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A Hunger That Never Dies

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A hunger that never dies. It is strong, overpowering; an ancient terror...
~Wolf In the Fold, TOS S2

 

 

“Commander Kirk, Doctor McCoy is standing by in the Transporter room.”

Uhura’s words were clipped and efficiently delivered, but Jim perceived an undertone of concern. No one could accuse James T. Kirk, first officer of the Enterprise of remaining completely unruffled in a crisis and his anxious call from the surface reporting Captain Pike’s injury had probably affected anyone on the bridge who might have heard it.

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

He briefly considered remaining on the planet with the security detail to scout around, find what Chris had stumbled upon to cause the stupor the captain appeared to have fallen into, but he couldn’t. And Doctor McCoy would no doubt want a first-hand report, anyway.

Jim nodded to the ranking officer of the red-shirted security team as the transporter beam sparkled around him and the man he held, draped uncomfortably across him.

Then the Transporter room appeared around him and Captain Pike was whisked out of his arms and onto an antigrav gurney. While orderlies led the gurney, Bones grabbed Jim and towed him out of the room towards Medbay with them.

“Talk to me.” Bones glanced once quickly at Jim as they hurried down the corridor, but had eyes mostly for the data flowing across his tricorder which he cursorily waved over the captain’s supine form.

Jim wanted to shout at him to do something, fix the man, then worry about how it happened, but understood he needed to start from the beginning if the doctor were to diagnose him properly. “The usual for a remote class M planet. No major life-forms, meager vegetation and, on this one, an atmosphere resembling fog or low cloud; nothing out of the ordinary. Well, at first.”

Bones looked up from the tricorder, eyes narrowing.

“We’d all spread out to have a look around, when I heard the captain call out. A couple of us went running over towards where we’d heard him…and then…” Jim’s voice faded as he struggled with the description of subsequent events.

By now they’d reached Medbay and the team hustled the captain to the nearest biobed. In the following hubbub of beeping machinery and people all talking at once, Jim was momentarily forgotten.

Once Bones had Pike safely ensconced in a biometric field of diagnostic and therapeutic equipment and his staff monitoring all of it, he turned back to Jim. “Then what?”

Jim stared at the immobile man in the biobed and then at the array of lights and symbols above it, wishing he knew how to interpret it. But Bones seemed calm enough about his patient’s condition for the moment, which was good enough for Jim’s analytical skills.

Not taking his eyes off Pike, Jim continued, “Then when I got to him, there was something –” His eyes left the captain and fixed on McCoy; the doctor would have a hard enough time understanding the next part of the story without it being even more complicated by Jim’s attention being focused elsewhere. “ – something blocking me, stopping me from getting to him…”

“What? What was blocking you, did it hurt him?”

“No, I mean, I don’t know,” Jim replied, spreading his hands. He knew words would fail him at this juncture and strove to make his meaning clearer, appreciating the doctor would need every scrap of information he could provide. “There was nothing there, nothing I could see. Just a cold… Just cold air that seemed to stop me dead. I couldn’t move, couldn’t reach Pike, could barely breathe.”

Bones gave a shake of his head. Jim didn’t blame him, but barrelled on.

“I know it sounds weird, just trust me on this one. There was nothing there I could see, but whatever was there, kept me from moving for several seconds. Then it was gone, and I rushed to the captain and called the ship. That’s as much as I know.”

Jim knew McCoy was used to dealing with the tangible, even a microorganism that could cause untold harm was still something he could isolate, could fight, but this…just sounded crazy.

Turning away briefly, Bones looked up at the bio-scanner readouts above the bed. “Jim, I’ve got nothing: he’s catatonic, non-responsive to stimuli, and barely breathing. You gotta give me more than just some…random invisible force. Get Olsen or Carol on it, that sounds like it’s right up their alley.”

That was all the time Bones spared before returning to his patient and Jim, with one last look at Pike, decided for once to take the doctor’s advice.

*

The Enterprise’s chief science officer had beamed down and liaised with security, and Olsen had promised to rig together something in the ship’s scanners capable of recording images and data that didn’t already appear on them or their tricorders. True, there wasn’t much that escaped their sensors, but scientists were constantly making discoveries as the Federation stretched further into space. Already the Enterprise had run across everything from new and exotic formulations of chocolate to three previously-undiscovered methods to achieve warp speed. Surely they could unravel this mystery.

But in the meantime, Jim not only had to worry over the health of his mentor, he had to take on his command. Torn between a desire to beat himself up for not getting to Pike sooner and the need to lead the Enterprise’s crew, Jim didn’t have the luxury of guilt and self-doubt in the wake of the captain’s incapacitation. The doctor was counting on him for answers; crew morale now rested on his shoulders; and his own ego wouldn’t let him rest until he restored the captain to his chair.

Sitting in that chair, Kirk waited impatiently for reports from the planet’s surface. At least McCoy’s last update had been cautiously optimistic – after four hours, Pike had come out of the coma and was now breathing and sleeping normally. Bones was loath to wake him as his bio-readings were still subpar, and the doctor had prescribed rest for all of them, including his patient. He’d promised to alert Jim if anything changed in Pike’s condition.

A hail from the surface roused Jim from his brooding. Marcus to Commander Kirk.

Instantly, Kirk depressed the communication button at his arm. “Kirk here, give me some good news, Lieutenant.”

I don’t think I can do that, Commander: we’ve found nothing here that would indicate a form of life has inhabited the planet, either presently or in the past. Are you certain this wasn’t some atmospheric phenomenon you witnessed?

“Carol, I felt something. I was physically restrained. I couldn’t move towards Captain Pike even though I could see him. I know it was gloomy, but I could clearly make him out lying on the ground in front of me. I tell you, there was something restraining me.”

I’m sorry, Commander, but we’ve been unable to find evidence of such an…entity. The pause in Carol’s speech and her use of the word entity gave Jim pause. Was that, in fact, what it had been? Had Jim sensed an intelligence or intent in the empty air between himself and the fallen captain?

He shook himself, and realized the scientist had continued. Did this force feel as if energy was being exerted to restrain you, like it was physically and intentionally keeping you back?

“You read my mind, Lieutenant. That’s exactly what it felt like. Gave me chills.” Was still giving him chills just thinking about it.

Have the ship’s sensors come up with anything? We honestly have no readings of any kind on our tricorders, just atmospheric fog and a soft mist.

Which had been exactly what the captain and his team had encountered when they beamed down. But something had been there; Jim was certain of it. Maybe Olsen’s rejigged sensors would detect something the tricorders could not.

“Captain, Doctor McCoy requests your presence in Medbay.” Uhura cut in from behind him, and Jim straightened and nearly sprang from the chair.

“Lieutenant Marcus, you and the security team make one more sweep and then return to the ship.” As much as Jim wanted to leave no stone unturned on the surface, he also didn’t want to risk having someone else fall prey to whatever strange condition had afflicted the captain. Olsen’s sensors would be a safer, and most likely more effective, method of reconnaissance, anyway.

When Jim reached Medbay, he found the lights dimmed and all of the staff save Dr McCoy in another part of the cavernous room. Bones himself was frowning down at the supine body of Captain Pike. Jim couldn’t see Chris’s face, but he could hear him. He was…growling, body contorted as if in pain. As Jim approached, he could see that Pike had been restrained, arms and legs held to the biobed by strong straps, whose strength he tested as he twisted and turned.

“Don’t get too close,” McCoy warned him, and Jim stopped despite himself. Maybe it was something in McCoy’s tone, or the near-demonic look in Chris’s eyes, but Jim could tell right away all was not well with the Enterprise’s captain. Instead of approaching further, Jim glanced at the readings above the bed. They looked normal. Even Pike’s pulse was regular. Thrashing about like that ought to have affected any man, but Pike’s readings indicated all was well. His…behaviour, though, showed anything but.

“Kirk!” Pike snarled, baring a mouthful of white teeth. “Get me out of here. I’m perfectly fine!”

“He’s not perfectly fine,” Bones said from the bedside and Pike sneered at him.

The captain appeared furious, despite what the bioscans said. “You’re relieved, Doctor. Jim, get Doctor M’Benga in here.” Pike’s wild eyes flitted to the nurses and technicians at the far end of the room and his smile widened.

Jim took the opportunity to inch closer and mutter under his breath, “Bones, what’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me!” Pike’s head whipped round and he made a grab for Jim. His nails scraped along his first officer’s arm and Jim gasped in pain, yanking his hand away. Blood welled to the surface of his forearm and he watched, wide-eyed as the captain brought his fingers to his mouth. He sucked noisily on them. “Mmmm…”

“Jim, move away. Now,” McCoy ordered and Jim complied. The doctor took hold of Jim’s uniform shirt and hustled him to his small office off to the side of Medbay.

“Bone’s, what the fu—” Jim began, but McCoy cut him off, grabbing for his other arm and running a scanner over it.

“Hold still.”

Jim glanced at the far end of Medbay where the rest of the staff was clustered, some of them watching warily. “Why is everybody down there?”

McCoy finished his scan and gave the wound a quick spray of dermal stimulant. “Because they’re not safe around him.”

“What does that mean?” Jim said. “Is he contagious?”

“No,” McCoy said. “He’s...persuasive.” At Jim’s blank look, he sighed. “This morning I came in just in time to stop Lieutenant Garvey from releasing his restraints. She looked like a sleepwalker. Two hours ago I took a break for lunch, and when I came back Nurse McNamara was about to put his arm in the captain’s mouth.”

Jim frowned. He’d never heard of a condition or illness that could make someone telekinetic or telepathic, though maybe the doctor had. Ironically, as if reading his mind, McCoy continued, “I’ve put in a call to Starfleet Medical, but we’re so far out, I’m not sure when we’ll get a reply.”

“We will, Bones,” Jim touched McCoy on the shoulder reassuringly.

“Wait, kid, don’t get your hopes up. They could come back with bupkus. I’ve never heard of this kinda thing, and I’d like to think I’m pretty up on my xenopathology. I’m not sure anyone’s going to be rushing back to us with good news. You need to start preparing for the worst, just in case.”

“And what’s the worst?” Jim refused to feel as pessimistic as the doctor sounded, despite the odds that were probably stacked against them.

McCoy sighed, but his expression didn’t darken as it usually did when he was about to deliver bad news. Jim took this as a good sign. “Pike could lose his personality completely. I don’t think he’s in danger of actually dying from this condition; bioreadings are all still normal and don’t look like they’re going to deviate anytime soon. But Jim, his brain scans are… He’s turning into…someone…something else. And I can’t stop it.”

Jim looked through the transparent window to the biobed on which Pike lay, still restrained, still smiling, still looking exactly as Jim had always seen him: normal. Well, apart from the apparent near-constant display of his teeth. That was...unnerving, he had to admit. Someone had to have some answers. Just because no one from Starfleet had made it this far out before didn’t mean no other race had.

“Have you put out a general call, or just a request to Starfleet Medical?” he asked, suspecting McCoy might have done one thing and told him another.

“Everywhere I know they practice medicine, if you must know. I figure Starfleet Medical might not have the expertise we’re looking for.”

Jim grunted in acknowledgement, for once pleased that the doctor was so thorough, as long as it wasn’t him. Then he leaned in, lowering his head and his tone conspiratorially. “And what about the rest of Starfleet?”

To his credit, McCoy had the good sense not to play dumb. “Jim, you know I’m not even supposed to talk about this…”

“C’mon, Bones. I’m sure that new fella of yours is more than just a pretty face –”

“You’d better believe it,” McCoy said without missing a beat. Jim wasn’t sure if he should be amused, jealous, or admit that McCoy’s response fell into the too much information category.

Probably not the latter. It was only a matter of time before Jim pinned Bones down to a barstool and grilled him for the gory details about his mysterious new love-interest. So far, all McCoy had told him was that the guy was a paper-pusher at some archive in Europe somewhere, but Jim sensed there was more to that story.

“Please tell me he might be able to get you some intel on this condition, if there is any.”

McCoy narrowed his eyes, and thankfully he didn’t say no. “Damn it, I’ll see what I can do, Jim. But even if something exists, which it probably doesn’t, it’s unlikely John has access to it.”

