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Thanks to Lyra, a great Beta.

I do not own K/S, and I have no money so it doesn't do any good to sue.

The shaft wall in front of Kirk suddenly gave a mighty lurch away from him, ripping the ladder from his grasp as he was flung into the air. He flailed, his fingertips brushing at the rungs with an aching promise of safely as he fell.

Too far. The words sank in his stomach like a stone.

Then out of nowhere he was caught and slammed up against the ladder with shocking strength. It knocked the breath out of him and he cracked his elbow hard enough to numb his arm right to the shoulder.

He scrabbled with his working hand at the rungs, clung tightly for a feverish instant of relief as he gasped for breath. Then, still wheezing, he turned his head to look at the body pressed up against him. Kirk took a deep, cleansing breath.

“Mr. Spock,” Kirk said in a near perfectly bland tone of voice, as if they'd merely met in passing along the halls of the Enterprise.

His first officer showed no signs of letting go of him, as if he expected Kirk to slip and fall out of his reach at any moment. Kirk smiled, touched, and Spock seemed to realize what he was doing, lifting his eyebrow and releasing his captain.

“It would seem the artificial gravity has been damaged more seriously than we surmised,” Spock said, covering for his little lapse. Kirk gave his friend a conspiratorial look.

“So it would seem,” he said gently.

He could hear a familiar muttering from down below, then a quiet voice, reassuring.

“Light,” Kirk warned, before playing the beam down the ladder. Past Samuel's averted face to where Giotto was reassuring an anxious looking Dr. McCoy. Bones shaded his eyes and peered up into the light as if he could assess injuries from where he was. Kirk swung the light away, flicked it off. All hands accounted for.

The cool blue dimness of the turbolift shaft's running lights reasserted itself, and Kirk resumed climbing. Two decks up, and he paused to let Spock catch up with him. He swung out to the side so Spock could get to the door controls. Giotto was the senior security officer with them, and he climbed up as far as he could, his eyes watching his senior officers sharply.

If the schematics were correct, the bridge for this outpost was a corridor away, on the other side of that door. Spock paused to regard his tricorder, then looked over at his captain.

“The corridor is clear, sir.”

Kirk glanced down.

“All hands, stay together,” he called, and nodded at Spock.

He fiddled with something, and the door hissed open. Kirk made to clamber over Spock, to go first, but Spock raised an eyebrow at him and stepped nimbly out into the hall. It was an action Kirk did not like much, but couldn't really argue with. He always felt better going first, that way if there were any surprises he'd be the one to deal with them. Starfleet Command, and his first officer, did not care for that approach.

Spock held a hand out to help him over, looking as amused as he ever got. He knew what was going on in his captain's head as clearly as if he'd spoken out loud.

Kirk would always want to go first. Kirk was pretty sure Spock would always want to stop him.

He took the hand and stepped into the hall. Vulcans did not touch casually. It was a complement in a gesture for Spock to offer, and Kirk gave him a nod and a smile, thinking that he might just have scared his first officer a little with that fall in the turbolift shaft. Then he turned to give Giotto a hand up.

Once up, Giotto took his spot at the door and helped the others. They moved quickly and quietly into position. Even McCoy was tense and silent.

Kirk put his back to the wall, just to the right of the door to the bridge, careful not to activate it. He looked at Spock and lifted his eyebrows, jerking his head fractionally towards the control room. Spock lifted his tricorder. Kirk spared a glance for the panel by the door. The control stations on these observation posts were supposed to be secure at all times, but Kirk knew very well that civilian scientists tended to let things slide on long assignments. Sure enough, the door wasn't locked. Kirk doubted it would have saved them.

“Four life forms, Captain,” Spock said quietly. He gestured at the doors. “One to the left, one at the fore, two headed this way.”

Kirk tensed, flicking his eyes at his security men. Giotto nodded once.

“Now,” Kirk said, and flung himself through the door. Giotto was one step behind him, and they split off immediately, Giotto going left, Kirk right, both firing, the rest of the landing party piling through behind them. Kirk hit the intruder by the door in the face with full stun, and it dropped like a dead thing. The second was lunging at him before he had a chance to fire...and there was Spock, putting a shoulder to it, both of them ending up in a heap on the deck.

The hostile sentients were bestial in appearance, long claws and muzzles full of sharp teeth. Bears with energy weapons. Kirk saw it snarl and turn to bite Spock, all civility forgotten, and Spock, rather impressed by this, punched it hard in the muzzle. Perhaps he was just uncertain about the viability of trying the Vulcan neck pinch on something that didn't, technically, have a neck. Kirk put his hands together and brought them down hard on the back of the beast's head. If he stunned it now the radius would catch Spock, too...

A computer panel near his shoulder exploded into sparks as a stray energy blast hissed past his ear. The creature flinched, either from that or from Kirk's blow, and its claws started digging into Spock. Spock clutched at the creature's paws, looking like he was applying his full strength and not getting anywhere.

Hell with it. Sorry, Spock.

The creature fell like it had been pole-axed. It half landed on Spock, who'd gone limp, caught in the stun radius. Kirk crouched down, sheltered by a computer console, assessing the situation. Three down, one pinned down at the fore, hidden behind the science console, firing blindly over the top. Giotto and Samuel were ducked down behind a computer console, returning fire.

Kirk looked back at McCoy, who was already crawling over, medical scanner in hand.

“Bones,” he hissed. Spock was--

“He's fine, but--” McCoy began, then ducked and cursed as a wild shot hit some sensitive equipment and rained sparks down on their heads. Kirk quickly patted at McCoy's hair, which had started to smolder.

“Report,” Kirk urged him.

“This one here is dead,” McCoy said, gesturing at the thing lying peacefully on top of his first officer. Kirk looked down at it in surprise. Reflexively, he checked the setting on his phaser, though he knew very well he'd set it to heavy stun. They needed to talk to these things, no matter what they'd done to the scientists. He looked to his security men, mouth open to speak.

Samuel, leaning out to fire, caught a nasty hit to the head and was flung back, stealing away anything Kirk was planning to say.

“Samuel!” Kirk shouted, but stopped, startled, when Samuel simply got up to his knees, rubbing his head. He looked to his captain and shrugged, seeming shaken but unhurt. He let Giotto lean over and look at him. McCoy was already moving to check on the young ensign, but Kirk held his CMO back, grabbing his arm.

He had a hunch...

Looking over at his men, Kirk made a silent hand gesture. The security guards, Starfleet's finest, knew the code and understood immediately.

Suppressing fire.

“Bones, I need to know how it died,” Kirk said quietly, pulling McCoy over to the corpse, pushing it off Spock so he could get to Spock's tricorder. McCoy gave him a frown but didn't argue.

After slipping the tricorder strap over his unconscious friend's head, he leaned over, feeling around in the intruder's fur until he found a strap of cloth with a weapon attached. It looked like a disruptor and he ran a scan on it, adjusting the controls with delicate care.

Kirk smiled silently. It was not a happy expression.

Quickly, he began to dismantle his phaser.

“As far as I can--” McCoy began, and faltered, watching Kirk puttering around with the innards of his weapon as energy blasts shot over their heads. Kirk glanced up and gave him an encouraging look, offering no information. McCoy blinked and recovered smoothly. “--can tell, the shock of the stun on her system was enough to kill her.”


Kirk frowned, looking down at the creature in a new light. He noticed that the strip of fabric was brightly colored, blue and green, and tied up under her arms, meeting at the back, the ends fluttering out behind her. The affect was rather like a puppy with a Christmas bow tied to it.


He finished the modifications and snapped his phaser back together. He looked over at Giotto and gestured again. Giotto's eyes widened a little, but he nodded. They started to pour it on, and Kirk inched out from behind his cover, creeping up on the right as Giotto and Samuel kept it busy on the left.

When he was close enough, he got a foot under him and took a flying leap past the console the creature was using as cover. He slid across the floor until he hit the far bulkhead with his shoulder, firing as he went. The creature caught one in the back and crumpled with a snarl, twitching.

“Doctor!” he snapped, scrambling to his feet and keeping his phaser trained on the prone form. Giotto and Samuel closed in, and Kirk relaxed a little. “Take care of him,” he told Bones, stepping aside so McCoy could get at his large furry patient.

“She's alive,” McCoy said after a moment with his instruments. She. Kirk sighed unhappily.

“Keep her that way,” Kirk told him, flipping open his communicator and walking back to where Spock still lay senseless on the deck. As he walked the artificial gravity gave another lurch, but it was a small one and he didn't stumble.

“Kirk to Enterprise,” he said, crouching down by his first officer. He took Spock's outflung hand and rested it on his stomach, investigated the tears in his uniform and found only minor scratches. Apologetically, he patted his unconscious friend lightly on the arm.

“Scott here, sir,” Scotty replied amiably.

Kirk glanced over to where his CMO was working.

“Station is secure, Scotty. We'll be beaming back momentarily with a prisoner.” He stood, dusting his uniform off. “I'll need you to put together a repair team to beam over here immediately. It looks like the artificial gravity was sabotaged and the intruder defenses were probably deployed against the scientists. I want to know how it happened.”

“Aye, captain, I'll lead the team myself.”

“Good. Stand by.” Kirk walked starboard to where Samuel was standing, his phaser trained on the prisoner, careful to keep McCoy out of his line of fire.

“Samuel,” Kirk greeted. “You all right?”

Samuel flushed bright red.

“Aye, sir. Just stunned me.” He pulled up a nervous smile. “Thought I was a goner for a second there though, sir.”

“First rule in a firefight, Ensign,” Kirk said with mild reproach, “keep your head down. Understood?”

Samuel stiffened, looking mortified. They got younger every year.

“Yes, sir,” he said, and Kirk nodded once, satisfied. He took a step, crouched down next to his CMO.

“Bones?” he prodded.

“Keep your head down in a firefight,” Bones muttered. “As if you ever do.”

Kirk smothered a smile. “As you were, doctor. How is she?”

McCoy sat back on his heels with a sigh. “As stable as I can get her here,” he said. “She should make it through the transport.”

Kirk nodded and stood swiftly.

“Kirk to Enterprise. Six to beam up.”


Spock looked like hell. He was, technically, still unconscious, but both Kirk and Bones had seen enough of Spock in sickbay to know he'd be up shortly, no matter what the doctor tried to pump into him. Spock had gotten past the muttering-to-himself stage and was now shifting about restlessly. Pretty shortly he'd be at the alert-and-complaining stage, as McCoy called it.

Kirk knew his First needed to know the mission and the ship were not in danger before the doctor had any hope of keeping him asleep. Kirk was the same way. It was one of the things, back before Kirk had learned to understand Spock, that had made the new captain of the Enterprise start to trust his occasionally prickly and somewhat severe first officer.

Spock tensed on the cot and opened his eyes, looking around quickly with fading confusion and concern. His eyes rested on Kirk, and he relaxed.

