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Each Of Us

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Chapter One: Broken Glass

 

            Jim entered the house through the back entrance, stepping quietly to avoid the creaking board just inside the door, smirking to himself as he slipped silently into the kitchen, and then swearing loudly as he slammed his knee into an unexpected chair, stumbling and barely catching himself on the nearby table.

            “Works every time.”  A dry voice from across the wooden surface caused the young man to swear again, this time quieter and in resignation, and the soft glow from a newly-lit oil lamp cast golden color across the room.

            Jim straightened and sighed loudly, eyeing the spare, blonde woman seated on the other side of the table.  He took in the slouched posture, the dark circles under eyes, the way her hand was curled around an empty glass, the half-empty bottle of whiskey almost abnormally close to her body, as if somehow protecting her.  He watched her eyes take him in as well, seeing the rumpled, torn clothes, the black eye, the smell of liquor.  And even in the dim lighting he could recognize sadness in her gaze.

           “You weren’t at work today.”  Her tone wasn’t accusatory, simply stating a fact.

            “Neither were you.”  He licked his lips and crossed over to the cupboard, pulling out a glass and, dragging the misplaced chair closer to the table, sat down across from her.  They both ignored the empty seat at the head of the table.

            She remained silent and smiled, a small, empty, half-thing that Jim knew was so like his own, and poured each of them a generous serving.

            Jim leaned back and sipped his drink, watching the light cast shadows on his mother’s face.  Her gaze was unfocused now, as she stared across the table.  So much of her was unfocused since her husband’s death exactly one year before.  The second partner she had lost, and even though Jim and Frank had not gotten along, he had respected the man for being a good husband to his mother.  He shifted awkwardly on the chair.  “So, I ran into Matt Grayson today.  That’s why I’m late.”

            She raised her eyebrows, allowing him to gloss past his absence from his job, and the apparent fight he’d been in.  “How’s he doing?”

            Jim sighed again, hearing the complete lack of interest behind her polite inquiry.  “He’s fine.  Married with a kid if you can believe it.  Working on the farm.”  Jim licked his lips, raising his eyes to meet her placid gaze.  “His aunt’s back.”

            Something stirred in Winona’s blue eyes as she stared at him, and she swallowed sharply, her voice breaking. “His aunt?”

            “Yeah.  Amanda.  Came back last night out of nowhere.  She has a son, now, about our age.  She wanted to introduce him to the family or some such.  Old man Grayson apparently had a fit.  Matt said the whole place was in an uproar, and she up and left again.  Said she would be staying at a hotel in town.”

            Jim saw his mother’s lips part, saw her eyes widen, her forgotten glass shaking in her hand.  She was breathing heavily, and even in the dim light, he could see the color drain from her face.

            “Mom?”

            “Yeah.”  She snapped out of it, blinking and pressing her lips together.

            “You knew her?”

            Winona’s eyes met Jim’s, and there was definitely something there.  Something he had never seen outside of old photos from before his father died.  “Yeah, I did.  We grew up together, but when she left… .”  She shook her head.  “She left just after I married your father, about a year before you were born.”  Her eyes suddenly sobered, became intense in a way he had never seen before, and her voice was barely a whisper.  “What does her son…what does he look like?”

            Jim shrugged, confused.  “I don’t know.  You know Matt; he’s not very descriptive.”

            Winona nodded, her eyes shifting away.  The silence stretched, and Jim, unwilling to break it, sipped his drink again, waiting.  Frank had always pushed her to talk, had always asked questions, even about things he knew she would never voluntarily talk about again: about George, and the time before he died.  Jim himself had learned long before that such efforts were futile, and, even if she did produce some tidbit of information, the gain was hardly worth the struggle.  Her first husband’s death had seemingly broken her, like a glass sculpture cracked and incomplete on the floor, and, though he himself hardly knew anything about his father, his reluctance to press his mother gave him solace, as if he were protecting her.

            As the old clock in the front room sounded the late hour, Winona broke out of her reverie and forced another empty smile at her son.  “I’m going to bed.” Her tone was pointed.  “You’ve got a shift tomorrow.”

            Jim raised his chin.  “Good night, Mom.”

            She stood, not bothering to put away the decanter or her used glass, and turned to leave, hesitating as she reached the doorway towards the stairs.  “She was my friend, Jim.  She was like a sister to me.  And I haven’t seen or heard from her in almost twenty-five years.  I never expected to… .”

            Jim waited, and saw her bow her head.  “I’ve never talked to you about her, or about much of anything that happened before your father died.  I’m sorry, for that.”  She turned to look at him, and he saw the barest glimmer of tears in her eyes, the barest tremor to her voice.  “I love you, baby.”

            Jim felt a strange unsettled sensation in his gut.  “I love you, too, Mom.”  He saw her nod, saw her shoulders straighten as if to guard against something unknown, and watched her walk away, the floorboards creaking under her feet.

 

 

 

            “You heard me, Kirk, get the fuck off my job site.  When I need you, I’ll call you.”

            Jim made a face, clenching his fists in the pockets of his jacket, and saw the reddish tint to his boss’ face deepen.  “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking and you can stuff it.  You may be top on the fliers list, but I’ve got a stack of kids who are willing to learn and willing to show up on time, and for much less than I’ve got to pay you.  Now fuck off!”

            The supervisor turned and walked away, and Jim mouthed an obscenity before stalking off through the gate, getting several steps down the sidewalk before he heard a familiar voice behind him.  “Jim!  Wait up!”

            Jim turned.  “Hey, Travis.”

            “Hey.”  Travis was breathing heavily, and bent over to put his hands on his knees.  “Tell Win that she needs to be back on-shift tomorrow or I’m not gonna be able to keep Darvin from docking her pay.”

            Jim’s brow furrowed.  “She’s not here?”

            “Nope.”  Travis blinked at him, straightening again.  “I mean, yesterday I can understand.  It was hard for me being here a year after Frank’s accident, and I can’t imagine having been the one to pull him out of that machine and everything… .” The older man’s voice trailed off and Jim winced.  “Anyway, let her know.”

            “Sure.”

            Jim nodded, starting to turn away, and Travis held up a hand.  “Oh, and, uh, Beck sends her regards.”  He shrugged helplessly.  “You know.”

            Jim looked at the ground and kicked at a rock.  “Yeah.”

            Travis stood for a minute, biting his lip, and then made a half-hearted wave.  “Okay.  Don’t forget to tell Win.”

            Jim grunted and turned, shrugging deeper into his jacket in the cool morning air and walking towards the center of town.  His mother had been long gone by the time he had awoken, and he knew there was only one place that he would probably find her.  The gravel in the unfinished sidewalk crunched under his boots and he focused on the growing buildings in the distance, and one in particular.  She would be at the hotel, and damn if Jim was going to let the past break her again.

 

 

 

            The main street of their small town was rundown, dusty, old in a way that every small town in this area was.  But it was familiar, and Jim had lived there his entire life.  It lent him a sense of innate bravado, and, after a perfunctory inquiry at the front desk, carried him belligerently up the stairs of the small hotel and directly to the door of a third floor room.

            He knocked loudly once, and then again, impatiently, and then a quiet voice from the stairwell behind him interrupted him, “My mother is having breakfast downstairs.  May I be of assistance?”

            Jim whirled, mouth open, and abruptly stopped.  The young man in front of him was about his age, as Matt had described.  Tall and lean, wearing a thick, black sweater and jeans, pale skin, longish black hair brushing his high collar and almost in his eyes, and his eyes were brown, intense, and Jim somehow couldn’t look away.  The young man tilted his head slightly and Jim blushed, aware he was staring.  “I’m, uh, Jim Kirk.  My, um, mother might have come by earlier?  I’m looking for her.”  The bravado had drained from his voice and body, and Jim felt distinctly at a disadvantage.

            The young man had not blinked.  “Indeed.  She is presently in my mother’s company.  I am Spock.  I am pleased to meet you.”

            Jim furrowed his brow slightly, aware that the last part of the young man’s statement sounded like it had been memorized, with no emotion or meaning behind the words.  To cover his hesitation, he held out his hand.  “Nice to meet you, too.”

            The other man looked down at Jim’s outstretched hand and then deliberately clasped his own behind his back.  “Forgive me, I am not accustomed to that pleasantry.”

            “Um.”  Jim’s furrowed brow turned into a frown and he bit his lip.  “Okay, uh, want to go down?”

            “Yes.”  Spock’s voice held a hint of accent that Jim didn’t recognize, and the formal, precise way he talked was strange and distinctly out of place.  Even the way he moved, as he turned to precede Jim down the stairs, was uncommonly graceful and smooth.  Jim’s frown deepened; he just had a sense of something off about the other man.  Spock was halfway down to the next landing before Jim moved to follow him, and even then the blond man did not approach him too closely.

            The small meal room was in the back of the hotel, and deserted except for the two women at a rear table, obviously deep in conversation, barely noticing the two young men quietly enter.  Jim stopped and stood an arm’s length from Spock, watching his mother.

            Winona had been a beauty, and he could see it again, now.  The way her hands moved as she talked, the intensity of her eyes as she listened, the open, gentle way her expression changed in response to the other woman.  He caught his breath, having never, even on the good days with Frank, seen her like this.

            The other woman, Amanda, was slender, dark, and serious, her expressions subdued, her hands still on the table, but her eyes glowed, and even her subtle smile lit up her face.  Jim glanced sideways at Spock, who seemed just as entranced, and wondered if this, too, was a side of his own mother he had never seen.

            Neither of the young men had made a sound, but Amanda suddenly stopped and looked over, her large dark eyes so similar to her son’s.  Her expression changed rapidly as she stared at Jim.

            “My god, Win.  He looks just like George.”

            Winona had looked over, too, but her own expression now held reserved fear.  “Jim!  I thought you had a shift!”

            “I was late-it got cancelled.”  Jim’s tone was tight as his eyes shifted between the two women.  “Ms. Grayson?  It’s nice to meet you.  I, uh, ran into your son upstairs.”  He tilted his chin at Spock, who remained motionless.

            “Amanda, please.”  She glanced at Spock quickly before smiling again at Jim.  “I’m so pleased to meet you, Jim.  Winona’s told me so much about you; I feel I know you already.”  She looked over at Winona, who hadn’t taken her eyes off her own son, and then back at Jim.  “Would you like to join us?”

            “Actually,” Winona cut in, standing up slowly, “we should get your things together.”  She glanced almost anxiously at Jim.  “I’ve invited Amanda and Spock to stay with us while they’re here.”

            Jim took a breath, surprise running through him strongly.  In all his years with his mother, Winona had never invited anyone to stay.  Even the stray cats slept in the barn.  Next to him, he saw Spock flinch slightly.  “Mother.  This is an imposition.  Perhaps we are not… .”

            “Nonsense.”  The tone in Winona’s voice was perhaps too sharp, and Spock flinched again.  She turned to Amanda, and the sharp tone changed into an almost desperate note.  “Amanda, please.  It’s been too long, and with the situation as it is… .”  She glanced at Spock, briefly, and then lowered her eyes, her cheeks coloring.

            Amanda reached out and gently brushed her fingers across the back of her friend’s hand in an unfamiliar gesture.  “It’s alright, Winona.  We’ll stay.  I don’t want to leave you, either, and I think you’re right about…the other thing.”

            Jim looked curiously at Spock, whose posture had impossibly stiffened. And then his gaze drifted back to his mother, whose eyes had brightened again, and who had moved to clasp her friend’s hand, fully.

 

 

           

            It was a long walk back to the farmhouse, and Jim and Spock traveled side-by-side behind the two women, each young man carrying a small travel case.  In the brief exchange as they had retrieved the newcomers’ few belongings, Jim had learned that Amanda planned on staying less than a week before departing again, with Spock, back to where they had come.  She had not mentioned where she had been, or why she had left in the first place, and Winona had not asked.  Had not even indirectly hinted at the information.  It made Jim uneasy, as this suggested that his mother knew already, somehow.

            Spock had not said another word, and now walked next to Jim, wearing a thick coat, knit hat, and gloves, and still managing to appear cold, despite his relentless impassivity.  He had not smiled, had not laughed, had not frowned.  His eyes held expression, though, but Jim could not understand why they were so full of sadness.  And Jim noticed that Amanda did not touch him, even as she managed to hug Jim twice and patted his cheek, and now kept her hand firmly in Winona’s as they walked along the main road.

            Jim himself was still mulling over his mother’s response to the reappearance of her friend.  Winona had obviously left the house as soon as possible to go to Amanda, once having heard of her arrival.  She had very uncharacteristically skipped work to stay with her.  And now, she had invited the woman and her son into her own house and was holding onto her as if for dear life.  Jim wondered if his mother had ever truly been the broken thing at all, or perhaps what had been broken was the loss of those she cherished, the breaking of bonds of friendship and love that had sustained her.

            The meager sun was shining high in the sky by the time they reached the house, and although Amanda looked winded and had shed her own coat and scarf, Spock still appeared chilled and not fatigued in the slightest.  Winona gestured her guests inside, and Jim dropped the bag he carried on the floor in the hall, aware that Spock mimicked his action and was now studying him with those dark eyes as Jim shrugged off his jacket.

            “Jim,” Winona was standing in the entryway to the kitchen, “why don’t you take the bags up to the spare room?  I’m going to start some tea.”

           Jim opened his mouth, set to make a sarcastic retort in light of the entire confusing situation, when Spock spoke up quietly from beside him, “If it would not be an imposition, Mr. Kirk, perhaps I may accompany you to the appointed room.  I find I am in need of meditation.”

            “Of… .” 

            Jim’s mouth hung open unattractively, and Amanda exchanged a glance with Winona before stepping forward.  “I’m afraid we were quite disruptive last night.  Spock did not sleep very well.”  She placed a subtle emphasis on the word sleep, and Jim, still watching the other young man, saw him lower his eyes.

            Catching Winona’s sharp look, Jim raised his hands slightly.  “Sure.  Uh, yeah, Spock, that’s fine.” He picked up the bag again and headed for the stairwell, waiting for the soft sound of the other man’s footsteps behind him before turning.  “And, call me Jim, Spock.  Please.”

            The spare room held a couch and a small bed, along with a desk and several boxes of Frank’s things.  Jim set the bags down and yanked the shade on the single window, letting in the sunlight.  “I’ll find some clean linens and towels later.  We hardly ever have anyone stay here.”

            “I apologize for the intrusion.”  Spock clasped his hands behind his back, again, looking at Jim from under the obscuring fringe of dark hair.

            Jim shrugged.  “It’s not a big deal.  Mom just doesn’t do that, normally.  She and your mother must have been very close.”

            “I believe they were friends.”  Somehow, the way Spock said it made friend sound much more important, and perhaps even incomprehensible.

            “At least.”  Jim snorted lightly, wanting to break the lingering awkwardness that seemed to cling to the other man like a second skin.

           Spock tilted his head, and Jim shifted uncomfortably.

            The dark-haired man finally blinked.  “Friendship is important in your culture?”

            “Yeah, you could say that.”  Jim watched as the other man opened his mouth as if to reply, and then simply closed it again.  Slightly frustrated and more than a little irritated, Jim stepped closer.  “Spock, where are you from?”

            At that, Spock simply shut down, the lack of expression extending even to his eyes, and Jim found himself looking away, feeling unsettled by the closure. Something in him longed for the return of that startling openness in the other man’s gaze, and Jim inwardly shook himself.  “Well, anyway, I’ll leave you alone to, uh, meditate?”

            There was a flicker across dark eyes.  “Thank you, Jim.”

            He managed a half-smile, seeing a small capitulation.  “No problem, Spock.”

 

 

 

            Jim was quiet as he retreated down the steps, carefully avoiding the creakiest boards.  He could hear the women’s voices from the kitchen, and paused at the foot of the steps, hidden behind the wall leading to the doorway.

            “Twenty-five years, Amanda!  Twenty-five fucking years.  And not a note, or a call, or anything.  I thought you were dead.  I thought…I don’t know.  After how you left… .  And then George died less than two years later.  Jim was only a baby.  I needed you.”

            “I couldn’t call, Win, and I’m so sorry for that.  I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you needed me, like you were there for me.”  Amanda’s voice was still measured, still subdued, but Jim knew it masked deep feeling.

            “Where did you go?  Where did he take you?”

            “We were…away…for a while, and then we returned after Spock turned seven.  His betrothed and her family were assigned here, to the outpost, and we followed, of course.”

            “He’s married?  He’s so young.”

            “He’s Jim’s age, not so young.  And, no, not married yet.  We’re…not sure how that will go, honestly.  How any of this will go.  He’s the first, Win.  No one knew if he would survive birth, or a day, or a year.  His father’s people don’t understand him, and we…well, he obviously couldn’t live here, his father’s blood being so dominant.”  She chuckled softly.  “You wouldn’t know to look at him that he was mine, except for his eyes.  Sarek says he has my eyes.”

            Winona’s voice was low.  “And that…time.  That happened again?”

            “Yes,” Amanda sighed, “but Spock is our only child.  He’s so beautiful, Win.  Just like Jim.  They’re both such beautiful children, even to have come from such sadness.  You and George, and my…situation.”

            There was a silence, and then Winona sniffed softly.  “When you leave this time, you won’t be coming back, will you?”

            Amanda’s voice was just as gentle.  “No.  All personnel have been directed to proceed home as soon as possible and shut down the outpost; I don’t know why.  It takes at least a week to prep that kind of operation, and I wanted to see my family, and you, once more.  I wanted Spock to meet them.”  There was a pause, and her voice took on a dark tone.  “Maybe that was naïve.”

            “It was human.”  Winona’s tone was something Jim couldn’t recognize.  “You’re human.  Will you be able to do it?”

            “I’ll have my son, and my husband, and my memories.  I’ve lived among them for twenty-five years.  They’re not warm, but they’re my people too, now.  I speak their language, I know their customs.  It’s logical.”

            “The part I saw wasn’t logical.”  Winona’s voice was dangerous.

            “I know.”

            Silence stretched, and Jim looked down, feeling slightly guilty for eavesdropping, and even more confused for having done it.  He heard his mother murmur something about seeing the rock arrangement in the garden and the scrape of chairs, the shuffle of feet, and the click of the back door as it latched.

            Now the silence extended all around him, and Jim jumped as his uplink unit buzzed in his pocket.  He opened it and peered at the message illuminated on the small screen.  He glanced up the stairs on more time before grabbing his jacket from where he had dropped it and pushing open the front door.  And as the chilled early afternoon air hit him he breathed deeply, feeling tension lift.  He shut the door perhaps harder than usual, as if in passive protest against the strange goings-on of the past twelve hours, over which he had no control and even less understanding.  During which he had seen a side of his mother he had never known, and had never expected.  A large part of him was childishly petulant, but a small, almost unnoticeable, piece of his soul waited, searching.

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

This story was inspired by a comment by mightymads about wishing to explore the relationship between Jim and his mother.  Of course, I then thought of Spock and his mother and then decided that an AU is the way to go, because then you'll get both!

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: I’ll Call You Stranger, I’ll Call You Friend

 

            The dive bar was just down the main road from the house, nestled amidst a grove of old-growth trees next to the river.  The parking lot was gravel, the building itself was at least a century old, and Jim had been sneaking in since he was eighteen.  Now, as he crossed the threshold and stepped into the familiar stale dimness of the interior, he felt himself relax even more.

            “Hey, kid!” 

            Jim smiled even before turning toward the bar, seeing his friend sitting there already, a beer in front of him.  “Hey, Bones.”  The young man sauntered over and threw himself heavily down next to his friend, gesturing to the bartender for the same.

            The other man scowled.  “I wish you wouldn’t call me that. You know that bitch’s father gave me that nickname.”

            Jim snorted.  “Then stop calling me ‘kid’.  And it’s usually a compliment when the regional governor gives you a special title.”  The sarcasm rested lightly and naturally in his voice.

            “Fuck that.”  Leonard McCoy picked up his glass and took a large swallow, setting it back down overly loud in the deserted bar.  “Besides, you are a fucking kid.  I don’t know why the fuck I hang out with you.”

            “Because no one else will.”  Jim took a sip of his own beer and tilted his head.  “You see Jo today?”

           “No.”  McCoy’s tone was clipped.  “Wasn’t convenient for her mother.  And I’ve got shifts the rest of the week.”  He shrugged, his eyes narrowing.  “I don’t want to talk about it.  What the fuck is up with you getting canned?”

            Jim sighed and ran a hand through his hair.  “I’m not canned; just more of Darvin’s bullshit.  Anyway,” he raised his eyebrows, “what do you know about Amanda Grayson?”

            McCoy looked mildly surprised.  “Matt Grayson’s aunt that disappeared?  Kind of before my time.”

            Jim sniffed.  “Yeah, well, she’s back.  Literally, back at my house talking to Winona.  And she has a son.”  He made a face.  “He’s strange.”

            “Fuck.  Does Trip Grayson know?”

            “Yeah. I guess the reunion didn’t go too well.  I ran into Matt yesterday and he said his grandfather practically showed her the door.”

            McCoy grew thoughtful, staring into his beer.  “My grandma’s a hopeless gossip and I remember her going on about that situation back in the day.  Right after your folks got married, Amanda ran off with some guy and came back a few days later covered in cuts and bruises.  They thought she’d been raped and were going to go find the sonofabitch who did it, but she told them she was going to marry him and left.  Just ran off in the middle of the night.  No one ever knew who it was or what really happened.”  He glanced at Jim.  “You said she had a kid?”

            “Yeah.  About my age.  Like I said, he’s strange.”

            McCoy snorted.  “Well, you don’t have to be a doctor to figure out where he probably came from.  Was there anyone else with her?”

            “No.”

            Jim felt a strange impatience growing, and McCoy tilted his head to stare at him, a smug look on his face.  “Go ahead, kid.”

            “What?”

            “You’re practically dancing in your seat wanting to talk about this guy.  What, did he kick your puppy or something?”

            “Whatever.”  Jim scratched the side of his face, taking a long draw from his beer.  McCoy just waited patiently, and finally the younger man exhaled sharply, rolling his eyes.  “Fine.  Yeah, so, he’s strange.”

            “Fucking hell, Jim, you sound like a stupid-ass teenager.”

            “He’s really quiet, and he speaks almost awkwardly formal, and doesn’t seem to know the first thing about anything, but he’s obviously not dumb.  He looks off somehow.  I don’t know.”

            McCoy raised his eyebrows.  “Yeah.  I’ve heard that before.”

            Jim shot him a dangerous look, but the older man continued nonchalantly, “Jim, you’ve got an awful track record, and it all reads the same.  The only difference here is that it’s a guy, for once.  Which is great; it means you won’t need to worry about knocking him up.”

            “I’ve never knocked anyone up.”  Jim’s mumbled words only made McCoy chuckle.  “Seriously, Bones.  I mean, besides him, the whole situation seems wrong to me.  You should see Winona; it’s like…it’s like she’s an entirely different person, like the mother I knew my entire life just vanished in favor of someone she used to be when she was first married.  Or even before that.”

            McCoy grunted.  “Well, I bet Jo’s gonna be astonished when she realizes I even existed before having her.  It’s the kid’s perspective, to always see the parents in relation to themselves.  When a kid finds out that he’s actually just a late addition to an ‘in-progress’ life, he gets insecure and freaked out.”

            “That’s what a medical degree gets you, huh?  High-tech terms like ‘freaked out’?”

            “Fuck off.”

            “Bones, that’s not all, though.  I overheard this conversation between Amanda and Winona that was almost in code.  Talking about Spock’s father’s ‘people’ and his betrothal, and him being the first of something.  And then Amanda said that they’re leaving again in a few days and this time for good.  Like they’ll never be heard from again.  It’s weird.”

            “And that’s what an fancy engineering degree gets you, huh?  High-tech terms like ‘weird’?”

            Jim ignored him, and Bones shifted in his seat.  “Maybe the father’s just a government spook.” He chuckled again, but there was no humor in it.  “Maybe he’s a fucking government higher-up who’s been fucking around for the past twenty-five years.  And maybe he’s done and is sending the secondary family away.  Far away.”  He quaffed his drink.

            Jim’s reply was quiet.  “He didn’t send you away, Bones.”

            “True.” The doctor’s voice was brittle.  “He stole my kid.  He even brags about her, about how much she looks like his wife.  Helluva way to get yourself a kid, you know.”

            Jim swallowed.  “I’m sorry, Bones.”

            McCoy sat back on the barstool, swirling the last dregs of liquid in his glass.  “Nah, I’m the stupid one.  I didn’t even know she was married.”  He snorted.  “Would’a thought she’d have brought it up at least.  Next thing I know she’s pregnant and headed back to be with her big-shot husband.  I kinda suspect Jo doesn’t even believe she’s really mine.”

            Jim reached out, gripping his friend’s shoulder.  “She knows, Bones.” He remembered something from the conversation between the two women earlier.  “Anyway, she has your eyes.”

            McCoy smiled sadly.  “She does, at that.”  He looked over.  “When did you get so sentimental?”

            Jim frowned, looking into his glass, thinking of his mother.  “Who knows what we all are inside, until it finds us.”

 

 

 

            It was long into the night before Jim shuffled back home, hands buried deep in his pockets, head bowed, thoughts pounding through his mind along with a good amount of liquor.  The crisp night air was invigorating and chilled, and his head felt clearer than it ought to.  The sight of his mother’s old house made him pause, and he stood there, watching it almost with new eyes, seeing the sadness Amanda had spoken of: lost opportunities, lost dreams, a lost relationship with his father.  Even though George had died before Jim could remember him, he had ceded any acquired knowledge of him for his mother’s sake.  He had stepped aside, because of the broken pieces, because of the past.  And he felt somehow betrayed that the past itself had no such qualms.  It had blazed right back into his mother’s life, and, instead of breaking further, she had flourished, healed, even welcomed it.  Perhaps that was what she needed all along, and he felt guilty and angry, and resentful.  Jim breathed deeply, annoyed by his tendency to become overly philosophical when hopelessly drunk.

            He watched his breath coalesce in the cool air, and was suddenly aware that he was not alone.  A tall figure stood in the front yard, bundled up against the cold, looking up at the stars.  Jim smiled slightly, recognizing the perfect posture and the almost awkwardly-worn knit hat and walked over.

            “Hey, Spock.  Meditating go okay?”  He couldn’t help the small smirk, or the hint of sarcasm in his voice.  He stopped just next to the other man, and craned his neck, peering up at the glorious expanse of stars.  One of the advantages to living in the back end of nowhere was the view.

            “It was sufficient.”  Jim could almost feel dark eyes on him.  “You are inebriated.”

            “Yes, I am.”  The smirk turned into a grin.  Another unfortunate consequence of him being drunk was that he liked to mess with people.  “So, uh, you into girls or guys?”

            “I do not understand.”  Spock’s tone was even, devoid of obvious emotion.  In the darkness, Jim couldn’t see his eyes, and the inscrutability of that voice was impenetrable.

            Jim cleared his throat.  “You know, fucking, kissing, whatever.”

            A silence stretched, and Spock’s tone betrayed nothing.  “I do not intend to enter into a physical relationship outside of a permanent…arrangement.”

            Jim made a face, and he stepped back, looking at the other man, about to make another sharp comment, when Spock spoke again, and this time there was something hovering beneath the even monotone, “I do not understand your aggression.”

            Surprised, Jim paused.  “I was just asking a question.”

            “Negative.  You were deliberately attempting to provoke an emotional response from me by initiating a discussion based on subject matter falling under cultural taboo.”

            “Cultural what?”  Jim’s mouth was open.  Usually when he was being a bastard he just got hit in the face.

            Spock tilted his head.  “If you would prefer to pursue this topic of conversation for practical exchange of information, I would be amenable.”

           “Um, sure.” Jim’s reply was careful, and confused. He felt as though he had lost all control over the situation yet again with this man, and blushed, cursing Bones and his resident salary and multiple shots of whiskey.

            The dark-haired man straightened his shoulders.  “I am inexperienced in the matters of which you speak.  I am betrothed to a female, but do not expect to formalize the arrangement in marriage for several years.  I have not explored a predilection for female versus male partners due to my prior betrothal, which was initiated by our parents.”

            Jim stared at him, his mouth hanging open again.  It was the most he had heard Spock say since meeting him, and his nonchalant openness about the subject, devoid of any humor or sarcasm, was shocking.  The young man finally snapped his mouth shut, seeing Spock’s eyes turned toward him politely in the moonlight, as if waiting for his reply.

            He felt suddenly sickeningly sober and somewhat ashamed of himself, and shifted his feet, wondering what about this strange young man threw him off his game so readily.  Clearing his throat again, he shrugged.  “Well, I’m, uh, not really into waiting for a permanent arrangement.  And I’ve kind of played the field with girls, but, uh,” he chanced a glance up at the other man, “I wouldn’t say I’m not into guys.”

            Spock’s gaze hadn’t wavered.  “Indeed.”

            “Yeah.”  Jim felt his cheeks heat again, remembering McCoy’s pithy innuendo.

            The other man turned his body slightly to face Jim.  “How do you know this?”

            Jim’s breath caught.  “Know what?”

            “That you are physically attracted to males.”

            “Um.”  Jim’s gaze involuntarily slipped down the other’s body before he swallowed and forced his eyes to Spock’s face.  “You just know.  You feel it.”

            Spock’s eyes held his for several beats and then returned to the stars above.  “That explanation is insufficient.”

            Jim stared and then chuckled, and then laughed out loud.  Spock tilted his head, looking back at him, and the blond man slowly stifled his laughter.  “Sorry. I just…you’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before.”

            Even in the moonlight, Jim could see the impassive visage softening slightly.  “Neither are you.  Jim.”

 

 

 

            That night Jim fell into a deep, dream-filled sleep, seeing mysterious images of places he had never been, hearing music and an unfamiliar language, feeling warmth from an imagined body against his skin, only to wake alone in his small, cluttered room, the sky dull and gunmetal gray outside, and the rattle of rain against his window.

            The clock on the wall indicated that he should have reported to work an hour ago, but a bleary check of his uplink showed no messages from his supervisor; he was still on probation.  With a muttered curse, Jim swung his legs over the edge of the bed and peered at his door.  He could hear the sounds of dishes in the kitchen, and knew that either his mother had foregone work for another day, or one of their guests was cleaning up after breakfast.  Either possibility made him wary.

            He had never responded to anyone the way he had with Spock, and it confused him deeply.  He couldn’t deny the man was attractive, but he was apparently engaged, and about to leave for god-knows-where in a matter of days.  Jim wasn’t a stranger to a one-night stand, but he had never gone into anything with the conflicting emotional turmoil that the dark-haired man instilled in him every time intense brown eyes took his measure.

            Finally standing and pulling on a worn t-shirt over his loose sweatpants, Jim padded to the door and out of his room, walking down the hall to the bathroom. As he passed the stairs, he heard Winona’s laugh echo in the kitchen, and the murmur of female voices, and he bit his lip.  He couldn’t fault his mother for avoiding work when he himself had fucked up his schedule for the week, but it was yet another thing that was wholly unexpected, and unfamiliar.

            Emerging from the bathroom moments later and heading for the stairwell, he was still lost in thought, and massaging his temples from his sharp, post-drinking headache when he nearly ran into a dark-haired figure approaching from the other side.

            Jim started, jumping back, seeing brown eyes widen.  “Sorry.  Not paying attention.”

            Spock straightened immediately, hands clasped behind his back.  He was wearing a light-colored, long-sleeved tunic of unfamiliar design over his jeans, his hair combed into a shiny cap brushed close over the sides of his face.  Jim peered at him closely.  “You okay?  You look a little sick.”

            “I am well.”  The other man tilted his head, and Jim realized he was getting used to the lack of blinking.

            “Really?  You look kind of…well, green.”

            There seemed to be a very faint greenish tinge to the young man’s cheekbones, and Spock pressed his lips together.  “I am well,” he repeated.  “You are in pain?”

            Still making a slight face, Jim shook his head, and then winced.  “Yeah, fuck.  I’ve got a headache.  Nothing too bad, though; I’ve had worse.”  He turned towards the stairs before stopping abruptly and staring again at the other man.  The greenish coloration, however faint, had faded into Spock’s normally pale skin tone, and Jim shook his head, wondering if he had really seen it at all, turning once more to head downstairs.

 

 

 

            Winona had never been one for gourmet cooking, but her quick, efficient recipes were hearty and delicious.  Jim’s favorite childhood memories involved food of some kind, and he saw his mother’s cooking as a reflection of what could have been, had George survived.  Had they not been forced to remain in the dull, harsh town in order to receive benefits.  Had Jim been allowed the opportunities to use his degree and talents, instead of wasting them as a high-risk collection flier for the local mining operation.  But power was in the hands of the few and the soulless, and opportunities were reserved for those with high connections, and the mysterious death of a single law enforcement officer at the hands of nameless thugs wasn’t worth enough to propel his widow and son out of their bleak situation.

            Now, the kitchen swirled in tempting smells, and Jim felt his mouth watering even before reaching the table, his headache all but forgotten.  His mother and Amanda were already seated, nursing mugs of coffee, plates of food spread out in front of them, yet untouched.  Jim flashed a smile at Amanda and pressed a quick kiss to the top of his mother’s head on his way to his seat, leaning over to pour himself a generous portion of coffee.  Winona looked slightly surprised, and Jim saw an expression cross her face that was equal parts longing and happy.  He saw Amanda watching him, too, and the longing was stronger on her face. 

           The dark-haired woman lowered her eyes and then glanced up at Spock, still standing stiffly in the entryway.  “Come and sit down, Spock.  Have something to eat.”

            Spock’s eyes had been focused on Jim, but shifted to his mother, and he inclined his head.  “Yes, Mother.”  He moved smoothly to sit across the table from Jim, next to his mother, and paused as he considered the food.

            “Have some tea.”  She gestured towards the teapot waiting next to her son, a thin tendril of steam wafting from its spout, and Spock obeyed almost automatically, pouring the hot liquid in an almost ceremonial motion.

            Jim watched them, having loaded his own plate with food and beginning to eat with gusto.  He paused to swallow as Spock took a delicate sip of his tea, his plate still conspicuously empty.  “Not hungry?”

           “I am not in need of nourishment at this time.”

            “I thought you looked a little green this morning.”  Jim shoveled another large forkful of food into his mouth and chewed, belatedly realizing that the rest of the table had gone silent.  Amanda’s eyes were huge, and Spock was looking at his plate.

            “What?”

            “Mother, Mrs. Kirk, if I may be excused… .”  Spock stood, and didn’t wait for a response before turning and walking away.

           Jim heard the slight creak of the stairs as he retreated, and swallowed again, looking between the two women.  “What did I say?”

            “Nothing, Jim.  It’s alright.”

            Amanda smiled again and took a deliberate bite of her food, and Winona cleared her throat in the silence.  “So, you’re off today, too?”

            “And you?” Jim countered, inwardly sighing in relief at the resumption of their normal brittle banter.

           She made a face.  “Darvin can sit on it.  I haven’t had a vacation in three years, and it’s not like he has to pay me anyway.” Her voice wasn’t nearly as brave as her words, but she kept her chin up, looking at her friend across the table.  “It’s only for a few days.”

            “Gotcha.”  Jim’s normal dryness fell a little flat, and he took a sip of coffee.  “What are you doing today?”

            Amanda looked at him.  “Winona and I are going to take a ride over to Short Neck to visit my relatives there.”  She paused.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring Spock… .”  Her voice trailed off, and a faint blush colored her cheeks.  “Not after what happened at my father’s house.”

            “What happened?” 

            Winona shot him a look, but Jim was getting a little tired of being in the dark.

            Amanda took a breath.  “Well, he’s, uh, sensitive.”  She pursed her lips slightly as Jim made a skeptical expression.  “Let’s just say my father wasn’t happy to see me, even after all this time.  When I left, it was directly against his wishes, and he was upset, to say the least.  He screamed a lot, at me and at Spock.  It didn’t go well.”

            “I know your nephew, Matt,” Jim replied.  “He said something bad had gone down.  I’m sorry.”

            Amanda made a small, tired smile.  “Matt is a lovely boy, with a lovely family of his own.  I had hoped…I had hoped Spock would find something in common with his relatives, but perhaps it was too much to ask.  It has been so long, and we don’t have the time.”  Her expression darkened, and she looked down at her plate.

           Jim set his jaw.  “Well, uh, maybe I could hang out with him today.”

            Amanda looked up, and hope shone in her eyes.  “Oh, Jim, that would be wonderful. Thank you so much.”

            He shrugged.  “It’s no big deal.  We’ll just walk down to the falls or something.”  He swallowed, glancing into his mug, aware of Winona’s encouraging expression and feeling slightly awkward.  There was something not altogether adding up when it came to Spock, and his mother’s protectiveness and vague explanations weren’t making things any clearer.  It was if there was something about the dark-haired man that was secret and unusual, and his mother was desperately trying simultaneously to cover it up and to apologize for it.  And that rang almost too close to home for Jim himself, as his own experience with his mother included that same subtle attitude: the apology and the redirection that came out every time someone asked about Jim’s frustrated outbursts, or his rare intelligence, or his father’s death.  Jim knew that it was, for his mother, a defensive reaction: an admission of failure on her part, a self-imposed sentence of guilt for decisions she made or paths she chose.  He stared into his coffee again, feeling a fierce and unexpected kinship with Amanda Grayson’s enigmatic son.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Into A Deepening Well

 

            The rain had ended just after breakfast and they had been walking for almost an hour, having cut across fields to an isolated stretch of the river rushing fast and deep among thickening trees.  The ground was steadily sloping upwards, and Jim’s attention appeared to be focused on the rough path in front of him when in reality he was intent on the man walking silently at his side.

            Spock was again bundled up against the damp cold, and walked purposefully and smoothly alongside the blond man.  He had said few words since they had departed, had not even asked directly about their destination, and Jim had the distinct impression that he was thinking about something.  No surprise there.  Jim himself had been churning on his own thoughts since the discussion over breakfast and he wondered if his musings were similar to the other man’s.

            “Hey, Spock.”

            “Yes, Jim.”

            “Did your mother ever talk about anything that happened before she left Riverside?  About her family or my…or Winona?”

            “Indeed she did not, aside from an acknowledgment that such relatives did exist.  However, I…believe I previously recognized her strong emotional attachment to your mother.”

            Jim frowned.  “What do you mean?”

            Spock seemed to withdraw slightly, and Jim glanced at him, his brow furrowed, weighing whether to press him further.  He decided against it, knowing that, despite his own self-destructive tendency to speak his mind, he hated being questioned.  He exhaled and turned his eyes back to the trail, remembering Amanda’s vague description of Spock as being ‘sensitive’ and of the dark-haired man’s seeming ability to read Jim like an open book.  It all felt like it was connected somehow, and Jim’s ability to problem-solve was matched only by his stubbornness; he knew he would figure it out sooner or later.

            The silence was broken by the crunch of cold ground beneath their feet, and Jim finally, impatiently, just started talking, “Yeah, well, I had no idea about any of it.  My father died when I was a baby; he was a code officer and got jumped one night and never came home.  It broke Winona.  I mean, you can see it in any photos of her before, and then after.  She was different.  And that turned out to be about the same time your mother left; all over a couple years.”

            He took a breath, looking over at the gray water, how it ran so quickly in the middle, tumbling over rocks and logs, and then so smoothly at the edges, curving in gentle eddies among the dried grass of the bank.  “It’s like I never knew her, or maybe I had just known the surface of her.”  He sighed.  “It made me feel either she hadn’t done her job or I hadn’t done mine.”

            Spock looked at him, and Jim wondered if he would ever get over the intensity of the other man’s brown eyes.  “For your father, I grieve with thee.”

            Jim stopped, suddenly, and stood staring.  “Who are you?  Where are you from?”

            He expected Spock to retreat again or to simply walk away, but the dark-haired man surprised him by stopping and turning to face Jim deliberately.  “Where do you think I belong?”

            Jim snorted.  “I have no fucking clue.  Not here, obviously.”

            Spock lowered his eyes slightly.  “I am not as my mother wishes me to be, nor my father.  My differences have never been discussed, openly, with me, but that does not negate their presence.  My mother wishes to spare me pain.  My father wishes me to overcome my deficiencies.”

            “What deficiencies?”  Jim narrowed his eyes, feeling strangely protective.

            “It would not be possible to pursue that subject without a common frame of reference.”

            Jim laughed.  “Sure it is.  Watch. You know nothing about me, right?  I mean, besides that my name’s Jim Kirk and I’ve got a mother named Winona and a dead father and I live in the ass-end of nowhere.  I can talk to you all day about why I’m a sarcastic little bastard who avoids relationships of any kind.  Why I enjoy pissing people off.  Why I get myself into fucked-up situations just so I can figure my way out of them.”  He shrugged.  “It’s not so much the details as the fact of speaking about them.”

            Spock studied him.  “You are uniquely self-deprecating.”

            “Says the guy who describes himself as having ‘deficiencies’,” Jim countered.

            The dark-haired man raised an eyebrow.  “You project your emotions quite strongly.”

            “And you don’t project anything except that stick up your ass.”

            They stared at each other, and Jim saw the barest curve of the other man’s mouth.  He smirked.  “I made you smile.”

            The whisper of expression vanished from Spock’s face, but Jim could still see warmth in his eyes and he stepped forward, blue eyes intense, pressing, “Where are you from?”

            His voice was quiet, and Spock’s eyes didn’t leave his.  “I cannot tell you.”

            “Why?”  He stepped closer, saw Spock’s breathing quicken.

            “I am unable to explain.”

            This close, Jim could see the strange greenish tinge to the other man’s skin and could almost feel unnatural warmth from his body.  He breathed in sharply, curiosity and something else sweeping through him, and saw Spock’s eyes widen, watched him step back two deliberate paces and turn away.

            Jim stepped back himself, wondering why his heart was pounding so hard.  And this time it was not a predictable, biting remark that left his lips and he was startled at the gentle, searching tone of his own voice.  “I want to know.  I want to know you.  I know this is stupid, that you’ve got someone and you’ll be gone in a few days, but I…I feel like I have to know.  And what the fuck is that all about?”

            Spock hesitated, his shoulders rising and falling with his breathing.  And then, almost impulsively, he turned back to face Jim, pulling a glove off his own right hand.  Jim watched, confused, and felt a thrill of something very much like fear and a little like anticipation run down his spine as the dark-haired man slowly stretched his hand out, palm-up.

            Jim flexed his bare right hand and reached back, gently brushing just the tips of his fingers across the other’s.  He was not prepared for the faint gasp from the other man, or for the gentle tingle of something like static electricity sparking along their skin.  He stared into Spock’s eyes, seeing his own fear mirrored there, along with an emotion very much like recognition, and growing wonder, and felt a dull hum begin in the back of his skull.  Spurred by some instinct and heedless of the confounding circumstances, he surged forward, moving his hand to grip Spock’s firmly, bringing his other hand around to clasp around the other man’s neck, and pressed their lips together.

            He felt a firm mouth, cool from the air, under his, felt heat pouring off of Spock’s skin under his hands, and, then, as he moved his lips over the other man’s, he felt Spock’s mouth open to him and his tongue pressed gently into a similar warmth, tasting, feeling the electricity crackle up his body and ignite stars behind his eyes.

            He shifted their fingers to entwine and heard Spock make a soft noise into his mouth, and his own arousal overtook his mind as he pressed even closer, feeling a hard body against his own.  And then, the heat was suddenly gone as Spock pulled away, his breathing coming in heaves, his eyes bright and almost frantic.  Jim instinctively reached for him again and the other man stepped back several paces, pulling his glove on hastily and re-wrapping his scarf.  Jim caught a glimpse of greenish color flushing pale lips and cheeks before the dark-haired man turned and strode rapidly away, back in the direction they had come.

            “Shit.”  Jim’s own breathing was quick, and shallow, and he could still feel the heat under his hands, and the electricity running up his spine.  His head felt normal, again, but he had a deeply uneasy sensation in his gut: an unexpectedly painful feeling, almost like loss, leaving murky confusion in its wake.

 

 

 

            Jim wanted to head to the bar, to drown his sorrows in a cold beer and avoid the shitstorm he was sure to run into at the house.  Instead, he found himself walking through town towards the small hospital on the south end of the main street.  Wrapped in his own thoughts, he almost walked into a passing federal military officer, clad in uniform fatigues and dark glasses in spite of the gray gloom, and the young man jumped back, startled.  The officer barely turned his head, proceeding to a large armored vehicle parked in front of the hospital entrance.  Jim stopped, blinking and looking around, suddenly registering several unmistakably military vehicles idling along the street, armed men and women standing alongside.  Passers-by were exchanging nervous looks and hurrying past, and Jim felt a strange chill pass through him before shaking it off.  Military activity was relatively rare out here but not unheard of; the mining operation could be argued to be a possible target for dissenters, and drills were the norm in most other towns.

            His expression falling into his regular sardonic lines, he adjusted his gait, walking casually past the vehicle and into the hospital, pointedly ignoring the additional military personnel clustered inside and climbing up to the fourth floor to the pediatric wing.  Heading over to the main desk, he caught the attention of a bored receptionist.

            “Is McCoy on-shift today?”

            The man gave him a once-over and waved towards the resident’s lounge.  “He’s probably sleeping.  Hope it’s important or he’s going to tear you a new one.”

            “Sounds about right,” Jim muttered as he turned away.  Down the hall, he pushed open the marked door and stepped inside to semi-darkness. 

            There were two bunks shoved up against the far wall, both with blankets covering sleeping figures, and Jim leaned forward, peering at them, about to open his mouth.

            “Jim!  What the fuck?”

            “Shit!” The hissed voice from immediately next to him caused Jim to jump, and he spun to see his friend slouched in a chair, a cup of coffee in front of him.  The young man ran a sheepish hand through his hair and gestured with his thumb.  “Hey, Bones, got a few minutes?”

            “A few.”  McCoy looked wary as he stood up and looked Jim up and down.  “What’d you do?”

            His composure restored, Jim glanced over at the sleeping figures and then jerked his head at the door.  “Let’s get out of here.”

            The doctor rolled his eyes and picked up his cup, pushing past his young friend through the door.  “I can’t go too far; I’m on-call.”  He glanced back as they walked down the corridor.  “You look guilty.”

            Jim jogged to catch up to the doctor’s rapid steps, his hands own stuffed in his pockets, ducking his head instinctively as yet another military officer hurried past them.  He ignored his friend’s statement.  “What’s with all the uniforms?”

            McCoy cast him a sidelong look.  “I dunno.  Drill, I guess.  They showed up this morning and we were told to cooperate.  They’ve mostly been holed up with the bioterrorism group.”  He snorted.  “Well, what’s left of it after the latest funding fell through.”

            They stepped through a set of glass doors and out onto a veranda.  McCoy scowled and hunched his shoulders against the chill, clutching his cup tightly.  “Okay, kid, let’s have it.”

            Jim made a face.  “I think he’s a dissenter or something.”

            “Who?”

            “That guy.  Matt’s cousin. The strange one.”

            McCoy looked somehow simultaneously bored and exasperated.  “The one you have a crush on?”

           “Fuck you.”  Jim’s eyes narrowed.

            The doctor sipped his coffee, his eyes evaluating and his voice almost deliberately calm.  “Alright, Jim, why do you think he’s a dissenter?”

            “He won’t tell me where he’s from.  He won’t say anything about his past, or where he’s going.  His accent is nothing I’ve heard before.  He’s…there’s something off about him.”  Jim thought about the other things: the seeming awareness of Jim’s thoughts and abnormal intensity of brown eyes, the heat and the odd greenish tones to Spock’s skin. And then he thought of the energy between them, and the taste and feel of the other man’s mouth and felt his own face flushing.

            McCoy noticed, of course.  “Just because a man won’t fuck you don’t make him a dissenter.”

            Jim turned away, mumbling, “I didn’t try to fuck him.”

            The doctor sighed and tossed his empty cup in the receptacle and crossed his arms over his chest, warding off the cold.  “You know, we kinda went through this last night.  Now, I’ve got stuff to do and patients to see, and the bitch hasn’t deigned to return my calls today, so unless you’ve got something else… ?”

            Jim opened his mouth, hesitated, and then exhaled and shrugged.  “Bones, why would someone’s skin, well, look green?”

            “Green?”  McCoy’s brow furrowed.  “Uh, I don’t know, maybe hypochromic anemia?  Why?” He peered closer at Jim’s face.  “You feel okay?”

            The younger man shrugged.  “Would that cause a fever? The anemia?”

            The doctor took a step closer.  “Probably not.  Seriously, kid, first the military goons and now you busting in here-is there something you’re not telling me?”

            Jim shook his head.  “Nope.  Just, uh, woke up with a bad hangover this morning.  Listen, Bones, don’t tell anyone about the dissenter thing.”

            McCoy gave him one last hard look before shrugging.  “Yeah, like anyone would pay attention to your bullshit anyway.”  He tilted his head towards the door to the building.  “I should get back… .”

            Jim nodded hastily.  “Sure, I’ll let you get to it.”

            “You heading home?”

            The young man snorted.  “I guess.  Maybe eventually, anyway.”  He kicked at one of the chairs.  “I didn’t fuck him, but I did kiss him, and I don’t want to get my face punched in so I’ll probably wait for Winona to get home.”

            “Didn’t go well, then?”  McCoy rubbed his temples.  “Jesus, Jim, you sure know how to pick ‘em.”

            “Whatever.”  Jim turned on his heel, hearing the doctor mumble something unintelligibly behind him as he re-entered the hospital.  He rubbed his hands together as he walked purposefully to the stairs, thinking about possible places to lay low for a while, and it was only when he’d reached the street that he realized the military vehicles were suddenly gone and the loitering personnel with them.  It was strange, and Jim’s mind drifted through his conversation with Bones, considering the appearance of Amanda and Spock seemingly out of thin air, the strangely coincidental military exercise, the oddness of the other young man and the secrecy between Winona and her oldest friend.

            Jim swallowed and glanced back at the hospital, his heart unexpectedly beginning to race.  Absently, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, the remembered electric sensation from that kiss now becoming something more sinister amidst a wave of growing anxiety that shivered along his nerves.  Something was wrong. Something that he couldn’t explain, and he knew had to do with the newcomers.  Suddenly shaken and shaking, he grabbed for his uplink unit, his mouth opening on the word ‘Mom’ before he thought better of it.  Winona wouldn’t believe a hunch, even from him. Jim set his jaw and pocketed the unit again, walking fast down the rough sidewalk, turning his collar up as the rain again began to fall, his rapid footsteps turning into a jog, leading him home.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Belief In Unbelievable Things

 

            The thick clouds and heavy drizzle made it impossible to tell that it was late afternoon as Jim finally burst through the door to the farmhouse.  There had been no signs of military presence anywhere between the town and home, but anxiety bordering on desperate fear had taken root in Jim’s chest and he was practically jogging as he reached the front door, noticing his mother’s aircar parked in the driveway.  “Mom?”  His voice was pitched too high, his heart still pounding.

            “In here, Jim.”  He closed the door and stood in the hallway, shedding his soaked jacket, his eyes darting, seeing Winona’s blonde head peek out from the kitchen.  Her expression was tight, her brow furrowed.  “Where’ve you been?  I thought… .”

            He shook his head sharply, interrupting her, “Are you alright?  Where are… ?”

            Winona’s worried expression deepened as she regarded him.  “Amanda’s up in my bedroom making a call, and Spock’s in the guest room.”  She frowned.  “He was here, alone, when we got back, Jim.  I thought you were going to spend the day with him.”

            Jim didn’t answer, forcing his breathing back into a normal pattern, the anxiety practically jumping under his skin as he glanced up the stairs.  Winona stared at him for a moment, waiting, and then crossed her arms.  “Jim, what the fuck is going on?  You’re as white as a sheet; you’re scaring me.”

            “Mom, I need you to listen to me.  I just… .”

            He had taken a step towards her when he felt a ghost of pain ricochet through his head and he heard a soft, almost strangled cry from upstairs.  He moved instinctively, bolting up the stairs two at a time, running down the short hallway and hesitated only a second in front of his mother’s closed door before twisting the knob, pulling it open, hearing Winona’s frantic footfalls pound behind him.

            “Amanda!”  Winona’s breathless cry echoed into the room and Jim grabbed his mother before she could push past him, his mind full of potential terrors and his protective instincts firing.

            “Let me go!  Jim!”  Winona struggled, her blue eyes fixed on her friend.  Amanda was sitting on the floor, her face drained of color and her eyes wide open and staring, her jaw slack and her hands limp at her sides.

            “No, Mom, wait, you don’t… .”  Jim grunted as his mother shot a sharp elbow into his stomach and twisted away, her wiry strength surprising him as she bolted forward, throwing herself to her knees beside her friend.

            “Amanda!  Amanda, are you okay? Jim, call someone!  Go!”

            Jim opened his mouth, but, shockingly, the woman on the floor spoke first, her voice barely above a whisper, “No, Win, please, no one else.  Sarek… .  Oh god, Spock.”

            Winona glanced over at her son, but Jim was already moving down the hallway towards the guest room, adrenaline pumping through his veins and that eerie shifting pain still throbbing in his head, reaching out and clasping the doorknob, taking a breath before pushing the door open. 

            Spock was kneeling on the floor next to the bed, holding his hands out in front of him, staring at them as they shook almost uncontrollably, and as he raised his eyes, Jim saw both agony and anguish reflected there.  And then his gaze dropped to the dark-haired man’s face, where bright blood was dripping from his nose.

            Jim’s first scream was incoherent, but his second was more specific.  “Mom!  Mom!”  He pressed back against the door, his eyes fixed on the impossible sight of thick, green sliding over pale skin, over warm lips that just this morning Jim had… .  T he young man choked, shock and confusion and disbelief pouring through him, and, in front of him, the alien shuddered, pressing his hands to his temples, a terrified noise escaping him.

            The sound of approaching footsteps sounded muted in the rush of blood through Jim’s ears, and Jim stared, his jaw working as Amanda and Winona rushed in, the blonde woman supporting her friend.

            The dark-eyed woman broke away and stumbled to her son’s side.  Spock’s hands had dropped, but his face was now contorted, and he stared up into his mother’s eyes.  His lips moved with unknown words, and a single tear had joined the bloody mess on his face.  He shifted, falling back limply to lean against the side of the bed, his legs curled underneath him, and Amanda reached out, catching herself at the last second and drawing her hand back, clutching it to her own chest as tears fell from her own eyes.  She murmured to him in the strange language, and his head bowed forward, the blood still dripping down his face.

            Jim had moved even further back, practically through the doorway, but Winona had only hesitated for a moment before stepping closer to her friend.  “What happened?  What is it?”

            Amanda turned slightly, and her expression was grief-stricken.  “His father, his betrothed, our people here; all dead.  He can’t…he said he can’t feel anyone at all, anywhere; I don’t know what that means.  Oh god, I don’t know what that means.”

            Winona shook her head, incredulous.  “How can he know that?”

            Amanda turned back to her son.  “He’s a telepath; they all are.”  Her voice trembled.  “I…I felt something, too.  Sarek and I…we shared a bond of the…mind.  I…I knew he was…just now, but… .”  She seemed to steel herself, her eyes locked on Spock, whose hands had fallen loosely to his lap and who had closed his eyes, his entire body shaking.  “Spock’s gift is particularly strong; it always was, even with his human ancestry.  Maybe because of it; he feels everything more deeply.”  She trailed off into the alien language again, but Spock showed no sign of having heard her.

            “Amanda, what can we do?” Winona asked softly.  “What do you need?”

            Jim’s head pounded sharply, and he knew his own expression still held fear, and confusion as he glanced quickly at his mother, surprised to see that her countenance simply held determination, and compassion.

            Amanda shook her head silently, and suddenly Spock’s dark eyes opened and he absently swept the back of one hand across his face, smearing the blood across his pale complexion in a macabre pattern.  “I…I apologize.”  Spock’s eyes were on Jim’s and they were wide and barely focused.  The odd pain in Jim’s head abruptly dimmed, like a switch being thrown, and with it fled the simmering anxiety. 

            “Jim, forgive me… .” 

            Spock’s weakened voice trailed off into a ragged breath, and Jim stared in growing horror as he realized that the sensations that had shimmered along his nerves hadn’t been entirely his own.  “Holy fuck.”

            Winona had taken another step closer and had reached out to touch her friend’s shoulder.  “Amanda, listen to me… .”

            “Holy fucking shit.”

            “Jesus, Jim,” The blonde woman hissed, turning to throw a glare at her son.  Spock had closed his eyes again, his head falling back against the comforter, his entire body limp.

            “I’ve gotta talk to you.  Right now.  This…this is… .  Now!”

            Amanda hadn’t moved, and when Winona hesitated Jim simply left, hitting his hand sharply on the doorknob in his haste.  He practically ran down the hallway, slid down the stairs and crashed through the front door, not stopping until he was several meters away from the house.  Darkness was creeping over the landscape, aided by the heavy weather, and Jim felt himself begin to shiver as single droplets of rain slid down his face.  Like tears.

            “Jim.”

            Winona’s soft voice from behind him made him jump, and the young man turned accusingly on his mother.  “You knew, didn’t you.  You knew he was a…an alien all along.  You knew it when she left all those years ago and you knew it when you brought them into this house!”

            “Jim, you need to calm down.  Something terrible has happened, and Spock… .”

            “He was in my head.  Somehow, he was in my fucking head.  How about that?”

            Winona’s face paled.  “He wouldn’t hurt you, Jim.  He couldn’t… .”

