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Stolen Love

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Kirk rubbed his eyes, stretched, sighed deeply and went back to his paperwork. He was tired, it was already late, and so much paperwork meant less time for what was the essence of his days, the moment he waited for during long hours on the bridge. Still, it was good fatigue. It meant that he was finally back to his job, to his routine, to his responsibilities, and that everything was back to normal after all the ordeals.

Except, it wasn’t back to normal. Not to his previous normal, no. The encounter with the Alteians had been a breakthrough for him, on many levels. His most insidious and crippling fears, faced and acknowledged after years of ducking and dodging, were now maybe not absent, but definitely subdued. His self-doubts, so easily turning into self-loathing, were gone, and he could finally say that he respected the person in the mirror. He was calmer, more sure of himself, less reckless, and all this felt good. But the best… he had Spock back. And that felt good, too.

There had never been anything in his life that could compare to Spock. Kirk might have been in love several times before, sometimes it was even reciprocated to some extent, but what he had with Spock was beyond human experience. Quite literally so, because the telepathic bond ensured a measure of closeness, intimacy, and safety that no human experience could offer, not even physical intimacy. And thinking of that, physical intimacy, enhanced with the mindmeld, was something entirely, utterly…

//Ashayam, you are not working//, Spock’s voice spoke directly in his mind. //If you keep procrastinating instead of seeing to your duties, our physical intimacy will have to wait till tomorrow…//

//No way!//, Kirk thought, reluctantly glancing back at the report. //How about we just do that now, and I finish this stuff tomorrow before alpha shift?//

//As you wish, ashayam//, came the answer, colored with a warm tinge of desire and anticipation. //But must I remind you that you also like sleeping, and do not disdain physical intimacy in the morning, either?...//

//You tease! Come here immediately, and that’s an order!//

Kirk knew that he wouldn’t be able to work anymore anyway, it was no use pretending. Waiting for Spock, he got rid of his clothes and flung himself on the bed, trying not to think too loud about what he was doing. He briefly remembered how horrible it had been when he first formed his bond with Spock and was so destroyed after his earlier captivity on that cursed Orion ship, that he couldn’t even bear the simple idea of touching, not to mention more. Then, it was Spock’s pon farr, and it ruined everything to the point where Spock almost lost his mind, and Kirk, his life.

“Why are you thinking about this now, Jim?”, Spock asked, entering his quarters and securing the privacy lock. He sat next to his naked lover, himself still clothed, and watched fondly the smooth creamy skin, his to admire and touch.

“Stop spying on my thoughts! It’s spooky!”, Kirk observed, but he didn’t look really spooked. He blushed under the loving scrutiny, but it was a blush of pleasure and arousal, not shame or timidity. These were gone, and Kirk was back to his old tactile, flirtatious and essentially shameless self.

“You are thinking very loudly. If you do not wish me to intercept your thoughts, you must shield them, as I know you can…”

“Yeah… I don’t really care to hide anything from you”, Kirk said. “But…” he suddenly remembered something. “I noticed that you sometimes shield your emotions. Yesterday, on the bridge, I hardly sensed anything from you during nearly an hour… Today at lunch, at the canteen…”

“I thought… we were going to do other things than talking”, Spock answered uncomfortably, and shielded a small part of his thoughts again.

“See?” Kirk’s voice sounded reproachful. “We’ve been together for a month since the Alteians dumped us unconscious in sickbay. It’s been the best month of my life. But I hate to think that maybe, it’s less perfect for you… yet these times, when you hide your feelings… You sometimes seem tense, upset… sometimes even pissed… What is it about?”

Spock didn’t seem to be listening to him. No longer merely watching, he started touching Kirk’s body in ways only he knew how, and the fool instead of insisting, let himself be distracted. To his defense, it must be said that it would take superhuman willpower not to be distracted when these extremely skilled Vulcan hands, along with an enthusiastic Vulcan tongue and lips and teeth were hellbent on providing distraction.

Kirk was blindly in love with Spock, and after his previous ordeals was so hungry for intimacy and loving touch that several ordinary kisses were enough to drive him ecstatic. Spock was blindly in love with Kirk, and never contented himself with several ordinary kisses: instead, he made it his main ambition to take Kirk as high to heaven as he had been deep in hell.

In the morning, Kirk woke up alone in his bed, but Spock’s side was still warm. He understood that his lover was giving him space to finish going through the reports, and he did, unable to fully stop his thoughts from wandering fondly to the previous evening. Still, he managed to finish his work, and at the very moment when he stepped out of the shower, Spock entered his quarters with a tray of food. They had breakfast together and went together to the bridge, Kirk with a sunny smile on his face, Spock wearing his normal, impassive expression, that still managed to convey some of the calm, contented harmony that was right now filling him.

The day on the bridge was as boring as the thirty previous ones had been, as if Starfleet had finally understood that after the series of disasters that the Enterprise, and especially her captain personally, had gone through, some time of calm star mapping was not as much luxury as sheer necessity. Now, their orders were to go back to Earth so that the Enterprise could get a quick onceover, and the crew see their families after a long time. Well, those who had them anyway: Kirk intended to stay close to the ship and oversee the repairs with Spock, who also had nowhere to go on Earth. Or anywhere else.

The only element that interrupted the welcome monotony turned out to be a young ensign, Sheila Oroni, whom they had picked up recently from a starbase as a replacement for one of the crewmembers who had chosen to remain as part of the contact team on the newly contacted planet Xandra (the one that had cost Kirk some blood, sweat and tears, and his CMO twice as much nerves).

Near the end of alpha shift, she entered the bridge with a report for Kirk to sign. He took it distractedly, but couldn’t help but notice that something was off with the ensign’s appearance. Her uniform looked as if it had been replicated two sizes too small, clinging to her appealing form in a way that looked as uncomfortable as it was revealing.

Automatically, Kirk’s mind asked itself rhetorically how some more prominent parts of the ensign’s body would feel to the touch, and he had to cover a sudden blush with a clumsy smile, to which the young woman responded with an openly seductive glance. Kirk felt that he should tell her a thing or two about regulation uniform and professional behavior, but decided against it: after all, he was the one to gaze and grin, and anything he said was bound to be embarrassing for both of them.

When he handed her back the PADD with the signed report, she deliberately touched his hand and smiled at him, and Kirk wasn’t sure if he was excited, annoyed or both, when he became acutely aware of the bond, suddenly almost entirely shielded. He glanced at Spock, who had risen from his console and advanced toward Ensign Oroni.

“Was the replicator malfunctioning, Ensign?” he asked very coldly, and to his surprise, Kirk realized that he was livid.

“What do you mean, Commander?”, she asked innocently, although Kirk was pretty sure she knew.

“Your uniform is against regulation. Replicate an appropriate one”, Spock told her authoritatively. She blatantly ignored him, and answered Kirk instead, visibly enjoying the moment of attention she was getting:

“Captain, in my culture – the interspecies colony of Nereus 3 – it is considered normal to wear clothes that match the body exactly. This uniform size is the one that I would have worn on my home world…”

“You are not on your home world, Ensign”, Kirk reminded her, but his tone was more amused that anything else. To see Spock so jealous flattered and excited him, and he didn’t want the ensign punished for accidently bringing him such a treat. “However, you may wear whatever uniform size you see fit, as long as it doesn’t restrain your movements or otherwise interfere with your duties. Dismissed.”

“But, Captain…” Spock unexpectedly protested. “The rules and regulations…”

“That’s fine, Spock, I’ve already made clear what I think about this matter”, Kirk interrupted him, not wanting this trivial clothing issue blown out of all proportion. Spock stepped down, but he followed the leaving Ensign Oroni with a disapproving glance, and Kirk could feel some of his anger seeping through the bond.

//Hey, Spock, no need to be jealous//, Kirk thought in his direction. //She’s from another culture…//

//My anger is not against her//, Spock answered pointedly, and Kirk could tell that he was holding back much more anger.

//Against me?// he asked, surprised. In his opinion, he didn’t do anything untoward. He certainly didn’t parade in a catsuit tight uniform or throw anyone seductive glances.

//You wondered what it would be like to touch her breasts//, Spock accused. Kirk almost chuckled aloud in his chair.

//That was just my subconscious… it was merely a reaction to her looks and stance, but it wasn’t going anywhere… Gee, I didn’t know you were so jealous… It’s kinda hot, you know…//

To Kirk’s surprise, unpleasant this time, Spock rose again from his station and glared at him. The bond was more open now, and aside from anger, Kirk could feel Spock’s hurt.

//I am… glad you are enjoying yourself//, Spock thought sarcastically, and aloud he coldly said:

“Permission to leave the bridge. There is an inconsistency in the new map that I would like to consult personally with the laboratory team.”

“Granted”, Kirk said, trying to soothe him mentally, to no avail. Spock shielded the bond again, and left. Kirk was no longer amused, nor did he find anymore Spock’s jealousy very hot.

He tried to analyze these mere five minutes of Oroni’s presence on the bridge to find out what justified so much hurt and anger on Spock’s part, but to him, the entire situation was pretty innocent. She was wearing a tight uniform, and he stared, just like the rest of the bridge crew, women included – so what? Spock had to know that Kirk really wanted only him… And if Spock didn’t realize that, then Kirk was determined to prove it to him, right after the shift…

By the time he returned to his quarters directly from the bridge, Kirk was rather excited again. He was sure that Spock would have cooled off during their brief separation. However, when he saw Spock waiting for him, his expression gloomy and dark, he understood that his hopes had been vain.

“She must leave this ship”, Spock said in a trembling voice, and Kirk stopped dead in his track.

“Aren’t you… exaggerating a little?” he asked, incredulous. “I have no grounds to…”

“Why did you not order her to replicate an appropriate uniform? Do you enjoy looking at her?” Spock cut him off, coming close and grabbing his shoulders with a bruising force.

“Of course not! Are you crazy? You know I love only you!”

“Prove it!” Spock almost growled, and kissed him so brutally that his bitten lip started bleeding. It was kind of hot, actually, and when Spock reached beneath his pants, Kirk felt his body react fiercely. However, the irrational fury still flooding the bond, Spock’s anger visible in his eyes brought back memories of his pon farr, during which Spock had also been horny, aggressive and jealous, and it had ended very badly for Kirk. Assaulted by terrifying flashbacks, he struggled frantically in Spock’s grip.

“Let me go, Spock! Don’t! Not like this, not when you’re so angry!” he pleaded. Spock stopped, but the protest made him even angrier, and he threw Kirk to the deck with all his force. To break the fall, Kirk reached out with his arm instinctively, but the impact was so brutal that his wrist reacted with a sickening crack, followed by a wave of pain. Kirk belatedly realized that relying for support on the wrist that had recently been completely ruined with a Xandran arrow might not have been the best idea. Blinded by the pain, confused by the memories and by Spock’s anger, he slumped to the deck, cradling the injured wrist.

“Are you completely mad? Snap out of it!” he yelled at the Vulcan. He hated that his voice, instead of outraged, sounded scared and almost tearful. He climbed to his feet and ran to the comm panel, determined to call for help if the Vulcan didn’t calm down.

“Jim!”

Spock’s voice sounded more normal, and his face looked now almost as confused as Kirk’s own. Kirk realized that the bond was no longer dominated by Spock’s jealousy and anger, but was flooded instead by his own panic and horrible memories. He took several deep breaths and calmed down. This wasn’t pon farr, he wasn’t being harmed, Spock just had a fit of jealousy over an unfortunate fashion choice of a new ensign, and that was all.

“I… scared you”, Spock stated hesitantly.

“Well yeah, you scared the hell out of me”, Kirk admitted, leaving the comm panel and sitting on his desk. “First, you quarreled with me on the bridge, you sent me so much anger through the bond… Now, you acted like you were going to punish me or something, although I don’t know for what. You wouldn’t talk or listen, you just basically threw yourself at me… At first I thought it was hot, but…” He only shook his head.

Spock understood anyway. He knew exactly what had happened in Kirk’s head, and the memory of how he had used and injured his bondmate while in the throes of the maddening mating fever stabbed him in the heart like a dagger.

“I apologize for scaring you”, he said after a while. “But… I still think that Ensign Oroni should transfer.”

“What’s wrong with you, Spock?” Kirk looked at him incredulously. “Her only crime is wearing a too small uniform, and being well built… I can’t just get rid of her because you find that I looked at her the wrong way! Besides, your jealousy is ridiculous. How come you can read my mind and can’t see that I only desire you?”

“It is not so simple”, Spock explained in a mortified whisper. “You constantly look at people, touch them, flirt with them…”

“What?!”

“By nature, Vulcans are much less outgoing… When they bond, their mate is not constantly subjected to the agony of watching them flirt with others, touch their shoulders or hands, send them smiles, imagine how they would look naked or how it feels to touch their skin…”

“Stop it! I told you I didn’t…” Kirk stopped, because suddenly he realized that Spock described behaviors of which he was, indeed, guilty, if guilt was the right word for it. He did, in fact, touch people to convey a sense of companionship aboard his vessel, he smiled at them – probably because he was happy – and occasionally, the less evolved parts of his brain did – against his will – try to imagine people without their clothes, especially when those were sufficiently revealing to encourage it.

“But all this means completely nothing”, Kirk said. “It’s normal human interaction… Even if I find someone attractive, it doesn’t mean I would like to go to bed with them…”

“This is what I have been trying to tell myself all along”, Spock answered. “That is why I shielded from you any jealousy I experienced earlier: I wished to master it and never bother you with it… But when I saw you with Ensign Oroni, and when you refused to order her to replicate more appropriate clothing…”

“But Spock…”

“You laughed, and said that you found my jealousy enticing… However, Jim, I experience it as deeply hurtful…”

“How was I to know if you shielded it from me?...”

“Then you know now. Try to understand, Jim: for a Vulcan, their life depends on their bondmate’s availability… If a bondmate was unfaithful, looked away, walked away…”

“Hell, Spock! I was the one who tracked you down during your pon farr! I was traumatized, not ready, and yet I came and… took it all. Do you think I would abandon you because of a… scantily dressed stranger? I don’t want you hurt, but you can’t expect me to… I don’t know, close my eyes, whenever an attractive person passes by!”

“Your points are… very well taken”, Spock answered guiltily. He hated that Kirk had to remind him what he had done for him during his pon farr, and the horrible price that he paid. Kirk was right: he couldn’t expect him to act with other people like a Vulcan would. All the smiles, pats on the shoulders, slaps on the back, were parts of Kirk’s unique charisma as a captain and a person. They were subtle, irrefutable proof that he cared about his crew, but they were also something casual, and becoming dramatic over them was unfair.

“Well, I’m happy you can see that”, Kirk said with a fatigued sigh. He ran a hand through his hair and cast Spock a timid look. “We good?” he asked.

“Yes, Jim, if you could just… I know that at some point, you liked to become… more intimate with other people than just glances and fantasies…”

“Shit, Spock!”, Kirk interrupted him, outraged. “When we bonded, I told you I understood that a Vulcan bond implied monogamy for life! Do you think I’m some kind of…” he stopped before levelling against himself an insult that he had so long believed to be true.

“Of course not”, Spock answered quickly. “I just thought that it could… help me fighting this… illogical jealousy… if you promised me…”

“I promise you, Spock: I will never voluntarily have sex with anyone but you. Are you satisfied?”

“Yes. Thank you, ashayam”, Spock answered, and finally, the remnants of tension left his side of the bond. Tenderly, he kissed and embraced his lover, who reciprocated the caress, but failed to respond in his usual, passionate manner. “You are injured”, Spock realized when he took in the pain occupying an important part of Kirk’s mind.

“It’s nothing. I think… I think I might have sprained my wrist”, Kirk admitted reluctantly. Spock glanced at the said limb, already swollen twice the size, and immediately knew that it was not a simple sprain.

“It is broken”, he said, regret and remorse clearly audible in his voice. “Forgive me, ashayam…”

“It wasn’t your fault… I shouldn’t have leant on it so hard”, Kirk answered, trying to soothe him.

“I should never have pushed you in the first place. You must go see Doctor McCoy, preferably in the soonest possible delay, or your injury will aggravate itself.”

Reluctantly, Kirk had to agree with Spock: his wrist was hurting abominably, and the last thing he needed was a badly injured hand. He nodded, and promised to go to sickbay and to come to Spock’s quarters later.

 

Doctor Leonard McCoy was perusing medical research in his office, trying intently to forget his recent subspace talk with his ex-wife, Jocelyn. Damn this Starfleet Command anyway! He hated shore leaves on Earth. Of course, he enjoyed the possibility to meet his daughter Joanna, whom he missed sorely and regretted seeing so rarely, but every single contact with Jocelyn was a torture. This time as well, she explicitly promised to do everything in her power to ruin his vacation and to make his time with their daughter as difficult as she possibly could. McCoy knew that their separation had been a nasty one, not entirely by Jocelyn’s fault, but the lengths to which she went to hamper his contacts with Joanna were nearing the absurd.

Aside from the perspective of a tormented shore leave, everything had been running rather smoothly for McCoy during the past thirty days. The Alteians not only didn’t kill Kirk or Spock, but they even seemed to have fixed them. Of course, the process had been painful – was there ever anything that wasn’t painful in Jim Kirk’s life? – but at least, it reached its purpose.

Spock was now mostly free of his crushing guilt for having inadvertently caused Kirk harm, on several different occasions. Kirk finally seemed to have accepted in this stubborn head of his that he wasn’t a whore, that he wasn’t a worthless little shit, and that his value for other people didn’t reside in his father’s name, his captaincy, or his pretty body. McCoy wasn’t sure of how durable these changes were going to be, but they were there now and that was one hell of a progress.

Also, it pleased McCoy to see Kirk and Spock finally happy, in what looked like a perfect romantic relationship. Somehow, Kirk got over his issues with intimacy, which after all the times when he was ruthlessly abused was nothing short of a miracle. He never actually told the doctor any details about his love life with Spock, he was even uncharacteristically discreet, but his contentment was obvious for McCoy in the way he looked at Spock, touched Spock, and smiled dreamily when he spoke of Spock, sometimes with a sweet endearing blush.

Yeah, seeing his main patient finally out of sickbay and out of danger, happy and fulfilled, was all it took to make a doctor happy… Except, it didn’t. Not entirely, anyway. Oh, of course, McCoy was Kirk’s and Spock’s friend, and his loyal, honest, selfless part truly wished them all the best. But there was one other, not so selfless part that was hurting to see them so happy, and there was precious little he could do about it.

He was in love with Jim Kirk. Ever since he confessed this feeling to his young captain, after he had pushed him over the edge in a fit of drunken rage, he carried this knowledge open and bleeding inside him. He had told Kirk that he wanted nothing from him, that just having him around was enough to make him happy, but this was only part of the truth.

Of course, being close to Jim, as his doctor and friend, was better than nothing, and McCoy would never pretend to do anything that could jeopardize in any way Kirk’s relationship with Spock, that was obviously giving him so much happiness. But at the same time, McCoy had increasing problems with convincing himself that friendship was enough. His heart, his body ached for something more, and he wondered if staying around was even an honest thing to do.

Kirk never mentioned to McCoy his strange love confession, pronounced under such heavy emotion that it had to be somewhat easy to dismiss. McCoy had no idea whether Jim simply forgot the confession, decided to ignore it, or maybe thought that with time, the unrequited feeling was going to ebb away all by itself.

However, McCoy noticed that ever since Kirk came back from the Alteian ship, he was not only obviously happy with Spock, but was also exceptionally available and attentive toward his doctor. He came to have a drink together every other evening, to chat, talk about ship’s business and ask about McCoy’s day. The doctor was a little confused about it. He couldn’t really understand why Kirk was cutting some of his time that he could spend with Spock, already scarce given his and Spock’s demanding jobs, and still, he chose to come to sickbay to chat… Was it that he really cared?

Anyway, when Kirk entered sickbay this day, McCoy new immediately that this time, it wasn’t because he wanted to chat. He was cradling his wrist, swollen twice the size, he had a split lip and a strange, confused expression on his face. Confusion didn’t suit him, and McCoy had a sick feeling that something was very wrong.

“What have you done this time, kid?”, he asked accusingly, motioning Kirk to the nearest biobed.

“Nothing. Sprained my wrist. Just… do something, because it hurts like shit”, Kirk answered, and winced when McCoy touched the offending limb.

“Sprained my ass”, the doctor answered with his usual grace and kindness. “It’s badly broken, Jim. Lie down, I must first reduce the swelling before I can do anything else. I’m giving you a painkiller. Now what the hell did you do with it?”

“I fell. Ouch!”

“You fell? To break a wrist like that, you would have to throw yourself on it deliberately, or be thrown by an explosion…”

“I was at the gym…”

“And I’m Mickey Mouse. You’ve come straight from alpha shift, maybe with a little detour somewhere, but you’re wearing your bridge uniform, there’s no chance you had time to… Fuck, Jim, did you just lie to your doctor?”

Observing Kirk’s confused expression, bleeding lip and lousy lies, McCoy just couldn’t fail to notice that something was wrong.

“And you also fell on your face, I presume? Come on, kid, tell me the truth”, he urged.

“I just… leave me alone, Bones, just fix it”, Kirk answered, looking away. McCoy was increasingly worried, but then suddenly Kirk’s strange behavior rang a bell. Usually, when he had injured people acting like that, they were victims of abuse. And they lied to protect whoever was responsible for their pain, sometimes because they loved them, sometimes because they wanted to avoid what they deemed to be bigger trouble. Moreover, Spock was certainly strong enough to break someone’s wrist… But Spock would never harm Kirk. Or would he? With a pang of horror, McCoy suddenly remembered the state Jim was in after Spock’s pon farr. He had to know the truth.

“Jim, look at me. Did Spock break your wrist?”

“What are you talking about?”, Kirk asked, annoyed, but he looked even further away and McCoy couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t even actually deny the allegation.

“Hell, Jim, what’s wrong with you! Just… why the hell would he do that?...”

“You’re reading too much into it, Bones. It’s nothing. I’ve come for a treatment, not an interrogation…”

“And you’ll leave with a sermon! You’ve just admitted that Spock broke one of your bones, and for all of an idiot that you are, you don’t actually expect me to buy ‘it’s nothing’ as valid explanation!”

“It wasn’t his fault, okay? He simply pushed me, and I was clumsy enough to fall straight on this stupid wrist, not in its top form after Xandra…”

McCoy was listening to him, flooded with a strange mixture of incredulity and anger. He shook his head in bewilderment.

“So, the Xandrans are to blame for the fact that obviously, for some reason, Spock brutalized you? To break your wrist like this, he had to throw you with all his might! And trying to break a fall with your arm wasn’t clumsy the last time I checked: it’s better to injure a wrist then hit your head… Now better give me a logical and coherent explanation before I go and break some of the hobgoblin’s bones for a change.”

Kirk sighed deeply, but he obviously understood that McCoy wouldn’t be deterred, because he capitulated and finally explained:

“We had a fight. Spock freaked out when I allegedly stared at an ensign’s… assets. Apparently, Vulcans are very possessive, because their very survival depends on their mate’s fidelity… He didn’t do it on purpose, it’s his biology… Besides, really nothing happened: he made a scene and pushed me, I had a weakened wrist, and that’s all. He promised he’d try to control his jealousy in the future.”

“He had better”, McCoy answered through gritted teeth. “I can’t believe, after everything you two have been through…”

“That’s the point, Bones, it’s not his fault. Vulcans are just made this way”, Kirk interrupted him impatiently. “Rationally, he knows I love him, he remembers that I was quite willing to help him in his pon farr, but there’s this Vulcan heritage that makes him freak out when he thinks I’m attracted to someone else… When we bonded, I knew he wasn’t human, and I agreed to respect his Vulcan condition…”

“Okay, I see”, McCoy said mockingly. “So because he’s a Vulcan, he can break your wrist any time you as much as notice anyone else, and it’s nothing, because it’s his heritage and he simply is like this? Have you listened to yourself?”

“I knew you would react like this! That’s why I preferred not to tell you!” Kirk pointed out defensively. “Of course I know it’s not okay, and he’s promised to work on it, but he’s different, Bones, it won’t all come easy… Have you thought about what it must be for him, to watch me surrounded by people all the time, knowing what my earlier reputation is…? I wasn’t exactly known for favoring monogamy!”

Kirk looked upset, and McCoy decided that further yelling at him wasn’t going to get him far. He was still edgy from his earlier talk with Jocelyn, but taking it out on his patient wasn’t a particularly good idea.

“It must have been hard for you, when he got angry”, he said in a softer tone, and refrained from adding: after what he had done to you earlier.

“Yeah, I… I freaked out a little”, Kirk admitted. “I didn’t know what was going on… I didn’t realize that my way of being with other people, talking to them, was causing Spock pain. I don’t want to hurt him, but I’m just… I mean, he should realize I’m faithful to him, right?”

“Of course, kid. He can’t expect you to act like a Vulcan. And he most certainly can’t brutalize you when you fail to meet this standard…”

“I think he won’t. He didn’t mean to, I really fell unluckily… How long before it’s fixed?”

“I injected some regenerating solution directly to the bone, so by tomorrow it should be as good as new. Don’t strain it though.”

“Thanks. And, Bones… I’ve got the impression that you’re grumpier than usual. Am I imagining things, or did something happen?”

As first impulse, McCoy wanted to deflect the question, but Kirk’s frown and inquisitive look told him that he probably wouldn’t be deterred easily, so avoiding pointless discussion seemed like the more rational solution.

“I was trying to arrange everything to see Joanna during the leave… I talked to Jocelyn, and she basically told me that if I came, she’d do everything she humanly can to make it awful for me, even if it meant making it awful for Joanna as well.”

Kirk looked at him, speechless with shock, and McCoy regretted having added to an already stressful day. He wanted to wave if off, to tell Jim not to worry about him, but in the meantime, the captain had recovered his speech.

“We won’t permit this hateful woman to bully you like this. I’m coming to Georgia with you, and I promise I’ll take care of her, while you spend a wonderful leave with your daughter.”

“No, Jim! You go take Spock some place nice, enjoy some time together…”

“We’ve been inseparable for the last month, and several days apart won’t harm us. I’m not letting you face this witch alone, so that she can bully you and ruin your leave…”

“Jim, you won’t be able to do much against Jocelyn… She’s not a type who can be easily charmed or scared off…”

“You’re underestimating me, Bones. But at worst, I’ll just be there so that you don’t have to fight your battles alone. And stop quarrelling, because I’ve made my mind and as you very well know, I’m a stubborn idiot and once I’ve decided something, it’s decided…”

“But, Jim…” McCoy wanted to protest more, but to be honest, the prospect of having Kirk in Georgia, with his witty, disarmingly charming and energetic personality to help him deflect Jocelyn’s hatred, was too tempting to offer any real resistance. “Thank you, Jim”, he simply said, and was rewarded by a pat on the shoulder, a grin and a thumbs-up.

 

On the shuttle to Georgia, McCoy couldn’t stop talking. He talked and talked and talked, and Kirk wasn’t sure anymore if he really wanted to say something, or he was just trying to cover the fact that he was nervous as hell. And so was Kirk himself, to be honest.

Still, he was glad to be here. Spock wasn’t very thrilled to be left alone for five days, but hey, these were only five days, there was still much leave left to go to some place nice together. Besides, Spock felt guilty about his fit of jealousy, and was determined to demonstrate to Kirk how he trusted him. A part of Kirk would have rather remained with Spock and overseen the repairs of the Enterprise, but a much larger part would never, ever leave Boner face this stressful situation alone.

“Why did you guys get divorced in the first place?”, Kirk asked rather brusquely, figuring that if he was to listen to nervous babbling all the road long, it could as well be something he wanted to know anyway.

“It’s a long story”, McCoy deflected.

“We’ve still got… 47 minutes.”

“No seconds?” McCoy mocked. Kirk shrugged, and McCoy also figured that to spend the time, he could as well make it meaningful. “It was complicated, kid. I was very much into my work, and I think Jocelyn didn’t find the time I spent with her quite sufficient… The more I got involved with the hospital, the more stressed I also was, and the more I had to rely on artificial anesthesia to keep me going…”

“You mean, alcohol.”

“Well yes, what else would I mean. Between the hospital, the stress and the booze, I didn’t want a child immediately, and she told me she was taking contraceptives, which she wasn’t. We had a hell of a fight over this when I discovered she was pregnant. I felt cheated and used, and she was disappointed because apparently she hoped that seeing an ultrasonogram of a tiny bean that was our child would make me change my mind. I guess I drank even more after that.”

“And? What happened next?”

“Nothing happened. When Joanna was born, I could no longer be angry about how Jocelyn had manipulated me. All that counted was these three kilos of pink delight. I’m telling you, Jim, until you take your own child in your arms… Still, something was broken between me and Jocelyn, something that never got repaired. She never accepted that I loved Joanna, after I hadn’t wanted children, she thought I had not right to be her father. It became unbearable, and in the end she dumped me, stripping me of everything that used to be ours.”

“Shit, Bones, it’s such a sad story.”

“It was ugly, Jim. She was ruthless. But somewhere, I think – I know – that she had her reasons. I made her feel alone and unwanted, taking more than I ever gave her. When she told me she was pregnant and I got angry that she had lied to me, I think I broke something in her. With my behavior that day, I shattered her dream of a happy family, and no matter how I loved Joanna once she was born, there was no gluing this dream back together. Jocelyn had to follow dreamless, and I was the one responsible.”

“She shouldn’t have lied about the pills, though.”

“No, and in a way, one could say that I was right to be angry, but that is beside the point. I may have been right, but by crushing her dreams of having a happy family, I also crushed my only chance to have one. And I’m paying for it every single day, roaming cold hostile space far from my warm smiling Joanna.”

There was precious little that could be answered to that, so Kirk contented himself with squeezing his friend’s arm supportively. He couldn’t wait to finally meet this Joanna about whom McCoy was always talking with such fondness, when he felt open enough to mention her. Jocelyn seemed like a bitter, difficult person who deliberately refused to move on after being hurt, but Kirk wasn’t afraid of her. He knew what it was like, to be ignored by the ones closest to you, to have your basic emotional needs constantly unfulfilled, and he hoped that maybe, he would be able to reach her.

Once in Atlanta, rather than take a hover taxi, McCoy preferred to walk to his ex-wife’s house – that had once been their house – in order to cool off after the journey and revise once more all his bizarre strategies in his head. Kirk enjoyed the walk and the sight of a new city, with its characteristic Southern architecture and ambiance.

The house was old and big, with a clean white façade adorned with two sets of elegant windows with dark-red frames. It was separated from the street by a small garden, consisting mainly of a neatly tended lawn and several lush, multicolor flowerbeds. There was also a swing and a small wooden house, painted in blue and yellow, as well as wooden blocks, colorful cars and dolls scattered all over the lawn, eloquent witnesses to an exuberant childhood inhabiting and possessing this space.

Kirk saw that the familiar sight, representing a life that could have been and wasn’t, drained McCoy’s courage again, so he threw an arm around his friend protectively. He imagined pretty well how hard it had to be, but wasn’t aware how much his support meant for the other man. After a moment of hesitation, the two friends crossed the little garden and climbed the steps leading to the main door. McCoy knocked, but when nobody answered, he just pushed the handle and it opened, letting them inside.

The sight that greeted them was nothing like what they had expected. The ample hall was disordered, there were more toys on the floor, as well as a broken chair and an overturned hanger. Also, there were three strangers standing in three different points of the hall. One was pointing a weapon straight at them, while two others were holding two silent hostages, Jocelyn and Joanna, with weapon pressed to their temples.

“Don’t do anything stupid and nobody will get hurt”, one of the strangers said quietly.

Kirk was rapidly weighing their options, taking in the surroundings and searching for a potential fourth opponent, but as it turned out, someone else made their call before him. Taking advantage of the attackers’ momentary concentration on the newcomers, Jocelyn managed to somehow break out of the grip of the man holding her and she ran for the door. McCoy took the cue and lunged to help her, attracting the attention of two of the attackers, which left Kirk eye to eye with the man holding Joanna, who, seeing the mayhem, yelled an abominable threat and pressed his weapon harder against the girl’s face.

Acting on instinct, in fractions of a second, Kirk drew his phaser and shot immediately, hitting the man directly in the head. Stunned, he let the girl slip out of his grip, unconscious as well from the stunning wave. Kirk turned to shoot other attackers, but a fourth one, hidden in the shadows, knocked the phaser out of his hand and pointed at him what looked like a plasma pistol.

Disarmed, Kirk dodged a shot, ran up to Joanna and took her in his arms, then lunged for the door, when he heard a weapon charging and was shocked by a sharp impact, followed by a sickening pain in his left shoulder. He somehow managed not to fall, and saw Jocelyn reaching the door, screaming. Then he heard another shot and his right leg exploded in agony, folding beneath him like a broken twig.

With a desperate effort, he managed to throw Joanna into Jocelyn’s arms, and saw the woman disappearing behind the door, yelling for help from the top of her lungs. The rest of the events were nothing more than a confused haze, while his wounds – plasma burns, judging from how they felt – clouded his senses with such pain that he found it difficult to remain conscious.

“Silence her!” one of the attackers was yelling.