“Oh, it’s John, is it?” Jim asked, eyebrows in his hairline. The gesture mirrored his incredulous tone. “John Smith maybe, or John Doe? They’ve really got this cloak-and-dagger act down at Starfleet, don’t they?”

“That’s his name, Jim.” McCoy mock-sneered at the captain, who smiled at him fondly. McCoy rolled his eyes.

Jim spread his hands. “Well?”

“I’ll see what I can do. Don’t ask me again. By the way,” he added, “Medbay records show you’ve been spending a lot of time with Pike – two hours this morning, for instance. Has he tried his magic voice on you?”

Jim shifted in his chair. “Er...” He hadn’t realized the doctor kept such a close eye on the comings and goings, though he should have guessed. But...two hours? It hadn’t seemed anything like that. Fifteen minutes at most.

McCoy frowned. “He has, hasn’t he? Look, Jim, you need to stay away from him. We don’t know –”

“What about you?” Jim challenged. “You’re in there with him hours every day!”

“It’s my job, damn it!” McCoy retorted, eyes bright with anger.

Or was it anger? Seized by an inexplicable urge to test the waters, Jim licked his lips slowly. He could have sworn McCoy’s eyes flicked down to watch the tip of his tongue. “Bones...” he said softly.

“Jim, I know what you’re thinking. Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind–”

Jim’s hands went up defensively, as if he’d just been wrongly accused of something and wasn’t going to take the blame, regardless of how he felt.

“– ‘cause it has,” McCoy finished, which effectively derailed Jim’s shifty response.

“Bones, I’m sor –” Jim’s arms fell once more to his sides.

“There’ve been times I’d have been all over you in the last year or two, except it would probably be seen as highly unprofessional, and also John would probably kill you.”

McCoy’s lopsided grin was comforting and Jim felt the blush that had been rising in his face cool slightly.

Until McCoy’s next comment: “Or he’d want to join in.”

As usual, Jim’s body was on board with a sexual suggestion before his brain could catch up, and he hurriedly spun on his heel and headed for his cabin before Bones could make things…worse.

One sonic shower later (with the air setting adjusted to as cold as possible), Jim had his game face firmly back in place. It was one thing to go through life wanting to get with half the people he met regardless of how inappropriate; it was another thing to act on those impulses.

All notions of pulling various-colored Starfleet uniforms away from hard chests and strong arms reluctantly but firmly faded away to be replaced by thoughts of the burden of responsibility to his ship and its commanding officer. Jim vowed to do his damnedest to keep those thoughts in the forefront of his mind.

*

The next day, Jim wasn’t even through the door into Medbay before he was talking. “What have you got, Bones?”

McCoy looked up from the diagnostic scanner he’d been hunched over. He looked tired, his eyes slightly reddened, but determined as always. “Well, it’s not anemia, pernicious or aplastic. It’s not leukemia. It’s not thalassemia or xenopolycythemia or any of three dozen other -emias, but it’s definitely blood-related. And he’s craving it. But it’s not Orion blood fever or Cardassian malaria. It’s not—”

“I don’t give a shit what it isn’t, Bones,” Jim gritted out. “Have you at least come up with a way to keep him alive until you figure out what it is?”

Bones sat back with a sigh. “We tried him on synthetic blood. He went into seizures. Either it doesn’t have what he needs, or there’s something about his condition that makes his system actively hostile to the fake stuff. The only way to stop the seizures was to pump his stomach.”

Briefly Jim tried to imagine the Enterprise without Captain Pike. His mind refused to process the concept. “Is he all right?”

“Yes, for the moment.”

“What do you mean, for the moment?”

McCoy stood up. “See for yourself.” He led the way into the room.

Pike lay on a biobed, all of the indicators above his head – temperature, pulse, respiration – normal for such a long time, now hovered on the low end of healthy. His face was waxy, an unhealthy yellowish-grey, his eyes nearly closed, and he looked like he’d lost twenty pounds in the last two days. A small plastic bag of thick red fluid was suspended above his head, a tube leading from it into his mouth. Jim saw Pike’s throat move as he swallowed.

Jim felt vaguely nauseated. Not that he was bothered by the sight of blood as such, but this was unnatural. “Whose..?” He cleared his throat. “Whose is it?”

McCoy shrugged. “Does it matter? It’s not going into his veins, so blood type is irrelevant. To test it I just grabbed the first corpsman I could find and said, ‘Hey, kid, how’d you like to donate some blood?’”

“That must have gotten you a strange look.”

“Not nearly as strange as when he found out I was actually proposing to stick a needle in him.” The doctor grimaced. “It’s barbaric, treating people like pincushions.”

Jim couldn’t help but grin. “I’m surprised you even know how to do such an antiquated procedure.”

“Pure luck. For some diseases natural blood really is more effective than the synthetic kind, and some religions don’t allow its use. I did a rotation at one of the few remaining blood banks.”

“So…” Jim stopped. Had Pike’s eyelids flickered? Was he more awake than he pretended? “So it’s helping him, then?”

McCoy gestured towards the bed. “Well, he’s barely conscious, he looks like death warmed over, and he’s still losing weight at an incredible pace, like his body’s burning itself up. But it’s keeping him alive.”

Jim wondered what the long-term effects of subsisting on human blood were. Would you get scurvy? “How much of the, er, stuff has he gone through?”

“After that first pint from Ensign Garrovick I tried one from myself, and since then I’ve had a parade of donors through here. Though I haven’t told them what it’s for, so God knows what stories they’re telling about me. So far he’s been through five liters of the stuff.” He shook his head. “But it’s damn strange. He takes it in, even seems to like it. And yet all the indicators say that he’s slowly starving to death.”

“Starving? How is that possible?”

“No idea. Clearly natural blood is better than synthetic, but something’s getting lost in the transmission.”

He reached across the bed to check something on the other side, so Jim was the only one to see Pike’s eyes open and didn’t they used to be blue? They looked kind of red now. His gaze locked onto Jim’s and he bared his teeth in a ferocious grin, giving Jim a half-second to notice their unnatural sharpness, then quick as a snake he seized McCoy’s arm in both hands and sank his teeth deep into the flesh. The doctor uttered a stifled shout and tried to pull away, then slumped over Pike’s chest.

Jim stood frozen, watching in horrified helplessness as Pike’s throat moved again and again, swallowing like he couldn’t get enough. All the while his eyes never left Jim’s, exerting a strange, hypnotic fascination. Be silent. Be still. Dimly Jim realized that time was passing, that he’d felt this before …something blocking me, stopping me from getting to him... and then he broke through whatever it was and grabbed Bones’ shoulders and jerked him away from the bed, both of them falling heavily to the floor.

Bones grunted, then sat up slowly, shaking his head. “What the hell happened?”

Jim grabbed his shoulder. “Bones, look.”

The man who had been nearly dead five minutes earlier was grinning at them, eyes bright and cheeks flushed with health, looking as good as he ever had (better. I’m much better, a voice whispered in Jim’s mind). Whatever Pike had taken from Bones had completely restored him.

“Direct transmission, body to body,” Pike said, licking his lips. “I knew you’d find the answer, Bones. You’ve always been the finest doctor in the fleet.”

Bones raised an eyebrow. “Well, I won’t argue with that, but I’m not sure that’s a medically sound treatment.” He rubbed his neck and shook his head slowly. “For a start, I won’t be able to work without about a liter of glucose water and a heap of vitamin B12.”

Jim glanced from one to the other. Pike was resting now, his vitals normal, eyelids drooping. Anyone might think he was perfectly healthy and had just stopped into Medbay for a short nap.

“Let me take the next…shift.” Jim was at a loss to explain what was going on, or why it worked, but he was sure about two things: he didn’t want to lose his CMO to dehydration (or worse) when he had such an important patient to care for. And, after watching Pike and McCoy, Jim somehow felt compelled to contribute his...services. If only to assuage the near-ache he’d felt watching the two other men locked together in such an intimate way. Where had that come from? Had it been the result of Pike’s communion with Jim during the feeding – although Jim was still half-convinced he’d imagined that – or was there something more going on?

McCoy’s next words brought him out of his thoughts with a crash. “No. Too risky. As much good as this appears to have done, it’s literally draining on the donor, and I’m not sure Pike getting his hands – or teeth, rather – onto you is such a good idea. We can’t afford to lose you both.”

*

It was hot in his quarters and Jim was restless. It couldn’t really be hot, of course. The ship’s internal systems were perfectly calibrated, always keeping the crew areas at a comfortable temperature, and when Jim finally threw the covers off for the third time and angrily queried the computer, it replied, “All systems report normal. Temperature is within optimal parameters.” Which made him want to shoot it with his phaser.

Because damn it, it felt hot.

Finally he fell into an uneasy sleep, the light blanket bunched around his hips, an arm across his eyes...

He’s standing in front of the door to Medbay. The door is closed. There’s a voice whispering in his head that he can’t quite hear, a high-pitched buzz like the mosquitoes that used to hover in clouds around the porch light during the long Iowa summer nights. Slowly he raises his hand and places his palm against the door, and immediately the voice comes clear.

“Kirk.”

It’s Pike.

“Open the door.”

The quiet tone of command is utterly familiar, reassuring in its normalcy, and yet he hesitates. Doesn’t he want to see Pike? Isn’t this the man he’s looked up to since he came on board, the epitome of a Starfleet officer?

The voice takes on a warmer tone. “Jim,” Pike says softly inside his head. “Don’t leave me in here alone.”

Jim swallows, his mouth dry. For some reason he both wants and doesn’t want to obey. A tingling begins in the centre of his palm where it touches the door then begins to move, a fugitive itch that travels around, lighting up parts of his body like a lover’s touch.

“You know you want to,” Pike’s voice says, and Jim watches his hand reach out obediently and trip the lock on the door.

The room is dim, lit only by low-level screens near the floor. It’s meant to be restful, but Jim is feeling anything but sleepy as he approaches the biobed where Pike lies restrained. He’s peculiarly aware of his heartbeat, the blood pulsing in his wrists...and one or two other places.

He stands beside the bed, looking down at Pike who lies there like a king, relaxed, calm, as if there are no bands around his chest and legs, as though he’s the one who’s free and it’s Jim who is the prisoner.

“You are a prisoner,” Pike says, answering his thoughts. “A prisoner of your own limits. Don’t you want to test those limits? Break them?”

Pike’s eyes are bluer than Jim remembers them, but at the same time they have an odd reddish tinge. Jim doesn’t answer, even though something in him wants to.

“Some men are born to take what they want,” Pike continues, his gaze holding Jim’s. “Release me and I will show you more power than you could ever imagine.”

Jim licks his lips and he notices that Pike’s eyes follow the motion of his tongue. “I have power,” he whispers. “I’m second-in-command on Starfleet’s most advanced ship.”

Pike laughs softly. “Delegated power, granted to you by the structure within which you work, at their whim. That is not power. That is obedience. True power lies in taking what you want, when you want, from whom you want. Women or men, willing or unwilling, it matters not. What matters is the taking.”

A flickering stream of images runs through Jim’s mind: his hands buried in McCoy’s hair, their lips pressed together...his body crushing Lieutenant Tracey’s against the wall as she twists away from him, exposing her white neck

He doesn’t want that.

Does he?

“Release me,” Pike says. He speaks aloud but his voice resonates in Jim’s head, like he’s crawled inside it. Once again it’s as if Jim’s body isn’t his own but rather an extension of Pike’s will. He reaches out and unhooks the restraint across Pike’s chest, watches as the man takes a deep satisfied breath, his chest rising and falling luxuriously. “The others.” Although Pike could easily do it himself now that his arms are free, he seems to take pleasure in watching Jim do his bidding. Jim moves down the biobed and undoes the ones across Pike’s legs, then stands silently, waiting.

Pike swings his legs around and sits up on the edge of the biobed. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” he says with a touch of mockery. “Now. Come closer.”

Obediently – the thought of refusing doesn’t even enter his head – Jim moves to stand in front of his captain. Pike moves his knees apart, pulls Jim closer so Jim’s hips are pressed against the inside of his thighs, reaches out a hand and ruffles Jim’s hair. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he says thoughtfully, and a shiver of pleasure ripples down Jim’s spine. When Pike raises a hand and runs the back of his fingers down Jim’s cheek, Jim closes his eyes and concentrates on not collapsing from the sheer bliss of his touch.