Kirk smiled.

He was there, not on the bridge with some emergency, and he was leaning casually against the wall, not pacing or arguing with Bones. Spock knew him pretty well, too. Nothing to worry about, business as usual.

“Captain,” Spock said calmly. He looked like he needed about another ten hours of sleep before he might even be considered to be considered fit for duty. “May I take it that the altercation ended in our favor?” he asked, already pushing himself up off the cot onto his elbows.

“You may,” Kirk said with a nod, amused. “Sorry about that phaser stun, by the way,” he added in a lower voice, leaning toward Spock.

“Not at all,” Spock said in that strange, very quaintly formal way he had of speaking sometimes. Kirk didn't think he knew he was doing it, but at those moments Spock seemed to directly channel the Lady Amanda. Kirk had noticed it early on and dismissed it as translation issues, until he'd actually met Spock's mother.

Spock then tried to sit up, but was stopped flat by the stormy scowl on McCoy's face.

“Oh, no you don't,” he warned. Spock gave him a wonderfully bland look.

“Doctor, I can assure you--”

“You can assure me until you're green in the face,” McCoy said crisply, “I'm not certifying you fit until you've had at least three more hours to sleep off that stun.”

“I do not need any more sleep,” Spock said reasonably, shoving himself into a seated position, “As can be attested by the fact that I am awake, despite whatever concoctions I am certain you've given me.”

“At ease, Mr. Spock,” Kirk said mildly, cutting in before Bones could flare up. Spock settled, favoring his captain with an expression that seemed to indicate Kirk had at least fair odds of getting him to behave. There was more than one reason why his CMO liked to have him around whenever Spock woke up in sickbay. “I can't have you dozing off at your post,” he said frankly.

Spock stirred, but said nothing, catching the expression on Kirk's face. Spock could pretend utter ignorance of emotion, but at least where Jim was concerned, very little of it seemed to go over his head. Kirk had a plan.

“However, I could use your expert opinion on...a small matter,” he added.

“Now, Jim--”

Jim held up a hand.

“In his spare time,” he explained, and flashed a charming grin. “Since he's going to be off duty anyway...”

“Sleeping,” McCoy said pointedly, suspicious.

“It won't take five minutes,” Kirk swore. “And I'll see him back to his quarters myself.”

McCoy glanced over at Spock mistrustfully. Spock seemed to sense that his captain was succeeding in freeing him and attempted to look innocently affronted at McCoy's lack of faith.

“And what then, sit on him?” Bones muttered.

Kirk chuckled.

“I'm sure that won't be necessary,” he said, flicking a glance over Spock's way that made it very clear that it damn well better not be necessary.

“Of course not, sir,” Spock said obediently, looking pleased. It was pretty easy to see why-even if he couldn't somehow figure a way to finagle himself back into duty after they left sickbay, he'd get to sleep it off in his quarters instead of on a cot with Dr. McCoy hovering over him.

Spock owed him one for this. As Starfleet duty was dangerous work, Kirk fully expected he'd be in a position to collect sooner or later.

“Five minutes,” Bones said with narrowed eyes. “Or I'll set the dogs loose on you, hear?”

Spock actually opened his mouth, but Kirk looked at him and just barely shook his head. Whatever Spock had been about to say about illogical human metaphors he swallowed, and from the slightly smug look on Bones' face, Kirk got the idea that his CMO had planned it that way.

Spock had plenty of time to prepare himself for it, so Kirk wasn't surprised at all when his first officer swung his legs over the side of the bed and got to his feet smoothly without the slightest evidence of fatigue. He faced off against McCoy with a cool dignity that dared him to protest.

McCoy saw this and nodded once, grudgingly. Spock did not entirely fail to smother a superior look. Kirk stepped in before things could escalate.

“Mr. Spock,” he said, gesturing towards the exit in an inclusive gesture. Spock inclined his head, and Kirk took off for the door, Vulcan in tow.

Spock was a deeply stubborn man. He didn't wobble until they were safely encased in the turbolift. Kirk was more or less expecting it, and was already close. He put a steadying hand at the small of his first officer's back and leaned in, almost forcing him to look him in the eye. Spock had tried to grab onto the wall while not looking like he was grabbing onto the wall.

“Spock?” he asked. For a second he saw a familiar expression flash across his first officer's face. An instant of guilty relief. He wondered when Spock had noticed it. He had to be conscious of it on some level to be guilty about it. Kirk certainly wasn't going to embarrass him by asking. He himself had made a note of it purely in the course of duty.

“I'm all right,” Spock said softly, then seemed to remember himself and straightened. “Sir,” he added.

Kirk leaned back a little and nodded. The man had saved the Enterprise more times than Kirk could count. As far as he was concerned Spock had earned the right to lean on his captain now and then.

“I meant what I said, you know,” he said. Spock turned to look at him, almost entirely managing to conceal the fact that he had to force himself to concentrate. Kirk smiled. “Five minutes, then back to your quarters.”

He watched Spock realize that he'd forgotten to ask a crucial question, and then realize that due to that, it was a hopeless exercise at this point, trying to convince his captain that he was fit for duty.

“Yes,” Spock said, chagrined. “If I might ask, what--”

“Our guest is awake,” Kirk said pleasantly. He watched Spock realize that he should have realized that.

“Guest?” Spock questioned, covering nicely, “Only one?”

“They appear to be unusually vulnerable to phaser stun. The shock killed all but one, and I had to field strip my phaser to get it set low enough not to kill her,” Kirk said, a bit of his frustration leaking through.

“Indeed?” Spock said, his eyebrows going up high. He was possibly picturing his captain puttering around with a wrench in the middle of a battle, and for once Kirk wished Spock wasn't the only one who could read minds. Then Spock blinked, his curiosity re-focusing. “Has she given any clue as to their motives?”

Kirk inclined his head with a half-smile curling his lips.

“She might have,” he said, and turned to face the doors of the turbolift. “That is certainly a possibility. However, since we can't understand a word, it's proving to be something of a problem.” Kirk was baiting him a bit, and rather enjoying himself at it.


He glanced over. Spock looked mildly concerned, as if he was weighing odds on whether his captain had hit his head on something.

“We're having...difficulties...with the universal translator,” Kirk said. “Uhura's down there now but for the moment...” He spread his hands.

“The universal translator is not responding to her vocalizations?” Spock asked, lifting his eyebrow.

“It's possible she's just snarling at us,” Kirk said with a thin smile. “Understandable, if I was in her place I'd be doing a little snarling myself. It would certainly explain things, as the translator hasn't been able to identify any syntax at all.”

“Has Lieutenant Uhura attempted-”

“Lieutenant Uhura is doing her best, and if the annual evaluation I have on my desk from her CO is any indication, her best is fairly impressive.” Kirk's voice warmed. “But that's not why you're going down there.”

Spock looked, in his own restrained Vulcan way, rather pleased. He knew exactly why Kirk wanted him there, at this point in their working relationship. Kirk wanted Spock's opinion. He wanted Spock to take a look at their new guest, and tell Kirk what he thought. Spock knew that, and it warmed the air between them. There was very little that pleased Spock more than knowing he was valued. McCoy occasionally threatened to write a psychological paper on it.

Kirk leaned over without looking at Spock.

“The letter you put in with the evaluation was a nice touch,” he commented, as if discussing the weather.

Spock put his hands behind his back.

“Lieutenant Uhura is a valuable officer,” Spock replied demurely. The doors opened, cutting off further comment. They came upon Uhura and Nurse Chapel first. The two of them appeared to be in deep discussion, standing at the security station with several small piles of data disks and some diagnostic equipment.

“Sir,” Uhura greeted, stepping away from Chapel, looking faintly frazzled.

“Lieutenant, any luck?” Kirk asked.

“I've pinned the problem down to the software we use to identify speech centers of the brain,” Uhura said with a sigh. “I've got the medical scans Dr. McCoy performed, but unless we manage a serious breakthrough, I'll need to put her through a calibration cycle.” Uhura glanced down the hall. “And...well...you've seen her, sir.”

A calibration cycle of the universal translator was a rare necessity that involved a lot of patience from a new life form and a human control. Their new guest was...

“Not exactly cooperative,” Kirk said. Uhura gave him a look of weary camaraderie.

“No, sir.” Her eyes strayed. “Is Mr. Spock--” she began hopefully.

“Just here for a quick look,” Kirk said swiftly, giving Spock a warning glance. Spock looked at Uhura, then back at him.

“Of course, there is no reason why the lieutenant could not send the information she has already gathered to me, for later perusal?” Spock sounded so wistful Kirk had to resist the urge to pat him on the arm.

“To your station on the bridge, Mr. Spock,” Kirk said with a firm, deliberately oblivious smile. “To be waiting for you when you're back on duty... No reason at all.”

Nurse Chapel smothered a smile. Both Uhura and Spock looked disheartened, in their own ways.

Kirk gave Uhura an encouraging look. “Do your best, Lieutenant. I'd like a preliminary report as soon as you have it.”

“Aye, sir,” she said stoutly.

Kirk nodded towards one of the cells, and Spock fell into step beside him. The guard on duty stiffened a bit as they approached. After a moment, Kirk copied Spock's stance, putting his hands smartly behind his back as they faced their prisoner.

Her fur was gray, her ribbon yellow and green. She saw them and silently bared her teeth, staring right at Kirk with an expression and intensity that needed no universal translator to understand. Her face said quite plainly that she'd love to meet him in a dark alley one day, or maybe even a brightly lit one. She did not spare a glance for Spock, as if she needed Kirk as a visual aide for all the violent things she was thinking about doing to him. Kirk saw Spock pick up on it, and was rather amused when his first officer's reaction was to move a little closer to him, stepping forward a bit. So that if by some freak of circuitry the force field did go down, she'd have to get by Spock to get at his captain. Kirk was not entirely sure Spock had realized he'd done it.

His guest gave a coughing bark. It was a sharp, aggressive sound, and the universal translator did not attempt to clarify it.

“Fascinating,” Spock commented thoughtfully. “Total translation failure is almost unheard of.”

“Ensign,” Kirk said, turning to the guard on duty, “Anything to report on our guest?” He could not quite recall the man's name. Miller, or Marvel. Something like that.

“Sir,” the security guard said smartly, “nothing new. She just sits there staring, sir.”

Kirk glanced back at her. She continued to try and bore a hole out through the back of his head using just her eyes.

“Yes,” he mused. “She does that.” Muller! Ensign Muller. He had a sister on the Constellation. “Carry on, Mr. Muller.”

Muller looked pleased.

Kirk pivoted to look up at his first officer and was startled by a sharp clench of nausea, a twinge of pain behind one eye that made his stomach roll. Kirk took a step back, gritting his teeth, noting with some surprise as his first officer stiffened and reacted violently. The Vulcan took a single, agitated step toward the force field as if he was protecting Kirk from something.