            He advanced on her.  “How the fuck do you know that?”

            She held out her hands, pleading, “I’ll tell you everything, baby.  Everything I know.  But, please come back inside; someone’ll see.  Someone will hear.”

            The cold was slipping down Jim’s body along with the rain and he glanced at the empty road.  “If they knew where he was, they would’ve been here already,” he muttered, swallowing and concentrating on the air moving in and out of his lungs.  His lungs, this air, this planet; his eyes shifted up to the clouds and he thought of how Spock had stood staring at the stars the night before.  “Where are they from?”

            Winona had folded her arms across her chest against the chill, and her blonde hair was plastered to her forehead.  “Jim, the patrols… .”

            He looked at her sharply, his voice stronger.  “The troops were mobilized this morning; I saw them in town.  It was one of the reasons I came home so fast.”  He shook his head.  “They may have something to do with this, but you know as well as I do that they would’ve picked all of us up already if they had any idea… .” He glanced at the sky again; soldiers were obvious, but snitch drones were not.  Beside him, Winona made an impatient, almost desperate noise.  “Okay.  Okay, I’ll go back inside.”  His eyes hardened.  “But I want to know everything.  I can’t…I can’t believe any of this.”

            “Okay.”  She looked relieved, and reached out, grasping one of his hands in hers and holding on tightly, as if afraid he would still bolt. He could feel the warmth and solidity of her hand in his, even through the damp and the cold and pressed his lips together, letting her lead him back into the house.

 

 

 

            Jim stood stiffly in the hall, listening to the muffled female voices above him. His mother had released his hand and bounded back up the stairs with a plea for him to wait and he couldn’t think of anything else to do.  His head felt strangely empty, the abrupt absence of that phantom pain, that presence, making him tense and wary.  He furrowed his brow, shocked at the idea of someone else’s thoughts or emotions touching his own. He considered what it meant, and remembered, for the first time since he had seen the green liquid fall over Spock’s face the undeniable attraction he had felt for the other man; that odd pull, that disarmament.  He wondered if it had been truly real, or if it had somehow been pushed on him, introduced into his subconscious despite himself. 

           He heard shuffling from upstairs, and his uplink suddenly buzzed.  Startled, Jim fumbled for it and nearly dropped it as he checked the ID.  Bones. He flicked the switch.  “Yeah.”

            “You okay, kid?”

            Jim glanced up the stairs and moved away, into the kitchen.  “Yeah, uh, fine. Why?”

            There was the sound of a sigh and McCoy’s voice came back irritated, “Why? Haven’t you seen the vidnet? There’s been some sort of huge underground implosion out past the marker beacons: left a giant pile of ash in a great, big hole.  The military’s crawling all over it; calling it a terrorist action.  Fuck knows why dissenters would want to blow up anything out there.”

           Jim took three steps over to the vidlink in the corner, on the counter and flipped it on, keeping it muted. A bored-looking woman with ice-blonde hair was speaking as images of a vast grayish indentation in the middle of a field flashed next to her.  The scrolling headlines preached that government forces had already dealt with the threat; that the culprits had been caught and no civilian lives had been lost. They were blaming it on a prominent dissenter group, looking to disrupt the nearby aquifer.  Jim realized that McCoy had been repeating his name over and over.

            “I’m here.”

            Another exasperated sigh and McCoy’s voice came back quieter, “Jim, I’m gonna ask you this just once.  How’s, uh, Matt’s cousin?”

            Jim swallowed, understanding his friend’s obscured meaning in light of their conversation earlier and with the distinct possibility they may be overheard.  “He’s fine; we’re all fine.  He didn’t, uh, didn’t hold anything against me after all.”

            McCoy cleared his throat.  “Okay.  Just making sure.  You at your mother’s?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Be careful, kid.”

            “Thanks, Bones.”  Jim ended the connection and put the unit on the counter next to the vidlink, glancing at the ceiling, listening to the boards creak under someone’s careless footsteps as they descended the stairs.

            Winona’s expression was strained as she reached the bottom of the staircase and turned into the kitchen.  “Spock’s unconscious; some kind of shock.  Amanda’s…she’s not doing well either.”  Winona’s eyes shifted past Jim to the screen, her voice becoming absent.  “Their uplink, or whatever, to the outpost is dead, and Amanda is hoping Spock will come out of it on his own; there’s nothing we can do for him. What are you watching?”

            “Probably what’s left of their outpost.”  Jim placed a harsh, sarcastic inflection on the last word and saw his mother put a hand over her mouth. But, while her expression was of surprise, he caught a glimpse of sudden comprehension flashing through her eyes. He reached out and shut off the vidlink and turned to face her fully.  “Tell me.”      

 

           The two young women climbed out of the old aircar and looked at each other, knowing that to call for help would mean a shitload of trouble for both of them.  They were out past curfew and well past city limits and the middle of nowhere seemed even more remote than ever; fields stretching on either side to the darkening horizon.

           “I can fix it.”

           “Get real, Win. You’ve gotten it this far, but the entire plasma rotor is out; I heard it go.”

           A determined toss of a blonde head, an expression that hinted at a sense of invincibility that was not at all out of place on an eighteen-year-old.  “Well, I’m gonna try anyway.  Watch for patrols.”

           “I told you we shouldn’t have come out this far.  When George finds out he’s going to call off your wedding.”  The dark-haired girl hugged herself as she peered into the growing gloom of the early evening.  A sound startled her, and she pressed closer to her friend.  “Shit.”  The sound came again: footsteps on the graveled edge of the road.

           The invincibility in blue eyes wavered for an instant before being replaced by determined protectiveness.  “Get that bat from under my seat.”

           “Let’s just get out of here! Win, come on!”

           “I’m not leaving this fucking aircar.  My goddamn dress is in the trunk.”

           “Win!”

           A figure coalesced out of the shadows: the tall, lean shape of a man.  He walked carefully and precisely towards the two women and the blonde stepped forward boldly.  “What do you want?”

           “Please do not be…afraid. I will not harm you. May I be of assistance?”

           The two women stared at the handsome face of the stranger.  The blonde still appeared as if she were more than willing to kick the shit out of him, and her voice was flippant.  “I don’t know.  You have a spare plasma rotor?”

 

           Winona licked her lips nervously, her fingers twisting together in front of her untouched glass of whiskey. The bottle, sitting between her and her son, was almost empty.  “He said his name was Sarek and that he was a scientist out studying the local soil quality. I knew it was bullshit from the beginning, and so did Amanda, but she didn’t care; she was captivated by him from the beginning.  And he was, too, with her.”  One of Winona’s hands captured the glass, but didn’t lift it.  “He ended up showing me how to re-route the power using the toolkit I had with me, and while I fixed it, they talked. It was a pretty quick job, in the end, but I held off interrupting them.  Back then, patrols were more sparse that far outside town, and Amanda had never been interested in anyone else before.”

            She finally took a long draw from her glass and Jim shifted in his seat.  “He was from this outpost, then.”

            “It was right fucking there; just outside of town.”  She shook her head and covered her eyes with one hand, her voice a murmur.  “I never knew…never even considered…oh, Amanda… .”

            Jim pressed, “When did you find out what he really was?”

 

            The young woman’s dark eyes were brilliant as she sat cross-legged on her friend’s bed.  “I’m going to meet him again tonight, Win.  He said he had something important to tell me.  Something serious.  He was acting so nervous, and he actually smiled; I could see his hands shaking. I bet he’s going to ask me to marry him.”

           “Jesus, Amanda, you’ve known the guy what, five weeks?  And always meeting him in the ass-middle of nowhere.  Your father is going to shit himself when he finds out.”  The blonde girl was lying on her back on the rug, staring at the ceiling.  She was getting married herself in a few days, and her thoughts were on her own love.

           “He’s not going to find out.”

           That caught the blonde’s attention and she sat up abruptly.  “What, you think he wouldn’t figure it out if you fucking married him?”  She sniffed.  “Are you bringing him to the wedding?  George wants to meet him, anyway.”

           “Yeah, I’m going to ask him. Tonight, if nothing else gets in the way.”  The dark-haired girl winked.  “And my father’s an asshole.”

           The blonde snorted.  “Wish my dad would try to fix me up with the governor’s son.”

           Dark eyes were suddenly hard.  “My father knew what happened to that girl over in Conway; the one who had that party?  And he’d hand me over to that trash even after that.  Selling his own daughter for a bump on the company payscale.  I’m making my own choice and Sarek’s taking me away from here; I’m going to make him promise.”

           Blue eyes smiled.  “George is joining the civilian protection corps; best way to qualify for air defense is civilian service.  We’ll meet you out there.”

 

            “She brought him to the wedding after all, and I could see what she meant by him being nervous.  He wouldn’t let her out of his sight, and he didn’t eat or drink anything. She told me right after the ceremony that he had asked her to marry him and she had agreed; that they were going to elope right away.” 

            Winona drained her glass.  “Trip Grayson heard about it, somehow, and caused a huge scene.  Amanda basically told him to fuck off and left with this guy.  We didn’t see her again for five days.  And when she came back, Sarek was with her.”

 

           The blonde woman paced back and forth across the dull floor of the small apartment. She was a newlywed, but the first days of her marriage had been spent worrying over her dearest friend who had disappeared the night of her wedding; leaving with a near stranger, leaving her family in an uproar.

           “She should have called, George.  It’s been five goddamn days.  We’ve never gone this long without talking.”

           “She’s fine, Win.” The young man’s voice betrayed his uncertainty, and he had taken a breath to continue when the door buzzer sounded, echoing through the small space.

           The blonde flew to the door, and when it opened to the drawn, exhausted, familiar face of her friend, she threw herself into the dark-haired girl’s arms.  And then she noticed the man standing next to her. And the bruises on her friend’s neck and face.  And she pulled away long enough to throw a fierce punch to the man’s jaw.

 

            Winona stood abruptly and started pacing.  “I broke my hand, but I was all for trying again when Amanda stopped me.  She made me let him in and explained, well, not much of anything at all, it turned out, but enough that I knew she loved him, and trusted him. He was very formal, very gentle, like whatever had happened during the wedding and afterwards had been like she said, an aberration.  He said he would die for her, and I told him to his face I thought he was an abusive piece of shit.”

            She took a ragged breath.  “He…showed me, then.  He held out his hand and asked for my permission, and I,” she swallowed, “I didn’t know what he was going to do but I was scared and Amanda was holding onto me, begging me to give him a chance and I nodded and he touched my face. And,” Winona stopped and faced her son, tears on her cheeks, “I saw who he was, who he really was. No details, but just recognition that he was of another world.  I knew suddenly, as surely as I knew myself, that he would never hurt her. I saw that he would die for her.  That he loved her so fucking much that words wouldn’t…couldn’t do it justice. And he took his hand away and said they needed to leave soon.  Amanda…begged me to keep his secret.  She said she was happy, and I could see that she was happy.  And I let her go, god help me.  I let her go.  And I never forgave myself.”

            Jim sat completely still.  “Dad knew, too?”

            She met his eyes.  “Yes, he did.”

            Jim averted his gaze, looking at the thin layer of golden liquid remaining in the tall bottle on the table.  “And Spock… .  He’s really her son?  How is that possible?”

            “I don’t know.”  Winona sighed and sank back into her chair.  “But he’s of both of our worlds.” She sniffed and wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve.  “Do you see why I have to help them? Do you understand?”

            Jim stared at her.  “If they find him, they’ll kill him. And her.  And probably us, too.”

            Any remaining bravado faded out of the blonde woman’s eyes and face and she stared at her son with only the simplicity of her stalwart character.  “This is my fight, Jim, my responsibility.  I want you to go.  Now that you’ve learned the truth, you should leave.”

            He held her eyes for a long moment before a pained expression crossed his face.  “You can’t ask me to do that.”  Amanda had left her, George had left her; even Frank had left her in the worst possible way.  And there was something else, something very selfish that refused to allow him to consider leaving: a powerful curiosity, stubbornness, and a longing to fill that disconcerting mental emptiness once more.

            “Jim… .”

            “No, Mom.  You can’t ask me for that.” He shrugged.  “I don’t understand, and I still hardly believe it, but you’ve…we’ve been through some bad shit before this, and I’m not leaving.”  He pushed himself up from the table.  “I want to hear it from Amanda.”

            “She’s not…herself.”

            “Neither am I.”  Jim’s reply was quick.  “Neither are you.  But maybe that’s a good thing.”  He slid his chair back into its place under the table and squared his shoulders, heading for the stairs, his mind flickering over a small, confusing, insistent impulse that drew him to see Spock again.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Though I Walk Through The Valley

 

            The guest room upstairs was silent, and a single lamp cast long shadows over the walls.  Night had fallen definitively outside the window, and Jim stepped in tentatively through the half-open door.

            Amanda was seated on a chair next to the bed, and she looked up as Jim entered.  Her face was tear-streaked and her dark hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, her eyes were rimmed with red and a small, unfamiliar metallic unit was clutched in both her hands.  Jim nodded slowly to her and she managed a tiny, wavering smile before looking back at the prone figure on the bed.

            The alien…Spock lay like someone dead, his face ghostly pale and pinched, his hands limp at his sides.  He barely appeared to be breathing, and Jim felt the silence like a shroud as he moved hesitantly forward.  The dark-haired man’s face had been cleaned of blood, but there were small, dark spots remaining on the white pillowcase, and Jim swallowed hard as he glimpsed them.

            “I… ,” the young man began, and stopped as his voice came overly loud and irreverent in the stillness.  “I need to know… .”

            “His father’s people call themselves Vuhlkansu.  They come from the second planet orbiting 40 Eridani A.”  She made a raw, aborted noise like a chuckle.  “Don’t ask me to point it out.”

            Jim winced, and she continued, “They are peaceful, to a fault; the leaders of an alliance of planets.  They came here on a mission of observation, as they have to other worlds not yet ready for full contact.  They’ve been here for over thirty years, watching, waiting.  Moving among us in disguise to learn more.”

            “But they…you…were going to leave, for good.”

            “Yes.”  She sniffed, her voice taking on a detached tone.  “The outpost was really more of a home away from home: a huge, underground complex with a working staff of twenty point officers and their families, including us.  Connections to additional complexes on other parts of the world, though they were rarely used as global power was increasingly concentrated on this continent.  The order to leave came very suddenly, and I was not told why we were abandoning the outpost, specifically, but I was given permission to see my family one more time.  If I hadn’t… .”

            “But they’re like us… .”

            Amanda sniffed again and reached out, quickly brushing her son’s shiny, black hair away, exposing the upswept, alien shape of his eyebrows and the pointed tip of his ear before pulling her hand away again.  Jim gasped, staring.

            “They have green blood, because of the copper-base, and three times our strength.  Better hearing, eyesight, and they’re telepaths.  I think…I think that’s what’s wrong with him.  Each of them shares familial and societal bonds.  Mental bonds.  If everyone died…if a bond is broken, it can be painful.  It was painful for me, and I’m psi-null and… .”  Her next sniff turned into a sob.  “They believe in peace and logic.  They control their emotions. They’re…he’s… .”  She dropped the device on the floor and put her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking.

            Jim’s own hands flexed, and he touched her arm lightly.  “Go downstairs and eat something; I’ll sit with him.”  He paused, remembering something Spock had said.  “I grieve with thee.”

            Her head shot up and she stared at him, an unreadable expression on her face despite the tears and anguish in her eyes.  “He told you that?”

            “For George.” 

            “Oh, Jim.”  The young man let his hand drop and saw her tormented gaze shift to her son briefly before she stood up, straightening her thin shoulders, finding strength from somewhere.  She turned, leaving the metallic unit on the floor where she had dropped it, and walked slowly towards the door, wiping at her eyes with the backs of her hands.

            Jim moved to take her seat and had almost forgotten her presence when he heard her voice again, recognizing some deep tide of emotion lurking within the low, halting tones.  “Why did he ask your forgiveness?”

            The young man turned his head, seeing her standing with her hand on the doorknob, the door itself half-closed.  He swallowed.  “I don’t know.”  It was a lie, and not a very good one, and Jim turned away and grimaced slightly as he heard her sigh.  The door clicked shut and he listened to her footsteps down the hall, waiting for the creak of the stairs before he exhaled and slumped in the chair.

            “Fuck,” he muttered, making another face at the suddenness of the word in the silent room.  He swallowed again, looking at the unmoving profile of the other man, the alien features still visible from where his mother had swept away his hair.  Scattered and frenzied thoughts raced through Jim’s mind; questions upon questions, and his initial shock and fear was dissipating in the fact of the being in front of him, a being he himself had touched, had desired.  Jim had felt the warmth of the man’s skin, felt the taste of his mouth, sensed some reflection of his thoughts; sensed some instinctive draw that attracted him even now.

            Suspicion still lingered on the edges of his mind, seeded there from a lifetime under a government obsessed with conspiracy.  Could Spock have set off that bomb?  Perhaps Jim’s mumblings to Bones hadn’t been far off the mark; the young alien had been alone and unwatched.  The man’s gentle demeanor and the reaction that Jim himself had witnessed would seem to corroborate Amanda’s version of things, but everyone had heard stories of unassuming and apparently peaceful souls turning to drastic deeds for inexplicable reasons.  Fear was a strong and heavily emphasized motivator for obedience, and the threat of irrational violence was as good a source of that fear as any other.

            But that seemed fundamentally wrong, somehow, and Jim tilted his head, studying the other young man’s face.  The revelation of ears and eyebrows lent a strong beauty to the planes and curves of pale skin.  Otherwordly, perhaps, or simply unfamiliar, but somehow completely natural, and Jim found himself leaning forward, reaching out a tentative hand to touch black hair.  His fingers slipped against Spock’s skin, and Jim felt that surprising gentle tingle of response along his nerves.  Curious, he lifted his hand, realizing that the sensation had triggered something: a low, almost imperceptible hum somewhere in his mind.  He furrowed his brow, concentrating, still curious, nervousness held at bay by a near-obsessive need to understand.

            Gently, he reached again, this time to run his fingers along the smooth shape of Spock’s hand, letting his touch drift over long digits before allowing his hand to settle over the other’s, wondering at the almost ordinary humanness of it.  The sense of some sort of charge between them was stronger at first, and then, as the strange hum in his mind strengthened, Jim felt the electricity dissipate into simple warmth.  He kept his hand where it was, absently thinking that he should be terrified.  He remembered what he had told Spock earlier: about getting himself into fucked-up situations just so he could figure his way out of them.  This, he imagined, could well fall under that description, if it weren’t for the soft whisper of inevitability about it all.

            Dark eyes opened suddenly, accompanied by a surge of warmth in Jim’s mind and an instinctive clutch of the young human’s fingers.  Jim felt the leap of his own alarm, fading into surprising concern as he saw helpless fear and pain in the eyes of the other man, sensed its echo in himself, and tightened his own grip in a clumsy attempt at comfort.

            “It’s okay.  Spock, it’s okay.”

            An almost imperceptible shaking had begun again through the other’s body, and Jim had to strain to hear the whispered response.  “It is…not.”

            Jim exhaled and shrugged.  “Yeah, I guess not.”  He looked into haunted brown eyes, still wondering at the mirrored feelings that sung in his mind.  “It’s all fucked up anyway, isn’t it?”  He licked his lips.  “I’m sorry for running out on you earlier.”  He snorted delicately.  “And for kissing you.  Not that you could give a shit about that right now.”

            He winced at his own rambling and tried to pull his hand away, stopping suddenly at the pained noise that erupted from Spock’s throat.

            “What’s wrong?”

            The shaking was worse, and Jim grunted at the powerful, almost desperate grip the other man now held on his hand.  “Jesus, Spock, ow!”

            The grip eased, though the mental pain throbbed more intensely and Spock turned onto his side, curling around Jim’s hand.  “I apologize. Your presence…helps.”

            “Helps what?”  Jim tried to remember what Amanda had been saying about mind-links and telepathy, what Winona had hurriedly described about Sarek.  He wondered if Spock could read his mind and what about himself might lend the distressed young man any sort of consolation.

            “They are gone… .” 

            Spock’s voice broke, and Jim knelt down next to the bed, bringing his other hand up to clasp around Spock’s.  “I know. Amanda told me you had said that the outpost… .”

            “My planet.  I feel…nothing where an entire people once existed.”

            “That’s impossible.  That can’t be true.”  Ice and threatened hysteria ran down Jim’s spine as he contemplated what that confusing statement meant: a lost planet, an attack on an apparently peaceful outpost, his still-raw shock at confirming alien life now expanding into a dozen horrible scenarios involving the end of his own world.  “Spock, what the fuck does that mean?”

            “I cannot… .”

            The pain was coming even stronger now, cascading from Spock’s injured mind, and Jim could sense the sickening loss that seemed to propel it, growing, threatening to tear the shaking form in front of him down into solitary madness.

            “Spock, fucking hell, come on; you’re the only one who knows what’s going on here.  You’ve got to hold on, dammit.” The young alien merely closed his eyes, curling even tighter, and Jim glanced at the door.  He could call Amanda, but even she, Spock’s mother, had kept to arm’s length.  Something about Jim’s own touch was different, was helpful, and Jim made up his mind.

            Rising up, but keeping one of his hands firmly tightened around Spock’s, Jim climbed over the young man’s form and lay down behind him on the bed, pressing his body along the other’s and holding on tight, closing his eyes and concentrating on the warmth between them.  Time slipped by, measured by Jim’s breathing and the faint sound of his own heartbeat as his ear pressed tight against the pillow.  From the floor below, there was only the occasional muffled sound: a voice, possibly a sob, the movement of chairs or the creak of floorboards. Jim kept his grip on the other man firm, steady, confident even as his own thoughts whirled and his own fears rose and fell.  He told himself that this was crazy, feeling a burst of panic with the knowledge that he was holding someone from another planet in his arms.  Yet, he felt a surge of confusing protectiveness for his…friend.  His friend.  Jim’s protective instincts had always run deep, but this was different.  This was fundamental and fierce and completely opposite what Jim probably should be feeling.  He wondered again if this sensation was being coerced on him, and then decided that it almost didn’t matter.  If the world was going to end, then Jim could have done a lot worse than discover a connection with an alien soul.  He smirked, despite himself, and then shook his head, thinking that his mind was most likely still his own; that Spock didn’t seem to be able to grasp the concepts of sarcasm and dark humor, and Jim was still displaying those in spades.

            Gradually the shaking stopped and the pain slowly ebbed, reduced to a deep but manageable background throb.  The powerful sense of loss had been pushed to the background as well, and Jim shifted his head, staring at sleek black hair as he gained the dimmest sensation of doors closing, one at a time, closing Spock’s mind to him and shutting the terrifying sensations away.  When, finally, all that remained was a barely perceptible warmth, a slight ache at the edges of Jim’s consciousness, the young human felt the body in his arms tense and Jim loosened his grip, shifting up to sit cross-legged next to Spock as the alien turned onto his back.

            They looked at each other in the dim light, and Jim flexed his hands, aware that it somehow felt strange not to be touching the other’s.  He licked his lips.  “You’re back.”

            The intensity of Spock’s gaze now felt as if it made sense.  “I am functional.”

            “Good.”  Jim swallowed, feeling awkward.  “Maybe you can tell me what the fuck we’re going to do.”

            He regretted his brusqueness the instant the words came out of his mouth, and he saw a flicker of shattering emotion cascade across the other man’s expression, saw an instinctive twitch of tense muscles, as if Spock wanted to simply curl up again.  And then he saw the other man fight, felt the steel of his effort reflected in Jim’s own mind, and instead of turning away, instead of screaming, instead of crying out, Spock pushed himself up, his back straight, his legs over the edge of the bed, and lifted his chin, regaining his impassivity.  “I do not know.  I surmise that the deaths were caused by an aggressive action that potentially poses a threat to this world as well.  I have a hypothesis, but I require more data.  I must speak to my mother.”  

            Jim Kirk was damn impressed, and he imagined that the strength of will he had witnessed was all that had prevented the young alien in front of him from a catastrophic fall into insensibility.  Strength of will, and this connection… .

            It was as if Spock had followed his thoughts.  “Thank you.” His voice was quiet, and the slight hesitation and odd cadence suggested that this was a phrase not commonly used.

            “For what?”  Jim had a good idea, but wanted Spock to spell it out, to put words and actionable reality into this unknown thing they had between them.

            “The touch of your mind allowed me to focus, to begin to shield the damage from… .”  He trailed of and bit his lower lip.

            And then Jim realized that it wasn’t entirely fair to simply sit there and demand answers in human terms for a thing so obviously not human in scope or definition from a being so obviously still in pain and shock.  Instinctively, he leaned forward, reaching to touch the top of Spock’s hand where it curled into a fist next to him on the bed.  “It’s okay, I’m sorry. I understand…enough, I guess.”  He waved his free hand loosely in the air.  “It’s not important right now.”

            Spock’s gaze had shifted to stare at where their hands touched, but his remained closed.  “I must speak to my mother.”

            “Yeah.”  Jim winced as drew his hand back, swinging his legs over the opposite side of the bed and standing up, pulling at his shirt. “She’s downstairs.” Spock had stood as well, waiting perhaps a half-second too long before taking several rapid steps towards the door.  Jim could see poorly hidden instability in his normally graceful gait.

            “Spock.”  There was a sharp, helpless edge to Jim’s voice and the young alien paused, his hand on the doorknob. Jim took a breath, but couldn’t find the words.  Couldn’t enunciate the question.  Couldn’t describe the alarming struggle he sensed within himself as he watched Spock move away from him.  Couldn’t admit to the unnerving sensation of cold that ghosted across him, of unwanted distance between them.  For an instant, Jim wondered if he was losing his mind.

            And as if he himself could sense the young human’s inexplicable distress, the other man turned, the expression in his dark eyes softer and gentler than Jim had ever before seen.  “I will not leave you, Jim.  Whatever happens, whatever…happened, I will be with you.”

            The lean, dark figure disappeared through the doorway and Jim was left staring at the shabby paint of the hallway, cast in shadow, as if he’d never seen it before; left with a cryptic promise stated as a fundamental fact. For his entire life he had lived in the shadow of hollow assurances and false statements, delivered by a regime or spouted by liars who had allowed his town and its people to fester in order to make a quota.  He, who worked in sarcasm and half-truths like a native language, who instinctively doubted most anything anyone ever told him, somehow thought that Spock’s words made perfect sense, and he believed them with all that he was.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: My World In You

 

            By the time Jim shook himself out of his stupor and followed Spock out into the hallway, the other man was halfway down the stairs, his progress measurably slow but determined, his grip firm on the bannister.  The young human jogged forward and slipped down the stairs rapidly, with practiced ease, making it to the dark-haired man’s side as he stepped down onto the wooden floor.  Spock didn’t turn his head, but when he wavered as he released the railing Jim silently slid an arm around his waist, and the young alien leaned into the human’s body almost imperceptibly.  The faint buzz of electricity was back, but barely, as Jim’s fingertips brushed heated skin at Spock’s side, and Jim felt himself thrill to the subsequent glow of warmth in his mind, constructed barriers be damned.

            They moved together towards the kitchen, where the glow of the oil lamp and the murmur of the vidlink beckoned, and Jim heard Amanda’s soft intake of breath as they crossed the threshold.  The two women were seated at the table, cups of tea in front of them, and Winona was holding Amanda’s hand.  The colors of the vidlink played behind them, ignored, and Jim glanced over to briefly catch a glimpse of the same ice-blonde newscaster, this time appearing slightly more animated, images of what appeared to be formations of lights in the night sky playing behind her.

            But his attention was diverted as he felt Spock’s body tense against his and he turned back to see the dark-haired woman now standing, having dropped Winona’s hand, brown eyes narrowing as she looked at the two young men. “Spock?  Are you… ?”

            Her question cut off abruptly with loud pounding at the front door and the sound of a man’s raised voice.  “Come on, Winona, open the damn door!”

            Winona and Jim traded a startled glance before Amanda’s expression contorted.  “It’s my father.  What’s he doing here?” The rage on her face trembled into something more broken, and Winona jumped as the belligerent pounding came again, accompanied by an impressive litany of swearing.

            “You should let him in; he won’t stop.”  Amanda had crossed her arms over her chest.

            Winona glanced quickly at Spock, her eyes flickering over his hair, now returned to its loose curtain over his ears and eyebrows, and then at Jim, who stared back, keeping his arm around the other young man.  “He sounds drunk.”  She made a face as the door rattled and finally moved forward, past the two men, out into the hallway.

            Jim heard the door open and his mother begin to speak, only to be cut off by a loud grunt and the sound of heavy footsteps as a large, bearded man appeared in the entryway to the kitchen.  Trip Grayson had been intimidating his entire life, and, though Jim had only encountered him in passing, he knew of his friends’ fear of their grandfather.  Spock slid out from the human’s arm, stepping sideways to stand between his mother and his grandfather.

            The man guffawed, his brown eyes sharp as he peered at the two young men.  “Well, this just figures.”  He jerked his chin at Jim and smirked.  “You’ve always been easy.  I guess you’re into weird bastard boys, too.” Jim felt fury rise in his chest as Grayson’s eyes shifted between them, the lopsided smirk widening.  “What’s the matter?  Beck Pritchard not feel like strapping one on?”

            “That’s enough!” Amanda’s voice echoed, and Jim saw Winona appear behind the older man, her blue eyes flashing and rage now written on her own face.  “What the hell are you doing here?”

            Grayson shifted his weight and dropped the unwieldy satchel he had been carrying in front of him on the floor.  Jim’s mouth dropped open as he heard the clink of metal and the top of the bag opened to reveal a number of highly illegal hand-held weapons.

            “I’m here for you, girl.”  The older man’s gaze caught the almost empty bottle of whiskey next to the vidlink and clumsily walked over, past Jim, unscrewing the top and downing the remnants, his eyes fixed on the screen, where the eerie patterns of lights still glowed next to images of government air defense squadrons warming up, the shining emblems of the security seal visible everywhere.  He snorted.  “Don’t you know we’re being fucking invaded?”

            “What do you know?”  Jim stepped forward.  “What the fuck does that mean?”

            “Those lights!”  Grayson gestured with the now-empty bottle, and Jim could smell stale alcohol on his breath and in his clothes.  “Those’re fucking aliens! There have been attacks all over this sector: that implosion in the field past the markers, an air defense station in the next town, some kind of scanning facility over in Conway. Not that they’re saying much,” he sniffed at the screen, “but I heard it from the regional governor’s assistant myself not an hour ago.  He’s evacuating, along with all the other officials.”  Another snort.  “Fuck knows where, though.  Those lights are everywhere!”

            Jim licked his lips, conscious of Spock and Amanda’s silence, aware of his mother’s careful sidle towards the dropped bag of weapons. “It’s dissenters, Mr. Grayson.  There’s no such thing as aliens.”

            “Fuck you, George Junior.  We’ve got to get out of town and quickly.”  Grayson looked past Jim’s head to his daughter, who had edged closer to her son.  “You’re coming with me, girl.  Just because you ran out on our family doesn’t mean I’m gonna do the same.  You’re my blood, and I’m getting you out of here.”

            “I’m not going anywhere.  At least not without my family.”

            Her emphasis took in the others, and Grayson shook his head.  “I’m not bringing along deadweight.”

            “Get out of here, Trip.”

            “Shut up, Winona.  I’d say you’ve caused me enough trouble already.”

            And that was it.  Jim moved closer, aggressively.  “I don’t think you heard her.  Get the fuck out.  Now.”

            He was expecting a swing, and didn’t see the older man’s knee move until it was too late, shooting up into Jim’s stomach with surprising speed, the force of it knocking Jim’s breath out and causing him to double over.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Grayson raise the empty bottle over his head, begin to bring it down, heard his mother’s scream, and then he was pushed aside, landing hard on the floor and hearing an impact and a choked noise from above him.

            He looked up to see Spock’s left hand gripping Grayson’s wrist like a vise, his right hand encircling the older man’s throat.  Grayson was pressed up against the wall of the kitchen and Jim heard a scuffing sound, his eyes traveling down to see the Grayson’s boots a good three inches off the ground.  The choked noise came again, and the older man was gaping like a fish, his eyes huge and protruding, his face an angry red around his gray beard.  Jim saw the bottle fall, heard it smash, heard the crack of bone and a stifled squeal from the older man, and suddenly Amanda had flown to Spock’s side, grabbing his shoulders.  “Stop! Spock, stop, you’re killing him!  Please, no more, tal-kam.  No more!”

            Spock wasn’t going to stop, even with Amanda pleading with him, pulling at his shoulders and arms, even with Grayson suffocating.  Winona stood motionless, horrified, her hand over her mouth.  And Jim pushed himself up, trying to reach that now-frantic warmth in his mind, trying to concentrate, for what it was worth.  “Spock!”

            Something finally gave.  And Spock stepped back, releasing the other man and watching him slide down the wall and crumple to the floor.  Amanda dropped to kneel beside her father, tears streaming down her cheeks, and Spock took another, more unsteady, step backwards, hitting the table and gripping it with both hands before turning to look at Jim.

            The young human stared into the alien’s dark, anguished eyes, a shared horror licking along his own veins.  He could feel the rage and desperation, deep instinctive protectiveness, the returning swell of terrifying grief and the agonizing burn of broken loss pushing past newly formed barriers.  Spock was losing control and the pain was intensifying and Jim could see Amanda’s shock and Winona’s confusion and Grayson’s red, gasping face: manic, vengeful eyes locked onto the young alien.  And something else gave.

            “Winona.” The steel note in Jim’s voice broke the blonde woman out of her torpor.  “Get those weapons somewhere out of sight.  See if there’s one that’ll work and make sure this piece of shit doesn’t try anything else.  Amanda, step back from him.  He’s breathing, and he’s conscious; see if you can find something to splint his wrist.”

            Both women blinked and moved to obey and Jim took a breath, reaching out a surprisingly steady hand.  “Spock.”

            The alien’s chest was rising and falling rapidly, and Jim stepped forward and slipped an arm around him without asking further permission.  “Come on, come with me.  Right now.”  He leaned in, taking Spock’s weight, and supported him as they left the kitchen.

 

 

 

            The sitting room was dark, but Jim didn’t stop to turn on a light as he guided his friend to the large, worn sofa against the far wall, memories of a dozen nights spent sleeping it off there allowing him to avoiding the coffee table and the single, overstuffed chair in the blackness.

            “Sit down.”  Jim wondered when he had become so accustomed to giving orders, but Spock obeyed him, finding a seat unerringly in the darkness.  Jim sank down with him, his arm still loosely around the other’s waist.  “Are you… ,” he began, only to be interrupted by the feeling of the other young man shifting in his grip, his head coming down and his forehead pressing against Jim’s shoulder.  Slowly, Jim’s hand came up to gently rest in the other’s hair, like silk against his fingers, and he closed his eyes, trying to calm his own thoughts, letting his cheek rest against Spock’s head.

            “It’s okay,” he murmured, his other hand moving to run softly up and down Spock’s arm.  “It’s okay.”  The barriers were folding, one by one, and the pain was reaching his own nerves somehow, raw and aching, and Jim shivered.  “You said this helped.  You said I helped… .”  He gasped as Spock did, and his hand curled into the black hair.  “What do you need?  Please.”  His eyes were still closed, but he felt Spock move, felt the tentative brush of fingertips against his face, the subtle electricity making Jim flinch, and he remembered Winona’s story of how Sarek had touched her and he… .

 

was suddenly somewhere else and the conflagration was building, shimmering through cracks in the barriers that appeared as walls of metal turning liquid, drops running down, and heat like he had never felt before raged in front of him and he heard screaming…

 

…he reacted instinctively, and there was somehow a crashing cascade of cool, clear water against the walls, the liquid supercooling in a matrix of expanding dendritic crystals, sealing the cracks and the wavering heat disappeared into a soft glow…

 

…he was not alone here, and he recognized that deep, fierce protectiveness as both his own and another’s; felt awe and wonder and need and something like disbelief and he saw places he had only glimpsed in dreams, felt a warmth that was so familiar, heard alien music that stirred his soul, heard a question in a language he didn’t understand: ‘T’hy’la?  Qual se tu?’...

 

…gasped, lifting his head as Spock’s fingers fell away.  The other young man straightened, pulling back, and now Jim’s breaths came rapidly, his skin feeling like it was tingling all over, the hum in the back of his mind feeling deeper and more diffuse, the glowing warmth seeming to infuse his very presence.  The other man’s pain had faded, and the sensation in Jim’s mind felt almost like an itch, but not irritating; instead it was almost a yearning, and undeniable at that, and when Jim cautiously concentrated on it he felt an odd euphoria.

            “What is that?”  Jim’s voice broke, and he swallowed.  “What did you…?”

            “Jim!”  Winona’s cry was strident and striking in the heavy significance that hung in the dark between them.  “Jim!”

            The young human was on his feet immediately and he felt lightheaded, swaying slightly before moving forward and hitting his shin against the coffee table, letting out a bark of pain and then ignoring it, grabbing out and somehow finding Spock’s wrist and pulling him up.

            They entered the kitchen to see Grayson sitting against the wall where he had fallen, his wrist hastily bandaged, and the two women standing across the table.  All three were staring at the vidlink, where the standard feed had disappeared in favor of a slowly spinning government security emblem, a high-pitched tone the only audio signal.

            “What happened?”  Jim hadn’t let go of Spock’s wrist, and now didn’t want to, the echoes of whatever had happened when the other’s fingers had touched his face still reverberating through him. The older man on the floor looked over as they entered the kitchen, his face draining of any remaining color as expressions of hatred and fear crossed his face.

            Winona, still staring at the screen, held one of the weapons in her hands almost absently.

            “Mom! What happened?”

            The blonde woman flinched and turned to face the two young men, licking her lips nervously.  Grayson cut in sharply, his words slurring slightly, “What the fuck do you think happened, Kirk?  I told you we’re being invaded.”  His eyes hadn’t left Spock since the dark-haired man had stepped in at Jim’s side.

            Jim tugged at his friend’s wrist, pulling him from the seething older man as they moved further into the room.  “I didn’t fucking ask you, asshole.  Mom?”

            “I don’t know, baby.  They were talking about those lights in the sky, and then there was a bright flash from one of them and the newscaster looked scared, and then the feed cut out.”  She shook her head  “It’s never done that before, even during the riots fifteen years back.”

            Grayson’s voice was a growl.  “They’re here; we have to fucking go already!”

            “Shut up!”  Winona’s grip on the weapon tightened purposefully.  “If you want to go, then fucking go. Get the fuck out!”

            The emotional turmoil in the room was palpable, and clambered along Jim’s nerves almost unbearably.  He winced, the sensations odd and unfamiliar, feeling a strong urge to simply shut down: a striking contrast to his usual method of belligerent forcefulness.  He felt Spock’s hand clench into a fist and knew then that the perception was not his own, feeling Spock lean closer to him as if drawing on his strength, sensing a sudden overpowering thought that flew across his consciousness.  He kept his own mouth shut, knowing that any further anger or obscenities from him would only make things worse, and there was something that desperately needed to be said… .

             “Please.”  Spock’s deliberately firm monotone somehow cut through the rising tension, “Please, Mother, where is the communications unit?  Is it deactivated?”

            Amanda lifted both of her hands to her mouth her eyes darting back and forth.  “I don’t know; it wasn’t working.  I think I left it in the bedroom.  Spock?”

            The dark-haired man suddenly pulled his wrist from Jim’s grip like it was nothing and turned, heading up the stairs, his footsteps still clumsy, but quickening.

            “Who the fuck is he, girl?  Why the fuck is he so strong?  You really expect me to believe he’s your son?  He doesn’t even look like you.”  Grayson’s voice was a sick hiss.

            “He has my eyes.”  Amanda looked more and more frantic, her hands lowering to twist together in front of her. Winona bit her lip and moved closer to her friend.

            Grayson wasn’t finished.  “Bullshit.  He looks like a fucking government spook.  Maybe even an augment.  Maybe he’s a fucking alien!”

            “Shut up!”  Winona was suddenly pointing her weapon at the older man, and her aim, though shaking, was good enough to silence him.

            Jim could sense the other young man’s determination and purpose, could feel his concentration like another set of perceptions superposed over his own, and he fought back a tide of vertigo, reaching out to grip the back of a chair.  Relief surged as he sensed the other’s return, the boards of the stairs creaking, and as Spock appeared in the kitchen doorway, Jim couldn’t help moving towards him, releasing the back of the chair and reaching to grasp his wrist again, the vertigo fading as their skin touched.

            The young alien allowed it, holding a small silver device in his other hand that Jim recognized Amanda having held during her vigil over her injured son. Anxiety not his own flickered over Jim’s mind, though indiscernible in the even tones of the alien’s voice.  “Mother, I find I must agree with Mr. Grayson.  We must leave. Immediately.”

           “Why?”  Amanda’s tone was too shrill, and she was staring at where Jim was holding her son’s wrist.  Grayson was muttering to himself, his lip curled in a sneer.

            “The unit is functional and had been emitting a passive receiver signal. If this type of instrumentation drew the attack on the outpost, then it is logical to assume that it will draw another, similar attack if detected.  I have disengaged the signal, but this location is in jeopardy.” Spock paused.  “I believe we are indeed under attack from an alien intelligence which is also responsible for…other acts.”  He glanced at Grayson.  “We must attempt to reach the secondary actions terminal.  Scanning equipment and more advanced communications devices will be available there.”

            Jim stared at him, they all did; the young man’s even cadences and rapid, competent phrasing starkly opposing the lingering panic and emotionally wrought atmosphere.  The young human blinked first.  “Okay.  Okay.”  He furrowed his brow.  “Mom, get water and food.  I’ll get our camping equipment and the first-aid kit.”

            “First-aid kit,” Grayson suddenly scoffed.  “By all means, try to escape the alien invasion with a fucking first-aid kit.  Fucking boy scout.”

            “Trip, I already told you that you can… .”

            “Wait, Mom.”  Jim turned to meet Grayson’s narrowed eyes.  “What was your plan?”

            The older man jerked the thumb of his uninjured hand.  “I’ve got my hauler out front; cleaned it out, stocked it up.  The boys and Travis are meeting me out past Conway, if we can run the checkpoint.”  He snorted.  “If the fucking checkpoint’s still even there. We were going to head north and then west.”  He scowled at Spock.  “Your little bastard’s not invited.”

            Jim’s grip on the young alien tightened as he felt the cascade of pained emotion from the other’s mind: shame, fear, anger, and a slew of thoughts too rapid to comprehend, in that strange language.  The young human took a breath to respond when the low wail of air defense sirens suddenly began, their tones haunting and ominous.  And in the silence in the shabby kitchen, there was an abrupt crack and the lights blinked off: the vidnet, the overhead, everything except the meager oil lamp burning on the table.

           Amanda had let out a sharp cry, and Winona had shrunk back, and Jim felt a flush of sudden, powerful determination from the young alien as Spock pulled away from him again, striding towards Grayson.

            “Spock, no!” Amanda cried out again, and Grayson frantically tried pushing himself away, trying to crawl on one hand when Spock got to him, the alien reaching down and gripping the juncture between the older man’s shoulder and neck.  Grayson collapsed onto his stomach without another sound.

            “What the fuck?”  Winona had recovered her voice, and was staring at Spock.  “What the fuck?  You said they were peaceful.  You said… .”

            “He’s not dead,” Jim interrupted, not quite sure how he knew that.  “We’ll bring him with us.”  He smirked.  “It’s the least we can do if we’re taking his rig.”

            The low drone of the air sirens was like a driving force in the background, and Winona’s expression contorted in the golden light and shadows before she nodded.  “Fine.  Get his key. I’m going to grab those other things just in case.  Amanda, can you get the weapons?”  When there was no response, Winona glanced at her friend.  “Amanda?”

            “No.”  The other woman’s voice was cold, and she was staring at her son.  Her jaw tensed, and she muttered a low, guttural phrase: a question, her eyes shifting to Jim and back again.

            “Mother, we must make haste.”

            “Spock, is it true?”

           “Yes.”  Spock’s quiet response was punctuated by the distant sound of explosions, coming from the direction of the mines, and Jim felt the floor shudder under his feet.

            “That’s it.  We’re going. Now.”  He walked over and knelt at Grayson’s side, digging in his pockets until he found the hauler key.  “Mom, get the weapons.  Can you carry him?”  The last was directed at Spock, who inclined his head.

            “Let’s go.”  Jim moved resolutely to the front door, blindly grabbing coats and hats on his way out, sensing Spock behind him, footfalls made awkward by the older man’s bulk.  Jim flung the door open, seeing the looming outline of Grayson’s hauler pulled haphazardly onto the hard dirt next to the road, and, in the distance, he saw a terrible orange glow: the mines were on fire. Riverside was burning.

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

All Vulcan translations from the VLD.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Whom Shall I Fear?   

 

            The thrum of the hauler’s engine and the subtle rumble of the old-style tires on the uneven road surface seemed surreal, as did the soft blue glow of the instrument panel and the two yellowish lights streaming ahead of them into the darkness.  Points of light, and all around them night, and Jim clutched his uplink in his hand, the taste of blood in his mouth from where he had bitten savagely into his cheek.  The sick glow of destruction had been left behind and they were hurtling down a seldom-used crossway, seemingly alone, and yet, in Jim’s opinion, terrifyingly vulnerable.  Next to him in the driver’s seat his mother sat stiffly, her features tight and gaunt, her hair pulled back in a hasty ponytail, her grim silence reminiscent of the dark days after Frank’s death.  For Jim, that expression was nearly as frightening as this, hurtling into the murky unknown.  It reminded him sharply that there were things he could not protect his mother against, things that were scary and wrong and would be untouched by sarcasm and a precocious intelligence.

            Jim swallowed, the uplink cold and silent.  With the sight of the faraway fire, he had wanted to go, had wanted to help, had wanted to do something for the people he knew, for the town he had grown up in.  For Bones, more than likely trapped at the hospital…burning.  He had even gone so far as to throw the key at his mother and take three steps towards her aircar before Spock had caught him.  Literally caught him, arms wrapped around Jim’s torso: steel, and a mental imperative to please wait and hear me.  And, in the darkness, in front of the shimmering, distant orange bands of death, he had felt his friend’s hand lift to his face again.  And this time the…joining was less profound and more a striking cascade of thought and raw emotion, tumbling from one language to another, images and sounds and conversations, and when Spock’s hand had finally fallen, Jim had tears in his eyes.

 

 

           The young man walked purposefully through the winding corridor of the main section of the outpost. His father had summoned him to sit in on a communication with Central Command; as part of his training, he expected to be included more and more in these types of sessions. If his performance continued to be sufficient, he would attain the position of point officer within a standard year.

           “Spock.”

           He turned, and saw the lithe figure of his betrothed.  Her own studies were in music, and her performances on the ka’athyra were unmatched. If asked, he would state that her proficiency was adequate.  However, he knew that she could feel through their bond how his katra was stirred by her gift.

           “T’Pring.”

           “Shall I expect you tonight?”

           “Indeed.”  She had inclined her head and continued on her way, and he looked after her.  She was his…friend: a human concept that his mother insisted he investigate.  She did not demean him, or even mention his humanity, unlike the other youth.  She had said that his complexity was like her music: point and counterpoint.

 

 

           The young man stood respectfully at the rear of his father’s office, listening.  There had been an incident on the edges of Alliance space: a Vuhlkansu exploratory craft had encountered an unknown threat, resulting in the mysterious loss of the craft and all aboard.  The incident could have been due to any number of circumstances, and Command had sent another vessel to investigate, with intercept expected in three standard days.

           The older man closed the channel and looked at his son.  “Analysis.”

           The young man tilted his head.  “More data is required to sufficiently evaluate the situation.”

           “In situations such as this, it is often necessary to proceed with less than complete data. The unknown may be simply that: the unknown.”

           “That term itself is insufficient. There is always some information that will contribute to an assessment.”

           “Some, yes, but never all. From my experience, I would not underestimate what the humans call ‘intuition’.  It is not of our culture, but it within our reach.”

 

 

           The pain was horrifying, the emptiness absolute.  Something had happened, something had ripped his people from him. His betrothed’s music had stopped, his father’s voice had stopped, the heartbeat of his planet had stopped. And in the green swirl of agony he somehow remembered that incident on the edges of explored space. What had they awoken? What had they done? What had they brought to their world, and to this one?

 

 

            The transference had been deep, resonating within Jim’s mind, causing his head to ache and his strength to falter, and he had felt Spock’s arms tighten around him, the young alien’s body warm against his.  And he had suddenly understood: it was not logical to go headlong into danger, when they might summon more effective help another way.  I grieve with thee, t’hy’la.  They had separated, and Jim had not missed the way Amanda had stared at him and the way Winona had ignored him.  Spock had gone to retrieve Grayson, and Jim had sent a short, desperate message to Bones, with no answer.

            Now, Jim stared ahead at the rapidly passing roadway: pavement with rough patches of gravel, cutting through fields and woods.  Behind him, in the extended cab, Grayson lay unconscious and Spock and his mother sat across from each other.  Their silence was charged, and Jim could sense it, couldn’t stand it, and turned his head.  “We’re going to come up on the main highway in a few minutes.”  His words were both warning and diversion from the tension that seemed to crawl in the air and he chewed his lower lip, his cheek raw.

            Winona sniffed and let go of the wheel to drag a hand across her eyes.  Jim winced and looked at her again, her features and the sheen of wetness on her face lit by dull, blue colors.  “Mom,” he began, and stopped as she shook her head sharply.

            “Not right now, Jim.  I can’t.”  She swallowed.  “I put the weapons in the back, but if we get stopped… .”

            He forced his gaze back to the road ahead.  “If we get stopped, we’ve got more to worry about than some guns… .”  His voice trailed off as he saw something flicker and flash up ahead in the darkness, glancing through the rising line of trees to the right as the roadway began to curve.

            “Jim.”  Spock’s voice was low, and the young human could feel his friend’s warning so clearly, a chill running down his spine.

            “Mom, stop.  Stop now!”

           Winona didn’t question him, hitting the switch to kill the lights as she pulled over, smoothly maneuvering the large hauler just off the rough crossway.  Spock moved forward so that Jim could feel the warmth of his body and they all watched: the glimmer of lights flickering again and then dying amidst a series of bright flashes, the orange glow of flame.  The muffled crackle of distant weapons fire echoed inside the cab and Jim heard Winona’s low hiss, “They’re fighting something.  Where’s the fucking air support?”

            “Trip said the base was hit.”  Jim’s eyes were focused on the flashes of light, still largely obscured by the brush and trees.  “It’s the main road past there; just on the other side of those trees.  I’m going to check it out.”

            “Are you fucking kidding me?”  His mother grabbed his arm fiercely.  “What are you thinking?”

            Jim shook her off.  “We can’t get out this way if they’ve taken the highway and I want to know what we’re fighting.  They won’t see me if I keep to the tree line.”

            “No.”  Winona’s voice was sharp.  “We’ll go back and find another way around.  We’ll get out and walk.  You’re not doing this.”

            Jim took a breath but Spock interrupted, his tones quiet, “I will go with you.”

            “No!”  Amanda’s cry was echoed by Winona’s guttural bark.

            “I don’t know what you two are doing,” the blonde woman was breathing hard, “I don’t know what it is that’s going on with you, but this is not happening.”

            Jim made a face and hit the door release, slowly sliding it open, grabbing his mother’s weapon from the console and evading her hand as she reached for him again.

            Spock slipped out silently behind him, and Jim looked back once into the gloom of the cab, hearing the catch of Amanda’s breath and Winona’s frantic whisper.  “Please, baby!”  Her tone was visceral, and Jim hesitated before finally turning away, gripping the weapon and jogging lightly towards the trees, his friend a step behind him.

 

 

 

           The bite of the cold hit the young human three strides away from the hauler and he flinched, swearing internally that he had forgotten to put on his coat in the confusion of leaving.  He glanced back at Spock, seeing him briefly in the flashes of light, noticing what looked like his own black pullover.  He sniffed, still moving, glad that at least one of them had thought to put something else on, and something dark at that.  Flashes and what sounded like a series of explosions sounded ahead of them and Jim’s thoughts dissipated in a rush of adrenaline as they entered the trees.  He smelled acrid smoke and felt Spock’s hand on his back as he craned his own neck, peering forward.

            What he saw chilled his blood.  In front of them, down the steep embankment and about thirty meters away, along the main highway, was a line of stopped and half-wrecked civilian aircars, visible clearly in the repeated flashing of weaponry and the glow of flames.  Out in front of them, a small group of military personnel were entrenched, surrounded by burning vehicles, firing forward along the roadway, directly into…them.

            Jim couldn’t help but shrink back into the other man, his stomach churning suddenly, his mind racing.  They were advancing as eerily luminescent, unearthly forms, skull-like helmets or heads peering straight ahead, limbs strangely long and a metallic casing covering their bodies.  And then Jim saw that they were built into some sort of apparatus: a construct that held weapons and…and as the soldiers released another salvo, he saw the bolts simply deflect off of the apparatus, rippling against an energy field, flashing out to slam into the abandoned cars or the embankment.  The answering bolts were more precise, and Jim gasped as a soldier seemed to melt into nothingness, screams of his comrades ripping through the freezing air and Jim looked away, leaning into Spock, his own thoughts a maelstrom of horror and disbelief.  From his friend there was a low thrum of sudden understanding, of guilt and a surge of white-hot anger, all quickly struggled back under relentless shields.  Jim felt the curl of his friend’s fingers into his back, through his shirt.

            And then he saw a small group of people, huddling at the front of the column of doomed cars, behind the military’s position but still hopelessly exposed. The soldiers released a series of what appeared to be electrical charges, lighting up the near area and taking out one of the approaching beings, its apparatus and force field shorting out as it collapsed to the ground, limbs flailing.  Jim let out a grunt of satisfaction and glanced back to the group of civilians, a flicker of recognition sparking as he saw a familiar figure, huddled on the outside of the group, a young girl clutched desperately to his torso.

            “Bones.”  His voice was less than a whisper, but Spock heard it, felt it, and reached out, gripping Jim’s wrist firmly.  Jim looked over into intense eyes and felt a forced wave of calm ripple across his mind, a determination matching his own.  We must help them.  “You read my mind.”  He licked his lips wryly, feeling Spock’s hand as a single spot of warmth, a single place to focus.  He glanced back at the creatures as another bolt melted the structure of the car nearest them and he recoiled, hissing through gritted teeth, “What are we going to do?”

            Spock’s eyes had lifted to scan the field in front of them: the impossible situation with five of the creatures still advancing relentlessly, three remaining soldiers firing desperately, the group of helpless people. He reached behind his back, under his tunic and the sweater, pulling out a small silver device similar to the communications device he had deactivated earlier.

            Jim stared at it.  “What… .”

            Spock’s mind held determination and a fleeting brush of sadness.  “A weapon of my people. A last resort. It will counteract their fields.” His lips tightened.  “Most likely. I will provide a distraction while you retrieve the civilians and move back up the embankment into the trees.  I surmise the attackers will not pursue non-military personnel.”  His words were barely audible, and Jim wondered how much he was hearing in his mind.

            He opened his mouth: to argue, to assert that Spock would be an instant target and was unprotected here, visible and with only trees for cover.  But then he felt certainty, reassurance, that iron determination, and the barest hint of command.  And he himself didn’t have any fucking alternatives to offer.

            “Shit. Okay.  Be careful.”  And you.  Another salvo exchanged between the soldiers and the creatures and screams lingered in the air along with the sharp smell of ozone.  A brief darkness fell, and Jim wanted to say something, anything else, and then he felt Go! and he moved.

            The icy air burned his lungs along with the caustic smoke as he slid down the high embankment, running, sprinting, cutting over the berms and then the even pavement as he neared the small group of people, feeling that strange link to his friend suddenly dim, a deliberate curtain falling.  And he fought to not look over his shoulder as he heard the high-pitched shriek of something artificial and unfamiliar, coming again and again, the pitch modulating slightly each time.  Another round of electrical explosions sounded, and he slid forward, scrambling around the side of the sheltering vehicle and found himself staring directly into a child’s wide, hazel eyes.

            “Jim! My god!” McCoy’s voice came from above him, and Jim looked up from Jo’s terrified face to stare at his friend.

            “We’ve got to go, now!”  Jim stood, pressing close to his friend, and glanced at the group, seeing five other, vaguely familiar faces, covered with dirt and soot and equally terrified.

            “Go where?” a woman shrilly sobbed, but Jim was staring in front of him, as a series of green pulses rained down on three remaining upright creatures, the high-pitched tone repeating over and over.  One more fell, and then the final two started firing, the bolts ripping into the tree line where Jim had been moments before, where Spock was now, searing bare limbs and turning the silent darkness into a sparking inferno.

            Spock!   Jim knew that his friend was still alive, the connection to the other’s mind still present, but the green pulses had stopped and the creatures were turning their focus again on the soldiers.  “Up into the trees; follow me!”

            “No! They’ll kill us!”

            “We’re not going anywhere-the soldiers will… .”

            “I’m not taking that chance.” 

            The woman shook her head, and the others stared blankly, reluctantly, clinging to each other, to the frame of the car, and Jim reached out to grab his friend’s arm.  “Bones!  Trust me.”

