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Angels And Demons

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(posted on ksarchive.com beginning 7 March 2014)

 

 

Prologue

 

 

     The command chair on the Arredondo was large, comfortable, almost plush. Its pleasant luxury belied the fact that its master commanded one of deadliest, most technically-advanced new battleships in the entire Fleet. Admiral Evan Hamilton enjoyed his position, seated at the center of his bridge, with the galaxy stretched out in front of him. How far he would go to keep it was the focus of the thoughts now streaming through his head.

     Hamilton was the youngest ever to rise to the admiralty, and he did it based not solely on his command and security experience, but also as a consequence of a series of events that had decimated Starfleet’s ranks, led to the implosion of one of the Federation’s founding members, and weakened the very fabric of trust and security on which the Federation, and Starfleet relied. As it stood now, after the terror wrought by Nero and as a result of actions by Khan and Admiral Marcus, the Federation could be seen to be at its weakest point in the history of its existence. Vulnerable to both internal and external threats, operating in an increasingly outmoded way, there was a growing perception of Starfleet as a corrupt war machine instead of a peace-keeping and humanitarian force.

     Hamilton saw his meteoric rise almost as divine providence, were he to believe in such things. He was poised to effect fundamental changes to the way Starfleet operated, and had positioned himself to move into a role of overarching leadership. He saw it as his duty and his destiny, and as threats from the Klingons and the Ren shat’var increased over the past months, he moved rapidly to implement his plan.

     Hamilton’s vision was of a centralized, powerful military, backed by the rich arms suppliers that had risen originally to support the now-defunct Section Thirty-one and were now seeking new opportunities. He had submitted a detailed proposal for a fundamental restructuring of Starfleet to the Federation Council, where it had measured support among the weaker member planets. Unfortunately, the efforts of Ambassador Sarek of New Vulcan and others had thus far thwarted full acceptance of his proposal, and his most powerful supporter, the independent planet Kalar, a primary technology supply source, merely held observational status.

     Hamilton believed that his plan would meet with greater success if he were to garner internal Starfleet support from someone who was a visible and recognizable champion of the Federation. However, the most obvious candidate, Captain James T. Kirk of the Enterprise, had proved not to be the ambitious opportunist that Hamilton had originally pegged him for. Kirk was the hero of the confrontation with Nero, a central figure in the Marcus affair, and was considered by many to be the best starship commander in the Fleet, despite his relative youth. When an initial bribe of a high position in the revamped Fleet structure failed to entice the young captain, Hamilton had made the mistake of threatening Kirk’s position as a result of his new telepathic bond with his half-Vulcan second-in-command. Now, it appeared that Hamilton had an open enemy in Kirk, instead of what he had hoped to be a productive and mutually beneficial partnership.

     The thought of Kirk’s relationship with Spock put Hamilton on edge. Not only was the first officer also a hero of the Battle of Earth, but also was the only Vulcan officer serving in Starfleet. His presence was widely acknowledged, even by Kirk himself, to be a large part of why the Enterprise was considered the best ship in the Fleet. And Spock was the New Vulcan ambassador’s son.

     That which Hamilton had assumed to be ambitious and shrewd positioning on Kirk’s part was in reality hard-won results from superior ability, guts, and the loyalty of his crew, particularly of his first officer. And it grated on Hamilton that his own ascension to the admiralty could even be seen as being due to the exploits of this command team. This particular command team, which, if somehow convinced to back Hamilton’s point of view, would be singularly placed to turn the tide of opinion to make the admiral’s vision come true. Irritating.

     But with the Arredondo hovering on the outskirts of Beta quadrant, on the trail of the Ren shat’var but with precious few results to show for it, Hamilton felt completely removed from the central position he had hoped to cultivate. At least, until now.

     The backwater planet of Epsilon Indrii IV had been hypothesized to be an outpost for the Ren shat’var. Instead, while sensors picked up no traces of the separatist Vulcan warrior faction, they had come across a very small settlement, with indications of seventy-two human life-signs. The settlement was not in any Starfleet records, and Hamilton himself had beamed down to investigate. What he had found there was extraordinary.

     He had learned that a husband-and-wife team with a Federation mining contract landed on the planet five years before and discovered an ancient, native technology. Sensing a scoop, Hamilton had sequestered himself alone with the leader, a man named David Rader, and questioned him further. The ancient technology was a type of mind-control device, which proved most useful for Rader’s nefarious purposes of luring colonists to the planet and indoctrinating them into a cult-like religion, completely loyal to Rader and his wife. Rader was enjoying his little empire, and had acquired some degree of personal wealth from his membership’s tithes. Hamilton, not particularly interested in the cult, saw farther-reaching possibilities for the device.

     The invention of the Klingon mind-sifter was of particular fascination to Hamilton, who considered its only negative the inherently destructive force it had on a human mind, leading inevitably to death or reduction to a vegetative state. As Rader had described this new device, Hamilton saw an instrument of seemingly gentle coercion, featuring all the long-term compliance aspects that the mind-sifter lacked, with almost unlimited military potential. In turn, Rader, seeing a way out for himself in the admiral’s barely hidden eagerness, had offered a deal. He would work for Hamilton, personally, in whatever capacity the admiral wished, so long as his settlement was left undisturbed, and he was provided reasonable compensation.

     Hamilton had started with the two young security officers he had brought down with him. He had been fascinated to watch the process, to see how the machine brought them to a rapidly euphoric, suggestible state with seeming painlessness. The euphoric state lasted no more than two hours, during which the officers swore their unending loyalty to the admiral’s personal cause. It only involved a small amount of manipulation to bring down the rest of his crew, in small groups, and to subject them to the device. Hamilton had assured Rader of his discretion with regard to the cult, and Rader, after receiving assurances of a substantial sum provided by Hamilton’s arms suppliers, had been all too pleased by his new powerful partnership.

     Now, on his ship, with his crew at their jobs around him, Hamilton basked in the feeling that he was given the same kind of personal, all-encompassing loyalty that seemed to come naturally to Kirk. And as he watched them, he noted with satisfaction that they seemed outwardly completely unchanged. As soon as he had recognized the potential of the alien device, he had decided on an ambitious plot that would allow his vision to come to fruition. Kirk and Spock: the very officers who could jump-start his revolution. If they could be brought here, “re-educated”, and then inserted back into their current positions, they would be most influential in convincing the Federation Council to see the restructuring of Starfleet in a new light. And Hamilton would get no end of satisfaction in watching that annoying, idealistic captain and his pet Vulcan simper and bow to his commands.

     Hamilton turned to his first officer. “Mainardi, call up the specs on that new long-range transporter technology we were sent last week. And punch in to the records bank. I want to find out where the Enterprise is heading, right now.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, and set up a secure channel on my personal comm line; we might be making a run to Kalar.”

     “Yes, Admiral, right away.” The young woman nodded her head once and bent to her task immediately. Hamilton felt a thrill as he realized how close he was to his vision. So close he could taste it. How appropriate that the very command team who had saved Starfleet before would now be the ones to reshape it.

     Whether they wanted to or not.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter One: A Beach To Walk On

 

 

     The constant low-frequency thrum of the mighty engines of the Enterprise seemed unusually loud in the main briefing room, where the senior officers had gathered one final time before the ship reached Alpha Veridae II, or Poseidon’s World, as it was colloquially known, for a well-deserved two weeks of shore leave. It was almost as if the ship herself was as eager to make orbit as her tired crew.

     Jim Kirk drained his second cup of coffee and pointed his stylus at Scotty. “And finally, Mr. Scott, Engineering report, please.”

     “Aye, sir. We’re purring like a kitten. No trouble t’all to report. We will be meetin’ up with the U.S.S. Falmouth upon reaching Poseidon’s World to transfer scientific samples, as Mr. Spock reported earlier, an’ to pick up a new set o’ dilithium crystals t’ replace the back-ups you...Ah’mean, we blew up six weeks ago in Sector Ten.”

     “Right,” Jim replied, a little dryly. He glanced between Scotty and Spock. “Mr. Spock will be in command the first three days we’re on leave, Scotty, and will be overseeing the transfer of the materials. Will you be available to... ?”

     “Aye, sir. Ah’ll be stayin’ aboard t’make sure our lady gets her new crystals w’no problems. Beggin’ yer pardon for the interruption, Captain.”

     Jim smiled at Scotty’s predictable eagerness. “No worries, Mr. Scott.” He looked around the table one more time, observing all the signs of fatigue that had crept up slowly over the past six months. Everyone was slumped just a bit in his or her chairs, or covering yawns, or drinking more coffee than was probably advisable. Everyone, of course, but the half-Vulcan first officer, who sat with perfect posture and attention, his brown eyes intense and focused on his captain.

     “Okay, everyone,” Jim continued, “that’ll about do it, I think. We’ll be planetside in about two hours and rotating leave rosters will be in effect starting then. You’ve all done superior work under difficult circumstances these past few months. Have a relaxing leave-you’ve definitely earned it.”

     The senior officers, with the exception of Spock, rose and slowly made their way out, stopping by Jim’s chair to exchange a smile or a few words. Dr. McCoy slapped the captain's shoulder as he passed. “See you in the transporter room in two hours sharp, Jim. Don’t make me hunt you down.” The doctor looked uncharacteristically relaxed, and even whistled as he walked to the door.

     “Sure, Bones. I’ll be there,” Jim called to the doctor’s back as the last of the crew had filtered out behind him. He met Spock’s eyes. “So, I guess your shore leave will be a little delayed, Mr. Spock?” Do I have to get Bones to make it an order for you, too? Did you really have to sign up for three days of extra duty? Jim was finding it easier and easier to communicate with his bondmate along their telepathic link. Four months had passed since they had bonded in order to save Jim’s sanity and life in the face of a deadly attack. Three months since they had realized the full implications of their connection, and had come together physically and mentally as t’hy’la. For security and operational reasons, only the admiralty and select others knew of the bond. The rest of the crew were in the dark, and as a result, Jim was chafing at the bit to get his bondmate alone, away from the constant threat of discovery and the constant responsibility of being the youngest command team in Starfleet. Unfortunately, however, it seemed that responsibility would be tagging along for another three days.

     Spock rose smoothly from his chair and moved to stand next to Jim. “My duties require that I oversee transfer of the samples, which will take three days due to the delicate containment procedures involved.” His eyes softened. I regret causing you distress, but I am confident that Dr. McCoy will keep you occupied.

     Jim consciously mimicked Spock’s usual raised brow. “I understand.” But you’ll be making this up to me when you get down there. He felt a swell of affection and longing cascading along the bond before Spock, predictably, damped it down under fierce Vulcan control. The captain had come to more closely understand his first officer’s constant internal struggles due to their new intimate connection. He knew it was more difficult for Spock to control his emotions than a full-blooded Vulcan. Jim had asked Dr. M’Benga, their new specialist in Vulcan medicine, about it after becoming slightly disoriented from repeatedly sensing the sharp stomach-dropping repression of Spock’s emotions through the bond. M’Benga had explained that Vulcans feel deeply, but in a more compartmentalized manner, dealing with one emotion at a time making control a simpler process. Spock’s half-human blood allowed for a constant stream of multiple emotions, all felt as deeply as a full-Vulcan, with control instead becoming a dynamic process of checks and balances.

     With the last of the crew gone from the briefing room and the door shut, Spock took a step closer to Jim. “I must report to the bridge. I will see you in three days.”

     Normally Jim might have been flippant, or managed one of his trademark sarcastic comments, but he sensed uneasiness from his friend. They had not been separated for so long in the past three months, and even though Spock never overtly mentioned it, Jim knew the Vulcan was uncertain as to his place in certain aspects of Jim’s life. When they were alone, in their melds or intimate activities, Spock was comfortable and relaxed. Professionally, as a command team, they worked efficiently and flawlessly together. However, it was the in-between times, during communal meals, or social events, and now shore leave, where Jim’s usual routine had previously excluded Spock. And the ubiquitous presence of Dr. McCoy, who had a contentious relationship with the Vulcan, at these functions only served to heighten the sense that Spock was still an outsider.

     So now, Jim simply reached out his right hand, two fingers outstretched in the traditional Vulcan gesture between bondmates. As Spock reached back and their fingers touched, Jim thrilled to the familiar electric feeling along his hand, mirrored by the expanding warmth within the bond. He pushed his own feelings of reassurance and affection towards his mate and saw Spock’s eyes close briefly. I can’t wait.

 

 

 

     Even with his eyes closed and wearing sunglasses, Jim could still make out the presence of the brilliant sun above the white sand beach where he lay stretched out on a large towel. The wash of the waves and the gentle chatter of passing vacationers provided a subtle background to Jim’s immediate senses. The warmth of the sun on his skin and the sharp tang of salt in the air perfectly complemented the coolness of the beer he held in his hand. Jim took in a deep breath and exhaled, a smile on his face.

     “I don’t know why you’re smiling so much; that suit’s so ridiculously small you’re going to get burns in places I’m not going to want to deal with.” McCoy’s gruff drawl came from the next towel over, where he sprawled out on his stomach, watching the passers-by.

     “You sound jealous, Bones. You wish you could pull this off.” Jim lifted his head to awkwardly sip at his beer.

     “I’m a doctor, not a damn bikini model. Although those girls last night could have been.” McCoy smirked and pushed his sunglasses down to get a better look at an Andorian splashing in the waves.

     Jim shook his head and didn’t respond. Bones seemed to be relishing his friend’s new ‘taken’ status, having dragged the captain from bar to bar over the past three nights exploiting Jim’s previously latent wingman talents. Jim hadn’t minded that so much; he’d missed the anonymity and excitement of being out dancing, drinking, and enjoying the energy of a good nightspot. What he found more irritating was the doctor’s constant teasing and subtle jabs at Jim’s still-absent bondmate. The captain might have expected some of this; Bones and Spock didn’t necessarily get along, and Jim knew that Bones had been feeling left out over the past three months as he and Spock had settled into their new relationship. However, the young human was rapidly reaching his saturation point, and was hoping that Spock’s arrival that afternoon would curb some of the doctor’s pique.

     “So,” McCoy continued, turning to look at Jim, “you still want to bring the hobgoblin out tonight?”

     Jim’s jaw tightened, but he kept his voice light. “Yeah, of course. Why not?”

     “Well, he’s not exactly a social butterfly. I can’t imagine him having much fun.”

     Jim suddenly sat up, crossing his legs and pushing his glasses up to regard his friend. “Bones, seriously, what do you want me to say? Any answer I give is going to lead to some quip about how he’s not human, how he doesn’t drink, how it sucks that we’re going to have to leave early because his telepathy’s getting overloaded, how he’s going to scare all the women away. I mean, for fuck’s sake, enough’s enough already.”

     There was a loaded silence and Bones slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position as well. “Aw, hell, I’m sorry, kid.”

     Jim looked down at his half-finished beer and shrugged. “It’s alright, Bones, but I’d like to know where this is coming from. I mean, is it because it’s Spock, or what?”

     Bones scratched his head. “I don’t know, maybe it’s him. Maybe I’m just not used to you being so, you know, attached. And I’m still not over him belting you around the bridge that time. Or ratting you out to Pike. Or kind of being an arrogant, cold bastard in general.”

     “He’s not arrogant, it’s just his Vulcan thing. And I kind of deserved to get smacked around the bridge. And ratted out to Pike. C’mon, Bones, I need him. And you. Who else is going to patch us back together after we get into trouble?”

     “Whatever.” McCoy shook his head. “Infant.”

     Jim’s rejoinder was interrupted by the beep of his communicator, half-buried in the sand. “Speak of the devil.” He grinned, flipping it open. “Hey, Pointy, you coming down?”

     Spock’s normal monotone somehow managed to sound haughty. “I fail to grasp the concept of resorting to childish taunts as a manner of address.”

     Jim felt warmth and anticipation rippling through their bond, however, and ignored his bondmate’s dry response. “You’ve got the keycode, right?”

     “Affirmative. I shall arrive in fifteen point three minutes.”

     “Sounds good. We’re down on the beach, but I’ll meet you up there. Kirk out.” Jim snapped the communicator closed and threw back the remainder of his beer, directing a challenging look at his friend. “What do you say? Want to meet us in the lobby at nineteen-hundred?”

     Bones sighed, and leaned back on his elbows, stretching his legs in front of him. “Sure thing, kid, count me in.”

     Jim flashed the doctor a smile and slapped him on the shoulder as he stood up and brushed sand from his body. He tried not to appear to be hurrying as he rolled up his towel and other belongings and began the walk back to the nearby hotel.

 

 

 

     Jim’s arrival at his suite was quicker than the fifteen point three minutes estimated by his bondmate, and he took the opportunity to jump into the shower to rinse off the lingering sand, sweat, and sunblock from his body. As he stepped out and wrapped a crisp white towel around his waist, he felt the gentle awareness of his t’hy’la in the next room, and quickly walked out to greet him. Spock was dressed not in his ubiquitous uniform, but in a soft white tunic and khaki pants, his eyes wide as he took in Jim’s casual state of undress. For a minute they simply gazed at each other, and then Spock stepped forward, his hand outstretched in the traditional ozh’esta. Jim reached back, deliberately allowing the towel to loosen just enough to slip dangerously low on his hips. The mutual rush of desire through the bond was expected, as was the sudden flash of hesitation from Spock’s side.

     The captain was still not completely used to the contrasting mixture of insecurity and assertiveness that characterized his bondmate’s response to sexual activity. He knew part of it was an ingrained cultural aversion to losing control, and another part was due to Spock’s relative lack of experience and unfamiliarity with human expressions of affection. All overlying the fundamentally passionate drives common to both human and Vulcan ancestries.

     And Jim was dealing as well with a new awareness of his own understanding of intimacy. While they both were still becoming used to the all-encompassing closeness of melded intercourse, Jim was the one finding difficulty in resolving his identity before the bond with what existed now. In a lot of ways, the captain knew that the half-Vulcan was able to express love within their encounters more candidly than Jim himself.

     Now, even with the connection between them beginning to burn with shared anticipation, Jim could sense that Spock wanted him to take the first step. The captain was more than willing to oblige, stepping forward and claiming an aggressive human kiss. Spock’s mouth opened to him, and Jim felt a shudder run along the Vulcan’s body as the loose towel finally fell to the floor and Jim’s hardness pressed fully against him. Jim could admit that he had a strange obsession with Spock’s hair, and now pushed both his hands into it, stroking the neatly clipped smoothness on the back of his neck and burying his other hand in the slightly longer silky black strands higher on his head, undulating his hips provocatively against Spock’s body. He pushed feelings through the bond; his lust, his desires, a desperate wish to feel himself inside his bondmate’s body, a sultry dare for them both to lose control.

     The Vulcan’s hands stroked along Jim’s back and shoulders, pulling him against his lean, hard form as he deepened the kiss, making a soft noise of need deep in his chest. Jim released his hands from Spock’s hair to pull off the Vulcan’s shirt in one smooth motion, leaning forward again to press their bodies together, feeling the frantic heartbeat low in Spock’s side. Jim never got over the thrill of feeling Spock’s alien strength against his own, especially when he could easily master all that power and exotic telepathic energy with a well-timed application of very human sexual prowess.

     Jim sank swiftly to his knees in front of his bondmate, pulling at the fastenings of his pants and letting them fall to the floor. He wasted no time moving his mouth onto Spock’s rapidly hardening cock, pushing all his pent-up fantasies of the past three days through the bond. He breathed in the scent of Vulcan arousal, savored the taste of his mate, and enjoyed the rush of increasingly desperate sensations cascading through their mental link. At the last minute, he swatted Spock’s hand away from his face and gripped himself strongly, throwing up all his rudimentary mental shields to avoid his own orgasm as his bondmate gave a barely audible moan and emptied himself in Jim’s mouth. Oh, Jim...t’hy’la...t’nash-veh.

     As the throbbing of his bondmate’s penis eased and the hands curled into fists at his sides relaxed, Jim stood and licked his lips, smirking at the debauched appearance of his normally perfectly ordered mate, and gave him a gentle push towards the bed. I want you. He knew that Spock could read his intentions clearly, and it pushed his excitement to the brink of his own control to watch the Vulcan willingly submit to his desires. They fell onto the bed, and Jim wasted no time preparing his mate carefully, covering his mouth with a deep, sensuous kisses, waiting until the Vulcan was practically writhing underneath. Jim shifted their bodies in order to press himself slowly in and paused, waiting for Spock’s muscles to relax. As the Vulcan arched up into him, Jim felt the heat and the hardness of his partner’s body, watched with aching desire the dark intensity of his eyes, and sensed the wash of love, lust, want, need flowing through their bond. Jim let out a cry and thrust into his mate, felt Spock’s fingers find their way unerringly to his meld points, and sank ecstatically into their shared mental space, where every sensation was experienced by both and their minds clung together as tightly as their bodies. Their shared release had Jim screaming out his pleasure to the room and Spock’s body shuddering uncontrollably, his eyes closed and his mate’s name on his lips.

    When they finally separated, Jim stayed curled around his friend, one of his hands overtop of Spock’s, still holding the light meld. For the moment, he couldn’t bear to move away, and even the slightest retreat from their mental contact seemed impossible. Jim kept his eyes shut, an uncontrollable shiver running through his body. He always found their joining to be profoundly intense, and every time Jim felt a fleeting, but overwhelming sense of desperation that he couldn’t live without this closeness, this press of skin and intertwining of thoughts. I need you. His mind repeated the words over and over, and he felt Spock softly stroke his hair with his other hand. Vulcan words passed through the bond and the meld, caressing Jim’s thoughts and soothing him. Jim slowly calmed, and came back to himself as the meld gently ended, and brown eyes gazed at him, intently passing across his face as if memorizing it yet again.

     “I’m sorry,” Jim murmured, looking away and blinking sudden tears from his eyes.

     “For what, t’hy’la?” Spock’s voice was tender.

     Jim reluctantly pulled away and lay on his back on the large bed. “For being needy, and pathetic. I don’t know.” It was still unfamiliar, and somewhat uncomfortable for him, this powerful sense of needing. It made him uneasy. He had always been self-sufficient, independent, and now... .

     Spock pushed himself up onto one elbow and traced one of Jim’s hands with his fingers. “You feel ashamed. And angry.” He tilted his head slightly. “And you are afraid. Of what?”

     Jim set his jaw, the sense of shame for his perceived weakness winning out. “You know of what.” Spock could feel his mind; surely Jim didn’t have to say this out loud.

     “I do not understand.”

     Jim rose abruptly, walking towards the adjacent bathroom and punching the switches for the shower. Hot water streamed down from the high overhead nozzle, bringing billowing steam rising from the spray. He stepped under the water, relishing the sting on his recently sun-exposed skin. He felt a familiar warmth through the bond, and heard the door slide open and closed, a solid form moving to stand directly behind him, close but not touching.

     I am here if you need me, t’hy’la. The thought washed gently into his mind, and Jim bowed his head, feeling his bondmate begin to shiver behind him.

     Jim turned with a sigh of exasperation and pulled Spock under the hot water with him. “This is stupid,” he murmured. “We have a telepathic bond and you’re a Vulcan. I thought I wouldn’t have to talk about feelings anymore.”

     His bondmate ran his hands over Jim’s shoulders and down his arms, waiting. Finally, lulled by the rhythmic motions and the hot water, Jim relaxed and sighed again. “I’ve always been able to walk away. And now I know that simply walking away will never be an option for either of us.” He found he couldn’t continue speaking, and instead abashedly pushed his thoughts through their link, If I go, or if you go, it will be like ripping one of us away from the other. I’ve never felt that I can’t live without something before, until this. To need; to believe that who I am now is actually who we are and, if I lose you, I don’t think I’ll have anything good left in me. He crossed his arms defensively in front of him and looked at the floor.

    Spock tilted his head slightly, his hands stilling on Jim’s biceps. “I will never leave you, Jim. I believe what my counterpart said to you is the truth, that there is no end to a t’hy’la bond. My katra will always be a part of yours, and yours with mine.”

     Jim raised his chin to look directly at Spock. You know I love you, even though I can’t say it out loud. “You guys never do anything by halves, do you?” He smiled fondly, unfolding his arms to playfully push Spock’s wet hair into a haphazardly spiky arrangement.

     Neither do you, ashayam, came the whispered mental response, and Spock’s eyes suddenly darkened as he pulled Jim towards him for a devastating human kiss.

 

 

 

     Much later, Jim lay on his stomach in the bed, a sheet thrown over his lower body, his head pillowed on his arms, watching his bondmate dress. Spock was adjusting the high collar of his black tunic. The captain smirked a bit to himself, enjoying the way the matching black pants fit his mate’s backside. In the mirror, he saw Spock’s eyebrow rise. What? Jim sent. I find you aesthetically pleasing. His mental tone was teasing.

     And I you, t’hy’la, but we are due to meet the doctor in twelve point two minutes, and you are hardly ready.

     “Right. Plenty of time!” Jim wriggled out from under the sheet and wandered over to the closet. He could feel Spock watching him. The Vulcan’s meticulous nature was always somewhat thrown by Jim’s innate ability to make himself completely presentable in an absurdly short period of time. And indeed, less than five minutes later, Jim had brushed his teeth, ran a comb through his hair, and donned a blue shirt and dark slacks, giving himself a cursory once-over in the mirror and turning to his bondmate with a grin. “See? Ready to go.”

     Spock stood very straight, his hands clasped behind his back. Jim could sense uneasiness leaking through their bond, slipping past Spock’s control. “Jim, are you certain you wish me to accompany you tonight?”

     “Uh, yeah. Why not? Did McCoy say something?” Jim’s voice hardened.

     “No, although I would understand the doctor’s reluctance for my presence.”

     “Bones has had me all to himself the past three nights. You’re coming.” Jim involuntarily used his command voice, narrowing his eyes at his friend. After a pause, he frowned, his tone softening. “Don’t you want to go?”

     Spock hesitated. “I will attend.” The unease remained, however, despite his impassive countenance, and Jim realized that his bondmate hadn’t actually answered the question.

     Jim gave a half-smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep Bones in line.” Thank you for coming; I want you there.

     Spock’s eyes lightened somewhat and he raised an eyebrow. “Vulcans do not worry.” But half-Vulcans might. I would be at your side.

     Jim caressed the bond in his mind. And I would be at yours.

 

 

 

     McCoy was waiting for them in the lobby, dressed sharply in a dark gray suit. Despite his grumblings over the past few days, he greeted Spock with a broad smile. “Well, about time you decided to take some leave. I guess Jim’s actually doin’ you some good.”

     Jim recognized that his friend was trying to make up for his earlier behavior and clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, Bones. Where’re we heading tonight?”

     The doctor looked him up and down. “Well, y’all sure seem relaxed.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively, and Jim shook his head in warning as Spock stiffened slightly next to him. “Okay, okay, settle down. I found a restaurant a bit of a walk away; supposed to have good drinks and vegetarian food.” He focused suddenly on Jim. “And, for the record, you taking after your Vulcan whatever here with regard to eating wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, you know.”

     Jim rolled his eyes and gestured towards the door. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

     They left the hotel, Jim and Bones walking slightly ahead of Spock. Jim could feel his bondmate’s contentment, however, and chatted with the doctor. As they walked down the wide street, aircars and pedestrians providing a colorful litany of sound alongside, Jim smiled and nodded to the many crewmembers he passed. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits, and a few were openly inebriated, coloring and snapping to a semblance of embarrassed attention as their captain approached.

     After several minutes, Bones let them down a side street, which was considerably less crowded. Jim felt Spock’s shields relax slightly. The captain was intrigued by the still-new sensations of ambient telepathic energy that touched him through the bond. Spock’s shielding was usually enough to prevent most of it, but Jim was amazed by the constantly swelling and receding background of psychic presence. The Vulcan had mentioned to Jim that his own experience with his telepathic sense had altered somewhat since their bonding; Spock’s perceptions were now more empathetically colored. He was much more sensitive to others’ emotions and senses, and had to adjust his shielding accordingly.

     As the number of passers-by dwindled to zero, Jim felt a strange twinge run up his spine. McCoy was oblivious, continuing to chatter on. “How much farther did you say, Bones?” Jim interrupted, glancing around.

     “Uh, not too much farther, I think. Should be just around the next corner. Why?”

     Jim pressed his lips together and flexed his hands. “I don’t know, just a bad feeling, I guess.” He reached mentally for Spock. I think I’m just on edge.

     He felt Spock move closer to him. “Jim, if you....”.

     Jim heard a sharp intake of breath and felt the bond crash open in alarm, turning to see Spock fall to his knees behind him, one hand raised to the side of his neck, his brown eyes wide. Dart...drug...ambush... run! “Shit!” exclaimed the captain, and grabbed instinctively for Spock with one arm, reaching for the doctor with the other, meaning to pull them against the near wall, towards some semblance of cover. Jim heard a whistling sound next to his ear and then heard McCoy cry out, falling away from him.

     Go, Jim, get out of here! Get out... . Spock’s mental voice stopped abruptly as the bond went dark and the Vulcan slumped to the ground. Jim let go of his friends’ arms, scrabbling backwards against the wall of the building behind him. He flattened himself against the structure, hand grasping for his communicator, eyes straining to catch a glimpse of their aggressors, when a sharp stinging pain erupted on his thigh and he clapped his hand over the offending area, feeling a small solid object embedded in his leg. Darkness swam around his vision, rapidly closing in. The captain felt himself slide down to the sidewalk, a heavy feeling overtaking his limbs. As his vision failed, he let his head fall back to take in one last view of crystal-clear sky. You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me... .

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: To Have, And Then To Lose

 

 

     Jim woke up to the sensation of being watched. He blinked open his eyes and shifted his body, feeling the tug of restraints against his wrists and ankles. He immediately reached out for Spock, even before fully becoming cognizant of his surroundings. The bond was dark, as before, but Jim could sense the distant warmth of Spock’s mind; his bondmate was alive, but most likely unconscious somewhere. As Jim’s vision came into focus, he realized he was seated in a soft, almost plush chair, and the walls around him were a pale pink in color, almost luminous. Gentle, soothing music was playing in the background, and a human man stood in front of him, wearing lavender robes and an insipidly pleasant expression on his face.

     The captain shook his head slightly, wondering if he was hallucinating. The man, tall, slender, and middle-aged with thinning hair, spoke, “Welcome, my brother, to your new home. My name is Andrew, and I am your sponsor on your journey.”

     “Right.” Jim raised his eyebrows and peered around them to take in the rest of the room. Against the far wall, two large men wearing gray fatigues stood with what looked like phasers in hand. Nearer, and to the left, a compact console stood, with a young woman behind it, also wearing gray, but mirroring Andrew’s smile. Jim shifted slightly, testing the restraints; there appeared to be a single exit directly in front of him. “So,” the captain continued, hardly keeping the sarcasm out of his voice, “where am I supposed to be going?”

     “You must not fear, my brother. The journey is a joyous one, and quickly made. We shall begin.”

     “Wait!” Jim called, feeling a sudden burst of panic. A soft humming sound began from above his head, and he looked up to see an apparatus descending from the ceiling. It appeared to be a large glowing sphere, attached to a metal arm, and as the sphere neared him the humming grew louder and the sphere began to change colors rapidly. Jim shrank away from it, but couldn’t escape the restraints, and the sphere moved to within inches of his head. The panic turned into terror as Jim felt gentle whispers stroke through his mind, searching, reaching. He flashed back to the mind-sifter, and in desperation, let out a mental cry for his bondmate. But there was no answer, and the whispers grew louder and louder and he felt a wave of powerful emotion crash through him, and beyond it was only the sensation of floating and blinding whiteness.

 

 

 

     Leonard McCoy always groused about the amount of trouble Jim and that green-blooded bastard managed to get themselves into. Now, as he fought his way back to consciousness, he decided that enough was really enough. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, leaning against a cold, metal wall, and surveyed his situation, patting the inside of his jacket for his communicator and, unsurprisingly, finding it missing. He was in a good-sized room, windowless, and with a single, sealed door. In front of the door, pacing back and forth, his hands clasped viciously behind his back, was the hobgoblin himself. Spock’s eyes flicked to McCoy, and the doctor flinched slightly at the barely banked rage within them. The black tunic only accentuated the unnatural paleness of the Vulcan’s face, and he was biting his lower lip.

     McCoy slowly pushed himself up to stand against the wall, rubbing absently at the tender mark on his neck from where the dart had impacted. He took a few wary steps towards Spock and stopped as the Vulcan abruptly ceased his pacing and turned to face him. “Jim?” McCoy asked softly. Spock was almost imperceptibly shaking, and, closer now, McCoy could see that the rage in his eyes was accompanied by something else, something broken.

     “He is missing, Doctor.” Spock took a deliberate breath and exhaled, lowering his voice. “The bond is intact, but....damaged. I cannot sense him beyond knowing that he is alive.” He paused, his eyes darting towards the door and back to the doctor. “It happened while I was unconscious; I could not help him.” The look in his eyes was suddenly of unmitigated anguish, and McCoy had to avert his gaze, knowing that Spock was on the very edge of his control. The doctor’s heart suddenly filled with fear for the captain.

     “Spock, you have to get ahold of yourself. Jim needs us to... .” McCoy’s words were interrupted as the Vulcan stiffened and turned, moving so that he was between the doctor and the door, pushing McCoy back towards the middle of the room. There was a soft beeping sound from the other side, and suddenly, the metal panels slid open. Three men in gray fatigues were framed in the doorway, weapons pointing directly into the room.

     “You,” one of the men said, pointing at McCoy. “Let’s go.”

     “He is not going anywhere. I demand to know why we have been taken.” Spock stepped forward. “Where is our companion?”

     The weapon came to life with a sharp rapport, and McCoy gasped as Spock was thrown back a step by the stunning beam. The Vulcan hesitated, doubled over, and raised his head to fix the guard with an iron glare. The guard raised his weapon again, and Spock moved so quickly that McCoy barely registered it. The doctor stood with his mouth open as a single swing knocked the weapon out of the guard’s hand. Spock delivered a devastating second blow that threw the guard into the air and against the front wall. Stunning beams erupted from the other two guards and Spock went down inches from the door.

     McCoy made a single abortive move forward before he stopped himself, the remaining guards’ weapons pointed at him. The doctor slowly raised his hands and took two deliberate steps back. One of the men stepped forward and collected the weapon from the floor, tucking it into his belt before grasping his unconscious partner’s arms and dragging him out of the cell. He returned momentarily, a comm unit held to his ear, listening. Turning to the remaining guard, he shrugged. “He says to go ahead with the alien first; seems if we wait he’ll make more trouble than it’s worth, despite the risk. And once he’s done they can start the conditioning.”

     At the other guard’s nod, he holstered the comm unit and bent to roughly turn Spock’s limp form over, grabbing his wrists and pulling him similarly through the door. “No!” McCoy’s frantic shout was simply ignored by two men, and once the Vulcan’s body had been dragged over the threshold, the metal panels slid shut once again, leaving the doctor to stare in horror at the door.

 

 

 

     Spock came back to consciousness with the feeling of his body sliding along the floor, his wrists held in a tight, sweaty grip. He reeled at the wave of thoughts and emotions that were transmitted through the contact. Disgust...alien...do your job...take this one...never an alien before...they promised the reward would be great...anger...why couldn’t Beech handle this?...damn alien is heavy...why does that outworlder want these guys anyway?...hope it works... . Spock pulled ineffectually at the grip on his arms, weakened and dizzy from the effect of the stunning beams. The human’s hands tightened and suddenly he felt his legs grasped and he was practically flung into a chair, restraints quickly tightened around his wrists and ankles.

     With the immediate onslaught of the man’s mind removed, Spock focused briefly inward, touching on the bond. What had been a powerful, brilliant connection was now thin and muted, passive. However, it seemed somewhat brighter here than in the cell, and as he lifted his head and looked around, he realized why. Standing in front of him, his expression pleasant and dreamy, was Jim. His bondmate did not respond to his mental calls, and there was only passing recognition in his eyes. Spock could not even pick up his emotions, only a constant almost euphoric background. It was disconcerting in the extreme, and the Vulcan forced himself to turn away from the familiar blue eyes to search the rest of the room. A console off to the left, the strange pink color of the walls, the presence of the armed men from before standing alertly behind Jim, weapons out and held ready, a human in lavender robes standing next to Jim, a smile on his face.

     “Welcome, my brother, to your new home. My name is Andrew, and this,” gesturing to Jim, “is James. We are your sponsors on your journey. Do not fear, the journey is a joyous one, and quickly made.”

     Spock could feel the latent effects of the stun beams wearing off, and he employed all his Vulcan control to remain calm, fighting the deepening chill and harsh mental ache that accompanied the damaged bonding link. A humming noise began from the ceiling, and a multi-colored sphere descended. As it approached, Spock became aware of an attempted mind-touch, and raised all of his mental shields, bracing himself for a similar assault as the mind-sifter. Instead of pain, however, as the hum grew, and the colors within the sphere flashed and spun, the mind-touch simply brushed harmlessly against his mental barriers.

     This continued for some time, as Jim and Andrew stood placidly in front of him, Jim remaining impervious to Spock’s continued attempts to touch his mind. Finally, Andrew gestured to the woman behind the console and the hum stopped. Andrew’s expression did not change as he turned and smoothly exited the room. Spock focused again on his bondmate, who regarded him with blissful eyes. “James. Do you know me?”

     “I knew you before, and will know you again, when you join us fully.” Jim’s voice was as dreamy as his expression. With the machine turned off, Spock focused on touching the bond, caressing it, and, pushing his own energy into it, felt it brighten further. He pushed harder, and Jim twitched slightly, blinking rapidly before resuming his placid expression.

     Just as Spock was about to try again, a man came striding purposefully into the room, dressed in a beige suit and wearing a white lab coat. He glanced at Spock and then motioned to the woman behind the console. “Increase the power.”