“I don’t...” he begins, but Pike reaches out to wrap an arm around his waist and Jim takes a stumbling step forward.

“Be silent.” Pike’s voice is almost a hiss in his ear, and Jim has a momentary vision of a snake, forked tongue flickering, but it vanishes at the touch of Pike’s lips on his neck. Jim draws in a quick breath, tries to turn his head so their lips meet but Pike grabs a fistful of his hair in a frighteningly strong grip and twists his head sideways, stretching the muscles of his neck almost painfully taut. Jim has a second of crystal clarity – my god, what the fuck am I doing? – and then something sinks its teeth into his neck and a delicious feeling of surrender washes over him. Although he should be struggling, shouting for help, fighting for his life, he doesn’t want to do any of that. He just wants to stand there, feeling the life drain out of him, because it’s what Pike wants and that’s all that matters...

With a gasp Jim jerked awake, his heart pounding. He lay there for a moment, eyes wide, staring at the ceiling above his bed. Finally he sat up slowly, feeling cold and sick and faintly nauseous. God, what a dream that had been. He rubbed a hand across his face, running his fingers through his hair. His neck was sore and he rubbed it absently.

When he took his hand away his fingers were sticky.

He was staring appalled at the blood on his hands when Chekhov’s voice came over the comm beside his bed.

“Security alert,” the man’s crisp tones said. “Captain Pike has escaped.”

*

Jim stood over the body of Olsen, trying not to be sick. The Enterprise’s chief engineer – former chief engineer – was in pieces on the floor. Captain Pike sat amongst the carnage, licking his fingers, but his eyes were wild. If Pike hadn’t looked so uncomfortable with what he’d just done, or if Jim hadn’t known it was a crewman the captain had just slaughtered, he’d have thought Pike had just been finishing up a particularly messy meal. When he was done cleaning off his hands, Pike looked up at Jim.

“I’m sorry…” he whispered.

“Kirk!” a voice called, but Jim only vaguely heard the assistant chief shouting from the rear of the vast room. Before he could turn to respond, his attention was drawn to McCoy’s noisy arrival and loud curse.

“Good God, what the hell happened!?”

Pike’s baleful stare shifted from Jim to McCoy, but before either he or Jim could respond, the ship suddenly lurched to starboard and everyone teetered over to one side.

“COMMANDER!” Assistant Chief Engineer Scott shouted again, and this time Jim couldn’t ignore him.

“Bones, just…just do something. I’ll be back in a moment.” Jim ran down towards where Mr. Scott was propped against a bulkhead.

As if things couldn’t get worse than they had five minutes ago when he’d found Captain Pike dismembering and draining a man dry, now the ship appeared to have been damaged. Had Pike caused it? If so, why? What could he gain from sabotaging their engines?

A chill went down Jim’s spine as he turned to glance back at the grisly sight of his CMO investigating the Chief Engineer’s remains.

“Commander Kirk, I think we’ve got dilithium damage,” Mr. Scott reported, holding up his PADD in front of Jim. “It looks as though someone’s been trying to pry their way into the chamber and the shielding’s been compromised.”

Jim’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times; he knew as much about the Enterprise’s workings as the next cadet who’d focused on engineering while pursuing a command career path, but to actually enter the chamber was…suicide. Why would Pike have tried to get to the crystals? Why would he need them? Unless he didn’t and he was trying to… Jim turned to look back at the captain and the remains of the chief engineer. Could Pike have known what he was doing? Based on the expression he’d had on his face, despite his actions, Jim could believe he’d been pretty upset.

Was it possible that Pike, starved again, had come down here either to avoid people or avoid being found killing people, had found Olsen and killed him, then tried to kill himself? As McCoy had alluded, Pike was not himself, especially when faced with his all-consuming hunger. Having to choose between going against instinct, maybe ending his life, and a meal, it was clear what the outcome had been.

Of course, this was complete speculation. With the death of the only witness, they might never know. All Jim knew for sure was that he’d been responsible for the safety of the crew and now his chief engineer was dead because he’d not done his job. Not only that, he was still failing his crew – his captain – and there was nothing he could do to help until they could figure out what the hell was wrong with Pike in the first place.

Jim looked back at Mr. Scot, who’d set aside his PADD and was warily eyeing at his acting captain.

“Is something wrong, Commander? I – I mean, is there anything I can do?”

Jim smiled at him in a manner that he hoped looked genuine and laid a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder. “Sorry, Mister Scott, no. I mean, yes. If there’s nothing actually wrong with the crystals, do we or do we not have full power?”

“No sir, not yet, but I’ll get on it right away.”

“Thanks, we could use a miracle or two. I’ll assign Ensign Chekov to assist you.” Relieved that one crisis was in hand, Jim turned his attention to the several others he now had to deal with. What was he going to do with Captain Pike? His friend, his mentor had killed a man and drunk his blood. It was awful, it was more than awful.

And it appeared that Captain Pike felt the same way. How was Jim going to deal with that? Pike was not only a danger to the crew, as had already been established (and not dealt with, Jim acknowledged, looking again at the grisly reminder), but also was apparently a danger to himself.

*

McCoy and Jim hovered close to the captain as they made their way to Medbay. Pike had been sedated – he’d barely moved as Bones had approached him with a hypo – and was now on an antigrav stretcher, surrounded by security.

They’d barely left the engineering bay before Jim said, “That’s it, Bones, it’s me or no one. I won’t have any more people dying on my watch. Including you. Take my blood.”

“Jim, we’ve discussed this already, donated blood is fine, but on the hoof is better. And you don’t have the time or the blood to spare. Now, leave this to me, you can’t be all things to all people. The captain, were he able, would tell you the same thing.” They both glanced down at the unconscious form beside them.

Jim let it lie until they’d reached Medbay and Pike was secured once more in a biobed, with a red-shirt ensconced by the bedside. He followed McCoy back into the office, intent on convincing the doctor of the validity of his suggestion. McCoy would keep arguing, but maybe he could slowly make some headway. Why couldn’t Bones see how important this was? It wasn’t as though the doctor was trying to undermine his authority, but he wasn’t using any common sense.

Jim snorted his amusement in spite of himself. If Pike had been his old self, he’d have laughed at the idea – usually things with Bones and Jim were very much the other way around and Pike often found himself caught in the middle. Thoughts of Pike turned him back to the discussion at hand.

“I have to do something, Bones. I can’t expect you to shoulder all of this. I need to be there for the captain.”

“You need to be there for your crew, Jim.” McCoy moved to the desk, where he pulled out a bottle and two glasses. Jim waved him off. Though tempted, he wanted to ensure his blood was free of any chemical that might hinder the healing process when given to Captain Pike.

“Don’t you think I know that?! I need to be there for everyone. But sometimes we have to make hard decisions; our survival may depend on drastic measures…” His voice dropped away and he fell heavily into the chair opposite Bones’ desk. He’d heard that phrase before, and he could not believe he’d just employed it himself.

“I can’t… That’s not what I mean,” he near-whispered. “I’m sorry…” He covered his face with his hands.

When he looked up, McCoy had filled a glass and was offering it to him. “Jim, you don’t need to beat yourself up about Tarsus IV any more than you do about Olsen. You couldn’t have predicted Kodos’ decisions – no one could – no one would even fathom such a thing, let alone a child – ”

“But I should have known Pike would try something. I was too ready to believe we could beat this thing. Just like then.”

“The two situations couldn’t be more different.” McCoy, he knew, was trying valiantly to keep him from slipping even further into the past and compromising any good work they’d done since literally cleaning up things in engineering and getting Pike back to medbay.

“I should have planned better; I knew he wasn’t secure here.” Jim couldn’t bring himself to tell Bones about his dream. Had it been a dream? Or had he himself been the cause of Olsen’s death? So many deaths that he could have – should have – been prevented...

“What would you have done with Chris, put him in the brig? I need access to my patient if I’m going to treat him. I can’t do that in the brig without risking injury to myself or my staff. And it’s hardly the place to set up all the medical monitoring he needs: it’s a goldfish bowl, not a hospital. You did nothing wrong. If anyone did, it was me for not securing him better. We know to do that now.” He gestured to the guard at the bedside.

Jim could feel McCoy’s demeanor shifting from personal to professional. The doctor’s gaze travelled up and down Jim’s person, and he knew Bones would be scrutinizing the unkempt hair, the stubble he’d woken with, and the wrinkled state of the gold top he’d hastily thrown on when called to engineering. Before McCoy could speak, Jim held up his hands in surrender.

“Okay, okay, Bones, I know. I promise to get some rest, and I will consider your ongoing attempts to get my head shrunk about Tarsus. Can we please just drop it and focus on Pike for now?”

McCoy nodded, then rolled his eyes as Jim gave his overprotective friend an unconvincing lop-sided smile and drank the liquid in the proffered glass.

“Sleep Jim. If nothing else, Jim, do that. You’re no good to your crew or to Captain Pike in this state and I’ll have one less thing to worry about.

Jim had to concede that once again, McCoy was right.

*

For the second time in as many days, Jim entered Medbay and went straight into McCoy’s office. The doctor had made contact with his boyfriend, partner, fuck-buddy – whatever Bones was calling him today, and had insisted Jim come down to hear what John had to say.

“Go ahead, he’s okay,” McCoy was saying into the comm unit as he motioned at Jim, though John couldn’t see either of them with the video inactive. The settings also indicated that, unusually, the transmission hadn’t been routed via Uhura’s station, which only added to the illicit feel of the exchange.

Jim heard shuffling, then from across the space of thousands of parsecs, a deep, cultured voice said, “I’ve found something, but it’s hardly comprehensive. Many of the sources cited in the notations are either missing or scored out. The only thing that authenticates it is the author; I’ve seen his name in this section of Starfleet before. It’s genuine, but I can’t ensure the data is.”

Well, that made sense, Jim mused. John did work in an archive, after all and was bound to come across a myriad of names. Any document might hold important information they could use.

“It’s better than nothing,” McCoy said through gritted teeth. Then his expression softened. “Thank you for this, John.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I’m unable to tell how old the original case study is, so it may be completely useless to you depending on the rate of inter-planetary development. There are no stardates, but maybe you’ll recognize the references. The locations cited are not on Earth.”

“I’m not sure I’ll know them either, I’ve not been out here that long. You know how I feel about space travel.” McCoy’s features wore an irritated expression.

“Yes, I know. About the same way as I.” The comment was accompanied by a low chuckle. How McCoy could sit there and not be affected by it was beyond Jim, that voice was pure velvet. Then again, he remembered affectionately, he and Bones didn’t agree on a lot of things. “Transmitting now,” John continued.

McCoy tapped a few keys to record the data straight to disc, bypassing the ship’s main computer memory. His face relaxed a little. “Got it,” he said when the transfer was complete. “I promise to stay off your secret channels from now on.”

Jim was pretty sure he was teasing, but John’s reply sounded anything but light-hearted. “You’d better; I’m risking enough as it is just doing this.” Not for the first time, Jim wondered how the hell Bones had met this guy.

McCoy’s expression turned sheepish, but his voice was tender. “I know. I’ll see ya, John.” The colloquialism sounded odd given the two men’s current locations, but Jim could tell the sentiment behind it was heartfelt. The doctor terminated the communication and held up the file. “I’ll get to work on this right away.” He stood, but before he could move, Jim caught his arm.

“I appreciate this, Bones. I know that wasn’t easy.”

McCoy looked away, but he didn’t move. “He’s my captain too, Jim. Pike and the Enterprise mean a lot to all of us, and I hate not knowing how to help.”

Well, thought Jim, thinking again about McCoy’s prickly demeanor, we may not agree on some things, but we certain share the same feelings towards the ship and her captain. He released McCoy’s arm and let the man get to work.

*

“I don’t want you.” Pike turned his head away, for all the world like a petulant two-year-old told he has to have green beans when he wants ice cream. He cast a sideways glance at Kirk. “Want that one.”