“Opaque the field,” Spock snapped at the guard, clenching his fists. Kirk swallowed bile, pressing a hand to his head, wondering what the hell his friend was on about. The guard hesitated, eying Kirk as if he looked as bad as he felt.

“Spock, what--” Kirk managed thickly. Spock took a step, shoved the guard out of his way, and opaqued the field himself. Muller went flying.

The pain in his head spiked in an extremely disturbing way, and Kirk stiffened with suspicion at the familiarity of the sensation. It felt like an intrusion, and the bright flare of indignation that followed the thought was enough to push the discomfort away for a moment. Spock, he noted, had activated the protocols for gassing violent prisoners into unconsciousness, and that nicely crystallized the situation for him.

Muller was picking himself up off the floor as Spock whirled around, his eyes sharp, assessing the health of his captain.

Kirk felt the pain and pressure ease sharply, and took a deep breath. Had he heard the thud of a large, furry body hitting the floor of the cell? Spock stepped close, concern dragging at his body language.

“Telepathy?” Kirk asked, his face dark.

Spock relaxed at his tone of voice. In control, and annoyed.

“Likely, sir,” Spock said, and turned to cast a quick glance at the now-opaque force field. “I could feel her attempt to attack you.” Spock did not turn to face him, but kept staring at the blank wall covering the cell as if he could somehow communicate his outrage to the unconscious inhabitant inside.

“Her attempt succeeded,” Kirk said, narrowing his eyes. Spock turned to him immediately.

“Are you in pain, Captain?” he asked solicitously.

Yes, Kirk thought. To his surprise, he felt a warmer-than-human hand touch him lightly on the arm in an unobtrusive way. He looked up and found Spock waiting for an answer with tense anticipation. Kirk shook his head and waved the question away.

“I'm all right.” With barely a breath he continued. “Mr. Muller,” he said to the slightly rumpled security guard, “I want another guard on this prisoner, and I want her monitored constantly from the security station. Keep the field opaque, and report any discomfort immediately, understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Muller said sharply.

“Spock,” Kirk said, inclining his head, and they both made for the lift.

“Sir, are you all right?” asked Uhura as they passed. She looked startled, and Kirk started to wonder what he looked like.

“I'm fine,” Kirk said briskly.

Spock hovered close in the lift, but Kirk didn't falter. Captains didn't have the luxury of wobbling, even when they got to the relative privacy of the turbolift.

“Bridge,” Kirk told it. “I'll trust you to get to your quarters on your own,” he added to Spock quickly. He was thinking about how easily the scientists on board the station had been overcome, and wondering if this new development was the key. He needed to talk to Scotty, needed to know if he'd found anything unusual.

Spock was staring at him. He looked rather like a man with a toothache.

“Something on your mind, Mr. Spock?” Kirk asked. Spock looked down at his boots. He shuffled his feet a bit. Kirk blinked, and gave him his full attention. “Spock?” he prompted.

“Sir,” Spock said reluctantly, and stopped. He looked pained.

“Stop lift,” Kirk said. He put his hands on his hips, and raised his eyebrows.

“You have been attacked by the mind of a hostile life form,” Spock said slowly, as if he'd very much rather not. Kirk gave him an impatient look. “As you know, we have just recently received new regulations in regards to such incidents--”

“I'm fine, Spock. I don't have time--” Kirk began.

“The regulations,” Spock said delicately, “are quite specific. You must submit yourself to the Chief Medical Officer for psychological and physiological examination.” He put both hands behind his back, looking pretty thoroughly depressed about the situation.

“Spock,” Kirk said, sounding wounded to his own ears. “I just got you out of sickbay, and you're going to turn me in?”

Spock looked down at the deck, distressed. He said nothing.

“Sickbay,” Kirk ordered the turbolift, defeated.

The tests should have taken about twenty minutes, but ended up being more like forty, because Kirk insisted on being able to check in with Scotty first, and then got a quick report from him about halfway through. McCoy finally threatened to make him take the whole thing over again, including brain scans, if he didn't sit still and concentrate.

He got up quickly when he was finished and buzzed the test room door to be let out. McCoy usually would have been right there monitoring-not because he needed to, but because he was that kind of doctor-but he wasn't, and after a moment of waiting Kirk had to buzz him again.

“Bones, what's the hold up?” he demanded.

“-ust a minute, Jim,” McCoy replied, sounding distracted. He flicked off the comm, so Kirk couldn't hear anything more. Kirk gave him another sixty seconds and started pounding on the door.

It finally swished open in front of him and he strode out briskly.

“What the devil took so long?” he demanded. Bones was standing on one side of the room and Spock was leaning against an examination table on the other side. There was a crackling tension in the air. Kirk got the impression of a pair of boxers told to go to their corners. He paused, re-assessing the situation.

“Gentlemen,” he said easily. “Is there a problem?”

Spock looked exhausted and miserable. McCoy was tense as hell. Neither of them offered him an explanation for it.

“All right,” Kirk said. “You're both adults. Now, if there's nothing wrong with my scans, I'll be on the bridge.”

“Captain,” McCoy said before Kirk could take a step. His tone of voice set alarm bells ringing. Kirk gave him a sharp look. “I must report that your scans are within the error range.” Bones glanced over at Spock. “But I don't see any reason to continue to investigate this officially.”

Kirk stared at him, those bells still clanging away. He'd had scans before. Bones had never once pronounced him 'within the range of error'. In fact, that sounded a hell of a lot like he'd failed the test. These tests were supposed to show whether or not a crewman had been affected mentally by an outside force. Why would...

“Within the 'error range'?” Kirk demanded sharply. Bones pursed his lips and bounced lightly on his heels.

“The two of you can use my office,” he said quietly, looking over at Spock. Just slightly, Spock flinched.

“What?” Kirk asked, startled. “Spock?” He looked over at his first officer. Spock looked grim.

“If I may speak to you in private, Captain?” Spock asked wearily, standing. He managed not to teeter, but he looked dead on his feet.

“All right,” Kirk said, spreading his hands. “I'll bite.” He agreed more out of curiosity than anything else. But as he moved toward the doctor's office, he saw Bones move to intercept his first officer. Kirk turned to look, expecting to be needed to avoid an argument. Instead, McCoy put a hand on Spock's arm in quiet support. Spock glanced down at him, and Bones gave him an encouraging look that was heavy with sympathy. Spock's face warmed a little. He almost looked grateful.

Kirk started to get worried. Whatever this was, it was bad.

“Bones?” he questioned. He was asking for a heads-up, and Bones knew it.

McCoy shook his head. “I'll be right outside,” he said. The way he said it was strange, almost like he was warning Kirk that he would be close by.

Kirk turned from the door, a demand on his lips, but the sight of Spock stopped him dead. He was leaning against the doctor's desk, his arms folded, head bowed. Kirk couldn't remember seeing him so hopeless-looking since...well, since Kirk had cornered him in his quarters and they'd had an awkward discussion about the birds and the bees.

Jim went to him, feeling his posture soften. He stepped up beside him and mimicked his stance, leaning with one hip against the desk, arms folded. Facing him but also standing beside him. A quiet statement of solidarity. Spock didn't miss the symbolism, and relaxed slightly.

“Jim,” he said quietly. “You are undoubtedly concerned about the results of your tests. For that I must apologize.”

“You must apologize? Why?” Kirk asked, taking care to keep his tone light.

Spock took a deep breath and stepped away from the table, bringing himself to an at-ease position. Kirk felt a curious sinking sensation at the move. Whatever it was, Spock couldn't bear to tell him as Spock. It had to be as Commander Spock.

“The tests showed that your mind has indeed been tampered with by an outside entity. However, it was not due to the incident that just occurred,” Spock said very calmly, very correctly.

“I have no memory of being tampered with,” Kirk said sharply, narrowing his eyes. Spock looked down at the deck.

“It is your memory that has been altered, sir.” Spock stiffened, lifting his head and staring into the middle-distance, as recommended for Starfleet cadets while being disciplined. “By me.”

Kirk stared at him.

“By you.” If Spock had punched him in the stomach, he couldn't have been more surprised. A hot white flare of emotion sliced him up the back. It felt suspiciously like betrayal. Kirk clenched his jaw against it. “Report,” he growled.

Spock jerked up straight like a marionette that had just got its strings yanked.

“On stardate 5843.7, the Enterprise stopped at the planet Holberg 917-G to obtain a supply of ryetalyn to combat the outbreak of Rigellian fever that was becoming epidemic on board.”

“I remember that.” Kirk said heatedly. Then, after a moment of thought...“What don't I remember?”

“There was a young woman, an individual we met while visiting there. You became attached to her. It distressed you greatly to be party to her destruction.”

Kirk frowned. It was an incident he recalled, and he felt a brief, premature trickle of relief. Spock must be mistaken.

“Rayna. Yes. She was a sweet girl, but she was an android, Spock.” He shook his head. “I remember her, so what--”

“No, sir,” Spock said quietly, shutting his eyes for a moment. “You do not remember. It was the quality of your emotion for her that I removed. You grieved very deeply for her. I took that grief from you.”

For a second or two, Kirk was actually speechless.

“You...removed?” He clenched his fists, horrified. “Why?”

Spock lifted his head, and Kirk saw the pleading in his eyes.

“I only wished to spare you pain--” he began with desperate sincerity.

At those words, something broke wide open inside him.“I want my pain!” Kirk thundered. He touched his fist to his chest, punctuating his words. “I...need...my pain.” He realized, vaguely, that he was actually shaking with rage. “Who are you to take it from me?” he demanded.

“I'm s-” Spock said helplessly, and stopped himself. His posture had relaxed with his beseeching tone but now he purposely stiffened it again, jerking himself upright. His lifted his head sharply, staring off into the middle distance with a desperation that was painful to watch. “I regret that my actions have caused you distress. What I have done is inexcusable. I can offer no justification.” His voice was rough with emotion, but for once, Kirk couldn't give a damn.

He opened his hands. He felt raw.

“How could you?” he demanded, knowing he wouldn't get an answer that could ever satisfy him.

Spock's drew into himself with a little shudder, lowering his head and dropping his eyes. Accepting the rebuke, but offering no further explanation.

Kirk turned his head and leaned with one hand on McCoy's desk. It was at least half because he didn't think he could bear to see the expression on Spock's face.

“Jim,” Spock said quietly, desperately.

“Get out,” Kirk replied.

There was no response save a single, sharp, dismayed intake of breath.

Kirk curled his hand into a fist, but it wasn't enough. With an explosion of frustration he slammed it into the desk.

“Get out of my sight!” he snarled, glaring up at the man he'd trusted above all others. Spock rocked back, as if from a blow, and swallowed hard. Then he nodded stiffly and stumbled towards the door in a mockery of his usual easy grace. Kirk didn't watch him leave. He concentrated very hard on not destroying the room. It wasn't his room, after all.

