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In the Blood

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Everyone experiences heartbreak, on some level, at least once in their lives. For Jim, the first time he had to cope with the agonizing pain of this reality was when he was a mere six years old.

Jim’s Le-matya was called Chia, and he was Jim’s absolute best friend in the whole wide world. Even more than Sam was, because Jim’s big brother was too old to play with Jim anymore. Jim swore that was never going to become a teenager or, even worse, an adult; growing old turned people boring.

Chia loved and protected Jim, which was more than Winona and Frank ever did. Chia had even stopped Jim from getting kidnapped once; a burly man had tried to take Jim, thinking that Winona would pay to get him back. Jim had tried to tell him that she wouldn’t and the man had tried to hit him. Chia had attacked the man, making him fall down into a ditch and hit his head so hard on a rock that he didn’t wake back up.

The police hadn’t believed that Chia had been the one to save Jim. They’d told Frank, because Winona had been off-planet like she usually was, that Jim was making things up because he had been scared, traumatized, and that Frank needed to be on the lookout for a wild dog; never mind that no dog on earth could have made the bite marks found on the would-be kidnapper’s stomach. In a show of concern, Frank had ordered Jim to stay inside for a few days; Jim hadn’t listened and Frank hadn’t cared, more interested in his beer and the pretty, vapid women he brought home on an almost nightly basis than Jim’s safety. But Jim wasn’t afraid because he knew that he was safe as long as Chia was with him.

Chia was always with Jim… until, one night, two weeks and a day after Jim’s sixth birthday, he wasn’t.

One minute Chia had been right there, his head in Jim’s lap, as Jim read aloud from his father’s precious copy of Peter Pan, and then the Le-matya let out a pained whimper and was gone. Something deep inside Jim turned to ice… and then he was screaming.

**(*)**

Jim was twelve when he learned why Chia had left him; when another piece of his heart broke away.

It was an accident, finding the book in the antique shop; Jim had only ducked inside to avoid being caught by the cops, who were ever in search of truants like him. He’d only begun to look around because he had caught the shop’s owner eyeing him with the type of weathered suspicion that Jim knew had to be stamped out quickly. But the moment that Jim saw the book, bound in ancient silver leather with faded golden lettering, he just knew, knew on an instinctual level that he never could have explained to another person, that he was a Sentinel.

The inch-thick book, ‘Merged Hearts: an Exploration of the Mystical and Profound Bond between Sentinels and Guides’ by Blair Sandburg, called to him like a siren’s song and Jim forked out every cent he had, his emergency money, to take it home with him.

Nestled in his special reading nook, a place where he was safe from Frank’s quick fists and Winona’s stark indifference, Jim had first skimmed over the information explaining the abilities of Sentinels and Guides, gleaning enough information to be sure that, if he ever came online, he wanted to be near his Guide.

‘Coming online can be a very painful process, often triggered by a high-stress situation. For those Sentinels fortunate enough to have their Guides nearby during this time, the awakening of their senses is exponentially less painful.’

It was when he reached the information about Spirit Animals that Jim realized there was every chance he would never come online at all.

‘Spirit Animals are the metaphysical representations of each individual Sentinel and Guide. Their most primal function seems to be a secondary defense mechanism. A Sentinel’s Spirit Animal will nearly always be with said Sentinel’s Guide and vice-versa. Typically only Sentinels and Guides can see Spirit Animals, but in times of great danger, the Spirit Animal can become corporal to protect either the Sentinel or Guide that is in peril.’

‘It has been theorized that extremely powerful Sentinels and Guides can even take on the form of their Spirit Animal in extreme cases.’

‘Spirit Animals can be temporarily driven away by a strong electro-magnetic pulse. When a Spirit Animal disappears permanently, it is usually an indication that the Sentinel or Guide it belonged to has died.’

Horror spiked through Jim as he had read those words. Was his Guide dead?

‘This is, however, not always the case. In some cases, powerful Guides can call their Spirit Animals to them for extended periods of time if they are in danger and their Sentinels are not yet online.’

Horror turned to fear, and Jim tried very hard not to imagine what kind of danger his Guide could be in. Tried and failed.

‘Unfortunately, as long as their Guide’s Spirit Animal stays away, there is no way for a latent Sentinel to determine if their Guide is in danger or deceased, except in the rare circumstance that they already know the identity of their Guide. If a Guide perishes before a Sentinel comes online, the Sentinel will become dormant permanently.’

Chilled to the bone by what he had read, Jim actually went to school the next day, for the first time in weeks, for the sole purpose of pestering his teacher with questions. Miss Restik, who was normally quite a pleasant woman, took Jim aside after only a few minutes of his almost desperate inquisition and harshly explained that his questions were extremely inappropriate, bordering on dangerous.

“You’ll bring the government down on your head, Jimmy, and on your family’s heads too,” she’d told him severely, “Sentinels and Guides no longer exist for a reason.”

“What reason is that?” Jim had insisted on knowing, obstinate despite his teacher’s stern tone.

“The government wiped them out one hundred and fifty years ago in the Purge,” Miss Restik had revealed waspishly, “They were too dangerous to be allowed to live amongst normal humans.”

Of course, Jim, being the precocious and mulish child that he was, hadn’t been able to leave well enough alone. He had hacked into the Sentinel-Guide records that night, as Frank lay passed out drunk in the next room, the classified records, the ones buried so deep within the Federation’s vast databases that one was led to believe that whoever did the burying didn’t want these records to ever see the light of day again. It took Jim less than an hour to find what he was looking for; whoever had designed the security for the Federation needed to find themselves a new job.

It was in the records that Jim discovered the damning documents that explained why the Sentinels and Guides went from being Earth’s most beloved defenders to her greatest enemies. Sentinels were too charismatic, the reports read, inspiring blind loyalty wherever they went, and there was a chance that they could convince the people to turn on their governments. Guides had the power get inside the mind of a person and remake them in their image and what if they did? They had the potential to be much too dangerous and for this, they had to be eliminated, for the “good of Earth”.

And then Jim had found the videos.

There was clip after clip of Sentinels and Guides being ripped away from each other and then shot point blank in the head with an old-fashioned type of gun. The Guide was always killed first, sending their Sentinel into a rage that was absolutely terrifying. The executioners allowed the Sentinels to wallow in their grief and fury for whole minutes at a time… and then the Sentinels met the same fate as their Guides.

One video in particular stood out from the others, the one labeled, ‘Alpha Sentinel Prime-Alpha Guide Prime’, and Jim wasn’t sure if it was because both Guide and Sentinel had been riddled with multiple bullets instead of the usual one, or if it was because the Sentinel in question had shared Jim’s name. The Guide had called it out in a strong, steady voice before he died, ‘James, I love you.

Jim’s sleep had been plagued with nightmares for months after that. Was that what had happened to his Guide? Had he been snatched off the streets and executed for a gift that he was born with? Was that why Chia had so abruptly vanished, why there was a piece of Jim that felt frozen? Was Jim really destined to be alone forever?

Jim stopped hoping for the opposite to be true ten months later, when everything went to hell on Tarsus IV and his Guide never came for him and his Sentinel gene remained latent. This was the third time that Jim experienced heartbreak; and he swore that he would never let his heart suffer in such a way again.

                                                                  **(*)**

“This is, like, the fiftieth blood test you’ve done since we left Earth, Bones,” Jim complained, “And it’s been less than two weeks.”

“Quit gripping, you infant, and hold still,” Bones ordered, jabbing Jim mercilessly with a needle that Jim had watched his friend sterilize within an inch of its life only a minute earlier.

“If I haven’t morphed into a raging psychopath by now, I seriously doubt that it’s going to happen,” Jim pointed out with a resigned sigh.

“Doctor McCoy simply wishes to ascertain that Khan’s blood will have no belated ill effects on your health,” Spock spoke up, his hands tucked behind his back. He looked like the picture of cold professionalism; only someone who knew him well would catch how thorough his scrutiny of the monitor above Jim’s head was, “As you are the first sentient being to be revived in such an unprecedented manner, the Doctor’s actions are quite logical. Your protests, however, are not.”

Spock had deliberately left off both ‘Captain’ and ‘Jim’; a blatant indication, at least to Jim, that Spock was irritated with Jim’s inability to shut up and just allow Bones to neurotically mother him.

“I feel like this is a subtle form of mutiny,” Jim huffed, because he was fine damn it and both his First Officer and CMO knew it. He winced as Bones stabbed him with a hypospray, “Ow! Bones!”

“Oh, hush,” Bones drawled, his accent thicker than normal as relief colored his tone, “I’m finished. Would you like a lollypop, oh brave Captain?”

“Yes,” Jim declared petulantly, because he may have had no choice but to endure the tedious tests but that didn’t mean that he had to be mature about it, “A blue raspberry one.”

“Get outta my sickbay, you overgrown child,” Bones instructed, “And take the hobgoblin with you.”

“Captain,” Spock spoke up, as they obeyed Bones’ edict, with the tone he used when he was confused but didn’t want to admit it, “There are no such things as blue raspberries.”

