Work Header

War Games

Chapter Text

War Games


Jim shuts down his console with a flicker of fingers. "Andoria," he says slowly, staring over Spock's shoulder for a moment. "I don't believe this." Spock watches Jim as he gets to his feet, knocking his chair back into the wall. "Fucking Andoria?"


Jim's head snaps up. "Seriously, don't even start. They're protesting aid to the colony? Of all the fucked up--"

"A great deal of Federation resources have been diverted toward the Vulcan colony," Spock answers evenly. It's surprisingly easy to control his own reaction; Jim's anger is all-encompassing, leaving space for nothing else. "They are correct in stating--"

"They're filing a motion to cease aid while the needs of the colony are brought under review. That's--" Turning back, Jim paces toward the window, glaring out into space. "Like we don't have enough problems in the Federation without this shit on top of it."


"If you tell me to calm down, I'm going to throw this chair," Jim points at the overturned chair, "at you. And my aim is better than yours."

This is true, and Jim does not hesitate to remind Spock of the fact whenever it may seem relevant to the conversation. And sometimes, even when it is not.

"We will arrive at Starbase 3 within the next three hours," Spock says mildly. Jim scowls. "You are scheduled to meet with Captain Mitchell upon our arrival. He may have more current information on the situation."

Jim hesitates, and Spock senses Jim trying to gauge his mood, a faint touch brushing across his mind before Jim nods. "Probably. And he'll hold it over my head for fucking ever if he does."

After a moment, Jim leaves the window, leaning against his desk. "The thing is, I don't get it."

Spock raises an eyebrow.

"Andoria pulling this now. I mean, it could be in reaction to the Vulcan colony's petition to the council, but I don't--" Jim stops, locking his fingers around the edge of the desk, blue eyes distant. "When I was a kid, I was in Chicago for a few weeks with my grandmother. I memorized the neighborhood, the transport routes, everything. One day, I fell asleep on the way home from--well, no need to go into that," Jim says, looking at Spock with a brief grin. "Anyway, I woke up and realized I'd gone beyond my stop and got off at the next one."

Spock frowns. "Why didn't you--"

"Hey, my story here," Jim objects. "Anyway. I got off and I was in a part of the city I didn't recognize. Long story short, eventually I caught a cab and got back home eight hours later, after I'd gotten myself completely lost."

"You could have taken the next transport--"

"Spock," Jim says patiently. "I was fourteen. In a strange part of the city. Of course I didn't do something sensible. For that matter, when have I ever been sensible? Have we met?"

Spock inclines his head, amused. "Granted."

"Thank you." Pushing off the desk, Jim claps his hands together. "So, right, I got lost, had a hell of a time trying to find the station, and ended up walking what felt like half the city. Then gave up, got a cab, went home, and got grounded."

"This is a truly fascinating story," Spock says.

Jim scowls. "My second year at Starfleet Academy--that would be third year for those who didn't test out of most of their first and second year courses--I went back to figure out where I'd been. And the thing is, it looked almost the same. But not quite."

"After over a decade--"

Jim rolls his eyes. "Yeah, no. I don't forget. So I kept looking around and trying to figure out what had changed. And it felt obvious, you know? Like it was staring me in the face and I was just missing it. After I left, I ran a few searches at the Academy and realized they'd moved the station itself, one mile east from where it had been, so I'd been just looking at the damn thing from the wrong angle. Which has got to be some kind of metaphor for something."

Dropping on the couch, Jim leans back, staring at the ceiling. "I'm looking at it wrong," Jim says, and Spock knows he's no longer talking about a neighborhood in Chicago. "I know I am, but I can't figure out what."

It's not that there are not many logical explanations for the actions of Andoria; there are, and Spock can list them easily. The most important, and for that reason the least spoken, however, is the one he thinks most likely; before the Federation, before Earth, before humans had first touched the stars, the founding worlds of the Federation had existed in a perpetual armed neutrality, centuries of suspicion built between them. The forming of the Federation had been possible due to the buffer that Earth was between the older spacefaring races, and Earth, fresh from a conflict that had nearly destroyed their people, was unswerving in its quest for peace at all and any cost.

Vulcan and Andoria had a millennia-old history that was not always peaceful, and even a century of Federation membership could not hope to erase it.


Jim blinks, turning his head to look at Spock thoughtfully. "You know, I think it's gamma shift and we're off duty. Though you know, if you want to call me Captain next time we--"


Jim smirks, straightening. "You want to come with me to see Mitchell?"

"Lieutenant Uhura has requested my assistance with identifying the algorithms recovered from the data solids you retrieved from the station. She thinks she may be close to decrypting the message we received."

"You'd think if they really wanted us to read it, they'd make it easier to decrypt, wouldn't you?" Jim says with a sigh, standing up. "Maybe we should see if we can get Gaila to look it over. She's grounded in San Francisco until her ship's finished repairs."

Spock nods as he follows Jim from his ready room, glancing over gamma shift, who attempt to appear more alert as he and Jim cross the bridge. Jim bites back a grin until they're safely in the turbolift. "So. You busy for the next hour, Commander?"

Spock looks at Jim thoughtfully. "I do not think I have any conflicting engagements."

Jim smiles slowly. "Good."

"You would think," Nyota says, staring at the console screen in frustration, "that if it was important that we read this, they would make it somewhat less complicated to decrypt."

Not for the first time, Spock acknowledges the uneasy fact that there is a marked similarity of personality between Nyota and Jim. "The importance of the information is potentially the reason that the message is difficult to access," Spock answers, returning to his own screen. "Have you attempted--"

"Everything," she says tightly. "The message encryption matches the solids the Captain got from Dar, but we don't have anything in the database that's more than superficially similar."

"That is--unexpected," Spock answers slowly. "Perhaps--"

Abruptly, the door chirps. "Cadet T'Prina requests entrance," the computer drones.

"Allow access."

Cadet T'Prina nods greeting as the door closes behind her. "Lieutenant Commander Scott states the ion storm is causing problems with ship's communications," T'Prina says. "The Captain has ordered me to acquire his codepicker from Lieutenant Uhura and to tell you that he is on his way to the transporter and you should not--wait up." She pauses. "I asked for clarification, but he stated you would understand."

"It's a human expression," Spock answers absently. "Did Commander Scott have an estimate on when they will be functional?"

"Less than a standard hour, sir." She turns to Nyota as Nyota removes the codepicker from the interface, tucking it into her pocket. "Lieutenant, Ensign Pachenko received a transmission before the communication system collapsed. She stated it was garbled and she was unable to reconstruct it."

"Hmm." Nyota taps a quick sequence. "Got it. Let me look at it and see if--" Nyota stops abruptly. "Spock, come here."

Leaving his station, Spock circles the table, looking over her shoulder at the screen. "This is a Ferengi encryption signature."

"And not one of the corporate or government ones either." Typing rapidly, she watches the screen. "I can compensate for ion interference."

"Perhaps the Captain should delay his appointment," T'Prina says unexpectedly.

Turning, Spock looks at her curiously. "Cadet?"

"With the ship vulnerable due to a communication outage," she starts, "it would be more appropriate if he were to wait until Commander Scott has confirmed that ship's communications are operational."

"T'Prina," Nyota says, sounding amused, "it's a Federation starbase. I doubt the Captain can get in too much trouble in an hour--"

"But if he were to--"

"I would know," Spock says. T'Prina's eyes flicker to him, then away. "There is another reason."

T'Prina's eyes fix on the wall, straightening. "Commander Spock--"

"Tell me."

T'Prina stiffens, and not for the first time, Spock thinks that despite the relatively small difference in their ages, she seems so much younger than he can ever remember being. "Commander--"

"Do I need to make it an order, Cadet?"

T'Prina's looks at him, startled, with the faintest--very faintest--trace of rebellion. "No, sir. I also thought that the Captain might wish to know this message was received."

In peripheral vision, Spock sees Uhura turn around in her chair to face T'Prina. "Ferengi," she says. T'Prina nods. "You think this is from Jim's contact at the station? The one he got the data solids from?"

"Yes." T'Prina looks between them. "The Captain stated that he trusted Dar's business sense. If he has made contact--"

"I see." Spock glances at Uhura. "The Captain just entered the transporter room. I will inform him of the message--and that you are on your way."

T'Prina nods shortly, almost as if in relief. "Yes, sir."

After the door closes, Nyota looks at him. "That wasn't her reason."

"I know." Spock returns to his seat, but for some reason, he is unable to focus on the screen. Distantly, he can feel Jim enter the transporter room, saying something to the crewman on duty before he steps onto the transporter pad. Jim.

Change your mind? Jim answers with a mental smile. I promise not to drink anything I don't have a tolerance for. Where's T'Prina?

She should be there momentarily. We received a message with a Ferengi encryption signature before communications were interrupted. Lieutenant Uhura is retrieving it now..

Jim's mind goes through several variations of surprise. You think it's Dar?

Possibly. Would you recognize it?

Jim orders the crewman to wait. Show me. After a moment, Jim relaxes. Yeah. A new one, but I recognize it. Hold on and I'll--what the hell?

Spock frowns as Jim tells the technician, "I said wait! What the hell are you doing?"

"I'm not doing it, sir!"

Spock gets to his feet, caught between Jim's mind and the room. "Spock," Nyota says, her voice seeming to come from a great distance. "Spock, I have a partial on the message."


"It says something about a trap. And Starbase 3."

Jim. Get off the transporter.

The reply is an unstable mixture of acknowledgement and confusion. No one has ever recorded the effects of dematerialization during direct telepathic communication; perhaps this should be a future topic of research. It is extremely disorienting. Jim, get out of there.

"Spock?" Uhura says worriedly, and a hand touches his shoulder just as Commander Scott's voice over the comm states, "Commander Spock, communications are restored."

"Computer, security to transporter room one," Spock manages as Jim's mind suddenly begins to dissolve around him.

"Commander," T'Prina says over the comm, "an unknown ship has achieved a lock on the Captain's pattern. I have been unsuccessful in blocking the signal and can no longer delay transport without damaging the pattern buffer. I have logged my attempts and the signature of the transporter so you will be able to find the parties responsible. Security will have a more complete report of events."

"T'Prina," Nyota says, and Spock faintly realizes that they've left the lab and Nyota is leading them down the hall, "what the hell are you doing?"

Silence. "Security," Nyota snaps as the turbolift opens, "I want a report now. Evans! What the hell is going on down there?"

"The Captain and Cadet T'Prina have been transported off the ship," Lieutenant Evans says, sounding shocky. "I--we couldn't stop her. She got my communicator and both my phasers and just--jumped on top of him before he'd finished dematerializing."

Later, Spock thinks distantly, this will make sense. "Lieutenant Uhura--"

Abruptly, Spock feels the turbolift wall against his back. "Uhura to the bridge, red alert. I repeat, red alert. Shields up. Chekov, start scanning for an unknown ship or ships within transporter range. If you find them, commence pursuit immediately. Communications, send a secured message to Starfleet and Starbase 3 on emergency frequencies, war time encryption; Captain Kirk and Cadet T'Prina have been abducted. Then lockdown all communications to or from the Enterprise. We are in lockdown; I repeat, the Enterprise is now in lockdown."

"Lieutenant?" Sulu's voice is very faint.

"Just do it! You have the conn. I'll be in Sickbay with Commander Spock. Update me there. Uhura out." Warm hands settle against his face. "Spock, can you hear me? Uhura to Sickbay, we've got a medical emergency--"

Spock wonders to whom she could be referring.

"--when he was dematerializing. I don't know! Get someone to turbolift three, now--"

Spock blinks, the turbolift closing around him abruptly. "I cannot feel his mind."

"Spock!" Uhura says, then, "Leonard, he's not breathing, tell them to run…" and that's the last thing that Spock hears before everything goes dark.

Cadet T'Prina
Cadet T'Prina


"That's because you don't appreciate genius," Jim says comfortably, dodging from the path of a multi-tentacled matron and her attached offspring. To his semi-experienced eye, the oldest looks ready to drop, waving cheerfully at him as they pass. Waving back, Jim falls back in step with his companion. "Don't tell me--you've never played video games."

Cadet T'Prina gives the expressionless equivalent of a frown; Jim tries not to find it adorable, but he can't help it. In loose civvies (she'd borrowed them from Uhura) and a cap pulled over the neatly coiled mass of braided black hair (and hiding her ears), she's still every inch the Starfleet cadet. "Video games," she says slowly, testing the words to compare against a memory that rivals a Federation computer. "Do you mean educational holo--"

"No," Jim answers patiently, directing her to a side street, if you could call the equivalent of a space-junkyard turned space emporium's twisted hallways a side street. Someone that Jim devoutly hopes was a truly inspired engineer had encased this entire section of Begammon Station with a forcefield polarized to a strangely mesmerizing turquoise and established a complex series of environmental controls, creating the equivalent of an open-air market. "I mean, for enjoyment without any possible--and I do mean possible--academic or intellectual value."

"No, sir," T'Prina says. She's not quite as good as Spock at conveying utter contempt at the very idea with a single eyebrow, but she's getting there. "Is this a normal part of the dissolute lifestyle of human beings?"

"Very much," Jim answers, pleased. "Anyway, Cathis is a genius, and apparently, somewhere here is a man who has the pre-release. Which we are going to acquire."

"Did you not say that the game would not be released for another six months?"

Mind like a computer.

"That is correct." They slow their pace to allow a tall Andorian to pass, antennae moving erratically. If Jim knows his Andorians (he does), that one is very high, and he's on the right track. "And I'm going to be on the other side of the galaxy and won't get to see it for at least a year."

"Is that not illegal?"

He loves how she frames it like a question. "Yes. And it's wrong, so you shouldn't bootleg anything. And I'm buying a copy when it comes out, so that makes it okay."

T'Prina's eyebrow inches toward her hairline. "Your use of sophistry is unsophisticated but intriguing."

"I love Vulcans," Jim says; he does. Over her head, a Ferengi attempts to look casual. As T'Prina starts to answer, Jim shakes his head. "Hold on a sec. I found my guy. Remember--I'm a colonist from Alpha Centuria named Nogura and like to be called Admiral. And you?"

She gives the eyebrow equivalent of a sigh. "I am T'Prina," she says, "a former Starfleet engineer who assists you on your 'pirate ship'."

"I wish you'd say pirate more," Jim says a little wistfully. "All right, let's do this."

The Ferengi, calling himself by the unlikely moniker of "Mark", stops trying to be casual as they approach. Jim's always liked Ferengi; they're fairly straightforward about wanting to accumulate as much wealth as possible, and he respects a goal oriented people. With a significant look, Mark leads them down another, even narrower passage, and Jim fights T'Prina for the lead, because she's been listening to Spock way too much. With the faintest look of dissatisfaction, she plasters herself within an inch of his back.

A small, rounded door opens, once an airlock for a species that must have been very short; the Ferengi goes in, and Jim follows, feeling T'Prina radiating professional paranoia behind him.

The room has a vague resemblance to an auxiliary bridge gone wrong, hung with a variety of technology that Jim recognizes from certain missing shipments, boxes stacked without any regard for safety protocols or even neatness, but he's not here to judge. Much. There's a narrow door in the back, half-hidden behind a pile of mimetic silk and replicators that he takes note of before turning his full attention to Mark.

"I understand you require my assistance, Nogura?" Mark says coyly. Jim nods as seriously as he can with T'Prina breathing down his neck. "A game, you said?"

"Battlestations III," Jim answers, eyeing the chair that Mark indicates before slouching into it. "I was told you have it."

"Indeed." Going to a carefully sanded standard Federation cargo box in the corner, Mark keys in the combination; Jim cranes his neck, noting the data solids piled inside. "Very difficult to get, that one."

"Should be. Cathis' company keeps better security than Starfleet." And Jim would know. "So you have it?"

"Let me see…" Making a dramatic production of sorting through the solids, Mark casually shifts his balance, and Jim watches him press the ball of his foot securely on a scuffed section of the metal floor. "Ah, here it is." Closing the box, he returns, holding it out. "This you were looking for?"

What do you know--he actually has the damn game. "I'm almost feeling guilty about this now," Jim says, turning it over to look at the label with a pang. "Dar, I thought we had an understanding."

"Mr. Nogura?"

Standing up, Jim pushes past him, looking down at the cargo box. "Code?"

"Sir! I can't--"

Yes, stupid to ask. "T'Prina, watch him?" Pocketing Battlestations III, Jim kneels, pulling out his codepicker and attaching it to the side. It warms beneath his hand for a moment as it comes online. When he turns around, Mark aka Dar is perching uncomfortably in the chair under T'Prina's watchful eye with a phaser pointed at his head. "All right. Who are they?"

"Sir," Dar protests with almost-convincing hurt, "I would never--"

"Dar." Crossing his arms, Jim leans against the remains of the auxiliary bridge. "I feel our relationship has suffered a setback. See, I came to buy an illegal game, and you sold me out. Possibly to the same people giving you high-security Federation cargo boxes, suitable for transporting a warp core or a dozen teddy bears to kids during epidemics. Five seconds, then we just shoot. One, two, three--okay, I'm bored--"

"No!" Throwing an arm up, Dar's eyes narrow. "It's only to talk. I was asked to arrange a meeting."

"I don't really do meetings."

"Captain Kirk is always willing to listen," Dar says cleverly. "That is what is said. Was he wrong?"

"Please tell me this is a joke." Jim glances at T'Prina, who gives an infinitesimal shrug. She'd probably have to touch him to get more, and Jim really doesn't want her to have to do that if they can help it. "Dar, really--"

"You are willing to listen if it involves Romulans, aren't you?" Dar asks, smiling slightly, and there we go. T'Prina stiffens but gives no further sign of interest. "The border has become a dangerous place for the Federation. Many ships have been lost…but perhaps not destroyed."

"That would explain a crate from Bella," Jim answers, kicking it lightly. "What else do you know?"

Dar shrugs elaborately. "I don't. But the one who asked me to arrange this meeting does."

The codepicker gives a single chirp, and Jim crouches, opening the lid, taking a careful breath before picking up the first solid. Neatly labeled, perfectly organized, the entire contents of five Federation ships' memory banks fill padded layers of the interior. Accessing the data is probably up to the customer; good luck with that. Starship security is a whole different barrel of laughs during the decryption process. Turning the solid over, Jim reads Einstein and thinks of the tiny science ship that did, of all things, space weather analysis. It should never have been a target of anyone.

"There's someone coming," T'Prina says softly, not looking away from Dar. "Four sets of bipedal footsteps, humanoid…" She cocks her head slightly. "They have a telepath."

"Then they don't want to talk." Closing the box, Jim takes out his phaser. "Dar, I'm disappointed. T'Prina--"

"There are four more that have joined them," she says with a frown. "Captain--"

Jim flicks the phaser onto stun, firing at Dar before he tries to be reassuring again, as that's just not working. As Dar slumps to the floor, Jim looks around the room. "Move him to the wall so he doesn't get stepped on."

T'Prina hefts up the Ferengi effortlessly; nothing like a Vulcan to screw with your self-image, Jim thinks, locking the front door. "Captain," T'Prina says, not even short of breath as she places Dar near the wall, "should we--"

"Run very fast? Yeah, I think so." The footsteps are audible to him now, which means they're very much running out of time. "Come on; we're getting out of here."

T'Prina follows him to the back door; it's locked, but Jim takes out his phaser, melting down the lock, pushing it open and arriving in what must have once been engineering, a dead warp-core assembly in the far center, and….

"Oh wow," Jim breathes, looking around. "I'm in the wrong line of work."

"Smuggling?" T'Prina says, closing the door behind them and sealing it shut with her phaser. Practical girl. Then she turns around, coming to a stop beside him. "Fascinating."

Not just Federation cargo boxes: Jim recognizes only about half of what he's seeing, but he figures if he threw his crew in here, they'd could set up their own government and start conquering a good portion of semi-industrialized planets. "Want to be a pirate instead?" Jim says slowly. "I think we could make it."

To her credit, T'Prina does think about it. "It would be unethical," she says, subtly managing to get ahead of him to test the catwalk. Below them, there are two more levels of storage. Maybe a highly industrialized world or two could be added to the roster. "It is safe."

Jim sighs. He's got to talk to Spock. "We need stairs," he says, following her along the swaying catwalk, ignoring the faint sense of vertigo. "There--ladder to the left. Go all the way to the bottom."

T'Prina swings easily down to the ladder; Jim watches the door until she's ten meters down, then follows, tucking his phaser into his shirt. "Hear anything?" he asks.

T'Prina hesitates, head cocked. "No."

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Closing his eyes, Jim pulls up his memory of the schematics of this part of the station; the files in the stationmaster's computer had been badly out of date, but this part at least had been very well documented. There are only three exits, and they have at least eight people and a goddamn telepath. He doesn't need algebra to work this one out.

At the bottom, Jim sights the doors, studying the reinforced metal walls, probably impenetrable to scanner or transporter under normal circumstances. "T'Prina, watch the doors." Reaching into his boot, Jim pulls out an extra phaser, flipping the cover and setting the overload. "Support beam, support beam, now where--here we go. T'Prina, five seconds." Setting it for a five second detonation, Jim pushes it against the wall and jogs back to a pile of cargo boxes. Four Mississippi, three Mississippi, two Mississippi….


"Oh for fuck's sake," Jim mutters just as the entire room seems to explode. Faintly, he's aware of something hard against his head, a hand knotted in his shirt, and a sudden rush of air; when he looks up, the cargo boxes are no longer a barrier and T'Prina is kneeling beside him.

"Did it work?" Jim asks, sitting up, reaching up to touch his aching forehead. Well, fuck. Staring at the tumbled boxes in betrayal, Jim tries to remember which pocket Bones had made him put a travel medkit in. "Federation cargo boxes don't fall over when stacked correctly," he says, offended by shoddy workmanship. "They're balanced and certified for space travel and at least ten kinds of fire fights."

"I doubt they were stacked correctly, Captain," T'Prina says coolly, hand still resting lightly on his shoulder. The wide brown eyes study him for a minute, and it's only the fact Jim's spent the better part of two years figuring out how to interpret Spock's eyebrows that he gets the wound may be more than a scrape. "There is access to one of the outer corridors."

"Excellent." Before he can stop her, T'Prina wipes away the blood and places an adhesive bandage removed from an interior pocket over the wound. "You know, I can do that myself."

"Of course, Captain." Getting to her feet, she reaches for his elbow, the cloth a safe barrier between them as she helps him to his feet. "Do you feel any dizziness or nausea--" she starts, then stops short, because it's pretty damn obvious he does.

"No," Jim lies. His vision doesn't really want to clear, but that's really not a problem; he knows where he's going. T'Prina keeps hold of his elbow as they approach the ragged opening in the wall. Pushing her behind him, Jim steps through it, feeling the jagged edges tear through his shirt; Bones is never going to let him live this down.

"Clear." Stepping away from the opening, Jim leans against the cool metal wall, noting the lights are lowering with a certain sense of inevitability. Faintly, Jim thinks he hears the roar of many people yelling before the heavy sound of a large door--say, the main door to the market--being sealed. "Market's closing early. At least they're letting people evacuate first."

"The forcefield is lowered at the end of each market day," T'Prina observes, unsubtly shoving a hand under his elbow. It's getting embarrassing. "All doors are timelocked and the atmosphere is evacuated--"

"I know." Turning, they hit a main thoroughfare; trying a door, Jim's unsurprised to find it locked. Abruptly, the lights vanish. "Huh."

"I believe the computer system has been compromised," T'Prina says with a fine talent for stating the obvious in a way that doesn't sound nearly as terrifying as it is. "It seems the stationmaster's security is indeed faulty."

"Anything that can be hacked from a rec room terminal is not secure. Cadets hide their diaries better than this." Jim considers; they can go back into the warehouse and try to get into an inner room, but he's going to guess the only one available will be filled with telepathic people who want to talk to him. That just can't end well. "Okay, thoughts?"

He can't see her face, but her fingers tighten minutely as she considers and discards options. Blowing a hole into a secure room will kind of defeat the purpose of the room, and the secure rooms aren't going to be off any of the main streets anyway. That would also assume they could see where they were going. Reaching up, Jim rubs his forehead while she can't see it; this headache, he can tell, is going to be a doozy.

Abruptly, they're bathed in light; Jim winces, covering his eyes; yeah, that helped the headache. Beside him, T'Prina tenses. "Captain Kirk," a voice says smoothly. "It is a pleasure."

"God, I hate it when they're polite," Jim murmurs, squinting until he can make out that the light stops only a few feet away all around them. It's starting to feel a little stuffy, which is either the concussion or the atmosphere is being evacuated. Tilting his head in the general direction of the speakers, Jim says, "Can you just get on with it?"

"I have some information that you might find of interest. I'd be willing to trade," the voice says. Jim glances at T'Prina, who leans into him enough for her knee to activate the tricorder in his right pocket. "Regarding the missing Federation ships."

"That the Romulans took them? Huge surprise, but thanks for confirming," Jim answers. T'Prina's grip on his elbow and his own pride are basically the only things that are going to keep him on his feet for much longer. "Can we go?"

"I thought perhaps you would be interested in the fate of their crews," the voice says lightly. Jim stills, feeling T'Prina's hand tighten again. "If you think you will wait until your ship comes for you, it is currently occupied with more--immediate matters. I suggest you accept my generous offer. I think we can come to an arrangement."

"Probably," Jim answers a little breathlessly, hoping they can't see that T'Prina is pretty much the only thing keeping him on his feet. "But not interested. So we'll just be going, if you'd unlock the door."

"Captain Kirk," the voice says; less smooth. Interesting. "I do not think you understand the gravity of your situation. The atmosphere will be depleted in one minute." Yeah, and boy does it feel like it. "If you refuse, I will merely wait until you are both unconscious. It will be easier for you to agree; in return, I will allow your companion to be returned to your ship, as a gesture of good faith."

"I am not permitted to leave Captain Kirks' side," T'Prina says in a stunning display of how very much Spock isn't allowed to instruct their cadets anymore. "Your threats are of no consequence." Stepping closer, she puts an arm awkwardly around his shoulders in some insane gesture of solidarity that someone really clueless at the Academy must have taught her for integration with the population purposes. "We will not surrender."

There's a general sense of confusion from above them, and Jim hears her breathing hiss as the air thins even more. "I liked that last bit," Jim whispers, then closes his eyes, chest tight. "Very. Coup de grace."

T'Prina makes a virtue of necessity and has them sitting down look casual and not the result of suffocation. "Captain," the voice says, sounding unhappy; well good. It's not like Jim's having a party down here. "I will ask one more time--"

Abruptly, the klaxons announcing the forcefield drop cut through the voice; distantly, Jim hears shouting and orders to get to the airlock, but T'Prina is curling up around him like she can block vacuum by sheer will--which, well, she's Vulcan. It's possible. It's okay, he wants to tell her as the pressure suddenly starts to drop. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi….

The Academy had a simulation of vacuum. It had not been all that great. Jim's pretty sure the real thing is a hell of a lot worse, but on the bright side--

Abruptly, Jim gasps, air surrounding him, just as T'Prina tips them both over in a sprawl on the transporter pad. This could be more humiliating, but Jim can't quite see how.

--on the bright side, it won't last long.

"Captain!" McCoy's voice is unmistakable. As T'Prina levers herself up, radiating cool embarrassment, Jim opens his eyes on the ceiling of his own transporter room and immediately closes them when he sees Bones hovering over him with a scowl. "Captain, what--"

"Lock onto the codepicker," Jim wheezes. "T'Prina--"

"I will enter the correct codes, Captain," she says, sounding nothing like they hadn't been able to breathe for a minute. Goddamn Vulcan lungs. "He has a mild concussion, Dr. McCoy, and suffers from oxygen deprivation, but otherwise he is uninjured. Please excuse me, crewman. You do not know what you are doing."

He's pulled upright by two of Bones' crazy medics--Sickbay is like a goddamn cult--and someone shoves a tricorder toward his head. Behind him, the transporter hums at a decibel more appropriate for a rock concert. The headache sharpens so suddenly that he feels himself start to black out, but a warmth follows almost immediately, inserting itself between him and the pain enough to think.

I'm fine, Jim answers, because he is and everyone just needs to calm down already. Got it. Nice timing, by the way.

"The cargo box is secured, Captain," T'Prina says from very close. Jim squints at her, then motions with one captured arm toward his pocket. "Captain?"

"Bridge, warp eight; we may make our rendezvous on time for once. T'Prina, take the tricorder to Uhura and see what she can find out from that voice," Jim says just as a stretcher shows up. T'Prina nods, waiting until Bones has him lying down like a trauma victim, then acquires the tricorder, ignoring the medics staring at them both. "Report to Commander Spock and--"

"Oh, for God's sake," Bones says, abruptly pushing T'Prina out of the way. "Shut up, Jim."

And there's the hypospray. Typical.

T'Prina waits patiently as Bones clucks over Jim, muttering about vacuum exposure ("Five seconds! T'Prina was blocking me from it!" "For God's sake, it's not a phaser, she can't block vacuum.") and much bitterness over his head wound ("Of course a bunch of crates almost fell on you; how could anything else happen? This is you.") and fuss over the fine line between a mild concussion and brain death which Jim so does not want to hear again. After a hypospray for the headache, armed with a bottle of painkillers he won't use, and a lecture that seems to be more aimed at T'Prina ("And if he tries to go to the bridge, do that Vulcan pinch thing,"), Bones let him go with a glare that the nurses and medics echo with really disturbing effectiveness.

"I don't need an escort," he tells her as she redirects him from walking into the wall. "Was there always a wall there?"

"Dr. McCoy gave you a powerful opiod solution," T'Prina says calmly, herding him into the turbolift. "I am to make sure you go to bed and do not try to--Lieutenant Uhura said 'backseat captain' the ship."

"Uhura is trying to lead a mutiny," Jim says bitterly, leaning back with a sigh. The lack of headache is great, and he can't say getting Bones' very best drugs is ever a bad thing, but-- "The cargo box--"

"Lieutenant Commander Scott has taken possession of it for further analysis," T'Prina says calmly. "Lieutenant Uhura says she will begin analysis of the audio recording from my tricorder immediately. We are proceeding at Warp Eight to our rendezvous with the Valiant. Commander Spock will have his report complete by morning. And Lieutenant Sulu is unhappy he was not permitted to be a pirate and wishes to discuss the issue at length." The turbolift signals they've come to a stop, and a strong hand hooks beneath his elbow. "If you will, Captain."

"Fine," because really, why fight it? Jim ignores the indulgent smiles of the few crewmembers that pass them, letting T'Prina walk him into his quarters and wait patiently until he retreats to the bathroom.

"You can use my terminal," Jim shouts through the door, steadying himself against the sink. Stripping off his uniform, Jim steps into the sonic shower, leaning against the wall while it does its job; he's always preferred water, but that would require moving and the bed idea is sounding really good.

When he gets out, there's a neat stack of folded clothes waiting. Jim stares at them for a minute, then decides not to think of T'Prina logically going through his clothes, getting dressed and stumbling toward the bed.

"Rest well, Captain," is the last thing Jim hears before curling up on the right side of the bed, pillow soft beneath his head, and silently hating Bones' hypos as he falls asleep.

Jim's had a pretty good sense of time since early childhood--growing up on a farm will do that to you--and the ship feels like gamma, which means he slept nine hours straight through. Opening his eyes lazily, he watches Spock through the open doorway for a few seconds, soberly working at his terminal instead of waking Jim up for sex. Jim's almost sure that's a rule. Hell, he might have made it a regulation.

"Did I say you had to sleep on the couch?" Jim asks, not bothering to raise his voice. Spock finishes typing before looking up. "Because I'm over whatever it was."

"I was completing my report of the day's events," Spock answers, standing up. There's a faint mental brush, and Jim thinks that maybe he should be used to that by now, but he never is. Mostly because he likes how it feels. "There is a tablet and a glass of water beside you," Spock says, pulling off his tunic. "Please take it."

Jim has the vague idea that Spock uses undressing as some kind of bizarre positive-reinforcement for good behavior; it works extremely well. Watching the long fingers reach for the hem of the black cotton undershirt, Jim picks up the tablet and drinks the water. "I don't like painkillers," Jim tells Spock, craning his neck to watch for the pants. This is possibly the best part of his day.

"It is illogical to continue to experience unnecessary pain, which will interrupt your sleep and make you extremely volatile," which is like the nicest way possible to say he doesn't want to deal with a sleep-deprived James Kirk. Jim can't blame him; he doesn't like to deal with himself. "Cadet T'Prina reports you did not argue with her."

Jim shrugs. "Maybe I'm taking advice for once."

Spock gives him a sharp look, projecting an insulting amount of disbelief, but Jim kind of doesn't care because Spock's sorting efficiently through the drawer and the domesticity of it all is kind of flooring.

"The analysis on the crate come back yet?" Jim asks; it's been nine hours. He knows his crew.

"Preliminary analysis is complete. The databases of the missing ships are accounted for, as well as a variety of companies associated with both Starfleet and the Orion Syndicate."

"The Orion Syndicate." Jim pulls his knees up. Huh. "Was it encrypted?"