“No, stay! We’ve got the doctor, we won’t risk following them outside! Is the transporter ready?”

“Yes!”

“On my mark!”

Kirk was grabbed by his injured leg and dragged through the floor, but he fainted before he could take further stock of their situation.

When he woke up, he was lying on the floor of a small, poorly lit space, with his hands tied tightly behind his back and his ankles bound together. His shoulder and leg were hurting so much that it took all of his willpower not to simply faint again. His bond with Spock was only an awareness of the other’s existence, but without the possibility to sense any thoughts or emotions, which pointed to a great distance between them.

When he looked around, he noticed McCoy, bound like him and unconscious. The doctor’s shirt was torn in several places, showing bruises and several bloody gashes. His face was all bruised and he sported a split lip, but other than that, he didn’t look severely injured. Kirk wanted to crawl to him to take a better look, but he jarred his wounds in the attempt and blacked out.

The next time, he woke to McCoy’s ministrations. The doctor was kneeling over him, calling his name and poking at him with a knee.

“Stop it, Bones”, Kirk mumbled.

“For a moment, I thought you were dead”, McCoy informed him. “You were hardly breathing! And that would be too bad, because I want to kill you myself. Were you out of your mind, shooting at my daughter?!”

“What? Bones, I had no choice! After Jocelyn broke free, the bastard wasn’t above killing Joanna as punishment… Besides, my phaser was set on stun! And I had a pretty clear shot!”

“Set on stun my ass! Like you took the time to check! You gambled with Joanna’s life!”

“Calm down. I didn’t have to check the setting on my own phaser, that I had set myself. Both your ex-wife and your daughter are safe and sound, which is more than can be said about us… You look like hell.”

“And I’m a little dizzy. Concussed, most probably. But it’s you I’m worried about. You idiot, what were you thinking exposing yourself to shots like that? Turning your back to the attackers…”

“I was saving your daughter’s life!”

“Don’t you think I know that? Idiot! You have two severe plasma burns…”

“And they hurt like shit. I’d give anything for one of your hypos right now.”

McCoy didn’t know what to answer to that, except that he would also give much for some of his hypos. Kirk was breathing irregularly, his face and chest shining with sweat. With two huge and messy plasma burns, McCoy wondered how he was able to speak so coherently and do anything more than just howl with pain or black out. But Jim Kirk had an exceptional resistance to pain, due to abominable events from his past that McCoy hated to remember. This time, he was suffering because he had come home with him, McCoy, and had put himself between Joanna and a plasma missile.

“You didn’t have to, you know… Fucking hero”, McCoy commented.

“What do you want with me, Bones? What was I to do? Our best call was to surrender, but Jocelyn decided otherwise, and for all we know, she somehow managed to pull it off…”

“No, Jim. With you wounded as you are, I wouldn’t say she pulled anything off.”

“Stop it, Bones. You should be glad that it ended as it did. They had your daughter, to cry out loud! Now stop complaining and let’s take stock of our situation. Here’s what we know: the trap was set in your house, with your family as hostages, so I presume you were the target. We are on a ship, and I’m ready to bet a lot it’s an Orion ship. I’ve been on one and there are some design details that I would recognize anywhere. Besides, they used a portable transporter, and the best of those are Orion design. I’ve lost all feeling from Spock, short of knowing that he still exists, so I presume we are already at a great distance from Earth. As a working hypothesis, we can guess we’re being taken to Orion or one of Orion worlds. They normally don’t hunt on Earth or in the middle of Federation territory, so they didn’t kidnap us to sell us as regular slaves. They went to great lengths to acquire us: they did a background check on you, they had a ship ready for us in orbit, they waited for us exactly at the right moment. They didn’t go through all this trouble for something they could acquire in an easier way, by kidnapping someone on their usual trail, so it had to be us – you. The only thing you have that singles you out is your exceptional talent as a healer, because I don’t think they’re after your grumpiness. They want you to heal someone for them, Bones, that’s the only rational explanation.”

Tired by the deduction and the long speech, Kirk slumped to the floor, closed his eyes and licked his lips. He was lying in an uncomfortable position, losing circulation in his arms trapped beneath him, but when he tried to shift a little, the pain of his injuries overwhelmed him, and he let out a long agonized moan that made McCoy’s heart clench in his chest. If he was the target, then it meant that he had inadvertently pulled Kirk into a trap. And he couldn’t even regret it: without Kirk, Jocelyn and Joanna would have never escaped.

“Easy, kid”, he soothed. “Don’t move so much. Let’s hope that whoever kidnapped us will have some human feelings and permit me to treat these burns.”

“I wouldn’t count on human feelings among Orions, Bones. It’s kind of racist”, Kirk quipped, but he was pale and sweaty and it wasn’t even funny. McCoy chuckled anyway.

“If they kidnap me straight from goddam Earth to heal someone, it must mean they’re really out of options. Someone must be really sick. But if Orion doctors, familiar with Orion physiology, can’t help them, then I most probably won’t either. Where does it leave us?”

“Deep in shit, Bones.”

“But Spock will come after you, right? I mean, after us.”

“Yeah? How? If we’re really headed toward Orion territories, I don’t think the Command will just let him have a ship and storm a neutral planet. He would have to have proof of where we’re being held. And he won’t have shit: the people whom Jocelyn will describe to authorities are humans, they’ll be nowhere to be found, and there will be no trail leading to Orion. We’re on our own, Bones. Our best shot is you healing whomever they want you to heal.”

 

Spock was overseeing the rather minor repairs and a general inspection that the Enterprise was undergoing along with Scotty, while the rest of the regular crew scattered around Earth for the well-deserved shore leave. Spock wasn’t particularly content about Kirk’s decision to accompany Doctor McCoy to his hometown, to see to his family matters, but there hadn’t been any real reason to oppose it. Besides, Spock still felt uncomfortable about his fight with Kirk after an ensign almost threw herself at the captain in front of him, and the captain didn’t take any steps to react.

Spock realized, of course, that Kirk was human and would act like a human. But he was not equipped to deal with jealousy, that was neither fair nor logical. On a rational level he knew that his bondmate loved him, he had eloquent proof of his utter devotion. But there was this visceral, subconscious reaction that made him suffer whenever he saw Kirk flirt with others. Of course he knew that what was flirting for him, was only casual closeness by human standards, but this knowledge didn’t seem to help any.

When Kirk told him that he wanted to go to Georgia with McCoy for several days, to help him sort out some particularly unpleasant family business, Spock felt this strange pang of jealousy again. His bondmate preferred to spend time with another? To go somewhere with another? To spend his leave with another? But he subdued this feeling immediately. Doctor McCoy and Kirk were only friends, nothing more, and resenting Jim for being a good friend to other people would be illogical and downright outrageous.

Besides, after breaking Kirk’s wrist – yes, to cry out loud, he broke his lover’s bone for merely staring at another person – Spock understood that he had to do something about this jealousy, if he didn’t want it to dominate, and ultimately destroy their relationship. And no, that he was damn sure he didn’t want. He wanted to trust Kirk on an emotional, instinctive level as much as he trusted him rationally. Because Kirk fully deserved that trust… didn’t he? Letting Kirk make the trip without any resistance was a good way to start controlling jealousy. And, well, at least he could oversee the Enterprise repairs undisturbed.

But then suddenly something was wrong, mere hours after Kirk had left, not without a long and passionate goodbye that had made Spock discover even more details about human sexuality. Spock was suddenly flooded by very tumultuous sensations through the bond, the most distinct of which was very acute physical pain. Spock was able to neutralize its influence on himself, but the awareness that his bondmate was suffering such anguish was disturbing. It stopped after a while, but Spock suspected it might be because Kirk was unconscious. He tried to reach out to him, to ask him what had happened, but Kirk didn’t react.

Worried, Spock immediately tried to raise Kirk on his communicator, but the device remained silent, as did Doctor McCoy’s. When he waited some more, the bond faded in his consciousness, leaving little more than a simple awareness of Kirk’s existence, which probably meant a highly increased distance between them. He contacted Starfleet Command and told them that something had to be wrong. They promised to investigate and get back to him.

They did, in fact, call him back less than an hour after that. They said that Kirk and McCoy had been ambushed in McCoy’s ex-wife’s house in Atlanta, and that they had disappeared into thin air, not without leaving behind physical evidence of a fight and plasma shots. McCoy’s ex-wife, who had been held as a hostage as well as her little daughter, but had managed to escape, had described the attackers as human males of various colors of skin, hair and eyes, but was not really helpful apart from that. An investigation into the ships having left Earth’s orbit during this time was in progress, as well as a search of the house and a thorough quest for other cues.

That response left Spock devastated. Kirk had been so unlucky recently, not a small part of which by Spock’s own fault – and now, as soon as he lost sight of him, something horrible happened to him again. Spock was aware that Kirk was alive, because the bond didn’t break, but the distance between them was too big to enable him to receive any thoughts, or even sensations from his lover. However, evidence for plasma shots, blood, taking hostages didn’t point to a willing departure.

Of course, Spock wanted to be a part of the investigation. He caught the first shuttle to Atlanta and joined the team working on the site, only to find out that they hadn’t discovered much. They could tell that there had been an unauthorized beam out, probably made with a portable transporting device, but that alone wasn’t an indication of anything; such devices were becoming common, and, as Khan had proved, could be used to transport people at great distances.

However, the investigation didn’t point conclusively to any particular destination, which meant that they were beamed to a ship. Many different spacecrafts came to Earth and left during that day, all of them legal exploration or trading vessels from different Federation worlds. They all followed previously declared courses, but whether one of them didn’t smuggle two abducted officers to another ship or to a planet, was virtually impossible to determine.

After having gone thoroughly through the house himself without learning anything new, Spock asked if he could speak to Jocelyn. During the first, hurried interrogation she had still been shocked, anxious about her daughter, and so shaken that she could have omitted a potentially relevant detail. The officer in charge of the investigation didn’t dare refuse the request, but warned Spock that the woman was not very cooperative, and the child was not to be disturbed. Both were in the University Hospital of Atlanta, receiving psychological help and police protection before the identity of the attackers was discovered.

When Spock arrived to the hospital, Jocelyn at first flatly refused to answer any more questions or talk to anyone else. Only when the officer who introduced Spock pointed out that the man abducted with McCoy was Spock’s partner did she agree to spare a few moments for him. Rather than invite him to the room where Joanna was resting, Jocelyn took Spock to sit on a couch in the hospital hall. She still looked shaken, there was a narrow bandage on her left arm, and there was anger in her eyes that Spock didn’t know how to interpret.

“Mrs. McCoy, I am Commander Spock from USS Enterprise”, he introduced himself. “I am sorry to interrupt you in this trying moment…”

“Like hell you are”, she cut him off, and then added ironically: “sir. Just ask your questions and leave me alone… sir.”

“There is no need for hostility”, Spock answered, because even is he was a full Vulcan speaking to a human for the first time, he would understand that the woman’s attitude was hostile, although he didn’t understand why. “I assure you that my purpose is solely to find your former spouse, about whom I am certain that you must be worried…”

“I don’t give a damn about whether you find him or not”, Jocelyn answered. “I don’t want to see his face here ever again! Him, or any of you Starfleet people…”

“I do not understand…”

“Sure! How would you? The bastard left me and our daughter, always preferred his job, his patients, his drinks… And now when he shows up once a year, he does what? Brings some godless bandits on our heads! They could have killed us… They scared the hell out of us, and Joanna will likely have nightmares for years! Will her loving daddy be there to soothe her? I don’t think so! But he was there all right to give them to her…”

“Excuse me, Madam, but are you blaming Doctor McCoy for the attack as a result of which he was abducted? This seems most illogical…”

“Maybe to you! Starfleet…” she pronounced the word as if it was a profanity. “You only think about yourselves, you and your missions are always the most important, and nobody cares if someone gets hurt in the process…”

“As far as I know, Madam, neither you nor your daughter were hurt, unlike Doctor McCoy and Captain Kirk”, Spock interrupted her, sensing his patience wear thin in the face of so much illogic. “If you just help me to establish certain facts, I will be gone all the sooner… How did you and your daughter manage to escape? Were you merely used as bait, or did the kidnappers also intend to abduct you, and failed?”

“I don’t know”, Jocelyn answered. “They somehow managed to disable our alarms, broke into our house and held us at gunpoint… They said we were supposed to remain still and silent… When Leonard entered with the other man – Captain Kirk, was it? – they focused more on them, and I figured it could be our only chance. I struggled with the bastard who was holding me, and managed to break free. Leonard lunged at him and he shot after me just once; the missile barely grazed my arm, and still the burn hurt like hell. They didn’t shoot at Leonard, though.”

“It probably means that he was their main target, and was needed alive”, Spock surmised. “What happened next? Why did you assume that your escape would not end in your daughter’s death, as a retaliation or an attempt to make you stop?”

“Hell, I’m not a commander like yourself, trained in some freakish dangerous missions! I just did what my instinct told me to do!”, Jocelyn yelled furiously. “But… when I was running for the door, I heard the other man threaten Joanna, and I thought he really was going to kill her… Leonard’s companion saved her. He shot the man holding her, and brought her to me ignoring another man with the plasma weapon. He was shot from behind at least twice. I saw him fall before I took Joanna outside. I yelled for help, and I don’t think any of the attackers followed me, but before I found a police patrol, they were all gone…”

“I understand” Spock tried to remain impassive, even though the mention of Jim having received two plasma shots disquieted him. That accounted for the acute pain that he had sensed through the bond. “What can you tell me about the attackers?”

“I told the police everything… They were human males, I’ve already described them in as much detail as I remembered.”

“I have already read this report. However, it does not contain any characteristic details…”

“I was held hostage. I feared for my life and my daughter’s life…”

“I am not accusing you of anything. I merely hope that maybe your memory registered some details that you are not aware of. If you would permit me to join my mind to yours, maybe I could enhance the memory of the event…”

“Are you completely crazy?!” Jocelyn jumped to her feet. “Are you Starfleet people really out of your minds?! Do you think that I wish to relive this nightmare? And share my terror with a stranger?!”

“I have merely surmised”, Spock answered evenly, also getting up from the couch, “that you would like to help locate your daughter’s father. Doctor McCoy and Captain Kirk, although the former was the most likely target of the entire operation, did everything in their power to protect your lives, at the cost of theirs. It would seem natural to me that you would do everything in your power to help locate them. But I see I was mistaken.”

“I did what was required from me”, Jocelyn answered coldly. “The police has my testimony. Now leave me alone and stay the hell away from me and my child. I have had enough of you.”

“You can read my mind, if you like”, a thin childish voice said. Joanna was standing on the corridor, looking at them, pale and serious, fragile in a blue hospital gown.

“You must be Joanna”, Spock said, and moved toward the girl. Jocelyn jumped between them.

“Stay away from her!”, she hissed.

“Mum, please! I want to help find daddy…”, Joanna pleaded. Not wanting to traumatize her further by making a scene, Jocelyn moved to her side and hugged her.

“There’s nothing we can do, honey”, she said. “But the proper services will do their job, and I’m sure they’ll find him. Right, Mister Spock?”

“We will indeed do our best”, Spock confirmed. “Is there any detail you remember that might be useful, Joanna?”

“I don’t know… Maybe if you read my mind…”

“This is a demanding procedure even for a grownup human”, Spock explained seriously, “but it could be dangerous for a child. If there is nothing…”

“No…”, Joanna answered regretfully. “Mister Spock… may I ask you a question?”

“Of course”, Spock agreed, surprised.

“Are daddy and the man who saved my life together? Like, in love?”

“Joanna!”, her mother scolded her, visibly taken aback by the question.

“Why should you think so?”, Spock asked, feeling a strange spike of anxiety at this simple childish question, although he knew that he should simply ignore it.

“Because when they entered the house, they were hugging. They looked… natural together. When mum broke free and the fight began, they acted like dancers, like they knew each other so well… I just thought… I thought it would be good for dad to at least be kidnapped with someone he loved.”

“They work together, and are good friends”, Spock somehow forced himself to answer through the shock that Joanna’s words caused him, and he hardly heard when the two ladies said goodbye and withdrew to meet Joanna’s doctors.

It would also be good for Jim to at least be kidnapped with someone he loved. Only, would that be good for Spock?

 

As usual, the kid had been right. His conjectures, based on scarce evidence and random facts, made when he shouldn’t even be able to think due to the pain, ended up proving absolutely correct. After many hours of a difficult journey, during which they were only fed enough to survive by what was obviously an Orion crew, they locked orbit over a planet and were beamed, bound as before, to a bizarre looking building.

They materialized on what looked like a square courtyard, surrounded with low white walls adorned with colorful drawings. Exhausted and in pain from their injuries, they had some trouble remaining upright with their feet bound together. They were received by two Orion men and a woman, dressed in revealing colorful clothes typical of this planet and armed with the same plasma weapons that had already done so much damage.

“This is the house of master S’Naerr”, the woman said. “You are now his property. Behave, and you will not be harmed. The master wants to see you now. I will unbind your feet, but if you try anything, you will be shot. And it’s very painful, as you obviously already know”, she added, looking at Kirk’s burns with some compassion.

“We’ll be good”, Kirk assured her. He preferred to be allowed to walk rather than be dragged across the yard. Attacking three armed opponents in what had to be a house full of their colleagues would be foolish even if he were fully functional; as it was, it would be suicide. Their feet were untied, but not their arms, still trapped painfully behind their backs. Kirk wondered if blood was ever going to circulate in them again.

They were led across a maze of corridors, full of people of many species, most of whom scantily dressed and throwing them curious looks, until they arrived to a richly adorned room, mostly empty except for three Orions, two of whom armed and standing at attention, while the third was reading a book seated in a fluffy armchair. Kirk surmised he had to be “master S’Naerr”. He was middle-aged, looking rather inconspicuous, neither very tall nor particularly well-built, dressed in a dark-orange, elegant suit contrasting with his green skin. He had a sharp, piercing look and Kirk thought immediately that he shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Human Leonard and human Jim, welcome to my modest dwelling”, S’Naerr said. “Please, have a seat.”

The servants immediately brought them chairs and they dropped down into them, although with their arms bound behind them it wasn’t really comfortable. S’Naerr motioned for the guards who untied them, permitting them to rest in a more comfortable position. Returning circulation caused them agony, but at least they knew that they were slowly recovering the use of their limbs.

“To what do we owe the honor?”, Kirk asked.

“I’m the one who’s honored”, S’Naerr replied. “I’m sorry for the uncivilized way in which my invitation was delivered to you, but unfortunately, my experience with humans has often proven that when asked in a more civil manner, they’re unavailable. I hope you will cooperate willingly, and spare all of us unnecessary unpleasantness.”

“If unpleasantness is alternative to cooperation, then you have taken away our chance to do it willingly”, Kirk observed, eliciting a charming, but short-lived smile on S’Naerr’s face.

“Unpleasantness is merely my… security policy, to make sure you’ll do what I expect of you. Be assured that I have no business in causing you any harm if you cooperate”, the Orion said. “So, here’s the deal: my son is ill. He’s my only kid, and I’d refrain from nothing to keep him alive. He’s been ill for a month, and none of the physicians I’ve been able to consult so far have helped him any. In fact, they tell me he’s dying, and that they’ve exhausted all possibilities to even keep him alive. He’ll live no more than a week, they tell me. I won’t have this. My sources tell me that as physicians go, human Leonard is Starfleet’s finest. If you cure my son, I’ll make you rich. Will you save him?”

“I’ll do my best”, McCoy answered. “But without knowing what’s the matter with him…”

“Of course. My physicians will give you access to all the tests they performed so far, to all our archives, to all knowledge available to an Orion, as well as stolen from other planets… But you must help him. You are my last hope.”

McCoy nodded, sending a questioning look to Kirk, who nodded as well: there was no use resisting, especially when the request itself had nothing objectionable, unlike the way of making it. Despite their agreement, S’Naerr suddenly motioned for a guard, who brutally jerked Kirk up from the chair, grabbing the burnt arm and eliciting a hiss of pain.

“Your uniform is all torn and bloodied, human Jim”, S’Naerr observed ironically. “I bet it’s uncomfortable. Why don’t we take it off?”

“What the hell are you doing?”, McCoy yelled, trying to get up, but stopped in place by several strong hands, while two Orions brutally tore the damaged uniform on a struggling Kirk, stripping him. One of the guards delivered several quick blows to subdue Kirk, targeting especially his face and his abdomen, knocking the air out of him, and punching with deliberate cruelty the plasma burns, until Kirk hang limply in the hands of the two guards holding him. One of them started stroking, squeezing and slapping his buttocks with an obscene smile.

“Stop it!”, an outraged McCoy spat out. “You said if we cooperate…”

“I did”, S’Naerr answered grimly, and the guards let go of Kirk, who slumped to the floor clutching his injured arm, panting with exhaustion. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure that you treat me seriously. If L’Voen dies”, he continued, staring straight into McCoy’s eyes with a strange expression, “I’ll give human Jim as a toy to all my servants, guards and slaves, as well as to my friends and all their servants, guards and slaves, and when he’s been fucked insane, I’ll cut him piece by piece and throw his flesh to my dogs, while he still lives to see them feast. All for you to watch. And once we’re done with him, it will be your turn… Do you understand me, human Leonard?”

“I do”, McCoy answered, swallowing hard. He didn’t want to feel intimidated, but seeing Jim brutalized and visualizing the accomplishment of all the cruel threats was more than he could take calmly. At least, he tried to look calm, and Kirk sent him a little encouraging smile to show him that he was okay despite the beating and the threats.

“Fine. Take human Jim to his guest chambers, and see to his comfort. Get him something to eat and fresh clothes. I take it that human Leonard would like to attend to his task immediately…”

“Yes”, McCoy acquiesced. “Could you treat Jim’s wounds? They are causing him so much pain… after you terrorized us so thoroughly, a gesture of good will wouldn’t hurt…”

“Fair enough”, S’Naerr replied. “See to it.”

The guards helped Kirk up, and led him out of the room, while S’Naerr took McCoy’s arm and personally led him to his son’s room. It was several corridors apart from the first room, and McCoy couldn’t help but wonder how big exactly was this building, and how its inhabitants didn’t regularly get lost in it. On their way, they made a stop in a small bathroom, and offered McCoy a shower to refresh himself, as well as a new set of clothes. He rather disliked the flashy colors and patterns, but his uniform was stiff with dried blood and sweat, so he decided not to be picky. He was rather surprised when, as soon as he started to peel his shirt off, the pretty Orion woman who had greeted them on the yard came in and made a gesture to help him out of the disgusting garment.

“Hey… what are you doing here?”, he asked, embarrassed.

“I’m Livne. I’m here to assist you”, she answered in a seductive tone.

“I think I can manage a shower by myself, thank you”, he answered, angry to find himself blushing like a schoolboy.

“As you wish”, she answered and sounded genuinely disappointed. “Will you at least let me massage soothing oils into your skin when you’re done? You’ve been through an uncomfortable journey, and you’re in for a day of hard work… A massage could work miracles to improve your efficiency.”

“Well, if it’s in the name of my efficiency, then why not”, McCoy answered, amused. Indeed, the massage proved most relaxing and McCoy finally felt some of the strain, especially in his arms tortured from being bound for so long, finally leave his muscles. He thanked the woman and, refreshed and relaxed, followed his guides further to the ill boy’s room.

The patient was an Orion, aged about eleven or twelve, and just one glance at him made McCoy’s heart ache. He looked exhausted, drawn and thin, but the most striking symptom was the color of his skin: instead of the Orion vibrant green, it was pale mint, almost like Vulcan complexion. When he saw McCoy enter, he smiled blankly and said:

“Hello! I’m L’Voen. Will you help me?”

“I’m Doctor Leonard McCoy, from Earth. I’ll do my best”, he answered with a matching smile, approaching to the bed.

“Please, human Leonard, I don’t want to die”, the boy said, and there was a heart wrenching mixture of sadness and hope in his eyes.

“I don’t want you to die, either”, McCoy answered. “Could I have a tricorder?”

“Here. Starfleet issue. We believe we managed to steal medical supplies exactly like ones you were using on your ship, allegedly with extreme success. Our laboratories, technologies and research results are at your disposal as well”, one of the Orions answered, handing McCoy a tricorder. The doctor frowned, but said nothing about the illegality of stealing, of which they were obviously aware. The tricorder readings didn’t tell him much more than what he knew already: that something was very wrong.

“I need you to brief me”, he told the Orion doctors, who motioned for him to follow them to the laboratory next door.

“The main problem is his blood”, one of them explained, handing McCoy a PADD. “A month ago, he started feeling unwell and we were able to diagnose a very rapid deterioration of his blood cells, both leucocytes and prasinocytes. It doesn’t correspond to any illness previously diagnosed on Orion, whether common or rare. We performed a blood transfusion, but it helped only during a limited time: the cells of the newly transfused blood started falling apart as well. Later, we transplanted bone marrow, hoping that it would do the trick, and it helped… during several days. After, the same thing happened again. We concluded that there is some toxic agent somewhere in his organism, that is still active, and manages to corrupt the blood production processes, as well as destroy blood that we transfuse. The problem is, we have no idea what it is, where it is nested or how it can be neutralized. The transplants and transfusions have helped us keep him alive till now, but the tempo of the changes is accelerating all the time. No sooner do we finish a transfusion and new blood is already corrupted… And without blood, an organism can’t be fed, oxygenated properly… We’re trying to compensate on molecular levels, but in the long run, blood simply cannot be replaced. Such symptoms were never described before, and we’re completely helpless. Unless you manage to do something, S’Naerr will most likely execute us all. He’s not a bad person, but his son is everything to him. If L’Voen dies, we fear for S'Naerr’s sanity.”

McCoy read carefully through the data reunited in the PADD. He had to admit that the Orion doctors had done a very thorough job, which wasn’t surprising with the kind of motivation that their “master” was offering them. He stated that the physicians tried blindly about every existing medicine in a frenzied attempt to neutralize whatever was destroying the boy’s blood cells, and even some poisons or various types of radiation, hoping to destroy the mysterious intruder, but only managing to harm the already exhausted patient. They also performed thousands of different tests, but whatever toxin was hiding in the patient’s body, it was extremely difficult to discover. The only visible trace of its existence were the deteriorating blood cells; in fact, they could just as well fall apart all by themselves.

After several hours of continuous studies, McCoy was no wiser than before. He performed some rather smart tests of his own, but they yielded no result. Moreover, he was no expert in Orion physiology, which obviously made him a worse candidate for a healer than the Orion doctors were. Frustrated and upset, he rubbed his aching temples, studying the data once more, glancing to the monitor over the young Orion’s bed to compare the results, when suddenly the ill boy spoke:

“You don’t know how to help me either, do you, human Leonard?”

“I have no idea”, McCoy admitted, “but I haven’t given up yet, and neither should you. They must have asked you this before, but did you ingest or inhale something unusual in the days before your first symptoms? Is there anything unusual that you remember?”

“No”, L’Voen answered. “I mean… I didn’t eat or breath anything strange. But the day I fell ill was unusual.”

“Oh? Unusual how?”

“I saw a play. A theater play. A group from the Federation was on Orion, mostly Earthers… We don’t see them here so often. It was an old Earth play, about an old king who was murdered and whose son had to avenge him. It was rather strange, but I liked it. Too bad I was already feeling unwell.”

“Yeah… but watching plays, old or new, doesn’t mess with your blood composition…”

“Human Leonard? I think you should rest. You’re sleeping on your feet. I’ll be still alive tomorrow, won’t I?”

“I hope so, kid”, McCoy answered, but he couldn’t be really certain. However, getting some rest was imperative, because he was no longer capable of thinking, and night had long fallen on Orion. He moved toward the exit, and was immediately apprehended by two guards who, after he explained them in an annoyed voice that humans needed to rest in order to function properly, led him to S’Naerr.

“Will you be able to help him?”, the Orion asked.

“I don’t know”, McCoy answered honestly. “I think the chances of this illness being curable at all are extremely slim. In any event, if I don’t have a nap I won’t be of any use.”

“I see”, S’Naerr answered in a falsely calm, threatening tone. “Just remember what will happen to your little blond friend and to you if you fail, and dispose wisely of the time that my son still has.”

“You realize that, with the best of intentions, I may simply not be able to do anything?...”

“I do. At least I’ll have a revenge. Watching my son slowly fade away during the last month was a torture for me, human Leonard. I’m not used to suffering alone. If I have to watch my son die, I’ll make sure his last-chance physician watches his friend be our toy and die horribly, before following him himself. I wanted to kidnap your daughter, but I think you care about your young captain nearly as much. He’ll do.”

McCoy was appalled to hear the same cruel threats levelled against himself and Jim with this stubborn, grim seriousness, but he could sense that the cruelty was at least not completely gratuitous, but was fueled by a deep undercurrent of genuine despair. ‘If he loves his child so much, then he must have some feelings’, McCoy thought hopefully. But then he remembered that T’Rann, before his spectacular conversion, had also truly loved his wife Rinsha, which hadn’t stopped him from putting Jim in such a condition that there were hardly words to describe it. Apparently, Orions saw their kin in a completely different manner than they did strangers.

To rest, McCoy was led to the same room that had been assigned to Kirk. It was a pleasant suite with a bathroom and a spacious bedroom with two beds. However, the door was locked, the window had dense metal bars in it, and the entire piece was closed with a forcefield, whose high technology contrasted with the rather traditional style of the building.

McCoy barely threw Kirk a look and waved a tricorder over him to ensure that he wasn’t in any danger, then he dropped on one of the beds and slept during several hours like his life depended on it. He woke up early in the morning, feeling slightly better and thinking more clearly, but this improvement was limited to his body. His mood was still foul.

“How are you?”, he asked Kirk. He had become so involved with his young Orion patient that he had almost forgotten Kirk during this time. The captain wasn’t looking too bad, though, apart from the bruises marring his face, and these ridiculous colorful clothes he was wearing.

“I’m fine. They didn’t completely cure the plasma burns, but a lovely Orion girl soothed them with some sort of cream, so now they hurt much less.”

“Let me see… Well, the cream is mostly an analgesic and an antiseptic, I can’t say they really regenerated your skin… I’m happy you feel better, though. The girl… was she tall, with long black hair and a pink rose tattoo between her eyebrows?”

“Yes, Bones. She said her name was Livne. How did you know?”

“The same Livne offered me a massage earlier, and I was under the impression that she would have offered more if I had cared to take it. Maybe she’s fond of humans.”

“I don’t know about that, imagine that I didn’t try to find out”, Kirk answered irritably, and McCoy rewarded him with a knowing sideways smile, to the effect of: ‘I know you would have tried if it weren’t for your jealous boyfriend’. Kirk ignored him pointedly and followed:

“However, I did try asking her some questions about where we are and how we can get out, but she only gave me very general information. Apparently, this S’Naerr is some kind of a local boss. This house, even if it looks innocent, is a real fortress. You have already noticed the forcefield, and you saw how complicated the design is. We are in the middle of a real maze, full of people apparently just walking around, but fiercely loyal to S’Naerr, whether because of some clan dependencies that we wouldn’t understand, or out of fear. I don’t think we’ll be able to break free, even if, with luck, we manage to overpower a guard and steal a phaser. Our only option out seems to be you saving this boy. Which leads me to the main question: how is he?”

McCoy shook his head. This was so like Kirk: beaten and painfully injured, he didn’t waste a minute, but asked around, gathered information, considered options, looked for solutions. Too bad McCoy couldn’t give him any.

“I’m clueless, Jim. I don’t even know how he can be still alive. I have no idea what test to do anymore, what medication to try… The local doctors seem to have done everything possible, tried every trick…”

“Bones! Do you remember what he threatened us with? I think he really meant it. You don’t know what these people can be like… They’re perfectly capable to do to us what they warned they’d do! Even if it’s not our fault…”

“You don’t have to tell me, Jim! I remember perfectly well what T’Rann and company did to you, without any reason… Do you think I want to give S’Naerr a reason to abuse you?...”

“Not just me, Bones. He promised the same treatment to you.”

“I know, Jim, but it’s beside the point! I’d really like to help L’Voen, he’s a nice boy, but there may be nothing I can do… I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!”

“Shit, Bones! Right now we need a miracle, and you’re the only one who can deliver it!”, Kirk yelled shooting McCoy an accusing glare.

They looked each other in the eyes, until McCoy let his gaze drop to the floor. For once, they were in a situation in which it was up to him to save them, to save Jim, to spare him an unthinkable fate, and he was failing miserably. What good was he if he couldn’t save the man he loved, while all it required was not as much a miracle as simply performing his profession?...

“Hey, Bones… I’m sorry”, Kirk said, squeezing his arm gently. “Of course I know some illnesses can’t be cured. I shouldn’t have snapped at you…”

“No”, came a dejected answer. “You’re quite right. When for once I should be able to save us, I just can’t manage to discover what can be done against this toxin. I might discover it by chance, but there’s too little time, and all substances that are even remotely known for medicinal properties have been long tried by the Orions…”

“It’s not your fault, Bones”, Kirk repeated, sounding truly remorseful. “I realize you know how to do your job… It’s just that… you know, I… I’m uncomfortable… The last time I was a captive in an Orion facility, it proved very unpleasant, and…”

McCoy suddenly snapped out of his self-deprecations. He was feeling helpless, incompetent, and apprehensive, but he hadn’t even stopped to think what this situation had to imply for Jim, who, after hearing S’Naerr’s threats and tasting the little demonstration of how seriously he meant them, had to be constantly reminded of his earlier trauma on the Venora.

