mental intimacy.  I was… .

            “Excited?”  Jim managed a smirk.  “When did you discover it?”

            “As your mind awakened from sleep.”  I hypothesize that our prolonged mental touch as we slept as well as the healing gained from my meditation allowed for this development.

            Jim grunted and turned to McCoy, who was standing tensely with his arms crossed in front of him, his mouth pressed into a thin line.  “You’re pretty quiet, Bones.”

           The doctor inhaled and shrugged.  “M’Benga said that something like this might happen.”  His eyes flicked to Spock.  “So far, Command’s opinion on you two is that this bond is a great idea, but that could change if we find ourselves in some kind of security nightmare and one of you is compromised.  Especially now.”  He shook his head.  “I hate to ask this, but are you able to shut the bond off completely, Spock, in a worst case scenario?  Without doing Jim in?”

            Instinctive distress passed clearly through their connection and Spock’s posture tightened almost imperceptibly.  “Yes, Doctor.  Complete shielding is not as traumatic as severing.  If necessary, I can keep our minds completely separate.”

            McCoy nodded slowly.  “And if it were severed?”

            “I do not know.  A healer’s assessment would be of assistance in determining potential consequence.”

            “Okay.”  The doctor’s tone was almost gentle.  “That’s what M’Benga said, too.  I’m sorry to bring it up, but you know it’s in my job description.  We might have to make some adjustments to protocol if something were to happen.”

            Jim frowned, but Spock tilted his head.  “That is logical, Doctor.  However, given the caveat of the unknown aspects of our particular bond, I would point out that instances in which a surviving bonded mate also succumbs to death are characterized by the distinct wish of that individual to do so.”

            The captain furrowed his brow, turning to his bondmate.  “You didn’t mention that before.”

            “I was not prepared for the conversation.”  The Vulcan’s flat tone and simple words belied the surge of emotion that threatened the composure of the bond, and Jim remembered Spock’s agitation and reluctance to speak earlier.  He had attributed it completely to hesitation and insecurity over their relationship, and felt a sense of shame that he hadn’t considered the difference between humans’ casual propensity for emotional conversations and the armored reserve that characterized Vulcan interactions.

            McCoy simply watched them, and Jim bit his lip.  “I’m sorry.”

            Spock’s eyes shifted towards the doctor and then back to Jim, “There are many aspects of Vulcan culture that are held as near-taboo.  Discussion of them is now necessary, however, I will not underestimate the…difficulty of such conversation.”

            “No wonder Geoff looked so spooked by how quiet you were.”  Jim gave his bondmate a half-smile and then turned back to McCoy, a falsely light tone to his voice.  “So there you go, doc.  We don’t know exactly what will happen, but we’re not going down without making sure the ship is safe.”

            “Right.”  Bones met his eyes, and Jim saw a flash of pain and worry in the hazel depths that faded quickly.  “Well,” the doctor swallowed and raised his eyebrows, releasing his own arms from their taut position across his chest to casually regard the scanner in his hand, rocking back and forth on his toes, “M’Benga also said a few days of solitude and…whatever is the usual modus operandi following a bonding between adults, so I’ll have a look at you after that.”

            Jim raised a skeptical eyebrow.  “You’re clearing us?  Without brain scans and a lecture?”

            “I can still give you the lecture, if you want,” McCoy dryly retorted, meeting Jim’s eyes.  “Yeah, we’re docking in a couple hours and I’m clearing you.  Of course, I’ve taken the liberty of making your arrangements so I know exactly where to find you.”  His eyes became steel.  “And answer the damn comm when I call so I don’t have to come down personally.  Because I will.”

            Jim’s lips quirked.  “Arrangements?”

            The doctor didn’t flinch.  “Yeah.  A proper hotel with level-one security: right on the starbase and with room service and everything.  No mountains, no snow, hopefully no evil computers or psionic brainwashing, and no crazy stunts.  You’ll hate it.  Your medical orders are to rest and eat, and check in with me every day or if you notice any abnormal symptoms or major developments, such as this,” he waved his hand, “latest. I’m still worried about any latent damage from exposure to that alien technology.”