     The woman looked faintly uncomfortable. “But, Mr. Rader, we have never needed to do so before. It might be dangerous.”

     “He is an alien. It is necessary.”

     She hesitated, but nodded and flipped several switches on the console. “Ready, sir.” At his nod, she pressed a button and the hum began again. Spock shifted slightly against the restraints and reinforced his shields. The mind-touch was slightly different this time. Instead of brushing against his shields, it seemed to stick as a sharp, icy layer, so cold it burned. He concentrated, all the while watching Jim.

     Rader observed, rocking impatiently back and forth on his heels, and ordered another increase in power. The woman flipped another switch and the icy burn spread, reaching deeper into Spock’s shield. As the intensity was increased yet again, Spock felt the icy tendrils wind their way relentlessly towards his mind, and he pushed down a feeling of panic. This was not the harsh assault of pain that had characterized the mind-sifter. Instead, this was a creeping, inexorable force. Pain, he could control. This was alien to him, to his Vulcan nature, and he suddenly realized he was vulnerable. As the intensity was increased once more, the icy tendrils suddenly touched his mind, and he felt a well of releasing emotions. Deep-seated, powerful, desperate emotions that clambered to break free. They boiled over and he was inundated by them, his control slowly shattering from the inside, his face contorting with the effort of resisting.

     The woman at the console was looking almost alarmed, and when Rader ordered the levels raised yet again she backed away, raising her hands. With a disgusted snarl, Rader stepped over and flipped switches on his own, the hum rising sharply to a high-pitched whine. “We need both of them, damn it. This has to work.”

     A cry was forced from Spock’s throat as his mind was invaded, as his controls vanished, as every repressed, pushed-down, denied emotion was pulled from deep within him, forced to coalesce in a terrible wave. Spock retreated deeper, trying to escape, feeling the wave follow him and sensing oblivion following immediately behind. He knew that for a human, the wave would be chased by rapture, with the ecstasy of release, with the dream-like state that he saw in his bondmate. But, as a Vulcan, the emotional stresses would destroy him, and he could sense it even now in the encroaching icy death.

     Dimly, he felt Jim step closer to him, sensed his bondmate’s voice calmly speak of joining, of becoming one, of letting go. Desperately, Spock dove into his own mind, wrapping himself around their subdued connection, holding on in a final act as he sensed the wave approach. He felt, very lightly, his Jim, somewhere distantly along the bond, still present, still fighting, similarly lost deep in his own mind, but with no way of escaping. And Spock suddenly knew what he had to do. Forgive me, t’hy’la. He barely felt the restraints over his wrist crack as he thrust his hand out and grasped his mate’s bare arm, feeling the link that had been denied him strengthen just enough. Gathering himself, gathering all the strength that was left him, he mentally impelled himself forward. He pushed his mind outwards, with all the energy he had, pushing the relentless wave of emotion into the approaching wall of icy emptiness, sending himself streaming likewise into the bond, feeling it widen and burn and scream with his passage, sending his very katra out, pushing it towards his mate, and setting his mate’s mind free.

 

 

 

     There was peace, and tranquility, floating on a cloud beyond and above feeling. Happiness, wonder, anger, fear, triumph, greed, hatred, love, all existed together and were released, purged, leaving careless bliss behind. There was no need for anxiety or fear or worry, for he was beyond that, and there was nothing more to... .

     There was screaming, and on all sides, the cold slickness of death. And Jim felt himself pushed free, the haze of heightened emotion vanishing abruptly. There was the sound of weapons discharging, and then silence, and even the shrill whine of the machine was gone. Jim came back to himself, the sharp scent of burning electronics in the air, the cold floor under his cheek, shivering uncontrollably, his head aching. He coughed, and looked up, disoriented. He was on the floor of that horrible pink room where he had been before. Before... .

     It all came back, suddenly, the dart, waking up strapped in the chair, the sphere, the hum, the sense of his mind being invaded, a wave of emotions, then peaceful bliss, and then a burning heat, a relentless push back to reality. Spock! Jim twisted on the floor, turning around, and let out a strangled cry. Lying next to the chair was the crumpled form of his bondmate. No! Jim struggled to his side even as he grasped at the bond in his head. It was there, barely, growing fainter and fainter, slipping away. Spock’s body convulsed once weakly before going unnaturally still, and Jim pulled at the Vulcan’s arm, turning him completely onto his back, desperately feeling for a pulse. It was weak, trailing away to nothing. No, no, no, baby, no. Jim’s mind raced, and it took every ounce of his Fleet training to push away his blinding terror and begin resuscitation. Breathe, Spock! Come on, please, please, please. Jim pressed frantically on his bondmate’s side, willing his heart to pump. Please, t’hy’la, please don’t leave me. He pushed breath after breath into Spock’s lungs, pushing his energy and thoughts along the thinning bond, feeling something flicker through his mind and then stream back along the link. Spock! Fight, dammit, please! Come back to me. Finally, finally, he felt a pulse return; faint, but there. And Spock’s chest moved slightly, lungs rasping as his breathing caught, and continued. Jim could now feel their connection more solidly, but it was still muted, dull, off-balance somehow. He bent over his bondmate, pressing his face into his neck, stifling a sob, and it was only the continued, eerie silence of the room around him that forced him to look up.

     The room hung with death. The guards against the far wall, Rader, and the woman behind the console, Andrew, lying halfway through the door, all dead, their eyes wide and contorted expressions on their faces. One of the guards had apparently discharged his weapon randomly as he died, the beam slicing through the control console and shutting down the machine, evidently releasing the restraints as well. Jim stared up at the chair next to him, the metal cuffs neatly opened, except for the one over the right arm of the chair; it was broken through, the metal sheared. Jim reached out to his bondmate’s right wrist, seeing torn and damaged skin, remembering vaguely the feeling of a last, desperate grasp on his arm. Spock’s skin was too cool, and the unexpected sensation snapped Jim fully back into the present. He rose to his feet, unsteadily, and walked over to pick up the guards' weapons and shove them in his belt. He also grabbed what looked like a comm unit, and stuck his head out the doorway, peering left and right. There was no one else, no alarms; it seemed like whatever had happened had happened too fast for Rader or the others to alert anyone.

     The captain turned back towards his bondmate, still lying on the floor. He took a step towards him, feeling weak and cold, his hands shaking. The blank stares of the dead were unnerving, and even more so the fact that Jim had no idea why or how they had died. Or why he was here in the first place. Wherever the fuck here was. A muffled sound from down the hallway forced him into motion, and he deliberately focused his gaze on Spock, moving over to hoist him gently over his shoulders, gripping his wrist and balancing so that Jim could hold one of the weapons in his other hand.

     Slowly, Jim eased out into the hallway and moved to the left, trying to stay against the wall. Bits of memory floated back to him, and he continued on, walking as quickly and as quietly as he could with his unmoving bondmate slung across his shoulders. A vaguely familiar door appeared down the hall, and Jim had a faint recollection of being inside, hearing Andrew mention that they would have to wait longer than expected to allow for the energy build-up required to operate the beaming equipment. He had a fainter memory of the name Epsilon Indrii IV, which he knew to be a minor planet on the edges of Beta quadrant. The man from before, Rader, had been there, too, saying something into a comm unit about taking the alien next, so that the conditioning could begin. Shaking his head to clear it, Jim proceeded down the hallway.

 

 

 

     The captain rounded a corner and fired his weapon almost before consciously registering the presence of a gray-suited guard standing outside of a sealed metal door. The guard fell silently, and Jim moved forward again to gently set Spock down next to the door. The access panel was overly complicated, and, sensing that he was running out of time, Jim simply fired his weapon into it. There was a spray of sparks and the metal door slid open.

      “Jim!” Upon catching a glimpse of him, McCoy practically vaulted through the door, eyes rapidly flicking over his friend’s form. “My god, man. Are you alright?”

     Jim silently shoved his second weapon into the doctor’s hands and bent down to relieve the guard on the floor of his sidearm. McCoy caught sight of Spock slumped against the wall and crouched down next to him, pressing his fingers to the Vulcan’s neck. “What happened to Spock? Jim!”

     The captain finally spoke, his voice thin and forced, “Bones, I need you to carry Spock. We’ve got to get the fuck out of here and I have a feeling I’m going to need both hands.”

     McCoy met his captain’s eyes, and the expression he found there left no room for argument, or delay. The doctor thrust the weapon into the waistband of his pants and, reaching down, pulled Spock over his shoulders, grunting slightly at the slender Vulcan’s deceptive weight. “Okay, Jim.”

     The captain turned, weapons held in both hands, determination in his stance, and led the way forward, hoping against hope that he was going the right way.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: And There I Held You

 

 

     Jim sat against the unyielding wall of the cave, the rock behind him digging uncomfortably into his spine. Spock was lying back against him, his head settled into Jim’s neck, his body braced between Jim’s legs, and with the captain’s arms wrapped securely around him. The Vulcan was still deeply unconscious, his breathing shallow and his pulse slow. The bond was dark and cold, and Jim mentally stroked it, desperately trying to warm it, even as he curled himself around Spock’s body, seeking to warm him as well.

     Outside, a fierce storm raged, and the howl of the wind and the splash of rain through the small opening to the outside mirrored the tumult of Jim’s thoughts. They had made it out of the building, noting that it was but one nondescript structure among a larger compound, and had made it an additional ten yards before an alarm blared from where they had just emerged and the sound of pursuit caught their ears. Jim had yelled for McCoy to continue, and had fired against their adversaries from a well of hatred he had never felt before. The men had fallen almost too easily; a few even fleeing back into the building, and Jim had followed McCoy beyond the compound into the dense cover of the surrounding forest with a feeling of harsh satisfaction filling his chest.

     There, the captain had pulled one of Spock’s arms over his shoulders, sharing the burden with the exhausted doctor, and they had stumbled onwards. The weather had come in quickly, rolling in as a bank of black clouds in the dull orange sky, and Jim had welcomed it, knowing that it would delay further pursuit, and perhaps hinder sensing equipment. They had found the cave just as the storm began in earnest, and made it inside, Jim pushing rocks over to conceal the entrance.

     The small initial crawlspace widened into a large central area, with a small pool of water towards the back. The high ceiling was covered by a layer of crawling worm-like creatures which emitted a soft bioluminescent glow. Jim had decided against using the comm unit he had acquired, as it appeared to be of limited range and, once activated, could possibly be used to trace their location. The captain and doctor hadn’t spoken to each other, Jim’s almost feral look warding off McCoy’s attentions. Now, Jim sat back, holding his bondmate, and McCoy sat next to him quietly, turning one of the weapons over and over in his hands, the sound of thunder echoing through the chamber.

     The doctor had looked over at him several times without speaking, and Jim felt a burst of irritation. “Go ahead, Bones, let’s have it.”

     “Let’s have what?” the doctor replied, a touch of belligerence in his voice. “You still haven’t told me what happened to you back there.” He paused, fingering the weapon again. “Although it must have been pretty bad. I’ve never seen you like that, Jim, when you shot those guards. You almost looked like you were enjoying it.”

     Jim tightened his grip on his bondmate almost involuntarily. “And?”

     McCoy’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re going to make me say it?”

     Jim’s jaw clenched. “It’s been over two years, Bones. Saying I’m acting like Khan is a little overdue, don’t you think?”

     “I don’t know what to think,” the doctor muttered darkly. “All I know is that we got ambushed in the middle of fucking shore leave. Then I woke up in some cell and you weren’t there, and the hobgoblin was acting like something horrible had happened to you. And then he gets fucking stunned and dragged out by those goons in gray and I don’t hear a peep from anyone until you come blowing through the door. And now we’re in a goddamn cave. Do we even know what planet we’re on?”

     Jim leaned his head back against the cold wall. “I think we’re somewhere in Beta quadrant. One of the people in there mentioned it. Epsilon Indrii IV? Fuck if I know why.” His voice was harsh, and he couldn’t help shivering, the constant ache in his head bringing back difficult memories of when he and Spock had first bonded, and the Vulcan had still been suffering from the effects of protecting them both from the mind-sifter. He absently bent forward again, brushing his lips over Spock’s hair, turning his face away from the doctor.

     He heard McCoy shift and move closer, laying a gentle hand on his arm. “Jim, I might be able to help him better if you told me what happened.” The doctor’s voice was kind.

     The captain didn’t turn his head. “They had a machine. I don’t know exactly how it worked, but they hooked me up to it and suddenly I felt this terrible wave of emotion, and then complete blissful freedom, like I was flying. I didn’t give a shit about anything; I didn’t even remember my bondmate. And then I felt a hand on my arm, and a burning sensation, like my mind was being shoved through something, and I heard screaming all around me, and I felt death.” He looked over to meet McCoy’s eyes, blinking rapidly. “And I know what death feels like, Bones.”

     The doctor remained silent, waiting, his hand still warm on Jim’s arm. “And then I was on the floor and my head felt horrible and I felt cold, and I saw him lying there. They’d had him in the chair, and he must have fought them somehow, and helped me, too, but by the time I reached him he wasn’t breathing. I got him back, but...I could feel him going, Bones; I could feel him slipping away.” Jim abruptly swallowed and shut his eyes, knocking his head back against the rock behind him. “Fuck.”

     Bones squeezed his arm. “Jim. Jim, what did you mean when you said you felt death. Whose death?”

     Jim opened his eyes, but kept his head tilted back, looking up at the shifting patterns made by the luminescent creatures. “Their deaths, Bones: the guards, and the woman operating the machine, and the man who was in charge when it was used on me, and someone else, the leader, I think. They were all just fucking lying there on the floor, their eyes wide open. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe the machine backfired or something.”

     Bones slowly released Jim’s arm, and when the captain looked over at him, he saw the doctor staring down at Spock, a peculiar expression on his face. “What, Bones?”

     “You said Spock had been hooked up to that machine?”

     “Yeah. Why?”

     Bones shook his head, pressing his lips together. “Nothing, Jim, not important. What do you feel now, through the bond?”

     “It’s dark, and cold. I feel cold. And that headache’s back, the one I had when he first unshielded the bond right after the mind-sifter.” Jim’s eyebrows came together as he concentrated. “There’s something else off, too. Like the link is leaky, unbalanced. I can feel him, but he’s not all there. His mind is empty, almost.” The captain’s breathing had quickened, and he felt the edge of rising panic.

     Bones nodded slowly. “Okay, Jim. Listen to me. You’re showing all the signs of extreme emotional stress, and I’m not surprised after what happened, and with Spock like he is. I can’t do much for either of you without my equipment, except to get you to close your eyes and rest and I’ll take watch. I may not be able to fight worth a damn, but I can aim a gun well enough to cover that small fucking opening over there.” As he spoke, he pulled off his suit jacket and spread it over Spock’s chest, where Jim’s arms surrounded him.

     Jim opened his mouth to argue, but the weight of the whole frankly unbelievable situation suddenly came crashing down on his head. The vacant feeling of his bondmate’s mind, which had formerly pulsed with such life and color, ripped at his heart. He was angry, and deeply confused, and took in a ragged breath, pressing his lips into Spock’s hair again.

     “Jim, let me help. I sure as hell can’t do much else right now.” McCoy’s voice had an undertone of desperation, and Jim met his eyes, suddenly noticing the fear there, the matching anger and confusion, the helplessness. Seeing it all there in the hazel eyes of his friend seemed to help, providing the distraught captain with something to focus on, to relate to. Jim swallowed, feeling the profound sense of alone dissipate somewhat, and nodded once. Bones managed a small smile and nodded back, gripping the stolen weapon in his hands more purposefully. Jim eased his head back, shifting Spock’s body slightly against him, and closed his eyes.

 

 

 

     The captain awoke sharply. He could no longer hear the terrible howl of the wind outside, and the sound of rain was but a gentle wash against the rock. He blinked, wondering what had awakened him, and then startled, feeling movement from the body he held against his own. Spock? Can you hear me? “Bones!”

     The doctor appeared at his side just as the Vulcan’s body shuddered again and he let out a soft moan. “Spock?” he asked, feeling the Vulcan’s skin. “Here, Jim, lie him down.”

     Jim eased Spock out of his arms and down onto the smooth rock on the floor of the cave, folding the jacket under his head. “Spock? Bones, do we have to, you know, hit him or something?”

     McCoy shook his head. “It’s not a healing trance, Jim. I can tell that much. Keep talking to him.”

     Jim nodded and moved his hands up and down his bondmate’s arms. “C’mon, Spock, come back to us. Can you hear me? Open your eyes, come on.” He glanced up at Bones and saw the doctor’s look of concern. The bond remained murky and still. Jim was about to speak again when the Vulcan’s eyelids fluttered. Dark eyes opened, unfocused, and suddenly Spock gasped, arching his back and throwing his hands up, as if to ward off a blow. He murmured words in Vulcan, shutting his eyes again and turning his head from side to side.

     Jim shared one horrified look with McCoy before grabbing his bondmate’s wrists, keeping his grip gentle to avoid further injury to the angry wounds remaining from when Spock broke through the restraints on the chair. “Spock! It’s me, it’s Jim. Come on, it’s okay. Please. It’ll be okay.”

     Slowly, the Vulcan calmed, quieting and allowing Jim to lower his hands to his sides. But when his eyes opened they were huge and unfocused, and he was shivering violently. Jim remained next to him, holding his wrists loosely. He looked back up at the doctor, an anguished look in his eyes. “Bones, what’s wrong with him?”

     McCoy shook his head, looking lost. “I don’t know, Jim.”

     “Jim.” Both humans looked down at the sound of the whispered name. Spock’s eyes were searching, and Jim bent closer.

     “I’m here. Right here. Can you hear me?” He slipped his grip off Spock’s wrists to clasp the Vulcan’s hands in his own. Dark eyes wavered, and finally fastened onto Jim’s blue gaze for a handful of seconds before becoming unfocused again. Jim swallowed, blinking back tears, feeling McCoy’s hand grip his shoulder.

     “Jim,” the doctor began, “I... .” His words were interrupted by a sudden swirl of light from along the back wall of the cave. Jim dropped Spock’s hands and grabbed for his weapon, sensing McCoy doing the same, and as they brought their weapons to bear, they were confronted by an array of figures clad in black armor, weapons already out and aimed, their faces obscured by darkened helmets.

     “Lower your weapons, or we will fire,” a heavily accented voice intoned.

     Jim knew they were outnumbered, and well outgunned. Even if he and McCoy managed to get a few lucky shots off, they would be unable to defend themselves in a real firefight. Reluctantly, he placed his weapon on the ground in front of him, raising his hands. McCoy did the same, muttering under his breath.

     “You will stand clear for transport,” the same voice ordered. As Jim and McCoy slowly stood, pulling an unresisting Spock up between them, the captain frowned, his mind racing. That accent sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it. These armed men did not appear to be of the same ilk as the ones in the compound, which meant that he and his friends were about to become captives of yet another unknown group. Musical fucking chairs, he thought, glaring helplessly at their captors. He couldn’t help tensing as the dizzying feeling of dematerialization took him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Join The Party

 

 

     Jim was propelled forward along an unfamiliar hallway and into a room with a rough hand on his back, but he kept his hand locked on Spock’s arm, pulling the unresponsive Vulcan along with him. He heard McCoy’s mumbled curse as he too was shoved through the doorway, and the helmeted guard moved forward after them, the door sliding shut smoothly behind him. The room was fairly small and minimally decorated in shades of rich reds and browns. A large desk stood in front of them, dominating the space. Jim was glancing around, wondering why they had been brought there, when an almost invisible side door slid open and a tall, elegant figure stepped through. Jim’s eyes narrowed in recognition and he unconsciously leaned in front of Spock.

     “You!” Siforit exclaimed, looking as surprised as Jim felt.

     “You,” Jim answered, his voice hard. Siforit had been a part of the Ren shat’var attack on the New Vulcan High Council several months before, had nearly killed Jim, if it hadn’t been for T’Pau’s call for surrender, and had abruptly defied his apparent leader over the discovery of the t’hy’la bond shared between the Enterprise command team. He had also sent Jim a secret message explaining his actions and some of the background of his people. Admiral Hamilton had been dispatched to find this Vulcan almost three months before, and had not been successful. Now, here he was, on a backwater planet, hiding near the human colony of cultists. Well, at least I know there’s fucking workable comm and transportation units nearby, Jim thought sarcastically.

     Siforit moved to stand behind the desk, his eyes locked on the captain. He deliberately removed his sidearm and placed it in front of him, and motioned to the helmeted figure behind them. “Take the other two into the secure area, make sure they stay there.”

     “Spock stays with me,” Jim interjected, meeting Siforit’s flinty gaze.

     The renegade Vulcan’s eyes flicked over Spock’s unsteady form, taking in the signs of injury, the trembling weakness and slumped posture, the vacant, unseeing expression. He looked at Jim. “What happened to your bondmate?”

     The captain set his jaw. “Some kind of device the cult out there uses to convert followers.”

     Siforit nodded slowly, his startling gray eyes holding Jim’s own. “That device would be profoundly damaging to a Vulcan. I understand.”

     Jim glared. “Do you?”

     Siforit looked down at the shiny surface of the desk for a moment and then raised his eyes again. When he continued, his voice was softer. “I do, Captain. Please believe me; I have played no part in your abduction, or in the use of that device on you or your men. You have my word that your bondmate and your other officer will not be harmed. I sent you a message before that conveyed necessary truths. I believe that, now, further truths require discussion. Please indulge me.”

     Jim swallowed. He didn’t want to be separated from his friends, but, despite himself, his intuition told him to trust this man. And it wasn’t as if, in his current position, he had much choice. “Fine,” he replied tersely, “but I’m going to hold you to that word, Siforit.”

     “Jim.” McCoy’s murmur had an undercurrent of tension. “You’re not actually going to trust that guy, are you?”

     “Take care of Spock, Bones,” Jim said, gently maneuvering his first officer towards the doctor. As McCoy took Spock’s arm and Jim let go, the half-Vulcan’s eyes suddenly focused weakly on his bondmate, and he let out a soft noise.

     Jim’s heart clenched, but he stepped back, nodding definitively to the doctor. With one last anxious glance towards Siforit, Bones allowed the helmeted figure next to the door to lead him and Spock out of the room. Jim watched as the doors slid shut again and then turned swiftly back to Siforit, who was watching him intently, his head tilted. “So,” Jim said, drawing himself up into his full command persona, “you said you had some things you wanted to discuss. Am I to assume it won’t involve the mind-sifter this time?”

     “Indeed.” Siforit gestured to a chair a few feet away from Jim. “Please be seated, Captain, there is no reason we cannot have this conversation like civilized beings.” As he spoke, he smoothly lowered himself into his own seat and leaned forward, his folded hands centimeters away from his weapon.

     Jim eyed him for a moment, and then stepped over to sprawl into the chair, one leg outstretched, his hands clasped in front of him. He arranged his face into an expression of careless nonchalance, and waited. In the back of his mind he probed the bond. When Spock had reacted to him just then, Jim had felt a bright pulse and slightly growing warmth through their connection. It was not much, but was significantly more than he had felt since his bondmate had regained consciousness. Now, the warmth was still there, and growing stronger. Jim could feel a strange, almost unpleasant sensation of something being pulled from his own mind back through the link, almost as water through a drain. It took all his willpower not to outwardly show his inner mixture of excitement that something was happening and fear of what it might be.

     Siforit noted Jim’s confident pose with a raised eyebrow. His black hair was sleek, like Spock’s, but was longer and pulled back into a clasp. He tilted his chin up and finally spoke, “I shall be direct, Captain. Someone in your Starfleet is out to destroy both you and your bondmate.”

     Jim smirked. “Really. Well, don’t trouble yourself too much over it; I’ve been threatened before.”

     If Siforit was surprised at Jim’s sarcastic reaction, he did not show it. “Threatened, perhaps. But were you aware that your presence here, on this planet, and your exposure to that device were orchestrated from within your own ranks?”

     Jim narrowed his eyes, but kept his smirk. “Right.”

     The Vulcan smiled slightly. “You do not believe me. No matter. It is the truth, nonetheless.” He stood suddenly and re-holstered his sidearm, walking out from behind the desk to stand in front of it, his arms crossed. “Your Fleet has been most irritating of late to our operations here and in other parts of this region of space. Nothing I cannot handle, however, and apparently this has caused them some grief. A Federation ship was in orbit around this planet not long ago in an unsuccessful attempt to locate this outpost. We intercepted several subsequent transmissions, coded to a Starfleet frequency and under heavy encryption, referring obliquely to a plan to use the facilities within the human compound to indoctrinate key members of Starfleet, supposedly towards the aim of supporting a shadow campaign to increase military presence here in this quadrant.

     “We were not aware that the plan had been undertaken until we intercepted another encrypted message, this time from the colony, saying that the officers had somehow escaped before indoctrination could be completed. It was a simple matter to locate and retrieve you from that point. I have to admit some surprise at the discovery that you and your bondmate were the targets, but, upon reflection, perhaps that makes sense.”

     Jim’s sarcastic expression had faded from his face, as he absorbed what Siforit was saying. He was somewhat distracted also by the uncomfortable increasing pull on his mind. Forcing himself to focus, he shifted in his seat, took a casual breath and looked off to the side, trying for indifference. “Please, do elaborate.”

     “I am well aware of your standing within your service, Captain. You are in a position to wield significant influence. And I have been following your Federation’s politics closely lately as well. Apparently New Vulcan has risen to oppose Starfleet’s aggressive posture quite vehemently, particularly through their ambassador, your bondmate’s father. Perhaps converting you and your bondmate to a new point of view would deflect that situation neatly.”

     Jim shifted again, wincing slightly as the bond pulsed sharply in his mind, the steadily growing warmth from before flashing and then receding into the muted dullness from before. The muscles in his jaw twitched, disappointment washing through him. He swallowed and concentrated again on Siforit. “Conversion? That machine converts people all right, but I doubt they’d be much use as political pawns afterwards. Trapped in a state of constant euphoria, vacant, mind-blind. There’s no way no one wouldn’t notice the difference once we were reintroduced to our positions.”

     Siforit narrowed his eyes slightly, but continued, “From what we have observed, the initial euphoric phase and deep susceptibility to suggestion fades after a short period of time, leaving the altered subject appearing no different outwardly from before.”

     Jim shook his head. “This all sounds too convenient, Siforit. What now? You want my help for something, I’m sure. So what’ll it be in exchange? Credits? You’ll threaten my bondmate?”

     Siforit smiled again and turned to walk back behind his desk. He removed his weapon again, holding it casually before placing it back onto the surface once more. He did not sit, but stood with his hands clasped behind his back, looking at the captain directly. “I would like your help, Captain, but I do not trust that you will be content to simply identify and remove a dangerous personal adversary. Your sense of duty would require you to pursue me and mine, and I believe you would be a far more formidable enemy than those sent before you.

     “I know you will not be swayed by bribes. And I do not wish to descend to the level of threatening your bondmate in order to ensure your cooperation. There is no honor in that path. Besides, you are simply too well-known to be effective as a long-term asset to us. So, instead, I propose an exchange of sorts. I have several healers here who may be able to help restore your bondmate’s mind to him. In return, you will use the information I have given you to remove your unknown antagonist. You will also agree to avoid vendetta against me. I accept if your future orders require you to pursue the Ren shat’var, but I will not accept a personal quest for blood.”

     Jim sat very still. The possibility of healing Spock was a powerful motivator. Slowly, he stood and stepped forward. “You would return me and Spock to my ship? And my other officer?”

     Siforit’s smile widened. “He may return with you as well, Captain.”

     Jim crossed his arms in front of his chest. “You’re being awfully accommodating.”

     The renegade Vulcan actually chuckled at that. “Quite right, Captain, quite right. My motives are not completely altruistic, of course. It is my opinion that it is someone high in your ranks who wishes for your uncompromising cooperation. The exposure of this person or persons will no doubt throw your service into even more internal conflict. The scandal will potentially divert your leadership from making any decisions on future deployments here, and will weaken the conviction of the Federation membership charged with overseeing Starfleet operations. Finally, I will also have gained the confidence of a most worthy adversary, if I am successful in returning your bondmate to you.” He stepped forward towards Jim. “I am awaiting your answer, Captain.”

     Jim swallowed again and lifted his chin. He mentally grasped at the weakened bond, feeling a profound sense of longing and loss. To have Spock back, whole. What wouldn’t he give? He took a breath, watching Siforit tense slightly in anticipation, and then... .

     The brilliant swirl and stomach-dropping feeling of dematerialization took him by surprise, and his last vision was of Siforit’s similarly shocked expression as he too was taken. Jim hadn’t even time to breathe as he materialized on an unfamiliar pad before the beam grasped him again and his next vision was of the sleek, white lines of the rear shuttlebay on the Enterprise. He heard a triumphant whoop from behind him and turned to see McCoy, a jubilant smile on his face, and beside him, holding a weapon aimed steadily at a shell-shocked Siforit, was Spock. The first officer’s eyes were sharper, his posture straighter, and Jim felt the bond unfurl into open warmth.

     “Spock!” he exclaimed, feeling a wave of dizziness wash over him along with the sudden awareness of his bondmate’s mind. What happened? You’re back! You’re fucking back!

     “Captain, we must announce our presence and circumstances to the bridge, and allow Security to take charge of the prisoner.” I am gratified to sense your mind again, t’hy’la.

     Siforit broke his silence abruptly, his voice tight, eyes narrowed, “I congratulate you, Captain. I would not have believed this possible.”

     Jim, on his way to the comm unit on the wall, glanced back at him. “If it makes you feel any better, this wasn’t so much tactics as very convenient timing.”

     “And a fucking miracle or two,” Bones muttered, stepping closer to Spock’s side. Jim didn’t miss the way McCoy’s eyes were focused suddenly on the first officer, or the way the initial burst of response through the bond was followed by a background of profound disorientation from Spock’s mind, the usual subdued colors a tempest of powerful, swirling shades of gray.

     “Kirk to bridge.”

     “Bridge. Lieutenant Ruiz, here, sir. Uh, sir? Are you on-board? The comm line indicates an internal connection and I hadn’t been informed of your return from leave, which... .”

     “Never mind, Ruiz,” Jim cut in impatiently. “Yellow alert. There’s been an incident on the surface. I want a security team down to the shuttle bay right now. And I want all crewmembers accounted for, on-board and dirtside. Recall all personnel back to the ship. Got it?”

     “Uh, yes, Captain. Right away, sir.”

     “And get Command on the line. Priority one and scrambled. I’ll be up shortly.”

     “Yes, Captain.”

      Jim turned back to look at Siforit, who was standing very still, his expression guarded. The captain had a sudden recollection of the self-decided fate of the last two Ren shat’var who had found their way onto his ship, and stepped forward. “Siforit.” Jim waited until the renegade leader met his eyes. “I remember you said that you had an opportunity to gain the confidence of a most worthy adversary. I ask that you allow me the same opportunity.”

     “You are shrewd, Captain. I will not be used as a weapon against my people.”

     Jim heard the far door slide open and heard the rapid bootsteps of several approaching security guards. Without looking away from the startling gray eyes, he held up his hand for them to keep their distance. “You have acknowledged me as a fellow warrior, as one who holds a t’hy’la bond. On my honor, I will not allow you to be used so.”

     Siforit stared at him for a long moment, and then inclined his head. “I shall hold you to your word, Captain.”

     With a nod, Jim glanced at the security team, Lieutenant Commander Toomey in the lead. “Toomey, please take charge of our guest and show him to his quarters. All appropriate security measures, please.”

     “Sir.” Toomey looked a bit confused, but knew better than to question his captain in front of a prisoner.

     As the security team led Siforit away, Jim turned to the doctor and Spock. The Vulcan had slowly lowered his weapon as the security team had taken charge and now stood solemnly, not quite meeting Jim’s eyes. McCoy hovered next to him, not quite touching, and shot a glare at Jim. “I’m not gonna argue about you needing to go to the bridge, but I better see you in sickbay immediately after. Got me?”

     “Sure, Bones,” Jim replied automatically, his eyes on Spock. He waited for his bondmate to meet his gaze, and felt a cold shiver run up his spine as Spock’s eyes wavered slightly before fastening on his captain. I’ll be right there. Go with McCoy.

     “Yes, Captain.”

     Bones shook his head, his jaw set, and finally grasped Spock’s arm as if he couldn’t stand it any more. “Let’s go, Spock,” he said, his voice gentle. A flash of surprise was followed by an expression of concern when the Vulcan didn’t object, or pull away.

     Jim took a breath and nodded, then turned away, jogging toward the bay doors and the turbolift, trying his best to ignore the disconcerting sensations passing through the bond. Over the past months he had learned the basics of rudimentary shielding, and as his surge of adrenaline faded and the disorientation became inescapable, he reluctantly raised his shields, muting the effect.

     When the turbolift doors opened, Jim burst onto the bridge. Ruiz stood to meet him, and the shocked looks the captain received from the on-duty officers made him aware of his torn and dirty civilian clothes, the scrapes on his hands and face from crawling through the cave entrance, his hair in complete disarray. However, professionalism took hold, and Ruiz recovered quickly. “Captain, as per your orders, we are on yellow alert status, all crewmembers have been recalled and are currently being transported up. Security is seeing to a by-eye and computer confirmed accounting of all personnel. And I have Starfleet Command standing by, sir.”

     “Very good, Lieutenant. Has anyone else reported any incidents on the surface?”

     Ruiz shook his head. “No, sir.”

     Jim took a breath and finally got a look at the chrono. Twenty hours. They had been gone for less than a day. Somehow it felt so much longer. He became aware of the eyes still on him and swallowed. “Ruiz, pipe the comm down to the CMO’s office, and then contact planetary security. Inform them that an incident involving the kidnapping of three Starfleet officers has occurred and that I want a complete log of all debarkation records, orbital logs, and any unusually large energy readings over the past two weeks. I’ll be in sickbay.”

     “Yes, sir.” Ruiz opened his mouth as if to say something else, but the look on Jim’s face must have stopped him. “Sickbay, sir.”

     Jim threw a hard glance at the forward viewscreen, where Poseidon’s World spun calmly, oblivious, gleaming a brilliant, relaxed blue. Fucking shore leave. He squared his shoulders and turned on his heel, heading for the turbolift.

 

 

 

     Much later, Jim sat on his bunk in his quarters, leaning back against the wall behind him, his eyes fixed on the unmoving figure of his meditating bondmate seated on the floor in front of him. The temperature in the captain’s cabin was turned way up, and even dressed simply in a pair of shorts and a loose t-shirt, Jim felt beads of sweat roll down his back. The bond was open and unshielded, and though the sense of disorientation was still there, the swirling grays were shifting back into more gentle colors. Jim was intent on simply sitting and breathing, not wanting to interrupt Spock’s concentration.

     Jim’s legs were stiff, and he was thirsty, and despite the improvements he could feel happening along their connection, he was uneasy. He had reached Admiral Rosamund Spencer, Head of Operations at Command, and had given her his report, including the capture of the Ren shat’var leader. He had left out, however, Siforit’s hypothesis that someone within Starfleet’s ranks was responsible for the set-up. Spencer had agreed with his decision to recall his crew from leave and remain on alert status pending an investigation by planetary security. She had immediately ordered a gunship, the U.S.S. Piedmont, patrolling near the outer sectors of Beta quadrant, to investigate the settlement on Epsilon Indrii IV and to report on any indications of Ren shat’var presence there. Finally, she instructed Jim to ship out to Starbase Sixteen to hand over the prisoner once the investigation was concluded on Poseidon’s World and to forward his and his other officers’ reports as soon as possible.

     Jim had closed the connection and leaned back into McCoy’s chair, rubbing his hands over his face. He was tired and still confused, his head aching from the effort of maintaining his limited shields.

     After a few minutes, the doctor had quietly stepped in, his expression grim. “C’mon, kid, let’s get you checked out.”

     Jim had raised his head and regarded his friend. McCoy had changed into scrubs and had cleaned the dirt off his face and hands, but looked as tired as Jim felt. “Shouldn’t someone else be handling that?” he had asked pointedly.

     McCoy had grunted, “Probably, but I was already here and all.”

     Jim had given him a half-smile, which faded quickly as he felt the tumult still emanating from his bondmate. “Spock?”

     The doctor had pressed his lips together and moved completely into the office, allowing the door to shut behind him. “He’s on his way back to his quarters to rest. I used the regenerator on those wounds and gave him a hypo to help with the dehydration, but he refused anything else. Stubborn green-blooded bastard.”

    The captain had simply looked at him. “Bones, what happened while I was talking to Siforit? I felt something happening, along the bond, but couldn’t get a grip on what it was. It was almost like,” he had paused, remembering, “like something moving from my mind back to his.”

     McCoy had sunk unto one of the chairs across his desk. “I don’t know, Jim. I had hold of his arm, and I swear I felt something, too. But when it happened, it happened fast. One second we were walking along in front of that helmeted guy, and the next second Spock had spun around and given him that neck pinch of his. He pulled off his helmet and, I don’t know, melded with him or something. Pressed his fingers on the guy’s face for about three seconds, and then we were moving again like he knew exactly where to go. We turned into a room with a transporter setup and he stunned two more of them and went to work on the computer. When he told me to get on the pad, I damn well listened, though.”

     “He seemed to get worse after we got back.”

     “I’m not sure how well he was to begin with. Hobgoblin’s got an iron will, especially when it comes to getting you out of bad places.”

     Jim had chuckled softly, looking down at the smooth surface of the desk. But when he glanced back at the doctor, his eyes were anxious. “Will he be okay?”

     McCoy had shifted slightly. “Well, Jim, the scans showed that there was some changes in his brain wave patterns, centered in the regions associated with telepathy in Vulcans. I’m not sure what it means yet. You might be able to help figure it out, with your direct line and all. If it doesn’t affect you, too, that is.” Bones had leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together. “His memory’s been affected, as well. He doesn’t remember anything between seeing you in that room and coming back to himself in the hallway.”

