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Don't Stop Believing

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5.1

--

“You stole a space station.”

Spock looks up from the scrambled Orion hieroglyphs on the navigational console he’s trying to repair and blinks as the harsh white light falling from the corridor hits his eyes.

“I can’t believe you.” Kirk is grinning, leaning against the doorway, his shoulder right against the spot where the locking mechanism used to be.

“Captain.” Spock pulls himself up to his feet abruptly, before he can check the impulse. He stops in place, but it takes a surprising amount of effort. The urge to move closer, to touch, to ascertain Kirk’s physical, living presence is almost staggering.

He lifts an eyebrow instead. “I will be forever puzzled why it appears to please you so every time you catch me doing something you deem untoward. A most illogical attitude, Captain.”

Kirk chuckles. “Let’s just say that it gives me emotional security.”

Spock feels warm, glancing away. “I did not steal the station. I merely… relocated it.”

“Without informing the owners.”

“That would have been counterproductive.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s stealing. Not only that, but you made Chekov help you, and he’s as good as a minor, so that should be punishable by – something. Somewhere anyway.”

Spock knows a rejoinder is expected, but his brain feels sluggish, overwhelmed by fatigue and the sudden, unbidden flow of emotion. It’s been a long 48 hours, filled with frustrating search and lying in wait and more hand-to-hand combat against physically superior opponents than he cared for.

They subdued the Orion guards eventually, surprise working in their favor, and released the prisoners, shaken but unharmed. Spock thinks about Lieutenant Pechalat’s uniform dress, torn in the middle, and although the Orion kidnappers didn’t have the time to do more, Spock feels his hands curling into fists even now. She lifted her chin up stubbornly and took his shirt, stained with blood and grime without a word.

Chekov emerged out of the prisoners vault then, looking like he’d lost a battle with a rainforest, and so openly relieved at seeing Spock it was hard to bear. It was after he said, voice trembling slightly, but determined, ‘There’re too many people, Commander. They won’t fit into a shuttle’, that Spock realized a quick getaway would be out of the question.

It wasn’t just the Enterprise crew; the station was filled to bursting with prisoners taken from half the sector. It also meant that a heavily armed transport would come to pick them up at any moment. The Enterprise still hopelessly tied up in an uneven battle light years away, and the station relying on the secrecy of its location and having virtually no protective capabilities, the solution needed to come fast.

Chekov went white when Spock mentioned his plan to turn an admittedly primitive station reactor into a warp engine. But there were no other options, so he and Spock went to work, while Pechalat and the security team tended to the prisoners, trying to calm them down and maintain a semblance of order.

‘We won’t be able to sustain the warp field for longer than ten seconds, sir,’ Chekov concluded at last, eyes wide.

‘It should suffice,’ Spock told him. ‘If we can sustain warp two for that long, it will push us outside of their sensor range.’

‘Yes, but what about the structural integrity? No one has moved space stations at warp speed, Commander.’

There was that.

‘It is a workable theory.’

Chekov’s thoughts on the matter were written clear on his face, and Spock was grateful when the ensign chose not to comment.

They made it by the skin of their teeth, as humans would say, but they made it intact. Then the long, gloomy wait that Spock spent getting life support back to working order and deliberately not calculating the odds of the Enterprise prevailing over three fully armed Orion raiders.

He had barely allowed himself to relax when the Enterprise had finally arrived, battered, but victorious, with its visual communications and transporters damaged in the attack. Spock had stayed aboard, overseeing the transportation of the liberated prisoners on the two remaining shuttlepods and coordinating the newly arriving security teams that searched the station for the remainder of the Orions’ captives – the Enterprise sensors showed there were more, though they were too damaged to help pinpoint the exact locations.

“Spock?” Kirk calls softly, his smile fading. “You okay?”

Spock tries to make himself nod, tries to reinstate control, but it’s a losing battle. He knows he’s staring and he can’t tear his eyes away.

Kirk’s command gold is missing, the black undershirt torn in places and singed. There’s soot and grime on his face like a bizarre representation of some savage war paint, a bruise blooming over his chin. His eyes are too bright, too clear a shade on that battle-darkened face, filled to the brim with the familiar burning energy, vibrant, alive.

Spock would chastise himself for the persistent slip, but Kirk is staring right back, transfixed, his humor a veneer, no more. His eyes follow the spiral pattern curling around Spock’s torso where an energy whip, Orions’ favorite hand weapon, had burned through the shirt, shocking skin.

Kirk clears his throat at last. “Chekov said there were only minor injuries for all of you, but—”

“They are,” Spock says, forcing himself out of his stupor. “I had Nurse Chapel check me over, she said—”

“Oh, just come here,” Kirk says, but doesn’t wait, contradicting himself, and moves forward. He grips Spock’s arms carefully, but firmly, as though he, too, is trying to make sure Spock really is there by touch.