            Leonard looked scared, but the lines of his face reflected desperation, and he nodded, reaching down and lifting his daughter and clasping her small body close to him.  Jim spared one last pleading glance at the others and then turned away, scanning the trees, seeing the soldiers exchanging close-range fire with the creatures, the force fields seemingly absent now, seeing another one of the machines fall.  And then he moved again, still holding McCoy’s arm, sprinting again, moving out into the flickering shadows, feeling the doctor moving with him, hearing Jo’s whimpers.  A bolt melted the ground in front of Jim, and he dodged, turning and firing blindly with his mother’s weapon, running further on, trying to reach the darkness ahead of the long light cast by the rising flames.  The embankment loomed, and Jim released his friend, holding the single, inadequate weapon in front of him, peering through the smoke back towards the soldiers.  He couldn’t see much, and bit his lip, turning again to scrabble up the embankment behind the doctor.

            They made it into the trees, and Jim kept them moving, further in, fighting branches, heading into the darkness, and then the sound of an explosion ricocheted from behind them and they staggered, McCoy crouching to protect his daughter, Jim’s weapon flying away into the undergrowth as his foot caught a branch.  Jim raised his head, and gasped, seeing through the trees down to a gaping, burning hole in the ground where the others had been huddled.  He felt bile rise in his throat and then felt something in his mind swing wide open as a vise-like grip descended on his arm, pulling him up.

            “Spock!”

            “Quickly, Jim.  There are others; we are in danger.”  The alien released the young man to reach for McCoy, and Jo was crying, still clinging to her father. “Please follow me.”  Spock turned and began to move rapidly through the trees.

            “No shit.”  Jim and McCoy muttered it at the same time, glancing at each other as they jogged after Spock; no time to search for the dropped weapon.

            They pressed forward, clearing the trees and slipping down and back onto the crossway.  The hauler was nowhere to be seen and Jim calculated that it was back a couple hundred meters, hidden in the darkness around the curving road.  He involuntarily looked towards it, and then grunted as he ran directly into Spock’s back, the feeling of the other man’s mind flaring against his with alarm and protectiveness.

            The inky night ahead was suddenly broken by the gleam of iridescent eyes, and Spock reached behind him, shoving Jim back and away into McCoy, the three humans falling in a heap on the ground as the young alien raised his weapon and started firing.

            The high-pitched pulses shattered the air, and Jim curled his body over his friend’s, hearing Jo’s muffled cry, and then a bolt slammed from the black directly into Spock’s shoulder.  Jim gasped, but, instead of vanishing in a sickening glow, Spock grunted, his arm going limp and the weapon falling from his hand.  Ahead of them, a soft bluish glow ignited; lamps illuminating three inhuman forms: silvery skin over skull-like heads, large unblinking eyes, a metallic covering over their long bodies, but absent the mechanized apparatus.  One of them grunted, hissing something in an alien tongue and huffed, moving forward. Another bolt crackled and Spock fell to his knees in front of them, and still the alien advanced, its face splitting with a horrifying grin, raising the weapon again, bringing it closer, directly at Spock’s head, and Jim could smell the being now, a sickening, rotting smell, and he stared at his friend, flailing for his mind, for a way out, for anything.

            When it happened it was fast, almost too fast to see, and Spock had moved, knocking aside the weapon as it fired harmlessly into the trees, the young man twisting and spinning, taking the creature with him as another bolt released, impacting one of the other beings, who fell without a sound.  The rotting smell permeated the air, and Jo began to scream, and Jim pushed up as the third alien slid back and forth, iridescent eyes on the struggle between its comrade and the dark-haired young man.  The crack and crunch of alien bone sounded sharp in the cold air and an inhuman wail ripped at Jim’s ears.

            Jo screamed again, and Spock twisted, shoving the injured alien in front of him, pushing him forward towards the remaining being, who was fumbling with its weapon with long fingers.  And then a more familiar bolt came as Spock pushed, and the wailing being melted into the ground as Spock dove forward, reaching the third creature as another bolt was sent into the ground, turning asphalt into glass.  They hit the ground and Jim crouched in front of Bones and Jo, his blood pounding in his ears, his heart racing, seeing a desperate struggle play out before him, lit by the strange glowing lamps that had been kicked haphazardly to lie in the dirty road and the approaching fire, just now scaling the embankment.  And he saw the alien twist, its ghastly grin flashing silver, the weapon relentlessly lowering towards his friend’s head, closer and closer still.  “Spock!”

            Something galvanized, and one of Spock’s hands left the alien’s throat to slip up to its face, and Jim felt a building, terrible pressure inside his own head, an ache driving into a purposeful agony as all the barriers that had shielded the pain from the death of Spock’s own people pushed forward and ripped into the alien’s mind.  And from that mind Jim caught a terrifying impression of sheer ice and murderous arrogance, a sense of ownership, recognition, and astonishment, and then the alien thoughts were washed away in a tide of green fury and fiery anguish and the low wail started only to stop, abruptly.  Jim fell to the ground, sensing empty death where there had been inhuman life, his senses reeling.  He was gasping, holding his temples, staring as Spock pushed away, the other young man rising to his own feet before falling once and standing again, struggling to grab the alien’s weapon, pointing it at the two limp creatures and discharging it, sending their forms shimmering into molten, dissolving masses.

            The shifting blue and orange lighting sent Spock’s face and body into shadow as he staggered towards Jim, and the young human stared into dark eyes, feeling his friend’s agony, his misery, his desperation.  And Jim heard the soft sobs of McCoy’s daughter, her father still protecting her, the doctor only now lifting his head.  The sounds from the main highway were quiet now, and Jim didn’t know what that meant and didn’t care, his eyes and his concentration focused on the man faltering towards him.  He pushed against the rough surface, wincing as the rocks cut into his skin, shoving himself to his knees and reaching out, seeing Spock lift his own hand, each reaching for the other.  And then the rapport of an old-style round sounded from behind him and Jim felt phantom pain bloom just as he saw his friend’s body shudder and fall away, crumpling in the dirt, the weapon dropping from his fingers.

            Jim couldn’t scream.  He opened his mouth, but nothing came out, and his throat was raw and his lungs were burning.  He threw himself forward, scrabbling, crawling to his friend’s side, feeling shock and confusion and the ghost of bright, bright pain, pressing his hand to Spock’s chest to feel hot blood there, seeing wide, unfocused brown eyes.  And behind him he thought he heard his mother’s voice, and a growl that sounded like Grayson’s, and the strange metallic clunk of an old weapon being cocked.  No.  He didn’t think, reacting instantly, his body stretching atop his friend’s, desperately protecting him from what he knew was coming, one hand raised in a foolish plea for mercy.  A terrible pause, the sound of his mother’s voice, begging, the feel of slick blood, the smell of copper, and then the shot came.

 

 

 

            The sting of ricocheting gravel cut into Jim’s outstretched hand, and he lifted his head as he realized that he wasn’t dead, that the projectile had missed and hit the roadway instead.  A muffled commotion behind him swam into focus as he saw his mother send a booted foot squarely into Grayson’s now prone and unmoving form, his weapon having fallen from his hand and skittered across the rough surface of the road.  She held a large, stained, stick in her right hand, and her eyes were fierce, even in the low and flickering lighting, a single drop of blood falling over her cheek from her hairline.

            “Son of a bitch… .”

            Jim ignored her, slipping off Spock’s body, keeping his hands pressed against the young alien’s wound.  There’s no heartbeat, there’s no heartbeat, why is there no heartbeat… .  But Spock was breathing, haltingly and raggedly through his mouth, and his eyes were open and he was staring at Jim.  He swallowed, and one of his hands came up just enough to fasten onto Jim’s upper arm where the human leaned across his body.  His lips moved soundlessly, and Jim frantically sought receding warmth in his mind as he was able to find his own voice again.  “Bones!  I need help!”

            “Mrs. Kirk!”  McCoy’s voice cut across Winona’s frantic swearing, and Jim heard the sound of footsteps on gravel, of Jo’s sobbing, and his mother’s tones turning into calming murmurs as she took the child.

            McCoy was at Jim’s side immediately, holding one of the alien lamps, and the sudden bright light made Jim wince.

            “Jim, let me see.  Move your hands.”

            Jim did as he was told, moving back and shifting to hold Spock’s hand in both of his, keeping their contact.  “Bones, he’s not… .  He’s… .”  The swirls of pain and uncontrolled, frantic loss were still flashing into Jim’s mind, disorienting him. 

            The doctor was peering at the wound, lifting Spock’s shirt and dark sweater and pressing his fingers against skin, and even though the color of the blood was obscured by the shade of blue and reddish light washing over them, Jim wasn’t surprised as McCoy suddenly gasped and jolted back, standing and stepping away, holding his hands out in front of him, his expression contorted.

            “What the fuck… ?”

            “He’s not human, Bones.  He’s… .”  Jim shook his head.  “He needs your help, please!”

            “T’hy’la… .”

            Spock’s voice was barely a whisper of sound, and Jim bent over him, seeing blood stain the other’s lips.  “No, don’t try to talk.  You’ll be okay. It’s okay.”  He turned back to the doctor and, as the connection to Spock rose and sank and threatened to disappear, the hiss of Jim’s words held all the strength of command.  “Help him, dammit.”

            McCoy swallowed repeatedly, his hands opening and closing.  “Yeah. Fuck.  Let’s…uh…Jim, is there a vehicle or something… ?”

            “Grayson’s hauler; just around the bend.”

            “Get him up, carefully, and get him over there.”  McCoy glanced over the embankment, where the orange glow of fire had advanced and the crackle of flames was turning into a roar.  “We, uh, probably should get out of here, and I have to get him warm and someplace I can see what I’m doing.  I don’t have my bag….fuck.”

            Jim nodded, and McCoy barked an order to Winona, who was still cradling Jo several meters away.  The blonde woman glanced at Grayson’s limp form with an expression of hatred and turned, jogging into the darkness.  Jim moved his hands, trying to be gentle, lifting Spock up to lean against his body as he stood.  The dark-haired man was heavier than he expected as Jim lifted him into his arms, and he staggered slightly, grunting under the weight, feeling Spock’s head loll against his shoulder.  “Bones, get the weapons.”

           “The…fuck.”  McCoy furrowed his brow, bending to search the dirt for the alien devices, and Jim clutched his friend tighter, feeling weak breaths against his neck and, finally, a thrumming heartbeat under his hand, under the lower right ribcage.

            The walk to the hauler was a journey into the darkness again, and, this time, Jim felt eager to escape from the light.  That wispy, blue glow of the alien lamps held a shade of inevitability that grasped at his heart with icy tendrils, threatening to displace the stubborn warmth that somehow still lingered between him and his injured friend.  He held Spock to him, peering into the night to finally see the shape of the hauler emerge, and pressed onwards.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: Into Our Hands

 

            Jim struggled to get his friend through the door of the hauler’s large cab, pushing past his mother cradling Jo in the driver’s seat and stumbling back to lay Spock down along the large bench seat in the far back, pressing his hands again over the wound.  He glanced up, seeing Amanda sitting behind Winona, the smaller woman’s dark eyes closed, her head leaning back against the wall.  His eyes slid to the anguished expression on his own mother’s face, over the darkening bruise on her forehead, visible in the bluish light from the illuminated console.

            “Trip woke up while you were gone.  He heard the sounds and saw the burning and muttered something about Spock being a traitor.  We tried to stop him, but he got to the weapons… .”  Her voice was rough, but soft, and she rocked the crying child.  “Is he…is Spock… ?”

            “He’s alive.”  Jim turned back to his friend, feeling his own hands shaking from the cold, from the shock, from fear and looming grief.  “For now.  Where the fuck is McCoy?”  Spock’s eyes were closed, the sensation of his mind growing slippery and cool against Jim’s.

            “Here.”  McCoy’s voice sounded strained, and Jim heard his mother’s strangled gasp as the doctor wrestled Grayson’s large, unwieldy body into the cab.  Winona was shaking her head, clutching Jo hard enough to make the child whimper, but she didn’t find her voice until McCoy had shoved the larger man in and laid him down on the worn and dirty carpet behind the front seats, sliding the door shut.

            “No!  I don’t want him here!  He…he… .”

            “Ma’am,” McCoy’s voice was steel and he was already stepping over Grayson, “I saw what he did, but I’m not leaving him back there for those fucking creatures.  Now I suggest you get this crate moving.”  He paused next to Amanda and reached out to touch her neck, checking her pulse.  “What happened here?”

            “Bones… .”  Jim’s voice held a desperate note.

            Jo let out a terrified shriek as Winona gently pulled her away and set her on the passenger seat, reaching across to fasten the child’s safety harness, murmuring quietly to her before glancing back at the doctor.  “Grayson hit his own daughter unconscious, that’s what.  Good thing you saved his fucking life.”

            McCoy didn’t acknowledge her, and she swung her legs over, turning on the engine.  The rig shuddered as it started and pulled away, back onto the rough roadway, picking up speed.

            “Goddammit, Bones, come on!”  Jim's shout was frantic and frustrated and filled with an anger that quickly dissipated as he looked up to see his friend’s shadowed face, lit by the soft glow of running lights inset to the walls in the back of the cab.  McCoy looked terrified and uncertain and his hands were in fists in front of him.  He doesn’t know what to do.  The realization fell over the younger man like chilled water and he made a choked noise, his hands pressing harder against Spock’s chest.

            McCoy glanced towards his daughter and then back again, taking a deep breath and finally making a shaky move forward, pulling off his own coat and dropping it on the floor next to him.  “Okay, Jim, find another light so I can see what I’m doing.  Fuck.  Do you have anything?  Bandages?  No drugs-they’ll probably just kill him faster.”  He continued to mutter as Jim slipped away, digging under the seat to find the first-aid kit and a large flashlight, echoes of Trip’s sarcastic taunts ringing in his head.  Fucking boy scout.  He flicked the switch and focused the white light on Spock’s chest, handing the box to McCoy and reaching again for the alien’s hand.  He flinched at the unusual coolness of it and looked at McCoy, who had pulled a small folding knife out of his own back pocket and was cutting through Spock’s shirt and sweater.

            “He’s breathing; airway’s clear...shallow breaths, though…pulse is weak and fucking fast.  He’s lost a lot of this…green…blood, I guess; explains his pallor-can’t tell what that means for his circulation…fuck.  Dammit, I don’t even know his anatomy; if he were human this would have gone through his heart.  I can’t see… .”  He shifted and lifted Spock’s body slightly, pulling away the cut fabric fully and peering at his back.  “The projectile exited at least…probably through the lung.  If his lungs are like ours… .”  The doctor leaned up.  “What’s his name?  Talk to him, Jim, see if you can get him to respond.” 

            Jim swallowed.  “Spock, can you hear me?  Bones, he was conscious for a while, until I got him in here.  Spock?”  There was no response, and Jim closed his eyes, concentrating on the connection to his friend’s mind as McCoy opened the kit and started pulling out bandages and gauze.  It was difficult and unfamiliar to push, to search without Spock’s conscious thoughts to guide him, and Jim caught glimpses of pain and of a strange thrumming concentration before his thoughts awkwardly slid away and he opened his eyes, realizing McCoy was talking to him. 

            “…so I can bandage him up, and see if I can slow the bleeding, but I can’t do much else.  We don’t have an IV setup, or extra oxygen… .  I’m sorry, Jim.”

            Jim opened and closed his mouth, still gripping Spock’s hand with single-minded stubbornness.  McCoy glanced up from his work and frowned.  “Go find something to cover him with-we’ve got to keep him warm.  And I need to clean up all this blood.”

            Jim didn’t want to let go, staring at the other young man’s face, half-hidden in shadow, at the curve of a pointed ear where black hair had fallen away.  Please don’t leave me.

            “Jim!”  McCoy’s sharp bark made him flinch, and he pulled away, pushing himself up to stand awkwardly in the cab before he caught himself, turning away and stepping around Grayson’s prone form, looking for the pile of coats he had shoved into the hauler.  A low moan distracted him, and he saw Winona glance back as Amanda’s eyes blinked open and the dark-haired woman raised a hand to her forehead.

            “Oh, god.”

            “Amanda.”  Jim leaned towards her.

            The hauler jerked over a bump in the road and Winona hissed, “We made it onto the main road.  There’s a mess in the rearview but nothing ahead that I can see.  Whatever happened…here, baby, it’s okay.”  Her tones grew soft again as she talked to Jo.

            Amanda winced and looked up into Jim’s eyes, and he saw her expression change rapidly from confusion to shock to fear to dread.  “My father… .”

            “He’s unconscious.”  Jim gritted his teeth.  “He… .”

            “Spock?”  She leaned forward, grimacing as she saw Trip’s boots in front of her on the floor, her dark eyes darting back and forth, and she let out a sharp cry as she saw her son’s half-naked body sprawled out on the back seat, McCoy bending over him.

            Jim instinctively grabbed her shoulders as she sprang up, but she struggled and he let go almost immediately, suddenly terribly aware of the blood still staining his hands and shirt.

            “What happened?  Oh my god, Jim, what happened?”  She had moved forward, crouching down next to McCoy, who barely threw her a glance as he kept working.  “Jim?”  Her voice was high and frantic, and Jim felt his own lip tremble as a wave of exhaustion and frustration and anger flew over him.  His hands were shaking and his heart was racing and he heard a low grunt as the man below him began to wake up.

            Adrenaline and anger surged, and Jim stepped back, reaching down and grabbing the larger man by the front of his coat and pulling him up, bodily throwing him into the seat Amanda had just vacated.  Grayson’s head lolled and then lifted, a single line of saliva moving down his chin and Jim spun, grabbing McCoy’s discarded coat and digging into his pockets, pulling out one of the alien weapons.  The rig swayed dangerously as Winona glanced back again and reached out a comforting hand to Jo, who was curled so tightly in the passenger seat that she couldn’t even be seen from behind.

            Grayson blinked and his eyes narrowed as Jim pointed the weapon at him, hearing Amanda’s intake of breath, realizing that he held Spock’s own weapon in his hands and he didn’t have the foggiest idea how to use it.  He decided it didn’t matter as fear crept into the older man’s eyes.

            “He shot Spock, Amanda.  Shot his own grandson with one of his fucking bag of trick weapons after smacking you and Mom around.  After Spock had saved my life, and McCoy’s, and that little girl up there.”

            Grayson sneered and winced.  “I saw him fire that weapon and I saw you kneeling in front of him, begging for your life.  He was coming towards you.  You should be thanking me.”

            “You were going to shoot me, too, you sick fuck.”

            The old man grunted.  “Well, you wouldn’t get out of the way.”

            Jim’s hands were steady, and he glanced back at Amanda, whose face was deathly pale, her mouth opening and closing.  He took a step closer to Grayson.  “I guess you missed the whole part with the fucking aliens, then.”

            The light inside the cab brightened as another large vehicle sped past, illuminating them all in passing ghostly white and Grayson was suddenly staring at Jim’s hands.  “What is that?”  His eyes rose, taking in the mess on the young man’s shirtfront, and a grimace appeared on his face.  “What the fuck is… ?”  Jim saw the direction of his eyes shift, glancing over Amanda’s distraught face and over to the soaked piles of gauze that littered the floor next to McCoy.  The doctor’s light flickered over Spock’s body, over the piles, the color of the blood and the shape of the young man’s ear unmistakable.  “What the fuck?”  Grayson cowered back in the seat, his eyes huge and his mouth open.  “Mandy, what… ?”

            Amanda shot up, her expression full of rage.  “You were right, Dad, all those years, all those conspiracy theories about the aliens among us.  You were right, and he’s the result.  Would you believe he’s half-human?  And he’s mine.  My son.”

            Grayson was breathing hard, and Amanda leaned closer, her tone close to a hiss.  “And he’s the only chance we have, did you know that?  There’re others out there, who might be able to do something about whatever’s going on here.  But I don’t know the codes and I don’t know the frequencies.  He does.  And you fucking shot him.  Your own grandson… .”  Her voice broke into a sob and she turned away, back towards Spock.

            Grayson drew in a ragged breath and looked up at Jim.  “He had one of those weapons.  He was firing it at bodies… .  He had…I thought… .”

            Jim shook his head.  “He’d broken your wrist and challenged your authority.  He reminded you of the man who made you lose your daughter.  You were scared and you thought he was working for them.”  Jim sighed brokenly, the exhaustion pulling at him again.  “Whoever the fuck 'them' might be.”  He lowered the weapon and jerked his chin at Amanda.  “But she’s right about the codes and everything else.  You may have killed us already.”

            “Daddy?” 

            A child’s voice from the front of the cab, and McCoy stood up, wiping his hands with a towelette from the first-aid kit.  “I’m here, sugar.  I’m coming.”  He glanced back at his patient and then at the mess surrounding him.

            Jim threw one last look at Grayson, who had flinched at the sound of Jo’s call and who was now staring at his own daughter, and the young human turned to his friend and lowered his voice.  “Bones?”

            McCoy shook his head.  “I did what I could, but I don’t think it’ll be long, Jim.  I’d…keep him warm and sit with him.  He might know you’re here, and his mother.  It might comfort him when... .”

            Jim felt his face contort and struggled to control it.  “Okay.”

            “I’m sorry, Jim.”

            The young man grunted and turned away, unable to hold his friend’s gaze. 

 

 

 

            The rough rumble of road had faded into a steady growl, mingling with the throb of the engine and the low murmur of the others’ voices to slip smoothly through Jim’s subconscious.  An hour had passed, darkness punctuated by the scream of frantically passing aircars, by bright flashes of light on the distant horizon, by the hiss of the open and unresponsive audio channels, by the slow and barely perceptible rise and fall of Spock’s chest.

            Winona was still driving, McCoy next to her, his daughter on his lap.  Grayson had remained where Jim had thrown him, broad shoulders curled into himself and his eyes open and largely unblinking.  He had remained silent, pensive, flinching every time someone walked passed, his hands limp on his lap.  Amanda sat on the cramped floor beside her son’s feet, arms crossed tightly over her chest as if to keep herself from reaching out.  And Jim, with no such restraint, sat next to Spock’s head, keeping a firm pressure on the bandages over the wound with one hand and his other entwined with the young alien’s own fingers.

            Cool, smooth skin, matching the slippery coolness where Spock’s mind somehow likewise entwined with Jim’s own.  Coolness, and still that strange underlying thrum, but nothing else, and Jim’s jaw ached from where his teeth ground together.  Spock was not dead, not yet.  The bleeding had stopped, but nothing else had changed, and Jim was holding on, with his hand and more awkwardly with his thoughts, hoping for just one more unbelievable thing.

            The rig bounced once and Jim looked up, hearing the sounds of tracks on gravel, seeing the vague shapes of trees through the windshield, illuminated by light from the forward beams.

            “Hold on!”  Winona slowed the hauler as they moved forward, and the cab creaked as they came to a stop.

            Amanda raised her head, biting her lip, and Jim met his mother’s eyes as she glanced back.  “We’re here-where Spock said the…thing was.”  Winona hesitated.  “I don’t…Amanda, do you know where it is, exactly?”

            “No.”  The dark-haired woman’s voice cracked, and Jim saw her anguished expression turn to anger as she looked at her father.  “Spock knows where it is and how to use it, but I wasn’t,” she paused, “I wasn’t in that position.”

            Winona sighed.  “Fuck.  Is he… ?”

            “He’s still alive.”  Amanda’s words were clipped.

            Winona glanced again at Jim before swinging her legs around, careful not to hit McCoy.  “Look, we can’t fumble around in the dark in any case and we’re pretty well hidden in here: off the main road, and in the trees.  I think we should, uh, hunker down and rest for a while, at least until Spock…well, if he… .”  She sighed.  “Well, then we’ll figure something else out.”

            Jim saw her furrowed brow and her lips move in a silent curse as she reached over to pull the key out of the panel and the gentle lighting in the cab went dark.  The flashlight clicked on again, this time from the front, and Jim blinked and looked away from the sudden glare.  He heard his mother’s voice again, and this time there was a dark edge to it.  “C’mon, Trip.  You packed this thing and you’re going to come with me outside to see if there’s anything we can use out of the back.”

            “Mom.”  Jim hesitated and slowly pulled himself away from his friend, picking up Spock’s weapon from where it lay beside him and pushing himself up, stepping back and handing it to his mother.

            Grayson watched the exchange and Winona grunted, “Well?”

            The older man pushed himself up with effort, and in silence, and Winona gestured him towards the door, the flashlight in one of her hands and the weapon held competently in the other.  As they exited, and the door slid shut, Jim allowed himself a fleeting smile at his mother’s ability to bullshit.  Nurture or nature; he’d definitely come by his own abilities thanks to her.  He took a breath, watching the passing flicker of the flashlight through the side window on the passenger side.  “Bones?”

            “I’m here, Jim.  Jo’s asleep.  You need me?”

            “No.”  Jim turned and felt his way back to Spock’s side, sitting and clasping his friend’s hand again, this time with both of his own.  “No, he’s…there’s no change.”

            McCoy grunted and Jim closed his eyes in the darkness, hearing Amanda’s breathing next to him.  And as he gripped his friend’s hand, a question slipped through his mind and he realized that he’d asked it out loud.

            “What?”  Amanda’s disembodied voice still held the pain he had seen in her eyes.

            “Why don’t you touch him?”

            He heard her swallow.  “It’s not their way, to touch as we do.”

            Jim furrowed his brow, concentrating on the feel of his skin on Spock’s, finding it completely impossible at that moment to consider letting go.  He remembered Spock’s words, when they had first met: I am not accustomed to that pleasantry.  But Spock had accepted his touch; had needed it even.  An emotional ache reverberated through his chest as he remembered that kiss. 

            He heard a choked noise from the older woman, as if she could sense his thoughts.  “He allows your touch, though.”

            “I don’t… .”  Jim swallowed, hearing tension in her voice but not knowing why.

            “I spent twenty-five years learning and living with their customs, their traditions.  Learning to accept the lack of casual physical touch for the greater closeness of mental contact with my husband, and, barely, with my son.”  A ragged breath.  “His bond with me was never strong, despite his formidable gifts.  I assumed it was because I was not a telepath and I wasn’t dissuaded from my assumption.  Perhaps they didn’t know.  Perhaps it was just another way that I was held apart.  Accepted, but not embraced: so many things that I was never privy to, even though I had pledged my life to their way.  Even my son held me at a distance.”  She gave a broken laugh.  “Maybe that was really why I wanted to come back just one more time.  To see if things might be different between us, if we were among my own people, even for a few days.”

            “I… .”  Jim stopped, confused.

            “A few days.  Days!  And he bonds with you.  He’s closer to you than he ever was to me.  My own son!”  Sarcasm tinged her voice.  “I guess it wasn’t my humanity that was the problem.”

            “Bonds?”  Jim’s voice was weak, his confusion growing.

            “You can feel his mind, can’t you?  His thoughts?  You feel the need to be close to him?  To touch him?  And there’s no one to tell you that it isn’t the proper way to act.”

            “What is a bond?”

            “Has he called you something, in his native tongue?  Telsu?  Has he joined with you, mentally?”

            Jim’s breathing quickened, hearing a deep urgency in Amanda’s voice.  “He, uh, called me something, but not…that, I think.  What is a bond?”

            He could hear her shift, heard her sigh again.  “A bond, Jim, is the linking of two minds.  It is normally done purposefully and not taken lightly.”  She hesitated.  “That’s why he asked your forgiveness, wasn’t it; he joined with you without your permission?”

            Jim frowned and turned his head towards Spock’s form, barely becoming visible as his eyes readjusted to the darkness.  “I don’t think he meant it to happen; I think it just did.  And then he needed me when... .”  He chewed the raw inside of his cheek, wincing at the pain.  “If it breaks…the bond…if he dies, I’ll feel it?”

            She didn’t reply and Jim thought of what Spock had said to him, back there on the road.  “He called me t’hy’la.” 

            He stumbled over the pronunciation, and when she finally answered her voice was flat.  “I don’t know what that means.”  There was a series of loud thumps from the back of the hauler and Amanda pushed herself up in a shuffle of sound.  “I’m going to help Win.  If Trip tries something else, I’ll kill him myself.”

            Her words, spoken with harsh serration where there used to be constancy and quiet gentleness, were almost shocking, and Jim didn’t say anything to stop her as she slipped towards the front, sliding the door open and shut as she left.

            The silence stretched, interrupted as Jim heard McCoy’s uncharacteristically tentative voice.  “Telepathy?  Mental joining?  What is he to you, Jim?  When we last talked… .”

            “I had just found out about him,” Jim replied.  “It’s a long story, but his people here and on his home planet were destroyed somehow, and those fucking creatures are to blame.”

            “I gathered that much from what Winona told me.  But you… .”

            “I can’t explain what we are to each other, Bones, but I know it wasn’t forced on me.  And I don’t know what good we can do, just us against…them, all of them.  It’s important, though; he’s important, to me.”

            “You sound like a different person.”  Jim heard McCoy shift in his seat.  “No sarcasm, no smart-ass quips.  You mighta been long gone by now, and yet you’re sitting here, holding an alien’s hand after running directly into trouble.  And not the kind of stupid trouble you can talk or punch your way out of.  You saved my life back there, and Jo’s.  If whatever he is to you is partly responsible for that, then I’m grateful to him.  Though, to be honest, kid, you probably had it in you already.”

            “Maybe.”  Jim shifted his hands around Spock’s, absently stroking his skin, imagining that he felt new warmth blooming there.

            “You know, our world, our universe just got a whole lot bigger and scarier.  But it’s still true that there is only one of each of us.  And I’m glad to call you friend, whatever happens.”

            “Me, too, Bones.  Whatever happens.”

            The lingering silence was broken by the sound of the door sliding open again and Grayson’s pained grunt as he climbed into the cab, Winona hot on his heels, the weapon still held firmly in her hand, along with the flashlight, which brightened the interior of the cab in sharp white hues.  The older man held a pile of blankets and several bottles of water awkwardly against his chest, and Amanda, stepping up behind her friend, held a box of bottle and what looked like food. 

            The dark-haired woman reached back to slide the door closed again and Winona nodded to her son.  “We’ve got food and water, and stuff to keep warm until morning.  We’ll figure it out then.”

            Grayson moved haltingly to the back, dropping two blankets and a bottle of water next to Jim, his eyes unreadable in the gloom.  “I’m…uh, sorry, Kirk.  He swallowed.  “If he dies… .”

            Jim hardly recognized his own voice.  “If he dies, you'd best find somewhere else to be.  Don’t look for fucking forgiveness here.”  And he turned away, back to his friend, arranging one of the blankets on top of the layered coats already covering the limp form.  Please hold on, Spock.  Don’t go, t’hy’la.  The alien word felt more natural whispered in his thoughts, and he settled down, unerringly finding Spock’s hand again, wondering if the slide of the other’s mind seemed stronger, or if he had simply given himself up to desperate hope.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: We Cry Out Into The Black

 

            With the lights of the interior extinguished, and the veil of bare branches obscuring the sky, Jim kept his eyes closed against the darkness, his whole being intent on his friend’s mind, on the bond between them.  The bond.  Since he had found a word for it, it seemed less abstract, but perhaps that perception was because of something else.  He had decided that the small warming of the connection between them hadn’t been a figment of his imagination or a fiction born of despair.  Indeed, he could feel the steady, underlying stream of something: not thoughts or emotions but intense and focused nonetheless.  It was strengthening and growing, and Jim felt flashes of other things: pain, cold, confusion, and then, like seeing himself through a dark mirror, the heat of his own hand, the distant, reassuring press of his own thoughts. That latter sensation was disconcerting, but, at the same time, somehow reassuring.  Spock could feel him; the young alien was still alive.

            Jim mostly ignored the others in the hauler; ignored Grayson’s slumped, pensive form and Winona’s taut body across from him, the silver weapon glinting in her hand even in the near-blackness.  He ignored Amanda’s tense figure, kneeling again at her son’s feet, still unwilling to touch him.  McCoy and Jo were huddled together at the front of the cab, the little girl’s voice tremulous and soft when she whispered to her father, and Jim recognized the deliberate calm of McCoy’s low tones as he answered her. A healer’s voice: pitched to comfort, and even as he registered it only subconsciously, Jim held onto that assurance as well.

            And so he drifted, clinging to his friend’s mind, finding strength within himself that he didn’t know he possessed, feeling his own breaths and willing each of them to Spock.  And then he felt a surge, the pain flashing more brightly, the sense of cold sharpening, an image of fighting a deadly current, and all things sliding inexorably towards someplace very dark. 

            “No!”  Jim’s eyes opened to the rosy tendrils of dawn stretching faintly across the interior of the cab and Spock’s starkly pale face, smudges of dried blood casting green shadows over his lips.

            The young man’s cry startled Amanda, and Winona, still holding the alien weapon, blue eyes steel gray in the low light, sat bolt upright.  “Jim? What’s wrong?”

            Amanda’s eyes were darting back and forth, as if she were searching her own mind for something, and Winona glanced over at Grayson, who was staring at his daughter, his injured wrist cradled in his lap.  The blonde woman’s next words were gentler.  “Jim, is he… ?”

            “No.”  Jim pushed up to his knees, swearing he felt the tiny pressure of long fingers against his own.  “Bones?”

            Winona looked towards the front of the cab.  “Leonard?”

            “I’m coming.”  Jim heard the child’s sob as McCoy unfolded himself from the front passenger seat.  “Can you take Jo?”

            “Yeah,” Winona quickly replied, and Jim heard the shuffle of movement before his mother’s low hiss.  “Fuck it all, Trip, if you try anything while I’m holding that little girl… .”

            Grayson grunted, and suddenly McCoy was at Jim’s side.  “What’s going on, Jim?”  He slid the blanket and coats away from the young alien’s chest, exposing a bandage stiff with dried blood.

            “I felt something.”  Jim shook his head.  “I don’t know what it means.”  He glanced over at Amanda, who was chewing her lower lip.

            McCoy gently lifted the bandage off the wound and gasped, “Holy shit.”

            “What?”  Three voices sounded in near-unison.

            “It’s sealed.”  The doctor’s voice was almost breathless.  “It’s… .”  He raised Spock’s shoulder, unwinding the bandage further and peering under his body.  “The exit wound, too.”  He pressed his fingers to Spock’s neck.  “Pulse still fast and weak, but it feels like his body temperature is up.”

            The pulse of pain and struggle came again through their mental contact, and Jim inhaled sharply at the same time that the young alien gasped raggedly, his pale face suddenly contorting and his body convulsing weakly.

            “Shit! Jim, hold him. Gently!”  McCoy’s hands clenched helplessly.  “It looks like a seizure of some kind.  Turn him on his side.”

            Jim did as he was told, his own head reeling, and he glanced over at Amanda.  “Do you know… ?”

            “No!”

            She was wringing her hands, and Jim exploded, “Fucking hell, do you know anything about him?”

            She let out a pained sob and Jim turned back, ignoring her as he sensed something else coming through his friend’s mind: the harsh sibilance of an alien language, snippets of images, a desperate plea… .

            “Hit him!”

            “What?”  McCoy turned a frantically confused stare on his friend.  “Jim, what the fuck… ?”

            “Hit him!  He needs to… .  Get back, Bones; trust me, dammit.”  The doctor retreated, if only out of shock, and Jim let Spock lie flat on the bench seat before raising a hand and bringing it down, slapping the dark-haired man across the face.  There were cries from the others, but Jim could only see that mental picture of a slide into darkness, a slide away from him, and he struck again and again and then his own wrist was seized in an iron grip.  Jim stared into brown eyes, sensing warmth unfurl in his friend’s mind again, feeling the grip shift so their fingers were entwined, and his jaw worked.  “Spock? Are you… ?”

            The young alien’s voice was weak.  “Jim.”

            “Fucking alive!”  McCoy was shaking his head.  “Jesus Christ.”

            “He ain’t got nothing to do with this!”  Grayson’s growl echoed in the small space, and Jim raised his head to see the older man plastered against the wall of the cab, his injured arm held to his chest, his eyes wide.  Winona had pushed Jo behind her and was holding the weapon threateningly, but the older man hardly seemed to notice her, his eyes fixed on Spock’s chest where dark bruising and dried blood surrounded a small, sealed mark.

            Jim’s eyes narrowed.  “Like you would know, you… .”

           Jim.  The blond man stopped, and Spock flinched as he pushed himself slowly up, into a sitting position, keeping hold of Jim’s hand.  The whispers of thought flew between them smoothly now, and with almost no effort, and Jim knew that Spock understood where they were and what had transpired.  “Mr. Grayson, I can signal for help. You must let me do this.”

            “If there’s anyone left out there.”  Amanda’s broken voice sounded from where she still sat on the floor, looking up at her son.  “They’ve forsaken us, too.”

            “Mother.”  Spock met her tear-filled eyes.  “You… .”

            “No.”  Amanda shook her head.  “No. I thought I knew everything, I thought I had a new home, a new people, but I had nothing.  Even in you, I had nothing, I knew nothing.  Oh god, Sarek.”

            Her voice had a hysterical tone in it, and as she shoved herself abruptly up, Winona stepped forward.  “Amanda!”

            “I can’t… .  It’s too much. I… .”  She spun, pushing roughly past her father, heading for the door when Winona caught her and held her fiercely, and still she struggled.

            Jim felt the ache and exhaustion as Spock leaned into him, pushing himself up to sway dangerously, his injured torso bare, and Jim was forced to stand with him to avoid losing contact.  It’s alright, t’hy’la.  Jim thought he made a noise as Spock released his hand and moved forward carefully, slowly, past his shrinking grandfather without a glance, his eyes focused on his distraught mother.  And Amanda must have felt something because she stopped fighting and turned in Winona’s arms.  They stared at each other: mother and son, and Spock reached out, gently placing his fingers against his mother’s face.  The joining was intense and deep, and Jim almost staggered from the rush of emotion and thought that he could sense across his veiled connection to the other young man.  Amanda herself went suddenly limp in Winona’s arms, and Spock lifted his hand, swaying again and collapsing backward silently; it was all Jim could do to simply catch him.

            Jim sat back on the floor, seeing McCoy step forward and place a hand on Grayson’s chest warningly, and the young man looked over to meet Winona’s gaze.  His mother was crying, holding her friend tightly against her, her lips pressed to dark hair.  Amanda’s eyes were closed, but the distress was gone from her face and she was breathing easily.

            Spock shifted in Jim’s arms.  “She is suffering from a broken bonding link; she had no one to anchor her mind, to share her loss.  I…shared her pain.  She is calm, now.”

            Winona’s eyes closed and Jim’s grip tightened around his friend.  “Like you didn’t fucking have enough already.”  He glanced up, seeing Jo’s wide and frightened eyes peering around the passenger seat and felt Spock’s intake of breath, somehow knowing that the young alien was watching the child, too.

            “Jim, I must get to the terminal.”  I’ll need your help, t’hy’la.

            “You’re in no shape to… .”

            McCoy’s voice was gruff, but Spock interrupted him, “I must go, and quickly. These…beings will not stop. They are here for a reason. They destroyed my people for a reason, and all of you are in danger.”

            “You know what they are?”  Jim was trying to catch and hold something from the swiftly flowing stream of thoughts between them, frustrated at his inability to control the mental dynamic.

            “I do.”  I do not wish to…frighten the others.  I will show you, but we must make haste.

            “Okay.” Jim licked his lips.  “Fuck. Bones, can you grab me a coat or something for Spock?”

            “I can, but I shouldn’t.”  The doctor’s reply was dry.

            “Bones!”

            “Fine.”  McCoy shifted away, muttering to himself, and Jim leaned forward, easing Spock over so that he could help the young alien to his feet. 

            Grayson remained pressed against the wall, his voice low.  “Why the fuck would they help us?”

            “Respect for life, and the dignity and freedom of all beings, Mr. Grayson.”

            Jim scowled.  “Nothing you would understand, Trip.”

            At the front of the hauler, Jo watched them, her eyes wide as she took in the harsh discoloration on Spock’s body, and, as if he could sense her gaze, Spock turned slightly to face her.  She sniffed, wiping a small hand across her nose.  “Are you gonna leave?”

            McCoy handed Jim his own hooded pullover and coat, and Jim felt the weight of the other alien weapons still in the pockets.  He reached out and slipped the pullover over Spock’s head, hearing a stifled grunt as the alien lifted his arms and pushed them through.  The coat was easier, and Jim fastened it closed before reaching for one of the other coats spread out on the floor, pulling it on.

            “Are you leaving?” 

            Jo’s voice now held a frantic note to it, and Spock glanced at McCoy before turning to the little girl.  “I am.”

            “No!  What if those things come back?”

            Spock swayed slightly, and Jim felt a wash of vertigo across their connection, moving forward and gently placing an arm around his friend. “Honey, we’re going to try to call for help, but Spock’s the only one who knows where the special uplink is.”

           “Are you gonna send help for Mommy?”

            Jim heard McCoy’s soft, choked noise from behind him, but kept his eyes on the child.  “Yes, Jo.  We’re going to call for help for everyone.”  He swallowed and tightened his grip on his friend, looking down at Winona, who was still cradling Amanda.  “I’ll be back.”  He offered a small smile, which faded as she reached up, handing him Spock’s weapon.

            He took it, seeing her blue eyes hold unshed tears.  “I love you, baby.”

            Jim nodded, glancing at Bones before jerking his chin at Grayson.  “Make sure he doesn’t try anything.”

            “I will.  Good luck, Jim.”

 

 

 

            The ghostly colors of the growing dawn seemed to be filled with foreboding as the two young men moved down the gravel road, towards the highway. Jim had stopped to relieve his bladder and had turned back to face his friend.  Spock was leaning against a tree, eyes closed, face seemingly even paler against the dark coat.

            “Hey, do you have to… ?”

            “Not at present.”  Dark eyes opened.  “The tow-kath interferes with normal functioning; all energy is diverted to healing.”  He blinked, and Jim stepped forward to wrap an arm around him again.

            “Tow-kath…that’s what it was called?”  He bit his lip, feeling the other man lean into him as their feet crunched on the uneven surface.  “Spock, I thought you were dying.  We all did.”

            The alien did not answer, and Jim sighed, beginning to feel the edges of another’s pain again against his mind.  “How far?”

            “Approximately one kilometer, if my bearing is correct.”

            “You got that from my mind?  I wasn’t even driving.”

            “I instructed Mrs. Kirk to the coordinates, immediately adjacent to the main road.  I presume she diverted the hauler on the first available turnoff, for cover.  If memory serves, we are point eight kilometers away.”

            Jim snorted.  “You better not let her catch you saying ‘Mrs. Kirk’ again.”  He glanced up, seeing the vague clearing of the woods up ahead.  “So.  We’re, uh, bonded?”

            Spock’s body stiffened briefly, but his voice was steady.  “Yes.”

            “You scared the shit out of me, you know.” He reached for Spock’s hand at his own waist, clasping it, entwining their fingers, and the connection between them shone suddenly brighter.  “Did you know I was there?”

            “I did.”

           You said you wouldn’t leave me.  He couldn’t help but think it, and he suddenly experienced powerful empathy for his mother, who had herself at times whispered those very words, thinking she wouldn’t be overheard.  Jim had thought it had been evidence of her fragility, but now he understood that it was an acknowledgment of grief and resigned strength.  She would carry on, and did, but the dimension of the other was gone, and life all the crueler for it.  As Jim would have carried on, even in the shadow of what had been lost.

            “I did not leave you, Jim.”

            Jim stopped, letting his grip loosen just enough to face his friend, nodding at the affirmation of their mental connection.  “You might have.”  He searched dark eyes, reaching up to gently slide his fingers through silky hair, pushing it behind a pointed ear.  “Don’t do it again.”

            Spock opened his mouth and paused, his eyes softening along with the gentle currents of his thoughts.  “Yes, t’hy’la.”

            Jim nodded and turned forward again, the silence of the early morning breaking with the sound of renewed footsteps.  He licked his lips, trying to focus.  “Okay, let’s have it. You know who they are? What they want?”

            A glimmer of dread and strained control flashed over their link.  “I do.”

            “Well?”

            Jim waved his free hand impatiently as his friend paused, and Spock swallowed.  “Perhaps it would be more efficient if I were to touch your mind, Jim.”

            Jim made a gesture, his fingers moving into the configuration he had seen the young alien use on Amanda, had felt on his own face in the darkness of his mother’s sitting room and in sight of the blazing remains of his town.  “That?”

            “Yes.  My people call it kash-nohv.”

            Jim nodded again, glancing around the deserted woods.  “Okay.”  He tried not to lean into his friend’s fingers, slightly chilled with the cold air, the connection between them intensifying, growing alive with his own anticipation, his own curiosity, with… .

 

           The whisper of a familiar voice, “The unknown may be simply that: the unknown.”

 

           Fear. Pain.  Anger.  His t’hy’la is in danger.  This world is in danger, and he is fighting desperately, twisting his body against alien sinew, sensing the slow press of a weapon towards his head, the pungent scent of the alien’s body harsh and revolting.  He hears a cry, his name, feels his t’hy’la’s own terror and desperate helplessness and he himself reaches, pressing fingers to the alien’s smooth skull, opening himself to the crawling morass of thought, driving his own mind forward with frantic purpose.

           Ice. Brutal domination. Lust for power. Generations of searching countless systems for the proper conditions, the proper hosts.  Traveling far and farther still, their own numbers slowly dwindling, and then they come upon an alien exploratory vessel.

           They take what they need from the aliens, obtaining a devastating lesson in the power of this species’ deadly telepathy, if provoked.  But information is gained, and the loss of a few more of their own kind seems like nothing compared to what they’ve learned: an alliance of exploitable worlds, whole populations of beings that can act as hosts.  And these predictable aliens with dancing minds are all that stand in the way. They will return the lesson and eradicate any potential threat.

           Their approach into their new territory is unnoticed until it is too late, until the cataclysmic reaction had been initiated and a population vanished: a lesson taught, an obstacle removed.  And the planet, left lifeless, is now a symbol, a warning, and all the others flee.

           They move relentlessly to the first world: a blue world, populated by potential, primitive hosts, drawn by a communication from an outpost, and the outpost itself is set aflame, a fitting opening to an invasion.

           Visions come and go, images of captured natives, destruction, chaos made easier by the planet’s totalitarian government.  Eggs laid directly into still-breathing bodies, finally, finally, the dwindled will grow again. And on that other planet, charred, red landscapes where billions once dwelled, and everything is vanishing in a white-hot fury, a return to an ancient bloodlust, and the pain turns to astonishment turns to death… .

 

            …agony and grief and terror, and trembling fingers dropped and Spock fell to his knees, his face in his hands, harsh, choked sobs ripping from his throat.

            Jim’s own mind was a sea of anguish and stark horror, and he fell next to his friend, images of translucent sacs…eggs…being injected into the body cavities of… .  Bile rose, and his stomach heaved, and Jim turned away, retching.

            “Oh, god.  They want us for… .  They need us to… .  That’s why they haven’t destroyed us yet.  And why didn’t they… ?”  He couldn’t enunciate the words, couldn’t ask, because he knew, somehow, that the Vuhlkansu had the wrong internal temperature, the wrong blood chemistry, and their dangerous telepathy and they were better destroyed as examples because who would dare challenge a race that had embraced the annihilation of a world with so little regard… .  Jim retched again, his thoughts spinning out of control, feeling his friend’s grief as an uncontrolled thing.

            His stomach had nothing left and he pushed away from the mess, breathing hard, head aching, and he crawled nearer to his friend’s side, reaching out and wrapping his arms around the alien’s shaking body, as much for support as to comfort.  He felt the other man shift, pressing into Jim’s body, arms coming around likewise to hold the human desperately close.

            One hand slipped into silky hair, and Jim murmured softly, unintelligibly.  Their link, their bond, screamed with emotional dimension from each of them, and on the very brink of being too much Jim sensed controls slowly imposed, felt determination and guilt and purpose, and recognized it within himself, too.  “We need to go, Spock.  Everything at stake… .”

            The shaking slowed, and Jim felt an extreme tiredness cascade through both of them: an injury barely healed, a mind stressed beyond any previous test, a situation far exceeding any believable thing.  And strength swelled again, though this time with aching resignation, and Spock pulled away just enough to look into Jim’s eyes.

            “T’hy’la… .”

            Jim shook his head slightly.  “No, no.  It’s okay.”  His voice cracked, his throat raw, breath sour, dirt on his clothes and hands, but he reached out anyway and held onto his friend as they both stood.

 

 

 

            The walk to the terminal was quick, laden with resolve and lit by the orange and reddish rays of the rising sun.  And when they arrived to a rough patch of brush just beyond sight of the main highway, Jim stood back, holding the weapon as Spock moved forward, bending down and sweeping dirt and leaves away with his hands.  A silvery panel was revealed, red lights dimly blinking, and Spock pressed a series of keys and stepped back.  The young human craned his neck, eyes wide as the entire panel lifted atop a cylindrical structure.  The metallic surface was curiously free of grit, and a larger, inset panel slid back, showing a series of mini-screens and keypads.  Spock did not hesitate, reaching up to press a rapid series of keystrokes, bright and unfamiliar characters appearing on the screens. 

            Jim licked his lips nervously, glancing in the direction of the highway.  And he could sense his friend’s sudden pause even before he saw long fingers stop, hovering over the keys.  “Spock?  What is it?”

            The young alien turned to look up at him.  “The terminal is functional, Jim. But there is no way of hiding this signal.  Once a message is sent, our location will be compromised, as the outpost was.”

            “Shit.”  Jim moved forward, and knelt down next to Spock, staring at the alien script as if he could decipher it himself.  “Is there… ?  I mean, are you sure… ?”

            “That there is anyone out there to receive the message?  Yes.  Even with the…loss of T’Khasi, the fleet would be within transmission range.  Given time… .”

            Jim furrowed his brow, thinking back to the horrific rush of thoughts associated with the creature’s mind.  “Are you sure, Spock?  The fleet…any ships would have tried to protect your planet, wouldn’t they?  Or stop the invasion of this planet?  Maybe… .”

            His voice trailed off as his friend openly flinched.  “I do not know, Jim. I did not sense… .”  Spock lifted his chin.  “It is our only option, at present.”

            Jim nodded, making a face.  “Yeah, I guess so.  Fuck.  Fuck!”  He stood and paced away, kicking at a tree.  “We’ve gotta do it. And then run like hell, I guess. And they’ll be on us like fucking flies on shit.”

            Spock stood as well, shakily, putting a hand out to steady himself.  “Jim, return to the hauler.  I will wait until you and the others have gone and then transmit.”

            Jim stared at him.  “Fuck that.”

            “It is logical, t’hy’la.”

            His jaw working, Jim waved his hands helplessly.  “It’s not going to happen, Spock.”

            “What’s not going to happen?”

            Both young men turned sharply to see Trip Grayson’s large form, half-hidden within the trees.  Jim immediately lifted the weapon.  “What the fuck are you doing here?  Where are the others?”

            Grayson stepped out, lifting his arms, his hands empty.  “They’re fine.  I told ‘em I was leaving and they didn’t seem to care too much and didn’t have the guts to shoot me.  Your mother was convinced you’d kill me on sight, anyway.”  He cleared his throat.  “I figured you wouldn’t; you would’ve done it already.”

            Jim grunted, seeing Spock step closer to his side in a motion that would have been protective, if the young alien’s mind hadn’t been radiating pain and exhaustion.  “It’s still a possibility. How did you find us, anyway?”

            Grayson glanced at his grandson nervously before peering around them to the shiny terminal.  “Wasn’t too hard; you were making enough noise and I wanted to make sure you hadn’t just skipped out on us or gotten eaten or something.  Is that the uplink?  Did you call for help?”

            Jim’s lip twisted.  “We can’t; the aliens’ll pick up the signal.”

            Spock’s low voice sounded from beside him, “Jim, I will… .”

            “No!”  Jim turned an exasperated glare on his friend.  “I told you you’re not fucking staying, Spock!”

            Grayson looked from one to the other, his upper lip curled.  “You oughta let him do it, Kirk.  Let the aliens fight each other.”

            And that was it, and Jim saw red and was moving before he even knew it, forgetting all about his weapon and seeing Grayson’s suddenly startled face before feeling an iron grip on his arm, stopping him in his tracks.  A flare of phantom pain made the young man gasp, distracting him just enough for Grayson to scramble back out of reach.  Jim’s voice was hoarse.  “Get the fuck out of here.  If you want to be of any use at all, just get back to the hauler and tell them to fire it up and get moving.  One way or another, they can’t stay here.”

            The older man stared at him, his eyes narrowed, but he kept silent as he turned and moved away.  Jim stood looking after him as Grayson disappeared into the trees, deceptively light footfalls breaking into a jog.

            Spock’s hand fell from his arm and Jim felt the ebb and swell of the pain again, his own chest feeling sympathetically tight, and he turned to his friend.  The young alien’s face was paler than before, his eyes slightly unfocused, and Jim swore under his breath.  “You shouldn’t have stopped me.  First he fucking shoots you and now he’s running his mouth like he’s got any right… .”

            “He is frightened.  He is in a situation beyond his comprehension and facing the truly unknown for the first time.”

            “Like that excuses anything.  He’s a bigoted control freak with an overactive trigger finger.  You could have died, Spock.  And if Winona hadn’t hit him over the head with a stick, I’d probably be laid out with you.  I should have… .”

            “Vengeance for an ignorant action is hollow at best.  He is not worth it.”

            The young human shook his head, wondering how Amanda could have come from such as her father.  He made a face, forcing his mind back to the problem at hand.  “I’m not leaving you.”  His voice was firm.  “If we do this, we do it together.”

            Spock swallowed and exhaled, and Jim could feel his capitulation.  “It is your right, t’hy’la.”

            The dark-haired man stepped back unsteadily and walked to the terminal, biting his lower lip as he sank down to the ground, legs crossed beneath him.  Jim followed.  “What does that mean, Spock?  Amanda said she didn’t know the word… .”

            The young alien closed his eyes briefly, and Jim furrowed his brow, lowering himself to kneel alongside.  “I mean, I think I know, but… .”

            “It does not have a direct translation.”  Dark eyes opened and focused on blue and a chilled hand rose to brush the human’s face.  And Spock said something else, but all Jim could concentrate on was the touch of their skin and this connection between them, suddenly full of meaning and warmth, superseding the pain and the cold and the danger and the grief, and he felt… .

 

            The deepest mind-touch was possible between two such as this.  And astonishing to be found in a human, except, perhaps, for the unique convolution of human and Vuhlkansu found in the other.  And here was everything that could be asked, and all that might be answered: a friend, surely, and a brother-by-choice.  And the next definition, of lover, would follow, influenced by the powerful mental intimacy of the profound sharing.  They were bondmates already, almost effortlessly so, and there was an ancient claim: the right to fight by the other’s side, to die, if the day called for it, together.

 

           …tears again in his eyes as Spock’s fingers lifted, and he caught the alien’s hand as it fell.  “Holy shit.”  He blinked as he saw the faintest stain of green on the other’s lips, and then he heard the slow crunch of gravel on the side road through the trees, approaching the highway.  “Shit, the hauler!”  He stood up, breaking their contact, seeing fathomless dark eyes staring up at him.  “Stay here.  I’ll be right back.”

            He crashed through the bare trees, towards the large rig now becoming visible as it crept towards the turnoff to the main road, seeing his mother’s angry expression through the front windshield as he neared.

            Winona had barely slammed the brakes when she swung the door open and slipped out, hitting the gravel already moving towards her son.  “Jim!  What the fuck is Trip on about?  What’s all this about you staying behind?  And Spock?  What… ?”

            Jim interrupted her, stepping forward and simply wrapping his arms around her as he hadn’t done in years, breathing in the scent of her hair and the warmth of her body, feeling her tense, hearing her sob, and then allowing her to hold him back, desperately.

           “Damn you, Jim.”  She drew in a ragged breath.  “We’re only going five kilometers down the highway, do you hear me?  No further.  I’ll hide the rig off the road and we’ll wait for you.  For both of you.”

            The young man nodded against her shoulder and pulled away to look into her eyes.  “Is Amanda… ?”

            “She’s asleep.  Or unconscious; I don’t know.  Whatever Spock did helped calm her down, but she hasn’t come out of it yet.”

            “Tell her… .”  Jim hesitated, thinking of his intimate knowledge of his friend’s mind, and the jealousy that the dark-haired woman seemed to feel.  He didn’t know if this type of message would be appreciated, but figured that didn’t matter too much, now.  “Tell her that Spock loves her.  That he always has.”

           Winona’s lower lip trembled, and he saw her abruptly grimace, forcing her tears away as she found a half-smile from somewhere.  “I always wondered what it would take to make you settle down.  Poor Beck never had a chance.”

            Jim twisted his face wryly, acknowledging her desperate, defensive humor and returning it.  “I wouldn’t call this settling down, Mom.  Besides,” he smirked, “I figured you’d be okay with it, being so close to his mother and all.”

            “Smart-ass.”  She sighed, her eyes sad.  “They don’t make words for what Amanda and I are, Jim.”

            “They do,” Jim replied, tilting his head in the direction of the terminal, and Spock.  “I found my word.  Maybe you’ll find yours, too, when we get out of here.”

           “You better get that message sent, then.”  Her eyes searched his face.  “Your father would be proud.”

            “I’ll see you soon.”  Jim took a step back, and then another as she climbed back into the rig and the engine revved.  The hauler pulled away in a rush of gravel and Jim watched it go, seeing McCoy’s disapproving face through the side window, and, next to him, Grayson’s faintly astonished one.

 

 

 

            The screens were full of the Vuhlkansu script, and Jim could sense his friend’s concentration as a dull pressure in his own mind.  The human held one of the alien weapons with an idea of how to fire it, at least.  Another weapon was in his coat pocket and Spock’s own weapon was in its owner’s left hand, held ready even as his other hand flew across the keys.