     Jim had suddenly found himself out of words, out of energy. He had submitted to an examination and, with orders to drink and eat and rest, had been sent to his quarters. When Jim had keyed open the door, he had been met with the undeniable mental presence of his bondmate, and, sure enough, had walked behind the divider into his bedroom to find Spock, now wearing a clean set of uniform blacks, settled cross-legged on the floor, eyes shut, hands relaxed on his knees. Without speaking, Jim had showered, changed, and eaten something from the replicator in his room, moving silently to the bed, dimming the lights, and turning up the heat to combat the faint sense of chill that drifted through the bond. He had slowly relaxed his shields, and simply watched Spock, drawing on his bondmate’s deepening calm to center himself.

     Now, Jim leaned further back on his bunk, stretching his legs out. He knew he needed to sleep, but he didn’t want to close his eyes. Minutes crawled by, an hour, and then the thinnest tendril of awareness filtered along the bond, growing stronger and stronger until he felt the normal sense of his bondmate’s thoughts mingling with his own, and looked up to meet large brown eyes.

     “Jim.”

     The captain couldn’t help a grin as he sat fully up in the bed, crossing his legs in front of him. “You okay?”

     A corner of the Vulcan’s mouth twitched upwards. “I believe that I should cease my association with you.” He tilted his head, quoting something Jim had said when they were in the middle of the Ren shat’var attack on New Vulcan, “I keep getting blown up.”

     Jim let out a sharp laugh. “You must be better if you’re stealing all my best lines.” He studied his bondmate’s face, searching. “Seriously, are you alright?”

     Spock dropped his gaze to his hands, now clasped loosely in his lap. “No, I am not. I do not remember much of what happened. I have never felt such disturbance in my mind.” His voice trailed away, and he stared out into the room, eyes briefly unfocused.

     Jim felt tremors of fear along the bond. “What else?” he asked softly, sensing that there was more.

     Now, Spock met his eyes, and the intensity shocked the captain. “I can sense you and your thoughts more strongly. I...I feel almost as though my mind is better fit with yours than within itself. I wish to meld with you, but I am hesitant, as if the moment I join your mind I may be lost to myself.”

     They stared at each other for a long moment, and Jim swallowed. “Can I touch you?”

     At Spock’s nod, Jim slipped off the bed and knelt on the floor in front of his mate. He reached out, gently letting his hands run down the Vulcan’s shoulders and arms, down to clasp their fingers together. The warm electric sensation he usually felt was suddenly almost overpowering, and he could feel their connection expand immediately into an almost meld-like intensity. And then he could feel it, Spock’s mind being relentlessly drawn towards his own. Powerfully so, and without a tether, and what was chasing behind it was like death; that wave of oblivion he had sensed back in that room.

     “No!” he cried, pulling his fingers away from Spock’s almost at the last second, before their minds crashed together. He threw himself backwards, hitting the foot of the bed, seeing his bondmate waver and practically crumple against the wall. The bond screamed, and Jim grabbed at his temples, seeing Spock’s face contort in a wash of emotions that he could feel almost as his own: shock, horror, longing, desperation, confusion.

     For a moment they simply breathed, allowing the sensations to slowly fade, and Jim’s vision focused on his bondmate’s face, which disconcertingly held an expression of profound despair.

     “I remember. I saw it in your mind, and I remember, Jim. I was about to die. I had no question about that. And I had one last possibility remaining; to transfer my katra to you, to perhaps free your mind in the process. I remember pushing it against the approaching cold, through to you along what remained of the bond. And I must have...projected, somehow. I killed them. All of them.” Spock’s voice was harsh, coming in gasps, and Jim saw tears form in his eyes.

     “Our katra were together, closely, for a time. And mine seeks yours still; would go to yours with little provocation.” T’hy’la, I cannot touch you. Your body or your mind, for it would be the end of my own. A single tear slipped down Spock’s cheek, and Jim drew in a ragged breath, seeing again his friend’s face beyond that clear wall, in the warp core. An ending, then. And now, too, it seemed.

     “What the fuck are we going to do?” Jim’s voice was a whisper.

     “I do not know.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: What Remains

 

 

     The following ship’s morning saw Jim sitting back in the command chair. He had not slept following Spock’s recovered memory, even after his bondmate had retreated back to his own quarters. He knew he looked like shit, if the looks he had gotten from the bridge crew were any indication, but found he did not care. He could feel bitter anger burning deep in his being. Anger that was fueled anew every time he thought back to their aborted leave and the bewildering turn of events that had befallen them. Anger at what had been taken from him, from them, and possibly at the hands of one of their own. The anger hung over a background of thick, stifling emotion; the horror he had felt as he had fought to get his bondmate to breathe again, the dark emptiness yawning before him as he sat in that cave, the overwhelming despair he had felt as he saw his Vulcan’s tears, the hollow confusion that now saturated his being.

     Spock was radiating tension, both over the bond and more overtly. He was trying continuously and desperately to suppress deep-seated feelings of guilt over those he had inadvertently killed, anger that matched Jim’s own, and overwhelming anguish and longing. Jim was pretty sure neither of them should be on duty, but he couldn’t stomach another hour in his quarters, alone, with nothing to distract him.

     Planetary security had been quick to assist in their investigation. Nothing turned up except for a suspicious energy surge that coincided with the timing of the initial attack on Jim and the others. The crew, called back early from their much-anticipated shore leave, had fallen immediately and earnestly back into their duties once they had heard what had happened to their captain. Their mental background of confusion, anger and determined resolve hummed faintly in Jim’s mind through the bond, evidently strong enough for Spock’s emotional sensitivity to pick up, even with his shields.

     “Captain.” Spock’s voice cut into Jim’s thoughts.

     Jim turned in his chair, taking whatever solace he could in professionalism. “Yes, Mr. Spock. You have something?”

     “Affirmative, sir. I have analyzed the energy pattern provided by the planetary security office and have consulted with Mr. Scott. The pattern is indicative of transporter activation, with the focus spectrum and secondary power emanations consistent with the next-generation long-range models currently under Starfleet testing protocols.”

     Jim furrowed his brow, standing up and taking two steps towards his first officer. “Are any of these models currently in active use?”

     “Negative, Captain. At least, according to Starfleet records. All operational units are still in testing stages only.”

     “But, let’s say one was in active use, would the range be right?”

     Spock’s face was impassive, but his eyes were full of pain. Jim had to glance away as the Vulcan replied, “Yes, sir, theoretically. However, the energy source required would preclude a portable configuration of such a unit, indicating that the origination of the transporter signal was located at our destination. Perhaps the darts served a dual purpose as a sedative and as a locator beacon.”

     “Right.” Jim suppressed a sigh. “And they haven’t found anyone with a dart gun yet.”

     “Negative, sir. No suspects have been apprehended as yet.”

     Fuck. Spock’s raised eyebrow confirmed that he had read Jim loud and clear. Jim chewed his lower lip. “What about the Ren shat’var? We know they have pretty fancy equipment, at least on par with what the next-gen models can do, since we ended up neatly back on the ship. Could they be behind all this?”

     “Negative, sir. I have included analyses of the energy surge produced by our transport to the Enterprise, and the spectra do not correlate. The equipment used by our abductors was definitely of Starfleet design.”

     Scotty’s entry onto the bridge caught the tail-end of Jim’s question. “Aye, lad, an’ Ah’m pretty worked up that my equation is apparently makin’ the rounds about the known galaxy. Firs’ Khan, an’ then these Vulcan troublemakers. ‘Tis paintin’ a sad state o’affairs when we cannae keep our technology under wraps.”

     The captain pressed his lips together and turned back towards the viewscreen. “It is indeed, Mr. Scott. Well, we’re still waiting on a report from the Piedmont. Mr. Spock, you have the conn. I’m going to have a chat with our guest.”

     “Yes, sir.” Spock’s voice was tight, and Jim caught a concerned glance from Nyota out of the corner of his eye.

     Jim was halfway to the lift when a thought crossed his mind. “Spock, you and Scotty figure out who has access to these transporter units. Where they’re being housed and tested. Or, if any field testing has been authorized. Maybe we can track down something that way. And, Uhura, check with Starfleet records. See if you can find out which ships were in the vicinity of Epsilon Indrii IV within the past couple months.”

     He had turned away again before Uhura or Spock could acknowledge his orders. The anger was swelling in his chest again, and as a last resort he raised his weak mental shields to prevent it passing to his bondmate. Not entirely successful, he felt Spock’s mental flinch as the turbolift doors closed and his mate’s telepathic voice washed into his heated mind. T’hy’la? Jim couldn’t respond. He felt choked. He knew this impotent, helpless anger, had felt it burning the entire time he was in the camps on Tarsus IV. He had hoped he would never feel it again. He set his jaw, feeling Spock’s acceptance of his anger, even sharing it. I am with you, t’hy’la. I shall always be so. Perhaps this shall pass.

     And perhaps it won’t, Jim finally sent back. I can hear you, sense you, but you can’t meld with me, or touch me. He felt pain rising, a lump in his throat. I can’t do this right now. He almost staggered with the force of his mate’s emotions before they were again savagely repressed under Vulcan control. As the lift purred to a halt, Jim squared his shoulders and stepped back into his command persona. He couldn’t afford weakness where he was headed.

 

 

 

     Siforit stood almost regally from his chair behind the empty desk in his assigned quarters. He looked completely comfortable here, even dressed now in a borrowed set of uniform blacks, in custody on an enemy ship, facing his captor. Jim had sent the two security officers to wait in the hallway and now fixed his one-time adversary with a tight smile. “Let’s have a chat.”

     “Please, Captain, won’t you be seated?” Jim inclined his head and sat in the opposing chair across the desk. Siforit shared the same aristocratic bearing as Spock, and the same subdued sense of competence and strength, hidden in a slender body. He lacked the arrogance one might expect from a leader of warriors. In that, he matched the half-Vulcan as well.

     Jim took a breath, let it out. “Alright, here it is. I need your help.”

     Siforit’s gray eyes widened somewhat, but he didn’t otherwise react. “Indeed?”

     Jim leaned forward, his gaze intense. “You were quite convincing when you argued that removing whomever it was who arranged our kidnapping would serve your purposes. If you’re still interested in that result, I need you to tell me what you know about those transmissions you mentioned. Which ship was in orbit around your planet? Did they transport any equipment down to the surface?”

     “I have told you all that I know, Captain. The transmissions we intercepted were on a coded Starfleet frequency, and no identities were mentioned. And I am not in the habit of keeping track of the particular names of your many ships patrolling our space searching fruitlessly for us.” Siforit leaned back slightly, steepling his fingers in front of him.

     “I bet.” Jim suddenly stood and paced over to the bulkhead, staring at its smooth, even surface. He was aware of the Vulcan’s eyes on him. He swallowed. “I also need you to tell me all you can about that device they used on us. You seemed to recognize how it worked when you said you might be able to help Spock.”

     There was a long silence as Siforit regarded him closely. “Why do you ask this?”

     Jim’s voice was soft. “My bondmate’s mind was...affected...when they used that device on him. He said that at one point he knew he was about to die, and sent his katra out to me through our bond. It must not have worked completely, because he’s not dead, but since he’s regained his mind, I can’t touch him, or meld with him. We...tried, but I could feel his mind surging towards mine, and behind it death.”

     Siforit stood as well, and carefully took two measured steps towards the captain. “All I know is that the device induces an emotional release in humans: a temporary euphoria, which allows suggestibility. For a Vulcan mind, especially one trained to control emotional responses, I can extrapolate that the stresses experienced may be enough to destroy said mind, or damage it extensively.” He had let his hands fall to his sides. “I grieve with thee, Captain.”

     Jim rounded on him. “I want whomever did this to us. And I will have them.” His eyes flashed, his hands balled into fists. “I will fucking have them if it’s the last thing I do.”

      Siforit nodded slowly, his eyes never leaving Jim’s. “I understand.” He took a breath and lifted his chin slightly. “Captain. Among my people there is an ancient story of a race of spiritual beings. Humans might identify them as angels. They would interact with mortal beings in order to test them, to determine their honor and moral worth. It was said that the angels would disguise themselves as challenges, as experiences. It would be within these challenges that the strength of character of mortal beings would be determined. If the mortals passed the test, they would continue their lives as if nothing happened, oblivious. If they failed, their beings would be consumed with anger and hatred and fear, mirroring the weakness in their character. They would become demons, forever obsessed with revenge, doomed. I see you now, Captain. Your anger and your hatred have been stirred. Do not let them consume you. The challenge is not yet over.”

     For a moment, Jim simply stood and breathed, his gaze hard. “If you remember anything else, let me know.” And he turned and headed for the door, slamming the access button with his palm, leaving the renegade Vulcan standing quietly in the room, looking after him.

     Jim took a circuitous route back towards the bridge, ending up instead in the briefing room. He simply stood for a moment, and then sank into one of the chairs surrounding the long, smooth table, ordering a privacy lock on the door. He didn’t know why he’d told Siforit the truth about what had happened to Spock. He rubbed his hands over his face, and, out of sight of the crew, folded his arms on the table and laid his forehead onto them. He was compromised, just as Hamilton had taunted him about months before. Hamilton... .

     Jim’s head suddenly shot up, remembering that conversation with the admiral three months ago in his quarters. He’d been threatened. Spock had been threatened. The admiral had access to classified technology, had a personal bone to pick with Jim. And the Arredondo had been patrolling Beta on the hunt for the Ren shat’var. It was circumstantial, but it was something. He had reached across the table to the comm line, when a hail suddenly sounded over the loudspeaker, “Bridge to Captain Kirk.”

     Jim tilted his head wryly, and hit the button inches away from his hand. “Kirk here.”

     Uhura’s lilting voice had undertones of anticipation. “Sir, Captain Huang of the Piedmont is on the line for you.”

     “Pipe it down to the briefing room, Lieutenant, and have Mr. Spock come down.”

     “Yes, sir.”

     Jim released the lock on the door and felt the presence of his bondmate gradually intensify as he approached. When the door to the room swept open, Jim felt an overwhelming sense of longing pass over him. He steeled himself. “Let’s listen to this, and then I want your opinion about something.”

     The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. “Yes, sir.”

     Jim waited until Spock had settled himself in the seat next to him, just out of range of the visual pickup, and then hit the button to complete the connection. The face of the Piedmont’s captain filled the screen. Xia Huang had been in Jim’s class at the Academy, with a tactics specialization. She had been one of the few survivors of the ruined Farragut, and had been rapidly promoted as the new generation of military ships had rolled out over the past year. “Jim. It’s good to see you. I’m sorry it’s under such circumstances.”

     “Xia.” Jim nodded and managed a smile. “How’s it look out there?”

     “Not good. We’ve just finished an exhaustive search of Epsilon Indrii IV, and found no sign of the Ren shat’var. If they were here, they were well hidden, and got out fast.” She paused, and her face tightened. “We did find the remains of a recently inhabited settlement, however. At least sixty or seventy bodies. Tactical estimates a single catastrophic blast centered within the central compound, again, very recently triggered. We’ve got a forensics team working on it, but it appears to be due to an energy weapon, almost untraceable.” Jim exchanged a look with Spock. Huang continued, “What was interesting, however, was the fact that we found the remains of what looked like sophisticated transporter equipment in one of the outbuildings. We’re looking it over, but my chief engineer says she’s never seen anything like it.” She peered closely at Jim. “Ring any bells?”

     “My first officer matched an energy surge here on Poseidon’s World with a transporter signal, apparently from one of the new models Starfleet’s got under testing. Seems like that’s how they got us there, anyway. So we probably have the right place, at least.”

     Huang nodded, but her expression was concerned. “How are you doing, Jim? I have to say I’m surprised you’re up and about. Spencer said you looked like shit.”

     Jim managed a smirk. “She’d say that even if I was just off a seven-day leave on Risa.”

     Huang smiled back. “Well, good to see you, in any case. I’ll forward my official report to you once we’re done sifting through everything.”

     Jim lifted his chin. “One more thing, Xia, do you think any comm records are salvageable?”

     Huang furrowed her brow and shook her head, her glossy black hair swaying slightly across her shoulders. “Probably not, Jim. Whomever set that blast was well-trained.”

     Jim exchanged a few more pleasantries before signing off on the channel and turning to his first officer. He was blunt. “I want to know if you think Admiral Hamilton could be behind all this.”

     Spock’s eyebrow rose, and Jim sensed surprise through the bond. “Perhaps, Captain. Lieutenant Uhura is still compiling her report on ships passing through the vicinity of Epsilon Indrii IV, but the admiral’s vessel is currently assigned to that region. And, as chief of Starfleet Intelligence, and a battleship commander, he would have access to in-testing equipment, including transporter technology.”

     “Check it out,” Jim said, rather more sharply than he intended. He stared at Spock’s hand where it lay on the table. I can’t touch you. I never thought we’d be here again.

     Spock’s mouth thinned, and he swallowed. I am grateful for the touch of your thoughts.

     Jim stared at him, feeling the sincerity of his bondmate’s intentions, the sadness that they could not touch, or be touched, continued deep-seated despair and confusion over the deaths of their captors, and the almost-buried thought that perhaps he should have simply let his katra go to Jim the previous night.

     That faint wisp of thought caught at something deep inside Jim’s psyche, reminding him of the pervading sense of defeat that had washed over the minds of those left in the Tarsus camps, even over himself towards the end. And Jim’s remaining composure snapped. The captain was suddenly out of his chair, gripping Spock’s shoulders through the cloth of his uniform, shaking him roughly. He could feel the surge of Spock’s mind, even through the loose contact, and abruptly pulled away, gripping his hands into fists. “Don’t give up, damn you. Don’t you fucking dare. That’s a fucking order, Spock.” Ignoring his bondmate’s sudden choked noise, the captain pressed his fists against his head for a moment, and then turned and walked very deliberately to the door, relaxing his stance and expression before heading out amidst his crew.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Questions, Answers, and A Trap Sprung

 

 

     That evening Jim sat in his quarters, staring at the computer screen, going over and over the facts as he knew them. Three ships had been within range of Epsilon Indrii IV in the past month, including the Arredondo. Hamilton had the access to the new equipment, and indeed, the Arredondo was one of several larger ships with orders to test the transporter equipment under unusual circumstances as they were encountered in the field. The admiral had openly told Jim of his plans to restructure Starfleet and had requested the captain’s help, before threatening him over it. Indoctrination. Suggestibility. A plan to turn both Jim and Spock into active proponents of Hamilton’s vision. Would the admiral go so far to achieve his goals? The rapid remote destruction of the cultist colony almost as soon as the message regarding the Enterprise officers’ escape was received indicated that whomever was behind the kidnapping was deadly serious, and committed.

     And indeed, Jim had to admit that it would have been quite the plan. With the command team of Starfleet’s flagship throwing their support behind the proposal, the Federation Council would have to take notice. And Sarek’s dissension would be diluted somewhat by his son’s position. Jim wondered if he and Spock were the only targets, or if Hamilton had gotten others. The evidence was still circumstantial, and Jim knew that discretion was key. If Hamilton was guilty, or even if he wasn’t, the thought that someone in Starfleet was responsible for such an action against fellow officers could send shock waves through the entire service and would compound the continued fallout from the Marcus affair. The far-reaching disruption that Siforit had alluded to would surely come to pass.

     The captain’s thoughts took a more personal turn; he had not spoken to Spock since that morning in the briefing room. The Vulcan had shielded his mind immediately after Jim had left him sitting there, and he couldn’t feel much now beyond his bondmate’s simple presence. Jim felt deeply ashamed for how he had reacted, knowing that Spock had gone through a horrible experience and was still far from alright. The young captain recognized his own selfish wallowing, his obsession with his own loss and dark emotions instead of being any real comfort and support to his injured mate. However, the brief mental distance had turned out to have been a good thing in one way: it had given Jim a chance to think clearly, without the constant reminder of their forced separation, and he had been able to make a few important decisions, both about their current security situation, and about their bond.

     Concentrating, he allowed his thoughts to brush against his bondmate’s shields. There was a pause, and then Spock’s mental barriers dropped. Jim still felt the yawning despair and sadness from before, but he pushed forward reassurance and hope. I need to see you. He felt a brief acknowledgment, and, moments later, heard a slight knock on their shared bathroom door before it slid open and Spock stepped into Jim’s quarters.

     “Jim,” the Vulcan murmured, standing very straight with his hands clasped behind his back.

     Jim stood up. “I want to apologize. I shouldn’t have spoken to you that way, or touched you like that. I’m scared, and feeling your thoughts brought something back that I never wanted to face again.” He stepped forward. “But that’s no excuse. I just want you to know that I haven’t given up. And I won’t give up. I need you.”

     “And I you, t’hy’la.” Spock’s voice was quiet, belying the abrupt, harsh repression of his roiling emotions.

    Jim steeled himself. “I want to know your opinion on Hamilton. Particularly since Uhura submitted her report.”

     Spock straightened even further. “Captain, based on the circumstantial evidence, there is a reasonable probability that Admiral Hamilton is behind our kidnapping. However, I cannot be certain that our reasoning will be taken seriously by Command.”

     Jim met his eyes. “What would you do next, Spock?”

     Spock’s stare was unwavering, unblinking. “I would contact Command and relay our evidence.”

     Jim nodded. “I agree.” He turned back to his desk and reached out to hit the comm. “Kirk to bridge.”

     “Bridge, Lieutenant Markowicz here, sir.”

     “Get me Command on a secure channel and scrambled, Markowicz. Pipe it down here to my quarters.”

     “Aye, sir, right away.”

     Spock moved to stand across the desk from Jim, out of range of the sensor’s visual radius. They looked at each other and Jim frowned. “I hope I’m making the right call. If it turns out the Ren shat’var or some other group is behind this, I could be up shit creek.”

     Spock tilted his head. “I believe that we may find ourselves there in any case, Captain. Based on the destruction of the colony, Hamilton will be quite ruthless in removing all evidence of his association. Even if we do not inform Command of our suspicions, he will assume that we would eventually, as you say, put the pieces together.”

     Jim tensed. “You think he’ll go after the Enterprise?”

     Spock’s gaze didn’t move from his. “I do not know, sir.”

    Jim rubbed a hand over his chin, feeling his heart-rate increase. It was one thing to have a power-hungry madman after himself and his first officer. It was quite another thing to have his ship in danger. He knew Spock was right that Hamilton would be ruthless, and that they were most likely in danger already. However, voicing his concerns to Command seemed to be almost guaranteeing trouble. At least, if something happened to them now, there would be a record, but it was a small consolation. The very air seemed thicker, and Jim took a breath as the comm unit blinked and Markowicz’s voice came over the line, “Command standing by, sir. Channel B.”

     “Acknowledged, Lieutenant.” Jim sat down, feeling Spock’s support through the bond, and opened the channel.

 

 

 

     The captain stood in the bathroom in front of the mirror, staring at his reflection. His eyes were red-rimmed and there were lines in his face he hadn’t remembered being there before. The conversation with Admiral Spencer had gone pretty much as he had expected.

     Spencer had actually been less than surprised to hear of Jim’s hypothesis that someone within Starfleet ranks may be to blame. Rumors of infiltration and betrayal had surfaced after Spock’s retrieval of valuable intelligence from a Ren shat'var ship four months before. And the murder of the apparently compromised Commodore Keller shortly thereafter cemented fears that there were shadow factions operating within the service. Spencer had pointed out that Jim and Spock had been targets before, and probably would be again, due to their visibility as the flagship command team and for their central roles in the defeat of Nero.

     However, the admiral was less inclined to believe that Evan Hamilton was to blame. Despite the evidence Jim cited, Spencer listed Hamilton’s position, his level of trust, and the role he played in rescuing Jim and Spock from the Ren shat’var attack on New Vulcan. She had dryly hinted that Jim was leaning on his prominent role in the Marcus affair as the Starfleet watchdog. Jim had felt Spock’s quickly suppressed anger at that, and had forced himself to concentrate on the rest of the conference, which was brief.

     Spencer had repeated her order to proceed to Starbase Sixteen once the planetary security office had returned their final report, particularly as the investigation was returning no suspects or additional information. She was convinced that, if a traitor wasn’t to blame, the Ren shat’var were, and she wanted Siforit in secure custody for questioning. Jim had closed the channel with a sense of futility, but of resolve. At the least, his concerns were out there and they were committed, one way or another.

     Now, Jim took a breath, knowing that he was about to face another difficult confrontation. Straightening and squaring his shoulders, he stepped back into his quarters and faced his bondmate. He knew Spock could sense his continued unease, and, sure enough, the Vulcan was waiting quietly, head slightly inclined, eyebrows raised. “Spock,” Jim began, “I want to go back and talk to McCoy and M’Benga about our bond. I want to hear what they think we should do.”

     Spock stiffened. “They are not mind healers, Jim.”

     Jim nodded. I know, but they’re all we have right now. And I feel like we have to do something. It’s not only that we can’t touch. I can feel you struggling, like your focus is gone.

     The Vulcan’s mental and physical hesitation was full of tension, but he finally responded, I will consult with them, if you wish it.

     Thank you. Jim smiled at him, sending his mental energy out to caress the bond. He felt, at the moment, that he knew what Spock had been trying to convey that morning. Gratitude, that at least they were allowed this contact. It appeared the danger occurred only when they touched, with the greater deepening of their mental connection. The lack of physical and mental intimacy was not affecting them as sharply as it had when the bond was brand new, having settled over the past three months. However, Jim was feeling the loss almost more deeply. It felt like an essential piece of him was being denied, and that even more was slowly slipping away, and he was desperate to get it back.

 

 

 

     Jim sat as close to Spock as he dared across the desk from the two doctors in the CMO’s office. McCoy was furious. “So, you two figured this out last night, and you waited until now, almost twenty-four hours later, to inform me? What the fuck, Jim? First, Spock tells me he can apparently kill people by looking at them, and now you tell me that you’re not able to touch each other because it’ll suck Spock’s soul out of his fingertips?” McCoy was pacing back and forth behind his desk. “You seemed fine with touching him before we left you in the damn Vulcan head honcho’s office!”

     Spock had shrunk back into his seat, his face deathly pale. Jim could feel the churn of emotions across the bond: shame, fear, anger, and leaned forward between his bondmate and McCoy. “Okay, Bones, we should have told you. But the whole thing seemed completely unexplainable. It still does.”

     “No shit,” Bones muttered, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling at Spock. “When you told me he was supposed to be your soulmate, Jim, I thought you meant in the poetic sense. Not that your incorporeal selves attract each other like fucking magnets. And now one of you is going to get sucked up by the other one!”

     “Incomplete katric transfer between t’hy’la.” M’Benga’s thoughtful tones cut in smoothly, bringing the rapidly devolving confrontation between Jim and McCoy to a halt.

     “What?” Jim and Bones asked together.

     M’Benga had his arms crossed as well, his chin in one hand, staring at the floor intently. “I believe that your account of what is occurring within your bond is accurate, Captain, Commander.”

     “Oh, great,” McCoy scoffed. “Where were you when they first came back aboard?”

     M’Benga glanced up at him. “From your account, Mr. Spock began to regain his mental awareness after the Captain and he were physically separated. And the Captain testified to feeling like something was moving apart from his mind, along the bond. Once aboard ship, they did not attempt to touch again until that evening, when the Captain reports the strange symptoms started.”

     He rounded the desk, peering at the two seated officers. “Captain, you must realize the bond of t’hy’la is rare enough that its intricacies are not fully understood. The strong compatibility between your minds, the natural attraction and resonance between your katra must have an effect. Your souls seek one another. Apparently the transfer was incomplete, as Mr. Spock was able to be revived, and his katra slipped back to him. But, due to the inherent compatibility between you, and perhaps due to damage to your mind, Commander, it is no longer tethered there, as it should be. I am not a mind healer, but the closest situation I can cite is fal tor pan, which involves the return and reintegration of a katra to a living vessel. However, that is mostly legend. I have never heard of it being attempted.”

     Jim realized he had his mouth open, and shut it with a snap. Across the room, McCoy looked frankly incredulous. Recovering, the CMO blinked and then cocked his head. “Okay, but what about the story about killing all those people? I’ve never heard of Vulcans having that ability.”

     “They do not normally,” M’Benga replied shortly. “But it is possible for psi-adepts to exhibit unusual abilities. The Commander’s psi-rating is extraordinarily high, perhaps due to his hybrid nature, and such a phenomenon may be conceivable, especially when his brain was being violently stimulated by an alien device designed to force extreme emotional responses from a subject. The Commander’s use of the term ‘projection’ may be quite accurate after all. The Captain may have survived the onslaught simply because he was sheltered by the bond.”

     McCoy shot Spock a look. “And what about now? If he loses control? Is he a danger to the ship?”

     “Bones!” Jim interjected, standing up abruptly. The sensations from Spock’s mind were becoming a blur, almost a sensation of falling, and all of the captain’s protective instincts were firing.

     M’Benga held out a placating hand. “Please, Captain.” He turned to McCoy. “No, Doctor, I do not believe it would happen again, unless the situation with the device were repeated.”

     McCoy snorted. “And what am I going to put in a report, Jim? How are you going to stay in command like this, huh?”

     Jim had taken a step back. “It’s fine if he doesn’t touch me, Bones.”

     McCoy shook his head, rubbing a hand over his face. “And if he does, he’s going to die, or become a mindless shell. This is a supremely fucked up situation.”

     M’Benga interjected again, “If I may, Doctor, if the situation is due to mental trauma, or damage, time may allow healing, and recovery. They have been on active duty for the past day and have managed well enough. Perhaps we could wait and see?”

     Bones was breathing heavily, his hands now at his sides, fingers clenching into fists. “That’s a hell of a perhaps, Geoff.”

    “The danger is to me, gentlemen. The captain’s life is not in jeopardy.” Spock’s voice was barely audible, but all three humans looked at him.

     Bones’ expression softened somewhat. “Do you really think Jim wouldn’t be in some serious trouble if you were to up and die on him, Spock?”

     “The captain’s primary duty is to the ship, and his crew. He has never faltered from that duty, and I do not believe he would now. I do not wish him to lose his position because of me.”

     There was a palpable silence, and McCoy finally spoke, “Alright, listen. I’m going to keep you on duty, but, Spock, you’re going to need to step down as First until we sort this mess out. If you fold and Jim folds, we need someone who can take over without question.”

     “I understand, Doctor.”

     Jim’s face tightened, but he knew that his friend was right. “Okay, Bones. I’ll tell Sulu he’s stepping up temporarily.” He put the emphasis on the last word, but Spock didn’t react.

     McCoy shifted slightly. “And I want you both in here every twenty-four hours for scans. And for god’s sake, let me know if there are any more symptoms, or if anything gets worse. Dammit, Jim, you have to let me do my job!”

     The captain nodded, his expression serious. “We will, Bones.”

     M’Benga looked at Jim. “I will make enquiries, Captain. Perhaps a mind healer might be able to consult remotely, or could meet us at the next port of call.”

     Jim’s jaw tensed, remembering the debacle with the last Vulcan healer they had seen. Second time’s the charm, he thought with dark humor, and nodded to M’Benga. “Thanks, Geoff.” He looked at his friend. “Thanks, Bones.”

     Bones was looking off to the side, still visibly upset. “Whatever, Jim. Go on, both of you, and get out of here before I change my mind. I swear I’m gonna lose my sanity for the shit I put up with from you.”

     Spock stood up and headed for the door without a word, but, as Jim turned to follow him, he caught McCoy’s distressed look at the Vulcan’s back.

 

 

 

     Two days went by before the planetary security office sent over its final report, which amounted to barely more than they had known already. Two more days passed as they made their way towards Starbase Sixteen at a respectable warp two. Jim hadn’t heard anything more from Spencer, aside from periodic requests for ETA. Apparently the admiralty was most impatient to get their hands on the Ren shat’var leader. There was no word whatsoever about Hamilton. According to Starfleet logs, the Arredondo was still obliviously patrolling Beta. With what the captain knew of Hamilton’s previous eagerness to take the lead in any action regarding the Ren shat’var, his apparent lack of interest in the transport and processing of one of their leaders was raising Jim’s suspicions even higher.

     Sulu had taken over Spock’s duties as first officer reluctantly, accepting the vague excuse of ‘medical reasons’ without question. The bridge crew especially had been shaken by the kidnapping of its command team, and Jim knew they couldn’t help but notice the changes in both himself and Spock since they returned to duty. Especially himself.

     Jim was aware that he’d become quieter, more intense, and less likely to joke or make the rounds during shift. He’d snapped at his yeoman the day after leaving Poseidon’s World, and had caught himself repeatedly chewing the inside of his cheek hard enough to taste blood. And the lack of progress regarding the investigation of their abduction was frustrating everyone. Jim knew that the flurry of orders to look into Fleet records and activities hadn’t gone unnoticed by his crew, and that rumors were floating that there was someone in Starfleet behind the command team’s disappearance. Added to the aborted shore leave and the tension of having a high-ranking member of a hostile group in custody, and the mood of the crew in general was strained.

     Despite the hope that time might help, Jim could sense his bondmate’s weakened control defying improvement. The roiling emotions were ever beneath the surface of Spock’s mind, with a pervading feeling of disorientation never far behind. Spock had taken to meditating most hours he was off-duty and did not appear to be significantly worsening, but Jim couldn’t help the panic that was now his constant companion. M’Benga’s enquiries to New Vulcan had met with resistance. Healers were few and far between to begin with, and those who were left were buried under the pressing matters of the colony. In addition, the very nature of their apparent problem seemed to be disbelieved. There had been no examples in the known past of such a phenomenon, and the healers were reluctant to speculate as to a solution.

     Now, Jim paced back and forth in his quarters, unable to sleep despite the late hour. The muted sense of Spock’s mind, absorbed as he was in meditation, was still the focal point of Jim’s frantic energy. The overly loud sound of the door buzzer caused Jim to nearly trip, and he grabbed onto the side of his desk for support, taking a deep breath. “Come.”

     The door slid open, letting the light from the hallway spill into the captain’s dimly-lit quarters. A familiar figure stepped in.

     “Bones!” Jim exclaimed, pushing himself away from the desk and stepping forward. The doctor had avoided both Jim and Spock for the past four days, allowing M’Benga to supervise the daily scans.

     McCoy stopped a few steps into the room, and stood with his hands at his sides, his head ducked just slightly, as the door swished shut behind him, plunging the room back into near-darkness.

     “Computer, lights to fifty percent,” Jim ordered. For a long moment, the two men simply looked at each other, and then the captain carefully broke the silence, “It’s good to see you.”

     McCoy’s jaw moved, as if he was grinding his teeth. “I’m still mad about before, Jim. For you not telling me about all this.” His eyes shifted to the floor. “But, I realized that you might need me to be less the pissed-off CMO and more the concerned friend. Especially since, you know.” He gestured loosely towards the bulkhead separating Jim’s quarters from Spock’s. “So, I just want you to know that I’m here, if you need me.”

     Jim offered a half-smile. “Thanks, Bones.”

     McCoy’s eyes rose to meet his, and Jim was surprised to see pain flash through them. “Dammit, Jim. I know I get on you all the time about getting yourself into trouble, but this business with the hobgoblin? I fucking knew you were getting yourself mixed up in something that would turn out bad.” His face screwed up into a scowl. “And now that it has, all I can do is say ‘I told you so’. Do you know how helpless that makes me feel?”

     McCoy started pacing back and forth. “Look, I don’t understand what you and Spock have and I don’t know that I ever will. Fucking Vulcan mysticism and katra and whatever. I’m a damn doctor, not a priest. And what’s next, huh? What tidbit of mental voodoo is coming down the pipe to bite us all in the ass after this?” The doctor suddenly stopped and crossed his arms in front of his chest, an almost lost look on his face. “This entire thing sucks, kid.” He sighed and looked at the floor. “I’m sorry.”

     Jim blinked and nodded. “I hear you, Bones,” he replied softly. “I’m sorry, too.”

     McCoy grunted, hesitated, and then turned to go, leaving Jim standing alone in his quarters. The captain stared at the door, trying to decide if he should go after his friend when the intercom beeped. “Bridge to Captain.”

     “Kirk here.”

     “Ensign Reiko, sir. I’ve got a priority two message from Starfleet Command, sir.”

     “Go ahead, Ensign.”

     “Relaying, sir. From Admiral Spencer: you are ordered to divert from planned arrival at Starbase Sixteen in order to effect transport of a shipment of quadrotriticale from Gamma Carinae III agricultural colony for delivery to the starbase. Increase speed accordingly to meet with original ETA. Message terminates, Captain.”

     Jim inwardly sighed, but responded promptly, “Alright, Ensign, acknowledge that message and relay our new instructions to the helm. Increase speed accordingly.”

     “Yes, sir.” There was a pause. “Navigation reports increasing speed to warp five will compensate for the delay in re-routing to the colony.”

     “Acknowledged, Ensign.” Jim shut down the channel. He cast a final glance at his door and turned away towards his bunk. The brief conversation with McCoy had diverted his thoughts enough so that the exhaustion hovering at the edge of his consciousness was now thrust forward, and he desperately wanted to lie down. Not bothering to change out of his uniform, he threw himself face-down on the bed, deliberately pushing away memories of feeling Spock’s body next to his. Pressing his face into the pillow, he gave a muffled order to turn off the lights and tried to surrender to sleep.

 

 

 

     They were scheduled to arrive in orbit around Gamma Carinae III at eleven-hundred the following day, and Jim sat stiffly in his chair, his legs crossed in front of him. Around him, the bridge hummed with its usual, bright energy. Crew came and went, and occasionally he heard the gentle monotone of Spock’s voice coming from behind him, speaking to a yeoman, or to Uhura. They had just entered the Gamma Carinae system when Jim felt a sharp sensation through the bond and Spock’s voice rose in volume. “Captain, long-range sensors are reporting the absence of life-signs at the agricultural colony. Evidence of disruption on the surface.”