“It’s all right, Jim. I understand”, he said softly and, before the other man could react, drew him in a warm embrace. “I won’t let them do to you what S’Naerr said they would, even if it means that I’ll have to kill you myself”, he whispered.

“Thank you… I think”, Kirk replied, disentangling himself from the hug. “But, Bones, we’re not dead yet. Nor is the Orion kid. We can’t give up just yet.”

“Yeah, but… There’s no freaking chance I’ll figure this out. They’ve tried every fucking thing that there is! It’s his blood cells, Jim. Leucocytes and prasinocytes alike: they just go haywire, and continue falling apart, transfusion or not, bone marrow transplant or not… They just disintegrate, and the boy’s blood is completely useless, it can’t feed or oxygenate his other cells… Jim? Jim!”

Something in McCoy’s words had an immediate and absolutely tremendous effect on Kirk, who suddenly paled as a sheet and his knees folded beneath him, letting him slump to the floor, breathing in short desperate gasps leading straight to hyperventilation. McCoy knelt over him with the tricorder, and all the readings were out of scale, pointing at severe distress.

“Jim, please calm down a little”, the doctor instructed with all cold blood that he could muster. “I don’t have a hypo for you, so I need you to breath slow deep breaths and think about something pleasant. You’re not in any immediate danger. Count with me: one, two, three…”

“Three…”, Kirk finally managed. His face was bathed in sweat and he was still trembling a little, but somehow, he managed to calm down.

“Shit, Jim, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?... What the fuck’s wrong with you?” McCoy yelled, edgy from the sudden fright.

“Not… not with me. I know what’s wrong with him. With L’Voen”, Kirk explained in a small, shaky voice. McCoy stiffened. Somehow this affirmation, although in theory a good news, preceded with such a massive panic attack only managed to spook him.

“You gonna tell me?”, he urged when Kirk remained silent.

“It’s… it’s the fungus”, Kirk finally choked out. McCoy frowned, confused and increasingly worried. Understanding was dawning in small, horrifying fragments. While Kirk’s short biography was marred by the choicest selection of different traumas, there was only one thing capable of plunging him in such abject terror: Tarsus IV. However, the unfortunate colony, having written one of the blackest pages of the Federation’s chronicles with starvation and genocide, was deep inside Federation territory and half a quadrant across it from Orion.

“You’re making no sense, Jim”, McCoy pointed out. “You’re distressed because of S’Naerr’s threats, you were shot, beaten and humiliated, it’s no wonder you’re thinking of this nightmare…”

“Bones”, Kirk moaned. “Believe me, I’d like it to be true… Unfortunately, I’m making perfect sense…”

“Then you must be a little more specific, because you lost me completely”, McCoy snorted.

“On Tarsus IV, there weren’t only humans. Mostly humans, but not only. There was also an Orion, on the ‘to live’ list, a friend of Kodos’s. When I was… when they…” he stopped, and his breathing became erratic again.

“Easy, Jim. Take your time.”

“When Kodos tortured me… during over a week… the torturers sometimes spoke about different things… like they were bored…”

“Jim, for fuck’s sake, breathe correctly!” McCoy wanted to hug Kirk, to make him forget those awful days when starved, terrified, deprived of all hope and dignity, he was being subjected to unimaginable pain by people who chatted indifferently about other matters while inflicting it. Instead, he was yelling at him.

“They once mentioned that the Orion ate some of the poisoned crops, by chance or out of hunger, I don’t know”, Kirk continued. “They described his symptoms… they were exactly what you just said. Leucocytes and prasinocytes, just falling apart.”

“But Jim, the fungus was endemic to Tarsus… Besides, for all the files I’ve ever read, it provoked instant neuroparalysis, not blood cells failure…”, McCoy protested, confused.

“In humans, yes. The guys who tortured me also found the Orion’s symptoms very surprising. They were pretty sure he was going to die… They didn’t have blood or marrow for transplant, but they had some Orion cell regenerating device, and they surmised it should have helped him, but didn’t.”

“So, it leaves us nowhere. He died”, McCoy concluded. Illogically, there was a part of him that wished it to be true, consequences be damned.

“No, he didn’t.” Kirk threw McCoy a sharp look. He dragged himself up from the floor and sat heavily on the bed. He was biting his lip in distress, but it was visible that he was again in control of his emotions.

“Come on, Jim. If he was cured from the fungus poisoning, it would have been made public knowledge…”, McCoy offered.

“Not necessarily. As you remember, Kodos tried to resist Starfleet rescuers… He died in an explosion, as did his most faithful followers. Among them, my torturers…”

“And the Orion. I see. No one would ever know that before being blown up, he had been poisoned by the fungus, or what symptoms it had caused. But it would have killed him eventually, Starfleet just outran it.”

“No. He got better, they managed to repair his blood. They gave him a thing… they discovered it by chance, just as you said.”

“And it was?...” McCoy was getting strangely impatient.

“That’s the problem, Bones. I can’t remember. I know for sure that they mentioned it, but I can’t remember what it was.”

Uncomfortable silence stretched between them, heavy and overwhelming.

“Well, you’d better remember”, McCoy said blankly. “Because if L’Voen dies, so do we.”

“Bones, it was nearly ten years ago. I was tortured insane. They mentioned the cure by the end, when I was more dead than alive. Since I remember that they mentioned it, the information must be stored somewhere in my brain, but retrieving it may be tricky…”

“I know”, McCoy confirmed grimly. “Well, we still know much more now than we did fifteen minutes ago. Let’s try some deduction. You said they discovered the thing by chance – let’s try to figure out what they could have just bumped against on Tarsus. Something easy to find, but counterintuitive as a cure, because they didn’t try it deliberately… A plant, a herb, a mineral?”

“Perhaps, but how do we know which? Besides, if it was something typical of Tarsus or neighboring worlds, S’Naerr would never be able to acquire it on time.”

“Still, it’s worth a shot to go through a database of Tarsus plants and minerals and see if any of them ring a bell… Looks like the PADD they gave me is linked to some Orion databases… Here we go, Tarsus IV… Earth colony… plant life… destroyed by fungus… endemic species immune to fungus, inedible for most humanoids… Have a look.”

Kirk took the PADD and read the list that McCoy had requested, as well as a dozen other lists of things and organisms to be found on Tarsus IV and around it, but he didn’t specifically recognize any of the substances mentioned; neither was he able to rule them out with any certainty, which left them at square one.

After one more hour of intense deliberations, they ended up concluding that the only means to make any use of the information was for Kirk to remember it, because no amount of logical thinking was ever going to guide them through a potential infinity of hypotheses that they were unable to either validate or reject definitely.

“Ironic, Bones, isn’t it? Moments ago, I berated you for being unable to pull us out of this mess… So now it’s up to me, and I don’t seem to be doing a better job…”

“You can’t blame yourself, Jim. It’s absolutely normal that your memories of Tarsus, and especially the week during which you were tortured, are somewhat fuzzy. You remember more than most people would.”

“Well, yeah, I guess. Without the Alteians, and the first mind meld with Spock where he made me confront what Kodos did to me, I don’t think I’d be able to remember anything at all. Still, what’s the use, Bones, if the key piece of information eludes me…”

“There are some techniques… I could try to hypnotize you”, McCoy offered. He didn’t have great hopes for the efficiency of the technique – it would probably require months of regular sessions to get anywhere with such massive trauma. Hypnosis relied on the hypothesis that deep relaxation, deliberately induced in a patient, would be able to outweigh negative emotions related to the trauma, thus permitting them to relive their trauma, but without the devastating emotions accompanying it. Given that Kirk’s main coping strategy had been rather suppressing than confronting things, it would take tremendous amounts of relaxation and safety, perhaps years of good experiences, to submerge the intense trauma sufficiently for Kirk’s mind to be able to risk reliving it.

Since they had nothing to lose, and still weren’t disturbed by the Orions due to the early hour, McCoy decided to give it a go. Even putting Kirk in a state of relaxation was difficult, given their precarious situation, but any attempt to direct his thoughts toward Tarsus immediately snapped him back to the present, and out of whatever delicate hypnotic trans McCoy had managed to put him into.

“It’s useless, Bones”, Kirk stated the obvious. “There’s no way in hell this is ever gonna work. But… I think we’re trying to get to it from the wrong end. When I’m relaxed, my mind will never be stupid enough to leave this pleasant state and go to… Tarsus, of all places. On the other hand, I think it would be quite easy to make me think I’m back in Tarsus by recreating some of the conditions. Like that, I could be actually made to relive it…”

“Hey, hey, hey”, McCoy interrupted him, unsure if he should believe what he was hearing. “You mean, by telepathy? How do we get ourselves a skilled telepath right now? Bezatoids only sense conscious thoughts, and Vulcans have become scarce after Nero… Besides, searching for a hidden information, they could easily mess up your mind permanently… And the time necessary to contact Spock and make him come…”

“Are you out of your mind? Don’t ever mention Spock again!”, Kirk exclaimed, angry and scared. “You trust our captors’ good intentions too much, Bones. Even if you do cure L’Voen, we can’t be sure they won’t just cut our throats for our efforts. Pulling anyone else into the trap would be irresponsible. I realize that telepathic species are minority, and not often seen on Orion. I wasn’t thinking about telepathy. I think a memory can be triggered without messing with the mind directly… If I’m actually made to think I’m back on Tarsus again…”

“Now, wait there, Jim”, McCoy cut him in, looking at him incredulously. “Was that what you meant by recreating Tarsus conditions? To simulate being back there again, to retrieve the memory of this cure that we don’t even know if we can get?”

“It’s still our best shot… If we don’t even know what it was…”

“Yes, Jim, but do you realize what exactly you’re planning to do to yourself? What do you want our Orion friends to do: starve you, put you in a dungeon, torture you, so that you actually believe you’re back on Tarsus? Do you realize your mind will likely regress to your 14 year old, terrified and defenseless self? It basically amounts to deliberately rendering yourself insane, on a wild goose chase after a cure we don’t know would work, or is available from here! That’s the stupidest idea you’ve ever had, Jim, and god knows there’s competition enough!”

“Yeah, well, find a better solution!”

McCoy said nothing, because there was nothing to say. He had had his chance to cure L’Voen, and he hadn’t known how. Even knowing what he knew now, he still had no idea what exactly the cure was. But permitting Jim to go back in time to endure his worst trauma again, in his head, and maybe in his body, seemed an unthinkable cruelty. But maybe it was still better than giving him new traumas if the child died, and S’Naerr decided to take his anger out on his prisoners. Helpless, McCoy hid his face in his hands. He was out of his depth, with his medical skills powerless against a mysterious poison acting on an alien organism, with his captain eager to play yet another of his stunts, rather more masochistic than most.

“Hey, Bones”, Kirk said softly, peeling the doctor’s hand away from his face and looking him in the eyes. “Relax, I’m not gonna actually travel back in time. It’s simply a trick to help my mind retrieve the info. You know that it has some chance to work. Once I’ve remembered what they gave the poisoned Orion, you’ll just tell me it was all in the past, and I’ll be all right. You’ll save the kid, and let’s hope S’Naerr will be true to his word.”

“A thousand things can go wrong, Jim. You can never recover from the shock, and remain stuck in the past forever. You can fail to remember the thing upon simple triggers, and the Orions will torture you to death trying to make you remember.”

“Ever an optimist, aren’t you? Or, I could simply remember it before they actually start torturing me, and come back to my present annoying self right afterwards,” Kirk said, trying for levity. McCoy only shook his head at him, and then suddenly saw him deflate.

“Jim? If you’re having second thoughts…”

“No, no, I’m not”, Kirk protested immediately. “But there’s one precaution I need to take. In case I really lose my mind… and if by some chance Spock ever manages to locate us here and come to get us… I don’t want him to know exactly how I’ll feel, thinking I’m back on Tarsus… I’ll shield the bond completely.”

“Yeah, how thoughtful of you to protect your boyfriend.” McCoy wasn’t even trying to hide the saddest variety of sarcasm from insinuating itself into his voice. ‘Too bad no one will protect me, if at the end of this ordeal you’re returned to me tortured insane or dead…’

“Bones, I’m really not doing this to spite you”, Kirk whispered, as if he had heard McCoy’s thoughts.

At this point, two armed Orions entered the room.

“Human Leonard probably wishes to start working”, one of them said in a somewhat hostile tone, as if disapproving of the long rest that the doctor had taken.

“We need to talk to S’Naerr, immediately. I think I know what’s wrong with his son”, Kirk said. He didn’t have to repeat it twice: they were both led at gunpoint to their host’s chamber. Without wasting time, Kirk explained the Orion everything he suspected, and the method he had conceived for retrieving the missing information from his mind. S’Naerr listened to him attentively, and his gaze betrayed the depth of his reflection.

“I don’t understand how a plague from a Federation colony would have ended up in my son’s organism”, he commented.

“It’s unimportant right now”, Kirk said. “But it’s by no means impossible. The planet was quarantined, but samples of the fungus were taken for study. There’s no way to tell where some of them might have ended up, or whether some more weren’t taken illegally. But it seems unlikely that your son got poisoned with Tarsus fungus by chance. You must have some enemies… and I can’t say it surprises me.”

“Perhaps I do”, S’Naerr mused. “Their days are counted. But first things first. You believe that my son’s illness can be cured, and you believe to know what the cure is, but you can’t access the information. You want us to recreate the original conditions in which you acquired this information. These conditions, if I understand correctly, were extremely unpleasant. Why would you want to do this? My son is nothing for you.”

“My CMO and I are your prisoners. We’re interested in getting out of here alive. I’m not sure that’s what will happen if your son dies…”

“Ah, yes”, S’Naerr sighed. “I promised you and your useless doctor unpleasant death. Well, if you think this can help… We’re supposed to starve you…”

“Yes”, Kirk answered in a casual tone, as if they weren’t just discussing methods to make him feel like he was on Tarsus again. “Since we don’t have much time, I think one day should be enough; it doesn’t really starve a person, but creates the feeling of hunger. Isolate me, and leave me alone for a day in a dark, silent place: sensory deprivation produces disorientation. Then drag me out and chain me to the ceiling of a place that must look like a dungeon… My interrogators must be human, green skin would tip me off. Hopefully, I’ll remember by this point.”

“And if not, you want us to torture you…”, S’Naerr prompted flatly. “Any particular techniques?”

“Yes, I’ll tell you exactly”, Kirk said, and then caught McCoy’s glance. The doctor was devastated. He wasn’t protesting anymore, but Kirk could tell that he was blaming himself for not being able to find the cure, and spare him this hell. Because that was going to be nothing less than hell, Kirk had no doubts. But he wasn’t going to show fear right now; there would be time for it later. “I’ll tell you the techniques, but not in front of Doctor McCoy. And during the entire procedure, I don’t want him anywhere near me.”

“Why not? And if you need medical help?”

“I can get help once I’ve remembered the cure. They didn’t bother to help me in any way while they tortured me, so if anyone shows me any kindness, I’ll know I’m not on Tarsus. Especially if Bones…” he cut off mid-sentence, but McCoy understood. To Jim, despite his brusque bedside manner, he was comfort, warmth and safety, return to the haven of the Enterprise after whatever grueling mission had put him in sickbay.

“All right. I accept your scheme. If you really think it can work, it’s better than nothing. I’ll go give dispositions to prepare everything.” S’Naerr got up and left, leaving Kirk and McCoy alone with two armed guards, who, however, held themselves at a discreet distance. McCoy felt some goodbyes were in order, but couldn’t think of any that wouldn’t be too morbid. He simply told Kirk:

“You had better remember soon.”

“And you keep the boy alive… and you may try to find other options, try to learn how he got infected… Every clue may prove invaluable.”

“Aren’t you scared, Jim?”, McCoy asked in a dejected whisper.

“A little”, Kirk admitted. “But I’ve survived the real thing, I’ll also survive the simulation. It’s nothing, Bones. It’s the most logical thing to do. Now don’t worry, and I’ll see you after you’ve cured the kid.”

 

His conversation with Jocelyn and Joanna left Spock strangely moved and confused. The fact that Jocelyn showed so little willingness to help and seemed so uncooperative, while her child’s father had been abducted, lacked logic for Spock. Normally, she should be the one the most interested in finding the missing officers, instead of making a great favor of simply answering the investigators’ questions.

Such situation hinted at some bitter conflict between the woman and her former husband. And Spock felt somewhat uncomfortable with the knowledge that the doctor’s ex-spouse, the mother of his child, a person who knew him so well and had once been close to him, should resent him to the point of not caring about his very survival, and this despite the fact that his and Kirk’s actions basically saved her and Joanna’s lives. He found it hard to believe that Doctor McCoy could actually deserve such hatred.

Despite himself, Spock was also disturbed by Joanna’s words about Kirk and McCoy looking so natural together. The girl had seen them during several seconds, while being held at gunpoint, threatened, and most probably scared out of her mind. And yet, it had been enough for her to conjecture that they were a couple. Maybe it was just wishful thinking – maybe she just wanted to imagine her dad supported by someone who loved him in what was probably a trying experience – or maybe she was able to see a truth so obvious that it was hidden in full sight.

Spock knew that McCoy had feelings for Kirk. He learned it from Kirk’s mind, seeing a memory in which the doctor admitted his love to its object in an emotionally difficult and intense moment. But in the very same memory, he pointed out that he wasn’t going to pursue any kind of relationship with Kirk, understanding that his involvement with the Vulcan already occupied in Kirk’s life the space reserved for romantic love.

It had even been vaguely comforting to know that Kirk’s primary caretaker had personal interest in keeping him alive and well, especially that somehow, all jealous that he was about random people, Spock never perceived McCoy as a threat. After all, when he had left Kirk humiliated and devastated, reeling from the broken bond, he had actually hoped that they would end up together, so that his unfortunate beloved would find some solace after being treated so brutally by him. The fact that they didn’t, and that despite all the harm Kirk had suffered from Spock, he had still remained faithful to him, waiting for him, even knowing about the doctor’s feelings, had convinced Spock that Kirk didn’t love McCoy. But now, for some reason, illogically, he wasn’t so sure anymore.

After the fruitless conversation in the hospital, Spock joined again the investigation team. After a day’s work, they were finally able to find a recording of the attackers on a private security camera from one of the buildings surrounding McCoy’s house. It didn’t show the faces, but the computers were still able to recognize four local criminals, who had caused mostly minor trouble before, and served a sentence at a correction center. They were amateurs, which explained how Jocelyn and Joanna managed to escape. The team was now working at locating them, and Spock was about to join them, when his Starfleet communicator came to life. He answered, and was addressed by an audibly nervous Starfleet admiral.

“Commander Spock! We need you immediately in San Francisco, in New Vulcan’s embassy. It’s a matter of life and death.”

“I understand. However, as you perhaps know, I am presently investigating the urgent matter of…”

“Yes, I know, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy. We have dispatched a competent team to take care of this investigation. We need you here, immediately. We will lock on to your communicator and beam you over…”

“Please, Admiral. I feel that my presence may prove…”

“Commander! This is an order! You will rejoin the team as soon as we can spare you, but now you are needed here. Prepare for beam out.”

“Yes, sir”, Spock answered, because there wasn’t much else he could do against a direct order. He was also interested in learning what matter could be so urgent, involve Vulcan embassy and require precisely his presence.

Moments later, he materialized in the embassy’s transporter. He was greeted by the same admiral who had called him. He looked uncomfortable and grim.

“Look, Commander”, he told him, “I’m aware you’d rather be searching for your captain… I’m sure he’ll soon be found. But we have a… ekhm… situation here that cannot wait, and that you may be the only one capable of solving.”

“I will do what I can to help”, Spock answered, listening in polite anticipation that was masking his impatience. Every second away from his investigation was like deliberately increasing the risk that whatever unpleasant situation his bondmate had found himself in would last longer, and the chances to successfully find him at all could be growing thinner.

“As you will probably remember, after Vulcan was… after…”

“After Vulcan was destroyed”, Spock calmly supplied, summoning patience against a typical human superstition: avoiding mentioning unpleasant events, as if it could somehow make them less real.

“…Yes, the complement of the Vulcan embassy was dramatically reduced… Most Vulcans who worked on Earth, as well as in different other places, chose to go back to New Vulcan, to help creating the new settlement….”

“Yes, Admiral, I am perfectly aware of that fact. How does it explain my presence here?” Again, Spock had to hide his impatience only to preserve his reputation for perfect emotional control, but a part of him just wanted to shake the admiral. Unfortunately, the man didn’t look like someone who would spill the beans any time soon. He seemed extremely embarrassed, to the point of biting his lip and cracking his knuckles. Seasoned Starfleet personnel was rarely seen to behave like that, which added to Spock’s already considerable puzzlement.

“Currently, only three Vulcans work in the embassy. Temporary ambassador Verak, his wife T’Sole, and the healer T’Sahna… Do you know them personally?”

“I know T’Sahna”, Spock admitted. Thinking about the healer immediately brought devastating memories: she was the one whom he had asked to undo his bond with Jim, and in front of whom he had accused his bondmate of dishonoring their bond by selling his body, while he knew perfectly well that Kirk had had no choice, and had been victim of brutal abuse instead of a willing participant. He had no particular desire to meet her again, but he still didn’t know what the admiral wanted with him.

“Well, yes, I suspected this much, because she also knows you. She requested your urgent presence.”

“Admiral, do you intend to tell me what is requested of me, so urgently as to divert me from trying to rescue my captain and bondmate?” Spock finally concluded that showing some impatience was only logical, since the conversation was going nowhere.

“I think it would be better… if Ambassador Verak explained it to you”, the admiral answered, blushing and looking downright miserable. “I’ll take you to him now, if you don’t mind. It’s extremely urgent.”

“You had said this much, sir, but your behavior seems to contradict it”, Spock pointed out sharply, to which the admiral blushed again and rushed them to the ambassador’s office. Once there, the admiral excused himself and said he would be waiting outside. Verak, a young but serious Vulcan wearing a traditional Vulcan robe, showed him a seat and offered him tea, that Spock refused impatiently. He hoped that a Vulcan would be more direct, although there were some matters about which Vulcans as well – especially Vulcans – were reluctant to speak.

“How can I be of assistance?” he asked Verak.

“Healer T’Sahna is in urgent need of help”, Verak answered. “Her time has come… most unexpectedly. The plak tow hit her more brutally than it usually does… her condition is critical. Her bondmate had died on Vulcan, and she had remained unbonded.”

“Yes?” Spock prompted, rising an eyebrow inquisitively.

“Her case is delicate, because… she had experienced severe problems with fertility”, the ambassador continued, visibly embarrassed by breaching another’s privacy so flagrantly. However, the circumstances required it. “During her first pon farr, she was unable to conceive. During the following one, she did, but lost her pregnancy on a very early stage. Now, awaiting her third, she had followed treatment that might enable her to bear children now, but its effects are not lasting, and her illness is rather progressing than receding. She fears that this is her only moment to have offspring. This is her greatest dream, and a logical endeavor given how scarce our species has become.”

“I sympathize with her plight”, Spock responded, “but I still fail to see how I could be of assistance.”

“Commander, I think that it should be obvious”, Verak answered, without betraying impatience that a human would most likely display at this point.

“Explain”, Spock demanded impassively.

“Well… to achieve her goal, she needs to mate with a suitable partner. Humans could help her survive pon farr, and I am sure many would be quite willing, but if she wants to have offspring, she would need a Vulcan. In this moment, you are the only adult and functional Vulcan male available on Earth. Before we make someone come from Vulcan, she will be dead. Do you now understand what kind of help we are expecting of you?”

“I can see another Vulcan male in this very room”, Spock countered, trying to process what he had just heard. The ambassador blushed.

“If you wish to know it, as is your right given our request”, he said, “I have offered help immediately. Given the situation of our species that you are perfectly aware of, the desire to procreate is imminently logical, and helping T’Sahna achieve this goal would be an honorable action, regardless of any other circumstances. However, my bond with my wife is extremely strong, and her presence in direct proximity, as well as the presence of our two children, physically prevents me from being with another. I lack control to force my body to cooperate in this matter.”

“I see”, Spock said after a while. “But you assume that I would be physically up to the task, despite being only half-Vulcan, and despite being bonded too.”

“Starfleet has your medical records, and they ascertained that you have normal reproductive potential”, Verak said in a casual tone, as if what he was saying was a matter of sheer logic, rather than one more offensive breach of another’s privacy. “As for your bond, it is a sterile one: you are bonded to a human male. Moreover, he has recently disappeared and you cannot even be certain of his return. T’Sahna said that you had once broken this bond before, and she wasn’t sure how much you cared for it…”

Although obliged by his chosen culture to control emotion, Spock felt the – probably unwilling – cruelty of these words as if it was a physical blow. When he recovered speech, he answered in a low, quiet voice that didn’t even really try to hide emotion anymore:

“My bondmate will return to me. I will find him and bring him back, whatever it takes. T’Sahna of all people should know the best that I do care for him. When she had to break our bond, I was not myself… But even then she noticed that our bond was exceptionally strong for a bond so fresh. It is no longer so fresh now. Neither is it sterile. We are known as the best command team in Starfleet, and our cooperation on the Narada saved the planet on which you are now working.”

“I did not mean to criticize”, Verak retreated. “I am certain that, if you bonded with this human, you had to have valid reasons. However, are they enough to refuse even trying to help? If it proves physically impossible, we will call a human and grieve for the loss of the children that T’Sahna could have born. But as long as you have not tried…”

“I do not wish to have children with T’Sahna”, Spock answered more plainly. “My bonding with James Kirk involved a pledge of fidelity, as it traditionally does on Vulcan. I do not intend to break my vows.”

Verak threw him a long, quizzical look.

“All right”, he said. “But go tell her this personally. She is extremely weak, but still rational. Explain her that your vows to a man who may not even return to your life are worth more than her honorable, altruistic dream that would also benefit New Vulcan. If you have the courage.”

Spock had the courage, but he felt his anger fade a little. He would need another fuel in his talk to T’Sahna.

 

During the first day when Kirk was taken to his sensory deprivation space, to be starved and disoriented, McCoy was barely able to direct his thoughts to the present, and work on prolonging L’Voen’s life the most efficiently in case the cure remembered by Kirk needed time to start working. At the same time, he tried to learn something about the conditions in which the boy could get infected with something so exotic as the Tarsus IV fungus, but there as well, he kept finding dead ends.

The only thing that attracted his attention was a theater group from Earth who happened to be in the neighborhood precisely when L’Voen fell ill. However, no one in the house remembered the identity of the actors or even the name of the group, and cross-checking any possible connection to Tarsus would have anyway required better clearances than McCoy had. He only promised himself to remember this trail for later.

Late in the evening, he was offered to retire to his room to rest, and – exhausted and stressed – he accepted, but he couldn’t sleep when he knew that Jim was alone, isolated, hungry, probably scared to death while awaiting the continuation of this horrific experiment. McCoy was quite surprised when after midnight, the door opened and he suddenly had company, who slipped to his bed next to him without asking for permission.

“Hey! Livne, was it?”, he addressed the Orion woman, trying to evade her attempts to embrace him. “It’s… probably nice of you, but I’m not in the mood. Unless you want to be useful, please leave me alone.”

“Don’t you find me attractive?” she asked in a seductive voice.

“Yes, but I’m not in the mood”, McCoy repeated decisively.

“All right”, she answered. “Don’t be so nervous. I’m not going to rape you. I just thought… you might need company. I know all this must be awful to you.”

“Yeah, pretty awful”, McCoy confirmed, relaxing minutely. “Do you know how is Jim?”

“He’s fine”, she answered. There was a hesitation in the pause that she made, and McCoy coaxed her to continue with an inquisitive look. “When I peeked through an eyehole, he was crying”, she said quietly. “Curled up on the floor and crying in his sleeve. It surprised me. Before, when I came to soothe the plasma burns, he seemed so tough, never even grimaced when I touched the wounds… Asked questions, tried to outsmart me… That thing that he wants to relive to access the information – it must be pretty awful…”

“You have no idea”, McCoy whispered. He had felt bad with this scheme from the beginning, but imagining Jim crying – crying! – in the anticipation of the horrors awaiting him, without even the comfort of a supportive presence, was breaking his heart. He suddenly felt like crying himself.

“Hey”, Livne said, moving even closer to him and slipping a hand in his hair, while stroking his chest with the other. The warmth of her skin, her scent, her kindness were a welcome promise of a momentary oblivion about Tarsus IV, about the ill boy, about the uncertainty of their fate.

On the brink of taking the offer, searching her mouth with his, McCoy understood that he didn’t want it. He didn’t want oblivion or any form of comfort when his friend was crying alone in the dark, waiting to be given over to his worst nightmares. He pulled back.

“Why?” Livne asked. “Why don’t you want to feel better?”

“Why are you here, Livne?” he deflected.

“Isn’t it obvious? I find you beautiful. You’re also kind, funny… I want you. Does it surprise you?”

“I don’t know. If you think so high of me, why not help me and Jim escape this mess?”

Livne laughed bitterly, and it was her turn to pull away.

“I said I was attracted to you, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to commit suicide for your sake. Besides, I would never succeed. There are plenty of people in this house, many fiercely loyal to S’Naerr. You know, as masters go, this one is a really good one. Three years ago, he lost his wife to an illness. He was never really consoled, but L’Voen became a true obsession of his. If he dies, I don’t think S’Naerr will survive it.”

“I’m sorry to hear it. I hope it all ends well… Jim’s memory is our only chance, but it’s a much better chance than it might seem. The kid’s a genius.”

“It would seem so. Good night, human Leonard. Try to sleep – tomorrow, if human Jim remembers his info, you will need your energy to make it work.”

She got up and left like a ghost, locking the door and reestablishing the forcefield behind her.

In the morning, McCoy was taken out of his room, given a breakfast, and led to the laboratory to do further research while they were waiting, in vain, for any further development. McCoy didn’t dare think about what was happening to Kirk anymore, because anxiety was almost incapacitating. He tried to concentrate on his results and on his patient, whose weary and discouraged look suggested almost that the boy might prefer to be let go already, after so much torment.

McCoy tried to reassure him, to give him some hope, because it pained him to see such a young child suffer so much anguish. He told L’Voen about Kirk’s scheme, and was almost surprised to notice that the boy, although so thoroughly extenuated by his own ordeal, expressed vivid compassion, gratitude for “human Jim’s” sacrifice, and genuine hope that he will not only remember the cure, but also do it at the smallest possible cost to his own mind and body.

At the time of the midday meal, S’Naerr asked McCoy to join him at his table. They ate in silence, watched by the indispensable guard armed with a plasma weapon, when someone knocked at the door and Livne entered.

“I’m sorry, master”, she said, “but one of the human interrogators has left his post and come to see you. May I let him in?”

S’Naerr nodded, and McCoy stopped eating, frozen in anticipation. The person who entered was a human male, dressed more or less according to Terran fashion usually favored on colonies, and he was holding a heavy leather whip, dripping with blood. The man himself was bloodstained, tired and discouraged.

“We don’t know what to do anymore, sir”, he said to S’Naerr. “We don’t want to destroy him… we have already tried most of the tortures from the list. Poured water on his face till he choked, again and again, whipped him, pulled his nails, broke his fingers, burned him… We’re not professional executioners. We fear to kill him…”

“Isn’t it working?”, S’Naerr asked, completely ignoring McCoy’s shocked, stricken expression.

“I think it is… after a fashion”, the human answered. “He obviously thinks he’s on this colony planet… Speaks nonsense about some Kodos killing some hiding kids, but nothing about the cure… I wonder if he isn’t gone too far…”

“He said that he had received this information after a week of torture. If necessary, you will torture him during the entire week, unless my son dies first. But then, he will die as well.” There was grim determination in S’Naerr’s voice. The human nodded and left, going back to his grueling task.

“Make it stop”, McCoy pleaded. “It’s obviously not working… how much more can he take? This method is extremely barbaric…”

“But he was the one who offered to go through with it, who instructed us”, S’Naerr pointed out.

“Yes, because you threatened to fuck him to death if L’Voen died!” McCoy yelled. “He has tried, but how much torture can a man endure before he breaks down completely?... Orions just don’t value life other than their own, you think that any people who aren’t your close acquaintances are disposable trash…”

“You tell me one thing, human Leonard”, S’Naerr snapped, putting his cutlery down and throwing McCoy a sharp look. “My son is dying, and your friend’s pain could help to save him. But the same things – no, worse things, more cruel things – were done to him without any reason, when he was merely a teenager, by members of his own species. Who’s the barbaric ones?...”

McCoy bit his lip and said nothing. S’Naerr had a point. After all, McCoy himself, though reluctantly, agreed to this insanely masochistic scheme of Kirk’s, mostly because alternatives seemed even worse. Having lost appetite, he requested to be taken back to the laboratory.

It was late in the evening, when he had already nearly lost all hope, that McCoy was told the news. S’Naerr came to the lab personally, in the company of the torturer, whose clothing stained with even more blood McCoy tried to ignore.