Spock pauses to pull on a long sleeve shirt--Jim squints, recognizing the threadbare cotton as one of his--before coming to bed. "Yes." Appended with of course; Jim's not sure where that thought was going. Setting it aside for later, Jim indulges himself in one of his favorite pastimes--Spock watching.

Maybe it's the concussion, but it's come to Jim's attention he's been mostly-married for about a year now and has a kid--well, a cadet, anyway, which is kind of the same thing. They're discussing ship's business in bed. There's a better than average chance they will go to sleep like sensible adults really soon.

"Yeah, no," Jim says, grabbing for the collar of the shirt when Spock's close enough and pulling until he can get to Spock's mouth. Are we really at the work in bed place? Really?

Is there a problem-- A mental self-check, always an odd feeling, and Jim licks over Spock's lower lip, pushing him back into the mattress. I see. You feel that--the romance is dead.

It's still funny when you use the word romance. Jim can feel Spock unsubtly checking him for further injury--you can't hide that when you're in someone's head--before he responds, and this, this is the best part of his day, bar none. You should have come with. It was fun. I think I saw a Vulcan meditation stone in their warehouse and you need a new one.

"I was occupied," Spock says, abruptly rolling him onto his back, having picked up on Jim's dizziness before Jim's aware he's even dizzy. "I completed analysis of the worm that was inserted into our systems."

Computer Maintenance hadn't cried when Jim had told them to ignore the unsubtle attempt to infect their computer system, but it had been a very close thing. "I'm surprised they thought that would work," Jim admits, stretching comfortably as Spock breathes against his neck. It's stupidly hot. "Was it Orion?"

Jim can feel Spock's sudden attention. "Not in compilation, but the algorithms were similar in construction," Spock answers; Jim thinks it says a lot about the Vulcan species that curiosity and lust are pretty much interchangeable. With a sigh, Jim reaches for his hand, pulling it against his face until Spock gets the idea, fingers sliding into place. Right. This is what happened.

Verbal debriefings were never this thorough; they also weren't this fun. Jim relives the two hours in the station in seconds, aware of Spock studying it both as observer and living it along with him. Yeah, that was a mistake. They're back to work and that goddamn pill is hitting Jim like a drunk Gorn.

God, they are going to go to sleep at a decent hour.

Planting a hand on Spock's shoulder, Jim twists onto one hip, depositing Spock on the bed and rolling onto his side. The hazy edge of the drugs are far more noticeable now, and Jim tries not to consider a known side effect of a powerful painkiller as a personal failure. It's just not helping.

"I'm going to sleep," Jim tells the wall loudly. For a second, Jim senses rueful amusement before Spock remembers he's not mostly-married to a fucking Vulcan and shuts that down, but it's enough.


Jim falls asleep with a faint sense of warmth anyway.

T'Prina, as she has every morning since she joined the crew, is waiting outside the door, tricorder and datapad in hand, Starfleet issue backpack over both shoulders, braids coiled immaculately at the back of her head, as bright and attentive a cadet as could possibly be imagined in her blue science uniform.

"Good morning, Captain Kirk," she says promptly. "You are on medical leave, but I understand that you do not care, so I prepared for the day accordingly."

Jim eyes the cup of coffee she extends. "Thank you," he says warily; this is new and considering she's Vulcan, terrifying. Sipping it (Vulcans don't poison their captains, he thinks, even the ones who might have logical fantasies of him dying in a fire), he leads the way to the turbolift, trying to ignore the fact it's black and sweet and pretty much exactly how he likes it. "How was your morning?"

T'Prina joins him in the turbolift. "Productive, sir. My report on yesterday's events has been completed for your review." Jim fights the urge to wince. "I've prepared a properly edited one for you to approve to be sent to the Academy; I understand missions where one is--" she pauses, searching for the word, "--'undercover' would be considered classified information. I was discreet, Captain."

Jim makes a note to read that report as soon as possible; it'll make his week. "I see." Taking another drink, Jim braces himself. "You're on bridge duty today."

T'Prina hesitates. "To observe?"

He's going to regret this, but Jim can't help it. He had never interned (there was a recipe for a disaster in the making), but he's heard about it and it had sounded pretty damn boring. "We're in open space for most of today. Sulu's going to supervise you at the helm after he runs you through a sim test."

T'Prina looks at him; if he squints, he thinks he might have actually startled her. "Sir?"

"You were certified on Constellation class before you finished the last term," Jim says, fighting the urge to twitch under the sober regard. "Let's see what you can do outside of a sim."

"I see." Jim waits for her to quote an obscure regulation against cadets taking the helm of starships--she has Spock's gift for finding them--but instead she says, "I appreciate the privilege, Captain." She seems to think for a moment before adding, "Thank you."

"Good. Have some fun."

Luckily, the doors to the bridge open before the coffee runs out. Relieved, Jim gestures for her to precede him, wondering a little at her hesitation as he nods at Sulu. "Mr. Sulu, show T'Prina the ropes. She's certified, so test her on the simulator and teach her the board, then let her have her head. Don't crash into anything."

Sulu's enthusiasm is unsettling when Jim's had less than two cups of coffee. "Yes, sir!"

"Captain, the computer is in second-stage analysis of the voice," Uhura says, turning gracefully in her chair. "We should have a confirmation by the end of alpha."

Jim drops into his chair and gulps the rest of the coffee. "Right. So what odds?"

"I'll give you three to one," she says generously. Jim sighs. "Five to one if you get the dialect."

God he hates xenoling games. "Male, Orion, with a Remus south continent dialect?"

Uhura grins, which means he lost. "You have it backward. Male, Romulan, Orion Prime, third continent. Not bad, though." She touches her screen lightly. "The Universal Translator has some quirks when translating the third continent dialect patterns in Romulan vocal constructions; it's rather obvious to the experienced."

He hates her. Morning people suck. "I'll pay up at lunch," Jim says; he needs more coffee to deal with this. "Anything else?"

"Dr. McCoy states you are to be at Sickbay for a check-up at 0900 hours," T'Prina says without looking up from the simulator. "You are then to accompany him to breakfast at 0930. You meet with the head of recreation at 1000 and rest from 1030 to 1200." She looks up then, face smooth. "At that time, you are to meet your senior staff for the midday meal. At 1300--"

Jim finally remembers he can talk. "Very good, Cadet," he manages. No one is laughing, because they're saving it for lunch. Sulu continues to fall violently in love with T'Prina as she steadily works her way through a phalanx of simulated Romulans. Jim wonders vaguely if Spock was anything like her when he was in the Academy; God, he needs more coffee. "Well, carry on," he says, standing up. The faint headache that's haunted him since he woke up increases startlingly, and his ready room--and replicator, and couch--are really tempting. "I'm going to see what Starfleet has for us. Also, McCoy lied; I'm on duty. Uhura, you have the conn."

Abruptly, T'Prina materializes beside him. There's a datapad thrust in front of him; beneath it, an iron hand is locked around his elbow. "If you could verify this," she says. "Excuse me, Lieutenant Sulu; I will return in a moment." She pauses. "Your simulations are quite sophisticated. I am--impressed."

Sulu is going to try to marry her before she goes back to the Academy and there will be some kind of single combat; Jim can feel it. "Thank you, Cadet," Sulu answers, enslaved, as T'Prina manages to pull off hauling Jim to his office without making it look like she's doing any such thing. As the doors close, she deposits him on the couch, crouching to look into his face soberly. "Your headache has increased exponentially since we left the turbolift," she states.

"How did you--" Jim puts down the cup as she averts her eyes; while her skin is several shades darker than Uhura's, the faint olive flush is unmistakable this close. He's probably flushing too, though less subtly and more humiliatingly. "I wasn't shielding."

She stares expressionlessly at the wall behind his shoulder. "When you were injured yesterday, they became unstable. I assumed Commander Spock had assisted you in repairing them, but they collapsed when you began to experience pain."

He probably would have had Spock check them if he'd known, but with T'Prina on the ship, Jim has to be shielded constantly, and he's not a telepath; it's exhausting. Jim hadn't bothered to check himself when he'd gone to bed. "I apologize," Jim says stiffly. Uhura had briefed him extensively in the finer points of courtesy regarding Vulcans and telepathy, along with the fact that Vulcans did not look kindly upon cross-species bonding in a very unsubtle way. Which honestly, Jim doesn't give a good damn about, but the courtesy thing, he can do.

"There is no offense when none is taken," she says soberly, looking him in the eye. "The physical pain is a manifestation of the mental strain of your shields," she says slowly, tilting her head. "I had not realized it would be painful for you."

"It's not, usually," Jim says tightly. "T'Prina, you can go."

"I will wait with you until your bondmate arrives," she says firmly, taking a seat on the other side of the couch. Jim sighs; he'd felt Spock's focus shift and knows he's on his way. Honestly, this is exactly what his day needed.

"Do you read romance novels, T'Prina?" Jim asks, reaching for his coffee cup, only to be intercepted by T'Prina, who takes it to the replicator on the other side of the room.

"I have studied the literary tropes of the genre, sir," T'Prina asks, punching in a sequence that's not coffee. "Commander Spock recommended a course in human literature and my advisor considered it prudent to heed his advice."

"There's this thing," Jim says, watching in resignation as she returns with something green and probably very healthy and terrible, "where the heroine faints a lot. And the hero catches her. Or rescues her from bandits. Or--well." Jim takes a drink and doesn't make a face. It's terrible. "What is this?"

"It is a nutritional supplement," T'Prina says promptly, somehow managing to restrain herself from telling him the ingredients, which makes him never want to find out what they are. "Please continue. The heroines require rescue?"

"Constantly." Jim looks at the door as Spock comes in. "Me and Regency heroines have a lot in common these days."

"Captain," Spock says, utterly correct. "Cadet. If you would excuse us."

"Yes, Commander." Rising to her feet, she picks up her datapad, punching in a code before tucking it under one arm. "The mental strain was very pronounced," she says expressionlessly, which Spock answers with an equally expressionless nod. "I had not been aware my presence would require the Captain to exert himself beyond his human tolerances Please accept my apologies for my ignorance."

"It's fine, T'Prina," Jim says; Spock hasn't raised an eyebrow, but there's a faint sense he might at any moment. "Go bother Sulu. Don't accept any marriage proposals."

"I will not, Captain." Back straight, she leaves, and Jim squints as the door closes behind her. The faint sense of disapproval goes with her.

"At least she didn't say 'inferior human physiology' again, so that's progress," Jim says thoughtfully, wondering why Spock seems to be amused. The dark eyes fix on the glass curiously.

"What are you drinking?"

Jim looks at the almost empty glass; T'Prina's stare has the same effect Uhura's does, and he hadn't dared stop drinking. "What evil tastes like, Mr. Spock." Putting the glass on the floor, Jim leans his head back, rubbing the sensitive skin of his temples lightly. "Sorry, I didn't realize I'd stopped shielding."

"You were not in error." Spock picks up the glass, studying the remaining liquid, before taking it to the recycler. Jim projects coffee at him as hard as he can, which has the advantage of making Spock twitch, but he doesn't return with coffee. Jim stares at the ceiling, wondering what it's like to be captain of a ship where people actually wanted to do what you wanted them to. Hell, one where they'd do it whether they wanted to or not.

"I was negligent," Spock says, very softly, and Jim startles at the trace of anger in his mind, directed toward himself. "I should have insisted on examining--"

"I'm really not a Regency heroine," Jim says tiredly as Spock sits down, not bothering with personal space at all. "I'm just pretty bad at this. In my defense, I had a terrible head wound. Or so everyone keeps saying."

"This situation has placed you under a great deal of strain," Spock says coolly. "And I have been--less than adequate as an instructor."

"I knew what I was getting into." We're not talking about T'Prina, by the way.

Long fingers brush against his temple in a light caress. Regency heroine? Almost casually, Spock's fingers move into position, finding the psi-points. Jim opens his eyes enough to give Spock a flat look. I wish to understand the resemblance.

And Spock is trying to distract him while he does--whatever he's doing. Jim relaxes into the mental touch; concern and irritation, worry, but beneath it, embarrassment that T'Prina had been aware of something he had not been, and the faintest--very faintest--trace of something territorial, carefully hidden beneath the rest. Spock thinks he's really good at hiding things, and he's just not.

I'm fine.

After a few seconds, Spock withdraws; Jim misses him. Bonding's great and all, but this is--

I do as well.

Jim smiles, opening his eyes. "That was romantic."

One corner of Spock's mouth twitches, which when they're on duty is pretty much a smile. "Fascinating." He doesn't move away, watching Jim thoughtfully. "Do not attempt to shield yourself for the remainder of the day. Tonight, we will meditate--"

"I hate my life."

"--and restore your shields."

Jim thinks about T'Prina, on his bridge for all of alpha shift. "I know you refuse to discuss this, but--"

"I do not consider Cadet T'Prina's opinion on the matter of our bond relevant. If it offends her, she may restrict herself to her quarters and remain there until we return to Starfleet."

At least it's not throwing her off the ship.

"I have no grounds to do so at this time." Spock's thumb brushes gently against his temple, and the remainder of the pain fades, locked down in whatever weird way Vulcans can do that. It's like having a narcotic that also provides orgasms and good conversation. "That is--a strange comparison."

"As long as I can still confuse you, I feel I'm doing my job." Jim checks the time. "And I'm supposed to see Bones."

"I will accompany you," Spock says firmly, rising to his feet. Jim gives up; Spock he can get around, maybe, Bones, probably, but not both at him at once. Getting to his feet, Jim gives the replicator a sad look, then goes along with his fate.

Captain Gary Mitchell
Captain Gary Mitchell

Bones, luckily, has made a concerted effort never to discuss any part of Jim's mostly-marriage if either of them can help it, but with Spock staring at every reading like somewhere in the last year he picked up a medical degree (not impossible), there's horrible talk about mental strain and bonding and neural repatterning. Jim's head is examined three times while Bones and Spock look at the Sanskrit that is Amanda Grayson's regular medical exams.

"I don't see any abnormalities," Bones says in resignation, because sadly, all this is now normal and Bones has gone beyond saying freakish, which is about the only thing that used to make this worth it. "I'll send a note to Lyra at Starfleet Medical to meet up next time we're on Earth; she needs his updates anyway."

"I'm still here," Jim says as Chapel hands him a cup of coffee beneath a show of tricordering him again, like his condition's changed in the last five seconds. Taking a long drink, Jim looks at the tricorder surreptitiously; his readings look like they always do after a concussion. "Look, can we just all admit two key facts; one, you're both nuts, and two, there is no two, there's just you are both being crazy."

"Jim," Bones starts, arms crossed casually and not (yet) reaching for a hypo, "I hate to be the one to remind you, but you are--"

"Shut up, Bones."

"--very unique being--well, you, but also, these." Bones points toward the scans. "We have very little data, and the colony won't release any further information, so my working sample is one person. One person, by the way, who had no less than five separate regular physicians most of her life. Not to mention--"

"Wanna hear how I got over pon farr?" Jim asks desperately. There's a faint trace of alarm Spock-wards, but Jim really doesn't care. "Four standard days, Bones--"

Bones pales, but he's an ass, so he just keeps talking. "--you're on a starship and your mind, so to speak, is what runs it. We can't afford errors. Not even small ones."

There's the unspoken--Starfleet still really wants to react to Jim's abrupt descent into semi-formalized monogamy, but can't quite figure out how. Jim has his suspicions--the words mentally compromised had come up, like Spock had just been waiting all his life to get his hands on the mind of a Starfleet captain to control a ship--as if a slightly interested look didn't have Starfleet trying to throw ships at him every time they dock--but Starfleet has, at least proportionally, a large number of Vulcans. Many, many Vulcans.

From what Jim's worked out (Pike isn't his only source of information, just the most sarcastic), the general reaction to even bringing it up in a discussion had resulted in the colony getting a new shipment of Federation-class supercomputers, so Jim's not too worried about his command. Vulcans do not approve of him and Spock, very silently and obviously and at great length; Vulcans do not approve even more of Starfleet sticking their nose into what is, in fact, a Vulcan matter, and James Kirk's very human file had fallen directly under all those complex Vulcan privacy regulations and stayed there. Live long and prosper while we rebuild our society into a technocratic utopia; also, mind your own business.

Starfleet got the message loud and clear.

Jim wonders if Amanda Grayson ever laughed herself sick over this kind of thing. She might not have been Starfleet, but she was certified by both the Federation and Vulcan Science Academy as a diplomatic interpreter. Sure, he commands a ship that can destroy worlds; she could start wars with an improperly placed adverb.

She appreciated the irony.

Jim grins at Spock, catching the memory.

"What did I say about doing that in front of me?" Bones wails, tossing his datapad on the biobed. "It's--weird."

Jim rolls his eyes, finishing the coffee with a grateful look at Chapel. "Can I go?"

"Breakfast," Bones says, tossing his datapad on the biobed. "Spock, go away and stop hovering. Jim--"

"Orion." Jim leans back against the biobed, staring at the datapad. That's what he'd been trying to remember last night.

"Jim?" Bones looks at his tricorder longingly, but Spock straightens (sort of; it's a mental thing), looking at Jim in interest. Picking up the datapad, Jim puts in his access code and does a quick search, finding Spock's report (of course) on the worm that had hit their systems. It had been depressingly easy to isolate, but-- "Orion algorithms, Orion accent, Orion company encryption. Romulan attacks on Federation ships. One of these things shouldn't be like another, and yet, here we are."


Jim stares at the datapad. "Get a message to Starfleet; our contact in the Syndicate is no longer doing his job." Jim forces himself to loosen his hold on the datapad, thinking it over. "So they really did want to talk."

"You think they were sincere?" Spock is dubious, but he's already mentally framing the message to maximize its ability to terrify whoever is unfortunate enough to read it.

"If you mean panicking, yes." Jim clears the datapad and hands it back to Bones. "They won't be for sale; they're probably in deep sleep on one of the tertiary worlds."

"Jim?" Bones says, sounding worried. "What are you--"

"The crews of those ships. They might be alive." Chapel materializes with another cup of coffee; Jim loves her. "Thank you. Senior staff meeting, one hour. Spock, get all the prelim from cargo, and the first stage analysis of the voice on the tricorder, and everything on those five ships we have. And send a copy of the crew manifests to my terminal. I think someone's trying to stop a war."

"I do not understand," T'Prina says, following him into the conference room. It hadn't been a conference room when Jim took command; apparently, this is where Jim's supposed to receive diplomats and make sure they don't spill secrets while getting genially drunk. It's long and comfortable and most importantly, it's the one room outside private quarters that Scotty could make absolutely private with very little in the way of noticeable destruction of Starfleet property. It's not that Jim's paranoid; it's that he's not stupid.

And it's a really nice room; Jim doesn't see why people who visit and add to his stress and make him dress up in hideous formal uniforms should have nicer places to meet than his staff. It also has three replicators, which was possibly a factor in the decision.

"Meetings are boring," Jim admits, sitting on the edge of the table as T'Prina surveys the gold-and-white Tellarite wall hangings and several abstract murals that supposedly soothe flaring tempers but mostly make Jim think of an unsubtle Rorschach test. "But sometimes, we have them anyway. I'll need you to report on what you saw during our undercover mission as pirates. And use the word 'pirates' at least twice."

"I see." She looks at the table, then the chairs lining the wall. "Where should I--"

"Anywhere you want." It's kind of charming; Jim had tried to explain to Spock the appeal of Vulcan cadets wandering around his ship being logical and disapproving and failed utterly. And it's not really quantifiable anyway; it's more a feeling. He's pretty sure that if a Vulcan would so lower themselves as to express dislike, she'd be spitting at him for all his corrupting human influence and invading Vulcan traditions and basically being everything that Vulcans hate about humans all rolled into one captain-shaped package. But. He's pretty much okay with that.

After a moment, she selects a chair, pulling it gracefully toward the table and stopping a few feet away, placing her about a foot from his chair and Spock's and giving herself a full view of the table and all its inhabitants, turning it enough so her back isn't to the door.

Fine, Spock's infatuation theory could have some merit, if he wasn't mostly-married. As she seats herself, she turns on her datapad. "The meeting should have begun," she says, surveying the room with a hint of disapproval for his total lack of control of his crew. He gets that from her a lot.

"Yeah, no one listens to me," Jim says cheerfully. "Crazy crew and all, they do their own thing. Sulu said your performance at the helm was flawless."

She nods; of course. She's Vulcan.

"I've been looking at your record," Jim says, which she already knows; for reasons beyond Jim's comprehension, cadets compete for the two positions available on the Enterprise. Granted, Uhura is kind of the be-all and end-all of everything that has to do with any form of communication known to sentient beings (and some non-sentient, which is just too depressing for words) and Sulu's some kind of bizarre legend with what he can make a starship do as he really doesn't seem to believe in things like limits and such, and Scotty's just a freak and no one can figure out what the hell he does to the engines against the laws of God, man, and apparently, every physicist ever born. Bones keeps making Starfleet Medical send him muffin baskets, and Chekov has a fan club.

And then there's Spock… If there were a platonic ideal of a Starfleet officer in existence, Spock would be pictured, along with the five pages of small-print that list his accomplishments. Other Vulcans may not like him, but they sure as hell have no problem with the species taking credit for his awesome.

Basically, Jim gets that he runs a ship of crazy geniuses that let him captain because they have much better things to do. He's okay with that. They let him pretend to be a pirate and infiltrate Orion crime rings, and honestly, what's better than that?

"Astrometrics is a challenging field." That's a simplification; Jim had done some research after a glance at her secondary school records. "Normally, science track students go with the survey ships."

"The Enterprise was available," she says tranquilly, giving him her full attention. "After researching the available ships, I felt I would find it an enriching experience to--I think you would say 'broaden my horizons'. And your Astrometrics department is one of the most highly experimental in Starfleet. I wished to observe the methodology being employed so successfully. Few ships have replicated the results you have achieved."

The head of astrometrics had started life as a theoretical physicists and then had an epiphany and went back to the Academy to rearrange everything everyone knew about navigating the universe. Jim has a faint memory of interviewing her, which mostly consisted of nodding appropriately, then giving her the department in the hope she'd start talking to other people and not him about--whatever that had been.

"Do you feel they have been broadened?" Jim asks curiously.

T'Prina hesitates, examining the question. "Yes. The duties you have assigned me have been eclectic, but highly educational."

"Starship duty can be eclectic, even in Federation space. Knowing what everyone else is doing can be as important as knowing what you're doing yourself." T'Prina nods agreement. "When do you graduate?"

"I complete my studies in twenty-two standard months," she says. "Captain Tvl of the Mariposa has a position in astrometrics that is suitable for a newly-commissioned officer."

"Good ship and a very good captain. It's a logical choice." Sliding off the table, Jim pulls out his chair as the doors open, spilling Uhura and Spock in, expressions very linguistic. Jim hadn't known an expression could be linguistic; the things you learn on starships. Behind them, Scotty comes in, vaguely disgruntled from being dragged from his engines, and then Sulu and Chekov, both of whom zero in on T'Prina instantly. Jim can't tell if she's actually that oblivious to human male crushes or just finds the entire thing beneath her notice. Probably the latter: no one sentient could be that oblivious.

Spock gives her a cool nod as he takes his seat. "Captain," he acknowledges, tapping the datapad.

"Glad everyone could make it." Jim looks around the table in satisfaction as Bones takes the seat to his right, pissy that Jim does not believe in medical leave. "Today I'm going to tell you a heartwarming story about Romulans and the Orions who apparently are afraid of them. And possibly, a war. Questions at the end. Please open your datapad to T'Prina's very thorough report of the events last night and we'll begin."

"So wait--why wouldn't they be killed?" Bones asks, bewildered. "Romulans take prisoners to interrogate and kill them, not interrogate and sell them off."

"Yes, that's a problem with my theory," Jim answers easily. "I'm still working out the details."

"It's pretty much a contradiction of your theory." Bones leans back, arms crossed mulishly. "But I'm not betting against you."

"That's because I won all your credits at the last shipwide poker tournament," Jim answers. "Chekov, be brilliant and tell me what those four ships had in common."

Chekov jerks his gaze from T'Prina with an effort. "Captain," he says, sounding less Russian than usual, "there are no common factors other than the most obvious."

"That's--less brilliant than I was looking for." Jim tilts his head back, bringing T'Prina into view. "Cadet?"

T'Prina looks up, very Vulcanly startled, which is invisible to anyone who doesn't live with Spock. After her oral summary--which had included a little too much "assisting the Captain to walk" for Jim's taste--she'd settled into watching, intensely curious. "Captain?"

"Factors those ships have in common."

T'Prina stares at him blankly; Jim feels a little bad, but on the other hand, he really doesn't. "They were all warp capable ships," she says, with the resigned tone of a student who knows they are giving the wrong answer and has to do it anyway. "All were science vessels concerned with either interstellar weather phenomenon or were involved in deep-space study of rare interstellar phenomenon."

"Black hole research," Uhura says immediately. Jim stares at her. "Lieutenant Gaila is currently working on a new prototype for predicting when a star will supernova and calculate the potential for a black hole to form." She gives Jim a slow, mocking smile. "Some people write more than once a year to their classmates."

Jim ignores her; it's more than once a year. "T'Prina?"

T'Prina glances at her datapad almost desperately. "All were crewed exclusively by humanoid beings. All--" She stops, blinking slowly at the screen. "The crew component was unusual; that was common to all of the ships. There were no humans of Terran or colonial ancestry on board any of those ships." Touching the datapad, she brings up the crew manifests, scanning them quickly before looking up. "According to the manifest listing species, there is no one from the Federation founding members listed."

"Got it in one. Chekov, breathe. It was pretty obscure; they were all small ships and several are registered as citizens of founding worlds anyway. Which is because--"

"Their homeworld isn't a member of the Federation," Chekov says suddenly. "Either unaffiliated or--"

"Orion or captive races." Jim likes when he can surprise his staff. "And Orion law follows that the child of a slave is still a slave, you get the idea. The ships we know the Romulans took because they were not easily defensible--and possibly because of the crew complement. They assumed we wouldn't care as much. Which granted, the Federation's record when the citizen isn't a member of one of the founding species--"

"Captain," Spock says; pretty much the only reason he's not getting the equivalent of a mental kick is that Spock thinks that kind of thing is inappropriate when they're on duty. So far.

"Anyway," Jim continues, "I'm going to make a guess that the Romulans were making nice with Orion and offered them the crews."

"Why take the risk when the Syndicate and the Federation are still maintaining a non-aggression pact? The Orions were just as likely to run to us and hand them over as a gesture of goodwill, hoping we'll ignore their hunting among the unaffiliates," Uhura says, but there's a look on her face that tells him she knows. She lived with Gaila, after all.

"To get Orion support." Jim looks at Spock briefly. "A preview of the joys of Romulan conquest of the Federation; an endless buffet of planets filled with all the skilled and unskilled labor anyone could ever want." Jim pushes his coffee cup an inch to the left, taking a deep breath. "Problem is, there's no war yet, so those extremely valuable, highly-trained Starfleet officers aren't really useful yet, and even in their own systems, they can't sell them openly. Not until we have too much on our plate with a war with the Romulans to really care about rumors of Federation citizens being traded around the Syndicate's homeworlds."

The room is silent.

"So we have two goals, but they all depend on one thing. We need to rescue our crews, because it's a hell of a bet Orion took accepting them from the Romulans. We'll never be able to prove they were ever there, so it's no skin off their nose if they get rid of them if things don't go the way the Romulans think they will. And we need to find out who the Romulan voice on a tricorder was, because it looks like he may be the only proof we have that those crews are alive and that the Romulan Empire is preparing for war."

Jim leans back in his chair, looking over his crew. "We have twenty-four hours until we rendezvous with the Valiant and I need more than a hunch when I present this to Starfleet. You know what to do. Dismissed."

T'Prina starts to follow, then hesitates, waiting until the room has cleared before approaching. Taking Spock's seat, she looks at him. "I do not understand how you reached your conclusions with the given information."

"Well." Jim thinks. "It helps if you spent several stints in Federation custody on completely spurious charges. You meet some really interesting, informative people. Like Dar, for example. Though he still doesn't know that, so don't mention it when you see him again. I wasn't using my real name that time, either."

T'Prina blinks her amazement that he was ever allowed to captain a starship. He can't blame her; sometimes, he wonders about that himself. "Dar, the Ferengi--he was a liar and betrayed you. The man who threatened us has no reason to tell us the truth. Why do you believe them?"

"I don't." Jim answers, looking at his datapad. "But I trust his business sense. Ferengi are unscrupulous but not stupid. Handing over a Federation captain isn't something that keeps you in business long; he had reason to believe they weren't going to hurt us and really did have information we could use. If there hadn't been a telepath, I would have taken my chances and waited around. We'd have gotten out when the forcefield fell, and they can't do much in that amount of time if I were wrong."

T'Prina blinks slowly, digesting that. "Command conditioning should allow you to resist most mental coercion, and your bond--"

"Yeah that." Jim blows out a breath. "I don't take mental coercion very well."

"I do not understand."

Jim closed his eyes. Right. "T'Prina," Jim says slowly, "Vulcan law still applies to a human bondmate; interfering with another's mind, or bond, is punishable by death. Spock's also second in command of a starship. If possible, I'm not going to make him choose between his duty and--"

"Protecting his bondmate, yes, I understand." T'Prina nods. "You think he would react illogically and attempt a rescue--"

"No. I would kill them." T'Prina stills. "Like I said, I'm not going to make him choose between duty and me. I'll eliminate the choice."

T'Prina nods slowly.

"Anything else?"

T'Prina blinks slowly, then shakes her head. "No, Captain." Standing up, she clutches her datapad. "Should I report to Lieutenant Sulu?"

"Nah." Sighing, Jim picks up his coffee cup, taking it to the recycler. "Officially, I'm on medical leave, so instead of actual duties, I'm going to go bother the different departments. It keeps them on their toes. Want to come along?"

"Yes, sir," she says seriously. "I would."

"You are not relaxed." Spock sits back, fingers skimming down his cheek in a line of lingering heat. "Meditation is not effective if you are--"

"I'm really relaxed. I had a long day of nothing to do and someone who will remain nameless wouldn't even come play with me in the practice room because someone who I'll call Bones said my head was delicate. I love having nothing to do. That's very relaxing."

"Cadet T'Prina's attendance was not stimulating enough?"

In anyone else, Jim would suspect jealousy, but this is Spock, and mostly, it's actual curiosity. Jim shifts on the bed, wondering if he's supposed to answer that or sit in dignified silence.

I am merely curious.

You're baiting me and I'm not falling for it. He is, kind of. Leaning back on one arm, Jim thinks of the reports he hasn't really read and decides to ignore them for a little longer. "She was pretty quiet, actually. I think she was trying to figure out why you all don't mutiny."

"It is against regulations," Spock says seriously, and Jim has to kiss him then. Jim hadn't ever really thought falling in love was a good idea and hadn't planned on going through it himself; his mother was a pretty good indicator that sort of thing fucked you up for life.

The thing is, he's never been famous for being all about going along with good ideas, and even if he were, Spock would be the best idea he's had in his life. And Spock is--

Spock rolls him onto his back, one hand curled behind his head to cushion it just in case the mattress turns to stone abruptly or something. Jim would find that irritating, but there's a time and place for that sort of thing, and sex isn't among them.

I could assist you, I think. To relax. There's something about the mental component that makes that filthier than anything Jim's ever heard. It's sudden, the warmth flaring into desperate heat every damn time, and he's never lied to Spock; he's never wanted anyone like this. He's not sure he's supposed to; he's not sure anyone is supposed to.

He mostly doesn't care about that, either. Please do.

Jim hadn't really expected they'd be able to make any headway by the time they met the Valiant; Uhura and Spock, of course, both took it as a personal failure that they couldn't figure out the identity, history, and possibly, the eating habits of their mysterious Orion-accented Romulan with less than three hundred words of recorded voice patterns on a tricorder.

Completing his report, Jim sends it off with attached evidence, already knowing he'll get the Starfleet equivalent of a nod and a request he not worry his pretty head about hard things like politics. Because the Federation does not want war and honestly thinks that if they pretend it's not coming, it will go away.

Jim really wonders how the Federation has managed to survive this long, to be honest.

Picking up his game console, Jim leans back in his chair, propping his feet on the desk. Battlestations III is, in fact, fully as awesome as he'd suspected. Pulling his datapad closer, he marks down another successful cheat code, humming contentedly.

The ping of his door is not welcome. Jim doesn't look up. "Come."

Jim hadn't ever really liked Gary Mitchell, who had been a fourth-year to Jim's vaguely irritated first, and fully as arrogant as third-generation 'Fleet families tended to be. Jim had beat every record he'd had at the academy, which had been disappointing, since there hadn't been that many, forcing Jim to go out of his comfort zone for a better challenge, which is pretty much how he ended up at the top of his class by the time he graduated. On some level, accidental academic brilliance for the purposes of slamming the faces of irritating cadets into the ground (metaphorically) is probably a sign of mental instability; then again, he's the son of Winona Kirk, and if anyone, anywhere, had thought he was not capable of being a competitive asshole, they just hadn't met his mother or taken a long look at her Academy record.