     Jim felt a huge alarm blare through his mind, and a surge of adrenaline race through his body. “Specify, Mr. Spock, what do you... ?” His words were interrupted by a loud percussive sound and the feeling of the bridge shuddering beneath his feet.”

     “Red alert! Shields up! What just hit us?”

     “Unknown, Captain. Singular impact along port nacelle. Damage control reports breach and venting, sir.” Spock’s hands were flying over his console.

     “Engineering t’bridge.” Scotty’s voice sounded from the intercom on Jim’s chair.

     The captain punched the channel. “Yes, Mr. Scott, report.”

     “Warp drive is out, sir. Estimate repair time fifteen to twenty minutes. Ah have t’recalibrate the structural balance an’ repair the hull breach. Ah’ve got a coolant leak, sir.”

     “Get to work on it, Scotty.” A flash of light off what appeared to be a series of small shiny objects at the corner of the screen caught Jim’s eye. He blinked, leaning forward, peering into the screen. “Increase forward viewscreen magnification factor four.”

     “Aye, sair,” Chekov acknowledged, and the screen blurred briefly before coming back into sharp focus. The distant shiny objects from before were suddenly crystal clear.

     “Oh my god,” Sulu breathed. “It’s a mine field.”

     Jim gripped the armrests as the nearest of the mines slowly started to move towards the ship, attracted to its gravitational field. “Confirm shields, Sulu. Stand by on phasers.”

     “Confirmed, sir, standing by.”

     “Captain,” Spock’s voice cut through the red alert siren, “sensors report these are class-five mines. They have a pulse-modulating energy field in their outer shell that may allow for direct penetration of our shields. Additional scans indicate no other vessels in the system.”

     Jim spun to face Uhura. “Lieutenant, send priority one message to Starfleet informing them of the situation. The agricultural colony appears to have been destroyed and we have sustained damage and have encountered a mine field. Request assistance and copy all log entries for the past twenty-four hours.”

     “Estimate initial impact in sixty seconds, Captain!” Sulu cut in.

     Jim turned his head to look at Spock. “Can we run?”

    Spock swiveled his chair to meet Jim’s eyes. “Negative, sir, not on impulse. Once a target is acquired, the mines are most likely programmed for pursuit. The initial impact may have been from a hunter drone, programmed to scan for approaching targets and disable them in advance of the field.”

     “Then we’ll have to shoot them down.”

     “Yes, Captain.” Spock raised his voice slightly. “Mr. Sulu, enable targeting computer to control main phaser banks. Stand by on manual control for auxiliary array.”

    “Aye, sir. Impact in fifteen seconds!”

     Jim stared at the approaching mines, as more and more peeled off and headed directly towards them. “Sound collision. Everybody hold on!”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: All That I Am, Is Yours

 

 

     The forward viewscreen lit up with the blinding light of the Enterprise’s powerful phaser array, as the computer tracked the incoming mines. The resulting blasts were mostly deflected by the shields, but a steady shaking sensation resonated through the bridge as shock waves from the point-blank detonations reached them. Spock and Sulu were monitoring the computer’s efforts, and occasionally Spock called out a rogue that had slipped through their defenses. Sulu was quick to activate the auxiliary phasers, manually firing on the incoming target.

     At first, it appeared as if they were getting ahead of the onslaught, and then Jim noticed the approaching mine field begin to split apart from the back forward, turning in either direction in a flanking maneuver. “Back us up, z minus five-thousand meters! Full impulse!”

     “Aye, sair!” Chekov called out.

    The ship dropped and retreated rapidly, evading the flanking run, but the mines moved relentlessly onward. One by one, they breached the Enterprise’s defenses and reached the hull. The blasts were large, and the ship screamed and shivered with their impacts. Damage control messages streamed in over the loudspeaker.

     Jim activated his restraints as he was almost bounced out of his seat. “Spiral course, Chekov, shake ‘em off! Maintain maximum impulse! Spock, report on those mines; any new data?”

     Spock eyed his panels. The captain could feel the Vulcan’s laser focus on his tasks, mirrored by Jim’s own; their personal struggle pushed into the background with the danger to the ship. “The mines are advanced technology, Captain, not standard Starfleet-issue or other design known to be in current use. I am still computing potential weaknesses.”

     “Not Starfleet... ,” Jim muttered. He slammed his hand down on his intercom. “Kirk to security. Get the prisoner up here on the double.” He heard an acknowledgement, and then changed channels. “Kirk to Engineering. Scotty, what’s the status of the warp drive? We’re getting torn apart up here!”

     “Scott, here, sir. Ah’m workin’ on it. Ye got t’give me more time!”

     “Show me a miracle, Scotty.” Jim turned as the turbolift doors swished open and two security officers escorted Siforit onto the bridge. The Vulcan’s piercing gray eyes took in the situation calmly, despite the shaking of the bridge.

     “Is this Ren shat’var?” Jim barked, thumb pointing towards the viewscreen. “If so, I need you to tell me how to evade these mines, or you’re going to be pounded into dust with the rest of us.”

     Siforit cocked his head at Jim in an eerily similar way to Spock, holding his hands out for balance as another wave of shaking hit the bridge. “This is not an attack orchestrated by my people, Captain.”

     “That colony out there was destroyed! You’re telling me your people had nothing to do with that, either?”

     “We did not, Captain, to my knowledge.” He eyed Jim intensely. “It appears to be a trap.” His tone was placid, almost casual.

     Jim tore his eyes away just as a large explosion sounded along the starboard side, producing a flash of flame from the side of the bridge and screams from several crewmembers. Siforit and the security guards were knocked to the floor, and several large cracks appeared along the curved bulkheads of the bridge. A high-pitched alarm sounded, and Jim heard the hiss of escaping atmosphere.

     “Clear the bridge!” Jim ordered. “Get to auxiliary control!” He released his harness and ran to the side of one of the injured crewmen. “Go, Sulu! Get down there and assume command. I’ll stay and make sure all the feeds are diverted properly.” He was barely aware of Sulu locking down his console and leaving the bridge as Lieutenant Varr appeared at his side to pull the unconscious crewman towards the doors.

     Turning, he was almost to the Tactical console when another explosion threw him into the air. He landed hard, and saw a large chunk of the ceiling falling. He tried to roll out of the way, but it hit him across his midsection, and he cried out, pain ripping through him along with cold plastisteel. The ship shuddered again, and an emergency bulkhead dropped across the secondary bridge exit, leaving only the turbolift. He heard Spock’s voice somewhere above him, smelled smoke, and felt himself weaken as the pain roared along his body. He reached out mentally for the bond, feeling Spock’s focused presence, and desperately tried to hold on as he sank into darkness.

 

 

 

He was falling, and it was from a dizzying height. He felt weak, like his insides were floating. He was cold.

 

     Jim opened his eyes as a weight was pulled off of him. He couldn’t move one of his arms, grasping at his stomach with the other, feeling wet stickiness. The pain was overwhelming. There was the sense of being lifted, of movement, of shouting.

   

He could feel the surge of his bondmate’s mind seeking his, held at bay by desperately maintained Vulcan shields. The cold was spreading. If only they could touch properly one more time... .

  

     He was in the turbolift. He could see the familiar walls, but they weren’t moving. There were two people with him. One was Spock, the other unclear, hovering on the periphery. There was something being wrapped around his stomach, a voice coming over the intercom.

   

He was fairly sure he was dead, or about to be. He could feel the cold reaching his fingers, his feet. He flailed for the bond, hoping to hold on just a little longer.

 

     A gasp from tortured lungs and Jim jolted awake again to feel fingers on his face, to take in large brown eyes staring at him, to feel the pain receding and warmth cascading from his meld points throughout his body as his bondmate’s mind took control of his systems. He opened his mouth, tasting blood. “No, don’t do it. No!” His voice was barely a whisper, but he knew Spock heard it because Jim’s mind was suddenly filled with his mate’s love and simple promise. All that I am, is yours.

   

They were in the lake, again, blissfully entwined one last time. He could feel the surging tide building, knew that it was being held back by mere strength of will, knew that when it hit, the connection would break and the other would be lost. He felt his body’s functions slowing, stabilizing, forced into a semblance of a healing trance, shutting down everything non-essential to save energy, to save blood. There was an instant of desperate togetherness, and then the shields broke and the tide roared towards them. He screamed... .

 

 

 

     The darkness broke sharply around him and an involuntary cry ripped from Jim’s throat. He tried to move, but was too weak. Panic engulfed him and he cried out again, desperately, turning his head on the thin sickbay pillow. Vaguely, as if from a distance, he could hear medical alarms blare. There was a rush of motion next to him, and he saw McCoy’s face. “Hey, kid, take it easy. Just relax. C’mon, Jim, stay with me here.” The doctor barked an order over his shoulder, and Jim felt the cool sting of a hypospray against his neck. All of a sudden, his vision seemed to clear and he felt calmer. The alarms were silenced above his head, and McCoy was saying something, but Jim couldn’t hear him. Even knowing it was futile, he reached into his mind, feeling for...it was still there! As his panic subsided with the administration of the drug, his mind cleared enough to feel the bond, still intact, still whole, shining brightly and pulsing with warmth. Jim forced his eyes open, belatedly realizing that tears were leaking down the sides of his face, and took in a ragged breath.

     “Better now, kid? I should be yelling at you for almost dying on me again. I swear, Jim, you have more lives than a Antarian s’larr cat.”

     “Spock?”

     Now McCoy’s eyes seemed to shine with unreleased wetness. “It was a near thing, Jim. You were trapped in the turbolift with Spock and that creepy Vulcan. We couldn’t get to you, and you were dying. Spock melded with you to stabilize your systems long enough to get you to sickbay. When we found you he still had his hands on your face, and that other Vulcan, Siforit, had melded with Spock. According to your bondmate, Siforit intervened just in time to prevent Spock from losing his katra or whatever, and somehow tethered his mind and kept it anchored. Spock stayed connected with you until you went onto life support, and then we pulled him off.”

     “Where is he?”

     “Spock? Well, probably on his way right now, if I had to take a guess. You were out for a while, Jim. M’Benga released Spock while you were still in surgery; he left to assist with the repairs to the ship. Siforit’s back under security guard in his quarters.”

     “The ship?”

     Bones smiled. “Another near thing, Jim. Apparently Scotty managed to get the warp engines back on-line minutes after the bridge was hit. We out-ran the rest of the mines, and, as far as I know, are hiding out in a nebula or something.”

     “My crew?”

     The doctor sobered. “We lost two, Jim. Thirty-six injured. Could have been a lot worse, though.”

     The captain winced at the casualties. “Whom did we lose, Bones?”

     “Ness Wheeler in Engineering, and Darius Holland in Weapons Control.”

     “Fuck.” The captain stared at the ceiling, feeling the dull burn of anger welling up again at the thought of such young lives lost. Whoever was responsible for this mess was going to see justice.

     Jim could feel Spock’s presence before the door to the isolation room slid open and the Vulcan stepped inside. Spock was wearing an Engineering coverall and grease was spread across the side of his face, but his eyes were intense, and fastened solely on his bondmate. The captain weakly raised his hand, and the Vulcan was at his side in an instant, entwining their fingers together, ignoring the doctor. Jim gasped as the rush of sensation as they touched. The familiar gentle electric warmth spread from his hand up his arm, and he felt his bondmate’s mind gently brush his, the frightening, uncontrollable pull from before eased. Spock’s mind felt calm beneath a swell of deep concern, the disorientation completely gone, the frantic roil of emotions subsided. Jim was dimly aware of McCoy’s stealthy retreat from the room, and the soft beep of the privacy lock.

     T’hy’la t’nash-veh. With his mate’s mental voice caressing his mind, Jim tilted his chin upwards. A hint of amusement flitted over the bond, and Spock bent down to press his lips to Jim’s. Jim sighed into his mate’s mouth, and concentrated all his limited energy into the gentle movement of lips and tongues, reveling in the simple feelings of relief and joy that flowed between them.

     When the kiss finally broke, Jim studied the warm brown eyes. What happened, Spock? How... ?

     I could not get you to sickbay. I melded with you to attempt to induce a state similar to a healing trance, to keep you alive. I estimated that I could accomplish this before my shields failed and... .

     And you died. Jim felt an involuntary shiver run down his spine. He had felt it coming, had been sure it was inevitable.

     It did not come to pass, ashayam. Siforit joined the meld and successfully anchored and repaired my mind. He apparently has had training in the healing arts.

     So did those healers on New Vulcan, and they said they couldn’t help us. Jim’s mental voice was tinged with bitterness.

     Siforit’s training was in the more ancient arts. And he is quite gifted.

     “Great. The guy’s a fucking superhero. And I’ve got turn him over to the vultures.” Jim’s voice was still weak, but his anger came through clearly. “Has Command gotten back to us about the colony? About the attack?”

     Spock’s posture straightened, but he kept hold of Jim’s hand. “We received word that our orders to proceed to the agricultural colony had not been sent by Admiral Spencer, and, in fact, were not authorized by Command. The destruction of the colony has been confirmed, and two gunships are en route to escort us to the starbase. Spencer has now acknowledged the possibility that Hamilton is behind our kidnapping, the explosion on Epsilon Indrii IV, and these most recent attacks. However, the Arredondo is missing, and the admiral with it. Starfleet is deadlocked as to how to proceed, sir.”

     “Holy fuck,” Jim murmured. The disappearance of the battleship, and the flag officer with it, was a big problem. Especially with the Enterprise in a vulnerable state. “What’s the timeframe for rendezvous with the gunships?”

     “Eighteen hours, Captain.”

     “And how bad off are we?”

     Spock’s grip tightened somewhat. “We had thirty-eight casualties, two deaths, sir. The ship has limited warp capability, but Mr. Scott has advised further repair. There were several hull breaches, and the bridge is currently uninhabitable; command is in auxiliary control. Limited shielding is available, and damage control crews are working to stabilize priority sections.”

     Jim closed his eyes a moment, thinking of the pounding the ship had taken. “Sulu’s in command?”

     “Yes, sir.”

     Jim studied Spock’s face. And how are you? Siforit didn’t do anything weird to your brain, did he?

     He did not.

     Jim raised an eyebrow. Would you know?

     Spock raised his chin. Siforit is not the only Vulcan with adequate telepathic abilities.

     Jim snorted softly, but his thoughts were sobering. The half-Vulcan’s innate psi talents were formidable, allowing for powerful mental shielding and sensitivity that saved his and Jim’s life on multiple occasions. However, it also could be used against them, as Spock’s involuntary deadly projection and exceptional response to his bondmate’s mind lately proved. And Spock had not been able to heal the damage to his mind on his own. Sensing Jim’s continued concern, Spock tilted his head. “I am alright, Jim.”

     “Good.” Jim relaxed back into the pillow, feeling suddenly exhausted. McCoy’s pain-killers were doing their job, but it meant he couldn’t really feel his body below his chest, and it gave him a strange sense of being weighed down.

     As if on cue, a beeping sound from the door signaled the good doctor’s return. “Okay, Spock, visiting hours are over for now. You can come back later on and check on him.” McCoy reminded Jim of a cat with a bushed tail, ready for a fight.

     Spock’s grip tightened on Jim’s hand again, briefly, before he reluctantly let go. I will be back, he sent over the bond.

     “Go ahead,” Jim said out loud, managing a smile.

     “Oh, and I cleared you as XO, so you can relieve poor Sulu up there. Boy’s been in the hot seat for forty-eight hours straight.” McCoy was busying himself with a PADD in the corner of the room.

     Jim’s eyes widened as he took in that information. The doctor noticed and pointed a stylus at him. “That’s right, kid, you were pretty much almost dead. I don’t even want to tell you how much blood we had to pump into you. Now, you’re going to go back to sleep and let your Vulcan whatever here take over.”

     Spock and Jim exchanged one more glance and the Vulcan turned and left the isolation room. Jim felt the exhaustion spreading, felt himself being pulled into sleep. Before his eyelids fell, he took one more look at the doctor, murmuring, “Thanks, Bones. For everything.” He slipped into sleep with the feeling of his friend’s warm hand gripping his shoulder.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: We’re Not Out Yet

 

 

     Almost eighteen hours later, two Starfleet gunships, the U.S.S. Michigan and the U.S.S Constantine requested permission to move alongside the crippled Enterprise. The three ships began the journey to Starbase Sixteen at warp one point five, hindered by the damage to the heavy cruiser’s engines. Repairs were still proceeding, but with the presence of the added firepower, Dr. McCoy pulled rank and ordered command personnel and department heads, most of whom had been up and working since the attack, to take at least six hours rest. There was a rumor that the doctor himself had to hypo Mr. Scott into submission, but the others, even Spock, took the order as a logical one.

     Jim had spent the time since he had awakened that first time resting and regaining his strength, monitoring the damage control efforts remotely. Spock had come in to check on him twice more, and maintained a comforting presence in his mind through the bond. Now, Jim was able to sit up, and even walk about the room, and was itching to be released to oversee the repairs himself. McCoy was having none of it, however, and had left for his own six-hour break with strict orders that the captain stay put. Of course, he had put in place a fool-proof plan to make sure Jim obeyed, giving Spock permission to spend his rest period with his bondmate, assuming they remained in sickbay.

     The captain was dressed in his uniform blacks and about to make a break for it when the door to his isolation room slid open and a tired Vulcan stepped through.

     “Fuck,” Jim muttered, taking in Spock’s appearance. The first officer had changed into a clean uniform, and his hair was immaculate, but there was a pinched look about his face, and his skin was pale. Jim could sense his mate’s exhaustion through the bond. “McCoy sent you in here to make sure I stay put, didn’t he?”

    Spock took another step forward. He assured me I could stay with you, assuming you remain here, Jim.

     Jim made a face, unsteady on his feet and knowing full well that Spock could sense it. “I guess it’s back to bed, then?”

     Indeed. The Vulcan activated the privacy lock on the door and walked smoothly past Jim to adjust the biobed into a double. Jim watched with amusement as his bondmate pulled his boots off and lay down on the bed.

     Conceding the doctor’s victory, Jim kicked off his own boots and slowly moved back to the bed, easing himself down next to Spock. He gingerly turned onto his side, facing the Vulcan, and raised his eyebrows suggestively. “I guess we can’t do anything, though.”

     Spock likewise turned to face him. “You are in no condition, Jim. However, if you would allow me, I would be gratified to have your thoughts.”

     “Of course,” Jim replied softly. Spock’s hand reached for his meld points, and Jim closed his eyes, falling into the deep connection.

 

They were together, in the familiar shared mental space, minds entwined. He felt a profound warmth, surrender, joy. There was relief here. Relief that they were able to be together in this way again. Love. Sweeping, deep love that reached into every corner of their minds. He marveled at it. And as he basked in the unconditional devotion, reveled in it, he sensed something else. Something hovering at the edges, dark, shifting, smoldering. It was guilt from his mate; guilt over his failure to protect. And fear from himself; fear for what he had almost lost. No...he pushed the dark feelings away into the depths of the lake, concentrating on the love surrounding them. This is what is. This is what we are.

 

     Jim emerged from the meld to see beloved brown eyes watching him, and he moved closer to his mate, just enough to be taken into a warm, strong embrace. He pressed his face into Spock’s throat, enjoying the long lengths of their bodies against each other. He felt the Vulcan slowly relax into sleep, and let the steady rhythm of Spock’s breathing lull him into following closely behind.

 

 

 

     Jim’s release from sickbay several hours later was accompanied by McCoy’s direct order to remain in his quarters until further notice. However, Jim decided to take a rather circuitous path back to his cabin. Spock had departed to take command in auxiliary control, and, through the bond, Jim could sense the Vulcan’s mind thrumming as quickly as his alien heartbeat, obviously immersed in his duties. The captain nodded to himself; he wanted to confront their unlikely savior on his own. Jim rounded a corner and came within eyesight of the two security guards posted outside the door to Siforit’s quarters. They straightened to attention as he approached, and he flicked his eyes between them. “At ease, gentlemen.”

     One of the guards stepped aside to key open the door, and the other met Jim’s hard look. “Do you need us to come in with you, sir?”

     “No.” Jim shook his head. “I won’t be long. Keep an eye on the biomonitor readings, though; you’ll be able to see if I need help.”

     “Yes, sir.” The two guards exchanged a subtle glance, and Jim suppressed a smile. Lieutenant Commander Toomey would probably read them the riot act for this, but Jim didn’t need an audience. With a soft beep, the external force field deactivated, the door slid open, and Jim walked inside.

     The lights were dimmed, and the ambient temperature was slightly elevated, reminding the captain of his first officer’s preferences. Jim stepped forward, and saw Siforit’s slender form kneeling on the floor near the far bulkhead, his hands pressed together in front of him, and his eyes shut. Jim didn’t move, and after a moment, Siforit’s eyes opened and he blinked rapidly, his striking gaze focusing on Jim before he smoothly rose to his feet.

     “Captain,” he said, inclining his head.

     Jim gestured towards the floor. “So the Ren shat’var continued some of the mental disciplines, despite the refutation of total emotional control.”

     Siforit tilted his head. “Obviously, Captain. Completely unleashed telepathic ability is not advisable for any culture.”

     Jim met his eyes, stepping forward. “Why did you do it?”

     Siforit’s eyes didn’t waver. “I had assumed that would be obvious.”

     The captain shook his head. “Enlighten me.”

     The Vulcan lifted his chin. “You are a valuable commodity, Captain. It would be a shame to lose you so uselessly.”

     “Bullshit. Your people were quite happy to ‘lose me’ a few months ago.” Jim stepped even closer. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with getting into my bondmate’s brain, would it?”

     Siforit leaned back almost imperceptibly. “You are implying that I utilized the meld to obtain military secrets and information?”

     “Well, did you?” Jim’s eyes were flinty. “Or do anything else that we’re not going to find out about until it’s too late?”

     Siforit swallowed, and broke eye contact, moving backwards a step and turning away. “I did no such thing.”

     Jim turned to follow him. “How would I know for sure?”

     The Vulcan stopped and clasped his hands behind his back. “Merely by asking your mate, Captain. His mind is quite formidable; he would be aware of any threat, or of any appropriation of information.”

     Jim’s shoulders relaxed slightly. “I did ask him.” At Siforit’s pointed look, the captain sighed. “He said you didn’t do anything besides what you had to do to save him, and me.” His eyes were now imploring. “But, if not that, then why?”

     Siforit’s face tightened. “Captain, even if I were to wish harm on you or your bondmate, such a meld would not have been the ideal opportunity. The concentration required to repair the damage to your mate’s mind left no possibility of any other action, or intent.” He raised his eyes to Jim’s. “And Spock would never have allowed it, even with his last breath.” His eyes flicked away, and his back straightened almost uncomfortably.

     Jim sensed there was more, and waited, his arms crossed in front of him. Finally, Siforit let out a sigh. “I wished to feel your bond, Captain. T’hy’la is legend. It is everything to our culture. To be so joined is to have everything in the other: brother-in-arms, protector, friend, lover, telsu. I have had some training in the healing arts, though I am not a healer, and have never felt such a connection before. I admit to curiosity.”

     “Curiosity would have explained the initial mind touch, but why the subsequent effort to keep us alive? To heal Spock?”

     The gray eyes held an emotion that Jim could not read and the captain held out his hands. “Was it simply to use our lives as a bargaining chip? To use the fact that we are in debt to you? You must know our duty prevents us from betraying the Federation, even for that.”

     “I am aware.”

     “Then... .”

     Siforit abruptly broke in, “Because your bondmate would have done the same for me. Even for an enemy, and even if he did not know if he would succeed.” The Vulcan’s expression was fierce. “Even if he would have been struck down for it, and even though it was not logical. Our cultures are based on shared ancient precepts, Captain. Precepts that I doubt you would understand.”

     “I don’t understand. Your people attack freighters, and fucking supply transports. You instigate coups on unstable planets leading to loss of life. You send assassins and mercenaries to torture and kill. You practically blew up an unarmed passenger liner and were about to fucking mind-rape the only remaining elders on goddamn New Vulcan!” Jim practically shouted the words, his hands in fists at his side.

     “Those were mainly the actions of a fringe group of loose association. Reactionaries bent on a personal vendetta, as I have told you before. Our primary goals are not so provincial.”

     “You were there on New Vulcan! You would have shot my head off at one point. How can I believe that your intentions here were honorable?”

     “I was there primarily to observe, but I had no interest in defending cultures that cannot defend themselves. Mainstream Vulcan culture is weak, Captain. Its weaknesses are inherent in its inflexibility, its own intolerance for change, its inability to adapt. Denial of truth, and continued prejudice. And your Federation, too; wrought with corruption, weakness, carelessness. In that meld, I sensed the possibilities in the intimate joining of two such different beings. Constructive interference; a shared potential that overcomes the frailties of each of your cultures.” The gray eyes became slightly distant. “I had not realized that this might be the consequence of such a connection. You and Spock represent a stronger path; your bond represents a new way forward.” Siforit turned away. “You will see.”

    Jim was confused and practically shaking, his barely-healed injuries catching up with him. He could feel his bondmate’s questions in his mind, and concern floating over their link. He took a step back. “I gave you my word that I would not allow you to be used against your people. But I will not simply forget all that has been done in the Ren shat’var name. You will need to answer for that.”

     The Vulcan’s voice was cold. “Of course, Captain. I would expect nothing less.”

     Jim spun on his heel and hit the button on the door, stalking past the waiting security guards and down the hall towards his quarters. He sent a reassurance to his mate over the bond, I’m alright. Don’t worry. Spock's reply was decidedly unconvinced, but Jim couldn’t respond, entering his quarters and sinking into his desk chair. He remembered Siforit’s words: Our primary goals are not so provincial. He was starting to get one of his bad feelings.

 

 

 

     They were within six hours of reaching Starbase Sixteen. Repairing the bridge would require space dock, but Scotty had made a great deal of progress on the engines and patching up the damaged hull sections. However, they were still moving at low warp speed to reduce pressure on the still-vulnerable repairs. Spock had begun research into potential counter-measures for minds under the influence of the device they had encountered on Epsilon Indrii IV. He argued that, logically, Hamilton would have had the opportunity to use the device on others, even potentially his own crew. Jim agreed completely, even though that prospect was scary as hell.

     The trip had been, so far, uneventful. Long-range sensors, still under repair themselves, were continually active, but aside from brief intermittent readings, were clear. Spock had his eye on the sporadic signals, termed “ghosts” by the junior science officer who first recorded them. But they were never consistently read by all three ships, and were not constant in location or frequency spectrum. Their presence, however, was concerning. There had still been no sign of the Arredondo, and Starfleet was calling on all active ships to maintain security alert status.

     Jim remained uneasy about his latest confrontation with Siforit. Becoming beholden to an enemy was dangerous, and was complicating an already tenuous situation. Their arrival at the starbase would mean a transfer of the prisoner out of Jim’s control, and Jim knew that his promise to Siforit would not be accommodated by others. Spock was strangely reticent about the entire situation, merely mentioning that he did not believe Siforit was a threat, but neither did he believe the renegade leader should be trusted blindly. Jim knew from hard experience with previous Ren shat’var in his custody that extracting information from the prisoner would require a forced meld, and he knew without asking that his bondmate would not be a party to that; not this time.

     Jim was surveying the latest round of repair reports when his intercom beeped. “Auxiliary control to Captain, Uhura here.”

     “Kirk here; go ahead, Lieutenant.”

     “Admiral Spencer is on the line for you, sir.”

     Jim leaned forward. “Put her through, Uhura.”

     “Aye, sir, switching.”

     The captain shifted into better view of his screen as the admiral’s face appeared in front of him. “Ma’am,” he said politely.

     Spencer seemed tense. “Captain. I’m on Starbase Sixteen, awaiting your arrival. You will be coming in under yellow alert status, maintaining a defensive posture. We have received recent information that directly links the Arredondo with the compound on Epsilon Indrii IV, and it appears we no longer have the luxury of assuming that the battleship has not been compromised. Indeed, you will be receiving a packet with new command codes once docked. We’re in the middle of a shit storm, Kirk.”

     Jim swallowed. Spencer had been dismissive when he had first broached the possibility of Hamilton being behind all this, but he didn’t feel like this was any kind of vindication. “Yes, ma’am, I understand.”

     Spencer eyed him closely, waiting for a long moment before continuing, “I appreciate you not gloating, Kirk.”

     The captain’s eyes hardened. “I’m sitting on a damaged ship, with two dead crewmen and dozens injured. There’ve been two settlements destroyed, and a battleship is missing. The thought never crossed my mind, ma’am.”

     “You know, I believe you. If I can be frank, I used to consider you a bit of a loose cannon. I think now that you might be the only one of us with any foresight at all.” She sighed and pulled at her collar. “I heard you had another close call during that mine attack. I’m glad you’re still with us.”

     “Yes, ma’am.” Jim knew an apology when he heard one.

     She had opened her mouth to say something else when the lighting behind her shifted sharply to red, and Jim heard alert claxons blare in the background. A muffled voice was heard, and Spencer barked an acknowledgment before turning to Jim, her eyes fierce. “That son of a bitch is attacking the fucking starbase! Get back to... .” The channel abruptly went dead.

     Jim felt a rush of adrenaline and punched the comm to reach auxiliary control. “Kirk to auxiliary control room.”

     “Spock here, Captain.”

     “Mr. Spock, inform the gunships that Starbase Sixteen is under attack. Before comms went down, Spencer indicated that the Arredondo is the aggressor. Recommend priority one distress call broadcast to all nearby sectors and notify Command. I’m on my way.”

     “Understood, sir.”

     As Jim cut the connection, he heard the red alert announced, and jumped from his chair, ignoring his remaining weakness. He was through the door to his quarters and jogging down the hallway towards the turbolift when a familiar voice called from behind him, “Just where do you think you’re going?”

     A burst of irritation swept through Jim’s chest. “To auxiliary control, Doctor, where the fuck else?” He stepped through the doors to the lift, McCoy on his heels.

     “You’re not cleared, goddammit.” McCoy aggressively moved forward as Jim barked a command to the lift computer.

     Jim rounded on his friend, unconsciously backing him up against the wall. “Then fucking clear me already,” he hissed. “Dammit, Bones, it’s my fucking ship!”

     McCoy licked his lips, paused, and pulled out a portable sensor, passing it quickly over Jim’s body. He shook his head at whatever he read there, but met Jim’s eyes. “Fine. You’ve been worse.”

     Just then the doors opened directly in front of the entrance to the control room, and Jim rushed out, not sparing another glance at the doctor. In front of him, Spock met McCoy’s eyes over Jim’s head and silently stepped down from the command chair, ceding it to his captain. “Engineering reports full shields and weapons available, Captain. Warp drive available, all speeds, but Mr. Scott cautions against excessive use. Environmental controls stable, and all external hatches closed and secured. Distress call successfully broadcast, gunship escort is awaiting our instructions, and a situation report has been sent to Command, awaiting response.”

     “Thank you, Mr. Spock. Lieutenant Uhura, shipwide address, please, and broadcast to escort.”

     “Aye, Captain,” Uhura answered. “Channel’s open, sir.”

     “This is the Captain. Starbase Sixteen is under attack, presumably by a compromised Starfleet vessel, and we will be moving to assist the defense of the starbase. Maintain red alert, proceed to battlestations. All stations indicate readiness to the First Officer. This is no drill. Engineering and escort vessels, stand by for warp six on my command.”

     A flurry of acknowledgments came over the open comm line, and Jim glanced sideways where Spock stood next to the Engineering readouts. At his first officer’s nod, Jim looked at Sulu. “Let’s go.” And the small viewscreen at the front of the room grew brilliant with the colors of warpspace.

     The trip to the starbase was only twenty minutes at the high warp factor. Jim paced back and forth in front of the viewscreen, hands clasped behind his back. Weapons readiness had been double and triple-checked. All stations were standing ready. A gradually increasing shudder from below-decks was the only sign that the engines were not in top condition. Spock was leaning over the science station, monitoring the sensor array, occasionally touching the earpiece in his right ear.

     Jim felt stronger and sharper than he had since before the mine attack; the lingering pain in his midsection was gone, and he knew it was because of his bondmate’s shared energy across their connection. Tactical asset, indeed, he sent. He saw Spock raise an eyebrow across the room, and the captain smiled briefly before sobering and looking back into the viewscreen. The Arredondo would know they were coming. He didn’t look forward to getting into a dogfight with a destroyer-class vessel, even with the added advantage of the two escorting gunships.

     “ETA five minutes, Captain,” Sulu reported, looking up at Jim.

     “Right. Uhura, contact our escort, and set up a three-way encrypted comm line for coordinated attack. Spock, anything on the sensors?”

     “Long-range sensors are still performing sub-optimally, sir. I am reading blanket interference surrounding the starbase, consistent with energy weapon discharge or debris. Singular moving target operating on impulse power, presumably the attacking vessel.”

     Jim glanced at Uhura, who anticipated his question. “There appears to be a dampening field surrounding the starbase, Captain; they won’t be able to send or receive with that field intact. And Starfleet reports ours are the only suitably equipped vessels in the area.”

     “Two minutes, Captain.”

     Jim stepped over to his chair and sat down. “Shields up, full power. Engage comm line for attack coordination and bring up tactical display on the viewer when we drop out of warp.” He felt a thrill of adrenaline, and the soft brush of Spock’s mind, gentle, unobtrusive. All eyes were on the countdown superimposed on the screen, and then the three ships burst into normal space one-hundred kilometers from the starbase’s location. Gasps echoed around the room as they saw only a debris field stretch out in front of them. Jim leaned forward. “Spock? Anything? Where’s the attacking vessel?”

     “Scanning, Captain. Negative life signs.” There was a pause and then, “Incoming target at high warp, sir, hyperbolic course approaching from our top side!”

     “To battle group, evasive action! Mr. Sulu, match hyperbolic course, negative-z, warp one for point five seconds.”

     The Enterprise shuddered at the sharp acceleration as they dropped down and backwards from their original position. As the viewscreen stabilized again in normal space, the huge Arredondo swept into view, phasers firing. The Constantine abruptly vanished in a rapidly consumed fireball.

     “Get us in there, Mr. Sulu! Photon torpedoes, aim for the nacelles.”

     “Aye, sir!”

     A spread of torpedoes flew at the Arredondo, only to miss as she went into warp again. “She’s spiraling back, sir. Approaching the Michigan on vector thirty-seven mark eight.” Spock’s speech was clipped and rapid.

     Jim leapt to his feet. “Michigan, you’re being targeted. Emergency evasive!” The Arredondo appeared well in front of them, looming over the remaining gunship. A burst of brilliant phaser light from both ships lit up nearby space as they blew past each other. “Circle us around, Sulu, come about on an intercept course, stand by phasers.” The Michigan had been hit, but was still fighting. The Enterprise moved into a bracketing position and the both ships fired into the cylindrical section of the larger battleship.

     “Incoming!” Chekov yelled, and the auxiliary control room rocked with a torpedo salvo. Damage control messages swarmed over the intercom.

     The battleship suddenly dropped away from them. “Follow them down, Sulu! Keep them in range!” The Enterprise had just turned when the forward screen lit up with enemy phaser fire, rocking the ship.

     “Shields are down to thirty-two percent, sir. Dropping rapidly.” Spock’s hands were flying over his console. “Calculating potential vulnerabilities for precision targeting.”

     The larger ship loomed in their sights. “All phasers fire!” Jim shouted. Small explosions dotted the forward section of the battleship.

     “Captain! I have a firing solution. Mr. Sulu, switch targeting to main computer and come about on twenty-seven mark six, z plus six-thousand meters.” Spock was focused on the sensors, and an overlay flew up onto the main screen, red areas pin-pointing potential areas of vulnerability on the battleship.

     “Aye, sir, switching! Course adjustment, now, sir!”

     The view of the passing ship whirled around and down as the Enterprise changed position. From the new vantage point, it was obvious that the remaining gunship, perhaps hobbled by the last salvo, was in danger. Jim jumped down to stand next to Sulu, hitting the comm. “Michigan, get out of there, you’re too close!” The gunship had circled back under the battleship, and was firing into its belly. With an almost slow-motion feel, the Arredondo tipped forward and spun, bringing its main phaser array to bear on the gunship at point-blank range. The viewscreen flashed and the comm feed from the gunship ceased as it too was reduced to debris. “Shit!” Jim shouted, as the battleship continued to spin, coming about towards the Enterprise. “Fire, Sulu, now, now!”

     A spread of photon torpedoes shot out from the Enterprise’s main batteries, dispersing and largely evading counter-fire from the battleship. The explosions this time were more definitive, punctuated by a large blast along the port nacelle. “Their warp drive is out, sir!” Spock called.

     Jim shook his head. But we’re still fucked if we stick around. “Get us out of here, maximum available warp!”

     “Aye, sir!”

     As if the battleship sensed that its prey was about to escape, the forward phaser array lit up, and two more drastic explosions rocked the heavy cruiser’s hull before the warp engines powered up and they were gone. Jim, breathing hard, his heart hammering, stared at the screen, half-expecting to see the battleship looming out of warp space like the Vengeance had done two years before. But after a moment, and then two, nothing appeared, and Jim let his shoulders fall slightly. Around him, crewmembers were staring at the screen themselves, their expressions full of shock.

     Jim swallowed, and exchanged a glance with the helmsman. “Good work, Hikaru.” Sulu merely nodded, still looking shell-shocked. Jim turned. “Uhura, send a message to Command, priority one. Inform them that Starbase Sixteen, the Michigan, and the Constantine were destroyed by the Arredondo, all hands presumed lost, and that we sustained heavy damage. Let them know the battleship was also damaged, but still dangerous. Our position is... .” He had glanced at Chekov’s board when the ship shuddered around him and he was thrown to the side.