“It’s a-” Jim began, only to cut himself off when the ship lurched suddenly and violently to the left. Jim, barely having managed to keep his balance, fumbled for the communicator on the wall, “Kirk to Bridge, are we under attack?”

“Negative, Captain,” came the low timbre of Lieutenant D’Jino’s voice, “There’s nothing on any of the scanners.”

“Scott to Captain Kirk,” the voice of Jim’s Chief Engineer rang out a moment later, “The engines are acting up again, sir. I’m pretty sure it’s because of the new design that those idiots at Command insisted we use.”

“Can you fix the problem?”

“Aye,” Scotty assured him, “But it’ll take a few hours, until then we’re dead in the water, so to speak. Get down from there you-”

Jim flipped the communicator off, “At least we’re still in friendly space.”

“If the design of the new engines is so inefficient, then why did Starfleet Command persist in having them implemented?” Spock questioned.

“Archer is the one who really pushed for it,” Jim explained, keeping his tone deliberately light, “He wanted to make it harder for an individual to get into the Warp Core while it was irradiated. There are about ten layers of security you have to get through now and one of them is the approval of both the XO and the CMO; I think he was pretty sure that you and Bones would never let me back in there.”

“His assumptions were logical,” Spock said stiffly.

“Yeah,” Jim continued, “Anyway, the new security creates an interference that the engines don’t always tolerate; which is why Fleet keeps stalling on sending us on our five-year mission. They want Scotty to fix the problem without removing the security.”

The ship lurched again and this time Jim did lose his balance. A long, pale hand darted out and grabbed one of Jim’s, stopping Jim from slamming into the floor.

For the briefest of moments, Jim believed that the warm spark he felt reverberating throughout his mind and heart was connected to the fact that Vulcans were touch-telepaths. A single heartbeat later, and Jim’s whole universe was remade.

He could see an almost beautiful mosaic of grooves in the supposedly smooth walls, forming shapes and pictures.

Half a butterfly. Swirls and spirals. A wolf’s head.

He could smell Uhura baking her grandmother’s cinnamon streusel.

Cinnamon. Brown sugar. Pecans. Salt. Vanilla. Eggs. Sour Cream.

He could hear Chekov and Sulu laughing in the greenhouse, as Sulu chased Chekov around with a bouquet of flowers.

Boots hitting the floor; one set lighter than the other, but not by much. Water drip, drip, dripping onto the plants. Golden amusement; Tenor and Contralto ringing in harmony.

He could taste the dust in the air, each swallow of breath causing different, flavors to wash over his tongue, some recognizable, others indefinable.

Bitter. Sweet. Spicy. Nutty. Tart.

He could feel the light dancing across his skin in spasmodic waves that oscillated quickly between gentle and harsh.

A warm blanket. A hellish inferno.

It was too much, and Jim couldn’t stand it, it was too much.

And then Spock was there, inside his mind, inside his soul, soothing the sharp pain away, like water tenderly eroding away a rock’s rough edges.

Sentinel,’ Spock’s mental voice was a balm for Jim, cooling aloe on sunburned skin, ‘Focus on my heartbeat. Close your eyes and let nothing else matter.

Jim obeyed, because how could he not?

Slowly, Jim’s world was reduced to the steady, rhythmic thumping of Spock’s heart, to the spicy, herbal scent of Spock’s body, to the sensation of Spock carding his long fingers through Jim’s golden hair. A part of Jim, a part he couldn’t understand just then, wanted to start purring.

“I thought that you were dead,” Jim whispered after a few minutes of grounding himself in Spock’s essence, once his senses had stabilized somewhat, “When Chia left and this part of me turned to ice; I thought that you must have died.”

“I am sorry,” Spock’s words were probably ridiculously quiet, but they still seemed a shade too loud for Jim’s oversensitive ears, “I am so sorry, Jim. I did not realize that I was a Guide until I went to earth to join Starfleet. As a child, my heart knew that I had a link to someone, but my father insisted that my body was simply wishing for the betrothal bond that he had arranged for me at infancy. Such a thing is not unheard of amongst Vulcans, so I allowed him to convince me of it. When I bonded with T’Pring on my seventh birthday, it felt as if my heart had frozen over; I erroneously assumed it was because I had begun to master my emotions. It was only after I refused to attend the Vulcan Science Academy, T’Pring broke our bond, and I journeyed to earth that I learned that I was a Guide, that my boding with T’Pring had almost certainly destroyed my Sentinel’s chance to come online… I was utterly devastated, Jim. And I did not dare try to actively search for you; I knew that you had to be human and would be subject to the Terran laws prohibiting the existence of our kind. I am sorry, Sentinel.”

“Guide,” Jim choked out, burying his face in Spock’s shoulder, breathing him in, “I don’t understand, why now? We’ve touched before, in high-stress situations and it didn’t cause me to come online.”

“Perhaps… perhaps Khan’s blood had more of an effect than we realized,” Spock suggested, “Your Sentinel Gene would have been severely repressed due to my own actions; Khan’s blood could have healed the damage I inadvertently did, as it healed everything else.”

Jim nodded, because he could think of no better explanation and then, carefully, he began to open his eyes. He was greeted by the shocking, cobalt blue of Spock’s tunic and the underlying threads of blinding cerulean. The pain forced his eyes closed again and a moan slipped out from between Jim’s lips.

“Slowly,” Spock cautioned gently, “Sight is the hardest to master, Jim. It will take time.”

“I’m the fucking Captain of the Federation’s Flagship,” Jim reminded Spock, “I don’t have time, Spock.”

“It would be easier for you to gain control of your senses if we were to bond,” Spock admitted.

“You mean we’re not?” Jim asked, confused, because he had felt his heart linking itself to Spock’s.

“Not truly,” Spock revealed, “The link that we are currently sharing is similar to a Vulcan betrothal bond. It is powerful, in its own way, but hardly robust; it can be broken easily by any telepath. There are two types of complete bonds that a Sentinel and Guide can share, one that can be terminated if the Sentinel or Guide finds it unfulfilling and one that is permanent.”

“How, exactly do we form these bonds?” Jim questioned, kicking himself in that moment for being too hurt to read that specific chapter in the book he still kept tucked inside a special case under his bed.

“The first, the platonic bond, is slowly formed over time, usually over a period of several months,” Spock told him, neither approval nor censure evident in his tone.

“And the second?”

“The second can be formed in the course of only a few hours,” Spock informed, his voice laced with want, “And it is unbreakable.”

“How do we form the second one?” Jim asked, because, yeah, he wanted something unbreakable too. He knew, even at that moment, that he couldn’t live without Spock by his side ever again. It would kill him to try.

“Repeated intercourse,” Spock illuminated bluntly, “During which you must imprint all of your senses on me and I must nest inside your mind.”

“We have to have sex,” Jim repeated for clarification’s sake, “Why the hell are we still sitting on the floor then?”

Spock released an almost inaudible huff, the closest Jim had ever heard to laughter from him, “The chances of us making it back to either of our quarters without being spotted by a member of our crew is less than ten point four eight percent. I would have to either carry you or guide you as you cannot yet open your eyes, this would lead to worried inquiries and, most likely, Doctor McCoy descending upon us.”

“Why hasn’t anyone found us yet?” Jim wondered.

“Because I pulled us into a storage closet, Captain, as soon as I realized what was happening,” Spock said.

“Doing it in a broom cupboard seems kinda cliché, Spock,” Jim teased, bringing a hand up to lightly trace the shell of Spock’s ear.

Spock shuddered at the touch and then Spock was kissing Jim like he would die if he didn’t and, oh God, the feel of Spock’s mouth on his own was like ecstasy. It was like shining hope, and vibrant joy, and a solemn, beautiful promise all wrapped up into one.

“I can assure you, Sentinel,” Spock growled lowly, the tenor of the words sending blood rushing to Jim’s groin, “There will be nothing cliché about this.”

                                                                  **(*)**

Jim and Spock eventually made it to the privacy of the Captain’s Cabin, Jim’s eyesight balanced for the time being, and they passed only a few people on their way, people who simply gave them respectful nods and hurried on toward their own cabins or to their posts. Their fledgling bond was humming between them as Jim dragged Spock into his bed and divested them both of their clothing; Spock was able to burrow deeper and deeper into Jim’s mind with every climax reached until he was so fully entrenched that no outsider would have been able to tell their minds apart. It was the most beautiful thing that Jim had ever known- Spock’s mental presence was an icy hurricane that intertwined with the fiery twister that was Jim’s mind, creating a force of nature that bound them together in the most permanent of ways and kept their merged souls tucked safely in the eye of the storm.

About an hour into their bonding, Spock froze in astonishment, the only thing that could have effectively distracted Jim from fulfilling the parameters of his newest mission, namely to methodically kiss every inch of his Guide.

“What’s wrong?” Jim asked curiously, the steady resonance of Spock’s heart assurance that his Guide was not distressed, merely surprised.

“It would appear that our bonding has increased the range of my telepathy… or perhaps my empathy, Jim. I knew that bonding would amplify my abilities to some degree but this is… I can feel every single person on board our ship,” Spock revealed in quiet wonder, “I know where they are, I know if they are asleep or awake, upset or pleased or ambivalent. I know who is sick and that Lieutenant Scott is hurt; he is not injured badly, just a sprained wrist and Doctor McCoy is already taking care of him.”