"Hey Jimmy," Mitchell says genially, taking a seat. Jim can sense Spock trying, with mixed success, not to project disapproval for Mitchell's lack of courtesy. "How's it going?"

"Pretty good." Not looking up, Jim slides the data solid across the desk. "Battlestations III. You say you got it from me, I won't send the cheat codes."

Mitchell is an arrogant asshole, but he's not stupid. Pocketing the solid reverently, he leans back, glancing at Spock. "Can we have a moment, Commander?"

"No," Jim answers as the last planet falls beneath his ruthless fist. Saving, he flips it off, turning his head enough to bring both of them in view. "He stays."

"Ah, I forgot. Young love." Rubbing his nose, Mitchell directs an amused look at Jim. "How--traditional of you."

Swinging his legs down, Jim sighs. "This is a Constellation class starship and what I know, my first officer needs to know, possibly before I do. Now spit it out before I forget to give you the security code to open that game, and you'll spend the next month bitching about it over subspace while Uhura ignores you."

Mitchell's eyes narrow. "You really have to learn some tact, Kirk." He waits, though, until Spock's seated himself, terribly correct and a quiet rebuke to Mitchell's utter lack of say, good manners or hey, tact. "Fleet's ordering you to the Vulcan colony."

Jim blinks slowly. "Okay, I'm impressed. So far as I know, we're on route to Starbase 3 for some physicists."

"Took me some time to weasel it out of the admiralty. Try to act surprised." Glancing at Spock, he takes a deep breath, and God help them all, Mitchell's sincere. Jim feels himself tense. "Dr. Lyra Uloi of Starfleet Medical was requested to go to the colony three months ago to consult on some cases that have come up that are beyond the healers. She requested McCoy, but that order's been buried beneath about five tons of privacy regulations, so good luck hearing anything about it, ever. Don't ask how I know; I know everything."

Mitchell does, actually; 'Fleet brats may hate each other, but they keep in touch. "I believe you. I just don't see why they'd order the Enterprise--"

"Starfleet got itself into a mess," Mitchell says, with a faint look of disgust; if there's one thing he and Jim have in common, it's utter amazement at the hijinks of the admiralty. By rights, if they had carried on like this when they'd actually commanded ships, they really should have killed themselves in some incredibly stupid way their first year in command. "I was at 'Fleet when the entire thing came out," which is a nice way of referring to how Jim registered for domestic partnership three hours before a mission well on the other side of the galaxy, "and I know exactly how it was resolved. By the way, you never did thank me for my above and beyond reporting of events."

Jim rolls his eyes, fighting a grin. "I gave you that game, didn't I? Get it over with."

Mitchell glances at Spock again. "A motion just got passed by the Council. It's going through the usual rubber stamp process, but there's pretty much no chance it won't be passed. An exception is being added to the Federation individual rights charter. The Vulcan colony has requested a restriction be placed on the Free Choice Act." Mitchell pauses. "More specifically, the provisions of the Grayson Test are being challenged."

Spock stills; for once, Jim thinks blankly, something's actually struck him speechless. "On what grounds?"

"Pretty good ones, actually. It's being argued that when a species is depleted to the point of being in danger of extinction, measures that are acceptable for a robust population no longer apply. It even has a built-in time limit; they provided population growth projections for when the danger point will pass, three generations or one hundred years, whichever comes first." Mitchell takes out a data solid, giving it a faintly sickened look, before dropping it on the desk. "That's everything, including the Council debates, which were a joke. They spent more time arguing what to order for lunch."

Jim stares at the solid for a second. "How did they get it past the Grayson Test? The time limit wouldn't be enough."

"It's voluntary," Mitchell says grimly. "If you don't want to comply, fine, don't. But you lose colonial citizenship and potentially residence on the continent the colony is settled on. And there's the--" Mitchell looks at Spock again, then takes a deep breath. "They argue that a colony isn't a homeworld, and that losing colonial citizenship isn't the equivalent."

"Bullshit. There is no homeworld for the Vulcan people except the colony."

Mitchell inclines his head. "You're preaching to the choir, Jimmy. But it passed without a murmur. You know how it works; founding members--"

"Special fucking privileges. Son of a bitch." Jim forces himself not to look at Spock, keeping his own thoughts strictly in his head. "So they're ordering us to the colony to what, stare meaningfully at them in disapproval?"

"No. And yes, actually." Mitchell looks at Spock again, which is becoming both repetitive and worrying. "You see, there's one tiny, almost ridiculous provision that everyone was overlooking, right up until Lyra started calling for McCoy and everyone suddenly remembered the drama that is your personal and not very private life. The Vulcans did not like Starfleet mucking about in Vulcan custom and tradition, so they locked down your file under privacy regulations. And the only way they could do that--"

"You're kidding." Jim looks at Spock. "Did you know I'm a citizen of the colony?"

Spock does not look pleased to be called on being a secretive ass, apparently. "Captain--"

"You know," Jim says, crossing his arms, "I think this conversation could be improved by full disclosure of what, exactly, makes up the apparently much more complicated than I was led to believe privacy regulations that you quoted at me. I did my research, too, and I didn't see anything on there about colonial citizenship."

"Yeah. It's in the fine print." Mitchell grins, pleased with himself. "But it's there. De facto anyway; problem is, there's no way around you having it without agreeing that you no longer fall under the privacy regulations. And I would kill to find out what the hell happened that made an entire council of Vulcan elders twitch in unison at the very idea of it being scrutinized by Starfleet. Other than Vulcans, you're the only member of Starfleet who has citizenship in the colony. So you win the lottery for hideously awkward political situations. Congratulations; you always did have a flair for the dramatic."

Jim thinks later, he'll find this funny. "So they're sending me there to stare meaningfully in disapproval as a citizen? That'll be helpful. Seeing me would probably be enough for the entire population to support the measure en masse."

Mitchell's smile fades. "Maybe. I don't know. They want you there badly, badly enough that this order isn't even going to be seen by the Council before you're already there. Once McCoy is on the ground with Lyra, he can claim medical emergency and keep you there no matter what the Council says."

Jim leans on his desk, thinking. Starfleet Medical, Lyra, McCoy, medical emergency. "McCoy's not a telepath, and Lyra's specialty is telepathic--oh." Something in Jim freezes. "McCoy's not a telepath," he says slowly. "But he's a specialist now, from me."

"Lyra's patients are all non-Vulcans. Seems there's a rash of Vulcan interspecies divorce, Las Vegas style. Ten so far. They said it was voluntary, but Lyra can't get through to any of them, and privacy has been invoked, so we got jack shit. They're citizens--at least for now--so we were told quite politely to fuck off."

"It is unthinkable," Spock says, voice so controlled that Jim aches for him. "It is an obscenity. No Vulcan would interfere with an established bond."

"I don't know," Mitchell says, raising his hands defensively. "I'm telling you what I heard, and what Lyra's saying. The exception they're asking for doesn't mention involuntary separation and excludes currently existing marriages. And yet, since that resolution was approved by the Vulcan elders, there have been ten divorces of non-Vulcan spouses who won't respond to anything Vulcan healers can do. And I will say this--Lyra says they're trying their damndest to help. There's something wrong, Jimmy. There are five hundred and fourteen Vulcan interspecies marriages recorded in the Federation databanks, two thirds of them residing in the colony, and suddenly those went under privacy regulations as well. Including yours. We can't even get a database listing anymore."

There's no way to mistake that. "How long until the order comes?"

"Eight hours. You get it, you agree, you warp eight your ass to the colony. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Get McCoy to Lyra and get this declared a medical emergency so we can find out what the fuck is going on." Standing up, Mitchell drops a second data solid. "That's for McCoy, direct from Lyra, so he knows what he's getting into."

Jim licks his lips, staring at the data solids. "I owe you."

"Yeah, you do. Here's what you do to pay me back." Mitchell's back straightens, and the 'Fleet brat melts away. "Her name is Sarah Clemens, she's a xenobotanist, and she and her bondmate were off planet when Vulcan was destroyed. They moved to the colony two years ago with their kid. She's not among those ten yet. Make sure she's okay."

Jim nods. "You got it."

Mitchell nods roughly. "Gotta run. Thanks for the game." Turning on a heel, Jim watches the metamorphosis, the deliberate loosening of his shoulders and slight smirk, strolling out of the room with a leer at Uhura that she responds to with utter contempt; business as usual.

"I will take this to Dr. McCoy," Spock says, voice very steady. Jim nods as Spock picks up the data solid. "I will report--"

"Go, I got it." Jim finds himself staring at the other data solid. "I'll review this and see what happened."

"Very well." Spock leaves pretty much exactly as he came in; but for the first time since their entire mostly-marriage started, Spock is blocking him completely, and there's no one in Jim's head but himself.

"Captain?" T'Prina says, possibly several times, but Jim's not paying all that much attention. Brooding isn't something he enjoys, but that data solid had been really, really brood-worthy. "You seem distracted."

Jim looks at her blankly. "Yeah." Glancing around the bridge, Jim considers his options. He's actually not on duty and therefore shouldn't be hovering over beta shift, but there's really not much else to do. There's a report in his hand he's pretty sure T'Prina gave him to approve, and the possibility he's supposed to be reading it. "Shouldn't you be off-duty?"

T'Prina's expression reminds him she does not believe in off-duty. "I was completing--"

"Go meditate, or, I don't know, think Vulcanly thoughts. Jacobsen, you have the conn; call me if we receive any communiqués from Starfleet." Handing the datapad back to T'Prina, he goes to the turbolift and thinks of ten people in the colony who aren't responding to Lyra.

He's kind of thinking he can guess why now.

"Level--what are you doing?" T'Prina somehow slips through the doors as they close. "Go do something. I don't care what."

"You appear distressed," she says, eyebrow telegraphing disapproving worry. "Is your head injury--"

"It's fine. I'm fine." It's probably wrong to really want to project the actions of the Vulcan elders on a Starfleet cadet, but he kind of wants to anyway. She's the only one around and won't go away. His mental clock is counting down the hours; he has five left and he doesn't have a plan. He's not sure he has a coherent thought. "Computer, recreation deck."

T'Prina doesn't remark on the uselessness of recreation, which is pretty much the only good thing that's happened to him today. As the doors open, Jim notes several cheerful crewmembers and tries not to resent them, passing a hoverball tournament, the current interdepartmental zero-g basketball finals, and five people doing competitive meditation, which to this day Jim finds the most useless thing ever to be declared a sport.

The gym is in use, which is nice, because really, there's nothing like old-fashioned violence. "At ease," Jim says as the cheerful riot comes to attention at his arrival. Officially, the exercise is to improve security's teamwork, but basically, it's splitting into two groups and beating the shit out of each other. Three sit on the sidelines, looking regretful while icing down injured limbs--Jim does a count and makes an executive decision. "This department-only or can I play?"

Lieutenant Evans, head of ship security, snaps off a salute, smiling hugely. "My side, sir."

Stripping off his tunic, Jim feels himself start to relax for the first time since Mitchell left. "I'm in. Where were we?"

"Now," Jim says breathlessly, shifting his knee enough to keep the Tellarite second in command very comfortably pinned to the gym floor, "I'm not one to say 'I told you so' except when I am." Jim waits, keeping his breath careful and light, ignoring the tight stitch in his side and burn in his lungs and the fact he and the regenerator are going to be up close and personal real soon and it's totally fucking worth it. "What do we say when we want up, Ensign?"

He doesn't fight it; thank God. Jim really wants to collapse now, thanks. "Please." While the words muffled against the floor, Jim will forgive it. Bouncing to his feet, Jim watches him roll over slowly, eyes wide and possibly bruised. Jim extends a hand.

"Good job, Ensign," Jim grunts; holy God, how much does this guy weigh? Jim keeps his balance until he's on his feet, checking the remainder of Enterprise's security. To his surprise, there's no one left standing. Evans, stretching his left hand warily, salutes from the corner, looking happier than anyone who had a Gorn sitting on them five minutes ago should. "Anyone need medical attention?" Which is a stupid question; they all need medical attention. "Okay, rephrase that--everyone, sickbay. That was fantastic, and we're going to be feeling this tomorrow."

As they get to their feet, Jim crosses over to Evans, scanning him for injury; there's a faint bruising beneath his eyes and one cheekbone, but his dark skin makes it tricky to be sure when Jim can't quite make his eyes focus. Grinning, Evans wipes sweat from his forehead, twisted locks of dark brown hair escaping from the pony tail he'd adopted during practice. Though as tall as Spock, he's slim enough to give an impression of fragility, which is pretty unfortunate for those who don't pay attention to the alert, practiced movements of his body; even Spock can only put him on the floor seven times out of ten, which is pretty much the gold standard. "I knew you were good. Nice organization at the end there."

"Well," Evans says, squinting up at him, "I use missions with you as templates, sir."

"Sometimes it's not my fault," Jim says, extending a hand.

"But usually, sir, it is." Groaning softly, Evans lets Jim pull him up. "Remind me to get you to show me those Vulcan holds; Commander Spock volunteered, but there's something about the way he doesn't even break a sweat that's kind of discouraging. Speaking of, I have an hour on Fridays if you want to go over the Debian disciplines."

"You got your cert? Yes, done. Tell Rand; she'll make time." Limping slightly, Jim accompanies Evans to the door and blinks at the unexpected presence of T'Prina. "Cadet. What--yeah, go, Evans," he says as the lieutenant pauses. "I'll be up before McCoy can yell too long." As Evans leaves, Jim surveys the empty gym and thinks he'll be hearing from maintenance about that wall fairly soon. "What are you doing here?"

"I accompanied you," she says, staring at him, and maybe it's just exhaustion, but he can't read her at all. "Do you require medical attention?"

"Probably." It's the endorphins that are probably keeping him on his feet, but he'll take endorphins. He looks for his tunic for a second, then realizes T'Prina is holding it out. "Thanks. Do you have my communicator?" he asks, pulling it over his head.

T'Prina extends it, a faint line marring her forehead. "You should see Dr. McCoy," she says seriously as Jim emerges into the hall. "Your recent injury could have been aggravated by--"

"God, T'Prina, later." Flipping open the communicator, Jim says, "Uhura, you busy?"

In the background, there's a faint sound that could be anything, but is probably a sign she most definitely is. "Off-duty, Kirk," she says acidly. "And what--"

"Yeah, change of plans. My quarters, five minutes."

There's a thoughtful pause. "On or off the record?"

"Off. Bring a blank pad and a smile. Kirk out." Glancing at T'Prina, Jim considers what he's supposed to do with her. And why in the name of God she won't go away. "T'Prina," he says as the turbolift opens, "there's duty and then there's stalking."

T'Prina stiffens as she follows him into the turbolift. "Sir--"

Apparently, he's never gotten over being an ass. "Nevermind," he says. "I'm moody. Humans are, sometimes. We do that. Go have some fun or the Vulcan equivalent thereof, okay? Report to the conference room in about--" Jim calculates "--about two hours, twenty minutes."

"Yes, Captain," T'Prina says, looking curious. Vulcans are all about curious. Genetic. "Are you sure you do not require--"

"Yes." As the turbolift opens, T'Prina stays behind, for which he's forever grateful. "Bring a datapad," he adds as the door closes.

Uhura is waiting outside his quarters, and Jim takes in the starship-sprinkled pajamas and bare feet, long hair twisted back from her face in a messy knot, datapad beneath one arm. "We could have a slumber party."

She rolls her eyes, a motion she checks when she gets a look at him. "McCoy is going to kill you," she says conversationally as she follows him inside, already aiming toward the bathroom instead of the terminal. Jim sighs as she comes back with a wet washcloth. "All right, summarize."

Reaching blindly, Jim winces at the rough sweep of cloth over his cheek, grabbing the data solid from his desk. "Make a copy of this and read up; you have an hour. In two hours, eighteen minutes, we're going to the colony."

There's only one place that's 'the colony'. Uhura's hand hesitates, pulling back to look at a question.

"Yeah, it's bad," he says, looking at the blood-streaked cloth. "Read up and we'll talk."

Spock isn't in Sickbay, but McCoy unfortunately is in residence and looks up before Jim can convince Chapel to just give him the damn regenerator.

"What the hell?" Bones says, snatching the regenerator before Jim can make a run for it. "Sit the hell down and let me--what were you doing, fighting with security?"


"Should have known. They only end up like that when they want to impress you." Bones snaps the regenerator on with his thumb menacingly. "Funny how they forgot to mention that."

Jim smiles winningly. "Weird." Submitting with all the grace he can to the person fixing him up, Jim braces his hands on the biobed. "Chapel, I need a minute with his grumpiness."

Chapel gives him a sympathetic look, returning to whatever it is medical people do when they aren't saving lives--Jim's hazy on the details and prefers it that way. Asking once had ended up with him staring down a microscope at cell samples from his stomach lining, and he's really not into that. Bones gives him a scowl, but his fingers are gentle as he tips up Jim's chin. "Can you help Lyra?"

"Don't know yet." Stepping back, he picks up Jim's hand, studying the swollen knuckles before snorting and taking out a roll of gauze. "I hope so." McCoy's eyes stay firmly fixed on his hand with more attention than bandaging should really take. "How much longer?"

"One hour, forty-four minutes," Jim answers. "Uhura's reading up. I'll send her to you when she's reported back. This could mean we'll figure out what we're supposed to be doing. Though…"

Bones sets the seal on the gauze, waiting while Jim flexes his hand. "Though?"

"I wonder what excuse they'll use for the order to send us there," Jim says, meeting Bones' eyes. "After all, it's not like they can tell the truth. They don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, either."

Sliding off the bed, Jim feels Bones hand catch his arm. "You talked to Spock?"

"Aren't you the one that made me promise never to discuss my private life with you, ever? There was a blood oath involved." Jim starts to pull away, but Bones stops him, looking worried.


Jim dodges around him. "I gotta go," Jim says over his shoulder as he reaches the door. "Uhura's a fast reader. I'll see you in an hour forty-one. Be ready to report."

Spock finds him in his ready room--and God does Jim hate that name--having just finished the conquest of two more planets with five minutes to go. The couch was originally part of the diplomatic reception room, but the new diplomatic reception room was too small. This potential tragedy had been averted when the couch in here had suffered the effects two ounces of hydrochloric acid and required removal. It's incredibly comfortable. Jim doesn't plan on moving unless he has to.

As Jim sets up his campaign for the next system, the room blurs briefly--Jim's finger slips on the controller as the screen grows hazy, his attention shifting inward abruptly toward the empty place he's spent seven hours and fifty-five minutes pretending won't eventually drive him insane. The second shift is even stronger; Jim has an uncertain impression of two people talking in the low, even tones of Vulcans engaged in an actual argument (much more interesting from the inside than the outside), McCoy taking the data solid from Spock, Uhura joining them in McCoy's office after he'd told her what he needed her to do....

And the ready room door opens, bringing in an excess of unwelcome light. Sitting up, Jim cranes his neck. "Wow. So is that an apology for being an ass or just to give me a headache?"

Three minutes, Jim's mind reminds him helpfully. You don't have time to be a regency heroine right now.

"Lights," Spock says quietly as Jim drops the console (after saving; he's three-quarters through and he has a personal goal to beat this thing before they get to the colony). "Jim--"

"I was kidding about the headache." Standing up, Jim goes to his desk, picking up the datapad and turning back around. "I have McCoy and Uhura's preliminary analyses. Senior staff meeting as soon as we go to warp; I'm bringing Chekov and Sulu in on this."

Tapping the pad, Jim ignores the quickly-hidden sharpness of rejection buried beneath the platonic idea of a Starfleet officer; Jim hadn't really understood the sharp inequality that would exist, that will always exist between them in this. There's nothing about him that will ever be a mystery to Spock, no way to hide or block him, the strict ethics of a telepathic race his only protection; the same is not and will never be true for Spock. Jim's never needed to learn a lesson twice and this one had been crystal clear; it's just Spock's lot in life to give him the ones that are the hardest to learn. If he had ever needed the reminder, there are ten people in the colony's hospital to illustrate what happens when you forget.

Mentally compromised, Jim thinks ruefully. Even if he'd known, he still wouldn't have changed a thing.

"What are you orders, Captain?" Spock says coolly. If there's a rebuke in there, Jim decides he doesn't want to hear it.

"I'm sending you and Lieutenant Uhura with McCoy to the colony's hospital; find out everything you can about what's happened and why," Jim says, looking at the datapad; he thinks this is a report on their basketball inventory, but he can't be sure.

One minute, Jim's mind reminds him helpfully. This is not a plan. But it's the beginning of an idea. Setting the datapad aside, Jim takes a deep breath. "Spock--"

Abruptly, the terminal chirps. Jim stares at Spock; for a second, he thinks maybe he can just ignore it and all of this will go away.

God, this is how you start being a Starfleet Admiral. Jim leans back, turning his terminal enough for both of them to see; if Starfleet thinks he doesn't already know, they're even stupider than he'd thought.

Punching in his code, Jim leans his hip against the desk as Spock comes up beside him. "Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise," Jim says genially. "What can I do for you?"

Time's up.

The colony (official name, Epsilon Five One Three, M-Class, survey date 65440.12, USS Asturias, Captain Bradwick; Note: Kind of like Dune, but with an ocean. Vulcans might like it.) is just reaching their dusk when the Enterprise makes orbit; almost before their official greeters can stiffly ask them in very Vulcan terms if they would please go away, there's a message sent on the Starfleet emergency frequency. Uhura taps into it while Jim is still nodding at St'vok, who despite being a pain in the ass still manages to seem almost relaxed compared to the First Officer currently hovering behind Jim's shoulder and radiating general disapproval of something.

"The T'Van Medical Center has requested the services of Dr. Leonard McCoy," Uhura says when St'vok finally gives up trying to make any kind of headway in the face of Jim's utter lack of interest and Spock's blank stare. "They've requested Dr. McCoy's presence; details will be provided when an evaluation of the situation is completed."

Somewhere in Sickbay, Bones is hating everyone even as Chapel finishes packing their equipment.

"Tell them he's on his way; Commander Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, and Lieutenant Chapel will be accompanying him," Jim says. "St'vok, my apologies; regulations require the Enterprise to respond to any and all medical emergencies."

"Of course," St'vok answers stiffly; somewhere, someone is going through regulations right now trying to find one to contradict that. Good luck; if it existed, Spock would have found it. After a few more stiff pleasantries, Jim signs off, looking at his senior staff. "You have your orders," Jim says, wondering how he can possibly already be this tired. "Go forth and solve a mystery. Report every six hours; Mr. Spock will be coordinating your efforts; if you run into any problems, contact Spock or Uhura to get you out of them. I'll leave you to rot; my Vulcan is terrible."

There are some reluctant grins, probably to humor him. "Dismissed."

Getting to his feet, Jim's confronted by his first officer and T'Prina. "Spock," Jim starts, already seeing where this is going. "I'm going straight to the Ambassador's residence. I don't need an escort."

"I would prefer Cadet T'Prina accompany you, Captain," Spock answers; preference is code for 'and good luck getting out of this bit of flawless logic'. Jim looks between them, but two expressionless faces simply absorb all his illogical anger. "If you have no objections--"

Logical objections, that is. "T'Prina, wait for me in the transporter room," Jim says. As beta shift comes on duty, Jim waits until the turbolift is empty so he can have the privacy to be a total ass about this shit.

"What the hell do you think I'm going to do, Spock?" Jim says, evenly, calmly, irrationally angrily. "Wander around insulting your species for fun? I don't need a watcher."

"I would prefer to avoid any risks, Captain," Spock answers without a trace of interest in anything Jim has to say. "Your safety is paramount."

"And you think the Ambassador's own residence is going to be filled with random assassins--okay, I was being an ass, ignore that. But I know this isn't about my safety."

Spock stiffens. "Consider it a personal--favor. Allow Cadet T'Prina to accompany you."

Jim hesitates, trying to work out what the hell is going on. Something about being worried, yes, got that, but something much more complicated, with overtones of discomfort and resignation both. It's important, to Spock, not just to his first officer. Jim would fight the professional; there are no grounds for giving him an escort of a cadet. They have security for that. But the personal--

"All right."

Spock's relief is worth it, though. "Come by when you're done at the hospital," Jim tells him.

"I intend to."

The turbolift doors slide open; before Jim can start to wonder at the flatness of the reply, Spock's joining Uhura and McCoy on the transporter pad and T'Prina is saying, "I understand that we are to meet Ambassador Spock, who is an alternate version of Commander Spock's future self. Commander Spock has stated you will provide a complete explanation of this paradox and the events surrounding it."

Oh God.

Ten years from now (and one universe over), a Captain Kirk and Commander Spock will meet for the first time, two experienced officers who will learn what they can do together is greater than everything they had ever done apart. Jim remembers it like he does Spock's memories of Vulcan in the heat of high summer, the stark beauty of the plains of Gol, Amanda Grayson's laugh; distant things that aren't him, yet are. He remembers men that fought for peace and hated war, who defined themselves by what they were to each other and the Federation that they served.

They were good men, better men than he can ever hope to be.

Three months of ceaseless work had given him this much; he knows himself, in ways that maybe no human before him ever has and perhaps ever could. Jim Kirk mostly came out intact. That doesn't mean he doesn't know there were things that slipped through the cracks, pieces of the three other people that inhabit his head; he finds them every day.

When the door of the Ambassador's residence opens, Jim smiles. "Hey, old friend."

This is one of the cracks, and maybe the one he was willing to leave alone.

Ambassador Spock doesn't smile, but Jim can feel it anyway. "Jim," he says, warm with welcome. "It is good to see you again."

Healer Sorin
Healer Sorin

Dr. Lyra Uloi is waiting outside when they arrive. A tall woman, she's a head shorter than her two colleagues, dark brown hair cropped short around a strong face with wide set, worried green eyes, dark skin splattered with freckles across her cheekbones.

"Greetings," she says, eyes flickering between them before resting on Dr. McCoy. Thank you," she breathes, and the professional mask slips, revealing the fear she's kept carefully shielded from her colleagues and patients. "Dr. McCoy--"

"I reviewed the file," Dr. McCoy says, looking around the quiet grounds of the hospital. Spock remembers this place as little more than bare rock and poor soil; ideal for the city that their people had envisioned without wasting the little fertile land on the continent. "This is Lieutenant Chapel, my head nurse; Lieutenant Uhura, our communications officer and who will act as my interpreter; and Commander--"

"Spock, yes, it's good to meet you." Dr. Uloi has been on Vulcan long enough not to offer her hand as she does to his human colleagues. "This is Healer Sorin and Healer T'Sai--they're the senior members of the team assigned to the patients."

Spock thinks of the files he reviewed before leaving the Enterprise; Healer T'Sai is a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy and a noted specialist in telepathy, with an emphasis on empathy. Her choice of field had led her to study two years with the Acolytes of Gol, beneath the eye of the kolinahru and the High Priestess herself, giving her the required distance to practice the most intimate of services for a Vulcan without losing herself within them. Bonded in childhood, she had married the noted neurologist Healer Teren in her thirtieth year; now in her one hundred and second, she's returned to her apprenticeship, training in genetic engineering and obstetrics to fill the gaps in their ranks. Her blonde hair and blue eyes (common traits of Vulcans born in the far north) often confused off-world--non-Vulcans who came in contact with her.

Spock does not find it reassuring that she's been called from the urgent need to rebuild their achievements in manipulation of the building blocks of life to care for ten non-Vulcans; that she's been called, has stayed, and made little progress is even less so.

Healer Sorin is more surprising; his Academy record had been laudable but not exemplary, a practicing physician with secondary skills in pharmacology and biochemistry. Useful, even more so now in their narrowed world. In one thing only is he unique; as a child, he'd been found to be the most powerful telepath Vulcan had seen in three millennium of recorded history; a throwback to their ancestors before Reformation, when the gift had been both a prize and a weapon of war.

Strong telepaths were always welcome, an advantage that any family would be pleased to claim; Adepts were their reminder of what they had been and could be yet again. Adepts, invariably, joined the ranks of the kolinahr, where the dangerous breadth of their gifts would be leashed to perfect logic, lives lived in service of their people.

Sorin had studied the discipline from earliest childhood, given into the keeping of the acolytes and raised in the starkness of Gol, the entirety of all that a Vulcan could be his birthright. And he had walked away, to join a people that feared him, complete an education far beneath his position, and travel a galaxy to practice his skills wherever he was required.

Now he is here, in a tiny colony that could no longer afford either respectful neglect or scornful dismissal; Spock supposes he and Sorin are much alike in that. Tall and almost gaunt, Sorin surveys his charges with chilled impersonality; Spock wonders how his patients relate to someone who practices pure logic so effortlessly.

Following them into the hospital, Spock glances in the wide, airy rooms, designed to accelerate the natural flow of air, built in a sprawl of interconnected buildings that had been impossible in the densely populated Vulcan cities. Patients meditate in an interior garden, fountain trickling in the center of a lawn of Gol desert grass and sandroses the color of a new dawn, while students follow their instructor into the children's wing, windows splashing white light across the tiled floors.

As they come to the north edge of the hospital, T'Sai leads them to a retinal-locked door and down a narrow hall, opening on a wide, bright room, painted in shades of soothing blues and greens, sprinkled with softly cushioned chairs and brightly colored blocks, beaded strings, and stuffed toys.

Five people in the stark whites of a patient, softly colored robes wrapped around their thinning bodies, look at them without seeing anything.

"Are they all like this?" McCoy whispers as a nurse patiently retrieves a block that fell from the limp fingers of one of the males. Placing it in the man's hands, the nurse continues a quiet monologue, shields lowered as she listens for a response; to the block placed in his palm; to the sound of her voice; to the gentle, welcoming call of her mind, to anything at all.

There's only silence in return. Spock looks away.

"No," Dr. Uloi says. "These are the ones that are responding to treatment."

McCoy opens his mouth, then closes it, lips tight. Dr. Uloi leads them to another door. Hesitating, she looks at them. "In my report, I explained it is necessary to shield yourselves; your Academy training is sufficient for the time we will be with them." Pressing her hand against a panel in the wall, she murmurs a phrase, then the door opens for them.

Spock recognizes the three healers, but his attention is arrested by the five biobeds, monitors humming subliminally as they care for the five people who have not been so fortunate as those in the outer room.

"They're catatonic," McCoy says, approaching the first bed and peering at the monitor. "Not responsive?"

"There have been--episodes," T'Sai answers, approaching one of the beds and noting the readings. "Two of our nurses were subsumed in their minds when contact was initiated; only the most highly trained are permitted to attempt further communication."

"The episodes, however, have lead to a better understanding of their conditions," Healer Sorin says quietly. Dr. Uloi's eyes narrow. "Their experiences assisted us in identifying new methods of approach; the results are those who have regained some consciousness of themselves."

"You call that an improvement?" Dr. McCoy answers incredulously.

"Yes. They are able to feed themselves, with prompting, care for their health and hygiene, and respond to their attendants. They know the sound of their names and that those names apply to themselves. One month ago, they could do none of those things. By definition, that is improvement."

Spock thinks of the empty-eyed man and compares the listless, sluggish movement of his hand as it closed on the block to the stillness of the body before him. Yes, an improvement.

Spock identifies the species of each patient; an Orion male, a Tellarite female, and three humans, two female. In the outer room, there had been no humans at all. "Is the species significant?" Spock asks as Uhura assists Dr. McCoy to translate one of the charts.

Dr. Uloi nods grimly. "At first, we assumed a higher natural psi-rating was the cause of the discrepancy in responses, which is partially true. Tellarites and humans have the lowest natural psi-rating; according to all of our data, all of them were psi-null before their bonding. The Orion seem to respond slightly better; the others are of species that are not necessarily telepathic but have a natural higher threshold."

"So no telepaths," Dr. McCoy says softly. "Just people with no natural defenses."

T'Sai stiffens slightly. "Dr. McCoy--"

"In essence," Sorin says, turning from study of one of the far biobeds, "that is correct. In the three months since the first was admitted, there have been no other registrations of separation. There is a pattern."


Sorin lifts his eyes to T'Sai. "Cthia demands truth, even that which we find distasteful. Forty-two percent of interspecies marriages currently in existence in the colony involve a species that is psi-null. One point eight percent of that group are represented here. None of those that involve a telepathic species or a telepath have registered separation or are in treatment. If you wish to offer an objection, contradictory data will need to be supplied. You have none."

T'Sai hesitates. "Correlation does not equal causality, Healer Sorin."

"Wish-fulfillment does not equal reality-truth, Healer T'Sai," Sorin answers coolly, then turns away, returning to his patient.

Dr. Uloi glances toward the door a little desperately. "If you would," she starts; Dr. McCoy hesitates, then nods, clutching his tricorder as Lieutenant Chapel wipes at her eyes quickly. Lieutenant Uhura and Dr. Uloi lead them from the room.

Spock hesitates as Healer T'Sai passes him, giving him a steady look before she, too, leaves. "Healer Sorin?"

Sorin completes his calculations before lifting his head, brown eyes inquiring. Spock's memories of the acolytes of Gol are still vivid; he remembers the stillness of them, echoed in this man, a reminder and a memory of something Spock had once sought and may well yet again.