     The star trails on the viewscreen disappeared into the steady sweep of normal space, and the intercom flared to life as Spock pulled Jim upright again with a firm hand under his arm. “Scott here, Cap’n. We’ve dropped out t’warp. Th’engines canna take nae more, sir. Ah’ve had to take’em off-line or risk severe radiation leaks. Impulse power’s out, too, sir. Effecting repairs.”

     Jim blinked. “Where are we, Chekov?”

     The navigator called their position up onto the main screen. They were stopped in space, nowhere to hide. If the Arredondo managed to repair their warp drive, the Enterprise was dead, pure and simple. Jim set his jaw. “Uhura, report position to Command, and that we’re unable to maneuver.”

    “Aye, sir.”

     Spock had walked back over to the science console and was examining the sensor output. Jim stepped up behind him. “Anything?”

     The first officer's slanted brows came together slightly. “Long-range sensors are not reading any ship approaching from our previous location. However... .”

     “However?” Jim prompted.

     Spock straightened and met his eyes. “The intermittent signals from before have re-appeared.”

     “The sensor ghosts?”

     “Yes, sir. This time, I am able to resolve at least three different signals, and they appeared in unison accompanied by pulsed bursts of ionization similar to what is produced by a ship coming out of warp. It is my hypothesis, sir, that these ‘sensor ghosts’ are indeed cloaked ships, utilizing a more advanced technology than the interference shielding we encountered before.”

     Jim did not need a telepathic connection to figure out who they were. “Why would they only be tailing us? Why not attack? We were vulnerable before, and now we’re sitting ducks. If they wanted the Enterprise, now would be a good fucking time.”

     Spock tilted his head. “The Ren shat’var may simply want to retrieve their missing leader. Or they wish to capture not only the Enterprise, but the Arredondo as well. Our vulnerability evidently is quite effective as bait.”

     Jim’s eyes hardened. They’re not getting our ship. His mind raced. “Spock, did you ever find a way to affect someone suffering from exposure to that device? To reverse the conditioning?”

     “Not with any exactness, sir. The device itself was destroyed, and the only human subject on which we have observational data is yourself. From my description of the device’s effects, Dr. M’Benga has speculated that low-level exposure to a certain neurotoxin may undermine the conditioning by temporarily disrupting the synapses in the centers of the brain responsible for short-term memory. However, the neurotoxin would have to be delivered directly.”

     Fuck. “Right.” Jim frowned. They were beset on all sides, it seemed, and he know that it couldn’t come down to a direct fight and have them come out on top; he was going to have to play the angles. He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. He could still feel a steady stream of energy being passed through the bond, and he hadn’t felt any pain, even when he was thrown into the navigation console. But there was a slowly rising feeling of background unsteadiness that spoke of a fundamental physical weakness that even Vulcan voodoo couldn’t overcome.

     “What do you think, Spock? I suppose calling out the cloaked ships with a lucky phaser blast wouldn’t be very smart. What about a message? ‘We know you’re here’ and all.”

     Spock opened his mouth to answer when several alarms lit up on his console and he turned abruptly back to the sensors. “Incoming contact, Captain. It appears to be the Arredondo, from its approach vector and mass.”

     Double fuck. Jim bounded over to the command chair. He knew that they wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight, not without maneuvering power. He would have to try to stall for time. “Mr. Spock, throw everything we have left into the shields.” He slammed the intercom, hoping against hope. “Scotty, give me some good news.”

     The Scot’s voice came back wrought with anxiety, “Sorry, sir. Guess ma’reputation’s toast.”

     Jim squared his shoulders and faced the screen. There was a tension-filled pause, and then the battleship snapped into space immediately in front of them.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: Out Of The Shadows

 

 

     For a moment, all Jim could see were the yawing torpedo ports above the main deflector dish. But the Arredondo did not fire.

     “Sir, they’re hailing us.” Uhura’s voice held anxiety and anger in equal parts.

     “Put them through, Lieutenant.” Jim drew up into his full command stance, forcing his hands to relax at his sides. Let’s dance.

     The viewscreen in front of the auxiliary control room switched to an image of the Arredondo’s brilliantly-lit bridge, with crewmembers in black security and tactical uniforms sitting nonchalantly at their stations, a few even wearing smug smiles. Jim’s gut clenched; his hunch that the admiral might use the device on his crew all but confirmed. Evan Hamilton was seated in the command chair, a casual smirk on his face. “Hello, Kirk. What happened to your bridge? You wouldn’t have happened to run into a mine field or anything, would you?”

     A flare of white-hot anger ripped through him, but Jim didn’t back down. “Sir, it is my duty to inform you, under Starfleet regulations, that you are under arrest for the willful murder of Starfleet personnel and destruction of Starfleet property. You will surrender your ship and your crew and remand yourself to my custody until such time as we reach a starbase.”

     Hamilton’s expression hardened. “Yes, yes, Kirk, you’ve made your point; you’ve said all the right things. Now let’s get down to business.”

     Jim raised his chin. “What business is that?”

     The admiral leaned forward. “The business of you keeping your ship from becoming just another swath of debris.”

     Jim sensed Spock step down from the science station and stand just behind him. The captain maintained his outward bravado, but inwardly drew more strongly on his first officer’s energy through the bond. He could feel a dull ache in his midsection, and his legs felt shaky; his injuries from the mine attack asserting themselves. “I’m listening,” he said to the admiral. He knew Scotty would still be working on the engines. If he could give him enough time, perhaps they could try to make another run for it.

     Hamilton seemed content to savor the moment, leaning back and crossing his legs, the smirk back on his face. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you, Captain? You and your mental bodyguard over there. I imagine that’s how you thwarted that device; just like the mind-sifter.” A shadow of irritation passed over his face. “I told Rader to make sure the Vulcan was unconscious while you were being conditioned. I suppose he couldn’t follow simple instructions.”

     Jim’s jaw tightened, remembering Spock lying on that floor, not breathing, his heart all but stopped. He involuntarily drew his hands back into fists, his fingernails digging bluntly into his palms. Oblivious, Hamilton continued, “Of course, you had to not only defeat the device and create quite the disturbance leaving the place, but you also had to go and find the Ren shat’var base and somehow escape with its fucking leader.” The admiral’s voice had risen slightly, and as he finished speaking, he gave a harsh laugh that made chills run up Jim’s spine. “I mean, really? What are you, a fucking magician or something?”

    Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw the glances being exchanged among his crew around the control room. Hamilton was either insane or close enough to it for the difference not to matter very much. The captain stepped forward, raising his hands in a gesture of supplication. “Evan. I get lucky. That’s all it is.”

     The admiral’s slightly manic gaze focused somewhat, and he furrowed his brow. Jim took that as a sign to keep going. “Look, why don’t we sit down and talk things out. I’m sure that we can eventually see eye-to-eye on some of these issues. I know there’s a lot that needs to be done; maybe this could be Starfleet’s wake-up call. Give me a second chance.” He smiled smoothly. Buy it, buy it... .

     Hamilton narrowed his eyes and considered him closely. Suddenly, he shook his head and rubbed his hand across his face. “Good try, Kirk. I know you’ve been busy pushing Spencer to call the dogs on me as soon as you got back to your ship.” He smirked. “A lot of good that did you.”

     Jim switched tactics. “And now what, Admiral? You destroyed a starbase, two gunships, two colonies. Where will you go now?”

     At that, the admiral positively leered at him. “Well done, Captain, you’ve brought us back to the point of this conversation.” He pointed a finger at the screen. “I want that Ren shat’var leader beamed over here. His people will want him back, and I’m sure they'll be willing to trade generously for him. Perhaps this is the start of my own little empire.” His chin lifted. “Starfleet was always outmoded, a step behind. I’ve got the most powerful ship in the Fleet, and a crew loyal to me to the death.”

     “And what about us?” Jim’s voice was flat. “You said I could avoid the destruction of my ship. What will you give me in return for the leader?”

     “Well, Kirk, you said yourself you wanted a second chance. Here it is. Join me and between the two of us we can make our own destiny. Our own way.” He chuckled. “I’ll even let you keep your Vulcan.”

     Jim pretended to think about it. Behind him, Spock stood impassively, but the bond transmitted his directed thoughts. Captain, we cannot send Siforit to the Arredondo. There is a very high probability he would successfully overpower the crew and attempt to take the ship; an effort I am certain would be supported by the cloaked craft. I suggest an alternative.

     Out loud, Jim replied to the admiral, “That is an interesting proposition, Admiral. However, our ship is in dire need of repair. We would need extensive refit that I doubt the Ren shat’var would be able to provide.” Internally, he prompted his bondmate to continue.

     I will beam over to the Arredondo in place of Siforit; as our life-signs are virtually indistinguishable, they will not immediately be aware of the switch. Once there, I will arrange delivery of the neurotoxin through the ventilation system and attempt to seize the bridge.

     On the screen, Hamilton’s smirk had returned yet again. “Well, Captain, there are always other starbases that will be most eager to cooperate given our latest example. We will take you in tow.”

     Jim returned the smirk, but inwardly he was cringing. Spock, that’s a fucking suicide mission! We don’t even know if the toxin will work. And I can’t calculate the odds of you making it to the bridge, but I know they’re slim. They’ll kill you. “Sounds acceptable, Admiral. Perhaps you could give me a few minutes to inform my crew and arrange for the prisoner’s transport?”

     Any distraction may provide us additional time for Mr. Scott to complete repairs. And perhaps now would be an appropriate time to contact the cloaked Ren shat’var and bargain for their assistance in return for their leader. Allow me to do this, Captain. It will give us a chance, and it is my duty.

     Hamilton cocked his head. “I’ll give you five minutes, Kirk. No tricks.”

     Jim nodded. “Even I’m not that lucky.” And it’s my fucking duty to let you go. Come back to me. Hamilton chuckled again and gestured behind him, and the screen went black. The captain glanced at Uhura to confirm the channel was closed, and at her nod, turned to Spock, his expression pained. “Alright. Let’s do it. Grab the stuff from M’Benga and get to the transporter room.” The Vulcan left the control room immediately, at a run.

     Jim rounded the helm and navigation console to take in the entire room, noting the confused faces. “We’re going to try a bait-and-switch. Keep those shields up. At my command, I’ll need a transport window. And I want all weapons kept at battle readiness. Lieutenant Uhura, I’m going to need a secure broadcast to the location of those sensor ghosts out there-just make sure it’s nothing the Arredondo will be able to pick up. We’re not finished yet, people.” With a final look around the bridge, he too took off at a run, calling over his shoulder for Sulu to take the conn.

 

 

 

     Jim barreled into Siforit’s quarters and launched into his proposition with no preamble. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow at the mention of the cloaked ships, but made no other outward reaction.

     “Captain, I do not understand. You wish my people to assist you in disabling the battleship, in return for my life?”

     “Siforit, I don’t have much time. If you get your people to help us, I’ll send you back, no questions asked.”

     The gray eyes were thoughtful. “I am surprised the admiral did not demand my presence on his ship.”

     Jim couldn’t help shifting anxiously, aware of the dwindling timeframe. “He did. But I’m not about to let you loose on a battleship with your armada hovering in the background.”

     “An armada that could destroy your ship as well, of course.”

     “I don’t think that’s the plan or they would have already. They want you, and they want that big fucking ship out there. I’m offering you, as my duty prevents giving up the Arredondo.”

     “The battleship is still formidable, even against more than one of mine.”

     “Not after we get through with it.”

     “Your current ship’s status appears to be less than capable of a direct attack. Therefore you must be planning an internal assault.” Siforit studied Jim and realization dawned in his eyes. “You are sending your bondmate instead of me.”

     Jim shook his head. “I’m out of time here. Will you help me or not?”

     “I will.”

     There was no time for Jim to make it to the transporter room. He had returned to auxiliary control with Siforit and two burly security guards, phasers drawn. On the way, Siforit had turned to him, his voice low. “Does your duty mean so much to you? You are risking your ship, your bondmate.”

     Jim had stared ahead, his emotions churning through him, desperately trying not to mentally grasp at the bond, so as not to distract Spock’s preparations. His response was terse. “So be it. It means we’ll have a chance.” His mind flashed back to Siforit’s description of the ancient myth and that numbing, overwhelming fear he felt over the prospect of losing Spock. Here, in the face of this challenge, he would confront it head-on. As he entered the control room, and the time given by Hamilton ticked down, Jim sent one last burst of emotion across the bond, feeling love and a sense of resolve floating back, and gave the order to energize. Good luck.

 

 

 

     Spock materialized on the unfamiliar pad already in a crouch, phaser raised. There were two crewmen waiting, in addition to a transporter operator, and all three froze for a crucial half-second before acting. It was enough. With devastating precision, Spock fired, and all three crumpled, stunned, weapons still unused in their hands. He moved forward quickly, sending his bondmate the briefest of acknowledgements over their connection, and administered the neurotoxin by hypo to each unconscious crewman. A blinking light on the console preceded a hail from the bridge. “Hamilton here. Do you have him?”

     Spock flipped the switch, leaning away from the speaker and attempting to disguise his voice. “Yes, sir. Standing by.”

     “Get him up here, right now.”

     “Yes, sir.” Spock estimated that he would have two minutes before the admiral realized something was amiss. He removed the crewmen’s phasers and added them to the small satchel that carried the device that would distribute the neurotoxin. Now, he just had to get to environmental control. He had one minute, forty-five seconds.

 

 

 

     Jim sat stiffly in the control room center chair, chewing the inside of his cheek and mentally focusing on the bond. He knew Spock had successfully made it onto the ship and was moving to release the neurotoxin into the ship’s ventilation systems. Siforit had upheld his side of the bargain, having issued orders to his still-cloaked ships to wait for his signal and then attack the battleship. Nyota had arranged the targeted comm burst, and then had stood threateningly next to the Vulcan as he had spoken in his native dialect, making sure he was aware that she understood everything that was said. Afterwards, security had hustled the Ren shat’var leader back out of the room. Hamilton had yet to signal them again, probably waiting to confirm with his own eyes that his request to have Siforit transported over had been successful. Hurry, Spock!

 

 

 

     Spock encountered only two crewmen on his way to environmental control, both rendered unconscious by stunning beams before they could reach a comm line. The battleship’s complement was not large, and most of the personnel were apparently on-duty at combat stations. Once he reached his destination, the Vulcan keyed open the doors and stepped inside, swinging the satchel off of his shoulders. Setting up the distribution device was a simple matter, and completed quickly, and another few precious seconds went by as he uploaded a subroutine to disrupt any security alarms that would have been triggered by the introduction of the foreign substance. Spock donned a protective breathing mask and initiated the sequence. Approximately thirty seconds until Hamilton became aware that Siforit was not, in fact, in custody and on his way to the bridge. The timing was ridiculously tight, and if the battleship let loose a full bombardment, there was no guarantee how long the Enterprise’s shields would last before the toxin kicked in. If it kicked in. Spock left the room at a run, on his way to the bridge, phaser at the ready.

 

 

 

     Auxiliary control on the Enterprise was as still as a tomb. It had been less than two minutes since Spock had beamed over. Uhura was standing by with a signal to the Ren shat’var ships; to be transmitted as soon as they knew the toxin was having an effect, and Hamilton’s control of the Arredondo was compromised.

     Jim knew the toxin had been delivered, and sat tensely, legs and arms crossed, in his chair, hoping that their desperate strategy would work. Simply shutting down the air or introducing a sedative would have incapacitated the entire crew, but would have left the battleship completely vulnerable to a Ren shat’var takeover. The advantage of the toxin was that it would cause its intended consequences without debilitating side-effects, except, hopefully, a return to a sound mind. The crew, once recovered, should be able to hold the ship.

     Jim could sense determination through the bond. What’s going on over there? The lack of a response was frightening, but even more so was the tension in Nyota’s voice. “Hamilton is signaling, sir.” Fuck, he knows.

     “Keep those shields up, no matter what. Throw everything we have into them, got it?” His command drew sharp nods from his officers. “Okay, put him on, Uhura.”

     Hamilton’s face was flushed, his eyes narrowed. “I said no tricks, Kirk. Where the fuck is your prisoner?”

     Jim forced a surprised look onto his face. “I beamed him over a couple minutes ago, like you asked.” He tilted his head. “Can’t your people handle a single Vulcan?”

     Hamilton’s eyes didn’t leave the captain, but he barked to one of his officers, “Mainardi, do an internal scan. Look for Vulcan life-signs.” Jim heart sped up, but he kept his carefully neutral expression on his face. When the officer didn’t respond immediately, Hamilton turned his chair. “Mainardi! What the fuck? I gave you an order!”

     A young woman standing next to what looked like a scanning station to the far edge of the screen was staring at Hamilton with a dazed look on her face. “Sir? Um, I don’t understand. Aren’t we orbiting Epsilon Indrii IV? What happened?” The toxin’s kicking in!

     Hamilton’s face went white, and he spun back towards the screen, rage contorting his features. “Fire! Everything we’ve got! Take out the Enterprise now!” The channel abruptly went dead, the viewscreen switching to the glowing gunports of the larger battleship.

     Jim didn’t wait for the first salvo to hit. “Send the signal, Uhura, now! Stand by main phasers!”

     The screen suddenly lit up with a barrage of firepower from the Arredondo’s main banks, countered by intercepting bursts by the Enterprise. Despite their efforts, the majority of the battleship’s shots made it through, and the control room rocked. The hull shrieked, and Jim could hear the sounds of distant explosions.

     Suddenly, the pounding paused, as three small craft appeared, strafing the Arredondo with brilliant blue beams before moving off. The battleship backed away, coming about to keep the new targets in range. “Fire!” Jim yelled. The Enterprise batteries lit up again, and explosions dotted the Arredondo’s rear cylindrical section.

     Another barrage rocked the Enterprise. “Shields at twelve percent, sir, and falling!” Sulu called, clinging to his console. The Arredondo fired again at the moving Ren shat’var, but they were fast, and evidently highly maneuverable, and managed to avoid the deadly beams.

     “Again! Aim for the forward phaser ports!” Jim’s order had just left his mouth when the panel in front of Sulu blew up in a shower of sparks. The helmsman threw himself backwards to avoid the blast, colliding with his captain, and they both went down in a heap on the deck. The lighting flickered, and turned the dull amber indicating the emergency reserve, and the main viewscreen shut down. Jim drew in a sharp breath in the sudden quiet. This was it. Spock, I’m sorry. He felt his crew’s eyes on him as he set his jaw and waited for the final assault.

 

 

 

     Spock heard the booming resonance of the Arredondo’s weaponry through the hull as he ran through the corridors of the battleship. He could sense Jim’s anger, and anxiety, and fear. He moved faster, and finally reached the main entry to the bridge. It was locked down.

     “Hey!” he heard the voice from behind him and threw himself down and to the side, twisting in mid-air to fire his phaser at the crewman behind him. The man fell, and Spock scrambled to his feet as the sound of impacts echoed through the deck. He hit the button on the access panel for the door, requesting manual override. Drawing on his bondmate’s boundless tendency to hope, he entered his Fleet authorization, and waited one second, then two, until the panel made a soft beep and the lights turned green. He heard his bondmate’s voice in his head, accompanied by a sense of grim finality. Spock, I’m sorry. With a shout, he launched himself forward.

     The doors opened to a chaotic scene, and he burst through with his phaser aimed. A flurry of shots took out four before they knew what hit them, including Hamilton in the center seat. Spock dove to the deck to avoid a phaser beam from one of the security guards. More of the crew were standing still, their eyes glassy, and their expressions bewildered. Evidently the toxin was working, just not quickly and comprehensively enough. Taking cover behind the helm, Spock yelled into the melee, “This is Commander Spock, Starfleet. You are ordered to cease fire immediately on the Federation ship. There has been a breach of command orders. Cease fire on the Enterprise! That is a direct order! Computer, confirm identity!”

     “Identity confirmed,” The computer intoned placidly. There was a gradual halt in phaser fire on the bridge, and a burst of confused murmuring, but the Arredondo’s weaponry had fallen silent. Spock glanced sharply behind him to see the Enterprise still floating in space, obviously damaged, but intact. Jim?

     An explosion from the starboard side sent debris across the bridge. “Sir!" A young crewman called out, “we’re still being attacked by hostiles!”

     “Stand down. Repeat, stand down. Do not fire. Keep our screens up; defensive posture only.” Jim, call off the Ren shat’var. I have secured the bridge. Jim?

     There was a terrible pause, and then his bondmate’s mental voice filled his mind. They’re standing down, Spock. Are you alright? Where’s Hamilton?

     Spock stood slowly from behind the helm, keeping his phaser at the ready. “I assume command of this vessel as of now, nineteen thirty-two hours, under Starfleet regulation one-oh-two section four.” I am uninjured, and he is unconscious, Captain. I have assumed command.

     The shockwaves from the Ren shat’var attack had ceased, and the remaining crewmembers were looking increasingly confused and terrified. A couple shook their heads, as if trying to clear them. The security guard that had fired on Spock was sitting on the floor, phaser held limply in his hand, staring into space.

     “Sir? What happened? Why were we firing on the Enterprise?” A lieutenant standing near the rear turbolift entry was staring at Hamilton’s crumpled body with his mouth open.

     Spock met his eyes. “You have been under the influence of a mind-altering device, Lieutenant. Please call medical personnel to the bridge and give me a damage assessment. I want a status report on our offensive capability. And I need a secure channel open to the Enterprise.”

     “Uh, aye, sir.”

     Spock adjusted his mask and moved to look at the viewscreen. The three Ren shat’var ships, which appeared to be modified Klingon hunter-seekers, hovered over the Enterprise, but were making no moves to attack. Then, as one, they slowly maneuvered away and were suddenly gone in a flash of light, smoothly making the leap into warpspace.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Win The Battle, Lose The War?

 

 

     Jim entered his quarters, mindlessly stripping himself of his sweaty, filthy uniform on the way to the shower. It had been almost forty-eight hours since the Ren shat’var had vanished with Siforit back aboard; almost two days and he had been on his feet almost the entire time. Scott had managed, within the past six hours, to get the warp drive back online, and the Enterprise, with the Arredondo now in a protective stance alongside, was headed back to Alpha quadrant at warp two. Even at that relatively leisurely pace, Jim could feel the subtle shaking through the deck and could hear the laboring harmonics of the main engines. His lady was patched together just well enough to tolerate warpspace, but nothing more. Entire decks had been sealed, and most nonessential systems were deactivated. By some miracle, they had not lost any other crewmembers, but over one hundred additional injured had flooded sickbay.

     The ventilation systems on the Arredondo had been cleared of the toxin shortly after Spock had taken command, and Enterprise crew had transported over to take charge, as the battleship’s complement was currently under strict medical observation. Hamilton was under security observation in the brig. When Jim had asked, McCoy had merely grunted and said, “I’m gonna paraphrase my psychologist and tell you that bastard’s stark raving mad.” The toxin had worked to counteract the conditioning, but the affected crew was confused and frightened, having next to no memory of what their commanding officer had ordered them to do.

     Command had ordered their immediate return to Earth, and had the gall to complain about Jim’s decision to allow Siforit’s release. Jim had made no reply, but simply asked Nyota to send an acknowledgment and an estimated date of arrival. He was exhausted, his ship was in pieces, and he was in no mood to argue with a bunch of bureaucrats about battle strategy. Spock’s influx of energy and muting of Jim’s physical discomfort through the bond had been fighting an increasingly uphill battle, and Jim was ready to collapse.

     The captain barely remembered showering and throwing on a pair of shorts before he fell onto his bunk. He lay there, with no energy to move, but with his mind still racing too fast to sleep. He blinked at the ceiling, frustrated, and then he heard the door to his quarters softly open, and felt the familiar warm presence of his bondmate enter. Jim turned his head in surprise; he hadn’t seen Spock since before he had beamed over to the battleship and had assumed he would stay there after assuming command. Are you off?

     His mate’s mental voice held a note of exasperation. You should be sleeping, t’hy’la.

     Can’t. Too worked up.

     Spock’s voice, unusually gentle, broke through the background hiss of the recirculators and the deep note of the engines, “Lieutenant Commander Sitnov is currently in command of the Arredondo. Repairs on the shields and weapons systems have been completed and Doctor McCoy gave me a medical order to report here for the next twelve hours.” I believe the Doctor anticipated your reluctance to rest. Shall I join you?

     Jim sent an amused mental caress in response, and watched his bondmate nod and move into the bathroom. The sound of sonics came through the door, and Jim must have dozed off despite himself, because the next thing he felt was the slight dip in the mattress as Spock sat next to him on the bed. The captain inhaled, and turned toward the warmth of the Vulcan’s body, reaching out to touch. He sighed as his hand was caught and held, and the familiar electric deepening of their connection shimmered up his arm. Fingers entwined with his, and Jim felt Spock’s other hand move to gently stroke through his hair. I want to feel you, he sent, leaning his head into the caress.

     Slowly, Spock lay down next to him, gathering him into a warm embrace. The Vulcan was wearing a pair of soft sleep pants, but his chest was bare, and Jim luxuriated in the sensuous feel of their skin touching. He buried his face in his Vulcan’s neck and breathed in deeply, feeling Spock’s hands gently run up and down his spine. Despite his exhaustion, a thrill of desire wound its way through his body and he moved his hips slowly against his mate’s.

     Ashayam, you must rest. One of Spock’s hands had made its way into Jim’s hair again and the captain leaned his head back, enjoying the rhythmic movement of strong fingers against his scalp.

     I can rest later, he sent, moving forward to press his lips against warm Vulcan skin, letting the tip of his tongue trail a wet line along a collarbone.

     Spock abruptly pulled back, and Jim could see the intensity of his gaze even in the dim light of his quarters. You shall rest now. You forget that I am able to sense the condition of your body. You are not yet fully healed.

     Jim felt a pang of guilt, knowing that it was due to Vulcan mental strength that he had been able to stay as alert and effective as he had during the battle, with his still-healing injuries. And he had taken blatant advantage of it, continuing to rely on his bondmate’s concentration and energy long after it was truly necessary for him to remain in command. Looking deeper along their bond, he sensed Spock’s own depleted state, his tiredness and need for rest. I’m sorry.

     Spock pulled him back against his body, his hands returning to stroke along Jim’s back, his shoulders and arms. Do not be, ashayam. All that I am, is yours.

     “I know”, Jim murmured into his shoulder, a hollow feeling filling him as he remembered the last time his bondmate had told him that. And it was true. Spock had demonstrated again and again his willingness to selflessly give of himself. Not for the first time, Jim wondered if he was truly deserving of such a partner. He thought back to their aborted shore leave, of his anxious worrying about needing too much, about being vulnerable. He had feared that losing Spock would leave him with nothing; that he was now defined by their bond, instead of who he knew himself to be. As he lay there now, he realized that such fear was unworthy. He was fortified by their bond, by his bondmate’s love and devotion and unselfish support and strength. And even if the unthinkable were to occur, the truth of their connection would live on. He knew he was loved, and cherished, and that could never be taken away. Feeling contented, Jim allowed the smooth motions of his mate’s hands to lull him into sleep.

 

 

 

     Jim awoke to the smell of coffee. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he turned over, reaching out for his bondmate, but finding only empty sheets. He felt disoriented, and sat up, wincing at a sharp twinges from his tired muscles. Glancing over at the bedside table, he saw a mug of steaming coffee and a small plate containing a sliced bagel and some fruit. The chrono indicated about eight hours had passed since he’d fallen asleep. Spock?

     Here, Jim. His bondmate appeared from behind the partition, still wearing only his sleep pants, a cup of something steaming hot, probably tea, cradled in his hands, his dark eyes warm. The captain’s eyes widened as he took in Spock’s appearance. Bare-chested and barefoot, his black hair in sleep-tousled disarray, he looked more human than Jim had ever seen him. And incredibly attractive. Jim’s gaze raked over the Vulcan’s broad shoulders and chest, diving down to appreciate the way his low-slung pants accentuated his defined stomach and narrow hips. Jim felt arousal stir deep in his body.

     “Right,” Jim croaked, his voice rough from sleep. “I’m going to drink this coffee and eat this food. Then I’m going to brush my teeth and take a piss. And then I’m going to come back in here and fuck you into the mattress until you scream my name.”

     An eyebrow rose. “Negative.”

     “Oh.” Jim winced. Perhaps he had gone too far with the graphic description of what he wanted; he was usually more subtle, more considerate of his partner’s lack of experience and occasional insecurity.

     Spock sipped his tea carefully and tilted his head. “You are still experiencing muscle weakness and low blood volume associated with your recent injuries. Therefore it is only logical that I assume the dominant position in any act of physical intimacy.”

     Hell fucking yeah. Jim began stuffing the bagel into his mouth.

 

 

 

     A short time later, Jim lay across the bed, his mate’s cock hard and hot inside of his body, and their minds intertwined. Spock’s thrusts were deep and strong, angling just right, and he murmured unintelligibly against Jim’s neck, his fingers like brands on the captain’s psi points. Desire and building pleasure swept from one to the other across the bond and through the meld, heightening their senses and deepening their connection. Jim pressed himself upwards, feeling his own cock rubbing between their bodies, desperately hard. He had his hands tangled in Spock’s thick hair, hearing his mate’s gasps, and feeling the intense dual sensations of touching and being touched, of filling and being filled. As he fell deeper into the meld, the sense of his physical self drained away, and he dove into a well of powerful, swirling emotions and the intense, undeniable pleasure felt by his mate. Jim was loved, desperately. He was desired, fully. He felt possessed, and, yet, in control. And he pushed his mind into and against his mate’s, sending his own certainties forward. I want you. I desire you. Your eyes, your hands, your body, are mine. I need you. A cascade of responses washed over him. Talukh nash-veh k’dular, t’hy’la. K’diwa. Ashayam t’nash-veh. Held and caressed, body, mind, and soul, the captain felt their dual pleasure building even higher, distantly felt his back arch, his cock throbbing between their bodies. His head fell back, mouth open, as he felt his mate’s hips move erratically, and then he heard Spock’s voice, muffled against his skin, calling his name, as their bodies and minds melted into each other, their shared passion causing the bond to expand and overtake everything in a brilliant, shining light.

     Jim’s vision came back slowly, along with the rest of his senses. He was wrapped around his mate, both of them practically clinging together. Spock had pulled out of his body, but was still breathing hard, and was shaking in Jim’s arms. After a moment, Jim freed one hand to gently pet dark hair. It’s alright, it’s okay. He swallowed, willing Spock to meet his eyes, conscious that it was usually Spock who comforted him as he came down from such profound mental and physical sharing. He felt a frisson of fear drifting over the bond, matching his own. Their joining had been intense and powerful, and reminded Jim of the frightening, inexorable pull of their katra toward one another that they had experienced after their abduction. But this time, the pull had not been followed by the shade of oblivion, nor accompanied by the strange untethered sensation. There had been no darkness, only light, as if all was as it should be; but it had been disconcerting, and humbling.

     Eventually, Spock’s head lifted, and his brown eyes met Jim’s blue ones. Jim. It is...it was... .

     Amazing, Jim finished mentally, moving his hand to reassuringly stroke across a slanted brow. Every time, it seemed, they went deeper into their minds; joined more fundamentally. Jim wondered if, the way they were going, melded sex would eventually lead to their katra coming together again. He wondered if they should be more careful, and chuckled softly, thinking about how he would explain to Bones this new angle on ‘safe sex’. He imagined his friend’s admonishment, ‘Don’t forget to put a fucking condom on your soul, kid!’ One look into his bondmate’s slightly confused brown eyes, though, put a stop to his internal monologue. “Sorry. Stupid human humor,” he murmured. “Are you okay?”

     “I believe so,” his bondmate answered, settling his head back into the pillow.

     Jim reached down to pull the blankets over them, deciding to worry about the sticky mess later. “We’re getting closer, aren’t we?”

     “Yes.” Spock studied his face, implicitly understanding his meaning. “I believe we always have been; the incidence of incomplete katric transfer simply has allowed for a new frame of reference.”

     Jim turned his gaze up to the ceiling, thinking. “So eventually we’re going to get to a place where our souls go together as easily as our bodies?”

     Spock’s eyes were still focused on him. “Perhaps, Jim. As Dr. M’Benga pointed out, the intricacies of a t’hy’la bond are not fully known.”

     Jim returned his gaze to his bondmate, reaching out to brush his fingers through black hair, saying wryly, “Well, as long as our katra make sure to go back to where they’re supposed to be, I suppose it’ll be quite the experience.” Spock closed his eyes under the caress and Jim watched him for a while, his eyes wandering over his bondmate’s features. “Nothing with us is easy, is it?”

     Dark eyes opened, and regarded him gently. “I am sorry, Jim.”

     The captain let two fingers trail across a pointed ear and along his mate’s jawline, to his mouth. “Just promise me we’ll get in some simple human sex occasionally. You know, without the cosmic consequences.”

     Spock’s eyes darkened, and he parted his lips, letting Jim’s fingers slip inside. At the touch of his bondmate’s tongue, and amidst the swirl of newly kindled desire through the bond, Jim felt his cock begin to harden again. “Fucking hell, Spock, you’re worse than me!” He let out a startled yelp as he was pushed fully onto his back and his enthusiastic lover slowly licked his way down his chest towards his groin. “I don’t think I can hang out with you anymore,” he managed to choke out. “I...uh...keep...Jesus...getting blown.” He let out a peal of laughter at his own joke, feeling his bondmate’s amusement and affection wash over him, and then moaned, his head swimming, surrendering to the heat and pleasure of Spock’s mouth.

 

 

 

     The trip back to Earth took almost two weeks at their restricted warp speed. However, once the bulk of the repairable items were completed, the ship fell into a routine. Things were finally calm enough for Jim to hold the memorial services for the two crewmembers lost during the encounter with the mine field. He spoke from the heart; words of overcoming fear, the selflessness of personal sacrifice, and the importance of adherence to duty. He had reached for his bondmate’s mind during his speech, knowing that he himself had gained new perspective on those ideas during their recent trials.

     Messages from Command confirmed that Starfleet was in a state of chaos. The violence wrought by one of their own, coming so close on the heels of not only Nero and the Marcus affair, but also of the violence perpetrated by the Ren shat’var on New Vulcan, seemed to be bringing internal conflict to a head.

     One faction, ironically following Hamilton’s original plan for the restructuring of the Fleet, wished to advance security issues over all others, turning the Fleet into a police and military force with a streamlined command structure. Another faction simply wished to overturn the entire current admiralty in favor of new blood, citing corruption and infighting. Diehards clung to the usual modus operandi, insisting that the destructive examples of Marcus and, now, Hamilton were still outliers and that the mission and command structure of Starfleet should remain as is. Yet another group wished to develop two entirely separate fleets, one devoted to the scientific and exploratory mission, and the other to military operations.

     Sarek was leading the dominant voices, stating that the fundamental mission of the Fleet should remain the same, but that the command structure should be streamlined and rid of corruption and the current operational dichotomy between the exploratory and military vessels should be resolved. Hearings were being held in the Federation Council chambers about the future of the Fleet, and Jim was expected to contribute his testimony almost as soon as they docked. He knew his words had to be carefully considered, and might have far-reaching consequences.

     Jim had gone once to see Evan Hamilton in the brig. Bones had tagged along, his simmering anger plainly visible on his face. Jim didn’t blame him; the doctor’s rage was a mirror image of his own, an open wound for the lives lost and destruction wrought by the ambitions of this man. The captain and doctor had entered and crossed over to where Hamilton was seated at the small table in the center of the cell. Hamilton had watched them sit across from him, his expression condescending. “So, your Vulcan is in charge of my ship. I’m surprised you let him so far away from you.”

     Jim had leaned forward, his eyes cold. “I only have one question for you: what the fuck were you thinking?”

     Hamilton’s eyes had narrowed. “I was thinking of the future, Kirk, a future where things aren’t as pretty as they are in the Starfleet recruitment brochures. Your name could have stood at the forefront of change, but now you’ll just be another cog in the machine.”

     “If you really believed that you wouldn’t have bothered to try to kill me after we thwarted your plot on Epsilon Indrii IV.”

     “It could have worked. It should have worked. And then we’d be having a completely different conversation. The Federation would be eating out of my hand. We could have built an empire.”

     Jim had shook his head. “What happened to you, Evan? Back on New Vulcan you saved my life. You saved the elders from a fate worse than death.”

     Hamilton had snorted. “What happened to me? I had a vision. And pretty much anyone else in your circumstances would have leapt at the chance to be a part of it. But not you. And I was tired of following behind you, Kirk. Behind your successes, behind your revelations. And you just fall into it! Your command, your bond.” He had smirked suddenly, his lips twisted in a crooked smile, and his voice lowering into a hiss. “You know, the admiralty tolerates your bond because they think it’s a tactical device, a necessary evil. They even feel sorry for you about it. I wonder what they would do if they knew what it really was.”

     Jim had stood suddenly, a feeling of disgust overwhelming him. Without another word, he had walked to the exit, McCoy a step behind. As the force field snapped back into place, blurring the admiral’s form, Jim had paused a moment, deep in thought. Hamilton had faced his challenge, and his jealousy, ambition, and anger had won out. Jim had looked up to meet McCoy’s concerned hazel gaze. “Seriously, Bones, what happened to him?” He didn’t say the rest...and could it happen to me?

     Bones had pressed his lips together. “He went too far, Jim. He believed in his vision so fully that it consumed him; he was willing to do anything to make it succeed. And then he did, and found he couldn’t go back.” The doctor had watched the captain closely. “You know as well as I do that this kind of god-complex stuff is what they screen command personnel for, but no one can anticipate what will happen when you actually get into that chair. ‘Power corrupts’ is an old saying, but is more often than not a true one.”