Jim let his hearing expand out of the sanctuary that his cabin had become, “Yeah, I can hear Bones bitching about it.” Jim yanked his hearing back as a fierce headache suddenly assaulted him, “Damn it.”

“Slowly, Jim,” Spock chided, kissing Jim’s forehead gently and easing the pain significantly, “Your senses are like muscles; up until now they have not been used. Our bonding has granted you control but you still must work up to using them at their full capacity.”

“Right,” Jim agreed, “You made the pain all but disappear, you know.”

Spock blinked at that, “Empathy it is then.”

“Does that bother you?” Jim asked, a bit worried.

“No,” Spock denied easily, “All Vulcans are slightly empathic, although most will deny it fiercely. I believe that my mother must have been at least partially empathic. My father scoffed at the idea of kissing an injury better, but the pain always seemed to vanish when mother did.”

“Just don’t go kissing away other people’s pain,” Jim said lightly, touched beyond words at Spock’s willingness to share something so precious, “I don’t think that I’ll ever be capable of responding well to that.”

“Historically, Sentinels were very adverse to others touching their Guides in any fashion,” Spock told him, “Except in emergency situations. I have no intention of touching others or allowing others to touch me unless I absolutely have to; I find it to be extremely distasteful.”

Jim lifted himself off of Spock immediately, horror hitting him with the same potency as lighting striking metal, “If you don’t want me to-”

“No!” Spock sat up until his chest was flush with Jim’s once more, “I did not mean you, Jim. I find others touching me abhorrent, yes, but I could never condemn your touch, Jim. I crave it… A part of me wishes to stay here, holding you, having you hold me, forever, no matter how illogical such a course of action would be.”

Relief flooded into Jim and he let Spock pull him back down to the pillows, “I want to stay here forever too.”

So caught up was he in the giddy liberation that came with finding his Guide, that it took Jim a full four hours more to begin panicking. It was at that point that he realized that he had done what he had sworn, as he stood amidst the ashes of the innocent lives claimed by a madman on Tarsus IV, he would never let himself do. Jim had opened his heart completely and unreservedly to another person. He had let himself fall head over heels in love.

This wasn’t a sudden development, of course; a part of Jim had known for a long time that what he felt for his infuriating and brilliant and devastatingly loyal First Officer was something far more profound than friendship, had known Spock was special from the very first moment that Jim had set eyes on him. He’d buried the knowledge deep down inside himself, however, sure that if he ignored it, if he never acted on it, never acknowledged it, that he wouldn’t hurt so much when Spock inevitably left him.

Because Spock would leave him, if not of his own accord, which, Jim could admit, seemed like an impossibility now, then because of an injury, or an illness, or a psychopath. Kodos, Nero, Khan, they’d all taken someone from Jim; how long would it be before Spock was the one taken away by the monsters that Jim attracted?

And that was only if Starfleet didn’t discover what Jim and Spock were. He could picture what would occur in that scenario all too well. Spock would be torn away from Jim, fitted with one of those horrible, heavy collars that prevented telepaths and empaths both from accessing their gifts; Spock and Jim would be led onto an execution stage in chains, kept far apart from one another. Some smarmy official would announce that they were too dangerous to be allowed to live and then Jim would have to watch Spock die…

Jim only became aware that he had begun to hyperventilate when Spock gripped his arms and spoke in a voice full of power, “Jim, calm yourself. Look at me and breathe, slowly, Jim.”

Jim obeyed, unable to not comply with Spock’s instructions. Jim wasn’t sure if it was a Sentinel unable to deny his Guide thing or a Jim unable to deny Spock thing. Possibly, it was a combination of both.

“Everything is alright, Sentinel,” Spock continued, “In and out; take deep breaths, Jim.”

“No,” Jim managed to choke out, “It’s not okay. They’ll kill you… I can’t…”

“Can not what, Jim?” Spock asked in a soothing tone.

“I can’t watch you die!” Jim gasped out, aware, in a vague kind of way, that he was trembling violently, “I can’t lose you again!”

“Again?” Spock sounded bewildered, “Jim, what are you talking about?”

“Chia left me,” Jim reminded him.

“You mentioned that name earlier,” Spock replied slowly, “But I do not know anyone named Chia, Jim.”

“Chia is a Le-matya,” Jim revealed, bemused by Spock’s ignorance on the matter.

“A Le-matya…” Spock trailed off and then his chocolate eyes widened in realization, “You are talking about my Spirit Animal. You have met him? You named him?”

“I didn’t name him,” Jim denied, “He sort of told me; though don’t ask me to explain how. And I can’t remember meeting him, he was with me every moment of every day until shortly after I turned six.”

Spock inhaled sharply, “Until I allowed myself to be tethered to T’Pring. That is when he left, is it not?”

“I think so,” Jim said, “He didn’t tell you his name?”

“I have only met him twice,” Spock explained, “I did not realize that he was my Spirit Animal until the second occasion. I saw him while meditating, the night before I agreed to be your First Officer. He wanted me on board the Enterprise; he did not say so, of course, but I knew that was what he sought by visiting me.”

“And the second time?” Jim questioned.

“The first time,” Spock corrected, “The first time was three days after I bonded with T’Pring. Chia attacked me and probably would have killed me if I-Chaya, my pet Sehlat, had not been there to defend me.”

“Chia attacked you,” Jim yelped, “But… why?”

“I can only theorize at this point, but he was almost certainly furious with me for hurting you, Jim,” Spock admitted, “What text I managed to find regarding Sprit Animals made it clear that their primary purpose was to defend a Sentinel’s Guide or a Guide’s Sentinel. If you had been online when I bonded with T’Pring, you would have died, Jim. As it was, I still hurt you badly and, if not for Khan’s blood, irreversibly. Chia saw my actions as betraying you, as a Guide betraying his Sentinel.”

“You were a child,” Jim argued, “You didn’t know.”

“But a part of me did know, Jim,” Spock said softly, “I made the choice to ignore that part of me out of fear of my father’s disapproval.”

“Have you met my Sprit Animal?” Jim wondered, curious despite the anxiousness still brewing in his gut.

Spock shook his head, “I could not have; you were not online until today, Jim.”

“When will he come?” Jim wanted to know.

“I am not sure,” Spock returned, “Perhaps when you senses have fully settled. Do you wish to explain to me why you are so sure that you are going to see me die now?”

The fear returned in full force, but Jim was able to keep it contained inside of him this time. Not that he managed to fool Spock, who could obviously sense the terror swirling around in Jim’s heart as if it had bit him on the nose.

“Jim,” Spock’s voice had taken on that calming quality again, “Everything is alright. Tell me what has you so frightened, T’hy’la.”

“What does that mean?” Jim asked.

“More than a friend, and a brother, and a lover,” Spock rejoined solemnly, “The other half of my soul. My everything.”

Gods, Jim loved this man, loved him more than life.

Without a word, Jim slid, naked, from the bed, Spock releasing him with clear reluctance. It was a matter of seconds to crouch down and pull a thin black case out from underneath the bed. The case was unmarked and to anyone else would have seemed unremarkable; Jim knew better. He had designed it himself, for the sole purpose of safeguarding a handful of things, ensuring that it was airtight, waterproof, bulletproof, fireproof, and a dozen other kinds of safe, and that it could only be opened by him alone.

Jim laid the case on the bed and stretched his hand out over its sleek metallic surface. A bluish light enveloped it momentarily, flashed green, and then there was a soft ‘snick’ as the case unlocked. Jim opened it without pause, allowed his fingers to trail briefly over the silver and green leathers that bound ‘Merged Hearts’ and ‘Peter Pan’, and then lifted out a tiny Maplewood chest.

“What is that, Jim?” Spock inquired gently, as Jim popped open the box to reveal an innocuous-looking data chip.

“There was a video that I saw when I was twelve, one that had been hidden deep within the Federation’s archives; I made a copy of it and kept it with me, wherever I went,” Jim said in a dull voice, plucking the data chip out of its box and weighing it in his hand for a moment before holding it out Spock, “To remind me, during the times when I couldn’t help but mourn his absence in my life, why I should be grateful that I hadn’t known my Guide.”

Spock took the data chip from Jim’s palm, and carried it over to Jim’s computer console, plugging it in. Jim deliberately turned away from the screen as the video started to play, he’d watched it enough as a teenager to remember exactly what the haunting images looked like and he had no desire to see them again, but he couldn’t tune out the sound and so was forced to listen as the scene played out.

The Guide declaring that he loved his Sentinel. The sound of rapid gunfire. The Sentinel’s agonized, guttural screams as his Guide fell. More gunfire. And then a chilling silence.

Jim didn’t realize that he was shaking again until Spock returned to his side and pulled him close, “Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Those were their names. They were ‘executed’ for nothing more than being a Sentinel and a Guide. They worked in law enforcement; they brought in a ridiculous number of serial killers during the course of their careers and they saved countless lives with their abilities. And despite all of that, they were still butchered like they had been the murderers and rapists that they’d taken down.”

