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War Games

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War Games


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Spock raises an eyebrow.

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

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

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

"You could have taken the next transport--"

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

Spock inclines his head, amused. "Granted."

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

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

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

"After over a decade--"

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Jim smiles slowly. "Good."

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

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

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

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

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

"Allow access."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But if he were to--"

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

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

"Tell me."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possibly. Would you recognize it?

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

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

"I'm not doing it, sir!"

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


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

Jim. Get off the transporter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spock wonders to whom she could be referring.

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

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

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

Cadet T'Prina
Cadet T'Prina


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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind like a computer.

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

"Is that not illegal?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mr. Nogura?"

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

"Sir! I can't--"

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

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

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

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

"I don't really do meetings."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there's the hypospray. Typical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jim falls asleep with a faint sense of warmth anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

T'Prina hesitates. "To observe?"

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

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

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

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

"Good. Have some fun."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you drinking?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm fine.

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

I do as well.

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

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

"I hate my life."

"--and restore your shields."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Gary Mitchell
Captain Gary Mitchell

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

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

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

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

"Shut up, Bones."

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

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

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

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

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

Starfleet got the message loud and clear.

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

She appreciated the irony.

Jim grins at Spock, catching the memory.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nods; of course. She's Vulcan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Factors those ships have in common."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The room is silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I do not understand."

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

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

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

T'Prina nods slowly.

"Anything else?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am merely curious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim nods. "You got it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time's up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"All right."

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

"I intend to."

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

Oh God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healer Sorin
Healer Sorin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And you are not."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My apologies, Dr. Uloi--"

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

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

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

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

Dr. Uloi nods. "Of course."

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

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

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

"No, cadet. You are dismissed."

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

"I do not think--"

"I wish to understand--"

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

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

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

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

"Not what I asked. Come here."

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

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

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

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


Let me see. Stop shutting me out.

Spock hesitates. "I do not wish--"

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

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

Show me.

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

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

I will never let you be taken from me.

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

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

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

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

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

--always touched.

There is no thought remaining, only feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They are not the same."

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

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

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

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

"Could you do it?"

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

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

"I do not understand," Spock says flatly.

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

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

"You are very young."

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

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

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

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

Jim is still laughing as he falls back to sleep.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have my actions caused disharmony between them?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds a little too logical for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That is correct."

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

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

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

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

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

Spock hesitates. "Leave?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How long were they bondmates?"

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

"Did you request assignment when she arrived?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Human brain matter cannot regenerate."

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

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

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

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

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

"I wish you success."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do the other five patients show any progress?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You will wish to observe, I assume."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Live long and prosper, Torren."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why would they take the time to--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So distract me, then.

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

Glazed blue eyes meet his. Spock--

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

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

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

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

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

He does.

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

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

"Yet you still mention it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, Jim answers tiredly. I thought so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who would you designate to be your champion?"

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

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

"Oh yeah."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Just the parts Uhura highlighted."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why would they--"

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

Spock tightens his grip on his glass. "I do not understand."

"You will. Make sure Jim doesn't make a break for the bathroom; you need to get used to this. And remember that legends have their uses, as well as their drawbacks. It took us longer to realize that." The Ambassador watches the various groups thoughtfully. "The Federation is changing as we speak; this is just the beginning of what will test it and build what it becomes. Do not pretend you have no influence over events, or you will make it true."

Spock considers. "A no-win," he says as Jim looks up, catching his eye with a smile, "does not exist until you believe in it. As Jim would say."

The Ambassador's mouth twitches. "You've already started. Go on as you have begun and you will do well."

"You told Jim you were not an oracle." Jim's silent appeal becomes slightly frantic.

The Ambassador shrugs. "Perhaps just for today. There is a bathroom five meters from his position and he has begun a complicated series of tactics to maneuver closer. If you wish to halt his progress, I suggest you hurry."

Jim's relief is nearly physical; it is only with restraint he does not drag Spock toward the curious group. "And Spock blew up a candy store right after that. You can see why it wasn't my fault I was arrested."

Perhaps he waited too long to intervene, Spock thinks, as more eyes than seem possible fix on him expectantly.

After the meal is served, the groups begin to settle, various discussions on a wide variety of subjects competing for attention. Lieutenant Commander Scott, upon discovery of Torren's identity as the author of the paper on warp ion theory as well as his plans to enter Starfleet Academy, had begun a spirited discussion of current changes in engine design as well as savaging the intelligence and abilities of any number of Starfleet instructors. Jim had restrained himself from adding commentary, listening as Nyota expertly redirects the conversation to where they wish it to go.

Eventually, Dr. McCoy drifts toward them, leaning against the back of Jim's chair, leaning down with a pleasant smile. "I'm going to the hospital. I'll be in touch as soon as we have results." Nyota looks up, putting down her glass. "Nah, have fun, Nyota. Lyra's there. Enjoy the party."

"We wish you success, Dr. McCoy," T'Sora says with a pleasant nod. Rising to his feet, Jim accompanies Dr. McCoy to the door, where they engage in several seconds of conversation that make Dr. McCoy flush abruptly. Eyes narrowing, he takes his leave, and Jim returns, settling beside Nyota with a pleased smile.

"Healer Sorin has never had a reputation for innovation," one of the human women says; Jim had identified her as Sarah Clemens, who had been of interest to Captain Mitchell. Extremely reserved for a human, she and her bondmate, Sekar, had been surprisingly quiet throughout the evening, though attentive to the various conversations they joined.

Jim looks at her thoughtfully. "He's one of the senior team members," Jim tells her. "And an--Adept, right?"

"That is correct." Sarah Clemens finishes her water, placing it neatly on a nearby table. "However, he has never shown an interest in the telepathic healing fields, despite his expertise with the mind disciplines."

"It is laudable he would overcome his disinclination to utilize his early training in a time of need," T'Sora answers. "He devoted his life to assisting in disaster relief throughout the Federation, which he felt was a more fitting path for him to take. His work has been invaluable to the Federation in times of disaster." T'Sora allows herself a small, rueful pause. "Of which there has been much."

"Yet he did not return to his people until his brother requested it," Sarah Clemens replies expressionlessly. "His time here is temporary by his own admission; when they have discovered a means of helping the affected patients, his intention is to return to Earth for his next assignment, per his contract with Starfleet." She pauses with a glance at her quiet bondmate. "It is said he does not find peace with his mother's new bondmate and their family."

"Rumor is not fact," her bondmate says unexpectedly. "I do not find them preferable company, so I cannot fault him if this is true. If their influence was the cause of the current situation with Melody, there is just cause for his distaste."

"You think he's just here to try and fix what his brother did?" Nyota says bluntly. At the raised eyebrows, she bows her head slightly. "No offense is intended; it is admirable if that is his motivation."

"It would not be logical," Sarah Clemens says, with another glance at her bondmate. "But the personal rarely is. Even he might feel shame for the actions of his family, despite the illogic."

Which seems to be the general consensus.

"He was instrumental in their bonding," her bondmate adds. "It is possible the damage incurred was a result of his efforts. It would be correct for him to utilize his talents if this is so. He has openly offered assistance to those with broken bonds if it is desired, and not just those who have lost their bondmates to death."

Jim doesn't straighten, but he looks like he wants to. "What about those with former bondmates that are currently patients?"

Sarah Clemens shrugs, very slightly. "We are acquainted with one of those who are separated." For the first time, she looks uncomfortable. "He and his new bondmate are--" Searching for the word, she glances at her bondmate. "They are tel rifihet'es." Spock sees T'Sora stiffen, eyes widening slightly. "There is not a word in Standard--disharmony, I think." Her bondmate nods soberly. "It is not pleasant."

And very faintly, neither are they, crystal clear but unspoken.

"If you will excuse us," her bondmate says, rising to his feet, "T'Mir requests our presence." Sarah Clemens nods, joining her husband with a small group of engineers surrounding Lieutenant Commander Scott and Torren.

Nyota leans toward T'Sora. "What did they mean--disharmony?"

"It is complicated," she answers. "I cannot provide a full definition, as Standard does not possess the correct conceptual base. I have a reference text that might give you context; it is an ancient concept, related to a time when families would use themselves and their children as barter. The bondings were sometimes not--voluntary." She glances at Spock. "There would be incompatibilities. Adepts would be utilized to force what the minds did wish to permit"

"Not common anymore, I take it?" Jim asks over the rim of his drink.

"Unknown since well before the Reformation, Jim," she answers soberly. "To participate in such an action would be--unthinkable."

The conversation shifts toward current colonial birthrates; Spock has a faint suspicion, watching Jim accept another glass of what hopefully is not (but probably is) ethanol, it will be a popular topic.

"If you knocked me up, I'd kill you," Jim leans against the door tiredly. "For the record."

Spock's attention is pulled from examining the data analysis at the unexpected announcement. Jim waves a hand. "Too much population growth projections talk," he says tiredly. "How far did it get?"

"It is three quarters complete," Spock answers, reading through the data. "Preliminary review suggest it was Orion algorithms used for compression and compilation, similar to those on the data solids from the missing ships."

"Let me express my shock in interpretive dance," Jim says, dropping on the bed with a sigh. "Now I just have to figure out how to contact them. It shouldn't be too difficult; they went through a lot of trouble to get in contact with me."

Spock regards Jim for a moment. "And how do you plan to initiate contact?"

"Putting up a sign saying 'Give me back our people or I will start paying attention to all those black market trades going on that the Federation unofficially ignores' probably wouldn't work well unless I had a death wish, so no idea yet. And Dar's going to be invisible for a while, so no hope from that quarter." Rubbing his eyes, Jim stares up at the ceiling. "Sorin was kolinahru?"

"He ended his studies before he had achieved kolinahr, but that is irrelevant to the study of the mind disciplines."

"So he could do the disharmonious--thing?" Rolling on his side, Jim's expression is not easily interpreted. "That seems kind of illogical for someone one step from a Vulcan saint--oh please, you want to do comparative spirituality, we can totally go there. I know it's inaccurate. I don't care. It's funny."

"Your sense of humor is unusual, even for a human," Spock admits. "Did you speak privately to Sarah Clemens?"

"Good luck with that," Jim snorts. "She and her husband are glued together. But they seemed vaguely amused, if Vulcans could be amused, which I understand they can't." Jim lifts his head long enough to grin. "She asked me to convey her appreciation to Captain Mitchell and thanked me for my concern on his behalf or something. So that was one hideously awkward conversation down, with more to go. Uhura got farther with some of the others; she speaks the language."

Spock declines to remind Jim that he speaks the language very well; early in their acquaintance, Spock had mentioned Jim's accent in a way that had perhaps been inappropriately critical. In the one year and four months since the incident, Jim has refused to speak a single word of Vulcan in his hearing.

As he and Nyota had parted on very amicable terms, soon after the incident he had gone to her for assistance in understanding Jim's unexpectedly negative reaction to what had been constructive criticism and had been witness to a display of amusement that had lasted an inappropriate length of time. She had never explained further, merely remarking he would discover the answer eventually for himself.

"Disharmony," Jim says softly, then, after a moment, "Tel rifihet'es." Spock finds his attention is no longer on the data analysis. "Why would he do it if he knew it would be disharmonious?"

With an effort, Spock returns to the subject at hand. "I do not know. If the participants were insistent, perhaps he felt it his duty to assist them." Then, "The word is not in common use. I do not think I have heard it spoken since I completed my secondary education."

"Hmm." Jim folds his hands behind his head. "So after a tel-of-kat, a bond-breaking, is it always because of a tel rifihet'es or is it just because--Spock, are you paying attention?"

"Yes." He is. And there was a question. "No. But it is rare that the necessity of tel-of-kat exists. My father's first marriage is an example. The incompatibility had already rendered their bond unstable; when it was broken, it was--welcome to both parties. Tel reifihet'es is what breaking the bond seeks to avoid."

Jim rolls onto his side, looking thoughtful. "Disharmony. Sounds unpleasant," he says finally, trying to find a context for the experience. "We're going to the hospital in the morning," he says finally. "I need to make a final evaluation before making my recommendation to Starfleet."

"If this is successful, the declaration of medical emergency will no longer be sufficient."

"I know. But I don't want to leave them here either. If the colony is going that direction--" Jim looks at him helplessly.

"Yes," Spock answers. "I agree."

Ambassador Spock
Ambassador Spock

After leaving a message for Dr. McCoy, who is unavailable, Spock accompanies Jim to the hospital. As it is Jim's first visit, one of the nurses offers them a tour of the hospital grounds. Though her expression does not reflect pride, she does not conceal her satisfaction with the building and grounds, or the fact that it already boasts a small but growing medical community of competent instructors and students from all over the Federation. Spock cannot find fault with this.

Returning to the main room, Jim goes to talk to a nurse as Spock examines a complicated abstract mural before a cool, even voice breaks through the quiet. "Captain Kirk?"

Spock turns to see Healer Sorin in the waiting room. Faint green shadows darken the pale skin beneath his eyes, but there are no other signs of fatigue, coat immaculate over pristine surgical scrubs. Healer Sorin scans the room, finding Spock immediately. "Commander Spock. If you would come with me--"

"Sorin?" Abruptly, a man leaves a group composed of an older woman, a younger one, and a small child. Spock joins Jim, marking Healer Sorin's resemblance to the other man. "Sorin, I heard--"

"You should not have come here," Healer Sorin says; almost invisibly, the long fingers tighten on the data pad. "It is not your place."

"I would ask pardon," the man says after a moment. In comparison to Sorin, the man seems surprisingly agitated, eyes flickering from Sorin to Jim, to Spock, then back to Sorin. "I am--concerned for her welfare."

Healer Sorin tilts his head slightly. "I see. I cannot satisfy your curiosity. If you will excuse us--"

"I do not ask only for myself, but for our son," the man continues, voice overly-controlled to Spock's ear; to his surprise, the man extends a hand, grabbing Sorin's wrist. "I request--"

Before Sorin can answer, the child pulls free of the older woman's hands, running across the room. Startlingly blue eyes look up into Sorin's, and though no more than five, he displays superior control to his father, reaching up to gently detach the clinging hand. "Excuse my father," the boy says gravely. "I understand this places you in an ethical dilemma. I--may I visit my mother yet?"

Healer Sorin's expression does not change, but he hesitates before replying. "She has just completed surgery, Selar," he says slowly, and to Spock's ear, there's a sense of prevarication as well. "When she has completed recovery, I will contact you."

The child nods gravely, stepping back as the woman joins them, and abruptly, Spock understands Sarah Clemens remark: It is not pleasant. It is, in fact, an understatement. Over the odd, uncomfortable feeling, the mental equivalent of the grate of metal against metal, he can feel Jim's almost violent mental recoil, body tensing beside him. Reaching out, he brushes his fingers against Jim's wrist, blocking the strength of the projection.

"We will leave," the woman says quietly, reaching for the child. Before they can touch, however, the child shifts away, leading his father toward the door; the older woman glances at Healer Sorin for a moment before joining them.

Healer Sorin watches them for a moment before turning back to Jim. "I regret the delay," he says. "If you will accompany me, we have the preliminary results. Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi will brief you on current progress."

"So there's been progress?" Jim asks, falling into step, but his gaze flickers back to the door the family had exited, unnerved.

"I will permit Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi to explain. There are some--complications that I am not certain I can explain as thoroughly as they will be able to, and I need to oversee recovery." As Dr. McCoy and Dr. Uloi come into view, Healer Sorin nods. "If you will excuse me."

Spock nods, but Sorin is already exiting from another door. Jim frowns slightly at the departure before Dr. McCoy joins them, leading them to a small group of chairs as he perches on the edge of a desk. "So we think it might be working."

Jim straightens. "Might be?"

"It's too soon to be certain," Dr. Uloi says, taking the desk chair as she examines the data in her tricorder, but her suppressed excitement shows in the tight grip of her hands, the tremble in her voice. "But the results are extremely positive in three of the remaining catatonic patients. Two briefly regained consciousness, and the nurses assigned to them say they are beginning to show signs of awareness of their surrounding already. One is currently in REM sleep, which is--" She stops, mouth trembling slightly as she fights down premature hope. "It is too soon to be certain. But this is very encouraging."

"And the other two?"

Dr. Uloi looks at McCoy hesitantly. "The procedure was successful in all five. All of them are showing signs of regeneration. But two have yet to respond or show signs of emerging consciousness."

"Melody?" Jim says, looking at Dr. McCoy.

"Yeah, nothing yet." Dr. McCoy slumps. "Don't know why either. Her and the Tellarite, but the Tellarite might take a bit longer; there's a lot less genetic similarity in Tellarite and Vulcan than Vulcan and human. The results are slower. So we're not ruling it out yet. Melody was among the first, with the most extensive damage. It's possible she just needs longer."

"Right." Rubbing his forehead, Jim looks at Spock. "Okay, let's split this up. McCoy, collate the reports, and you and Uloi consult with Spock and get me a recommendation. How long will it take?"

"I should have my data analysis complete by tonight." Dr. Uloi says, rising from her chair.

Dr. McCoy nods tiredly. "Same."

"I'm going to go back to the ship and send a message to Starfleet, since they're probably wondering what the hell we've been doing here," Jim says, looking faintly irritated, as he usually does with the demands of bureaucracy. "Give me a summary to give them for now?"

"Already done. Should be on your terminal." Dr. McCoy rubs a hand wearily over his face. "Won't be much, but--"

"I'll make it sound like more." Standing up, Jim looks at Spock. "I'll meet you at the Ambassador's later. I have a feeling whichever admiral I get is going to be talking for a while."

"Very well."

Dr. Uloi and Dr. McCoy fall into a spirited discussion on the regeneration technique and its future applications. After receiving directions to the recovery room, Spock leaves them, unsurprised to find Sorin in attendance.

Unobserved, Sorin permits himself the luxury of moving more slowly, seating himself beside Melody's bed to complete his calculations. Though Spock knows he is aware of Spock's entrance, he does not look up until they are complete. "The regeneration was more thorough than projected," Sorin says abruptly. Spock looks at the woman, wondering if she is the source of her son's blue eyes. "The other four will recover."

Spock looks at Sorin in curiosity. "How can you be sure--"

"I examined them all after leaving you. The Tellarite female should awaken by midday." Sorin's eyes fix on Melody. "Melody will not."

Spock takes a careful breath. "You said you did not know her--"

"I did not. I stated I had only met her once, to complete her bonding to my brother. That was all that was required to know her." Sorin lifts his eyes, looking at Spock. "You avoid the obvious questions. I will not lie if you ask them."

"Do you do this for your family's honor? Their actions do not reflect upon you--"

"I am clanless," Sorin answers coolly. "I have declared and registered myself so, when I had completed bonding my brother with his current bondmate. Their honor is their own."

Spock digests that. "Why?"

"For her, of course." Sorin looks at him calmly. "You did not suspect this, nor have the others, which has been to my benefit. My objectivity would be called into question, and I might not have been permitted to perform the procedure that has helped the other patients."

Spock looks at the patient's still face. "You are certain she will not awaken."

"I know my own skill, Commander," Sorin says dispassionately. "I created the channels in her mind that assisted her to accept my brother's mind into hers. I was careful and thorough, and the youth and resiliency of her mind made it surprisingly easy to adapt it to a Vulcan mind, despite their difficulties. Much could be attributed to my brother's natural lower psi, and their compatibility was so much that I used all of my skill to assure their bond would be as strong, and as lasting, as any Vulcan bond could be. Destroying it took great determination--and caused great damage. She was very young, Commander, and her human mind grew with his. It does not--" Sorin pauses, thinking, "--it does not understand how to be alone."

"You feel professionally at fault?"

"Yes. But that is not the reason I wish to see her open her eyes." Sorin's eyes fix on her face. "Her son inherited them. My mother's bondmate thinks they are too human. I suppose he thinks that it is an insult."

Spock nods slowly.

"I wish her to wake up, so that I may see them again."

Spock closes his eyes at the cool restraint. "I grieve with thee, Healer Sorin."

Sorin is silent for a few moments. "I would like to request transportation under the Federation charter providing emergency medical aid. I will take Melody to Betazoid; Dr. Uloi has recommended a hospital there with a specialization in empathic healing. My application for a position in return for Melody's continued treatment has been accepted."

"Her son is still here."

"Her right of residence and her citizenship could potentially be revoked, and my brother will not protect her. She has no one to speak for her but me. I will repudiate my citizenship once we arrive on Betazoid. My correspondence with immigration has been extremely positive, and they have indicated they will accept us both after three years of residency."

"You have been thorough."

Sorin nods coolly. "I am always thorough, Commander. Federation law allows me to assume her custody and care as her closest living relative, despite her separation from my brother. Unfortunately, it will not allow me to do the same with her son. My--inquiries have been unsuccessful, and my brother refuses to consider abjuring his rights. In light of Melody's condition, I do not think my appeal to the Federation council will be accepted, but I will continue my efforts."

"I will speak to Captain Kirk on your behalf," Spock answers, aware Jim will respond positively. "Our date of departure is not yet decided--"

"We will be ready on your word, Commander. I have already completed most preparations for her care; Dr. McCoy has assured me his sickbay is more than adequate and has several research labs he will put at my disposal during the journey." After a moment, Sorin rises. "I am tardy in my rounds, Commander." Sorin hesitates. "I find it difficult to leave her. It is illogical, but that does not make it less true."

Picking up his tricorder and datapad, Sorin removes the chair to its proper place. Turning to face Spock, he bows slightly. "I have you and your bondmate to thank for what progress she has made, as well as the other patients. The records Dr. McCoy kept on Captain Kirk were instrumental in discovering a method we would not have considered without proof. The loss of privacy is regretted, and I appreciate the sacrifice that was made."

"Jim would not do less. Nor would I."

Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "I would make a further request, then--I understand Dr. McCoy was thorough in documenting you both. I would like to request you release your own records for the period of your bond with Captain Kirk. They will not be made available to anyone but myself and will be used only in my research of Melody's condition, along with Captain Kirk's. He has already given permission that his may be used with the caveat that they never be released. I make the same assurance to you. Your ability to manipulate Captain Kirk's health does not have precedent, and may assist me to discover paths I would not otherwise think to explore."

"I will give permission to Dr. McCoy," Spock says. At Sorin's nod, Spock returns to Dr. McCoy, who smiles tiredly at Spock's request.

"He's methodical all right. If Jim wants to know, we can accommodate Melody probably better than the hospital can. He's wasted as a general physician, and I don't say that often. If she were better, I'd be recruiting them both for my sickbay."

Spock raises an eyebrow. "She is a physician?"

"Was, before her kid was born, from what I understand." McCoy rubs his eyes. "Wrote some interesting papers about emergency care in disaster relief."

Spock looks involuntarily toward the hallway and the recovery room beyond it. "Interesting."

"Have to say, if it weren't Sorin, I'd wonder a little about the coincidence." Shaking his head, McCoy stands up. "I'll get Sorin the records and then I'm going to sleep. You going back to the Ambassador's?"


"Wait up and I'll go with you. The Ambassador will want to hear how things went." Picking up his tricorder, Dr. McCoy retraces Spock's route to recovery, and Spock settles himself to wait.

"So not a medical emergency? Shit." Getting up, Jim paces to the opposite side of the living room. "So what now?"

"Finish up, get the reports, and get out of here, in that order. Lyra's staying for a while, but with the patients' now recovering, we have no reason to be here anymore." McCoy looks sourly at his tricorder. "Lyra's already contacted their families since their former bondmates have disclaimed responsibility, so the ones well enough to travel are coming along with Melody. Sorin's agreed to continue their treatment onboard until we get them to Starfleet Medical. Their families will meet them there to arrange transportation to another facility if they want to move them closer. Lyra will bring the others when they're ready for travel."

Jim sighs, coming to a stop by the window. "Great." Sighing, he turns around to look at Spock. "Starfleet will have orders for us to leave immediately when I make my report. Anything we can do?"

"I do not see another solution," Spock admits, thinking of Sarek's determination. "Our presence, I think, will make no difference in the final decision."

"Yeah, I was afraid you'd say that."

The Ambassador, silent up until now, looks between them. "I will keep you apprised of events in the colony," he says slowly. After glancing at T'Sora, he continues, "If the decision is made to strip non-Vulcans of citizenship--"

"Make the call, I'll be here to get anyone who needs to leave," Jim says grimly, eyes fixed on some point outside.

"My family will require transportation as well," the Ambassador says. Spock glances at T'Sora in surprise. "We--and others of our acquaintance--have discussed this possibility and our probable response."

Jim turns around, eyes narrowing. "How many?"

"One hundred and forty-two individuals I am certain of, with two hundred and nineteen who have expressed uneasiness with the current actions of the Elders and the Federation Council. I estimate two percent of the current population will emigrate in reaction, or will take up residency elsewhere while keeping their citizenship in hope that the current trend reverses itself."

"Have you considered current Starfleet personnel in your calculations, Ambassador?" T'Prina says abruptly. Spock looks up to see T'Prina and her bondmate enter the room, the door just closing behind them. "There are currently two hundred and sixteen Vulcan cadets and one hundred seventeen Vulcan Starfleet officers; I have maintained correspondence with my classmates regularly over the course of my internship and they have been made aware of the events currently occurring in the colony."

"Can you speak for them, Cadet T'Prina?" Spock asks curiously.

Raising an eyebrow, T'Prina takes a seat, accepting a glass of juice from T'Sora. "I speak only for myself, Commander Spock. However, by my estimation, two thirds disagree with the challenge to the Grayson Test. I find those results encouraging, as I will require their assistance when we return to Earth."

Jim abruptly leaves the window. "T'Prina," he says thoughtfully, "how good is your memory?"

"I am Vulcan; I have an eidetic memory. As you do, though you conceal it very well." Jim's eyes widen; sometimes, Spock reflects, Jim thinks he is better at hiding his abilities than he is. "Why?"

"You only accessed the database once, for a total of two hours fifteen minutes, from a terminal here before sending a transmission to Starfleet Academy. I noticed it while I was pretending to listen to Starfleet this afternoon. Specifically, the history of legal challenges to the Grayson Test."

T'Prina glances at her bondmate then nods, almost to herself. "I have decided it would be logical for someone to challenge the exception to the Federation Charter," she says. "After consulting with Lieutenant Uhura to familiarize myself with Council procedure, I instructed my classmates to immediately lodge a formal protest with the Council that our rights as Federation citizens will be violated should the exception be passed; they are drafting their response and collecting support as we speak. That should delay the passage sufficiently for the end of my internship and my return to Earth. I feel that a direct defense of the Grayson Test should be accomplished in conjunction with the appeal, and I have determined it would be logical if I presented the arguments to the Council for it myself."

Jim slowly takes a seat beside Spock. "You aren't a legal scholar, T'Prina."

"Neither was Amanda Grayson, Captain." Sipping her juice, she looks between them serenely. "She was one of Vulcan's greatest citizens; it will be my privilege to follow in her footsteps."

"I always wondered what you did with your free time," Jim says, mouth curving in a smile. "Thinking of couping the Vulcan Elders by any chance? I'll give you a couple of days off if you need them."

"I assume you are complimenting me on my competence," T'Prina says after a moment of thought. "I accept the praise."

Jim grins outright. "Anytime."

After assisting Healer Sorin and Dr. Lyra in transporting the three patients to the Enterprise, Spock completes coordination of their departure after taking leave of their hosts. Jim, unsurprisingly, had remained in the colony for some hours after the rest of the crew had beamed up.

Spock will not admit to impatience; fortunately, Nyota and Dr. McCoy do so at great length and with much feeling, and in return, Spock does not make mention of the fact that the doctor has no function on the bridge during departure, nor does Nyota require his assistance to complete her duties.

Abruptly, the turbolift doors open. "Miss me?" Jim asks rhetorically. T'Prina automatically opens her mouth, but she has been long enough with them that she shuts it again with a raised eyebrow. Dropping into his chair, he tilts his head back and gives Spock a grin. "Sulu?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Floor it."

Sulu grins as his hands move over the helm. "Yes, sir."

Jim has a long-standing habit of avoiding Spock when he's being brilliant and logical in his lab; not that it isn't hot when Spock is being a genius, more that genius really isn't as interesting to watch as one might think. There's also the matter of it being a lab; Jim tries to avoid any sign he can follow any conversation that includes words of more than two syllables, and being around labs tends to dampen the effect.

It's not logical, except it is; as Jim has explained to Spock, several times, winning is as much about your opponent making mistakes as not making mistakes yourself. You would think people would catch on (his Academy records are public, for God's sake), but they never really do, which just goes to show Jim's right. Per usual.

Punching in the code, Jim finds the lab currently not in use or prepping for use or recovering from recent use, so it suits him perfectly. "Lights," he says as the door automatically locks behind him. Sitting on the cool metal lab table, Jim makes himself comfortable. "Hey, baby. Miss me?"

"Captain." The computer pauses. "I have noticed your absence."

"Good enough." He loves her, he does. "Okay, I have something and I'm not sure what it is, but I can guess and I need you to confirm." Taking out the repaired game solid, he puts it in the table's receptacle. "I need a complete spectrum comparison run against the solids from those ships that we recovered with this. I need to know where they came from."

"Manufacturer?" she queries. If she weren't a computer, he'd say she was curious, and he's willing to go with that.

"Sort of. I need to try it from two directions. I uploaded the encryption algorithms from the game I got from Dar; search all known Federation and non-Federation encryption signatures for a match. Hypothesis: there is a Romulan with close ties to the Orion Syndicate companies, if not working for one of them outright." Jim pauses. "Cross-reference--Dar Abon, Ferengi, all aliases, cross-reference all Romulan individuals or possibly companies he is known to be in contact with, cross-reference James Kirk. If I give you my aliases, you gonna turn me in?"

The computer gives a general feeling of confusion. "I do not understand the question."

"Just a thing in Indiana; don't worry about it." Jim slides off the table, hunting up a keyboard. "We'll start with my juvenile stuff and go from there, okay? This may take a while."

"Yes, Captain," she answers promptly. "Awaiting input."

Jim grins.

Since it's about a week until they get back to Earth, Jim announces an interdepartmental chess death match, triple elimination, to avoid homicide by boredom hitting them in a perfectly running ship with nothing more interesting to do than diagnostics. While it doesn't end in death, per se, it's more fun to say that than interdepartmental chess play-for-shifts match. And the losers symbolically fall on their timers after; most of them end up in sickbay for bruising. It's really funny.

As usual, Jim is still banned, because apparently being mostly-married to a grand master means everyone thinks you will use your grand master partner to cheat.

T'Prina looks at him in bewilderment. "Why would they suspect that?"

"Because I cheat at poker," Jim says glumly as half the rec room hates each other silently over a chess board. "Which is a totally different thing, by the way. Everyone cheats at poker; it's practically a rule."

T'Prina nods her utter shock that he isn't in a Federation penal colony.

"To be fair," Jim says, because he does try, sometimes, "there might be some residual bitterness from the fact Spock wipes the floor with them every time. So blame Spock, really."

"That is the reason," Spock says, taking the chair beside him, "that I have excused myself from competition."

"It was getting discouraging to play for shifts against the person who made the shift schedule," Jim admits, pushing the plate of chess-themed snacks toward him, since eventually Spock will get them anyway and why fight it? Also, Jim finds vegetables carved in the shape of a chessboard, complete with tiny, creepily accurate renditions of chess pieces, disturbing. "I'm officially judge, though, and it's a nice change of pace to be in charge and people actually listening. Speaking of--" Jim gets to his feet "--Mlk, you cannot en passant there, penalized one turn. I am instituting a minimum skills test to verify everyone knows the rules next time, I swear to God. I do not care if Denebian rules treat pawns like bishops after the tenth move, either, so don't even."

T'Prina picks up a decoratively checkered cookie for examination as Jim sits down again, feeling righteous in his power. "I see."

"It is late," Spock observes to the far wall, having cleared the plate with logical efficiency.

"I'm off duty until beta," Jim protests even as he stands up again, kind of wishing he'd at least saved a cookie. "T'Prina, I'm appointing you assistant judge; you're authorized break their fingers if they cheat."

T'Prina looks at Spock for sanity, which Jim finds really insulting.

"He has not slept properly since we left the colony," Spock tells her, taking the dramatic step of actually taking Jim's elbow and steering him toward the door. "Do not break their fingers, Cadet."

"Yes, Commander," she says obediently, though Jim detects a hint of disappointment. "Good night, Captain, Commander."

"I've slept!" Jim protests as the door closes.

"Three point six hours in your ready room is not sufficient," Spock answers placidly, the bastard, and Jim watches the approaching turbolift in resignation. "I understand you take pleasure in your duties as judge--"

"Mostly I like to mock the ones who lose, really," Jim admits as they step inside and Spock gives the order for their deck. "If they won't let me play, they have to let me heckle."

"Possibly, but I am sure they will admit that I have a greater right to your undivided attention when you are not on duty."

Jim looks at him. "You were consulting with Sorin most of the day."

"I am not now." As they exit the turbolift, Spock doesn't let him go. Sounding thoughtful, like he does when diagnostics illogically fail, he adds, "Perhaps I am jealous."

"You aren't." Jim looks at Spock; there's no way to tell. "Are you?"

As the doors to their quarters open, Jim surveys the epic level of neatness that's been achieved and tries to remember the last time he was in here for more than a few minutes for other than hygiene-related purposes. A little guiltily, Jim makes his way in the general direction of the bathroom, noting the small changes. There's a rug that T'Sora and Spock had gotten at some point, what is probably the beginnings of a water sculpture in the corner (he and Spock are not creative; they'll have to get someone in here to program it properly), a new meditation stone, and a faint sense of developing domesticity that gives him a horrible flashback to leaving the name of that 'bot manufacturer with Rand.

"Are we boring? It's not even two. And I'm not even on duty!" Jim strips off his uniform tunic and in the spirit of compromise puts it with the other laundry, leaving his boots in the closet with a faint feeling of accomplishment for doing his part for domestic tranquility. Coming back to the main room, Jim stops at the sight of the chess board set on a low table. "Wow. Let the good times roll."

Spock, already cross-legged by the table, continues methodically placing each chess piece. "I thought perhaps a game of chess would help you relax before we retire."

Sitting down, Jim tries to remember their last game. "We party like it's twenty-nine, ninety-nine, don't we? Who starts?"

"Orion rules," Spock answers calmly. Mildly amused eyes look into Jim's briefly, then drag down his body before taking a leisurely journey back up; with a faint sense of shock, Jim realizes he's flushing. "The first move is determined by the person wearing the least amount of clothing at the beginning of the game."

Jim glances down at himself (no footwear, no socks, no tunic) and grins. "Strip chess? What's my forfeit?"

"I will name it when I win." Spock hasn't ever lost a game of Orion strip chess as far as Jim knows; of course, as far as he knows, Spock's only ever played it with him. "I believe it is your move, Jim."

McCoy and Sorin are consulting on something complicated and disturbingly multi-colored that reminds Jim vaguely of a map of the highway system in Maine before he realizes it's a brain scan from one of the patients.

"The regeneration has been more complete than I anticipated," Sorin says as Dr. McCoy changes screens. Jim has seen his own often enough (far too fucking often) to recognize the brightly colored area off left is the psi-center on a human. "All of the patients have activated psi-centers. That is--unexpected."

"You just might have found a way to create telepaths," McCoy says flatly. "Three of the patients were psi-null; two of them are listening to conversations happening in the rec room right now and the third's been commenting on the state of my love life. Or lack thereof. That's something to wake you up in the morning, no coffee required."

"I have been instructing them in shielding," Sorin answers absently. "The Academy regime introduced by one of your nurses was inadequate to their newfound abilities. They are improving."

Bones gives Sorin a disbelieving look. "Human minds aren't--"

"Human minds have psi-centers; like your appendix, they are underdeveloped or atrophied in your evolution." Sorin looks at the results critically. "The patients are following a more aggressive path than Captain Kirk's after his bonding with Commander Spock--"

"I'm not a telepath," Jim says loudly, introducing himself into the conversation. Sorin looks at him without surprise, but Bones jumps, frowning at Jim. "At all."

"You are highly sensitive to your bondmate, however," Sorin says coolly, brown eyes unreadable. "I understand part of the diagnostic of pon farr was made when you began to read the thoughts of your officers due to an incident on the Centurius Station--"

Jim hesitates, looking at Bones, who is staring much too hard at those scans. "I don't remember much about that. Bones?"

"I read the reports Spock and Nyota gave and talked to them both about it," McCoy admits finally. "Off the record. I also have the arrest record from the planet, as well as the witness reports collected before Sulu managed to get you out of it. Your psi-centers were fully activated for at least twelve hours and you were reading at a ten meter range by all accounts, both active and passive thought."

"What?" Jim looks between them. "You've never mentioned--"

McCoy scowls. "Because it was one time and there were other concerns, like you being an asshole about having a goddamn death sentence. It never happened again, and you've never shown signs that it came back--"

"Wait." Jim looks between them. "I don't have regenerated brain matter, one, and two, I wasn't bonded to anyone then."

"Your body, however, was responding to the memory of a bond," Sorin says dispassionately. "It has been a source of fascination among many medical staff at the Academy." Which Jim really didn't want to know, thanks. "While we have no precedent for your situation, it is possible that the very lack of a bond is what caused the changes. You must understand; the instinct is very strong in us, and we will do a great deal to achieve--completion." Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "If the pon farr could be anthropomorphized thus, it was aware you were unbonded. It made the alterations necessary to attract and bond with a suitable mate."

Jim looks between McCoy and Sorin blankly. "Please tell me I'm hallucinating this conversation."

"You communicate very easily with Commander Spock telepathically," Sorin answers. Jim starts, feeling McCoy's eyes narrow on him. Sorin looks between them for a second, then at Jim. "I see. You did not inform Dr. McCoy of this development. I had wondered at the exclusion in your medical records. I believe this conversation should be continued in private, then."

"The hell it is," McCoy says acidly, staring at Jim. "You never said--"

"Sorin," he starts, because McCoy is going to take a very long conversation and a lot of alcohol, "I don't think--"

"I have consulted with your bondmate," Sorin says carefully, looking at Jim to see if he understands the significance of the distinction, "and gained his permission to speak to you of this. I had planned to seek you out today to request a meeting."

Jim takes a deep breath; Spock's privacy issues are almost equal to his own. There's a good reason for this. "Fine."

"Jim," McCoy says dangerously, "what the hell--"

"Later, I promise. Just--" He motions toward the door. A lot of alcohol, he thinks uncomfortably at McCoy's glare; distantly, he can feel Spock's focus shift to him. "Sorin, my quarters, half an hour. Bones--"

"Right after," McCoy says venomously with a significant look at the hypos. Yeah, he gets it. "And you better have a good reason."

Jim sighs. Yeah. A lot of alcohol.

"I apologize," Sorin says calmly, taking a seat on the small couch Jim indicates. Not for the first time, Jim thinks that of all the Vulcans he's met, Sorin may be the first who actually embodies the human concept of emotionless; it's hard to reconcile that with what Spock learned about him and Melody. "I did not realize--"

"Nah," Jim waves a hand. "He'll get over it. Now, what exactly is this about?"

"Commander Spock consulted with me regarding your shields," Sorin answers. "Until Dr. McCoy and I discovered the increased psi-readings on those we treated, he did not realize that it was not merely unfamiliarity that was causing you distress when you attempt to shield."

"I'm not distressed," Jim answers, eyes narrowing. "It's just--"

"Exhausting. It should not be." Sorin gives Jim a penetrating look. "Commander Spock was given only the preliminary training in the advanced mind disciplines; he would not have been aware that merely shielding a mind that is not psi-sensitive should not have been so difficult. Nor would he have been aware that between a Vulcan and those without that sensitivity, the level of communication you enjoy is--unusual."


Sorin tilts his head. "Outside of a meld, it is extremely uncommon to easily communicate with a non-telepathic species. A bondmate taken from such a species would require many years for their sympathetic nervous system to adapt. You have been bonded only a year. That by definition is unusual."

Jim can almost feel Spock's completely unemotional chagrin finding that out. This is going to be a very fun voyage, he can tell. "I'm not a telepath."

Sorin's head tilts thoughtfully. "After the first signs of increased psi abilities among the patients, I asked Dr. McCoy for the specifics of the incident during your pon farr that you state you cannot remember--"

"I'm not a telepath, Sorin. And I think I'm the authority on that."

"That is debatable," Sorin says terrifyingly. "Your bond is--unusual in many ways, not least due to how it was formed. An unanticipated bond formed during pon farr is extremely rare and never with the complications you endured. I would be interested in discovering the range of your ability, but I see you are uncomfortable, so I will come to the point. I wish to offer my services as an instructor."

Jim starts. "For--"

"To instruct you in shielding. Despite Commander Spock's efforts, you continue to experience difficulties. He feels that perhaps your requirements are beyond his current level of skill. After making an evaluation, it is probable I can assist you."

"What would that require?"

"I will need to meld with you."

"No." Jim controls the urge to order him to leave, but nothing can stop the flinch. "I don't--I mean, I really don't like people in my head."

Sorin tilts his head thoughtfully. "You are distressed."

"I--" Jim stops, feeling helpless. There's no way to explain this. "What--this thing with Spock--it wasn't his choice. Not really. Or mine, if I'd had a choice back then. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change anything, but it was--" Jim swallows. "Don't you people not talk about this?"

Sorin's expression doesn't change, but Jim has a faint sense of being studied. "I did not realize how deeply it had affected you." After a moment, Sorin nods, almost to himself. "Commander Spock was equally reticent to permit this. Would you be easier if he was present during instruction?"

"Define 'present'."

"He will join the meld." Sorin pauses, considering. "It would also serve to also instruct him in the more advanced disciplines, as neither of you have regular access to a mind healer or an acolyte."

Jim take a deep breath, sensing Spock's wary agreement: It would be unusual, Spock admits. But the disciplines are passed on thus among the acolytes of Gor, so it is not without precedent.

Right. Rubbing damp hands against his knees, Jim looks at Sorin sharply. "Can you read me now?"

"If I chose to." Sorin looks at Jim placidly. "My shields are a part of me. It is a conscious act to lower them to do a full reading. I can promise you, my training in the mind disciplines was strict and fully encompassing. I will do no more than evaluate your mind to discover how to teach you to efficiently shield yourself. Your bondmate has sufficient training and natural talent to easily observe and understand everything I will do." Sorin hesitates. "I could not affect your bond, even if I was so lost to the ethics of my people as to wish to. Commander Spock was accepted to study kolinahr for many reasons, among them his strong psi abilities; even a full adept could not interfere your bond with him. He is capable of responding well before any damage could be done."

Jim lets out a breath. "All right. Spock will check my schedule with Rand."

"Thank you, Captain." Sorin begins to rise, then hesitates. "I am aware of what you endured in experiencing the pon farr of an unbonded male. You were generous to permit your experience to be documented and studied by the Academy. The Academy did not reciprocate in kind, nor I believe told you how valuable that information is, especially at this time, with so many unbonded due to the death of their bondmates. For myself--" Sorin takes a breath, and for a second, Jim thinks he sees something flicker across the expressionless face, raw and endlessly deep, an unhealed wound. "It is no longer illogical to hope."

"Logic needs no thanks," Jim says awkwardly. "This--with the instruction--will that also--"

"I would have offered whether or not it was of benefit to Melody," Sorin answers. "The study of your bond with Commander Spock during the course of instruction could help me discover a new path in assisting Melody." Getting to his feet, he nods gravely. "I will speak to your bondmate and arrange a time convenient to you both. If you have further questions, I am at your service."

"I may take you up on that."

"So are you an adept?" Jim asks idly, trying not to watch Spock struggle with the water sculpture and failing utterly.

Water, rocks, forcefields, and a set of controls: it isn't warp core theory, but then again, if it were, both of them would probably be a lot better at it. Water sculpture is the equivalent of finger painting for adults--it's supposed to be fun and relaxing and it just isn't. Getting up from the terminal, Jim circles the water formed in sets of geometric squares before falling into the rock-filled basin at precise right angles and feels a headache starting already.

Spock doesn't look up from the controls. "No."

"Sorin seemed impressed with you." Nudging him with a hip, Jim looks at the code for a moment and cuts off a corner of the topmost square to see if that helps; it doesn't. Between the two of them, they've managed to create the least aesthetically pleasing art ever. "God, I hate water sculpture. I almost failed art at the Academy, you know."

Spock's eyes narrow, but that's because he almost failed art, too, and whoo boy does he hate admitting that.

Cutting off another corner, Jim stares at it for a minute. "Is this thing supposed to cause vertigo?" he asks before Spock reverts his changes. "You are a level seven computer technician. I graduated top of my class from Starfleet Academy. It shouldn't be this hard."

Spock starts his speech on art, meditation, and intellectual stimulation, but then really looks at what he's doing and winces, returning to the controls with renewed determination. Leaving him to it, Jim drops onto the couch, wondering if other people have these kinds of domestic issues. In some ways, Jim supposes that the fact both of them lack even a rudimentary understanding of normal cohabitation rules is a plus; not knowing exactly how it's supposed to work in normal relationships saves them a lot of stress in the long run.

"Sorin?" he reminds Spock.

"My psi-rating is very strong," Spock answers. "But a true Adept is very rare. Sorin is the only one born in five generations. It is not a comfortable gift among my people, not least to those that have it."

Jim mulls that, lying back and picking up a datapad to pretend to read. "You didn't tell me you were that worried about my shielding." Jim touches the screen, opening one of the historical texts he'd asked the Ambassador to get for him. His written Vulcan had gotten insanely good, which just goes to show that he wasted three years studying when he could have just waited for Spock to drop the entirety of his knowledge in his head and been done with it, accent included. "You blocked it."

Spock hesitates, a mental checking that Jim can feel more than see. "I did not wish--"

"I know you didn't want to worry me." Sighing, Jim drops the datapad over the side of the couch. "But you went to Sorin about it before you told me, and that's not on. You get that, right?"

Spock turns to look at him. "I was aware it would displease you."

"Not a regency heroine," Jim says, rolling on his side, arm tucked beneath his head. "I get needing mental space and everything, fine. This isn't that."

After a moment of consideration, Spock shuts down the controls, and Jim pulls up his legs enough for Spock to sit down, half-sitting himself to stare at Spock meaningfully.

"I thought the flaw was within myself."

Jim blinks slowly. "You thought--"

"That my--that when we bonded, it was done--incorrectly." Beneath the tight control, Jim can sense exactly how that conversation with Sorin must have started and feels sympathetic nausea. "He did not think that was the problem; however--"

"So that's why he was so insistent." Jim frowns, leaning back against the armrest. "I think we'd know if you did it wrong." He tries to control the shudder at the memory of Sorin's brother and his bondmate. "Seriously."

Spock doesn't shudder, but he would if he were human. "What was done between us was under--unusual circumstances," Spock answers diplomatically. "Your will was compromised--"

"We are not having this discussion again." Jim can see where this is going: it's a very irritating place that usually ends with one of them on the couch. "I told you--"

"I do not doubt your acceptance," Spock answers calmly. "But given the choice--"

"God, we are having this discussion."