It wasn't ten seconds after Spock went out that Bones came in.

“Dammit, Jim, I-” he began before he was even properly in the door.

“You knew about this?” Kirk demanded roughly. Something either in his face or his tone of voice brought McCoy up short.

“No,” he said, his voice much softer. “Spock told me. Ten minutes ago.”

Kirk let out a breath of relief. He nodded silently. Foolish to think that Bones would have been party to....well. He straightened up briskly.

“Thank you, Doctor,” he said simply, and brushed past him.

“Jim!” Bones said, sounding shocked at him. Kirk turned back to look. It was almost like his CMO was searching his face for something. For some shred of emotion he needed to see. Whatever it was, Bones didn't seem to find it. “He was trying to help,” he said gently, as if Kirk was a fool not to see it.

“I don't need that kind of help,” Kirk said, and left.


Kirk sat at the table in the briefing room with his senior staff, watching sentient bears in brightly colored bows kill Federation civilians on the viewing screen.

Taking advantage of the lack of translation, they had pretended curiosity and nonviolence, until their small ship was docked at the station. It looked as though they'd taken the scientists entirely by surprise. Some of the men, he noted, fell before they were physically attacked. The intruders discovered very quickly that their weapons were ineffective and changed their tactics accordingly.


Kirk found himself staring across the table at Spock without really meaning to. It had been almost an entire day. Spock did not look like he'd slept at all. He turned away before Spock noticed.

It seemed to him as though there was one particular individual that was always at the front in those unarmed attacks. A smaller, dark furred fellow with a bright red strip of cloth fluttering out behind him. Someone more skilled in mental warfare? Kirk recalled quite clearly how much effort their prisoner had been putting forth to even give him a headache. She'd looked like she was trying to will herself out of her own skull, and she hadn't produced much of a result.

He seemed to recall Spock mentioning once how widely varied telepathic ability was among his own people. Not all Vulcans could manage a mindmeld, and even then, it took training for those who could.

The telepath in red was the first one Kirk had dropped upon entering the control room on the civilian station. It may have been coincidence, or perhaps he was close because he had sensed someone outside the door. Either way, it looked like they'd gotten lucky.

Kirk switched off the recording once it passed the point where the intruders got to the bridge. He leaned back in his chair.

“Well,” he said soberly. “Now that we know what happened, I want to know why. Mr. Scott?”

“I've got my lads down there right now going over that little ship. I can tell you I've never seen so much security on a transport shuttle,” Scotty said.

“I see. Doctor? The bodies?” Kirk asked. McCoy spoke up from farther down the table.

“The two bodies we found on board the shuttle were both killed violently. One of them was struck in the head from behind, and the other died of shock from one of their energy weapons.”

“You said you found something unusual about their clothing?” Kirk prompted.

“The strips of cloth they wear. In every other instance the color and style seemed to vary with the individual, but both of the bodies we found in the shuttle were dressed the same,” Bones said with a frown.

“A uniform?” Kirk asked, “Mr. Scott?” he leaned forward with interest.

Mr. Scott looked up at Kirk. He looked briefly caught off guard, and he glanced quickly at Spock. “Aye,” he hedged. “I saw them in the shuttle. They might be, at that.”

Beside him, out of the corner of his eye, Kirk saw Spock stir, and knew he'd had the same idea that his captain had.

“Scotty, were there any weapons on the two you found in the shuttle?” Kirk asked, circling his sudden hunch.

“No, sir,” Scotty replied. “Though heaven knows there were plenty to go around. There were five or six of those little blasters locked up behind the pilot's station.”

“Prisoners,” Spock said. Everyone at the table turned to look at him except Kirk. He kept his eyes on the table, nodding thoughtfully.

“It's a possibility. A group of criminals that overpowered their guards and took control of their transport ship,” Kirk said in a carefully controlled tone of voice, without ever glancing up at his first officer.

“It could be, but without understanding their language it's impossible to know for sure,” Sulu commented.

Kirk's eyes darted down the table.

“Lieutenant Uhura?” he prompted. Uhura looked over at Spock, who had been largely silent during the briefing.

“Mr. Spock and I have been working on the problem,” she paused, but when Kirk continued to look at her expectantly instead of turning to Spock, she continued. “We've got the software problem targeted and we should have something to report in an hour or two.”

“Very well. Carry on. Mr. Scott, I want you to tear that shuttle down to the landing gear. Have Lieutenant DeSalle help you try and backtrack using their navigational computer. I want to know where these people came from and why. ”

“Aye, sir,” Scotty said stoutly.

“Anything else?” Kirk offered, looking out at his officers. They were silent, though Uhura was shifting her eyes between Kirk and Spock, her expression confused.

“Dismissed,” Kirk said then, ignoring her.

Kirk remained seated, as he often did after a meeting. He enjoyed having an extra moment or two to think things through. Spock hesitated after he stood, pausing at Kirk's chair as he often did after a meeting. Kirk rarely spent that moment alone. He could not count the number of times they had come up with the right answers, just the two of them bouncing ideas around.

For the first time since entering the briefing room, Kirk looked Spock in the eye.

“Dismissed,” he said clearly, icily.

The room had not completely emptied when he spoke. Scotty and Bones actually turned to stare. He watched Spock absorb the full implication of the fact that Kirk did not give a damn that they had an audience. His first officer dropped his eyes in an almost-nod, somehow looking smaller. He stepped around Kirk and silently exited the room.

Kirk swallowed a growing swell of angry satisfaction at the reaction. Scotty glanced from the door to his captain with a faintly queasy look on his face, then ducked out after Spock. The door shut behind him. For a moment the room was quiet as two people stared at each other.

“Something I can do for you, Doctor?” Kirk asked.

“You can stop acting like a blasted idiot,” McCoy said, sitting down rather roughly in the seat beside him. “That'd be a start.”

“Bones, after what he did,” Kirk pounded his fist lightly on the table, “I ought to file charges-”

“Oh, you're not going to file charges,” McCoy said, exasperated. “You're just going to take your pound of flesh out of him. Hell, at this point, he's probably afraid he's going to be transferred as soon as we get to a starbase.”

“I thought about doing just that,” Kirk snapped, and then paused, calming himself. “But I'm not going to.” He looked away for a moment. “He's the best first officer in the fleet.” He straightened, his voice sure.“The ship needs him.”

He pointed his finger at McCoy.

“But I don't have to be happy about it,” Kirk growled.

“Don't lie to yourself,” McCoy said flatly. “'The ship needs him,'” he mimicked, and snorted. “My god, Jim, you need him.”

Kirk looked away again, his jaw working.

Who was he kidding. Transfer Spock? It would be like cutting off his own arm.

“I just might,” he admitted. His eyes flashed at Bones, dark and angry. “I don't have to be happy about that either.” He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair a little. “I'm surprised at you, Doctor.” Kirk tilted his head, honestly puzzled. “I would've expected you to be more upset about this than I am.”

McCoy gave him a look that made him distinctly uncomfortable. It was a strange mix of guilt and pity. Heavy on the pity.

“Dammit, Jim, don't you see what's going on here?” McCoy asked, leaning forward. “You want an explanation from Spock about his behavior, but he can't explain it to you.” McCoy scoffed quietly. “He can't even explain it to himself, because what he did wasn't logical.”

Bones shook his head, looking sad.

“I don't know how much of it you remember but,” he hesitated at the look on Kirk's face, but then pushed on. “You were a wreck. The girl was special to you and after she died you just fell apart. Maybe it was just cumulative stress, the missions we'd been on; It'd been less than a year since you lost your brother...I don't know.” Bones had a very sober expression on his face. “Every man has his breaking point,” he added sympathetically.

Kirk set his jaw. “No,” he said stubbornly. “I can't believe that I-”

“Don't give me that,” Bones scoffed. “James T. Kirk is human, just like all the rest of us.”

“Even Spock?” Kirk asked, curious about the answer he'd get. McCoy shook his head.

“Yes,” he said sadly. “Even Spock.” He looked up at Kirk, and that strange guilt was back again. “You should be blaming me for this, if you're going to blame anyone.”

Kirk narrowed his eyes, feeling a sudden pang. “Oh?” he asked. “Why's that?”

McCoy pounded the table, hard, with one hand.

“Because I goaded the poor bastard into it, that's why!” he said explosively. He scowled. “I told him, no matter how bad off you were because of love, that Spock was worse off not knowing what love was.” He leaned on the table, shaking his head. “I practically slapped him in the face with your pain.” He waved one hand. “Then I waltzed off to my quarters, and the next morning, when you were smiling again, I counted us all lucky and said no more about it.”

Kirk stared at him, startled and oddly touched by his friend's impassioned defense of his intellectual and philosophical rival.

McCoy pointed an accusatory finger at him.

“What Spock did for you was an act of good, old-fashioned, human feeling.” He stood up, shoving his chair away from the table. “And if you push him away now, he's going to crawl so far down a logical, unemotional hole that we'll never see the real Spock again. He'll run back to Vulcan and shove his head inside a computer for the rest of his life.”

Kirk's heart twisted in his chest. He shifted a little in his chair, uncomfortable with the emotions his friend was stirring up.

McCoy went quiet, as if wrestling internally with what he wanted to say.

“And I'll tell you something, but if you ever repeat it to Spock I'll call you a liar.” He said finally, giving him a warning glare. His voice went sharp. “We'd all be worse off for the lack of him.”

Kirk's mouth was open, so he shut it.

“I see,” he said quietly, just about as surprised as he'd ever been.

“No, you don't,” McCoy said wearily, “Or you wouldn't be angry about this.” He moved toward the door, but hesitated at the threshold, stopping to look back at Kirk just before the sensors would realize he was there and open the door.

“I'm telling you,” Bones said clearly. “You're making a mistake.” The door hissed as he left.


Three hours later, Kirk was leaning over the railing on the bridge, holding a twisted bit of metal and looking up at Scotty standing at the engineering station. Scotty had managed to piece together some broken scraps of circuitry he'd found on the floor of the intruder's ship. His best guess was that it used to be something akin to the inhibitor collars the Federation occasionally used in penal colonies on telepathic species. It added to Kirk's theory, but since Scotty pronounced the device irredeemably dead, it wasn't exactly helpful.

“Can you have something comparable built?” Kirk asked him, running his thumb over the cracked casing. It looked like someone had taken a hammer to it. Mr. Scott paused, looking thoughtful.

“Using just what we have on board....It wouldn't be pretty,” Scotty said reluctantly.

“But would it work, Scotty?” Kirk asked, already fairly certain of the answer. Mr. Scott had a famous reluctance toward poor quality workmanship. If he built something, he wanted it built right. Sometimes that just wasn't possible on board a starship. It usually took a minimum of goading for him to cave in on perfection and concentrate on functionality.