            “Is that it?”  Jim smiled.

            “No.  You’re ordered to stay with Spock, physical and mental proximity and all that.  I also think I can trust him to keep you out of trouble.”

            “I shall, Doctor.”

            Jim’s smile widened as he looked at his bondmate, and Bones reached out, gripping the captain’s arm.  “You’ll be alright, Jim.  I’ll check in with you once you’re settled.”  He nodded at the Vulcan.  “Spock.”

            “Doctor.”

            With a wink at Jim, Bones turned and left, the door sliding shut behind him, and Jim raised his eyebrows.  “A hotel, huh?”  He was deliberately trying for levity, balancing the dark conversation from before.

            Spock’s gaze turned back to Jim from its previous focus on where the doctor had departed and his eyes softened.  “I shall meet you there, Jim.  I am scheduled to conference with my father and members of the New Vulcan High Council regarding the f’ylao’tri in ten point six minutes.”

            “Could take a while?”

            “Undoubtedly.”

            “Do you want me to come with you?”  Jim knew if Sarek and the others were to agree to the plan, that Spock would communicate with A’lazb again, to gain her final approval, and he remembered all too sharply the terrible emotional toll it would take.

            The Vulcan shook his head in an almost human manner.  “I am not in need of assistance.  The Council is conservative, Jim.  And I would be gratified to spare you additional distress.”

            Jim rolled his eyes.  “Meaning they might not take kindly to having a human tell them what to do.”

            A mental affirmative rippled through to the captain, along with a wave of affection and warmth, and Jim sighed, walking forward, holding his hand out, two fingers extended.  “Okay.  I’ll meet you after.”

            As their fingers touched he sensed the bond swell, and felt the brightness of his bondmate’s love shine into his mind.  Gathering himself, he pushed a single thought across, I love you.  Take care of yourself. 

            And he knew Spock sensed it by the minute smile that bloomed on the normally impassive visage.  Talukh nash-veh k’du.

 

 

 

            Several hours later Jim sat stiffly on a plush couch in a spacious hotel room, dressed in his uniform, a glass of cold beer sitting untouched on the low table in front of him.  Spock was on his way, having secured New Vulcan approval to relocate the f’ylao’tri and communicated the news to A’lazb herself, and Jim could still feel the harsh tension remaining from the necessary shielding as his bondmate had melded again with the large arachnoid.  A’lazb had agreed, and the Enterprise herself would have the honor of transporting the newest adopted members of the Federation to their new home immediately following leave.  For the few days the starship remained in spacedock, the f’ylao’tri were content to remain in the shuttlebay.  Communications specialists had volunteered to begin calibration of the universal translator to approximate the arachnoids' dialect, and the Botany department had replicated and moved a large number of harmless plants into a section of the bay, along with warming pads on the floor, making the arachnoids more comfortable.  The captain had coordinated the unofficial efforts before he had transported down, just ahead of Bones’ angry missive to ‘get his ass in gear’.

            Now, Jim was almost fidgeting, unused to the quiet that surrounded him.  He stood, intent on pacing off some of his nervous energy, when the soft beep of the main door preceded its gentle slide open and shut, admitting the tall, lean form of his bondmate.

            Spock bent slightly to set his bag on the floor and straightened, and for a moment they simply stared at each other.  Now unencumbered with any reservations about disturbing his bondmate’s concentration, Jim mentally prodded at their connection.  Open up.

            Spock blinked, and humor flashed through his unguarded eyes as shields lifted and the bond shone again brightly between them.  Jim saw thin lines of tension ease on Spock’s face as his expression became infinitesimally softer and felt the light brush of the Vulcan’s mind across his own thoughts.  The captain took a deep breath, closing his eyes, sensing flashes of rapid thought, deep emotion, bending control.

            “I shouldn’t have let you do that alone.”  Jim opened his eyes again.

            Spock took a step forward; jerkily, as if he couldn’t help himself.  “Your presence would have been extraneous, Jim.  I wished…I drew comfort from your separation.”