"--you would not have chosen me as a mate."

Jim stares at him for a minute. "You are a such an idiot. Do you think I regret it? Or if I'd known---" Jim stops, feeling a little helpless. "Okay, to put this in terms that will make sense to you; I would have logically--and I cannot believe I have to say this--chosen this. It wasn't just better than dying in a really humiliating way. Though yeah, it was definitely better than that, too."

Spock looks his opinion on guessing probability. "Jim--"

"You know how I feel about you. Not like you can't pick up that without even trying."

"I do. And I know it was not true before this happened between us. It is very rare that Vulcans are required to bond as we did, and you are not telepathic. It is not a question of whether you were coerced; it is a question of how much, and if there is residual damage."

The problem is, that's true, and also, not true at all; feelings have never been Jim's forte and Spock spends a lot of his free time pretending they aren't there at all. This can be both good and bad; being able to skip talking about their feelings is, for Jim, a huge plus. The minus is, they're both shit navigating a conversation about them when they do have to talk about it, and all the bonding in the world doesn't mean jack shit when it comes to that. At least Spock has Uhura as a frame of reference for how this is supposed to work; Jim's pretty sure that if they were depending on him to figure this out, they'd be very almost-divorced, or possibly homicidal.

"It doesn't matter," Jim says slowly, searching for the right words. "What we did--and this was we, not just you, so the martyr act needs to stop--just--maybe sped it up, I don't know. Some people meet at like, the Academy or on duty and go years figuring each other out before they get around to a relationship. So we cheated. I'm known for that."

Spock doesn't raise an eyebrow, but Jim thinks he wants to. "Jim--"

"You didn't damage me. You didn't coerce me. It was a choice." Jim takes a deep breath. "The Ambassador asked me, you know. About everything. The thing is, I wouldn't change anything, except understanding what you were offering me before I almost drove us both crazy. Which you know, that part, yeah, that was your fault."

Pushing himself up, Jim crawls across the couch, straddling Spock's lap. Jim prefers physical contact because he's human and humans mostly like that sort of thing; he suspects Spock likes it because he uses it like a diagnostic tool, and (possibly) because it's edgy for a Vulcan to feel up a human or something. Apparently, Spock was a total rebel during his adolescence and never really got over it, which Jim finds hilarious. "When is the appointment with Sorin?"

"Tomorrow evening. I confirmed with Yeoman Rand that your schedule was open."

"Because if you didn't go through her first, she'd kick your ass," Jim says with a grin. "Like I said, she needs a ship of her own to bully." Getting up, Jim pulls Spock to his feet. "Come on."

"Do you have something in mind?" Spock's eyes flicker to the water sculpture; he's seriously not going to let that go.

"You will never hear me say this again," Jim says, hating himself a little, "but I think I'd better meditate."

That gets Spock's undivided attention; even water sculpture failure can't compete with that. "Really."

"Don't get used to it," Jim warns, sitting on the edge of the bed to take off his tunic. "But if I'm going to have someone else in my head--" He needs Spock there first, tonight, so he can remember it when he has to let someone else do this to him.

Spock takes the tunic from his hands, fingers brushing Jim's in perfect understanding. "I understand."

Yeah, he does.

They're entering the chess semi-finals, which means the entire ship is on edge, with crewmembers and officers eyeing each other hostilely in hall and mess and generally acting like the super-competitive people they all are.

Stopping by Uhura's station, he looks over her shoulder to see what appears to be the beginnings of a tentative class schedule for the coming year. "Concentrating Ling I and II?" Jim asks, leaning against the console. Uhura twitches, giving him a frown for being a sneaky ass. "Kind of heavy."

"They can handle it. On a starship, practical application teaches better than classroom. I'll rotate my students into Communications; I'm coordinating with cross-training so the enlisted crew will work in departments related to current classes."

"Good idea." Cross-training for crew was mandatory in Starfleet, though most starships paid only lip service to the idea; it took a lot of coordination between department heads and the paperwork was unreal. And department heads were notoriously possessive of their people, even enlisted personnel. An attitude Jim both understood and ignored; every member of his crew rotated departments regularly, including junior officers, and the department heads either dealt with it or found another ship. Starship duty could be epically boring; Jim learned that the hard way. It could also be epically unpredictable, and if Jim had to learn how to solder power conduits while lying in Jefferies tubes during a firefight and still give orders to Spock on the bridge, well, he sees no reason that anyone else should be spared the joy. "Send me the final draft and copy Rand so she and Spock can rework the crew schedules."

"Will do."

Pushing off the console, Jim wanders to his chair, feeling particularly useless. Whoever decided a captain's duties must have been either really into diplomacy or just the laziest ass ever. Not that his crew is doing any better: currently, the helm is staffed with a near-comatose Sulu, and Chekov is playing three dimensional sudoku while pretending to scan dead, dead, dead space.

Somehow, Pike had made this all seem so much more interesting than it really is, and Jim silently hates Spock for figuring this out a long time ago. Science officers and first officers have all the fun; currently, his first officer is playing in his lab and pretending it's work and not the most fun a Vulcan can have. "Status?" Jim asks, trying to sound commanding.

"Nothing," Sulu answers sullenly, then straightens in alarm. "Er, everything normal, sir."

Jim waves irritably and sinks further into his chair. "Yeah, kind of what I thought."

"Captain?" Uhura says abruptly. "We're receiving an encrypted communication." She pauses; turning in his chair, Jim watches her hands tap quickly across her board. "You'll want to see this. The algorithms are similar to the ones recovered from the data solids at the Begammon Station."

"You're kidding," Jim answers blankly; of all the possibilities he'd considered, he really hadn't thought he'd be contacted directly. "Send it to lab two and come with me. Sulu, you have the bridge."

Uhura stands up as her relief takes her place, following him to the turbolift. "Why lab two?" she asks as the door closes.

"The computer's been running a search on every encryption algorithm we have in the databases," Jim answers. "We're going to put this one in and see what happens."

"We know it's Orion, so you're looking for a direct link to someone," she says thoughtfully. "You think they are using variations of the same encryption patterns each time?"

"Even the Federation doesn't create a brand new standard every time one of them gets broken," Jim answers as the turbolift doors open. "The computer can give us the possibilities. I need you to tell me which ones were potentially by the same person or entity." Jim stops at the door. "Release lock, alpha a beta b one two three and add Lieutenant Uhura to authorized personnel."

Following him in, she looks at him over the lab table. "How many are we talking about?"

"Last I checked, one million sixteen thousand matches." Uhura stares at him. "We had only one sample! Communications are your specialty, not mine."

Rolling her eyes, Uhura sits down, pulling up the message on the terminal. "Right," she says with a sigh, waving him toward the door. "I'll keep you updated."

Jim squints. "Are you throwing me out of my own secret project?" Uhura just looks at him, then significantly, at the door. "Fine, fine, I'm going. I've got a communiqué from Starfleet and one from Mitchell waiting for me. Probably wants to know the sitch on Vulcan and get those cheat codes."

"Mitchell?" Uhura says acidly. "So now we report to that overbred--"

"Hey!" Jim says, offended. "Let me remind you, I'm fifth generation Starfleet. I'm way more overbred than he is."

Uhura gives him a harassed look. "But you don't act like it, Captain."

Jim rocks back on his heels, surprised. "Wow. Is that a compliment?"

She doesn't answer; Jim will take that one as a win.

Dr. Leonard McCoy
Dr. Leonard McCoy

Spock meets him for a quiet, extremely logical lunch, and Jim stares down at the nutritionally balanced meal. "So no fried chicken?" he says, trying to identify the array of vegetables, some of which he recognizes as newly programmed into the replicators since their visit to Ambassador Spock.

"Your health is of paramount importance," Spock answers in way that's Vulcan for smug.

"Meat is healthy," Jim answers rebelliously, poking his fork into the salad. "Anything interesting going on? I was stuck reading new and exciting paperwork from Starfleet. Did you know we're adding forms specifically for reactions to alien pollen? Seriously? Does it really happen that often? Is there anything interesting happening? Anywhere?"

"Lieutenant Uhura has reported the encryption signature on the message has a twenty-two point six-three-eight percent base commonality with the samples from the station and your game."

Jim stabs a forkful of salad. "Why is it that when I ask, I'm told to stop stalking her, but you get an explanation?"

Spock doesn't dignify that with a response. "I understand we have received new orders."

"Starfleet's sending us to Starbase 3," Jim answers, trying not to sound bitter and failing utterly. "We're to pick up those physicists after all, since they just can't get any other transport. Mitchell's there, by the way--I guess his ship doesn't count as transport now? The fucker."

Spock glances up in faint reproof. "Captain Mitchell is a competent officer." Which is true, and from Spock, probably the highest possible praise. That doesn't mean Jim has to like Mitchell so obviously pulling strings. "Doubtless he wishes to speak to you regarding the situation in the colony without--"

"Starfleet noticing us chatting too much. Yeah, I know." Taking another bite, Jim watches two crewmembers giving each other dark glares; it looks like Ensign Myran from Engineering won the semi-finals last night. "You know, remember when I used to be bored and said we needed more to do? So I thought it would be great idea to start ship intramural tournaments?"

"It has been excellent for crew morale," Spock answers maliciously. "The addition of regular classes--"

"About that." Jim points his fork at Spock. "I saw the schedule Uhura's working on. I'm teaching Command 101?"

Spock looks a question.

"Okay, they call it Ethical Situations in Starfleet History or whatever, fine," Jim answers, "but it's the core prerequisite for acceptance to command track. When was this decided?"

"You are captain of the ship," Spock starts, trying to be logical and irritating.

"And my professor tried to fail me. It took Pike and a review board to keep my A and not flunk out of command track! Not to mention--"

"I reviewed your coursework," Spock says, finishing up the salad and showing far too much interest in the whole grain bread that Jim hasn't been able to escape eating for the last three months. "I do not see a conflict. You and your instructor had differing interpretations of Starfleet policy."

Jim sits back. "You went through my coursework." Though really, he should have known. He checked out Spock's, after all. "When?"

"When I accepted this position."

Of course. "And you think I should bend some bright young minds? Not that I'm against that or anything. I just doubt Starfleet will accept it."

"Whether Starfleet will accept courses taught here as credit is immaterial. The course will introduce them to the ethical dilemmas common to Starfleet and give them the opportunity to decide if they are suited to Starfleet as officers."

Jim squints at Spock. "You know, I'm just thinking if we want to encourage them to join up, maybe we should get them someone who could, you know, be that shining light of inspiration. Like say, I don't know, you."

Spock's eyebrows raise faintly. "I think not."

"You're just grumpy that you're the only one who can do intro to relativity in physics," Jim answers with a grin, giving it up. "You and Uhura decide when we start?"

"We should be prepared to begin preliminary classes in three months. I have gauged interest among the crew and have begun adjusting crew assignments to compensate."

"You don't let grass grow under your feet, that's for sure." Jim takes another bite; with some kind of dressing, this wouldn't be too bad. "Don't pretend you don't know the reference; your mother was a Federation interpreter and I know very well you have a sick fascination for proverbs. So do we have enough for a full class?"

Spock look at him expressionlessly. "I see you have not been reading my reports, despite the fact you have stated that you always--"

"Your reports are twenty five thousand words on a slow day," Jim says flatly. "The last was longer than War and Peace, but admittedly somewhat easier to read. I read the preface, author notes, and summary. How many crew signed up? Give me ballpark."

Spock folds his hands, and the timing must be coincidental, because Jim has just taken another bite when he says, "Two hundred crewmembers have expressed interest."

Jim grabs for his napkin, breathing romaine and turuiq slices.

"Do you require assistance Captain?"

Jim glares at him over the napkin, knowing his hysterical coughing is attracting attention. You are such an asshole.

While Spock's expression doesn't change, Jim can sense the amusement. Did you expect fewer respondents?

Jim wipes his mouth shakily. "That was a joke, right? I mean, it's certainly bad enough. Very Vulcan."

"No, it is not."

Jim drops his napkin. "That's over one third of the crew, excluding officers--"

"I am aware of the precise numbers; would you like me to elucidate?"

"No." Jim looks around the quiet mess for a moment, trying to give this some kind of context. "Two hundred."

"They will require individualized evaluation to discover the extent of their education and to find their aptitudes," Spock says, like this is some perfectly ordinary conversation or something, "but otherwise, I do not foresee difficulties."

Jim watches Spock for a few moments; Spock kind of sucks at hiding personal smugness, and he's not even trying to right now. "You saw this coming, didn't you?"

"I suspected it, yes."

Jim waits, but that seems all Spock has to say about the matter. Straightening, Jim grabs his fork. "I didn't," he admits, wondering if he can find a replicator once Spock goes back to play in his lab and get something completely unhealthy and delicious without Spock finding out. "A lifetime commitment's pretty different from a five year assignment. And most enlisted kind of loathe Starfleet officers. Not that I blame them," Jim adds, playing with the remains of the salad. "I'd have been cashiered out of Starfleet already if I'd had to serve under most of them. Well, except for you." Jim gives Spock a winning smile. "I'm sure I'd have been a great subordinate."

Spock gives him a look that implies he doubts Jim's sanity. "Perhaps something changed their minds."

Jim snorts his opinion of that and finishes his salad.

Unfortunately, Sorin is precisely on time, which Jim supposes is probably better than early, but not by much. Turning his attention back to the water sculpture, he ignores Spock going to the door and the quiet exchange behind him until he notices he's making something that looks a lot like a symbolic representation of a ship being torn apart by a black hole.

Maybe he should stop now.


Jim makes himself close the control panel and turn around; a very real part of him thinks calling for a site to site transport to a nice, safe locked room isn't the worst idea ever.

"Right." Forcing his legs to move, Jim crosses the room and sits down, trying to look less freaked out than he feels, despite the fact he's in the presence of two telepaths and can't a hide a goddamn thing. "What should I do?"

Sorin gives Spock a look over Jim's head that's just irritating. "I will need you to relax, Captain Kirk--"

"Jim," Jim interrupts shortly. "You're in my head, you use my name."

"Jim," Sorin corrects himself smoothly. "Spock will begin the meld. When he feels you are comfortable, I will join you. If at any time you feel distress, I will withdraw. This can be done as slowly as you require."

Rubbing damp palms on his knees, Jim nods slowly. "Right. Okay. Let's just--just get this over with, okay?"


Closing his eyes, Jim concentrates on the place in his head that Spock occupies, reminding himself that in this, at least, there are no mysteries. They've done this more times than he can count. You can suppress it if I panic, right?

Jim feels long, familiar fingers touch his face. It would not be prudent to interfere with your--

Do it anyway. If you think it's important to do this, I want to get it over with. Jim takes another breath, matching Spock's as the first stages of the meld begin, the familiar words running smoothly through his head. I trust you.

Almost from a distance, Jim feels Spock's fingers slide into place. No matter what--even now--this part, this part Jim never gets tired of. For what feels like forever and still far too short, he can feel the perfect click of their minds, of everything they both are become so much more together than they had ever been apart.

The touch of another mind pulls his attention, and Jim jerks, startled at the foreign presence intruding into their thoughts. For a second, he's aware of a sudden, startled panic before it's gone as if it had never been there at all, a quiet urge to relax, accept, do not be afraid.

All right, he answers a little dreamily and relaxes into the firm touch. I trust you.

Jim's aware of a strong sense of disorientation, sitting up so suddenly that it takes a few seconds to dispel the vertigo enough to realize he's in bed and it's mid-gamma.

Blinking, Jim reaches up, touching his head; there's a faintly tender feeling, nothing like a headache, but it's the closest word he can use to describe it. Closer to his memories of his first year at the Academy, doubling classes and drinking too much coffee and wondering who on earth he was trying to prove himself to. For a long time, he'd thought it was Pike: looking back, though, he think that just maybe, it had been to himself.


The mental touch to his hypersensitive mind makes him cringe; Jim pushes the heel of his hand against his temple, trying to control the throbbing ache that's not even physical, so how the hell--

"It is supposed to hurt?" Jim says slowly, enunciating each word carefully.

He can feel Spock sit up beside him, removing his hand and pressing gently against his temples. Jim looks into the serious brown eyes, trying not to flinch at the careful mental touch.

"For a Vulcan, no," Spock answers, eyes flickering closed, and the pain dampens. "For you, however--you are not accustomed to the exertions of this kind of prolonged mental contact. How much do you remember of this evening?"

Now that he mentions it… "Some?" As the not-pain slowly shifts to a dull ache, Jim frowns, searching backward. The faint, vague memories feel more like a dream than anything that actually happened. "Not very much. What happened?"

"Sorin stated he will require time to evaluate what he has discovered," Spock says slowly. Jim lets out a breath; while he doesn't know that much about Vulcan Adepts, he knows enough to guess that's not a great sign. "However, he also said that teaching you to shield yourself should alleviate the problems you have experienced; it is merely a matter of instructing you in the correct technique."

"Even though we don't know what the problem is? That's--weird."

"The mental disciplines are not always logical," Spock says, with a faint sense of embarrassment, like it's a personal failing. "He wishes to begin the meditation exercises we are instructed in as children, if you have no objection."

Jim looks at Spock in growing horror. "You mean the three hour long meditation exercises you did when you were like, two? The ones even you don't do anymore because they are so goddamn boring? Those exercises?"

"They can be beneficial to cultivate patience," Spock says, not needing to add "as you have none".

Jim stares at Spock. "I swear to God that sometimes I think Vulcan tradition was created specifically for a sense of moral superiority over humans. The chess finals are tomorrow night. It's going to be awesome and I'm going to get to throw at least four people in the brig if it's anything like it was last year. Why do you hate it when I'm happy?"

"You are unusually irrational," Spock observes, removing his hand. "Your mind will be clearer in the morning after you have rested. A deep meld is exhausting even for a Vulcan; it can take time to accustom to the strain of an unfamiliar mind."

Jim lets Spock ease him back down, mostly because Spock's right; he can feel the pull of sleep at the corner of his mind. "It never happened with you." Silence. "Spock?"

Turning his head, Jim looks at Spock, inches and light years away all at once. Rolling on his side, Jim reaches out, finding Spock's hand. To his surprise, fingers lace almost immediately through his own, pulling him unresistingly closer. Throwing a knee over Spock's thigh, Jim pushes himself up on one elbow. "It never happened with you," Jim repeats slowly, "because the Ambassador did it first, and I was still influenced by the Ambassador's memories the first time. And then, after three days together, you were pretty damn familiar. Right?"

The affirmative answer doesn't need to be spoken; Jim can feel it in the silence.

Lying back down, Jim closes his eyes, concentrating on Spock's fingers tight in his. "I used to be jealous of Uhura," Jim hears himself say, feeling Spock's startled attention like the warmth of his hand. "I know how you felt about her then and how you feel about her now."

"I did not know that."

Jim smiles faintly. "Desperation, like ego, is the mother of invention; I wondered if I was hiding it. It was pretty humiliating. I never got why people would get freaked about that kind of thing, you know--I never saw the point of worrying about losing someone. Thing is, there was never anyone I couldn't stand to lose. Which," Jim continues lightly, "pretty much fucks up my theory I was beyond this sort of crap. But there you go."

"Jim." The fingers tighten around his. "I would never--"

"I know." Licking his lips, Jim takes a deep breath. "I know when you came down to find me, you were giving up the potential for--to be with anyone else." Jim opens his eyes. "I don't know how to be sorry for that anymore."

Spock leans forward, lips brushing his, achingly gentle, sweet like in stories about first love, the kind of stories that always ended with someone with a broken heart and a life lesson about letting someone go. It figures, Jim thinks hazily, lips parting as the kiss deepens, that his life lesson isn't learning how to let go; instead he learned how much he really is his mother's son.

Pulling back, Spock looks down at him; Jim aches a little at the feeling in it, overwhelming and humbling by turn. "I have never regretted it," Spock murmurs against his cheek, less than a breath of sound. "Even if I could, there is nothing I would change."

Jim nods slowly, fingers tangling in Spock's hair, pulling him back to his mouth. Yeah. Me either.

Uhura's like a machine; in a day, she's narrowed the possibilities down to less than five thousand. Trying not to look as awed as he feels, Jim studies her results. "Huh. Five thousand?"

"It's killing you inside isn't it?"

Jim scowls at her over the top of the screen before retreating into dignified silence, mostly because he can't think of a reply. "So what am I looking at, besides a lot of repetition?"

"The encryption signatures of roughly seventy-eight species of humanoid beings," she says, gracious in victory. "I'm still running strings through the database, so I should have these narrowed down to about a thousand before lunch." Sitting back with a faint glow of satisfaction, she smiles at him, reminding him he really should have reconsidered the advanced classes in organic cryptology even if they were at six in the goddamn morning.

Tapping the table, Jim scrolls through the page absently. "I'm missing something," he says finally, closing the page down before he gives into the temptation to throw something at the computer for not being omnipotent. "I just wonder why a Romulan would turn against his people."

"You think every single person in the Empire is hot for a war with the Federation?"

Jim frowns. "Of course not. I'm saying that either he's convinced they can't win--which I seriously doubt--or he's like a Romulan Gandhi or something, which sure, is possible, but would a Romulan Gandhi be high enough in the government to know what's going on? They don't really encourage independent thinking in their military. I'm just not seeing it."

"You think he was lying?"

"No. Dar's a businessman and he knows he operates by the grace of not being stupid. If he was selling me out, it would be the last business he'd ever do anywhere, ever; it wouldn't have been just a Federation captain he fucked over, but a customer. Even if he got away from the Federation, he'd never be able to establish himself again.."

"Honor among thieves?" Uhura says, amused. "Fair enough."

"Yeah, and--I've known him for a while." Jim looks away. "He wouldn't fuck me over. That he set up that meeting means it was legitimate."

Uhura gives him a disbelieving look. "And next you're going to say you regret getting out of Begammon."

"I'm beginning to think leaving was a mistake," Jim admits.

Uhura's smile fades. "Captain--"

"If I hadn't had T'Prina, I would have stayed," Jim says finally, looking at Uhura ruefully. "Risking myself I was okay with, but I couldn't risk her, not with a telepath involved. She's just a kid."

"She's only three years younger than you are."

Jim gives Uhura a faint smile. "It feels like a lot more," he says with a shrug. "Anyway, in retrospect, I should have negotiated her release and stuck around to see what was going on."

"That would have gone over well," Uhura says flatly; she's not just talking about his ship, or Starfleet.

"You'd have been here to make sure nothing went wrong," Jim answers lightly. "And I don't trust just anyone to do that." And he isn't either. "When we leave Earth, I want to go back to the station and beam down, see if I can find out something."

"With a full security detail, of course," Uhura answers, equally light, and meaning every word.

"Kind of put a cramp in my style."

"We'd like your style alive and in one piece, sir," she answers, not lightly at all. Startled, Jim looks at her. "We have a shore leave coming up in a few months. I'd rather not spend it running around the galaxy trying to rescue you, you know. I have plans."


"Just keep that in mind when you start thinking up new and exciting ways to get yourself killed or kidnapped. No one wants to train up a new captain; we just got you broken in." Uhura turns back to her screen. "Now go away so I can get some work done. Don't you have a ship to run?"

Getting up, Jim smirks in her general direction. "You know Spock does all that," he says. "Everyone says so."

"Someday," she says, "you won't be able to get away with that anymore."

"But that day is not today. Keep me informed." With a sloppy salute to her back he knows she can see reflected in the screen, Jim leaves before she realizes there's a pencil close enough to throw at him. She has really accurate aim.

All Starfleet cadets are instructed in meditation in the academy; it's a mandatory course for all future officers, in the (vain) hope they'll actually use it to avoid unfortunate stress-related situations such as climbing naked on the dean's roof and shouting out their newfound belief in the benefits of anarchy in blank verse during midterms.

But Starfleet-mandated meditation, taught by Betazoids like an art, is one thing; Vulcans treat it like a hard science. Sorin treats meditation like a hard science with a physical practical; at the end of the first hour, Jim opens his eyes, looking at Sorin blearily. "This isn't meditation. This is guided mental torture."

Jim senses a hysterical combination of horror and reluctant amusement from his left; Sorin tilts his head slightly, studying Jim, and not for the first time, Jim just cannot imagine how this guy could possibly have ever done anything as illogical as fall in love with anyone, ever.

"The techniques we are employing are by necessity of a condensed nature; the course we are following is usually spread over a series of years, not weeks," Sorin answers. "I am restricting it to the aspects most relevant to you. It will be tiring, but it is necessary. Shielding yourself should be as instinctive, as thoughtless, as breathing."

Jim glances at Spock, who is listening in respectful silence. "I get that," Jim answers, trying not to sound like he's whining, even though right now in the rec room, someone is winning a chess tournament and it's kind of inevitable there will be an altercation that he won't even get to see, much less dispense judgment on. "I just--look, try to see this from my point of view. You're asking a blind guy to identify colors by touch here; that's where I'm coming from."

Sorin frowns faintly. "I do not--ah, I understand. A unusual but surprisingly apt comparison." Hands resting lightly on his knees, Sorin looks between them. "I think that we should end the lesson here, Captain, Commander. Exhausting yourself unnecessarily will not assist your progress."

Jim slumps in relief. "There's been progress?"

"Yes, though you may not be aware of it. The mind, like any muscle, responds to training. You are doing surprisingly well; I commend Commander Spock for his thorough work in instructing you in the preliminary disciplines. It has made this far easier than expected."

Spock doesn't straighten, but Jim kind of thinks he would if he weren't Vulcan. "Would you care for refreshment, Sorin?" Spock asks, uncoiling himself from the floor in a single lithe motion that never fails to make Jim forget to breathe.

"I cannot accept at this time; my patients require my attention before I can retire." He makes no indication that when he completes his duties, he will return to the databases, searching for hope in every Federation medical record he can access before forced to sleep by the logical demands of his body. McCoy had remarked on his dedication to his patients, and Jim had nodded silent agreement; privacy forbade telling him the reason for Sorin's single-minded focus.

As Spock and Sorin approach the door, talking softly about anything but that, Jim checks the chronometer. If he hurries, he should get to see the second half of the final match.

Sorin wishes my opinion on a text he recently uncovered regarding telepathic healing practices, Spock tells him unexpectedly. I assume you will be observing the match in the rec room?

Hell yes. Grinning, Jim goes for his boots. "I'll tell you when the fight breaks out."

"Captain," T'Prina says gravely as he joins her at the judges' table. With a plate of snacks that do not bear even a passing resemblance to vegetables or anything healthy, Jim sits down between her and Bones. "I had thought you would not be able to attend."

Bones takes a cookie, leaning against his shoulder, murmuring, "They're already trash talking."

Jim eyes the individuals at the table: Crewman Rumiko Tamura, a pretty, delicate looking member of ship's operations and part of the pool of crewmen assigned to away teams, and Ensign Roo from Computer Maintenance, who Jim remembers faintly from the Academy as a gifted athlete. An athlete with an impossibly high score in FIDE chess ratings.

"Three-two in her favor," McCoy adds. He chuckles at Jim's surprise. "Gets better; he taught her to play after the tournament last year."

Jim picks up another cookie. "Why do I think I've seen their names recently?"

"That would be a complaint from Ensign Roo's neighbors," Bones answers with a smirk. Jim chokes and tries to cover for it with a cough, getting himself a roomful of glares. With an apologetic wave, Jim swallows quickly. "Seems their unofficial cohabitation is rather--noisy."

"You're fucking with me."

"Nope. Kind of disgustingly cute, isn't it?"

Jim watches her eyes narrow as Roo takes her bishop with just a little too much satisfaction. "Someone's sleeping on the couch tonight."

"Nah--they're both competitive as hell. Should have seen the results of their first date; I had to treat them after a three hour hoverball match. They were still shouting at each other about Rigellian rule exceptions after I let them go." Bones gives them a sardonic look. "Roo convinced her to sign up for your little education experiment, by the way; she's second generation colonial, and formal education on her planet is vocational after age sixteen. This is her third tour of duty as crew. She didn't think she could make the cut for the Academy at her age with almost none of the education a kid on Earth finishes in secondary school."

Jim uses his reach for another cookie to look around the room, observing the surprising number of enlisted personnel watching the game intently. "The colonies are Starfleet's best hunting ground for enlistment. Who can resist the promise of going where no one's gone before when you've never even had the opportunity to get off-planet?"

"You've always been sensitive about that. Noblesse oblige?"

Jim rolls his eyes. "Whatever."

"It's okay to admit sometimes you have something more altruistic in mind than alleviating your own boredom."

Jim takes McCoy's glass, tasting the pale green liquid and twitching at the strong mix of mint and grain alcohol. "This is disgusting," he says, taking a longer drink. "What is it? Get me one."

"You're changing the subject," Bones answers, amused. "You really took Pike's observations to heart, didn't you?"

Jim empties the glass in retaliation, ignoring the hard burn and faint dizziness. What the fuck was that? "Bones--"

"I'm just saying, deciding to change the entire composition of Starfleet by sheer will is in fact something you'd think was a challenge to your ingenuity, not an exercise in insanity. I bet Pike practically hugged you when you told him about this. It's something he'd do."

"He wanted to." Jim fixes his eyes on the two adversaries, currently studying the board like it held the secret to universal peace and unlimited chocolate. "There's a lot he wanted to do."

"Is that why?"

Jim looks at his denuded plate and wishes he'd eaten just a little slower. "When we got back to earth--after the thing," he says, knowing Bones will know exactly what he's referring to, "we talked about my first year in command before I went in front of the review board--"

"And hightailed it out after setting a delayed application for domestic partnership."

Jim smirks, picking up his own glass. "I like how everyone assumes that was my idea."

"Spock wouldn't--" Bones hesitates, eyes wide. "Christ, he's a manipulative bastard. And look at that, we went right off topic again."

Jim sighs. "Oh, for--we talked. We played 'what would you do if you controlled the universe'. I said I'd like to get a few officers that don't think grandpa getting his name on a newly discovered planet was all you needed to be a good officer. And possibly the title 'Universe's Most Awesome Captain', but then I found a shop that will put that on a mug, so I figured I'd concentrate on the first part."

"You did go through a lot of officers your first year."

"The review board noticed that, too." Jim smiles sharply. "Then Pike started talking about my dad's views as a department head and suddenly everyone shut up. Weird how that works."


"He wasn't done," Jim says flatly. "Pike should have had decades with his ship and instead he's bound to a desk and a window that looks out on the Academy courtyard so he can watch others do the only thing he ever wanted to do. He was--he was a great captain, and he had a vision of what Starfleet, what the Federation could be."

"He's an idealist," Bones murmurs. "And you're a lot of things, but an idealist ain't it. We both know you don't see the Federation like he does."

Jim watches Roo make another move. "I know. But I think I want to."

"So--what? You and Spock and Nyota--and I know she's in on this, don't even try that look on me--think you can change the Federation just because you want to?"

Abruptly, Tamura half rises from her chair, fingers curling around a knight and moving it within range of the king. "Check," she says, looking into Roo's eyes. "And mate."

Roo stares at the board, eyes wide; then slowly, he reaches out, and Jim watches him tip his king over.

The room explodes as the crew and officers floods the roped off competition area, cheering so loudly Jim can almost feel the computer adjusting the acoustics for volume control. Tamura blinks like someone just waking up, looking down at the board in shock before back at Roo while T'Prina declares Crewman Tamura winner of the second annual Enterprise Chess Deathmatch.

"Yeah," Jim says softly as Roo pushes the table out of the way, board and pieces tumbling to the floor, and picks her up, spinning her in a tiny circle. "I think we can. Want in?"

"An ion storm?" Jim asks as he gets his second cup of coffee, trying to read the report and listen to Sulu at the same time. "Are we talking like, summer shower or hurricane?"


"Can we drive through it?"

"Yes, sir." Sulu takes the report back, scrolling down. "Scott's sending an estimate of the potential damage, but it's all small stuff. Interference with communications and some navigational glitches, but nothing serious."

"Scotty's itching to try Torren's equations, isn't he?"

Sulu sighs. "I never saw anyone get that excited about an ion storm before, sir. It was weird."

Leaning against his desk, Jim drinks his second cup dry before answering, because Scotty's relationship with his engines is something none of them are really comfortable thinking about if they can help it. "I didn't know this area was subject to ion storms."

"It's rare, but it's happened a couple of times," Sulu says, consulting his datapad and trying not to look too eager; Jim supposes after the last week of straight flying, even an ion storm sounds like a good time.

"Right." Jim considers the merits of another cup of coffee. "What's our ETA?"

"Eighteen hours, 0200 ship's time. Their lunch, sir."

"Great. All right, send a message to Starbase 3. Then, I want senior staff on the bridge when we reach the edge of the system; get Spock to switch up shifts. Even a small ion storm isn't anything to sneeze at." Jim sighs at his empty cup. "Dismissed, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

T'Prina is inevitably hovering just outside the door; waving a hand, Jim gets his third cup and ignores the faint disapproval radiating toward him. "Report to Uhura in Lab 2," Jim tells her. "It's a very secret project. Tell her the password is 'pirates'."

T'Prina hesitates. "I see. Will there be anything else?"

Honestly, Jim's scraping the bottom of the barrel to give her something to do at this point. Vulcans. And their competence. "Nah, we're good."

"Do you wish me to accompany you on your mission?"

Jim frowns. "The starbase isn't exactly a--"

"I meant on our return to the Begammon Station."

Jim blinks, looking at her in surprise. "How did you know--"

"We do not yet have enough information to draw the correct conclusions," she answers. "It is logical you would wish to return. As it is likely that you do not wish to draw attention to yourself, you will not want to take security. I would--it would be logical that I accompany you."

Jim studies her with dawning realization. "You liked being a pirate, didn't you? Admit it."

"The necessity of deception for a greater good is recognized as a necessary deviation from the strictly ethical. I found the form this deception took both unusual and intriguing."

"You did like it," Jim says in wonder. This day is looking up hugely. "It was fun. It was exciting. You liked being a pirate."

T'Prina's expression doesn't change, but there just might be a green tinge to her skin. He's a good captain; he'll make this easy. This time. "Yes, you can. We need to keep our cover anyway."

"Thank you, Captain."

Jim pretends he can't see her relief. "Dismissed."

Jim waits until the door is completely closed before he starts to laugh.

Bones drags him to breakfast before he can pretend he already ate, submitting to a quick scan of his head, just in case he secretly concussed himself and was withholding the information out of spite.

"Like not telling me about you being able to talk to Spock in your head," Bones says, maliciously denying him pancakes and herding him toward a table with a bowl of what appears to be grain covered in milk and a banana. "You idiot."

Jim scowls and takes a spoonful of the grain. It's just as horrible as he expected. "I apologized with Romulan ale. Get over it. Do I ask about your sex life?"

"Yes. All the time. Every time you see me."

Point. "Bones--"

"Shut up." Bones points the spoon at him. "I got a notice today I'm going to be teaching."

Jim hides his smile behind his spoon. He'd had a feeling that coming from Nyota, Bones would have a much harder time refusing.

"Like I don't have enough to do," Bones grumbles, eating eggs and bacon with great and obvious pleasure. After a few seconds of silence, Bones relaxes again, looking at Jim speculatively. "Pike's coordinating with the Academy?"

"He's pushing approval through the red tape. He's going to be taking some of the upperclassmen for advanced tactical training in exchange for a position on the Academy board. I'm less worried about them refusing than the idea that was floated around to remove the right to test for credit. Even if we can't give them credit, they'll still be able to test out."

Bones chuckles. "They aren't going to forgive you for refusing to act like a normal cadet and have a nervous breakdown or fail a class. You should have given them something; one good drunk and disorderly with a suspension for a term would have been enough to get them off your back. No one likes Fleet brats outperforming their peers; it makes them look bad."

Jim snickers softly, finishing the grain cereal. It really tastes worse with every bite. "Probably."

Jim follows McCoy back to sickbay, curious about Sorin's patients. They'd converted two of the larger rooms used for sick but not contagious or critical patients into living and sleeping quarters, and watching through the observation window, Jim's surprised to see how normal most of them seem, if you ignored the fact they were all carrying on conversations that didn't require using their voices. Sorin is examining the Tellarite female, who according to Bones is quickly making progress despite the length of time it had taken for the regeneration to complete.

It's different than with Spock; the mental voices are more distant, less a part of his own head. Closing his eyes, he draws up Sorin's and Spock's lessons, building the barrier between himself and the voices outside him, adding in his Academy visualization exercises to form it. The voices fade into nothing, but when he opens his eyes, the room's occupants have all turned toward the observation windows with bewildered expressions.

Taking a step back, Jim watches the Orion approach the observation window before one of the nurses draws him away. After a few minutes, Sorin excuses himself from the room; Jim isn't surprised when the door to the observation room opens.

"Captain," he says, joining Jim at the window. Despite the efforts of the nursing staff, every so often, one of the patients looks up with uncanny accuracy to stare into Jim's eyes through the glass.

"They look better," Jim manages, trying to sound normal.

"They are. The improvement has been beyond my most optimistic projections." After a moment, Sorin looks at him. "Captain--"

Jim tenses. "Sorin."

"You could hear them," Sorin says softly. "Do not distress yourself; they could not hear you, merely sense your presence. The sudden blankness was--upsetting. Most are not used to someone shielding so abruptly in their presence."

"Right." Jim takes a deep breath. "I could hear them. Just from the door of sickbay. That's about ten meters, right?"

"Ten point one three meters." Sorin returns his gaze to the room. "I have had time to consider what I discovered during the meld, as well as from the meditation exercise last night. While there is no way to be certain, as the situation has no precedent, I do not believe what you are experiencing is the result of damage due to the bond."

"I feel a 'but' in there."

"I believe that Spock's ability to shorten your recovery time after you are injured is being extended to your psi-center, which it is treating as 'damaged', and slowly regenerating it each time it is called on to repair other injuries." Jim stills. "What we did to help the patients your bond with Spock is doing naturally, albeit at a much slower and more erratic rate. After studying their results and comparing them to your scans, there is a definite similarity. I will need to run more tests to be certain--"

"No." Jim makes himself relax. "I mean, yeah, more tests, lets have a neural scan party."

"I understand you will not feel this is true, but--"

"If you are about to tell me this is no big deal, just know Spock works out with me twice a week and you'd be surprised how much Vulcan anatomy I know."

Sorin remains silent.

"Great," Jim breathes. "I was hoping this would be more along the lines of, this is going to go away."

"The stability of your mind is not in question, Captain. When you are not exposed to telepaths and shielding normally, I doubt you will notice any difference." Sorin folds his hands together over his datapad. "It can be disconcerting," Sorin observes, "for one who is not of a telepathic race to grow accustomed to the concept of mental privacy no longer being absolute. No species in the Federation would read your mind without your permission, shielded or not."

"I'm not worried about the telepathic species of the Federation."

"Captain Kirk--"

"Got it in one. Captain.." Jim can hear the frustration in his own voice and is still unable to stop himself. "I'm a Starfleet Captain. I carry the command codes for a ship that can destroy a planet."

"As does Commander Spock," Sorin answers mildly, almost as if in rebuke. "Your lot is no different from that of any other telepathic race who serves in Starfleet--"

"Except I'm human," Jim interrupts, wondering if Sorin can understand the distinction. "I'm a human Federation Captain from a people who are not telepathic." Jim pauses, taking a calming breath. "A people who have never developed an ethical standard of their own. Vulcan Starfleet officers will never be asked by the Federation to use their abilities against the ethics of their people--though yeah, I know sometimes they have to. But there's still an ethical standard to break. If Starfleet finds out--finds out about this, I can't refuse an order on cultural grounds. I want to think I'd let it get to court martial, but if their reasons are good enough--"


"Do you?" Jim turns away from the observation window. "That's why I didn't tell Bones about this yet. And that's why if you ever look, the official record of what happened during pon farr has some omissions. The Vulcan Science Academy got the unexpunged version, but they got it under a privacy seal. The same way you got it. Bones can be creative, and leaving out the details of what happened on Centurian Station might be overlooked. But him knowingly editing out this? I might not have the opportunity to decide if I want to be court martialed and argue it before a table full of Starfleet Admirals who aren't all that fond of me anyway. They know they'd have a public image problem trying to discredit George Kirk's kid. Bones doesn't have that protection. All he has is me."

Sorin's mouth tightens. "I had not considered that."

"I have."

"Your concerns are logical. I have not yet submitted my observations for your official file. I will refrain from doing so, but I must ask for this caveat; that you permit me to keep the unexpunged records."

Jim nods warily. "All right."

"And you ask Dr. McCoy to note on your file that I be consulted as mind healer if you or Commander Spock are ever incapacitated in the line of duty."

Startled, Jim frowns. "Why? Bones can--"

"I am not Starfleet," Sorin answers, brown eyes meeting Jim's. "Federation law and Vulcan ethics permit public--to say, Starfleet--records to be amended under privacy law. If you are incapacitated and your shields dissolve in the presence of a telepath, or you begin to project--"

"And now I have a new set of nightmares," Jim breathes. "Thanks for that."

"If your injury is neurological in origin, my consultation is necessary. This will permit Dr. McCoy to continue to treat you without compromising himself, and provides you with a specialist, which Dr. McCoy cannot be." Sorin pauses. "In Starfleet, it is not unusual for a Vulcan to have designated a Vulcan mindhealer be consulted. With a Vulcan bondmate, it would not be considered strange that you do the same."

Jim nods tightly. "You're right. I'll add it today."

After a few long seconds of silence, Jim turns toward the door, then stops himself. "Melody," he says awkwardly. "Have you been--I mean, how is she doing?"

Sorin's expression doesn't change, but despite that, Jim thinks he can almost feel the tension in Sorin. "Her condition remains unchanged, though regeneration is complete. Her psi-centers are showing the same development as the other patients; for that reason, I have asked Dr. McCoy to place her in a isolation room within a Faraday cage. It is--unlikely she is able to hear them in her condition, but she is unable to shield herself."

Jim winces. "I'm sorry. If there's anything I can do, please don't hesitate to ask."

Sorin nods. "I will remember your offer, Captain."

Feeling even more awkward, Jim leaves, shutting the door carefully behind him on his way back to the main floor, where several members of botany are being treated by a carefully straight-faced nurse.

Jim pauses, unable to stop himself at the sight of five disgruntled officers all the light green of new leaves, striped in a faintly nauseating shade of pink. "Do I want to know?"

"No, sir," Ensign Powell says grimly, with a glare at the Tellarite ensign currently being ministered to by Bones. "But I'm sure Ensign Rel will be thrilled to give you a personal report if you would like the details."

Jim bites his lip against a smirk. "I see. Carry on."

From behind him, Jim thinks he hears Chapel choking on a laugh.

After lunch, a visit to Lab 2 gets him a glare from Uhura for interrupting their very important calculations, so there's absolutely no good way to avoid going to his ready room and reading through the latest transmissions from Starfleet. While he was looking forward to correspondence with Pike, it unfortunately came bundled with whatever Starfleet felt he needed to know immediately, and there is a lot of that.

Sorting through the various urgent, super urgent, and read or your ship will explode spontaneously missives, Jim puts them in order of most annoying to least annoying and settles himself to read, amused to see Spock's already efficiently went through many of them, attaching various notes to some which Spock pretends have a function other than motivating Jim to keep reading and make him laugh.

It's the unnoted one that gets his attention though; frowning, Jim pulls up it up on the screen; a request for a hearing before the Federation council by the Andorian ambassador on the subject of--

"Oh fuck no." Jim reaches for the comm. "Commander Spock, your presence is required in my ready room immediately."


Scrolling back to the top, Jim grimly begins a second, and unnecessary, read, getting to the third enraging paragraph before the door opens. Jim waits for the door to close before ordering the privacy lock be initiated. "You saw this already."

Spock comes to a regulation perfect stop in the middle of the ready room. "Yes, sir."

"And you didn't tell me."

"Commander Scott required my assistance when we came in range of the ion storm," Spock answers, one eyebrow raised in the faintest trace of rebuke. Jim keeps his gaze on his terminal and lets out a breath.

"Andoria," he says, shutting it down before he does something like put a fist through the screen. "I don't believe this."

Getting to his feet, Jim hears his chair hit the wall with a satisfying crack. It does not, however, make him feel any better. "Fucking Andoria?"


Jim looks at Spock. "Seriously, don't even start. They're protesting aid to the colony? Of all the fucked up--"

Spock's expression doesn't change; they could be talking about the latest gossip about Admiral Da, of which there is much and is probably more true than anyone wants to admit. "A great deal of Federation resources have been diverted toward the Vulcan colony. They are correct in stating--"

"They're filing a motion to cease aid while the needs of the colony are brought under review," Jim says before Spock can try to turn this atrocity into something logical. There's nothing about this that's logical and they both know it. "That's--" Looking out the window at the vastness of space, Jim wonders how it is that they can travel the length of a galaxy and still be this unbelievably petty. "Like we don't have enough problems in the Federation without this on top of it."


Jim points at his chair. "If you tell me to calm down, I'm going to throw this chair at you. And my aim is better than yours."

Almost imperceptibly, Jim thinks he sees Spock's mouth twitch.

"We will arrive at Starbase 3 within the next three hours," Spock says, sounding more normal. Tentatively, thinking of Sorin's lessons, Jim reaches out, trying to sense Spock's mood. "You are scheduled to meet with Captain Mitchell upon our arrival. He may have more current information on the situation."

"Probably." Withdrawing, Jim sighs. "And he'll hold it over my head for fucking ever if he does."

Returning to his desk, Jim thinks about getting his chair and just can't bring himself to care. "The thing is, I don't get it. Andoria pulling this now. I mean, it could be in reaction to the Vulcan colony's petition to the council, but I don't--" Jim stops, remembering the phrasing of the Andorian request with another start of frustration. Waving Spock toward the couch, Jim takes a deep breath.

"When I was a kid, I was in Chicago for a few weeks with my grandmother. I memorized the neighborhood, the transport routes, everything. One day, I fell asleep on the way home from--well, no need to go into that. Anyway, I woke up and realized I'd gone beyond my stop and got off at the next one."

Spock frowns. "Why didn't you--"

"Hey, my story here." Spock raises an eyebrow but nods acquiescence "Anyway. I got off and I was in a part of the city I didn't recognize. Long story short, eventually I caught a cab and got back home eight hours later, after I'd gotten myself completely lost."

"You could have taken the next transport--"

God, Vulcans. "Spock," Jim answers patiently. "I was fourteen. In a strange part of the city. Of course I didn't do something sensible. For that matter, when have I ever been sensible? Have we met?"


"Thank you." Feeling restless, Jim pushes himself off the desk, pacing the short distance to the door. "So, right, I got lost, had a hell of a time trying to find the station, and ended up walking what felt like half the city. Then gave up, got a cab, went home, and got grounded."

Spock nods soberly. "This is a truly fascinating story, Captain."

"My second year at Starfleet Academy--that would be third year for those who didn't test out of most of their first and second year courses--I went back to figure out where I'd been. And the thing is, it looked almost the same. But not quite."