“Jim-”

“That’s what they’ll do to us, Spock,” Jim kept going, unable to stop, “If they ever find out… it was bad enough when you were only a faceless person being killed in my nightmares. Now, I know it’s you… and a part of me is so, so glad that it’s you, that you’re my Guide, but a larger part of me is terrified.”

“They will not find out,” Spock promised in an almost tranquil tone; Jim looked up into Spock’s eyes and saw the fear he was trying to hide, “We will simply have to keep our abilities hidden from everyone else.”

“Spock,” Jim ran a hand through his hair in agitation, “There’s no ‘simply hiding’ our powers. Sentinels and Guides exist to protect their tribe; can you honestly tell me that you’ll be able to keep from using your powers if our crew was in danger and using your empathy would save them? We might be able to pass your empathy off as part of your abilities as a Vulcan, though I can’t imagine that your people will be very happy about that, but there’s no way that we’ll be able to pass off what I can do as anything but the powers of a Sentinel. I won’t be able to stop myself from doing whatever I have to in order to keep our crew safe, even if that means exposing my abilities; I know that about myself.”

“Do you trust the people serving on this ship?” Spock asked.

Jim didn’t even have to think about it, “I trust every single one of them with my life, Spock.”

“They love you,” Spock said, “And if it comes down to it, if they have to choose between you and the disgusting Terran law prohibiting our kind, they will choose you, Jim. You are their Captain and their Sentinel, even if they do not realize that the latter is true now.”

“Sentinels inspire loyalty,” Jim murmured, and then swallowed deeply, “That’s why they were executed.”

Good Sentinels inspired loyalty,” Spock clarified for him with absolute confidence, “And you, James Tiberius Kirk, are a good man.”

“I love you,” Jim whispered desperately, “I love you so much, Spock. I can’t lose you.”

Spock pulled him close again, “I love you as well, Jim, and you are not going to lose me.”

“I still don’t want to tell anyone,” Jim decided, wanting to believe that Spock wouldn’t be snatched away from him, but prevented from doing so by his own history of losing the people he cared about the most, “At least not until we have a better handle on our gifts.”

“I agree,” Spock hesitated briefly before adding, “Though, it would be wiser to inform Doctor McCoy sooner rather than later.”

“The minute that Bones finds about this, he is going to build a tower and lock me up in it,” Jim groused, “He has gotten ridiculously overprotective and this isn’t going to help matters any.”

“Perhaps if you did not persist in your foolhardy attempts to drive him to an early grave he would not be,” Spock told him in a pointed tone.

“As my Guide, I’m pretty sure that you’re supposed to be on my side,” Jim objected with a pout.

“I will always be on your side, Jim,” Spock said seriously, tracing Jim’s lower lip with his index finger, invoking a shudder of pleasure in Jim, “Except when your side involves you enduring bodily harm. On those occasions, I will back the good doctor up completely and without reservation.”

“I’ll tell Bones,” Jim sighed, “Just… give me a few days, okay? To wrap my head around all of this.”

Spock raised an eyebrow, “Wrapping your head around anything sounds both painful and highly improbable, Captain.”

“You’re an asshole,” Jim griped good-naturedly, nuzzling at Spock’s neck, taking comfort in his Guide’s scent, “Don’t ever change.”

“I shall endeavor not to, Jim,” Spock promised.

**(*)**

A few days ended up turning into seven weeks and it was absolutely not Jim’s fault. The Federation’s flagship, and subsequently her crew, had been run ragged from the moment that Scotty had managed to stabilize the engines, pushed to the brink by the admiralty. Jim understood this, on an intellectual level, Starfleet needed to be absolutely sure that Jim and his crew could handle high-stress situations, there was no telling what the Enterprise would discover in the isolation of deep space.

On an emotional level, it irritated the hell out of Jim, that he and his people were being treated like machines that needed to be strenuously tested, as if they hadn’t already repeatedly proved that they could handle themselves. At the rate that Starfleet was hurtling assignment after assignment to them, the Enterprise’s crew was going to be totally burnt out by the time the admiralty finally cleared them for their promised five-year mission. If it was Starfleet’s goal to systematically destroy the morale of Jim’s crew, one denied shore leave at a time, they were succeeding.

Jim had barely had enough time to ground his senses for a few minutes each day with Spock, let alone have a heart to heart with Bones. Spock hadn’t pressed him on the matter, which told Jim more about the innate possessiveness of his Guide than anything else could. They slept together every night, and Jim had never realized how grateful he would be that the Captain’s Cabin was connected to the First Officer’s, and their bond felt stronger as each day passed.

As their bond grew stronger so did Jim’s senses. The day after they had emerged, Spock had introduced Jim to the idea of managing the power levels of his senses by imagining dials that he could mentally manipulate. Jim had ended up picturing large golden-brown knobs that bore a strong resemblance to those that had been present on his father’s antique radio, the one that Winona had destroyed in a fit of pique when Jim was eight. Slowly, as the weeks passed, Jim learned how to twist the dials between the levels zero to ten, one at a time at first and then, eventually, and with a lot of practice, simultaneously.

Jim pushed himself, ignoring the minor headaches unless they grew into major ones, until he could hold all of his senses steady at level three without any effort at all. Several times he had been required to catch himself before he responded to members of his crew who were getting ready to comm him with an update or query. During one of the mandatory family movie nights, (Scotty had first suggested it, two days after Jim had been released from the hospital in San Francisco, but the others had eagerly agreed to the idea because apparently they all needed their weekly fix of smothering Jim), he had accidentally told Uhura that he liked her strawberry perfume before realizing that the scent was just simply a part of her and not a fragrance she had applied to her skin.

Spock had taught Jim how to meditate, though Jim had quickly realized that he could only get into a meditative state if Spock was holding him, which Spock assured him was all kinds of unconventional but so Jim that Spock found it logical and perfect for them. The meditation had been instrumental in helping Jim keep his cool in situations that his Sentinel instincts found abhorrent, or, in some circumstances, just plain exasperating.

Of course, the meditation didn’t always prevent him from succumbing to his most primal instincts. Only a week earlier, on a mission to pass off an accused serial killer to the USS Belethor, Jim had cheerfully put Lieutenant Gary Mitchell in the infirmary on Starbase Four when the bastard had dared to try to coerce Chekov into sleeping with him; Jim had also managed to put the fear of the gods into all of Mitchell’s friends too. Even after Jim had gotten Chekov back to the safety of the Enterprise, Jim had spent hours prowling and pacing, methodically cycling through all of the heartbeats that he had come to know as well as his own, ensuring that every member of his tribe was healthy and hale.

Spock hadn’t tried to interfere in the process, recognizing on a deeper level than even Jim did that Jim needed to complete the process in order to regain the control he had lost earlier that day. He had been there, with open arms, to hold Jim and soothe the rage away as soon as Jim had needed him. Jim had known that night with absolute certainty, if he hadn’t already, that he could never live without Spock again. If Spock left, Jim would leave too. It should have been terrifying, this knowledge, but instead it gave Jim a peace that was almost beyond his comprehension.

Chia had returned in the wake of their lovemaking, and with him came an enormous lion with a mane that looked like it had been spun out of pure gold. Jim had known immediately that he was looking at his Spirit Animal, even before the animal had trotted over to Spock’s side of the bed and nuzzled Jim’s Guide affectionately. Chia had mirrored the lion’s actions, resting his head on Jim’s lap and projecting the innocent affection that Jim hadn’t felt in over two decades. Jim’s hand trembled as he ran a hand across Chia’s head, the Le-matya’s short, dark grey fur like silk.

“His name is Aland,” Spock had murmured after a long few minutes of stroking through the lion’s mane, “He is beautiful, Jim.”

Aland was beautiful, as beautiful as Chia was, and just as protective of Spock as Chia was of Jim. In the days that followed, Aland never strayed from Spock’s side and Chia never left Jim’s. Though, Jim had noticed, they were happiest when Jim and Spock were in the same room and they could curl up together, although their vigilance remained constant, even during sex, which might have bothered Jim more if he’d had an ounce of shame in his body.

“Do you think all Sentinels-Guide pairs had Spirit Animals that were as complimentary as ours are?” Jim asked Spock as he buttoned the collar of his dress uniform, a high-necked, stiff thing that Jim was sure was a mild form of torture.

Spock inclined his head thoughtfully, “The powerful pairs, yes. They could not have functioned unless they were compatible on a spiritual level as well as the mental and physical levels. There could be little to no spiritual synchronization between a feline and a rodent, for instance. If a Sentinel’s Spirit Animal was a predator and a Guide’s was the natural prey of that Spirit Animal, then they would not be able to find any kind of healthy balance with one another.”

“You think we’re powerful?” Jim questioned, “More than usual, anyway?”

“The records still available on Sentinels and Guides are not vast, Jim,” Spock revealed, “But what I did manage to find has made it clear to me that only Alpha Sentinels were capable of gaining the kind of control that you did as quickly as you did. Even with a Guide, it took most Sentinels months to get to level five on their dials without succumbing to migraines. It took you weeks to get to level ten, Jim. And you have yet to experience a feral episode or a zone out, both of which the majority of newly bonded Sentinels were prone to when they had to bond without the benefit of an isolation period.”