“He remembered”, the human declared happily. “Electroshocks did the trick. When I touched the prod to his…”

“What did he remember?”, McCoy spoke over him, unable to endure what he was saying or his careless tone.

“Well, that’s actually quite strange by my standards”, the man replied. “He mumbled something about powder dilithium and a dilithium solution… But he doesn’t seem to know anything more. Maybe some more electroshocks…”

“It’ll do”, McCoy answered hastily. “We’ll figure it out. Can he be taken care of now?” he asked S’Naerr pleadingly. He didn’t even bother asking to be permitted to go see Kirk or treat his wounds, because he knew the answer.

“We do not normally use dilithium as a cure”, the Orion pointed out, skeptical.

“I know. Neither do we. But this fungus was a tricky poison, and apparently it has some completely astonishing impact on an Orion organism. Like toxin, like cure. Please…”

“All right”, S’Naerr agreed. Despite his doubts, it was the first time that McCoy was seeing a hint of actual hope in his eyes. “I will have him transferred to his room and Livne will try to make him comfortable. When you’re sure my son is out of danger, you can join him and use Starfleet medical equipment to treat him.”

“Thank you”, McCoy answered, grateful for small mercies. It wasn’t easy for him to concentrate on his task, but he was desperate to at least make Kirk’s pain make sense. Fortunately, for a rich and powerful Orion like S’Naerr, acquiring dilithium wasn’t any problem, and they had one crystal in their lab an hour later. Pulverizing it also proved feasible with the technology at hand, despite the material’s proverbial hardness.

It was knowing how exactly prepare the solution and by what way serve it to the patient that proved the trickiest part. But McCoy wasn’t a renown doctor for nothing. He worked all night with the Orion medical team, and by the morning they managed to come up with a mixture that seemed acceptably harmless, while at the same time containing a high enough concentration of the active agent to be of actual help. After testing it extensively with a medical computer program, they finally injected the serum to the young patient. He seemed to be tolerating it well enough, and his blood parameters, while they didn’t improve, stopped deteriorating.

After a first transfusion, they realized that the new blood remained healthy. After several hours of observation, they could tell for certain that the cure was working, although none of them would have ever thought of it without Kirk’s sacrifice. S’Naerr seemed almost drunk with happiness. In the evening, seeing for himself the undeniable progress, he thanked McCoy profusely and asked his guards to take him back to his room. Exhausted, but still driven by the emotional high of the spectacular success of their plan, McCoy was trying to prepare himself for meeting a tortured and traumatized Kirk.

When they were approaching the room, they met Livne who had just left it. Her clothes were stained with blood and she had a strange, stricken expression on her face. She glanced at McCoy with a mixture of sadness and compassion.

“How is he?”, McCoy asked her.

“Nothing life-threatening”, she calmed him immediately. “But he’s incoherent. I wasn’t able to have any sensible conversation with him.”

“I see. Thanks, Livne”, McCoy answered, discouraged. She squeezed his wrist and smiled sadly, after which they finally arrived to the room, and the guards left McCoy alone with Kirk and his medical supplies. He approached his friend’s bed and took in the battered form, hugged in a ball and trembling under a thin sheet. Kirk was staring abstractedly ahead, with an expression of utter horror filling his blue eyes, and didn’t notice McCoy.

The doctor, too overwhelmed to speak, waved the tricorder over Kirk and lifted the sheet to inspect the damage visually. Kirk’s entire body, completely naked, was covered with long, bleeding gashes from the whip, that Livne had washed and disinfected. He had bruises everywhere, his plasma burns from earlier looked more inflamed, and there were some marks burned into his chest with white-hot iron.

But the worst of all were his hands and feet. His left wrist was broken again, and from the look of it, and given the earlier occurrences, it was a particularly messy break. His fingers were bluish and swollen, but at least they looked more or less straight, which made McCoy think that the bones had been pulled out of their sockets, but somehow Livne must have managed to set them back. How she did it without anesthesia, the doctor preferred not to know. Maybe Kirk was unconscious, or maybe he thought he was being tortured again. At least, although for now still tender and useless, the digits didn’t look permanently damaged.

Another grueling detail, all his nails were missing, and the exposed sensitive flesh displayed blisters and acid burns, telling McCoy that the torturers used the most cruel version of the technique. While it wasn’t life-threatening, slowly inserting skewers dipped in boiling sulfur or oil under each nail before removing them with red-hot pliers was so excruciating that for many people, this form of torture alone was enough to drive them insane.

Trying intensely to abstract himself from the view in front of him, from picturing what pain the grueling injuries had to entail, McCoy took out a dermo-regenerator with the intention of treating the worst of the whip marks. However, as soon as he touched the damaged skin, Kirk flinched away violently and moaned – a desperate, terrified sound that broke McCoy’s heart.

“Jim, it’s okay. It’s over”, he said, stroking Kirk’s hair delicately.

“Please… please… no more”, Kirk croaked, throwing him a horrified, unrecognizing look.

“It’s okay, Jim. It’s me. It’s Doctor McCoy…”

“Only Kodos… calls you doctors”, Kirk answered weakly, and McCoy fell shivers run over his body at the possible implications of this reply.

“For God’s sake, Jim!”, he pleaded, cupping the captain’s battered face in both his hands and leaning closer. “You’re safe! It’s me, Bones!”

“Bones?...” Kirk asked, as if surprised, and looked at him intently. Gradually, the fear was replaced on his face by joy, relief, recognition. “Bones! Bones! They… they hurt me… I hurt… please, hold me…”

McCoy caressed his face and hair, then closed him in a careful embrace, mindful not to jar the bloody gashes. Suddenly, the body in his arms stiffened, and when McCoy looked in his eyes again, once again they were filled with terror.

“You must go, Bones”, Kirk whispered. “You must escape. They’ll come back… I’ve already said everything, but Kodos hates me and will never let me go… If he can, he’ll also torture you. You must go!”

“Jim, look at me! You’re not on Tarsus!”, McCoy said urgently. “We’re on Orion, remember? You agreed to this… It was a simulation!...”

“T’wasn’t… a simulation…”, Kirk stuttered out, looking at his martyrized hands with a confused expression.

“The tortures were real”, McCoy confirmed bitterly. “But you did it on purpose, to remember how to cure an Orion poisoned with the Tarsus fungus… Come on, Jim, remember! Who are you? Where are we?”

“James T. Kirk, of the starship Enterprise…” Kirk replied automatically, visibly surprised by this subliminal knowledge now pouring out of him. “I’m her captain… and you’re my CMO.”

“I’m much more than that”, McCoy bragged triumphantly, meaning nothing in particular, but stopped when he saw Kirk’s confused glance and an intense blush, looking strange beneath the bruises. “We’re on Orion…”, he continued awkwardly.

“The boy… L’Voen… poisoned by the fungus”, Kirk remembered, and McCoy sighed with relief. “How is he? Did it work?”

“Yes, kid, yes, it worked”, McCoy reassured him immediately. “He’s already getting better, and I have no doubt about his recovery… He’ll be fine, thanks to you.”

“That’s good…” Kirk whispered, managing a shadow of a smile. “I quite lost it, didn’t I, Bones?”, he asked.

“Yeah… but that was the plan”, McCoy reminded him. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to close these gashes before some infection sets in. The plasma burns will have to wait until I can make a skin transplant, but the portable dermo-regen that I have here should take care of the whip-marks. Just don’t move and relax, okay?”

“You look exhausted, Bones. When did you last sleep?”, Kirk asked, throwing him a worried look. McCoy didn’t realize it, but after two days of frantic worry and one day of frenzied work, without much sleep on the menu, he looked like death warmed over. However, still much better than Kirk.

“Don’t be ridiculous, kid”, he admonished. “I won’t go to sleep until I’ve helped you, at least a little. When did you last sleep?”

Kirk wasn’t able to tell. In his mind, the torture had lasted an indefinite amount of time, and his memories of it were partially mixed with those of his actual Tarsus experience. When McCoy started working on his wounds, several times Kirk thought he was on Tarsus again, mistaking the regenerator for a new torture device, and McCoy had some trouble containing him.

When he closed the deepest gashes, he judged that Kirk had enough of the treatment, as much as himself. He decided to leave the broken wrist till the next day, because the med kit that the Orions equipped him with lacked any painkillers, and setting bones without them would be more painful than breaking them. McCoy hoped that the next morning, he would be able to negotiate for some methods of anesthesia, as well as splints and other material that he might need.

Nearly asleep on his feet, he bid Kirk good night and flung himself on his bed like a dead body, without even bothering to undress. Before falling asleep, he thought fuzzily that after all, despite all his fears, Kirk’s scheme had worked out pretty well: the boy was saved, their freedom guaranteed, S’Naerr happy, and Kirk, although the worse for wear (but when wasn’t he?), was neither dead nor completely insane.

After what could be no more than an hour of sleep, McCoy was woken by terrified screams and shrieks that made his hair stand on end. He jumped out of the bed and ran toward Kirk, who was trashing uncontrollably on the floor, screaming his lungs out with such dread in wide-open, unseeing eyes that it made the doctor’s heart clench.

“Jim! Jim, wake up! It’s all right!”, he said gently, taking the younger man in his arms. It took at least fifteen minutes before he managed to drag Kirk back to reality.

“Shit… Sorry, Bones… You were supposed to get some rest”, Kirk apologized, ashamed.

“Don’t be an idiot!”, McCoy snapped. “C’mere. It’s back to bed…”

“Can we leave the lights on? So that I don’t… I won’t… God, I’m so pathetic…” Still trembling, Kirk managed to climb back to his bed with McCoy’s help.

“You need to sleep, kid. You’re exhausted, your body needs rest…” McCoy told him, and was rewarded by one more of these helpless, wary looks. “You’re anything but pathetic. You remembered the cure and saved our asses! And you’re doing pretty well, considering… Now go back to sleep, or do you want me to sing you a lullaby?”

“Sleep with me, Bones”, Kirk pleaded. McCoy was surprised at first, but the request was rational: after reliving such major trauma, and not just mentally, flashbacks and nightmares were bound to torment him during an indefinite amount of time.

“Then stop hogging the bed and make me some room”, he said, climbing beside Kirk, who obediently shifted slightly aside, but only to come back closer as soon as McCoy was installed comfortably.

“Bones”, he mumbled suddenly. “Remove this garment. It’s disgusting.”

“Wait, what…”, McCoy protested. Obviously, his clothes that he had had no occasion to change in a long while smelled and felt horrible. But suddenly, with Kirk all naked, he became strangely self-conscious. ‘Don’t be an idiot’, he berated himself. ‘He’s frightened, traumatized, and needs you to feel better… which doesn’t have to mean that he must want this crass thing in his bed.’

“All right”, he said, removing the offending top, “but if you say that I stink and must take a shower, you’re sleeping alone, princess.”

“You stink”, Kirk answered without missing a beat, “but don’t shower. I love you anyway…”

The word, dropped casually, almost escaped McCoy’s notice, especially that Kirk had sometimes used it ironically or playfully in the past. But Kirk didn’t sound ironic or playful. Having curled up like a ball again, he cuddled cozily against McCoy’s broad chest, and the doctor had no choice but to enclose this warm, beloved body in a heartfelt embrace.

“No more nightmares for you tonight”, he whispered into Jim’s disheveled sandy hair.

“I love you, Bones”, Kirk repeated happily, and now it didn’t sound so casual anymore.

“I love you, too”, McCoy answered, because what else could he say? But hugging Kirk tightly against himself, he suddenly had a very strange feeling. Not once, since he came back from the dungeon, had Kirk mentioned Spock or even alluded to him. Was it possible that his memory was still struggling to put all the pieces together?... McCoy remembered vaguely Kirk mentioning something about blocking the bond with Spock before he subjected himself to torture. ‘He’ll remember tomorrow’, McCoy dismissed the doubts, and finally fell back asleep, with his frail bundle of traumas and emotions hugged safely in his arms.

 

Feeling more confused and embarrassed than he logically should, Spock nevertheless agreed to do as much as talk to T’Sahna, but he warned Verak and the admiral who had called him that he wasn’t going to change his mind. He found their insistence intrusive and offensive, but Vulcans didn’t take offense, so he withstood it stoically.

T'Sahna was lying on a biobed, hooked to full monitoring and several drips, and looked as if she was going to die at any moment. It made Spock realize that she had to really be desperate to procreate, if she decided to put her life at risk like that, while she could be saved by a willing human’s assistance. She was sweating and panting, her life signs monitor showing extremely high levels of all her vitals.

“Spock”, she greeted him. “You once asked me for help… I did what I could. You cannot refuse to help me now. You are my only chance to produce offspring. No other endeavor has been dearer to me, and yet my chances are fading by the minute… Please, undress… It is logical… I can see that your body is ready to grant me this favor…”

Indeed, the presence of an unbonded Vulcan woman in pon farr was about the most powerful aphrodisiac that a Vulcan man could be exposed to, and the only reason why Spock was even able to resist it was his own bond, unable to capture thoughts or emotions at this precise moment, but not inexistant.

“I am truly sorry, T’Sahna”, Spock answered. “You may not know it, but I have renewed the bond that I had once asked you to dissolve, based on a cruelly unfair accusation.”

“I know…” T’Sahna confirmed with a nod. “Admiral Annaki told me… This is not an absolute obstacle. Ambassador Verak offered to help me and was supported in this by his wife. Unfortunately, his mind proved too weak to give orders to his body, which took for him the decision to remain faithful to the bondmate. But your body has no such qualms…”

“Indeed. In my case, T’Sahna, it’s my mind who does not wish to be unfaithful to my bondmate, whatever the temptation that my body cannot be blind to”, Spock explained firmly. “I cherish my bondmate…”

“I am not asking you to abandon him, duhsu!”, she interrupted him, annoyed. “I do not wish to form a family with you, or a bond. I only want you to give me a child, whom I could raise to the benefit of all Vulcan species… It is logical!”

“What is logical, T’Sahna, is remaining faithful to one’s bondmate, especially if returning the favor could once save one’s life…”, Spock pointed out. He hated that he was made to defend his right to remain faithful to his bondmate as if it was a great privilege, while infidelity was – under normal circumstances – considered as a serious offence on Vulcan, susceptible to be an acceptable basis for dissolving a bond, even against the unfaithful partner’s wishes.

“Your mate is crazy about you…”, T’Sahna pointed out. “He already proved that he would help you in your time, at whatever cost…”

“And it seems logical to you that I reciprocate by cheating on him, the first time we are separated for several days?” Spock tried to mitigate the harshness of his answer by a softer tone.

“He would understand… He might even agree…” she whispered.

“If he were here, I might ask his opinion. With him abducted, maybe in danger, betraying him would be vile, and unworthy of a Vulcan. I would dishonor our bond”, Spock insisted.

“You just said it… He is gone, you can’t be sure he will ever return!” T’Sahna yelled, her emotions warmed up uncharacteristically by the blood fever. “Why do you want to sacrifice my future for a bondmate who can be killed at any moment…”

Spock could not reply to this, because the vision of Kirk kidnapped, maybe tortured again, maybe dying, was too cruel to subject it to a too close scrutiny. But his devastated expression showed T’Sahna that she had chosen a wrong path.

“Look, Spock, he is a human. To him, this fidelity that you, as a Vulcan, so cherish, may be much less… unconditional… How can you be sure if he has remained faithful to you? If he isn’t betraying you even now, thinking that maybe he will never come back, or that you will not learn?...”

“Jim would not act in such manner”, Spock answered coldly, and felt a pang of shame as his mind chose this precise moment to remind him Joanna’s words about Kirk and McCoy acting together natural and easy like lovers. They were not, Spock knew Jim wouldn’t… T’Sahna sensed his hesitation and countered:

“You are not even certain yourself! Think of it, Spock! You refuse me despite owing me a favor; you ruin my only chance to have a child; you refuse New Vulcan a new citizen – all this in the name of a faithfulness you are unable to ascertain from the other side! How will you feel if you learn that, while you sacrificed so much for this bond, your bondmate had had less reservations? What will it do to your bond?...”

“You are too preoccupied with my mate’s fidelity, T’Sahna”, Spock answered, seemingly unperturbed, although he certainly wasn’t that any longer. “The important thing is that I choose to be faithful to him, regardless of his actions. I have the right and the duty to keep him faith, as per Vulcan laws. Could you not have a child with a human? I know that you would probably prefer to give birth to a full Vulcan, but as my own example proves, the possibility exists…”

“I probably would make such a decision, although I can’t tell I fully approve of interspecies breeding”, T’Sahna answered bluntly. “But your parents needed tremendous medical help, and your mother, as far as I know, did not have any problems with fertility. My chances, even with a Vulcan, are moderate at best. Will you really not consider?...”

“It saddens me to see that your options are so limited”, Spock answered politely. His resolve was beginning to falter: for a request so just, the cost seemed so moderate… And yet… “But my bond must remain the most important to me, as your own problems are to you.”

“You speak as if I’m only asking for a favor, Spock.” T’Sahna tried one last tactic. “But it’s not the case. Your bond can keep you alive, even satisfied, but it cannot help you prolong your line, pass on your blood. If you agree to my request today, you will always have a son or a daughter, who would remain your heir, genetically if not spiritually, even if you chose to remain distant from their life. Who knows if you will ever have this possibility again? How can you know you will not regret your decision?”

Spock had to admit to himself that these words weren’t completely unfounded. His bond with Kirk was obviously infertile, as far as conceiving offspring was concerned. He didn’t particularly dream of a family right now, but in Vulcan’s situation, he did realize that his genetic makeup was a sort of legacy that his species needed, and from which he was cheating it by his bond with a human male.

He was being offered a possibility to procreate, to fulfill his duty to his species without actually making any commitment to the child or its mother, without relinquishing his bond and personal happiness… To reject such a possibility, when he wasn’t even sure if Kirk wasn’t having good fun with McCoy… When T’Sahna, to whom he owed a favor, was begging him, and his own body was more than ready to accept?...

Terrified by this train of thought, Spock pushed it firmly away. Before Kirk’s departure to Georgia, he had made a scene – broken the man’s wrist, to put the things bluntly – just because he looked at an ensign the wrong way. What was he supposed to tell Kirk at his return if he accepted the offer? ‘Hello, Jim. I am a father now. I slept with a woman while you were away, kidnapped by brutal attackers and wounded by a plasma weapon, but I hope you don’t mind…’

“I am truly sorry, T’Sahna”, he repeated for the third time, rising from his chair. “I wish I could help you, and if Jim was here, I would ask his permission and, should he give it, I would make myself available to you. But he is not here, and my vows to him stand as long as the still existing bond tells me he is alive, despite my uncertainty as to his further fate or his own respect of these vows. Your readings are very bad, I will call for help, and you must not delay coupling with a human any longer, or New Vulcan will lose more than just a potential citizen, which would be an illogical waste.”

“You will regret it, Spock”, T’Sahna said bitterly, and it sounded almost like a threat, or a curse.

Spock left the room and was immediately intercepted by Admiral Annaki and Ambassador Verak.

“From your presence here, I take it you refused”, Verak said, his voice cold and disdainful. Spock nodded.

“She requires immediately passing to the proceedings, or she will die”, he added.

The admiral nodded and said:

“I intend to make good on my promise. I’m going to her, but you, Commander”, he said with open hostility, also bordering on disdain, “have my direct order to remain in the embassy till T’Sahna’s pon farr is over, in case something went wrong and she required a Vulcan’s assistance to save her life. In which case, I will order you to help her whatever reasons you might have to refuse”, he added threateningly.

“There are some things, Admiral, that cannot be ordered to an officer”, Spock pointed out soberly. “But remaining in the embassy is not one of them, therefore I will wait until I am permitted to return to Georgia and take part in the search for my bondmate.”

The waiting took exactly 24 hours that passed before T’Sahna was cured from her pon farr. Aside from the admiral, it took two more assistants to satisfy the need caused by the blood fever, which was to be expected: one human male could hardly be expected to take a Vulcan woman’s pon farr all by himself. Although visibly exhausted, the Admiral took the time to speak to Spock before retiring to rest.

“Well, Commander”, he said. “Looks like we managed to keep healer T’Sahna alive… It is not my place to judge you as an officer for a decision that hardly concerns the line of duty, but personally, I find your refusal reprehensible.”

“I fail to see how informing me of your personal feelings in the matter is appropriate or necessary”, Spock countered calmly. “Now if I am no longer needed here…”

“No, you are not. You are relieved”, Annaki informed him. “You can go back to Georgia and try to find Captain Kirk. Should he not be found, Starfleet would indeed suffer an important loss. For your own sake, I also hope that you will find him. If he dies and this… this telepathic connection gets brutally torn, I don’t think T’Sahna will consent to help curing it.”

“She is a healer, and refusing help to one in need is illogical”, Spock answered only. It shocked him that yet another person mentioned the possible death of his bondmate to him at a casual, in not downright malicious tone, not to mention criticizing and ridiculing his choice to remain faithful. Were he bonded to a Vulcan female, would the reaction be the same? He somehow doubted it.

It wouldn’t be true to say that he didn’t have any second thoughts. A part of him regretted his decision, even though the other part struggled to admit it. And it had nothing to do with his body’s natural reaction to the mere presence of a woman in pon farr, making it difficult for him to refuse her on a physiological level. His innate kindness suffered to reject such a valid request, from an individual whom he had known before as a fair and compassionate person. If the request hadn’t concerned his bond, he would have been happy to help her.

A part of him also regretted a missed opportunity on a more personal level. Having a family with someone other than Kirk had no appeal for him, but… permitting his genes to go to waste when the Vulcan species was in such dire need of development seemed reckless, illogical, even immoral. Of course, Spock was very young, and he might be able to fulfill this duty even after Kirk succumbed to old age, human lifespan being remarkably shorter than Vulcan. Still, to waste an opportunity like this was necessarily difficult, and raised the question of the hypothetical situation in which he ultimately wouldn’t be able to procreate after all, and would be forced to reappraise the defensibility of his present decision.

But somewhere deep in his heart, he also had another doubt. There was a part of him that feared about how this sacrifice – if rejecting T’Sahna’s offer could be described by this term – would shape further relationship between him and his bondmate. Even before, he had been excessively possessive, as a part of Vulcan physiological heritage that he could do little to fight. But now that his own fidelity – never challenged before by the slightest temptation since Spock only desired Kirk – had to be bought at such a bitter price, he feared that his expectations of Kirk would grow even more unrealistic. Of course, the human promised him that he would never cheat on him, but… now he was kidnapped, far from Spock, too far even to reach out through the bond, maybe in danger, maybe suffering, and Doctor McCoy was so close to offer comfort…

‘What am I thinking about?’, Spock berated himself, appalled to discover that he seemed less preoccupied about Kirk’s safe return than about his fidelity. Not to mention, he was mentally showing his bondmate distrust again. Kirk would never knowingly betray him, he was sure of that. Or… was he?

 

In the morning – if 10 a.m. still qualified as morning – McCoy was the first one to wake up. He was touched to see Kirk’s face still buried in his chest, its expression, as far as he could judge, calm and serene. However, his arm trapped beneath Kirk was completely numb, and McCoy, sufficiently rested but feeling crass and hungry, took the bold decision to disentangle himself from the sleeping captain and take a shower. When he got up, he noticed a breakfast and fresh clothes left to them by the Orions.

When he returned from the shower, relaxed and refreshed, with a towel around his hips in case Kirk wasn’t sleeping anymore, he found said person seated comfortably on the floor, still as completely naked as he had been sleeping, and devouring a fruit straight from an open palm, instead of holding it with his still swollen and hurting fingers. McCoy wasn’t sure if he should praise him for sparing his tortured digits, or scold him for moving from the bed, for eating without his doctor’s authorization, or for sitting there shameless, naked and gorgeous, despite the whip-marks and burns still marring his soft creamy skin.

While he was hesitating, Kirk devoured him with a delighted, hungry glance, and even without staring deliberately, it was impossible not to notice what effect this scrutiny did to his body. Flattered, surprised and ashamed all at once, McCoy could only hope that his own, immediate reaction was hidden by the towel. It was Kirk who spoke first:

“Gee, Bones, have you always been so gorgeous, or does some little torture enhance one’s senses so much?”

McCoy blushed and took a slice of dark Orion bread, mostly to have something to occupy himself with. Otherwise, he was afraid he would just eat Kirk, or if not, at least sure as hell ogle him in a manner that didn’t become him. He didn’t know exactly why Kirk was failing to remember Spock, but he, McCoy, remembered as clear as day that Kirk was Spock’s boyfriend, not his. No matter what his poor, traumatized, partly amnesiac mind was telling him.

“Stop this nonsense, Jim”, he said awkwardly.

“Sorry. I know you don’t like when I downplay my injuries… So, forget the ‘little torture’ bit and let’s just stick to: you’re gorgeous. You won’t tell me this is nonsense, too, will you? I have proof I really think what I’m saying. And I’m damn sure you’ve noticed.”

‘Tell him about Spock’, McCoy thought. But the attention was so pleasant, and the harm seemed so little…

“You better concentrate on healing. How are you feeling?”, he asked lamely.

“Oh, come on, Bones… I don’t need a doctor right now. Apart from a killer headache, I feel fine, and I find you gorgeous. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“You tell me, Jim”, McCoy said, heavy-hearted. He couldn’t let this last. The further this got, the more difficult it would be to stop it, to just say bluntly that Jim was obviously mistaking him for someone else, someone closer… His sharp reply had a paralyzing effect. Kirk dropped the fruit he was eating, and paled a tone.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Bones… I hoped you wouldn’t notice…”

“Notice what?...” McCoy was nonplussed by the reply.

“That I can’t remember.” Kirk looked mortified. McCoy raised an eyebrow to coax him into following, and a shaky voice confessed: “I just know that we are together, but I don’t remember our being together… I remember that you take care of me, that you’re always there for me, but I don’t really remember what we do together… what you like in bed… how you feel to the touch… I’m sorry, I know it must be awful for you… Will you… reeducate me?...”

McCoy was staring at him with rising panic. The man in front of him was his patient, his captain, his friend – but not his lover. Yes, he obviously wanted to be close to him right now, but it stemmed from partial amnesia induced by heavy trauma, not from love. Going along with it would mean a horrible abuse of trust, Kirk’s but also Spock’s, especially despicable when perpetrated by a doctor against his vulnerable patient. He had to remind him about Spock… Probably, just mentioning the Vulcan’s name would be enough… Instead, he heard himself saying:

“Don’t worry about it, Jim. You will remember everything in due time.”

“That’s so nice of you!” Kirk seemed relieved that McCoy didn’t resent his apparent oblivion. “In the meantime, I’d really like to rediscover…” He rose from the floor and got close to McCoy. With his right hand – the one without a broken wrist – he delicately traced the contour of McCoy’s face, the line of his jaw, his neck, his chest.

And for all that McCoy wanted to remind him about Spock and remain true to his Hippocratic oath, he understood that he simply might not be able to. He had so long dreamt about this moment – not like this, not thanks to a post-traumatic amnesia, not at Spock’s expense, not at the cost of his own soul – but there it was, his dream come true, and there he was touched and kissed by a naked Jim Kirk, hard and helpless and happy, and knowing that he would regret it more than anything in his life.

“Stop it, Jim”, he managed to say in a last attempt to remain a person at whom he would be able to look in the mirror. “Sit back down and have breakfast. You’ve been tortured, you’re still hurt, what you need is rest…”

“What I need is for you to love me”, Kirk cut in intensely. “If you don’t want to tire me, you’re welcome to do all the work…”

“You’re just not up to it! Leave me alone…”

Kirk’s face fell, as if he was told that he needed to simulate Tarsus once again. He backed away, looking crushed and miserable.

“You don’t want me”, he said brokenly. “You’re right, there’s no mirror here, but I must look disgusting…”

Kirk hit a spot where McCoy was even more vulnerable than his unrequited desires. He would never allow Kirk to feel unwanted. Of course, he could just mention Spock and try to put Kirk’s memories back in order, but it was too late for that. He was too far gone. He got up in one swift movement, throwing away the towel and demonstrating his desire without ambiguity.

“You must never say I don’t want you”, he whispered, scooping Kirk in his arms and putting him back to bed, without even a shadow of intention to make him rest. Hovering over Kirk, he leant down to kiss him, and he made damn sure that, amnesia or not, this kiss would be remembered. Like a man offered water after crossing the desert, he touched and kissed Kirk’s face, jawline and neck as if he had more than one mouth, licking and sucking and biting almost in several places at a time.

The intensity of the assault made Kirk moan with pleasure, and seeing him opened and accepting and vulnerable, all at his mercy like a delicate instrument waiting to be played, McCoy managed to chase all lingering indecision from his mind. There was no more Spock, amnesia, Orions, Tarsus – all that remained was his love wanting him, craving him, and he couldn’t have enough of attempting to appease this want, inflaming his own at the same time to the brink of insanity.

“Bones, please… I want to feel you inside me…” Kirk moaned, and this time, he didn’t have to ask twice. The frantic caresses of McCoy’s voracious mouth moved lower, until they enveloped his entire body in a fiery embrace, without even omitting the plasma burns, to finally find his entrance and open it most tenderly, until it could admit, without a shade of discomfort, a tongue, a finger, and more.

When they were finally finished, they were both sated and tired and happy, and it felt like a wonderful oasis on this hostile planet, after all the threats, efforts and brutalities that they had been made to endure.

“Was it always so good?” Kirk breathed into McCoy’s ear.

“Mhm… YOU are so good…”, McCoy deflected tenderly. Kirk gave him an incredulous smile, and his uninjured – well, less injured – hand ghosted over the velvet smooth skin of McCoy’s chest.

“No, YOU are so good”, Kirk mumbled. “You’re so… whole. I’ll never understand how a broken, messed up shit like me scored such a catch…”

“Said the youngest captain in the Fleet, the guy who saved Earth and who saved us now by finding a cure for his ignorant doctor”, McCoy countered. “I wasn’t always so whole, kid. For all the regen I wasted on you in the Academy, it was you who patched me up first.”

They kissed, and then McCoy thought about the Orions who were probably about to fetch them a midday meal, so they dressed and tried to look presentable, although the good impression was spoiled by Kirk’s bruised face, persistent headache, nail-less hands and the broken wrist, swollen and black.

“I’ll have to deal with this”, McCoy said, pointing at the offending limb. “But I don’t want to reset the bone before sedating you: it will hurt like hell. In the meantime, we can try to regenerate the skin on your nail beds. It’s badly burned and I don’t think this portable regenerator will manage to help much, but it’s worth trying.”

They spent the next hour on the task, before being visited by Livne bringing a tray of food.

“Livne! Good to see you! I’ll need something to sedate or anesthetize this young man, an osteoregen, a scanner, a splint…” he cut in mid-sentence, seeing Livne’s expression. She was wearing a forced smile, but her eyes looked completely dead.

“What’s wrong?”, McCoy asked anxiously. “Is L’Voen fine?”

“Yes”, she answered. “Very fine. He’s completely cured, just needs to rest and regenerate after a month of transfusions and artificial life-support.”

“Then why do you look so sad? Livne?”

“I’ll fetch you the medical supplies you asked for”, she said, and before McCoy could further insist, she escaped the room, locking the door and the forcefield behind her. They ate in worried silence, after which one of the Orion doctors brought the requested material, just dumping it on the floor and leaving without a word, ignoring McCoy’s attempt at a friendly conversation.

“Damn if I know what it’s about…” McCoy mused. “Fortunately, they brought some local anesthesia you’re not allergic to. You’ll still feel something, but it shouldn’t hurt too much…”

It didn’t hurt very much, although still too much for McCoy’s taste. Helped by the scanner, he managed to set the broken bone, and the osteo-regenerator stimulated faster healing, but with the extent of the damage, it wasn’t going to be immediate, so McCoy immobilized the wrist with a metal splint.

“So, I’m all cured, except for this strange headache – but I can live with that…”, Kirk commented. “Do you think this time I can do some of the work?...” And he was kissing McCoy like his life depended on it, and the doctor could do nothing but submit, although this time, just like the previous one, he still had to do most of the “work” himself. Not that he minded. Watching Kirk writhe in pleasure beneath him, react to his slightest touch by moans of sheer extasy, was almost more rewarding than being touched by Kirk himself, delicately due to Kirk’s injuries, but with endearing devotion.

“I can’t seem to have enough of you”, Kirk told him when they were panting in exhaustion some time later, after a third round. “I feel like we’d been separated for eternity before reuniting now… But it’s nonsense, right, Bones? We were together all the time?”

“I’m your CMO”, McCoy answered, hit with remorse again. He was basically taking advantage of an amnesiac patient, refusing to give him the cue that would most likely heal him… and make him disdain his doctor forever.

“Yes… Did we do it in sickbay sometimes? In your office? Your quarters or mine? Observation deck? Bridge, perhaps?”

“You’re incorrigible”, McCoy answered, momentarily regretting that he never actually got to possess Kirk in all these places, and never would.

“I’m sort of lucky, you know. A little trauma, and I can discover you all over again, like it’s the very first time”, Kirk said, and started kissing him again. ‘It actually IS the first time… My soul is damned forever, but I’ll damn it again if it’s not worth it’, McCoy thought, kissing him back. Little did he know about how wrong he was.