It takes every ounce of willpower Spock has not to reach back, but he permits the contact, it’s not in him to step back. A small smile curls over Kirk’s lips, a profoundly relieved expression softening his features.

“We got here as fast as we could,” he says, his voice hoarse and low. “You didn’t make it easy. When we didn’t find the station where it should have been, and your shuttle was destroyed by disruptor fire, I thought—”

His grip tightens almost painfully for a moment, and Spock can’t help pressing back just a little.

“The odds of your survival were not favorable when we left,” Spock says, just as quiet. “I am gratified your tactical solution allowed you to prevail.”

Kirk lets out a shaky laugh. He sounds as Spock feels – giddy.

“I missed you there,” Kirk says, locking eyes with him.

“You have done admirably without me.”

Kirk acknowledges the words, but he doesn’t look away. He takes a deeper breath, preparing to speak, but at that moment the sound of a commotion and loud cursing comes streaming from the corridor. Kirk almost looks annoyed for a moment, before he rolls his eyes, grins ruefully at Spock, and turns around to investigate.

They find Crewman Anders sitting on the floor dazedly, his arms moving in chaotic, uncontrolled jerky motions, while Ensign Leguellec is trying to move him further away from a dangerous area, cursing under his breath. He looks up at the sound of steps, and for a moment his face registers open dismay at the sight of the captain.

“What happened?” Kirk asks, going on one knee beside Anders, ducking under a flailing arm.

“A narrow-band neurodisruptor beam, judging by the effects,” Spock says, studying Anders.

“It hit him when we tried to release the lock on that compartment,” Leguellec says accusingly. “The entire thing is booby trapped, sir.”

The entire contingent had been warned prior to boarding the station, and a year ago, Spock would have pointed that out. Now, he busies himself with checking the locking mechanism to make sure the trap is no longer active and keeps his silence. People are tired and on edge, and humans do not accept the on-the-spot analysis in the way it’s intended.

“It’s all right, Crewman,” Kirk says to the disoriented ensign who has trouble concentrating. “You’d better get him back to the ship,” he tells Leguellec. “Before the nerve damage sets.”

Having managed to catch both Anders’ flying arms, Kirk pulls him carefully to his feet. Leguellec rushes to help, frowning as he looks at Kirk.

“Sir, we haven’t finished checking the outer rim section,” he says uncertainly, as Kirk transfers Anders over to him. “Some of the prisoners heard the Orions talk about a Romulan princess being kept here somewhere. Our scanners can’t locate anyone else, but—”

“The commander and I will check it out,” Kirk says without missing a bit. “Return to the ship, Ensign.”

For a moment, Leguellec looks rebellious, glancing from Kirk to Spock and back. The idea of leaving two senior officers without cover in a hostile territory clearly goes against his security training and instincts.

But their resources are stretched thin, and Anders chooses that moment to nearly drop them both back on the floor in his escalating loss of motor function.

“Go,” Kirk says in a tone that brooks no argument, jerking his chin toward the docking ring. “Get someone to pick us up when you’re done.”

“Sir.” Leguellec salutes unhappily, but obediently starts moving, pulling the flailing crewman along with difficulty.

It’s a marker of how tired everyone is that for a few seconds both Spock and the captain stand motionless, simply staring after the limping figures.

“So.” Kirk rubs his hands with excessive enthusiasm to physically snap himself out of his stupor. “It’s been a while since I’ve rescued any princesses. Do you think they still offer half a kingdom and her hand in marriage?”

Spock recalibrates the scanner before falling into step with Kirk as they start toward the last unchecked section of the station.

“I am uncertain such a reward could be considered a proper incentive,” he offers.

Kirk snorts. “Depends on the kingdom. Though I’m not sure I’d like to be shoved headfirst into Romulan politics.”

“A wise consideration. The nature of Romulan aristocracy differs significantly from what Earth used to have. Most of their titles have to be earned, not inherited. Although nepotism is not unheard of.”

Kirk’s shoulder brushes his lightly. “V’Shar?”

Spock winces internally. “In point of fact, most of our information on the Romulan cultural background comes from the diplomatic corps. Vulcan Intelligence used to be more interested in technology and fire power.”

Kirk rubs the back of his neck. “Can’t say I blame them.” He frowns at his own scanner, unhappy with the chaotic readout. “Do you know if they survived?”

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “V’Shar? I have no doubt of that, however, they have not made their presence known to the governing body on New Vulcan.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“V’Shar operatives are trained to act in secrecy and autonomously.”

“So in about a hundred years from now they might turn up and tell us what they’ve been up to?”

“Quite.”

Kirk laughs, his shoulder knocking into Spock’s deliberately this time.

They walk in silence for a while, checking the abandoned corridors and rooms. The density of alloys the Orions used in construction prevents the tricorders from working with optimal efficiency, so every door has to be opened in order to be absolutely sure that no one is inside.