“Most Guides could take away pain, it’s all in the mind anyway, but very few could actually heal an injury,” Jim said softly, flexing his left hand unconsciously as he recalled how he had sliced his hand open trying to fix a malfunctioning replicator and how Spock had cradled it between his own palms, meaning to dull the pain but doing much more than that. Within minutes only an angry pink line had remained as proof that Jim had been hurt and, within an hour, that too was gone. “I’ve been doing my homework too, you know.”

“An Alpha Sentinel needs an Alpha Guide,” Spock said simply.

Jim pulled him into a kiss, gratified when Spock immediately wrapped his arms around Jim’s torso to kiss him back. “I do need you,” Jim gasped out between kisses, “You’re my whole universe, Spock.”

“T’hy’la,” Spock whispered against Jim’s lips.

Jim pulled away after another minute with a rueful smile, “The USS Gentry is ten minutes out at non-warp speed. I can hear Komack being an asshole to Captain Kerrigan; of all the possible candidates at Command, why does it have to be Komack who is inspecting us?”

Spock apparently decided to ignore the fact that Jim’s question had been meant as rhetorical, “Because he is the only member of the admiralty who does not believe that you are God’s gift to mankind.”

“Where the hell did you hear that phrase?” Jim asked with plain incredulity.

“Doctor McCoy,” Spock admitted, “For all that he is overemotional and illogical at the best of times, he can be surprisingly intuitive when it comes to the motivations of others, particularly the admiralty. Do not tell him I said that; I will deny it.”

Jim couldn’t help it… he laughed his ass off.

**(*)**

Jim smelled Komack even before the small, warp-capable ship carrying him from the Gentry to the Enterprise landed in the latter’s shuttle bay.

The middle-aged admiral was known for being overly fond of his comforts and amongst those comforts was his pipe, which he smoked like it was going out of style most days. For as long as Jim had known him, he had carried around the sickeningly sweet stench of black cherry tobacco. The smell had always been unpleasant, but now, with Jim’s senses as enhanced as they were, the pungent odor was nauseating even from a distance. Jim had to fight not to gag as he desperately twisted his smell dial down to zero.

Safe though he now was from the foul scent, it was disconcerting, to say the least, to have one of his senses cut off so utterly. Taking a deep breath, Jim carefully dialed his sense of smell back up to one, normal human level, and decided that this was tolerable enough, it had to be really.

The Pyre set down on its designated landing pad with no problems, and Jim spared only a brief moment to wonder why Komack felt it necessary to use his own personal ship for a Starfleet-sanctioned inspection, before he forced himself to snap to attention. The rest of his Command Crew followed suit, professional masks falling into place, making them look like the epitome of a valiant and utterly proficient group of Starfleet Officers- instead of the tight-knit family that they became in private.

Komack exited the Pyre and marched himself toward Jim and his Command Crew, holding himself in a manner that made it clear that he though he was the most important man in the universe. He had two aides following behind him, both large, hulking men whom Jim would never have pegged as the secretarial type if he’d met them in any other time or place. They made Jim uneasy; though why, Jim couldn’t have articulated if he’d been pressed.

“Admiral Komack,” Jim greeted respectfully, his nose twitching as he smelled black cherry. Jesus Christ, had the man bathed in the stuff? “Welcome aboard the Enterprise, sir.”

“Captain Kirk,” Komack replied, with a brief, unhappy nod that was only a shade shy of discourteous.

Komack was clearly not pleased to be there; Jim could relate, he didn’t want Komack on his ship either. Still, by the book, “My First Officer and Science Officer, Commander Spock. My Chief Medical Officer, Lieutenant Commander Doctor Leonard McCoy. My Second Officer and Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott. My Communications Officer, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. My Third Officer and Helmsman, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu. My Navigator, Ensign Pavel Chekov. And My Chief of Security, Lieutenant Paul Giotto.”

Komack nodded at each of them, though this time the nods were nothing but dismissive in nature. This pissed Jim off more than if Komack had treated him in such a way.

“I’ll need to meet with you privately, Captain,” Komack declared after a brief moment, “As soon as possible.”

“My Quartermaster, Ensign Gareth, will get you and your aides situated in your cabins and then I can meet with you privately at fourteen-hundred hours, Admiral,” Jim suggested, not too thrilled at the idea of a personal chat with Komack but unable to turn the man down, “Is that acceptable, sir?”

“I suppose it has to be,” Komack returned ungraciously.

**(*)**

“Komack is wearing a psi-inhibitor,” Spock announced, having pulled Jim into a private alcove, “I cannot read him in any capacity, Jim. I cannot read his pilot or his aides for the same reason.”

“That’s really not all that surprising,” Jim returned, “Komack is a closet xenophobe, and everybody knows it. He especially hates getting any assignments that put him into contact with telepathic or empathic races.”

“I do not want you alone with him,” Spock insisted then, and Jim could smell the distress wafting off of his Guide, a tang almost like lemons that disturbed Jim more than he would ever want to admit.

“I don’t have much of a choice, Spock,” Jim pointed out reasonably, “I can’t refuse to meet with him. Besides, I won’t be alone, not really, Chia will be with me. He’s killed in my defense before; I seriously doubt he would hesitate to do so again. Although, that would be really interesting to try to explain to Starfleet without giving everything away.”

“Do not let your guard down, Jim,” Spock cautioned, his concern still palpable.

“I won’t,” Jim promised, kissing Spock lightly on the cheek, “You know I won’t.”

**(*)**

Jim came to with a pounding headache and the first thing he truly became aware of was Bones’ voice begging him to, “Wake up, Jim. Come on, damn it, wake up. I’m gonna tear that bastard’s guts out with a rusty spoon, I swear to God. Jim, please, wake up.”

“I think that you need something tougher than a spoon to get at guts, Bones,” Jim said with a mouth full of cotton, “Maybe a fork, or one of those spoon-fork thingies. Sporks, I think, they’re called.”

“Oh, thank heaven,” Bones sighed, carefully easing Jim into a sitting position, “You had me worried sick, kid. I swear, I’m gonna have to start taking blood pressure medicine because of you.”

“Sorry,” Jim coughed, confused but still partially contrite, “What’d I do this time? Did it at least look cool?”

“Every grey hair I have is your fault too,” Bones said in a comfortingly familiar acerbic tone of voice, “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Walking into the conference room to meet with Komack…” Jim trailed off and he felt his eyes widen as realization hit him, followed quickly by a fierce dizzy spell, “Oh that fucker, what the hell? He activated some kind of machine and then one of his aides hit me with a hypospray.”

“Yeah,” Bones said as he carefully poked and prodded Jim, searching for injuries, “He dragged you into his ship while holding a phaser to your head. That’s where we are now, in a holding cell on the Pyre.”

“Why are you here?” Jim asked.

“He ordered me to surrender myself,” Bones illuminated, “I don’t know why. He hasn’t deigned to show himself since he had us dumped in here. That was several hours ago.”

“You shouldn’t have-”

“Don’t you dare, James Kirk,” Bones snapped, “He threatened to kill you; I couldn’t let that happen.”

Jim swallowed, “I know, I’m sorry. What the hell is Komack thinking? There’s no way that Starfleet authorized this.”

“Even if they did, Komack’s going to pay for it,” Bones muttered, “Our crew was furious; Spock was fucking livid. I haven’t seen him so angry since he went after Khan. He’s not going to care if it results in a court martial, Spock’s gonna kill Komack.”

“If Spock gets court marshaled, I’m gonna have to break him out of prison,” Jim murmured, still a bit punch-drunk from the sedative he’d been injected with, “I don’t think I’ll be able to survive on conjugal visits.”

Bones was very quiet for a moment and then, “You know, it’s about damn time.”

“Huh?” Jim questioned woozily.

“I thought you two were never gonna get your acts together,” Bones continued, “I was starting to worry that I was gonna have to lock you in a closet together or something.”

Jim snorted, “You, uh, aren’t that far off, actually.”

“Only you, kid,” Bones chuckled, “Only you could seduce a Vulcan in a broom closet.”

“Hey, he seduced me,” Jim protested.

Bones’ reply to that was effectively cut off by the door to their cell sliding open with an almost inaudible ‘woosh’. Jim frowned deeply as Komack entered, flanked by the men that Jim now seriously doubted were actual aides. Jim attempted to reach his dials, but they slipped out of his mental reach; another side effect of the sedative no doubt.

“Komack,” Jim snarled, forcing himself to his feet, relying heavily on Bones’ strong arm around his waist to keep him upright, “What the fuck-”

“Shut up, Sentinel,” Komack ordered, “And tell me where your Guide is. I assumed it was McCoy, from all reports he is your closet friend, but his blood tested negative for the Guide genome. Oh, and don’t bother trying to call your Spirit Animal; I took care of him with an electro-magnetic pulse.”

Jim’s blood turned to ice in his veins and he paled considerably, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“Don’t try to lie to me, Kirk,” Komack snarled, “I know that you’re a Sentinel. Mitchell told me all about how you heard him proposition your pretty little navigator from a hundred meters away on a busy Starbase. Mitchell was whispering and you still put him on his ass for something that no normal human could have heard.”