"You are curious regarding the disagreement between myself and Healer T'Sai," Sorin says, stopping at the foot of the bed of a human woman. "It is philosophical, not professional. Healer T'Sai is opposed to the challenge of the Grayson Test."

"And you are not."

"I have indicated my support for the measure when asked," Sorin answers. As a former acolyte, his opinion would be asked and listened to, perhaps more than any other but the Elders. "Current bonds are not affected; you and your bondmate are not subject to the restrictions."

"I do not oppose it on behalf of myself alone," Spock answers. "It is in contradiction to all that we believe, what Vulcan is--"

"What Vulcan was," Sorin corrects. "Vulcan no longer exists. We that remain will work toward what we once were, but at this time, we are a species on the brink of extinction. Much must be sacrificed in service to rebuilding what was destroyed."

"Stripping us of the tenets of our beliefs--"

"Cthia demands we recognize the truth of what is, not what we wish. To achieve true cthia, to recognize it, all else must be sacrificed. You spent four seasons with the acolytes of Gol before you chose a different path; of those who remain of our people, you would understand what that must entail."

Spock's eyes are drawn back to the beds. "You can say this in this room?"

"Yes. In this room, I can say it with certainty." Sorin tilts his head, studying Spock. "I see. You think of your bondmate here and it frightens you."

Spock instinctively reaches for his shields; there is no break.

"I do not need to sense your feelings to interpret the motivation of your arguments. It is natural that you should see this and think of your bondmate's vulnerability." Sorin hesitates. "I offer my belated congratulations on your bonding. It was long assumed you would choose not to follow Vulcan tradition."

Before Spock can respond with more than a nod and wonder at such a flexible interpretation of Vulcan tradition, Sorin indicates the biobed. "It is time to attempt communication. I require privacy."

Spock nods his assent, aware of his own desire to leave, leave immediately; not only this room, but the hospital, the presence of these broken minds. Closing the door behind him, Spock brings himself under control, trying to find the stillness within himself that has been beyond his reach since the meeting with Captain Mitchell.

"Commander Spock?" Dr. Uloi's worried voice penetrates abruptly, and Spock realizes he's been reaching for Jim, a faint spark of brightness that feels at this moment impossibly far from him. Horrified by the lack of self-control, he forces his mind to calm, abandoning the warmth of Jim's mind.

"My apologies, Dr. Uloi--"

"There is no offense when none is taken," she says, matching his stride as they cross the quiet room, the patients seemingly not having moved since he first saw them. "This entire area is in a Faraday cage; we built the wing from scratch to accomplish a complete separation from the rest of the hospital. No one is easy here, especially those that are bonded."

As they leave the wing, Spock finds the normal, busy activities of the hospital almost indecent; an illogical reaction, perhaps, but after the suffocating silence, it almost seems too loud. "Where are Dr. McCoy and my colleagues?"

"They're reviewing the new data," Dr. Uloi says warmly. "If you wish to join them--"

"I have--another obligation," Spock says; it is not a lie. "Please inform Lieutenant Uhura that I have left. If my presence is required, she is to contact me immediately."

Dr. Uloi nods. "Of course."

Turning, Spock retraces his steps through the hospital. The unsettled feeling increases exponentially, and distantly, he can feel a faint sense of sleepy alarm; instantly, he cuts off the contact before he can disturb Jim's rest. Since they learned of this, Jim's sleep has been uneasy, though he has taken pains to conceal it. If meeting with the Ambassador has in some way allowed him to relax, Spock should not resent it.

Cadet T'Prina, as expected, awaits him outside the Ambassador's residence.

"Commander Spock," she says, rising at his arrival from the wide porch, angled to easily catch the evening breeze. "Ambassador Spock has instructed me to inform you that Captain Kirk has accepted his hospitality on behalf of all Enterprise senior staff. With your permission, I am to extend the same invitation to Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Chapel, and Lieutenant Uhura when they have completed their duties for the evening. Do you require sustenance--"

"No, cadet. You are dismissed."

T'Prina nods firmly, turning toward the gate, then hesitates. For a welcome moment, he almost hopes she is reconsidering, but she does not. "I have a question, Commander."

"I do not think--"

"I wish to understand--"

"You are dismissed, Cadet T'Prina." T'Prina shuts her mouth, eyes widening. "When you have completed your duties, you may return here or to the ship, whichever you prefer. I will speak to you in the morning." Spock pauses. "Do you understand, cadet?"

"Yes, sir," she whispers, and this time, she doesn't hesitate. Spock dismisses her presence from his mind, following his growing awareness of Jim to the exclusion of all else, navigating the darkened rooms unerringly toward the familiar mind.

Opening the last door near the back of the house, Spock can see Jim is already sitting up, arms looped around his knees. "That bad?"

"Five have made progress," Spock begins, but Jim waves a hand dismissively. "Dr. McCoy--"

"Not what I asked. Come here."

Spock hesitates at the foot of the bed. It is illogical, perhaps, but he does not want Jim to see what those rooms held in their silence, what it meant to see the helpless bodies that had once been husbands and wives, bondmates, lost to everything, even themselves.

No one could be easy there, not those that are bonded, not those that are bonded to someone who could so easily--

T'hy'la. Even in the darkness, Spock can see the startling blue of Jim's eyes. "Come here."

The first touch is almost painful and not nearly enough, not after the silence of those rooms. Jim knots a hand in his tunic, pulling him to the bed before straddling his hips, lacing their fingers together and brushing a kiss against his mouth, murmuring, "Right, now let me in, okay?"


Let me see. Stop shutting me out.

Spock hesitates. "I do not wish--"

You really need something else to do with your mouth. Jim licks gently across his lip, teasing, light, promising; reaching for Spock's hand, he presses it against his cheek. Like this.

Pon farr steals control, not memory; at least, not for Spock. He remembers the first time Jim kissed him as clearly as the last, and every time in between; they have never twice been the same. Opening to the press of Jim's tongue is as inevitable as accepting the bright invitation of his mind.

Show me.

It passes in a rush, so much easier than words have ever been, and here he can express the growing anger he'd felt when he'd seen those damaged minds, the slowly building fear that came with the confirmation of why five had yet to awaken, and beneath it all, a litany of This will not be you. I will never, will never permit anyone, anyone…

I know. Jim slips out of his shirt, never breaking contact between them. I know, you know, we both know, come on, let me--

I will never let you be taken from me.

Jim grins, raising himself on his knees to strip away his shorts, bright and golden even in the dark, holding Spock's hand to his face, and his mind--

I want you. Fuck me, like this, in my head, in me, Spock, now, now now now….

There's no clear memory of discarding his uniform, Jim's mind humming constant encouragement, words reduced to nothing more than images and feelings, a running litany that stops for a timeless moment when Jim is tight around him, arching into his touch, Jim's mind surrounding him, and everything, everything they are and will ever be is here.

Yes, just me, just us, just this and Spock cannot be sure which one of them thought it, hissing at the slide of Jim's fingernails down his back, my mind to your mind and Jim whispers Yes, Jim's fingers tight around his, my thoughts to your thoughts, and a pause before they're together, singular, never touching and always--

To achieve true cthia, everything must be sacrificed, even self; he had never suspected it could be found here, in Jim, in what they are together that is so much greater than they will ever be apart.

--always touched.

There is no thought remaining, only feeling.

It's still hours until dawn when Spock feels the faintest questioning touch, too light to awaken him if he had been asleep. Aware Yeoman Rand had overseen Jim's packing, Spock finds the proper clothing in their proper places, padding in the direction of the inquiry until he emerges in the kitchen, lights minimized as the Ambassador sets two cups of tea on the table.

"Ambassador," Spock says, looking at this version of the man he could one day have been; it's too abstract a concept, even when dressed in flesh before him. "My congratulations on your bonding and the birth of your daughter."

The Ambassador smiles, motioning to the opposite side of the small table. "And mine for your bonding," he answers graciously.

Taking the chair with illogical wariness, Spock picks up the cup, tasting his mother's favorite tea for a scorching moment. Setting it down, he leashes impatience as the Ambassador studies him; Jim's sleep is settled for the first time in days, and Spock wishes to share it.

In the two years and ten months since the first and last time he met this man, much and oddly, very little has changed.

"He won't wake up," the Ambassador says, warm in a knowledge of Jim that Spock is still learning. There is nothing rational in resentment; Jim is not this man's. The distance between them is greater than time and the worlds they come from. "He was not shielded," the Ambassador says, reaching for his tea, and for a moment, Spock can pretend he does not know what that means. "Nor were you."

It is not logical to feel embarrassment in the presence of one's potential self; perhaps that is the reason Spock feels none at all. "My apologies," he answers coolly. "I asked that Jim discontinue their constant use due to the strain; I did not think to remind him."

He has no excuse for himself, nor will he give one.

"There is no offense," the Ambassador says with a brief smile, a flicker that's understanding and amusement both. "I would like to offer my assistance in your inquiry; I was unaware of events in the colony that have come to pass. My wife resided at Starfleet Medical for the duration of her gestation and the first month of our daughter's life. At our ages, it seemed--prudent to minimize all possible risks."

"They are well?" Spock had never thought of children; he does not see that the future will change that, not least because of the man who shares his life.

"They are. It was a precaution, nothing more. My--our unique genetics were a cause for supervision, not concern."

Spock takes another drink of the tea, letting the flavor settle. "Jim likes this one as well," he says, remembering the first time Jim had tasted it with a flare of remembered warmth. "He says it is relaxing and helps him--clear his head, as he puts it."

"I also wish to offer my apologies," the Ambassador says, eyes fixed on the cup. "For the actions that resulted in Jim's--condition. I was careless, and did not consider the potential consequences of melding to one who was so close to my bondmate. I do not offer excuses--"

"I--" Spock stops himself; truth is always difficult, he reminds himself, and must be faced. Even truth that is unpalatable to recognize, much less admit. "To Jim, perhaps, this is owed, but for myself--there is nothing I would change."

The Ambassador looks up, eyes dancing. "Jim said the same. When he was able to speak at all."

Involuntarily, Spock seeks Jim's sleeping mind; exhausted, of course, with the low hum of contentment that indicated this would be a good night for him, for them both.

"It was never easy," the Ambassador says softly; Spock presses his fingers against the table. "For Jim and I. For years, it was--unsettled between us, because of the men we were when we first met, the world we lived in. You are different and so is the world; yet Jim is--" The Ambassador pauses, lifting his cup. "It was long before I would see him as you see him now."

Spock's glimpses of the memories Jim still carries have always been fascinating and painful by turn. Jim's restlessness is far greater than his counterpart, with the razor edge of anger that he learned too young and perhaps will carry all his life. Jim's life has been hard, hard in ways that the other man had never known; hard in ways that Spock had long recognized in himself.

"They are not the same."

The Ambassador raises an eyebrow, bittersweet amusement and pleasure both. "No. They are not. And yet they are, for all the reasons I loved them and love them still." There is a pause, too long for comfort. "Does that bother you?"

Truth is always difficult. "Yes." Spock examines his answer carefully. "But less than it once would have."

"That is understandable." Finishing his tea, the Ambassador takes the cup to the sink. "I have sent inquiries to those families that include a non-Vulcan bondmate. My wife has a large acquaintance, so some I have already met. There has been no sign of dissatisfaction we have been aware of, but she has volunteered to inquire more thoroughly than I can." Spock turns, leaning against the counter. "You have studied the data and have viewed the patients. What are your conclusions?"

"What was done was done badly," Spock says after a moment. "Healer T'Sai suspects part of the damage was incurred due to inexperience; only an acolyte of Gol would have the necessary skill and distance to separate joined minds with the least trauma to both parties. It is against our instincts to sunder what has been joined; those that did this did not have the skill to overcome it."

"Could you do it?"

The question isn't casual. "Perhaps." Spock considers his answer in light of the man before him; his own training had only begun when he'd abandoned it. "With practice. I assume this means you are capable as well."

"I spent years studying kolinahr," the Ambassador says, the faintest trace of amusement in his voice. Shocked, Spock finds himself without a reply. "I have seen the very epitome of what we could be, yes. And on the cusp of all knowledge, I failed. It required a sacrifice I was not prepared to make. In time, I came to understand it was one I would also not choose to make."

"I do not understand," Spock says flatly.

"You do," the Ambassador says, returning to take Spock's empty cup; he hadn't realized he had finished it. "Control your irritation, Spock. I do not exist--"

"--to be a tour guide of my life," Spock answers absently, an echo of a conversation with Jim so long ago it feels almost like another life. "Jim does complain you tell him that you do not possess the properties of an oracle. I find myself understanding his resentment."

"You are very young."

"And you are not as old as you pretend." Spock rises. "You have been informative, Ambassador. If you will excuse me--"

"I will not keep you longer. My bondmate is not pleased that I lingered this long." The Ambassador gestures. "We will speak again in the morning."

Returning to his room, Spock considers the conversation; it was informative, yet not. Better they meet like this first, Spock supposes uncertainly, than amongst others.

Jim awakens briefly, thinking a query at the first touch. "You have often stated he refuses to be an oracle," Spock says after a moment's thought. "I understand why you often seclude yourself to speak ill of my people after you have received a transmission from him."

Jim is still laughing as he falls back to sleep.


Waking before Jim, Spock spends a satisfactory hour meditating in the quiet garden; in response to the lack of natural breaks for wind, many of the private residences had been built around an interior garden, a style that had been popular on Vulcan pre-Reformation and on Earth during the Roman Republic. The rectangular shape is edged with native stone, leading to engineered Vulcan grasses that thrive in the poor soil. Seedling trees from several arid worlds are beginning to flower; there are also several dwarf fruit trees, nearer the fountain in transplanted, fertilized soil. The water expense is well worth the result; Spock recognizes Terran fig trees among the variety on offer, as well as a small but thriving vegetable garden in one corner.

The white sun above him is not Vulcan's, and it can never be, but Spock thinks this could be a place his people could find themselves again. Perhaps, one day, their children will call it home without regret.

Rising, he sees a woman waiting. "T'Sora," he says, recognizing her from the holos Jim had received from the Ambassador. "Live long and prosper."

"Live long and prosper, Commander Spock," she says, stepping off the stone and crossing the short distance between them. "I have long anticipated meeting you."

The holos did not do her justice; tall and angular with the dark skin and eyes of the eastern desert clans of Vulcan, she carries herself with the same calm grace that the Ambassador does, self-contained without the distance that younger Vulcans adopt in the place of true peace. The neatly coiled twists of dark hair is striped in wide swathes of white, but like the Ambassador, the appearance of age is deceiving.

She is also, Spock realizes with what is not, is not, is not shock, with child again.

"At my age," she says, as dryly as the Ambassador, "time is not to be trifled with. We have determined five children would satisfy us; it would not be logical to wait."

"That is--logical." He cannot think of a more appropriate response.

She does not smile, but he suspects that is because she thinks it will shock him. "We are about to break our fast," she says. "Would you join us? Your crewmates will not begin without you."

With a nod, Spock follows her back inside. The house is surprisingly comfortable, though no environmental controls have been yet activated. "My bondmate designed and built our home and most of our systems; we are popular hosts during the summer months," T'Sora says as they pass through a wide doorway; in daylight, Spock notices the high ceilings, the mechanized grills that line each wall, allowing sunlight and the free flow of fresh air. "He spends his evenings teaching me his skill in engineering; in return, I instruct him in botany and agriculture. He has mentioned that he finds them much more interesting subjects than he did in his youth."

"I see." Spock cannot imagine finding satisfaction with the study of plants, however practical it might be; there are many reasons he has pursued a career that almost exclusively requires residence on starships. Jim had once confessed a similar disinterest in all that encompasses food production.

Before he can think of something more to add, the noise coming from the next room captures his attention. Emerging into the large open area that comprises the kitchen and dining, Spock blinks at the group that seems to fill the room nearly to overflowing.

"My husband and I wished to meet your and Jim's colleagues," T'Sora says placidly. In the kitchen, Nyota and the Ambassador argue the merits of pre-Reformation Vulcan proverbs--a subject Spock feels perhaps he should have warned the Ambassador not to pursue without several hours and at least four reference texts; Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov compete for Cadet T'Prina's attention at the table as she identifies the various dishes for them; Lieutenant Commander Scott and Dr. McCoy hover over the carafe of coffee while Lieutenant Chapel tries to convince Dr. McCoy that the dishes are safe for human consumption. Lieutenant Evans and his longtime partner, Ensign Harrison, are engaged in a subtle combination of conversation and watching over the room that comprises the senior staff of the Enterprise with professional paranoia.


On the far side of the room, Jim looks up from the small bundle of blankets that Spock speculates hold the Ambassador's offspring. "Spock, c'mere."

As T'Sora joins her husband, adding her reasoned arguments (to which side, he cannot be certain, though Nyota looks pleased), he joins Jim on the small sofa by the far wall. Drawing back the blankets, Spock looks down at small round face, wide brown eyes regarding him speculatively. "T'Mana," Jim says, grinning. "She's going to be a handful."

The infant blinks slowly; Spock wishes that he did not seem to sense a vague resentment that someone else has captured Jim's attention. After a moment of sober regard, the child returns her gaze to Jim, emitting a high-pitched sound that bears a disturbing resemblance to a demand.

"You," Jim tells her, tapping her nose, "remind me of some relatives of yours that also don't like it when I don't pay them enough attention." Looking at Spock, he gestures toward the child. "Want to hold her?"

It is not logical to wonder if she will break. "Perhaps--"

Jim shifts the child, her face pressed briefly against his shoulder, before transferring her to Spock. "She won't break," Jim murmurs as Spock struggles to balance the warm mass. "Will you, kiddo? That's Uncle Spock. Later, we'll explain the inaccuracies of the term by definition, but right now, I think the consequences of spacetime irregularities as they relate to relativity and temporal mechanics are a little advanced. Maybe on your first birthday."

T'Mana does not seem entirely pleased with the change in location, but when Jim extends a finger, a tiny hand reaches out, grabbing firmly, before glancing at Spock with something very like satisfaction.

Spock thinks perhaps his inexperience with children is responsible for the uneasy feeling that he is being evaluated and found wanting.

Abruptly, Nyota materializes in front of them, looking grim. "My turn, Jim. Hand her over."

"Spock just got her!" Jim protests. Ignoring him, Spock tries to extend the child in her direction; illogically, T'Mana retains hold of Jim's finger. "Come on--"

"You said ten minutes and it's been twenty," Nyota answers, expertly retrieving the infant. Losing hold of Jim's finger, the small mouth puckers in dissatisfaction, but a long strand of Nyota's hair seems to be an acceptable replacement; grabbing on, she looks up into Nyota's face in approval. "That's my girl," she says in colloquial Vulcan; T'Mana gurgles, pleased with her acquisition as Nyota bears her away, seating herself with an interested Lieutenant Chapel and an eager Dr. McCoy.

"I like babies," Jim says alarmingly, eyes following the child's progress between Starfleet officers before standing up. "Other people's, I mean. Those are really the best kind."

"Indeed." Following Jim to the table, Spock looks over the selection. All are safe for human consumption, but Jim's experiences with Vulcan cuisine have been mixed at best. As the Ambassador and his wife join them, Spock explains the ingredients of each dish as Jim eyes everyone else's selections, finally following Spock's recommendations warily.

It is a pleasant meal, if rather noisy; T'Prina, having maneuvered herself to sit at Jim's right side, identifies the various species of fruits and vegetables, their origins, and their requirements for successful cultivation, before requiring him to sample each. Fascinated, Spock watches Jim attempt resistance and finally surrender, tasting each selection with grim determination. Spock notes the ones that do not result in badly-concealed horror to add to the replicator menu.

T'Prina's attentions have long been a source of fascination; her application for the Enterprise had been a surprise only to Jim. Jim's brief description of their interactions during his class had been enlightening; during their next refit at Starfleet, Spock had examined the list of applicants for the Enterprise and been unsurprised to see that all of his students had added their names for consideration.

Curious, Spock had requested to interview all the applicants instead of the final selection; the results had been intriguing. Many of the names Spock noted for potential assignment to the Enterprise after their graduation; invariably, they were accomplished, intelligent, intellectually curious, fearless, but also, in retrospect unsurprisingly, innovative thinkers. None had been command-track when Jim had begun his instruction--Starfleet continued to deny what it did not wish to admit and would never give Jim a class of future captains to instruct--but five had switched track soon after, and three others had returned after graduation to start their education in command.

Spock thinks it is appropriate to feel quiet satisfaction with the results.

T'Prina had not been one of those, however. Spock suspects, watching her careful study of Jim over the course of her internship, that she has been coming to a decision on the course of her career. What that will be, he cannot pretend to guess; then again, he suspects she does not yet know, either.

Finally, the meal comes to a conclusion; rising to assist T'Sora and Dr. McCoy clear the table, Spock sees the Ambassador retrieve his child, looking at them all with intensely private satisfaction. "In three days time, my wife and I are hosting a dinner for several families of our acquaintance," he says. "I would be pleased if you would all join us."

While not stated, Spock speculates there will be many attendants with non-Vulcan bondmates; T'Sora's slight nod when she catches his eye confirms it.

"Ambassador," T'Prina says, rising from her chair and permitting Jim to escape a sliced amjen fruit, native to the colony with a taste reminiscent of avocado and strawberry syrup, "I would ask permission to invite my bondmate. He has expressed an interest in meeting you, as well as my colleagues."

As the Ambassador gives his assent, T'Sora brings a bowl to the cleaner. "I am surprised," she murmurs. "Do you know the clan?"

Spock nods slightly, watching as Lieutenant Sulu demands T'Prina's attention. "Interesting. They are active in challenge of the Grayson Test."

"They introduced it to the Council," T'Sora agrees softly as Spock retrieves the silverware. After a brief hesitation, she continues. "The clan has made a point of social interaction with Sarek. My bondmate and I have had reason until now to decline their invitations. For reasons you are aware of, he is not--sympathetic to their views, and he and Sarek have had limited interaction since we returned."

"Have my actions caused disharmony between them?"

T'Sora lowers her eyes. "They have not spoken since you declared yourself clanless when Sarek refused to accept your choice of bondmate. I have been less than active in mending the breach between them," she says softly, eyes flickering to her husband and daughter.

Spock nods. His actions are not her responsibility to mend.

"It is not logical, but--" She stops, looking thoughtful. "I had not meant to take a bondmate or have children. I thought my greatest satisfaction was to be found in my work and the breadth of my acquaintance. When we came here, it was understood that it was my duty to assist our people in rebuilding our population. I do not know that I would have protested the actions of the Council or the Elders before I met my bondmate." Looking up, the dark eyes flicker, and for a second, Spock sees a flash of carefully controlled anger. "In the wake of destruction of my world, in all that we have lost and mourn, I have been given the gift of an extraordinary man as my bondmate, and a daughter. I would have neither if the law had never existed. It is not logical that the personal should affect my view of what is necessary for our people, but it does. To reintroduce and legalize our own xenophobia is anathema. What has been done to the patients of Dr. Uloi is an obscenity to all we are and all we can be. We cannot go backward, re-embrace the worst of ourselves, in the name of the existence of our species. If we do, we are not worthy to exist."

"The personal--" Spock stops himself, realizing he is watching Jim, currently engaged in interacting with T'Mana. "It is not logical," he admits. "But the personal is the also the political. Those that do this do not do it in the name of saving our people from extinction. It is an excuse to legalize what would once have been unthinkable."

After a moment, T'Sora adds another bowl. "A message from your father arrived this morning. I did not wish to disturb your peace unnecessarily and so delayed disclosure."

Spock raises an eyebrow. "I appreciate your consideration. I will see it now."

"It was directed to the terminal in your room. You and Jim, as well as your colleagues, are welcome to stay with us as long as you wish." Her eyes warm in a smile that does not reach her lips. "We, my bondmate and I, would insist you consider our home as your own. Further invitations are not necessary. The expectation will be you come to us as family, in celebration as well as in grief. Do you accept this?"

Spock feels Jim's shift of attention as well as approval. "Of course, T'Sora. I thank you,"

"One does not thank logic. If you will excuse me, I must make preparations for the day. I have volunteered to act as 'tour guide' for your bondmate. My husband finds the term amusing; perhaps Jim will explain the context."

"He will, at length." Having completed the task--which had taken far longer than can be explained by the number of dishes--Spock returns to the table. "Ambassador," he says, "if you would excuse us--"

"Of course." While T'Sora joins her bondmate, Spock waits as Jim tickles the child before rising from his seat, projecting general contentment with the world. Spock wonders if Jim will ever make the connection between sufficient food and sleep and a less volatile emotional equilibrium--

That sounds a little too logical for me.

This is true. In the privacy of their room, Spock reaches for him; perhaps it is a weakness, but--

"I like weakness," Jim murmurs into the kiss. It's the domesticity, isn't it? It's in the air or something. I spent twenty minutes this morning learning about the latest advances in cleaning. They have two 'bots that do all the mopping. I'm kind of horrified that I wrote down the manufacturer.

Pulling away, Spock bites his lip against a smile, forehead pressed to Jim's. You are strange.

Jim snickers. "That's what you like about me." Pulling away, Jim threads their fingers together briefly on the way to the terminal. "See what your father wants while I see what Rand made me pack. And yes, I do know you told her to show up completely at random to make sure I got everything, so don't even."

Seating himself at the terminal, Spock types in his code. "Yeoman Rand is extremely organized and efficient. You could do worse than follow her example."

"When her term of service is up, I'm sending her to the Academy," Jim answers. "All that authority is wasted on just me--she needs a ship to order around."

Surprised, Spock turns to look at Jim. "Her academic record--"

"So she had some lousy teachers when she was a kid; the new colonies can have limited educational opportunities," Jim says, finding his boots in the closet with a faint sense of surprise. Spock concludes T'Sora had unpacked for them and makes a mental note to express his appreciation for her foresight; things tend to go astray when Jim is left to his own devices. "Uhura and Scotty both give weekly lectures anyway. They love having people to nod in awe at them. I'll check with the enlisted and see if there's enough to start regular classes." Turning around, Jim straightens his shirt, looking pleased with being able to wear civilian attire. "The power of nepotism, Mr. Spock. Not everyone is fifth generation 'Fleet and have dads who died in service, but it sure helps smooth things along." Jim smiles. "I'll get them in when they're ready."

Spock considers the potential. "You have a plan."

"I do, but it needs some work. Thought I'd go over it with you and Uhura if you have some free time. Interested?"

Spock stops himself from constructing a curriculum, setting aside a rough outline of personalized aptitude tests and introductory classes. "Yes, I am."

Jim grins. "I thought so." Crossing the room, Jim leans against the desk. "You want company for this?"

Spock looks at the message for a moment, unopened. "Yes. I would prefer your presence."

"See, now this is progress," Jim says lightly, but the warmth is unmistakable. "Because I wasn't going to leave."

Leaving Jim with T'Sora to explore the rapidly expanding colonial capital, Spock requests the Enterprise beam him directly to Sarek's residence on the other side of the city. While there is public transportation, Spock does not think the time it would take would be beneficial to his state of mind.

It is not logical, Spock admits, but as T'Sora had reminded him, the personal is not logical.

The city is already split into districts; the area Sarek had chosen is almost exclusively occupied by those who were offworld during the destruction of Vulcan and of great off-planet wealth; unlike the Ambassador's pleasant neighborhood, still in progress with much incomplete, there is a sense of luxury here that is not found in other parts of the city. The residences enjoy a higher level of technology than even the city infrastructure, and Spock finds himself studying the wide green lawns and the age of the non-native trees, imported at great expense, with a faint sense of dissatisfaction.

Touching the panel to announce his arrival at the palatial home his father had had constructed, Spock is surprised by the alacrity of response; the door opens, revealing an expressionless woman in the traditional dress of the upper classes of Vulcan. He is suddenly reminded of T'Sora's plain, serviceable trousers and tunic, appropriate for a long day chasing (and it will be chasing; he has spent two leaves with Jim and has learned to prepare himself appropriately) Jim through the city and work in a private garden tending vegetables.

"Commander Spock," she says. "Live long and prosper."

"Live long and prosper, Lady T'Ren," Spock replies, accepting her gesture to enter. The hum of environmental controls seem surprisingly loud, but Spock suspects it is the lack of them at the Ambassador's home that causes him to notice it. Following her through the richly furnished rooms, he takes the chair she indicates in a formal reception room.

Spock imagines his mother's reaction to the stiff formality of the room; she had followed tradition up to a point, and even his father had never pressed her beyond it. It was many years before Spock had become aware that the home his mother had given him was far simpler than their social position would have indicated; it was even longer before he understood the lesson, surrounded in Starfleet by hundreds of different species of humanity from all variations of class and caste.

"My husband will arrive momentarily," T'Ren says coolly. "May I offer you refreshment?"

"Water will be sufficient," Spock says promptly; to refuse would be insulting. As she leaves, Spock looks out the wide window at the lush growth of the garden; exotic trees and flowers that demand large quantities of water dominate the view.

A Vulcan does not require luxury, perhaps, but they do not deny themselves aesthetic pleasures.

When she returns, Spock takes the glass, aware of the footsteps approaching them from the less formal wing devoted to family; he is perfectly aware that bringing him here is both to honor his rank and to remind him of the place he had chosen. To Sarek's bondmate, and to Sarek, he is not family.

"Commander," Sarek says as he enters, attired in the formal robes of an Ambassador of Vulcan. Rising to his feet, Spock exchanges the courtesies of a stranger with the man who had raised him.

As they seat themselves, Spock decides to shorten this visit. "You requested my presence but did not provide detail."

"Yes." Sarek seems to straighten. "I understand your ship's doctor has requested that the regrettable situation at the hospital be declared a medical emergency."

"That is correct."

"I do not think it is necessary; while alarming, the patients in question are being cared for by competent healers. I understand there has already been improvement."

"There has been," Spock agrees. "However, both Healer T'Sai and Healer Sorin have requested further assistance; consultation with Dr. Uloi, a specialist in telepathic trauma, has agreed with their assessment. Dr. McCoy is currently examining the patients before making a final determination."

"You are second in command; your determination would also be of note. If you will examine the documentation, you will see that the effects are limited to a very small portion of the off-world population. There is no pattern other than the distressing but understandable trauma associated with separation."

Offworld population. Spock files that away for further thought. "Five of this group are catatonic and five have only just regained some form of consciousness due to the breaking of their bond with their bondmates--"

"Their former bondmates," Sarek interrupts. "The breaking of an established bond is often traumatic to those affected; everything is being done to assist them to regain their minds so they may leave and continue their lives."

Spock hesitates. "Leave?"

"With the end of their bond, they have no reason to continue residence in the colony," T'Ren answers coolly.

"Some have families," Spock answers slowly. "I understand there are children."

"Provision will be made, of course," T'Ren says; to his surprise, Sarek begins to look uncomfortable. "With the breaking of their bond with the colony's citizens, they--"

"Forgive me, but they are citizens as well. I was not aware that colonial citizenship rested on species; please elucidate."

T'Ren hesitates. "There is some confusion," she says finally. "It is a legal matter. I am not privy to the details."

"I would think as the bondmate of a Federation ambassador and Elder, you would be privy to details many others are denied, including Federation officers. Is there argument that having broken with their bondmates, they no longer have citizenship?"

"There has been discussion," Sarek says finally. "Considering the current situation our species finds itself in, it is not unreasonable that with the exception to the Federation charter--"

"And the challenge of the Grayson Test," Spock says flatly. "Three decades ago, a Terran citizen made a direct appeal before the Federation Council on behalf of herself and her future bondmate; the provisions of her challenge were considered so universal that they were codified in law, leading to the freedom of Federation citizens to choose their mates and conceive children. They cannot be denied their citizenship. They cannot be denied their homeworld. They cannot be denied suffrage. They cannot be denied reproduction. They cannot be denied their family affiliation or access to their progeny."


"I see. The challenge to the Grayson Test is not a measure to prevent extinction; it is being introduced to weaken the provisions to allow it to be overturned entirely."

Sarek's mouth tightens infinitesimally--it is enough. "That is not the goal of permitting the exception to pass--"

Spock rises to his feet. "It is anathema. If you will excuse me, I will take my leave immediately. I find this interview distasteful and I do not wish to extend it further."

"Spock," Sarek says, standing up and following him toward the door, "I ask you to consider the matter as a Vulcan. Your personal choice, while distasteful, is not relevant to matters that involve the entirety of our people."

Spock thinks of T'Sora. "In this case, Ambassador, my personal choice is of less consequence than the prejudice that has informed this decision. I will not be party to it. If it comes to pass--" Spock hesitates. "I will renounce my citizenship, as will my bondmate. I will not be part of a people descending to measures that are contradictory to every tenet we embrace." As the door opens, Spock turns to face Sarek. "Live long and prosper."

As he closes the door behind him, Spock reaches for his communicator. "Requesting one for transportation to the Enterprise," he tells the technician on duty. "Immediately."