In the evening, Livne came back with their dinner. It was much more elegant than habitually, offering some of the fanciest dishes of Orion cuisine, beautifully served and accompanied by burning candles and fresh flowers. Livne was smiling, but it was a sad, disenchanted smile that didn’t match the romantic setting of the meal.

“I hope you like it”, she said, and turned to leave immediately again, but this time McCoy was prepared, and grabbed her arm tightly.

“Livne, you must tell us what’s wrong. We’ve been here all day, waiting for I don’t know what, and it doesn’t look like we’re being sent back home any time soon. What’s going on?”

“You’re not going home”, Livne whispered, avoiding McCoy’s gaze and dropping all pretense of a smile.

“What do you mean?” McCoy asked, taken aback. “Does S’Naerr intend to keep us? What for? He has excellent physicians…”

“No, he won’t keep you”, she answered, “you’re too dangerous for him to keep – someone might come for you eventually… But he can’t return you home, either. You know him and his son too well, you are Starfleet, he kidnapped you, blackmailed you, brutalized you… you could too easily cause him trouble…”

“What the hell are you talking about?”, McCoy interrupted, now downright shocked. “We won’t cause any trouble! He invited us to cure his son, we helped him on our own volition, and now he’s returning us home – what trouble could it ever cause?...”

“I told him the same thing”, Livne answered bitterly. “But he only laughed, and said that he didn’t achieve his status by being soft and naïve. I’m sorry. Please enjoy the time that you have left…”

“He will kill us?” Kirk asked in a small, uncharacteristically dejected voice.

“No… he will sell you. You can still bring him money… He just needs a few days to contact his buyer securely, in the Romulan Empire…”

“He’ll sell us to the Romulans?!” McCoy yelled. He was so outraged that he wasn’t even feeling fear yet. “Do you realize what they’ll do to us, Livne? I don’t know much about anything, so they’ll probably just kill me right away, but Jim?… They’ll torture him for information. For weeks, months, if necessary, without mercy… The man who agreed to be basically tortured insane in order to save S’Naerr’s son! How bestially ungrateful is that!”

“I know, human Leonard!”, she interrupted him, now openly crying. “I was here… I was the first to take care of human Jim after his torture… I’m not even sure if you remember it, you were so confused…” she said to Kirk.

“I remember”, he answered. “You said you were Starfleet…”

“I said yes to anything that seemed to calm you”, she confirmed. “You were afraid of someone who wanted to torture you further, and mentioned that Starfleet could save you, so I went along with it… I know perfectly well what you did for L’Voen, and how much it hurt. But I’m not the one making decisions.”

“Help us escape”, McCoy begged desperately. Once already, an Orion woman had helped Jim escape an atrocious fate, although using a method that left him half-dead. Or three quarters.

“You don’t know what you’re saying!” Livne snorted. “Try to escape from here, and you’ll only get killed or injured…”

“Which may be better than the Romulans”, McCoy remarked coldly.

“I stand no chance against S’Naerr’s people! I won’t risk my life only to see you killed in a failed attempt…” she pointed out. “However…” she added after a moment. “Maybe I could see if an Orion wouldn’t like to buy you, rather than the Romulans. Some Orions find humans irresistible, and you’re both very attractive…”

“No”, Kirk interrupted, his face suddenly contorted with fear and disgust. “I prefer the Romulans. I’d rather be tortured for information than used for pleasure. I’ve had plenty of both, so I can compare”, he added bitterly.

McCoy looked at him with compassion, knowing all too well what he was talking about, but he couldn’t say he agreed. Being acquired by Orions seemed to leave more opportunities for survival and possibly escape, especially if they really were found attractive, perhaps valued or cherished. The Romulans would simply torture them until they broke, or until they died. Turning his back to Kirk to avoid being seen by him, McCoy winked at Livne, who nodded imperceptibly and left.

Outraged and furious, McCoy nevertheless attacked the dinner, because it was the only even remotely constructive course of action available to them in that moment, and the cuisine was definitely worth appreciating. After a while, Kirk joined him and also tried to eat, fighting with the food with his denailed, half-regenerated fingers, until McCoy could watch it no longer and peeled, cut and buttered everything for him.

Subconsciously, McCoy was waiting for Kirk to propose some scheme, some solution, maybe a crazy escape plan to shed some light on the gloom of their situation. That was what he had always done. He was the brilliant, incorrigible optimist who had defeated the Kobayashi Maru, faced the Narada and won, jumped into the warp core chamber and saved his entire crew. But now obviously wasn’t one of these moments. Kirk looked dejected, bitter and utterly defeated. He, the man who never acknowledged defeat, even when it was obvious, now had completely given up on them before they were actually sold.

And McCoy knew why, because he was a doctor and also because he wasn’t stupid. He was holding the key to the braver, more optimistic, more resourceful Kirk. He realized that the partial amnesia still plaguing Kirk after his little ‘let’s relive Tarsus’ experiment was changing his personality, making him rely only on the more sensitive, more vulnerable part of his soul. Somehow, his courage and cheekiness had associated themselves with the memory of Spock, now still blocked for some reason, but that McCoy could probably restore with just pronouncing the Vulcan’s name. At the same time, he would also relieve Kirk from his persistent headache, caused by the psychic effort that even unconsciously maintaining the mental shield required.

But if all they had were several days before being sold and tortured, killed, maybe raped, was it really such a good idea to give Kirk his memory back? And make him realize that his real love was far away, and he was in fact alone, unless you count a wayward doctor who had taken advantage of him, traumatized and amnesiac? Wasn’t it better for Kirk to believe that his true love was McCoy, and at least have the comforts of this love in a hopeless situation?

Suddenly, Kirk stopped eating. He blew the candles, ripped away the flowers, threw them to the floor and trampled them angrily, before falling to his bed and bursting into tears. McCoy watched him sob during several moments, completely stupefied by the reaction. He was responsible for Kirk’s mental state, he knew that he would probably manage to restore his personality with several words… that he also knew he wouldn’t pronounce. Instead, he came over to Kirk and hugged him, shushing and caressing.

“I can’t do this anymore, Bones”, Kirk stuttered out. “More tortures, more humiliations, more pain… I don’t have a cell in my body that wouldn’t hurt… Maybe they’ll make me watch while they torture or murder you, and I won’t be able to help you… I have had enough, it should last me three lifetimes, and yet I can’t seem to elude this fate…”

“There is still time, Jim”, McCoy answered softly. “We are not sold or tortured yet… S’Naerr might yet change his mind, or Livne might convince him to let us go…”

“You don’t believe it yourself, Bones. He’ll never let us go. He doesn’t care if we saved his son – he cared as long as he needed us, but now his son is out of danger and he has no longer any motivation to spare us… I can’t take any more, Bones, I just can’t… Please, promise me… You promised you’d rather kill me than allow me to be hurt again. You’re a doctor, you must know a technique… Please.”

For a second time in his life, McCoy could observe a suicidal Jim Kirk, and just like the previous time, it was largely his fault now. ‘Tell him to remember Spock… to unblock his bond. He’ll find his courage again. But he’ll be so alone, and he’ll hate his doctor.’

“I promise, Jim, when the time comes, I won’t let you suffer such hell again”, McCoy said, mostly to soothe him, but uncertain of what he would really do should the need arise. “But this time has not come yet. We have still several days to live before they prepare their contract. And during this time, we should try to really feel that we still live. Want to feel alive with me, darlin’?”

Kirk nodded, and McCoy kissed the tears from his face, before undressing and kissing the rest of him, until they both felt very much alive.

During the next three days, they barely did anything else than eat, sleep, and feel alive. McCoy was, of course, afraid of what horrible fate was reserved to them, afraid what Kirk would do or feel when they finally got sold, afraid that his own conscience would not forgive him the cavalier treatment of his medical oaths and of his patient’s trust.

But despite this fear and remorse, he also felt illogically, enormously, frantically happy. He could have told Jim and himself plenty of self-righteous nonsense about how selfless and disinterested his love for Kirk was, how he was happy with Jim’s happiness alone, but now that he had his beloved’s affection, body and soul to himself, day and night, he realized that this apparent selflessness had been nothing else than an elaborate lie, meant to shield him from the pain of being rejected. Thanks to Kirk’s amnesia, he was anything but rejected, he was adored, and if this was as much of Kirk’s love as he was ever going to get – these several magical days stolen from their ordinary life, from Kirk’s real lover, from Kirk himself – then he had to admit that this was still millions times better than nothing.

 

When Spock came back to Atlanta, the investigation was stuck on trying to identify all vessels that had left Earth on the day of the abduction, and check if any of them had aboard the four petty criminals previously identified by the investigators. Spock tried to help with all the tedious list-checking, subspace-calling and itinerary tracing, but despite the most vivid interest that he had in finding the missing officers, he found that his normally so brilliant mind was strangely fuzzy and uncooperative, now that he needed it the most.

First of all, being so brutally and painfully separated from his bondmate was difficult for a Vulcan. The physical absence, implying a silent solitude in his head, tellingly empty of the other’s thoughts, of his charming little chuckles, of his incorrigible indecencies, of his warm emotions and affections was hard to bear, and the psychological suffering related to it, distracting at the very least.

Moreover, the bond formed in the Vulcan’s mind had also its tangible neurological correlate, which meant that whenever it was strained or frustrated, the organic matter of the Vulcan’s brain was subjected to physical ailment. Although the resulting headache wasn’t enough to breach the famous Vulcan control, the necessity to deal with this pain in addition to emotional longing and emptiness was a considerable drain from Spock’s resources.

Besides, Spock, as any being in his situation, was tormented with anxiety and worry about his lover’s wellbeing. The bond was telling him only that Kirk was alive, but that wasn’t much, and for all he knew, this status quo could be altered at any minute. Spock was also aware that being alive could sometimes be the worse of options, and in Kirk’s case it had so often been the case in the past that the naked fact that he wasn’t dead was far from enough to bring any kind of relief. Being a half-Vulcan, Spock could prevent these emotions from influencing his functioning directly, but controlling them was also insidiously draining his resources.

But that wasn’t all. As much as he was trying to tell himself that the only thing that counted was getting his bondmate back in one piece, something in him was protesting maliciously that he knew very well that this wasn’t true. Honesty being one of the most valued Vulcan features, Spock disdained self-deception and had to acknowledge that except Kirk’s survival and wellbeing, he was also preoccupied with his fidelity.

Of course, rationally, he knew that Kirk was his bondmate, had promised him exclusivity, and was nothing less than a man of his word. But better people were known to break their word under proper circumstances… A temptation, or maybe something more? Maybe what Joanna had said was right, and Kirk wasn’t as entirely Spock’s as he had always claimed?

Or maybe he will have to use his charms to survive, to get a chance at an escape – Spock involuntarily pictured beautiful guards whom Kirk seduced into helping a daring escape plan, and a good half of them had the face and breasts of the unfortunate Ensign Oroni, who, fortunately for Spock, had definitely preferred her shore leave to her service, and abandoned the Enterprise for good as swiftly as she had boarded her.

However, after several days of work, Spock was the one to finally find the trail of the four criminals who had abducted Kirk and McCoy. They had been, under false names, on the passenger manifest of one of the cargo ships travelling between Earth and the nearby Starbase 50. Fortunately, the passengers’ photographs were available on request, and the computers cross-checked them with the recording from the Atlanta monitoring.

Immediately contacted by Spock, the captain of the said craft admitted having picked the four aboard at the starbase three days before. He said that they offered very good money for such a short lift, so he took them despite the short notice. He didn’t bother to check their identities, but Spock understood that good payment was a universal way to avoid excessive curiosity, and since the cargo ship captain was a privateer, there was no law defending him taking whatever passengers he saw fit, unless they were notorious criminals publicly announced as wanted in the Federation.

As could be suspected, the four had been at the starbase alone and never mentioned the two Starfleet officers whom they had kidnapped. Apprehending them was crucial, because they were the only ones capable of explaining what had happened between their beaming from McCoy’s house into space (that is, aboard an unknown ship) and the moment when they found themselves on Starbase 50 and caught a lift back to Earth.

The cargo ship’s transporter technician was able to check in the transporter logs that they had beamed down to Warsaw, Europe mere 48 hours earlier. A whole team of specialized field agents was dispatched to the city, to work with local police in order to track the criminals down. Even though they were considered a minor nuisance before, attacking Starfleet officers made them automatically a priority security threat, therefore Spock had no doubt that the appropriate services would arrest them in very little time. For now, having the benefit of surprise was preferable, but if the search in Warsaw gave no results, their identities and photographs would be made public, making escape very difficult.

Before joining the team in Poland, Spock called Starbase 50 and asked them how and when the four criminals had appeared there. Due to huge traffic on this particular starbase, devoted mostly to commercial and touristic purposes, tracking them down took some time, but Spock was finally informed that they had appeared there mere hours after leaving Atlanta. They had been beamed down to the station using a ship’s transporter, but the station didn’t manage to scan or register this ship in any manner, so they couldn’t really help.

Before moving, Spock ordered notifying the Enterprise crew of the situation and warning them that depending on the progress of the investigation on Earth, Enterprise could at any moment be dispatched to a search or rescue mission for her officers, thus forcing the reduction of the crew’s well deserved leave time. Finding Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy was an absolute priority for Starfleet, because officers with such high security clearances, especially in the rank of a starship captain, were an immense threat to the Federation Security when fallen in the wrong hands.

When Spock arrived to Warsaw, he was quickly briefed about the progress of the search. The officers working in the field met him in an inconspicuous café in the ancient train station building, so ugly that it was almost endearing. Most other guests were speaking the local dialect, Polish, a Slavic language with many rustling consonants, a very resonant “r” and an accent not unlike Chekov’s.

A blond waitress took their orders in unaccented Standard, and when she brought it, Spock thanked her with a perfect realization of “dziękuję”, eliciting a happy smile. He had learnt that many speakers of local Terran languages found it cute when aliens spoke their language, rather than only Standard, and Spock had to admit that outworlders’ efforts at the native Vulcan language were also usually appreciated by his race, if not exactly found “cute”.

The search looked promising: the agent’s field informers had found some people who claimed to have seen the culprits at the right side of Vistula, the river crossing the center of the city. Several places had been selected as the most probable temporary hideouts and were being observed, while at the same time, other options were being checked, like shuttle traffic or beam transports in and out of the city. The agent believed that there were bigger chances that the criminals were still in Warsaw, probably unaware of having been tracked down this far.

Although it wasn’t strictly necessary, Spock decided to join the observation party who, according to the agents, was posted at the most promising location. They were armed with phasers set on stun and warned to be very cautious, because the offenders could still have the plasma weapons they had used against Kirk, and maybe also phasers or, which was a non-negligible risk as well, the portable transporter that could enable them to escape at the last moment and ruin the entire action.

Indeed, after a two-hour wait, two of the group entered the building, carrying what looked like grocery shopping. The normal procedure was calling for a special attack force to support them and help them apprehend the offenders, especially knowing that they could be dangerous. But that would take several precious minutes and, although the observers were reasonably well hidden, there was always a chance that the criminals would get tipped off and, especially if they still had the portable transporter, it highly increased the risk of losing them.

Despite the potential dangers, Spock decided that it was better to attack immediately, and since he was the senior officer and the temporary leader of the group, nobody dared oppose him. As best they could, they sneaked toward the flat occupied by their targets, two of them approaching the main door by the ugly old-fashioned staircase, adorned with vulgar drawings and inscriptions, while the other two used an external fire escape staircase to block the window from the courtyard. At a convened sign, they stormed into the flat at the same time, catching all four criminals unaware, about to prepare a meal, and shooting to stun without as much as a warning. Still, two of them did try to put up some fight and managed to land several blows, but Spock was so tremendously efficient that their resistance was pathetically short-lived.

Once they were safely cuffed and informed about their rights, they were led to a hovercar and then, to a shuttle to take them across the Atlantic, to a Starfleet detention facility in America. Spock was a part of their escort. For obvious reasons, he was reluctant to wait any longer before asking his prisoners the questions that could lead to discovering his lover’s whereabouts. In the shuttle, he sat down facing them and wanted to interrogate them immediately, but one of the Starfleet agents responsible for the investigation, who was also part of the escort, asked to speak to him first.

“Are you sure you are up to it?”, she asked when he granted her wish, showing a slightest hint of impatience.

“What do you mean, Lieutenant?”, he asked with a frown.

“I mean… I know they kidnapped your boyfriend, but they’re still human beings. Presumed innocent before proven otherwise by appropriate jurisdiction…”

“I realize that”, Spock answered emphatically. “And the proper term is bondmate. Now, may I proceed or do you judge the information that they may be holding unimportant enough to wait indefinitely?...”

“There’s no need for sarcasm, Commander. I judge the information very important, but the shuttle won’t take long, and we have specialized interrogators…”

“Lieutenant, the time you do all the paperwork, you will not be questioning them before tomorrow. The difference between today and tomorrow may be the difference between our officers’ lives and deaths.”

“Fair enough”, she conceded finally. “But I’ll be there, and I won’t let you brutalize them”, she warned. Spock lifted an eyebrow at her, as if what she was suggesting was the craziest improbability in universe. However, she was aware that anything touching a Vulcan’s bondmate was precisely the domain capable of making a Vulcan act illogically and emotionally.

They both moved back to the area of the shuttle where the four criminals were cuffed uncomfortably to their seats. Spock sat opposite them, while the other investigator stood at a little distance.

“I have several questions for you”, Spock informed them calmly, “and I only intend to ask them once. If you answer them truthfully, your judge may consider giving you a more lenient sentence and, more importantly, the damage that you have inflicted may still be repaired. Here are my questions: who asked you to kidnap Doctor McCoy, told you where he lives, gave you the portable transporter, paid you? Where did you beam out with the people whom you kidnapped?”

The four men remained silent at first, but there was something threatening in this seemingly composed Vulcan, so one of them finally decided to speak:

“We don’t know anything. We were offered good money, and the job looked relatively easy: it would have been foolish not to agree. We beamed out to coordinates plotted in the device beforehand, and found ourselves on a ship, but that’s all we can tell. As soon as we did our job, we were beamed out to Starbase 50, and our payment came in credits transferred directly to our accounts… We have no idea where your officers are.”

“I see”, Spock said with false patience. “Who gave you the task? There had to be some sort of contact, someone gave you the weapons, the transporter, the instructions about how to break in the house…”

There was a moment of heavy silence, and the four prisoners looked at one another with a fearful expression, then looked away. Spock told them:

“If you refuse telling me who contacted you, I will tear this piece of information directly from your mind. Which will be as unpleasant as it will be risky for your sanity.”

There was this frightened look again. Spock rose and moved toward the closest prisoner, extending his hand as if he wanted to meld with him, but the man flinched away and yelled:

“All right! There’s nothing to tell anyway. We were contacted by a young woman, a stunning blond in her early twenties. She said that her delegator was ready to pay very handsome money for kidnapping Doctor McCoy and his family. She said they wouldn’t be harmed, that a very rich and powerful person needed the doctor’s help to cure someone, and the family was to be just a leverage… We were given the transporter, all the instructions, and she gave us a communicator that she used once or twice to tell us more details, and then it was taken from us after the job. We failed, because the woman and the kid escaped, but we were paid nonetheless, and dropped at the starbase where we caught the cargo ship to come back to Earth. It was a quick, clean job…”

“A quick… clean… job…” Spock repeated through clenched teeth. Kidnapping his love and his friend, threatening and frightening a woman and a little girl was a quick, clean job. These people deserved no regards. “I want more details about the woman. Where precisely you met, if she gave you any name, and how exactly she looked.”

“She came to a bar where we often gathered for a drink, Atlanta Sunrise”, the same man continued. “She didn’t exactly show us her ID, although… yeah, she did mention a name. Damn it if I remember. It was weird, didn’t sound like real Terran name… Rang a bell, though…”

“Yeah, something that made me think of school”, said another.

“I must have gone to pee, because I don’t remember any name being mentioned”, the third said. The fourth looked a little blank and Spock wasn’t sure if he was following. The first two looked the most promising.

“I need the name that she gave you”, Spock told them. “I also want to know how she looked. The simplest way to retrieve both pieces of information is for one of you to let me look into your mind, and show me everything related to this… quick and clean job. By the same token, I will thus be able to ascertain that you did not lie to me, or hide things from me.”

Both men flinched away in panic.

“This must be illegal!”, the second one spat out, casting a furtive glance at the other investigator, listening at a certain distance.

“It is perfectly legal if you consent”, Spock said unruffled. “I expect you to consent. I will then make sure to make it safe. If you resist, I will make it illegal, unsafe and just as efficient.”

“You can’t! That’s a threat! And blackmail!”

“I suggest you tell it to Doctor McCoy’s family”, Spock said only. “I will have my information, whether with your cooperation or without it”, he finished smoothly.

“All right!”, the first one was again the one to break. “But you won’t harm me?”

“No, I will not”, Spock assured him. He threw a glance at the other investigator, but she nodded imperceptibly: after all, consent had just been voiced, and no one really cared any about the criminals’ wellbeing. Finding two Starfleet officers was much more important.

Spock touched the man’s temple with his hand, pressed his meld points, then said the appropriate words and after a moment, his mind was one with the kidnapper’s. He found himself in a noisy, smoky bar, slightly fuzzy with alcohol without being really drunk. A young blond – stunning indeed, also by Vulcan standards – joined them with a flirty smile. They were riveted to her immediately, but when he tried to pat her face, she threw him such a glance that he knew to withdraw. Without beating around the bush, she immediately passed to business.

She really spoke very little, and only the strict necessary, like a Vulcan. She mentioned a name, however: Ophelia. It was probably false, since the famously unhappy Shakespearian heroine wasn’t often chosen as a namesake. She also probably wanted to drop it, because they didn’t ask for any name. She exposed the case, and then they left the bar together. In the street, she gave them the weapons, the transporter and the communicator, as well as muttered, with a charming smile, a few very eloquent threats about what would happen to them and their families if she was betrayed.

After a few days of intense preparations, she called to tell them that everything was ready and that McCoy was coming. Following their instructions, they broke into the house, disabled the alarms and managed to take the two inhabitants hostage, although the woman opposed them some really fierce resistance. The man whose perspective Spock was borrowing was the one who wasn’t holding any hostage, but camouflaged himself in the shadows.

After some time, there was knocking to the door. Greeted by silence, their target entered, in the company of another man whom Ophelia hadn’t mentioned: Spock’s heart beat faster at the sight of Jim. Joanna had been right: they entered very close together, Kirk encircling McCoy protectively with an arm. They took in the situation and were warned not to move and to drop their phasers or the hostages would die. It looked like they were going to comply, but then Jocelyn broke free and all hell broke loose.

Again, as Joanna had observed, the two officers acted in perfect unison, as if executing the movements of a ballet: McCoy lunged at Jocelyn’s attacker, while Kirk stunned the man holding Joanna, as well as the girl who was too close to avoid the stunning wave. From the inside, Spock saw his informer choose this moment to join the fight and kick the phaser out of Kirk’s hand. He shot at Kirk but missed, giving the captain precious seconds to pick up Joanna and lunge for the door.

But then he shot again, and the smell of burned cloth and flesh hit his nostrils, while his ears were assaulted by a high-pitched scream of agony. Still, the slim figure kept moving. One more shot, and Jim finally fell with a howl, not before throwing the unconscious Joanna to Jocelyn, who disappeared behind the door, screaming her lungs out.

Spock felt a pang of anger at seeing his beloved treated this way, but he controlled the emotion and watched on. McCoy was lying on the ground incapacitated, bleeding from his face and various scraps all over his body. Kirk was brutally dragged closer to the others, and the transporter was activated, enveloping the entire group in the familiar beam.

They materialized again on an unknown ship. It was a nondescript cargo bay, but there was something about it that tipped Spock off… He had once been held on a ship with spaces shaped like this, lit like this… The Venora! The Orions!

A person came to speak to the four criminals. He was wearing an ample cloth and a mask. He took the communicator, the weapons and the transporter away, than led them to a transporter room and sent them to Starbase 50. It could be sensed that he was pleased.

Spock slowly broke contact, making sure not to harm or shock his subject. After all, he had fully cooperated during the interrogation.

“Are you unharmed?”, Spock asked politely, seeing that the other was not only dizzy, but also visibly upset.

“I’m sorry”, the man whispered. “I… didn’t realize. I didn’t realize they were so important. So… loved.”

“This can be said of every man”, Spock admonished him. “I have learned a great deal. I will mention to the judge that you cooperated.”

Once in America, with the kidnappers safely in custody, Spock recalled the Enterprise crew, trying to track down the mysterious Ophelia while waiting for them to gather. However, she was completely unreachable, as if she had never existed: no one remembered her, no camera registered her… Leaving a team to continue the search, Spock went back to the ship.

Unfortunately, Starfleet Command failed to acknowledge Spock’s intuitive recognition of the fragment of the ship seen in the other man’s mind as a proof that Orions were responsible for the abduction. All pirates and slavers that they were, they had hardly ever been seen operating on Earth, and all the people involved with kidnapping who had been apprehended till now were humans. The Federation relations with the Orions were too fragile to be risked on such frail evidence, especially that the green-skins, with their ingenious technologies and centuries of experience as space pirates, could inflict significant harm if provoked.

Starfleet Command agreed to inquiring about the missing officers only through diplomatic channels, and without any offensive insistence. Spock accepted the orders, telling himself that if he approached his beloved in space, he should be able to feel more through the bond. If Kirk really was on Orion, he would be able to sense it and, hopefully, retrieve him and the doctor without necessarily involving Starfleet with his actions.

However, before taking the Enterprise to the territories of this neutral, but hostile world, he decided to make a detour to Starbase 50. If he was able to gather some evidence of the presence of an Orion ship in the proximity precisely at the moment when the kidnappers were dropped there, he would have a more powerful argument that even Starfleet might deem sufficient. He ordered his vessel to space with a new hope.

 

After three days, five heavily armed guards came to collect Kirk and McCoy from their short-lived heaven. They led them through a maze of corridors to a larger room, that looked like some kind of central, representative piece. Waiting there was S’Naerr, looking considerably gloomy for a person who was just about to make some big money, as well as more guards and servants, and further away, with their faces in the shadow, a group of colorfully-dressed Orions in whom McCoy guessed their buyers.

“You ungrateful bastard”, McCoy said to S’Naerr, spitting at his feet. A guard moved to hit him, but the Orion stopped him with a raised hand. “You never intended to set us free!”

“No”, S’Naerr admitted. “Neither did I intend to fuck you insane or feed you to the dogs if you failed. I meant to execute you in a simpler way. Since you succeeded, you are allowed to live, at least as long as your new owner wishes it. You may inspect the merchandise, T’Rann.”

The addressed Orion moved forward, showing his face. Of course, McCoy recognized him immediately. He was the cruel pirate and slaver who had dragged Kirk through the worst of hells. He had also, however, been spectacularly converted to empathy and compassion by the Alteians. A glimmer of insane hope crossed McCoy’s heart – were they being bought to be saved? The silent inquiry in his eyes was answered: T’Rann cast him just one, furtive glance of intelligence before assuming the persona of an extravagant and cruel pirate, but this glance was enough for the doctor.

However, not for Kirk. The unfortunate captain also recognized T’Rann, but obviously didn’t remember his conversion or notice his discreet eye signal. He did, alas, remember all the things that T’Rann had done to him on the Venora, all the savageries exceeding anything McCoy had ever heard about, except maybe Tarsus. The horrors of these memories were clearly visible in Kirk’s appearance and attitude. His fear-stricken face, ashen and contorted with terror, sweaty and trembling like the rest of his body, betrayed such panic that McCoy had to fear for his sanity.

T'Rann approached Kirk with a mocking smile and struck him hard across the face, making him fall.

“I see that you remember me, Captain”, he said, stressing the last word sarcastically. “This time I’ll make sure not to give you an occasion to send me to tribunals or prisons…”

Panicked, Kirk tried to crawl away from him, but T’Rann kicked him brutally in the abdomen, making him curl into a moaning, shaking ball of flesh. He leant down and yanked Kirk to his feet by the hair.

“I have already had the pleasure or your shapely ass more times than I could count, but since our host insists that I inspect the merchandise…”

He pushed Kirk into the hands of the two closest guards, who held him fast, with his face to the wall, pulling his legs apart brutally. Kirk was struggling with all his forces, oblivious to his injuries that he ended up aggravating, with a single-minded desperation of a cornered animal, screaming his fear in a series of inarticulate shrieks until a third guard subdued him by a blow to the head so violent that it left him half dazed and defenseless. The guard tore his clothes on him, and T’Rann approached with a rather obvious intent, while his victim looked numbly ahead with unseeing, horrified blue eyes, repeating “no” without any hope of being spared.

McCoy was watching the scene petrified. He had assumed that T’Rann would help them, but he wasn’t so sure anymore. Maybe the act required a demonstration in order to be believable for S’Naerr, but McCoy understood that for Kirk, who obviously didn’t think it was an act at all, enduring it would be too much. McCoy couldn’t allow him to be raped brutally by a man who had already caused him so much harm, and in this fragile state of partial amnesia, inspired so tremendous terror. Even if saving him meant that he had to take his place.

“Hey, mister”, he said to T’Rann, “you have already ‘inspected’ him enough in the past. Wouldn’t you rather sample the talents of your other purchase?”

T’Rann turned to him immediately, replying “why not”, to which the guards let go of Kirk, slamming him into the floor straight into the injured wrist, and also turned to McCoy.

“I don’t need to be held”, he said. “Feel up for a good blowjob? Because after me, you’ll probably have to fire all your other slaves.”

T’Rann laughed mockingly and said something about a “delightfully greedy slut”, but took the cue. McCoy dropped to his knees and proceeded to making good on his promise. The Orion moaned and uttered some obscene comments, but let McCoy control the depth and the pace, which made the task, if not necessarily pleasant, at least relatively easy. With a corner of his eye, McCoy caught the sight of Kirk, still slumped on the floor, whimpering constantly as if in pain, feverish with emotion, with his wide-open blue eyes riveted to the sight of his lover being used by his most terrifying enemy. With a sinking feeling, McCoy realized that Kirk hadn’t even protested when he had offered to take his place.

‘God, what did I do to him…’, he thought guiltily, turning his gaze back to the man whose cock was now hitting the back of his throat at a steady pace. ‘I could have restored his memories, he would be aware that T’Rann is no longer the same person that he was on the Venora… And yet here he is, firmly believing that I am being raped in his stead, that we will both be enslaved and abused forever… Did I really sentence him to this anguish, refuse him an easy treatment that could make him whole again, steal him from his legitimate lover, because I wanted to fuck him during these several days?... What monster does it make me?’

Just as T’Rann finished, looking indeed close to ecstatic, his obscene praise of McCoy’s talents was drowned in the noise of impetuous footsteps, and soon after L’Voen’s cry of terror was heard in the room, followed by a sharp, despaired shout:

“Father! How can you do this to them? These men saved my life… Human Jim agreed to unbelievable torments to help me… How can you sell them to be degraded and used by this scum?”

“L’Voen”, S’Naerr replied evenly, “you will not insult my contractors. These humans are dangerous and must be neutralized. There is nothing else that matters.”

“Father, I beg you… I will never forgive you! They saved my life… Human Jim… Human Jim, are you all right?”

Kirk didn’t seem to notice him. He was whispering something to himself without any sense, his glassy eyes contemplating some emptiness whose depth only he could measure.

“I have paid. Can I take my slaves and leave?”, T’Rann asked, ignoring L’Voen. S’Naerr nodded, and guards pushed McCoy toward the door. The limp and unresponsive Kirk had to be dragged, while L’Voen sobbed and protested loudly. McCoy turned to look at him and told him compassionately:

“Hey, L’Voen! Don’t cry. I’m still happy we could help you. I’m glad to have met you. One thing: promise you won’t forget my help, and Jim’s sacrifice, and I’ll go content.”

“I won’t forget! I’ll never forget your kindness!” the young Orion replied fervently, and they were separated by the door closing behind McCoy.

When they finally left the labyrinthic building, T’Rann got in some sort of fancy hovercar, while McCoy and Kirk were thrown and locked in what looked like a large luggage compartment.

“Jim! Jim, darlin’, look at me, speak to me”, McCoy said, hugging his nearly catatonic lover against his chest, without managing to elicit any reaction. “It’s good, it’s fine, we’re being rescued”, he continued. “You may not remember, but after he tortured you, T’Rann was changed by these aliens from another quadrant, the Alteians… He’s bought us in order to save us, not to use us! Remember?”

Some spark of understanding crossed Kirk’s unresponsive face, so McCoy immediately gave him more details. Understanding slowly made its way to the poor mind, clouded by posttraumatic amnesia, dazed with panic and terrifying flashbacks, tormented by the unrelenting headache from his shielded bond.

“We’re being rescued, honey! We’ll be all right”, McCoy insisted again.

“But… he raped you…”, Kirk said with such extreme pain in his voice that McCoy regretted he couldn’t erase this one memory from his mind.