     Jim had headed back up to auxiliary control in a contemplative mood, and Bones had remained at his side, standing by Jim’s chair in a manner reminiscent of Spock. The captain had felt lucky to have two friends whose advice he trusted so implicitly, and it made him hopeful that even if he did fuck up, then at least he’d have someone to call him on it.

 

 

 

     Now, only hours from docking, Jim sat in his quarters, biting on the end of a stylus, peering half-heartedly at the latest status reports from his various departments, his mind elsewhere. Spock was in command of the Arredondo, and had remained there after their brief ‘medical leave’ in Jim’s quarters during the first day of travel. Jim appreciated the little time they had spent together and had said as much to Bones, who had, predictably, grouched that he was not interested in details and that it had been the only way he had seen to get stubborn green-blooded hobgoblins and equally stubborn infant starship captains to actually sleep. Shaking his head at the memory, Jim looked up at the sound of his door buzzer. “Come.”

     The doors slid open to reveal the slim form of his communications officer. Dressed in casual off-duty clothes, her long hair cascading around her shoulders, Nyota stepped through carrying what looked like two silver thermoses. “Hey, Jim,” she said lightly, “mind if I interrupt?”

     “Not at all,” he replied, smiling and rising from his desk chair. “Want to sit down?”

     “Sure.” She waited until he had walked around his desk and lowered herself smoothly onto one side of Jim’s couch. “Join me?”

     The captain sat down next to her and she handed one of the containers to him. “What’s this?”

     “A present. Sulu had to get rid of a bunch of fruit from what’s left of the arboretum, and as I’ve finally gotten my boards completely cleaned up and repaired, I decided to make smoothies. Don’t worry-I checked with Len, and he gave it the all-clear for your allergies.”

     “Thanks.” He unscrewed the top and sniffed. “Smells good.” At her smug nod, he furrowed his brow. “So, why me? Usually I don’t rate the good stuff.”

     She shook her head. “I think you’ve earned it. Anyway, Spock’s off-ship, Len hates smoothies, Sulu’s up to his ears in fruit already, and Scotty won’t touch any gift that’s nonalcoholic, unless it’s a sandwich.”

     Jim chuckled, taking a sip of the drink. “Right. All true.”

     “Besides,” she continued, “I wanted to talk to you.” At his curious expression, she shrugged and set her own thermos on the table in front of her. “I’ve been monitoring most of the communiqués with Command, and the general channels, and I know there’s a pile of controversy over what to do about Hamilton’s actions. I assume you’re going to be right in the mix when we dock. Anyway, I had the crazy idea you might need a friend. You know, one who doesn’t call you names every thirty seconds.”

     Jim grinned, thinking of Bones’ habitual scowl. “Thanks, Nyota.” He glanced down at the open thermos in his hands, his smile fading somewhat. “I’m going to testify in front of the Federation Council. Supposedly the future of Starfleet is at stake.”

     She cocked her head, dark eyes intent on his face. “Yeah, I figured. What are you doing to say?”

     He grunted, leaning back into the couch. “Don’t know. I mean, obviously I don’t want us to turn into a purely military organization, but Hamilton was right about a few things, as much as I hate to admit it. Decision-making in the upper ranks is unwieldy. There is too much confusion as to defining threats and dealing with them. And the corruption that’s come out lately is just making it worse. We are vulnerable. And not just to the obvious players. Who knows when another group like the Ren shat’var might get into the game, or someone else with some convenient firepower and allies in high places.”

     She leaned back as well, crossing her arms in front of her. “Have you talked to Spock?”

     He frowned. “A little. He thinks that a restructuring of Starfleet is inevitable, given the current political climate. However, he doesn’t believe it has to be as drastic as some of the current propositions.”

     She smiled. “Sounds logical.” She shifted slightly in her seat and moved her hands to her lap. “Jim, I wanted to tell you something else as well. Give you a heads up.”

     He raised an eyebrow. “Well, that doesn’t sound good.”

     She shook her head. “I don’t know what it might mean. I know that you and Spock are keeping your bond quiet, under orders from the admiralty.”

     When she hesitated, as if looking for a confirmation, Jim nodded. “Sure, Nyota, for security reasons, chain-of-command, etc., etc.; I can understand. Personal relationships between a command team are frowned upon, officially.”

     “Yes, well, I have intercepted anonymous messages over supposedly secure channels suggesting that those pushing Hamilton’s original plan for military restructuring are planning on publicly disclosing your personal relationship if you don’t back their approach. Supposedly, they think it will undermine your influence and keep you distracted, maybe even see you both off the Enterprise.”

     Jim stared at her. “You can’t be serious. They’d be revealing classified information.”

     “Innuendo would be enough. It could be leaked anonymously.” Her mouth was set in a grim line. “They specifically referred to your allowing Siforit to go back to the Ren shat’var and that you did it in return for him saving your bondmate’s life.”

     Jim set his thermos down and ran both his hands across his face. “For fuck’s sake. More like in return for every life on board this ship.”

     She leaned forward, putting a hand on his knee. “Jim, this is political maneuvering, pure and simple. They see an opportunity, and they’re using everything they can to make sure they make it into the top position: classified intel, your ship’s logs, Len’s medical reports.”

     He frowned, thinking. She leaned back again, her hands folded in her lap, waiting. Finally, Jim swallowed and met her eyes, his own gaze hard. “We didn’t go through all this to give up now. Nyota, can you track these messages specifically? See where they’re originating and who is receiving them?”

     She smiled. “They’re heavily encrypted, but I can try. It would be my pleasure.”

     “Great.” He stood abruptly, and she followed suit, picking up her thermos. He continued, “I want some ammo in case I get called out on the floor of the Federation Council.”

     “Jim, I don’t know if they believe your relationship with Spock goes beyond the existence of the bond itself. They may think that you won’t fight; that you’re ashamed of it.” Jim snorted, and she grinned. “Don’t worry, Jim. I’ll get that ammo for you. Just make sure we don’t go full-stop military; I really hate those uniforms.” With that, she threw him a wink and left his quarters. Jim watched her leave, and brushed his thoughts against his bondmate’s mind. I’ve got to talk to you... .

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: Once More Unto the Breach

 

 

     The arrival of the Enterprise and the Arredondo into Earth space dock was accompanied by a collective sigh of relief by the crew. No further incidents or attacks had taken place, and no one had heard from the Ren shat’var since Siforit’s return. Jim sat in the command chair in auxiliary control, legs crossed, watching the viewscreen as the docking procedures were completed. At the rebuilt helm, Sulu confirmed that all moorings were secured and leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his hair, casting a weary glance back at his captain.

     Jim returned his helmsman’s smile, and hit the intercom. “This is the Captain. We have successfully docked and are awaiting debarkation instructions. All damage control team leaders and department heads prepare for debrief on the base in three hours.” He paused, taking a breath. “I want to extend my personal gratitude and appreciation for the hard work you’ve all done in getting us through a most difficult situation and an exhausting trip back. I cannot express in words the depth of my pride in this crew and this ship. Welcome home.” A round of quiet applause echoed around the control room, and Jim turned his head to meet each pair of eyes in turn.

     Almost three hours later, the captain strode down the hallway between the space dock transporter room and the conference room where he and his people would meet with the refit and repair supervisor. The ship was slowly emptying; medical personnel had transported the more seriously injured crewmen to Starfleet Medical Center, Hamilton had been transferred to the main security area at Headquarters pending a court martial, and Engineering had transferred all systems control to space dock. Spock had been overseeing the same process on the Arredondo, and Jim was anxious to finally see his bondmate again, in person, after the tedious journey home. As he approached the room, he felt the warmth of the Vulcan’s presence fill his mind, and he couldn’t help a smile as he turned the final corner. “Hello, Mr. Spock.”

     “Captain.” Spock appeared completely impassive, holding a PADD in one hand, the other tucked behind his back, but the bond transmitted the swell of affection and even happiness that the half-Vulcan, for once, did not attempt to damp down.

     Jim’s smile widened. After this is over, do you want to head down?

     Yes, Jim. There was a thrill of anticipation running between them, and Jim felt his hands flex involuntarily. The instinct to touch was intense, and he broke their eye-contact, pretending to shuffle through the satchel he was carrying to hide his arousal. Jim was scheduled to testify before the Federation Council the next day, and he and Spock were planning on staying together in the city overnight.

     Suddenly, a young woman wearing lieutenant’s stripes bustled down the corridor, stopping short as she nearly ran into Jim. “Oh, Captain! There you are. I’m Lieutenant Moore, sir, from Admiral Toeffler’s office. The Admiral requests your presence immediately at Headquarters.”

     Jim stifled a sigh. “Lieutenant, I’m about to head in for the debrief. Can’t this wait?”

     “Negative, sir. Admiral Toeffler said to call in if he had to make this a direct order.”

     Fuck. “Fine. Mr. Spock, would you mind taking over for me?” Here we go-they couldn’t even wait until I made it planetside.

     “Of course, Captain,” Spock replied evenly.

     Jim nodded sharply at his first officer, and handed him the satchel before gesturing for Moore to lead the way back to the transporter room. As she turned, Jim made a face. I’d almost rather be back on Qo’noS.

     Spock raised a brow. I would not. I shall see you soon, ashayam.

     Bye, babe. Jim suppressed a snicker at the flush of amusement mixed with annoyance that suffused the bond. He figured if Spock could get away with fancy Vulcan endearments, he could throw in some human ones as well.

 

 

 

     It was late morning in San Francisco, and a cold rain was falling outside the large bay windows of Starfleet Headquarters. Jim dawdled just a bit to take in the view and to center himself. Admiral Daniel Toeffler was a leading proponent of Hamilton’s original plan, recently renamed to prevent further association with the disgraced admiral, which had been put in front of the Council over four months before. Jim was wary, but determined; they needed more information about who might be behind the messages, and the captain was anxious to start playing offense against these latest shadowy threats. With Lieutenant Moore’s impatient half-scowl in his direction, Jim took in one last breath and followed her down the hall into the admiral’s office.

     Moore showed him in, and left briskly, allowing the door to slide shut behind her, leaving Jim alone in the office. The captain looked around as a side door slid open and the admiral stepped through. He was in his sixties, with short gray hair, a closely-clipped beard, and dark brown eyes and he smiled as he saw the young captain, stepping forward and offering his hand. “Welcome home, son.”

     Jim clasped it, and then stepped back, standing at attention. “Admiral.” He felt a twinge of irritation at the admiral’s form of address, which reminded him sharply of Marcus. “You must know that I was on my way to a debriefing to discuss the refit of my ship, sir. Could this meeting not wait?”

     Toeffler narrowed his eyes slightly, but the smile remained on his face. “Sit down, son. Your ship is in good hands, and I wanted to catch you before your address to the Council tomorrow.”

     Jim lowered himself into a chair across the desk from the admiral, who sat as well. “So,” Toeffler clapped his hands in front of him, “how are things going with your Vulcan bond?”

     Jim blinked, his tone dry. “Fine, sir. Very emotionally fulfilling.”

     Toeffler hesitated, and then laughed uproariously. “Ha! Emotionally fulfilling. Good one, Captain.” He continued to chuckle as he swiped invisible dirt off his desk with the side of his hand.

     Jim stared at him, refusing to smile.

     Toeffler sniffed and continued, his eyes back on Jim, “I have to say, I felt a bit sorry for you, having to choose between the mind-sifter and binding yourself permanently to a member of a race that has no feelings. You seem to be holding up well.”

     Jim’s brows came together. “I’m sorry, sir, but I doubt that you called me down here just to discuss my personal situation with my second-in-command.”

     The admiral smiled again, looking slightly nervous. “Well, perhaps. I wanted to see if I could count on your support of my proposal when you speak to the Council.”

     Jim frowned. “Is it your proposal now, Admiral? I thought Hamilton originally sponsored it.”

     The admiral coughed. “Well, uh, he did, originally, but I would like to take credit for its current, optimized, form, and for the amount of support it has garnered lately within the Council membership, despite the latest, uh, incident.”

     The captain shook his head. “That may be, sir, but I'm planning to answer the Council’s questions directly, and without allegiance to any specific plan. If they ask my opinion, I will give it, honestly.”

     Now, Toeffler definitely looked nervous. Jim studied him, noting the thin sheen of sweat on his forehead. The admiral didn’t share Marcus’ cold-blooded approach, or Hamilton’s arrogant posturing. Jim wondered if this whole interview was even Toeffler’s idea at all.

     “Yes, Captain, of course. But I wonder if you’ve considered how much you’ve done for Starfleet; how much you’ve given up. I mean, for the sake of protecting your command codes, you essentially were forced into a mental bond for life-practically chained! And in one fell swoop, those codes were compromised anyway, by Hamilton’s actions. Your ship almost destroyed, your future in Starfleet in jeopardy. Don’t you want to see changes happen? To right the wrongs done to you? To see Starfleet fulfill its potential? To let you see yours? You're an excellent tactical commmander; in a revamped Fleet, you'd have a second chance.”

     Jim leaned back, folding his arms in front of him. “I was not aware my career was in question.”

     “Well,” Toeffler cleared his throat and shifted in his seat uncomfortably, “if news of your, um, personal relationship with your second-in-command gets out, you’ll be forced to step down as captain. I know the admiralty has turned a reluctantly blind eye thus far because of the status of Vulcan bonds and your distinguished service record, but I doubt that you’ll be able to convince the majority of Starfleet, or your crew for that matter, as to the absence of emotional compromise.”

     Jim narrowed his eyes. If this was indeed the threat, Toeffler wasn’t nearly the smooth operator the captain had been anticipating. Jim smiled dangerously, and looked the admiral straight in the eye. “Let me worry about my crew. And if you want to talk emotional compromise, I’ll be more than willing to oblige. How would you like to stare into the viewscreen and watch one of your own, under your flag, threaten to destroy your ship. Did you know that one of the ensigns on the Arredondo had family members among the ninety-six dead on Gamma Carinae III? She has to live with the knowledge that she shares responsibility for their deaths. And that there were one hundred and twenty-four lives lost on Starbase Sixteen? Fifty-two more on those gunships. The entire Epsilon Indrii colony, gone. And my people? Two officers in their twenties dead, dozens injured. One of my engineers lost a leg, and two more crew are still in a coma. Fuck, yeah, I’m emotionally compromised, and it has nothing to do with my first officer.” Jim took a breath. Toeffler’s mouth was hanging open and he was shaking his head.

     The captain continued, leaning forward in his chair and jabbing his finger on the desk for emphasis, “You know, I like how you people pull my apparent influential status out as a weapon, and then never think that it could be used against you. So here it is, Admiral, if you maliciously leak information about our bond or threaten our positions, I’m going to go in front of the Federation Council and ask them who they’re going to trust as a leader: the guys who saved Earth, who brought down Marcus, who stopped Hamilton’s rampage; or a corrupt admiral who’s looking to make out on a power play. And I’ll name names.”

     The admiral sputtered, his eyes wide. “Corrupt? That was Hamilton; I didn’t kill those people. Our philosophy on the future of Starfleet might be similar to his, before he snapped, but we were not responsible for those acts.”

     “Your methods to try to convince me to cooperate seem awfully similar.” Jim noticed the admiral’s allusion to “we”. The way he was shaking in his chair almost confirmed Jim’s original suspicion that the admiral was simply the messenger. And not a very good one at that.

     “Kirk... .” Toeffler’s face was growing paler and paler, his voice weak.

     “Shut up, sir. I told Hamilton I was sick of being threatened, and I’m deadly serious. You try me; I fucking dare you. Now, I don’t know how far I can go in making sure Starfleet never sees this kind of wretched internal decay again, but the way you’re twitching right now suggests it could be pretty far. Whatever I end up saying tomorrow will be my words, and my opinion, and that’s final.”

     Jim stood, eyeing the admiral coldly, but Toeffler merely stared back at him dumbly. After a beat, the captain turned on his heel and simply left. As the doors slid shut behind him, Jim felt strange. He had been able to fight back, finally. But instead of vindication, he felt as if he’d fallen deeper into a hole. Who was hiding behind Toeffler? Was Hamilton simply the tip of the iceberg?

     He had the disconcerting thought, walking down the hall, past officers and cadets, that maybe Starfleet’s current structure wasn’t worth saving. He wished suddenly, and with a pang in his chest, that Chris Pike was here; the only true father figure he’d ever known. Blinking rapidly, he gathered himself, and mentally reached out for his bondmate. Spock? How’s it going? How much longer?

     I estimate another one point five hours, Jim. Are you alright?

     Yeah, alright. I’m gonna take a walk. I’ll meet you at the hotel. Jim felt the rush of concern from his bondmate, and pushed back half-hearted reassurance. He nodded once to the security guard at the exit and stepped out into the rain, lifting his face to feel the coolness wash over him. Walking slowly in the general direction of the hotel, he didn’t bother trying to find an umbrella, instead losing himself in the mist and the streets and his swirling thoughts.

 

 

 

     Over two hours later, a very wet captain punched in his keycode next to the door of an upscale hotel suite near downtown, in the opposite direction from where the Vengeance had crashed devastatingly through the city over two years before. The door clicked open and Jim slunk in, feeling like a drowned cat. The thrill of the weather had worn off, and now all he wanted was a hot shower, some food, and the press of his bondmate’s warm body against his. “Honey, I’m home,” he called, toeing off his squishy boots.

     “Jim!” To his surprise, it was Nyota who came around the corner, still in uniform, staring at him like he was a crazy person. “Where the fuck have you been?”

     “Walking,” he replied, shooting her a look of confusion. “Where’s Spock?”

     Here, Jim, Spock sent, coming around from behind Nyota to offer the ozh’esta to his bondmate.

     Jim met the caress and peered from one to the other. “What’s going on?”

     Spock lowered his hand. “Nyota has discovered an interesting piece of information. She... .”

     “It’s the Kalarians, Jim!” Nyota interrupted excitedly. “I retooled my tracker algorithm during that interminable debrief and ran those messages through it again. The origination was a subcontracting firm run by the Kalarian government. And guess what they build?” She was practically hopping up and down.

     “Wait, wait.” Jim forced his brain to start working. “Kalar. They’re neutral, right?”

     “Affirmative. However, they have an active trade relationship with the Federation, specializing in manufacture and design of advanced technology.” Spock raised an eyebrow and disappeared in the direction of the bedroom as Jim started to openly shiver.

     “Including military prototypes,” cut in Nyota, “like the kind of military prototypes that would become a hot commodity if Hamilton’s original plan went through. So, and here’s the really interesting part, after I saw that result, I cut in to the Arredondo’s comm log, specifically looking at records for anything sent prior to your abduction.”

     Spock returned, carrying a large towel, and handed it to his bondmate. Jim frowned, running the towel across his hair. “We checked those messages already. Anything incriminating had been wiped.”

     Her eyes were shining, and Jim felt Spock’s pride in her through the bond. He tensed, waiting, as she continued eagerly, “The messages themselves had been, yes. But the computer keeps a log of the messages’ o/d stamps, you know, origination/destination, all that, in a separate file. In all the confusion, I didn’t think to check earlier, but when I did just now, I found several stamps to the same Kalarian subcontracting firm linked to the Arredondo’s comm bank.”

     Jim furrowed his brow. “So Hamilton was communicating with those guys?”

     Spock inclined his head. “The timing of the messages appears to suggest that they may have had something to do with our disappearance, perhaps in the form of a payoff to the colony leadership, or the use of Kalarian operatives on Poseidon’s World.” He paused, his eyes intense on Jim’s. “Additionally, the types of mines we encountered in the Gamma Carinae system are precisely the type of weaponry that Kalar is known for developing: advanced, untraceable, and quite effective.”

     Jim ran a hand through his damp, unruly hair. “Well, shit. It does all follow. Hamilton wanted his new vision and thought he needed us to help him secure it. And the Kalarians would stand to make out like bandits if he’s successful, so they lend a hand to make sure his little plan works out. And now... .”

     “And now, it appears they’re working with the next guy leading the charge on the military proposal to make sure you either help out, or keep quiet.” Nyota’s eyes were narrowed. “Spock said you had gone to meet with Toeffler, Jim. How did that go?”

     Jim met her eyes. “Actually, the way it went makes a lot more sense now.” He shook his head. “Ny, let me get a shower and out of these clothes. I’ll fill you both in when I’ve dried off.”

     “Sure, Jim.” She gave him a tentative smile and glanced at the door. “Hey, I’m sorry to barge in like this. If you want, I can just come back tomorrow morning.”

     “No!” Jim reached out and touched her hand. “Thank you for the great work. Please stay.” He glanced between her and Spock. “Have you eaten? Maybe order something from room service? I’ll be out in a minute.”

     “Yes, Jim.” What would you prefer, ashayam?

     Just order me a cheeseburger and fries. And a beer. Jim smiled at them and walked into the bedroom on his way to the shower, pulling his soaked uniform shirts off on the way.

 

 

 

     A short time later, Jim emerged wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, his hair towel-dried, and his cheeks slightly pink from the hot water. Spock and Nyota were sitting on the couch, conversing quietly in Vulcan. On the table in front of them were three covered trays, two beers, and bottle of water. Jim pulled a chair next to the table and pulled off the covers, revealing a plate of salad and two cheeseburgers with fries. “Nice choice,” he murmured to Nyota, giving her a smirk. She flipped her hair back over her shoulder and smirked back, delicately picking up a fry.

     Jim took an enormous bite of his burger and leaned back, savoring it. Then, feeling two pairs of expectant eyes on him, he swallowed and straightened. “So, Toeffler ended up pulling out the expected threat to leak our bond, but I didn’t think his heart was in it. He seemed more nervous than anything, and I got the distinct impression that the whole bit wasn’t even his idea.”

     “Do you think the Kalarians may be strong-arming him?” Nyota asked.

     Jim took a swig of beer. “I don’t know; he seemed very focused on the proposal. I bet he was told to get my cooperation, and to try to play up the bond to do it. Anyway, I kind of told him to fuck off.”

     Spock was silent, and Jim could feel the rapid wash of his thoughts. What is it?

     The Vulcan took a breath. “Jim, if the Kalarians are involved to the extent that we have hypothesized, then they must now be aware of your latest refusal to cooperate. They have resorted to deadly force in the past, and between your experience with Hamilton and your conversation with Toeffler, they may seek to remove you from the equation altogether.”

     Shit. I guess I shouldn’t have run off my mouth. “You don’t think they’d try a direct attack.”

     “I believe we should, at the very least, contact Starfleet Security and inform them of our suspicions.”

     Jim licked his lips, suddenly feeling ice water trickle down his spine at the sense of his bondmate’s carefully hidden anxiety. He stood and took two steps towards the comm, and suddenly felt a jolt through the bond and Spock’s iron grip on his wrist, pulling him to the floor. Nyota landed next to him with a grunt, and Jim felt Spock’s body covering them both as he heard a high-pitched, increasing whine and an explosion rocked the room. Alarms screamed, thick smoke billowed across the floor, and Jim could just see flames licking across the ceiling overhead before his bondmate abruptly rose and pushed the two humans ahead of him towards the door.

     The captain had an arm around Nyota, and, bending low, crashed through the door into the hallway, Spock directly behind him. Jim kept moving, away from the room, as other hotel guest streamed into the corridor, confused and scared, shouts and screams echoing over the shrill cry of the alarm. They heard the automatic fire suppression fields snap on, yet Jim didn’t stop until they had reached the very end of the hall, where the air was clearer and the crowds thinner. The captain glanced over Nyota’s form. “Okay?” he asked. At her shaky nod, he released her and turned to his bondmate. Spock had thrown up his shields at the moment the explosion went off, and Jim looked him over, reaching out to grip both of Spock’s arms. “Are you alright?” he asked, searching his face.

     “There is an injury to my back,” Spock replied quietly, his eyes slightly unfocused. Nyota and Jim exchanged a look and she quickly stepped behind the Vulcan.

     Jim heard her sharp intake of breath, and set his jaw. “Here, sit down,” he commanded. He waited until Spock had settled on the floor and then looked at his bondmate’s back. The Vulcan’s uniform shirts had been ripped open by flying debris, and there were several deep, oozing wounds, green blood dripping down to soak into the carpet beneath them. Nyota had already left to flag down a medic and Jim sat down in front of his bondmate, gripping his hands, a bitter, dark anger taking over his mind. Spock regarded him placidly, even as Nyota returned with a medic and the man sprayed a sealant over the wounds, attached a locator beacon to Spock’s shirt, and spoke into his comm unit for an immediate transport. “I’m going with him,” Jim said softly.

     “Can’t do it, sir. Emergency procedures. You’ll have to meet him there.” The medic had obviously noticed Spock’s uniform, because he added, “I’m sending him to Starfleet Medical Center, sir, don’t worry, they’ll take good care of him.”

     Jim reluctantly let go of his bondmate’s hands and stepped back, feeling Nyota grip his wrist tightly as Spock disappeared in the transporter beam and the medic moved quickly back down the hallway towards other injured.

     “C’mon, Jim, we should go. We’ve got to comm Starfleet Security to get over here and take charge of all this, and I have a feeling we shouldn’t be hanging out waiting for something else to happen.”

     Jim let her tug at his wrist and pull him into a nearby emergency stairwell, feeling suddenly disoriented with the bond shielded as it was. They made their way down the stairs and into the lobby, and the burst of noise and chaos snapped the captain back into action. He exchanged a glance with Nyota, and headed over to a security officer.

 

 

 

     Some time later, Jim sat by Spock’s bedside, wearing a pair of surgical scrubs and slippers. Starfleet Security had already begun an investigation of the attack, and Nyota had remained at the hotel to directly convey their hypothesis as to the Kalarian involvement. Jim had contacted Bones and headed over to Medical as soon as he could, arriving just as the Vulcan had come out of surgery. Now, Spock lay on his stomach, still unconscious, his back covered in a thick, white gel to promote the cellular regeneration process. The surgeon had assured Jim that there wasn’t any permanent damage, and wouldn’t even be any scarring, but that it might take some time for the anesthetic to wear off. Two security officers were on guard outside the door and McCoy had sent a message that he was on his way. The bond was dark and silent, but Jim kept a loose hold of Spock’s hand, letting the shared warmth linger between them.

     The captain didn’t look up immediately as the door slid open, the presence of the guards and anticipation of McCoy’s arrival, keeping his attention on his bondmate. It was only at the sound of an awkward cough that Jim’s head snapped up, and he stood sharply, dropping Spock’s hand and stepping forward aggressively. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

     Admiral Toeffler took a step back, raising his hands. “Captain, please, let me explain.”

     Jim’s eyes were ice. “Explain what? This? No need. I should call security right now and haul your ass out of here.”

     “Please wait and hear me out. I need two minutes. Please.”

     Jim took a breath, let it out. “Two minutes. But if he starts to wake up, you’re done.”

     “That’s fair enough, Captain.” Toeffler lowered his hands and glanced over at Spock’s prone form. “Will he be alright?”

     “You’re on the clock,” Jim replied, glaring.

     “First, I need you to know that I haven’t condoned any incidence of violence. I had no idea of what they were capable of, of what they may have done already, through Hamilton.”

     “They. You mean the Kalarians.”

     “Yes.” If Toeffler was surprised by Jim’s knowledge, he didn’t show it. “I’ve put a lot of effort and personal belief into the idea that Starfleet would function better as a more streamlined, primarily military entity. Evan Hamilton’s plan was one of the best to come down the pipe, and was very timely; I was happy to help him advance it to the Council.”

     He hesitated, wringing his hands. “I had no part in the recent actions taken by the admiral to, uh, ensure your cooperation, and then to remove you altogether. I knew that Kalar would benefit from our plan, as military suppliers, and had consulted with them as to the best way to proceed to win the Council’s approval, but I had never believed they would resort to...this.” He gestured at Spock.

     Jim crossed his arms in front of his chest. “So, you took their advice to threaten me with losing my position.”

     “Yes.” Toeffler looked ashamed. “I should have questioned their knowledge of your bond in the first place. But, what I said to you today was true, Captain. I believed you had entered into the bond as a last resort, and that you were resentful of its restrictions. I thought that promoting the restructuring of Starfleet might give you a chance for seeing justice, for righting the wrong that was done due to our own security lapses; letting you be exposed to the mind-sifter in the first place. When you didn’t respond to that, I thought that I had to resort to another option to keep you from actively opposing our cause.”

     He hung his head. “I should not have threatened you. Or belittled your bond. I did not know that you and he were... .”

     Jim waved his hand, interrupting the admiral. “So, now that you know, what are you going to do about it?”

     Toeffler raised his eyes. “That, Captain, is quite simple. I have withdrawn our proposal from consideration before the Council and initiated a priority investigation into extent of the Kalarian involvement, beginning with this latest act of violence, and including all of Hamilton’s, and my own, personal interactions with their representatives. If they are responsible for this, and for monetarily or substantively supporting Hamilton’s actions, they have committed acts of war against the Federation, and their government will be held accountable.”

     He took a tentative step towards Jim. “I want to sincerely apologize for what has happened, and I intend to try to make it right. I know that the leadership of Starfleet has become a mockery, and I am as much at fault for that as anyone, because I did not take action. I am sorry, Captain.”

     Jim studied him, his intuition telling him that the man was sincere. “Admiral, I understand your intentions, and I hope that something comes of them.” He glanced down at Spock, and then, meeting Toeffler’s eyes again, Jim fixed him with an intense stare. “I do believe Starfleet can rise again to be what it was originally intended to be. I wouldn’t care to be a part of it if I didn’t believe that. Help prove me right, Admiral.”

     Toeffler nodded slowly. “I will, Captain. I promise.”

     The door suddenly slid open again, and McCoy bustled in, glancing rapidly from Jim to Spock to Toeffler, who averted his gaze and, murmuring an apology, turned and left the room.

     McCoy watched him leave and looked at Jim, sticking his thumb out in the direction of the door. “Who was that? What’d he want?”

     Jim’s grim expression didn’t change. “Admiral Toeffler.” A wave of exhaustion washed over him and he sank back into the chair next to the bed, reaching for Spock’s hand again.

     The doctor frowned and stepped over to the other side of the bed, looking over the Vulcan’s back and glancing up at the reading on the panels. “Well, Jim, I talked to the surgeon, and I’m sure she told you the same thing she told me: that your hobgoblin will be fine once he comes out of it. Won’t even need a healing trance. Those lacerations were pretty deep, but the regeneration was effective. He’s lost some blood and will be a little sore, but nothing he can’t handle with a bit of rest.”

     At the captain’s absent nod, McCoy let out a sharp exhalation. “Aren’t you even going to let me know what’s going on, Jim? First we get kidnapped and ruin a perfectly good shore leave. Then we run into a fucking mine field, watch Hamilton blow up a space station and two of our own ships, almost get blown up ourselves, and then spend the last couple weeks limping home. And now, almost as soon as you go dirtside, you’re almost blown up here, too! I mean, what the fuck?”

     Jim sighed, scratching at his head with his free hand. “Honestly, Bones, I just found out myself. You know we figured out that Hamilton wanted me and Spock to champion his grand plan to overhaul the Fleet, right? And he hoped to use that mind-control device on Epsilon Indrii IV to do it?”

     “Yeah,” Bones grumbled. “And when that didn’t work, he tried to get rid of you the old-fashioned way. Or maybe it’s just what admirals do in their spare time these days. You know, chase Jim Kirk and shoot up his ship.”

     Jim glanced up, giving his friend a half-smile. “Right. Anyway, Nyota figured out that there are other players that still really want to see that plan approved by the Council. Toeffler tried to talk me into backing it just this morning, and I was a bit, uh, flippant. I guess the powers behind the throne didn’t take my latest rejection very well and decided to take matters into their own hands.”

     McCoy’s expression was strained. “Well, goddammit, do you at least know who they are?”

     Jim nodded. “We do. Security’s on it, Toeffler’s seen the light and is supposedly taking steps, and after I got here I sent a secure message to Sarek, informing him that his son’s in the hospital and exactly how he was put here. So, I’m guessing the shit’s about to hit the fan for the villains-of-the-week.”

     The doctor stood still for a moment, hands clenched into fists at his sides. Then he walked slowly around, grabbing a chair on the way and dragged it over next to Jim, sitting down and leaning forward. “Huh. Well, I guess it’s all hunky-dory, then.”

     Jim heard the edge of sarcasm in his friend’s voice and softly snorted. “Bones, I swear I don’t go looking for trouble.”

     McCoy shook his head. “Yeah, of course not,” he muttered, “but do you know how many times I’ve composed your eulogy in my head? And his? Because I’m pretty sure that when you die, again, he’s gonna be one step behind you. Or vice fucking versa.”

     “Bones!” Jim’s voice was sharp, but his attention was diverted. He had sensed a growing awareness in the bond, and felt his mate’s fingers move in his.

     McCoy glared, and had opened his mouth to continue when an almost inaudible sound from the bed cut his planned rant short. “Jim.”

     Ignoring McCoy, Jim smiled. Hey, babe. Welcome back.

     Spock’s dark eyes opened, and he shifted his cheek slightly against the pillow. Please do not refer to me as such. I am not an infant.

     Jim’s smile widened. No, but you did get yourself involved with an illogical human who likes to annoy you because you’re really cute when you’re mad.

     “Vulcans do not get mad.” Spock’s words had the slightest petulant tone to it, and brought a smile to McCoy’s face.

     “Could’a fooled me a few times, Spock.” Bones glanced at Jim and lowered his voice. “He’s probably still being affected by the medication.”

     Jim hummed, brushing Spock’s bangs with his free hand. “Nah, I think he’s okay. He’s just talking to me through the bond; he doesn’t like it when I call him pet names.”

     The doctor leaned back and rolled his eyes. “Wow. Didn’t need to know that, Jim.”

     I agree. Please cease your overt expressions of affection in the presence of the doctor.

     Fine, t’hy’la. Jim pulled both hands away and waved them in the air with an exaggerated sigh. “Okay, I get it.” He smiled at both of his friends, enjoying the light banter, despite their circumstances.

     Bones stood up, reaching out to very lightly touch the back of Spock’s leg, his voice unusually gentle. “I’m going to go check in with the attending, now that you’re awake, and see if we can’t get you out of here a little quicker.”

     He shot a quick, almost apologetic look at Jim, who nodded at him reassuringly. “Thanks, Bones.” The captain knew that his friend was deeply concerned and even afraid for both him and Spock, and seemed to be having an especially hard time in the wake of the frightening complications from their abduction.

     Bones nodded back and left the room, and Jim met Spock’s eyes. “Guess who else came for a visit?” Jim mentally relayed to his mate what had happened since he had been transported to Medical: Toeffler’s visit, the security situation, Jim’s message to Sarek.

     Spock raised an eyebrow at this last, but held Jim’s gaze, merely asking, “Will you be presenting your testimony to the Council tomorrow, as scheduled?”

     “Yeah.” Jim leaned back in his chair, letting his legs sprawl out in front of him. “Why the fuck not, at this point?” His voice was flat.

     “What will you say?” Spock’s voice was quiet, but Jim caught glimmers of unease through their connection.

     “The truth,” Jim replied. “Honestly, I don’t know if this situation can be salvaged. Every time I start to think that finally the worst of the corruption has been exposed, that we’ve finally seen the last of the crazies, something else pops up. It’s like we’ve been playing whack-a-mole with the admiralty. And they just keep getting more creative.” He chuckled. “I mean, really, a fucking alien mind-altering device? A mine field? What’s next, a rabid tribble fixed with a miniaturized disruptor cannon?” His chuckle grew into a humorless, almost hysterical laugh, and he bent over, resting his head in his hands.

     Spock watched him, and Jim felt his mate’s thoughts brush his mind. Concern, love, and a strong desire to protect washed over him, comforting him, drawing him back to calm. Please, Jim. You taught me to hope. Do not give up.

     Jim sighed and reached out to brush their fingers together. Never.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: There’s The Job...

 

 

     Several hours later, Jim sat in an armchair in the corner of an apartment within the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters, unable to sleep, watching his bondmate meditate. McCoy, now asleep in the next room down the hall, had arranged for Spock to be released from the medical center under his personal care, and Starfleet Security had insisted they stay within their protective sphere. Lieutenant Commander Toomey, the chief of security aboard the Enterprise, had seized charge of his commanding officers’ protective detail as soon as he had heard about the assassination attempt at the hotel. Nyota was also at Headquarters, collaborating with encryption experts to confirm her work with the Arredondo comm bank and see if any other information from communications records already recovered from the Kalarian subcontractor was forthcoming.

     It was near dawn, and there was just the barest hint of light coming in through the large windows facing the east. Jim’s testimony was scheduled for that morning, in the Council chambers. Even in the short time since the attack the previous day, the Kalarian issue had taken precedence, and the debate over determining the best path for the future governance of Starfleet had reached fever pitch amongst the delegations of the member planets of the Federation.

     Slowly, Jim roused himself and walked to the bathroom, intent on a hot shower. He was still wearing the hospital scrubs, and could feel grit in his hair and on his skin from the explosion. He stripped, dropping the garments on the floor haphazardly, and looked at himself in the mirror. His skin still held a tan from his three days on Poseidon’s World, seemingly so long ago. That was, except for the wide swath of pale, recently regenerated skin across his midsection. There was a slight bruise on one of his wrists, where Spock had pulled him to the floor to avoid the blast.

     Jim thought of seeing the Enterprise in that drydock in Iowa, years ago, and remembered that first, bright sensation of awe and excitement, the promise of what a future in Starfleet might hold. Now, as he looked at his reflection, he wondered if he had any room for such idealism left. Jim thought of Siforit’s words to him, The challenge is not yet over, and remembered his deep-seated, crawling anger. Anger that still lurked within him. He swallowed, trying to push away feelings of uselessness, defeat, frustration. He wondered if his words today would have as much of an impact as Hamilton and his co-conspirators had feared, or if the tendrils of corruption would have reached the Council, too. Perhaps it was an exercise in futility after all, and all of their recent struggles in vain. Turning, he keyed in his shower settings and stepped in, sighing as the hot water hit his skin.