            “The message is prepared.”  Spock glanced up.  “It will broadcast as a blanket transmission on emergency Alliance frequencies.  I have included all relevant information, as well as testimony confirming that the non-interference statute for this planet is no longer applicable and the population here is under direct threat from outside invasion.  Even if we do not survive, any who receive this message will be aware of what we know so far.”

            “Fair enough.”  Jim’s reply was short.  “You hit ‘send’ and we’ll get the hell out of here.  Can you run?”

            “I will endeavor to do so.”  No.  The spoken and thought responses were so frankly disparate that Jim let out an involuntary bark of hysterical laughter.

            “We’ll do our best, then.”  He licked his lips.  “Do it.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Among What Remains

 

            Raw, chilled air ripped through Jim’s heaving lungs as he ran, as he stumbled, his strides made awkward by the weight and bulk of his companion and the soft tumble of dead leaves and sticks that littered the ground. The message had been sent, and was continuing to be transmitted on a cycling loop; sharp hopeful bursts to a fleet that may not be out there, and an unavoidably obvious alert to those who most certainly were.

            Minutes had crawled by, taut with fear and anticipation for a blast that hadn’t yet come.  Jim’s mind was a whirlwind, replaying memories of grim, silvery visages, of mechanized apparatus, of killing beams and a rank smell, of the horror of Spock’s transferred perceptions.  They were vulnerable, here, however that they were moving: two young men, one still injured and with only hand weapons to protect them.  And as time continued to skitter past, anticipation was replaced by confusion. They were roughly paralleling the main road but out of sight of it, moving through the trees, and Jim estimated they had travelled roughly two kilometers.  The man at his side was flagging now, harsh, open-mouthed gasps for air now audible over the crunch of leaf litter.  Jim’s arm was tight around the young alien’s waist, his muscles cramping with the strain of supporting Spock’s increasing weight.  Their mental connection was damped down, somehow, and all Jim could perceive was a brush of thought and dulled discomfort.  Its muteness was distressing, but, presently, Jim was almost grateful for it, all his senses focused on any signs of pursuit.

            He glanced back as a large branch seemed to rise up from nowhere, catching his foot and sending them both crashing to their knees.  Spock slumped into him and Jim shifted to sit back on the ground, bringing his other arm to wrap around his friend, holding his own breath in the sudden silence.  Nothing.  And still nothing. Jim nervously bit the inside of his cheek, his teeth cutting into already tender flesh.  He winced and mouthed an obscenity and felt Spock’s head lift.

            Jim leaned back, looking down, and a rush of fear blanketed his thoughts as he saw bubbles of blood coating his friend’s lips, smearing down over his chin.  The alien’s breathing had lost the gasping sound, but was rattling and labored and Jim frowned.  “How bad is it?”  His whisper slipped through the cold air.  Spock remained silent, and Jim shook him slightly.  “How bad?  I can’t feel you.”

            A chuff like a stifled cough escaped green-tinged lips.  “I am shielding, Jim.”

            “Shielding?”  Jim remembered when the connection had felt dulled before; when they had separated to help McCoy and the others and Jim had needed to concentrate.  He swallowed.  “I don’t want you to do that.  I need to know… .”  He narrowed his eyes and mentally pushed, seeing dark eyes widen.  “C’mon.”

            Spock shifted in his arms.  “An internal tear has re-opened, compromising one of my lungs.”  As he spoke, Jim felt their link unfurl again in his own mind, sensing sharp pain coincident with each of his friend’s breaths, and also stalwart determination.

            “Fuck.”  Despite the danger, Jim couldn’t help but feel some relief in the resumption of their connection, followed closely by guilt and then by frustration.  “Why haven’t they done anything?”  Spock drew breath to answer and Jim shook his head.  “No, don’t talk.”  He released one of his hands, pushing the fabric of the coat over the heel of his palm and dabbing gently at his friend’s mouth.  The silence was eerie, and Jim licked his own lips.  “Maybe the signal was faulty?”

            Spock lifted an eyebrow, barely visible under the longish black hair, and Jim made a face.  “Yeah, yeah… .  Talking to myself is a human thing.”  He looked over his friend’s pale face.  “I’ve got to get you back to McCoy.”

           “He will be unable to… ,” Spock began haltingly.

            “I don’t care.”  Jim’s reply was short.  “It’s been, what, fifteen, twenty minutes?  If the bad guys were going to blow us up they would have done it already, right?”

            A slight line appeared between upswept dark brows and Jim sensed a rush of thought.  “I do not know.”  A pained breath.  “The equipment diagnostic indicated…functionality.  I could return and… .”

            Jim exhaled sharply.  “No way.”  As his instinctive response cut through the air, he flinched.  “Shit. We’ve got to go back.”  It was not a question, and he glanced over at his friend’s steady gaze.  “Because I’m not letting you go alone and I can’t read fucking Vuhlkansu.  And you can’t just,” he waved a hand, “put it in my brain or anything, can you?  No.  So we have to go back.”  He was angry, now. Angry at the fucking asshole aliens and at equipment failure being a universal constant; tired and frustrated and fucking terrified, and with his friend, his t’hy’la, suffering again in his arms.  Jim hated feeling helpless, and he really hated Trip Grayson and he only realized he was biting his cheek again when he tasted the iron of his own blood in his mouth.

            Spock made a small noise and Jim felt a gentle warming of the connection between them along with the cool sensation of long fingers trailing across his. Their hands clasped and Jim sensed his friend’s thoughts, suddenly startlingly clear against his own mind.  My right, t’hy’la.

            Jim’s jaw tensed as his fingers reflexively tightened and he shifted on the ground, slowly standing and supporting his friend as they both rose. And the human’s voice was bitterly sarcastic as he wrapped a protective arm around Spock once more.  “If those fuckers are there waiting for us, I’m gonna lose it.”

            He was looking at his friend and only saw the flash of light out of the corner of his eye.  Distant, but bright even through the trees, and Spock pushed him to the ground again with unexpected strength, covering the human’s body with his own as the boom of a remote explosion ricocheted around them.  Jim gasped, “Okay.  Okay, I guess it fucking worked, then.  Let’s get the fuck out of here!”

 

 

 

            They were moving again, and, for Jim, single-mindedly, under the fragile cover of trees and alongside the main road.  There had been no other action after the explosion; no sound of aircraft or mechanical approach of any kind, and the past half-hour had been spent putting distance between them and the transmitter.  He was leading them towards the hauler, had Winona parked it where she had said she would, even though he could feel his friend’s subtle disapproval.  Spock was openly coughing blood, however, and Jim was driven by sheer desperation and the fact that they hadn’t yet, it appeared, been seen.  He was acting under assumption after assumption and with one fact: that Spock was growing weaker and the hauler and McCoy were his only chances.  And Jim was not prepared to do as he knew Spock wanted: to simply hunker down in a ditch and wait it out, preserving the hauler and its occupants from any probability of danger.  He was not prepared to watch his friend die in his arms, as Winona had been forced to watch Frank die.

            The trees were thinning around them, briefly, as they splashed through a shallow stream and up the opposite embankment, and Jim kept them low, looking up and observing nothing but gray clouds hanging in the morning sky.  No smoke, no aircraft, no hovering saucers.  The near roadway was silent, narrow here as it crossed the small bridge over the stream, and Jim peered up the pavement, seeing a copse of trees about hundred meters away.  And there, just barely visible, was the back edge of the hauler, pulled into the trees just off the road.

            “Spock!  There it is.  C’mon, you can make it.”  Jim pulled him closer as he pushed them both up over the embankment and towards the road.  They stumbled together on the rough gravel and dried grass on the edge of the roadway and Jim moved them faster, hearing his friend’s rasping breathing, feeling Spock cough again.  Eighty meters. Jim looked over his shoulder, seeing the barest rise of black smoke over the bare branches of the trees in the distance.  He grunted an encouragement, feeling the burn of his own muscles, leaning towards the hauler, adrenaline surging in his veins.  Sixty meters.  Fifty.  Almost there.

            The breath left his lungs suddenly as his body spun and slammed into the ground, and he felt Spock on top of him as an energy bolt screamed out of the sky, missing them by a meter and melting a hole into the roadway.  Jim tried to yell, but couldn’t find the air and Spock rolled off of him, raising his weapon and aiming it, and the human turned his head just in time to see an unfamiliar silver craft swooping towards them.  Spock adjusted the setting, and Jim could see the front ports on the alien ship glowing, bracing himself for a sure hit, and then Spock fired.  Once, twice, and a third time: the brilliant beams slamming into the craft, eliciting a small explosion and a shower of sparks.  The craft veered off, rocketing to the left, and Jim heard a sudden, mind-numbing mental cry.  Ko-mekh!  Sahr-tor!

           He was suddenly grabbed under his arm and hauled to his feet, feeling a blinding pain echoed in his head as they sprinted, and he wrenched his own neck looking back at the craft, having come about, its front still spewing smoke, and he pushed at his friend as a shrieking beam blew towards them.  It missed them this time by centimeters, just catching the arm of Jim’s coat.  He shed it as they rolled, and lifted his head just in time to see the craft fire again, catching the hidden hauler itself.  A muffled explosion sounded as part of the vehicle melted away, the trees around it catching fire and now Jim did scream, “Mom!  No!”

            The alien craft soared away, and Jim saw it begin to come around again, seeing Spock rising to his knees next to him, his expression and thoughts radiating anger.  Jim pushed himself up, scrambling to his hissing coat to fumble in the pocket, pulling out the two alien weapons.  Spock grabbed his arm again and they began to run towards the hauler’s remains, towards the scant cover of trees, smoke billowing above them.  And up ahead, Jim saw movement, the quick motion of a child.  Jo!  Maybe they had gotten out.  He felt his friend’s pulse of acknowledgement as he and Spock moved, and just at the edge of the treeline Spock stumbled, falling again to his knees, the sensation of echoed suffocation overwhelming Jim for an instant before being pushed away, the young alien spinning and looking up, wiping a hand across his mouth.  The craft had circled and was coming back, and Spock glanced at Jim, who pressed his lips together and nodded, lifting both weapons as Spock stood on shaky legs, lifting his own weapon.

            Jim heard a cry from behind him.  Mom.  He ignored her, focusing on the approaching craft, staring at the smoke still emanating from its bow.  If it can be damaged, it can be destroyed.  Closer and closer, and the hairs on his neck were standing on end, his hands began to shake, and closer still, the front ports glowing.  Now.  The command slid into his mind and he pressed the indentations on the top of the alien weapons with his thumbs, hoping it would work and… .  The scream and screech of metal sounded amidst an explosion as three energy beams hit simultaneously and the front of the craft blew apart, a wave of melting energy traveling back and the remainder of the craft shrieked overhead.  The second explosion as it hit far behind them shook the ground and Spock fell again to his knees, the feeling of intense suffocation back.

            Jim dropped the weapons and turned to the young alien who was struggling to breathe, blood bubbling at his lips, his chest heaving.  “Oh, god.  Spock, no.”  He reached for him, seeing Winona push through the brown brush next to them, followed by the others.  The crackle of near flames and the smell of smoke were strong, and Jim looked up frantically.  “Bones!”

            The doctor fell to his knees beside them.  “What happened?  Was he hit?”

            “No.  The…fucking wound opened again.  He said his lung was compromised.  Bones, I can feel it, he can’t breathe.”  Amanda’s hands were over her mouth and Grayson, behind her, reached towards her shoulder before hesitating and letting his hand drop, an anguished expression on his face.

            “We got the message off.  We did that, at least.”  Jim was mumbling and the doctor was nodding, and Jim looked frantically down into wide, brown eyes, seeing lips tinged a soft blue under greenish stains when he heard Jo scream.  He lifted his head and saw another craft accelerating in from the east straight for them.  “Shit.”   He grabbed for the weapons, scrambling to his feet.  “Get back!  All of you get back under cover! Under the smoke!”  He turned away without seeing if they followed his order and ran out, into the open, away from the others, lifting the weapons.

            It took split second timing to dive out of the way of the first salvo, rolling and firing up with both weapons, melting a chunk out of the belly of the craft and causing it to veer off.  He pushed himself up, crouching, and saw it coming in again, this time higher, and firing repeatedly.  And this time, Jim simply ran, hearing and feeling the hissing as the ground melted behind him, and then he felt icy agony run down the side of his leg and he was thrown to the side.  He hit the ground with a sob, the weapons flying from his grasp, his left leg burning with a fierce pain from his knee to his hip.  Bracing himself, he glanced down and saw raw, exposed skin, his pants completely melted away and into his flesh.  He gasped for breath, looking up and seeing the craft coming about again, lower this time as if it knew he was helpless.  He struggled, digging his nails into hard earth, pulling himself towards one of the weapons, knowing he wouldn’t make it and gritting his teeth.

            “Hey!”  The rough, deep voice rang out across the open space.  “Here!  Come on, you fuckers.  Come and get me!”  And Jim lifted his head just enough to see Trip Grayson break into a run, heading out into the field away from the trees, away from the others, and away from Jim himself.

           The older man’s good arm was raised, waving at the craft, and Jim saw it shift its trajectory just slightly.  “Grayson!  Get down!”

            Trip tried to veer out of the way, as Jim himself had done, but he was too slow or the pilot was expecting it, and the second bolt hit him directly.  For an instant, there was a brilliant light and a choked scream, and then what had been Amanda’s father, Spock’s grandfather, melted into nothingness out on the cold, open field.  Jim stared in horror, seeing the craft swoop by and turn in a now familiar pattern to approach again.  Grayson’s sacrifice had bought them seconds, but no more, and Jim looked through a haze of pain towards the edge of the trees, where he could barely make out Spock’s prone figure and McCoy’s crouching one, the trees alight behind them.  Of course the doctor wouldn’t have left him.  Spock.  His t’hy’la was still alive, that much Jim could sense, though the suffocated feeling was almost overpowering.  I’m sorry.  Jim could hear the low pulse of the enemy craft’s engines and he didn’t turn to look at it, keeping his eyes on his distant friends, trying to ignore the yawning pain in his leg and the glassed area of ground where Grayson had stood, hoping it would be quick. 

            The engines grew louder and Jim’s hands curled into the dirt, and then he heard a high-pitched discharge and screech of an energy bolt, and he turned his head just in time to see the silver shape of the alien craft blow apart as another, larger ship swooped in through the vaporized debris, braking and hovering overhead, and Jim could barely make out familiar scripting along its belly as he felt a strange tingling sensation over his body.  Fear spiked and he thought he was dying as a golden light played over his limbs, making him feel displaced and disintegrating and there was no pain but he was disappearing… .

            Jim gasped for breath, feeling the hardness of some sort of flooring underneath his body, feeling heavy, feeling light-headed, sensing sudden ambient heat warm his body sharply, and he heard moans, screams, a child crying, and rapidly spoken language: Amanda’s voice, oddly calm, and then McCoy’s, raised, frantic.  Jim blinked, his vision blurry, tears of pain running down his cheeks as his leg throbbed terribly.  Spock?  He heard a sound like wind in a tunnel, rising, and an abrupt shriek of metal as the room shook and cries sounded from around him.  Distant explosions rocked them again and again, and the walls trembled and the lights flashed and then someone fell across Jim’s injured leg and he screamed in agony before everything went blissfully dark.

           

 

 

            Soft beeps sounded somewhere near Jim’s ears: beeps and a subtle, distant hiss in the background.  A slight metallic scent teased his nostrils and his body felt warm but his mind felt…not empty, but loose.  He dragged in a breath and struggled to lift his eyelids, hearing a sudden rustle of fabric and heard his friend’s voice.  “Jim?  Jim, can you hear me?”

            Jim blinked rapidly, seeing a plain ceiling come into focus and, hovering, McCoy’s worried face.  He breathed out and shifted involuntarily, expecting pain but feeling none.  “Bones?”  His own voice was weak and rough, and he tried to moisten his lips but his mouth was dry and… .

            “Don’t try to talk, kid.  Here, can you drink this?”

            A straw was placed at his mouth and Jim tilted his head, sipping the cold water.  He hummed as he leaned back.  “Spock?”

            McCoy’s expression darkened.  “I don’t know, Jim.  After the attack or whatever, we were herded in here; some sort of…living quarters.  You and Spock were taken away and then a few, I don’t know, hours later you were brought back alone, with everything all healed up.”  He grunted.  “Well, mostly, as far as I can tell. You’ll have quite a scar, though.”

            Jim’s eyes shifted to the ceiling.  “Mom?”

            McCoy nodded, poking at something out of the young man’s field of vision.  “She’s fine; Amanda and Jo, too.  All asleep in the next room.”  He leaned back over, his lips twisted.  “I don’t know where we are.  I assume it’s a ship of some kind, but fuck if I know how we got here.  I thought I was dead, or dying.”  He snorted.  “I thought it wasn’t too bad of a way to go, actually, after Grayson… .”  His voice trailed off and he swallowed.  “That man was an asshole, but he did the right thing in the end.  He didn’t deserve to go out that way.”

            Jim pressed his lips together and Bones sighed, crossing his arms over his chest.  “He knew that you were going to die, that we all were dead if that ship kept its run.  He bought us just enough time.”

            “Bones… .”

            “Jim, I don’t know!”  The doctor’s voice was full of frustration and helpless despair.  “We’re in here, in an alien ship.  The good aliens, I guess, since we’re not melted puddles of goo.  And no one’s telling us anything and Amanda seems just as much in the dark as we are.  We’ve gotten food, and been treated well, but nothing else.  We could be in space, past the fucking Moon for all I know.”

            “I can’t...I can’t hear the engines.  I could…hear the engines before.”  The doctor grunted in response, but Jim turned his head away, closing his eyes and feeling for his t’hy’la’s presence: darkness, and some dim warmth deep at the end of a long tunnel.  Alive.  Spock was alive.  “Bones, help me up.”

            “You’re outta your fucking mind.”

            “Seriously.”  Jim tried to roll himself over and heard his friend swear behind him.  “Help me the fuck up!”

            He heard an exaggerated sigh and more mumbled curses, and felt his friend’s strong arms come around him in support.  As he rolled out from under the blanket he saw he was wearing a loose-fitting black tunic and pants, made out of thin and silky fabric.  Wincing and feeling sweat form on his forehead and upper lip, he pushed himself to his feet.

            “Where exactly are we going then?”  McCoy asked sarcastically.

            “To the door.”

            The doctor sighed again.  “We’ve already tried banging on it, if that’s what you were planning on.  Kicking, yelling; they won’t answer.”

            Jim furrowed his brow.  “Not banging; something else. They’ll answer this.”

            They made their way slowly through the doorway and through the second, larger room, and, despite the dim lighting, Jim caught a glimpse of the two women and Jo curled up together on the single large bed.  He looked away, towards the door, and stopped as McCoy slowed, steps faltering as they neared, the doctor’s hazel eyes glancing uncertainly in his direction.

            Jim took a single deep breath, and focused on his connection…on his bond with Spock, on the way that mental cry to Amanda had echoed within his own consciousness.  And he opened his mind and tried…forced…screamed…Spock!

            He opened his eyes to see McCoy staring at him incredulously.  “What the fuck are you doing?  You look like you’re constipated…or having a stroke.”  The doctor pressed two fingers to Jim’s pulse-point and opened his mouth to say something else when the door abruptly slid open.

            Both humans stepped back and McCoy’s hand dropped as they stared into implacable black eyes.  A tall, slender man dressed in a dark gray jumpsuit decorated with two red stripes at the shoulder stood in front of them, one flared eyebrow arched.  His black hair was cut severely into a strange style, exposing pointed ears, and his skin held a pale greenish tone.  Vuhlkansu.

            “You are not a telepath, yet your mind calls.  Explain.”  His voice was a firm, no-nonsense monotone, heavily accented and without emotional inflection. McCoy’s mouth was hanging open.

            “I want to see Spock.”  Jim’s heart was racing but he pressed on, remembering what the young alien had told him, “It is my right as his t’hy’la.”

            Something flashed across the other man’s face, almost too infinitesimal to see.  “You share a bond.”  His head tilted.  “And you are able to utilize it to project telepathically.  Interesting.”

            Jim’s hands curled into fists but he didn’t say anything else, and finally the other man stepped back slightly.  “If you would follow me.”

            His tone and pointed look implied the invitation did not extend to McCoy, and Jim shook his head at his friend as he stepped forward.  “I’ll be back.”

            The doctor frowned.  “You keep saying that.”

            Jim shrugged and tried for a small, reassuring smile, a smile that vanished immediately as the door slid shut again behind him and he followed the alien down a narrow corridor.

 

 

 

            Amber lights were flashing intermittently in the dimness, and Jim bit his lower lip as he struggled to keep up with the other man’s fluid strides.  He was sweating profusely now, in the heat and dryness and thin air, his bare feet stumbling slightly over a grate in the flooring as he caught himself against the wall.  The other man turned back, another transient, fleeting expression crossing his face.

            “I…apologize.  You are not well.”

            Jim noted that the other did not extend a hand to help him and remembered Spock’s own initial aversion to touch.  “Just slow down.  I’ll be okay.”

            The man hesitated, looking him over.  “I am Sorill.  You are onboard the vessel Sochya.  We received your message.”

            “Jim Kirk.”  Jim managed to pull himself fully upright, taking his hand away from the wall and bringing his breathing under control.  “Vuhlkansu, right?”

            “Affirmative.”  Dark eyes became more intense.  “Your presence explains Spock’s survival, after the destruction of the outpost and of the population of T’Khasi.”

            “Does it?”  Jim winced as his muscles twinged, a heavy feeling extending across his body.  There was no one else in the corridor, and Jim could hear nothing else beyond the hissing of air through vents near the ceiling.

            “Affirmative.  Among our people, great pain was experienced with the sundering of so many links and a bonding link helped to stabilize damaged minds.  We few aboard this vessel…experienced… .”  For the first time, Sorill’s voice faltered.  “We were unfit to… .”  He drew himself deliberately up, clasping his hands behind his back.  “We could not offer aid or search for survivors of the outpost until proper healing had occurred.”

            Jim lowered his eyes, recalling Spock’s own terrifying grief and sensing that this was something not to be witnessed.  When he looked back, Sorill’s previous mask had risen again, and dark eyes held a glimpse of…respect?

            “Come with me, Mr. Kirk.  I shall take you to your bondmate.”

 

 

 

            It looked like a high-tech hospital room, all white and silver, compact as it was, and even hotter than in the hallway.  And there, lying on a bed in the center of the space was a familiar figure.

            “Spock!”  Jim moved forward immediately, reaching without reservation to clasp his friend’s hand in his own, his eyes pouring over pale features.  Someone had dressed Spock in a similar tunic and pants as Jim wore himself, had cleaned him of dirt and blood, and had even cut his hair.  Jim studied upswept eyebrows and pointed ears that were now clearly visible underneath neatly trimmed bangs.  He reached out with his other hand, brushing his fingers through it, feeling the familiar silky feel of it.

            Sorill’s voice came from the doorway.  “I have summoned our healer.  I do not mean to give offense, but I cannot leave you alone.”

            “There is no offense where none is taken.”  Jim’s words were absently spoken, as if recalled from a dream, his concentration fully on the man in front of him.  He licked his lips, willing himself to stand steadily on his feet, and jumped as a small woman with dark hair and delicately pointed ears swept in, moving past Sorill with barely a glance.

            “I am T’Rian.”  Her words were just as accented, just as emotionless as she moved to stand on the opposite side of Spock’s prone figure.

            “The…healer?”  Jim forced his eyes to meet her intense gaze.  Intense.  Aside from the green and the ears, it was the best way to describe these people.

            “Affirmative.  And you are Spock’s telsu.”

            “T’hy’la,” Jim corrected.  “You speak my language well.”

            She tilted her head.  “This vessel’s purpose is outpost support and personnel transportation.  We receive standard training in point operations.  Why do you call him t’hy’la?”

            “It’s what he calls me.  Is he going to be okay?”  His words were clipped, impatient.

            “He will awaken as the effects of the medicine dissipates. I did not think it advisable to allow him to enter the tow-kath again so soon.  He was injured by a projectile, yes?”

            “Yes,” Jim replied darkly, remembering Grayson’s violence.

            “His lung has been repaired, and his blood volume stabilized.  His mind is remarkably ordered, considering the recent loss of our people.  You are responsible.” 

            It was not a question, but Jim nodded anyway.

            At her continued silence, he looked up.  She was studying him.  “T’hy’la is rare.  Most interesting.”

            “Is it?” 

            Jim was suddenly very tired, and he saw her eyebrow rise as she gestured to the bed.  “Lie with him, Mr. Kirk.  It will aid his recovery, and yours.”

            But he hesitated, still holding Spock’s hand in his own, still gently caressing the young alien’s hair, his eyes back on his unconscious friend.  “Where are we?”

            She blinked.  “We are still on the surface of your planet.  Hidden, until we can repair the damage from the attack that occurred as we retrieved you.”

            His fingers stilled in the other man’s hair.  “You saved him.  He was dying, and you healed him.  Me, too.”  He looked up to see her standing at the foot of the bed, facing Sorill, but he knew she was listening.  “And how we got here…this ship…all this technology, all this advancement, and you couldn’t stop them.”

            She was silent, but her head bowed.

            “You wouldn’t even help us, before the invasion.  Our so-called government and all the bullshit; the oppression, the fear-mongering, the bigotry, the corruption.”  He stopped, feeling his hands shaking, his legs shaking.

            “Mr. Kirk.  You must rest.”

            Jim frowned, his stubbornness rising along with a dull, helpless anger and he felt himself taking shallow, rapid breaths, light-headedness growing as his mind flailed along the distance of the bond.  “No.  This is…I can’t…I can’t breathe… .”

            Her hand was suddenly at his neck and he slumped, boneless but still conscious into her arms.  Despite her size, her strength was more than sufficient as she lifted him up next to Spock, turning him on his side and draping his arm over the young alien’s waist.  Jim felt wetness running from his own eyes, dripping down onto Spock’s shoulder.  He heard a low murmur of an alien language and felt two blankets cover them both.  And then he thought he felt T’Rian’s warm fingers brush against his temple.

            “Rest, Kirk.  Your loyalty and spirit do you honor, and your bondmate.  You are welcome among us.  Among what remains, of us.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: I’ll Call You Brother, I’ll Call You Lover

 

 

            Warmth, and light, and the gentle thrum of an alien harp, a promise and soul-deep longing: he felt all that and more, drifting here, cradled, protected, beloved… .

 

            “Jim.”

            He gradually woke feeling overly heated, the blanket stifling but the soft fabric of a pillow soothing against his cheek.  He was hungry and still tired, his muscles aching, but the sensation of the bond in his mind was clear and comforting.  There was distance but no more pain.  There was calm determination and anticipation… .

            “Jim, can you hear me?”

            Jim turned his head, blinking up into semi-darkness.  “Mom?”

            “Hey, baby.”

            He felt his hand taken and clasped, his mother’s grip sweaty, and he turned fully to look around.  He was still in the hospital-like room, but Spock was no longer lying next to him.  The door was closed and, next to it, sitting in a chair, was Amanda.  She was watching them, her dark eyes wide, her expression unreadable.

            Jim glanced back up at his mother.  Her blonde hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail, and she was wearing a jumpsuit similar to what he had seen on Sorill and T’Rian.  She looked tired, but a small smile played about her lips.

            “Where’s… ?”

            “Spock woke up about twenty minutes ago and went to give a report to the…the captain.  To Sorill.  He said he’d be back when he could.  He looked okay, Jim.”  She licked her lips.  “Len and Jo are waiting back in the other room. She’s,” Winona snorted delicately, “actually taking this whole thing a lot better than we are, really.  She’s just worried about her mother, but she understands we can’t go anywhere right now.  Brave kid.”

            Jim swallowed and saw his mother glance back at Amanda.  “After you left; well, a little while after, the man, Sorill, came back.  He finally told us something of what’s been going on, and that they’ve got repairs to make and he said that we would be going with them into space.”  Her voice trembled slightly.  “He apologized.  He… .”

            “Win.”  A gentle voice interrupted her and the blonde woman turned slightly as Amanda stood and stepped towards the bed.  “Jim, I also want to apologize, for earlier.  These…these things aren’t…no one could have predicted any of this.  And these people are…hurting.  I’m hurting.”  She waved her hand helplessly.  “I’m sorry.”

            Jim studied her.  “Your father… .”

            “Isn’t the reason.”  Her voice sharpened, and Winona released Jim’s hand to place a protective arm around her friend.  Amanda’s anger seemed to suddenly dissipate.  “I didn’t mean that.”

            “He was an asshole who tried, in the end.  Maybe that alone made up for some of it.”  Winona’s cynical tone mirrored Jim’s own feelings.  The young man averted his eyes for a moment, trying to banish memories of feeling Spock’s pain, and those hours of dark uncertainty as to whether his friend would live or die.

            Amanda merely made a noncommittal noise and shook her head, a dark expression on her face.  “They’re different.”  Her tone indicated the Vuhlkansu.  “More open.  They seem…they seem almost lost.  Even when we first arrived and were cordoned into that room together; it’s like they were blindly following a script.  No matter what I said, it didn’t seem to register.  At least, until you did whatever you did to get their attention.”

            Jim’s jaw tensed at the mention of the others, his previous anger swelling anew and he pushed himself up, swinging his legs around and pulling the blanket away.  The obvious lack of pain from his leg diverted him, and he twisted, tugging at the loose waistband of his pants at peer down at his hip.  He could see the beginning of a significant scar, disappearing down along his leg, and looked up to see both women watching him.  “I projected or whatever, using the bond.”  He cleared his throat and shrugged, seeing his mother’s skeptical expression.  “Really.  They didn’t believe it either.”

            Amanda blinked.  “I certainly couldn’t do anything like that within my link to Sarek.”  A fleeting expression of anguish flashed across her face before she visibly brought herself back under control.  “They seem to see us in a whole new light.” 

            Now, her voice held sarcasm, and Jim remembered her previous, reluctantly disclosed bitterness regarding her adopted people.  Perhaps not all of that was simply due to grief, and Jim could certainly understand her present irritation towards the Vuhlkansu themselves.  The entire atmosphere surrounding them seemed stilted, hesitant, and, as Amanda had said, lost.  It was, at the least, frustrating and at the most infuriating.  Jim felt his shoulders tense, thinking of Spock’s mind-touch with the alien, of the sense of lost time, of the imminent horrific fate of his own people.  Something within him galvanized and he pushed himself to stand next to the bed.   

            “What is the situation, Mom?”

            Winona frowned.  “Completely fucked, as far as I can tell.  We’re hiding somewhere until they can repair the engines.  Sorill said that getting out into orbit is going to be difficult, since the aliens, the Nehaya, as they call them, know we’re here and will try like crazy to keep us from getting to the rest of the fleet.”  Jim heard a touch of excitement in her voice, and frustration.  “Sending an uplink or something isn’t a good idea, apparently, and… .”

            Jim licked his lips.  “I have to talk to them, to Sorill.”

            Amanda furrowed her brow.  “Spock’s with him now.  Surely… .”

            “Spock’s not human.”  His words were visceral, almost involuntary, and Amanda’s mouth fell open.  Winona, however, was nodding, her blue eyes narrowed.  Jim stepped forward.  “We’re dying; the planet’s dying.  We have to… .”  He trailed off, sensing a growing presence along the bond, a warmth against his thoughts, now clearer than ever: a susurration of thoughts, a steady understated pulse of emotion, and he straightened, turning towards the door, registering the women’s confused expressions as it slid open.

            Despite the stress and the anger, the helplessness and the frustration, Jim couldn’t prevent a smile, something within him rising at the sight of his t’hy’la.  Spock was standing tall and outwardly composed, strong despite the pallor of his skin, his eyes intense and unable to hide the spark of deep feeling that reverberated along the bond.  Love, loyalty, trust, and Jim sensed his own immediate response.  A slight motion from his mother next to him broke him out of his reverie and he belatedly noticed Sorill standing just behind Spock.

            The older alien was characteristically impassive, but his shoulders were slumped.  “Mr. Kirk.  We are in need of your assistance.”

            Jim blinked once and glanced at his mother, who shrugged almost infinitesimally.  “Of course. Uh… .”  His voice trailed off as he stepped forward and remembered his rumpled clothes and bare feet.

            Spock inclined his head.  “I will assist you.”  He turned his head.  “Sorill, we shall meet you in forward control.”

            “Acknowledged.”  Sorill blinked, hesitated, and then left, the door sliding shut behind him.  And Jim’s smile only widened as he took in his friend, seeing some subtle change in him, something that spoke to Jim’s own concerns and anger.  Something roused and coiled, absent in all the others, something commanding.  He watched as Spock crossed to a wall cabinet and pulled out a jumpsuit similar to his own, bending to retrieve a pair of boots and handing them to the young human.

            “We’re gonna do something stupid, aren’t we?”  Jim let their hands brush as he took the clothes, unselfconsciously stripping out of the loose tunic and pants despite the amused expression on his mother’s face and the slightly scandalized look on Amanda’s.

            “Indeed.”

            Spock’s eyes were fixed on his, and Jim could almost feel the heat there, the longing. He stepped into the jumpsuit and pulled it on, fastening it and stepping into the snug boots, all too aware of the presence of the two women.  “I’m, uh, glad you’re alive.”  His words were stilted, awkwardly inadequate, and his fists clenched before he abruptly reached out to clasp his friend’s hand, unable to bear the absence of touch between them. Their connection crashed open, almost like white noise, electricity running up his arm and wind rushing past his ears, and he was barely aware of his mother mumbling something and herding Amanda quickly towards the door, the sound of its opening and closing lost in the wave of swelling emotion.

            He didn’t know who moved first as his free hand gripped the alien fabric at his friend’s chest, pulling them together, lips meeting and mouths opening to each other as if they had done this a thousand times before. And in the sudden cacophony of relief and lust and desperation and love, Jim knew that what he had sensed before had in fact gone both directions.  That somehow in their mental connection they had each awakened something in the other, their own unique personalities and strengths complementing each other in a fundamental way.

            Jim moved his hand into Spock’s newly shortened hair, carding through the silky strands as the kiss grew impassioned, feeling shivers of sensation as warm fingers traced his own face.  But there was a growing urgency, a intensifying awareness of their current situation arising between them, and he finally broke away, gasping for air.  “So, about this stupid thing we’re going to do… .”

            Spock’s eyes were fierce, and his hand dropped to caress Jim’s jaw and neck almost possessively.  “We are going to pilot this ship, t’hy’la.”

            Whatever Jim was expecting, it was not that, and he blinked, taking a startled step back.  “What?”

            “You are a pilot.” 

            Obviously something gleaned through their mental connection.  Jim’s eyes narrowed.  “I’m a flier. I bring heavy gear and collections in and out of the mine, rig charges, work escape drills, maybe ferry VIPs around.  I can’t drive a fucking starship.”

            “You can; I will assist at navigation.”

            “But, don’t they already have… ?”

            “Their navigator is dead.  Her bondmate, their helm officer, died with her, both a result of psionic trauma from the fall of T’Khasi.”  Spock’s chin lifted.  “The remaining crew are experiencing difficulty; it is one of the reasons that the attack was so successful and that emergency concealment and repair was required.  Sorill is…reluctant to proceed, even with engine operational readiness predicted within two hours.”

            “I can’t read your… .”

            “I will initiate kash-nohv with you, deepen our present connection.  You will understand.”

            “I thought you couldn’t do that.  When we were going back to the terminal… .”  Jim trained off as a flicker of guilt passed through dark eyes.  “You wouldn’t have let me go alone anyway.”  He sniffed in exasperation, chewing at his swollen lower lip, his heart rate, elevated since the kiss, now racing with a growing excitement.  He was going to do something, however impossible it sounded.  They were going to try something and hope to hell it worked and he was sure that this would never be something Sorill would propose.

            “We need to reach the fleet, Jim.  From what I have been told, what remains of the Alliance are disinclined to launch an offensive here.  They would prefer to lose this planet, effectively, in order to preserve the defensive capability of the others.  They must be informed as to the true nature of this invasion: its brutality and the aliens’ future plans.  The consequences of inaction, of allowing these beings a home base from which to… .”

            Jim raised a hand, shaking his head.  “You’re preaching to the choir, t’hy’la.”  His pronunciation of the word was sure and quick and a ripple of amused pride passed over their bond.  The young human quirked his lips into a half-smile, studying the other, sensing his friend’s confidence and seeing it in steady dark eyes.  His expression grew serious and he swallowed.  “You really think we can do this?”

            Spock raised an eyebrow.  “I believe we are the only ones who are presently willing to try.”

            Jim let out an explosive exhale.  “Well, fuck it all.  Let’s go save the world.”

 

 

 

            Jim walked side-by-side with Spock on the way to forward control, all too aware of the sweat beading on his own forehead, the dampness of his palms.  He sensed a pulse of reassurance over their bond and he glanced sideways, giving his friend a fleeting smile.  The trip was a short one, down one long corridor and then along a shorter one, and Spock reached out to press what appeared to be an access panel beside a set of double doors.

            And then there was something Jim only ever imagined before: a large, circular room ringed with consoles covered with active panels and bright lights and an expansive, blank screen up front.  In the center of the room was a single chair, and, in front of that, another, dual console.  Every surface gleamed, and Jim stepped forward almost involuntarily, his heart again pounding, this time with anticipation.  His thoughts flew; his engineering degree had specialized in materials, and every plane begged his attention.  It was only then he noticed the others.  Sorill stood just inside the room, hands clasped behind his back, accompanied by two other Vuhlkansu, both regarding Jim and Spock with something between interest and suspicion, appearing almost nervous.  The display of emotion, however subtle it would have been on a human, was disconcerting here, and Jim also observed how closely the aliens seemed to cluster, arms brushing, shoulders touching.  He swallowed, his anticipation fading slightly in the realization that this was a broken people.  Sympathy surged.  “I grieve with thee.”

            Spock stepped to his side as Sorill blinked.  “Spock has described his plan to allow us to regain the fleet.”

            “Yes.”  Jim’s eyes slid to the two others.  He could sense no hostility in their steady gazes; more like defeat, or a morbid irritation that theirs was to be a drawn-out end.

            Sorill tilted his head.  “You should understand why I initially disagreed; it carries a significant risk.  Spock has formal training in navigation, but none of us left have experience in helm operations and…my…effort was ineffective, considering the presence of hostiles.”

            “I know.”  Jim’s quick words caused the older man to raise his eyebrows.  “But, as I’m sure Spock has told you, we need to send for help.  We need to convince them to… .”

            “Your planet is lost.”  An older woman looked up at Jim, and he couldn’t look away from the depth of sadness in her eyes.  “As ours was lost.  Efforts must be spent fortifying defenses and attempting to save those who survived.  We should protect ourselves, for there are so few of us left.”

            Jim shook his head definitively, fighting for composure, and he heard Spock’s voice next to him, a warm hand gripping his wrist.  “This planet is not lost.  There is hope, but time is of the essence.  We must take our account of this invasion to the Alliance.  I…touched the mind of one of the invaders, and I have information that is crucial to… .”

            “Hope.”  The youngest man’s tone held a sharp edge.  “You speak with emotion, as one of them.”  His eyes slid to Jim. “You always have.”

            “We all speak with emotion now, Sevel.”  Sorill’s head was bowed.  “We have all been compromised, weakened.  My judgment…my logic may be flawed.  Spock’s plan presents a chance.”

            Sevel blinked.  “You would risk our lives for… .”

            “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  Sorill’s impassivity wavered, and the older woman reached to touch his shoulder.  “Spock, you and Mr. Kirk will attempt this.  You will have time to prepare and we shall embark when full engine operation is achieved.”

            Spock inclined his head as the others simply looked on.  Sorill straightened as the older woman’s hand fell away and he lifted his chin.  “All crew to repair stations.”

            Spock’s hand tightened on Jim’s arm and the human turned to face his t’hy’la, aware of the others moving away: to consoles or back through the double doors.  He lowered his voice, biting his lower lip.  “So, what do we do now?  Flight simulations?  You teach me what all the buttons do?”

            “May I have your thoughts?”  The young alien released Jim’s arm and his hand rose, fingers hovering.

            Jim let out a bark of almost hysterical laughter, causing Sorill to look sharply back at him from across the control center.  At Spock’s raised eyebrow, Jim made a face, calming himself and stepped forward into his t’hy’la’s hand.  “Sure, my friend, let’s try for one more fucking unbelievable thing.”

            The mind link was different now, somehow emphasizing thought and reaction and reducing emotional transfer.  Jim had felt it as Spock had touched his face, a wave of inescapable intensity washing over him and then receding, but just slightly, and when he opened his eyes he saw Spock standing apart from him even as their connection remained shockingly intimate.

           This is weird.  I can fucking hear you think and you’re not touching me.

           It is consuming to maintain.

            And Jim could sense the amount of energy, the sheer concentration pouring through the bond.  How are you doing it?

           Our natural psionic resonance is high.  Helm operations are aided by the presence of bonded mates, particularly in combat.  Control systems are designed with such communication assumed.

            Jim frowned.  You know that assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.

            “Yes.”  Spock blinked, and Jim sensed the pacifism, the idealism, the learned gentleness of the Vuhlkansu: freedom, leadership earned by example and diplomacy and the avoidance of belligerence.  Now confronted by a ruthless, immoral evil.  They were not ready as Earth had not been ready, and not just in a technological sense.  The government had been quite the opposite: paranoid, obsessed with weaponry and societal control, but just as vulnerable to an unknown threat. It occurred to him that end-member arguments, on either side of the spectrum, are just as untenable in the face of unpredictability.

            “Indeed.”  Spock had obviously been following his train of thought.  “Now, allow me to show you the helm.”

 

 

 

            “Engines activated.  Temperature nominal. Power output at sixty-seven point two percent of optimal and rising,” T’Frit, the older Vuhlkansu woman, reported from one of the secondary consoles.

            “Acknowledged. All stations report.”  Sorill was seated in the center chair.

            “Scanning and internal monitors, set,” T’Frit responded immediately.

            “Engineering, set.”  Sevel’s clipped tones filtered over the open intercom.

            “Navigation, set.”  Spock’s voice sounded from beside him.

            “Helm answering.”  Jim’s hands hovered over the brightly lit board, his subconscious pounding with sensory input, both his and his t’hy’la’s.  Spock’s thoughts were a soft murmur beneath his own, projecting a strong awareness and supplemented understanding of the controls, of the necessary adjustments and checks, and, beyond all that, a subtle confidence, a trust that Jim had never experienced before.

            “Activate main viewer.  Prepare for thruster ignition.”  Jim’s hand reached out almost instinctively, and he toggled the control, looking up as the screen flickered and flashed and displayed a view of clear, placid water, plants drifting back and forth in a minimal current.

            Jim sniffed, his eyes wide.  I know you said a lake, but I couldn’t picture it until now.

            He caught a brush of controlled amusement from his bondmate and heard T’Frit’s voice again.  “Power output reaching optimal levels.  Set to engage.”

            “Prepare all screens and shields for activation once clear of the water.  Charge weapons... ,” Sorill hesitated, “charge weapons; clearance given to fire at will. Kirk, do you understand?”

            “Yeah.”  Jim took a breath.  “Yes. Weapons charged.  Clearance acknowledged.”  He was expecting this much at least from the simulations he had run.  The three fucking simulations he had run.  He internally swore as he manipulated the controls.

           It is well that your intellect far exceeds human norms, Jim.

           Yeah, I’m smart enough to know when I’m fucked.  He bit his lip, hearing the rising harmonic of the engines around them.

            “Engage thrusters.  Stand by on mains.”

            Sorill’s voice held a touch of anticipation and Jim felt his own heart racing.  Here goes nothing.  He shifted a lever forward and felt the Sochya surge underneath him, watching raptly as the water slid and bubbled around them, silt swirling as they rose, breaking the water’s surface and gaining altitude.

            “Engage mains.  Activate screens and shields.”

            “Engaged.  Shields activated.  One-thousand meters and rising.”  Jim stared, feeling a burst of freedom, of empowerment, feeling the slight shudder as the main engines ignited, gripping the controls, lifting the bow.  “Five-thousand meters.”

            “Hostile contacts approaching at zero-three-eight.”  T’Frit’s voice seemed perfectly calm.

            “Switching to tactical plot overlay.”  Spock, too: ridiculously calm as the screen shifted. 

            His thoughts, however, and Jim’s, were anything but, and Jim’s hands flew over his board, knowing what he needed to do and letting himself go.  “Targeting engaged, prep to come about on three-one-six, positive altitude adjust to six-five, weapons ready.”  Accelerating now to point seven…give me a trajectory…they’re going to try to flank us…it’s what I would do…get ready to… .  “Firing now!”

            The shriek of the energy beams sounded through the deck and Jim gritted his teeth, his hands moving, his mind deeply engaged, sensing Spock’s instant response as the craft whirled and spun, weapons firing again, and he let out a grunt of satisfaction as they sped through a bloom of debris.  The Sochya shuddered under a salvo and T’Frit called from her console, “Shields operating at eighty-one point six percent.”

            “Gotcha.”  Jim banked hard over.  Invert this baby…fire again…give me more power, Spock… .  He whooped as another debris field spread out in front of them, and heard a beeping alarm from T’Frit’s console.

            “Weapons lock.  From… .”

            “One-eight-four.  Got it.”  Two incoming…more power, Spock…give me everything she has…we’ve got to break through before they can get into formation…fuck…go, go, go!   “Firing!”  The lights flickered at the energy expenditure and Jim heard gasps from behind him as the Sochya spun, flipping end over end.  “Again!”  Debris bloomed again and Jim felt Spock’s thought as though it was his own.  “Clear!  Let’s go, let’s get the fuck out of here!”  He slammed the controls forward.  “Scan orbital pathway!”

            T’Frit’s voice was audibly shaking.  “Clear.  We are clear.”

           Full power…Jesus, we’re going into space…Oh my god… .  The viewscreen faded into crisp blackness and Jim felt the surge of his t’hy’la’s thoughts, flying through calculations.

           “Course set.  Initiate warp speed.”  Now, Spock turned his head to look at him as Jim pushed the lever forward, feeling the engines roar, the inertial dampeners shift, and the deck seemed to stretch away along with his heart rate as the warp drive activated and they snapped away.  Warp drive…faster than light…get my hands on these engines… .

            There was a moment of silence as the view on the screen shifted to the swirls of warp space, and then Jim jumped from his seat, excitement crashing through him, his mind a powerful, open conduit.  “We fucking made it!  Holy fuck!”

            Sorill was gripping the arms of his chair, his eyes wide, and he swallowed, looking at Spock.  “Time…time to intercept?”

            “If the fleet is at the predetermined coordinates, we shall reach their location in five point six two cycles, present speed.”

            Sorill nodded and looked at T’Frit, who was clutching her own console.  “Continue scanning.”  He looked back at Spock.  “Spock...you and Kirk…you are dismissed.  Admirably done.”

            Jim was breathing hard, and as the intensity of their intimate communication continued to surround his mind he felt a growing molten heat in its passage, a consequence of the tension, the powerful closeness, the danger, the thrill, anticipation, need.  Spock flipped a series of switches, his hands shaking slightly.  “Autopilot engaged.  Jim, if you would… .”

            The young human hesitated, irrationally not wanting to leave, wanting to stay on deck at the controls, but he sensed the bending steel beneath his t’hy’la’s voice, the shared desire, and a desperate wish to avoid a public display of what they both knew was coming.

 

 

 

            The door slid shut behind them and Jim stared at his t’hy’la, adrenaline still pumping through his veins, his breathing quick and shallow, light-headedness from the thinner atmosphere now feeling euphoric.  Spock looked back at him, hands held slightly out at his sides as if he could barely restrain himself from touching, and Jim felt heat and intensity pound through their bond, emotion now subsuming conscious thoughts: desire, fear, awe, lust, love.

            “We did it.”  His whispered words echoed his triumphant cry from before.  “We fucking did it.  And you… .”

            “I…need… .”  There was fire licking each hesitant word as it registered in Jim’s mind.  “I want… .”

            Jim barely managed a noise of affirmation before he was pressed back against the nearest wall, his mouth taken in a searing kiss, Spock’s hands running down his arms to entwine their fingers together.  The bond sparked between them as the young alien began to move their hands slowly together, skin sliding and fingers touching in an electrifying way that was purely erotic, Spock’s mind filled with pleasure and sensation, and Jim pulled messily away from the kiss to eye his partner.  “Your hands…you’re getting all that from your hands?”

            Impossibly dark eyes were still focused on Jim’s mouth.  “Yes.”

            The human ducked away from another kiss, but didn’t try to stop the play of their fingers against each other.  “Wait, so every time I held your hand… .”

            “A…disgraceful intimacy, Jim.”  Spock leaned in to mouth along Jim’s jawline, teeth grazing stubble, moving down against his neck.

            “You…ah…fuck…you devious fucker.  In front of your mother…uh…no wonder she fucking hates me.”  Jim turned his head slightly, letting his tongue slip along the edge of a pointed ear, smiling at the frisson of pleasure it incited.

            Spock hummed against his skin, his hands releasing Jim’s to slide along the fastening of his jumpsuit.  Jim jerked his arms up, almost hitting his partner in the face in his haste to wriggle out of the confining fabric, kicking his boots away.  He surged forward as the dark-haired man reached for his own suit.  “No.  Here, let me…I want to see you.”  He pulled the clothing away, sliding it down so that it hung loose and low around Spock’s narrow hips. The young alien toed out of his own boots and pulled his arms free, his torso bare, and had hooked his thumbs under the remaining fabric when Jim stopped him, hands on his wrists.

            The human paused, slowly sliding his hands up his partner’s arms and over his shoulders, down his chest, his mind suddenly filled with memories of blood, of pain, of a struggle to breathe, of a threatened fall into darkness.

            “Rai.”  A single word compelled Jim to look up again into dark eyes, and he felt the edge of bare control that Spock himself was experiencing.  A world fallen, a ghastly psionic emptiness, grief, pain, physical injury, loneliness.  And Jim knew suddenly and with startling clarity how much he was needed, how much this was needed. 

            “Be with me, Jim.  Here.”  Spock leaned forward, brushing their lips together, bringing their bodies together, and Jim couldn’t help a moan as their naked skin met, as Spock somehow managed to make his jumpsuit disappear, stepping out of it lithely as he backed them towards the bed.  The kisses grew intense again, nearly frantic as each felt the other’s arousal, and Jim sensed the room whirl around him as he spun, landing on the bed with Spock’s lean, taut body laid out on top of him.  Warm hands stroked his body, and Jim entwined his fingers in dark hair, pulling Spock’s mouth down to his, his body shuddering as their engorged organs brushed and then slipped alongside each other, their hips moving together primally.

            “You have an…intoxicating mind, t’hy’la.”

            “And you…you have a gorgeous fucking body,” Jim panted, grunting as they writhed against each other. “Are you sure you’re okay to…Jesus… .”  He felt something slick in between them and reached down, touching the other’s penis and feeling…lubrication?  Spock gasped into his mouth and Jim pulled back slightly.  “You…your…holy fucking shit.”  He threw his head back as their cocks slid together deliciously, and Spock’s hips shifted, giving just the right amount of… .  “Oh, fuck… ,” Jim grunted again, moving his hands to grip firm buttocks, slipping a slickened finger in between and around his partner’s entrance.  Spock made a choked sound and his hips ground down, excitement ricocheting across the bond, and Jim smiled into their kisses, gently pressing in and out of his t’hy’la’s body, steadily deepening with the rhythm of their thrusts.  Spock was making almost desperate noises, his mouth sliding away from Jim’s to lick along his throat, and the thought barely crossed the human’s mind before a hot hand slipped between them to encircle both their erections.  And that was enough, that was too much, that was everything as Jim gave a helpless cry, the sensations of lust and want and heat and a slickened hand, undulating muscle and the tightness of his partner’s body bringing him to a startling, powerful climax.  His body jerked, and his mind blanked and he felt Spock shudder against him, a muffled moan buried in his shoulder as heated wetness joined his own emissions in between them and the bond blazed in pulses of shared pleasure.

           They came down together, bodies still entwined, and Jim opened his eyes, feeling a slight chill where sweat was evaporating contrasting with the pleasant warmth and weight of Spock lying against him.  He licked his lips, the bond still humming with echoes of pleasure, and he felt slightly displaced, softened, blissful.  “I’m drunk,” he murmured, feeling his partner shift.  “I feel drunk.  Everything’s fucking rose-colored.  That was fucking amazing.”

            Yes.  The word cascaded into his mind as a gentle sigh whispered over his throat.

            The languid feeling was slowly receding in the growing awareness of stickiness along their bellies, and Spock lifted his head, rolling to the side and peering down along their bodies.  Jim sensed his t’hy’la’s resurgence of desire clearly and chuckled, reaching up to caress a pointed ear.  “I think I’m in love with you.”

            An eyebrow lifted and the barest smile played across Spock’s mouth.  “That is fortunate, as I do not believe I am inclined to find another.”

            Jim’s smile faded as his hand moved into mussed black hair.  “Will we be able to… ?” 

            His voice trailed off, but he knew that Spock had sensed his meaning by the swell of possessiveness and stubbornness that flowed towards him along the bond.  “I will not be parted from you, t’hy’la.”

            Jim could hear the constant pulse of the engines around them, taking them away from Earth and into an uncertain future and nodded, letting his fingers trace down along a high cheekbone and down to greenish-tinged lips still swollen from sex.  “Together.”

            Spock leaned into his touch.  “Teretuhr, ashayam.  Kwon-sum.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: Ascend With Me

 

            The sonic shower was strange.  Jim was skeptical, following his naked t’hy’la into the bathroom of the small quarters.  But, after a cursory examination of the mechanism and a raised brow from his partner, he submitted to the waves, relaxing almost instantly under the novel feeling of having the stickiness, sweat, and any leftover grime from the past days gently massaged from his skin and hair.  He also submitted to the pleasure of watching Spock, exposed and open for the first time under his gaze without the terrifying urgency of a bloody situation or the gasping scramble of sex.

            Paused in this small moment, in between the death and danger and frantic touch that had come before and the opaque unknown that lay ahead of them, Jim found himself simply standing quietly, watching his friend’s, his lover’s, body as the sonic vibrations cleansed him.  Spock’s eyes were closed, his head tilted slightly back as he let the waves card through his hair, and Jim let his own eyes travel over long, lean lines and a dusting of dark hair.  The shower stall was even warmer than the ambient air in the cabin and Jim felt languid desire curling around them, suffusing the bond, slipping along Jim’s mind like a palpable thing, making his hands tingle.

            He reached forward, letting his palms gently caress the other man’s shoulders, seeing Spock’s eyes open and focus immediately, intensely, on his own gaze. They came together again, their mouths meeting, bodies pressing close, but this time it was not the fire of undeniable passion, but the low smolder of something more deeply felt. This was another need: for touch, for acceptance, for illogical assurance that each was real and alive and present and beloved. Jim sensed it growing, building, carrying them along; unlike anything he had ever felt before, and as it crested he felt his t’hy’la shaking against him.

            He broke away from the kiss, sensing the edge of something like anxiety along their connection.  “Hey, what’s wrong?”  He stepped back, bumping against the wall, hands gripping Spock’s upper arms.

           There was almost an epic battle for control visible in the young alien’s dark eyes and within the touch of his mind and, instinctively, Jim dropped his hands.  Spock’s breathing slowed, slowly the fierce look faded, and he straightened his back, lifting his chin.  “I apologize, Jim.  The bond…is different.  Your emotions affect me more strongly and I have not been able to meditate… .” 

            He blinked, his brow furrowed, and Jim pursed his lips.  “Different?  You mean since we, uh… .”  He waved his hand in between them and then felt self-consciously immature.  He cleared his throat.  “I don’t feel that anything’s changed.”

            Spock tilted his head and reached back to turn off the sonics.  “The bond appears to have deepened, in a sense.  I am more attuned to your emotional expression; your thoughts are more clearly perceptible.”

            Jim frowned.  “Is that bad?”

            “It is not,” Spock quickly replied.  “I believe it is to be expected, given present circumstances, and the deeper touch of your mind is most welcome; however, it is a question of sensitivity and I require time to…to properly account for the change.”

            He sounded as flustered as Jim had ever heard him, and the young human felt a surge of affection.  “The meditation…you need to do that for your telepathy?”

            “Yes.”

            Jim could sense a shade of apprehension along the bond, the anxiety hovering, and he was suddenly immediately conscious that they were still standing naked in the shower.  He shrugged helplessly.  “Do you need me to stay?”

            Spock reached out, gently brushing two fingers against Jim’s cheekbone, a frisson of electricity running in their wake.  “Negative, t’hy’la.”

            Jim smiled, turning his head into the touch.  “Well, I guess I’ll go hang out with Mom and Bones.”  He winced.  “And your mother.”  He licked his lips, turning to step out of the shower and head back into the other room, feeling rather than hearing Spock follow him as he picked up their jumpsuits and tossed Spock’s to him.  “These all we have?”

            Spock tilted his head.  “I can request… .”

“Nah.”  Jim was already halfway into his suit.  “It’s fine.”  He was strangely reluctant to ask the Vuhlkansu for anything.  Despite Sorill’s change in attitude and their apparent course directly towards Earth’s only hope of salvation, he still held to a subtle mistrust: not of the aliens’ motives or veracity, but of their more fundamental willingness to fight.  He watched as Spock finished fastening his own suit and they both stepped back into their boots.

            “I will guide you back to the others, Jim, and then will return here to meditate.”