Kirk comments idly on the internal design, and Spock finds himself slipping into the explanatory mode he usually saves for briefings and Academy auditoriums. He catches himself when he’s way into it, remembering belatedly that most humans find his ‘lecturing tone’ annoying. Spock glances at his companion warily to see if he managed to bore him, but finds, to his surprise, that the captain is watching him with a soft smile playing on his lips.

Spock’s momentary confusion is strong enough to make him voice it. “Sir?”

Kirk dips his head briefly, smiling still, and reaches to rest a hand on Spock’s shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Nothing. I’m just glad you’re alive, Spock.”

Before Spock can process any of it Kirk turns away, resuming their survey.

“What do you think is behind that one?” the captain asks a bit too quickly, as if he’s trying to speak before Spock does. He stands before an inconspicuous grey door, Spock still several steps behind him. “Looks smoother than the others—”

Spock’s eyes widen as Kirk lifts up his hand to touch the lock, and the next thing he knows he’s stretched across the space between them in a desperate, too-slow, too-long jump. He collides hard with Kirk, who barely has the time to start turning, tackling him to the floor and pressing down, just as a burning flash of pain sweeps across Spock’s shoulders.

The smell penetrates his perception first – a sickening, heavy smell of burnt flesh – and then Kirk’s urgent voice makes it through. The captain is staring anxiously up into Spock’s face, his lips moving, a stream of sounds seeping from them, but it’s not until he grips Spock’s upper arms that a new wave of pain manages to throw Spock roughly back inside his body.

“Do not touch me,” he hisses through gritted teeth. “I will try to move now.”

Kirk lets go of him immediately, his expression turning to one of open alarm. Spock ignores him, concentrating on every motion as he braces himself on his arms – the heaviest part by far – and quickly pulls himself into a sitting position and away from Kirk. The pain is so blindingly sharp that a sound escapes Spock, a short, quickly aborted groan that he’s helpless to suppress.

“Spock, are you all right?” Kirk is on his knees beside Spock, the alarm having gone to full-blown panic. “Shit, I’m sorry, of course you’re not. How bad is it?”

Spock reacts to the urgency of Kirk’s tone, wishing his body would adapt a little faster. “Not – too bad,” he pushes out, panting. “A burn. I – merely require – a moment.”

“What the hell happened?” Kirk demands, anger and worry clashing in his voice, making it vibrate.

“Focused – disruptor beam.”

Kirk scowls, throwing a glare at the lock across his shoulder. “But there was nothing on the tricorder, Spock! I checked!”

Spock nods cautiously, carefully regulating his breathing. Finally, he manages to block the distressed signals from the abused nerve endings. “I know,” he says, reassuring. “It is undetectable by our technology.”

“Then how did you know it was there?”

“I have seen it before.”

Kirk gives him a very strange look, but mercifully doesn’t demand an immediate explanation, instead opting to help Spock stand up.

“Let me take a look,” Kirk says, hands consciously light, but supporting on Spock’s elbows. “We need to get you to Med Bay.”

“It can wait,” Spock refutes, pulling away, and straightening up. Kirk narrows his eyes at him suspiciously, and Spock amends, “The initial shock was harder than the injury.”

“I don’t buy it,” Kirk tells him sourly, but mercifully seems unwilling to press the issue. “And, for God’s sake, Spock, next time just yell, so that I don’t have to feel like my mission in life is to get you killed.”

“If you let me out, perhaps I could be of assistance,” a cool female voice comes from behind the door. “I am a trained healer.”

Kirk freezes, and when he looks over it’s no longer a man concerned for his friend, but a captain requesting the expertise of his science officer.

Spock studies his tricorder. “One lifeform,” he says slowly, frowning at the readouts. “This isn’t conclusive, but the biosigns correspond with Romulan by 73.4%.”

Kirk nods, reaching for his phaser, before leaning in to examine the remains of the lock.

“Perhaps we should wait till Mr. Scott can inspect it,” Spock suggests. His own weapon had been lost at some point during the exhausting and action-packed forty-eight hours before, and he feels ridiculously naked.

“Nah, I got this,” Kirk mutters, deft fingers feeling their way between the cleverly placed sensors now that they are visible. “Picking locks used to be something of a hobby of mine.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow, watching Kirk’s actions keenly. “A most peculiar choice. Though not entirely unexpected.”

“You really think highly of me, don’t you?” Kirk bends a little closer to the lock. “Aaaaand got you.”

There’s a swift flash and a puff of black smoke that makes Kirk cough a few times, and then the door slides half open. With a glance at Spock, Kirk pushes it the rest of the way and steps back, aiming his weapon at chest level.

“All right, come out slowly,” Kirk orders after a moment’s pause.

There’s a rustle of fabric, and a woman emerges, dressed in one of the most sophisticated garments Spock has ever seen. She dismisses the weapon pointed at her with an unimpressed look and steps forward, looking from Kirk to Spock, her focused gaze the one of a doctor looking to ascertain injuries.

Spock feels blood freeze in his veins.