McCoy shot a swift look at Jim. “Not on your nellie. He’s busy being captain.”

Pike’s face was suddenly suffused with rage. “I am captain!” he shouted. “I am meant to command, you are meant to obey!”

“Well, right now you’re going to obey me,” McCoy said.

Pike uttered a bark of laughter. “I think not.” Then his eyes narrowed. “You are a doctor. Your desire is for life. To preserve it. Well, I shall defy you.”

“Meaning what, exactly?” McCoy questioned.

Pike closed his eyes. “I shall die.”

Jim exchanged a glance with the doctor. “And just how do you plan to do that?”

“I shall not eat. Not unless I have what I wish.”

“You WILL eat, even if I have to tie you down to this biobed with rope, slash my wrist open, and stuff my arm in your mouth until you’ve eaten. Don’t think I won’t.”

Jim nearly forgot about the vow he’d made following the cold shower as his eyes glazed over thinking about the scene the doctor had just described. But his determination to save the captain was stronger. And he wasn’t about to lose the doctor and his best friend in the process.

“Just what do you see as our options, Bones?” Jim said angrily. “We can’t let him die, not while there’s a chance to save him. You can’t keep being his personal blood bank, not if you want to be on top of your game and find a way to cure this thing. And even if you could, you heard what he said. He’ll go on a starvation diet. For whatever reason, he wants me –” Jim couldn’t suppress a surge of dark excitement at his own words “—and for a lot of reasons, I have to do this.”

“But you don’t have to,” McCoy pointed out, frustration plain in his voice. “You gotta get over this saving-people thing, Jim. You’re not God almighty, it’s not your job to be the answer to every crisis!”

Before Jim could respond, McCoy grabbed his arm and pulled him away from beside Pike’s bedside. He gave a quick look back at the captain, then motioned towards his office. Once inside Bones activated the door so Pike couldn’t overhear what he had to say.

“Listen, Jim,” McCoy said, his hand still on Jim’s arm. “I know where this is coming from. I know you still beat yourself up over Tarsus, and I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told you there wasn’t anything you could have done then – no, let me finish – ‘cause I figure if I tell you this enough, it might sink in…”

Jim closed his mouth before he could deny McCoy’s observations.

“…just like there isn’t anything more you can do now. The ship needs you. If you want to save your crew, Jim, this isn’t the way to do it; you need to lead them, you need to be this ship’s captain, because that’s what you are now.”

Jim turned to look through the window of the office into the main bay. His eyes found Pike’s. The captain was looking straight at him, as if he didn’t need to hear what was being said through the solid office wall, as if he could see directly into Jim’s mind. But a part of Jim knew that wasn’t true. What he was beginning to be certain of though, was that Pike was able to get information without reading minds; he was able to persuade people to tell him outright, even if they didn’t want to disclose the information. Which actually seemed even more frightening than telepathy.

Bones must have thought he was losing his audience. Either that, or he also could see into Jim’s mind and knew that nothing he could do now or ever would make up for Tarsus. But he had to try.

“Bones, you need the time to find a cure, you need to stay strong, you need to research, I’m expenda–”

McCoy’s grip on his arm tightened, and Jim flinched. “Stop right there, farmboy. You are not expendable. You are the captain of this ship until Pike is better. If he’s ever going to get better.”

“Bones, there’s no reason why Sulu can’t take command. I can do this. Pike needs me. My crew needs me. This way I can help everyone.”

“Jim…I know you think a lot of him, and Sulu’s a good man, but he’s no captain. You say the crew needs you? Be there for them, let me worry about Captain Pike.”

Jim opened his mouth to protest again. He would not back down, not this time.

Then McCoy said something that stayed his hand, if only momentarily. “I’ve analysed the report, the one John sent. I think I can help him, but you have to give me time. We’re in the middle of space with a sick man who might be getting sicker and the last thing I need is the first officer succumbing to the same damn thing.”

Jim hesitated. What could it hurt to give McCoy a chance to explain? “Tell me what you know.” He looked earnestly at the doctor.

Bones gestured Jim to a chair and perched on his desk. “So, John was right; this report is so full of holes you could sieve San Francisco Bay through it, but I was able to piece together a few things and I think I’ve come up with a working theory…”

“Bones, that’s great!” Jim exclaimed.

“Hardly. Knowing the cause is just half the answer, we still gotta find out how to fix the man. The case in this file was written up by a doctor named Bashir.”

“Never heard of him.”

McCoy held up a hand. “Nor had I, but John’s made a note on the report saying that he’s heard Bashir’s name thrown around the section he works in, and the guy sounds legit.”

Jim gave a lop-sided grin, and idly started toying with a reader tube that was lying on McCoy’s desk. “Great, more spy-games.”

McCoy impatiently retrieved the instrument from Jim’s fingers and set it back down on the desk. “Will you listen to me? John isn’t a spy, and I’m sure this Bashir fellow wasn’t either; doctors aren’t very good at keeping secrets, especially secrets that they’d want to publish and be recognized for.”

“All right, but what about this report? You’ve had to obtain it covertly, and it’s only half-complete. Somebody didn’t want this information getting out into the open.”

“Yeah, but I bet it wasn’t this Bashir fellow,” McCoy argued. “Now shut up and listen. The case was a pergium miner who had been on Rigel Four at the time of his…infection. The symptoms sound similar to what Pike’s displaying, and he’d killed a few locals before Bashir was able to get him to a more secure facility. Bashir did a bit of investigating on the planet, but evidently the region where the miner was found – Argus River, or something – is full of peasants who’ll believe anything, and all Bashir could get out of them was superstitious nonsense. But one thing he was able to confirm in his lab was that this condition wasn’t contagious, as these River People had thought it was.”

“Thank god for that,” Jim sighed. “What about all the…influencing behaviors?”

“Funny you should ask. There’s absolutely no reference to that – nothing. I’m betting that’s a lot of what’s been deleted or obscured out of this file. Imagine the uses for talents like that.”

Jim thought for a moment. The persuasiveness, the mental control was important and it would be nice to know how to fight it, but the cure was the important thing – they needed that first and foremost. “Tell me there’s something in there about his recovery,” he said.

McCoy frowned. “I wish I could, kid. The good news is, donated blood did keep him alive – and yes, they found that fresh from donors worked better than transfused over time – but the bad news… The bad news is, the guy just up and died when he was transferred from Bashir’s temporary lab on Rigel to the main medical centre on Starbase 134. Based on the case notes, it doesn’t look like he went downhill or anything. Seems like one minute he was alive and the next dead. Autopsy showed nothing.”

That did nothing to reassure Jim. If it could kill that quickly and out of the blue, who knew how much time they had?

*

“You got this,” Jim assured Sulu, as the helmsman somewhat gingerly sat down in the command chair. He nodded to the first officer and Jim nodded back, then headed for the turbolift. Jim felt sure Sulu could handle the chair for the short time he’d be away. Bones had commandeered the services of the new first officer – also their science officer – with good reason, and she was now in the lab helping the planetary researchers try to uncover any more clues the landing party might have missed.

When he reached Medbay he found Pike bound to the biobed and McCoy standing over him. The security detail was nowhere to be seen. While Jim appreciated their presence, he wasn’t keen to have too much of an audience for this. Besides, Jim figured he could handle anything Pike tried, despite the doctor’s scepticism. Still, he felt the need for some reassurance. “Is he likely to get dangerous?”

“I’m not risking it; he’s already killed one person by tearing him apart, and I know he’s your friend as well as your captain, but I’m not sure he understands the distinction any more.”

Pike leered at Jim and he had to concede that maybe McCoy had a point. And, considering Bones was giving Jim his way, both to nourish Pike and ease Jim’s conscience, he’d not argue McCoy’s bedside manner.

“So, how do you want me?” Jim said to McCoy, but it was Pike who answered.

“Every way I can.”

Jim’s eyes met McCoy’s over the biobed, but neither man commented on Pike’s response.

“Have a seat next to the bed and extend your arm,” McCoy said. “I’ll make sure things don’t get too out of hand.”

Jim sat in the chair McCoy had set up and made himself as comfortable as he could. Pike turned his head to follow the movement, but was unable to shift further around due to the heavy restraints. Jim turned the chair to face the biobed and, trying hard not to show either his trepidation or anticipation, held out his arm in range of Pike’s mouth, turning it so Pike could latch onto it at wrist level.

Without taking his eyes from his first officer’s, Pike raised his head and licked Jim’s wrist. Jim felt a shiver run down his spine at warp speed. He looked first at Pike, then at Bones who was closely monitoring Pike’s life signs displayed above the bed.

When Jim looked down again, he found the captain still looking directly at him and Jim felt the temperature in the room began to rise.

“So far so good,” he heard McCoy say.

But Pike’s voice wafted over McCoy’s and Jim heard, “I want your throat, your mouth.” And yet Pike couldn’t have said anything; the man still had his mouth firmly attached to Jim’s arm. But Jim had heard the words, clear as a bell, in Pike’s voice.

There wasn’t any harm in maybe making it easier for the captain to eat, was there? He eased his arm out of Pike’s mouth.

“Jim, what are you doing?” Bones’ worried voice caused him to look up from his task.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Jim heard himself say with a reassuring tone. When he looked down, Pike’s eyes glittered and Jim found himself lowering his head, kissing the captain and sighing around his tongue.

Until he felt a sharp sting and realised Pike had bitten his lip and was now sucking blood from him.

Jim pulled away and the chair beside the bed screeched as it scraped along the floor behind him, shoved out of the way by the force of his sudden rise to his feet. He gasped in some much-needed oxygen and stared down at the captain.

Then a slow smile curled his lips and he reached down to grab the front of the light Medbay-issue top. He yanked Pike upwards until their mouths met again, this time the thought of feeding secondary to his lips against Pike’s, his tongue back into his mouth, and an arm wound around the man in the bed below him.

A warm hand pressed between his shoulder blades and Jim realised Bones was holding him in place, keeping him from pulling away, not that that was likely to happen.

“Closer,” Jim mumbled into Pike’s mouth. “Want…” He said nothing more but hoisted himself up jostling McCoy’s steady hand and climbed on top of Pike.

Pike growled his approval of this new plan, and Jim could feel him straining against the bonds holding him to the bed. Through the soft moans, the sound of tearing fabric reached Jim’s ears but he couldn’t be sure if it was from Pike’s yanking at his restraints, or his own sudden urge to start pulling off his captain’s clothing. His hands touched the firm, naked, chest beneath him and felt warm fingers sliding up under his own tunic, and he realized it’d been both.

For a moment, Jim was cognizant of three hands caressing his back, but when he opened his eyes and turned his head he saw McCoy backing slowly away and the contact from the doctor was lost. But he didn’t go far; he’d stopped at the door to their section of Medbay, his eyes still fixed on the couple on the biobed.

And that just added fuel to the fire already raging through him. Any minute now, Jim expected Pike to tear him to pieces or fuck him or any number of wonderful and bloody scenarios. What he hadn’t expected was having Bones watch them get off while it was happening.

*

Jim idly watched the fluid dribbling into his arm through a needle McCoy had attached to him. He felt shattered, drained, satisfied. Beside him, Pike was asleep. Jim could tell, but wasn’t sure how he knew. Both men were still partially naked, their clothes torn and stained with blood and semen.

Jim let the equally-wonderful sensations of warm skin and cool fluid wash over him as he watched McCoy from under his lashes. The doctor continued to busy himself with equipment and bioreadings, but hadn’t yet suggested they clean up or move. As a result, the scent of flesh and blood hung heavily in the air, and maybe that was what kept McCoy from tidying them up. It was clear he’d been just as affected by the displays of feeding and fucking as the two participants. Along with the encouraging moans coming from the captain below him, Jim had heard those of the doctor. He smiled at the memory. Bones probably hadn’t even been aware he’d been making any noise at all.

All too soon though, Sulu’s call from the Bridge shattered any tranquillity the three of them may have found.

*

The bridge of a Klingon Bird of Prey filled the viewscreen, a woman seated in the captain’s chair. “I am Captain L’kor of the House of Valdyr,” she said, her voice harsh. “I wish to speak with Captain Pike of the Federation.”