            Spock’s hair looked vaguely ruffled after the action of the sonics, and Jim reached up to smooth it.  “Let me know when you’re done and I’ll come back here.”  He didn’t want to leave in the first place, and definitely didn’t relish the thought of trying to explain any of this to Bones or to Amanda.  At least Winona wouldn’t press him on it; he knew that much after years of each of them circling the other, reaching out only with tentative fingers.

            He saw a multitude of questions in dark eyes, but Spock would not press either, a fact that stemmed from a powerful sense of protectiveness and unashamed love that suffused their connection.  And finally Spock simply nodded and walked to the door, and Jim followed.

 

 

 

            Jim stood by himself in front of the closed door, his arms crossed defensively over his chest.  McCoy sat on the bed, Jo cuddled next to him, and Winona stood next to Amanda along the far wall, a cup of something hot and steaming held in her hand.

            “So,” Winona’s brows came together, “we’re in space and headed for a fleet of ships that might be able to help Earth, but only if Spock can convince them to intercede based on information he got from, uh, telepathic communication with one of the invaders.”

            “Yeah.”

            “And you flew the ship into orbit.”

            Jim licked his lips.  “Yeah, Mom, I did.  With Spock.”

            Bones guffawed, “Well, that explains all the banging around.”

            Jim felt his cheeks flush at the doctor’s double entendre, and saw his mother’s eyes narrow.  “We blew up a few of them on the way out.”

            “Good.”  McCoy’s reply was brusque.

            “Where’s Spock?”  Amanda’s eyes were as cold as her voice, and Jim blinked.  He had asked his t’hy’la to simply show him the door before returning to the small cabin, some protective instinct of his own firing.  Somehow he knew where this was going.

            “He’s meditating.”

            The dark-haired woman pulled abruptly away from Winona’s gentle hand to pace towards the blond man.  “What is that?”

            “Um… .”  Jim furrowed his brow, and then saw the line of her eyes, directly at his neck.  The flush on his cheeks grew deeper as he realized what she probably saw.  Damn the Vuhlkansu and their lack of mirrors.

            “Amanda… .”  Winona’s voice came low behind her.

            But she stepped forward again, and now there was the edge of hysteria in her voice.  “Do you know what you’re doing?  What you did?  What this means for him?”

            “It’s fine.  I know about the bond.  We talked… .”

            “Did you talk about the fact that it’s for life?  Permanent?  And if you reject him, if you leave or you’re forcibly separated, he’ll die?”

            Jim shook his head instinctively and stepped back, his voice an uncomfortable murmur.  “I’m not going to reject him.  And we’re not going to be separated.”

            “Won’t you?  Are you ready for… ?”

            “Amanda!”  Winona moved, and moved fast, grabbing her friend’s arm.  “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            “I do.”  Amanda pulled her arm away.  “It’s what was happening to Sarek when we got married.  When we had to get married, it was to save his life.  His bondmate had left him after the unexpected death of his first son; left him to enter into some permanent and sequestered priesthood, unable to deal with what had happened.  They have a…a time of mating, and his came on unexpectedly early.  If they aren’t bonded, or their bondmate doesn’t…won’t…they’ll die.”

            Winona was staring at her.  “Amanda…did Sarek force you?  Did he force you?”

            “No!”  Amanda turned to face her friend.  “No.  I consented to…everything.”

            Winona was breathing hard, forgetting everyone else.  “Of course you did. Here was someone who would have taken you away from everything: Trip, fucking Riverside, even the fucking planet.  Given you a new start.  Completely new, and in a society that was…that seemed so much better.”

            “I loved him.  I loved him!”

            “Then why do you hate them so much?”  Winona gestured towards the closed doors.

            “I…I don’t… .”  Amanda shook her head.  “I just don’t want to lose my son.  And he’s not ready for what this means.”  She pointed a finger at Jim.

            “Ma’am, I beg your pardon, but you’re wrong.”  McCoy slowly unfolded himself from the bed, standing and taking a step towards the two women.  “You saw what happened in that hauler, how they are with each other.”

            But Winona ignored him, staring at her friend incredulously.  “It’s not that you hate them…you hate yourself.”

            “No… .”

            “You do.  You hate where you came from, your father, your family.  And given the perspective you had with Sarek you began to hate your own people. You saw humanity as something substandard; they didn’t.  You saw yourself as something not worthy.  Not worthy to truly fit in, to embrace their culture because you were ashamed of what you are.  You excluded yourself.”

            “Shut up!” 

            Amanda practically screamed the words, but Winona threw her cup to the floor and Jo and the two men flinched with the subsequent crash.  “And how dare you bring that self-hatred and put it on my son.  They risked their lives for us, and for each other.  No greater fucking love, Amanda.  And Len’s right-you saw them together.  How can you doubt that?”

            Amanda’s face had gone white and Winona stepped forward, her voice lowering and impossibly softening, at odds with her aggressive stance.  “And how dare you hate yourself, my friend.  My beautiful friend, my first love.  My god, Amanda, were you so afraid, so stubborn, that you couldn’t have reached out, even to me?  And I missed you so.”

            Amanda let out a choked noise and Winona reached out, taking her friend fiercely into her arms, holding her tightly, whispering inaudibly into her hair. Jim looked over their heads at McCoy, and at Jo, who was kneeling on the bed, tears running down her small face. And suddenly it all seemed like too much, and he was backing away, ignoring his friend’s voice as McCoy called after him, heading back through the doors and down the winding, narrow corridor.

 

 

 

            His steps found him passing the door to his t’hy’la, taking note of the deep lulled feeling of calm that emanated across the bond and continuing past, turning corners by memory and quickly coming to a familiar set of double doors.  He touched the access panel as he had seen Spock do before and watched the doors slide open, admitting him to the forward control room.

            The center seat swiveled at the noise and Jim saw Sorill’s dark eyes. The older alien nodded to him.  “Please join me, Mr. Kirk.”

            Jim licked his lips and stepped across the threshold, seeing that they were alone.  The viewscreen was alight with swirling colors and Jim watched it, mesmerized.

            “Your bondmate?” 

            Sorill’s voice startled him and Jim jumped.  “He’s, uh, meditating.”

            “Understandable.” Sorill turned his intense gaze forward.  “I did not exaggerate earlier, Mr. Kirk.  You performed admirably.”

            “Thanks.”  Jim glanced at the deck and then lifted his eyes, studying the other’s profile.  He had questions, worries, pleas, a desperate need for reassurance, and a desire to express sympathy and shared grief.  But, despite all that, he somehow knew to simply remain silent, and did, straightening his back and looking again to the viewscreen.

            “You are now of our people.”  Sorill’s voice was quieter.  “You are bonded to one of us, and are now of us.  If you wish to speak for your planet, you have every right to be heard as a citizen of the Alliance.”

            “Me?”  The word fell from Jim’s lips.

            “Affirmative.”  Sorill looked at him again.  “Together with your bondmate.  You represent a union between your people and ours, your planet and the Alliance.”  He paused.  “Has Spock told you of the significance of t’hy’la?”

            “No.”

            Sorill steepled his fingers in front of him.  “It is an ancient concept, kept from history before history, to the point of being legend.  It is incredibly rare, and implies an inherent compatibility and learned camaraderie that requires a profound emotional connection.  It is the name of warriors who share katra…souls.  They represent trust and loyalty and honor, and a clan with t’hy’la as their vanguard was seen as being chosen for victory.”

            Jim stared at him, shocked as much by the evident emotion in his voice as in the words themselves.  Uncharacteristically, he didn’t have any words, any reply.

            Sorill lifted his chin, lowering his hands to the armrests of his chair and facing the viewscreen again.  “We are three point one cycles from destination.  You may take your station, Mr. Kirk.”

            Jim nodded, a small smile curving his lips, appreciating suddenly the strength of these people, the forbearance, and the adaptability.  “Yes, sir.”  He crossed down to the helm station and sat down, leaving the autopilot engaged and sitting in silence, watching the screen and contemplating the other man’s words.

 

 

 

            “All hands to stations.”

            Sorill’s voice broke Jim out of his reverie, his thoughts swirling with the colors of warp space in front of him, a nervous tension drifting along his limbs in concert with the faint rumble of the engines.  He straightened in his seat, feeling a sudden awareness bloom along the bond, the deep sense of calm dissipating in what felt like an ordered flash feed of rapid thoughts and low, subdued emotion, expanding abruptly and relentlessly.  It was at once powerful and intimidating, and Jim bit his lip, feeling a largely unfamiliar surge of his own uncertainty and a touch of fear.  Almost immediately, the connection dimmed, like intensity redirected, and a gentle rush of reassurance and love slipped into his mind.  The young human exhaled and relaxed, loosening his hands from where they had gripped the console.

            The doors to the control room opened once, and then again, but Jim knew when Spock finally stepped through, and then he allowed himself to turn and look for brown eyes.  The young alien walked quickly to his post, his movements smoother, his face less pale, and when he met Jim’s gaze, the human felt a surge over their bond, bringing it rapidly to that powerful touching yet touched awareness as they had piloted the Sochya before.

            Hey. How are you?

            T’hy’la.  Much improved.  You did not sleep.

            I liked it here.  Jim smiled, turning his attention reluctantly back to his board.

            “We are being hailed.”  T’Frit was back at her sensor console.

            Sorill nodded, and Jim heard a distant click and then a rush of guttural language.  His link with Spock allowed him a surficial translation as Sorill answered: the Sochya had survived; had maintained comm silence until now to prevent pursuit and they were about to meet up with the fleet now.  The population of T’Khasi was confirmed destroyed, along with most of the Alliance High Council, with only isolated pockets of Vuhlkansu surviving.  No Nehaya craft had been spotted outside the Terrasu solar system, but planetary defenses were being readied.  They were to join with the fleet and… .

            Jim turned around abruptly, and Sorill’s eyes met his immediately.  The older alien spoke more slowly, “We have on board a representative from the Terrasu people who wishes an audience with the fleet commander, or suitable High Council representative.”

            There was a noticeable pause.  “I will forward your request.  Please proceed to station one holding alongside the Tar’hana.”

            “Acknowledged.”

            The channel closed and Jim heard T’Frit’s voice counting down as his shared awareness with Spock rose and he brought the Sochya out of warp and into… .

            It appeared to be chaos.  Hundreds of ships stopped in space: smaller craft surrounding at least ten huge cruisers.  Jim’s jaw dropped and he fought to maintain his concentration as he cut to thrusters, allowing Spock to dictate the course towards one of the largest vessels.

           My god…look at it… . So many… .

           He couldn’t take his eyes away; so many years of living in the same town under the thumb of a repressive government, doing the same job, seeing the same people, hearing the same stories and feeling the same regrets over and over and now here was everything: everything, right in front of him.  A small feeling sparked inside of him, growing relentlessly into a flame that licked at his insides: a feeling of purpose, of excitement, of meaning.  He almost couldn’t contain it, sensing moisture in his eyes. All this, and they were so ignorant, so self-obsessed, so inwardly focused.  And then he thought of the cost of this, and blinked rapidly, pushing an apology towards his friend.

           It is understandable, t’hy’la.  Spock’s control was holding, but Jim had felt the shudder of strain as his own emotions had poured through their contact.  The young human bit his lip as Spock’s voice sounded beside him, “We have reached station one.”

            “Very well.  Spock, you will transport over with Mr. Kirk.”

            Jim turned around.  “And my…family?”

            “They will remain here, for now, under T’Rian’s supervision.”

            “No!  They… .”  Jim’s instinctive bark was cut short by the fleeting expression of pain that crossed over Sorill’s face.  He flushed and checked himself, glancing over at his bondmate who was regarding him, his mind open and perceptive, supportive.  “Thank you, Sorill.”  He turned to his boards, setting the controls to automatic station-keeping, rising with Spock and following him to the rear doors leading out into the corridor.

            “It was an honor, Mr. Kirk.” 

            Sorill had swiveled his chair, and Jim managed a terse nod to him, and then to T’Frit as they exited.

            Jim’s heart was pounding as they walked side-by-side down the curving narrow hallway.  The intense sharing had dissipated somewhat, but their link was still flaring in his mind, and his anticipation of what was to come was nearly overwhelming.  He was breathing too fast, and the atmosphere was too thin and… .  He gasped quietly as his hand was suddenly taken in a strong grip, long fingers entwining with his, and a surge of enforced calm slid across his thoughts as they paused together.

            Jim licked his lips, looking over to meet Spock’s gaze.  “You know, you should stop me from making a fucking ass out of myself.  What’s the point of being in my head?”  His voice was thin and shaky to his own ears.  “I’m supposed to…what, speak for my fucking planet?  Me?  My god, what if I fuck this up?”

            “Jim.”  It was softly spoken: gentle to the point of being almost inaudible and accompanied by a dizzying array of emotion.  And at the heart of it all, under the reassurance and the love, was stalwart loyalty.  Clean and gleaming, steel and surety.  I will not leave you.  Their hands remained clasped and Jim stared into brown eyes, slowly catching his breath, deliberately quieting his mind and feeling his own steel rise.

            “I’m not going to fuck this up.”  His voice was steady, now, and he released his bondmate’s hand and straightened his shoulders.  “Sorill said that they had to hear me; that we were bonded and I was… .”

            “An Alliance citizen, yes.”  Spock raised an eyebrow thoughtfully.

            Jim glanced down the corridor.  “And your mother was worried I’d dump you.  Said you could die if I did.”  He studied his friend’s face.  “I’m obviously not going to do that, but… .”

            “She speaks out of grief and out of turn.”  Spock hesitated, the barest greenish flush coloring his cheekbones.  “We will discuss this at a more…appropriate time.”

            Jim pressed his lips together, his hands clenching at his sides.  He could sense the significance behind whatever Amanda had been talking about, but also Spock’s complete trust in him.  Trust, and love that warmed his soul.  He’d always been skeptical about love: had blamed it for his mother’s perceived fragility after George, and Frank, and Amanda, too, it had turned out.  But he knew what she would say if he asked her if it was worth it, he knew what he would say now.  To have had this was almost more awe-inspiring than the shift into warp space, than the array of ships glittering with starlight spread out in front of him.  He saw Spock’s eyes darken and he averted his gaze, knowing that they didn’t have the time.

            The young alien deliberately did not touch him.  “We shall have time, Jim. After.”

            Jim shook his head.  “I feel all over the place.  I’m sorry.”

            “It is this way for newly bonded mates after they… .” Spock hesitated.  “Or so I have heard.  We will have time.”

            “I know.”  He gave a half-smile, trying to reassure, and turned to start walking again, hearing Spock fall into step beside him.  “So,” he began lightly, “how are we getting over there again?”

 

 

 

            Transporter. Matter-energy transporter. Fuck, fuck, fuck and shit. I’m going to be disintegrated. This is going to hurt and I don’t care what Spock says.  Yeah, I’m thinking at you, Pointy.  Fuck, fuck, fuuuuuu... .

           …uuuuuuuuck!

            Jim materialized on the destination pad with his hands held out in front of him, his eyes wide, and startling amusement emanating across the bond from his deceptively stoic bondmate.

            Pointy?

            Never mind.  Jesus, that was intense.  Jim recovered and pulled himself straight as another alien appeared from around a translucent partition.  An unfamiliar gesture was offered, and he barely paid attention to the rapidly spoken Vuhlkansu as he tried unsuccessfully not to stare.

            The alien was tall and lithe, with pale blue skin and a mane of pure white hair, with two…antennae peeking through the white locks to curve proudly into the air. His (her?) eyes were pale blue as well, and contained a barely repressed antagonism when they slid to regard Jim himself.  Cursing himself for his inattention, Jim concentrated on the bond, but Spock, having returned the initial gesture in silence, rapidly made another one and Jim saw the blue alien’s head tilt before he or she turned to disappear around the partition again.

            I have asked for a universal translator, Jim.  It will prove less taxing than maintaining such consistent close mental contact.

            “Universal… .”  Jim craned his head curiously as the blue alien reappeared with a small metallic box and an earpiece, approaching and holding the pieces out to him with an expression of near-challenge.  Never one to back down from a fight, even a passive one, Jim smiled casually and took the pieces, sensing a direction from his bondmate and fastening the box on the waistband of his jumpsuit and adjusting the earpiece to sit comfortably.

            Now, Spock spoke in his native tongue, and Jim jumped slightly as a translation immediately sounded in his ear.  Hearing Spock’s words in a generic male monotone sounded profoundly off somehow, but Jim listened eagerly.

            “Mr. Kirk wishes to speak to the fleet commander, Mr. Thiren, as Captain Sorill indicated in his transmission.”

            Thiren tilted his head again, and his possible gender was narrowed down by the audible male translation coinciding with his words.  “As I was saying, Mr. Spock, the fleet commander will meet with you for a debrief, but Mr. Kirk’s position is unrecognized.  He holds no authority and his planet, at last survey, was classified no-contact.  It is highly irregular for him to be here in the first place.”

            “Circumstances being as they are, we are fortunate for his presence.  I will not debate with you here, other than to point out that Mr. Kirk is my bondmate, and holds Alliance citizenship.  It is his right to be heard.”  Jim felt a mental nudge and barely controlled his smile.

            Thiren’s race was evidently not accustomed to emotional control, as his dynamic expression demonstrated.  “Highly irregular.”  He made a hissing noise and took a step back.  “But I suppose I have no choice.  You will both follow me.”

            Jim followed Spock off the platform, noting that the atmosphere and gravity seemed closer to Earth-normal.  And then it took all his concentration to keep his mouth shut and his strides regular as they stepped through a set of sleek doors and into a wide, shining corridor. He saw aliens everywhere: most were like Thiren, a few Vuhlkansu, thankfully, hulking aliens with green skin, and a smallish, squat species with almost porcine features.  Others, too, and Jim swallowed, focusing on the bond for a degree of normalcy, noting too that the other beings all seemed to be in a hurry, sensing anticipation in the air.  And then they rounded a sweeping curve and Thiren palmed a panel at the side of a large door.

            Spock did not hesitate before stepping through, without even a nod to the tall blue alien, and Jim quickly followed him, aware of Thiren’s untranslatable low hiss as he passed.  The alien’s strange antipathy had to be pushed immediately from his mind, however, as Jim found himself in a large room: an almost eerily human-like conference area complete with an expansive central table surrounded by chairs. The walls and ceiling were an industrial light gray and the floor a shiny black, and a viewscreen on the far wall showed what looked like a tactical diagram.  At the table sat three older humanoids: one Vuhlkansu, one blue alien, and a bald female with huge, dark eyes.  Jim’s attention was immediately caught by the female, and he felt a strange and disconcerting arousal begin before being sharply curtailed.  Blinking, he felt that the source of the abrupt discontinuance was his bondmate’s shields, and sent along a mental pulse of gratitude, not knowing what it was all about, but not wanting any distractions.

            Spock had raised his hand in the gesture of greeting.  “Live long and prosper, Councilmember Suntahr.  We come to serve.”

            Suntahr lifted his own hand.  “Live long and prosper, Spock.  Your service honors us.  I grieve with thee.”

            There was a moment of silence, and the older man spoke again, “I shall introduce our fleet commander, Thasnil, and the only other surviving member of the High Council, Heliah.”  The paced formality made Jim want to fidget, but he settled for chewing the tender inside of his cheek.

            Spock inclined his head.  “This is James Kirk, representative of the Terrasu people and my bondmate.  It is his wish to speak with you regarding the current invasion of his world.”

            Suntahr’s eyes narrowed the barest amount as the other two seated at the table exchanged a glance.  “I will have your report, Spock.”

            Jim tensed, but Spock merely nodded again.  “Yes, Councilmember.”  He stepped forward as the older man rose and the younger Vuhlkansu bowed his head, allowing the other, shorter man to reach for his face.  Jim involuntarily stepped forward and heard his bondmate’s mental voice along their connection.

            It is well, t’hy’la.

            Suntahr’s fingers had just brushed Spock’s skin when they were suddenly withdrawn.  “You name this Terrasu t’hy’la?”

            “I do.”  Spock’s voice was firm.

            Suntahr’s impassivity wavered for an instant before his jaw tensed and he raised his hand again.  And this time Jim could feel it as their minds met fully.  It was almost like a slight suction, an unpleasant pull along the bond, and he could sense vast quantities of information being exchanged and then something else: something like a helpless questing tendril reaching inexorably along the bond, touching, seeking.  He felt Spock’s mental shudder and retreat and then the tendril, rebuffed, seemed to collapse, to melt into a well of grief and overpowering longing so dark and profound that it felt as if they would simply tumble into it before mental shields slammed down.  A deep mental ache began and Jim dimly felt Spock trying to break the joining, sensed his bondmate’s sudden alarm, a surge of protectiveness, of fear… .

            “Stop.”  Jim’s own voice was ragged.  “Stop!”

            “Kroykah!”  Spock’s shout drowned out the tinny translation, and he pulled away, taking three steps back to stand immediately in front of Jim, so close that their bodies touched and the human could see his hands shaking.

            Suntahr’s breathing was coming in gasps, and there were, terribly, tears on his cheeks.  “I…I apologize.  It is true; you are so joined.  And the Nehaya…it is true.  All as we feared.”  He turned to his two colleagues, who looked equally horrified.  “Hear him speak.  I must…a healer.  I will make my report.  Forgive me.  Forgive me, Spock.”

            He blinked and walked unsteadily towards the door, and Jim moved his hand to press, unseen, against his friend’s back, feeling Spock’s mental turmoil as unsettled reverberations along the now largely shielded bond.

            You okay?  Spock?

            I am not.  But you must speak, Jim.  Now.

            Thasnil looked discomfited to the point of fear, staring after his colleague and running a thin, blue hand repeatedly along the front of his uniform.  “James Kirk, you will speak.”

            Jim steeled himself, reluctantly stepping away from his bondmate.  “The beings you call the Nehaya, the ones responsible for the destruction of the Vuhlkansu people, are currently invading my planet, using deadly force to… .”  He swallowed, hearing the box at his waist translate his words.  “My bondmate was in mental contact with one of them and saw their plan.  They want to use humans as…hosts for their eggs, to repopulate their species.  They are conquerors, not open to negotiation, and their plans are to just keep going, to move on into your territory.  You can’t let them get a foothold on Earth; we have to strike and strike now.”  He had begun tentatively, cursing himself for the tremor in his voice.

            “We understand this, James Kirk.”  Heliah’s sonorous voice was poorly replicated by the translator.  “But you must understand us.  Our primary member has been obliterated, along with most of our leadership and our Fleet headquarters and most of our trained personnel, felled or terribly weakened by the fall of T’Khasi.  The ships you see now are all we have left.  All that stands between our remaining homeworlds and the Nehaya, staffed by the remainder of our fleet personnel and mostly civilian volunteers.  To ask us, a body whose only aim was…is exploration and maintenance of the peace, to go to war… .”

            “We are at war!”  Jim stepped forward, surprising even himself with his directness.  “This is war. And to wait for them to take the next step, again, is signing your own death warrant, and Earth’s.  I saw what your ships can do, what your weapons can do: I piloted the Sochya from the surface of my planet and we won an engagement against several of their ships.  I saw what Spock’s hand weapon could do against theirs.  You have the superior technology, or at least sufficient technology; you just need to use it!”  He had advanced to the edge of the table, driven by desperation, frustration, and anger. He could feel Spock behind him, struggling and trying to shield him from it.  He could see the fear, the defeat already in Thasnil and Heliah’s eyes, staring at him like the alien he was, but at least they were still listening, and Jim kept talking.

            “You wouldn’t be alone.  Earth hasn’t completely fallen, I’m sure of it.  We’ll fight with you to destroy the Nehaya; we just need the assurance of your help, of your hope.  I beg for your assistance.  For the sake of my planet and for the future of your own worlds.  We have to stop them now, here, or it will be too late and we’ll be defending against an established enemy instead of a transitory force.  You must help.  I demand it.”

            It occurred to him belatedly that issuing demands might not be the best way forward, and he took a breath to apologize when he heard Thasnil’s soft reply.  “James Kirk.  We will consider it.”

            Jim shut his mouth and hesitated in surprise, on the verge of asking the man to repeat his words.  But Thasnil was now looking again at Heliah, and both held almost human expressions of resignation and fatigue.  And then he understood.  The fall of T’Khasi had been the perfect blow: the destruction of a people, of a leadership, of a way of life.  It had gutted their space service and thrown their ideals into question.  It had broken them, and they were starved for leadership, for a sense of stubborn refusal to give up, even when it was logical to do so. And Jim might be nobody from a nothing planet, but he, a human, could at least show them that innate, willful stubbornness.

            He finally exhaled, sensing Spock step to his side, and saw Heliah reach forward and press a button on a small tabletop console.  “Thiren.”

            The outside door slid open and the blue-skinned man appeared.  “Councilmember.”

            “Please show Spock and James Kirk to appropriate quarters.” Her gaze shifted to Spock.  “Spock, do you require medical attention after… ?”  Her voice trailed off into an uneasy silence.

            “Negative. Rest and meditation will suffice.”  It was all Jim could do to refrain from clasping Spock’s hand.

            “Granted.”  Heliah looked at Jim, who met her eyes after a concerned glance at his friend.  “We will confer further and call for you and your bondmate again when a consensus has been reached among our leadership.  We thank you for your service.  Both of you.”

            “Ma’am.”  Jim forced a tight nod and turned to follow Spock and an irritated-looking Thiren out of the room.

 

 

 

            “What did he do to you?”  Jim stepped around to face his bondmate as soon as the door slid shut behind them, leaving them alone.  When Spock wouldn’t meet his eyes, Jim mentally pushed against the shielded bond, physically reaching to grasp his bondmate’s arms and tightening his fingers.  “Spock, c’mon.  What did he do?”

            “It was…excusable.”

            “Bullshit.” Jim stared at him, ducking his head until Spock met his gaze.  “It looked like…it felt like… .”

            “It was not.”

            Jim exhaled sharply, his hands clenching, a headache building from the shielded bond and from the adrenaline rush and from this whole fucking situation. He tried and failed to keep the edge of frustration from his voice.  “Tell me!”  He shook his head.  “Or show me, or just…let me feel you.  I’m not sure what happened in there; to you or what they thought of what I said and I need…I just need you, okay?”

            Spock gazed at him and then slowly leaned forward, his head dropping to angle against Jim’s neck, and Jim released his grip to wrap his arms firmly around his bondmate.  There was a pause, and then Jim sensed shields lower, and he grunted as he felt his friend’s mind: grief and pain and loss and an almost frantic scrabbling search for the bare tendrils of those few who were left.

            What happened?

            His bondmate perished on T’Khasi, yet he survived due to his mental disciplines.  We search; we cannot help searching for any remaining thread of what has been lost.  Because of you, because of us, my mind is not as damaged as others’.  He could not help reaching for me.  It was instinctive, and not his fault.

            “Fuck.”  Jim let his hands stroke across his bondmate’s back, up into the shortly cropped hair at the nape of his neck, feeling Spock’s hands come up to rest at his waist.  He turned slightly, seeing the a bed behind a translucent partition.  “Come on, come lie down with me.  Let me help.”  He gently led his bondmate along with him and they eased together onto the bunk.  Jim released Spock just long enough to reach down for the folded blanket and leaned back, drawing it over them, turning to his side and letting Spock’s head press into his chest, his own lips ghosting over black hair. Their legs entangled; one of Spock’s arms was wrapped tight around Jim’s waist, the other curled up, palm flat against the human’s torso.  Wanting to comfort, and realizing his own need for comfort, Jim concentrated on breathing, focused on allowing his mind to open up along the bond and share as much of his bondmate’s perceptions as he could.  He closed his eyes, feeling frantic energy slowly calm, order restore, and natural entwining of their consciousness.  Healing, just as it had happened in that room in his mother’s house, but now nothing was closed to him: where there had been doors before, now there was only redirection. The love, the answering need was clear for him to sense, and he felt his own body relax, willingly engulfed by this warmth.

            Time passed, and Jim breathed in the scent of his bondmate’s hair, his voice a lazy murmur.  “How long do you think we have?”

            “I do not know.”  Spock’s reply was muffled against Jim’s chest and the young human couldn’t help a smile.  “I do not wish to go.”

            “Me neither.”  Somehow a moment of safety under this blanket, in this man’s arms, within the touch of their minds, and then Jim shifted his head on the pillow, feeling the texture of alien fabric under his cheek.  It came back: thoughts of his mother, of Bones and Jo, and Amanda still on the Sochya, waiting.  Thoughts of his planet, and the terrible threat it faced.  Thoughts of that precipice of grief and pain, still looming so close, too close.  And then there was an abrupt chime from a wall unit next to the door.

            Jim still had the damn translator on, and heard every word clearly.  “This is Thiren.  Councilmember Heliah requests your presence in the audience chamber immediately."

            Spock leaned back far enough to meet Jim’s eyes, a surge of very human anticipation and near-excitement moving back and forth across the bond. Jim’s own breathing had quickened, and he licked his lips.  “Are we ready for this?”

            An eyebrow lifted and Spock blinked.  “Yes, t’hy’la.”

            Jim smiled briefly, thinking of all the ways this could go. Or not.

            “Yes.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirteen: Our Hearts Are Strong

 

            “It is our intention to commit half of our fleet to an offensive against the Nehaya, to attempt to thwart their invasion of the Terrasu homeworld and to prevent them using it as a homebase from which to rebuild their population.”

            Heliah’s speech was quick and direct, well matched by the female monotone that sounded in Jim’s earpiece.  Jim shifted his weight where he stood again in front of the large desk in the conference room, Spock a steady presence at his side.  And as Heliah’s silence stretched, Jim took it to mean she would accept questions.

            He cleared his throat, but Spock spoke first, “Councilmember, with all due respect, five cruisers may not be sufficient.”

            “Three,” Thasnil corrected.  “Two of the ten ships are acting as medical vessels and we have insufficient crew to allow for more than three cruisers.  Smaller vessels may be included with the discretion of their individual commanders.”

            Jim could feel the tension across the bond.  “Commander, may I enquire as to the plan?”

            “The plan requires your participation.”  Suntahr’s voice sounded from behind them, and although Spock did not move, Jim turned, seeing the door slide shut as the older Vuhlkansu passed them and moved to sit next to Thasnil at the table.   The human’s eyes narrowed, and Suntahr lifted a hand.  “I wish to apologize again for my lapse in discipline earlier.  Grief among my people is, unfortunately, closely intertwined with control.”  He let his hand drop, his eyes moving to Jim.  “Our bonds, particularly those with considerable strength and depth, become a part of us, and with an unforeseen rupturing, imbalance is sometimes…unavoidable.”

            Memories skittered across Jim’s mind: the way his presence comforted Spock and allowed him to begin to heal, the way the young alien could bring calm to Jim’s own mind: an exchange of emotion, a balance, sharing.  He thought of a threatened slide into cold darkness, of his own anguish as he had faced the possibility of his bondmate’s death, of that feeling of loss even as Spock had simply moved out of the room.  And then he thought of Amanda.  He sensed Spock’s own rush of thought, and came back to himself sheepishly, seeing Suntahr’s lowered gaze, his hands, folded in his lap, exhibiting the barest tremor.  “We grieve with thee, Councilmember.  It is…understandable.”

            Suntahr inclined his head and then straightened in his chair.  “James Kirk, your participation is vital if the plan is to succeed.”

            Jim nodded, and Thasnil spoke, “You assured us of the willingness of your own people to fight the intruders, and especially if they were given hope of assistance.”

            “Yes.”  Jim’s voice was firm.

            “We will operate under the assumption that the Nehaya will not precipitously destroy the Terrasu population as they did T’Khasi, because they require Terrasu hosts in order to breed.”

            Fuck.  Assumption is the mother of all… .  “Yes.”

            “You and Spock will proceed ahead of the fleet in a smaller vessel.  You will locate and contact your leadership, if it remains, or a significant resistance force.  You will convince them to cooperate.”

            Jim blinked.  “Cooperate?”

            “We will coordinate our attack with you.  Our forces will combat any orbital presence to prevent retreat and will attack high-value targets.  Depending on their level of participation and organization, your people will provide a necessary distraction, engaging the enemy on the ground.”

            We’ll be slaughtered.  “They might not listen to me.”

            Heliah tilted her head.  “They must.  And Spock will be your proof.”

            Jim blanched.  “With the raging alien-hate that’ll be going on down there?  They’ll kill him!”

            The aliens looked slightly confused for a moment, and then Spock murmured a word, and Jim’s earpiece picked up xenophobia.

            Thasnil hissed, “It is a risk, James Kirk.  But this is our plan, and we can spare no more ships.  If this fails, we will need all we have to protect the other homeworlds from a similar fate.  We will equip you with the necessary materials, including weapons, and prepare a ship.  Expect to depart in three point three hours.”

            Jim swallowed.  “And my family?  Spock’s mother?”

            Suntahr blinked.  “Your kindred have been escorted from the Sochya and are presently in our medical section.  No matter the outcome of your mission, they will have a home with us, now.  They will be safe.”

            Spock’s silence was confusing, and his mind was a muted blur against Jim’s.  The three at the table seemed to be waiting, and Jim finally shook his head, holding his hands out with a shrug.  “So this is it?  We’re going now?

            Thasnil leaned forward.  “This is our plan.  Your duty is to contact the strongest group of your people with the greatest capacity to resist and to gain their trust and assistance.  You will instigate an open revolt against the Nehaya on our signal and we will do the rest.”

           Jim stood there, thinking that this should be a win; that this was what he had asked for.  Why does it feel like death?

            The mission as stated has a very low probability of success, t’hy’la.

            About time you chimed in.  Jim shifted his feet as Thasnil and the others watched him.  What are we going to do?

            I will follow you.  And you have already made your decision.

            Fuck.  “The honor is ours, Councilmembers, Commander.”

            Thasnil leaned back in his chair and Heliah visibly relaxed, but Suntahr watched the two young men with something like sadness in his eyes.  “You are dismissed, t’hylara.  Thiren will guide you to the medical section and then to your ship.  Our futures may well go with you, now, as in ancient times.  Live long and prosper.”

            Spock raised his hand in a return salute, and Jim simply nodded, turning as one with his bondmate and leaving the room, only too glad to be away from the sense of walls closing in, of creeping defeat and shadowy foreboding.

 

 

 

            The humans were sequestered in a small side ward off the main medical bay on the Tar’hana, and as the doors slid apart to admit Jim and Spock, the young human saw nothing but a blur of movement before his mother launched herself into his arms.

            “Jim!  My god, I’ve been worried sick.”  She pulled away just enough to look him over.  “They wouldn’t tell us a fucking thing.  I swear, these people, all of them, seem to come preprogrammed with the ability to avoid any kind of direct fucking answer.”

            Jim smiled tightly, wanting suddenly to hold her again. The familiar, wary look in her blue eyes as she peered at him from arm’s length made something in his chest ache.  “We’re okay, Mom. They just had us give a report and they decided on an action.”

            He saw Amanda stand up from where she had been seated next to McCoy and Jo, slowly approaching to stand behind her friend.  Winona’s eyes turned expectant.  “Which is?”

            Jim opened his mouth but suddenly couldn’t speak, his mind almost instinctively reaching to his bondmate for support.  Spock stepped closer.  “Jim and I are to carry out a contact initiative with the primary resistance, if any, on Earth.  Our instructions are to coordinate attack strategy with an Alliance force to attempt to stop the Nehaya invasion.”

            “So they’re going to do something!  They’re going to help us!”  Winona’s words burst out, and then Jim felt her hands tightly painfully on his arms.  “Spock, what do you mean, ‘contact initiative’?”

            I’ll tell her.  “Mom, he means that we’re going back.”

            Winona’s face drained of color and, behind her, Amanda’s hands clenched into fists.  Jim saw McCoy put his face in his hands.  “You’re going back.”  The blonde woman’s tone was flat, and her grip on Jim’s arms hadn’t eased.  “Of course you are.”  Her blue eyes shone briefly with tears that sheer stubbornness refused to let fall.  “How the fuck did I end up raising a hero?”

            Now, Jim did hold her, and he lifted his eyes to see Amanda, who was looking at her own son with a hollow expression.

            “You’re going with him.”  It was not a question, and Jim felt Winona tense in his arms.

            “We are bonded, Mother.  And Earth is my home, as it is yours.”

            “And now I’ve lost you, too.”  Amanda’s voice was small and trembling and touched by bitterness, and Winona pulled back, her hand reaching for her friend, but Spock moved first.

            Jim felt the rush of raw emotion across the bond: grief, love, longing, a desire to comfort, and waves of seeping guilt.  And Spock did not hesitate to pull his own mother into his arms, as Jim had done, bending his head to her hair and holding her tightly against him. Amanda’s expression was of complete shock at first, and then a flash of anguish and relief crossed her features and she shut her eyes, her arms desperately wrapping around her son.

            Spock’s words, murmured into his mother’s hair, echoed along the bond, “I am…sorry.  Your grief is mine. Your loss is mine.  What you feel, I should have shared until you found your balance again.”

            Amanda let out a sob, tightening her grip.  “You tried, tal-kam.  On that hauler, you tried.”  And Jim could feel the dark-haired woman’s own crash of emotion through her contact with her son: overarching grief and powerful guilt, fierce love and lingering shame.  This last feeling, so startling clear, was focused on Trip Grayson, pain caused to Amanda herself years before and the pain caused to her son so recently: shame that had not been closely examined until Winona’s acerbic accusations, and now lay so close beneath the surface.  Shame that subtly reflected an image of humanity seen through disappointment and girlhood wishes to escape: an image of herself with a horrid father, with a poisoned culture.

            Spock pulled back slightly, studying her, focusing on that emotion, on that shame.  “This…this I do not understand.  My mother is human; my bondmate is human.  Therefore, what is left, all that is cherished in my world, is human.”  He paused, and one of his hands lifted to brush a stray strand of hair away from his mother’s eyes.  “For that I am grateful.”

            Winona still stood next to Jim, her hands now covering her mouth, and when Jim looked at her, he saw tears in her eyes.  Jim reached out, placing a gentle hand on her back, feeling her lean into it.

            Amanda stared at her son, and she was shaking.  “Spock, I don’t…how… ?”

            His fingers brushed her temple again.  “I have realized much; perhaps most of all the strength that lies within the human katra.”  He swallowed.  “A strength that lies within you, Mother.  I will return.”

            “Yes.”  Her lips trembled, and her hand lifted, hesitating only an instant before she placed her palm on her son’s face.  “My dearest child.”

            And Jim could feel it: her love, her tentative calm, her sadness and desperate wish for Spock’s safety and yet her understanding, her courage and her joy, to finally touch her son in this way.  And with all that was profound gratitude, and as Jim’s eyes shifted from his bondmate to Amanda he saw her eyes meet his own, and she was smiling.

            Jim smiled back, and he felt Winona move away from his hand, stepping towards her friend.  The dark-haired woman’s voice was now barely a whisper as she met Winona’s eyes.  “They’ll be back.”

            The blonde woman nodded silently and Amanda continued, her voice stronger, “They’ll be back and then… .”  She paused.  “Again we two, and all the pain now backward instead of forward lain.”

            Winona’s breath caught.  “You remember that?”

            “Of course.  You wrote it.”  She glanced at Spock and released him to step towards Winona, clasping both her hands.  “I can’t say that I’m sorry for having told you no, then, because we wouldn’t be here, now.  And I need you.  You’re my sister and…and your son is mine, now, as mine is yours.”  She lifted her chin and turned to the two young men, her voice taking on a formal quality.  “Hal-tor, k’kudaya t’nash-veh.”

            Jim nodded as Spock moved to his side, and from across the room McCoy had stood, walking towards them, tension lining his eyes.

            “Bones.”

            “Dammit, Jim.”  The doctor stopped in front of Jim, his eyes shifting between the two young men.

            Jim shrugged.  “What the hell else are we going to do?”

            McCoy exhaled and he glanced back to where his daughter was sitting, her arms wrapped around her knees, her hazel eyes wide.  “You saved my life.  And hers.  You got us here, where she’ll be safe.”  He pressed his lips together, his hands clenching and releasing, and when he looked back at Jim there was a background of deep emotion that the young human couldn’t read.  “I’ll see you after.”

            Jim managed a small smile.  “After.”  He hesitated, and then reached out, engulfing his friend in a hug.  McCoy’s body was as tense as his expression, and his grip jerky and almost nervous as he returned the embrace.

           They awkwardly separated and McCoy nodded to Spock.  “Take care of him.”

            “I shall.”  Brown eyes met hazel for a moment, and then McCoy muttered a curse, turning away towards his daughter.

            Jim looked at his mother once more: at blue eyes and the stubborn set of her jaw.  So like him, and so familiar, the powerful revelations of the past days not touching the fundamental connection they had always shared.  He saw her nod, saw her hands tighten over Amanda’s, and he smiled, glancing over at Spock.  “Ready?”

            The bond sung between them, full of sudden confidence and, from Jim, anticipation and daring.  The young alien inclined his head.  “Ready, Jim.”

 

 

 

            Thiren had led them back to the transporter room, and Jim stood uncertainly next to his bondmate on the raised platform, his own thoughts racing and his stomach growling.  He licked his lips nervously, fingering the small translator device on his belt.

           We shall eat on the ship, t’hy’la.

           Yeah?  They’ve got a cafeteria there?  He couldn’t help the sarcasm.

           In a sense.  Spock’s mental voice was accompanied by a stream of imagery, and Jim’s eyebrows rose as he imagined the engineering behind the….replicator?

            Thiren appeared from behind the partition.  “Coordinates are programmed.  You will receive a data package containing pertinent codes and specifics after embarkment.  Your vessel is currently being fueled and provisioned and you will have sufficient time in which to familiarize yourselves with the configuration before scheduled departure.”  He paused, one of his antennae twitching to the side as he tilted his head, looking at Jim.  “I shall bid you live long and prosper, and to you, James Kirk,” he paused, “good luck.”

            The last was spoken low and hissing and un-translated, and Jim nodded.  “Thank you, Thiren.”

            The blue-skinned alien grunted and disappeared again behind the partition. There was a buzz of energy in the air and Jim tried to force himself to relax, feeling reassurance from his bondmate as the energy swelled and bright lights appeared in front of Jim’s eyes.  The sense of disassociation was just as unsettling, and then Jim made the mistake of looking down at his feet, which were disappearing into brilliant swirls of gold.  Fuck!  Spock, I don’t think this is… .

           …right.  Damn.  I’ll never fucking get used to that.  Jim’s breathing was coming in gasps and he bit his cheek savagely as the newly formed room seemed to waver around him before coming into sharp focus.  He blinked, wondering why it all looked so familiar, and then he saw Sorill.

            The surge of relief should have been ridiculous, but Jim heartily embraced it, stepping off the platform and pulling the translator earpiece deliberately from his ear with a flourish, pulling himself up an arm’s length from the tall Vuhlkansu as he remembered the species’ reluctance to touch.  “Sorill!  I didn’t know we were going to be back on the Sochya!”

            Sorill raised an eyebrow, his eyes shifting to Spock as the young alien stepped to his bondmate’s side with markedly less obvious enthusiasm. “I thus inferred, based on your reaction, Mr. Kirk.  Welcome aboard.”

            Jim winced and rubbed the back of his neck.  “Sorry.”

            Sorill’s eyes softened almost imperceptibly.  “I believe you yourself understand Surak’s teachings with regard to giving offense; none being taken in this case.  The success of this mission will depend in part on your ability to pilot the vessel in question, so it was logical to volunteer this one based on your prior experience.”

            “And you?”

            “A ship needs a captain, and, despite your inherent talents, and Spock’s, you are lacking necessary experience in that respect.”  Sorill inclined his head.  “It is my honor to assist you.”

            If Sorill were human, Jim would have grasped the other man’s shoulder to express solidarity and gratitude, but as it were, he merely nodded.  “The honor is ours.”  The very human need to touch was suddenly frustrating among these reserved people, and he let out a short exhale as Sorill turned to address Spock.

            “As you may have been informed, we are still in process of refueling and anticipate departure in,” he paused, converting units, “two point nine hours.”

            Jim pressed his lips together, internally grateful for the Vuhlkansu captain’s apparent unfailing hospitality for his new human crewmember.  It was all the more striking considering what may lie ahead for them on Earth: bigotry and disbelief and, most likely, violence. 

            His own heated protectiveness slipped over their connection, and Jim saw his bondmate flinch slightly at the intensity of the emotion before responding to the captain, “If it is possible, we should prefer to examine the data package sent by the Tar’hana in quarters.  Mr. Kirk is in need of nourishment.”

            “Of course.”  Sorill stepped back, gesturing them towards the door.  “You are welcome to utilize the same cabin as before.”

            Jim followed Spock and Sorill down the narrow, familiar corridor of the Sochya, anticipating eating something and anticipating even more the thought of being alone with his bondmate, his body feeling suddenly weighty and sluggish under the environmental conditions that he now assumed were normal for the Vuhlkansu.  His mind faltered over the series of events that began with a conversation with Winona at her kitchen table in the solitary light of an oil lamp and now found him in space, mentally bound to an alien, preparing to take point in an operation that could save the world.  And it had happened so fast; this was all happening so fast.  As they arrived at the door, Jim barely managed a tight smile to Sorill before stepping immediately into the small space, hearing Spock’s voice and Sorill’s murmured reply behind him before the door slid shut with a hiss.

            Jim didn’t turn, his eyes on the bed where they had had their first, frantic sexual encounter, the bond itself seeming to spark, seeming to demand closeness.  “I think…I think I need a minute. I need… .”

            He felt the heat and electricity of Spock’s hand slide against the back of his neck in a caress, the young alien’s fingers just reaching up to massage small circles in Jim’s hair as Spock’s other hand slid over the human’s shoulder and down his arm to entwine their fingers.  Jim couldn’t help a sigh, closing his eyes and leaning his head back into his bondmate’s gentle touch, sensing the love pouring over their connection, shields falling.

            “That feels good.  You feel good.”

            Spock hummed, “Allow me to demonstrate the replicator, Jim.”

            Jim grunted.  “Later.  I just want your hands on me.”  He snorted helplessly.  “I know this really isn’t the time, but I suddenly don’t give a fuck.”

            The bond was beginning to take on a desperate, longing quality, and Jim opened his eyes with the subtle feeling of falling, turning abruptly to grab his bondmate’s shoulders for balance and promptly becoming caught in a dark, heated gaze.  Desperation shifted into immediate, pounding need and hunger was forgotten, fear was forgotten, the looming mission was forgotten as Jim couldn’t help his own challenging, sultry look.  “Although, I want to give a fuck.  T’hy’la.”

            “Jim.”  His name was exhaled from Spock’s parted lips.

            “Yeah?”  He managed the briefest smirk before his mouth was taken in a heated kiss, and Jim kissed back just as forcefully, his hands coming up to frame his bondmate’s face, sliding up to fist into silky, black hair.  He tugged sharply, just because he wanted to see what would happen, and heard Spock make a low, dangerous noise into his mouth.  Jim grinned into the kiss, feeling decidedly out of control and relishing it.  Finally, finally, he was back where he was most comfortable: pushing his way into some daring, stupid scenario. This time, though, he really didn’t want to try to figure his way out of it.  Instead, he wanted to drown himself in it, he wanted the marks of it over his body, the smell of it on his skin, the awareness of it overwhelming his thoughts.  This was higher than adrenaline, stronger than a drug: waves of primal possessiveness and lust and heat pouring across the bond.  Even as they kissed, bodies pressing against each other, their minds entwined along their connection, Jim let out a triumphant noise.  Somehow it had all been building to this.

            Spock grunted, one hand moving to slide over Jim’s erection, straining within the fabric of the jumpsuit.  The human tried not to whine, reluctantly letting go of his bondmate’s hair to rip at the fastenings, their mouths separating just enough for him to stammer out a rapid flurry of words, “This…this is what happens when the bond…when you first get…we can’t keep doing this…fuck, I want you.”

            His thought was incomplete, and Spock apparently was too far gone himself to do anything but gasp a verbal response, his hands finally finding Jim’s skin as the jumpsuit was perfunctorily torn away, exposing his human’s body.  “My chosen…my t’hy’la.”

            Jim’s cock ached and he hissed as it brushed against the material of Spock’s own clothing, pulling back just enough to allow the young alien to struggle out of it.  And then he cried out as he was suddenly moved, pressed back against the bulkhead, the wall uncomfortably cool on his heated skin, arching into the heat of his bondmate, the world spinning one more time as they finally landed on the bed.  Jim used his own momentum to flip them over, feeling the slickness of Spock’s natural lubrication across his lower body as he stretched out on top of the young alien, sliding their fingers together over Spock’s head, hips undulating, mouths continuing to press together.  And Jim’s lascivious thought of how his mate’s secretions would taste was immediately translated into another swirl of movement as he was flipped to lie on his back, and Spock was somehow already sliding down, a hot mouth descending slowly, tortuously, over Jim’s own penis.

            He was muttering gibberish, but he was pretty sure that his mind was expressing wild enthusiasm and praise as he realized that a telepathic partner was truly fucking extraordinary.  Pressure there, and his balls cupped just so, and a fucking maddening talented tongue and Jim was coming absurdly quickly, his cock throbbing into wet heat and the bond flaring: a flash of blinding white expanding and then contracting and still desire remained.

            Jim retained enough strength to tug again on black hair, gently this time, urging the young alien to crawl up his body, and then he turned over, hearing his partner’s breath catch as he pushed his ass back against Spock’s slippery erection.  Thoughts flew between them: questions, consent, fear and need, love and lust, and Jim felt a warm hand stroke along his back and then a slickened pressure against his entrance.

            It almost wasn’t fair: Jim’s building arousal and frustration at his mate’s complete fascination with his fingers’ action in and out of the human’s body.  And he would have insisted that Spock get on with it except for the ecstatic pleasure that streamed to him over the bond: curiosity and lust and the increasing demands of their mental connection and he could feel Spock’s smile against the sweat-drenched skin of Jim’s back as three fingers stretched the human open.

            Even with the thorough preparation and the bone-melting lust and the overwhelming heat, Spock was still careful as he finally pressed into Jim’s body. Jim groaned with the intensity of it, wincing slightly, his transient discomfort flickering over the bond before the human felt warm fingers slide along the side of his face and everything was lost into…

 

           This was needed: this closeness, this physical communion even as they flew together into their minds. Completion, and truth, and nothing holding back, and he suddenly understood, feeling his mate’s mental laughter and the building pleasure a tidal wave as the bond made it all blend into a startling brilliant light…

 

…sweat and echoes of shared pleasure and Spock’s arm under him, encircling his chest, and Spock’s other hand falling from his face, the heat of the young alien’s body over his, still within his.

            Jim.  Beloved.

           I love you, too.  Jim shifted, and Spock gently pulled out of his body, shifting to lie next to Jim, one arm still possessively circling him.  The human grunted as he turned onto his back, not wanting to lose contact despite the sweat and come that clung to his skin.

            “I think I understand.”  Jim’s voice was hoarse.  “When you said the bond felt different, before.  I feel it now. The…nervous…thing…the underlying, uh, thing is gone:  it’s clearer, calmer. It feels more intimate, stronger if that’s possible.”  He felt quite proud of himself for such a profound statement.

            “It has…settled.”  Spock’s voice sounded just as unsteady.

            “What?”

            “Newly bonded mates require physical intimacy…intercourse, and mental closeness.  What you felt, the tension, I felt also.  It is responsible for some of the…possibly inappropriate urgency we experienced.”

            Jim felt like his head was clearing.  “So we can’t be blamed for getting it on every time they leave us alone.”

            He could feel Spock’s eyebrow lift.  “It was logical to fully consummate our bond prior to such an important mission.  To avoid further distraction.”

            Jim sniffed.  And then he snorted.  And then he let out a peal of full-blown laughter, rolling over into his mate and resting his forehead on his shoulder.  “I guess I finally got that stick out of your ass.”

            Spock hummed, and Jim remembered something from the kash-nohv, lifting his head and peering into dark eyes.  “The…music in your mind.  It’s changed.”

            Spock swallowed and intertwined sadness and joy flitted so clearly across their connection.  “My mind follows the music of your thoughts, t’hy’la.”

            Jim blinked at him, aware once more of what had been lost, even as they had found each other.

           I grieve with thee.

            Their eyes met and held, the bond strong and powerful, running deeply between them.  And then the intercom beeped.

            “Fuck.”  Jim leaned back, flopping his head onto the pillow even as Spock rose smoothly from the bed and walked to the unit on the wall. 

            A quick exchange that Jim didn’t bother paying attention to, and the young alien turned back to his mate, curiosity sparking over the bond as dark brows came sharply together.

            Jim lifted himself onto one elbow.  “What’s up?”

            “Our presence is requested in the transporter room.” 

            Spock tilted his head and Jim glanced pointedly up and down the lean, nude form.  “Well, I guess we need to, uh, get cleaned up.  And dressed.”  He made a face.  “Please tell me we have something else we can change into.”

 

 

 

            An efficient sonic shower later and Jim and Spock strode down the corridor, dressed in the changes of clothing they had found in the closet of their quarters.  Obviously stocked in preparation for their covert mission, they each wore Earth-normal jeans and boots and a long-sleeved casual shirt.  Jim moved with newfound confidence despite certain subtle aches; the bond intimately pleasant in his mind and the familiar clothing much more comfortable on his body.  The transporter room door slid open in front of them, and whatever Jim was expecting, it was definitely not the tense figure of his best friend, arms crossed tightly over his chest, a tortured expression in his eyes.

            “Bones! What the fuck?”

            McCoy looked at him.  “What the fuck indeed.  I’m coming with you.”

            Jim opened his mouth to ask the obvious question, and then closed it as he realized that to ask it would be cruel.  Instead, he nodded subtly at the doctor, and then at Sorill, who was standing quietly to the side.  “We’re going to need more clothes.”

            The captain merely inclined his head, and Jim saw McCoy’s shoulders drop slightly in relief, hazel eyes reflecting the barest hint of gratitude.  The young human smiled, stepping forward to meet his friend.  “C’mon, Bones, we were just going to go over the details.  Glad to have you along.”

            “Thanks, Jim.”  The doctor’s eyes shifted to Spock.  “Spock.”

            “Your presence is most welcome, Leonard.”

            Jim saw McCoy’s lips tighten, saw him blink rapidly, and the younger man spoke quickly, waving the others towards the door, “Let’s get this show on the road.  Gentlemen?” As they filed out, Jim saw the slightest hint of acknowledgment on Sorill’s face.  And for the first time, his friends at his back, his mission ahead of him, he truly felt like a leader.  He felt hopeful.

 

Chapter End Notes:

 

Vulcan translations from the VLD.

 

Hal-tor, k’kudaya t’nash-veh.:  Go, with my blessing.

 

Winona’s poem to Amanda:

 

Forever standing by your side, my heart’s desire I shall confide

Truthful denial, but kinship brave

Our hearts are strong, and all is saved

Again we two, and all the pain now backward instead of forward lain.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: All The Stars Above Me

 

            Jim sat at the small conference table onboard the Sochya, his hands tightly folded in his lap as Sorill summarized the data packet.  Beside him to his left, McCoy had one hand over his mouth as if he were going to be sick, and to Jim’s right, Spock sat silently, stiff-backed, his lips pressed into a thin line.  Jim himself was only barely holding onto his composure, the Vuhlkansu captain’s firm monotone allowing for a measure of clinical detachment.

            Long-range scans, they called them.  Images of sickening conquest, it turned out.  The Nehaya had advanced on the most remote locations first, capturing some and murdering far more, leaving sprawling hive-like structures filled with unconscious human hosts, incubators for the next generation of invaders.  The heavy reduction and centralization of the global population on the American continents after the eugenics wars combined with the strong dependence of outlying towns and cities on the central hub of governmental control meant a tragic domino effect occurred once the main energy and supply grids were taken off-line.  Riverside had been but one among many.  Surprisingly, the absolute center of military power and government, a large, fortified complex on the eastern seaboard of North America, was largely intact.  Shielded with the most advanced technology, and defended by the best the military had to offer, it appeared to stand alone against the alien surge.  In fact, the Nehaya had seemed to all but ignore it, perhaps content to take what they wished from the rest of the planet, and the vulnerable populations there.

            “There has been little by way of military strikes originating from the complex against the larger force of the Nehaya, however, our intelligence had confirmed that the bulk of advanced military technology is controlled from that location, including drone activity and long-range missile ports and targeting.  Thus far, though there are isolated pockets of resistance, this remains the prime strategic possibility.”  Sorill paused as the door to the room slid open and T’Rian stepped in.

            “Forgive me, my husband.  I was detained.”  She met Jim’s surprised gaze with a slight nod of acknowledgment before slipping into the seat opposite the young human.  Jim nodded back, but his expression was not lost on the captain.

            “T’Rian is my bondmate; a fact which was not, perhaps, brought to your attention earlier, Mr. Kirk.  She will be joining us on our mission.”  There was a note in Sorill’s voice that spoke of disapproval, and an answering, almost challenging gleam in T’Rian’s dark eyes, and Jim mentally poked his own bondmate.

            It is logical, t’hy’la. Not only from the perspective of their respective positions, but also in light of their survival and functionality with the fall of T’Khasi.

            I wondered.  The bond was still suffused with calm, with an almost decadent comfort.  The underlying tension was gone, to be sure, and with it the frantic need, but Jim was slowly becoming aware of a more intense longing for simple touch that forced his fingers to remain laced together lest he unconsciously reach for Spock’s hand in the middle of the meeting.