“No, darlin’, not really… It looked like that, but it wasn’t really rape, because I knew it was just a demonstration meant to cheat S’Naerr, so in fact I consented to do it… I’m fine, don’t worry about me darlin’, okay?”

“’Kay”, Kirk mumbled uncertainly, and clung to McCoy like to his only lifeline. ‘While in reality, I’m anything but’, the doctor realized bitterly. ‘I should tell him now. I should tell him, so that he remembers and stops being so scared.’ But he couldn’t bring himself to pronounce the words that, as he suspected, would make Kirk hate him.

After several hours of a smooth ride, the hovercar came to a stop. Nested comfortably in McCoy’s arms, Kirk seemed appeased, but only superficially. Before letting them out, someone handed them a set of clothes to replace the ones that had been torn on Kirk, and the attention confirmed that T’Rann’s intentions were good. Helping his lover to dress, McCoy reiterated his reassurances yet again, but the shock of what T’Rann had done back at S’Naerr’s residence was so severe that McCoy had the impression that Kirk seemed calmer only to humor him.

When they were ready and left the vehicle, T’Rann came to greet them. His expression was nothing like before the ride: it was open, kind, and apologetic. Still, at the mere sight of the Orion, Kirk flinched away, shrinking and squeezing McCoy’s arm in barely contained terror.

“Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy”, T’Rann said. “I apologize for how I treated you earlier. I couldn’t afford tipping S’Naerr off: at a slightest doubt, I knew that he had a Romulan buyer to whom he would have sold you instead. I am… truly sorry”, he added, looking at Kirk’s ashen, openly hurt face with remorse, but also confusion. McCoy decided to enlighten him:

“Jim was tortured at S’Naerr’s house. He was made to relive a horrible old trauma. He has recovered only partially, and remembers only certain facts from his past. Related to you, I’m afraid he mostly remembers the worst.”

“I am… truly sorry”, T’Rann repeated, now ashamed at the mention of his cruelties from before his lifechanging encounter with the Alteians. “Captain, you have every reason to fear me or hate me. I only wish to assure you that no harm of any kind will become you in my house. As we are speaking, I am working to arrange a safe but inconspicuous transport for you that will take you back to Federation territories.”

“Thank you”, Kirk answered, relaxing minutely. “I remember now… I’m sorry for my reaction. I don’t know what’s happening to me… All my memories are mixed up, everything is so confused… But yes, I remember how surprised I was to see you so changed.”

“You said you forgave me, Captain”, T’Rann answered. “You could have sent me and my friends back to a penal colony, but decided to give me back my freedom. I am extremely happy to be able to use this freedom on your behalf, and prove to you that your kindness wasn’t wasted. I’m most displeased that trying to save you, I had to cause you more discomfort…”

“No… no, I’m all right now. It was necessary”, Kirk answered and managed a smile. They were led to a beautiful internal garden and seated on a bench, while T’Rann sent for refreshments. A tray of colorful drinks was soon brought in by an extremely beautiful, richly dressed woman, who after putting it carelessly on the table, literally threw herself at Kirk, closing him in a heartfelt embrace.

“Rinsha!” he said, recognizing her with pleasure. Apparently, his good memories of her outweighed the bad ones, as was to be expected given her role in his rescue from the Venora. When she finally let go of him, she scrutinized him from head to toe and pointed out:

“You look horrible, human Jim. Your hands! Your wrist is swollen… I’m so sorry we couldn’t rescue you before you were harmed… Vulcan Spock will be so sad to learn that you were brutalized again…”

“Vulcan… Spock?”, Kirk repeated confused. Rinsha looked at him blankly, but said nothing, seeing the strange struggle going on on his face. When he finally remembered this so crucial information that had been eluding him for days, his expression betrayed relief, then the happiness and fondness that he so often displayed when speaking or thinking about Spock. But shortly after that, it was gradually replaced by doubt, confusion, and finally despair when the understanding of the full situation dawned eventually. He glanced straight at McCoy, who was looking at him tense and remorseful.

“You!”, Kirk finally said. “How, Bones?... Why? Why did you do this to me?...” There was disbelief in his voice, the hurt of cruelly betrayed trust and the desperate hope that something could still be explained, repaired, fixed…

“Jim, let me explain”, McCoy choked out. “Can we please have a moment alone?”, he asked the Orions, who left the garden immediately. “You were shocked, hurt, traumatized… You had only me… There was only me around. You said you needed my love…”

“And you didn’t realize that I didn’t remember Spock?” Kirk asked accusingly. “You didn’t think that if I remembered him, I’d never be unfaithful to him?...”

“I realized, but… Spock just wasn’t there, and I figured…”

“And you figured that the absent are always wrong? You figured that you could just take Spock’s place, and I wouldn’t notice the difference?...”

“You… you seemed fairly pleased…” McCoy answered lamely, and was rewarded by a desperate slap that must have hurt Kirk more with his injured fingers than it did McCoy. At least, physically.

“You bastard”, Kirk said in a voice so hurt that McCoy wished he could go back in time and behave otherwise. “You just took advantage of me… You… abused the trust of a person suffering from trauma, mental problems, amnesia! What kind of doctor does it make you, Bones? What kind of friend? Of human being?”

“I… I didn’t mean to betray your trust”, McCoy answered feebly. “I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but you seemed to need it so badly…”

“Maybe because you didn’t deign to give me back my vital memories and left me in a state of a helpless, terrified teenager, whose only consolation was getting fucked by you! What the fuck is wrong with you, Bones? I mean, I fucking trusted you… You were my doctor, my friend… I would have trusted you with my life at any moment, and at the first occasion you… you just… you just used me, made me betray Spock whom you know I love… He will never want me again! You ruined my bond, my life…”

“Jim, I had loved and desired you for years”, McCoy answered, seeing that deflecting wouldn’t get him far. “When you basically threw yourself at me and begged me to take you, I just… I knew I should tell you about Spock, but you were so irresistible… I thought we would be dead several days later…”

“Well, I regret we aren’t!” Kirk blurted out. His anger seemed now equal to his pain, and he was yelling. “You sick bastard, I hope you enjoyed! I hope it was worth it, because I’ll never speak to you again! As soon as we return home, I’m filing a report! I just wonder what Starfleet will think of a doctor who instead of curing a patient, takes advantage of him… I hate you! I wish I had never trusted you!...”

Blinded with fury, but too weakened by his injuries to engage in an actual fight, Kirk spat McCoy in the face, and left the garden. He was intercepted by an extremely worried Rinsha.

“You are unwell, human Jim… Come with me, I’ve prepared a room for you… For the two of you, but it doesn’t matter, we’ll give human Leonard another…”

“Thank you, Rinsha. Now please, leave me alone. I need a moment… to get my bearings…”

“No way! I won’t leave you like this. Tell me what happened, human Jim. Why did you quarrel? What happened when I mentioned Vulcan Spock?”

Kirk insisted to be left alone, but Rinsha just wouldn’t have it, and with McCoy a traitor and Spock bound to hate him, he was so devastated and lonely that speaking to a kind, friendly soul didn’t seem like the worst of ideas. Before he knew it, he was recounting to Rinsha all that had happened to him since the unfortunate trip do Atlanta, including his desperate decision to knowingly subject himself to reliving the horrors of Tarsus, the anguished vigil, the torture, the confusion, the regression to a state of a helpless, terrified and disenchanted teen, the continuous ache of the blocked, forgotten bond, how he found solace in McCoy’s arms and how utterly used, betrayed, crushed he was feeling now.

Rinsha was listening to him attentively, hissing and gasping in more dramatic places, watching with horror his still unhealed hands when he described to her how they inserted sharp burning spikes under each of his nails during several hours. When he finally finished, she took him in her arms and held him for a long time, until she felt that he was breathing more calmly, wasn’t shaking anymore.

“Jim”, she said, remembering that humans didn’t like their species being constantly mentioned before their names, the Orion style. “I will never stop admiring you. How you could decide to willingly undergo such hell… after all you’d been through…”

“It was logical”, Kirk answered. “The alternative was to let the kid die, and accept some very ugly death for me and Bo… Doctor McCoy.”

“Yes, but still… And stop worrying so much. Spock loves you, of all his heart, he will understand that what happened wasn’t your fault…”

“No, he won’t”, Kirk protested bitterly. “He loves me, but he is also very possessive… He will never want me again… He will hate me, punish me, leave me again… He once called me a slut, publicly… Now I’ve given him the proof that he was right!”

“Stop this nonsense, Jim. You know better than this. It wasn’t your fault, and a Vulcan is bound to be smart enough for a simple deduction. You had been tortured insane, you were amnesiac, you didn’t remember him, you mistook McCoy for your lover… He’ll understand. An Orion would never despair like you do now, knowing that they have two people who love them crazy like you are loved by Spock and Leonard. He didn’t mean to harm you, Jim, I’m sure of it… Now, take some rest. You’ve been through an awful lot. I’m sorry T’Rann frightened you so much, but if S’Naerr had any suspicions, he would have sold you to another… To your death… Fortunately, I have a friend in his entourage. She’s called Livne. She alerted us about your situation. Ever since we’ve come back to Orion, we’ve been trying to help people in similar situations… But in order to be of use, we must maintain the personas of ruthless bandits… That’s how it works here.”

“I’m lucky to know you, Rinsha. You’re rescuing me for a second time… Thank you. I’d like to repay you somehow...”

“Don’t mention it. T’Rann owes you his freedom, and there’s precious little we wouldn’t do for you, with happiness. Now, sleep, unless you want me to sing you a lullaby.”

“Actually, if you’re so kind, I’d very much like you to do just that. I’ve never heard you sing, and you have a beautiful voice when you speak.”

Pleased with the compliment, Rinsha made sure Kirk was comfortable on the large luxury bed that had been prepared for him, and then closed her eyes and sang with a clear, strong voice, modulated delicately no make it sound truly like a lullaby:

“From the stars above Orion
Falls a rain of silver dust
Close your eyes and sleep my beauty
For you know the night won’t last
In the stars above Orion
Dreamy starships find their way
You must rest because tomorrow
Is another busy day
In the stars above Orion
The night isn’t what it seems
If you have a true love somewhere
You will see them in your dreams.”

 

McCoy was left alone in the garden, with Kirk’s angry words resonating in his head. He knew he deserved nothing less, but this wasn’t making it any easier. So, that was the price to pay for several days of intimacy, for briefly enjoying the exquisite feeling of Jim’s love, need, passion, of Jim’s body arching in pleasure under his attentions, of Jim’s flesh clenching around his cock, of Jim’s cock inside him, of his own nickname moaned or screamed by Jim in ecstasy. To love Jim and pretend he was happy with just the friendship had been bad enough. To lose even this friendship, while remembering Jim’s love, was agony.

But this wasn’t even what was tormenting the doctor the most. He could deal with loss, in fact he had invited it from the beginning, when he had taken the illogical decision of taking Spock’s place. He could even bear Kirk’s all-too-deserved anger, demotion, court-martial – he earned them well enough by taking advantage of an amnesiac, traumatized patient.

The very worst was the excruciating awareness of the tremendous suffering that he had caused his beloved. He had put his own egoistic desires above the wellbeing of his patient. By omitting to make Kirk remember Spock by simply mentioning his name, he condemned him to the constant pain of blocking the bond, to a fragilized, fearful state in which he had to confront new challenges without the support of his extremely resourceful personality and reliable coping strategies. In the face of adversity – the threat of being sold, T’Rann’s sudden appearance and too convincing act – he had left Kirk completely defenseless, reduced to abject terror, crawling and begging. What doctor, what friend, what kind of person would permit a dear one – or even a stranger – to suffer such agony if they could prevent it by pronouncing just one word?

And of course, in the middle of this mess, there was Spock. McCoy hadn’t even thought much about how the Vulcan would feel about what he did, but to think better of it, it was obvious that he wouldn’t be happy or… logically indifferent. He would be hurt as hell, and McCoy betrayed his trust as well, by basically tricking his boyfriend into cheating on him. And now, he suddenly remembered how possessive the Vulcan was… He had broken Kirk’s wrist just for being sweet-talked by a pretty ensign without firing her for it immediately! Although McCoy couldn’t believe that Spock would break the bond with Kirk or cause him any real harm, he understood why Kirk was anxious about the Vulcan’s reaction. And he was the cause for this anguish, too.

And there was no way to make it right, to make up for it, to apologize. Kirk said he never wanted to speak to him again, and he was right. Love could always forgive and be forgiven, but was McCoy’s action really motivated by love? Or was he really just getting into Kirk’s pants, after all the years of lying to himself that, while he did find the blond captain attractive, he could live without fucking him? Did it just turn out that well, after all, he couldn’t, and he just jumped on the first occasion to change this unpleasant status quo, even though this occasion was nothing less than his patient’s posttraumatic amnesia?...

Overcome with guilt and depression, McCoy just sat in the garden with his face hidden in his hands, unable to move, to think clearly, or even to cry. After a while, T’Rann joined him and tried to console him with a glass of some strong, alcoholic beverage, but after a first sip McCoy recognized the drink as the Orion gin, a powerfully psychoactive intoxicant with which he had once already tried to console himself, but it had cruelly backfired against none other than Jim. He had sworn since never to drink this stuff again, and he refused it now. The thing that he needed the very least was for Kirk to find him drunk, and maybe take out his dejection on him. Part of his punishment would be to remain sober.

It was already quite late, so the Orion proposed McCoy to retire to his guest chamber, to which he consented without protest, although he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep. The next day, the Orions needed still some more time for transport arrangements, and the doctor didn’t find anything better to do than wait.

Since the meals were organized commonly, he had to meet Kirk, who pretended to ignore him completely: didn’t speak to him or even look at him, and always chose the place at the table the furthest away from him. He seemed more or less himself again, didn’t avoid T’Rann anymore, asked questions about the Orion’s new life and his efforts to discreetly help the numerous victims of slavers or unfair deals, he joked with Rinsha. But his eyes, his features betrayed deep hurt that McCoy knew he was responsible for, and couldn’t forgive himself.

Also, while Kirk’s bruises were fading and most of his fingers were no longer swollen and he seemed to be using them with relative ease, his broken wrist, still immobilized by the splint, looked like it needed a thorough check, and the occasional flinching or hissing reminded McCoy that the plasma burns were still unhealed. He hoped that at least his hosts had this soothing balm that Livne had used, even though they obviously lacked an advanced medical facility that would permit skin transplant. It was excruciating to see that Kirk could use his medical attention and be utterly unable to offer it. During the entire day, McCoy didn’t speak at all, either to Kirk or to the Orions.

In the evening, when he was again alone in his room, he realized with horror that he had nothing to go back to. Kirk hated him, promised to report on him, to court-martial him, and McCoy had no illusions that what he did could only end up in losing his credentials, in a shameful demotion, maybe even serving some punishment, especially if Kirk and Spock both insisted on persecuting him. Without Kirk in his life, with Jocelyn still hating him, he suddenly found himself back to square one, even worse than he was immediately after his divorce, because then, at least he still had the right to execute his profession, that now he was reasonably sure to lose.

Suddenly, with full awareness, McCoy had to face the vision of returning to the Federation, to Starfleet, to the Enterprise, to Kirk’s and Spock’s hatred and disdain, perhaps the disappointment of other crewmembers if they learned what he did, shameful legal proceedings… He felt that he deserved all this, had brought all this upon himself, but at the same time, this fate seemed too cruel to accept. He almost wished he could have been just sold to the Romulans and executed or tortured insane, to avoid facing his present predicament. He regretted having refused the alcohol so firmly – now he was left without anything to soothe his pain.

Perhaps not anything. While he was getting ready for sleep, his eyes caught a razor, a standard object in many Orion bathrooms. He took it and inspected it carefully. It looked pretty sharp, probably sharp enough to cut a vein… Normally, he wouldn’t even consider such a thing, if only for Jim’s sake, but Jim hated him and would be pleased to see him dead. Yes, it would be a way to atone for his crime, and a less painful one than what awaited him if he returned home. He didn’t deserve anything better. He was a pathetic loser who only managed to make all who had once loved him hate him passionately. He had first harmed and alienated Jocelyn, now Kirk… Tentatively, he pressed the edge against his wrist, and was gratified to see drops of crimson pearling against the steel.

“Bones!” someone called. It was Kirk. He was standing at the door of McCoy’s room, looking at his figure reflected in the glassy door of the bathroom that McCoy hadn’t bothered to shut. “Shit, Bones, what do you think you’re doing?”, Kirk said, running up to him in several large leaps and trying to take the blade away from him with his clumsy, injured fingers. To avoid accidently cutting him, McCoy threw it to the washbasin and lifted his hands defensively.

“All right, all right, I ain’t doin’ anythin’”, he mumbled, avoiding Kirk’s look and pushing past him back to the room. Kirk took the razor in a shaking hand and threw it to the wastebin.

“You were trying to cut yourself”, Kirk said in a deeply shocked voice. “I saw.”

“Well, if you saw, there wouldn’t be any point in denyin’, would there?” McCoy noticed sarcastically. “Why would you care, Jim? You shouldn’t care about me any after what I did to you…”

“Stop it”, Kirk answered in a no-nonsense voice. “Was it because of what I said? You tried to cut yourself because of my words?”

“No”, McCoy answered, looking him finally in the face. Kirk seemed scared, worried, apologetic. He didn’t seem angry anymore, as he still should. “It wasn’t because of what you said. I had known from the beginning that you’d be angry when you found out… It’s because it finally hit me what I did. All along, I remembered damn well that you were Spock’s lover, not mine, and I knew that your mind mistook me for him probably because you had blocked your bond… But still, I carried this on, because I couldn’t help myself. I looked at you and you said you wanted me and I wasn’t able to say no. You’re absolutely right to be angry. I failed you as a doctor, as a friend, as a human being…”

Kirk walked over to him and sat down by his side. After a moment of hesitation, he took McCoy’s arm and squeezed it comfortingly.

“I’m sorry, Bones. I overreacted yesterday. All the memories coming back at once… Remembering Spock, realizing that I’ve for once given him some real ground for this obsessive jealousy of his… It was hard. It still is. But I obviously won’t report on you, or prosecute you in any manner. It’s best left between us. Forgotten”, he added quietly, blushing and gazing away.

“You’re trying to be generous. I appreciate this”, McCoy answered. “But I don’t deserve my medical license anymore. I don’t deserve your trust. I don’t trust myself anymore, Jim. And I sure as hell won’t forget anything, as much as I might prefer to. I regret having done this, but there’s no denyin’ these were the most beautiful moments of my life, even though we were in an Orion prison waiting for more crap to happen to us. For you, it’s something you’d like forgotten, but for me these memories will remain my only treasure when we’ve parted.”

Kirk blushed again. He sighed, and looked so miserable again that McCoy felt guilty for having yet again upset him, throwing him in the face his unrequited love as if he hadn’t already imposed himself more than was acceptable.

“That’s not entirely true, you know…” Kirk said reluctantly. “To me… it also meant a lot. I said I wanted it forgotten, but not because I don’t want to remember… Just because… I have no right to remember. And I have no wish to part with you, Bones. But I know we must. You deserve someone who will love you exclusively, openly… Who will be able to express it all the time, not merely when stricken with amnesia…”

The meaning of Kirk’s words was sinking in slowly, drowning McCoy’s mind in confusion, making his heart hammer in his chest as if it was going to break free.

“Jim. Did you just say…?” he asked, not daring to finish his phrase. Suddenly, he was no longer depressed. He had done something horrible, but instead of being punished, he was receiving a reward, more wonderful than he could have imagined.

“You heard what I said”, Kirk pointed out. “I said I love you, but I can’t be with you. If you must know, I was attracted to you already at the Academy, but what with your divorce and the whole no-relationship attitude, I figured if you were to finally be with someone, it would have to be someone less messed-up. Then I met Spock, and I fell crazy in love with him… When he reciprocated, it was like a dream come true… I guess I didn’t… I didn’t really stop loving you, but I was just so… occupied with Spock… happy when we were together, unhappy when he dumped me… When you told me you loved me, I merely regretted that you hadn’t made a move on me earlier, because it might have worked, Bones… Anyway, I’m bonded to Spock, I love him, I promised him fidelity for life and I’m not a liar, a fraud or a slut, I’m gonna keep my vows. I just… I just don’t know if he’ll want me anymore when he discovers…”

“He must understand the fault was only mine”, McCoy said. He was so overwhelmed by what Jim had said that he had trouble thinking clearly. He had suspected everything, but not that Kirk could actually love him back. He didn’t know if he should celebrate or cry.

“You don’t understand, Bones”, Kirk said, looking down at the floor. “Rationally, he will know I was amnesiac… But he will be disturbed by the fact that my mind even suggested something like that… When he discovers how much I enjoyed being with you, that I have feelings for you… he’ll be hurt, and angry, and…”

He cut off, looking unhappy. McCoy was watching him astonished. He was behaving like these women he sometimes met on different planets, who did everything to please their husbands and yet blamed themselves when for some reason, the bastards weren’t pleased.

“Jim”, McCoy said emphatically. “Are you afraid of Spock? Of his reaction?”

“No, of course not”, Kirk denied, a little too hastily. “I know that he loves me, it’s just that… when he finds out… I’m afraid he won’t want me anymore, Bones, I don’t know what I’ll do if he says I’m a slut… again…”

The memory of the previous time when it happened was still painful to Kirk, even though he realized that Spock had humiliated him hoping to protect him. Now, he feared that Spock would really think this of him, and maybe by Vulcan standards, having feelings for McCoy – although beyond his control – really made him unworthy of a bond, even if he chose not to act on these feelings.

“There, Jim”, McCoy said soothingly. “He must be anxious crazy about you. When he finds you alive and whole back in his arms, he’ll be so happy nothing else will count… In fact, if he learns you have some feelings for me and yet decide to be faithful to him, what greater proof of love could you give him? It’s not a great deal to be faithful without any temptation…”

Kirk licked his lips, looked McCoy in the eyes and said:

“Well… if you put it like this… you sure are a hell of a temptation, Leonard McCoy…”

McCoy glanced back at him, blushing.

“Sorry”, Kirk backtracked. “I shouldn’t… They’re called mixed signals, right? Now that I know how it feels to be with you, I realized how much I want you… But my decision stands, Bones. You were never supposed to know about my feelings for you, but since you reached for them so directly… Now you know. You know that it’s not easy for me to ask this of you, but it would probably be best if we parted ways…If you stay on the Enterprise, we will think about those days at S’Naerr’s all the time… It will be hard on Spock… Besides, you need to move on, to find someone with whom to have a normal relationship…”

“If this is what you wish, I’ll request a transfer. I never liked space anyway. I’ll ask for the Starfleet Academy hospital: with my experience, I could teach those youths a thing or two… I’d also be closer to Joanna…”, McCoy answered. He wasn’t really enthusiastic about this plan, but it was so much better than the perspective that he had minutes ago that it seemed heaven in comparison. No court martial, no hatred from Kirk…

Suddenly he realized that if Kirk really loved him, but chose to remain exclusively faithful to Spock whom he also loved, it would have been easier for him if his feelings for McCoy had remained buried deep in his subconsciousness. By his egoistic actions, McCoy gave him the temptation, the longing that in the long run, could injure his relationship with Spock. It was only fair that at least, he removed himself to make it easier for them.

“It’s not really what I wish, Bones…”, Kirk said in a heartbreakingly sorrowful tone. “I just think it will be for the best. A part of me thinks I could very well love both you and Spock, and nobody would be harmed… But I know it’s impossible for a Vulcan. So, there’s no other choice than for you to go. Just, Bones… no hard feelings? Will you keep a good memory?”

“What, are you crazy?”, McCoy asked, genuinely surprised by the pain-filled question. “You’re the one who could remember me ill, but I, of you? Only the fondest memories… How can you even ask?...”

“I don’t know, Bones… I should have told you to transfer long ago, knowing how you felt about me… But I just couldn’t bring myself to doing it! I lied to myself that I was doing you a favor, that I would hurt you if I asked you to transfer, but in fact I just didn’t want you to go…”

“Believe me, you were doing me a favor”, McCoy cut in. “Although I wasn’t as disinterested in my feelings as I once implied, I still preferred by far to remain be your side that go away and miss you.”

“Besides, back at S’Naerr’s…”, Kirk continued, looking horribly embarrassed. “I wasn’t exactly at my best behavior… I didn’t find any escape plan, I just cried like a baby, I was so pathetic… When I saw T’Rann, all of the Venora just flooded my memory… All of it, Bones, especially the worst… I was sure he was going to fuck us, share us with everyone, torture us to death… When he beat me, stripped me… I just freaked out so bad… And then you offered to take my place, and I didn’t even protest… I’m so ashamed… I was actually relieved… Before I saw you take him into your mouth and realized that I had permitted this, that it was my fault, that if I had just let him rape me rather than scream like a coward, he’d have left you be…”

Kirk hid his face in his hands, overwhelmed. McCoy wanted to soothe him, to take him in his arms, but he was too self-conscious to do that, so he only put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder.

“That’s your problem, Jim”, he said. “You think that it’s your duty to always take all the suffering yourself, to find all the solutions yourself, to protect everyone. You know why I took your place? Because given that I knew it was an act, and you thought it was for real, it would have been sheer cruelty not to.”

“Well, thank you… I think if he had raped me there and then, I might have lost it for good… It was that close, Bones…”

“I know, kid. I know. And let me remind you why it was that close. Certainly not because you are pathetic! You were confused and scared because you had chosen to sacrifice yourself to save us, and remember the cure at the cost of your sanity. And in fact, you suffered triple because of it… and still, you dare call yourself a coward! When I was blowing T’Rann, I didn’t even feel humiliated or disgusted, the only thing I was aware of was how it had to be hurting you, and I regretted not being able to help you more…”

“Well, Bones. Whatever the reason, you have seen the worst of me, and weren’t put off…”

“Put off? You only think you did something wrong because you’re an idiot! Proposing this Tarsus simulation was an act of heroism, and you did save a child’s life, and our lives as well. When you were confused and scared after that, you were vulnerable and sweet and you needed me so much… Can’t you accept the fact that having weaknesses is nothing wrong?... That you can be even loved because of them, not despite them?...”

Kirk thanked him again, and they talked some more, until the late hour finally forced them to retire for the night to their respective bedrooms, knowing that they were in for a long journey the following morning.

T’Rann had arranged a small but modern spacecraft manned by just two people, with Kirk and McCoy as passengers, because he would need his craft brought back. It was warp capable and summarily armed, although it was clear that it wouldn’t stand a chance against a determined opponent. The Orion explained that he had to make it seem like they had escaped, therefore he would have to direct the ship by a somewhat roundabout way, covering the tracks on its way. However, after several days, they were to reach the confines of the Federation, and be beamed to a planet disposing of an active commlink to other Federation territories.

Kirk agreed to everything and expressed his gratitude again and again, but was told that it was unnecessary. Their goodbyes with their hosts and saviors, and especially with Rinsha, were extremely warm, and Kirk was genuinely happy to know that his good action of setting his former tormentors free, rather than insist on punishing them, had been the right one. Rinsha, on her side, was happy to see that Kirk and McCoy had made up, because for her, it was obvious that the men loved each other, and it had hurt her to see them angry with each other and hurting.

Their transport passed smoothly and lasted less that predicted, because no one bothered them and the craft was fulfilling its task admirably. Aside from talking to McCoy and to the two Orions escorting them, Kirk was busying himself watching the stars through the viewer, relishing in the sights of unfamiliar territories.

As they approached the Federation, their moods became slightly gloomy, as their parting was approaching. McCoy was wary to face an empty, lonely future akin to the moments directly following his divorce, before he met Jim Kirk, and Kirk – although he would deny it – was apprehensive at the thought of meeting Spock and admitting to what happened. He had let McCoy convince him that he had nothing to fear, but his self-doubts were still struggling against his trust. After all, albeit unwillingly, he did betray Spock, and there was nothing he could do to either erase or permanently hide his more than friendly affection for McCoy.

When they were not far from Federation territory, the Orions started cursing – it turned out that they had run out of fuel due to a leak that they hadn’t noticed. Kirk repaired the leak quite easily with one of the Orions, but the reserves had been depleted considerably. To avoid unnecessary risks, Kirk promised them to help them to buy fuel as soon as they reached any Federation world with a subspace commlink. As he was watching the stars, their distribution suddenly looked familiar.

“Where are we? What’s that planet?”

“You don’t have to ask them, I know”, McCoy answered unexpectedly. “It’s Xandra.” He would recognize anywhere the planet that he spent an hour staring at, wondering which kind of death the local aliens would choose for Kirk, and whether they would send back his body or not.

“Xandra!” Kirk was overjoyed. “I know the queen personally. I left there some of my crew as contact team. You can very well drop us there, they have a direct commlink to the Enterprise… And I can try to negotiate some fuel for you.”

The Orions looked at him as if he was crazy.

“But, Xandrans are… xenophobic… They warn only once and then shoot any newcomer!”

“They didn’t shoot the Enterprise… Just lock on the orbit, answer the hail and watch!”

McCoy didn’t share Kirk’s enthusiasm. He never went down to this planet, but hated it passionately nonetheless. The first contact Kirk was now bragging about was bought at the cost of four horrible wounds he sustained, hoping for a fifth, lethal. Compensating its lack by three pills of aspirin, to which he was highly allergic. The pills that McCoy had handed him himself, telling him to end his miserable life. Drunk senseless, but still, that’s what he had done on Xandra’s orbit. He’d rather be anywhere else.

The two Orions, of course, couldn’t know about this particular occurrence, so they decided to trust Kirk and approached the planet. For them, leaving their passengers outside the Federation borders was highly preferable: Orions were always conspicuous, and with their tiny craft they couldn’t hope to put up much of a fight if someone once wronged by some Orion pirates decided to hold them responsible. As soon as they reached the orbit, they were hailed and a very attractive, pink-skinned and purple-haired woman, wearing a beautiful golden toga made from a plushy material, said in a no-nonsense voice:

“Alien vessel, please leave our orbit or you will not be warned again.”

Before the Orion pilot could respond, Kirk pushed past him to be visible on the Xandran’s viewer and yelled merrily:

“Queen Aaniit! Euh, your majesty! Do you remember me? This is Captain James T. Kirk, of the Starship Enterprise… from the planet Earth, member of the United Federation of Planets…”

“Yes! Yes, I remember you!” The queen was so pleased that she clapped her hands and laughed joyfully. “Your previous vessel was rather more imposing…”

“I had a serious misadventure”, Kirk explained. “These noble people saved my life, and now are escorting me and my chief surgeon back to the Federation territory… However, we’ve had a fuel leak… I wondered if you would be so kind as to resupply my friends here, and let me and my doctor beam down and call the Enterprise to come for us?”

“Oh, but it would be an enormous pleasure!”, the queen cheered. “After the harm I caused you at your last visit, I’m relieved to see that you still want to visit us! But your green friends are of a race that we have not yet tested. I would rather they remained in orbit, and we will beam up a supply of the kind of fuel that they may need.”

“Sounds perfect! Doesn’t it?” Kirk asked the Orions, who confirmed happily. After more thanks and salutations, the Starfleet officers beamed down to the surface, while the Xandrans resupplied the Orion craft and sent it safely back on its way. The queen personally came to greet them at the beam point – there was only one on the planet – and invited them to a festive meal in their honor. They were offered two neighboring rooms equipped with every imaginable luxury, but Kirk’s first desire was to call the Enterprise, which he was immediately enabled to do. He was answered by Uhura, and couldn’t retain emotion at the sound of her familiar voice.

“May I please speak to Acting Captain Spock?” he asked her, to which she yelled with unrestrained joy:

“Captain! I’m so happy to hear you! May I put you on visual?”

“By all means.”

Soon, Kirk could be seen on the viewscreen that he had so often communicated through, while on his small screen attached to the Xandran commlink he could see Spock. The Vulcan rose from the command chair and approached the viewscreen as if he was going to embrace it. His face, visibly marked by insomnia and excessive worry, lit up like a candle, and a beautiful smile bloomed at his lips.

“Jim!” he only said. There was so much happiness and love in this one short word that Kirk suddenly felt very ashamed of having feared the Vulcan’s reaction. He felt a wave of happiness and longing suffocate him, forming a lump in his throat.

“I missed you all”, he said to the Enterprise bridge crew, but speaking particularly to Spock.

“Are you and Doctor McCoy all right?”, Spock asked, when he recovered his speech.

“Yes, we’re fine! We have just been dropped on Xandra after quite an interesting tour… Could you please pick us up?”

“On Xandra? I was about to take the Enterprise to Orion, having come to the conclusion that I would find you there. We will be there in two standard days.”

“And you wouldn’t be mistaken: you would just miss me by days. We’ll be waiting. Kirk out.”

Two days! After two days, he would have his life back once more: his ship, his crew, his love… As the only change, he would have to find a new CMO… He felt a pang of painful regret in his chest. The Enterprise sickbay simply didn’t feel right without Bones. What other doctor would ever put up with his whims, fears and allergies?... Who would talk to him in the middle of the night over a glass of something else than Vulcan tea?... And where would Bones go? Would he be happy? Would he find a new love?... As much as Kirk wanted to wish him this, the thought came with a tremendous effort.