“Aye,” he said finally. After taking a breath to think about it, he puffed out his chest a bit in pride. “If it can be built, my lads can build it.”

“Excellent, Mr. Scott,” Kirk praised, pleased. Four years ago it would have taken him at least another five minutes to bring Scotty around. It was nice to see a command team jell. Spock called it 'the efficiency of familiarity'. Sometimes he thought a five year mission wasn't quite long enough.

His thoughts were interrupted when Uhura called him from security with news that the universal translator was now doing some translating. He was due to go offshift anyway, so he gave Sulu the conn.

When he got down to the cells, he was rather surprised to find Uhura standing there waiting for him by herself. She looked a bit embarrassed about it.

“Lieutenant,” Kirk greeted, glancing around in puzzlement, “I thought Mr. Spock was down here assisting you?”

“Mr. Spock,” she began tactfully, “had some duties to tend to in the lab.” Uhura gave him an apologetic grimace. “He already left, sir.”

The expression on her face told him quite clearly that Spock was ducking out to avoid him. Kirk gave her a rueful smile. He shouldn't have snapped at Spock after the meeting. His temper got the better of him, and now it was probably all over the ship that the first officer was in the doghouse with Captain Kirk. Bad business. He'd have to deal with it.

“Thank you, Lieutenant. I'm certain you can explain it as well as he can,” Kirk said solicitously.

Uhura looked very pleased at the compliment. She gave a brief, concise report, involving the medical scans Doctor McCoy had run on their prisoner and the established range of baseline readings the universal translator was designed to recognize in the brains of intelligent sentient beings. Their guests were wired differently. One of the results of this was the difficulty with translation. The other was the reason Kirk had ordered all of the security guards on that deck have their phasers adjusted so they would not accidentally kill the person they were supposed to be guarding.

“Is our guest saying anything?” Kirk asked, as they started down the hall toward the cells.

Uhura barely smiled. “Some cursing, sir. I think she said something about my mother, in fact.”

Kirk lifted his eyebrows.

“Can't have that,” he said lightly. “I'll see what I can do to...attract her hostility.”

Uhura gave him a slightly wicked look. Kirk mused for a moment about the unfairness of some aspects of his reputation, but declined to comment. Kirk slowed as they approached the occupied cell, noting that it was Muller again on watch, and an older crewman he'd seen on a landing party or two. Ensign Richardson. Saxophone player, if he was remembering right. Richardson smiled at Uhura as they approached. Kirk seemed to recall listening to the two of them playing together once or twice in rec one.

There was something that bothered Kirk as they got closer. He wasn't sure what it was. It might have been the somewhat dazed look on Muller's face. Then he saw Muller's hand creeping over toward the door controls.

In an instant, Kirk flashed on damn near every instance he'd ever been trapped in a jail cell with his first officer. Spock, pressed up against a wall, reaching out with his mind to influence the guard on the other side of it...

Kirk's gaze shot over to the cell, expecting to see a similar scene, but of course he'd ordered it opaqued.

“Muller,” Kirk said suspiciously. He couldn't clearly see what Muller was doing. Richardson looked over and lunged for his crewmate without hesitation.

“Don't!” Richardson shouted, too late.

The force field dropped with a cheerful little sparkle, and a six-foot tall mass of fur and teeth exploded into the hall.

Muller and Richardson dropped almost immediately, felled by flailing fists. Kirk took a flying leap and gave her an elbow to the face. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Uhura diving for a loose phaser, and was distracted for a crucial second. The escapee grabbed him up in a huge paw, and threw him. He hit Uhura before he hit the bulkhead, crushing her in between. She gave a short cry and went limp. Kirk barely had time to raise his head before he felt himself grabbed by the throat and lifted.

He choked, clutching at the arm of his attacker, and the pressure let up slightly. She set him on his feet, poking him in the ribs with the phaser Uhura had been reaching for.

“Where is your hangar deck?” came a rough, demanding voice.

Kirk looked down at Uhura's still form. The sight brought him to a boil, and he looked up into his attacker's face with flat rage in his eyes. She shook him, not gently. “I need to get to a ship!”

Mentally, Kirk calculated how long it would take for the security guard he'd put on monitoring duty to call in an alert and show up with reinforcements. A few moments more...

“Deck 13, engineering section,” he rasped, playing for time.

“Show me,” she snapped, turning him smartly without easing her grip on his throat.

She didn't sound threatening. She sounded scared out of her mind, and Kirk clenched his fists, almost too angry to care. He needed to be cautious. A frightened adversary could be a lot more dangerous than a calculating one.

He relaxed his hands and put them up, deliberately nonthreatening. Security arrived before he'd gone two steps. His new friend ducked low behind him and started to bear down on Kirk's neck.

“You can kill me, but I'll take him along!” she warned the guards, emphasizing her point with a squeeze.

Kirk opened his mouth to tell them to back off, and found that he could no longer speak. He noticed, with some alarm, that his vision was starting to fade out at the edges. He reached up to pull at the fingers around his throat, and abruptly lost some time.

The next thing he knew, someone was shouting in his ear.

“Damn you, how does it go?” She was growling at him in panic and frustration, but he noticed she'd eased up almost entirely on his neck. He looked around and made a quick assessment. Security must have pulled back. She'd dragged him into the turbolift.

“I'll have to do it,” Kirk choked, his throat raw. She eyed him suspiciously, and then gestured for him to go ahead.

“No tricks,” she warned, and let go of his throat. Kirk got the lift in motion, turning to get a good look at his captor. She was adjusting the phaser she'd stolen. He watched her set it on 'kill', and decided that she was either a better telepath that she'd seemed to be, or she was very observant. If he hadn't known for a fact that she was holding one of the modified phasers, he'd have started to sweat.

“You don't have to do this,” Kirk said carefully, managing his own body language so he came off as if the weapon she held had just gotten dangerous.

“You think I want to?” she demanded. “I don't want to hurt anyone.”

“Then don't,” Kirk said quickly. “We can talk-”

“No talking. I'm not going back into a cage,” she said. Kirk saw with mild alarm that her hand was shaking.

“Those others...the ones who came here in your ship with you, who took the station. Were they holding you against your will?” A chance for him to seem sympathetic. A chance for him to see if she would lie.

“No,” she said, deciding to talk after all. “I was with them. We escaped together. But I didn't want to kill anyone.” Her voice got more animated. “I didn't kill anyone.”

It was possible. He couldn't remember seeing her doing any of the actual killing on the security tapes.

“But you didn't stop them,” Kirk said, probably a bit more sharply that he ought to.

“They wouldn't listen,” she hissed, glowering at him. “And I just wanted to get away.” She leaned close. “Just let me get away,” she urged, wide eyed and desperate.

Kirk actually felt a little twinge of real sympathy.

“My name's Jim Kirk,” he said with a semblance of a smile, turning on the charm. “What's yours?”

She actually relaxed a little.

“Planter,” she said. Kirk caught a little whine in his ear from the universal translator as she spoke. It made him think that what it had given him was the literal translation and not a sound-alike approximation of the name in Standard, as it was supposed to.

It was one of the most delicate situations imaginable, and the translator wasn't working right.


“I'll do my best to help you,” Kirk told her, and meant it. He just hoped what he was saying was what she was hearing.

The turbolift stopped at the right deck, and instead of grabbing him by the throat again, Planter (or Grrgh, as the case might be) allowed him to walk ahead of her, pointing an essentially useless phaser at his back. The situation was looking up.

The doors opened and Kirk made a mental note to give Giotto a commendation-- the deck looked utterly innocuous and deserted.

Looking pleased, his captor gestured him towards the shuttle Columbus.

Kirk saw some motion out of the corner of his eye, and spoke quickly to distract her.

“What is it you've done? Why were you held against your will?”

She said something the translator flatly refused to touch. Kirk took a step back and made a frustrated sound. She seemed to understand, trying a different word.

“Political prisoner,” she said, startling him.

Not a killer. Not even a thief.

“I want to be free,” she said firmly. “Free to make my own choices.” She glanced rather significantly at the phaser in her hand. “And my own mistakes.”

Kirk felt a more significant twinge of sympathy.

“I feel the same way,” he said. He wondered suddenly, oddly, whether Spock was there somewhere. Hiding behind a shuttlecraft with a phaser that he didn't like to use. Listening.

“But I'm sorry,” he added, taking another step back, “I can't let you leave.”

“What-” she snapped, and the security guard Kirk had spied easing into position caught her mid-sentence with phaser fire.

She went down snarling, like she had before, but this time she got a shot off before passing out. Kirk dove to one side but it caught him in the shoulder and he staggered, momentarily stunned. He braced himself against the hull of the Columbus as half the security guards on board scrambled out from behind every available hiding spot.

“Captain,” someone called, agitated. It sounded like Giotto.

Kirk winced, rolling his shoulder in the socket. She'd hit him with modified, dampened-down phaser fire, so she hadn't managed to even stun him properly. He wasn't hurt, but the area tingled rather strangely.

Someone touched him on the arm, so he looked up. Spock stood close, Giotto right behind him.

“Sir,” Spock began, concern tugging at his features. “Are you injured?”

His throat hurt and he was in a lousy mood. He also didn't really want Spock touching him. Kirk stepped back, reclaiming his arm, and Spock's face smoothed quickly. He straightened, as if accepting the silent rebuke.

“Lieutenant Uhura?” Kirk said, ignoring the question. “And the guards, is everyone all right?”

“Minor injuries only, sir,” Spock said very coldly, very correctly.

Giotto was watching the interaction between his two senior officers, and his eyes widened a bit at their exchange. Kirk turned to him and started popping off orders to keep his over-observant mind occupied. He wanted Planter back in her cell and kept unconscious until Scotty could get his improvised inhibitor working. After Giotto hurried off, Kirk turned back to his first officer, his posture relaxing.

Kirk leaned toward him, inviting him in close but taking care not to touch him.

“Did you hear any of what she said?” Kirk asked in a quiet voice. Spock's eyes flicked up and gave him a very careful examination. He seemed to be measuring his captain's mood. Under the circumstances, Kirk couldn't blame him.

“Nearly all, sir,” Spock said, somewhat hesitantly. Kirk folded his arms, rubbing absently at his tingling shoulder.

“Is it likely?” Kirk mused, frowning as he watched his security guards slap his unconscious former captor in restraints. “Could she be telling the truth?”

Beside him, Spock softened a little.

“I can offer you no certainties there, sir,” he said with a hint of regret. Spock put his hands behind his back. “She has shown a notable tendency toward violence.”

Kirk gave him half a smile. “Politicians often do,” he said.

Spock lifted his eyebrows and dipped his head in Kirk's direction as if conceding a point.

Kirk pivoted where he stood so that his shoulder was nearly resting against Spock's chest, and his mouth was very close to Spock's ear.