            Sorill continued, “To conclude, the preliminary strategy is to transport Mr. Kirk and Spock directly into this facility.  They will contact the leaders and convince them to coordinate an attack to coincide with the Alliance orbital offensive.”

            McCoy had leaned back in his chair.  “They must have some reason for not attacking already.”

            “Perhaps they believe it to be illogical to do so in the face of such odds,” T’Rian offered, arching her eyebrows.

            McCoy raised his own eyebrow.  “Lady, you obviously haven’t met many humans if you think anything we do is motivated by logic.”

            “Bones.”  Jim unlaced his fingers, reaching out and laying a hand on his friend’s arm.

            The doctor frowned, meeting the younger man’s blue eyes.  “I mean it, Jim.  We spent our whole lives fearing and distrusting these people for good fucking reason.  And now they’re holed up in their bunker doing god knows what and you and Spock are going to just pop in out of thin air?  They’ll shoot you without a second thought.”

            Jim shook his head, withdrawing his hand.  “They’ve got the firepower.  If we can convince them to mobilize the drones alone we can raise a shitload of havoc.”

            “Agreed.”  Sorill tilted his head.  “Other groups of resistance fighters are widely dispersed and apparently disorganized, lacking in firepower.  Time is of the essence, as is efficacy.”

            McCoy exhaled sharply and rubbed his hand over his mouth.  “Well, fine then.  I’m going with you, though.  Something tells me you’re going to need a doctor.”

            T’Rian was watching him intently.  “You are a fascinating human.  Despite your objections, you acquiesce to this plan on the basis of personal loyalty alone.”

            McCoy crossed his arms over his chest.  “You’re gonna tell me that if your husband was going on some damn-fool mission, you’d stay behind because you thought the premise was illogical?”

            T’Rian blinked.  “Neither participant is your spouse.”

            “They’re my friends.” 

            McCoy’s voice was flinty, and Jim quickly jumped in, “Okay, so we’re agreed. More or less.”  He glanced at his bondmate.  “Spock? Anything to add?”

            “Recommend full armament; it is necessary to convince what leaders remain that we are, in fact, representatives to be dealt with.”

            Sorill peered at the younger Vuhlkansu.  “The Alliance represents peace, Spock.  We are offering aid and assistance.  You will be first contact.  As a point officer… .”

            “They have experienced first contact already, Sorill, at the hands of the Nehaya.  As I have experienced a form of first contact, with one who was acting out of fear.  That emotion in particular is a powerful one, and any weakness that is shown will be exploited; any misunderstanding will be unilaterally acted upon without appropriate reflection.”

            Jim’s lips tightened as he remembered Grayson’s bullet.

            Spock continued, “Logic and rational actions are not the way in which this will proceed.”  He glanced down at his nondescript clothes.  “If we are to be seen as warriors, perhaps we should act the part.”

            A faint line appeared between Sorill’s brows.  “I do not understand.”

            Spock lifted his chin.  “Send to the Tar’hana for combat uniforms and weaponry.  The point officer’s code no longer applies here, nor does the non-interference directive.  We must negotiate from a position of strength, even if that strength is merely the strength of appearance.”

            A weighty silence descended in the room, broken finally by Sorill’s murmured acknowledgement, “I will make the request personally.”  His eyes lowered briefly and he moved to deactivate the viewer as T’Rian stood up.  The captain stepped to her side.  “We anticipate departure readiness in fifty-eight point one minutes.  Please proceed to duty stations at that time.” 

            Sorill didn’t look back as they exited the small room, and as the door slid shut, leaving the three men alone, McCoy whistled.  “Spock, you sure shocked the hell out of him.”

            Jim exhaled, reaching across the table and capturing one of Spock’s hands in his own, entwining their fingers regardless of McCoy’s presence, relying on human interpretation of a simple act of affection.  And, even if the pleasure and warmth hadn’t filtered immediately over the bond, Jim could perceive his mate’s acceptance by the way long fingers tightened on his own unreservedly.

            The doctor glanced at their clasped hands and smiled slightly, returning to his train of thought, “Something’s not quite right about all this.”

            Jim shook his head.  “There’re a fuckload of things not quite right about this, but we have to start somewhere.”

           Bones sighed.  “I know. Dammit.”  He ran a hand through his hair.  “I’m…look, I’m still messed up about Jo, about how things were going down even before you got us out of that firefight by the highway.”  He studied the surface of the table.  “When I went to get her, I wasn’t exactly following the rules, if you know what I mean.  And then we were trapped: our aircar ruined, those things advancing, and I kept thinking that we weren’t going to make it, that we would die and it would be my fault because I hadn’t trusted those people to keep her safe.” 

            He frowned deeply.  “Never mind the bullshit that we’ve been through with the security checks and the immoral programs and the taxation and the relentless control; I didn’t trust them, him, with my daughter’s safety.  And I see what might happen now, with others’ children on the line, and I still don’t trust them to make the right decision.  I could be wrong; I could be right: either way, I know I’m not objective.”

            “I do not believe that such is possible, presently, for any of us, Leonard.”

            Spock’s words were spoken quietly, their echoes shimmering along the bond and Jim looked over at him, needing to dispel the heavy veil of sadness that hung in the air.  “Well, at least if we’re going in like this you won’t have to hide your ears, which I’m happy about, because I like them.  A lot.”

            Bones rolled his eyes.  “Jesus, Jim.  With suave like that it’s a wonder you ever got out of the house in the first place.”

            Jim smirked.  “You’re just jealous because you never dated a hot alien.”

            “Dated.”  McCoy’s look grew suddenly pointed.  “It sounds like a hell of a lot more than that.”  His eyes shifted to Spock and then back to Jim.  “Look, if we get into trouble down there I want to know what I’m dealing with.  Now, I know what’s been hinted at and what I’ve seen, but I want a straight answer: mental joining, marriage, whatever it is I want to know how it might affect you down there, and what I might need to know as your doctor.”

            Jim sensed reassurance over their connection and Spock straightened his back.  “Jim and I are t’hy’la.  We share a fundamental mental resonance that translated into a spontaneous mental link that deepened during this…crisis.  We are bonded mates; we have awareness of each other’s thoughts and emotions, and are capable of telepathic communication even if not touching.”

            McCoy’s jaw had tensed and his eyes had widened, but his voice was calm.  “And this is permanent?”

            “Indeed.”

            The doctor grunted.  “And how would this affect Jim if something happened to you?”

            Spock swallowed.  “That…is difficult to say.”

            McCoy nodded slowly.  “Alright.  I’ve got a pretty good idea anyway after what happened before this ship showed up.”  He rubbed his chin. “Well, if you can think at each other it might be useful, I guess.”  He shrugged weakly.  “Congratulations, in any case.”

            Jim managed a small smile.  “Thanks, Bones.” 

            The doctor’s brow had furrowed, his eyes, full of emotion, lingering on Spock, and the young alien smoothly stood, releasing Jim’s hand.  “If you will excuse me, I will see to the re-provisioning effort.”  Your friend desires your counsel, t’hy’la.

            “Uh, okay.”  See you before we have to go to control?

            “I shall meet you in our quarters in twenty minutes.”  Spock nodded to McCoy and turned and the sound of the door closing was, to Jim’s ears, overly loud.

            “Fuck.  I’m sorry if I offended him.”  Bones winced.  “I just…I was just thinking that a lot of this suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense.”

            “What do you mean?”  Jim’s mind was almost involuntarily chasing after his bondmate and he had to focus to pull his attention back to his friend.

            “He knows your thoughts, your feelings?  And you can sense his?  Your reaction when we thought he was dying…you must have felt that.  And him-what he felt when all the others, all his people were destroyed.  Do they have…bonds with everyone?”

            Jim took a breath and let it out.  “To some extent, I think so.  Not like this, though.  What we have; I get the impression that it’s pretty special.”

            “But he would have felt it when… .  Jesus.  I can’t even imagine.”  Bones covered his eyes with one hand, leaning back in his chair.  “And that’s why Amanda was so…off.  She had a bond, too, with Spock’s father.”

            “Yeah.”  Jim thought guiltily of the times he’d reacted to her in anger and frustration.

            “A fucking tragedy, all of it: all this pain and fear and hopelessness, all this death.  It’s incomprehensible.” McCoy bit his lip.  “Everything I had was wrapped up into my daughter: to getting her out, to getting her safe.”  His body tensed, his eyes still covered.  “Her mother is dead, Jim.  I saw her die, but Jo doesn’t know.  I chose my daughter.  God help me, I turned away.  I need to make up for that.”

            Jim tilted his head to look at his friend.  “Bones, Jo is safe. Your decision to get her, to protect her, it was the right one.”

            “In hindsight, because of random fucking chance.”  Bones finally dropped his hand, his eyes steely.  “Doctors have to learn to live with random chance; to stand next to it and watch it fuck up our hard work or correct our shortcomings, but we don’t have to like it.”

            “It worked out, Bones.  She’s safe.”  Jim saw his friend’s eyes moisten, his jaw tremble.  “Bones, she’s safe.  You did your job.”  The young man’s voice faltered: for all that they had been through, for all his perspective had been so powerfully expanded, he still hesitated, uncomfortable with his ability to verbally reassure his friend, who had always seemed to be so stalwart.

            “And should I have left her, now?  Am I doing the right thing, now?  Looking for redemption for something unforgivable by doing something else unforgivable?”  The doctor’s voice was ragged, vulnerable.

            “I’m grateful you’re here.  You’re needed, here.  I need…I’m… .”  Jim made a face.  “Fucking hell, Bones, you know I’m a selfish asshole.  Why are you even asking me that?”

            Pained hazel eyes peered at him.  “You’re not, actually.  And even if you were… .”  He held out his hands.  “Just tell me I’m doing the right thing.”

            Jim gazed at him and saw his friend’s desperation, could feel his need for forgiveness as surely as if it was telepathically sent and he also knew that he himself was not the one who could grant it.  “Bones… .”

            “I’m a shit father, Jim.  I am.  I bitched about that woman and her husband, but I could’ve done more.  And then I took my girl like I knew what I was doing and I really had no fucking clue.”  McCoy looked away, his voice steadying, his hands falling to his lap.  He took a deep breath, nodding to himself.  “Fuck it.  Jo’s safe, now.”

            “She is.”

            “I got lucky.”

            “That’s okay, too.”  Jim shifted in his chair, lingering physical discomfort causing a light blush to color his cheeks.

           McCoy, of course, noticed, shaking his head and rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.  “Jim, get out of here and go find your husband or whatever you two are calling each other.  If we’ve only got a little while before we get underway and do our best to meet our maker, you should probably be spending your time more wisely.”

            Jim ducked his head but didn’t argue.  “Thanks, Bones.  I’ll, uh… .”

            “I’ll find my way around.  Just go.”

            The younger man stood, taking several paces towards the door before glancing back.  “I meant it, Bones.  I’m glad you’re here.”

            The doctor gave him a fleeting smile, and Jim turned again, stepping through the opening door and out into the corridor, the bond drawing him unerringly to his mate.

 

 

 

            The door to their quarters slid open to admit the young human, and he stepped through to take in his bondmate, sitting cross-legged on the floor at the foot of the newly made bed, eyes shut, hands placed over his knees.  There were two thick packages of what appeared to be clothing on the bed, and two pairs of black boots on the floor, and as Jim moved closer, brown eyes opened and the bond reverberated between them.

            “I talked to Bones.”  Jim glanced again at the packages.  “Those for us?”

            “Affirmative.”  Spock exhaled softly and rose gracefully to his feet.  “Sorill will see that Leonard is given his, as well as a portable medkit.”

            “He’ll be pissed when he doesn’t recognize anything.”

            “T’Rian will brief him en route.  I am confident in the Doctor’s abilities.”  Soft inquiry drifted between them as Spock picked up on Jim’s lingering distress.

            Jim hummed, not wanting to discuss it, his attention moving back towards the bed.  “We won’t have much time.”  His discussion with McCoy had made him uneasy: had made him think of his own weaknesses and of the vagaries of fate.  Jim himself hated thinking of luck, of chance, of close examination of that gossamer line between what happened and what could have happened.

            “Indeed not.  Our return path will be considerably less circuitous.”  Spock took a step closer.

            “Right.”  Jim’s attention was still diverted, his words murmured almost inaudibly, “When we get back…I want to finally sleep with you.  Not just be unconscious together, but to be with you.  I want to dream with you.”  He flinched self-consciously.  “Do your people…do you…even do that?  Do you want to do that?”

            Spock was silent for a moment, but Jim could clearly sense the love and gentle near-wistfulness that stole across their bond.  “When, as you say, we return, I wish to join your mind for no reason other than to feel the music of your thoughts.  To sleep, in this way, would be to invite dreams that would be experienced together.”  He paused.  “To give an answer to your question, t’hy’la, yes, I want to do that.”

            Jim looked at him, at fathomless love reflected in brown eyes, and he suddenly knew where his uneasiness was based.  He recognized fear: fear of losing this, of losing Spock, of never getting that chance to simply be together.  It was a deep, sickening, guilty feeling that swelled despite Jim’s attempts to push it away, and he closed his eyes.  “Some fucking leader; some fucking hero.  I’m sorry.”

            He felt his mate’s heat as Spock stepped even closer to him, felt the caress of paired fingers as they traced his face, the electric tingle sparking and then fading into gentle warmth.  The young alien’s voice was quiet.  “I, too, fear this.  Other fears, I am able to control, but this I must simply accept.”  Jim opened his eyes, and saw the barest smile curve his friend’s mouth.  “I understand now why the ancient rights exist; why t’hy’la chose to fight and die together.  It made them quite formidable.”

            “All or nothing.”  Jim smiled faintly, leaning into the feather-light touch.  “At your side.”

            “And I, at yours.”

            They moved together, mouths meeting gently, sensually, and Spock’s fingers continued to trace Jim’s jaw and cheekbone and Jim’s hands slipped into silky, black hair.  And even though the relentless march of time continued and chance beckoned with cold merciless fingers, even though there were still the shades of sadness and unbelievable loss and things never to be forgotten nor forgiven, for brief, stolen moments they were set apart: sheltered and inviolable, calm before the storm.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: And Only Dirt Beneath My Feet

 

            “Set approach vector to two-seven-one.  Initiate short burst deceleration in three…two…one…execute.”

            The infrastructure groaned as the Sochya came out of warp abruptly, dumping velocity as she sped towards the gleaming white ice of Earth’s southern continent on a near-normal trajectory, passing smoothly into the uppermost atmosphere.

            “Nehaya craft remaining in standard orbit-no marked deviation.”  Sorill was manning the sensor station.

            Bringing her in…watch the altitude…preparing for braking… .  Jim’s thoughts were rapid, his concentration absolute: aiming the bow of the craft directly towards a looming cliff of sheer rock.  I’m gonna settle her against that face…stand by on anti-gravs.

            Spock’s mental acknowledgement was touched with wry amusement, quickly controlled.  The hypothesis that the Nehaya sensors might be further obscured by the clever maneuver of clinging to a vertical, freezing rock face near the planetary pole had appealed to Jim most of all because of the mechanics involved with securing the ship to said face.  The seriousness, of course, was unavoidable: the Sochya would need to be as creatively obscured as possible to prevent detection during beaming and communication attempts.  Even if another bonded piloting team had been available, the small craft would stand little chance on a direct run against an alert enemy.

            The final braking was achieved faultlessly: the ship spinning to line up against the smooth rock and the anti-gravity fields activating, the viewscreen revealing the crisp brilliance of a clear, blue sky.  Jim set the controls to station-keeping and glanced back at Sorill, who was still absorbed by the sensor readouts.

            “Continued negative response.”  Sorill finally stood.  “It appears our approach choice was effective.”  He somehow conveyed pleased surprise through the minute tightening of his facial muscles and Jim lowered his eyes briefly, stifling a smile, wondering if it was the cynical human tendency to always seek what was below the surface that allowed him to interpret such subtle expression.

            “Indeed.”  Spock gave a small nod.  “Orbital entry presented the highest probability of detection.  The fact that our approach was successful implies a directed polarization bias in the Nehaya sensor function.  Most interesting.”

            “Or they’re just arrogant.”  Jim pressed his lips together.  “Either way, we’re in.  Now we get to the fun stuff.”  Jim stood, Spock beside him, the deep attunement receding, returning easily to the background of shared mental warmth.

           Sorill remained on the upper deck, his dark eyes intense.  “I shall activate the transporter from here.”  He lifted his hand in salute.  “Live long and prosper.”  The words were somehow incongruous with the mission but Jim felt the deeper meaning through the bond: a salute of their planet, of their people, something that on Earth might have been translated as ‘Godspeed’, significant even to a nonbeliever.  Spock returned the salute as Jim nodded, not trusting his own fingers into that unfamiliar configuration.

            The young human’s heart was pounding as they walked down the narrow corridor, shoulder to shoulder.  They had gotten a chance to eat, at least, a quick but hearty meal shared in their cabin immediately before being called to the helm.  The Vuhlkansu selections had been devoid of meat: heavy on light grains and vegetables, but Jim had hardly noticed, wolfing down the slightly bland food with hardly a nod to proper table manners.  Jim had enjoyed watching the slight greenish flush that had colored his bondmate’s face as the human had used his hands indiscriminately, making a mental note to try it again under less pressing circumstances. 

            The trip to the transporter room was quick and the doors opened to the sight of McCoy, dressed similarly in black combat fatigues and boots, pacing back and forth, worrying his collar.  Jim smirked when he saw his friend.  “You look good, Bones.”

            The doctor exhaled, peering at Jim and then at Spock.  “We look like goddamn commandos.  And he looks like an alien.  We’re gonna get shot on sight.”

            Jim glanced at his t’hy’la, appearing tall and dangerous in his fatigues.  “We’ll be fine.”

            Bones grunted and fiddled with a pack worn over his shoulder.  “You should see the shit they’ve got in here, Jim.”  He shook his head.  “Stuff I’d only read about in sci-fi novels.  It’s unbelievable.”

            Jim furrowed his brow.  “Let’s hope we don’t need it.”

            The doctor nodded, reaching out and gripping Jim’s arm.  He hesitated, and then reached for Spock, too, laying a gentle hand on the young alien’s shoulder.  The close contact caused McCoy’s emotions to slip past Spock’s shields, and Jim felt his friend’s tension, his deep worry and gentle kinship.  The doctor bowed his head, his fingers tightening.  “Look, I… ,” he shrugged, “I’m not good with speeches, and I know that this isn’t the time anyway, but I wanted to thank you.  Before we go down there and get into whatever we find, I wanted to let you know that I…fuck.”  He broke off, frowning and pulling his hands away, and Jim hastily reached back, grabbing his friend’s hand in his own.

            “I hear you, Bones.”  He smiled softly.  “I get it.”

            “Yeah,” McCoy replied, making a face.  “Well, there you go. I’m a sappy bastard in the end.”

            Jim chuckled.  “I won’t hold it against you.”  He caught the older man’s rolled eyes. “And Spock won’t either.”

            But Spock did not respond, and there was something like damped fire burning in his dark eyes and along the bond: a deep, protective impulse, smoldering purpose, and matchless intensity.  It was startling, and it threw their looming task in immediate relief.

            Jim straightened his shoulders, his expression sobering, patting his own sidearm and uplink.  They were wearing a thin form of armor under their clothes for extra protection, and it molded to his upper torso tightly, almost invisible under the overshirt.  He took a breath, calling on any and every natural tendency for leadership, on his preternatural ability to bullshit or reason his way out of almost any situation, and stepped up to the transporter platform, seeing Spock move immediately to his side, sidearm drawn and held in both hands.  McCoy followed suit, heaving a sigh and moving to Jim’s other side, glancing nervously at the mechanism above his head.

            Sorill’s voice came over the intercom, “Stand by for transport into the central complex.  Energizing.” And then Jim felt the now-familiar sense of dissociation, the swirls of golden light, one last breath of safety, and everything disappeared.

 

 

 

            Golden swirls faded, and in their place rose a burst of cool energy: air rich with oxygen and humidity, a lifting of a weight over his limbs, and Jim saw immediately that they were in a large, windowless room and a group of well-dressed people were leaping to their feet from around a central table with gasps and screams.  Two uniformed men against the far wall lifted weapons, and Jim watched his bondmate fire two precision stun beams directly into their chests.  The screams came again, people clambering back, and Jim’s attention was immediately fastened on a gray-haired man in front of him: a man whose image he knew, had known, almost his entire life.

           “Secretary Aristides.”

            The elderly man roughly shook off the clinging arm of one of the others, and stepped forward, fear and incredulity warring within his expression. His mouth opened and closed, his eyes moving to Spock and then McCoy and back to Jim.

            The young human forced confidence into his words, “We are friends.”

            The man flinched, his eyes returning to Spock, and he finally found his voice.  “Friends?  With the technology to simply appear out of thin air?”

            Jim didn’t mince words.  “Exactly.  Interested?”  He shot a glance to where three more uniformed guards were running into the room.  Wait, Spock, let me… . 

            Aristides lifted a hand, his voice now sharper and regaining its normal commanding overtones.  “Hold your fire.  Hold!”  The guards stopped, their eyes moving rapidly between the newcomers and the cowering civilians and the elderly leader gestured again.  “Stand down; that’s an order.”

           You, too, Spock. Lower the weapon.

           T’hy’la… .

           An act of faith, I know.  Trust me.  He knew it wasn’t entirely fair to ask his bondmate for such when Jim barely trusted himself, but he had a gut feeling, and he knew that they wouldn’t win a firefight anyway; at least not a protracted one.  He felt the dark-haired man’s mental acknowledgement as the weapon lowered, Spock’s impassive visage masking an inhuman concentration: all alien senses stretched.

            “My name is James Kirk and this is McCoy,” he gestured, “and Spock.”  A fearful murmur traveled through the small crowd behind Aristides and Jim continued, “Obviously, my friend,” he stressed the word, “is not human, which may not come as much of a shock considering recent events.  I’m here, now, to tell you that the aliens who have taken over our planet and are murdering and enslaving our people are not the only beings out there.  I speak for an Alliance of worlds willing to offer us assistance to overthrow the Nehaya, as they call them, and to keep this planet from being used as a home base from which to spread their violence and cruelty to others.”  The murmurs had grown louder.

            “You speak… .”  Aristides’ expression had shifted subtly, with something akin to wariness crossing his features, and the sharp skepticism of his tone quieted the others.  “A human speaking for aliens?”

            “They’re willing to help us, but we must work together.”  Jim held out his hands in a plea.  “We must coordinate… .”

            “And what does your Alliance want in return?” Aristides interrupted, his narrowed eyes returning to Spock.  “Are we then to have another occupier?”

            “No.  Theirs is a federation of peace and cooperation.”  Jim’s reply was earnest, and he caught McCoy’s tense shift next to him as the elderly man continued to stare at the Vuhlkansu.

            “Jim.”  The doctor’s whisper was barely audible, and Jim could almost feel his unspoken words, I don’t like this. The others in the room were standing still, watching, silent now, and the young human didn’t know if it was Spock’s senses or his own but he felt it too: something was wrong.

            The Secretary frowned, his eyes suddenly unreadable as they shifted to Jim again.  “This is…difficult to believe, you must understand.  The way you appeared…and this one… .”  He peered at Spock’s ears.  “This could all be a trick, or a test.”

            A chill washed down Jim’s spine, but he kept his expression neutral.  “I don’t understand.”

            “What did you call them?  The Nehaya?  They call themselves something very different.”

           Spock, are you getting… .

            The young alien had stepped closer to Jim’s side, his sidearm lowered but ready, and Jim felt mental shields slowly fall, the feedback processing along the bond.  The emotions were strong, not only from Aristides, but from the others as well: sick fear, confusion, wariness, resolution, guilt.  And from someone there was something very different: desperate hope, wonder, anticipation, fear, warning.

            Jim casually placed his hand over his own weapon, trying to keep his breathing regular.  “Why haven’t they attacked you here?”

            The warning was growing louder somehow and then Jim saw her: a young woman wearing nondescript clothes and standing towards the back: dark skin and eyes, her long hair in a braid wrapped tightly around her head.  She was staring at him fixedly, her entire body tense.

           Spock…that woman… .  Jim moved his gaze deliberately back to Aristides, whose expression was now stony, committed.  “Secretary… .”

            A split second of Vuhlkansu heightened senses was all they got as a hidden panel slid open in the wall to the right, revealing several uniformed guards, weapons aimed.  And Spock was already moving as the shots began and screams came from the front of the room.  The others fled, pushing towards the doors, and Jim reeled from repeated impacts on his body armor as his bondmate shoved him and McCoy forcefully back, flipping the table with inhuman strength to shield them.  The bond had darkened, sealed shut as the barrage had begun, and Jim swore, crouching next to McCoy, hearing the muffled thuds of energy bolts striking the other side of the table.

            “Jesus, Jim, call the ship!” 

            McCoy was covering his head with his arms, and Jim was already on it, the uplink in his hand.  “Sorill, come in.  Sorill!”  There was nothing but static and Jim made a face, ducking his head as a chunk of the table blew out above them.  “Fuck, there’s no answer.”

            Spock had unslung the pulse rifle from over his shoulder, his expression impassive.  “Periods of failed communication were a possibility.”

            “Periods!” McCoy barked.  “That’s just fucking great.”

            Jim ducked again, keeping the uplink in his hand.  “Bones, you okay?  You hit?”

            “Not yet,” was the doctor’s dark reply.

            “Spock?”  Jim mentally flailed against the shielding, finding it disconcerting to be blocked out now, even with the hell raging around them.  What the fuck?

            But there was no response, and the young alien next to them moved as the impacts against the table slowed, the high-pitched pulses of the rapid-fire rifle singing out above them as Spock fired amidst shouts from the guards.  A frisson of pain glided into Jim’s mind from under the shield, hastily repressed, and Spock crouched back down as another cascade of shots came.

            “We’re in it now.”  Jim ducked his head and stared at his bondmate.  “Spock, are you hurt?”

           Spock glanced over at him and there was a sudden explosion from the front of the room, the impacts against the table stopping completely as a flurry of lower-pitched shots sounded from closer to the door and a feminine voice rang out towards them, “You’re clear!  Kirk!  We’ve got to hurry!”

            Spock had already risen, his weapon aimed, and Jim scrambled to his feet, seeing blackened marks against the far wall amidst the unmoving bodies of the guards and the young woman from before, now holding a weapon of her own and pressing keys frantically at the now-closed door panel.

            “C’mon, Bones.”  Jim pulled his friend up, and the three rounded the table.

            The woman turned as they approached, her eyes flicking to Spock.  “This should be sealed for a few minutes at least, assuming they don’t try to gas us.”  She glanced around the room and then her fierce dark eyes focused on Jim.  “Well, are you going to get us out of here or are you going to have him shoot me?”

            “Who are you?”  Jim stared at her as Spock slowly lowered his weapon.

            “Jesus Christ.”  She exhaled exasperatedly and stepped forward.  “You need to get us out of here!  Now!”

            Jim heard Spock’s murmur into his own uplink and furrowed his brow.  “What’s going on?”

            Her mouth fell open.  “You’re human, right?  Lived here, under this regime?”  She made a rude gesture at the sealed door.  “Put the fucking pieces together.”  Her dark eyes were hard and unimpressed.  “Not too bright, Kirk.”

            Jim’s brow furrowed and he suddenly heard Sorill’s voice over the uplink.  “Stand by to transport.”

            “Wait!” Jim exclaimed.  “Tell him to transport four.”

            “In progress.”  Spock’s voice was clipped, and Jim felt another faint glimmer of pain reach his senses as a distant explosion sounded from outside the room, rocking the floor.

            The young woman was looking around agitatedly, her weapon lifted again.  “If you’re going to do something, you’d better do it fucking soon!”

            McCoy had a tense half-smile on his face amidst the chaos.  “I like her, Jim.”

            “Energizing.”  The Vuhlkansu captain’s voice faded into a dull chime as golden swirls clouded Jim’s vision, and he heard the woman’s surprised cry as they all faded into nothing.

 

 

 

            Her voice echoed in the transporter room, and she scrambled backwards, pressing herself against the wall, her breathing coming in gasps, muttering, “It’s true.  It’s fucking true.  Even after all that I thought I was a fucking idiot for coming in after you.”

            Jim ignored her, moving to his bondmate’s side.  “Where are you hurt?”

            Spock blinked.  “My arm.”

            The young human looked down, seeing vague wetness on his bondmate’s right sleeve.  “Bones!”

            The woman was still murmuring to herself, looking down at her body as if expecting part of it to be missing, “I knew you weren’t with us, and you weren’t with them, and I was guessing you weren’t with those silver fuckers because they don’t do anything without melting someone first.”

            “Fuck it all, Spock, why didn’t you say something?”  McCoy was at his side almost instantly.

            The young alien managed a raised brow and shifted deliberately away from the doctor’s attention.  “I am presently functional.”  He looked pointedly at the woman, who had quieted and was now staring at them.

            Jim made a frustrated noise.  Open the bond.  I mean it, Spock.  We’re out of danger, for the moment, and I want to know… .  His mental tirade ended in a gasp as sensation streamed back across the connection, including controlled pain.  Spock stubbornly refused to even sit down, still holding his rifle and watching their guest intently.

            She seemed to understand, slowly lowering her weapon to the platform and raising her hands slightly.  “My name’s Nyota; I’m with the underground resistance.” She tilted her head.  “They call us dissenters.”  She lowered her hands.  “We were getting close to making a difference-a real difference.  Aristides and the others knew it; knew our spies were everywhere and knew that the infrastructure was crumbling.  We would have had a full-out revolt in another few months.”  Her jaw set, and her dark eyes flashed.  “And then the aliens showed up like some sort of shitty movie and all our best-laid plans went to hell.”  She offered a wry shrug.  “Your strategy of coming to the last stronghold of the government was a good one, but you didn’t count on Aristides and the fact that he sold his soul to keep that stronghold sacrosanct.”

            “Sold his soul?”  Jim’s mind was racing.

            She shook her head.  “The aliens showed up, melted a few dozen of the front-line guard, and told him that he could live, along with his close circle of influential fucks if no real action was taken against the occupation.”

            “Then they intend to proceed onward, once an establishment has been made here.”  Spock’s voice was uninflected, but Jim sensed the powerful undercurrent of anger.

            “Yeah, something like that.”  She frowned.  “They’re going to move on; to other planets, I guess, just like you said.  They wanted to leave someone in charge to keep the population of hosts calm and Aristides was more than happy to oblige.”  Her lips curled in a sneer and she stared warily at the Vuhlkansu.  “Hell of a way to learn about life on other worlds.”

            “I hear that.”  Bones was openly glaring at Spock, who had only just lowered his rifle.  “You gonna let me take a look now?”

            The door suddenly slid open and T’Rian stepped briskly through, her eyes flickering over the four, and then focusing on McCoy, hovering next to the young alien.  The human doctor nodded and she moved forward purposefully, holding a small instrument, readings flashing across the screen.  “Doctor McCoy, are there any other injuries?”

            “No.”  McCoy scowled.  “Just our hero here.”

            T’Rian’s eyebrows rose, but her gaze remained fastened on the younger man.  “Spock, sit down.”  Her tone left no room for argument and her brows arched even further as she watched Spock obey.  “Mr. Kirk, assist him in removing the overshirt.”  She opened her own medpack.

            Jim knelt, gently moving his mate’s hand away and unfastening the seam of the black shirt before carefully slipping it over Spock’s arms.  A sharp gasp was heard from the young woman as a thick smear of green blood was revealed, sliding down the alien’s arm from a wound in his shoulder, just to the side of where the armor ended.

           McCoy had crouched down next to T’Rian, watching her intently as she administered an injection and began to clean the area, and Jim glanced over at Nyota, who had her hand over her mouth.

            “It’s okay,” he said, reaching to brush his fingers quickly over his bondmate’s hand and standing up, walking over to the young woman.  “It’s okay, Nyota.”

            She shook her head mutely, her hands shaking.  “How did you…why are you…who are they?”

            Jim stepped between her and Spock, forcing her eyes on his.  “I spoke the truth about a larger alliance of worlds: an alliance that’s been threatened, that’s been hurt already, by the Nehaya. His world,” he looked back at Spock, “and his people were destroyed as an example.  They needed Earth because they can use our people as hosts to breed, but they plan to take over planet-by-planet, civilization after civilization, unless we can stop them here, now.”

            Her hands fell away.  “Why haven’t they stopped them already?  If they’re so advanced, if they have the ability to do it, why haven’t they done it already?”

            He hesitated, remembering his own anger, and felt his bondmate’s mental touch, hearing Spock’s voice from behind him.  “The first attack was unexpected and devastating: a crippling blow against a primary member of the Alliance and having singularly long-reaching consequences among any surviving members of my people.”  Jim turned to look at him, seeing T’Rian lift a small implement from the now-sealed and cleaned wound.

            The healer raised her eyes.  “Our government was created to maintain and promote peace.  We had not experienced war or such violence in several generations.  We were not prepared, and in the aftermath, as the remaining Vuhlkansu suffered, emphasis was placed on defense.  It was only through Mr. Kirk’s arguments that we reconsidered our position: to defend not only ourselves but others who were not able to resist.”

            T’Rian sat back on her heels, wiping her hands.  “We require the assistance of your people, however, to disrupt and confuse the Nehaya as the orbital offensive commences.”  She looked back at Spock.  “I recommend rest, and to avoid placing stress on the joint.”  A wry eyebrow lifted.  “However unlikely the prospect.”

            The young alien inclined his head and T’Rian stood smoothly.  “I believe that Sorill wishes to debrief you, and to meet our guest.”

            Jim nodded, knowing that the silent communication possible between bondmates meant that Sorill was probably already quite aware of the situation, and looked to his own mate, reaching down and assisting Spock to his feet. The pain had faded from their connection, controlled and managed now, and Jim’s hand lingered on the other man’s arm.  Are you alright?

            I am.  I did not wish to distract you.

           Yeah, like blocking the bond wouldn’t have done that.

           McCoy cleared his throat.  “Maybe you two would like to speak up for the rest of the class?”

            Jim flushed, turning away to face the others but keeping a hold on his bondmate.  “Sorry.”

            T’Rian had moved to the door, but Nyota was staring at them, a curious expression on her face.  “You’re together?”

            Jim met her eyes.  “Yeah.” 

            Her eyebrows went up, but she merely nodded.  “I’d like to hear the story behind that.”

            Bones guffawed, “You and me both.”

            Her mouth curved in a faintly incredulous smile as she glanced at McCoy, but Jim’s flat voice caught her attention.  “We still have a job to do.  Even if Aristides is a piece of shit, he’s sitting on a trigger that we need to pull.”  Blue eyes moved to Nyota.  “Unless your people have the capability to stage something big… .”

            “Not as big as what you’re probably considering.”  She licked her lips.  “The complex’s locked up, but you can get in using this,” she gestured to the ceiling, “this thing.  I can tell you where to go, show you the equipment.”  She crossed her arms over her chest.  “I bet Aristides won’t bother to alert the aliens, the Nehaya, to what just happened; I’m guessing he’ll assume this whole thing was a dissenter plot because of my involvement.  And he knows the aliens would just as soon get rid of him and put someone else in his place if they find out he fucked up with regard to the resistance.  You might still have an advantage.”

            Spock replied, “We must, in any case, proceed with haste. Perhaps… .”

            “Yeah.”  Jim nodded to Spock and released his arm, gesturing towards the door and casting a wry look to the young woman.  “How’d you like to meet another alien?”

            She glanced at Bones, who shook his head and shrugged, and then she straightened her shoulders, lifting her chin.  “Why the hell not?”

 

 

 

            The smell of pine and the rush of chilled air greeted Jim’s senses as the transporter effect wore off, and he felt surge of near breathlessness as he stared out ahead of him.  He was in a small clearing, soft needles under his feet, the roar of a distant river in his ears, and the dense, fundamental silence that only came in those secret places, guarded by nature itself, where few ventured.

            “It’s beautiful.”

            Nyota took a deep breath next to him.  “It is.”  She looked up at him and then at his two companions behind them.  “You better do a good job, Jim; I don’t want to have to explain all this by myself.”

            McCoy snorted.  “You mean you don’t want to have to explain to your boss that we showed up like the archangel Gabriel in the middle of Aristides’ citadel to proclaim that Jim here slept with an alien and managed to impress him enough to get a galactic fleet to stop by and fix everything?”

            She sighed expansively.  “Yeah, Len.  Exactly that.”

            Jim shook his head as the bond transmitted his mate’s confusion, sending reassurance back.  “Laugh it up, you two.”  He turned, peering around the clearing.  “Where are they?”

            The sharp rapport of an energy weapon cracked through the air as a bolt blew out a chunk of dirt and pine needles immediately in front of them.

            “Get your hands up,” Nyota hissed, raising her own and calling out, “Uhura, identification six-alpha-four-echo.  Three with me.”

            The three men did as she said, and Jim heard his mate’s mental voice.  There are two people approaching.

            Right.  Let’s see what happens.  Jim chewed the inside of his cheek, unable to help the anxiety that played over his nerves.  They had transported down without weapons, on Nyota’s directions, after a strategy session with Sorill and T’Rian.  There was still no indication that the Nehaya had noticed their activity, despite the clusterfuck at the complex, and a new plan had been formed: one that required a more intimate association with the elusive leadership of the resistance.  Jim glanced over at Nyota, whose expression and posture were tense: she had trusted them almost blindly back in that room, and now it was their turn to trust her.

            She believes this will work, t’hy’la.  Spock’s mental voice slipped into his bondmate’s racing thoughts.

            Right now, she’s not who I’m worried about, Jim rejoined, now able to hear the careful footfalls approaching from the southwest through the trees.

            “Keep your hands up!  Don’t move!”  A female voice barked the orders, and Jim craned his neck to see a man and woman moving towards them, weapons aimed.  They stopped three meters away and the woman lowered her weapon, looking at Nyota and then her eyes drifting to Spock.  “You better have a good fucking explanation for how you got here without setting off the boundary alarms.”  A pause.  “What the hell is that?”

            Nyota licked her lips, slowly stepping forward.  “We’re unarmed, Isa, and I can explain everything, but first you have to listen to me.”

            “Is that an alien? Another one?”  The woman’s voice was tinged with bitter anger and her weapon came back up, pointing at Spock.

            “He’s a friend, Isa!  And if you kill him, you’ve killed all of us, too.  Listen to me!”  Nyota’s voice was firm and commanding and Isa’s eyes shifted reluctantly back to her.  “You’ve known me for fifteen years: we’ve fought together, we’ve buried brothers and sisters together.  If there’s to be any chance of winning this war, you have to trust me now.”

            The man next to Isa spoke up, “We’ve lost so many; they’ve taken and killed so many, and you’re asking us to trust?  Now?”

            “I asked you something like that once, Hwan.”  The young woman’s voice had softened.  “Remember?  When we were in the camps and you told me about that guard, and I asked you how we could trust someone like that?  Do you remember what you told me then?”

            Hwan hesitated and then lowered his weapon.  “I said that one person doesn’t represent all.”

           “And we trusted, and we made it out.”  Nyota hands had dropped to her sides and she took a single step forward.  “We have a chance to make it out again. Not just from beneath the aliens’ hold, but also from beneath the government’s tyranny once and for all.”

           Isa glanced at her companion and then back at Spock, addressing the young alien, “What do you know of our fight?  What are we to you that you’d help us?”

            Jim felt his bondmate’s steady presence, his calm even at gunpoint, and knew that it was not simply discipline that allowed his equanimity, but also his belief in Jim himself, in the bond they shared, and in the newfound perspective Spock had gained within the tenacious and passionate depths of human minds and hearts.

            “The Nehaya…the aliens destroyed my people in an attack on my home planet before their advancement here.  However, my motivation is rooted not in vengeance but in brotherhood.”  The bondspace warmed, and Spock turned his head to meet Jim’s eyes.  “In friendship.”  He looked back at Isa, holding his hands outstretched at his sides, palms up.  “Let us help.”

 

 

 

            In contrast to the openly idyllic, untouched forest above them, the underground bunker was tight with sleek metallic technology and human desperation. And as Jim looked around at the lined, tense faces in front of him, he mentally compared them to Heliah and Thasnil and the others aboard the Tar’hana.  The proximity to death was inescapable here, but defeat seemed furthest from everyone’s mind.  There was energy: stubborn, fierce, rage-filled energy, but energy nonetheless.  Unfortunately, but predictably, perhaps, there was also disbelief.

            “Let me get this straight.”  The tall, older woman leaning against the far wall rubbed her hand over her face.  “There are other aliens, like this alien,” she jerked her chin at Spock, “who want to launch an orbital offensive against the first group of aliens, but they need us to create a diversion to make it successful.”

            Jim nodded.  “Exactly.  We’ll,” he gestured to himself and to Spock and McCoy, “get back into the complex and attempt to activate the drone force and the long-range missile defense systems to coincide with the appearance of the Alliance fleet.  But, to ensure maximum effectiveness, we need the Nehaya to be kept busy down here.”

            “And that’s where we come in.”  Her voice was hard.  “To keep them busy.”  She looked away and shook her head.  Nyota had introduced her simply as Lee, but Jim recognized a leader when he saw one.  She pushed away from the wall and walked towards the young human.  “We were at the cusp of turning the tide against the government.  This close,” she held up her hand, finger and thumb held a centimeter apart, “and now our carefully concealed cells, our networks, are simply holes to hide in to await the end of the world.  And you come here to tell me that our other option is to die fighting.”  She glanced around the room, lifting her chin.  “An option I would embrace, given the choice, as I think many of us would.”

            A low rumble of assent followed her words, and she turned back to Jim.  “But I still need proof, Kirk.  If I’m to send my people to die, I want to know that what we’re dying for are the lives of everyone else.  I want to know that what you speak of: an alliance of worlds, a legacy of peace and honesty and representation, is true.”  Her eyes slid to Spock.  “I believe Nyota, but all she’s seen is a single ship, and three of his kind: not an armada, not an army.  I’m not going to commit to this plan until I’m given more to go on.”

            Jim hesitated, but his thoughts were clearly transmitted to his bondmate and he felt Spock’s assent.  The human pressed his lips together, nodding.  “I agree with you, and I’d probably need the same.  I lived my life barely believing a word anyone else said.  I fucking knew that everything we saw or heard on the vidnet was bullshit.  And I know that the only reason you’re entertaining this idea is because your backs are up against the wall and there’s nothing else left to try.”  He paused.  “I’ll tell you, though, that I stood in front of a group of alien leaders and told them, promised them, that anyone on Earth able to rise up would do so.  That we would fight.  I made a mistake going to Aristides, but I can’t regret it because it led me here, and I see the fight in your eyes.”

            Lee watched him guardedly and Jim pressed forward, “There’s a way to convince you, a way for you to see that what I’m saying is true, but it requires a leap of faith.”

            She snorted.  “Faith is something hard to come by these days, Kirk.”

            “I know.”  Jim took a deep breath.  “Spock is a telepath.  He can show you… .”

            Confusion, shock, and anger flashed over Lee’s face as she drew her sidearm and raised it in the alien’s direction and the room erupted in agitated murmurs. Dark emotions, suspicion and fear, burst against Spock’s shields, echoing over the bond, and Jim held up his hands.  “Wait! Listen to me!”

            But his voice didn’t carry over the clamor and Jim knew that things were barreling out of control, hearing McCoy’s muttered curse beside him. Even Nyota had drawn back, consternation on her face: it had been one thing they had not revealed to her.

            Do not interfere, t’hy’la.  Spock’s mental voice was unyielding and Jim let out a silent cry to his bondmate as he saw him lift his hands in a gesture of surrender, walking slowly and deliberately towards Lee.  The older woman was holding her weapon outstretched in front of her with both hands, her eyes wide as Spock stopped not a meter away, the mouth of the sidearm pointed directly at his face.  The room quieted, the din fading, and Lee’s aim did not waver.

            “What the fuck are you doing?”  Her words were harsh, grating.

            Spock’s voice was gentle.  “I will not use my mind as a weapon, or in any way reach for your thoughts without permission.  It is not our way.”

            “Bullshit.”

            “Then, fire.”

            Spock!   Jim’s mental voice was frantic.

            “If it requires my life in order to convince you of the sincerity of our purpose here, then I offer it to you.  I only ask that you listen to my friend and know that he does indeed speak the truth. In everything he says.”

            “Jesus,” McCoy hissed, as Lee’s eyes hardened and her grip firmed.  The room was silent now, and Jim couldn’t look away, his mind full of memories of watching Spock fall before: the helplessness, the fear, the pain.  Please don’t fire.

            Then something in Lee’s eyes changed, and she moved the weapon, smoothly aiming it at Jim.  “And what if I kill him?”

            “No.”  Spock stepped to the side, again in the path of the weapon.

            “You’d die for him?  A human?”

            “I would die for you.  A stranger.”

            Her thumb flicked, and a light glowed on top of the sidearm.  And she pulled the trigger.

 

 

 

            Jim cried out as he heard the click, feeling McCoy’s strong grip on his arm, holding him back, belatedly realizing that the weapon hadn’t fired.  Spock hadn’t moved, and Lee let out a shaky exhale.  “You would have let me kill you.”  She lowered her weapon.

            “I can show you what you wish to know, but it involves a mind touch.  Do you consent?”

            Lee swallowed.  “You’ll read my mind?”

            “I will not.  I will merely make mine known to you.  I must touch your face.”

            “Fuck.”  Her jaw muscle tensed and she tossed her sidearm to one of the people behind her, licking her lips nervously.  “Do it.”

            Spock moved slowly, carefully, stepping towards her and lifting his hand, his fingers settling into a pattern against the woman’s skin.  And Jim leaned into his friend’s support as he felt a rush of thought stream across the bond: who they were, why they were here, history and analysis and sights and sounds and knowledge, and the bond itself, offered for perusal.  It was fast and powerful and Lee’s eyes were wide and unfocused, her mouth open, and when Spock’s fingers fell away she gasped, her chest heaving, one hand coming up to press against her temple.

            “My god.  My god.”

            The people around her were staring: unmoving, silent, waiting, and she blinked, swallowing repeatedly, her eyes focusing to look at Spock.  “I’m sorry.”  The emotional resonance from her mind and from the joining still reverberating through the bond and Jim felt McCoy shift his grip to put a steadying arm around the younger man’s waist as Lee’s gaze sought Jim’s.  “I understand.  We’ll do it.  We’ll do it, Kirk.  I’ll send the message to the other cells.”  She swallowed again.  “Tell your fleet that we’re in.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: We Will Not Be Shaken

 

            Jim had waited.  He had waited, pushing his feelings down deep as he had pushed McCoy’s steadying arm away, refusing to meet his bondmate’s eyes as he had talked to Lee, telling her what needed to be done, learning of the number of surviving resistance cells and the numbers of potential fighters left.  He had waited, steeling himself against Spock’s presence even as his own mind reached again and again, and by the time a preliminary plan was decided, his head ached and he felt profoundly exhausted.  McCoy had remained close the entire time, casting worried glances at Jim alternating with subtle glares in Spock’s direction, and even Nyota could see that something was wrong, her dark eyes reflecting curiosity, and concern.

            Lee finally ran a tired hand over her face.  “So that’s it, then.  Our fighters will coordinate assaults on the hives at the same time that you’ll activate the long-range missiles and drone offensive, taking out Nehaya concentrations.”  She grimaced.  “Unfortunately, those concentrations are almost always near the hive complexes, which means that our people will be a little too close to the show.”

            Jim nodded grimly.  “The main attack will come from Alliance craft, on the orbiting Nehaya ships, and then a surface bombardment.  All we have to do is get their attention and confuse any counterattack.”

            “Oh, I’m sure we’ll get their attention.”  Lee sighed.  “I’ll wait for your acknowledgement on the timeframe before alerting the other cells.  If the Nehaya pick up and trace our transmission, we’re fucked; I don’t want to have to send more than one message.”  Her eyes drifted to Spock, watching him as she had been since the kash-nohv, her expression one of awe and near-disbelief.

            Jim’s jaw set.  He knew Spock could sense the human’s agitation and anger, and at whom it was directed, but the young alien hadn’t tried communicating across their bond.  It was just as well, Jim decided, not trusting himself to remain calm.  The connection itself was fluctuating, spiking and receding as Spock’s controls wavered along with the dark emotions, only adding to Jim’s discomfort and fatigue.

            Bones cleared his throat next the young human.  “Uh, I hate to be a stick in the mud, but I’m concerned about the idea of just blowing up those hives; there are thousands of people trapped in there: we’ll be signing their death warrants.”

            Nyota shook her head, a sick expression crossing her face.  “They’re out of our hands, Len.  Believe me.”

            McCoy crossed his arms.  “I know you’ve said that, that you all believe that, but there might still be a chance; some kind of surgical procedure or treatment.  Maybe something that the Alliance has hidden away on one of their spaceships: you should see the medical advances that they’re capable of.”

            The room went quiet, and Lee glanced at Nyota before looking back at Bones.  “It’s worse than you think, Doctor.”  Her gaze slid back to the young woman, who was now staring pointedly at the floor.  “We have to destroy the hives.”

            “But… .”

            McCoy started to speak and Nyota burst to her feet, and Jim flinched as he felt the wave of her grief and anger that buffeted his bondmate’s shields.  “Those things, those aliens, lay their eggs inside a living human host.  And it’s not just eggs, but an entire radiating series of fucking tendrils that infiltrate every part of their systems, because whatever the eggs are coated in causes terrible pain, and the hosts have to stay alive, so the tendrils force them to endure it.  And then, when the eggs hatch, the aliens burst through the host’s body and the host dies, and it’s a fucking mercy at that point because they’re insane from the pain.”  Her fists were clenched at her side.  “I know this because I saw it.  I was with Aristides when they took him out to the hive and showed him.  I’ve never seen the man acquiesce so quickly as when we saw those silvery tendrils poking out of fingernails and from underneath eyelids, taking over the entire body except the lungs.  Those were needed to breathe, I guess.  And to scream.”

            She turned away abruptly, and Lee looked somberly at Jim.  “I hope this plan works, Kirk, I really do.  But if it doesn’t… .”  Her voice trailed off and she shook her head.  “All any of us can ask is that we don’t end up like that.  That we die fighting.”

           Jim wanted to reassure her, to reassure everyone, but as he met pair after pair of tired eyes, as he still felt the reverberations of Nyota’s anguish, he knew that any promise of success would be hollow at best.  He knew that all they wanted, all they needed at this point was to believe fully in what Lee had said: that they would have a chance to die fighting instead of await a gruesome, terrible fate at the hands of inhuman conquerors.  And so he simply nodded, a slow, deliberate motion that appeared as more of a salute than an acknowledgement, and handed Lee one of the Sochya’s communicators.

            “I’ll contact you.”

            Lee lowered her eyes, holding the small, sleek device in her hands as if it were a precious thing.  “We’ll be waiting.”

 

 

 

            The familiar walls of the Sochya formed around them, and Jim exhaled as he felt the heat and gravity drag against his body.  Next to him, Spock spoke without turning, “I will inform Sorill of our plan and prepare to contact the fleet commander.”

            “Great.”  Jim’s reply was clipped, and he felt his bondmate’s emotions swell, felt the struggle for control once again.  He caught Spock’s hesitation, the young alien’s small, almost involuntary motion towards Jim before jerkily stepping off the platform and disappearing through the door.

            “You need to get over yourself before we go on this mission, Kirk,”  Nyota said tightly from behind him.

            Jim turned, seeing her standing tensely on the platform, her arms crossed in front of her.

            “What do you mean, get over myself?”  He glanced at Bones, but his friend was watching Nyota.

            “I’m sorry for back there.”  McCoy’s eyes held pain.  “I shouldn’t have questioned you like that.”

            Nyota’s lips pressed together and she shrugged.  “We probably got where we are now because no one thought to question.”  She swallowed.  “I’ve had friends taken; people who are…who were family to me.”  There was a pause as she raised her eyes, looking at Jim.  “This is war; we sometimes forget that feeling isn’t always the smartest thing to do.”

            Jim licked his lips.  “I can’t help it, in this case.”  He tilted his head towards where the Vuhlkansu had gone, where his own mind was pulling him even now.  “His telepathy works between us to create a…connection.  If he had died… .”

            “He was doing what he thought he had to do, to earn Lee’s trust.”

            “She would have killed him.”

            “She was testing him.”  Nyota shook her head.  “She flipped the safety just in time; she wanted to make sure he was truly willing to give anything for his cause.  There’s no time for anything less than that.”

            “She pulled the fucking trigger!”  Jim clenched his fists.  “I almost felt him die before, and I don’t want…I can’t do that again.”

            Nyota’s eyes were hard.  “Then you shouldn’t come on this mission.”  She exhaled.  “Jim, I know you’re not a coward, and I can tell that you love him.  I’m sure that you’ll do anything to make sure this mission succeeds, even giving your own life, and that’s all he was doing.  You can’t be angry with him for something that you yourself would do.”

            “Fuck.”

            Jim turned away, but she stepped forward, forcing him to look at her.  “You’re a good leader, Jim.  You inspire trust in others, loyalty.  But being a leader isn’t just accepting your own death; it’s accepting others’ deaths, which is a much harder thing to do.”

            The young man exhaled.  “You’re speaking from experience.”

           Her eyes softened.  “I am.”

            Jim nodded slightly and met her eyes directly.  “I won’t let you down, Nyota.”  He glanced at McCoy.  “Or you, Bones.”

            The doctor’s voice sounded rough.  “I know you won’t, Jim.  We’ll follow your lead.”

            Jim managed a half-smile, and felt Nyota reach up to embrace him, feeling strength in her arms that reminded him of Winona, and inferring a sadness in her that was similar, too.  He held her, feeling some of the tension within him slip away.  And when she released him, stepping back to regard him with a small smile, he grinned.  “Thanks.”

            “Sure.”  She tilted her head.  “Let’s get over to the control room before the Vuhlkansu start wondering what we humans are getting up to.”

           “Right.”  Jim’s smile widened as he hopped down from the platform and headed for the door, the other two following, wondering how Nyota had managed to learn to say the alien word as smoothly as the people themselves.

           Spock?

           T’hy’la?

            His bondmate’s response was immediate, and full of barely contained anxiety and Jim flinched as he stepped into the corridor, pushing apology and understanding across the bond, his desperate fear and love and his anger at Spock for offering himself like that.  I shouldn’t be angry, but I was so damn scared. Thoughts fluttered along the edges of his mind: his need for his bondmate, his desire, his longing for touch and for physical reassurance.  I keep asking you not to leave me, and I can’t say that I like doing it, but it seems like all you’ve done since we’ve met is to threaten to leave.  And I know it’s not your fault, that you’ve done what you needed to do, but I’m having trouble… .  Even in his mind, it was difficult to form his feelings coherently, and as the double doors to the forward control room approached, Jim quickened his steps down the narrow corridor, eager to see Spock’s face, to see his expression. 

            It was all he could do to keep from making a beeline to his mate’s side, stopping short on the upper deck next to T’Rian.  Spock, standing next to the helm with Sorill, looked up as Jim entered with Nyota and McCoy close behind him, and Jim felt the bond widen as their eyes met.  The underpinning of needed closeness seemed even stronger, and with it Jim felt his bondmate’s continued struggle for control.  Jim frowned as T’Rian glanced over at him, one eyebrow raised, and Sorill looked up.

            “Ah, Mr. Kirk.  Spock has informed me of the situation, and of the willingness of the resistance to support our strategy.”

            Jim forced himself to meet the older Vuhlkansu’s eyes, ignoring the odd perspective on the screen at the front of the room. The gravity compensators worked as well as they did in space, allowing them all to stand normally even with the ship angled dramatically, with her bow towards the sky, but the view was still slightly disconcerting.

            “Still no response from the Nehaya?”

            “None,” T’Rian spoke up next to him.  “However, that may change if our message to the fleet is detected.”

            Nyota cleared her throat.  “If they pick it up, won’t our position here be compromised?  The crucial step is for us to make it back into Aristides’ complex.”

            “Indeed.”  Sorill clasped his hands behind his back.  “That is precisely the reason that you will be transported over as a first step.  You must remain concealed until such time as the fleet is inbound, and then, in coordination with the resistance ground forces, you will activate the drone and missile caches.”

           “Wait.”  Bones held up a hand.  “So you’re gonna transport us down there and we have to hide out while you make the calls, and then we all just have to hope that everyone gets the message and we’re on the same page.”

            Sorill’s upswept brows came together slightly.  “If I comprehend your vernacular correctly, then, yes.  The alternative, unfortunately, includes the possibility of this ship, and you, being destroyed by the Nehaya before transport can be accomplished.”

            McCoy made a face.  “Okay, uh, are we gonna just hide out in a basement or something, then?”

            Nyota shrugged.  “Actually, that’s not a bad idea.  The patrols in the complex are centered around Aristides and the others, and there aren’t enough guards left to fully cover the entire building. The basement’s actually a pretty good idea.”

            “So this is my idea?” McCoy crossed his arms.  “Not a good idea.”

            Spock lifted an eyebrow and Jim smiled.  “C’mon, Bones, you’re contributing.”

            “I’m a practitioner, not an…an envisioner.”

            Nyota rolled her eyes.  “You envisioned us in a basement; don’t worry about getting too carried away.”

            T’Rian’s mouth was open just the slightest amount, her brows drawn together as she watched the three humans.  “This...type of discussion. It is ‘banter’, is it not?  Intended to dispel strong emotion prior to a dangerous or intense activity?”

            Jim looked at her, feeling his bondmate’s own emotions still roiling across the bond.  “Yes.”