            Jim winced, remembering that softly spoken refusal before they had transported into the village for the final time, when Spock had defied him in order to ensure the captain’s safety.  “You can’t just decide to put your needs away, for me.”  He felt his expression harden, thinking of the yawning cultural divide that had only recently been crossed, of the mental dimension that made undeniable that kind of inhuman consideration and selflessness and love that formed a basis for their bond. 

            He felt suddenly unworthy for such devotion, and saw Spock’s eyes blaze, the Vulcan’s low voice deep with an intensity that was reflected within his mind.  “I fear that I am putting my needs first, t’hy’la.  I understood that the communication, both with the Council and with the f’ylao’tri, would be taxing, and I wished you apart from it, so that you and the comfort of your mind would be there for me.  I bonded with you, despite the obvious dangers and your own lack of comprehension as to all that it entailed.  I…yearn for your touch, though I can sense your…retreat in the face of your desire.”

            “Are you kidding?”  Jim stared at him, feeling longing as a deep, physical ache, taking a step towards him.  “I want you.  I desperately want you, but I don’t want to push that on you.”  He shook his head, licking his lips.  “I’ve done that before, so many times, with others, and left it on a virtually meaningless level, and, with you, what we share already seems like so much more.”  He waved his hands helplessly.  “I guess I’m back to saying I don’t want to fuck this up, but…fuck.  Read my mind, dammit.”  He took the final step and closed the distance between them, reaching out and grasping Spock’s hand and bringing it to his face, much as he had done in the small house on that ship.

            The sensation of Spock’s fingers on his meld points was like liquid heat across the bond and their minds flowed together instantly.  Jim fought not to lose himself in the river of thought and emotion, of warmth and approaching passion.  He thrust his memories at his mate, into the slew of thoughts: memories of pain, both his and others’, recognition of loss, of love’s dangers and the weak security of his transient physical pleasures.  He showed his insecurity in the face of such unconditional communion, but also his awe and eagerness.  And he saw Spock’s own insecurity in the context of unfamiliar physical sharing, of the fear of human wanderlust and confusion in the complexity of human dynamic emotionalism.  But that had all been cast aside with the possibility of t’hy’la, and it was as McCoy had said: he had lost Jim before.  He had lost so much before.  For both of them, the wounds left behind by loss could be healed, even in part, by simple touch of one to the other.

            Desire had flared between them even before the meld broke apart, Spock’s hands cradling Jim’s face as they kissed, the heat having moved into their bodies, and Jim was suddenly, painfully, aroused.  He moaned into the kiss, moving his hands under Spock’s uniform shirts and against hot skin, feeling his partner’s gasp.

            He pulled away just enough to stare into half-lidded dark eyes, his voice challenging.  “How’s this for retreat?”

            Spock muttered something in Vulcan that Jim didn’t understand, and the captain chuckled, stepping back again to pull his own shirts off in one smooth motion.  He undid the fastening on his pants and stepped backwards again, kicking off his boots, stripping his socks, and letting fabric slide down his legs, smirking as he managed not to trip over himself as he stepped out of the uniform completely.  The Vulcan was staring at him with an expression very close to how he had looked before strangling Jim across the helm console, but the bond was pulsing with a very different emotion, and Jim took one more step, towards the bedroom, when Spock moved.

            “Shit.”  The word was smothered by another kiss, this one almost brutally desperate and ridiculously messy, haphazardly deepening and shallowing as they practically fought their way into the bedroom, Spock’s own clothes being discarded on the way.  Jim was almost thrown onto the bed, grunting as he awkwardly pulled his own briefs off, feeling the fabric roughly slide against his sensitized flesh.  And then he felt the slide of something hotter and smoother against his shaft as Spock’s naked form descended on top of him and he grunted again, this time in pleasure.

            Their mouths came together again, inelegantly, and the Vulcan cried out as their bodies began to move against each other, the bond alive with impossible, primal feeling.  Jim knew he was making embarrassing noises as Spock mouthed his way over his jaw and against his neck, and the human turned his head to swipe his tongue across a pointed ear, relishing the frantic gasp it provoked.