     As his body relaxed, he felt his bondmate’s awareness in the next room, and mentally sent an invitation. He closed his eyes, and heard the bathroom door quietly open and shut and felt a gentle wash of cool air as his Vulcan stepped in behind him, allowing the shower door to slide closed. He turned, and met Spock’s brown eyes, not needing their bond to read concern there.

     Ashayam, I can sense your anger and frustration. I can feel your struggle.

     Jim shrugged absently. “Am I just another cog in the machine? I can’t imagine that I am so different; that I won’t, someday, let all this anger and hate build up and make me someone new, like Marcus did. Like Hamilton did.” He frowned. “You know, Siforit, of all people, spoke to me of challenges. And this challenge, to move beyond this...this anger... .” His voice shook and his eyes lowered. “I don’t know if I can do it.”

     Spock raised paired fingers to stroke his mate’s face. “Humans display a consistent ability to doubt themselves, despite all evidence to the contrary. If you will not accept what you know to be true, than allow me to convince you.” His fingers drifted down to Jim’s collar bone. I know your mind as I know my own. I have touched your katra. Your anger is justified, as mine was, when my planet was destroyed. But you must not allow it to control you. Rather, you must use it as a motivation to do what must be done, as dictated by your higher understanding of what is good, and right. This darkness is not who you are; it does not sit well on you.

     Jim sighed softly, shaking his head. “I don’t know. I suddenly feel so fucking helpless. Here, let me see your back.” Tentatively, he grasped his mate’s shoulders and turned him slightly. All that remained of the previously deep, angry wounds were pale swatches of regenerated skin, similar to what Jim had observed on his own body. The captain probed their mind link, and found no sense of lingering pain, just perhaps some muscle weakness and soreness.

     Satisfied, Jim allowed the Vulcan to turn to face him and lifted his own hand, running it over Spock’s chest, down to his side, where he felt the already rapid heartbeat thrum even faster under his touch. Spock’s eyes were intense, staring into Jim’s as if he was reading his very soul. Suddenly, the Vulcan reached to clasp Jim’s neck, pulling him forward into a human kiss. Their mouths met and opened into each other, and Jim moved eagerly forward to press their bodies together, their arms wrapping tightly around each other, fingers grasping into flesh, the steam making their bodies slick. The passionate kiss lingered and Jim felt light-headed, the heat of the water and of his mate’s body making him lean more fully against Spock. Finally, Jim broke away, his chest heaving, and gasped for air as his mate bent his head to press his mouth to Jim’s neck. Jim felt a surge of possessiveness through the bond as his mate’s lips and tongue moved on his skin. He shifted slightly, and pulled back just enough for Spock’s head to rise and a smoldering, dark gaze to focus on him.

     I will tend to you. His mate’s mental voice was nothing short of a command, and Jim felt himself turned so that his body was just out of reach of the spray of hot water. Strong, soapy hands moved over his body in smooth, languid strokes, and Jim closed his eyes, luxuriating in the feel of it. He was gently nudged forward, feeling the spray of water run down his face and chest, and his Vulcan moved behind him, massaging shampoo into his hair, and more soap into his back and neck, letting Jim feel his mate’s tantalizing desire to please, to serve. Slick hands ran down Jim’s arms, entwining their fingers, sending a brief surge of electric sensation along the captain’s body before Spock pulled away and focused lower.

     Jim couldn’t help a powerful surge of desire as he felt his mate’s warm breath on his ass as Spock knelt to run his soapy hands over and between Jim’s legs, caressing and fondling. Slowly, the Vulcan stood again, and turned the human so that the hot water ran over his head and back, running his fingers through the captain’s hair. Jim tipped his head back and moaned as his mate stepped forward, licking and kissing his exposed neck and gripping the captain’s hardened penis in a warm, slick hand. Lust and more poured along their bond.

     Jim kept his eyes closed as his mate’s mouth moved up his jaw, teeth scraping against stubble, and captured the human’s lips in an aggressive, open-mouthed kiss, his hand stroking Jim’s cock with devastating precision. Their mental connection was alive with a slurry of words and feelings, and Jim was entranced by what he sensed from his Vulcan: devotion, a thrilling, sultry sense of surrender, and hunger for Jim’s body. The captain was becoming rapidly overwhelmed by a wave of ecstasy from the physical stimulation and the mental awareness that his Vulcan’s formidable intensity was focused solely on pleasuring his mate. The human gasped as his partner abruptly tore his mouth away to lower himself and practically swallow Jim’s aching member in one smooth motion. Strong hands kneaded Jim’s ass, and Jim threw his arms out to steady himself against the cool, slippery walls, murmuring incoherently as his sudden, forceful release pulsed into his mate’s mouth.

     Spock pulled his mouth away, but remained kneeling in front of him as Jim moved his arms down from his braced position and ran his hands through his mate’s thick, wet hair. Dark eyes glittered up at the human, and Jim couldn’t help his sharp intake of breath as the tip of a Vulcan tongue peeked out to slowly run along swollen lips. The whole experience had been deeply erotic, and Spock’s unexpectedly seductive behavior made Jim feel empowered, in control, and more like himself than he had in a long while. Jim could feel a sense of satisfaction run along the bond and he smiled down at his mate. I’ll never believe you again when you insist you don’t understand humans.

     All that I am is yours, ashayam, even this.

     Jim chuckled, caressing a pointed ear. I think you just prefer me being a cocky, arrogant prick.

     Spock stood gracefully and reached behind Jim to turn off the water. “Perhaps, Jim. It does invoke a sense of, as humans say, nostalgia?”

     The captain’s grin lit up his face, and he slapped Spock’s shoulder, sending a spray of droplets into the air. “C’mon, Pointy. Let’s go fix the store.”

 

 

 

     The trip to the Federation Council chambers was a fairly short one by automated aircar, and Jim sat in the back next to his bondmate, looking out the tinted windows at the security escort vehicles gliding alongside. Across from him, fidgeting in his dress uniform, McCoy scowled and rubbed his hands together.

     Spock sat placidly, flipping through his PADD, appearing infinitely more comfortable in his own dress grays. At the sound of the doctor’s exaggerated sigh, Jim turned his head, giving his friend a half-smile. “What’s the matter, Bones? Suit too tight or something?”

     The doctor grunted and pulled dramatically at his collar. “I swear this thing gets stiffer every time I wear it. Fucking annoying.” He eyed Jim. “And what’s with you, anyway? Ever since you climbed in here you’ve had that stupid smirk plastered on your face.”

     “Have not.” Jim tried valiantly to wrestle his facial muscles into a more solemn arrangement, to no avail. He cleared his throat and addressed his first officer in an attempt to sidetrack the doctor. “Uh, Mr. Spock, how long until we get there?”

     The Vulcan did not look up from his screen. “Approximately ten point two minutes, Captain.”

     McCoy glanced between them and leaned back against the headrest with a groan. “Jim, I swear, he’s just out of the damn hospital. What the fuck?”

     “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Bones,” Jim mumbled.

     Spock pointedly ignored the exchange. “Captain, I have just received a message from Sarek. He requests our presence in his chambers after the morning session has concluded.”

     That succeeded in removing Jim’s smile. “Uh, I guess so; I mean, depending on how the testimony goes and everything. Did he say why?”

     Spock looked up, an eyebrow raised. “I anticipate he will wish to discuss your testimony, sir.” He paused. “Also, I believe he wishes to meet with us regarding more personal matters.”

     The doctor snorted and Jim shot him a dark look. “Sure, Spock, tell him that would be fine.”

     “Affirmative, sir.”

     McCoy’s eyes flicked between his two commanding officers. “Are you two ready for this?”

     Jim cracked the knuckles of his left hand absently, glancing out the window again before looking at the doctor. “What do you mean, Bones?”

     “I mean,” Bones replied, with emphasis, “that you might be called out here. Your bond, or whatever. During questioning, the Council will probably be made aware of it. Are you prepared for that?”

     Spock’s eyes rose from the screen to meet the doctor’s almost challenging gaze, and before Jim could reply, the Vulcan lifted the hand closest to Jim, two fingers outstretched. Jim, who had turned his head slightly towards his bondmate, caught the gesture, and returned it immediately, their fingers touching and pressing together, holding firmly. McCoy watched the Vulcan expression of intimacy with equanimity before turning his gaze away, a strange look flitting across his face.

 

 

 

     The Federation Council chamber was large, and intimidating, despite being mostly empty. The media and spectators were absent, as well as the general aides and runners, taking into account the classified testimony that would be taking place. Jim sat alone at a long table, facing a dais where the assembled Committee on Starfleet Governance, which included Sarek, waited. He felt his bondmate’s presence in the mostly deserted seating area behind him. They had not allowed McCoy into the chamber, provoking a bout of grumbling on the doctor’s part, but Jim knew his friend was waiting for him just outside the doors, and the thought comforted him. He raised his chin slightly, as the Committee Chair, Thrila of Andoria, gaveled the session to order.

     The questioning began and proceeded along predictable lines. The Committee members wished to know of Jim’s previous interactions with Hamilton, and the circumstances that led to the captain’s early assertion of the admiral’s involvement in the command team’s abduction. They asked about the encounter with the mine field, and the events leading up to the destruction of Starbase Sixteen. The final confrontation with the Arredondo was discussed, and Jim’s decision to allow Siforit to return to his people brought up. Finally, the investigation of Kalar’s role in the destruction of Starfleet personnel and equipment was introduced.

     Jim provided the facts in clear, concise terms. He attempted to ignore the sidelong looks and murmurs that the reluctant disclosure of his bond with his second-in-command caused. He forced himself to remain largely impassive as accusations of treason were thrown at him over the Ren shat’var involvement in the battle. He listened silently as the Committee’s discussion of the entire situation slowly broke down into attacks and counter-attacks, sniping, and political maneuvering. Kalar had been a leading supplier of advanced weaponry and systems, commanding lucrative contracts, and each member of the Committee seemed more concerned with advancing its own replacement candidate than actually discussing the prevailing matter at hand.

     Two hours into the session, Jim shifted in his seat impatiently, his carefully-controlled mask failing in the midst of a ridiculous argument between two Committee members. His expression was not lost on the delegate from Tellar, who snorted loudly, bringing all discussion to a halt.

     “Are you finding the debate boring, Captain?”

     Jim narrowed his eyes. “With respect, Councilor, what debate? I came here to offer testimony regarding the recent hostile actions of a member of Starfleet, with an aim to reform the service, not to listen to,” he waved an arm at the collected membership, “this.”

     The silence in the chamber was deafening. Finally, Thrila spoke, “If you have something substantive to add, Captain, please do so.”

     Jim was about to speak when the V’roshi delegate rose angrily. “Why are we listening to him in the first place? He has allowed the escape of a wanted terrorist! He is part of the problem!”

     The Tellarite snorted again. “I agree. Perhaps the captain’s opinion would be more appropriately heard over the question of the Vulcan population crisis, as he is apparently personally interested in those matters.”

     Jim paled, and he glanced at Sarek, whose face was like ice.

    “I would hear the captain speak.” The smooth voice came from the far end of the dais, where the Deltan delegate raised her hands. “He is right to emphasize his purpose here. Our purpose. We have been confronted with a profound weakness in our Fleet, and it is a weakness that recent evidence suggests is in immediate need of repair. Perhaps if my esteemed colleagues could cease their pathetic personal attacks on the captain, who is a highly respected and decorated officer and here at our invitation, we could return ourselves to the heart of the matter.”

     Thrila banged his gavel as the auditorium erupted in noise. Jim stood, determinedly, and held out his hand. As an uneasy quiet descended again in the hall, the captain took a breath, reaching mentally for his bondmate’s support, and spoke:

     “I am a starship captain. There are not many of us, but we have a unique perspective. There is a fine line between love and hate, between friendship and enmity, between trust and deceit. The line exists also between peace and war. I am directly responsible for over four hundred lives. And if you place my ship in its proper place as a guardian of the Federation, then my responsibility extends even further. My job is often to compromise, to exist in the shades of gray between the two extremes. War and peace. Alliance and fracture. However, my allegiance has no such subtleties.

     “I am a citizen of the Federation. A system built on individual freedom, personal rights and responsibility, and the belief that peace and humanitarian ideals should be the flag behind which our collective might gathers. Starfleet is that might. However, as it exists now, it is not worthy of the flag, nor of the allegiance it demands.

     “Twice, now, I have been directly confronted by high-ranking representatives of the very institution that I have sworn to serve. My ship and my people threatened, the ideals that we endeavor to follow twisted and undermined in the pursuit of relentless greed and callous self-promotion hidden under a guise of security.

     “We cannot allow this to continue. We cannot allow individual failings to dictate collective idealism. I have heard it said that risk is my business. So be it. But let that risk be for what lies ahead of us, instead of what lingers behind. The debate, as it were, between taking a warlike or a peaceful stature is meaningless. We must be both, as necessary. But we must always remain within the limits of our purpose. To explore. To seek out new civilizations. To boldly go. To be the best example of what we are. We cannot fail at this last, for we would be our own worst enemy. In order to be ready for the great encounters of tomorrow, we need to first reconcile ourselves with the internal conflicts of today, for that is where we would be most fundamentally defeated.

     “I ask only that we look back to what we imagined when we first learned of what our flag meant. Of what we could be, and how it allowed us to extend ourselves into what we are. We cannot let go of that optimism, or that idealism. Our service should reflect that. And it comes down to each one of us. Be that change. Make us proud. Let us all look to the future with hope.”

     Jim’s words echoed within the silent chamber, and he took a slight step back, bumping his legs softly against the hard chair behind him. His mind was filled with the wash of pride and approval of his mate, and, after a beat, his ears were filled with the sound of applause, beginning quietly, and rising with a breath-taking crescendo to fill the vast room with a powerful sound.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: ...And Then There’s Family

 

 

     The captain and first officer of the Enterprise stood shoulder to shoulder immediately inside the spacious office of the New Vulcan Ambassador. Behind a large, darkly-colored wooden desk, Sarek stood as well, taking in both men with an intense, unblinking stare. After a moment, he raised his hand in the ta’al. “My son. Captain. Please be seated.”

     Jim and Spock offered the ritual gesture in turn and moved forward to seat themselves in front of the imposing desk. Sarek lowered himself elegantly into his own chair and regarded Jim. “Regarding your testimony, Captain, your eloquence was commendable.”

     Jim’s eyes widened as he digested that statement and he shifted slightly in his seat. “Uh, thank you, Ambassador. I simply wanted to speak my mind.”

     “I found it rather illuminating.” Sarek’s face and voice were inscrutable, and Jim wondered if he’d just been insulted. It was the first time he had been face-to-face with the ambassador since the attack on New Vulcan and the uncomfortable disclosure of the presence of their bond. Jim knew that even though Sarek accepted the connection as logical, due to their status as t’hy’la, he did not necessarily approve of it, and, as far as Jim knew, had not bothered to contact Spock in the intervening months to discuss it further.

     The ambassador continued, “Even in the short time since we adjourned from the special session, I have become aware that your words have inspired a considerable reaction amongst the Committee members. I believe that you will be contacted to provide a central role in the reform of Starfleet leadership and structure over the upcoming weeks.”

     Jim simply nodded, not sure of what to say. Sarek raised an eyebrow. “As you are aware, there are multiple proposals pending. The recently controversial plan originally authored by Admiral Hamilton appears to no longer be under consideration, however, it appears that your opinion will be solicited and your recommendations given significant weight. May I ask your intentions?”

     Spock turned his head to look at Jim, and the captain took a breath and straightened in his chair. “My intentions, sir, are simple. I wish for the leadership of Starfleet to more closely adhere to the ideals under which they originally swore to serve, and for the combined Fleet to function as a cohesive entity. Military might cannot be fully divorced from a peace-keeping and exploratory mission, but it also should not define it.”

     Sarek inclined his head. “Indeed, Captain.”

     “However,” Jim continued, “I have not endorsed any particular proposal as yet, and, frankly, am not inclined to do so. You, of course, are aware of the recent threats we’ve faced.” He glanced at Spock. “I’m not sure if my opinion truly would carry as much weight as the seriousness of the threats and violence implied, but I’d prefer not to court more trouble.”

     “I understand, Captain. It is my opinion that your words will be influential. You have done more to expose and combat the recent threats to the Federation, both external and internal, than any other.”

     “It wasn’t just me... ,” Jim began, raising a hand towards Spock.

     Sarek interrupted, “Nevertheless, it is you who will be the figurehead.” He paused, his eyebrows coming together just slightly over the bridge of his nose. “It was perhaps unfortunate that your association with my son was revealed in such a forum.”

     “Perhaps,” Jim replied carefully, “though I’m not sure it could be helped, given the line of questioning. In any case, the information remains classified, and the Council members are bound by that stricture as well.”

     The ambassador tilted his head. “The threats you received focused on the exposure of your bond, did they not? Despite the continued classification of that information, the hearing today may well introduce such exposure. There are still parties wishing to remove you from your position or exploit your influence. And now they may be interested in exploiting your bond as well.”

     Jim took a breath, wondering what the ambassador meant by that. “I suppose we’ll deal with that situation if and when it occurs.”

     The ambassador’s black eyes flicked to Spock and back. “And if the situation requires that you leave Starfleet?”

     Jim’s brow furrowed, but it was Spock who answered, “That scenario is unlikely, Father. The captain has a clear record of effective and efficient leadership despite the presence of the bond. Our status has been acknowledged by the admiralty.”

     Sarek's eyes remained on Jim. “Acknowledged, yes, but not accepted. Such a relationship remains officially discouraged, if not outright forbidden, and would no doubt be viewed as a liability by the balance of Starfleet.”

     The captain cut in, “Ambassador, we’re well aware of the potential conflicts. Strictly speaking, yes, if news of our bond gets out, we could be forced to step down.” Speaking the words so plainly caused a knot to well up in Jim’s throat, and he swallowed fiercely to force it away.

     The ambassador raised his chin slightly. “If such a scenario comes to pass, Captain, or if you find yourself of a mind to leave the Fleet for an alternative reason, I hope you will consider the possibility of a position in this office. You are a citizen of New Vulcan and a member of my House, as a consequence of your bond with my son. Your performance today indicates that you possess a certain degree of diplomatic skill.”

     Jim stared. “Uh, thank you, sir. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.” Mentally, he prodded the bond. Is he serious? He’s fucking serious, isn’t he. He thinks we’re going to get kicked off the Enterprise.

     My father is always serious. Spock’s eyes remained on his father.

     “See that you do, Captain.” Sarek rose, and Jim and Spock did likewise. “I must now attend to an important matter and shall bid you live long and prosper.” He offered the ta’al again.

     Jim reflexively returned it, and the next thing he knew he was standing out in the hallway, the heavy door closed behind him, staring at his bondmate with an open mouth. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Did he even get my message about you being injured? He barely even looked at you! What the fuck? And what the fuck was that about losing our posts? Does he know something we don’t? Jim’s head started to hurt with the force of his mental tirade.

     With a slight flinch, Spock turned to walk away, and Jim hurriedly followed alongside, aware of the other people moving along the corridor in either direction. The captain caught a flutter of deep emotion moving along the bond, quickly and sharply repressed, and let his shoulder brush almost imperceptibly against Spock’s. What’s wrong?

     Spock’s chin rose. When I received Sarek’s initial message arranging the meeting, I was under the impression that he would at some point address the matter of a formal bonding ceremony, as is customary.

     “Oh.” Jim couldn’t help speaking out loud. Such a ceremony was only done at the invitation and with the arrangement of the head of House, and only after a bond was considered settled. The ceremony itself was brief, private, and immaterial to the actual bond, but it represented official familial acceptance and recognition that was, as Jim understood it, quite significant in Vulcan culture. As significant, Jim thought darkly, as the lack of such a ceremony would indicate familial rejection or indifference.

     The captain couldn’t help a swell of anger, and Spock, sensing his mate’s sudden protectiveness, touched his mind reassuringly along the bond. It is of no consequence, ashayam. My father’s wishes have long conflicted with my own and I have learned to seek acceptance elsewhere.

     Jim allowed their hands to brush together discretely and briefly as they walked, but didn’t otherwise respond. His mind raced, and he chewed the inside of his cheek. He was startled out of his reverie by the sound of his beeping communicator. “Kirk here.”

     “This is Ensign Singh from Admiral Fitzpatrick’s office, sir. The admiral wishes to see you and Commander Spock back at Headquarters right away.”

     Jim made a face, but kept his voice even. “Certainly, Ensign. Please inform the admiral that we’re on our way. Kirk out.” He flipped the unit closed and stopped in the hallway, crossing his arms and looking at Spock, who had halted in front of him and clasped his hands behind his back. “Well, here we go. From what Sarek said, I’m guessing this isn’t just going to be an ‘atta boy’ meeting.”

     “Indeed, Captain.”

     Admiral Fitzpatrick was the newly appointed Head of Starfleet Operations, after the death of Rosamund Spencer on Starbase Sixteen, and was largely an unknown quantity. Jim shook his head, glancing briefly at the ceiling before returning his gaze to his bondmate and sighing, “Alright, Mr. Spock. Let’s get this over with.”

 

 

 

     Jim was openly fidgeting by the time he and Spock were seated in a small conference room back at Headquarters. The return trip by escorted aircar had seemed interminable. Bones had insisted on accompanying them back, and Jim had gloomily recounted Sarek’s implied warning. The majority of the ride had passed in silence, and Bones had left them at the entrance with a clasp of Jim’s hand and a nod to Spock.

     Now, both men stood at attention as the door to the conference room opened and Fitzpatrick stepped through. He was a tall, handsome man in his early fifties with graying dark hair and piercing eyes. Jim had not met him before, but knew that he had spent most of his career as the captain of a series of science and exploratory vessels, and then as Commodore in charge of Starbase Twelve, which was located in a notoriously dangerous region of space near the Orion trading routes.

     “Captain, Commander. Good to finally meet you.” Fitzpatrick extended his hand to Jim, and nodded to Spock. “Please sit. I’m sorry for calling you back here right away; I know both of you have had a rough time of it since your ship docked.” He looked at Spock. “How are you, Commander? I heard you were injured in the hotel attack yesterday afternoon.”

     All three men took their seats and Spock inclined his head. “I am functional, Admiral.”

     The admiral grunted. “Good. You can rest assured that a full investigation is pending. Thanks to the work of your communications officer, evidence supplied by Admiral Toeffler’s office, and the information you both provided regarding Hamilton and the suspected Kalarian involvement, I’m pretty sure the bastards responsible will get what’s coming to them.”

     He licked his lips and leaned forward, tapping a stylus on the table. “The Kalarian government is officially pulling back from any involvement with present and future trade contracts associated in any way with Hamilton’s withdrawn proposal. I have a feeling they’re going to try to convince us it was the actions of a few corrupt manufacturers that led to this situation in order to avoid a major meltdown in the planetary economy. In any case, future dealings with them will be placed under heavy scrutiny.” He peered at Jim, tilting his head, “In fact, as part of the investigation, all current suppliers are being examined for evidence of preferential treatment or coercive actions. I know this whole thing has been messy, Captain, but I believe some good will come out of it in the end.”

     “Thank you, sir.” Jim met the admiral’s gaze levelly.

    The admiral continued, “So, about your speech; I’ve heard that you put on quite the show. I’ve been informed that your opinion will be heavily leaned upon when deciding how to handle the restructuring of the Fleet, if there is any restructuring to be done.”

     Jim tensed, waiting for a veiled threat, or a greasy bid for his support, or an offer of advancement subject to certain conditions. But Fitzpatrick simply gave him a satisfied half-smile. “I, for one, couldn’t be happier about that. You’ve performed admirably, Captain. You’ve persevered through challenges that could have led, several times, to the ruin of Starfleet, and you’ve done it with honor and with the continued loyalty and respect of your crew.”

     He glanced over at Spock. “I know that your mental bond has been the subject of much of the recent threats made against you. I, for one, have not seen any evidence that either of you have allowed it to adversely affect the performance of your duties. In fact, from your reports, it appears to have served as a strategic advantage. I will continue to recommend discretion, primarily for security reasons, but I want to inform you personally that your command is not in jeopardy.”

     Jim couldn’t help a slightly surprised look, and the admiral chuckled. “Not what you’re used to hearing, right?”

     The captain quirked his lips. “To say the least, sir.”

     “Look,” Fitzpatrick leaned back in his chair, “I was on the front lines for a while, and know what it means to have to make split-second decisions in complicated situations. I know the value of compromise, and how to recognize when something that may not be completely by-the-book is still the best possible option. I do not believe that you are dangerously emotionally compromised, or that you are callously taking advantage of the situation to further your personal agenda, despite what others might say. You two are arguably the best command team in the Fleet, and the past months have been no different, in my opinion. However, I’m sure you’re aware that not everyone shares my opinion.” Fitzpatrick’s gaze became intense, and he raised his eyebrows.

     Jim frowned. “Would you mind explaining that, sir?”

     The admiral looked slightly uncomfortable, and breathed out sharply. “This is off the record.” At Jim’s nod, he continued, “There are those who see your bond at the least as a violation of protocol, and at the worst an invitation for treason. I do not believe that they would attack you directly, but your performance is being closely watched.” He glanced at the shiny tabletop, avoiding Jim’s eyes. “Also, there are some who are eager to use your bond for tactical purposes. Particularly since you seem to have made a connection with members of the Ren shat’var.”

     Jim felt Spock’s unease across their link and narrowed his eyes, his mind making the intuitive leap. “If they’re thinking about sending Spock over there to infiltrate that group, they’re fucking crazy, sir. The Ren shat’var know who we are. There’d be no way he could go in without being recognized.”

     Fitzpatrick mouth tightened. “It would be both of you, together.”

     Spock’s voice was quiet. “For such a plan to work, it would be necessary for them to believe we had a reason to betray the Federation. In addition to being of tactical advantage, the bond would present the most logical reason for an apparent demotion or removal from the Fleet, perhaps leading us to appear to consider a path of revenge.”

     Suddenly Jim wondered how much Sarek knew, and his reasons for assuring him of a place outside the Fleet. He leaned forward. “Is this happening, Admiral?”

     The admiral shook his head. “Not yet. The bottom line is we can’t afford to be a command team short right now, and I’m not willing to lose you indefinitely to such a vague assignment. But, and I repeat that this is strictly off the record, the subject has been discussed at the highest levels, and you should be prepared for such orders in the future, if the Ren shat’var threat continues to grow.”

     Jim rubbed his hand over his forehead and remained silent. Fitzpatrick stood, signaling the end of the meeting, a sad expression haunting his face. “In any case, I want to congratulate you, gentlemen, on a job well done under extremely difficult circumstances. You will both be receiving commendations for your actions, and can be assured of my office’s continued support.”

     Jim and Spock both stood as well. “Thank you, sir.” Jim’s reply was subdued.

     “Dismissed, gentlemen.”

 

 

 

     Jim lay on the bed back in the apartment on the grounds of Headquarters, one arm thrown over his eyes. He had pulled off his formal jacket and boots, but felt too tired to do much else. The lack of food and sleep and the whirlwind of activity since the Enterprise docked had finally caught up with him, but he was still restless, his mind turning over and over the events of the day. Through the closed bedroom door, he could hear the sound of voices, and could sense the warm presence of his bondmate in his mind. Spock and Bones had returned with him to the apartment and Jim had shrugged off any attempt at conversation before retreating to the bedroom, alone.

     The sound of the door opening and shutting forced him to remove his arm, blinking up at the sight of the doctor’s face. McCoy’s scowl was more pronounced than usual. “C’mon, kid. We’re getting you the hell out of here.”

     Jim raised his eyebrows, mumbling, “Oh yeah? Just where are we going?”

     Bones reached down and tugged at his elbow. “Out. For a drink, or several. You, me, Nyota, and even your hobgoblin. No shop talk, and Toomey’s actually found a place that he’ll give us the okay for, security-wise. Normally, I’d prescribe rest, but I think this’ll do you one better.”

     Jim threw his arm back over his eyes. “Bones... .”

     McCoy’s voice softened. “Jim, you’ve been going non-stop. You’ve had shit thrown at you from every direction. You’ve had your brain fried, watched your bondmate almost die, almost died yourself, been blown up, gotten into a few firefights, and over the past day or so have faced down Sarek, the Federation Council, and a bunch of asshole admirals. You need to cut loose.” He huffed softly, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Seriously. Even Spock thinks this is a good idea. He said he wouldn’t wear his uniform and that he would actually drink something.”

     Jim peeked out over his arm. “Alcohol doesn’t really do anything for him.”

     Bones threw his hands in the air. “Whatever, Jim! He’s going, and so are you.”

 

 

 

     Almost two hours later, Jim sprawled out in the back booth in a dimly lit corner of a local Starfleet-frequented bar, pressed as close against the side of his bondmate’s body as possible without actually sitting on him. One of his hands was wrapped around a half-full glass of Saurian brandy, and the other was hidden under the table, fingers entwined with Spock’s. The captain had passed the point of pleasantly buzzed about a half-hour after walking in the bar, and was now happily within the realm of being officially drunk. Across the table, McCoy and Nyota talked quietly, their own drinks in front of them. Spock had ordered a glass of wine, as he had promised the doctor, but it was barely touched, and Jim was pretty sure that the slightly widened brown eyes, soft expression, and willingness to allow Jim’s touch in public, even if under the table, were due to a degree of transference across the bond. The thought made the captain smile smugly, and he moved his fingers sensuously within Spock’s grip, eliciting a rare greenish blush from the Vulcan. Bones caught the look and snorted, nudging Nyota with his elbow. She shook her head and smoothly slid out of the booth, tilting her head at her inebriated friend. “You want to dance, Jim, before you get yourself into trouble?”

     The captain blinked and his smile widened. “Hell, yeah.” He turned his head to wink at his bondmate and separated their hands, sliding out of the booth and following his communications officer to the dance floor.

     With the cessation of physical contact, Spock’s eyes slowly returned to their normal intensity, though his posture was still loose and his face more relaxed than usual. Bones eyed him thoughtfully. “So, uh, you guys okay now? No more katric transfers or whatnot?”

     Spock raised an eyebrow. “You are aware of our current status, Doctor.”

     McCoy narrowed his eyes, annoyed. “Leonard. Call me Leonard when we’re not on duty, will ya? I mean, goddamn, you’re bonded to my best friend. If I gotta be stuck with you, I’d at least like to hear you call me my given name.”

     Dark eyes regarded him placidly. “You do not approve of our bond.”

     It was not a challenge or an accusation, simply a statement of fact. McCoy’s eyes widened and he cleared his throat. “Uh, I never said that exactly.”

     Spock’s gaze did not waver, and McCoy spun his glass in his hands, shifting slightly under the scrutiny. The Vulcan continued, “The absence of such does not concern me, but I believe that humans tend to suffer when approval of a relationship is denied by friends and family. May I ask your reasons for withholding your sanction?”

     “I really don’t want to get into this right now,” McCoy replied shortly, shaking his head and glancing around for the waitress.

     “Doctor, I do not understand your reluctance to converse on this matter. It is most illogical to avoid a topic that may be of significance to the captain’s well-being.”

     Annoyance turned into a wave of sudden anger that washed over the doctor, and he scowled, responding reflexively, “His well-being? You mean besides the soul-sucking and the impromptu mental re-arrangement? Besides the fact that he’s gotten himself hitched permanently to someone who won’t ever smile at him or just touch him openly in public? Someone whose entire culture is set up to avoid admitting that love even exists? Yeah, it’s definitely my lack of approval that’s bad for his well-being.” He stopped abruptly, realizing belatedly that he’d half-risen out of his seat, fists clenched. The doctor took a breath and pressed both hands flat on the table, lowering himself back down.

     Spock had flinched slightly before his usual impassive mask fell across his face, wiping away the gentle look from before. McCoy felt a pang of guilt. “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from.” He twisted his lips and peered at the Vulcan defensively.

     Spock blinked once. “It is interesting that my father also disapproves of the bond, but for precisely the opposite reason with respect to myself.”

     Bones shrugged, mumbling, “Well, I guess that’s the problem with being half-human.” He winced as the words came out. “Jesus, Spock, I... .”

     The Vulcan’s face did not change, but a shadow flashed through his expressive eyes. “I cannot change what I am. Jim accepts this as no one else has.”

     Bones shifted in his seat uncomfortably, and looked over to where Jim and Nyota were dancing, Jim laughing uproariously at something Nyota was saying. Reluctantly, he brought his eyes back to Spock. “Listen, Jim’s my best friend, and I’m protective of him, you know that. And it’s been hard to watch him go through a lot of what’s happened lately. I can’t help thinking that it would have been easier if you and he weren’t, you know, mentally hooked up.” He sighed. “I mean, I know you saved his life, but... .” He trailed off.

     Spock straightened in his seat. “There is no need to explain further, Doctor.”

     McCoy glared. “Yes, dammit, there is. I don’t understand the first thing about your Vulcan voodoo, and why Jim would be so damn infatuated with it. Or so infatuated with you, even before the bond.”

     He snorted lightly, pointing a finger at Spock, his voice tinged with sarcasm. “No offense. So, I guess I’m admitting to petty human jealousy and stubbornness.” The Vulcan simply looked at him, and Bones’ frown deepened, but his voice was softer. “Look, I’m just scared of what else could go wrong and I wouldn’t even understand it. I can’t help him with this, or save him from it, and I feel useless.”

     The Vulcan lowered his eyes. “I would protect him, even with my life.”

     McCoy sighed. “You do protect him, I’ll give you that. But you’re a Vulcan; you can’t love him. There are things humans need, especially humans like Jim. He’s gone through some shit, Spock. Stuff that someone else might not even bother to try to live with. You might be at his side, and you might be mentally compatible or whatever, but I doubt you can be what he truly needs. Like you said, you can’t change; it’s just not what you are.”

     Spock raised his eyes again, and there was a glimmer of distress in them. “Doctor, I... .”

     “Hey!” Jim appeared next to the table and took a sip from his glass. “You two look serious.” He poked Spock in the shoulder with a finger. “Nyota wants to dance with you.” You okay? I felt something was wrong.

     “Of course.” Spock rose smoothly from the booth. It is well, Jim. The Doctor and I were merely having a discussion. He walked away towards Nyota, and Jim glanced after him with concern before sliding back into the booth opposite the doctor.

     McCoy leaned back casually. “How’re you doing, kid? Feeling better?”

     Jim nodded. “Sure, Bones.” He swirled the remaining ice around in his glass. “So, what were you and Spock talking about?”

     The doctor crossed his arms in front of him. “You. What the fuck else do I have to talk about?”

     The captain frowned. “What’d you say to him, Bones?” When McCoy refused to meet his gaze, Jim balled up a napkin and threw it at his friend, his eyebrows raised insistently.

     The doctor cleared his throat. “I just told him the truth. About how I’m worried that you’re not getting what you need out of this thing. That it’s been a whole pile of trouble, and that you need, you know, more.”

     Jim’s eyes had narrowed. “More?”

     “Yeah, more. Look, it’s well and good that he’s always there to protect you from mind-sifters and crazy Vulcans and he’s great at getting you into healing trances and throwing himself in front of bombs for you. But, being your personal bodyguard isn’t enough. I mean, more than blind loyalty, and, Lord help me, more than whatever physical stuff you two do, you need love and plain old human tenderness, and he’s just not capable of that.”

     Jim stared at his friend, incredulous. “You don’t think he can love?”

     Bones pushed his empty glass across the table. “I don’t know, Jim. Maybe he’s as close as he can get, but, it’s like he’s always saying himself, he’s not human.”

     The captain looked out over the floor, where Spock was gently leading Nyota in a slow dance. He could feel his bondmate’s overlying calm, but also a simmering uncertainty, and beneath that, a well of sharply repressed hurt. “Fuck.” Jim knew that Spock had not been okay with Sarek’s apparent disregard over formally acknowledging their bond and whatever had gone down with McCoy had obviously exacerbated the situation. “Bones, when you get something wrong, you really get it fucking wrong.”

     McCoy’s face held an expression of confusion. “What do you mean?”

     Jim shook his head. “We have a mental bond, Bones. I can sense his thoughts, his mind. If love defines what it means to be human, then his is the most human soul out there. He doesn’t show it outwardly because he can’t, but it’s there.”

     “Jim... ,” McCoy began, an exasperated look on his face.

     “Bones. Seriously. Do I look like I’m being starved for an emotional connection?” At the doctor’s shrug, Jim sat back, his brow furrowed, a sudden, overwhelmingly protective urge washing over him. I want to leave. Now.

     Across the room, Spock raised his head and said something to Nyota. They turned and headed back over to the table. Are you alright, ashayam?

     Fine. I just want to go.

     Jim looked apologetically at Nyota, who smiled and stepped forward to give him a quick hug. “No worries, Jim. I knew you couldn’t hold your liquor.”

     Jim returned the embrace and glanced at McCoy, who was still seated at the booth, looking irritated. “You staying?”

     “Why not? I’m dressed and all.” Bones’ reply was brittle.

     Nyota rolled her eyes and slipped into the booth next to the doctor. “Go ahead, gentlemen, I’ll make sure he gets home safe.”

     Jim nodded and turned to leave, sensing his bondmate following closely behind.

 

 

 

     They didn’t speak or touch during the short walk back to the apartment. Jim was aware of the security guards shadowing them from a discrete distance, and waited until the door closed behind them and the privacy lock was engaged before turning determinedly to his bondmate. “I love you.” He said it almost fiercely, aggressively, as if daring Spock to contradict him. As if waiting to see if he would contradict himself. He was well-aware this was the first time he had spoken those words out loud to anyone, aside from his mother, and Sam.