“We need to have a discussion,” Kirk said, almost without moving his lips.

Kirk was too close to him to get a good look at his face, but he did notice that Spock took a very deep breath. Then Spock lowered his head, so his mouth would be difficult for anyone looking at them to see.

“Yes,” he said quietly.

“My quarters, after your shift,” Kirk said quickly, and stepped away.


Four hours later, Kirk was sitting at his desk. Thanks to Scotty, their prisoner was locked safely in her cell under the influence of a jury-rigged telepathic inhibitor. He'd just finished logging Giotto's commendation and completing his account of the events of the day when his door chimed. He had a moment to wish he'd fished out the brandy, because he had a sneaking suspicion that by the end of the evening he'd need some. Then he punched the switch on his desk to unlock the door.

“Enter,” he called.

The door swished open, but for a split second Spock hesitated at the threshold as if, subconsciously, he didn't really want to enter. Then he came in. Trust Spock not to give in to his subconscious.

He stopped in the middle of the room and dropped into an 'at ease' position.

“Sir,” he said neutrally, “you wished to see me.” His control was near perfect. He was poised and calm and his face was quite emotionless.

Kirk tapped at the surface of his desk for a breath or two. He wondered how long Spock had stood outside his quarters before signaling.

“Yes,” he said, his voice closed and tense. He stood sharply and started to wander around his own quarters. “I've been thinking about what you did.” He let out a breath, shaking his head. “What you did...” He turned and looked over at Spock. “It was horrifying, Mr. Spock.” He thumped his fist lightly on the bookshelf. “I won't stand for it.”

Spock blinked. There was no other reaction. Kirk took a step toward him.

“Do you understand why what you did was wrong?” he asked with a sudden surge of frustration. He searched Spock's face, but Spock looked down at the deck, avoiding his eyes.

“Captain.” He said the word so quietly it almost seemed like it had sneaked out his mouth. “I understand. I knew, at the time, what your objections would be.” His eyes lifted to meet Kirk's, but they only showed weariness. “I acted despite this. Please, sir,” he added, and the soft intensity that was suddenly present in his voice hit Kirk like a slap in the face. Spock shook his head. “I can not explain further. I have no excuse.” There was honest helplessness in his voice. As if there was really nothing more he could say.

Kirk weighed that, a little stunned by the answer he came up with. He'd heard Spock use that tone of voice before. They'd been on their way to Talos IV.

'Captain-- Jim, please! Don't stop me-- Don't let him stop me....'

Kirk took a step back, considering. He spent a few startled seconds thinking about Captain Christopher Pike. Kirk was well aware that starship duty had a tendency to eat captains-- especially starship captains. They had the highest burn-out rate in the fleet. The mortality rate wasn't all that comforting, either. The job got to people, one way or another...but not to Chris, and not to Kirk. They'd both had a Vulcan there to save them.

Bones had known all along.

“McCoy had a talk with me about this, you know,” he said finally. He kept his voice light, with the easy comfort of idle chatter.

Spock had known him long enough to smell a rat, and he was hesitant. “Oh?” he replied.

Kirk nodded, leaning back casually against the corner of his desk.

“He gave quite a speech in your defense. It was inspired, you should have seen it,” Kirk said.

Spock lifted an eyebrow. It seemed like it took him a good deal more effort to do than it reasonably ought to. He looked like someone who knew he was walking into a trap.

“Indeed? That is...somewhat difficult to believe.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Spock, considering the circumstances it was...quite logical,” Kirk said with care. “You do the good Doctor a disservice. He explained very well why you did what you did. I just wasn't prepared to listen.” Kirk's eyes shot up to meet Spock's. “He said it was love.”

Spock froze. He stopped breathing.

Kirk pushed himself to his feet, and walked up to the life-size statue of his first officer.

“Oh, he didn't use that word to refer to you specifically,” Kirk said easily, cutting the rather-shellshocked-looking statue a bit of slack. He nodded his head thoughtfully. “But that was the gist of it. It took me some time to realize what he meant myself. Love, Mr. Spock.”

After a heartbeat or two, his friend gathered himself together.

“That,” Spock began, and his voice broke. “That is certainly an...intriguing...if unfounded interpretation of the events in question, Captain.” He looked up, and Kirk was right there. The concept of personal space had long been obsolete between them, and Kirk pushed that leeway right to the limit.

“But you don't have another explanation for me, do you?” Kirk asked him gently.

There was silence. Then-

“Jim,” Spock said, in a very private voice. He struggled for a moment, but did not continue. However, for a handful of breaths, everything Spock was feeling showed quite clearly on his face. The quiet intensity of the emotion Kirk saw there struck him entirely speechless.

Kirk had the distinct sense that he'd just been given something momentous. He put a hand out and gripped Spock's shoulder in an expression of wordless support.

“All right, Spock,” he said softly, not pushing any further. After all, he had his answer. “All right.” He took a long, deep breath. When he spoke again his voice was gentle, but firm. “However, I'm afraid that doesn't change my mind.”

Spock's eyes flicked up to his face, startled.

Kirk took a step back. He folded his arms and frowned at the floor for a second or two. “We've come a long way, you and I.” Kirk glanced up. “'Per angusta ad augusta .' I'm willing to take a lot of things in stride. But I will...not...stand for this. What you did after the incident between myself and Mr. Flint,” his voice softened, “is unacceptable.”

Spock looked ill.

“I understand, sir.” He looked away. “If you...wish to transfer me-”

“No, I don't want to transfer you, Spock, haven't you been listening to me?” Kirk said, annoyed. He pointed at the floor between them, emphasizing his words. “You took the memory from me, well, you can put it right back.”

Spock stared at him.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked.

“You heard me,” Kirk said simply. “I want it back.”

“Jim,” Spock said, and hesitated. He looked down at the deck and smoothed his hand over his mouth. It was a pensive gesture, as if he wasn't quite sure what to say.

“When I spoke to you about altering your memory,” Spock said slowly, “I did not mean to imply that I uprooted it and took it away with me.” He seemed vaguely embarrassed, as if Kirk had said something that required him to explain that water was wet. Spock spread his hands as if to show they were empty. “I cannot return what I do not have. The experience is gone. It can't be retrieved.”

Kirk frowned. He hadn't thought of that as a possibility.

“I see,” he said absently. “But,” he glanced up at Spock, “you entered my mind, correct? You...experienced my memories. How else would you know what to change?”

“To a limited extent,” Spock allowed. “It would be more precise to say that I encouraged your mind to change itself.”

“Can you show me what you remember about it?” Kirk asked.

Spock stared at him for a long moment, looking startled.

“I...do not...” he began slowly. He was very tense all of a sudden, and Kirk could only guess that he wasn't sure of his own ability to satisfy his friend with what little he could recall.

“I'm not expecting a computer recording, Spock,” he cut in swiftly. “Whatever you remember from my mind. Fill in with your own memories of what happened, I don't care.”

Spock went very still, and Kirk somehow knew he was debating fiercely whether or not to agree. Kirk took a step closer, and touched him on the arm, gaining him Spock's complete attention.

“I need to know what I've lost,” Jim said, his voice quiet. Spock's lips parted slightly.

“Very well,” he said, sounding strangely helpless. As if he'd just taken some kind of leap. Kirk got the distinct impression that he was missing something.

Spock clasped his hands together in front of him, a gesture Kirk recognized from watching him perform countless mindmelds. It looked like Spock wasn't going to let the grass grow under his feet.

“If,” There was a catch in Spock's throat and he paused, clearing his throat. “If you are prepared?”

Kirk barely smiled.

“No time like the present,” he said.

Spock lifted a hand towards him. Kirk relaxed his shoulders and raised his chin a little, offering his face to Spock's reaching fingers. Spock froze for a second at the gesture. He took a deep breath. Then Spock rubbed his fingers together, as if trying to prepare himself for something difficult.

Kirk was starting to get a bit concerned.

“Spock?” he asked, but Spock was already placing his fingers with delicate care in the correct position, and Kirk decided to let it slide.

He stayed very still as Spock started to recite words Kirk was very familiar with. He'd seen Spock manage without the mantra on things weirder than himself. After so many successful attempts, Kirk was pretty sure Spock didn't need it to focus his mind anymore. He figured at this point Spock did it just to calm the person he was trying to connect with.

Kirk certainly found it relaxing. Honestly, he found the whole process fairly pleasant. Occasionally uncomfortable, sure, but not bad all around, and useful as hell. He knew not everyone agreed with him. Bones in particular had found it 'creepy'.

It wasn't really surprising that Kirk was comfortable. The deeper emotions of the evening aside, he just plain liked Spock. It stood to follow that he'd like his mind as well.

Kirk felt a familiar pressure and then the cold-water-on-a-hot-day feel of Spock's mind easing close. He kept himself calm and waited. He'd been told he had something of a...forceful personality. Kirk didn't like the idea of leaving Spock bruised up. Metaphorically speaking.

He was abruptly overwhelmed with the scent of apples, and he acquired an interesting overlay to his stream of consciousness. An echo that he knew from experience could tug his thoughts in unexpected directions. Kirk didn't know if the unusual crosswiring of his senses was a common reaction to melding, but the effect never failed to appear when Spock did it to him. Unusual smells and bright flashes of color seemed to be the norm.

Synesthesia, he thought, and yes, it was a common reaction.

He wondered if Spock-Yes.

Textures, predominantly. Woven textiles and gritty sand and porous metal grating. The situations related to the textures came to mind, flipping through his head like a deck of cards. The sensation was new, not at all what he'd come to expect, and he was affected by the solid certainty that what they were about to do was something quite different.

His attention fixated, like light focused by a convex lens. It shined toward a place in his mind that was exceedingly unpleasant to look at. For all of him. As a reaction to the discomfort, he sank a little further into himself. Pulling in tighter, moving closer.

It felt nice, like warm sandstone and the clean smell of bedsheets. It felt nice in a way he was entirely unprepared for it to feel nice. He went a little further still, for no other reason than how good it felt. He got an extremely pleasant little jolt. It spread wonderfully all through him.

Velvet, he thought. Lube.

The contact got stronger. The associations rapidly got graphic. He liked this. Every part of him liked this. He was going down and in, wondering with pleased surprise at how enjoyable it was. For some reason he had not expected it to be... He was pulled away from continuing on by a spark of recognition, a kind of 'aha!', as if he'd found the right page in a book, or finally wandered down to the right deck on a strange starbase. He pushed his way a little closer, underneath everything. Deep, where things were hidden, where things that must never be seen lived in the dark. It still felt fantastic...it shouldn't...feel so...

He remembered something.

Kirk came back to himself with a deep, ragged breath, and staggered like a drunk. Spock pulled his hand from Kirk's face like he'd been welded there and needed to tear skin in order to get free. His friend gasped harshly and stumbled, barely catching himself from falling on the deck by grabbing onto the monitor on his desk.