“T’Pring.”

The shock is powerful enough to knock out his concentration, and he doubles over with pain, sliding to the floor with a groan.

Seconds fly by, filled with confusion, as T’Pring kneels at his side, pulling out a medkit, her expensive dress hopelessly wrinkled.

“Lie still,” she orders coolly, running him over with a scanner of her own.

Kirk is loud in the background, yelling into his communicator, “…I don’t want to hear it, Mr Scott, we need a site-to-site transporter online right now. What? No. No, we can’t wait for the damn shuttle!”

“Your captain is very concerned for your wellbeing,” T’Pring remarks, administering an analgesic and ignoring Kirk’s continuing heated argument behind her.

“As an officer, I am not without value,” Spock says, only vaguely aware that his words might be construed as an attempt at humor. He’s not entirely convinced that it isn’t.

T’Pring’s eyebrow curves elegantly, a trace of returned emotion in her eyes. “Be that as it may, I believe his concern is of a more personal nature.”

Spock stares at her, just as the pain medication kicks in. This must be the effect of whatever substance she had used on him. A universe where T’Pring would tease him in good humor is not something he’s prepared to contemplate.

“If I divine your meaning correctly,” he says slowly, feeling his way, “you are mistaken.”

The blinding whirlwind of a transported beam seizes them, obscuring her features, but Spock can not be certain that just for a split second T’Pring didn’t smile.

--

McCoy throws an impressive fit even by his own standards.

‘Third degree burns, are you insane? Should have beamed out immediately, you stubborn green-blooded moron! And you!’ He rounds on Kirk. ‘What the hell were you thinking? Damned pair of idiots!’

Six hours filled with treatment and a light healing trance later, Spock finds himself remarkably clearheaded – if still tired – and mercifully free of pain.

He’s staring at T’Pring through the virtually undetectable glimmer of a forcefield, feeling mildly disquieted. She’s afforded every comfort a private cell in the brig can offer, but the very idea that she has to be confined makes Spock’s skin tangle unpleasantly.

“Is this really necessary?” He knows the logic behind it, but asks anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Kirk sounds apologetic. “But we’re at war with Romulus, and, according to Bones, the Orions had it right – she’s a Romulan.”

“A Romulan-Vulcan hybrid to be precise,” McCoy supplies glancing at his tricorder. “The Romulan genes would be dominant, I’m guessing.”

“That does not necessarily mean that she’s an enemy,” Spock says, and the looks both humans give him signal quite clearly that he sounds unacceptably emotional. He tries to rein it in.

“No, it doesn’t,” Kirk agrees, his voice soft, almost cautious. “But Spock, you have to agree, it looks suspicious. Your ex-fiancée, who you didn’t even know survived, drops on us out of thin air, after a sudden and brutal attack on our ship – in neutral space. It’s a little too coincidental.”

“She was a prisoner, same as others.”

“Perhaps,” Kirk says, exchanging a glance with McCoy. “Spock, listen—”

“She is a Vulcan citizen,” Spock says in a clipped tone. “She has the same rights.”

“And I would be happy to grant them to her when we’re not crawling at impulse to Deep Space Four, at least a week away from any other Starfleet vessel,” Kirk says, clearly on the verge of losing patience. “You saw the damage report. I don’t have to tell you that we have a slim chance of withstanding another attack. If she had agreed to answer our questions, I might have confined her to quarters, but as it is—”

Spock turns toward him. “Allow me to speak to her. I am certain she would not refuse to explain her situation to me.”

“You sound downright impassioned, Spock,” McCoy comments sourly.

Spock looks at him. “Would you not insist on the same if it was your former spouse in there?”

McCoy winces. “Hell, Jocelyn’s a right witch, but I’d have a hard time buying her as a traitor.” He rubs his neck, looking uncomfortable. “I guess you’re right.”

“Thank you.” Spock nods, before turning back to Kirk. “Captain?”

Kirk’s face is a curious mix of frustration, reluctance and sympathy. At any other time, Spock would have been fascinated by the display of contradicting emotions.

“All right,” Kirk says at last. “Do what you can. But I can’t promise I’ll release her.”

“Understood.” Spock takes a step toward the door of the guard room and stops, looking back. “I assume a modicum of privacy is out of the question?”

Kirk looks genuinely apologetic again. “I’m sorry, Spock.”

Spock nods and leaves the room.

Alone in the corridor, he has to take a few steadying breaths before he’s ready. He taps his authorization on the locking panel and steps inside the cell.

T’Pring turns to look at him as he enters. It would not be fair to say that she sits up straighter, because her posture has been perfect the entire time, but something about her creates the same effect.

“Spock.” She bows her head slightly in greeting.

“T’Pring.”

He comes to a stop in front of her bunk, not quite knowing how to proceed. His eyes drift toward the impenetrable wall of the forcefield, opaque from this side, concealing their audience. T’Pring must know they are being observed, but appears unperturbed.