Captain Mitchell's data solid had been complete at first examination; using the private terminal in their quarters, Spock reviews the files more carefully, reading the legal arguments introduced. The time limit is impeccable; the citizenship and homeworld affiliation extremely questionable, but the argument for it is an airtight study in sophistry.

It is also conclusive; the citizenship requirements are being restricted, and this measure will lead to the second, which strips former bondmates of their right to the place that they had chosen as their home. And in essence, limiting their access to the families they had built there.

The third measure has not yet been introduced, but with this in place, there will be a legal basis to pass it; stripping the citizenship and residency of non-Vulcans, regardless of their position as bondmates and parents. The ten patients currently in residence now have context; the future will have far more of them. There are few acolytes of Gol left; two survived the end of Vulcan. The training to break a bond is reduced to two people--and Healer Sorin, Spock remembers--the Ambassador--and, perhaps, himself.

Thirty years ago, Dr. Amanda Grayson had requested and received an audience with the Federation Council, carrying with her only the Federation Constitution on a tricorder. At an age at which most humans had only begun to pursue their careers, she had already gained a reputation for linguistic brilliance and an intuitive understanding of the underpinnings of communication. A twenty-five year old linguistic scholar who had never before studied a legal briefing had stood before the entirety of the new Federation and demanded her right to self-determination as a sentient being.

In forty-five minutes, she had changed the lives of billions in claiming legal protection for a right she had argued was hers by virtue of existence. The Amanda Grayson Test was the standard that set personal self-determination above culture, species, even citizenship; five simple provisions that until now no one had ever successfully challenged.

And the man she had done this for--that she had loved enough to challenge Federation law, the prejudices of her own people, the xenophobia of her husband's, to live on a hostile world and adopt its traditions as her own and raised a son to obey--would permit, encourage, support destroying the foundation of her life, that had made it possible for him to have a life and a son with her.

Pocketing the solid, he clears the terminal, returning to the transporter room. "T'Ven Hospital," he says calmly. "Energize."

He finds Healer Sorin with the catatonic patients; Spock notes the bed he is currently collecting data from is the same as the one he had seemed to stay closest to the evening before.

"Commander Spock," Healer Sorin says without looking up. Spock notes the faintest signs of exhaustion on the otherwise expressionless face. "There has been no change."

The bed contains a human woman between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, certainly no older. The dark hair surrounds a pleasant but by no means beautiful face, shadowed eyes sunken slightly in sallow skin. Looking at the chart, Spock reads the name--Melody Huang. Like the others, the name of her former bondmate is not listed; the next of kin, however, lists Sorin; there is no clan affiliation, but Sorin is not a common name. "You know her?"

Healer Sorin nods. "She was bondmate to my brother."

Spock hesitates. "I would think your personal relationship--"

"We met only once, when my brother requested my assistance for their bonding," Healer Sorin answers. "As an acolyte, it was well within my skill to assist them. My brother's psi-rating was never strong, but their minds were extremely compatible, even by Vulcan standards."

"How long were they bondmates?"

"Ten years and five months. They bonded during my last season as an acolyte and soon went off-world as my brother pursued his diplomatic career." Sorin studies the patient critically. "I had hoped her mind would recognize me as family and respond; it has not been successful."

"Did you request assignment when she arrived?"

"I was off-planet when she was admitted," Sorin answers, making a note after looking at the biobed readings. "My brother requested I return home to assist him in bonding with his current bondmate." Sorin looks up. "They had not been successful despite numerous attempts."

Even when the bonding is done in childhood, it is rare for the participants to require more than supervision. "That is--unusual."

"They both had recently completed separation from a former bondmate. Her former bondmate has improved more rapidly than Melody," Sorin says dispassionately.

Spock controls his surprise with difficulty. "The former bonding caused their--difficulty?"

"Yes. When I initiated a meld to determine the reason they could not join, I discovered what had occurred. I was able to complete their bonding as thoroughly as their minds would permit." Sorin pauses, making another notation. "Time will decide if it will ultimately be as complete as what they had had before."

Spock looks at the young woman's face. She could not have been very old when she had bonded with Sorin's brother, her human mind still maturing. "Was the separation voluntary for both of them?"

"If you ask if it was done against her will, that question is complicated. My understanding from my brother's mind is that she agreed when it became clear that their continued union was found unacceptable by our family and my brother bowed to their will. She was unprepared for what occurred, and the severing was done inexpertly and without care for the more fragile state of her mind. My brother's--reluctance was a factor as well. She instinctively resisted, and my brother responded to her distress. My brother's psi-centers were permanently damaged in the separation. Hers were destroyed, causing a chain reaction that extended to both short and long-term memory. In effect, she has no consciousness to return to."

Spock closes his eyes. "My apologies for my lack of care in speaking of this matter."

"One does not apologize for statements of fact." Sorin looks down at Melody. "I have received permission to attempt neural regeneration using donated neurons from active psi-centers. With implantation, the neurons can--instruct, I think, is how it can be defined--her own neurons to regenerate and restore what has been destroyed. The memory centers are more complex, but with assistance, the connections can be recreated."

"Human brain matter cannot regenerate."

"It can be instructed to with the assistance of donated matter that can. In essence, it will be taught, with the guidance of a telepathic healer with an understanding of neurology. Healer Teren and I will meld when the procedure is complete and begin the process. If it is successful, we will solicit the former bondmates of the other patients for a tissue sample and repeat the process. Their minds will accept more easily tissue from a mind that was once part of their own."

It is revolutionary--but possible. Spock makes a note to consult Dr. McCoy. "In your brother's case, if his mind was damaged--"

"We will use mine. I assisted in their bonding and created the paths that joined them; her mind should find it an acceptable replacement, and my presence in the meld will encourage her to recognize and accept it." Sorin completes his exam, looking at Spock calmly. "I am an Adept telepath; there is little of the mind that is a mystery. Healer Teren and I will remain melded with her until we can be assured the regeneration is underway, to compensate for any unanticipated problems."

"I am--surprised you were able to obtain permission to attempt so radical an experiment."

Sorin raises an eyebrow. "My presentation to the other healers was thorough; I was able to convince them of the logic of my arguments. They understand that for these patients, there are no other treatments we can devise."

"I wish you success."

"Success is assured; the level of success is in question. If you will excuse me, I must complete my assessments."

"It's hocus-pocus," Dr. McCoy says, running his hands through hair already in disarray. "But it's logical hocus-pocus. Neurology has never been my field, but I keep up on what kids are up to these days. Vulcan brain matter regenerates, yes--that it can teach human brain matter to do the same is something I've seen theorized, but as far as I know, it's never been put into practice."

"I would think rejection would be an issue," Spock says, taking a seat as McCoy pushes a tricorder and three datapads across the desk. "Yet Sorin seems unconcerned."

"That's where the melding comes in," Dr. McCoy says sourly. "They're using only a few cells, and Sorin thinks that Teren can direct him to the cells to convince them they aren't foreign, whatever the hell that means. Teren says it's possible; Sorin, being an Adept, was taught all your people's mind disciplines and among them regenerative healing, similar to the your healing trances."

"Similar, but with far greater success. It takes a very strong mind to direct regeneration of self; to direct it for another would be an impressive achievement."

An Adept could possibly do it, exert so great an influence on a mind as to convince it that it can do what it should not be able to do. A human mind might be more receptive than a Vulcan one; they would have none of the inborn barriers to overcome.

"Do the other five patients show any progress?"

McCoy sighs, leaning back in his chair. "Yes, and no. They're responding more, and they're showing signs of increased consciousness. But their memories are--we're not sure. The damage is limited; they can get back to full consciousness, but we may have to start them from scratch and work them back up. They won't be the people they were before, but they'll be alive and eventually be able to function normally." McCoy closes his eyes. "We won't know for a while; it may be years of therapy before they're ready."

"Will residence here be required?" Spock asks carefully.

"Nah. Telepathic specialists and a secure, safe environment, with regular interaction with family members and people they're familiar with. If they have off-planet family, they can be transferred closer if they don't have anyone else here. Otherwise, this is as good a place as any."

Spock files that away as well. "Dr. Uloi says your assistance has been invaluable; you recognized the pattern of damage and recommended more comprehensive ways to begin to repair it. I am--impressed."

McCoy gives him a suspicious look that slowly but surely, melts into a smile. "Regularly staring at Jim's scans after he knocks himself out teaches you a few things. While the cause isn't the same, some of the patterns were similar to a few concussions I've treated. Besides, seems that thing we don't talk about's useful for more than Jim traumatizing me while drunk. While Sorin was examining Jim's records, he noticed Jim's recovery time after injury has nearly been cut in half; he thinks that's pretty much you in the mix."

"I was not aware--" Spock stops himself, considering. When he'd become first officer, he'd recognized Jim's long-standing habit of minimizing injuries and made a point of consulting Dr. McCoy, within the parameters of doctor-patient privilege. With the change in their relationship, he could discard a third party and discover Jim's physical well-being with a touch. "Fascinating."

It hadn't occurred to him that this particular habit might also have a more instinctive purpose.

"Don't look like that--I didn't see it either," Dr. McCoy says, his pleasure tinged with something like scheudenfreud. "Jim gave permission to release everything and Sorin consulted me after identifying the pattern." McCoy expression changes to something between pleased and faintly horrified. "Anyway, we'll know in a couple of days if Sorin's theory is workable. Melody is the most damaged of the five that are still catatonic--if it works on her, it'll work on all of them."

"You will wish to observe, I assume."

"Damn straight. This will be one for the history books. They want the hospital at minimal staff, even with the protection of the room, so they'll start at midnight and work through morning. Sorin thinks that we'll know pretty quickly if it works, though recovery will take longer." McCoy looks at him hopefully. "You going back to the Ambassador's place?"

"Yes. I have offered to assist the Ambassador and T'Sora to prepare for the dinner engagement. There are some dishes that require ingredients that their replicator does not yet have available."

"I have to admit," Dr. McCoy says, rising with Spock and stretching, "I'm curious what a Vulcan party is like."

Spock thinks of the attendees. "I think you will find it--familiar, Dr. McCoy," he answers carefully, making a note to ask the Ambassador if ethanol will be available.

"Looking forward to it. I'm going to take a nap before reviewing the surgical plan, so I'll be along as soon as Lyra finishes up her morning rounds."

"I will inform them," Spock answers dutifully as Dr. McCoy opens the door to the staff lounge. With a wave, Dr. McCoy disappears inside, and Spock takes his leave.

T'Prina is still in residence; having been raised in an agricultural setting, she has a breadth of knowledge that she's more than willing to impart. To Spock's surprise, however, her bondmate is also present in the gardens with her.

T'Prina, the neat lines of her trousers stained with mud and vegetation, looks up at his arrival, giving him an impeccably correct nod as she brushes back an escaped braid and rises to her feet, leaving a smear of mud across her forehead. Her bondmate rises as well, equally disheveled; Spock thinks he detects the faintest hint of wariness. "Commander Spock," she says, as formally as if they were all in uniform and not in the middle of a muddy vegetable garden, "I would like to introduce my bondmate, Torren, to your acquaintance."

"Live long and prosper, Torren."

"Live long and prosper, Commander Spock," the young man responds, straightening slightly. "T'Prina has been thorough in her correspondence; I have long anticipated meeting you."

Interesting. "T'Prina is an extremely competent cadet." T'Prina flushes slightly; it's novel enough that Spock continues. "Her work has been exemplary. Captain Kirk has stated we have not had the privilege of hosting a more accomplished cadet."

Lowering her eyes, T'Prina accepts the praise before she kneels, busying herself with the transplantation she had been involved in when he arrived. Wanting to put the man at ease, Spock joins them, wondering, not for the first time, how one cultivates such a strong interest in plants.

"Your accomplishments at such a young age have set a standard that many at the Academy have utilized as a template for themselves. I look forward to making the acquaintance of Captain Kirk as well," Torren says promptly, moving to assist T'Prina, digging back the soil when it begins to collapse into the prepared hole. "I understand he is your bondmate as well? I offer my congratulations."

Spock has an unsettling suspicion he will hear a great number of congratulations tonight in the spirit of unity and support. However, he supposes, it cannot be more unsettling than Dr. McCoy and Nyota organizing a celebration three days after their return to the Enterprise that had required the entire ship to attend and offer their felicitations, sometimes in surprisingly graphic detail. "I understand you have just completed your degree. Have you chosen a position?"

Torren picks up a small, spindly piece of greenery that does not look capable of supporting its own weight. "I have been accepted to Starfleet Academy on science-track," Torren answers unexpectedly as T'Prina prepares a space for the plant. "There is a dearth of competent engineers with an affinity for warp-core theory as translated to practical applications. My interests have always been practical; a starship would be the most logical place to put my skills to use."

Spock glances at T'Prina thoughtfully. "That is laudable."

"I will not deny," Torren continues, inserting the plant into position and supporting it as T'Prina fills the area around it, "that T'Prina's correspondence has been a factor in my decision. And I have--" Torren pauses to lift a tiny limb as T'Prina adds small wooden supports, "--come to wish to see more of the galaxy."

Spock checks himself before inquiring on his family's reaction; that, he thinks, he can guess. "I look forward to working with you, Torren," he answers honestly, adding another name to his list.

Torren looks up; he does not smile, but the brown eyes are pleased. "I reciprocate, Commander Spock. I admit that part of my motivation is the opportunity to work with Commander Scott; his application of warp theory under less than ideal conditions has been a source of fascination to the Academy's Engineering department."

Abruptly, T'Prina stiffens, rising onto her knees. Following her gaze, Spock watches as Jim and T'Sora exit the wide glass doors.

Coming to her feet, T'Prina circles the garden patch (something she did not do upon his arrival, Spock notes); her bondmate rises as well, straightening his tunic in what would be, in a human, a nervous gesture. Spock thinks, if such a thing could apply to a Vulcan, Torren might be tense.

"Captain Kirk," T'Prina says formally. "T'Sora," in not quite an afterthought. "It would please me to introduce my bondmate, Torren."

"Lady T'Sora," Torren says, joining her. "Captain Kirk. It is an honor to make your acquaintance, sir."

Spock thinks that perhaps there is adequate cause to find this situation utterly fascinating.

"Torren--engineering, right?" Jim frowns slightly. "Oh. That paper you did for graduation--compensating for ion storms during warp?--it's made some significant waves with starship engineers. The theory is intriguing."

"I hope to have the chance to observe the practical benefits," Torren says, almost straightening. "I look forward to furthering our acquaintance in your time here."

"So do I," Jim says; there's a vague sense of bewilderment at the focused attention of two Vulcans on him. "My chief engineer will be here tonight--he'll be thrilled to meet the author."

"I look forward to the introduction," Torren answers with carefully controlled enthusiasm. "I used your ship as a template when I began work on the theory; Lieutenant Commander Scott's accomplishments have made possible several roads of inquiry that were not considered before. The variety of situations you encounter made your ship ideal for testing theories that were once considered improbable, if not impossible at our current level of technology. I understand you encourage his innovative approach to theoretical physics."

"Scotty tends to like physics best when it does what he wants it to. It tends to give up after he hits it with a hypospanner a few times." Jim glances at Spock a little desperately. A human, Spock thinks, might find this rather humorous. "If you will excuse me--Spock," Jim says hopefully, "I need a minute."

"Of course."Uncoiling himself, Spock follows him inside as T'Prina and T'Sora begin a spirited discussion on a rare vegetable she wishes to cultivate. "Was your day satisfactory?"

"I think we covered the entire city," Jim says with a grin. "The Science Academy's coming along great; the tech here is higher than Starfleet Academy." Jim glances at the glass door, where T'Sora and T'Prina are both engaged in transplanting another group of plants. "Thank you for leaving me the note on Torren's paper, by the way," Jim says softly as they arrive in their room. "Did T'Prina seem a little--stiff to you?"

Spock closes the door while evaluating his response. "Not that I observed," Spock answers carefully as Jim begins to search first their empty bags, then the closet. "What are--"

"I mean, she was very--well. Vulcan courtesies required her to introduce us, I guess--where the hell did T'Sora put my game?"

Spock does not sigh; instead, he opens the desk drawer, retrieving the console in question. "Where it will be easily found," he says. Jim grins, taking it before flipping it over to study the back. "T'Prina's bondmate will be attending Starfleet Academy," Spock observes in Jim's general direction.

"Scotty's going to be thrilled; remind me to tell him." Jim frowns, sitting on the bed. "Give me your toolset, will you? I need to check something."

Retrieving it (also in the drawer), Spock hands it over, watching in curiosity as Jim removes the game that has been a constant in Jim's life (and his own) for the last few weeks. "Did you not complete--"

"I did. T'Sora was looking at some updated recyclers and--" Jim pries the non-descript cover apart, taking out the small data solid. "--I thought about compiling. No clue why. Dar stole the uncompiled copy of the game to avoid the security measures in the completed one. So someone had to have stripped those out and recompiled it, and I'm betting it's the same people who did all those ships' database." Jim approaches their terminal, looking at it critically. "I need to get a look at how they did it and the encryption signature."

Spock looks at their host's wall in resignation. It is perhaps an advantage that T'Sora wishes them to consider themselves family. "If you will hand me my kit," he says, kneeling to run a hand along the seam in the wall, "I will attempt to find an access point."

Jim retrieves the case from the bed. "Next time, you might not want to tell me how you used to build computers before you could talk," Jim says, making himself comfortable on the floor beside him. "Now explain what you're doing so I'll remember. I've never worked on a Vulcan computer before."

Jim's questionable codepicker turns out to have uses beyond breaking Federation and Ferengi encryption. After the connections are complete, Jim sets it to analyze the data structure and identify the encryption. "Don't look like that," Jim says in satisfaction as it chirps to indicate it has been activated. "I use it for good. And cracking illegal programs. Even you have to admit this is an ethical use for it."

"I do not question the ethics of this endeavor," Spock tries as he retrieves a chair to watch the analysis; this is not a new argument. "I question the ethics of the existence of the object itself."

"And yet it exists, so we all deal with the contradiction." Jim looks at him speculatively. "I can probably build you one," he adds. "For ethical use, of course."

Watching an analysis is not the most efficient use of time, especially considering it will take several hours to complete the first stage. "Do you think the compilation and encryption process will give an indication of the identity of the individual who attempted to kill you?"

"Pretty sure he wasn't going to kill me," Jim answers, rolling his eyes at the concept of vacuum being a method of assassination. "And maybe not exactly who, but where they did the encryption and how. I'm pretty sure the trade was going to include the data solids as a show of good faith, and this game was among them."

"Why would they take the time to--"

"Steal a game? Dar did that, but he had someone else do the compiling and encryption. And if I'm right, it's the same people that did the compression and encryption for those data solids. Who also, if I'm right, which I am, are affiliated with the guy who did not try to kill me but almost did by sheer accident anyway."

It is--logical, as applied to Jim's turn of mind. "It is not improbable."

"It's Dar. He keeps his activities confined to a very small group of trusted contacts. That's why his record is a lot shorter than it should be." Jim gives the door a long look, then gets to his feet. "I trust you have no conflicting appointments at this time," he says, pushing Spock's chair away from the terminal and straddling his lap.

"Jim--" Spock starts, before Jim kisses him, slow and comfortable, hooking one hand over the back of the chair, the other curled around his jaw. It is inappropriate; however, Spock can't quite articulate the reason why.

Jim, who has often surprised Spock with his ability to multitask, draws him from the chair and toward the bed; the short distance isn't quite enough for Spock to remember why this is not an appropriate time to engage in--

"God, stop thinking," Jim murmurs, pushing him back on the bed before following. "For once, we are not under attack, running toward an attack, recovering from--yes, an attack--" Jim pauses, mouthing along his jaw, "--and it's quiet, we're alone--"

"My objection," Spock answers, cupping the back of Jim's neck, skin cool against his palm, "is courtesy to our hosts--"

Jim snickers. "From what I can tell, our hosts aren't slacking off in that department." Jim pauses, raising his head curiously. "What will T'Mana call you anyway? Uncle--genetically identical past version of--"

Spock rolls Jim onto his back, putting an end to that line of thought immediately. "Your attention span is capricious."

Jim grins into the next kiss. T'Mana isn't the only one who gets cranky when she doesn't get undivided attention, you know. Is it genetic, do you think?

"I would not know," Spock breathes as Jim's teeth scrape across his jaw, lips softer as they trail down his throat. "Nor do I think this is an appropriate time to speculate on--"

So distract me, then.

Sliding a hand between them, Spock unfastens Jim's trousers, watching Jim shiver at the brush of fingers against the his belly, focusing his mind on the wide variety of activities they could indulge in. Jim sucks in a breath at the images. Perhaps you could be more specific. How would you like me to distract you?

Glazed blue eyes meet his. Spock--

Abruptly, there's a faint scrape and Spock looks up as the door opens, perfectly aware that there is no possible way to mistake what they are doing. Beneath him, Jim winces at Dr. McCoy's, "What the--goddammit, twice was enough, you--"

Jim buries his snicker against Spock's neck. Spock takes a deep breath before answering, "If you would close the door, Dr. McCoy--"

Ask him if he wants to join in--he'll pass out, and it will be hilarious.

With a final horrified glare, Dr. McCoy slams the door shut, doubtless advertising to everyone there is a reason it should remain so.

Don't really care, Jim answers, hooking a knee over Spock's hip, tongue sliding over Spock's lip, teasing. Do I have your attention now, Commander?

He does.

Dr. McCoy is not in evidence when they emerge; Lieutenant Sulu, Torren, and Cadet T'Prina are engaged in an ambitious project to expand the garden, while Lieutenant Commander Scott examines the household systems with the Ambassador, toolkit open at their feet. T'Sora and Nyota have commandeered a portion of the living area, a variety of texts open around them and conversing fluently in Ancient Vulcan.

"We should visit more often," Jim says thoughtfully, surveying the room, lingering on Ensign Chekov and Lieutenant Chapel entertaining T'Mana. "I haven't seen everyone this relaxed since that thing we don't talk about that wasn't on Rigel and now has a regulation named after it."

"Yet you still mention it."

Jim considers. "When you and Uhura agree to do another duet, I'll stop." Following Spock to an empty couch, he changes the subject. "So you believe Sorin about what happened?"

"At least for that patient, yes. It is not unreasonable the same is true of the others."

Jim nods slowly, considering the answer. "I think I know why Starfleet wanted us here," he says finally, looking at T'Mana. "The other patients. I need to evaluate whether they'll be okay here." They're going to be buried in privacy regulations. We both know it. And if this procedure helps them, then Bones won't be able to declare this a medical emergency. It'll be like it didn't happen.

"Their healers will see they receive the most comprehensive care possible." If their citizenship is revoked, they will no longer fall under those regulations. Spock hesitates. If we renounce our citizenship, neither will we.

"I'll take your and Dr. McCoy's recommendations under advisement." Do you think that will make a difference at this point?

Spock meets Jim's eyes. "No, I do not."

Yeah, Jim answers tiredly. I thought so.

The three days allow the Enterprise crew to indulge in an unscheduled shore leave. This deep in Federation space, Jim strips the ship to a skeleton crew of the newest officers in three rotating shifts, leaving Crewmen Rand, Michaels, and Temer as the most experienced crew to keep an eye on them.

Jim is correct about the benefits of relaxation; the tension of the last few months and six missions, not to mention the events on Begammon Station, seems to seep slowly away. Nyota and T'Sora spend the entirety of one day at the Linguistic department of the Academy, immersed in ancient texts and studying the ancient dialect that both Vulcan and Romulan originated from; Ambassador Spock invites Lieutenant Sulu and Lieutenant Evans to observe lirpa practice among the Academy students, which Spock suspects will lead to classes being organized on the Enterprise; even Dr. McCoy, between hospital rounds, finds the time to wander off with Jim and Lieutenant Chapel in tow for sightseeing and returning with samples of the first of the Vulcan wines cultivated in the newly-established vineyards and Jim flushed and giggling himself to sleep, mouth tasting of fermented fruit.

After accompanying a fascinated Ensign Chekov to the Academy, followed by an expedition with Nyota to the local bookstores to acquire some obscure texts recently recovered from the few databases that had survived his planet's destruction, Spock wakes Jim in the grey of pre-dawn on the next day, leaving the house before anyone else has awakened.

He will never have the opportunity to introduce Jim to his homeworld except in the memories he carries; this world, new to them all, is all that he has to offer. They go to the desert north of the city that dominates the continent and watch the sun rise white-hot over the grey-brown sand, fingers of light sliding over their feet as Spock tells Jim of the four seasons he'd spent with the acolytes of Gol before his anticipated entrance into the Vulcan Science Academy, of the stillness of the desert and how he'd meditated for days on end, trying to discover within himself the peace that had eluded him all of his life.

In the view of the mountain east of the city, Spock tells him of T'Seleya and the legends that his people built around her, and how it guided him during his kahs-wan; they transport to the far south continent on the edge of the single planetary ocean, exploring the farms developing in the fertile valleys tucked between massive golden-brown prairies, where Spock shows Jim the traditional cultivation methods that Vulcans had perfected over the tens of thousands of years of their history and exported throughout the Federation, making planets like this one arable when once they could never have been easily settled. Finally, warily, Spock takes Jim to the newly built Place of Marriage, where his people now practice the oldest traditions of their civilization, new stone dragged for kilometers to be erected in the memory of what they had lost.

It surprises him, watching Jim explore the patterns of stone and metal, the painstakingly leveled ground where a marriage would be completed or a challenge initiated, how a place so new can still carry so much history. Dozens have come here already, sanctified it with the creation of new bonds, weaving their lost world's past into the future they hope to build.

Yes, Spock thinks this place can be a home to them, to the children that will be born here and continue the traditions of their world.

Jim pauses at the center stone support, head tilting. Almost absently, one hand comes up, rubbing at his chest as he circles the pillar before coming back. "It matches the memories," Jim remarks, hand dropping to his side. "I asked the Ambassador to tell me if what I--remembered was accurate." The blue eyes flicker up, meeting Spock's. "With words."

Spock crosses the brushed stone to join him, studying the pillar; there's nothing rational about the instinctive reaction to anyone, anywhere, touching Jim's mind, but Spock has long accepted that there are places within himself that logic will never be able to touch without sacrificing what created them.

"The koon-ut kal-if-fee," Spock says slowly. "The challenge hasn't been invoked in ten millennia." In this universe, that is.

"Yeah." Jim's shoulder presses against his. "So if I challenged in five years, ten months, and six days--aww, I love how you still think I can't subtract, it's cute, really--I need to do it here?"

"Who would you designate to be your champion?"

"I'm my own champion, Mr. Spock." Jim's expression changes, mouth quirking. "So Uhura gave me some texts on Vulcan law and tradition to read up on during the trip here."

Spock considers the extent of Nyota's library and tries not to feel apprehensive. "Were they educational?"

"Oh yeah."

Jim's amusement trickles through him, waiting. Spock considers silence, but-- "You found something of interest, I take it?"

"Immensely. Apparently, I'm considered chattel, since Iowa is not, in fact, a designated Vulcan place of marriage."

Spock fights the urge to ask if Nyota had highlighted that specific passage in Vulcan law; like Jim, she has an unfortunate sense of humor.

Pulling away, Jim turns, leaning back against the pillar. "Chattel," Jim says, almost gloating over each word, "an item of property, a convenience that can be discarded when a more logical attachment is found."

"It is an archaic law; the specifics have not been practiced--"

"In ten millennia or so?" Jim pushes off the pillar. "What else have you got?"

Spock watches as Jim circles the ground again, deliberate; remembering, perhaps, another Jim Kirk in this place. Spock has only the faintest impressions of those memories; the specifics he has never pursued. "What do you remember?"

Jim glances back at him. "It's not about them. They never went through the formalities; they never thought it was important." Jim waves a hand idly. "And there were some bad associations with lirpas and gongs and bells or something."

Returning, Jim hesitates, gaze fixed somewhere beyond the pillar.

"It wasn't important to them," Jim says slowly. "But I think--I think it's important to me. And you won't admit it, but I think it's important to you, too."

Spock lets out a breath. "It is not necessary--"

"You would have wanted to do it here if you'd had a choice," Jim says, not looking at him. "Don't even try. I know you, you know. I may not get this thing right all the time, but I get lucky sometimes. This place--this is how it happens. You bring your people and your traditions, you build houses and cities and hospitals and Places of Marriage and you make it your home. This is part of it, and maybe I'm becoming my mother or something, but if this is yours, I want it to be mine, too."

Perhaps Jim will ever cease to surprise him. Reaching out, Spock brushes two fingers against Jim's. "In five years, ten months, six days, and twenty-three standard hours, we will return here, then." Spock hesitates, considering Jim's reading material. "Precisely how far have you read regarding the structure of the koon-ut kal-if-fee?"

"Just the parts Uhura highlighted."

Spock doesn't sigh; he had supposed as much. "You realize that if you challenge, you will remain chattel, in the most archaic definition of the word. I will provide the texts for your edification."

Jim smirks, fingers twining through his and pulling him closer until he can feel the brush of Jim's lips against his. "Would you really fight for me?"

"I would win you, and I would take you here," pushing until Jim's stretched against the stone of the pillar, "before all who come to witness to prove my claim."

Jim licks his lips, pupils blown wide. "I think I missed that part."

Spock kisses him then, opening Jim with his tongue, pushing inside the warmth of his mouth as he would his body, tasting him, wanting him now; perhaps it is not logical to want someone so desperately, but this is how they began, and from the first time they met to the first time they touched, it's never been simple between them. They've never learned to be anything else.

Spock thinks he understands what the Ambassador meant when he said there were things he could not give up; Spock cannot imagine the loss of this brilliant mind, of this complicated man, the infinite stretch of a universe contained in the deceptively fragile human body pressed against him.

Pulling back, Spock catches his breath, pressing his forehead to Jim's. "I will bring you here," Spock breathes. Jim was correct; he wants this, wants to bring Jim to this place and surround them with the traditions that predate his people's first written word, traditions that even the pursuit of logic could not make them discard. This is what they are; to sacrifice that would have been to deny themselves. "As my people have for all of our history, I will bring you to this place and confirm my claim on you when we begin to burn."

Jim smiles, fingers curling around the back of his neck, human-cool. "Tell me more about the chattel thing," Jim says; his mind is filled with light, like the heart of a star at the edge of supernova, brilliant and blinding. "I read something about a collar?"

On the evening of the third day, the first guests arrive precisely on time, a fact that Jim seems to find bewildering; Spock, familiar with the human custom of being late, finds he misses Yeoman Rand's presence. She is skilled in anticipating Jim's propensity for procrastination when faced with formal occasions and has several effective strategies for dealing with him.

As Spock had suspected, the congratulations are repetitive and, at least from non-Vulcans, unduly enthusiastic. T'Prina, immaculate in her blue dress uniform and almost painfully correct, assists the Ambassador and T'Sora in the introductions, her bondmate at her side; after so long on the Enterprise, she is far easier with humans, sorting the arrivals efficiently by career and interests into various groups.

The Council decision, of course, is a popular topic of debate, but Jim's presence rivals it for interest. The presence of a Starfleet captain in itself is a novelty to them, but Jim himself is a draw for attention, and his lack of awareness of this is in itself fascinating to watch.

"Don't grow too complacent," the Ambassador murmurs as he gives Spock a glass of water. "There are merely too nervous to approach you directly. Give them time to relax."

"Why would they--"

The Ambassador's eyes gleam in amusement. "The same reason young T'Prina is reconsidering her career decision and Torren already has. Legends have that effect on people."

Spock tightens his grip on his glass. "I do not understand."

"You will. Make sure Jim doesn't make a break for the bathroom; you need to get used to this. And remember that legends have their uses, as well as their drawbacks. It took us longer to realize that." The Ambassador watches the various groups thoughtfully. "The Federation is changing as we speak; this is just the beginning of what will test it and build what it becomes. Do not pretend you have no influence over events, or you will make it true."

Spock considers. "A no-win," he says as Jim looks up, catching his eye with a smile, "does not exist until you believe in it. As Jim would say."

The Ambassador's mouth twitches. "You've already started. Go on as you have begun and you will do well."

"You told Jim you were not an oracle." Jim's silent appeal becomes slightly frantic.

The Ambassador shrugs. "Perhaps just for today. There is a bathroom five meters from his position and he has begun a complicated series of tactics to maneuver closer. If you wish to halt his progress, I suggest you hurry."

Jim's relief is nearly physical; it is only with restraint he does not drag Spock toward the curious group. "And Spock blew up a candy store right after that. You can see why it wasn't my fault I was arrested."

Perhaps he waited too long to intervene, Spock thinks, as more eyes than seem possible fix on him expectantly.

After the meal is served, the groups begin to settle, various discussions on a wide variety of subjects competing for attention. Lieutenant Commander Scott, upon discovery of Torren's identity as the author of the paper on warp ion theory as well as his plans to enter Starfleet Academy, had begun a spirited discussion of current changes in engine design as well as savaging the intelligence and abilities of any number of Starfleet instructors. Jim had restrained himself from adding commentary, listening as Nyota expertly redirects the conversation to where they wish it to go.