"After over a decade--"

Jim rolls his eyes. "Yeah, no. So I kept looking around and trying to figure out what had changed. And it felt obvious, you know? Like it was staring me in the face and I was just missing it. After I left, I ran a few searches at the Academy and realized they'd moved the station itself, one mile east from where it had been, so I'd been just looking at the damn thing from the wrong angle. Which has got to be some kind of metaphor for something."

Sitting down beside Spock, Jim stares at the ceiling, wondering if it's just too much to ask that the universe spend one day not giving him stress. "I'm looking at it wrong," Jim says, almost to himself. "I know I am, but I can't figure out how."


"You know, I think it's gamma shift and we're off duty," Jim says, turning his head just enough to bring Spock into view. "Though you know, if you want to call me Captain next time we--"


Well, he had to try. "You want to come with me to see Mitchell?"

"Lieutenant Uhura has requested my assistance with identifying the algorithms recovered from the data solids you retrieved from the station. She thinks she may be close to decrypting the message we received."

"You'd think if they really wanted us to read it, they'd make it easier to decrypt, wouldn't you?" Jim says with a sigh, standing up. "Maybe we should see if we can get Gaila to look it over. She's grounded in San Francisco until her ship's finished repairs and bored out of her mind."

Crossing the bridge and going into the turbolift, Jim considers his options for the next few hours. "So. You busy for the next hour, Commander?"

"I do not think I have any conflicting engagements."

"Good," Jim breathes as Spock taps their deck number into the interface, stepping a very correct two feet away, a professional Starfleet officer who no one would imagine had sent a single finger of shivering thought that pressed against Jim like a naked hand on his bare back.

"Maybe more than an hour."

Feeling a lot more relaxed, Jim looks up from his terminal at the chime of the door. "Come," he tells T'Prina, transferring the rest of the cheat codes and two interesting macros to a data solid before getting up. "Something wrong?"

"Ship communications are not functioning at this time due to the ion storm. Commander Scott ordered me to organize volunteers to act as messengers for the bridge and senior officers, then to report to you on the status of repairs."

Jim sighs; the universe likes him stressed. "ETA on when they'll be up?"

"Within the hour. Engineering was able to compensate for most of the potential damage."

"Good enough. Is the transporter up?"

T'Prina hesitates. "Yes, Captain. But perhaps--"

"We sent a message to Mitchell when we entered the system," Jim answers, rubbing his forehead. Fucking two am. "He'll be waiting and I want to get this over with and get some rest. By the way, you're scheduled for shore leave and Uhura already volunteered to make sure you take it. Consider it an order."

T'Prina nods, radiating dissatisfaction; Jim's too tired to work out why. "Yes, sir."

"Tell Commander Spock and Lieutenant Uhura I'm beaming down," Jim says as they leave the room and start to walk toward the turbolift. "Oh, and get my codepicker from Uhura and bring it down before I leave; Mitchell wants to try it on a Cardassian thermal crate and I have credits riding on this one."

"Very well, sir."

After letting her off, Jim lets himself slump into the turbolift wall. The hour long meditation with Sorin had been only marginally less exhausting than the one the night before, and he'd been too keyed up to sleep when he had to be down at the station in only a few short hours. Probably he should have considered that before demanding conjugal favors from his first officer, but that was pretty much the only part of his day that didn't suck.

An ensign from Scotty is waiting for him in the transporter room, earnestly reporting that Commander Scott would have communications restored in the next ten minutes.

"Captain?" the transporter technician asks as Jim takes his place on the platform. "Whenever you're ready."

"Hold on a few more minutes." Faintly, Jim feels Spock checking on him and tries not to roll his eyes.


Change your mind? At the negative, Jim grins to himself. I promise not to drink anything I don't have a tolerance for. Where's T'Prina?

She should be there momentarily. Jim straightens; while he can't always identify what Spock may not admit he's feeling, there's feeling there, and in a human, he'd call it something very like excitement. We received a message with a Ferengi encryption signature before communications were interrupted. Lieutenant Uhura is retrieving it now.

Jim almost steps off the transporter pad. Of all the things he'd expected, Dar contacting him had been below random chance and the intervention of religious icons. You think it's Dar?

Possibly Would you recognize it?

"Wait," Jim tells the crewman distractedly when he thinks he feels the floor begin to hum. Show me. Almost immediately, Jim can see the complex encryption. Yeah. A newer one, but I recognize it. Hold on and I'll-- The hum increases, trembling up his calves; startled, Jim looks at the surprised-looking crewman --what the hell?

"I said wait!" Jim snaps, unnerved; the hum changes into something deeper, a low, bell-like ring that doesn't sound anything like the regular function of their transporter. "What the hell are you doing?"

The crewman lifts both hands helplessly before returning them to the board. "I'm not doing it, sir. I haven't even started the dematerialization protocol."

Biting off a curse, Jim starts to get off the pad, but the hum abruptly deepens and something cool seems to enclose his skin. It's odd; he can't move, and he also doesn't really care. "It's--it's coming from somewhere else, sir."

Jim, Spock says abruptly, voice thready and growing slowly more distant; Jim tries to hold on, but the thought slides like water between his fingers. Get off the transporter.

God, he'd love to. The humming deepens again, and Jim tries to focus--move, get off the transporter, something's wrong--but nothing seems to stick. Distantly, he watches the doors open for T'Prina, codepicker in one hand. She stops short, brown eyes widening as they flicker between him and the transporter tech.

Jim, get out of there, Spock is saying, but Jim can't gather his thoughts enough to remember how to answer.

"Captain?" Abruptly, she turns away, pushing the crewman from the transporter controls. "Get Commander Scott and contact security immediately," she says calmly, hands flickering over the controls. "Tell them that someone is attempting to transport the Captain from the ship. I will attempt to delay transport until their power cycle runs out." She looks up briefly, a tiny line growing between her eyebrows that looks, if Jim were crazy, a lot like fear.

"Forgive my presumption, Captain," she says, meeting his eyes. "But I do not know if we are being monitored." Jim feels a gossamer touch--like Spock and nothing like him at all--and then T'Prina's mental voice fills his mind.

If they can do this, it is possible they are able to hear us. There is an unknown transporter beam that is attempting to capture your pattern. According to my readings, the beam has been modified with a mild inhibitor to slow your nervous system, which is why you cannot move and find it hard to think. I am attempting to compensate; they are using a great deal of power and cannot continue to do so for very long without rupturing their engines. She pauses, fingers tapping over the board. I cannot locate the origin of the beam.

That--almost makes sense.

Before the crewman can do more than turn around, the doors open again and Evans with three of the security team spill into the room, phasers out, which is--probably not useful, Jim thinks clinically.

"Cadet, what's going on?"

T'Prina hands slow as she checks the readings. "Someone is attempting to transport the Captain from the ship. I cannot delay the transport much longer without degrading the Captain's pattern." They must have acquired a secondary source of power to fuel this attempt. I am setting the delay to continue until the computer failsafes override me. She looks at Evans. "Are communications restored?"

"Yes," Evans starts as he approaches the transporter. "Cadet--"

"Thank you." The failsafe will override the delay in forty-five seconds, Captain. "Please give me your communicator, Lieutenant. I need to speak to Commander Spock immediately."

Evans hands it over with a baffled expression. "What are you--"

Flipping it on, T'Prina keeps her eyes on Jim. Thirty nine seconds. "Commander," she says, typing one handed on the interface, "an unknown entity has achieved a lock on the Captain's pattern. I have been unsuccessful in blocking the signal and can no longer delay transport without damaging the pattern buffer. I have logged my attempts and the signature of the transporter so you will be able to find the parties responsible. Security will have a more complete report of events."

Closing the communicator, she shoves it into her pocket and turns to Evans. "Lieutenant," T'Prina says, "I hope you will understand this is my duty. I bear you no ill will."

Jim remembers telling Spock about the first time he trained with T'Prina--the impossibly fast, impossibly easy control she had over her body, the perfect focus of a predator--but the memory is nothing to the reality. In seconds, Evans is collapsed across the floor and T'Prina is tucking one phaser into her uniform, setting the second one without looking away from Jim before pointing it in the direction of the startled security team. "Please do not require me to fire on a fellow officer," she says calmly. "This phaser is set to kill and I do not miss."

The failsafes will end the delay in twenty-five seconds, Captain. I suspect you will regain control of your body when transport is complete and will be able to utilize a weapon.

"T'Prina," Uhura says over the comm, voice cracking in fear; Jim wonders what's going on. Uhura's the calmest person he knows, barring Spock. "What the hell are you doing?"

All three security officers track T'Prina, phasers out but not entirely sure where to point them.

"Cadet," Evans wheezes, grabbing for her ankle as she passes him. "You can't--"

"Tell Commander Spock that I did not permit the Captain to go alone."

For a second, everything snaps into focus--long enough for him to understand what she's planning to do, long enough to think the order for her to keep her ass right where it is, long enough to feel Spock's mind desperately trying to help him compensate for the confusion of his own, long enough to realize there's nothing he can do and holy God he is fucked--then something warm knocks against him, and with it comes a sudden onslaught of fear and chilling anger, layered over with desperation and a mental litany marking off time in seconds, five four three two one--

The computer failsafes have overridden the delay, Captain.

--and Jim realizes it's T'Prina.

Jim feels flickers of surprising sensation--an arm wrapped tightly around his waist, fingers twisting into the back of his tunic, the ghost of braided hair brushing his cheek, the solid metal of a phaser tucked between their bodies, and T'Prina's mental voice as close as his own mind, filled with grim satisfaction. The other phaser is in my tunic. They will not find us unprepared, Captain.

She would be an excellent pirate, Jim thinks vaguely, closing his eyes.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three….

For a moment, there's bright pain as Spock's mind is jerked away, tearing through him so quickly he can't do anything but gasp in shock--then nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Admiral Christopher Pike
Admiral Christopher Pike


"It is not unprecedented," Sorin says, withdrawing his fingers from Spock's psi-points one by one, easing the transition from the healing trance. "But I do not recall that anyone has ever tested the effects of telepathic communication in a bond during an active transportation session. You are perhaps the first."

"The only one stupid enough," Dr. McCoy says, reading the tricorder grimly. "I'm not seeing any permanent neurological damage. How are you feeling?"

"I am well, Doctor," Spock answers, eyes fixed on Sorin.

"I can find no damage to your bond," Sorin says after a moment of thought. "Can you sense his presence?"


Sorin nods. "He is human. The distance, combined with the effects of the transporter on you both, could dampen your ability to sense each other."

Spock doesn't allow himself the luxury of relief. "I understand," Spock answers, sliding off the biobed. Nyota, waiting a few feet away, nods sober acknowledgement. "Thank you for your efforts, Healer Sorin," Spock begins formally.

Sorin holds up a hand. "Commander, there is not permanent damage, but that does not mean you are completely healed. The dematerialization of your bondmate during contact caused several instances of internal hemorrhaging in your cerebral cortex. I will require you to return to sickbay three times daily for the next week so we can assess your condition."


"It is not logical for you to exceed rational limits on your mind." Sorin looks at Spock soberly. "We do not know his current condition. If he is distressed, a degradation in your health could cause a sympathetic reaction in him. He is not Vulcan; it is likely that a degradation in your condition, combined with the unusual transport, would lead to neural shock. And I doubt he will be remitted to the care of a mindhealer if he shows signs of illness among his captors."

Spock nods sharply. "I understand, Healer. If you will excuse me, I am required on the bridge."

Dr. McCoy grumbles but waves him away after Healer Sorin nods. Joining Nyota, Spock takes the datapad as they leave Sickbay. "Status?"

"I ordered Commander Scott to put the ship in lockdown. We've established the beam didn't come from the station, so we're running a full diagnostic to find out how they knew exactly when we lowered shields for transport," Lieutenant Uhura answers, following him into the turbolift. "I've suspended all but critical system maintenance and core ship functions while computer maintenance goes over the systems with a fine tooth comb."

"Has Ensign Chekov discovered any trace of the ship that abducted the Captain?" Spock asks, skimming down the compiled reports, Uhura's summaries heading each one.

"Not yet," she says. "Lieutenant Sulu thinks there might have been a cloaking device, but he hasn't--yet--invented a new way for sensors to identify that." Her voice implies that Sulu is taking that as a personal failure on his part and not a fact in current modern physics. "They're both using the secondary computer systems to run simulations to find where the ship was most likely to be located when the Captain was abducted."

Spock nods distractedly as the doors open.

"Communications are still blocked to and from the ship," Uhura says as the bridge crew comes to attention. Waving them off, Spock and Uhura go to the Captain's ready room. "I've filtered all official Starfleet transmissions to the Captain's terminal. Starbase 3 is demanding an explanation." As the door closes, Uhura's mouth tightens. "Permission to tell them to go to hell, sir?"

"They would do well to acquire patience," Spock answers, handing her the datapad. "Is there any sign that there was involvement from the starbase?"

Uhura shakes her head slowly. "Not--yet. I recommend a security contingent be sent down with Scotty's second and demand an investigation. Computer maintenance has penetrated three layers of starbase security and will have direct database access within the hour."

Spock looks up sharply.

"Scotty rigged their efforts to look like feedback from the ion storm," Uhura says. "No one is stepping foot on that starbase until I'm sure that there is no further danger to Enterprise personnel, sir."

Spock hesitates, but he can't deny her logic. "Send a message to Captain Mitchell that we are currently investigating Captain Kirk's abduction and require his full cooperation."

"He'll want to talk to you. I told him that no senior officer is permitted to leave the ship until we've satisfied ourselves that the threat has been nullified. Which has the benefit of being true as well; you instituted that policy with Captain Kirk's approval. As Acting First Officer, I'm reinforcing it."

"That was to protect Captain Kirk--"

"And at this time, you are captain of this ship and require the same protection, especially now," Uhura says flatly.

"Very well. Is there anything else?"

"Captain Mitchell demanded to speak to you as soon as you were released from medical care. After consulting with Lieutenant Evans and Commander Scott, it would be acceptable for him to come here, provided he agrees to come alone with a member of our security as escort."

"Perhaps that is--excessive."

"A Federation Captain was taken from his own transporter room surrounded by ship's security, along with a Starfleet cadet, in view of a Starfleet space station in safe Federation space," Uhura answers sharply. "We're not taking any risks we don't have to, sir."

Spock starts to answer, but he finds himself distracted by Jim's overturned chair. Reaching down, he carefully rights it, ignoring the slight tremor in one hand.

"Is there anything else, Lieutenant?"

"No, sir." The formality breaks abruptly. "Permission to speak freely?"

Spock's not entirely sure; the silence where Jim should be is more distracting than he had anticipated, and there's a familiar numbness that he remembers from an entirely different time and place. He does not believe he is emotionally compromised; on the other hand, when Vulcan was destroyed, he was equally certain his logic was unaffected.

"Permission granted."

"I had Scotty rig communications to bounce all messages from Starfleet so it looks as if the ion storm is the reason we're not responding. From what I've read so far, they're ordering us to abandon any possibility of pursuit and return to headquarters immediately."

Spock sits down carefully. "After meeting with Captain Mitchell, there will be a senior staff meeting."

Uhura hesitates. "Bridge crew only?"

"All senior staff and department heads," Spock answers, meeting her eyes. "You have the bridge, Lieutenant."

Nodding, Uhura turns, boot heels clicking in a staccato beat before the ready room doors close behind her.

Closing his eyes, Spock centers himself, stopping himself from the instinctive reach toward Jim, that place inside himself that Jim has filled echoingly empty. For a moment--and only a moment--Spock permits himself the luxury of feeling the loss like an open wound.

Then he straightens, the disciplines of a lifetime snapping around him as familiar as a favored sweater, and Spock turns to the Captain's terminal to discover what Starfleet intends to do.

Captain Mitchell, to Spock's bemusement, agrees to Uhura's conditions, entering the Captain's ready room with a swagger and a "you know they're about five seconds from ordering me to order your ship to surrender and haul you in myself, right?" before draping himself across one corner of the couch, grinning at Uhura. "Might be fun. It's a nice ship."

Uhura nods at security, who lock the door behind them when they leave. Spock, looking at her stance, thinks there is a very real possibility she's armed.

"Captain Mitchell," Spock says, rising unhurriedly from the Captain's desk.

Mitchell's eyes flicker to Uhura. "Can we get some privacy, Lieutenant?"

"No, sir," she answers flatly. Taking one of the two chairs, she seats herself neatly and with easy access to her right boot. Spock takes the other, appreciating the psychological effect of the fact that Mitchell is now effectively boxed. The blue eyes sharpen, focusing on them, and abruptly, the intelligent Starfleet captain slips free of the careless officer, straightening as he looks between them.

"I've gotten forty-five transmissions from Starfleet," Mitchell says. "Only five of them were official. We have a problem."

Uhura's eyes narrow. "With all due respect--"

"It's not just Jim--though that's bad enough, that's--" Mitchell grits his teeth, and Spock, startled, thinks it's easy to forget that despite their rivalry, Mitchell's the closest thing Jim has to a friend among the other Starfleet captains. An ally, certainly, but also the result of complex relationships that exist between those families who have served Starfleet since humans first found the stars.

Jim is very little like them, raised far from the political and social complexities of Starfleet's elite, but he is still one of them. As Jim had once said, amused and rueful both, they didn't like him, but they couldn't reject him no matter how much they might wish they could.

"Look," Mitchell says, composing himself. "I want him found like, yesterday, and not just because he owes me cheat codes either. The Federation's been dragging its feet about acknowledging how unstable the situation is with the Empire long before Nero started blowing up shit. Pike warned them, Jim warned them--hell, I even threw my hat in the ring. This isn't just a kidnapped Captain--this is a public relations disaster for Starfleet. And they're going to react to that when this hits the wires and everyone hears how the guy who saved them from Nero was abducted from his own goddamn ship by the Romulan Empire after over two years on the public record saying that we need to wake up to what's going on in the Empire."

Spock looks at Uhura briefly. "There is not yet evidence--"

"They don't care about evidence. They care about coming out of this not looking like they got the most popular captain in Starfleet killed. Are you with me yet, Spock? We are not talking about all of us going back to Starfleet and an investigation launched and a search initiated. A secure message was dispatched to the Laurentian system. They're calling in the Fleet."

Uhura catches her breath.

"And that means right now in the Romulan Senate, someone is reporting that the Federation is preparing to attack. We're maybe two weeks from a formal declaration of war being passed by the Federation Council while the Empire assembles an armada at the border of the neutral zone. We won't have time to figure out who did this, why, or hell, what the fuck the Romulans thought kidnapping Jim was going to accomplish. We will have just enough time for your senior officers to be debriefed and 'temporarily' stationed at headquarters for the inquiry while they staff the Enterprise with someone who's ready to be a war hero and looks good on the wires as Jim's successor.

"Finding Jim after that would be counterproductive as hell. A captain murdered in the line of duty is a lot more valuable to a long term war than a living one anyway."

Sitting back, Mitchell looks at them in bleak satisfaction. "Now that we've got that out of the way, we can talk plans. I've had some time between sending reassuring messages to Starfleet that the Enterprise isn't about to go off half-cocked or mutiny or whatever the fuck they think you're going to do. Not that you are--going off half-cocked, that is."

Uhura leans forward. "What do you have in mind?"

"After you've contacted Starfleet and assured them you are good Starfleet officers who are ready to do your duty, you're going to be assigned to help bring in the rest of the Council while they work out which of their eager captains will be getting this ship--they won't tell you why, but for a declaration of war, they need every representative of every member planet in the Federation for any kind of legitimacy. You're going to return to headquarters and get courier duty. I know, because I suggested it."

"Why us?"

Mitchell sits back in grim pleasure. "Yeah, well. Who specializes in hideously embarrassing political situations with the Vulcan colony? They need Ambassador Sarek. And they're going to send you to get him. What you do after that is up to you, but I suggest you use the time between now and then to find out who took Jim and how get him back. Otherwise, the next time we meet--well. I'm pretty sure I won't know about it, but hey, say nice things at my funeral, okay?"

"That's a little pessimistic, sir," Uhura says, rising when Mitchell does. Mitchell grins back at her.

"Not really. The Valiant is not a warship. She's no good for pitched space battles; she's fast, though. She'll be refit and sent to the border to irritate the Romulans until the big ships come. We're fodder."

Uhura swallows hard. "Captain--"

"Don't worry about it. I'm a Starfleet officer; I was born to lay down my life for the Federation and I'll do it gladly. But not like this. If we do this--if we're going to turn this galaxy into a bloodbath--it has to be for the right reasons." Looking between them, he hesitates at Spock, expression changing.

"With your permission, Commander," Uhura says, looking between them, "I'll call for senior staff to report to the conference room now."

Spock nods. "Very well, Lieutenant. Dismissed."

As the door closes behind her, Mitchell looks at Spock awkwardly, then grabs Uhura's chair, dragging it closer. "You don't want to hear this, you're Vulcan, I get that. But I'm sorry. It's part of the package, you know; duty and discipline and all the privileges and rights of an officer for life. The rest is in the fine print; you're going to lose everyone you care about if you don't die before they do. If they're not Starfleet, you'll lose them to people who can actually carry on a relationship that isn't' restricted to two week furloughs; if they are, you lose them to the service, one way or another. She's a jealous bitch, the service. She'll never be second to anyone."

"He is not a casualty," Spock answers flatly. "Captain Mitchell--"

"I know what you're going through," Mitchell says roughly. "And no one in the Federation doesn't know what Vulcans already lost. They're going to use it against you when you get back. Pike will back whatever you do, you know that, and for what it's worth, so will I--though I guess there goes my plausible deniability about being Jim's main source of information that Starfleet doesn't want him to have." Mitchell's mouth twists in amusement. "The service won't be second to anyone. Going after Jim is part of that, not just to stop a war we can't win--and we can't, Jim knew it as well as anyone--but because we're Starfleet officers and he's one of our own. That's the thing armchair admirals who talk about duty don't get. I'll die for the Federation because that's who I chose to be--but I'll die for my fellow officers because that's what I am. Don't let anyone, anywhere, tell you leaving Jim to die is in the line of duty. There's a difference between a choice and a sacrifice."

Taking a deep breath, Spock nods shortly. "I understand."

"Good. Now, one more thing--Jim was talking about grabbing Starfleet's shining example of why we shouldn't just blow up the Orion homeworlds and be done with it. You still want her?"

"Lieutenant Gaila," Spock answers in surprise. He hadn't realized Jim had confided so much in Captain Mitchell.

"Don't look like that--he was just asking me when her ship would be operational. Which by the way, will be a while--what the fuck was Dezl doing with his warp engines, making s'mores? They're a disaster--and since we both know they avoid giving Jim any officers who were in his graduating class--that group being a little notorious for liking each other a bit too much--I asked for her to be assigned to me while Dezl drinks himself into unconsciousness wherever he fucked off to. I got permission a couple of hours before you showed up; I'll get her to you."

"Starfleet will find that--odd," Spock says, standing up to follow Mitchell to the door. "What will you tell them?"

"Communications in the boondocks of space are really unreliable," Mitchell answers thoughtfully. "Think of something by the time I get back, will you?" As Spock releases the door, Mitchell smirks, once again hiding beneath the feckless officer. "Be seeing you, Spock."

"Captain," Spock says, before Mitchell can take more than a step toward the open door. "The Captain spoke to Sarah Clemens. I assume he eased your mind as to her safety."

Mitchell's smirk doesn't change, but something does. "He told me."

Spock thinks of Mitchell's explanation of the service and what it meant to them all--as officers, as partners, friends, spouses, husbands, wives, as bondmates. Spock cannot deny the logic of what Mitchell had said, but logic alone does not make truth.

"I spoke to her bondmate privately," Spock says carefully, watching Mitchell. "Sekar asked me to inform you it would be--illogical to permit her to be exposed to potential risk. It would please them both if you were to accept their invitation to renew your acquaintance with them. They will be returning to their home on Europa at the end of the colonial year and will expect your presence as soon as it is convenient."

Mitchell's eyes flicker before he looks away. "That's nice of them."

"Then I will convey your acceptance of their invitation when I return to the colony to retrieve my father," Spock says.

Mitchell stiffens for a moment before he seems to reconsider. Looking at Spock with a sardonic expression, he nods. "Yeah, go ahead. Assuming we're not at war, I'll find some time." After an appreciative glance at Lieutenant Uhura in the Captain's chair, Mitchell tells Spock, loud enough for the entire bridge to hear "Tell Jimmy I was wrong, will you? I get what he sees in you."

Spock nods and pretends he doesn't see anyone attempting to hide laughter.

The meeting with the Admiralty is a torturous exercise in redundancy; Spock is perfectly aware that nothing he tells them in answer to their questions will change the course they have set themselves on. After declining Nyota and Doctor McCoy's invitation to join them for dinner, he meditates in the temporary quarters he's been assigned at the Academy and waits for the busy campus to fall to the quiet of the evening.

Two years on away missions with James Kirk are a far superior education in stealth than anything the Academy could have taught him; avoiding the officers assigned to campus security is almost unsettlingly easy. Spock finds himself in Pike's darkened office, avoiding the heavy furniture by memory and entering the small room that Admiral Pike occasionally utilizes to sleep when he works late into the night.

"You know," Admiral Pike says, comfortably seated on the small couch, chair tucked into the corner in arm's reach, "if anyone had ever told me I'd be conspiring at the dead of night to flout Starfleet and flirting with treason with a Vulcan five years and six days ago, I would have thought they were crazy."

Closing the door, Spock takes the indicated seat beside the Admiral and accepts a cup of tea; it has been a very long time since he has tasted unreplicated tea.

"Of course, if someone had told me that five years and three days ago, I might have reconsidered," the Admiral continues, taking a sip from his own cup. "That's when Jimmy finished testing out of the first year course requirements, by the way, and asked if he could just go ahead and get rid of some of the second year courses while he was there, since he didn't have anything else to do. At that point, I figured sanity was overrated anyway." With a smile, the Admiral sets his tea aside. "You think he's alive."

"I know he is alive," Spock answers flatly.

"And the Admiralty doesn't believe you. Emotionally compromised, right?"

Spock nods; Pike doubtless has access to the interview.

"Right. But they're still letting you go pick up Ambassador Sarek? Which means you're a much better actor than I ever gave you credit for--in case you're curious, they're pretty sure they convinced you it's impossible to find Jim and the best thing you can do now is make his death mean something, like a galactic war with casualties in the billions. That's exactly how Jim would like to be remembered, I'm sure." Leaning back, Pike rubs his forehead; Spock thinks he knows now where Jim had picked up that particular habit. "So tell me you have more than that bond to track him down. Not that I doubt you probably could; after this last week, I'm not sure anything can surprise me."

"We do."

"So you know who has him?" the Admiral says, looking amused. "You don't or you would have used that to delay the Admiralty. So correct me if I'm wrong--you don't know who took him, who has him, where he is, what they want, or why he was taken."

"That is incorrect," Spock says, taking a drink of tea. "I believe he was taken to set in motion the events that have transpired--in effect, to act as a catalyst for the Federation to declare war."

The Admiral hesitates, eyes narrowing. "If you're saying that, it isn't wildly unlikely, and events bear you out. I read Jim's report on what happened at that space station and his conclusions. No one believed him, of course, and our Orion contact swears up and down it's all nonsense."

Spock stiffens in surprise. "How much was he told?"

"Everything, I assume--he goes back years with the admiralty. He's the one who helped us negotiate for Gaila being excepted from the laws on generational slavery, so if she had kids, the Orions couldn't make a claim--" the Admiral trails off. . "Spock. What are you thinking?"

"We were ordered to Starbase 3 during an ion storm," Spock answers flatly. "The captain was taken at the moment he was most vulnerable, during an active transport when we would find it impossible to raise shields and communications had been damaged by the storm. It is not impossible it was a coincidence."

"But you don't think so." The Admiral's eyes narrow. "Not a coincidence."

"No." Spock finishes the tea; his logic is affected. But the only person who could be trusted to do what he must do is the reason he is doing this at all. "Logic states that the events as they occurred are not impossible."


Spock wishes, for a brief, bitter moment, that he were human. It would be far easier in some ways. "We received a communication from Dar, the contact Jim met on the station."

Pike straightens. "That didn't come up in any of the interviews or reports."

"Only four people knew of the message's origin and contents," Spock answers. "Dar sent a warning to Captain Kirk that Starbase 3 was a trap." Uhura had used the ion storm's minor damage to erase traces of the message on their way to Headquarters while Spock erased it from their systems after memorizing both the message and the encryption signature. "Sulu accessed Starbase 3 records. In the history of our settlement, there have been two ion storms in the last one hundred and seventeen years."

"You think the Romulans--are able to start ion storms now?"

"The five ships that vanished were also affected by sudden ion storms. Because they were weather research vessels, the coincidence was overlooked. None of them possessed human crew or crew that were from founding Federation member planets--"

"Spock," Pike says, voice warning.

"--and I now understand the Orion contact that Jim recommended be replaced has been given information that James Kirk is now researching those missing ships. Admiral, it is no longer a coincidence; the only question is who is responsible for it."

"The Romulans--"

"The Romulans would not need to kidnap a Jim to achieve war; that can be accomplished quite easily by crossing the neutral zone," Spock says flatly.

"Are you accusing Starfleet of being party to Jim's abduction?" the Admiral says quietly. "Be careful with your answer, Mr. Spock."

Spock meets the Admiral's eyes without hesitation. "I would not make an accusation without evidence, Admiral," Spock answers coolly. "But I will speculate that Jim's vocal insistence that our continued apathy in regard to the Empire was shortsighted made him extremely unpopular with certain segments of Starfleet--the same segments who attempted, however incompetently, to have him temporarily removed from command at his one year evaluation. The same segments who have been equally vocal insisting that his personal life has bearing on his command. A segment that has joined the more aggressive members of the admiralty demanding that Jim's abduction be paid in lives."

Admiral Pike lifts his head. "I don't always agree with the Admiralty, Spock--you of all people know that, probably better than anyone--but none of them would do this. I'm neither blind or naïve, but for all their faults, the admiralty wouldn't do this. Not to Jim Kirk. Not to anyone, but especially not to him, not George Kirks' kid."

"I have found," Spock answers, "that over time, there is very little that cannot be justified."

"You're talking about conspiracy in the abduction and potential murder of a Federation captain, Spock."

"No, sir. We are speaking of removing the only person in Starfleet who had begun to wonder what made five small ships with neither tactical nor political value interesting enough to attack and to officially ask Starfleet to look into what had happened to them."

Pike opens his mouth, face flushing, then stops, eyes narrowing. "Spock," he says slowly, "the evidence suggested there was Romulan involvement. Jim's report, if nothing else, confirmed what everyone all knew."

Spock gently sets the cup aside. "Yes. I think that may be the root of the problem. We have assumed that the Romulans were behind the attacks, as well as Jim's abduction. Despite the evidence to the contrary, we--were looking at it wrong."

"You don't think the Romulans are behind this."

"No, I do not. And I believe I will be able to prove it by finding Jim." Looking at Admiral Pike, Spock waits until the Admiral's flush fades. "Admiral?"

"You're sure you can do--whatever it is you're planning?"

"No. I am only sure it must be attempted."

"And what about your crew? They know what's going on?"

Spock thinks of the conference room where the senior bridge crew and department heads had met after Captain Mitchell had left; the meeting had been shorter than he had expected. "Yes. They do."

The Admirals' sharp gaze softens; finally, he looks away, nodding tiredly. "What do you need from me?"

"I need you to block an order that the Admiralty will attempt to issue when we do not return from the colony."

"The one for your arrest?" the Admirals says with a flickering smile.

"No. The order to the Laurentian fleet to open fire when the Romulan Armada crosses the border of the neutral zone, given after the Federation Council passes a resolution calling for a war with the Romulan Empire. It cannot pass, and that order cannot be given."

Admiral Pike looks away. "Spock--"

"Once the first shot is fired, nothing we do will matter; the war will have begun."

The Admiral stares out the darkened window. "I've spent my life in the service of the Federation," he says quietly. "If you're wrong, Mr. Spock, you'll be in a maximum security prison for the rest of your very long life, and you'll take everyone on the Enterprise with you."

"If I am wrong," Spock says, rising to his feet, "there will not be a Federation left, not as we know it, or as you believe it could be. Thank you for your time, Admiral Pike."

The Admiral nods. "So I'm assuming you have a plan to delay the council vote already? I can't touch that, you know."

"Yes," Spock answers. "I do."

Uhura meets him in the transporter room; before he can step off the transporter pad, however, the crewman glances at Uhura and then sets his board to idle, going out the door. There's an unmistakable chirp, confirming privacy locks have been engaged.


"We've had some additional crew added," Uhura says. Spock nods; that was expected. "A Lieutenant Jackson has been temporarily assigned to communications for the duration of this mission. My understanding is that he is under the impression I won't be returning to the position of Communications Officer, or the Enterprise." Her mouth curves in a slight, scornful smile. "Not very bright, Jackson."

"Our status?"

"We're ready. The colony will be prepared for our arrival and has stated the Ambassador will be ready for immediate transport, understanding we are on a time limit for the Council vote."

"Good job, Lieutenant."

As the doors open, Uhura looks at her datapad, ignoring the crewmembers that pass them. "Oh, and Commander Scott says the engines are working at one hundred and twenty percent of their usual capacity."

"I must commend Commander Scott for his efficiency," Spock answers. "Are preparations complete?"

"We are cleared to leave on your order, Commander," Uhura answers cheerfully as the turbolift doors open. Stepping inside, she gives the unfamiliar crew a sunny smile. "Computer, Bridge."

It's an hour into gamma shift when Uhura appears at the door of the ready room.

"Lieutenant?" he starts, then pauses. Her uniform is nowhere in evidence, and the dark hair is coiled messily at the nape of her neck. "Nyota."

"Time for all good Vulcans to at least pretend to sleep," she says lightly, leaning against the doorway. "Or we could talk about why Rand tells me no one's been in your quarters since Jim was taken. Your choice."

"I have to prepare--"

"You're prepared," she interrupts, pushing off the door. "Come on."

Gamma shift doesn't look up as they pass, and Nyota's silent even after the turbolift door closes as he reluctantly gives the order for his deck. Unsurprisingly, she follows him out of the turbolift, padding down the residential deck beside him without comment.

As they come to the door, Nyota waits expectantly.

"Nyota," he starts.

"Or we talk."

Gritting his teeth, Spock goes in the open door, automatically scanning the room. The water sculpture continues to elude anything resembling aesthetics, and Jim left his boots on the floor by the bed. Yeoman Rand had, surprisingly enough, not touched anything, and he's suddenly grateful for it.

Turning to look at her, he sees her slight smile. "Remember our second mission? Jim was just starting to go stir crazy and it seemed safer to let him lead the away team than stew in his ready room. And, as we have learned to expect, he gets kidnapped right out from under security--the man has a gift for it."

"I sent you to negotiate for his release," Spock answers, then pauses. "While your report did mention there were difficulties and that you were imprisoned briefly, you and Jim were rather reluctant to discuss the specifics of the mission."

"There's a reason for that." Going to the closet, she pulls down two meditation rugs and returns, edging the table against the couch. "Jim's good at picking up local dialects--he should be. I taught him how to do it." She flashes him a smile and kneels, rolling out the first rug. "The universal translator was having some problems, and Jim tried to compensate. The short version is, peace does not always translate to peace and they thought Jim was trying to conquer them."

Spock blinks. "Why would you not mention this in your report?"

"Because explorers in some languages translates to mass murderer, or so I assume. Ten minutes after I arrived, I found myself in a cell with Jim while both of us were about to be tried for unspecified crimes against the universe." Nyota's mouth twitches. "Once he stopped laughing--which was a while--we took apart our translators and tried to work out what the problem was. Jim reprogrammed it with what I'd picked up, the matrix ran, and we were able to get across we weren't there to conquer their civilization or kill everyone for fun. Which is why I update our translators personally--we still don't know how it cross-referenced with a ancient Klingon dialect and Imperial Rigellian, but that's not happening again." Shifting, she rolls out the second rug, smoothing the corners. "Jim, for once, let me do the talking, and they let us leave after the traditional purification ritual to clear us of the taint of being imprisoned."

Seating herself on one rug, she motions him to take the other. As Spock reluctantly seats himself, Nyota leans an elbow on one knee, looking rueful.

"So we're led into this room and they told us to strip down, and Jim--who has never, as long as I've known him, been at all adverse to showing off what he's got--balked big time. I couldn't figure out why, and then I realized the room was a stadium. Purification ritual is a public event, and Jim had overheard something he didn't like. It was almost back to prison for us both, and then Jim got one of them off to the side and after a few minutes, they told me I was free to leave.

"I wasn't going to leave him, but he made it an order, so I went along with it and they just sent me out of the auditorium and left me there. So I used a side door and went back in."

Faintly, Spock feels something stir in the back of his mind, unfocused and distant. "They were skilled in the use of holotechnology."

"The reason the Federation wanted an alliance," Nyota says, voice hardening. "They left out the culture's preoccupation with certain types of entertainment. They gave him a mild sedative and hooked him into one of the two chairs in the middle of the arena and began the first program. It interfaces directly with his memories; his life was used to create episodes for their programming, with certain dramatic--changes."

Uhura closes her eyes. "It's not in the report because he doesn't remember it. They removed his memories from the moment they released us from the cell. They didn't know I watched, and he never knew anything had happened at all. Before we left, I asked if we could see their holoprojectors technology, since we hadn't had the chance yet. I think they found it funny. When they were showing Jim the chair and explaining its functions, I took the data solid from my translator and found an open port to place it in. Then I dropped my communicator beside it and waited for them to let us leave."

Spock nods tightly. "Those memories--"

"They didn't keep them," she says grimly. "When we got back and Bones got Jim to Sickbay, I told Sulu we needed to run a quick diagnostic and since we were in safe space, to bring down the shields for a few minutes. I used the ship's computers to contact the data solid and break into their system. They were excellent holoprogrammers, but they hadn't bothered with much security. I found the databases they kept their entertainment stored on and erased it."


"If I'd reported it," she says quietly, "we could have demanded they be erased. But Starfleet would have had to intervene, a copy of what they'd taken from Jim evaluated by Starfleet security, and what they did would have been added to his file. It would have become public knowledge among Starfleet officers." Nyota takes a deep breath. "He doesn't remember. I do. He never needs to know what they did with his life, what they forced him to relive. No one should."

"Did you believe I would disapprove of your actions?" Spock asks finally as the silence stretches. In retrospect, he has context for the night after that mission now; her restless energy and pensive silences before she had invited him to her room for the evening. They had missed dinner that night. "Under the circumstances--"

"No, of course not." Nyota looks up. "Nothing like that. At the time--if I could have erased my own memory, I would have. To share it, even a little--it felt like as much of a violation as what they'd done."

Spock thinks of what Admiral Pike had said of Starfleet's wariness when faced with Jim's class; none of them had ever forgotten how many of their number had died in those six ships in sight of a dying Vulcan. Starfleet is more observant than Spock had previously suspected; no one who had served on the Enterprise that day had come away unscathed.

Uhura lights a candle, placing it between them. "We'll arrive at the colony in twenty-three hours," she says, blowing out the match, looking at him from behind a faint trail of pale smoke. "We know what we're doing, Spock. No one at that meeting didn't understand what was going to be asked of us and what it meant. We chose this."

Spock nods. "I understand."

"Good." Leaning back, he watches her relax each muscle, as he taught her years before when she was still a student who had surprised him and through the years, that much has never changed.

Reaching the short distance, he takes her hand; strong fingers curl around his immediately. "Your presence is--appreciated," he says finally.

She smiles back at him. "I love you, too. Now close your eyes; we have a lot to do tomorrow."

In a Constellation-class starship, there are three types of transporters; the most sophisticated handled human transportation, along with whatever humans might carry with them, and more specialized or volatile objects or substances that required a sophisticated buffer with a dedicated memory and a direct connection to the warp engines as well primary and secondary power conduits. Sickbay, as well as other parts of the ship, utilized smaller, less sophisticated versions for a variety of common tasks in the labs and utilized in some types of games in recreation.

The third type, however, was located engineering and specialized in transport of materials and equipment too large for the standard transporter. Outside of dry-dock or heavy repairs, they remained disabled unless an emergency required activation. The computer system that controlled it was far less sophisticated than the ones utilized for human travel and during the rare times they had been needed to evacuate a large number of people, the board was routed to the main transporter room to take advantage of the better system.

As far as Spock is aware, however, no one has ever had reason to attempt to utilize both transporters at the same time using only one system.

"In other words," Ensign Mir says with a faint sigh, scaly skin dull from exhaustion, "I have no reason to think it won't work--the problem isn't the numbers, it's the power. Transporters pull huge amounts of power just to activate; the buffer uses triple that in normal use. Bringing two separate transporters online simultaneously is going to be a huge power drain, and that's before we start buffering the patterns and rematerializing everyone. And that doesn't even touch on the memory demands."

Spock glances at Scotty. "Do we have an alternative?"

"Yes." Taking out a datapad, Mir gives it to Spock. "We don't power up the engineering transporter until we're ready to rematerialize them."

Spock skims the explanation before glancing at Commander Scott. "Is this possible?"

"It's a variation of transporting two people from two places onto the same transporter pad," Commander Scott says with an approving look at Mir. Mir looks down quickly. "He's been working with the transporters since he graduated and came on board. The theory is sound and the simulations bear him out."

"Explain the procedure."

Mir nods quickly, clasping his hands behind his back as he straightens. "We use the transporter room just like we would beaming up several people from the different places, until the buffering is complete; at that point, the engineering transporters will be brought online and directed to remove the designated patterns and materialize them in engineering. The power drain will be huge, but since it won't be more than a few seconds, if the power failsafes are hit, we can manually override them without being in danger of overloading the engines. At very worst, the engineering transporters will shut down, but it won't affect the patterns saved in the buffer and simply hold them there until it's safe to let them materialize in the transporter room. The people, anyway. The other stuff--we can store and wait. The transporter memory is large enough to hold a lot without degradation, and I can set up a temporary link to the ship's memory core as a backup, just in case."

Spock raises an eyebrow. "You are efficient."

Mir's scales glow slightly. "Thank you, sir."

"When can you begin the modifications?"

"When those goons Starfleet threw on the ship get out of engineering," Commander Scott answers roughly. "For enlisted temporary crew, they're damned mouthy."

"They are not enlisted crew," Spock answers absently. "How much time will you require to complete the modifications?"

"Ten minutes to set up, ten to test, ten for a diagnostic run," Mir answers. "I can shave it to twenty-five minutes total if we have to, but no one's ever tried anything like this before. The simulators indicate this should work, but the simulators don't have a reference point for what we're doing either, just known matter theory."

"Mr. Scott," Spock says. "I do not think you will be questioned in how you choose to run your department. Do with them as you see fit."

"Suppose the airlock's outta the question," Commander Scott answers, eyes narrowed in thought. "But I have a few ideas to get them outta the way."

"We are on a strict timetable once we achieve orbit of the colony," Spock says "If this method fails, we will need to act quickly. I would prefer subtlety, but if that proves impossible, I will accept simple success. Keep me informed of any potential changes. You are dismissed."

After they leave, Spock returns to the bridge, aware of Jackson watching him as he takes Uhura's place in the captain's seat. "Our status?"

"We are two hours from the colony," Sulu answers promptly. "The colony contacted us an hour ago to confirm our arrival time and that Ambassador Sarek has arrived and will be ready for transport when we achieve orbit." Sulu pauses for a long moment. "Jackson, didn't you get a second transmission from the colony with that one?"

Jackson stills. "Ah, yes sir. I haven't had a chance to check it yet, since we weren't told to expect any--"

"I was not aware there was a second transmission, Lieutenant," Uhura says icily. "Why was I not informed?"

Jackson' expression becomes hostile; Spock wonders if he realizes how much he is revealing. "I'm not familiar with the procedure on this ship," Jackson says stiffly, "but I had assumed the Enterprise followed regulations regarding personal communications--"

"I thought you said you hadn't looked at it," Uhura answers, tapping it online. After a moment, she turns to Spock. "It's from T'Sora. Would you like it sent to your terminal, Commander?"

"Yes, Lieutenant." Turning back around, Spock sees Chekov making an unpleasant face at Jackson back. Sometimes, it is not difficult to remember he has yet to reach his twentieth year. "Chekov, verify that the sensors are functioning normally. The ion storm did not do critical damage, but the repairs require constant monitoring until we are sure there will be no further problems." Getting to his feet, Spock glances at Sulu. "Uhura, come with me. Sulu, you have the conn." Turning to Jackson, Spock waits until the narrow eyed hostility slowly melts into uncertainty. "Lieutenant, I trust you will inform me if we receive any further communications, no matter what you perceive their priority to be?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. Contact me when we come within range of the colony." Uhura at his heels, Spock can feel Jackson watching them as they enter the transporter. Doubtless he will attempt to monitor their progress and think himself subtle.

After tapping their destination into the interface, Uhura's grim expression dissolves into a grin. "He read it about three times, though what he was looking for, I have no idea. He now knows, however, that T'Mana is showing unusual intelligence and is already able to roll over unassisted."

"That would place her in the upper percentile in infant development," Spock observes. "Jackson apparently is unaware of the significance of her mastery of basic motor skills."

"He was probably low on the development curve," Uhura answers. "Jackson has made an encrypted transmission every two hours to Starfleet that are being erased from the communications log. I restored and encrypted them in the core memory. The last was sent ten minutes ago, so we'll have a ninety minute window after we reach the colony before they'll expect another one."

Spock adds that to his calculations. "That is sufficient."

After a few seconds, Uhura looks at him. "Bones wants to tell Sorin before we arrive. He's worried about sufficient time to prepare Melody for transport."

"I have added that to my calculations. Dr. McCoy worries needlessly."

"'Worries' is his middle name," Uhura answers wryly as the turbolift doors open. "I told him to meet us for lunch before he worked himself into a fit." Her smile fades; Spock had not been privy to Dr. McCoy's reaction to news of Jim's disappearance, but he can easily speculate what occurred during that discussion. "We'd better hurry," she continues. "I have a feeling this is the last meal we'll have the leisure to enjoy."

Spock thinks she is most probably correct.

Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott
Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott

Sorin is and has been an added complication that had almost made Spock consider the benefits of simply engaging their mission immediately without the padding of subterfuge; the Enterprise had been assigned to retrieve not only Ambassador Sarek, but Ambassador Oria Troi from Betazoid, making it convenient for the Enterprise to take him there instead of leaving him on Earth in the increasingly unstable political atmosphere.

The other patients had been released--reluctantly, Spock thought, but Starfleet Medical, at least, was ungrudging in accepting responsibility for their care until their families could claim them--but the opportunity to send Sorin on had been impossible for them to resist. Nor does he think Sorin is above adding pressure; his contract with Starfleet is an expensive one, and his skills in demand.

It is logical, but that does not make it convenient, and Spock finds he rates convenience higher than logic in this particular circumstance.

One hour from the colony, Spock goes to Sickbay, the computer having already informed him that Sorin was in Medical Lab Four, which Dr. McCoy had given over for his exclusive use. Dr. McCoy looks at him warily, eyes dark circled, restlessly reorganizing his hypos before wiping his hands on his uniform. "Spock."