Surprisingly, she speaks first. “Are you well? Your injuries did not appear life-threatening, however, had your physician delayed treatment—”

“I am quite healed,” Spock interrupts, imagining McCoy’s reaction. Eavesdroppers never hear anything good. “I thank you for the services you rendered.”

“No thanks are necessary,” T’Pring replies with cool politeness, and Spock wonders why none of the humans he’d ever met, with possible exceptions of his mother and Nyota, were able to figure out that the line was not a rebuke but the Vulcan equivalent of ‘you’re welcome.’

Tense silence reigns, as Spock observes her, not knowing how to proceed. T’Pring looks as elegant and poised as the last time Spock had seen her. Her appearance somehow does everything to discourage idle inquries.

“I require an explanation,” Spock says at last.

She inclines her head. “Understandable.”

“You are Romulan?” he asks abruptly. “I must admit that was – surprising – to discover.”

“I am a Vulcan hybrid like you,” T’Pring responds coolly. “I have been less fortunate where the other half of my genetic makeup is concerned.”

“I meant no insult.”

“No. Just as all those children mocking your humanity never meant it.” She purses her lips. “I envied you. They bullied you, but you did not have to hide. They might have despised you for your ‘weakness’ and laughed at you, but if they found out about me – they would have hated me as only Vulcans can hate.”

Spock experiences the strangest sensation that he should be shocked at such a blatant confession of emotion. But on some level, he’s not shocked at all.

“How did it come to be?” he asks quietly.

For a moment, it feels as though T’Pring would not answer, but when she looks at him, he sees determination.

“My mother was a junior scientist on the Tesra,” T’Pring says, her voice adopting a quieter cadence. “Are you familiar with it?”

“I believe so.” Spock nods slowly, his stomach clenching. “That ship was destroyed by the Romulans during a survey mission. The surviving crew were taken prisoner.”

“Not the entire crew,” T’Pring corrects him. “Only the women.”

She takes a moment to collect herself; Spock doesn’t blame her.

“They were returned two months later during the next prisoner exchange. The Romulans… are not known for their respectful treatment of prisoners, even non-combatants. Most of the women were pregnant.”

Spock wishes suddenly they could have some water.

“The majority of them chose to terminate pregnancies,” T’Pring continues in the same cool, measured tone. “You should remember how powerful the stigma regarding offspring with offworlders had been at the time. It would have been unthinkable to carry a child acquired in such a way to term.”

“T’Mia was an exception?”

T’Pring nods. “My mother chose to keep me. She knew that making my true parentage public would have been damning to both me and herself. She chose not to tell the truth, even to my father.”

Spock blinks in surprise. “But surely they were bonded. How was it possible to conceal this knowledge within a full marital bond?”

T’Pring’s lips curve almost noticeably as she looks up at him. “You have a somewhat – romantic notion of bonding, Spock. I can understand that, but your parents… not everyone was that fortunate. Your father’s first marriage, for example, was far from that ideal. And you and I were bonded for 11.4 years. In all that time did you have access to my intimate thoughts?”

He frowns. “That is not the same.”

Her impassive dismissal is akin to a shrug. “It is not much different. Our marriages are arranged. In time, you are supposed to grow a deep emotional connection to your bondmate, however, it does not happen always. You and I are a prime example.

“My parents had never been that close. My father was an ambitious man, interested primarily in himself and his own advancement. It was not a hardship for my mother to conceal whatever she wished from him.”

“I – see,” Spock says.

He doesn’t.

“She told him the child was his, conceived before she embarked on her mission. He never questioned it, and raised me as his own daughter. No one had ever needed to know the truth. I myself did not know it. But then your father approached mine, and complications followed.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow, but doesn’t interrupt.

“Had you been fully Vulcan, the problem would never have arisen. Romulans and Vulcans are essentially the same species. There are differences, but not enough so that we couldn’t have conceived naturally.” She glances away for a moment, her chest rising a little higher for a deeper breath. “But you weren’t fully Vulcan. Your parents had to donate genetic material to be manipulated in vitro to make your conception possible. You and I had not two, but three genomes between us. If we were to have children, they would have been conceived in a lab. And the truth of my mother’s shame would have come out. Hiding it might not have been logical. But it was—”

“—a matter of honor,” Spock finishes softly, still stunned.

T’Pring inclines her head. “Quite.”

“Why did your parents agree to our betrothal then?”

“My mother tried to dissuade my father; she even tried to stall the negotiations for as long as possible, hoping to aggravate Sarek. But my father was adamant. He did not himself belong to any of the Old Houses as my mother did. He had always felt… inferior to her and her social circle. To have his daughter marry into the House of Surak would have quenched his need for social recognition. He was not to be deterred.”

“Illogical.”

T’Pring draws in a sharp breath. If she were human, she would be bristling.

“One can be a logical man and not be always governed by logic, Spock,” she says with mild reproach. “I am certain you can personally attest to that.”