     Spock gazed at him, and Jim stepped forward. “I love you. I fucking love you, okay? And I know you love me. I know it in here,” he pressed a hand to his chest, “and here,” touching his temple. “I don’t care how anyone else sees us, or what they think they see. I know what we are. I know.”

     Spock raised his hand, two fingers extended, and reached out to touch Jim’s mouth, brushing across his lips gently, leaving the human’s skin tingling. Jim could feel his bondmate’s thoughts seeking his, moving seductively along the bond, and reached out to press his own fingers to Spock’s, gently caressing, sending reassurance and certainty, dispelling any lingering doubt and pain from before. I want to meld. I want to feel you. Jim’s eyes were as intense as any Vulcan’s, and Spock sent an acknowledgment over the bond, adjusting his hand to clasp Jim’s and pull him gently towards the bed.

     Jim sat down, folding one knee up underneath him and facing his bondmate, his breath quickening in anticipation. Spock reached forward, his warm fingers seeking out the familiar points, and Jim let his mind leap to meet his mate’s, their perceptions blurring and their thoughts falling into each other.

 

This time they were on the lakeshore, the water rippling peacefully next to them, the sounds calming, the sky above a clear cerulean, the ground beneath a soft bed of dark earth. They were together, pressed closely, and the warmth that surrounded them felt like a blanket. He brushed against his mate, showing him images...I want you to understand... .

 

He felt shame that he could not speak openly, could not say the words until now. He felt sadness and anger that his mate should be hurt yet again, denied by his father the one thing he had always sought, despite himself. He felt frustration at human prejudice and stubbornness. He felt fear, that he himself was unworthy, that he was selfish.

 

He felt illogical anger that their bond, which was so rare and so sought-after, a connection that should have been respected and cherished amongst those closest to them, was instead hidden. A source of resentment from friends, of disappointment from family, of threats from enemies. He felt fear, that he was inadequate, that he could not give enough.

 

Each felt the weaknesses in the other; the holes, the empty places. Each reached to reassure, to fill, to strengthen those places. They felt themselves come together even closer, and closer still, until there were no gaps, nothing hidden, nothing left exposed. They sank into each other, and it felt like completion.

 

 

     When the meld broke, Jim found himself lying on his side facing his mate, their bodies pressed together, still in their clothes. Spock’s hand had moved away from the captain’s meld points and he had wrapped both arms around his human, his face buried in Jim’s neck. Jim’s head was swimming from the effects of the deep meld, the alcohol, and his remaining exhaustion, but he felt fulfilled, and at peace. He breathed in deeply, closing his eyes, and allowing himself to relax against the pillows, against his mate’s warm, solid body, his mind finally calm enough to allow sleep to find him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Enemy Of My Enemy

 

 

     Sometime in the night Jim rolled over, his head aching dully and his throat parched. He reached instinctively for Spock, but the other side of the bed was empty. Raising his head, he searched the semi-darkness until he saw his bondmate’s figure in the far corner of the room, sitting cross-legged against the wall, eyes closed. Jim rubbed his eyes, feeling the gentle wash of calm emanating from the bond, indicative of Spock’s meditation, and relaxed.

     Trying to move quietly, he pushed himself out of bed and walked into the bathroom. He drank two glasses of water and brushed his teeth to remove the stale taste of alcohol. Now that he was up, his head felt better, and he ran a wet washcloth over his face. Faintly, from the other room, he heard his communicator beep, and tossing the cloth back onto the sink, walked out to retrieve it.

     “Kirk, here,” he said, softly, moving out of the bedroom and into the small sitting area.

     “Scotty, here, sir. Sorry t’bother you so late, sir, but Ah’ve found somethin’ that you probably want t’see.”

     “Are you on the ship?” Jim felt the stirring of his mate’s awareness through the bond.

     “Yes, sir. Would ye’mind beamin’ up?”

 

 

 

     A short time later, Jim jogged down the deserted corridors of the Enterprise towards Engineering, Spock close on his heels. Scotty had asked them to meet him in one of the side labs, but had refused to speak further on what he had found. The muted glow of the lights in the corridors was a far cry from its usual brilliance, and Jim felt a pang, thinking again of how badly his ship had been damaged.

     They rounded the last corner and saw Scotty standing next to the open door of the lab, a concerned expression twisting his face. If the engineer thought anything odd about Spock turning up with Jim after being called in the middle of the night, he didn’t show it, merely jerking his head towards the door. “In here, Cap’n, Commander.”

     Jim followed Scotty into the room, a small, mostly empty room with a line of computer terminals along one wall and a three-dimensional holoprojection workstation taking up most of the rest of the space. The engineer moved towards the back of the room, and then Jim saw it: a compact, clearly high-tech portable console pushed behind the holoprojection screen. The unit was not of standard Fleet design, and Jim saw Scotty pass Spock a tricorder out of the corner of his eye.

     “It appears t’be a comm unit, Captain. An’ nae one o’ours. Ah’was scannin’ for any residual power signatures after powering down the main engines an’ found this puttin’ out an intermittent signal. Took me a while t’locate it, hidden down ‘ere an’all.”

     “Fascinating,” Spock cut in. “Its power signature appears to be specifically designed to function along wavelengths congruent with the ambient engine output, preventing detection assuming the engines are online. Communication could be achieved by a superimposed harmonic carrier wave, resisting detection as well. This technology has been theorized, but I have not seen it in use before.”

     Jim frowned. “You said that about those interference shields a few months ago. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume the Ren shat’var have something to do with this.”

    Scotty nodded. “Aye. Those bastards seem t’have a run on top o’the line gear.” His expression sobered, and he turned to face Jim directly. “Ah’ve run a preliminary scan o’the device, sir, and found out who was operatin’ it.” At Jim’s expectant nod, Scotty continued, “It was Lieutenant Wheeler, sir. Ness Wheeler. Th’boy who was killed during the mine attack.”

     Jim’s mind was racing. “Spock, when did those sensor ghosts start showing up? The ones that turned out to be cloaked Ren shat’var ships?”

     The Vulcan looked at him, eyebrow raised. “Initial sensor readings were noted approximately seventy point two hours after the mine attack, sir. However, our sensors were damaged and such signals could have been present previously, as yet undetected.”

     Jim rubbed a hand over his chin. “So, either these transmissions stopped, and they moved in to investigate, or it had just taken them a while to find us after Siforit was first brought on board.” He looked between his officers. “How long could this unit have been in operation without us knowing about it?”

     Scotty shook his head. “Ah dinnae know, sir. Ah would’ve nae detected it unless the engines were off cold, and tha’has nae happened since our las’full refit.”

     “Was Lieutenant Wheeler investigated by security after the Copernicus was sabotaged?” The ship had been on security alert after the incident that had led to Jim and Spock’s bonding, capture, torture, and desperate escape, and ultimately, to the discovery of the existence of the Ren shat’var. The sabotage of the shuttle Copernicus, on which the command team had been traveling, was assumed to have been an inside job, but investigations had turned up nothing.

     “Affirmative, Captain,” Spock replied. “However, if Vulcan mind techniques were imposed to prevent disclosure of secret information, then the lieutenant may have been able to escape detection.”

     “Shit,” Jim mumbled, taking a step towards the device and crouching down next to it. He reached out and pressed what appeared to be an activation button, and heard a gentle whirring as the top split open and a screen and keypad slid out. A series of numbers blinked on the screen. Jim licked his lips, thinking, and turned his head slightly, addressing his first officer. “Mr. Spock, do those numbers look like a comm key to you?”

     Spock leaned down slightly and examined the screen. “Indeed, Captain, they do.”

     Jim stood abruptly and gestured to the unit. “Help me get this up on the table.” He stepped around towards the back of the unit and the three men hefted the unit onto the nearby lab bench, where the screen aimed more comfortably at eye-level.

     Scotty’s eyebrows were raised. “Beggin’ yer pardon, Captain, but yer nae goin’ t’try callin’ em, are ye?”

     Jim stood in front of the device, examining the keypad. “Why not? They already know we’ve got it, I’m sure.” He glanced at Spock with a half-smile. “Want to bet I reach our old pal?”

     Spock tilted his head. “I do not believe he will be surprised to see you this time, sir.”

     Jim’s smile vanished as he took a breath, keying in the sequence, his hand hovering over the final button. “Let’s see if this works.” He could feel Scotty tense next to him, and Spock’s posture straighten even further, and he pressed the key.

     The screen flashed a soft blue light, and a gentle beeping was heard. Jim stood with his hands at his sides, his expression serious. After about thirty seconds, a low-pitched tone signaled a connection, and the screen lit up, displaying Siforit’s face. Piercing gray eyes assessed Jim, and Spock’s prediction had been correct in that there was no surprise written there.

     “Ah, Captain Kirk. I must admit this took you quite longer than I had expected.”

     Jim smirked. “I couldn’t find the ‘on’ button.”

     Siforit’s lips twitched. “Or perhaps your security measures are simply as ineffective as your Fleet’s leadership. Has your Federation managed yet to replace its latest casualty within the admiralty?”

     “Not yet.” Jim looked at the renegade Vulcan. “I assume you and your people are going to continue to be a pain in the ass?”

     Siforit let out a low chuckle. “Indeed, Captain.” He looked over his shoulder and nodded to someone or something off-screen. “Your timing is rather poor, I’m afraid, for a proper conversation.”

     “What’s wrong? You busy terrorizing supply routes again since the Arredondo left Beta quadrant?”

     The Vulcan’s eyes narrowed, and his lips stretched into a smug smile. “How astute of you to bring that up, Captain. Indeed, this scandal of yours has effectively removed the primary means of Starfleet enforcement from our space and, as I have heard, created quite the confusing controversy within the Federation. Thank you.”

     Jim made a wry face. “Don’t mention it.” His eyes hardened. “Is there something I should know?”

     Siforit leaned back slightly in his chair. “Nothing that you will not hear about shortly, I should think.” He tilted his head. “I have to admit that I am somewhat confused by your continued loyalty to your service. Between the use of the mind-control device, the destruction of the starbase and colony, and the attempted destruction of your ship, you have been most grievously wronged. By your own people, nonetheless.”

     Jim shrugged, quoting his bondmate, “There are always possibilities.”

     “Indeed.” Siforit fixed him with an intense gaze. “You should beware, Captain, the damage that can be inflicted internally can far outweigh anything that can be imposed externally. Such internal damage can weaken even a superpower to the point where a modest incursion will have devastating implications. You are aware only too well of the damage that can be inflicted by traitors, by those hungry for power, or by those simply unhappy with current circumstances. You will shortly hear of the ultimate consequences of this damage.”

     He raised his chin. “I submit to you that your own service is still salvageable. If it is, then perhaps we can meet again as representatives each of our own empires and seek common ground. As you say, there are always possibilities.”

     Jim furrowed his brow. “I don’t understand.”

     A beeping sounded in the background, and Siforit leaned forward, his hand reaching out to touch something beneath the viewscreen. “You will, James. I bid you and your bondmate farewell, for now.” With one last flash of startling gray eyes, Siforit cut the connection.

     Jim turned and looked at Spock. “We’ve got to get in touch with Command. What do you think he meant by all that?”

     Spock met his eyes. “I have a hypothesis, sir. If you would excuse me, I will notify Command.”

     Jim nodded, and Spock swiftly left the lab. A cleared throat from beside him caused him to turn to notice Scotty’s slightly abashed expression. “Ah’m sorry, sir, but Ah could nae help overhearing tha’las bit about you and, uh, Mr. Spock.” He smiled crookedly. “Ah mean, assumin’ he was nae talkin’ about me.”

     Jim sighed and shook his head. “Yeah, well, it’s need-to-know only, Scotty, or Command’ll have our asses.”

     Scotty snorted. “Ah can believe that, sir.” His smile widened. “Congratulations, Jim. Ah knew there was somethin’ between you th’moment he started cryin’ in the warp core.”

     “Right. Uh, thanks, Scotty. Maybe I should go get a word in on that message to Command. Could you secure the device here and make sure security is notified about Wheeler’s alleged involvement?”

     “My pleasure, sir.” Scotty’s face still held the broad grin, and Jim hesitated a moment and gripped his friend’s shoulder, returning his smile, before turning and heading after his bondmate.

 

 

 

     Barely an hour later, both Jim and Spock were back at Headquarters, in Fitzpatrick’s office. The admiral was in crisp uniform, but his eyes were red and his hair was slightly rumpled after being pulled out of a sound sleep. Any action over the discovery of the device, Lieutenant Wheeler, or Siforit’s cryptic phrasing had been preempted by a series of priority one messages from Federation ships patrolling the Klingon neutral zone. Apparently there was an ongoing invasion of Klingon space and an engagement of the remains of the Klingon starfleet by another force, heavily armed and highly coordinated, moving with advanced weaponry and under cloak. Jim had already put two and two together.

     “You’re telling me that the Ren shat’var are invading Klingon space?” Fitzpatrick looked incredulous. “Recent intel suggested that they were merely piggybacking on stolen equipment, limited to disrupting supply shipments and working in the background to undermine Federation business in Beta, not launching full-on fucking interstellar war!”

     Spock stepped forward. “Admiral, recent intelligence was primarily limited to Federation interests. We were aware that there were incursions into Klingon territory, but likely were not informed of the full extent, or of the number of Klingon ships taken by the Ren shat’var actions. Evidence suggested that the recent offensive on New Vulcan was instigated by a fringe group operating outside official Ren shat’var authority. From the recent transmission between Captain Kirk and Siforit, we can assume that this invasion is a more calculated action, after much preparation, capitalizing on the weaknesses within the Klingon government and within its fleet. Despite recent events to destabilize the Federation, we remain nowhere near as vulnerable as the Klingon Empire.”

     “But I thought they didn’t have near enough the numbers to pull something like this off! Seventy-five Vulcans two-hundred years ago or something?”

     Jim cut in, “Sir, they’ve used mercenaries before. The Orions have been very quiet lately; maybe busy getting ready for this. And when we were subjected to the mind-sifter, there was a Klingon scientist overseeing operation of the machine. I bet they have other Klingons working with them to destabilize their own government, just like Wheeler and Commodore Keller within our own ranks.”

     “Jesus Christ.” Fitzpatrick sank into his seat, rubbing his forehead. He thought a moment, and then looked at Jim. “Captain, did you get the impression that they were heading our way?”

     “No, sir. In my opinion, it would be a tactical nightmare to undertake two such campaigns at once. And they would have already attacked, I believe, if that were the case. Especially in the wake of the destruction of Starbase Sixteen and the agricultural colony. And the shake-up here at Command.”

     The admiral frowned. “I suppose we’ve done enough to invite trouble.”

     “Admiral,” Spock said, “I believe that their next step will be to seek an alliance with the Federation, and use their newly increased military stature to bargain for access and use of parts of Beta quadrant, without Starfleet interference.”

     “This is insane. They go from irritating unknowns to galactic powers in the space of what, a few months? And where are they getting the means to pull all this off? The research facilities to produce the advanced weaponry? And the money? We don’t even know where their home base is, dammit.”

     Jim crossed his arms. “Admiral, we’re dealing with a group of Vulcans whose sole purpose over the past couple hundred years has been to optimize warfare. With all respect, we need to sharpen our game.”

     Fitzpatrick nodded. “You’re right. Sorry, Jim, it looks like your well-meaning speech from yesterday is already being put to the test.” He took in a deep breath. “Alright. I’m going to go and officially brief the Council and get the Arredondo back out there as soon as possible. In the meantime, I’m going to order all vessels and duty posts to search for similar comm units to the one you just found. And I’m fast-tracking the refit of Enterprise. I’ll see if I can’t get you back out there in under two weeks. This whole mess is near your regular patrol sectors, and you have the best understanding of the Ren shat’var out of anyone. Looks like you’ll be walking the line between diplomat and military officer yet again, Captain.”

     “No problem, sir.”

     “Good. Dismissed, gentlemen.”

 

 

 

     The next few days saw Jim and Spock in constant demand during the priority refit and, when he wasn’t needed onboard the Enterprise, Jim was at the beck and call of the Committee on Starfleet Governance. The captain kept one eye on the evolving security situation across the neutral zone, as reported by the number of ships now guarding the Federation border, including the Arredondo, which had shipped out almost immediately with a passel of recent Academy graduates under the command of Captain Tanith Brisker. The Ren shat’var appeared to have entered the neutral zone from Federation space, but had not been observed in that region since, which led Spock to speculate that their actual home base was not located in Beta quadrant.

     The Klingons had not requested Federation assistance, which was not entirely unexpected, considering the hostile actions of the Empire towards Starfleet and the border systems in recent months. As of four days from the news of the invasion, it appeared that the Klingons had retreated into the central part of their space, guarding Qo’noS and the surrounding systems. It was not altogether clear how the Ren shat’var were managing to hold control over the outlying sector, but the Starfleet vessels in the region no longer could detect active fighting.

     Five days after the surprising communication with Siforit, Jim was almost at the point of collapse. He had barely slept, had eaten only sporadically, and had just suffered through a three-hour meeting with the Committee members in which his primary memory was of how obviously Sarek managed to avoid speaking to him directly. Jim’s snarky and probably disjointed mental commentary to Spock had resulted in his bondmate meeting Jim at the door at the end of the meeting and escorting him to the transporter station, back onto the ship, and down the halls to the captain’s cabin, where he was unceremoniously thrust inside. McCoy had been waiting with a hypo and a medical order to stand down for at least twelve hours, and Jim had barely had the energy for a shower before falling face-down onto his bed and going out cold.

     Now, Jim lifted his head, feeling his neck ache from lying in a single position for so long. He blinked at the chrono and groaned. A ripple of amusement through the bond made him focus blurrily towards the partition, and he saw Spock’s tall figure emerge, in uniform, a PADD in his hands and a noticeable warmth in his eyes.

     “What’s so funny?” Jim croaked, flipping himself completely over. “I think I’ve missed about twenty meetings.”

     “Negative, Captain,” Spock replied placidly. “You have missed four meetings; three of which I attended in your stead, and I have forwarded your apologies to the fourth.” A subtle beep sounded from behind Spock, and he turned, disappearing for a moment before returning with a mug of steaming coffee in his hand.

     Jim pushed himself into a sitting position and accepted the mug with a yawn. Thanks, babe. He sipped the hot liquid, ignoring the replicated taste, and ran a hand through his unruly hair.

     Spock raised an eyebrow and hesitated before putting down the PADD and sitting on the edge of the bed next to Jim. The captain peered up over the rim of the mug. “I suppose I owe you an apology for all that stuff I thought at you during that last meeting with the Committee.”

     The Vulcan tilted his head. “I was not aware that you were able to utilize profanity in so many languages, Jim. Also, your observations of my father’s behavior were also quite fascinating. In any case, I believe your exhaustion contributed significantly to most of the colorful commentary.”

     Jim snorted. “Yeah, well, I’m sorry anyway. Thanks for rescuing me.”

     You are welcome, ashayam. Spock met Jim’s gaze and they looked at each other for a long moment.

     “How long are you off?” Jim asked, cupping the mug in both hands. “Anything happen while I was out?”

     Spock’s back straightened almost imperceptibly. “Command has gotten word that at least two other ships and one starbase have discovered the Ren shat’var comm units, sir. The units are being returned to Headquarters for analysis, and investigations are ongoing as to the individuals responsible. So far, four members of Starfleet are in custody, all demonstrating mental conditioning consistent with Vulcan disciplines.” As Jim digested that, the first officer continued, “The refit is continuing on-schedule. Shield functionality is back to one hundred percent, and the main structural repairs are eighty percent completed. There have been no threats to Federation space along the neutral zone as yet, and additionally no reports of attempted communication from the Klingons or the Ren shat’var.” At Jim’s raised eyebrows, Spock inclined his head slightly. “And I am off-duty as of twenty-four point six minutes ago.”

     Jim threw him a grin. “Feel like fooling around?”

     Spock’s eyes darkened, and Jim felt tentative desire creep along the bond. The captain’s grin widened, and he swung his legs out of bed, placing his mostly-empty mug on the bedside table. “Don't move. I’ll be right back.” He padded to the bathroom, and emerged again a few minutes later feeling much better with his mouth less stale and the uncomfortable pressure on his bladder relieved. He could feel the caffeine from the coffee kicking in, along with a steadily increasing blur of anticipation and lust ricocheting back and forth across the bond, and he practically bounded back into the sleeping area, observing with satisfaction that his bondmate had done as he was told.

     Jim stood casually, leaning against the partition, and then walked over and knelt down in front of his mate, batting Spock’s hands away and pulling off the Vulcan’s boots and socks. Dark eyes watched him intently, and Jim stood, pushing against Spock’s shoulders, sending him a mental command to move up on the bed and sit upright against the headboard. The Vulcan smoothly obeyed, and Jim remained standing by the side of the bed, keeping his eyes fixed on his mate.

     I remember how you pleased me, back before my speech. How can I please you? Jim’s mental voice was a purr, and in response he felt a wave of mental images flow towards him. He was bombarded with Spock’s perceptions of blue eyes, of cool, human hands, of Jim’s hard body, and quick smile. Of the hypnotic, brilliant colors of his mind, and the powerful, almost unbelievable pleasure that could be elicited by Jim’s hands and mouth. The captain chuckled. Well, I guess the common factor in all of that is me being naked. He slowly pulled off his t-shirt and tugged his loose sleep pants and underwear down, kicking them away and finally standing seductively nude in front of his bondmate. Spock’s breathing had increased, and Jim could feel the whirl of his thoughts turn into a pounding need. The captain’s body responded to the influx of desire, and the steamy look in the Vulcan’s brown eyes, and Jim climbed onto the bed, crawling up to straddle his mate’s clothed hips, feeling his mate’s cock hardening beneath him. Don’t touch. Not yet.

     Jim... . Spock’s mental voice sounded just this side of desperate, and Jim reached out to grasp one of his mate’s hands, bringing his fingers up and gently nipping the sensitive pads before taking the Vulcan’s first two fingers into his mouth fully and sucking, swirling his tongue around and in between. Spock was almost panting, his mouth slightly open and his eyes huge. Jim regarded his Vulcan appreciatively, finally giving in to his desire to enunciate his feelings. Do you know how gorgeous you are? Do you know how much I want you? You’re so fucking sexy. He gave an experimental undulation of his hips down over the Vulcan’s lap and heard a low moan escape.

     Jim released Spock’s hand and reached down to tug at the hems of his tunic and black undershirt. The Vulcan pulled his shirts off with a quick motion, and Jim unfastened his pants, lifting his hips slightly to allow Spock to wriggle less elegantly out of those. When Jim lowered himself back down, he made sure to allow his mate’s cock to brush against the cleft of his ass, eliciting a sharp hiss from the Vulcan. Spock’s hands fastened onto Jim’s hips, and Jim smiled, sending a graphic mental picture of what he wanted.

     Time seemed to slow down into a series of touches and sensations. Spock’s fingers, slick with lubricant, entering Jim’s body as Jim leaned forward against him, their mouths molding together, Jim’s hands buried in his mate’s silky, black hair. Responsive Vulcan fingers slowly stretching, moving in and out, generating waves of sensual pleasure through the bond. Spock’s erection, hard and hot and slick against Jim’s entrance, the Vulcan’s brown eyes wide and almost awed as Jim lowered himself slowly onto it, arching his back and watching his mate with a half-lidded blue gaze. Jim’s moan at the sharp feeling of his mate’s pleasure, rocking his hips gently at first, and then more aggressively, feeling Spock’s hands grip his hips firmly, then move to his ass, and then up to stroke his back and arms.

     The Vulcan’s hands were everywhere, hot and smooth, reaching down to encircle Jim’s bobbing cock as the human moved relentlessly. Jim shut his eyes and leaned his head back, losing himself in the shared pleasure and ecstasy of their connection. Suddenly the link flared into a full meld as Spock’s fingers found Jim’s psi points, and Jim cried out, feeling his own tightness, the heat of Spock’s other hand on Jim’s erection, the pleasure building between them growing almost out of control. Their minds flew against and into one another, and Jim’s body slowed and shuddered as he began to lose himself in the swirling, desperate bliss. He dimly was aware of being flipped over onto his back, the meld never breaking, and his mate pounding into his body with hard, deliberate thrusts. He thought he may have yelled again, but it was all lost as the unrelenting wave of pleasure crashed over them both and they felt that sense of melded completion again, where they were together, mind, body, and soul; where there was no space, no hiding, nothing but the brilliant light of their joining. And this time, there was no fear.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: Fearlessly

 

 

     The night before the Enterprise was scheduled to depart was strangely tranquil. Most of the crew had already embarked, and the last of the supply shuttles had delivered its payload. Jim stood alone on the starboard observation deck, watching the breathtaking sight of Earth rotating slowly beneath him, feeling a deep sense of contentment at finally being back aboard his lady.

     He had just finished his final briefing with Admiral Fitzpatrick, and, after beaming aboard, had stopped briefly by the bridge before coming here. As he recalled his discussions with the admiral, his gaze shifted from Earth out towards the blackness of space.

     The ongoing situation in previously Klingon-controlled territory had become more clear over recent days, as observed by Federation ships posted along the neutral zone. The Ren shat’var offensive had apparently been focused on control of a single sector just beyond the neutral zone, containing four star systems. The reasons for the invasion of this particular sector were not straightforward; aside from a now-abandoned colony and another world that offered high abundances of dilithium, the only obvious advantage was its position straddling both Federation and Klingon territory. At least, as far as the Federation knew of Ren shat’var motives, which, considering the surprising developments of late, was not considerable. As no further incursions into Klingon space had been forthcoming, the Empire had apparently decided to cut its losses and prepare to fight another day. Given the depleted state of their starfleet, the decision was not surprising.

     The Romulan response to the whole situation appeared to be one of smug satisfaction. Aware of the Ren shat’var’s shared Vulcan roots and never overly fond of the Klingon Empire to begin with, the Romulans had apparently already sent emissaries to the Ren shat’var, acknowledging their claim. The Federation was watching and waiting, hoping that the build-up of military power along the neutral zone would dissuade any attacks. Since the invasion, there had been no sign of Ren shat’var presence in Beta quadrant or elsewhere, and Starfleet was hastily working to dispatch ships and increase patrols to take advantage of the sudden apparent withdrawal.

     Spock’s hypothesis was that the Ren shat’var home base was outside of either Federation or Klingon-controlled space, perhaps even in a neighboring unexplored region. He had made his case so well that Fitzpatrick’s response had been to order the Enterprise to, in his words, “go explore it, then.” So, they were set to depart for the edges of Federation territory to actively seek the hidden seat of Ren shat’var power, to understand how their unlikely rise occurred, and to determine why they were so interested in a largely unremarkable part of space.

     Jim was satisfied to be heading out to the frontier again. The ship’s refit had been rapid, but effective. The bridge had been rebuilt, improvements to the engines and the weapons array had been added, and Spock and Nyota were planning on improving the communications equipment en route, inspired by the captured enemy comm unit. If nothing else, Jim was curious as to the infusion of new, cutting-edge technology displayed by the Ren shat’var. Even collusion with renegade Klingon scientists wouldn’t have allowed for such improvements in the state of the art so quickly.

     The issue of the restructuring of Starfleet had been tabled, for the moment. The discovery of the spy network within the ranks and the rise of a determined and competent new Head of Operations in addition to the sudden shift in galactic power meant that any large-scale adjustments were postponed. Subtle changes proceeded, however, including increased oversight of procurement contracts and political relationships. Kalar had been officially censured by the Federation Council for its involvement in the Hamilton scandal, and had lost most of its contracts and its observational status. The roll-out of new military vessels was curtailed, as resources were shifted into replacing the lost starbase and beefing up the offensive capabilities of the existing fleet. Hamilton himself had been subjected to a straightforward court martial and remanded to a rehabilitation center.

     Sarek had not deigned to meet with Jim or Spock again outside of the official Committee sessions. Jim was angry at what he saw as borderline cruel behavior towards his bondmate, but tried not to interfere. There was a great deal he did not yet understand about Vulcan culture, much less the complicated family dynamic between a prominent political figure and his half-human son. Especially when that half-human son had ventured almost defiantly into Starfleet and found his human t’hy’la. And, as Spock had pointed out, it was perhaps better to look for acceptance elsewhere. The day before, Jim had found an expensive bottle of Scotch on his desk in his quarters, with an attached message:

 

Mìle fàilte dhuit le d'bhréid,

Fad do ré gun robh thu slàn.

Móran làithean dhuit is sìth,

Le d'mhaitheas is le d'nì bhi fàs.

 

The captain had looked up the Gaelic translation and laughed out loud at the perhaps intentional parallel with the traditional Vulcan greeting.

     Now, with his ship whole and his mission set, one thing still weighed heavily on Jim’s mind. The captain had not seen Bones outside of official briefings since that night in the bar, with the exception of that brief appearance with a hypo and a no-nonsense medical order to rest. The captain glanced at the chrono on the wall; he had asked Bones to meet him, and the doctor was running late. Impatiently, Jim clasped his hands behind him, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. Spock was still on the bridge, completing the sensor alignment, and Jim reached out reflexively to touch his bondmate’s thoughts. A wash of affection and reassurance flooded back at him. I require another two point one hours, ashayam.

     Take your time. I’ll meet you later? Jim felt a twinge of longing for Spock’s presence. Unlike before, however, when he would have pushed the feeling away, dismissing it as weakness, he allowed it to filter over the bond, letting his mate sense how much he was needed.

     Affirmative, t’hy’la. Jim smiled at the depth of feeling returned to him. Spock had been lately attempting to avoid his usual pattern of repetitive, sharp repressions of emotion, responding to his mate’s new openness. Jim knew it was difficult to redirect a lifetime of mental conditioning, but was encouraged by the sense of Spock’s controls becoming more balanced; as opposed to the severe swells and drops from before, his bondmate’s emotional presence seemed more centered. It was almost as though the release of feeling focused on his mate and held within the bond allowed for less build-up of stress elsewhere, reducing the need for a constant roller coaster ride of mental effort. Jim’s intuition told him that Spock’s new approach to emotional sharing with his bondmate had been somewhat prompted by the Vulcan’s recent conversation with the doctor, a sore spot for Jim which needed addressing, if Bones would give him the opportunity.

     With the calm presence of his mate’s thoughts humming quietly in the back of his mind, Jim turned his attention to the continued absence of his friend. He glanced at the chrono one last time and sighed, deciding to take the battle to the gate, as it were.

     Ten minutes later, Jim was standing outside the doctor’s closed office door, having already tried his comm and his quarters. He pressed the call button, trying to look casual, but internally fighting a wave of irritation mixed with concern. When a second press of the button yielded no result, Jim impulsively kicked the door, yelling, “Come on, Bones, I know you’re in there!”

     The door slid open to reveal McCoy’s habitual scowl. “For fuck’s sake, Jim. Get in here already.” Jim grunted and walked past the doctor, and McCoy stuck his head out to glance right and left before retreating to key the door closed after them.

     The captain threw himself into one of the chairs across from the doctor’s desk and held his hands out. “So, I could see you forgetting to meet me or something, but hiding in your office? Really?”

     McCoy crossed his arms in front of him. “I knew what you wanted to talk about, Jim, and I didn’t want to get into it with you.”

     Jim regarded him. “Bones, this is ridiculous.”

     To the captain’s surprise, the doctor’s reaction was one of sudden anger. “Ridiculous?” he hissed. “Ridiculous. The human death-magnet with a hard-wired connection to a pointed-eared computer tells me I’m being ridiculous.”

     Jim raised his eyebrows. “Bones... .”

     “Nope, you wanted to talk, so let’s talk. I’ve been doing a little research lately on Vulcan bonding and, Lord help me, sexuality. Just to see if there’s anything else I should know about. You know, after the katric back-and-forth, and the emotional transference, and the burgeoning telepathy in your supposedly psi-null brain. Dammit, Jim, have you ever heard of a little thing called pon farr?” At the captain’s level stare, McCoy continued, “No? Well it’s just when your green-blooded significant other is going to lose his mind in a literal blood lust, forgetting everything except nailing you into tomorrow. Surprise! And guess who’s going to have to patch you back together after that?”

     “Jesus, Bones, calm down. Spock told me about pon farr.” Jim sniffed. “I think he’s more worried about it than you are.”

     “And that doesn’t concern you?”

     “Sure, it concerns me, a bit. But he’s more scared of the part where he completely loses his emotional controls.” Jim snorted. “And I can probably help him with that; I mean, I’m the poster child for control issues.”

     “Jim!”

     “Seriously, Bones. What do you want me to do? Wring my hands and scream? Run away? Tell him to put his shields back up and ship him to New Vulcan to have the bond ripped out of his head by the damn kolinahru and never see him again?”

     McCoy blanched. “No,” he mumbled.

     Jim’s voice softened. “You’re the one who took the fucking psychology classes; you need to talk to me. As my friend. What do you want me to do?”

     There was a long silence as the captain watched an array of expressions flash across the doctor’s face. Jim took a deep breath and let it out. “Bones, at the very least I can’t have you and Spock at odds all the time. What you said to him was out of line.”

     McCoy swallowed and looked at the floor. “I know. I shouldn’t have mouthed off like that and I kinda feel like an asshole; that was more my shit than his.” He lowered his voice, “I’m worried about you. And don’t tell him this, but I’m worried about him, too. I was serious when I told you that I’m scared as hell that something will happen to one of you and both of you will go,” he snapped his fingers, “just like that.”

     Bones raised his eyes to Jim’s. “As your friend, I should be happy as fuck that you have someone who will throw himself in between you and trouble without a thought, but, as you said before, you’re a package deal now; you won’t walk away unscathed even if he takes the bullet. It seems like so much of this is out of my hands and I can’t do anything about it. And that’s a fucking bad place for a doctor to be.”

     “You can do something about it. You can talk to me. And to Spock. You can accept what we have together, and be there for us if the shit hits the fan.” Jim paused. “You were the one who told me to talk to him, remember? When I had asked him to shield the bond initially? You helped me then, by sending M’Benga around, and by not letting me get away with my self-obsessed shit.”

     The captain raised his eyebrows. “And these past few weeks, you think I didn’t realize that it was you who helped us be together, when we really needed it? Your medical orders, Bones! And it worked out.”

     “Jim... .”

     “No, listen. It worked out, Bones. He and I, well, I can’t even explain it without sounding like a fucking nutjob, but it’s real, and it’s good for both of us. Yeah, it’s not by-the-book, and it’s not normal for humans, or normal for Vulcans even. It’s...fundamental, Bones. Like it was meant to be.”

     Bones huffed. “You do sound like a fucking nutjob.”

     “Yeah, well, maybe they’ll promote me.” Jim grinned. “C’mon, Bones, I need you on this one. We need you.”

     McCoy met Jim’s gaze, hesitating before finally smiling back, and shaking his head. “Sure, kid, whatever. At least I’m never bored.”

 

 

 

     A couple hours later, Jim walked back to his quarters. He and Bones had shared a few drinks and turned their conversation to less weighty matters, and Jim was happy to feel like things were returning to normal with his oldest friend. He knew that Bones was probably right; that there would be scary and uncertain times ahead, and he wanted to have the doctor’s counsel and support. For himself, or for Spock, should the worst happen. As Jim approached his cabin, he sensed the presence of his bondmate inside, and smiled to himself as he hit the access button.

     Spock was sitting at the desk wearing a t-shirt and loose pants, a PADD in his hands, and he looked up at the captain’s entrance. Jim paused as the door slid shut behind him, his smile widening as he felt the swell of feeling sweep over the bond between them, bathing his mind in love and warmth.

     “Hey, babe.” Jim held out his hand, two fingers extended. “Miss me?”

     The Vulcan stood smoothly, abandoning the PADD on the desktop and moved forward to likewise press his fingers against his mate’s. I did, indeed, t’hy’la.

     Jim breathed in deeply and closed his eyes, relishing the sensations running through his hand and arm as Spock’s fingers slowly stroked up and down. They stood that way for several minutes, and Jim finally opened his eyes. I’m gonna get ready for bed. I’m beat.

     A few minutes later, a tired captain shuffled out of the bathroom and into the darkness of his quarters, wearing his own sleep clothes. He pushed back the covers and crawled into his bunk, smiling as he felt his Vulcan surround his body with strength and heat. The alcohol from earlier made him feel languid and relaxed, and he shifted just enough to capture Spock’s hands in his own, entwining their fingers, feelings of warmth and the depth of their connection washing over him. As Jim sighed happily and settled against his mate, he concentrated on their bond, shining brilliantly in his mind. Whatever challenge lay ahead, whatever angels or demons in their path, they would face it together.

 

 

 

     The gleaming white surfaces of the Enterprise reflected the blinking lights of the retreating space dock behind as well as the beckoning array of starlight ahead. On the brand-new bridge, Jim stood proudly in front of the main viewscreen, his gaze focused forward.

     Uhura’s voice rose above the gentle chatter of the ambient background, “We’ve cleared space dock, Captain. All stations report readiness for warp speed.”

     “Thank you, Lieutenant.” Jim turned slightly as his first officer stepped down to his side, and surveyed the bridge. His officers met his eyes, one by one, each nodding or smiling in turn, and Jim couldn’t help smiling back. His family. His ship. Once more heading out boldly to confront the unknown. Jim lifted his chin. “Let’s take her out, Mr. Sulu. Warp factor four.”

     “Aye, sir, warp factor four.”

     Jim glanced into the warm brown eyes of his bondmate and his smile turned into a grin as he turned towards the screen again, feeling the tingle of anticipation and excitement welling up inside of him. It was still there: the awe and the idealism, the calling of his best destiny. And he faced it fearlessly.

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

 

 Scotty’s message to Jim and Spock taken from a wedding blessing attributed to Rev. Donald MacLeod, Minister of Duirinish, Skye, c. 1760.

 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek, and I make no money from this.