            Everything was speeding out of control, and, despite the almost overwhelming sensations, Jim knew he had to slow things down, reaching down and gripping Spock’s hips, holding firm and mentally whispering words of calm into the heated bondspace.  Slowly, the frantic motion of their bodies eased, and Jim shifted a hand, reaching between them to hold their erections together, beginning a new, more deliberate rhythm, and feeling Spock murmur against his neck.

            Shifting his weight, Jim encouraged his bondmate to turn over onto his back, moving to capture Spock’s lips again briefly before slowly slipping down his body, relinquishing his grip on their erections to slide his hands up and down his bondmate’s arms and sides as he let his mouth explore the Vulcan’s chest and stomach, the muscles tensing beneath his tongue.

            Spock let out another cry as Jim’s mouth descended over his penis and, encouraged, Jim inwardly smiled, allowing his head to slowly move up and down, bringing his hands down to clasp around the base of the shaft and massage even lower.  Spock’s hips jerked and Jim held him down, now working his bondmate’s erection with long, slow motions of his mouth and tongue and letting his saliva smooth his movements.  He felt the Vulcan penis swell slightly and heard a strangled gasp from his partner as the bond suddenly flared in helpless waves of transmitted pleasure and it took all of Jim’s concentration to focus as hot semen erupted down his throat.  He swallowed, registering the bittersweet taste, and pressed his own aching cock into the bedding beneath him, desperately near release himself after sensing Spock’s own orgasm.

            As he released the Vulcan’s softening cock and raised his own head, he saw a pair of slightly unfocused dark eyes staring at him with undeniable awe.  He attempted a smirk, considering his raging boner and sore jaw.  “Guess my experience counted for someth… .”

            His words were interrupted as Spock shifted, bodily pulling Jim up against him and reaching down to grip the human’s penis firmly.  Jim grunted and jerked and Spock hissed, gentling his hand and slowing his motions as he leaned in, turning them over.  Jim’s head fell back against the pillows and he shut his eyes, aware only of the heated hand stroking his penis and the wide-open bond between them.  Spock’s mind was full of languid pleasure and growing excitement, of anticipation and the slightest hint of anxiety.  Jim sensed thoughts as words forming in his own mind, feeling the Vulcan’s primal attraction to his body and powerful arousal, magnifying his own intense pleasure.  He grunted, tilting his head back further, feeling heat all around him, and then Spock moved, sliding down Jim’s body and engulfing the human’s penis in his mouth in one smooth motion.

            Jim’s hands were fisted in the bedclothes on either side of him, and he gasped as he felt his orgasm approaching, moving one hand to grab into silky black hair as he thrust helplessly, feeling waves of pleasure throb through his body as he felt Spock swallow around him.

            Jim released his hands, allowing them to fall bonelessly against the bed, feeling Spock gently release his spent organ and slowly crawl up to lie next to him.  The bondspace held a deeply satisfied feeling, with echoes of the intense pleasure still ricocheting back and forth.

            “That was… .”  Jim’s voice trailed off, and he took a deep breath, feeling too blissed out to continue.  A shiver from his partner spurred him to wriggle clumsily over, pulling at the covers and pushing at Spock to follow him underneath, his own eyes still barely open.

            Once they were both under the sheets and thick comforter, Spock turned on his side and wrapped his body around his bondmate, a heavily relaxed sigh whispering against Jim’s skin and along the bond.  After a moment, when all Jim could feel was somnolent contentment along their connection, he nudged Spock’s head with his chin.  “You okay?”

           Indeed.

            Jim chuckled at the lazy tone of his mate’s mental voice.  “You sound like you enjoyed that.”

            He could almost see the eyebrow rise.  “I believe I now understand the reason that mental intimacy leads to physical interaction.”  Spock’s voice was muffled, and Jim felt a pulse of heat move through his own groin at the erotic memories of their mutual pleasure cascading within the bond.

            “I know.”  Jim licked his lips.  “I almost got off just feeling you.”

           That particular reaction might warrant future study.