"I'm going with you." McCoy lifts his chin, looking at Spock from bloodshot eyes.

Spock raises an eyebrow.

"Logic is well and good," Dr. McCoy says roughly. "But I'm Chief Medical Officer and he's in my charge; ironic though it may be, regulations say I be there, and I want to be."

"I have no intention of threatening Healer Sorin," Spock answers, curious.

Dr. McCoy flushes. "He's in Lab Four. Let's get this over with."

"Very well." As Dr. McCoy falls into step beside him, Spock wonders what Dr. McCoy thinks will happen that might require his presence. Sorin is Vulcan; the logical course of action is clear.

Logic, however, can be mistaken. Sorin looks up from his terminal only once, as Spock completes his explanation.

"I will stay."

Spock hesitates. "Healer Sorin--"

"I understand your concerns," Sorin answers with a faint air of distraction. "But I would prefer that Melody remain here."

Dr. McCoy, hanging close to the door, does not look as surprised as he should be; noting the way that the doctor watches Sorin, Spock concludes that he has guessed Sorin's motives for his care of this particular patient. "This--expedition--is not authorized by Starfleet--"

"Commander Spock," Sorin says, looking at Spock from eyes faintly ringed in olive, "you have made it clear you are embarking on a mission that is, if I may rephrase, directly against the orders of Starfleet and by extension the Federation. You have not used the word treason, but I suspect that is due to the fact that Federation law is unclear on the precise definition of the word. Your propensity for drama has been long noted by your peers. I understand the risks that are associated with this mission and I accept them on my own and Melody's behalf."

"That," Spock states, "is not logical."

"I assume," Sorin says, and for the first time in their acquaintance, there's something that could almost be irritation in his voice, "that this seemingly illogical enterprise you are preparing to embark on is based on a pattern of logic that I am not privy to. I accept this, with the understanding you will accept mine. I do not wish to return to the colony and place Melody under the care of anyone but myself. Even guardianship will not permit me to be her sole caretaker, and it will be correctly stated that my logic is flawed where she is concerned. Your explanation is understood and your objection, if that is what you are attempting to accomplish, is noted. We will stay."

Dr. McCoy raises a sardonic eyebrow at Spock. "I might need his help," he says, pushing off the door. "Two of my doctors were up for reassignment and Starfleet didn't bother giving me more."

"If you are sure, Healer Sorin."

Sorin nods shortly. "I am. If nothing else will suffice, consider the fact we know that while your bondmate is alive, we do not know his condition. Upon retrieval, you will require a competent mindhealer to assess his condition and potentially assign treatment." The logic, Spock reflects, is inarguable. "If that is all, Commander, I ask for privacy. These tests are time-sensitive and it will be the loss of several days of research if I must begin again."

"Of course." Spock follows Dr. McCoy from the room, the door closing sharply behind them. As they return to Sickbay's main room, Spock glances at Dr. McCoy. "You do not seem surprised."

"You didn't tell me he's in love with that girl," Dr. McCoy answers acidly. "Some things don't need to be said; you just know they're true. You won't pry Sorin off this ship until it's to go to nice, safe hospital on Betazoid where everyone will jump at his least breath. That is a man who does not fuck around when it's someone he cares about, and the galaxy turns on the existence of that girl as far as he's concerned."

Spock hesitates; to confirm what must be speculation--

"I'm not asking you to say I'm right; I know I'm right. I spend eighteen of twenty four hours a day with the man--even a Vulcan doesn't spend that much time trying to hand-fuse neurons together by sheer will for just any patient." Dr. McCoy snorts as he returns to his hypo. "And just to make you feel better, I asked him. He's Vulcan, after all; you people go in for the direct question."

"I see." Spock glances at the lab door for a moment. "Has he made progress?"

McCoy's express changes; sighing, he leans both elbows on the biobed, looking at Spock ruefully. "I don't know--and I hate saying this, because it's my sickbay and I should know--but he's pretty much beyond everything we know of neurology and telepathic healing. I'm telling you now, if Betazoid can even figure out what he's doing, much less how he's doing it, I'll be pretty damn surprised. You're asking me if its' helping Melody, though. That I can answer--yes, but I don't know how much or what good it will do."


Dr. McCoy sighs. "Was afraid you'd ask that. He's--and don't tell me how he did it, but he did, and I verified his results--figured out what's holding her back. It's what we worried would happen to Jim if the plak tow took him; she's stuck somewhere in her head and can't find her way back." Dr. McCoy smirks tiredly. "Different paths, same destination. And from what I understand, once plak tow gets this far, it's over. The body can survive, with help, but that's about it."

Spock nods, glancing at the lab door. "That is--unfortunate."

"Betazoids specialize in empathic healing; there's some promising avenues there. If there's a way, he'll find it, I'll tell you that right now. Whether there is one--that's the question."

Spock nods. "Thank you. I had wondered--"

"Commander Spock to the bridge." Uhura's voice over the comm startles them both. "We are approaching the colony. Senior bridge staff, please report to the bridge to begin orbiting procedure."

Dr. McCoy pushes himself up, faint smile fading. "Right. See you on the flip side, Commander."

With a nod, Spock turns toward the door, an unfamiliar feeling filling him that reminds him of Jim's restlessness before an engagement. He thinks he can understand why Jim seems to enjoy their infrequent skirmishes; it's an interesting feeling.


Spock turns to see Dr. McCoy standing uncertainly beside the biobed.

"I know it's not logical, but neither is what we're doing. So good luck." One corner of his mouth curves up. "Not that you believe in that sort of thing. You know Jim's going to kill you. He always wanted to mutiny. It's kind of been his thing, bucking the system."

Spock considers the statement. "I will be thorough in my report so he may enjoy a secondhand account when he returns."

Dr. McCoy grins, eyes lighting up. "That he will."

"We have achieved orbit, sir," Lieutenant Sulu breathes, eyes darting between the viewscreen and his board.

"We're being hailed," Jackson says. "Ambassador Sarek is prepared to beam on our mark."

"Very well. I will meet him in the transporter room. Tell them to prepare for transport in three minutes. Lieutenant Sulu, you have the conn. Lieutenant Uhura, with me."

Jackson frowns but doesn't comment as they enter the turbolift. Beside him, Uhura gives the computer the deck number and smoothes her uniform as the doors open, revealing Evans and three of his security team.

Uhura takes the phaser he offers, tucking it into her uniform as two of the team join her in the turbolift. "I'll see you on the bridge," she says with a wry salute before the doors close.

The transporter technician looks tense as they arrive. "They're ready," he says unnecessarily. Spock clasps his hands behind his back. The crewman reaches for the controls, beginning the transport sequence.

Ambassador Sarek and one of his aides materialize promptly, and Spock nods a greeting to his father as Commander Scott's voice comes over the comm. "There's an overload in ship communication nodule eight," he says. "We're preparing to reboot the system. Prepare for five minutes of comm silence on my mark. Mark."

Ambassador Sarek frowns. "You are having problems with your communication array?"

"Damage from the ion storm was hastily repaired in response to this mission," Spock answers. "If you will come with me, I will have you shown to your quarters."

The Ambassador and his aide follow Spock into the corridor, security behind them. As they reach the transporter, Spock waves his father inside along with one of the security team. "See the Ambassador to his quarters, Lieutenant," Spock says calmly. "If you will excuse me, Ambassador, I am required on the bridge during comm silence."

Sarek expression flickers as the turbolift doors close. Returning to the transporter room with Lieutenant Evans on his heels, he notes the pleased expression on the face of the crewman. "Crewman?"

"It worked, sir. Everyone got to the cargo bay safe and sound."

"Excellent." Spock touches his communicator, listening to the silence as he returns to the corridor. As he reaches the turbolift, there's a single chirp; confirmation. "Lieutenant Sulu, Lieutenant Uhura, you may proceed."

Commander Scott seems to be in a better mood than circumstances would indicate, smiling broadly as Spock surveys the busy room. "Commander!" he says cheerfully, leading Spock past the force field currently holding twenty-two of the thirty temporary crewmembers. Doubtless they are indignant at their current circumstances, but Commander Scott had set the forcefields to restrict the flow of soundwaves. "This way, sir."

"Have you completed the modifications?" Spock asks as they round the corner, bringing the engines into view. A group of crewman are gathered in a tight group to one side of the warp matrix, parting only at Commander Scott's, "Give them some air! Learn some manners with guests!"

As they back away, Spock blinks at the sight of Ambassador Spock bent over an unfamiliar piece of machinery, with Lieutenant Gaila at his side. "Ambassador. Lieutenant. I was unaware you were residing on the colony."

Gaila straightens, saluting brightly. "Priority request for an engineer by the colony, sir, and Captain Mitchell was closest, as it happens." She gestures toward the Ambassador. "The Ambassador explained the principles of the cloaking device; I should be able to complete installation."

"Now Lieutenant," Commander Scott starts, frowning. "I don't know what the Ambassador told you--"

"Orion's been trading with the Romulans for more years than the Federation's known about either one, sir," Gaila answers. "You can watch if you like. You might learn something."

"Carry on, Lieutenant," Spock answers before Commander Scott can start to argue the point. With a cheerful nod, Gaila picks up the cloaking device, jerking her chin at Commander Scott to follow her. The Ambassador gets to his feet with a surprising amount of agility for a man who has passed his second century. "Commander," the Ambassador says. "Live long and prosper."

"Live long and prosper, Ambassador." Looking around, Spock identifies each visible member of engineering. "The transporter log states there were three individual beamed onto this ship, as well as the cloaking device. May I inquire--"

"Ah. Yes." The Ambassador cocks his head. "After reading your report on the ion storm, I invited young Torren to join us."

Spock stiffens. "Ambassador--"

"Ambassador Spock," a voice states from the other side of the engines, "is prevaricating. His invitation was extended after I had already insisted on joining."

Torren looks much as he did when they last met, but Spock thinks there is a tension in him that was not visible before. "Explain."

"I was privy to your report on the ion storm at Starbase 3, as they have been a problem in this system," Torren says coolly. "I can state unequivocally that the ion storm that occurred at the starbase was not natural to that region. After sharing my observations with Ambassador Spock, he asked for my assistance for a small project that I recognized as an illegal cloaking device, to assure it would not be affected should there be another storm. From that, I was able to deduce that you were collaborating with the Ambassador to find Captain Kirk and Cadet T'Prina and convinced him my presence would be invaluable to the success of this mission."

Spock cannot fault his logic, even if logic had very little to do with what Torren had chosen to do. "Your decision, while logical, was not made for the reasons you have given."

"The exercise of sophistry is an honored tradition, as Surak would doubtless have admitted fully, had he ever been asked." The hand resting on the engine tightens, knuckles tinted in pale green. "The reasons I have given are logical, even if they are not why I requested to join him here."

There is no point in arguing when it has already been accomplished; Spock shifts his focus to practicalities. "You state the ion storm was not natural?"

"I am testing my hypothesis with the Enterprise simulators," Torren answers. "I should have confirmation within the next sixty-seven point three minutes."

"Inform me when they are complete," Spock says in dismissal. Torren nods shortly, returning to the station on the far side of the warp engines. Beside him, Spock can feel the Ambassador's amusement. "Ambassador--"

"Uhura to Commander Spock. All crewmembers have been accounted for."

"Acknowledged." Spock takes a deep breath. "We will speak later."

"I am at your disposal, Commander."

With Evans following him with an excess of caution (which Spock suspects is Nyota's doing), Spock returns to the forcefield, mentally counting the imprisoned crew. "Have coordinates been entered for the mountain outside of the city?"

"Yes, sir." Evans jerks his chin at the ensign at the engineering transporter board. "Go ahead."

There is something illogically satisfying about watching the crew members vanish, some mid-rant, which Spock would have thought they would have realized was fruitless to continue without an audience. "Lieutenant Uhura," Spock says when the area is empty, "set course for the Begammon Station on my mark."

"Understood, Commander."

Lieutenant Gaila and Commander Scott are completing the addition of the cloaking device; while the design is far more streamlined than Spock has seen on captured Romulan warbirds, the shape is somewhat familiar. Lieutenant Gaila reads from a tricorder, frowning in concentration. "All right, diagnostics complete," she says over her shoulder. "We're good to go."

"Powering up on my mark," Commander Scott says from the main workstation. There's a low hum that seems to tremble through the floor of engineering, and Spock can see a sudden spike in the power consumption readings before they stabilize. "She's got juice. All right, Lieutenant. It's your show."

"That's how I like it. Lieutenant Sulu, watch your board--you're about to see history live and in person, kiddo." Joining Commander Scott at the engineering board, Gaila taps in a sequence and the hum increases, shivering through the room followed by a slight sense of vertigo that clears almost immediately. "Cloak is now online. Readings show the cloak has achieved stability and the field has been activated. Bridge, can you verify?"

Abruptly, Nyota's voice breaks through Engineering. "Communications just picked up a sudden rise in transmissions between the Federation Embassy and the Vulcan Science Academy; the colony just lost us on sensors. Commander Spock--"

"I think," Spock says, "that answers your question, Lieutenant Gaila. Lieutenant Sulu, take us to Begammon system."

"Aye, Captain."

As the engines go to sublight to take them far enough from the gravity well of the colony's sun to warp, Gaila steps back from the engineering panel, allowing Commander Scott to examine the readings with an expression of awe.

"Ladies and gentlemen--and assorted beings--you are privileged to be on the first Federation starship ever to engage a cloaking device," she says cheerfully, looking around the crowd of wide-eyed engineers. "Let me extend my congratulations, and I look forward to our future residence on a high security penal planet where we may all relive this moment in history. God knows we will have the time."

Spock almost sighs. "Understood, Lieutenant. If you will come with me, I will endeavor to clarify why we requested your presence."

Touching Commander Scott's shoulder lightly (Spock feels slightly uneasy at the way Commander Scott smiles after her), Gaila joins him, smile fading into something else entirely. "Mitchell said we're finding Jim. That's the mission?"

Spock nods.

"That's all I need to know. Show me what you need me to do."

Lieutenant Gaila
Lieutenant Gaila

"Yeah, no." Gaila pushes back from the terminal, looking between Uhura and Spock with a frown. "This isn't Romulan--not the government anyway."

"Dissidents?" Uhura says, frowning down at her datapad.

"Probably, but none of them would have this kind of reach." Leaning back, Gaila looks between them. "If there's trafficking involved, it's corporate. Syndicate indirectly, but definitely a syndicate company. The problem you were having with decrypting it is because that's a proprietary design. And it's not in any database but Federation security at Memory Alpha, ultraviolet clearance."

Spock leans forward, intrigued. "The evidence Jim accumulated was shared with Starfleet security."

"Then they know as well as I do what we're looking at. I gave them this encryption sequence, after all; my family's been under ownership by them for ten generations." Gaila's mouth twists in a bitter smile. "I need core memory access and your secondary navigation computer to decrypt it. I'm surprised you got this far," she says, giving Uhura an admiring smile.

Uhura looks away briefly; Spock thinks she might be flushing. "It wasn't easy."

"It's supposed to be unbreakable; give it another two weeks and you wouldn't need me at all. I'll upload the keys to a separate secured system when I'm done with the decryption; I don't need to tell you that Starfleet really wouldn't like you having them." Stretching, Lieutenant Gaila pushes away from the table. "Those five ships had something else in common besides a crew that comprised of those the Orions claim as property. They also had the experimental ion detectors in their engines--ah, now you see the significance of going after weather ships? There were only ten engines, and those ships had five of those installed."

"I was not aware that the ion detector research had reached the experimental phase," Spock answers, wondering if he should be surprised. It seems that he will require new contacts at Starfleet Academy.

"No one knew, even the captains of those ships. One engineer per ship was assigned to maintenance and data collection." Lieutenant Gaila shrugs. "I was one of them. I was assigned to Dzel's ship but he fried the warp engines in a stellar slingshot to prove his dick was bigger than the smugglers he was chasing."

Spock reflects he seems to have forgotten Lieutenant Gaila's extremely colorful turns of phrase. "I see."

"In any case," she continues, "I checked Torren's simulations on the ion storms; he's on the mark. Somehow, someone's figured out how to seed a star and manufacture extremely convenient ion storms. Now there's a trick I'm pretty sure they don't want broadcasted quite yet."

Spock takes a deep breath. He had not expected her answer, though logic had pointed to it as an inevitable conclusion. "That is--"

"Disastrous," Gaila says helpfully before turning to Nyota. "Second part, your Romulan--he's an employee of a Syndicate corporation. I checked your translations against all three formal Orion dialects. He speaks the Tertiary with a Remus accent; that matches up with only two of the Syndicate companies. And only one of those has direct ties to Romulus--they supposedly have a deal with a small company on Remus that's pretty much a shell for Orion business interests in the Romulan Empire. So you want to know who's behind this? If it's not the Syndicate, I'm not green."

"That explains the accent," Nyota says thoughtfully. "I wondered if the translation matrix was accurate."

"You programmed it for the Romulan dialects; I'd doubt their ability to speak the language before I doubted your translation," Gaila answers. "The only thing I'm not sure of is why a Ferengi is involved, but if Jim knows him well enough to deal with him, that's probably your answer. Ferengi don't deal with strangers, period, and they don't send warnings; if you haven't checked for a Romulan connection--"

"Captain Kirk did," Spock says quietly. Nyota looks at him. "Dar has had dealings with the Syndicate--through an intermediary."

"And that would be your Tertiary speaking Romulan. So the only question left is--"

"Where they're keeping Captain Kirk," Nyota says with a glance at Spock. "We should arrive at the Begammon station in thirteen hours." Hesitating, she touches her datapad, then pushes it toward Spock. "I outlined a plan for when we arrive."

Spock glances at the datapad, then at Nyota, who shrugs, mouth quirking in a smile. "The Captain always preferred the direct approach. Gaila, you feel like being bad cop?"

Gaila grins. "I can't wait."

There are several ways to approach their investigation at Begammon; while Spock prefers to gain voluntary cooperation, his calculations show that they do not have the time to pursue a course involving elaborate persuasion.

Spock beams down with twenty members of security, Lieutenant Evans, Lieutenant Gaila, and Lieutenant Sulu directly into the market during its busiest hour. "Under Federation Statute 16.2134.A, subsection B3," Spock says calmly, "this station is under investigation for conspiracy to commit felonious trafficking of sentient beings. All space traffic and communications are suspended pending a full inquiry."

The desired stampede of customers toward their ships is gratifyingly swift; Spock reminds himself to enter a commendation for Nyota's excellent reprogramming of the Universal Translator to reach representatives of over ninety Federation and non-Federation worlds and at least seventy different languages and dialects so clearly and concisely.

"I think," Gaila murmurs close to his ear, looking toward the wide double doors of the marketplace, "we have the stationmaster's attention."

Spock confirms the arrival of the Stationmaster, an angular half-Gorn, half-Andorian who has long run the fine line between Federation law and unaffiliated space; his use as a source for the Federation has long kept his less than legal activities on this station unregulated. While Spock does not approve of the Federation's continued blind eye toward criminal enterprises, he admits that the current situation has improved his understanding of the logic behind it. "Stationmaster," he says. "I regret our meeting under these circumstances."

"Commander Spock," The narrow brown eyes study Spock belligerently. "Federation communications have been specific on what action should be taken should you or your ship be located. If you were under the impression that--"

"Federation security, however, has not been so forthcoming," Gaila says abruptly, stepping forward, hand hovering casually near her phaser. "Or you would have opened fire. The authorization is ultraviolet, full disclosure, and stop being pissed Jimmy broke your security. There's not a system that's been built or imagined he couldn't break into. Far smarter people than you taught him how to do it; I should know. I was one of them. And far better men," she smirks at Spock, "failed to catch him."

The stationmaster hesitates, expression wary. "Lieutenant--Gaila?" he says slowly. "I was not aware that Federation security was--"

"Tell your personnel to stand down," Lieutenant Gaila interrupts. "We don't actually mind taking the station, and sure, he's a Vulcan, but they've had a rough few years and his bondmate is out there somewhere, you get my meaning? Let's do this easy."

Blinking, the stationmaster gestures his acquicience "What do you want?"

"We'll tell you when we find it." Gaila answers. "Go play now and tell your people to stay out of our way; we'll call you if we need you."

After another long look, the stationmaster and his escort retreat. Spock glances at Gaila thoughtfully; Jim has many memories of Lieutenant Gaila breaking dates abruptly for what she'd called tutorial sessions. Jim, in a fit of pique, had later used the weaknesses in Starfleet's systems to discover her activities with Federation security. "Fascinating."

"Being the only Orion in Starfleet's useful sometimes," Gaila answers absently, frowning at the stationmaster's retreating back. "The security clearance they have to give you when you're one of the few who can accurately translate secure Orion transmissions, it's crazy. It's your show, Commander. Where do we start?"

"Search the system and find out where Dar is located," Spock says. "Examine the log files and find who else contacted this station after Jim gave his report to Starfleet."

"Two to one it's Avis, Starfleet's other pet Orion," she says with a sigh. "I could really use Jim's codepicker right now."

Spock blinks at the reminder, filing it away for later thought. "I regret I did not permit Jim to make me a copy of it," Spock admits.

Gaila scowls at him. "You know how many blowjobs I offered for one of those?" she says, expression melting into amusement. "You must be good." Turning, she snaps her fingers at two members of security. "You two, come with me and stop staring at my ass." With a wink at Spock, she strides toward the stationmaster's office. Evans and Sulu both watch her with wide eyes.

"When she makes Captain," Evans says softly, "I envy her crew."

Spock gives him a quelling look. "Begin search pattern beta," Spock tells them. "Inner rooms are shielded; I have modified your tricorders, but when in doubt, verify the lack of life signs personally."

"You're sure he's here, sir?" Sulu says doubtfully, giving Spock a sideways look.

"Yes," Spock answers tranquilly. "There is no where else for him to go."

Spock had estimated they had six hours before Starfleet would arrive, as the stationmaster did not strike Spock as one who does not take advantage of any given opportunity. The nearest ship to their position is a small courier ship, which discounts its use; Starfleet will request a Constellation class ship or better.

At the three hour mark, Gaila completes her analysis of the station's computer logs, returning with verification that the station was contacted by someone in Starfleet hours after Jim had turned in his evidence, and several transmissions had been completed between the station and the individual before ending when the report of Jim's abduction reached Starfleet Headquarters. Gaila downloaded the transmissions for Uhura to decrypt and sent them to the ship, along with the remainder of the logs. "Just in case," she tells Spock. "I added a few sleeper bugs, just on the off-chance something interesting happens after we leave."

"You don't think they'll check for that, sir?" one of the security team asks curiously.

"Probably. Won't find them, though." Getting up, she types a command into the interface. "That'll block their traffic for the next twelve hours or so--nothing in and nothing out. I'm showing Dar was here the day Jim was abducted; the logs confirm he sent the message from here. I have to admit," she says, looking at the haphazard array of equipment that makes up the control board for the station, "they do take the privacy thing seriously. They don't even log their residents' transmissions, just datetime. I wonder how much he's pulling in a standard year?"

When they emerge from the command center, they meet Sulu in the marketplace; from his expression, Spock deduces that their mission was a success. "You have located Dar?"

"Yes, sir," Sulu says, pleased. "Evans has him. Not happy, but he's really eager to talk. Like, he will not shut up, sir. But he thinks he knows where they took the Captain."

"Very well." Taking out his communicator, Spock hails the ship. "Prepare for transport on my mark."

"Now we're abducting people?" Gaila says cheerfully. "Seriously, I've been serving on the wrong ships."

Spock ignores her comment as well as Sulu's quickly hidden grin. "Mark."

Jim's thought for a while now that he never really knew the meaning of a headache before Spock. During the three week period after pon farr, Jim had learned new and exciting variations of the word every evening, when the shields Spock could maintain for him during the day came down and Jim's mind learned to integrate both Spock's memories and the existence of a mental link that the human brain had never been designed to handle.

Three weeks of neural scans, twice daily because McCoy was a fucking sadist, had been more of an education in the science of neurology than Jim had ever wanted to have. There had been a morbid sort of curiosity in watching the way his scans began to synch with Spock's until the overlap between was nearly identical and Bones threw up his hands and threatened Jim with unspecified but disturbing medical procedures if he ever, ever did anything like this ever again.

It had been three weeks that felt like three years, the brittle control of his duty shifts followed by hours of meditation with Spock teaching him how to complete what they'd begun. The sex had been, and still is, kind of phenomenal, which just goes to show that while Vulcans go on ad finitum about controlling their base instincts or whatever, apparently that's a total lie when the base instincts are combined with almost-marriage.

The headaches had grown less frequent after that, up until T'Prina and learning how exhausting it was to shield every second of every day.

But all of that--up to and including two rather serious concussions--have nothing on this shit; Jim groans, rolling over and groping across the bed. He's not proud; Spock is going to block this right now and then get him some goddamn waffles as well. It's just that kind of morning.


Jim stiffens. T'Prina is efficient and meticulous about her duties, but a line has to be drawn, and being in his room when he wakes up is not a goddamn duty. "T'Prina," he starts, then stops short, touching his temple.

He can't feel Spock.

Sitting up, Jim forces his eyes open and the room slowly swims into view. It's not his quarters, this isn't his bed, and T'Prina is sitting on the edge of the bed looking more exhausted than any Vulcan Jim's ever seen in clean, creased scrubs.

"Wait." Taking a deep breath, Jim closes his eyes again. Starbase 3, Mitchell, transporter, Jim…. "Where are we?"

"I do not know," T'Prina says; even her voice sounds exhausted. "We are on a planet, but I have not been able to leave, so I cannot judge our location by visible stars."

"Right. How long?" Opening his eyes slowly, the room tips before straightening again, the headache starting to fade; the emptiness in his mind, however, doesn't do anything at all, and Jim's aware of the beginnings of panic spreading thin fingers through him. This is not the time to panic; this is the epitome of the wrong time to panic.

"From our condition, I suspect we were in deep sleep for approximately two hundred and sixteen standard hours," T'Prina states. "Dehibernation procedure would require another eight to eighteen hours, so I estimate it has been eight to twelve days since we were taken from the Enterprise.

Deep sleep. Jim takes a slow breath, forcing down his heart rate to something not likely to end in a stroke in the next five minutes; what do you know, all that meditation with Spock has some practical use after all. "That's--odd."

"I agree, Captain." T'Prina looks at him soberly. "They were not prepared for us to fight back."

Jim blinks, but now that he thinks about it…. "There were like, thirty guys, weren't there?"

"Considerably less before they were able to disarm us," T'Prina answers, voice carefully empty of satisfaction.

"And we're alive," Jim says, forcing himself to concentrate, but Spock--should be there. It's not like when he withdraws; Jim can at least still sense him, even if he isn't sharing with the class. This is-- "Was--the Enterprise--"

"I do not think they were interested in the ship," T'Prina says, then abruptly, one bare hand closes around his wrist. Jim stiffens at the contact, feeling her--her--and he remembers this, too, from the transporter pad. Forgive my presumption; your fear was overwhelming. The effects of the transportation seem to have affected your mind. I do not have sufficient training to be more specific, but I do not sense your bond has been broken.

"I'm projecting?" Jim tries to find the energy to raise his shields, but the headache, though more mild, interferes with his concentration too much. "Sorry."

"Do not apologize," T'Prina answers, removing her hand. "It was--comforting--to hear your mind. My bondmate… I can sense him, but only just, as we are still have not had our Time. We are a great distance from them."

Jim nods, making himself believe T'Prina's words. Spock is--there. Somewhere. He's fine. Everything is fine. "Well, that's something." Not much, but it does narrow the possibilities from somewhere close to the Enterprise to somewhere pretty fucking far away. Five days at maximum warp--if a ship could manage that--would be pretty damn far. "So were those Orions we killed, or was that wishful thinking?"

"Orions," T'Prina confirms. "It seems that they are in fact working with the Romulans."

"Yeah, I'm not too sure about that. The Romulans wouldn't bother kidnapping me if this is the first salvo in a war; they can just cruise across the Neutral Zone and get one on their doorstep. Kidnapping me would do wonders, however, if someone else wanted to start a war." Jim shakes his head. "That's what I was missing. It wasn't the Romulans at all. At least, not their government."

"Are you certain?"

"Nothing's certain in this life, but this is about as sure as death and weekly meditation nights." Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, Jim stands up, fighting the dizziness long enough to get his bearings. "The bigger question is why we're alive; there's no good reason not to kill us and leave our bodies somewhere obvious and incriminating to the Romulans."

"As barter?" T'Prina says as Jim explores the room. For a prison, it's pretty nice, though the lack of windows is a definite minus. Two beds, a bathroom, a closet. Jim looks at the neatly hung scrubs inside with a feeling of unreality before closing the door, and starting at the bed, taking a second inventory of the room. Beneath the plastered walls Jim can just hear the hum of circuitry, but there aren't any controls anywhere in evidence.

"We're planetside?" Jim asks as T'Prina moves the bed in one easy movement.

"The air is not recycled by a ship's scrubbers," T'Prina answers. "We are located within a large building in an interior room at least three levels above the ground." Moving the bed back into place, she looks at Jim following the baseboard with the tips of his fingers, searching for a way in. "The building is large enough to require internal environmental controls, including a recycler that runs every six hours."

Jim lifts his head. "So either this building holds a lot of people--"

"Or it contains laboratories," T'Prina says. "I suspect the latter from the quality of the air; it would not be logical to bring us to a place with a large population."

Jim sighs, finishing his search and sitting back against the wall. "None of this is logical, but yeah, let's assume they'd not put us in high density housing."

T'Prina perches uncomfortably on the edge of the bed. "I was brought sustenance six hours and thirty-five minutes ago," she adds, looking at the door. "I regret I was unable to move quickly enough to apprehend our captors and question them."

Jim waves a hand. "We'll figure it out." Whatever it is, which is a point of debate now. What kind of war-starting people kidnap a Federation Captain and Starfleet cadet, then lock them up and feed them? "This doesn't make any sense," Jim admits, pulling his knees up and draping his arms over them. "The bad guys are predictable. That's pretty much their only virtue--they generally have one good plan, and everything else is variations of that. Of course, they generally don't use that plan, but a whole lot of bad ones, but the same principle applies. They have nothing to gain keeping us alive. The Federation doesn't make deals."

"But perhaps they believe Commander Spock would," T'Prina says unexpectedly.

"Then they don't know Spock," Jim snorts. "He's at Headquarters right now, giving them all the information we have. Information that in retrospect is potentially completely wrong."

T'Prina walks to the door, looking at the smooth surface. "Captain," she says slowly, "I believe the access panel is on the other side of the wall."

Craning his neck, Jim spots where her gaze is fixed and gets up, running a hand over the plaster. Getting access to the circuitry isn't hard from this side, but without an interface panel, Jim won't be able to recognize the pattern for the controls. "Hmm."

"If I were to expose it--"

"I could try," Jim answers with a frown. "What I wouldn't give for a communicator or hell, a calculator so I could build an interface--"

T'Prina gives him a wary look, then turns away. "If you will give me a moment," she says, voice muffled, and Jim watches the scrub bottoms drop to the floor in shock. Turning with a curse, Jim stares at the beige wall.

"T'Prina," Jim starts a little desperately, "you know you can't--I mean, not that you can't, but I don't think our captors will be--uh, interested in--"

"Please turn around, Captain Kirk," T'Prina answers.

Taking a deep breath, Jim turns back around, but T'Prina is normally dressed again and holding out-- "Is that my codepicker?" Taking it, Jim rolls it between his fingers. "Where did you--oh God, stupid question, please don't answer that--"

"I had very little time when we were stunned," T'Prina says coolly, but there's the very faintest deepening olive across the dark brown skin of her cheekbones. "I concealed it before I lost consciousness. When I awoke and assured myself that we were not under observation, I found they had not--been as thorough as one might have assumed when they searched me."

"Surprisingly modest for ruthless kidnappers," Jim observes. "And if I'd known, think of the number of phasers I could have concealed--that's a filthy, filthy joke, by the way. Don't tell Spock I told you or I'll get the lecture on being a good role model to our kids again."

"I recognize the punchline, Captain," T'Prina says with admirable composure. "I have studied human anatomy and I can calculate the number of phasers you would be able to--"

Jim breaks into uncontrollable giggling, leaning back against the door. This is not the time, he thinks a little light-headedly, for hysterics. "T'Prina, you would be an incredible pirate. When you give up on the straight and narrow, give me a call. I'll talk Spock into it, promise."

"Is that not what the Enterprise was to teach me to become?" T'Prina says, turning to the wall. One delicate fist breaking through the plaster at a controlled angle cracks it neatly without touching the wires beneath. "I had hoped I would have the opportunity to tell you that I--understand what you wished for me to learn."

Jim leans heavily against the door, watching her remove the remaining plaster in a rough square, exposing a mess of circuitry. "You'd be a superlative astrogator," Jim says finally. "But you're Vulcan, so you'd be great at anything you do. That doesn't mean that's all you can be."

T'Prina delicately picks away the plaster to expose the wiring cleanly. "Commander Spock said I should not waste the opportunity to expand my understanding of Starfleet and the duties of a Starfleet officer," she answers, dusting her hands on the scrub bottoms. "I thought I did not understand his meaning, but in retrospect, I think he understood my motivation in accepting an internship on your ship better than I did."

Taking her place, Jim studies the delicate web of wires before flipping the codepicker over and opening the panel at the bottom, sliding out the slim silver interface cables, coiling them between his fingers. "So once, there was this guy in a bar," Jim says, reaching in, careful not to touch the exposed circuitry and looping the interface cable around the first, looking at the codepicker's readout. "He told me that I could captain a starship."

In peripheral vision, Jim sees T'Prina nod; everyone knows the story of Admiral Pike, Captain Kirk, and a fight in a bar. Its weird to see your own life become apocrypha. It seems so much less real than it was; Jim can still taste blood when he remembers that day. Jim thinks of the angry, bitter boy he'd been and wishes he could take him out for a drink and maybe a good fight, tell him: It won't always be like this. Not always. Just wait, and I know you hate hearing it, because I hate it too. But this is what we were looking for. This is what we were waiting for.

"Then there was this guy at an academic hearing who said he was curious," Jim hears himself say, activating the codepicker. "And he taught me how to be one."

T'Prina lets out a soft breath.

"And there's this crew who sticks around no matter what I do," Jim says, watching the tiny screen. "And they made me become one." The codepicker chirps happily. "And they'd better give the Enterprise to Spock, that's all I'm saying. Or I will haunt Nogura's ass."

"They would follow you anywhere," T'Prina says, leaning over his shoulder, a few dark braids swinging against his cheek.

"Only if they're okay with where I'm going," Jim says lightly. "Huh, this is some truly amateur coding. I hope this isn't an important research facility."

"I do not believe they will be--content with your presence here," T'Prina says. Turning his head, Jim looks at T'Prina repressively, not liking this turn of the conversation.

"They wouldn't, but unfortunately, there's not much they can do about it."

"I see." The codepicker chirps softly; it's searching, matching the pattern of the circuitry, the shifts of power within it.

"They wouldn't." Jim forces himself to return his attention to the codepicker. Almost there. "That's against--I can't even count the number of regulations--"

"Four hundred and sixteen."

"Four hundred and thirteen, that mess with the Cardassian freighter is not even applicable," Jim snaps, unnerved. "Starfleet officers have a procedure for this kind of thing--namely, don't run off half-cocked to rescue stolen officers. I think there's a regulation that says just that."

The codepicker chirps again; the sound is becoming really unnerving.

"And they don't even know where I am," Jim continues, aware that at this point he's trying to convince himself. "We don't know where we are." What a horrible, horrible thought; bad enough he got T'Prina into this mess. Worse if the Enterprise is dragged into it.

"I see."

"Stop saying that!" The codepicker chirps again, and Jim looks down, watching as it finds a match and comes online and begins to build an interface, giving him everything a stranded Starfleet officer could need to escape an unknown building on an unknown planet. He seriously needs a plan now.

As Jim unlocks the door, T'Prina circles him, looking into the hall. "It is clear," she says. Jim waits as the codepicker insinuates its code into the core memory, then pulls the interface cables free, winding them back into their slot. Better than a remote control, at least until the code is found. Following her into the hall, Jim looks at the beige walls and rows of nondescript doors. This feels a lot less like the compound of Starfleet-abducting villains and a lot more like maybe some kind of business. It's better than a prison or an Orion slave camp, Jim supposes, but there's something about being locked up an office building that just doesn't sit well.

"May I?" she asks, indicating the codepicker. "I wish to set the beacon."

Jim frowns. "That only works if someone is in range and recognizes the code--" Jim stops. T'Prina had programmed that into the Enterprise's transporter computer after they were on the station. "T'Prina, there's no way--"

"I believe you are mistaken, Captain Kirk," T'Prina says, flicking on the beacon and handing it back.

"They're Starfleet officers--"

"Yes," T'Prina says as they come to a T in the hallway. Looking both ways, T'Prina considers. "And they are--I believe you would call them pirates." The wide brown eyes meet his. "I am not the only one that you have taught this lesson, Captain."

"--court martial all of you, especially you," Jim snaps as they find themselves in another non-descript hallway. "Jumping into a transporter beam controlled by persons unknown--was that supposed to be logical? On what planet, Crazyworld? And what kind of fucking headquarters is this? No guards, no security, no elevators--"

"It is rather disconcerting," T'Prina admits.

"--no goddamn stairs Fuck this noise. I'm done being subtle."

"You were being subtle?" T'Prina queries in a credible imitation of surprise as Jim goes to the nearest interface, jerking off the panel cover and winding the interface cables around the exposed circuitry.

"T'Prina, what's your tech level?"

"Four," she answers, joining him. "What do you--"

"We're taking control of the building. Tell me when a core node comes up and I'll hook into it."

"Will they not notice?" T'Prina says, but she takes the codepicker, watching the interface.

"Yeah, but it'll take them a while to do anything about it if we control all the building functions. Oh, look at that--core memory controls everything; how incredibly stupid not to get better security to keep people from doing this kind of thing."

"Here," T'Prina says. "I have located root access; you may proceed."

Jim smiles grimly. "Now we're getting somewhere. Core functions, passkey reset, building schematics--business proposals." Jim blinks, skimming the log files. "I don't believe this."

"Captain?" T'Prina leans over his shoulder. "Those are Orion--"

"Yes, they're Romulan-Orion shipping contracts, thank you for the newsflash; we're in a Romulan office building. This is so humiliating." Jim punches in a new passkey and locks the system. "And now it's mine. Stairs three doors down and to the left, and a very useful mainframe access terminal on the first floor. Of all the--"

"Captain," T'Prina interrupts, voice tight. "I sense the presence of multiple individuals on this floor."

Jim pulls back, tucking the codepicker into his pocket. "Then let's run very fast in the opposite direction. Stairs okay?"

T'Prina concentrates, then nods firmly. "Yes, they are."

"Let's go."

Lieutenant Pavil Chekov
Lieutenant Pavil Chekov


Over the nearly three years that Jim's been a captain, he's learned a very valuable lesson due to the number of times he's been captured, kidnapped, taken hostage, and fired on without warning; if people want to kill you, they tend to do it immediately. If there's a delay, there's a damn good reason for it. You don't take a Starfleet officer hostage and expect they'll play nice.

You don't take two of them and assume anything but the worst; the deep sleep was probably the only good idea they'd had, and then they let them wake up. That doesn't even make sense.

Finding themselves in a large room filled with vaguely-familiar looking machinery, Jim breathes out in satisfaction. "Servers, databases, and the world is my oyster. Our oyster. Get the terminal up and erase everyone's security clearance, then lockout the system."

"You cannot?"

"Spock and I haven't gotten that far yet," Jim admits with a sigh, joining her at the terminal. "He's having an ethics crisis or something. Apparently it's okay to be taught the theory of taking over vulnerable computer systems, but he said knowing I'd actually use it is all morally grey and questionable."

"Interesting. Do you not have access to his memories?"

Jim hesitates. "It's--not that easy." In meditation, Jim can find something if he knows what he's looking for without the risk of being overwhelmed by the flood of Spockness, but exploring Spock's extremely thorough education hadn't come up. "I don't have that kind of mental organization. Spock can do it--and let me tell you how weird that is--but it's more hit or miss unless he's showing me what I'm looking for."

T'Prina's fingers skim the board. "I can complete the lockout and security wipe, but it will not be inaccessible to anyone with a higher tech level than I have. And while their security is not thorough, I can state with certainty that the individual or individuals that control this are of a higher level than I am."

"What would they do?"

T'Prina licks her lips, studying the board. "A core memory override. I cannot reset the system completely."

"Shit." Jim looks at the door, finding and discarding alternatives. "How long would that take?"

"From initial access, ten to fifteen minutes."

That's not much. Jim looks at T'Prina, fighting down the second wave of panic; he let Sorin in, and that hadn't been the end of the world. And he doesn't know Sorin like he knows T'Prina, who's a fellow officer and his crew and his cadet all three. He'd trust her with his life; more, he'd trust her with his ship, his crew, with Spock's life without question or hesitation. "Getting out of here is kind of pointless when we don't know where we are or where to go. We need more information. Could Spock do it?"

T'Prina nods soberly. "Very easily."

Right. Jim takes a deep breath. "I've never tried this on my own," he starts, looking at T'Prina. "I'm human; we don't think like this."

"Do you trust me, Captain?" T'Prina says, brown eyes carefully neutral.

Jim nods slowly, reaching for her hand and pressing the long fingers against his temple; If you see anything involving nudity or ice cream, pretend you didn't. "Yeah. Let's do this."

Spock was taught by the acknowledged Vulcan authority; a Vulcan Academy graduate who had gone on to instruct thousands of Vulcan students before he found his life's calling in a Federation still so young it was hardly more than an idea, embodied by an extraordinary woman who would change the lives of billions in a single hearing that rewrote the meaning of the Federation's promise of freedom.

Spock comes by his brilliance honestly, at least; if anyone doubted what Amanda Grayson had contributed to her Vulcan son, Jim never has. Spock took his first instruction at his father's feet; but the first program he ever completed was at his mother's side, adding a subroutine to the interpretation matrix she had begun to develop that would speed Federation progress even faster toward its goal of unity.

This is Spock's history: the intimacy of his family home, where he learned the lessons that would drive him most deeply. His father taught him the theory, the skills, the languages, the purity of the math that built the algorithms that Spock absorbed as effortlessly as a sponge takes water, but it was Amanda that taught him how to use it.

It would be two decades before Spock sat beside another exceptional linguist of his mother's caliber, patiently teaching her as he'd been taught, each line of code a step toward erasing the barrier of language between worlds, and learning from her how to fall in love.

These things are Spock; the father who instructed him in computer skills that are second to none; the mother who influenced the child to become the greatest officer Starfleet would ever have; and the woman who had challenged him to be more than the strictures of the society he had not yet learned to leave behind, no matter how far he'd come from the Vulcan Science Academy hearing that decided his destiny.

Starfleet could only polish what was already there; never before and perhaps never again would a student so far outstrip all they could teach him. The student rebuilt security systems; the officer would design the architecture that would later create the memory core of every starship that explored the galaxy; the linguist would continue to improve the Universal Translator that began as an exercise in his mother's sitting room; the instructor taught Starfleet cadets how to be both officers and tourists faced with all the wonders of an unexplored galaxy. And one day, he would build the complex simulations to test a thousand cadets who would fail, time and time again--and meet a cadet who wrote thirteen lines of code that slipped between the elegant, meticulous algorithms created by Starfleet's most brilliant mind and changed the course of both their lives and perhaps Federation history to boot.

A level seven computer tech isn't just the highest technical skill that can be possessed, not merely brilliance, achievement, distinction; it's a mark of Federation trust, credentials that declare ethics that never deviate from the strictest right, unflawed judgment under the greatest pressures that can be brought to bear, a logical mind that knows when they should best be used and when they should not be. It makes sense, in a way; to know the secrets of the Federation's core, the massive underground databases that fill Memory Alpha and carry the history of all the worlds Starfleet has ever visited, the schematics of starships past, present and future, the defensive and offensive capabilities of the Federation, population projects, the details of people and planets and worlds, their value and their resources and everything, everything that the Federation is--few could be trusted with the knowledge it would take to crack them.

There are reasons that Jim never made it past level three, and it wasn't his skill that was found to be at fault.

Here T'Prina says, carefully distant, not permitting herself intimacy with the memories Jim explores, only direction. Jim touches them, tracing the skills and letting the associated memories wash through him--bring the system online and enter this, change this, strip away the fingerprints of the one who wrote it, make this yours, know every line, every quirk, the meaning behind every symbol, and find the place you can change what it once was into something that is yours and yours alone.

He wouldn't have taken Sarek as this much of a romantic.

"Oh," Jim breathes as the board hums encouragingly--though he must be imagining it, must be, must be--his fingers sliding into newly familiar patterns. He builds an image of the multidimensional core matrix in his head, crystal-clear and bright, before he starts to take it apart.

"Yes," T'Prina breathes. "Captain, they are instituting countermeasures--"

Jim feels T'Prina join him, distracting the others while he looks for that core while a long time ago in a small room, Spock sat at a terminal in the Vulcan Science Academy and logically destroyed the work of a classroom of students. Revenge is not logical, Sarek said, and Spock had answered, but instruction is logical. This is a lesson that logic requires that they learn.

Jim's been breaking into systems since before he understood that what he did like he breathed was supposed to be hard; Spock's been taking them apart like an extension of his own will since his father first showed him what they were.


Jim surfaces as he finishes rebuilding the matrix and rewrites their security from the algorithms that protect Memory Alpha, line by line pulled from a flawless memory. Bring up their database and erase clearances, lock every door and take effortless control of a hundred labs as well as six massive bays that blink warningly at his touch. Curious, Jim brings up the manifest and hits reality again with a bang.

"Jesus," he murmurs, eyes wide. "They're here. All of them."

"Captain?" T'Prina's mind brushes his, verifying he hasn't gone crazy or something. "Captain, who--"

"The crews." Jim pulls the screen up, staring at the blinking cold sleep units with a feeling of numbness that's like joy and fear both. "The crews we lost. They're all here."

Leaving T'Prina to continue searching the wide-open databases, Jim follows the path in his mind down winding corridors, opening the heavy storage doors and looking at the stacks and stacks of crew in cold sleep, people written off and nearly forgotten.

Captain, we are located on Remus.

Jim stumbles slightly at the feel of her voice in his head, though he doesn't think he really has the right to complain; he asked her to, after all. That's--unexpected. He pauses. This is a shell company for the Syndicate, isn't it?

I believe so. T'Prina hesitates. There have been no transmissions calling for reinforcements, even before we took control of the system.

And that's the most interesting thing of all. Jim approaches the display, checking the status by rote before looking at the neat stacks of sentient beings that represent the difference between war and peace.

There's a faint prickling between his shoulder blades; Jim doesn't need Captain! A lifesign approaches your position! because it's not really that much of a surprise. Turning, Jim watches the doors open and a single man enters the room, shutting the door carefully behind him.