During the two days of waiting, Kirk got to know the Xandrans better and become friends with queen Aaniit. He also ascertained the wellbeing of his contact team most of whom, although delighted with Xandra and its inhabitants, were quite ready to take the occasion to return to the ship, trading places with someone else.

But most of Kirk’s time was spent with Bones. Since the Xandrans had very advanced medical facilities, McCoy managed to adapt them to human needs sufficiently to finally cure Kirk’s plasma burns, regenerate properly his broken wrist (‘But don’t fall on it again anytime soon, idiot!’) and stimulate nail growth, so that his hands and feet wouldn’t present this grueling sight anymore when the Enterprise came for them.

Kirk submitted to all ministrations with an uncharacteristic complacency, and while his behavior wasn’t openly indecent, McCoy had the impression that if he didn’t want to remain faithful to Spock at all cost, Kirk wouldn’t actually mind some crazy goodbye sex on one – or several – of the Xandran biobeds. Difficult though it was, he kept his distance, and Kirk never crossed it, his wishes constantly betrayed only by this longing, sorrowful look in his eyes.

As the Enterprise approached, the telepathic bond came to life and Kirk could sense Spock’s general feelings over the distance still separating them. He sensed happiness, anticipation, love, but also anxiety of some sort that he didn’t really know why Spock was feeling, since they maintained also comm contact and Kirk made clear that he was perfectly all right.

For his part, although he was relieved to no longer be forced to shield the bond – doing so required much effort, and despite not knowing its source, he had been quite affected by the fatigue of maintaining the shield when his amnesia prevented him from reaching out to release it – at the same time, he still had to hide some of his thoughts and feelings, at least for the time being, before he had an occasion to actually speak to Spock. He sensed a mute inquiry, but left it without answer. Reassured as he now was about Spock’s love and longing, he didn’t fear so much revealing his unvoluntary betrayal anymore; he simply felt sorry for the hurt it was certainly bound to cause, but promised himself to make it up to Spock, if necessary, straight away upon arrival.

When the Enterprise finally locked orbit over Xandra, Kirk decided that it would be best to talk to Spock immediately, in the safe privacy of his own quarters, that had seen so much of their love. Anticipating that the ship would need to remain in orbit one or two days to organize an exchange of the contact team, Kirk asked McCoy to remain on Xandra a day longer, which wasn’t unreasonable, given that McCoy hadn’t finished studying Xandran medical solutions, some of which potentially applicable to other humanoids.

McCoy protested at first, wanting to support Kirk and take the blame if the need arose, but he didn’t dare insist: after all, he had caused the situation, so the least he should do was letting Kirk resolve it the way he chose to. Besides, remaining safe from Spock’s anger did seem like a good idea, given that he was the real culprit in this situation, and that he wasn’t protected by Spock’s love.

When Kirk beamed up to his ship, Spock was the only one present in the transporter room. As soon as he materialized, he was crushed in a powerful embrace, while a hungry Vulcan mouth kissed his entire face and neck, before devouring his mouth until he lost his breath.

“You really do seem all right”, Spock said when he managed to finally detach himself from his dearly missed bondmate enough to inspect him visually.

“Yeah”, Kirk confirmed with a smile. “Sorry for having caused you worry… But I must prevent you: it wasn’t an easy ride”, he added, biting his lip. “I’d like to talk with you.”

“Of course, ashayam. The crew prepared a surprise dinner in the mess hall, I suggest you attend, since the doctor has already preferred scientific discoveries to the trifles of sociability.”

Half-heartedly, Kirk sat through the welcome back dinner that his crew had organized. He was touched to find his and McCoy’s favorite dishes and a special decoration, as well as an artistic program prepared solely to celebrate their return. However, he was impatient to speak with Spock and have the burden of the unpleasant confession lifted from his shoulders. While Spock, now looking duly emotionless in front of the crew, seemed all happy and loving in the bond, Kirk noticed that he also had shielded a part of his thoughts.

Still quite early into the evening, he pretexted fatigue and withdrew to his quarters, with his first officer on his heels. When they entered his quarters and engaged the privacy lock not to be disturbed, Kirk found himself embraced and kissed breathless again. He reciprocated, but when Spock reached under his clothes, he stopped him.

“After we’ve talked, all right?” he asked in a serious voice betraying some of his worry.

“Of course, ashayam. You seem troubled”, Spock answered, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, yeah… The time when we were separated wasn’t exactly a party, and it’s no party to tell…” A quick glance confirmed that Spock no longer had cuddles on his mind, but waited in a worried silence to hear this difficult story. Kirk continued:

“We were abducted by some Orion boss, who wanted Bones to cure his son. Unfortunately, the illness seemed fatal and the symptoms never seen before… When Bones described them to me, I realized they were symptoms produced in Orions by the Tarsus fungus… I remembered having been told the cure, but it had been while I was being… while I was… Kodos’s prisoner. To remember the cure, I asked our gracious hosts to make me believe I was on Tarsus again. They starved me, disoriented me, and tortured me…”

“Ashayam…”, Spock interrupted him, shocked.

“Shsh! Let me finish…”, Kirk was impatient to continue. “It worked, actually, it worked too well. I got everything completely messed up… I didn’t know where I was anymore… I felt like a helpless teenager… Besides, even when I realized I wasn’t on Tarsus anymore, my normal self was still blocked because of the fact that I had completely shielded our bond before subjecting myself to the experiment. I figured if you came in range… it would be cruel to expose you to my mind freaking out due to a realistic Tarsus simulation…”

“You were not obliged to protect me, Jim”, Spock protested, taking his hand tenderly. “Shielding the bond requires tremendous effort, and in a situation where you were already taking so much upon yourself…”

“Maybe I had overestimated my mental strength”, Kirk conceded, “because effectively, this shield did something strange to my mind… In fact, I didn’t remember the bond at all, I… I didn’t even remember you. I really regret that I did it, but try to understand: I didn’t know if I would ever recover my sanity at all… I didn’t want to cause you pain…”

“Your motives are noble, as always”, Spock said cautiously, confused by Kirk’s apologetic tone. “The will to protect me is not something for which you should apologize, even if it resulted in temporary amnesia…”

“Yes, but…” Kirk stopped nervously. Spock didn’t look angry or discontent, on the contrary, he was compassionate and soothing. But he still didn’t know the key piece of information… ‘Come on, don’t be a coward, tell him’, Kirk berated himself. ‘At worst, he gets angry, you have a fight, call each other names… Couples do that. Especially upon learning one of the partners had a little too much fun during his shore leave…’

“When I didn’t remember you, Spock… I did something that I regret…”

Spock tensed visibly. This strange anxiety that Kirk had sensed over the distance, before Spock shielded it, became more perceptible again, this time in his eyes as well as telepathically.

“Maybe it’s simpler if I show you”, Kirk said, unable to find words that would transmit the news in a way that wouldn’t be hurtful, but trying to be brave. During several moments, they looked in each other’s eyes, and Kirk clearly noticed this strange anxiety in Spock’s expression.

However, he told himself that he should trust his lover, and guided the Vulcan’s hand to his temple. Without even pronouncing the words, Spock easily entered his mind, and Kirk tried to show him what happened without unnecessary detail, making sure that he also showed that, despite having some feelings for McCoy, he still loved Spock and intended to remain faithful to him.

But then suddenly, all hell broke loose. In the telepathic contact, Spock’s emotions, upon learning about Kirk’s involuntary relationship with McCoy, momentarily changed from tender and supportive into a whirlwind of despair and wild fury. Unable to counter this onslaught with reassurances of love, or even to withstand it, Kirk struggled to break the physical contact of the meld, but the grip of Spock’s hands on his face, of Spock’s mind on his, was too powerful.

He belatedly tried to shield his thoughts, to at least hide the enjoyment that he had found, unsuspecting, in McCoy’s arms, but in such direct contact blocking the telepathically skilled Spock proved simply impossible. Crushing desperate resistance, Spock accessed Kirk’s memories of these several days when he was amnesiac. He felt his confusion, disorientation and fear, the constant unease from the shielded and temporarily forgotten bond, but he concentrated most of all on the comfort that Kirk found in his doctor’s arms, on their mutual affection, love, passion.

With masochistic stubbornness, Spock tore from Kirk’s mind every last memory of this time, of what they did together, until he literally rendered himself mad with jealousy, while his bondmate, unable to stand the intensity of his emotions, struggled and whined in his grip, feebly trying to push forward some calming thoughts, that all ended up burned to ashes by the fire of Spock’s frenzy.

When there was nothing left to learn, Spock finally broke the direct mental contact, letting Kirk slump to the deck in exhaustion. But his emotions were so powerful that Kirk couldn’t block them out from the bond, or offer any real resistance. Seeing his lover so angry brought to his mind horrible memories of one previous time when he had seen Spock like this, and it had ended very badly for him.

“Spock! I still love you! It wasn’t my fault… I wasn’t myself! Our bond is sacred to me…”, he said pleadingly, hoping to reach Spock through words since he didn’t seem to acknowledge his attempts at telepathic communication.

“Do not dare to say this! You have defiled our bond!” Spock hissed venomously. “And to think that to remain faithful to you, I refused to give a child to a noble Vulcan woman who might never have another opportunity to become mother! She warned me that I would end up being the only faithful one in this couple!... Volatile human! I want this traitor of a doctor out of this ship! You must never speak to him again!”

“Now, Spock, you’re going too far”, Kirk answered, getting up from the ground. Bitter disappointment over Spock’s reaction was making him angry as well, and temporarily blind to the dangers of provoking a furious Vulcan. “I’m still the captain of this vessel, and the decisions about her personnel are mine alone! McCoy meant well…”

This sentence was rewarded with a backhanded blow to his jaw, so violent that it sent him flying against a bulkhead.

“Of this I have no doubt”, Spock spat out. “He meant well, and managed to please you quite well, did he not?”

“Stop it, Spock! I wasn’t myself! I was traumatized, amnesiac…”

“I have seen just how traumatized you were”, Spock mocked him. “I think you need a reminder to whom you belong!”

“No! Don’t! You can’t, Spock, not like this!”

Despite the protest, Spock lunged at him, and Kirk struggled in desperate yet futile attempts to break free, to reach for his communicator, to escape, to fight back, to do anything rather than be a victim of an overwhelming power yet again. But, while he managed to land several blows against Spock’s chest and face, his strength was nothing compared to the Vulcan’s, and he was bound to lose.

Screaming from the top of his lungs while he was being beaten into submission, having his clothes ripped to shreds on him, he bitterly regretted having soundproofed his quarters to be able to enjoy a moment of privacy with his lover, after they would have explained everything, and Spock would want to prove him that he still loved him…

//You do not deserve love//, Spock hissed into the bond, having picked up this thought. //Humans are volatile unfaithful whores, unworthy of a Vulcan bond…//

“I’m not… a whore!”, Kirk yelled, before his face was smashed into his own pillow and kept there with a hand tangled into his hair until he felt dizzy with lack of oxygen, while Spock took him brutally, without preparations, mercy or regards, pounding into him as if he wasn’t aware of his lover’s pain and fear, as if he wanted to fuck out of him any trace of McCoy, any memory of McCoy. There wasn’t even any desire in this frantic, brutal act; merely a possessive frenzy urging to punish, reclaim and dominate.

‘Bones would never do something like this to me…’, Kirk thought, involuntarily remembering the tenderness, the loving passion of their embraces, the doctor’s gentleness in every loving touch. It was, of course, the wrong thing to remember just now: it only angered Spock further.

Humiliated and defeated, Kirk stopped fighting. Swallowing tears, he simply endured the cruel attentions, the bruising grip on his hips, the merciless thrusting into his body that he felt torn and bleeding, the deep bites that left scarlet marks on his neck and shoulders, the onslaught of hostile, punishing emotions. He had had enough experience to know that sometimes, silently enduring was better than fighting, and he was hit by the excruciating realization that there was nothing left to fight for anyway.

When Spock was finished, he withdrew and threw his prostrated lover a disdainful look. Kirk was sobbing uncontrollably, his bruised face all wet with tears, his body shaking and trembling convulsively.

“It’s over, Spock”, he said when he recovered his speech. “I’m not your possession… or your… slave, that you can brutalize when something displeases you. I might still love you, but I won’t be treated like this… I’ll report this… assault… and now get out and don’t show your face to me again…”

“One cannot ‘assault’ one’s bondmate”, Spock told him. “By your own vows, your body belongs to me. I can take you whenever I wish. Giving yourself to another, on the other hand, is an offence to the Vulcan law…”

“We’re not on Vulcan. Now get out of here or I’ll call security”, Kirk interrupted him. To his relief, Spock left – although his emotions were still composed of fury and hurt, having taken them out on their object toned down their intensity, and Kirk managed to shield his mind, attempting both to detach himself from Spock’s hostility and to deprive him of the opportunity to spy on his feelings anymore.

Shaken to the core, aching and trembling all over, Kirk dragged himself to the bathroom. A look at the mirror told him he was a mess: a split lip, a big bruise on his jawline, another around his eye, a bleeding bitemark on his neck. He took a short shower, noticing his other bruises and abrasions, as well as a hot trickle of blood running down his thighs, wondering in silent shock how his beloved bondmate Spock, without having the alibi of a blood fever or other mind-altering condition, could have done all this to him.

He realized he could use medical attention, but going to sickbay, telling what happened to M’Benga or some other, maybe completely unfamiliar doctor, answering questions about who, why and how, seemed completely impossible to him. Of course, he could always comm Bones or beam down to meet him on Xandra, but to do what? ‘To tell him to hold my hand, because Spock got nasty with me upon learning our little secret together? Or to tell him to patch up my torn ass, and wonder whether it will make him pity me or want me?... No.’

He suddenly felt completely alone on his own ship. He felt used, soiled, defiled by the two people whom he had always trusted and loved the most, even though they had already failed him in the past. He didn’t want to remain anywhere near Spock; he feared to be overwhelmed by his hostile emotions again, if he didn’t manage to withhold his mental shields, and he also feared quite literally that Spock would come to insult him again, or worse.

Without really weighing his options rationally, searching blindly to alleviate the pain tearing his heart apart, he decided to beam down to Xandra, simply to distance himself from Spock and breath a different atmosphere. With some effort, hissing at the pain movements were causing him – a pain he was way too accustomed to feel – he got dressed and went to the transporter room, carrying a phaser but no communicator.

At the beaming point, Kirk was greeted by a Xandran responsible for overseeing all traffic between the surface and the orbit. Recognizing the captain, and noticing his injuries, he immediately proposed to accompany him to Doctor McCoy who was still working in Xandran medical facility, but Kirk protested that he only wanted to take a walk and be alone for a while.

Seeing that he was about to take the path leading away from the city, the Xandran warned him not to venture too far into the wilderness, because the hour was already advanced, and Xandran forests were dangerous at night, because of dropping temperatures and big predators active mostly at night, called the imogis. Kirk told him that he only wanted to take a short walk, but, lost in his thoughts, he had barely registered the warning.

After half an hour, despite his rather uncertain gait, he reached the edge of the beautiful, alien forest lush with vegetation of colors and shapes that were nothing like those on Earth. He didn’t even notice much of the exuberant nature around him; he just walked straight ahead, stumbling on the occasional root protruding from the soft ground, hardly minding his path as he blindly took turns at subsequent bifurcations.

‘What the hell were you thinking?’, a voice mocked him, one he had once known all too well, but had kept silenced recently. ‘Did you want Spock to praise you for having had such good time with McCoy? Did you expect him to just get over the fact that, separated from him for mere weeks, you took another lover? While he was missing you, preserving himself only for you, rejecting other temptations, better than you, you enjoyed yourself rather thoroughly with your sneaky friend… like the whore that you are…’

‘No, no, that’s not true’, he defended himself frantically against the bitter accusation. ‘I’m not a whore! I never wanted to cheat on Spock, I was amnesiac…’

‘Oh yes, you can repeat yourself that’, the cruel voice countered without missing a beat. ‘Why do you think you even mistook McCoy for your lover in the first place? Isn’t it obvious? Well yes, you know the answer! Because you’re a greedy little whore who wasn’t satisfied with having just one lover… Spock was just too good to you! Loving, tender, exposing himself to constant contact with your messed up little mind, doing everything to make you feel good… And yet unconsciously, you craved the doctor as well… You call that faithfulness?... Spock was quite lenient with you, he should have beaten you unconscious, or killed you as you stood…’

‘No! It wasn’t my fault… I was traumatized, shocked, amnesiac…’

‘Then why did you refuse to punish McCoy? If you’re innocent, then he’s the guilty one! If you really wanted to keep faith to Spock, then why did you refuse to punish the person who tricked you, took advantage of you, fucked you over and over knowing full well that you belonged to another? Because you realize that you wanted McCoy to fuck you all along, and he just went along with it, so punishing him would be unjust! And you dare call yourself faithful… A loving bondmate… Doing Spock a favor by deciding to give him back your pathetic ruined hole, like it was worth anything anymore…’

‘No! Spock loves me, I’m not pathetic! I’m not pathetic…’ Kirk desperately clutched his head with his hands, trying to push away the cruel insinuations and insults thrown at him implacably by his worst critic: his own mind. ‘It wasn’t my fault what happened… I had wanted to be honest with him, I had trusted him, I had never stopped loving him… For fuck’s sake, I had been absent for half a month! Imprisoned and tortured insane! Even if I really had cheated on him, even if I had done it simply to feel less scared and tormented, he had no right to beat me… or to assault me…’

‘Assault you?’ Kirk’s accuser seemed almost amused. ‘Now you are being plain ridiculous. How could he assault you when you had been taken by half the universe?... He had the right to be angry, and to show you your place…’

‘No! No! I won’t be treated like this!... I want to be loved, I deserve to be loved!...’

‘By whom? Because the men you love obviously don’t share this pathetic feeling… The doctor tricked you, took advantage of you, fucked you when you were sure he was your actual boyfriend… Spock punished you, beat you, and it’s only luck you don’t have any broken bones – this time… I wonder, will these two meet up and compare their impressions from having enjoyed your body and your affection?... And you, can you compare? Who fucked you better? Whose cock tasted better in your mouth? Who blew you more skillfully?...’

With time, Kirk found himself increasingly unable to resist the cruel oppressor he had for so long hardly ever resisted at all: the one inhabiting his own mind. Crushed by Spock’s demonstrative fury and disdain, upset by McCoy’s taking the decision for him, assaulted by guilt alternated with acute disappointment with both his lovers, emotionally drained by all the ordeal he had been put through on Orion, weakened by his physical injuries, he lost the ability of logical thinking, completely consumed by the internal fight, trying to soothe at least some of the pain, to save at least a fraction of his dignity and his faith. But the more he struggled, the more abandoned, wronged and worthless he felt, unable to count on his loved ones, too destroyed to rely on himself anymore, although he had done it for so long.

While he was stumbling frantically through the jungle, overcome by his thoughts and increasingly overwhelmed with fatigue, he didn’t even notice when a sticky vine that got caught in his clothes detached his phaser from his belt, nesting it uselessly among its exuberant foliage. He was surprised when he suddenly found himself shaking, his teeth clattering and his skin covered with goosebumps. He realized that the Xandran star had set, and – while the jungle was lit sufficiently by the planet’s numerous satellites and a natural luminescence of the local flora – it had become unbearably cold.

When breathing into his palms, hugging himself with his arms and a clumsy attempt at exercise didn’t help, he realized that returning to the ship or to the Xandran city was a more logical course of action, if he didn’t want to add pneumonia to the already long list of his miseries. But then he understood that he was in the middle of nowhere, completely lost in an alien jungle against the dangers of which he had been warned. He tried to backtrack, to find his way back to the beaming point, but the landscape was so foreign, and he had been so oblivious to where he was going that he soon realized he had no chance.

He had taken no communicator to avoid being disturbed, but now he would give much to be able to just call the Enterprise and request help. There was still the bond – he could unblock it and, if Spock hadn’t completely blocked his side, maybe he would hear a call for help and wouldn’t leave his wayward lover alone in the cold, alien wilderness. But Kirk couldn’t bring himself to ask for his help, after having caused him so much pain, and after having been paid back in the kind. Resigned, he reached for a bush with particularly dense and fleshy leaves, thinking about building himself some sort of shelter. They would, of course, find him eventually, and the temperature wasn’t Delta Vega level of low. He would survive: he wasn’t in any immediate danger.

Well, or so he had thought. As he was struggling to break off several of the big purple leaves, he suddenly had a strange impression, as if he was being watched, although he didn’t exactly hear anyone approaching, over the continuous rustle of the vegetation swayed by the chilling breeze. He turned around slowly, and the sight ahead of him took his breath away. A huge animal was just jumping from a tree and slowly walking in his direction, without making the slightest sound despite its imposing dimensions.

It looked a little like Terran black panther, but not quite: its eyes and mouth were proportionally bigger, and its entire body was immense: perhaps twice as large as a tiger’s. Its onyx black fur was glowing different hues of purple and magenta, while its huge immobile eyes, bright sparkling green with round navy blue pupils, were staring precisely at Kirk. When it saw that it had been spotted, it emitted a low guttural roar, showing two ranks of massive silver teeth, looking sharper than a Klingon bat’leth. It was impossible for a human to physically resist it in any way: it obviously couldn’t be outrun or overpowered.

Feeling his survival instincts kicking in despite his foggy mind, Kirk reached for his phaser, only to discover that it was missing, leaving him a helpless prey to the beast against which, as he now vaguely and uselessly remembered, he had also been warned by the Xandran official. He rapidly assessed his options, only to conclude that he had none: the animal was obviously hostile, looked hungry, and only meters now separated it from him. He briefly considered opening the bond, not to bring help for which now was probably too late, but at least to say goodbye, to ask for forgiveness, to say he forgave – but he saw no point, and after all that had happened, leaving the bond blocked seemed easier. He could try to run, find a stick to fight, but the futility of such actions against the roaring mass of muscle in front of him was too flagrant. Hesitating between regret and relief, Kirk simply resigned himself to the inevitable. He closed his eyes and waited, flinching at the sound that the imogi made when it lunged at him.

 

After his fight with Kirk, Spock retired to his quarters in a state of total emotional disarray. He couldn’t even hope to achieve any sort of balance or control. His bondmate blocked himself, so he remained yet again all alone in his head, unable to deal with the all consuming fury, stemming from a foundation of deep searing pain. Betrayed! Mocked! Abandoned! By the person whom he had trusted the most…

With his tortured mind, he saw over and over again Kirk’s loving caresses with McCoy, watched them kissing, whispering tender I love you’s, drowning in each other’s eyes, watched them make love – sometimes slower and more cautiously, when Kirk was injured, and then more daringly when he was getting better. These images were like a burning brand applied again and again to his poor tortured soul, to the point of bringing him to the edge of insanity.

And the cruel humiliation of this vile betrayal! They had all been right, all those who, consciously or not, had warned him against Kirk. The little Joanna needed a few seconds to see what was going on between these two, while he, a grownup Vulcan with all his powerful mind, hadn’t been able to see what was right in front of him.

T’Sahna and Admiral Annaki had insinuated that he couldn’t be sure if his bondmate’s faith would be as exemplary as his own, and how ridiculously outraged and hurt he had been! So now, he knew. A short separation was enough to push Kirk into the doctor’s arms! That was what vows and promises meant to Jim Kirk! Maybe all the humans were volatile and unfaithful, or maybe he simply was… a whore, a greedy slut who wasn’t satisfied with just one lover, even though Spock thought their techniques had been very creative and regularly perfected. How he regretted now having refused T’Sahna’s request!... What a fool he had made of himself, at the cost of preventing his species from having a new citizen…

However, with time, as his mind tired itself of numbly chewing Kirk’s betrayal over at over again, more sober thoughts started to filter through. He noticed with some astonishment that his knuckles and his clothes were stained with human blood, and there was a metallic iron-based blood aftertaste in his mouth. He vaguely remembered having hit Kirk, having claimed him brutally enough to make him bleed, and he could hardly blame himself for what had been a rather logical reaction to his bondmate’s crime, and yet…

Slowly, he started analyzing also other elements of the situation. After all, the betrayal wasn’t only Kirk’s fault: the amnesia had been quite real, as he knew directly from Kirk’s memories, and the doctor had really taken advantage of Kirk in a rather ruthless manner, unfair toward Spock as well as toward Jim himself. Why didn’t Kirk want to punish him? To accuse him, to make him transfer?

But Kirk loved McCoy, that Spock also knew from his mind, to his deepest despair. His beloved, his bondmate, the soul of his soul, the presence in his mind, loved another. And as much as it hurt him to acknowledge this fact, there was nothing that could be done about it: not even Jim himself could control it. He had probably only himself to blame: after all, he had abandoned Kirk after his pon farr…

And yet, even loving McCoy, Kirk came to him, to Spock, to tell him the truth, to declare his continuing love for him, to offer to stop his relationship with McCoy for him, even though it made his heart ache… He had trusted Spock, missed Spock, felt guilty despite having been traumatized and tricked… And in fact, he had wanted to remain true to his word, true to his vows that he had defiled – no, not defiled, that he had unwillingly betrayed, but could an unaware action really be a betrayal?

Gradually, as the frenzied jealousy faded to a background ache, Spock remembered in more detail how Kirk had behaved during their altercation. He remembered his trust when he had proposed to open his mind to Spock; his shocked disbelief when Spock got mad, attacked and insulted him; his futile but desperate attempts at self-defense; his pain and humiliation when he was taken against his will, without love; his anger and hurt when he told Spock to leave and never come back.

And then it occurred to Spock that ultimately, maybe he wasn’t the only one wronged, maybe not the most cruelly, and maybe not by Jim. On the contrary, despite having been cruelly hurt by the Orions, then practically tricked into discovering his feelings for McCoy, he had still attempted to remain faithful to Spock: after having remembered his true love – or first love – he didn’t touch McCoy anymore, even though he probably still needed comfort, and maybe still felt desire for him.

Upon realizing all this, Spock suddenly felt a heart-wrenching, all-encompassing regret for his first reaction. After all, Kirk hadn’t been on a vacation on Orion. Not only had he been brutally tortured – which had become almost a routine for him, but that didn’t mean it was any less painful – but he was also deliberately made to relive his worst trauma, until a point where he lost his bearings, thought he was really at Tarsus IV again. He had gone through hell, then sought comfort with the person he considered as his legitimate partner… only to learn that he had been tricked, used… He had really wanted to be mad at McCoy, but how to be mad with a person whom you love, for loving you as well, perhaps too much?

And yet, despite all this, despite fearing Spock’s reaction, despite remembering that he had gotten a broken wrist for just looking at an ensign the wrong way, he had still come to Spock, chosen trust, honesty, chosen the bond… Kirk had an alternative. He could just choose McCoy, and remain with the doctor, who would be happy to have him without any exaggerated Vulcan expectations – and yet, Kirk chose to be faithful to his word, to Spock… How was he repaid?

And then Spock also remembered Kirk’s last words, an angry, disenchanted promise of legal pursuit and a wish never to see him again. Spock had no idea if their bond could be safely undone again. He certainly couldn’t ask T’Sahna for doing it again, but the force of the link was such that he suspected even a skilled healer could be helpless against it. If Kirk really decided to leave him, to remain away from him, perhaps live with McCoy, Spock’s existence would soon turn to hell. A separation from his bonded one meant the torments of solitude, of mental sterility, and also, at the moment of his next pon farr, his death from the plak tow.

Spock understood with dismay that his jealousy might have destroyed what Kirk’s love for McCoy didn’t necessarily have to destroy. Kirk was prepared to still be with Spock exclusively, to honor their bond, and to try to be happy together, but by brutalizing and humiliating him, instead of showing love and joy at his safe return, Spock was aware of having probably ruined this chance. Did he call his bondmate a whore? In his thoughts if not in words, and certainly by his actions.

The paradox of his human and Vulcan heritage had turned against him once again. Vulcans were very possessive and jealous, it was written in their biology and condoned by their culture. Spock had wanted to love his bondmate as he was, especially that he was nothing less than faithful, but had ultimately succumbed to this Vulcan bias… He wasn’t sure if he deserved forgiveness, but he knew he owed Kirk an apology.

At first, he tried to contact him through the bond, but he was being fiercely blocked. He didn’t even know if this was Kirk’s way to express anger, to punish him, or a defensive stance against feeling his demeaning jealousy again. He buzzed Kirk’s quarters, but when there was no reply, he went back, defeated, before realizing that Kirk could be available somewhere else on the ship: he could have wanted to treat his injuries, or talk to someone about what had happened. Mortified, Spock asked the computer to locate Captain Kirk, and was surprised to be informed that he had beamed down to the planet’s surface.

‘He went to the doctor! To be comforted by his lover!’, was Spock’s first, angry thought, but after everything that had happened, he managed to check himself. ‘If he went to Doctor McCoy, it could be to seek medical help, that you, once more, have made him need. Or even if not… he had come to you, first, and what good had it done him?’

Unable to stand the uncertainty and the isolation, Spock decided to beam down as well and talk to Kirk. Even if he had indeed joined McCoy, and not merely for medical reasons, Spock was determined to only apologize for his behavior and retreat, although he understood that it would be most difficult to see them together and simply leave.

When he beamed down, he asked the Xandran guard where he could find the doctor. The Xandran was visibly surprised because of the very advanced hour, but showed him the way. McCoy had been given a room in the main city, not far from the medical complex. Spock knocked to the door and waited a longer moment, until finally the door was opened by a sleepy, disheveled, red-eyed McCoy. When he saw Spock, he made three steps backward, in a move that looked more defensive than inviting. There was fear in his eyes.

“Doctor McCoy”, Spock said calmly. “I have not come here with ill intent. I would only like to speak to Jim. I will not inconvenience him or you in any way, merely explain my behavior…”

McCoy threw him a surprised glance.

“Well, Spock, if you want to speak to Jim, you should go to see Jim, not me… Have you guys talked?”, he asked, unsure of how much Spock knew about what had happened. Apparently, not enough, or he would by now be sporting a broken jaw, and Spock would know that Kirk wouldn’t come to him.

“Yes”, Spock confirmed. “We had… an altercation. I may have acted somewhat… impulsively. I would like to apologize.”

“Acted impulsively? What is this supposed to mean?”, McCoy asked with an anxious frown.

“I was very jealous”, Spock admitted, and then continued reluctantly when the doctor still maintained his inquisitive look: “I… insulted him. I also hit him… several times. I… reclaimed him.”

“Reclaimed him? You mean you beat him up, but then at least had a nice makeup sex?”, McCoy asked somewhat aggressively. The question was of course indiscreet, but the doctor didn’t care. He was too worried for Jim to be sensitive to Vulcan privacy. Surprisingly, Spock didn’t seem very inconvenienced by the intrusion.

“I… don’t think it would count as such, if I understand your vernacular correctly”, he answered, his cheeks visibly a tone greener with shame. “I… reclaimed him despite his reservations. We did not make up. I wanted to apologize now…”

“Hey, Spock, wait there!... In plain human terms!”, McCoy almost yelled, cornered between incredulity and dawning horror. “Are you telling me that you insulted him, trashed him and… fucking raped him?!”

“I did not see it as… rape”, Spock answered lamely, the awful word passing through his throat with obvious difficulty. Between bondmates, it was customary to take liberties, arousal being usually communicated through the bond, making the desire mutual. But in this case… “I merely wanted to make him belong to me again, and since Jim struggled, I think the term you used could be deemed adequate.”

“You fucking unfeeling green-blooded hobgoblin!”, McCoy yelled, oblivious to the late hour and the sleeping Xandrans in the houses around. “Upon learning that he had been abducted… tortured insane… amnesiac… all you could do was insult him, beat him and rape him? God, you never loved him!”

The sudden realization was to the doctor like a blow in the gut. He reeled backwards, hid his face in his hands and shook it violently, suppressing sobs.

“You bastard…”, he whispered. “I saw it… I saw he was afraid of you, but in my naivety, I couldn’t believe you would actually hurt your… t’hy’la, if you pardon my Vulcan… You simply don’t love him, never have! If you had a tiniest little bit of love for him, you would be happy to see him back in one piece, because it really was a long shot! But… no! He goes to you, traumatized, guilt-ridden although he was in all fairness faultless, and he gets… brutalized and raped! Whatever it is, this Vulcan thing you have for him, it’s nothing like love. A human would never treat their beloved in such way, I would never…”

The doctor cut off his bitter tirade, suddenly unpleasantly conscious of where it was leading him. Okay, so he wouldn’t beat or insult Kirk, but… didn’t he take illegitimate liberties that ultimately wronged both Kirk and Spock and led to the point in which they were now?

“Sorry, Spock”, he said to the Vulcan, who was watching him in excruciating silence. “I’m not the one who should be giving you lessons. I’m no better than you…”

“Why, Doctor?”, Spock asked quietly. “I understand that you were feeling desire for Jim. But you were his friend. I had once thought – mistakenly, to be assured – than you were mine, too.” The words were spoken in a calm tone, but even a stranger would hear the pain pervading them.