            The human laughed out loud, and then got a very vivid mental image of Spock’s fingers on his face as their bodies pressed against each other and swallowed, his cock already half-hard again.  “Melded sex?  That would, uh, do it.”  He felt Spock shift against him and looked over into smoldering eyes, feeling himself harden even more.  “You can’t want to…you sure?”

            “If you are so inclined.” 

            The tip of Spock’s tongue darted out against his lower lip and Jim’s eyes widened.  “Fuck it.”  The kiss was immediately deep and sensual, and Jim’s attention went back and forth between the erotic taste of his own release lingering in his partner’s mouth and the charged sensations flowing into his mind.  He closed his eyes at the influx of his mate’s thoughts and feelings, almost overwhelmed without the streamlined exclusion of a meld, his own senses of touch, smell, and taste providing additional exquisite, blinding detail.  But when Spock attempted to roll Jim over top of his body, the human pulled back, trying to catch his breath.

            “Wait, wait.”  He blinked, and made to move off the bed.

            “Jim?”  Spock’s voice was, astonishingly, uninflected, but the bond transmitted uncertainty.

            “No, it’s okay.”   Jim stood.  “Stay there. I need to get something.”  He pushed an unwieldy image of necessary preparation through the bond and saw Spock’s eyebrow rise before the captain turned to head into the main room, rummaging rapidly through his bag until he found his toiletries case, swearing as he hastily dumped the contents out onto the floor, finally grabbing a container of lubricant.

            By the time he reached the bed, Spock was propped up on his elbows, and Jim spared a quick bemused glance at the Vulcan’s half-spiked hair before tossing the tube on the bedside table and sitting on the bed, absently palming his own erection.

            “Okay,” he was grateful for the temporary distance, his thoughts clearing just enough, “I want to make sure you want to do this, and, if you do, I’m going to be the one on the bottom.”

            “Jim… .”

            “No, seriously, I’ve, uh, had firsthand experience with this and… .”

            He heard a low grunt, and felt a surge of possessiveness across their bond, and found himself on his back on the bed, straddled by a naked, fierce-looking Vulcan, Jim’s wrists held easily above his head with one iron hand while his meld points were stroked with incongruous tenderness.

            “Fuck!”  The human’s exclamation was a mixture of surprise and excitement.

            Spock’s voice was calm, in startling contrast to the expression in his eyes.  “In answer to your question, t’hy’la, I am certain I wish to do this, and I find it most…arousing to consider taking you in this manner.”  His tone roughened, but his grip on Jim’s wrists gentled.  “And I find I no longer wish to hear of your experience with others.”

            Jim arched his back as the possessiveness shaded into lust and desperate love, shifting his body suggestively beneath his mate’s.  “I told you I’m yours.  Whatever you want. T’hy’la.”

            He allowed his own voice to descend into a throaty growl as he spoke the Vulcan word, and Spock’s eyes darkened as he released Jim’s hands completely, lowering himself to cover his human’s defined body, their mouths pressed together.

            They moved together, and Jim practically writhed under his mate’s hands and tongue.  The blind intensity from before returned, and even more so, and Jim’s initial desire to coach his inexperienced bondmate was thwarted by his own inability to speak, or do much of anything besides feel.  And, in the end, it didn’t seem to matter, as Jim sensed Spock drawing on his thoughts and sensations through the bond, using Vulcan logic and human intuition to figure it out himself.  There was some awkwardness, and some discomfort, quickly overcome.  Jim learned the sensitivity of Spock’s fingers, feeling frustration over his mate’s overly cautious manual preparation; quickly turning into gratitude as the Vulcan finally pressed into tight human coolness with minimal pain.

            It was when Spock began to move, slowly and shallowly at first, and then angling to hit Jim’s prostate, that the human couldn’t help a smile in the midst of sudden, intense pleasure, truly appreciating the mental communication.  And then Spock’s hot fingers pressed against Jim’s face, his hips never stopping their smooth motions, the meld growing and heating and taking over Jim’s mind, their individual pleasure merging into white heat, and Jim felt climax wash over both of them in a relentless wave, carrying him into welcome insensibility.