Muddy green eyes in a faintly olive face, unkept black hair, a too-big lab coat wrapped around a too-thin body, all forgettable; the voice is anything but. "Captain Kirk."

Jim nods. "So I guess I should have hung around Begammon after all."

The Romulan quirks an eyebrow, spreading his arms, weaponless. "I suspect the end result would be no different. I believe it is time we spoke. If you have no objection?"

"Yeah," Jim breathes. "I guess we should."

T'Prina hovers at his elbow, refusing to so much as sit down, staring expressionlessly at the three Romulans sitting across the bench in one of the empty labs.

A bundle of clothing and weapons are pushed across the table; Jim blinks, staring at his own phaser as if he's never seen it before. "I think your companion will be easier if she is armed."

Jim lets T'Prina pick out their weapons, checking them before she nods. "They are undamaged, Captain."

"That's--good." He's not sure. Resting his palms against the table, Jim studies the two men and woman who apparently took them prisoner, in creased lab coats and stained clothing, looking exhausted and painfully like Scotty after a three day bender with the warp engines. While he prides himself on not prejudging, he just cannot believe these three were the masterminds behind this.

"I am Technician Rayiyah, chief scientist of Gilen Technology, in your language," the familiar voice says, looking at Jim sardonically. "These are two of my science team: Technicians Irylli and Dyoshi. We specialize in interstellar weather research and tracking--"

Jim straightens, feeling something fall into place. "Like for ion storms?"

Rayiyah's smile widens. "You are familiar with my work, I take it. We call it the Sunseed Project. It is still in development--"

"Not by the Romulan government."

Rayiyah pauses, looking at Jim speculatively. "Very good, Captain. It was a side-effect of an experimental procedure to deflect and eventually control ion storms in vulnerable systems; the Orion homeworlds are subject to violent storms of long duration. You can imagine our surprise when our first efforts caused the opposite to occur." Rayiyah's smile grows bitter. "The Syndicate was not behindhand in realizing the potential of our discovery; to be able to induce, perhaps even control ion storms in other systems would be a great advantage. Unfortunately, during testing, they were interrupted by--"

"Our weather ships. But why--"

Rayiyah gives him a curious look. "I see Starfleet politics is not so different from Romulan; the ships were taken because they were able to discover what the Syndicate could do. A natural ion storm is very different from an induced one; an intercepted transmission between the Einstein and Starfleet Headquarters was able to confirm that they had somehow been able to detect the difference, though they did not--yet--understand what it meant."

Jim sits back. "That technology hasn't gotten to the experimental stage--never mind, of course it has or this wouldn't be happening. The ships that were taken were ones with experimental ion detectors, weren't they? All of them."

"They were. And if you are curious, they do far more than I speculate their creators expected. They cannot merely detect an ion storm forming; they can anticipate them to two standard days. Combined with the Sunseed Project, I believe that potentially they could both detect, create, control, and deflect ion storms entirely."

"That would be--" T'Prina stops. Looking up at her, Jim sees the expression on her face and remembers Torren's theories, Torren's paper, Torren's equations. That was how the Federation had made the leap from theory to reality: Torren, a theorist who valued the practical.

Rayiyah's next words confirm it. "I was ordered to discover how the ion detectors had been created. Oddly enough, it was a rather minor paper authored by a student at the Vulcan Science Academy that seemed to point toward how Starfleet had made such an--intriguing jump in theory."

Leaning forward, Jim captures Rayiyah's attention. "Why am I alive? Why are they?"

"Because I am a scientist, not a murderer," Rayiyah says, the smile fading. "An Orion cruiser was sent to kidnap and assassinate you, for reasons I believe you already know. I volunteered to accompany them to create the ion storm to cover their actions."

Jim stares at the thin scientist dubiously. "And--what? You took over the ship before they could finish?"

"It would be more accurate to state that you and the cadet took over the ship," Rayiyah answers. "When the few survivors had managed to subdue you, my scientists and I killed them before they could cause you harm. After giving you medical attention and putting you both in hibernation, we brought you here to decide how to proceed. I regret that we were required to confine you upon your arrival; dehibernation recovery side effects have been known to include temporary psychosis, especially at the accelerated rate we were required to pursue. It seemed wiser to keep you confined until the process was complete and you both had returned to rationality."

That makes an odd sort of sense. "That doesn't explain why you didn't just dump us at the nearest Federation or Allied planet and get the hell out of there."

Rayiyah smiles patiently. "Because the Syndicate will be merciful despite its great reach? No. I knew when I decided to prevent your death that my life afterward could be measured in weeks, if not days.

"But you still did it."

Rayiyah nods shortly, hands clenching together on the table. "The Orion Syndicate has neither the technology nor military to challenge either the Romulan Empire or the Federation at this time. Should there be war between us, neither of these things would continue to be true." Rayiyah meets his eyes, and Jim thinks he sees a flash of horror. "When the Sunseed Project was found to be viable, I was required to travel to Orion Prime and give my report in person to the Syndicate representatives themselves. I have seen--what they are. Slavery is not anathema to Romulans, Captain, you must understand. But what I saw was not slavery as a Romulan knows it. This cannot come to pass. My world will not be--I will not permit my people to--" Rayiyah cuts himself off, looking away.

"Yeah." Jim thinks of Gaila, who never spoke of the Orion slave camps but dreamed them every night; he'd never asked. He'd never needed to. Everything that he would ever need to know could be encapsulated by the rough, broken sound of her voice, pleading in the camp dialect of her childhood. "If you'd gone to Starfleet--"

"No." Rayiyah's head snaps up. "I am prepared to die, but not without meaning. If my death buys the lives of my people, I go to it proudly. A Federation prison or a silent death--"

"We're not like that."

Rayiyah shakes his head. "You are very young, Captain Kirk."

"I'm really not." Jim braces both hands on the table. "You came to me, and if you thought that--"

"I came to you," Rayiyah says evenly. "Not Starfleet, and not your Federation. To you."

"Why?" Jim feels T'Prina responding to his frustration, hip brushing his shoulder, and tries to calm himself. "If you don't know my views on a war with the Empire--"

"You have been very vocal in your assertions that war is inevitable," Rayiyah interrupts, folding his hands neatly on the surface of the table. "You are refreshingly direct for one of your kind."

Jim really doesn't want to go there. "Rayiyah, what the hell did you think I could do?"

"Stop this war, of course." Rayiyah looks at him in genuine surprise. "That is why I came to you. Was I incorrect?"

Jim licks his lips, feeling the warmth of T'Prina against his shoulder, the cool of the table beneath his hands, and thinks of the thousand times he'd stood on the bridge of the Enterprise, feeling the hum of potential in the tips of his fingers in every Romulan engagement, every time he'd felt himself hover on the edge of giving an order that would change the shape of their galaxy, and every time that he let the moment pass.

What Nero had done to them can never be forgiven or forgotten; the Federation was wounded in a way that can never fully heal, a scar that cuts through what they are and all they will ever be. Jim knows, perhaps better than even the Ambassador, the true scope of what was taken from them; they learned too early to be afraid, and if Jim's an explorer now, he was a soldier first and he always will be. Every cadet who watched Vulcan die knows that to their bones.

He doesn't see, may never see, what Pike sees when he looks at the Federation; that doesn't mean he will ever stop trying. "No," he answers, voice rough. "You weren't."

T'Prina, under protest, goes with the two scientists to get an idea of what they have to work with. Jim doesn't miss Rayiyah's unsubtle attempts to get him alone but goes along with it, letting Rayiyah lead him back to the cargo bay to look at the sleeping officers again, like that's something they really need to do right now.

As the doors close, Jim eyes Rayiyah. "Just spit it out."

Rayiyah, to his credit, doesn't hesitate. Straightening, he turns toward Jim, expression carefully neutral. "Before you and Cadet T'Prina were put in hibernation, we had both of you scanned in case you required immediate medical assistance."

Jim knows where this is going. "I'm guessing this has something to do with this headache?"

"There was hemorrhaging in the cerebral cortex," Rayiyah says flatly. "We were able to repair some of the internal injuries before there was permanent damage. However, there were--abnormalities in the peri--"

"The psi-center," Jim interrupts; yeah, he'd seen this coming. "On a human, anyway. You have the scans?"

Rayiyah nods, extending his datapad; Jim finds he really hates convenience. Opening it, Jim studies the scans for a moment, already knowing what to look for, even if he doesn't know exactly what it is. "Right. Don't tell T'Prina about it. It'll keep until we get back to the Federation."

Rayiyah hesitates, then takes the datapad with a quick nod. "Is there anything--"

"A medical synthesizer," Jim answers promptly. "And an empty lab. There's a couple of things that will help until I get back to my ship. I'll need you to translate--"

"Of course." Rayiyah gestures toward the door. "If you would, Captain."

A normal side effect of dehibernation on humans is sudden exhaustion; Jim verifies the computer system is still locked out and communications restricted before letting himself collapse on the first relatively soft surface he finds, T'Prina with two phasers set to kill in her lap, because Spock's crazy and that's the kind of thing he teaches their cadets to do.

The last thing he thinks is how much he loathes Vulcan biology right about now; this shit never happens to Vulcans.

It's thirteen hours before he feels himself begin to surface, and two hours more before T'Prina finally obeys a direct order and reluctantly brings him a stimulant. Pressing the hypo against his neck, she waits until he opens his eyes to say, "I have agreed only because my estimates suggest that--"

"We're out of time, yeah," Jim mutters, feeling warmth uncurl through every muscle, head clearing abruptly; he can even pretend his headache isn't getting worse. Sitting up, Jim takes stock of his body and decides that he can deal with this. Beats the shit out of running after Nero with his throat still swelling from the bite of Spock's fingers with only Bones' painkillers keeping him on his feet. "All right, we need a plan."

"I have been considering our options," T'Prina answers, holding out a datapad. Jim feels himself start to grin as he takes it, looking down at the neat list of their assets, which is a lot shorter than he had hoped. An office building, he reminds himself with a sigh; they don't even have disruptors on site. "As you can see, our resources are limited--"

"Yeah, but you know what they say--adversity breeds innovation, or something." Jim pauses at the specs of the ship. "Huh. I'm not familiar with this type of Orion cruiser."

"I do not believe anyone in the Federation is," T'Prina says flatly. "The neural inhibitor is a standard feature in the transporter matrix, which is supplied with a separate engine and controlled by a dedicated second computer core with a buffer capable of pattern retention for up to seventy-two standard hours. It has a capacity of over one thousand beings on a single beam and seventy thousand in one hour without requiring a new power cycle."

"Whoa." Jim whistles, reading down the list, pausing as the schematics display. "Minimal personnel quarters, but they outdid themselves on cargo space."

"The capacity," T'Prina says, "is roughly--"

"Seventy thousand or so in cold sleep units." Jim looks up sharply. "Warp engines with a maximum short-burst speed of Warp 10, triple shielding, and a very illegal cloaking device. It's a slaver ship. Which Orion has sworn up and down they don't have, since they confine their activities to their own systems and planets."

T'Prina nods.

"Right." Jim makes himself continue reading. "And not in very good shape."

"I have verified warp integrity," T'Prina answers, sounding wary. "However--"

"Can it fly?"

"Yes. I believe that it will sustain structural integrity for long enough to return us to Federation space. However, sir--"

"Good enough for government work. T'Prina--"

"Captain," T'Prina says, voice rising slightly in the closest thing Jim's ever seen to T'Prina indulging in a fit of temper, "we do not have a crew."

Yes, there is that, which on a normal day would be a real problem. This is not one of those days. "We'll worry about that part later," Jim says, slapping the datapad into her hand and getting to his feet. "Where's Rayiyah--"

"I anticipated that you would wish to utilize the cruiser," T'Prina says, jogging up beside him as he goes into the hall. "He and his team are currently attempting basic repairs."

Jim smirks at her. "Very good, cadet. Now what's her name?"

T'Prina frowns. "Her--"

"The ship," Jim says as T'Prina directs them down another nondescript corridor that Jim hopes is leading to the ship. "If I'm going to captain her, I really need to know her name."

"Ah." T'Prina scrolls down the datapad. "She is the Soli, Captain Kirk. In Orion, that refers to--"

As they reach a set of wide double doors, Jim touches the palm lock, watching as the doors slide open onto a cavernous bay, one ship settled in the middle, almost tiny surrounded by so much empty space. "Soli is the primary slave camp on Orion III. It means 'those born without value'."

Pacing to the edge of the ship, Jim looks her over, pitted metal and blackened panels; once, this ship had haunted the skies of unsuspecting worlds, taking entire populations from their homes in only hours.

"All right," Jim says, bracing himself. "Let's check out the inside."

"This ship is not--optimal," T'Prina says diplomatically as they explore the interior of the cruiser. She's being very kind; Jim hadn't known she had it in her. As she runs a system check on the cramped, dark bridge, Jim picks up a Romulan tricorder and wishes he'd studied Romulan after all for the written language aspect.

"Beggars can't be choosers," Jim answers, trying to figure out what these boards actually do. As it turns out, if it looks like environmental, it's actually a self-destruct, and that's ten minutes of Jim's life he isn't ever getting back. "She'll fly just fine."

"She will fly adequately," Rayiyah says from behind them, standing at the science station with a pensive expression. Since their arrival, Jim had noted the number of Romulan scientists aboard, giving him half-frightened, half-fascinated looks as they pass carrying data solids, burned out boards, and new interface modules. It really makes him wonder what's said about Federation captains in the Romulan Empire.

"So," Jim says, trying to make some kind of sense of the board Rayiyah is fusing together. "How are we doing?"

"Poorly, Captain Kirk," Rayiyah answers without looking up. "However, I estimate we will reach the limits of what can be repaired in three hours."

"Does that mean we won't die a horrible decompression death in space?"

Rayiyah considers the question too carefully. "Not immediately."

Great. Jim sighs, fingers tapping on the edge of the board. "That's encouraging."

"It will be adequate to allow us to reach Federation space," Rayiyah answers. "I assume once there, you will contact Starfleet. That will be sufficient."

Jim blinks, backtracking. "'Us?'"

"My team and I will accompany you," Rayiyah answers as a slim, attractive woman hands him a datapad to read, giving Jim sideways glances before Rayiyah hands it back. "Our death warrants were signed the moment I stopped your assassination; there is no place for us here."

"How many?"

"There are thirty of us."

Jim wonders if there's such a thing as delayed dehibernation psychosis. "You're just going to come along. To the Federation."

"I told you, the Syndicate--"

"And your best bet is a crappy ship and surrender to the Federation?"

"Of course not." Rayiyah gives him a patient look. "We are surrendering to you."

Jim takes a deep breath, letting it out between his teeth before he ends up doing something stupid, like start yelling. "T'Prina," he says, leaving Rayiyah to his insanity. "Can you get a signal to the Enterprise? On the off-chance they really are going for a mass court-martial?"

"Not yet, Captain." T'Prina answers, sounding strained. "There is a great deal of traffic between the Neutral Zone and Romulan Command and our message would be noted. In addition, the distance is considerable and subspace degradation is inevitable."

Jim doesn't like the sound of that. Subspace traffic is probably the single best indicator of just how fucked a situation is, bar none. "Can you translate what's going on?"

"Only a little, Captain. They report there are ships gathering on the border of the Neutral Zone." T'Prina hesitates. "Federation ships."

"There aren't any Federation ships in this--" Jim trails off, calculating the amount of time it would take for the Laurentian ships to be called in, and something cold settles in his gut. "Rayiyah, engines. How much longer?"

"Momentarily, Captain Kirk," Rayiyah answers. T'Prina, ashen, turns to look at him, eyes wide with the same knowledge that's pounding through Jim, counting off the seconds like a metronome. He'd been thinking of the vote all along and never considered that Starfleet had been preparing for a war they didn't believe in for years, decades, the length of Jim's life, from the moment the Kelvin was destroyed. They were sure, that sure of the vote, that sure that this time, there would be war.

Jim thinks of all the times he shouted at Spock how much better it would be if this just started already, and look at this, it has. "T'Prina, did we get the facility's database?"

"Yes, sir." Long fingers close over the edge of the board. "Captain--"

"Start the self-destruct on the database; we're not leaving anything here we don't have to. Then start beaming up the cold sleep units and get them hooked up." Jim turns to Rayiyah. "We're about to do the fastest preflight in history. So your people want to be crew? Let's get started. Whoever knows what will get us through the Romulan defensive grid when they ask what we're doing, get them on the comm. Has the Romulan armada started forming?"

T'Prina licks her lips. "From what I am able to decipher, they are calling in their warbirds for escort duty. The heavy cruisers are assembling at the Romulan border."

Fuck. "Rayiyah," Jim says, "we have to go. Bring the engines online. We gotta get out of here now."

The interview cannot be put off indefinitely; Spock arrives at the palatial ambassador's quarters on the Enterprise, remembering Jim's utter disgust--Okay, I get that rank has its privileges, but three replicators? Dedicated comm access? Is the head gold-plated? Are there servants' quarters or are my crew expected to fetch and carry? Am I being really bourgeois about this?

The head is not gold-plated, but Spock, thinking of many of the Admirals of his acquaintance, does not think the concept is very unlikely. "Commander Spock," Spock tells the computer, waiting patiently. It is not logical to keep his father waiting when his presence was specifically requested (demanded), but logic is known to fail when the personal is involved.

The door opens at the farthest edge of courtesy, and Spock walks into the carefully immaculate quarters. Spock had assigned Yeoman Rand to see to his father, despite such duties being far beneath her rank, knowing she would understand the logic. Alone among the enlisted crew, her duties intersected with Spock's most, and over the last year, she had made an effort to learn everything she could about the culture of her First Officer. In this, at least, his father can have few complaints.

As the door closes, Spock nods a greeting to his father. "Live long and prosper, Ambassador."

"Irony does not become you, Commander." Sarek, seated precisely in the center of the overly-luxurious couch, watches Spock expressionlessly. "I assume you are here to explain why I have been taken captive? My presence in San Francisco is required, as you know. I must assume you have reason, however flawed, for wishing to delay a council vote."

"I have reason to believe that the vote is founded on mistaken assumptions," Spock answers coolly, taking the chair across from his father, despite his preference to remain standing. It is not logical to be affected by simple psychological cues, but to remain standing will emphasize the difference in position between them. "I hope your residence has not been uncomfortable," Spock says, ignoring the faint sense of awkwardness. "Your absence will assure the vote cannot be completed."

"If you mean that I am not residing in the brig, I see little difference. Am I to consider myself a prisoner, Commander?"

For a Vulcan, Spock supposes, a comfortable suite on a starship and a brig cell probably have little difference at all. "It was necessary," Spock answers. "If the vote were permitted to continue, it would be a disaster, both for the Federation and for the Romulan Empire. The Romulan Empire did not instigate this war; they were not responsible for the disappearance of those five ships, nor for the abduction of Captain Kirk."

Sarek's expression doesn't change. "You have evidence to back these assertions?"

"Yes, but without Captain Kirk shown to be alive and to testify as to the circumstances of his own abduction, I do not believe it will be--heeded."


"I think we are both aware, Ambassador, that logic and the Federation Council do not often intersect." Spock meets his father's eyes. "The actions of the Elders of the colony testify that self-interest can clothe itself as logic, and the Council is easily swayed to the point of view of those that carry the most influence."

Sarek's mouth tightens slightly. "And you can speak with certainty that your actions are wholly logical and not influenced by circumstance?"

"I cannot." Spock holds his father's eyes. "But they are the only correct ones possible."

"Your bondmate--"

"My captain," Spock corrects. "And my bondmate. These things are neither categorical nor separate. He is alive, and my duty as a Starfleet officer and bondmate require he be retrieved. Anything less is a contradiction of who I am, as an officer and a Vulcan."

Sarek doesn't answer for a few moments. "I wish to see the evidence you have accumulated."

"I came here to extend that offer, Ambassador."

"I see." The Ambassador nods. "I thought perhaps it was my son that had come to see his father."

"The officer is inseparable from the son," Spock answers carefully. "You raised me and from you and my mother I learned my first lessons in duty."

Sarek nods agreement. "There is much between us unsettled," he says, settling into the formality of a Federation Ambassador once again. "Have your evidence transmitted to my terminal. I understand I will not be able to send a message to the Federation at this time--"

"Nor at this time would they accept it," Spock admits. "I do not believe anything that is sent from this ship at this time would be viewed as--unbiased."

The formality cracks. "Spock, I understand you are pursuing this course without orders to do so--."

"That is correct." Perhaps it is the nature of family that defies logic and control both; Spock thinks of a moment in his father's study that felt very much like this, when he'd destroyed the work of his classmates. In retrospect, the logic of his actions could be considered questionable; that does not mean there was not logic, however.

"--but were you specifically ordered not to pursue this course of action?"

"No," Spock answers. "That would have required disclosing my intentions to Starfleet. It seemed logical to avoid outright defiance."

"That is sophistry," the Ambassador says, as once he spoke of the illogic of revenge.

"It is--I believe it could be called 'plausible deniability'."

For a second, the Ambassador's face shows something very like exasperation; Spock supposes the small break in control can be excused under circumstances such as these. "Your logic is--interesting."

"Ah. My apologies; Jim would phrase it more colloquially. I believe 'don't get caught' would be his advice."

"That," the Ambassador says after a pause, "would be more logical."

"I have often thought the same." Rising to his feet, Spock nods. "Yeoman Rand will come to give your terminal access to our databanks. I do not need to ask that you do not go beyond the established parameters. You are capable--"

"I will not." Rising to his feet, the Ambassador raises one hand. "Live long and prosper. May your endeavor prove successful."

"I am confident that it will."

After leaving the Ambassador's quarters, Spock contacts Yeoman Rand to adjust the Ambassador's terminal and goes to the bridge. Dar had said that if Technician Rayiyah had been able to take control of the ship--which seems highly likely, as they have noted more Orion ships than normal on their path toward the Neutral Zone, which argues they are searching for something--they would go to Remus.

Spock had once estimated that their chances of getting across the border of the Neutral Zone as only somewhat above the end of the universe. With a fully functional and somewhat technologically advanced cloak, however, the probability of success should be higher.

The potential presence of the Laurentian fleet, however, does make those odds suspect.

"We will arrive at the border of the Neutral Zone and Federation space in one point eight three two standard days," T'Prina says from navigation; Jim nods from the captain's chair--the most hideous thing he's ever sat in, thronelike and yet somehow even less classy--and looks around his small bridge at what appears to be, on first glance, a crew, if you squinted.

Technically speaking, Soli's crew isn't wildly unqualified--Romulans have required military service, so the scientists at least know what they are looking at and what to do with it, which is actually doing better than Jim. But they're not Starfleet either; an Academy graduate never stops being a military officer, even if they never step foot on a ship. He could grab any ten Starfleet lab scientists and throw them on pretty much any ship in the Fleet and be relatively sure they could carry out their duties competently, if not brilliantly.

Of course, that would also be a Fleet vessel and not an Orion slaver, either, and Jim really can't hold it against anyone when they stare blankly at panels that don't act anything like they're supposed to. There are also the cargo bays that aren't cargo bays, even if Jim keeps calling them that in his head, because "slave pens" just make him twitch. Knowing five hundred and change Starfleet officers in coldsleep are currently being housed in them isn't helping. That's not logical, Jim knows, but logic doesn't apply to the realization this isn't just a goddamn Orion cruiser--this is a slaving vessel, built and destined to capture unaffiliated planetary populations for the slave camps of the Orion homeworlds.

He'd let Rayiyah assign the personnel at first, but it quickly became clear that being a theoretical expert at something doesn't mean they're any good at it. The two engineers are currently watching environmentals (Jim is honestly surprised those are functioning; even his codepicker couldn't make sense of how the hell that mess could be working), while the woman he'd seen earlier, Technician Leesa, was at the engineering board despite being a astrometerologist, as she at least seemed to understand that this isn't an interesting theoretical exercise in how long someone can run warp engines on the bare minimum of dilithium, but understood the goal was to keep them running no matter what.

They shouldn't have any problems getting across the Neutral Zone, as Romulans are quite used to Orions being around, apparently, which Jim files away for further investigation. They'd known there was a relationship between the two, but this smacks of alliance. And they, at least, should have known this was a slave ship. Being copasetic with an Orion slaver in their airspace as well as the Neutral Zone would have been enough at one time to make a lot of Starfleet admirals lose sleep at night.

"Captain," T'Prina says, voice softer. Jim gives her a warning look, and the brown eyes flicker down, giving him the chance to back down and pretend to keep his dignity.

"In the ready room," he says, getting to his feet and glancing from habitual paranoia at the Romulan he's effectively leaving in charge of the bridge. Honestly, even if this is some kind of extraordinarily far-fetched Romulan plot that ends in some strange, overly-complicated climax, Jim can't see how they can pull it off in a ship that requires all their attention to keep from dying in the middle of open space. "Rayiyah, you have the bridge. Keep me informed."

Rayiyah gives him a faintly harassed look for interrupting soldering a board back together by sheer luck. There are a few tentative agreements from the others that Jim acknowledges with a nod. Reluctantly, Jim heads toward the door, bracing himself as he goes inside.

The rest of the ship might not be much, but the budget had definitely gone over in furnishing the Captain's retreat; Jim looks at the expensive balsam-wood desk, the state of the art terminal, and blocks out the knowledge of how many people this cost to furnish. There's a hideously ornate couch in the corner, and Jim heads toward it, dropping on the plush comfort to level a glare at T'Prina. "Dehibernation reaction, I get it. I have a few more hours before I need another shot. Why do Vulcans never have these problems? If you say superior biology, I'll seriously airlock you. I can do that. When I figure out where the airlocks are."

T'Prina crouches in front of him. "Your shields are no longer functional."

See, he didn't need to know that, even if he sort of already had. "T'Prina--."

"You've been reading the Romulans since we were awakened," T'Prina says flatly; it's not a question. "A range of roughly ten meters from your position, but it is strengthening. It is currently passive, as it was the first time you experienced this." Then, faintly accusing, so very Vulcan. "You knew."

"My Romulan isn't that good," he admits. Even their best translation matrix makes a hash of Romulan, and conversation's been way too damn easy. "How did you know about--"

"I accessed your medical records and read Healer Sorin's conclusions."

On some level--the legal and ethical, come to think--that's pretty questionable, but Jim thinks that just maybe they're beyond that. "You used the codepicker, didn't you?"

T'Prina licks her lips. "It was--" Jim waves it away. "Captain--"

"So you know what's going to happen."

T'Prina nods roughly. "I do not have Commander Spock's ability to shield you should you begin to send and receive active thought. But if it becomes necessary, I can consolidate bridge function and minimize the number of people required on the bridge to spare you the excess psi-traffic. While Romulans and Vulcans have taken different evolutionary courses, the similarity is enough that your mind will interpret them in similar ways. That should help extend your mental stability."

Jim had always suspected Vulcans were capable of vast amounts of denial. "The first time, I didn't know what was going on," he answers levelly. "This time--"

"This time, you command a ship that can destroy a world," T'Prina says simply, "and here, there is no one who would know to stop you if you told them to destroy one, other than I. And I do not believe that the current crew would listen to me."

Reaching for her shoulders, Jim jerks her to her knees, sliding a hand down to her hip until his fingers brush the phaser. Meeting her eyes, Jim catches her hand and presses it against the hilt, making sure she gets the message. "This time," he says softly, "I know what's going on. That's why you're carrying a phaser and I'm not."

T'Prina stiffens. "Captain--"

"I remember how it felt when plak tow was getting too close," Jim continues, tightening his grip on her hand when she tries to pull away. "I know what will happen to my head when it starts and I know what will be left of me when it's over if it goes that way. I felt Melody from Spock's memories of reading her. That's not living, and Spock shouldn't--" Jim fights back the image of Sorin; that won't be Spock. "I have the right to ask this."

"I do not think--"

"You can. That's what I've been trying to tell you. You're going to be an extraordinary officer. But today, you have to think like a captain. And this is where it starts." Reaching into his pocket, he takes out the codepicker and folds it into her hand. "Hold onto this for me. Last time this happened, I could still break into the Enterprise."


"It's not like there are a lot of options," Jim says before she can get any farther. "We have at least a day or two; all I have to do is get this ship to the Federation so they know what's happening. You can do the rest, if it comes to that."

T'Prina's fingers clench around the codepicker convulsively before she tilts her head, looking at him. "This is what you consider a plan, Captain?"

"It's not a good one," Jim admits. She's shielding well enough that he can't pick up a thing; for possibly the only time in his life since all this started, he regrets it. "T'Prina--"

"When we reach Federation space…" She stops, blinking for a moment, then gets to her feet, clumsy in a way that he'd never seen her before. "You do not believe there will be enough time."

"I can't count on that," Jim answers flatly; it's like goddamn déjà vu, Spock all over again on that damn planet. "Neither of us can. And if I'm a danger to this ship, you can't take that risk. Starfleet has to know--"

"--what's going on here," T'Prina breathes as she picks up the projected memory. Taking a step toward him, eyes distant, she continues "And you said, this is where you--where you cut your losses--"

"And get the hell out," Jim licks his lips, caught in that last memory on the planet, Spock holding him up and the utter surety that had filled him, as if Jim could do anything, even delay his own death. "That's what we do."

"No, it is not." Abruptly, one hand fixes on his shoulder, pinning him to the couch, one knee planting itself by his hip. Before he can figure out what she's doing, her other hand cups his jaw. "That is not what we do."


"I believe," she says, fingers pressing into his skin, bringing every nerve awake, "that Commander Spock explained what we do; this is where we cheat."

It takes a second for Jim to realize what she's doing, fingers slipping into position over each psi-point. "My mind," she breathes, "to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts."

There's nothing light about her mind this time, a hard push that feels like slamming head-first into solid stone. "T'Prina--"

One delicate forearm presses against his throat, cutting off the words. "My mind to your mind," she repeats, forehead pressing against his, her mind stretching around his like a vise, searching for a way inside. "My thoughts--" To your thoughts. Let me in, Captain Kirk. Let me in.


Let. Me. In. I am not trained to do this as a mindhealer would. Let me. My mind to your mind, my thoughts--

Jim can feel her desperation; as a Vulcan, she can break him to this if she wants to, and he can feel what it's costing her to hold back. Jim looks into her naked brown eyes and thinks--

I trust you.

--to your thoughts.

It's not the careful precision of Sorin or the familiar touch of Spock, as much at home in his head as Jim is; it's a rough, desperate push inside, that neatly organized mind with the sharp focus of a razor as she searches, focusing, narrowing, then stopping with sudden, sharp attention. He senses something like threads being pulled, web-fine, twined around delicate fingers, and then T'Prina's voice fills his mind, sounding nothing like herself.

This is what we do, she says, and here, he senses so much more than he'd expected to find in her; there's no way to define it, and she doesn't try to hide anything, not here. We protect the Federation against what would come against her, against what she would become. We protect our ships, our crews, our people.

Something tightens in his head, like what it must feel like to be a string being tuned on a guitar. Jim reaches clumsily for her hand; catching it, she brings it to her face and spreads each finger across the smooth skin of her cheek, her forehead, and lets out a shocked breath as the connection strengthens.

I cannot shield you from what will come, she says. But what is shared is halved; I can stabilize your mind when it begins.

That's what she's doing. Don't-- Like he can fucking stop her.

To protect your crew, there is little you will not do, she says, tightening the threads further--Jim wonders if his head can even hold this, so much of her here, relentless and ruthless. So I do this. Where you go, I will have no choice but to follow. You will fight, to protect me when you think you are too exhausted to protect yourself. You will not let it take you. You will not let it have you. Or it will have us both.

There's a final long twist, a string pulled too tight, then everything snaps; Jim finds himself collapsed against the back of the couch, panting into the ceiling with T'Prina sprawled messily across his lap, breath warm against his collar.

There's a headache, but honestly, Jim couldn't have expected anything less. "I'm putting you in the brig for a year," Jim mutters as he feels her sit up. Blearily, he watches her shift to the couch, one hand pressed to her forehead, a slight frown creasing the skin between her eyes. "What the hell--"

She raises her head curiously. "I have never hated you, Captain Kirk. Why would you have thought that?"

For the love of God. "Stop that! We're fucked, Cadet. This is not the time for--"

"That is possible," she says seriously, shaking herself as she straightens. "But it is unlikely. The period of time you will be functional has been effectively doubled, if not tripled. As a Vulcan, I am capable of keeping your mind focused--"

Jim thinks about strangling her. It's an increasingly attractive thought.

"--and stabilizing the disintegration of your personality," she finishes, coolly twisting a few stray braids away from her face. "I believe that will be sufficient--"

"You know we won't survive this."

T'Prina looks at him. "What did you tell Commander Spock? You--when you told him of the Kobayashi Maru--"

"How the fuck could you pick out that memory?"

"It is always there," she says, touching his temple. "What you are. What you will always be. What you chose to become. You said when there is no chance of success, when there is no choice--"

"--you only fail when you stop trying. A no-win only exists when you believe in it. Until then--" Jim stops, words catching in his throat, words he built a career on, a life on and maybe a relationship, too. "Until then--"

"Until then, anything is possible." She nods, dropping her hand. "This is where we shall prove it to be true. This will make anything possible."


T'Prina freezes. After a moment, both hands drop to her lap, and she draws in a deep breath.

You are my Captain, she thinks, carefully, clearly. And you are my friend. The brown eyes meet his. "Do you understand?"

Jim leans his head back on the couch. So very fucked. "Yeah, I do."

Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu
Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu


Sending T'Prina to the bridge just in case the residual desire to kill her manages to break through the exhaustion, Jim goes to the ornate desk, opening the terminal and pulling up the databases they'd downloaded. In the language of bureaucracy, there's everything they need to know about Romulan-Orion relations, but more than that, incontrovertible proof that the Orions had been behind the escalating hostilities between the Federation and the Romulan Empire.

"Computer, lock the door to my voice only," Jim tell it in Orion Prime. Changing screens, Jim takes a deep breath and pulls up the defensive capabilities of the ship and starts creating a series of tactical programs for when they cross the border. He doesn't have Chekov or Sulu, which means he has to depend on a computer to understand what he needs and when he needs it.

Yeah, this will end well, Jim thinks, starting to add the first set of instructions, letting Spock's knowledge guide him to write directly to the core memory itself, where he can get the fastest response time, though at the expense of system stability. System stability will be pretty much the farthest thing from anyone's mind if they can't get out of the line of fire of anyone shooting at them. The access to Spock's memories is easier this time, but Jim reminds himself if he starts talking about logic to phaser himself--it would give Spock too much satisfaction.

Breathe, he reminds himself. This will either end in death or getting back in range of Spock, and he's beginning to think either one is acceptable at this point.

In the background, he starts the compression sequence to fold everything they have into single-burst transmission size; before anything else, this has to get out and to someone who will read it and use it. Intact--he can't count on an Uhura or a Spock being able to clean it up.

Pulling up the communications log, Jim reads over the information T'Prina and her replacement had logged; his Romulan is pretty sub-par, but hey, mental breakdowns have useful side effects after all, and he can read enough to decide that under other circumstances, this would be highly worrying. Avis had been a very busy little contact the last few years, working between the Federation and Romulus, slowly but surely increasing suspicious activity; Nero must have been a godsend, and all the explanation of time rifts in the universe didn't remove the Romulan component from dominating everyone's mind. Even his own, Jim admits.

Two hours give him a working set of offensive and defensive programs, and by working, he means, enough to survive about five minutes. Going to the bridge, Jim loads them into the weapons memory as he familiarizes himself with the controls. While offensive isn't great, they hadn't stinted on defense at all. The power to hold the shields up is in question, but from the look of the configuration, they hooked it directly into the engines; they could lose warp and sublight and still stand up at least a little while against pretty much any weapons fire, at least until the environmentals fail. If the shields were in better shape, Jim reflects, they'd really have a chance here.

"Captain," T'Prina says, not looking up from her board, "I am starting a final diagnostic of ship's systems to locate the likely points of failure."

"And set up the reroutes? Yeah. Priority--communications, environmentals, defense, offense, engines."

"Communications?" T'Prina looks at him; he doesn't have to hear it to know what she's thinking. And she may be right; Jim doesn't like to think he'd walk into anything assuming he'd lose, but he's never had odds like this before either.

And that's just not on; Jim takes a deep breath and forces himself to think. Being realistic hadn't ever gotten him anywhere useful; why start now? Multi-state felons didn't one day wake up captain of a starship, and he's pretty sure they don't bang Vulcans like, ever.

"Well," he says, staring at the board. Everything depends on what they find at the border, but at a guess, if the Orions haven't figured out he's not dead yet, they're a lot stupider than their recent actions would suggest. "Communications, defense, offense, and hey, I don't know about you, but I can live without oxygen."

T'Prina's eyes narrow at the levity, but that doesn't hide the relief. "Captain--"

"Start the diagnostics. Rayiyah," Jim says, turning toward the startled looking Romulan, "while we have time, we need to go over a few things. Get your people and meet me in the office for a debrief."


Jim nods, counting down the time. A little over a day and a half. "Yeah. I have to teach you how to handle an engagement. Don't look like that; I train Starfleet cadets in hand to hand all the time. And I was amazing in tactics class and I beat the unbeatable cadet simulation of a no-win combat situation. Though that did require cheating, which in captainspeak is creative problem-solving."

"You have instructed Academy cadets three times, Captain," T'Prina adds unnecessarily, turning in her chair. It's possible she's learned the value of humor; Spock is going to hear about this and Jim will laugh so much. "But they were very educational."

"Captain," Rayiyah starts, eyes wide, and Jim shrugs, reaching to grab his arm, telling T'Prina, "Just call everyone up here that isn't in charge of making sure the engine doesn't explode. I think I know how we're going to do this. It'll be fun, or at least, not all that boring."

T'Prina nods seriously. "Yes, Captain" while Rayiyah stares at Jim and says, "We have heard stories of your insanity, Captain. I did not believe them."

"Yeah, no one does." Pushing him gently in the door, Jim grins. "Sit down and relax. You're about to get a semester of Not Dying in Space 101 in about a standard day."

Glancing at the helm, Jim checks their trajectory from habit, staring at the numbers. Leaning over, he pulls up their course.

"Captain?" T'Prina asks as Jim starts to type. "We are changing course?"

"Yeah." Jim maps the new course, watching the bright line that follows a direct path between the Laurentian Fleet and the growing Armada. "Course adjusted to one one three eight nine, mark five three six."

T'Prina frowns slightly. "That will take us--"

"Noticed that, yeah." His hand hovers over the final change, though, staring at the numbers. "T'Prina, do you believe in intuition?"

T'Prina slides over. "Course changed," she says, entering the final codes, then pulling back. "Intuition," she says firmly, "is not logical."

Jim's mouth twitches. "But we're doing it anyway?"

T'Prina gives the helm a faintly betrayed look. "It seems," she answers, "that we are."

Straightening, Jim shakes his head. "You have the bridge, Cadet T'Prina. I'll be with the Romulans teaching them how not to die."

"We are eighteen hours from the border of the Neutral Zone," Nyota says, rising from the Captain's chair as Spock enters the bridge. "Sensors indicate that the Fleet is already assembling."

"Efficient," Spock answers, wishing that the Federation had not abandoned its usual lackadaisical approach to events occurring at the border. "Doubtless we can assume that the Empire has cloaked vessels gathering as well."

"Probably." She looks at him thoughtfully. "I've picked up two secured transmissions to someone in the Fleet, telling them that the vote is still stalled. They really don't want to do this without Vulcan support."

"That is not a surprise." And in this instance, highly useful. Taking his seat, Spock considers his father, still deep in contemplation of his son's illogical course of action or Orion treachery or both at once; Sarek is efficient. "Status?"

"On route and everything's normal. A lot of Orion ships are popping in and out," she says. "So I assume Dar's information is right on Rayiyah taking over the ship."

"Dar was unusually eager to be of assistance," Spock observes. From comments made by Dar during discussion--it couldn't be called an interrogation without a great deal of creative license--Spock is under the impression Jim owes Dar for certain items acquired during an earlier transaction that Spock would very much like Jim to explain, in detail. "What is our current heading, Lieutenant Sulu?"

"Five four three nine eight mark six two," Lieutenant Sulu answers.

"On screen."

The viewscreen flickers, and Spock studies the two dimensional representation of their travel in three dimensional space. The projected Laurentian fleet positions are easily visible, less than fifty light-years from the border of the neutral zone, as are the last known positions of the Orion ships they had detected. From the pattern, Spock wonders how long they have been utilizing an illegal cloaking device without Federation knowledge; where they procured it is obvious.

Current trajectory indicates they will cross the border well out of maximum range of the Laurentian fleet. "Alter our course to one one three eight nine, mark five three six."

Sulu turns, startled. "Sir, that puts us right on the edge of the Laurentian fleet."

"I am aware of that, Lieutenant."

After a moment, Lieutenant Sulu turns back to the helm. "Altering course heading," he says, programming the new coordinates in. "Course altered, sir."

"Inform me when we have reached weapons rage," Spock says, rising from the chair. He can sense Nyota follow him to the ready room; as the door closes, he turns to face her, anticipating her objections.

Oddly enough, however, she pauses, frowning slightly.


"You have a reason for wanting to land right between the Laurentian fleet and where the Armada is probably going to emerge from the zone."

Spock considers his answer; to say there is a logical reason would be an exaggeration. But he is certain. "Yes."

He waits for her to ask him to elaborate, but instead, her expression shifts to speculative. "Commander," she says, holding Spock's eyes, "I need the terminal to check something."

Intrigued, Spock leans over the desk, turning it. Bracing a hand on the edge of the polished metal, Uhura says, "Computer, show our current course and mark the location of all other verified ships in that vicinity. Add speculative location of the Romulan armada in relation to fleet location."

A glowing yellow line spreads across the screen, marking the course. Staring at it, Uhura reaches out, tracing a finger from their end point toward the neutral zone, where a blob of green represents the Romulan Armada. "You gave absolute course directions, not relative," Nyota says distractedly. "The only time we do that from warp is when we're damn sure there's nothing there. You wouldn't, period. Except for now. And since you aren't trying to check yourself into sickbay because you think you've gone crazy--"

Spock thinks for a moment. "Lieutenant, do you believe in intuition?"

Nyota looks at him, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "Intuition," she says, flattening her voice in a way that Spock suspects is supposed to be a parody of his own; he wonders if Jim taught her that, "is not logical."

"This is true."

"But we're doing it anyway." She leans toward the terminal again. "Computer, map every potential route from Remus to the Enterprise's destination with an ETA within three to eight hours of ours."

Before their eyes, the screen blinks into a confusing blur of colors, lines appearing and vanishing, the scale shifting to bring Remus into view. Spock's studies each one, watching the computer create and discard, reassigning probability, then reaches out, touching a thin red line that's almost invisible: probability, twelve percent. "This one."

The computer seems to hesitate before it strengthens, darkening on the screen; Spock can see it in his mind as clearly as if he'd plotted it himself. Without meaning to, he touches a point on the line that's sixteen hours from the Neutral Zone border. "Here," Spock says, feeling strangely breathless; there is no logic in this. "He is here."

"Son of a bitch," Nyota breathes, mouth curving up in a shocked smile. "Of course. He stole a ship. Of course he did."

Spock takes a deep breath, fighting for calm. "He may not be in command--"

Nyota's finger stabs unsteadily at the screen, landing on their destination. "Flying into the middle of a face off between the Romulan armada and the Laurentian Fleet? You know anyone else who would think that was a good idea? Anywhere? Ever?"

"No," Spock admits, throat tight.

Nyota's shoulder presses against his, and for a second, he can feel her relief, a dizzy rush he can't make himself block or ignore, only share.

"Well," she says finally, looking at him with glowing eyes, "it looks like we better figure out his plan." Belatedly, Spock pulls away, but Nyota only grins, squeezing his arm before straightening. "Permission to call meeting of bridge staff in an hour?"

It take a moment to form the words. "Permission granted."

"We are approaching the border of the Neutral Zone," T'Prina says from the helm. Rayiyah, at the engineering board, watches the readings uneasily, uncertain as the safety margins start to show signs of strain. "Do not be alarmed, Rayiyah," she says distractedly. "The warp engines are functioning well within the margin of error."

Rayiyah's head jerks up, startled; before he can start to think a question, Jim turns in his chair, getting his attention. "Check with Leesa in Engineering and see what she says," he orders, distracting him. At the communications board, Elris is blessedly ignoring them, the entirety of her attention taken up listening to subspace traffic; she's no Uhura, but she's pretty good at figuring out what's important to listen for and what isn't.

Getting up, he goes to the helm, studying their course. "We'll exit warp between the Laurentian fleet and the border," Jim says. "Communications don't work through the cloak, so we'll have to uncloak as soon as we get in range of one of the warships. If they follow regulations--which you know, this is the Laurentian fleet, they don't do independent thought if they can help it--they'll challenge, we'll identify ourselves, they'll see I'm alive, we'll surrender the ship--"

"That seems straightforward," T'Prina answers, giving him a sideways glance. "You do not seem sure of success, however."

"Murphy's law," Jim says, dropping in his chair to frown at the viewscreen. "If it looks easy, it's not, and if it can go wrong, it will, and badly. If it goes right, that's just to trick you so you're not ready when it goes wrong."

"Humans," T'Prina observes, "have strange beliefs."

"No, I just have been on way too many missions," Jim sighs, slumping. Rayiyah's low-grade terror is grating on his last nerve.

"You have loaded several contingency plans," T'Prina answers, looking at the helm's computer. "I do not see--"


"But you aren't thinking of those," T'Prina says, sounding confused. "You are thinking of secrets."

Jim tilts his head up, eyes narrowing. She flinches, but she doesn't look away.

"T'Prina," Jim says slowly, "that in-retrospect-not-random ion storm began before I received the order to go to Starbase 3."

T'Prina opens her mouth, then stops. "Oh."

"Yeah." Jim watches the warp-curved stars. "That's what I'm worried about."

Behind them, Rayiyah surfaces from his mumbled conversation with Leesa, approaching the captain's chair projecting wariness. "Captain Kirk--"

"Feel better?" Jim asks, tilting his head back to look at Rayiyah. "Look, I know you're worried--"

"I wished to ask--"

"Captain, we are preparing to cross the border of the Neutral Zone," T'Prina says tonelessly. "Sensors indicate that thirteen Federation warships are holding position thirteen light-years from the closest edge."

"Anything on subspace?" Jim asks Elris. Looking startled to be addressed, Elris shakes her head frantically, hands dancing nervously over the board. "T'Prina, could you verify--"

"I have, Captain. All ships are maintaining subspace silence, and I cannot find any indication of intraship contact."


T'Prina cranes her neck, looking at him with faint aggravation. "I verified the readings twice, Captain."

"Keep on course and bring us out of warp halfway between them and the border. Rayiyah, inform the rest of the crew we're about to leave warp. It's going to be bumpy; we don't have the power to buffer it."