Jim forced himself to appear at ease. “This is Commander James T. Kirk. Captain Pike is temporarily off-duty,” he said. “I am commanding the Enterprise for the time being. Whatever you have to say, you may say it to me.”

L’kor leaned forward in her chair. “If you have killed your captain in order to advance, Commander Kirk, you should be proud to say so even to an enemy. Perhaps especially to an enemy.”

There was a stifled cough from the helm, but Jim kept his attention on the Klingon captain. “The Federation has its own promotion criteria,” he said. “You probably wouldn’t like them.”

L’kor bared her teeth. Is she smiling or growling? Jim wondered. It was nearly impossible to tell. “How nice to have an opportunity to speak with a young Starfleet officer. So much more congenial than the old ones, who are always harping on enmity.”

“Friendly is as friendly does,” Jim quipped.

“Which is precisely why I am contacting you. To extend a friendly hand.”

Jim looked pointedly at the razor-sharp studs glittering on the battle gloves she wore. “You don’t say,” he replied blandly.

“We understand you have an illness aboard your ship,” she went on, ignoring his implication.

“Nope,” Jim said. “Well, I think Riley down in engineering has a cold, but that’s it.”

“We intercepted a message.”

Damn. Should have had McCoy send his message via secure channels. “Well, even if we do, we’ve no need for your assistance...” Movement caught his eye and he glanced to his right to see Uhura, out of L’kor’s view, waving her hands frantically at him. “Er, can you hold for a moment?”

He tapped the button to suspend communications. “What is it, Uhura?”

“Sir, there might be a way to get information from them without tipping our hand,” she whispered. Jim had recalled McCoy had shared all the intel with those crew who’d be best placed to assist in any capacity. And linguistics was an important element. “Doctor Bashir’s report included a list of the strange folklore elements that grew up around this particular case, and how peculiarly persistent they were. It’s possible that analysis of Klingon folklore would show whether they’ve had any cases.”

Jim stared at her. “You want me to ask L’kor for a collection of Klingon fairy tales.”

“No sir, not fairy tales. Folk tales. They’re different, both ethnographically and linguistically. Fairy tales—”

Jim raised a hand to cut her off. “Never mind, Lieutenant.” He thumbed the comm switch. “Commander L’kor,” he said pleasantly. “It appears you can help us after all. One of my younger officers is writing her dissertation on, er, comparative folklore and she’d like to incorporate some Klingon into her analysis.”

“You have officers on your ship who spend their time on fairy tales?” L’kor’s eyebrows looked like they were about to crawl off the top of her head.

“Yes. If your ship’s library contains any data files of Klingon folklore, we’d appreciate your transmitting copies.”

*

Jim looked around the ready room table at his senior staff. Mr. Scott – Scotty – was frowning. Uhura was frowning. Bones was frowning. And so was Carol. Not a happy crew.

“Well?” Jim said. He knew he sounded frustrated, wanted to exhibit the same calm control Pike had always shown, but it wasn’t easy. Especially now, after what had happened back in Medbay. Pike had changed somehow; clearly he wasn’t right, but the intensity of his eyes, the resonance in his voice, was a long way from what sick usually implied. Just thinking about it sent a semi-pleasurable tingle down Jim’s spine.

Which he firmly suppressed.

“L’kor gave us what we wanted,” he went on, “and Uhura’s initial analysis of the data she sent suggests that there have been similar cases in the past among the Klingons.”

“I can’t be sure, Commander,” Uhura interjected. “The evidence is highly suggestive, but the outcome of the cases differed. From all indications, those affected lived normal lifespans.”

“I’m not leaving any possibilities unexplored,” Jim retorted sharply. “And if Klingons can survive this, all the more reason to pursue it. So, do we ask L’kor for what we really want – their medical records?”

“Klingons canna be trusted, we know that,” Scotty said. “And if you think I’d allow them on my ship, laddie, you’d best have another think. Not to mention, do we want them knowin’ that Captain Pike’s incapacitated?”

Chief Engineer Scott had certainly become proprietary of the Enterprise since taking over. For the most part, Jim was glad of it, but perhaps there was such a thing as being too protective, especially when they could use all the help they could get.

Also, Jim couldn’t help but recall that Pike seemed fully capable of some things and his grasp of command hadn’t waned with his illness. “Doctor Marcus?”

“Klingons are a remarkably healthy race. They suffer few ailments, either native or xenotic, I’m sure the doctor would concur.”

McCoy nodded.

“Illness is considered weakness; the sufferer is left alone to survive, or not. Klingon medical research, if it can termed such, is primarily battlefield-related, pertaining largely to the healing of inflicted wounds and to development of methods of suicide which cause sufficient pain to still meet the conditions of an honorable death. It’s my opinion that they’d be unlikely to offer any genuine assistance.”

“But the sneaky bastards’ll probably say anything to get access to a Starfleet vessel,” Scotty added helpfully. Or not.

“I’d agree,” Uhura interjected. “L’kor was using formal language, as one would expect in this instance, not knowing our motives and probably questioning them, but her tone was…suspicious. She wouldn’t care about Pike’s incapacitation so much as the opportunity to take advantage of us as a result of it.”

Jim shifted in his chair. The room seemed to be getting warmer. “But what if this isn’t a disease? What if there’s an entity involved, as we suspect?”

Uhura shook her head. “Doubtful that would help our case, Commander. Klingons are physical beings. They would view tales of an entity that cannot be seen or touched simply as an excuse.”

Jim had suspected as much. Warrior races tended not to contribute much to science, unless you were looking for new and efficient methods for killing large numbers of people at a distance. “All right. So they wouldn’t be likely to have any direct help to offer.” He paused, knowing that what he was about to say might not be taken well. “But you said they don’t get sick. Does that mean they have some kind of super-immunity? Bones?”

“They might,” the doctor said thoughtfully. “I can’t say it’s ever been investigated. We don’t exactly get a lot of Klingons signing up for Federation research studies. But it’s possible.”

Jim’s thoughts once again drifted to McCoy’s mysterious contact at Starfleet. If their science officer was so well-informed and she was straight Starfleet, whoever this guy worked for was bound to have reams of secret stuff on Klingons. Provided this John would even respond to their request for information again. It was unlikely McCoy would want to jeopardize his relationship further, even if it was for Pike’s benefit. Especially if he wasn’t as convinced as Jim about the information’s importance.

Silently musing on this, Jim’s thoughts unexpectedly veered in an entirely different direction. John… McCoy…. John and McCoy… Jim could only imagine what being wrapped up in the middle of that would be like: warm flesh and lush voices, John’s clipped British accent contrasting nicely with the doctor’s sultry drawl.

“Jim!”

Jim sat up and mentally slapped himself.

“Commander, are you all right?” Carol asked.

“Yes,” he said, trying to sound as reassuring as he could, but not looking at her. “Bones, is Klingon blood compatible with human blood?” he asked McCoy, while wiping sweaty palms surreptitiously on his uniform trousers.

“Not whole blood, no, but the plasma’s basically the same. I think.” Bones ran a hand through his hair and Jim found himself wondering what it would feel like to have those coarse dark strands tangled in his fingers, to jerk the man’s head back and—

He shut his eyes. This was not helping.

Scotty barked out a laugh. “And how do you suggest we get it, Commander? Just knock on their aft shuttle bay door and ask to borrow a cuppa blood?”

“Who says it has to be voluntary?” Jim shot back.

Uhura eyed Jim closely, her face troubled. “Commander, you can’t seriously be thinking—”

This was getting them nowhere. Between Jim’s desperation to save the captain and inappropriate thoughts dogging him at the worst possible moment, he’d had enough. He slammed his hand down on the table. “What I’m thinking, is that we need help! And if Klingon blood is more resistant than human blood, maybe that’s the help we need!”

“You’re talking about kidnapping a sentient being to use them as a...a lab rat?!” McCoy said, red-faced with anger. “Damn it, Jim! And what if we end up infecting him? You want me to be responsible for spreading this whatever-it-is?”

Enough, a cold voice inside Jim’s head said. He locked eyes with his CMO. “You want to help Captain Pike,” he said slowly, deliberately. His voice seemed to have some extra quality of resonance, almost like it was echoing inside his own head.

McCoy stared at him. “I...want to help Captain Pike.”

“You will do whatever it takes,” Jim said, in that same slow, penetrating tone, watching McCoy’s gaze lose its focus, feeling the man’s will crumble. It felt...good, this obedience.

“I’ll do...whatever it takes...” McCoy repeated tonelessly.

Out of the corner of his eye Jim saw Scotty stand up from the table with an exclamation and Carol scowling.

“Security to conference room five,” Jim thought he heard someone – it might have been Uhura – mutter quietly into the comm.

Then his attention was drawn elsewhere as McCoy closed his eyes and shook his head once, sharply, and Jim felt his hold on the man loosen and fall away. Frustrated, he was about to try again when McCoy spoke. “Doctor Marcus, will you and Mister Scott please escort Commander Kirk to Medbay? Put him in with Captain Pike. Looks like I’ve got two patients now.”

*

Jim could hear the voices, but he couldn’t respond. All his senses seemed to be flooding together, and when he started to open his mouth, his science officer leapt to the bedside and put her fingers to her lips.

“Do please try to stay quiet, Commander.”

That was the last thing Jim wanted to do. He wanted to cry out, demand food, demand heat, demand flesh. The flesh… It was calling him, Dr. Marcus’s hand on his shoulder holding him steady but still, felt like a brand, and he reached for her, wanting to stroke her hair, her arm, any part of her he could lay his hands on.

“Oh, no you don’t,” McCoy grabbed Jim’s hand before he could reach his science officer, and she backed away quickly. Jim latched on to Bones’ tunic and pulled the man towards him instead. The doctor put his hand over Jim’s and held it steady.

It felt like heaven to Jim and he smiled, tightening his grip on the doctor’s shirt.

“A little help here, please,” McCoy called over his shoulder and immediately Carol Marcus reappeared, hypo in hand.

“Good hands…” Jim murmured. He didn’t feel the hypo, but he did hear its hiss.

“Unbelievable.” McCoy rolled his eyes as Jim felt his grip loosening. The doctor didn’t let go though, and Jim revelled in the warmth of the fingers enclosing his own. Through a quickly-forming haze and a light buzz in his ears, he heard Bones talking to the assembled crew behind him.

“I know this is a little out of the ordinary as far as the chain of command goes, but like before, I may need Doctor Marcus to help with research and with…” he looked down at Jim who smiled upwards, sliding his fingers against McCoy’s, “…the patients. Mr. Sulu, please assume command. I need you to act as captain until I can figure out what the hell is going on. Lieutenant Uhura, I’ll need you to help him get us out of here and towards home. Do whatever it takes to get away from these Klingon bastards; clearly they’ve no intention of helping and we need to find some help, quick. Mister Scott and Mister Chekov are in engineering, and I’ll be here...

“Doctor, he will be all right, won’t he?” Sulu asked. Jim, and no doubt everyone else could sense the unspoken question. He’s not contagious, is he?

“I’m sure he’ll be fine. They both will, if we can get to the bottom of this condition. There is precedent, but we need to get out of here and somewhere safe.” Bones’ response was equally laden with hidden context. I’ve no idea, but we’ll try.

With that, Sulu, Scott, and Uhura left Medbay and McCoy once again turned his attention to Jim. Jim was feeling what he could only describe as gooey, but McCoy’s dictates to their fellow crewmembers had sobered Jim enough to once again make a case for not using anything stronger medically or to take any further security measures. Pike’s red-shirted entourage was back in place and Jim’s attention, no longer focused solely on Bones, was drawn to them. They occasionally glanced in his direction, but were more interested in keeping guard on Pike.

McCoy looked down at his patient and his friend. “Don’t worry, Jim. We’ll get you through this.”

*

Jim half-sat, half-lay on his biobed, propped against the headboard, hands clasped behind his head.

Earlier, he’d woken from the sedative-induced sleep Bones had thrust him into, and had gratefully noted that the ship was once again on the move. A quick call to the bridge confirmed that Lt. Uhura had worked some linguistic alchemy that had the Klingons fearing a ship-wide contagion which might not have been too far from the truth, if things carried on the way they were. They were in no hurry to help a plague ship, regardless of the barely-veiled ulterior motive, and Sulu and Scotty had been able to orchestrate a well-timed retreat.