            She inclined her head, her expression smoothing back into impassivity.  “I find it most interesting that instead of continuous control maintained by meditative exercise, discipline, and bond-sharing, Terrasu employ more dynamic and immediate methods.”  She tilted her head.  “Is it not difficult for your bondmate to adapt to these ways?”

            “I don’t know.”  Jim glanced over at Spock, who had lowered his eyes.  Is it?

            Sorill inhaled, lifting his chin.  “It is important that we do not delay unnecessarily.  Mr. Kirk, if you and Spock will see to your equipment, Ms. Uhura and I shall discuss a suitable transport site within the complex.  T’Rian will check your medical supplies, Doctor.”  He paused, meeting the eyes of each being in the room.  “Transport will commence in fifteen minutes.  Good luck.”

            Jim kept a smile from his lips, nodding soberly to the older Vuhlkansu and glancing at Bones.  “See you in the transporter room.”

            The doctor frowned.  “Yeah.”

            Jim touched his friend’s shoulder gently, hesitating before leaving the control room, Spock a pace behind him.

            He waited until the doors had slid shut, slowing so that Spock was walking next to him.  “Luck?”

            Spock’s eyes were fastened on him.  “Sorill made use of a human phrase; logical, given the present complement of his crew.”

            “Right.”  Jim reached out, clasping his bondmate’s hand, and felt a rush of vaguely unsettled sensation pour into his mind, hearing Spock inhale and seeing his eyes close.  The young human stopped as they rounded a curve in the hallway.  “T’Rian was onto something, wasn’t she?  What happened?  What… ?”

            Spock kept his eyes closed.  “Your anger was most…direct, t’hy’la.  Of all emotions, that is one in particular that is difficult to control.”

            “But our bond… .”

           “Is settled, but still new.  My experience with your mind is still new.”  Brown eyes opened, and Spock’s voice softened.  “We required the assistance of the fighters.”

            “But to gain it like that.”  Jim winced.  “I don’t want to keep asking you not to leave me.  I sound like a fucking… .”  He looked away, his voice trailing off.  “This is going to end badly, isn’t it?  We’re not going to make it out of this, are we?  We’ve gotten this far, and the plan might still work, but we’re…this is probably a one-way ticket.  You know that, you knew that, and you thought that your life was worth gaining their help.”  The bond was strong, and Jim could sense aching somewhere between them.  “It’s a human thing to not want to have to say goodbye.” 

            He shook his head, staring at the sleek lines of the alien corridor, feeling the warm strength of his bondmate’s hand in his, and he shifted his grip, entwining their fingers, tightening his hold, finally meeting Spock’s eyes.  “You know, before I met you,” he raised his eyebrows, “fucking days ago, for fuck’s sake, I was an entirely different person.  And then I met you, and we…this…happened, and it was like I couldn’t let you out of my sight without feeling like I had lost something,” he gestured to his chest, “in here.”  He stepped closer, eye-to-eye with his bondmate.  “There’s a chance, you know.  If you’re going to adopt one human gesture, you might as well take this one, too: impossible hope against impossible odds.”

            Spock leaned forward and their foreheads touched, and Jim felt the gentle spark and glow of that fragile electricity along his skin.  The bond filled with all the confusing, jumbled words that each wished to say to the other, all the deep feelings, the darkness, the light, the forbidden future and the lonely past.  And when Jim tilted his head, meeting warm lips with his own, he closed his eyes, just feeling, holding on.  The kiss was gentle, and over too soon as the faint sounds of voices and footsteps came from the direction of the control room.

            They pulled back, and Jim let his fingers tighten over his mate’s before letting go completely, his lips twisted in a resigned smile.  “Weapons?”

            Spock eyes traveled one last time over Jim’s face before he nodded once.

            The young human waved his hand, resignation and determination settled fully in his face.  “Weapons.  Let’s go.”

           

 

 

            The darkness was strange at first: darkness and the feel of a cold, unyielding floor, the chill in the air, and the faint smell of mold. They had transported into, indeed, the basement and were counting down.  Hours had turned to minutes and an odd number of seconds, guarded by Spock’s impeccable time-sense.  Jim was sitting against a wall, his weapon next to him, and Spock on his other side, pressed close, their hands clasped.  Nyota and McCoy were a few feet away, faint whispers exchanged between them, and the young human heard Jo’s name. 

            Jim had remained silent, focusing on the bond in his mind, imagining colors and sensation, remembering music.  It was interesting how he could see without seeing, the darkness making it easy to concentrate on the mental imagery.  He saw a raven-haired girl with black eyes and gentle thoughts.  He saw a man with severe features and yet with glimpses of warmth in his eyes.  He saw a world in shades of red and brown: heat and dust and architecture that mimicked the graceful, natural lines of its geology.  He saw Amanda, years younger, her unlined face glowing with a kind, hopeful smile.  And he knew that Spock was seeing his mind, too: memories of a unique optimism charged with a passion for learning that was steadily pushed down beneath the restrictions and limitations of the world in which he found himself.  Memories of cold nights walking under the stars and ignoring their glory in search of the flickering beacons of snitch drones.  Memories of his bitter interview with mining firm; deprived of any chance to go anywhere else, he had slummed his way onto that job, and slummed his way through it, and had been hated by most of his co-workers for his easy skill and fierce intelligence.  But, with the hurt and the bitterness, there was also his mother: independent and smart, beautiful, and, he thought, broken.  He knew now that her perceived weakness had been starkly similar to what he had found in himself: left alone, they were like hard materials, tried and damaged and strong enough to shut out anything that might make them fail.  And his relationship with Spock, her relationship with Amanda, was as if the hard material had become annealed and was now workable, ductile, moved closer to equilibrium.  Thoughts and memories ebbed and flowed, washing into and out of Jim’s mind like water: meditative, smooth.  He found himself breathing in and out with the rhythm of it, hearing his bondmate match him: in and out, dynamic, balanced.

            Time was a rapid, marching thing, resented, intruding, and, all too soon it was necessary to move, to stand, ready weapons, and follow Jim’s lead towards the set of doors guarding a quiet elevator: to begin.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen: The Heavens Rain Down

 

           The elevator doors opened with a gentle purr that belied the frantic blast of energy bolts that erupted, lighting up the adjacent hallway.  A patrol fell: three guards, and Jim and Spock split to cover the hallway as Nyota and McCoy stripped them of their weapons and dragged unconscious bodies back into the elevator.  The young resistance fighter hit the button, sending the lift back to the basement, gesturing to Jim.

            He took a breath and they moved.  Past an empty corridor and then around a corner, Jim and Nyota switching off on point as they progressed, McCoy following and Spock covering their backs.  Jim could feel his bondmate’s focused concentration, the bond refined down to the most basic awareness, intense without hindering.  And he followed the dark-haired woman’s lead, remembering her instructions, her rapid-fire directions, turning as she turned, matching her motions. His heart was racing, adrenaline pumping, and as they cleared the next hallway he heard her low hiss.

            “Two more turns and we’re in; they’ll have this guarded.  Rack ‘em up, gentlemen.”

            Jim exhaled through pursed lips, heard McCoy’s whispered curse and felt Spock’s controls shift abruptly.  The emotion that he had battled against before suddenly flowed through, and it was as if the young alien’s mind was on a coiled spring: raw power, banked anger, bloodlust.  Jim’s systems jumped in response and he was suddenly soaring.  “Shit!”

            “Go.”

            Nyota’s guttural command galvanized them and Jim turned the corner.  His subconscious realized the presence of the guards almost before his own eyes and he pressed the trigger of his weapon, feeling high, feeling deadly, intense.  The crackle of energy bolts snapped past him, impacting the walls, the ceiling, and he didn’t flinch, seeing Nyota duck and roll, her aim true.  Alarms suddenly flashed above them: reddish lighting and the wail of a siren, and this time Nyota didn’t hold back.

            “Go, go, go!  Make it count!”  She plunged forward, Jim on her heels, and the sound of pursuit echoed in their ears as the higher-pitched notes of Spock’s rifle added to the mix.

            It was fast, and faster, and Jim kept a steady rhythm of firing, seeing and somehow not hearing anymore.  He saw the impacts of their rounds on the bodies of the guards as they passed, he recognized the configuration of the hallway and the doors as they ran, he sensed his mate’s brutal determination and smelled the sharp scent of ozone.  They were close, and closer, and Nyota gestured to a nondescript door.  “Len!”

            McCoy moved even faster, pulling a small device from his belt, sliding on his knees in front of the security panel on the doorframe as the others set up a perimeter around him.  Jim felt the sting of a bolt’s passage too close to his bondmate’s neck and cried out mentally, feeling a burn of vengeance that seemed wholly alien.  The barrage was constant, and more were coming.

            “It’s fucking stuck!”  McCoy’s voice was ragged.

            “Try harder, for fuck’s sake!”  Jim was firing constantly now, and he reeled against an impact on the armor shielding his chest.  “Fuck!”

            “Almost!”  There was a series of beeps from the door.

            And then Nyota’s gun jammed.  Jim heard it click and heard her muttered curse and saw her stagger under several shots to her armored torso, and she was collapsing and that motherfucker directly in front of them had a bead on her head and Jim was moving, throwing himself forward, hearing the gasp of her breath as he passed, his weapon firing, his world constricting into that pulse of the bond, the sound of his heartbeat, and then everything exploded and flew away.

 

 

 

            “Jim.  Jim!”

            Muffled sounds, the bite of pain, the terrified flutter of the bond.

            “He’s coming around.  Jesus fucking Christ.”

            Rush of sensation, the stickiness of blood, the chill of a hard floor.

            “C’mon, man.  Listen to my voice.  Can you hear me?”

            Growing warmth.  Reaching.  Bright light.

            “Control of all drone systems re-programmed and diverted to this console.  All long-range missiles on-line.  Target parameters accepted.”

            “Okay, stand by on my mark.  They’ll be in position now.”

            “Jim.”

            The echo of blasts against the door.  The subtle shaking of the floor.

            “Launch sequence initialized.  Drones coming on-line.”

            “I hope your fucking fleet is on time, Spock.  Counting down: three…two…one…execute.”

            “C’mon, Jim.”

            The bond was open but focused elsewhere.  Pain ricocheted through his head, his body felt limp, and Jim blinked his eyes open with difficulty.  Nyota and Spock continued to converse in the background and the young human groaned, lifting a hand to the side of his head and feeling slowly seeping wetness there.

            “Missiles away.  Oh god, Lee, good luck.  Where can we see the… .”  Nyota’s voice held a jarring high note of fear, trailing off as the ceiling shook, bits of material raining down around them.

            “Drones up.  Switching to automatic targeting for cohort one.  Cohort two.  Cohort three… .”  Spock’s tones were steady and precise, but the bond was roiling.  “Preparing to support resistance efforts.”

            “What the fuck is that?  There…on scanner two?”

            “High-frequency energy signature and atmospheric penetration.  Appears to be originating from Nehaya orbital craft.”

            The room rocked again and McCoy’s anguished face appeared in Jim’s eyeline.  “Jim?”

            “I’m…my head hurts.”  Jim’s mouth was dry, his lips felt cracked, and his head was pounding.

            “You took a bolt to the head.  Or close enough for it not to matter very much.”  McCoy’s worry was palpable.  “I’ve given you what I can, but I’m sure it’s not enough.”

            “I need to sit up.”  Jim choked over a wave of nausea as he struggled to roll onto his side.

            “That’s not a good idea, Jim.  Jim!”

            The young human ignored him, pushing himself up, seeing a brightly lit room swirl around him drunkenly before blinking in and out.  And suddenly he was back on the floor, his head cradled in his friend’s lap.

            “Your lucky your brains are still all in one fucking place, kid.  Now don’t fucking move.”

            Spock?   “Spock?”  His voice was a bare whisper.

            “He’s working, kid.  The fight’s started.”

            Another blast, and the lights flickered.  Nyota let out a gasp, “There!  Sector fifteen!”

            “Acknowledged.”  T’hy’la, stay calm.  The pain and disorientation were seeping over the bond, and Jim could feel his mate’s defiant concentration on the task at hand.  It was happening: the resistance’s last stand, the attack on the hives.

            Jim shifted against McCoy’s body.  “Bones…Bones give me something.  The pain…it’s affecting Spock.”  High-pitched squeals were coming from the door: the guards were still trying to get in.

            McCoy shook his head.  “I can’t give you any more, Jim.  This kind of injury; it’s not a good thing for you to be completely unconscious.”

            Jim fought against the nausea, choking slightly at the sharp taste of bile in his mouth, seeing the lights of the consoles sway and dip dizzily, and, in front of him, the wavering silhouettes of Spock and Nyota.

            “My god.  It’s working.  They’re bringing out their fighters, and down from the ships.  But we’re getting fucking massacred out there.”  Nyota murmured something that sounded like a prayer.  “Ten minutes until the fleet arrives; Spock, I don’t think we can hold out until then…look at the casualties!”

            “I am setting drone power systems for deliberate overload.”

            “Kamikaze?”  Nyota exhaled.  “Fuck, it’s worth a try.  You set ‘em up, and I’ll drive ‘em home.”  Her slender figure moved from where she had hovered near Spock’s shoulder to the seat next to him.  “Okay.  Okay, let’s go.”

            The sounds from outside the room had only grown louder, and Jim struggled again.  “Bones, I have to sit up.  Give me a gun.  If they get in here… .”

            “If they get in here, a gun won’t make much difference.”  The doctor’s words were dry, but he gently helped the younger man shift up to lean fully against his body, reaching over to give Jim one of the hand-held weapons.

            Jim licked his lips, his head radiating fierce pain, feeling blood trickle down the side of his face as he stared at the door.  Spock’s thoughts were whispers along the bond, pulsing emotions led by surging grief, desperate anger, and undeniable love, and Jim concentrated on his own breathing.  In and out: just like they had done in the basement.  In and out.  It will be alright.  We’re still alive.

            The crackle of Jim’s comm unit broke into his dizzy reverie, and he fumbled at his belt with numb fingers as Nyota’s voice rang out in the room above the thunderous echoes of near-explosions, “Five minutes!”

            The unit finally came away into Jim’s shaky hands, and he recognized Sorill’s voice as it came in and out through blanket interference: strained and taut and full of something that shot sudden fear into Jim’s mind.

            “…noting extreme casualties of fighters…engaged the enemy over primary targets in sector nineteen…ship badly damaged…one chance left…our honor, Mr. Kirk.”

            “No!”  Jim’s hoarse shout came as the unit went abruptly silent and then he felt it: the barest tremble over the bond, but followed by a wave of sickening grief and bright anger and he heard Spock gasp as the young alien lifted a hand to his own forehead.

            “Fuck. They took out that hive.  Just like that.” Nyota glanced quickly back, her lovely face twisted in a grimace, her hands still moving over the console.  “Godspeed.”

            An especially loud crack sounded just above them, and more material fell from the ceiling.  McCoy’s breathing was coming heavily as Jim leaned against his chest and the young human dropped the mute comm unit, grasping his weapon in both hands.

            An alarm shrieked from the console, and Spock’s voice came suddenly intense as a wave of excitement from Nyota slammed into Vuhlkansu mental shields, “Reading energy signatures from orbital positions: frequency range indicates Alliance craft have commenced bombardment.”

            “They’re early!”  Nyota’s hands were still moving.  “Len-get on your comm and find out if… .”

            Her words cut off into a scream as a sudden, deep pulse of energy seemed to slam through the room and the boards blew out in a shower of sparks.  The room shuddered, and everything was dark as Jim heard another pulse begin, dimly, moving towards them as if it were part of a strafing run.  There were muffled cries from outside, and the previous barrage against the door had ceased.

            “Get to the center of the room!”  Spock had shoved Nyota to the ground to protect her from the blowout, and now was pulling her over to the other humans.  Jim caught her slender form in his arms as Bones bent over them both and Spock covered them with his body as the energy wave passed through, the walls shook and shrieked, and the consoles caught fire.

            “It’s the Nehaya!  Those fucking bastards know we’re here…the drones…the missiles.  We have to get out!”  Nyota struggled against Jim’s hands and pushed herself up.  “Spock, get Jim!  Len, help me with this door!”

            Jim scrabbled against the floor, and then felt Spock’s hands on him, his arms around him, the bond glowing with their contact, waves of protective love washing over his mind.  He groaned as he was pulled up, his head seizing with agony, and he felt his bondmate’s mind reach out, felt the pain dull, and, gasping in relief, he collapsed back against the young alien.

            Nyota and Bones were crowded around the still-blinking locking mechanism on the door, their forms flickering with the orange light of the flames behind them.

            Can you travel, t’hy’la?

            Yes, if you help me.  You’ll need to be able to shoot.  Jim straightened, trying to hide his difficulty, his weapon clasped desperately in a sweaty grip.

            Bones’ voice was low.  “Three…two…one…now!”

            The door creaked open, sliding unstably only to halt halfway open.  But halfway was enough as Nyota and Bones slipped through, weapons ready.  No one was there.  The hallway was dark, smelling of smoke and ozone and something else: a dank, raw odor that Jim recognized from that dark, graveled roadway outside Riverside.  They’re here.

            Another deep pulse seemed to roll forward from somewhere behind them and Spock lifted Jim bodily and slid them through the door.  “Go!”

            They were running.  Nyota and Bones ahead of them, and Jim held tightly against his bondmate’s chest.  The deep pulse kept moving, growing louder, and the walls around them undulated with its passage, light streamed in from cracks around them, and Jim heard the loud implosion at the same time as he felt himself flying, landing with a cry and rolling as the ceiling came crashing down around him.

           He coughed in the sudden blur of dust, pushing at the debris that had fallen over his body.  The corridor had collapsed, and around it, the outer walls had begun to crumble, spots of smoky daylight seeping through cracks in the supposedly impenetrable building.

            “Jim!”  Bones appeared next to him, pulling him to his feet.  The young human swayed, feeling dizzy and weak, but with the pain still being largely blocked by… .

            “Spock!”  Jim pushed away, nearly falling as he stumbled back to a large pile of twisted metal and debris.  “Help me!  Bones, help me!”

            The doctor swore, and Jim yanked at the material, sensing Nyota suddenly next to him, doing the same.  Jim knew his bondmate was still alive: he could feel their connection, could sense his mental warmth, and as the three humans pulled away a final piece of wallboard, Jim threw himself to his knees beside Spock’s body.

            “Spock?  Wake up, come on.  Come on, t’hy’la.”

            “Jim.”  Brown eyes blinked open, black hair appearing gray with dust, and Jim felt a sharp burst of pain across the bond before it was muted.  Confused, the young human’s eyes swept across his bondmate’s form and then paused in horror as he saw his legs trapped beneath a terrifyingly large metal beam.  It was obviously too big to move, too heavy, though he shoved himself over to push at it anyway.

            “No!”

            I am sorry, t’hy’la.

            “No, goddammit!”  Jim fumbled with his weapon.  “I’ll cut you out.”  He could hear the growing swell of the pulse field again, could even see the approaching glow through the cracks in the roof.  The entire building would come down this time.

            “It will not work, Jim.”  Spock pulled in a ragged breath.  “No time.”

           “Shut up.” 

            Jim aimed the gun, but Spock wasn’t talking to him anymore.  “Leonard, get him away.”

            “Fuck that.”  Jim tried to adjust the setting, but his hands were shaking, his vision was blurry.

            “Leonard!  Nyota, please.”

            He was too weak: Jim was too weak and Bones and Nyota too strong, and their grip was inescapable even as Jim struggled, and he only caught one last glimpse of soulful, brown eyes before he was pulled away.  And they were running, picking their way through debris: their only goal being to get out, to get away, to perhaps reach the cove and confusion of the surrounding streets.  Jim moved as if in a dream, every sense focused on the bond, every thought.

           Talukh nash-veh k’du, ashayam.  Live long and prosper.

           No!

            And then it happened: Jim could feel the bond close off and his own unrestrained pain swell an instant before the roar of collapsing structure echoed around them, and they reached the entrance, made it to the very threshold, huddling together as dust billowed around them and flying material scraped their bodies.  And they saw a silver Nehaya craft soar out above them, performing a lazy turn before heading back in the direction it had come.

 

 

 

            The daylight was sour: dark and cruel, gray and obscured with dust and filth and distant screams.  The sky was filled with intermittent flashes of brilliant light; sonic booms and the rush of faraway engines and weapons fire.  The empty and broken streets ahead of them were dirty: chaos, patches of melted glass that had once been people and a single half-crushed body of one of the invaders, silver and oozing and giving off a terrible stench.

            Jim was shaking, and he could feel the wetness of tears on his cheeks mixing with the heavy dust.  His head was crashing with pain from his injury, now unmitigated by Vuhlkansu discipline, and he couldn’t feel the bond anymore.  There would be no miracle this time: no Sochya to fly to their rescue, no magical healing trance to save his bondmate now.  Grief yawned within him and he refused to meet McCoy’s eyes, didn’t look at Nyota even as she shook his arm and shouted at him.  And then she slapped him.  The pain was nothing compared to the agony already screaming across his senses, but the contact of skin on skin made him reel, and he was able to focus.

            “Get up, Kirk!  We’re getting the fuck out of here.  Right fucking now!”

            “Jim!”  McCoy’s hands were still steady somehow as he pressed a cold device to the young human’s neck and grabbed his arm, pulling him up as Nyota held two weapons in her hands, scanning the still vacant street and ignoring the twisted pile of debris behind them.

            Jim could feel the medicine begin to work, the pain wavering slightly, the dizziness falling away, and he pulled away from his friend, managing his own steps as he followed Nyota.  He murmured to the doctor, “I thought you said… .”

            “Yeah, well, I don’t have any fucking choice now, do I?”  McCoy held his own weapon in one hand, his other outstretched towards Jim.  “Goddamn alien meds.”

            They had made it across the broad main street, ducking into a labyrinth of rubble, and Jim caught glimpses of the sky: the flashing growing brighter, closer. He was feeling stronger, and the pain was fading further and then he saw a gleam of silver somewhere off to the left.

            “Stop! Down!” he hissed, reaching out to touch Nyota’s shoulder, falling to his own knees as the others ducked down next to him.  His heart was racing, and it wasn’t just from the danger; he felt an odd pressure in his veins and tasted blood in his mouth, and his legs were tingling, like they were growing numb.  The pain from his wound was still fading, but the drug seemed to be working against him in other ways.  And there was no time to fix it: in front of them were a unit of Nehaya: silver skin drawn tightly over ghastly expressions on their skull-like faces, their bodies encased in shimmering suits of some kind of dark material.  They held weapons, their low sibilant voices sliding through the air.  Sounds of weapons fire echoed from behind the three humans: the squeal and hiss of the mechanical suits coming from somewhere near the just-collapsed government complex.

            Nyota peered over the intervening debris.  “Shit, they’re all over the place.  We’ve got to get through somehow.”

            An explosion sounded far above them, and humans and aliens alike looked to the sky as a silver craft tumbled from the high atmosphere in flames.  Jim shoved his friends down, covering their bodies with his own as his bondmate had done before, feeling heated wind blow over them as the ship slammed into the ground barely one hundred meters away.

            The aliens in front of them had evidently fared worse, unprotected by the surrounding rubble, and Jim heard higher-pitched whines, unmistakable noises of pain.  The Nehaya seemed disoriented: now was the chance.  He reached out for one of Nyota’s weapons, his voice a whisper.  “Give me the gun.  I’ll create a diversion and you can get out of here.”

            “What? No!”  McCoy glared at him.  “Jim… .”

            “There’s no time, Bones.  I’m not…I’m not leaving Spock.  I’m sorry.”  As the immediate pain continued to fade, he imagined he felt some ghostly pull to where his bondmate no doubt lay buried.  And the tight feeling in his chest was worsening, he could hear ringing in his ears.  It was only logical.

            “Jesus Christ.”  His friend stared at him, anguish in his eyes.

            Nyota didn’t argue, silently handed him the weapon, understanding softening her dark gaze.  “Good luck, Jim.”

            He nodded, gripping her weapon tightly, and plunged over the debris pile.

 

 

 

           He hit the ground firing: short, quick bursts aimed more or less in the center of the group of aliens.  His lungs were already burning from the lingering smoke, and he was covered in sweat, the tightness along his legs turning into intense pain all on its own.  But this, this was it.  This would be all he would have left to do, and it would mean the lives of his friends.  From behind him, even through the buzzing in his ears and through the shrieks of alien energy weapons as they tracked him, he heard the shift of rubble and the sound of footsteps.  Somehow, he heard and hoped that it was truth: that his friends had gotten away.

            He had made it across the crumbled street and behind a paltry outcrop that had once been the side of a building before it clicked that he wasn’t dead.  He wasn’t even hit.  Several bolts slammed against his sheltering wall, but they seemed hesitant, uncoordinated, off-target.  And that strange alien wailing had grown louder.  Jim gasped for breath: his heart felt like it would crash through his chest and the pain along his lower extremities was growing ever stronger.  He shifted, backing along the wall to peer out around the other edge, and stared.

            Something was wrong: the Nehaya that weren’t lying on the ground were staggering, their eyes huge and unfocused, their voices raised in those terrible keening cries.  Jim slid back behind cover, and then, like a charge of electricity directly to his nerves, he felt the surge of something awakening in his mind: the bond!  He grunted, gasping, suddenly recognizing that the pain along his legs wasn’t his own, wasn’t the drug; that the tightness of his chest and the struggle for breath was Spock’s.  And he sensed his mate’s clambering for consciousness, a rise and shuddering fall, and then the brightness of the connection slipped away again.

            The pain was still there, but Jim’s realization of the truth of the sensations allowed him some control.  He sent fierce determination and powerful love along the weakened link, gritting his teeth; he didn’t know why the Nehaya were faltering, and he didn’t care, every impulse, every thought aimed at getting to his bondmate’s side.  And it was with newfound clarity that he realized what he could do, it was with newly steady hands that he adjusted the setting on the weapon in his grasp, and it was with cold calculation that he threw the overheating device into the center of the convulsing and howling aliens, ducking back behind the wall and hearing the shattering explosion with an overpowering feeling of satisfaction.

            And then he was running, embracing the pain now as a way of knowing his t’hy’la still lived, using as a beacon to bring him to the young Vuhlkansu’s side.  The dizziness, the weakness seemed to vanish with his grief, burning away in the heat of hope, and when he passed alien bodies, grim skull-like faces frozen in their death-throes, he didn’t slow.

            The lights in the sky had stopped, and the sounds of explosions, the sounds of weapons.  All around him was an eerie silence punctuated only by the sounds of his harsh breathing and the crunch and shift of rubble beneath his boots.  He fought his way into the wreckage of the main complex, moving by memory towards the place where Spock had fallen, his mind calling out again and again: screaming out for his mate.  Part of the structure still stood, a bare skeleton hovering like a sentinel over an area of debris, protecting it, and Jim saw green liquid pooling on the ground under a slab of wallboard.  With a cry, he pulled at it, yanked at it, cutting his own hands in the process, seeing his own red blood mingling with green.  And when it gave he saw Spock’s head, and arms, and torso.

            Jim immediately touched his t’hy’la’s face, pushing his thoughts forward, feeling tears on his own cheeks at the disturbing coolness of alien skin.  He felt along his mate’s body, seeing that the beam that had previously entrapped him had somehow shifted just enough.  Jim gently pulled, tugging his bondmate’s body out from under the threat of further collapse, seeing the dampness of blood along long legs, hesitantly feeling broken bones, ripped fabric, the absence of a comm unit on his frayed belt.  The young human cursed himself a fool for dropping his own device back in the chaos of their escape and gathered Spock into his arms as carefully as he could, cradling him, trying to push warmth back into his mind and body, embracing his mate’s subconscious pain, knowing he should be attempting some kind of emergency medical aid and not knowing what to do.  They were suddenly so alone.  A breeze ruffled black hair, and Jim felt a surge of pained awareness again, seeing the flutter of eyelids.

            “Spock, Spock.”

            Bloodshot brown eyes blinked open briefly, and a hand lifted scant centimeters before falling limply at the young Vuhlkansu’s side.

            To…see…you again.

            Even his mental speech was fading, and Jim loosened his own hand to reach for Spock’s, entwining their fingers.  “Please don’t leave me.”

            To…feel your…mind, t’hy’la.  Is enough.

            “Please.  Not like this.”  He felt Spock’s body shudder and he shook his head, closing his eyes, willing everything he was to his mate: his energy, his love, his soul itself.  And it seemed, strangely enough, to be working as something began dancing over his skin, followed by a familiar feeling, and Jim opened his eyes again to miraculous golden swirls.

 

 

 

            The rush of alien voices was as disconcerting as the brilliant lights that blinded him, and Jim’s grip tightened over Spock’s body an instant before he realized what had happened and where he probably was, and it was one of the hardest things he had ever done to let go, allowing two slender aliens with blue skin and antennae to whisk his bondmate onto a stretcher and out the door.  There were others still there, talking to him, waving a scanner around him, pressing cold, sharp things into his neck, but he couldn’t move, staring at the doors where Spock had gone, reaching with his mind, clinging to that tender mental strand that refused to part.

            “James Kirk.”  The sound of that voice: regal, heavily accented, familiar, brought Jim back to reality, and he shifted weary eyes to the tall figure standing at the corner of the room.

            “The operation was a success.  The Nehaya are destroyed or have fled.  Alliance ships are in pursuit.”  Each of Suntahr’s words seemed carefully chosen and enunciated.  “You have done well.”

            Jim swallowed, hearing the murmur of voices behind him, the feeling of hands on his shoulders, trying to press him to recline on a stretcher placed on the platform.  He resisted.  “I thought you couldn’t speak my language.”

            “I have learned.”  Suntahr stepped forward.  “I will be necessary if we are to welcome your world to our,” he searched for a word, “embrace.”

            “Sorill’s dead.  And T’Rian. And so many others.”  Jim was staring unfocusedly again.  “How…how did you find us?  My comm was gone… .”

            “I sensed your mental cry to your t’hy’la.”

            Jim’s vision was wavering, the room was spinning, and the hands encouraging him down finally prevailed.

            “My friends…Nyota…Bones… .”

            “They were in your vicinity?”  Suntahr murmured something in his native language to someone else.

            “Yes.”  Jim felt dreamy, drifting.  “What happened to the… the Nehaya?”

            “The strategy of attacking their hives was an excellent one.”  Suntahr’s voice continued, fading in and out, and Jim’s head lolled as the stretcher was lifted. The young human allowed his eyes to close, returning to focus on the bond, on Spock, and on the strange reality that had allowed them to survive.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: Cover Your Eyes And Hear My Voice

 

            Something was wrong: Jim’s intuition told him that much.  Even isolated as he was, in a small room within the larger main medical bay of the Alliance ship Ek’duv, he could feel it in the alien tension of the bustling healing staff that slipped in and out and he could hear it in the evasive way they answered him.  Suntahr had not reappeared since Jim had regained consciousness, and many questions still lingered, growing more and more pressing as time marched on, minutes turning into hours.  He still did not know what had happened to Bones and Nyota.  He still did not know what had preceded the fall of the Sochya, or how the resistance had fared, how many humans had survived, or why the Nehaya had seemed so disoriented in those last, desperate moments.  And, more disturbingly, he did not understand why the aliens had seemed to retreat so readily.

            From what he had glimpsed from Spock’s mind, from his bondmate’s reluctant communication with the Nehayan soldier, the invaders had been relentlessly focused on conquest, needing to rebuild their race, finally, finally finding suitable hosts.  To simply give that up, to retreat, seemed impossible, at least from his thoroughly human perspective.  Perhaps humans were more acquainted with loss and revenge and cruel, illogical stubbornness, but it was what hadn’t happened that haunted Jim’s thoughts: the lack of expected vengeance, the absence of a brutal fight to the death.  Retreat simply did not make sense.  His own wounds largely healed and his strength beginning to return, the young human wanted to find Suntahr, wanted to transport back down to the planet, to find Bones, to review the records of the engagement, to do something, and yet he remained.  He wouldn’t leave, not until Spock awoke.  Perhaps it was weakness, or perhaps it was simply acceptance of what they were to each other, and of what had been almost lost.

            Jim clenched his fists, cracking the knuckles of his hands, pacing back and forth across the small space, his attention drawn again and again to the prone figure on the bed.  Spock was in the tow-kath, the bond dark but slippery with focused energy, its presence in Jim’s mind both frustratingly silent and reassuringly palpable.  The young Vuhlkansu had undergone surgery and bone regeneration while Jim had been unconscious, and now the young human longed to feel his mate’s thoughts again: a very human impulse to simply be sure.  Indeed, Spock’s life still seemed to hang in the balance despite the definitive signs of healing on his body.  There were no Vuhlkansu doctors, and Jim imagined he had sensed nervousness in the pale eyes of the young-appearing Andorsu healer when she had last come in, giving her report in clipped tones that were translated in an unmatched monotone through the device Jim wore again in his ear.

            Time slipped by, and Jim was forced to stop pacing by a growing sense of unrest across the bond.  It was something he recognized from back on the hauler, though he had not known then what it was.  Frowning, he threw one last glance at the door and moved to sit in the chair next to Spock’s bedside, reaching under the blankets to clasp the other man’s hand.  With the contact, the sensations from their connection intensified into low throbs of distant pain, a struggle, and glimmers of awareness of Jim’s own presence.  Jim entwined their fingers.  “I’m here.  It’s alright, I’m here.  I’ll help you.”  He leaned back in his chair, keeping their hands together, his eyes drifting over Spock’s face.  “I’m here, t’hy’la.”

            Spock’s skin was pale and his bangs brushed haphazardly off to the side, dark shades of bruising still apparent down the left side of his face.  Jim reached over with his other hand to stroke through the black hair, smoothing it, letting his hand caress the tip of a pointed ear.  He winced as he remembered the sight of dirt and blood, the chill, putrid breeze, and the sense of helplessness.

            “Nyota was right, you know,” Jim murmured, licking his lips, his hand sliding over his mate’s blanket covered chest before returning to his own lap.  “About it being easier to give yourself.”  His jaw muscles tensed and he bit the inside of his cheek.  “I thought I had lost you, back there, and given the chance I pretty much tried to throw myself right into the abyss after you.  And I can’t decide if that was cowardly of me or not.”  He shook his head.  “I…grieve for Sorill, and for T’Rian, but I know they went together and that was…that would have been easier than one going first, at least.”

            The bond shivered, and Jim felt the flashing pain and struggle increase slightly.  He swallowed, tightening his grip on his mate’s hand and trying to calm his own surging emotions, breathing deeply.  “I’m sorry.  Fuck, it’ll be okay, just hold onto me.”  He glanced up at the cryptic panels above the bed, at the indicators that had started to flash intermittently.

            The door beeped and swept open and the young Andorsu healer stepped in, some sort of data pad in her blue hands.  She eyed the panels and hesitated, her antennae twitching slightly.  “He is coming out of the trance?”

            Jim couldn’t help his anguished expression, wishing that T’Rian and her firm competence were assisting them now.  “Yes,” came tightly between gritted teeth, and Jim’s anguish shifted towards ugly anger and grief, harshly and quickly shoved away.

            She tilted her head at him, annoyingly reminiscent of Thiren.  “You will know when it is time.”

            Jim’s mouth fell open slightly.  “Me?”

            “You are his bondmate.”

            “But you’re the doctor…healer, whatever.”  Jim stood up, keeping his mate’s hand in his.  “Isn’t there anyone else who could… ?”

            “Negative. All qualified personnel are on the planet’s surface, assisting with the casualties there.  And there are no Vuhlkansu healers available, obviously.”

            “Shit.”  Jim narrowed his eyes at her, a tendril of fear sliding down his spine.  “What about his surgery?  Do you… ?”

            She lifted her chin, her antennae curling slightly.  “Physical functioning and healing are well within my expertise.  Psionic healing, however, is not.  His people hold their secrets well.”

            “Great,” Jim muttered, glancing away.

            “You are aware of what needs to be done?”

            Jim felt a sudden impulse to throw the translator across the room, to yell, to scream, to subject her to a thoroughly human display of frustration, irrationally wanting her to give him some kind of reassurance, some kind of comfort.  Instead, he took another deep breath and nodded his head.  “Yes.”

            “You will let me know when it is time,” she repeated, stepping lightly to the side, watching him.

            Jim eyed her warily, suddenly feeling very uncertain of the unspoken rules of interaction within this alien culture.

            Her pale eyes had not left him, and her antennae lifted slightly.  “You may be interested to know that we have located the Terrasu McCoy.  He is alive, and presently working with our healers in one of the aid camps.  His position was reported by the resistance leader Uhura.”

            A wave of relief flooded Jim’s mind, followed by deepening frustration, and he stared at her incredulously.  “Why didn’t you say something sooner?  When did you find out?”

            The antennae quirked backward and her chin lifted.  “I do not understand.”

            The young human bit his lip as he felt another surge through the bond and he turned away from her completely, concentrating, both anticipating and dreading what was to come.  He could feel the disturbances continue to reverberate persistently along their connection.  This time, with their bond settled, he could feel everything, and it was terrifying to sense so clearly the slow spiral towards irrevocable darkness that he had only glimpsed tangentially before in the hauler.  Bodily systems, emotions, perceptions: all under strict control, and all gradually becoming decoupled, folding into themselves, threatening the final sublimation.  Jim felt a subtle shift and then a fight: a fight for consciousness, a fight against a powerful current.  And then Spock’s body shuddered, his eyelids fluttering, and Jim didn’t wait, loosening his grip on his bondmate’s hand to hold the Vuhlkansu’s shoulder and then to lift his other hand to strike Spock firmly across the face.  Once, twice, three times… .  The Andorsu healer had taken several steps towards the bed but did not interfere, and Jim hit his bondmate again.

            Spock let out a choked gasp, his eyes still closed, and his hand reached to grasp Jim’s arm, trying to pull himself up.  The readings above him were going haywire, alarms beeping, and Jim felt the bond sway as the mental current seemed to lunge for them.

            Come on!  He struck his now-seated mate again, and then again, and he felt the cold press of the healer’s instrument to Spock’s neck as if it were to his own skin.

            “Continue, Kirk!”  The healer’s barked command galvanized him, and he let out a near-sob, striking again and again, green marks appearing on pale skin.  The tide of their connection ebbed and then swelled abruptly, and Spock’s eyes opened as he finally caught Jim’s hand, meeting blue eyes weakly before collapsing forward, his forehead meeting Jim’s shoulder, his hands falling.

            The young human instantly wrapped his arms around his mate, holding him close, his own heart pounding frantically, his emotions churning and threatening to burst forth.  The healer was waving something like a scanner over Spock’s back, but all Jim could feel was the bond, now open and almost trembling in the aftermath of the trance.  There was recognition and confusion and love and fear, and a chill that extended into a bodily shiver.  Jim pulled at one of the tossed-aside blankets on the bed, wrapping it around Spock’s body.

            The healer flipped the scanner off and Jim felt Spock push gently against his chest, reluctantly moving back himself to let his bondmate straighten on his own.  The young human’s hands were shaking and he gripped the edges of the blankets tightly, holding on to his composure with the last vestiges of his control, bending finally under the cumulative stress of grief and anger and pain.

            The healer’s hissing voice was nearly as even as the translation, “Your major injuries are healed, but I recommend rest.  Your blood volume remains low and your affected bone structure will remain vulnerable for several days.”  She tilted her head again, a habit that now seemed typical for her species.  “Your mental state is not within my ability to assess.”

            “Acknowledged.”

            Jim winced at the weakness in Spock’s voice.  And then again at the Vuhlkansu’s next words, “We require a meeting with Suntahr.  Immediately.”

            She listened to the translation and inclined her head.  “I shall place your request.  Is there anything else you require?”

            “Negative.”  Spock’s head turned slowly to face Jim and the young healer perfunctorily left, the door sliding shut after her.

            Jim opened his mouth to say something and then stopped as Spock’s head came down again.  Stepping forward, he slid his hand into silky hair, guiding his bondmate’s head back onto his shoulder as he wrapped his other arm around him, the human’s voice almost as soft and broken as Spock’s had been.  “Why the hell did you ask for Suntahr?”

            Your thoughts were most persistent, t’hy’la.  And your concerns are logical.  Spock’s hands came up to rest at Jim’s waist.  You are well?

            And that broke him. Somehow, beyond the traumatic awakening, the terrifying events in the complex, beyond the present foreboding and anxiety, that gentle, selfless query broke through Jim’s desperate, self-imposed emotional barriers and he choked, tears welling in his eyes, shifting to hold his bondmate closer and closer still, ducking his own head against Spock’s neck, daring to inhale his mate’s scent, to press his lips against warm skin.

            “I thought I lost you.  I thought I had lost you.”  He murmured the words over and over, letting his emotions spill over across the bond, feeling Spock shudder against him with the force of them.  And there, alone together, he whispered the thing he hadn’t wanted to admit, even to himself, “I can’t do this anymore; I’m not strong enough.”

            “Your strength exceeds mine, t’hy’la.”

            Jim felt warm fingers tentatively slide under his loose shirt to rest against his skin and he clung ever tighter,  “This isn’t fucking over, no matter what they say, I know it.  And I’m terrified that whatever happens next will just be more pain and more fear and I think I’m reaching the limit of what I can take and I’m sorry.  I’m fucking sorry.”

            “Jim, when T’Khasi fell, I nearly fell, too.  And you were there.  You saved my life, my t’hy’la, even then.  You reached out to me and you saved me.  Your strength helps define each of us, allows our bond to be as it is, supports the depth of our connection.  And I will not let you fall, now.”

            Jim felt tears on his cheek, felt wetness from his own eyes on Vuhlkansu skin, felt Spock’s warmth and love and profound surety flood into his mind.  And they stayed that way for several minutes, each supporting the other, each sharing the other’s strength: filling the broken places, illuminating the dark.

 

 

 

            “I do not understand.”  Suntahr’s expression was completely impassive.

            “They wouldn’t have given up, just like that.  It doesn’t…it just doesn’t make sense.”  Jim held his hands out in front of him, newly dressed in a fleet jumpsuit and boots, his crisp attire defying his wayward hair and his need for a real shower.

            “They were surprised and outmaneuvered.  The destruction of their hives introduced an unexpected energy drain within what we now recognize was a spontaneously developed collective consciousness, apparently initiated as part of their reproductive cycle.”  Suntahr’s surprising command of Jim’s language was, perhaps ironically, delivered in a similar monotone to the translator.

            “But… .”

            “The final action of the Sochya, in successfully destroying the largest hive, provided the clue: a measureable drop in spectral output and a sharp increase in emanation instability that was observed within all Nehaya constructs and ships.  The fleet attack strategy capitalized on that by continuing to focus on the hives themselves.”

            Jim twisted his lips.  “Which is why the Nehaya ships were able to survive in order to retreat.”

            “Precisely.”

            The young human heaved a sigh, sensing mental support from his bondmate, now dressed in similar attire and standing with his hands clasped behind his back, his countenance expressionless and showing no outward sign of the weakness and discomfort that Jim knew was there.  Shaking his own head, Jim began to pace in front of Suntahr, whose piercing eyes continued to follow him.  “Look, there’s something missing here.  I know that your people don’t believe in intuition, but humans embrace it, and this doesn’t feel right.  Have you heard from the Alliance pursuit craft?”

            A dark eyebrow rose.  “Pursuit was discontinued at the edge of our space.”

            “And you’re sure that all Nehaya ships were accounted for?  What about,” he remembered hiding the Sochya beneath the surface of the lake, “what about in the oceans or…or behind one of the other planets in the solar system?”

            “Our scans have registered no such presence.”

            An uneasy silence stretched.  “Sir,” the young human began slowly, “what happened on T’Khasi?  What caused the…the… ?”  He couldn’t say it.

            Suntahr lowered his eyes.  “Reports from the surface indicated that a series of energy pulses of massive scale entered the atmosphere, ultimately devastating the surface.”

            “Why didn’t the Nehaya… ?”

            Dark eyes rose again.  “Utilize it during the recent battle?  That is an excellent question, James Kirk.  The hypothesis that they would not destroy the useful population of your planet seemed to be correct, and we could only speculate that the weapon was not configured for ship-oriented conflicts.  Additionally, the power output for the ships in orbit was considerably depleted when we engaged them, apparently affected by the hive destruction.  It is also possible that they simply did not have the energy.”

            Suntahr’s gaze shifted to Spock.  “Your t’hy’la gives great credence to emotion.”

            “Perhaps.  However, it has been my experience not to discount his intuition.”  Spock lifted his chin.  “And it is curious that the Nehaya would have allowed such a complete relinquishment of the system, given this planet’s importance to them.”

            Suntahr studied him and opened his mouth to continue when the door to the conference room slid open and a lovely young woman with pale greenish skin tones stepped in, speaking in rapid Vuhlkansu.  The translation came a beat later, “Councilmember, there is an urgent, developing situation in sector five.  An anomaly, apparently Nehayan in origin, has been discovered.”

            “Sector five…that includes Riverside,” Jim murmured, glancing at Spock.

            “What type of anomaly?” Suntahr asked, reverting back to his native language.

            The young officer furrowed her brow in a very human manner.  “A device: presently of unknown purpose, but it appears to be connected to a considerable energy supply.  Our sensors have noted a steadily increasing wave emanation, as if it is powering up.”  A small beep sounded, and she pressed her fingers to her earpiece, her expression now significantly different, and Jim could feel the throb of her sudden fear against Spock’s shields.  “New communication, sir.  Two of our people have been killed during a cursory examination of the device; it appears to be shielded and has defensive capabilities.”

            “Shielded.” Suntahr almost frowned.  “And it is powering up?  To what purpose?”

            “Unknown, Councilmember.  Energy output of a type similar to what surrounded the hives.”

           “Can we not simply destroy it?  Our weapons… .”

            She moved her head in an unfamiliar gesture.  “No, Councilmember.  The device’s purpose is unknown, but our preliminary analysis suggests that any type of offensive action may lead to its premature initiation.”

            Jim’s head snapped up.  “Some kind of doomsday device?”

            Her eyes flickered towards him as the translator parroted his words.  “Unknown, but possible.  We estimate less than fifteen minutes before full power cycling.”

            Suntahr’s hands flexed at his sides.  “Begin full evacuation from the area.”

            “There is not enough time, sir,” replied the officer.  “Recommend orbital withdrawal.”

            Spock’s suddenly tight voice came from beside Jim, also reverting to his native language as he addressed the officer, “Are there any Nehaya left alive?”

            The young woman’s eyes snapped to his.  “Affirmative; they are being held by the resistance in a central location.”

            The older Vuhlkansu appeared slightly pale, his dark eyes intense on Spock.  “What do you intend to do?”

            “What is necessary.”  The lack of inflection in Spock’s voice held startling contrast to the near-disgust and dread that Jim could sense along their connection, and the young human suddenly realized what his bondmate was considering.

            Shit.

            “You intend to force the mind of one of the prisoners.”  Suntahr blinked.  “This action…is reprehensible by the laws of our people.”

            “Time may be of the essence, Councilmember.  The needs of the many.”

            The young human nodded quickly.  “Spock will interrogate the Nehaya, and I’ll transport down to the device.  Through the bond, I’ll be able to get the information as soon as he does and can try to disarm it, or whatever it takes.”

            Both Suntahr and the officer were staring at him and Jim narrowed his eyes, shifting closer to his bondmate’s side as he stared back impatiently.  “Do you have any other ideas?”

            “Negative.”  Suntahr’s lips tightened.  “I myself see no other choice.”  He gestured to the young woman.  “James Kirk and Spock will transport immediately. Initiate evacuation and prepare to leave orbit.”

            Jim held up a hand.  “We should keep an eye out for those escaped ships.  If this is intended to cripple us, they might simply be waiting for an opportunity.”

            Suntahr inclined his head.  “I shall see to it.  You seem to have an aptitude for command strategy, James Kirk; may it serve us well.”

            Jim managed a nod.  “Let’s see if we have enough left for another unbelievable thing.”

 

 

 

            As the transporter beam released him, Jim took an involuntary breath of chilled air, almost tasting the char of recent fire as uneasy recognition bloomed: he was home.  Standing nearly on top of the now-flattened gate that led to his former job site, where he had last talked to Travis before walking to the hotel to find his mother, the young human was nearly overcome with a wave of uncomfortable nostalgia.  What had been buildings in the distance were now smoking ruins, what had been his town, his home for his entire life, was now ash and filth around him.  Forcibly pulling himself back into the present, Jim lifted his eyes as a tall Andorsu dressed in the Alliance jumpsuit jogged down the mine access road towards him.  The man’s antennae were almost completely folded back into his shock of white hair and he was fingering a translator, similar to the one Jim wore, on his own belt.

            “I am Threnik.  The device is just inside the mine.  It is shielded, but we can approach to within two meters.  We were informed that your bondmate will be interrogating the prisoners for information?”  The man’s words were out of breath, calmly translated, but even Jim could sense skepticism in the gray eyes: skepticism, fear, and rising panic.

            “Yes.”  Jim met the man’s evaluating gaze directly, without flinching.

            “You are Terrasu?”  The panic was almost palpable.

            “No shit.”  Jim gestured back up the road.  “Want to show me what we’re dealing with?”  The man’s antennae twitched but he turned immediately and headed back in the direction he had come, barking information over his shoulder as Jim jogged after him.

           I’m here, Spock.  We’re heading to the device now.

           Understood, ashayam.

            The young human could feel Spock’s focused concentration, controls shifting and aligning in preparation for what he was about to do.  After leaving Suntahr, they had barely enough time to brush their fingers together before returning to the transport chamber, no time for a goodbye.  Jim’s heart had ached as he had watched his t’hy’la disappear into the golden swirls and it was aching again as he reached instinctively for their bond, for that longed-for warmth.  He knew that Spock would need his strength, and, if things went badly, he would need Spock’s.

            Threnik stopped several meters inside the yawning main operations tunnel, just in front of one of the bends in the corridor, and as Jim jogged up to stand behind him, his breath caught in his throat.  The device was huge: a smooth, silvery sphere that easily reached the high vaulted ceiling, set on a cylindrical console flickering with small white lights.  There was a low humming pulse emanating from the device, and the surface of the sphere seemed to shimmer intermittently in time with pulsations.  Jim’s nose wrinkled at the lingering dank smell in the tunnel. 

            The Andorsu pointed to a series of terminals along the near wall, evidently quickly set-up, judging from the jumble of wires and components fallen haphazardly to the ground.  “I have been scanning on all wavelengths and energy bands and have sent my assistant for a detonation package.  If we cannot find a way to deactivate it, the only choice might be to attempt to destroy it.”

            “The Ek’duv will have left orbit,” Jim muttered as he studied the device, allowing his mind to fall open so that his bondmate could sense his perceptions.  “What do you think this thing is?”

            “It is death,” Threnik replied without hesitation.  “I was present on one of the scout ships that witnessed the fall of T’Khasi, and volunteered for this mission because of that tragedy.  The Nehaya may not intend for complete destruction here, but merely a controlled quell.”

            “Just enough destruction to encourage the Alliance to abandon Earth in favor of a resumption of its defensive posture.  Just enough death to make it not longer worth their while.”  Jim’s voice dripped with bitterness, “But not enough to make it completely useless to the Nehaya.”

            I am preparing to initiate contact.

            Spock’s mental voice slipped into Jim’s thoughts, and the human exhaled, closing his eyes.  I’m with you.  He murmured to Threnik, “He’s about to begin.  I’ll let you know when… .”  Jim gasped, everything disappearing, folding into his awareness of the bond and his bondmate, and the human was distantly aware of falling to his own knees, his hands reaching to claw at his temples.

 

Ice. Pain.  Death.  Defiance. HATRED.  And still he reaches, fingers firm and unyielding on silver-gilt skin, his sense overwhelmed by the smell and the slick feel, and the depths of seeping, crawling, roiling anger and defiance and sheer, immeasurable hatred.  He senses alien words as images in his head, feeling the thing’s cruelty shoved forward mindlessly: a hope that he himself would burn with all the others.  All the others on that red world and those doomed here, too.  These helpless, shivering beings: barely good enough to be food, these beings that would scream in stupid agony as they were eaten from the inside.

 

            “No!” Jim whispered out loud, his eyes unseeing, and he felt Spock’s mind reel and falter under the vicious emotional assault. Jim could sense his mate’s vulnerability, his lingering pain: pervasive mental and physical weakness so fresh from the trance and pummeled by the sickening depth of hate that licked against his mind. Rage and protectiveness rose.  Fight, Spock!  Draw on me and fight!

            Jim was angry.  Fiercely angry and filled with his own need for revenge, his own hate, responding to everything that had happened, everything that had been revealed, everything they had suffered.  Wanting his mate to simply flay the alien mind open, wanting the Nehayan fucker to have a taste of his own violence, seeing again the broken bodies, the melted forms, remembering Trip Grayson’s death and hearing the screams of the people who hadn’t run, who had died huddled behind an aircar on a dark highway.  And in the midst of his fury, he felt Spock focus again, drawing on the link between them, drawing on Jim’s strength and on the powerful, unabashedly deadly emotions that now streamed across the fabric of their bond.  And something changed, just like it had in a fight to the death on a graveled roadway, and Jim felt barriers falling, felt concealed grief and agony being used as weapons, as salvos to enfeeble the Nehayan mind before an intensive, directed mental sweep. 

 

Even in this terrifying alien miasma, the information exists, and is ripped away, torn away in a contorting mixture of primal emotional power and devastatingly precise discipline.  And he does not stop; he continues, seeing the intended purpose of the device and the horrors it will unleash and seeing the Nehayan fleet poised to return, anticipating a glorious victory even now.  He will show them what loss is: a father, a betrothed, a world, how deeply it cuts, and he pushes with a fierce mental scream and unique vengeance bursts forth, sweeping from mind to mind.

 

            Jim was caught and he couldn’t turn away, feeling his bondmate’s ferocity as he plunged into the Nehayan proto-collective, feeling bile rise within his own stomach as he realized that he had pushed this, had himself ripped through Spock’s diminished veneer of control into the still-bleeding aftermath of horrific loss.  Jim’s own visceral, uncontrolled human reaction transferred into his bondmate’s formidable telepathy.  He had the information he needed, had shared it as Spock had retrieved it, but he couldn’t stop this chain reaction, he couldn’t…move… .

           “James Kirk.”  Threnik was yelling at him, the forceful hisses centimeters from his face translated without emotion.  “We are running out of time.  What do we need to do?”

            Desperately, guiltily, Jim gathered himself and mentally shoved, gasping in shock as instinctive walls of his own came crashing down, cutting off Spock’s presence in his mind, freeing him from his bondmate’s helpless turmoil.  He was on the cold, hard floor, breathing hard, barely feeling his own body, and heard his voice come flatly, “The device is programmed to operate within a specific electromagnetic window.  Exposing it to fluctuating external fields will decouple the internal power feed and neutralize the reaction.”

            Threnik hissed something untranslatable, and then started yelling again, this time at another Andorsu who had just appeared, running from the main entrance and carrying a bulky case.  The translator squealed and began a rapid-fire account of what the two men were saying, their own voices moving further away as they hurried over to the terminals against the wall.  The pulsed hum from the sphere was growing louder and more insistent, and Jim ignored it, feeling so weak, letting his head fall back against the floor, looking up at arching supports along the ceiling, reaching back along the bond.

            It was still blocked, and Jim struggled against his own constructed defenses, trying to hold onto the link to guide himself through.  He pushed, and pushed again, and, finally, he burst forward, his barriers collapsing into dust, and he mentally stumbled in despair as he sensed cold, pain, loss, mental cries of grief and shock, a profound loneliness and terrifying guilt.

            Spock!

            Somewhere in the background, he heard Threnik’s voice again, higher-pitched and frantic, juxtaposed against the increasing pulsations.  The Andorsu was arguing with someone, pleading, and something was wrong with the translator because Jim couldn’t understand any of it.

            Spock, t’hy’la, I’m so sorry.

            The young human focused again on the bond, feeling murmurs in another language, his mate’s mind curled in on itself, shuddering under waves of anguish.  I killed them, I killed them, I killed them… .

            And then Jim heard the squeal and snap of the translator coming back online, hearing the calm tones belying Threnik’s shouts, “Turn it on! Turn it all on! Less than sixty seconds!  Etherin, we have to get out of here; get Kirk!”  He felt strong hands on his arms, felt himself being lifted and half-carried, half-dragged away down the tunnel, hearing the rasping breathing from the two aliens at his sides, feeling their tension.

            Spock, let me know you feel me.  Let me know, please, please.

            They were outside, and a light rain was falling, and Jim shut his eyes, trying to force his limp legs into motion, knowing somehow that it was his bondmate’s weakness that was being transferred to him.  They might have seconds left, and he didn’t want to go without… .

            Jim.  Jim!

            Stay with me.  Don’t let me go, no matter what.  Jim heard muttered alien curses, felt the air around him hold some odd type of charge that made his hair stand on end, even with the dampness.

            They left; they turned back.  I killed… .  The device… .  Spock’s choked mental voice faded away again.

            It’ll either go or it won’t.  I love you.  Jim felt his knees hit the ground, felt his cheek pressed into cold mud.  Threnik muttered something like a curse, his taller but thinner body covering Jim and the younger Andorsu.  The charge was gone, and there was nothing around them but an immoveable chill and the faint sound of rain.  Rain, and the pained, shifting tumult of Spock’s mind, and Jim held his breath, waiting… .