The corner of Spock’s mouth lifts. However inadvertently, T’Pring has just paid him a compliment.

“We had entered the first stage of bonding as you know,” T’Pring reminds him. “After that, it was a matter of time. When I was fourteen, my mother summoned me and told me the truth.”

“It must not have been… easy for you.”

T’Pring ignores the emotional assessment. “I spent the next four years of my life looking for a solution. There was the obvious one. I could have waited for your pon farr and declared the kal-if-fee. But I did not wish to subject you to the plak tow.” She lowers her head, looking at her hands. Quieter, she adds, “And I did not wish you to die.”

Spock doesn’t know what to do with that information.

He must have made some kind of sound or produced some non-verbal response, because T’Pring looks up at him sharply, her face unexpectedly expressive.

“You believe I despised you, but you are wrong. I have always admired your tenacity and your intellect and most of all your endurance. You had not cowered before them, nor did you succumb to prejudice. You were more Vulcan than they were – in spirit if not in form.”

Spock is too thoroughly conditioned to let his mouth fall open, but it’s a near slip.

“You honor me,” he says hoarsely.

She studies him for a moment before looking away, her face attaining its customary dispassionate expression.

“Outside a formal challenge, there were not a lot of ways I could have divorced you. A well-meaning friend of mine, who sought to save me from a ‘humiliating marriage,’ showed me a well-forgotten clause in our marital laws. I saw it as an opportunity to save both your life and my family’s honor.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow, impressed. “It was a risk. At the time, I complied with your request without protest, but I could have challenged you. That clause was unethical on more levels than one. I could have insisted it was stricken from the Bonding Code altogether and would have probably won the case.”

To his surprise, a ghost of a smile plays across her lips. “That is perhaps more true than you realize, but I knew you would not do so. You were my bondmate. I watched you grow. I knew you. You were tremendously accomplished for someone your age, but when it came to personal matters, you lacked confidence in yourself – you always had. I knew it would not be hard to convince you I did not perceive you as worthy.”

Spock feels his cheeks growing hot with color; he tries to suppress the reaction.

T’Pring continues to look amused, but her gaze is sharp, trained on him. “You have always been so oblivious. It was one thing when we were children, but later, the last years before graduation things had changed, and you did not notice. Half the males in our class were trying to emulate you. And as for the females—” This time she does bristle, her nostrils flaring. “Your friend Reya was a perfect marker.”

There is nothing Spock can do to suppress a blush this time. “You knew about – about that?”

T’Pring sits up straighter, as if it’s even possible, her eyes bright. “I would have to have been blind not to know,” she says, tone suddenly sharp. “You have never been as subtle as you believe, Spock, and as for that girl, she was ne’shara.”

Spock winces at the harsh word. ‘Without shame’ indeed, for a culture that had supposedly disposed of emotions.

“You were jealous,” he says, mildly awed.

T’Pring treats him to an icy glare. “Do not flatter yourself.”

“My apologies,” he says, swallowing a smile.

For a fraction of a second, T’Pring’s eyes reflect the universal female outcry of frustration spelled as ‘Men’. She schools her features quickly.

“Like I said, I calculated it would not be difficult to convince you. I observed you for two weeks from afar to corroborate my assumption, and I was satisfied. Not only was my assessment of your character correct, but you had been – to borrow a human phrase – madly in love with your academic advisor at the time. He seemed to have been infatuated with you in equal measure. That alleviated my last concern – that breaking our betrothal would leave you at the mercy of pon farr alone. I did not wish for—”

“—for me to die,” Spock finishes for her. “How very thoughtful of you.”

She dismisses his quip with a slight tilt of her chin. “You agreed even easier than I anticipated. My plan had thus been concluded. Both you and I were free to choose our own partners, and my family’s honor remained intact.”

Spock weighs it all carefully before inclining his head in an appreciative bow. “Logical. Flawlessly logical.”

T’Pring stands up gracefully and returns the bow. “I am honored.”

Seized by a sudden impulse, Spock offers her his hand the way he used to when they were children and had to take part in some social function together. He waits patiently for her to accept the offer before guiding her back to her seat. She is thinner than a Vulcan female of her age and constitution should be – a reminder, no doubt, of her captivity.

“How did you come to be on the Orion station?”

“I was aboard a small courier vessel taking me to Vega,” T’Pring explains. “We – New Vulcan – were hoping to convince them to take part in our medical exchange program. The ship was attacked in neutral space, without warning. Everyone else was killed – they only had a crew of three. I was captured. They scanned me upon arrival and, much as your physician did, established that I was a Romulan.” She pauses. “I did not dissuade them. I saw how they treated their Vulcan prisoners, women in particular.” For all her control, she shudders. “While I remained ‘Romulan’ and a wealthy one at that, they could not risk harming me – otherwise, instead of a reward, they would have had their throats slit. I did not disabuse them of the notion.”