All was well, at least with the ship.

From here he couldn’t see McCoy standing out in the hallway, but he could sense the man’s eagerness. He could also tell that McCoy was fighting it. “Come in, Bones,” he said quietly.

“You know you want to,” Pike added from his own bed, a touch of malice in his voice. He flexed his arms against the restraints holding him down, the guards once again having been asked to leave. “Besides, it’s not nice to keep your dinner guests waiting.”

Whatever Bones might be feeling – and I have a pretty good idea, after four days of this, Jim thought – none of it showed on his face when he entered the room. He glanced up at the readouts over Jim’s head, then came to stand beside the biobed.

Jim sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Bones...”

“Don’t say anything, Jim, please.” McCoy glanced briefly at Pike then unclipped the sterilizer spray from his belt and ran it quickly down the inside of his right arm. Pike watched these preparations like a wolf watching its prey, a half-smile on his lips.

“I’m sorry, Bones, I wish there were another way.” Jim didn’t like the pleading note in his voice, but whatever was happening to him was getting worse. He didn’t want to end up like Pike, tied down like an animal… But you don’t have to, the voice in his head whispered. You’re stronger than they are. You always have been. They are but sheep for you to feed on.

“We’ve tried everything else,” Bones said brusquely. “Synthetic blood nearly killed Pike, remember? And whatever it is you get from blood that sustains you, transfusion destroys it. It’s got to be direct, we’ve established that.” He was silent for a moment and Jim could sense him bracing himself mentally, then with a quick movement he thrust his bare arm in front of Jim’s mouth. “Here.”

Jim wanted to refuse – at least part of him did. But the part that didn’t was so much stronger, the desire washing over him to take, to devour, to possess... You were born to command others, do not try to deny your nature... He took McCoy’s right wrist with his left hand, with his right he gripped the arm just below the elbow, and at his touch McCoy’s breath quickened. No! He tensed his muscles, tried to let go, but instead he found he was bending his head over the warm skin, brushing his lips against it with just enough pressure to feel the pulse beating just beneath the surface and my goodness, Doctor, your heart is racing, surely it can’t be fear, could it perhaps be something else? and then the blood was spurting into his mouth. Jim thought he heard a stifled groan of pleasure as McCoy pressed his arm harder against Jim’s mouth, and then nothing existed but the sensation of strength and power pouring into him...

“Jim...” Something tugged at the source of his pleasure, tried to take it away and he snarled, holding tighter, sucking fiercely at the liquid fire that sustained him.

“Commander Kirk!” a voice shouted, and years of habit reached out and took hold of him, brought him back from the edge. He shook his head dizzily, wiped his mouth and was horrified to see blood smeared on his fingers. “Bones...?” He looked up.

The doctor looked as though he himself could use a doctor. His face was grey and his left hand clutching the edge of the biobed was probably the only thing keeping him upright. But when Jim slid off the biobed and put out a hand to support him, he stumbled backwards, one hand raised.

“I’m okay. I’m okay. I have to…” He looked around dazedly, as if just noticing where he was and what he’d been doing. A flashing light from a console in his office pulled his attention away from Jim and he staggered awkwardly away.

“Damn.” Jim wasn’t sure if he was more unhappy about upsetting his friend or about having to contend with a now nearly-painful amount of sexual tension.

“So,” McCoy strode out of his office and directly towards Jim, grim determination set in the features of his face. “That was a message from John.”

Jim’s mood shifted instantly. “And?”

“Evidently, all the answers are on Vulcan.”

*

The light coming in through the tall arched windows was reddish and made McCoy think uneasily of blood and hell. He shook his head to dispel the disturbing fantasies – after all, the Vulcan Science Academy was anything but fanciful. Deserts, sand fires and le-matya, he thought. Stands to reason they’d develop logic. With surroundings like this, the nicest place to go must be inside your own head.

He looked around the oval table and was a bit reassured to see that his companions appeared equally on edge. Carol Marcus was playing with a strand of blonde hair, twisting it into a tiny cable. Uhura was tapping her long-nailed fingers on the table in a rhythmic tattoo, a slight frown on her face. McCoy sighed. They’d made it to Vulcan, but at what cost? Jim was almost as bad as Pike now, constantly under restraint, and feeding him had become downright dangerous (but you enjoy it, don’t you? a little voice whispered, the surrender, the giving in...)

He wrenched his thoughts back to the task at hand. If the three of them, with the help of this Vulcan expert on rare blood disorders, couldn’t come up with a solution...well, this was pretty much their last shot. He just wished the VSA had told them who they’d be meeting with so he could have checked the guy out.

The door at the end of the room slid open and McCoy snapped to attention – as did the other members of the Enterprise crew, he noticed. There was something about Vulcans that made you feel you had to be on your toes, to prove humans weren’t deficient somehow.

The man who entered was tall and slender, with classic Vulcan features: high cheekbones, pale skin, black hair, deep-set eyes, and an air of polite disinterest. He also, McCoy thought, looked rather young.

“I am Spock,” he said as he took a seat. “The Vulcan Science Academy has selected me to consult with you.”

McCoy cleared his throat. “I have to say, we expected someone older. More experienced.”

Spock raised a dark eyebrow. “You would like to hear my credentials,” he stated calmly. “I understand humans set great store by such things.”

McCoy flushed as Uhura, to his left, turned a laugh into a cough. “My apologies,” he said gruffly. “I didn’t mean to question your qualifications.”

Spock inclined his head. “No apology is necessary. I have no ego to bruise. When I was informed you were en route I reviewed your records, insofar as they are available to those outside of Starfleet. You, however, know nothing of me. It is logical that you would wish to establish the reason I was chosen to meet with you.”

McCoy tried not to bristle at the implication that he was being overly suspicious. “I’m Chief Medical Officer, Leonard McCoy.” He gestured towards his companions. “Lieutenant Uhura, Chief Communications Officer and xenolinguistics expert, and Doctor Carol Marcus, Chief Science Officer.”

“Lieutenant Uhura,” Spock said. “I have read your paper analysing the origins and differences of Romulan dialects. It was quite impressive.” He turned his attention back to the doctor. “I am what you would call a research scientist, though on Vulcan we do not narrow our field of study as you do on Earth. I have been a student as such for over 25 years—”

“That long?” McCoy broke in. “What, you couldn’t be bothered to finish?”

Before Spock could answer McCoy felt Uhura kick him sharply under the table. “Doctor McCoy,” she hisssed. “The VSA doesn’t offer a degrees. They believe that the pursuit of knowledge must be earned repeatedly. Every year, students must prove why they should be allowed to stay.” She shot a sidelong glance at Spock. “If he’s been here that long, well, what does that tell you?”

“In addition to a year studying warp theory at the Cochran Institute on Earth,” Spock continued smoothly, as if nothing had happened, “which I believe is quite competitive, I spent three years at the Fabrini Medical Institute.”

McCoy narrowed his eyes. No medical institution in the Federation was better than the Fabrini for the study of rare blood diseases. If Spock had worked with them, maybe they had a chance to sort this thing out.

“Then you know what we’re up against, Mister Spock,” Carol said. “This thing that’s affected Captain Pike doesn’t match anything we know of. The only hints we have are in the paper from a Doctor Bashir about that case on Rigel Four, and it’s not encouraging. The medical information is intermingled with very odd bits of folklore and legend. Vampires, possession, that sort of thing,”

Spock steepled his fingers together. “Your captain was the first one affected?”

“Yes,” McCoy said. “Captain Pike was patient zero. After he was brought back on board—”

“Would it not have been wiser to leave him on the surface until you could confirm he was not contagious?”

“I’m a doctor, not a smuggler,” McCoy growled. “I don’t just dump my cargo when things get dangerous.”

Spock ignored his outburst. “Your first officer, Commander Kirk. Are you able to determine whether he is truly infected, or only under the sway of Captain Pike?”

“Well, it’s hard to say. Pike seems to have an inordinate ability to influence anyone he comes into contact with, but Jim...” McCoy trailed off as his mind replayed what he’d seen in Medbay. Jim and Pike, their hands all over each other, skin to skin. Had Jim wanted that, or had Pike somehow compelled him? He felt his own hand on Jim’s back, pressing them closer together... How hard it had been to back away and how impossible not to keep watching, heart pounding...

“...you think, Dr. McCoy?”

He blinked and looked around. Carol was staring at him, her eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry, Carol, what was that?”

“I said, we’re not sure,” Carol said. “However, we believe that Commander Kirk’s symptoms are somehow linked to Captain Pike’s. We’ve seen that they have some kind of...connection, which suggests that if we could cure Captain Pike, Commander Kirk’s symptoms would resolve spontaneously.”

“Yes, but we’ve also seen that Commander Kirk is starting to exhibit the same, uh, powers,” Uhura interjected. “And Doctor Bashir’s case study suggests that we don’t have long to solve this.”

“He is the only other member of your crew who has shown similar symptoms – the need for blood, the desire to dominate?” Spock questioned.

McCoy shifted uncomfortably, hoping the Vulcan hadn’t been able to read what was in his mind a few moments earlier. “Yes.”

“Despite the fact that you also have participated in these...feedings, you yourself remain unaffected?”

“That’s right,” he said, almost challengingly. It wasn’t really a lie, he told himself. Whatever else these...fantasies were, you couldn’t say they constituted a desire to dominate others. If anything, it was the opposite.

Spock looked thoughtful. “Have you considered simply leaving them together and letting the disease run its course?”

McCoy leaned forward across the table. “Just what are you suggesting?” he gritted out. “That we lock them in, chalk an X on the door to their quarters, and wait for them to die?” He barely felt Carol’s restraining hand on his arm. “This isn’t the thirteenth century, man!”

“It is a logical solution,” Spock pointed out. “And it is far from certain that they would die. From your case notes, it appears that they could become self-sufficient, requiring no sustenance other than each other. It is possible that they have developed, or will develop, a symbiotic relationship that would allow them to...”

...sustenance... McCoy was trying to concentrate on the Vulcan’s words but somehow all he could see was Jim’s body stretched on top of Pike’s, their hands everywhere on each other searching out bare skin, Pike’s teeth sinking into Jim’s neck, the look of complete abandon on Jim’s face...What would it be like to be in the center of that, to be part of that, not just watching but touching, kissing, caressing...feeding...

He shook himself brusquely. “No.” He wasn’t sure if he was saying it to Spock, or to the images in his mind, but it didn’t matter: the answer was no either way. “I’m not giving up on them.”

“It is not a question of giving up,” Spock said impassively. “I am merely identifying the simplest of a number of possible alternatives.”

“And this is your idea of a consultation?” McCoy shot back furiously. “Proposing that we drop them on some deserted planet or lock them in the brig and wait for them to kill each other?” He gathered every bit of Southern scorn he could muster. “I expected better of the finest minds in the Federation.”

Surprisingly, he saw a faint flush colour the Vulcan’s cheek. Ha, that’s hit the green-blooded hobgoblin! he thought with satisfaction.

“It is logical to begin with the easiest solutions and rule them out,” Spock said evenly, though McCoy could have sworn he heard the slightest trace of annoyance in the cool voice. “Even your William of Occam recognized this.”

“Well, I’m ruling this one out,” he retorted. “What’s the next easiest?”

“Your observations suggest an enhancement of mental powers along with a diminution of their humanity. An increased willingness to take what they wish, bend others to their will, in extreme cases kill,” Spock said thoughtfully. “It is possible that both these things could be counteracted through a mind meld.”

“I don’t understand,” Uhura said. “I thought the Vulcan mind meld was just a kind of telepathy. Mind reading.”

“Humans,” Spock murmured, shaking his head. “No, it is much more. It is a true sharing, a creation of a single consciousness out of two. Or more. During the meld, each mind partakes somewhat of the others, and retains it afterwards. If you and I, Doctor, were to perform a mind meld with Captain Pike and Commander Kirk, they would absorb some of your humanity and my Vulcan self-control, which might strengthen their own.”