“So I have good hearing,” Jim countered, “That doesn’t mean-”

“I examined your blood, Kirk. There are numerous samples on file at Starfleet Medical and they all tested positive for the Sentinel genome. So did the one I took from you a few hours ago. I knew that there had to be something wrong with you, had to be a reason why everyone at Starfleet was so fucking infatuated with you. You’re one of those dangerous freaks that are meant to be extinct and you’re going to tell me who your Guide is so that I can put him down too,” Komack growled out, “Who is it, Kirk? Is it Chekov? You were very protective of him and I can’t blame you; he’s beautiful. Maybe if he is your Guide, I’ll fuck him senseless before I snap his neck.”

“I don’t have a Guide,” Jim answered, pressing down the fury he felt rising at Komack’s audacity. How fucking dare he threaten a member of Jim’s tribe.

“Is it Uhura?” Komack demanded, “She’s pretty, for a nigger. I bet I could make her scream too.”

“No,” Jim choked out, beginning to tremble minutely.

“Another member of your little family, then?” Komack questioned callously, “Starfleet knows all about how close you are with your Command Crew, Kirk. It makes them nervous, how loyal you are to each other. Maybe I’ll do Starfleet a favor and kill all of them, your Scotsman, your Asian, your Vulcan. I’ll start with your precious country doctor. Would you like to see his guts spilled out across the floor?”

Rage, ire, wrath, there was no one word to describe how angry Jim became at that moment. The residual dizziness melted away as a heated frenzy overtook his body and mind. Jim launched himself at Komack, his vision washed red as a seemingly insatiable bloodlust overcame his judgment in a single heartbeat’s worth of time.

Jim’s hands found Komack’s neck and he squeezed without pause, only to be ripped away from his target a moment later. Jim lashed out against the hands that pulled him off of Komack, off of the enemy; they were now his enemy too and he would destroy them as soon as he had sent Komack to the deepest pits of hell.

Kill him!

No!

And then a new pair of arms wrapped around Jim and Jim stilled immediately. He knew these arms, they were safe and brotherly and, most importantly, Jim could never, ever hurt the person those arms belonged to. These arms were tribe and Jim had to protect them, even if it killed him. Unable to fight it out of his system, Jim’s anger morphed into a fever and he collapsed, succumbing to the blistering heat that enveloped his being. And then everything went dark.

**(*)**

Jim was in a jungle.

It was a very nice jungle, cool and peaceful, even if everything was tinted an exceptionally odd shade of blue.

“Why blue?” Jim wondered aloud, “It doesn’t seem very junglish.”

A laugh made Jim spin around and he quickly caught sight of a tall, muscular man leaning up against a nearby tree. The man was wearing animal skins and was covered in red war paint and yet Jim recognized him immediately.

“I agree,” the man told him with a smile, “I’ve never been able to figure out why the spirits are so obsessed with the color blue. Blair says that it’s because it’s calming.”

“I know you,” Jim said in astonishment, “You died.”

The man’s smile faded, “Yes, I’m sorry that you had to see that Jim. You were so young… no one should see death that young.”

“Am I dead?” Jim asked.

“No,” James Ellison, because it was James Ellison, in the flesh or spirit or whatever, “You’re experiencing a type of zone-out, the kind that usually occurs after a feral episode if your Guide isn’t nearby.”

“Komack,” Jim recalled, his hands clenching into fists, “I wanted to kill him; he threatened my tribe. He threatened to rape and kill my family.”

“Easy, young one,” Ellison soothed, “Your tribe is safe.”

“No,” Jim denied, “Bones is still with him.”

“Yes,” Ellison returned, “But he’s alive and unharmed. You wouldn’t still be talking to me if he weren’t. Be grateful that Komack doesn’t know that he can get you to regain consciousness by hurting Doctor McCoy; that gives you time to recover from the sedative and the frenzy.”

“How do you know that I was just a kid when I first saw the video?” Jim questioned, trusting Ellison’s assessment on the matter instinctively.

“I watched over you when I could,” Ellison admitted, “Though I couldn’t interfere to help you; there are rather stringent laws about that kind of thing. Even talking to you now, like this, is bending them. Usually only those who were once Shamans in life are supposed to communicate with those who inhabit the realm of the living. But, you’re special, Jim, so certain… allowances can be made in your case.”

“Special?” Jim raised an eyebrow in a rather good imitation of his Guide.

“You’re the first Sentinel to come online in over a hundred and sixty years, young one,” Ellison explained, “And you’re the last Sentinel of the Washington bloodline, the last Prime bloodline on earth. You’re the last hope for the existence of Sentinels, kiddo.”

“I don’t understand,” Jim protested.

“You will, eventually,” Ellison said cryptically, “Don’t tell anyone I told you, but it won’t be long now. Protect them, Jim.”

And even though it made little sense, Jim still promised, “I will.”

“Good,” Ellison smiled fondly at him.

“Why did they always kill the Guides first?” Jim asked, unable to help himself. “Why were they so desperate to cause the Sentinels pain?”

“They were trying to prove a point,” Ellison answered. “The one thing guaranteed to send a Sentinel into a feral episode was the murder of their Guide. The videos you watched were heavily edited before the public saw them. Mundanes saw only crazed monsters being put down for the sake of society.”

“I’m sorry,” Jim murmured.

“It’s not your fault, young one,” Ellison replied with the ease of a man who had long ago come to terms with his fate, “I can’t stay much longer. You should rest now; you’ll be safe here until your Guide reaches you.”

“He can’t come,” Jim panicked, “He’ll be hurt.”

“I know it’s difficult for you, hell, it was difficult for me too,” Ellison chuckled to himself, remembering something from another time and place, “But try to give your Guide some credit, Jim, he knows what he’s doing.”

“I… okay,” Jim nodded reluctantly.

“When you get home,” Ellison instructed, “Watch the video again; it’ll help now that you’ve made contact with your Spirit Animal.”

Confused, Jim just nodded again.

“Rest,” Ellison repeated, and Jim couldn’t help but listen to him.

**(*)**

He was safe here, safe in the eye of the storm. Nothing could hurt him here and a part of Jim never wanted to leave. But another part, the more integral and larger part knew that he would never be happy if he stayed. There was something missing, something utterly vital.

‘Jim.’

A voice, no, not a voice, the Voice. The most important voice in the whole universe, Jim’s universe at least. The voice that meant safety, love, home. His Guide’s voice, Spock’s voice.

‘Jim, come back to me, I need you.’

There was never any question about him complying with the pleas; he could no more deny Spock that he could rewrite the past or contain a supernova within the palms of his hands.

Jim opened his eyes to the blue jungle and the presence of his Guide, “Spock.”

Spock pulled him close and Jim returned the embrace, holding and letting himself be held, “I was so worried, Jim.”

“I’m alright,” Jim promised, nuzzling at the spot just beneath Spock’s earlobe. Spock smelled exactly as he should, here in this place, and his heart was beating in perfect harmony with Jim’s.

“It is time to go home,” Spock told him.

“How do we get out of here?” Jim asked.

“You let me guide you,” Spock returned simply, rising and pulling Jim up with him. Spock held out his hand to him, “Come.”

Jim took Spock’s hand without hesitation and followed him into the light.

**(*)**

Jim woke up in a place that he was very familiar with… the Enterprise’s sick bay. He knew it was his sick bay without even having to open his eyes, the smells and sounds of hospitals might be universal, but only Jim’s sick bay had the distinctive aroma of honey bourbon blanketing the sharper, medicinal odors. And only Jim’s sick bay could possibly contain the sound of two very particular people, who would never in a million years admit to being friends, throwing good-natured quips back and forth like it was a game.

There was something else too, a type of static in the air that Jim didn’t recognize. It wasn’t threatening, but it was foreign. It bothered Jim, like an itch you couldn’t get to go away, not because it was there, but because he couldn’t identify it.

When Jim did manage to pry his eyelids open, he was greeted by the sight of First Officer and his Chief Medical Officer hovering over his person looking both worried and pissed off, Bones more visibly than Spock, of course. This was, again, something that he was very familiar with, all things considered.

“I would like to point out,” Jim announced, “That none of what happened was actually my fault, so if you could stop with the glowering, that would be nice.”

Spock moved closer to Jim immediately, scooping up Jim’s hand and cradling it between his own protectively. Jim felt reassurance and love ripple through their bond and Jim did his best to return the emotions. He must have succeeded, because Spock squeezed his hand tenderly.

“We aren’t angry with you,” Bones replied, in a tone that was far gentler than Jim was expecting from him, “Alright, so I’m a little ticked off that you failed to mention that you’re a Sentinel. I’m your doctor, Jim, I need to know things like that. Online Sentinels are allergic to more things than even you are; I can’t even use latex around you now without giving you a serious rash. I could have accidentally killed you, Jim.”

“Sorry,” Jim apologized, sincerely affected by his best friend’s poorly-concealed fear. Or, perhaps, it was only poorly concealed to a Sentinel. “I’m sorry, Bones. That… that never actually crossed my mind as a problem. I was going to tell you, I swear, but Starfleet’s kept us so busy…”

“I know,” Bones exhaled deeply, “Spock explained.”