            The beep of a comm unit shattered the tense spell surrounding the three men, and Threnik hissed, shifting to crouch next to the others, plucking the unit from his belt as Etherin sat up as well and Jim opened his eyes.

            The translator was apparently working again.  “The device has been neutralized.  All power readings off-line.  Shielding gone.” 

            Jim recognized the clipped tones of the young officer from the conference room and he pushed himself up, his arms shaking.  “What about the Nehayan fleet?”

            There was a pause, perhaps for translation, and Threnik stared down at him with an odd expression on his face.  The officer finally responded over the comm, “The Nehaya turned back just prior to engagement with our craft at the boundary.  They have fled, for reasons yet unknown.”

            “I know why.”  Jim’s words were muffled as his arms gave out and he fell back into the mud.  “I need to see Spock.”

            Threnik muttered something into the comm and peered down at Jim.  “You must return to the Ek’duv.  You are injured.”

            “No!  Transport me over to Spock.”

            “He will be transported also.”  Threnik’s hiss was gentle, and Jim barely felt Etherin move further away, hearing chatter continue across the comm even as his body began to disappear into golden swirls.

 

 

 

            The transport platform solidified under Jim’s body even as he craned his neck, the feeling of his mate expanding powerfully in his mind.  And then he saw him: lying across one of the rear pads, supported in Nyota’s arms, green blood smeared vividly across the lower part of his face, eyes closed.

            “Jim!”  The young woman looked distraught, and Jim knew that was saying something.

            Managing to flip himself over, Jim crawled towards his mate, mud staining the platform underneath him, and reached to clasp a limp hand in his own, sensing the dark, swirling emotions from before come even stronger, but no attempt at speech.

            Nyota had slid over awkwardly, bringing them into closer contact, but she hadn’t released her own hold on the young Vuhlkansu.  “I don’t know what happened.  He touched the alien’s face, and at first I thought it wasn’t working and then he screamed, and his nose started to bleed and the alien was screaming, too, and all the others down the hall where they were being held, and then Spock fell and the aliens were all fucking dead.  All of them!”  She shook her head.  “He was…having a seizure or something and there wasn’t anyone who knew what to do, and so I just held him, like this.  It seemed to help.”  She looked helplessly at Jim, seeming to take in his poor condition for the first time.  “You look like shit.  It worked, then?  The device was shut down?  They didn’t tell me anything when they called in for transport.”

            “Yeah, it worked.  I think this…me…is mostly him.”  Jim pushed his own body even closer, taking Spock’s other hand in his as well.

            She exhaled, blinking rapidly and glaring at the still-closed doors.  “Where the fuck is the doctor?  What the fuck are they waiting for?”

            Jim couldn’t answer, staring at his mate, mentally cringing under the devastating emotional pressures that strained the bond.  He tried desperately to relax his own thoughts, to not push, to simply provide comfort.

            “Len’s alive.  Did they tell you that?”  She swallowed, looking down at Jim again.  “You saved our lives and we thought you were dead; both of you.  And then suddenly you weren’t.”  Her voice was shaky.  “And you saved us again.”

            “He saved us.”  Jim shifted even closer, resting his head against his bondmate’s torso.  “Spock saved us all.”

            One of her hands moved, gently cradling the side of Jim’s face as the doors finally parted to admit several aliens, led by the young Andorsu healer.  Jim heard the murmur of Nyota’s voice and the others’ hissed responses, the translator’s dull monotone, and he closed his eyes again, listening to the rapid, reassuring thrum of his bondmate’s heart, hoping that it was over; hoping that, at last, they had won.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: The Ashes Of This New Day

 

            Emotion could be a weakness.  Perhaps, by definition, it was weakness: structural weakness representing an opening, a yielding, failure.  A response to stress that could be either destructive or transformative, but that always represented a change in state.

            Jim remembered T’Rian’s words: Is it not difficult for your bondmate to adapt to these ways?   The answer was now terribly evident.  Raw, human emotions had broken catastrophically through mental shields and guarded control, striking at the heart of loss and galvanizing a reaction that had lead to death.  And the victory that had been won had been paid for in the shattered sea of grief and guilt that flooded his bondmate’s traumatized mind.

            There had been no Vuhlkansu healers among those who had come to Earth’s aid against the Nehaya.  Aside from Suntahr and, of course, Sorill and T’Rian, any survivors of T’Khasi’s tragic fall had stayed with the main fleet, protected, now an endangered species.  There had been no one to properly assess the state of Spock’s mind, and Jim himself had slipped further ever down, drawn inexorably by the bond, only able to regain his strength after Thisghan, the young Andorsu healer, had administered a potent drug to keep Spock unconscious.

            Jim now sat in an uncomfortable chair at his bondmate’s bedside, his head throbbing with the artificial absence of Spock’s thoughts.  He was also hiding in a sense; hiding from the looks of awe and confusion that were perceivable even from non-human beings.  He had given his report, of course, temporarily leaving Spock’s side and, standing with Nyota, briefing Suntahr, and Thasnil and Heliah on remote-link, as to what had transpired at that last, desperate moment.

           The translator’s monotone had been particularly jarring when deciphering Heliah’s soft tones, “The development of the Nehayan collective consciousness, apparently a side-effect of their reproductive cycle, led to their downfall.”

            “Yes, Councilmember,” the huge greenish-skinned commander of the Ek’duv, Urkir, had replied.  “Prior to our exit from warp, long-range scans confirmed the destruction of the largest hive complex, which we later ascribed to the sacrifice of the Sochya.  The resultant power fluctuations and energy drain seen across the enemy fleet and surface complexes caused us to alter our battle plan.  Upon orbital attainment, we concentrated fire on the remaining hives, which resulted in the retreat of the Nehayan craft to the borders of our space.”

            “Until that device was discovered.”

            “Affirmative.” Suntahr had inclined his head in response to Thasnil’s statement.  “The hive collective apparently operated as to inform the Nehaya of our actions and general status.  Unfortunately for them, however, that collective was also capable of transmitting destructive psionic energy.”

            Jim had cleared his throat.  “Uh, we didn’t have much time.  The device seemed to be on a countdown and we needed to stop it so Spock and I transported down separately: he went to the holding cell and I went to the location of the device.  He…he planned to force the information from one of the prisoners and communicate it to me instantly through the bond.”

            Jim had shifted uncomfortably and looked away from Suntahr’s intense gaze.  “I can’t explain exactly what happened, but the Nehayan mind was vicious, and I got angry, and we both fought back.  I got the information, but Spock,” he had furrowed his brow, correcting, “I lost control. I wanted to kill them all, and through the bond…well, it happened.”

            Nyota had touched his arm lightly, but Suntahr had looked away, back to the screen.  “Spock possesses a uniquely powerful mind which, unleashed, caused, through the hive-mind, the deaths of the remaining Nehaya on the planet as well as, apparently, a significant number on board the returning Nehayan fleet.”

            “And so they retreated.  Permanently this time.”  Heliah had shifted to look directly at Jim.  “How is your t’hy’la?”

            Jim had swallowed.  “Not good.”  He had opened his mouth to continue, but couldn’t find the words, and he had felt Nyota take his hand.

            Thasnil had leaned forward on-screen, his hissed words carrying a ring of formality.  “You are a hero of the Alliance, as is Spock.  As are the members of the resistance,” he nodded to Nyota, “and the crew of the lost Sochya.  We have sent another two ships with medical aid and healers and more to follow.  We intend to offer Terra a place in the Alliance.”

            His statement had done little to comfort, however, and afterward, Jim kept hold of Nyota’s hand as they left the room, pitching his voice low, “Offer us a place in the Alliance…like we have any other choice.”

            Her expression had been hard.  “It’s better than the alternative: another regime, another fucking bastardization of a society.  It would be so easy to fall back to that now that we’re weak… .”  Her voice had trailed off and she glanced up, seeing curious eyes following them, following Jim.  “Was it really like you said?  How he killed them?”

            “Yeah, it was.  It was…pretty bad.”  Jim had looked up, too, and lowered his voice to a whisper.  “It was my fault.  It…the alien was hurting him and he was still so weak from the trance and I just lost it.  I threw my own anger and…and everything through our bond, and he was sensitive to me.  It blew through his shields and right into the heart of what he had lost and he couldn’t control it.  And his guilt, Nyota…his guilt and pain over what had happened.”  Jim had swallowed.  “I don’t know what I can say because I was glad he killed them; I wished he had killed all of them.”

            “So do I.”  Her tone had been dark, her grip firming around his.

            Jim had stopped abruptly, looking down at her.  “But that’s where we’re different, he and I, where our cultures are so fucking different!”  He gestured around them.  “The Vuhlkansu were…are so involved with peace that they had almost forgotten the motivations behind blind, arrogant conquest.  We haven’t, because we still live with it, but they,” he took a shaky breath, “Spock was exposed to me, to us, to humanity in the most fundamental way and I could feel how it changed him.  Especially after we met Sorill and T’Rian, I could see the difference in him.  And I changed, too, but he…was…I could tell that he wasn’t fucking used to it, and I fucking exploited it.  I destroyed his mind even as he destroyed the fucking Nehaya and all for my own need for revenge!”

            “It was his need, too, Jim. My need.  What he did, what you did, you did for each of us.  It was necessary.”

            “It was a betrayal.”

            “It was war.”  She had tightened her grip, holding their hands up, shaking them slightly.  “This is what’s important, this.  And at that moment, you were fighting for this, not some idealistic vision but this. And we won.  Don’t forget that.”  She had lowered their hands, meeting his eyes steadily.  “Go to him and tell him we won.  That in the ashes of what we have left there’s still life and hope and love.  Tell him that.”

            She had left, returned to the surface to help take charge of the triumphant, distributed resistance, and Jim returned to Spock’s side, to simply hold onto his mate’s hand as Nyota had held onto his, turning her words and his own over and over in his mind, hoping to convey them somehow through the darkened bond, hoping to convey an explanation, an apology, hoping… .

 

 

 

            The sound of the door opening jerked him awake, and Jim barely had enough time to lift his head from his folded arms before he was engulfed in a familiar, impossible embrace.

            “Mom!”  His voice cracked, his throat dry, and he awkwardly brought his arms around her to likewise hold.  “How did you… ? When… ?”

           “I came with the first supply ship; as soon as we heard about the aliens’ retreat.”  He heard her huff against his neck, “The second retreat, anyway.”  She pulled back to crouch in front of him, holding his hands in her own.  “Are you alright?”

            He just looked at her, and saw her blue eyes slide to Spock’s motionless figure next to them.  “I heard what happened from Thasnil himself.”  There was a bitter note in her voice.  “He seemed very proud of you.”

           “Yeah,” Jim replied shortly.  Motion from the still-open doorway caught his eye and he saw Amanda’s slender figure slip tentatively inside, her dark eyes fixed on her son.  Winona turned her head to follow her friend, slowly standing and keeping Jim’s hands in hers.

            The dark-haired woman walked towards her son’s bedside, her steps measured at first and then quickening, and she was suddenly at his side as if she couldn’t help herself, reaching out and cradling his face in shaking hands.

            “He’s alive.”  Her voice was barely a whisper of sound, and Jim heard her exhale, standing up himself to see her eyes move to his.  “Oh, god, Jim.  Are you alright?  I’m sorry, I just…I needed… .”  Her eyes held tears.  “I couldn’t believe what I had heard.  I almost didn’t believe that he was alive.”

            Her barely-restrained emotion triggered a pang in Jim’s chest.  “I’m okay.  He’s…I don’t know yet.”

            Her expression briefly contorted before she visibly controlled herself, stroking her son’s dark hair before straightening and lifting her chin, squaring her shoulders and walking around the bed to face her son’s bondmate, and Winona let go of one of Jim’s hands to clasp Amanda’s.

            Dark eyes were steady.  “I know what they told me, Jim, but what really happened to him?  To you?”

            Jim’s lips parted and he glanced at his own mother’s eyes, seeing sympathy there.  He finally let out a breath, looking back at Amanda.  “He established kash-nohv with one of the aliens, in order to retrieve important information.  During the…the link, my emotions… .”  He shook his head firmly.  “Spock killed that alien, and others through their collective, and stopped what could have been another bloodbath.  He caused the Nehayan retreat.  He won the war.”

            Amanda looked at him closely.  “Your emotions… .”

            Jim flinched, pulling his hand away from his mother to cross his arms over his chest.  “They were too much.  The alien was hurting him and I couldn’t help it.  I hurt him… .”  His voice trailed off into a thick silence as the two women exchanged a glance.

            Amanda sighed.  “Jim, do you know why they control so stringently?

            The young human shook his head mutely.

            “Their emotions run as strongly as our own; surely you’ve felt it.  But their physiological response to emotion is different: more intense, and that’s why they need to control it.”  She shook her head absently.  “Honestly, I never asked, but Sarek hinted it had something to do with how their brains are wired and their mating cycle.  Because of that, because of your bond, he’s sensitive to you.”

            “No shit,” he muttered, looking away.  “That’s how we got into it in the first place.”  The darkness in his mind was palpable and his own guilt was surging.

            She made a small movement forward.  “Jim, what I’m saying is that as sensitive to you as he was when this happened, he’ll be as sensitive to you now, even injured.  You can bring him back, I’m sure of it.”  She bit her lip and glanced towards the door.  “There’s a Vuhlkansu healer on her way; she should have been here already.  She will help, but, Jim, don’t make the same mistakes that I did.  Stand up for your ability to help your bondmate: for your unique, human ability to help him.”

            Jim met her eyes again, and saw, really saw the difference there.  Amanda appeared closer to the woman he had first met at that breakfast table in a Riverside hotel.  Despite her obvious turmoil over her son, she seemed centered for the first time since her husband’s mind had been ripped from her.  There had been some healing there, and as he saw his own mother’s small smile and the way the two women held each other’s hands tightly, he thought of Nyota’s fierce grip and her certainty in the importance of one being to another.  He exhaled and reached out to rest his hand on his bondmate’s chest, looking down at Spock’s face, murmuring, “I’ll try.”

            “Good.”  Amanda’s eyes softened as she took in Jim’s protective stance.

            Subtly, the young human cast a glance at his mother, thinking back to that first, seemingly long-ago meeting.  “Riverside’s gone.”

            She frowned and her shoulders slumped slightly.  “I figured. But how did you… ?”

            “I was there,” Jim replied absently.  “The device was there, in the mines; something to do with the mines…probably why the Nehaya bothered with the city in the first place.  It wasn’t like we were a technological hub or a big population center.”

            “Jim, did you see if… ?”

           Winona’s question was interrupted by the sound of the door, and a tall, slender Vuhlkansu woman stepped in crisply.  Wearing a standard jumpsuit and with light brown hair pulled back in a tight bun, her black eyes traveled over the assembled humans before coming to rest on Spock and then Jim.  She lifted a hand.  “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

            Jim let go of Winona’s hand and fumbled with his translator, just now noticing that his mother wore her own.  “I’m Jim Kirk.  You’re the healer?”

            “Affirmative.”  The translator’s tone was nothing like the woman’s low, calm voice.  “I am T’Nerin.  You are Spock’s t’hy’la.”  The way she said the last word was especially different from the translator’s simple repetition of the alien term.

            “Yes.”  Jim kept one hand protectively on his bondmate’s chest and gestured with the other to the women.  “This is my mother, Winona Kirk, and Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson.”

            T’Nerin inclined her head.  “Amanda, wife of Sarek.  I grieve with thee.”

           “And I, with thee,” Amanda answered, in her adopted people’s tongue.

            “It would be preferable if I were to allowed to conduct my examination of your son in private; with his t’hy’la’s attendance, of course.”  T’Nerit gestured towards the door.  “Additionally, the child is asking for your presence.  Her father has been located and is on his way, but she is experiencing distress.”

            “Shit,” Winona muttered, and Jim saw T’Nerin’s eyebrow lift. The blonde woman looked at Jim.  “I didn’t want to bring Jo in here, not knowing what to expect, but we should get back to her.”

            Amanda gave her son one last glance before nodding to Jim.  “Remember what I said.”

            Jim nodded back and saw T’Nerin clasp her hands behind her, standing patiently until the door had closed again after the two women.

            Her head tilted.  “Suntahr has relayed to me the circumstances of your t’hy’la’s injury.  Most unusual, as is your bond, but I am most grateful to you both for your actions in this crisis.  You upheld your honor, and that of our fallen world and its traditions, and it would be my honor to assist you now.  I come to serve.”  She bowed her head, her hands moving out at her sides in a graceful, almost ceremonial movement.

            “Your service honors us.”  The reply left Jim’s lips before he realized what he was saying, and he saw her head lift, the barest of expressions playing across her face.

            “I shall administer a counteragent to the drug your t’hy’la has been given, and I shall touch his thoughts, given your permission.  You shall be aware of my actions through the bond, and you will know when you are needed.  Since I shall initiate kash-nohv and control the joining, you will experience it differently.  Be prepared.”

            Jim swallowed nervously, but she reminded him of T’Rian, and the strength in her eyes bolstered him.  And it wasn’t like he had any other choice.  “Go ahead.”

            She did not hesitate, pulling a silver device out of the pack on her hip and pressing it to Spock’s neck, and Jim shifted his grip to his bondmate’s hand as she immediately placed her fingers against the young Vuhlkansu’s face.  “My mind to yours.  My thoughts to yours.”

            It began as the lightest pressure in the dark, and then Jim sensed the bond open and the relentless flood of emotion threaten yet again.  He felt T’Nerin’s presence as a blanket, a flexible barrier that channeled and tested the flood, and, surprisingly, encouraged difficult memories instead of pulling away from them.  Jim winced as he sensed her witness event after event, all the way back to the fall of T’Khasi, when he had lain with Spock in a bed in his mother’s house.  Images flashed: a deep sense of closeness, each of them drawn to the other, a profound connection, injury, pain, desperation, action and reaction, love.  She took in their teamwork at the helm of the Sochya, their intimacy afterwards, and their actions during the Battle for Earth.  And through it all, as images streamed, Jim felt whispers of that terrifying current of emotion begin to separate, to thread in and out of the memories, to assimilate until the current ran strongly, but coherently.  And then there was the final action, when Jim’s mind had reached for his bondmate’s in an act of protectiveness against a cruel, arrogant attack, and prompted… .

            T’Nerin gasped, and Jim realized his own eyes were closed, both hands tight around Spock’s, and he saw Spock’s anger, his grief, his fear as bright things, the current of emotion threatening to surge again, pain sparking.

            “No!” Jim spoke aloud, shouted the word, reaching mentally to wrap his mind around his bondmate’s, to shield him, to protect him, allowing that bright, bright energy to flow into him, his human dynamism able to absorb it, to understand it, and to justify it.  And they held each other, buffeted within the current, sensing T’Nerin’s presence around them, moving purposefully.

            Their thoughts merged, and Jim didn’t wait, pushing forward his own guilt and sorrow, his apologies and pride, his love and his certainty that what had happened had been for the best.  He met Vuhlkansu stubbornness with unique human determination, and felt Spock’s overwhelming trust in him as his mate slipped ever closer, leaning into him for support, for strength.

            Time lost meaning, even within the context of his mate’s mind, and the current gradually slowed, controls firming and order restored, and T’Nerin’s mental presence finally slid towards them, gently encouraging them to part just enough to shallow and surface.  Jim opened his eyes to find himself lying next to his mate, each facing the other, their hands on each other’s faces. Tired brown eyes met blue and the human shivered, feeling a heavy blanket being drawn over them both.

            The sensation of cold is a side effect from the extended deep joining; it will pass.  T’Nerin’s mental voice still echoed in his mind, and he could feel her warm fingers on his temple.  There was significant psionic trauma, which I have addressed, and the best response now is for you both to sleep and allow the bond to remain open.  Your presence will calm your mate and your strength will support him as he continues to recover.  You and he share a unique convolution that allowed this unusual and unprecedented application of mental power. It would be wise to discuss this when you are recovered.

            Jim blinked, feeling drained, feeling his mate already sinking into sleep next to him as T’Nerin’s fingers fell away and the room slowly darkened. He could barely make out Spock’s face: upswept dark eyebrows and long lashes under a mussed fringe of black bangs.  Gently, Jim lifted his own fingers and brushed over his mate’s cheekbone, down across his lips, feeling the reassuring warmth of his breath and skin, and the corresponding mental warmth along their bond.  All was calm, now, almost startlingly so, and quiet, and though a thousand concerns seemed to hover outside the door, inside was only for them, finally safe and sound.

 

 

 

            Jim awoke to the feeling of warm, familiar fingers stroking through his hair, and he smiled, rolling over and stretching languidly, finally opening his eyes to look into a brown gaze full of warmth and amusement.

            “What?”  He leaned into Spock’s hand as it caressed the side of his face, the sense of subtle electricity sparking over his skin making his smile widen.  He could feel his mate’s mind through their connection: strong and calm, empty of pain or anguish, filled with love and contentment.  “You’re laughing at me.”

            “My people do not laugh, t’hy’la.”

            Jim rolled his eyes.  “You feeling better?”  He already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear his mate’s voice again, confirming it.

            “I am.  Leonard and Nyota wish a conference.”

            Jim’s lazy smile abruptly faded and he sat up, looking at his mate who was still reclined next to him, propped up on one elbow.  “Now?  Is everything alright?  What happened?”

            Spock lifted an eyebrow.  “Additional Alliance ships have arrived and aid efforts continue.  The leadership of the resistance is acting as the current planetary authority in discussions with Alliance representatives.  There has been no further contact with the Nehaya.”

            “Well, then why… ?”  Jim furrowed his brow, glancing at the chrono above the door.

            Spock followed his thought.  “You have been sleeping for fifteen point two hours, Jim.”

            “Fuck.”  Jim rubbed a hand over his face, feeling stubble and greasy skin.  He swallowed and peered at his bondmate.  “You’ve been up?”

            “I awoke three point five hours ago and reported our status to T’Nerin.  At that time I was advised of the state of operations and spoke with my mother.”

            Jim’s smile returned, softly.  “And you showered; no wonder you smell so good.”  He exhaled, wincing at the sour taste in his own mouth.  “You saw Amanda?  I guess they found Bones for Jo.”  He furrowed his brow.  “They want to see us right away?  Do I have time to get cleaned up?”

            “Indeed.”  Dark eyes searched his.  “Perhaps you require assistance?”

            A smile became a grin.  “Perhaps.”  Jim pulled back the blankets and swung his legs out of bed, letting his feet touch the floor and taking a breath before pushing himself upright.  He felt a rush of vertigo and held onto the side of the bed.  “Shit.  I don’t remember feeling this… .”

            “I experienced the same when I first awoke, Jim.”  Spock was at his side, and although he clasped Jim’s arm firmly, Jim could sense his bondmate’s own persistent weakness.

            “That…the healing took a toll, I guess.”

            “The kash-nohv was deep, and you shared your strength with me.  It is to be expected.” Spock wrapped an arm around Jim’s waist.  “Allow me to assist you.”

            Jim blinked, seeing spots grow and fade in front of his eyes.  “I guess I don’t have much of a choice.”  He leaned carefully into Spock’s body, and couldn’t help turning his head and nuzzling into the side of his mate’s neck, breathing him in as he was led into the small adjoining bathroom.  “Are you sure you’re okay?  You scared the shit out of me.”

            There was sadness in his mate’s mind.  “T’Nerin informed me of the unprecedented nature of the…my attack and hypothesized that it stemmed from our… .”

            “Unique convolution,” Jim interrupted.  “Yeah, she said.  She meant the type of bond we have?”

            “I believe she meant the unique combination of hybrid and human psionic resonance.”  Spock released Jim to adjust the sonic shower settings, and the young human leaned over the toilet, sighing as he relieved his full bladder.  Hitting the button to cycle the waste, Jim glanced over to see Spock pull his own shirt off.  The human smiled, reaching over to the sink for a disposable toothbrush and beginning to clean his teeth. Spock slipped his pants off as Jim spat into the sink and tossed the brush into the recycler.

            “Psionic resonance?”

            “A generalization meant to describe the manner in which our energetic patterns constructively interact along the psi-sensitive wavelengths characteristic of our bondspace.”  Spock moved forward and lifted the bottom of Jim’s tunic, raising it up and over the young human’s head.

            Jim grunted sarcastically as he awkwardly stepped out of his pants, his balance still compromised.  “So we’re three-quarters human and suddenly you can melt brains?”

            Spock visibly flinched and the bond stung and Jim hurriedly reached out, catching his bondmate’s wrists in a gentle grip.  “No, no, I’m sorry.” Spock’s eyes closed, and Jim pulled him closer, wrapping his arms around him.  “I’m sorry.”

            “It is well, t’hy’la.”  The young Vuhlkansu’s voice was soft and Jim felt his mate’s body shudder as Spock’s arms came around him in turn, warm fingers pressing into cooler flesh.  There was a low pulse of desire that passed between them: not lust, but a simple hunger for touch, for closeness, and Jim pushed at Spock’s body, maneuvering them both under the soothing sonics and finally leaning silently against the chill of the stall, allowing Spock’s hands to brush over his body and through his hair, supplementing the massaging waves.  Jim let his mate’s hands guide him, feeling tired and restless all at the same time, wanting the feel of skin on skin but enjoying the perceptible cleansing action of the vibrations.

            Their bodies were changed: raw, mottled bruising still coloring Spock’s pale skin, Jim’s long scar stretching down his hip and thigh, a hard recent leanness to both of them.  And their awareness of each other seemed different, too.  Jim sensed his mate’s feebleness and slight discomfort as a superposition to his own, but the sensations were not discordant.  They urged him not to retreat but to support, and he finally decided that clean was clean enough and stepped closer to his mate, sliding his hand into black hair and bringing their mouths together.

           At first their lips barely brushed, and then Jim pressed forward, deepening the kiss, tasting his bondmate’s mouth and breathing in his scent mixed with the unique tang rendered by the sonics, feeling his warmth and basking in his mind.  Spock’s arms came again around him and they held each other, fell into each other, and Jim at last had to pull away, a wave of breathless dizziness threatening to overcome him.  He gasped, and Spock shifted to turn off the shower, keeping a steady arm around his mate.

            “I feel light-headed.”  He couldn’t help stumbling slightly as Spock led him out through the bathroom and he threw a sidelong look at his mate as he thought of something.  “You haven’t talked to me in my head since we transported back.  Even in the kash-nohv it wasn’t formed words.  It wasn’t the same as before.”  He tilted his head, supporting himself against the rumpled bed and making a face as Spock retrieved two of the ubiquitous jumpsuits and two pairs of boots from a neat pile on a nearby chair.

            The young Vuhlkansu lowered his eyes, handing one of the sets of clothes to the human.  “The psionic injury was severe.  It was…disturbing.”

            Jim eyed him, leaning back against the bed to pull the suit over his legs, watching Spock’s still luridly bruised lower limbs disappear into his own suit, feeling an all-too recognizable emotion flitter across their connection: fear of something changed irrevocably, fear of what might yet occur should control remain elusive.  Jim swallowed, pushing his arms through the sleeves, steadying himself mentally.  Talk to me.

            Spock blinked, his own suit half-fastened, and Jim felt the bond haltingly shift, widening.  T’hy’la.

            The human rewarded him with a confident grin.  I knew you could do it.  In fact, though, there was a haunted dull pain behind the victory, and Jim knew that there was still healing to be done, still vulnerabilities to contend with.  He fastened his own suit and stepped forward, pushing Spock’s suddenly shaking hands away to press the seals together, looking into brown eyes.  “We’re going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.”

            A small exhalation escaped between the young alien’s parted lips.  “You have no evidence for that to be so, Jim.”

           Jim snorted and carefully bent over to pull his boots over his feet.  “Sure, I do.  I met an alien and pretty much married him, survived an interstellar invasion, flew a fucking starship, pretended to be a diplomat, pretended to be a soldier, saved the world with said space husband, and am still alive with my sense of dark humor intact.”  He straightened, wobbling only slightly and narrowing his eyes.  “We’re still here and it’ll be okay.”

            Warmth and amusement flooded the bond.  “I have never met another being with as persistent a sense of determination as yourself, t’hy’la.”

            Jim reached out and clasped his mate’s hand.  “I love you, too.”  He cocked an eyebrow in mimicry of what seemed to be a standard Vuhlkansu gesture.  “Now where are we meeting the others?”

 

 

           

            To Jim’s surprise, the doors opened to a large, open room; one entire wall taken over by a continuous transparent barrier showing the curving blue surface of the Earth, stunning in its coloration, and, beyond it, the dusting of stars.  He stared, barely aware of anything else until a shout from his right caught his attention and he was suddenly held in a powerful embrace.

            “Jim!  My god, kid.”

            “Hey, Bones,” Jim murmured into his friend’s shoulder.

            The doctor instantly noticed his unsteady stance and Bones pulled away, keeping his hands firm on Jim’s arms, hazel eyes running over his face and body.  “You’re okay?”

            Jim waved a hand.  “Just tired.”

            “I heard you saved the world again.” 

            Bones was smiling but his eyes were penetrating, and Jim shook his head.  “We got lucky.”

            Hazel eyes softened.  “That’s okay, too.”

            Jim smiled in return, remembering their charged conversation after Bones had made the choice to join the Sochya.  The doctor shrugged self-consciously, letting go of Jim to grip Spock’s shoulder, looking him over as well.  “How are you, Spock?”

            “I am well, Leonard,” Spock replied gently, and Jim lifted his eyes to see that there were others in the room, standing silently to the side: Nyota, Suntahr, and Winona.

            “Where’s Jo?” Jim asked quietly, glancing back at McCoy.

            “With Amanda.”

            Jim grunted and nodded to the others.  “Hi, Mom.  Nyota.  Councilmember.”

            Jim’s involuntary glance towards the long, padded seats in the center of the space did not go unnoticed as Suntahr lifted a hand.  “Shall we sit?”

            Bones walked closely next to Jim and Spock as they crossed over to the central area, taking a seat next to the young human as Nyota and Winona sat next to the older Vuhlkansu on the opposing high-back bench.

            Jim forced a pleasant smile on his face, cursing internally at his remaining fatigue.  He imagined he should be hungry, but the thought of food made his stomach roil.  Resignedly, he placed his hands on his knees and looked expectantly at the others.

           This must be bad.

           I can only speculate, t’hy’la.  The mental communication was easier this time, and Jim shifted slightly so that his leg brushed against his bondmate’s.

            Nyota cleared her throat.  “Jim, I know you’re still recovering, and I’ll make this fast.  The resistance needs you and Spock to fulfill a very specific role during the reconstruction of Earth and the eventual admission of our planet into the Alliance.”

            Jim’s brow furrowed and he saw Nyota glance at Suntahr.  “The Alliance is willing to help, of course, and is doing so, but… .”

            “But the loss of T’Khasi still hasn’t been dealt with,” Jim finished.

            “Right.”  Nyota looked at Spock.  “You and Spock represent a union not only between Earth and another culture, but also between two worlds who have suffered unimaginable tragedies. Plus, you both are genuine heroes.  People will trust what you say.”

            “I don’t understand… ,” Jim began.

            Nyota exhaled.  “We want you both to serve a figureheads for the new government.  We want you to act as public liaisons between the Alliance representatives and our new leaders: ambassadors if you will.  You’ll be a visible symbol of what we’re trying to accomplish behind the scenes.”

            She must have seen some expression cross Jim’s face because she leaned forward.  “Jim, I’m not going to bullshit you: our people are used to seeing the same faces everyday telling them what to do and what not to do. They’re used to being afraid, and they’re used to control.  They’re used to apathy.  We have to demonstrate that there is another way, but it’s going to go slowly, and we have to start with something they can see.  And that’s you and Spock.”

            Winona’s expression was tight and Suntahr was conspicuously silent, his hands folded within the sleeves of his dark robe.  McCoy was looking away.  Jim reached along the bond, sensing his mate’s instinctive reluctance and a cascade of analysis and questions that streamed rapidly and obscurely within his mental landscape.

           What do you think of that?

           I believe I am ill equipped for such an assignment, but I shall follow you.

            “Uh.”  Jim bit his lip.  “I think we’d need to discuss it.”

            Nyota looked hopeful, as if this was answer was more than she had expected.  “That’s fine.  That’s great.”  She stood up abruptly and then paused, her dark eyes glancing around the small group before meeting Jim’s.  “Look, Jim, I understand if you say no.  You’ve already done so much and your…your bondmate might have other priorities, given what’s happened on his own planet.  I’ve got to get back, but I’ve got a comm.  Just let me know soon.”

            “Okay.”  Jim pushed himself up.  “I can do that.”

            “Okay.”  She pressed her lips together, watching him, and then stepped forward, pulling him into a hug.  “You did good, Jim.  Thank you.”  He held her, feeling again her own strength, remembering the weight of harsh experience that they had shared in such a short time.

            She moved back first, wiping the back of her hand over her eyes, and nodded to Spock, who had stood next to his bondmate.  “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

            He lifted his hand in the traditional gesture.  “Sochya eh dif.”

            She smiled and looked at McCoy.  “Leonard?”

            “Yeah.”  He got to his feet.  “I’ve got to go, too, Jim.  The Alliance healers mean well, but they’re still trying to deal with alien physiology.”

            Jim nodded.  “I’ll see you… .”

            “I’ll be back up.  Amanda’s got Jo, but I don’t like to leave her for too long.  I’ll make sure to stop in.”

            The two humans exchanged a glance and headed for the door, and Jim caught the way Nyota’s hand brushed against McCoy’s on the way out.

           They like each other.

           They are both intelligent, intuitive beings who hold great feeling.  A description, I am finding, that suits many humans.

            Jim smiled, and sat back down on the bench, Spock following him. Winona was still silent, and Suntahr was regarding them both intensely.

            “Your decision holds significance for both worlds; it is not only Terra that requires a symbol.”  He lifted his chin.  “There are approximately eighteen-thousand four hundred of our people who have survived the devastation of T’Khasi.  To have t’hy’la among our leaders holds cultural meaning that recalls the ancient time of clans, when small populations endured hardship through perseverance and kinship.  And t’hy’la such as yourselves, hailing from two worlds, bring our traditions forward to include our new reality.”

           Only eighteen-thousand…my god.  Jim mentally cringed, thinking of the loss, and what must have happened on Earth as well.  So much death, so much pain.  He felt his mate’s thoughts against his own, soothing, and he studied his own hands where they lay loosely clasped in his lap.  “I understand, but it’s a role that neither of us are prepared for.”

            Winona’s voice was soft.  “None of us are fully prepared for any of this, Jim.  You’d be able to make a difference.”

            “You would also have your own ship.”  Suntahr tilted his head.  “A vessel such as the Sochya, to enable you to travel between Terra and T’Khasi, as our own reconstruction effort is enacted.”

            “Our own ship… .”  Jim’s voice trailed off, and his mate’s sudden certainty filled his mind: almost prescient, as if he knew immediately of what the human would choose.

            “I shall take my leave.”  Suntahr stood regally, and Jim and Spock again stood with him.  “I await your decision.  Live long and prosper, t’hylara.”

           Spock repeated the gesture, and they watched as the older Vuhlkansu walked away.  As soon as the door slid shut, Jim collapsed back onto the couch, rubbing both hands over his face.  “Fuck.”

            Spock settled more reservedly next to him as Winona chuckled.  “Tired, baby?”

            “Yeah.”  He looked at his mate.  “What do you want to do?”

            The young Vuhlkansu tilted his head.  “I do not believe we have a choice, Jim.  We are in a singular position.”

            Jim looked past his mother, out through the expansive transparent panel, seeing the broad, painfully beautiful curve of his home planet. His planet.  Before this adventure, he had been used to thinking of his town, of his house: everything small and ordered and relatively predictable.  His life had been one of frustration and resentment, of selfishly pushing boundaries and people, of living under a cloud of what could have been, but without any true desire to enact change himself.  And now, here, it was suddenly an option: escape, freedom, leadership, meaning, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he hadn’t truly earned any of it. 

            He felt Spock’s instinctive reassurance and exasperated love.  You are uniquely self-deprecating, t’hy’la.

            He smiled suddenly, seeing Winona’s furrowed brow.  “Spock thinks I need to get over myself.”

            She snorted.  “I agree.”  Her eyes met his, and he thought of years of opacity and evasion and ignorance, of a woman who didn’t need to be saved and her son who, in a sense, did.  And he thought of all the things that had led to this understanding between them, seeing himself in her stubborn cerulean eyes, and also seeing her pride and her love.  “Your father would have been so proud, Jim.”  She looked at Spock.  “Of both of you.”

            She swallowed abruptly and slapped her hands on her knees.  “Now, listen, you don’t need to make this decision right away and I know you boys probably need to eat something and sleep some more because you both still look like shit.”

            “Mom… .”  Jim leaned his head back.

            “So I yelled at one of the blue, uh, Andorsu until he came up with a place for you to rest that’s not in the medical section and that has its own, what do you call it, uh, replicator.”  She stood up.  “Amanda and I, and Jo, are right down the hall.”

            “Uh… .”

            “Let’s go.”  She reached down, grasping Jim’s hand firmly and pulling him up before pushing him gently into Spock.  And the young human found himself being guided out into the corridor and down the hallway of an alien ship, his bondmate’s arm warm around his waist, his mother walking belligerently in front of them both, her expression warding off any unwanted scrutiny from passers-by.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty: Annealment

 

            One turn down the hallway and then another, and even human ears could pick up the low susurration of sound from up ahead, around yet another curve in the sweeping corridor of the Ek’duv.  Winona’s brisk pace faltered and Spock’s arm came more tightly around Jim’s waist.  Voices: many and hushed as if in an attempt to keep quiet, and as the three rounded the curve, Jim couldn’t help a sharp intake of breath, mirroring his mother’s, feeling his mate’s astonishment along their bond.

            Voices belonging to tens of beings, if not close to a hundred, all lining the corridor as far as the next junction, all holding something: small flickering lights, a package, a rock, something, and Jim’s eyes lifted to see a multitude of expressions which were translated into a sparking of emotion against his bondmate’s shields.  Gratitude, awe, curiosity, happiness and sadness, stark grief and indomitable hope: all having to do with Jim and Spock, all because of them.

            They’re all here for us?

            Suntahr was correct in the meaning of our status, t’hy’la.  Vuhlkansu symbolism has been adopted, in a sense, out of remembrance.  They see the two of us as representing a way forward.

           If they see us this way…if they believe in us… .  It was a stark example of what Suntahr and Nyota had described, the abstract made concrete and tangible right in front of him.

            Winona had stopped abruptly, her mouth open, and Jim reached out to squeeze her arm before pulling gently away from his bondmate’s support, stepping towards the group.  The voices had softened when Jim and the others had appeared, and now, as Jim passed, he heard murmured thanks through the translator, felt soft touches, saw inhuman eyes filled with feeling.  Spock was walking directly behind him, Winona following, and Jim heard his mate respond in his native language, feeling through the bond the overwhelming empathy and sense of solidarity that surrounded them.  It was heady, and almost dizzying, and though the beings stretched on and on, Jim passed each one, made eye contact with each one, allowed them each to touch him or lift a hand in possible benediction to him.  He recognized that this was healing as much as any rebuilding effort could be.  Holes had been torn through each of them, but they, the survivors, had passed through crucible of death together and come out changed, strengthened, annealed.

            The crowd guided him in front of a single door, and Jim saw a pile of the small offerings there, too.  And it was at that moment Jim knew with absolute certainty what choice would be made.  In reality, there was no choice, being who they were, and if Jim still believed he himself hadn’t yet earned this freedom, this opportunity, he would now be able to do so.

            You knew I’d choose this.

            I know your mind, t’hy’la; your instinct to lead, to give of yourself: it is admirable.

            As long as we’re together.

            They finally stepped into the solitude and sanctuary of the room, and Jim’s last glimpse before the door slid smoothly shut and locked was his mother’s face, tears shining in her eyes, her expression full of pride.  Long gone were the hidden half-truths, the biting sarcasm, the subtle resentment, smiles that meant nothing.  Winona’s true character had broken free, and Jim’s too, and it was powerful.  It was astonishing.

            For several seconds Jim simply stood facing the door, centering himself from the powerful flood of emotion.  The buoyancy of the experience was countered by the growing weight of fatigue that still persisted, and when he finally swayed, Spock was there to support him again, arms coming around his body from behind, and Jim leaned his head back, feeling warm lips press to his temple.  It seemed impossible: they were alive, together, alone, and the need for intimate closeness, for reassurance, streamed through them both.  Jim turned slowly, barely noticing the small coziness of the plain room, registering the bed and then meeting his bondmate’s eyes.

            “Remember when I said I wanted to sleep with you?  To dream with you?”  I want to do that now.

            Spock hummed, moving even closer so that their bodies were flush, lowering his head to brush his lips along Jim’s jawline, to breathe in against his throat.

            Jim licked his lips, some part of him wanting sex, but the rest of him knowing that his body needed simple touch and rest and that Spock did, too.  He craved the presence of his bondmate, mind and body, and leaned against Spock’s warmth, closing his eyes and bowing his head and feeling hands unfasten his jumpsuit, feeling lips move to brush his hair.  The room held the barest chill, and Jim opened his eyes again to undo the seal on his bondmate’s clothing as well, needing the feel of skin against skin.  Their connection was calm, suffused with shared exhaustion but free of pain, free of tension.  It was almost the first time since they had come together that they were meeting in this way, with trials behind instead of ahead, with the possibility of uninterrupted sleep and unhurried, unfrenzied lovemaking.

            Jim ran his hands down Spock’s bared chest, seeing the recent horrific past as but a blur in the dark, focusing on the breath that filled his mate’s lungs, the rapid beat of his heart, the way his hair gleamed in the gentle, reddish light that illuminated the cabin, his dark, dark eyes.  He pushed at the suit, sliding it over narrow hips and feeling Spock step out of it, pushing his t’hy’la gently towards the bed.

            He wouldn’t let them separate, even to climb into bed, and he chuckled at the resultant awkwardness as two, tall young men tried to maneuver themselves under the blankets; his chuckle fading in the exquisite slide of heated skin.  They lay on their sides, facing each other, and Jim traced a light touch down and across Spock’s back, sliding down to curve over his buttocks, tugging at his leg and rolling to pull the dark-haired man down against him.  Their mouths met, and Jim relaxed, smiling against Spock’s lips, luxuriating in the long, lean weight of him, the warmth, the living feel of him.

            “Everything’s fucking rose-colored again.” 

            The press of their lips muffled Jim’s words, but Spock heard him anyway, pulling back just enough to stare into blue eyes.  “Perhaps your vision requires testing?”

            Jim snorted inelegantly.  “Smart-ass.  You feel fucking amazing.”  I want to hold you and never let you go.  The words tumbled from his mind so easily, and Jim again felt a flash of astonishment at all that had been let go.  All he had been: that belligerent, angry young man, avoiding emotional closeness to the point that he existed in a selfish dance with everyone around him, challenging, insulting, assuming, resenting, passive-aggressive game playing and crass, dark humor, sarcasm and evasion, drinking and fighting.  It was all so petty, how he had defined himself, and so heartbreakingly short sighted.  Shaken, he pressed his mouth almost desperately to his bondmate’s, sensing the needed reassurance and love that he’d known would be there.  He trusted, for the first time in his life, and he felt so fucking lucky.

            Spock’s hands caressed Jim’s body, over his skin, carding through his hair, moving to capture Jim’s own hand and entwine their fingers.  The electric tingle of connection thrilled the young human and he arched up helplessly, his body responding even through his tiredness, his penis hardening, feeling the growing slipperiness along his mate’s aroused cock, and he gasped as the warmth of his mate slipped down his body, the blankets shifting and leaving a chill, and he felt his erection engulfed in wet heat.

            He closed his eyes, concentrating on the bond, on the slide of Spock’s mouth on him, on the love that seemed to stretch so deep beneath him that he could feel his heart in his throat.  Fathomless.  Vuhlkansu words whispered through his mind: praise and lust and gratitude and awe at what they were, together.  At what their bond represented, and the almost impossible way they had found each other.  Warm saliva trickled between his legs, over his balls, and he breathed out, spreading wider, knowing that Spock was reading his pleasure and moving with it, and all Jim could think about was the way they had done this before, when they had made love before.  Then, it had been frantic and desperate: the settling bond demanding it and their precarious situation pushing it.  Now, it was different: it was for them and it was for lazy pleasure and incredible closeness, and Jim couldn’t help the undulation of his hips as he felt his orgasm approaching, his breathing coming shorter and more forcefully, and he made a small cry as he crested and slumped bonelessly back onto the bed, his eyes half-closed.

           Please. I want you.  Like before.  Like before, t’hy’la.

            He felt himself gently turned over onto his stomach, and smiled into the pillow as he felt warm hands caress his back, his ass, sliding down and parting his legs.  A beat, and then convenient lubrication touched his entrance as his bondmate carefully traced his cleft with a finger.  Jim relaxed, let his eyes close again, widening his legs even further and pressing himself back into his mate’s touch.  He felt himself breached slowly, cautiously, Spock’s mind awash with desire and primal possessiveness, and Jim sensed that his mate was enjoying the pace of this: pleasure taken from Jim’s mind and from his own fingers, pleasure taken from the surrender of each of them to long-awaited intimacy.  The young human arched up into two fingers, moving his own hips in small thrusts, excitement building as sparks along the edges of the bond.  Love and awe swept through to him, and he allowed himself to sink into the feelings, feeling himself relax and open as his mate prepared him and moved over top of him, into him, and Jim’s pleasured moan echoed in the room as Spock began to rock his hips slowly, purposefully.

           More.  I want more…. .

           I want you.  All of you.  All mine, t’hy’la.  All yours, ashayam.

            Thrusts deepened and intensified, and the bond widened, and hot fingers pressed on Jim’s face, and suddenly they had fallen into…

 

Heat, movement together and apart, minds together and apart and finally, gently and completely together.  Loved and beloved, cherished and admired, every part of one celebrating every part of the other, for even the faults had led to this, even the failures had brought them here.  A dream: stars, a ship, someone to hold, light in darkness.  Alone, they could stand, but together they could shine.  And destiny called.

 

…everything faded into a daze of sweat and slick and messy kisses, the bond still pulsing as their bodies shuddered in the aftermath of orgasm.  Spock’s hand had fallen from Jim’s face to curl delicately around his jaw, and Jim grunted as the young alien’s organ slipped from his body.

            He was tired; so tired, and, lost in the currents of the bond he barely noticed his mate moving away and coming back, barely noticed the warm cloth that cleansed his body, and the shift and pull of blankets.  He did notice when Vuhlkansu warmth surrounded him again, and, on the precipice of sleep, he felt familiar fingers again on his face.  Sleep with me, t’hy’la.  Dream with me.  Smiling, he let himself go.

 

            He walked on red sand, feeling the setting sun warm his face.  He was alone among the rocks and sand, among the silence and the lingering heat. Tomorrow, he would say goodbye to this world in favor of the planet of his mother’s birth, the place where he would rise to adulthood and learn his profession, the place where he would grow to know his betrothed beyond the still-new mental link that tingled uncomfortably against his thoughts.  He should not feel anticipation, or fear.  He should not feel at all.

 

            He saw the reflection of his mother’s face: stony and focused, her hand curled tightly around a glass of amber liquid. She did not know he was there, could not see him where he huddled, peering into the kitchen from behind the wall.  The decorative mirror on the wall had hung there for years, and he saw her eyes slide to it.  He tensed and froze, worried that she could somehow see him, a child huddling in the dark, but the silence was shattered with the mirror, and her glass, and both fell to the floor in shards as he retreated, still unnoticed.  As he crept back to his room he heard her crying and he heard his father’s name, and someone else’s, whom he did not recognize.

 

           His father was firm.  “My son, you have chosen the way of our people.  You may not fail, and, in fact, you cannot fail here, as your mother cannot fail here.  This planet and its people are not yet ready for contact, but their blood, and, in part, their potential, will be measured with you.”

           He was careful to be respectful.  “Is it not illogical to define the many by the actions of the few?”

           His father raised an eyebrow.  “That is true, but you shall find that the few usually carry the weight of the many, though it is not often that they realize this.  You must acknowledge it, as your mother does.”

 

           He could still feel the burn of alcohol in his throat, could feel the softness of Beck’s body as he thrust into her.  She was muttering to him, urging him on, but when it was over they would go their separate ways and he would try to forget, as she would.  Neither of them felt capable of love in this way: each of them caring however invisibly for a parent whose world seemed to exist in broken pieces.  Winona had lost George and Travis had never held Winona.  No, the two young people knew it was better not to fall in love after all.

 

           The young human was beautiful and so very different from anyone he had ever met.  His mind was fierce, strong, stubbornly perceptible even through the young Vuhlkansu’s formidable shields.  It was as if they were drawn to each other; there was resonance where there should not be and his controls were weak around this quick-witted, magnetic human.  And he had to know; he had to feel…and when they touched he knew for certain.  And then their mouths were together, in the human way, and their hands in the manner of his own people, and he thought of his betrothed, and his father, and this impossible thing…t’hy’la!

 

           Building emotions crashed towards pain and pleasure, and each went suddenly so deep until he couldn’t tell one from the other and he couldn’t tell himself from the other and he was moving, could feel the slide of skin on skin.  He could taste smoke and coppery blood in his mouth, the tight desperation of suffocation, and then he could feel rough hands on his arms dragging him away from beloved brown eyes as the building fell around him. Perceptions merged and intertwined until there was nothing but loss and fear and pain and though they were together they were both falling and… .

 

            Jim gasped, his body jerking as he awoke violently, almost unable to believe his senses as the glimpses from the dreams still filled his mind.  The flood abated as Spock’s fingers fell away from his face and the young human realized he was shaking, sweat beading on his own forehead.  He turned his head to see Spock’s face, naked with emotion, eyes wide.

            “All that…so much…I didn’t think… .”  His voice trailed off and he struggled to calm himself.

            Spock curled around him, and Jim clung as well, and the human swallowed, his voice growing stronger.  “What happened just then…it was the same as with the Nehaya, wasn’t it?  We react to each other.  You react to me.”

            He felt a nod against his shoulder.  “Your mind is vibrant, and our emotional energy compounds.”  Spock shifted, looking up at Jim’s face.  “I was grateful for your memories.”

            Jim exhaled.  “And for yours.”  He continued unnecessarily, “But they weren’t dreams.”

            “Our bond is deep, fundamental, adjusting to different intimacy…may take time.”

            The young human chuckled nervously, his heart rate finally falling to normal.  “So we’re not going end up in the same dream where we’re naked in front of the Alliance High Council, then.”  Jim felt the bond probed and chuckled again at his bondmate’s confusion.  “Typical human dream.”  He heard Spock hum noncommittally against him and sobered, thinking of those odd dreams he had experienced after meeting Spock, at his mother’s house: those images of places that now seemed familiar, of music that he now could place, of a language that echoed in his mind.  “This happened before, you know.  I saw things, felt things in my dreams that were from you, from your memories.  Even before we touched, I saw T’Khasi.”

            “Indeed. Our mental resonance may have allowed for such.”

            Jim shook his head.  “Fucking amazing.”

            “I would hypothesize that this…intensity of sharing and persistent emotional amplification is not permanent, or, at least, shall not remain involuntary.  T’Nerin suggested that I meditate occasionally using your mind as a focal point, and that I should instruct you on Vuhlkansu methods of mental discipline.”

            Jim snorted.  “So the human part of us needs control and the Vuhlkansu part needs passion.  Sounds about right.”

            Spock shifted, bringing their bodies into closer contact.  “Passion is already within my people, t’hy’la, but how we express it, or do not express it, is consequential.  To avoid this…runaway effect, it will be instrumental to understand the Terrasu ability to disconnect the experience of strong emotion with reaction.”

            “We don’t choose not to feel, though, if that’s what you mean.”

            “No.  But you can choose not to act despite how you feel.  Our learned methods of control repress the full experience of an emotion, which makes it difficult to… .”

            Jim stifled a yawn, completing the thought, “To be inundated with unmitigated human feeling at warp speed.  I’ll work on that.”

            “We both shall.”  Determination slid across the bond.

            Jim closed his eyes, stretching into his mate’s gentle stroking of his back and against his hair.  “Do you want to try this again?  Maybe without kash-nohv?”

            He felt his mate’s lips move, and knew through their connection that Spock had smiled.  “Certainly, t’hy’la.”

            The human’s voice faded into a whisper.  “Maybe we’ll dream of your world again.”

            It is your world, as well, now.  And it does not, even now, live only in dreams, but in each of us.

            Jim felt images move across their bond: images of the small rocks and packages carried by the crew of the Ek’duv, placed at their door.  Rocks and sand and objects from Spock’s devastated world symbolizing memories but also a new start, a new beginning; symbolizing a scattered people who would eventually make their way home.

           

 

 

            The Rish-mokev slipped smoothly out of warp, gliding into standard orbit behind an Alliance medical ship, activating a localized tractor beam to maintain station.  Jim, seated at the helm, turned and smiled briefly at his t’hy’la before keying his boards to automatic and gazing at the viewscreen, where the blue planet of his birth slowly turned.  The sight, though a common one during just over a year of travel back and forth between Terra and T’Khasi, never failed to cause him to catch his breath, and he could sense his bondmate’s mind capture the emotion, holding it, and sharing in it.

            Spock sat at the navigation console, expanded to allow for sensor rerouting, as Jim’s board contained engineering status and operations.  The Rish-mokev was smaller than the Sochya had been, optimized for her two-person crew, but the basic design of the two ships was similar, and the engines and weapons systems were just as powerful: evidence of the new Alliance directive to maintain peace, but to be prepared for war.  Even though the Nehaya had not returned, their terrifying legacy still haunted the survivors.  The Alliance would not be caught unawares again.

            Jim finished exchanging greetings with Orbital Control and closed the comm, feeling his mate’s pride in his growing familiarity with the Vuhlkansu language.  It remained the standard dialect for Alliance business, and was being taken up in earnest among thousands of young humans who were looking to move among the stars as newly-minted members of the federation of planets.  Earth had reacted strongly and immediately to welcome its protectors, perhaps sensing its own vulnerability, but possibly also embracing this new page, this unprecedented opportunity.  And there had been a significant feeling of kinship with the refugees from T’Khasi.  Jim hoped that the work he and Spock had done had played some small part in what some were calling the new renaissance of his home planet.

            The young human swiveled his chair, reaching absently to brush the blue and gold diplomatic stripes on the shoulder of his jumpsuit, mirrored on his bondmate’s uniform.  “Nyota’s expecting us at Central in less than twenty minutes.”

            Spock lifted an eyebrow thoughtfully.  “The briefing should be short, considering our schedule over the next two days.”

            Jim snorted.  Well, we better fit in a visit to the mothers or we’ll both be in trouble.

            “I believe Winona and my mother will be present at the ground-breaking ceremony.  And Leonard.”

            “Good.”  It seemed fitting that the new academy for training future Fleet crewmembers, engineers, and scientists was being built on Earth, coincident with the rebuilding of Alliance headquarters on T’Khasi: symbol of a new beginning, and a common future.  And their friend had been appointed to a position in the medical sciences and xenobiology branch of the future academy based on his highly successful work alongside Alliance healers in the aftermath of the Nehayan war.  Jim reached out, two fingers extended in the traditional embrace of bondmates.  “And I’m already on my best behavior.”

            A faint smile played about Spock lips as he met his t’hy’la’s fingers with his own.  “Your grasp of the ozh’esta is quite exemplary, Jim.”

           I aim to please.

            Jim smirked and stood, and Spock followed, heeding his mate’s playful expression and the pull of the bond to step closer and press his mouth gently against Jim’s.  You do indeed.

            The kiss lingered, and then both slowly pulled away, their fingers still together, and Jim’s expression sobered.  “In case I don’t tell you enough, I love you.”

            Spock’s head tilted slightly.  “You tell me such with every thought and with every touch, ashayam.  It is my privilege and honor to call you mine and to be at your side.  Talukh nash-veh k’du.”

           Jim smiled, and then grinned, his happiness and contentment casting a golden light over the warmth and love that suffused their connection.  “Teretuhr, t’hy’la.  Kwon-sum.”  He glanced at the viewscreen: the view of stars, the view of his world appearing so beautiful, so pristine.  And then he looked back at his bondmate, cherishing the beauty of brown eyes, of strength of mind, of the unbelievable thing that was their bond.

            His grin only widened.  “C’mon, Spock.  Let’s go.”

            And they did.  Weaving the continuing threads of a renewed Alliance, a stronger one: ready and prepared and yet guided by idealism, grounded in the union of different worlds but looking always to the stars.

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

 

All Vulcan translations from the VLD:

 

ek’duv: eclipse

rish-mokev: alloy

sochya: the absence of war or other hostilities; freedom from quarrels and disagreement; harmonious relations; inner contentment; serenity

kash-nohv: mindmeld

ozh’esta: touching the index and middle fingers between bondmates and/or t'hy'la

ashayam: a beloved person; used as a term of endearment; similar to t'hy'la but more personal and with emotional connotations

Talukh nash-veh k’du: a declaration of love between bondmates that is accepted by Vulcan society

Teretuhr, t’hy’la.  Kwon-sum.: Together, t’hy’la.  Always.

 

Story End Notes:

 

This story is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Nimoy, whose portrayal of Spock and whose personal example of creative exploration inspired so many of us.

 

I also want to thank mightymads, whose interest in seeing interactions between Jim and Winona expanded into this story, and whose fascinating insights into the Star Trek universe have led to many great discussions. Thank you, my friend, for your support and enthusiasm!

 

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek, and I do not make any money from this.