Eventually, Dr. McCoy drifts toward them, leaning against the back of Jim's chair, leaning down with a pleasant smile. "I'm going to the hospital. I'll be in touch as soon as we have results." Nyota looks up, putting down her glass. "Nah, have fun, Nyota. Lyra's there. Enjoy the party."

"We wish you success, Dr. McCoy," T'Sora says with a pleasant nod. Rising to his feet, Jim accompanies Dr. McCoy to the door, where they engage in several seconds of conversation that make Dr. McCoy flush abruptly. Eyes narrowing, he takes his leave, and Jim returns, settling beside Nyota with a pleased smile.

"Healer Sorin has never had a reputation for innovation," one of the human women says; Jim had identified her as Sarah Clemens, who had been of interest to Captain Mitchell. Extremely reserved for a human, she and her bondmate, Sekar, had been surprisingly quiet throughout the evening, though attentive to the various conversations they joined.

Jim looks at her thoughtfully. "He's one of the senior team members," Jim tells her. "And an--Adept, right?"

"That is correct." Sarah Clemens finishes her water, placing it neatly on a nearby table. "However, he has never shown an interest in the telepathic healing fields, despite his expertise with the mind disciplines."

"It is laudable he would overcome his disinclination to utilize his early training in a time of need," T'Sora answers. "He devoted his life to assisting in disaster relief throughout the Federation, which he felt was a more fitting path for him to take. His work has been invaluable to the Federation in times of disaster." T'Sora allows herself a small, rueful pause. "Of which there has been much."

"Yet he did not return to his people until his brother requested it," Sarah Clemens replies expressionlessly. "His time here is temporary by his own admission; when they have discovered a means of helping the affected patients, his intention is to return to Earth for his next assignment, per his contract with Starfleet." She pauses with a glance at her quiet bondmate. "It is said he does not find peace with his mother's new bondmate and their family."

"Rumor is not fact," her bondmate says unexpectedly. "I do not find them preferable company, so I cannot fault him if this is true. If their influence was the cause of the current situation with Melody, there is just cause for his distaste."

"You think he's just here to try and fix what his brother did?" Nyota says bluntly. At the raised eyebrows, she bows her head slightly. "No offense is intended; it is admirable if that is his motivation."

"It would not be logical," Sarah Clemens says, with another glance at her bondmate. "But the personal rarely is. Even he might feel shame for the actions of his family, despite the illogic."

Which seems to be the general consensus.

"He was instrumental in their bonding," her bondmate adds. "It is possible the damage incurred was a result of his efforts. It would be correct for him to utilize his talents if this is so. He has openly offered assistance to those with broken bonds if it is desired, and not just those who have lost their bondmates to death."

Jim doesn't straighten, but he looks like he wants to. "What about those with former bondmates that are currently patients?"

Sarah Clemens shrugs, very slightly. "We are acquainted with one of those who are separated." For the first time, she looks uncomfortable. "He and his new bondmate are--" Searching for the word, she glances at her bondmate. "They are tel rifihet'es." Spock sees T'Sora stiffen, eyes widening slightly. "There is not a word in Standard--disharmony, I think." Her bondmate nods soberly. "It is not pleasant."

And very faintly, neither are they, crystal clear but unspoken.

"If you will excuse us," her bondmate says, rising to his feet, "T'Mir requests our presence." Sarah Clemens nods, joining her husband with a small group of engineers surrounding Lieutenant Commander Scott and Torren.

Nyota leans toward T'Sora. "What did they mean--disharmony?"

"It is complicated," she answers. "I cannot provide a full definition, as Standard does not possess the correct conceptual base. I have a reference text that might give you context; it is an ancient concept, related to a time when families would use themselves and their children as barter. The bondings were sometimes not--voluntary." She glances at Spock. "There would be incompatibilities. Adepts would be utilized to force what the minds did wish to permit"

"Not common anymore, I take it?" Jim asks over the rim of his drink.

"Unknown since well before the Reformation, Jim," she answers soberly. "To participate in such an action would be--unthinkable."

The conversation shifts toward current colonial birthrates; Spock has a faint suspicion, watching Jim accept another glass of what hopefully is not (but probably is) ethanol, it will be a popular topic.

"If you knocked me up, I'd kill you," Jim leans against the door tiredly. "For the record."

Spock's attention is pulled from examining the data analysis at the unexpected announcement. Jim waves a hand. "Too much population growth projections talk," he says tiredly. "How far did it get?"

"It is three quarters complete," Spock answers, reading through the data. "Preliminary review suggest it was Orion algorithms used for compression and compilation, similar to those on the data solids from the missing ships."

"Let me express my shock in interpretive dance," Jim says, dropping on the bed with a sigh. "Now I just have to figure out how to contact them. It shouldn't be too difficult; they went through a lot of trouble to get in contact with me."

Spock regards Jim for a moment. "And how do you plan to initiate contact?"

"Putting up a sign saying 'Give me back our people or I will start paying attention to all those black market trades going on that the Federation unofficially ignores' probably wouldn't work well unless I had a death wish, so no idea yet. And Dar's going to be invisible for a while, so no hope from that quarter." Rubbing his eyes, Jim stares up at the ceiling. "Sorin was kolinahru?"

"He ended his studies before he had achieved kolinahr, but that is irrelevant to the study of the mind disciplines."

"So he could do the disharmonious--thing?" Rolling on his side, Jim's expression is not easily interpreted. "That seems kind of illogical for someone one step from a Vulcan saint--oh please, you want to do comparative spirituality, we can totally go there. I know it's inaccurate. I don't care. It's funny."

"Your sense of humor is unusual, even for a human," Spock admits. "Did you speak privately to Sarah Clemens?"

"Good luck with that," Jim snorts. "She and her husband are glued together. But they seemed vaguely amused, if Vulcans could be amused, which I understand they can't." Jim lifts his head long enough to grin. "She asked me to convey her appreciation to Captain Mitchell and thanked me for my concern on his behalf or something. So that was one hideously awkward conversation down, with more to go. Uhura got farther with some of the others; she speaks the language."

Spock declines to remind Jim that he speaks the language very well; early in their acquaintance, Spock had mentioned Jim's accent in a way that had perhaps been inappropriately critical. In the one year and four months since the incident, Jim has refused to speak a single word of Vulcan in his hearing.

As he and Nyota had parted on very amicable terms, soon after the incident he had gone to her for assistance in understanding Jim's unexpectedly negative reaction to what had been constructive criticism and had been witness to a display of amusement that had lasted an inappropriate length of time. She had never explained further, merely remarking he would discover the answer eventually for himself.

"Disharmony," Jim says softly, then, after a moment, "Tel rifihet'es." Spock finds his attention is no longer on the data analysis. "Why would he do it if he knew it would be disharmonious?"

With an effort, Spock returns to the subject at hand. "I do not know. If the participants were insistent, perhaps he felt it his duty to assist them." Then, "The word is not in common use. I do not think I have heard it spoken since I completed my secondary education."

"Hmm." Jim folds his hands behind his head. "So after a tel-of-kat, a bond-breaking, is it always because of a tel rifihet'es or is it just because--Spock, are you paying attention?"

"Yes." He is. And there was a question. "No. But it is rare that the necessity of tel-of-kat exists. My father's first marriage is an example. The incompatibility had already rendered their bond unstable; when it was broken, it was--welcome to both parties. Tel reifihet'es is what breaking the bond seeks to avoid."

Jim rolls onto his side, looking thoughtful. "Disharmony. Sounds unpleasant," he says finally, trying to find a context for the experience. "We're going to the hospital in the morning," he says finally. "I need to make a final evaluation before making my recommendation to Starfleet."

"If this is successful, the declaration of medical emergency will no longer be sufficient."

"I know. But I don't want to leave them here either. If the colony is going that direction--" Jim looks at him helplessly.

"Yes," Spock answers. "I agree."

Ambassador Spock
Ambassador Spock

After leaving a message for Dr. McCoy, who is unavailable, Spock accompanies Jim to the hospital. As it is Jim's first visit, one of the nurses offers them a tour of the hospital grounds. Though her expression does not reflect pride, she does not conceal her satisfaction with the building and grounds, or the fact that it already boasts a small but growing medical community of competent instructors and students from all over the Federation. Spock cannot find fault with this.

Returning to the main room, Jim goes to talk to a nurse as Spock examines a complicated abstract mural before a cool, even voice breaks through the quiet. "Captain Kirk?"

Spock turns to see Healer Sorin in the waiting room. Faint green shadows darken the pale skin beneath his eyes, but there are no other signs of fatigue, coat immaculate over pristine surgical scrubs. Healer Sorin scans the room, finding Spock immediately. "Commander Spock. If you would come with me--"

"Sorin?" Abruptly, a man leaves a group composed of an older woman, a younger one, and a small child. Spock joins Jim, marking Healer Sorin's resemblance to the other man. "Sorin, I heard--"

"You should not have come here," Healer Sorin says; almost invisibly, the long fingers tighten on the data pad. "It is not your place."

"I would ask pardon," the man says after a moment. In comparison to Sorin, the man seems surprisingly agitated, eyes flickering from Sorin to Jim, to Spock, then back to Sorin. "I am--concerned for her welfare."

Healer Sorin tilts his head slightly. "I see. I cannot satisfy your curiosity. If you will excuse us--"

"I do not ask only for myself, but for our son," the man continues, voice overly-controlled to Spock's ear; to his surprise, the man extends a hand, grabbing Sorin's wrist. "I request--"

Before Sorin can answer, the child pulls free of the older woman's hands, running across the room. Startlingly blue eyes look up into Sorin's, and though no more than five, he displays superior control to his father, reaching up to gently detach the clinging hand. "Excuse my father," the boy says gravely. "I understand this places you in an ethical dilemma. I--may I visit my mother yet?"

Healer Sorin's expression does not change, but he hesitates before replying. "She has just completed surgery, Selar," he says slowly, and to Spock's ear, there's a sense of prevarication as well. "When she has completed recovery, I will contact you."

The child nods gravely, stepping back as the woman joins them, and abruptly, Spock understands Sarah Clemens remark: It is not pleasant. It is, in fact, an understatement. Over the odd, uncomfortable feeling, the mental equivalent of the grate of metal against metal, he can feel Jim's almost violent mental recoil, body tensing beside him. Reaching out, he brushes his fingers against Jim's wrist, blocking the strength of the projection.

"We will leave," the woman says quietly, reaching for the child. Before they can touch, however, the child shifts away, leading his father toward the door; the older woman glances at Healer Sorin for a moment before joining them.

Healer Sorin watches them for a moment before turning back to Jim. "I regret the delay," he says. "If you will accompany me, we have the preliminary results. Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi will brief you on current progress."

"So there's been progress?" Jim asks, falling into step, but his gaze flickers back to the door the family had exited, unnerved.

"I will permit Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi to explain. There are some--complications that I am not certain I can explain as thoroughly as they will be able to, and I need to oversee recovery." As Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi come into view, Healer Sorin nods. "If you will excuse me."

Spock nods, but Sorin is already exiting from another door. Jim frowns slightly at the departure before Dr. McCoy joins them, leading them to a small group of chairs as he perches on the edge of a desk. "So we think it might be working."

Jim straightens. "Might be?"

"It's too soon to be certain," Dr. Uloi says, taking the desk chair as she examines the data in her tricorder, but her suppressed excitement shows in the tight grip of her hands, the tremble in her voice. "But the results are extremely positive in three of the remaining catatonic patients. Two briefly regained consciousness, and the nurses assigned to them say they are beginning to show signs of awareness of their surrounding already. One is currently in REM sleep, which is--" She stops, mouth trembling slightly as she fights down premature hope. "It is too soon to be certain. But this is very encouraging."

"And the other two?"

Dr. Uloi looks at McCoy hesitantly. "The procedure was successful in all five. All of them are showing signs of regeneration. But two have yet to respond or show signs of emerging consciousness."

"Melody?" Jim says, looking at Dr. McCoy.

"Yeah, nothing yet." Dr. McCoy slumps. "Don't know why either. Her and the Tellarite, but the Tellarite might take a bit longer; there's a lot less genetic similarity in Tellarite and Vulcan than Vulcan and human. The results are slower. So we're not ruling it out yet. Melody was among the first, with the most extensive damage. It's possible she just needs longer."

"Right." Rubbing his forehead, Jim looks at Spock. "Okay, let's split this up. McCoy, collate the reports, and you and Uloi consult with Spock and get me a recommendation. How long will it take?"

"I should have my data analysis complete by tonight." Dr. Uloi says, rising from her chair.

Dr. McCoy nods tiredly. "Same."

"I'm going to go back to the ship and send a message to Starfleet, since they're probably wondering what the hell we've been doing here," Jim says, looking faintly irritated, as he usually does with the demands of bureaucracy. "Give me a summary to give them for now?"

"Already done. Should be on your terminal." Dr. McCoy rubs a hand wearily over his face. "Won't be much, but--"

"I'll make it sound like more." Standing up, Jim looks at Spock. "I'll meet you at the Ambassador's later. I have a feeling whichever admiral I get is going to be talking for a while."

"Very well."

Dr. Uloi and Dr. McCoy fall into a spirited discussion on the regeneration technique and its future applications. After receiving directions to the recovery room, Spock leaves them, unsurprised to find Sorin in attendance.

Unobserved, Sorin permits himself the luxury of moving more slowly, seating himself beside Melody's bed to complete his calculations. Though Spock knows he is aware of Spock's entrance, he does not look up until they are complete. "The regeneration was more thorough than projected," Sorin says abruptly. Spock looks at the woman, wondering if she is the source of her son's blue eyes. "The other four will recover."

Spock looks at Sorin in curiosity. "How can you be sure--"

"I examined them all after leaving you. The Tellarite female should awaken by midday." Sorin's eyes fix on Melody. "Melody will not."

Spock takes a careful breath. "You said you did not know her--"

"I did not. I stated I had only met her once, to complete her bonding to my brother. That was all that was required to know her." Sorin lifts his eyes, looking at Spock. "You avoid the obvious questions. I will not lie if you ask them."

"Do you do this for your family's honor? Their actions do not reflect upon you--"

"I am clanless," Sorin answers coolly. "I have declared and registered myself so, when I had completed bonding my brother with his current bondmate. Their honor is their own."

Spock digests that. "Why?"

"For her, of course." Sorin looks at him calmly. "You did not suspect this, nor have the others, which has been to my benefit. My objectivity would be called into question, and I might not have been permitted to perform the procedure that has helped the other patients."

Spock looks at the patient's still face. "You are certain she will not awaken."

"I know my own skill, Commander," Sorin says dispassionately. "I created the channels in her mind that assisted her to accept my brother's mind into hers. I was careful and thorough, and the youth and resiliency of her mind made it surprisingly easy to adapt it to a Vulcan mind, despite their difficulties. Much could be attributed to my brother's natural lower psi, and their compatibility was so much that I used all of my skill to assure their bond would be as strong, and as lasting, as any Vulcan bond could be. Destroying it took great determination--and caused great damage. She was very young, Commander, and her human mind grew with his. It does not--" Sorin pauses, thinking, "--it does not understand how to be alone."

"You feel professionally at fault?"

"Yes. But that is not the reason I wish to see her open her eyes." Sorin's eyes fix on her face. "Her son inherited them. My mother's bondmate thinks they are too human. I suppose he thinks that it is an insult."

Spock nods slowly.

"I wish her to wake up, so that I may see them again."

Spock closes his eyes at the cool restraint. "I grieve with thee, Healer Sorin."

Sorin is silent for a few moments. "I would like to request transportation under the Federation charter providing emergency medical aid. I will take Melody to Betazoid; Dr. Uloi has recommended a hospital there with a specialization in empathic healing. My application for a position in return for Melody's continued treatment has been accepted."

"Her son is still here."

"Her right of residence and her citizenship could potentially be revoked, and my brother will not protect her. She has no one to speak for her but me. I will repudiate my citizenship once we arrive on Betazoid. My correspondence with immigration has been extremely positive, and they have indicated they will accept us both after three years of residency."

"You have been thorough."

Sorin nods coolly. "I am always thorough, Commander. Federation law allows me to assume her custody and care as her closest living relative, despite her separation from my brother. Unfortunately, it will not allow me to do the same with her son. My--inquiries have been unsuccessful, and my brother refuses to consider abjuring his rights. In light of Melody's condition, I do not think my appeal to the Federation council will be accepted, but I will continue my efforts."

"I will speak to Captain Kirk on your behalf," Spock answers, aware Jim will respond positively. "Our date of departure is not yet decided--"

"We will be ready on your word, Commander. I have already completed most preparations for her care; Dr. McCoy has assured me his sickbay is more than adequate and has several research labs he will put at my disposal during the journey." After a moment, Sorin rises. "I am tardy in my rounds, Commander." Sorin hesitates. "I find it difficult to leave her. It is illogical, but that does not make it less true."

Picking up his tricorder and datapad, Sorin removes the chair to its proper place. Turning to face Spock, he bows slightly. "I have you and your bondmate to thank for what progress she has made, as well as the other patients. The records Dr. McCoy kept on Captain Kirk were instrumental in discovering a method we would not have considered without proof. The loss of privacy is regretted, and I appreciate the sacrifice that was made."

"Jim would not do less. Nor would I."

Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "I would make a further request, then--I understand Dr. McCoy was thorough in documenting you both. I would like to request you release your own records for the period of your bond with Captain Kirk. They will not be made available to anyone but myself and will be used only in my research of Melody's condition, along with Captain Kirk's. He has already given permission that his may be used with the caveat that they never be released. I make the same assurance to you. Your ability to manipulate Captain Kirk's health does not have precedent, and may assist me to discover paths I would not otherwise think to explore."

"I will give permission to Dr. McCoy," Spock says. At Sorin's nod, Spock returns to Dr. McCoy, who smiles tiredly at Spock's request.

"He's methodical all right. If Jim wants to know, we can accommodate Melody probably better than the hospital can. He's wasted as a general physician, and I don't say that often. If she were better, I'd be recruiting them both for my sickbay."

Spock raises an eyebrow. "She is a physician?"

"Was, before her kid was born, from what I understand." McCoy rubs his eyes. "Wrote some interesting papers about emergency care in disaster relief."

Spock looks involuntarily toward the hallway and the recovery room beyond it. "Interesting."

"Have to say, if it weren't Sorin, I'd wonder a little about the coincidence." Shaking his head, McCoy stands up. "I'll get Sorin the records and then I'm going to sleep. You going back to the Ambassador's?"


"Wait up and I'll go with you. The Ambassador will want to hear how things went." Picking up his tricorder, Dr. McCoy retraces Spock's route to recovery, and Spock settles himself to wait.

"So not a medical emergency? Shit." Getting up, Jim paces to the opposite side of the living room. "So what now?"

"Finish up, get the reports, and get out of here, in that order. Lyra's staying for a while, but with the patients' now recovering, we have no reason to be here anymore." McCoy looks sourly at his tricorder. "Lyra's already contacted their families since their former bondmates have disclaimed responsibility, so the ones well enough to travel are coming along with Melody. Sorin's agreed to continue their treatment onboard until we get them to Starfleet Medical. Their families will meet them there to arrange transportation to another facility if they want to move them closer. Lyra will bring the others when they're ready for travel."

Jim sighs, coming to a stop by the window. "Great." Sighing, he turns around to look at Spock. "Starfleet will have orders for us to leave immediately when I make my report. Anything we can do?"

"I do not see another solution," Spock admits, thinking of Sarek's determination. "Our presence, I think, will make no difference in the final decision."

"Yeah, I was afraid you'd say that."

The Ambassador, silent up until now, looks between them. "I will keep you apprised of events in the colony," he says slowly. After glancing at T'Sora, he continues, "If the decision is made to strip non-Vulcans of citizenship--"

"Make the call, I'll be here to get anyone who needs to leave," Jim says grimly, eyes fixed on some point outside.

"My family will require transportation as well," the Ambassador says. Spock glances at T'Sora in surprise. "We--and others of our acquaintance--have discussed this possibility and our probable response."

Jim turns around, eyes narrowing. "How many?"

"One hundred and forty-two individuals I am certain of, with two hundred and nineteen who have expressed uneasiness with the current actions of the Elders and the Federation Council. I estimate two percent of the current population will emigrate in reaction, or will take up residency elsewhere while keeping their citizenship in hope that the current trend reverses itself."

"Have you considered current Starfleet personnel in your calculations, Ambassador?" T'Prina says abruptly. Spock looks up to see T'Prina and her bondmate enter the room, the door just closing behind them. "There are currently two hundred and sixteen Vulcan cadets and one hundred seventeen Vulcan Starfleet officers; I have maintained correspondence with my classmates regularly over the course of my internship and they have been made aware of the events currently occurring in the colony."

"Can you speak for them, Cadet T'Prina?" Spock asks curiously.

Raising an eyebrow, T'Prina takes a seat, accepting a glass of juice from T'Sora. "I speak only for myself, Commander Spock. However, by my estimation, two thirds disagree with the challenge to the Grayson Test. I find those results encouraging, as I will require their assistance when we return to Earth."

Jim abruptly leaves the window. "T'Prina," he says thoughtfully, "how good is your memory?"

"I am Vulcan; I have an eidetic memory. As you do, though you conceal it very well." Jim's eyes widen; sometimes, Spock reflects, Jim thinks he is better at hiding his abilities than he is. "Why?"

"You only accessed the database once, for a total of two hours fifteen minutes, from a terminal here before sending a transmission to Starfleet Academy. I noticed it while I was pretending to listen to Starfleet this afternoon. Specifically, the history of legal challenges to the Grayson Test."

T'Prina glances at her bondmate then nods, almost to herself. "I have decided it would be logical for someone to challenge the exception to the Federation Charter," she says. "After consulting with Lieutenant Uhura to familiarize myself with Council procedure, I instructed my classmates to immediately lodge a formal protest with the Council that our rights as Federation citizens will be violated should the exception be passed; they are drafting their response and collecting support as we speak. That should delay the passage sufficiently for the end of my internship and my return to Earth. I feel that a direct defense of the Grayson Test should be accomplished in conjunction with the appeal, and I have determined it would be logical if I presented the arguments to the Council for it myself."

Jim slowly takes a seat beside Spock. "You aren't a legal scholar, T'Prina."

"Neither was Amanda Grayson, Captain." Sipping her juice, she looks between them serenely. "She was one of Vulcan's greatest citizens; it will be my privilege to follow in her footsteps."

"I always wondered what you did with your free time," Jim says, mouth curving in a smile. "Thinking of couping the Vulcan Elders by any chance? I'll give you a couple of days off if you need them."

"I assume you are complimenting me on my competence," T'Prina says after a moment of thought. "I accept the praise."

Jim grins outright. "Anytime."

After assisting Healer Sorin and Dr. Lyra in transporting the three patients to the Enterprise, Spock completes coordination of their departure after taking leave of their hosts. Jim, unsurprisingly, had remained in the colony for some hours after the rest of the crew had beamed up.

Spock will not admit to impatience; fortunately, Nyota and Dr. McCoy do so at great length and with much feeling, and in return, Spock does not make mention of the fact that the doctor has no function on the bridge during departure, nor does Nyota require his assistance to complete her duties.

Abruptly, the turbolift doors open. "Miss me?" Jim asks rhetorically. T'Prina automatically opens her mouth, but she has been long enough with them that she shuts it again with a raised eyebrow. Dropping into his chair, he tilts his head back and gives Spock a grin. "Sulu?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Floor it."

Sulu grins as his hands move over the helm. "Yes, sir."

Jim has a long-standing habit of avoiding Spock when he's being brilliant and logical in his lab; not that it isn't hot when Spock is being a genius, more that genius really isn't as interesting to watch as one might think. There's also the matter of it being a lab; Jim tries to avoid any sign he can follow any conversation that includes words of more than two syllables, and being around labs tends to dampen the effect.

It's not logical, except it is; as Jim has explained to Spock, several times, winning is as much about your opponent making mistakes as not making mistakes yourself. You would think people would catch on (his Academy records are public, for God's sake), but they never really do, which just goes to show Jim's right. Per usual.

Punching in the code, Jim finds the lab currently not in use or prepping for use or recovering from recent use, so it suits him perfectly. "Lights," he says as the door automatically locks behind him. Sitting on the cool metal lab table, Jim makes himself comfortable. "Hey, baby. Miss me?"

"Captain." The computer pauses. "I have noticed your absence."

"Good enough." He loves her, he does. "Okay, I have something and I'm not sure what it is, but I can guess and I need you to confirm." Taking out the repaired game solid, he puts it in the table's receptacle. "I need a complete spectrum comparison run against the solids from those ships that we recovered with this. I need to know where they came from."

"Manufacturer?" she queries. If she weren't a computer, he'd say she was curious, and he's willing to go with that.

"Sort of. I need to try it from two directions. I uploaded the encryption algorithms from the game I got from Dar; search all known Federation and non-Federation encryption signatures for a match. Hypothesis: there is a Romulan with close ties to the Orion Syndicate companies, if not working for one of them outright." Jim pauses. "Cross-reference--Dar Abon, Ferengi, all aliases, cross-reference all Romulan individuals or possibly companies he is known to be in contact with, cross-reference James Kirk. If I give you my aliases, you gonna turn me in?"

The computer gives a general feeling of confusion. "I do not understand the question."

"Just a thing in Indiana; don't worry about it." Jim slides off the table, hunting up a keyboard. "We'll start with my juvenile stuff and go from there, okay? This may take a while."

"Yes, Captain," she answers promptly. "Awaiting input."

Jim grins.

Since it's about a week until they get back to Earth, Jim announces an interdepartmental chess death match, triple elimination, to avoid homicide by boredom hitting them in a perfectly running ship with nothing more interesting to do than diagnostics. While it doesn't end in death, per se, it's more fun to say that than interdepartmental chess play-for-shifts match. And the losers symbolically fall on their timers after; most of them end up in sickbay for bruising. It's really funny.

As usual, Jim is still banned, because apparently being mostly-married to a grand master means everyone thinks you will use your grand master partner to cheat.

T'Prina looks at him in bewilderment. "Why would they suspect that?"

"Because I cheat at poker," Jim says glumly as half the rec room hates each other silently over a chess board. "Which is a totally different thing, by the way. Everyone cheats at poker; it's practically a rule."

T'Prina nods her utter shock that he isn't in a Federation penal colony.

"To be fair," Jim says, because he does try, sometimes, "there might be some residual bitterness from the fact Spock wipes the floor with them every time. So blame Spock, really."

"That is the reason," Spock says, taking the chair beside him, "that I have excused myself from competition."

"It was getting discouraging to play for shifts against the person who made the shift schedule," Jim admits, pushing the plate of chess-themed snacks toward him, since eventually Spock will get them anyway and why fight it? Also, Jim finds vegetables carved in the shape of a chessboard, complete with tiny, creepily accurate renditions of chess pieces, disturbing. "I'm officially judge, though, and it's a nice change of pace to be in charge and people actually listening. Speaking of--" Jim gets to his feet "--Mlk, you cannot en passant there, penalized one turn. I am instituting a minimum skills test to verify everyone knows the rules next time, I swear to God. I do not care if Denebian rules treat pawns like bishops after the tenth move, either, so don't even."

T'Prina picks up a decoratively checkered cookie for examination as Jim sits down again, feeling righteous in his power. "I see."

"It is late," Spock observes to the far wall, having cleared the plate with logical efficiency.

"I'm off duty until beta," Jim protests even as he stands up again, kind of wishing he'd at least saved a cookie. "T'Prina, I'm appointing you assistant judge; you're authorized break their fingers if they cheat."

T'Prina looks at Spock for sanity, which Jim finds really insulting.

"He has not slept properly since we left the colony," Spock tells her, taking the dramatic step of actually taking Jim's elbow and steering him toward the door. "Do not break their fingers, Cadet."

"Yes, Commander," she says obediently, though Jim detects a hint of disappointment. "Good night, Captain, Commander."

"I've slept!" Jim protests as the door closes.

"Three point six hours in your ready room is not sufficient," Spock answers placidly, the bastard, and Jim watches the approaching turbolift in resignation. "I understand you take pleasure in your duties as judge--"

"Mostly I like to mock the ones who lose, really," Jim admits as they step inside and Spock gives the order for their deck. "If they won't let me play, they have to let me heckle."

"Possibly, but I am sure they will admit that I have a greater right to your undivided attention when you are not on duty."

Jim looks at him. "You were consulting with Sorin most of the day."

"I am not now." As they exit the turbolift, Spock doesn't let him go. Sounding thoughtful, like he does when diagnostics illogically fail, he adds, "Perhaps I am jealous."

"You aren't." Jim looks at Spock; there's no way to tell. "Are you?"

As the doors to their quarters open, Jim surveys the epic level of neatness that's been achieved and tries to remember the last time he was in here for more than a few minutes for other than hygiene-related purposes. A little guiltily, Jim makes his way in the general direction of the bathroom, noting the small changes. There's a rug that T'Sora and Spock had gotten at some point, what is probably the beginnings of a water sculpture in the corner (he and Spock are not creative; they'll have to get someone in here to program it properly), a new meditation stone, and a faint sense of developing domesticity that gives him a horrible flashback to leaving the name of that 'bot manufacturer with Rand.

"Are we boring? It's not even two. And I'm not even on duty!" Jim strips off his uniform tunic and in the spirit of compromise puts it with the other laundry, leaving his boots in the closet with a faint feeling of accomplishment for doing his part for domestic tranquility. Coming back to the main room, Jim stops at the sight of the chess board set on a low table. "Wow. Let the good times roll."

Spock, already cross-legged by the table, continues methodically placing each chess piece. "I thought perhaps a game of chess would help you relax before we retire."

Sitting down, Jim tries to remember their last game. "We party like it's twenty-nine, ninety-nine, don't we? Who starts?"

"Orion rules," Spock answers calmly. Mildly amused eyes look into Jim's briefly, then drag down his body before taking a leisurely journey back up; with a faint sense of shock, Jim realizes he's flushing. "The first move is determined by the person wearing the least amount of clothing at the beginning of the game."

Jim glances down at himself (no footwear, no socks, no tunic) and grins. "Strip chess? What's my forfeit?"

"I will name it when I win." Spock hasn't ever lost a game of Orion strip chess as far as Jim knows; of course, as far as he knows, Spock's only ever played it with him. "I believe it is your move, Jim."

McCoy and Sorin are consulting on something complicated and disturbingly multi-colored that reminds Jim vaguely of a map of the highway system in Maine before he realizes it's a brain scan from one of the patients.

"The regeneration has been more complete than I anticipated," Sorin says as Dr. McCoy changes screens. Jim has seen his own often enough (far too fucking often) to recognize the brightly colored area off left is the psi-center on a human. "All of the patients have activated psi-centers. That is--unexpected."

"You just might have found a way to create telepaths," McCoy says flatly. "Three of the patients were psi-null; two of them are listening to conversations happening in the rec room right now and the third's been commenting on the state of my love life. Or lack thereof. That's something to wake you up in the morning, no coffee required."

"I have been instructing them in shielding," Sorin answers absently. "The Academy regime introduced by one of your nurses was inadequate to their newfound abilities. They are improving."

Bones gives Sorin a disbelieving look. "Human minds aren't--"

"Human minds have psi-centers; like your appendix, they are underdeveloped or atrophied in your evolution." Sorin looks at the results critically. "The patients are following a more aggressive path than Captain Kirk's after his bonding with Commander Spock--"

"I'm not a telepath," Jim says loudly, introducing himself into the conversation. Sorin looks at him without surprise, but Bones jumps, frowning at Jim. "At all."

"You are highly sensitive to your bondmate, however," Sorin says coolly, brown eyes unreadable. "I understand part of the diagnostic of pon farr was made when you began to read the thoughts of your officers due to an incident on the Centurius Station--"

Jim hesitates, looking at Bones, who is staring much too hard at those scans. "I don't remember much about that. Bones?"

"I read the reports Spock and Nyota gave and talked to them both about it," McCoy admits finally. "Off the record. I also have the arrest record from the planet, as well as the witness reports collected before Sulu managed to get you out of it. Your psi-centers were fully activated for at least twelve hours and you were reading at a ten meter range by all accounts, both active and passive thought."

"What?" Jim looks between them. "You've never mentioned--"

McCoy scowls. "Because it was one time and there were other concerns, like you being an asshole about having a goddamn death sentence. It never happened again, and you've never shown signs that it came back--"

"Wait." Jim looks between them. "I don't have regenerated brain matter, one, and two, I wasn't bonded to anyone then."

"Your body, however, was responding to the memory of a bond," Sorin says dispassionately. "It has been a source of fascination among many medical staff at the Academy." Which Jim really didn't want to know, thanks. "While we have no precedent for your situation, it is possible that the very lack of a bond is what caused the changes. You must understand; the instinct is very strong in us, and we will do a great deal to achieve--completion." Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "If the pon farr could be anthropomorphized thus, it was aware you were unbonded. It made the alterations necessary to attract and bond with a suitable mate."

Jim looks between McCoy and Sorin blankly. "Please tell me I'm hallucinating this conversation."