“What happened?” Jim asked, “How did we get back here?”

“Your hobgoblin tracked us down easily enough,” Bones revealed, “And he led a team into the Pyre to rescue us. That was forty-eight hours ago. Spock pulled you out of a coma-like state that he insists was a zone of some kind and then you fell into a natural sleep. Your body was exhausted, Jim. The, um, feral episode you experienced took a lot out of you.”

“Starfleet knows about us,” Spock told him solemnly, “One of Komack’s aides managed to send the information to Starfleet Command. However, so does the rest of the Federation. The Vulcan High Council ensured that.”

“The Vulcan High Council,” Jim pushed down the fear swirling in his gut, “How did they find out?”

“I told them,” Spock admitted, lifting one hand so that he could stroke through Jim’s messy hair, “I knew that the best chance of securing our safety, without having to run, was to spread the knowledge of our circumstances as far as possible.”

“Has Starfleet given us orders?” Jim managed to keep his voice steady.

“Just to stay put,” Bones answered, “We’re in friendly space, so no worries there. Unless, of course, you start to think about all the ways that friendly space can be just as dangerous as unfriendly space. All the diseases you can catch and the malfunctions that could occur and-”

“Yeah, okay, thank you, Bones,” Jim interrupted hastily, “I suppose the admiralty is trying to figure out what to do with us, huh?”

“Undoubtedly,” Spock agreed.

“Where are Komack and his people? In the brig?” Jim inquired.

“Not… exactly,” Bones told him.

“Where are they then?” Jim wanted to know.

“In the fridge,” Bones jerked his head to the left, indicating the freezer-type room where certain medicines and, sometimes, if it was both safe and necessary, the bodies of the deceased were stored for transport.

Jim’s eyes widened, “Spock?”

“I did not kill them,” Spock assured, and then added in an undertone, “Though I certainly would have like to.”

“Then how?”

“Officially,” Bones said, “They killed each other after accidentally being exposed to a vial of the Furorem Toxin, which Komack was illegally transporting into the Neutral Zone. He was planning on selling the vial to the Ferengi and apparently it wasn’t the first time he did business of the kind. Chekov found records detailing his smuggling operation that go back over ten years. Komack is going to be tried posthumously for treason at the very least.”

“Okay,” Jim let the word roll off his tongue slowly, “And unofficially?”

“Komack had a dagger and was going to stab both you and Leonard,” Spock illuminated quietly, “The sight was enough to bring Nyota online as a Sentinel. Her senses emerged and she flew into a feral rage. She managed to kill Komack, his aides, and his pilot in less than two minutes’ time.”

“Nyota is a Sentinel?” Jim repeated in astonishment, before understanding hit him, “Oh, oh that’s why. I knew something had changed, but I couldn’t place it… I guess the Sentinel in me recognized… she’s with Scotty right now, isn’t she? He’s her Guide.”

“Yeah,” Bones blinked, “How did-”

“I can hear them sleeping in a cabin, it’s not her cabin, though,” Jim murmured, “They’re both a little bit afraid, I can smell it. They’re going to need us, Spock.”

“You’re not supposed to be able to hear or smell that,” Bones frowned at him, “They’re in an isolation chamber. Surrounded by white noise machines. I had the outside walls coated in sage oil to block all other scents from penetrating the suite.”

“We will help them, Jim,” Spock promised, ignoring Bones’ statement with a practiced ease, “We are the Alphas, it is our duty to do so.”

“Not right this minute though,” Bones insisted hastily, “I want you on bed rest for another twelve hours, Jim, just to be safe.”

“Can I rest in my cabin?” Jim asked, “Please, Bones? I need to be there.”

He needed Spock to be there too.

Bones considered him for a moment, “Yeah, okay, as long as you promise to rest, Jim.”

“I promise,” Jim vowed.

**(*)**

Jim managed to sleep for a bit in Spock’s arms, but eventually he was driven awake by a fierce need to complete the task he had been given during his walk through the spiritual plane. Silently, Jim retrieved the video that had defined him, in a way, for so long and carried it over to his computer.

“Jim?” Spock asked, having been awoken by Jim’s absence from their bed.

“I spoke to James Ellison,” Jim admitted quietly, rolling the data chip in between his fingers, “While I was Komack’s guest.”

Spock nodded, evidently unsurprised by Jim’s revelation, “I spoke to Blair Sandburg, briefly, before I found you in the jungle.”

Jim barely even blinked at that, “Ellison told me… he told me to watch this again; now that I’ve been introduced to my Spirit Animal.”

Spock raised an eyebrow but didn’t argue as Jim slid the chip into the computer terminal and pushed ‘play’. He did, however, slip out of their bed to come to stand directly behind Jim, his hands resting in Jim’s shoulders in comfort.

The scene was exactly the same, until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

The Guide and Sentinel were shot, collapsing to the ground as the life drained out of them in seconds. But then their bodies began to glow a blue so vibrant that it was indescribable to anyone who could not see it for themselves, and it was abundantly clear that their celebrating executioners did not. A black jaguar rose out of Ellison’s body, sleek and powerful, while a beautiful grey wolf rose out of Sandburg’s still form, wisdom and pity in his eyes as he looked upon those who had killed them. The jaguar trotted over to his mate’s side and the two nuzzled each other for a moment in stark relief. Then the jaguar shot the wolf a puzzled, ‘What now?’ kind of glance, and the wolf rolled his electric blue eyes good-naturedly. The wolf began to move off the screen, turning back once to give the jaguar a ‘Well, come on,’ look that had the jaguar following after him quickly. And then the video faded to black.

“Oh,” Jim whispered, a heady sense of liberation rushing through him, “They… they got to be together. Death didn’t end them. It… it won’t end us either.”

“No,” Spock agreed, “There is no force in this universe, in any universe, that can end us, Jim.”

And even though he had no idea how tomorrow was going to go, Jim found himself basking in the absolute serenity that came with the knowledge that nothing could ever come between him and the man he loved.

**(*)**

Admiral Jonathan Archer contacted the Enterprise at nine-hundred hours the next morning. Jim took the official Starfleet communication in his ready room, with Spock and Bones close enough to hear the conversation but not close enough to be seen by the other man. A breach in protocol, yes, but one that Jim, Spock, and Bones all felt was necessary.

“Admiral,” Jim greeted cordially, taking in the dark circles under the older man’s eyes with true regret. He was genuinely fond of Archer, even if the man did scare the hell out of Scotty; Jim didn’t typically approve of anyone inducing fear in his crew.

“Captain Kirk,” Archer returned, “First and foremost, I would like to extend to you the official apologies of Starfleet Command concerning your abduction by one Admiral James Komack. His actions were not in any way sanctioned by Starfleet nor are they to be condoned by this body. Secondly, in regards to the charges levied against you and Commander Spock, namely the willful concealment of Sentinel and/or Guide abilities and the illegal use of Sentinel and/or Guide abilities, they have been struck from all record. It is my duty to inform you that the entire Federation Council met behind closed doors at 0200 this morning and unanimously voted to repeal the execution edict concerning Sentinels and Guides. New laws concerning Sentinels and Guides will be drafted and ratified by an impartial Betazoid council within six months.”

Betazoid,” Jim couldn’t help but interrupt.

Archer shrugged, “The Councilors all agreed that Terrans had no business creating laws that would affect the people they had viciously hunted in the past. The Betazoid are known for being protective of those with enhanced abilities, whether mental or physical. The Councilors were determined to see you and Commander Spock safeguarded.”

“Oh,” Jim said, a bit stunned.

Archer cleared his throat, “Thirdly, it is my privilege to announce that following your rendezvous with Starbase Three to transfer the remains of James Komack, Harold Marsh, Oscar Austin, and Yolanda Mapps, the Enterprise’s next mission will be a five-year exploration of deep space. We’ll be sending the USS Gentry to meet you at Starbase Three with all of the supplies that you requested in your last report.”

Jim stared at Archer for a minute, “That… wasn’t what I was expecting, sir.”

“What were you expecting, Captain?”

“Frankly? To be ordered to turn myself in to be executed at the worst,” Jim replied bluntly, “To have command of the Enterprise stripped from me at the best.”

“Starfleet may be mostly composed of human cadets and officers, Kirk,” Archer said, “But it’s supported by every single race in the Federation. Starfleet can’t exist without that support and if the Admiralty had even attempted to cause you or Commander Spock harm… Starfleet would have been crucified. I’m not saying that things are sunshine and roses, Kirk, because they’re not. There are a lot of people on earth who still believe the lies that the old governments of earth fed them about Sentinels and Guides. I am going to do everything I can to destroy those beliefs from here, but you’re going to have to do your part too, Kirk. Keep on being a good man and a good captain and you’ll prove to them that a Sentinel is a Blessed Protector, not a crazed warrior.”

“Yes, sir,” Jim swore.

“You’ll receive your mission parameters within the hour, Captain,” Archer told him, “And, Kirk, Chris would be very proud of you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jim exhaled shakily, touched deeply by the sentiment.

“Archer, out,” and the computer’s screen faded to black.

Jim slumped in his chair, emotionally exhausted, “Holy shit.”