"Yes, Captain," Rayiyah answers, returning to the engineering board. Jim watches him until he's sure he's distracted, then looks at T'Prina. "Radio silence, sure. But not with each other. Move over. I want to check the sensors."

"Yes, Captain." Turning back to the board, T'Prina concentrates on getting them across the border while Jim pulls up the sensor scans and correlates it with communications. The ships seem normal enough; Jim notes the shuttlecraft weaving lazily between the Monarch, the Challenger, and the Lzxynt, which Jim suspects he will never be able to pronounce no matter how many bets he loses to Uhura.

"We have crossed the border," T'Prina says. "Preparing to leave warp in five, four, three, two, one."

Jim braces himself on the console as the ship shivers; Rayiyah stumbles, looking up with a faint air of offense before returning to his board. "Captain," he says, glancing at Elris, "everyone reports there have been no malfunctions."

That must be a miracle, Jim thinks distractedly as T'Prina deftly maneuvers them in sublight, long fingers moving expertly over the board. "Elris, check subspace again, would you?"

"Yes, Captain," Elris answers obediently. Jim finds himself staring at the fleet, the patterned movements of the shuttlecraft--speaking of, why the hell are shuttlecraft doing that?

"Captain," Elris says, "I cannot find any sign of--"

"Why are they fielding shuttlecraft when they think they're about to start fighting?" Jim says slowly. T'Prina jerks, startled, as Jim turns to Rayiyah. "Rayiyah, when you raised that ion storm--what level interferes with communications?"

Rayiyah frowns, looking at his readings. "Those are usually the first affected," he answers. "The Enterprise surprised us, Captain Kirk. It usually takes hours before a ship can re-establish internal communication, much less access to subspace channels."

Jim closes his eyes, feeling T'Prina's alarm. Yeah, they'd fixed that fast. It had been a tiny ion storm after all; no reason not to let Scotty play with Torren's equations. "Elris, try every communication channel but subspace; focus on line of sight and short distance--they're using the shuttles as goddamn tin cans."


"Did they hit them with an ion storm?" Jim says, trying to find historical conditions for the area in the database; what the fuck, Orion, too much computer power to slaving and not a tetra or two for basic reconnaissance of an area? "There's not even a star of the right type--"

"The type," Rayiyah says, "is immaterial."

Jim swings around. "You can start an ion storm with any star? Are you joking?"

Rayiyah is not joking, and Jim so doesn't have time for this. "What reason would there be to disable communications?" T'Prina asks, rerouting power to sensors to give him more range.

"Maybe they thought the vote wasn't going to go in favor of war," Jim answers distractedly. "Look, technically speaking here, all they actually need is one of those ships to fire across the neutral zone. They don't even need to go first; they just need to shoot a Romulan cruiser and that's it. It's an illegal war, but no one will care once it starts. Maybe they're bored and want to see if they can escalate this without outside support. I don't know and I don't care. We have to get a transmission to the Fleet somehow."

"Without dropping our cloak--"

"Yeah, I figured that out, thanks." Sitting back, Jim tries to make some kind of sense of what he's supposed to do with this. Spock couldn't have written a better no-win, and Jim's not sure you can hack the universe.

"We could attempt to reach a Federation planet," T'Prina says dubiously. Rayiyah's alarm is almost deafening. "I'm verifying the status of the warp engines now, Captain--"

Jim rubs a hand over his face as Rayiyah and Leesa carry on a frantic conversation that seems to consist of the many ways warp engines can go wrong, which isn't inspiring.

"--but I do not think we will be able to go very far," T'Prina continues. "Using maximum warp to reach here has reached beyond the most optimistic estimates. The engines were designed for single-burst warp--"

"Yeah, get there, enslave the population, get back, no cruising. I knew that." Staring at the ships, Jim mentally flips through every regulation he ever learned on procedure on warships, pulling up the schematics to remind himself how fast you die when one of them decides to swat. His summer of command training before getting the Enterprise had been somewhat abridged due to the need to get the new officers into space, according to Starfleet; Jim had nodded and never commented on the exclusion of basic instruction on Federation warships. He hadn't needed a class to learn everything there was to know about ships that could destroy star systems, and he'd never needed anyone to tell him Starfleet would give him control of one over the collective dead bodies of the Admiralty.

They're Starfleet, though. The rules of engagement even now won't let them fire on a ship without provocation, and Jim can be very unprovocative when he wants to be. "T'Prina, get us in hailing range of the Tarsus," he says, going back to the Captain's chair and taking a deep breath. "Then drop the cloak."


Jim blows out a breath. "Do it."

"I don't know," Nyota says, frowning over the shoulder of the current officer assigned to communications. "All subspace traffic just dropped."

Spock glances at Chekov, frowning over sensors. "Ensign?"

"I'm not picking up anything unusual, sir," Chekov says with a frown. "There's some interference in subspace, but not anything that would interfere with communications."

"Radio silence?" Nyota says, having managed to ease the junior communication officer all the way to the science station, one hand braced on the console. "Not unprecedented, but--"

"There is no logical reason to black out communications," Lieutenant Chekov says, glancing at Spock. "They aren't attempting to hide."

"Continue scanning," Spock answers. "Record any and all anomalies, no matter how seemingly insignificant."

Sulu's fingers pause abruptly. "Commander, an Orion ship just decloaked on this side of the Neutral Zone."

Uhura crosses to the helm. "On screen, Lieutenant. Identification?"

"Searching." Chekov frowns at the board for a moment before looking up at the ship with narrow eyes. "The configuration is unfamiliar; however--"

"It's an Orion F class cruiser," Spock answers. Aware of three sets of eyes on him, Spock looks up from his datapad. "A slaver vessel."

Uhura's mouth opens, then shuts abruptly, turning back to the screen. "Keep an eye on the power curves on the warships. I want to know when they start charging. What's the shield capacity on the Orion cruiser?"

"Not great, but they can stand up to a lot of fire," Lieutenant Sulu answers, studying Lieutenant Chekov's readings. I'm showing some unusual power distribution and a lot of patching. They've taken some damage. Warp readings are minimal; it looks like they've been taken offline."

"Logical," Spock murmurs; it's barely there, a faint sensation of presence. "Attempt to hail them."

"Attempting now," Uhura answers, going back to communications and checking the readings with a frown. "Subspace is scrambling communications," she says slowly. "I've seen this readings before. Torren, Lieutenant Gaila, report to the bridge immediately."

Spock meets her eyes. "An ion storm?"

"Commander!" Sulu says suddenly, "another Orion ship just decloaked. It's on intercept approach to the cruiser."

"Red Alert." Spock puts down the datapad, ignoring the faint tremor of his hands. "Put us on a intercept course between the cruiser and the Orion ship. Lieutenant Uhura, continue to attempt to hail the cruiser on all channels as well as all Fleet ships."

"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Sulu answers, sounding bewildered. "Setting intercept course."

"The power consumption curve on the warships is rising," Lieutenant Chekov says breathlessly. "Weapons are coming online. The second Orion ship is preparing to fire. Commander--"

"I see, Lieutenant Chekov," Spock answers. "Arm phasers. When we are in range, target the second Orion ship."

Lieutenant Chekov swings around. "Commander?"

"I believe," Spock says slowly, "that Captain Kirk will appreciate the assistance."

"The Orion ship is firing," T'Prina drones from the helm, seconds before the first hit. Grabbing for the arm of his chair, Jim stares at the viewscreen with a faint sense of betrayal. It really always did have to be the hard way.

"Start evasive maneuvers and return fire," he says. "Did you ID that other ship?"

"The long-range sensors are currently degraded beyond accuracy," T'Prina answers. "It is possible the second ship is an echo of--"

"We can hope," Jim answers, rubbing his temple. "All right kids, we're about to play a very fun game of escape imminent death. T'Prina, I'm taking the helm; get weapons and try to blow them out of the sky."

T'Prina gives him a surprised glance but moves over. Taking her seat, Jim pulls up the first of the engagement programs and loads it. "Rayiyah, you're on shields. Try to keep us alive."

"Yes, sir."

"The Federation ships are arming weapons," T'Prina says flatly. "They are not yet attempting to establish a lock."

"They're trying to figure out what the hell is going on," Jim answers absently. The Orion ship wouldn't be much of a challenge if their ship wasn't about two good hits from a salvage yard; the pilot is distinctly uninspired, and Jim's opinion of the captain isn't high. A glancing blow to their starboard shakes the ship; Jim grabs on for the edge of the helm and grimly changes course, trying to keep an eye on the Fleet power curves.

"The Orion has locked photon torpedoes on our starboard bow," T'Prina says. "Rayiyah, strengthen shields--"

"Our shields won't survive a direct hit even if we put everything we have over there. Continuing evasive maneuvers--lets see if I can get the Andromeda between us. They eat photon torpedoes for breakfast."

T'Prina gives him a sideways glance. "Captain--"

"Their shields are a hell of a lot better than ours and there are a lot of ships out there. I'm not going to cry over scratching their paintjob." Swinging the ship around, Jim winces at the way it shakes; they won't be able to do nearly as much as he wants to. Even sublight is starting to look like it wants to take a vacation. Passing beneath the Andromeda, Jim forces a sharp ninety degree turn and feels it like it's his own bones, but--

"The lock is disengaging," T'Prina says with a faint hint of relief. Jim grins; he hadn't thought the Orions would want to risk hitting one of the Fleet.

"Tell me we have communications."

"Not yet, sir," Elris answers. "Continuing to attempt compensation for subspace interference."

"I would kill for a tin can right now," Jim says, swinging back around the Fleet far enough to not look like a threat. The Fleet wouldn't interfere with what appeared to be an Orion engagement unless directly threatened; Jim's not entirely sure that would be a positive at this point. "Keep trying to--fuck."

The ship shakes at the next hit; phasers this time, but phasers are enough. "Shields, Rayiyah?"

"Starboard are at eighteen percent," Rayiyah answers, trying to sound calm and failing badly. "Port are seventy-eight--"

Another hit rocks through them; Elris and Rayiyah both lose their balance, hitting the floor with a litany of Romulan profanity that Jim tries to memorize as he ducks back around the Fleet and toward the Neutral Zone.

"Returning fire," T'Prina says. "Their shields are at seventy-two percent."

"Great." Blowing out a breath, Jim pulls the ship around. "Arm photon torpedoes and hit them, I don't care where."

"Locking." T'Prina's eyes flicker to the viewscreen. "Firing."

"Starboard shield at ten percent. Attempting to--"

"They're arming photon torpedoes," T'Prina says. Jim glances at the sublight engines power curves and leans back, looking at Rayiyah for a moment. The man's head jerks up, eyes wide.

Rayiyah. Time for Plan B. Now.

Rayiyah nods jerkily as Jim reaches over, grabbing T'Prina's shoulder and pulling her away from the helm. "Hey, kiddo? Need your attention for a second."

"Captain?" Jim takes the hypo from his tunic and pushes it against her throat. "What--"

"Like you said," he says, easing her into Rayiyah's waiting arms, "this is where we cheat. Elris, open shipwide comm." Elris nods slowly. "Everyone, it's time for Plan B. Report to the cargobay and pick a hibernation pod. Five minutes until full evacuation, so you'd better run." Nodding at Elris, Jim reroutes shields, putting everything they have around the cargo bay. "Now."

Getting to her feet, Elris gives Rayiyah an uncertain look before assisting him with T'Prina to the turbolift. As the doors close, Jim watches the readings, then shuts down life support and communications, rerouting T'Prina's power conduits into sublight and shields. Now he doesn't have to worry about burning out sublight, he can find out what this ship can take.

"All right," he says, feeling the headache come back, the screen beginning to shiver nauseatingly; right, he remembers this part. Without the sex component, it's even more unpleasant than it had been before, and that's saying something. "Let's do this."

"The Captain's shields are at ten percent," Chekov says bluntly. "They can't take another hit."

"He's keeping them moving," Sulu says, sounding impressed. "Didn't know Orion ships were that maneuverable."

Spock nods, watching the power consumption curves from Jim's ship. "The sublight engines have begun to overheat," he says. "Estimated time until failure--six minutes."

"We're eight minutes away," Sulu says. "Make that seven--come on, Captain," he murmurs. "I just need a little more time."

"Communications are still garbled," Uhura says as Torren and Gaila study her readings. "Ion storm?"

"Yes. They will not be able to create another one, however." Torren's eyes narrow thoughtfully. "If you would allow me to access communications, I think there may be a way to compensate for interference."

"Do it." Getting up, Uhura joins Spock, one hand resting lightly on the back of the captain's chair. "Chekov, status on those Fleet ships."

"Weapons are online and charged, but they're remaining neutral." Chekov pulls up another screen. "Commander, the Captain's current course seems to be headed into the Fleet."

"To protect him?" Gaila asks, watching the screen from beside Torren. "They'll withdraw unless directly threatened--"

Spock watches as the small ship seems to duck beneath the Andromeda, coming to a relative stop. "Commander, he's--dropping shields."

Spock stands up. "Scan the area around the ship."

"Scan--" Sulu narrows sensors, focusing them on the small area of space. "There's--the cargo bay doors are open--it's lifepods, sir. I'm getting a count now."

Uhura straightens. "What's the crew complement?"

"Twenty five--there're five hundred and eighty-three pods," Sulu says, frowning. "How could they fit that many people--"

"The missing crew," Uhura breathes. "How long until we're in range of the Orion ship?"

"Five minutes," Sulu says grimly as they watch it approach Jim's ship. "He's blocking the Orions from the pods."

"He believes one of the Fleet ships will retrieve them," Spock answers. "Or force the Orion ship to risk direct fire on the Fleet ships to destroy them."

"They won't do anything without orders," Uhura says grimly. "Sulu, get us between the Captain and that Orion ship now."

"Four minutes."

"Power distribution has been altered," Chekov says. "He's rerouting everything into shields."

"As expected."

"The Orion ship is locking photon torpedoes," Chekov says. "Firing…. It's a direct hit. The shields have collapsed."

Jim shakes his head as he pulls himself back into the helm chair, reaching up to touch his forehead with a wince of pain, fingers coming away slick with blood. He really should have braced himself better.

"Get the pods," Jim tells the Fleet. "Just--get them. Or at least surround them and look dangerous, I don't even care."

Vision is hazier than he likes, but at this point, readings aren't going to tell him anything useful anyway. Power, gone. Sublight, not doing great. And he's pretty sure with T'Prina safely asleep, his flirtation with sanity is coming to a fast end. "Which is why I can talk to myself and it's okay. Crazy people can do that."

"I concur," Rayiyah says calmly; for a hopeful second, Jim thinks he's hallucinating. But no; Rayiyah is settling beside him like the suicidal idiot he apparently turned into when Jim wasn't paying attention, taking control of the ship. "However, in our acquaintance, I had already come to the conclusion you were not sane."

"So--not a hallucination." Jim takes a deep breath. "We're like one minute from being blown up, you know."

"Perhaps two." Rayiyah types something into the helm. "I've completed rerouting all power to shields and impulse engines to keep us between the Orion ship and the pods."

"Huh." Jim squints, trying to bring the readings into focus, but it's not working. "Right. So we die in two minutes?"

"I hold hope for three," Rayiyah answers placidly. Rolling his eyes is a mistake; the headache increases, and for a second, the bridge seems to waver into something far more familiar. His crew, his bridge, his extremely pissed off domestic partner, who is going to be even more pissed that Jim couldn't manage to finish what he started. Jim wonders if he updated his will bequeathing Spock to Uhura. Maybe they'll name their first kid after him.

You are less amusing than you believe you are, Jim.

He's--definitely hallucinating. "What's the Fleet doing?"

Rayiyah hesitates. "Nothing has changed."

Jim opens his eyes. "You know I can read your mind, right? It can't be a secret at this point."

"I know." Rayiyah continues calmly adjusting their course. "They are attempting to withdraw."

Son of a fucking bitch. "Fuck." Jim tries to remember what shape the warp core is in. If there's any juice left, they can set off a chain reaction and use themselves like a dangerously unstable bomb if the Orion ship comes close enough. They'll lose the memory core and the databases, but he can live with that if it buys those lifepods time. "Get the self-destruct up," Jim says hoarsely as the bridge wavers again. "The range should be enough to get them too."

Jim, how much time before the self-destruct activates?

Rayiyah affirms the request, and Jim lets himself lean back, enjoying the comfortable view of the Enterprise bridge, where Uhura seems to be close to strangling Sulu (not new), Chekov looks incredibly earnest (not new) and--Torren is at communications. Huh.

"The Orion ship has locked on," Rayiyah says calmly. "Self-destruct has been initiated." Jim glances casually at the numbers. Two minutes.

"Wonderful." Jim squints, frowning at Torren as he stands up, turning to look at Uhura. "You know, the last time, I didn't have nice hallucinations. They were all mountains and bells and horrible ways to die with sharp weapons and strangulation, of all things. Who the hell thinks ritual strangulation is appropriate to a marriage ceremony? That's what I want to know."

Jim can feel Rayiyah's sharp glance. "Never mind," he sighs as he gets a glance at the viewscreen. The Fleet is slowly but steadily moving away and being an utter bitch. "All right," he says, forcing himself to straighten and focus on the board. "They'll be okay," he tells himself. "This will work."

"The Orion ship is preparing to fire."

The viewscreen still isn't his, and to his surprise, he sees his ship suddenly in view, tiny and broken, the only thing between the Orion ship and the lifepods. "When the Orion ship goes, the Fleet will check out the pods."

"Communications--" Rayiyah starts.

"Don't worry," Jim says as he watches the screen fading to black. "T'Prina's got my codepicker's beacon on. They'll be fine. They're home."


Jim tries to focus on his bridge--if he's going to die, he's going to watch, dammit--but it dissolves again, and Nyota's fingers are wrapped around his arm. I'm trying to die well here.

What did you call yourself? A literary trope that combines periods of unconsciousness in conjunction with bandits--

Jim snorts a laugh. I am not a Regency heroine, Spock.

On the contrary, Spock answers, distant amusement a faint glaze over chilled focus, this time, I believe you are.

Sulu has never met a dangerous starship maneuver that he didn't love; Spock feels Jim slipping away and tightens his hold on the fragile touch. "One day, Jim," he murmurs, "you must introduce me to the classics of this interesting literary genre."

Almost effortlessly, the Enterprise slides between the cruiser and the Orion ship, taking the photon torpedo directly in aft shields; Spock steadies himself with a hand on the arm of his chair.

"Arm photon torpedoes and return fire," Spock says. "Engineering, prepare for single mass transport; five hundred and eighty-three lifepods and two humanoid life signs from the Orion cruiser on my mark."

"We'll have to drop shields," Uhura says distractedly, leaning over Torrens' shoulder. "Anything?"

"Almost have it, Lieutenant," Torren answers tightly.

"The Fleet has paused," Chekov says worriedly. "They're scanning us."

"What are the chances they have orders about the Enterprise?" Uhura says rhetorically. "Get me something, Torren."

"Photon torpedoes locked. The Orion ship is attempting evasive maneuvers," Sulu says. "Firing."

"Drop shields. Commander Scott, orient on Captain Kirk's codepicker signal and transport everything in a five kilometer range, adjusted for drift. Transporter room one, beam the Captain and the other individual from the cruiser. Self-destruct will initiate in less than one minute."

On the screen, the Orion ship shudders under the direct hit, but the entirety of Spock's concentration is aimed at the cruiser, locking his hold on Jim's mind.

"Transport initiated," Transporter Room One reports as Commander Scott says, "Patterns locked. Transporting now."

"Dr. McCoy and Healer Sorin, report to Transporter Room One for emergency medical assistance. The Captain is suffering from massive cerebral hemorrhaging."

"On my way."

"The Andromeda has locked weapons on us," Sulu says. "Weapons are charged."

Spock shuts out the bridge, feeling the second that Jim's pattern disperses and withdraws before he can be captured in the aftershocks--and then re-coalesces in the transporter room as Jim collapses onto the floor. "Commander Scott--"

"Got everything," Commander Scott says as Transporter Room one announces they have the Captain and his companion, following with, "Commander Spock, the Romulan that accompanied Captain Kirk needs to speak to you. He says it's urgent."

Spock nods. "Put him on, Crewman."

"Commander Spock?" The man's voice is familiar; Spock sees Uhura straighten, recognizing the voice. "We need the datacore from the ship. The Captain's orders. It explains--"

Spock glances at Sulu.

"Twenty seconds. Piece of cake. Scotty, what cargo hold is open?"

"Four," Commander Scott says, sounding suspicious. "What are you--"

"Prepare for transport of computer core--now."

From Communications, Torren abruptly turns around. "Got it. Commander--"

"Get up," Uhura orders, pushing him out of the chair and sitting down. "Federation vessels, this is Lieutenant Uhura of the starship Enterprise. Do not open fire. I repeat, do not open fire."

Scratchy and oddly toneless, a voice comes over the comm. "Enterprise, you are ordered to surrender immediately to--"

Gaila touches Uhura's shoulder. Uhura hesitates, then nods, sitting back as Gaila answers.

"This is Lieutenant Gaila of Starfleet Operations. By order of Starfleet Security, the Enterprise is to be detained but not boarded, authorization ultraviolet." Gaila meets Uhura's eyes. "Initiate direct contact with the Federation Council and inform Admiral Pike that we have information regarding Orion-influenced aggression in Federation space and the loss of five experimental Starfleet ships. Captain Kirk and Cadet T'Prina have been retrieved and will report as soon as we are given permission to return to Headquarters."

There's a bemused pause. "Repeat authorization, Enterprise."

"Authorization ultraviolet. We will wait for confirmation."

Lieutenant Nyota Uhura
Lieutenant Nyota Uhura

Dr. McCoy is waiting for him at the doors of Starfleet Medical, circles like bruises beneath bloodshot blue eyes. Despite the fact that Jim is not under his direct care any longer, Dr. McCoy had insisted on being involved in all aspects of his treatment, a circumstance that Spock has chosen to find logical. "Spock."

"Dr. McCoy."

Straightening, Dr. McCoy jerks his head toward the hall instead of the medical facility. "Come on."

"Dr. McCoy--"

"I need to talk to you," Dr. McCoy says slowly, as if he's uncertain Spock understands the words. "I'm being subtle."

After a brief hesitation, Spock nods, following McCoy down the hall and through an exterior door that leads to a small garden that the visitors to Starfleet Medical sometimes utilize. As Dr. McCoy takes a seat on one of the small stone benches, he rubs his face tiredly, looking years older than he had even during those first frantic days on the ship while he and Sorin had worked to stabilize Jim's condition after placing him in coldsleep and attempting to repair the damage that Jim and T'Prina had suffered (the latter when she was removed from coldsleep).

"Sorin thinks T'Prina will wake up sometime today," Dr. McCoy says. "Torren just came out of trance and her EKGs are showing she went into REM a few hours ago. It looks like she'll be okay. The hibernation halted the hemorrhaging early enough and we repaired most of the damage while she was still down. Sorin thinks most of the coma is associated with Vulcan reaction to coldsleep; you go down hard and come up slower the longer you're under."

Hands behind his back, Spock nods, knowing that Dr. McCoy is working his way up.

"Jim's still stable." Shoulders slumping, Dr. McCoy seems unable to meet his eyes. "But the brain scans aren't changing. He's showing about on level with Melody."

"You have a reason for reiterating what you know I am already aware of."

"I do. Admiral Pike wants to pull the plug."


Dr. McCoy looks up, blue eyes sharp. "Spock--"

"The damage was corrected using Sorin's brain regeneration techniques," Spock answers flatly. "I can sense Jim's continued--presence. He is not dead."

"You're the only one that does," Dr. McCoy says, voice cynical. "And there are several Vulcan healers who are willing to report you are not rational in your suppositions due to your emotional state."

"They are wrong."

Dr. McCoy cocks his head. "You're sure about that?"

Faintly, Spock feels something pushing through the carefully constructed calm he's surrounded himself with for weeks; it feels like anger. "I am certain."

"Even if the telepathic healers agree? That he's brain dead? That you need to kill him?"

To his surprise, Spock realizes he's hovering over Dr. McCoy, and it's only the fact that this is Dr. McCoy, Jim's closest friend, that is stopping him from doing--something. "They are incorrect," Spock says, voice low. "He is alive. And he will be healed."

The belligerent expression on Dr. McCoy's face dissolves into relief. "Good. If you had said anything else, I was going to have to file for emergency custody, and that shit would be tricky with you as the spouse on record." Bracing his hands on the stone seat, he turns his head toward the door as it opens. "You're late."

Nyota smiles at them as she comes down the stairs. "Sorry, Leonard. Gaila came by; she has friends in Starfleet Med and wanted to warn me."

"That girl has friends everywhere," Dr. McCoy says, shifting over on the seat so she can join him. "What did you tell her?"

"That we're on it." Looking at Spock, her smile fades. "They're going to talk to you later this week, once T'Prina's up and about; Gaila gave me the heads-up and I told Leonard to find you as soon as Security was done with you for the day before they could set up a meeting."

"I thank you." After a moment of consideration, Spock takes the bench parallel to them. "Healer Sorin has contacted Betazoid on my behalf. When he takes Melody to the hospital there, he has offered to take Jim as well and will undertake his care until I can join them."

When that will be, Spock cannot be sure; there's been a week of private inquiries from all branches of Starfleet, and Technician Rayiyah and his crew became uncommunicative after the first day, insisting on Jim's presence. As that is impossible, the inquiries have been--unpleasant, to say the least.

As if following his thoughts, Uhura says, "Gaila also wanted us to know that without Rayiyah's testimony, we're going to have problems, even with the datacore. They need a lot of translation and there aren't many people who are fluent enough in Romulan and the Orion dialects to accurately translate. The missing crews don't know anything; most don't even remember the attacks."

"Long term hibernation commonly causes retrograde amnesia proportional to the amount of time in deep sleep," Dr. McCoy says. "They might eventually remember more, but it's not reliable, and it could take years anyway."

"Nor do they trust me or Gaila right now to do the translations," Nyota adds with a cynical smile. "However, Ambassador Sarek vetoed the war vote on the grounds that there's enough evidence that the original conclusion of Romulan aggression is now in doubt, and it looks like the Council will agree, though they aren't happy about it."

Which leaves the crew of the Enterprise in a potentially politically embarrassing position. That Captain Kirk was kidnapped is indisputable; that he returned and with the crews of the missing ships is also unquestioned. But the entities responsible are not entirely clear, even with Rayiyah's initial testimony of Orion involvement. The actions of the crew of the Enterprise are also under review; there has been discussion of a full court martial being instituted, and it seems probable that it will come to pass. Those most insistent seem to be exclusively grouped with those who had been vocal on behalf of war with the Empire.

"Someone's talking to Rayiyah," Nyota says softly; Spock straightens in surprise. "I don't know what they said, but it scared him badly, and he was pretty damn nervous before. His testimony is already considered suspect, and he doesn't trust anyone here but Jim."

"That is logical," Spock answers as Dr. McCoy nods glumly. The truth is, Rayiyah has every reason to distrust Starfleet, and for his own safety. From what Spock had understood during their first and only meeting on the Enterprise, before Rayiyah and his subordinates were transferred to the Andromeda for the journey back to Starfleet Headquarters, Captain Kirk had promised his personal protection before Starfleet, and there is no one else Rayiyah trusts.

"If they'd let you talk to him again," Nyota says in frustration, "I think he'd talk. He's asked to see you, but with the inquiry on everyone on the Enterprise, none of us can even see him, even Gaila. And Mitchell was sent off as soon as they could get him into space."

As examples of political maneuvering, no one is being subtle; they don't need to be, Spock reflects. Admiral Pike's influence is all that has kept them from being court martialed so far, but the longer Jim remains in a coma, the less likely it is that they will avoid it.

"If we could just get him to talk." Dr. McCoy stands up jerkily, pacing toward the far side of the garden. "Rayiyah's got everything; he came up with the ion storm program and was there for the capture of at least two of those ships as well as Jim's kidnapping. There's no one here he trusts, and God knows who might have gotten to him since he was taken to the Andromeda. They don't trust him, but they'd have to believe him when he shows them how he created the ion storms."

Nyota's expression changes abruptly. "There's someone who can see him," Nyota says slowly, staring at the door with an arrested expression. "Someone from the Enterprise, and someone he'll trust. After all, she was there for all of it."

Dr. McCoy stops, blue eyes narrowing as Spock rises to his feet, wondering why he hadn't considered that option. "You said T'Prina would be awake in a few hours."

"Sorin says five, and he's never wrong," Dr. McCoy answers, turning abruptly toward the door. "You two, go do something somewhere else, somewhere you'll be noticed; don't be here when she wakes up. I'll take care of it."

"You aren't allowed to see her either," Nyota says. "All Enterprise crew are restricted from--"

"Not me," Dr. McCoy says with a faint hint of glee. "Sorin. He's the healer on record thanks to their physician releases for a mindhealer. Jim changed his before he was taken because of what happened at the Colony--"

"Right." Standing up, Nyota takes Spock's arm. "Let's find Admiral Pike and take him and Gaila to dinner in the city. Maybe Magoo's."

"That is a bar frequented by Starfleet personnel," Spock answers slowly. "However, their onion rings are considered superlative."

Dr. McCoy jogs up the stairs, looking back only long enough to give them a feral grin. "Have fun, kids. I'll be in touch."

Gaila takes the last of the onion rings with a glare at Admiral Pike when he looks as if he might dispute custody. Rolling his eyes, the Admiral turns his attention to his other companions as he picks up his beer. "You know, when you said dinner, I assumed you meant someplace that wasn't so much like work." His eyes flicker over the myriad cadets and officers. Even in civilian attire, it's easy to tell who is who; the officers avoid their table after acknowledging Pike; the cadets are oblivious to them altogether.

"I like it here," Gaila offers, dipping the onion ring into one of the small containers of condiments she'd ordered, bright orange-red and faintly sweet, that she had said was a Andorian delicacy. Nyota had avoided it due to the effect it had on human digestive systems, preferring an ancient Terran recipe of Japanese origin that to Spock's palate was extremely spicy, and a salty mixture that originated in the United States of Africa that she'd introduced to Spock when she'd been his student. It is, he admits, a preference of his own as well.

"You're up to something," Admiral Pike says without surprise or rancor. "Pass me the fries, Nyota."

"Maybe we just want to spend time with our favorite mentor," Nyota answers, taking one herself before passing the basket. "It's been a while since we could catch up."

Admiral Pike raises his eyebrows in polite disbelief as Gaila gives him the ketchup. "So nothing to do with Cadet T'Prina waking up today?" he says softly. "No, don't confirm; good thinking, all of you, if you think she'll be able to get him to talk."

"She will," Spock answers as one of the waitresses brings another vegetable tray and reaching for a krupenta slice. "You will observe, I assume?"

"Every time they talked to him officially," Admiral Pike says, with the faintest emphasis on officially that escapes no one's attention. "Spock, not that I doubt Cadet T'Prina is extremely competent--she's Vulcan, after all--but--"

"She will understand what her actions will accomplish," Spock answers. Nyota nods.

"Her bondmate's family is known to be aligned with the war effort," Admiral Pike answers, voice low enough to go no farther than the table. "And at Starfleet, her sympathies have generally fallen in line with official colonial attitudes and policy--"

Nyota leans forward. "That petition for a stay on the exception to the Grayson Test--has the Federation Council made a date to hear the official speaker?"

Admiral Pike frowns thoughtfully. "Not yet; the filers state that the speaker is medically unavailable--" Pike stops, eyes widening. "T'Prina?"


Admiral Pike lets out a breath in a low whistle. "I thought you were crazy when you approved her internship. Her family was extremely politically conservative on Vulcan; the only reason she applied to Starfleet was due to the strong encouragement of Elders to get more Vulcans into Starfleet to keep their political influence in the Federation. I'm surprised, to say the least."

Spock reaches for a round red tomato. "I am not."

Admiral Pike gives them all a bemused look. "You aren't."

"Nope." Nyota smirks as she picks up a slice of krupenta. "She met Jim."

Dr. McCoy accompanies Admiral Pike back to his apartments in the city for what Spock assumes will be an evening of sampling various synthehol beverage mixtures along with the chess they admit to. As they arrive in the Starfleet officer's quarters, he hesitates, turning to Nyota. "I understand if you have other plans for the evening--"

"I was going to ask you if you felt like guiding me through the advanced meditation techniques you taught me," Nyota answers. "But it looks like I don't need the excuse after all."

Spock can't make himself disregard his own relief. "I--thank you."

Nyota smiles as she enters the code to enter the building. "I'm glad you feel like you can ask. And I do need help with it; I keep breaking concentration fifteen minutes in and it's getting frustrating."

As they enter Spock's quarters, she finds the meditation rugs and the small brazier that Spock uses to focus on occasion. Seating herself, she looks up, head tilted. "You really want to ask about Leonard, don't you?"

Startled, Spock almost turns the heat too high; Nyota laughs, leaning back on one arm as he settles himself.

"You can ask," she says, still grinning. "I promise not to take it as prurient jealousy."

Spock hesitates; a part of it is, in fact, prurient jealousy, and it is beneath him to acknowledge the emotion exists, much less that he feels it. Looking at her over the brazier, he sees understanding as well as amusement.

"I know you, you know," she says, as if she was able to follow his thoughts as she could on the rare times they had melded. "It's okay. I wasn't exactly completely unmoved with you and Jim, you know."

He hadn't; he's not sure if the relief he feels is appropriate. "I--am happy for you, if you and Dr. McCoy--"

"We bonded over the antics of our best friends," she says lightly. "It's been a lot of bonding. You both get up to a lot of antics."

Spock doesn't smile, but a part of him wants to.

"He's a good man," she says, looking distant for a moment, a secret smile curving her mouth. "No, that's--he's brilliant. I don't know where it's going, or even if it will go anywhere, but I like what we have. It's--different." Her eyes focus on him again. "He's not the reason you and I didn't work out. Not in any way. It was a while after you and Jim that we decided to see how we did together as more than friends."

Spock takes a breath. "I did not believe you had--"

"No. I meant, it wasn't because you were Vulcan that we didn't work out. And I know you suspected it. I just didn't know how to explain."

"You should not feel you have to."

Abruptly, she pushes the brazier aside, reaching for his hand; surprised, he lets her take it.

"It wasn't because I wanted someone human," she says steadily. "It wasn't because I knew you had feelings for Jim; they weren't a threat to you and I. And you know I have feelings for you now. You wouldn't ask, so that's why I'm telling you. Don't ever think it was who and what you are that was unacceptable. Vulcans do this differently from humans, I know. We don't know instantly on a meld whether it will work. We have to find out the long way. And I think we both knew at the end it wasn't going to work for us; I broke it off because we both deserved to find someone that could. You just--got ahead of me there."

Spock tightens his grip on Nyota's hand, not able to articulate what he thinks he wishes to say. "Tomorrow," he says slowly, "I would appreciate your company; I require consultation with the Vulcan Embassy." Her expression settles into understanding. "I will need my father's assistance."

"No problem." Pulling back, she reaches for the brazier, then looks at him with a mischievous smile. "Just one more thing," she says, leaning forward, eyes intent. "Tell me Jim was jealous. At least a little."

"I do not think it would be appropriate to reveal Jim's personal feelings."

"That," Nyota says, mouth curving in a smile, "is not a denial."

Spock considers his answer. "No, it is not."

On returning to his quarters after completing his dawn meditation three days later, Spock sees a Starfleet cadet waiting at his door.

"Commander Spock," the cadet says as Spock comes into view, looking frantic; even his tentacles seem to be vibrating. "Admiral Komack and Admiral Pike request your presence immediately. Please come with me."

That is unexpected. "Very well, Cadet. Have you been waiting long?"

"They couldn't reach you in your room, so I volunteered," the cadet says. "Cadet Ddgrr, Commander."

Spock recognizes the name; it's a cadet from one of Jim's advanced combat classes, a very young Denebian third year.

As they leave the personnel quarters and emerge into the green courtyard between the buildings, Spock enjoys the relative lack of students and faculty this early in the morning; it had not been particular edifying to be the center of surreptitious attention whenever he emerged in the public eye.

"Permission to--" the cadet hesitates. "Um, I'm not sure how to word this. To ask a question, I guess?"

"Of course." Spock suspects he knows what the question is.

"How is Captain Kirk?"

"He is currently stable, though still comatose." Spock thinks for a moment before adding, "Healer Sorin is overseeing his care and is doing all he can to discover how to awaken him."

The cadet swallows, though Spock can't be sure; Denebian physiology can be somewhat bewildering, and they possess neither saliva as hominids define it, or throats, per se. "There's--talk about--that he's not going to--"

"His condition is serious," Spock answers. "But Healer Sorin believes further treatment is warranted."

The boy is silent for a few seconds; Spock doesn't need to read his thoughts to know what he wants to ask.

"He is alive," Spock says quietly. "And he will awaken."

Almost imperceptibly, Cadet Ddgrr relaxes. "Thanks," he breathes, not looking up. "I--there are a lot of rumors."


"A lot," Ddgrr says, with the faintest emphasis that captures Spock's full attention. "You know how it goes. Everyone's talking and no one knows where it's coming from."

"I remember from my time stationed at the Academy," Spock answers, intrigued despite himself. "It was always--difficult to tell truth from speculation."

"And sometimes, from what people are making up altogether." Ddgrr stops himself. "I--a lot of us are pulling for Captain Kirk, Commander."

Spock looks at the earnest cadet, ignoring the faint pang. "Thank you, Cadet."

As they ascend the stairs, Ddgrr pauses before reaching for the door. "Cadet T'Prina is with them. That's all I know for sure." Cadet Ddgrr opens the door as two members of Starfleet security approach. "Komack's pretty unhappy, but Admiral Pike said to get you anyway. Good luck, Commander."

Cadet Ddgrr was accurate; Komack is extremely displeased and does not bother to conceal it. It is sometimes a surprise to Spock that he has advanced so quickly in the admiralty; he is not subtle.

Admiral Pike, however, controls his expression admirably; only the amusement in his eyes is any indication of his feelings. "Commander Spock," he says, with a slight emphasis on his title, "thank you for joining us despite the early hour."

"I apologize I did not respond earlier; I was meditating in the gardens," Spock answers with a salute to both men. "How can I be of service?"

"Cadet T'Prina insists that regulations require the presence of her commanding officer," Komack says flatly. "As Kirk's still unavailable, that's you."

"Cadet T'Prina is a model officer," Spock answers mildly. "Where is she?"

"She and Sorin are in there, along with her bondmate," Komack says, thumb pointing toward a conference room to the left. "She seems to think she can get Rayiyah to talk and wants you to observe. Under the circumstances, Spock, I'm sure you'll agree that I be present."

"We'll both be present," Admiral Pike interjects smoothly before Komack can continue, gesturing toward the door as he directs his chair from behind the small desk. "If you would, Spock?"

T'Prina's relief when she sees him is almost palpable; her shields are still very weak. Spock's unsurprised by Healer Sorin's presence; he would insist, and Starfleet would have no grounds to deny him as T'Prina's physician of record, no matter his presence on the Enterprise during the retrieval of Captain Kirk. He doubtless insisted that Torren accompany T'Prina as her bondmate to assist him, and potentially to give her the familiarity of his mind when her own was only so recently damaged.

"Cadet, Healer, Torren," Spock says to each in turn. "I understand you are going to attempt to speak to Rayiyah."

"I am, Commander." Her expression doesn't betray her personal thoughts, which must displease Komack. "I was present during his negotiations with Captain Kirk. I predict I shall be able to convince him to cooperate with Starfleet."

Komack's expressions sours further. "You must be very persuasive, then, Cadet. Whenever you're ready. I don't have all day."

"May Healer Sorin accompany me?"

"No, and not your bondmate, either." Komack points at the observation window. "We'll be watching through here and two security are going with you--"

"I would prefer to be alone, Admiral," T'Prina says after Admiral Pike gives an almost infinitesimal shake of his head. If Spock hadn't been watching for it, he never would have seen it, nor the flicker of her eyes toward him. "If Technician Rayiyah feels less threatened, he may more easily part with information."

"That's fine; they can observe here with us and get in there if you have any trouble," Admiral Pike says before Komack can respond. T'Prina gives them both a grave nod before turning her chair toward the door that a security officer opens for her. Spock approaches the window to watch with Admiral Pike as she takes her place at the table and places a datapad in front of her.

"Bring in Technician Rayiyah," Komack says into his communicator before coming to the window as well. "No security, by request of the cadet and approved by Admiral Pike."

Admiral Pike hides a smirk as the second set of doors to the observation room open and Technician Rayiyah enters alone. He looks more tired than Spock would have predicted, wearing a standard Starfleet coverall as well as a pair of restraints on both hands and feet. Spock doesn't doubt there's also been a tracker added somewhere on his person.

Rayiyah blinks at the sight of T'Prina, and abruptly, he asks a question in swift, colloquial Romulan. The universal translator struggles to translate anything but T'Prina's, then Captain Kirk's names, but T'Prina's answer is in standard. "He is still unconscious, Technician Rayiyah, but stable. I observed him one hour before I requested this meeting. On my behalf, I thank you for your inquiry. Starfleet Medical has stated I will be released within the next three days, barring unforeseen complications."

"What the hell is wrong with the translator?" Komack murmurs.

Spock answers him. "The Romulan available in the core matrix is still rudimentary, and Technician Rayiyah is currently utilizing the less formal Remus dialect."

"We understood him fine earlier." Komack glares at the back of T'Prina's head. "How's she know it?"

"She spent several days in his company," Spock answers. "As a Vulcan, her memory is flawless and she adapted her Romulan to his dialect."


T'Prina says, almost as if she had heard them, "If possible, Technician, speak the primary Romulan dialect for the benefit of my superiors. The translation matrix has not yet been updated with the Remus dialect, though I expect that Lieutenant Uhura has already begun the additions."

"Very well." Folding his hands on the table, he glances once toward the location of the observation window before focusing on T'Prina. "You understand my wariness in speaking before Captain Kirk is available, Cadet."

"I do. That is why I asked to see you. As a cadet, I cannot offer the same assurance that Captain Kirk did. However, as citizen of the Vulcan colony, I can. I have been authorized to speak on behalf of Ambassador Spock of the Vulcan Colony, who has extended the same terms granted to you by Captain Kirk."

Rayiyah's eyes flicker to the observation window. "Captain Kirk's bondmate?"

"No, though they share the same clan," T'Prina answers easily. "As it is close to the end of his wife's gestation, they are currently on route to Terra for Starfleet Medical to oversee the birth of their second child. He has offered his aid and assistance, as well as to speak on your behalf before Starfleet and the Federation Council." T'Prina pushes the datapad across the table. "The Vulcan Elders have appointed him liaison for all Romulan defectors to the Federation, with the ability to offer sanctuary to those who wish to seek it with us. Ambassador Sarek, Vulcan representative to the Federation Council, introduced and passed a motion before the Council that recognizes Ambassador Spock as the Federation's official representative for Romulan citizens in the Federation as of three hours ago."

Komack blinks, leaning forward with a shocked expression. "How the hell did she pull that off? She's been awake for three days!"

Locking his hands behind his back, Spock doesn't permit his expression to change as Rayiyah reads through the datapad warily.

"This is what I understand Captain Kirk would have requested on your behalf," T'Prina says. "I am acting as his representative, as his bondmate would if he were not currently restricted from contact with you and your colleagues." T'Prina pauses to take back the datapad. "If you wish, I can act as Ambassador Spock's representative until he has arrived and is able to take his place with you."

Rayiyah nods slowly. "Yes. I would--prefer your assistance, Cadet T'Prina. Thank you."

T'Prina slides the datapad back across the table. "Please indicate here that you accept me as Ambassador's Spock's representative and through me, the offer extended by Ambassador Spock on behalf of the Vulcan Elders. That will permit me to be present at your future interviews with any member of Starfleet and for you to request my presence at any time you require."

Rayiyah studies her thoughtfully, meeting her eyes before murmuring something that the translator is unable to interpret. T'Prina inclines her head. Rayiyah presses his finger against the screen to indicate his agreement before giving her the datapad.

"I would like Admiral Komack and Admiral Pike to join us now, with your permission. It will expedite the process if you can explain to them as well as to me the events surrounding the capture of five experimental Starfleet vessels, as well as the abduction of Captain Kirk and myself."

Rayiyah licks his lips nervously, eyes flickering toward the observation window. "You--trust them?"

"Admiral Pike was advisor to both Captain Kirk and Commander Spock and was instrumental in training them as Starfleet officers. There is no higher compliment to his competence or his integrity that can be given." T'Prina waits, showing no signs of impatience as Rayiyah considers.

"Will--will security be present?"

T'Prina doesn't give so much as a twitch to indicate everything that single question means. "They are required, but specific officers can be requested. If you will trust me, I will speak to Ambassador Komack and gain permission to ask for them to attend you. Do you wish me to do so?"

"Yes, please." Rayiyah almost slumps in relief. "Thank you, Cadet."

"If you will excuse me, I will make your requests to Admiral Komack. I know you are aware of the observation window to our right; I will be in that room and you will be left alone until I return."

Rayiyah hesitates, then nods. Gravely, T'Prina moves her chair back from the desk and toward the door. Komack signals for security to open the door. As she comes through, she looks at Admiral Komack and says, "If there is no objection to Rayiyah's request--"

"Cadet," Komack says, surprising Spock with his smile at T'Prina, "I have no objections at all. Crewman, close the door and tell everyone to stay out until I say otherwise, got it?"

Very faintly, Spock thinks he sees dissatisfaction on the crewman's face as he agrees.

"You can go," Admiral Komack adds casually. "We'll be fine until approved officers show up."

"Admiral," the man objects. "My orders--"

"Tell your commander I want to talk to him later while you're at it," Komack says, moving so T'Prina has a clear view of the observation window and Rayiyah inside. "That was an order, crewman."

"Yes, sir." As the door closes behind him, Admiral Komack goes to the small desk that security usually occupies and leans back against them, hands braced on the edge. "All right, you have my attention, Commander. You wouldn't call in Sarek unless you had to." His eyes flicker to T'Prina, looking amused. "Nice phrasing, but I know for a fact you've spent most of the last three days sleeping, and that Ambassador Spock isn't due for another month."

"He is on route as we speak," Spock answers, saving T'Prina from having to dissemble. "The Vulcan Elders agreed to offer Rayiyah sanctuary, which I believe Captain Kirk meant to solicit my assistance and that of Ambassador Spock to achieve."

"Same clan, huh?" Admiral Komack's smile fades. "What did you have to give them? And don't tell me you didn't have to trade for it; Rayiyah's Romulan. There's no way they agreed like that."

There is no value in prevaricating; Komack is intelligent enough to make the connection when he consults Starfleet's networks. "Cadet T'Prina has withdrawn her petition that stays the implementation of the exception to the Grayson Test," Spock answers. Beside him, he hears Admiral Pike hiss softly in surprise. "And I have agreed to neither pursue further actions against it nor to encourage others to do so provided the exception is not modified further from its current form."

To Spock's relief, Admiral Komack does not comment further, turning his attention to T'Prina. "What security?"