“That was wise of you,” Spock says, sliding back to his feet. “I apologize for our security measures. I will see that you are released from here immediately.”

Strictly speaking, it’s not his decision to make, but Spock cannot imagine Kirk refusing him under the circumstances. If he does…

No. He wouldn’t.

“Spock.”

He turns around in the doorway and looks at her.

“I am sorry,” T’Pring says slowly, her careful articulation a sure sign of how foreign the word feels on her tongue. “For my deception. I should have trusted you with the truth at the time. I did not know you for the man you are. I ask forgiveness and – I know that regrets are illogical, but I do regret causing you pain. I am – gratified – that there are others in your life who have been more perceptive than I was.”

At a loss for words, Spock bows courteously to her before stepping neatly through the door.

--

“Dammit, but that’s cold,” McCoy says from where he’s stretched on Kirk’s couch, twirling bourbon in the glass perched precariously on his stomach. “I mean, logical it might be, I grant you, and she’s pretty as a picture, too. Maybe the prettiest lady I’ve ever seen in my life—” He pulls himself suddenly up on his elbow. “Don’t tell Natalie I said that. Or Uhura.” He takes a sip of his drink hastily. “But the woman is cold like a goddamn block of ice. I thought Jocelyn was bad, but dammit, Spock, your ex takes the cake.”

“She is not precisely my ‘ex,’” Spock says tiredly, leaning back subtly in his chair. He has a glass in front of him that doesn’t have nearly as powerful an effect on his metabolism as it does on McCoy’s, but he can still appreciate the taste.

“Still, to have had her in your head somewhere for eleven years? No wonder you’re all screwed up. Did Pike ever know about this?”

“Some,” Spock says grimly and throws a look at Kirk that is far from appreciative. “I imagine he would be aware of the entire affair by now.”

Kirk is sitting on the floor, his back against the couch, looking ready to collapse. He cuddles the bottle closer to his chest and throws Spock a glare that is more tired than heated.

“It’s protocol, Commander.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve chosen a damn good moment to start following those,” McCoy grumbles.

Kirk turns to look at him. “Et tu, Bones? What was I supposed to do? Falsify a log entry? I let her out, didn’t I? I’m still not convinced she’s not a saboteur.”

Spock ignores the illogical accusation. McCoy laughs, murmuring something under his breath Spock chooses to ignore as well.

“What did she mean – you could die?” Kirk asks suddenly.

Spock freezes. Trust Kirk to ambush him like that. “T’Pring was speaking in general terms, I believe,” he says carefully.

“Bullshit.” Kirk sits up straighter. “She kept repeating she didn’t want you to die and it had something to do with your bond being broken. And something about pon farr,” he adds, his Vulcan pronunciation eerily perfect. “That’s the Vulcan mating cycle, isn’t it? What was she talking about, Spock?”

Spock sets his barely touched glass on the desk, his motions going from sluggish and relaxed to military-precise without his conscious intent.

“That is not your concern.”

“The hell it isn’t. You’re my first officer. If your life is in danger, don’t you think I have the right to know?”

“It is not in danger any more than yours is,” Spock replies, his tone clipped. “Serving in Starfleet is an occupation associated with a heightened risk factor—”

“Don’t give me that crap,” Kirk snaps, setting the bottle aside with a clank. “Your ex-girlfriend was pretty damn specific. Is your life in danger because you’re no longer bonded?”

Spock glares at him. “No.”

There’s a short pause in which Kirk is obviously trying to gauge his sincerity. McCoy clears his throat.

Kirk’s head snaps toward him so fast it’s a miracle he doesn’t give himself whiplash. “Bones? You know something?”

Spock mentally groans.

“I know something,” McCoy confirms, his expression smug. “Not all of it, mind you. Vulcans are secretive as fuck, but ever since the first Vulcan served aboard a Starfleet vessel, certain information had been made available to Starfleet Medical. As a CMO of a starship with a Vulcan crewmember aboard, I had to be briefed.”

“They briefed you and not me?” Kirk demands, outraged.

“Do you have a medical degree?” McCoy challenges, unimpressed. “Didn’t think so.”

Spock clenches his jaw. “I remind you, Doctor, that any information you have been made privy to is considered confidential.”

“No shit.” McCoy fixes him with a measured look. “Don’t sweat it, Spock. I’m just trying to tell this one” – he nods at Kirk – “that he doesn’t have to get his panties in a twist over this.”

“Don’t I, now?” Kirk looks anything but convinced. “So you can tell me right now that this pon farr business doesn’t put his life at risk?”

Spock winces at the casual use of the term, which doesn’t go unnoticed by Kirk. McCoy looks uncomfortable, actually straightening up on the couch. He opens his mouth, then closes it, shooting a vaguely guilty look at Spock.

“You can’t,” Kirk crows, darkly triumphant. He all but shoots to his feet, staring Spock down. “I’ll have that answer now, Commander.”