Spock moved over to him and began to massage his shoulders, easing away the tension that had been present since Jim had woken up, “Was he lying?”

“No,” Jim answered, “His heartbeat was perfectly steady the entire time. I can’t believe Starfleet is really going to let us keep command, is going to let us go into uncharted space with their flagship.”

“I can,” Bones announced, shrugging his shoulders when Jim and Spock turned to him, “Lots of humans think that killing Sentinels and Guides was barbaric; the Terrans at Command just discovered the perfect way to make everyone believe that they’re atoning for the executions. Every time a reporter questions them about what happened they can say, ‘Yes, it was a terrible tragedy, but look at our Golden Boy Sentinel boldly going where no one has gone before!’ It’s the perfect way to regain the respect of the rest of the Federation and they hardly have to expend any effort to do it.”

**(*)**

Jim had his entire crew, save those who absolutely could not be spared from their duties, all individuals whom Jim had already spoken to privately, gather on the observation deck, the only place on the Enterprise big enough to hold nearly two hundred and fifty people at once.

“Okay, ladies and gentlemen,” Jim climbed up on a table in order to address everyone, “In case you haven’t heard the rumors, yes, it’s true, I’m a Sentinel and Commander Spock is my Guide.”

No one said a word, giving Jim the full focus of their attention.

“There were a lot of lies spread about Sentinels and Guides in the past,” Jim continued, “But they were just that- lies, horrible lies that got innocent people killed. Starfleet doesn’t believe them; they would never have allowed me to remain the Captain of the Enterprise or allowed Mr. Spock to continue to serve as my First Officer if these lies were true. Following our week-long rendezvous with Starbase Three, Starfleet Command has authorized us to embark on a five-year mission to deep space.”

There was no mistaking the excitement that caused; Jim could smell it crackling through the air.

“Anyone who does not wish to continue to serve aboard this ship can return to earth onboard the USS Gentry with no ramifications,” Jim told them all, “You simply have to submit a request to transfer and I will approve it, no questions asked.”

“Captain?” Lieutenant D’Jino asked, his head tilted and his antennae twitching in curiosity, “What is a Sentinel?”

Jim considered the Andorian briefly, relieved when he could smell no hostility coming from him, “A Protector. A person with enhanced senses whose purpose is to protect their tribe from harm.”

“What’s your tribe?” D’Jino inquired.

Jim looked out over his crew, “You are.”

**(*)**

Jim was eating in the mess with Spock, eating a ridiculously bland meal that Bones had insisted on because he didn’t want to overwhelm Jim’s sense of taste while Jim was still recovering from his episode on the Pyre, never mind that it had been two weeks and that Jim felt absolutely fine, when he felt it. The air became charged with a strange kind of powerful electricity and the hairs on the back of Jim’s neck stood up as the energy pulsed over his skin. Its intensity only remained elevated for a scant few seconds, but a static lingered behind. It was identical to the static that had persisted until the moment that Jim had touched Nyota and Scotty, claiming them, in a way, as his, upon the completion of Scotty and Nyota’s isolation period.

Jim’s eyes snapped up to meet his Guide’s and Jim reached out to touch Spock’s hand, transmitting through their bond, ‘Chekov just came online as a Sentinel.

A beat and then a second pulse of energy rippled through the air, this one more temperate than the first had been.

Sulu,’ Spock projected back, ‘He is a Guide.

The pair was in the greenhouse and, as far as Jim could tell, not in danger. So why had Pavel and Hikaru suddenly come online? Was there a threat on his ship that Jim could not sense?

Jim abandoned his meal, disturbed by the turn of events, and he raced toward the greenhouse, Spock hot on his heels.

They found their Navigator and Helmsman curled up in a corner of the darkened greenhouse. Jim’s eyes immediately adjusted to the almost total lack of light, and he took in the sight of Sulu curled protectively around Chekov, who had his hands clutched over his ears, his eyes scrunched shut, and who was as completely naked as Sulu was; their clothes having been tossed away from them. The pair was illuminated only by the soft green glow of the Yulinafia flowers that surrounded them; a part of Jim acknowledged that the light was so soft it was probably only detectable by Sentinels.

“Get Bones to prep the isolation chamber, Spock,” Jim ordered in a whisper that nevertheless provoked a whimper to escape Pavel’s lips, “And replicate some pure cotton sheets.”

“Captain,” Sulu choked out as Spock obeyed, his voice louder than Jim’s had been but not invoking the same pain in Chekov that their Captain’s had. “He’s hurting… he said our clothes felt like fire ants biting his skin.”

“He’s come online as a Sentinel,” Jim spoke in an undertone, “His senses have emerged and he can’t control them yet. That’s why he needs you, Hikaru.”

“I’m his Guide,” Sulu replied, “I… how do I help him?”

“He needs to imprint on you, bond with you,” Jim murmured. “That’s what the isolation chamber is for. Whether you choose to bond platonically or sexually, he’s going to need to be with just you for a few days.”

“What’s the difference?” Sulu asked.

“Platonic bonds can be broken, sexual bonds can’t.”

“Karu,” Chekov gasped out, shifting closer to Sulu.

“He’s my life,” Sulu declared unapologetically.

“Then I guess there really is no choice to make,” Jim returned.

“It didn’t take you and Spock days,” Sulu mused, “I think we would have noticed that, Jim.”

“Spock and I are Alphas, Hikaru, the rules were slightly different for us.”

**(*)**

“How did this happen?” Jim asked, once Chekov and Sulu had been tucked safely into an isolation chamber, “There was nothing in the greenhouse that could have set Chekov off. I had Khan’s blood to help things along and Nyota had a primal push, but all Pavel and Hikaru were doing was making out… which isn’t exactly revolutionary for them. The Enterprise is perfectly safe.”

“As safe as she can be hurtling through uncharted space,” Bones muttered under his breath.

Jim ignored him, “And it’s a hell of a coincidence that three Sentinel-Guide pairs managed to find their way onto the Enterprise’s Command Crew.”

“Not so much of a coincidence, actually,” Bones admitted, “The fact is, now that I know what to look for… I’ve discovered that thirty-five percent of the humans on board this ship have either Sentinel or Guide Genes, Jim. Including me.”

“Ninety percent of the crew is human,” Jim said, stunned, did some quick calculations in his head, none of his crew had chosen to leave on the Gentry, and then stated, “That’s seventy-nine people. How in the hell could there be so many?”

“In earth’s past, Sentinels and their Guides, latent or not, were nearly always drawn to some type of military service or public service job,” Spock revealed, “It is in our nature to serve and protect our people, to defend the tribe in any way that we can. Starfleet doubtlessly has more latent Sentinels and Guides serving on other ships, though most of them are probably already on board the Enterprise.”

“Why do you think that?” Jim asked.

“Because you carefully selected every individual that is currently serving under your command,” Spock told him, “You chose the best and the brightest, those you instinctually knew would follow you to the ends of the universe and back again. You are an Alpha Sentinel Prime, Jim, even in your latent state you would have been compelled to pull other latent Sentinels and Guides under your wing, to form a kind of Pride.”

“How do you know that?” Jim questioned.

“Doctor Sandburg told me,” Spock admitted, “He also explained that only a Prime could reverse the genetic failsafe that has prevented Sentinels and human Guides from coming online since the Purge. And since you are an Alpha Sentinel Prime, I do believe that it is logical for us to assume that Uhura, Scotty, Chekov and Sulu are only the first of many individuals who will come online in the coming months. Just being in proximity to you will push the other latents into online status, Jim. That is why Chekov emerged as a Sentinel without needing to be in danger.”

“Oh, so that’s what Ellison was talking about,” Jim murmured, before clearing his throat, “Sentinel, right, Bones?”

“Yeah,” Bones agreed, “Komack only had his people searching for the Guide Gene in me, which is why he didn’t realize what I was.”

“Cool,” Jim paused, thoughtfully cocking his head to one side, “Do I need to inform the brass about this?”

“There have never been any laws in place that would compel an Alpha Sentinel Prime to divulge information regarding the members of his Pride,” Spock replied promptly, and then he illuminated further, “Admittedly, this oversight was caused by the belief that no Primes were left by the time that the Purge began in earnest, as all of the Primes has already been executed by that point. They were destroyed first because they were the most powerful. Still, based on that technicality, I do not believe you need to inform anyone outside of our crew about the business of our Pride.”

“I agree with Spock,” Bones said, sounding almost pained to have to admit to it, though Jim knew it was just for show, “Leave the admiralty in the dark; they can just be surprised along with the rest of the Federation when we return in five years. If we, you know, aren’t killed by something along the way.”

“So,” Jim wondered, marveling at the idea of belonging to a Pride, the first to exist in over a century, “When do you think that they’ll be coming online, Bones? Will it be gradual or fast? What do you think your Spirit Animal is going to be? I bet it’s something growly… like a teddy bear.”

“Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not an expert on the mystical functions of Sentinels and Guides!”

Jim laughed at his dearest friend’s consternation, sure that Bones would be doing whatever it took to rectify that fact. As he leaned against Spock, he reveled in the revolutionary certainty that everything was going to be okay.

THE END