Kirk thought that he really ought to try and help him out, but then realized that he was only managing to keep himself upright by clutching at the shelf behind his chair. Sensibly, he got a better grip by hooking his fingers into the grating behind the shelf.

Thoroughly rattled by what he'd felt, and what he'd seen, Kirk tried to catch his breath. He was half-hard, and when he looked over at Spock, flushed green and clinging awkwardly to his desk, the situation became crystal clear.

He remembered. He remembered more than he should have, and certainly more than Spock would probably like. Rayna, and dancing, and despair. Spock's reaction to that despair. Those bits of information were currently causing their share of disarray in his head. It didn't matter. His attention had been completely diverted.

The reputation of James T. Kirk was not entirely unearned. He had never been saddled with prejudice or bigotry. He imagined that he had probably, as a result of both his job and his temperament, been an active participant in wider variety of sex, with a wider variety of sentient beings, than any human had a right to hope for. Possibly more than they could reasonably imagine. In some cultures sex was as much of a common courtesy as a handshake was. It some sentients, it entirely consisted of a handshake.

Not all sentient beings were as up front about the birds and the bees as humanity was. As a result, and probably out of a sense of self-preservation, Kirk had developed something of a sense about sex. It had come in handy once or twice, on strange new worlds. He'd saved Scotty once from a group marriage with some very odd creatures on Capitula II. One look at the four of them trying to hold hands with him and he'd known without a doubt what was going on. Scotty had blushed to the roots of his hair when he found out.

Kirk's intuition was shouting at him now. Despite the fact that he'd melded with Spock many times and never felt even a hint of anything like it before, Kirk was absolutely certain he'd just had sex with his first officer. There was a heavy, electric tension in the air that couldn't be mistaken for anything else.

But that wasn't all of it. It wasn't just sex. He'd been...inside...his first officer. He'd penetrated him. The sensation was unmistakable, even if the perspectives on everything he remembered were strange.

He took another breath. Even the room smelled like sex. Sweat and arousal.

“Did we...just...” Kirk managed.

“Yes,” Spock said softly, leaning his weight heavily against Kirk's desk, as if gravity was dragging at him. Spock let out a puff of breath and shook his head a little. It wasn't exasperation, and not a laugh. It seemed more like a brief, bitter acknowledgment of an entirely unfair and capricious universe. Spock looked beat down right to the core, and worse, he didn't seem to have the energy to even pretend to hide it.

Kirk blinked at him. From the state of Spock's trousers, he didn't think Spock was unhappy about the sex. No, he remembered it pretty clearly. Spock had enjoyed himself. It had to be...something else. Kirk pushed himself away from the wall, approaching with rising concern.

“Was that what I was asking you to do, when I asked you to show me how you....” Felt. How Spock felt had been absolutely, painfully, devastatingly clear, so much so that Kirk was shocked, in hindsight, that Spock had ever agreed to it. “...remembered it?” he finished gently.

Spock pressed his lips into a thin line, lifted his eyebrows, and looked down at his hands. The expression made him look about nine years old. For a moment he was silent.

“The experience is entirely dependent on the character of the individuals involved,” Spock said carefully. “Ours was somewhat unusual, but not unheard of.”

Kirk supposed that made a certain kind of sense. He'd translated the experience into the closest thing it related to in his head, and Spock had come along for the ride. He'd never been the one searching for something in a meld. Spock had always been the one in control, and the melds had been perfectly non-sensual and aboveboard.

Put Jim Kirk in charge of one and...well...

Kirk wondered if he ought to be a bit embarrassed. Then he wondered if Spock had suspected what would happen, and if that accounted for the slightly strangled look on his face when Kirk had first suggested it.

Kirk leaned in close, folding his arms.

“You might have said something,” he said, somewhat sheepishly.

Spock raised his eyebrow, and managed to look rather wearily amused.

“You required satisfaction,” he said calmly.

Kirk stared at him for a moment with his mouth open. Of course he meant the altered memory, he didn't mean...and Spock would never tell a joke. Not a chance.

Spock, of course, looked entirely above suspicion. He lifted his head as if no one could possibly dare to accuse him of ever being anything but perfectly logical. The expression was a bit forced, and if Kirk had seen his friend looking that threadbare at any other time he would have been more than worried. At the moment, however, just the fact that Spock was making an effort was good enough for him.

Kirk stepped close to him, putting his hands on his friend's shoulders. He was fully intending to start in on a deeply fond, overly emotional speech that would have completely embarrassed Spock, but he got distracted as soon as they touched.

Kirk was getting a strange tingle in his hands. A weak sort of undertow. As if, should Kirk allow it, their minds could be pulled together again very easily. It was a warm, pleasant sensation.

Faintly, Kirk caught the scent of fresh green apples.

He didn't remember closing his eyes. When he opened them he saw Spock regarding him with a very intimate expression. Kirk squeezed his shoulders gently, rubbing with his thumbs. The undertow tugged a little harder, a gentle, steady pull in one direction.

“You saw more than I anticipated,” Spock said in a quiet, intense voice.

Hmm. That explained some things. Kirk had wondered, once he realized just what he'd seen, why Spock had permitted him to get so close.

Though now that he thought about it, in all the times he'd ever seen Spock meld with anyone, Spock had never been the focus. It was always his first officer going into someone else's mind, going through someone else's memories. Sharing their secrets, not the other way around. Until now.

Spock had let him in, thinking what? That he could lead Kirk around, herd him toward the things he wanted him to see, and keep the rest safely locked away?

Kirk had a sudden, sneaking suspicion that Spock had underestimated him. That hadn't happened in a while.

He leaned in close. “I didn't find anything I didn't already know was there,” Kirk said gently. Spock's eyes flicked up to meet his. Kirk gave him a very warm look, and said nothing more. The slightly sick expression Spock had been wearing for the last few minutes faded a bit.

The undertow got wider and deeper, urging Kirk on. Spock shut his eyes as if he was listening to something beautiful.

Kirk lifted a hand off his friend's shoulder and rubbed his fingers together. They tingled pleasantly. It was odd, it felt like he'd put his hand in something. Something thick and golden, like honey.

“That's extraordinary,” he mused to himself, absently. Spock was really concentrating on that beautiful, absent sound.

Kirk looked down at him, thinking. About how open Spock had left himself tonight. About the slightly sick expression that had been on his face. About how the hell he was going to be able to convince Spock that it was all right...He had paid a price in vulnerability for Kirk's peace of mind.

Kirk had always been a gambler, and he was half in his friend's lap already.

He leaned down, and kissed him.

Spock tensed, startled. However, after taking a second or two to think about it, he must have decided it wasn't too bad, and his lips softened under the press of Kirk's mouth.

Kirk pulled back then, and looked down at his friend with a boyish, slightly self-mocking smile on his face. There was a brief moment where Spock looked entirely caught off guard. Then he thoughtfully pulled his lower lip inside his mouth, as if taking time to analyze the taste of Jim Kirk.

Kirk's smile turned a little wicked. Spock glanced up at him and lifted an eyebrow, looking quietly amused at the entire situation. Amused and pleased.

Slowly, with Spock watching, Kirk leaned in for another kiss. Spock had time to dodge, but declined to. He was ready this time, and the kiss was much more satisfying. Spock opened his lips a little, and Kirk licked at the inside of his mouth with wholehearted enjoyment.

The mental undertow was providing some really pleasant washes of sensation where they were touching, and Kirk nudged forward a bit to increase contact with Spock's body.

Spock lifted his hand and slid it up Kirk's back, his fingers dipping underneath Kirk's shirt, hunting for skin. It was the first active move Spock had made, and it was astonishingly erotic. He was sort of kneading the skin on his back, a counterpoint to the pace they were setting with their mouths.

Kirk reached out and copied the move, skimming his hand underneath cloth and applying his fingers to the exceptionally warm skin at the small of Spock's back.

Spock inhaled sharply through his nose in reaction, and he tugged Kirk closer, pressing them together. Kirk went with the motion, pushing forward with his hips. Spock pressed back, rubbing himself off against him.

Kirk made a sound low in his throat and slid a hand in between them, tugging at Spock's pants. He got them undone and snaked his hand inside, giving Spock's erection a firm stroke. Spock stiffened and caught hold of his arm, as if he couldn't quite believe what Kirk had done. Kirk didn't stop, carefully watching Spock's face. Spock shut his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he lifted his hips a little and pushed himself against Kirk's hand.

A moment later, Kirk froze, gasping as an extremely warm hand slid beneath his pants and cupped him. Kirk leaned into the touch, resting his head for a breath or two against Spock's shoulder. He got his own hand moving again and Spock made a soft, pleased sound against the side of his face.

Kirk had the sudden sense that they were melting together. He wasn't sure if it had been a conscious thing on Spock's part, but Kirk could smell pumpkin pie baking and feel something soft like warm silk dragging across his skin. His perspectives got very confused; he could feel Spock close but he couldn't quite separate whose hand was whose anymore.

He took a deep breath and stepped back, shaking his head a bit to clear it. Spock grabbed onto Kirk's monitor to steady himself, looking flushed and possibly just a tad embarrassed. With a rueful smile, Kirk took hold of the edge of his shirt and yanked it over his head, letting the mental energies in play take a breath and fade to tolerable levels. Kirk wanted to feel this himself. If the slightly chagrined look in his eye was any indicator, Spock knew that quite well.

Kirk took a step toward Spock and caught him by his shirt, giving the material a tug. He gave him a speculative look and tilted his head pointedly in the direction of the bed. Spock pushed himself to his feet, the spark of a challenge in his eye.

Spock divested himself of his uniform shirt with a quick, almost impatient motion. He went to remove the short sleeved black undershirt he was wearing, but Kirk caught him first. He grabbed a handful of material and started pulling Spock in the direction he wanted him to go.

Spock came willingly, looking somewhat bemused. He caught up near the bed and put his hands on Kirk's bare back, lowering his head to place his mouth carefully at Kirk's shoulder. He hovered close, going over Kirk's exposed skin as if it was something he needed to memorize. Kirk felt the light brush of his lips just at the nape of his neck. Behind him, Spock inhaled deeply. His erection was pushing against Kirk's uniform pants.

The sensation was amazingly arousing, and Kirk turned, catching his mouth in a kiss.

Spock was a lot taller than he was and Kirk tilted his head back, his hands shoving the black shirt up so he could slide his hands over warm, bare skin. Spock pulled his arms around Kirk and tugged him close, pressing the two of them tightly together.

They were both unfastened, and both hard. Almost accidentally, their erections touched. Kirk breathed in sharply through his nose, and Spock made a very interesting sound against his mouth. It might have been his name. Kirk pulled away and looked up at him. There was something huge and warm behind his eyes, and if Kirk had not just spent some time under intimate circumstances inside Spock's head, he would have been shocked. Kirk smiled slightly,then took half a step and sat down on the bed, scooting back onto the blanket, boots and all.