“Forgive me, Spock”, McCoy whispered. “If you ever can… I’ve loved him for so long… we were far away, alone, surrounded with enemies… I didn’t know if we’d ever return to Earth and to you again… I just figured… it would be better if he thought he had his love by his side, rather than across the quadrant… But in fact, I was just being an egoistic jerk, betraying both your trust and Jim’s… I was going to remove myself for good, to transfer to Earth… Jim said he would accept…”

“I had missed him with all the force of a bond, stretched throughout space, mute and lonely”, Spock confessed quietly. “And my heart rejoiced in knowing him safe here on Xandra, of meeting him on the Enterprise… But when he showed me the images of you and him…” Spock had to stop, because anger and despair threatened to overwhelm him again, but he eventually managed to stay true to his resolve. “I was overwhelmed by feelings too primal and too strong to be subjected to logical scrutiny. I deeply regret what I did. I wish I could be a human, not a Vulcan, to be a better mate to Jim. I do not know if he will want to continue our relationship: he told me to never come to him again.”

There was something so sad about Spock’s admission that he would rather be a human that McCoy regretted his cruel words. Spock obviously did love Kirk, in his own way, but like anyone else, he was subject to the whims of his biological makeup. His had not been a willful, reasoned decision to hurt, while McCoy couldn’t justify himself in the same manner.

Realizing that they had both wronged the man they loved, they looked at each other with a sudden sense of complicity in crime. But if they were here, together, licking their wounds, almost wallowing in self-pity, where was Jim? And how was he feeling, tricked and used by one of his lovers, abused and brutalized by the other?

“Spock, you said you wanted to talk to Jim… But since he’s obviously not with me, and I surmise also not aboard the Enterprise, where the hell is he?”

“This is a very good question”, Spock answered. “Since he beamed down to Xandra, the guard at the beaming point may be able to inform us.”

After taking some warmer clothing from the selection left for McCoy by the hospitable Xandrans, they went back to the beaming point, more anxious than they would admit. The guard told them that, despite being warned about the cold and the hunting imogis, extremely dangerous predators mostly active at night, he had set off straight for the jungle. The Xandran had noticed that the human captain was obviously hurt, not dressed sufficiently and somewhat incoherent, but his role was not to interfere with another’s freedom when no Xandran law was being broken, therefore he had made no attempt to stop him.

Anxious more than before, they immediately set off for the jungle despite the guard’s sober remark that they, too, could fall prey to the imogis, if they weren’t cautious enough. Spock could ascertain that Kirk was alive, but little more than this: the bond was still shielded and, despite repeated telepathic attempts, he didn’t get any answer. He asked the Enterprise to scan for the captain’s life signs, but unfortunately, the fluorescent jungle of Xandra had some signal-blocking properties, and results of such scans were often unsatisfactory.

At first, they were helped in their tracking task by frail traces of blood left here and there by Jim, but later they became too scarce to be noticed. They both felt heartbreaking sorrow and guilt, picturing their unhappy lover, tricked, used, insulted and abandoned, stumbling blindly across the alien jungle in a futile effort to forget the pain. They both realized that if something bad really happened to Kirk, which wasn’t impossible in a place such as this, they would never forgive themselves.

McCoy was already becoming exhausted by this long nocturnal run across tangled wilderness, when Spock stopped him and pointed out:

“Our chances of finding Jim without the help of a scanner, with tricorder life readings unreliable due to the vegetal interference, are extremely slim, even if we bring more search parties. If he is, indeed, cold or in other sort of trouble, finding him might prove of vital importance.”

“Do we have other options?”, McCoy asked impatiently.

“I can think of one”, Spock admitted. “I could try to break through Jim’s mental shield, and then the bond would be able to guide me to him. It is not what we normally do, but…”

“Yeah, go on”, McCoy acquiesced without much hesitation. After all the violations perpetrated against Kirk out of lust, cruelty, or aggression, this one meant to find and help him certainly wasn’t going to hurt him.

Spock nodded, then closed his eyes and concentrated. It looked like he was expanding much effort, but after several short moments, he suddenly looked at McCoy, surprised.

“I have succeeded”, he informed him. “Most unusual. The block was very negligent…”

“And? What did you find out?”

“Jim is safe”, Spock answered immediately. “He is sleeping, maybe that’s why the block was so easy to remove… He is warm, comfortable, and is having pleasant dreams… He is very close from here. I suggest that we join him.”

“Well, certainly sounds a little strange”, McCoy commented, intrigued, although relief was almost a tangible thing in his voice and attitude.

They set off in the direction that Spock could sense through the bond. After several hundreds more meters, they were suddenly shocked by a view that they wouldn’t forget anytime soon.

Kirk was lying on the ground, sound asleep, breathing regularly and even smiling a little through his sleep, all hugged and nested cozily in… what looked like a giant, furry black panther, gleaming deep shades of purple. The animal, curled protectively around the resting human, also seemed asleep, breathing at the same rhythm as Kirk. They looked like an illustration from a Terran book for children, with a sleeping child hugging a teddy bear twice as big. Only in this case, the teddy bear was a dangerous predator, whose big sharp teeth visible through a slightly open mouth didn’t leave any doubt that if it wanted to, it could detach the frail human’s head in just one chomp.

Spock and McCoy were staring, nonplussed, at their friend sleeping so peacefully in the beast’s embrace.

“Weren’t they supposed to be bloodthirsty man-eaters?”, McCoy asked in a cautious whisper.

“Yes, the Xandrans fear the imogis greatly”, Spock answered just as quietly. “Set your phaser on stun, we do not know how it will react to us, or whether it will not change its mind about Jim, upon, perhaps, waking up hungry… I will try to carefully wake Jim through the bond. Remain vigilant.”

After a moment of concentration, Kirk stirred in the imogi’s embrace, and purred a sleepy “mhm” into its silky fur. When he moved around, spotting his friends and trying to face them more directly, the imogi also opened its green eyes and also moved, pinning Kirk against itself more thoroughly with its heavy paws, and emitting a warning roar directed ostensibly at the intruders.

“S’okay”, Kirk told it soothingly, “they’re my friends. Don’t shoot”, he added to McCoy who was gripping his phaser nervously.

The imogi roared again, but when Kirk squirmed against it, it loosened its grip and he managed to scramble to his feet. The animal rose as well.

“Thank you”, Kirk said, petting its huge head. He was rewarded by a delighted purr, and the imogi, after one more glance at the three Enterprise officers, disappeared into the forest.

“Shit, Jim!”, McCoy said when he recovered his speech. “You managed to give me quite a fright again!”

“Believe me, Bones”, Kirk answered, “I managed to give quite a fright to myself as well.”

“How did you manage to tame the beast?”, McCoy asked in awe.

“I didn’t. It looked like it wanted to eat me, but changed its mind. But in fact, I was gonna ask you the same question”, he said, casting a questioning look from McCoy to Spock. It was rather weird to see them together, after having painfully experienced Spock’s frenzied jealousy mere hours before.

“And I believe that your answer would also apply”, Spock replied shamefully. The imogi, a wild animal reputed to treat humanoids as food, had given his lover a shelter for the night against its heart, while he, his t’hy’la, had only known to insult and brutalize him, of which the bruises and cuts marring his face were eloquent witnesses.

“Spock”, Kirk said with a sigh. “We can’t go on like this.”

“You mean… that you do not wish to continue our relationship… our bond”, Spock clarified, devastated. Kirk rolled his eyes.

“Spock, you’re in my head! I could just as well not wish to continue a relationship with myself”, he said persuasively. “But what I mean is that you can’t treat me like this anymore. I understand that you’re a Vulcan, that you people have different laws and customs, but yesterday you crossed a line. I’m not your thing, Spock. I won’t be insulted, beaten or… claimed against my will. I had promised to keep you faith and never transgressed intentionally… but even if I had, I don’t know, slept drunk in a bar with a stranger, you still wouldn’t be authorized to abuse me. You do it again, and I’m serious about calling security and turning you in. I’m not perfect, but I don’t deserve such treatment, and I won’t ever tolerate it again, from anyone, not even from you.”

“You are right, ashayam”, Spock answered. “Regardless of Vulcan laws and customs, I had no right to harm you, especially that you had, in fact, been as faithful to me as was… humanly possible. I regret my action. But when I saw you with Doctor McCoy…”, he stopped for a moment, and the deep, burning pain that the images from Kirk’s mind had caused him was momentarily sensible in the bond again. However, mere moments later, it ebbed away, not suppressed or hidden, but fully mastered. “Jealousy made me lose my mind, but that does not justify me, and does not alleviate the pain that I had added to your burden.”

“Well, it kinda does”, Kirk answered, more optimistic. “It means you don’t hate me anymore… After our fight yesterday, I really thought you would never want me again, Spock… I couldn’t decide if it meant I really am a whore, or that you never really loved me… I couldn’t decide which would be worse”, he finished with difficulty, his breath catching in his chest convulsively as he confronted the painful thoughts.

//I do love you, ashayam//, Spock thought in his direction with this incredible devotion that he had always shown Kirk when he was in his right mind. //And you are anything but a whore. You are the most faithful and deeply loving person of any species that I have ever met.//

//But, Spock… You do realize that, without wanting it, I still have some feelings for Bones?// Kirk’s question was heavy with an undercurrent of anxiety. He obviously didn’t trust Spock not to accuse him again, not to get mad at him again.

“Jim”, Spock answered him aloud. “I know that you have feelings for Doctor McCoy… for Leonard. It does not make you a whore, or unfaithful. That is not even something that you can control.”

Kirk and McCoy both blushed, the doctor feeling rather uneasy to hear Kirk’s emotions for him discussed by the Vulcan.

“That’s true”, Kirk answered, “but I still intend to keep my promise to you. Bones will request a transfer to Earth. With time, it will stop hurting.”

McCoy swallowed noisily. Would it really? He felt that the time of his friendship with Jim, their time together at the Academy, and especially those three days of passion on Orion, would remain with him forever, as a treasured memory, but also a blueprint of happiness that he couldn’t hope to ever equal. He knew that he had to go, but he couldn’t see anything to console him in this harsh necessity. Telling himself that he would finally be able to move on was about as efficient as telling oneself to move on after having looked god in the face.

“Is this what you truly want?”, Spock asked gravely. Kirk looked at him uncertainly. “For Leonard to go away from you? Is this what you want?”

“Don’t torment me, Spock!”, Kirk replied, biting his lip in distress, unsure of where the questions were going, although the bond on Spock’s side was radiating love, care, and an attempt to somehow make it right for the last evening. “I’ve already confessed how I feel about Bones… I can hardly WANT to part with him…”, he added, throwing McCoy a sorrowful glance, putting a hand on his shoulder to atone for the fact that he was speaking about him in his presence, and to apologize for giving him up while he knew it was breaking his heart. “But there is no other solution. If he remained aboard the Enterprise, I’d never be able to convince you that there’s nothing between us, and maybe I wouldn’t be able to… I’m only a human, Spock… And Bones deserves to move on, to find someone who…”

“Who what?”, Spock asked. “Who will love him more? But I know your love, Jim, and I know that there is no one who can love another person more, or better, than you. I think Leonard would agree.”

McCoy blushed again. It felt strange to be a part and an object of this conversation between bondmates, a little embarrassing, but nothing concerning Kirk could ever be frankly unpleasant. Besides, there was something flagrantly unthreatening about this contrite Spock, who was visibly trying to make up to Kirk for his previous behavior, although what exactly he meant with his questions, McCoy preferred not to conjecture.

“Where are you headed, Spock?” Kirk asked softly. “I told you: I am bonded to you, I am choosing you, and I am ready to honor my vows to you. But if you insist on deliberately creating situations that would test me…”

“You are expecting the worst of me, Jim, and I have only myself to blame”, Spock answered sadly. “I do not wish to test you. In fact, you have been tested – by the situation, by Leonard’s decisions… And despite my erroneous first reaction, partly caused, although not justified, by my Vulcan physiology, I have come to understand this: if you are not ready to abandon me for a person whom you love, who loves you back, who is entirely of your species, understands you and is your longtime friend – then there is literally nothing that could take you away from me.”

“Well, Spock, that’s nice you at least finally understand this much…”, Kirk confirmed emphatically, still confused as to where the conversation was headed.

“And since I no longer feel threatened”, Spock continued unperturbed, “then I no longer feel jealous. And your feelings for Leonard, whether expressed or not, no longer cause me turmoil, except emotional remnants of my previous outlook that I am able to master.”

“That’s very nice, Spock”, Kirk repeated, without really understanding the implications of these words. “I take it you’re trying to say you forgive me for what there was…”

“No, ashayam”, Spock answered without letting him finish. “I have nothing to forgive you: since you didn’t act intentionally, you did nothing wrong. What I am saying is that there is no objectively valid reason that I am aware of, for you to stop your relationship with Leonard or limit it to an artificial friendly dimension.”

Kirk and McCoy looked at him during several moments, with their jaws hanging low, their faces blank with lack of understanding.

“If this is some kind of Vulcan conception of humor…”, Kirk finally said, confused, almost angry, trying to find the catch, unable to even process the offer such as it was being made.

//You know that I am not joking, ashayam//, Spock admonished him gently through the bond. //I am not joking, mocking or testing you. I am trying to do something kind for you, after having been so unfair.//

//But, Spock…// Kirk was so apprehensive that it was effectively preventing him from feeling hopeful. //You would suffer… you’d be jealous again! Maybe eventually, you’d do something… maybe to Bones…//

//Jim, I would never harm Leonard. And I will not suffer. As I have told you, I have finally understood that being a human, not a Vulcan, you are able to love more than one person, and limiting you is painful to you, and not necessary to my survival: I know for certain that you will not abandon me when my time comes, or when I require my bondmate’s presence. Vulcan possessiveness is related to the fact that we are dependent on our mates for our very life: knowing that this basic need will not be frustrated, I will not suffer seeing you with others.//

//But… the sacred bond… Vulcan exclusiveness…//

//These are certain Vulcan conceptions, certainly useful for certain people in certain time. I have honored many things Vulcan so far, and where did it get me with you? Besides, Vulcans praise fidelity, but are not above relativizing it when it interferes with their vital interests, of which I became painfully aware during your absence, when a Vulcan woman usurped the right to expect me to impregnate her, despite my bond with you… If it means loving you better, I prefer to be a little less Vulcan.//

“Oh, Spock… Would you really do this for me?”, Kirk asked aloud, completely incredulous. There was something sad about how he found it easier to believe that Spock would harm him, call him a whore, maybe harm his lover, than believe that Spock might accept a sacrifice for him. “But…” Now he turned shyly to McCoy. “Bones, you surely prefer to move on rather than… share me with Spock… to have a normal relationship…”

“What is normal, Jim?” McCoy asked. He didn’t hear the telepathic conversation, but he had heard the last sentence pronounced by Spock before, and had thought it over thoroughly while the other two were doing their mental voodoo. “Was my marriage with Jocelyn normal? Is dating an alien normal? For me, you are the most normal that has ever happened to me. If I can have you – anything of you, even just your friendship – then ‘moving on’ would for me come down to leaving an infinitely precious pearl behind in the hope that another such pearl is lying in the dust just around the corner!”

Looking from Spock to McCoy, Kirk simply didn’t know what to say. Having both Spock and McCoy, and being able to love them both, without giving up any of them, seemed too good to be true.

“I don’t know if this is gonna work”, he finally said.

“Nobody can know this”, Spock solemnly acknowledged. “But is this what you want? And you, Leonard?”

“Yes”, they answered both at the same time. Touched by the admission, McCoy took Kirk’s hand and was relieved when Spock didn’t get mad, hit anyone or even look displeased, a reaction that he had half expected.

“Then this is what we will do”, Spock concluded.

“Why, Spock?” Kirk asked. “You could have me back, just for you… I told you, I was ready to part with Bones…”

“Jim… Contrarily to what my actions might have made you think, I do not wish to own you. I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to miss Leonard and think of me as the cause of his departure. You were ready to give him up for me, why is it so unacceptable that I want to do something for you? Something that I hope will make you happy, even if it requires a little sacrifice by Vulcan standards? Accept, and I will be happy as well.”

“Thank you”, Kirk said, throwing his arm around him and kissing him breathless, with his other hand still in McCoy’s. He was nearly crying with emotion, overwhelmed by all the events of the recent days. He had faced McCoy’s manipulation, accepted it as an expression of love, tried to trust Spock and accept the inevitable loss of his other love, was cruelly disappointed in his trust, and now was being granted the fulfillment of even those dreams that he hadn’t dared have.

“You know”, he said, “I was nearly devoured by a monster, and now see all my dreams come true… Maybe I’m still sleeping…”

“No, ashayam. And you are right: you were almost destroyed by a monster, but not the imogi. Another one, just as deadly, also green-eyed. But this monster will not threaten you anymore: I have slain it and am offering you traditional proof of its death.”

 

It took a month of various errands before the Enterprise was able to return to Earth to finish the crew’s brutally disturbed shore leave. It was a strange month for Kirk, who couldn’t quite seem to manage the new weird update in his relationship status, accompanied by a massive change in Spock’s behavior: the Vulcan didn’t seem possessive at all anymore, and he simply stopped paying attention to the people Kirk was looking at, talking with or casually touching. If anything, he expressed jealousy only half-jokingly, when he wanted to make their already very passionate bedtime encounters even hotter.

With McCoy, Kirk was most of all relieved about not being forced anymore to hide his feelings, his tenderness and his attraction, even from himself. However, when it came to anything more than kisses or casual caresses, he found himself paralyzed by the memory of Spock’s earlier jealousy. He feared that Spock would see or sense something through the bond and feel hurt or angry despite his protestations to the contrary. After all, experience taught him that exclusivity of a bonded relationship was something sacred to Vulcans. McCoy understood him and didn’t press, but he didn’t hide, either, that he was more than open to the possibility of expressing his love for Kirk in a directly carnal manner, trusting Spock to remain true to his word and not to murder him on the spot.

In the meantime, they also did a lot of things together, given that Kirk wanted to spend time with both his partners and a day only had so many hours. They often ate together, trained together, attended different mess hall diversions together, chatted, worked, played games, read books together. Sometimes, McCoy’s vivid banter with Spock was becoming too much, and Kirk had to tell them to stop or he would leave them to themselves as punishment. Once of twice, he had to execute the threat. They didn’t even realize that he was gone.

When he finally decided to make love to McCoy, having been told directly by Spock that it was okay and that the Vulcan would not suffer because of it, he took care to completely shield all his feelings and sensations and permanently block the memory from the bond. But when it happened more than once, separating the contents that Spock shouldn’t be able to access from everything else became a tedious task.

Once, when Kirk was spending the night in Spock’s quarters, when he undressed and joined the Vulcan already waiting for him in bed, he was deliberately teased longer than usual. When he started to wonder if Spock wanted him to beg for more or to punish him for something, his lover, without any undue hedging, asked in a fiery whisper to be shown the blocked memories.

Kirk felt himself stiffen, stricken with apprehension, but he was soothed by a tender kiss and realized that the bond was throbbing with curiosity and excitement. Gradually, making a great mystery of it, he showed Spock some of his moments with his other lover, and it proved extremely stimulating. Moreover, the next time when he was with Bones, the awareness that Spock might want to watch also made things incredibly hot. Wanting to be fair, Kirk told the doctor that a certain horny Vulcan could access these memories, but McCoy being anything but shy, it only managed to triple the effect.

He finally felt happy, safe, and so incredibly spoilt by both his lovers that he almost believed his luck might have changed for good. He started fantasizing about being with Spock and McCoy at the same time, and even dared push this fantasy shyly in Spock’s direction. He was rewarded only by a mental correspondent of a raised eyebrow, but that certainly didn’t equal an unconditional no.

Service-wise, Kirk and McCoy were thoroughly debriefed by Starfleet Command about their captivity, and the decision was reached not to take any retaliatory action. The relations with Orion were rather strained as it was, and persecuting an influential person such as S’Naerr was only bound to bring trouble. Since everything ended well and eventually, the abducted officers were rescued by another Orion and safely returned to the Federation, exaggerated quest for justice seemed excessive.

Kirk never stopped thinking about how Tarsus fungus could have gotten to Orion and infected L’Voen, but there wasn’t really much ground for conjectures. The only thing that was even remotely resembling a clue was Shakespearian theatre. The day when he fell ill, L’Voen watched a representation of Hamlet performed by a group of Terran actors. The woman who, roughly a month later, gave the kidnappers instructions how to apprehend McCoy, called herself Ophelia.

But these facts, weird as they were, lacked consistency and were difficult to follow up. The Orions didn’t remember anything about the theatre group, except maybe some summary descriptions of the actors. But there were thousands of theatre groups on Earth, many of them active on interplanetary scale, and most of them kept rather loose records of their itineraries. Starfleet computers found no mention in their archives about any recent occurrence of a Terran theatre group performing on Orion, which meant that the fact had not been registered anywhere. As for the mysterious Ophelia, she could as well have been a ghost. And nothing in all this pointed to any connection to Tarsus IV.

Kirk promised himself not to neglect these hints completely and to remain vigilant, but in the meantime, he had a different task ahead of him. He was back to Atlanta, again crossing the same pretty lawn covered messily with the same toys, this time accompanying his official boyfriend – well, one of them – to help him put some order into his chaotic past.

They knocked at the door, and this time were answered by Jocelyn, who opened and let out Joanna, who threw her arms around her father’s neck and hugged him as if she feared he could be kidnapped again. Kirk smiled tenderly at the scene, but with a corner of the eye, he caught Jocelyn’s sour expression and it spoiled his joy. Hell, the woman witnessed her ex-husband’s brutal abduction! Ha had been missing for over two weeks! He could have been killed, and she wasn’t able to as much as smile upon his return?

When McCoy was done hugging and introduced his captain to his daughter, he took her by the hand and they went for a walk, as had been convened, reminded dryly by Jocelyn that he should bring the girl back before nightfall. Jocelyn was unpleasantly surprised to notice that Kirk hadn’t moved an inch, and was still standing at her porch.

“Can I help you?”, she asked annoyed.

“Actually, it’s me who have already helped you”, Kirk answered with a cheeky smile. “And I’m waiting to be thanked.”

“This is ridiculous”, she answered immediately. “Your job as an officer is to protect innocent civilians, at whom you had brought danger in the first place. You only did your duty and I have no intention to thank you.”

“Well”, Kirk answered, a little surprised by so much bad faith, “if I had failed to do my duty, your daughter would now be dead. I received two massive plasma burns while protecting her. I still expect a thank you.”

“Thank you”, she said irritably, only to make him go away, and she moved back toward the house, but he grabbed her wrist, completely ignoring her angry look.

“You’re welcome”, he answered. “Actually, I can think of at least one way by which you can repay me.”

“You’re an arrogant jerk”, she said, but she was beginning to feel intrigued by his insistence. She half suspected that he wanted a date.

“No, you are arrogant”, Kirk answered. “Arrogant, unkind, and ungrateful. Still, you owe me one and I advise you to comply, or you’ll never get rid of me.”

“All right, what is it that you want? Don’t you Starfleet people have other things to do than pester everyone?”

“I’m on shore leave. I want you to invite me for ice-cream. The best in the city.”

“Ice-cream?” She opened her eyes wide. “You do look young, but what are you, seven years old?”

“What about you? Don’t you like ice-cream?”, Kirk countered with a winning smile. She hesitated, then shrugged and asked:

“If I take you to have ice-cream, will you leave me alone later?”

“Yes”, Kirk said gravely. “I’ll consider your debt as paid. If it’s really the best ice-cream, that is. Otherwise, you’ll have cheated and I’ll come back for more.”

She rolled her eyes, then reentered the house to get her purse, and reappeared with her hair slightly rearranged, smelling expensive perfume. Kirk offered her his arm, but she snorted at him. When she was locking the door and activating the alarms, a shadow passed through her face.

“It must be difficult, dealing with what happened to you”, he said compassionately. “You were attacked in your own home, threatened, held hostage… How are you managing?”

“Joanna still has nightmares sometimes”, Jocelyn answered. “She’s seeing a psychologist. She’s a brave kid, she’ll recover.”

“That’s good. But that wasn’t what I asked”, Kirk pointed out gently. Jocelyn looked at him genuinely surprised, then understood and answered dismissively:

“I’m a grownup person, Captain Kirk. I have managed with worse than this.”

“I’m sure you did”, Kirk answered, giving the subject up. They arrived to a large, rather crowded street, and Jocelyn told him:

“The best ice-cream is to the right. We’d have to take a hovercar, and the place is very crowded. To the left, we have the second best. Walkable distance, less people. Which do you prefer? The criterion for the ice-cream quality is Joanna; I don’t know of any official ranking. Does this count?”

“Oh yes, by all means”, Kirk confirmed, grinning happily. “I prefer the second best and less crowd. It’s a pretty day, ice-cream will have immense success.”

“Good choice”, Jocelyn commented.

When they arrived, Kirk rather liked the traditionally furnished, cozy café with a large terrasse that only had one free table left, that they took and chatted about nothing, waiting for the service. When the waiter came, Kirk ordered the largest and most expensive ice-cream dessert that was on the menu, which earned him a disapproving glance from Jocelyn, who only ordered two scoops, but honored the agreement and paid for both.

“What?”, he answered her unspoken criticism. “I deserve it. I saved a life worth much more than even the biggest ice-cream.”

“I won’t say the contrary”, Jocelyn conceded, “but do you also deserve a stomachache? There’s no way to eat this monstrosity and remain healthy. Believe me, Joanna once tried. And never retried since.”

“Thanks for the warning”, Kirk answered, “but Joanna has a smaller stomach… I love traditional handmade ice-cream. In space, we only have replicated stuff. It’s supposed to look and taste the same, and it almost does, but…”

“Yes, the almost”, Jocelyn continued. “The saddest word in universe. It almost worked. He almost loved me.”

He threw her a thoughtful look. He wanted to answer, but their orders arrived, and during several moments, he was completely absorbed with his dessert. He ate religiously, making delighted sounds and expressions, commenting on the different flavors he was tasting and proposing her a try of everything, even though she refused categorically. There was whipped cream on the tip of his nose. Finally, Jocelyn got impatient.

“What is it all about, Captain Kirk?”, she asked. “I can’t believe you needed me to go eat ice-cream. You want something from me, so let’s get it over with. Is it about Joanna and your ship’s surgeon, my ex-husband? If you hope to convince me to give up full custody of my daughter, or to manipulate me into any sort of arrangement, you’ve wasted your time.”

Kirk observed her during several moments, before attacking his ice-cream again. With his mouth full, he answered:

“What are you thinking, Mrs. McCoy? I’m not some creepy manipulator… Besides, I haven’t wasted my time. The ice-cream is delicious.”

“So what’s your point?” She was visibly becoming impatient. He put the dessert down for a moment.

“My point”, he explained gently, “was to spend time with the charming, intelligent, brave woman whom my boyfriend once married.”

“Your boyfriend, hm?” she aped sarcastically. “So, you’re trying to gain something on his behalf? To defend him, perhaps?... Is that why you’re flattering me?...”

“No”, Kirk cut her decisively. “I don’t know the first thing about your marriage, and couldn’t pretend to defend him. I’m not flattering you. I’ve witnessed your courage the other day, and our little outing convinced me that you are nothing less than charming and intelligent. I’m sure you’re plenty of other things, too.”

“Arrogant and ungrateful”, she reminded him his words from earlier.

“Yes, that too. And unkind. I’ve asked you out because I’d like to know you better, to understand why. It’s not my business that your marriage didn’t work, or what you think about Bones… Leonard. You sure have your reasons. Maybe you even have reasons for hating him to the point of not caring about his fate, his life or death. That’s your business. But when my officer can’t get his work done because you bully him, threaten him, insult him any time he tries to make fully legitimate contact with his daughter, that is my business and I’d like to tell you I won’t tolerate it. I thought learning the reasons would be a good way to start working towards some compromise.”

“Poor sensitive Leonard, can’t get his work done because he suffers so bad, tormented by his evil ex-wife”, Jocelyn snorted sarcastically. “You have no idea what it was to be his wife… You, apparently, count for him. He doesn’t ignore you or push you away because he has a job, a case, a study, an experiment, or he’s so stressed he needs a drink, that becomes three drinks before the hour is over. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to love this man, who was interested in me only in the beginning, but later only remembered about my existence when he needed support after some really tough case, when a patient died, when a cure didn’t work. I felt transparent, like air. I presume he told you I tricked him into a child… yes, I did, I won’t deny it. I hoped a child would bring him back to me… But when I saw his reaction to the news… I threw him out of my heart. Of course I realize you must think I’m telling you tons of bullshit, because obviously, Leonard adores you and could dump all the cases in the world for you. But he had once married me, promised me love and support, unconditional, until death do us part. How could you possibly understand feeling rejected, unloved, ignored by the very person who should cherish you the most? You the Federation hero, savior of the Earth, the most popular captain in the Fleet…”

She stopped the bitter tirade and looked away from him. There was a tear in her eye. Kirk poked at his now half-melted ice-cream with his spoon, then said in an even, somewhat numb tone:

“When I was born, my dad died a hero, leaving me and my brother half-orphans. My mother never recovered from her grief. During several years, she pretended to take care of us, but she would never look me in the eyes, never hug me, never smile at me. My birthday was the saddest day of every year, and she never hid from me that she’d rather have my dad around than me. Finally, she just dumped us with a guy whom she married only to be able to make him our official guardian and finally rid her of us. I don’t want to tell how he treated us, and what he did to me when my brother left… But any of it wasn’t ever enough for my mother to come back or even just get in touch. I once drove a car down a cliff and barely survived, and guess what: I was punished by this bastard, but no one ever bothered to check why I did it. I was sent to an outworld colony that… kinda ended up badly. I was rescued, but I was half-dead. My mother never even came to see me in the hospital, although I spent there long months. So… yeah, I know exactly how it feels to be unloved and ignored by the person who should cherish you.”

“I’m… so sorry”, Jocelyn said, visibly shaken by his story. Kirk shrugged. He put down the finally empty goblet and leant in her direction.

“During long years”, he answered, “I thought that I just wasn’t worthy of love. If my own mother hated me, then I had to be a really faulty specimen… But with time, I understood that it wasn’t my fault. I was actually pretty okay, pretty lovable, but found myself in the wrong time in this person’s life. I deserve love, and I get and give plenty of it. We are never responsible for someone’s inability to love us, Jocelyn. You’re a wonderful person, a wonderful mother, and Joanna loves you. For some reason, Leonard failed you when he should have loved you, but it wasn’t your fault. You should love yourself and Joanna the way you both deserve. I don’t think bullying Joanna’s father and trying to keep him out of her life, while he obviously loves her and regrets his past, is part of the life you deserve to have.”

In deep silence, they rose from their seats. This time, Jocelyn accepted Kirk’s arm and they walked slowly back to the house, in increasingly graying evening.

“You know”, Jocelyn said, “I had never forgiven myself for not being enough for him. I always thought that if I had been more beautiful, more sexy, more caring, warmer, more passionate – maybe he would have loved me better. But now I see it wasn’t my fault. He just wasn’t ready for family, engrossed as he was in his medical studies. I should have left when I noticed that he didn’t pay me enough attention, instead of remaining and becoming more and more desperate and bitter. But at least, I have Joanna, and she’s amazing.”

When they arrived to McCoy’s house, it was already quite late, and McCoy was waiting slightly worried, while Joanna tried to make him come play with her in the tiny wooden house in the garden.

“Here you are! At last!”, he exclaimed relieved.

“I took dad to the zoo, and showed him Ginny the chimpanzee”, Joanna said, coming to hug her mother. “And Molly the parrot managed to say his name. She said ‘Le-narrrrd’, it was so funny!”

“Sorry for the delay”, Jocelyn answered. She took out a bit of paper from her purse and scribbled several digits. “Here’s the code for the door, if it happens again”, she said, handing it to a shocked McCoy, who looked at the paper as if he expected some fraud. She laughed at his stunned expression, and Kirk joined her. “You’re coming back tomorrow, right? If you’re also free in three days, my friend is organizing a cruise on the Chattahoochee. We could go together, it could be fun.”

“Yes! Yes, mum, yes, dad, let’s go together!”, Joanna exclaimed enthusiastically. McCoy was still speechless, so he only nodded stiffly.

“I suggest that you give your boyfriend some medication”, Jocelyn added, turning to look at them from the porch. “He ate the biggest ice-cream dessert at Gracie’s, till the last spoon.”

“The Monster Dessert? No way!”, Joanna said, looking with a new respect at Kirk, who swaggered demonstratively.

When they finally left, McCoy remained silent during a certain time.

“What did you do to her?”, he finally asked, but his boyfriend only smiled mysteriously. At the corner of the street, Spock was waiting for them, to join them for a dinner out. After that, they were supposed to go back to a hotel, where they had hired two rooms, both with double beds just in case.

“Seriously, kid, I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you for this”, McCoy insisted.

“Well, I have an idea. Tonight, on this big leather armchair…”, Kirk answered, whispering into McCoy’s ear, but deliberately loud enough for his words to be caught by Spock’s Vulcan hearing.

“I might consider joining you, if you make it worth my while”, Spock said in a deceptively deadpan voice, and Kirk almost jumped with hardly contained excitement.

“Careful what you wish for, kid. We might gang up on you… quite literally”, McCoy whispered, and Kirk felt his heart race in his chest, almost frantic with anticipation. This was definitely promising to be an unforgettable night.