“Me?!” McCoy felt his stomach lurch. Loan his brain to some green-blooded alien? The thought made him break out in a cold sweat. There were things in his head he really didn’t want to share.

“But you said ‘counteracted,’” Carol said. “Not cured?”

Spock shrugged, an oddly human response. “From what I have read, and from Doctor Bashir’s case notes, I suspect these are but symptoms. We would be slowing the progression of whatever afflicts them, not stopping it. A similar approach has been used among my people to counter the effects of Bendii Syndrome. Meanwhile, we can continue to search for a cure.”

“Are there any potential negative effects?” Uhura questioned. “Could it damage either of them?”

“Or, y’know, me,” McCoy interjected sardonically.

“It is tiring, certainly, and if conducted without proper training there is a risk of developing Pa’nar Syndrome. But when done properly, by an experienced person, the mind meld has no long-term ill effects.”

McCoy cocked an eyebrow. “And I suppose you’re experienced?” he said, without much hope that he could get himself off the hook that way.

“I am,” Spock said simply.

McCoy sighed. Another hope dashed. “All right. What do we do?”

*

The four of them sat cross-legged on the floor of a small, comfortable room, cushioned by a soft, thick carpet woven in a pattern of concentric and overlapping circles. Uhura and Carol sat in opposite corners of the room, and two silent and impassive Vulcans occupied the other two corners. “Witnesses,” Spock had explained as he motioned to the two women to take their places. “Your people and mine, to ensure all things are done as they should be.”

McCoy was across from Spock, with Kirk to his left and Pike to his right. When the four red-shirted Security officers had escorted them in, Kirk had taken one look at Spock and curled his lips back in what McCoy would have sworn was a hiss; now he sat in sullen silence, while Pike just looked amused. Both men wore restraints, wide straps holding their arms together, and since they hadn’t fed recently both were restless.

“We do this not to harm, but to heal,” Spock began, in what McCoy guessed was some sort of ritual, maybe the same one used to treat that Bendii Syndrome he’d mentioned. “Not to injure, but to inspire. Not to enforce our will, but to encourage yours.” He raised his left hand and gently laid his spread fingers on the side of Kirk’s head, spanning from temple to jawbone. Kirk jerked away and then, gritting his teeth, visibly forced himself to remain still and accept the Vulcan’s touch. When Spock repeated the process with Pike, the captain simply looked bored.

“Doctor McCoy,” Spock said now. “Place your hands on Captain Pike and Commander Kirk, as I have done.”

Been waiting for a chance to get your hands on us, haven’t you? Pike’s voice leered in McCoy’s head, but McCoy firmly ignored him. He took a deep breath, then reached out and did his best to position his fingers as Spock had.

Spock closed his eyes. “My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts...”

McCoy’s mind filled with a swirling fog and everything outside his head faded away. He felt on his own arms the restraints holding Kirk, looked out of Spock’s eyes at his own face across from him (goin’ gray, there, son he thought crazily), and then out of nowhere came a soundless explosion of force, and the spark that was himself was buffeted nearly into unconsciousness. He struggled against it but he could feel it leaching into his very bones, pounding in time with his heartbeat, POWER and CONTROL and BLOOD and LUST...

Something jerked him backwards, breaking the contact with Kirk and Pike. He lay there for a moment, gasping, trying to remember who he was and letting the alien presence drain out of him. Or at least he hoped it was draining out. He didn’t want any of that left in his head for sure.

Slowly he sat up. One of the Vulcan witnesses assisted him, and he realized that was who had interrupted the meld. The other was on his knees behind Spock, whose face had gone even paler.

“Who the bloody hell was that?” Spock, still clearly channeling him, rasped, and sounded surprised at his own voice.

On McCoy’s left, Kirk’s face wore an expression of horror, as though he’d just woken from a nightmare. “Bones,” he whispered, his eyes wide. “Help me...”

On his right, Pike began to laugh.

*

McCoy stretched, hearing his spine crack after four hours hunched over a terminal. What he wouldn’t give to be back on Earth away from this mess, John’s strong hands maybe working the kinks from his back, rather than forcibly twisting them back into normal function while perched on the edge of an uncomfortable Vulcan-designed chair. Beside him, Uhura’s slender fingers were still flying across her keyboard, matching keywords and refining searches like some kind of wizard. The resources at their fingertips put even the Federation’s medical archives to shame – the Vulcan mind might be logical, but it was clearly omnivorous, willing to ingest and analyse anything and everything.

“It is clear that this is not an inanimate disease,” Spock had said in their debriefing after the abortive mind meld. “There is a will at work here. I sensed a presence, an entity, a very ancient one. It appears to have integrated itself almost totally with Captain Pike’s personality. The same will, I believe, happen to Commander Kirk. As you saw, his regained control lasted only an hour or so. We have very little time.”

He’d shown them how to use the access terminals in the VSA library and given them temporary access to its vast databases so that they could search out any other cases, ferreting out any clues that might help them, while he conferred with the High Council.

McCoy leaned over to peer at the screen in front of Uhura. “Got anything?” he said.

Uhura sighed and cracked her knuckles. “Five more cases, including one right here on Vulcan.”

McCoy whistled. “You sure?”

She nodded. “Argelius II, Rha’darus, Seros in the Delta Quadrant, and Ingraham B. Maybe Magna Roma, too, though I can’t be sure about that one. I’m tempted to think even some of Earth’s old eastern European folklore could have risen from this too.”

McCoy reached past her and paged through the notes on her screen. “My god, this one was five hundred years ago. How can you be sure about any of them? Maybe they’re all old wives’ tales.”

“The VSA’s language analysis tools are incredible,” Uhura said, eyes shining with admiration. “Neurolinguistic deconstruction, text mining, topic modelling, linguistic shift mapping in six thousand known languages. Makes it easy to tease out the nuggets of fact buried in the fiction. With these I can not only pick out an old wives’ tale, I could tell you which old wife told it, who her husband was, and the day they got married.”

McCoy grinned. “Well, that’s nine you’ve found, plus we’ve got Bashir’s case and the three I identified in the medical journals—“

“You have data for me?” a cool voice interrupted.

“Mr. Spock!” McCoy said. “We do indeed.” He scooted his chair aside and thrust a pile of printouts at the Vulcan. “Here’s mine, and Uhura’s are queued up on screen. Thirteen cases in all, including one on Vulcan.”

They sat silently, watching Spock page rapidly through screen and paper, eyes flickering faster than McCoy would have thought possible. When he was finished he sat back, deep in thought.

“Well?” McCoy said impatiently, when the Vulcan showed no sign of speaking. “What do you make of it? Does this give you the information you need to help Jim and the captain?”

Instead of answering, Spock turned to Uhura. “Are the dates of these cases accurate, including the deaths of the patients?”

“The dates?” she said. ‘I—yes, I think I wrote them all down correctly. Why?”

Spock motioned her out of the way and his fingers became a blur on the keypad. When he moved aside so that McCoy and Uhura could see the screen, it was displaying a map of the star systems involved, with pinpoints showing the cases and their dates. Spock frowned. “There is a pattern here,” he mused, “but I cannot quite see it. There is, for example, far too long a gap here, and here. Perhaps if we had a few more data points...”

“What about those Klingon ones you found?” McCoy said to Uhura.

“I’m not sure they were cases, remember?” Uhura said. “Linguistic analysis strongly suggests the same proto-event is behind them as the others, but the Klingon versions never had a single fatality. They all lived normal, Klingon-length lives.”

“This is an entity that thrives on power, domination, aggression, Lieutenant,” Spock reminded her. “Perhaps a Klingon proved to be so compatible a host that it had no need to kill and move on, but could remain until its host died of natural causes.”

Uhura pulled out her PADD to download the files she’d worked on aboard the Enterprise, and Spock quickly added him to the displayed map where they fell in the gaps he had identified. Another tap, and a glowing line appeared connecting the cases in order of occurrence.

“The inference is clear,” Spock said.

McCoy frowned at the screen for a moment, then nodded. “Each new case occurred in relatively close proximity to the previous one, and only after the death of the primary patient. This thing isn’t contagious, it’s moving.”

“Correct, Doctor.”

Uhura looked at McCoy, then at Spock. “I don’t understand.”

“A disease is a mindless thing, Lieutenant,” Spock said. “It spreads outward indiscriminately, and does not wait to kill off its host before moving to a new one. What we see here are the movements of a conscious entity. It uses up its host and only then moves to a new one.”

Uhura ran a fingertip along one of the longer line segments. “I’ll bet if we focused on the planets along here, we’d find cases whose dates fall between the two points we’ve identified here.”

“That is likely,” Spock nodded. “The descriptions of these cases are consistent as well. The entity eventually conquers all the best of its host’s nature – compassion, selflessness, empathy, self-control – and sets free all his worst. Cruelty, domination, lust, a need to force others to do his will. And yet they remain attractive, even seductive, persuading others to defend and assist them until the very end.”

Uhura shivered. “That’s...horrible. To use someone up like that and then just throw them away.”

“A charming sociopath, with thousands of years of experience in manipulating universal desires,” McCoy mused. “I guess all sentient species are more alike than they are different. Even humans and Vulcans.”

Spock raised an eyebrow. “There is no need to be insulting, Doctor.”

McCoy grinned. He could get to like the hobby of needling Vulcans. It was so satisfying when it worked. But that would have to wait. For now, they needed him on their side. “So, we’ve confirmed our suspicions. What now?”

“Our initial purpose in attempting a mind meld was to strengthen your colleagues’ humanity and restore some measure of self-control, to give us time to find a cure for what we thought was a disease,” Spock said slowly. “That is clearly no longer a useful approach. Captain Pike is fully under the entity’s control, and we cannot be sure there is anything left in him to strengthen. But it may be possible to force the entity out ourselves.”

McCoy snorted. “With what? You got a psychic crowbar somewhere on you?”

“The analogy is not inaccurate,” Spock admitted. “The mind meld can also be used as a weapon.”

“What?!” McCoy said, and at the same time he heard Uhura’s shocked “You’re joking!”

“This fact is little known outside of Vulcan, and for obvious reasons we wish to keep it so,” Spock went on. “But yes, a sufficiently powerful and focused mind-meld can...dislodge a consciousness from its physical moorings. It is not an easy task, and has only been attempted perhaps a half-dozen times in our history since it requires the unanimous approval of the High Council.”

Uhura frowned. “But we found a case of this entity here, on Vulcan, and it doesn’t say anything about that. Why wasn’t it tried then?”

Spock steepled his fingers. “There was a period in my people’s history when it was believed that the ability to mind-meld was not only illogical but unethical, even criminal. It was not taught, and those born with the ability were ostracized, viewed with suspicion. The case you have found falls squarely within that period. No one then would even have thought of attempting such a thing.”

“Can you do it, though?” Uhura questioned, her voice troubled. “I mean, since Commander Kirk and the captain aren’t Vulcan?”

“Under normal circumstances, I would say no. It requires not only deep strength of will and a firm belief that the act is justified, but an excellent knowledge of the other person’s mind.”

“Which you haven’t got,” she said.

“Correct. The human mind is very different from the Vulcan, and I cannot claim to understand it well. Even if I did, I have no knowledge of these two particular human minds.” Spock turned to McCoy. “But the doctor does.”

“Oh, great,” McCoy said sarcastically. “As if having my brains scrambled once wasn’t enough fun.”

“You have worked with these men and know them intimately.” McCoy flushed slightly at his choice of words, but the Vulcan didn’t seem to notice. “They are your friends. Your understanding of their minds, combined with your natural human empathy and desire to heal, may make it possible.”

“Possible,” McCoy repeated. Vulcans were notoriously precise in their choice of words. The chances of success represented by the word ‘possible’ were low enough to make him distinctly queasy.

“The risk of failure is high,” Spock admitted, “as is the danger to those involved, but without your assistance I cannot hope to succeed.”

McCoy took a deep breath. “Well, Mister Spock, I’m pretty sure that between the two of us we have what we need. So if you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time.”