 

 

 

            Jim awoke to the feeling of cool sheets and the heat of his bedmate’s body, lying next to him.  The room was dark, except for a soft light coming from the bathroom, and Jim glanced over, feeling his mate’s peaceful slumber through the bond.  Spock was lying on his side, facing Jim, his hair still mussed against the pillow, and his long, inky lashes shadowing pale skin.  His lips were parted slightly, and he was breathing evenly, one hand lying next to his face and the other resting gently over Jim’s own wrist, under the blankets.

            Jim couldn’t feel any remaining trace of stickiness, though his muscles and ass ached.  He smiled, fairly certain that his conscientious bondmate would have cleaned them both following sex.  The human studied his mate in the low light, remembering the time he had watched Spock’s profile on the observation deck, the night the Vulcan had tangentially and subtly admitted to needing touch.  Touch of a mind, and, now, touch in a fully physical sense.  Jim wondered if it was the same for full-Vulcans, or if Spock’s assumptions about his father’s people were correct.  What they themselves shared was very different from normal human interactions, but it was deeply human in the desire for intimate closeness and the aspiration for total acceptance and unconditional love.  Perhaps it was also different from normal Vulcan relationships as well.  Perhaps the deep current of emotion that Jim could so easily detect and delve into was unique to his friend, or unique to their bond.

            His eyes traveled over the familiar features, recalling the strength of body and mind that had kept them both alive and intact on that alien ship.  He remembered Spock’s mental defense of him, and his single-minded focus on Jim’s safety, even at the last, firing that life-saving shot an instant before collapsing, dying.  Jim shivered, wondering somehow, deeply, if Spock would choose to follow him into death, if it came to that.  Even if not immediately, given the safety of the ship or others under his responsibility, but eventually.  It would be strikingly different from the pained endurance of an elder Vulcan, a shade from another universe, who had carried on, despite a loss so deep that even human sensitivity could decipher it clearly within a rapid meld.  Jim turned his head sharply, staring at the ceiling, comprehending suddenly just whom that elder might have lost.  He shook his head, feeling the stirrings of his mate’s awakening, and glanced over at him again, considering the differences between universes, and the similarities.

            Dark eyes opened and blinked, and Spock’s hand tightened on Jim’s wrist.  “Your thoughts are troubled, k’diwa.”

            “Would you follow me?”  Jim almost didn’t want to know.

            The bond thrummed with deep emotion and the breath of immeasurable loss already experienced: the blinding pain of rendered mental linkages to a vanished people, the fall into oblivion of one cherished soul, and the slow fade into darkness of another.

            “There is…injury, isn’t there?  Behind your shields?  Your mind… .”

            “Is different from his.”  Spock’s voice was calm.  “All survivors share that pain, that…injury, but his…perception of k’war’ma’khon was different, his t’hy’la gone from natural causes in the fullness of time*; he had told his mother of the truth of his emotions.”  Spock tilted his head on the pillow.  “I admitted that I experienced k’oh-nar in your presence.  Now, it is something different.  Now it is a simple truth in being.”

            “I want…I want you to promise you won’t die, too.”

            A small, sad smile curved the corners of the Vulcan’s mouth.  “No.”

            “Spock… .”

            “I confess that I am selfish with regard to you, t’hy’laKaiidth.”

            Jim frowned.  “I don’t believe it.  I know you won’t promise it, but I refuse to believe it.  I don’t want that to be the last thing I think about in this life.”  Spock closed his eyes, and Jim leaned closer.  “And do you know how I know you won’t do it?”

            Because you ask it of me.

            “And because I would go on, without you.  I had to face that, you know, on that ship.  I had to fight, despite the pain that ate away at me, that practically destroyed me, and may have, if I hadn’t gotten you back.  I know that pain would never go away, but it would be worth it to endure, to have this with you.”  Jim reached over to brush two fingers across his Vulcan’s cheekbone and smiled.  “You blindsided me.”

            A faint line appeared between upswept eyebrows, and Jim felt the bond probed for the meaning behind the word.  An eyebrow subtly lifted.  “McCoy.”

            “I’ll tell him you agree.”

            Spock’s lips tightened.  “I assume that, in the future, you will not be elaborating further on our relationship with the good doctor.”