"You communicate very easily with Commander Spock telepathically," Sorin answers. Jim starts, feeling McCoy's eyes narrow on him. Sorin looks between them for a second, then at Jim. "I see. You did not inform Dr. McCoy of this development. I had wondered at the exclusion in your medical records. I believe this conversation should be continued in private, then."

"The hell it is," McCoy says acidly, staring at Jim. "You never said--"

"Sorin," he starts, because McCoy is going to take a very long conversation and a lot of alcohol, "I don't think--"

"I have consulted with your bondmate," Sorin says carefully, looking at Jim to see if he understands the significance of the distinction, "and gained his permission to speak to you of this. I had planned to seek you out today to request a meeting."

Jim takes a deep breath; Spock's privacy issues are almost equal to his own. There's a good reason for this. "Fine."

"Jim," McCoy says dangerously, "what the hell--"

"Later, I promise. Just--" He motions toward the door. A lot of alcohol, he thinks uncomfortably at McCoy's glare; distantly, he can feel Spock's focus shift to him. "Sorin, my quarters, half an hour. Bones--"

"Right after," McCoy says venomously with a significant look at the hypos. Yeah, he gets it. "And you better have a good reason."

Jim sighs. Yeah. A lot of alcohol.

"I apologize," Sorin says calmly, taking a seat on the small couch Jim indicates. Not for the first time, Jim thinks that of all the Vulcans he's met, Sorin may be the first who actually embodies the human concept of emotionless; it's hard to reconcile that with what Spock learned about him and Melody. "I did not realize--"

"Nah," Jim waves a hand. "He'll get over it. Now, what exactly is this about?"

"Commander Spock consulted with me regarding your shields," Sorin answers. "Until Dr. McCoy and I discovered the increased psi-readings on those we treated, he did not realize that it was not merely unfamiliarity that was causing you distress when you attempt to shield."

"I'm not distressed," Jim answers, eyes narrowing. "It's just--"

"Exhausting. It should not be." Sorin gives Jim a penetrating look. "Commander Spock was given only the preliminary training in the advanced mind disciplines; he would not have been aware that merely shielding a mind that is not psi-sensitive should not have been so difficult. Nor would he have been aware that between a Vulcan and those without that sensitivity, the level of communication you enjoy is--unusual."


Sorin tilts his head. "Outside of a meld, it is extremely uncommon to easily communicate with a non-telepathic species. A bondmate taken from such a species would require many years for their sympathetic nervous system to adapt. You have been bonded only a year. That by definition is unusual."

Jim can almost feel Spock's completely unemotional chagrin finding that out. This is going to be a very fun voyage, he can tell. "I'm not a telepath."

Sorin's head tilts thoughtfully. "After the first signs of increased psi abilities among the patients, I asked Dr. McCoy for the specifics of the incident during your pon farr that you state you cannot remember--"

"I'm not a telepath, Sorin. And I think I'm the authority on that."

"That is debatable," Sorin says terrifyingly. "Your bond is--unusual in many ways, not least due to how it was formed. An unanticipated bond formed during pon farr is extremely rare and never with the complications you endured. I would be interested in discovering the range of your ability, but I see you are uncomfortable, so I will come to the point. I wish to offer my services as an instructor."

Jim starts. "For--"

"To instruct you in shielding. Despite Commander Spock's efforts, you continue to experience difficulties. He feels that perhaps your requirements are beyond his current level of skill. After making an evaluation, it is probable I can assist you."

"What would that require?"

"I will need to meld with you."

"No." Jim controls the urge to order him to leave, but nothing can stop the flinch. "I don't--I mean, I really don't like people in my head."

Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "You are distressed."

"I--" Jim stops, feeling helpless. There's no way to explain this. "What--this thing with Spock--it wasn't his choice. Not really. Or mine, if I'd had a choice back then. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change anything, but it was--" Jim swallows. "Don't you people not talk about this?"

Sorin's expression doesn't change, but Jim has a faint sense of being studied. "I did not realize how deeply it had affected you." After a moment, Sorin nods, almost to himself. "Commander Spock was equally reticent to permit this. Would you be easier if he was present during instruction?"

"Define 'present'."

"He will join the meld." Sorin pauses, considering. "It would also serve to also instruct him in the more advanced disciplines, as neither of you have regular access to a mind healer or an acolyte."

Jim take a deep breath, sensing Spock's wary agreement: It would be unusual, Spock admits. But the disciplines are passed on thus among the acolytes of Gor, so it is not without precedent.

Right. Rubbing damp hands against his knees, Jim looks at Sorin sharply. "Can you read me now?"

"If I chose to." Sorin looks at Jim placidly. "My shields are a part of me. It is a conscious act to lower them to do a full reading. I can promise you, my training in the mind disciplines was strict and fully encompassing. I will do no more than evaluate your mind to discover how to teach you to efficiently shield yourself. Your bondmate has sufficient training and natural talent to easily observe and understand everything I will do." Sorin hesitates. "I could not affect your bond, even if I was so lost to the ethics of my people as to wish to. Commander Spock was accepted to study kolinahr for many reasons, among them his strong psi abilities; even a full adept could not interfere your bond with him. He is capable of responding well before any damage could be done."

Jim lets out a breath. "All right. Spock will check my schedule with Rand."

"Thank you, Captain." Sorin begins to rise, then hesitates. "I am aware of what you endured in experiencing the pon farr of an unbonded male. You were generous to permit your experience to be documented and studied by the Academy. The Academy did not reciprocate in kind, nor I believe told you how valuable that information is, especially at this time, with so many unbonded due to the death of their bondmates. For myself--" Sorin takes a breath, and for a second, Jim thinks he sees something flicker across the expressionless face, raw and endlessly deep, an unhealed wound. "It is no longer illogical to hope."

"Logic needs no thanks," Jim says awkwardly. "This--with the instruction--will that also--"

"I would have offered whether or not it was of benefit to Melody," Sorin answers. "The study of your bond with Commander Spock during the course of instruction could help me discover a new path in assisting Melody." Getting to his feet, he nods gravely. "I will speak to your bondmate and arrange a time convenient to you both. If you have further questions, I am at your service."

"I may take you up on that."

"So are you an adept?" Jim asks idly, trying not to watch Spock struggle with the water sculpture and failing utterly.

Water, rocks, forcefields, and a set of controls: it isn't warp core theory, but then again, if it were, both of them would probably be a lot better at it. Water sculpture is the equivalent of finger painting for adults--it's supposed to be fun and relaxing and it just isn't. Getting up from the terminal, Jim circles the water formed in sets of geometric squares before falling into the rock-filled basin at precise right angles and feels a headache starting already.

Spock doesn't look up from the controls. "No."

"Sorin seemed impressed with you." Nudging him with a hip, Jim looks at the code for a moment and cuts off a corner of the topmost square to see if that helps; it doesn't. Between the two of them, they've managed to create the least aesthetically pleasing art ever. "God, I hate water sculpture. I almost failed art at the Academy, you know."

Spock's eyes narrow, but that's because he almost failed art, too, and whoo boy does he hate admitting that.

Cutting off another corner, Jim stares at it for a minute. "Is this thing supposed to cause vertigo?" he asks before Spock reverts his changes. "You are a level seven computer technician. I graduated top of my class from Starfleet Academy. It shouldn't be this hard."

Spock starts his speech on art, meditation, and intellectual stimulation, but then really looks at what he's doing and winces, returning to the controls with renewed determination. Leaving him to it, Jim drops onto the couch, wondering if other people have these kinds of domestic issues. In some ways, Jim supposes that the fact both of them lack even a rudimentary understanding of normal cohabitation rules is a plus; not knowing exactly how it's supposed to work in normal relationships saves them a lot of stress in the long run.

"Sorin?" he reminds Spock.

"My psi-rating is very strong," Spock answers. "But a true Adept is very rare. Sorin is the only one born in five generations. It is not a comfortable gift among my people, not least to those that have it."

Jim mulls that, lying back and picking up a datapad to pretend to read. "You didn't tell me you were that worried about my shielding." Jim touches the screen, opening one of the historical texts he'd asked the Ambassador to get for him. His written Vulcan had gotten insanely good, which just goes to show that he wasted three years studying when he could have just waited for Spock to drop the entirety of his knowledge in his head and been done with it, accent included. "You blocked it."

Spock hesitates, a mental checking that Jim can feel more than see. "I did not wish--"

"I know you didn't want to worry me." Sighing, Jim drops the datapad over the side of the couch. "But you went to Sorin about it before you told me, and that's not on. You get that, right?"

Spock turns to look at him. "I was aware it would displease you."

"Not a regency heroine," Jim says, rolling on his side, arm tucked beneath his head. "I get needing mental space and everything, fine. This isn't that."

After a moment of consideration, Spock shuts down the controls, and Jim pulls up his legs enough for Spock to sit down, half-sitting himself to stare at Spock meaningfully.

"I thought the flaw was within myself."

Jim blinks slowly. "You thought--"

"That my--that when we bonded, it was done--incorrectly." Beneath the tight control, Jim can sense exactly how that conversation with Sorin must have started and feels sympathetic nausea. "He did not think that was the problem; however--"

"So that's why he was so insistent." Jim frowns, leaning back against the armrest. "I think we'd know if you did it wrong." He tries to control the shudder at the memory of Sorin's brother and his bondmate. "Seriously."

Spock doesn't shudder, but he would if he were human. "What was done between us was under--unusual circumstances," Spock answers diplomatically. "Your will was compromised--"

"We are not having this discussion again." Jim can see where this is going: it's a very irritating place that usually ends with one of them on the couch. "I told you--"

"I do not doubt your acceptance," Spock answers calmly. "But given the choice--"

"God, we are having this discussion."

"--you would not have chosen me as a mate."

Jim stares at him for a minute. "You are a such an idiot. Do you think I regret it? Or if I'd known---" Jim stops, feeling a little helpless. "Okay, to put this in terms that will make sense to you; I would have logically--and I cannot believe I have to say this--chosen this. It wasn't just better than dying in a really humiliating way. Though yeah, it was definitely better than that, too."

Spock looks his opinion on guessing probability. "Jim--"

"You know how I feel about you. Not like you can't pick up that without even trying."

"I do. And I know it was not true before this happened between us. It is very rare that Vulcans are required to bond as we did, and you are not telepathic. It is not a question of whether you were coerced; it is a question of how much, and if there is residual damage."

The problem is, that's true, and also, not true at all; feelings have never been Jim's forte and Spock spends a lot of his free time pretending they aren't there at all. This can be both good and bad; being able to skip talking about their feelings is, for Jim, a huge plus. The minus is, they're both shit navigating a conversation about them when they do have to talk about it, and all the bonding in the world doesn't mean jack shit when it comes to that. At least Spock has Uhura as a frame of reference for how this is supposed to work; Jim's pretty sure that if they were depending on him to figure this out, they'd be very almost-divorced, or possibly homicidal.

"It doesn't matter," Jim says slowly, searching for the right words. "What we did--and this was we, not just you, so the martyr act needs to stop--just--maybe sped it up, I don't know. Some people meet at like, the Academy or on duty and go years figuring each other out before they get around to a relationship. So we cheated. I'm known for that."

Spock doesn't raise an eyebrow, but Jim thinks he wants to. "Jim--"

"You didn't damage me. You didn't coerce me. It was a choice." Jim takes a deep breath. "The Ambassador asked me, you know. About everything. The thing is, I wouldn't change anything, except understanding what you were offering me before I almost drove us both crazy. Which you know, that part, yeah, that was your fault."

Pushing himself up, Jim crawls across the couch, straddling Spock's lap. Jim prefers physical contact because he's human and humans mostly like that sort of thing; he suspects Spock likes it because he uses it like a diagnostic tool, and (possibly) because it's edgy for a Vulcan to feel up a human or something. Apparently, Spock was a total rebel during his adolescence and never really got over it, which Jim finds hilarious. "When is the appointment with Sorin?"

"Tomorrow evening. I confirmed with Yeoman Rand that your schedule was open."

"Because if you didn't go through her first, she'd kick your ass," Jim says with a grin. "Like I said, she needs a ship of her own to bully." Getting up, Jim pulls Spock to his feet. "Come on."

"Do you have something in mind?" Spock's eyes flicker to the water sculpture; he's seriously not going to let that go.

"You will never hear me say this again," Jim says, hating himself a little, "but I think I'd better meditate."

That gets Spock's undivided attention; even water sculpture failure can't compete with that. "Really."

"Don't get used to it," Jim warns, sitting on the edge of the bed to take off his tunic. "But if I'm going to have someone else in my head--" He needs Spock there first, tonight, so he can remember it when he has to let someone else do this to him.

Spock takes the tunic from his hands, fingers brushing Jim's in perfect understanding. "I understand."

Yeah, he does.

They're entering the chess semi-finals, which means the entire ship is on edge, with crewmembers and officers eyeing each other hostilely in hall and mess and generally acting like the super-competitive people they all are.

Stopping by Uhura's station, he looks over her shoulder to see what appears to be the beginnings of a tentative class schedule for the coming year. "Concentrating Ling I and II?" Jim asks, leaning against the console. Uhura twitches, giving him a frown for being a sneaky ass. "Kind of heavy."

"They can handle it. On a starship, practical application teaches better than classroom. I'll rotate my students into Communications; I'm coordinating with cross-training so the enlisted crew will work in departments related to current classes."

"Good idea." Cross-training for crew was mandatory in Starfleet, though most starships paid only lip service to the idea; it took a lot of coordination between department heads and the paperwork was unreal. And department heads were notoriously possessive of their people, even enlisted personnel. An attitude Jim both understood and ignored; every member of his crew rotated departments regularly, including junior officers, and the department heads either dealt with it or found another ship. Starship duty could be epically boring; Jim learned that the hard way. It could also be epically unpredictable, and if Jim had to learn how to solder power conduits while lying in Jefferies tubes during a firefight and still give orders to Spock on the bridge, well, he sees no reason that anyone else should be spared the joy. "Send me the final draft and copy Rand so she and Spock can rework the crew schedules."

"Will do."

Pushing off the console, Jim wanders to his chair, feeling particularly useless. Whoever decided a captain's duties must have been either really into diplomacy or just the laziest ass ever. Not that his crew is doing any better: currently, the helm is staffed with a near-comatose Sulu, and Chekov is playing three dimensional sudoku while pretending to scan dead, dead, dead space.

Somehow, Pike had made this all seem so much more interesting than it really is, and Jim silently hates Spock for figuring this out a long time ago. Science officers and first officers have all the fun; currently, his first officer is playing in his lab and pretending it's work and not the most fun a Vulcan can have. "Status?" Jim asks, trying to sound commanding.

"Nothing," Sulu answers sullenly, then straightens in alarm. "Er, everything normal, sir."

Jim waves irritably and sinks further into his chair. "Yeah, kind of what I thought."

"Captain?" Uhura says abruptly. "We're receiving an encrypted communication." She pauses; turning in his chair, Jim watches her hands tap quickly across her board. "You'll want to see this. The algorithms are similar to the ones recovered from the data solids at the Begammon Station."

"You're kidding," Jim answers blankly; of all the possibilities he'd considered, he really hadn't thought he'd be contacted directly. "Send it to lab two and come with me. Sulu, you have the bridge."

Uhura stands up as her relief takes her place, following him to the turbolift. "Why lab two?" she asks as the door closes.

"The computer's been running a search on every encryption algorithm we have in the databases," Jim answers. "We're going to put this one in and see what happens."

"We know it's Orion, so you're looking for a direct link to someone," she says thoughtfully. "You think they are using variations of the same encryption patterns each time?"

"Even the Federation doesn't create a brand new standard every time one of them gets broken," Jim answers as the turbolift doors open. "The computer can give us the possibilities. I need you to tell me which ones were potentially by the same person or entity." Jim stops at the door. "Release lock, alpha a beta b one two three and add Lieutenant Uhura to authorized personnel."

Following him in, she looks at him over the lab table. "How many are we talking about?"

"Last I checked, one million sixteen thousand matches." Uhura stares at him. "We had only one sample! Communications are your specialty, not mine."

Rolling her eyes, Uhura sits down, pulling up the message on the terminal. "Right," she says with a sigh, waving him toward the door. "I'll keep you updated."

Jim squints. "Are you throwing me out of my own secret project?" Uhura just looks at him, then significantly, at the door. "Fine, fine, I'm going. I've got a communiqué from Starfleet and one from Mitchell waiting for me. Probably wants to know the sitch on Vulcan and get those cheat codes."

"Mitchell?" Uhura says acidly. "So now we report to that overbred--"

"Hey!" Jim says, offended. "Let me remind you, I'm fifth generation Starfleet. I'm way more overbred than he is."

Uhura gives him a harassed look. "But you don't act like it, Captain."

Jim rocks back on his heels, surprised. "Wow. Is that a compliment?"

She doesn't answer; Jim will take that one as a win.

Dr. Leonard McCoy
Dr. Leonard McCoy

Spock meets him for a quiet, extremely logical lunch, and Jim stares down at the nutritionally balanced meal. "So no fried chicken?" he says, trying to identify the array of vegetables, some of which he recognizes as newly programmed into the replicators since their visit to Ambassador Spock.

"Your health is of paramount importance," Spock answers in way that's Vulcan for smug.

"Meat is healthy," Jim answers rebelliously, poking his fork into the salad. "Anything interesting going on? I was stuck reading new and exciting paperwork from Starfleet. Did you know we're adding forms specifically for reactions to alien pollen? Seriously? Does it really happen that often? Is there anything interesting happening? Anywhere?"

"Lieutenant Uhura has reported the encryption signature on the message has a twenty-two point six-three-eight percent base commonality with the samples from the station and your game."

Jim stabs a forkful of salad. "Why is it that when I ask, I'm told to stop stalking her, but you get an explanation?"

Spock doesn't dignify that with a response. "I understand we have received new orders."

"Starfleet's sending us to Starbase 3," Jim answers, trying not to sound bitter and failing utterly. "We're to pick up those physicists after all, since they just can't get any other transport. Mitchell's there, by the way--I guess his ship doesn't count as transport now? The fucker."

Spock glances up in faint reproof. "Captain Mitchell is a competent officer." Which is true, and from Spock, probably the highest possible praise. That doesn't mean Jim has to like Mitchell so obviously pulling strings. "Doubtless he wishes to speak to you regarding the situation in the colony without--"

"Starfleet noticing us chatting too much. Yeah, I know." Taking another bite, Jim watches two crewmembers giving each other dark glares; it looks like Ensign Myran from Engineering won the semi-finals last night. "You know, remember when I used to be bored and said we needed more to do? So I thought it would be great idea to start ship intramural tournaments?"

"It has been excellent for crew morale," Spock answers maliciously. "The addition of regular classes--"

"About that." Jim points his fork at Spock. "I saw the schedule Uhura's working on. I'm teaching Command 101?"

Spock looks a question.

"Okay, they call it Ethical Situations in Starfleet History or whatever, fine," Jim answers, "but it's the core prerequisite for acceptance to command track. When was this decided?"

"You are captain of the ship," Spock starts, trying to be logical and irritating.

"And my professor tried to fail me. It took Pike and a review board to keep my A and not flunk out of command track! Not to mention--"

"I reviewed your coursework," Spock says, finishing up the salad and showing far too much interest in the whole grain bread that Jim hasn't been able to escape eating for the last three months. "I do not see a conflict. You and your instructor had differing interpretations of Starfleet policy."

Jim sits back. "You went through my coursework." Though really, he should have known. He checked out Spock's, after all. "When?"

"When I accepted this position."

Of course. "And you think I should bend some bright young minds? Not that I'm against that or anything. I just doubt Starfleet will accept it."

"Whether Starfleet will accept courses taught here as credit is immaterial. The course will introduce them to the ethical dilemmas common to Starfleet and give them the opportunity to decide if they are suited to Starfleet as officers."

Jim squints at Spock. "You know, I'm just thinking if we want to encourage them to join up, maybe we should get them someone who could, you know, be that shining light of inspiration. Like say, I don't know, you."

Spock's eyebrows raise faintly. "I think not."

"You're just grumpy that you're the only one who can do intro to relativity in physics," Jim answers with a grin, giving it up. "You and Uhura decide when we start?"

"We should be prepared to begin preliminary classes in three months. I have gauged interest among the crew and have begun adjusting crew assignments to compensate."

"You don't let grass grow under your feet, that's for sure." Jim takes another bite; with some kind of dressing, this wouldn't be too bad. "Don't pretend you don't know the reference; your mother was a Federation interpreter and I know very well you have a sick fascination for proverbs. So do we have enough for a full class?"

Spock look at him expressionlessly. "I see you have not been reading my reports, despite the fact you have stated that you always--"

"Your reports are twenty five thousand words on a slow day," Jim says flatly. "The last was longer than War and Peace, but admittedly somewhat easier to read. I read the preface, author notes, and summary. How many crew signed up? Give me ballpark."

Spock folds his hands, and the timing must be coincidental, because Jim has just taken another bite when he says, "Two hundred crewmembers have expressed interest."

Jim grabs for his napkin, breathing romaine and turuiq slices.

"Do you require assistance Captain?"

Jim glares at him over the napkin, knowing his hysterical coughing is attracting attention. You are such an asshole.

While Spock's expression doesn't change, Jim can sense the amusement. Did you expect fewer respondents?

Jim wipes his mouth shakily. "That was a joke, right? I mean, it's certainly bad enough. Very Vulcan."

"No, it is not."

Jim drops his napkin. "That's over one third of the crew, excluding officers--"

"I am aware of the precise numbers; would you like me to elucidate?"

"No." Jim looks around the quiet mess for a moment, trying to give this some kind of context. "Two hundred."

"They will require individualized evaluation to discover the extent of their education and to find their aptitudes," Spock says, like this is some perfectly ordinary conversation or something, "but otherwise, I do not foresee difficulties."

Jim watches Spock for a few moments; Spock kind of sucks at hiding personal smugness, and he's not even trying to right now. "You saw this coming, didn't you?"

"I suspected it, yes."

Jim waits, but that seems all Spock has to say about the matter. Straightening, Jim grabs his fork. "I didn't," he admits, wondering if he can find a replicator once Spock goes back to play in his lab and get something completely unhealthy and delicious without Spock finding out. "A lifetime commitment's pretty different from a five year assignment. And most enlisted kind of loathe Starfleet officers. Not that I blame them," Jim adds, playing with the remains of the salad. "I'd have been cashiered out of Starfleet already if I'd had to serve under most of them. Well, except for you." Jim gives Spock a winning smile. "I'm sure I'd have been a great subordinate."

Spock gives him a look that implies he doubts Jim's sanity. "Perhaps something changed their minds."

Jim snorts his opinion of that and finishes his salad.

Unfortunately, Sorin is precisely on time, which Jim supposes is probably better than early, but not by much. Turning his attention back to the water sculpture, he ignores Spock going to the door and the quiet exchange behind him until he notices he's making something that looks a lot like a symbolic representation of a ship being torn apart by a black hole.

Maybe he should stop now.


Jim makes himself close the control panel and turn around; a very real part of him thinks calling for a site to site transport to a nice, safe locked room isn't the worst idea ever.

"Right." Forcing his legs to move, Jim crosses the room and sits down, trying to look less freaked out than he feels, despite the fact he's in the presence of two telepaths and can't a hide a goddamn thing. "What should I do?"

Sorin gives Spock a look over Jim's head that's just irritating. "I will need you to relax, Captain Kirk--"

"Jim," Jim interrupts shortly. "You're in my head, you use my name."

"Jim," Sorin corrects himself smoothly. "Spock will begin the meld. When he feels you are comfortable, I will join you. If at any time you feel distress, I will withdraw. This can be done as slowly as you require."

Rubbing damp palms on his knees, Jim nods slowly. "Right. Okay. Let's just--just get this over with, okay?"


Closing his eyes, Jim concentrates on the place in his head that Spock occupies, reminding himself that in this, at least, there are no mysteries. They've done this more times than he can count. You can suppress it if I panic, right?

Jim feels long, familiar fingers touch his face. It would not be prudent to interfere with your--

Do it anyway. If you think it's important to do this, I want to get it over with. Jim takes another breath, matching Spock's as the first stages of the meld begin, the familiar words running smoothly through his head. I trust you.

Almost from a distance, Jim feels Spock's fingers slide into place. No matter what--even now--this part, this part Jim never gets tired of. For what feels like forever and still far too short, he can feel the perfect click of their minds, of everything they both are become so much more together than they had ever been apart.

The touch of another mind pulls his attention, and Jim jerks, startled at the foreign presence intruding into their thoughts. For a second, he's aware of a sudden, startled panic before it's gone as if it had never been there at all, a quiet urge to relax, accept, do not be afraid.

All right, he answers a little dreamily and relaxes into the firm touch. I trust you.

Jim's aware of a strong sense of disorientation, sitting up so suddenly that it takes a few seconds to dispel the vertigo enough to realize he's in bed and it's mid-gamma.

Blinking, Jim reaches up, touching his head; there's a faintly tender feeling, nothing like a headache, but it's the closest word he can use to describe it. Closer to his memories of his first year at the Academy, doubling classes and drinking too much coffee and wondering who on earth he was trying to prove himself to. For a long time, he'd thought it was Pike: looking back, though, he think that just maybe, it had been to himself.


The mental touch to his hypersensitive mind makes him cringe; Jim pushes the heel of his hand against his temple, trying to control the throbbing ache that's not even physical, so how the hell--

"It is supposed to hurt?" Jim says slowly, enunciating each word carefully.

He can feel Spock sit up beside him, removing his hand and pressing gently against his temples. Jim looks into the serious brown eyes, trying not to flinch at the careful mental touch.

"For a Vulcan, no," Spock answers, eyes flickering closed, and the pain dampens. "For you, however--you are not accustomed to the exertions of this kind of prolonged mental contact. How much do you remember of this evening?"

Now that he mentions it… "Some?" As the not-pain slowly shifts to a dull ache, Jim frowns, searching backward. The faint, vague memories feel more like a dream than anything that actually happened. "Not very much. What happened?"

"Sorin stated he will require time to evaluate what he has discovered," Spock says slowly. Jim lets out a breath; while he doesn't know that much about Vulcan Adepts, he knows enough to guess that's not a great sign. "However, he also said that teaching you to shield yourself should alleviate the problems you have experienced; it is merely a matter of instructing you in the correct technique."

"Even though we don't know what the problem is? That's--weird."

"The mental disciplines are not always logical," Spock says, with a faint sense of embarrassment, like it's a personal failing. "He wishes to begin the meditation exercises we are instructed in as children, if you have no objection."

Jim looks at Spock in growing horror. "You mean the three hour long meditation exercises you did when you were like, two? The ones even you don't do anymore because they are so goddamn boring? Those exercises?"

"They can be beneficial to cultivate patience," Spock says, not needing to add "as you have none".

Jim stares at Spock. "I swear to God that sometimes I think Vulcan tradition was created specifically for a sense of moral superiority over humans. The chess finals are tomorrow night. It's going to be awesome and I'm going to get to throw at least four people in the brig if it's anything like it was last year. Why do you hate it when I'm happy?"

"You are unusually irrational," Spock observes, removing his hand. "Your mind will be clearer in the morning after you have rested. A deep meld is exhausting even for a Vulcan; it can take time to accustom to the strain of an unfamiliar mind."

Jim lets Spock ease him back down, mostly because Spock's right; he can feel the pull of sleep at the corner of his mind. "It never happened with you." Silence. "Spock?"

Turning his head, Jim looks at Spock, inches and light years away all at once. Rolling on his side, Jim reaches out, finding Spock's hand. To his surprise, fingers lace almost immediately through his own, pulling him unresistingly closer. Throwing a knee over Spock's thigh, Jim pushes himself up on one elbow. "It never happened with you," Jim repeats slowly, "because the Ambassador did it first, and I was still influenced by the Ambassador's memories the first time. And then, after three days together, you were pretty damn familiar. Right?"

The affirmative answer doesn't need to be spoken; Jim can feel it in the silence.

Lying back down, Jim closes his eyes, concentrating on Spock's fingers tight in his. "I used to be jealous of Uhura," Jim hears himself say, feeling Spock's startled attention like the warmth of his hand. "I know how you felt about her then and how you feel about her now."

"I did not know that."

Jim smiles faintly. "Desperation, like ego, is the mother of invention; I wondered if I was hiding it. It was pretty humiliating. I never got why people would get freaked about that kind of thing, you know--I never saw the point of worrying about losing someone. Thing is, there was never anyone I couldn't stand to lose. Which," Jim continues lightly, "pretty much fucks up my theory I was beyond this sort of crap. But there you go."

"Jim." The fingers tighten around his. "I would never--"

"I know." Licking his lips, Jim takes a deep breath. "I know when you came down to find me, you were giving up the potential for--to be with anyone else." Jim opens his eyes. "I don't know how to be sorry for that anymore."

Spock leans forward, lips brushing his, achingly gentle, sweet like in stories about first love, the kind of stories that always ended with someone with a broken heart and a life lesson about letting someone go. It figures, Jim thinks hazily, lips parting as the kiss deepens, that his life lesson isn't learning how to let go; instead he learned how much he really is his mother's son.

Pulling back, Spock looks down at him; Jim aches a little at the feeling in it, overwhelming and humbling by turn. "I have never regretted it," Spock murmurs against his cheek, less than a breath of sound. "Even if I could, there is nothing I would change."

Jim nods slowly, fingers tangling in Spock's hair, pulling him back to his mouth. Yeah. Me either.

Uhura's like a machine; in a day, she's narrowed the possibilities down to less than five thousand. Trying not to look as awed as he feels, Jim studies her results. "Huh. Five thousand?"

"It's killing you inside isn't it?"

Jim scowls at her over the top of the screen before retreating into dignified silence, mostly because he can't think of a reply. "So what am I looking at, besides a lot of repetition?"

"The encryption signatures of roughly seventy-eight species of humanoid beings," she says, gracious in victory. "I'm still running strings through the database, so I should have these narrowed down to about a thousand before lunch." Sitting back with a faint glow of satisfaction, she smiles at him, reminding him he really should have reconsidered the advanced classes in organic cryptology even if they were at six in the goddamn morning.

Tapping the table, Jim scrolls through the page absently. "I'm missing something," he says finally, closing the page down before he gives into the temptation to throw something at the computer for not being omnipotent. "I just wonder why a Romulan would turn against his people."

"You think every single person in the Empire is hot for a war with the Federation?"

Jim frowns. "Of course not. I'm saying that either he's convinced they can't win--which I seriously doubt--or he's like a Romulan Gandhi or something, which sure, is possible, but would a Romulan Gandhi be high enough in the government to know what's going on? They don't really encourage independent thinking in their military. I'm just not seeing it."

"You think he was lying?"

"No. Dar's a businessman and he knows he operates by the grace of not being stupid. If he was selling me out, it would be the last business he'd ever do anywhere, ever; it wouldn't have been just a Federation captain he fucked over, but a customer. Even if he got away from the Federation, he'd never be able to establish himself again.."

"Honor among thieves?" Uhura says, amused. "Fair enough."

"Yeah, and--I've known him for a while." Jim looks away. "He wouldn't fuck me over. That he set up that meeting means it was legitimate."

Uhura gives him a disbelieving look. "And next you're going to say you regret getting out of Begammon."

"I'm beginning to think leaving was a mistake," Jim admits.

Uhura's smile fades. "Captain--"

"If I hadn't had T'Prina, I would have stayed," Jim says finally, looking at Uhura ruefully. "Risking myself I was okay with, but I couldn't risk her, not with a telepath involved. She's just a kid."

"She's only three years younger than you are."

Jim gives Uhura a faint smile. "It feels like a lot more," he says with a shrug. "Anyway, in retrospect, I should have negotiated her release and stuck around to see what was going on."

"That would have gone over well," Uhura says flatly; she's not just talking about his ship, or Starfleet.

"You'd have been here to make sure nothing went wrong," Jim answers lightly. "And I don't trust just anyone to do that." And he isn't either. "When we leave Earth, I want to go back to the station and beam down, see if I can find out something."

"With a full security detail, of course," Uhura answers, equally light, and meaning every word.

"Kind of put a cramp in my style."

"We'd like your style alive and in one piece, sir," she answers, not lightly at all. Startled, Jim looks at her. "We have a shore leave coming up in a few months. I'd rather not spend it running around the galaxy trying to rescue you, you know. I have plans."


"Just keep that in mind when you start thinking up new and exciting ways to get yourself killed or kidnapped. No one wants to train up a new captain; we just got you broken in." Uhura turns back to her screen. "Now go away so I can get some work done. Don't you have a ship to run?"

Getting up, Jim smirks in her general direction. "You know Spock does all that," he says. "Everyone says so."

"Someday," she says, "you won't be able to get away with that anymore."

"But that day is not today. Keep me informed." With a sloppy salute to her back he knows she can see reflected in the screen, Jim leaves before she realizes there's a pencil close enough to throw at him. She has really accurate aim.

All Starfleet cadets are instructed in meditation in the academy; it's a mandatory course for all future officers, in the (vain) hope they'll actually use it to avoid unfortunate stress-related situations such as climbing naked on the dean's roof and shouting out their newfound belief in the benefits of anarchy in blank verse during midterms.