"I am not familiar with security personnel outside the Enterprise or those few cadets who have already graduated and have been assigned to their ships." Carefully, T'Prina doesn't look at Spock. "Do you have any recommendations, Admiral?"

Admiral Komack fixes his gaze at the wall just behind Spock's shoulder. "There are two officers here, actually, waiting for their next assignment. To the Enterprise, come to think. You approved their transfer, didn't you, Spock?"

Spock nods wordlessly.

"Be good experience for them. Any objections, Cadet?"

T'Prina glances at Spock for agreement, then nods. "No, Admiral. Thank you for your assistance in this matter."

"You sure you're up for this?" he says sympathetically. "You're still under medical care, and you're no diplomat."

"Neither is Captain Kirk, Admiral," T'Prina answers. "It is my privilege to be permitted to do what I can to assure his intentions are fulfilled."

Admiral Komack jerks his head toward the door. "Go and keep our Romulan company until those security officers are tracked down, Cadet. I'll call when everyone's here so we can start the official interview."

"Yes, Admiral." With a salute, T'Prina goes to the door that Healer Sorin moves to open for her.

Komack looks at Spock. "I need to talk to Commander Spock. Don't worry, Healer Sorin; it won't take too long and we can see her just fine if she suddenly has seizures or whatever."

When the room is empty, Komack sighs. "We need to talk."

"I understand this does not clear the Enterprise of charges for searching for Captain Kirk despite our orders."

"Damn right it doesn't." Komack glares briefly to make his point. "But. This is George Kirk's and Commander Winona Kirk's youngest kid we're talking about. If this goes to court martial, Starfleet is going to have to argue in front of the entire Federation that we were unwilling to track down the man whose dad was among Nero's first victims and who stopped Nero from destroying the Federation. And we want to lock up his Vulcan boyfriend who lost his entire world as well as his mother for going after him. And by the way, they just brought home a shitload of Federation citizens that were written off and stopped a goddamn war. Win or lose, Starfleet loses."

That is accurate; honesty is not something he has experience with from the majority of Starfleet admirals.

"Not that it would stop me," Komack continues. "Me, I don't give a shit about politics. I'd call it and let the cards fall as they may; there's a better than average chance you and the rest of the crew would probably get no worse than a reduction in rank, and maybe it would clear you altogether. Those calling for a court martial now would be quick enough to find in your favor if the public goes against Starfleet during the trial, and I'm quite aware supporters of the Enterprise crew are already working that angle for all its worth."

"Admiral," Spock begins, "I would not attempt to influence--"

Admiral cuts him off with a gesture, rolling his eyes. "Spock, don't even. Yeah, you wouldn't do it yourself; you don't need to. You have a lot of friends and up until now, a flawless record with Starfleet. You and Jim have built up a reputation in the Federation these last two years, not just in Starfleet." Komack's expression changes into something that's both exasperation and affection both. "And I'll admit it; I don't want to be the one to face Commander Kirk and tell her we court martialed her son's crew for rescuing him and stopping a war. She's been in deep space exploration; the woman believes in regulations even less than Jim does, and that's saying something. See, Spock, you don't need to turn public opinion at all; Winona will talk about her poor fatherless son growing up to defeat Nero on every public channel in the Federation while holding a picture of George and that'll do it."


"You, quiet. You seem to be a good negotiator, so lets see how you horse trade with an admiral." Komack crosses his arms. "You'll amend your testimony of all mention of our Orion being a double agent and possibly being responsible for Captain Kirk's abduction. It never goes public; I classify every reference to it."

Spock stiffens. "I cannot do that, Admiral."

"You have to. Because I already did it." Komack's expression doesn't change. "You're going to sign the amended testimony and agree to forgo pursuit of the matter entirely. It's like it never occurred to you."

"I respectfully refuse, Admiral."

"Right, you would." Komack pushes off the desk, joining Spock to watch Rayiyah and T'Prina. "So you're willing to take down the entire crew for something that there is no way you will ever be able to prove, and without the uniform that would give your accusations any weight with either Starfleet or the Federation."

Spock takes a breath, letting it out carefully. "Someone in Starfleet was working on behalf of the Orion Syndicate. They used our contact with them to capture five Federation vessels as well as attempt to assassinate Captain Kirk to begin a war. I cannot--"

"You have to," Admiral Komack answers flatly. "You don't like it? Deal with it. You can't prove it. If there was a chance you could pull it off, I wouldn't be standing here, collaborating in perjury and conduct unbecoming, you get me, Commander? Admiral Pike's with me on this; after we're done with Rayiyah for the day, see him, but he's going to tell you the same thing. You have no proof. And if there had been proof, it's dead and gone, along with our Orion spy."

Spock blinks. "You believe he was assassinated to cover--"

"I didn't say anything like that," Komack answers, still watching T'Prina. "I said, there's no evidence of collaboration with the Orions, and that's exactly what I told the admiralty when I reported to them." Komack glances at him briefly. "For reasons you don't have the security clearance to know, I was also appointed to oversee our surveillance of Starfleet Security's contacts with races known to be hostile to the Federation. From now on, Starfleet Security reports to me, and Lieutenant Gaila, for one, better thank her lucky stars. They weren't happy with her."

"I see." Spock watches Rayiyah gesture energetically as he speaks to T'Prina.

"You know, this isn't the only thing I have to do today. Admiral Green's decided it's time to retire and for some reason, I'm in charge of organizing his party."

Spock looks at Admiral Komack's profile, startled. "I was unaware Admiral Green had planned to retire. He was promoted only five years ago and is in excellent health."

"Stress of the job," Admiral Komack answers lightly. "He's been in the service most of his life. He thought it was time he tried something new."

Perhaps he was mistaken; Komack's lack of subtlety might have been a deliberate choice.

"Go by my office; my assistant's getting everything organized for my new duties. He'll have the datapad for you to sign off on. We'll conclude the inquiry tomorrow and put the crew on leave while the ship gets a full refit."

Komack pauses, adding almost casually, "I thought Green might appreciate Phillips coming by for the party. You remember him? Still in Guinness six years running; I checked. I always thought he and Green had a lot in common. Now send Pike and the others back in. I don't have all day."

"Yes, Admiral," Spock answers automatically, shutting the door firmly behind him. Admiral Pike's eyes meet his in unmistakable question. "Admiral Komack has asked me to attend to--paperwork in his office. I will return when it is complete."

Admiral Pike relaxes in his chair, eyes closing briefly in unmistakable relief. "We'll wait for you, Commander."

Healer Sorin meets him that evening at the doors of Starfleet Medical, long after most visitors would be refused access, waving him inside. They pass various medical personnel on their way to the turbolift, where Sorin enters the code to reach the floor that houses patients in intensive care.

When the doors close, Healer Sorin says, "I have received notification from Astrei Hospital that they will be pleased to admit Captain Kirk. You should have received the same, as well as the required consent forms to give your bondmate into my custody as both guardian and physician. Have you responded yet?"

"I had planned to this evening," Spock answers. "However your message seemed to indicate that my presence was required immediately."

"It is." As the turbolift stops, Healer Sorin enters a second code, letting them into the reception area. The nurse on duty glances up, eyes flickering to Healer Sorin's identification, then at Spock. "Healer Sorin, Commander Spock," she acknowledges, giving Spock a modified salute in respect to his rank. "Is there anything I may assist you with?"

"Privacy while we attend Captain Kirk," Healer Sorin answers. "Please route any requests for my assistance to the physician on duty. We do not wish to be disturbed for any reason."

"Yes, Healer."

Passing her station, Healer Sorin leads Spock on the familiar route to Jim's room at one corner of the building. There's a wide window that overlooks the grounds and permits natural light; at this hour, the window is covered. Sorin turns the lights on and indicates that Spock should sit down after shutting the door and engaging the privacy lock.

"Has Jim's condition changed?" he asks, looking at Jim, still and pale on the bed. Spock can sense no changes in him, and the readings do not appear any different than they have for the past two weeks in Starfleet Medical.

"No, but I have--" Healer Sorin hesitates, looking uncharacteristically agitated. "I decided not to approach you until I had analyzed all the data I have collected on Melody's condition and that of the other patients at the colony once more. I believe that there may be a way for Captain Kirk to regain consciousness."

Spock straightens. "How?"

"I have speculated that the reason that I have been unable to awaken Melody is because her mind is not able to adjust to the lack of a bond and without it, she is unable to reconnect with her body after the damage. While Captain Kirk's condition is similar, his bond is active."

"We already attempted a meld," Spock begins slowly; there had been several attempts, and not all of them in Healer Sorin's presence or with his knowledge.

"We attempted it with you alone, with my presence only providing strength, as is common when treating bonded couples," Sorin answers. "This time, I will join you, using your bond to direct you on the correct paths to his. You are not a Acolyte trained in the exploration of the mind; I am. Think of yourself as someone searching in an area with no light and only one safe path; I will be the illumination for that path for you both. I believe that his current state is due to not being able to find the correct path of return; with my assistance, he will be able to find you, and you will be able to guide his mind back to consciousness."

"What else is required?"

"Nothing. I have cleared my normal evening schedule in anticipation--"

"I am ready." Turning toward the bed, Spock looks at Jim's expressionless face, hair neatly combed back in a way he would hate if he could see it.

Gentle fingers touch his face, resting over each psi-point as Sorin's voice washes over him. "My mind to your mind. My thoughts--"

--to your thoughts.

Almost immediately, Spock feels Sorin's mind join with his, more deeply than any but a bondmate can achieve. At Sorin's silent direction, Spock reaches for Jim's psyche, touching the mindless spark effortlessly and following the link of their bond toward it. Vaguely, Spock is aware of Sorin's guidance; if asked, Spock would describe it as walking through Gol long after the sun had set, with the stars obscured by the rare clouds that gathered before the heavy spring rains that occurred only once every millennia. Without guidance, it is easy to become lost in the desert; even the most experienced dwellers therein leave markers to indicate the safest routes to take, invisible to those not of the desert clan.

As expertly as a desert hunter, Sorin leads him toward Jim's mind, following a course only he can identify. It's more circuitous than what Spock had attempted, but Jim's presence grows slowly brighter, and for the first time, Spock senses a faint, surprised awareness of him.

There aren't words here, but there is a question, faint and uncertain. Spock projects warmth and welcome toward it, trying to capture Jim's undivided attention and prevent the potential for retreat as they draw closer.

Sorin eases them forward more slowly, focused on that bright point that's everything Jim is and will ever be. It's farther than he was able to achieve on his own, and yet Jim still seems impossibly far away, as if they're no closer than they were watching him from beside his bed.

The brightness shifts minutely, awareness growing into interest cut with curiosity as it drifts toward them. Spock controls the urge to simply reach for it, though it feels as if he could; this isn't something that can be forced.

Then, shocked, iknowyou.

The brightness curls into itself, vanishing abruptly; Spock can't control his own panic, trying to pull free of Sorin to follow, but the strong mind locks him to their path, refusing to permit him escape. Patience projects through him, twining their minds more tightly.

Jim Spock thinks desperately, searching the darkness. For a moment, there's nothing--nothing--in the place Jim occupies in his head, a hollowed-out emptiness that he can't imagine wishing to endure even for a moment longer. Better that he lose himself here searching for Jim than return to that. Better that he--


It is not Sorin.

I know you.

They pause, surrounded in lightless dark, waiting, and Spock almost wonders if he and Sorin's mind created that voice out of their own hope. The emptiness seems to grow by the second, but Spock ignores the sharp ache of it, his own grief, concentrating the entirety of his self on the darkness around them, searching for a single spark, the faintest trace of Jim's presence.

Abruptly, it blinks into existence so close that they can almost touch it, and for a moment, he can almost see Jim standing there, suspicious and curious by turn, looking at them like he does at the vastness of space that no Federation ship has ever mapped, planets that no one has ever seen, the universe that he's waited all his life to explore.

Come with me.

Jim's suspicion increases, but so does the curiosity. Spock shows him the Enterprise, the bridge filled with their crew, his family, pulling his own memories as well as Jim's and feeling Jim follow them with impersonal interest, as if they belong to someone else entirely.

This is you.

Brushing aside the memories, Jim's attention focuses on Spock, a question forming between them. Why are you here?

Spock hesitates, considering and discarding a thousand answers to find the one that answers what Jim is asking. To find you.


This one requires no thought at all. Because you are here.

Jim considers the answer carefully, flickering through the offered memories before his attention shifts to Spock again, searching for something that Spock isn't able to interpret. Slowly, almost thoughtfully, Jim drifts closer, wavering just out of reach; it takes everything in Spock not to reach for him, not yet.

There's a gossamer touch against his mind, following along the edges of their joined minds, humming between them. Jim stops, bemusement and curiosity chasing each other through his mind, and Spock finds himself remembering the first time he touched Jim's mind; even the madness of pon farr had not diminished the brightness he'd discovered there, and with it the acknowledgment of feelings he'd long denied even to himself.

Spock feels something that's very like Jim's smile when they're alone, easy and unguarded, open with affection the way Spock can never be. You followed me here.

Spock thinks their lives since they met could be summarized in those four words. I would follow you anywhere.

Something like laughter trembles against his skin as Jim says, I think it's my turn to follow you, then.

Slowly, carefully, Spock reaches for him, and Jim lets him, as easily as he commands a ship into unknown space, as easily as he transports to an unknown planet, as easily as he first opened his mind when they bonded; Jim has never been afraid of what he did not know.

I trust you. Show me what you got, Spock.

Spock feels Sorin's withdrawal distantly; more distantly, he's aware of the presence of his body surrounding him and starts to fight it, unwilling to abandon the warmth of Jim's mind now that he's found it.

No. Sorin's powerful mind forces him back; slowly, he feels his flesh encasing him, thick and unwieldy, separating him from Jim in thick layers of the material world until his eyes open abruptly, forehead pressed to Jim's warm hip beneath the sheet and every muscle aching.

Lifting his head, Spock blinks the world into focus and sees light limning the shaded window; his time sense tells him it's been over twelve hours since they began.

Sorin's fingers drop from his face, and the remaining threads of the meld vanish; for the first time in what feels like all of time, Spock feels alone in his mind.

"Spock," Sorin says as Spock struggles to straighten, panic stripping away the last vestiges of control. "Spock, calm yourself. He is sleeping."

The monitors show a sharp spike; Spock numbly recognizes Jim has entered REM sleep and forces himself to calm, using every control he learned from before even his first memory, centering himself until everything within stills. Jim's sleep murmurs through the back of his mind, familiar and welcome. For a long moment, Spock simply allows himself to feel it before he opens his eyes on Sorin.

"I can sense him. He will awaken in four hours."

Sorin nods approvingly. Without the distraction of his own uncontrolled feelings, Spock can see the toll the night has taken on Sorin; the dark eyes are bloodshot, skin tinged the green of fresh bruises beneath his eyes, and his movements are slow and precise, as if each one must be considered carefully before attempted.

"There is a cot in the corner," Sorin says; though his voice is even, Spock can hear both his exhaustion and his satisfaction from the night's events. "You will be unable to return to your quarters before you fall unconscious; I suggest you rest there. I will leave orders you are to be left alone, as your bondmate requires your presence."

Spock does not think he would be able to go so far as the turbolift; even the cot seems a greater distance than he feels he can cross easily. "I thank you, Healer Sorin," Spock says finally.

"I will take my rest in the on-call room with orders to awaken me when Captain Kirk awakens."

Sorin waits only long enough to instruct the nurse and Spock to find the cot before he opens the door; Spock is asleep before he hears it close again.

Spock awakens at the first stir of Jim's mind, pushing himself up as the hum of the monitors indicate Jim has awakened.

By the time Spock reaches the chair at the side of Jim's bed, the blue eyes blink open, narrowing slightly in irritation. "Spock," he says, voice a thready whisper, "turn that goddamn thing off."

Reaching for the hand weakly pushing at the sheet, apparently in preparation to attempt to handle the situation, Spock waits until Jim turns his head, looking at him for the first time in weeks. "I will instruct a nurse to lower the volume, Jim."

Jim's mouth quirks in a faint smile, returning the pressure of Spock's fingers before his expression dissolves into confusion. "You're--are you smiling?" Weakly, Jim pulls his hand away, fingers brushing clumsily against Spock's face. Catching his hand again, Spock steadies it, feeling Jim's unspoken questions fill his mind. "Seriously. What--happened?"

"Your presence was missed, t'hy'la," Spock breathes. "That is all. You require rest."

Jim projects suspicion at him, slipping his fingers through Spock's before his eyes fall shut. "Don't. Go anywhere."

Spock nods, lacing their fingers together and resting their joined hands on the bed. "There is no where else I wish to be."

Jim awakens and sleeps at random intervals for the next two days; while Dr. McCoy assures Spock that this is normal, Spock suspects from the pattern of Jim's thoughts that some of it is to escape the rounds of examinations and testing from the medical staff during every waking moment. On sharing this with Dr. McCoy, the doctor had stared at Jim's sleeping body with a resigned irritation that Spock had interpreted as agreement.

On the third day, Jim is permitted to have three visitors, each restricted to ten minutes and watched by a sharp-eyed nurse for any sign that Jim's strength is being overextended before hustling them away with strict orders for Jim to rest. Her poisonous glances at Spock tell him she wishes she could do the same to him, but regulations and Healer Sorin deny her the opportunity to do so. Spock is content to look his invulnerability to her displeasure from the far side of Jim's bed as he keeps abreast of Starfleet's current activities via Pike's extremely thorough communications.

When the door closes behind her as she ushers Commander Scott away, Jim rolls over in bed and reaches out to slam a hand down on the datapad, turning it off. "Get me out of here, Spock."

Spock represses a sigh. "Jim--"

Jim removes his hand; in the middle of the datapad screen is his codepicker. Spock picks it up to look at the tiny screen; the interface is set for Starfleet Medical. "Your choice."

After a moment of thought, Spock takes the codepicker, leaving the datapad on his chair as he stands up. "I will indicate to the nurse on duty that you wish to sleep without interruption. In three minutes, the southern emergency exit will be unlocked and disabled. Enter the stairwell and wait there."

Jim grins. "Medical transporter is the third screen. I looped the monitors here while you were reading. Munroe never noticed." Jim frowns. "Chapel would have noticed."

"Chapel knows you very well." Pocketing the codepicker, Spock turns off the lights before opening the door. "Do not be late."

Jim projects a mental smirk as Spock closes the door carefully behind him, making his way to the nurse's station. "Captain Kirk has indicated that he requires rest," Spock tells Commander Monroe, the nurse assigned to Jim. Her face goes through a series of expressions that seem to indicate satisfaction that she was correct in regard to Jim's strength and pleasure that Spock is finally in agreement that the only way Jim can possibly rest is in utter isolation. "He has stated that his sleep is currently uncertain; I think it best if he is not disturbed until he awakens."

"I'll order it now," Commander Munroe seems to purr, looking pleased with him for the first time in memory. "He's not due to be checked for at least three hours."

That is extremely valuable information; Spock makes his way to the turbolift, waiting patiently until he reaches the ground floor and nodding his acknowledgment of greetings by the medical staff. Turning right as he goes out the wide doors, Spock walks quickly toward the door that leads to the visitor gardens and takes out the codepicker, entering the coordinates for the garden before giving the order to energize.

Jim materializes on the bench Spock had occupied only a few days before, looking around him curiously until he finds Spock. Grinning a little manically at the freedom, Jim shakily gets to his feet as Spock approaches, reaching for him and pulling him into a surprisingly heated kiss, continuing it until his limited energy forces him to sit before he falls.

"If we had some privacy--"

"You would quickly fall asleep," Spock answers, steadying Jim against him so he will not tire himself further. Jim's eyes narrow, but he does not dispute the statement, frowning down at the hospital pajamas and robe he'd had the sense to put on before he left the room. "You are stronger every day."

"And correspondingly more bored by the second." With a sigh, Jim leans against him, eyes taking in the garden. "I used to get Bones drunk here when we were at the Academy."

"I do not think there are many places in Starfleet that did not host your attempts at intoxication," Spock answers, ignoring the fact that Jim has also has met several lovers here without any objection to the lack of privacy.

Jim tilts his head back, smirking. "Kids do crazy things."

"You graduated less than three years ago."

"Kids grow up fast these days," Jim says with mock-sobriety. "How much longer am I going to be locked up in Medical anyway? Munroe acts like eating on my own is still a monumental effort that she can't be certain won't end in my death by exhaustion, so the answers I'm getting from her indicate the rest of my life."

Spock considers. "If your condition continues to improve, I think Healer Sorin will agree to release you in two weeks time."

"Two days."


"Seven, released into my bondmate's custody and under his direct supervision, per Starfleet regulations regarding domestic partnerships, Vulcan marriage, and your realization that you don't have my codepicker right now, but the one I had Scotty grab from our quarters before he visited today. By the way, happy anniversary or birthday or something."

Taking it back out, Spock studies it; the case is identical, but on closer examination, it lacks the faint scratches and signs of constant use. "Fascinating."

"And don't ask where mine is; you'll find out a week from now if you aren't there signing me out of Medical while Munroe glares at us both."

Putting the codepicker away, Spock thinks Healer Sorin will not be difficult to persuade. "Very well."

Jim thinks his satisfaction before pushing himself away, bracing his hands on the edges of the stone bench to look at Spock, smile fading into seriousness. "I have the bare bones of what happened after T'Prina and I were beamed off the Soli. Give me the rest."

Perhaps he should have expected Jim's unusual tractability would come to an end. "There has been--a great deal," he admits.

"How long do we have?"

"It will be approximately two hours, thirty-five minutes, and twenty-eight seconds until the doctor arrives to examine you."

Reaching for Spock's hand, Jim shifts closer, pressing it against his face. "Then you'd better show me now so you can help me integrate it before we go back."

"You are not yet strong enough--"

"I'm a Starfleet Captain," Jim answers. "It's my job to be strong enough. I need to know."

Spock hesitates even as his fingers move slowly into position. "Jim--"

"Spock." The blue eyes meet his. "Show me."

Jim's mind opens at the first touch. "My mind to your mind," Spock breathes, unable to hide his own pleasure as Jim's mind surrounds him. "My thoughts to your thoughts."

Yeah, Jim says just before Spock reaches for the memories, fingers curling between Spock's. I missed this too.

Dr. Valdez seems to believe Jim's explanation for his higher than normal respiration and faint flush.

"…and Spock came in time to help me back to bed," Jim says guilelessly. "So I've accomplished going to the bathroom all on my own. Toddlers everywhere envy me my new skill set."

Dr. Enrique Valdez, head of Starfleet Medical for the last ten years and holding the rank of Commodore, makes a note on the datapad. At well over six feet, Dr. Valdez towers over the majority of the human medical staff, as well as most of those that belong to other species. Spock suspects from the faint flush visible on his face despite dark olive skin and the escape of black hair from the band he uses to confine it at the nape of his neck that Dr. Valdez was not originally scheduled for duty this evening and only just arrived. "Getting back seems to still be a bit of a challenge, though. I'll order the nurses to allow it, provided someone is here to assist you to return to bed."

Jim pretends to take the restriction grudgingly as Dr. Valdez completes his examination. "Well, first, your recovery is slightly faster than predicted by Healer Sorin and Dr. McCoy. Please continue to do so; there's a very good bottle of whiskey in it for me if I win the current pool. Second, I'm removing the restrictions from your meals; order whatever you want and eat as much as you can. You lost more weight than I'm happy with and you need to get it back. As for three," Valdez pauses, a sudden amused smile curving his lips, "next time you want to go play outside without permission, wash your feet when you get back or get some slippers and recycle them."

Jim's eyes widen. Jerking back the sheet, he sits up, pulling one foot up to look at the faintest traces of dirt in betrayal. "Huh."

Dr. Valdez gives Spock a grin as he turns off the datapad. "I'm also ordering you moved down to the first floor; your vitals are strong enough that you don't require constant monitoring in intensive care. There is also a window that will be more convenient to utilize than a transporter."

Jim's eyes narrow. "Okay, I give. How'd you know? Because you know what, you didn't even look at my feet."

"Intuition, knowledge of your reputation, and most importantly, Scotty and I were enjoying an evening with some colleagues in the city when he received your message."

Jim sighs, dropping back onto the pillows. "He seriously needs to realize his tolerance is not as great as he thinks it is."

"He doesn't believe me either," Dr. Valdez answers sympathetically, tucking the datapad into his lab coat. "Now I suggest you get some rest so you'll be ready for your move tomorrow. Have a good night, Captain Kirk, Commander Spock."

After Dr. Valdez leaves, Jim's energy seems to abandon him. Rolling onto his side, Jim looks at Spock for a few minutes, blue eyes filled with the unhappy knowledge of what had occurred in his absence. "Sleep with me tonight."

Spock studies the narrow hospital bed for a moment. "It would be more feasible if we placed the bed against the wall.

Jim sits up, pushing the blankets to the foot of the bed. "I like how you think. I'll lock the door."

Commander Spock
Commander Spock

Jim steadily refuses visitors when asked; Nyota bypasses this difficulty by ceasing to ask him, a circumstance that Jim blames on Spock for lack of a convenient target. On the fifth day after Jim's awakening, Cadet T'Prina is waiting outside Jim's closed door. Newly released from Starfleet Medical, she's impeccably correct in her red cadet dress uniform, oddly unfamiliar compared to the blue science uniform she had worn during her internship on the Enterprise; though recovered, she still shows the loss of weight from the two weeks she'd been comatose, and if he looks carefully, a new hollowness around the serious brown eyes.

"Commander," she says, getting to her feet; before she can salute, Spock waves her back to her seat. At his glance at the door, she continues, "I accompanied Ambassador Spock to visit Captain Kirk. He said there was very little likelihood of an invitation while the Captain was still confined to Medical, and that the correct approach would be to come without invitation." She pauses. "I found his arguments logical."

With a final glance at the closed door, Spock takes the seat beside her. "You look well, Cadet."

"I am well, Commander," she answers. "Torren assists me in my exercises and T'Sora has offered us her home to more easily facilitate healing until the term begins."

"It is three months until the fall semester," Spock answers. "You and Torren do not wish to return home until then?"

T'Prina's back stiffens slightly. "Torren's family does not--approve of his choice of profession and the path he intends to follow. He feels it is counterproductive to argue and will remain here."

If he had not known her so well, he would not have seen, or recognized, the brief flash of what might be guilt. "That was not their only objection."

"No." T'Prina's gaze fixes on the reception desk. "As Torren has not yet had his Time, they--wished for Torren to break his bond with me to pursue a more suitable attachment."

That, he had not anticipated. While it is not unheard-of, it is unusual for a bonded couple to separate, even before their Time, when it can be most effectively achieved. "Your families have been friends for many generations. Your bonding was planned from the time of your birth."

"They discovered that I had organized the petition to delay implementation of the exception to the Grayson Test for the colony," T'Prina answers, voice expressionless. "During the discussion that followed, they did not accept my logic, and as I am the last of my clan, I do not bring anything to Torren and his clan. They found these circumstances unacceptable."

"How did they discover it?" Even Admiral Pike had not known who was responsible.

T'Prina lifts her head, chin raising with a faint hint of defiance. "I told them."

"I see." In retrospect, Spock is not surprised; he might have projected this outcome.

"I told them that while I had withdrawn my objection before the Council, that did not change my intention to challenge it before the Elders and demand that the Colony be permitted to vote on a measure that is antithetical to all we are. I must thank you, Commander, for the subtlety of your negotiations with Ambassador Sarek. I assume you knew I would wish to pursue other avenues and assured I would have the opportunity to do so if I could not argue before the Federation."

"I anticipated you would find an alternate path to your goal, Cadet. This is the one I thought you would most likely follow."

She nods sharply, turning away. Spock waits, sensing the disorder of her thoughts.

"They asked me," she says slowly, "why I would take the side of outsiders and permit mixed blood to contaminate our people, when my family had always supported the separation of inferior species. I could not think of an answer other than the one cthia demanded of me; they did not find it acceptable."

Spock begins to question her further when the door opens; almost immediately, T'Prina rises to her feet, hands clasped formally behind her back. "Ambassador. Is Captain Kirk willing to entertain visitors?"

"Oh shut up," Jim snaps from inside. "You'll just sit there and be stoic and Vulcan until everyone feels bad for you and they cut my pudding ration again."

The Ambassador does not smile, but there's a faint sense of amusement as he steps back. "That would be a 'yes', Cadet."

Spock follows her inside, taking the chair by Jim's bed where he had left his datapad. Jim is faintly flushed and more animated than Spock has seen him since he had awakened. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, Jim is reading over a datapad with a new selection of data solids on the mattress before him. Sighing, he scowls at Spock. "Don't start. Did you all forget I'm only a few days from death?"

"Repetition can make even horror mundane," the Ambassador says as he closes the door. T'Prina stands stiffly at the foot of the bed, watching Jim as he sets aside the datapad and looks at her with narrowed eyes.

"You," he says to T'Prina, "are a pain in the ass."

"I believe you promised me a court martial, Captain Kirk," T'Prina answers. "While you are on medical leave and cannot handle the formalities personally, I believe Commander Spock can convene one at your convenience."

Jim leans back against the pillows. "What is it with Vulcans and their obsession with court martials anyway?"

Wisely, T'Prina does not answer, but she takes a careful step toward the bed, removing a datapad from the pocket of her uniform. "In that case, Captain, I have a request."

Expression turning curious, Jim leans forward, taking the datapad and glancing at the screen before stilling. Blinking at T'Prina once, he begins to read it carefully. When he looks up again, there's something on his face that Spock hasn't seen since before the Begammon station, before what they had discovered at the Colony, before once again, the most cynical parts of Jim are proved correct despite all that Admiral Pike had taught him to want to believe.

"Why?" he says finally, fingers white around the edges of the datapad.

T'Prina straightens more, as if she had been waiting for that question. "Once," she says, "I met a man who told me I could captain a starship. It seemed logical to discover if he was correct. I understand that you cannot be my advisor, as you are not a member of Starfleet Academy faculty, but you once told me a story of a man you met in a bar. When I approached him with my request, he gave his consent."

Jim nods, eyes dark.

"When he asked me that question, I told him what cthia demanded; that I wish to follow in the footsteps of two of Starfleet's greatest officers."

As if he had just awakened, Jim looks back down at the datapad, scrolling slowly through the declaration of change of track, to the recommendation letters from Admiral Pike, from Spock himself, her class schedule, pausing with a frown. "Richards has you for Command 101--yes, Spock, I know what it's actually called, don't even." Handing her back the datapad, he nods. "He's boring. Take a good book; you'll need it."

"I understand you will be teaching the introductory command course on the Enterprise," T'Prina says, tucking the datapad into her tunic.

Jim glares at Spock. "So I've been told."

"I understand you have not yet had the opportunity to prepare materials for the course. I would like to offer myself as an audience when you begin to do so."

"I'm not that great an instructor," Jim starts, warily.

T'Prina shakes her head, one hip pressing gently against the edge of Jim's bed. "Yes, you are." Glancing toward the door, she continues, "I believe we should discuss the details over the midday meal. Ambassador Spock had the foresight to ask to serve us all here, if that is acceptable, Captain Kirk."

Jim shakes his head, a smile curling up the corner of his mouth, and for a moment, Spock can see how young Jim truly is still, hidden as it has become beneath the Starfleet officer and the Enterprise Captain. "Tell Torren he can come in now," Jim says, crossing his arms over his chest in imagined disdain. "He's not like you; he has manners. He's upstairs with Sorin, isn't he?"

T'Prina nods, going to the door; as she begins to open it, Jim continues, "By the way, quick note for the future, kiddo. Torren didn't make a choice. That implies there was a possibility he would have picked anything that wasn't you. Be a little more logical, would you? Because obviously, that wasn't happening."

T'Prina stiffens, startled. "How did you--"

"I know everything. And if I don't, I find out. Go get your boyfriend--fine, bondmate, Vulcans are weird, you know that?--and tell him he can have five minutes with my codepicker so he can build you one. I've seen him drooling over it--well, as much as Vulcans drool over anything technical and shiny. He's a good engineer; I think he can figure it out. And hurry up; I'm starving."

Looking a little bemused, T'Prina leaves, shutting the door behind her. Ambassador Spock looks at Jim with a faint, private smile, and Spock thinks that perhaps, he does not resent it. "I must return to Rayiyah," he says, one hand resting on the bed near Jim's hip. "But T'Sora and I will join you and Commander Spock for dinner."

Jim scowls, glancing down at his medical scrubs with a pained expression. "Do I have a choice?"

"No, you do not." With a nod at Spock, the Ambassador leaves as well, and Spock finds himself alone with Jim. After a moment, Jim sighs, turning to look at Spock. "Okay, so I didn't see that coming, but I bet you did."

"I did."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "This is that thing Vulcans do so they look inscrutable and all-knowing. I swear to God your people invented that when you met us, just because it was funny to see humans twitch." After a moment, however, he smiles, slow and mischievous.

Spock stills. "Do you need--"

Pushing the data solids away, Jim braces a hand on the edge of the bed and leans over, kissing him lightly. When he draws back with a smug smile, Spock touches his mouth. "Jim?"

"Just, you know." Jim stares narrowly at the window behind Spock. "For picking me."

Ah. Spock sets down his datapad and stands up; surprised, Jim moves over as Spock sits on the edge of the bed. Tracing a line between the psi-points on his face, he feels Jim shiver. "That would imply that there was a possibility I would have chosen anything else, t'hy'la. There was not."

Jim licks his lips, giving the door a brief, speculative glance, then one strong hand cups Spock's jaw. "I love you, you know." Before he can answer, Jim kisses him, and this time, it is neither quick nor light. "Wanna make out until they get back?" Jim breathes before swallowing his potential objection.

Spock is not sure he can remember what his objection would have been.

Spock is not surprised to find Nyota waiting for him outside of Starfleet Medical at noon the next day; Jim's sudden and inexplicable desire for a few hours of privacy to meditate wouldn't have been believable at any time. Jim had given up trying to convince Spock with a pillow tossed at his head, shouting, "Spock, get out and interact with people not in the medical profession or subject to the medical profession for a few hours. I swear I will not cry into my pillow that you don't love me anymore if you don't spend your every waking hour watching me breathe, mmkay? Go away."

"I'm the second line of defense," Nyota says, taking his arm and leading him toward the doors that open onto the main grounds. "I'm not allowed to bring you back until after dinner. Captain's orders."

"He implied as much." The second pillow had been as accurately aimed as the first had been, which Spock supposes is proof of Jim's quickly returning strength. "I am not certain--"

Nyota rolls her eyes. "Leonard is meeting him after lunch, just in case this is actually Jim's special code for intensive brooding; he can handle it. Now, there's a lecture on dialect evolution in response to cultural isolation this afternoon by Dr. Tai Nagu," she continues. "I studied linguistic drift in non-hominid species with Tai before I was accepted to Starfleet Academy and we've kept in touch."

"She has returned from Deneb?"

"She got bored on sabbatical and Starfleet jumped at the opportunity," Nyota answers. "There's a reception after the lecture we've both been invited to attend as well."

"I look forward to the introduction," Spock answers; Dr. Nagu had upset many parts of linguistic theory during her study of sentient species whose language development had evolved without a verbal component; communication was based entirely on subtle changes in physiology that could combine external color, body temperature, scent, taste, tactile contact, and physical movement. Starfleet Academy's linguistic department boasted no less than two of her former students, both of whom had studied under her for most of their academic career. "I haven't had the opportunity to review her most recent paper--"

"Don't worry," Nyota answers as they arrive at the station to wait for the next public transport into the city. Spock mentally reviews the schedule. "I brought a copy that you can review while we eat. Or--"

"You could ask me, Commander Spock."

Startled, Spock glances at Nyota long enough to see her grin, then turns his attention to Dr. Nagu, her round, unwrinkled face broken by a wide smile as she nods a greeting. The two faint scars on each cheek were given to her by the L'T:k'm, a non-hominid, ungendered species with a faint resemblance to Terran tapeworms, the traditional blue tinting bright against skin so dark it was nearly black. Each scar recognized a level of scholarship achieved; four proclaimed her as a High Scholar among the various family groups that made up the planet's population, a distinction that few even among the L'T:k'm had ever reached. Due to her frequent work among species with varying hygiene requirements that could be dramatically different from those required of a human being, she'd long adopted the habit of shaving her head; during her sabbatical on earth, however, she had permitted it to grow several inches, trimmed to emphasize her high forehead and sharp brown eyes.

"Dr. Nagu," Spock says, controlling his eagerness with some effort. "It is an honor to make your acquaintance."

"I can say the same, Commander Spock," she answers with a graceful inclination of her head. "Nyota contacted me when the Enterprise docked, and I thought this would be as good a time as any to take up Starfleet on their invitation to give a lecture."

"I look forward to your expansion of linguistic drift in olfactory communication patterns," Spock answers as the transport arrives. "Your theory is currently under review for integration into the universal communicator's core programming."

"So it is, though not with Amanda's unusual aptitude in programming non-verbal language interpretation into the core matrix," Dr. Nagu says as the transport doors close, smile fading as she shifts from Standard to formal Vulcan. "I grieve with thee, Commander Spock. She was both an invaluable colleague as well as a close personal friend for several years. Both the linguistic community and the Federation are infinitely less for her loss."

Spock nods, controlling the habitual slice of pain. "Her papers and research were given into my custody and released to all interested institutions. I would be pleased to offer you a private copy as well to assist you in your continuing research." Spock hesitates before continuing. "I also possess all of her private correspondence."

Dr. Nagu looks away for a moment. "The conditions required for my research often made saving private correspondence impossible, even that of treasured friends. I don't have the right to ask you--"

"You do not need to ask."

When Dr. Nagu looks at him again, only the brightness of her eyes betray her feelings. "Thank you, Commander."

"One does not thank logic. She spoke of you with great admiration and affection; I understand you spent two seasons as a guest lecturer at Vulcan Science Academy during my first year as an instructor at Starfleet Academy."

"Your parents invited me to live with them during my residence," Dr. Nagu answers, following the change of subject gracefully. "My Vulcan was rather rusty; your mother took care of that in the first week." Smiling, she mocks a shiver. "It was like four years of undergrad in four days. And that was before she thought I needed to improve my command of the desert clans' dialects."

"How did she acquire your instruction?" Spock asks, curious. "My mother spent six months with the clans when I was a child, but they initially were not pleased with her presence."

"The really old fashioned way: straight from the source. Five days in the desert, complete with tents in the sand, since we went during their hunting season." Her smile widens. "Bet she didn't tell you about that, did she?"

"No, she did not include that in her correspondence."

"There's a reason for that," Dr. Nagu answers, pleased. "I'll share over dinner. Nyota, honey, you should hear this too; your paper on the limits on then-current configuration of the universal translator's matrix set it off."

Appalled, Nyota looks at Spock. "You sent your mother a paper I wrote when I was a first year?"

Spock opens his mouth to reply just as the transport comes to a stop. "I believe we have arrived," he says in relief. "Nyota, Dr. Nagu--"

"Don't worry, we'll pick this up at the restaurant," Nyota answers, eyes narrowing briefly before threading her arm through Dr. Nagu's. "I really want to hear about this."

The lecture and reception pass with surprising speed, followed by an invitation by Dr. Nagu to join her and Admiral Pike for dinner, along with several of Spock's former students eager for the opportunity to meet the most revolutionary xenolinguist in Federation history. It's nearly midnight by the time Spock walks Nyota to her quarters; stiffening, he wonders how time could pass so easily without thinking of Jim.

"Don't even," Nyota says abruptly as her door opens. "Tell me you didn't have a good time."

Spock hesitates.

"Right. So go see Jim, go to bed, and tell him all about it tomorrow." Crossing her arms, Nyota leans against the doorway with a slight smile. "Leonard and I are coming by for lunch, so request enough for all of us. Tomorrow evening, you and I are going with Scotty and Torren to the forum on experimental engine modeling before meeting T'Prina for dinner while Admiral Pike and Chekov update Jim on Starfleet gossip. We all get that Jim doesn't want anyone to see him while he's still under medical care; he's going to have to get over it. It's not good for either of you to isolate yourselves, or for him to use you as a barrier to normal interaction with other people, and we've let it go on long enough."

"I think you are correct," Spock answers after a moment of thought; Jim's sleeping mind murmurs contentedly in the back of his mind. "It was an enjoyable evening, Nyota."

"Thanks for coming," she says lightly, turning away. "Noon, Spock! Don't let him pretend to fall asleep again, either."

The medical center is silent as Spock lets himself in, crossing to the far doors that lead to patients who no longer require constant monitoring or are soon to be released. The first floor room is larger than the one Jim had occupied in intensive care, modeling a generic bedroom with a limited replicator to encourage Jim to continue to regain the weight he had lost.

The bed is pushed against the wall, however, and even in sleep, Jim left a space open in obvious expectation. Jim wakes briefly when Spock joins him, murmuring, "Bones said I have to start playing with the other kids more." Yawning, Jim settles against his shoulder.

"You had an enjoyable day?"

Surprised pleasure colors Jim's thoughts with the faint memories of an afternoon in the patient gardens with Dr. McCoy, Cadet T'Prina, and Torren, followed by a nap before Lieutenant Sulu and his parents, both long-time colleagues and friends of Jim's older brother, Dr. Sam Kirk, had joined him and Ambassador Spock and T'Sora for a late dinner in the hospital mess. They let me wear pants. Total highlight of my day. You?

Spock shows him an abbreviated version of the day, silently promising a more thorough description tomorrow. Nagu? Awesome. I always wanted to meet her. She knew your mom, huh?

Yes. Spock brushes back Jim's hair from his eyes, knowing Jim desperately wants a haircut, but finding the increased length oddly attractive. Perhaps she might join us for dinner this week. I understand she has agreed to a series of lectures for the next two weeks in response to the popularity of the one she conducted this evening. She has expressed her desire to make your acquaintance, if you are so inclined.

Jim hesitates, eyes slitting open, pride warring with curiosity before he nods. "Yeah," he says finally. "Just--get me a uniform? I'm not meeting Dr. Nagu in pajamas."

"You realize she is six decades your senior and prefers female partners," Spock says in amusement. "It must also be noted that you are unavailable for the foreseeable future."

Jim smirks, eyes drifting shut. Yeah, well, no harm in looking. I have a thing for linguists, you know. Settling into sleep, Jim murmurs, "Well, these days, just one of them."

Despite the close of the official inquiry into the actions of the Enterprise, Starfleet continues to call in various members of the crew for interviews almost at random. Following the information chain Lieutenant Uhura had developed for the enlisted crewmembers (though it had been created for the purpose of shortcutting the restrictions of the chain of command on Jim's order, to give junior officers and non-commissioned crew a less complicated and intimidating means of contacting their superiors), the names of the crewmen singled out and a summary of each interview are reported regularly, which Uhura organizes, summarizes, and reports to both Jim and Spock.

Dr. Valdez, after consultation with Healer Sorin and Dr. McCoy, had reluctantly agreed that Jim's condition had improved enough for him to be interviewed by Starfleet Security. To Spock's bemusement, Admiral Komack's new duties required his participation in all aspects of the questioning, where his famous lack of subtlety was employed to Jim's benefit.

The Sunseed Project that Rayiyah had developed by chance was of extreme interest to all divisions of Starfleet; after Ambassador Spock had arrived and settled himself and his wife in accommodations adjacent to Starfleet Medical, he had quickly established Vulcan authority over Rayiyah, which had done a great deal to convince Rayiyah that he was not in immediate danger of either execution or extradition to the Romulan Empire.

"Speaking of," Jim says, trying to ignore the vegetable portion of his meal entirely, "why haven't we been contacted by the Empire to return their people? Their spy network can't possibly be incompetent enough to miss this. Not like that little border skirmish was sublte."

Nyota ably removes the cherry cobbler that one of the nurses had brought him from the more extensive Academy messhall, pointing at the dish of braised asparagus and artichokes when Jim objects. "Finish that first," she says, fishing a fat cherry from the bowl and eating it when Jim scowls. "And they might have. Doesn't mean that we'd know about it."

"Official contact from the Romulan Empire is a matter of public record," Spock answers, as Jim quickly and without enjoyment tries to finish his bowl before Nyota can make significant inroads in the cobbler. "And I agree; while they might have indeed initiated private contact with Starfleet, they would not lose the opportunity that Rayiyah's presence would offer them to accuse us of either abduction--"

"Hey!" Jim says, swallowing hastily at Nyota's frown for his poor manners. "Speaking as one of the abducted--"

"--or subornation of a Romulan citizen," Spock continues as if Jim had not spoken. "They would be within their rights by the terms of our armistice to demand at least an interview with Rayiyah, which we would be required to provide, either to assure his voluntary defection or to accuse him of treason against the Empire."

"Those files we took from Rayiyah's databases might be a big motivator to shut up," Jim answers, pushing aside the empty dish and taking back his dessert. "How much has been translated so far?"

"With Rayiyah and Ambassador Spock's assistance, we have thirty percent in rough translation; the finer points could take years, but it's pretty interesting reading material as it stands. If someone tipped them off, it might be enough to keep them quiet for a while." Jim offers Nyota another cherry in appreciation. "Thanks. In any case, the Syndicate's making up for it in sheer volume; every major corporation represented on the Syndicate's board is protesting they have no idea what the Federation is talking about. All but one." Popping the cherry into her mouth, she raises her eyebrows. "Due to an unfortunate navigational error in one of their cruisers, the company headquarters and most of the city were destroyed, killing every employee of record."

Dr. McCoy looks up from reading a datapad in the corner, expression grim. "Quite a navigational error."

"Quite," Nyota answers softly. "They're also demanding the return of their ship--"

"My ship," Jim says through a mouthful of pie, pointing his spoon at Spock. "I don't care what Starfleet says; I stole it fair and square. Not that there's much of it left besides databanks and spacedust."

"What on earth would you do with a slaver ship?" Dr. McCoy demands, putting down the datapad.

"The question is, what couldn't I do with a slaver ship, and that's not much. However, I don't want the Enterprise to get jealous, so I'm willing to let Starfleet Engineering have those databanks. God knows those transporter configurations are warp years ahead of us for mass human transport." Chasing down the last bits of cherry, Jim sets the bowl aside and surveys the room. "You know, we're all on leave, I'm critically ill, and yet we still have staff meetings. But with food. I like that development. Remind me to institute that when we ship out."

"Seconded," Dr. McCoy volunteers, standing up with a groan. "And with that, I have rounds, then a lovely evening at a very boring--"

Nyota clears her throat.

"--experimental performance by a troupe of multi-species dancers who are reinterpreting Swan Lake as a pre-Reformation Vulcan battle. Which is what happens when you major in liberal arts." Smirking at Nyota, Dr. McCoy stops at Jim's bed, giving the monitors a cursory examination. "Looking good, Jim. I'll drop by Valdez's office before I leave and see if we can break you out tomorrow."

"Marry me."

"Yeah, no, I heard what happens to challengers at koon-ut kal-if-fee, thanks." With a nod at Spock and another smile at Nyota, Dr. McCoy leaves, shouting for a nurse before the door closes behind him.