            Jim’s smile turned into a brilliant grin.  “Well, not unless he pulls out the good whiskey.”  He rolled out of bed and landed on his feet in one smooth motion, tilting his head at his bondmate in an obvious invitation.  “Want to share a shower?  It’s our honeymoon, after all.”

            Dark eyes raked over Jim’s nude form before meeting his blue gaze.  “As I have reminded you before, Jim, a t’hy’la bonding is not necessarily the same as marriage.  If you wish to pursue the latter, however, I would be amenable.”

            “I bet.”  Jim turned and headed for the bathroom, sensing his bondmate rise from the bed and follow him.  “I’m not taking your name, though.”

            “Advisable, as I doubt you could pronounce it.”

            Jim’s subsequent flawless accent and perfect pronunciation, sullied only by his overly smug tone of voice, caused his mate only a few seconds of very un-Vulcan stunned silence, followed by a significantly longer period of time allowing the human to fully demonstrate his exceptional oral skills.

 

 

 

            Much later, Jim lay again in bed, his body satiated from their latest demonstration of physical intimacy and his stomach full from a large meal ordered from the expansive room service menu.  He had enjoyed a glass of wine and had grown drowsy reading as his bondmate meditated across the room, his form now lit with the growing colors of the rising sun.  Something had changed in Jim that had everything to do with the complexity and the simplicity of touch.  He felt stronger, as a captain, as a friend, and, now, as a partner, having gone through the fires of fear, faced the mirror of uncertainty, and having walked the desolate plains of loss in this latest experience.  They had somehow come out on the other side as something more than they had gone in: something more fulfilled, something healthier, something fundamental.  And in that knowledge he finally found that elusive sense of closure for a thing that had been there even since Primidius, when he had felt, for the first time, the depth of what could be. And it felt right.

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

 

Vulcan translations from the VLD.

 

*In my works, I follow along through Star Trek VI, and then our boys grow old together.

 

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

 

            The late afternoon cast a richly golden hue over the foliage of the looming forest as Jim materialized and began the short walk over to the temporary buildings housing the f’ylao’tri survivors, the newest arrivals to the New Vulcan colony.

            As Jim walked, he played with the new ring on his left hand, the result of a quick ceremony in Commodore Preshar’s office immediately before the captain had taken the Enterprise out for the five-day transit to the colony.  Bones and Nyota had stood witness for him and Spock: McCoy had grumbled about the lack of a party, Nyota had given the captain a heartfelt hug and the promise of a proper toast later on, and Jim had ended the ceremony with a perfectly chaste Vulcan kiss while sending a mental message that had turned his new husband’s ears green.

            The trip out had been busy, with the Communications and Xenobiology departments working overtime to prepare the f’ylao’tri for their new home, and vice versa.  Spock had continued to meld with A’lazb, and had assisted the recovery of snippets of race memory embedded in her species’ subconscious: visions of a lush, green world and a vast grid of underground tunnels and structures, the development of technology and huge, extended family networks.  All gone, but the recollection of which now made possible a basis for their new settlement.  Language, too, was becoming accessible: the universal translator having been programmed to accept the clicks and trills and body motions that characterized the native speech of the giant arachnoids.

            Jim had concentrated on integrating his new relationship with his command position, particularly on handling his everyday perception of their bond.  Spock had instructed him on shielding and had adjusted his own mental barriers to allow Jim to maintain a minimal background awareness of the link unless greater intimacy warranted a stronger connection.  They had slid more effortlessly into a living arrangement: each keeping his own cabin, but taking advantage of Starfleet’s accommodation clauses to install a larger bed in Jim’s space.  The captain had become aware of just how little Spock actually slept compared to his human shipmates, and Spock had gained a new appreciation for the almost boundless energy of his new husband, having had to regulate their bond to deal with Jim’s random bursts of intuition and ideas that occasionally interrupted sleep, meditation, and meals and manifested in stacks of PADDs and even hardcopy covering their mutual space.

            The five-day journey had seen the ship and her command team adjust into a new routine, and the crew had taken the news of the relationship between their commanding officers with nonchalant acceptance, following on Command’s overall lack of surprise, and prompting Jim to wonder again just how obvious they both had been.