But Starfleet-mandated meditation, taught by Betazoids like an art, is one thing; Vulcans treat it like a hard science. Sorin treats meditation like a hard science with a physical practical; at the end of the first hour, Jim opens his eyes, looking at Sorin blearily. "This isn't meditation. This is guided mental torture."

Jim senses a hysterical combination of horror and reluctant amusement from his left; Sorin tilts his head slightly, studying Jim, and not for the first time, Jim just cannot imagine how this guy could possibly have ever done anything as illogical as fall in love with anyone, ever.

"The techniques we are employing are by necessity of a condensed nature; the course we are following is usually spread over a series of years, not weeks," Sorin answers. "I am restricting it to the aspects most relevant to you. It will be tiring, but it is necessary. Shielding yourself should be as instinctive, as thoughtless, as breathing."

Jim glances at Spock, who is listening in respectful silence. "I get that," Jim answers, trying not to sound like he's whining, even though right now in the rec room, someone is winning a chess tournament and it's kind of inevitable there will be an altercation that he won't even get to see, much less dispense judgment on. "I just--look, try to see this from my point of view. You're asking a blind guy to identify colors by touch here; that's where I'm coming from."

Sorin frowns faintly. "I do not--ah, I understand. A unusual but surprisingly apt comparison." Hands resting lightly on his knees, Sorin looks between them. "I think that we should end the lesson here, Captain, Commander. Exhausting yourself unnecessarily will not assist your progress."

Jim slumps in relief. "There's been progress?"

"Yes, though you may not be aware of it. The mind, like any muscle, responds to training. You are doing surprisingly well; I commend Commander Spock for his thorough work in instructing you in the preliminary disciplines. It has made this far easier than expected."

Spock doesn't straighten, but Jim kind of thinks he would if he weren't Vulcan. "Would you care for refreshment, Sorin?" Spock asks, uncoiling himself from the floor in a single lithe motion that never fails to make Jim forget to breathe.

"I cannot accept at this time; my patients require my attention before I can retire." He makes no indication that when he completes his duties, he will return to the databases, searching for hope in every Federation medical record he can access before forced to sleep by the logical demands of his body. McCoy had remarked on his dedication to his patients, and Jim had nodded silent agreement; privacy forbade telling him the reason for Sorin's single-minded focus.

As Spock and Sorin approach the door, talking softly about anything but that, Jim checks the chronometer. If he hurries, he should get to see the second half of the final match.

Sorin wishes my opinion on a text he recently uncovered regarding telepathic healing practices, Spock tells him unexpectedly. I assume you will be observing the match in the rec room?

Hell yes. Grinning, Jim goes for his boots. "I'll tell you when the fight breaks out."

"Captain," T'Prina says gravely as he joins her at the judges' table. With a plate of snacks that do not bear even a passing resemblance to vegetables or anything healthy, Jim sits down between her and Bones. "I had thought you would not be able to attend."

Bones takes a cookie, leaning against his shoulder, murmuring, "They're already trash talking."

Jim eyes the individuals at the table: Crewman Rumiko Tamura, a pretty, delicate looking member of ship's operations and part of the pool of crewmen assigned to away teams, and Ensign Roo from Computer Maintenance, who Jim remembers faintly from the Academy as a gifted athlete. An athlete with an impossibly high score in FIDE chess ratings.

"Three-two in her favor," McCoy adds. He chuckles at Jim's surprise. "Gets better; he taught her to play after the tournament last year."

Jim picks up another cookie. "Why do I think I've seen their names recently?"

"That would be a complaint from Ensign Roo's neighbors," Bones answers with a smirk. Jim chokes and tries to cover for it with a cough, getting himself a roomful of glares. With an apologetic wave, Jim swallows quickly. "Seems their unofficial cohabitation is rather--noisy."

"You're fucking with me."

"Nope. Kind of disgustingly cute, isn't it?"

Jim watches her eyes narrow as Roo takes her bishop with just a little too much satisfaction. "Someone's sleeping on the couch tonight."

"Nah--they're both competitive as hell. Should have seen the results of their first date; I had to treat them after a three hour hoverball match. They were still shouting at each other about Rigellian rule exceptions after I let them go." Bones gives them a sardonic look. "Roo convinced her to sign up for your little education experiment, by the way; she's second generation colonial, and formal education on her planet is vocational after age sixteen. This is her third tour of duty as crew. She didn't think she could make the cut for the Academy at her age with almost none of the education a kid on Earth finishes in secondary school."

Jim uses his reach for another cookie to look around the room, observing the surprising number of enlisted personnel watching the game intently. "The colonies are Starfleet's best hunting ground for enlistment. Who can resist the promise of going where no one's gone before when you've never even had the opportunity to get off-planet?"

"You've always been sensitive about that. Noblesse oblige?"

Jim rolls his eyes. "Whatever."

"It's okay to admit sometimes you have something more altruistic in mind than alleviating your own boredom."

Jim takes McCoy's glass, tasting the pale green liquid and twitching at the strong mix of mint and grain alcohol. "This is disgusting," he says, taking a longer drink. "What is it? Get me one."

"You're changing the subject," Bones answers, amused. "You really took Pike's observations to heart, didn't you?"

Jim empties the glass in retaliation, ignoring the hard burn and faint dizziness. What the fuck was that? "Bones--"

"I'm just saying, deciding to change the entire composition of Starfleet by sheer will is in fact something you'd think was a challenge to your ingenuity, not an exercise in insanity. I bet Pike practically hugged you when you told him about this. It's something he'd do."

"He wanted to." Jim fixes his eyes on the two adversaries, currently studying the board like it held the secret to universal peace and unlimited chocolate. "There's a lot he wanted to do."

"Is that why?"

Jim looks at his denuded plate and wishes he'd eaten just a little slower. "When we got back to earth--after the thing," he says, knowing Bones will know exactly what he's referring to, "we talked about my first year in command before I went in front of the review board--"

"And hightailed it out after setting a delayed application for domestic partnership."

Jim smirks, picking up his own glass. "I like how everyone assumes that was my idea."

"Spock wouldn't--" Bones hesitates, eyes wide. "Christ, he's a manipulative bastard. And look at that, we went right off topic again."

Jim sighs. "Oh, for--we talked. We played 'what would you do if you controlled the universe'. I said I'd like to get a few officers that don't think grandpa getting his name on a newly discovered planet was all you needed to be a good officer. And possibly the title 'Universe's Most Awesome Captain', but then I found a shop that will put that on a mug, so I figured I'd concentrate on the first part."

"You did go through a lot of officers your first year."

"The review board noticed that, too." Jim smiles sharply. "Then Pike started talking about my dad's views as a department head and suddenly everyone shut up. Weird how that works."


"He wasn't done," Jim says flatly. "Pike should have had decades with his ship and instead he's bound to a desk and a window that looks out on the Academy courtyard so he can watch others do the only thing he ever wanted to do. He was--he was a great captain, and he had a vision of what Starfleet, what the Federation could be."

"He's an idealist," Bones murmurs. "And you're a lot of things, but an idealist ain't it. We both know you don't see the Federation like he does."

Jim watches Roo make another move. "I know. But I think I want to."

"So--what? You and Spock and Nyota--and I know she's in on this, don't even try that look on me--think you can change the Federation just because you want to?"

Abruptly, Tamura half rises from her chair, fingers curling around a knight and moving it within range of the king. "Check," she says, looking into Roo's eyes. "And mate."

Roo stares at the board, eyes wide; then slowly, he reaches out, and Jim watches him tip his king over.

The room explodes as the crew and officers floods the roped off competition area, cheering so loudly Jim can almost feel the computer adjusting the acoustics for volume control. Tamura blinks like someone just waking up, looking down at the board in shock before back at Roo while T'Prina declares Crewman Tamura winner of the second annual Enterprise Chess Deathmatch.

"Yeah," Jim says softly as Roo pushes the table out of the way, board and pieces tumbling to the floor, and picks her up, spinning her in a tiny circle. "I think we can. Want in?"

"An ion storm?" Jim asks as he gets his second cup of coffee, trying to read the report and listen to Sulu at the same time. "Are we talking like, summer shower or hurricane?"


"Can we drive through it?"

"Yes, sir." Sulu takes the report back, scrolling down. "Scott's sending an estimate of the potential damage, but it's all small stuff. Interference with communications and some navigational glitches, but nothing serious."

"Scotty's itching to try Torren's equations, isn't he?"

Sulu sighs. "I never saw anyone get that excited about an ion storm before, sir. It was weird."

Leaning against his desk, Jim drinks his second cup dry before answering, because Scotty's relationship with his engines is something none of them are really comfortable thinking about if they can help it. "I didn't know this area was subject to ion storms."

"It's rare, but it's happened a couple of times," Sulu says, consulting his datapad and trying not to look too eager; Jim supposes after the last week of straight flying, even an ion storm sounds like a good time.

"Right." Jim considers the merits of another cup of coffee. "What's our ETA?"

"Eighteen hours, 0200 ship's time. Their lunch, sir."

"Great. All right, send a message to Starbase 3. Then, I want senior staff on the bridge when we reach the edge of the system; get Spock to switch up shifts. Even a small ion storm isn't anything to sneeze at." Jim sighs at his empty cup. "Dismissed, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

T'Prina is inevitably hovering just outside the door; waving a hand, Jim gets his third cup and ignores the faint disapproval radiating toward him. "Report to Uhura in Lab 2," Jim tells her. "It's a very secret project. Tell her the password is 'pirates'."

T'Prina hesitates. "I see. Will there be anything else?"

Honestly, Jim's scraping the bottom of the barrel to give her something to do at this point. Vulcans. And their competence. "Nah, we're good."

"Do you wish me to accompany you on your mission?"

Jim frowns. "The starbase isn't exactly a--"

"I meant on our return to the Begammon Station."

Jim blinks, looking at her in surprise. "How did you know--"

"We do not yet have enough information to draw the correct conclusions," she answers. "It is logical you would wish to return. As it is likely that you do not wish to draw attention to yourself, you will not want to take security. I would--it would be logical that I accompany you."

Jim studies her with dawning realization. "You liked being a pirate, didn't you? Admit it."

"The necessity of deception for a greater good is recognized as a necessary deviation from the strictly ethical. I found the form this deception took both unusual and intriguing."

"You did like it," Jim says in wonder. This day is looking up hugely. "It was fun. It was exciting. You liked being a pirate."

T'Prina's expression doesn't change, but there just might be a green tinge to her skin. He's a good captain; he'll make this easy. This time. "Yes, you can. We need to keep our cover anyway."

"Thank you, Captain."

Jim pretends he can't see her relief. "Dismissed."

Jim waits until the door is completely closed before he starts to laugh.

Bones drags him to breakfast before he can pretend he already ate, submitting to a quick scan of his head, just in case he secretly concussed himself and was withholding the information out of spite.

"Like not telling me about you being able to talk to Spock in your head," Bones says, maliciously denying him pancakes and herding him toward a table with a bowl of what appears to be grain covered in milk and a banana. "You idiot."

Jim scowls and takes a spoonful of the grain. It's just as horrible as he expected. "I apologized with Romulan ale. Get over it. Do I ask about your sex life?"

"Yes. All the time. Every time you see me."

Point. "Bones--"

"Shut up." Bones points the spoon at him. "I got a notice today I'm going to be teaching."

Jim hides his smile behind his spoon. He'd had a feeling that coming from Nyota, Bones would have a much harder time refusing.

"Like I don't have enough to do," Bones grumbles, eating eggs and bacon with great and obvious pleasure. After a few seconds of silence, Bones relaxes again, looking at Jim speculatively. "Pike's coordinating with the Academy?"

"He's pushing approval through the red tape. He's going to be taking some of the upperclassmen for advanced tactical training in exchange for a position on the Academy board. I'm less worried about them refusing than the idea that was floated around to remove the right to test for credit. Even if we can't give them credit, they'll still be able to test out."

Bones chuckles. "They aren't going to forgive you for refusing to act like a normal cadet and have a nervous breakdown or fail a class. You should have given them something; one good drunk and disorderly with a suspension for a term would have been enough to get them off your back. No one likes Fleet brats outperforming their peers; it makes them look bad."

Jim snickers softly, finishing the grain cereal. It really tastes worse with every bite. "Probably."

Jim follows McCoy back to sickbay, curious about Sorin's patients. They'd converted two of the larger rooms used for sick but not contagious or critical patients into living and sleeping quarters, and watching through the observation window, Jim's surprised to see how normal most of them seem, if you ignored the fact they were all carrying on conversations that didn't require using their voices. Sorin is examining the Tellarite female, who according to Bones is quickly making progress despite the length of time it had taken for the regeneration to complete.

It's different than with Spock; the mental voices are more distant, less a part of his own head. Closing his eyes, he draws up Sorin's and Spock's lessons, building the barrier between himself and the voices outside him, adding in his Academy visualization exercises to form it. The voices fade into nothing, but when he opens his eyes, the room's occupants have all turned toward the observation windows with bewildered expressions.

Taking a step back, Jim watches the Orion approach the observation window before one of the nurses draws him away. After a few minutes, Sorin excuses himself from the room; Jim isn't surprised when the door to the observation room opens.

"Captain," he says, joining Jim at the window. Despite the efforts of the nursing staff, every so often, one of the patients looks up with uncanny accuracy to stare into Jim's eyes through the glass.

"They look better," Jim manages, trying to sound normal.

"They are. The improvement has been beyond my most optimistic projections." After a moment, Sorin looks at him. "Captain--"

Jim tenses. "Sorin."

"You could hear them," Sorin says softly. "Do not distress yourself; they could not hear you, merely sense your presence. The sudden blankness was--upsetting. Most are not used to someone shielding so abruptly in their presence."

"Right." Jim takes a deep breath. "I could hear them. Just from the door of sickbay. That's about ten meters, right?"

"Ten point one three meters." Sorin returns his gaze to the room. "I have had time to consider what I discovered during the meld, as well as from the meditation exercise last night. While there is no way to be certain, as the situation has no precedent, I do not believe what you are experiencing is the result of damage due to the bond."

"I feel a 'but' in there."

"I believe that Spock's ability to shorten your recovery time after you are injured is being extended to your psi-center, which it is treating as 'damaged', and slowly regenerating it each time it is called on to repair other injuries." Jim stills. "What we did to help the patients your bond with Spock is doing naturally, albeit at a much slower and more erratic rate. After studying their results and comparing them to your scans, there is a definite similarity. I will need to run more tests to be certain--"

"No." Jim makes himself relax. "I mean, yeah, more tests, lets have a neural scan party."

"I understand you will not feel this is true, but--"

"If you are about to tell me this is no big deal, just know Spock works out with me twice a week and you'd be surprised how much Vulcan anatomy I know."

Sorin remains silent.

"Great," Jim breathes. "I was hoping this would be more along the lines of, this is going to go away."

"The stability of your mind is not in question, Captain. When you are not exposed to telepaths and shielding normally, I doubt you will notice any difference." Sorin folds his hands together over his datapad. "It can be disconcerting," Sorin observes, "for one who is not of a telepathic race to grow accustomed to the concept of mental privacy no longer being absolute. No species in the Federation would read your mind without your permission, shielded or not."

"I'm not worried about the telepathic species of the Federation."

"Captain Kirk--"

"Got it in one. Captain.." Jim can hear the frustration in his own voice and is still unable to stop himself. "I'm a Starfleet Captain. I carry the command codes for a ship that can destroy a planet."

"As does Commander Spock," Sorin answers mildly, almost as if in rebuke. "Your lot is no different from that of any other telepathic race who serves in Starfleet--"

"Except I'm human," Jim interrupts, wondering if Sorin can understand the distinction. "I'm a human Federation Captain from a people who are not telepathic." Jim pauses, taking a calming breath. "A people who have never developed an ethical standard of their own. Vulcan Starfleet officers will never be asked by the Federation to use their abilities against the ethics of their people--though yeah, I know sometimes they have to. But there's still an ethical standard to break. If Starfleet finds out--finds out about this, I can't refuse an order on cultural grounds. I want to think I'd let it get to court martial, but if their reasons are good enough--"


"Do you?" Jim turns away from the observation window. "That's why I didn't tell Bones about this yet. And that's why if you ever look, the official record of what happened during pon farr has some omissions. The Vulcan Science Academy got the unexpunged version, but they got it under a privacy seal. The same way you got it. Bones can be creative, and leaving out the details of what happened on Centurian Station might be overlooked. But him knowingly editing out this? I might not have the opportunity to decide if I want to be court martialed and argue it before a table full of Starfleet Admirals who aren't all that fond of me anyway. They know they'd have a public image problem trying to discredit George Kirk's kid. Bones doesn't have that protection. All he has is me."

Sorin's mouth tightens. "I had not considered that."

"I have."

"Your concerns are logical. I have not yet submitted my observations for your official file. I will refrain from doing so, but I must ask for this caveat; that you permit me to keep the unexpunged records."

Jim nods warily. "All right."

"And you ask Dr. McCoy to note on your file that I be consulted as mind healer if you or Commander Spock are ever incapacitated in the line of duty."

Startled, Jim frowns. "Why? Bones can--"

"I am not Starfleet," Sorin answers, brown eyes meeting Jim's. "Federation law and Vulcan ethics permit public--to say, Starfleet--records to be amended under privacy law. If you are incapacitated and your shields dissolve in the presence of a telepath, or you begin to project--"

"And now I have a new set of nightmares," Jim breathes. "Thanks for that."

"If your injury is neurological in origin, my consultation is necessary. This will permit Dr. McCoy to continue to treat you without compromising himself, and provides you with a specialist, which Dr. McCoy cannot be." Sorin pauses. "In Starfleet, it is not unusual for a Vulcan to have designated a Vulcan mindhealer be consulted. With a Vulcan bondmate, it would not be considered strange that you do the same."

Jim nods tightly. "You're right. I'll add it today."

After a few long seconds of silence, Jim turns toward the door, then stops himself. "Melody," he says awkwardly. "Have you been--I mean, how is she doing?"

Sorin's expression doesn't change, but despite that, Jim thinks he can almost feel the tension in Sorin. "Her condition remains unchanged, though regeneration is complete. Her psi-centers are showing the same development as the other patients; for that reason, I have asked Dr. McCoy to place her in a isolation room within a Faraday cage. It is--unlikely she is able to hear them in her condition, but she is unable to shield herself."

Jim winces. "I'm sorry. If there's anything I can do, please don't hesitate to ask."

Sorin nods. "I will remember your offer, Captain."

Feeling even more awkward, Jim leaves, shutting the door carefully behind him on his way back to the main floor, where several members of botany are being treated by a carefully straight-faced nurse.

Jim pauses, unable to stop himself at the sight of five disgruntled officers all the light green of new leaves, striped in a faintly nauseating shade of pink. "Do I want to know?"

"No, sir," Ensign Powell says grimly, with a glare at the Tellarite ensign currently being ministered to by Bones. "But I'm sure Ensign Rel will be thrilled to give you a personal report if you would like the details."

Jim bites his lip against a smirk. "I see. Carry on."

From behind him, Jim thinks he hears Chapel choking on a laugh.

After lunch, a visit to Lab 2 gets him a glare from Uhura for interrupting their very important calculations, so there's absolutely no good way to avoid going to his ready room and reading through the latest transmissions from Starfleet. While he was looking forward to correspondence with Pike, it unfortunately came bundled with whatever Starfleet felt he needed to know immediately, and there is a lot of that.

Sorting through the various urgent, super urgent, and read or your ship will explode spontaneously missives, Jim puts them in order of most annoying to least annoying and settles himself to read, amused to see Spock's already efficiently went through many of them, attaching various notes to some which Spock pretends have a function other than motivating Jim to keep reading and make him laugh.

It's the unnoted one that gets his attention though; frowning, Jim pulls up it up on the screen; a request for a hearing before the Federation council by the Andorian ambassador on the subject of--

"Oh fuck no." Jim reaches for the comm. "Commander Spock, your presence is required in my ready room immediately."


Scrolling back to the top, Jim grimly begins a second, and unnecessary, read, getting to the third enraging paragraph before the door opens. Jim waits for the door to close before ordering the privacy lock be initiated. "You saw this already."

Spock comes to a regulation perfect stop in the middle of the ready room. "Yes, sir."

"And you didn't tell me."

"Commander Scott required my assistance when we came in range of the ion storm," Spock answers, one eyebrow raised in the faintest trace of rebuke. Jim keeps his gaze on his terminal and lets out a breath.

"Andoria," he says, shutting it down before he does something like put a fist through the screen. "I don't believe this."

Getting to his feet, Jim hears his chair hit the wall with a satisfying crack. It does not, however, make him feel any better. "Fucking Andoria?"


Jim looks at Spock. "Seriously, don't even start. They're protesting aid to the colony? Of all the fucked up--"

Spock's expression doesn't change; they could be talking about the latest gossip about Admiral Da, of which there is much and is probably more true than anyone wants to admit. "A great deal of Federation resources have been diverted toward the Vulcan colony. They are correct in stating--"

"They're filing a motion to cease aid while the needs of the colony are brought under review," Jim says before Spock can try to turn this atrocity into something logical. There's nothing about this that's logical and they both know it. "That's--" Looking out the window at the vastness of space, Jim wonders how it is that they can travel the length of a galaxy and still be this unbelievably petty. "Like we don't have enough problems in the Federation without this on top of it."


Jim points at his chair. "If you tell me to calm down, I'm going to throw this chair at you. And my aim is better than yours."

Almost imperceptibly, Jim thinks he sees Spock's mouth twitch.

"We will arrive at Starbase 3 within the next three hours," Spock says, sounding more normal. Tentatively, thinking of Sorin's lessons, Jim reaches out, trying to sense Spock's mood. "You are scheduled to meet with Captain Mitchell upon our arrival. He may have more current information on the situation."

"Probably." Withdrawing, Jim sighs. "And he'll hold it over my head for fucking ever if he does."

Returning to his desk, Jim thinks about getting his chair and just can't bring himself to care. "The thing is, I don't get it. Andoria pulling this now. I mean, it could be in reaction to the Vulcan colony's petition to the council, but I don't--" Jim stops, remembering the phrasing of the Andorian request with another start of frustration. Waving Spock toward the couch, Jim takes a deep breath.

"When I was a kid, I was in Chicago for a few weeks with my grandmother. I memorized the neighborhood, the transport routes, everything. One day, I fell asleep on the way home from--well, no need to go into that. Anyway, I woke up and realized I'd gone beyond my stop and got off at the next one."

Spock frowns. "Why didn't you--"

"Hey, my story here." Spock raises an eyebrow but nods acquiescence "Anyway. I got off and I was in a part of the city I didn't recognize. Long story short, eventually I caught a cab and got back home eight hours later, after I'd gotten myself completely lost."

"You could have taken the next transport--"

God, Vulcans. "Spock," Jim answers patiently. "I was fourteen. In a strange part of the city. Of course I didn't do something sensible. For that matter, when have I ever been sensible? Have we met?"


"Thank you." Feeling restless, Jim pushes himself off the desk, pacing the short distance to the door. "So, right, I got lost, had a hell of a time trying to find the station, and ended up walking what felt like half the city. Then gave up, got a cab, went home, and got grounded."

Spock nods soberly. "This is a truly fascinating story, Captain."

"My second year at Starfleet Academy--that would be third year for those who didn't test out of most of their first and second year courses--I went back to figure out where I'd been. And the thing is, it looked almost the same. But not quite."

"After over a decade--"

Jim rolls his eyes. "Yeah, no. So I kept looking around and trying to figure out what had changed. And it felt obvious, you know? Like it was staring me in the face and I was just missing it. After I left, I ran a few searches at the Academy and realized they'd moved the station itself, one mile east from where it had been, so I'd been just looking at the damn thing from the wrong angle. Which has got to be some kind of metaphor for something."

Sitting down beside Spock, Jim stares at the ceiling, wondering if it's just too much to ask that the universe spend one day not giving him stress. "I'm looking at it wrong," Jim says, almost to himself. "I know I am, but I can't figure out how."


"You know, I think it's gamma shift and we're off duty," Jim says, turning his head just enough to bring Spock into view. "Though you know, if you want to call me Captain next time we--"


Well, he had to try. "You want to come with me to see Mitchell?"

"Lieutenant Uhura has requested my assistance with identifying the algorithms recovered from the data solids you retrieved from the station. She thinks she may be close to decrypting the message we received."

"You'd think if they really wanted us to read it, they'd make it easier to decrypt, wouldn't you?" Jim says with a sigh, standing up. "Maybe we should see if we can get Gaila to look it over. She's grounded in San Francisco until her ship's finished repairs and bored out of her mind."

Crossing the bridge and going into the turbolift, Jim considers his options for the next few hours. "So. You busy for the next hour, Commander?"

"I do not think I have any conflicting engagements."

"Good," Jim breathes as Spock taps their deck number into the interface, stepping a very correct two feet away, a professional Starfleet officer who no one would imagine had sent a single finger of shivering thought that pressed against Jim like a naked hand on his bare back.

"Maybe more than an hour."

Feeling a lot more relaxed, Jim looks up from his terminal at the chime of the door. "Come," he tells T'Prina, transferring the rest of the cheat codes and two interesting macros to a data solid before getting up. "Something wrong?"

"Ship communications are not functioning at this time due to the ion storm. Commander Scott ordered me to organize volunteers to act as messengers for the bridge and senior officers, then to report to you on the status of repairs."

Jim sighs; the universe likes him stressed. "ETA on when they'll be up?"

"Within the hour. Engineering was able to compensate for most of the potential damage."

"Good enough. Is the transporter up?"

T'Prina hesitates. "Yes, Captain. But perhaps--"

"We sent a message to Mitchell when we entered the system," Jim answers, rubbing his forehead. Fucking two am. "He'll be waiting and I want to get this over with and get some rest. By the way, you're scheduled for shore leave and Uhura already volunteered to make sure you take it. Consider it an order."

T'Prina nods, radiating dissatisfaction; Jim's too tired to work out why. "Yes, sir."

"Tell Commander Spock and Lieutenant Uhura I'm beaming down," Jim says as they leave the room and start to walk toward the turbolift. "Oh, and get my codepicker from Uhura and bring it down before I leave; Mitchell wants to try it on a Cardassian thermal crate and I have credits riding on this one."

"Very well, sir."

After letting her off, Jim lets himself slump into the turbolift wall. The hour long meditation with Sorin had been only marginally less exhausting than the one the night before, and he'd been too keyed up to sleep when he had to be down at the station in only a few short hours. Probably he should have considered that before demanding conjugal favors from his first officer, but that was pretty much the only part of his day that didn't suck.

An ensign from Scotty is waiting for him in the transporter room, earnestly reporting that Commander Scott would have communications restored in the next ten minutes.

"Captain?" the transporter technician asks as Jim takes his place on the platform. "Whenever you're ready."

"Hold on a few more minutes." Faintly, Jim feels Spock checking on him and tries not to roll his eyes.


Change your mind? At the negative, Jim grins to himself. I promise not to drink anything I don't have a tolerance for. Where's T'Prina?

She should be there momentarily. Jim straightens; while he can't always identify what Spock may not admit he's feeling, there's feeling there, and in a human, he'd call it something very like excitement. We received a message with a Ferengi encryption signature before communications were interrupted. Lieutenant Uhura is retrieving it now.

Jim almost steps off the transporter pad. Of all the things he'd expected, Dar contacting him had been below random chance and the intervention of religious icons. You think it's Dar?

Possibly Would you recognize it?

"Wait," Jim tells the crewman distractedly when he thinks he feels the floor begin to hum. Show me. Almost immediately, Jim can see the complex encryption. Yeah. A newer one, but I recognize it. Hold on and I'll-- The hum increases, trembling up his calves; startled, Jim looks at the surprised-looking crewman --what the hell?

"I said wait!" Jim snaps, unnerved; the hum changes into something deeper, a low, bell-like ring that doesn't sound anything like the regular function of their transporter. "What the hell are you doing?"

The crewman lifts both hands helplessly before returning them to the board. "I'm not doing it, sir. I haven't even started the dematerialization protocol."

Biting off a curse, Jim starts to get off the pad, but the hum abruptly deepens and something cool seems to enclose his skin. It's odd; he can't move, and he also doesn't really care. "It's--it's coming from somewhere else, sir."

Jim, Spock says abruptly, voice thready and growing slowly more distant; Jim tries to hold on, but the thought slides like water between his fingers. Get off the transporter.

God, he'd love to. The humming deepens again, and Jim tries to focus--move, get off the transporter, something's wrong--but nothing seems to stick. Distantly, he watches the doors open for T'Prina, codepicker in one hand. She stops short, brown eyes widening as they flicker between him and the transporter tech.

Jim, get out of there, Spock is saying, but Jim can't gather his thoughts enough to remember how to answer.

"Captain?" Abruptly, she turns away, pushing the crewman from the transporter controls. "Get Commander Scott and contact security immediately," she says calmly, hands flickering over the controls. "Tell them that someone is attempting to transport the Captain from the ship. I will attempt to delay transport until their power cycle runs out." She looks up briefly, a tiny line growing between her eyebrows that looks, if Jim were crazy, a lot like fear.

"Forgive my presumption, Captain," she says, meeting his eyes. "But I do not know if we are being monitored." Jim feels a gossamer touch--like Spock and nothing like him at all--and then T'Prina's mental voice fills his mind.

If they can do this, it is possible they are able to hear us. There is an unknown transporter beam that is attempting to capture your pattern. According to my readings, the beam has been modified with a mild inhibitor to slow your nervous system, which is why you cannot move and find it hard to think. I am attempting to compensate; they are using a great deal of power and cannot continue to do so for very long without rupturing their engines. She pauses, fingers tapping over the board. I cannot locate the origin of the beam.

That--almost makes sense.

Before the crewman can do more than turn around, the doors open again and Evans with three of the security team spill into the room, phasers out, which is--probably not useful, Jim thinks clinically.

"Cadet, what's going on?"

T'Prina hands slow as she checks the readings. "Someone is attempting to transport the Captain from the ship. I cannot delay the transport much longer without degrading the Captain's pattern." They must have acquired a secondary source of power to fuel this attempt. I am setting the delay to continue until the computer failsafes override me. She looks at Evans. "Are communications restored?"

"Yes," Evans starts as he approaches the transporter. "Cadet--"

"Thank you." The failsafe will override the delay in forty-five seconds, Captain. "Please give me your communicator, Lieutenant. I need to speak to Commander Spock immediately."

Evans hands it over with a baffled expression. "What are you--"

Flipping it on, T'Prina keeps her eyes on Jim. Thirty nine seconds. "Commander," she says, typing one handed on the interface, "an unknown entity has achieved a lock on the Captain's pattern. I have been unsuccessful in blocking the signal and can no longer delay transport without damaging the pattern buffer. I have logged my attempts and the signature of the transporter so you will be able to find the parties responsible. Security will have a more complete report of events."

Closing the communicator, she shoves it into her pocket and turns to Evans. "Lieutenant," T'Prina says, "I hope you will understand this is my duty. I bear you no ill will."

Jim remembers telling Spock about the first time he trained with T'Prina--the impossibly fast, impossibly easy control she had over her body, the perfect focus of a predator--but the memory is nothing to the reality. In seconds, Evans is collapsed across the floor and T'Prina is tucking one phaser into her uniform, setting the second one without looking away from Jim before pointing it in the direction of the startled security team. "Please do not require me to fire on a fellow officer," she says calmly. "This phaser is set to kill and I do not miss."

The failsafes will end the delay in twenty-five seconds, Captain. I suspect you will regain control of your body when transport is complete and will be able to utilize a weapon.

"T'Prina," Uhura says over the comm, voice cracking in fear; Jim wonders what's going on. Uhura's the calmest person he knows, barring Spock. "What the hell are you doing?"

All three security officers track T'Prina, phasers out but not entirely sure where to point them.

"Cadet," Evans wheezes, grabbing for her ankle as she passes him. "You can't--"

"Tell Commander Spock that I did not permit the Captain to go alone."

For a second, everything snaps into focus--long enough for him to understand what she's planning to do, long enough to think the order for her to keep her ass right where it is, long enough to feel Spock's mind desperately trying to help him compensate for the confusion of his own, long enough to realize there's nothing he can do and holy God he is fucked--then something warm knocks against him, and with it comes a sudden onslaught of fear and chilling anger, layered over with desperation and a mental litany marking off time in seconds, five four three two one--

The computer failsafes have overridden the delay, Captain.

--and Jim realizes it's T'Prina.

Jim feels flickers of surprising sensation--an arm wrapped tightly around his waist, fingers twisting into the back of his tunic, the ghost of braided hair brushing his cheek, the solid metal of a phaser tucked between their bodies, and T'Prina's mental voice as close as his own mind, filled with grim satisfaction. The other phaser is in my tunic. They will not find us unprepared, Captain.

She would be an excellent pirate, Jim thinks vaguely, closing his eyes.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three….

For a moment, there's bright pain as Spock's mind is jerked away, tearing through him so quickly he can't do anything but gasp in shock--then nothing at all.