*

T’krel, head of the Vulcan High Council, could have been any age from sixty to six hundred. Nobody seemed to know how long Vulcans lived, and they weren’t inclined to talk about it. Her long dark hair, touched here and there with grey, was woven into a complicated braid that lay over her left shoulder, and she wore long robes of a deep forest green. Her deep-set dark eyes rested on each of them in turn as they stood before her awaiting her decision. Jim and Pike were tied to chairs, back to back, in the center of the room—T’krel had directed that they be present, even though they were unlikely to contribute anything useful to the discussion.

“We have consulted,” she said, her voice quiet but clear, “and the High Council has agreed that thee may attempt this thing. Although violence is anathema to us, self-defense is not. Although we cannot know whether the forcible removal of this entity will injure it, we cannot allow it to remain in possession of a katra that is not its own.”

She turned her gaze on McCoy. “McCoy,” she said solemnly. “Will thee do this?”

McCoy swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. After what had happened last time, what if he couldn’t hold out? What if – god forbid – he ended up possessed by this ancient evil, nothing but a passenger in his own body? Or just...gone? McCoy glanced at Jim, who grinned and slowly ran his tongue over his upper lip. Sudden anger flooded McCoy – whoever this was, it wasn’t Jim, and he’d do whatever it took to get his captain and his friend back. He looked up at T’krel. “Yes, damn it,” he said roughly. “I’ll do it.”

“Spock,” T’krel said. “Will thee do this?”

The Vulcan did not reply immediately, standing silently with his hands clasped and his head bowed. At last he raised his head. “It is not clear to me that I should,” he said slowly.

McCoy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “It’s not clear to you?” he said furiously. “How much clearer could it be?”

T’krel gestured sharply for silence. “Peace, McCoy. It is not our way to compel in any case, and particularly not in such a case as this. Each of thee must make his own choice. We believe there are good reasons for Spock to do this, but he must agree.”

“You’re damn right there are good reasons. How about because it’s right? How about because nobody deserves to be abandoned to some demon inside them?” He paused, remembering something Uhura had told him about Spock’s parents. “Or maybe it’s your inner demons you’re afraid of, Spock!”

Spock drew in a sharp breath, then let it out slowly. “It is true, I have certain...weaknesses that other Vulcans do not,” he said, as if the admission pained him, and McCoy immediately regretted his hasty words. Bottling up human emotions inside a Vulcan – who knew what sort of agony that caused?

“Spock, thee must not turn from the right path out of fear,” T’krel said firmly. “Thee has human blood, but it is not a thing to be feared. Indeed, because of thy heritage, thee are perhaps the best among us to attempt this.”

Spock nodded reluctantly. “Very well.”

T’Krel turned to Dr Marcus and Uhura. “Thy shipmates have lost their will and cannot choose freely. Do thee choose for them, to undergo this, that they may return to themselves?”

The two officers exchanged a glance, then Uhura spoke for both of them the formal words they had been given to use. “As we hope they would do for us, so we do for them.”

T’krel nodded. “We shall begin at once.” She gestured to the other members of the High Council, who moved to stand against the wall, evenly spaced around the small room, one between each of the tall, arched windows. Outside, McCoy noticed that the constant wind had increased to gale force, and an occasional blue flicker of static electricity sparked along the ground.

“We seven will form a mind shield around this room,” she said, “that if thee succeed in driving the entity out of the humans it shall not escape to wreak havoc among our people. The rest, Spock, is up to thee and McCoy.”

McCoy eyed the Vulcan. The man didn’t look best pleased to be leading this foxhunt. “What’s the matter, Spock?” he said. “You afraid that famous Vulcan charm won’t work on ancient bloodthirsty demons?”

Spock met his gaze directly and McCoy couldn’t help but notice the pain in the depths of his eyes. “I have worked all my life to be wholly Vulcan,” he said. “To force a humanity I have repressed onto another...I am not even certain I can do it.”

McCoy patted the Vulcan awkwardly on the shoulder. Maybe he’s not so bad after all. “Don’t worry about it,” he said gently. “I’m a doctor, remember? My job is remembering people are human even when they can’t remember it themselves. I’ll show you how.”

Anyone other than a Vulcan would have smiled, but McCoy knew he’d have to be content with the slight – very slight – movement of Spock’s lips.

Together they went to stand on either side of the seated men. Spock spread his fingers and placed one hand on each man’s head, thumb on the temple. Pike – or rather the thing inside Pike – could evidently sense something different in their intentions, because he snarled and tried to jerk his head away, but the restraints held him firm. Jim gave McCoy a sidelong glance, his blue gaze full of disturbing knowledge. Bones...don’t you want more of what you got a taste of? He can’t do it without you...all you have to do is refuse and we can be together: you, me...John...

McCoy dragged his gaze away from Jim’s and looked instead at the Vulcan. They were standing so close he could see the tension in the man’s neck and shoulders, but when he spoke his voice was calm and controlled. “Are you ready, Doctor?”

I’ll never be ready to go for a walk in the park through somebody else’s head. “Yes,” he said brusquely. He raised his hands and, mirroring Spock’s, placed them on Pike and Jim. Immediately he felt a pressure on the edges of his mind, like a headache waiting to pounce.

“When I begin the meld, it will attack as it did before,” Spock said softly. “I will provide the power; you must provide the guidance. You must hold clearly in your mind what you know these men to truly be, the good that they have done and will yet do. Together we will force this knowledge of their essential goodness back into their minds, so that the entity’s hold on their baser urges is broken. Without that anchor, it will be vulnerable.”

“Like cutting the strings of a kite,” McCoy said. The soft whisper of blown sand against the windows had risen to a menacing hiss as the storm outside increased, and he tried to shut his ears to the sound. “All right, let’s do it.”

Spock closed his eyes. “My mind to your mind, my thoughts...”

The attack was swift and vicious. All his external senses were cut off by a howling whirlwind of mindless desire food sex power I me mine want take kill.

No, McCoy managed to think, but he knew he couldn’t hold out for long against it. No...

I am here, Spock’s voice said, and McCoy clung to the voice like a rock in a maelstrom.

Pike’s distorted voice filled his mind. Leave or you will be destroyed!

McCoy could feel his consciousness fraying at the edges, despite Spock’s support. How do you fight something with this much power? he thought desperately. His captain and his friend needed him and he was failing them.

Do not fight it, he heard Spock say as though he were shouting in a high wind. Know them. They no longer know themselves. You must do it for them.

Yes, he did know them. And they were two of the best – as friends, as fellow officers, as human beings. How could he make them remember that?

Selfishness it the only rational approach to life! the voice howled.

Memories flashed across McCoy’s mind: Pike’s encouragement of all his officers to be their best. Jim speaking up on behalf of a young cadet at the Academy. Both of them, always, appreciative of competence and expertise in others.

The storm in his head seemed to flinch. Only I can look out for myself, no one else will do it! I am all that matters!

Jim risking his life to rescue that young corpsman on their first mission. Pike delaying picking up an important diplomat so they could continue the search for a lieutenant who’d disappeared during shore leave.

Power is the only path to satisfaction! Without that, you are nothing but a victim waiting for the axe! it shrieked.

“There's a way out of any cage, and I'll find it!” He remembered Pike saying.

And Jim’s flippant, “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.”

The memories came thick and fast now, moments of courage, friendship, respect, trust, selflessness, shared joys and sorrows. They layered one on top of another, reinforcing one another, under Spock’s guidance taking the shape of a shimmering blade.

Bones...?

Jim!

...food sex power I me mine want take kill...

Now!!

McCoy was never able to describe it adequately afterwards, the sensation of Spock’s mind flexing to send the weapon the two of them had crafted shearing forward, severing the entity’s links to his friends’ mind. McCoy could have sworn he actually heard them snap.

The recoil broke the mind meld and sent him staggering back, blinking as the real world came into focus around him, and when it did for a moment he wasn’t sure they’d won after all.

Jim and Pike were slumped in their chairs. A tornado of reddish mist twisted and turned in the center of the ceiling above their heads, and the psychic menace rolling off it nearly drove McCoy to his knees. The pressure inside the room was nearly unbearable; he could feel it pressing on his eyeballs and eardrums. Even raising his arm was a monumental effort against its malevolence. T’krel and the other members of the High Council ranged around the walls were clearly bending all their effort towards containing it, eyes closed and faces grim, but even as he watched he saw one of them waver and fall, and the evil cloud expanded outwards.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and fought to turn his head. It was Spock, eyes narrowed in determination.

“Window!” he shouted. McCoy could barely hear him over the mental static in the room.

Outside the sand fire had reached its height, furious winds driving clouds of grit against the glass and electrical discharges flashing like blue lightning. “What about it?” he shouted back.

Spock gestured towards the vortex of evil above them. “Break the window! Our only chance!”

McCoy stared at him incredulously. “Are you crazy? That storm’ll scour us to bare bone in minutes!” Had he been taken over by a piece of the thing? Was he trying to kill them all?

“Trust me!” Spock tore an ornamental iron sconce from the wall and thrust it towards McCoy, who instinctively took it, then freed another for himself. He pulled McCoy towards the far window, tapped a spot in the center, then met McCoy’s eyes for a moment. “Together,” he mouthed, and they swung.

The glass shattered and the high pressure in the room went roaring out. McCoy heard a wailing in his mind and felt a tug as though the entity was clutching desperately at anything it could find, and then it was dragged out into the sand fire. An enormous electrical explosion lit up the room with a blue-white flare, and then it was gone.

*

“Thank you, yeoman,” Captain Pike said as he signed the day’s orders and handed them back to the young officer.

Listening to this exchange, Jim felt a rush of relief that all was back to normal. Well, maybe not entirely. He reached up and touched the faint scars on his neck, all that remained of their...experience. So much of it was hazy, now, but he remembered enough that he’d avoided being alone with Pike since they came back aboard. It would take a while to sort that out in his head.

As though reading his mind, Pike swiveled around and spoke to him. “Well, Commander, did you enjoy your time in the captain’s chair?”

“Yes, sir,” Jim replied smartly. “But it looks better on you, sir.” He didn’t like to think how close they’d come to never having either of them in that chair again.

The turbolift doors swished open and he saw Bones enter the bridge and come to stand at Pike’s elbow just as Uhura put a hand to her ear. “Vulcan is hailing us, Captain.”

“On screen,” Pike said. “Ah, Mister Spock. I’m glad we have a chance to thank you one last time.”

Spock inclined his head. “No thanks are necessary. It was...an educational experience. Is Commander Kirk with you, and the Doctor?”

Jim rose from his station and went to stand at Pike’s other side. “Yes, Mister Spock, all present and accounted for as you can see,” the captain replied.

“You have a remarkable senior staff,” Spock said. “I have rarely encountered such close bonding in humans, lacking as they do the capacity for true mental connection.”

“Nice,” Jim heard McCoy mutter. “We thank him, and he insults us.”

“They are officers any captain would be proud to serve with,” Pike acknowledged, and Jim felt a glow of pleasure at his words. “And it’s thanks to you I can continue to do so. If there’s anything I can do for you, we’d be happy to return the favor.”

“That is in fact why I wished to speak with you before you left orbit,” Spock admitted. “The Vulcan Science Academy feels that you and your crew present a valuable opportunity for expanding my knowledge of the positive aspects of my human heritage. T’Krel has spoken with Starfleet, and they have agreed to offer me a temporary appointment on the Enterprise. If, of course, this is acceptable to you.”

“Of course, Mister Spock. We would be glad to have you aboard. We’ll await your beaming over.”

“Thank you, Captain. I look forward to working with you and your officers. Spock out.”

The channel closed. For a moment no one spoke.

“Well, gentlemen,” Pike said finally. “Enterprise is about to acquire a Vulcan officer. This may be a first in the history of Starfleet.”

“Would’ve been nice if you’d asked us,” McCoy muttered.

“C’mon, Bones,” Jim said. He had a good feeling about this. “Just think, now you’ve got someone whose mind just may be capable of grasping the subtle difference between ‘you’, ‘y’all’, and ‘all y’all’.”

McCoy shook his head. “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a test subject for some pointy-eared scientist.”

Pike grinned at both men, but addressed Bones. “Face it, Doctor McCoy, we all are. We all are.”

The End