            Sarek, too, had seemed curiously detached at the news of their t’hy’la bond, and had only raised a single eyebrow when Spock informed him of their marriage, immediately offering his congratulations to Jim in the human fashion, and presenting a perfunctory monologue regarding the human’s new position and protections under Vulcan law.  Jim hadn’t been sure, but he believed he had caught an undertone of resignation, and, given the Ambassador’s pointed comments about Spock’s illogical persistence in Starfleet, the captain figured that Sarek had already somehow accounted for this possibility.

            Now, as he approached a large, dome-like structure, colored a reddish-brown to match the sandy soil under his feet, Jim glanced up at the high trees that characterized this near-equatorial, water-rich landmass, a marked contrast to the semi-arid conditions and low vegetation of single other large continent on the planet, where the main concentration of Vulcan survivors had settled.  He smiled as he saw a familiar form step carefully through the entrance, large legs moving with a newfound grace and purpose.

            A’lazb let out a long trill and moved forward to stroke a single leg along the side of his arm, and the universal translator, hooked onto Jim’s belt and earpiece already in place, came to life.  “Hello, friend-mate-of-my-brother, welcome to my-and-our new place-home.” 

            The translator had been programmed to register relative age and gender, and Jim smiled as he heard the excited tones of a young female voice.  He knew that A’lazb referred to Spock as a family member, and reached to stroke a furry leg.  “Hello, friend and sister.  I wanted to come and say goodbye in person.”  He hadn’t had much of a chance to speak to the arachnoid at all during their transition to the colony, and, now, was the last of the starship’s complement remaining on the surface of the planet.  

            The large head tilted and the black eyes glimmered in the fading light.  “You are departing from here-our-home?”

            “Yes.”  Jim absently touched his ring again.  “I’ll be back; we both will, to visit.  This is Spock’s home, and, I suppose, mine now, too.”

            “You are brother-by-family and brother-by-place.  And friend of my-and-our trials.  I-and-we will miss-cherish-remember you.”

            Jim smiled sadly and looked again at the trees above, remembering a different place and what could have been a different fate.  “Thank you, friend and sister, for helping us.”

            A’lazb stroked his arm again.  “My-and-our gratitude as well, my friend-mate-of-my-brother.  We-and-I are in your-and-his debt-honor.”

            The moment stretched, and finally they both stepped back and Jim raised his communicator.  “Kirk to Enterprise.  One to beam up.”

            He took one last breath of air scented with vegetation and moisture and one last look at his brave friend, and raised his own hand in farewell as the golden beam took him.

 

 

 

            The stars gleamed on the silver hull of the great starship as she broke orbit, heading once again to answer their call.  On the bridge, Jim stood eagerly in front of the viewscreen, hands at his sides, his body relaxed and excitement in his blue eyes.

            “Captain.”  The bond warmed as Spock crossed over to stand next to him, a PADD in his hands and the barest of smiles curving his lips.  Jim smiled back, aware that his half-Vulcan mate had begun to allow small emotional expressions, perhaps instigated by Jim’s willing touches and dynamic personality.

           “Ready to go, Mr. Spock?”

            “Aye, sir.  Course set to star system gamma-seven-six, on our way into unexplored space.”

            “Think the Fushiri will be waiting?”

            An eyebrow rose.  “Negative, Captain, but I do believe they will be watching.”

            The captain’s voice was thoughtful.  “We might just prove to be worth it, after all.”

            “The most difficult things often are, Jim.”  Their eyes met and held, and Jim’s smiled widened as Spock inclined his head and turned back towards the science station.

            Jim glanced at the helm before turning to face the stars once more.  “Alright, Mr. Sulu, let’s take her out.  Warp factor three.”

            The helmsman acknowledged, and Jim’s shoulders straightened as he contemplated the currently unknown expanse of space and previously unknown depths of self; savoring the contentment he felt in his ship and in his chosen companion on the continuing journey into the future, looking forward, with hope.

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek, and I do not make any money from this.