Reluctantly, Nyota gets up from her seat at the foot of Jim's bed. "I'd better go as well. I'm supervising the update of the Enterprise communications array--"

Jim winces visibly; that never ends well, at least for the engineers when Nyota sees what they have perpetrated on her board.

"--and I want to get some work done on the universal translator matrix before dinner." Leaning a hip against the bed, Nyota gives Jim a flat look. "Speaking of, you aren't permitted to backseat repair the Enterprise after that incident with Commodore Atkins and the dilithium crystal mix-up, as you know very well, so decide where you want to take leave and I'll make the arrangements."

Jim leans back into his pillow, uncrossing his legs with a sigh. "Just because I'm on medical leave and can't do anything fun doesn't mean the rest of you have to--"

"Yeah, shut up. We're all going, so get over it." Pushing off the bed, she glances at Spock on her way to the door. "Don't forget we have dinner with Scotty and his staff tomorrow night to go over the updates to engineering, and we need to clear the rest of our personnel requests after that. I want this done before we leave; there's no way I'm working on vacation."

"Sometimes," Jim says to no one in particular, "I really wonder why you all keep me around."

"Because you're pretty," Nyota says with a smirk. "See you tomorrow, Jim."

When the door is closed behind her, Jim holds out a hand. "Give me the blueprints of the refit cycle now. If she thought to warn me off, it's got to be bad."

Resigned, Spock takes out the solid, which Jim adds to his datapad. "I am sure it is not as extensive as the unfortunate changes Commodore Atkins authorized."

"Yeah, that's what they always say." Settling himself against the pillows, Jim looks at Spock over the edge of the datapad. "You feel like beaming up and making sure they're not replacing my chair again?"

Spock glances out the window; he had hoped to verify the changes made to the ship's core memory today. "Admiral Pike had scheduled to meet with us today--"

Jim blows out a breath in frustration. "Current changes in regulations approved during the last Admiral's meeting, I remember. Which you already memorized. Just go; no reason both of us have to be bored to homicide for three hours."

"You are certain?"

Jim looks at him incredulously. "Let's remember why I'm barred from the ship again? Protect my goddamn chair." Jim grins as he picks up the datapad again and waves Spock toward the door. "Have fun for me. God knows I won't be having any."

Dr. Melody Huang
Dr. Melody Huang

The first faint sense of alarm is so mild that Spock almost ignores it as he attempts to make sense of the updates to the science station, as they seem to follow no known logical pattern, almost as if to discourage its use by any species possessing a developed cerebral cortex and opposable thumbs. As the distressingly enthusiastic engineer explains the benefits of the new interface, a sudden wave of sharply focused anger takes his entire attention.

"Please have your supervisor report to me with a complete explanation of the reason for these changes," Spock says, cutting the ensign off mid-sentence. "You are dismissed, Lieutenant Singh."

Ignoring the ensign's startled expression, Spock approaches Nyota at communications, currently stripped down to bare wiring and data solids. "Can we communicate with Starfleet yet?"

"Nope." To his bemusement, she seems to be grinding her teeth from her position on the floor, the new board broken down into its component parts. Looking up, she frowns at whatever she observes on his face. "Dammit, is it urgent? The board is a mess, and I don't know when I'll get it working again. Have they brought back the shuttlecraft yet?"

"No," Spock answers as Nyota gets to her feet, looking helplessly at the communications board. "Do not trouble yourself--"

"What's wrong?"

Spock hesitates. "He seemed--angry."

"He's meeting with Admiral Pike, isn't he? He's getting the annual regulations lecture." Before Spock can answer, Nyota grabs a passing crewman. "Find me whoever worked on this board and tell them I want it back to how it was pre-insane refit within the hour, got it? Go."

The crewman departs with unsurprising swiftness, bypassing the turbolift for the access panel to the Jefferies tubes. Nyota closes her eyes, hands clenched into fists. "They took down the turbolifts again. Goddammit."

"You are probably correct," Spock admits; Jim's mind has settled into sleep, which is surprising, considering the excess anger. "He has fallen asleep."

"Still." Kicking the communications panel in frustration, she steps over it, surveying the partially deconstructed bridge before sighing. "Let's get out of here before I snap and order them all into the brig. If we leave now, we can check on Jim before dinner with time to make sure he eats more than cake."

"The turbolifts are down," Spock observes, gazing at the Jefferies tubes.

"I can climb," Nyota answers grimly. "Emergency transporters in auxiliary are always online. Ten levels--hmm. My best time at the Academy was fourteen minutes. Yours?"

"Eight minutes and forty six point three nine eight seconds."

Nyota raises her eyebrows in challenge. "Let's see if we can beat that."

The sleeping murmur of Jim's mind continues to occupy Spock's attention; it is illogical, but after the events of the previous weeks, Spock supposes it is natural he would be unusually sensitive to Jim's condition. As they reach the level of auxiliary control ("Ten minutes. Not too bad," Nyota remarks, pleased. "And in the dark, even. Remind me to yell at someone about emergency lights."), Nyota glances around the quiet corridors in relief. "I'm learning to love silence. This way."

It's a short walk to the emergency transporter. Nyota goes to the controls, satisfied they haven't been updated yet, then brings the system online and starts the power cycle. "One minute," she says as Spock steps onto the platform. "I was thinking about South America, or maybe Risa if we can get Valdez to approve Jim going off-planet," she says, leaning both elbows on the control panel. "Somewhere tropical. What do you think?"

"Our last leave involved a great deal of snow," Spock answers after a moment of thought. "It was--challenging."

"Right. Don't let Jim pick vacations, ever. I should have guessed." Glancing at the readings, Nyota sighs. "I always wanted to learn to--okay, what the hell?" Pulling back, she taps a sequence into the board, frown deepening. "The power drained and started cycling again."

"Let me see." Joining her, Spock pulls the diagnostic record. "The system was reset."

"Uhura to--" Nyota cuts herself off with a murmured profanity that Spock pretends not to hear. "Communications are down. All right, what the hell?"

"It is not unusual," Spock says, kneeling to remove the board access panel. "I did not think to retrieve my tool kit--:

"I did." Crouching beside him, she pulls a small leather case from her boot, unrolling it on the floor between them. "It was designed for the communication board so I could do emergency repairs on the bridge without shutting down, but it should work for the transporter board in a pinch."

"They are sufficient." Spock picks up a small cutter while studying the power relays. Jim's mind has settled into a surprisingly deep sleep, the low murmuring almost impossible to discern. "Rerouting power to--" Spock stops abruptly; Jim's presence dissolves into no more than a faint spark. "Jim."

Uhura's fingers close over his wrist, pulling the cutter away. "What?"

"He is in a coma," Spock says numbly. "I do not understand; there was no sign of cortical degradation when--"

"Right. You need me to do that?" Nyota's voice demands his attention; with an effort, Spock focuses on her face.

"No." Turning back to the open panel, Spock quickly makes the changes. "Monitor the board and tell me if the cycle completes without draining."

"I'm on it." Getting to her feet, her knee presses comfortingly against his shoulder. "Twenty percent and rising."

The cycle seems unusually slow, though Spock is aware it is his own perception of time that is skewed. At this distance, there is no way to contact Jim, and without knowledge of his condition, it would be unwise to attempt it. Despite that, it is a physical effort not to try.

"It's stable. Get on the platform. This only goes into the transporter room in the station, but we'll get an emergency beam to the Medical Center. They may have information there if they couldn't contact us here." Reaching down, she rolls up her toolkit, shoving it in her boot. "Hurry."

Spock takes his place on the platform as Nyota enters the commands, joining him just the familiar humming begins. Almost immediately, the interior of the space station forms around them, a surprised looking technician approaching the transporter pad.

"How did you--"

"You," Nyota says sharply, "find out who the hell disabled emergency transport and send them straight to Pike. Auxiliary is never disabled when there are lifesigns on board. Where's Commodore Atkins?"

"She's--that way," the technician answers faintly, pointing toward the doors. "In the command center--"

"As you were. Uhura to Communication, have any messages been received for Commander Spock?" Preceding him out the door, she listens to her communicator. "Contact Starfleet Medical and get the current status of Captain James Kirk from Dr. McCoy. Tell him to do a physical check immediately and contact us with the results. Uhura out." Pocketing her communicator, she hesitates before turning left. "No reports from Starfleet Medical," she tells him breathlessly. "He still out of it?"


"You said he was angry and then went to sleep," she says as she counts doors. "Here we are. Spock?"

Spock gives her a nod, taking a breath as she enters her code and waits for them to be given permission to enter. Within a few seconds, the doors open, permitting them entrance into the small, crowded command center of the station.

"Commander Spock, Lieutenant Uhura," Commodore Atkins says with cool dignity, looking at them with unconcealed displeasure. "Is there a problem?"

"There are several, Commodore," Spock answers. "We currently require emergency transport to the Medical Center."

"We verified that no messages have been received from Starfleet, Commander Spock," Commodore Atkins answers coolly. "Your message, Lieutenant Uhura, is being relayed to Starfleet and will be forwarded to Medical--"

"Would you permit me to contact Medical directly? The relay will take time I am not sure--"

"If there was a problem," Commodore Atkins answers, "I am sure you would have been contacted. Regulations require all messages pass through Starfleet Communications. You are welcome to wait for a response in the mess."

"Commodore," Spock answers, keeping his voice even with an effort, "despite the lack of communication, Captain Kirk's condition has deteriorated rapidly. I require--"

"Commander Spock," Commodore Atkins says with a condescending smile, "I understand you are worried due to Captain Kirk's recent injuries. If it was an emergency, I assure you, we would have been told. I'll contact you in the mess when we receive a response. Mr. Renfield, please escort the Commander and Lieutenant to the mess hall." Her smile fades as Ensign Renfield joins them. "Please take advantage of our hospitality while you wait."

Spock reaches for Nyota's wrist, aware she is dangerously close to insubordination. "I thank you, Commodore," Spock answers tonelessly. "I will be sure to mention your cooperation to Admiral Pike." Turning toward the door with Lieutenant Renfield in close proximity, Spock feels Nyota carefully forming a mental image of the condition that Commodore Atkins had been discovered in after the dilithium incident.

In retrospect, Spock rather thinks that Jim's actions were justified.

It's nearly an hour before an ensign comes for them; to Spock's surprise, they're led directly to the transporter room. "Admiral Pike authorized a direct transport to Starfleet Medical," he explains as they take their position on the pad. Commodore Atkins is unsurprisingly absent. "Energize."

Dr. McCoy, Dr. Valdez, and three members of Starfleet Security are waiting for them at the transporter pad in the Medical Center. "Jim's gone," Dr. McCoy says without preamble, falling into step with them. "We're doing a room by room search, but so far, no one remembers anything."

"Has it been established when he was taken?" Spock asks as they emerge into the reception area, where Admiral Pike and several other members of security have commandeered the main desk. "Admiral."

"Commander. I got a message canceling my meeting with Jim before I left my office." Pike looks at him grimly. "That's the last I heard from him."

Spock thinks back to the first sign of distress. "Jim first exhibited distress two hours and ten minutes ago, followed by anger one minute later. Then his mind abruptly entered fourth stage sleep," he says, aware of a lieutenant making notes beside him. "It was forty-five minutes after that that he entered a comatose state."

"That would be consistent with sedation followed by administration of a medically induced coma," Dr. McCoy offers, looking over Jim's last readings. "I'm not ruling out a traumatic brain event, but it's unlikely he'd go straight to fourth stage sleep by natural means that fast. Nothing the monitors recorded for the last two days show any kind of instability in his brain function."

"According to staff, no one saw anyone enter or leave the room after Spock left," Uhura says, taking the datapad Admiral Pike offers. "So we're talking a beam-out?"

Remembering Jim's codepicker, Spock leaves the reception area, ignoring Admiral Pike's inquiry. Studying the bed, covers shoved to the foot, Spock turns one of the monitors, finding the faint scratches of the panel being removed. Carefully, he pries it open and takes out Jim's codepicker.

When he returns, Nyota's expression crumples. "The codepicker is still in the room," Spock says, hand clenched around it. "If Jim had meant to leave--"

"He would have taken it, yeah." Admiral Pike looks at security. "Verify the shielding that blocks direct beam-out from patient rooms hasn't been tampered with. I know you checked; do it again." Turning back to Spock, Admiral Pike blows out a breath. "We verified with external security footage that Jim didn't take the window. For that matter--"

"Jim wouldn't leave without telling one of us," Nyota answers, looking up from the datapad and meeting Admiral Pike's skeptical look. Dr. McCoy nods agreement, then reaches for his communicator as it pings, turning away from the group. "We know him, Admiral. If he wanted to get out, he would have asked one of us to cover for him. And we would have."

"I'll defer to your judgment, then," Admiral Pike answers. "Chekov and Sulu are leading security in a floor by floor search; we're verifying no other patients have gone missing."

"Healer Sorin verified that all the patients from the colony are accounted for," Dr. McCoy says, closing his communicator. "He regrets he can't help us search, but he says they're extremely agitated and projecting a little strongly, so they've been moved to the fifth floor until everything calms down. The entire floor is a Faraday cage," Dr. McCoy explains to Admiral Pike. "Blocks telepathy. With the searches going on, their shields aren't holding up too well."

"Understood. Inform him we'll alert him when it's calmed down a little." The head of Starfleet campus security leans over, murmuring something that Spock can't quite hear. "Tell them Starfleet's in lockdown until I say it's not. No one in, no one out. That does include admirals; tell anyone who objects to talk to Komack and see how far they get."

"Technician Rayiyah--" Spock begins as the sense of Admiral Pike's words penetrate; he is surprised that it did not occur to him before.

"Ambassador Spock and three security officers are with him and his colleagues, and they're reporting every fifteen minutes," Admiral Pike answers, looking between them thoughtfully. "Cadet T'Prina and Torren were at the Vulcan Consulate, and Ambassador Sarek informed me that appropriate measures have been taken to protect them. And until we know more, the Enterprise senior staff are being assigned a security detail."

"We need to get caught up," Nyota says abruptly. "Is there a room nearby?"

Admiral Pike waves over his assistant. "Find them a room. Spock…" he pauses, shaking his head. "We'll find him."

"I'll get you up to speed," Dr. McCoy offers as Nyota's fingers close around Spock's wrist. Blankly, Spock follows them to the indicated room, aware of security following them. "Tell Chekov and Sulu to come in when they're done. Hey, just Evans, okay?" he hears Nyota say. "We need some privacy."


"Evans, bring your second, but that's it." Abruptly her voice drops. "Commander Spock is in shock. Clear it with Pike if you have to. Now out."

As the doors close, Spock takes a seat at the wide table, looking around; apparently, they've commandeered the first floor break room. Nyota and McCoy seat themselves on either side of him. "Any change?" Nyota asks softly as Evans circles the room, looking grim and determined by turn. "Any--"

"No. There has been no change." Spock looks up. "I believe--my judgment is impaired at this time."

"I know; that's my job." Sitting back, she motions Evans to take a seat. "Okay, anything we're missing?"

"No." Evans shifts restlessly. "I was off-duty when Dr. McCoy discovered Captain Kirk was missing and called my first team to report here immediately. Pike cleared us and we did a sweep of the entire building. I verified the shielding personally, Lieutenant. There's no way anyone could have direct beamed out of a patient room, not without making a mess of the system in the process and not without leaving something."

"Anything is possible," Spock says. "But it is unlikely, yes."

"There was a forty-five minute gap between when we sent the message and Dr. McCoy received it," Nyota says flatly. "And you said about forty-five minutes between deep sleep and when he went into a coma. He was angry before that, but up until then--"

"Jim did not exhibit any strong emotion," Spock answers, unable to make himself concentrate on anything but the thin awareness of Jim, distant and untouchable again. The conversation of his crewmates continues around him as Spock closes his eyes, trying to find his center; every time, he's brushed away, almost deliberately, his attention broken. "There was no sign of a struggle." It takes an enormous effort to say. "If he had been transported, the blankets--"

"Would have gone with him," Nyota says slowly. "They were at the foot of the bed; he got up. Someone came by and he went with them voluntarily."

"No one saw them leave," Dr. McCoy says, lifting his head from his hands, hair disordered. "Look, just trust me on this, Jim's under constant surveillance, and I do mean constant with his little trick of running outside to play when he feels like it. I set up the monitors myself; I know every damn time he leaves that room and where he goes. He didn't get his shoes or his clothes or the codepicker; he didn't think he was leaving the hospital."

Abruptly, Spock feels something change; like vertigo, the room shivers, and Spock opens his mouth, but the words lock in his throat. Blinking, he looks at Nyota, who reaches for him, brown eyes wide. "Jim."

Getting clumsily to his feet, he would have fallen if Nyota had not caught him. "Where?"

Close. He looks at the door, wondering if he can walk even those few steps. "He is--"

At the sound of raised voices outside the door, Dr. McCoy stands up, but Evans beats him, giving them all a long look that reminds them as head of security, he has every intention of assuring they don't lose another member of the Enterprise command staff--again. The door opens just as he reaches it, a frantic looking ensign who blurts out "Commander Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, he's--Captain Kirk's back."

The reception room is in a state of controlled chaos, but with Nyota and Dr. McCoy beside him, Spock is able to navigate the length of it without any clear idea of having done so. Within Jim's small room, several doctors and nurses are hovering over the no longer empty bed, and Spock catches a glimpse of Jim's face, faintly flushed and from a glance at the monitors, in normal REM sleep.

"Move it," Dr. McCoy growls, pushing through the bodies surrounding Jim by sheer will. Dr. Valdez looks up, then nods a quick permission, letting him through. Blinking, Spock hesitates, following an odd blur that seems to shimmer at the corner of his eye. Healer Sorin and a familiar woman in nurse's scrubs are approaching the main doors, their pace slow; when she stumbles, he sees Sorin catch her, one arm circling her narrow waist. As she lifts her head, Spock glimpses the thin, hollow face, pale golden skin, and a glimpse of wide, glazed blue eyes. Melody?

Sorin stops, turning slightly to look at him. For a moment, the room seems to silence around them. The man's face is impassive for a long moment, then the narrow lips quirk in a strange, unfamiliar smile.

I am impressed, Commander Spock. I see I was correct in assuring your absence. I believe I owe you and Captain Kirk a debt of gratitude. See to your bondmate for now. The rest will come in time.

"…Spock. Spock?" Nyota's voice drags him back, and Spock blinks, looking at the empty space for a moment before turning toward her. "Spock. Are you okay?"

"Yes." Looking back, Spock shakes himself, following the insistent pressure of her hand. Dr. McCoy is waiting, and Spock listens patiently as Dr. Valdez assures them that Captain Kirk is sleeping normally, that his bloodstream shows signs of a complicated solution that was used to induce a chemical coma in severely injured patients, that there are signs of new regeneration in the occipital lobe--

"Regeneration," Spock says, looking at Dr. McCoy. "Someone operated on him?"

"They went in where we did when we did Sorin's regeneration trick," Dr. McCoy says grimly. "No damage far as I can see. Looks like--" Dr. McCoy hesitates, as if he's fighting a thought that will not remain still. "It was expert, whoever did it; they knew exactly where to look and what to do."

Spock thinks of Sorin; the thought doesn't linger, almost aggressively shoved out of his mind as Dr. McCoy shows him the familiar scans. "He's been passively reading since he went into normal sleep; his psi-centers are active and all over the map. We're moving him upstairs into a Faraday room until he wakes up. Just in case."

"Yes," Spock says, giving his consent. As Dr. McCoy and Dr. Valdez begin to direct the medical staff, Spock permits Lieutenant Uhura to lead him back to Admiral Pike. "Admiral--"

"No idea," Admiral Pike says viciously, looking between three separate datapads while nervous looking security members try to be inconspicuous. "Dr. Valdez was talking to me, turned around to ask one of the nurses something, and took off for the room. Jim was just there, like he never left. Valdez said he was just entering normal sleep when they found him." Admiral Pike stops, turning to the comm. "I want every log of everything that's happened for the last four hours now. I don't care if it's logging a rat in the basement, everything's suspect and I want to see it all. Now."

"Yes, sir," the voice over the comm says nervously.

Turning back to them, Admiral Pike sighs. "This isn't over yet. I think it would be better--"

"We'll stay with Captain Kirk," Nyota says firmly. "Evans and his team can handle security."

Looking relieved, Admiral Pike nods. "I'll talk to Valdez and get that floor cleared--"

"In the room," Nyota clarifies, looking surprised. "What, do you think someone isn't going to be keeping him in sight for the foreseeable future? This is twice. There are four suites on that floor for families--we'll take one of those."

Admiral Pike looks at one of his aides. "Tell Valdez," he says, waving him toward the swarm of medical personnel. "We'll need to question you both--all of you," the Admiral says, almost apologetically. "As soon as--"

"We would prefer to do it here," Nyota answers. "At your convenience, sir," she adds belatedly. "Could you inform Cadet T'Prina and Ambassador Spock--"

"We're on it." Admiral Pike looks at Spock for a moment. "And I get the feeling if I don't give you permission to get up there, you'll be doing it without. Go."

Spock nods jerkily, unable to hide his relief; Jim's sleeping presence is beginning to exhibit stress. "Thank you, Admiral," he manages, echoed by Nyota. As they approach the turbolift, Ensign Harrison materializes behind them.

"Lieutenant Evans and two of his team are already with the Captain," he says, moving by them to activate the turbolift. "I'm supposed to make sure you two don't vanish into the ether before you can get to the room."

"At another time," Nyota says a little ruefully as Harrison lets them inside the turbolift, "that would be paranoid."

Harrison nods grimly as the doors close. "Not anymore."

It is fourteen hours before Jim awakens; blinking, he meets Spock's eyes, head dropping back on the pillow. "I am so. Tired. Of being drugged. You have no idea."

"I must admit," Spock answers softly, in respect for the other occupants of the room who are currently sleeping, "that it seems to be excessive." After a moment, Spock realizes he's staring at Jim and straightens. "Your readings are normal; you do not seem to have been injured."

"No surprise." Slowly, Jim sits up, looking around the room for a moment. "He got away, didn't he?"

Spock frowns; the strange vertigo returns, and he feels his fingers clutching at the mattress, straining through the thin material as he remembers, as clearly as if he were living the moment again, Sorin and the woman--and Melody leave the hospital. "It was Healer Sorin."

Jim nods tiredly. "Yeah." Then, "Don't call security yet."

Spock had had no intention of doing so; Healer Sorin would not have left anything to chance. There is nothing to be gained by requiring Jim to answer questions yet.

Jim hesitates, not looking at him. "Just--I need a few minutes before they start asking questions. You saw him? He was worried--as much as Sorin worries about anything, I guess. He said you were--" Jim's forehead creases in thought. "That it was harder with Vulcans, and especially with you."

Remembering how Sorin and Melody had vanished, how easily he'd forgotten that he had seen them at all, Spock has to wonder what hard must mean to him. "I saw them both," Spock answers quietly. "He was able to awaken Melody."

Jim breathes out, lying back again. "Yeah. That was pretty much the goal. At least it wasn't for nothing."

"He required your assistance."

Jim nods, eyes shutting tight. "He--he figured it out when you were able to pull me out," Jim breathes. "It was the familiarity. And he wasn't--wasn't familiar, not like she needed. But I was. At least, I am now. He used me to get her out. She recognized me after he transferred the cells." Jim shudders. "It's--it's complicated."

"You should rest," Spock says, reaching out. At the touch of his fingers, however, Jim flinches, jerking away, blue eyes wide and for the first time in all their time together, afraid; Spock stills, chest tight.

"Not you," Jim says, catching his hand before he can pull away. "Sorry, just--the last time someone came near my face, it was really unpleasant."

Through the bond, Spock can feel Jim's residual panic, and follows it to the source. After only a brief hesitation, Jim nods, and Spock finds the memory; blurry without a meld to clarify it with context, but it's enough. "He forced you to meld with him, to reach her."

Jim nods tiredly. "He said he could--could light the path or something, but I was the only one who could find her. She would know me, and I could get her out." Jim looks away. "She was unstable; she'd been there too long. When he realized--" Jim's mouth tightens, tensing, and Spock tries to pull away. "No, don't--don't go. I can do this."

"You do not have to."

Jim shakes his head. "Yeah, I do. Just--" Licking his lips, Jim tries again. "She--I don't know what to call it, but I couldn't get away. She didn't want to be alone anymore. She wanted me to stay. For a second--" Jim sucks in a breath, the monitors reflecting the abrupt increase of heart rate and blood pressure; carefully, Spock eases between Jim and the memories, feeling his consent as he dampens the remembered fear, until it's almost as if it were something that had happened to someone else entirely.

"Thanks," Jim breathes, starting to relax. "The regeneration worked on her like the other patients; she was strong. Sorin--Sorin got me away and they--" Jim shivers. "He bonded with her, to keep her here, and she let me go. I felt--she wasn't sane anymore. He didn't care. He just wanted her."

Spock nods, feeling Jim's breathing fall into rhythm with his own.

"Then he--the next thing I knew, I woke up here with you." Jim's head turns on the pillow. "You said he was an Adept and trained in the mind disciplines. I really feel like you should elaborate on what exactly that means. We walked through the reception room and I didn't even--I didn't even ask why. I didn't even wonder why no one seemed to notice, even when I walked right into one of the nurses."

Spock breathes out. "It is not something we ever speak of," Spock answers quietly. "The techniques he utilized--they are forbidden to those who do not devote their lives to pure logic. When he left Gol, he should not have been able to--"

Spock stops, letting the meaning of what Sorin had done wash over him. The Acolytes could not have known he left Gol still possessing that knowledge. Those that failed, that found the pursuit of pure logic beyond them, were never permitted to carry with them the training forbidden to Vulcans.

"Shit." Jim's fingers slip through his, tightening. "He's been fucking with us since we met him, hasn't he?"

Spock thinks of Sorin, so easily taking over the care of his brother's former bondmate without question "You did not suspect this, nor have the others, which has been to my benefit."; the regeneration technique approved so easily despite its experimental nature "My presentation to the other healers was thorough; I was able to convince them of the logic of my arguments."; that no one had ever guessed his motives for caring for Melody despite the evidence that in retrospect should have been simple for any who saw them to discover "Have to say, if it weren't Sorin, I'd wonder a little about the coincidence.". The ease in which he had insinuated himself into assisting Jim with his shields, so he could observe their bond "The study of your bond with Commander Spock during the course of instruction could help me discover a new path in assisting Melody."; their medical records released in full; adding himself as Jim's mindhealer so he would have consent to touch Jim's mind; and his guidance in assisting Spock in reaching Jim after those long days that his mind had been lost to them…

"I am always thorough, Commander."

And he thinks of Dr. McCoy "The galaxy turns on the existence of that girl as far as he's concerned."

"Yes," Spock says numbly, holding Jim's eyes. "He has."

Jim breathes out, squeezing Spock's fingers once before sitting up. "We should call Pike and get this over with." Beneath it, Spock hears the unspoken, Get us out of here, just--anywhere else. I don't care where.

Spock nods, letting go of Jim's hand and reaching for the comm. "Nyota will make arrangements immediately."

Good. As Spock opens a secure channel to Admiral Pike, Jim closes his eyes.

Captain James T. Kirk
Captain James Tiberius Kirk


Jim's always found he's done his very best not-thinking prone, and adding in a beach just makes it that much easier. Eyes closed, he feels across the sand for the bottle, unwilling to give up current sloth even for very good alcohol, which this is. And better, stolen alcohol that Bones doesn't know about and therefore can't say he can't have, which honestly just makes it taste that much better.

From behind him, there's no sound of feet moving through the sand, but Spock's mastered the art of being sneaky, and Jim could feel the soft hum of his mind long before he started crossing the beach. As Jim's fingers just touch the edge of the bottle, it's taken away.

Opening his eyes, Jim grins up at Spock. "That's mean."

"I do not believe Dr. McCoy would be pleased to find you with alcohol, Jim," Spock answers, sitting down beside him to look at the unmarked bottle. "What is it?"

"I dunno? It's good, whatever it is." Jim snickers at Spock's alarm. "Alpha Centurian homemade wine; remind me that I promised Evans a promotion for finding it." After a moment, Jim pushes himself up, taking the bottle for another drink. "I thought you were doing dinner with Bones and Uhura after Nagu's lecture."

Spock does the eyebrow equivalent of a shrug and to Jim's surprise, extending his hand for the bottle and taking a careful sip. "I do not believe the lack of my company will be noticed."

Jim eyes the ocean lapping white sand just a few centimeters from his bare feet, wondering, not for the first time, who exactly Uhura had blackmailed and killed to get them beachfront cabins on Risa. Saving the galaxy did not get you credit on a pleasure planet, though it did get you half-priced drinks, which Bones had refused on his behalf but accepted for pretty much everyone else.

Jim's not bored yet, even though he's restricted from doing anything even vaguely fun, but he thinks that soon he might be. A week of nothing but rest and relaxation sounds good, but Jim's never been really all that attracted to unlimited free time with nothing to do but think, and there's way too much to think about.

"You know I'm not actually blocking you because I hate you and want you to die, right?"

Spock hesitates, setting the bottle down. "I understand your reasons."

For the first time since Jim was (reluctantly) discharged from Starfleet Medical, he lets his careful shields down. It's an effort, which he supposes is a good sign; he's learning to use them automatically, unthinkingly, which means three hour long meditations are not in his immediate future. But he thinks that he would have preferred that to what he damn well knows is the equivalent of a panic-induced shutdown. "Spock--"

Faintly, faintly, he can feel Spock; it's too distant to get more than that, and it's another first--he misses the feel of Spock's mind. The low, subliminal hum he can almost ignore isn't the same, and he knows no matter what Spock says or doesn't say, it's against everything Vulcans are to live like this.

"Jim, I do not feel--abandoned." Spock pauses, and Jim lets himself feel just a little more, enough to get a current of those feelings Spock can't quite admit he has. There's anger, which makes Jim want to pull away even if it's justified, but the focus isn't on him at all. "What Sorin did to you--"

Jim has to focus not to shut down again; there goes not thinking. "So we're going to talk about it." And probably past time, too, even if Jim had some faint fantasy that maybe they could get away with sex and then finding someone to work on that goddamn half-finished water sculpture in their room. Which may be a metaphor for their relationship, but he's not entirely sure what it means.

"We do not have to," Spock says, legs crossed in what could be casualness if his back wasn't so goddamn straight. "There have been cases--an involuntary meld for the purposes that Sorin put it to is rare on Vulcan, but when it has happened, the repercussions--"


"It is not unusual for those who have been victims of involuntary telepathic manipulation to find further mental contact distasteful and seek to avoid--"

"We're not talking about Sorin anymore, are we?"

Spock looks at him calmly. "No, we are not."

Jim pulls up his knees, hooking an arm around them and staring out over the water, feeling the words filling his mouth, bitter and long denied and unwanted. Lying to other people is one thing; lying to yourself is just stupid. "So I'm a telepath."

Beside him, he feels Spock stiffen.

"What Sorin did--" Jim takes a deep breath. "What he did he couldn't have done if I were--if I wasn't one."

"The actions of the Ambassador and I are the reason you have been changed," Spock says evenly. "I understand your reasons, Jim. Even if the results were not intended, that does not change the fact that our actions were the cause." After a moment, Spock continues, voice even more ruthlessly even. "I contacted T'Sai at the colony; she has offered a potential solution."

Jim twists around to stare at Spock. "A solution."

"Vulcan healers are instructed in many techniques specific to telepathy. Though rarely used, there are ways to--repress it."

"You've never mentioned anything like that before."

"That is because it is implemented only in cases where the individual is either unable or unwilling to exercise control, or when further telepathic contact is too damaging for the individual to risk further exposure of any kind." Spock never looks away from the ocean. "When it is used, it is very thorough; it is impossible for them to read others, or be read themselves."

Jim turns the implications over in his mind, hearing what Spock isn't saying; a bond couldn't survive that, not a complete shutdown. "Everyone would be shut out of my head. Including you."


"For good."

"The technique is not easily reversible," Spock answers. "And the results are--uncertain. It is not a solution that is embarked on without thought, only when there is no other way."

"In some places, we'd call that a divorce."

Spock turns to face him. "No."

"You're saying you could live with me and know you couldn't ever touch my mind again?"

"Yes," Spock answers simply. "If that was your choice, I would." Like it's not even a question. Jim leans back and thinks about that, what it means to a Vulcan to live with a lover, to continue a relationship where they were forever denied a part of a Vulcan marriage so fundamental it's as natural as breathing.

Jim's not sure what it means, that Spock's offering him this, but he thinks maybe Spock's as dumb as Jim is sometimes. Love does that to you.

"The thing is, I hate diplomacy," Jim says, making himself stare at the ocean because he's just shit at metaphor. "I mean, you know this. But I love the Enterprise. And I do diplomacy--granted, with Uhura and you watching me--because one comes with the other."

"I do not require this of you," Spock answers, softly, so sure. "It is enough that you are--you alone will always be all that I require."

Jim shuts his eyes and kind of wishes he'd stuck to literalism; it's Spock for God's sake. "Diplomacy is the telepathy. The Enterprise is--is the bond thing. God, your mother was an interpreter, how the hell do you miss a big metaphor about our relationship?"

"That would be," Spock answers, and this time, his voice isn't controlled at all, "because it was not a clear metaphor."

Jim turns around on the towel completely, catching Spock's eyes. "I know when you're tired and when you're unhappy and when you're pissed, which right, Vulcan's aren't, and I like the fact that I know it's not true. I wouldn't--the thing is--" Jim stops, trying to frame the words just right. "I spent the last week not hearing anything and I realized I really don't like it. I mean, I hate it. I hate it, but I had to do it, because fine, I didn't know you were going to come up with this--you know, overkill is something we both really enjoy way too much, we really need to work on that--but I knew it would be something. I knew I had to do it, because you'd never believe me if I couldn't prove it."

Reaching for Spock's hand, Jim laces their fingers together and this time, it's easy to drop the shields, knowing who is waiting for him on the other side. "I'm not scared of you in my head," Jim says, knowing Spock can feel the absolute truth. "Never you."

It's been a week, which right now feels like a goddamn lifetime, even longer than the trip from Remus when he'd felt like he'd fall apart at any moment. The wary Spockness seems to circle him like hunters around a campfire, trying to balance simple want against uncertainty, and Jim's gotten pretty good at this telepathy shit, opening his mind and shutting down fear with a single exhaled breath; this is Spock and nothing in his life has ever been this good.

At the first tentative touch, a finger of thought sliding between his own, Jim grins. "I'd also like to claim my conjugal rights now," he says, pushing Spock down into the sun-warmed sand and licking into his mouth, surprised all anew at the higher temperature of Vulcan skin, like a really, really good porn metaphor.

"Nahp-hif-bi tu throks," Jim breathes, grinning at the response he gets. "Yeah, I noticed you liked that. "Give me your thoughts, nahp-hif-bi tu throks, telsu, give me everything, kanok-vei tu tan-tor, did you know I can speak Ancient Golic now, I've been practicing--"

"You speak too much, Jim," Spock answers, the faintest quaver in his voice, and Jim kisses him again, shivering under the rush of pure sensation, the feel of Spock's mind twining through his, familiar and missed, the moment that it all clicks together, finally, and Jim has just enough presence of mind to drag off his swim trunks before something gets torn apart and lets it engulf him.

There are a lot of ways to describe this--the Federation does not lack an extensive library of porn featuring Vulcans--but description always pales before the reality when sex is just a more efficient way to get to this, something between perfect awareness and perfect understanding and a singular, continuous orgasm.

Spock isn't the type to think to bring prep for sex unless it's planned out in advance, but Jim's an old hand at sensing when it's time to strip and get down to business; fumbling for his shorts, he gets out the lube, slicking his fingers and getting up on his knees, easing his fingers inside himself with a little shudder that means Spock feels that, too. Grinning, he eases himself open enough not to risk a visit to Risa's medical facilities and unfastens Spock's uniform pants--what the fuck, Spock? Really? On vacation?--and runs his fist down his cock once before sliding down on Spock in a single, bright-painful rush that takes his breath away.

"Fuck me," Jim says, one hand braced in the sand. "Federation Standard. I can speak that, too."

Spock's hands close over his hips, vise-tight, pressing against the thin skin, grinding against bone, another good part, a great part, and Jim pulls up before going down again, setting a fast, frantic rhythm that can last forever when they're like this, when it's this good, when they need it this much. Knees grinding into the sand, Jim shuts his eyes against the double sensation of watching Spock and feeling his thoughts, the rich combination of lust and warmth and the way that Vulcans feel love, fierce and protective and painful, like the delicate edge of a lirpa slicing through logic and rationality, peeling away civilization like a shed skin. This is why they built Koon-Ut far out in the sands of Vulcan, clothing it in ritual and secrecy, where the participants fuck on bare rock if there's nothing else, grinding sand and sweeping heat and sweat and pure wonder when everything comes together before they fall into each other.

This, this could never scare him; this is everything that could ever have been possible, the thing he couldn't have known to want much less ever ask for; in a universe of infinite possibility, he'd never guessed it could house someone like Spock. Worth dying for, and worth living for, too, Spock hot and slick beneath him, pushing him over and back until sand grinds against his back and he's gasping for air and not caring if he ever gets enough. Tilting his head back, he thinks of the Colony's Koon-Ut far from even a view of the city and the pillar in the center, hearing bells and listening to himself make promises that will last until the day he dies, every promise Spock wants and all the ones he doesn't know he can have, the life he'll live as a Starfleet officer and Federation citizen and the galaxy that Pike wants to believe in and that somehow, impossibly, he believes Jim can, too.

Here, he can. He does. "Spock," Jim breathes, feeling laughter bubbling up from somewhere endlessly deep, "telsu, love of my fucking life, get on with it and fuck me."

His thighs will never forgive him for this, bent back against his chest and straining, Spock close and sucking kisses into his mouth, lips bruised and tasting of copper and iron both, the winding heat sparking something vicious and gorgeous in them both. Reaching up, Jim twists his hand in Spock's hair and jerks him closer, biting what he can't say but can feel, shutting his eyes at the answering response and the final click where they're not two beings in an infinite universe but a single one, just as infinite and so much more.

Orgasm just doesn't hit--it punches him out, head snapping back into the sand and maybe screaming, who the fuck cares, and Jim rides it out until every muscle goes liquid, shocked and high and beyond words or even thought, just feeling. It lasts forever, asking for more more more and he can give it, he can do this, he can do anything, anything at all.

A far too short time later, Jim feels Spock start to move; whining a little, Jim lets him, too bonelessly comfortable to argue. There's the vague sensation of being cleaned up with the towel, scratchy-comfortable, but that's fair enough; he who caused the mess shall clean the mess, even orgasm-induced messes. Stretching, Jim ignores the wince of bruised and overstrained muscles from long familiarity, opening his eyes to grin in satisfaction as Spock lies down beside him in elegant exhaustion.

They have another two weeks before they go back to headquarters, where Uhura and Spock will not let him on the Enterprise until they've fixed all the fuck-ups from the refit, and if he knows the Admiralty (God, does he), they'll get boring missions in the middle of nowhere for a while. Save the Federation, be bored for six months: that wasn't in the recruitment speech. In a month, he'll stand in front of a roomful of enlisted crew and looking at their faces, he'll tell them what he's willing to die for, what he's willing to live for, as a Federation Captain, a Starfleet officer, and a living being.

Once, I met a man in a bar who told me I could captain a starship and I believed him. When I'm done with you, you'll know that you can, too. Please close your textbooks and burn them or something, because that's not how this is going to go. Starfleet isn't what you think it is, and being an officer is like nothing you could ever imagine. You're going to change the galaxy, and this is where it starts.

"You are quiet," Spock observes after a prolonged pause; turning his head, Jim raises an eyebrow.

"And you're complaining."

"I am not. It was an observation." Having done his part in reminding Jim he's Vulcan and weird, Spock sits up, efficiently going about dressing in a way that makes it look hot and not weirdly awkward when you're showing the first signs of sex-related bruising and your hair is sticking straight up. Feeling superior, Jim reaches for his shorts and lifts his hips too pull them on, hissing a little; oh, he's going to be feeling this for a while.

Spock turns around, fastened pants and shirt in hand. "You require--"

"Oh God, don't even finish that sentence." Getting to his feet, Jim grabs the beach towel and wads it up under one arm. "We should start working on course material this week. Oh, and get a regenerator."

Spock's eyes narrow at the contradiction. "Did you not just say--"

"Oh, not now; we'll need it before I'm done with you." Catching Spock by the hand, Jim pulls him into a kiss, wallowing a little in the warmth of Spock's thoughts, confusion and faint amusement and patience that eventually, he'll understand why Jim is insane. Pulling back, Jim licks the tip of his nose and skips backward with a grin. "Coming with, Mr. Spock?"

Spock tilts his head thoughtfully before following him up the incline, fingers brushing his as they reach the front porch. "Everywhere you would go, t'hy'la."

Comment here or at LJ.

Chapter Text


Character Directory

Original Characters:

Commodore Atkins, Starfleet, assigned to Starfleet Refit Station orbiting Earth
Dr. Sarah Clemens, xenobotanist, Vulcan Colony, former relationship with Captain Gary Mitchell, current bondmate of Sekar, one child
Admiral Green, Starfleet
Dr. Melody Huang, Vulcan Colony, former bondmate of Sepak, one child, Selar, Picture
Commander Munroe, nurse, Starfleet Medical
Dr. Tai Nagu, xenolinguist
Captain Phillips, Starfleet (retired), Olympia
Ensign Powell, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise
Ensign Renfield, Starfleet, assigned to Starfleet Refit Station orbiting Earth
Ensign Roo, Alpha Centauran, Computer Maintenance, Starship Enterprise
Dr. Enrique Valdez, Starfleet, Surgeon General and head of Starfleet Medical

Sekar, xenobotanist, bondmate of Dr. Sarah Clemens, one child
Sedak, son of Ambassador Spock and T'Sora
Selar, son of Dr. Melody Huang and Sepak
Sepak, diplomat, former bondmate of Dr. Melody Huang, one child, Selar
Sorin, Healer, T'Ven Hospital, Vulcan Colony, former Adept of Gol, Federation disaster contractor, second bondmate of Dr. Melody Huang, Picture
St'vok, Vulcan Colony
Teren, Healer, neurology, T'Ven Hospital, Vulcan Colony
Torren, engineer, Vulcan Science Academy graduate, accepted to Starfleet Academy, Picture
T'Mana, daughter of Ambassador Spock and T'Sora
T'Prina, Starfleet Cadet, intern, Starship Enterprise, Picture
T'Ren, Sarek's third wife
T'Sai, Healer, telepathy/empathy, gynecology/obstetrics, T'Ven Hospital, Vulcan Colony
T'Sora, xenobotanist, Ambassador Spock's wife, two children, T'Mana and Sedak, Picture


Technician Rayiyah, engineer, Chief Scientist of Gilen Industries, contractor for Orion Syndicate
Technician Leesa, astrometeorologist, employee of Gilen Industries, in charge of engineering on the Soli
Technician Elris, astrometrist, employee of Gilen Industries, in charge of communications on the Soli
Technician Irylli, engineer, scientist
Technician Dyoshi, engineer, scientist

Avis, Orion, spy for Starfleet, murdered
Dar, aka Mark, Ferengi, smuggler,
Ddgrr, Denebian, Starfleet Cadet
Gfel, Gorn/Andorian, Stationmaster, Begammon Station
Ensign Bree, Tellarite, security, second in command of Security, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise
Ensign Mir, Gorn, engineer, Starfleet, Enterprise
Crewman Mlk, Denebian, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise
Ensign Rel, Tellarite, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise
Captain Tvl, Denebian, captain of the Starship Mariposa
Captain Tzel, Starfleet
Dr. Lyra Uloi, Betazoid, doctor, telepathy/empathy, Starfleet Medical

Star Trek Reboot Canon

Admiral James Komack, Starfleet - At Memory Alpha, Picture
Admiral Christopher Pike, Starfleet - Picture
Ambassador Spock, Vulcan Colony - Picture
Captain James T. Kirk, Starfleet, Captain, Starship Enterprise, Starfleet - Picture
Commander Spock, Starfleet, First Officer and Science Officer, Starship Enterprise
Commander Winona Kirk, Starfleet, Starship Intrepid, mother of Captain James T. Kirk, Picture
Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, Starfleet Chief Engineer, Starship Enterprise
Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Starfleet, Bridge Officer and Chief of Communications, Starship Enterprise
Lieutenant Leonard McCoy, Starfleet, Chief Medical Officer, Starship Enterprise
Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, Starfleet, Bridge Officer and Chief Pilot and Navigation, Starship Enterprise
Lieutenant Pavlov Chekov, Starfleet, Bridge Officer and Navigation and Tactics, Starship Enterprise
Lieutenant Gaila, Starfleet, Security, Picture
Ensign Jacobsen, Starfleet, pilot and navigation, Starship Enterprise, Picture, originally posted to by in comments here
Ambassador Sarek, diplomat, Ambassador to the Federation, Vulcan Colony, Picture
Dr. Amanda Grayson, xenolinguist, second wife of Sarek and mother of Spock (deceased), Picture

Star Trek Canon (TV, Movies)

Admiral Heihachiro Nogura, Starfleet Headquarters, At Memory Alpha
Captain Gary Mitchell, Starfleet, captain of the Valiant, At Memory Alpha, Picture
Lieutenant Christine Chapel, nurse, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise, At Memory Alpha, Picture
Lieutenant Evans, Chief of Security, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise, At Memory Alpha, Picture
Lieutenant Jackson, communications, Starfleet At Memory Alpha, Picture
Ensign Harrison, security, partner of Lieutenant Evans, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise, At Memory Alpha, Picture
Ensign Singh, engineer, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise, At Memory Alpha, Picture
Janice Rand, yeoman to Captain James Kirk, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise, At Women of TOS
Rumiko Tamura, crewman, partner of Ensign Roo, Starfleet, Starship Enterprise, At Women of TOS
Dr. George Samuel Kirk, brother of Captain James Kirk, At Memory Alpha, Picture

Star Trek (novels etc.):

Dr. and Dr. Sulu, parents of Hikaru Sulu - Final Frontier by Vonda McIntyre

Playstation 20: Battlestations III
Playstation 20: Battlestations III

Star Trek Citations:

Sunseed Project - My Enemy, My Ally by Diane Duane at Amazon
Adept Vulcans - Spock's World by Diane Duane, My Enemy, My Ally by Diane Duane, at Amazon
Begammon Station is partially based on Mallworld as created by Captain Jinx in B'Elanna's Secret, Star Trek Voyager, Paris/Torres, Kim/Seven, other. I read it almost eleven years ago. You could say it stuck with me.

General Reference:

Memory Alpha
Memory Beta
Star Trek Online Geekipedia
Vulcan Language Institute
Women of TOS

Art References:

All art by , models for Sorin, Melody Huang, T'Prina, Mitchell, T'Sora, and Torren were purchased from iStock Photo.