Spock stood above him for a moment, looking hungry and just a bit dazed. His shirt was rumpled, showing a slice of bare skin, and his pants were open in the front, his erection rising from the parted cloth.

He took a step toward the bed, as if he couldn't quite believe what was happening.

Kirk met Spock's eyes. Just slightly, Kirk spread his legs.

Spock parted his lips. He had that externally quiet look on his face that meant he was feeling something very deeply. He took a large breath, as if whatever was inside him was too great for his narrow frame to contain.

Kirk smiled faintly, a quick flicker of welcome.

Spock put a knee onto the bed, crawling toward Kirk, his movements careful and slow. He moved up Kirk's body, keeping eye contact as if he desired to see every reaction.

Kirk was having a little trouble catching his breath at the sight of Spock looking so unabashedly sexual.

Spock was careful, as he moved, not to touch him. He paused on his slow path up Kirks body. Then, without dropping his eyes, Spock dipped his head and took Kirk's erection in his mouth.

Kirk stiffened and gasped, making fists in the blankets. He hadn't expected...he'd never expected...

Spock tightened his lips into a firm seal and sucked hard.

“Spock,” Kirk sighed gratefully. Spock did something wonderful with his tongue, and Kirk groaned, sliding back onto the bed. He glanced down and caught Spock eying him as he moved his head, letting the tip of Kirk's penis just slip out of his mouth. He paused, meeting Kirk's wide-eyed stare before sucking it back inside. The sight sent a spike of pleasure up into Kirk's abdomen, and he felt himself get harder, felt his balls tighten up closer to his body. The pleasure was coming in warm pulses with every movement of Spock's mouth against him.

Close, he was...

He felt a warm hand sliding low, cupping his scrotum. He made a soft, desperate noise, trying not to thrust into Spock's mouth. He gripped the bed covers hard with one hand, the other reaching out toward the man responsible for giving him so much pleasure. It took a lot of self-control not to grab a handful of his hair. Instead Kirk slid his hand down, cupping the back of Spock's head. He was twitching with every move Spock made, tensing as every moment felt better than the last.

As if he'd heard Kirk's wordless plea, Spock slid his arms around Kirk's waist and took his erection entirely inside his mouth, letting him nudge up against the back of his throat. Then, deliberately, he swallowed. Kirk choked, the sensation leaving him nearly incoherent with need.

“Spock, I'll-” he managed roughly.

Spock tightened his grip on Kirk, a band of heat pulling him even closer. Spock took a breath and repeated the action that had put Kirk on the edge, swallowing deliberately. Kirk gasped in joy and came into his mouth. He dug his heels in and arched off the bed into Spock. Into his warm, wet, extremely talented mouth.

Then he collapsed back bonelessly against the blanket. After a moment Spock followed, lying full length against him. Spock's was obviously excited by what he'd just done. His erection pressed urgently against Kirk's groin. The area was sensitive as all hell at the moment, and Kirk hissed a breath in through his teeth. Spock quickly adjusted himself and Kirk relaxed. When Spock gave an experimental thrust Kirk was ready, even pushing up against him a little.

For a second Spock went very still and shut his eyes. As if both the sight and the feel of what he was doing were too much to take together. Kirk slid his hands down Spock's back, kneading the skin until he hit his waistband. Spock made a soft, urgent sound and pressed against him. He stopped, gasping, and Kirk slid his hand lower, pushing them together. He moved his hips a bit, feeling Spock digging wetly into his skin.

Spock grabbed his chin with one hand and kissed him with a passion and thoroughness that left him stunned. He started thrusting against Kirk, hard.

Kirk started to get prickles, little tendrils of mental connection. Kirk wasn't sure two people in a meld were supposed to get this close so soon after joining. He'd assumed that Spock had been controlling it, holding it back, somehow, after Kirk had pulled away.

It looked like Spock had lost his concentration.

Kirk spread his legs wide, meeting Spock's thrusts. As the tingle of encroaching thoughts got stronger, Kirk was surprised to realize that he hadn't totally lost his erection. That hadn't happened in a long time.

Spock moaned softly into his mouth, and Kirk broke out in goosepimples.

The touch of his mind came and went, clinging and then falling away in whispers of lewd and exotic scents. As Spock broke away from his mouth to pant for breath, the similarity was abruptly brought home. It wasn't really a merging of minds, trading the physical world for the mental one. It was more like kissing. Light, arousing, teasing.

Kirk opened up to it, sort of leaning into the sensation, and Spock gasped harshly.

“Yes,” he hissed, pressing himself with desperate urgency against Kirk's body. Kirk felt himself harden further, surprised at how exciting it was to hear Spock so aroused.

Kirk caught his mouth again in a kiss, mirroring the gentle in-and-out of Spock's mind, washing against him. Spock moaned against his lips, shuddering now with each thrust. Kirk felt the mental undertow gain sudden force, pulling him in closer.

He smelled an ozone crackle of lightning in the air, and Spock turned his mouth away, pressing his face into Kirk shoulder. Kirk made a strangled sound as Spock stiffened against him in a speechless moment of raw pleasure. He could feel it, fainter, an echo of amazing sweetness.

Spock sagged over him. Kirk realized he was completely, achingly hard again. Feeling Spock come had nearly finished him, but it hadn't quite been enough. Close, but not quite, and he was left on a sudden agonizing edge of pleasure.

As if he was listening, Spock reached down between them. He took Kirk's erection in his hand, and lightly squeezed. Nothing else.

With a groan, Kirk came, spilling over Spock's fingers. The orgasm was almost painful in intensity, as if his body couldn't quite believe what Spock had managed to get it to do. Spock make a soft, helpless sound against his shoulder.

Kirk sagged into the bed. For a handful of heartbeats Spock rested his full weight against him, spent and gasping. Kirk thought they had been together there, at the end, and Spock seemed as exhausted by it as Kirk was.

Kirk was rather proud of himself, honestly. He hadn't seen turnaround time like that in years.

Spock pushed himself off Kirk before either of them started to get uncomfortable. He rolled himself to the side, collapsing gracelessly onto the blanket. For a pleasant few minutes the only noise in Kirk's cabin was the sound of the two of them trying to get their breath back.

Kirk thought, rather blearily, that some kind of gesture or declaration was probably in order. He flapped his hand ineffectually at the bunk for a moment before he located Spock's arm. Once located, he gave it an affectionate pat.

Spock made a little 'Mmm' sound. Kirk figured that would cover it for now.

He was fairly certain that he dozed off for a bit, because when he opened his eyes Spock was watching him with a fairly extraordinary expression on his face. Kirk gave him a silent, questioning look, and Spock cast his eyes down over Kirk's body.

Kirk glanced down at himself. He couldn't make himself any more defenseless and exposed if he tried. That had kind of been the point. When he lifted his eyes back up toward Spock, the warm, intimate look on his friend's face made it pretty clear that Spock understood. He looked...entirely comfortable, a far cry from the misery that had haunted his face earlier in the evening. The sight loosened a lot of the tension Kirk had been holding since he'd seen what the meld had done to Spock's equilibrium.

Kirk remembered now what Spock had encouraged him to forget. More than Spock had encouraged him to forget, to be honest. He didn't think Spock deserved to be punished any more than he already had been.

He gave Spock a wide smile and pushed the hair off his forehead, taking a deep breath.

“Feel free to use the 'fresher,” he offered, making no move to right himself. From the way Spock was admiring him, Kirk had half a mind to stay put.

Spock inclined his head. “I shall, thank you.”

Kirk nodded and shut his eyes, feeling the bed shift when Spock got up. He was half dozing again when Spock finished up and came back in. He pushed himself off the bed with a yawn, only moving because experience had taught him that immediate cleaning was, in the long run, much less uncomfortable. No matter what species were involved.

He didn't bother with a shower. He was tired. Kirk satisfied himself with a quick clean up, and walked back into his quarters, half expecting to find Spock in bed waiting for him.

Instead, Spock was standing by his desk, fully dressed. He was looking at one of the data chips Kirk had been watching earlier that evening.


Kirk stretched and cracked his neck, walking over with a pleasant, neutral expression on his face.

“You don't have to go,” he said. Spock looked up quickly, setting the chip aside. Kirk smiled gently. “I grant you, if anyone saw you come in here, we'll have some interesting rumors to deal with tomorrow, but nevertheless...feel free to stay.”

Spock straightened, somehow looking as if he'd just gotten taller.

“Rumors,” he said carefully. “Perhaps, but for once, they would not be entirely inaccurate ones.” He sounded quite pleased with himself, and Kirk smothered a smile.

Spock put his hands smartly behind his back.

“My thanks for your offer,” he said, his eyes straying towards the bed. He inclined his head politely. “However, I am not tired, and there are some reports I need to file-”

Kirk held up a hand to forestall him.

“Say no more,” he said lightly, relaxing. Spock's eyes strayed once more to Kirk's bunk.

“Another time, perhaps?” Spock said quietly. Kirk lifted his eyes, startled.

“Another time,” Kirk agreed delightedly, the events of the evening warming the air between them. Spock dipped his head a bit, glancing at the chip he'd been examining.

“This data chip,” Spock said, gesturing at his desk. “Were you-”

“I was going over the recording again. Our guest wasn't lying; I never saw her kill anyone,” he said.

“Nor did I,” Spock agreed. He paused. “The Federation will still want her delivered for trial.”

“Whether her people have a term for 'extradition' or not,” Kirk agreed, folding his arms. “How is DeSalle coming with the navigation system?”

“Quite well. I would expect him to call within the hour,” Spock replied.

“Well,” Kirk said with a yawn, “if worst comes to worst, I know a good lawyer to recommend.”

It was Kirk speaking, not McCoy—Spock did not comment on the colloquialism.

“Indeed,” Spock said. Then, “If I may, Jim, you seem tired.”

Kirk was seized by the sudden, peculiar thought that this man in front of him was his favorite person in the universe.

“Hmph,” Kirk said, then smiled. “Good night, Spock.”

Spock bent just slightly at the waist. It wasn't a bow. More like a deep nod.

“Good night, Jim.”

It would have been rude to say that Spock left his quarters with a spring in his step, so Kirk kept the observation to himself.

“Another time, “ he said thoughtfully. Grinning, he bounced his fist lightly on his monitor. “Another time,” he said again, rather jauntily.

He had time to sit on his bed and remove his boots before DeSalle called from the bridge with their new course. If he noticed the difference in his Captain's mood he was smart enough to hide it.

“Warp factor two, Mr. DeSalle,” Kirk said crisply, and switched out.

They were off again across unknown space looking for a new, possibly hostile civilization. Just another day.
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