Spock stands up as well, eyes locked on Kirk’s. “No. This is a private matter. Whether the situation arises or not, it does not concern the ship’s operation.”

McCoy makes a vaguely protesting noise. “I can’t tell him, Spock, but I think you should.”

“No,” Spock says flatly. “I can’t help your knowledge, but this does not concern either of you. An unlikely distant emergency that might never come to pass cannot be considered a risk to the ship, sufficient to warrant disclosure. Captain, I ask you to trust my judgment.”

Kirk stares at him a moment longer, then shakes his head. “Sorry, Spock, not good enough. Not when you can die.” He presses his lips together in grim determination. “This might cost me your friendship, but I can’t risk losing you.”

Heart pounding, Spock watches with mild alarm as Kirk marches over to his desk terminal and presses a comm panel. He looks straight at Spock as he says, ignoring the officer’s on duty greeting, “Bridge, give me a comm link to New Vulcan.”

Spock can feel all color drain from his face.

“Captain, we’re still out of range—”

“Then get us in range, best possible speed. Kirk out.” Kirk steeples his fingers gracefully in a fair imitation of Spock’s favorite posture for concentration. “Well, Mr Spock?”

Spock purses his lips. “I urge you not to place that call, Captain. You would be committing a gross violation of my privacy.”

“I’ll just be talking to the other you, what’s the big deal?” Kirk shrugs with artful casualness.

“We are not the same individual,” Spock snaps, losing patience. “That you would run to him every time you wish to obtain some personal information on me is – unacceptable.”

“Whoa, every time? This is the first time—”

“And how would you feel,” Spock cuts him off, barely listening, “if there was another Jim Kirk around? If I could consult him every time you did not wish to share something with me? One who would feel entitled to your privacy, your secrets and divulged them without reservation?”

“He’s got a point, Jim,” McCoy pipes up, but both Kirk and Spock ignore him.

“I get that and I’m sorry,” Kirk says, losing his would-be careless tone. “But you can’t expect me to just accept—”

“You have not changed at all since our first meeting,” Spock says, his tone freezing. “Arrogant then, arrogant now. There were students at the Academy who, after passing some gruesome examination, created sets of notes to be handed over to their comrades in order to help them pass. I believe those were called ‘cheat-sheets.’ I wonder if you are aware that you are using Spock in a similar manner. As a cheat-sheet on me.”

Kirk pulls himself to his feet slowly, his face burning. “Are you saying I can’t do anything without cheating?”

“I don’t know,” Spock snaps. “Can you?”

They glare at each other in silence, barely broken by the sound of breathing.

“Jim,” Spock says suddenly, his tone soft, defeated. “It is deeply personal and very private. Please.”

There’s a moment when Kirk doesn’t react, as though he hadn’t heard. He rubs a hand over his face and walks around his desk, his motions wooden, to stand directly in front of Spock.

“You will inform me,” he says, “if and when this emergency will arise. You will inform me immediately, not when it is too late for me to do something – do you understand?”

Spock can feel his knees go weak with relief. “Yes, Captain.”

“Not good enough.” Kirk shakes his head sternly. “I want your word, Spock. You will come to me the moment you know and you will tell me everything. Your word. Now.”

Spock locks eyes with him, pulse beating madly in his temples. “You have my word, Captain.”

Kirk studies him for a moment before nodding slowly. Without looking he reaches to tap the panel. “Bridge, belay my last order. Maintain course and speed. Kirk out.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Spock says with undisguised relief.

Kirk shakes his head softly. “You don’t pull your punches when you’re cornered, do you? I suppose it should be reassuring.”

Quite without thinking, Spock reaches to touch the back of his hand against Kirk’s. It’s an overly revealing gesture, one he wouldn’t normally be comfortable with, but, after the emotional rollercoaster of the last few hours, he needs to know, to feel for himself that they are all right.

Kirk stares down at the point of contact blankly, before turning his hand, letting his fingers encircle Spock’s wrist for a few brief moments, squeezing lightly, his answer to the unasked question.

‘We’re fine.’

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” McCoy announces suddenly, nearly making Spock jump.

“Overindulgence will do that to you, Bones,” Kirk says, but he doesn’t look up, choosing instead to pluck the unfinished bottle out of the danger zone of McCoy’s feet.

“Yes, that’s what’ll do it, exactly,” McCoy drawls acidly. “What else could it be.” He pulls himself up to his feet unsteadily and gives them a mock salute. “I’ll just go sleep this nightmare off, shall I?”

Spock moves to follow. “I, too, must bid you goodnight, Captain. I promised Mr Scott to look at his new repairs schedule.”

Kirk is grinning, though he doesn’t look at Spock as he says, “Sure, Spock. See you in a few hours.”

“Sir.”

The corridor is still echoing with the sound of McCoy’s expressive and generous use of language, when Spock steps out. Somehow it feels a fitting conclusion to the evening.

 

TBC...